During WWII, 28th of October 1940, at 4 a.m., the Italian ambassador to Greece, (Emanuele Grazzi), presented an ultimatum from the fascist dictator of Italy (Benito Mussolini), to the Prime Minister of Greece (Ioannis Metaxas), demanding the Italian troops be allowed to occupy certain strategic areas in Greece or, otherwise, face war!
Metaxa’s famous reply was ‘Ochi’ (‘No’) (“Oxi” in Greek.)
He refused to yield to the powers of the Axis. Italian troops were stationed in Albania and at 5:30 a.m., they attacked the Greek border. This signal Greece’s participation in WWII. That ‘Ochi’ (‘No’), brought Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. For a time, Greece was Britain’s only Ally against Hitler.
That morning the Greek people came out into the street shouting ‘Ochi’ (from 1942, it is celebrated, as ‘Ochi’ Day). Not only did Greece refuse Mussolini’s demand, they seized the offensive and drove the Italians back through most of Albania. Within several weeks the Greek troops managed to drive out the Italian forces, counter attack and invade and control 30% of Albanian soil.
It is believed that had Metaxa’s not said Ochi, the Second World War would have lasted longer, and, even played out differently. A strong belief is that had it not been for the two months strong defence of Greece, Hitler would have invaded Russia earlier in the Spring and may have succeeded. As it was though, Russia was invaded in the Winter and the troops failed in the harsh, weather conditions.
Today Ochi Day is a major day for Greek nationalism with the entire country unified in remembrance of the noble efforts of resistance to fascist oppression, Greece’s refusal to yield to the powers of the Axis in 1940, whilst also celebrating the service of current soldiers. Ochi day is a national holiday in Greece and Cyprus and is always celebrated on 28 October. It is celebrated with special church services, military parades, naval parade, folk dances and student parades. Most buildings and homes are decorated with Greek flags.
One soldier’s recount of that offensive, described their experiences as, terrible conditions… knee-high snow and sludge. Due to the sudden nature of the situation and with no time to prepare, soldiers did not have much in way of food. There was one constant; sultanas were always in their pockets to eat.
World leaders acknowledged the important and pivotal role that Greece played in the Second World War: