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261. Monday 27 June 2016.

29/06/2016

Those flying home set off for the Prinos ferry at 0630, and I gave Sue a lift down, then hitched the Hilux to the trailer and did some final preparation of the trailer and the load space of the Hilux.

The ground crew needed to be away by 1000, and we achieved this with time to spare.

As the ferry left Thassos town for the last time, I felt an enormous sense of regret, and a very strong hope that we’d be coming back again.

Our final view of Thassos from the mainland, looking over the fields that Grandad bombed 100 years before.

Our final view of Thassos from the mainland, looking over the fields that Grandad bombed 100 years before.

We landed at Keramoti and drove the short distance to the airport, where we were given access to the military base, and met one final time with Paschalis Palavoouzis, Panos Georgiadis and his sons Lazarus and John, Yorgos Mevridis and many others from the base. I was able to give Paschalis and Panos prints, and they gave us a signed copy of the beautiful poster that had advertised the event – and lots more pictures were taken!

Final Farewell at Kavala Airport.

Final Farewell at Kavala Airport.

Then we loaded ourselves back in to the Hilux and set off to Igoumenitsa on the Egnatia Odos, and its 65 tunnels (cameraman Elliott counted them). It’s an astonishing engineering achievement, and some of the scenery is quite as spectacular in its own way as the journey through the Alps.

We arrived in plenty of time, and when I opened the trailer for the security people one of them recognised the aircraft and who I was.

There was then a looooong wait for the loading time of 0100, and we sat in a local bar, had a very pleasant meal, and watched a second Brexit as England were unceremoniously bundled out of Euro2016 by Iceland. The ferry was late – again – and we were concerned that it would leave us with some very late driving, but in the end we were loaded efficiently and away no more than 2 hours adrift, which was sustainable.

How to sum up my feelings for the completion of the next chapter this in summer’s extraordinary tale?

The generosity of the people of Greece and of Thassos in particular. Everyone we’ve met has been open, welcoming and friendly to all of us in the team.

The beauty of the location. The whole island has spectacular mountains as a backdrop and there are plenty of excellent beaches for those who want to relax in the sun.

It’s possible to criticise the preparations made for us; weather-proof hangarage and a fully prepared strip would have enabled us to get more flying in, and met the wishes of the people of Thassos who were so keen to see 1264 fly, of Theo who came all this way and never got off the ground, and of the film crew, who would have liked the opportunity to get better-prepared footage.

But it’s a small island with limited facilities, and what they did was, frankly a miracle, and I only hope that they have the will and the resources to turn it into a permanent facility that will be of use to the whole community and bring an added resource to the island’s all-important tourist trade. If it can act as a local airfield for tourist flights, and for high speed access by air taxis, it would enhance its reputation, and could act as a permanent home for an exhibition showing the airfield’s crucial rôle in the development of Greek military aviation and in the Salonika campaign, it will have justified that initial investment.

Wouldn’t it be great to come back next year to celebrate the completion of the work?

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