Local Interest

From left: Kadri Hoxha. The centre pic was taken in 1991, after over 45 years in various Albanian prisons

From left: Kadri Hoxha. The centre pic was taken in 1991, after over 45 years in various Albanian prisons

Despite unseasonal temperatures (it’s freezing!) and heavy rain in Tirana, today has been a good day. Having posted about how Albanians tend not to know too much about Brigadier ‘Trotksy’ Davies’ SPILLWAY mission of 1943/44, this morning I met a man who knew plenty – Professor Ferit Balla. Davies and a few other officers even hid up in his family house, in the village of Orenje, for a brief time in December 1943, as they tried to evade the Germans. That didn’t work out too well for the Ballas. The Germans dynamited the place, and a lot of other houses in the village, in January 1944.

Ferit and his son Herold are both excited at the thought of September’s Endurance Vile Trail – in fact they’ve long harboured ambitions to rebuild the (currently derelict) family home as it was 70 years ago, using only traditional methods (apart from the plumbing and power, obviously) and launch it as a guesthouse.

Professor Ferit Balla, with an unpublished volume of Kadri Hoxha's memoirs. The arrows show German columns advancing on the British and partisan fugitives

Professor Ferit Balla, with an unpublished volume of Kadri Hoxha’s memoirs. The arrows show German columns advancing on the British and partisan fugitives

Professor Balla brought along a thick book that sat on the table until I dared ask what it was. It turned out to be a volume of the unpublished memoirs of the local partisan leader, Kadri Hoxha (no relation to Enver), who was with Davies’ party as it tried, unsuccessfully, to slip through the enemy’s lines. Kadri Hoxha was sometimes viewed as a bit of a figure of fun by the British. Davies named his horse after him, to Kadri’s annoyance. But after the mission was cornered, he did much to save Major Alan Hare, who spent several weeks as a solitary fugitive, almost unable to walk due to frostbite.

How did Professor Balla get hold of the memoirs? Hoxha’s wife gave them to him after her husband died in the late Nineties. They hadn’t spent too much of their long marriage together – shortly after the war Hoxha was accused of being a British spy, and spent most of the years 1945-1991 in various Albanian prisons. A fairly typical story. When one SOE operative, Dr Jack Dumoulin, revisited the country in 1992 he met a nurse who had once assisted him, Drita Kosturi. She had been tortured and then imprisoned in a labour camp for over four decades, as Rod Bailey recounts in his The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle. Her crime? The communists found she had a card that read ‘Captain J. G. Dumoulin, RAMC’.

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6 thoughts on “Local Interest

  1. Steve A says:

    What are the chances of his memories being published ?

  2. Slim, I should say. Maybe in Albanian, one day. Hopefully I’m going to have a few sit-downs with Professor Balla if he’s willing and perhaps pick out a few interesting bits and pieces…

  3. Reg Hibbert’s Albania’s National Liberation Struggle: The Bitter Victory has quite a bit on the subject I think. Toni from Albaniantrip and myself were supposed to trek up to a crashed plane close to the SPILLWAY mission’s dropping ground yesterday. Unfortunately the insane and unseasonal torrential rain has continued so we didn’t make it. When we do get there we’ll take lots of photos to help folk like you who know about these things ID it.

    • Steve A says:

      Hi Edward

      The weather seems to be playing tricks on everyone no two days the same back here in the UK !

      The photo’s sound excellent and it will be interesting to see what is left after seventy years in the Albanian Mountains, is this the one that could be the Halifax with the Forrester crew ? If so it was the same crew that dropped one half of the SPILLWAY mission as COLOUR 6.

      So it would date the crach to the night of the 19/20th October 1943 and Halifax HR674 of 148 Special Duties Squadron on operation SAPLING 7 which seems to have consisted of Cpt Careless and a Signalman Rockingham and supplies for them and the SPILLWAY mission I presume.

      From the information available, especially Roderick’s book “The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle” wittnesses to the aftermath, Major Field and especially Austin DeAth who heard the crash and that the only Identified members of the flight seem to have been to the rear of the plane i.e SOE men and the one crew member who was either the tail gunner or dispatcher, DeAth mentions mainly hearing the screaming of the engines and from most accounts the evidence points to a head on crash into the mountians while pulling up out of the first run with reports from the recption party that the plane was on fire.

      The danger of this drop zone is backed up by the well known note (well to the few compared to other SOE areas) that Forrester himself scribbled down for his CO W/Cdr Blackburn :- ‘Climb quickly, left handed or else’ unfortunately his words came true that night.

      So it will be interesting to see what wreckage is left to shine anymore light on the story at all.
      And even though all the crew and SOE agents were removed it will be a very moving site to see especially for relatives and on that subject.

      Sorry for “hogging your blog” but I have had contact with a couple of the relations of crew members from this aircraft and who knows your blog may find more, I will pass on your site details to them so they can see what you are doing.

      Good Luck and a safe journey

      Steve Andrews

      • No problem ‘hogging the blog’. It’s great to have some interest. SAPLING 7 actually came down at a drop zone near the coast, at Tragjas. Earlier this year I posted on the subject. Sadly due to scrap metal value there’s very little left –

        http://soetrails.com/2013/03/17/136/

        The plane at Biza is a bit of a mystery. It might not necessarily be wartime – it could be pre- or post-war.

        The most exciting possibility is that it is a CIA plane from the late 1940s or early 50s, when the Brits and Americans were dropping in Albanian agents to undermine Hoxha’s dictatorship. Almost all were caught immediately; many believe due to Kim Philby’s treachery, though the story is probably much more complicated. Using Biza was foolish, for a start… The whole episode does seem to have been amateur hour. Probably the best book on this remains Nicholas Bethell’s The Great Betrayal. In fact it might be the *only* book dedicated to the subject.

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