By Tony Knight
First published in The Guardian, Monday 3 October 2011
My friend Chryssa Ninolaki, who has died aged 80, played a courageous part in the struggle for freedom in Crete. She was a true ambassador for her native island, which she loved.
At the beginning of the second world war, when Chryssa was a pupil at the French school in Chania, her family moved to her grandfather’s farm near the monastery of Chrysopigi on the outskirts of the city, to escape the bombing. After the fall of the island in 1941, Chryssa and her family were part of the Greek resistance and supported the work of the Special Operations Executive agents who operated in the White Mountains, Xan Fielding, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Stephen Verney among them.
Chryssa and her family spent the war living next to a German garrison. Her parents and her brother, Tassos, carried out acts of defiance at great risk. On one occasion, they moved a cache of arms buried in the orchard just hours before the property was searched. They became part of an underground network assisting, sheltering and hiding British and Commonwealth soldiers for escape attempts on the island’s south coast. “We are crazy people: we act first and never mind the consequences,” Chryssa once told me.
After the war, Chryssa started to work for holiday companies, first the Travel Club of Upminster and then Simply Crete. She was a very different type of travel representative, freely sharing her beloved Crete with many British visitors. For the 50th anniversary, Chryssa took visitors on her celebrated Battle of Crete tours. A close friend reflected the feelings of many when she said: “For me, Chryssa was Crete. She brought so much joy to so many Brits.” Chryssa is survived by her sister, Helen.
She can only have been ten in 1941 – a very junior resistance fighter indeed!
The crucifix that Stephen Verney is wearing is a clue as to his life after that of an S.O.E. agent in Crete. He entered the church and later became a Bishop. He retired in 1985 to Blewbury in Berkshire. An old friend of his posts here occasionally.
Chryssa was one of a number of women who took enourmous risks during the occupation. The historical record and recognition of their work is pretty slim which is a great shame given that their actions are known to have saved many. I will try and put together something about those we do know of – someday.