Souda Bay War Cemetery, A Reply
As I was reading your sad experience from Souda Cemetery it reminded me of a story told to me by a British soldier who fought in the Battle of Crete. His name is George Hamlet, I say is, because, George thankfully is still with us. George was captured by the German army after some vicious hand-to-hand combat. He fought alongside, what George called, the bravest of the brave, the New Zealand Maori, to this day he is a great follower of New Zealand and Maori rugby. It was through rugby that I first met George, who was the President of Sligo Rugby Club in Ireland when I first played rugby.
To put the following in context I must point out that I come from a Catholic Republican background and my Father was a member of the Old IRA in the Nineteen Twenties. George is a Protestant ex-member of the British army.
Ray, the story is long and may be tedious, but I must tell it in its entirety to demonstrate the character that George Hamlet is.
I come from a basically working-class background, and rugby, at the time I started playing, was, to a degree a snobbish or class-conscious game. After playing for a few years I was picked to play for my Province at the Junior level. One weekend while playing junior against Ulster I was informed that I was being watched by the senior selectors because there was a vacancy on the Connaught senior team to play the Argentinian National team the following Tuesday in Galway. When I got home to Sligo that Sunday night I learned from the television that I was picked to fill the vacancy on the Connaught team.
That was the only information I received from the selectors, and it came through the medium of television.
Knowing that the game was on at half past three on Tuesday ( a working day) and not owning a car, I took the early bus for Galway. After a while, I realised that at the rate of progress it was making I would not be in time for the build-up and team talk for the game. As time passed I started to panic as I knew if I continued on the bus I would be late for the game.
Enter George Hamlet, While looking out the window of the bus I thought I saw Georges’s car parked by the side of the road, and a man resembling George, watering a dog, which I knew George and his good wife brought everywhere.
At that point I knew George was heading for the game in Galway, so, I decided if I was to have any chance of making the game I better stop the bus on this lonely country road and thumb George’s car down, I might then have some chance of getting to the game on time. I duly stopped the bus, hopped off, and waited for George’s car to come along. After a few minutes of waiting I had this horrendous feeling that maybe I made a mistake and that it was not Georges’s car after all. Seconds later George’s car comes around the corner and my heart jumps for joy, but, when I thumb the car and it drove on by, my heart sank, it was my last chance to make the game in time and I was distraught. A couple of seconds later and who reverses back up the road but George’s car, he rolls down the window and the first utterances are expletives … Mc Hugh what the f..ck are you doing here, you should be in Galway for the bl…dy game you are going to be late. I explain how I happen to be on the country road on the way to the game. He said hop in quick and we will try and get you there in time.
We pull into the hotel carpark where the team was supposed to meet pre-all provincial games. I learn that the team is still at the hotel, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. George says you better have a good game today after all this.
So as George is reversing his car, I turn around and meet one of the selectors who asks me where I was. He said they thought I wasn’t coming to the game and they made the decision to drop me and bring in another player, this, in spite of the fact that they never notified me officially in the first place that I was selected to play for my Province. Just as I turned around sickened by this news I spot George exiting the car park, and for some reason, he rolled down the window of the car and shouted, are you ok, I mumbled something, so he stops the car and jumps out (leaving the car blocking the carpark) and comes across to me and asks me what is wrong. I explain what I have just heard. George explodes and demands to know where these selectors and aleckadoos and hangars on are. I said George just leave it, he says no, you come with me. He drags me into the packed dining room where all the great and the good and the selectors are finishing their lunch. In front of this packed dining room George tears into these selectors and tells them in no uncertain language that if they do not reverse this decision the whole country would be told how the Connaught Branch conducts their business and how they treat their players. There was silence and embarrassment throughout the room.
You see George comes from a very well-known rugby family his Father or Grandfather played for Ireland, and he also knew several of the National Sports reporters. So after a pause, the selectors reconvened and quickly reversed their previous decision, and put me back on the team. Needless to relate I was overjoyed and without any doubt, I had George Hamlet to thank, for me playing against the Argentinians that day. No other person would have made my case as good in that dining room in Galway all of thirty-three years ago. We lost the game, I had a poor to average game. But I went on to play several more games for Connaught.
Georges wife has since passed away and George himself is now nearly totally blind.
Every time I thanked George for standing up for me he would say don’t thank me thank the dog, for if it didn’t need to go to the toilet on that road I would still be standing there.
The above is a small aspect of George Hamlet the soldier who fought in the battle of Crete.