Uncle Sterios pulled his chair up close to the kafenion table, lit his next cigarette of the day and began his tale.
“My father fought in WW2 against the Germans when they invaded Crete. He ferociously protected everything Cretan, fearing no one and nothing, One amongst many co-villagers, he swiftly dispatched the invaders at every opportunity, by whatever means he could. Often times left without ammunition, just the bayonette on his rifle, which proved a bloody weapon in his farmers hands.
Fearlessly seizing an opportunity to dispatch more intruder Germans, he`d followed on their tail into an ally, dodging and weaving between doorways and obstacles to gain ground. Nerve endings brittled with the intensity of adrenoline rushing madly through his body, the air crackled with the firey heat of the day. He tried to bring his heaving breath under control as he lifted his rifle to take aim.
The explosion swept his feet from beneath him and hurled him against the remains of what was once Barba Kostas`s courtyard wall. The pressure from the blast wave assaulted him in a blindingly excrutiating instant. Instinctively his teeth clamped. As his senses spun, his ears twanged a jarring roar, his chest roared in pain, he clamped his hands over his skull in an attempt to escape the tortuous racket invading his head. When the blast wave freed him from it`s deadly grip, he drew his first sharp intake of breath. Immediately he erupted into explosive barking coughs – his lungs` attempts to expel the dust and grime he had inhaled. Dust caked his nose and choked his every breath, cloying his tongue and throat.
Slowly, his vision began to return, revealing the dramatic, crushed scene around him. His chest however, continued to erupt in violent hacks. Each guffaw rattled his stunned senses like earthquake aftershocks. His brain tried to process what had just occured. His left ankle twisted off to one side in a grotesque, dog-leg. Instinctively, but rashly, he tried to lift his leg and immediately regretted it. Searing pain shot up the limb, piercing the very core of his being, forcing him to retch and gulp frantically. He tried to surpress the overwhelming nausea which swept over his still dulled senses. The need to vomit swamped and with no time to turn his head, the contents of his guts, spewed forth over his chest. Blood. Despite his fuzzy brain, he knew this was not good. Then he blacked out.
Watery vision obstructed the mercilessly bright light assaulting his newly opened eyes. He strained to gain focus. He was in some sort of make shift emergency clinic.
Sterios lit his hundredth cigarette and sighed a deep sigh as he brushed away a tear at the demise of his father, which sadly fell on his 97th birthday.
“My father lived with the fragment of the mortar embedded in his gut for 35 years. Physicians refused to attempt to remove the shrapnel for fear of not being able to control the bleed. He learnt to dress the wound in his belly, which never closed, effectively, so infections were kept at bay. Yearly visits to the hospital only confirmed that he would take the shrapnel with him to his grave.
Despite this, he still went on to marry, have two sons and live life to the full in the village of Agies Paraskies, close to Archanes.
At 60 years old on his annual check up, his physician scratched his head with a perplexed look on his face, searching for the familiar outline of the shrapnel on the x-ray. It just wasn`t there.
After exhaustive discussions on the possible whereabouts of the missing shrapnel, the only feasible explanation which satisfied them, was that it had probably been expelled whilst he had relieved himself on one of his notorious drinking bouts – slipping from his traditional Cretan bloomer style trouser, unnoticed.
Throughout his life, he expressed annoyance at being deprived of actually being able to see the little piece of Germany which hindered and distressed him for so many years.”
The Battle of Crete began on the morning of 20th May 1941 and was the first occasion where German paratroops were used en masse, the first mainly airborne invasion in military history, the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from decrypted German messages from the Enigma machine and the first time German troops encountered mass resistance from a civilian population.