Following last year’s 75th anniversary of the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund and its Oinoussian Ball at the historic Tower of London – whose battlements were adorned with the OBF logo sending the message from Father Thames to the rest of Planet Ocean, this year’s event took place close to a more familiar stamping ground for West London’s Hellenic diaspora: Bayswater. John Faraclas was there with his camera:
At the Nine Kings Suite of the recently refurbished and revamped Royal Lancaster Hotel, nearly 400 guests –mainly from London, Athens and the rest of Europe, at thirty-six tables celebrated the cause, the noble charitable cause for which the Ball takes place: helping all those in need on the island as well as worthy causes including the Naval Academy for Merchant Marine Mariners!
The President of the Fund, the eloquent John M. Hadjipateras, spoke warmly and movingly in English welcoming the guests, thanking everyone for their continued support and friendship, and encouraging the younger generation to get involved in propelling the Fund forward in future years. His speech follows below*
Thereafter, a member of the catering staff took the microphone and requested our attention as she wanted to thank everyone for their generosity in buying raffle tickets. She proceeded to begin to dance and was soon joined by several others as the surprise live entertainment of the evening unfolded with this show (see picture on the left). The dancers ended their performance with a Sirtaki dance and invited the guests to join them for a few spins around the dance floor. This unexpected pleasure was very well received…
The raffles were now ready to be drawn. Sixteen impressive prizes were on offer and once again George T. Lemos conducted the draw with his usual flair, efficiency but above all humour!
*Ladies and Gentlemen, 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 this evening and for your continued support.
We especially thank The George and Katingo Lemos Foundation and Dorian Hellas for their generous sponsorship donations.
Last November, many of you will have joined us in celebrating the Fund’s 75th Anniversary at the Tower of London. In my speech, I spoke of a connection between the Tower of London and our remote island in the Eastern Aegean.
For those who weren’t there, the German U-boat commander, who had sunk the Oinoussian freighter ‘Diamantis’ in 1939 and subsequently rescued the crew and safely landed them ashore in Ireland, had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, but was given preferential treatment by his captors, in recognition of his act of benevolence.
This year it was quite difficult, but not impossible, to find a link between Oinousses and this venue, here in west London. In the pre-war years, this area was the centre of the London Greek community, with the Greek Cathedral of Saint Sophia at its heart, together with the Archbishop’s office and residence and the Greek Embassy, all within walking distance. Between the world wars, many Oinoussians stayed in hotels around Queensway, firstly to be near the church and secondly for the direct underground links to the City, where they came to buy, insure, charter and sell their ships. In later years, many of the first Oinoussian families to relocate to London settled in W2 and W1. In fact, there was a small Oinoussian community living in flats just across the road.
The key word here is ‘community’. Members of all diasporas usually stick together initially, creating a social and business community in order to retain the customs and traditions of their homeland. I can imagine the founders of the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund, who were in London during World War 2, receiving news about the hardships on the island and discussing ways to give financial assistance to the families of seafarers, whose whereabouts was unknown to their relatives on German-occupied Oinousses, or who were lost or missing. The vision for the Fund was probably dreamt up over coffee after church on a Sunday, or in the City after a day at the Baltic Exchange.
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. Consequently, the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund was born out of the London community, for the benefit of their compatriots on their homeland. The Fund is therefore both an effect and a cause of the community.
The Oinoussian offices still contribute to the Fund annually by making a voluntary donation, usually based on the net registered tonnage of the ships they represent.
In your programmes is a list of the Member Offices, many of which have been supporting the Fund for several decades.
Oinoussians living in London also contribute to the Fund by making donations every 6th of December, when the traditional Saint Nicholas Holy Breads are distributed by members of the Committee, to Oinoussian households and offices.
Similarly, all of you here this evening are contributing to the Fund and therefore to the community, both financially (for which we are extremely grateful) and socially. We especially value our business relationships within the maritime community, whether in the UK or worldwide, as can be evidenced by all the companies represented here this evening. Many of the companies here, plus those who have advertised in the programme, have been staunch supporters of the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund for decades.
Sadly, this year’s event will be the first without Richard Wilson of TLT, and formerly of Constant and Constant, one of our most loyal supporters, who passed away earlier this year. He will be missed from the dancefloor later this evening.
With annual events like this evening’s, the Fund has kept the Oinoussian community in London together, and continues to be able to act as a bridge between London and our remote homeland in Greece.
Our predecessors provided us with the foundation and inspiration to continue their work, however in the current regulatory climate of transparency, we too have adapted with the times. Oinoussai Benevolent Fund Limited was registered as a UK-company in 2016 and I am very pleased to announce this evening that the Charity Commission registered us a UK-Charity only a couple of weeks ago. I especially thank the team at Holman, Fenwick and Willan for all their assistance throughout the process. This status will give the Fund a more formal structure and will enable it to continue its work well into the future. We sincerely hope that the younger Oinoussians here this evening will be similarly 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.
In fact, to coincide with the 90th Anniversary of the Society of Friends of Oinoussai next year, a Pan-Oinoussian Symposium is being organised, to be held on the island next August. All generations are encouraged to participate as it will provide an ideal opportunity for our vision for the future of our island to be put forward and discussed, whilst also listening to the counsel of the elder generation, who were instrumental in bringing us to where we are today. There will be three pre-Symposium meetings, one of which will be held in London early next year; more details will follow in due course. Meanwhile, we are very pleased that the President of the Society of Friends of Oinoussai, Mr George Daniil and his wife, have travelled from Greece to be with us this evening. As always, our thanks go to him and his committee for their support and good co-operation. Together, by focussing on the medical and educational facilities and also the sports and cultural activities on the island, we are able to help to keep a strong sense of community alive. This is in close co-operation with the Municipal Office, and we thank the Mayor of Oinousses, Captain Stefanos Voyatzis, and his team, for their continued support.
Regarding the present activities of our Fund, we continue to find that we are of great use being 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. Since the start of this year we have helped over a dozen individuals, with examples being for surgery, medical treatment, prosthetics and assistance with living expenses. We are about to purchase computer equipment for the island’s school, which will provide the IT teaching staff with modern hardware to enable the pupils to learn about the wider world through the internet. 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. Early next year they will be visiting London for the first time.
Furthermore, recognising the importance of the prestigious Naval Academy for Merchant Mariners 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.
All this funding assistance enables us to give something back to the community which created us and, perhaps more importantly to keep our remote island alive and relevant, especially in the prying eyes of our closest neighbours, to the East.
I referred earlier to the 90th Anniversary of the Society of Friends of Oinoussai, next year in 2019. This Society was established in Oinoussai in 1929 and has been serving the Oinoussian community faithfully for the past 90 years. We congratulate them on this milestone occasion.
Following 2019, there will be several major Greek anniversaries to celebrate. In 2020, Greece will mark 2,500 years since the famous Sea Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, in which the outnumbered Greeks under Themistocles, defeated King Xerxes’s Persians. This was arguably one of the most significant battles in human history, as a Persian victory would certainly have hamstrung the development of Ancient Greece, and by extension Western civilization. In 2021, the Greek nation will be celebrating 200 years of independence from Ottoman rule and following that, in 2022, the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund will be celebrating its 80th anniversary. However let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There’s a lot to look forward to, but in the meantime, I’d like to express my personal thanks to all the members of the Executive Committee for their assistance and hard work in the smooth running of the Fund, and to all the Ladies of the Fund-Raising Committee, who deserve all of our great thanks for their tireless efforts in putting together this wonderful evening.
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.
Please now enjoy the food, wine and entertainment.