Tag Archives: Cretan resistance

Meeting Paddy at the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Crete

sutherlandJeanne Nutt and Iain Sutherland began their careers as professional diplomats in Moscow when Stalin was still alive. Although both had studied the language, literature and history they arrived in Moscow separately. Three decades later they would leave the city together, after three ageing leaders had died in a row and just as things were about to change for ever with Gorbachev’s perestroika.

By then, Jeanne’s career was long over. When she and Iain had married in 1955, she had been obliged, under rules not finally abolished until 1972, to resign. From then on her fate had been to pack and follow her husband wherever his career took him. She continued to take a lively and intelligent interest in the people and the politics of the places where she and her husband lived, and where they witnessed some of the turning points of the Cold War.

In her book From Moscow to Cuba and Beyond, A Diplomatic Memoir of the Cold War, she gave a flavour of the sometimes bizarre life diplomats led in those distant days.

The Sutherlands served in Cuba, Washington, Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Athens, where Iain was ambassador, and this is where they met Paddy. Her book focuses on their three tours of duty in Russia. The highlight of their first stint in Moscow was the death of Stalin in March 1953. That morning their maid arrived in their apartment shattered by grief. She made an inedible breakfast, broke down in tears, and fled. The old woman who guarded the front door was sobbing into her shawl. The following day the ambassador, the splendidly named Sir Alvary Gascoigne, went with his staff to pay their respects to Stalin as he lay in state in Moscow’s Hall of Columns. The ambassador insisted that all should wear top hats, wholly unsuitable headgear when the thermometer stood at -20C, and the diplomats were ushered past the coffin so fast that one of them missed Stalin altogether.

This account is taken from her diary of the events around the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

Thursday, 21 May 1981

Lord and Lady Caccia arrived to take part in the Crete activities, this being the 40th anniversary of the battle. The Olympic (airlines) strike threatened to leave us without transport to Chania so we were all – the Australian and New Zealand delegations, Paddy Leigh Fermor and ourselves – given seats in the Minister (Averoff’s) plane which took off from Tatoi about 6. We arrived about 7.30 in Chania and poured into the already crowded Porto Veneziano Hotel. There were obviously too many, even of the British Delegation, to have a quiet taverna dinner altogether so we collected our party and Paddy and Johnny Craxton and had a fish meal at the taverna near the hotel.

The ceremonies of the next few days seemed never-ending as we toiled round with over 100 veterans, three Ministers of Defence and Mitsotakis, Scottish pipers, Australian buglers and Greek military bands. It was tiring, interesting and at times particularly moving, as in Galetas which was in the centre of the battle, and Souda Bay where the Australians broke into singing God Save the Queen as the anthems were played.

Sunday, 24 May 1981

The ceremony of the laying of the plaque dedicated to the members of the resistance in Crete who lost their lives, was delayed yet again and finally unveiled at 7.30 p.m. There were short speeches by Averoff and Iain and by Paddy Leigh Fermor at greater length after much agonising. (The story about the glass of water at the British Council lecture was true, he told me. When the attendant topped it up with more water it became cloudy and revealed to all that he was keeping up his courage with ouzo!)

Monday, 25 May 1981

The party set off from Heraklion for Mount Ida and the village of Anoya to meet Paddy Leigh Fermor’s resistance friends for a lunch in the mountains and to hear stories of how the men folk were shot and the village burned in reprisal for the acts of sabotage perpetrated by the SOE fighters. We collected the mayor and Dilys Powell in the Rolls and took it up the rough road to Psiloriti near the Cave of Zeus. Here the air was fresh and crisp, and together with the veterans of the underground resistance, we sipped raki and ate local cheese outside and then went inside for crisp hot lamb and more local wine; all this accompanied by playing of the lyre (lira) and singing by Paddy and his companions.

The climax was the ‘simple taverna party’ in the evening outside town for the veterans. It was given by Kefaloyannis, the large burly moustachioed Cretan (whom at the lunch I had taken to be a former shepherd and not a hotel owner), in his 600 bed hotel. Twenty or thirty of us were wined and dined, given champagne, serenaded by the hotel singers (more Filaden, Filaden), watched dancing and plate throwing and finally our host’s firing bullets through his hotel windows. Paddy told me the story of Kefaloyannis, who had abducted a young Cretan girl in the 1950s, the daughter of a Venizelos supporter and therefore a declared enemy, as K was a Royalist. When the island was on the brink of civil war over it he came down from the mountains, gave himself up and went to prison. Later they were married, but this did not last and he is now married to the sober black-dressed lady who was sitting on Iain’s right. Sitting opposite me was Paddy’s god-daughter whose father was shot, trying to escape from the village of Anoya, after sheltering Paddy several times during the war.

Home at 2 a.m.

Extracted from Jeanne Sutherland’s diaries and her book, From Moscow to Cuba and Beyond, A Diplomatic Memoir of the Cold War. Published by The Radcliffe Press in 2010 (p 276-277).

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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.

Event – Patrick Leigh Fermor and SOE in Crete

Costas Mamalakis at the Historical Museum of Crete. Photo: Mike Sweet.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and SOE in Crete – Costas Mamalakis is giving the next PLFS lecture. Costas Mamalakis is Crete’s leading expert on the Second World War and the resistance in Crete. Consultant in Modern History to the Historical Museum of Crete, Costas has been the moving force behind the publication of several memoirs of the resistance, including the most recent: ‘Tom J. Dunbabin: An Archaeologist at War’.

Costas will be spending the week prior to this presentation reviewing documents in the PLF Archive in Edinburgh, and will be able to bring new insights to the many documents in Greek that have yet to be properly evaluated. He will be supported by Chris and Peter White and Gabriella Bullock.

Monday 1 February, 7.15pm at Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London, W1U 5AS. Contact info@ patrickleighfermorsociety.org.

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

 

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

A bond deeper than blood. The friendship forged in wartime Crete between Patrick Leigh Fermor and shepherd George Psychoundakis was commemorated in George’s memoir about the Resistance, The Cretan Runner. With the book republished, it was time to meet again.

by Allison Pearson

First published in The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 13th June 1998

Two old men sitting at a table talking about the war. A Cretan and an Englishman. A voluble eye-popping tenor and a growly teddy-bear bass. “Remember the sick doctor we disguised as an old woman and carried for miles to get help?” “Yes, and remember when you dressed up as a general and kidnapped a real one!”

They interrupt each other. They sigh for the dead. They laugh for dear life, knowing exactly how much it can cost. Although one of the men speaks only Greek, I think I can detect a rhythm to their reminiscing: the Cretan talks everything up and the Englishman plays it right back down again. The sudden memory of one “bad Greek” acts on the Cretan’s weathered face like a drawstring, pulling it taut to a scowling walnut. But the Englishman, all silky diplomacy, jumps in and offers a more optimistic assessment of the fiend in question: “I think he just lost his head a bit.”

Later, when the Cretan mentions the Englishman’s name in the course of what sounds like a pretty fulsome tribute, his friend stops translating for me altogether. What did he say? “He was more than kind about me.” Yes, but what did he say? “Oh, I couldn’t possibly repeat it.”

The bashful Briton is Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, traveller, scholar- gypsy, war hero and writer of genius. His fiery friend is George Psychoundakis, author of The Cretan Runner, an extraordinary account of the anti- Nazi Resistance on the island, which was translated by Leigh Fermor and is now republished.

The Cretan Runner

There have been other memoirs of wartime Crete, such as Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek and Ill Met by Moonlight, W Stanley Moss’s record of the kidnapping of General Kreipe (later made into a movie, with Dirk Bogarde assigned to fill Leigh Fermor’s dashing boots). But those were visitors’ books. George’s story, as Leigh Fermor points out in the introduction, is unique. It is no longer the locals who are colourful aliens, but the Allied officers and their wireless operators – good sorts and good sports in the main but, none the less, foreigners with some very dodgy customs. “A most peculiar man,” George says of one buffer. “He had pyjamas and a washbasin.”

Even more baffling for the Cretans, who think Nature is a place where you go and shoot things, the buffer turned out to be an amateur botanist and geologist: “He was not only in love with different kinds of weeds but with stones as well.”

Paddy and I have been sitting in the front room of George’s small vine-clad house, outside Khania in western Crete, for more than two hours now. At least one of us is reeling under the bombardment of Cretan hospitality. Celestial cheese tarts made by Sofia, George’s wife, have given way to nuts, glistening sweetmeats and, as if that weren’t enough, shots of tsikoudia, a spirit so lethal it feels less like drinking a liquid than sipping scalded air. After three of these, I am not entirely sure whether the spools on my tape recorder are going round: after four, I don’t care.

George – one eye sleepy, the other coal black with embers of mischief – is joking about whether he should have given lessons in sheep stealing (a local speciality) to one of the wireless operators. “So when he got back to Scotland he could have organised sheep rustling.” Paddy pretends, unconvincingly, to be shocked.

Through the window behind them, you can see the White Mountains – a range so towering and snowy, even on this May day, that it is hard to tell where rock stops and cloud begins. More than half a century ago, those slopes were Paddy and George’s stamping-ground. “George’s life was dangerous and absolutely exhausting,” explains Paddy. But George is having none of it: “I felt as if I were flying. Running all the way from the top of the White Mountains to Mount Ida. So light and easy – just like drinking a cup of coffee.”

George has difficulty walking now – at 78 he leans on a stick as gnarled as himself – but his mind can leap from memory to memory, as if he were still flying. I ask George what he thought the British had learnt from the Cretans and vice versa. “What they learnt, because there was very little to eat, was to drink a lot and to dance and to shoot for joy in the air. We saw how much they loved our country and it made us love it still more. The fact that they loved Crete so much gave us even greater courage.”

The first time George Psychoundakis met Patrick Leigh Fermor he thought he was very tall. The young Cretan had just crawled on all fours through thick bushes into the heap of boulders where the officer was hiding. In fact, the Englishman was not especially lofty (a touch over 5ft 9in, according to his passport). It was the Greek who was tiny. “As fine-boned as an Indian,” recalls Leigh Fermor. “Lithe and agile and full of nervous energy.”

Anyway, height didn’t matter much back then. It was the July of 1942 in occupied Crete and the stature of men was not measured in inches, rather in a bewildering range of abilities. These included: keeping cool when a member of the Gestapo approaches your mule while it is carrying a combustible load of wheat and wireless; keeping warm in a cave-bed with a canopy of stalactites; and finding the courage to tuck into a dinner of local produce – grass cooked with snails. “We took the grass blade by blade, picked off the broken shells and ate it with much laughter,” recalls George.

Psychoundakis was a runner for the Resistance – a vertical postman, he delivered messages and equipment at barely credible speed. On a map, Crete doesn’t look too daunting – a sirloin steak beaten to a succulent sliver by a butcher. But it rises so sharply into such broken-toothed cragginess that it is pointless to measure it in miles: the islanders calculate distances in the time taken to smoke cigarettes. George’s wartime business was mainly conducted at eagle-height, or as he felt his way down the vertebrae of his homeland towards some hiding place where even goats didn’t dare.

He was 21 years old when he first met the 27-year-old Leigh Fermor. George addressed Paddy as Michali (all the Allied soldiers had Greek nicknames) or sometimes Mr Michali in half-amused respect (irreverence being the key to the Psychoundakis psyche). Paddy, meanwhile, code- named George either the Clown or the Changeling, for his cockeyed wit, his impish insubordination and a magical ability to spirit himself out of trouble.

Patrick Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy Moss

The two men were not just worlds apart: a glance at their biographies suggests you would need to hire a time machine to bring them together. Born in Asi Gonia, a village with a long history of giving invaders a hard time (asi is Arabic for uncommandable), George lived the kind of peasant life that had not changed for centuries. His family slept together in a single room with a beaten earth floor. After a scratchy education at the local primary school, he followed his father on to the mountains as a shepherd. By the time German parachutes blotted out the sky in May 1941, he had visited only two of Crete’s towns and had never seen the capital, Heraklion.

By contrast, Leigh Fermor was born into a smart Anglo-Irish family and educated at prep school and King’s, Canterbury. [Just like someone else we know] By 1939, he had walked across every country between London and Constantinople – a stroll commemorated in his two dazzling volumes, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water – and also appeared to have drunk in most of their national literatures.

Scrape through what Leigh Fermor called his “Fauntleroy veneer”, though, and you find a rougher grain. With his parents abroad for the first four years of his life, Paddy was entrusted to the family of a small farmer and, left uncultivated, he ran wild. The experience, he later wrote, “unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint”. His behaviour at a flurry of schools led to his being sent to two psychiatrists, although it is unlikely that either rivalled Paddy’s clinical diagnosis of himself as “a very naughty boy”. He was finally expelled from King’s for crimes that included “trying to be funny” and holding the hand of a greengrocer’s daughter. His housemaster’s report noted: “He is a dangrous mixture of sophistication and recklessness, which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.”

Almost 70 years later, I find it hard to improve on that verdict, save to replace the word dangerous with delightful. As it turned out, his influence on other boys was all to the good, and the most remarkable boy of all was George Psychoundakis.

While Paddy was in Kent writing “bad and imitative verse” and lapping up ancient Greek because it was a passport to a world of heroes, George was scavenging books from the village priest and the doctor, and occupying the long woolly hours by the sheepfold composing patriotic poems and beady skits on local life. (An early effort entitled Ode to an Inkspot on a Schoolmistress’s Skirt sounds distinctly Paddy-like in its high- flown cheekiness).

Although George’s father, Nicolas, was illiterate, he could recite by heart the whole of the Erotocritos, the 17th-century Cretan epic poem that comprises 10,000 lines of rhyming couplets. And the rhythm lodged in the son’s head and on his tongue: poetry to these people was not the object of solemn study but a spur to the spinning of legends and the cue for a bloody good song.

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

Which is to say that when the ragged and practically barefoot Cretan wriggled into the hiding-place of the Englishman in 1942, they had more in common than an enemy. George spoke only one perfect sentence of English – “I steal grapes every day” – but Paddy soon extended his repertoire. On long marches to the coast to meet supply vessels or during the dark hours awaiting a parachute drop, the Britons taught the Greeks folk-songs and the Greeks taught them mantinadas – waspish local couplets with a sting in the tail.

On their first trek together, Paddy recalls how George recited a poem he had written on the unambitious theme of The Second World War So Far. “It covered the invasion of Poland, the fall of France, the German invasion of Greece and Rommel’s final advance. It lasted more than two hours and finished on a note of triumphant optimism and presage of vengeance, which he emphasised by borrowing my pistol and firing it into the sky with the remark that we would soon be eating the cuckolds alive.”

Leigh Fermor, meanwhile, attempted to satisfy Psychoundakis’s ravenous curiosity about the world. What was Churchill like? Why do the Scots wear kilts? How about astronomy, religion, trains? How many sheep does the average Englishman own?

The task of the British Special Operations Executive in Crete was to assist the local Resistance. Having spent centuries in revolt against the Venetians and the Turks, the islanders didn’t actually need much encouragement. During the airborne invasion in 1941, when many young Cretans were away on active service, descending parachutists were met by old men, women and children – by anyone, in fact, who could point upwards and shoot. “Aim for the legs and you’ll get them in the heart,” ran the local wisdom. Four thousand Germans died. Those who survived took swift revenge. Reprisals, read one Wehrmacht memo, “must be carried through with exemplary terror”. Between May and September of that year, 1,135 Cretans were executed.

The Cretan Runner begins with the invasion. “Out of the sky the winged devils of Hitler were falling everywhere … the aeroplanes came and went like bees in a bee-garden.” One grounded plane is set upon by furious locals till it resembles “a bit of bread thrown on to an ant-hill”. From the opening pages, you get a pungent impression of the Psychoundakis style – a vertiginous mix of the epic and the demotic, the Homeric and the homely. Of the enemy, George writes: “They reached to our very bowels and provoked a storm in the soul of the race like the hiss of a poisonous snake about to strike.” No British account of the battle of Crete could contain a sentence like that. Too purple. Too embarrassing, frankly. But it feels utterly true to George and the hot-blooded rhetoric of his race.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of a book that documents the burning of villages, the casual slaughter of comrades and a life of mesmerising danger is how often it makes you smile. No stranger to hardship anyway, George embraces discomfort as though it were a shy friend with a lot to offer. We see George at the end of a knackering three-day trek using pieces of wood to mime someone hobbling. We hear him enthusing over yet another dank hiding-place as though he were writing for some actionable travel brochure: “The cave was perfect. We collected our drinking and washing water from stalactites. We arranged luxurious couches for ourselves from the branches of various shrubs that were better than the softest mattress!”

Best of all, there is George richly enjoying his British friends, not least their congenital inability to walk over the rocky landscape. (In one incident, Leigh Fermor threw himself pluckily at a high stone wall in emulation of local bravado, only to fall off backwards: the Cretans in the party walked around the side of the wall, shaking their heads and laughing.)

SOE officer Ralph Stockbridge (centre, in the spectacles) with some of his comrades in Crete

“It was plain that George was enraptured with the excitement of our secret life,” says Paddy. The same could be said of all of them, I think. As a boy Leigh Fermor confessed to being guilty of “a bookish attempt to coerce life into a closer resemblance to literature”. In this case, the literature was Greek. The Cretans, for their part, seemed all too willing to live up to the legends the Englishmen had imbibed at school. Most battles look romantic only in retrospect, if then: Crete was different. It seems to have struck its leading men as touched with an air of romance, even as the drama was unfolding. As they approached by boat on a moonless night, the first the soldiers knew of the island was perfume, the scent of wild thyme that wafts miles out to sea.

Once on shore, they changed into local costume – breeches, black bandanas, embroidered waistcoats and spiffy jackboots. There were lessons in how to curl their new moustaches. They were an extraordinary bunch – poets, archaeologists, free spirits thirsty for adventure. SOE chose them because they had some knowledge of ancient Greek. But, as Leigh Fermor explains, since Greek was no longer compulsory at school, those who opted for it had already marked themselves out as “a perverse and eccentric minority”.

I cannot get enough of the photographs of the Resistance taken through those years in the mountains. Remember, these are snapshots captured at a time when to have a likeness of yourself in existence was itself a threat to that existence. There is the legendary Xan “Aleko” Fielding, looking uncannily like the young Hemingway. Gimlet-eyed and bare- chested, he regards the lens with Olympian amusement. And there is Yanni Tsangarakis, one of the bravest and most trusted guides, slightly woebegone behind a Zebedee moustache, and the redoubtable Manoli Paterakis, whose unforgettable profile suggests he may have been the love-child of Montgomery of Alamein and a peregrine falcon. [I think he’s trying to say he was nasally overendowed]

Looking at the smiley countenance of Tom Dunbabin – a fellow of All Souls in peacetime – you can see why he inspired such love; ditto the gaunt saintly faces of Aleko Kokonas, the schoolmaster of Yerakari, and his wife, Kyria Maria. And then, of course, there are Paddy and George: the first as debonair and unfeasibly handsome as Errol Flynn casting about for a galleon to capture; the second apparently auditioning for the role of Puck.

In Louis de Bernieres’s novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, set in wartime Cephalonia, there is a posh Englishman who lives in a cave and comes out declaiming ancient Greek. He is a bit of a joke. And, to be sure, there is something potentially laughable about the Boy’s Own aspect of all this dressing up and blowing stuff up. What redeems it from absurdity, what transforms it into real rather than fantastical heroism, is the nagging presence of death, which circled above these lives like a hawk. There was nothing comic-book about Anton Zoidakis, captured by German soldiers, tied to their vehicle and dragged along the road until his face and his life were wiped away. And even George’s account of merry scrapes is pulled up short when 20 Gestapo visit Asi Gonia: “They said I was wanted for interrogation and if didn’t go to Retimo before January 17 they would set fire to the whole village.”

Three of George’s fellow runners were executed, two after what the Wehrmacht would probably have considered exemplary torture. In his superb book Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, Antony Beevor points out that the penalty for a shepherd caught whistling to warn of the approach of a German patrol was death.

War had transformed George Psychoundakis’s life. In February 1943, it enabled the former shepherd boy to travel abroad for the first time. He was spirited off to SOE headquarters in Egypt, where he was knocked sideways by wonders, not least the grass in the Gezira gardens: “Fat, short grass like green velvet carpet.” As for the zoo, “I could almost have deemed that I was in the middle of paradise”. The most misguided character in the whole of The Cretan Runner is the soldier who advised George not to climb up the Pyramids because it was “very tiring and tricky”. A short hop later, the Cretan runner got out his stiletto and “cut my name and fatherland” into a stone at the top.

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

On the day the war was over, a “high-spirited Mr Leigh Fermor” bought a dubious Mr Psychoundakis a lot of drinks. “If I drink all that I’ll be drunk,” protested George. “But my child, what is drink meant for? It’s no use for anything else,” replied Paddy.

Soon after, in a school where a whole village was gathered together, George recited a heart-stopping poem he had written on the lovely village of Yerakari, now destroyed, where once “white houses lay like doves asleep along the sill of heaven”. He had survived, but for a while it was hard to see what for.

Fortune, who had smiled on George in a time of insane adversity, appeared to doze off once the shooting stopped. Because of missing documents and in spite of his British Empire Medal (awarded in 1945), he was arrested as a deserter and imprisoned for several months. One can scarcely imagine the wound inflicted on his pride. Over three days, that great shaggy helmet of hair all fell out. Subsequently, he had to do two more years of fighting in the civil war. Returning at last to Asi Gonia, George found all the sheep stolen and his family in gruesome poverty. The Changeling had run out of magic.

George took a job as a navvy working on a road. At night, he sheltered once more in a cave and by the light of an oil lamp began to fill notebook after notebook with a furious, cramped hand. “I think he undertook this task as a kind of exorcism of the gloom of his circumstances, ” says Paddy. When they met up again in 1951, George gave his friend the completed work: Pictures of Our Life During the Occupation. Better known as The Cretan Runner.

Leigh Fermor, now living on the Greek mainland, took the precious grime-covered manuscript home to translate. George, meanwhile, was working to help his old friend, too. In 1943, with a German patrol approaching, Paddy, who was checking what he thought was an empty rifle, accidentally shot Yanni Tzangarakis in the leg. He died soon afterwards, but not before absolving his friend of all blame. Paddy was devastated: imagine killing the proud son of a country for which you were willing to lay down your own life.

This wretchedness was deepened by foolish rumours that eventually led to a vendetta being declared by some of Yanni’s relatives. This was only laid to rest after years of delicate negotiation by George, who found a very Cretan solution to the Englishman’s impasse: Paddy Leigh Fermor became godfather to Yanni’s great-niece. In Greek society, this bond is deeper than blood.

Two old men sitting at a table talking about the war. A Cretan and an Englishman. “We’d better censor that, George, it’s libellous,” says Paddy, trying to sound stern. As usual, he fails.

George goes off into the bedroom and comes back with a rifle. It is nearly as tall as he is, and its working parts are in similarly creaky order. As George poses with the gun, the photographer asks him to smile. George scowls and spits out a guttural retort. “Oh dear, oh dear,” says Paddy, shaking his head and laughing. What did George just say? “He said he won’t smile because he’s killing Germans.”

At the front of A Time of Gifts, Leigh Fermor quotes from Louis MacNeice’s great poem:

For now the time of gifts is gone
O boys that grow,
O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill.

Since the war, both men have found satisfactions. Leigh Fermor, though unfairly saddled with the label of travel writer, has become one of the greatest exponents of English prose.

Psychoundakis, meanwhile, has translated both the Odyssey and the Iliad into Cretan and been honoured by the Academy of Athens. Still, I can’t help wondering whether the time since their great adventure had been an anti-climax.

“To some extent all our lives were in those years,” admits Paddy. “Of course, one went on to do interesting things, but … ” George has come up now and stretches out his fingertips to reach the shoulders of his friend, the tall Englishman. “Ah, George says to tell you that those years up in the mountains were the best years of his life. He’ll never forget it. Never. And that’s why he wanted to commemorate our days together.”

Just as we are getting ready to leave, George gives Paddy a photograph. It is of George himself and Xan Fielding, taken somewhere in the mountains. You can just make them out. The emulsion is breaking up and great snowy specks of it are blizzarding them into oblivion. Yet looking back at the Cretan resisters, we see only a thrilling clarity. Their existence was both mortally serious and a great wheeze – perhaps a definition of the best kind of life you can hope to lead.

Years after the war ended, George Psychoundakis sang for his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor a mantinada. This is what it said:
With patience first and patience last, and doggedness all through,
A man can think the wildest thoughts and make them all come true.

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George Psychoundakis – The Cretan Runner’s obituary from The Times

A second obituary of George who as a fit young man risked life and limb running messages for the Cretan resistance and then for the SOE operatives in Crete. Paddy helped to get George out of gaol (when he was mistakenly detained by the Greeks as a deserter) and then translated The Cretan runner into English.

Cretan partisan who wrote an unvarnished account of the wartime occupation

First published in The Times February 23, 2006

AS a runner for the Resistance in Crete during the German occupation, George Psychoundakis carried messages over vast distances across one of the most mountainous regions in Europe. It was a life of constant risk — runners captured by the Germans were often tortured and shot. Wearing worn-out boots and with a minimum of rations, Psychoundakis would cover up to 50 miles in only a few days. The threat from collaborators meant that he often had to avoid villages, thus depriving himself of comforts that would have eased the rigours of his journeys.

Psychoundakis approached his missions with a humour and a charm that made him a popular figure in the Resistance, as well as with the British officers serving under cover. One officer was the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, with whom Psychoundakis formed a lifelong friendship. It was Leigh Fermor who translated Psychoundakis’s account of life under the occupation, The Cretan Runner, republished in 1998.

In his foreword Leigh Fermor writes how he was captivated by the Cretan’s “gift for play on words, for funny repartee, light verse, improvisation, unpredictable flights of imagination and his instinct for teasing the great . . . which earned him a universal licence as a jester”.

More than merely fleet of foot, Psychoundakis was quick of mind. Before the war, as a shepherd boy, he was fascinated by literature. Among a barely literate population, he had to pester the village priest and the doctor for books, and even composed his own epic poems. Psychoundakis represented the Greek oral tradition: he had even composed a two-hour-long poem about the war. It ended with George firing Leigh Fermor’s pistol into the air, swearing vengeance on the German “ cuckolds”. At night and when the weather was awful, Psychoundakis would sit with his comrades in their caves, reciting the 10,000 lines of the 17th-century Cretan poem, the Erotokritos.

George Psychoundakis was born in 1920, the son of a shepherd from the village of Asi Gonia in Western Crete. The family was very poor — Psychoundakis, his two sisters and brother were raised in a one-room house — and owned only a handful of goats and sheep. After a few years at the village school Psychoundakis too became a shepherd until the German invasion in May 1941.

Had the invasion not happened, it is probable that he would have remained an unknown shepherd, eking out a tough existence on the craggy Cretan landscape. But the occupation allowed him to broaden his horizons, for the contacts he had made with scholarly warriors such as Leigh Fermor gave him the opportunity to make a name for himself as a man of letters.

But the transition from mountain boy to writer was not easy. Despite being awarded the British Empire Medal after the war, Psychoundakis was arrested as a deserter and imprisoned for several months, losing his thick head of hair through worry. Afterwards, he was forced to fight in the civil war, returning to Asi Gonia after two years to find his family poorer than ever.

It was then that he wrote The Cretan Runner. When he and Leigh Fermor met again in 1951, Fermor marvelled at the uniqueness of such a document. Most writing about the occupation had been by the English or the Germans, but here was a heartfelt testament to the horrors of being occupied. The book was published in 1955, and became a great success.

Written in a simplistic style, it is an episodic account of hardships and dangers, with moments of great humour set against a background of murder and torture.

“Nobody talked, but the Germans had positive information. They lined them all up, and, as they refused to speak, prepared to execute the lot. But, before they could press the trigger of their heavy machine-gun, ten Germans fell dead. For some of the village men — about ten — had taken up position along the top of a sheer cliff above the village, from where they could watch every detail, and, at just the right moment, had opened fire. Not a bullet went wide.”

Even after the publication of The Cretan Runner, Psychoundakis continued to live in Asi Gonia. There he translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into his Cretan dialect, and he was honoured by the Academy of Athens. He lived off the land and held a variety of jobs. That one of these was as the caretaker for the nearby German cemetery was a shining example of Psychoundakis’s sense of forgiveness.

He is survived by his wife, Sofia, their son and two daughters.

George Psychoundakis, BEM, shepherd, partisan and writer, was born on November 3, 1920. He died on January 29, 2006, aged 85.

The obituary of George Psychoundakis aka The Cretan Runner

The Cretan Runner

The obituary that follows is of George Psychoundakis, who as a young man was a runner for the resistance in Crete during the German occupation in World War II. First of all he ran for local partisans groups or andartes, but from about 1941 he did most of his work with the Special Operations Executive.  At the end of the war George was mistakenly taken for a deserter and locked up. He spent around 16 months in gaol and whilst there he wrote his wartime memoires. Somehow Paddy became aware of his incarceration and had George released. He then helped George by translating his memoires into English and sorting out a publisher. The book has been translated into many languages and is called The Cretan Runner. This obituary includes a section written by Paddy at the end.

First published: 12:10AM GMT 18 Feb 2006 in the Telegraph

George Psychoundakis, who died at Canea, Crete, on January 29 aged 85, was best known for his extraordinary account of clandestine life in the Resistance after the German occupation of his island in 1941; the book was translated into English by Patrick (now Sir Patrick) Leigh Fermor, and enjoyed success in Britain as The Cretan Runner.

George Psychoundakis was born on November 3 1920 at the village of Asi Gonia, perched high in a mountain pass in central Crete. He was the eldest of four children, born to a family whose only possessions were a single-room house and a few sheep and goats.

Education at the village school was basic; but unlike most of his fellows George learnt to write as well as read, and gleaned what learning he could from books lent by the schoolteacher and the village priest.

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

When the German invasion of Crete began, he was 21, a light, wiry, elfin figure who could move among the mountains with speed and agility. While the Germans imposed their rule with the utmost brutality, Psychoundakis was among the many who guided straggling Allied soldiers over the mountains to the south coast, from where they could be evacuated.

As the Resistance grew more organised, Psychoundakis became a runner, carrying messages, wireless sets, batteries and weapons between villages and secret wireless stations, always on foot, always in danger, often exhausted and hungry, over some of the most precipitous terrain in Europe.

It was gruelling work, but in an interview many years later Psychoundakis made light of the hundreds of miles he covered at a run: “I felt as if I were flying, so light and easy – just like drinking a cup of coffee.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of a handful of SOE officers whose job it was to co-ordinate the Cretan resistance, first met Psychoundakis at the end of July 1942 in a rocky hide-out above the village of Vaphé.

The messages Psychoundakis was carrying were twisted into tiny billets and hidden away in his clothes: “They were produced,” wrote Leigh Fermor, “with a comic kind of conjuror’s flourish, after grotesquely furtive glances over the shoulder and fingers laid on lips in a caricature of clandestine security precautions that made us all laugh.” His clothes were in rags, one of his patched boots was held together with a length of wire – but his humour and cheerfulness were infectious.

Humour and danger went hand in hand. Psychoundakis told how a couple of German soldiers decided to help him with an overladen donkey, which was carrying a heavy wireless set under bags of wheat. The Germans beat the poor creature so hard that Psychoundakis was afraid they would knock off the saddle-bags – but mercifully their attention was drawn to some village girls, and the soldiers started flirting with them instead.

He also describes British officers with wry amusement – one had “pyjamas, a washbasin, and a thousand and two mysterious objects. He wore a row of medals on his breast, and had a rucksack full of geological books which he studied all day long.”

At the same time, the harshness of everyday life was everpresent. Near starvation at one point with another SOE officer, Jack Smith-Hughes, Psychoundakis described how they picked broken snail shells off blades of grass and ate them, pretending that each was more delicious than the last.

A bed of springy branches in a dry cave was a luxury: George spent many a night freezing on a rain-soaked mountainside, listening out for German search-parties, knowing what they would do if he were caught. Tales of torture, burning villages and summary executions were all too familiar. On the one occasion he visited England, in 1955, Psychoundakis was awarded the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom. Continue reading