I Was There! - My Nightmare Climb Near Tepelini

The War Illustrated, Volume 4, No. 76, Page 164, February 14, 1941.

Difficulties of terrain and weather in the mountainous Greek front line above Tepelini would seem to make fighting almost impossible. The feats performed daily by muleteers and ambulance parties serving the troops are described in the following dispatch by Ronald Monson, of the Australian Consolidated Press.

After arriving in the foothills above Tepelini via the valley road from Argyrokastro I rode a captured Italian motor-cycle over a shell-torn road to a point where further progress was impossible and then procured a mule and rode with a supply train up the mountain side in darkness.

The way was soon so steep I had to dismount and urge the mule upwards. Fifty other muleteers in single file ahead strove throughout the night to assist their burdened beasts up the backbreaking slopes which at times seemed almost sheer walls of rock.

Intense cold sleet and Italian shells screaming overhead did not make the job easier. But the Greek muleteers, seemingly untiring, did not pause for breath that long night, and I had to toil along lest I should be left behind. The rate of the climb was phenomenal and my lungs seemed as if they would burst. Even the sides of the mules were heaving like bellows before we were halfway.

We reached a rough track after climbing over rocks, and we followed this upwards for hours. Occasionally we stumbled over a dead mule which had fallen in one of th earlier trips and lay across the path. One of our mules fell dead from exhaustion. We divided its load among the others.

Finally the nightmare was ended by climbing what seemed in the darkness to be a 200-foot rock wall. When we got to the top I saw dark shapes preparing to climb down the way we had come. They were stretcher-bearers carrying wounded. They had been carrying wounded from the snowline since the previous day and were now preparing to go down into the valley.

We loaded off at a deserted Albanian village on top of that mountain, which just reached the snowline. Next morning we reloaded fresh mules and our real job began a climb up through the snow. The path was now even steeper. Snow was falling steadily; a cold wind was blowing.

At 5,000 feet a blizzard struck us. Our greatcoats became sheets of ice; our eyebrows, weighted down with snow, froze to our eyelids. Hands and feet were numb. Still the awful climb continued.

For hours we went on through the awesome cloud wrack from which the merging snow created a phantom world, wherein only the sting of driving sleets in the eyes and aching muscles seemed real. Another 500 feet and we reached the artillery positions. A little farther on was a line of tiny tents just showing above the snow. We had reached the front line.

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