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The Oinoussian Ball 2017, celebrating OBF’s 75th Anniversary

Your Eminences Archbishop Gregorios of Great Britain and Thyateira and
Metropolitan Bishop Markos of Chios, Psara and Oinousses,
Your Excellency Mr Karamitsos-Tziras, Ambassador of Greece,
Mr Mitarachis, Right Honourable Member of Parliament for Chios,
Mr Mitropoulos, Secretary-General Emeritus of the International Maritime Organisation,
Captain Skandalis, Maritime Attachè and former Head of the Oinoussian Naval Academy for Merchant Mariners,
Captain Voyatzis, Mayor of Oinousses,
Mr Daniil, President of the Friends of Oinoussai Society,
Ladies, Gentlemen, and dear friends and family,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this year’s Oinoussian Ball.

On behalf of the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund, I thank you all for joining us to celebrate our 75th anniversary, and for your continued support towards our cause.

We are especially grateful to this evening’s benefactors, Seascope Insurance Services, Blue Planet Shipping and The George and Katingo Lemos Foundation and this evening’s sponsors, Chartworld Shipping, C. M. Lemos and Co. and Dorian Hellas. Please give them all a round of applause.

In preparing this speech, I needed no help in finding a connection between the Tower of London and our remote island in the Eastern Aegean. You will probably be wondering what that connection could possibly be. There is, though, a very symbolic link, which is marked by several acts of benevolence that took place only a few years before 1942, when the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund was established here in London.

A few metres from here, a man called Werner Lott was held briefly as a Prisoner of War in 1939.  Lott was the commander of a German U-boat, U-35, and was responsible for a daring and magnanimous act in October of that year. The steamship Diamantis, an Oinoussian Greek freighter of 5,000 deadweight tons, was carrying manganese ore from Sierra Leone to Barrow-on-Furness. Although at that time, Greece was still neutral in the war, the ship’s cargo was considered strategic for Britain, and therefore the ship was a legitimate target. Our link with this story is that the 28 crew of the Diamantis were predominantly Oinoussians. The Master was Captain Panagos Pateras and the Chief Officer was Captain Zannis Lemos. On October 3rd 1939, off the Scilly Isles, Commander Lott ordered the ship to be abandoned so that it could be torpedoed and sunk. He then rescued all the crew from their lifeboats and took them to Ventry near Dingle in South West Ireland, to safely land them ashore. This act of benevolence put his own vessel and crew at great risk from the air attacks of the RAF. Following this event, Lott was swiftly summoned to Germany for reprimanding by his superiors. This act did not go unnoticed by the British, especially as it featured on the front cover of Life magazine a few weeks later. After a couple of months, Lord Louis Mountbatten, later to become First Sea Lord and Viceroy of India, was in command of a flotilla which captured and sank U-boat 35. Lott and his crew were spared and taken as prisoners of war, being imprisoned here in the Tower of London. Another act of benevolence.

When Lott and his second in command complained to the Yeoman’s Warden about the accommodation in the Tower, he was promptly visited by Mountbatten, who was aware of the Diamantis incident, and generously arranged for the Admiralty to allow Lott to dine with him at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, on the condition that they did not try to escape. Lott kept his promise and was returned to the Tower, before being transferred to another Prisoner of War camp in Canada.

Meanwhile, the Greek crew were taken to London where they met up with other compatriots. A few years later, in 1942, it was Captain John D. Pateras, the eldest brother of the Master of the Diamantis, who together with other Oinoussians in London at the time, established the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund. The Fund was set up to give financial assistance to the families of seafarers whose whereabouts was unknown to their relatives on German-occupied Oinoussai, or who were lost or missing.

Following those dark days of World War 2, the Oinoussian community in London grew substantially, as more and more shipping offices relocated here from New York and Piraeus. The Oinoussian offices contributed to the Fund annually by making a voluntary donation, based on the net registered tonnage of the ships they represented. The Member Offices, which are shown in your programmes, have been supporting the Fund for several decades, and many continue to do so using the same formula per net registered ton.

Until the mid-1950s, there were several thousand permanent residents on the island. However, as the demographics on the island changed, so did the needs of the fewer number of permanent residents, who are now less than eight hundred people. Whilst many Oinoussians personally financed specific infrastructure projects which were necessary to modernise the island after the war years, the Benevolent Fund continued to offer financial assistance to their poor and sick compatriots, and also supported the educational, cultural and athletic institutions on the island.

The Fund has now been operating for 75 years, acting as a bridge between the Oinoussians of London and their homeland in Greece. Whether it is by distributing the traditional holy bread on St Nicolas’s Day to the Oinoussian offices and households, or by holding annual events like this evening’s, the Fund has kept the Oinoussian community in London together and linked with Oinousses.

There have been twelve Presidents before me, making me the thirteenth – I’m not sure if that’s lucky or unlucky for me and the Fund ?      We are eternally grateful to all the past presidents for their hard work and devotion to Oinoussai. It is equally important to mention the multitude of Oinoussians who have voluntarily served on the Executive Committee through the decades, as vice-Presidents, Treasurers, Secretaries and Committee Members. There have been representatives from most Oinoussian families, and without them the Fund would not have survived so long. Similarly, all the Ladies who have worked on the Fund-raising Committee over the years.

 

 

Our predecessors have provided us with the foundation and inspiration to continue their work. We sincerely hope that the younger Oinoussians here this evening will also be inspired, so that they can take the Fund forward, to face the challenges ahead in our ever-changing world. As always, we welcome any ideas and thoughts from the next generation, which we hope will help the Fund to reach future milestone anniversaries.

Returning now to the present activities of our Fund, we continue to find that, whilst capital controls remain in place in Greece, we are of great use, being situated outside of Greece and therefore able to offer assistance to compatriots.

Thanks to your support, the Fund annually provides Christmas gifts for all the teaching staff on the island, as well as to all the young children in the Junior School and Nursery. We provide an annual contribution to the Fund for the Needy, as well as giving direct help to several poor and sick Oinoussians. We have supported many of the excursions arranged by the Society of Friends of Oinoussai, which enable the local schoolchildren to visit other parts of Greece and Europe.

Furthermore, due to the state’s cutbacks, medical supplies have often been in short supply, whilst the schools on the island, including the prestigious Naval Academy for Merchant Mariners, have all suffered due to lack of financial and material resources.

Recognising the importance of these institutions to life on the island, the Fund has continued to proudly support the Subsistence Fund which provides subsidised meals for the cadets of the Naval Academy. Earlier this year, the Fund refurbished the island’s infirmary and doctor’s surgery and supplied an interactive smartboard and other equipment for the Nursery School.

By focussing on the medical and educational facilities on the island, the Fund is helping to keep a strong sense of community, always in good and close cooperation with our brother organisation, the Society of Friends of Oinoussai, and the Municipal Office.

We are very pleased that the Mayor of Oinousses, Captain Stefanos Voyatzis and the President of the Society of Friends of Oinoussai, Mr George Daniil, have both travelled from Greece to be with us this evening to join in our celebration. Our thanks, as always, go to both of them for their continued support and cooperation.

We are also very pleased to welcome to London our Bishop Markos of Chios, Psara and Oinousses. He is very proud of his heritage and of his diocese and has been very protective of Oinoussai’s eastern-most islands of Panayia and Vatos. These islands form the boundaries of Oinousses, of the Diocese of Chios, of Greece and of Europe. In light of the territorial claims and provocations by the Turkish military around these islands, Bishop Markos has been instrumental in increasing awareness of these incidents and has taken measures to ensure that these islands remain firmly Greek.

My personal thanks to all the members of the Executive Committee for their assistance and hard work in the smooth running of the Fund.

The Ladies Fund-Raising Committee deserve all of our great thanks for their tireless efforts in putting together this wonderful evening.

 

Sadly, earlier this year, a much-loved member of the Ladies Committee passed away and has left a great void in the Oinoussian community in London. We will always remember Chrys Hadjipateras-Souglides for her generous and kind nature, and be grateful for her untiring contributions to our cause.

It is worth noting that the voluntary nature of both of these Committees, and of the entire Membership, all confirm the Fund’s purpose.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of our members, fellow-Oinoussians and you all, who by being here tonight are showing your support and faith in our cause. On behalf of the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund, once again I thank you all for joining us tonight.

Before I finish, I’d like to point out some of the Oinoussian talent that you will be experiencing this evening.         Firstly, the short documentary film which you will see later, was directed, produced and written by Andreas Hadjipateras and was co-produced by George T. Lemos and MarbleMen Productions. It was sponsored by Seascope Insurance Services, with special thanks to George C. Hadjipateras.             Secondly, the candle gifts on your tables have been created by Evi Lemos of Waks Candles in Greece. Thirdly, the masticha liqueur from Chios, which will be offered later on, was sourced by Stavros Haidemenos of Kalamea Foods.    Many of the raffle prizes have either been created by Oinoussians, such as the artwork and jewellery, or donated by Oinoussian-affiliated companies, such as the holidays, the cruise and the spa day. Also, the award-winning delicacy which you will sample later on this evening, has been produced and kindly donated by Stamos J. Fafalios and Citrus.

Before I give away too many of this evening’s surprises, I’ll sit down so you can enjoy the food, wine and entertainment.

Here’s to at least another 75 years of the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund.

Thank you.

In the News

The Oinoussai Benevolent Fund, (Tameion Efpragias Oinousson/TEO), was set up by Oinoussians living in London in 1942 to help those compatriots on the island who were suffering from wartime difficulties. Today, the Fund provides vital assistance and support to those in need as well as supporting various projects which preserve Oinoussai’s identity and contemporize its heritage and culture. In the recent economic difficulties, the Fund has dealt with issues of poverty, neglect and vulnerability for young and old alike who have suffered from this predicament. This year, the Fund celebrates 75 years of existence.

On Saturday 18th November 2017, as the early evening chill descended on the River Thames, 500 guests from England, Greece and Europe made their way towards the historic Tower of London whose battlements were adorned with the OBF logo and entered the Pavilion, a giant marquee located on the former moat of the Tower. The bohemian décor and ambience complimented the views of the Tower as the guests sipped their welcome drinks and greeted old and new friends with excited anticipation of the ballroom whose doors were promptly opened at 7.15 pm.

Having been called by the toastmaster to proceed to the main room for dinner, the guests walked into the ballroom. It was spectacular. Fifty tables adorned with candelabras and special gifts enticed the guests to their seats while above them a blanket of sparkling stars enveloped the ceiling.

Several dignitaries graced the event with their presence: HE Ambassador of Greece, Archbishop Gregorios of Great Britain & Thyateira, The Bishop of Chios, Oinousses & Psara, Markos, Secretary-General Emeritus of IMO Mr Efthimios Mitropoulos, The MP for Chios Νοtis Mitarakis, The Maritime Attache in London and former head of the Oinoussian Naval Academy Captain George Skandalis, The President of the ‘Friends of Oinoussai’, The Mayor of Oinousses, to name but a few.

The President of the Fund, Mr John M. Hadjipateras spoke movingly in English as he welcomed everyone to this milestone event relating a story of how there is a link between the Tower of London and Oinousses!  He thanked everyone for their continued support and friendship and encouraged the younger generation to get involved in propelling the Fund forward in future years.

This speech was followed by a few well-chosen and beautifully spoken words from HE Ambassador of Greece, Mr Caramitsos-Tsiras who praised OBF for their longevity and continued worthwhile efforts. This was followed by the presentation of a Golden Raffle ticket prize which was drawn by Mrs Caramitsos-Tsiras.

Grace was given by Archbishop Gregorios of Great Britain and Thyateira.

After the sumptuous dinner of salmon, braised beef and toffee pudding had been appreciatively consumed, Mr George T. Lemos, the Vice-President, introduced the premiere of the short documentary film that had been commissioned especially for this event. “Oinousses”, a film in Greek with English subtitles, captivated the audience as they witnessed a brief but intimate look at life on the island as related by the inhabitants themselves.

This was followed by the Raffle draw. Nineteen impressive prizes were on offer and Mr George T. Lemos conducted the draw with his usual flair and efficiency. This was followed by the now traditional serving of ‘masticha liqueur shots’ and an invitation to proceed to the dance floor to enjoy the music of our long-time resident DJ Avgoustinos Galiassos who mixed the latest songs and traditional Greek music much to the delight of all who were dancing.

The evening began to draw to its inevitable conclusion at midnight. The guests were standing around their tables, surveying the room, almost reluctant to leave. When they made their way out, they were carrying their souvenir programmes and their going away gifts of OBF logo embossed candles and power banks. The night had ended and five hundred guests strolled along the path of the Tower of London gazing back at this iconic venue with quiet satisfaction and a night to remember.


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