Category Archives: Abducting a General

‘All was going according to plan’

7th May 1944

Messages are beginning to bear fruit….and Paddy realises they will have to travel further westward. They still don’t have a plan on how to depart but they are now getting better links with Cairo via the radio set at Dryade and their brave messenger, George Psychoundakis. Paddy and George stay on in Genna a further night.

In the evening Manoli, Billy, the General and the main party travel further westward to the village of Patsos, where they stay in a sheepfold in a gorge by a tumbling stream.

Paddy writes: ‘On the night of the 7th, the party with the General moved by an easy night march to Patsos, which was only two or three hours away from me. They were being fed and guarded by George Harocopos and his family, (George, a thoughtful and well read boy, later to become a gifted journalist, was the son of a very poor, but very brave and kind family, all of whom had been great benefactors to the wandering British). All was going according to plan.’

But when we saw the branding mark, We only stole the ram, Sir

6th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain based in Genna – messengers coming and going as they desperately try to arrange a safe beach to be picked up from. Giorgos Psychoundakis returns with Dick Barnes – known as Pavlos.

Paddy writes: ‘This reunion with Dick – like many occasions in occupied Crete when one wasn’t actually dodging the enemy – became the excuse for a mild blind. ‘Mr Pavlo and I set off to Yeni,’ writes George Psychoundakis in ‘The Cretan Runner’, “where we found Mr Mihali (me) and Uncle Yanni Katsias. We sat there till the evening and the sun set. Yanni took us to the east side of the village where they brought us some food and first rate wine and our Keph (well-being) was great. The four of us were soon singing. Mr Mihali sang a sheep-stealing couplet to the tune of Pentezali, which went:

Ah, Godbrother, the night was dark
For lamb and goat and dam, Sir,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only stole the ram, Sir.

The ram – the head of the flock – meant the General.’

Billy, Manoli, the General and the rest of the kidnap team remain in the sheepfold above Gerakari.

‘This is very satisfactory news’

5th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain in Genna, coordinating messengers. They are joined by Giorgos Harokopos and Giorgos Psychoundakis, who then heads back off to the wireless set run by Dick Barnes at Dryade with a message.

The main party in the evening leave Gomara and walk up the Amari valley via the village of Gourgouthi to their next hideout – a sheepfold above the village of Gerakari.

And in London Orme Sargent, the senior Foreign Office officer at Under Secretary level working to SOE, sends a memo to Harry Sporborg, deputy to Major-General Colin Gubbins, Head of SOE, expressing great approval of the coup. ’I have just heard of the success of an Allied Mission in Crete in capturing a high German officer. This is very satisfactory news and I hope it will be possible to get the German out to Cairo as I believe is intended.’

[1] National Archives HS 5/416

‘… if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible’

4th May 1944

The main party are still hiding in the valley of Gomara. Billy Moss records in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’:
“It rained all night long , and, as was inevitable, we are soaked to the skin. Around me I see a picture of human misery, and I know that if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible.”
Spirits are lifted in the afternoon when messengers arrive from Sandy Rendel and Dick Barnes.

Meanwhile in Fourfouras Paddy and Giorgos leave the comforts of Giorgos’ family home and travel 14kms further up the valley to Pantanassa…..searching for the whereabouts of a working radio set.

Paddy writes:

“Among the cypresses of Pantanasa George and I ran into a hitch. The Hieronymakis family, we knew, were in touch with at least one of our wireless stations. By ill luck it was about the only village in the region where neither of us had ever been. The Hieronymakis knew all about us, we knew all about them, but we had never met and there was no one to vouch for us. The old men were adamant: ‘You say you are Mihali, Mihali who? And who are Siphi (Ralph Stockbridge) and Pavlo (Dick Barnes)? Never heard of them. Tk. Tk. Tk! Englishmen? but, boys, all the English left Crete three years ago …?’ The white whiskered faces turned to each other for corroboration, beetling brows were raised in puzzlement, blank glances exchanged. They went on calmly fingering their amber beads, politely offering coffee. It was no good raging up and down, gesticulating under the onions and paprika pods dangling from the beams: every attempt to break through was met by identical backward tilts of head with closed eyelids and the placidly dismissive tongue click of the Greek negative. They wouldn’t give an inch until they knew (as they say) what tobacco we smoked. We could, after all, be agents provocateurs.”

“This impressive but exasperating wall of security was only broken at last, after two precious hours of deadlock, by the entry of Uncle Stavro Zourbakis from Karines – a friend of us all. Everything dissolved at once. In greetings, recognition, laughter, Raki, a crackle of thorns and sizzling in the hearth and the immediate summoning and despatch of runners to the two sets in the North West.”

Paddy and George move on for the evening back down the valley to the village of Genna, where they were to stay for several days:

“The goat-fold of Zourbovasili lay in rolling biblical hills. There was a round threshing floor nearby, where George and I could sleep on brushwood with a great circular sweep of vision. This place was to become, during the next three days, the centre of all going and coming of messengers as plans changed and options elapsed. But now, after the scrum of the last few days it seemed preternaturally quiet in the brilliant moonlight. Ida towered east of us now, Kedros due south: The White Mountains, which had come nearer to us during the day, loomed shining in the west. How empty and still after our huddled mountain life, was this empty silver plateau! A perfect place to watch the moon moving across the sky and chain smoke through the night pondering on the fix we were in and how to get out of it. There was not a sound except a little owl in a wood close by and an occasional clank from Vassilis’ flock.”

the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete

3rd May 1944

Another day spent in their hideout in the valley of Gomara. They are still stuck and have no contact with Cairo, and no idea of when, where or how they will get off the island.

But they have a plan….in the evening the party decide to separate.

Billy, Manoli Paterakis, the General and the main kidnap group will stay in Gomara.

Paddy and Giorgos Tyrakis will travel in the evening up the Amari to Fourfouras, Giorgos’ home village, in search of a working radio station.

They still remain in the news in the UK – the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete.

Front page news

2nd May 1944

If only they knew!

Paddy, Billy, the rest of the kidnap team and the General spend another miserable day in the ditch, fearing capture…but it is getting quieter for them, as the German patrols are now searching further up the mountain.

Meanwhile in the UK ….they are front page news – in the Express, Telegraph, Guardian and Times!

In the evening they decide to move a kilometre or so westward – to the valley of Gomara.

Giorgos Pharangoulitakis describes it his memoir ‘Eagles of Mt Ida’: ‘We decided to shift towards the valley of Gomara, just west of Ayia Paraskevi, a part where they had searched every inch, and where we could take up a better defence posture. It was a steep rocky place with a hole like a sort of grotto under a cliff where we could hide for the night.’

In the end they spend the night and the following day under the branches of ‘a very large pear tree …it was like an eagles nest’.

‘the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him’

1st May 1944

A long and dangerous day spent hiding in the ditch outside Agia Paraskevi. Probably the low point for all in the journey, and where they are most vulnerable to discovery by the German cordon – Moss records Kreipe’s realisation of his personal need for the success of the operation in order to ensure his own survival:

“I think the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him.”

They can hear German patrols, sometimes as close as 50 metres, searching for them.

Paddy records that food is brought to them from Agia Paraskevi:

‘Antoni unpacked bread, cheese, onions, a dish of fried potatoes, some lamb and a napkin full of ‘kalitsounia!’ – crescent shaped fritters full of soft white cheese and chopped mint. Then a big bottle of mulberry raki came out and a handful of little tumblers. ‘This will warm you up,’ he said filling them: ‘White flannel vests all round.’ He splashed politely over to our guest with the first one, saying ‘stratege mou” (my General) then to the rest of us. They went down our throats like wonderful liquid flame. ‘And here,’ he said pulling out a gallon of dark amber wine, ‘red overcoats for all.’

What they don’t know is that in Cairo SOE have made a public announcement that Kreipe has been kidnapped and has already been taken off the island by submarine and is on his way to Cairo.

However they are still stuck, with no way of contacting Cairo and have no idea – as yet – of how they will get off the island.

The descent of Mt Ida

30th April 1944

The descent of Mt Ida has been exceptionally arduous in the dark so the day is spent recovering in Vorini Trypa, the large cave above Nithavris on the side of Mt. Ida.

That evening, in the rain and mist, they leave the cave and head further down the mountain into the bottom the Amari valley.

It is a difficult and very dangerous journey as the Germans are hunting for the General and are in all the villages immediately around them.

They first head west to the village of Kouroutes and then south until they stop and hide in a stream bed outside Agia Paraskevi.

Paddy records: Rain came swishing down: ‘Marvelous for the olives’, Manoli murmured. We waded through a stream and began to climb again. The rain turned to sleet. At last the village of Aya Paraskevi was only half an hour away. The Germans would have sentries out, perhaps patrols; better to stop there. We piled into a ditch mercifully overgrown with cistus, thyme and myrtle; protection from view, but not from the rain.

The ascent of Mount Ida in wind and snow

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

29th April 1944

The weather is deteriorating and the kidnap team need to walk over the side of Mt Ida and down into the Amari valley. It will be a long and arduous day and night.

At midday the party leave Petradolakkia and skirt the side of the Nidha plateau. They are heading for the mitato belonging to Roti, where they will rendezvous with Kapetan Petrakogiorgos and his andartes who will escort them over the side of the mountain. They climb up to the plateau of Akolyta and in rain, wind and snow they head over until they can see signal fires in the Amari telling them it is safe to descend. They shelter in the remains of a mitato before descending. After a long and arduous descent they are led to Vorini Trypa – North Hole – a large cave with tunnels and caverns heading off from the back of it. This cave has been used by the Resistance on several occasions before this visit, and is used by Dunbabin and George Psychoundakis in August 1944.

“Ach so, Herr Major.”

28th April 1944.

PLF and the kidnap team spend the day at Petrodolakkia with Xylouris and his andartes, where they take many photos. Tom Dunbabin has sent 3 members of his team from the Amari to the hideout, including Reg Everson and a wireless. The plan is to send a message to Cairo so that an evacuation date and beach can be identified, but the radio is broken. They are stuck. PLF sends off various messages, including one to Dick Barnes who has a radio station near Rethymno. The team are joined by Grigori Chnarakis, Nikos Komis and Andoni Papaleonidas, who have walked up from the kidnap point. They are meant to bring with them the General’s driver, Alfred Fenske, but he has been killed on the journey.
At Bletchley Park the codebreakers decode a German signal stating that Kreipe has been kidnapped.

PLF records the following incident:

‘A curious moment, dawn, streaming in the cave’s mouth, which framed the white crease of Mount Ida. We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said:

“Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”

The opening line and a bit of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart. I was in luck.

” … Nec jam sustineant onus” I went on
“silvae laborantes geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto”

And continued through the other stanzas to the end of the ode. After a few seconds silence, the General said: “Ach so, Herr Major.” For five minutes the war had evaporated without a trace.[i]

[i] William Stanley Moss recorded this mutual love of the Classics in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’

‘Paddy discovered that the General is a fair Greek scholar, and, much to the amusement of our Cretan colleagues, the two of them entertained each other by exchanging verses from Sophocles.’

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the team

27th April 1944.

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the General and the rest of the kidnap team north of Anogia. In the evening they begin the long trek up the slopes of Mt Ida to the Xylouris sheepfolds at Petrodolakkia. On the way they rest briefly in one of the many mitatos (cheese huts) in the area.

Third time lucky … the kidnap is on!

26th April 1944.

Third time lucky…..the Kreipe kidnap team leave the Zographistos farmhouse outside Skalani and walk to the kidnap spot and wait for the General to drive past. At 9 pm they stop the car and the kidnap begins. The General is handcuffed and hidden on the back seat of the car. They drive past the Villa Ariadne and through Heraklion, entering by the Agios Giorgos gate and leaving by the Chaniaporta. They drive on into the mountains, stopping at Yeni Gave, where Billy Moss, Manoli Paterakis, Stratis Saviolakis and the General leave the car, heading up a track for a hideout in a ravine north of Anogia. PLF and Georgos Tyrakis drive for a further 2 kms and dump the car at Campo Doxaro, at the start of a track leading to the Cheliana ravine and the sea. They take with them the pennants from the car and head to the village of Anogia.

Abducting a General – locations by each day

The more observant amongst you may recall that this post was actually first published way back in February. That was to keep the time sequencing of the operation that ended with the kidnap of General Kreipe intact. Between then and now Paddy had been joined by Billy Moss and detailed planning and reconnaissance was underway, including refining the actual details of the kidnap action, rehearsing timings, working on signals, the dress to be worn (the famous captured German outfits), and of course, for any operation of this type, the extraction plan. I’ve repeated the post as the introduction to the series of narratives put together by Chris White which will commence in earnest tomorrow.

Over the next few weeks I am honoured to be able to share with you some work by Chris White, co-author of Abducting a General, who has spent many weeks and months on Crete over the years tracing the precise route and locations of the kidnap. In 2020, Chris posted this series on Facebook. He has approved it being repeated on here. Stories will pop up from time to time, and will run virtually day-by-day during the time period of the kidnap. I hope that you enjoy it.

Over to Chris ….

We start on February 4th 1944. Paddy parachuted on to the Katharo Plateau and was met by Sandy Rendel, whose base was in a cave a few miles away. The cave is now known as the Spiliaou ton Anglikon, the cave of the English. This week I have been exploring the area around the plateau and visited the cave…..a long stony walk through woods and ravines and along the sides of steep valleys.

The photos: the first shows where the cave is (centre of picture) in the landscape; the next three show the cave in more detail.

Abducting a General – locations by each day

Over the next few weeks I am honoured to be able to share with you some work by Chris White, co-author of Abducting a General, who has spent many weeks and months on Crete over the years tracing the precise route and locations of the kidnap. In 2020, Chris posted this series on Facebook. He has approved it being repeated on here. Stories will pop up from time to time, and will run virtually day-by-day during the time period of the kidnap. I hope that you enjoy it.

Over to Chris ….

We start on February 4th 1944. Paddy parachuted on to the Katharo Plateau and was met by Sandy Rendel, whose base was in a cave a few miles away. The cave is now known as the Spiliaou ton Anglikon, the cave of the English. This week I have been exploring the area around the plateau and visited the cave…..a long stony walk through woods and ravines and along the sides of steep valleys.

The photos: the first shows where the cave is (centre of picture) in the landscape; the next three show the cave in more detail.

Paddy’s account of the kidnap

Anyone who has sent me an email knows that I am notoriously slow in responding and the same sometimes goes for displaying material sent to me on the blog. I have actually been “saving” this item for a suitable occasion since it was sent to me by the ever patient Alun Davies in February 2014. Alun has probably forgotten about this now, but I thought that now really is the very best time to publish this as many of you will have a little more time on your hands if confined.

Please do also read the comment below by Chris White (co-author/editor) of Abducting a General for further information about this draft, and the others.

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

Alun emailed me as follows:

I had an email from Chris P*** this week asking me to send him a copy of Paddy’s personal account of the kidnap of General Kreipe. Paddy had sent it to me in 2005 when I first told him we were going to walk the route. I had his rather rough notes typed up in Cardiff and sent a copy to Chris P*** at the time. Chris has apparently lost it – and needs a copy as someone is (you may well know this) publishing another book about the Kreipe story and Chris wants to ensure that they have Paddy’s version. [Ed – I expect this is Chris White’s Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete]

In any case as it is on my screen this evening I will send you a copy – just in case you have not seen it before.

Best wishes

Alun

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

 

Event reminder: The Cretan Legacy, 26 October at 7.00 pm

If you are sorting out your diary for next week and happen to be in London on Wednesday, a good way to spend the evening may be to come along to Waterstones Piccadilly to this special event.

Our good friend, ex-Coldstream Guards officer, sometime Pilgrim, and author of In the Dolphin’s Wake and Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim, Harry Bucknall has been busy over the summer arranging a very special event be held at Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday 26th October at 7pm. The Cretan Legacy, a panel discussion, will examine the SOE abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe carried out by Paddy Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss and men of the Greek Andantes on Crete in 1943.

The panel, chaired by former Irish Guards Officer and SAS Squadron Commander, James Lowther-Pinkerton, will include Alan Ogden, SOE expert and author of Sons of Odysseus; Chris White, contributing author to Abducting a General; Rick Stroud, author of Kidnap in Crete and Dr Klaus Schmider, military historian, senior lecturer at the Dept of War Studies, RMA Sandhurst and Wehrmacht expert. With audience questions, the panel will discuss whether “this Hussar Stunt” – as Kreipe referred to his capture – was worth the undertaking in both the short and long term and assess its achievement, legacy and place in the annals of military history, endeavour and folklore.

No doubt there will be wine and a chance to chat to friends old and new so do come along if you can to Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday 26th October at 7pm. All you have to do is reserve a £5 ticket in store or by emailing Piccadilly@waterstones.com. I think just turning up on the night will be just fine too.

Event: The Cretan Legacy

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

The kidnap gang pose before the action (Courtesy of Estate of William Stanley Moss)

Our good friend, ex-Coldstream Guards officer, sometime Pilgrim, and author of In the Dolphin’s Wake and Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim, Harry Bucknall has been busy over the summer arranging a very special event be held at Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday 26th October at 7pm. The Cretan Legacy, a panel discussion, will examine the SOE abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe carried out by Paddy Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss and men of the Greek Andantes on Crete in 1943.

The panel, chaired by former Irish Guards Officer and SAS Squadron Commander, James Lowther-Pinkerton, will include Alan Ogden, SOE expert and author of Sons of Odysseus; Chris White, contributing author to Abducting a General; Rick Stroud, author of Kidnap in Crete and Dr Klaus Schmider, military historian, senior lecturer at the Dept of War Studies, RMA Sandhurst and Wehrmacht expert. With audience questions, the panel will discuss whether “this Hussar Stunt” – as Kreipe referred to his capture – was worth the undertaking in both the short and long term and assess its achievement, legacy and place in the annals of military history, endeavour and folklore.

No doubt there will be wine and a chance to chat to friends old and new so do come along if you can to Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday 26th October at 7pm. All you have to do is reserve a £5 ticket in store or by emailing Piccadilly@waterstones.com

Accounts of audacious abduction of Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe now in Greek

Coincidence always plays a special role, particularly in times of war. One example is the abduction of German General Heinrich Kreipe in occupied Crete in World War II by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Stanley Moss and their Cretan comrades: Kreipe had not been their initial target. Two chronicles of what is probably the most famous kidnapping of WWII are now available in Greek, the first Fermor’s own “Abducting a General” and the second Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight,” telling the tale of the fascinating adventure as experienced by the two protagonists (both by Metaixmio publications and translated by Myrsini Gana).

By Elias Maglinis

First published in Ekathemarini

Who was Fermor’s original target? The despised General Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller, commander of the Nazi forces in Iraklio and responsible for the massacres at Viannos. Yet even the idea of the abduction was a matter of coincidence: Following Italy’s capitulation to the Allies in September 1943, the Italian commanders on Crete, and particularly General Angelico Carta, became aware of the danger they were in. Carta asked for a private meeting with Fermor to discuss the terms of his surrender to the British and, more importantly, his escape from the Greek island.

Indeed, Fermor and Carta came to an agreement and, according to plan, the Italian general was spirited away by boat from a remote part of the island to North Africa, together with Fermor who briefly accompanied him. In Cairo, Fermor came up with the idea that they could orchestrate something similar with Muller – though this time without the occupier’s acquiescence. Fermor thought of the plan after the Allies had made it clear that they had no intention of landing on Crete; he believed the scheme would provide a much-needed boost to the Cretans’ morale and ridicule the Germans to boot.

Fermor presented his plan to his superiors, got the green light (though not without some reservations), formed his team and was promoted to the rank of major. After his return to Crete in early 1944, the scheme was put into action, but a chance occurrence nearly scuppered the entire operation: Muller was being transferred to Hania. Instead of calling the whole thing off, Fermor and Moss simply chose a different target: Muller’s replacement in Iraklio, Kreipe. No one knew much about the German general other than that he had just arrived from the Russian front.

Working with Cretan resistance fighters Manolis Paterakis, Giorgos Tyrakis, Stratis Saviolakis, Michalis Akoumianakis, Ilias Athanasakis, Antonis Zoidakis, Mitsos Tzatzas, Grigorios Chnarakis, Nikolaos Komis, Antonios Papaleonidas and Pavlos Zografistos, Fermor and Moss embarked on their ambitious, audacious plan. As Artemis Cooper writes in her comprehensive biography “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” the two Britons were shocked by what they were about to do, excited and terrified at the same time.

The chronicle of the kidnapping reads like a novel, full of moments of uncertainty and unexpected humor, plenty of drama (such as the death of Kreipe’s driver) but also humanity (how Fermor and Kreipe developed what could almost be described as a friendship in the rugged conditions of Mount Psiloritis).

The abduction was carried out at Knossos on April 26, 1944. The team managed to reach the southern coast of Crete and escape to Egypt on May 14 after a monumental trek filled with danger, deprivation and bold achievements. German retribution was swift and brutal, and many today question the wisdom of the plan. After the war, however, Fermor was informed that when news of Kreipe’s abduction reached the German barracks in Iraklio, many a soldier popped open a beer and celebrated: Kreipe had not been a popular commander.

Ultramarathon on the kidnapping trail

Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight” brought fame to the achievements of the small band of resistance fighters. It became a best-seller in the UK and was made into a film in 1957, with Dirk Bogarde in the role of Fermor. More ethnographic than historical, the book is the romantic narrative of a man who experienced the events firsthand. The publication includes maps of the area and a wealth of photographic material.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “Abducting a General” tells the tale of those events through the eyes of the great British writer. The two friends had agreed that Moss, who kept a journal throughout the course of the operation, would be first to tell the tale, so Fermor didn’t write his book until 1965. It includes war reports Fermor sent from Crete, as well as a recent guide by Chris and Peter White with all the information needed to follow the abduction trail.

This chapter of World War II history remains so popular that the British company ECR Sport Limited this year is organizing an ultramarathon on Crete along the route, dubbed the KreipeRun 2016. On May 20 and 21, 250 runners will cover the same 154 kilometers as Fermor and his band in a maximum time of 30 hours.

The Kreipe kidnap from the Victor comic 1973

Victor coverIn 1973, the Victor comic, well-known to all boys of a certain age, published the story of the kidnap in their usual style. The British, brave and clever fighting against the odds. The Germans, cunning and morally bankrupt.

I have been able to obtain a copy of the Victor from October 6th 1973. Read and download the pdfs and enjoy! Page 1 and Page 2.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Event – Patrick Leigh Fermor and SOE in Crete

Costas Mamalakis at the Historical Museum of Crete. Photo: Mike Sweet.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and SOE in Crete – Costas Mamalakis is giving the next PLFS lecture. Costas Mamalakis is Crete’s leading expert on the Second World War and the resistance in Crete. Consultant in Modern History to the Historical Museum of Crete, Costas has been the moving force behind the publication of several memoirs of the resistance, including the most recent: ‘Tom J. Dunbabin: An Archaeologist at War’.

Costas will be spending the week prior to this presentation reviewing documents in the PLF Archive in Edinburgh, and will be able to bring new insights to the many documents in Greek that have yet to be properly evaluated. He will be supported by Chris and Peter White and Gabriella Bullock.

Monday 1 February, 7.15pm at Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London, W1U 5AS. Contact info@ patrickleighfermorsociety.org.

Before and after: Paddy, Ralph Stockbridge and others in Crete

One thing I must do sometime is to take a trip to Edinburgh to visit Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland. In the meantime I am very lucky to receive emails from time to time from Chris White (co-editor of Abducting a General) and it always pleases me to be able to share these with you. Chris has sent some more before and after photos from Crete.

I was visiting the PLF Archive in April and came across these photos ………..they were taken at a sheepfold called Korakopetra above Anogia – probably in May 1943, and feature – in the group photo – PLF and Ralph Stockbridge (slightly behind PLF on the right, wearing glasses) surrounded by Mihali Xylouris and members of his band. It was at this location at around this time that PLF accidentally killed his great friend Yanni Tsangarakis (described in ‘Abducting A General’ and Artemis’ biography).

Peter and I tracked down the sheepfold last year and I revisited there in May of this year with a Cretan historian called Costas Mamalakis.

Related articles:

Ralph Stockbridge obituary.

Leaving Kastamonitsa for the kidnap – before and after pictures

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An award in memory of William Stanley Moss at University of Crete

Gabriella Bullock (Left) and guests at the inaugural awards 21 July 2015

Gabriella Bullock (Left) and guests at the inaugural awards 21 July 2015

In July, Gabriella Bullock, one of “Billy” Moss’ daughters, travelled to Crete with her husband Hugh to present the inaugural prize in Billy’s memory at the University of Crete in Rehtymnon. The annual William Stanley Moss award is open to graduate students of the Faculty of Philosophy studying the subjects of Philology, History and Archaeology.

Gabriella is funding the award from royalties of her father’s books as an expression of gratitude and debt to the Cretan people on behalf of her father. She described the whole experience as ‘very moving, very dignified and warm and emotional for everyone.’

The ceremony on 21 July was attended by the Metropolitan of Rethymno and Avlopotamos the Reverend Nicholas Nikiforakis, the Rector Euripides C. Stephen, the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy Lucia Athanassakis, the Dean of the School of Education Anthony Chourdakis, the Chairman of the Department of Literature Angela Kastrinaki the President of Department of History and Archaeology Antonia Kiousopoulou, Emeritus Professor Anastasios Nikolaidis, Professors of academic departments of the University of Crete, Foundation staff and students.

Gabriella and Hugh went on to deliver talks in Anogeia and Patsos where they met many relatives of those who worked with Billy and Paddy in those desperate days of the war.

Leaving Kastamonitsa for the kidnap – Chris White talk 19 May

Some of the kidnap gang leaving Kastamonitsa April 1944

Some of the kidnap gang leaving Kastamonitsa April 1944

It is with great pleasure that I am able to release these images sent to me by Abducting a General co-editor, Chris White which show the locations photographed in April 1944 of the team leaving Kastamonitsa in preparation for the kidnap a few days later. Chris has sent me colour pictures taken by him on a recce to Crete just last week of the same locations for comparison.

Chris and his brother Peter are the experts on the kidnap and the route taken before, during and after the kidnap. They edited Paddy’s account which was published last year as Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete, and have spent many months on the ground in Crete over recent years finding new information and making contact with the survivors from the time and the now aged offspring of those directly involved in the Kreipe kidnap and the resistance to the German occupation.

The brothers will be presenting their most up to date findings using newly discovered material from Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland and the Liddell Hart Archive at the next PLF Society event to be held at the Hellenic Centre near Paddington on 19 May. Further details in this link. They make the whole thing come alive so if you want to find out more do please come along one and all. There is plenty of room at the venue.

Buy Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete here.

Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance

An interesting new perspective on SOE, the kidnap, why the SOE guys and gals were able to cope with the hardships of their particular kind of warfare, and how it may help us all live healthier lives. Well that appears to be the claim which we could take with a pinch of apparently unhealthy salt! A review of Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance
by Chrisopher McDougall.

by Chris Maume

First published in the Independent, 9 April 2015.

One of the most daring, madcap episodes of the Second World War was the kidnapping by Patrick Leigh Fermor, dirty trickster supreme, and his band of British eccentrics and Cretan hard men, of the German general Heinrich Kreipe.

Seventy years later, youngsters in inner-city London and the suburbs of Paris were becoming experts in parkour, using the urban landscape as an obstacle course to be negotiated with joyful freedom and intense physical discipline.

Christopher McDougall connects these two points, and many in between, in a heady confection that encompasses, among other subjects, military history, archaeology, Greek mythology, neat ways to kill a man and ideas on health and fitness that might just change your life. A line from an old M People song kept coming to mind as I read on, the one about searching for the hero inside yourself.

The Kreipe caper involved an insane trek across the murderous Cretan terrain, which by then should already have done for the motley crew of poets and classicists who had been tasked with detaining on the island German soldiers who would otherwise have been marching on Stalingrad. Had they failed, the progress of the war may have been very different, as Winston Churchill would later acknowledge.

Few of the Special Operations Executive men who joined Leigh Fermor in the Mediterranean could be described as hero material, however: they tended to be, like him, romantic misfits, many of whom might not even have got into the regular army. They proceeded by brain-power and imagination, but on the rugged island of Crete they also needed to hack it physically. And McDougall thinks he knows how they did that.

“The art of the hero,” he contends, is the art of natural movement,” and his answer to the question of how the Cretan mob were able to achieve so much boils down to two basic strands: one is the idea that true physical strength comes not from muscle power but from the fascia profunda, the net of fibres that envelopes our bones and muscles and imparts the energy of “elastic recoil” that allowed us to spring across the savannah in pursuit of lunch, as well as chuck the rocks or unleash the slingshot that killed the lunch for us.

Learn to use your fascia profunda, says McDougall, and you’ll find yourself able to do things you never thought possible. The Cretans, skipping across peaks and valleys like mountain goats, do it naturally, and the SOE boys, he says, learned from them.

The other ancient secret which Leigh Fermor and Co unwittingly accessed, according to McDougall, was the idea of using fat, rather than sugar, as fuel. The fatty-meat, low-carb diet which sustained our hunter-gatherer ancestors until agriculture came along and spoiled everything, has resurfaced from time to time (remember the Atkins diet?), and McDougall believes it’s the way to go.

Cut out those grains, all that pasta and anything remotely sugary, and get some flesh inside you, he recommends. Do that while preventing your heart rate exceeding a certain mark (for which there’s a simple formula) and soon you’ll be lean, lithe and fighting fit. The guru of carbo-loading for distance runners, Dr Tim Noakes, he reminds us, eventually recanted – and, McDougall notes, the SOE boys and their local comrades could cross the mountains on little more than a few nuts and a drop of wine.

He constructs a fascinating edifice of ideas around these two notions, and eventually finds a modern-day hero of his own. But the pleasures of the book are as much to do with the fascinating panoply of characters, war heroes all, British, Commonwealth and Cretan, whose exploits contributed so much to Hitler’s downfall.

Buy Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance

My Meeting with the Byron of Our Times

colour posterA curious mix of over the top homage to Paddy; criticism of Billy Moss’ “stilted” writing style; accusation that the editors of Abducting a General produced a “short, blatantly padded book” with the “last 20 pages provid[ing] a detailed guide to the abduction route that few visitors to Crete, apart from fanatics, would willingly endure”; followed by self-promotion of the writer’s own books about Errol Flynn, John Huston, and Somerset Maugham. Something here for everyone to gnash their teeth over including a claim that Paddy had a Greek son: but all-in-all quite enjoyable!!!

By Jeffrey Myers

First published in Standpoint Jan/Feb 2015.

I met the handsome, charming and dashing Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) in May 2002. He belongs with authors as men of action — Melville, Conrad, Hemingway, Malraux and Orwell — who did not go to university and learned their lessons from violent experience. Leigh Fermor, whose reputation is based on three impressive achievements in travel, war and literature, has enjoyed after death a well-deserved revival of interest in his life and work. In 1933-34, in his late teens and after expulsion from school, he spent a year walking south-east across Europe, passing through nine countries from Holland to Turkey. In his leisurely 1,700-mile ramble, rough when solitary and poor, hedonistic as guest and lover, he moved effortlessly between peasants and patricians. Though his journey did not equal the agonising treks of Henry Morton Stanley through Equatorial Africa or of Wilfred Thesiger across the Empty Quarter of Arabia, it was a considerable feat of social and cultural exploration.

In April 1942 Leigh Fermor landed in Crete by parachute and set out, with resourcefulness and courage, on his second and most famous Byronic adventure. He spoke modern Greek and joined a handful of British Special Operations Commandos sent into the mountains of the Nazi-occupied island to organise the resistance and unleash a guerrilla uprising. His men attacked airfields and blew up a fuel base. He also watched helplessly as the Nazis took revenge by destroying whole villages and massacring thousands of civilians. While on Crete, he fired a rifle he thought was unloaded and killed a Greek comrade, setting off a blood feud that was not settled for many decades.

Leigh Fermor’s greatest wartime achievement was the daring capture of a German general, Heinrich Kreipe, on April 26, 1944. Dressed in German uniforms, Leigh Fermor and his men set up a roadblock. As the car slowed down around a sharp curve, they poured out of the darkness and restrained the general, who shouted, swore and punched until he was handcuffed and shoved onto the floor of the vehicle. They then smuggled their prisoner through the main town, Heraklion, west along the coast and into the mountains.

The general turned out to be a cultured captive, well versed in the classics, and had many lively talks with Leigh Fermor before he was taken to Egypt and then to a POW camp in Calgary, Canada. A moment of true understanding came when Kreipe, gazing at the white hills, quoted Horace’s Ode (1.9) — “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte” (See, the snows of Mount Soracte glare against the sky) — and Leigh Fermor quoted the rest of the Latin poem from memory. In April 1972 they appeared congenially together in a Greek television programme. When asked if he’d been treated well, the general replied, “Ritterlich! Wie ein Ritter” (Chivalrously! Like a medieval knight).

Leigh Fermor’s bold exploit inspired a book, Ill Met By Moonlight (1950), by his comrade-in-arms William (Billy) Stanley Moss and a 1957 film of that name with Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. (The title comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Moss — handsome, six years younger than Paddy and a veteran of the North African campaign — was educated at Charterhouse and spoke French and Russian but not Greek or German. He does not provide any historical or military background, bases his memoir on the diary he kept at the time and writes in a plain, often clichéd style. The first rather uneventful half — mostly marching, hiding and planning, with a few close calls — expresses admiration for the Greek partisans and leads up to the daring capture of the much older General Kreipe (born in 1895).

Leigh Fermor carries “an ivory-handled revolver and a silver dagger” and cuts a dashing figure. They had hoped to capture General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, a cruel “tyrant much loathed by the islanders” who was later hanged as a war criminal, but he was unexpectedly replaced by Kreipe. The capture takes place between the German headquarters and the general’s residence in the Villa Ariadne, built by Sir Arthur Evans during his excavations of the ancient Minoan palace of Knossos. After driving through Heraklion in the Opel, with Leigh Fermor wearing the general’s hat, they bluff their way through 22 German checkpoints — though one map shows only four checkpoints. (The gullible sentries, some suspected of complicity, were arrested and probably sent straight to the Russian front.) The commandos evade all the German patrols searching for Kreipe and, with many difficulties, bring him through the slopes of Mount Ida and down to the British ship on the south coast.

Kreipe — “a thick-set man . . . with thin lips, bull neck, blue eyes, and a fixed expression” — had come for a rest in Crete after two tough years on the Russian front. Concerned more for his dignity than for his life, he worries about the lost symbols of his rank and valour: his general’s hat and the Knight’s Cross of his Iron Cross. Though fairly stoical and cooperative, he complains about his minor injuries, poor food and lack of sleep. He and Leigh Fermor also exchange Greek verses from Sophocles, but do not establish a close connection. Though the commandos leave evidence suggesting only the British, not the Greeks, had captured the general, the Germans razed the nearest village and eventually killed 2,000 civilians.

Leigh Fermor’s version of the incident, Abducting A General (John Murray, £20), published last year, is a short, blatantly padded book. The foreword provides useful historical background. Only half the 189-page work contains the main text. Seventy pages reprint his hastily written intelligence notes sent from Crete to headquarters in Cairo. The most interesting dispatches describe his accidental  shooting of his close Cretan friend and his part in the executions, without trial, of Cretan traitors. (When I asked Sir Alec Kirkbride, the last surviving officer of T.E. Lawrence’s Arabian campaign if he had really killed a lot of lawless Arabs after the capture of Damascus in 1918, he casually replied, “Oh, not that many.”) The last 20 pages provide a detailed guide to the abduction route that few visitors to Crete, apart from fanatics, would willingly endure.

Leigh Fermor’s account has already appeared in his anthology Words of Mercury (2003) and been the basis of the two chapters on Crete in Artemis Cooper’s biography (2012). Based on memory rather than diaries and written in 1966, 22 years after the event, Abducting A General, like his earlier travel books, is filled with invented details. He gathered intelligence, carried out sabotage and prepared the Cretans to help the British recapture the island. His major difficulties were faulty radio transmitters, lack of transport, “rain, arrests, hide and seek with the Huns, lack of cash, flights at a moment’s notice, false alarms, wicked treks over the mountains, laden like a mule, fright among one’s collaborators, treachery, and friends getting shot”.

He is excited by the constant danger and, when disguised as a Cretan, by his close proximity to German soldiers. His book is more detailed than Moss’s about the history and geography of the island, more stylish and lyrical. He is devoted to his brave, loyal and sacrificial Cretan friends and comrades, whose language he speaks and whom he idealises: “we could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support: a sentiment which the terrible hardships of the occupation, the execution of the hostages, the razing and massacre of the villages, only strengthened.” But he ignores the conflicts between the Greek Communists and the pro-British partisans, which led to a civil war after the liberation of Greece. His hyperbolic and Homeric tributes to the Cretans — “their capacity to cross several mountain ranges at the same lightning speed on an empty stomach after swallowing enough raki and wine to lame other mortals for a week” — are excessive.

The main dangers of the abduction were the possibilities of stopping the wrong car, encountering other German vehicles and provoking savage reprisals. The identification and immediate escape in April 1944 was helped by Kreipe’s coloured metal pennants on the front fenders of his car. When seized, Kreipe lashed out with his fists, was manacled and had his legs tied. The whole episode took only 70 seconds. His badly injured driver, who could not keep up with the escaping partisans, had to be killed.

Since Leigh Fermor could also speak German, he writes more fully and positively than Moss about his relations with Kreipe, who bears up stoically under humiliating circumstances. The youngest son of the large family of a Lutheran pastor in Hanover, Kreipe was 48 years old and unmarried. He had a broad pale face, grey hair and jutting chin. A professional soldier, he had served in the army since 1914 and had recently won a Knight’s Cross on the Russian front. His moods during this ordeal ranged from cheerfulness to depression, and he sometimes slept under a blanket with Leigh Fermor and Moss, huddled together against the piercing mountain cold. Leigh Fermor writes in comradely fashion: “The General’s behaviour was most friendly and helpful throughout and he put up with the hardships of mountain travel and living rough with fortitude. Moss and I had the impression that he had lost his nerve a bit after the first contact with us. He certainly made no attempt to escape.” If he had broken his word, he would have been shot by the Cretans. On May 14, 1944, after 18 anxious days in the mountains, they all boarded the ship to Cairo. Spared the disastrous German defeats in Russia and in Greece, Kreipe remained in British custody until 1947.

The crucial military and moral question, which Moss ignores and Leigh Fermor answers with qualified affirmation, is whether the abduction of General Kreipe was worth the brutal German reprisals: whole villages destroyed and the massive slaughter of men, women and children in August 1944. The survivors rejoiced; the dead remained silent. But Leigh Fermor’s heroic exploit, still famous all over Greece, boosted morale during the dark days of the German occupation and gave a glimmer of hope for the final victory.

Leigh Fermor’s third major achievement was the travel books about his youthful journey that appeared decades later: A Time of Gifts (1977), Between the Woods and the Water (1986), and the unfinished and posthumously published The Broken Road (2013). A slow, procrastinating writer, blocked for much of his life by the weight of too much material, he resembled Penelope unwinding at night what she had woven by day. His wanderings abroad to write in Benedictine and Trappist monasteries, which he described in A Time to Keep Silence (1953), were also an escape from writing.

Fermor often indulges in unseemly displays of erudition. His learned digressions and serpentine style, his mannered mandarin, even baroque prose, which Lawrence Durrell called truffled and dense with plumage, were influenced by the work of Charles Doughty, T.E. Lawrence and Norman Douglas. This florid style clashes with his descriptions of colourful gypsies and cave-dwelling bandits — dressed in sheepskin jackets, high boots and billowing breeches, with daggers tucked into their belts and bandoleers charged with cartridges — rioting, feasting and firing their carbines into the air or, during a vendetta, into their enemies.

Fascinated by his achievements, I corresponded with Paddy (as everyone called him) while writing my biography of Errol Flynn. He had written the screenplay of one of Flynn’s best movies, The Roots of Heaven (1958), and been on the scene during the disastrous filming in French Equatorial Africa. He thought Hollywood screenwriting was a lark that enabled him to hang around and drink with colourful characters in an exotic setting. Flynn, Trevor Howard and Paddy were all drinking heavily, and there was some conflict when Paddy fell in love with the French singer Juliette Gréco, the co-star and mistress of his boss, the producer Darryl Zanuck. In a vivid letter of May 5, 2000, Paddy described the horrendous conditions — heat, disease, swarming insects and dangerous animals — while making the movie in the tropics. He got on well with the flamboyant Flynn, a kindred spirit, and gave a perceptive account of his character:

Errol seemed distinctly more intelligent than the run of actors. Full of original tangents, a great narrative gift, and a great sense of humour. He often referred to his learned father, a marine biologist at Belfast University. He loved reminiscing, largely about Hollywood. I asked him what the leading and most beautiful stars of the day were like. “Well, pretty good,” he said. “They’ve all got my scalp, I’m afraid.” There were lots of memories of his early days there, and his adventures. He was very funny about a yacht he shared with David Niven, and the girls they would take on trips. “We looked on them to supply the food. One pretty girl came on board with nothing but a loaf and a contraceptive device.” He took his acting seriously, and was absolutely adequate in his not very exacting role. He was on very good terms with all the other actors. His physical condition wasn’t too bad, troubled by hangovers now and then.

When I wrote again while working on my life of John Huston, who directed The Roots of Heaven, Paddy vividly recalled the savage Darwinian scene. Bangui, now in the Central African Republic, was the roughest and most primitive place of all:

The forests near Bangui were inhabited by very intelligent pygmies. We were “shooting” in the forest when the clouds broke and a large deluge of rain came down. Our procession of vehicles headed back to the ultra-modern hotel, like an up-ended mouth-organ on the banks of the Shari river, which was full of crocodiles. I got there with Errol and his girl, and we were astonished to find the whole of the ground floor a foot deep in termites, over which small bright green frogs from the Shari were leaping about in parabolas, while Juliette’s mongoose ran riot among them, killing and swallowing as many as he could, two legs sticking out of his mouth. A strange sight.

I also got in touch when writing my life of Somerset Maugham. Paddy was an Old Boy of Maugham’s alma mater, The King’s School,  Canterbury, and as a student had read Of Human Bondage. He was also a close friend of Maugham’s admirer and confidante Ann, the wife of Ian Fleming. After the war he had visited Maugham’s luxurious Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat. Since Paddy lived in Kardamyli, a remote village in the southern Peloponnese and my daughter was a Foreign Service officer in Athens, it was a perfect time to see him. So we rented a flat for three weeks, overlooking the sea and a few kilometres from Paddy’s village.

I rang him up from a local shop and he immediately invited me to come round for a talk. Since his house was hidden away and hard to find, he walked up to the main road and hailed me as I approached. Tall and straight, white-haired and sun-tanned, he was at 87 still a virile and impressive figure. He had designed his low, rambling, whitewashed, red-tiled home himself, and called it “a loose-limbed monastery and farmhouse with massive walls and cool rooms”. It had a shaded patio facing the Mediterranean, a flourishing garden, and a huge library filled with books in ancient and modern languages. He had created the setting he wanted and the life he wished to lead, travelled widely and wrote well, charmed everyone and seemed content.

Paddy wanted to correct Ann Fleming’s version of his embarrassing visit to Maugham, which she had exaggerated — with shattered drinking glasses and blood on the floor — to amuse Evelyn Waugh. Maugham had asked Ann to bring Paddy with her for dinner, and then (always generous to good-looking young authors) had invited him to stay on as his guest and write at the villa. Unnerved by Maugham’s severe expression and icy manner, Paddy drank far too much. Falling victim to the perverse tendency to talk about the very thing he was strictly forbidden to mention — Maugham’s debilitating speech defect — Paddy quoted the absurd belief that everyone in the College of Heralds had a stammer. That was bad enough. But noting that the day was the Feast of the Assumption, he mentioned Correggio’s painting of that subject in the Louvre and repeated a stammering friend’s bon mot: “That is a m-most un-un-w-warrantable as-assumption.”

Deeply offended, Maugham became even icier. Rising from the table and taking his leave, he rescinded his invitation by saying: “G-G-Goodbye. Y-Y-You will have left b-b-before I am up in the m-m-morning.” The wretched Paddy, who had not intended to wound his host, contrived to make matters even worse. Instead of waiting for the valet to pack his bag, he hastily threw his things together and caught a precious monogrammed sheet trimmed with Belgian lace in the zipper of his suitcase. He rushed down the stairs with the rest of the sheet trailing behind, frantically tore part of it off and escaped from the villa with shreds of fabric hanging out of his bag.

After our talk, Paddy signed some travel books I’d brought along. Specially buying another one, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958), in the village shop, he inscribed it, surrounding his words with a cloud and a sketch of birds flying around the title page. When he mentioned bees and my daughter used the unusual word for “buzz” — zouzounizo — which he hadn’t heard for years, he praised her fluency in Greek. After drinks in his house Paddy invited all of us to dinner at a simple restaurant, set on a promontory overlooking the glistening sea, which he’d bought for Lela, his former and now ancient cook. I noticed that the cook’s son Giorgos — who greeted us warmly in excellent English and recommended the best dishes — was tall, blond, blue-eyed and very un-Greek looking.

Paddy, who didn’t see well at night, asked me to drive him home in his battered old Peugeot, which had stiff gears, negligible brakes and holes in the rusted metal of the floor. As we went down a steep hill towards the sea, which had no barrier, I suddenly realised that the brakes didn’t work and had to swerve violently to avoid submersion. Paddy, who’d had many close calls, was jovial and unconcerned about the dangerous episode. My instinctive feeling that Giorgos was Paddy’s son was confirmed when my daughter returned to Athens and impressed her Greek friends, who knew the truth, by mentioning that she’d dined with a national hero.

Paddy was the Byron of our time. Both men had an idealised vision of Greece, were scholars and men of action, could endure harsh conditions, fought for Greek freedom, were recklessly courageous, liked to dress up and displayed a panache that impressed their Greek comrades. Paddy also reminded me of a Bedouin chief’s tribute to another famous warrior, T.E. Lawrence: “Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood, the man, in freedom free; a mind without equal; I can see no flaw in him.”

Abducting a General – with Chris and Peter White, hosted by Harry Bucknall

Abducting a GeneralWaterstone’s Piccadilly will host an evening with the editors of  Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete on Thursday, 12 March 2015, at 7:00 pm. This event is free but please reserve your place by email: piccadilly@waterstones.com

One of the greatest feats in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s remarkable life was the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, on 26 April 1944. He and Captain Billy Moss hatched a daring plan to abduct the general, while ensuring that no reprisals were taken against the Cretan population. We are thrilled to welcome historians Chris and Peter White here for an illustrated presentation on Fermor and this extraordinary event of the Second World War. This evening will be hosted by author and film-maker Harry Bucknall, author of Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome. Further details: 0207 851 2400

Elias Athanassakis – the car spotter – retells the story of Kreipe’s kidnap

My thanks to Nick Galousis who highlighted this You Tube video in which Elais Athanassakis, who passed away in 2002, tells the story of the build up to the kidnap and his part in it.

Paddy describes Elias in Abducting a General as “a very bright and enterprising young student working in our town organisation” and it was he who had to commit to memory all the details of the General’s car, even down to the size of the headlight slits, so as to ensure that the correct car was chosen on the busy road. He reconnoitered the route with Paddy and had the task of observing the road to signal back when the General was approaching and whether or not he was accompanied.

The video is in Greek which is great for those of us who speak Greek 🙂

The letter to the mysterious Mr Todhunter about Bob Bury

A letter dropping out of a book, in a hotel room in Ithaka. The letter referring to a wartime colleague in Palestine from 1941. The letter writer being Paddy to a mysterious “Mr Todhunter”. A delightful little article. Who can identify Mr Todhunter? What do we know about Bob Bury in Palestine? We know he met Paddy in Crete in 1944. You can comment at the end of this article or contact me.

By Andrew Pippos

First published in The Australian, 17 January 2015

A common feature among reviews of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s work is a reference to him as the greatest travel writer of his time. Because of such reviews I’d intended to read Fermor some day — the highest praise is a memorable introduction — but still hadn’t got around to it when I came across his 2003 collection Words of Mercury on the bookshelf of a hotel room in Ithaka, Greece, about two years ago.

A handwritten letter dropped from between the pages when I opened this book — and it may as well have fallen out of the sky, it may as well have been addressed to me, given my surprise to open a book by a famous writer and find inside a letter from the author himself.

Addressed to “Dear Mr Todhunter”, the letter was signed “Paddy Leigh Fermor” and dated 2004. Fermor turned 89 that year. His handwriting was both pretty and difficult to read: some words resolved only after you stared at them long enough. In the letter, Fermor asked Todhunter for help with his next project. Before coming to the nature of this help, he first offered some background: in 1941 he was visiting an Allied camp near Mount Carmel, Palestine, when he met a troop of Kurdish fighters led by a “clean-shaven figure with gold-rimmed spectacles”, whom Fermor learned was an Englishman named Bob Bury.

This Bury, “a delightful chap”, was training Kurds to form resistance groups in the event the Nazis broke through in the Middle East.

Next, Fermor’s letter told a story about his 1944 abduction of General Kreipe, the German commander of Crete. On a beach in southern Crete, Bury was among the small team of British soldiers who came ashore to meet Fermor and take custody of the captive general.

Kreipe and Fermor and the soldiers then sailed to Cairo. Bury would be killed a few months later in Italy.

Fermor wrote to Todhunter: “I want to write something about him (Bury), and would very much like to be in touch with his kith and kin. The only thing anyone seems to know about him is that he went to Eton. Would the provost of Eton know his family? I would be most beholden for any guidance!”

Todhunter, from what I can gather, was an editor in London. Years ago he might have visited the village of Vathi in Ithaka, stayed in that hotel on the town’s lake-like harbour, and left behind the letter and book by Fermor. Perhaps the book arrived there some other way.

Who was Bury? Did Fermor intend to write a story about him? The letter described Bury coming ashore in occupied Crete “with Tommy gun at the ready, very disappointed there would be no rough stuff involved”. He might have been a wartime version of the aristocrat who sought adventure in the crusades or the colonies.

After finishing school in 1933, Fermor walked across Europe to Constantinople, later writing about this experience in a trilogy of travel books, only two of which were published in his lifetime: A Time of Gifts, which tells of his travels from Holland to the Danube, and Between the Woods and Water, which takes him to the border of Serbia and Romania.

A final volume, The Broken Road, was published posthumously in 2013.

Wanting to know whether he did discover more about Bury, and why, at the age of 89, he wanted to write about an acquaintance who died 60 years earlier, I sent an email to Fermor’s biographer, Artemis Cooper. She replied the next day: “Paddy never did write about Bob Bury, but he used every possible excuse to postpone work on the book he was supposed to be writing — the third volume of his trilogy about his walk across Europe. He also thought about writing a book on Crete and another on Romania, but they never came to anything either.”

Cooper might have forgotten that she had already replied to my email, because a month later she wrote again: “Dear Andrew, Sorry I’ve been so slow to reply to you.” Cooper suggested the Bury material was for a book about Fermor’s time as a British special operations officer in occupied Crete. She added: “By 2004 Paddy’s eyesight was deteriorating fast: he could not admit it, but it was too late to begin any major project.”

Both replies provide for the one picture: Fermor avoided work on the unfinished trilogy by writing about his war stories from Crete (and such a book, Abducting a General, was published late last year). In that letter he was pursuing whatever idea gave him pleasure. Fermor, who died in 2011 at 96, intended to write as his blindness approached. He was already very old but had many years of work ahead of him.

Andrew Pippos is a Sydney-based writer.