I drove over to Paddy Leigh Fermor’s funeral at Dumbleton today. I have no connection with the family. What follows is just a series of observations for other fans who could not be there, separated only by time and distance.
This account of Paddy’s funeral was written and submitted by’Andy’.
Dumbleton is a small Cotswold village set in green pastoral of unripe wheat fields and hay meadows. The honour guard was provided by veterans of the Intelligence Corps, PLF’s old regiment. Two uniformed Intelligence Corps soldiers complete with green lanyards were also present.
The church was full – many men in dark suits and several Greeks among them. A cheery woman welcomed us and a choir in blue smocks crammed into the stalls. As the coffin was borne in by four local undertakers the priest, the Rev Nicholas Carter, intoned, ‘I am the resurrection and the light. Whosoever believeth in me shall never die,’ always the most stirring start to a Church of England funeral.
Sarah Gabriel sang, ‘Amazing Grace,’ her voice filling the church, capturing, perhaps, the loneliness of death and departure. Then Colin Thubron read Sir Thomas Browne – The Garden of Cyrus with its admonition to ‘close the five ports of knowledge.’
We then stood to sing ‘The King of love my shepherd is…’ The second reading was taken from the apocryphal Book of James, chapter XVIII verse two. Mary is just about to give birth to the Christ child. Everything comes to a standstill, frozen for an instance, as the author of their motion is born of woman. The piece was read very competently by Robert Kenward, concluding, ‘And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.’
The most challenging part of the service must have been the sermon. How does one write and then deliver a eulogy for a man widely revered as the greatest writer in the English language, certainly of his generation, if not the entire cannon?
The genial Reverend Carter mounted the pulpit and cast off with aplomb and bonhomie. Comparing PLF’s life to a ‘wine goblet overflowing with rich red wine,’ he paid tribute to PLF’s wide range of interests and uncanny ability to put people at ease – be they mountain shepherds or English aristocrats. ‘He saw himself first as a solider,’ said Carter. Second he was a writer, using ‘a rich panoply of words.’ Most importantly he paid tribute to PLF’s love of Greece, the country, its culture, its people and ouzo. The vicar startled the congregation briefly by urging us to take up where Patrick Leigh Fermor had left off. Various journalists and writers shifted uneasily in the pews. The day seemed suddenly hotter. ‘….By swimming the Hellespont aged 70,’ Carter went on. A much more realisable aspiration than equalling PLF’s literary fountain.
Of equal importance was his marriage to Joan, daughter of local family, Eyres-Monsell. ‘Joan was a soul mate and it was one of the happiest of marriages with always a deep love and affection between them.’ Sir Patrick, as he was referred to throughout, was always, ‘generous of spirit,’ – the sixth sense still extant in the absence of the other five. Deeply compassionate, PLF, was ‘always an English gentlemen, always impeccably dressed and unfailingly polite….He gave of himself unstintingly to all who needed him.
Quoting St John, ‘I am come that you might have life and have it to the full,’ Carter said, it was as if PLF, ‘picked up this quote and shone a torch on it..’ Nicholas Carter went on, ‘He was in constant celebration of being alive.’ And then ended with a traditional Greek blessing. ‘On touching sand may it always turn to gold.’
After the Lord’s Prayer and a rather wonderful hymn written by J. S. B. Monsell 1811 – 1875. Sarah Gabriel sang again. This must have been planned by the ever humorous PLF a while ago. Sarah Gabriel sang ‘Vedrai Carino,’ from Mozart’s Don Guiovanni. Reading a translation is well worth it. In the song the peasant girl, Zerklina, promises to comfort her lover. ‘You’ll see, dearest, if you’re a good boy what a lovely remedy I’ll give you…’ Clearly Patrick Leigh Fermor’s idea of the kingdom of heaven is wonderfully at variance with that of more serious theologians. The song continues, ‘Do you want to know where I keep it?’
The undertakers and Intelligence Corps had taken up their position, ramrod straight before the coffin, before the song commenced. At its conclusion they bore Patrick Leigh Fermor to his final resting place in the east of the country churchyard as Dr Alastair Kiszeley played the ‘Flowers of the Forest’ on the bagpipes outside. A bugler from the Irish Guards – PLF’s first regiment – immaculate in mirror finished boots, scarlet tunic and Bearskin, delivered the Last Post…note perfect.
Afterwards we approached the grave and threw pecks of confetti down. The sun shone throughout.
Behind the church an elderly couple were watering their garden. Despite his many travels and the inspiring association with Greece, Paddy Leigh Fermor lived and died an Englishman. An officer and a gentleman, he lies at home beside his adored wife deep in the English countryside. England may not always realise it but she is the richer for his courage, his bravery and his superlative blessing of her language. Rest in peace.