Wednesday 11 November 2015

The Battle of Crete

Last week I wrote about  Mick the Amazing WWI Dog, this week I have a story about his master's son. I thought this would be appropriate in Battle of Britain week.

Black and white photo of a young man
Charles David Ripsher

Charles David Ripsher was born on 30th June 1914, the second of three children. This was just 2 days after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife which sparked a chain of events that led to the outbreak of the First World War. Probably not the best time to be born the son of a military man. 

Charles, his parents and 2 sisters survived the war and moved to Glasgow.

Charles David Ripsher was a fighter pilot in WWII.  He joined 33 squadron at Maleme, Crete on 13th May 1941 with another pilot Sergeant Glawil Reynish. The squadron had taken heavy loses and when Germany attacked the airfield on the morning of 15th May they had only 3 working Hurricane aircraft. The two new pilots were scrambled, quickly followed by the third, Squadron Leader Howells. 

A fierce air battle ensued and aircraft were seen falling in flames into the sea. They were attacked by Messerschmitts and the first to be shot down was Sergeant Reynish. He managed to bale out over the sea and was eventually rescued by Cretan fisherman and returned to the airfield at Maleme to the delight of all who thought he had died.

Sergeant Ripsher had run out of ammunition and so returned to the airfield to land with two enemy aircraft on his tail. He sadly was shot down and killed by allied Bofor guns. He was 26 years old.

Squadron Leader Howells managed to land at another airfield. He too had run out of ammunition and was at first presumed dead but refuelled and managed to get back to Maleme.

The fighting continued but the battle was lost and on the 19th May the survivors took off for Egypt. On 20th May Germany launched an airborne invasion and the Battle of Crete began. Germany suffered many losses but eventually occupied Crete.

When retelling the story Squadron Leader Howells said that they had buried Charles Ripsher the next day (16th May 1941) in a little cemetery by Galatas a few miles down the road from Maleme airfield. 

This led me to a holiday in Crete and a journey to find his grave.

We went to Galatas in Crete to see if there was any evidence of his grave.

George Bikoyiannakis, a friendly Cretan, runs the museum and taverna Plateia in Galatas. When we told him the purpose of our visit he drove us to the little cemetery just down the road.

Photo of  a doorway with Museum written above it
Museum at Galatas

picture of taverna Plateia in Galatas, Crete
George's taverna "Plateia" in Galatas, Crete

picture of cemetery with man and woman walking
George and me in the cemetery

 We spent about an hour at the cemetery with George. He read every grave and translated them all for us. Sadly there was no evidence of any military graves and we did not find Charles.

George explained that the priest at the time, despite the danger of retribution by the Nazi's, had buried all the allied dead together in graves according to their nationality.

At the end of the war their remains were removed to the official cemeteries at Souda Bay, except the few that were buried at the monument for the unknown soldier.

Blue sign on white wall in greek Plateia 21st May 1940
Plateia, "Town Square" 21st May 1941

There is a monument to the unknown soldier at Galatas. They buried one of each force, of each allied country. British, Australian, New Zealand and Greek.

picture of monument in Plateia, Galatas, Crete with 4 flag poles, one for each nationality.
Monument to the unknown soldier. Galatas, Crete.

plaque on monument dedicated to those who gave their lives.
Plaque on the monument to those who gave their lives

Therefore, my cousin, Charles David Ripsher may be buried in Souda Bay or under the memorial in Galatas.

Either way he is in an unknown soldier grave in Crete, or possibly still in the little cemetery above Galatas.

view from the cemetery with graves in foreground and Galatas beyond
View from the cemetery towards Galatas

Unmarked and peaceful.



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