Metaxas is best known for his refusal in 1940 of Mussolini’s demand to let the Italian army pass through Greece at the beginning of World War II. Though widely believed to have said simply, ‘Okhi’ (No) (with a national holiday celebrating this event called ‘Okhi Day’) his actually words were French ones: ‘C’est la guerre’ (It’s war!!), marking the entry of Greece into the struggle.
Two months earlier, the Italians had tried to push Greece to enter the war by torpedoing the Greek ship, ‘Elli’ in the harbor of Tinos island on the day of the annual pilgrimage to the icon in the church there (and one of the most holy days in Orthodox Christianity, August 15th, day of the Assumption of the Virgin), but it took the Italian invasion to rise to the cause.
Fighting in the bitter cold mountains of Ipiros in winter (a battle described most chillingly in Louis de Berniere’s acclaimed novel, ‘Corelli’s Mandolin’) the Greeks drove the Italians who survived back into Albania.