A BBC2 programme celebrating Lawrence Durrell’s 70th birthday.
On 1 June 1941 Major A. T. Casdagli was captured in Crete and taken to Germany where he was held in various prisoner of war camps. There, in spite of risk of confiscation and reprisal, he kept a secret diary. His daughter, Alexis Penny, has for the first time brought together his story in a book entitled Prouder Than Ever, illustrated with Major Casdagli’s photographs, embroideries, prison memorabilia and documents, all of which he carefully preserved, as if he knew that one day his story would be published.
Alexis Penny runs a blog and I thought you might enjoy sharing her account of meeting Paddy in 1987.
by Alexis Penny Casdagli
First published on Alexis Penny’s blog
I had the honour of meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1987 and was thrilled when, at that meeting, he launched into a vivid and detailed account of the famous abduction of the German General Kreipe during the night of 26 April 1944 on the Greek island of Crete. The circumstances that led to my being among those privileged few present are, I think, almost as extraordinary as Paddy’s telling of the story itself.
In September 1964, aged sixteen, I was travelling with my mother on a boat from Venice to Piraeus. I was to spend almost a year in Athens on my own before going to the Central School of Speech and Drama to train as an actress. Our boat stopped for half a day in Corfu. Although it was lashing with rain, my mother and I disembarked to explore the town. We didn’t get very far. A storm broke and we rushed into the nearest place to shelter, a cavernous, darkly lit, antiquated café, which didn’t feel Greek at all. It overlooked a large patch of ground, turning in the downpour to chocolate-coloured mud. Apart from a stocky man sitting pensively at the top of a table facing the door, who didn’t look Greek at all, we were quite alone. I noticed the man, while we warmed up, occasionally look at us. This wasn’t unusual. My mother, Wendy, a Captain in the Special Operations Executive in Cairo during the war, was still very beautiful with glorious red hair.
Suddenly, the door swung open and in ran two men, muffled like gangsters against the weather. They greeted the man at the table, who now ordered lot of drinks, and sat down and all three chatted loudly. Because of the deluge outside, we couldn’t quite hear their conversation, but it was definitely in English. Then a brandy arrived at our table for my mother and an invitation to join them. One of the men looked just like the actor, Albert Finney, whom I really admired and who, like my father, A T Casdagli, was born in Salford. We went over and soon learnt our host was Lawrence Durrell, the patch of mud a cricket pitch, the café Italian, and
the man who looked like Albert Finney was Albert Finney and the third man was the film director, Karel Reisz.
When Durrell discovered I was going to live in Athens for some months on my own, he told me I had to meet an artist called Maro Stathatos, neé Vatimbella. He scribbled her address and her telephone number on a cigarette packet and assured me – and my mother- that she’d make sure I’d meet ‘all the right people’ and that I would adore her. He was right on both counts and, in spite of the great age difference, Maro and I became firm friends.
I left Athens the following summer and, although we corresponded, I did not see Maro again for over two decades. In 1987, she travelled to London to stay with her son, John Stathatos, the poet and photographer. By this time, she was in a wheelchair and, I believe, about to be diagnosed with some kind of dementia. John decided to throw a party in her honour. Only her most cherished English friends were to be invited, probably a dozen of us, and among them would be Paddy, who happened to be in London.
The party was held in the top room of John’s house in North London, under the slant of its roof. I don’t know how John managed to get Maro and wheelchair up there but there she was, exquisitely dressed and looking radiant, her eyes sparkling.
In the opening lines of his poem about Maro, A Portrait of Theodora, Durrell
perfectly describes her look:
‘I recall her by a freckle of gold
In the pupil of one eye, an odd
Before long Paddy arrived. He was everything that is said about him, charming, debonair and a wonderful raconteur. Maro and he were thrilled to see each other again. Together they set the party to a different rhythm, of other times full of a wildness and gaiety that only sheer intelligence and a shared past can bring about.
It was delightful to see them sparring, reminiscing and teasing each other. Then Maro said,
‘Paddy, do tell us the story of the General, and how you kidnapped him! It’s a marvellous story and you tell it so well.’
Paddy looked rather embarrassed.
‘Oh no, Maro. It happened so long ago and everyone knows what happened anyway.’
‘No,’ said Maro quite firmly, ‘you must tell it.’
There was something in her voice that made him look up and, in that split second, something flashed between them. Maro was definitely demanding of Paddy not to refuse her in front of her guests. I also believe, in this moment, these friends for so many decades both realised this was the last time they’d ever meet, which was correct. Maro died two years later. But there was something else that does not go easily into words. Durrell’s poem about Maro ends,
‘Now only my experience recognizes her
Too late, among the other great survivors
Of the city’s rage, and places her among
The champions of love – among the true elect!’
If Maro was ‘among the true elect’ then, of course, Paddy was too. She was reminding him of that and inviting him to do something special with her and for her, something we would all remember, something to kick death down the stairs, something that without her asking it of him, he could not or would not be willing to do.
There was a pause. Paddy looked down into his glass. I held my breath. I thought he was going to refuse her. Then he said, ‘Well…’ and he was off. He gave the story a hell of a spin. Maro shed her years and looked just like she looks in the photograph below. She sat in her wheelchair as if it was a joke and belonged to someone else. She kept feeding Paddy with questions, prompting, cajoling him to go faster, to go back to collect a detail, to go slower so we guests could visualise the scene for ourselves. She was our Queen and Paddy was her gallant and we the guests knew, with adamantine certainty, that we were witnessing – no – that we were part of an extraordinary evening. And when Paddy finished speaking, we guests, as if one, got up to leave. We paid our respects to dear Maro and thanked Paddy again his wonderful re-telling of that powerful, historic affair and left. It was, as you guess, quite unforgettable.
Something else gives that evening, in recollection, a special and even more poignant resonance. Only after my mother’s death in 1999 did I learn from several of her closest friends that she and Paddy had had an affair in Cairo, before she met my father. And an affair is just what it was, apparently – just one of those things – but no less delicious for that! I don’t know if my father knew but I wish I had and had been able to tell Paddy I was Wendy’s daughter. O, the slender threads that bind us!
I don’t think my father, A T Casdagli, ever met Paddy, but I can’t be sure, and, in the absence of documented material either one way or another, it is, perhaps, permissible to speculate it’s highly likely that they did – and if they did not meet, then they should have done! Surely, they could have easily met at Shepheard’s Hotel or the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo or brushed
shoulders in Athens at the GB – the Grande Bretagne Hotel – or, perhaps, even better, sat down together in a simple kafeneon in a village square somewhere in their beloved Greece.
It is impossible that Paddy living in Tara, the now legendary villa on Gezira Island in Cairo, did not know the name Casdagli. The magnificent Villa Casdagli, sadly torched by rioters on 1 February 2013, was a well-known Cairo landmark, and the Casdagli family, who lived there, were extremely wealthy and influential.
Although Paddy needs no introducing here, my father does. Alexis Theodore Casdagli was born in Salford, Greater Manchester on 10 April 1906 to Theodore Emmanuel Casdagli and Catherina Casdagli, née Ralli. After being educated at Stanmore Park Preparatory School and Harrow, he joined the family business, Emmanuel Casdagli & Sons with offices in Manchester and Cairo. On 23 September 1939, in Cairo, Casdagli was commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. In April 1940, he was posted to Palestine and in November, sent to Crete.
On 1 June 1941, he was captured in Sphakia when the Battle of Crete was lost and spent the
next four years in various prisoner of war camps in Germany. From the moment of his capture
until his reunion with his family in April 1945, he kept a secret diary, now published as Prouder
Than Ever by Cylix Press. Whilst in prison, Casdagli was taught to speak Greek properly
by a Cretan General, Solon Kaffatos, wrongly imprisoned by the Germans, and a lifelong
friendship grew up between them. It was with threads from General Kaffatos’ pyjamas that
Casdagli embroidered the inner panel of this map of Crete. The khaki threads come from
Casdagli’s shirt and the white threads from German parachute silk, found in the island after
the landing. I think Paddy would have loved it.
Casdagli, A T, Prouder Than Ever, compiled Alexis Penny Casdagli (London, Cylix Press, 2014)
In February 2007, following the death of his friend, Paddy wrote about George Jellicoe in the Spectator magazine.
George Jellicoe, who died last week, was an early member of David Stirling’s SAS, and soon became commander of the Special Boat Service. We first met in pitch darkness soon after midnight on 24 June 1942 in a cove off southern Crete, both of us in rubber boats, one of them taking off Jellicoe and his comrades — most of them French — back to Mersa Matruh, the other landing me on the island for a SOE mission. We exchanged shadowy greetings. On landing, I soon learnt from the Cretans of the success of their long, strung-out series of raids, and the number of enemy aircraft and the stockpiles of ammunition and fuel they had destroyed.
When George and I met by daylight a year and a half later in Cairo, I was struck immediately by the tonic effect of his presence, his initiative and his inflexible determination, and his knack of command. Also, his humour and buoyant spirits. We became great friends. He had a gift for getting on with his own soldiers and sailors and, most importantly, with our Greek allies. Among many operations, he worked several times with General Christodoulos Tsigantis — the ‘General Gigantes’ of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet — the dashing, original and very effective commander of the Sacred Brigade, mostly enlisted from guerrillas who had escaped from occupied Greece and which he led brilliantly from Cairo to Rimini. Many years later, Tsigantis told a friend that George was the bravest man he had ever met.
When the tail end of the German army was retreating from north Athens, George — well in advance of the advance mission — was already pedalling into the city centre on a borrowed bicycle. As we know, the same energy and flair carried him through his successful spell as a diplomat, and to great heights in postwar politics.
Tidcombe Manor, in the Wiltshire downs, was a delightful retreat from his manifold duties, which were here replaced by swimming, riding, reading and music, and the company of friends, in which he was wonderfully abetted by his wife Philippa. George meanwhile had painlessly developed from a young centurion to an active senator and then to a retired paladin, and evenings there were marked by lively talk and much laughter, a spirited combination of punctilio and bohemia.
George often returned to Greece, where his name is revered. Below the window of the house in the southern Peloponnese, where these lines are being hastily written, a favourite promontory juts into the sea, affectionately known as ‘Jellicoe’s leap’.
You can read more about Lord Jellicoe on the Royal Society website.
The Lawrence Durrell Society are holding a centenary conference in London during the period 13-16 June 2012. There will be a session focused on Paddy and his relationship with Durrell on Saturday 16 June. The programme for the morning is: 9.00 AM – 10.30 AM :: Parallel Session :: VIIa (Large Common Room) :: Chaired by Pamela Francis (Northwestern State University, Louisiana). Martha Klironomos (San Francisco State University), “Travel Practices, Writing, & Photography: Comparing the Works of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Lawrence Durrell.” Marc Woodworth (Skidmore College), “Fiding Kovecses: An Open Letter to Patrick Leigh Fermor.” Dan Popescu (Partium Christian University, Romania), “‘In Clashing Hues’: Images of the Gypsies in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods & the Water.”
I am republishing something that was first on the blog back in May 2010 following a request by Lynne Sanders.
“In that warm light the faces of my friends lived and glowed….Freya Stark…Sir Harry Luke…Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Corn Godess, who always arrive when I am on an island, unannounced and whose luggage has always been left at the airport (‘But we’ve brought the wine-the most important thing’).” [pp102-3]
“Last night the sound of the front door closing upon breathless chuckles and secretive ranting, then the voice of Patrick Leigh Fermor: ‘Any old clothes?’ in Greek. Appeared with his arm round the shoulders of Michaelis who had shown him the way up the rocky path in darkness. ‘Joan is winded, holed below the Plimsoll line. I’ve left her resting half way up. Send out a seneschal with a taper, or a sedan if you have one.’ It is as joyous a reunion as ever we had on Rhodes.
“After a splendid dinner by the fire he starts singing, songs of Crete, Athens, Macedonia. When I go out to refill the ouzo bottle at the little tavern across the way I find the street completely filled with people listening in utter silence and darkness. Everyone seems struck dumb. ‘What is it?’ I say, catching sight of Frangos. ‘Never have I heard of Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’ Their reverent amazement is touching; it is as if they want to embrace Paddy wherever he goes.” (pp 104-5)
Artemis Cooper’s introductions and accompanying text to Duff and Diana Cooper’s published letters, A Durable Fire (1983), and to Lady Diana’s Scrapbook (1987), had a strong dash of her grandmother’s humour and lightness of touch; but only a most clairvoyant critic could have predicted Cairo in the War, 1939–1945. Her account, though it sticks punctiliously to fact, is as hard to put down as good fiction . The research is wide, detailed and scrupulous. She lays hold of the military background – the dramas unfolding just off-stage, but threatening to break out of the wings at any moment – with a soldierly grasp; and she seems to have talked at length with all the surviving dramatis personae.
By Patrick Leigh Fermor
First published in The Times Literary Supplement 1 September 1989 (republished online 15 June 2011)
Unleavened by personalities, military history can be heavy on the hand, and politics too, once the urgency has gone. The author’s skill redeems them both. As for the complex country and people on whom the war had impinged, she has segregated the strands with great discernment – the Copts, the Arabs, the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, all the sects and enclaves of the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Helleno-Judaeo-Ptolemaic nexus of Alexandria, the fellahin and the effendis and the nationalists, the rivalries of the Western European powers, with their local allegiances and clients and phobias, and, above all, the reigning Albanian dynasty and the predominating British presence and tutelage.
The author is particularly helpful and fair about the tensions between the last (in the persons of the young King Farouk and the proconsular Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson), which culminated with British tanks all round the Palace, near-abdication and an enforced change of government: the German advance in the desert was the raison d’état. The enemy was held and driven back; certain froideurs remained at the top; but, astonishingly, the surface of the luxurious, dazzling and hospitable social life was hardly ruffled. At times this resembled the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo, at others the Congress of Vienna: “The Kings sit down to dinner and the Queens stand up to dance . . .”. The pool at the Gezira Sporting Club sluiced hangovers away, the willow smacked the leather, polo-balls whizzed there all afternoon, and roulette-balls plopped at the Mohammed Ali after dark. There were enticing restaurants and enterprising night-clubs, party followed party and bedtime often coincided with the first muezzin’s call from the minaret of Ibn Tulun. Guilt about rationed London bit sharp now and then, but for those on short leave from the Desert, not deep.
Among the missions and staffs and the permanent officials, intrigue and gossip were as intense as in Mrs Hauksbee’s Simla. The author is eerily well informed about Groppi’s Horse and the Short-Range Shepherd’s Group and, a fortiori, about GHQ at Grey Pillars and SOE at Rustam Buildings (particularly the latter) and all the cross-currents, promotion-mania and the clashes – eg, “Bolo” Keble and Fitzroy Maclean – the political schisms of Southern Europe and their repercussions in Egypt. The pages on spies and counterespionage and raiding forces are one of the most impressive parts of the book.
The author is perceptive about the frustrations and amusements of all ranks of the assorted armies. There were shaming moments, but on balance it seems that arrogant behaviour towards the Egyptians may have been more frequent among the commissioned than the other ranks. In the case of a pasha who was insulted beyond endurance by a very drunk officer, nemesis was brisk and condign. The oblivious offender was inveigled to the pasha’s house. Most would have kept quiet, Artemis Cooper observes, but he was soon telling everyone, “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night — dashed unpleasant. I got buggered by six Nubians.”
In spite of the strains on high, the diplomatic world, the military, the cosmopolitan, the purely decorative and the intellectual interwove to a surprising degree, and lasting friendships were formed. The contribution of Greeks such as Seferis, and transplanted Greece-addicts like Lawrence Durrell and Robin Fedden, were important here. Poets and writers teemed, and Personal Landscape, the Nilotic equivalent of Horizon, was impressive. The author unfolds the catalogue of personalities with humour and understanding, though she is unduly dismissive of Sir Charles Johnston: cf his sonnet “The Lock”, and his Pushkin translations. The only omissions I can spot are Elizabeth David, the painter Adrian Daintrey and the writer-painter Richard Wyndham. Perhaps she should have included an eccentric cavalryman called Colonel Wintle, who got into hot water for taking a surrendered Italian general to luncheon, in full uniform, at the Turf Club.
The book ends with the calamitous post-war aftermath. Like the abstruse anecdotes, the range and choice of the photographs will promote sighs of delighted recognition and occasional ground teeth, and it is hard to think, on finishing, how this demanding book could have been handled better, more lucidly or more entertainingly.
Some of you may recall an article I published by a young wandering minstrel, Thos Henley, about his visit to Paddy’s house (see here). Thos is a hard-working and aspiring musician who seems to have a happy life, perhaps somewhere on the Left Bank in Paris, entertaining the Parisians with his music and DJ talents. Recently Thos has completed a piece for the blog which contain excerpts about Lawrence Durrell and his meetings with Paddy.
by Thos Henley
These are all excerpts concerning Paddy from the book “Lawrence Durrell: A Biography” by Ian MacNiven about the life of Durrell the writer best known for his travel books and the infamous and epic romantic “Alexandrian Quartet”
After Lawrence Durrell is welcomed into Walter Smart’s social circle in Cairo he meets Paddy for the first time:
“Under tree in the Smarts’ garden in 1942 Larry met Patrick Leigh Fermor, and officer with the SOE who as a youth had walked from Holland to Romania, and the two talked far into the night.”
Now in living in Alexandria, Lawrence or Larry Durrell, who had recently published his first major novel ‘The Black Book’; would often have to travel into Cairo where he once again met up with Paddy and Xan:
“Closer to Larry’s old flat in Zamalek, Xan Fielding, transformed into an agent with the SOE, now camped intermittently at ‘Tara’, a mansion on Sharia Abou el Feda at the north end of Gezira Island. Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss had established Tara as the unofficial Cairo rest house of the SOE. Xan and Paddy had spent many months together ‘in caves and goat-folds’ on occupied Crete, and Xan had told Paddy about The Black Book and had regaled him with anecdotes about Larry in Athens…
The men of Tara passed most of their time incognito in Crete, Greece, France or elsewhere, but when they hit Tara it was with months of back pay and a great deal of pent-up exuberance to spend. For a few weeks at least they could forget the German reprisals on Crete, the civil war that was shaping up in Greece, or the coming conflict between Tito’s Partisans and the royalists in Yugoslavia. Tara had many bedrooms, a grand ballroom with a parquet floor, and a piano borrowed from the Egyptian Officers’ Club. The resident spirit was the young Countess Sophie Tarnowska, separated from her husband. Among Larry’s familiars who were often found there were Ines Walter, remembered by Moss as ‘enormously décolletée, happy in the role of a Hungarian peasant’, and Alexis Ladas, ‘singing Phillidem’ and recovering from and appendectomy. Against heavy competition, Tara was arguably the site of the wildest parties held in the wartime Cairo. At one of these, Countess Tarnowska’s Polish friends shot out all the light-bulbs; at others, everything from gold balls to sofas were thrown from the windows; once King Farouk appeared with a case of champagne. Such happenings became almost the norm in wartime Egypt.
Paradoxically, Tara was also a place where some of the best literary conversation in Cairo was available. Paddy had been translating Villon, and the books that he and moss were later to take along on their seemingly suicidal but successful mission to kidnap General Kreipe, the Divisional Commander of Crete, indicate the range of their interests: Cellini, Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Tolstoy, Marco Polo, Les Fleurs du Mal, Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare.”
We catch up with Paddy and moss later on as Larry soaks up and contemplates the city of Alexandria, the two men are in Crete (McNiven also mentions Xan Fieldings capture and the help he received from the Polish SOE agent, Krystyna Skarbek):
“While Larry was experiencing the little death of Alexandria, his friend Paddy Leigh Fermor, together with William Stanley Moss, were confronting real death on Crete. Paddy had been parachuted into Crete on 4 February 1944, and Moss had followed him two months later. With the help of several bans of andartes, Cretan guerilla fighters, they kidnapped General Kriepe, the commander of the Germain garrison, and kept him hidden on the island for eighteen days while the entire German Force frantically combed the island. Finally a rendezvous was made with a fast patrol boat sent from Egypt. Then shortly after the Normandy invasion Xan Fielding was dropped into southern France, where he was captured by the Gestapo. He was due to be shot, but was rescued through the courage of a woman accomplice.”
After the war, Larry wrote an account of his pre-war life on Corfu and then found himself indulged in the two best years of his life in the idyllic and reforming island of Rhodes:
“In the late Summer of 1946 several old friends showed up for a week of rollicking days of exploration and nights of talk and song around the baobab tree. Xan Fielding, Paddy Leigh Fermor and ‘the Corn Goddess’, as Larry called Paddy’s wife Joan Eyres Monsell, burst upon the scene. During that ‘first miraculous summer’ after the war, Paddy had read Prospero’s Cell on Corfu, and the trio had resolved the visit Larry. For Larry it was and orgy of talk about books: “We sat up in my churchyard till three every morning reading aloud,’ until the Mufti rattled his shutters in protest. Paddy had a vast repertoire of songs in at least five languages and Larry pronounced him ‘quite the most enchanting maniac I’ve ever met’. With full daylight they would plunge into the turquoise sea, pack some food and wine, and set off. Larry took them one day to the ruins of Cameirus, where ‘wine-sprung curiousity’ sent them into the vast network of the ancient plumbing, ‘crawling on hands and knees through the bat-infested warren of underground water-conduits’, to emerge covered with cobwebs and droppings. At one point they came upon a sacrificial stone, and nothing would suffice but a re-enactment of an ancient ritual, with Paddy as the subject for a circumcision, Xan brandishing a large knife in one hand while extending the victim’s member with the forefinger and thumb of the other , Larry the officiating prest, and Joan recording the scene on film. The climactic point at Cameirus came when Xan, inexplicably naked, leapt a couple of wards from a wall to the top of a column, which rocked sickeningly for some moments while the others froze. The column steadied and Xan posed, ‘like a flying stylite’. Never had they all felt so immortal, so invincible.”
Paddy is non-existent in the book except for a few dedications in Larry’s books to him and Xan until 1953 when Larry is teaching English and living in the villa Bellapix on Cyprus, a period that would be remembered in his masterpiece ‘Bitter Lemons’:
“Larry seemed to embrace interruptions. Paddy Leigh Fermor came to stay with him for a week in mid-November, and they went on long rambles across hills where the seasonal rains had brought out the greyish leaves of the asphodels, the bright splashes of crocuses and celandines. Back at Bellapix, they celebrated the predictable riotous evenings. Once they went through Paddy’s vast repertoire of Greek songs far into the night, the lane outside the house filled with quiet neighbours, among them the usually boisterous Frangos, who told Larry, “Never have I heard Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’”