Tag Archives: John Pendlebury

John Pendlebury and the Battle of Crete – Paddy’s speech

John Pendlebury at Knossos

John Pendlebury at Knossos

The following is the text of a speech given by Patrick Leigh Fermor at Knossos, Crete, on 21 May as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Spectator 20 October 2001

John Pendlebury is an almost mythical figure now, and, in some ways, he always was. Everyone connected with ancient or modern Greece, and not only his fellow archaeologists, knew all about him. He was born in 1904. In addition to his classical triumphs at Winchester and Cambridge, a dazzling athletic fame had sprung up. He broke a 50-year record at the high jump by clearing the equivalent of his own height of six feet and flew over hurdles with the speed of a cheetah. His classical passion was humanised by a strong romantic bent; he revelled in novels about knights and castles and tournaments. And all suspicion of being a reclusive highbrow was scattered by his love of jokes and his enjoyment of conviviality. A strong vein of humour leavened all.

The British School of Archaeology was his Athens anchor and wide learning, flair and imagination led him to many finds. He dug for several Egyptian seasons at Tel-elAmarna, but Crete became his dominating haunt. He was on excellent but independent terms with Sir Arthur Evans but, when he was away from Knossos and the Villa Ariadne, he was constantly on the move. He got to know the island inside out. No peak was too high or canyon too deep for him to claw his way up or down. He spent days above the clouds and walked over 1,000 miles in a single archaeological season. His companions were shepherds and mountain villagers. His brand of toughness and style and humour was exactly right for these indestructible men. He knew all their dialects and rhyming couplets. Micky Akoumianakis, the son of Sir Arthur’s overseer, told me he could drink everyone under the table and then stride across three mountain ranges without turning a hair.

This is the moment to slip in a word about Nicholas Hammond, the brilliant scholar and archaeologist turned soldier, and a very old friend of Pendlebury’s, whose involvement in the run-in to the battle and whose adventures in the caique Dolphin deserve an entire saga of their own. (It is he who should be writing about Pendlebury, not me, But he was 94 this year and died, lucid to the end, in April. Just before he died, he wrote to me saying, ‘I’m sure you’ll do him proud’; so I must do my best.)

Pendlebury in Cretan dress

Pendlebury in Cretan dress

Pendlebury’s knowledge of the island was unique, and when, in the end, he managed to convince the sluggish military authorities, he was sent to England, trained as a cavalryman at Weedon, commissioned as a captain in a branch of military intelligence and then sent back to Crete as the British vice-consul in Heraklion. It was typical that he referred to his military role as ‘trailing the puissant pike’, like Pistol in lienly V. He didn’t mind that his consular cover story in Heraklion fooled nobody. But his mountain life changed gear: he presciently saw that the Cretan veterans of the old wars against the Turks would be vital to the eventual defence of the island. These regional kapetanios, natural chiefs — like Satanas, Bandouvas and Petrakogiorgis, and many more with their sweeping moustaches and high boots — had many virtues and some, perhaps, a few faults, but they were all born leaders. They were all brave, they passionately loved their country and they recognised the same qualities in Pendlebury. They trusted his judgment when he began to organise a system of defence, arranging supply lines, pinpointing wells and springs, preparing rocks to encumber possible enemy landing places, storing sabotage gear, seeking out coves and inlets for smuggling arms and men, and permanently badgering the Cairo authorities for arms and ammunition.

When the Italians invaded Greece from Albania and were flung back by the Greek counter-attacks, the probable sequel became clear at once: Germany would come to the rescue of her halted ally. The whole Wehrmacht was available and so was Germany’s vast Luftwaffe. The implications were plain. Pendlebury and the Cretans made guerrilla strikes on Kasos, the Dodecanesian island 25 miles from the eastermost cape, and there was a far-flung caique operation on Castellorizo. off the south coast of Turkey_ Like all Crete, Pendlebury lamented the absence of the 5th Cretan division, which had covered itself with glory in Albania, only to be left behind on the mainland. With them, and the 10,000 rifles Pendlebury longed for, he felt that the island could be held forever. But, to his exasperation, the arms only came in driblets. Even so, there was hope.

If the worst happened, Pendlebury was determined to stay and fight on with the guerrillas until Crete was free. His stronghold would have been the Nidha plateau, high on the slopes of Mount Ida. It was grazed by thousands of sheep, inaccessible by roads, riddled with caves — Zeus was born in one of them — and it could only be reached through the key village of Krousonas (the stronghold of Pendlebtny’s friend, Kapetan Satanas) and the great resistance village of Anoyia (the eyrie of Kapetans Stephanoyianni Dramoudanis and Mihali Xylouris). During all this time, the knowledge that the rest of Europe was either conquered or neutral and that England and Greece were the only two countries still fighting was a great bond.

We must skip fast over the German invasion of Greece. Most of the British forces, which had been taken from the battle in the Libyan desert to help the Greeks, got away from the mainland with the Royal Navy’s help and the island was suddenly milling with soldiers who had made it to Crete. I was one. I was sent from Canea to Heraklion as a junior intelligence dogsbody at Brigadier Chappel’s headquarters in a cave between the town and the aerodrome.

The daily bombings were systematic and sinister. Obviously, something was going to happen. It must have been during a lull in this racket that I saw Pendlebury for the first and only time. One man stood out from all the others that came to the cave,’ I wrote later on. I was enormously impressed by that splendid figure, with a rifle slung like a Cretan mountaineer’s, a cartridge belt round his middle, and armed with a leather-covered swordstick.

One of his eyes, lost as a child, had been replaced by a glass one. I heard later that, when out of his office, he used to leave it on his table to show that he would be back soon. He had come to see the Brigadier to find out how he and his friends could best contribute, and his presence, with his alternating seriousness and laughter, spread a feeling of optimism and spirit. It shed light in the dark cave and made everything seem possible. When he got up to go, someone (Hope-Morley?) said, `Do show us your swordstick!’ He smiled obligingly, drew it with comic drama and flashed it round with a twist of the wrist. Then he slotted it back and climbed up into the sunlight with a cheery wave. I can’t remember a word he said, but one could understand why everyone trusted, revered and loved him.

We all know a lot about the battle: the heavy bombing every day, followed at last by the drone of hundreds of planes coming in over the sea in a darkening cloud, and the procession of troop-carriers flying so low over the ground they seemed almost at eye-level, suddenly shedding a manycoloured stream of parachutes. When the roar of our guns broke out many invaders were caught in the olive branches and many were killed as they fell; others dropped so close to headquarters that they were picked off at once.

Heraklion is a great walled Venetian city. The enemy forced an entry through the Canea Gate, and after fierce fighting they were driven out by the British and Greeks with very heavy losses. This was the first astonishing appearance of Cretan civilians, armed only with odds and ends — old men long retired and boys below military age, even women here and there — suddenly fighting by our side, all over the island. In Heraklion the swastika flag, which had briefly been run up over the harbour, was torn down again. The wall was manned by Greek and British riflemen, successful counter-attacks were launched and, apart from this one break-in, the town and the aerodrome remained firmly in our hands until the end.

After leaving the cave, Pendlebury and Satanas headed for the Kapetan’s high village of Krousonas by different routes. They hoped to launch flank attacks on the steadily growing throng of dropped parachutists west of Heraklion. He got out of the car with a Cretan comrade and climbed a spur to look down on the German position. They were closer than he thought and opened fire. Pendlebury and his friend fired back. Here the fog of battle begins to cloud things. Pendlebury and a Greek platoon were still exchanging fire with the Germans when a new wave of Stukas came over and Pendlebury was wounded in the chest. He was carried into a cottage, which belonged to one of his followers, George Drossoulakis, who was fighting elsewhere and was killed that same day. But his wife Aristeia took him in and he was laid on a bed. The place was overrun with Germans; nevertheless, one of them, who was a doctor, cleaned and bandaged the wound. Another came in later and gave him an injection. He was chivalrously treated. The next morning he told the women of the house to leave him. They refused and were later led away as prisoners. A field gun was set up just outside . . and a fresh party of parachutists was soon in the house. Here was an English soldier dressed in a Greek shirt and with no identification. A neighbour’s wife saw them take him out and prop him against the wall. Three times they shouted a question at him, which she couldn’t understand. Three times he answered ‘No’. They ordered him to stand to attention and then opened fire. He fell dead, shot through the head and the body.

The battle raged on. Heraklion stood firm and we had similar tidings from the Australians and Greeks defending Rethymnon. After the lines of communication had been cut, we had no glimmer of the turn things were taking at Maleme over in the west. We thought we had won. The news became still more bitter later on, when we learnt that enemy casualties had been so heavy that for a time they had considered abandoning the campaign.

Much later we learnt what happened to Pendlebury. At first his body was buried near the spot where he fell. Later, the Germans moved him to half a mile outside the Canea Gate beside the Rethymnon road. I remember bicycling past his grave the following year dressed as a cattle-dealer. It was marked with a wooden cross with his name on it, followed by liritischer Hauptmann’ . There was a bunch of flowers, and new ones were put there every day until the enemy shifted the grave to somewhere less central. (He now lies in the British war cemetery at Souda Bay.) Meanwhile legends were springing up. For the Cretans, it was the loss of an ally and a friend with a status close to that of Ares or Apollo For the enemy, he was a baleful and sinister figure, a darker T. E. Lawrence, and perhaps he was still lurking in the dreaded mountains. Many bodies were exhumed until a skull with a glass eye was dug up and sent to Berlin — or so they said. According to island gossip, Hitler had been unable to sleep at night for fear of this terrible incubus, and kept the trophy on his desk. To the SOE officers who were sent to Crete to help the Resistance, he was an inspiration. His memory turned all his old companions into immediate allies. We were among friends. Pendebury — Pedeboor Pembury — however it was pronounced, eyes kindled at the sound.

John Pendlebury

John Pendlebury

We must go back to 28 May 1941, seven days after Pendlebtuy’s death and the night of the evacuation. The British troops were lining up to board the ships that were to carry us to Egypt. I was interpreter. Everyone felt downhearted at leaving the Greek friends who had fought beside us for the last eight days. The battered and silent town smelt of burning, explosions, smoke and fresh decay All at once, an old Cretan materialised out of the shadows. He was a short, resolute man, obviously a distinguished kapetan, with a clear and cheerful glance, a white beard clipped under the chin like a Minoan and a rifle-butt embossed with wrought-silver plaques. He said he would like to talk to the ‘General’. The Brigadier was a tall man and an excellent commander, tanned by a lifetime’s soldiering in India. The kapetan reached up and put his hand on the Brigadier’s shoulder and said, ‘My child,’ — paidi triou’ in Greek — ‘we know you are leaving tonight; but you will soon be back. We will carry on the fight till you return. But we have only a few guns. Leave them all you can spare.’ The Brigadier was deeply moved. Orders were given for the arms and a Black Watch lieutenant led away the kapetan and his retinue. As we made our farewells, he said, in a kind but serious voice, ‘May God go with you, and come back soon.’ Meanwhile, escorting destroyers from HMS Orion and HMS Dido were stealing towards the mole.

It was only later, looking at photographs, that the old man was identified as Pendlebury’s friend, Kapetan Satanas. He died the next year, after handing his gun to a descendant, saying, ‘Don’t dishonour it.’

Looking back, he represents the innermost spirit of Crete. Ever since, the two men have seemed to symbolise the brotherhood-in-arms that brought our two countries so close together and made us feel that this season of desolation would somehow, against all the odds, end in victory and the freedom they were all fighting for.

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John Pendlebury details from Winchester College War Cloister memorial site

Pendlebury at Winchester College 1923

Pendlebury at Winchester College 1923

Pendlebury’s biography taken from the Winchester College War Cloister memorial website to mark the 76th anniversary of his death

He was the only son of Herbert Stringfellow Pendlebury FRCS, a consulting surgeon at St. George’s Hospital and then of the Royal Waterloo Hospital in London. John Pendlebury’s mother was Lilian Dorothea, the daughter of Sir Thomas Lane Devitt, 1st Baronet, and Chairman of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. However, she died in 1921, and in 1925 Herbert Pendlebury married Mabel Webb, daughter of Mr. Richard Webb of Wanganui, New Zealand.

John Pendlebury was successful at school: he won the Leslie Hunter Prize, was Head of House, in Senior Division, Sixth Book, and gained an Exhibition for Classics at Pembroke, Cambridge (his father’s college). All this was despite the loss of an eye: “One of his eyes, lost as a child, had been replaced by a glass one. I heard later that, when out of his office, he used to leave it on his table to show that he would be back soon.”

At Winchester, he won the high jump (twice) and the hurdles. In his third year at Cambridge he won the high jump at Fenner’s and also against Oxford. In 1927 he leaped to fame with a jump of six feet at Queen’s Club, breaking the record set by M J Brooks over 50 years before. He also represented England that year. He then won a Scholarship at Pembroke College and a First in the Classical Tripos, Part II with special distinction in Archaeology. Later that year he went to the British School of Archaeology at Athens. That year he married Hilda White, daughter of Edmund White, of Caldy, Wirral.

He quickly gained an international reputation as an archaeologist and donated some of his finds to the College, where they are still held in the Treasury. In 1932 he was appointed Neil Lecturer at Pembroke, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Society. That year he and his wife had a son, David John Stringfellow Pendlebury (D 1945-1950), and later a daughter.

He excavated in Macedonia, at Tel el Amarna (where he was Director from 1930 to 1936), at Knossos in Crete (where he was Curator 1930-35), and at Mount Dicte (also in Crete). His publications included “Aegyptiaca” (1930), “Handbook to the Palace of Minos” and “Tel el Amarna” (1935), and “The Archaeology of Crete” (1939). Pendlebury discovered many ancient sites in Crete, an island which he knew better than any other Englishman. “He was on excellent but independent terms with Sir Arthur Evans but, when he was away from Knossos and the Villa Ariadne, he was constantly on the move. He got to know the island inside out. No peak was too high or canyon too deep for him to claw his way up or down. He spent days above the clouds and walked over a thousand miles in a single archaeological season. His companions were shepherds and mountain villagers. His brand of toughness and style and humour was exactly right for these indestructible men. He knew all their dialects and rhyming couplets. Micky Akoumianakis, the son of Sir Arthur’s overseer, told me he could drink everyone under the table and then stride across three mountain ranges without turning a hair.” (Speech delivered by Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor on the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete – reprinted in The Spectator 20th October 2001).

During the war he served as an officer in the Intellegence Corps. Commissioned into the cavalry, he was transferred in May 1940 to MI(R), the forerunner to the Special Operations Executive. SOE was formed in July 1940 and Pendlebury worked for the organisation for the rest of his life.

The British were expecting Greece to be attacked by Italy in the near future and assembled a group of Greek supporters to help with resistence in the event of being over-run. Pendlebury was one of these. The Greek nationals were however suspicious of the mission and its motives and refused to allow some of the party into the country, although Pendlebury was known and trusted and was allowed in. In November 1940, 50 Commando was sent to Crete to garrison the strategic harbour of Suda Bay. This freed up Greek troops to move to the Italian front. They arrived on November 26th, only to find that their orders had been changed and that they were to move to Heraklion. There Pendlebury met them, fixing up good billets for them in a school, a tobacco factory, and barrack buildings on the airfield. With 50 Commando, Pendlebury became involved in operations against Axis targets in the surrounding waters: “Pendlebury and the Cretans made guerrilla strikes on Kasos, the Dodecanesian island twenty-five miles from the easternmost cape, and there was a far-flung caique operation on Castellorizo, off the south coast of Turkey.” (Leigh Fermor).

In April 1941, the Germans intervened in Greece to support their faltering Italian allies. Greece was soon over-run and most of the Commonwealth troops who had fought there ended up in Crete. It was obvious that the Germans would attack the island next. Pendlebury slipped across to Kasos again to try to find out from his spies there exactly when the Germans would launch their operation. This would have been valuable intelligence, since although, through Enigma intercepts, the Allied commander, Major General Bernard Freyburg (2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in command of the Allies on the island, knew the date and time already, he could not use the information for fear of giving away its source. However, it was too late. As Pendlebury reached Heraklion on May 21st 1941, the invasion was already under way. Ultimately, the German landings at Heraklion and Rethymnon were unsuccessful, disastrously so, and at Heraklion the Cretans played a huge role in the success of the defence: “Heraklion is a great walled Venetian city. The enemy forced an entry through the Canea Gate, and after fierce fighting they were driven out by the British and Greeks with very heavy losses. This was the first astonishing appearance of Cretan civilians, armed only with odds and ends – old men long retired and boys below military age, even women here and there – suddenly fighting by our side, all over the island. In Heraklion the swastika flag, which had briefly been run up over the harbour, was torn down again. The wall was manned by Greek and British riflemen, successful counter-attacks were launched and, apart from this one break-in, the town and the aerodrome remained firmly in our hands until the end… The battle raged on. Heraklion stood firm and we had similar tidings from the Australians and Greeks defending Rethymnon. After the lines of communication had been cut, we had no glimmer of the turn things were taking in Maleme over in the west. We thought we had won. The news became still more bitter later on, when we learnt that the enemy casualties had been so heavy that for a long time they had considered abandoning the campaign.” (Leigh Fermor).

Pendlebury visted the British headquarters at Heraklion where Leigh Fermor met him for the only time: “It must have been during a lull in this racket that I saw Pendlebury for the first and only time. ‘One man stood out from all the others that came to the cave,’ I wrote later on. I was enormously impressed by that splendid figure, with a rifle slung like a Cretan mountaineer’s, a cartridge belt round his middle, and armed with a leather-covered sword-stick… He had come to see the Brigadier to find out how he and his friends could best contribute, and his presence, with his alternating seriousness and laughter, spread a feeling of optimism and spirit. It shed light in the dark cave and made everything seem possible. When he got up to go, someone said, ‘Do show us your sword-stick!’ He smiled obligingly, drew it with comic drama and flashed it round with a twist of the wrist. Then he slotted it back and climbed up into the sunlight with a cheery wave. I can’t remember a word he said, but one could understand why everyone trusted, revered and loved him.

After leaving the cave, Pendlebury and Satanas headed for the Kapetan’s high village of Krousonas by different routes. They hoped to launch flank attacks on the steadily growing throng of dropped parachutists west of Heraklion. He got out of the car with a Cretan comrade and climbed a spur to look down on the German position. They were closer than he thought and opened fire. Pendlebury and his friend fired back.

Here the fog of battle begins to cloud things. Pendlebury and a Greek platoon were still exchanging fire with the Germans when a new wave of Stukas came over and Pendlebury was wounded in the chest. He was carried into a cottage, which belonged to one of his followers, George Drossoulakis, who was fighting elsewhere and was killed that same day. But his wife Aristeia took him in and he was laid on a bed.” (Leigh Fermor).

The Germans then occupied the area, Kaminia, near Heraklion. “The place was overrun with Germans; nevertheless, one of them, who was a doctor, cleaned and bandaged the wound. Another came in later and gave him an injection. He was chivalrously treated. The next morning he told the women of the house to leave him. They refused and were later led away as prisoners. A field gun was set up just outside… and a fresh party of parachutists was soon in the house.” (Leigh Fermor).

The arrival of the second group of Germans signalled the end for Pendlebury. “Here was an English soldier dressed in a Greek shirt and with no identification. A neighbour’s wife saw them take him out and prop him against the wall. Three times they shouted a question at him, which she couldn’t understand. Three times he answered ‘No’. They ordered him to stand to attention and then opened fire. He fell dead, shot through the head and the body.”

His fate was uncertain for many years and was only properly established decades later. “Much later we learnt what happened to Pendlebury. At first his body was buried near the spot where he fell. Later, the Germans moved him to half a mile outside the Canea Gate beside the Rethymnon road. I remember bicycling past his grave the following year dressed as a cattle-dealer. It was marked with a wooden cross with his name on it, followed by ‘Britischer Hauptmann’. There was a bunch of flowers, and new ones were put there every day until the enemy shifted the grave to somewhere less central…

John Pendlebury's grave CWGC in Souda Bay

John Pendlebury’s grave CWGC in Souda Bay

Meanwhile legends were springing up. For the Cretans, it was the loss of an ally and a friend with a status close to that of Ares or Apollo. For the enemy, he was a baleful and sinister figure, a darker T.E. Lawrence, and perhaps he was still lurking in the dreaded mountains. Many bodies were exhumed until a skull with a glass eye was dug up and sent to Berlin – or so they said. According to island gossip, Hitler had been unable to sleep at night for fear of this terrible incubus, and kept the trophy on his desk. To the SOE officers who were sent to Crete to help the Resistance, he was an inspiration. His memory turned all his old companions into immediate allies. We were among friends. Pendebury – Pedeboor – Pembury – however it was pronounced, eyes kindled at the sound.”

The official family announcement of Pendlebury’s death in The Times, on June 2nd 1942, ended with words taken from Horace (Odes I.24): “quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus tam cari capitis.” [What restraint or limit to grief should there be for a man so beloved?]

Pendlebury was eventually buried in grave 10.E.13 of the Suda Bay War Cemetery, Crete. The inscription on his tombstone reads: “He has outsoared the shadow of our Night”, a quotation from Adonais: “An Elegy on the Death of John Keats”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Patrick Leigh Fermor addresses the Special Forces Club on its 40th anniversary

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

My thanks to Gaz Wild who discovered this gem in the PLF archive of the National Library of Scotland last year. There are two versions, one a pdf of Paddy’s original with many handwritten corrections, and a tidied up draft made after his death. It would have been written in 1985 for the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the Special Forces Club, and is referred to in a letter of Paddy’s to Rudi Fischer dated 10 November 1985, which appears in Dashing for the Post page 393, para 2. Paddy remembers especially John Pendlebury, Mike Cumberlege, and Manoli Paterakis.

A special treat for the holiday period. I hope that you enjoy it.

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary-tidied

Perkins and Pendlebury in Crete, and a hunt for Xan Fielding’s grave

It’s holiday time and some of your fellow readers have been setting off in the footsteps fairly early this year. We had the excellent report from Paddy’s Italian Fans; the report from Kardamyli by our on the spot reporter John Chapman, and now a postcard from Julian Aburrow who visited Crete with his wife back in May; he sent us some pictures of the graves of Perkins and Pendlebury.

Julian was quite anxious to know whether Xan Fielding was buried on Crete, and as time ran out and his departure from the island loomed we asked Artemis Cooper if she had any better idea.

Dear Tom,
As you say, Xan died Paris and was cremated there. At some point after that Magouche, Paddy and Joan took his ashes into the White Mountains, and scattered them to the winds. Among Paddy’s photos now in the National Library of Scotland there is a photo which I think must have been taken at the time: in the foreground are a few beautiful red flowers (cut flowers that is, but not in a bouquet), a branch gnarled and bleached by the weather, and a great sweep of mountains beyond. If I go and see Magouche again, I will ask her to tell me in more detail. [Edit – of course Magouche passed away on 2 June 2013 just after Artemis wrote this note: see this article]

Artemis

In the meantime a regular correspondent to the blog, Paul George (who is one of those unfortunate souls who is an ex-pat and lives in Crete – you have our sympathies Paul 🙂 ), got in touch with some pictures of his recent walk into the White Mountains to the area where Xan’s ashes were scattered. It is a harsh and bleak landscape; it makes you think of the toughness of men who lived and fought here during the war.

The mountain hut is Kallergi at @ 1700 mtrs….this is the location that Xan Fielding’s ashes were scattered… The photograph taken in the mountain is of me trekking up Melindaou…… Xan Fielding, PLF et al…..would have know and walked in this area.

Trekking up Melindaou

Trekking up Melindaou

Kallergi hut near the location that Xan's ashes were scattered

Kallergi hut near the location that Xan’s ashes were scattered

Kallergi hut @ 1700 m

Kallergi hut @ 1700 m

Staff Serjeant Dudley Churchill Perkins

Left behind on Crete after the evacuation and subsequently captured. He then escaped and lived on his wits, with help from the locals, until 1942. When he was finally evacuated and rejoined his group, he found that he no longer fitted in and transferred to a different group. He returned to Crete where he was met by Xan Fielding.
More info here: http://www.my-crete-site.co.uk/vasili.htm. Vasili, The Lion of Crete by Murray Elliott is a very good read.

Captain John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury

Instrumental in organising early resistance, mentioning his name was a key to getting help from the Cretans, who thought very highly indeed of him. He is still known on Crete today: when we went to Knossos a few years ago, someone tried to sell us a guide book. When
I showed him my copy of ‘The Palace of Minos, Knossos’ by JDSP, he said ‘Blebbery, still the best’. Blebbery being the closest pronunciation that they can manage.
Imogen Grundon’s book The Rash Adventurer is a great read. Also, he knew Dilys Powell, Humfrey Payne et al and was highly influential in both Egyptian and Greek archaeology. I admire him very much.
Hope this is of interest and look forward to yet more posts on the blog.
Best wishes

Julian Aburrow

Related article:

Read more about John Pendlebury here: The magnetic John Pendlebury

Audible

Rory Cooper at Souda Bay and Chania

The pictures below were sent in by Rory Cooper who is a regular correspondent to the blog.

Hello Tom,

Am in Crete at the moment and have just come back from a visit to the CWGC in Souda Bay where John Pendlebury is buried. Here are a couple of photos as well as one of Gen. Kreipe from the Maritime Museum in Chania.

I have acquired a copy of the Erotokritos and will attempt a translation, although I have few illusions about making sense of 17th century Cretan dialect.

All the best,

Rory

The magnetic John Pendlebury

Archaeology’s first modern hero was dazzling in life and heroically defiant in death. Paddy wrote the foreward to the 2007 book – The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury by Imogen Grundon.

J. D. S. Pendlebury, excavator of Amarna, Curator at Knossos, he of the glass eye and the swordstick, who died defending Crete from German invasion in 1941, is archaeology’s first modern hero: brilliant, magnetic and self-aware. In The Rash Adventurer, Imogen Grundon gives us the substance behind his dazzling brief career. John Pendlebury evidently possessed an extraordinary determination to overcome obstacles, demonstrated after he had lost an eye as the result of a childhood accident. In spite of this handicap, his Cambridge years included a blue in athletics and a first class in the tripos. Grundon reveals his early interests in archaeology, and the enormous workload he undertook soon after leaving university. His career included excavation both at Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna and at Sir Arthur Evans’s site at Knossos, as Pendlebury moved from one to the other with the seasons of work. By the age of twenty-five he occupied a unique position in Mediterranean archaeology, holding simultaneously the posts of Curator at Knossos and Director of Excavations at Tell el-Amarna.

by Jane Jakeman

First published in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 October 2007.

The relationship between Egypt and Crete was of particular interest to him, and his Aegyptiaca: A catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area is still an important resource. At Amarna, the historical background was still very unclear when Pendlebury became Director in 1930, and he was able to extract a possible chronology and a history of that remarkable city. There was a wide gulf between Bronze Age archaeologists and Egyptologists, and Pendlebury had to endure much criticism in Egyptological circles, particularly over his theories concerning the invasion of Egypt by the “sea peoples”, whose leadership he ascribed to Agamemnon. It was not uncommon at the time to look for relationships between mythology and archaeology, but this approach evidently appealed to Pendlebury’s love of Homeric story. It was also a romantic perspective, and from it he viewed his beloved modern Cretans, sometimes presiding over dinner wearing a Cretan cloak and striding through the mountains to meet kapetanoi, the old brigand leaders.

He clearly relished his swashbuckling self-image, but Grundon shows him capable too of subtle and complex achievements. At Knossos, he skilfully negotiated a difficult relationship with Evans, whose colourful reconstructions Pendlebury sometimes disagreed with, in spite of his own imaginative streak. He was in fact working in a new archaeological era: the age of the great individual “dig” patrons was passing, in favour of a more modern system where the locals were no longer regarded as mere workmen, and foreign governments were recognized as significant entities. Pendlebury showed himself well able to manage this transition and he was realistic in matters of archaeological politics and finance, very aware of the importance of finding subscribers to the Egypt Exploration Society, and new sources of funding. Grundon is good on the complications of organizational funding and personalities, academic intrigues and quarrels.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Pendlebury returned to Britain, enlisted in Military Intelligence and was drafted into Military Intelligence (Research). He went back to Crete in 1940 as a British Army captain, in order to organize resistance to invasion in the mountain regions. He was “adopted”, to use Grundon’s appropriate word, by the highly secretive “D” section of MI6, whose task was to train agents, conceal supplies for sabotage, and handle anti-German propaganda. There is no doubt that he loved the atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, as also the adventure of rallying his kapetanoi.

Pendlebury’s part in the Battle for Crete was, however, tragically short-lived: in 1941, he was wounded, then captured, propped up against a wall and shot. Again, Grundon has followed these events very carefully, presenting as much evidence as can now be garnered – although her wider picture of the background to the invasion of Crete is too kind to General Bernard Freyberg, the New Zealander in command of Allied forces on Crete. Antony Beevor’s Crete: The Battle and the Resistance brings out clearly the later Lord Freyberg’s disastrous support for seaborne invasion, and the obstinate misinterpretation of “Ultra” intelligence, which contributed to the loss of the island to the Germans. The downfall of Crete was horribly unnecessary. So was Pendlebury’s death, a tragic waste, except perhaps that his premature decease itself took on an iconic quality. His image has remained unencumbered by the aura of his snobbish wife and untarnished by entanglement in post-war politics.

The Rash Adventurer is a thorough and authoritative biography, based on detailed research, which gives us at every point the facts underpinning the myth of the man. As well as reaching deep in archives and libraries, Imogen Grundon seems to have interviewed almost every survivor in the field. There is one story she omits, however, perhaps because none of her elderly interlocutors cared to repeat it – the story passed down among Egyptologists, that, as he faced the firing squad, John Pendlebury’s last words were “Fuck you!”.

Rare video of Pendlebury excavating in Egypt as well as showing off his athletic prowess.

Audible