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Obituary: Daphne Fielding

The obituary of Xan’s first wife of whom Paddy was very fond. She once said of him: “Do you know Paddy? He’s such a good friend. He should be turned into pills so that you can take him when you feel low.”

by Hugo Vickers

First published in the Independent Wednesday, 17 December 1997.

Daphne Winifred Louise Vivian, writer: born 11 July 1904; married 1926 Viscount Weymouth (succeeded 1946 as sixth Marquess of Bath, died 1992; two sons, and two sons and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1953), 1953 Xan Fielding (died 1991; marriage dissolved 1978); died 5 December 1997.

Daphne Fielding was a society author in the decades between 1950 and 1980. Having been a part of the world of Bright Young Things in the 1920s, she was well known in society as the Marchioness of Bath, and following her marriage to Xan Fielding she produced a stream of books of easy charm which achieved great popularity. Good-looking when young, in later life she was a tall, handsome figure, and could have been mistaken for a distinguished actress.

Daphne was the daughter of the fourth Lord Vivian and his wife, Barbara, a former Gaiety Girl, who was to marry three further times. The family was eccentric; many years later, her brother the fifth Lord Vivian (who died in 1991), variously a farm labourer in Canada, a publicity manager in San Francisco and a partner of the impresario C.B. Cochran, had the misfortune to be shot in the stomach in 1954 by his mistress Mavis Wheeler, the former wife of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the archaeologist, a drama which occupied the headlines for many days.

Daphne emerged from a childhood which was a mixture of hilarity and insecurity, later described with relish in her memoirs, Mercury Presides (though Evelyn Waugh declared these as “marred by discretion and good taste”). She passed through Queen’s College in London, and St James’s, Malvern, and gravitated, through her friends the Lygon sisters, to the stimulating world of Oxford in the 1920s, and to that set dominated by Harold Acton, Evelyn Waugh and Brian Howard. The friends she made then were friends for life, a group that gave each other unswerving loyalty despite infidelities and political differences, everlastingly self-protecting; and a group through which she met Viscount Weymouth, heir to the Marquess of Bath.

There was parental opposition to their union, Henry Weymouth’s father declaring that he needed “a steady wife” and finding that Daphne did not fit this category. Weighing in, her father announced that he thought Weymouth an unsuitable husband. They were married in secret at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, in 1926, and then again considerably more publicly at St Martin-in-the Fields in 1927, the bride dressed by Norman Hartnell. (When eventually they were divorced, there was a prolonged court case before three judges to dissolve that earlier marriage, and regularise the unusual situation.)

Old Lord Bath in 1928 handed the running of the Wiltshire family seat, Longleat, to his son (not without certain misgivings about his capacity for work) and he and Daphne threw themselves wholeheartedly into the management of the estate. They employed Russell Page to redo the gardens and were involved in extensive forestry work. To supplement her income, Daphne wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, which brought her under the protective care of Lord Beaverbrook.

They had four sons and a daughter. The eldest boy died in 1930, just before his first birthday, and the youngest, Lord Valentine Thynne, died after hanging himself in 1979. Her daughter Caroline predeceased her, and she is survived by two sons, the present Marquess and his brother, Lord Christopher, who are on notoriously bad terms. (There was a rumour that at Lord Christopher’s wedding to Antonia Palmer in 1968 the cake was laced with LSD. The Queen was a guest.)

Henry Weymouth spent much of the Second World War as a prisoner of the Germans, which did not help the marriage. In 1946 he succeeded his father as Marquess of Bath. Forced by crippling death duties he opened Longleat to the public in 1949, with an entrance fee of half a crown a head. By 1953 he had added a tearoom and tennis court, laid out a putting green, and floated pedalos for hire on the lake. But the marriage was over and the Baths were divorced in May 1953.

Daphne wrote the first guidebook to Longleat, a lively history of the Thynne family from 1566 to 1949, which she researched and wrote in three weeks. This she followed with Before the Sunset Fades (1953), a slim 30- page book about life above and below stairs at Long- leat, decorated, appropriately, by her old friend and Wiltshire neighbour Cecil Beaton.

In 1953 she married the war hero and travel writer Xan Fielding, a man 14 years her junior, a happy marriage which lasted until 1978. During these years they lived variously in Cornwall, Morocco, Portugal and Uzes, where they settled for some years, surrounded by a variety of pets and visited by their many friends.

While married to Fielding, she wrote her books Mercury Presides (1954) and its sequel, The Nearest Way Home (1970), and a novel, The Adonis Garden (1961), of which Evelyn Waugh wrote that she had “squandered six books in one”, adding, “You have used almost everything that has happened in the last twelve years.”

The Duchess of Jermyn Street, a life of Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel subsequently serialised on television, was to have been written with the help of George Kinnaird (a writer who also used to help Baroness de Stoekl with her books), but he gave up while going through a divorce. It was published in 1964 and Evelyn Waugh described it as “jolly good but I think full of inaccuracies”.

She wrote a joint life of Lady Cunard and her daughter Nancy, Emerald and Nancy (1968), which her friend Dirk Bogarde judged “light on the intellect”, fearing that Fielding had whitewashed these two monsters on the grounds that “she couldn’t be beastly to chums”; and a portrait of Iris Tree, The Rainbow Picnic (1974).

Raleigh Trevelyan, of Hamish Hamilton, then commissioned her to write a life of Gladys Deacon, the 93-year-old Duchess of Marlborough, whom he had come across while researching his book about the Whitakers of Sicily, Princes Under the Volcano (1972). This was not her usual milieu, since the duchess belonged to the belle epoque and intellectual world of Paris of a generation older than Daphne Fielding. Nevertheless she was able to tap her wide circle of loyal friends for anecdotes. To her surprise a man wrongly described as “a young intellectual” proved to have embarked on the same research. However, her friends closed ranks around her, and a word from Lady Diana Cooper to her biographer, Philip Ziegler, caused him to drop the rival’s incipient Collins contract like a hot potato.

I know this, for I was that rival. Both books were in due course published, hers under the title The Face on the Sphinx (1978). But the story had a happy ending, for those same friends helped me with my life of Cecil Beaton, and Diana Cooper, in her more usual role as peacemaker, effected a successful rapprochement between us. I enjoyed a number of meetings with Daphne in New York in 1981, during which she chatted amicably about our experiences and regaled me with Cecil Beaton stories. I always remember her line about Patrick Leigh Fermor: “Do you know Paddy? He’s such a good friend. He should be turned into pills so that you can take him when you feel low.”

Her friend Robert Heber-Percy averred that Daphne Fielding was a better conversationalist and letter-writer than author of books.

In 1978 Xan Fielding left Daphne for a lady described by her friends as “an older woman”. Bereft but brave, she was lucky to meet once more an old Oxford friend, Ben Kittridge, an American millionaire, with whom she went to live in Arizona until his death in 1981. Thereafter she returned to England and settled in the Old Laundry in the shadow of Badminton, where for two years the fox-hunting 10th Duke of Beaufort (“Master”) lived on, and where, until her death from cancer in 1995, her daughter Caroline lived as the next Duchess of Beaufort.

Daphne Fielding’s last years were spent there. At the famous Horse Trials she could be seen driving about in a tiny self- propelled vehicle and every Sunday she lunched with her son-in-law, where she was a by no means unnoticed figure at the table.

Related article:

Xan Fielding Obituary

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Obituary: John Smith-Hughes who served in Crete with SOE

Young officer who served in Crete and then joined SOE working with many of Paddy’s colleagues. It is almost certain Paddy and Smith-Hughes met but there is no mention in this obituary.

by Antony Beevor

First published in The Independent Thursday, 17 March 1994

John Smith-Hughes, soldier and barrister: born 27 November 1918; OBE 1945; married 1945 Angela Louvaris (died 1972; one son, one daughter); died Tortola, Virgin Islands 4 March 1994.

LIKE many of those who joined Special Operations Executive in the Middle East, Jack Smith-Hughes possessed considerable intellectual talents matched by a lack of reverence for conventional army pieties. His path to SOE’s headquarters in Cairo had also been decidedly unpredictable.

At the end of 1940, Smith- Hughes, a portly and precocious 22-year-old subaltern in the Royal Army Service Corps, was shipped to Crete as part of the Allied garrison sent to defend the island after the Italian invasion of Greece. When the German airborne invasion took place in May 1941, he was in charge of shipping supplies to outlying detachments from Chania, in north- west Crete. On the night that Brigadier Robert Laycock and Evelyn Waugh landed with the Layforce commandos at Suda Bay, the most chaotic moment of the battle, Smith-Hughes was astonished to find himself walking up and down the jetty for a considerable time with General Bernard Freyberg VC, the Allied commander on the island. Freyberg was worried that the Australian force at Rethymno, on the coast to the east, would not receive the order to withdraw. Unfortunately, this concern for his troops meant that Freyberg was out of touch with his headquarters during several hours while the last Allied counter-attack collapsed in confusion.

The next day, retreat nearly turned into rout. Smith-Hughes was soon one of the 20,000 exhausted men making their way over the White Mountains to the southern coast for evacuation by the Royal Navy. He was one of the unlucky ones. On his way to join the queue on the last evening, he was turned back by an embarkation officer and told not to worry: the warships would be back again the following night. A couple of hours later, he realised that the man had lied to him. Captured by Austrian Alpine troops the next morning, he was marched back over the mountains, the most painful journey of all, to prison camp.

He escaped soon afterwards and hid at the house of Colonel Andreas Papadakis, who later proclaimed himself chief of the Cretan Resistance. George Psychoundakis, ‘The Cretan Runner’, then guided him to the monastery of Preveli on the south coast. Evacuated finally to Egypt by submarine, Smith- Hughes had the satistaction in a Cairo restaurant of encountering the embarkation officer again and telling him exactly what he thought of him.

To his surprise, Smith-Hughes was summoned to SOE’s Cairo headquarters, in Rustum Buildings – known to Cairene taxi-drivers as ‘secret building’. He was then sent back to Crete ‘to feel out the country and see who had influence’. Accompanied by Ralph Stockbridge of Inter-Services Liaison Department, the cover-name for MI6, he landed on 9 October 1941. Smith-Hughes was fortunate not to never encounter a German patrol or roadblock: his Cretan disguise only seemed to draw attention to his unusual bulk, his Britishly pink compexion, and his ungainly walk.

Smith-Hughes and Stockbridge set off to see Papadakis, the only person they knew who claimed to have influence. But Papadakis’s folies de grandeur made him impossible to use as a focus of resistance. Other leaders were sounded out, mainly those rallied by the archaeologist John Pendlebury who had then been executed by German paratroopers during the battle. Smith-Hughes handed over to Monty Woodhouse from Egypt shortly before Christmas and returned to Cairo, where he ran the Cretan desk at SOE headquarters with great skill.

Promoted to major, Smith- Hughes managed to preserve the section from the terrible infighting in Rustum Buildings by moving out to an annexe. It was Smith- Hughes who briefed and backed up Woodhouse’s successor, Tom Dunbabin, another distinguished archaeologist of great courage, and his two deputies, Xan Fielding for western Crete and Patrick Leigh Fermor for eastern Crete. Unusually for SOE in the Middle East, the Cretan section, B5, was neither riven by animosity nor plagued by rivalry with ISLD. Smith-Hughes’s joint mission with Stockbridge laid the foundations for an unusual degree of co-operation between the two organisations, and he managed to maintain it even in the torrid bureaucratic warfare carried out by the ‘Gaberdine swine’ in Cairo.

The Germans did all they could to track down the ‘espionage organisation of Captain Huse’, as one of their reports put it. But perhaps the greatest contribution made by SOE officers in the field and in Cairo was to prevent the latent civil war between the Cretan nationalist EOK and the Communist-dominated EAM-ELAS from exploding into a war to the knife. After the liberation of Heraklion, when a reactionary kapitan shot and wounded one of the Communist andarte leaders, Dunbabin and Smith-Hughes managed to prevent an explosion by driving round the town in open jeeps, and persuading both sides to back away from a battle which would have led to the virtual annihilation of the Communists. The Nationalists, unlike their counterparts on mainland Greece, were untainted by collaboration and much stronger than the Left.

Smith-Hughes, with typical self-deprecating humour, recounted that his most terrifying experience during the war was the formal liberation of Kastelli Kissamou, on the north-west tip of Crete. As a mark of honour, the Cretan kapitan for the area insisted that he should ride with him into the town. Smith- Hughes, who had never felt comfortable with horses, was obliged to overcome his fears, and when the cheering crowds made the horse caracole, he had to hold on to the saddle with both hands.

After the war, Smith-Hughes turned his incisive mind and astonishing memory to the law, first in the Army, and then as a barrister at Tortola in the Virgin Islands, where he became Attorney-General. In 1991, he returned to Crete for the 50th anniversary of the battle and was one of the guests at the memorable all-night glendi in honour of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his Cretan comrades who abducted General Heinrich Kreipe in April 1944.

Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading

Life by the scenic route: Max Hastings reviews ‘Words of Mercury’

First publushed in the Daily Telegraph 12 Oct 2003

Paddy Leigh Fermor has lived one of the great picaresque lives of the 20th century. He left a minor public school under heavy clouds with no money and a penchant for wandering. From 1934, for five years, he sustained a lotus existence in eastern Europe and the Balkans, by charm, genteel begging and Byronic good looks. His parents must have despaired of him during this longest gap year in history.

Words of Mercury by Artemis Cooper

One of Evelyn Waugh’s characters observed in 1939: “It’s going to be a long war. The great thing is to spend it with friends.” Leigh Fermor pursued this policy with notable success. His 18 months as a British agent in Crete made him a legend, not least for the kidnapping of the German General Kreipe, theme of the later film Ill Met By Moonlight.

After the war, Paddy resumed his leisurely course. One can no more imagine him occupying an office desk, queueing for the weekly envelope, than some marvellous beast of the African bush taking up employment as a security guard. He wandered the world until, in 1950, he suddenly produced a small literary masterpiece about the Caribbean, The Traveller’s Tree.

Thereafter, at irregular intervals, he has written travel books and fragments of autobiography. On his visits to England, rural grandees and metropolitan hostesses fight for the privilege of his society. The home he created with his wife Joan on the south shore of the Peloponnese at Kardamyli is a small work of art in its own right, owing much to their pets, or – as he writes here – to four-footed “downholsterers and interior desecrators”. How he loves language and words!

What is charm? In Leigh Fermor’s case it is an infinite curiosity about other people. He treats Bulgarian peasants and English dukes exactly alike. John Betjeman once spoke of Paddy “sitting there listening to you, his eyes sparkling with excitement as he waited to hear what you might say next”. Generosity of spirit is among his notable qualities.

Read more here!