The ‘Lady of Ro’: Greece’s Joan of Arc

Despina Achladioti, AKA the ‘Lady of Ro’

Today marks the anniversary of the death of a lady who lived alone on a remote Greek island but whose small daily act of patriotism has seen her compared to Joan of Arc or Boudicca.

Despina Achladioti, born 128 years ago on Kastellorizo — then in the Ottoman empire and only kilometers from the Turkish coast — lived a hard life on the small island.

In 1927 she sailed with her husband to the even smaller island of Ro, next to Kastellorizo, where they eked out a living on the deserted rock, living off subsistence farming. No-one knows why they chose to live there alone.

However, after her husband died in 1940, Despina continued to live her life on Ro — just 800 meters from Turkey — joined only by her blind mother who sailed from Kastellorizo.

Even though Ro — named after the Greek letter for its distinctive shape — did not formally join the Greek state until 1947, as the Dodecanese were controlled by Italy, Despina would raise and lower a Greek flag every day.

She did this every day as her home island of Kastellorizo was invaded by the Italians, bombed by the Luftwaffe and its 14,000 or so inhabitants evacuated by the British.

This small act, which she carried out every day of her lonely life on Ro in all weathers, was recognized by the Greek state upon her death on 13 May 1982, when she was buried there with full military honors.

That military tradition continues, with Greek soldiers stationed there raising and lowering the flag every day, come what may.

The ‘Lady of Ro’, as Despina is known, embodies a spirit of pride, determination and resistance which many Greeks identify with. Her image is used to sum up a spirit of national pride and has become ubiquitous across the diaspora.

It’s a worldwide legacy which the lady herself, who barely strayed from two small islands in the Mediterranean, would struggle to recognize.

Modern Greek soldiers at the graveside of the ‘Lady of Ro’