Tag Archives: Cretan resistance

Escape from Fortress Crete

Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss (top row, second and third from left) with ­other members of the group that abducted the German general Heinrich Kreipe, Crete, April 1944. Estate of William Stanley Moss/Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss (top row, second and third from left) with ­other members of the group that abducted the German general Heinrich Kreipe, Crete, April 1944. Estate of William Stanley Moss/Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

In one of the most audacious feats of World War II, two British undercover agents and a group of Greek partisans in Nazi-occupied Crete kidnapped General Heinrich Kreipe, the commander of the German garrison’s foremost division. Over eighteen days, with a net of enemy troops tightening around them, they marched him across the island’s mountains to be transported on a motor launch to Egypt.

By Colin Thubron

First published in the New York Review, March 11 2021

“Of all the stories that have come out of the War,” a radio announcer declared triumphantly, “this is the one which schoolboys everywhere will best remember.” The exploit was celebrated in 1950 by its deputy leader William Stanley Moss in his book Ill Met by Moonlight, which became a popular movie produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The leader of the operation, Patrick Leigh Fermor (played onscreen by Dirk Bogarde), was to become a legendary figure in postwar Britain and Greece, as well as the most revered travel writer of his generation. But his full account of the action, Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete, wasn’t published until several years after he died. Beside its sheer drama and the frequent fineness of Leigh Fermor’s writing, the story resonates with half-answered questions. Was the exploit worth it? What, if any, was its strategic effect? Above all, were the atrocities visited afterward on Cretan villages by the Germans an act of vengeance for the abduction?

Recent years have seen a surge of interest in Leigh Fermor’s life and work. Since his death in 2011, a fine, full-scale biography by Artemis Cooper has appeared; his archive at the National Library of Scotland has been mined for new material; and two volumes of his letters, Dashing for the Post and More Dashing, in which he recounts inter alia his periodic returns to Crete, were edited by Adam Sisman. On the last of these journeys, in 1982, Leigh Fermor was delighted—and perhaps relieved—at his rapturous reception from his Cretan comrades-in-arms, still inhabiting his wartime haunts: whiskery old men now, who feasted him mountainously for days.

Their memories are long and bitter. The Nazi occupation of Crete, and of all Greece, was a particularly brutal one, in which perhaps 9 percent of the nation’s population perished, and almost the entire Jewish population of the island, destined for death camps, was drowned when their transport ship was mistakenly torpedoed by a British submarine. Hundreds of villages, including many in Crete, were razed.

These memories have recently surfaced again in the rhetoric of Greek politicians. Germany, ironically, is Greece’s main creditor. In protesting German stringency in the face of their towering debt, the Greeks raised the old question of war reparations, maintained by Germany to have been settled in 1990. In 2015 the Greeks demanded a further $303 billion for damaged infrastructure, war crimes, and repayment of a Nazi-enforced loan from Greece to Germany. The present Greek prime minister has pursued this less stridently than his predecessor, but the demand remains.

This rankling bitterness would not have surprised those members of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) who operated undercover in the Cretan mountains, and who witnessed firsthand the Greek hatred of their oppressors. Part of Leigh Fermor’s motive in producing his own account of Kreipe’s abduction was to pay tribute to the intransigent courage and resolve of the local inhabitants.

Yet the writing of the operation originated by chance. In 1966 the editor of Purnell’s History of the Second World War, an anthology of feature-length essays, commissioned Leigh Fermor to record the operation in five thousand words. But Leigh Fermor was not one for shortcuts, and he produced over 30,000 words, almost a year late. Eventually a version appeared in Purnell’s History, stripped down by a professional journalist, and shorn of most of the color, drama, and anecdote that characterized the original.

It is easy to see how this original—published as Abducting a General —exasperated the Purnell’s History editor. From the start, although it records every tactical move, it reads more like a vivid and expansive adventure story than a military report. On the night of February 5, 1944, signal fires glitter on a narrow Cretan plateau as Leigh Fermor parachutes out of a converted British bomber. It is the start of things going wrong. Clouds close in, and his fellow officer “Billy” Moss cannot drop down after him. It is two months before they rendezvous on the island’s southern shore, after Moss has arrived from Egypt by motor launch.

Leigh Fermor was twenty-nine, Moss only twenty-two, but both had seen hard war service. Moss, a captain in the Coldstream Guards, had fought in North Africa, but had no previous experience of guerrilla warfare. Leigh Fermor, on the other hand, had already been in Crete fifteen months, disguised as a shepherd, gathering intelligence and organizing resistance. He spoke fluent Greek and had struck up warm friendships among the andartes, the region’s guerrillas.

The island where they landed was the formidable German Festung Kreta, Fortress Crete, garrisoned by some 50,000 soldiers, but menaced by a hinterland of lawless mountain villages. The British target at first had been the brutal General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller (who would be executed for war crimes in 1947). But he had recently been replaced by General Kreipe, a veteran of the eastern front, who for propaganda purposes was considered an equally promising prize.

Such a kidnapping would undermine the morale of the German forces, Leigh Fermor wrote; it would inspirit the resistance (which had suffered recent reverses) and prove a setback to the Communist propagandists who were seeking to divide the Greek island as they had the mainland. He proposed to his SOE superiors in Cairo that the action should be “an Anglo-Cretan affair”:

It could be done, I urged, with stealth and timing in such a way that both bloodshed, and thus reprisals, would be avoided. (I had only a vague idea how.) To my amazement, the idea was accepted.

In a curious lapse of German security, Kreipe was driven unescorted each evening five miles from his divisional headquarters to his fortified residence. At a steep junction in the road Leigh Fermor, Moss, and a selected band of andartes lay in wait after dark until a flashed warning from an accomplice signaled the car’s departure. As the Opel’s headlights approached, the two SOE officers, wearing the stolen uniforms of German corporals, flagged it down with a traffic policeman’s baton.

On one side Leigh Fermor saluted and asked in German for identity papers, then wrenched open the door and heaved the general out at gunpoint. On the other, Moss, seeing the chauffeur reach for his revolver, knocked him out and took his place at the wheel. Meanwhile the Cretan guerrillas manacled the general, bundled him into the back of the Opel, and dragged the driver to a ditch. Leigh Fermor put on the general’s hat, three andartes held the general at knifepoint on the seat behind, and Moss drove off in the direction that the enemy would least expect: toward the German stronghold of Heraklion.

Along the road, and within the city’s Venetian walls, the general’s car, with its signature mudguard pennants, cruised past raised barriers and saluting sentries. In the blacked-out streets the car’s interior was almost invisible. Moss drove through twenty-two checkpoints. Occasionally Leigh Fermor, his face shadowed under the general’s hat, returned the salutes. Then the car exited the Canea Gate and they went into the night.

In the eighteen days that followed, the party often split and reformed. The Opel was abandoned near a bay deep enough to give the impression that a British submarine had spirited the general away. Anxious that no reprisals should be taken against the Cretans, Leigh Fermor pinned a prepared letter to the front seat:

Gentlemen,

Your Divisional Commander, General Kreipe, was captured a short time ago by a BRITISH Raiding Force under our command. By the time you read this both he and we will be on our way to Cairo.

We would like to point out most emphatically that this operation has been carried out without the help of CRETANS or CRETAN partisans and the only guides used were serving soldiers of HIS HELLENIC MAJESTY’S FORCES in the Middle East, who came with us.

Your General is an honourable prisoner of war and will be treated with all the consideration owing to his rank. Any reprisals against the local population will thus be wholly unwarranted and unjust.

Beneath their signatures they appended a postscript: “We are very sorry to have to leave this beautiful motor car behind.” Other signs of British involvement—Players’ cigarette stubs, a commando beret, an Agatha Christie novel, a Cadbury’s chocolate wrapper—were scattered in the car or nearby.

At daybreak the general was hidden in a cave near the rebellious village of Anoyeia. Leigh Fermor was still in German uniform when he entered the village with one of the andartes. “For the first time,” he wrote,

I realised how an isolated German soldier in a Cretan mountain village was treated. All talk and laughter died at the washing troughs, women turned their backs and thumped their laundry with noisy vehemence; cloaked shepherds, in answer to greeting, gazed past us in silence; then stood and watched us out of sight. An old crone spat on the ground…. In a moment we could hear women’s voices wailing into the hills: “The black cattle have strayed into the wheat!” and “Our in-laws have come!”—island-wide warnings of enemy arrival.

Yet his party’s progress soon came to resemble a royal procession. Guerrilla bands and villagers who recognized what had happened greeted them with jubilation and supplied food, guides, and escorts. But the going was very hard. Thousands of German troops were fanning across the mountains in search of them. Reconnaissance planes showered the country with threatening leaflets. Still, the group vanished from German sight among the goat tracks and canyons east of Mount Ida, whose eight-thousand-foot bulk straddles a quarter of the island. They crossed it in deep snow.

The general was a heftily built, rather dull man who trudged with them in reconciled gloom. He was not a brute, like Müller, but the thirteenth child of a Lutheran pastor whose chief worry, at first, was the loss of his Knights’ Cross medal in the scuffle. Sometimes a mule was found for him, but he fell twice, heavily. “I wish I’d never come to this accursed island,” he said. “It was supposed to be a nice change after the Russian front.”

On the slopes of Ida one dawn, where the two SOE officers and the general had been sleeping in a cave under the same flea-ridden blanket, Leigh Fermor placed the incident that he celebrated more than thirty years later in his A Time of Gifts. Gazing at the mountain crest across the valley, the general murmured to himself the start of a Horatian ode in Latin. It is one that Leigh Fermor knew (his memory was prodigious), and he completed the ode through its last five stanzas:

The general’s blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine—and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.

By now German troops were spreading across the long southern coast, from which the general would most likely be shipped to Egypt on a motor launch or submarine summoned by radio. But the radios and their clandestine operators were forced to relocate continually by German maneuvers, a crucial wireless-charging engine broke down, and messages (carried by runners) quickly became redundant as enemy troops took over remote beaches.

Yet Leigh Fermor’s party, sometimes guided by andartes’ beacons, slipped through the tightening cordon, and arrived at the defiant haven of the Amari Valley villages. It was another eight days, far to the west, before they found an undefended beach, made contact with a radio operator and with SOE headquarters in Cairo, and were promised a boat for the following night. In a last, ludicrous hitch, as Leigh Fermor and Moss attempted to flash the agreed Morse code signal for the rendezvous into the dark, they could not remember the code for “B.” But another of the group did; the motor launch returned, and they embarked for Egypt in euphoria, after shedding their boots and weapons for those comrades left behind.

It was soon after his capture, on the road beyond Heraklion, that General Kreipe, a tried professional soldier, asked, “Tell me, Major, what is the object of this hussar-stunt?”

In Abducting a General Leigh Fermor stresses morale: the blow to German confidence and the boost to Cretan resistance and pride. Immersed as he was in the emotional politics of the island, he felt the endeavor to be worth the risk. But others questioned it. Strategically it was irrelevant, and under his eventual interrogation the general yielded nothing of interest. “Kreipe is rather unimportant,” concluded the British War Office. “Rather weak character and ignorant.” The historian M.R.D. Foot, to Leigh Fermor’s irritation, called the abduction merely a “tremendous jape,” and even before the project was sanctioned, a senior SOE executive in Cairo, when asked if it should proceed, objected. The executive later wrote:

I made myself exceedingly unpopular by recommending as strongly as I could that we should not. I thought that if it succeeded, the only contribution to the war effort would be a fillip to Cretan morale, but that the price would certainly be heavy in Cretan lives. The sacrifice might possibly have been worthwhile in the black winter of 1941 when things were going badly. The result of carrying it out in 1944, when everyone knew that victory was merely a matter of months would, I thought, hardly justify the cost.

The cost may have been high. Some three and a half months after the general’s kidnapping, with the brutal Müller again the island’s commander, the Germans razed to the ground the recalcitrant village of Anoyeia. Müller’s order of the day was unequivocal. For Anoyeia’s longtime harboring of guerrillas and of British intelligence, for its murder of two separate German contingents, and for its complicity in Kreipe’s abduction:

We order its COMPLETE DESTRUCTION and the execution of every male person of Anogia who would happen to be within the village and around it within a distance of one kilometre.

Nine days later the Amari villages suffered the same fate, with 164 executed. The Greek newspaper Paratiritis, an organ of German propaganda, cited their support for the Kreipe abduction as the reason.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete
Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete, May 1943

Leigh Fermor, by then convalescing in a Cairo hospital, was shattered by the news. Yet in retrospect he realized that some four months—an unprecedentedly long time—had elapsed before the German reprisals, which were usually instantaneous. There are historians who agree that citing Kreipe’s abduction was little more than an excuse, and that the real, unpublishable reason was that within two months the German forces were to start their mass withdrawal west across the island, exposing them to hostile regions like Amari that flanked their line of retreat. Colonel Dunbabin, Leigh Fermor’s overall commander, in his final report on SOE missions in Crete, shared this assessment, adding that Müller’s purpose was “to commit the German soldiers to terrorist acts so that they should know that there would be no mercy for them if they surrendered or deserted.”

When Leigh Fermor returned to the island soon after, his Cretan friends comforted him that the German revenge would have happened anyway: “These were consoling words; never a syllable of blame was uttered. I listened to them eagerly then, and set them down eagerly now.”

These thoughts and memories, of course, were written in retrospect. By the time of their composition in 1966 and 1967 Leigh Fermor had already completed a novella, a brief study of monastic life, and three travel books, including two fine descriptions of Greece, Mani and Roumeli. His Abducting a General, besides its value as a war document, slips readily into narrative reminiscent of a dramatic travel book, peppered with anecdote and irresistible asides. This is part of its allure. Military data merge seamlessly with the evocation of people and landscapes. A threatening storm is evoked in images of aerial pandemonium above a landscape of rotting cliffs and lightning-struck gorges. (One sentence of Proustian complexity runs to 138 words.) A cave in which the abduction party shelters from the exposing daylight is described with an eye for more than its military use:

It was a measureless natural cavern that warrened and forked deep into the rocks, and then dropped, storey after storey, to lightless and nearly airless stalactitic dungeons littered with the horned skeletons of beasts which had fallen there and starved to death in past centuries: a dismal den, floored with millennia of goats’ pellets, dank as a tomb.

The second, shorter section of the book is devoted to Leigh Fermor’s contemporary War Reports. Most valuable is his account of another evacuation. In September 1943 Italy surrendered to the Allies, and General Angelo Carta, commander of the 32,000-strong Italian Siena division occupying eastern Crete, was being hunted by the Germans. Through Carta’s counterespionage officer Franco Tavana, who handed over detailed Italian defense plans, Leigh Fermor organized the general’s escape, from a chaotic beachhead, to Egypt.

Even the reports are vivid with incident. On a clandestine visit to Tavana, Leigh Fermor hid under a bed from intruding Germans, “clutching my revolver, and swallowing pounds of fluff and cobwebs.” Crouched in the cellar of an Orthodox abbot, while sheltering from an enemy patrol—“It was a very near thing”—he glimpsed the Germans’ boots two feet above him through the floorboards. Elsewhere he describes how—heavily disguised—he taught a trio of drunken Wehrmacht sergeants to dance the Greek pentozali. It comes as a shock to realize that any Allied operative arrested on the island would be brutally tortured, then shot.

Leigh Fermor’s courage, generosity, and high spirits famously endeared him to the Cretans. He sang, danced, and drank with them. Naturally generous and uncritical, he describes almost every mountaineer as a model of hardiness and bravery: “Originality and inventiveness in conversation and an explosive vitality…. There was something both patrician and bohemian in their attitude to life.” He might have been describing himself. “We could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support.”

Among the Cretans Leigh Fermor most admired was a slight, high-spirited youth named George Psychoundakis (affectionately code-named the “Changebug”), whom the SOE used as a runner carrying messages over the mountains. This impoverished shepherd, whom Leigh Fermor’s confederate Xan Fielding called “the most naturally wise and instinctively knowledgeable Cretan I ever met,” could cover the harsh terrain at lightning speed, although he dressed in tatters and his disintegrating boots were secured with wire. After the Occupation ended he was mistakenly interned as a deserter and eventually went to work as a charcoal-burner to support his destitute family. It was at these times—in prisons, and in a cave above his work-site—that he labored on the book that became The Cretan Runner. It was translated by Leigh Fermor, who had discovered its author’s whereabouts after the war.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete, May 1943. Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) and Yanni Tsangarakis, Hordaki, Crete, May 1943. Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/National Library of Scotland

Uniquely, it is a narrative written from the lowliest rank of the Greek resistance, by a man who was barely educated, and records four years as a dispatch carrier through the precipitous harshness of western Crete. Sometimes he rendezvoused with British arms drops or guided escaping Allied soldiers to the sea, and he evaded capture by swiftness, resourcefulness, and a profound knowledge of the terrain. He wrote:

My tactics on the march were to know few people, in order that few should know me, even if they were “ours” and good patriots. I kept my mouth shut with everybody, even to the point of idiocy, and these two things kept me safe to the end.

His book is an unaffected day-by-day drama, direct and demotic at best, only occasionally swelling into literary grandiloquence when he feels the subject (patriotism, the dead) requires it. Years later this self-taught prodigy translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into his vernacular Cretan, using the meter of the seventeenth-century romance Erotokritos, and was richly rewarded by the Athens Academy.

Leigh Fermor’s translation of this difficult work arose from his love of Cretan culture as well as respect for Psychoundakis. But his personal immersion in the island came at cost. One of his War Reports expands wretchedly on his accidental shooting of a partisan and great friend, Yanni Tsangarakis. Its recounting clouded his face even in old age. And misgivings that his Kreipe operation—brilliant and brave as it was—brought retribution on the island he loved may never have quite left him.

General Kreipe arrives in the UK

PW capture report on Kreipe

This is the last post in the series created by the excellent Chris White. He first published this on Facebook in 2020. During the first months of the pandemic, I was copying and pasting and adding his pictures to recreate here on the Paddy blog. I know that many of you have enjoyed this and your comments are appreciated. There will be a couple of follow on posts to tidy up this series, but once more, a huge round of thanks to Chris. I look forward to seeing Chris at the 10th anniversary dinner in June and passing on my personal appreciation.

29th May 1944. General Kreipe arrives in the UK after a brief period of time in Cairo being interrogated. Again, it is front page news.

Kreipe in UK 1

Morale boosting news item in ‘Union Jack’

Union Jack 1

20th May 1944

The kidnap is reported in a morale boosting news item in ‘Union Jack’, the newspaper produced for Allied Forces in the Second World War.

This is the edition for Allied forces fighting in Italy.

Union Jack front page

Union Jack 2

Front page news

Kreipe headlines 2

19th May 1944

And finally the full story becomes major, even front page, news in Britain. Mirror, Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Express all report the kidnap – often alongside the major battles happening in Italy…

Kreipe headlines 1

Kreipe headlines 3

Kreipe headlines 4

Kreipe headlines 5

Kreipe headlines 6

General Kreipe arrives in Cairo after flying from Mersa Matruh

Kreipe Cairo arrival 1

16th May: On the motor launch’s arrival in Mersa Matruh the General and the rest of the kidnap group were officially welcomed by Brigadier Barker-Benfield and the General spent his first night of captivity sharing a room with the Brigadier in the Officers Mess.

Kreipe Cairo arrival 2

Kreipe headline 17 May

Kreipe Cairo arrival 3

Waiting for the motor launch to arrive

RN Motor launch rescue Fermor Kreipe

14th May 1944

The final hours…..they have gathered in the rocks behind Peristeres beach, just below the village of Rodakino…..different andarte bands have joined them from the surrounding villages…and they are waiting for the motor launch to arrive…….

Paddy writes:

‘…..we all lay up till nightfall on a ledge in a deep hollow of the cliffs where an icy spring trickled down the rocks……Then we crossed the short distance to the little cove we hoped to leave from. It seemed to us all, with its walls of rock on either side and the sand and the pebbles, the lapping of the water and the stars, a quiet place for our adventure to end. As we stood about, talking in whispers at first, though there was no one to be afraid of, Andartes climbed down the rocks in two and threes to join us. There were the Rodakino Kapitans Khombitis and Manoli Yanna and Andrea Kotsiphis, and there too, suddenly, with the great fair moustache that had made us christen him Beowulf, was Petraka, the kapitan of the Asi Gonia band and one of our oldest friends on the island. He had brought a contingent of Goniots to join the other Andartes in guarding our departure and also to say goodbye. The place was filling up like a drawing room: groups were lounging about in the rocks or strolling with slung guns quietly conversing’

‘There was a slight coil of mist over the sea so it was not till she was quite close that we saw the ship. We could hear the rattle of the anchor going down; then two boats were lowered…….
The moment had come….We all pulled off our boots to leave behind; this was always done; even in rags they came in useful. Soon we were saying goodbye to Petraka and the Rodakino Kapitans and Yanni Katsias and the guerrillas and lastly to Antoni Zoidakis. We all embraced like grizzly bears. I tried to persuade Antoni to come with us; he wavered a moment and then decided against it. I wish he had. A sailor said “Excuse me Sir, but we ought to get a move on.”

As we neared the ship, the figures waving along the shore had begun to grow indistinct among the shadows and, very fast, it was hard to single out the cove from the tremendous mountain mass that soared from the sea to the Milky Way. The ship grew larger, her pom-poms and Bofors A.A. guns shining in the starlight. When we drew alongside sailors in spotless white were reaching down into the bulwarks to guide the General up the rope ladder (“That’s right Sir! Easy does it!”) while we – Billy, Manoli and George and I – helped from below. A moment later we were on the deck in our bare feet and it was all over.’

Peristeres beach 1

Peristeres beach 2

Peristeres beach 3

Peristeres beach 4

Peristeres beach 5

Peristeres beach 6

“Wunderbar, Herr General! We’re leaving!”

May 13th 1944

Nearly there…waiting in the rocky fissure outside Alones….

Paddy writes:
“Well, Herr Major, how are the plans for our departure progressing?” By now the General had become as solicitous for the success of our departure as we were.

“Wunderbar, Herr General! We’re leaving!”

It was true, the order of release or the promise of it, had come through. The German drive through the Asi Gonia mountains had driven Dennis to earth and put his set momentarily off the air. But messages from Cairo were beamed now to all stations and when the great news came through, Dick himself, hearing of our local troubles, and making a dash clean across the Nome of Retimo, reached our cheerless grotto long after dark. The boat would put in at a beach near Rodakino at 22 hours on the night of the 14th /15th May. – “10 o’clock tomorrow night!” It was in exactly a day from now. We would only just be able to manage it.

The thing was to get the main party to the coast under cover of darkness. I sent Billy off with George and the others and Yanni Katsias and his two wild boys by a short route which would bring them by daybreak to a place where they could wait for us. The General, Manoli and I would go by a much longer and safer way, where the mountains were so steep and deserted that, with a cloud of scouts out, we could move by day without much danger. Unfortunately it was too steep and uneven for a mule so the General would have to go on foot. But the sky was clear and there would be a bright moon and starlight.

The Krioneritis mountains which we were to cross are not one of the highest ranges of Crete, but they are among the steepest and are certainly the worst going. They are bare and, except for an occasional thistle or thornbush or sea squill, as empty of vegetation as a bone yard; the place is ringed with craters and fractured into a jig-saw of deep crevasses; worst of all there is not a path or even a flat square foot in the whole of this wilderness. The region is a never-ending upside-down harrow armed with millions of limestone sickles and daggers and yataghans.
Sustained perhaps by the thought of an end to his ordeal, the General tackled this Via Crucis with scarcely a groan. Helped by Manoli and me when he stumbled and then by the guerrillas that shimmered like ghosts out of the vacancy, he moved across the landscape in a sort of trance.”

Dennis Ciclitira has joined them and has a working radio

May 11th 1944

Things are looking up! Dennis Ciclitira has joined them and has a working radio set up the valley in Asi Gonia. And they hear from Ianni Katsias that the closest beaches – at Rodakino – has potential as a pick up point.
They spend the day and evening resting and recovering. They are all very tired and the General is clearly suffering. Billy Moss recorded, after the General fell off the mule the day before:

“General in great pain, saying: ‘I’ve had enough. Why don’t you shoot me and get done with it’.”

Paddy writes:

Rumours of a German descent on the region had prompted Stathi to conceal us in such a cramped and precarious eyrie the night before; next morning all seemed serene: we climbed up to a commodious and beautiful ledge of rock where the General was consoled for the agonies of the ascent by the coloured blankets and the cushions spread there under the leaves by my god-brother (Stathi) and Stavro (an old drinking companion of mine) and by the marvellous banquet of roast sucking pig and kalitsounias, – crescent shaped mizithracroquettes – and the wicker demi-john of magnificent old wine which was waiting. Stathi was a great bon viveur and a paragon of kindness and generosity as well as being Kapetanios of an armed band. His eager blue eyes kindled with delight to see us demolishing his feast. He hoped, (and so did we) that we could lie up here in luxury until we slipped off over the hill to the boat. There was a rushing stream hard by and sweet smelling herbs all round us and the trees were full of nightingales. We banqueted and slept and talked and sang. The sun set through the surrounding peaks and as we lolled exulting on the soft rugs under the moon and the stars, for ever plied with fresh marvels by the two brothers, who sped to and from the village like kindly djinns, this sudden change in our affairs seemed to all of us as magical as the sudden transportation to paradise for beggars in a Persian story.’

The General falls from his mule

10th May 1944

After a day resting in Photeinou the party continue to travel westward. They are heading to the Kato Poros gorge outside the village of Vilandredo.

Paddy writes: ‘A mishap occurred on this long night’s march: the girth of the General’s mule broke and sent his rider tumbling down a steep precipice. We chased after him; we thought at first that one of his shoulder blades was damaged; we arranged a sling and after a while the pain seemed to go. But his right arm remained in a sling for the rest of the journey. It was an anxious moment.

Outside the little village of Vilandredo we were met by kind and enthusiastic Stathi Loukakis and his brother, yet another Stavro.

He led us all, dog-tired and woe-begone, to a built up cave that clung to the mountainside like a martin’s nest. It was only to be reached by the clambering ascent of a steep ladder of roots and rocks – up which our disabled captive could only be hoisted by many hands and slow stages.’

Michael Powell was led to the cave in !951, and we finally tracked it down in 2015.

Our sun is rising

Chris White (C) with Charidimos Alevizakis (L) the nephew of Ianni Tsangarakis, Paddy’s greatest friend and guide. Charidimos had been a messenger for Paddy – and told us most emphatically that he and Paddy ‘were brothers.’

9th May 1944

After another day resting in Patsos the party head westward – reinforced by George Harokopos and George Pattakos, who supplies a mule for the General to ride on.

Paddy writes:

‘Our way westward over the plateau of Yious was our familiar east to west route over the narrowest part of western Crete. “Our sun is rising”, George had said as we set off at moonrise. It was a favourite saying in these nocturnal journeys. “Off we go,” Manoli said, “Anthropoi tou Skotous.” This phrase “men of Darkness!” was a cliché that often cropped up in German propaganda when referring to people like us, and we had eagerly adopted it. We were off, I hoped, on the last lap of our journey.’

‘Among the rocks and Arbutus clumps there was an ice-cold spring which was said to bestow the gift of immortality. We all lay on our faces and lapped up as much as we could hold. I told the General about the property of the water. He leant down from the saddle of his mule and asked urgently for a second mug.’
There destination for the night is the village of Fotinou – but they have to cross the main road from Rethymno to Spili without being spotted.

‘Men with guns whistled from the rocks and when we answered ran down to meet us and shepherd the party across the perilous highway. Others joined us out of the moonlight as we climbed into the conical hills where Fotinou is perched. Suddenly there was an alarm of a German patrol approaching directly ahead. Our party, by now quite large, fanned out along a ridge and lay waiting.’

‘Luckily it was only another contingent of our growing escort. There was relief and laughter. By the time we got to the grove of Scholari outside Fotinou, we were very numerous indeed. Most of the troop was composed of old Uncle Stavro Peros and his eighteen sons and their descendents with several members of the Tzangarakis and Alevizakis families as well. Andoni, the youngest of the Peros brothers had just contracted a dynastic match with the daughter of a family with whom the Peros tribe had been locked in discord for generations; so an atmosphere of concord and rejoicing reigned in the hills.’

In 1951 the film director Michael Powell, as part of his research for “Ill Met By Moonlight’, had visited the village, and photographed the Peros family.

In our early research trips we were able to meet Despina Peros, who had married Andoni Peros – the dynastic match – and whose olive grove they had stayed in. Despina was very proud of her association with the kidnap and that she had fed the group.

And on our first research trip in 2010 we met Charidimos Alevizakis, the nephew of Ianni Tsangarakis, Paddy’s greatest friend and guide. Charidimos had been a messenger for Paddy – and told us most emphatically that he and Paddy ‘were brothers.’

We might have been in a drawing room

8th May 1944

Tha main party stay resting outside Patsos. Billy writes about having a bathe in the tumbling stream nearby.
In the evening Paddy and Giorgos arrive from Genna and the group are reunited again.

Paddy writes: ‘The party, when I found them, were star-scattered about a tumble-down stone hut shaded by a clump of tall plane trees and a beetling rock with a waterfall and a deep pool. George Harocopos and his old father and his pretty little sister were looking after them in this Daphnis and Chloe décor.’

‘”Good morning, General. How are you?”
“Ah, Good morning, Major. We missed you.”
We might have been in a drawing room.’

The party are joined by another villager from Patsos – Giorgos Pattakos – who we were privileged to meet several times on our early research trips

‘All was going according to plan’

7th May 1944

Messages are beginning to bear fruit….and Paddy realises they will have to travel further westward. They still don’t have a plan on how to depart but they are now getting better links with Cairo via the radio set at Dryade and their brave messenger, George Psychoundakis. Paddy and George stay on in Genna a further night.

In the evening Manoli, Billy, the General and the main party travel further westward to the village of Patsos, where they stay in a sheepfold in a gorge by a tumbling stream.

Paddy writes: ‘On the night of the 7th, the party with the General moved by an easy night march to Patsos, which was only two or three hours away from me. They were being fed and guarded by George Harocopos and his family, (George, a thoughtful and well read boy, later to become a gifted journalist, was the son of a very poor, but very brave and kind family, all of whom had been great benefactors to the wandering British). All was going according to plan.’

But when we saw the branding mark, We only stole the ram, Sir

6th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain based in Genna – messengers coming and going as they desperately try to arrange a safe beach to be picked up from. Giorgos Psychoundakis returns with Dick Barnes – known as Pavlos.

Paddy writes: ‘This reunion with Dick – like many occasions in occupied Crete when one wasn’t actually dodging the enemy – became the excuse for a mild blind. ‘Mr Pavlo and I set off to Yeni,’ writes George Psychoundakis in ‘The Cretan Runner’, “where we found Mr Mihali (me) and Uncle Yanni Katsias. We sat there till the evening and the sun set. Yanni took us to the east side of the village where they brought us some food and first rate wine and our Keph (well-being) was great. The four of us were soon singing. Mr Mihali sang a sheep-stealing couplet to the tune of Pentezali, which went:

Ah, Godbrother, the night was dark
For lamb and goat and dam, Sir,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only stole the ram, Sir.

The ram – the head of the flock – meant the General.’

Billy, Manoli, the General and the rest of the kidnap team remain in the sheepfold above Gerakari.

‘This is very satisfactory news’

5th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain in Genna, coordinating messengers. They are joined by Giorgos Harokopos and Giorgos Psychoundakis, who then heads back off to the wireless set run by Dick Barnes at Dryade with a message.

The main party in the evening leave Gomara and walk up the Amari valley via the village of Gourgouthi to their next hideout – a sheepfold above the village of Gerakari.

And in London Orme Sargent, the senior Foreign Office officer at Under Secretary level working to SOE, sends a memo to Harry Sporborg, deputy to Major-General Colin Gubbins, Head of SOE, expressing great approval of the coup. ’I have just heard of the success of an Allied Mission in Crete in capturing a high German officer. This is very satisfactory news and I hope it will be possible to get the German out to Cairo as I believe is intended.’

[1] National Archives HS 5/416

‘… if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible’

4th May 1944

The main party are still hiding in the valley of Gomara. Billy Moss records in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’:
“It rained all night long , and, as was inevitable, we are soaked to the skin. Around me I see a picture of human misery, and I know that if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible.”
Spirits are lifted in the afternoon when messengers arrive from Sandy Rendel and Dick Barnes.

Meanwhile in Fourfouras Paddy and Giorgos leave the comforts of Giorgos’ family home and travel 14kms further up the valley to Pantanassa…..searching for the whereabouts of a working radio set.

Paddy writes:

“Among the cypresses of Pantanasa George and I ran into a hitch. The Hieronymakis family, we knew, were in touch with at least one of our wireless stations. By ill luck it was about the only village in the region where neither of us had ever been. The Hieronymakis knew all about us, we knew all about them, but we had never met and there was no one to vouch for us. The old men were adamant: ‘You say you are Mihali, Mihali who? And who are Siphi (Ralph Stockbridge) and Pavlo (Dick Barnes)? Never heard of them. Tk. Tk. Tk! Englishmen? but, boys, all the English left Crete three years ago …?’ The white whiskered faces turned to each other for corroboration, beetling brows were raised in puzzlement, blank glances exchanged. They went on calmly fingering their amber beads, politely offering coffee. It was no good raging up and down, gesticulating under the onions and paprika pods dangling from the beams: every attempt to break through was met by identical backward tilts of head with closed eyelids and the placidly dismissive tongue click of the Greek negative. They wouldn’t give an inch until they knew (as they say) what tobacco we smoked. We could, after all, be agents provocateurs.”

“This impressive but exasperating wall of security was only broken at last, after two precious hours of deadlock, by the entry of Uncle Stavro Zourbakis from Karines – a friend of us all. Everything dissolved at once. In greetings, recognition, laughter, Raki, a crackle of thorns and sizzling in the hearth and the immediate summoning and despatch of runners to the two sets in the North West.”

Paddy and George move on for the evening back down the valley to the village of Genna, where they were to stay for several days:

“The goat-fold of Zourbovasili lay in rolling biblical hills. There was a round threshing floor nearby, where George and I could sleep on brushwood with a great circular sweep of vision. This place was to become, during the next three days, the centre of all going and coming of messengers as plans changed and options elapsed. But now, after the scrum of the last few days it seemed preternaturally quiet in the brilliant moonlight. Ida towered east of us now, Kedros due south: The White Mountains, which had come nearer to us during the day, loomed shining in the west. How empty and still after our huddled mountain life, was this empty silver plateau! A perfect place to watch the moon moving across the sky and chain smoke through the night pondering on the fix we were in and how to get out of it. There was not a sound except a little owl in a wood close by and an occasional clank from Vassilis’ flock.”

the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete

3rd May 1944

Another day spent in their hideout in the valley of Gomara. They are still stuck and have no contact with Cairo, and no idea of when, where or how they will get off the island.

But they have a plan….in the evening the party decide to separate.

Billy, Manoli Paterakis, the General and the main kidnap group will stay in Gomara.

Paddy and Giorgos Tyrakis will travel in the evening up the Amari to Fourfouras, Giorgos’ home village, in search of a working radio station.

They still remain in the news in the UK – the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete.

Front page news

2nd May 1944

If only they knew!

Paddy, Billy, the rest of the kidnap team and the General spend another miserable day in the ditch, fearing capture…but it is getting quieter for them, as the German patrols are now searching further up the mountain.

Meanwhile in the UK ….they are front page news – in the Express, Telegraph, Guardian and Times!

In the evening they decide to move a kilometre or so westward – to the valley of Gomara.

Giorgos Pharangoulitakis describes it his memoir ‘Eagles of Mt Ida’: ‘We decided to shift towards the valley of Gomara, just west of Ayia Paraskevi, a part where they had searched every inch, and where we could take up a better defence posture. It was a steep rocky place with a hole like a sort of grotto under a cliff where we could hide for the night.’

In the end they spend the night and the following day under the branches of ‘a very large pear tree …it was like an eagles nest’.

‘the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him’

1st May 1944

A long and dangerous day spent hiding in the ditch outside Agia Paraskevi. Probably the low point for all in the journey, and where they are most vulnerable to discovery by the German cordon – Moss records Kreipe’s realisation of his personal need for the success of the operation in order to ensure his own survival:

“I think the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him.”

They can hear German patrols, sometimes as close as 50 metres, searching for them.

Paddy records that food is brought to them from Agia Paraskevi:

‘Antoni unpacked bread, cheese, onions, a dish of fried potatoes, some lamb and a napkin full of ‘kalitsounia!’ – crescent shaped fritters full of soft white cheese and chopped mint. Then a big bottle of mulberry raki came out and a handful of little tumblers. ‘This will warm you up,’ he said filling them: ‘White flannel vests all round.’ He splashed politely over to our guest with the first one, saying ‘stratege mou” (my General) then to the rest of us. They went down our throats like wonderful liquid flame. ‘And here,’ he said pulling out a gallon of dark amber wine, ‘red overcoats for all.’

What they don’t know is that in Cairo SOE have made a public announcement that Kreipe has been kidnapped and has already been taken off the island by submarine and is on his way to Cairo.

However they are still stuck, with no way of contacting Cairo and have no idea – as yet – of how they will get off the island.

The descent of Mt Ida

30th April 1944

The descent of Mt Ida has been exceptionally arduous in the dark so the day is spent recovering in Vorini Trypa, the large cave above Nithavris on the side of Mt. Ida.

That evening, in the rain and mist, they leave the cave and head further down the mountain into the bottom the Amari valley.

It is a difficult and very dangerous journey as the Germans are hunting for the General and are in all the villages immediately around them.

They first head west to the village of Kouroutes and then south until they stop and hide in a stream bed outside Agia Paraskevi.

Paddy records: Rain came swishing down: ‘Marvelous for the olives’, Manoli murmured. We waded through a stream and began to climb again. The rain turned to sleet. At last the village of Aya Paraskevi was only half an hour away. The Germans would have sentries out, perhaps patrols; better to stop there. We piled into a ditch mercifully overgrown with cistus, thyme and myrtle; protection from view, but not from the rain.

The ascent of Mount Ida in wind and snow

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

29th April 1944

The weather is deteriorating and the kidnap team need to walk over the side of Mt Ida and down into the Amari valley. It will be a long and arduous day and night.

At midday the party leave Petradolakkia and skirt the side of the Nidha plateau. They are heading for the mitato belonging to Roti, where they will rendezvous with Kapetan Petrakogiorgos and his andartes who will escort them over the side of the mountain. They climb up to the plateau of Akolyta and in rain, wind and snow they head over until they can see signal fires in the Amari telling them it is safe to descend. They shelter in the remains of a mitato before descending. After a long and arduous descent they are led to Vorini Trypa – North Hole – a large cave with tunnels and caverns heading off from the back of it. This cave has been used by the Resistance on several occasions before this visit, and is used by Dunbabin and George Psychoundakis in August 1944.

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the team

27th April 1944.

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the General and the rest of the kidnap team north of Anogia. In the evening they begin the long trek up the slopes of Mt Ida to the Xylouris sheepfolds at Petrodolakkia. On the way they rest briefly in one of the many mitatos (cheese huts) in the area.

Third time lucky … the kidnap is on!

26th April 1944.

Third time lucky…..the Kreipe kidnap team leave the Zographistos farmhouse outside Skalani and walk to the kidnap spot and wait for the General to drive past. At 9 pm they stop the car and the kidnap begins. The General is handcuffed and hidden on the back seat of the car. They drive past the Villa Ariadne and through Heraklion, entering by the Agios Giorgos gate and leaving by the Chaniaporta. They drive on into the mountains, stopping at Yeni Gave, where Billy Moss, Manoli Paterakis, Stratis Saviolakis and the General leave the car, heading up a track for a hideout in a ravine north of Anogia. PLF and Georgos Tyrakis drive for a further 2 kms and dump the car at Campo Doxaro, at the start of a track leading to the Cheliana ravine and the sea. They take with them the pennants from the car and head to the village of Anogia.

Presentation in Melbourne, Australia: The Cretan Resistance and SOE in WW2

British-based author and historian, regular blog contributor, and co-author of Abducting a General, Chris White, will outline his research into the story of the resistance to German occupation on Crete during WW2, including the experience of the British SOE agents and the famous kidnapping of the German General Kreipe in 1944. The presentation will feature photographs from the time – many rarely seen before – as well as Chris’ own taken as part of his identification of the locations used by the resistance and SOE.

There will be an opportunity afterwards for attendees to meet with Chris to discuss specific villages and areas, and to consider some of the many photographs taken on Crete in WW2 in his collection.

A unique presentation not to be missed.

Where: Mezzanine, Greek Centre, 168 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
When: 2.00pm start, Saturday, 17th March 2018

As an addendum, happening the week before, is the inaugural Rebeitiko Festival being held at the Melbourne Recital Centre (very prestigious venue). https://www.melbournerecital.com.au/events/2018/rebetiko/

Rebetiko is the music of struggle and resistance. Songs were written in Crete recording the exploits of the Cretan resistance and the kidnapping. It is possible that they include a few songs on that subject. No committal as yet!

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).

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.

Related articles:

The obituary of George Psychoundakis aka The Cretan Runner

General’s long trip home

Related category:

Ill Met by Moonlight

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