Tag Archives: Ill Met by Moonlight

Previously unpublished images from the Kreipe kidnap

William Stanley Moss, PLF, and Manoli pose for photos before the kindap of General Kreipe

Paddy and ‘Billy’ Moss in a cave

I am very grateful to John Stathatos who sent these pictures from his family’s Cretan archive. The first with Manoli is one that I don’t think we have seen before in this setting.

I’m sending you a little present for the blog – scans of four original photographic prints of the Kreipe operation which I’ve dug out of the family archives.

The prints are on glossy photographic paper, and must have been produced by the British army press and propaganda section in Cairo very shortly after Paddy’s return. They were given a narrow white border, and all four have very slightly different dimensions, ranging from 185×143 mm for the vertical one to 147×199 mm for the group photo. They are in remarkably good shape considering their age, showing no evident deterioration beyond a very slight yellowing.

Note: certain of these images are kindly shown here by permission of John Stathatos. Please ask if you wish to reproduce.

Other pictures provided by John:

A map of Crete as drawn by Paddy on operations in Crete

Traveller’s Rest

New – Full length interviews with Kreipe and Paddy

We have all seen the famous 1972 video of Nico Mastorakis’ TV show “This is Your Life” which brought Kreipe and his old enemies together before the cameras. If you have not seen it you can find it here.

In this newly discovered video Nico Mastorakis presents a documentary about the whole kidnap event, and includes full length and exclusive interviews with Paddy and General Kreipe. The General even says that “next year I will spend my holiday in Crete.” I wonder if he ever did?

There is much more about the kidnap in the Video and Audio section. Take a visit now.

 

Happy times at Dumbleton

Some memories of Paddy at Dumbleton sent to me by Tim Todd and Alun Davies. The group is involved in finding out more about the Kreipe kidnap and especially the route used during the escape.

As Alun says … ‘A fond memory of Paddy from the time we lunched with him in 2005. I attach with this two photos taken in the garden that day – the 8th August 2005. The group shot shows from L-R John Ellis-Roberts, Richard Cowper, Chris Paul, PLF and Tim Todd.’

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Reg Everson and his powdered egg breakfast for General Kreipe on Mount Ida

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.


In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die, an essay by Margot Demopoulos

This is the probably most significant full length profile of Paddy that has appeared since his death. It is by Margot Demopoulos a writer who lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, Mondo Greco, The Athenian, and other publications.

The interesting aspect of this profile is an extensive exploration of the events surrounding the Kreipe kidnap with particular attention to the contentious subject of post-operation reprisal by the Germans.

The subject line appeared in an earlier blog post from June 2011 where I highlighted Diana Gilliland Wright’s correspondence with Paddy.

On to the profile ….

“Englischer Student . . . zu Fuss nach Konstantinopel…” eighteen-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor told the kindly woman sewing by the fire that snowy night at Heidelberg’s Red Ox. He sat at a nearby table, recording the day’s events in a notebook, hunting for German words in a dictionary, consulting maps for the next leg of the journey, “thawing and tingling, with wine, bread, and cheese handy,” as melting snow pooled around his boots.

“Konstantinopel?” Frau Spengler said. “Oh Weh! ” O woe! So far!

Far indeed, especially in the snowdrifts of mid-winter, but there he was — undaunted, spirits high, finally setting out on his own path — nearly two months into his journey to cross Europe on foot, with Constantinople the terminus. Nearly forty-five years later, he would publish the story of that journey in A Time of Gifts. Read More ….

Access the pdf of the article here.

London Gazette Moss MC and Fermor DSO announcement

Billy Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor

A copy of the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 13 July 1944, which announces the award of the Distinguished Service Order to Captain (temporary Major) Leigh Fermor and the Military Cross to Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Stanley Moss.

You can find the pdf here Moss MC and PLF DSO announcement (once open scroll down) or an online link here.

A Year of Memory: the top ten posts on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

As the year comes to a close it is time to reflect upon what has passed and to look forward to 2012. I make no predictions for the coming year. There are some things which are almost certain such as the continuing Euro crisis and the much anticipated publication of Artemis Cooper’s authorised biography about Paddy, but forecasts tend to be overtaken by events and are quickly forgotten.

What we can do is to look back on this year in the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The major event of course was Paddy’s death on 10 June at the age of ninety-six. A sad event for his family and close friends, but also for those of us who admired him for his writing and the life he lived. As the year closed it was time to celebrate his life at his Memorial Service held on 15 December in London.

As I hoped the blog has become a significant source of material about his life including rarely seen video. There have been over 228,000 visits over the last year and you have made it a much more interactive experience by using the comment facility to exchange information, provide your own memories of Paddy, and to express your admiration for him. At the time of his death I opened a page where you could express your thoughts about Paddy which has run to over 120 comments.

Paddy would probably have been somewhat bemused by the whole idea of the blog, but perhaps even more so by the interaction we now have with social networking sites with nearly 4,500 visitors finding the site from Facebook, and 850 via Twitter.

To conclude the year, and as the 365th post on the blog, let us take a look at some of the most popular articles over the last twelve months. Perhaps I can make one promise to you all which is that there is much more to come on the blog in 2012 which includes a lot of material submitted by you the readers of the blog.

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

Paddy’s funeral service was held on a typical English summer’s day at his home in Dumbleton. He returned to England just one day before his death and is buried beside his beloved Joan.

Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper 

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

Patrick Leigh Fermor … This is Your (Ill Met by Moonlight) Greek Life 

The amazing video from the Greek TV programme which reunited the participants of the Ill Met by Moonlight kidnap including Paddy, many of the Andartes, and General Kreipe and his wife.

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view 

One of the most comprehensive profiles of Paddy which is now freely available to all. (the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page)

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

A series of personal photographs sent to me by Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew and who now lives in Canada where he works as an artist.

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

The ever popular video where Paddy talks in some detail about the Kreipe kidnap. (press play on Battle of Crete 7).

Colonel David Smiley 

David Smiley was a fellow occupant of Tara in Cairo with Paddy and Billy Moss et al who continued his military career with some distinction after the war and even led Japanese soldiers in a charge against VietMinh rebels!

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger 

It is probably the James Bond/Ian Fleming association which maintains the popularity of this article.

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár) 

No list of popular posts can be complete without the compelling combination of my passions for Paddy, Romania, Miklós Bánffy, and Cluj.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

The order of service from the joyful occasion that was Paddy’s Memorial Service.

Finally I would like to thank so many of you for your encouragement and support during 2011, and wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Tom Sawford

William Stanley Moss

"Billy" Moss with his Russians

There appears to be no surviving obituary for Billy Moss (if anybody can find one please contact me). His Wikipedia page has to serve as a substitute.

Ivan William “Billy” Stanley Moss MC (1921–1965), was a British army officer in World War II, and later a successful writer, broadcaster, journalist and traveller. He served with the Coldstream Guards and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was a best-selling author in the 1950s, based both on his novels and books about his wartime service. He featured events of his SOE years in Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe (1950), which was adapted as a British film released under the main title in 1957. Moss travelled around the world and went to Antarctica to meet the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

He was known as William Stanley Moss, or I. W. S. Moss, or W. Stanley Moss, or plain Bill or Billy Moss – but never as “Stanley Moss”.  Stanley was the surname of a female forebear.  All family members (including Billy and his two daughters) were given this name, which was considered part of the surname, though not hyphenated.  Much like “Leigh Fermor”.

Early life and education

William Stanley Moss, (called Bill or Billy) was born in Yokohama, Japan. His mother was a White Russian émigrée, and his father, an English businessman. The family survived the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Moss attended Charterhouse in England (1934–39).

Soldier

In the autumn of 1939, Moss, aged 18, had just left Charterhouse and was living in a log cabin on the Latvian coast. By the outbreak of war, he reached Stockholm, and succeeded in crossing the North Sea to England in a yacht. After full training at Caterham, he was commissioned as an ensign into the Coldstream Guards. He served on King’s Guard at the Court of St. James’s punctuated by bouts of Churchillian duty at Chequers.

Posted to reinforce the 3rd Battalion, the Coldstream, after the losses at Tobruk, Moss fought with Montgomery’s Eighth Army chasing Rommel across North Africa to Alamein and finished up the campaign in Chianti and Pantellaria. He returned to Cairo, where he was recruited into Force 133 of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Tara, Cairo

In 1943 in Cairo, Moss moved in to a spacious villa, with a great ballroom with parquet floors, which four or five people might share. Moss chose to live in the villa rather than the SOE hostel, “Hangover Hall”. He moved in alone at first, then bought his Alsatian puppy, Pixie; Xan Fielding, who had worked in Crete, joined him. Next was Countess Zofia (Sophie) Tarnowska, forced to leave Poland in 1939 by the German invasion, followed by Arnold Breene of SOE HQ. Finally Patrick Leigh Fermor, an SOE officer who had spent the previous nine months in Crete, joined the household. The villa’s new inhabitants called it Tara, after the legendary home of the High Kings of Ireland.

Sophie Tarnowska and two other women had been asked to share the house with the SOE agents, but only she went through with it, after the men pleaded with her not to let them down. Estranged from her husband, she moved in with her few possessions (a bathing costume, an evening gown, a uniform and two pet mongooses). She protected her reputation while living in the all-male household by the invention of an entirely fictitious chaperone, “Madame Khayatt”, who suffered from “distressingly poor health” and was always indisposed when visitors asked after her. The group were later joined by SOE agents Billy McLean, David Smiley returning from Albania, and Rowland Winn, also active in Albania.

Tara became the centre of high-spirited entertaining of diplomats, officers, writers, lecturers, war correspondents and Coptic and Levantine party-goers. The residents adopted nicknames: “Princess Dneiper-Petrovsk” (Countess Sophie Tarnowska), “Sir Eustace Rapier” (Lt-Col. Neil (Billy) McLean), “the Marquis of Whipstock” (Col David Smiley LVO OBE MC), “the Hon, Rupert Sabretache” (Rowland Winn MC), “Lord Hughe Devildrive” (Major Xan Fielding DSO), “Lord Pintpot” (Arnold Breene), “Lord Rakehell” (Lt-Col Patrick Leigh-Fermor DSO) and “Mr Jack Jargon” (Capt W. Stanley Moss MC). By the winter of 1944, the Tara household had to leave their battered villa and move into a flat. Their landlord secured their eviction on the grounds that the villa had not been let to “Princess Dneiper-Petrovsk” et al., as stated on the villa’s name plate.

Abduction of General Kreipe

Moss is best remembered for the capture of General Heinrich Kreipe on Crete and abduction of him to Egypt, in April and May 1944. He and Leigh Fermor led a team of Cretan Andartes, part of the Greek resistance.

Moss and Leigh Fermor thought of the Kreipe abduction one evening in the Club Royale de Chasse et de Pêche (Royal Hunting and Fishing Club) and planned it during the winter of 1943. On the last evening before Moss and Leigh Fermor set off, Smiley presented Moss with the Oxford Book of English Verse – his companion from Albania – for good luck.[2] McLean gave him a complete Shakespeare dedicated, “To Bill, with best of luck for Guernsey, Bill”.

Promoted to the rank of Captain, at age 22 Moss set off with Leigh Fermor, age 29, to Crete in 1944. Leigh Fermor landed by parachute. Moss, unable to jump due to cloud cover, followed several weeks later, landing by boat on the south coast where he joined Leigh Fermor, Andartes and other support. Walking north, they passed through Skinias, Kastamonitsa and Haraso. Just south of Skalani, they prepared for the abduction. Throughout the operation, as they travelled across Crete, they were hidden and supported by the Resistance and the local population.

Moss and Leigh Fermor, disguised as German soldiers, stopped the General’s car. With the help of their team, the driver was bundled out and the General and car seized. With Leigh Fermor impersonating the General, and Moss his driver, and with the General bundled in the back, secured by their Cretan team, Moss drove the General’s car for an hour and a half through 22 controlled road blocks in Heraklion. Leigh Fermor took the car on, as Moss walked with the general south into the mountains to Anogeia and up towards Psiloritis. Reunited, the entire abduction team took the general on over the summit of Psiloritis before descending, aiming for the coast. Driven west by German forces cutting off escape to the south, they travelled to Gerakari and on to Patsos. From here, they walked on through Fotinos and Vilandredo before striking south, finally to escape by ship.

After the war, a member of Kreipe’s staff reported that, on hearing the news of the kidnapping, an uneasy silence in the officers’ mess in Heraklion was followed by someone saying, “Well gentlemen, I think this calls for champagne all round.”

Post-war correspondence explains that Kreipe was disliked by his soldiers because, amongst other things, he objected to the stopping of his own vehicle for checking in compliance with his commands concerning troops’ reviewing approved travel orders. This tension between the General and his troops, in part, explains the reluctance of sentries to stop the General’s car as Moss drove it through Heraklion.

Moss was recommended for and received the Immediate Award of the Military Cross: “For outstanding courage and audacity.”

The episode was immortalised in his best-selling book Ill Met by Moonlight (1950). It was adapted into a film of the same name, directed and produced by Michael Powell and released in 1957. It featured Dirk Bogarde as Patrick Leigh Fermor and David Oxley as Moss.

The abduction is commemorated near Archanes and at Patsos.

Damasta Sabotage

Returning to Crete in August 1944, Moss led a resistance group consisting of eight Cretans and six escaped Russian soldiers in launching an ambush on German forces, intent on attacking Anogeia, on the main road connecting Rethymno and Heraklion. They chose an ambush site by a bridge in the Damastos location, one kilometre west of the village of Damasta. After the team destroyed various passing vehicles, among which was a lorry carrying military mail to Chania, the German force targeting Anogia finally appeared. It consisted of a track of infantrymen backed up by an armoured car. Moss and his group attacked the troops, Moss destroying the armoured car by dropping a grenade into the hatch. In total, 40 to 50 Germans and one Russian partisan were killed in the clash that followed. The operation is described in full in Moss’s book A War of Shadows (1952) and commemorated at Damasta. Moss’s exploits in Crete are recorded in the Historical Museum of Crete.

Macedonia and the Far East

After being promoted to Major, Moss served in Macedonia. Toward the end of the War, he served in the Far East, also described in A War of Shadows.

Marriage and family

In Cairo in 1945, Moss married Countess Zofia Tarnowska, his former housemate.  She was the granddaughter of Count Stanislaw Tarnowski (1837–1917) and a direct descendant of Catherine the Great of Russia.

They had three children: Christine Isabelle Mercedes, Sebastian (who died in infancy) and Gabriella Zofia. Initially living in London, they moved to Riverstown House, County Cork in Ireland. They later returned to London. They separated in 1957.

Writer and Traveller

Moss achieved success as an author with three novels, as well as his two books based on his wartime adventures. In addition, he travelled to Germany and wrote an investigation of post-war Germany, studying what happened to gold accumulated by the Nazis: Gold Is Where You Hide It: What Happened to the Reichsbank Treasure? (1956).

Disappearance of Reichsbank and Abwehr Reserves

Between 1952 and 1954, Moss joined up with his friend and former SOE agent, Andrzej Kowerski, (who adopted his cover name, Andrew Kennedy, after the war), in order to unravel a mystery of the final days of the Third Reich. In April and May 1945, the entire remaining reserves of the Reichsbank – gold (730 bars), cash (6 large sacks), and precious stones and metals such as platinum (25 sealed boxes) – were dispatched by Walther Funk from Berlin under armed escort to be buried on the Klausenhof Mountain at Einsiedel in Bavaria, where the final German resistance was to be concentrated. Similarly the Abwehr cash reserves of hundreds of thousands of dollars where hidden nearby in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Shortly after the American forces overran the area, the reserves and money disappeared.

Moss and Kennedy travelled back and forth across Germany and into Switzerland and corresponded with fugitives in Argentina, to research what had happened. They talked to many witnesses before finally establishing what had become of the treasure. What Moss and Kennedy uncovered, and the conclusions they reached on the various people responsible for the disappearances, have not been disputed to this day. The disappearance of Major Martin Borg, the US Military Governor of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the time, has not been explained.[22] (And? who and what?)

Later, Moss and Kennedy went on to uncover the consequences of Heinrich Himmler’s order of 28 October 1939, which confirmed the Lebensborn programme. They researched what had become of the children born as a result of the order.

Antarctica

He continued to travel extensively first to New Zealand from where, on 14 February 1958, he flew in a Globemaster aircraft (with one engine cutting out six hours from his destination) to Scott Base at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica to report on the arrival of the first Antarctic crossing achieved by the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1957-8 led by Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary. Months later, he returned to New Zealand in the icebreaker, The Glacier.

Sailing the Pacific

Taking to sea from New Zealand again, he sailed with Warwick Davies, John Ewing, Rex Hill and Bill Endean in Endeans’s 47 ft Alden-rigged Malabar ketch, the Crusader,[23] through the islands of the Pacific via Tahiti, Pitcairn Islands, Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands to Panama, eventually landing at Nassau, Bahamas in December 1959.
Jamaica

He moved on to Kingston, Jamaica, where he settled. He died on 9 August 1965, aged 44.

“He is consistently hunted by the occupying troops” – The commendation for Paddy’s OBE

It is clear the original intention was to award Paddy a DSO, but that was struck out in favour of an OBE. Paddy was later awarded the DSO for his part in the Kreipe abduction. Interestingly they had difficulties with his surname … Fermor is crossed out and replaced by Fermer!

The commendation reads:

This officer infiltrated into Crete on 22 Jun 42. Since that date, by his courage, cheerfulness and steadfastness, he has been most valuable in maintaining morale among the civilian population in most difficult circumstances.

At different times he has been in charge of our revolutionary and espionage services in the prefectures of Canea, Rethymnon and Heraklion and has been responsible for providing much valuable information regarding enemy activity and intentions. In addition he has made a personal reconnaissance of the ports of Suda and Heraklion under most hazardous circumstances.

On his own initiative he has organised defeatist campaigns in the ranks of German troops. With complete disregard for personal safety … he has carried these enterprises through to a successful conclusion.

He is still in Crete, where his determination, devotion to duty, and steadfastness of purpose have been invaluable in helping the local population to sustain their faith in their allies.

He is consistently hunted by the occupying troops.

Signed by Head of Mission 9 Apr 43.

(requested that should the award be made there should be no publicity for security reasons.)

The source for this is the Kew public records office. This is not in Paddy’s SOE file.


How to Kidnap a General – a review of Ill Met by Moonlight

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Moss

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Moss in German Uniform Prior to the Abduction of General Kriepe

“There was a rush . . . our torches illuminated the interior of the car — the bewildered face of the General, the chauffeur’s terrified eyes . . . [The] chauffeur was reaching for his automatic, so I hit him across the head with my kosh [blackjack] . . . and George . . . dumped him on the road. I jumped in behind the steering-wheel, and . . . saw Paddy and Manoli dragging the General out of the opposite door. The old man was struggling with fury . . . shouting every curse under the sun . . . [We bundled] him into the back seat [and he] kept imploring, ‘Where is my hat? Where is my hat?’ The hat, of course, was on Paddy’s head.”

First published in Time magazine 4 September 1950

Why a German general’s hat should be on a British officer’s head is pretty much the gist of III Met by Moonlight. For as the staff car, driven by Author Moss, moved along the road in northern Crete, sentries at no less than 22 German traffic-control posts smartly saluted the behatted “general”‘ and waved the car on. They had no inkling that prostrate on the floor in the back seat lay the real general, with guns pointed at his head. Twenty days later, on May 16, 1944, kidnaped Major General Karl Kreipe was handed over to British authorities in Cairo, putting finis to what Harold Nicolson has called “one of the best adventure stories that I have read.”*

Behind the Lines. The scheme of raiding German-held Crete and trotting off with the divisional commander was the brain child of youthful Major Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Captain W. Stanley Moss, who had achieved the schoolboy dream of becoming secret agents. At their base in Cairo, they shared a villa and sampled the fleshpots of Egypt. It was in a nightclub that they first hatched the plot that was to land their party from a motor launch on the south coast of Crete.

The two Britons could depend on help from guerrillas and from intelligence corpsmen hidden in the hills. One British agent, a Cretan, actually lived next door to General Kreipe’s Villa Ariadne, near the north coast. Through him, Moss and Leigh-Fermor learned the general’s daily routine to a nicety—off to headquarters by car at 9 a.m., back in the evening any time after 8 or 8:30 p.m., depending on how many rubbers of bridge he stayed to play.

Slowly, painstakingly, the two agents planned a night ambush. Hidden guerrillas lay at vantage points on the road to the villa, a buzzer and torch flashes relayed warnings of the general’s approach to the waiting kidnapers, who were in German uniforms.

After the snatch, the general (who quickly became resigned and quite amiable) was marched from cave to cave half the length of Crete, while the furious Germans fruitlessly finecombed the island. By the time a Royal Navy motor launch nosed in to a southwest beach and took off both captive and captors, Moss and Leigh-Fermor knew that they had achieved their principal aim—to astound the enemy and make him the laughingstock of the local population.

Author Moss wrote his story in the mid-’40s, but the British War Office refused to let it appear then. Today, having reached the elderly age of 29, Moss is a bit abashed by the “22-year-old exuberance (almost bumptiousness) with which it was written.” Bumptious or not, it is one of the most melodramatic and audacious stories of the war.

*And notably more successful than another daring plan hatched in Cairo. In November 1941, British commandos under 24-year-old Lieut. Colonel Geoffrey Keyes made their way 200 miles behind Axis lines in an attempt to capture or assassinate Nazi General Erwin Rommel. At night, with cork-blackened faces, Keyes and his commandos achieved complete surprise, wrecked Rommel’s HQ with grenades. But Keyes was killed and Rommel was untouched: he had gone to a birthday party.

Post-operation interrogation of Patrick Leigh Fermor

A very revealing file from Paddy’s debrief upon his return from Crete. He operated under the cover name of Michaelis Frangielakis. It is very extensive discussing day-to-day operations and organisation in Crete. An interesting conclusion is that Italian interrogations of prisoners were less brutal than those of the Germans, and were more successful being psychologically more sophisticated: “The Italians understood the Mediterranean mind and methods much better than the Germans.”

Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey – tonight in Crete

Apologies for a second post so soon but it appears that in tonight’s episode Joanna will visit Crete and according to the blurb ‘… in the high remote mountains she spends time with the shepherds who played a key role fighting the Nazi occupation alongside British SOE Agent, Patrick Leigh Fermor – whose exploits became the basis for the film Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Don’t expect too much accuracy but I am sure that there will be oodles of gushing admiration for Paddy. 

Apparently ‘… Crete is also the birth place of Zeus and the home of raki, a local firewater that fuels traditional festivities.’ Enjoy but only available in the UK … and I am currently in Romania. 😦

The oral heroic poetry of the Kreipe kidnap

I have extracted this from a fairly long book review about Professor M I Finley’s 1978 revised edition of his book The World of Odysseus. It has a fascinating section about an oral heroic song from Crete that is about Paddy and the Kreipe abduction, and how it had evolved in just the few years since the end of the war.

From Triumph of a Heretic by Bernard Knox, first published in the NYRB 29 June 1978.

It is now more than two decades since the Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge (who was then an ex-professor from Rutgers) published a book which in a limpid, hard-hitting prose and with a bare minimum of footnotes attempted to draw “a picture of a society, based on a close reading of the Iliad and Odyssey, supported by study of other societies….” This is how Professor Finley characterizes the book now, in the preface to a revised edition which makes only minor changes in the original text but adds two valuable and stimulating appendices, replying to criticism and bringing the argument up to date. He goes on to claim that “the social institutions and values make up a coherent system” which, however strange to us, is “neither an improbable nor an unfamiliar one in the experience of modern anthropology.” The fact that the later Greeks and the nineteenth-century scholars found it incomprehensible on its own terms he dismisses as “irrelevant” and adds that “it is equally beside the point that the narrative is a collection of fictions from beginning to end.” ….

… Oral heroic poetry is not a medium that preserves historical fact—as Finley pointed out, with a reference to the Chanson de Roland, which made out of a Basque attack on Charlemagne’s rear-guard an assault by Muslim beys and pashas, all carefully identified by names which are “German, Byzantine, or made-up.” A modern example, from the Second World War and from Greece itself, strengthens his case and gives a fascinating glimpse of epic “history” in the making.

In 1953 the late Professor James Notopoulos was recording oral heroic song in the Sfakia district of western Crete, where illiterate oral bards were still to be found. He asked one of them, who had sung of his own war experience, if he knew a song about the capture of the German general and the bard proceeded to improvise one. The historical facts are well known and quite secure. In April 1944 two British officers, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain Stanley Moss, parachuted into Crete, made contact with Cretan guerrillas, and kidnapped the German commanding general of the island, one Karl Kreipe.

The general was living in the Villa Ariadne at Knossos, the house Evans had built for himself during the excavations. Every day, at the same time, the general was driven south from the Villa to the neighboring small town of Arkhanes, where his headquarters were located. He came home every night at eight o’clock for dinner. The two British officers, dressed in German uniforms, stopped the car on its way home to Knossos; the Cretan partisans overpowered the chauffeur and the general. The two officers then drove the car through the German roadblocks in Heraklion (the general silent with a knife at his throat) and left the car on the coast road to Rethymo. They then hiked through the mountains to the south coast, made rendezvous with a British submarine, and took General Kreipe to Alexandria and on to Middle East Headquarters in Cairo.

Here, in Notopoulos’s summary, is the heroic song the bard produced:

“An order comes from British and American headquarters in Cairo to capture General Kreipe, dead or alive; the motive is revenge for his cruelty to the Cretans. A Cretan partisan, Lefteris Tambakis (not one of the actual guerrilla band) appears before the English general (Fermor and Moss are combined into one and elevated in rank) and volunteers for the dangerous mission. The general reads the order and the hero accepts the mission for the honor of Cretan arms. The hero goes to Heraklion, where he hears that a beautiful Cretan girl is the secretary of General Kreipe.

“In disguise the partisan proceeds to her house and in her absence reads the [English] general’s order to her mother. When the girl returns he again reads the general’s order. Telling her the honor of Crete depends on her, he catalogues the German cruelties. If she would help in the mission, her name would become immortal in Cretan history. The girl consents and asks for three days time in which to perform her role. To achieve Cretan honor she sacrifices her woman’s honor with General Kreipe in the role of a spy. She gives the hero General Kreipe’s plans for the next day.

“Our hero then goes to Knossos to meet the guerrillas and the English general. ‘Yiassou general,’ he says. ‘I will perform the mission.’ The guerrillas go to Arkhanes to get a long car with which to blockade the road. Our hero, mounted on a horse by the side of the blockading car, awaits the car of Kaiseri (that is what the bard calls Kreipe). The English general orders the pistols to be ready. When Kreipe’s car slows down at the turn he is attacked by the guerrillas. Kreipe is stripped of his uniform (only his cap in the actual event) and begs for mercy for the sake of his children (a stock motif in Cretan poetry).

“After the capture the frantic Germans begin to hunt with dogs (airplanes in the actual event). The guerrillas start on the trek to Mount Ida and by stages the party reaches the district of Sfakia (the home of the singer and his audience; actually the general left the island southwest of Mount Ida). The guards have to protect the general from the mob of enraged Sfakians. Soon the British submarine arrives and takes the general to Egypt. Our bard concludes the poem with a traditional epilogue—that never before in the history of the world has such a deed been done. He then gives his name, his village, his service to his country.”

So much for epic history. Nine years after the event the British protagonists have been reduced to one nameless general whose part in the operation is secondary and there can hardly be any doubt that if the song is still sung now the British element in the proceedings is practically nonexistent—if indeed it managed to survive at all through the years in which Britain, fighting to retain its hold on Cyprus, became the target of bitter hostility in Greece and especially among the excitable Cretans.

It took the Cretan oral tradition only nine years to promote to the leadership of the heroic enterprise a purely fictitious character of a different nationality. This is a sobering thought when one reflects that there is nothing to connect Agamemnon, Achilles, Priam, and Hector with the fire-blackened layer of thirteenth-century ruins known as Troy VII A (the archaeologists’ candidate for Homer’s city) except a heroic poem which cannot have been fixed in its present form by writing until the late eighth century, at least four illiterate centuries after the destruction.

To read the full article click here.

Hunting Hitler’s Henchmen on National Geographic tonight at 7.00 pm

This programme showing tonight covers the story of Paddy and Moss and the brave Cretans who captured General Kreipe. However, it comes with an ‘accuracy warning’. It appears that the makers approached Tim Todd and fellow experts but in the end Tim did not work with them as it appeared that the makers wished to stray from some of the facts. However, for those who know little enough about this, it may be no worse than the Powell-Pressburger movie. I have no idea if 7.00 pm means UK time or some other GMT + or – time.

You can find out more on the National Geographic website. The blurb describes it as follows:

Their bravery has inspired countless films but, until now, the real story of some of Britain’s greatest war heroes has remained in the shadows.

Hunting Hitler’s Henchmen is a film about some of Britain’s bravest military. With ex-special forces soldiers as guides, venture beyond the movies to meet the snatch squads: commandos sent behind enemy lines to take out Hitler’s most-feared generals.

They slipped into Nazi-led Libya to kill the infamous Desert Fox, General Erwin Rommel, and succeeded in snatching General Heinrich Kreipe from under the noses of 15,000 soldiers.

Risking their lives to disrupt the Nazi war machine, these are the heroes who inspired Hollywood: incredible men sent to eliminate Hitler’s top brass.

Getting it right and that Taki article

I have to admit that there have been times over the last two years, when, running two blogs, I have either clearly been wrong to publish something, or I have posted an article that has created significant controversy and I subsequently wished I had not done so.

Life is always easy if one takes the uncontroversial path. I dare not mention the post I had in mind a year or so ago with the working title “Patrick Leigh Fermor: the Court Jester?” which was sparked by an interesting series of conversations and impressions I gained from reading ‘In Tearing Haste’. Whilst remaining an ardent admirer of Paddy, it would be wrong to say that he was a saint and beyond criticism. Few of us are.

Which brings me neatly to Taki, and the article that I posted last week entitled ‘Better a Hero Than a Celebrity’. Clearly Taki believes that he himself is beloved by all and can say and write what he wishes without fear of recrimination. He has a very old and a very thick skin. The article has sparked some significant debate in the comment section and I think it is worth bringing this to the attention of a wider audience for it sheds some light on Taki’s character and addresses some of the inaccuracies that I warn of in the introduction.

However, I stand by my response to the first comment which was as follows. Taki Theodoracopulos has had a place in European society over the last fifty years or so. Some may not like him, but clearly he has a role in commenting on the lives and loves of celebrities, which today appears to be of greater importance than the state of European banks and the future of the Euro; it is very big business. In fact Taki was one of the first ‘gossip columnists’. Whatever the inaccuracies of his article it meets the criteria of this blog. It is about Paddy and does possibly bring some new perspectives. This blog is fundamentally an archive of all on-line material about Paddy, and therefore the article stays.

I think it would be useful to all to highlight the points discussed in the Comments section, particularly the major error Taki made in stating that Paddy had killed Albert Fenske, the driver of General Kreipe’s car. Paddy had nothing to do with his death which was against orders and not at all part of the plan. Additionally the story about Paddy witnessing the death of the last German commanding General of Crete is pure fiction; it just did not happen like that.

So what is the moral of this tale? Yes, I would like it to be all sweetness and light, but you can’t please all the people all of the time. Let’s keep up the debate and remember I am more than willing to take in and publish articles that you have found or have written yourself.

Here are the comments up to this evening …..

From Chris Lawson:

“Known to the cognoscenti as Taki Takealotofcokeupthenose, Theodoracopulos is a man for whom the word “snob” might have been invented. Note the casual dropping of Agnelli’s name into his piece and Taki’s snide comments on Dirk Bogarde. It is NOT true that Paddy killed the driver of Kreipe’s car. Apart from the story of the execution of Kreipe’s successor (Name, details of crimes? Doesn’t mean Kreipe’s predecessor?), this brings nothing new to the saga of Paddy’s life. I would respectfully request that you remove the piece.”

My reply:

“No Chris – I don’t do censorship. Your comment can stand as a beacon to my error in posting it. However, Taki has a place in society over the last 50 years and this blog is a repository about Paddy. It stays.”

Chris Lawson responds:

“Fine by me. Of course it was not an error posting it and I agree entirely and whole-heartedly about what you say about censorship. Yes, Taki certainly has a place in the cultural pantheon de nos jours, and my thoughts are just the latest in a stream of negative comments directed at the former inmate of H.M. prisons. Whatever else one has to say about the gent, he is certainly one of life’s great survivors.”

Tim Todd (who runs the Il Met by Moonlight site and is an expert on the operation) interjected:

“That Taki could be so fundamentally wrong about the death of Albert Fenske, Kreipe’s driver, tells me much about the appropriately named Taki.

I believe that Fenske’s death, at the hands of two of his Cretan andartes and contrary to instructions, caused Paddy no end of personal grief, perhaps second only to the accidental shooting of his Cretan friend. I once listened to Paddy talk about this latter incident when, in the mountains after a cadet’s exercise, he failed to check his rifle before cleaning it when it was returned to him. I have to tell you he was still mortified by the whole business and sixty odd years on he was still visibly upset by it. Tom our webmaster and I, know from the best of sources that Fenske’s death was much regretted by Paddy. My own feeling is that but for that we might have seen Paddy’s own account of the abduction published.

I am thoroughly disappointed that anyone claiming to know the man would dare suggest Fenske died at Paddy’s hand. Paddy, perhaps the most honourable man I have ever met, would though have accepted responsibility for anything that may have happened under his command. He was that sort of man.

It is perhaps as well that Tom has published Taki’s piece for it provides an opportunity to compare the two and set the record straight.

I am pleased to say that, through Annette Windgass, Fenske’s family have recently been made aware of Paddy’s great sadness of that particular outcome of the operation.”

 Chris Lawson gave us some more about the story of the General’s death:

“On the General who succeeded Kreipe, and two predecessors

The Commandant of Crete, appointed on 1 May 1944 after Kreipe’s kidnapping, was Generalleutnant Helmut Friebe, Commander of the LXIV Armeekorps. He was captured by the Americans in May 1945 and released in 1947.

Two former commanders of Crete were tried and executed in Athens on 20 May 1947, the anniversary of the German invasion of Crete. One was the bloodsoaked Friedrich-Wilhelm Mueller, who was to have been the original target for the kidnapping until he was replaced by Kreipe. Mueller had a reputation for brutality and numerous atrocities were committed under his regime.

The other was General Bruno Bauer, a paratroop officer, who was appointed in 1942, replacing General Alexander Andrae. Bauer had gained the reputation of being hard and fair, and the “most humane commander” of Crete. Antony Beevor describes him as truly unfortunate, as he was executed for crimes “committed under another general”. Three years later the Association of Former German Paratroopers requested that his remains be returned to Crete. George Psychoundakis, resistance fighter and author of the Cretan Runner (already much-mentioned by Tom), reburied his remains.

Taki’s fourth paragraph is a complete fantasy.”

George joined the argument:

“The only readable part of Taki’s remembrance (sic ) is the last sentence, horrible in its clarity and even worse that it is written by someone whose trotters are deep in that particular trough.

His comments however, are an excellent example of the sponger’s wiles. The mildly mocking comment by Agnelli, humbly repeated to establish the writer’s honesty, while at the same time making it clear that the writer enjoys the same societal position.

Then the personal revelations as told uniquely to Taki, and no other. Who is to say it did not happen? Taki’s favourite method of asserting inside knowledge always has been to quote the ‘ confidences ‘ of dead people.

The lustrously depicted tale of an unrepentant Nazi Officer going blithely to his death comes straight out of ‘Boys Own ‘.

Next we have the gay bitchiness in his description of PLF’s relationship with his wife. Once again the vampire straddles an innocent’s grave seeking the lifeblood of fame by association.

Chris Lawson ( thank you ) marshalled all the necessary facts to give the lie to Taki’s comments. He was probably as irked by them as I was.”

Tim Todd concludes it all: 

“Inaccurate accounts of historical events, for personal vanity, or a film-makers preference for ‘a story’ over fact, infuriate me. This is especially so when such accounts may subsequently become part of history for those without inquiring minds. Last week saw the release of a new video by National Geographic half of which was about the abduction of Kreipe. It is appallingly bad and inaccuracies abound. I am so glad that some colleagues of mine and I, who know a thing or two (but not all) about the abduction, rejected the film makers request to assist them for it has turned out every bit as bad as we feared. Having read some of Paddy’s comments about Ill Met By Moonlight, I can imagine what he might of thought of the latest misrepresentation.”

… and you say ….??

A reconstruction of the Kreipe abduction in Crete

I believe this is something of a regular event in Crete. The story of the Kreipe abduction and then a ‘reenactment’ of the abduction on the actual spot it took place. The action starts at 2 minutes 20 seconds!

Don’t forget we have a whole section on these events and video as well:

Paddy talks about the abduction

General Kreipe, Paddy and the abduction gang on Greek TV 1972

more stories related to Ill Met by Moonlight 

Related article:

The Kreipe pennants 

Fermor the Magnificent

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

By Jeremy Bernstein

First published in the Los Angeles Times. January 18, 1998

Here is the scene: The time is late April of 1944. The place is near the summit of Mt. Ida, the highest mountain on Crete. There is still snow. Gathered are five Cretans, fully mustached and heavily armed. Three other men wear German uniforms. This is deceptive: Two of them are British officers (commandos). The third, however, is something else. If you are very familiar with German military uniforms, you will see from pictures of the group that he is a general. In these photographs he is not looking at the camera. He does not smile. It is little wonder. His name is Karl Kreipe. He was, until he was kidnapped two days before, the commanding general of the German occupation forces on Crete. He was due to be promoted to lieutenant general yesterday. German patrols are looking for him.

As dawn breaks over Mt. Ida, he murmurs to himself:

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte
(“Do you not see how Soracte is shining”)….

Then, surprisingly, one of the British officers continues,

nec jam sustineant onus
Silvae laborantes, geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto

(“beneath a heavy covering of snow, and how
The laboring trees can no longer hold up their burden,
And how the rivers are frozen by the sharp cold?”).

(Translation of the Latin was provided by Professor W.C. Dowling of Rutgers University.)

The officer continues through the next five stanzas to the end of Horace’s Soracte ode. Many years later, he wrote, “The general’s blue eyes had swiveled away from the mountaintop to my own — 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 from the same fountains long before, and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

Readers of this anecdote may divide into two groups: both, in my view, equally fortunate. A few of you will recognize this scene as one of the mosaic tiles out of which Patrick Leigh Fermor’s (the British major was he) magnificent travel book “A Time of Gifts” was composed. (Readers intrigued by this passing anecdote who want to know more about what was one of the most daring exploits of World War II will enjoy reading “Ill Met by Moonlight” by W. Stanley Moss — he was the other British officer — George G. Harrap & Co.: London, 1950, as well as “Crete: The Battle and the Resistance” by Antony Beevor, Penguin Books: New York, 1991. Both books have photographs.) You are fortunate readers because you have discovered this marvelous author. But those of you who have not discovered him are also fortunate: When you do, you will have in front of you hours of enormous pleasure and satisfaction. I should confess that, until a few years ago, I had never heard of Fermor either. But in the fall of 1993, I went on a bicycle trip around Crete. Looking for something to read, I found “A Time of Gifts” in a local bookstore. I glanced through the first few pages and decided there and then that I would try to read everything the man ever wrote.

While all of Fermor’s books (there are not that many, only half a dozen or so by my count) are autobiographical, he has never written an autobiography. Nor, as far as I can determine, has anyone written his biography. The best one can do is to snatch fragments from his own books and from books written by people who came across him in passing. Constructing a person’s life this way, especially the life of a man like Fermor, is like trying to cross a rapidly flowing stream by hopping from rock to rock. There are lacunae for which I simply cannot account. What, for example, was he doing living in a vast Romanian country house near the Russian border for about two years just before the war? And later, how did he come to spend an almost equal amount of time in the Caribbean: an experience that resulted in the first of his travel books, “The Traveller’s Tree”? Moreover, why was that book actually written in two monasteries in France where Fermor was a resident visitor? This experience resulted in a gem of a short book, “A Time to Keep Silence,” which, he informs us, began as letters written from the monasteries to the woman who was to become his wife. We are told nothing more about her, not even her name. Why, I don’t know. But here, at least, are a few of the steppingstones in his life.

Fermor, whom friends apparently call “Paddy,” was born on Feb. 11, 1915, in London. As he wrote in an introductory letter to Xan Fielding (one of his fellow clandestine officers on Crete who was responsible for the west of the island, while Fermor was responsible for the east) in “A Time of Gifts”: “In the second year of World War I, soon after I was born, my mother and sister sailed away to India (where my father was a servant of the Indian Government) he directed the Geological Survey of India, and I was left behind so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” Fermor was deposited with a country family which “left a memory of complete and unalloyed bliss.” But, he continued, “when my mother and sister got back at last, I rushed several fields away and fought off their advances in gruff Northhamptonshire tones; and they understood they had a small savage on their hands, and not a friendly one.” Taken in hand, he was sent to a series of schools, all of which “ended in uniform catastrophe.” He explained: “Harmless in appearance, more presentable by now and of refreshingly unconstricted address, I would earn excellent opinions at first. But as soon as early influences began to tell, these short-lived virtues must have seemed a cruel Fauntleroy veneer, cynically assumed to mask the Charles Addams fiend that lurked beneath: It coloured with an even darker tinct the sum of misdeeds which soon began heaping up. When I catch a glimpse of similar children today, I am transfixed with fellow-feelings, and with dread.”

By this time, his mother and father had separated, and in locus parentis he was sent to two psychiatrists, one of whom he later found out had treated Virginia Woolf. This was followed by a stay at a cramming institution where he prepared himself for the examination to get into a public school, in this case, King’s School, Canterbury. His tenure at King’s School was abruptly terminated when he was discovered holding hands with the daughter of a local green grocer ” in the back-shop on upturned apple baskets.” He notes that his house master’s penultimate report remarked that he had made “some attempts at improvement but more to avoid detection. He is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.”

While this is not necessarily an ideal recommendation for getting into a university, it does nicely for the army, Fermor’s next goal. Somehow he managed to winkle a decent letter to Sandhurst, the British West Point. The only obstacle was obtaining what was known as the school certificate (which I suppose was something like a GED), a high school degree for people who did not actually finish high school. To this end, he was sent at the age of 17 to London to live and work with a tutor. All went well, and he managed to pass the London certificate. But then the scheme came unglued. He lost interest in the army. He began to write poetry and to hang out with a Bohemian group of “Bright Young People” of whom he was the youngest. Then at 18, he had a perfectly lunar idea. He would walk (walk!) from Holland to Istanbul. As he wrote to Fielding: “I would travel on foot, sleep in hayricks in the summer, shelter in barns when it was raining or snowing and only consort with peasants and tramps. If I lived on bread and cheese and apples, jogging along on fifty pounds a year supplied by his father and supplemented by a £15 loan from the father of a school friend … there would even be some cash left over for paper and pencils and an occasional mug of beer. A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!” Something to write about, indeed — except that it would happen 40 years later! The first volume of the triptych describing this incredible 18-month journey, “A Time of Gifts,” appeared in 1977; the second, “Between the Woods and the Water” in 1986; we still await the third.

What makes a great writer? I find this as difficult to characterize as trying to characterize what makes a woman beautiful. In both cases, it is something we feel in our guts. One thing, it seems to me, that great writers have in common is an obsessive love of language: words, words, words. In Fermor’s case, it was a love for all languages. When he left England in 1933 for his walk, Fermor had, it appears, schoolboy French and some Latin and classical Greek. By the time he enlisted in the Irish guards in 1939, the Latin had turned into Romanian and the classical Greek into modern Greek of sufficient fluency so that he could pass for a Cretan shepherd during the three years that he was in the resistance. In addition, he had acquired enough German so that after Gen. Kreipe was abducted, he could pass for a German soldier when they drove the general’s car, with him in it, past the sentries who were guarding the complex in which he lived.

But that is not all. Everywhere he went he absorbed languages. Here is a passage from “Between the Woods and the Water,” in which Fermor has come upon a strange enclave of Orthodox Jewish woodcutters high in the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. He was as taken in by them as he was taken in by nearly everyone he encountered. They were curious about him and he about them, although they were initially wary of such an odd visitor. Then, he wrote, “everything took a different turn when scripture cropped up. The book in front of the Rabbi was the Torah, or part of it, printed in dense Hebrew black-letter that was irresistible to someone with a passion for alphabets; especially these particular letters, with their aura of magic. Laboriously I could phonetically decipher the sounds of some of the simpler words, without a glimmer of their meanings, of course, and this sign of interest gave pleasure. I showed them some of the words I had copied down in Bratislava Fermor kept diaries and this one miraculously reappeared after the war, sent by the people with whom he had left it on the continent from shops and Jewish newspapers in cafes, and the meanings, which I had forgotten, made them laugh; those biblical symbols recommended a stall for repairing umbrellas, or ‘Daniel Kisch, Koscher Wuerst und Salami.’ How did the Song of Miriam sound in the original and the Song of Deborah; David’s lament for Absolom; and the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley? The moment it became clear, through my clumsy translations into German, which passage I was trying to convey, the Rabbi at once began to recite, often accompanied by his sons. Our eyes were alight; it was like a marvelous game. Next came the rivers of Babylon, and the harps hanging on willows: This they uttered in unfaltering unison, and when they came to ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,’ the moment was extremely solemn. In the back of my diary are a few lines in Hebrew, utterly indecipherable to me; and underneath them are the phonetic sounds I took down from his recitation of them.”

And Fermor continues: “By this time the otherworldly Rabbi and his sons and I were excited. Enthusiasm ran high. These passages, so famous in England, were doubly charged with meaning for them, and their emotion was infectious. They seemed astonished — touched too — that their tribal poetry enjoyed such glory and affection in the outside world; utterly cut off, I think they had no inkling of this. A feeling of great warmth and delight had sprung up and the Rabbi kept polishing his glasses, not for use, but out of enjoyment and nervous energy, and his brother surveyed us with benevolent amusement. It got dark while we sat at the table, and when he took off the glass chimney to light the paraffin lamp, three pairs of spectacles flashed. If it had been Friday night, the Rabbi said, they would have asked me to light it; he explained about the shabbas goy. This was the Sabbath-gentile whom well-off Jews — ‘not like us’ — employed in their houses to light fires and lamps and tie and untie knots or perform the many tasks the Law forbids on the Seventh Day. I said I was sorry it was only Thursday (the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday) as I could have made myself useful for a change. We said good night with laughter.” Considering the kind of world war he would fight (after his tour of duty in Crete, Fermor joined an airborne reconnaissance force that considered rescuing prisoners from a concentration camp just before the war ended), he knew, as well as anybody, what the fate of these woodcutters must have been. Part of the beauty of his writing is that here, and elsewhere, he allows us to fill in this blank for ourselves. We read these books knowing, as he does, that the world he is describing no longer exists. There is no need for him to tell us.

As Fermor wrote in his letter to Fielding, his original intention had been to walk across Europe, sleeping in hayricks and barns. It didn’t quite work out that way: He often slept in castles and mansions and, sometimes, instead of walking, he rode horses and fast motor cars or sailed on barges. It is clear that he was, and is, a man of extraordinary charm. A photograph of him taken in 1943 in Crete would pass for the photograph of a film star. His army contemporaries describe him as being Byronic. I am not sure what that means, except that at one point he seems to have swum the Hellespont. On his walk he made friends with nearly everyone he met. Some were Central European nobility with wonderful castles and libraries that he haunted. There were Gypsies and shepherds. There was a family of Czech acrobats he encountered in Vienna when he was trying to supplement his pound-a-week allowance with sketches in pencil. He couldn’t sell them a sketch, but they ended up giving him an autographed picture of themselves, which he kept as a remembrance. All of this is described in a language that is so rich and precise that, after reading a few pages, one shakes one’s head in wonder. (Reading Nabokov has the same effect on me.) If you are a writer, you either want to rush to your laptop or jump out of a window.

After his sojourns in the Caribbean and France, Fermor chose Greece as his permanent home. He lives, it says on the jackets of his books, in a house he designed and built himself. He has written two wonderful books about Greece, “Mani” and “Roumeli.” He ends “Roumeli” with a prose poem based on Greek place names. Here is a small part of it:

Chalcis is the flurry of the tide, Naxos the boxwood click of a rosary muffled by a nun’s skirt; Ossa is a giant’s tread, Pelion the beat of centaurs’ hoofs through glades of chestnut, Tempe a susurrus of plane trees, and Rhodes a flutter of moths.

Santorini zigzags to the sky at dawn like a lark singing but dies at sunset with the Dies Irae. Komotini is a muezzin’s call, Patmos the faraway trumpets of the Apocalypse.

The Dodacenese is a sea-song by twelve sponge-fishers, Antikythera a mermaid forsaken; Skopelos, a lobster’s and Poros, a mock-turtle’s song, Aegina a tambourine.

The Sporades are the sea’s whispers through olive trees.

And Patrick Leigh Fermor is a treasure and delight.

The Kreipe pennants

The Kreipe pennants - Copyright Artemis Cooper 2011

The pennants from General Kreipe's car

What happened to the flags on General Kreipe’s car when Paddy abandoned it and joined the main abduction gang? Well here is the story. I am very grateful to Artemis Cooper for submitting this. I hesitate to say that this is a world exclusive, but it probably is! These have not been seen in public since the car drove through the heavily garrisoned town of Heraklion with the General in April 1944.

As I’m sure you know, just before abandoning the General’s car on the night of the abduction of Gen Kreipe, Paddy and George Tyrakis ripped off the two metal pennants that stood proudly on the bonnet. One might argue that, combined with Billy’s confident driving, it was those pennants that had let the car pass unchallenged through 22 German checkpoints! Since Billy had driven the car the pennants were given to him; and after his death, Billy’s daughters – Gabriella Bullock and Isabella Cole – felt that Paddy should have them. Paddy held onto them for many years, very much under wraps. I think the main reason he kept them hidden was because he had always felt so wretched about the death of Alfred Fenske, the General’s chauffeur.

They were kept in a tin trunk in his study, and very few people knew they were there. He showed them to me only once. The reason for that was so that I should be aware that after his death, they were to go to the Rethymnon Museum of History and Folklore. This had been arranged in the 1990s, with the encouragement of Niko Kokonas.

In August the flags were given to the Rethymnon Museum, according to Paddy’s instructions.

I have a photo of the flags. They stand about 15″ high, the triangular pennant sticking out about 12″. The first is painted red, white and black in horizontal lines, like the German flag. The other shows the gold Nazi eagle with outspread wings perched on a wreath, embroidered onto a piece of grey fabric which is then mounted onto the metal pennant.

I hope this is a real joy to all the Ill Met by Moonlight fans out there.

This article and photograph copyright Artemis Cooper 2011

Ill Met by Moonlight film review

Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster

For a decade and a half, the partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger illuminated the cinema with an array of extraordinary films. But the massive reputation the team garnered during and immediately after World War II – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I’m Going!, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes in just five years! went into steep decline in the Fifties. There were no Archers films at all between The Tales of Hoffmann (’51) and Oh… Rosalinda!! (’55), and both of those were disastrous failures, critically and financially. Perhaps to cover themselves in the ultraconservative British film industry, Powell and Pressburger finished their partnership with two conventional war adventure movies – rattling good yarns that, alas, were widely perceived as rattling just a bit too much.

First published in Film Comment 13th March 1995 v 31:n2. p37(4)

The Battle of the River Plate (’56) was a box-office success and had a royal premiere, but it now looks like the corniest of the Archers movies. An account of Britain’s first major naval victory of WWII, it does have the great virtue of showing actual ships maneuvering about in an actual ocean instead of models in a tank – Powell’s main pleasure in directing the movie, one imagines. But this is exasperatingly offset by far too many shots of actors on studio bridgehead sets being doused with water as they strike poses in front of a cyclorama. The local color Powell provides is a bit sticky, too, given that Uruguay, where the German battleship Graf Spee was forced to seek shelter before being tricked into self-destructing, was and still is a nation notorious for its concealment of Nazis. Peter Finch, as the captain of the Graf Spee, manages an impressive performance, but none of the other actors in a lively cast Anthony Quayle, John Gregson, Patrick Macnee, Anthony Newley, Christopher Lee, John Schlesinger in a bit as a German sailor – has much chance to create a real person. The Germans are all decent fellows, really, whilst the characterization of the Brits is entirely on the level of good-show-chaps caricature.

Powell seemed rather attached to this movie in later years, but had no love at all for the very last Archers film, Ill Met By Moonlight (’57). “I felt imprisoned by the facts,” he was wont to complain; and there were problems with the script Pressburger provided. Ian Christie’s book about Powell, Arrows of Desire, goes so far as to refuse to list the film as a collaboration at all, his filmography (reproduced, incomplete and inaccurate as it is, in Powell’s memoirs) giving Powell’s name alone as writer, producer, and director. Dissension between Powell and Pressburger coincided with antagonism from the Rank Organisation, which refused them money for color. Once the film was finished, so were the Archers.

After Ill Met By Moonlight, then, the deluge. It would be foolish to suggest that the film – miserably renamed Night Ambush for U.S. release and cut by 11 minutes – is anywhere near the level of the team’s masterworks. Even so, it’s more interesting than legend suggests. The (true) story, set in occupied Crete in 1943, concerns the kidnapping of a German general (Marius Goring) by Cretan partisans led by a British officer, Patrick Leigh Fermor (Dirk Bogarde). Film buffs will recall that the real Leigh Fermor was one of the scriptwriters of John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven (also the author of some bestselling travel books). Then again, the film seems to ask, who exactly is the “real” Patrick Leigh Fermor – or the real anyone? Taking its title from a play concerned with dreams and disguises, magic and power, Ill Met By Moonlight is all about questions of identity.

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Under the credits, we see Dirk Bogarde in uniform; then, unexpectedly, we see him in the flamboyant outfit of a Cretan hill-bandit. A title informs us that Major Leigh Fermor was also known by the Greek code-name “Philidem.” In other words, there are two of him (at least), and on one level the adventure the film is about to unfold reflects a conflict in his personality. It’s a conflict shared, unknowingly, by his Nazi opposite number, the fierce, arrogant General Kreipe (an unlikely “proud Titania,” but it’s true that he “with a monster is in love” – the monster of Nazism). Kreipe’s human side is so rigorously repressed by the demands of war and “glory” that he is genuinely unaware of it; ironically, this humanness, which constitutes the true manhood of this Teuton warrior, is revealed by a boy (equivalent to Shakespeare’s Indian Prince?) – who, in turn, is the most grownup person in the movie.

Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster - Bogarde as Paddy the flamboyant Cretan

If “Philidem” appears under the credits, caped and open-shirted, a romantic dream-figure out of an operetta or a storybook, he is first seen in the film proper as a coarser, more down-to-earth version of the same thing – an ordinary Cretan peasant in a shabby suit, waiting for a bus. When he makes contact with the Resistance, his personality fragments further. To some, he is the mystical Philidem, Pimpernel of the Hellenes and righter of wrongs. To others he is “Major Paddy,” the happy-go-lucky Englishman of popular movie myth conducting war as if it were a branch of amateur theatricals, a gentleman adventurer relying on breeding to get him through and making fun of the whole business. To Bill Moss (David Oxley), the newly arrived junior officer sent to assist him, he is the cool, fast-thinking professional soldier. And to himself? In his quietly passionate defense of Cretan life and culture, he seems someone else again: a scholar and aesthete outraged by the barbarism and folly of war, and by the moronic arrogance shown by his captive toward the Cretan people.

Whatever his persona, Leigh Fermor is a chameleon who never seems to change very radically in himself. Perhaps because he has this quality of seeming all things to all men – and being those things – he remains unfazed by the monolithic might of the German military machine. Fluent in Greek, he can also speak German like a German and is easily able to assume another disguise, that of a faceless Nazi officer. Although he and Moss make fun of themselves – “If only I had a monocle!” muses Moss when Leigh Fermor tells him he “looks like an Englishman dressed like a German, leaning against the Ritz bar” – they are able to effect the kidnapping with an ease that seems appropriately Puckish. General Kreipe is ignominiously thrust onto the floor of his own limousine, gagged, and sat upon by a couple of the peasants he so despises. Kreipe’s rage is compounded by his firm conviction that he has been snatched by “amateurs” – a belief Leigh Fermor and Moss slyly make no objection to, knowing how it will gnaw at his already shaky Master Race self-confidence.

Soon, partisans and captive are up in the hills, where they stay for most of the movie (though the biggest of the film’s mountaineering set-pieces, a nocturnal descent through fog, was filmed on elaborately stylized studio sets). Once there, Kreipe determines to leave a trail for following German troops to pick up on – his cap, buttons from his uniform, even a couple of medals from his impressive display of such baubles never realizing that each emblem of his authority is no sooner dropped than it is retrieved by the vigilant Moss.

Rare Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster

Among Major Paddy’s partisans is a young war orphan, Nico, who has, while shinning up and down the mountains, much occasion to complain of his need of a pair of boots. Nico knows that the cost of a new pair will always be far beyond him; Kreipe, who has been friendly enough toward him in a rather patronizing way, seizes on this need by showing the boy his own impressive footwear and offering a gold coin with which to buy an identical pair. A German gold coin, he stresses, not one of the sovereigns Leigh Fermor keeps a supply of; it is, in fact, a coin the General is known to keep as a good-luck charm. Nico is impressed by the General’s largesse. But, of course, the Nazi requires a quid pro quo. All Nico has to do, when he goes down the mountain, is tell the searching German patrols where the General is, using the coin as a bona fides. But Kreipe has misjudged the boy (indeed, he can be said to have misjudged the whole of the human race): it never occurs to him that the boy will not do what he says. What Nico actually does is simply point the patrols in the wrong direction, leading them into an ambush; the magic gold coin is lucky for the Greeks, not the Germans. This makes the escape from Crete of the Britishers and their ill-met prisoner the easiest part of their long journey.

Once aboard a British ship, and naked of the symbols of military power, the General seems a new person – not such a bright man, not such a strong man, but also not such a bad man, either. He is visibly moved by the return of his possessions, especially the gold coin: despite his genuine pleasure in Nico’s company, Kreipe had assumed that the boy, like every non-German, is someone who can be bought and sold, and that “friendship” had been merely his gift, and not a privilege from which he might derive spiritual benefit rather than tactical advantage. The very simplicity of Nico’s ruse in deflecting rescue was the, final humiliation, the last stage in General Kreipe’s lengthy symbolic disrobing – which is precisely why his possessions can now be given back to him. If he started this modern midsummer night’s dream as imperious as Oberon, he ends it as foolish as the donkey-headed Nick Bottom. But then, Bottom the simple weaver is always better-liked by everyone than the unearthly and tyrannical monarch of Shakespeare’s enchanted forest.

And from his elaborate humiliation, the stiff-necked German learns a good deal about himself and about humanity. His curt acknowledgment at film’s end that he has been kidnapped not by amateurs but by professionals is also his acknowledgment of his own fallibility and that of the creed he has so proudly espoused. And so he regains a measure of dignity, along with those tokens of an identity he no longer needs. Nico himself get his new pair of boots after all (they belong to Leigh Fermor, who is barefoot in his final exchange with his prisoner), but, by a sad irony, is about to change identity as well: he will wait out the rest of the war far away from Crete in the distant England of which he has heard much but knows nothing. But at least he has a friend – a real friend, now – in General Kreipe, who has learned that the respect of an uneducated boy is worth more than a medal from the Fuhrer. “Gentles, do not reprehend / If you pardon, we shall mend.”

And Patrick Leigh Fermor, aka Major Paddy, aka Philidem – and, if you stretch your imagination just a smidge, aka Robin Goodfellow? – what of him? In the film’s closing moments, he is far from being self-assured intellectual or dashing amateur adventurer or legendary outlaw of the hills. He’s just a tired man who wants to go home and rest up. “How do you feel?” asks Moss. “Flat” is the reply. “You look flat!” says Moss. “I know how I’d like to look …” murmurs Leigh-Fermor wistfully. Moss knows what he’s going to say, and joins in the litany: “Like an Englishman dressed like an Englishman – and leaning against the Ritz bar!” It’s easy to imagine them ordering drinks at that renowned watering-hole with all the suavity required by this little fantasy. Still, the film’s last images of Crete receding in the distance, until all we can see is the sea, suggests that maybe Major Paddy’s heart is really back in those hills in the “fair and fertile” land that has become as much a Powellian landscape of the mind for us as the studio-built Himalayan convent of Black Narcissus or the monochrome Heaven of A Matter of Life and Death. And, as we depart both Crete and this film, we may reflect that being “dressed like an Englishman and leaning against the Ritz bar” would, for Patrick Leigh Fermor constitute yet another disguise. After all, he was Irish.

… now watch the movie trailer.

Ill Met by Moonlight

Related articles:

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

General’s long trip home

Was Paddy the inspiration for the hero of Guns of Navarone?

The following was posted as a comment in Your Paddy Thoughts by Robert Seibert. He asks an interesting question so I thought I would elevate it from deep in a comments page to the main blog site to see if it provokes some debate.

I wonder if there is any connection between PLF’s WW2 deeds and the fictional work “Guns of Navarone”, Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel and the 1961 film starring Gregory Peck as Capt. Keith Mallory leading a team to destroy German guns on “Navarone”-said to be the real island of Leros. In the movie Mallory is described as the “world’s greatest mountain climber” and “speaks Greek like a Greek and German like a German”-but was chosen mainly because he has survived for a year and a half as a guerrilla with the Cretan resistance. The parallels with Paddy’s exploits seem obvious. Of course “Ill Met by Moonlight” was published in 1950 and the film version in 1957-accounts of the actual Gen. Kreipe abduction. Would be interested in hearing others thoughts about this.

Over to you dear readers …

Xan Fielding Obituary

I am reposting this obituary to Xan Fielding at this time as he was Paddy’s very good friend, the one to whom Paddy wrote his open letters at the start of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Those who have found this site for the first time might wish to read about his friend. At the end is a special tribute written by Paddy.   I believe this to be the only on-line copy and it now includes newly discovered photographs.

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After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Fielding, who had adopted the style and dress of a Greek highland peasant, was accompanied by a First World War veteran, who was inseparable from his solar topee and unrecognisable as the village schoolmaster he was supposed to impersonate.

Fortunately it was not long before he teamed up with the far more kindred spirit of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Sporting a royal blue waistcoat, lined with scarlet shot silk and embroidered with black arabesques – and singing folk songs in several languages – “Paddy” Leigh Fermor enlivened their meetings in desolate mountain hideouts.

Fielding understood the need for reliable intelligence and communications, and he daringly set up his headquarters near Crete’s northern coastal road in the proximity of German units. He experienced, as he put it, a childish excitement in “brushing shoulders with the Wehrmacht” in the corridors of the town hall when calling on the mayor of Crete’s capital, Canea. And he found it entertaining to attend parties given for the Germans by Cretan associates feigning fraternisation.

Operationally, Crete had become a massive transit camp to reinforce the Afrika Korps. Among his intelligence successes Fielding signalled the timetable of transports taking off from the airfield at Maleme, enabling the RAF to intercept them.

After six months he was picked up by a Greek submarine and given a breather in Cairo. This gave him a chance to niggle about the inaccuracy of RAF air drops.

As a result Fielding was invited to observe, from the front turret of a Wellington, a drop arranged for Leigh Fermor high up in the White Mountains. Considerably shaken by the experience – not least the anti-aircraft fire- he returned to the island by Greek submarine at the end of 1942 and never complained again.

Following the Crete mission, he parachuted into the south of France in the summer of 1944. Bearing papers announcing him as Armand Pont-Leve, a young clerk in the Electric Company of Nimes – but codenamed “Cathedrale” – Fielding was received by Francis Cammaerts (alias “Roger”) and also by Christine Granville.

Fielding found them an “imposing pair”. Still in uniform, he felt “rather like a novice in the presence of a prior and prioress”. The canister containing his civilian clothes, with poison pill sewn into the jacket, was missing and he felt something of a freak in the baggy Charlie Chaplin trouserings produced by “Roger”.

Shortly afterwards he was in the Cammaert’s car when it was stopped at a road block near Digne. Questions revealed that SOE staff in Algiers had failed to stamp a current date on his otherwise impeccable papers. Worse Fielding had split a large sum of French money between “Roger” and himself, and the enemy twigged that the notes were all in the same series.

Christine Granville was not with them and news of their arrests reached her on the Italian border. Earlier she had been arrested, but had managed to convince her German interrogators that she was a local peasant girl.

She arrived at Digne prison and passed herself off as “Roger’s” wife – and, for good measure, as a niece of Gen Montgomery. She persuaded an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, a liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Siercherheitsdienst, to co-operate by reminding him that the Allies had already landed on the Riviera.

Schenck put Christine on to a Belgian, Max Waem, who agreed to help, though his price was two million francs. SOE in Algiers dropped the money in. As a result Fielding and “Roger” were led out of prison. Believing themselves on the way to be shot, they were astonished to be welcomed by Christine who was waiting with a car.

Fielding was awarded the Croix de Guerre in France in 1944. Before the war in Europe ended, he returned to Crete; he was one of the first into liberated Athens.

During the war Fielding would often pass through Cairo, which became a sort of SOE headquarters for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and meet up with kindred spirits such as David Smiley, “Billy” McLean (qv), Peter Kemp (qv) and Alan Hare. In 1945 they decided the place to be was the Far East. As Fielding put it: “I was at a loose end and wanted to see what was going on out there.”

He spent some months in Cambodia, with a Japanese driver fighting the Vietminh. Then came as six-month stint with the Special Intelligence Service in Germany, and an appointment as United Nations observer in the Balkans.

Peacetime, though, brought disillusionment and a disturbing sense of misgiving. But in 1948 an encounter with the Marchioness of Bath at what she described as an “hilarious lunch” predestined the course of much of the rest of his life. She had recently taken up photography in place of painting; he was planning a book on Crete. The upshot was that Daphne Bath accompanied his return to the White Mountains to illustrate the book. They married in 1953.

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Soon there was another and more welcome distraction. Michael Powell was filming Ill Met by Moonlight – the story of Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wartime abduction of Gen Kreipe, the German commander in Crete – and Fielding was hired as technical adviser. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor and Fielding lent him his Cretan guerrilla’s cloak and coached him in the part.

Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: After an early essay at painting, Xan Fielding wandered to Greece and the islands, added Greek to his list of languages and acquired a lasting attachment to the Greeks.

His life took on an adventurous and peripatetic turn. Early in 1942 he was landed in plain clothes and by submarine in German-occupied Crete. Germany was in full advance on all fronts and Crete was a strongly galvanised Luftwaffe base for the Desert War. The mountains were full of stray British and Commonwealth soldiers who had broken out of PoW camps or been left behind after the Battle, a mortal danger to the Cretans who hid and fed them.

Gathering and evacuating them from remote caves was among Xan’s first tasks. Establishing a network of agents and signalling information back to Cairo came next followed by parachute drops to the growing guerrilla bands and the e organisation of sabotage, and propaganda while maintaining liaison with the island Resistance leaders.

Light and fine-boned when suitably cloaked and daggered, Xan could be taken for a Cretan. With his determination, humour and intuitive sympathy and his quick mastery of dialect and songs, he made countless friends, and worked there precariously for two years.

In 1944, the war moving west, he was dropped in the Vercors region to the French maquis. He returned to Crete for a final two months before the liberation, then headed for Cambodia on further SOE missions and spent some time on the Tibet border before returning to the West Bank in Greece.

Xan commanded a mixed Allied unit supervising the 1946 elections, and during prolonged leave in Rhodes, his friend Lawrence Durrell – who was press officer there – insisted on printing a set of Fielding’s poems, which make one wish he had written many more. Chafing at Oxford life as a demobilised undergraduate, he worked for a spell with the Beaverbrook Press and found it even less congenial.

These years were perplexed by tangled Dickensian lawsuits in Nice: family property had been unrecoverably misappropriated in the occupation. During that harassing time he wrote Hide and Seek, an exciting account of his experiences in Crete.

Soon after he married Daphne Bath, and they travelled all over the island (of Crete) for his long book The Stronghold, a combination of travel and history.

They first settled in Portugal. Then a long sojourn in the Kasbah of Tangier – perhaps inspired by the film Pepe le Moko – gave rise to his book Corsair Country, the history of the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Near Uzez in Languedoc, their next long halt, his excellent French suggested translation as a profession and he put more than 30 books into English, including many by Larteguy and Chevalier, and Malrauz’s Les Noyers d’Altenborg [Ed: and perhaps better known Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai]

After a friendly separation from Daphne he married Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Adml John II Magruder, of the United States Navy. They were extremely happy.

Xan and Magouche took root in the Serriana de Ronda, which looks across Adalusian ilex-woods to the Atlas. There he edited the correspondence of his friend and neighbour, Gerald Brennan, with Ralph Partridge, and continued his translations.

Xan’s own book, The Money Spinner, about the Monaco casino – the hazards of gambling had always fascinated him – came out in 1977. Later, Winds of the World gave free rein to his interest in atmospheric commotions and their mythology.

In the winter of 1990 One Man and his Time appeared; it described the life, and the Asian, Ethiopian and Arabian travels, of his old friend “Billy” McLean (qv), the wartime commander of the SOE mission in Albania.

At almost the same time Xan was smitten by cancer and he and Magouche moved to Paris for therapy. Though fatally stricken for the last eight months, he was suddenly, three months ago, granted a reprise which exactly coincided with the ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the Resistance.

At a special parade of the Greek navy at Souda, he and six Allied officers were decorated with the commemorative medal of the Resistance, and for 10 days he visited scores of mountain friends from 50 years before. His return was everywhere greeted with feasting and songs.

Xan Fielding was a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, deeply committed to this friends, civilised and bohemian at the same time, with a thoughtful style leavened by spontaneous gaiety and a dash of recklessness. He was altogether outstanding.

August 20 1991

Audible

Patrick Leigh Fermor … This is Your (Ill Met by Moonlight) Greek Life

The abduction gang - PLF centre Moss to his left

This is a wonderful find brought to us by Blog reader Erik Bruns.

Many will remember the TV show This is Your Life. Greek television had their own version, and in 1972 it was Paddy’s turn to be embarrassed and surprised by meeting again people that he had come across in his life. His surprise and clear delight at meeting with the ‘Abduction Gang’ of Cretan Andartes is clear. The ‘senior’ partisans, Manoli and George (see picture left) are the first two guests, and they seem barely changed.

The highlight must be when the presenter introduces a slightly frail General Heinrich Kreipe. Paddy is delighted to see him again, and immediately starts to talk to the General in German saying how good it is to see him after all these years.

I am amused as one of the Cretans takes the General’s arm to help him sit down; maybe he did the same before on that road to the Villa Ariadne, but was perhaps a little less gentle on that occasion!

There follows what is one of television’s most wonderful scenes as Paddy acts as translator answering the presenter in Greek and then switching back to German to speak to the General.

Take fifteen minutes of your life to watch Paddy, and all these great men, as they share their experiences of an event which took place thirty years before, with great animation and clear joy.

I have a feeling that there was a pretty good party afterwards with plenty of Ouzo and Retsina!

BBC Obituary: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

Billy Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, who has died aged 96, was both a man of action and an intellectual.

From the BBC news website.

His exploits during WWII, when he led a group of British officers and Greek guerrillas which captured the German military commander of Crete, has become the stuff of legend.

After the war, through a series of colourful yet scholarly books, including A Time of Gifts and Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, he re-invented himself as perhaps the finest travel writer of his generation.

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor – known in early life as Michael and later to his many friends as Paddy – was born in London on 11 February 1915.

His father, Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, was a distinguished geologist and Fellow of The Royal Society who spent much of his career in India.

With his parents often abroad, Leigh Fermor enjoyed a carefree childhood, often with foster-parents on a farm in Northamptonshire.

European odyssey

After a brief, unhappy, sojourn “among the snake-belts and the bat-oil of a horrible preparatory school”, he progressed to King’s School, Canterbury, where one house-master dubbed him “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”.

“Sacked”, as he put it, from King’s following a teenage dalliance with the daughter of a town greengrocer, he read voraciously – Latin, Greek, Shakespeare, history – for the Sandhurst Military Academy entrance examination.

But deciding that the life of a peacetime soldier was not for him, Leigh Fermor determined, aged just 17, to walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (now Istanbul).

So, on 8 December 1933, a month after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, he set off from London with just a small rucksack containing a few clothes, the Oxford Book of English Verse and a volume of Horace’s odes for company.

On just a pound a week he was to cross the continent, tramp-like, wandering through town, village and city, across mountains and beside rivers, sleeping in doss-houses and castles and, above all, writing.

This journey, which he chronicled much later in life in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods & the Water (1986), brought him face-to-face with the last blossoming of a now vanished Europe.

It was a world of gypsies, isolated farming communities whose ways had changed little since the Thirty Years’ War, faded Austro-Hungarian aristocracy and Mitteleuropean Jewish communities now lost to World War Two, the Holocaust, and the Cold War.

Wartime intelligence officer

Erudition shone from every page, whether describing duelling in Heidelberg where “those dashing scars were school ties that could never be taken off” or the Carpathian mountains, with its “fiendish monocled horsemen, queens in lonely towers, toppling ranges, deep forests, plains full of half-wild horses… mad noblemen and rioting jacqueries”.

After reaching Constantinople he travelled extensively in the Greek archipelago, celebrating his 21st birthday in a Russian monastery on Mount Athos and witnessing a civil war before returning to Britain.

At the outbreak of World War Two Patrick Leigh Fermor – the scion of an Anglo-Irish family – enlisted in the Irish Guards.

With his intimate knowledge of south-eastern Europe and first-class linguistic skills, he soon found himself serving as the Intelligence Corps’ liaison officer to Greek Headquarters in Albania.

After fighting against the German forces then sweeping through Greece and the Balkans, he was posted to occupied Crete in 1942. There, for two-and-a-half years, he organised resistance to the 22,000 German troops occupying the island.

Disguised as a shepherd, he directed an operation to capture the island’s military commander, Major General Karl Kreipe.

After snatching the general and hijacking his staff car, Leigh Fermor and his British and Cretan comrades drove through the capital city, Heraklion, successfully negotiating 14 checkpoints on route.

As Major Leigh Fermor and his colleague, Major Stanley ‘Billy’ Moss, were dressed as German corporals, capture would have meant certain death. After three weeks hiding in the hills, they finally accompanied their precious cargo by boat to Cairo.

Rich prose style

This daring escapade, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, was immortalised by Moss in his 1950 book Ill Met By Moonlight. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor in the successful big screen adaptation.

After the war Leigh Fermor worked briefly as deputy director of the British Institute in Athens before resuming his travels.

His first book, The Traveller’s Tree (1950), is an account of journeying in the Caribbean, the “ultimate purpose” of which, as set out in the book’s preface, was “to retransmit to the reader whatever interest and enjoyment we encountered. In a word, to give pleasure”.

This he did, through vivid descriptions of the languorous beauty of island life, the linguistic Tower of Babel bequeathed by colonialism and the continuing legacy of the slave trade. Architecture, history, culture, all were essential themes to Leigh Fermor, as central to his first work as to his last.

In 1953 he published a novel, The Violins of St Jacques. A fantasy set in the decadent world of early 20th Century Martinique, the book’s florid and luxurious romanticism proved a radical departure for its author.

But it was Greece, both ancient and modern, to which Leigh Fermor often looked for inspiration. Works like Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) explored the complex and colourful sweep of Hellenistic culture.

Together with the account of his transeuropean walk, they represent a formidable body of work.

Though he latterly lived in Crete, rarely visiting his homeland, Patrick Leigh Fermor was an archetypal Englishman.

The recipient of many awards and prizes – including a knighthood, the freedom of four Greek cities and as a Chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters – he was praised throughout the world as a thrilling writer, a real-life hero and a genteel observer of the human condition.

Tales of a literary traveller: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

I have been amiss and I should have published this earlier. I was contacted by John Stathatos who is a Greek photographer and knows Paddy. He emailed me back in January which was during my ‘down time’ on the blog.
Dear Tom,
While chasing up references to Costa, I discovered that the Robin Hanbury-Tenison piece on your site (“The Friendly Isles: in the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor“) is actually based on an earlier and more wide-ranging article entitled “Tales of a Literary Traveller”, first published in the Geographical magazine in 2004. You can find the earlier one here: Why this should be available on a site called CBS MoneyWatch is entirely beyond me, but that’s the Internet for you…
All the best,
John

Tales of a literary traveller: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor DSO, OBE is widely considered to be our greatest living travel writer, and was knighted earlier this year for, as he put it, just writing a few books. Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who has known ‘Paddy’ for 50 years, explains why the great man’s writing is as powerful and important today as it has ever been

First published in the Geographical August 2004

by  Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Patrick Leigh Fermor is a unique mixture of hero, historian, traveller and writer: the last and the greatest of a generation whose like we won’t see again. Bringing the landscape alive as no other writer can, he uses his profound and eclectic understanding of cultures and peoples, their origins and current place in the world, to paint vivid pictures–nobody has illuminated the geography of Europe better through literature. Everything is grist to his mill; nothing is ever banal. He expects much of his readers and we’re kept on our toes, constantly reaching for the dictionary or Brewer’s. In return for these achievements, he was finally knighted this year at the age of 88. He had modestly refused this honour previously on the grounds that all he had done was “write a few books”.

I first met Paddy (as he has always been known) in Athens in 1954 when I was a callow 18-year-old travelling through Greece. I remember sitting at a cafe in Metaxas Square while waves of witty erudition washed back and forth between him and my older travelling companion, and being humbled into awed silence. Paddy has always appeared larger than life, both in his personality and in his relatively rare and carefully honed writing. We corresponded from time to time over the years and eventually met again when he and his wife Joan had my wife and me to lunch at their house in Greece, where we were made to feel instantly at home.

Since Joan’s death, Paddy has spent more time in England, which gives us all more opportunity to see him. In May this year, a dinner was held for him by the Travellers Club, at which he was presented with a specially commissioned map of the route that he followed through Europe during the early 1930s and that he later wrote about so vividly. He spoke at the dinner and, now 89, held us all spellbound with some classic tales. One of the club waitresses was from Sofia and, to her delight and the amazement of all around, he launched into apparently fluent Bulgarian as she served him.

The bare details of his life, too, delight and amaze. The son of Sir Lewis Leigh Ferrnor, the director of the Geological Survey of India, Paddy was sacked at 17 from King’s School, Canterbury (for the terrible crime of “holding hands with the greengrocer’s daughter”), and spent the next 18 months walking to Constantinople, a journey that he wrote about with apparent total recall some 40 years later in A Time of Gifts, the first volume of a trilogy. It was followed by Between the Woods and the Water. We still await the final volume.

In the Second World War, Paddy served with the Special Operations Executive–the precursor of the SAS–and, because he spoke Greek, was parachuted into Crete behind enemy lines to help organise resistance against the Germans. In April 1944, having already spent more than a year living there, he pulled off one of the most dramatic exploits of the war.

Dressed as Feldpolizei corporals, Paddy and Captain Billy Moss–who subsequently wrote the book on which the film Ill Met by Moonlight was based–stopped the car in which General Heinrich Kreipe, the recently arrived commander of the German occupation forces, was being driven by his chauffeur. The driver was removed and handed over to members of the Cretan Resistance, while Paddy put on the general’s hat and proceeded to drive on through 22 control posts. The car was then abandoned, and the two soldiers marched their prisoner through that night and the next day to a cave high in the mountains.

In order to avoid reprisals against the Cretans, leaflets were to be dropped all over Crete, containing a message that the BBC also broadcast: that the general was safe, and would be treated with the respect due his rank; that the operation had been carried out by British officers; and that they were all on their way to Cairo by submarine. Two days later, they woke among some rocks near the summit of Mount Ida, just as dawn was breaking. Half to himself, General Kreipe recited in Latin the opening line of a Horace ode. As Paddy subsequently described in his report to the Imperial War Museum: “He was in luck. It is the opening line of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart–Ad Thaliarchum, I.ix” and he went on to recite the remaining five stanzas. “The general’s blue eyes 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. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ 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.”

After the war, Paddy spent six months travelling through the Caribbean with Joan Eyres-Monsell–the woman who, 20 years later, was to become his wife–and Costa, the great Greek photographer. The result was his first book, The Traveller’s Tree, which brought the Caribbean to the notice of post-war Britain. Back then, the many islands they visited were thoroughly run down. The great buildings–of church, state and planters’ wealth–were mostly ruined and rotten. In the depressed economic climate immediately following the war, the future looked bleak; indeed, ‘King Sugar’ was about to die, this time as a victim of sugar beet and the macropolitics being played out between the USA and Europe.

Yet Paddy still managed to reveal the archipelago’s romance and magic, and The Traveller’s Tree was hailed as a masterpiece and won the Heinemann Prize. Paddy’s portrayal of the islands could be said to have jump-started the tourism industry upon which the Caribbean has since largely depended.

It was the Caribbean, too, that provided the backdrop to Paddy’s only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques, which brings alive the glamour and the passions of the planters in their heyday. This tale of a rich island being destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the middle of a splendid planters’ ball is based on the true story of the annihilation in 1902 of St-Pierre, the old capital of Martinique. There, 26,000 people died instantly in the New World’s Pompeii. The sole survivor was the town drunk, who was incarcerated in a cell below ground. He spent the rest of his life as an exhibit in Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.

Paddy eventually returned to Greece, where, during the 1960s, he built a wonderful house above a private cove near the fishing village of Kardamili in the southern Peloponnese. There, in a large room that John Betjeman, an early visitor, called “one of the rooms in the world”, he and Joan entertained a string of artists and writers with copious quantities of retsina, and Paddy wrote.

His greatest book, Mani, was about a journey through that little-known and, at the time, archaic region; the book has been in print ever since. Paddy travelled simply, staying with fishermen and farmers, which enabled him to capture the essence of the region, as this extract reveals:

Beyond the bars of my window the towers descended, their walls blazoned with diagonals of light and shade; and, through a wide gap, castellated villages were poised above the sea on coils of terraces. Through another gap our host’s second daughter, wide hatted and perched on the back of a wooden sledge and grasping three reins, was sliding round a threshing floor behind a horse, a mule and a cow–the first cow I had seen in the Mani–all of them linked in a triple yoke. On a bank above this busy stone disc, the rest of the family were flinging wooden shovelfuls of wheat in the air for the grain to fall on outstretched coloured blankets while the husks drifted away. Others shook large sieves. The sun which climbed behind them outlined this group with a rim of gold and each time a winnower sent up his great fan, for long seconds the floating chaff embowered him in a golden mist.

Almost every page has its own literary tour de force, often with intimidating displays of learning and research mixed with fantasy, imagination and acute descriptions of the scene itself. In his next book, Roumeli, about the minority communities of northern Greece, Paddy becomes fascinated by the last true nomads of the region, the Sarakatsans. His description of their wanderings is, for me, the best sort of literary geography lesson, and has even more geopolitical relevance now than when he wrote it:

The sudden cage of frontiers which sprang up after the Balkan Wars failed to confine them and they fanned out in autumn all over southern Albania and across the lower marches of Serbia as far as Montenegro and Herzogovina and Bosnia and into Bulgaria to the foothills of the Great Balkan. Those who thought of the Rhodope mountains as their home–the very ones, indeed, in the highlands that loom above the Thracian plains–were particularly bold in the extent of their winter wanderings. Not only did they strike northwards, like those I saw by the Black Sea, but, before the Hebrus river became an inviolable barrier, their caravans reached Constantinople and up went their wigwams under the walls of Theodosius. Others settled along the shores of the Sea of Marmara and spread over the rich green hills of the Dardanelles. Many crossed the Hellespont to pitch camp on the plain of Troy. Bold nomads would continue to the meadows of Bythinia and winter among the poplar trees or push on into Cappadocia and scatter their flocks across the volcanic wildernesses round the rock monasteries of Urgub. The boldest even reached Iconium, the home of Jellalludin and the metropolis of the whirling dervishes. They never looked on these enormous journeys as expatriation: until the deracination of the 1920s, much of Asia Minor was part of the Greek world; and even beyond its confines there were ancient Greek colonies.

Those attempting today to sort out the chaos in what was, for a while, southern Yugoslavia could learn a lot from reading Paddy’s books.

One of the main criticisms of Paddy’s writing is that there simply isn’t enough of it. But very few 20th-century writers, with perhaps the exception of Graham Greene, have managed to be prolific while maintaining consistent quality of this kind. The relatively small number of books (much boosted by the release of the paperback of Words of Mercury this mouth) is the work, to quote Anthony Sattin in the Sunday Times, of “one of the greatest travel writers of all time”, a heartfelt wanderer truly involved in mankind.

New editions of both Mani and Roumeli will be published by John Murray near the end of this year. A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water were reissued by John Murray in March. Words of Mercury is out now in paperback.

Early inspiration: Following Paddy around the Caribbean

Though Patrick Leigh Fermor’s most famous works recount his European travels, it was the Caribbean that inspired his first book. Fifty years later, Robin Hanbury-Tenison and his wife retraced Paddy’s steps:

We hired horses and rode, as Paddy did, between tall forest giants, listening to the jungle buzz and background twitterings. Suddenly, a beautiful, melodious note rang out. This was followed after o moment by three more notes of startling clarity and sweetness and the theme, a bit like the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, was repeated every few minutes. It was a rufous-throated solitaire, which Leigh Fermor describes as making “a noise so melancholy that it seemed the perfect emanation of these sad and beautiful forests. It haunts the high woods of Dominica and nowhere else in the world.”

How does everything about a place change in 50 years, and yet the place itself remain the same? It is because of that unique mixture of cultures that is the Caribbean–and no-one has captured and evoked the extraordinary differences between the islands better than Paddy did in The Traveller’s Tree. Ash says: “Each island is a distinct and idiosyncratic entity, a civilisation, or the reverse, fortuitous in its origins and empirical in its development. “And then again, quoting an old Jamaican: “We’re always going somewhere. But we never get there.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor, however, not only travelled but also arrived. And those of us who read his dispatches home–those calm, intelligent tales of lives lived elsewhere–are in his debt.

Crete, Greece: Ghostly soldiers on the Battle of Crete anniversary

The Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda Bay in Crete where the main anniversary commemorations will take place

It was sunny but cold, last month in Crete – what the locals call “ilios me dontia”, sun with teeth. I sat on the beach at Sfakia on the south coast of the island. Around me a toddler played among the stones while taverna owners were applying final licks of paint in preparation for the new tourist season.

My late father sat on the same beach in May 1941. Around him there was chaos and despair. Evelyn Waugh, who was there too, later captured the scene in the novel Officers and Gentlemen: “The ghosts of an army teemed everywhere. Some were quite apathetic, too weary to eat; others were smashing their rifles on the stones, taking a fierce relish in this symbolic farewell to their arms.”

This tiny harbour is the finish to the story of the Battle of Crete, which started 70 years ago on Friday, May 20 — a significant anniversary that will be commemorated across the island. There are few veterans left now, but strands of the narrative may still be picked up among the rocks and wild flowers of the beautiful western end of Crete.

I had long meant to do this journey, to discover what my father – and thousands of others – went through. He himself hadn’t been the best source as he wouldn’t say much about it. And then he died, with the story largely untold.
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To help me uncover it, I enlisted the services of a Briton who has been a resident of Crete for 25 years and offers guided tours of the key sites. For Tim Powell, tourist guide, musician and lover of all things Cretan, the Battle of Crete was characterised by the heroic resistance of the civilian population. “This ‘insurgency’ led to a declaration that for every German soldier killed, 10 Cretans would be executed — which of course did nothing to stop them,” he said.

He started the story at the end, the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda Bay where the main anniversary commemorations will take place. The 1,500 headstones memorialise some colourful characters, none more vivid than John Pendlebury, an archaeologist with a glass eye who was operating in Crete as a secret agent when he was killed on May 22 1941.

The battle and its aftermath of guerrilla resistance threw up a cast of such chaps — suave British secret agents, brave Cretan warriors, even a monocle-wearing German aristocrat — whose deeds are recorded in some compelling accounts. Ill Met by Moonlight, for example, recounts the kidnap of the German General Heinrich Kreipe in 1944, masterminded by the secret agent (and future travel writer) Patrick Leigh Fermor.

But the Crete campaign also included many ordinary soldiers and civilians whose names and actions remain unrecorded and for whom the experience was far from glamorous. One of them was my father, a lance sergeant in the Northumberland Hussars, who was evacuated to Crete from Athens towards the end of April 1941 after mainland Greece fell to the Nazis.

He dug in with a force of about 21,000 combat-ready British, Australian, New Zealand and Cretan soldiers to defend the island. The Germans launched their attack on May 20 in wave after wave of paratroop drops by parachute and glider. What followed was a series of military blunders on both sides in which the Allies managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The key fighting took place around the airfield at Maleme, and Hill 107 above it, to the west of Chania. Since 1974 Hill 107 has been the site of the German War Cemetery on Crete, the last resting place of 4,465 soldiers of whom nearly 2,000 were killed on that first day.

Many fell not to soldiers but to civilians. “The Germans had never seen something like this in Europe,” explained George Bikoyiannakis, the owner of the Café Plateia in the village of Galatas near Chania, the site of fierce fighting. “These people were fighting with farming tools. Even broomsticks. They would tie kitchen knives to them and use them as spears.”

George runs a little museum next to the church that commemorates the heroic efforts of locals and New Zealanders to defend the village. The Kiwis are remembered in the name of a street, Neozilandon Polemiston, which means “Road of the New Zealand Warriors”. Down a narrow alley, a garden gate has been fashioned from an old piece of British Matilda tank.

The civilian resistance — by women and priests and as well as men young and old — offended the Nazis’ sense of how war should be waged and their commander, General Kurt Student, ordered reprisals to be carried out “with exemplary terror”. The sites of these massacres are marked by monuments across the island, some of them displaying the skulls and bones of victims behind glass.

At Alikianos a marble column and canopy bear witness to one of the bravest feats of the Battle of Crete, in which 850 lads of the locally recruited 8th Greek Regiment held out for a week against German onslaught. More than 200 villagers, ranging in age from 14 to 80, were subsequently shot in reprisal.

“The Germans were surprised because the women didn’t turn away,” said Powell. “They watched their husbands and sons being executed.” The significance of the action at Alikianos is that it bought the Allies time to organise the evacuation of Crete. On May 27, realising the island was lost, the Allied commander, Major General Bernard Freyberg, ordered his forces to retreat south across the Levka Ori, the mountains that form the snowy spine of Crete, to an embarkation point on the southern coast.

My father and his fellow Geordies abandoned the ground they held around Chania and joined the exodus. The route they took, with little or no food, in rotting boots, under frequent attack from Stuka dive bombers, was nicknamed the Via Dolorosa. Today you can drive it in your little Nissan or Peugeot hire car.

In 1941 it was a dirt track that ended in the five-mile-long Imbros Gorge. A Stuka was shot down as it came in for the attack here. Its propeller is one of the prize exhibits in the war museum at Askifou, which lies on the Via Dolorosa. Walking the gorge myself, I tried to imagine the Stuka screech my father once remarked on, but all I could hear was goat bells.

His reward for reaching Sfakia, where Royal Navy ships evacuated 16,000 men over four nights, was to be told there was no room for him. He would have to stay behind and wait to be captured. All told, 5,000 Allied troops didn’t make it off Crete. None of those left behind was above the rank of lieutenant colonel.

One eyewitness talked of the “damnable and disgraceful scramble for priority, a claim to the privilege of escape based on rank and seniority”. Evelyn Waugh thought it a shameful episode. My father didn’t mention it.

After sitting on the beach at Sfakia I sat down for lunch at one of those spruced-up tavernas and ordered a plate of gigantes, butterbeans in tomato sauce. Then I remembered that butterbeans were my father’s favourite thing to eat. He would have appreciated a plateful as he sat twiddling his thumbs just a few feet away, waiting to be captured.

He spent the next four years, from the ages of 20 to 24, in various POW camps in Germany, but he took it all on the chin. The only bit I can remember him grumbling about was having to march the 50 miles back over the mountains, along the Via Dolorosa, after being taken prisoner. He said he could have done without that.

By Nigel Richardson – First published in The Telegraph

Related articles:

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

Ride of the Valkyries: The Vichy perspective on the German invasion of Crete

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

Crete: 11th Day Movie with Paddy

Scholar in the wilds – a profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor

A comprehensive profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor.

By James Campbell. First published in The Guardian 9 April 2005

As a teenager, Patrick Leigh Fermor walked through Europe to Turkey, sleeping in hayricks and castles. Forty years later he wrote two pioneering books about it; a third is still in progress. He lived in Romania, met his wife in Egypt, and was decorated for his wartime exploits in Crete. Now 90, he continues to work in the house he built in Greece in the 1960s.

“So here’s the traveller,” a Hungarian hostess greets the teenage Patrick Leigh Fermor as he trudges towards her Danubian country house. The year is 1934 and Leigh Fermor is four months into his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, undertaken to shake off what he refers to, 70 years on, as “my rather rackety past”. The journey is captured, with erudition and fond detail, in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). They are unique in several respects, not least that they were written more than 40 years after the events described. Leigh Fermor derived the former title from a couplet by Louis MacNeice, “For now the time of gifts is gone – / O boys that grow, O snows that melt”, which encapsulates the double vision involved in evoking one’s own adolescence from a distance. A concluding volume, which will take the boy to his destination, has long been promised.

Leigh Fermor is not a “travel writer” – like others, he disavows the term – but there is no denying he is a traveller. After Constantinople (as he still insists on calling it, though the name was changed to Istanbul in 1930), he moved to Romania, where he stayed for two years, barely conscious of the inklings of war from beyond the Carpathian mountains. In the 1950s, he explored the then-intractable southern finger of the Peloponnese known as Mani, where he lives, followed by a similar journey in the north of Greece, making his reports, in characteristically exuberant style, in the books Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966). His stays in French monasteries, where he achieved “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”, are recorded in an exquisite book of fewer than 100 pages, A Time to Keep Silence (1957).

Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

He is also a scholar, with a facility for languages so prodigious that he would amuse himself on his footslog by singing German songs backwards and, when those ran out, reciting parts of Keats the same way: “Yawa! Yawa! rof I lliw ylf ot eeht”, etc. “It can be quite effective,” he says. After a lunch of lemon chicken at home in Mani, accompanied by an endlessly replenished carafe of retsina, he entertains his guest with a rendering of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in Hindustani.

In addition, Leigh Fermor is recognisably that figure many writers of the past century have yearned to be, the man of action. When the inklings could no longer be ignored in 1939, he abandoned his Romanian idyll and enlisted in the Irish Guards. A major in Special Operations Executive during the second world war, he was awarded the DSO for heroic actions on German-occupied Crete. Few writers are entitled to include in their Who’s Who entry: “Commanded some minor guerrilla operations.” His publisher, John Murray, whose father, the late “Jock” Murray, edited most of Leigh Fermor’s books, describes him as “almost a Byronic figure. If you met him on a train, before long he would be reciting The Odyssey , or singing Cretan songs. He loves talking, and people are always absorbed by him.”

Known as Paddy to the acquainted and unacquainted alike, Leigh Fermor has turned 90. He is still sturdy, with an all-round handsome appearance. Here is a man who at 69 swam the Hellespont (or Dardanelles), two kilometres wide at its narrowest, in emulation of Byron and Leander, who swam it nightly for the love of Hero. Leigh Fermor swam it under the concerned watch of his wife Joan, who followed in a small boat, and averted her eyes as he narrowly missed being sunk by a liner. An innocent sweetness hovers about his face, which finds a focus in his eyes as he makes a joke or stumbles on a happy recollection. There is a dash of the old soldier, clubbable and courteous, in his approach, his speech punctuated by “Look here …” and “I say …”, and not much of the “rather rackety” figure he claims to have been before he cured his ills by walking. When, relatively late in life, he became a mentor to Bruce Chatwin, the younger writer adopted Leigh Fermor’s motto, solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking.

Paddy at home in the Mani

After more than six decades in the country, Leigh Fermor is inextricably tied to Greece. His command of the language extends to several regional dialects. He is an honorary citizen of the Cretan capital Heraklion, and of the village of Kardamili in Mani, and is a proud godfather to children in both places. In the mid-1960s, as if to lay the foundation for a committed life, he built a house that reflects the various aspects of his personality. Perched on a peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Messenia, it overlooks a small uninhabited island, behind which the sun sets nightly. He has described how he and Joan camped in tents nearby as the works progressed, studying Vitruvius and Palladio, but admits that the design was largely the result of improvisation. Ceilings, cornices and fireplaces allude to Levantine and Macedonian architecture. Hard by the commodious living room, an L-shaped arcade, which might have been built centuries ago, provides a link to the other rooms and gives on to an olive grove below. Out of nowhere, cats materialise on chairs and divans, prompting Leigh Fermor to remark on “interior desecrators and natural downholsterers”. The great limestone blocks of the main structure were hewn out of the Taygetus mountains, visible in the background, as the sea is present in the foreground. A weathered zigzag stone staircase leads down to a horseshoe bay. “There was no road here at all when we came. The stone had to be brought up by mule. We got most of the tiles from another part of the Peloponnese, after an earthquake. They were happy to be rid of them – couldn’t understand why we wanted this old stuff. They wanted everything new.” The master mason behind the house was a local craftsman, Niku Kolokatrones, whom Leigh Fermor met by accident while out walking. “I spotted his bag of carpenter’s tools and told him I was looking for somebody to help me build a house. He said, ‘Why not take me? I can do everything.’ And he was absolutely right.”

It was finally fit for habitation in 1968, and the couple “lived very happily here for 30 years”. Joan Leigh Fermor, daughter of the Conservative politician and First Lord of the Admiralty in Ramsay MacDonald’s coalition government, Bolton Eyres Monsell, died in 2003 at 91, after a fall. The couple met in wartime Cairo. She took the photographs for several of his books, including the first, The Traveller’s Tree (1950), an account of a journey through the West Indies, and for Mani and Roumeli – although these pictures have sadly been omitted from later editions.

He was born in London in 1915, to Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, who became director-general of the Geological Survey in India, and Eileen Ambler, who was partly raised there. His childhood relationship with his parents was “rather strange, because I didn’t really know either of them until I was about three-and-a-half. My mother returned to India after I was born, leaving me with a family in Northamptonshire. I spent a very happy first three years of my life there as a wild-natured boy. I wasn’t ever told not to do anything.” When his mother returned, at the end of the first world war, “my whole background changed. We went to live in London. And she was rather unhappy, because I didn’t really know much about her, or my father or my sister, who had been born four years earlier. They hadn’t seen me since I was a few months old.” He claims he was “more or less tamed after that”, though he has written that his lawless infancy “unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint”.

Patrick Leigh Fermor at school, Kings Canterbury

His mother “adored anything to do with the stage” and wrote plays that were never produced. She made friends with Arthur Rackham, who painted a picture inside the front door of their house in Primrose Hill Studios “of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, being blown along in a nest with a ragged shirt for a sail”. He wonders if it’s still there. When the time came to think about school, the “wild boy” re-emerged, and he was beaten from one educational establishment to another. “I didn’t mind the beatings, because there was a bravado about that kind of thing.” At one stage, he was sent to a school in Suffolk for disturbed children – or, as he puts it, “where rather naughty children went” – and later to King’s School, Canterbury, the oldest public school in England, where the unruly old boys included Christopher Marlowe. “It was all rather marvellous,” says Leigh Fermor, who casts a rosy light on almost all experience, “but my discipline problems cropped up again. Things like fighting, climbing out at night, losing my books.” Among his contemporaries at King’s was Alan Watts, who later wrote popular books on Zen Buddhism and became a hippie guru. In his autobiography, Watts recalled Paddy “constantly being flogged for his pranks and exploits – in other words, for having a creative imagination”. Watts confirms the familiar tale that Paddy was expelled “for the peccadillo of taking a walk with the daughter of the local greengrocer”. Leigh Fermor recalls: “She was about eight years older than me – totally innocent, but it was a useful pretext for the sack. I think it was very kindly meant. Far better to get the sack for something slightly romantic than for just being a total nuisance.”

Believing that the best place for a nuisance was the army, his parents tried to direct him towards Sandhurst, but his academic failures put paid to that too. The military historian Antony Beevor, who was an officer cadet at Sandhurst, and has known Leigh Fermor for many years, believes he would not have prospered. “I think he may have had a romantic idea of what army life was like, but he would have found the peacetime garrison incredibly stultifying. Army life in the 1930s was very staid. Paddy was too much of a free spirit.”

It was then that Leigh Fermor came up with a scheme “to change scenery”. Envisaging himself as “a medieval pilgrim, an affable tramp with a knapsack and hobnailed boots”, he decided to walk across Europe to Turkey. “It was a new life. Freedom. Something to write about.” To make it even more improbable, he set out in December when, as he states in the opening paragraph of A Time of Gifts, “a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly; the Jermyn Street shops, distorted by stream ing water, had become a submarine arcade.” When his ship docked in Rotterdam, “snow covered everything”. He dossed down wherever he landed, on one occasion outside a pigsty to the sound of “sleepy grunts prompted by dreams, perhaps, or indigestion”.

In addition to his sleeping bag, Leigh Fermor packed the Oxford Book of English Verse and a volume of Horace. An allowance of £4 a month was to be collected along the way. “My general course was up the Rhine and down the Danube. Then to Swabia, and then into Bavaria.” At the time, he had published a few poems (“dreadful stuff”), but was inspired to switch to travel writing by Robert Byron, whose book about a journey to Mount Athos in north-eastern Greece, The Station , had recently been published. “I was keeping copious notes, songs, sketches and so on, but in Munich a disaster happened. I stayed at a Jugendherberge and my rucksack was pinched, with all my notes and drawings.” And then comes the Paddy stroke: “In a way it was rather a blessing, because my rucksack was far too heavy. It had far too many things.” His sleeping bag was lost too -“good riddance, really” – and his money and passport. “The British Consul gave me a fiver – said pay me back some time.”

Leigh Fermor has pursued his literary career haphazardly. His Caribbean book was originally meant to be a series of captions for photographs. Then came his only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques (1953), followed by A Time to Keep Silence and Mani , all written in the mid-50s, after which he restricted himself to one public outing per decade. However, the 40-year interlude between the events of his European journey and the writing of the books enhances their appeal. At times, the hero of A Time of Gifts seems like a boy faced with a tapestry on which the entire history and culture of Europe is portrayed, unpicking it thread by thread. Byzantine plainsong; Yiddish syntax; the whereabouts of the coast of Bohemia (it existed, for 13 years); the finer nuances of regional architecture – “the wild scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact”, as the writer William Dalrymple says. Theories are worked out, set down and often jettisoned, before another day’s walking begins. No one modulates as energetically from speculations on the origin of Greek place names to the “not always harmful effects of hangovers” as Leigh Fermor does. “If they fall short of the double vision which turns Salisbury Cathedral into Cologne,” he writes of his sore heads, “they invest the scenery with a lustre which is unknown to total abstainers.” When it came to writing about the journey, Leigh Fermor claims that “losing the notebook didn’t really seem to matter. I’d got all the places I’d been to noted down in another little notebook. Early impressions and all that sort of thing would only have been a hindrance.” It is impossible to say where imagination gets the upper hand over memory, and aficionados are adamant it does not matter.

Dalrymple, who as a student set out to follow the route of the First Crusade in emulation of Leigh Fermor, says: “I can’t think of any younger writers who have tried to write like Paddy, who have succeeded in the attempt. Not that I haven’t tried. When I set out on my first long journey in the summer vacation I had just read A Time of Gifts and I tried to write my logbook in faux-Paddy style. The result was disastrous. Just last summer I visited Mani and reread his wonderful book, and found myself again trying to write like him. I should have learned my lesson by now.” Dalrymple feels that the strongest influence of Leigh Fermor on the younger generation of travel writers “has been the persona he creates of the bookish wanderer: the footloose scholar in the wilds, scrambling through the mountains, a knapsack full of good books on his shoulder. You see this filtering through in the writing of Chatwin and Philip Marsden, among others.”

According to Jeremy Lewis, author of a biography of Cyril Connolly, with whom Joan was friendly, “Occasionally, one comes across some unromantic soul who objects to Leigh Fermor on the prosaic ground that he couldn’t possibly remember in such persuasive detail the events of 60 years ago.” Lewis suspects that “quite a lot of it is made up. He’s a tremendous yarn-spinner, and he has that slight chip on the shoulder of someone who hasn’t been to university. Sometimes one gets the feeling that he’s desperate to show he’s not an intellectual hick. He’s quite similar to Chatwin in that way. With Chatwin I find it irritating, but not with Leigh Fermor.” Lewis adds, “There is also a strong boy-scout element about him, which annoys some people, singing round the campfire and so on. I doubt if there was ever anything very rackety about Paddy.”

Balasha Cantacuzene

He has been asked many times why the composition of the books was delayed for so long, and has finessed the reply to his characteristic self-effacement: “Laziness and timidity.” He had a shot at writing during his sojourn in Romania in the late 1930s, “but I thought it was no good, so I shoved it aside. And I was right, actually, because when I tried it much later it all began to flow.” His companion in Romania, the first love of his life, was a young painter, Balasha Cantacuzene, whose family was part of an “old-fashioned, French-speaking, Tolstoyan, land-owning world. They were intensely civilised people. I spent the time reading a tremendous amount … when I wasn’t making a hash of writing. I felt rather different at the end of it all, from the kind of person I’d been before.”

After the communist takeover at the end of the war, the Ceausescu government branded the Cantacuzenes “elements of putrid background” and forced them to leave their property. Leigh Fermor made it his mission to rescue them from their new dismal circumstances, eventually succeeding in slipping into the country on a motorcycle and contacting Balasha and her sister. They met for only 48 hours. “We dared risk no more, and during that time I was unable to leave the tiny flat where they were then living, for fear of being seen.” He found that their early thoughts of leaving Romania had lapsed, “partly from feeling it was too late in the day; also, they said that Romania, after all, was where they belonged”.

His war service was spent mainly on Crete. After the British retreat from the island in May 1941, Leigh Fermor was among a small number of officers who remained, helping to organise resistance to the occupation, “living up in the mountains, dressed as a shepherd, with my wireless and so on”. In the spring of 1944, after an onslaught on villages “with fire and sword” by German troops in reprisal for the rash actions of some Cretan guerrillas, Leigh Fermor conceived a plan to kidnap the general responsible for the carnage, and to spirit him off to Cairo. The idea was to make a “symbolic gesture, involving no bloodshed, not even a plane sabotaged or a petrol dump blown up; something which would hit the enemy hard”. Together with a select band of associates, British and Cretan, he succeeded – except that the officer they were after, General Müller, had already left Crete, and they found themselves taking charge of his replacement, a milder figure by all accounts, General Kreipe. After three weeks of trekking through the mountains, they managed to get the captive on board a vessel bound for Egypt.

The events were drawn into a book, Ill Met by Moonlight (1950), by Leigh Fermor’s comrade in the operation, W Stanley Moss, and an inferior film in 1957, with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy. He is polite about the actor, whom he met, but it is clear that Bogarde’s performance as Major Fermor failed to impress. “I didn’t go to the opening, or anything like that. It was all so much more interesting than they made it seem.” The military historian MRD Foot has referred to the Cretan escapade as “a tremendous jape”, which in Leigh Fermor’s opinion puts it in a “rather frivolous perspective”. Beevor, whose book The Battle for Crete (1991), pays handsome tribute to Leigh Fermor’s actions, feels the description of the kidnapping as a “jape” is unjust. “What was very clever about the Kreipe operation was that it was planned meticulously to give the Cretans a tremendous boost to morale. They needed to do something that would damage the Germans, but was not going to provoke civilian casualties. They were absolutely scrupulous about this.” Certain accounts of the exploit have suggested that it resulted in reprisals against the local pop ulation, but, says Beevor, “they are completely wrong. I’ve been through all the relevant documentation, and there is nothing to suggest that the kidnapping of General Kreipe provoked direct reaction from the Germans. It wasn’t just a jape. When I was researching my book, a member of the Cretan resistance told me, ‘The whole island felt two inches taller’.”

Captor and captive, stuck together in freezing caves (the general had to sleep between Leigh Fermor and Moss, all sharing a single blanket), found a common bond in the Odes of Horace. In a report written at the request of the Imperial War Museum in 1969, published in Artemis Cooper’s anthology of Leigh Fermor’s writings, Words of Mercury (2003), he described what happened: “We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the general, half to himself, slowly said: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum / Soracte …’ [You see how Soracte stands gleaming white with deep snow]. I was in luck. It is the opening line of one of the few Odes of Horace I know by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off: ‘… Nec iam sustineant onus …’ and so on, through the remaining five stanzas to the end.”

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

The heroics in eastern Crete had a surprise sequel, which throws into relief the absurdity of war. Some 30 years later, Leigh Fermor was asked to take part in a Greek television programme based on This Is Your Life , in which the subject was to be General Kreipe. “I felt quite certain when I heard about it that it was not on the level, and so I found out General Kreipe’s number and got on the telephone to him. I said, ‘It’s Major Fermor’. He said, ‘Ach, Major Fermor, how are you? It seems we are going to meet again soon.’ I said, ‘So you are coming?’ He said, ‘Yes, of course I’m coming. Tell me, what’s the weather like? Shall I bring a pullover?’ And you know, it was the most terrific success. They were all there.” The exception was Moss, who died in 1965; and it is probably safe to discount the Cretan guerrillas who carried off the general’s chauffeur and slit his throat, much to Leigh Fermor’s displeasure.

He writes in a small studio apart from the main house. Dictionaries, volumes of Proust, books of verse in various languages and back issues of the TLS occupy every surface. Asked if he has a title in mind for the promised last volume of his European trilogy, he looks suddenly pained and answers no. He describes himself as “a very slow writer”. His pages are laboriously revised and readers who revel in his florescent style may be surprised to learn that the finished sentences are pared down from something the author considers “too exaggerated and flowery and overwritten”. Murray says: “It’s rather like a musician: each time he changes a word, he has to go back and change all the other words round about it so that the harmony is right.” Murray recalls “seven versions of A Time of Gifts being submitted to my father. And each one would be written-over, with bubbles containing extra bits. The early manuscripts are like works of art themselves.”

As he is writing, Leigh Fermor thinks of one or two friends “that it might amuse. How would they respond? Where would they sneer?” He refers to his old notebooks for things like dates and place names, but relies on memory for a clearer vision of the walking boy and the snows. “I’ve written quite a large amount. For some reason, I got a sort of scunner against it several years ago. I thought it wasn’t any good. I always think that. But now I think I was wrong. I’m going to pull my socks up and get on with it.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Born: February 11, 1915, London.

Education: 1929-33 King’s School, Canterbury.

Married: 1968 Joan Eyres Monsell.

Employment: 1945-46 deputy director British Institute, Athens.

Books: 1950 The Traveller’s Tree; ’53 The Violins of Saint-Jacques; ’57 A Time To Keep Silence; ’58 Mani; ’66 Roumeli; ’77 A Time of Gifts; ’86 Between the Woods and the Water; ’91 Three Letters from the Andes; 2003 Words of Mercury.

Some awards: 1944 DS0; ’47 honorary citizen of Heraklion, Crete; ’58 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize; ’78 WH Smith Award; ’86 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; ’91 Companion of Literature; 2004 Knighthood.

Well Met By Sunlight

This is from an excellent website devoted to Powell and Pressburger the producers of Ill Met by Moonlight, and recalls the  Fielding’s first meeting with Dirk Bogarde.

By Daphne Fielding (wife of Technical Advisor and SOE agent on Crete, Xan Fielding)
From her book  The Nearest Way Home (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970)

Daphne writes in her chapter, “Well Met by Sunlight”…

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde

Long before leaving England, long before our journey along the Barbary Coast, long before our marriage in fact, Xan had been asked by the film director Michael Powell to act as technical adviser on the production of Ill Met by Moonlight, the story of the abduction of the German General Kreipe by Paddy Leigh Fermor in enemy-occupied Crete. Afterwards the project had been postponed until Xan had almost forgotten it. Now, five years later, he was summoned by telegram to the south of France where work on the film was due to begin in a few days’ time.

… Xan agreed to take Salote [one of their dogs] with him, leaving me to follow with Sunflower [the other dog] as soon as I had arranged with a newspaper to write a series of articles on the making of the film, which would give me a valid reason for joining the unit.

Xan wrote to me a few days later from Nice to say that in spite of the urgency of his summons there was no sign of Michael Powell or of any film unit in the vicinity. Meanwhile he was enjoying the luxury of the Hotel Negresco, where rooms had been booked for him …

I arrived just in time. On the very next morning a car turned up at the Negresco to take us to Draguignan, which had been chosen as the unit headquarters. Here we learnt that the actor cast for the role of Paddy was Dirk Bogarde. He was not staying at Draguignan, however–there was no proper place for a star in a little market town already overcrowded with the production staff, camera crews, sound engineers … but in St. Raphael, on the coast, where Xan was to meet him before shooting started.

Though I looked forward to meeting him too, I was rather nervous about it, for in spite of my newspaper commission I still felt like an interloper. I was almost relieved when our repeated attempts to reach him were in vain: Mr. Bogarde was busy, had just gone out, was not available. Eventually, in the bar of his hotel, we ran to earth his manager Tony Forwood, whose blue eyes sized us up in a wary glance, then suddenly twinkled. “So you’re the Fieldings, are you?” he said. “Dirk’s upstairs in his room. I’ll go and fetch him.”

When he reappeared with him a few minutes late they both seemed to be enjoying some private joke, which added to my confusion, especially as I happened at that moment to be trying to extricate myself from the dogs’ leads which had wound themselves round my legs. Dirk’s smile turned to a broad grin as he watched my antics. “Just how many legs have you got?” he asked.

After the ice was broken, at ease with him, I said, “You seemed to be avoiding us on purpose.”

“I was”, he admitted. “Mickey had told me about Xan’s war record and I’d conjured up a dreadful picture of you both — ‘The Major and his Wife’, a sort of Osbert Lancaster cartoon. I couldn’t bear the idea of meeting you. If it hadn’t been for Tony …”

… “Yes”, said Tony. “I told him Xan didn’t have a clipped moustache and you weren’t wearing a regimental brooch, so we took the plunge.”

“Anyway, now we’re met”, Dirk concluded.

“Well Met by Sunlight”, I said to myself.

Two days later, after the cast had assembled, there was a final reading of the script followed by a wardrobe meeting. Though some of the costumes did not meet with Xan’s approval — “they look more Ruritanian than Cretan”, I heard him complain — Dirk at least could not have been dressed more authentically, for I lent him my Cretan guerrilla’s cloak, and Xan had brought with him a black silk headkerchief which had been part of his own wartime disguise and which he now taught Dirk to bind over his brow in the proper Cretan fashion.

Dirk was rather alarmed by this unfamiliar headgear. “What on earth do I look like?” he asked.

“The genuine article”, Xan truthfully assured him. “Very dashing. Just like Paddy.”

Next morning the whole unit was up before dawn, ready to move off for the first day’s shooting and, as the sun rose, the long convoy of char-a-bancs, headed by the director’s yellow Land Rover, was on its way to the chosen location up in the hills.

I had been slightly worried about my unofficial position. Was I entitled to a seat on one of the buses? And was about Sunflower and Salote [her dogs]? With characteristic thoughtfulness, Dirk solved the problem for me. “There’s plenty of room in my car”, he said, “for you and Xan and the two dogs. I’ll call for you.” And so we set off, in undeservedly grand style, in the star’s Bentley.

This was to be our daily programme for several weeks and I never tired of it … The locations had of course been chosen for their suitability, but to me they seemed to have been specially selected for their beauty and variety …

It was also fascinating to watch the various members of the cast at such close quarters, to see each one’s interpretation of his role. For the first time I realised what an exacting and exhausting job film-acting must be, especially for anyone as meticulous as Dirk Bogarde. Before each take he would sit by himself, so withdrawn that his nervous tension was contagious. Throughout working hours he remained apart and abstracted, hardly reverting to his own character even when off the set. But once the strain was over — during the luncheon break, for instance, or when packing up for the day — he resumed his normal personality and the relief from his intense concentration would lead to an outburst of high spirits and gaiety which usually took the form of teasing me.

Knowing that I was in awe of the director, and knowing too that shyness makes me clumsier than usual, he would score off me by suddenly saying, “Look out, Daphne, those dogs of yours are eating Mickey’s sandwiches”, or, “I didn’t like to tell you at the time, but during that last take one of your six legs was almost in shot.” I became so apprehensive lest Salote or Sunflower, or indeed myself, might unconsciously stray within the range of the camera … I took exaggerated measures of precaution … and would almost take to my heels at the sight of Michael Powell for fear of a reprimand.

During the last stages of the production we all moved from Draguignan up to Peira Cava, a skiing resort close to the Italian border, and here Paddy Leigh Fermor joined us for a few days.

Paddy’s impending visit had been dreaded by Dirk as much as the prospect of meeting Xan and me. I sympathised with him, realising how awkward it must be for an actor to play a living character when that character is watching him at it. Xan tried to reassure him:

“Don’t worry, Paddy’s not a typical army officer or guerilla leader. He’s not a typical anything, he’s himself, a romantic figure, in the Byron tradition. Very erudite, a sort of Gypsy Scholar, with an inexhaustible fund of incidental knowledge. He can talk to you for hours about hagiography or heraldry or …”

“He sounds too damned intellectual for me.”

But Paddy’s charm and adroitness immediately overcame Dirk’s prejudices, in spite of an incident on the night of his arrival which might have affected their future friendship.

One of Paddy’s wartime henchmen, Ciahali Akoumianakis, who had played a leading part in the abduction of the general, was also attached to the unit as a technical adviser and had brought with him from Crete a demijohn of tsikoudia, the potent local spirit, which he had been saving for just such as occasion as this. “We’ll have a proper Cretan glendi”, he said but, since no other member of the unit would touch the stuff, it remained for Paddy, Xan and myself to help him celebrate in the appropriate fashion — with some trepidation on my part, for I knew from personal experience that a glendi involves a great deal of noisy singing and dancing and is likely to last all night.

By midnight, long after everyone else in the hotel had gone to bed, the tsikoudia was beginning to take effect, and Paddy and Xan had broken into song. Soon the bar, empty but for the four of us, was resounding with matinades punctuated by the thump of feet performing the pentozali.

“Please stop it”, I begged them. “You’re keeping everyone awake.”

“But we’ve only just begun”, they objected, “and the bottle’s still half-full.”

“In that case I’m going to bed”, I announced, foreseeing, as I fled, an irate Michael Powell appearing in the bar like Christ in the temple.

Even from upstairs the sound of revelry, though not quite so deafening, continued for some time, unabated. I was on the point of going back to make one last attempt at stopping it, when it came to an end. A few minutes later Xan stumbled in.

“Dirk came down”, he announced.

“No wonder. Was he furious?”

“He looked a bit angry. But all he said was, ‘Some people have to work in the morning and want to get to sleep.’ He’s right of course. I don’t blame him. Anyway, Paddy and I have just slipped a note under his door to say we’re sorry.”

In the morning Dirk did not even mention the matter, nor did anyone else in the unit. But Paddy did. At breakfast he casually remarked to Michael Powell: “Who the devil was making that fiendish din last night? I couldn’t sleep a wink.”

Such frivolity and exuberance endeared him to everyone, though these qualities did not accord with the preconceived idea of him which some members of the unit had formed. “I just can’t see him capturing a German general”, Dirk’s dresser said. “He’s not the strong, silent type at all.”

“What about Major Fielding?” Dirk asked.

“Major Field? Oh, yes. He looks like a f…..g little killer.”

Whether this was meant as a compliment or not, from then on Xan was referred to on the set as F.L.K.

[At the conclusion of the film, the Fieldings drove with Dirk to Paris to catch a flight and en route stayed in the Hermitage in Digne “one of Dirk’s favourite hotels in France.”]

For Xan, however, Digne had other associations. It was here, while working as a secret agent during the occupation, that he had been arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death. In fact the house in which he had been imprisoned was next door and we could see it from our bedroom window. Dirk was extremely upset when Xan mentioned this to him over dinner.

“You should have told me at once”, he said. “We could easily have stayed somewhere else. We’ll move out now if you like, it must be horrid for you …’

“Not at all”, Xan told him. “I don’t mind a bit. In fact I’m glad to be back here in such different circumstances. After all this time. Twelve years … Good heavens, it’s twelve years exactly, to the very day!”

“This calls for a bottle of champagne”, said Dirk.

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

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Ill Met by Moonlight