by Alice Reeves nee Blunden
My cousin, Peter Blunden, was decorated for bravery in World War 2. He escaped from the Germans and was hidden, for the rest of the War, under the floorboards of a home in Greece. He, at that time, met his future wife, Thalia, who was only a schoolgirl then. He contacted her after the war and she came out to New Zealand and married him. This is an account of it all, as taken from the book – "War Brides".
Thalia’s point of view :
I left my home on 14 July 1946 and flew from Salonika to Athens and stayed at a hotel where other war brides were staying. Fortunately, there were two other girls from Crete who were travelling with their New Zealand husbands. I was thankful for this as I was lonely and homesick. We flew from Athens to Cairo and after a week, we went to the Ismailiya Transit Camp. On 22 September, we took the train to Port Said and boarded the Rangitata for New Zealand.
In our cabin were seventeen war brides, Italian, Creek and English, and the boat was full of soldiers returning home. We arrived in Wellington on 22 October and I saw Peter down on the wharf looking for me. I waved to him calling him ‘Petro’. He saw me and came nearer and asked me if I could speak English, I said ‘No’ and said to the other girls I would not be surprised if he sent me home again.
When Peter came on the boat, it was the first time we had met in four years.
After I arrived in New Zealand, Peter told me what had happened to him after he left Mrs Tasonla’s house. Some Greeks helped him escape to Turkey on a fishing boat, then he travelled through Turkey, Syria, Israel and onto Egypt where he rejoined his battalion. He was sent home on furlough and then returned and fought in the Italian Campaign, finally getting back to New Zealand in 1945. He was awarded the Military Medal for escaping from a train enroute to a German prison camp, evading capture and returning to his battalion.
We were married in Greymouth on 22 November 1946 and Peter’s sister put on a lovely party for us. On our honeymoon in Wellington we were also married in the Greek Orthodox Church, with white wreaths on our heads and the Greek consul as the best man. He also put on a lovely party, Greek style, for us. While we were on our honeymoon, a friend of Peter’s taught me a little English. Peter won a ballot for a farm at Port Levy, it was a very isolated place for me after living in a big city. One day Peter said, ‘You have to cook for the shearers’. I did not even know what a shearer was. Anyway, I made some Greek biscuits on our coal range. The recipe said to have a teaspoon of ammonia, which you buy from the chemist. I found some Scrubbs ammonia in the cupboard, the sort that is used for cleaning, and I used a spoonful of it. Nobody knew the difference and they ate all the biscuits. When I told Peter later, he couldn’t believe me.
Peter will always be grateful to the many Greek men, women and children who risked their lives helping and sheltering him and many other New Zealand soldiers. I have never seen Peter in uniform, except in the photograph he sent me after the war to show my parents what he looked like. Peter had never told me he loved me or given me his address in case the Germans found it.
I am a naturalised New Zealander now and Peter and I are retired and living in Diamond Harbour, and our son is on the farm at Port Levy’.
This is a postscript to this account from Peter:
‘I have enjoyed writing this for Thalia, a very brave, courageous and lovely girl. How she ever found the courage to travel out here alone, I will never understand. She found the customs and food so different and the suspicion of foreigners was evident in many cases. However, she managed to cope with it all and became a very loyal New Zealander.’
Betsy, Peter’s sister, was one of New Zealand’s first women Alpine Guides at Mount Cook and a champion skier. She, at 86, still plays 18 holes of golf. Janice married Arthur Wallis, big sawmillers on the West Coast. She is the mother of Tim Wallis, now Sir Wallis, the famous aviator, who incidentally owns Treble Cone ski-field, the casino in Christchurch, Helicopters Limited among other enterprises. Janice’s beautiful garden is at Wanaka and is often featured on Television garden shows. She still, at 87 years of age, does a lot of her own gardening, going in every evening for her brandy, lime and soda before settling down to dinner with her wine. She has never dropped her families gracious-living traits and she regularly travels overseas on Garden Tours.
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