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Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Proposed online discussion to remember Paddy – 2 July 2021

A few weeks ago when I asked for suggestions as to how we might mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death, some of you suggested an online discussion.

Little more has been heard about ideas for taking this forward, so I have decided to try to run something myself. There is no specific agenda, but we will have to have some sort of order. We might wish to introduce ourselves; talk about how we came to discover Paddy; our meetings with him; what inspires us about him or his work, even today; perhaps some selected readings. 

The idea is to run an initial 90 minute session (come and go as you please) early on a Friday evening as this should allow the widest time-zone coverage, allowing for breakfast in California and evening across Europe. Despite a reasonably large Paddy following in Australia, it is almost impossible to arrange a respectable time that works (for what is a social event) for the Antipodes. We may be able to record the meeting for later viewing.

In order to keep this as simple as possible I plan to use Google Meets. This is free and we have no real limit on numbers. To attend you will need a Google account. If you don’t have one you can create one just for this meeting. Using Zoom would have involved cost; it may be something to consider if we decide to repeat the idea on a regular basis.

If you are interested in attending please add a comment below so I get an idea of interest in order to decide whether or not to proceed.

Details

Date and Time: 1800-1930 BST Friday 2 July

Location: Google Meets – see link here for requirements including web browser

Invitation: a link will be posted on the blog nearer the time – you will have to click in or accept. There will be no invitation to your calendar so you will have to make your own reminder.

Special Invitations: If you have in mind someone that you would like to attend, please pass on the details to them. If there is anyone you might like me to invite eg a writer or someone similar, please make your suggestion and I’ll see what I can do.

Hosting and Admin: I shall host to start with but this is your meeting so very happy that you take over! If anyone wishes to contact me via email to help with any admin that will be welcomed.

Dress and Protocols: Wear anything you like, or not as the case may be! Bring a drink (Vodka tonic?). I see this as a “camera on” event, otherwise things get very sterile talking to blank black windows on a conference call. As a courtesy to others I think that you should be prepared to have your camera on so we can see you if you wish to attend. In my experience, the quality of video calling makes for flattering images!

If you have any questions or suggestions, please post a comment below or contact me via gmail address.

Paddy’s 10th anniversary – a personal commemoration by James Down

After calling for ideas to remember Paddy on the 10th anniversary of his death, James Down asked if he could offer a small personal memory. Here are James’ photos and his commemoration.

I’m not sure it would be of interest, but just after I graduated, in fear of never having the chance again, I did a trip in 2014, starting at Paddy’s House, then hitchhiking up through the Balkans to Croatia, catching a boat across to Italy, then walking all the way back home, to Sussex on my own. The thing I thought may appeal or be relevant to the anniversary is that I have some pictures of Paddy’s house as it was before anything was updated as part of the Benaki project. I also fell asleep there, to escape the heat, inside the arched entrance way and had an amusing encounter with a very shocked Elpida. I’d be happy to contribute them, captions and/or an explanation as a stand-alone, or perhaps as a part of wider mosaic of your reader’s personal interactions or memories with Paddy and his wider orbit.

By James Down.

I live in Kigali, Rwanda and have been a follower [of the blog] since 2012 when I discovered Paddy as a student. The accounts, biographies, memoirs and historic content of the blog I use frequently, to remember the life and opportunity there is out there, when stuck at a desk, unable to get out anywhere. As well as to remind myself there is more than one’s job around every corner, if you look.

Paddy’s house, as everyone says, is hard to find amongst olive groves and cypress trees. It is also as beautiful and as personally designed as everyone says. The Taygeytus Mountains do indeed soar up and away behind it from the sparkling sea. 

In fear of never having the chance again I did a trip on foot across Europe after graduating. I started at Paddy’s House, then hitchhiked up through the Balkans to Croatia, catching a boat across to Italy, then walking back home, to Sussex, on my own. It is clear that Paddy’s writing, character and spirit had a hand in all of this and so I felt his home would make a good starting point. 

What I think was his writing room was the first thing I came across, separated from the main house, which still had piles of books stacked on tables inside it at the time. Then the flowing, concentric, pebbled-patterns of the spreading terrace.There were the stairs down to the small half-moon shaped beach, looking out to a small island in the glittering sea. I sat on a carved pew inside the vaulted stone entrance to the house, cool compared to the crackling heat outside. The books, the open wooden doors and wooden shutters, the smell of rosemary and lemon verbena made me feel like someone had just left. The house that had known so much life was now quiet, but it was not a void, it hadn’t let go of the special feeling I imagined it had held.

After a swim and a quick walk I returned to the vaulted inner terrace and fell asleep on my pack. What must have been a couple of hours later, when the shadows were getting longer, I was woken very suddenly and remembered that, technically, I was trespassing. I recognised Elpida straight away from her photographs in Artermis Cooper’s book, she was as shocked as I was. I said hello and sorry in the same breath and gathered up my things to leave. I apologised again and made my way through the olive groves back to Kardamyli, stopping a little distance away above the house to look back at the house. 

I am very lucky to have been able to see it, alone, for a few hours, as it roughly must have been at the time of his death. I felt Paddy would excuse the trespassing and would have given me his blessing as I began my own walk. 

I am certainly not alone in having been affected by Paddy and his approach to life. But I do hope this escapade and experience provide a slightly different and personal vignette of the famous house on the occasion of his 10th anniversary.

Updated – The Art of Travel with Patrick Leigh Fermor

We originally posted this recording in March 2012. It really does not seem so long ago! David Turner had found a recording from somewhere and converted it to digital. I uploaded it to Soundcloud where it resides to this day. 

The recording is from a BBC Radio 4 programme entitled “The Art of Travel” (broadcast c.1990-1992) in which Annette Kobrak interviewed Paddy for about 26 minutes concerning his early life and his journey to Constantinople. There are some good discussions about his travels after Between the Woods and the Water, about Bulgaria and into Constantinople.

However, an even better digital version is now available on BBC Sounds here, and at this time of remembering Paddy it’s good to hear his voice once more.

https://patrickleighfermor.org/2012/03/11/patrick-leigh-fermor-the-art-of-travel-broadcast-c-1990-1992/

If the BBC prevents you from listening because you are abroad, try my Soundcloud version below.

I am indebted to David Turner for taking the time to convert this to digital and very successfully too – the sound quality is excellent!

You can listen online or download (press the downwards pointing arrow on the right hand side menu bar of the player).

Calling all former PLF Society members; can you help?

Thank you to all of you who have responded so quickly to this appeal. I have all that I need now and my inboxe(s) are overflowing! If you were going to help, thank you, but nothing further is needed. I’ll try to sort this out over the coming period (some of you know how slow I can be so the vagueness is deliberate!). Have a great weekend.

As all readers will no doubt be aware, the misson of this blog is to try to gather all Paddy related material into one useful place, and that has been more or less achieved. The PLF Society commissioned a number of articles and published these in its more than a dozen newsletters. With the demise of the Society and its website, much of this material has been lost to the public (and even former members who have lost or deleted).

I plan to create a little corner of the blog dedicated to PLF Society material as a tribute to the late Charles Arnold, founder of the Society. I believe I have about 40% of what was in the public domain, but would like to get this to 100%. This includes, in the main, the regular newsletters, The Philhellene.

I’m asking all readers if they can forward copies they still have of the Philhellene to atsawford[at]gmail.com . Thank you all in advance for your assistance. I shall update you all on progress.

A new photograph to mark the 10th anniversary of Paddy’s death

John Craxton (left) and Patrick Leigh Fermor (right), Serifos, Greece, 1951. Photo (detail): Joan Leigh Fermor, National Library of Scotland
John Craxton (left) and Patrick Leigh Fermor (right), Serifos, Greece, 1951. Photo (detail): Joan Leigh Fermor, National Library of Scotland

At least this is new to me. I discovered it recently appended to an article about the new John Craxton biography (more on that later). I thought that we might all enjoy this image of two young men in their prime, two great friends, just larking about in their favourite place.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – My Meeting with the Byron of Our Times

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s run-on part in The Roots of Heaven

There are many excellent profiles of Paddy, but I have recently discovered this one by the prolific American biographer Jeffrey Myers. It includes some original quotes, with an interesting section about Paddy’s time filming The Roots of Heaven in 1958. Something new to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, still very much missed by his family and many admirers around the world.

By Jeffrey Myers

First published in Standpoint 15 December, 2014

I met the handsome, charming and dashing Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) in May 2002. He belongs with authors as men of action — Melville, Conrad, Hemingway, Malraux and Orwell — who did not go to university and learned their lessons from violent experience. Leigh Fermor, whose reputation is based on three impressive achievements in travel, war and literature, has enjoyed after death a well-deserved revival of interest in his life and work. In 1933-34, in his late teens and after expulsion from school, he spent a year walking south-east across Europe, passing through nine countries from Holland to Turkey. In his leisurely 1,700-mile ramble, rough when solitary and poor, hedonistic as guest and lover, he moved effortlessly between peasants and patricians. Though his journey did not equal the agonising treks of Henry Morton Stanley through Equatorial Africa or of Wilfred Thesiger across the Empty Quarter of Arabia, it was a considerable feat of social and cultural exploration.

In April 1942 Leigh Fermor landed in Crete by parachute and set out, with resourcefulness and courage, on his second and most famous Byronic adventure. He spoke modern Greek and joined a handful of British Special Operations Commandos sent into the mountains of the Nazi-occupied island to organise the resistance and unleash a guerrilla uprising. His men attacked airfields and blew up a fuel base. He also watched helplessly as the Nazis took revenge by destroying whole villages and massacring thousands of civilians. While on Crete, he fired a rifle he thought was unloaded and killed a Greek comrade, setting off a blood feud that was not settled for many decades.

Leigh Fermor’s greatest wartime achievement was the daring capture of a German general, Heinrich Kreipe, on April 26, 1944. Dressed in German uniforms, Leigh Fermor and his men set up a roadblock. As the car slowed down around a sharp curve, they poured out of the darkness and restrained the general, who shouted, swore and punched until he was handcuffed and shoved onto the floor of the vehicle. They then smuggled their prisoner through the main town, Heraklion, west along the coast and into the mountains.

The general turned out to be a cultured captive, well versed in the classics, and had many lively talks with Leigh Fermor before he was taken to Egypt and then to a POW camp in Calgary, Canada. A moment of true understanding came when Kreipe, gazing at the white hills, quoted Horace’s Ode (1.9) — “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte” (See, the snows of Mount Soracte glare against the sky) — and Leigh Fermor quoted the rest of the Latin poem from memory. In April 1972 they appeared congenially together in a Greek television programme. When asked if he’d been treated well, the general replied, “Ritterlich! Wie ein Ritter” (Chivalrously! Like a medieval knight).

Leigh Fermor’s bold exploit inspired a book, Ill Met By Moonlight (1950), by his comrade-in-arms William (Billy) Stanley Moss and a 1957 film of that name with Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. (The title comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Moss — handsome, six years younger than Paddy and a veteran of the North African campaign — was educated at Charterhouse and spoke French and Russian but not Greek or German. He does not provide any historical or military background, bases his memoir on the diary he kept at the time and writes in a plain, often clichéd style. The first rather uneventful half — mostly marching, hiding and planning, with a few close calls — expresses admiration for the Greek partisans and leads up to the daring capture of the much older General Kreipe (born in 1895).

Leigh Fermor carries “an ivory-handled revolver and a silver dagger” and cuts a dashing figure. They had hoped to capture General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, a cruel “tyrant much loathed by the islanders” who was later hanged as a war criminal, but he was unexpectedly replaced by Kreipe. The capture takes place between the German headquarters and the general’s residence in the Villa Ariadne, built by Sir Arthur Evans during his excavations of the ancient Minoan palace of Knossos. After driving through Heraklion in the Opel, with Leigh Fermor wearing the general’s hat, they bluff their way through 22 German checkpoints — though one map shows only four checkpoints. (The gullible sentries, some suspected of complicity, were arrested and probably sent straight to the Russian front.) The commandos evade all the German patrols searching for Kreipe and, with many difficulties, bring him through the slopes of Mount Ida and down to the British ship on the south coast.

Kreipe — “a thick-set man . . . with thin lips, bull neck, blue eyes, and a fixed expression” — had come for a rest in Crete after two tough years on the Russian front. Concerned more for his dignity than for his life, he worries about the lost symbols of his rank and valour: his general’s hat and the Knight’s Cross of his Iron Cross. Though fairly stoical and cooperative, he complains about his minor injuries, poor food and lack of sleep. He and Leigh Fermor also exchange Greek verses from Sophocles, but do not establish a close connection. Though the commandos leave evidence suggesting only the British, not the Greeks, had captured the general, the Germans razed the nearest village and eventually killed 2,000 civilians.

Leigh Fermor’s version of the incident, Abducting A General (John Murray, £20), published last year, is a short, blatantly padded book. The foreword provides useful historical background. Only half the 189-page work contains the main text. Seventy pages reprint his hastily written intelligence notes sent from Crete to headquarters in Cairo. The most interesting dispatches describe his accidental  shooting of his close Cretan friend and his part in the executions, without trial, of Cretan traitors. (When I asked Sir Alec Kirkbride, the last surviving officer of T.E. Lawrence’s Arabian campaign if he had really killed a lot of lawless Arabs after the capture of Damascus in 1918, he casually replied, “Oh, not that many.”) The last 20 pages provide a detailed guide to the abduction route that few visitors to Crete, apart from fanatics, would willingly endure.

Leigh Fermor’s account has already appeared in his anthology Words of Mercury (2003) and been the basis of the two chapters on Crete in Artemis Cooper’s biography (2012). Based on memory rather than diaries and written in 1966, 22 years after the event, Abducting A General, like his earlier travel books, is filled with invented details. He gathered intelligence, carried out sabotage and prepared the Cretans to help the British recapture the island. His major difficulties were faulty radio transmitters, lack of transport, “rain, arrests, hide and seek with the Huns, lack of cash, flights at a moment’s notice, false alarms, wicked treks over the mountains, laden like a mule, fright among one’s collaborators, treachery, and friends getting shot”.

He is excited by the constant danger and, when disguised as a Cretan, by his close proximity to German soldiers. His book is more detailed than Moss’s about the history and geography of the island, more stylish and lyrical. He is devoted to his brave, loyal and sacrificial Cretan friends and comrades, whose language he speaks and whom he idealises: “we could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support: a sentiment which the terrible hardships of the occupation, the execution of the hostages, the razing and massacre of the villages, only strengthened.” But he ignores the conflicts between the Greek Communists and the pro-British partisans, which led to a civil war after the liberation of Greece. His hyperbolic and Homeric tributes to the Cretans — “their capacity to cross several mountain ranges at the same lightning speed on an empty stomach after swallowing enough raki and wine to lame other mortals for a week” — are excessive.

The main dangers of the abduction were the possibilities of stopping the wrong car, encountering other German vehicles and provoking savage reprisals. The identification and immediate escape in April 1944 was helped by Kreipe’s coloured metal pennants on the front fenders of his car. When seized, Kreipe lashed out with his fists, was manacled and had his legs tied. The whole episode took only 70 seconds. His badly injured driver, who could not keep up with the escaping partisans, had to be killed.

Since Leigh Fermor could also speak German, he writes more fully and positively than Moss about his relations with Kreipe, who bears up stoically under humiliating circumstances. The youngest son of the large family of a Lutheran pastor in Hanover, Kreipe was 48 years old and unmarried. He had a broad pale face, grey hair and jutting chin. A professional soldier, he had served in the army since 1914 and had recently won a Knight’s Cross on the Russian front. His moods during this ordeal ranged from cheerfulness to depression, and he sometimes slept under a blanket with Leigh Fermor and Moss, huddled together against the piercing mountain cold. Leigh Fermor writes in comradely fashion: “The General’s behaviour was most friendly and helpful throughout and he put up with the hardships of mountain travel and living rough with fortitude. Moss and I had the impression that he had lost his nerve a bit after the first contact with us. He certainly made no attempt to escape.” If he had broken his word, he would have been shot by the Cretans. On May 14, 1944, after 18 anxious days in the mountains, they all boarded the ship to Cairo. Spared the disastrous German defeats in Russia and in Greece, Kreipe remained in British custody until 1947.

The crucial military and moral question, which Moss ignores and Leigh Fermor answers with qualified affirmation, is whether the abduction of General Kreipe was worth the brutal German reprisals: whole villages destroyed and the massive slaughter of men, women and children in August 1944. The survivors rejoiced; the dead remained silent. But Leigh Fermor’s heroic exploit, still famous all over Greece, boosted morale during the dark days of the German occupation and gave a glimmer of hope for the final victory.

Leigh Fermor’s third major achievement was the travel books about his youthful journey that appeared decades later: A Time of Gifts (1977), Between the Woods and the Water (1986), and the unfinished and posthumously published The Broken Road (2013). A slow, procrastinating writer, blocked for much of his life by the weight of too much material, he resembled Penelope unwinding at night what she had woven by day. His wanderings abroad to write in Benedictine and Trappist monasteries, which he described in A Time to Keep Silence (1953), were also an escape from writing.

Fermor often indulges in unseemly displays of erudition. His learned digressions and serpentine style, his mannered mandarin, even baroque prose, which Lawrence Durrell called truffled and dense with plumage, were influenced by the work of Charles Doughty, T.E. Lawrence and Norman Douglas. This florid style clashes with his descriptions of colourful gypsies and cave-dwelling bandits — dressed in sheepskin jackets, high boots and billowing breeches, with daggers tucked into their belts and bandoleers charged with cartridges — rioting, feasting and firing their carbines into the air or, during a vendetta, into their enemies.

Fascinated by his achievements, I corresponded with Paddy (as everyone called him) while writing my biography of Errol Flynn. He had written the screenplay of one of Flynn’s best movies, The Roots of Heaven (1958), and been on the scene during the disastrous filming in French Equatorial Africa. He thought Hollywood screenwriting was a lark that enabled him to hang around and drink with colourful characters in an exotic setting. Flynn, Trevor Howard and Paddy were all drinking heavily, and there was some conflict when Paddy fell in love with the French singer Juliette Gréco, the co-star and mistress of his boss, the producer Darryl Zanuck. In a vivid letter of May 5, 2000, Paddy described the horrendous conditions — heat, disease, swarming insects and dangerous animals — while making the movie in the tropics. He got on well with the flamboyant Flynn, a kindred spirit, and gave a perceptive account of his character:

Errol seemed distinctly more intelligent than the run of actors. Full of original tangents, a great narrative gift, and a great sense of humour. He often referred to his learned father, a marine biologist at Belfast University. He loved reminiscing, largely about Hollywood. I asked him what the leading and most beautiful stars of the day were like. “Well, pretty good,” he said. “They’ve all got my scalp, I’m afraid.” There were lots of memories of his early days there, and his adventures. He was very funny about a yacht he shared with David Niven, and the girls they would take on trips. “We looked on them to supply the food. One pretty girl came on board with nothing but a loaf and a contraceptive device.” He took his acting seriously, and was absolutely adequate in his not very exacting role. He was on very good terms with all the other actors. His physical condition wasn’t too bad, troubled by hangovers now and then.

When I wrote again while working on my life of John Huston, who directed The Roots of Heaven, Paddy vividly recalled the savage Darwinian scene. Bangui, now in the Central African Republic, was the roughest and most primitive place of all:

The forests near Bangui were inhabited by very intelligent pygmies. We were “shooting” in the forest when the clouds broke and a large deluge of rain came down. Our procession of vehicles headed back to the ultra-modern hotel, like an up-ended mouth-organ on the banks of the Shari river, which was full of crocodiles. I got there with Errol and his girl, and we were astonished to find the whole of the ground floor a foot deep in termites, over which small bright green frogs from the Shari were leaping about in parabolas, while Juliette’s mongoose ran riot among them, killing and swallowing as many as he could, two legs sticking out of his mouth. A strange sight.

I also got in touch when writing my life of Somerset Maugham. Paddy was an Old Boy of Maugham’s alma mater, The King’s School,  Canterbury, and as a student had read Of Human Bondage. He was also a close friend of Maugham’s admirer and confidante Ann, the wife of Ian Fleming. After the war he had visited Maugham’s luxurious Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat. Since Paddy lived in Kardamyli, a remote village in the southern Peloponnese and my daughter was a Foreign Service officer in Athens, it was a perfect time to see him. So we rented a flat for three weeks, overlooking the sea and a few kilometres from Paddy’s village.

I rang him up from a local shop and he immediately invited me to come round for a talk. Since his house was hidden away and hard to find, he walked up to the main road and hailed me as I approached. Tall and straight, white-haired and sun-tanned, he was at 87 still a virile and impressive figure. He had designed his low, rambling, whitewashed, red-tiled home himself, and called it “a loose-limbed monastery and farmhouse with massive walls and cool rooms”. It had a shaded patio facing the Mediterranean, a flourishing garden, and a huge library filled with books in ancient and modern languages. He had created the setting he wanted and the life he wished to lead, travelled widely and wrote well, charmed everyone and seemed content.

Paddy wanted to correct Ann Fleming’s version of his embarrassing visit to Maugham, which she had exaggerated — with shattered drinking glasses and blood on the floor — to amuse Evelyn Waugh. Maugham had asked Ann to bring Paddy with her for dinner, and then (always generous to good-looking young authors) had invited him to stay on as his guest and write at the villa. Unnerved by Maugham’s severe expression and icy manner, Paddy drank far too much. Falling victim to the perverse tendency to talk about the very thing he was strictly forbidden to mention — Maugham’s debilitating speech defect — Paddy quoted the absurd belief that everyone in the College of Heralds had a stammer. That was bad enough. But noting that the day was the Feast of the Assumption, he mentioned Correggio’s painting of that subject in the Louvre and repeated a stammering friend’s bon mot: “That is a m-most un-un-w-warrantable as-assumption.”

Deeply offended, Maugham became even icier. Rising from the table and taking his leave, he rescinded his invitation by saying: “G-G-Goodbye. Y-Y-You will have left b-b-before I am up in the m-m-morning.” The wretched Paddy, who had not intended to wound his host, contrived to make matters even worse. Instead of waiting for the valet to pack his bag, he hastily threw his things together and caught a precious monogrammed sheet trimmed with Belgian lace in the zipper of his suitcase. He rushed down the stairs with the rest of the sheet trailing behind, frantically tore part of it off and escaped from the villa with shreds of fabric hanging out of his bag.

After our talk, Paddy signed some travel books I’d brought along. Specially buying another one, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958), in the village shop, he inscribed it, surrounding his words with a cloud and a sketch of birds flying around the title page. When he mentioned bees and my daughter used the unusual word for “buzz” — zouzounizo — which he hadn’t heard for years, he praised her fluency in Greek. After drinks in his house Paddy invited all of us to dinner at a simple restaurant, set on a promontory overlooking the glistening sea, which he’d bought for Lela, his former and now ancient cook. I noticed that the cook’s son Giorgos — who greeted us warmly in excellent English and recommended the best dishes — was tall, blond, blue-eyed and very un-Greek looking.

Paddy, who didn’t see well at night, asked me to drive him home in his battered old Peugeot, which had stiff gears, negligible brakes and holes in the rusted metal of the floor. As we went down a steep hill towards the sea, which had no barrier, I suddenly realised that the brakes didn’t work and had to swerve violently to avoid submersion. Paddy, who’d had many close calls, was jovial and unconcerned about the dangerous episode. My instinctive feeling that Giorgos was Paddy’s son was confirmed when my daughter returned to Athens and impressed her Greek friends, who knew the truth, by mentioning that she’d dined with a national hero.

Paddy was the Byron of our time. Both men had an idealised vision of Greece, were scholars and men of action, could endure harsh conditions, fought for Greek freedom, were recklessly courageous, liked to dress up and displayed a panache that impressed their Greek comrades. Paddy also reminded me of a Bedouin chief’s tribute to another famous warrior, T.E. Lawrence: “Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood, the man, in freedom free; a mind without equal; I can see no flaw in him.”

Escape from Fortress Crete

Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss (top row, second and third from left) with ­other members of the group that abducted the German general Heinrich Kreipe, Crete, April 1944. Estate of William Stanley Moss/Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss (top row, second and third from left) with ­other members of the group that abducted the German general Heinrich Kreipe, Crete, April 1944. Estate of William Stanley Moss/Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

In one of the most audacious feats of World War II, two British undercover agents and a group of Greek partisans in Nazi-occupied Crete kidnapped General Heinrich Kreipe, the commander of the German garrison’s foremost division. Over eighteen days, with a net of enemy troops tightening around them, they marched him across the island’s mountains to be transported on a motor launch to Egypt.

By Colin Thubron

First published in the New York Review, March 11 2021

“Of all the stories that have come out of the War,” a radio announcer declared triumphantly, “this is the one which schoolboys everywhere will best remember.” The exploit was celebrated in 1950 by its deputy leader William Stanley Moss in his book Ill Met by Moonlight, which became a popular movie produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The leader of the operation, Patrick Leigh Fermor (played onscreen by Dirk Bogarde), was to become a legendary figure in postwar Britain and Greece, as well as the most revered travel writer of his generation. But his full account of the action, Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete, wasn’t published until several years after he died. Beside its sheer drama and the frequent fineness of Leigh Fermor’s writing, the story resonates with half-answered questions. Was the exploit worth it? What, if any, was its strategic effect? Above all, were the atrocities visited afterward on Cretan villages by the Germans an act of vengeance for the abduction?

Recent years have seen a surge of interest in Leigh Fermor’s life and work. Since his death in 2011, a fine, full-scale biography by Artemis Cooper has appeared; his archive at the National Library of Scotland has been mined for new material; and two volumes of his letters, Dashing for the Post and More Dashing, in which he recounts inter alia his periodic returns to Crete, were edited by Adam Sisman. On the last of these journeys, in 1982, Leigh Fermor was delighted—and perhaps relieved—at his rapturous reception from his Cretan comrades-in-arms, still inhabiting his wartime haunts: whiskery old men now, who feasted him mountainously for days.

Their memories are long and bitter. The Nazi occupation of Crete, and of all Greece, was a particularly brutal one, in which perhaps 9 percent of the nation’s population perished, and almost the entire Jewish population of the island, destined for death camps, was drowned when their transport ship was mistakenly torpedoed by a British submarine. Hundreds of villages, including many in Crete, were razed.

These memories have recently surfaced again in the rhetoric of Greek politicians. Germany, ironically, is Greece’s main creditor. In protesting German stringency in the face of their towering debt, the Greeks raised the old question of war reparations, maintained by Germany to have been settled in 1990. In 2015 the Greeks demanded a further $303 billion for damaged infrastructure, war crimes, and repayment of a Nazi-enforced loan from Greece to Germany. The present Greek prime minister has pursued this less stridently than his predecessor, but the demand remains.

This rankling bitterness would not have surprised those members of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) who operated undercover in the Cretan mountains, and who witnessed firsthand the Greek hatred of their oppressors. Part of Leigh Fermor’s motive in producing his own account of Kreipe’s abduction was to pay tribute to the intransigent courage and resolve of the local inhabitants.

Yet the writing of the operation originated by chance. In 1966 the editor of Purnell’s History of the Second World War, an anthology of feature-length essays, commissioned Leigh Fermor to record the operation in five thousand words. But Leigh Fermor was not one for shortcuts, and he produced over 30,000 words, almost a year late. Eventually a version appeared in Purnell’s History, stripped down by a professional journalist, and shorn of most of the color, drama, and anecdote that characterized the original.

It is easy to see how this original—published as Abducting a General —exasperated the Purnell’s History editor. From the start, although it records every tactical move, it reads more like a vivid and expansive adventure story than a military report. On the night of February 5, 1944, signal fires glitter on a narrow Cretan plateau as Leigh Fermor parachutes out of a converted British bomber. It is the start of things going wrong. Clouds close in, and his fellow officer “Billy” Moss cannot drop down after him. It is two months before they rendezvous on the island’s southern shore, after Moss has arrived from Egypt by motor launch.

Leigh Fermor was twenty-nine, Moss only twenty-two, but both had seen hard war service. Moss, a captain in the Coldstream Guards, had fought in North Africa, but had no previous experience of guerrilla warfare. Leigh Fermor, on the other hand, had already been in Crete fifteen months, disguised as a shepherd, gathering intelligence and organizing resistance. He spoke fluent Greek and had struck up warm friendships among the andartes, the region’s guerrillas.

The island where they landed was the formidable German Festung Kreta, Fortress Crete, garrisoned by some 50,000 soldiers, but menaced by a hinterland of lawless mountain villages. The British target at first had been the brutal General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller (who would be executed for war crimes in 1947). But he had recently been replaced by General Kreipe, a veteran of the eastern front, who for propaganda purposes was considered an equally promising prize.

Such a kidnapping would undermine the morale of the German forces, Leigh Fermor wrote; it would inspirit the resistance (which had suffered recent reverses) and prove a setback to the Communist propagandists who were seeking to divide the Greek island as they had the mainland. He proposed to his SOE superiors in Cairo that the action should be “an Anglo-Cretan affair”:

It could be done, I urged, with stealth and timing in such a way that both bloodshed, and thus reprisals, would be avoided. (I had only a vague idea how.) To my amazement, the idea was accepted.

In a curious lapse of German security, Kreipe was driven unescorted each evening five miles from his divisional headquarters to his fortified residence. At a steep junction in the road Leigh Fermor, Moss, and a selected band of andartes lay in wait after dark until a flashed warning from an accomplice signaled the car’s departure. As the Opel’s headlights approached, the two SOE officers, wearing the stolen uniforms of German corporals, flagged it down with a traffic policeman’s baton.

On one side Leigh Fermor saluted and asked in German for identity papers, then wrenched open the door and heaved the general out at gunpoint. On the other, Moss, seeing the chauffeur reach for his revolver, knocked him out and took his place at the wheel. Meanwhile the Cretan guerrillas manacled the general, bundled him into the back of the Opel, and dragged the driver to a ditch. Leigh Fermor put on the general’s hat, three andartes held the general at knifepoint on the seat behind, and Moss drove off in the direction that the enemy would least expect: toward the German stronghold of Heraklion.

Along the road, and within the city’s Venetian walls, the general’s car, with its signature mudguard pennants, cruised past raised barriers and saluting sentries. In the blacked-out streets the car’s interior was almost invisible. Moss drove through twenty-two checkpoints. Occasionally Leigh Fermor, his face shadowed under the general’s hat, returned the salutes. Then the car exited the Canea Gate and they went into the night.

In the eighteen days that followed, the party often split and reformed. The Opel was abandoned near a bay deep enough to give the impression that a British submarine had spirited the general away. Anxious that no reprisals should be taken against the Cretans, Leigh Fermor pinned a prepared letter to the front seat:

Gentlemen,

Your Divisional Commander, General Kreipe, was captured a short time ago by a BRITISH Raiding Force under our command. By the time you read this both he and we will be on our way to Cairo.

We would like to point out most emphatically that this operation has been carried out without the help of CRETANS or CRETAN partisans and the only guides used were serving soldiers of HIS HELLENIC MAJESTY’S FORCES in the Middle East, who came with us.

Your General is an honourable prisoner of war and will be treated with all the consideration owing to his rank. Any reprisals against the local population will thus be wholly unwarranted and unjust.

Beneath their signatures they appended a postscript: “We are very sorry to have to leave this beautiful motor car behind.” Other signs of British involvement—Players’ cigarette stubs, a commando beret, an Agatha Christie novel, a Cadbury’s chocolate wrapper—were scattered in the car or nearby.

At daybreak the general was hidden in a cave near the rebellious village of Anoyeia. Leigh Fermor was still in German uniform when he entered the village with one of the andartes. “For the first time,” he wrote,

I realised how an isolated German soldier in a Cretan mountain village was treated. All talk and laughter died at the washing troughs, women turned their backs and thumped their laundry with noisy vehemence; cloaked shepherds, in answer to greeting, gazed past us in silence; then stood and watched us out of sight. An old crone spat on the ground…. In a moment we could hear women’s voices wailing into the hills: “The black cattle have strayed into the wheat!” and “Our in-laws have come!”—island-wide warnings of enemy arrival.

Yet his party’s progress soon came to resemble a royal procession. Guerrilla bands and villagers who recognized what had happened greeted them with jubilation and supplied food, guides, and escorts. But the going was very hard. Thousands of German troops were fanning across the mountains in search of them. Reconnaissance planes showered the country with threatening leaflets. Still, the group vanished from German sight among the goat tracks and canyons east of Mount Ida, whose eight-thousand-foot bulk straddles a quarter of the island. They crossed it in deep snow.

The general was a heftily built, rather dull man who trudged with them in reconciled gloom. He was not a brute, like Müller, but the thirteenth child of a Lutheran pastor whose chief worry, at first, was the loss of his Knights’ Cross medal in the scuffle. Sometimes a mule was found for him, but he fell twice, heavily. “I wish I’d never come to this accursed island,” he said. “It was supposed to be a nice change after the Russian front.”

On the slopes of Ida one dawn, where the two SOE officers and the general had been sleeping in a cave under the same flea-ridden blanket, Leigh Fermor placed the incident that he celebrated more than thirty years later in his A Time of Gifts. Gazing at the mountain crest across the valley, the general murmured to himself the start of a Horatian ode in Latin. It is one that Leigh Fermor knew (his memory was prodigious), and he completed the ode through its last five stanzas:

The general’s blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine—and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.

By now German troops were spreading across the long southern coast, from which the general would most likely be shipped to Egypt on a motor launch or submarine summoned by radio. But the radios and their clandestine operators were forced to relocate continually by German maneuvers, a crucial wireless-charging engine broke down, and messages (carried by runners) quickly became redundant as enemy troops took over remote beaches.

Yet Leigh Fermor’s party, sometimes guided by andartes’ beacons, slipped through the tightening cordon, and arrived at the defiant haven of the Amari Valley villages. It was another eight days, far to the west, before they found an undefended beach, made contact with a radio operator and with SOE headquarters in Cairo, and were promised a boat for the following night. In a last, ludicrous hitch, as Leigh Fermor and Moss attempted to flash the agreed Morse code signal for the rendezvous into the dark, they could not remember the code for “B.” But another of the group did; the motor launch returned, and they embarked for Egypt in euphoria, after shedding their boots and weapons for those comrades left behind.

It was soon after his capture, on the road beyond Heraklion, that General Kreipe, a tried professional soldier, asked, “Tell me, Major, what is the object of this hussar-stunt?”

In Abducting a General Leigh Fermor stresses morale: the blow to German confidence and the boost to Cretan resistance and pride. Immersed as he was in the emotional politics of the island, he felt the endeavor to be worth the risk. But others questioned it. Strategically it was irrelevant, and under his eventual interrogation the general yielded nothing of interest. “Kreipe is rather unimportant,” concluded the British War Office. “Rather weak character and ignorant.” The historian M.R.D. Foot, to Leigh Fermor’s irritation, called the abduction merely a “tremendous jape,” and even before the project was sanctioned, a senior SOE executive in Cairo, when asked if it should proceed, objected. The executive later wrote:

I made myself exceedingly unpopular by recommending as strongly as I could that we should not. I thought that if it succeeded, the only contribution to the war effort would be a fillip to Cretan morale, but that the price would certainly be heavy in Cretan lives. The sacrifice might possibly have been worthwhile in the black winter of 1941 when things were going badly. The result of carrying it out in 1944, when everyone knew that victory was merely a matter of months would, I thought, hardly justify the cost.

The cost may have been high. Some three and a half months after the general’s kidnapping, with the brutal Müller again the island’s commander, the Germans razed to the ground the recalcitrant village of Anoyeia. Müller’s order of the day was unequivocal. For Anoyeia’s longtime harboring of guerrillas and of British intelligence, for its murder of two separate German contingents, and for its complicity in Kreipe’s abduction:

We order its COMPLETE DESTRUCTION and the execution of every male person of Anogia who would happen to be within the village and around it within a distance of one kilometre.

Nine days later the Amari villages suffered the same fate, with 164 executed. The Greek newspaper Paratiritis, an organ of German propaganda, cited their support for the Kreipe abduction as the reason.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete
Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete, May 1943

Leigh Fermor, by then convalescing in a Cairo hospital, was shattered by the news. Yet in retrospect he realized that some four months—an unprecedentedly long time—had elapsed before the German reprisals, which were usually instantaneous. There are historians who agree that citing Kreipe’s abduction was little more than an excuse, and that the real, unpublishable reason was that within two months the German forces were to start their mass withdrawal west across the island, exposing them to hostile regions like Amari that flanked their line of retreat. Colonel Dunbabin, Leigh Fermor’s overall commander, in his final report on SOE missions in Crete, shared this assessment, adding that Müller’s purpose was “to commit the German soldiers to terrorist acts so that they should know that there would be no mercy for them if they surrendered or deserted.”

When Leigh Fermor returned to the island soon after, his Cretan friends comforted him that the German revenge would have happened anyway: “These were consoling words; never a syllable of blame was uttered. I listened to them eagerly then, and set them down eagerly now.”

These thoughts and memories, of course, were written in retrospect. By the time of their composition in 1966 and 1967 Leigh Fermor had already completed a novella, a brief study of monastic life, and three travel books, including two fine descriptions of Greece, Mani and Roumeli. His Abducting a General, besides its value as a war document, slips readily into narrative reminiscent of a dramatic travel book, peppered with anecdote and irresistible asides. This is part of its allure. Military data merge seamlessly with the evocation of people and landscapes. A threatening storm is evoked in images of aerial pandemonium above a landscape of rotting cliffs and lightning-struck gorges. (One sentence of Proustian complexity runs to 138 words.) A cave in which the abduction party shelters from the exposing daylight is described with an eye for more than its military use:

It was a measureless natural cavern that warrened and forked deep into the rocks, and then dropped, storey after storey, to lightless and nearly airless stalactitic dungeons littered with the horned skeletons of beasts which had fallen there and starved to death in past centuries: a dismal den, floored with millennia of goats’ pellets, dank as a tomb.

The second, shorter section of the book is devoted to Leigh Fermor’s contemporary War Reports. Most valuable is his account of another evacuation. In September 1943 Italy surrendered to the Allies, and General Angelo Carta, commander of the 32,000-strong Italian Siena division occupying eastern Crete, was being hunted by the Germans. Through Carta’s counterespionage officer Franco Tavana, who handed over detailed Italian defense plans, Leigh Fermor organized the general’s escape, from a chaotic beachhead, to Egypt.

Even the reports are vivid with incident. On a clandestine visit to Tavana, Leigh Fermor hid under a bed from intruding Germans, “clutching my revolver, and swallowing pounds of fluff and cobwebs.” Crouched in the cellar of an Orthodox abbot, while sheltering from an enemy patrol—“It was a very near thing”—he glimpsed the Germans’ boots two feet above him through the floorboards. Elsewhere he describes how—heavily disguised—he taught a trio of drunken Wehrmacht sergeants to dance the Greek pentozali. It comes as a shock to realize that any Allied operative arrested on the island would be brutally tortured, then shot.

Leigh Fermor’s courage, generosity, and high spirits famously endeared him to the Cretans. He sang, danced, and drank with them. Naturally generous and uncritical, he describes almost every mountaineer as a model of hardiness and bravery: “Originality and inventiveness in conversation and an explosive vitality…. There was something both patrician and bohemian in their attitude to life.” He might have been describing himself. “We could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support.”

Among the Cretans Leigh Fermor most admired was a slight, high-spirited youth named George Psychoundakis (affectionately code-named the “Changebug”), whom the SOE used as a runner carrying messages over the mountains. This impoverished shepherd, whom Leigh Fermor’s confederate Xan Fielding called “the most naturally wise and instinctively knowledgeable Cretan I ever met,” could cover the harsh terrain at lightning speed, although he dressed in tatters and his disintegrating boots were secured with wire. After the Occupation ended he was mistakenly interned as a deserter and eventually went to work as a charcoal-burner to support his destitute family. It was at these times—in prisons, and in a cave above his work-site—that he labored on the book that became The Cretan Runner. It was translated by Leigh Fermor, who had discovered its author’s whereabouts after the war.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete, May 1943. Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete, May 1943. Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Uniquely, it is a narrative written from the lowliest rank of the Greek resistance, by a man who was barely educated, and records four years as a dispatch carrier through the precipitous harshness of western Crete. Sometimes he rendezvoused with British arms drops or guided escaping Allied soldiers to the sea, and he evaded capture by swiftness, resourcefulness, and a profound knowledge of the terrain. He wrote:

My tactics on the march were to know few people, in order that few should know me, even if they were “ours” and good patriots. I kept my mouth shut with everybody, even to the point of idiocy, and these two things kept me safe to the end.

His book is an unaffected day-by-day drama, direct and demotic at best, only occasionally swelling into literary grandiloquence when he feels the subject (patriotism, the dead) requires it. Years later this self-taught prodigy translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into his vernacular Cretan, using the meter of the seventeenth-century romance Erotokritos, and was richly rewarded by the Athens Academy.

Leigh Fermor’s translation of this difficult work arose from his love of Cretan culture as well as respect for Psychoundakis. But his personal immersion in the island came at cost. One of his War Reports expands wretchedly on his accidental shooting of a partisan and great friend, Yanni Tsangarakis. Its recounting clouded his face even in old age. And misgivings that his Kreipe operation—brilliant and brave as it was—brought retribution on the island he loved may never have quite left him.

General Kreipe arrives in the UK

PW capture report on Kreipe

This is the last post in the series created by the excellent Chris White. He first published this on Facebook in 2020. During the first months of the pandemic, I was copying and pasting and adding his pictures to recreate here on the Paddy blog. I know that many of you have enjoyed this and your comments are appreciated. There will be a couple of follow on posts to tidy up this series, but once more, a huge round of thanks to Chris. I look forward to seeing Chris at the 10th anniversary dinner in June and passing on my personal appreciation.

29th May 1944. General Kreipe arrives in the UK after a brief period of time in Cairo being interrogated. Again, it is front page news.

Kreipe in UK 1

Dinner commemorating the death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor 10 years ago

The dinner event at Aphrodite Taverna (see here) is one month away. Thanks to Chris Joyce for organising everything. There are a couple of places still available, so if you would like to attend please let Chris have your details via chrisjoyce14 [at] outlook.com. 

A deposit of £20 per person is needed, payable to Chris who has covered this so far, upon your confrmation.

Looking forward to seeing you all there for what will be a splendid evening of drinking, eating, singing, reading and spechifying!

Morale boosting news item in ‘Union Jack’

Union Jack 1

20th May 1944

The kidnap is reported in a morale boosting news item in ‘Union Jack’, the newspaper produced for Allied Forces in the Second World War.

This is the edition for Allied forces fighting in Italy.

Union Jack front page

Union Jack 2

Front page news

Kreipe headlines 2

19th May 1944

And finally the full story becomes major, even front page, news in Britain. Mirror, Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Express all report the kidnap – often alongside the major battles happening in Italy…

Kreipe headlines 1

Kreipe headlines 3

Kreipe headlines 4

Kreipe headlines 5

Kreipe headlines 6

General Kreipe arrives in Cairo after flying from Mersa Matruh

Kreipe Cairo arrival 1

16th May: On the motor launch’s arrival in Mersa Matruh the General and the rest of the kidnap group were officially welcomed by Brigadier Barker-Benfield and the General spent his first night of captivity sharing a room with the Brigadier in the Officers Mess.

Kreipe Cairo arrival 2

Kreipe headline 17 May

Kreipe Cairo arrival 3

Waiting for the motor launch to arrive

RN Motor launch rescue Fermor Kreipe

14th May 1944

The final hours…..they have gathered in the rocks behind Peristeres beach, just below the village of Rodakino…..different andarte bands have joined them from the surrounding villages…and they are waiting for the motor launch to arrive…….

Paddy writes:

‘…..we all lay up till nightfall on a ledge in a deep hollow of the cliffs where an icy spring trickled down the rocks……Then we crossed the short distance to the little cove we hoped to leave from. It seemed to us all, with its walls of rock on either side and the sand and the pebbles, the lapping of the water and the stars, a quiet place for our adventure to end. As we stood about, talking in whispers at first, though there was no one to be afraid of, Andartes climbed down the rocks in two and threes to join us. There were the Rodakino Kapitans Khombitis and Manoli Yanna and Andrea Kotsiphis, and there too, suddenly, with the great fair moustache that had made us christen him Beowulf, was Petraka, the kapitan of the Asi Gonia band and one of our oldest friends on the island. He had brought a contingent of Goniots to join the other Andartes in guarding our departure and also to say goodbye. The place was filling up like a drawing room: groups were lounging about in the rocks or strolling with slung guns quietly conversing’

‘There was a slight coil of mist over the sea so it was not till she was quite close that we saw the ship. We could hear the rattle of the anchor going down; then two boats were lowered…….
The moment had come….We all pulled off our boots to leave behind; this was always done; even in rags they came in useful. Soon we were saying goodbye to Petraka and the Rodakino Kapitans and Yanni Katsias and the guerrillas and lastly to Antoni Zoidakis. We all embraced like grizzly bears. I tried to persuade Antoni to come with us; he wavered a moment and then decided against it. I wish he had. A sailor said “Excuse me Sir, but we ought to get a move on.”

As we neared the ship, the figures waving along the shore had begun to grow indistinct among the shadows and, very fast, it was hard to single out the cove from the tremendous mountain mass that soared from the sea to the Milky Way. The ship grew larger, her pom-poms and Bofors A.A. guns shining in the starlight. When we drew alongside sailors in spotless white were reaching down into the bulwarks to guide the General up the rope ladder (“That’s right Sir! Easy does it!”) while we – Billy, Manoli and George and I – helped from below. A moment later we were on the deck in our bare feet and it was all over.’

Peristeres beach 1

Peristeres beach 2

Peristeres beach 3

Peristeres beach 4

Peristeres beach 5

Peristeres beach 6

The church at Agios Nikolaos

This morning’s post about Bruce Chatwin has been most popular. Thank you for all the lovely comments. Nigel Dipper sent the above photo taken on one of their many visits to Agios Nikolaos. I hope that you enjoy it.

Hi Tom

Thanks for the reminder of the birthday of Bruce Chatwin; a remarkable man and a fine writer.
We often picnic at Agios Nikolaos where Chatwin’s ashes were laid to rest. It is a beautiful spot. This picture was taken in spring 2011 just before the death of PLF. I thought you might like a copy.
Up in the village above, a beer or a coffee can be had at the very friendly ‘Gorge Hotel’. The view of the Taygetos is spectacular

Regards, Nigel.

Finding Bruce Chatwin


Today marks the birthday of Bruce Chatwin, born 13 May 1940. This was sent to me by the author Carol McGrath’s husband Patrick. It’s a reminder of the close friendship between Bruce Chatwin and Paddy, as well as the stunning scenery around Kardamyli. I’m hoping to visit again in September; maybe second time Covid lucky!

A visit to the beautiful spot in the Greek Mani where the author Bruce Chatwin’s ashes were scattered.

Carol McGrath is the best selling author of The Women of Hastings Trilogy – The Hand Fasted Wife, The Swan Daughter and The Betrothed Sister published by Accent Press. She presently lives in the Mani, not far from Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house.

“Wunderbar, Herr General! We’re leaving!”

May 13th 1944

Nearly there…waiting in the rocky fissure outside Alones….

Paddy writes:
“Well, Herr Major, how are the plans for our departure progressing?” By now the General had become as solicitous for the success of our departure as we were.

“Wunderbar, Herr General! We’re leaving!”

It was true, the order of release or the promise of it, had come through. The German drive through the Asi Gonia mountains had driven Dennis to earth and put his set momentarily off the air. But messages from Cairo were beamed now to all stations and when the great news came through, Dick himself, hearing of our local troubles, and making a dash clean across the Nome of Retimo, reached our cheerless grotto long after dark. The boat would put in at a beach near Rodakino at 22 hours on the night of the 14th /15th May. – “10 o’clock tomorrow night!” It was in exactly a day from now. We would only just be able to manage it.

The thing was to get the main party to the coast under cover of darkness. I sent Billy off with George and the others and Yanni Katsias and his two wild boys by a short route which would bring them by daybreak to a place where they could wait for us. The General, Manoli and I would go by a much longer and safer way, where the mountains were so steep and deserted that, with a cloud of scouts out, we could move by day without much danger. Unfortunately it was too steep and uneven for a mule so the General would have to go on foot. But the sky was clear and there would be a bright moon and starlight.

The Krioneritis mountains which we were to cross are not one of the highest ranges of Crete, but they are among the steepest and are certainly the worst going. They are bare and, except for an occasional thistle or thornbush or sea squill, as empty of vegetation as a bone yard; the place is ringed with craters and fractured into a jig-saw of deep crevasses; worst of all there is not a path or even a flat square foot in the whole of this wilderness. The region is a never-ending upside-down harrow armed with millions of limestone sickles and daggers and yataghans.
Sustained perhaps by the thought of an end to his ordeal, the General tackled this Via Crucis with scarcely a groan. Helped by Manoli and me when he stumbled and then by the guerrillas that shimmered like ghosts out of the vacancy, he moved across the landscape in a sort of trance.”

Dennis Ciclitira has joined them and has a working radio

May 11th 1944

Things are looking up! Dennis Ciclitira has joined them and has a working radio set up the valley in Asi Gonia. And they hear from Ianni Katsias that the closest beaches – at Rodakino – has potential as a pick up point.
They spend the day and evening resting and recovering. They are all very tired and the General is clearly suffering. Billy Moss recorded, after the General fell off the mule the day before:

“General in great pain, saying: ‘I’ve had enough. Why don’t you shoot me and get done with it’.”

Paddy writes:

Rumours of a German descent on the region had prompted Stathi to conceal us in such a cramped and precarious eyrie the night before; next morning all seemed serene: we climbed up to a commodious and beautiful ledge of rock where the General was consoled for the agonies of the ascent by the coloured blankets and the cushions spread there under the leaves by my god-brother (Stathi) and Stavro (an old drinking companion of mine) and by the marvellous banquet of roast sucking pig and kalitsounias, – crescent shaped mizithracroquettes – and the wicker demi-john of magnificent old wine which was waiting. Stathi was a great bon viveur and a paragon of kindness and generosity as well as being Kapetanios of an armed band. His eager blue eyes kindled with delight to see us demolishing his feast. He hoped, (and so did we) that we could lie up here in luxury until we slipped off over the hill to the boat. There was a rushing stream hard by and sweet smelling herbs all round us and the trees were full of nightingales. We banqueted and slept and talked and sang. The sun set through the surrounding peaks and as we lolled exulting on the soft rugs under the moon and the stars, for ever plied with fresh marvels by the two brothers, who sped to and from the village like kindly djinns, this sudden change in our affairs seemed to all of us as magical as the sudden transportation to paradise for beggars in a Persian story.’

The General falls from his mule

10th May 1944

After a day resting in Photeinou the party continue to travel westward. They are heading to the Kato Poros gorge outside the village of Vilandredo.

Paddy writes: ‘A mishap occurred on this long night’s march: the girth of the General’s mule broke and sent his rider tumbling down a steep precipice. We chased after him; we thought at first that one of his shoulder blades was damaged; we arranged a sling and after a while the pain seemed to go. But his right arm remained in a sling for the rest of the journey. It was an anxious moment.

Outside the little village of Vilandredo we were met by kind and enthusiastic Stathi Loukakis and his brother, yet another Stavro.

He led us all, dog-tired and woe-begone, to a built up cave that clung to the mountainside like a martin’s nest. It was only to be reached by the clambering ascent of a steep ladder of roots and rocks – up which our disabled captive could only be hoisted by many hands and slow stages.’

Michael Powell was led to the cave in !951, and we finally tracked it down in 2015.

Our sun is rising

Chris White (C) with Charidimos Alevizakis (L) the nephew of Ianni Tsangarakis, Paddy’s greatest friend and guide. Charidimos had been a messenger for Paddy – and told us most emphatically that he and Paddy ‘were brothers.’

9th May 1944

After another day resting in Patsos the party head westward – reinforced by George Harokopos and George Pattakos, who supplies a mule for the General to ride on.

Paddy writes:

‘Our way westward over the plateau of Yious was our familiar east to west route over the narrowest part of western Crete. “Our sun is rising”, George had said as we set off at moonrise. It was a favourite saying in these nocturnal journeys. “Off we go,” Manoli said, “Anthropoi tou Skotous.” This phrase “men of Darkness!” was a cliché that often cropped up in German propaganda when referring to people like us, and we had eagerly adopted it. We were off, I hoped, on the last lap of our journey.’

‘Among the rocks and Arbutus clumps there was an ice-cold spring which was said to bestow the gift of immortality. We all lay on our faces and lapped up as much as we could hold. I told the General about the property of the water. He leant down from the saddle of his mule and asked urgently for a second mug.’
There destination for the night is the village of Fotinou – but they have to cross the main road from Rethymno to Spili without being spotted.

‘Men with guns whistled from the rocks and when we answered ran down to meet us and shepherd the party across the perilous highway. Others joined us out of the moonlight as we climbed into the conical hills where Fotinou is perched. Suddenly there was an alarm of a German patrol approaching directly ahead. Our party, by now quite large, fanned out along a ridge and lay waiting.’

‘Luckily it was only another contingent of our growing escort. There was relief and laughter. By the time we got to the grove of Scholari outside Fotinou, we were very numerous indeed. Most of the troop was composed of old Uncle Stavro Peros and his eighteen sons and their descendents with several members of the Tzangarakis and Alevizakis families as well. Andoni, the youngest of the Peros brothers had just contracted a dynastic match with the daughter of a family with whom the Peros tribe had been locked in discord for generations; so an atmosphere of concord and rejoicing reigned in the hills.’

In 1951 the film director Michael Powell, as part of his research for “Ill Met By Moonlight’, had visited the village, and photographed the Peros family.

In our early research trips we were able to meet Despina Peros, who had married Andoni Peros – the dynastic match – and whose olive grove they had stayed in. Despina was very proud of her association with the kidnap and that she had fed the group.

And on our first research trip in 2010 we met Charidimos Alevizakis, the nephew of Ianni Tsangarakis, Paddy’s greatest friend and guide. Charidimos had been a messenger for Paddy – and told us most emphatically that he and Paddy ‘were brothers.’

10th anniversary dinner – London

Following on from the list of potential options to mark the 10th anniversary of Paddy’s death, we are starting to see some ideas come to fruition as people have taken up the mantle and got on with things.

Dr Chris Joyce has arranged the first definite event, a dinner planned for 24th June at the Aphrodite Taverna, 15 Hereford Road, London, W2 4AB. Artemis Cooper will attend. The format is likely to be drinks followed by cold mezze, then hot mezze; plenty of wine and Retsina.  Some toasts, short speeches, short readings.  Chris regrets, no dancing on the tables.

Drinks probably from 1830. Maybe limited to 24 people so it will be first come, first served, and a deposit will be required at some point. Probably cost around £25 per head plus drinks.

To reserve your place, please contact Chris Joyce via chrisjoyce14 [at] outlook.com. Thanks to Chris for making all this possible!

We might have been in a drawing room

8th May 1944

Tha main party stay resting outside Patsos. Billy writes about having a bathe in the tumbling stream nearby.
In the evening Paddy and Giorgos arrive from Genna and the group are reunited again.

Paddy writes: ‘The party, when I found them, were star-scattered about a tumble-down stone hut shaded by a clump of tall plane trees and a beetling rock with a waterfall and a deep pool. George Harocopos and his old father and his pretty little sister were looking after them in this Daphnis and Chloe décor.’

‘”Good morning, General. How are you?”
“Ah, Good morning, Major. We missed you.”
We might have been in a drawing room.’

The party are joined by another villager from Patsos – Giorgos Pattakos – who we were privileged to meet several times on our early research trips

Complimentary access to Stanfords Travel Writers Festival Online Spring Edition – 8-9 May

A little short notice, but some my find this of interest.

Standfords are partnering up with Destinations: The Holiday and Travel Show to bring you a Spring Edition of the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival.

Destinations TV will host a line up of scheduled talks, interviews and Q&A sessions at Destinations presents Travel 2021 on Saturday 8 – Sunday 9 May.

The line-up includes four brand new author talks from the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival.

Saturday 8th May: 12-1pm

I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain with Anita Sethi

Saturday 8th May: 3-4pm

We Are Nature: How to reconnect with the wild with Ray Mears

Sunday 9th May: 12-1pm

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul with Taran Khan

Sunday 9th May: 3-4pm

A Year of Living Simply with Kate Humble

All talks will be available to watch on demand until the 11:59pm 16 May.

Register for complimentary access here.

‘All was going according to plan’

7th May 1944

Messages are beginning to bear fruit….and Paddy realises they will have to travel further westward. They still don’t have a plan on how to depart but they are now getting better links with Cairo via the radio set at Dryade and their brave messenger, George Psychoundakis. Paddy and George stay on in Genna a further night.

In the evening Manoli, Billy, the General and the main party travel further westward to the village of Patsos, where they stay in a sheepfold in a gorge by a tumbling stream.

Paddy writes: ‘On the night of the 7th, the party with the General moved by an easy night march to Patsos, which was only two or three hours away from me. They were being fed and guarded by George Harocopos and his family, (George, a thoughtful and well read boy, later to become a gifted journalist, was the son of a very poor, but very brave and kind family, all of whom had been great benefactors to the wandering British). All was going according to plan.’

But when we saw the branding mark, We only stole the ram, Sir

6th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain based in Genna – messengers coming and going as they desperately try to arrange a safe beach to be picked up from. Giorgos Psychoundakis returns with Dick Barnes – known as Pavlos.

Paddy writes: ‘This reunion with Dick – like many occasions in occupied Crete when one wasn’t actually dodging the enemy – became the excuse for a mild blind. ‘Mr Pavlo and I set off to Yeni,’ writes George Psychoundakis in ‘The Cretan Runner’, “where we found Mr Mihali (me) and Uncle Yanni Katsias. We sat there till the evening and the sun set. Yanni took us to the east side of the village where they brought us some food and first rate wine and our Keph (well-being) was great. The four of us were soon singing. Mr Mihali sang a sheep-stealing couplet to the tune of Pentezali, which went:

Ah, Godbrother, the night was dark
For lamb and goat and dam, Sir,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only stole the ram, Sir.

The ram – the head of the flock – meant the General.’

Billy, Manoli, the General and the rest of the kidnap team remain in the sheepfold above Gerakari.

‘This is very satisfactory news’

5th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain in Genna, coordinating messengers. They are joined by Giorgos Harokopos and Giorgos Psychoundakis, who then heads back off to the wireless set run by Dick Barnes at Dryade with a message.

The main party in the evening leave Gomara and walk up the Amari valley via the village of Gourgouthi to their next hideout – a sheepfold above the village of Gerakari.

And in London Orme Sargent, the senior Foreign Office officer at Under Secretary level working to SOE, sends a memo to Harry Sporborg, deputy to Major-General Colin Gubbins, Head of SOE, expressing great approval of the coup. ’I have just heard of the success of an Allied Mission in Crete in capturing a high German officer. This is very satisfactory news and I hope it will be possible to get the German out to Cairo as I believe is intended.’

[1] National Archives HS 5/416

‘… if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible’

4th May 1944

The main party are still hiding in the valley of Gomara. Billy Moss records in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’:
“It rained all night long , and, as was inevitable, we are soaked to the skin. Around me I see a picture of human misery, and I know that if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible.”
Spirits are lifted in the afternoon when messengers arrive from Sandy Rendel and Dick Barnes.

Meanwhile in Fourfouras Paddy and Giorgos leave the comforts of Giorgos’ family home and travel 14kms further up the valley to Pantanassa…..searching for the whereabouts of a working radio set.

Paddy writes:

“Among the cypresses of Pantanasa George and I ran into a hitch. The Hieronymakis family, we knew, were in touch with at least one of our wireless stations. By ill luck it was about the only village in the region where neither of us had ever been. The Hieronymakis knew all about us, we knew all about them, but we had never met and there was no one to vouch for us. The old men were adamant: ‘You say you are Mihali, Mihali who? And who are Siphi (Ralph Stockbridge) and Pavlo (Dick Barnes)? Never heard of them. Tk. Tk. Tk! Englishmen? but, boys, all the English left Crete three years ago …?’ The white whiskered faces turned to each other for corroboration, beetling brows were raised in puzzlement, blank glances exchanged. They went on calmly fingering their amber beads, politely offering coffee. It was no good raging up and down, gesticulating under the onions and paprika pods dangling from the beams: every attempt to break through was met by identical backward tilts of head with closed eyelids and the placidly dismissive tongue click of the Greek negative. They wouldn’t give an inch until they knew (as they say) what tobacco we smoked. We could, after all, be agents provocateurs.”

“This impressive but exasperating wall of security was only broken at last, after two precious hours of deadlock, by the entry of Uncle Stavro Zourbakis from Karines – a friend of us all. Everything dissolved at once. In greetings, recognition, laughter, Raki, a crackle of thorns and sizzling in the hearth and the immediate summoning and despatch of runners to the two sets in the North West.”

Paddy and George move on for the evening back down the valley to the village of Genna, where they were to stay for several days:

“The goat-fold of Zourbovasili lay in rolling biblical hills. There was a round threshing floor nearby, where George and I could sleep on brushwood with a great circular sweep of vision. This place was to become, during the next three days, the centre of all going and coming of messengers as plans changed and options elapsed. But now, after the scrum of the last few days it seemed preternaturally quiet in the brilliant moonlight. Ida towered east of us now, Kedros due south: The White Mountains, which had come nearer to us during the day, loomed shining in the west. How empty and still after our huddled mountain life, was this empty silver plateau! A perfect place to watch the moon moving across the sky and chain smoke through the night pondering on the fix we were in and how to get out of it. There was not a sound except a little owl in a wood close by and an occasional clank from Vassilis’ flock.”

the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete

3rd May 1944

Another day spent in their hideout in the valley of Gomara. They are still stuck and have no contact with Cairo, and no idea of when, where or how they will get off the island.

But they have a plan….in the evening the party decide to separate.

Billy, Manoli Paterakis, the General and the main kidnap group will stay in Gomara.

Paddy and Giorgos Tyrakis will travel in the evening up the Amari to Fourfouras, Giorgos’ home village, in search of a working radio station.

They still remain in the news in the UK – the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete.

Front page news

2nd May 1944

If only they knew!

Paddy, Billy, the rest of the kidnap team and the General spend another miserable day in the ditch, fearing capture…but it is getting quieter for them, as the German patrols are now searching further up the mountain.

Meanwhile in the UK ….they are front page news – in the Express, Telegraph, Guardian and Times!

In the evening they decide to move a kilometre or so westward – to the valley of Gomara.

Giorgos Pharangoulitakis describes it his memoir ‘Eagles of Mt Ida’: ‘We decided to shift towards the valley of Gomara, just west of Ayia Paraskevi, a part where they had searched every inch, and where we could take up a better defence posture. It was a steep rocky place with a hole like a sort of grotto under a cliff where we could hide for the night.’

In the end they spend the night and the following day under the branches of ‘a very large pear tree …it was like an eagles nest’.

‘the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him’

1st May 1944

A long and dangerous day spent hiding in the ditch outside Agia Paraskevi. Probably the low point for all in the journey, and where they are most vulnerable to discovery by the German cordon – Moss records Kreipe’s realisation of his personal need for the success of the operation in order to ensure his own survival:

“I think the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him.”

They can hear German patrols, sometimes as close as 50 metres, searching for them.

Paddy records that food is brought to them from Agia Paraskevi:

‘Antoni unpacked bread, cheese, onions, a dish of fried potatoes, some lamb and a napkin full of ‘kalitsounia!’ – crescent shaped fritters full of soft white cheese and chopped mint. Then a big bottle of mulberry raki came out and a handful of little tumblers. ‘This will warm you up,’ he said filling them: ‘White flannel vests all round.’ He splashed politely over to our guest with the first one, saying ‘stratege mou” (my General) then to the rest of us. They went down our throats like wonderful liquid flame. ‘And here,’ he said pulling out a gallon of dark amber wine, ‘red overcoats for all.’

What they don’t know is that in Cairo SOE have made a public announcement that Kreipe has been kidnapped and has already been taken off the island by submarine and is on his way to Cairo.

However they are still stuck, with no way of contacting Cairo and have no idea – as yet – of how they will get off the island.