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The book describes the lives of four men, Each is born in 1920. The Italian’s father comes to Leros as a junior naval officer in 1912, when Italy take over the Dodecanese islands from the Turks. After the Italo-Turkish war, he returns to Italy to study, marries a German woman and returns with her and their new son, Marco, to Leros to help build the new Italian town there. There he meets a Greek builder whose son, Yiannis, saves the Marco’s life when he falls into the new harbour, unable to swim. The two boys become friends.
The English man, Godfrey, is the son of a British naval officer who was injured in the Battle of Jutland. After World War I, he works at the British Admiralty, coordinating the surrender of the German Fleet and then liaising with German naval staff. His German opposite number suggests an exchange between Godfrey and the son, Rolf, of a German acquaintance of his. Rolf’s father happens to be the cousin of Marco’s mother.
In 1936, Rolf visits England and spends a term at Godfrey’s school. The next term, Godfrey travels to Germany to stay with Rolf. Meanwhile, Rolf’s second cousin, Marco, is also invited to Germany and travels there with his friend Yiannis. The four boys are taken to the Hitler Youth rally in Nuremburg in 1936, where Rolf, who is training to be a pilot, takes part in the parade.
Both Godfrey and Yiannis are appalled by what they see in Germany. Yiannis surprises everyone by criticising the Nazis and Godfrey agrees. Rolf’s father furiously sends both boys back to their homes.
On the way back to Leros, Yiannis decides to join a Greek ship and get proper Greek citizenship, because, being born on the Italian-controlled island of Leros, he is notionally Italian. He pretends to be a refugee from Smyrna and manages to obtain a passport. When war breaks out, he volunteers to join the Greek navy. His ship, the “Queen Olga” escapes when Greece is over-run and joins the British fleet, serving with great distinction.
Rolf becomes a dive bomber pilot, serving in the Condor Legion in Spain, then in France and Russia. He is invalided out and, when he has recovered, he is transferred to Greece.
Marco serves in the Italian army in Libya, liaising with the Germans. After Rommel’s defeat he is able to return to Greece and is transferred to Leros to join the Italian defence force.
Godfrey joins the British army after training as a signals officer. He escapes with the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and is transferred to North Africa where he is invited to join the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).
After the Germans’ defeat in North Africa, the LRDG are moved to the Middle East for training in a totally different kind of warfare. Their training as parachutists is curtailed, however, when, in 1943, the Italians depose Mussolini and the new government makes peace with the Allies. This leaves Leros, heavily fortified, as a target of the German army forcing its way up through the Dodecanese islands.
Godfrey is sent with the first contingent of LRDG troops to Leros. There he meets his old friend Yiannis, still serving on the “Queen Olga” and arranges for them both to meet Marco. The next day, Godfrey is on board the Queen Olga, which has carried more British troops to defend the island, when she is attacked by German dive bombers, one of which is piloted by Rolf.
After dropping their bomb, Rolf’s plane is hit by anti-aircraft fire. He manages to clear the hill above the harbour, where he strafes a gun manned by Marco. However, his plane is badly damaged and ditches in the sea, crashing into one of the rocks in the next bay.
All four men are killed on the same day.
Fiction: Historical FictionAuthor:
GBP - British Pounds
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