Tag Archives: Mike Cumberlege

The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE

Great to have been contacted by Robin Knight the author of this book about a truly brave friend and colleague of Paddy’s.

This first-ever biography of Lt. Cdr Mike Cumberlege DSO & Bar, Greek Medal of Honour, murdered in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in February-March 1945, recalls a man who was ‘truly Elizabethan in character – a combination of gaiety and solidity and sensitiveness and poetry with daring and adventurousness – and great courage.’

Cumberlege came from a maverick sea-going family. He was highly resourceful and lived by his wits, skippering ocean-going yachts for wealthy Americans before the war. In 1936, he married Nancy; their relationship was close and, with the sea, forms a thread in The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE.

From 1940, Cumberlege served in undercover roles in the Royal Navy in Marseilles and Cape Verde and was on the staff of General de Gaulle in London. Posted to Egypt in 1941 in the SOE, he formed a para-naval force of fishing vessels, took part in fighting in Greece, attacked the Corinth Canal, escaped from Crete, was wounded and returned three times to Crete clandestinely. On a second operation to destroy the Corinth Canal in 1943, he was captured. Tortured in Mauthausen concentration camp, he was transferred to Sachsenhausen and spent twenty-one months in solitary confinement.

The book contains unique material gathered from the family and from well-wishers in places as far apart as Ukraine, Australia and the US.

Robin’s book claims to offer:

  • Unique insights into the pre-1940 world of top-end ocean sailing in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Aegean
  • Never-before published letters, images and original documents about SOE para-naval activities in the eastern Mediterranean during the Second World War
  • More than seventy previously unpublished photographs, many taken during the war by the subject
  • A story of love and hope, identity and belief, tragedy and evil

The book can be purchased at Fonthill Media for £17.50 or on Amazon

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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

A quick review of Three Letters from the Andes

I have just finished reading Three Letters from the Andes published in 1991, but first written by Patrick Leigh Fermor during the month long expedition to the high Andes in Peru in 1971. He was accompanied by good friends, most notably his close friend Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire.

The original text consists of three letters to his wife Joan and mailed by Paddy to her to try to describe to her much of what happened during the expedition which included some challenging climbing, which for the greater part, Paddy did not join. He describes his principal role as ‘minder of the primus stove’ and this duty enabled him to sleep in the spacious mess tent.

Three Letters from the Andes

The book is enjoyable enough and it does what it says; it describes the journey and I am sure Joan would have enjoyed the letters. Paddy did some editing prior to publication to make them more presentable for general readership (and probably removed any indiscreet comments). However, compared to the more familiar A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, this is a lightweight affair. Perhaps it shows how much work Paddy must put into his constant redrafts to expand upon his first thoughts. This is clearly work that had minimal redrafting, and is interesting because of that.

The description of the journey and key events remain in my memory but it did not give the deep pleasure gained by the former books. Just a couple of my favourite bits:

When flying in to Lima the party had to go through Peruvian customs and immigration. Paddy describes the staff as ‘sleepy, rather blank faced … officials who were far from brisk.’ He goes on to describe Andrew Cavendish’s experience. ‘… our passports seemed to puzzle them and Andrew’s proved utterly enigmatic. He got through the last barrier half an hour after they’d finished with the rest of us, murmuring sadly: ‘I can’t deny there are countries where being a duke is a bit of an advantage; but Peru’s not one of them.’

Right at the end of the journey at a dinner given for the party at the British Embassy, Paddy is seated next to a ‘very quiet and very beautiful neighbour called Dona Diana de Dibos’. After a while he realized that she was the sister of Lt Mike Cumberlege, a naval officer who used to ferry partisans and SOE agents into and out of Crete during the German occupation. He had been shot in a concentration camp just four days before VE day. Paddy cheered her up by telling her many stories about her brother that she had never heard before.

Three Letters is short and easy to read. For Paddy fans it is essential reading to complete our picture of him and his life and his various publications. There are probably better ways of spending a few hours, but I don’t think anyone reading it will be disappointed … as long as they don’t expect a short version of ATOG.