Tag Archives: Cairo

Among The True Elect – A meeting with Paddy

Maj A T Casdagli RAOC

Maj A T Casdagli RAOC

On 1 June 1941 Major A. T. Casdagli was captured in Crete  and taken to Germany where he was held in various prisoner of war camps. There, in spite of risk of confiscation and reprisal, he kept a secret diary. His daughter, Alexis Penny, has for the first time brought together his story in a book entitled Prouder Than Ever, illustrated with Major Casdagli’s photographs, embroideries, prison memorabilia and documents, all of which he carefully preserved, as if he knew that one day his story would be published.

Alexis Penny runs a blog and I thought you might enjoy sharing her account of meeting Paddy in 1987.

by Alexis Penny Casdagli

First published on Alexis Penny’s blog

I had the honour of meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1987 and was thrilled when, at that meeting, he launched into a vivid and detailed account of the famous abduction of the German General Kreipe during the night of 26 April 1944 on the Greek island of Crete. The circumstances that led to my being among those privileged few present are, I think, almost as extraordinary as Paddy’s telling of the story itself.

In September 1964, aged sixteen, I was travelling with my mother on a boat from Venice to Piraeus. I was to spend almost a year in Athens on my own before going to the Central School of Speech and Drama to train as an actress. Our boat stopped for half a day in Corfu. Although it was lashing with rain, my mother and I disembarked to explore the town. We didn’t get very far. A storm broke and we rushed into the nearest place to shelter, a cavernous, darkly lit, antiquated café, which didn’t feel Greek at all. It overlooked a large patch of ground, turning in the downpour to chocolate-coloured mud. Apart from a stocky man sitting pensively at the top of a table facing the door, who didn’t look Greek at all, we were quite alone. I noticed the man, while we warmed up, occasionally look at us. This wasn’t unusual. My mother, Wendy, a Captain in the Special Operations Executive in Cairo during the war, was still very beautiful with glorious red hair.

Suddenly, the door swung open and in ran two men, muffled like gangsters against the weather. They greeted the man at the table, who now ordered lot of drinks, and sat down and all three chatted loudly. Because of the deluge outside, we couldn’t quite hear their conversation, but it was definitely in English. Then a brandy arrived at our table for my mother and an invitation to join them. One of the men looked just like the actor, Albert Finney, whom I really admired and who, like my father, A T Casdagli, was born in Salford. We went over and soon learnt our host was Lawrence Durrell, the patch of mud a cricket pitch, the café Italian, and
the man who looked like Albert Finney was Albert Finney and the third man was the film director, Karel Reisz.

When Durrell discovered I was going to live in Athens for some months on my own, he told me I had to meet an artist called Maro Stathatos, neé Vatimbella. He scribbled her address and her telephone number on a cigarette packet and assured me – and my mother- that she’d make sure I’d meet ‘all the right people’ and that I would adore her. He was right on both counts and, in spite of the great age difference, Maro and I became firm friends.

I left Athens the following summer and, although we corresponded, I did not see Maro again for over two decades. In 1987, she travelled to London to stay with her son, John Stathatos, the poet and photographer. By this time, she was in a wheelchair and, I believe, about to be diagnosed with some kind of dementia. John decided to throw a party in her honour. Only her most cherished English friends were to be invited, probably a dozen of us, and among them would be Paddy, who happened to be in London.

The party was held in the top room of John’s house in North London, under the slant of its roof. I don’t know how John managed to get Maro and wheelchair up there but there she was, exquisitely dressed and looking radiant, her eyes sparkling.

In the opening lines of his poem about Maro, A Portrait of Theodora, Durrell
perfectly describes her look:

‘I recall her by a freckle of gold
In the pupil of one eye, an odd
Strawberry gold…’

Before long Paddy arrived. He was everything that is said about him, charming, debonair and a wonderful raconteur. Maro and he were thrilled to see each other again. Together they set the party to a different rhythm, of other times full of a wildness and gaiety that only sheer intelligence and a shared past can bring about.
It was delightful to see them sparring, reminiscing and teasing each other. Then Maro said,
‘Paddy, do tell us the story of the General, and how you kidnapped him! It’s a marvellous story and you tell it so well.’

Paddy looked rather embarrassed.

‘Oh no, Maro. It happened so long ago and everyone knows what happened anyway.’

‘No,’ said Maro quite firmly, ‘you must tell it.’

There was something in her voice that made him look up and, in that split second, something flashed between them. Maro was definitely demanding of Paddy not to refuse her in front of her guests. I also believe, in this moment, these friends for so many decades both realised this was the last time they’d ever meet, which was correct. Maro died two years later. But there was something else that does not go easily into words. Durrell’s poem about Maro ends,

‘Now only my experience recognizes her
Too late, among the other great survivors
Of the city’s rage, and places her among
The champions of love – among the true elect!’

If Maro was ‘among the true elect’ then, of course, Paddy was too. She was reminding him of that and inviting him to do something special with her and for her, something we would all remember, something to kick death down the stairs, something that without her asking it of him, he could not or would not be willing to do.

There was a pause. Paddy looked down into his glass. I held my breath. I thought he was going to refuse her. Then he said, ‘Well…’ and he was off. He gave the story a hell of a spin. Maro shed her years and looked just like she looks in the photograph below. She sat in her wheelchair as if it was a joke and belonged to someone else. She kept feeding Paddy with questions, prompting, cajoling him to go faster, to go back to collect a detail, to go slower so we guests could visualise the scene for ourselves. She was our Queen and Paddy was her gallant and we the guests knew, with adamantine certainty, that we were witnessing – no – that we were part of an extraordinary evening. And when Paddy finished speaking, we guests, as if one, got up to leave. We paid our respects to dear Maro and thanked Paddy again his wonderful re-telling of that powerful, historic affair and left. It was, as you guess, quite unforgettable.

Maro, Paddy and Eve (3)

Maro, Paddy and Eve Willis at the Royal Yacht Club, Alexandria, November 1941, Photograph by David Smiley, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum (Private Collection)

Something else gives that evening, in recollection, a special and even more poignant resonance. Only after my mother’s death in 1999 did I learn from several of her closest friends that she and Paddy had had an affair in Cairo, before she met my father. And an affair is just what it was, apparently – just one of those things – but no less delicious for that! I don’t know if my father knew but I wish I had and had been able to tell Paddy I was Wendy’s daughter. O, the slender threads that bind us!

I don’t think my father, A T Casdagli, ever met Paddy, but I can’t be sure, and, in the absence of documented material either one way or another, it is, perhaps, permissible to speculate it’s highly likely that they did – and if they did not meet, then they should have done! Surely, they could have easily met at Shepheard’s Hotel or the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo or brushed
shoulders in Athens at the GB – the Grande Bretagne Hotel – or, perhaps, even better, sat down together in a simple kafeneon in a village square somewhere in their beloved Greece.

It is impossible that Paddy living in Tara, the now legendary villa on Gezira Island in Cairo, did not know the name Casdagli. The magnificent Villa Casdagli, sadly torched by rioters on 1 February 2013, was a well-known Cairo landmark, and the Casdagli family, who lived there, were extremely wealthy and influential.

Although Paddy needs no introducing here, my father does. Alexis Theodore Casdagli was born in Salford, Greater Manchester on 10 April 1906 to Theodore Emmanuel Casdagli and Catherina Casdagli, née Ralli. After being educated at Stanmore Park Preparatory School and Harrow, he joined the family business, Emmanuel Casdagli & Sons with offices in Manchester and Cairo. On 23 September 1939, in Cairo, Casdagli was commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. In April 1940, he was posted to Palestine and in November, sent to Crete.

On 1 June 1941, he was captured in Sphakia when the Battle of Crete was lost and spent the
next four years in various prisoner of war camps in Germany. From the moment of his capture
until his reunion with his family in April 1945, he kept a secret diary, now published as Prouder
Than Ever by Cylix Press. Whilst in prison, Casdagli was taught to speak Greek properly
by a Cretan General, Solon Kaffatos, wrongly imprisoned by the Germans, and a lifelong
friendship grew up between them. It was with threads from General Kaffatos’ pyjamas that
Casdagli embroidered the inner panel of this map of Crete. The khaki threads come from
Casdagli’s shirt and the white threads from German parachute silk, found in the island after
the landing. I think Paddy would have loved it.

Casdagli, A T, Prouder Than Ever, compiled Alexis Penny Casdagli (London, Cylix Press, 2014)

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A review of Artemis Cooper’s Cairo in the War 1939–1945 by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

So it seems we can still find the occasional piece of Paddy’s original writing to get us excited. He reviews his good friend Artemis’ book, remaining very formal and making no mention of his friendship! Who else though was better placed to review this book than one of the residents of the infamous Tara?

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

This article first appeared in the TLS of September 1, 1989.

 

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.

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.

You can buy Artemis Cooper’s Cairo in the War: 1939-45 on Amazon.

Remembering Lord Jellicoe by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In February 2007, following the death of his friend, Paddy wrote about George Jellicoe in the Spectator magazine.

George Jellicoe, who died last week, was an early member of David Stirling’s SAS, and soon became commander of the Special Boat Service. We first met in pitch darkness soon after midnight on 24 June 1942 in a cove off southern Crete, both of us in rubber boats, one of them taking off Jellicoe and his comrades — most of them French — back to Mersa Matruh, the other landing me on the island for a SOE mission. We exchanged shadowy greetings. On landing, I soon learnt from the Cretans of the success of their long, strung-out series of raids, and the number of enemy aircraft and the stockpiles of ammunition and fuel they had destroyed.

When George and I met by daylight a year and a half later in Cairo, I was struck immediately by the tonic effect of his presence, his initiative and his inflexible determination, and his knack of command. Also, his humour and buoyant spirits. We became great friends. He had a gift for getting on with his own soldiers and sailors and, most importantly, with our Greek allies. Among many operations, he worked several times with General Christodoulos Tsigantis — the ‘General Gigantes’ of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet — the dashing, original and very effective commander of the Sacred Brigade, mostly enlisted from guerrillas who had escaped from occupied Greece and which he led brilliantly from Cairo to Rimini. Many years later, Tsigantis told a friend that George was the bravest man he had ever met.

When the tail end of the German army was retreating from north Athens, George — well in advance of the advance mission — was already pedalling into the city centre on a borrowed bicycle. As we know, the same energy and flair carried him through his successful spell as a diplomat, and to great heights in postwar politics.

Tidcombe Manor, in the Wiltshire downs, was a delightful retreat from his manifold duties, which were here replaced by swimming, riding, reading and music, and the company of friends, in which he was wonderfully abetted by his wife Philippa. George meanwhile had painlessly developed from a young centurion to an active senator and then to a retired paladin, and evenings there were marked by lively talk and much laughter, a spirited combination of punctilio and bohemia.

George often returned to Greece, where his name is revered. Below the window of the house in the southern Peloponnese, where these lines are being hastily written, a favourite promontory juts into the sea, affectionately known as ‘Jellicoe’s leap’.

You can read more about Lord Jellicoe on the Royal Society website.

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

Alan Hare MC – Obituary from The Independent

Alan Hare was one of the SOE colleagues of Paddy who passed through Cairo and is mentioned as being an occupant of Tara.

by Richard Bassett

First published in the Independent Thursday, 13 April 1995

After a distinguished career in the service of his country first as a soldier, then in what he referred to always as the “Foreign Office so called” both during and after the Second World War, Alan Hare became chairman of the Financial Times in 1978, overseeing the paper’s all-important decision to print in Frankfurt and become “Europe’s Business Paper”.

Throughout his very varied career, Hare discharged his duties with a patrician, almost languid, charm which belied a sharp intellect and remarkable courage. During the war he was parachuted into Albania as a member of Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies’s mission. Betrayed by partisans and ambushed by the Germans, Hare only escaped after a grim chase across snow-bound mountains. Ravaged by frost-bite, he was the sole survivor of Davies’s ill-fated attempt to bring the discipline and turn-out of the parade ground to the isolated valleys of the Balkans. He remained far longer than either reason or compassion would have dictated, tending to the wounds of a fellow British officer. He was later awarded a Military Cross.

Characteristically, Hare took an optimistic line and another British officer in Special Operations Executive (SOE) found him in a half-submerged cowshed, recovering quite cheerfully, his unmistakable voice bringing back memories of Oxford dinners, tours of Burgundy and heated political discussion in London night-clubs.

Alan Hare was born in 1919, a son of the fourth Earl of Listowel, the head of an Anglo-Irish family burnt out in the troubles. Hare’s conventional education at Eton and then New College, Oxford, imparted little of the stuffiness which invested some of his contemporaries. Commissioned in the Irish Guards on the outbreak of war, he transferred as technical officer to the Life Guards. Here he derived satisfaction from the discovery that members of the Household Cavalry jumped into their unfamiliar new tanks more readily if the order shouted was “Mount” rather than a more modern command.

After his distinguished service with SOE in Albania, he found his knowledge of that country in demand. Today it is easy to forget how pertinent the eastern Mediterranean was to Britain’s interests immediately after the war. Significant colonies still existed east of Suez; Albania stood almost at Britain’s imperial jugular. The failure of the British SOE missions during the war to influence or prevent Communist regimes which took over in the Balkans directly affected British and then Nato foreign policy. In this Cold War world Hare’s knowledge was invaluable. In the Balkans and elsewhere, Hare brought his considerable intellectual gifts to bear on a range of security issues. While others developed an almost constipated approach to security, Hare mastered an opaque conversational style which a colleague at the Financial Times later, with some sense of frustration, described as “producing the most fascinating convoluted sentences, to which one had to pay close attention in order not to get lost”. 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

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

When you get involved with the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor, you find all sorts of possible avenues to explore. One group I am trying to bring together on the blog are the occupants of Tara in Cairo during the war. Given my interest in the Balkans, Albania in particular, I followed the route of “Billy” McLean and the British Military Missions to Yugoslavia and Albania which were manned by SOE men. Billy was an occupant of Tara and Xan Fielding wrote his biography. Of course Paddy was there as well.

In the course of my investigations I have read, in the last few weeks, the book Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MacLean who as a very young Brigadier was personally chosen by Churchill to lead the mission to Tito’s partisans, and Billy McLean’s biography – One Man in His Time. Both books are interesting and I will review them if I have time. I have to say I was a little disappointed in Xan’s writing style, but it is workmanlike and is probably an accurate portrayal.

Billy McLean’s life is absolutely fascinating. He was a real adventurer and never stopped his adventures or travel until he died in 1986. I have dug out his obituary from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries – Heroes and Adventurers, and as I did before with Xan Fielding’s obit, I have retyped it word for word as I cannot find an online version.

Go on, explore your own Paddy related avenue, and maybe write to me and we can publish for others to hear about!

First published in the Daily Telegraph, 20 November 1986.

Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean, who has died aged 67, spent 40 years playing his own version of the Great Game. Like some latter-day knight errant, he travelled tirelessly in the Muslim world, working always against the encroaching influence of the Soviet Union, while at the same time seeking adventure among tribal peoples.

McLean’s unusual life often had elements of intrigue that no one else could unravel. “What is Billy really up to?” was a question that would be asked at the bar of White’s Club as he set off on another trip to Jordan or Iran, Morocco or the Yemen.

In McLean’s character there were shades of Buchan and Lawrence and Thesiger. All seemed to coalesce in the Yemen, where from five years, from 1962, McLean helped the royalists under Iman al-Badr to resist President Nassar’s attempts to take over the country. He made numerous reconnaissances in the Yemen desert and many arduous journeys, by camel and on foot, to the royalist forces in their remote mountain strongholds.

It was entirely due to McLean that Britain never followed America in recognising Nassar’s, and the Soviet Union’s, puppet republican government in the Yemen; and it was he who persuaded the Saudis to increase their aid to the Iman’s forces. Thanks also to McLean, the royalists received Western mercenary support and arms from the RAF. Largely as a result of McLean’s efforts, North Yemen did not become one of Nassar’s fiefdoms and did not join its neighbour South Yemen (Aden) in the Communist camp.

Neil Loudon Desmond McLean was born on November 28 1918, a direct descendent of “Gillean of the Battle-Axe”, known in Argyll in the 13th century.

After Eton and Sandhurst (where he rode several winners in point-to-points), McLean was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys and sent to Palestine [prior to the war] in 1939.

At the end of the following year he went to occupied Abyssinia [Ed: Ethiopia] where he proved himself an outstanding guerrilla leader, as part of Orde Wingate’s Gideon Force. He led a force of Eritrean and Abyssinian irregulars – known as “McLean’s Foot” – against the Italians near Gondar.

His burgeoning career as an irregular soldier continued in Special Operations Executive; in 1943 he led a five man military mission to Albania, to co-ordinate resistance to the Axis powers. Peter Kemp (qv) described his first meeting with McLean when he parachuted into Albania to join the mission: “Approaching up the hill with long, easy strides came a tall figure in jodhpurs and a wide crimson cummerbund, a young man with long fair hair brushed back from a broad forehead and wearing a major’s crown on the shoulder straps of his open-necked army shirt.”

With one break, McLean remained in Albania until the German retreat from that country and inspired those under him with his military skill and courage. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel at the age of 24.

His contacts with the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha turned sour when the left-wing elements of SOE favoured the partisans at the expense of the Zogist faction led by Abas Kupi, which McLean supported against charges of collaboration with the Germans.

In 1945 he volunteered for SOE duties in the Far East, where he became military adviser in Kashgar, Chinese Turkistan. Here he learnt the ways of the Turkis, Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks and Tartars, who were under threat of domination by the Soviet Union, and travelled extensively in Asia. McLean’s fascination and sympathy with Muslim minorities and tribal peoples would continue for the rest of his life. He devoted much of his time to the cause of the Pathans and the Kurds, as well as the royalist Yemenis.

After the war he sought election to Parliament, twice unsuccessfully for the Preston South constituency, in 1950 and 1951. He became Conservative MP for Inverness in 1954, and held the seat until the 1964 general election.

As a Highlander himself, McLean was able to identify with the Celtic character of his constituents. But they could not be expected to appreciate the reasons for his long absences on the Middle East.

While he was an MP, and afterwards, McLean was, as described by a colleague, “a sort of unpaid under-secretary for the Foreign Office”. His political contacts in the Muslim world were probably unique among Westerners, in particular his relationship with King Saud during the Yemen war and his personal friendship with King Hussein over many years. In the mid-1960’s he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to “spring” a revolutionary leader from jail in Algeria [Ed: using a yacht and accompanied by King Leka of the Albanians who fancied coming along for the ride. The attempt was foiled by the CIA who wanted the ‘kudos’ of freeing the man, which they did some months later].

McLean was always passionate in defence of British interests, as he saw them, which did not always accord with the Government’s view. In his later years, still pursuing those interests he visited Somalia, Iran, Western Sahara, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, China, Israel, Turkey and Jordan.

In 1979 Harold Macmillan wrote to McLean: “You are one of those people whose services to our dear country are known only to a few.”

By his many friends and admirers he will be remembered as possibly the last of the paladins. While his role may not always have been appreciated in Britain, his independence and total integrity were recognised n all the countries where his influence was felt.

Alongside his flair for guerrilla fighting, he had a passion for secret enterprises, deep-laid schemes, and political complexities. He combined acute political understanding with military gifts ideally suited to irregular warfare.

His comrade-in-arms in Albania and the Yemen, David Smiley, has written of McLean: “His charming character seemed languid and nonchalant to the point of idleness, but underneath this façade he was unusually brave, physically tough and extremely intelligent, with a quick, active and unconventional mind.”

His wisdom, sense of humour, human curiosity and kindness endeared him to a wide circle of contemporary friends and younger people, who saw his values as ones they could respect without sentimentality or danger of being considered old-fashioned. He revelled in argument and banter, and was always interested in the opinions of the younger generation.

McLean was both a keen shot and underwater fisherman: one of his great pleasures was to spear moray eels off the coast of Majorca. He was very partial to Middle Eastern and Chinese cooking.

He married, in 1949, Daska Kennedy (neé Ivanovic), who supported, sustained and understood him during his unconventional life.

Related article:

Xan Fielding Obituary