The British Passport Of A Secret Service Agent’s Wife
Major Ian Pirie was a British agent working for the Secret Service – SOE. Major Pirie was stationed in Crete and Niki Dermetzi, a devastating blonde at the Argentina night club, was his girlfriend and later his wife. This is Niki’s British passport issued 1947 in London with lots of revenues: 7 Greek, 1 British, 2 Turkish & 3 Spanish and many border stamps. See also The National Archives…
The Germans expected their airborne attack on Crete in 1941 – a unique event in the history of warfare – to be a textbook victory based on tactical surprise. They had no idea that the British, using Ultra intercepts, knew their plans and had laid a carefully-planned trap. It should have been the first German defeat of the war, but a fatal misunderstanding turned the battle round. Nor did the conflict end there. Ferocious Cretan freedom fighters mounted a heroic resistance, aided by a dramatic cast of British officers from Special Operations Executive.
They were amongst the last to leave Athens – only a few hours before the Germans raised their flag over the Acropolis – Nicholas Hammond, David Pawson, Ian Pirie, and Nicki Demertzi. To ensure Nicki’s safe-conduct in the face of British officialdom, the couple had hurriedly married. Leaving Athens at dawn, they drove to the yacht harbor of Tourkolimano. Their load included a large batch of German uniforms, which Pirie had been hoarding, and the remains of Hammond’s plastic explosive (Source: Antony Beevor – Crete – The Battle and the Resistance, 1991, ISBN 978-1-84854-635-6).
The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II organization. Following Cabinet approval, it was officially formed by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.
It was initially also involved in the formation of the Auxiliary Units, a top secret “stay-behind” resistance organization which would have been activated in the event of a German invasion of Britain.
Few people were aware of SOE’s existence. To those who were part of it or liaised with it, it was sometimes referred to as “the Baker Street Irregulars,” after the location of its London headquarters. It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” For security purposes, various branches, and sometimes the organization as a whole, were concealed behind names such as the “Joint Technical Board” or the “Inter-Service Research Bureau,” or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty or War Office.
SOE operated in all countries or former countries occupied by or attacked by the Axis forces, except where demarcation lines were agreed with Britain’s principal allies (the Soviet Union and the United States). It also made use of neutral territory on occasion or made plans and preparations in case neutral countries were attacked by the Axis. The organization directly employed or controlled just over 13,000 people, about 3,200 of whom were women. It is estimated that SOE supported or supplied approximately 1,000,000 operatives worldwide.
Operations in Greece
Greece was overrun by the Axis after a desperate defense lasting several months. In the aftermath, SIS and another intelligence organization, SIME, discouraged attempts at sabotage or resistance as this might imperil relations with Turkey, although SOE maintained contacts with resistance groups in Crete. When an agent, “Odysseus,” a former tobacco-smuggler, attempted to contact potential resistance groups in Greece, he reported that no group was prepared to cooperate with the monarchist government in exile in Cairo.
In late 1942, at the army’s instigation, SOE mounted its first operation, codenamed Operation Harling, into Greece in an attempt to disrupt the railway which was being used to move materials to the German Panzer Army Africa. A party under Colonel (later Brigadier) Eddie Myers, assisted by Christopher Woodhouse, was parachuted into Greece and discovered two guerrilla groups operating in the mountains: the pro-Communist ELAS and the republican EDES. On 25 November 1942, Myers’s party blew up one of the spans of the railway viaduct at Gorgopotamos, supported by 150 Greek partisans from these two organizations which engaged Italians guarding the viaduct. This cut the railway linking Thessaloniki with Athens and Piraeus.
Relations between the resistance groups and the British soured. When the British needed once again to disrupt the railway across Greece as part of the deception operations preceding Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, the resistance groups refused to take part, rightly fearing German reprisals against civilians. Instead, a six-man commando party from the British and New Zealand armies carried out the destruction of the Asopos viaduct on 21 June 1943.
EDES received most aid from SOE, but ELAS secured many weapons when Italy collapsed, and Italian military forces in Greece dissolved. ELAS and EDES fought a vicious civil war in 1943 until SOE brokered an uneasy armistice (the Plaka agreement).
A lesser known, but essential function of the SOE in Greece was to inform the Cairo headquarters of the movement of the German military aircraft that were serviced and repaired at the two former Greek military aircraft facilities in and around Athens.
Eventually, the British Army occupied Athens and Piraeus in the aftermath of the German withdrawal and fought a street-by-street battle to drive ELAS from these cities and impose an interim government under Archbishop Damaskinos. SOE’s last act was to evacuate several hundred disarmed EDES fighters to Corfu, preventing their massacre by ELAS.
In Crete, there were several resistance groups and Allied stay-behind parties after the Germans occupied the island in the Battle of Crete. SOE’s operations on Crete involved figures such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, John Lewis, Harry Rudolph Fox Burr, Tom Dunbabin, Sandy Rendel, John Houseman, Xan Fielding, and Bill Stanley Moss. Some of the most famous moments included the abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe led by Leigh Fermor and Moss – subsequently portrayed in the film Ill Met by Moonlight, and the sabotage of Damasta directed by Moss.
Among the passengers were the historian and SOE operative Nicholas Hammond, Major Ian Pirie the leader of the British expedition to Greece together with expatriate and high-ranking SOE operative David Pawson, as well as four Australian privates. The caïque’s captain, George Vergos, was also involved in SOE work and was a decorated veteran (OBE) of the Royal Navy from the First World War, also fleeing Greece with his extended family and some other Greeks. Pirie and Pawson together with Dennis Hamson were now charged with evacuating an unknown amount of bullion from the British Embassy in Athens, all lost with the Irene.
After the war, the organization was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled in London in October 2009. It is situated on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace.