Tag Archives: Billy Maclean

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.

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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

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Colonel David Smiley: Blues officer and MC recipient

The Times’ Obituary of David Smiley. Times’ content is now subscription only so no link I am afraid. Paddy was a friend and wrote the foreward to Smiley’s book Albanian Assignment.

First published in The Times January 2009.

When Lieutenant David Smiley was ordered to Palestine with the 1st Cavalry Division in January 1940 his immediate concern was how to dispose of his private aeroplane, two racehorses and Bentley. The next five years were to bring him more exacting problems, but he completed the war as a three-times decorated lieutenant-colonel.

The Life Guards and Smiley’s regiment, the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), each provided two squadrons to make up the 1st Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR), which, together with two other horsed cavalry regiments already in Palestine and several mobilised Yeomanry regiments, provided the 1st Cavalry Division with the capability to relieve an infantry division in Palestine for service in the Western Desert. Smiley found Palestine interesting but, seeking more active duty, he volunteered to join No 52 (Middle East) Commando under training at Geneifa, Egypt, in November 1940. Continue reading

Colonel David Smiley

We have come across David Smiley before. He was one of the occupants of Tara, worked with “Billy” McLean in Albania, and it seems he rearmed and led Japanese troops against the Vietminh. There cannot be many British officers who have led Japanese soldiers! Paddy was a friend and wrote the foreward to Smiley’s 1984 book, Albanian Assignment. One has to wonder, when reading the stories of these amazing characters, whether the British could ever find such people again. I hope so.

First published in the Telegraph 9 Jan 2009.

Special forces and intelligence officer renowned for cloak-and-dagger operations behind enemy lines on many fronts.

Colonel David Smiley, who died on January 9 aged 92, was one of the most celebrated cloak-and-dagger agents of the Second World War, serving behind enemy lines in Albania, Greece, Abyssinia and Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand.

After the war he organised secret operations against the Russians and their allies in Albania and Poland, among other places. Later, as Britain’s era of domination in the Arabian peninsula drew to a close, he commanded the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces in a highly successful counter-insurgency.

After his assignment in Oman, he organised – with the British intelligence service, MI6 – royalist guerrilla resistance against a Soviet-backed Nasserite regime in Yemen. Smiley’s efforts helped force the eventual withdrawal of the Egyptians and their Soviet mentors, paved the way for the emergence of a less anti-Western Yemeni government, and confirmed his reputation as one of Britain’s leading post-war military Arabists.

In more conventional style, while commanding the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), Smiley rode alongside the Queen as commander of her escort at the Coronation in 1953.

During the Second World War he was parachuted four times behind enemy lines. On one occasion he was obliged to escape from Albania in a rowing boat. On another mission, in Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand, he was stretchered for three days through the jungle with severe burns after a booby-trap meant for a senior Japanese officer exploded prematurely.

Though a regular soldier, Smiley was frequently seconded to MI6. As an assistant military attaché in Poland after the war, when the Soviet-controlled Communists were tightening their grip, he was beaten up and expelled as a spy, after an operation he was running had incriminated a member of the politburo.

After that he headed the British side of a secret Anglo-American venture to subvert the newly-installed Communist regime in Albania led by the ruthless Enver Hoxha. But Kim Philby, who was secretly working for the Russians, was the liaison between the British and Americans; almost all the 100 or so agents dropped by parachute or landed by boat were betrayed, and nearly all were tortured and shot. This failure haunted Smiley for the rest of his life.

Smiley’s exploits led some to suggest that he was, along with several other candidates, a model for James Bond. It was also widely mooted that John le Carré, albeit unconsciously, had taken the name of his hero from the real-life Smiley.

David Smiley with el Hassan and bodyguard in Yemen

Born on April 11 1916, David de Crespigny Smiley was the youngest son of Major Sir John Smiley, 2nd Bt, and Valerie, youngest daughter of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, 4th Bt, a noted jockey, balloonist, all-round sportsman and adventurer, also famed for his feats of derring-do.

After the Pangbourne Nautical College, where he excelled in sport, David went to Sandhurst in 1934. He served in the Blues from 1936 to 1939, based mainly at Windsor, leading the life of a debonair man-about-town, owning a Bentley and a Whitney Straight aircraft. Before the outbreak of war, he won seven races under National Hunt rules. In his first point-to-point with the Garth Hunt, he crashed into a tree, suffering serious injuries. Over the years Smiley was to break more than 80 bones, mainly as a result of sport; on two occasions he broke his skull, once in a steeplechase and once when he dived at night into an almost-empty swimming pool in Thailand.

After the war, he held the record for the most falls in one season on the Cresta Run in St Moritz; bizarrely, he represented Kenya (where he owned a farm) in the Commonwealth Winter Games of 1960.

After war broke out, the Blues sailed for Palestine, where one of Smiley’s first jobs, as a lieutenant, was to shoot his troop of 40 horses when it became clear they were of no use in modern combat. His introduction to warfare was against Vichy French forces in Syria. For his nocturnal reconnaissance work in ruins near Palmyra he was mentioned in despatches.

Later in 1940 Smiley joined the Somaliland Camel Corps, arriving at Berbera the very day it was decided to evacuate British Somaliland. Returning in frustration to Egypt, he persuaded General Wavell, a family friend, to recommend him for the newly-formed commandos, in which he became a company commander with the rank of captain. Sneaking from Sudan into Abyssinia, Smiley operated for the first of many times behind enemy (in this case Italian) lines.

In 1941 he returned to his regiment to command a squadron of armoured vehicles being sent from Palestine to raise the siege of Habbaniya, 60 miles west of Baghdad in Iraq, where the king and regent had been overthrown in a pro-German coup led by Rashid Ali. Under Colonel John Glubb, he led a charge alongside Bedouin levies in full cry (they were known to Smiley as “Glubb’s girls”, because of their long black locks). After helping to capture Baghdad, Smiley’s squadron was sent to Mosul with the task, among other things, of capturing the German ambassador, who escaped.

His squadron then moved east, to capture the Persian capital, Tehran, followed by “two weeks’ celebration with plenty of vodka, caviar and women”. After a spell in Palestine, Smiley led a Blues squadron of dummy tanks into the Western Desert pretending first to be British Crusaders and then, on a further foray, American General Grants, which were repeatedly attacked by Stukas. When Rommel broke through, they withdrew to Cairo. Three months later Smiley commanded a squadron of armoured cars at the battle of El Alamein – his last bout of conventional warfare.

After training at a school for secret agents in Haifa and taking a parachuting course with his friend David Stirling and his Special Air Service (SAS) near the Suez Canal, Smiley joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the organisation set up at Churchill’s instigation to “set Europe ablaze” by helping local partisans sabotage the Nazis’ infrastructure. He was parachuted with his life-long friend Neil (Billy) McLean into the mountains of Albania, then occupied by the Italians (and later by the Germans). For eight months he organised the fractious partisans in a series of ambushes and acts of sabotage (bridge demolition, sometimes by climbing under them at night while German troops were patrolling above, became a Smiley trademark). He was awarded an immediate MC. In early 1944 he was again parachuted into Albania, with McLean and Julian (later Lord) Amery, to liaise with the royalist guerrillas loyal to King Zog.

Colonel David Smiley, front 3rd right and band of Albanian fighters

Colonel David Smiley (left) in Albania

After leaving Albania, where his activities brought Smiley a Bar to his MC, he was transferred to the Siamese section of SOE, known in the Far East as Force 136, where he liaised with guerrillas operating against the Japanese who ruled the country through a proxy government. It was then that he was injured by the premature explosion of a booby-trap meant for a Japanese officer.

After recovering in Government House in Calcutta, where he consorted with both Nehru and Gandhi, he was parachuted behind enemy lines into eastern Siam, shortly before the dropping of the atomic bombs and the surrender of Japan, whereupon he organised the liberation of several prisoner-of-war camps, including the one on which the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was based. Though only a major, he personally took the surrender of the 22nd Division of the Imperial Japanese Army.

On Lord Mountbatten’s orders, Smiley re-armed a Japanese company and led them against the Communists of the fledgling Vietminh (who later became the Vietcong) in French Indo-China. Among other exploits, he freed 120 French women and children who had been taken hostage by the Communists. The only British officer in an area the size of Wales, he then took the surrender of Vientiane, Laos’s capital, from another Japanese general. For his activities in Siam and Indo-China Smiley was awarded a military OBE.

He later ruefully noted that, at that time, the Vietminh were backed by the American OSS (the CIA’s forerunner); Smiley was wary of what he considered to be America’s naïve enthusiasm for proclaimed democrats and its hostility to the British and French empires.

After his early post-war exploits in Poland and then his efforts to roll back communism in Albania were betrayed by Philby, Smiley returned to more conventional duties in Germany and thence to command his regiment, the Blues, at Windsor.

In 1955 he was appointed military attaché in Sweden, from where he made surveillance trips with his young family along the Russian border with Finland and Norway. But the pinnacle of Smiley’s post-war career was his three-year tenure as commander of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman’s armed forces during a civil war which threatened to bring down one of Britain’s more reactionary allies in the Gulf.

By now in his early forties, Smiley ran a gruelling counter-insurgency which gradually drove the guerrillas back from the scorching plains into their mountain retreat, the 10,000ft high Jebel Akhdar, which had never been successfully assaulted. With two squadrons of the SAS under his command, Smiley planned and led a classic dawn attack on the mountain fastness, finally crushing the enemy.

After leaving Oman in 1961, Smiley was offered the command of the SAS, but chose to retire from the British Army and file occasional reports for Raymond Postgate’s Good Food Guide.

He was not able to relax for long. Within two years he had been persuaded to help bolster royalist forces in Yemen. Liaising with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and MI6, who arranged for former SAS and other mercenaries to accompany him, Smiley made 13 trips to Yemen between 1963 and 1968.

Often disguised as a local, Smiley travelled on foot or by donkey for weeks at a time across Arabia’s most rugged terrain. He won the admiration of his colleagues, both Arab and British, for his toughness, bluntness, and shrewdness as an adviser. King Faisal, whom Smiley greatly admired, personally expressed his appreciation.

After ending his Arabian career, Smiley moved to Spain, where, for 19 years, he grew olives, carobs and almonds, and continued to advise Albania’s surviving anti-Communists, by now all in exile, before returning to live in Somerset and then Earl’s Court.

To Smiley’s delight, he was welcomed back to Albania in 1990, as the Communist regime, which had sentenced him to death in absentia, began to collapse. He forged a friendship with the country’s first post-Communist leader, Sali Berisha.

Smiley was appointed LVO, and Knight Commander of the Order of the Sword in Sweden and Grand Cordon of the Order of Skanderbeg in Albania.

In 1947 he married Moyra, daughter of Lord Francis Scott KCMG, DSO, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch’s youngest son. He is survived by his wife, two sons, a stepson and a stepdaughter.

Related articles:

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

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Related category:

Other SOE Obituaries

Xan Fielding Obituary

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.

Continue reading

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Sophie Moss

Sophie Moss, who has died aged 92, was, as Countess Zofia Tarnowksa, the hostess of a villa in wartime Cairo where high-spirited young SOE agents on leave from secret assignments behind enemy lines held some of the most riotous parties of the war.

With considerable misgivings (and a fictitious chaperone), she agreed to join the all-male household on Gezira island at the invitation of her future husband, the officer Billy Moss, and moved in with her few possessions, which included a swimsuit, an evening dress, a uniform and two pet mongooses.

In the field, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Billy McLean, David Smiley, Rowland Winn and Xan Fielding were cold, hungry, lice-ridden and in constant danger. But on leave with months of back pay to spend, they held uproarious parties at the villa, which they called Tara.

These attracted the most distinguished soldiers, diplomats, writers and, on one occasion, King Farouk, who arrived with a crate of champagne. The evenings grew steadily more rowdy. Usually glasses were smashed. One night some chairs were broken when a mock bullfight was staged. On another, Sophie’s Polish friends shot out all the light bulbs, and on yet another a sofa caught fire then was hurled through a plate-glass window.

Since costly repairs were needed afterwards, Abbas, the butler-cook, tried to raise funds by accosting guests at the gate and holding out his tarboosh for contributions. Sophie put a stop to this, then remembered how soft fruits were added to vodka to make delicious liqueurs on her father’s Polish estates. The household agreed to an experiment using the bath, in which prunes were mixed with raw alcohol from the local garage. The results were disappointing, though Sophie insisted that this was because they were too impatient to wait for the mixture to mature. When they started drinking it after three days, two imbibers passed out.

The bathroom had other uses. In late 1943, when Leigh Fermor and Moss were planning a kidnapping on Crete, they sat around wearing next-to-nothing while David Smiley, fresh from Albania, explained how to organise the perfect ambush – drawing a diagram on the steamed-up tiles. After their success in capturing General Heinrich Kreipe, Leigh Fermor and Moss returned to Tara as heroes.

Zofia Roza Maria Jadwiga Elzbieta Katarzyna Aniela Tarnowska was born on March 16 1917 at Rudnik, a forested estate near Tarnobrzeg, a town in south-eastern Poland founded by her family in 1593. Over the centuries the Tarnowskis had held some of the highest offices in Poland. But Sophie’s father descended from a cadet branch of the family, and wanted to be only a country gentleman. His marriage was unhappy, and Sophie and her brother Stanislaw grew up headstrong and mischievous.

Her tricks and practical jokes turned her governesses into nervous wrecks until her mother sent her to a convent. Sophie got into trouble for standing on a pudding to prove it was inedible, ran away and refused to go back. She was happiest with animals, galloping through the forests on horseback or playing with deer, foxes, a goat and a red squirrel.

In 1937 she married Andrew Tarnowski, a member of the senior branch of the family. Her first son was under two when he died (on the day she gave birth to her second) in July 1939. As war drew closer, Sophie decided that she would never abandon Poland and burned her passport. It was, as her daughter said, “a very romantic and Polish thing to do”, but it changed nothing. On September 8, when the Germans were pouring over the western frontier and the Russians were approaching from the east, she set off by car for Romania with her husband and their baby, her brother, his fiancée Chouquette and her sister.

On arriving in Belgrade she lost her second son before the family drove on to Greece and Palestine. Her husband, now a corporal in the Carpathian Rifles, was on leave in Jerusalem when he told Sophie he was in love with Chouquette. Later Sophie accompanied Chouquette and her son to Cairo, where an uncle of King Farouk, who had often hunted on the Tarnowski estates, had offered them a luxurious villa. She soon moved out.

After joining the International Red Cross, Sophie met General Sikorski, Poland’s prime minister, who suggested she start a Polish branch of the humanitarian organisation. She agreed, but only if it were established without ranks. “Are you a communist?” asked Sikorski. “No” was the reply. But senior Polish ladies might resent a badge of superiority on someone whose husband was only a corporal, she explained. The general agreed, but when he departed she had difficulty confirming her position.

Finally she presented a large bouquet of flowers to the wife of the British ambassador in Cairo, Sir Miles Lampson – with whose help she was equipped with a committee, an office and a truck to
deliver clothes and food. She also visited hospitals and arranged patients’ outings, and helped Polish PoWs in Germany to contact their scattered families.

After divorcing Andrew, she married Billy Moss in 1945. The couple settled in London, where he prepared his Cretan diary about the kidnapping for publication as the best-selling Ill Met By Moonlight. But money was always tight. She lost a third son, but had two daughters. She and Moss translated a book of short stories by the Polish writer Bruno Schultz. But by the late 1950s, their marriage was over. She took in lodgers and spent time in Ireland, where she became a keen gardener.

In 1957 Sophie and her brother were allowed to visit their childhood home, where the NKVD had used the cellars as a jail during the war. They were not allowed into the building, but were treated to an open-air banquet by dozens of old retainers and peasants. At Gora Ropczycki, the house where she and her first husband had lived till 1939, old farmhands thanked her for keeping up their spirits in the first days of the war.

After the fall of communism Sophie’s nephew Adam bought back Rudnik, and Sophie presided over a family gathering in 1999. But too much had changed for her to contemplate settling there.

Last year some of the poems she had written in Cairo were published in a private edition. One, which was translated into English, asks for the white wings of her childhood guardian angel to take her home.

She died on November 22, surrounded by her family in Sussex.

Sophie Moss

Sophie Moss was wilful, lively and bloody-minded, with an almost total recall of a past in pre-Second World War Poland that was privileged yet full of turmoil. Later, in wartime Cairo, she lived with members of Britain’s Special Operations Executive in a house where wild parties were the norm.

Sophie Moss was born Countess Zofia Roza Jadwiga Elzbieta Tarnowska on 16 March 1917 on the estate of her father, Count Hieronim Tarnowski, at Rudnik in Galicia, south-eastern Poland. She spent her childhood roaming free, taming foxes, birds and deer. When she was 13 her parents separated, and she went with her mother, née Countess Wanda Zamoyska.

She married Andrew Tarnowski, a close cousin she had fallen in love with at 17 on a wolf hunt, and by 1939 she had had two sons; the elder died the day his brother was born. Sophie never forgot her return to her marital home with her second baby, (who would also soon die). She stood on Krakow Station: “I saw my train arriving with blood streaming down its side. Young military conscripts had travelled on the roof and, as it passed under a low bridge, had lost their lives. The sight of that train pouring blood was an omen of what, within days, was to be the fate of Poland.”

Within hours of the German invasion, refugees from western Poland started arriving. Sophie put them in bedrooms, then on mattresses, and in the stables, then had sheep and cows from the estate killed to feed them. She said that it was then that she grew up. She was persuaded by her husband and brother to flee with them. The men wanted to enlist abroad to fight for their country and, after an arduous and long journey they ended up in Palestine, and eventually Cairo, where she started the Polish branch of the Cairo Red Cross.

In autumn 1943, estranged from Tarnowski, she was invited to live in a villa with seven young British officers working for the Special Operations Executive. She moved in with a bathing suit, an evening gown and two mongooses she had rescued for 10 shillings.

She called this time her “university”, her teachers being the daredevil officers. Tara residents included Arnold Breene, Billy Maclean, David Smiley, Rowland Winn (later Lord St Oswald) and Xan Fielding. Another was William Stanley Moss (Billy), whom Moss went on to marry, in 1945.

In 1944 Moss and Patrick Leigh-Fermor kidnapped General Major Karl Kriepe, commander of the German forces occupying Crete; Billy’s account of the incident, Ill Met by Moonlight (1952), was made into a 1957 film.

Wild parties were thrown at the house, for diplomats, officers, war correspondents, princes, the British Ambassador and King Farouk. Moss tried to replicate the liqueurs from her father’s estate, using plums added to vodka. However, the concoction was always drunk before it had had a chance to ferment. At one party, Poles shot out all the light bulbs.

Another resident was a beer-drinking, house-trained bear, acquired in Russia by Poles who had been let out of Stalin’s gulags to form the Second Polish Army. Worried that the British authorities would not allow the bear to continue fighting with them into Europe, they asked Moss to take him while they retrained. She appealed to King Farouk, who declared: “You are my guest, and so is the bear!” and delegated Egyptian policemen to take it for walks. The bear went on to experience many battles, including Monte Cassino, and died in Scotland of old age. He now resides, stuffed, in London’s Sikorski Museum.

Last year Sophie’s poems, written mostly in Cairo during the war in Polish, were found. Sophie’s relation, the actress Rula Lenska, helped translate them at a launch held at the Sikorski Museum, the stuffed bear nearby In one poem she wrote: “If I fear death / it is of dying of boredom.”

Elisa Segrave