War heroine risked her life for Diggers

Georgia Tsiamis risked her life to help our diggers escape the enemy in Greece during World War II, and Wollongong RSL will form a guard of honour at the Wollongong heroine's funeral today.

Mrs Tsiamis died last Friday after a long illness. And while her husband Leo, sons Nicholas and Theo and daughter Helen Sara are grief-stricken, they take comfort in knowing their mother will be remembered so fondly.

"Her story was an extraordinary one, and while to us she was just our mum, it's nice that people will remember her and honour her for what she did and for the woman she was," Mrs Sara said yesterday.

"She was a tiny woman who was always superbly groomed and who spoke exceptionally well, who was also feisty and commanded so much respect."

Mrs Tsiamis (then Livanos) was only 17 when she risked execution by German troops for harbouring 23 Allied soldiers - 18 Anzacs and five British - on the run near her home in St Nicholas in 1941.

The soldiers had escaped from Crete, where they had been held as prisoners of war. And young Georgia helped her father Dimitrios Livanos, the region's mayor, hide them in nearby caves.

For two months she risked her life by smuggling food and clothing as well as messages - plaited into her hair - to the men, before her brother Tassios helped them escape on a fishing boat.

When German troops came looking for the family, she took four bullets as she wrestled a rifle from a German lieutenant who was threatening to shoot her sister's young children.

The family survived the war and the young heroine married a Greek soldier, Leo. They had their first child, Helen, and headed to Australia in 1956 where they settled in Wollongong.

Many will have memories of Leo's Fish and Chips in West Wollongong, and Mrs Tsiamis will also be remembered for her philanthropy - she donated to many charities and always fed those in need.

Mrs Tsiamis never spoke of her bravery. It was only when her father died and she and her daughter travelled back to Greece to pack up his things that she Mrs Sara made an important find.

"I found a letter written and signed by the soldiers the night before they escaped, thanking my mum and her family for saving them," Mrs Sara said.

"When I got home, I wrote to Veteran Affairs to tell them about the letter."

Fifteen years ago Mrs Tsiamis was recognised for her bravery at a ceremony in Wollongong, when then NSW RSL president Rusty Priest presented her with a certificate of appreciation.

Three of the soldiers she had saved - Dr Charles Hosking, Kingsley Murphy and Jack Cole - travelled to the city to pay tribute.

At the time Mrs Tsiamis told the Mercury: "I'm not a hero. I was afraid, but I wasn't afraid of dying. ... I've raised a family and had a good life. Who can ask for more?"

Those words are now bitter-sweet for Mrs Sara and her family, who will pay their last respects along with many others at her funeral at the Greek Orthodox Church in Wollongong today.

"We were prepared for her death - she had been sick for the last year," Mrs Sara said.

"But we were not prepared for the terrible grief and pain we are feeling," Mrs Sara said.

"But my mum always said 'I want you to mourn for me nicely' so I am trying to honour her in the nicest way possible."

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