Category Archives: Paddy’s Friends

The last of the Noble Encounters

Anna Sándor de Kénos in 1960

Michael O’Sullivan, the author of the recently published Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania writes to inform us:

It is with great sadness I write to inform the PLF blog readers that the last woman who knew Paddy in Transylvania in 1934 has died at the aged of 97. Anna Sándor de Kenós was thirteen when she met Paddy at the Csernovits mansion in Zam. She was from an ancient Transylvanian noble family and the doyen of the Hungarian ex patriot community in the United States where she moved after the 1956 Uprising against Soviet rule in Hungary.

An obituary was published in the Telegraph but it has some access restrictions.

My apologies to you all for the radio silence over the last few weeks. It was due to some personal reasons, and I now hope that all will get back on track with the blog!

John Julius Norwich – 1929-2018

Barry Cryer and John Julius Norwich at an Oldie lunch in 2017

Very sad news over the weekend to hear of the death of John Julius Norwich, writer, diplomat, broadcaster, father of Artemis Copper (Paddy’s biographer), and friend of Paddy and Joan. Thank you to AJ for sending me this link to his final article for the Oldie magazine. Like John Julius, it was Paddy that led me to my interest in Byzantium, although my Byzantine output is nothing like the wonderful three volume history of Byzantium that John Julius wrote.

First published in The Oldie, 1 June 2018.

By John Julius Norwich.

A new show at the British Museum – about three great lovers of Greece – takes me right back to the 1950s. The English painter Johnny Craxton (1922-2009) was a joy – the only dinner guest we ever had who came on his motorbike and left his leathers in the hall. He always came on his own; we were all intrigued by the idea of his long-term boyfriend, whom we never met. I think Johnny saw Greece as a larger Crete – just as Neville Chamberlain was always said to see Europe as a larger Birmingham. Johnny loved Crete with passion.

The Athenian painter Nikos Ghika (1906-1994) provided me with my first breath of Greece in the summer of 1954, when we went to stay with him in his lovely old house on the island of Hydra.

Also staying there were Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor. Ghika later designed the serpentine pebble mosaic floors at Kardamyli – the Leigh Fermors’ enchanting house in the Mani. It was Paddy that I knew best of the three. Our friendship lasted from the 1950s until his death in 2011 at the age of 96.

In the spring of 1955, when we were living in Yugoslavia – I was working at the British Embassy – a letter arrived from my mother. She had been offered a caique for a fortnight’s sail among the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor were coming; could we come, too? At the end of August, we drove down from Belgrade to Athens, and boarded the Eros at Piraeus.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and my best. Paddy lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, people and literature. And nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly.

As we sailed from island to island – and, in those days, there were almost no tourists, and I can’t describe what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, about those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men such as Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis, whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the West over words such as ‘filioque’ and ‘homoousion’, his talk taking in all the mystery and magic of the Byzantine world. Twenty years later, I was to write a history of Byzantium myself; but I doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, I should ever have done so.

One day we were in a taverna on Santorini. Britain and Greece were then at the height of the Cyprus dispute and Paddy was, of course, firmly on the Greek side. Suddenly a member of the party at the next table, hearing us speaking English and being slightly drunk, launched into a stream of anti-British invective. We pretended not to notice. Then, suddenly, he and his companions burst into song.

‘Quick,’ whispered Paddy. ‘National anthem – everybody up.’

We leapt to our feet while he, naturally knowing all the words, sang them at the top of his voice. The mood of the other table changed immediately; and they were still more impressed when he continued with all the following verses – solo by now, since no one else knew them. Abject apologies followed: the ouzo went round once more, and we all departed friends.

It was characteristic of Paddy that, when he and Joan decided to build themselves a house in Greece, they chose the remotest corner: Kardamyli, at the far end of the Mani, the second of the three peninsulas that form the southern coast of the Peloponnese. And oh, how they loved it.

Paddy basically designed it himself. I remember him saying, while the building was in progress, ‘I want it to be part of outdoors, so that, if a chicken were found wandering through the library, no one would be a bit surprised.’

By November 1969, with its vast supply of bookcases, a huge desk and plenty of room to pace over a stone floor, the ‘powerhouse for prose’, as Paddy liked to call it, was ready at last. The two books describing his teenage walk across Europe, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, were both written there, together with hundreds of letters, articles and the jeux d’esprit which he so loved, and of which he was such a master. But those dread enemies procrastination and distraction were always hovering behind him, tempting him away. And as we shall see, they were to get him in the end.

Kardamyli was a huge success. It became the epicentre of Paddy’s world. For the first time, at 54, he had a home of his own. He continued to travel around Europe to see his innumerable friends, but it was here, I feel quite sure, that he was happiest. Outside Europe he was seldom tempted to roam. Except, surprisingly, for the Caribbean. A year or two after the war, he and Joan were persuaded by their old friend (and mine) Costa Achillopoulos to accompany him on a longish tour of the islands.

The result was Paddy’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree, which was published in 1950, and also his second, The Violins of Saint-Jacques, an exquisite little novella which was his only venture into fiction.

The islands fascinated him. His chapter on voodoo is a masterpiece. And then, when he got to Barbados, what did he find? A tablet in the churchyard of St John’s, carved with Doric columns and the cross of Constantine, reading: ‘Here lyeth ye body of Ferdinando Palaeologus, descended from ye Imperial lyne of ye last Christian Emperor of Greece. Churchwarden of this parish 1655-1656. Vestryman twentye years. Died Oct 3. 1679.’

Later, Paddy discovered that Ferdinando’s son Theodore had returned to England and had settled in Stepney, where he left a posthumous daughter baptised with the typically 17th-century name of Godscall Palaeologus.

She may have married, and had countless children; but, for the time being, this little girl in Stepney remains the last authentic descendant of the Palaeologi, the last imperial family of Byzantium.

Of course Paddy was a superb linguist; but I have never known anyone who enjoyed his languages so intensely. He loved on-the-spot translations: ‘To be or not to be’ in German, for example – occasionally recited backwards – or D’Ye Ken John Peel in Italian, which my daughter Artemis (his biographer) and I sang at his memorial service:

Conosce Gian Peel, con sua giacca tanta grigia?

Conosce Gian Peel, prima cosa la mattina,

Conosce Gian Peel, quand’ è lontano, è lontano,

Con suoi cani e suo corno la mattina.

And then there were the letters –letters that could have been written by no one else. Reading them, written at such terrific speed that sometimes they grow faint because the fountain pen can’t deliver the ink fast enough, one marvels at Paddy’s facility and fluency. And yet, when he was writing a book for publication, every sentence was a battleground. When, in July 1988, Sotheby’s sold the autograph manuscript of A Time of Gifts, it was described in the catalogue as follows:

‘c.450 pages, the majority written on rectos only, some on both sides, the first chapter on lined foolscap sheets, some cartridge paper, others lined, heavily revised and corrected, revised passages frequently written on separate sheets and pasted or clipped over the original, corrections or elucidations often in red ink, foreign or difficult words printed in the margin, many sheets with encouraging notes to the typist, often stapled or stitched with coloured thread into gatherings, generally of ten pages.’

I have an idea – I hate to have to say it and desperately hope I’m wrong – that Paddy’s last years were not as happy as the rest of his life had been. He missed Joan desperately after she died in 2003, he was getting old and he gradually had to face up to the fact that he would never complete the third volume of the story of that glorious European journey in his early youth. He produced bits and pieces for it by the dozen, but something always prevented him from organising them, connecting them and making them into a single coherent document. It was, I suppose, a kind of writer’s block.

He would seize on anything – letters, articles, translations, those ingenious word games he so loved – rather than face one of two facts: the first, that he must finish the job; the second – far worse – that he couldn’t. Eventually he knew that the second was the truth. When he came to London, people would say breezily, ‘How’s Volume III coming on?’, little realising that they were driving a dagger through his heart.

Volume III is not entirely lost. The Broken Road, compiled by Colin Thubron and Artemis, breathes Paddy through and through. And anyway, he has left us so much more to revel in.

As a travel writer, he was surely in a class by himself. But he was much more than a travel writer; he was the most extraordinary literary – and social – phenomenon I have ever known, and I am proud to have been his friend.

Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania

In March 1934 a young man stood midway on a bridge over the Danube which connected Czechoslovakia and Hungary. He was taking stock of a world which, ten years hence, like the very bridge he stood on, would no longer exist. Patrick Leigh Fermor had left London the year before, at the age of eighteen, to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople to complete a journey which would later become the source for some of the best travel writing in the English language. As he stood on the Mária Valéria bridge, facing the ancient Hungarian city of Esztergom, he had no idea that he would one day become the chronicler of a form of social life which was soon to be extinguished by the vicissitudes of war and by the repression which so often went hand in glove with Communism…

Noble Encounters takes a different perspective on Paddy’s 1934 journey, meticulously recreating Paddy’s time spent among the Hungarian nobility. It is the culmination of many years of work and research by author Michael O’Sullivan. He has had access to the private papers and correspondence of many of Leigh Fermor’s hosts, has used extensive interviews with surviving members of these old noble families, delved into the Communist Secret Police archives, and even met the last woman alive who knew Patrick Leigh Fermor in Transylvania in 1934.

O’Sullivan reveals the identity of the interesting characters from BTWW, interviewing several of their descendants and meticulously recreating Leigh Fermor’s time spent among the Hungarian nobility. Paddy’s recollections of his 1934 contacts are at once a proof of a lifelong attraction for the aristocracy, and a confirmation of his passionate love of history and understanding of the region. Rich with photos and other rare documents on places and persons both from the 1930s and today, Noble Encounters offers a compelling social and political history of the period and the area. Described by Professor Norman Stone as “a major work of Hungarian social archaeology,” this book provides a portrait of Hungary and Transylvania on the brink of momentous change.

The book will be officially launched at an invitation only party on 25 May in the house in Budapest where Paddy stayed in 1934, hosted by Gloria von Berg the daughter Paddy’s Budapest host, Baron Tibor von berg. Attending will be a representative of every Hungarian and Transylvanian noble family PLF stayed with as he went castle hopping across the old Magyar lands. They all want to gather to honour the man who was witness to a way of life, and of an entire class, soon to be part of a vanished world a mere ten years after he stayed with them. O’Sullivan has even managed to find Paddy’s signature in the von Berg’s guest book from 1934 when he was signing himself ‘Michael Leigh-Fermor’ – an amazing survival from the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Budapest. Petroc Trelawny will be MC for the evening and the book will be launched by Prince Mark Odescalchi whose ancestor, Princess Eugenie Odescalchi, Paddy met in 1934.

Michael O'Sullivan

Michael O’Sullivan

Michael O’Sullivan is an English Literature graduate of Trinity College Dublin where his postgraduate work was on the poet W.H. Auden. He curated the first major international symposium and exhibition on Auden in the Künstlerhaus Vienna in 1984. He was Vienna correspondent of the London Independent and later worked on both the Foreign and Parliamentary desks of Ireland’s national broadcasting service RTE. He is the author of bestselling biographies of Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first woman president and later UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He has also written biographies of the founding father of the modern Irish state, Sean Lemass and of the playwright Brendan Behan. His association with Hungary began in 1982 when he became a frequent visitor to Budapest and when he met many of the old Hungarian noble families who met Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1934 and were then banished from their native land under Communism. O’Sullivan will be talking about his book at its public launch at the Danube Institute (Budapest) on 7 June (details here), and at the 2018 Transylvanian Book Festival

The book is published by CEU Press. It will be available soon on Amazon etc; I will endeavour to keep you updated. Here is a link to the pdf of the full book cover. PLF BOOK COVER FINAL EDITION

Until I have reached Constantinople

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

In the catalogue to the exhibition Charmed Lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor (at the British Museum until July 15), Michael Llewellyn-Smith writes that, in his later years, Patrick Leigh Fermor “had an all-purpose excuse to send to pesterers”. The note read: “It was very kind of you to write. The trouble is that I am having to work to a strict deadline for the completion of my new book. This makes me a poor correspondent until I have finished it and have reached Constantinople – I am not sure when this will be”.

By James Campbell

First Published in The Times Literary Supplement 12 April 2018

The warning to inquisitive readers, colour-supplement journalists, adventurous holidaymakers and others was despatched from Kardamyli in Mani, in the Southern Peloponnese, from the house which Fermor had built himself, with local labour and expertise, in the mid-1960s. It was where he had completed the first two parts of his account of the “great trudge” across ­Central Europe in the 1930s, projected to end, in a long-anticipated third volume, in “Constantinople”. The book itself had become something of a pest, and he failed to complete it before his death in 2011, aged ninety-six. His wife Joan had died there eight years earlier.

I knew nothing of this when I posted a letter to Kardamyli in the autumn of 2003. I was not a Fermor devotee (there were many, though nothing like the numbers that exist today) and had read scarcely anything he had written. It was not my idea to seek him out, but that of my editor at the Guardian Saturday Review, for which I was at the time a contracted writer. The regular task was a literary profile, of a good length – 4,000 words – and of a certain seriousness. Starting from a position of ignorance didn’t bother me. I liked “finding out”, and enjoyed the homework.

Suggestions from Farringdon Road came by telephone, later email, and were always to the point. “How about Patrick Leigh Fermor?” That was it. No address, no telephone number, no deadline. The rest was up to me, but I was free to go where I liked and when I liked. I had fulfilled many commissions in this way, and had discovered something: it works better when you contact the intended subject yourself to make arrangements, rather than going through the publisher’s press office. The people there do necessary work, but with their more valued (and venerable) charges there is a protective instinct, and a need to control the show.

Fermor was definitely a protected species. His ninetieth birthday was approaching. His publisher John Murray was desperate for him to reach Constantinople. The journey, which had taken place in the 1930s, had been given elegant shape in two books written forty and fifty years after the events described: A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). The final volume, endlessly, pestiferously, inquired about, was said to be inching forwards. Both my editor and I made approaches to the publicity department; both received vague promises of representation. In the end, both were urged to think about volume 3, like everybody else.

I decided to take the direct route. But how to find him? I tried some acquaintances who might know his address. None did. Someone suggested Elizabeth Chatwin, widow of Bruce, Continue reading

The Vagabond and the Princess – book update

Many of you have asked for details about the book. I have been able to obtain a flyer which still talks about publication in May. The book may be available to order at Foyles, but is not yet listed on Amazon. When it is more widely available I shall update you again!

The description of the book from the Benefactum marketing flyer is as follows:

Invention, passion, war and exile are but some of the elements in this revealing new insight into Paddy Leigh Fermor’s many Romanian journeys. Starting with the ‘great trudge’ on foot through Romania in 1934 and ending in 1990 with his assignment for The Daily Telegraph following the fall of Ceausescu, The Vagabond and The Princess by Alan Ogden unravels the tapestry of fact and fiction woven by Paddy and reveals in detail the touching story of the love affair between the youthful writer and Balaşa Cantacuzino, a beautiful Romanian Princess. After a poignant parting on the eve of the Second World War, they were reunited some twenty-five years later and remained in close touch until her death. Paddy had been the great love of her life. Alan Ogden brings great insight into this enduring and touching relationship as well putting into context the glamorous lost world of pre-WW2 Romania.

Event: The Vagabond and The Princess

Princess Balasha Cantacuzène by Lafayette, 9 June 1920

After his ‘great trudge’ on foot through Romania in 1934, Paddy returned there the following year but this time not alone.

In Alan Ogden’s new book, The Vagabond and The Princess, he tells the touching story of the love affair between the youthful writer and Balaşa Cantacuzino, a beautiful Romanian Princess. Inseparable for the next four years, they parted on the eve of the Second World War when Paddy determined to join up. Some twenty-five years later they were reunited in very different circumstances and remained in close touch until her death in 1976.

Alan Ogden will be signing copies of his book. Entry is free but non PLFS member attendees are invited to make a donation; booking essential

When? 14 May 2018
Time? 7.15 pm
Location? The Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington Street, Marylebone, London W1U 5AS

If you would like to attend, please email info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org.

Who were Ghika, Craxton and Leigh Fermor?

A lovely video produced by the British Museum to accompany the exhibition Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor. Narrated by the exhibition curators. Discover more about their extraordinary friendship, creativity and life spent living together in Greece.

Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor
8 March – 15 July 2018
http://www.britishmuseum.org/charmedlives

Supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation and organised with the A. G. Leventis Gallery. In collaboration with the Benaki Museum and Craxton Estate.

Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor at the British Museum

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906–1994), Study for a poster. Tempera on cardboard, 1948. Benaki Museum – Ghika Gallery, Athens. © Benaki Museum 2018.

The British Musem has at last started to publicise this exhibition which focuses on the friendship of the artists Niko Ghika and John Craxton, and the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Their shared love of Greece was fundamental to their work, as they embraced its sights, sounds, colours and people.

Where? The British Museum, Room 5

When? 8 March – 15 July 2018

How Much? It is free!

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906–1994), John Craxton (1922–2009) and Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915–2011) were significant cultural figures of the 20th century. Leigh Fermor is perhaps the most widely known of the three – largely through his travel writings – and Ghika and Craxton are now recognised as two of the most remarkable artists of this period. The three first met at the end of the Second World War, becoming lifelong friends and spending much of their subsequent lives in Greece. The time they spent together and their close bonds would shape each other’s work for the rest of their lives.

The exhibition brings together their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions in the UK for the first time. Highlights include Ghika’s extraordinary painting Mystras and Craxton’s exuberant Still Life with Three Sailors. Also featured is Craxton’s original artwork for the book covers of Leigh Fermor’s travel classics A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Many artworks and objects on display are on loan from the Benaki Museum, to which Ghika donated his house and works, from the Craxton Estate, and from institutions and private collections in the UK and Greece.

The exhibition focuses on four key places – Hydra, Kardamyli, Crete and Corfu – where they lived and spent time together. Hydra is an island where Ghika’s family home became a gathering place for the three friends, and Leigh Fermor built a house with his wife Joan at Kardamyli. Craxton restored a house at Chania on Crete, and Corfu is where Ghika and his second wife Barbara transformed an old building into an idyllic home and garden.

Together, these places chart the story of this remarkable friendship, and how the people and landscapes of Greece were a great influence on their enduring works.

How an idyllic Greek hideaway inspired a British war hero and travel writer

Nikos and Barbara Hadjikyriakos-Ghika with John Craxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Joan Fermor, in 1958. Photograph: Benaki Museum – Ghika Gallery, Athens.© Benaki Museum.

By Jamie Doward

First published in The Guardian

24 December 2017

Oh, to have been a fly on the bougainvillea-clad wall as the drinks flowed and the sun sank behind the beautiful house tucked away in a remote part of Greece.

One night a visitor might find Stephen Spender or Louis MacNeice. Another, Lawrence Durrell and John Betjeman.

But always holding court, cigarette in hand, ouzo glass raised, would be Sir Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, the war hero and travel writer often said to be the inspiration for his friend Ian Fleming’s most famous creation, James Bond.

In the late 1950s, the house Leigh Fermor built with his wife Joan in Kardamyli, a seaside village located in the Mani peninsula, in the southern Peloponnese, became a haven for writers and artists drawn to its owner’s extraordinary charisma and the wild, arid beauty of the surrounding landscape.

It was here that Leigh Fermor, who died in 2011 aged 96, built his close friendship with two men – the Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, who lived on Hydra before moving to Corfu, and the British painter, John Craxton, who lived for a time on Crete. Now the remarkable friendship is to be explored in a new exhibition at the British Museum that will open next spring.

Charmed Lives examines the influence that post-war Greece had on the three men and brings together in the UK for the first time their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions. Among the items on display will be Leigh Fermor’s typewriter (which he never managed to master), his binoculars and a Leica camera belonging to Joan, a professional photographer.

Striking paintings of Greek landscapes and local people by both Craxton and Ghika will feature alongside extracts from Leigh Fermor’s many books.

John Craxton’s ‘Still Life with Three Sailors’ reflects his Greek inspirations. Photograph: John Craxton

Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith, a former British ambassador to Athens, who knew all three men and is one of the exhibition’s curators, conceded many would be drawn by the cult of Leigh Fermor, a polyglot and autodidact once described as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.”

“There’s a tremendous fashion for him,” Llewellyn-Smith said. “In a way you’d expect it to diminish over time but the opposite is happening and it’s very difficult to explain. I don’t think it’s fully related to his work. It is for some people but there are others who are attracted by the legend.”

Much of Leigh Fermor’s legend is burnished by his epic walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, made as an 18-year-old, and his heroics during the second world war when, leading a group of Cretan resistance fighters, he captured the German commander General Heinrich Kreipe in one of the most audacious acts in the history of the Special Operations Executive.

While his postwar books such as A Time Of Gifts cemented his legend and led to Leigh Fermor being regarded as one of the great travel writers, it transpires that the real-life 007 also dabbled as an artist and several of his works will be on display in the exhibition. These include six portraits of Cretan resistance fighters painted in 1942. They are the only ones out of around 20 similar paintings to have survived. The majority were destroyed as the Germans advanced.

“Paddy had an extremely acute visual sense and was himself an artist, an amateur,” Llewellyn-Smith said. “When he was walking across Europe, when he was 18 to 20 years old, around Vienna he had virtually no money and so he started drawing portraits of people to get enough to get a crust of bread or more.”

Llewellyn-Smith said the fact that all three men had died only relatively recently –Ghika in 1994, Craxton in 2009 – meant there was much to be gained by producing an exhibition of their lives and friendship now.

“A lot of people who knew them are still around, and therefore for those organising the exhibition, such as myself, it was possible to talk to them and get their memories and anecdotes. This couldn’t have been done if the exhibition had been delayed by many years.”

The organisers say they hope it will offer visitors an opportunity to reflect on Greece’s enduring role as a source of artistic inspiration. It may also offer a subtle reminder that British-Hellenic relations can be about more than that most famous of British Museum attractions, the Parthenon marbles. “This period when these three men got to know each other was a period of artistic and literary collaboration, almost a renaissance between British and Greek artists and writers,” Llewellyn-Smith said. “It didn’t have anything to do with politics and returning sculptures to Greece. That’s a different century.”

It may also offer clues as to why, despite smoking around 80 cigarettes a day, just like Fleming’s Bond, Leigh Fermor managed to live so long. “When he was in the Peloponnese he would go for walks every day in the mountains behind the house and he’d swim for half an hour every morning,” Llewellyn-Smith said.

In his will, Leigh Fermor gave the house to the Benaki museum in Athens with instructions for it to be turned into a writers’ retreat. While some of Leigh Fermor’s devoted fanbase have grumbled about the pace of its renovation – which at one stage appeared to have fallen victim to Greece’s economic woes, – there are hopes the exhibition may elicit funds to speed things up.

If so, it would mean that more than half a century on from when Leigh Fermor built his idyll, it will once again help nurture a new generation of artists and writer.

Charmed Lives in Greece the exhibition will run at the British Museum 8 Mar-15 July 2018

Remembering Steven Runciman by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Steven Runciman with his parakeet, photographed by Cecil Beaton c.1923.

Paddy remembers Steven Runciman in this 2001 article from The Spectator

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Spectator

13 January 2001

It was on 12 September 1934, in Sofia, that Steven and I first met. He was 31 and I was 19, and I was trudging across Europe, heading for Constantinople. Having a drink in the Bulgaria Hotel, 1 found myself talking to my bar-neighbour, who was the dead spit of Holbein’s Erasmus; he turned out to be Thomas Whittimore, the famous Bostonian expert on Byzantium and the saviour of the St Sophia mosaics. He was in Sofia, he said, as part of a general congress of Byzantinists and art-historians. Two fellow delegates soon joined him, Roger Hinks and Steven Runciman, both of them impeccable in panama hats and white suits of the wonderful Athenian raw silk that used to be spun by Gladys Stewart-Richardson; their bi-coloured shoes were spotlessly blancoed and polished; and they both belonged far more aptly to the deck of an Edith Wharton yacht or to the cypress alley of a palazzo in a novel by Henry James than to this hot little Balkan capital. As I had just been scrambling about the Rhodope mountains and sleeping out on the way to Rila monastery, I must have been even filthier than usual. (Later on Steven often teasingly remarked, ‘You were a very grubby boy.’) Their conversation was dazzlingly erudite and comic and we met several times, and when the end of the conference scattered the delegates, they left for Italy: ‘Just off to stay in a Tuscan villa with one of those beautiful Italian gardens. You know, solid mud all winter and in summer, nothing but dust.’

We bumped into each other now and then in London later on, and after the war Steven was appointed British Council Representative in Athens; the novelist, poet and translator of Euripedes, Rex Warner, was in charge of the British Institute and I was rashly created his deputy director. It was a fascinating time to be in Athens. The war was over and the later troubles had not yet really begun. It was the Athens of the songs of Sophia Vembo and the rebirth of bouzottki; the place was full of Greek and English friends, and there were wonderful parties and newly discovered tavernas every single night. When it was thought that i might be more useful outside the capital. I was sent to lecture all over the mainland and the islands. This involved six months in the remotest places I could find. They were of the greatest possible value for literary purposes later on. But I was far from an ideal deputy director, and when this became plain and departure loomed, not an atom of blame attached to Steven. When we next met I had been nearly a year in the Caribbean and Central America. In London we often met in friends’ houses, and our shared devotion to Greece was always uppermost of both our feelings.

Before the war, the captivating books of Robert Byron were, for many people in England, their first introduction to Byzantium. He was soon caught up by Steven’s perhaps more academical approach, and after the ship carrying Robert Byron to Greece during the war was torpedoed and sunk (by the Scharnhorst, off Stornoway), Steven’s writings remained the unchallenged beacon in this particular field. There seemed to be no aspect of the Byzantine empire — its sovereigns, its Church, its saints and heresies, its wars and disasters and recoveries — that was left unexplored; and when his dazzling books on the Crusades began to appear, the skill of the writing, the vast range of his scholarship — even, here and there, the witty asides and brackets — called the name of Gibbon to many minds. To those of us who were brought up on the romance and glamour of the Crusades, there was something stimulating, salutary, and brand-new in the suggestion that these centuries of war and conquest were, in fact, the last of the barbarian onslaughts on the surviving civilisation of the Roman and now Greek empire and the lands of the cultivated Arab caliphate, Everyone rejoiced at the honours which were heaped on him; we still do, and how fitting it is that a street in Mistra now bears his name? When about 20 years ago I got a literary prize. I was very touched that the generous words spoken at such occasions were uttered by Steven, at his request. I felt that all my earlier sins had been forgiven. He came to stay in the Morea several times.

His generosity was extraordinary. The recent restoration of the tower of the Protaton church on Mount Athos was a gesture of the greatest magnificence and his arrival from the sky, followed by the blessings of the glittering dignitaries conducting the dedication service of the tower, and then Steven’s farewell and departure back into the air, belonged to a sweep of monastic wall-painting of the Cretan or Macedonian school, involving flights of archangels and seraphim and fanfares of long trumpets.

He seemed, somehow, in a curious fashion, to be in touch with the supernatural. He studied arcane matters and he loved telling fortunes with a pack of Tarot cards and — half in joke, or only a quarter, perhaps — he hinted at the mastery of magic powers; his catlike smile and the sudden surprised lift of his eyebrows seemed to underline the suggestion. Perhaps it was just a tease.

A month and a half ago, a Cumberland neighbour and an old friend of his and of mine, Pamela Egremont, drove me across the Solway Firth into Scotland to spend the afternoon at his massive tower, with its many thousands of books, at Elshieshiels in the Scottish Lowlands. He was not very mobile physically, but mentally he was as active as he had ever been, and there was much laughter. My grubby apparition of 66 years earlier was joyfully recalled — it always was — and the three of us talked for hours. Upright in his armchair, he was still, as it were, enclouded in Athonite glory. He told us that he was determined, if he was spared for another three years, to celebrate his 100th birthday by a large and cheerful party in Madame Tussaud’s (that famous waxwork gallery of past celebrities can be hired for such occasions, it seems). He gave us a cheerful wave as we left, and, assisted by his mood as we drove south, we played with the idea of Steven’s warlock privilege of summoning shades from the past to ask them to his centenary festival, and we wondered, could this sorcery be switched to the returning of such supernatural visits? Where would these imaginary journeys carry him? Whom would he choose?

As we motored through the Cumbrian dusk, we imagined him helping to plot the circumference of the dome of St Sophia, before a late supper with the Empress Theodora, or — he had a soft spot for crowned heads — advising Princess Anna about the accuracy of the Alexia& in other scenes, he was shaking his head over the wilder tenets of the Bogomils and persuading a team of iconoclasts to drop their hammers; or calming rebellious prelates at the Council of Ephesus. In yet other scenes, he was reasoning with Bohemond at Antioch; or counselling Richard Coeur de Lion about his policy at Acre; or playing chess with Saladin, in his tent; then, a bit later, rallying Bessarion for accepting the filioque clause at the same time as a cardinal’s hat; consoling the eastern Comnenes for the loss of Trebizond; or, under Mount Taygetus, exchanging syllogisms with Gemistos Plethon as they strolled along the future Runciman Street. Later on still, we imagined him hobnobbing with Phanariot hospodars in the snows beyond the Danube … It was hard to stop.

As we know, Fate arrived too soon and all we can now do is to express our gratitude for the life and the work of the astonishing man we are all assembled to mourn, and, still more, to celebrate. What a shame he can’t see us all, gathered in his honour! Perhaps he can.

Complete set of A Short History of Byzantium audio for sale

DSC06907There is a very rare opportunity to purchase the hugely enjoyable and authoritative  complete and unabridged audiobook of John Julius Norwich’s “A Short History of Byzantium”, brilliantly narrated by John McDonough. From its beginnings in A.D. 330, this audiobook provides listeners with a spirited, gripping, and original account of a great lost civilization and its magnificent artistic heritage. The audiobook consists of 16 cassettes in very good condition offering 23.5 hours listening time. I have listened to them and they are all in excellent order. This was a library copy, but clearly barely ever issued or played. If you love Byzantine history you will enjoy this.

The best way to preserve the audio is to convert to a MP3 format on your PC or Mac and retain it in your iTunes or similar to listen from iTunes etc. It is a very simple process. You can purchase converters for very modest cost on Amazon – see here.

I have searched around and not found this audio format anywhere else. This is very rare.

If you are interested in purchasing, please email me tsawford[at]btinternet.com with your best offer. It will be possible to post this to international locations with cost to be confirmed. Payment by PayPal.

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A Friendship Hymn to Life in Greece

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

Especially for those who are Greek or read Greek an article from Protagon about the Craxton, Ghika, Fermor exhibition, but worth a view by all as there are some fine Ghika pictures and new photos of the friends. If you do not read Greek and wish to find out what has been written, I have a Google Translate version for you here.

First published in Protagon 7 June 2017

Γκίκας, Κράξτον, Λι Φέρμορ: Μια φιλία ύμνος της ζωής στην Ελλάδα
Mία ανασκόπηση της ζωής και του έργου τριών σημαντικών προσωπικοτήτων της Τέχνης και των Γραμμάτων του 20ού αιώνα παρουσιάζεται στο Μουσείο Μπενάκη. Η έκθεση διερευνά τη φιλία που ένωσε τους Νίκο Χατζηκυριάκο-Γκίκα, Τζον Κράξτον και Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ, και την αγάπη τους για την Ελλάδα.

Η έκθεση «Γκίκας, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: η γοητεία της ζωής στην Ελλάδα» που παρουσιάζεται εφέτος στο Μουσείο Μπενάκη αντανακλά τις μαγευτικές εξερευνήσεις των τριών μεγάλων δημιουργών στην Ελλάδα του περασμένου αιώνα. Πρόκειται για ένα αφιέρωμα στη ζωή και το έργο τους αλλά και στη φιλία που τους συνέδεσε για σχεδόν 50 χρόνια καθώς και στον «διάλογο» που ανέπτυξαν μεταξύ τους.

Read More here ….

From Google Translate.

Gikas, Cracton, Li Fermor: A Friendship Hymn to Life in Greece

A review of the life and work of three important personalities of Art and Literature of the 20th Century is presented at the Benaki Museum. The exhibition explores the friendship that brought together Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghika, John Krasson and Patrick Li Fermore, and their love for Greece

The exhibition “Gikas, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: The Charm of Life in Greece” presented this year at the Benaki Museum reflects the magical explorations of the three great artists in Greece of the past century. It is a tribute to their life and work, but also to the friendship that has been associated with them for almost 50 years, as well as the “dialogue” they have developed among themselves.

It was organized by the Leventis Art Gallery in collaboration with the Benaki Museum and Craxton Estate and was first presented in Nicosia for the first time in the Leventis Art Gallery. It is now going to Athens and the year will be transferred to the British Museum of London (March – July 2018).

The tribute includes paintings and watercolors by Ch. Ghika and Cracton, and texts by Livermore, many of which come from unpublished material found by curators of the exhibition in personal records or in the archive of the author in the National Library of Scotland.

In addition, letters, pages of visitors’ books, notes, sketches, publications and dedications, as well as many rare photographs from the life of the three creators, revealing their love for Greece, history, myth, countryside and Greek Lifestyle, while reflecting their fascinating quests, their interactions and devotion to the joy of life.

The early years
The works come from the Benaki Museum Gallery, the Craxton Estate in London, the Leventis Art Gallery in Nicosia and many private collections, libraries and museums in Greece and abroad.

The first section of the report refers to the first years of their acquaintance with the events and the atmosphere of the era, which would then have an interdependent influence on their creativity.

The three artists met for the first time in the years 1945 and 1946. Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas met John Krasson and Patrick Livermore in London. Shortly thereafter, the two last met in Athens, and between the three, as well as between the two of them, Barbara Ghika and Joan Lee Fermor, a friendship was developed with a common reference point, the love of all of them for Greece. This friendship was going to prove highly resistant, since it would last for about fifty years.

Places of inspiration and happiness

The next sections of the exhibition revolve around the four places – Hydra, Kardamili, Chania and Corfu – that have been stamped over their work and friendship.

Hydra. There was an important chapter in the life of the three friends, but also a pole of attraction for Greeks and foreigners, intellectuals and artists. For Ghika he was the home of his childhood and later his refuge, his place of inspiration. For Livermore, “a source of happiness”, as he said, a retreat for the writing of his book “Mani” and for Craxton, a place of creation shortly before discovering his own paradise in Crete.

Chania. In 1947 Krassont visited Crete for the first time. One year later he returns and draws paintings on Cretan shepherds. The place and the people charm him and so in 1960 he decides to follow his dream and live in Chania, “in my beloved city, on my favorite island”. The house above the Venetian harbor became its main place of work. Many of his most famous paintings, with typical figures, scenes from everyday life, as well as landscapes of Cretan land, are created there.

Kardamyli. It is the place where Li Fermore will discover their own haven of paradise in the Peloponnese. Attracted by the nature of the area, his friend, Ghika, draws landscapes of Kardamili and creates works for decorating the house. Here Paddy, as he was his affectionate, will dedicate himself to the writing: “At last I could walk through the olive trees for hours, forming phrases and dissolve them in pieces again,” he writes.

Corfu. An old olive press at Sinias, Corfu, will be the new meeting and creation place for the three friends in the seventies. There, Ghika and Barbara’s wife will create a new “idyllic setting”, a welcoming “shelter of unique atmosphere and charm” that will inspire all three artists.

Leading the charmed life in Greece

Patrick Leigh Fermor and his wife Joan on the veranda of their home in Kardamyli, in 1967.

This article from Ekathimerini focuses on the new exhibition “Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” which opened recently at the Benaki Museum in Athens. It runs to 10 September so if you are in the city do drop by. Never fear, if you can’t make a trip to Athens, the exhibition moves to the British Museum in the Spring and we will update you all.

by Margarita Pournara

First published in Ekathimerini 14 June 2017.

I have often asked myself how an exhibition ultimately affects its audience. What kind of trace does it leave on the collective memory? The answer, I find, is that it depends on the show’s content and the circumstances under which it takes place. In these troubled times, so laden with insecurity and silent resignation, the exhibition that opened at Athens’s Benaki Museum on June 6 on a great friendship is like balsam to the soul.

“Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” is like a piece of precise needlework using the threads of history to take the audience back to 1945, when Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika first met British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and painter John Craxton. The three became firm friends and over the ensuing 50 years drew inspiration from the Greek landscape, their readings on the country and the virtues of life here, leaving behind enduring impressions in their art and writings. The lives of the three became entwined in four different parts of the country, which is the exhibition’s departure point.

From the Ghika family home on the ridge of a hill on the Saronic island of Hydra, where the friendship was first cemented, to Paddy’s haven in Kardamyli in the southern Peloponnese, Craxton’s house with its unexpected view over the port of Hania on Crete and an old olive mill in Corfu that Ghika transformed into a home after his Hydra property was destroyed by fire, their relationship was defined by an almost constant and highly creative toing and froing between the personal paradises each man had created for himself.

“Each of these houses was a small universe that embodied their love for Greece, its countryside and the warmth of its people. Beyond these three and the wives of Ghika and Fermor, these homes were enjoyed by many others, Greeks and Britons and other guests, who came from abroad to get their own taste of the charms of life here,” says one of the exhibition’s four curators, Evita Arapoglou. Paintings, photographs, letters and drawings illustrate this 50-year journey.

How did the three men meet? It was shortly after World War II had ended and Greece was making an effort to promote its culture, literature and art abroad, with the help of the British Council and its offshoot, at the time, the British Institute.

Athens happened to be home to a group of Greek and British intellectuals – among them Lawrence Durrell, Steven Runciman, Rex Warner, as well as Giorgos Seferis, Giorgos Katsimbalis and Ghika – who helped spearhead the golden age of cooperation between the two countries, organizing soirees and exhibitions. One of the many things the Britons had in common was their attraction to the Greek people and countryside.

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s ‘Pines and Blue Chair in the Afternoon,’ oil on canvas, from 1979.

Ghika, who spent most of his adult life in France, also lived in London for a few years during this period. Fermor already knew Greece very well and Craxton, who was a close friend of Joan Leigh Fermor, was hooked from his first visit to the country.

The house on Hydra, which held a lot of childhood memories for Ghika but needed extensive renovations, was a revelation to the Fermors, who spent around two years there in the mid-1950s and which is where Patrick wrote the bulk of his book on Mani. Craxton was also a familiar figure there, where he would paint views of the small Saronic island. Ghika and his wife Barbara were indeed the perfect hosts.

When the house was destroyed by fire in the early 1960s, Ghika couldn’t bear to set foot on the island, so it fell to Craxton to go and see what could be salvaged from the ashes. That fire marked the end of the first chapter of three men’s friendship, which was rekindled when the Fermors moved to Kardamyli and Craxton to Hania. Toward the end of the decade, the Ghikas built their house in Corfu.

The wonderful exhibition at the Benaki is all about serendipity in another respect too, as the idea emerged from the meeting of four people with deep knowledge and admiration for the three friends. Arapoglou is the curator of the Greek collection at the Leventis Gallery in Nicosia and is an expert on Ghika, as well as having known Fermor and Craxton personally. Former British ambassador to Athens, historian and writer Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith knew Fermor and the archive he left behind very well, while Ian Collins wrote a monograph on Craxton, with whom he was friends. The fourth curator of the Athens show is Ioanna Moraiti, the Benaki’s archive director, and she was instrumental in helping the other three pool their knowledge and expertise.

When they were first brought together in 2014 thanks to Edmee Leventis, it became clear that the subject of Ghika, Fermor and Craxton’s close friendship and their relationship with Greece would make a wonderful theme for an exhibition. The project was funded by the Leventis Foundation and the show was first held at the Leventis Gallery in spring. After Athens, the exhibition will be shown at the British Museum.

The friends

A painter, sculptor, engraver, writer and academic, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906-94) was the eldest of the three. He moved to Paris at the age of 17 to study art and soon developed a large intellectual and artistic circle of friends and acquaintances. While he was influenced by the trends and movements in Europe, like architect Dimitris Pikionis, his contemporary, Ghika also became increasingly interested in Greek folk art and tradition. He emerged as one of the greatest figures of the Thirties Generation and Hydra played a huge role in his work. Barbara was his second wife.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a restless scholar with a love of adventure. He discovered Greece while crossing Europe on foot at the age of 18. He returned in World War II, where he became a hero of the resistance and the mastermind behind the kidnapping of German General Heinrich Kreipe. He moved to Athens after the war, before the house in Kardamyli was built. He is the author of several wonderful books, including “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese,” “Roumeli” and his three books about his journey across Europe, among others. His wife Joan was a photographer.

John Craxton in his studio in Crete in 1983

John Craxton (1922-2009) was the youngest of the bunch, a free spirit with a definite wanderlust. He found his ideal haven in Greece, and Crete in particular, where he was impressed by the people and their way of life. During his time there, he was regarded as one of Hania’s most recognizable personalities.

The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual book with texts by the curators and an abundance of photographic material pertaining to the three friends’ lives.

“Ghika – Craxton – Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece” runs through September 10 at the Benaki Museum’s main building (1 Koumbari & Vassilissis Sofias, tel 210.367.1000).

John Pendlebury and the Battle of Crete – Paddy’s speech

John Pendlebury at Knossos

John Pendlebury at Knossos

The following is the text of a speech given by Patrick Leigh Fermor at Knossos, Crete, on 21 May as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Spectator 20 October 2001

John Pendlebury is an almost mythical figure now, and, in some ways, he always was. Everyone connected with ancient or modern Greece, and not only his fellow archaeologists, knew all about him. He was born in 1904. In addition to his classical triumphs at Winchester and Cambridge, a dazzling athletic fame had sprung up. He broke a 50-year record at the high jump by clearing the equivalent of his own height of six feet and flew over hurdles with the speed of a cheetah. His classical passion was humanised by a strong romantic bent; he revelled in novels about knights and castles and tournaments. And all suspicion of being a reclusive highbrow was scattered by his love of jokes and his enjoyment of conviviality. A strong vein of humour leavened all.

The British School of Archaeology was his Athens anchor and wide learning, flair and imagination led him to many finds. He dug for several Egyptian seasons at Tel-elAmarna, but Crete became his dominating haunt. He was on excellent but independent terms with Sir Arthur Evans but, when he was away from Knossos and the Villa Ariadne, he was constantly on the move. He got to know the island inside out. No peak was too high or canyon too deep for him to claw his way up or down. He spent days above the clouds and walked over 1,000 miles in a single archaeological season. His companions were shepherds and mountain villagers. His brand of toughness and style and humour was exactly right for these indestructible men. He knew all their dialects and rhyming couplets. Micky Akoumianakis, the son of Sir Arthur’s overseer, told me he could drink everyone under the table and then stride across three mountain ranges without turning a hair.

This is the moment to slip in a word about Nicholas Hammond, the brilliant scholar and archaeologist turned soldier, and a very old friend of Pendlebury’s, whose involvement in the run-in to the battle and whose adventures in the caique Dolphin deserve an entire saga of their own. (It is he who should be writing about Pendlebury, not me, But he was 94 this year and died, lucid to the end, in April. Just before he died, he wrote to me saying, ‘I’m sure you’ll do him proud’; so I must do my best.)

Pendlebury in Cretan dress

Pendlebury in Cretan dress

Pendlebury’s knowledge of the island was unique, and when, in the end, he managed to convince the sluggish military authorities, he was sent to England, trained as a cavalryman at Weedon, commissioned as a captain in a branch of military intelligence and then sent back to Crete as the British vice-consul in Heraklion. It was typical that he referred to his military role as ‘trailing the puissant pike’, like Pistol in lienly V. He didn’t mind that his consular cover story in Heraklion fooled nobody. But his mountain life changed gear: he presciently saw that the Cretan veterans of the old wars against the Turks would be vital to the eventual defence of the island. These regional kapetanios, natural chiefs — like Satanas, Bandouvas and Petrakogiorgis, and many more with their sweeping moustaches and high boots — had many virtues and some, perhaps, a few faults, but they were all born leaders. They were all brave, they passionately loved their country and they recognised the same qualities in Pendlebury. They trusted his judgment when he began to organise a system of defence, arranging supply lines, pinpointing wells and springs, preparing rocks to encumber possible enemy landing places, storing sabotage gear, seeking out coves and inlets for smuggling arms and men, and permanently badgering the Cairo authorities for arms and ammunition.

When the Italians invaded Greece from Albania and were flung back by the Greek counter-attacks, the probable sequel became clear at once: Germany would come to the rescue of her halted ally. The whole Wehrmacht was available and so was Germany’s vast Luftwaffe. The implications were plain. Pendlebury and the Cretans made guerrilla strikes on Kasos, the Dodecanesian island 25 miles from the eastermost cape, and there was a far-flung caique operation on Castellorizo. off the south coast of Turkey_ Like all Crete, Pendlebury lamented the absence of the 5th Cretan division, which had covered itself with glory in Albania, only to be left behind on the mainland. With them, and the 10,000 rifles Pendlebury longed for, he felt that the island could be held forever. But, to his exasperation, the arms only came in driblets. Even so, there was hope.

If the worst happened, Pendlebury was determined to stay and fight on with the guerrillas until Crete was free. His stronghold would have been the Nidha plateau, high on the slopes of Mount Ida. It was grazed by thousands of sheep, inaccessible by roads, riddled with caves — Zeus was born in one of them — and it could only be reached through the key village of Krousonas (the stronghold of Pendlebtny’s friend, Kapetan Satanas) and the great resistance village of Anoyia (the eyrie of Kapetans Stephanoyianni Dramoudanis and Mihali Xylouris). During all this time, the knowledge that the rest of Europe was either conquered or neutral and that England and Greece were the only two countries still fighting was a great bond.

We must skip fast over the German invasion of Greece. Most of the British forces, which had been taken from the battle in the Libyan desert to help the Greeks, got away from the mainland with the Royal Navy’s help and the island was suddenly milling with soldiers who had made it to Crete. I was one. I was sent from Canea to Heraklion as a junior intelligence dogsbody at Brigadier Chappel’s headquarters in a cave between the town and the aerodrome.

The daily bombings were systematic and sinister. Obviously, something was going to happen. It must have been during a lull in this racket that I saw Pendlebury for the first and only time. One man stood out from all the others that came to the cave,’ I wrote later on. I was enormously impressed by that splendid figure, with a rifle slung like a Cretan mountaineer’s, a cartridge belt round his middle, and armed with a leather-covered swordstick.

One of his eyes, lost as a child, had been replaced by a glass one. I heard later that, when out of his office, he used to leave it on his table to show that he would be back soon. He had come to see the Brigadier to find out how he and his friends could best contribute, and his presence, with his alternating seriousness and laughter, spread a feeling of optimism and spirit. It shed light in the dark cave and made everything seem possible. When he got up to go, someone (Hope-Morley?) said, `Do show us your swordstick!’ He smiled obligingly, drew it with comic drama and flashed it round with a twist of the wrist. Then he slotted it back and climbed up into the sunlight with a cheery wave. I can’t remember a word he said, but one could understand why everyone trusted, revered and loved him.

We all know a lot about the battle: the heavy bombing every day, followed at last by the drone of hundreds of planes coming in over the sea in a darkening cloud, and the procession of troop-carriers flying so low over the ground they seemed almost at eye-level, suddenly shedding a manycoloured stream of parachutes. When the roar of our guns broke out many invaders were caught in the olive branches and many were killed as they fell; others dropped so close to headquarters that they were picked off at once.

Heraklion is a great walled Venetian city. The enemy forced an entry through the Canea Gate, and after fierce fighting they were driven out by the British and Greeks with very heavy losses. This was the first astonishing appearance of Cretan civilians, armed only with odds and ends — old men long retired and boys below military age, even women here and there — suddenly fighting by our side, all over the island. In Heraklion the swastika flag, which had briefly been run up over the harbour, was torn down again. The wall was manned by Greek and British riflemen, successful counter-attacks were launched and, apart from this one break-in, the town and the aerodrome remained firmly in our hands until the end.

After leaving the cave, Pendlebury and Satanas headed for the Kapetan’s high village of Krousonas by different routes. They hoped to launch flank attacks on the steadily growing throng of dropped parachutists west of Heraklion. He got out of the car with a Cretan comrade and climbed a spur to look down on the German position. They were closer than he thought and opened fire. Pendlebury and his friend fired back. Here the fog of battle begins to cloud things. Pendlebury and a Greek platoon were still exchanging fire with the Germans when a new wave of Stukas came over and Pendlebury was wounded in the chest. He was carried into a cottage, which belonged to one of his followers, George Drossoulakis, who was fighting elsewhere and was killed that same day. But his wife Aristeia took him in and he was laid on a bed. The place was overrun with Germans; nevertheless, one of them, who was a doctor, cleaned and bandaged the wound. Another came in later and gave him an injection. He was chivalrously treated. The next morning he told the women of the house to leave him. They refused and were later led away as prisoners. A field gun was set up just outside . . and a fresh party of parachutists was soon in the house. Here was an English soldier dressed in a Greek shirt and with no identification. A neighbour’s wife saw them take him out and prop him against the wall. Three times they shouted a question at him, which she couldn’t understand. Three times he answered ‘No’. They ordered him to stand to attention and then opened fire. He fell dead, shot through the head and the body.

The battle raged on. Heraklion stood firm and we had similar tidings from the Australians and Greeks defending Rethymnon. After the lines of communication had been cut, we had no glimmer of the turn things were taking at Maleme over in the west. We thought we had won. The news became still more bitter later on, when we learnt that enemy casualties had been so heavy that for a time they had considered abandoning the campaign.

Much later we learnt what happened to Pendlebury. At first his body was buried near the spot where he fell. Later, the Germans moved him to half a mile outside the Canea Gate beside the Rethymnon road. I remember bicycling past his grave the following year dressed as a cattle-dealer. It was marked with a wooden cross with his name on it, followed by liritischer Hauptmann’ . There was a bunch of flowers, and new ones were put there every day until the enemy shifted the grave to somewhere less central. (He now lies in the British war cemetery at Souda Bay.) Meanwhile legends were springing up. For the Cretans, it was the loss of an ally and a friend with a status close to that of Ares or Apollo For the enemy, he was a baleful and sinister figure, a darker T. E. Lawrence, and perhaps he was still lurking in the dreaded mountains. Many bodies were exhumed until a skull with a glass eye was dug up and sent to Berlin — or so they said. According to island gossip, Hitler had been unable to sleep at night for fear of this terrible incubus, and kept the trophy on his desk. To the SOE officers who were sent to Crete to help the Resistance, he was an inspiration. His memory turned all his old companions into immediate allies. We were among friends. Pendebury — Pedeboor Pembury — however it was pronounced, eyes kindled at the sound.

John Pendlebury

John Pendlebury

We must go back to 28 May 1941, seven days after Pendlebtuy’s death and the night of the evacuation. The British troops were lining up to board the ships that were to carry us to Egypt. I was interpreter. Everyone felt downhearted at leaving the Greek friends who had fought beside us for the last eight days. The battered and silent town smelt of burning, explosions, smoke and fresh decay All at once, an old Cretan materialised out of the shadows. He was a short, resolute man, obviously a distinguished kapetan, with a clear and cheerful glance, a white beard clipped under the chin like a Minoan and a rifle-butt embossed with wrought-silver plaques. He said he would like to talk to the ‘General’. The Brigadier was a tall man and an excellent commander, tanned by a lifetime’s soldiering in India. The kapetan reached up and put his hand on the Brigadier’s shoulder and said, ‘My child,’ — paidi triou’ in Greek — ‘we know you are leaving tonight; but you will soon be back. We will carry on the fight till you return. But we have only a few guns. Leave them all you can spare.’ The Brigadier was deeply moved. Orders were given for the arms and a Black Watch lieutenant led away the kapetan and his retinue. As we made our farewells, he said, in a kind but serious voice, ‘May God go with you, and come back soon.’ Meanwhile, escorting destroyers from HMS Orion and HMS Dido were stealing towards the mole.

It was only later, looking at photographs, that the old man was identified as Pendlebury’s friend, Kapetan Satanas. He died the next year, after handing his gun to a descendant, saying, ‘Don’t dishonour it.’

Looking back, he represents the innermost spirit of Crete. Ever since, the two men have seemed to symbolise the brotherhood-in-arms that brought our two countries so close together and made us feel that this season of desolation would somehow, against all the odds, end in victory and the freedom they were all fighting for.

John Pendlebury details from Winchester College War Cloister memorial site

Pendlebury at Winchester College 1923

Pendlebury at Winchester College 1923

Pendlebury’s biography taken from the Winchester College War Cloister memorial website to mark the 76th anniversary of his death

He was the only son of Herbert Stringfellow Pendlebury FRCS, a consulting surgeon at St. George’s Hospital and then of the Royal Waterloo Hospital in London. John Pendlebury’s mother was Lilian Dorothea, the daughter of Sir Thomas Lane Devitt, 1st Baronet, and Chairman of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. However, she died in 1921, and in 1925 Herbert Pendlebury married Mabel Webb, daughter of Mr. Richard Webb of Wanganui, New Zealand.

John Pendlebury was successful at school: he won the Leslie Hunter Prize, was Head of House, in Senior Division, Sixth Book, and gained an Exhibition for Classics at Pembroke, Cambridge (his father’s college). All this was despite the loss of an eye: “One of his eyes, lost as a child, had been replaced by a glass one. I heard later that, when out of his office, he used to leave it on his table to show that he would be back soon.”

At Winchester, he won the high jump (twice) and the hurdles. In his third year at Cambridge he won the high jump at Fenner’s and also against Oxford. In 1927 he leaped to fame with a jump of six feet at Queen’s Club, breaking the record set by M J Brooks over 50 years before. He also represented England that year. He then won a Scholarship at Pembroke College and a First in the Classical Tripos, Part II with special distinction in Archaeology. Later that year he went to the British School of Archaeology at Athens. That year he married Hilda White, daughter of Edmund White, of Caldy, Wirral.

He quickly gained an international reputation as an archaeologist and donated some of his finds to the College, where they are still held in the Treasury. In 1932 he was appointed Neil Lecturer at Pembroke, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Society. That year he and his wife had a son, David John Stringfellow Pendlebury (D 1945-1950), and later a daughter.

He excavated in Macedonia, at Tel el Amarna (where he was Director from 1930 to 1936), at Knossos in Crete (where he was Curator 1930-35), and at Mount Dicte (also in Crete). His publications included “Aegyptiaca” (1930), “Handbook to the Palace of Minos” and “Tel el Amarna” (1935), and “The Archaeology of Crete” (1939). Pendlebury discovered many ancient sites in Crete, an island which he knew better than any other Englishman. “He was on excellent but independent terms with Sir Arthur Evans but, when he was away from Knossos and the Villa Ariadne, he was constantly on the move. He got to know the island inside out. No peak was too high or canyon too deep for him to claw his way up or down. He spent days above the clouds and walked over a thousand miles in a single archaeological season. His companions were shepherds and mountain villagers. His brand of toughness and style and humour was exactly right for these indestructible men. He knew all their dialects and rhyming couplets. Micky Akoumianakis, the son of Sir Arthur’s overseer, told me he could drink everyone under the table and then stride across three mountain ranges without turning a hair.” (Speech delivered by Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor on the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete – reprinted in The Spectator 20th October 2001).

During the war he served as an officer in the Intellegence Corps. Commissioned into the cavalry, he was transferred in May 1940 to MI(R), the forerunner to the Special Operations Executive. SOE was formed in July 1940 and Pendlebury worked for the organisation for the rest of his life.

The British were expecting Greece to be attacked by Italy in the near future and assembled a group of Greek supporters to help with resistence in the event of being over-run. Pendlebury was one of these. The Greek nationals were however suspicious of the mission and its motives and refused to allow some of the party into the country, although Pendlebury was known and trusted and was allowed in. In November 1940, 50 Commando was sent to Crete to garrison the strategic harbour of Suda Bay. This freed up Greek troops to move to the Italian front. They arrived on November 26th, only to find that their orders had been changed and that they were to move to Heraklion. There Pendlebury met them, fixing up good billets for them in a school, a tobacco factory, and barrack buildings on the airfield. With 50 Commando, Pendlebury became involved in operations against Axis targets in the surrounding waters: “Pendlebury and the Cretans made guerrilla strikes on Kasos, the Dodecanesian island twenty-five miles from the easternmost cape, and there was a far-flung caique operation on Castellorizo, off the south coast of Turkey.” (Leigh Fermor).

In April 1941, the Germans intervened in Greece to support their faltering Italian allies. Greece was soon over-run and most of the Commonwealth troops who had fought there ended up in Crete. It was obvious that the Germans would attack the island next. Pendlebury slipped across to Kasos again to try to find out from his spies there exactly when the Germans would launch their operation. This would have been valuable intelligence, since although, through Enigma intercepts, the Allied commander, Major General Bernard Freyburg (2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in command of the Allies on the island, knew the date and time already, he could not use the information for fear of giving away its source. However, it was too late. As Pendlebury reached Heraklion on May 21st 1941, the invasion was already under way. Ultimately, the German landings at Heraklion and Rethymnon were unsuccessful, disastrously so, and at Heraklion the Cretans played a huge role in the success of the defence: “Heraklion is a great walled Venetian city. The enemy forced an entry through the Canea Gate, and after fierce fighting they were driven out by the British and Greeks with very heavy losses. This was the first astonishing appearance of Cretan civilians, armed only with odds and ends – old men long retired and boys below military age, even women here and there – suddenly fighting by our side, all over the island. In Heraklion the swastika flag, which had briefly been run up over the harbour, was torn down again. The wall was manned by Greek and British riflemen, successful counter-attacks were launched and, apart from this one break-in, the town and the aerodrome remained firmly in our hands until the end… The battle raged on. Heraklion stood firm and we had similar tidings from the Australians and Greeks defending Rethymnon. After the lines of communication had been cut, we had no glimmer of the turn things were taking in Maleme over in the west. We thought we had won. The news became still more bitter later on, when we learnt that the enemy casualties had been so heavy that for a long time they had considered abandoning the campaign.” (Leigh Fermor).

Pendlebury visted the British headquarters at Heraklion where Leigh Fermor met him for the only time: “It must have been during a lull in this racket that I saw Pendlebury for the first and only time. ‘One man stood out from all the others that came to the cave,’ I wrote later on. I was enormously impressed by that splendid figure, with a rifle slung like a Cretan mountaineer’s, a cartridge belt round his middle, and armed with a leather-covered sword-stick… He had come to see the Brigadier to find out how he and his friends could best contribute, and his presence, with his alternating seriousness and laughter, spread a feeling of optimism and spirit. It shed light in the dark cave and made everything seem possible. When he got up to go, someone said, ‘Do show us your sword-stick!’ He smiled obligingly, drew it with comic drama and flashed it round with a twist of the wrist. Then he slotted it back and climbed up into the sunlight with a cheery wave. I can’t remember a word he said, but one could understand why everyone trusted, revered and loved him.

After leaving the cave, Pendlebury and Satanas headed for the Kapetan’s high village of Krousonas by different routes. They hoped to launch flank attacks on the steadily growing throng of dropped parachutists west of Heraklion. He got out of the car with a Cretan comrade and climbed a spur to look down on the German position. They were closer than he thought and opened fire. Pendlebury and his friend fired back.

Here the fog of battle begins to cloud things. Pendlebury and a Greek platoon were still exchanging fire with the Germans when a new wave of Stukas came over and Pendlebury was wounded in the chest. He was carried into a cottage, which belonged to one of his followers, George Drossoulakis, who was fighting elsewhere and was killed that same day. But his wife Aristeia took him in and he was laid on a bed.” (Leigh Fermor).

The Germans then occupied the area, Kaminia, near Heraklion. “The place was overrun with Germans; nevertheless, one of them, who was a doctor, cleaned and bandaged the wound. Another came in later and gave him an injection. He was chivalrously treated. The next morning he told the women of the house to leave him. They refused and were later led away as prisoners. A field gun was set up just outside… and a fresh party of parachutists was soon in the house.” (Leigh Fermor).

The arrival of the second group of Germans signalled the end for Pendlebury. “Here was an English soldier dressed in a Greek shirt and with no identification. A neighbour’s wife saw them take him out and prop him against the wall. Three times they shouted a question at him, which she couldn’t understand. Three times he answered ‘No’. They ordered him to stand to attention and then opened fire. He fell dead, shot through the head and the body.”

His fate was uncertain for many years and was only properly established decades later. “Much later we learnt what happened to Pendlebury. At first his body was buried near the spot where he fell. Later, the Germans moved him to half a mile outside the Canea Gate beside the Rethymnon road. I remember bicycling past his grave the following year dressed as a cattle-dealer. It was marked with a wooden cross with his name on it, followed by ‘Britischer Hauptmann’. There was a bunch of flowers, and new ones were put there every day until the enemy shifted the grave to somewhere less central…

John Pendlebury's grave CWGC in Souda Bay

John Pendlebury’s grave CWGC in Souda Bay

Meanwhile legends were springing up. For the Cretans, it was the loss of an ally and a friend with a status close to that of Ares or Apollo. For the enemy, he was a baleful and sinister figure, a darker T.E. Lawrence, and perhaps he was still lurking in the dreaded mountains. Many bodies were exhumed until a skull with a glass eye was dug up and sent to Berlin – or so they said. According to island gossip, Hitler had been unable to sleep at night for fear of this terrible incubus, and kept the trophy on his desk. To the SOE officers who were sent to Crete to help the Resistance, he was an inspiration. His memory turned all his old companions into immediate allies. We were among friends. Pendebury – Pedeboor – Pembury – however it was pronounced, eyes kindled at the sound.”

The official family announcement of Pendlebury’s death in The Times, on June 2nd 1942, ended with words taken from Horace (Odes I.24): “quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus tam cari capitis.” [What restraint or limit to grief should there be for a man so beloved?]

Pendlebury was eventually buried in grave 10.E.13 of the Suda Bay War Cemetery, Crete. The inscription on his tombstone reads: “He has outsoared the shadow of our Night”, a quotation from Adonais: “An Elegy on the Death of John Keats”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Patrick Leigh Fermor addresses the Special Forces Club on its 40th anniversary

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

My thanks to Gaz Wild who discovered this gem in the PLF archive of the National Library of Scotland last year. There are two versions, one a pdf of Paddy’s original with many handwritten corrections, and a tidied up draft made after his death. It would have been written in 1985 for the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the Special Forces Club, and is referred to in a letter of Paddy’s to Rudi Fischer dated 10 November 1985, which appears in Dashing for the Post page 393, para 2. Paddy remembers especially John Pendlebury, Mike Cumberlege, and Manoli Paterakis.

A special treat for the holiday period. I hope that you enjoy it.

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary-tidied

Major Alexis Casdagli and the f*ck Hitler bookmark

image001Back in April I published an article about Major Alexis Casdagli. It was very popular and received quite a few comments.

I have received an invitation from his daughter Penny for a book signing at the Imperial War Museum to be held on Thursday 3 November. It is to me “and all my friends” and as I count you all as such, you must therefore be invited! Penny will be there with some of her father’s POW memorabilia including the now infamous fuck Hitler embroidered bookmark!

I am sure Penny would be delighted to see you if you have time to pop by.

Herberts & Herbertinas

Steven Runciman at Cambridge in 1925, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Steven Runciman at Cambridge in 1925, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Following up on the book review about Steven Runciman that we published in September, I have found this really enjoyable and in-depth article about Runciman and the new biography. Worth some of your time. It starts brilliantly “I met Steven Runciman several times towards the end of his long life. On one occasion he told me, as he told many people, that as a young man he had danced with a friend of his mother who, in her own youth, had danced with Prince Albert. He seemed slightly disconcerted when I insisted that he dance a few steps with me so that I could say I had danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince Consort, but he did it and our little turn round the room made me feel in some psychic way closer to the court of Queen Victoria.”

By Rosemary Hill

First published in the London Review of Books

Of course Paddy gets a small mention

Maurice Cardiff, the army officer who ran the council temporarily before Runciman arrived, recalls him vividly dealing with his improbable staff as they all gamely muddled through. ‘He had two kinds of yesses, one short, even clipped, was a true affirmative; the other, long drawn out with a dip in the middle, signified “no”. The distinction was lost on Paddy, who on the strength of the longest of drawn out “yesses” would set out on a six-week tour of the islands or a trip round the Peloponnese.’ No doubt Runciman was not displeased to have Leigh Fermor, always something of a loose cannon, out of the office for a while.

Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman

birdman-runciman

Birdman – a portrait of Steven Runciman by Cecil Beaton (1920’s)


A new book which may be of interest to some. Runciman and Paddy worked together at the British Council in Athens after the second world war.

By the time he died, in 2000 at the age of 97, Sir Steven Runciman knew that he was a “‘relict of a past age’”, the “embodiment of a…nearly mythical era.” Minoo Dinshaw’s brilliantly entertaining biography of the great historian of Byzantium restores him to public view and provides a vivid picture of many aspects of 20th-century Europe that now seem almost as remote as the crusades and religious schisms he described in his books.

First published in The Economist, 9 September 2016

Runciman was not aristocratic by birth—his grandfather, a shipping magnate, had established the family fortune—but he was immensely grand and well connected. His parents were the first married couple to sit together in the House of Commons. And his father, who was part of Lord Asquith’s cabinet before the first world war, survived the declining fortunes of the Liberal party to lead the doomed mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938. He could claim in 1991 to have known every 20th-century prime minister except Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who died when he was a toddler, and Bonar Law, “‘whom nobody knew’”. Introduced by his governess to French, Latin and Greek by the age of seven, he won scholarships to Eton—in an era of clever men like George Orwell, Cyril Connolly and Anthony Powell—and to Cambridge, where he lived in the “scornfully beautiful Great Court” of Trinity College. Through his friend Dadie Rylands (they were named the Tea Party Cats “for their velvety urbanity”) he met Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and other members of the Bloomsbury group.

Despite frequent trips to London to socialise with the “bright young people” (and be photographed with his budgerigar by Cecil Beaton), Runciman won the first-class degree and prize fellowship that were to launch his academic career. Of the Cambridge spies recruited in the 1930s, Guy Burgess was a pupil and friend and Anthony Blunt a “supercilious” colleague. Employing political and diplomatic connections to the full, he travelled in style to Romania, Bulgaria and Asia. He established his reputation with histories of the emperor Romanus Lecapenus, the first Bulgarian empire and Byzantium. When he inherited wealth from his grandfather in 1938, he gave up his university fellowship.

Unfit for military service, Runciman spent the war in the Balkans and the Middle East: in Sofia as press attaché to the British Legation, Jerusalem, Cairo and Istanbul. There he narrowly escaped a bomb blast, spent three years as professor of Byzantine history and art, and became an honorary Dervish. Between 1945 and 1947 he led the British Council in Athens. Osbert Lancaster, a witty cartoonist, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, who would become a glamorous writer, were there. Greece was lurching towards civil war and Runciman gained an abiding love for the country, pleasure from upstaging the British ambassador and the position of Astrologer Royal.

On his return to Britain, Runciman split his time between London and the Hebrides, and wrote the books that were to make his name: the ground-breaking three-volume “History of the Crusades”; and a succession of works on Byzantine history that drew on a wide variety of sources, Muslim and Greek, most notably “The Sicilian Vespers” and “The Fall of Constantinople”. Francis Birrell, a Bloomsbury acquaintance, had greeted Runciman’s first book with the acknowledgment that fewer than “half a dozen people were really competent” to review it (and that he was not one of them). There were no such reservations about later volumes, which were lively, authoritative and well received.

Runciman was not to everyone’s taste. He loved to tease, possessed a “queenly persona”, snubbed people who failed to interest him and “had a tongue like a viper if he wanted to use it”. He was a gossip who adored royalty; he entertained the Queen Mother to lunch at the Athenaeum Club every year; four queens are said to have attended his 80th-birthday party.

Despite being able to compose an alphabet of lovers with every letter except Q (“I shall die Qless”), he was to claim that he had “never been in love”. He retained a wide circle of loyal friends and was a popular laird of the Isle of Eigg, not least because he would invite his musical friends to stay and perform at the village hall. (Yehudi Menuhin was “memorably described” by the ferryman as “a handy man for a ceilidh”). He gave his name and time to numerous public bodies and causes, at home and abroad. A final apotheosis, three months before he died, for his service as Grand Orator to the Patriarch of Constantinople, was a descent by helicopter on the Holy Mountain of Athos.

Mr Dinshaw’s choice of subject for his first book is an inspired one. He interweaves the strands of a long and variegated life with sympathy, elegance and awareness of the wider picture. In recognition of Runciman’s fascination with the supernatural, chapters are headed with quotations from Arthur Waite’s “The Key to the Tarot”. He refers frequently to novelists such as Evelyn Waugh and Olivia Manning, authors of trilogies about the war. And his turn of phrase is as arresting as Runciman’s own—one family friend is “unceremonious, crapulous”. Mr Dinshaw has done Runciman proud. To whom will he turn his attention next?

Buy Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman. Click the link.

The Wildest Province

David Smiley (left) and "Billy" McLean in Albania 1944

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

The stories of the activities of those who served in SOE are still emerging thanks to the availability of hitherto classified archives, and the release of personal diaries and accounts by those involved, in many cases, after their deaths. We are able to understand so much more of the successes and failures of the country missions, the work of individuals, and the strategic political and military context. Diligent researchers and authors are accessing these materials and writing new accounts which can raise as many questions as they answer, and debunk myths such as the extent of communist infiltration of British operational Staff HQs.

I have just got around to reading Roderick Bailey’s The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle, which charts the story of SOE operations in Albania over the period 1940 to 1945. It is an incredibly well researched book, presenting the story from ill-fated early attempts to overthrow the Italians in 1940-41 by MI6 and SOE, to the commencement of the more organised missions of “Billy” McLean and David Smiley, through to the expansion into well over a dozen different teams spread over all parts of the country.

The hardships experienced by them all, especially during the long and harsh winter of 1943-44 are unimaginable. There are many examples of personal bravery, doggedness, and also treachery by Nationalist elements within Albania. The Partisans, led by this time by Enver Hoxha and his LNC staff were almost wiped out in the north as were the SOE missions there. Further ‘drives’ against the LNC in the south in early 1944 had almost similar results. Bailey’s book argues that the significant efforts put into these eradication attempts by the Germans, and the high quality of troops they deployed, demonstrated the success of the resistance by the LNC and the overall quality of the Partisan Brigades, as well as the positive impact of the SOE mission to Albania. However, the fighting quality of Albanian Partisans was variable resulting in continued debate about whether or not back some Nationalist groups. Growing suspicion of the British by the increasingly communist LNC made SOE’s mission in Albania during 1944 and into 1945 increasingly difficult and towards the end almost impossible.

For those who have an interest in SOE operations and Albania, or who want to understand more about British and Allied operations in the Balkans this is a highly recommended book. You will want to know what happens to the individuals and the story for some did not end in 1945, but continued with the British sponsored MI6 and CIA attempt to overthrow Hoxha’s regime in 1953 which ended in disastrous failure and death for many.

Read more on the Blog about SOE operations in Albania: 

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

Albanian Assignment

Buy The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle paperback here and the hardback here.

Among The True Elect – A meeting with Paddy

Maj A T Casdagli RAOC

Maj A T Casdagli RAOC

On 1 June 1941 Major A. T. Casdagli was captured in Crete  and taken to Germany where he was held in various prisoner of war camps. There, in spite of risk of confiscation and reprisal, he kept a secret diary. His daughter, Alexis Penny, has for the first time brought together his story in a book entitled Prouder Than Ever, illustrated with Major Casdagli’s photographs, embroideries, prison memorabilia and documents, all of which he carefully preserved, as if he knew that one day his story would be published.

Alexis Penny runs a blog and I thought you might enjoy sharing her account of meeting Paddy in 1987.

by Alexis Penny Casdagli

First published on Alexis Penny’s blog

I had the honour of meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1987 and was thrilled when, at that meeting, he launched into a vivid and detailed account of the famous abduction of the German General Kreipe during the night of 26 April 1944 on the Greek island of Crete. The circumstances that led to my being among those privileged few present are, I think, almost as extraordinary as Paddy’s telling of the story itself.

In September 1964, aged sixteen, I was travelling with my mother on a boat from Venice to Piraeus. I was to spend almost a year in Athens on my own before going to the Central School of Speech and Drama to train as an actress. Our boat stopped for half a day in Corfu. Although it was lashing with rain, my mother and I disembarked to explore the town. We didn’t get very far. A storm broke and we rushed into the nearest place to shelter, a cavernous, darkly lit, antiquated café, which didn’t feel Greek at all. It overlooked a large patch of ground, turning in the downpour to chocolate-coloured mud. Apart from a stocky man sitting pensively at the top of a table facing the door, who didn’t look Greek at all, we were quite alone. I noticed the man, while we warmed up, occasionally look at us. This wasn’t unusual. My mother, Wendy, a Captain in the Special Operations Executive in Cairo during the war, was still very beautiful with glorious red hair.

Suddenly, the door swung open and in ran two men, muffled like gangsters against the weather. They greeted the man at the table, who now ordered lot of drinks, and sat down and all three chatted loudly. Because of the deluge outside, we couldn’t quite hear their conversation, but it was definitely in English. Then a brandy arrived at our table for my mother and an invitation to join them. One of the men looked just like the actor, Albert Finney, whom I really admired and who, like my father, A T Casdagli, was born in Salford. We went over and soon learnt our host was Lawrence Durrell, the patch of mud a cricket pitch, the café Italian, and
the man who looked like Albert Finney was Albert Finney and the third man was the film director, Karel Reisz.

When Durrell discovered I was going to live in Athens for some months on my own, he told me I had to meet an artist called Maro Stathatos, neé Vatimbella. He scribbled her address and her telephone number on a cigarette packet and assured me – and my mother- that she’d make sure I’d meet ‘all the right people’ and that I would adore her. He was right on both counts and, in spite of the great age difference, Maro and I became firm friends.

I left Athens the following summer and, although we corresponded, I did not see Maro again for over two decades. In 1987, she travelled to London to stay with her son, John Stathatos, the poet and photographer. By this time, she was in a wheelchair and, I believe, about to be diagnosed with some kind of dementia. John decided to throw a party in her honour. Only her most cherished English friends were to be invited, probably a dozen of us, and among them would be Paddy, who happened to be in London.

The party was held in the top room of John’s house in North London, under the slant of its roof. I don’t know how John managed to get Maro and wheelchair up there but there she was, exquisitely dressed and looking radiant, her eyes sparkling.

In the opening lines of his poem about Maro, A Portrait of Theodora, Durrell
perfectly describes her look:

‘I recall her by a freckle of gold
In the pupil of one eye, an odd
Strawberry gold…’

Before long Paddy arrived. He was everything that is said about him, charming, debonair and a wonderful raconteur. Maro and he were thrilled to see each other again. Together they set the party to a different rhythm, of other times full of a wildness and gaiety that only sheer intelligence and a shared past can bring about.
It was delightful to see them sparring, reminiscing and teasing each other. Then Maro said,
‘Paddy, do tell us the story of the General, and how you kidnapped him! It’s a marvellous story and you tell it so well.’

Paddy looked rather embarrassed.

‘Oh no, Maro. It happened so long ago and everyone knows what happened anyway.’

‘No,’ said Maro quite firmly, ‘you must tell it.’

There was something in her voice that made him look up and, in that split second, something flashed between them. Maro was definitely demanding of Paddy not to refuse her in front of her guests. I also believe, in this moment, these friends for so many decades both realised this was the last time they’d ever meet, which was correct. Maro died two years later. But there was something else that does not go easily into words. Durrell’s poem about Maro ends,

‘Now only my experience recognizes her
Too late, among the other great survivors
Of the city’s rage, and places her among
The champions of love – among the true elect!’

If Maro was ‘among the true elect’ then, of course, Paddy was too. She was reminding him of that and inviting him to do something special with her and for her, something we would all remember, something to kick death down the stairs, something that without her asking it of him, he could not or would not be willing to do.

There was a pause. Paddy looked down into his glass. I held my breath. I thought he was going to refuse her. Then he said, ‘Well…’ and he was off. He gave the story a hell of a spin. Maro shed her years and looked just like she looks in the photograph below. She sat in her wheelchair as if it was a joke and belonged to someone else. She kept feeding Paddy with questions, prompting, cajoling him to go faster, to go back to collect a detail, to go slower so we guests could visualise the scene for ourselves. She was our Queen and Paddy was her gallant and we the guests knew, with adamantine certainty, that we were witnessing – no – that we were part of an extraordinary evening. And when Paddy finished speaking, we guests, as if one, got up to leave. We paid our respects to dear Maro and thanked Paddy again his wonderful re-telling of that powerful, historic affair and left. It was, as you guess, quite unforgettable.

Maro, Paddy and Eve (3)

Maro, Paddy and Eve Willis at the Royal Yacht Club, Alexandria, November 1941, Photograph by David Smiley, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum (Private Collection)

Something else gives that evening, in recollection, a special and even more poignant resonance. Only after my mother’s death in 1999 did I learn from several of her closest friends that she and Paddy had had an affair in Cairo, before she met my father. And an affair is just what it was, apparently – just one of those things – but no less delicious for that! I don’t know if my father knew but I wish I had and had been able to tell Paddy I was Wendy’s daughter. O, the slender threads that bind us!

I don’t think my father, A T Casdagli, ever met Paddy, but I can’t be sure, and, in the absence of documented material either one way or another, it is, perhaps, permissible to speculate it’s highly likely that they did – and if they did not meet, then they should have done! Surely, they could have easily met at Shepheard’s Hotel or the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo or brushed
shoulders in Athens at the GB – the Grande Bretagne Hotel – or, perhaps, even better, sat down together in a simple kafeneon in a village square somewhere in their beloved Greece.

It is impossible that Paddy living in Tara, the now legendary villa on Gezira Island in Cairo, did not know the name Casdagli. The magnificent Villa Casdagli, sadly torched by rioters on 1 February 2013, was a well-known Cairo landmark, and the Casdagli family, who lived there, were extremely wealthy and influential.

Although Paddy needs no introducing here, my father does. Alexis Theodore Casdagli was born in Salford, Greater Manchester on 10 April 1906 to Theodore Emmanuel Casdagli and Catherina Casdagli, née Ralli. After being educated at Stanmore Park Preparatory School and Harrow, he joined the family business, Emmanuel Casdagli & Sons with offices in Manchester and Cairo. On 23 September 1939, in Cairo, Casdagli was commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. In April 1940, he was posted to Palestine and in November, sent to Crete.

On 1 June 1941, he was captured in Sphakia when the Battle of Crete was lost and spent the
next four years in various prisoner of war camps in Germany. From the moment of his capture
until his reunion with his family in April 1945, he kept a secret diary, now published as Prouder
Than Ever by Cylix Press. Whilst in prison, Casdagli was taught to speak Greek properly
by a Cretan General, Solon Kaffatos, wrongly imprisoned by the Germans, and a lifelong
friendship grew up between them. It was with threads from General Kaffatos’ pyjamas that
Casdagli embroidered the inner panel of this map of Crete. The khaki threads come from
Casdagli’s shirt and the white threads from German parachute silk, found in the island after
the landing. I think Paddy would have loved it.

Casdagli, A T, Prouder Than Ever, compiled Alexis Penny Casdagli (London, Cylix Press, 2014)

John Craxton ‘A Poetic Eye’: A life in art from Cranborne Chase to Crete

John Craxton working on Pastoral for P.W., 1948 Photograph by Felix Man

John Craxton working on Pastoral for P.W., 1948 Photograph by Felix Man

The Craxton exhibition has moved to Salisbury. Running until 7 May 2016, the exhibition is curated by Ian Collins, and explores the colourful life of artist John Craxton and his incredible emotional, physical and creative journey from Cranborne Chase to Crete.

From an early age Craxton lived with artists Cecil and Amy Waller near Farnham, a short walk from the Pitt-Rivers Museum, where he was inspired by art, archaeology and the landscape of Dorset. This exhibition shows his art as it changes from dark to light and as he moves across Europe to Crete, but the strength and importance of line in his work remains constant.

Location: The Salisbury Museum

Paddy’s World – Transcript of John Julius Norwich’s talk for the PLF Society

Many blog readers and members of the PLF Society were privileged to her John Julius Norwich give a very personal account of his memories of Paddy at the Hellenic Centre in London on 10 November. My account of the evening is here

I am very lucky to be able to present the full transcript of the talk. Didn’t I say we had some good stuff coming up? Enjoy this 🙂

On 22 February 1951 my mother wrote to me: “Just off for my jaunt to Passy sur Eure to spoon with P. Leigh Fermor. Shy. Fluster.” At that time she had only just met Paddy and hardly knew him, and she would have been – as indeed she confessed she was – extremely nervous. But all was well. The next letter read:

Well, the gallivanting was a red letter. It took me a good two hours cross-country by Pontoise and Mantes. Strange little village house in which he lives – the loan of a Lady Smart – was warm and welcoming and I really felt myself back in the pond I was raised in. Fascinating conversation with a male man who delights in one. Paddy was superb. Cultured, funny, telling wonderful sagas, zealous. We had a charming filthy little lunch over the stove of sardines, Pernod and vin ordinaire and afterwards we walked for two hours over low wooded downs in sparkling sun, talking ten to the dozen about people, grievances and enthusiasms

That was the beginning. My parents saw quite a lot of Paddy and Joan – whom my mother thought looked just like Joan of Arc, except that Joan of Arc didn’t wear sun-glasses – in the next year or two. I was at Oxford at the time, and I remember seeing them once or twice during vacations, and being invariably knocked sideways – as everyone was – by the sheer brilliance of Paddy, and the glorious fun of him. Every time he walked into a room it was as if the sun had come out; never have I laughed more uncontrollably round a luncheon or dinner table, and as for his erudition, never have I met anyone who knew so much about everything under the sun, yet wore his learning so lightly. There seemed to be no language he could not speak, or indeed sing songs or recite poetry in: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Rumanian for a start, but there were probably several others as well.

Then, in the summer of 1955, a wonderful thing happened. By then I had joined the Foreign Service. My first wife Anne and I were by that time living in Belgrade, where I was Third Secretary at the British Embassy. Another letter arrived from my mother. She had been lent a Greek caïque by the ship-owner Stavros Niarchos for a fortnight’s sail through the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan were coming; could we come too? As far as we were concerned, it was a question of “can a duck swim?” At the end of August we drove down from Belgrade – which in those days had no airport – to Athens, and thence to the Piraeus, where we boarded the Eros.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and Paddy gave it a whole new dimension. It was the first time I had seen him, as it were, on his home ground, and it was wonderful. He lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, its customs and its literature. But nobody – and that was the wonder and joy of him and – I know I’ve said this before – nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly. His conversation was consistently dazzling. As we sailed from island to island – and in those days there were virtually no tourists, and I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, about Greek history, about Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, with those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men like Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the west over more of those words, like filioque and ͑ομοούσιον; but his talk roamed far wider than that, taking in the whole eastern Mediterranean and, in particular, Byzantium.

Now in England Byzantium has always had a terrible press. The great nineteenth-century historian W.E.H. Lecky wrote that it constituted, “without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…. There has been no other enduring civilisation, he claimed, “so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness”. He went on,

Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…. Slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtlety, or some chivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them to frantic riots…. The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.

Strong words indeed – although to modern ears that last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining. But that long campaign of denigration continued well into the twentieth century. It was only in the time of which I’m speaking – the fifties – that the writings of people like Robert Byron, David Talbot Rice and Steven Runciman, together with the new-found ease, speed and relative comfort of travel in the Levant, made the glorious heritage of the Byzantine Empire at last generally accessible. Now, thank heaven, the Empire has come into its own again, and is seen as a worthy successor to the two mighty civilisations which it followed and so beautifully combined, the Greek and the Roman.

The trouble was, for most of us, that we knew so little about it. Those old attitudes died hard. During my five years at Eton, the entire subject was the victim of what seemed to be a conspiracy of silence. I can’t honestly remember Byzantium being once mentioned, far less studied; and so complete was my ignorance that I should have been hard put to define it even in general terms till I went to Oxford. And, for heaven’s sake, why? After all, it was not even the successor, it was that same old Roman Empire of Augustus and Tiberius and Claudius and the rest, which continued to exist in its new capital of Constantinople for another one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years before it was finally captured by the Ottoman Turks on that fateful day, Tuesday 29 May 1453, after one of the most heroic sieges in all history. It was Paddy and Paddy alone who revealed to me its mystery and its magic, although he also recommended to me, among much else, that I should read an extraordinary book by Robert Byron, The Byzantine Achievement, which that most precocious author wrote when he was twenty-five. I read it with utter fascination, and ended up completely captivated. When I got home I devoured every book I could find on the subject, and the following year Anne and I drove to Istanbul for a week. Twenty years later I was to write a History of Byzantium myself – three volumes of it, which were necessary if I was to cover more than a millennium; but I very much doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, those three volumes would ever have been written.

One evening, I remember, Paddy was talking about a poor fisherman at Kardamyli – this was long before he went to live there – a friend of his called Strati Mourtzinos, who, he told us, might just possibly have been the last heir to the imperial throne of Byzantium. Suddenly his imagination took over, and he built a magnificent castle in the air. It seemed, by some miracle, that the Turks had restored Constantinople to Greece. Byzantium was reborn and Strati Mourtzinos was formally crowned as its Emperor. Paddy was later to work up the idea further in his first book about Greece, Mani:

Bells clanged; semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore. Then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greek fire roared, saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks….. In the packed square of Constantine, a Serbian furrier fell from a rooftop. An astrologer from Ctesiphon, a Spanish coppersmith and a money-lender from the Persian Gulf were trampled to death; a Bactrian lancer fainted and, as we proceeded round the Triple Delphic Serpent of the Hippodrome, the voices of the Blues and Greens, for once in concord, lifted a long howl of applause. The imperial horses neighed in their stables, the hunting cheetahs strained yelping at their silver chains. Mechanical gold lions roared in the throne room, gold birds on the jewelled branches of artificial trees set up a tinkling and a twitter. The general hysteria penetrated the public jail: in dark cells, monophysites and bogomils and iconoclasts rattled their fetters across the dungeon bars. High on his Corinthian capital, a capering stylite, immobile for three decades, hammered his calabash with a wooden spoon….

Would you like a bit more? All right: Continue reading

Paddy’s World

None who attended the talk by John Julius Norwich on Tuesday were disappointed, as he gave a wonderfully warm and personal tribute to Paddy. One Greek lady praised John Julius so highly for his talk and his work as a Byzantine historian that she described him as “the loveliest man living”!

By Tom Sawford.

Apart from a few hearing difficulties there was little to indicate that age had slowed John Julius. His voice was strong and his recall of the times he spent with Paddy and Joan was vivid. He quoted a lot from letters between Paddy and his mother, Diana Cooper, to emphasise the range and scale of Paddy’s intellect.

This was no hurriedly put together speech. Reading from prepared notes, it was clear that John Julius had planned the talk in detail and kept to his subject clearly answering the question “what was Paddy’s world?”. It appears that the answer was Europe, in particular, its more easterly reaches, with Greece, and the lost past of Byzantium of course, at its centre. Paddy rarely travelled beyond its boundaries, the same boundaries that I often describe as the widest extent of the Roman Empire. He travelled only once to South America, recalled in his Three Letters from the Andes, and visited North America on a single occasion at the invitation of the Greek diaspora. Apart from his wartime experience he never ventured into the Levant. Paddy’s world was the one that he had walked through in 1934, but one that he mastered by speaking all of the main languages and developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of its history and customs.

John Julius ended on a very personal note, and holding back some tears, he said that he was blessed to have known Paddy and clearly misses him. During questions he described Paddy as the least self-centred of men, rarely talking about himself, happier to entertain people with his stories and singing, and only talking about the Kreipe kidnap when pushed into a corner. We can probably recognise this Paddy; despite extensive writing we know little of his personal thoughts. Apart from his introductory letters to Xan Fielding, John Julius said that Paddy never spoke about his life before his “great trudge”.

Thank you to John Julius Norwich for a wonderful presentation, and to the PLF Society for organising a very successful evening.

Xan Fielding – the Armenian cousin of Vivien Leigh

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

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

Running the blog I am very fortunate to have all sorts of people get in touch with me about a whole range of interesting subjects. Few however can be so detailed, well researched and fascinating as Liz Chater’s site which is dedicated to research about the Armenian diaspora to India, and related matters. In this latest article on her website, Liz explores the truth behind Vivien Leigh’s Armenian heritage and then goes on to uncover some fascinating facts about Xan Fielding’s family who also have an Armenian background. Liz has also traced the Anglicisation of his surname from the Germanic Feilmann to Fielding. The following is a series of excerpts from the article on Liz’s site which can be visited here and includes many digital copies of original documents.

From Liz Chater’s website Chater Genealogy

I want to touch on the lives of Vivien’s cousins, and one in particular, Alexander Fielding-Wallace aka ‘Xan’ Fielding (above). Whereas Vivien had loving and devoted parents, her cousin Alexander ‘Xan’ never got to know his parents, his early start in life was beset with tragedy. Knowledge of the cousin connection between Vivien and Alexander has diminished with the passing of time, there are very few who mention his Armenian ancestors or those individuals he had in common with Vivien.

‘Xan’ was officially named and baptised Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace, he was born on the 26th November 1918. Seven days later he was baptised at the Sacred Heart Church In Ootacamond, India. In fact Alexander was baptised twice, the second occasion was on the 18 February 1919at the Catholic Church Middleton Street, Calcutta in the name of Fielding-Wallace. I can only speculate about why he was baptised on a second occasion but I cannot help wonder if it was directly connected to the process of becoming a member of the Feilman family and how he eventually ended up using the name of Fielding. This will become clearer a little further on in the blog.

Ten days after his baptism, his mother Mary Wallace (nee Feilmann) died on the 13th December 1918 in Ootacamond from fever.

The weeks and months that followed on from the death of Mary were to shape the life of Alexander forever.

Alexander’s father Major Alexander James Lumsden Wallace had a deep Scottish heritage. Born in Kirkcaldy in 1889 the name Alexander served four consecutive generations as a Christian name. A great deal of the Wallace family history can be found on the internet on various genealogy websites including many connecting records on Scotlandspeople.com.

Alexander Senior, for whatever reason, be it grief or the realisation that as young widower and an Army Captain he (later became a Major) was not in a position to bring up such a young baby, appears to relinquish all parental responsibility for the young Alexander. Ironically, Alexander Wallace (sr) remarried in London in 1925 to Marjorie Evelyn Hime. He retrained as a barrister in 1927 successfully passing the Hilary examination of students of the Inns of Court held in Middle Temple Hall in December 1926. In March 1927 he passed the Easter exams held in Inner Temple Hall, and passed his final Bar exams in December 1928. He and Marjorie can be found living briefly with her parents Walter and Florence Hime in Hampstead in 1929, by then they had a 5 year old little girl, Margaret Xanne Wallace, she would have been a half sister to Xan. Alexander and Marjorie’s marriage didn’t last and by the middle of the 1930s they had separated and presumably they divorced. He married for a 3rd time in 1944, passing away on the 19th November 1966 in Hampstead. I can find no evidence that young Alexander had any contact with his father, half sister or two stepmothers.

After the death of Alexander’s mother Mary Gertrude in 1918, he was effectively scooped up by her Feilmann/Fielding parents and into their still growing family. Suddenly Alexander’s uncles and aunts (brothers and sisters to his mother Mary Gertrude) became his brothers and sisters. According to Hugo Vickers in his biography of Vivien Leigh “…Xan was raised for eight years in the belief that he was the son of his grandparents…”

It must have been quite a shock to him to find out that the children he thought were brothers and sisters weren’t.

Alexander’s grandparents Percival Maurice David Feilmann and Mary Patricia nee Yackjee were just as keen as Vivien’s parents Ernest Richard Hartley and Gertrude Mary Yackjee to remove themselves from India back to England so they could offer their children and their grandchild the opportunities they would not have access to if they stayed in India.

Perhaps influenced by his grandfather and his uncles (more on them later in the blog), after joining the British Army, ‘Xan’ Fielding went on to become a wartime secret agent, writer and translator as well as serving as a Special Operations Executive in the British Army in Crete, France and the Far East. Lengthy biographical information has been written by author Patrick Leigh Furmor, although Alexander’s Indian Armenian family history has been overlooked. A blog by Tom Sawford on Patrick Leigh Furmor’s findings with references to Xan fielding can be found here

Alexander ‘Xan’ fielding married twice, his second marriage was to reconnect him with his own Armenian heritage because he married the widow of renowned Armenian artist Arshile Gorky, she was Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Magruder, her obituary can be read here.

Although Mougouch was not Armenian, her connection to an Armenian, and Alexander’s own Armenian links to India were perhaps a psychological tie to the ancestors of his grandmother. The connection would not have been lost on Xan, but the subtly of it has long gone for the modern-day enquirer searching out his story, but it is one that the Armenian community of today will enjoy and perhaps be a little surprised at too.
Percy Feilmann’s Anglicising to Fielding

Again, stepping sideways for a moment in this story of Armenian ancestry, and Vivien Leigh and her cousins, I want to turn now to the Feilmann name. Although not directly connected to Vivien Leigh they would have been an enormous support to her mother Gertrude when her own father died. It goes a little way to explaining how, with some astute forward thinking, Xan’s grandfather Percy Feilmann (Vivien’s uncle) and his family went from being German Jews from Hamburg to accepted members of colonial society in India and England as well as the South of France. How exactly did Alexander Percival Feilmann Wallace aka ‘Xan’ end up with the surname Fielding and also having his Armenian heritage set aside, just as his cousin Vivien’s Armenian heritage had been?

We have already seen the evidence of Xan being baptised twice, once in the name of his birth father Wallace, and secondly in a subtle shift to the double-barrelled surname of Fielding-Wallace. The name of Feilmann in Calcutta was synonymous with the animal hide and tannery business.[13] Hugo Vickers in his biography of Vivien Leigh described Percival Feilmann as a “box-wallah” i.e. a travelling salesman or merchant. This is incorrect, in fact Percy was involved with the tanning business, an area his uncle Maurice Feilmann was also involved in. They regularly exported raw hides to Europe, which were then made into shoes, bags, rugs and other items. It was Vivien’s uncle by marriage Ernest Lehmann who had married Vivien’s aunt Agnes (Gertrude’s sister) in 1898 in Darjeeling that was an agent of wooden boxes and chemical remedies.

As I looked into the Feilmann name and in particular the background of Alexander’s grandfather Percival Feilmann/Fielding I made some fascinating, if a little disturbing discoveries. Firstly, his full name was Percival Maurice David Feilmann[14] born in Hamburg on the 27th September 1864[15] according to the naturalisation document of “doubtful origin”, meaning that although his father John Bernhard Feilmann was born and brought up in Germany, Percy strongly maintained that his father had been naturalised as a British Subject, purely on hearsay no proof was ever remitted to this effect. Other independent records suggest that the Feilmann’s had a Jewish German family history. As remarkable as ‘Xan’ was during his lifetime, so indeed was his grandfather. Percy underwent the most unusual step of acquiring naturalisation as a British subject THREE TIMES during his lifetime each with a distinct ruthless calculation to erase anything German from his background. According to official records, the first application was made in India in 1905. Unfortunately there are no copies available of the 1905 certificate, but there are for the other two.

The next in 1916 and lastly in 1919 he was again granted naturalisation as a British subject.

Percy’s Special Naturalization Certificate was granted in India by the Governor General and he swore Allegiance to His Majesty King George 5th on the 6th November 1919 when his application was finalised. His naturalization application stated his parents were John aka Julius Bernhard Feilmann and Caroline Farlow, both British subjects. Although Julius is likely to have also been born in Germany he must have also applied for Naturalisation, although I haven’t been able to locate it yet (and having read Percy’s file, I am in some doubt as to whether Julius really was ever a naturalised British citizen). John and Caroline had married in Calcutta in 1855[16] and had at least 8 children, 6 of whom were born in Calcutta, Percy and his sister Alicia were the only 2 who were not.

Feilmann’s Anglicising to Fielding

… In the 1919 application Percy Feilman in a clear contradiction to his signed and sworn affidavit of 1916 attempted to change his father’s nationality. He had effectively disowned and sold his late father down the river for 30 Rupees – which is what it cost to have the naturalisation certificate endorsed in India.

Xan Fielding would have learnt at the knee of a master manipulator the techniques he would use in later life on how to successfully play one side off against the other during the course of his career. His grandfather had successfully displayed such qualities and had no hesitation in lying and denying his own heritage. Percy cleverly manipulated the Indian Government authorities into granting him three naturalisation certificates just because he didn’t want his father listed as German. The erasure of his origins was the most important fact Percy needed to achieve. It makes one wonder exactly how he managed to pull off such an unusual act of administrative penmanship and who exactly he was on particularly friendly terms with to achieve such a collection of certificates. They were so readily agreed to in India but were looked upon with suspicion at the Home Office in London.

Read the full article with documents here.

A Paddy centenary event in Verona – Omaggio a Patrick Leigh Fermor

Luigi Licci, who runs the bookshop La Libreria Gulliver in Verona, Italy, has contacted me to say that he will be running an event on 8 May to celebrate Paddy’s centenary and the publication in 4 June of Italian translation of The Broken Road, under the title La Strada Interrotta, published by Adelphi.

All are welcome at the event to be held at Villa Ca’ Vendri, Via Vendri 39, Quinto di Valpantena, Verona kicking-off at 8.45 pm. There will be talks by Paddy’s friend William Blacker, author of The Enchanted Way, and Matteo Nucci, a well known Italian author specialized on Greece who is also a regular contributor to the major Italian daily La Repubblica. The evening will finish with some excellent Italian food and wine.

Further details can be found on the La Libreria Gulliver website or telephone 045 8007234. If you are able to attend I hope that you have a wonderful time and only wish I could be there.

David Attenborough on John Craxton

attenborough

This is a powerfully enjoyable combination. In this short clip Sir David Attenborough looks back at the art of John Craxton, Paddy’s book cover illustrator, whose paintings reflect the artist’s intense encounter with the natural world.

The full programme was first shown in on the BBC Culture Show in June 2011.

To watch the video click this link.

The Craxton exhibition, A Poetic Eye, opened recently by Sir David runs at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester from 28th March to 19th September 2015, moving to Salisbury Museum early in 2016. The Museum is open from 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Saturday.

Among the Quick and the Dead

If you are coming to the end of a celebrated life, chances are that someone has already suggested writing your biography – a thought, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, that lends a new terror to death. The print run will be measured in thousands, and modern readers feel shortchanged unless all is revealed: sex, money, secrets, skeletons and dirty linen. The prospect is appalling but once you are dead, you probably won’t mind so much.

By Artemis Cooper

First published in The London Library Magazine, Spring 2013

I was commissioned to write the life of Elizabeth David by her literary executor, Jill Norman, in 1995 – by which time Mrs David had been in her grave for three years, and her papers had been expertly catalogued by Jill’s partner, the writer and book-dealer Paul Breman. Housed in two long rows of matching box-files, the archive marched the entire length of an airy studio in Rosslyn Hill. Most of the papers were to do with work, but my worries that there might not be enough material to make a good story soon evaporated. Her correspondents included Jane Grigson, Lawrence Durrell and John Lehmann, and in her own letters you can hear the irony in her voice, the salty chuckle.

And while her middle years were more sedate than her turbulent youth, what kept the narrative going was that in life Elizabeth was demanding and difficult. There was always a spectacular row brewing, with publishers, lovers, friends and family – sooner or later everyone fell foul of her, and a series of blistering letters (she kept copies) were left to tell the tale. When I wasn’t at Rosslyn Hill, sustained by cups of high-octane coffee, I was out interviewing. Derek Cooper told me how Elizabeth’s reluctance to be interviewed on radio almost wrecked an episode of The Food Programme devoted to her work, while Sybille Bedford described the way she could suddenly go cold on you from one second to the next. I had lunch with people who cooked a lot better than I did, and they often made me her favourite dishes. The exception was the novelist Paul Bailey who looked at what he had just bought for lunch and said, ‘I’m glad I’m cooking this for you and not Liza… She hated quail, and cauliflower.’

So I didn’t realise just how easy I’d had it until I began to tackle the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor, in 2001 – while he was still living it. I had known him since I was a child, and had already interviewed him for a previous book about wartime Cairo. He didn’t like the idea of a biography, and neither did his wife Joan. But friends had persuaded them that unless Paddy appointed someone to write his life, he might find himself the subject of a book whether he liked it or not. I was told I could go ahead, but I had to promise not to publish anything until after they were both dead, which I thought very sensible. I would be free to write without them looking over my shoulder, and they would never have to wince or groan at what I had written. The disadvantage was that it might be many years before the book saw the light, but that seemed a price worth paying.

Work got off to a slow start. Paddy did not like being interviewed, and would keep my questions at bay with a torrent of dazzling conversation. He was also very unwilling to let me see many of his papers, though the refusal always couched in excuses. ‘Oh dear, the Diary…’ It was the only surviving one from his great walk across Europe, and I was aching to read it. ‘Well it’s in constant use, you see, as I plug away at Vol III,’ he would say. Or, ‘My mother’s letters? Ah yes, why not. But it’s too awful, I simply cannot remember where they’ve got to…’ It was quite obvious that he and Joan, while being unfailingly generous, welcoming and hospitable, were determined to reveal as little as possible of their private lives. While they were more than happy to talk about books, travels, friends, Crete, Greece, the war, anything – they would not tell me any more than they would have told the average journalist. Oh to be back with the uncomplicated, properly archived dead!

Please don’t get me wrong, I did not wish Paddy and Joan dead. Far from it, because I realised I was going to need all the years that Providence could spare them just to write the book. I think I must have spent whole months in the doldrums: plodding away with the reading and the research, writing the easy passages, but feeling as if the book would never take off. It felt as heavy as cold dough.

In June 2003 Joan died unexpectedly, leaving Paddy numb with shock and grief. Joan had never stopped Paddy talking to me, encouraging us both to make the most of my visits to Kardamyli. Yet Paddy’s scruples did ease after her death. He talked more freely, but he could still wish he hadn’t said things. One afternoon he told me how he had written a long letter to his mother about the first great love of his life, Balasha Cantacuzene, soon after they began living together. He waited eagerly for his mother’s reply; but when it arrived, ‘all I found in the envelope was my own letter, torn to shreds.’ He looked up, and at that moment I suppose he caught a glimpse of his biographer’s cunning eyes, sharp teeth and whiskers. ‘You won’t put that in, will you?’ he said anxiously. ‘Oh no Paddy, of course not,’ I said, quickly resuming my expression of calm serenity.

As time went on I told similar fibs. When I stumbled on the fact that he had not been on horseback when first setting out on the Great Hungarian Plain (though he was a bit later) he looked rattled. ‘I thought the reader would be getting bored of me just plodding along on foot. I say, you won’t let on, will you?’ Oh no, Paddy, I won’t let on…

Most curious to me was how reluctant he was for the story of the Cretan vendetta to appear in print. It all began in occupied Crete in May 1943. As Paddy was checking a rifle he did not know was loaded, he inadvertently killed his Cretan guide, Yannis Tzangarakis. After the war Paddy sought out Yanni’s brother, Kanakis , to try and explain what had happened and beg his forgiveness. But Kanakis upheld the old Cretan code of honour, which demanded blood for blood. He used to lie in wait for Paddy on his regular returns to Crete, for reunions with his old brothers-in-arms. The feud was only dropped in 1972, and culminated with the traditional happy ending: Paddy was asked to baptize one of the Tzangarakis family. He called the little girl Ionna, after his wife Joan and the friend he had so tragically killed.

Paddy told me the story in great detail, and finished with the dreaded words ‘You won’t put that in, will you?’ Normally I would have reassured him, but this time I made a stand. ‘Why ever not?’ I asked. ‘Everyone concerned behaved according to their principles, until peace and reconcilliation triumphed: who could possibly object to that?’ He replied that the story was still a very sensitive one in Crete. I did not doubt it, but felt that enough time had elapsed for the tale to do no harm. I knew Paddy was still in touch with his god-daughter Ionna, then a young woman in her thirties, so I suggested we get in touch and ask her. If she didn’t mind, who else would? Paddy was not convinced: ‘I’ll have to dig out her address…’ And that was the last I heard of it, until I got in touch with Ioanna myself. How? By looking her up in his address book when he was taking a nap. Biography is not work for the morally squeamish.

There were certain things he hated talking about, one being his writing: ‘Well, you know, I just scribble away and then of course it has to be gone over quite a bit…’ Attempting to dig deeper, I once compared his vision of Greece to that of Kevin Andrews, author of a harrowing book which Paddy very much admired called The Flight of Ikaros. Andrews had much to say about the scars left by the Greek Civil War of the late 1940s, while in Paddy’s books it is scarcely mentioned. ‘His book shows Greece as Goya would have seen it,’ I went on, ‘wheras your Greece is more like a Claude Lorrain….’ It was a crude analogy, only made to get him to talk about why he wrote about Greece the way he did. Paddy looked utterly crestfallen and said, ‘Oh my God, am I that superficial?’

A romantic gallantry meant that he never talked about his girlfriends, either. After much cajoling he told me about Liz Pelly, to whom he lost his virginity; and after a while, I began to pick up the words and phrases he used to hint at his affairs. ‘We were terrific pals, you know,’ was one of them. Luckily, there were letters – but I had to be careful there, too. There was an open fireplace in his study, and I never wanted him to think of using it for anything other than keeping warm.

For people who went through the two world wars, letters were sacred. Not only did Paddy and Elizabeth keep all their letters, but their correspondents did too, giving you whole flights of conversation. Letters are the bedrock on which biography is built, and without their testimony, I don’t think biography as we know it is possible. I doubt that anyone can get under someone else’s skin on the basis of a lifetime’s worth of emails.

If writing lives of the recent past, the biographer relies on the goodwill of those who knew the subject best – usually their friends and family. It is they who are going to tell you what you need to know, show you the letters, point to possibilities. I have been blessed in those I have depended on, and have come to feel a great regard for nephews in particular – but I have never had to deal with a subject’s children, because neither Paddy nor Elizabeth had any. Elizabeth always knew she never wanted babies. Joan yearned for them, but by the time Paddy was ready to face the prospect of paternity it was too late.

Children must be one of the trickiest challenges one can face. How could they not resent this outsider rootling around? Even the most cooperative and understanding of people bring with them a freight of scruple and protectivness when they think about their parents’ lives.

I often thought about Elizabeth David and Patrick Leigh Fermor, when they first knew each other in Cairo towards the end of the war. Being young and attractive, they may well have fallen into bed together at some point. They remained in touch for the rest of their lives, having friends and books and tastes in common. They loved long lunches and dinners, too, especially if they stretched on for hours with plenty of talk and wine. Paddy drank for the sheer joy of being alive, and lived to be ninety-six. But after losing the love of her life in her later forties, Elizabeth drank to ease her sorrow. At one point the booze, mixed with sleeping pills, nearly killed her. She died aged seventy-nine.

Elizabeth was never in love with Paddy but she admired his books, and once invented an ice-cream – Glace au Melon de l’île St Jacques – inspired by his only novel: ‘[This] melon ice has a strange, almost magic flavour and that is why I have called it after that French Caribbean island so unfogettably conjured out of the ocean, only to be once more submerged, by Patrick Leigh Fermor in The Violins of Saint- Jacques’, she wrote in French Provincial Cooking. I made the ice for Paddy and Joan when they came to dinner one night. Paddy was delighted, and began thinking of all the artists, statesmen and writers who have given their name to particular dishes: Melba, Colbert, Demidoff, Rossini, Châteaubriant, Arnold Bennett… ‘I feel I’ve joined a very exclusive club,’ he mused. ‘An ice-cream – now there’s immortality for you! ’

A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete

Figure in Tree Lithograph by John Caxton (1944)

Sir David Attenborough introduces the new exhibition of paintings by his long-time friend John Craxton which has just opened at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

Watch Sir David’s introduction on video here.

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.

A new exhibition at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester will chart 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.

“John Craxton was one of the art world’s best-kept secrets, but his reputation has surged since his death,” said exhibition curator Ian Collins.”The retrospective exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge earlier this year attracted a huge number of visitors and we are hoping for a similar reaction here.”

“This exhibition will bring together many paintings and drawings never previously exhibited,” said Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum. “It covers an extraordinary range of work from his early life in rural Dorset to Greece where he lived after the Second World War.”

Born in London into a large, musical and bohemian family, Craxton’s nomadic habit began early – staying lengthily with relatives and family friends and briefly at school after school until being pronounced unteachable.

From an early age Craxton lodged with an artist uncle and aunt in an ancient cottage, a short walk from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Farnham. Within this Aladdin’s cave of treasures from all periods and places, Craxton educated himself in art history and archaeology while revelling in untamed Dorset.

At 14 he saw Picasso’s Guernica in Paris with the paint still wet, and at 16 he was drawing in the French capital until forced home by looming war. Rejected for military service, he drew his first masterpiece at 19 – heralding a long series of haunted paintings and drawings which were studies in entrapment. A procession of solitary figures in dark and threatened landscapes were all emblematic portraits of the artist himself.

Mentored by Graham Sutherland, and enjoying a close friendship with Lucian Freud, Craxton won youthful fame with pictures hailed as highlights of the Neo-Romantic movement (a label the artist hated). He had great charm and luck. In the week that the Craxton family home was blitzed, his textile designer friend EQ Nicholson was moving into Alderholt mill house, on the Dorset-Wiltshire border. Craxton moved in too, and reflected the surrounding scenery in many of his war-time pictures.

In the first post-war summer, of 1945, John and Lucian went to the Scilly Isles as stepping stones to warmer climes. A year later John Craxton led the partnership to Greece, where, while always travelling widely, he would be based for the rest of his life.

Pictures initially inspired by Samuel Palmer and William Blake, and then by Picasso and Miro, finally owed more and more to Cretan frescoes and Byzantine mosaics as Craxton developed a linear colour language all his own. His singular art evolved from dark to light and from disquiet to joy. But to the end he visited Cranborne Chase – with late elegiac paintings and drawings of dead elms which seemed to come full circle with his war-time pictures of six decades earlier.

The new exhibition at Dorset County Museum, curated by Ian Collins, John Craxton’s biographer and executor, will explore Craxton’s journey into light and colour – following his travels from Dorset to Greece. The exhibition will run from 28th March to 19th September 2015, moving to Salisbury Museum early in 2016. The Museum is open from 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Saturday. Full details here.

A review of Artemis Cooper’s Cairo in the War 1939–1945 by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

So it seems we can still find the occasional piece of Paddy’s original writing to get us excited. He reviews his good friend Artemis’ book, remaining very formal and making no mention of his friendship! Who else though was better placed to review this book than one of the residents of the infamous Tara?

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

This article first appeared in the TLS of September 1, 1989.

 

Artemis Cooper’s introductions and accompanying text to Duff and Diana Cooper’s published letters, A Durable Fire (1983), and to Lady Diana’s Scrapbook (1987), had a strong dash of her grandmother’s humour and lightness of touch; but only a most clairvoyant critic could have predicted Cairo in the War, 1939–1945. Her account, though it sticks punctiliously to fact, is as hard to put down as good fiction . The research is wide, detailed and scrupulous. She lays hold of the military background – the dramas unfolding just off-stage, but threatening to break out of the wings at any moment – with a soldierly grasp; and she seems to have talked at length with all the surviving dramatis personae.

Unleavened by personalities, military history can be heavy on the hand, and politics too, once the urgency has gone. The author’s skill redeems them both. As for the complex country and people on whom the war had impinged, she has segregated the strands with great discernment – the Copts, the Arabs, the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, all the sects and enclaves of the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Helleno-Judaeo-Ptolemaic nexus of Alexandria, the fellahin and the effendis and the nationalists, the rivalries of the Western European powers, with their local allegiances and clients and phobias, and, above all, the reigning Albanian dynasty and the predominating British presence and tutelage.

The author is particularly helpful and fair about the tensions between the last (in the persons of the young King Farouk and the proconsular Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson), which culminated with British tanks all round the Palace, near-abdication and an enforced change of government: the German advance in the desert was the raison d’état. The enemy was held and driven back; certain froideurs remained at the top; but, astonishingly, the surface of the luxurious, dazzling and hospitable social life was hardly ruffled. At times this resembled the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo, at others the Congress of Vienna: “The Kings sit down to dinner and the Queens stand up to dance . . .”. The pool at the Gezira Sporting Club sluiced hangovers away, the willow smacked the leather, polo-balls whizzed there all afternoon, and roulette-balls plopped at the Mohammed Ali after dark. There were enticing restaurants and enterprising night-clubs, party followed party and bedtime often coincided with the first muezzin’s call from the minaret of Ibn Tulun. Guilt about rationed London bit sharp now and then, but for those on short leave from the Desert, not deep.

Among the missions and staffs and the permanent officials, intrigue and gossip were as intense as in Mrs Hauksbee’s Simla. The author is eerily well informed about Groppi’s Horse and the Short-Range Shepherd’s Group and, a fortiori, about GHQ at Grey Pillars and SOE at Rustam Buildings (particularly the latter) and all the cross-currents, promotion-mania and the clashes – eg, “Bolo” Keble and Fitzroy Maclean – the political schisms of Southern Europe and their repercussions in Egypt. The pages on spies and counterespionage and raiding forces are one of the most impressive parts of the book.

The author is perceptive about the frustrations and amusements of all ranks of the assorted armies. There were shaming moments, but on balance it seems that arrogant behaviour towards the Egyptians may have been more frequent among the commissioned than the other ranks. In the case of a pasha who was insulted beyond endurance by a very drunk officer, nemesis was brisk and condign. The oblivious offender was inveigled to the pasha’s house. Most would have kept quiet, Artemis Cooper observes, but he was soon telling everyone, “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night — dashed unpleasant. I got buggered by six Nubians.”

In spite of the strains on high, the diplomatic world, the military, the cosmopolitan, the purely decorative and the intellectual interwove to a surprising degree, and lasting friendships were formed. The contribution of Greeks such as Seferis, and transplanted Greece-addicts like Lawrence Durrell and Robin Fedden, were important here. Poets and writers teemed, and Personal Landscape, the Nilotic equivalent of Horizon, was impressive. The author unfolds the catalogue of personalities with humour and understanding, though she is unduly dismissive of Sir Charles Johnston: cf his sonnet “The Lock”, and his Pushkin translations. The only omissions I can spot are Elizabeth David, the painter Adrian Daintrey and the writer-painter Richard Wyndham. Perhaps she should have included an eccentric cavalryman called Colonel Wintle, who got into hot water for taking a surrendered Italian general to luncheon, in full uniform, at the Turf Club.

The book ends with the calamitous post-war aftermath. Like the abstruse anecdotes, the range and choice of the photographs will promote sighs of delighted recognition and occasional ground teeth, and it is hard to think, on finishing, how this demanding book could have been handled better, more lucidly or more entertainingly.

You can buy Artemis Cooper’s Cairo in the War: 1939-45 on Amazon.