Category Archives: Obituaries

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

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

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

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

By Artemis Cooper

First published in The Independent Saturday, 11 June 2011.

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

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

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

Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor

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

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

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

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

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

Balasha Cantacuzene

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

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

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

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Time of Gifts, 1977

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Obituary: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

Billy Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

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

From the BBC news website.

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

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

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

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

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

European odyssey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wartime intelligence officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich prose style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor obituary

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

Highly regarded travel writer and heroic wartime SOE officer

By James Campbell

First published in The Guardian 10 June 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Peter Levi died in 2000