Category Archives: Obituaries

Transylvanian Saxon and polymath, Rudolf Fischer – obituary

Rudolf Fischer

Rudolf Fischer

Rudolf Fischer, who has died aged 92, was a historian, linguist and polymath who advised and guided foreign writers through the minutiae of eastern European history, language, etymology and ethnography; the foremost of these, Patrick Leigh Fermor, acknowledged in 1986 that his debt to Fischer was “beyond reckoning”.

First published in the Telegraph 12 June 2016.

Fischer’s friendship with Leigh Fermor began after Fischer wrote a letter to him full of praise for A Time of Gifts (1972), the first volume of Leigh Fermor’s travel trilogy, with, attached to it, a long list of all the inaccuracies, misspellings and contradictions. Months passed without a response, and Fischer feared that his constructive criticism had gone down badly. In fact, Leigh Fermor was delighted, and wrote, eventually, asking if Fischer could bear to advise on his next volume. Gradually drafts of Between the Woods and the Water starting appearing in parcels from the Peloponnese which Fischer pored over meticulously.

There resulted a correspondence which lasted for decades, thrashing out the finer points of Transylvanian history, language, costume, traditions and legends. Fischer also read and made corrections to Leigh Fermor’s final, posthumous, volume of the trilogy, The Broken Road, published in 2013, and edited by Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron.

Among others he also helped Bruce Chatwin, Robert Kaplan (who devoted an entire chapter to him in Eastward to Tartary), Dervla Murphy, Colin Thubron, Robin Hanbury-Tennison, Adam Sisman and William Blacker, many of whom made the pilgrimage to his small book-lined flat in Budapest.

Rudolf Fischer was born on September 17 1923 in the medieval city of Brasov, Kronstadt, in the Transylvania region of Romania. His father, Josef Fischer, was a Hungarian Jew, a descendant of the Hatam Sofer, the 19th-century leader of the Haredic movement which resisted modernisation and mysticism. His mother, Bertha Meldt, was a Saxon Lutheran. Rudolf attended the local Saxon school. But talk of war prompted his father to migrate with him to Australia, leaving his wife and younger son behind, for fear that the older one, Rudolf, would be enlisted.

The next few years were spent helping his father on a chicken farm on the outskirts of Sydney and serving in the alien corps of the Australian army in New Guinea, before attending Sydney University, where he met his first wife, Janet Gleeson-White.

At university Fischer studied under John Anderson, a Scottish philosopher, whose acolytes formed the libertarian movement known as the Sydney Push, one of whose principles was that no statement or assumption was to remain unchallenged. This, as one writer on Australian philosophy, James Franklin, later observed, was all very well but “hard on the wives and children”.

In the early 1950s Fischer moved to Britain, earning a living as a teacher. He felt that cultural life of London compensated for the poor living conditions in an attic flat; it was a view not shared by his wife, who was struggling with small children. So in 1957 the family travelled back to Australia. The marriage broke down, however, and Fischer returned alone to Europe in 1962 where, on a visit to Romania, he met his second wife, Dagmar von Melchner, a distant cousin.

After living in Greece for eight months, the couple moved to London, where, in 1968, Fischer became English Language editor for the New Hungarian Quarterly – an achievement given that his first language was German – and so they moved to Budapest, where they remained for 48 years. There, with Dagmar, he brought up his second family, deepened his knowledge of Central Europe and became a guide, critic and friend to writers of all nationalities who passed through Budapest.

Fischer’s library was packed with obscure 19th-century reference books on the Balkans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as a large map from 1853 of Europäischen Turkei – more accurate, he assured everyone, than the modern ones. Rudolf Fischer was a link to the pre-war Saxon world of Transylvania, and with his fine moustache, upright and dignified manner, collection of exotic Eastern European hats and excellent grasp of all the relevant languages, he more than fitted the part.

He was buried in Brasov in the family grave in a small Saxon Lutheran cemetery at the end of the street on which he had been born.

He is survived by his second wife Dagmar and his five daughters.

Rudolf Fischer, born September 17 1923, died February 18 2016


Reg Everson and his powdered egg breakfast for General Kreipe on Mount Ida

From time to time I plan to re-publish some of the best blog posts as we have over 700 posts on here and many get lost. This first re-post was inspired by my attendance last night at the presentation by Dr Roderick Bailey – Hazardous Operations: British SOE Agents in Nazi Occupied Greece – which was both informative and entertaining. The story of Reg Everson and powdered egg was first published on 10 June 2012 …

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.

In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

Chryssa Ninolaki – part of the Greek resistance on Crete

Chryssa Ninolaki, centre, with Stephen Verney, left, and her brother, Tassos.

By Tony Knight

First published in The Guardian, Monday 3 October 2011

My friend Chryssa Ninolaki, who has died aged 80, played a courageous part in the struggle for freedom in Crete. She was a true ambassador for her native island, which she loved.

At the beginning of the second world war, when Chryssa was a pupil at the French school in Chania, her family moved to her grandfather’s farm near the monastery of Chrysopigi on the outskirts of the city, to escape the bombing. After the fall of the island in 1941, Chryssa and her family were part of the Greek resistance and supported the work of the Special Operations Executive agents who operated in the White Mountains, Xan Fielding, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Stephen Verney among them.

Chryssa and her family spent the war living next to a German garrison. Her parents and her brother, Tassos, carried out acts of defiance at great risk. On one occasion, they moved a cache of arms buried in the orchard just hours before the property was searched. They became part of an underground network assisting, sheltering and hiding British and Commonwealth soldiers for escape attempts on the island’s south coast. “We are crazy people: we act first and never mind the consequences,” Chryssa once told me.

After the war, Chryssa started to work for holiday companies, first the Travel Club of Upminster and then Simply Crete. She was a very different type of travel representative, freely sharing her beloved Crete with many British visitors. For the 50th anniversary, Chryssa took visitors on her celebrated Battle of Crete tours. A close friend reflected the feelings of many when she said: “For me, Chryssa was Crete. She brought so much joy to so many Brits.” Chryssa is survived by her sister, Helen.

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld: Veteran of the SOE

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld

A wonderful obituary of this brave and colourful figure who probably did not know Paddy, but was in the SOE, and whose story is well worth reading anyway. For some reason it is no longer available on the Telegraph website where it was published on 29 June 2012.  You can read a pdf of it here. The version below is written by Phil Davison and was published in the Independent on 21 June 2012. Thank you to Mark Granelli for bringing this to my attention.

Descended from an ancient French noble family, Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld was one of the last surviving French agents of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the secret organisation set up by Winston Churchill to aid anti-Nazi resistance fighters. There are now believed to be only two surviving French agents of the SOE, which Churchill ordered to “set Europe ablaze” through sabotage.

While General Charles de Gaulle organised his Free French Forces (FFL) from his London base, some Frenchmen were hand-picked and trained by the SOE before being sent back to their occupied country to provide money, equipment and training to the local maquis. De la Rochefoucauld was recruited by Captain Eric Piquet-Wicks, who was in charge of the SOE’s RF Section of French nationals based at 1 Dorset Square, London. They worked in parallel with, though not always in agreement with, the more famous F Section run by the legendary spymaster Maurice Buckmaster. The SOE would later be dubbed “the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.

De la Rochefoucauld received parachute, sabotage and commando training at secret locations in England and Scotland, including “silent killing” techniques taught by the renowned duo Fairbairn and Sykes – designers of the famous commando knife – at Arisaig, Inverness-shire, before being parachuted back into his homeland.

Dropped into France twice by the RAF, captured twice by the Nazis and once sentenced to death by firing squad, he survived by using the unarmed combat skills taught to him in the Scottish Highlands. He killed one German guard by strangling him, donned his uniform and shot two more guards to escape. He attacked an electric power plant at Avallon in the Morvan mountain massif of Burgundy, but perhaps his greatest feat, in the spring of 1944, was blowing up France’s biggest munitions factory, at Saint-Médard near Bordeaux, occupied by the Nazis and crucial to their war effort.

Count Robert Jean-Marie de la Rochefoucauld was born in Paris in 1923 into one of France’s oldest aristocratic families with records dating back to the 10th century. The family controlled most of what is now the Charente department, based in the magnificent Château de la Rochefoucauld on the river Tardoire, where a branch of the family still lives. On his maternal side, Robert was descended from the old de Wendel family. He was 16 when the Nazis stormed into France in May 1940.

Young Robert was living underground in Paris when he was tipped off by a sympathetic post office worker that someone had denounced him to the Gestapo as a “dangerous terrorist”. Deciding to join de Gaulle in London, he hooked up with the Resistance, who helped him cross the border into Spain in late 1942 along with two British RAF pilots shot down over France.

The three were apprehended by Franco’s police and interned for two months in the infamous Miranda de Ebro camp for foreign prisoners which had been used by Franco’s forces as a concentration camp for Republicans during the Civil War. De la Rochefoucauld was lucky to have been with the British airmen: Britain’s ambassador to Spain sprang all three of them and arranged an RAF flight to London.

Once there, de la Rochefaucould met de Gaulle at the latter’s headquarters in Carlton Gardens but, partly thanks to his two airmen friends, found himself recruited by the SOE. Churchill had asked his Minister of Economic Warfare, Hugh Dalton, to set up the clandestine SOE, partly to resist any German invasion of Britain and partly to support resistance groups in Europe. When de la Rochefoucauld told de Gaulle that the British SOE wanted to recruit him, the latter reportedly replied: “Even allied with the devil, it’s for France. Allez-y.”

Kept in the dark as to what his missions would be, De la Rochefoucauld was trained in unarmed combat at Arisaig, and later at RAF Ringway near Manchester (parachute training, including jumps from as low as 400 feet) and finally at the SOE’s “finishing school” on Lord Montagu’s estate around Beaulieu in the New Forest. Those who didn’t quite cut it were sent to the “cooler,” Inverlair Lodge in Scotland, where they were quarantined, albeit in comfort, so that they couldn’t reveal SOE missions. (Inverlair later became the inspiration for the backdrop to the 1960s television series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan.)

After first parachuting into the Morvan region and destroying the Avallon plant, de la Rochefoucauld was caught by the Nazis and condemned to death, but escaped. He reached Calais, where a pro-Resistance fishing boat got him to a British submarine and back to England. After parachuting back again to the Bordeaux region, he led local maquis fighters in blowing up the sprawling Saint-Médard munitions plant 12 miles outside Bordeaux. The noise, at 7.30pm on 20 May 1944, was heard for tens of miles around and gave a major boost to the Resistance with D-Day in the air.

De la Rochefoucauld then linked up with the famous résistant known as Aristide – real name Roger Landes, a bilingual British citizen (Independent obituary, 12 August 2008) – but was again arrested by the Gestapo and thrown into the Fort du Hâ in Bordeaux, a fortress built by Charles VII in the 16th century. He considered two options, one of them to take the cyanide”L-Tablet” hidden in the heel of his shoe, which would kill him within 15 seconds. But he took the second option, faked an epileptic fit, strangled his guard and shot dead two others before fleeing.

After the war, de la Rochefoucauld trained French commandos in Indochina and for their assault on the Suez Canal in 1956. On retirement from the military, he set up a transport business in Senegal and ran a plantation in Venezuela to import bananas to Europe. He also served from 1966-96 as the popular mayor of Ouzouer-sur-Trézée in north-central France, where he died.

Robert de la Rochefoucauld published his memoirs in 2002, titled La Liberté c’est mon plaisir. His awards included Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, Croix de Guerre, Médaille de la Résistance and Britain’s Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld is survived by his wife Bernadette (née de Marcieu de Gontaut-Biron), his son Count Jean de la Rochefoucauld and three daughters, Astrid, Constance and Hortense.

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld, wartime SOE agent: born Paris 16 September 1923; married Bernadette de Marcieu de Gontaut-Biron (one son, three daughters); died Ouzouer-sur-Trézée, France 8 May 2012.

Reg Everson and his powdered egg breakfast for General Kreipe on Mount Ida

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.

In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

An interview with Sir Fitzroy McLean

Continuing the current theme of SOE and the Balkans, many of you may find this interview with Sir Fitzroy McLean as fascinating as I did.

He talks about this life and his writing, starting with the excellent, Eastern Approaches which covers his time in Moscow, and then his wartime experiences culminating with his evaluation of Tito, and the march on Belgrade.

Related articles:

Sir Fitzroy Maclean Bt: Obituary

Sir William Deakin, historian and founding Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford

Albanian Assignment

David Smiley (left) in Albania with "Billy" McLean

In his Introduction to David Smiley’s Albanian Assignment, Paddy describes Smiley as ‘Lieutenant Jekyll’ and ‘Captain Hyde’, variously at home with his Regiment, the Royal Horse Guards, amongst a “squadron of sabres and scarlet plumes” but also in the “caves, chasms, scorpions and fleas, random rifle-fire and ricochets, explosions, (and) the oaths of muleteers” in Albania or the Arabian peninsula. His life was truly one of excitement and adventure, but one which he was happy to end growing almonds and olives in Southern Spain.

We know little about Albania – it remains Europe’s poorest country and is still almost totally ignored by the media – and perhaps even less about the events there during World War Two. In two important books, Smiley’s Albanian Assignment and Xan Fielding’s biography of Smiley’s colleague “Billy” McLean’ we learn much about what was not so much a war against the invading Italian’s and Germans, but a political war focused on preparations for a civil war between the Nationalist and Royalist factions on the one hand, and Enver Hoxha’s Communists on the other. I enjoyed following Smiley’s route, on the map in the book, through the mountains, including time spent on the beautiful Lake Ohrid. He spent some of his time criss-crossing my own route through Albania along the Via Egnatia which I walked in 2009.

Smiley’s style is very much like I imagine his soldiering would have been; clear and to the point. We don’t have lingering descriptions of the beautiful Albanian landscape but straight to the point analysis of the motives of the participants, and the events that took place during his two SOE missions to Albania between April 1943 and October 1944. He was a man of action, never happier than when ‘blowing something up’.

The situation between the partisan (Communist) resistance and the Royalists was so complex that the mission became intensely political, with McLean and the future British government minister Julian Amery trying to keep the Albanians from fighting each other and instead killing Germans. Smiley was sent off with small cetas of Royalist Albanians and some very brave British NCOs to kill as many Germans as he could and to blow up as many bridges as he could to delay the German withdrawal, with a fair degree of success. But the politics were never far away and once whilst Smiley was setting an ambush against the Germans, they were counter ambushed by Communist partisans.

Albanian Assignment is not a long book. It is easy to read and full of interesting and exciting episodes. It is one of the many amazing stories about the bravery of SOE officers and soldiers punctuated by explosions, forced marches, long and boring tribal meetings, and brave acts, but ultimately the book is dominated by betrayal: of the SOE men on the ground and the people of Albania by Hoxha’s partisans, and those communist officers in the SOE HQ in Bari who would have seen Smiley and McLean handed over to Hoxha for humiliating treatment at best, or being shot at worst. The figure of Kim Philby also appears. After the war, Smiley worked with MI6 to train and insert Albanian nationalists into Albania in order to provoke an insurrection against the fragile Communist regime. Many of the Albanian patriots were shot as they landed on the beaches, just a few managing to escape into Greece. It was Philby who passed on the details of the operation to the Russians who in turn informed Hoxha.

Colonel David Smiley, front 3rd right and band of Albanian fighters

Our by now familiar cast from Tara in Cairo also make an appearance as Smiley joined McLean by living there when not on operations. Paddy not only writes the introduction but Smiley also mentions Paddy’s wartime activities on a couple of occasions. Smiley  continued with a regular military career after the war, ultimately commanding his Regiment, but also carrying on his irregular activities with MI6 and fighting insurgents on the Arabian Peninsula which he describes in the book Arabian Assignment.

David Smiley died in 2009 after a long and eventful life. You can read his Telegraph obituary here. Many of his colleagues had successful post-war careers. “Billy” McLean entered politics and was also engaged in irregular warfare in Arabia. Julian Amery was a leading Conservative politician, and Alan Hare (who was forced to eat his trusty mule during the deprivations of the harsh winter of 1943/44) became chairman of the Financial Times. Many of the communist leadership ended up being purged over the years, with a large number ending up either being shot or committing suicide. Enver Hoxha himself died in 1985 after leading Albania into total isolation and poverty.

Albanian Assignment is available on Amazon and occasional copies may pop-up on eBay.

Related articles:

 Colonel David Smiley: Blues officer and MC recipient – Times obituary

 Colonel David Smiley – Telegraph obituary

 One Man’s Great Game: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean

 Alan Hare MC – Obituary from The Independent

An obituary of the artist Adrian Daintrey

I am grateful to John Stewart who sent this to me. Adrian Daintrey was a great fried of Diana Cooper and produced a portrait of Paddy in Cretan costume. I cannot find an image of that online. If anyone has one please do forward it.

Adrian Daintrey obit

Daintrey’s Wikipedia page.

A Year of Memory: the top ten posts on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

As the year comes to a close it is time to reflect upon what has passed and to look forward to 2012. I make no predictions for the coming year. There are some things which are almost certain such as the continuing Euro crisis and the much anticipated publication of Artemis Cooper’s authorised biography about Paddy, but forecasts tend to be overtaken by events and are quickly forgotten.

What we can do is to look back on this year in the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The major event of course was Paddy’s death on 10 June at the age of ninety-six. A sad event for his family and close friends, but also for those of us who admired him for his writing and the life he lived. As the year closed it was time to celebrate his life at his Memorial Service held on 15 December in London.

As I hoped the blog has become a significant source of material about his life including rarely seen video. There have been over 228,000 visits over the last year and you have made it a much more interactive experience by using the comment facility to exchange information, provide your own memories of Paddy, and to express your admiration for him. At the time of his death I opened a page where you could express your thoughts about Paddy which has run to over 120 comments.

Paddy would probably have been somewhat bemused by the whole idea of the blog, but perhaps even more so by the interaction we now have with social networking sites with nearly 4,500 visitors finding the site from Facebook, and 850 via Twitter.

To conclude the year, and as the 365th post on the blog, let us take a look at some of the most popular articles over the last twelve months. Perhaps I can make one promise to you all which is that there is much more to come on the blog in 2012 which includes a lot of material submitted by you the readers of the blog.

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

Paddy’s funeral service was held on a typical English summer’s day at his home in Dumbleton. He returned to England just one day before his death and is buried beside his beloved Joan.

Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper 

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

Patrick Leigh Fermor … This is Your (Ill Met by Moonlight) Greek Life 

The amazing video from the Greek TV programme which reunited the participants of the Ill Met by Moonlight kidnap including Paddy, many of the Andartes, and General Kreipe and his wife.

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view 

One of the most comprehensive profiles of Paddy which is now freely available to all. (the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page)

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

A series of personal photographs sent to me by Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew and who now lives in Canada where he works as an artist.

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

The ever popular video where Paddy talks in some detail about the Kreipe kidnap. (press play on Battle of Crete 7).

Colonel David Smiley 

David Smiley was a fellow occupant of Tara in Cairo with Paddy and Billy Moss et al who continued his military career with some distinction after the war and even led Japanese soldiers in a charge against VietMinh rebels!

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger 

It is probably the James Bond/Ian Fleming association which maintains the popularity of this article.

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár) 

No list of popular posts can be complete without the compelling combination of my passions for Paddy, Romania, Miklós Bánffy, and Cluj.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

The order of service from the joyful occasion that was Paddy’s Memorial Service.

Finally I would like to thank so many of you for your encouragement and support during 2011, and wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Tom Sawford

William Stanley Moss

"Billy" Moss with his Russians

There appears to be no surviving obituary for Billy Moss (if anybody can find one please contact me). His Wikipedia page has to serve as a substitute.

Ivan William “Billy” Stanley Moss MC (1921–1965), was a British army officer in World War II, and later a successful writer, broadcaster, journalist and traveller. He served with the Coldstream Guards and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was a best-selling author in the 1950s, based both on his novels and books about his wartime service. He featured events of his SOE years in Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe (1950), which was adapted as a British film released under the main title in 1957. Moss travelled around the world and went to Antarctica to meet the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

He was known as William Stanley Moss, or I. W. S. Moss, or W. Stanley Moss, or plain Bill or Billy Moss – but never as “Stanley Moss”.  Stanley was the surname of a female forebear.  All family members (including Billy and his two daughters) were given this name, which was considered part of the surname, though not hyphenated.  Much like “Leigh Fermor”.

Early life and education

William Stanley Moss, (called Bill or Billy) was born in Yokohama, Japan. His mother was a White Russian émigrée, and his father, an English businessman. The family survived the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Moss attended Charterhouse in England (1934–39).


In the autumn of 1939, Moss, aged 18, had just left Charterhouse and was living in a log cabin on the Latvian coast. By the outbreak of war, he reached Stockholm, and succeeded in crossing the North Sea to England in a yacht. After full training at Caterham, he was commissioned as an ensign into the Coldstream Guards. He served on King’s Guard at the Court of St. James’s punctuated by bouts of Churchillian duty at Chequers.

Posted to reinforce the 3rd Battalion, the Coldstream, after the losses at Tobruk, Moss fought with Montgomery’s Eighth Army chasing Rommel across North Africa to Alamein and finished up the campaign in Chianti and Pantellaria. He returned to Cairo, where he was recruited into Force 133 of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Tara, Cairo

In 1943 in Cairo, Moss moved in to a spacious villa, with a great ballroom with parquet floors, which four or five people might share. Moss chose to live in the villa rather than the SOE hostel, “Hangover Hall”. He moved in alone at first, then bought his Alsatian puppy, Pixie; Xan Fielding, who had worked in Crete, joined him. Next was Countess Zofia (Sophie) Tarnowska, forced to leave Poland in 1939 by the German invasion, followed by Arnold Breene of SOE HQ. Finally Patrick Leigh Fermor, an SOE officer who had spent the previous nine months in Crete, joined the household. The villa’s new inhabitants called it Tara, after the legendary home of the High Kings of Ireland.

Sophie Tarnowska and two other women had been asked to share the house with the SOE agents, but only she went through with it, after the men pleaded with her not to let them down. Estranged from her husband, she moved in with her few possessions (a bathing costume, an evening gown, a uniform and two pet mongooses). She protected her reputation while living in the all-male household by the invention of an entirely fictitious chaperone, “Madame Khayatt”, who suffered from “distressingly poor health” and was always indisposed when visitors asked after her. The group were later joined by SOE agents Billy McLean, David Smiley returning from Albania, and Rowland Winn, also active in Albania.

Tara became the centre of high-spirited entertaining of diplomats, officers, writers, lecturers, war correspondents and Coptic and Levantine party-goers. The residents adopted nicknames: “Princess Dneiper-Petrovsk” (Countess Sophie Tarnowska), “Sir Eustace Rapier” (Lt-Col. Neil (Billy) McLean), “the Marquis of Whipstock” (Col David Smiley LVO OBE MC), “the Hon, Rupert Sabretache” (Rowland Winn MC), “Lord Hughe Devildrive” (Major Xan Fielding DSO), “Lord Pintpot” (Arnold Breene), “Lord Rakehell” (Lt-Col Patrick Leigh-Fermor DSO) and “Mr Jack Jargon” (Capt W. Stanley Moss MC). By the winter of 1944, the Tara household had to leave their battered villa and move into a flat. Their landlord secured their eviction on the grounds that the villa had not been let to “Princess Dneiper-Petrovsk” et al., as stated on the villa’s name plate.

Abduction of General Kreipe

Moss is best remembered for the capture of General Heinrich Kreipe on Crete and abduction of him to Egypt, in April and May 1944. He and Leigh Fermor led a team of Cretan Andartes, part of the Greek resistance.

Moss and Leigh Fermor thought of the Kreipe abduction one evening in the Club Royale de Chasse et de Pêche (Royal Hunting and Fishing Club) and planned it during the winter of 1943. On the last evening before Moss and Leigh Fermor set off, Smiley presented Moss with the Oxford Book of English Verse – his companion from Albania – for good luck.[2] McLean gave him a complete Shakespeare dedicated, “To Bill, with best of luck for Guernsey, Bill”.

Promoted to the rank of Captain, at age 22 Moss set off with Leigh Fermor, age 29, to Crete in 1944. Leigh Fermor landed by parachute. Moss, unable to jump due to cloud cover, followed several weeks later, landing by boat on the south coast where he joined Leigh Fermor, Andartes and other support. Walking north, they passed through Skinias, Kastamonitsa and Haraso. Just south of Skalani, they prepared for the abduction. Throughout the operation, as they travelled across Crete, they were hidden and supported by the Resistance and the local population.

Moss and Leigh Fermor, disguised as German soldiers, stopped the General’s car. With the help of their team, the driver was bundled out and the General and car seized. With Leigh Fermor impersonating the General, and Moss his driver, and with the General bundled in the back, secured by their Cretan team, Moss drove the General’s car for an hour and a half through 22 controlled road blocks in Heraklion. Leigh Fermor took the car on, as Moss walked with the general south into the mountains to Anogeia and up towards Psiloritis. Reunited, the entire abduction team took the general on over the summit of Psiloritis before descending, aiming for the coast. Driven west by German forces cutting off escape to the south, they travelled to Gerakari and on to Patsos. From here, they walked on through Fotinos and Vilandredo before striking south, finally to escape by ship.

After the war, a member of Kreipe’s staff reported that, on hearing the news of the kidnapping, an uneasy silence in the officers’ mess in Heraklion was followed by someone saying, “Well gentlemen, I think this calls for champagne all round.”

Post-war correspondence explains that Kreipe was disliked by his soldiers because, amongst other things, he objected to the stopping of his own vehicle for checking in compliance with his commands concerning troops’ reviewing approved travel orders. This tension between the General and his troops, in part, explains the reluctance of sentries to stop the General’s car as Moss drove it through Heraklion.

Moss was recommended for and received the Immediate Award of the Military Cross: “For outstanding courage and audacity.”

The episode was immortalised in his best-selling book Ill Met by Moonlight (1950). It was adapted into a film of the same name, directed and produced by Michael Powell and released in 1957. It featured Dirk Bogarde as Patrick Leigh Fermor and David Oxley as Moss.

The abduction is commemorated near Archanes and at Patsos.

Damasta Sabotage

Returning to Crete in August 1944, Moss led a resistance group consisting of eight Cretans and six escaped Russian soldiers in launching an ambush on German forces, intent on attacking Anogeia, on the main road connecting Rethymno and Heraklion. They chose an ambush site by a bridge in the Damastos location, one kilometre west of the village of Damasta. After the team destroyed various passing vehicles, among which was a lorry carrying military mail to Chania, the German force targeting Anogia finally appeared. It consisted of a track of infantrymen backed up by an armoured car. Moss and his group attacked the troops, Moss destroying the armoured car by dropping a grenade into the hatch. In total, 40 to 50 Germans and one Russian partisan were killed in the clash that followed. The operation is described in full in Moss’s book A War of Shadows (1952) and commemorated at Damasta. Moss’s exploits in Crete are recorded in the Historical Museum of Crete.

Macedonia and the Far East

After being promoted to Major, Moss served in Macedonia. Toward the end of the War, he served in the Far East, also described in A War of Shadows.

Marriage and family

In Cairo in 1945, Moss married Countess Zofia Tarnowska, his former housemate.  She was the granddaughter of Count Stanislaw Tarnowski (1837–1917) and a direct descendant of Catherine the Great of Russia.

They had three children: Christine Isabelle Mercedes, Sebastian (who died in infancy) and Gabriella Zofia. Initially living in London, they moved to Riverstown House, County Cork in Ireland. They later returned to London. They separated in 1957.

Writer and Traveller

Moss achieved success as an author with three novels, as well as his two books based on his wartime adventures. In addition, he travelled to Germany and wrote an investigation of post-war Germany, studying what happened to gold accumulated by the Nazis: Gold Is Where You Hide It: What Happened to the Reichsbank Treasure? (1956).

Disappearance of Reichsbank and Abwehr Reserves

Between 1952 and 1954, Moss joined up with his friend and former SOE agent, Andrzej Kowerski, (who adopted his cover name, Andrew Kennedy, after the war), in order to unravel a mystery of the final days of the Third Reich. In April and May 1945, the entire remaining reserves of the Reichsbank – gold (730 bars), cash (6 large sacks), and precious stones and metals such as platinum (25 sealed boxes) – were dispatched by Walther Funk from Berlin under armed escort to be buried on the Klausenhof Mountain at Einsiedel in Bavaria, where the final German resistance was to be concentrated. Similarly the Abwehr cash reserves of hundreds of thousands of dollars where hidden nearby in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Shortly after the American forces overran the area, the reserves and money disappeared.

Moss and Kennedy travelled back and forth across Germany and into Switzerland and corresponded with fugitives in Argentina, to research what had happened. They talked to many witnesses before finally establishing what had become of the treasure. What Moss and Kennedy uncovered, and the conclusions they reached on the various people responsible for the disappearances, have not been disputed to this day. The disappearance of Major Martin Borg, the US Military Governor of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the time, has not been explained.[22] (And? who and what?)

Later, Moss and Kennedy went on to uncover the consequences of Heinrich Himmler’s order of 28 October 1939, which confirmed the Lebensborn programme. They researched what had become of the children born as a result of the order.


He continued to travel extensively first to New Zealand from where, on 14 February 1958, he flew in a Globemaster aircraft (with one engine cutting out six hours from his destination) to Scott Base at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica to report on the arrival of the first Antarctic crossing achieved by the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1957-8 led by Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary. Months later, he returned to New Zealand in the icebreaker, The Glacier.

Sailing the Pacific

Taking to sea from New Zealand again, he sailed with Warwick Davies, John Ewing, Rex Hill and Bill Endean in Endeans’s 47 ft Alden-rigged Malabar ketch, the Crusader,[23] through the islands of the Pacific via Tahiti, Pitcairn Islands, Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands to Panama, eventually landing at Nassau, Bahamas in December 1959.

He moved on to Kingston, Jamaica, where he settled. He died on 9 August 1965, aged 44.

Obituary Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika)

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lydia Aous, 1958

by John Craxton

First published in The Independent Wednesday, 7 September 1994

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika), artist: born Athens 26 February 1906; Hon RA 1986; married 1961 Barbara Warner (nee Hutchinson; died 1989); died Athens 3 September 1994.

It was in 1945 that Peter Watson, the owner and art editor of Horizon magazine, asked me to look at some photographs of paintings by a Greek artist which had just arrived through the post. I remember well our enthusiasm for their freshness, clarity and strength. Their subject was inspired by houses in Hydra, the geometry of which was full of Mediterranean light. The style was a revitalised Cubism. It was at once decided to reproduce the paintings in Horizon.

That autumn I met the painter himself – Nikos Ghika – on his first visit to London. I found an immediate rapport with him, talking to this seemingly most English of Greeks, elegantly dressed, serious, charming, approachable. Like so many of my fellow artists then I had a deep desire to go south to the Mediterranean. Greece was very much on my mind. To find a sympathetic artist who would welcome me in his native country gave me added impetus. I mention this first meeting with Ghika, for it is quite typical of how European painters are often cross-pollinated by chance encounters.

Next year, in May 1946, it was my good luck to find myself in Athens. There began a friendship with Ghika which lasted till his stoic death 48 years later.

Ghika was always aware of the importance of influences, both unexpected and those discovered by intent. These happen all the time in the arts, in music especially. In 1922 Ghika determined at the early age of 16 that he would go to Paris to continue his studies as a painter. He was already a mature student, raised in a cultivated European Athenian society, and was gifted with languages. A year later he was exhibiting in the Salon des Independants. His first one-man show was held in 1927 and presented by Maurice Raynal. These years were a wonderfully fertile period for a young painter. Ghika enjoyed a close friendship with most of the leading painters and poets of the time, especially Jean Arp and Jean Helion, with whom he had a joint exhibition in 1934. On this occasion, Ghika showed paintings and some stunning bas-reliefs which reveal how rapidly his artistry had developed.

Back in Athens later in 1934 he began to plan the publication of The Third Eye, a Greek-language monthly review of arts and letters, in which Ghika and his friends published the works of avant- garde painters and sculptors, such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, and of writers not previously translated into Greek, among whom were Matila Ghyka, Alfred Jarry (Ubu-Roi) and James Joyce (Ulysses). Ghika himself was represented by his essays on ‘Elements of a Language of Plastic Art’, ‘Introduction to Harmonic Tracings’, and ‘Introduction to the Law of Numbers in Art and Technique’. The seeds of the modern movement had reached Greece, but were broadcast on very rocky terrain.

Once returned to his homeland, Ghika discovered that his rejuvenated philosophy of Cubism already had deep roots in medieval Greek painting: reversed perspectives, dismissal of the horizon line, economical use of colour and colour used emotionally rather than descriptively. These aesthetics are to be found in Byzantine art, for example in the mosaic of the city of Nazareth; in the church of Karye Tzami in Constantinople. What was dismissed in the 19th century as primitive, was now accepted as an escape from the tyranny of photographic representation. Painters were now free to find joy in transformation instead of being restricted by imitation. This was the freedom that Ghika reintroduced to his native country.

From his earliest years Ghika was an outstanding example of what a serious artist must be in order to survive. He was born with a naturally searching mind, the essential equipment of a creative artist. Furthermore, he was intelligent, human, and knowledgeable, inquisitive, learned, and daring. He possessed, too, a towering dignity and an aristocratic presence. Fortunately, he could also be mockingly witty, satirical, and full of fun. How else could he have translated so sympathetically Edward Lear’s ‘Yonghy-Bonghy- Bo’ into Greek?

Night ceremony

Ghika was in his element designing for the ballet and the theatre. He was an architect of originality, an illustrator of books, a superb etcher. He created some of the most lovely and inventive sculpture, much of it inspired by ancient themes. He animated whatever materials came into his beautiful hands. Deep down he was a classicist at heart; form and content always in happy union. There is no mistaking his style; he made no paintings that lacked underlying form and all of them respected the scale and dimensions of his canvases.

Into his sometimes hidden geometries he poured his poetry of light and darkness, infusing colour into his forms with unmatched confidence, inventiveness, and authority. Always hand in hand with imagination, he let the spirit of poetry invade the labyrinthine city and moonlit walls. Here were landscapes radiant and full of joy as well as of enigma and mystery, so rare these days when so much art is paper- thin.

Ghika was a lesson to all young artists for he drew endlessly, helped by an astonishing visual memory. I have never seen a drawing by him that was not searchingly elegant or clearly structural and informative. A recent book of his caricatures is my constant delight. His last years, despite the gnawing loss of his wife Barbara whom he mourned privately, and his failing eyesight, were borne with true stoicism. Fortunately, an Indian summer of recognition in his own land was a solace to him. This final period saw the publication of many superbly produced books on him and by him, among them Ghika: Drawings, by Evita Arapoglou (1992), and Ghika, by Jean-Francois Bonhomme (1993).

It is to the credit of the English that the first retrospective exhibition of his painting was held at the British Council in Athens in 1946, that he had six one-man exhibitions in London from 1953 onwards, and a major retrospective at the Whitechapel in 1968. He was elected an Honorary Royal Academician in 1986.

Like all great artists, Nico Ghika was an inspirer. He would rebuke all who claimed painting to be easy. Those whose way of painting seems to declare ‘I can do that, too’, would do well to gaze on Ghika’s art and recognise his individuality.

Related article:

Paddy’s Illustrator – John Craxton Telegraph Obituary

Sir William Deakin, historian and founding Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford

William Deakin and Josip Broz ('Tito') in Jajce, 1943

I thoroughly enjoyed Deakin’s book – The Embattled Mountain – which tells of his night-time parachute drop right into the midst of the ferocious battle for survival of Tito’s partisans around Mount Durmitor in Montenegro, and subsequent development of a very positive relationship with the future leader of Yugoslavia. One cannot but be amazed how these men were whisked out of academia, put in uniform and because of their language skills given the most important of missions. Today they would be micro-managed to death. Deakin’s mission to Tito is often subordinated by that of the dashing Fitzroy Maclean, but having read the accounts of both, I think that Deakin should be given huge credit for doing the groundwork and keeping the relationship going through some very difficult times. Treat yourself and buy Deakin’s book from Amazon.

by Michael Howard

First published in the Independent 27 January 2005

William Deakin was one of the last British heroes of the Second World War, and one who had a significant effect on its outcome. He began and ended his career as an Oxford don; but as a young officer in the Special Operations Executive it was largely his experience and advice that persuaded Winston Churchill to support the Communist partisans in Yugoslavia; thus confirming the position of Marshal Tito as national leader and, ultimately, the independence of his country vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

Frederick William Dampier Deakin, historian and university administrator: born 3 July 1913; Fellow and Tutor, Wadham College, Oxford 1936-49, Research Fellow 1949, Honorary Fellow 1961-2005; DSO 1943; Warden, St Antony’s College, Oxford 1950-68, Honorary Fellow 1969-2005; Kt 1975; married 1935 Margaret Ogilvy (née Beatson Bell; two sons; marriage dissolved 1940), 1943 Livia Stela (died 2001); died Le Castellet, France 22 January 2005.

William Deakin was one of the last British heroes of the Second World War, and one who had a significant effect on its outcome. He began and ended his career as an Oxford don; but as a young officer in the Special Operations Executive it was largely his experience and advice that persuaded Winston Churchill to support the Communist partisans in Yugoslavia; thus confirming the position of Marshal Tito as national leader and, ultimately, the independence of his country vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

Deakin was born in 1913 and educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a First in Modern History. He was elected a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, in 1936, but a more important step in his career was his introduction to Winston Churchill as a research assistant when the latter was writing his life of Marlborough.

When the Second World War broke out, Deakin joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, but after two years he was seconded to SOE and posted to Cairo. There he found a ferocious battle in progress between the Foreign Office, which wished to support the Yugoslav monarchist resistance movement under General Draza Mihailovich, and a section of SOE, whose intelligence sources indicated that the only serious fighting was being conducted by the Communist-led partisan movement under Tito.

In May 1943 a small mission under Deakin was parachuted to Tito’s headquarters to investigate the situation. This providentially arrived just as Tito was having to fight his way out of a German encirclement in a battle that has become legendary to Yugoslav history. Deakin himself became part of the legend; not least because of the close relations he established with Tito himself as a result of their shared experience.

Deakin’s presence in Yugoslavia had become known to Churchill, and his report was enough to make the Prime Minister intervene between the opposing factions in London and Cairo, send his own mission to Tito under Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, and eventually order the transfer of Allied support from Mihailovich’s Chetniks to Tito’s partisans.

This provided Tito not only with increasing military aid but with an opening to the West that was to make it possible for him to sever his links with the Soviet Union after the war and establish a position of “non-alignment”. But the abandonment of Mihailovich and the perceived “loss” of Yugoslavia to the West has, in some quarters, never been forgiven, and Deakin’s part in it was to make him a highly controversial figure.

Deakin himself returned to Belgrade as First Secretary to the British Embassy for a year after the war, where he laid the foundations for his expertise in Yugoslav politics and cemented his friendships among politicians and historians who were prepared to speak freely to him, although they were barely on speaking terms with one another.

In 1946 Deakin returned to Oxford, but time for his academic duties was severely restricted by the demands made on him by Churchill, to whom he now became principal research assistant in writing his history of the war (The Second World War, 1948-54). It came to an end altogether when in 1950 he was appointed the first Warden of St Antony’s College. The college was funded by a French businessman, Antonin Besse, who intended it mainly for French graduates; but the French themselves showed little interest, the funds were insufficient and the university authorities themselves were not supportive. Deakin thus had to devote himself to fund-raising, and generous grants from the Ford and Volkswagen foundations eventually enabled him to put the college on a firm financial basis.

Much of his time was also dedicated to recruiting students from overseas, making the college an international centre unique in Britain, if not indeed the world. His cheerful presence, combined with the bubbling charm of his second wife, Livia (always known as “Pussy”), made the college a happy place from the very beginning.

By 1968 Deakin felt with good reason that he had done all that could be expected of him and, leaving behind a flourishing college, he retired to live in France; within reach of London (where he frequently returned to entertain his friends generously at Brooks’s or White’s) but equally accessible to Yugoslavia for the collection of material for a life of Tito which he was uniquely qualified to write. He never completed it.

His work The Embattled Mountain (1971) was a personal account of his own adventures in Yugoslavia and of the background to his mission, written in an effort to set the contentious record straight. But he will be remembered mainly for his account of German-Italian relations during the Second World War, The Brutal Friendship (1962), written while he was still at Oxford. His strength as a historian was an unbounded curiosity; his weakness a difficulty, especially as he grew older, in digesting his material into a coherent narrative.

The key role that Bill Deakin had played in the war may have made him political enemies, but his modesty, friendliness and charm made it impossible to dislike him. He was much honoured: a DSO and knighthood from the British government, a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur from France; the Russian Order of Valour, and the German Grosse Verdienstkreuz.

Related article:

Sir Fitzroy Maclean Bt: Obituary 

Archduke Otto von Habsburg

Otto von Habsburg with a bust of himself at Paks, Hungary, in 2005

The funeral of the last heir to the Habsburg throne takes places today in Vienna. By family tradition his heart will be buried separately in a Bedendictine monastery in Hungary at Pannonhalma Archabbey, symbolising I suppose Vienna’s claim on the Hungarian empire. The characters in his early family life feature in Miklós Bánffy’s books. Many of the old aristocrats that Paddy came across in Hungary and Romania had served the collapsed Habsburg Empire.

First published in the Telegraph July 4 2011

Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who died on July 4 aged 98, began his public life as the infant Crown Prince of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ended it as Father of the multinational European Parliament.

Within that neatly closed circle lay all the major political dramas of the 20th century, most of which he witnessed and some of which he influenced. He was centre stage for one of them — the unequal struggle against Hitler for the survival of his Austrian homeland, which he tried to conduct as an exiled Pretender in the 1930s. Not for nothing did the Führer call the triumphant march-in of March 12 1938 “Operation Otto”.

All that seemed unimaginable to the world in which young Otto, as he was known, started life during the deceptively tranquil Indian summer of the 650-year-old Habsburg monarchy. He was born third in line to the throne on November 12 1912 in the small Vienna palace of Hetzendorf and christened with a string of names demonstrating that the blood of all the Roman Catholic royal families of Europe flowed in his veins: Franz Josef Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius.

His father, the Archduke Karl, was a great-nephew of the ruling Emperor Franz Josef, and was then serving as an infantry major-commander at the regimental barracks in the capital. His mother was the former Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, and their marriage the year before had been that rare event in a dynasty plagued with so many matrimonial mishaps and misalliances — a happy union of two people perfectly matched in attractiveness, temperament and lineage. Their firstborn was to follow the prescription almost to the letter in his own marriage 38 years later.

At the time of his birth, the 11-nation monarchy still seemed safe, if somewhat wobbly, and his own time at its helm still fairly distant. One Viennese newspaper hailed the newborn prince as the future monarch who “according to the human calculations, will be called upon to steer the future of Europe in the last quarter of the 20th century”.

The assassination at Sarajevo on June 28 1914 of the heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, alongside his morganatic wife, put a brusque end to all such calculations. Indeed, the First World War which broke out six weeks later was to spell the doom of Europe’s continental empires, that of the Habsburgs included.

Half way through the war, in the early hours of November 22 1916, the old emperor Franz Josef, who had ruled for a record-breaking 68 years, died at last.

An era, as well as a reign, was over, but the succession was smooth. Otto’s father automatically became the new emperor, and he, aged four, the new Crown Prince. His first ceremonial appearance came on November 30 1916 when he walked, a tiny figure in a white fur-trimmed tunic, between his parents behind the hearse of the late ruler at the great funeral procession in the capital.

A month later he was greeted with wild enthusiasm by the monarchy’s Magyar subjects when his father was crowned in Budapest as the new King of Hungary. The official photograph shows the young boy, dressed in ermine and velvet with a great white feather in his cap, sitting between his parents in their ornate coronation robes.

He always retained vague memories of those events, but these became much sharper when, two years later, the monarchy collapsed under the combined pressure of domestic upheaval and defeat on the battlefield.

The beginning of November 1918 saw him and his siblings stranded in a royal shooting lodge near Budapest, where an armed revolution had broken out. They were rescued by one of their Bourbon uncles, Prince René, who smuggled them across the border to rejoin their parents in the Schonbrunn Palace of Vienna. Otto had a child’s eye view of the collapse of the monarchy, abandoned by the aristocracy it had created.

On November 11 1918 the Emperor Karl, though not formally abdicating, “renounced participation in the affairs of state”. That same night they fled the deserted palace, heading at first for Eckartsau, their privately owned shooting lodge 40 miles north-east of the capital.

The winter there passed fairly calmly, but by the spring their tiny self-styled “court” was under threat from Left-wing agitators. (Austria had promptly declared itself a Republic after their flight from Vienna.)

Their rescuer now was not a family member but a British Army officer — Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Strutt, dispatched on the personal authority of King George V with orders to escort the beleaguered Austrian emperor and his family to safety. This Strutt accomplished in some style, reassembling their royal train for the journey into Switzerland on March 25 1919. Otto never forgot the experience. Whenever he heard in later life complaints about British indifference to the Habsburgs’ fate he would reply: “Yes, but there was always Strutt.”

The two and a half years of their Swiss exile were marked by the two attempts of the ex-Emperor to regain his Hungarian crown. Both were blocked in Budapest by Miklos Horthy, who had now ensconced himself in power as Regent. After the ignominious failure of the second restoration bid the family were exiled by the allied powers to Madeira, where Karl died, a broken man, on April 1 1922. That same day the nine-year-old Otto heard himself addressed as “Your Majesty” by the tiny household-in-exile. To the end of his days he remembered the shock it gave him: “Now it was my turn.”

Under the protection of their kinsman, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the family moved to Lequeitio on the Spanish Basque coast. Otto remembered the seven years they spent there as their most tranquil time of exile. They were also, for him, the most hardworking. Under the strict supervision of his mother he took, under various tutors, the Matura (roughly, English A-levels) in both German and Hungarian. His further education was also the motive for their next move — to the gloomy castle of Hams at Steenokkerzeel, in Belgium, so that Otto could take his degree at the nearby university of Louvain. It was at Hams that Otto reached his 18th birthday and was duly declared, in a family ceremony with few outside guests, “in his own right sovereign and head of the house”.

However ghostly that title appeared, it was enough to impress the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, who was manoeuvring to seize power in Germany. When in the winter of 1931-32 the young Pretender spent a few months studying in Berlin Hitler twice suggested a meeting.

The first invitation came from Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia, the dim-witted Nazi son of the exiled Kaiser, and the second via Goering himself. Otto refused both times on the spurious excuse that he had not come to Berlin to discuss politics (in fact, he was doing nothing but). Hitler was incensed by the snub and it touched off a six-year battle between the two men for the fate of their Austrian homeland.

The climax was reached in February and March of 1938 when a Nazi takeover in Vienna seemed imminent, prompting a short-lived show of defiance from the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg — a monarchist at heart but without the strength of his convictions. His vacillation prompted a remarkably courageous offer from the young Pretender to return from exile to take over the reins of government in order to repel Hitler. Schuschnigg dithered but eventually rejected the idea — perhaps just as well for Otto, who was already high on the Gestapo’s wanted list.

He had moved close to the top of that list by the time, two years after the Anschluss, that German armies swept into France and Belgium. The exiled Habsburgs got away from Hams only a few hours before Goering’s bombers attacked the castle, and then they joined the vast stream of refugees heading south. They eventually reached Lisbon, where they were still being hounded by the Gestapo. President Roosevelt (whom Otto had met in Washington just before the fall of France) then honoured his offer of “hospitality in an emergency” and they were all flown by Clipper seaplane to the United States.

As Otto von Habsburg later admitted, he wasted far too much energy during those wartime years in America on the faction-fighting among Austrian refugee groups instead of concentrating on the broader political picture. But, thanks largely to his personal ties with the President, he was able to repair the image of Austria so tarnished by its supine surrender to Hitler in the Anschluss. And, in the last months of the war, he worked closely with the White House in the vain attempt to lure Horthyite Hungary over to the Allied side.

Churchill, whom he met at the Quebec Conference, warmly supported the vision of a post-war conservative federation in Central Europe. Stalin put paid to those visions, however, and it was to a Communist-controlled Danube Basin that Otto returned in the spring of 1945.

He made a brief foray into Western Austria but was expelled by the reborn Austrian Republic, which had reaffirmed the anti-Habsburg legislation of 1919. He then faced a personal crisis — without a valid passport, a home or any regular income. He solved the last problem by embarking on a career as a journalist and public lecturer. This was exhausting but highly remunerative and, within five years, he had paid off all his wartime debts and was enjoying a comfortable income.

He could now think of finding a home and founding a family. The ideal partner appeared by chance in 1950, when he visited a refugee centre near Munich. Working there as a nurse was Princess Regina of Sachsen-Meiningen, herself a refugee whose father, Duke George III, had died in a Soviet concentration camp. The ideally-matched couple were married a year later and settled in a comfortable villa at Pocking, near Lake Starnberg in Bavaria. Their first five children were all girls, and it was not until 1961 that the birth of Karl Thomas, the first of two sons, assured the line of direct succession.

This prompted Otto to renounce his own dynastic claims and pursue what had long fascinated him, a full-time career in politics. He acquired dual German-Austrian nationality, and in 1979 was elected to the European Parliament as Christian Democrat member for North Bavaria. There he stayed for the next 20 years, becoming the highly regarded Father of the House and its only member to have been born before the First World War.

He proved an accomplished debater with a fluent command of seven European languages. Though he spoke on a variety of topics, his abiding theme was the need to bridge the East-West division of the continent and ultimately to bring all the nations of the old monarchy within the new European Union. He continued to work successfully at this even after his retirement, using the pan-European movement as his principal platform. He had been the president ever since the death of its founder, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, in 1972.

On October 3 2004, Pope John Paul II beatified Otto’s father, Emperor Karl. It was an important event in Otto von Habsburg’s life, and one that perhaps softened the blow that had occurred five years earlier.

He had hoped that his son Karl would carry on the Habsburg name in the European Parliament, but in 1999 the young archduke — who had been sitting alongside his famous father as a Right-wing member for Western Austria — was dropped by his party after a controversy over the financing of his campaign funds. A subsequent attempt to launch Karl on to the Austrian domestic political scene proved a dire, if gallant, failure.

Otto von Habsburg’s wife, the Archduchess Regina, died in February 2010.

Obituary: Sir Wilfred Thesiger

Sir Wilfred Thesiger

The great soldier, explorer and travel writer who may have met Paddy in Egypt.

First published in the Telegraph 26 August 2003

Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who died on Sunday aged 93, was the quintessential English explorer, and the last and greatest of that small band of travellers who sought out the secrets of the desert in the years before Arabia was transformed forever by the oil beneath her sands.

Thesiger’s reputation was established by two epic journeys he made in the 1940s across the Rub ‘al Khali, or Empty Quarter, the most forbidding, least known and least penetrated region of Arabia.

His motive for crossing it was not primarily to reap glory for himself, but to share the hardship of the life of the Bedu and to earn their comradeship. He was not in thrall to the desert itself but, like T E Lawrence, to his admiration of those who lived there: “The harder the life,” ran his credo, “the finer the person.”

The Empty Quarter is the largest sand desert in the world. It covers 250,000 square miles and contains ranges of dunes 100 miles long and 1,000ft high. At noon, the temperature of the surface of the sand reaches 80C.

The first European to traverse this fearsome waste had been Bertram Thomas in 1932, later followed by St John Philby, the father of Kim. But both these had travelled as well-supplied Westerners; Philby had even carried with him a wireless to listen to Test matches. Thesiger’s achievement was to make longer journeys than either, dressed like the Arab tribesmen with whom he rode and rationed to their daily pint of water and handful of dates.

It was a spare, almost monastic way of life, and one in which Thesiger found a near-spiritual contentment. “In the desert,” he wrote, “I found a freedom unattainable in civilisation; a life unhampered by possessions.”

Ostensibly in Arabia to search for the breeding grounds of locusts, Thesiger made his first crossing of the Empty Quarter – a circular journey by camel of some 1,500 miles – in 1946, becoming in the process the first European to see the fabled quicksands of Umm al Sammim. His second expedition, two years later, took him even further through the desert and, in constant peril from hostile Bedu, was still more dangerous.

It was also the most fulfilling experience of Thesiger’s life, albeit a humbling one; for though he withstood the physical hardship, he felt that he rarely matched the standards of behaviour the Bedu expected of themselves.

In the 1950s, as Arabia began to change, he took to the mountains, travelling in remote parts of Kurdistan, the Karakoram and later Afghanistan.

There, on the banks of the Panjshir, he and Eric Newby had the most celebrated meeting between travellers since that of Livingstone and Stanley, with Thesiger (presented in Newby’s account as the hardened professional to his own inept amateur) deriding the attempts of Newby and his companion to blow up their rubber mattress: “God,” he scoffed, “you must be a couple of pansies.”

Thesiger had made his new base, however, in the marshes of Iraq, where he lived for eight years in the 1950s, travelling by canoe and giving basic medical assistance to its inhabitants; he also became expert at circumcision.

His time there, recounted in The Marsh Arabs (1964), together with his precise yet emotionally charged account of his desert journeys, Arabian Sands (1959), gained him a new reputation in late middle age as a writer, albeit one influenced by the romanticised prose of Lawrence and Doughty.

In these books and in his partial autobiography, The Life of My Choice (1987), Thesiger set out his belief that Western civilisation was a corrupting force which had robbed the world of its diversity and stripped the primitive peoples he so admired of their finer traits. It was a floodtide from which he had spent his life trying to escape.

To many he appeared simply an arch-conservative, and critics pointed to the fact that, though Thesiger was horrified by the changes modernity had wrought on the Arab world, the Bedu themselves had not hesitated to swap their camels for cars, a harsh life for one of comfort.

Yet with the passing of time, many others came to share his distaste for the by-products of progress and, with the arrival of such concepts as eco-tourism, Thesiger’s traditionalist concerns now perversely seemed very contemporary.

Paradoxically, one modern invention gave Thesiger an edge over predecessors such as Richard Burton and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt – the camera. Thesiger taught himself to become an excellent photographer and perhaps his most enduring legacy will prove to be his vast photographic record (willed to the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford) of ancient races and ways of life since extinguished within a generation.

His great fortune was to see them just before they were lost from sight; his tragedy that the ones he cared for most have vanished forever.

Wilfred Patrick Thesiger was born on June 3 1910 within the mud walls of the British Legation in Addis Ababa, Abyssinia. His father, a younger son of the 2nd Lord Chelmsford – commander of the force destroyed by the Zulus at Isandhlwana – was Consul-General and Minister at the court of Emperor Menelik.

Billy, as Wilfred was known in his young days, spent his first seven years in Abyssinia, absorbing a spectacle of savage splendour that bred in him his lifelong craving for adventure. At two, he saw the arrival at the British Legation of Crown Prince Lij Yasu’s 1,000-strong war band, resplendent in their scarlet cloaks trimmed with lions’ manes.

At six, he witnessed the victory parade of Ras Tafari, who had triumphed over Lij Yasu in a civil war – wave after wave of glinting spear points and captives in chains. The next year, he went tiger-shooting in India with his uncle, the Viceroy.

Such outlandish tales did not endear him to his fellow pupils at the prep school in England to which he was sent at eight, and Thesiger, already a dominant character who did not take rejection well, retreated within himself. A further blow was the sudden death of his father.

He enjoyed himself more at Eton, which proved another formative influence. Its spartan regime hardened him further and the ancient school also confirmed in him his love of the past. He afterwards retained great affection for the place and had latterly judged its annual travel writing prize, named for him.

Indeed, the simple room in the nursing home near Purley, Surrey, in which he was to live for the last few years of his life appeared almost a re-creation of his Eton study: a single tartan blanket on the bed; a shelf of books by Conrad and Buchan; a drawing of the school presented to him by the pupils.

In 1929 Thesiger went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read History, but he enjoyed greater success as a sportsman, winning a Blue at boxing from 1930 to 1933 and captaining the university team in his last year.

He spent his summer vacations working on tramp steamers and fishing trawlers, but the high point of his time at Oxford came in the winter of 1930 when he was invited to Addis Ababa to attend the coronation of Haile Selassie (the former Ras Tafari), who remembered the help afforded by Thesiger’s father during the civil war.

While in Ethiopia, Thesiger took the opportunity to plan his first expedition, a journey north into the Danakil country to search for the destination of the Awash river. This he carried out in 1933, although the Danakil had a murderous reputation for treachery and accounted a warrior’s standing by the number of men he had killed and castrated. The success of Thesiger’s enterprise began, at the age of 23, to make his reputation as an explorer and helped win him a place in the Sudan Political Service.

He served in the Sudan from 1935 to 1940, although he was too unconventional to make a success of it as a career and spent his last years there as a freelance District Officer. He used much of his time to travel as far afield as Chad, and relished the opportunities for hunting lion, which preyed on village cattle. He bagged more than 70, and raised two cubs himself. Thesiger, though, was not a sentimental man, and subsequently shot both the cubs. He did this in the belief that, having been tame, they would grow up to become man-eaters.

On the outbreak of war, Thesiger was assigned to the Sudan Defence Force, and later, under the command of Orde Wingate, helped organise the Abyssinian resistance to the occupying Italians. In May 1941 Thesiger led a flying column which marched 50 miles in a day through sweltering heat to harry a much larger retreating force at Wagidi. Having accomplished this, Thesiger went on to force the surrender of 2,000 Italian troops and the fort at Agibar. His leadership in this action was recognised by the award of the DSO.

Having been recruited by David Stirling, Thesiger later served briefly in the Western Desert with the SAS, but then saw out the rest of the war in some frustration as political adviser to the Abyssinian Crown Prince.

In March 1945 he resigned this post, and while waiting for an aeroplane back to London, was invited to dinner with O B Lean, head of the Middle East Anti-Locust Unit. Lean was looking to employ somebody to investigate locust sites in the Arabian desert; Thesiger had accepted the job before the meal was over.

After leaving Iraq, from 1968 onwards Thesiger lived for much of the year in northern Kenya, with the pastoral Samburu and Turkana peoples, although he dwelt apart from them and, unlike in Arabia, retained his English identity. In reference to this, and to his outsized ears and jutting nose, the tribes called him sangalai, “The Old Bull Elephant Who Walks By Himself”.

Occasionally, Thesiger returned to the flat he kept in Chelsea; but England was an unfamiliar country to him, and he hoped to see out his years in Kenya, with his corpse being left on the hill for the jackals. But after the death of the two Kenyan men whom he had treated as sons, he reluctantly returned to England for good in the mid-1990s, living out his days at the retirement home in Surrey, where he coped valiantly with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease.

He continued to write, publishing several more books, again well illustrated with his own photographs. These included My Kenya Days (1994), Among the Mountains: travels in Asia (1998) and A Vanished World (2001).

Wilfred Thesiger was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and holder of the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, of the Lawrence of Arabia Medal of the Royal Central Asian Society, of the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and of the Burton Memorial Medal of the Royal Asiatic Society.

He was appointed CBE in 1968 and KBE in 1995. At the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930, he was awarded the Star of Ethiopia, Third Class.

He never married.

Sir Geoffrey Chandler, former director of Shell, 1922-2011

Sir Geoffrey Chandler

An extract from the obituary of a man of action and a champion, before it was fashionable, of business ethics and human rights. When Chandler ‘faced the disdain of his peers, … he insisted that companies had a moral responsibility to make human rights and protection of the environment as much part of their bottom line as profit.’  He worked with Paddy in SOE in the war and last saw him in Alexandria in 1945.

By Phil Davison

First published in The Financial Times, 15 April 2011.

Born in London in 1922, Chandler was educated at Sherborne school in Dorset and Trinity College, Cambridge. At the age of 19, with the second world war raging, he joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, where he became a captain before being assigned to Force 133 within the SOE, nicknamed “the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”. There he met the now-legendary SOE agent and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor.

“The last time I saw Paddy was in Alexandria towards the end of the war when he and I were loading a jeep onto a caïque (a Greek fishing boat) athwartships,” Chandler once told a friend. “The jeep was full of gold coins to pay off the partisans.” Chandler was parachuted behind Nazi lines as a saboteur in Greece, where he learnt fluent Greek. He related his experiences in his book The Divided Land: an Anglo-Greek Tragedy, published in 1959. In it he criticised Britain for not imposing the rule of law in Greece after the defeat of the Nazis. A rightwing backlash to communist atrocities after the war resulted in bloody civil conflict in Greece.

After the war, Chandler remained in Greece as a British press and information officer, when he pushed for aid for the war-stricken Greek population. He returned to London to work for the BBC External Services in 1949 before joining the Financial Times as leader writer and features editor. In 1955, he married Lucy Buxton, a Quaker.Born in London in 1922, Chandler was educated at Sherborne school in Dorset and Trinity College, Cambridge. At the age of 19, with the second world war raging, he joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, where he became a captain before being assigned to Force 133 within the SOE, nicknamed “the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”. There he met the now-legendary SOE agent and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. “The last time I saw Paddy was in Alexandria towards the end of the war when he and I were loading a jeep onto a caïque (a Greek fishing boat) athwartships,” Chandler once told a friend. “The jeep was full of gold coins to pay off the partisans.” Chandler was parachuted behind Nazi lines as a saboteur in Greece, where he learnt fluent Greek. He related his experiences in his book The Divided Land: an Anglo-Greek Tragedy, published in 1959. In it he criticised Britain for not imposing the rule of law in Greece after the defeat of the Nazis. A rightwing backlash to communist atrocities after the war resulted in bloody civil conflict in Greece. After the war, Chandler remained in Greece as a British press and information officer, when he pushed for aid for the war-stricken Greek population. He returned to London to work for the BBC External Services in 1949 before joining the Financial Times as leader writer and features editor. In 1955, he married Lucy Buxton, a Quaker.

Sir Fitzroy Maclean Bt: Obituary

Maclean was an SAS officer who spent time in Cairo and knew Paddy. His life is quite extraordinary. I recommend reading Maclean’s book, ‘Eastern Approaches’. It starts off a little slowly, but includes a gripping account of a very high profile Soviet show trial. His story really steps up five gears when he joins the fledgling  SAS and is then selected to continue the work of F W D Deakin with Tito in Yugoslavia. Deakin’s book ‘The Embattled Mountain’ is also excellent.

by Frank McLynn

First published in The Independent, 19 June 1996

Fitzroy Maclean in Russia in the 1930’s

Fitzroy Maclean owes his place in history to the extraordinary 18 months he spent as Winston Churchill’s special envoy to the Yugoslav leader Josip Tito in 1943-45. He sometimes expressed regret that, as with his hero Bonnie Prince Charlie, the historically significant portion of his life was compressed into 18 months at a comparatively young age. More dispassionate commentators would say that he packed an unbelievable amount into his 85 years. Maclean always believed in the motto that it was better to live a day as a tiger than a year as a donkey, but in fact he managed to combine the excitement of the one with the longevity of the other.

His background as member of a Scottish clan and its Jacobite connection was extremely important to him. “Thank God I am a Maclean” was the family motto.

Born in 1911 in Egypt, the son of an officer in the Cameron Highlanders, Fitzroy inherited from his father the martial tradition and from his mother the love of languages. Educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, where he took a First in Part One of the Classical Tripos, Maclean was initially drawn to the academic life but the crisis in Europe in the early 1930s convinced him he should enter the Diplomatic Service, then a tightly knit body numbering no more than 250 souls. After passing the stiffly competitive examinations, the young Maclean was marked down as “one to note”.

His initial three-year posting was to Paris, which he saw in the troubled context of the Front Populaire years. Then, in 1937, instead of opting for a “fast track” posting to Washington, he made what was considered an eccentric decision to plump for a posting in Russia. He arrived at the time of the great purge trials, and in February 1938 was in court daily for the nine-day trial of Nikolai Bukharin, later memorably recreated in his first book, Eastern Approaches. Through a close friendship with his opposite number in the German embassy, he was able to give advance warning of the likelihood of a Nazi-Soviet pact.

His two years in the Soviet Union were also memorable for the many unauthorised journeys be made to the eastern Soviet Union, principally Samarkand, Bokhara, Tashkent, Batum, Tiflis. He led the Russian secret service agents, who dogged his steps, a merry dance, travelling on trucks and second-class trains. But he was adamant that he made these journeys for his own self- realisation and was never himself a secret agent.

In 1939 he was transferred to London, to the Russian desk of the Foreign Office’s Northern Department. He had always wanted to emulate his father and be a soldier, so when war broke out in September he was eager to sign up with a combat regiment. But the Foreign Office counted as a reserved occupation, and two dull years elapsed. Poring through service regulations, Maclean discovered the loophole he was looking for: on election as an MP, a Foreign Office man was obliged to resign. Using his charm and considerable diplomatic skills, he got himself adopted as the Conservative candidate at the 1941 by-election in Lancaster. He then immediately enlisted as a private in the Cameron Highlanders.

For an Etonian diplomat and prospective Member of Parliament to enter the ranks in such a crack regiment was an extraordinary thing to do, and the singularity of the decision has perhaps not been sufficiently underlined. Rubbing shoulders with tough squaddies from the Gorbals was a key formative process. Elected MP for Lancaster, he was now safe from recall to the Foreign Office.

After basic training Maclean was commissioned as a lieutenant and seconded to an elite commando unit being trained in Cairo to destroy the Baku oilwells on the Caspian – a bizarre project to have been entertained against the property of an ally but one thought necessary if the German army broke through in the Caucasus. The project was soon shelved, so Maclean, at a loose end in Cairo, accepted an invitation from David Stirling to join the newly formed Special Air Service. It is on his daring exploits behind enemy lines with Stirling that his reputation as war hero securely rests.

On one occasion, while trying to mine Benghazi harbour, Maclean posed as an Italian officer and, in fluent Italian, roundly berated the sentries for inattention while mounting sentry duty. Seemingly a man oblivious to danger and with nine lives, Maclean had his only near brush with death after a car crash resulting from Stirling’s reckless style at the wheel. He was unconscious for four days after the crash and later remarked: “David Stirling’s driving was the most dangerous thing in World War Two!”

On recovery, Maclean took part in another raid on Benghazi and was then employed by General “Jumbo” Wilson in Persia (Iran) on a further mission, to arrest the pro-Nazi governor-general of Isfahan, General Zahidi. His rapid promotion, from lieutenant to brigadier in two years, provoked envy among his critics. But his success in these missions later led his friend Ian Fleming to base aspects of the character of James Bond on Maclean. More importantly, they convinced Winston Churchill that Maclean was the right man to head a military mission to Tito and the partisans in Yugoslavia.

Since 1941 Tito had been pinning down more and more German divisions in a highly successful guerrilla war. But there was another faction in Yugoslavia: the royalists and their military arm, the Chetniks, led by General Draza Mihailovic. Maclean’s task was to find out, in Churchill’s words, “who was killing the most Germans”, regardless of political ideology or affiliation. Maclean’s unorthodox methods, his refusal to go through channels, and the fact that he was known to have Churchill’s ear, infuriated Special Operations Executive, who felt that he vas meddling in areas that were properly theirs. Friendly critics dubbed Maclean “the Balkan brigadier”, “the Scarlet Pimpernel” and even (from his penchant for Highland dress) “Lothario in a kilt”. Inveterate enemies, like SOE’s Brigadier Mervyn Keble, had a less complimentary spread of nouns and epithets.

Maclean parachuted into Yugolavia with his mission in September 1943. His subordinates were a motley crew, some first-rate technicians, others mere prima donnas such as Randolph Churchill and Evelyn Waugh. Maclean built up a personal rapport with Tito which never faded, established a supply lifeline which ensured that the guerrillas received arms and material from the West, and managed the problem of “cohabitation” with a prickly Soviet military mission, also attached to Tito. He discovered that the partisans were bearing the overwhelming brunt of the war and reported to Churchill accordingly.

For nearly two years, based either on the Adriatic island of Vis or in the Yugoslav interior, Maclean and his companions shared the fluctuating fortunes of Tito and the partisans, culminating in the triumphant battle of Belgrade in October 1944, when the partisans co-operated effectively with Stalin’s Red Army to destroy German military strength in the country. Maclean also acted as go- between in an acrimonious meeting between the Yugoslav leader and Churchill in Naples in August 1944.

When Tito came to supreme power in Yugoslavia after the war and executed Mihailovic, the cry arose that Britain should never have supported Tito and the Communists but should have made Mihailovic and the Chetniks the target for their military aid. For nearly 50 years the canard persisted that Maclean misled Churchill about the true situation in Yugoslavia and, even more absurdly, that he was “soft on Communism”. Several comments are in order.

First, Maclean was always a fervent anti-Communist and man of the Right. But he was a realist, unable to deny the evidence of his senses for ideological reasons, and he had a clear, military, non-political mandate from Churchill. Secondly, Tito would have prevailed in Yugoslavia with or without British aid, but the British connection was all- important psychologically when Tito broke with Stalin in 1948 to pursue an independent, non-aligned, “Third Way” style of Communism. Thirdly, Mihailovic and the Chetniks were the military arm of Greater Serb nationalism. Events since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1989 have tarnished the credibility of Serb nationalism. It is ironic that it took the horrors of the Yugoslav civil war before the claque of anti-Maclean tongues was finally silenced.

Tito’s calibre as a leader was fully demonstrated by the Herculean task he performed in keeping Yugoslavia united for 35 years after the war. It will be surprising if he does not gain stature as post-war history is reassessed, and such revisionism can only vindicate the correctness of the advice Maclean gave Churchill in 1943-45.

Maclean the war hero found it difficult thereafter to find a niche for his unique talents. His autobiography Eastern Approaches was a best-seller in 1949, though none of the 15 books he wrote afterwards was quite so well received. He continued as Conservative MP for Lancaster until 1959 when, wanting a Scottish constituency, he became the member for Bute and North Ayrshire, and served there until 1974. Churchill appointed him Under-Secretary of War in 1954, where he had an important behind-the- scenes role during the Suez crisis of 1956, but Harold Macmillan sacked him in 1957, allegedly for poor performances in the House.

Created a baronet in 1957, Maclean branched out in other directions. He ran his own hotel, “The Creggans”, on the shore of Loch Fyne. He became a respected associate producer, writer and presenter of television travel documentaries, specialising in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Above all, he was a tireless traveller. He travelled light, with a kitbag containing a Russian novel and an ancient classical author, both in the original. At an age when most people have given up on linguistic ambitions, Maclean continued to hone his knowledge of French, Italian, German, Russian, Serbo- Croat, Latin and Greek.

An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, he steered her through the intricacies of Yugoslav politics, advised her to put her political money on Gorbachev in 1985, and acted as special adviser to the Prince of Wales when he visited Tito in the 1970s.

The steep downward spiral towards disaster in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death in 1980 deeply saddened him. One of only three foreigners allowed to own property in the country during the Tito period, Maclean spent a good part of each year at his seaside villa on the Adriatic island of Korcula.

A man of great physical courage and enormous charm, Fitzroy Maclean was certainly the last of a breed, a real-life imperial adventurer in the tradition of Kim and Richard Hannay and an action man in the mould of Sir Richard Burton and, his own special hero, Bonnie Prince Charlie. He loved food and drink, good conversation and the company of pretty women. The initial image of a haughty, suave, privileged Etonian gave way, for those who knew him well, to a man with an advanced sense of humour and the absurd. The patrician persona masked an essentially simple man, with a rugged humanity that seemed to belie the breadth of his interests; there was nothing of the oddball about Maclean.

Politically he was the kind of Conservative who believes in order and hierarchy rather than original sin, and he expressed an optimistic view of human nature. He liked other human beings and was at ease with people from all walks of life, from dustmen to duchesses.

As his Scottish parliamentary colleague for the last 12 years of his 33 years as a Member of Parliament, writes Tam Dalyell, I never heard Fitzroy Maclean say anything simplistic.

Had the House of Commons been televised when he and his generation, Conservative and Labour, were in the autumn of their parliamentary careers, a different impression would have been created on the viewer. These were people who had come to politics from very different experiences, and had done their apprenticeship not as political researchers, but on the anvil of world war danger. Their presence enhanced the House of Commons as a serious forum of the nation. In the early 1960s it simply would not have occurred to any of the generation of new MPs to be rudish or cheekyish to Maclean and his contemporaries.

Furthermore, as incoming prime minister, Harold Wilson handled the questions of such as Sir Fitzroy Maclean, Brigadier Sir John Smyth Bt VC, Commander Sir John Maitland RN and Air Commodore Sir Arthur Vere Harvey with gingerly deference.

Maclean’s political importance lies not in the office he held as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War but in his personal relationships over 30 years particularly with leading Conservatives, such as Churchill and Macmillan. Harold Wilson knew that Maclean had been one of the prime movers in Macmillan’s visit to Moscow in 1959 which started the thaw. Usually through George Wigg, Maclean reciprocated by offering Wilson as prime minister his best advice and contacts in Eastern Europe.

Unsurprisingly Maclean was cool about Alec Douglas-Home and the only occasion on which I saw Maclean verging on anger was when, in 1971, his foreign secretary had expelled 90 Russian diplomats. “It was an indulgent and expensive gesture which could serve no useful long-term purpose.” Who else, again, but Maclean would tell Winston Churchill to his face that his speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946 coining the phrase “Iron Curtain” and ushering in the Cold War was unwise to the point of being ridiculous?

The day after John Smith’s funeral the then government Chief Whip, Richard Ryder, said to me, “As we passed you in our official car the Prime Minister and I wondered who on earth was that man with you bent double struggling up the pavement with such courageous gallantry and tried to place him.””Fitzroy Maclean,” I said “determined to come to say goodbye to his Labour friend of the Scotland/USSR Association.” “A legend,” said Ryder. A legend of courageous gallantry.

Fitzroy Hew Maclean, diplomat, soldier, politician, writer: born Cairo 11 March 1911; MP (Conservative) for Lancaster 1941-59, for Bute and North Ayrshire 1959-74; CBE (mil) 1944; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War 1954-57; Bt 1957; KT 1993; married the Hon Mrs (Veronica) Phipps (nee Fraser; two sons); died 15 June 1996.

Xan Fielding Obituary

I am reposting this obituary to Xan Fielding at this time as he was Paddy’s very good friend, the one to whom Paddy wrote his open letters at the start of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Those who have found this site for the first time might wish to read about his friend. At the end is a special tribute written by Paddy.   I believe this to be the only on-line copy and it now includes newly discovered photographs.


After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Fielding, who had adopted the style and dress of a Greek highland peasant, was accompanied by a First World War veteran, who was inseparable from his solar topee and unrecognisable as the village schoolmaster he was supposed to impersonate.

Fortunately it was not long before he teamed up with the far more kindred spirit of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Sporting a royal blue waistcoat, lined with scarlet shot silk and embroidered with black arabesques – and singing folk songs in several languages – “Paddy” Leigh Fermor enlivened their meetings in desolate mountain hideouts.

Fielding understood the need for reliable intelligence and communications, and he daringly set up his headquarters near Crete’s northern coastal road in the proximity of German units. He experienced, as he put it, a childish excitement in “brushing shoulders with the Wehrmacht” in the corridors of the town hall when calling on the mayor of Crete’s capital, Canea. And he found it entertaining to attend parties given for the Germans by Cretan associates feigning fraternisation.

Operationally, Crete had become a massive transit camp to reinforce the Afrika Korps. Among his intelligence successes Fielding signalled the timetable of transports taking off from the airfield at Maleme, enabling the RAF to intercept them.

After six months he was picked up by a Greek submarine and given a breather in Cairo. This gave him a chance to niggle about the inaccuracy of RAF air drops.

As a result Fielding was invited to observe, from the front turret of a Wellington, a drop arranged for Leigh Fermor high up in the White Mountains. Considerably shaken by the experience – not least the anti-aircraft fire- he returned to the island by Greek submarine at the end of 1942 and never complained again.

Following the Crete mission, he parachuted into the south of France in the summer of 1944. Bearing papers announcing him as Armand Pont-Leve, a young clerk in the Electric Company of Nimes – but codenamed “Cathedrale” – Fielding was received by Francis Cammaerts (alias “Roger”) and also by Christine Granville.

Fielding found them an “imposing pair”. Still in uniform, he felt “rather like a novice in the presence of a prior and prioress”. The canister containing his civilian clothes, with poison pill sewn into the jacket, was missing and he felt something of a freak in the baggy Charlie Chaplin trouserings produced by “Roger”.

Shortly afterwards he was in the Cammaert’s car when it was stopped at a road block near Digne. Questions revealed that SOE staff in Algiers had failed to stamp a current date on his otherwise impeccable papers. Worse Fielding had split a large sum of French money between “Roger” and himself, and the enemy twigged that the notes were all in the same series.

Christine Granville was not with them and news of their arrests reached her on the Italian border. Earlier she had been arrested, but had managed to convince her German interrogators that she was a local peasant girl.

She arrived at Digne prison and passed herself off as “Roger’s” wife – and, for good measure, as a niece of Gen Montgomery. She persuaded an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, a liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Siercherheitsdienst, to co-operate by reminding him that the Allies had already landed on the Riviera.

Schenck put Christine on to a Belgian, Max Waem, who agreed to help, though his price was two million francs. SOE in Algiers dropped the money in. As a result Fielding and “Roger” were led out of prison. Believing themselves on the way to be shot, they were astonished to be welcomed by Christine who was waiting with a car.

Fielding was awarded the Croix de Guerre in France in 1944. Before the war in Europe ended, he returned to Crete; he was one of the first into liberated Athens.

During the war Fielding would often pass through Cairo, which became a sort of SOE headquarters for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and meet up with kindred spirits such as David Smiley, “Billy” McLean (qv), Peter Kemp (qv) and Alan Hare. In 1945 they decided the place to be was the Far East. As Fielding put it: “I was at a loose end and wanted to see what was going on out there.”

He spent some months in Cambodia, with a Japanese driver fighting the Vietminh. Then came as six-month stint with the Special Intelligence Service in Germany, and an appointment as United Nations observer in the Balkans.

Peacetime, though, brought disillusionment and a disturbing sense of misgiving. But in 1948 an encounter with the Marchioness of Bath at what she described as an “hilarious lunch” predestined the course of much of the rest of his life. She had recently taken up photography in place of painting; he was planning a book on Crete. The upshot was that Daphne Bath accompanied his return to the White Mountains to illustrate the book. They married in 1953.

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Soon there was another and more welcome distraction. Michael Powell was filming Ill Met by Moonlight – the story of Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wartime abduction of Gen Kreipe, the German commander in Crete – and Fielding was hired as technical adviser. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor and Fielding lent him his Cretan guerrilla’s cloak and coached him in the part.

Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: After an early essay at painting, Xan Fielding wandered to Greece and the islands, added Greek to his list of languages and acquired a lasting attachment to the Greeks.

His life took on an adventurous and peripatetic turn. Early in 1942 he was landed in plain clothes and by submarine in German-occupied Crete. Germany was in full advance on all fronts and Crete was a strongly galvanised Luftwaffe base for the Desert War. The mountains were full of stray British and Commonwealth soldiers who had broken out of PoW camps or been left behind after the Battle, a mortal danger to the Cretans who hid and fed them.

Gathering and evacuating them from remote caves was among Xan’s first tasks. Establishing a network of agents and signalling information back to Cairo came next followed by parachute drops to the growing guerrilla bands and the e organisation of sabotage, and propaganda while maintaining liaison with the island Resistance leaders.

Light and fine-boned when suitably cloaked and daggered, Xan could be taken for a Cretan. With his determination, humour and intuitive sympathy and his quick mastery of dialect and songs, he made countless friends, and worked there precariously for two years.

In 1944, the war moving west, he was dropped in the Vercors region to the French maquis. He returned to Crete for a final two months before the liberation, then headed for Cambodia on further SOE missions and spent some time on the Tibet border before returning to the West Bank in Greece.

Xan commanded a mixed Allied unit supervising the 1946 elections, and during prolonged leave in Rhodes, his friend Lawrence Durrell – who was press officer there – insisted on printing a set of Fielding’s poems, which make one wish he had written many more. Chafing at Oxford life as a demobilised undergraduate, he worked for a spell with the Beaverbrook Press and found it even less congenial.

These years were perplexed by tangled Dickensian lawsuits in Nice: family property had been unrecoverably misappropriated in the occupation. During that harassing time he wrote Hide and Seek, an exciting account of his experiences in Crete.

Soon after he married Daphne Bath, and they travelled all over the island (of Crete) for his long book The Stronghold, a combination of travel and history.

They first settled in Portugal. Then a long sojourn in the Kasbah of Tangier – perhaps inspired by the film Pepe le Moko – gave rise to his book Corsair Country, the history of the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Near Uzez in Languedoc, their next long halt, his excellent French suggested translation as a profession and he put more than 30 books into English, including many by Larteguy and Chevalier, and Malrauz’s Les Noyers d’Altenborg [Ed: and perhaps better known Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai]

After a friendly separation from Daphne he married Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Adml John II Magruder, of the United States Navy. They were extremely happy.

Xan and Magouche took root in the Serriana de Ronda, which looks across Adalusian ilex-woods to the Atlas. There he edited the correspondence of his friend and neighbour, Gerald Brennan, with Ralph Partridge, and continued his translations.

Xan’s own book, The Money Spinner, about the Monaco casino – the hazards of gambling had always fascinated him – came out in 1977. Later, Winds of the World gave free rein to his interest in atmospheric commotions and their mythology.

In the winter of 1990 One Man and his Time appeared; it described the life, and the Asian, Ethiopian and Arabian travels, of his old friend “Billy” McLean (qv), the wartime commander of the SOE mission in Albania.

At almost the same time Xan was smitten by cancer and he and Magouche moved to Paris for therapy. Though fatally stricken for the last eight months, he was suddenly, three months ago, granted a reprise which exactly coincided with the ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the Resistance.

At a special parade of the Greek navy at Souda, he and six Allied officers were decorated with the commemorative medal of the Resistance, and for 10 days he visited scores of mountain friends from 50 years before. His return was everywhere greeted with feasting and songs.

Xan Fielding was a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, deeply committed to this friends, civilised and bohemian at the same time, with a thoughtful style leavened by spontaneous gaiety and a dash of recklessness. He was altogether outstanding.

August 20 1991


Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper

Leigh Fermor will be remembered as someone who lived and talked as well as he wrote

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor: Soldier, scholar and celebrated travel writer hailed as the best of his time.

By Artemis Cooper

First published in The Independent Saturday, 11 June 2011.

In Greece just after the Second World War, Patrick Leigh Fermor was on a lecture tour for the British Council.

The lecture was supposed to be on British culture, but he had been persuaded to talk about his wartime exploits on Crete. Leigh Fermor took sips from a large glass as he spoke and when it was nearly finished, he topped it up from a carafe of water. The liquid turned instantly cloudy: he had added water to a nearly empty tumbler of neat ouzo.

A roar of appreciation went up from the audience at this impromptu display of leventeia. A quality prized in Greece, leventeia indicates high spirits, humour, quickness of mind and action, charm, generosity, the love of living dangerously and a readiness for anything. Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor had leventeia in spades.

Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor

He was born in 1915, the second child and only son of Lewis Leigh Fermor and his wife, Aileen Taaffe Ambler. The family were based in Calcutta, where Lewis Fermor worked for the Geological Survey of India. Aileen went to England for the birth, but did not dare bring Leigh Fermor back to India as the First World War intensified. She entrusted her baby to the Martins, a couple she scarcely knew in the village of Road Weedon, Northamptonshire, and for the next four years “Paddy-Mike” was adored, indulged and allowed to run wild. When his mother and sister Vanessa came back to collect him in 1919, it was the end of an infant idyll that had, he admitted, “unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.”

Leigh Fermor saw little of his father but was devoted to his flamboyant mother, who wrote plays, played the piano and loved reading aloud. He learnt to read late but devoured the works of Sir Walter Scott before he was 10, awaking an addiction for history, heraldry and adventure. Yet he was not a success academically, perpetually in trouble, and expelled from almost every school he attended.

The King’s School, Canterbury, might have been the exception, but he was often in trouble, and the final straw came when he was caught holding hands with the greengrocer’s daughter. His last report complained that he was a “dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”, and a bad influence on the other boys.

His parents felt a career in the army was the only hope, but he gravitated to Bohemian London and a raffish group who introduced him to nightclubs, strong drink and modern poetry, and encouraged his ambition to be a writer – but he had nothing to write about. He was drifting in a fog of disappointment when the solution came: he would embark on a walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople.

He was 18 when he set off in 1932. With an allowance of £5 a month he slept in hostels, sheep-folds, monasteries, barns, people’s sofas, and for a few luxurious months in castles and country houses in Hungary and Transylvania. He reached Constantinople on New Year’s Day, 1935. He spent his 20th birthday on Mount Athos, and a month later took part in a Greek royalist cavalry charge against Venizelist rebels across the River Struma on a borrowed horse. He then made his way to Athens, where he met Princess Balasha Cantacuzène.

Balasha Cantacuzene

A Romanian painter with dark, exotic looks, Balasha was eight years older and recently divorced. That summer they lived in a watermill opposite the island of Poros, and in autumn they retreated to Balasha’s family home in Romania. Baleni, in the Cantacuzene estates in Moldavia, was his refuge for three years. Here he made the first attempt to write up his notes from his trans-European journey. He did not like the results, but he did earn money by translating Constantine Rodocanachis’s Ulysse fils d’Ulysse which as Forever Ulysses became a bestseller in America. When war was declared, Leigh Fermor decided to go home. “The farewells next day,” he wrote, “were like marching orders out of paradise.”

He had hoped to join the Irish Guards, but took the commission offered by the Intelligence Corps which gave him the opportunity to return to Greece. As a British Liaison Officer he followed the Greek army’s early successes against the Italians on the Albanian border in late 1940. When the Germans invaded the following April, the British and Greek forces retreated southwards. Leigh Fermor escaped by caique to Crete, where he took part in the battle in May 1941 against German paratroopers; when the battle was lost he was evacuated to Egypt. He was sent back to occupied Crete in June 1942, as one of a handful of SOE officers who were helping the Cretan Resistance.

After the Italian surrender in August 1943 he was contacted by the Italian general Angelo Carta. Rather than co-operate with the Germans, Carta wanted to leave Crete. Leigh Fermor saw him safely to Egypt – a mission which sparked the idea of kidnapping a German general. Promoted to major, he returned from Cairo to Crete in February 1944. With his second-in-command, Capt William Stanley Moss, and a hand-picked team of resistance fighters, the ambush took place on 26 April, when General Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the Sebastopol Division, was pulled out of his car on his way to his villa.

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

The hardest part was not so much the capture but the getaway. The wireless broke down, German troops flooded the south coast, from where they had planned to rendezvous with a Royal Navy launch, and the General hurt his shoulder in a fall. The party spent two weeks in caves and sheepfolds in the White Mountains, making their way over the snowy ridges of Mount Ida to a more secluded evacuation point. German patrols kept up the pressure, and leaflets were dropped warning that anyone who gave aid and succour to the kidnappers could expect the most severe punishment. No one gave them away.

The success of the operation and the discomfiture of the occupiers gave the Cretans a tremendous boost: as one of them put it, “the horn-wearers won’t dare look us in the eye!” William Stanley Moss’s diary was made into a book, Ill Met by Moonlight (and later a film with Dirk Bogarde.) Leigh Fermor was awarded the DSO and remains a hero on Crete. But he never published an account of his own experiences on the island.

After the war, he became assistant director of the British Institute in Athens. A colleague recalled the songs and laughter emerging from his office, which was a magnet for Cretans looking for a job. His boss sent him on a lecture tour to get him out of the way, which proved a success and took him all round Greece. This was the first of many journeys taken with Joan Rayner, a tall, blonde intellectual he had first met in Cairo. Daughter of the first Viscount Monsell, who had been First Lord of the Admiralty in the 1930s, she was widely travelled and a talented photographer.

In October 1949, the couple set off for the French Antilles. Leigh Fermor had been commissioned to write captions for a book of photographs by his friend A Costa, but this developed into his first full-length book, The Traveller’s Tree (1950). The reviews were generous in their praise and he was earmarked as a writer to watch.

He was now free to concentrate on Greece. Over the next few years he and Joan travelled all over the mainland and the archipelago, by boat and bus and mule and on foot, exploring a country that was still remote outside the main towns and where customs and traditions were observed as they had been for centuries.

Spells of travel would be broken by long stints of writing, translation and journalism. In 1953 came two small books. A series of articles on monasteries, written for the Cornhill Magazine, were collected in A Time to Keep Silence, while his only novel, The Violins of Saint Jacques, grew out of a chapter he was supposed to have written for a book called Memorable Balls. He translated the wartime memoirs of his friend George Psychoundakis, which appeared in 1955 as The Cretan Runner, and wrote for The Spectator and The Sunday Times.

Beyond an insatiable thirst for travel, wine and books, Leigh Fermor and Joan lived a frugal life. She had a small private income, and by living abroad for most of the year they avoided tax. Friends helped by lending houses where he could write; among the most important was a house in Normandy owned by Amy Smart, the Egyptian wife of the diplomat Sir Walter Smart, and that of the painter Nico Ghika on the island of Hydra. When they were in England, Joan would retire to her family home at Dumbleton in Worcestershire while Leigh Fermor headed for the bright lights.

His friends scooped him up into a round of celebrations and reunions and house parties, where Leigh Fermor revelled in company. Among them were brothers-in-arms like Xan Fielding and George Jellicoe, celebrated hostesses such as Annie Fleming, Deborah Devonshire and Diana Cooper, and writers and poets such as John Betjeman, Robin Fedden, Philip Toynbee, and later, Bruce Chatwin.

Writing, on the other hand, was hard and solitary. Though many of his set-piece descriptions were written at a gallop and barely changed, other passages involved months of work. He was acutely attuned to internal rhythms; the alteration of one word would set up a ripple effect demanding whole chapters to be rewritten. His friend and publisher, Jock Murray, was often in despair as every set of proofs came back covered in crossings-out and addenda.

It was not until 1958 that Murray published Mani, Leigh Fermor’s first book on Greece. It shows the southern Peloponnese as it was before tourism – a land of rocks and dazzling light, blood feuds and deep superstition, where people still told tales of their struggles against the Turks and pirates. Its companion volume, Roumeli covers his travels from Macedonia to the Gulf of Corinth.

Leigh Fermor and Joan were keen to settle in Greece, and they were always on the look-out for the perfect patch of land. They found it in 1963, in the Mani, a little promontory near the village of Kardamyli, south of Kalamata. Surrounded by olive groves, it looked out to sea and had its own rocky beach. With the help of a local stonemason, Leigh Fermor and Joan set about building the house. The result was the perfect monastery-built-for-two, at the heart of which was a library described by John Betjeman as “one of the rooms of the world”.

A Time of Gifts, 1977

Leigh Fermor at last had a permanent home, all his books in one place and uninterrupted solitude. His next subject was the one he had waited half a lifetime to write – the story of his great walk to Constantinople. “Shanks’s Europe”, as he called it, was worth the wait. A Time of Gifts appeared in 1977, and Between the Woods and the Water, the second volume in a proposed trilogy, in 1986. Together they present a snapshot of old Europe just before the joint cataclysms of war and Communism swept them away for ever. Every paragraph reflects the loss of a way of life still linked to its soil and its history, while celebrating the joy and enthusiasm of a young man discovering the riches of a continent. The reviews hailed him as the best travel writer of his time – and reader reviews on Amazon show him being rediscovered.

Unfortunately, the clamour for him to finish the last volume ushered in an ice age of writer’s block. In 1988 and 1990 he revisited his old haunts in Bulgaria and Romania, hoping to kick-start the creative process. Shocked by the all-obliterating change, he found his own memories fading. In an effort to get him over it Jock Murray commissioned another book about a journey to Peru, which appeared as Three Letters from the Andes (1991). He wrote articles, introductions, obituaries, reviews, and even translated a story by PG Wodehouse into Greek – but the pen-paralysis persisted. The two people he most relied on for moral support died: Murray in 1993, and his wife Joan 10 years later. Leigh Fermor was knighted on his 90th birthday, but his eyesight was beginning to deteriorate. He carried on writing in longhand for as long as he could, but the final volume of his trilogy remains unfinished.

He will be remembered by his friends as someone who lived and talked as well as he wrote, whose leventeia was irrepressible, his conversation unforgettable. He could launch into a monologue that turned into a one-man show, a verbal rollercoaster that ranged from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians or chased mythical beasts through primeval forests, tribal customs, Guatemalan bus tickets, German heraldry and Napoleonic uniforms – leaving the company breathless with laughter and exhilaration.

British soldier and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor with Joan Rayner after their wedding at Caxton Hall, Westminster, London, 17th January 1968. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, writer and soldier: born London 11 February 1915; OBE (military) 1943; DSO 1944; Kt 2004; married 1968 Hon Joan Eyres-Monsell (died 2003); died 10 June 2011.

BBC Obituary: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

Billy Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, who has died aged 96, was both a man of action and an intellectual.

From the BBC news website.

His exploits during WWII, when he led a group of British officers and Greek guerrillas which captured the German military commander of Crete, has become the stuff of legend.

After the war, through a series of colourful yet scholarly books, including A Time of Gifts and Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, he re-invented himself as perhaps the finest travel writer of his generation.

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor – known in early life as Michael and later to his many friends as Paddy – was born in London on 11 February 1915.

His father, Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, was a distinguished geologist and Fellow of The Royal Society who spent much of his career in India.

With his parents often abroad, Leigh Fermor enjoyed a carefree childhood, often with foster-parents on a farm in Northamptonshire.

European odyssey

After a brief, unhappy, sojourn “among the snake-belts and the bat-oil of a horrible preparatory school”, he progressed to King’s School, Canterbury, where one house-master dubbed him “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”.

“Sacked”, as he put it, from King’s following a teenage dalliance with the daughter of a town greengrocer, he read voraciously – Latin, Greek, Shakespeare, history – for the Sandhurst Military Academy entrance examination.

But deciding that the life of a peacetime soldier was not for him, Leigh Fermor determined, aged just 17, to walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (now Istanbul).

So, on 8 December 1933, a month after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, he set off from London with just a small rucksack containing a few clothes, the Oxford Book of English Verse and a volume of Horace’s odes for company.

On just a pound a week he was to cross the continent, tramp-like, wandering through town, village and city, across mountains and beside rivers, sleeping in doss-houses and castles and, above all, writing.

This journey, which he chronicled much later in life in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods & the Water (1986), brought him face-to-face with the last blossoming of a now vanished Europe.

It was a world of gypsies, isolated farming communities whose ways had changed little since the Thirty Years’ War, faded Austro-Hungarian aristocracy and Mitteleuropean Jewish communities now lost to World War Two, the Holocaust, and the Cold War.

Wartime intelligence officer

Erudition shone from every page, whether describing duelling in Heidelberg where “those dashing scars were school ties that could never be taken off” or the Carpathian mountains, with its “fiendish monocled horsemen, queens in lonely towers, toppling ranges, deep forests, plains full of half-wild horses… mad noblemen and rioting jacqueries”.

After reaching Constantinople he travelled extensively in the Greek archipelago, celebrating his 21st birthday in a Russian monastery on Mount Athos and witnessing a civil war before returning to Britain.

At the outbreak of World War Two Patrick Leigh Fermor – the scion of an Anglo-Irish family – enlisted in the Irish Guards.

With his intimate knowledge of south-eastern Europe and first-class linguistic skills, he soon found himself serving as the Intelligence Corps’ liaison officer to Greek Headquarters in Albania.

After fighting against the German forces then sweeping through Greece and the Balkans, he was posted to occupied Crete in 1942. There, for two-and-a-half years, he organised resistance to the 22,000 German troops occupying the island.

Disguised as a shepherd, he directed an operation to capture the island’s military commander, Major General Karl Kreipe.

After snatching the general and hijacking his staff car, Leigh Fermor and his British and Cretan comrades drove through the capital city, Heraklion, successfully negotiating 14 checkpoints on route.

As Major Leigh Fermor and his colleague, Major Stanley ‘Billy’ Moss, were dressed as German corporals, capture would have meant certain death. After three weeks hiding in the hills, they finally accompanied their precious cargo by boat to Cairo.

Rich prose style

This daring escapade, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, was immortalised by Moss in his 1950 book Ill Met By Moonlight. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor in the successful big screen adaptation.

After the war Leigh Fermor worked briefly as deputy director of the British Institute in Athens before resuming his travels.

His first book, The Traveller’s Tree (1950), is an account of journeying in the Caribbean, the “ultimate purpose” of which, as set out in the book’s preface, was “to retransmit to the reader whatever interest and enjoyment we encountered. In a word, to give pleasure”.

This he did, through vivid descriptions of the languorous beauty of island life, the linguistic Tower of Babel bequeathed by colonialism and the continuing legacy of the slave trade. Architecture, history, culture, all were essential themes to Leigh Fermor, as central to his first work as to his last.

In 1953 he published a novel, The Violins of St Jacques. A fantasy set in the decadent world of early 20th Century Martinique, the book’s florid and luxurious romanticism proved a radical departure for its author.

But it was Greece, both ancient and modern, to which Leigh Fermor often looked for inspiration. Works like Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) explored the complex and colourful sweep of Hellenistic culture.

Together with the account of his transeuropean walk, they represent a formidable body of work.

Though he latterly lived in Crete, rarely visiting his homeland, Patrick Leigh Fermor was an archetypal Englishman.

The recipient of many awards and prizes – including a knighthood, the freedom of four Greek cities and as a Chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters – he was praised throughout the world as a thrilling writer, a real-life hero and a genteel observer of the human condition.

The Guardian: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor obituary

'A dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness': Patrick Leigh Fermor in Saint Malo, France, in 1992 Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Highly regarded travel writer and heroic wartime SOE officer

By James Campbell

First published in The Guardian 10 June 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor, who has died aged 96, was an intrepid traveller, a heroic soldier and a writer with a unique prose style. His books, most of which were autobiographical, made surprisingly scant mention of his military exploits, drawing instead on remarkable geographical and scholarly explorations. To Paddy, as he was universally known, an acre of land in almost any corner of Europe was fertile ground for the study of language, history, song, dress, heraldry, military custom – anything to stimulate his momentous urge to speculate and extrapolate. If there is ever room for a patron saint of autodidacts, it has to be Paddy Leigh Fermor.

Rather than go to university in 1933, at the age of “18 and three-quarters”, he set out in December that year to walk from the Hook of Holland to what he insisted on calling Constantinople, or even Byzantium [Istanbul]. There was no hurry, he wrote 65 years later in an article for the London Magazine. His journey took him “south-east through the snow into Germany, then up the Rhine and eastwards down the Danube … in Hungary I borrowed a horse, then plunged into Transylvania; from Romania, on into Bulgaria”. At New Year, 1935, he crossed the Turkish border at Adrianople and reached his destination.

The European trek was undertaken with a book in mind – he was inspired by George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London – but 40 years would pass before Paddy published the first volume of his projected trilogy on the adventure. Asked why it took so long, he shot back: “Laziness and timidity.” A Time of Gifts (1977) is not only a great travel book (a term he disliked), but one of the wonders of modern literature.

Five years after his journey ended, he was serving with the Irish Guards during the second world war. He joined the Special Operations Executive in 1941, helping to co-ordinate the resistance in German-occupied Crete, and commanding, as he put it, “some minor guerrilla operations”. The most audacious was the ambush and kidnap of the man overseeing the Nazi occupation of the island, General Heinrich Kreipe, who was spirited off to Alexandria.

Paddy’s adventures began practically at the moment he was born. His father, Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, was the director of the Geological Survey of India. After giving birth to her son in London, his mother, Eileen (nee Ambler), a hopeful but unsuccessful playwright, took Paddy’s elder sister and returned to the east. The newborn was left behind, “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine”. He was raised in Northamptonshire by a family called Martin and, as he told me when I interviewed him in 2005, “spent a very happy first few years of my life as a wild-natured boy. I wasn’t ever told not to do anything.” The experience left him unsuited to “the faintest shadow of constraint”. As for his parents, “I didn’t meet either of them until I was four years old”. Lewis and Eileen later separated, and Paddy then lived with his mother in London, near Regent’s Park.

With pride, he would tell how he went to a school “for rather naughty children”, and was expelled from two others, including the King’s school, Canterbury, where he had formed an illicit liaison with the local greengrocer’s daughter, eight years older than him, in whom perhaps he glimpsed a loving mother. His housemaster described him as “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”, which was perceptive.

Among the books he packed for his European journey in 1933 was a volume of Horace. To pass the time while marching, he recited aloud “a great deal of Shakespeare, several Marlowe speeches, most of Keats’s Odes” as well as “the usual pieces of Tennyson, Browning and Coleridge”. This would be related with charming if showy modesty.

The immense repertoire had a frivolous side. Throughout his adult life, Paddy was a great performer of party turns: songs in Cretan dialect; The Walrus and the Carpenter recited backwards; Falling in Love Again sung in the same direction – but in German. When I was at his house in the Peloponnese, in Greece, he restricted himself, after a lunch that lasted several hours, to It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in Hindustani.

A Time of Gifts is written with a youthful eagerness, with intricately detailed descriptions of sights passed along the way, conversations, drinks imbibed, the cadence of birdsong. Yet it is almost entirely a work of mature recollection. The figure setting out for the Netherlands after a final celebration with friends – “a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly; the Jermyn Street shops, distorted by streaming water, had become a submarine arcade” – is a lad of 18, with all the appropriate responses, but his sensibility is in the control of a writer several decades older. While making a BBC television programme about Paddy’s journey in 2008, the explorer and film-maker Benedict Allen was able to authenticate many of the elaborate and seemingly fanciful descriptions in the book.

Back in Athens, after the main journey to Istanbul was completed, Paddy met the first great love of his life, Balasha Cantacuzene, a Romanian princess 12 years his senior, with whom he lived on the family’s “Tolstoyan” estate in Moldavia until the outbreak of the war. A quarter of a century later, he returned to Romania and found the princess living in a Bucharest garret, disgraced by the government, but with charm and humour intact.

In the 1950s, he lived the life of a nomad. His letters to the Duchess of Devonshire (their correspondence was published as In Tearing Haste in 2008) carry addresses in Italy, France, Cameroon, as well as various corners of England and his beloved Greece. He had a lifelong attraction to the aristocracy, and it sometimes seems as if every excursion involved a castle or a palace somewhere, and every other acquaintance had a title, but his charm and popularity resided in the fact that he was just as content dancing with Greek peasants and sleeping under stars.

Elaboration was Paddy’s forte. His manuscripts were like some literary version of snakes and ladders, with the revisions themselves undergoing repeated rewriting. A friend told me that even quotations from other authors were subject to revision. The second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, appeared in 1986, taking the traveller up to Orsova on the Danube south of the Carpathians. The final chapter closes with the hopeful words, “To Be Concluded”. All through his 80s and 90s, well-meaning friends and fans alike asked about the progress of volume three, and Paddy, hiding his irritation, would say that he was “going to pull my socks up and get on with it”. A visitor to his Greek home in 2008 saw an eight-inch-high pile of manuscript. When and if it does appear, this will be a series some eight decades in the making.

Paddy was never to match the productivity he achieved during the 50s. His first book was The Traveller’s Tree (1950), based on a voyage in the Caribbean in the company of Joan Eyres-Monsell, daughter of the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom he had met at the end of the war. Paddy and Joan became lifelong companions (they married in 1968). She had “more money than most of her friends”, an old school chum wrote at Joan’s death in 2003, aged 91. They settled in Greece in 1964 (three year before the colonels’ junta), while keeping a house near Evesham, in Worcestershire.

After The Traveller’s Tree came his only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques (1953), also with a Caribbean setting (it was made into an opera by Malcolm Williamson). Lodging at a Benedictine monastery in Normandy in the mid-50s in order to concentrate on the first of his two books about Greece, he ended up writing about the monastery instead. A Time to Keep Silence (1957) is the least elaborate and most accessible of his books. It included photographs by Joan, as did Mani (1958), a compendious account of the southernmost region of the Peloponnese. Its northern Greek twin, Roumeli, appeared in 1966. Other notable projects included translations from the French of Paul Morand and co-writing the screenplay for John Huston’s film The Roots of Heaven (1958).

He took no part in the making of the film with which most people associate him. Ill Met by Moonlight (1957) is Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s rather feeble version of the kidnap of General Kreipe. Dirk Bogarde played Paddy, who disliked the film. “It was all so much more interesting than they made it seem,” he told me.

The kidnap took place in April 1944. With permission from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Cairo, Paddy and his team of British commandos and Cretan guerrillas stopped Kreipe’s car as made its way to HQ in Heraklion. With the general pressed down on the vehicle’s floor, Paddy donned his uniform and set off towards a prearranged hiding-place with the captive on board. The German chauffeur had been carried off and killed by the Cretans, much to the displeasure of Paddy, who had wanted to keep the operation bloodless in order to reduce the chance of reprisals.

Before reaching safety, they had to pass through several roadblocks and were saved only by Paddy’s command of German. The strange company – Paddy, the general and W Stanley Moss (author of the book Ill Met by Moonlight) slept in caves for a month until it was safe to have Kreipe removed to Egypt. Passing the time one day, Kreipe began to recite some lines from Horace’s ode Ad Thalictrum. The Latin syllables caught his captor’s ear. “As luck would have it, it was one of those I knew by heart.” After the general had run out of steam, Paddy carried on through the remaining 40 lines to the end. “We got on rather better after that.” In 1972, an almost equally unlikely event occurred, when the pair were reunited on a Greek version of This Is Your Life.

Until his death, Paddy was pursued by the rumour that his “jape” (as the historian MRD Foot called it) had brought terrible vengeance on the local population. In a Guardian obituary in 2006 of George Psychoundakis, a shepherd and a “runner” in the resistance, it was stated that villages had been burned in reprisal for the Kreipe kidnapping. This was denied and later corrected by the newspaper. In his book Crete: The Battle and the Resistance (1991), Antony Beevor went to some lengths to establish with the help of German documentation that no direct reprisals took place. Certainly, the Cretans were grateful to Paddy and the odd bunch of English classicists and scholars – some of them posted to Crete on account of having studied ancient Greek at school – who were among his colleagues. In 1947, he was made an honorary citizen of Heraklion. In the mid-50s, he translated Psychoundakis’s close-up version of the occupation, The Cretan Runner (1998), and was later responsible for having the shepherd’s vernacular rendering of the Odyssey published in Athens.

In 1964, the Leigh Fermors focused their energy on building a house on a peninsula about a mile outside the village of Kardamyli. A local mason, Nikos Kolokotronis, provided the expertise. “Settled in tents, we read Vitruvius and Palladio,” Paddy wrote. “Learned all we could from old Mani buildings, and planned the house.” Limestone was quarried from the foothills of the Taygetos mountains, which rear up behind the building as the Gulf of Messenia opens before it. Other materials, such as a seven-foot marble lintel, came from Tripoli and beyond.

He was justly proud of the garden (designed by Joan), the sundial table and the fabulous azure prospect below. There was nothing fussy about it. Paddy referred to his chair-scratching cats as “interior desecrators and natural downholsterers”, and enjoyed the day when “a white goat entered from the terrace, followed by six more in single file”. They inspected the living room, then left again “without the goats or the house seeming in any way out of countenance”.

It was from the same terrace that I first entered the living room, the only guest, apart from the goats, ever to have done so, according to Paddy. Staying in a pension in Kardamyli, I had loftily turned down the offer of a lift to our lunch appointment, and set out to walk with rudimentary directions. I was soon lost, scrambling down olive terraces, smearing and tearing my carefully pressed trousers. Worse, I was late. Eventually, I came to the sea and after climbing over rocks as large as a garden shed, arrived at a set of zigzag steps leading up the cliff face. I traipsed across the terrace and entered by the French windows, to find Paddy seated on a divan reading the Times Literary Supplement. He complimented me on my sense of direction, and said urgently: “We must have a drink straight away!” Paddy was a two gin-and-tonics before lunch man. He was, in fact, a promoter of the life-enhancing qualities of alcohol, and even of the “not always harmful” effects of a hangover.

In 1943, he was appointed OBE (military), and a year later received the Distinguished Service Order. His books won many awards, including the Duff Cooper memorial prize (for Mani) and the WH Smith award (A Time of Gifts). He was knighted in 2004.

Peter Levi writes: When Patrick Leigh Fermor announced his intention to walk to Constantinople through Bulgaria, he was warned by an old British sergeant with local experience that if he went that way, he would start out with a bum like silk and end up with one like an army boot. This view turned out to be mistaken, but among many other adventures, he played bicycle polo in Hungary, fell passionately in love with a princess in Romania, and took part in the last Greek cavalry charge, in a civil war he never quite understood.

He was exactly the right age to be a war hero, and in his two years with the Cretan resistance made a number of lifelong friends, blood-brothers and brothers by baptism. At one point General [later Field Marshal] Bernard Montgomery ordered him to depart at once and come on leave to Cairo, but received a telegram saying he had misunderstood, and that Major Leigh Fermor was enjoying himself enormously and did not want any leave. “What I liked about Paddy,” one of his Cretan blood-brothers said to me, “was he was such a good man, so morally good. He could throw his pistol 40 feet in the air like this, and catch it again by the handle.”

He was not meant for the boring side of military life. When he did get to Cairo. he learned the SOE song, to the tune of a popular song of the time. “We’re a poor lot of mugs/ Who were trained to be things,/ And now we’re at the mercy of the Greeks and the Jugs,/ Nobody’s using us now.” His Cairo parties were also memorable. It was the Indian summer of whatever Cairo had once been, and there was one party where he counted nine crowned heads among the guests. His way into this happy life was by volunteering for the Irish Guards, being put into the intelligence corps, and working as a liaison officer with the Greeks.

His way out was equally a matter of luck. After some time in airborne reconnaissance over Germany in 1945, he was made vice-director of the British Institute in Athens by Lieutenant General Ronald Scobie, who wanted courses in Greek culture and archaeology organised for his soldiers, who had nothing to do. One of his first recruits to the small corps of lecturers was the author and translator Philip Sherrard. They were both at the beginning of a long love affair with their subject.

Paddy came home to be demobbed, and lived for a time in the couriers’ rooms high up in the Ritz hotel that cost half a guinea a night. He arrived there with Xan Fielding, his comrade in arms, who had a barrel of Cretan wine on one shoulder, and with Joan.

He was so honestly high-spririted and friendly that many who were prepared to reject him fell at once under his charm. He was still as wild as he would have been at 16. He was the sort of man who would take you to White’s for dinner because you were handy, without telling you he was a new member, and proceed to sing the menu in Italian.

The house where he and Joan lived in Greece was as essential an expression of his creative power as Pope’s Twickenham or Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. Its remarkable tranquillity and beauty were qualities seldom encountered. His writing house in the garden had a magnificent stove-like fireplace, an imitation from a prewar Bulgarian house, and the saloon or great room of their house had a huge window of Turkish inspiration. It was a feat that he stayed on intimately good terms with the Greeks for so many years. The only problem was about water rights: he supplied mountain water free, which was at once used as a basis for a new settlement with all the horrors of development to follow. When he cut off the supply there were growls, but peace soon returned.

He was a member of the Academy of Athens, and got a gold medal from the city authorities. His London life was dashing. Dressed for a night on the town in what he called his James Bond greatcoat, a present from Ian Fleming, he was a fine sight.

Among his casual attainments, he climbed a peak in the Andes with the mountaineer Robin Fedden and the Duke of Devonshire (who beat the others to the top), and he swam the Hellespont, where he encountered a Russian submarine. In the 1980s he underwent treatment for cancer, which proved successful. Yet his life was distinctly bookish and scholarly: he was a discoverer of obscure and new writers, he translated poetry, and was at some deep level essentially a poet.

• Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, soldier, traveller and writer, born 11 February 1915; died 10 June 2011

• Peter Levi died in 2000

Telegraph obituary: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy in 1966

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died today aged 96, was one of the few genuine Renaissance figures produced by Britain in the 20th century, a man both of action and learning, a modern Philip Sidney or Lord Byron.

First published in The Telegraph 10 June 2011

Leigh Fermor was the architect of one of the most daring feats of the Second World War, the kidnapping of the commander of the German garrison on Crete, and also the author of some of the finest works in the canon of English travel writing.

His most celebrated book told the story of his year-long walk across Europe from Rotterdam to Istanbul in 1934, when he was 18 and the Continent was on the verge of cataclysmic change. His account of his adventures was projected as a trilogy, of which only the first two parts have so far been published, A Time of Gifts in 1977 and Between the Woods and the Water nine years later.

The journey was a cultural awakening for Leigh Fermor that bred in him a love of language and of remote places and set the pattern for his future life. The exuberant personality revealed in his writing won him many admirers, who also revelled in the remarkable range of his learning and the irresistible flow of his descriptive prose, rivalled for luxuriousness only by that of one of his principal influences, Norman Douglas.

Others were not so taken with his tales, suspecting him at best of a faulty memory and at worst of private myth-making, and dismissing his parade of arcane erudition as more intellectual snobbery than dilettante scholarship. Yet such criticism misread the essential modesty of the man, insisted too narrowly on accuracy in a genre founded by storytelling, and failed to realise that Leigh Fermor was above all a comic writer. It was for comic, often self-mocking, effect that he loosed his great streams of words, their tumbling onrush of sound designed to intoxicate and above all to entertain.

Leigh Fermor began his journey in December 1933, carrying a rucksack that had accompanied the travel writer Robert Byron – 10 years his senior and a lifelong literary influence – to Mount Athos for the trip written up as The Station (1931). His course took him across Hitler’s Germany to Transylvania, then through the Balkans to what he insisted on calling Constantinople.

Though he at first kept to his aim of travelling “like a tramp or pilgrim”, sleeping in police cells and beer halls, by the time he reached Central Europe his charm led to his being passed from schloss to schloss by a network of margraves and voivodes. The architecture, ritual and genealogy of each halt were later recalled with a loving eye.

Critics legitimately doubted how such details could be remembered more than half a century later (especially since Leigh Fermor had lost some of the diaries he kept, although he often gave proof of having an exceptionally retentive memory). Yet the accuracy or otherwise of particular incidents was beside the point. Leigh Fermor’s achievement was, like Proust, to have rendered the past visible, and to have preserved a civilisation which had since been swept away like leaves in a storm. The books are also a brilliantly sustained evocation in youthful exhilaration and joy, and perhaps the nearest equivalent in English to Alain-Fournier’s masterpiece of nostalgia, Le Grand Meaulnes.

Leigh Fermor completed his journey on New Year’s Day 1935, albeit by train rather than on foot, having been compelled to travel thus across the militarised zone that then constituted the Turkish frontier. He next visited the country with which he would become most associated, Greece, spending his 20th birthday at St Panteleimon, the Russian monastery on Mount Athos. Later he attached himself to some friends fighting on the royalist side of the Venizelist revolution and took part in a cavalry charge with drawn sabres at Orliako bridge, in Macedonia.

Following a spell in Athens, he then moved to Romania to live with his first love, the painter Balasha Cantacuzene, at her country house in Moldavia. There he passed most of the three years before the Second World War, funded in part by the proceeds of his translation from the Greek in 1938 of CP Rodocanachi’s novel Forever Ulysses, which became a book club selection in America and of which he took a share of the royalties. Having not attended university, Leigh Fermor, who from youth had been an avid reader, used this blissful time to immerse himself in the literature of half a dozen cultures, including French, German and Romanian.

On the outbreak of war Leigh Fermor first joined the Irish Guards but was then transferred to the Intelligence Corps due to his knowledge of the Balkans. He was initially attached as a liaison officer to the Greek forces fighting the Italians in Albania, then – having survived the fall of Crete in 1941 – was sent back to the island by SOE to command extremely hazardous guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis.

For a year and a half Leigh Fermor, disguised as a Cretan shepherd (albeit one with a taste for waistcoats embroidered with black arabesques and scarlet silk linings) endured a perilous existence, living in freezing mountain caves while harassing German troops. Other dangers were less foreseeable. While checking his rifle Leigh Fermor accidentally shot a trusted guide who subsequently died of the wound.

His occasional bouts of leave were spent in Cairo, at Tara, the rowdy household presided over by a Polish countess, Sophie Tarnowska. It was on a steamy bathroom window in the house that Leigh Fermor and another of Tara’s residents, Bill Stanley Moss, conceived a remarkable operation that they subsequently executed with great dash on Crete in April 1944.

Dressed as German police corporals, the pair stopped the car belonging to General Karl Kreipe, the island’s commander, while he was returning one evening to his villa near Knossos. The chauffeur disposed of, Leigh Fermor donned the general’s hat and, with Moss driving the car, they bluffed their way through the centre of Heraklion and a further 22 checkpoints. Kreipe, meanwhile, was hidden under the back seat and sat on by three hefty andartes, or Cretan partisans.

For three weeks the group evaded German search parties, finally marching the general over the top of Mount Ida, the mythical birthplace of Zeus. It was here occurred one of the most celebrated incidents in the Leigh Fermor legend.

Gazing up at the snowy peak, Kreipe recited the first line of Horace’s ode Ad Thaliarchum – “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte” (See how Soracte stands white with snow on high). Leigh Fermor immediately continued the poem to its end. The two men realised that they had “drunk at the same fountains” before the war, as Leigh Fermor put it, and things between them were very different from then on.

Kreipe was eventually taken off Crete by motorboat to Cairo. The exploit was later filmed (in the Alps) as Ill Met by Moonlight (1956), with Dirk Bogarde implausibly cast as Leigh Fermor, who was awarded the DSO for his part in the mission. Such was his standing thereafter on Crete that in local tellings of the deed Kreipe was heard to mutter while being abducted “I am starting to wonder who is occupying this island – us or the British.”

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor was born in London on February 11 1915. He was of Anglo-Irish stock and the son of Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, director of the Geological Survey of India and a naturalist after whom the mineral fermorite was named. He also discovered a worm with eight hairs on its back and a particular formation of snowflake.

Soon after Paddy’s birth, his mother and sister braved German submarines to sail to India to rejoin Sir Lewis, but for fear of the entire family being lost the infant Paddy was left in the care of a farmer and spent the first four years of life roaming across the fields of Northamptonshire. Among his earliest memories was of attending a Peace Day bonfire in 1919 at which one of the village boys was killed after swallowing a firework he had been clutching in his teeth.

These undisciplined formative years confirmed in him a natural unruliness that was still less likely to be curbed once his parents divorced. His mother, a glamorous red-headed playwright, set up home in Primrose Hill, and persuaded a neighbour, Arthur Rackham, to decorate Paddy’s room with drawings of hobgoblins.

His formal education was thereafter sporadic. A spell at a progressive school where staff and pupils alike dispensed with clothing was remedied by a private tutor who imbued him with a love of poetry and history. He was then sent to The King’s School, Canterbury, from which he was expelled (after several mischievous incidents) when caught holding hands with a greengrocer’s daughter.

It was decided that he should be sent to Sandhurst, but while up in London studying for the necessary exams he drifted into the fringes of the bohemian set (making friends with, among others, Nancy Mitford and Sacheverell Sitwell) and lodging in Shepherd’s Market, Piccadilly, with Beatrice Stewart, once the model for the figure of Peace in the quadriga atop Constitution Arch at Hyde Park Corner. In her rooms Leigh Fermor began (unsuccessfully) to write verse and then, in the winter of 1933, to plan his walk across Europe.

After the war, which ended while he was preparing for a potentially suicidal mission to penetrate Colditz, Leigh Fermor first worked for the British Institute in Athens. There he renewed his acquaintance with Seven Runciman and Osbert Lancaster as well as with Greek writers such as George Seferis. Then in the late 1940s he was commissioned to write the text to a book of photographs of the Caribbean.

It was this trip that gave direction to his later career. From the captions he wrote for the pictures sprang two of his first three books, The Traveller’s Tree (1950) and The Violins of Saint Jacques, his only novel (later turned into an opera), based on an incident in which a ball on Martinique was abruptly ended by the eruption of a volcano. These two titles were separated by a short meditation on monasticism, A Time to Keep Silence (1953).

But after this flurry of activity, the rest of his slender literary output appeared at intervals of a decade or more. He was not wholly idle in the meantime, writing the script for one of John Huston’s lesser films, The Roots of Heaven, and occasional journalism (some of it collected in the anthology of his work Words of Mercury that was published in 2003), but in general he much preferred research to the business of writing, and re-writing; it could take him half a dozen drafts before he would be satisfied with a sentence.

Then there were friends to entertain, among them Cyril Connolly, the present Duke of Devonshire and Bruce Chatwin, who chose to be buried near Leigh Fermor’s home in Greece. This was a house at Kardamyli, deep in the Peloponnese and overlooking the sea, which he and his wife designed themselves. Leigh Fermor liked to bathe, and at the age of 70 swam the four miles across the Hellespont.

Greece was the inspiration for his two other important books, Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966), distillations respectively of the history, legends, blood feuds and folk culture of the far south and north of a love and understanding of his adopted homeland.

Into his mid-eighties, Leigh Fermor retained the handsome looks (somewhat reminiscent of Jack Hawkins) of a man 20 years younger, and remained amused, energetic and excellent company. His mild manner concealed a sharper mind, and broader tastes, than might have been expected. High on his left shoulder there rode a large tattoo of a full-breasted, two-tailed Greek mermaid.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was awarded a military OBE in 1943 and was appointed a Companion of Literature in 1991. He received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List, 2004.

He married, in 1968, Joan Rayner (née Eyres-Monsell), daughter of the 1st Viscount Monsell and Paddy’s boon companion in all he did for more than 50 years. She died in 2003. There were no children.

Obituary: Captain Charles Upham, who twice won the Victoria Cross

Captain Charles Upham VC & Bar

Only three men have ever won double VCs, and the other two were medical officers: Col A Martin-Leake, who received the decoration in the Boer War and the First World War; and Capt N G Chavasse, who was killed in France in 1917. Chavasse’s family was related to Upham’s. Upham won his first VC in the Battle of Crete in 1941, the 70th anniversary of which has just passed. Paddy of course fought in the battle, and then continued the fight on the island with SOE.

First published in the Telegraph November 23 1994

For all his remarkable exploits on the battlefield, Upham was a shy and modest man, embarrassed when asked about the actions he had been decorated for. “The military honours bestowed on me,” he said, “are the property of the men of my unit.”

In a television interview in 1983 he said he would have been happier not to have been awarded a VC at all, as it made people expect too much of him. “I don’t want to be treated differently from any other bastard,” he insisted.

When King George VI was conferring Upham’s second VC he asked Maj-Gen Sir Howard Kippenberger, his commanding officer: “Does he deserve it?”

“In my respectful opinion, Sir,” replied Kippenberger, “Upham won this VC several times over.”

A great-great nephew of William Hazlitt, and the son of a British lawyer who practised in New Zealand, Charles Hazlitt Upham was born in Christchurch on Sept 21 1908.

Upham was educated at the Waihi Preparatory School, Christ’s College and Canterbury Agricultural College, which he represented at rugby and rowing.

He then spent six years as a farm manager, musterer and shepherd, before becoming a government valuer in 1937.

In 1939 he volunteered for the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force as a private in the 20th Battalion and became a sergeant in the first echelon advance party. Commissioned in 1940, he went on to serve in Greece, Crete and the Western Desert.

Upham won his first VC on Crete in May 1941, commanding a platoon in the battle for Maleme airfield. During the course of an advance of 3,000 yards his platoon was held up three times. Carrying a bag of grenades (his favourite weapon), Upham first attacked a German machine-gun nest, killing eight paratroopers, then destroyed another which had been set up in a house. Finally he crawled to within 15 yards of a Bofors anti-aircraft gun before knocking it out.

When the advance had been completed he helped carry a wounded man to safety in full view of the enemy, and then ran half a mile under fire to save a company from being cut off. Two Germans who tried to stop him were killed.

The next day Upham was wounded in the shoulder by a mortar burst and hit in the foot by a bullet. Undeterred, he continued fighting and, with his arm in a sling, hobbled about in the open to draw enemy fire and enable their gun positions to be spotted.

With his unwounded arm he propped his rifle in the fork of a tree and killed two approaching Germans; the second was so close that he fell on the muzzle of Upham’s rifle.

During the retreat from Crete, Upham succumbed to dysentery and could not eat properly. The effect of this and his wounds made him look like a walking skeleton, his commanding officer noted. Nevertheless he found the strength to climb the side of a 600 ft deep ravine and use a Bren gun on a group of advancing Germans.

At a range of 500 yards he killed 22 out of 50. His subsequent VC citation recorded that he had “performed a series of remarkable exploits, showing outstanding leadership, tactical skill and utter indifference to danger”. Even under the hottest fire, Upham never wore a steel helmet, explaining that he could never find one to fit him.

His second VC was earned on July 15 1942, when the New Zealanders were concluding a desperate defence of the Ruweisat ridge in the 1st Battle of Alamein. Upham ran forward through a position swept by machine-gun fire and lobbed grenades into a truck full of German soldiers.

When it became urgently necessary to take information to advance units which had become separated, Upham took a Jeep on which a captured German machine-gun was mounted and drove it through the enemy position.

At one point the vehicle became bogged down in the sand, so Upham coolly ordered some nearby Italian soldiers to push it free. Though they were somewhat surprised to be given an order by one of the enemy, Upham’s expression left them in no doubt that he should be obeyed.

By now Upham had been wounded, but not badly enough to prevent him leading an attack on an enemy strong-point, all the occupants of which were then bayoneted. He was shot in the elbow, and his arm was broken. The New Zealanders were surrounded and outnumbered, but Upham carried on directing fire until he was wounded in the legs and could no longer walk.

Taken prisoner, he proved such a difficult customer that in 1944 he was confined in Colditz Castle, where he remained for the rest of the war. His comments on Germans were always sulphurous.

For his actions at Ruweisat he was awarded a Bar to his VC. His citation noted that “his complete indifference to danger and his personal bravery have become a byword in the whole of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force”.

After his release from Colditz in 1945 Upham went to England and inquired about the whereabouts of one Mary (“Molly”) McTamney, from Dunedin. Told that she was a Red Cross nurse in Germany, he was prepared, for her sake, to return to that detested country. In the event she came to England, where they were married in June 1945.

Back in New Zealand, Upham resisted invitations to take up politics. In appreciation of his heroism the sum of £10,000 was raised to buy him a farm. He appreciated the tribute, but declined the money, which was used to endow the Charles Upham Scholarship Fund to send sons of ex-servicemen to university.

Fiercely determined to avoid all publicity, Upham at first refused to return to Britain for a victory parade in 1946, and only acceded at the request of New Zealand’s Prime Minister.

Four years later he resisted even the Prime Minister’s persuasion that he should go to Greece to attend the opening of a memorial for the Australians and New Zealanders who had died there – although he eventually went at Kippenberger’s request.

In 1946, Upham bought a farm at Rafa Downs, some 100 miles north of Christchurch beneath the Kaikoura Mountains, where he had worked before the war. There he found the anonymity he desired.

In 1962, he was persuaded to denounce the British government’s attempt to enter the Common Market: “Britain will gradually be pulled down and down,” Upham admonished, “and the whole English way of life will be in danger.” He reiterated the point in 1971: “Your politicians have made money their god, but what they are buying is disaster.”

He added: “They’ll cheat you yet, those Germans.”

Upham and his wife had three daughters, including twins.

Obituary: Jock Murray

Jock Murray in 1983 (Mercer photography)

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Independent 24 July 1993

John Arnaud Robin Grey (Jock Murray), publisher: born 23 September 1908; MBE 1945, CBE 1975; Senior Director, John Murray 1968-93; married 1939 Diana James (two sons, two daughters); died London 22 July 1993.

JOCK MURRAY took such trouble about his authors, and in so many ways, and so unobtrusively, that perhaps they – or we , for I am one of them – were inclined to take it for granted, writes Patrick Leigh Fermor. But not quite: other publishers at home or abroad – not that I know much about them as I have only had one – would remind us now and then of our luck and our spoiled and privileged estate. This was because of Jock’s passionate interest in the work of his authors, his great kindness, and his gift for friendship. Nobody, in the Doctor Johnson sense, kept his friendships in a state of better repair.

It is hard to think of a more apt setting for him than No 50 Albemarle Street, with its beautiful rooms, and portraits and books and cases of mementoes, and its mixture of archaic style and informality, of activity and unhurried leisure. The traditions of Byron’s friendship with Jock Murray’s ancestor played a great part in the life of No 50, and the poet’s spirit seems to pervade those rooms. Looking through typescript, then galleys then page proofs there with Jock was a great delight. Especially when they were tossed aside to make room for tea or sherry or whisky and soda, and Osbert Lancaster on the way back from drawing his daily caricature would wander in full of marvellous gossip; or Kenneth Clark with an armful of illustrations or John Betjeman with news of a new Early English discovery in some remote Fenland parish – could they talk about it with John Piper? (Betjeman and Jock shared an expert knowledge of campanology.)

Cannon Lodge, halfway between Hampstead Heath and a slender steeple, with its Keats’-eye view of all London, had a similar uncontemporary charm. At the end of a day of last- minute corrections, under one of the tall trees, or by a blazing fire, any of the above might come to dinner, or Freya Strak fresh from Asia Minor, Ruth Jhabvala from Rajasthan or Dervla Murphy from the Andes and, very often, Jock and Diana’s favourite neighbour, Peggy Ashcroft.

Jock and Diana came several times to Greece and it was a great surprise to discover that Jock was an accomplished tree surgeon: one glance at an ailing growth would send him shinning up into the branches and putting things most knowledgeably to right with saw, twine, bast and tar.

Five weeks ago we were talking about the ravages of time that we noticed in ourselves and he said, halfway between a sigh and a laugh, ‘Yes. Old age is not for sissies.’ He confronted his own with great Stoicism, and leaves us all diminished.

Independent Obituary – Maurice Cardiff

Maurice Cardiff worked in the SOE and headed-up the British Council in Athens after the War which is where he first met Paddy. It was the start of a life-long friendship. In 1997 he published   “Friends Abroad: Memories of Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, Peggy Gugenheim, Freya Stark and Others” which is an first class read.

First published in The Independent May 20, 2006

by  Artemis Cooper

Maurice Cardiff combined long service with the British Council with a parallel career as a writer. As “John Lincoln” he was the author of books including One Man’s Mexico (1967 – modestly subtitled “A Record of Travels and Encounters”), which was described by Graham Greene as “the best book on Mexico this century”. Cardiff worked for the British Council from 1946 to 1973, during which time he was posted to Greece, Italy,Cyprus, Mexico, Belgium, Thailand and France. For a compulsive traveller, endowed with infinite curiosity and acute observation, it was the perfect job. As Cultural Attach to the British Council he enjoyed the advantages of both diplomatic and academic life, without the formal restrictions of either.The youngest son of an army officer, he had been brought up in Herefordshire and educated at Eton, then Worcester College, Oxford. He fell in love with a young actress called Leonora Freeman, and since his parents disapproved of the match they eloped to Gretna Green and were married in April 1939. He was 23. They spent their honeymoon in Greece, where he began to learn Greek. When war broke out, he joined his two elder brothers in the Scots Guards.

Cardiff’s knowledge of Greek brought him to the attention of SOE (the Special Operations Executive). He was attached to the Political Warfare Executive in Cairo in 1943, and he spent the last months of the Second World War working with the Communist resistance in the Aegean Islands.

When the Greek army retook control, Cardiff was told to report to Athens, where Colonel Kenneth Johnston wanted to see him. He had known Johnston while training in Cairo, but was not prepared for what followed. As Johnston emptied his desk, he briefed Cardiff on the aims and management of the British Council. At the end of an hour Johnston got into a car and drove away. Cardiff was left in sole charge of the British Council’s branch in Athens.

The “British Committee for Relations with Other Countries” had been established in 1934. Two years later it was renamed the British Council and in 1938 it set up its first overseas operations in Egypt and Portugal. Its purpose was asserted in its Royal Charter of 1940 as promoting a wider knowledge of Our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the English language abroad and developing closer cultural relations between [the UK] and other countries for the purpose of benefiting the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Cardiff’s first task was to find a building to house the council’s activities, and make it ready for the staff who arrived a few months later. Among them was the young Patrick Leigh Fermor: still unknown as a writer, but idolised as a war hero throughout Greece. They remained friends for the rest of their lives, and Cardiff’s memories of Fermor appear in his last book, Friends Abroad (1997).

All his working life, Cardiff spent as little time as possible with the ex-pat community that orbited round embassies and country clubs, preferring to forge links among the writers and journalists, musicians, artists and teachers of whatever country he was in. He took great satisfaction in promoting young talent, and helping them organise courses of study, concerts or exhibitions in England. His favourite postings were the farthest-flung, those that gave him a degree of freedom. He was not so happy in Brussels or Paris, where the social round was relentless – in Brussels he even became a vegetarian for a while, to spare his overworked digestion.

It was also his job to welcome and entertain British artists passing through – though they weren’t always British. On one occasion, Cardiff discovered that Louis Armstrong was coming to Italy, and nothing had been laid on to welcome or celebrate his arrival. He immediately arranged a party of Italy’s finest musicians, all eager to meet the great man – who even sang a few songs towards the end of the evening.

When not in his office or entertaining Cardiff travelled as widely as he could, as often as possible. He never kept diaries as such, but into a succession of notebooks and poems he poured the full range of his interests, his curiosity and his observations. The notes became books. Heaven for Horses (1957) was a novel about post-war Italy’ he described his wartime experience in the Aegean in Achilles and the Tortoise(1958).

All the books he wrote in the course of his professional career were published under the pseudonym of John Lincoln. Only the later Friends Abroad, subtitled “Memories of Lawrence Durrell, Freya Stark, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Peggy Guggenheim and others”, appeared under his own name. There he recalls how the art collector Peggy Guggenheim – although fabulously rich – appreciated the scrupulous equality that he brought to their friendship. Cardiff insisted on paying his way, and often had her to stay (though he did have qualms about her sharing their bathroom in Cyprus with his three small boys).

Perhaps his most successful portrait is of Lawrence Durrell. He was a genial man, and excellent company’ but Cardiff saw a destructive streak in the way he treated his wife Eve’ over time it alienated Durrell from most of his friends and family, and eventually destroyed him.

In retirement, Cardiff and his wife settled in Oxfordshire. They continued to travel, but not to their old posts – they preferred new ground, which included Tibet, India and Ceylon. Cardiff had had a keen interest in Buddhism since his friend Osbert Moore rejected the world and retired to a Buddhist monastery -a strange, uneasy story that makes up the last chapter of Friends Abroad. Leonora died in 1997, and, six years later, Cardiff had to suffer the death from leukaemia of his middle son, David, a media historian, who shared his father’s love of poetry. In Maurice Cardiff’s last months he moved to London, to Highgate, where, despite increasing illness, he remained independent and self-reliant till the end.

Obituary: Peter Kemp MC DSO

Peter Kemp was a fellow SOE officer and would have known Paddy, Xan Fielding and Billy Moss.

by M. R. D. FOOT

First published in the Independent Thursday, 4 November 1993

Peter Mant MacIntyre Kemp, soldier and writer: born Bombay 19 August 1915; MC 1941; DSO 1945; twice married (marriages dissolved); died London 30 October 1993.

PETER KEMP was a distinguished irregular soldier during the Second World War, and long retained his nose for trouble spots thereafter.

His father was a judge in Bombay, where he was born. After conventional education at Wellington and Trinity, Cambridge, he started to read for the Bar, but was called away by the outbreak of civil war in Spain. Already alarmed at the menace of Communism, he joined a Carlist unit in General Franco’s forces in November 1936 and later transferred to the Spanish Foreign Legion in which – rare distinction for a non-Spaniard – he commanded a platoon. He was several times wounded, but stayed at duty till a mortar bomb broke his jaw in the summer of 1938.

He had barely recovered from this wound when a chance meeting with (Sir) Douglas Dodds-Parker brought him into MIR, a small research department of the War Office which was one of the starting components of the wartime Special Operations Executive. MIR sent him on an abortive expedition to Norway by submarine. He was one of the earliest pupils at the Combined Operations Training School at Lochailort on the shores of the Western Highlands; sailed in intense discomfort to Gibraltar in the hold of that dubious craft HMS Fidelity; and went on another abortive submarine voyage in pursuit of a German U-boat. This aborted because a British destroyer attacked the submarine carrying Kemp by mistake. The operation SOE had planned for him in Spain was cancelled. He returned to the United Kingdom for further training in parachuting sabotage and undercover tactics. Continue reading

Why modesty is something to boast about

There have been many articles in the press these last two weeks about the service of women in the SOE prompted by the death at the age of 89 of Eileen Nearne who served as an agent in France with SOE, was captured, tortured by the Gestapo but survived the horrors of Ravensbrück concentration camp. This article by the excellent Christopher Howse who writes for the Telegraph is thought provoking; the sentiments reflect the way that Paddy and many of his colleagues have lived their lives.

Eileen Nearne: Why modesty is something to boast about

Christopher Howse wonders what happened to a generation of heroes like Eileen Nearne

First published in the Telegraph 15 Sep 2010

Eileen Nearne during WW2: a real-life Charlotte Gray; Photo: SWNS/ Rex

The astonishing life of Eileen Nearne, parachuted as an SOE officer into wartime France, horribly treated by the Gestapo and surviving Ravensbrück concentration camp by a rare providence, is one of those tales at which we can only marvel as they are recounted week by week in our Obituaries column.

But one cannot help wondering about her 65 years since the war. This heroine lived quietly, as such people do. Her sister helped her adjust to peacetime life. She trained as a nurse and ended up living in Torquay. She didn’t boast. She was no celebrity. “I liked the work,” she remarked modestly of her life-or-death undercover career. “After the war, I missed it.”

Modesty is a virtue generally noticed only in retrospect. That generation of war heroes who have been the glory of the Obituaries page since the 1980s, when Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd invented the modern narrative version of the art, spent decades of ordinariness after their exploits. They did not speak of them.

And here, there has been a most encouraging change in the past generation. In the 1960s and 1970s, the old major with the gammy leg and the whisky and water in the saloon bar was, shamefully, a figure of fun. The Angry Young Men of the 1950s gave way to the Sixties silliness that thought war would end if its most selfless survivors were mocked and shunned.

That has changed. Veterans at the Cenotaph are now regarded not as old buffers or worse, but as representatives of an unsentimental courage that stood between Britain and barbarism.

We can take these men and women seriously partly because they did not take themselves seriously. All those men nicknamed Jumbo or Buffy, sporting moustaches and a fine disrespect for bureaucracy, stormed machine-gun nests, swam rivers under fire, rescued comrades from burning tanks, disregarded their own wounds, and then came back home to Weybridge or Ormskirk for 30 years in the motor business or film distribution.

Who, the unanswerable question remains, will enliven the Obituaries page in half a century? Forgotten celebrities from the television jungle, or Big Brother? Surely not. For this new generation, celebrity skips the intermediate step of achievement. It is better to appear on television for a trivially shameful act than not to appear there at all. Today, celebrity is an enemy of promise. It is the end of the road at the cliff’s edge. Those who find fame now will in future be forgotten for attainments better not remembered.

That is not to rule out eccentricity among the preceding generation of heroes. Eccentricity does not stand as an obstacle to achievement. Take Sir Hugh Rankin, 3rd Bt. He was to become the oldest surviving member of the 1st Royal Dragoon Guards in the Sinn Fein Campaign of 1920–22 (by which time he was already broadsword champion of the British Army). But in the meantime, he had put in a year or two as a sheep-shearer in Western Australia and served as the British representative to the first all-European Muslim Congress at Geneva in 1937, before turning to Non-Theistic Theravada Buddhism in 1944, the year before he joined the Scottish Communist Party.

This did not interfere with his position as Hereditary Piper of the Clan Maclaine, nor with his multitude of recreations, such as hunting, riding bicycles to the tops of mountains, and becoming, in his own words, the only person to have crawled, alongside his wife, “under dwarf fir forest for the last mile of the most northerly known section of any Roman road in Europe, terminating opposite the end of Kirriemuir Golf Course”.

That would be something worth putting on Twitter – except, of course, that Sir Hugh wouldn’t have wanted to.

Related article:

The Telegraph obituary of Eileen Nearne

Charlotte Gray revealed: The truth behind the British heroine who died forgotten and the scars of her secret war which drove her to become a hermit

Alan Hare MC – Obituary from The Independent

Alan Hare was one of the SOE colleagues of Paddy who passed through Cairo and is mentioned as being an occupant of Tara.

by Richard Bassett

First published in the Independent Thursday, 13 April 1995

After a distinguished career in the service of his country first as a soldier, then in what he referred to always as the “Foreign Office so called” both during and after the Second World War, Alan Hare became chairman of the Financial Times in 1978, overseeing the paper’s all-important decision to print in Frankfurt and become “Europe’s Business Paper”.

Throughout his very varied career, Hare discharged his duties with a patrician, almost languid, charm which belied a sharp intellect and remarkable courage. During the war he was parachuted into Albania as a member of Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies’s mission. Betrayed by partisans and ambushed by the Germans, Hare only escaped after a grim chase across snow-bound mountains. Ravaged by frost-bite, he was the sole survivor of Davies’s ill-fated attempt to bring the discipline and turn-out of the parade ground to the isolated valleys of the Balkans. He remained far longer than either reason or compassion would have dictated, tending to the wounds of a fellow British officer. He was later awarded a Military Cross.

Characteristically, Hare took an optimistic line and another British officer in Special Operations Executive (SOE) found him in a half-submerged cowshed, recovering quite cheerfully, his unmistakable voice bringing back memories of Oxford dinners, tours of Burgundy and heated political discussion in London night-clubs.

Alan Hare was born in 1919, a son of the fourth Earl of Listowel, the head of an Anglo-Irish family burnt out in the troubles. Hare’s conventional education at Eton and then New College, Oxford, imparted little of the stuffiness which invested some of his contemporaries. Commissioned in the Irish Guards on the outbreak of war, he transferred as technical officer to the Life Guards. Here he derived satisfaction from the discovery that members of the Household Cavalry jumped into their unfamiliar new tanks more readily if the order shouted was “Mount” rather than a more modern command.

After his distinguished service with SOE in Albania, he found his knowledge of that country in demand. Today it is easy to forget how pertinent the eastern Mediterranean was to Britain’s interests immediately after the war. Significant colonies still existed east of Suez; Albania stood almost at Britain’s imperial jugular. The failure of the British SOE missions during the war to influence or prevent Communist regimes which took over in the Balkans directly affected British and then Nato foreign policy. In this Cold War world Hare’s knowledge was invaluable. In the Balkans and elsewhere, Hare brought his considerable intellectual gifts to bear on a range of security issues. While others developed an almost constipated approach to security, Hare mastered an opaque conversational style which a colleague at the Financial Times later, with some sense of frustration, described as “producing the most fascinating convoluted sentences, to which one had to pay close attention in order not to get lost”. Continue reading

Colonel David Smiley: Blues officer and MC recipient

The Times’ Obituary of David Smiley. Times’ content is now subscription only so no link I am afraid. Paddy was a friend and wrote the foreward to Smiley’s book Albanian Assignment.

First published in The Times January 2009.

When Lieutenant David Smiley was ordered to Palestine with the 1st Cavalry Division in January 1940 his immediate concern was how to dispose of his private aeroplane, two racehorses and Bentley. The next five years were to bring him more exacting problems, but he completed the war as a three-times decorated lieutenant-colonel.

The Life Guards and Smiley’s regiment, the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), each provided two squadrons to make up the 1st Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR), which, together with two other horsed cavalry regiments already in Palestine and several mobilised Yeomanry regiments, provided the 1st Cavalry Division with the capability to relieve an infantry division in Palestine for service in the Western Desert. Smiley found Palestine interesting but, seeking more active duty, he volunteered to join No 52 (Middle East) Commando under training at Geneifa, Egypt, in November 1940. Continue reading

Colonel David Smiley

We have come across David Smiley before. He was one of the occupants of Tara, worked with “Billy” McLean in Albania, and it seems he rearmed and led Japanese troops against the Vietminh. There cannot be many British officers who have led Japanese soldiers! Paddy was a friend and wrote the foreward to Smiley’s 1984 book, Albanian Assignment. One has to wonder, when reading the stories of these amazing characters, whether the British could ever find such people again. I hope so.

First published in the Telegraph 9 Jan 2009.

Special forces and intelligence officer renowned for cloak-and-dagger operations behind enemy lines on many fronts.

Colonel David Smiley, who died on January 9 aged 92, was one of the most celebrated cloak-and-dagger agents of the Second World War, serving behind enemy lines in Albania, Greece, Abyssinia and Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand.

After the war he organised secret operations against the Russians and their allies in Albania and Poland, among other places. Later, as Britain’s era of domination in the Arabian peninsula drew to a close, he commanded the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces in a highly successful counter-insurgency.

After his assignment in Oman, he organised – with the British intelligence service, MI6 – royalist guerrilla resistance against a Soviet-backed Nasserite regime in Yemen. Smiley’s efforts helped force the eventual withdrawal of the Egyptians and their Soviet mentors, paved the way for the emergence of a less anti-Western Yemeni government, and confirmed his reputation as one of Britain’s leading post-war military Arabists.

In more conventional style, while commanding the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), Smiley rode alongside the Queen as commander of her escort at the Coronation in 1953.

During the Second World War he was parachuted four times behind enemy lines. On one occasion he was obliged to escape from Albania in a rowing boat. On another mission, in Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand, he was stretchered for three days through the jungle with severe burns after a booby-trap meant for a senior Japanese officer exploded prematurely.

Though a regular soldier, Smiley was frequently seconded to MI6. As an assistant military attaché in Poland after the war, when the Soviet-controlled Communists were tightening their grip, he was beaten up and expelled as a spy, after an operation he was running had incriminated a member of the politburo.

After that he headed the British side of a secret Anglo-American venture to subvert the newly-installed Communist regime in Albania led by the ruthless Enver Hoxha. But Kim Philby, who was secretly working for the Russians, was the liaison between the British and Americans; almost all the 100 or so agents dropped by parachute or landed by boat were betrayed, and nearly all were tortured and shot. This failure haunted Smiley for the rest of his life.

Smiley’s exploits led some to suggest that he was, along with several other candidates, a model for James Bond. It was also widely mooted that John le Carré, albeit unconsciously, had taken the name of his hero from the real-life Smiley.

David Smiley with el Hassan and bodyguard in Yemen

Born on April 11 1916, David de Crespigny Smiley was the youngest son of Major Sir John Smiley, 2nd Bt, and Valerie, youngest daughter of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, 4th Bt, a noted jockey, balloonist, all-round sportsman and adventurer, also famed for his feats of derring-do.

After the Pangbourne Nautical College, where he excelled in sport, David went to Sandhurst in 1934. He served in the Blues from 1936 to 1939, based mainly at Windsor, leading the life of a debonair man-about-town, owning a Bentley and a Whitney Straight aircraft. Before the outbreak of war, he won seven races under National Hunt rules. In his first point-to-point with the Garth Hunt, he crashed into a tree, suffering serious injuries. Over the years Smiley was to break more than 80 bones, mainly as a result of sport; on two occasions he broke his skull, once in a steeplechase and once when he dived at night into an almost-empty swimming pool in Thailand.

After the war, he held the record for the most falls in one season on the Cresta Run in St Moritz; bizarrely, he represented Kenya (where he owned a farm) in the Commonwealth Winter Games of 1960.

After war broke out, the Blues sailed for Palestine, where one of Smiley’s first jobs, as a lieutenant, was to shoot his troop of 40 horses when it became clear they were of no use in modern combat. His introduction to warfare was against Vichy French forces in Syria. For his nocturnal reconnaissance work in ruins near Palmyra he was mentioned in despatches.

Later in 1940 Smiley joined the Somaliland Camel Corps, arriving at Berbera the very day it was decided to evacuate British Somaliland. Returning in frustration to Egypt, he persuaded General Wavell, a family friend, to recommend him for the newly-formed commandos, in which he became a company commander with the rank of captain. Sneaking from Sudan into Abyssinia, Smiley operated for the first of many times behind enemy (in this case Italian) lines.

In 1941 he returned to his regiment to command a squadron of armoured vehicles being sent from Palestine to raise the siege of Habbaniya, 60 miles west of Baghdad in Iraq, where the king and regent had been overthrown in a pro-German coup led by Rashid Ali. Under Colonel John Glubb, he led a charge alongside Bedouin levies in full cry (they were known to Smiley as “Glubb’s girls”, because of their long black locks). After helping to capture Baghdad, Smiley’s squadron was sent to Mosul with the task, among other things, of capturing the German ambassador, who escaped.

His squadron then moved east, to capture the Persian capital, Tehran, followed by “two weeks’ celebration with plenty of vodka, caviar and women”. After a spell in Palestine, Smiley led a Blues squadron of dummy tanks into the Western Desert pretending first to be British Crusaders and then, on a further foray, American General Grants, which were repeatedly attacked by Stukas. When Rommel broke through, they withdrew to Cairo. Three months later Smiley commanded a squadron of armoured cars at the battle of El Alamein – his last bout of conventional warfare.

After training at a school for secret agents in Haifa and taking a parachuting course with his friend David Stirling and his Special Air Service (SAS) near the Suez Canal, Smiley joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the organisation set up at Churchill’s instigation to “set Europe ablaze” by helping local partisans sabotage the Nazis’ infrastructure. He was parachuted with his life-long friend Neil (Billy) McLean into the mountains of Albania, then occupied by the Italians (and later by the Germans). For eight months he organised the fractious partisans in a series of ambushes and acts of sabotage (bridge demolition, sometimes by climbing under them at night while German troops were patrolling above, became a Smiley trademark). He was awarded an immediate MC. In early 1944 he was again parachuted into Albania, with McLean and Julian (later Lord) Amery, to liaise with the royalist guerrillas loyal to King Zog.

Colonel David Smiley, front 3rd right and band of Albanian fighters

Colonel David Smiley (left) in Albania

After leaving Albania, where his activities brought Smiley a Bar to his MC, he was transferred to the Siamese section of SOE, known in the Far East as Force 136, where he liaised with guerrillas operating against the Japanese who ruled the country through a proxy government. It was then that he was injured by the premature explosion of a booby-trap meant for a Japanese officer.

After recovering in Government House in Calcutta, where he consorted with both Nehru and Gandhi, he was parachuted behind enemy lines into eastern Siam, shortly before the dropping of the atomic bombs and the surrender of Japan, whereupon he organised the liberation of several prisoner-of-war camps, including the one on which the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was based. Though only a major, he personally took the surrender of the 22nd Division of the Imperial Japanese Army.

On Lord Mountbatten’s orders, Smiley re-armed a Japanese company and led them against the Communists of the fledgling Vietminh (who later became the Vietcong) in French Indo-China. Among other exploits, he freed 120 French women and children who had been taken hostage by the Communists. The only British officer in an area the size of Wales, he then took the surrender of Vientiane, Laos’s capital, from another Japanese general. For his activities in Siam and Indo-China Smiley was awarded a military OBE.

He later ruefully noted that, at that time, the Vietminh were backed by the American OSS (the CIA’s forerunner); Smiley was wary of what he considered to be America’s naïve enthusiasm for proclaimed democrats and its hostility to the British and French empires.

After his early post-war exploits in Poland and then his efforts to roll back communism in Albania were betrayed by Philby, Smiley returned to more conventional duties in Germany and thence to command his regiment, the Blues, at Windsor.

In 1955 he was appointed military attaché in Sweden, from where he made surveillance trips with his young family along the Russian border with Finland and Norway. But the pinnacle of Smiley’s post-war career was his three-year tenure as commander of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman’s armed forces during a civil war which threatened to bring down one of Britain’s more reactionary allies in the Gulf.

By now in his early forties, Smiley ran a gruelling counter-insurgency which gradually drove the guerrillas back from the scorching plains into their mountain retreat, the 10,000ft high Jebel Akhdar, which had never been successfully assaulted. With two squadrons of the SAS under his command, Smiley planned and led a classic dawn attack on the mountain fastness, finally crushing the enemy.

After leaving Oman in 1961, Smiley was offered the command of the SAS, but chose to retire from the British Army and file occasional reports for Raymond Postgate’s Good Food Guide.

He was not able to relax for long. Within two years he had been persuaded to help bolster royalist forces in Yemen. Liaising with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and MI6, who arranged for former SAS and other mercenaries to accompany him, Smiley made 13 trips to Yemen between 1963 and 1968.

Often disguised as a local, Smiley travelled on foot or by donkey for weeks at a time across Arabia’s most rugged terrain. He won the admiration of his colleagues, both Arab and British, for his toughness, bluntness, and shrewdness as an adviser. King Faisal, whom Smiley greatly admired, personally expressed his appreciation.

After ending his Arabian career, Smiley moved to Spain, where, for 19 years, he grew olives, carobs and almonds, and continued to advise Albania’s surviving anti-Communists, by now all in exile, before returning to live in Somerset and then Earl’s Court.

To Smiley’s delight, he was welcomed back to Albania in 1990, as the Communist regime, which had sentenced him to death in absentia, began to collapse. He forged a friendship with the country’s first post-Communist leader, Sali Berisha.

Smiley was appointed LVO, and Knight Commander of the Order of the Sword in Sweden and Grand Cordon of the Order of Skanderbeg in Albania.

In 1947 he married Moyra, daughter of Lord Francis Scott KCMG, DSO, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch’s youngest son. He is survived by his wife, two sons, a stepson and a stepdaughter.

Related articles:

One Man’s Great Game: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Related category:

Other SOE Obituaries