Michael Ward

SOE agent who endured a 500 mile trek in occupied Greece while gathering information on the enemy and divided partisans.

[copyright The Times – taken from obituary column 11 April 2011]

Michael Ward was hauled back from Tunisia in March 1943 to be interviewed in Cairo for undisclosed duties. Leaving 7th Battalion the Green Howards, he reported to GHQ Middle East to discover that his aptitude for classical Greek qualified him as a potential recruit for undercover work for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Axis occupied Greece.

He was given time to polish up on modern Greek, train as a parachutist and do some intensive research on SOE operations in Greece. He was then put in charge of preparing and dispatching small groups of agents to join the Allied Military Mission there.

When his turn came, he was flown by RAF Dakota aircraft into a secret landing strip on the plateau over the crest of the Pindus mountains in northeastern Greece on October 20, 1943.

The Italians had agreed an armistice with the allies by then [8 September 1943], leaving their forces in Greece in an invidious state vis-à-vis their former German allies – and with the Greek partisans. On entering Nairada, close to where he landed, Ward was surprised to find the village swarming with Italian soldiers from the Pinerolo Division who had been relieved of their arms by the communist National Liberation Front (ELAS).

The local leader of the SOE Mission, Major Philip Worrall, explained that ELAS was preparing to seize control of the country the moment the Germans left and,  meanwhile, were being decidedly obstructive. This had followed the outbreak of hostilities between ELAS and two other – politically right wing – groups of partisans, which led the mission to halt the supply of arms.

After a long trek to meet to overall SOE commander in Greece, Colonel Chris Woodhouse, (later Lord Terrington) it was decided that Ward should visit as many of the Mission’s area HQ’s as he could reach before the next Dakota was due and return to Cairo with a comprehensive report.

Ward began an intended round journey of 215 miles by foot, mule and the occasional lorry that evolved into one of more than twice that distance, gathering details of German dispositions and the activities of the Greek andartes (guerrillas) en route. He found that the German tactic of motorised sallies into the hills rendered them vulnerable to ELAS road mines, stocks of which were being built up from Italian resources. The penalty for mine laying was murderous vengeance against the local population, but the ELAS leaders considered that a price worth paying.

His travels little more than half completed, Ward heard over the SOE radio link that the German Army had overrun the plateau landing strips. This extended his route to 500 miles to the Aegean coast, from where he and his companions were picked up by and SOE caique for voyage to Turkey and then by train to Cairo.

Ward returned to Greece towards the end of 1944 to join the advance HQ of Force 133, of which as the Mission in Greece was by then part, principally to wind up SOE business there, which took 18 months to complete. These months sealed his love of Greece and in 1948 he returned a second time as a member of the UN Special Committee on the Balkans (UNScob).

In October 1947 the UN General Assembly called upon Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to provide no aid to guerrilla forces in Greece and set up a special committee to aid the four nations involved to monitor compliance. Ward’s reports to the UN mission headquarters revealed that the communist guerrillas in Greece continued to receive aid from all three northern neighbours.

Michael Ward was born in Newchurch, Lancashire in 1918, son of Reverend D’Arcy Ward, and educated at Sedburgh school. After leaving the UN Mission in Greece, he served with the Sudan Political Service until Sudanese independence in 1955. Later he worked with BP, mainly in Athens and Baghdad, and in 1971 became the British Consul General in Thessaloniki. He was appointed OBE in 1982 for his services to Greece and retired to live and write in Athens.