Tag Archives: Montenegro

Sir William Deakin, historian and founding Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford

William Deakin and Josip Broz ('Tito') in Jajce, 1943

I thoroughly enjoyed Deakin’s book – The Embattled Mountain – which tells of his night-time parachute drop right into the midst of the ferocious battle for survival of Tito’s partisans around Mount Durmitor in Montenegro, and subsequent development of a very positive relationship with the future leader of Yugoslavia. One cannot but be amazed how these men were whisked out of academia, put in uniform and because of their language skills given the most important of missions. Today they would be micro-managed to death. Deakin’s mission to Tito is often subordinated by that of the dashing Fitzroy Maclean, but having read the accounts of both, I think that Deakin should be given huge credit for doing the groundwork and keeping the relationship going through some very difficult times. Treat yourself and buy Deakin’s book from Amazon.

by Michael Howard

First published in the Independent 27 January 2005

William Deakin was one of the last British heroes of the Second World War, and one who had a significant effect on its outcome. He began and ended his career as an Oxford don; but as a young officer in the Special Operations Executive it was largely his experience and advice that persuaded Winston Churchill to support the Communist partisans in Yugoslavia; thus confirming the position of Marshal Tito as national leader and, ultimately, the independence of his country vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

Frederick William Dampier Deakin, historian and university administrator: born 3 July 1913; Fellow and Tutor, Wadham College, Oxford 1936-49, Research Fellow 1949, Honorary Fellow 1961-2005; DSO 1943; Warden, St Antony’s College, Oxford 1950-68, Honorary Fellow 1969-2005; Kt 1975; married 1935 Margaret Ogilvy (née Beatson Bell; two sons; marriage dissolved 1940), 1943 Livia Stela (died 2001); died Le Castellet, France 22 January 2005.

William Deakin was one of the last British heroes of the Second World War, and one who had a significant effect on its outcome. He began and ended his career as an Oxford don; but as a young officer in the Special Operations Executive it was largely his experience and advice that persuaded Winston Churchill to support the Communist partisans in Yugoslavia; thus confirming the position of Marshal Tito as national leader and, ultimately, the independence of his country vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

Deakin was born in 1913 and educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a First in Modern History. He was elected a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, in 1936, but a more important step in his career was his introduction to Winston Churchill as a research assistant when the latter was writing his life of Marlborough.

When the Second World War broke out, Deakin joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, but after two years he was seconded to SOE and posted to Cairo. There he found a ferocious battle in progress between the Foreign Office, which wished to support the Yugoslav monarchist resistance movement under General Draza Mihailovich, and a section of SOE, whose intelligence sources indicated that the only serious fighting was being conducted by the Communist-led partisan movement under Tito.

In May 1943 a small mission under Deakin was parachuted to Tito’s headquarters to investigate the situation. This providentially arrived just as Tito was having to fight his way out of a German encirclement in a battle that has become legendary to Yugoslav history. Deakin himself became part of the legend; not least because of the close relations he established with Tito himself as a result of their shared experience.

Deakin’s presence in Yugoslavia had become known to Churchill, and his report was enough to make the Prime Minister intervene between the opposing factions in London and Cairo, send his own mission to Tito under Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, and eventually order the transfer of Allied support from Mihailovich’s Chetniks to Tito’s partisans.

This provided Tito not only with increasing military aid but with an opening to the West that was to make it possible for him to sever his links with the Soviet Union after the war and establish a position of “non-alignment”. But the abandonment of Mihailovich and the perceived “loss” of Yugoslavia to the West has, in some quarters, never been forgiven, and Deakin’s part in it was to make him a highly controversial figure.

Deakin himself returned to Belgrade as First Secretary to the British Embassy for a year after the war, where he laid the foundations for his expertise in Yugoslav politics and cemented his friendships among politicians and historians who were prepared to speak freely to him, although they were barely on speaking terms with one another.

In 1946 Deakin returned to Oxford, but time for his academic duties was severely restricted by the demands made on him by Churchill, to whom he now became principal research assistant in writing his history of the war (The Second World War, 1948-54). It came to an end altogether when in 1950 he was appointed the first Warden of St Antony’s College. The college was funded by a French businessman, Antonin Besse, who intended it mainly for French graduates; but the French themselves showed little interest, the funds were insufficient and the university authorities themselves were not supportive. Deakin thus had to devote himself to fund-raising, and generous grants from the Ford and Volkswagen foundations eventually enabled him to put the college on a firm financial basis.

Much of his time was also dedicated to recruiting students from overseas, making the college an international centre unique in Britain, if not indeed the world. His cheerful presence, combined with the bubbling charm of his second wife, Livia (always known as “Pussy”), made the college a happy place from the very beginning.

By 1968 Deakin felt with good reason that he had done all that could be expected of him and, leaving behind a flourishing college, he retired to live in France; within reach of London (where he frequently returned to entertain his friends generously at Brooks’s or White’s) but equally accessible to Yugoslavia for the collection of material for a life of Tito which he was uniquely qualified to write. He never completed it.

His work The Embattled Mountain (1971) was a personal account of his own adventures in Yugoslavia and of the background to his mission, written in an effort to set the contentious record straight. But he will be remembered mainly for his account of German-Italian relations during the Second World War, The Brutal Friendship (1962), written while he was still at Oxford. His strength as a historian was an unbounded curiosity; his weakness a difficulty, especially as he grew older, in digesting his material into a coherent narrative.

The key role that Bill Deakin had played in the war may have made him political enemies, but his modesty, friendliness and charm made it impossible to dislike him. He was much honoured: a DSO and knighthood from the British government, a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur from France; the Russian Order of Valour, and the German Grosse Verdienstkreuz.

Related article:

Sir Fitzroy Maclean Bt: Obituary 

My unrelenting vice

Bora Cosic

Bora Cosic

Bora Cosic on reading books no one else reads. Sometimes one feels a little like this about Paddy’s work; so few people you meet have actually read him. Thanks to Chris Lawson for bringing this to my attention. I think we can all enjoy this.

I remember a scene related to me by a poet of the Belgrade surrealist circle, Dusan Matic. In 1941 he took part in the Montenegro guerrilla revolt, and while the fighters-to-be were cleaning their guns around him, the poet sat on a nearby terrace, smoking and reading Nietzsche. He was annoyed by the many soldiers who came to light their cigarette on his, he told me, he didn’t have the nerves to support the smoking habits of an entire people’s liberation struggle. So he returned to his room in Belgrade during the unpleasant period of occupation, with its many dangers. When I think about it now, I don’t believe that Matic distanced himself from war because of this smoker episode, but rather because the masses of soldiers had interrupted him while reading.

It was quite a long time ago that Valéry Larbaud wrote about his observations of reading as a vice practiced with impunity. For myself, I know that this prolonged staring into a book interferes with the production routines in my family, the manufacture of everyday life – the admission of one who engages in the vice Larbaud describes. Personally I require many hours of reading, because I usually read tremendously thick books, and also notably boring ones; I am always convinced that at the core of an abstruse sentence lies the magnificence of a discovery just waiting to be made. And so I remain true to the pre-Socratic philosophers, Musil and Lacan.

But I am not alone. I have read books that no one else has read, says Paul Valéry. Books from technical disciplines, these interest me. Balzac systematically read dictionaries, not specific entries but from start to finish, as if following a narrative. How many interesting things there are to read, which at first glance might seem irrelevant and meaningless. One woman expected Erasmus to write something that would help her husband get a grip on himself, Roland Barthes relates. Or as Claudio Magris mentions, Montecuccoli wrote his aphorisms on the art of war in a Stettin prison, during his hiatus from the Thirty Years War. Were I a poet, I would dedicate the most beautiful poem to roux soup, admits Bela Hamvas. “A Meditation Upon a Broomstick” is the title of an essay by Swift. I would give everything to find out what a German wrote about a lemon peel, as Rousseau says, what Erasmus wrote to bring a neurotic man to reason, or Montecuccoli’s “Art of War”.

Reading has only recently become a silent act. Two hundred years ago everyone read aloud. This was dictated by church ritual, in which one, or better said everyone, had to listen to the “holy” text. In the first cathedrals entire choruses of believers spoke aloud this reading material that they viewed as godly. This muttering was further practiced by those few people on earth who at the time were, by some miracle, able to read, as if everyone one of them fulfilled the role of today’s speakers and leaders. Then some anonymous Copernicus of reading came along, who brought the entire practice inside by following his text “in his mind”. Thus the letter-for-letter literalness of ecclesial or school reading was lost. Because what goes through my head when I do the work of reading is not necessarily the same as what someone else wrote.

One readily discovers this when undertaking a fresh reading of something that was once familiar. Not only do I rediscover what I had forgotten, but also I realise that “there” in the text I had read long ago there is nothing of what I expected to find! This is the valuable reading of a text, which the reader has created within himself by grinding up a mass of foreign material in his mill and transforming it into something different through unexpected combinations. Read again, many incidences that remained in one’s mind from before play out in a different way entirely.

We carry within the texts that fall into our hands. There are philosophers who believe: the things that we find in books are those that we have brought to them. Borges said that – his protagonist writes an already existing book all over again, convinced that only the repeat exists, not the original. In Musil’s novel, by the way, there is a strange librarian, who guards thousands of books without every having opened even one of them. But still he knows everything about them, because we apparently sometimes also read when we are not reading. As it is, libraries make normal people anxious, seeming like overload, regardless how orderly the catalogues may be. I therefore do understand those who flee from reading as if it were the plague. Everyone has a right to their individual fears. Canetti finds a way out of this in a novel about books by causing the library to burn down. However, after every barbarian plundering there will always be someone who reads the few remaining recognisable characters lying in the ashes.

So my daily ploughing through the pages continues, my unrelenting vice. There are many people guilty of making me this way. My grandmother, first and foremost, who already taught me to read and write at age four. (As we see, there are two phenomena that run parallel to one another; writing is a form of reading, and reading means writing.) I immediately pounced on everything legible, attentively deciphering the labels on the kitchen containers for salt, coffee and sugar, on the advertising pamphlets in the boxes of soap, on the chocolate wrappers, the dates on the wall calendar, the words on the enamel sign indicating where the basement or bathroom was. I studied the receipts my mother brought back from shopping; there were all kinds of letters and entire words on the inside of Papa’s hat, on the edge of Mama’s scarf, on the seam of my T-shirt. And then the signboards, the scenery on the streets of the city where my life began!

Today I think that these very things, the linguistic imprint of daily human existence, were my first reading material, long before Karl May and Tom Sawyer. And then after I had read Dostoevsky and Proust for the first time there was still an immense amount of room for the global vices of all-purpose books, handbooks, guides, what we call “technical literature” but which also includes a lot of unscientific, fantastical and almost crazy things. Since my youth I have tended to seize upon this odd reading material. In a used book shop in Belgrade the bookseller always set aside these kinds of things for me: about the migration of birds, the unusual meteorological phenomena in the Alps, the form of address in official letters, and beekeeping. Even before that, in Slovenia, where both my grandfathers come from, I derived particular pleasure from reading a little book on home remedies, raising children, on “world events”, regulations about male and female servants in the kingdom, “eternal calendars”, spelling books for schools, and etiquette tips for the village and the city.

What kinds of crazy publications came out in Russia after the October Revolution! We needed a whole series of new handbooks in paperback: for the Soviet locksmith, the Soviet lathe operator, the Soviet electrician, wrote Trotsky. These included, among other things, explanations of how to drink less, get into fewer fights, play less card games, how to keep from hitting your wife and children, how to do the washing, open the window and sweep the room.

Out of all of these, I must admit that as a child I was most drawn to a cardboard book, which actually only consisted of book covers; there was no content because the covers alone were sufficient to advertise a chocolate factory. There were the little papers that were rolled around medicine bottles, that one stuck into boxes of sweets – this all was great fun to me at an age when I did not yet understand the meaning of individual words. And so this old Egyptian tradition – as applied to the production of modern medicines and confections – had a belated impact on a child’s consciousness by teaching him that books are not only found in books but many other places.

This idea was revisited by the Pop Art artists and even our avant-garde artists of the Slovenian group OHO. What a motley collection of poetic messages they packaged into bigger and smaller boxes, believing that this would allow them to participate in the production of reading. Once I bought an iron book, which told the history of many iron objects, but its cover was actually made of tin. A magazine published in former Yugoslavia had a plastic binding, made from the same material used to produce raincoats. I read my fill at various times, not only of printed texts, I was also a careful reader of book covers, bindings, and what is printed on the dust jacket. I would say that one finds an entire culture of the written word in abbreviated form, if one only looks at the narrow column printed on the inner flap of the book jacket, where there is a description as succinct as a dictionary entry telling what the book is about. If all the books in the world were to disappear, (as in “Fahrenheit 451”) and only the book covers remained, perhaps one could reconstruct human thought in this way.

Thus early on I learned that the greatest driving force behind mankind’s culture of the written word unremittingly leads to the exceptional, irregular and astonishing – from which Dadaism and all of Surrealist literature has sprung. Where the reading of apparently incomprehensible texts originates, as early on in Mannerism, then in the crazy dialogues of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and Ionesco. Those wonderful fantasies before death in “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett. As if people might be able to near their end in a surreal manner that nevertheless seems normal. When the eye doctor bids me to read aloud a single letter on the wall of his office, do I stand before the end of all reading?

The Serbian and Croatian author and essayist Bora Cosic (1932) lives in Berlin and Rovinj. His is the author of some 30 novels, volumes of collected stories and essays, including his acclaimed novel “My Family’s Role in the World Revolution” (1969). He is one of the last authors to describe his native language as Serbo-Croatian in a rejection of nationalist literature. In 2002 he was awarded the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding.

The article originally appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on July 30, 2011.

Where in the world have you come across Patrick Leigh Fermor?

Between the Woods and the Water

I have just returned from Montenegro where I had a holiday with my family. It is a place that is not at the top of the list for most people I guess, but it does attract many Serbians and Russians, particularly to its spectacular coast.

We were attracted because it was different, has spectacular scenery dominated by huge mountains, is relatively unknown, and it also enabled us to visit some very famous Serbian Orthodox monasteries as my wife and I are also very interested in Byzantium and its art (see MyByzantine blog).

On our first night, as I casually flicked through the books left in our villa by the owner and previous visitors, I was surprised to come across a paperback copy of Between the Woods and the Water. It had been read and was in good condition. This gave me the excuse to encourage Kim to read it as she happened to be coming to the end of A Time of Gifts which she was enjoying.

It made me think that many of you who read the blog may have come across Paddy’s work in unusual circumstances, and in faraway places. It would be interesting to hear more; why not paste a comment below or email me (tsawford[at]btinternet.com)? Let’s see who has the most interesting tale to tell!