Category Archives: Other SOE Obituaries

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.

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

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).

Soldier

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.

Antarctica

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.
Jamaica

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

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 

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.

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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

Audible

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

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

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

When you get involved with the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor, you find all sorts of possible avenues to explore. One group I am trying to bring together on the blog are the occupants of Tara in Cairo during the war. Given my interest in the Balkans, Albania in particular, I followed the route of “Billy” McLean and the British Military Missions to Yugoslavia and Albania which were manned by SOE men. Billy was an occupant of Tara and Xan Fielding wrote his biography. Of course Paddy was there as well.

In the course of my investigations I have read, in the last few weeks, the book Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MacLean who as a very young Brigadier was personally chosen by Churchill to lead the mission to Tito’s partisans, and Billy McLean’s biography – One Man in His Time. Both books are interesting and I will review them if I have time. I have to say I was a little disappointed in Xan’s writing style, but it is workmanlike and is probably an accurate portrayal.

Billy McLean’s life is absolutely fascinating. He was a real adventurer and never stopped his adventures or travel until he died in 1986. I have dug out his obituary from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries – Heroes and Adventurers, and as I did before with Xan Fielding’s obit, I have retyped it word for word as I cannot find an online version.

Go on, explore your own Paddy related avenue, and maybe write to me and we can publish for others to hear about!

First published in the Daily Telegraph, 20 November 1986.

Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean, who has died aged 67, spent 40 years playing his own version of the Great Game. Like some latter-day knight errant, he travelled tirelessly in the Muslim world, working always against the encroaching influence of the Soviet Union, while at the same time seeking adventure among tribal peoples.

McLean’s unusual life often had elements of intrigue that no one else could unravel. “What is Billy really up to?” was a question that would be asked at the bar of White’s Club as he set off on another trip to Jordan or Iran, Morocco or the Yemen.

In McLean’s character there were shades of Buchan and Lawrence and Thesiger. All seemed to coalesce in the Yemen, where from five years, from 1962, McLean helped the royalists under Iman al-Badr to resist President Nassar’s attempts to take over the country. He made numerous reconnaissances in the Yemen desert and many arduous journeys, by camel and on foot, to the royalist forces in their remote mountain strongholds.

It was entirely due to McLean that Britain never followed America in recognising Nassar’s, and the Soviet Union’s, puppet republican government in the Yemen; and it was he who persuaded the Saudis to increase their aid to the Iman’s forces. Thanks also to McLean, the royalists received Western mercenary support and arms from the RAF. Largely as a result of McLean’s efforts, North Yemen did not become one of Nassar’s fiefdoms and did not join its neighbour South Yemen (Aden) in the Communist camp.

Neil Loudon Desmond McLean was born on November 28 1918, a direct descendent of “Gillean of the Battle-Axe”, known in Argyll in the 13th century.

After Eton and Sandhurst (where he rode several winners in point-to-points), McLean was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys and sent to Palestine [prior to the war] in 1939.

At the end of the following year he went to occupied Abyssinia [Ed: Ethiopia] where he proved himself an outstanding guerrilla leader, as part of Orde Wingate’s Gideon Force. He led a force of Eritrean and Abyssinian irregulars – known as “McLean’s Foot” – against the Italians near Gondar.

His burgeoning career as an irregular soldier continued in Special Operations Executive; in 1943 he led a five man military mission to Albania, to co-ordinate resistance to the Axis powers. Peter Kemp (qv) described his first meeting with McLean when he parachuted into Albania to join the mission: “Approaching up the hill with long, easy strides came a tall figure in jodhpurs and a wide crimson cummerbund, a young man with long fair hair brushed back from a broad forehead and wearing a major’s crown on the shoulder straps of his open-necked army shirt.”

With one break, McLean remained in Albania until the German retreat from that country and inspired those under him with his military skill and courage. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel at the age of 24.

His contacts with the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha turned sour when the left-wing elements of SOE favoured the partisans at the expense of the Zogist faction led by Abas Kupi, which McLean supported against charges of collaboration with the Germans.

In 1945 he volunteered for SOE duties in the Far East, where he became military adviser in Kashgar, Chinese Turkistan. Here he learnt the ways of the Turkis, Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks and Tartars, who were under threat of domination by the Soviet Union, and travelled extensively in Asia. McLean’s fascination and sympathy with Muslim minorities and tribal peoples would continue for the rest of his life. He devoted much of his time to the cause of the Pathans and the Kurds, as well as the royalist Yemenis.

After the war he sought election to Parliament, twice unsuccessfully for the Preston South constituency, in 1950 and 1951. He became Conservative MP for Inverness in 1954, and held the seat until the 1964 general election.

As a Highlander himself, McLean was able to identify with the Celtic character of his constituents. But they could not be expected to appreciate the reasons for his long absences on the Middle East.

While he was an MP, and afterwards, McLean was, as described by a colleague, “a sort of unpaid under-secretary for the Foreign Office”. His political contacts in the Muslim world were probably unique among Westerners, in particular his relationship with King Saud during the Yemen war and his personal friendship with King Hussein over many years. In the mid-1960’s he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to “spring” a revolutionary leader from jail in Algeria [Ed: using a yacht and accompanied by King Leka of the Albanians who fancied coming along for the ride. The attempt was foiled by the CIA who wanted the ‘kudos’ of freeing the man, which they did some months later].

McLean was always passionate in defence of British interests, as he saw them, which did not always accord with the Government’s view. In his later years, still pursuing those interests he visited Somalia, Iran, Western Sahara, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, China, Israel, Turkey and Jordan.

In 1979 Harold Macmillan wrote to McLean: “You are one of those people whose services to our dear country are known only to a few.”

By his many friends and admirers he will be remembered as possibly the last of the paladins. While his role may not always have been appreciated in Britain, his independence and total integrity were recognised n all the countries where his influence was felt.

Alongside his flair for guerrilla fighting, he had a passion for secret enterprises, deep-laid schemes, and political complexities. He combined acute political understanding with military gifts ideally suited to irregular warfare.

His comrade-in-arms in Albania and the Yemen, David Smiley, has written of McLean: “His charming character seemed languid and nonchalant to the point of idleness, but underneath this façade he was unusually brave, physically tough and extremely intelligent, with a quick, active and unconventional mind.”

His wisdom, sense of humour, human curiosity and kindness endeared him to a wide circle of contemporary friends and younger people, who saw his values as ones they could respect without sentimentality or danger of being considered old-fashioned. He revelled in argument and banter, and was always interested in the opinions of the younger generation.

McLean was both a keen shot and underwater fisherman: one of his great pleasures was to spear moray eels off the coast of Majorca. He was very partial to Middle Eastern and Chinese cooking.

He married, in 1949, Daska Kennedy (neé Ivanovic), who supported, sustained and understood him during his unconventional life.

Related article:

Xan Fielding Obituary

Major Stanley Beckinsale obituary

First published in the Telegraph: 12:03AM BST 06 Sep 2004

Major Stanley Beckinsale, who has died aged 84, was a founder member of the para-naval section of the Special Operations Executive (Middle East) and was awarded an MC for evacuating several hundred Allied soldiers from enemy-held Crete.

In May 1941, the Anglo-Anzac forces in Crete were narrowly but decisively defeated by General Student’s airborne force. The para-naval section of SOE Middle East, part of Force 133, based in Cairo, was given the task of putting agents on the island to organise the retrieval of British and Commonwealth servicemen who had taken refuge in the mountains.

 The operation was run from Alexandria by Commander Francis Pool, RNR, a rotund figure known as “Skipper”. He was landed by submarine to make contact with the Cretans who were assisting the fugitives, often at great risk to themselves, and travelled between them on the back of a donkey, dodging the German patrols en route.

A few troops were rescued in this way, but it was considered too great a risk for submarines – and a rusty old trawler from Haifa was chosen for the job. After being fitted with a captured Italian 20mm Breda gun in the stern and six Lewis guns mounted at various points, the vessel was named Hedgehog, and Beckinsale was made second-in-command.

On his first trip to the south coast of Crete, Beckinsale ran into a Force 10 gale. Hedgehog had several tons of concrete fore and aft as ballast, and the former fish-hold was loaded with captured Italian rifles and Army boots for the guerrillas. New Year’s Eve 1942 was spent pumping the bilges and throwing the deck cargo overboard; but on the evening of the fourth day, the crew could see the Cretan mountains looming in the distance and smell the wild thyme on the wind.

The inlet chosen for the landing was little more than a cleft in the rocks with a small beach, well away from the German garrisons. When the signal flashed from the shore, they came in and moored by the light of a full moon. Their agent, Tom Dumbabin, a Fellow of All Souls, emerged from the shadows to report that he had managed to collect 150 Allied soldiers and a Greek Orthodox priest.

They lay up the next day, loaded their passengers and slipped anchor at dusk in order to begin the return trip to Alexandria. But the following morning, the lookout heard the engine of an approaching plane, and they quickly altered course. The deck was strewn with passengers, and Beckinsale hastily covered them all with blankets and ran to his Lewis gun. The Italian Arado circled several times before turning away, apparently satisfied that the ship was a coaster on German business.

Stanley Eustace Beckinsale was born in London on March 9 1920. He went to grammar school at Belvedere, Kent, and then to Reading University, where he read Agriculture and rowed in the VIII. The outbreak of war interrupted his studies and, in 1939, he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion Royal Tank Regiment before being recruited by SOE.

Beckinsale joined Saad, the first para-naval ship in the Red Sea, as an engineer in 1940. The schooner carried a crew of four, and was the only one with a draught shallow enough to carry it over the minefields. After the fall of Massawa, Eritrea, his unit was given the task of cleaning up the Italian garrisons on the islands guarding the entrance. He and his comrades negotiated the surrender of more than 2,000 Italian troops manning the batteries on five separate islands.

In 1942, in a further three operations, Hedgehog landed at Crete, where Beckinsale and his comrades rescued more than 100 additional people who were trapped on the island. The trawler was also instrumental in putting ashore a number of British agents, including Patrick Leigh Fermor (who later kidnapped General Kreipe, the commander of the island’s garrison) and George Jellicoe, of the Special Boat Section, who was on his way to sabotage planes at Heraklion airfield.

On Beckinsale’s last trip to south Crete, Hedgehog docked at Mersa Matruh, escaping just a few hours before Rommel’s Panzers arrived on their way to El Alamein. He later made long-distance reconnaissance trips in his 26ft caique Constantinos, some of which covered 1,000 miles and kept him at sea for more than a month. He was awarded the MC and was also mentioned in dispatches for capturing several Italian schooners.

In 1945 the para-naval section was disbanded. Beckinsale was posted back to England for a spell before spending a year with the Central Commission, Food and Agriculture, in the North Rhine Province of Germany. After being demobilised in the rank of major, he farmed in Oxfordshire for 22 years.

Beckinsale subsequently settled in a village in Wiltshire, where he went into partnership with Tom Thain, a former fellow member of the SOE. Together they formed Dentiststone Restoration, a company specialising in restoring stonework, tracery and statuary; among their clients were Wells and Winchester Cathedrals, Romsey Abbey and the Brighton Pavilion.

He retired in 1990. An avid reader, he particularly enjoyed the study of English history and mediaeval architecture.

Stanley Beckinsale died on August 17. He married first, in 1946, Joyce Bolt, who predeceased him. He married secondly, in 1970, Mary Hackett (née Collins); she survives him with a son and a daughter from his first marriage and a daughter from his second.

Obituary: John Smith-Hughes who served in Crete with SOE

Young officer who served in Crete and then joined SOE working with many of Paddy’s colleagues. It is almost certain Paddy and Smith-Hughes met but there is no mention in this obituary.

by Antony Beevor

First published in The Independent Thursday, 17 March 1994

John Smith-Hughes, soldier and barrister: born 27 November 1918; OBE 1945; married 1945 Angela Louvaris (died 1972; one son, one daughter); died Tortola, Virgin Islands 4 March 1994.

LIKE many of those who joined Special Operations Executive in the Middle East, Jack Smith-Hughes possessed considerable intellectual talents matched by a lack of reverence for conventional army pieties. His path to SOE’s headquarters in Cairo had also been decidedly unpredictable.

At the end of 1940, Smith- Hughes, a portly and precocious 22-year-old subaltern in the Royal Army Service Corps, was shipped to Crete as part of the Allied garrison sent to defend the island after the Italian invasion of Greece. When the German airborne invasion took place in May 1941, he was in charge of shipping supplies to outlying detachments from Chania, in north- west Crete. On the night that Brigadier Robert Laycock and Evelyn Waugh landed with the Layforce commandos at Suda Bay, the most chaotic moment of the battle, Smith-Hughes was astonished to find himself walking up and down the jetty for a considerable time with General Bernard Freyberg VC, the Allied commander on the island. Freyberg was worried that the Australian force at Rethymno, on the coast to the east, would not receive the order to withdraw. Unfortunately, this concern for his troops meant that Freyberg was out of touch with his headquarters during several hours while the last Allied counter-attack collapsed in confusion.

The next day, retreat nearly turned into rout. Smith-Hughes was soon one of the 20,000 exhausted men making their way over the White Mountains to the southern coast for evacuation by the Royal Navy. He was one of the unlucky ones. On his way to join the queue on the last evening, he was turned back by an embarkation officer and told not to worry: the warships would be back again the following night. A couple of hours later, he realised that the man had lied to him. Captured by Austrian Alpine troops the next morning, he was marched back over the mountains, the most painful journey of all, to prison camp.

He escaped soon afterwards and hid at the house of Colonel Andreas Papadakis, who later proclaimed himself chief of the Cretan Resistance. George Psychoundakis, ‘The Cretan Runner’, then guided him to the monastery of Preveli on the south coast. Evacuated finally to Egypt by submarine, Smith- Hughes had the satistaction in a Cairo restaurant of encountering the embarkation officer again and telling him exactly what he thought of him.

To his surprise, Smith-Hughes was summoned to SOE’s Cairo headquarters, in Rustum Buildings – known to Cairene taxi-drivers as ‘secret building’. He was then sent back to Crete ‘to feel out the country and see who had influence’. Accompanied by Ralph Stockbridge of Inter-Services Liaison Department, the cover-name for MI6, he landed on 9 October 1941. Smith-Hughes was fortunate not to never encounter a German patrol or roadblock: his Cretan disguise only seemed to draw attention to his unusual bulk, his Britishly pink compexion, and his ungainly walk.

Smith-Hughes and Stockbridge set off to see Papadakis, the only person they knew who claimed to have influence. But Papadakis’s folies de grandeur made him impossible to use as a focus of resistance. Other leaders were sounded out, mainly those rallied by the archaeologist John Pendlebury who had then been executed by German paratroopers during the battle. Smith-Hughes handed over to Monty Woodhouse from Egypt shortly before Christmas and returned to Cairo, where he ran the Cretan desk at SOE headquarters with great skill.

Promoted to major, Smith- Hughes managed to preserve the section from the terrible infighting in Rustum Buildings by moving out to an annexe. It was Smith- Hughes who briefed and backed up Woodhouse’s successor, Tom Dunbabin, another distinguished archaeologist of great courage, and his two deputies, Xan Fielding for western Crete and Patrick Leigh Fermor for eastern Crete. Unusually for SOE in the Middle East, the Cretan section, B5, was neither riven by animosity nor plagued by rivalry with ISLD. Smith-Hughes’s joint mission with Stockbridge laid the foundations for an unusual degree of co-operation between the two organisations, and he managed to maintain it even in the torrid bureaucratic warfare carried out by the ‘Gaberdine swine’ in Cairo.

The Germans did all they could to track down the ‘espionage organisation of Captain Huse’, as one of their reports put it. But perhaps the greatest contribution made by SOE officers in the field and in Cairo was to prevent the latent civil war between the Cretan nationalist EOK and the Communist-dominated EAM-ELAS from exploding into a war to the knife. After the liberation of Heraklion, when a reactionary kapitan shot and wounded one of the Communist andarte leaders, Dunbabin and Smith-Hughes managed to prevent an explosion by driving round the town in open jeeps, and persuading both sides to back away from a battle which would have led to the virtual annihilation of the Communists. The Nationalists, unlike their counterparts on mainland Greece, were untainted by collaboration and much stronger than the Left.

Smith-Hughes, with typical self-deprecating humour, recounted that his most terrifying experience during the war was the formal liberation of Kastelli Kissamou, on the north-west tip of Crete. As a mark of honour, the Cretan kapitan for the area insisted that he should ride with him into the town. Smith- Hughes, who had never felt comfortable with horses, was obliged to overcome his fears, and when the cheering crowds made the horse caracole, he had to hold on to the saddle with both hands.

After the war, Smith-Hughes turned his incisive mind and astonishing memory to the law, first in the Army, and then as a barrister at Tortola in the Virgin Islands, where he became Attorney-General. In 1991, he returned to Crete for the 50th anniversary of the battle and was one of the guests at the memorable all-night glendi in honour of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his Cretan comrades who abducted General Heinrich Kreipe in April 1944.

Xan Fielding Obituary

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.

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Captain Henry Diacono

Captain Henry Diacono, who has died aged 86, was a member of SOE and was dropped into enemy-occupied France in 1944.

Published: 6:46PM BST 23 Apr 2010

Captain Henry Diacono

On February 6 that year, Diacono was dropped “blind” – that is to say, with no reception committee to meet him – into France, landing near Chartres. Accompanying him was René Dumont-Guillemet, who became leader of the “Spiritualist” circuit to the east of Paris.

They landed at 3am in a ploughed field some 15 miles from the farmhouse that was their destination. They had no time properly to hide their suitcases and parachutes, and after crossing fields, ditches and fences were still in the open when it grew light. A barn where they might have hidden up for the day had a sign on it in gothic lettering and they decided to avoid it. Then, as they passed a house in a small village, they heard the sound of a programme being broadcast in heavily-jammed English.

Dumont-Guillemet knocked on the door, while Diacono stood behind him, revolver drawn. After a few moments hesitation, they were allowed in. They washed and rested and were given directions for continuing their journey.

After a night in their “safe” house, they returned to collect their belongings but found, to their consternation, that they had disappeared. It seemed that their arrival had been spotted and that their arrest might be imminent.

At that moment a peasant appeared; and, after several minutes of verbal fencing, he told them that he had watched them hurriedly bury their possessions, had recovered them and put them in his house for safe-keeping.

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Colonel George Lane

Colonel George Lane, who has died aged 95, fought with SOE and was awarded an MC for his service with the Commandos during the Second World War; captured on a secret mission, he was invited to tea by Field Marshal Rommel, who, Lane always thought, courteously prevented him from being shot by the Gestapo.

Read the full Telegraph obituary.