A letter from Metaxas’ wife

This is a touching note written in long hand by Lela Metaxas, widow of Metaxas, about the days leading up to the Italian ultimatum on 28 October 1940, in which, among other things, she reports,

“Eight days before 28 October 1940, I believe a Sunday, returning from the Ministry, Metaxas sat at table for lunch and in a cheerful mood said, ‘Now they can come, we are ready. We will defeat them.’ There were only the two of us at table, and what impressed me was his calmness and the satisfaction etched on his face. I was very impressed because after the torpedoing of the cruiser Elli which was a signal -and no one was to mention the episode- I had forgotten what he had said exactly then at the same place but vaguely something to the effect ‘ now we will keep quiet, we will ignore the torpedoist until the time is right, when we will be ready. We shall take our revenge, but we must get ready first.’

And so to 3 am when we heard suddenly the telephone ring. Surprised we wonder who it could be at that hour. He put on his dressing gown and hurried to the phone. Travlos of Security was at the other end of the line who told Metaxas that the French Ambassador was asking to see him. Travlos had made a mistake: it was actually the Italian Ambassador, Emanuele Grazzi, who was at the door. He returned to our room and said, ‘What’s up with Maugras? What indiscretion and how inconsiderate at this ungodly hour.’ He straightened his hair quickly and went to meet him. He opened the main entrance door; they entered into the lounge with the desk in the middle of the room in front of the large green divan in which Grazzi sat to the right. Their conversation began calmly, but soon I heard an animated exchange, and an angry tone in my husband’s voice followed by a loud bang of the palm of his hand on the top of the desk. It was the exact moment of the ‘OXI’ (NO), and there followed Grazzi’s departure.

When he returned to our room Metaxas told me right away, ‘We are at war; I must dress quickly.’ He was ready in fifteen minutes and rang first the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where his office was located instructing it to inform the King and the border guard posts. Then he briefed Theologos Nikoloudis (Undersecretary for Press and Information), and Sir Michael Palairet of the British Embassy who was spending the summer nearby in Kifissia. All this happened within minutes as the Italian ultimatum expired at 6 a.m. We received Palairet and Nikoloudis in the main entrance, when Metaxas told them we were at war; help us for we are ready to fight for our country’s honour. Then he returned to our room and told me, ‘ God is our help,’ and that he may not be back home till late at night. But as it turned out he was back for lunch.”