Category Archives: Paddy’s Friends

Paddy’s sister, Vanessa, by her son Miles

Vanessa Fenton (nee Fermor) relaxing in India (copyright by Miles Fenton 2017)

Vanessa Fenton (nee Fermor) relaxing in India (copyright by Miles Fenton 2017)

Paddy’s nephew Miles Fenton sent me this photograph of a painting he did of his mother, Paddy’s sister Vanessa, relaxing in a chair in India. We are indebted to Miles for this.

Miles lives in Canada and is an artist. He has contributed a number of photographs and comments to the blog over the years.

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Lives remembered: Colonel David Smiley

David Smiley (left) and “Billy” McLean in Albania 1944

This article has no credit but I think from the Times. David Smiley is to me one of the most fascinating characters from the days of SOE and the unique group that assembled at Tara under Sophie Tarnowska. Smiley was a hard fighting soldier who excelled as an irregular. You can read more about him in obituaries from The Times and the Telegraph. If you can find a copy of his book, Albanian Assignment, I thoroughly recommend it.

Andrew Tarnowski writes: Your record of the passing of Colonel David Smiley (obituary, Jan 14) should not be without a mention of his part in one of the most glamorous and eccentric episodes of the Second World War: life at the Villa Tara in Cairo during 1943-44. He was one of a boisterous handful of dashing young SOE officers who lived between missions for several months at the villa they called Tara in Zamalek, on Gezira island. Under the presiding genius of Countess Sophie Tarnowska, a young and beautiful refugee Polish aristocrat, it became a centre for high society of all nationalities, with parties that ended, as often as not, with an orgy of broken glasses, pistols fired at the ceiling and smashed windows.

“We lived on a lavish scale,” Col Smiley wrote later, “and Tara became notorious for its riotous parties and for the eccentric behaviour of its occupants. It became my second home, and the time we spent there was the happiest and most amusing of the whole war.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the inmates, recalled Smiley’s arrival at Tara with Billy McLean from their exploits in Abyssinia, Greece and Albania. “Cavalry sabres stuck out of the bedrolls the suffraghis lugged upstairs . . . and assegais and strange Ethiopian swords stuck out as well, pre-Albanian trophies from the wild tribal levies they had commanded all through the Abyssinian Campaign,” he wrote in an account of life at Tara.

When I interviewed Smiley for a book in 1997 he told me that the famous kidnapping of the German General Kreipe on Crete in 1944 by Billy Moss and Leigh Fermor (recorded by Moss in his book Ill Met by Moonlight) was planned at Tara. Billy, who later married Sophie Tarnowska, and Leigh Fermor dreamt up the plan one night at a nightclub, the Club Royal de Chasse et de Pêche, and then Smiley remembered that they all worked out the details.

“We all planned that particular operation in the bathroom at Tara. We were all pretty well stark naked and on the wall was steam; the walls were tiled. I remember we were drawing with our fingers on the wall, a sort of road here; we’d be able to stop the German general’s car there; we’d have a covering party there — all that sort of stuff. But it was all in the bathroom.”

I think their life at Tara, perhaps, gives us a glimpse of the spirit of those men. It shows that fine soldiers as they were, they were also lots of fun.

Obituary from 2006 – George Psychoundakis the Cretan Runner

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

The wartime resistance fighter and SOE courier George Psychoundakis, who became a writer and literary translator, has died in Chania, Crete, at the age of 85 (2006 obituary). He won international fame in 1955 with the publication of his memoir of the Nazi occupation of his homeland, The Cretan Runner, which was translated with inimical lyricism by Patrick Leigh Fermor (later Sir Patrick), who had been parachuted on to the island to help organise the resistance.

By Simon Steyne

First published in the Guardian 21 February 2006 (and later corrected – see below)

Born in the mountain village of Asi Gonia, George had only a brief schooling before becoming a shepherd, a craft that made him familiar with the island landscape’s every feature. He joined the resistance as soon as the airborne German invasion of Crete began on May 20 1941, and operated as a messenger for Leigh Fermor, who took over command of the underground forces in western Crete from Xan Fielding in January 1942. Leigh Fermor’s wartime exploits became widely known through his own writings and Dirk Bogarde’s portrayal of him in the 1957 film, Ill Met by Moonlight, about the kidnapping of the German commander General Karl Kreipe.

George’s memoir told the story of the German occupation and the Cretan resistance from the time of the invasion to the island’s liberation on May 23 1945. His effortlessly poetic account reflected a passionate love of his homeland and its people, a geologist’s and botanist’s eye, the wonder of a young shepherd’s experiences during furlough in Egypt and Palestine, chortling bemusement at the habits of the upper-class British agents, and deep comradeship with his fellow resistance fighters – not least Manoli Paterakis and “Michali” (Leigh Fermor’s codename), who remained his lifelong friends.

George and I got to know each other in Crete in 1990. At our first meeting, he held up his map stolen from a German guard post. Against the lamp, the light shone through the pinholes left by the flags charting troop movements – and smiling with typical wryness, he displayed the helmet he had also taken from the guard “after I’d slit his throat” (an incident not recounted in his book). As a student of the German resistance, I had interviewed communists and social democrats who had been anti-fascists long before the war. But when I asked George why he had immediately joined the resistance in Crete, he looked at me as though I was from another planet and replied with one word: “philopatria” – love of my country.

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

George was imprisoned after the war because there was no record of any Greek military service, and in those 16 months he wrote his memoir in exercise books filched by Leigh Fermor from the British School in Athens. Dispatched to fight in the civil war for two further years, he finally returned to his village. His sheep had been stolen in 1941 – he once offered me the ruined hut to rebuild as a home in Crete – and, soon embroiled in a family feud that was to dog the rest of his life, he began a period of isolated existence as a charcoal-burner.

He worked as a navvy and was even an extra in the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek. But later, George – no leftist – was supported by friends in high places in the conservative Nea Demokratia party. Partly through that patronage and, with evident irony, in 1974 he and his friend Paterakis became groundsmen at the German war cemetery at Maleme. As he reportedly said, “I’m surrounded by Germans, but none of them will talk to me.” But George’s long service at the cemetery affirmed his respect for the war dead; he knew what life was worth.

The Cretan Runner brought George little wealth and also irritations. Some on the island appeared to resent the greater recognition he enjoyed than others who had fought. John Murray published the first English edition, but it was pirated by Greek publishers who sold many copies for which George received no royalties. Penguin reprinted the book in 1998. His translation of Homer’s Odyssey from the ancient Greek into a modern Cretan dialect was published, to much acclaim, in 1979.

May 1991 saw the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, and the commemorations included an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London. Its deputy director, David Smurthwaite, and I arranged for George and his wife, Sofia, to come to the royal opening, and during the week he visited Winston Churchill’s country home at Chartwell, Kent. George always had a deep affection and admiration for the wartime British and New Zealanders; Churchill and General Bernard Freyberg, the allied commander on Crete, were his heroes, and he had his photograph taken standing by a picture of Freyberg.

Visiting George was remarkable. Apart from lazy meals in tavernas run by his extended family and at home (memorably including a kid, slaughtered and grilled for us at his daughter’s house), lubricated by home-made rakis and everyday stories, there were times of sadness and almost farcical humour. One moment he was recounting the death of comrades or pointing to villages in the Amari valley burnt in reprisal for the Kreipe kidnapping; the next he was yelling for me to stop the car. “Here,” he said, with a grin that betrayed both pride and mischief, “disguised as a woman, I took a donkey loaded with explosives through a German checkpoint.”

He is survived by Sofia, a son and two daughters, and four grandchildren.

· George Psychoundakis, resistance fighter and author, born November 3 1920; died January 29 2006.

The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Friday March 3 2006.

In the obituary above we said that Patrick Leigh Fermor parachuted into Crete to help organise the resistance. In fact he arrived at Crete by sea. We said Leigh Fermor “filched” from the British School in Athens the exercise books in which Psychoundakis had written his memoir of the Nazi occupation. In fact he first saw them in 1951 when Psychoundakis himself showed them to him. The villages in the Amari valley were not burned in reprisal for the kidnapping of the German General Kreipe; he had been kidnapped several months earlier.

The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE

Great to have been contacted by Robin Knight the author of this book about a truly brave friend and colleague of Paddy’s.

This first-ever biography of Lt. Cdr Mike Cumberlege DSO & Bar, Greek Medal of Honour, murdered in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in February-March 1945, recalls a man who was ‘truly Elizabethan in character – a combination of gaiety and solidity and sensitiveness and poetry with daring and adventurousness – and great courage.’

Cumberlege came from a maverick sea-going family. He was highly resourceful and lived by his wits, skippering ocean-going yachts for wealthy Americans before the war. In 1936, he married Nancy; their relationship was close and, with the sea, forms a thread in The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE.

From 1940, Cumberlege served in undercover roles in the Royal Navy in Marseilles and Cape Verde and was on the staff of General de Gaulle in London. Posted to Egypt in 1941 in the SOE, he formed a para-naval force of fishing vessels, took part in fighting in Greece, attacked the Corinth Canal, escaped from Crete, was wounded and returned three times to Crete clandestinely. On a second operation to destroy the Corinth Canal in 1943, he was captured. Tortured in Mauthausen concentration camp, he was transferred to Sachsenhausen and spent twenty-one months in solitary confinement.

The book contains unique material gathered from the family and from well-wishers in places as far apart as Ukraine, Australia and the US.

Robin’s book claims to offer:

  • Unique insights into the pre-1940 world of top-end ocean sailing in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Aegean
  • Never-before published letters, images and original documents about SOE para-naval activities in the eastern Mediterranean during the Second World War
  • More than seventy previously unpublished photographs, many taken during the war by the subject
  • A story of love and hope, identity and belief, tragedy and evil

The book can be purchased at Fonthill Media for £17.50 or on Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danube Institute video Noble Encounters

Many of you will have had a lot of enjoyment reading Michael O’Sullivan’s excellent book Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania which was published in the summer.

Michael gave an excellent presentation at the Transylvanian Book Festival back in September. In anticipation of the London launch next week of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, you may wish to dip in and out of this video by the Danube Institute featuring Michael and Dr. Tamas Barcsay (great-nephew of Miklos Banffy) talking about Paddy’s time in Hungary and the people he met there.

Find out more about the book and its background here.

You can purchase the book by clicking this link Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania.

Sir David Attenborough – A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete

Dorset County Museum’s art exhibition A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough and Hilary Spurling OBE on the 27th March 2015. Many of us were able to see this either at the museum or when it moved to Salisbury.

This video includes an explanation by Sir David Attenborough on why he loves the work of John Craxton. Sir David has been a lifelong fan of Craxton’s work.

John Craxton (1922-2009) was one of the most interesting and individual British artists of the 20th century. His life story, starting with wanderings on Cranborne Chase, was as colourful as his later pictures of the light, life and landscapes of Greece, and illustrations for Paddy’s books..

This exhibition at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester charted Craxton’s journey from Cranborne to Crete, from early paintings of dark and menaced war-time landscapes to joyful scenes painted under bright Cretan skies.