Category Archives: Other Writing

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”

Advertisements

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.

The magnetic John Pendlebury

Archaeology’s first modern hero was dazzling in life and heroically defiant in death. Paddy wrote the foreward to the 2007 book – The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury by Imogen Grundon.

J. D. S. Pendlebury, excavator of Amarna, Curator at Knossos, he of the glass eye and the swordstick, who died defending Crete from German invasion in 1941, is archaeology’s first modern hero: brilliant, magnetic and self-aware. In The Rash Adventurer, Imogen Grundon gives us the substance behind his dazzling brief career. John Pendlebury evidently possessed an extraordinary determination to overcome obstacles, demonstrated after he had lost an eye as the result of a childhood accident. In spite of this handicap, his Cambridge years included a blue in athletics and a first class in the tripos. Grundon reveals his early interests in archaeology, and the enormous workload he undertook soon after leaving university. His career included excavation both at Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna and at Sir Arthur Evans’s site at Knossos, as Pendlebury moved from one to the other with the seasons of work. By the age of twenty-five he occupied a unique position in Mediterranean archaeology, holding simultaneously the posts of Curator at Knossos and Director of Excavations at Tell el-Amarna.

by Jane Jakeman

First published in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 October 2007.

The relationship between Egypt and Crete was of particular interest to him, and his Aegyptiaca: A catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area is still an important resource. At Amarna, the historical background was still very unclear when Pendlebury became Director in 1930, and he was able to extract a possible chronology and a history of that remarkable city. There was a wide gulf between Bronze Age archaeologists and Egyptologists, and Pendlebury had to endure much criticism in Egyptological circles, particularly over his theories concerning the invasion of Egypt by the “sea peoples”, whose leadership he ascribed to Agamemnon. It was not uncommon at the time to look for relationships between mythology and archaeology, but this approach evidently appealed to Pendlebury’s love of Homeric story. It was also a romantic perspective, and from it he viewed his beloved modern Cretans, sometimes presiding over dinner wearing a Cretan cloak and striding through the mountains to meet kapetanoi, the old brigand leaders.

He clearly relished his swashbuckling self-image, but Grundon shows him capable too of subtle and complex achievements. At Knossos, he skilfully negotiated a difficult relationship with Evans, whose colourful reconstructions Pendlebury sometimes disagreed with, in spite of his own imaginative streak. He was in fact working in a new archaeological era: the age of the great individual “dig” patrons was passing, in favour of a more modern system where the locals were no longer regarded as mere workmen, and foreign governments were recognized as significant entities. Pendlebury showed himself well able to manage this transition and he was realistic in matters of archaeological politics and finance, very aware of the importance of finding subscribers to the Egypt Exploration Society, and new sources of funding. Grundon is good on the complications of organizational funding and personalities, academic intrigues and quarrels.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Pendlebury returned to Britain, enlisted in Military Intelligence and was drafted into Military Intelligence (Research). He went back to Crete in 1940 as a British Army captain, in order to organize resistance to invasion in the mountain regions. He was “adopted”, to use Grundon’s appropriate word, by the highly secretive “D” section of MI6, whose task was to train agents, conceal supplies for sabotage, and handle anti-German propaganda. There is no doubt that he loved the atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, as also the adventure of rallying his kapetanoi.

Pendlebury’s part in the Battle for Crete was, however, tragically short-lived: in 1941, he was wounded, then captured, propped up against a wall and shot. Again, Grundon has followed these events very carefully, presenting as much evidence as can now be garnered – although her wider picture of the background to the invasion of Crete is too kind to General Bernard Freyberg, the New Zealander in command of Allied forces on Crete. Antony Beevor’s Crete: The Battle and the Resistance brings out clearly the later Lord Freyberg’s disastrous support for seaborne invasion, and the obstinate misinterpretation of “Ultra” intelligence, which contributed to the loss of the island to the Germans. The downfall of Crete was horribly unnecessary. So was Pendlebury’s death, a tragic waste, except perhaps that his premature decease itself took on an iconic quality. His image has remained unencumbered by the aura of his snobbish wife and untarnished by entanglement in post-war politics.

The Rash Adventurer is a thorough and authoritative biography, based on detailed research, which gives us at every point the facts underpinning the myth of the man. As well as reaching deep in archives and libraries, Imogen Grundon seems to have interviewed almost every survivor in the field. There is one story she omits, however, perhaps because none of her elderly interlocutors cared to repeat it – the story passed down among Egyptologists, that, as he faced the firing squad, John Pendlebury’s last words were “Fuck you!”.

Rare video of Pendlebury excavating in Egypt as well as showing off his athletic prowess.

Audible

A review by Paddy of Artemis Cooper’s book Cairo in the War

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

By Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Times Literary Supplement 1 September 1989 (republished online 15 June 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles:

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

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

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

A reminder that Arcadia Books will be republishing Count Miklós Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land” in June 2011. The book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. and of course on Amazon. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

“The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.”

I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and the writing of his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific. The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors. He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator. After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked. I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles. I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair. He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it. Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword. Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her. So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .

Xan Fielding Obituary

I am reposting this obituary to Xan Fielding at this time as he was Paddy’s very good friend, the one to whom Paddy wrote his open letters at the start of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Those who have found this site for the first time might wish to read about his friend. At the end is a special tribute written by Paddy.   I believe this to be the only on-line copy and it now includes newly discovered photographs.

==============================================================

After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Fielding, who had adopted the style and dress of a Greek highland peasant, was accompanied by a First World War veteran, who was inseparable from his solar topee and unrecognisable as the village schoolmaster he was supposed to impersonate.

Fortunately it was not long before he teamed up with the far more kindred spirit of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Sporting a royal blue waistcoat, lined with scarlet shot silk and embroidered with black arabesques – and singing folk songs in several languages – “Paddy” Leigh Fermor enlivened their meetings in desolate mountain hideouts.

Fielding understood the need for reliable intelligence and communications, and he daringly set up his headquarters near Crete’s northern coastal road in the proximity of German units. He experienced, as he put it, a childish excitement in “brushing shoulders with the Wehrmacht” in the corridors of the town hall when calling on the mayor of Crete’s capital, Canea. And he found it entertaining to attend parties given for the Germans by Cretan associates feigning fraternisation.

Operationally, Crete had become a massive transit camp to reinforce the Afrika Korps. Among his intelligence successes Fielding signalled the timetable of transports taking off from the airfield at Maleme, enabling the RAF to intercept them.

After six months he was picked up by a Greek submarine and given a breather in Cairo. This gave him a chance to niggle about the inaccuracy of RAF air drops.

As a result Fielding was invited to observe, from the front turret of a Wellington, a drop arranged for Leigh Fermor high up in the White Mountains. Considerably shaken by the experience – not least the anti-aircraft fire- he returned to the island by Greek submarine at the end of 1942 and never complained again.

Following the Crete mission, he parachuted into the south of France in the summer of 1944. Bearing papers announcing him as Armand Pont-Leve, a young clerk in the Electric Company of Nimes – but codenamed “Cathedrale” – Fielding was received by Francis Cammaerts (alias “Roger”) and also by Christine Granville.

Fielding found them an “imposing pair”. Still in uniform, he felt “rather like a novice in the presence of a prior and prioress”. The canister containing his civilian clothes, with poison pill sewn into the jacket, was missing and he felt something of a freak in the baggy Charlie Chaplin trouserings produced by “Roger”.

Shortly afterwards he was in the Cammaert’s car when it was stopped at a road block near Digne. Questions revealed that SOE staff in Algiers had failed to stamp a current date on his otherwise impeccable papers. Worse Fielding had split a large sum of French money between “Roger” and himself, and the enemy twigged that the notes were all in the same series.

Christine Granville was not with them and news of their arrests reached her on the Italian border. Earlier she had been arrested, but had managed to convince her German interrogators that she was a local peasant girl.

She arrived at Digne prison and passed herself off as “Roger’s” wife – and, for good measure, as a niece of Gen Montgomery. She persuaded an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, a liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Siercherheitsdienst, to co-operate by reminding him that the Allies had already landed on the Riviera.

Schenck put Christine on to a Belgian, Max Waem, who agreed to help, though his price was two million francs. SOE in Algiers dropped the money in. As a result Fielding and “Roger” were led out of prison. Believing themselves on the way to be shot, they were astonished to be welcomed by Christine who was waiting with a car.

Fielding was awarded the Croix de Guerre in France in 1944. Before the war in Europe ended, he returned to Crete; he was one of the first into liberated Athens.

During the war Fielding would often pass through Cairo, which became a sort of SOE headquarters for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and meet up with kindred spirits such as David Smiley, “Billy” McLean (qv), Peter Kemp (qv) and Alan Hare. In 1945 they decided the place to be was the Far East. As Fielding put it: “I was at a loose end and wanted to see what was going on out there.”

He spent some months in Cambodia, with a Japanese driver fighting the Vietminh. Then came as six-month stint with the Special Intelligence Service in Germany, and an appointment as United Nations observer in the Balkans.

Peacetime, though, brought disillusionment and a disturbing sense of misgiving. But in 1948 an encounter with the Marchioness of Bath at what she described as an “hilarious lunch” predestined the course of much of the rest of his life. She had recently taken up photography in place of painting; he was planning a book on Crete. The upshot was that Daphne Bath accompanied his return to the White Mountains to illustrate the book. They married in 1953.

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

Soon there was another and more welcome distraction. Michael Powell was filming Ill Met by Moonlight – the story of Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wartime abduction of Gen Kreipe, the German commander in Crete – and Fielding was hired as technical adviser. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor and Fielding lent him his Cretan guerrilla’s cloak and coached him in the part.

Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: After an early essay at painting, Xan Fielding wandered to Greece and the islands, added Greek to his list of languages and acquired a lasting attachment to the Greeks.

His life took on an adventurous and peripatetic turn. Early in 1942 he was landed in plain clothes and by submarine in German-occupied Crete. Germany was in full advance on all fronts and Crete was a strongly galvanised Luftwaffe base for the Desert War. The mountains were full of stray British and Commonwealth soldiers who had broken out of PoW camps or been left behind after the Battle, a mortal danger to the Cretans who hid and fed them.

Gathering and evacuating them from remote caves was among Xan’s first tasks. Establishing a network of agents and signalling information back to Cairo came next followed by parachute drops to the growing guerrilla bands and the e organisation of sabotage, and propaganda while maintaining liaison with the island Resistance leaders.

Light and fine-boned when suitably cloaked and daggered, Xan could be taken for a Cretan. With his determination, humour and intuitive sympathy and his quick mastery of dialect and songs, he made countless friends, and worked there precariously for two years.

In 1944, the war moving west, he was dropped in the Vercors region to the French maquis. He returned to Crete for a final two months before the liberation, then headed for Cambodia on further SOE missions and spent some time on the Tibet border before returning to the West Bank in Greece.

Xan commanded a mixed Allied unit supervising the 1946 elections, and during prolonged leave in Rhodes, his friend Lawrence Durrell – who was press officer there – insisted on printing a set of Fielding’s poems, which make one wish he had written many more. Chafing at Oxford life as a demobilised undergraduate, he worked for a spell with the Beaverbrook Press and found it even less congenial.

These years were perplexed by tangled Dickensian lawsuits in Nice: family property had been unrecoverably misappropriated in the occupation. During that harassing time he wrote Hide and Seek, an exciting account of his experiences in Crete.

Soon after he married Daphne Bath, and they travelled all over the island (of Crete) for his long book The Stronghold, a combination of travel and history.

They first settled in Portugal. Then a long sojourn in the Kasbah of Tangier – perhaps inspired by the film Pepe le Moko – gave rise to his book Corsair Country, the history of the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Near Uzez in Languedoc, their next long halt, his excellent French suggested translation as a profession and he put more than 30 books into English, including many by Larteguy and Chevalier, and Malrauz’s Les Noyers d’Altenborg [Ed: and perhaps better known Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai]

After a friendly separation from Daphne he married Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Adml John II Magruder, of the United States Navy. They were extremely happy.

Xan and Magouche took root in the Serriana de Ronda, which looks across Adalusian ilex-woods to the Atlas. There he edited the correspondence of his friend and neighbour, Gerald Brennan, with Ralph Partridge, and continued his translations.

Xan’s own book, The Money Spinner, about the Monaco casino – the hazards of gambling had always fascinated him – came out in 1977. Later, Winds of the World gave free rein to his interest in atmospheric commotions and their mythology.

In the winter of 1990 One Man and his Time appeared; it described the life, and the Asian, Ethiopian and Arabian travels, of his old friend “Billy” McLean (qv), the wartime commander of the SOE mission in Albania.

At almost the same time Xan was smitten by cancer and he and Magouche moved to Paris for therapy. Though fatally stricken for the last eight months, he was suddenly, three months ago, granted a reprise which exactly coincided with the ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the Resistance.

At a special parade of the Greek navy at Souda, he and six Allied officers were decorated with the commemorative medal of the Resistance, and for 10 days he visited scores of mountain friends from 50 years before. His return was everywhere greeted with feasting and songs.

Xan Fielding was a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, deeply committed to this friends, civilised and bohemian at the same time, with a thoughtful style leavened by spontaneous gaiety and a dash of recklessness. He was altogether outstanding.

August 20 1991

Audible

Ox Travels: Meetings with Remarkable Travel Writers

Read some great travel stories by some of the best travel writers, including Paddy’s account of the Black Sea cave, and help Oxfam projects at the same time. Introduction by Michael Palin.

As the Oxfam website says ….

“OxTravels is our fantastic new compilation of short travel stories, produced in collaboration with Profile Books and Hay Festival.

When Britain’s most lively, critical and thought-provoking travel writers are asked to recall a significant encounter – one that has enriched them as a writer – the result is a book that will broaden everyone’s horizons. In the words of Michael Palin, who introduces the book, “It’s impossible to read their contributions without wanting to go and get the rucksack out.”

OxTravels has a stellar line-up of contributors. Featuring stories from Paul Theroux, Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Colin Thubron, Dervla Murphy, Chris Stewart, Victoria Hislop, William Dalrymple and thirty other leading travel writers.

Its RRP is £9.99, but Oxfam shops have a special price of £8.99! All the writers have donated their royalties to Oxfam and all proceeds go towards funding Oxfam’s work fighting poverty and suffering around the world. Ox-Tales, OxTravels’ predecessor, raised more than £130,000 for our work!

For a review of Ox Travels click here.

Related article:

The mystery of the Black Sea cave