Tag Archives: Billy Moss

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

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

By Elias Maglinis

First published in Ekathemarini

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultramarathon on the kidnapping trail

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

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

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

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Evi Dimitrakaki’s response to the award of the first prize in memory of Billy Moss

In September last year I reported on the new award established by Gabriella Moss in memory of her father William Stanley Moss which will be awarded annually to the best student studying Philology, History and Archaeology at the University of Crete in Rehtymnon. The inaugural winner was Evi Dimitrakaki who is the granddaughter of Alexandros Platurrahos, a partisan who was actively engaged in the fight against the German occupation of Crete. Gabriella has been kind enough to pass on the text of the emotional speech given by Evi at the award ceremony.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends and family,

I would like to share with you some personal thoughts and emotions, regarding the prize in honour of William Stanley Moss. Due to the nature of the prize and its relation with the Second World War and the fights of Cretan people, I considered to be almost obliged to participate as a candidate, no matter what the outcome would be. You may wonder why… As the granddaughter of one of the partisans, who fought on the Psiloritis mountain during the German Occupation, I think that I had the duty to do so!

Alexandros Platurrahos coming from the village Kouroutes of Amari in Rethymnon, my grandfather, used to tell us stories related with the National Resistance period. He was narrating to us while we were sitting under the lemon tree in the yard of his house almost every summer night. You can imagine two children (me and my brother Giorgos) hanging upon his lips. And later on, imagine two teenagers listening with interest and waiting anxiously for him to finish the narrations of his adventures.

In these stories of course, my grandfather was not the only one to participate. His brother, Giorgis, who was imprisoned and tortured by the Germans, and his younger brother, Haridimos, who fought although he was just sixteen years old, were also acting against the Germans. Furthermore, the women of the family, Popi and Marioleni, were providing the partisans with supplies, such as clothes and food. They were also offering shelter to other partisans at the risk of their own and the whole family’s lives. The members of my family were not the only fighters during the Occupation period. There were a lot of them all over the country!

I think that it’s worthwhile to let you know of one more thing: when I was informed that I was one of the candidates selected for the prize, I felt the same emotion I was feeling when I was a kid, during my grandfather’s narrations. I was informed on the 25th of March, which is my name day, while I was visiting my grandfather’s house in Kouroutes. Was it just a coincidence? Fate? Or maybe God?

Hence, you can understand the particular emotional feeling that overwhelms me just by participating in this contest. This prize is therefore dedicated to him, to his memory and his fights. It is devoted not only to the sacrifices he made, but also to those made by the rest partisans, sacrifices that were never acknowledged for most of them! For those of you that may feel touched, shed tears, or even resent by hearing these words: you know and we all know that their first and only thought was their country and they were never looking after for any kind of appreciation!

They did that not because it was easy or usual. As my grandfather used to say, “Evita (that’s how he was calling me) being and acting as a partisan was very difficult. We fought for the country risking our lives”. He also used to say: “They were extremely difficult times because fear and misery were spread everywhere”. So they were risking their lives without caring to the slightest bit. Their moral honour didn’t allow them to act otherwise! We should at least acknowledge that!

Having in mind as a life model my grandfather Alexandros and each one of us his own Alexandros, it is our duty to stand up and be worthy inheritors of their legacy, their morality and their virtues!

Reaching the end, I would like to thank my supervisor, Associate Professor Ioanna Kappa, who has always been helpful to me during my studies. I also want to thank Professor Elena Anagnostopoulou, since the project evaluated for the prize was accomplished under her guidance during her seminar lectures.

Above all, I would like to thank Mrs Gabriella Bullock who established the prize in honour of Stanley Moss. Not only because of the financial assistance (which is very important for me to carry out my studies), but mostly because in this way she recognizes the fights and sacrifices made by her father and our own people. We are grateful to you and your family, because like your father, who offered the maximum of his powers to the Cretan people without hesitating seventy-one years ago, you are honoring Crete today in your own way! Mainly though, I would like to thank you because due to the prize, you have given me the opportunity (I hope to others as well) to recall that we have the privilege to be proud children of those fighters, proud Cretan, proud Greek!

Thank you all for your attention!

The original story of the award is found here.

Catching up

Journey's end with Billy Moss' daughter Isabelle and Jody Cole Jones at Winchester Cathedral

Journey’s end with Billy Moss’ daughter Isabelle and Jody Cole Jones at Winchester Cathedral

I have returned. Some of you may have wondered if I had disappeared in a bog on my long walk before Christmas, others perhaps that there is nothing more to add to the Paddy blog.

Fortunately neither is true although the walk was massively hard. I suffered a bout of flu the week before and was quite uncertain if I would be well enough to start on time. The main symptoms did disperse, but I was very weak and probably not strong enough to tackle the hills and terrible ground conditions that we found (see this video here). It was not really until we reached drier conditions in Hampshire in the last two days that I had recovered my strength enough, but aided my by walking companion, my son, and the ever-present need to meet the target and raise money for the two chosen charities, we pressed on. We were joined by Billy Moss’ daughter Isabelle and his grand-daughter Jody Cole Jones for the last 10 km into Winchester. They wished to support the causes, and Combat Stress in particular, as they wanted to highlight their belief that Billy probably suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress which may have led to his early demise. The Just Giving page remains open for any final donations here.

Since then I have been in Germany celebrating Christmas with my youngest daughter Harriet, and then preparing for a new job which I started in the New Year. So I am now ready to get back in harness and present you with some fascinating material. As ever I am grateful to those of you who have been in touch with ideas and material. I look forward to a successful 2016 for us all and send you my best wishes.

Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Meeting with the Byron of Our Times

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

By Jeffrey Myers

First published in Standpoint Jan/Feb 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abducting a General: Crossing Europe and kidnapping a German general

The abduction party, 28 April 1944 (Leigh Fermor standing second from left in German uniform)

The abduction party, 28 April 1944 (Leigh Fermor standing second from left in German uniform)

A very rare profile of Paddy by the BBC. Barely anything is available on the BBC about one our greatest Englishmen. Since his death the amount has increased with an obituary and the serialisation of Artemis Cooper’s biography. This review is welcome.

From BBC News Magazine

By Andy Walker

Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and Soe in Crete is a new account of the kidnap of a German general in WW2 from occupied Crete and sheds light on one of the 20th Century’s most interesting men.

“One man in his time plays many parts,” wrote Shakespeare in As You Like it. If that is any measure, then the late Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor blew it into a cocked hat.

A decorated war hero, brilliant conversationalist, historian, Hollywood scriptwriter, perhaps the finest travel writer of his generation – the list of the achievements of Paddy, he was never called Patrick, goes on and on.

And now, three years after his death at the age of 96, Leigh Fermor’s own account of the audacious wartime exploit, capturing General Heinrich Kreipe, the commander of a division on the island of Crete, evading his pursuers and getting him to Cairo, has been published, further gilding his glittering reputation.

The book, Abducting A General, recounts the incident with typical Fermor erudition and flair.

He recalls how he and his colleague W Stanley “Billy” Moss dressed as German corporals, flagged down the general’s car on an isolated road. Their Cretan comrades helped them overwhelm the driver and, with Fermor wearing the general’s braided cap in the front of the staff car, they negotiated 22 German checkpoints with their quarry out of sight in the back.

Then, he writes: “A mood of riotous jubilation broke out in the car; once more we were all talking, laughing, gesticulating and finally singing at the tops of our voices, and offering each other cigarettes, including the general.”

On the journey to a rendezvous with a British submarine the party traversed the island’s highest point, Mount Ida, where Fermor and the general traded some lines of Latin from Horace.

It was, he explained later, “as if the war had come to an end, because we had drunk of the same fountains. Everything was very different afterwards”.

Leigh Fermor at the hideout at Kastamonitza, 20 April 1944

Leigh Fermor at the hideout at Kastamonitza, 20 April 1944


Fermor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, while Moss, who penned his own account of the incident, Ill Met By Moonlight, later to be made into a movie starring Dirk Bogarde, was given the Military Cross.

But this was but one achievement by the man once described as “a cross between Indiana Jones, Graham Greene and James Bond”.

At just 18, the wild and wilful son of distant parents, Fermor had been “sacked” from a series of schools before being taken in by the bright and bookish denizens of bohemian London. He started a journey.

“Hopeless, idle, easily distracted, unemployable,” as his biographer and friend Artemis Cooper puts it, Fermor resolved to travel on foot from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul living on just £5 a month – part wandering scholar, part tramp, in order to reboot his life.

His journey, chronicled between 1977 and last year in three books – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road – is a poetic and romanticised evocation of a Europe as much of the mind as of reality, one which was swept away by WW2 and the upheavals which came in its wake.

Through Holland he wandered, then followed the Rhine through German cities like Cologne, where “salients of carved eagles and lions and swans swung from convoluted iron brackets along a maze of lanes,” and Coblenz, remarking that “the accent had changed and wine cellars had taken the place of beer-halls”.

This was a Germany in the first year of the Nazi regime with people giving the “Heil Hitler!” greeting “as though the place were full of slightly sinister boy scouts”. In the midst of this, though, Fermor’s descriptions are lyrical, cultural, rarely political.

His charm eased his passage. One day he might sleep in a barn, the next in the palace of former Austro-Hungarian nobility, playing polo on bicycles in the grounds.

And later in the journey he fell in love with a Romanian princess, Balasha Cantacuzene, tagged along in a royalist cavalry formation deployed against an abortive Greek revolution in 1935 and visited the monasteries of Mount Athos.

This six-year “ultimate gap-year”, as the writer Benedict Allen has called it, ended with the outbreak of war in 1939, Fermor’s facility with languages (speaking four fluently with a working knowledge of many more), plus a tried and tested self-sufficiency, meant that he was an ideal candidate for special operations.

After the war he stayed on in Greece, worked for the British Council and met his muse, Joan Rayner, who was Wendy to his Peter Pan, as Cooper puts it.

An intellectual counter to the polymath Fermor, she was there when, aged 69, he swam the Hellespont in imitation of his idol Lord Byron. The couple married in 1968.

She was the unseen presence in works like The Traveller’s Tree, an account of a journey through the geography, history and customs of the Caribbean Islands, and two books about Greece, Mani and Roumeli.

He was in his 60s when A Time of Gifts was published, followed 11 years later by Between the Woods and the Water – writing, rewriting and revising so slowly as to drive his publisher Jock Murray to distraction.

“I think life always got in the way,” says Cooper. “He felt so unsure of himself in so many ways. He was willing to sponge off friends or live pretty rough, really, until he could get it right.

“It’s very odd, a kind of real psychological problem.”

But Fermor was not shackled to travel writing. He became an elegant translator, wrote a proto-magical realist novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques, and even tried his hand at scriptwriting, co-writing The Roots of Heaven, a Hollywood feature directed by John Huston and starring Errol Flynn.

“Everybody else detested Errol Flynn,” recalls the writer and historian John Julius Norwich. “But Paddy thought he was terrific. And he and Paddy had tremendous drinking bouts together. They were on the same wavelength.”

And Fermor became a much sought-after raconteur, famously holding court on his visits to London.

Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General is available for pre-order or purchase. Click on the highlighted text.

Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and Soe in Crete by Patrick Leigh Fermor is available to purchase. Click on the highlighted text.

Relaunch of A War of Shadows by Billy Moss

A War of Shadows

A War of Shadows

In 1952 Billy Moss published his second volume of war memoirs, focusing on his activities after the Kreipe kidnap which he had described so vividly in Ill Met by Moonlight.War of Shadows has recently been republished by Bene Factum and I was honoured to have been invited to the recent launch party at the RAF Club.

A War of Shadows is a darker book than Ill Met. It starts with a discourse on death in its many forms, variety of impacts, and importance. Billy is in reflective mood as he describes the last year of his war, during which time he engaged in ambushes in Crete with his Russians whilst Paddy was recuperating from his illness in Cairo. There were even plans made to repeat the kidnap with the replacement General!

From Crete, Billy is deployed to Macedonia where he encounters a more cynical form of resistance. As the war in Europe passed on towards the shrinking Germanic core, Billy volunteered for SOE operations in the Far East and was parachuted into Siam, where he saw out the dog days of the war, occasionally listening to test matches on the BBC World Service.

The launch of the book represents a significant triumph for his family, especially his daughters. There is a view that Billy’s part in the Kreipe kidnap has been played down over time with more attention on Paddy’s role. It is important therefore to Billy’s memory that his role is recognised and that people know that after the kidnap Billy continued to engage in fierce operations against the Germans and Japanese, showing tactical skill and great bravery.

Billy Moss at a book signing in the early 1950's

Billy Moss at a book signing in the early 1950’s

I read A War of Shadows a couple of years ago (I managed to find a first edition) and it is a very enjoyable read, offering us more detail on the Crete operations and an interesting perspective on the way the war ‘wound down’. The new paperback edition has a delightfully personal introduction by Billy’s daughter Gabriella, and closes with an end-piece by acclaimed SOE writer Alan Ogden which is to all intents and purposes a short biography of Billy. So if you want to know more about this extraordinary man you should buy a copy of the new edition of A War of Shadows.

Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

Billy’s whole family are very much involved in preserving his memory. Proceeds from the book will go to support various charitable activities on Crete. At the launch, Billy’s granddaughter Liely gave a wonderful speech honouring his memory. She wore a beautiful jacket of silver thread depicting Mongol horsemen at the charge with bows taut; this jacket belonged to her grandmother Sophie, the woman who dominated that vibrant community of heroes and free thinkers in Cairo that was Tara. The jacket was hand-made in Cairo from cloth that Sophie bought in the souk. The text of Liely’s speech follows.

You can purchase War of Shadows in all good book stores but if pressed for time click here to buy from Amazon. A War of Shadows

 

Thank you Anthony, on behalf of all my family, for your kind words – and for all you have done: this evening celebrates the first reprint of A War of Shadows since 1952, and I want to take this opportunity to say how enormously we appreciate your unstinting dedication in bringing this book back into the light.
For us it is a very special occasion, and I want to thank all of you for coming this evening – my family welcomes you all.

We have just returned from Crete where, 3 weeks ago, we commemorated together the 70th anniversary of the Special Operation Executive’s abduction of the German General Kreipe – the only successful such kidnap of the war – carried out by Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy, with the help and support of a great swathe of the Cretan population. It was Billy’s diary, written in the field, which became the book, and then the film, Ill Met by Moonlight. Paddy and Billy spirited the General by boat to the Middle East.

From this point – or rather, from the point of his treasured friendship with Paddy – A War of Shadows takes up the story of the rest of Billy’s SOE war : in Crete for a second time, then Macedonia and the Far East. It is a candid observation of the times, places, personalities and politics. It liberally mixes humour with stark reality. Never melodramatic, it is at times a sobering and thoughtful book on what it actually means to be a soldier, dealing with death. At times it is also a very personal account : the answers to many questions lie within its pages.

Billy’s life, from the moment he was born, was extraordinary in so many ways but it was tragically short. He died in 1965. We his family carry him within us always, but it seemed that, as the decades passed, he would largely be forgotten by the world at large.

It is impossible to describe what it was to find, in Alan Ogden, Billy’s ultimate champion. Alan had already written about Billy and other SOE agents in his books Sons of Odysseus and Tigers Burning Bright. My parents first met Alan at the Special Forces Club in January last year, and it was he who absolutely insisted that Billy’s story should be told, and so he introduced them to his publisher, Anthony Weldon!

Alan threw himself into writing a short biography of Billy which is now published as the Afterword to A War of Shadows. ALAN, we are just so grateful for everything you have so generously done for Billy’s memory.

There are myriad ways in which we have felt support, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all of you whom we have gathered here tonight.

There are so many strands, and some of you have very particular links to my grandparents. ONE of you was a baby in wartime Cairo : SIMON, your mother was a marvellous and lifelong friend to them both. ONE of you is the son of their fellow Tara inmate, and named after another Tara inmate : XAN, your father was ever the dearest of friends. ONE of you, as a girl, knew them – and even knew Pixie the Alsatian – when they were living in Ireland in the 1950s : MERCEDES, you have vivid memories of Billy having to rescue you when Pixie had you pinned against a wall.

As I mentioned, we have just visited Crete. Some of us had been before, and for some of us it was the first time. It is hard to find words to express the experience, or our heartfelt gratitude towards the people there, or to say how much we are moved by their generosity of spirit.

There is also the most extraordinary of Cretan links: during the operation known in Crete as the Damasta Sabotage, one brave man was hit by an enemy shell full in the belly, and it seemed he could not possibly survive ; but survive he did – all this is described in A War of Shadows; and tonight one of his twelve grandchildren is here – a research biologist at Glasgow University – our dear EMMANOUELA.

So on behalf of Billy and all his family, we thank all of you for coming to share this evening with us. Let’s raise our glasses in Cretan fashion: Eviva!