Category Archives: Ill Met by Moonlight

Terrific Fun – The Short Life of Billy Moss: Soldier, Writer and Traveller by Alan Ogden

“Billy” Moss with his Russians

With grateful thanks to Alan Ogden and Gabriella Bullock for permitting me to share this with you. It is the first extensive attempt at a biography of William Stanley Moss MC, known to us as “Billy” Moss, the second-in-command to Paddy during the Kreipe kidnap, and also author of a number of books including Ill Met by Moonlight and its sequel War of Shadows.

A full pdf of this with extensive footnotes is available to download and print here. A slightly shorter version, edited for the 2018 Coldstream Gazette, and also downloadable as a pdf is here.

by Alan Ogden

The Fates had at first been kind to Billy Moss. Born into a privileged background and brought up by devoted parents, he was good looking, athletic and a precociously talented writer; he had penned his first book Island Adventure by the time he was fifteen. With a languid charm and a playful self-deprecation typical of his era, Billy had every chance of succeeding in whatever career he chose to pursue. Then, three months after his eighteenth birthday, a reluctant Britain declared a state of war with Germany and his future was no longer a matter of choice; it was a day that was to impact on him for the rest of his life.

Childhood, boyhood and youth

Billy’s father, Stanley Moss, was born in Japan in 1875. The son of Charles D. Moss , the Chief Clerk and Registrar of H.B.M.’s Court for Japan, Stanley was a successful businessman, making and losing a fortune three times over. At the age of forty, Stanley married Natalie Galitch, a Russian national eighteen years his junior born in Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, at that time a busy port in Eastern Siberia. Her father at one point was the mayor of Harbin, a city of 60,000 which had been built during the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway [1897-1902] that linked Vladivostok with Chita.

An only child, Billy was born in Yokohama on 15 June 1921 and two years later, after a devastating earthquake levelled most of the city – ‘the house was wrecked and after spending one week on the hill above the house with no protection and sleeping in the open air [we] were taken off by American destroyer’ – the Moss family made their way to Kobe, then to Shanghai and from there to England. It was to be the first of many such journeys; by the time he was a teenager, he calculated he travelled two and a half times around the world, including a return journey to Japan in 1927/28.

Schooling started for Billy at the age of five; at The Hall School in Weybridge he was viewed as ‘a most promising child’ and at St Dunstan’s School in Finchley Road, he received a similar appraisal the following year. From there, he was sent to Lydgate House School in Hunstanton in Norfolk where he made an excellent impression. On his leaving, the headmaster wrote to his parents that ‘he had been a fine little fellow, has proved himself most capable and loyal as Head Boy’. With a wide range of interests such as art, theatre, cinema, and music, together with sports such as cricket, football, boxing, and tennis, Billy soon settled in to his public school, Charterhouse, set in the Surrey countryside outside Godalming.

In his final year at Charterhouse, with the help of two friends, he produced Congress, a school magazine to which he invited illustrious Old Carthusians to contribute. Many accepted with the exception of Robert Graves who wrote a testy letter of refusal – ‘Dear Mr Editor, Sorry: I have no story and don’t write articles and the chief connexion I have with the school is a recurrent nightmare that I am back there again…’ The one and only issue with a print run of 1,000, and illustrated by Billy, was by any standards a considerable success. It included fiction by Richard Hughes of High Wind in Jamaica fame; a history of the Boer War by Lord Baden Powell; humour by Ben Travers and W.C.Sellar of 1066 and All That; reminiscences of actors Aubrey Smith and Richard Goolden; articles by golfer Henry Longhurst and travel writer Henry Baerlein; and Lieutenant-Commander Scourfield’s account of the mining of HMS Hunter off Spain.

Stanley Moss, having lost his first fortune in the Yokohama earthquake disaster, had worked hard to accrue a second, only to lose it in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. A third foray into Japanese mining proved successful until the Japanese government sequestered his assets. Stanley died suddenly in 1938. They had been a close-knit family, travelling together to many parts of the world. Billy found he felt the loss of his father more acutely as time went on than he did at first.

He and his mother were left in relatively straightened circumstances and the fees for his final year at Charterhouse were paid by his uncle, the diplomat Sir George Moss, later Adviser on Chinese Affairs to SOE’s Delhi Group.

On leaving school in July 1939, Billy accompanied his mother together with her sister, Olga, and her brother-in-law on a trip to Riga. Leaving Tilbury on 3 August, they arrived in Gothenburg and after a brief stopover in Stockholm, they reached Riga on 7 August. Almost immediately they found themselves caught up in the chaotic events that surrounded the British declaration of war against Germany on 3 September. Running perilously low on money, they left Riga on 7 September and reached Stockholm where they caught a train to Oslo. After several adventures in search of a ship, they ended up in Bergen where they found a passage to Newcastle. Their ship, The Meteor, once the Kaiser’s yacht, sailed at 11.30 p.m. with over 200 passengers on board, most of who slept on deck in fear of being torpedoed by a German U-boat . The very next day Billy started work as a trainee accountant with The British American Tobacco Company , which had recently relocated from London to Egham after the Ministry of Supply had requisitioned its Westminster Head Office. After finding digs in Staines, Billy worked for the company until the New Year of 1941 when he joined the Army.

Off to war with the Coldstream Guards

Enlisting in the Coldstream Guards, one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished regiments, Billy started his military career at the Guards Depot in Caterham, the home of ‘spit and polish’, and moustachioed Sergeant Majors with a variety of encouraging phrases. Accepted for officer training, he progressed to Sandhurst in April and by the beginning of August was gazetted Second Lieutenant Emergency Commission . Soldiering on the home front at that time was somewhat akin to peacetime; King’s Guard at St James’s Palace, cocktail parties, deb dances and a spell with the holding battalion at Chequers . In his diary, he noted ‘it had been wonderful staying at Chequers at a time when every word spoken by Churchill was gospel and thrilling to see him “off duty” and to speak with him and eat and drink with him and understand him and his ways’. A period of guarding Rudolf Hess at Mytchett Place in Surrey was followed by a posting to the 6th battalion before finally being sent overseas in August 1942 to join the 3rd battalion. As Billy put it, ‘there had been the blitz, and yet we had all been so gay – theatres, night-clubs, restaurants and riotous weekends’. Continue reading

A few photographs from the 75th anniversary dinner at the Travellers Club

General Mike Jackson, Isabelle Moss, Chris White (co-author of Abducting a General)

Around a hundred members and guests sat down to dinner on 14 May 2019 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the kidnap and successful extraction from Crete of General Kreipe. Harry Bucknall, Blandford Forum’s leading travel writer (In the Dolphin’s Wake, and Like a Tramp Like a Pilgrim) played a large part in the successful arrangements, He persuaded General Sir Mike Jackson, formerly CGS, to give the address.

It was a splendidly successful affair. Isabelle, one of Billy Moss’ daughters was able to attend, proudly wearing her father’s Military Cross. There was praise for the daring and audacity of both Paddy and Billy, and recognition of the vital part played by the Andartes, and the wider civilian population of Crete.

Harry is making plans for the centenary event, so he tells me.

75th Anniversary dinner menu cover

75th Anniversary dinner menu!

75th Anniversary dinner menu back page

 

Tom Sawford and Isabelle Moss

General Mike Jackson gave a very knowledgeable and measured speech,

An obituary to Billy Moss by Jack Smith-Hughes

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the extraction of General Kreipe from Crete, and this evening in the Travellers Club a dinner will be held to mark this event. Paddy grabs much of the attention, but as we know, this sort of operation is a team effort, as much to do with the bravery and hardiness of the Cretan Andartes as anything else. And of course the second-in-command, William Stanley Moss who was as cool as a cucumber acting as the new “general’s” driver.

Jack Smith-Hughes was a SOE officer who served in Crete and who knew Billy Moss very well. This short obituary was written by him and passed via Roderick Bailey to Billy’s daughter, Gabriella, and thence to me so that you all may read it on this special day. Roderick informed Gabriella that “the obituary by Jack Smith-Hughes comes from what was then called, Special Forces Club Magazine and Newsletter. To be even more precise, it was printed on page 25 of edition No.47 (Vol. VII, December 1965).”

If you can’t read the image above, download the pdf here.

Event – screening of Ill Met by Moonlight in Melbourne, Australia

Great to see that the inestimable Brent McCunn and the Cretan community in Melbourne have been able to arrange a screening of the film to mark the 75th anniversary of the kidnap. I’m sure it will be a great success. All are welcome but maybe best to add a comment here for numbers if you are in town and can make it.

Date – 12 May. Location – Melbourne Cultural Centre, Lonsdale St Melbourne. Further details will follow.

The event has the full backing the of the cultural events coordinator and the Cretan Community committee. Brent tells me that “as with all things Greek, final details are still being out into place. This is all organised by volunteers within the Greek community. Hopefully we will have a display of original era posters that promoted the original release of the movie. Efforts are being made too arrange some Cretan Music … this will be a free public event. We will also highlight the Moss Family Scholarship provided to Cretan Students from the royalties derived form the movie rights.”

Have a wonderful time and we look forward to the report!

Ill Met by Moonlight cinema event

Thank you to all of you who indicated an interest in the proposed showing of the film to marl the 75th anniversary of the Kreipe kidnap. We have explored a number of options, and looked at costs. To hire somewhere would have required more commitments than we received, and meant that we would have had to enter into contracts that required large deposits up front. The decision has therefore been made to withdraw the proposal.

We shall keep you updated with any other events that are planned to make this anniversary.

Billy Moss at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

William “Billy” Stanley Moss, at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

One of the great pleasures of running this blog is that I often receive contacts from people in all corners of the world on topics related to Paddy and his friends. Sometimes this can lead to putting people in touch who have lost contact, or being able to upload some interesting content for you all to enjoy.

In early October I was boarding a plane to Spain to walk a short leg of the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, when I received an email from John Ewing. We have never met but he was trying to reach Billy Moss’ daughter, Gabriella Bullock, to pass on some items from a trans-Pacific journey completed by Billy in 1959. They have never met, and Gabriella was unaware that this information existed.

Hi Tom,
My name is John Ewing, I sailed with Billy Moss across the South Pacific in 1959. I have quite a lot of information and some photographs of the trip and Bill, which I would like to share with his family. It is likely that your society would have contact details for his very proud daughter Gabriella, I would appreciate your forwarding this email to her so that we may communicate by email.

I was able to put them in touch and I am grateful to John for sharing this photograph of Billy at the wheel of the yacht Crusader, on the way to Rarotonga, the most populous island of the Cook Islands. How wonderful is this?!

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have something to share with the blog community of over 1,000 readers. See About and Contact for details.

Despatch from the Hellenic infused colonies

My thanks to Brent McCunn for sending me this article which features PLF historian (co-editor of Abducting a General) and supplier of many “then and now” photographs, Chris White, on a trip to Australia.

by Brent McCunn

PLF (Patrick Leigh Fermor), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and Cretan WW2 history is alive and well in Melbourne. One should expect this, after all we are the third largest Greek city.

Recently our visiting ‘Pohm’ (Prisoner of his majesty), Chris White, was introduced to a circle of locals who have an above average interest in the afore mentioned historical proceedings.

Chris was staying with us (Brent and Elaine McCunn) and after Saturdays bush walks and BBQ, in unseasonable steamy heat, I introduced Chris and his ‘caveman photographs’, to a local historian Jim Claven who, despite being a ten pound Scot from Glasgow, lives in the suburb affectionately known as Oakleighopolis. This moniker is due to the, rather noticeable, ratio of Greek heritage residents, cafes and restaurants – their main mall area is like a downtown portion of an Athens café zone! Jim is a historian and freelance writer and specialises in ANZAC/Hellenic connections. In addition he has lead military history tours to Greece and is currently writing a book about Lemnos and its WW1 ANZAC history. He is a PLF fan, having read his Mani book many years ago and visiting PLF’s home last year along with members of the British Veterans of the Greek Campaign Association.

Following this Mythos lubricated encounter Jim rallied some of the heavier artillery of ANZAC history and the Cretan community, one of whom, a restaurant owner, offered us his establishment as a meeting venue for the Monday night. “Others have to see what you have done Chris’, exclaimed Jim.

After a traffic jammed drive across Melbourne during rush hour we arrived to the suburb of Moonee Ponds, “This is where Dame Edna came from exclaimed an excited Chris White”!

Our restaurant venue, The Philhellene, is recognised as being in the top three Greek eateries in Melbourne and serves a range of regional foods, in particular Cretan cuisine. I had heard about it before, as a friend plays there with his Rebetika band, but due to its location we had not ventured there – traffic you see!! We will revisit!!!!

With such short notice we were pleased to meet the owner John Rerakis, and another restaurant owner, Antonios (Tony) Tsourdalakis – I must mention that Tony (Antonius) is the owner of another of the ‘Top Three’ Greek restaurants – Kritamos in Richmond (Melbourne). Tony is also the secretary of the Melbourne based, ‘Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council’. This Council was formed a few years ago and brings together historians, politicians, veterans descendants, service organization representatives and many representatives from Melbourne’s Greek community organizations. The Council organizes a series of annual events commemorating the Greek and Crete campaign as well as participating in events in Greece and on Crete.

Then we had Jim Claven of course, and Peter Ewer – historian and author of the seminal work, ‘The Forgotten Anzacs” – yes I brought along my copy for a dedication! Our two Cretan/Aussies were key people in the Cretan community committees and have extended family connections to the villages Chris has explored and the events of WW2. John, Jim and Peter are also committee members of the same organization mentioned. I had hoped to have the nephew of Manoli Paterakis – George Paterakis – in attendance, but he was not well at this time. We had only planned for a small group for this introduction.

The food and Cretan red wine started to flow and in between gastronomic groans of pleasure we discussed PLF and ANZAC history, along with our two hosts family connections. Chris was soon holding all the assembled attentions with his slide display. Our hosts recognised some valleys and villages, but not the caves!

Our host then walked us around the small museum he has created on his restaurant walls. Framed photographs record his family history along with local Melbourne connections. In the dining area we were seated in was part of his extensive collection of movie posters collected by his father who operated a cinema playing English, Greek, Italian and other ethnic background movies. John said he had ‘piles’ of posters stored away, but pride of place here were the Italian posters for ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’!!!

The food continued and desert offered up freshly made Loukoumades, accompanied by home made Halva flavoured ice-cream!! Just when you think a Cretan has finish expanding your stomach out came a small elegant bottle twinned with a neat stack of small shot glasses. Yes it was spirit, but infused with Cretan herbs and honey!!

Brent and Elaine McCunn were paying participants on the inaugural PLF tour in 2016. They are the owners of specialist group tour operator, Passport Travel in Melbourne. In 2018 they are operating a rather unique tour to Greece, which weaves some PLF and ANZAC history into its core structure. The main theme is Rebetika Music. Brent has organised a number of music tours that have concentrated on themes such as, Blues, Reggae, African and Cuban Salsa and has been a fan of Greek Rebetika for many years. Perhaps his long association as an amateur Blues musician assisted with his discovery of the Greek Blues. The tour will be led by Australia’s premier Rebetika musician, Con Calamaris , a friend and near neighbour of Brent. The tour, whilst not designed for a hardened PLF, or military history enthusiast, it will bring these two topics into the itinerary and leave time at the end for those who desire more time to pursue further personal explorations.

There are many examples where the history of PLF conclaves with Australian and New Zealand history. The ANZACs on Crete is obvious. Hydra also casts up other connections.

There is also a strong link to Australian writers and the bohemia movement. From Sidney Nolan to Peter Finch, artists gravitated around the glamorous Australian literary couple, George Johnston and Charmian Clift, on this tiny Aegean island in a time of rebellion, romance and creativity. It was a time of great inspiration and camaraderie as the expat artists drank, argued, dreamed and created. It was here that Johnston wrote his novel, My Brother Jack, and his close friend Cohen penned the musical masterpieces Suzanne, Bird on a Wire and So Long Marianne

The tour is formatted to attract a younger audience and has been hailed by the local Greek community as being attractive to 2nd and 3rd generation descendants. In addition, to those with Greek ancestry, Rebetika also attracts interest from those of other backgrounds. Brent and Elaine’s own son is one such example.

The tour is not a rage trip. It does have a range of ages, all being united with a common musical and historical bond. Passport Travels long established contacts in Greece (we have operated special interest groups for some 25 years to multiple worldwide destinations) have expressed their own delight at seeing something so unique being offered. “We have not seen such a theme ever and it is nice to see something different for Greek tourism, rather than the cliche”, is the comment most relayed.

More details can be obtained via this website link. Questions, via the web page, will get to Brent McCunn. http://www.uniquepassport.com/EnterTitleGreekRebetika.php

On the return home journey, Jim took Brent, Elaine and Chris to visit the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the first dedicated memorial to the major role of the Greek Island of Lemnos and its nurses, to the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. This memorial was erected with community support in August 2015, the centenary of the arrival of Australia’s nurses on Lemnos. This ANZAC nurse division continued its work in Greece and of course Crete during WW2.

One of two original movie promotional posters from the Italian language edition of ‘Ill Met by Moonlight

Team Crete. From left: John Rerakis: Peter Ewer: Brent McCunn: Chris White: Jim Claven: Tony Tsourdalakis: With 2nd of two original Italian Language release of “Ill Met by Moonlight”.

ANZAC Day March

This year other nationalities, in traditional costume marched with surviving diggers and family representatives. This was the first time this happened and is still subject to controversy. Within the organisers (The RSL – Returned Servicemen League) there are those who feel this divergence makes the event a ‘Parade’ rather than a ‘commemorative march’. They also feel that only, those that served, or direct descendants, should march and all be dressed formally as their ancestors would have. The other arena of thought is for the march to be more inclusive of those allies that worked with and for the ANZACs. The debate will continue.

This party marched with an Australian battalion that saw action in Greece.

To the left of Brent McCunn is John Rekakis and then 3rd to the right is John Tsourdalakis. To Brent’s immediate right is a New Zealander, Peter Ford, who self published a book about his fathers experiences on Crete, eventual escape with others via a small fishing boat, unexpected meeting with Rommel in his staff car as they came ashore in Nth Africa, and eventual return to British lines.


When John opened up this current restaurant he hung the top image which showed a local ANZAC who knew his family since they arrived. According to John the ANZAC veteran couldn’t understand why he would want a picture of him on his wall. As John said to me, the image says why!

George Pakerakis. Nephew of Manoli Pakerakis at commemorative ‘Battle of Crete’ lunch in May 2017 at Cretan Centre. George recalls PLF coming to his village with his uncle. George, as a teenager ran messages for the local resistance and still carries the scars from being shot by German soldiers.

Chris examining an image featuring local; Cretans and priests with a group of New Zealanders and Australians they have sheltered. Taken in front of a stone walled sheep pen of some sort. Chris now has a new photograph to add to his further explorations! Perhaps we will see a copy a, ‘then and now’ gracing these walls in future years.

Lemnos Nurses Memorial

Beachside suburb of Albert Park. The closet parcel of land, local council would allow, to Melbourne passenger ship wharf – Princess Pier. This is where all troop and nurse convoys set sail from in WW1 and WW2. ‘Fitting Spot’ as they say for all Victorian Greek connected campaigners!