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Vassilios Tsavaliaris, the First Victim of the Greco-Italian War

oxi day greco italian war
Greek soldiers fighting on the Albanian Front of the Greco-Italian War. Credit: Public Domain

It was a few minutes after 5:00 AM on October 28, 1940. The Italian military forces were ordered to launch their first attack in the Greco-Italian War at the Greek-Albanian border in the Pindos Mountains.

Vassilios Tsiavaliaris, a 28-year-old Greek soldier, stands inside the 21st outpost next to the village of Pyrsogianni.

On the eve of the Greco-Italian war, Greeks—who had fought for freedom and independence in the past just 120 years previously—were mentally prepared to fight. They knew it was just a matter of time. More importantly, they were eager to go to battle for freedom and independence once again.

Hence, when Italian Ambassador Emanuele Grazzi knocked on Metaxas’ door at three o’clock in the morning—after a party at the embassy—to deliver the ultimatum from Mussolini, the Greek Prime Minister was prepared.

The ultimatum demanded that Metaxas allow the Italian Army free passage to enter and occupy strategic sites in Greece, unopposed. The Greek Prime Minister delivered an unequivocal response in French, the diplomatic language of the day: “Alors, c’est la guerre,” meaning: “Then, it is war.” This was quickly transmuted into the laconic “OXI” by the citizens of Athens the next morning.

Greek “OXI” and the Greco-Italian War

The Italians attack. Their first target is the outpost Tsiavaliaris is guarding.
In the wake of Greece’s entrance to World War II, Private Tsiavaliaris becomes the first victim of the Axis’ unjustified aggression.

The Italian offensive began after five on the morning of October 28th in the mountains of Epirus, Pindos, and Kalpaki, which form the natural border between Greece and Albania.

The bravery and dedication of the outnumbered Greek Army in the Greco-Italian War was such that, within three weeks, Greece had pushed back the invading forces, much to the surprise of Mussolini and the Italian generals. Then, the Greek Army began a counterattack, driving the Italians deep into Italian-held Albania.

Tsiavaliaris was a father of three children, named Nikos, George, and Alexandra. According to George Papavassiliou, a school counselor in the region of Trikala, where Tsiavaliaris was born, the soldier’s last words before he died were: “My children! My children will be lost…”

Christos Apostolou Gianniou was the second soldier guarding the 21st outpost. According to his words, Tsiavaliaris was hit by Italian mortars. When he died, Gianniou took his body, brought it to the unit’s priest, and asked him to say the final prayers over it.

“I was the first one to cry for Tsiavaliaris,” Gianniou remembered. Tsiavaliaris was the fourth of five children of Giannis and Agoro. He was born in 1912 in the village of Pialia near the city of Trikala.

Raised to love his country, he was a role model for his village, noted for his patience, his willingness to work hard, and his good-hearted manner.

In 2000, the University of Athens built a statue in his honor in the center of his village to commemorate his contribution to Greece’s fight for freedom during the Greco-Italian War.

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