Women’s History Month: Emma tells the story of her grandmother Soumela

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’ve asked members of the SAY team to tell us the stories of female family members with incredible stories and how they have influenced their lives. Here Emma Darch tells the incredible story of her grandmother Soumela.

A formidable lady that was a great source of inspiration in my life was my late Grandmother, Soumela. Born in Sokhumi, Georgia to Greek parents she and her older brother Kyriakos grew up on the Black Sea coast before the family returned to Athens, Greece. My grandmother was highly intelligent and whilst family circumstances forced her to give up her training to become a doctor, she successfully completed a Diploma in dressmaking and went on to teach at the local college. In addition to her mother tongue, she spoke Russian, German, English and a touch of French and Italian.

One of my favourite stories that I used to make her tell me again and again, was of a time during the Second World War, when she was about 18, and how she learnt that her brother was being held in a German military police office in Piraeus, after being wrongly arrested on suspicion of espionage whilst working on ships in the port. After walking there from the Nea Smyrni district of Athens, [about a 2 hour walk] she argued with senior officers in fluent German demanding his release, and refused to leave. Eventually, they told her to go home and that by the time she got there Kyriakos would be waiting for her. Reluctantly, she made the long trip back and true to their word, he had been released, driven home and was there waiting for her.

I’m not sure if it was her courage or tenacity that inspires me more, but when I’m faced with a challenging situation, I think about how she must have felt on the long walk to the port, not knowing if he was even there, or alive, or if she would ever see him again. That when she got there, would they even listen to her, let alone release him? I think about those police offers and what they must have thought when she turned up at their office [all 5ft of her] and began to demand her brothers release, and how they might have thought that she was going to be quick and easy to deal with and then came to the realisation that this was a situation in which they were not going to win.  Most of all, I wonder what she said to them that convinced them to release Kyriakos.  I asked her many times, but she would never tell me. Nobody knows, but her and those police officers.

She was strict, encouraging and taught me all sorts of life skills and I’m grateful to have had her as my Grandmother.