Category Archives: Other Writing

Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy

This post is dedicated to Elizabeth who will enjoy listening to the French. My on-off hiatus on the blog continues due to personal circumstances but I had to write this short update before I depart to walk across Armenia. I was inspired to travel there by reading Nicolas Bouvier’s wonderful book, The Way of the World. Paddy buffs will know that he wrote the introduction to the English version.

Bouvier’s work describes his journey with his artist friend Thierry Vernet in a Fiat Topolino (like a 2CV)  from Geneva to Afghanistan in the 1953-54. It is a journey that would be impossible today. The book is beautifully written and such fun to read. He spent a lot of time writing about the Armenian community in north-western Iran which got me thinking about going to Armenia, and here I am going to Armenia.

I always like to make some spurious link to weave a bit of a yarn, and here I have it. Bouvier writes book including Armenians; Paddy writes introduction to said book; I travel to Armenia; and blog corespondent Mark Opstad (a long time ago) sends me a link to a French TV programme that includes Bouvier and Paddy. The latter speaking wonderful French but as ever struggling with technology; this time the microphone. Paddy suddenly appears around 29:10 (maybe he got stuck into the bar in the green room?) and proceeds to tell his story, but struggles to keep the microphone near his mouth. Note the “third hand” at 34:38 trying to keep it in the right position. At 47:00 Paddy inevitably ends up singing a Greek song.

Enjoy the video. As ever there is much more to come on the blog and I thank all of you who have got in touch with me. I just don’t have the time to keep up at the moment, but each and every one will receive a reply in due course.

Nicolas BOUVIER, Jacques LACARRIERE, Michel LE BRIS, Patrick LEIGH-FERMOR from Etonnants Voyageurs on Vimeo.

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Wartime escapades by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Times Literary Supplement describes this as “The last Renaissance man’s account – until now available only in Greek – of how German bombs wrecked his boat but not his spirit”. Enjoy.

Translated by Adrian Bartlett.

First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 5 June 2013.

Since 1976 my family has been to a small town in the eastern Peloponnese nearly every year. Early on we heard, from the local bus driver and others, how the Germans had sunk an escaping Englishman’s boat in the local harbour in 1941. The Englishman in question was Patrick Leigh Fermor. Later we made friends with Stratis Kounias, a man from the town, a distinguished academic who also returned there every summer. Stratis had embarked on writing a wartime history of the area and on hearing that we knew “Paddy” he asked for an introduction. Leigh Fermor agreed to write an account of the event. I am quite sure he had written and talked about it many times before – some of the phrases are repeated in the biography by Artemis Cooper (reviewed in the TLS, November 16, 2012); but this time he recounted it in Greek for the benefit of Stratis Kounias, although Stratis speaks perfect English. The following is my translation.– Adrian Bartlett

And now over to Paddy …

A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MY ESCAPE

I had arrived in Greece as a lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps in November 1940. We were a branch of the Allied Military Mission. After Christmas we drove to Albania and were based at Koritsa as liaison officers to the 80th regiment led by Lieutenant-General [Georgios] Tsolakoglou.

I went along the whole front – Pogradec, Krystallopigi, Argirocastro, Tepeleniou, Leskovik, Ioannina and so on. I stayed two months there and after the German invasion I was asked to come down to Athens with the personnel intelligence unit, under the regiment commander Peter Smith-Dorrien (son of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien who fought in the First World War).

After the slow retreat from Perdika, Ptolemaida and so on we were for a time as if in the pass at Thermopylae, but eventually got to barracks in Athens. With the rapid advance of the Germans, Field Marshal Maitland-Wilson gave the order to prepare a second escape route from Greece, if a somewhat unorthodox one.

The Greek authorities had requisitioned for us a lovely sailing caïque. She was called Ayia Barbara, anchored at Sounion and belonging to Paulo Mela. She had a renowned captain in Michaelis Mistho from the Demon of Sparta. Apart from myself and P. Smith-Dorrien there was a wireless-operating sergeant, a very nice corporal who I think was called Costas Varthis, and six soldiers.

Our orders were to take possession of the caïque and proceed to a meeting with Field Marshal Wilson at Mili, on the east coast of the Peloponnese. We left Sounion on the afternoon of the April 24, 1941, the sergeant and I having previously destroyed our truck by pushing it into a gully at Sounion. We went past Hydra and moored off the island of Dokos.

In the morning there were many enemy aircraft, the thud of bombing, and trails of smoke in the direction of Nauplion. Later we heard they had set on fire the English ship the Ulster Prince; many British were either killed or captured. We waited till late afternoon to weigh anchor and it was night when we moored at the quay at Mili. It was very crowded there, hundreds of trucks and Greek and British soldiers in retreat. I called out repeatedly the name of the motorcyclist, Matthew, who was to wait for me there and take me to the Field Marshal, whom I finally found.

He had come from Athens with Prince Peter who was liaison officer to our mission, Field Marshal Wilson having come in another car. Also there was the government Deputy President, Vice-Admiral Sakellariou. These were going to Crete in a Sunderland aircraft. Our own aim in our present circumstances was to work our way south along the coast of the Peloponnese, to help other British and Greek military stragglers who wanted to get to Crete and had missed a ship.

Admiral Baillie-Grohman and Brigadier General Galloway joined the Ayia Barbara, and also some more men. We weighed anchor and headed south. After half an hour we pulled alongside an English battle cruiser, the HMS Bahram [Edit: Should HMS Bahram read HMS Barham which was lost at sea on the 25th November 1941?], which took all these men on board. We, with our original company from Sounion, P. Smith-Dorrien, Lieutenant Philip Scott, consul to Field Marshal Wilson, and six soldiers stayed on the Ayia Barbara and we set off at 1.30 am. Smith-Dorrien appointed Philip Scott responsible for the British personnel and me for the Greeks as I knew Greek fairly well, having travelled a lot around Greece before the war.

On the way we had some engine trouble, a blade of the propeller broke which compelled us to reach shore before sunrise. Our intention had been to head for Ieraka and hide the caïque, but in the morning of April 27, at 5.30, we arrived at Leonidion and moored at the quay in Plaka.

We hid the radio under some olive trees, took our weapons, had some breakfast. Our orders were to let no one board the caïqe during the day. Soon we would be taking up our headquarters in Crete.

At 1.30 pm a reconnaissance Fiesler-Stork plane flew over, at 2 another came and dropped four aerial torpedoes on the beach and did little damage, and then came some bursts of machine gun fire. At 2.15 they dropped another bomb close to the quay and at 2.30 a depth charge fell beside the Ayia Barbara, breaching her below decks and sinking her, with just half the mast showing above water. Luckily our boat had saved some important documents.

From then until 7pm the bombardment and dive bombing didn’t stop. One of the bombs fell close to us and wounded Captain Michaelis in the leg and damaged the radio, but to our surprise we repaired it enough to take with us, but not sufficiently to send our news to headquarters.

Some local people appeared, with bread, eggs, one or two chickens, wine and so on, and showed us much kindness, although it had been a terrible day.

P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy one of the other small caïques in the harbour, but all had been damaged in the bombardment and were not fit for sea. We tried mules but failed again. We hoped to find a caïque further south. We passed the night there, in two convenient caves at the end of the beach. We went very early into Leonidion for provisions. The enemy were firing all around, but stopped at midday. I tried to salvage some things from the sunken caïque but without success. At 7 pm the Leonidion police brought and placed at our disposal a boat from a nearby village. It belonged to Panayioti Nikos Moschoviti, or Tsana, from Poulithra. The crew was the son of Nikos and another four of his relations. We agreed that they would take us to Kyparissia. Whether or not we could find a way to make progress, we had taken a decision to go for it, come what may. The local people were very keen to help us. We all boarded the boat, twenty-three of us together with the six crew, packed in like sardines, and we set off south under oar. Meanwhile the Greek crew of the Ayia Barbara set off to their respective homes while we stayed with Captain Michaelis, without whom we would have perished, Smith-Dorrien said.

The crew rowed for about six hours and at 5.30 am on April 29 we arrived at Kyparissia, coming to a dry river bed, 3–4 kilometres from the village. P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy a caïque and in the evening we found one: Ayio Nikolao, 40 tons, which belonged to Pericles Meneksi, for 300,000 drachmas. After a moment we heard that the Germans had reached the village, and as luck would have it, eleven New Zealanders arrived by rowing from Porto Heli.

Many British troops had arrived in Kalamata by road in trucks and armoured vehicles. Many went to Crete on the Greek warships which were there, the others who stayed put up a fierce resistance to the advancing Germans, making an assault with bayonets, and many died or were taken prisoner. This year they are erecting a memorial in Kalamata in their honour.

The eleven New Zealanders were in a bad state of fatigue; we took them into our company and all left together at 9 pm. On April 30, we arrived at Velanidion and all had a day on the beach to recover. At 9 pm we tried to set off to Crete but the engine wouldn’t go into forward drive and broke down. P. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I made the steep climb to the high village, hoping to find someone to mend the engine or to find another caïque, without any success.

Meanwhile we learnt that the Germans had reached Monemvasia, Neapoli and Kalamata. The New Zealanders wanted to put to sea immediately but Smith-Dorrien forbade it. Then five more New Zealanders arrived and an Australian. A good mechanic from Velanidion, Nikolaos Kostakos, a relation of Captain Michaelis, patched up the damaged engine after many hours. We also found three Cretan soldiers who were trying to find a way to get home so we took these too. At 9 pm we set off for Cape Spatha on the north of Crete with the mechanic, N. Kostakos.

On May 2 we had extremely strong headwinds and violent storms. We were losing oil and a bearing was overheating; the engine died. We did the unthinkable and turned back with an improvised rig for the sails and got to Antikythera at 12. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I went to the village of Potamos and found there a very large caïque, the Despina, which belonged to Captain Nikolaos Manika from Chios and it was agreed that he would take us to Crete in exchange for 45,000 drachmas. He took all of us, leaving the following night, another four Australians having arrived there by various means. We now had 150 men, British and Greek, of all ranks. There was another caïque there which went to Crete with us. N. Kostakos stayed with the Ayio Nikolao in order to take care of the repairs and then take it on to Crete.

We weighed our anchors at 10.30 pm on May the 3rd and arrived on the 4th, mooring at Kastelli Kissamou at 5.30 am, where we organized a wonderful feast in a taverna. We were all quite ravenous, and then found a truck to take us to Chania.

P. Smith-Dorrien wrote warmly of Philip Scott and with much praise for Captain Michaelis Mistho, who later played a role in the secret transport of caïques in the Middle East, and I met him later in the war. Also we had the finest impressions of Corporal Costas Varthis and the wireless operators, always willing and with good humour in difficult moments. Lastly we felt grateful to all the Greeks who took care of us and helped us warm-heartedly in difficult times.

After sixteen days the war came to Crete in one part or another. A few months later Philip Scott was killed in battle in a western invasion, and Smith-Dorrien was killed towards the end of the war by a bomb falling on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

***

These notes are based on my own recollections, much helped by the account written by P. Smith-Dorrien on our eventual arrival at Chania in Crete. Following the death of Philip Scott, his father Sir Samuel Scott collected his letters and published them as a small book. One letter describes our flight and it is around this that I have written. About the night we left Leonidion he writes: “We all got into the boat, eleven English, six Greeks and the others that stayed on after the loss of the Ayia Barbara. The Greeks rowed for six hours with hardly a break. They were absolutely wonderful. We covered 15 miles and arrived at a fishing village further south”.

On our turning back after our first attempt to reach Crete, he writes:

“The caïque travelled badly and the mainsail was torn.”

He was about 20 years old, I was 26 and Smith-Dorrien between 30 and 40.

I love Leonidion and the whole of Tsakonia.

Patrick Leigh Fermor
Kardamili, August 2, 1995

Summer reading – The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy

New BanffyMore Miklós Bánffy propaganda to make you go out and buy these fantastic books! They have recently been republished by Everyman’s Library.

You can buy them here. They were counted.The Transylvania Trilogy. Vol 1.

And of course, Elisabeth Jelen Salnikoff,  the elder granddaughter of Miklós Banffy will be speaking about her grandfather, his life and work at the exciting Transylvanian Book Festival 5-9 September; see you there!

by Julian Glover

First published in The Guardian , 5 August 2011

A few years ago a friend sent me three very large paperback novels – a trilogy about Hungary before the first world war – which he said I should read.

The Writing on the Wall, as the books are known (better than “the Transylvanian Trilogy”, the inadequate English alternative), did not look promising. Their covers were relatively austere and their author was a dead Hungarian aristocrat of whom I then knew nothing. They sat ignored until, by chance, I took the first of them to Spain one summer and, having nothing else to read, opened it.

Since then their author, Miklós Bánffy, has never been far from my mind. The elegiac wisdom of his writing makes him one of those people whose life you wish could have ended in something other than calamity. His three great novels, which are really one and should be read as such, are significant and addictive works. Word of their excellence is spread largely by private recommendation. I know no one who, having begun them, has not charged through to the end.

The three books – They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided – are at one level a sort of Austro-Hungarian Trollope, with sleigh rides in place of fox hunts and the Budapest parliament instead of the House of Commons. So far, so dull, you might think – except that Bánffy was a great storyteller (his factual account, in his book The Phoenix Land, of the 1916 coronation of the last Hungarian monarch is spellbinding), and wrote as a member of a class and the citizen of a country that had both been brought to ruin.

Bánffy published his books in Hungarian between 1934 and 1940. By then, the pre-first world war aristocratic tradition he describes was dead; or at least the political part of it, for the trappings lingered on – not least at Bánffy’s own great family castle of Bonchida, by then in Romania and destined to be partly destroyed by the Germans in 1944.

Bánffy died in 1950, his papers burned, his books out of print. One of the connected delights of this trilogy is that his daughter was one of the joint translators, and Bonchida (thinly disguised as Denestornya in the novels) is being brought back from a roofless ruin.

That will not return to us the Hungary of which it was once a part, and only a third of which remained in Hungarian hands after the 1920 Treaty of Trianon (an ill-deserved robbery). As Bánffy describes, some of this disaster was his fellow citizens’ fault – the product of their incestuous politics, their semi-subservience to the emperor in Vienna, and above all the closed nature of Hungarian society, which did not know how to deal with the continent beyond its borders. That remains true today: there is something mysterious about Hungary, and not only because of its isolated language.

If I have made these sound sour books, or purely political ones, then I have misled you. More than anything, they are human, and beautiful, and descriptive, and rooted in a land and its natural environment that are both gone forever and less far away than we might think. “The radiant afternoon sunlight of early September was so brilliant that it still seemed like summer,” the trilogy begins. This summer I urge you to read on …

Related articles:

Read more about Miklós Bánffy on the blog by clicking this link.

Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian trilogy to be published in new edition by Everyman’s Library

Count Miklós Bánffy

Count Miklós Bánffy

Many of the longer term readers will know that I am a true fan of the work of the great Hungarian-Transylvanian writer and statesman Miklós Bánffy. His Transylvanian trilogy is a masterpiece, and the autobiography, The Phoenix Land, re-published last year offers an insight to the character and soul of this intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful man.

Read more about Miklós Bánffy in the articles on the blog which you can find at this link.

I was recently contacted by blog reader Scott Walters from San Francisco who informed me about a new version coming out in 2013.

As you seem to be the go-to resource for all things Patrick Leigh Fermor, I thought you might be interested to know – assuming you haven’t heard already – that the English translation of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvania trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided), for which Paddy wrote an introduction and which you’ve blogged about on occasion – is going to be reissued this summer in hardcover by Everyman’s Library. Publication date is in July.

I’m thrilled about this – I’m a great fan of the trilogy and have long bemoaned the price of the existing paperback editions, which despite being reissued in 2010 still seem difficult to obtain at a reasonable price (though a Kindle edition is now available). That Everyman’s Library has opted for the work suggests that it’s finally attained the recognition it deserves. I posted an announcement on my blog, but should you put one on your Fermor blog I expect word will get out to more people who may be interested. All best, and a very happy new year.

I am grateful to Scott for getting in touch. Not so sure about the price issue as it affects UK readers. You can buy good copies of his work on eBay for around £8-£10. The Everyman versions appear to be coming out in July 2013 with a website price tag of $26 for a hardback edition.

All I can say is it is great that more people will read Bánffy, and that prices of books vary enormously depending upon where you are. Moral of the story is look around for bargains and read some Bánffy now!

Re-opening of Bánffy exhibition at Budapest Opera House

Zsuzsanna Szebeni, who is the curator of the Count Bánffy exhibition at the Budapest Opera House, contacted me to say that the exhibition has re-opened at the opera house from 3 April 2012. If my Magyar is up to scratch it appears to run until 24 June, but I could be wrong about that! From the 16th of July the exhibition will move to a larger location in the city of Sepsizsentgyörgy or Sfântu Gheorghe (in Romanian), a city which is predominantly Székely Hungarian, and lies to the north-east of Brasov in Transylvania.

Miklos Bánffy was a Transylvanian Count and director of the Budapest Opera House at the end of the Great War. At the same time he planned the very last coronation of a King of Hungary, the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Charles I. This is all wonderfully described in the English Translation of Bánffy’s memoirs, The Phoenix Land, published by Arcadia Books.

As you will know by now, Paddy wrote the introduction to the English translation of Bánffy’s fictional Transylvanian Trilogy which is wonderful and an absolute must read. Cluj gets many a mention. You can read more about Count Bánffy here on the blog.

You can contact Zsuzsanna as follows: Mobil: +36 20 3304070 and Office: +36 1 3751184/128.

For those of you who speak Magyar you will find this video of interest. For those who don’t I hope that you will enjoy the colourful images!

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and The Folio Society

Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

From the Folio Society website.

Ten years ago, The Folio Society decided to publish a book by William Stanley Moss, entitled Ill Met by Moonlight. It told the story of a daring war-time adventure in Crete, in which Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor, two young SOE officers, kidnapped a German general, spirited him away across the mountains and into captivity. The book was based on the detailed diary kept (entirely against the rules) by Moss, and its undeniably romantic aspects were highlighted when, in 1957, a film was made starring Dirk Bogarde as the dashing Leigh Fermor.

When we planned the book, it occurred to us that Patrick Leigh Fermor, known to his friends as Paddy, had never contributed any kind of comment on it in writing. We assumed there was a good reason for this – a certain delicacy perhaps, since, at the time of the operation, he was already embedded in Crete in a cave under Mount Ida, with the role of facilitating Commando raids on the island, and was dependent on the friendship and loyalty of the local partisans. But we wrote to him anyway and asked if he would contribute an introduction.

He rang up from his home in Greece. It was indeed, he said charmingly, ‘delicate’ and for various reasons he’d always felt the less said the better. We parted genially, my suggesting that we might ask Michael Foot, historian of the Special Operations Executive and an old friend of his, to do it instead. This we did. A week later, Paddy telephoned again. He’d been thinking about it, and he felt that there were things he would like to say: the coup had, in his view, been diminished by being reduced to the level of a ‘tremendous jape’ and he hoped to restore the balance by providing something of the context for the enterprise. He did not wish to interfere with Michael’s introduction, but would contribute a short Afterword, describing his own experience. It would be 500 to 1,000 words. It eventually emerged at 6,500 words, all of which had to be wrested from him in hand to hand combat, so anxious was he that nothing could be misinterpreted. Michael Foot, in the meantime, was triumphant to be able to tell Paddy that General Kreipe (who was not the intended victim of the kidnap, as that gentleman had been moved on) was so unpopular that, when they heard he had been snatched, his officers broke open the champagne.

Most Folio books have their unexpected rewards, but this one had more than most. Through it we met Billy Moss’s daughters who showed us photograph albums and the original diary; Sophie, their Polish mother, a formidably attractive SOE operative who had been based, with Moss and Leigh Fermor, at Tara, the Cairo House; Michael (M R D) Foot, whose own experiences as prisoner of war were at least as hair-raising as the exploits he went on to chronicle; and of course Paddy himself – courageous, witty, modest, famously attractive and – both with this book and The Cretan Runner – a good friend to The Folio Society. We will miss him.

Related article:

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

Christmas reading as recommended by Paddy – James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron

In 2003 Paddy recommended James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron in the Spectator’s Christmas book selection. It is still available from Amazon. Maybe some of you will add it to your letter to Santa for this year.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron (John Murray) is a book we have been waiting years for, and it surpasses all expectations.

Outside strictly academic circles, in the early 20th century Byzantium was little known in England, but after the Great War things began to change. In the 1920s and ’30s, there was Steven Runciman at Cambridge and, at Oxford, Robert Byron. His was the Brideshead generation. How they managed between corks popping all day and parties all night to do more than hunt for Victorian china fruit in the afternoon remains a mystery.

In the heart of this chaos, fervent extra-curricular study was at work. Abstruse historical byways were trailed and notebooks were filled up. Byzantium was the goal, and soon, in his early twenties, Robert Byron, with several of his friends, set out on corroborative journeys, and on return published his findings. Europe in the Looking Glass — a sort of pan-European Three Men in a Boat — was soon to be followed by the brilliant Byzantine Achievement. The magic of Byron’s name opened every door in the Greek world, and The Station, a monumental and marvellous description of Mount Athos, remains unsurpassed. The Birth of Western Painting — an analysis and history of the earliest Byzantine inklings to the last of El Greco — is a defence and an assault. Classical Greece and the Renaissance both get it in the neck; so do Western Christianity and the Crusades, especially the Fourth. Some of his Quixotic giants turned out to be windmills, but much good was done and Byzantium emerged in glory. Youthful flair and high sophistication marked all his writings, and recondite knowledge was leavened by the surprising bonus of a hilarious narrative gift.

There’s a connecting chain running through all his travels: India, Afghanistan, Persia, Tibet, Russia; then he would bury himself in Savernake Forest for a winter of writing and hunting, setting out eastward again in spring. We are lucky to have James Knox to set down the details of this dynamic and many-sided figure, with his energies and angers and his unorthodox passions and his laughter.

In 1941 Byron was heading east again by the northern detour when a U-boat torpedoed his ship. He was 36. We can never know how many brilliant sequels to The Road to Oxiana were sunk off Stornoway.