Lives remembered: Colonel David Smiley

David Smiley (left) and “Billy” McLean in Albania 1944

This article has no credit but I think from the Times. David Smiley is to me one of the most fascinating characters from the days of SOE and the unique group that assembled at Tara under Sophie Tarnowska. Smiley was a hard fighting soldier who excelled as an irregular. You can read more about him in obituaries from The Times and the Telegraph. If you can find a copy of his book, Albanian Assignment, I thoroughly recommend it.

Andrew Tarnowski writes: Your record of the passing of Colonel David Smiley (obituary, Jan 14) should not be without a mention of his part in one of the most glamorous and eccentric episodes of the Second World War: life at the Villa Tara in Cairo during 1943-44. He was one of a boisterous handful of dashing young SOE officers who lived between missions for several months at the villa they called Tara in Zamalek, on Gezira island. Under the presiding genius of Countess Sophie Tarnowska, a young and beautiful refugee Polish aristocrat, it became a centre for high society of all nationalities, with parties that ended, as often as not, with an orgy of broken glasses, pistols fired at the ceiling and smashed windows.

“We lived on a lavish scale,” Col Smiley wrote later, “and Tara became notorious for its riotous parties and for the eccentric behaviour of its occupants. It became my second home, and the time we spent there was the happiest and most amusing of the whole war.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the inmates, recalled Smiley’s arrival at Tara with Billy McLean from their exploits in Abyssinia, Greece and Albania. “Cavalry sabres stuck out of the bedrolls the suffraghis lugged upstairs . . . and assegais and strange Ethiopian swords stuck out as well, pre-Albanian trophies from the wild tribal levies they had commanded all through the Abyssinian Campaign,” he wrote in an account of life at Tara.

When I interviewed Smiley for a book in 1997 he told me that the famous kidnapping of the German General Kreipe on Crete in 1944 by Billy Moss and Leigh Fermor (recorded by Moss in his book Ill Met by Moonlight) was planned at Tara. Billy, who later married Sophie Tarnowska, and Leigh Fermor dreamt up the plan one night at a nightclub, the Club Royal de Chasse et de Pêche, and then Smiley remembered that they all worked out the details.

“We all planned that particular operation in the bathroom at Tara. We were all pretty well stark naked and on the wall was steam; the walls were tiled. I remember we were drawing with our fingers on the wall, a sort of road here; we’d be able to stop the German general’s car there; we’d have a covering party there — all that sort of stuff. But it was all in the bathroom.”

I think their life at Tara, perhaps, gives us a glimpse of the spirit of those men. It shows that fine soldiers as they were, they were also lots of fun.

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2 thoughts on “Lives remembered: Colonel David Smiley

  1. Vince Gratzer

    Thanks very much for posting. Albanian Assignment is available on Amazon for a very reasonable price and I just ordered a copy.

    Reply

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