Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

09/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

Production Details

A tale about sacrifice, loyalty and love set against the background of New Zealand’s involvement in the Battle for Crete.

The Cave of Winds by Elspeth Sandys 

Broadcast 10 Jul 2011
 Listen duration53′ :32″  

Cast: Simon Ferry, Jamie McCaskill, Tolis Papazoglou, Ivana Palezevic, David Goldthorpe 

From the author

Crete and New Zealand shared more than just a common enemy – they shared a love of liberty, respect for courage and a passionate commitment to the land that holds their stories. I have been fascinated with Crete ever since the moment – researching in the mid-70s for my novel Love and War – I first set foot on that semi-mythical island. What I was looking for on that first visit were stories of the 18th New Zealand Battalion who fought in the doomed Battle for Crete in May 1941.

The lead character of my novel was in that battalion and it was his story I was telling. No way was I prepared for the deluge of stories that came my way: tales of Kiwi soldiers holed up in the mountains after the Allied retreat; stories told over long, wine-fuelled meals of how in the days before the German invasion soldiers from the Maori Battalion helped the farmers get their tractors working and their wells functioning more efficiently; rumours of love affairs between Kiwi soldiers and Cretan girls; tales of heroism during the dark years of the Occupation. I came away with enough material for half a dozen novels.

Many years later some of these stories resurfaced in the drama that is The Cave of Winds. The story is fictional but its origins lie in the official history of that time and the stories still being told on Crete today. Amid the horrors of war and the subsequent reprisals, a love affair that was larger than any personal story began and continues to this day. Two island nations – Crete and New Zealand – shared more than just a common enemy. They shared, and continue to share, a love of liberty, respect for courage, and a passionate commitment to the land that holds their stories
– Elspeth Sandys.

Novelist and playwright, Elspeth Sandys, has published eight novels and two collections of short stories, and written numerous plays and adaptations for BBC Radio and RNZ.

Theatre , Audio (podcast) ,

54 mins

Gripping, enthralling, satisfying and soundly based in truth

Review by Terry MacTavish 10th Apr 2020

Like Elspeth Sandys, in the 1970s I joined the exuberant army of baby boomers on the grand OE, and came, a lone backpacker, to the Greek island of Crete in chilly December. I was woefully ignorant of the ill-fated WW II campaign in Greece, which ultimately saw so many from the New Zealand Battalions desperately fleeing through Crete, helped and hidden by the local villagers despite terrible danger. But though bewildered, I was more than willing to reap the rewards of proclaiming myself a New Zealander.

I learnt to be extremely grateful for the bravery of our soldiers, and the bonds, still so strong after thirty years, that they forged with the Cretans: both island nations with a love of liberty, respect for courage and passionate devotion to the land.  Many a delicious moussaka or retsina was generously pressed on me as a Kiwi, along with free board from kind old George Thiakakis of Hotel Honia, who drove me on his ancient motorbike to the Minoan archaeological sites that so fascinated me.

Fortunately Elspeth Sandys, one of our most illustrious and venerated authors of biography and fiction as well as radio and film scripts, made better use of her time in Crete. After extensive research she produced Love and War, published in 1982: a magnificent sweeping saga that vividly details the life of the young wife left running the family farm, and her relationship with a conscientious objector, as well as her husband’s shattering war experience that took him from New Zealand to North Africa to Greece.

Love and War provides much of the material for Sandys’ 2012 award-winning radio play, Cave of Winds, although the focus is necessarily tighter and the action confined to Crete in the aftermath of the Allies’ defeat. It makes for an exhilarating play. After a sound-burst of vicious warfare – gunfire mingled with the cries and grunts of men under duress, and German voices shouting commands to surrender – we find ourselves in a quietly intense scene between a fierce Cretan fighter (Tolis Popazoglou) known as ‘Capitan Wild Goat’, and the two Kiwi soldiers he is hiding in a mountain cave.

The chief protagonist is Private Wiri, who exemplifies all the qualities for which Māori soldiers were so highly praised – he is brave, resourceful and loyal, and Sandys endows him with a disarmingly cheeky sense of humour. Wiri (Jamie McCaskill) is doggedly resolved to save the mate he calls ‘Prof’, who has been badly wounded and wishes only to see Wiri free to make his own escape to the coast. Prof (Simon Ferry) is a Pakeha officer who before the war taught Classical Studies, which enables him to tell the tales of mythology that invest Crete, birthplace of Zeus, with such timeless magic.

The actors create a credible, even touching relationship. In natural easy dialogue that never seems contrived or didactic, we learn not only of Byron’s “glory that was Greece” but of more recent history: the centuries of oppression under the Ottoman Empire that made the inhabitants of Crete determined to fight for freedom no matter the cost. The costs are grim indeed, reprisals for assassinated Germans involving the merciless destruction of whole villages.

Not that all Germans are made to appear unmitigated bastards – there is a poignant episode when Prof encounters a young German soldier who wanders near the cave singing Lili Marlene and actually picking wild flowers, and we are reminded war is hell for all. Pacifism is touched on and the cynical politics of war brought into shocking relief by the revelation that defeat was anticipated, and hundreds of soldiers and civilians were sacrificed to strategy.

Throughout, the tension is maintained while the Kiwi vernacular adds humour. Nor are we deprived of a little romance – Wiri has fallen in love with Wild Goat’s spirited, laughing daughter (Ivana Palezevic), and it seems unlikely such a liaison will be welcomed by her ferocious father.

Altogether Cave of Winds is exemplary radio drama, with an enthralling story, clearly identifiable characters and ingeniously evoked settings that reveal Sandys’ genuine love for Crete. The assured actors have distinctive voices with delightful authentic-sounding accents.  Kudos to the producer, Duncan Smith, too – the scenes are easy to visualise, the mood music and FX smoothly blended, the wild Cretan mountainside in summer, day and night, evoked by insect and birdsong. And a donkey. I like Greek donkeys.

It is a gift for the children and grandchildren of those who endured World War II to be presented with their own stories in such palatable form. Not only is Cave of Winds gripping and satisfying, but as a friend who is a noted historian assures me, romantic though it seems, it is soundly based in truth. There were soldiers who took to the hills rather than face capture, and were sheltered by Cretans against whom terrible reprisals were taken. Kiwi Perkins, for instance, known as ‘the Lion of Crete’, became a hero of the Cretan Resistance. And doubtless all through Europe girls fell in love with the escaped POWs their villages were concealing!

The replaying of Elspeth Sandys’ lesson from history seems timely, midway through lockdown, as Prime Minister Ardern praises New Zealanders for facing up to “the greatest threat to human health in over a century”. Social media posts scoff that suffering Covid-19 hardly compares with fighting a war. Maybe not, but perhaps there’s hope that we are facing the disruption to our lives and the sacrifices that must be made with something of the courage of our soldiers on Crete. 


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