Nicholas G. L. Hammond (1907-2001)
Nicholas Geoffrey Lamprière Hammond was a prominent Classical historian whose knowledge of Ancient Greece and Macedonia led him to a string of remarkable feats while assisting the Greek resistance during World War II.
Born in Ayr, Scotland, Hammond received two degrees in Classics from the University of Cambridge. In 1930, at the age of just twenty-two, he was elected fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. He undertook extended walking trips through the undeveloped countryside of Epirus and Albania studying inscriptions at ancient ruins, memorizing the topography, mastering the Greek and Albanian languages and getting to know the local people. Such firsthand encounters established Hammond as an invaluable recruit for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the organization tasked by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to undermine the Germans in occupied countries through alliances with local resistance groups.
Hammond was first sent to occupied Greece by the SOE in 1940 but did not gain entry until March 1941. Once inside, he taught sabotage techniques to Greek resistance groups in Italian-occupied Albania. In April 1941, Hammond personally destroyed stores of information that would have proved helpful to the invading Germans. He later detonated the SOE ammunition dump located on an island in Suda Bay during the Germans’ airborne attack on Crete, narrowly escaping a hail of machine gun bullets while taking cover in a small boat. Hammond then moved on to the SOE training school in Haifa, Israel in 1942 where he taught guerrilla warfare to the Jewish Haganah and instructed Greeks who were to be parachuted into their occupied homeland as wireless operators. He was involved in the Greeks’ destruction of the Gorgopotamos railway viaduct in November 1942, and was parachuted into Thessaly in February 1943. Hammond then journeyed to the Pintus range of Macedonia, where he was a liaison officer with the Greek resistance group ELAS before being appointed lieutenant colonel in command of the region’s underground British troops.
After being evacuated from Greece in September 1944, Hammond began writing his memoirs, Venture into Greece (1983). In recognition for his extraordinary services during the war, he was awarded the Greek Order of the Phoenix as well as a Distinguished Service Order.
Hammond’s interest in Greek affairs endured for the rest of his life. Upon returning home from the war, he remained at Clare College, Cambridge, as Senior Tutor and University Lecturer until 1954, when he became headmaster of Clifton College, Bristol. In 1962 he was named Wills Professor of Greek at Bristol University until his retirement in 1973. Over the next twenty years, Hammond accepted numerous posts as a visiting professor of Classics to universities in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Greece. He served as President of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, Chairman of the British School at Athens, and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1968. His numerous publications remain as respected authorities in the study of Epirus and Macedonia, Philip II, and Alexander the Great. In addition to publishing over one hundred scholarly articles, Hammond edited volumes I-IV of a revised edition of The Cambridge Ancient History and the second edition of The Oxford Classical Dictionary (1970).
N.G.L. Hammond passed away on March 24, 2001. In the month before his death, a ninety-three-year-old Hammond protested the planned use of the site of the battle of Marathon during the 2004 Olympics and submitted his completed manuscript for a new book on Aeschylus. He was truly an unstoppable force.