Sixty years after a teenage Frank Crompton was among the first to arrive at earthquake-devastated Zante, the Ballaugh man returned to the island for the first time to be honoured.
The former Royal Navy man was one of the youngest on board HMS Bermuda when it answered the emergency call, and was greeted with hellish scenes of death and destruction.
The 1953 earthquake remains an important moment in the memories of the islanders, and last month Frank was traced and invited as a guest of honour to the 60th anniversary commemorations, a trip from which he and his wife have recently returned.
‘Everywhere I went people were making a fuss, hugs and kisses,’ said Frank. The ceremony itself was held on a warm Sunday evening.
‘It wasn’t an ordinary theatre, it was open air, like a Roman amphitheatre, with an orchestra and a director who was making a film,’ explained Frank.
‘The mayor started speaking in Greek, he was talking about me. People were clapping and cheering, then he called me on stage and presented me with the honour. It was the highest award they can give, and they had never given one before. I gave a speech off the top of my head, it was very emotional.
‘Then a Greek government minister came on stage and presented me with a medallion, made out of a special rock, hand-carved. I’m proud and very honoured.’
Frank said he probably won’t be using his officially title of the Honourable Frank Crompton HZ in his everyday life, though described the experience and attention of the Greek media as ‘like being a superstar’.
He said the town wasn’t recognisable from 1953.
‘It was just rubble then. It’s hard to realise that everything was gone, there was nothing left at all. The survivors were at the ceremony. 800 people were killed, everyone lost someone,’ said Frank.
‘But it has been rebuilt in keeping. It’s a fabulous place, I’d recommend it to anyone.’