Tag Archives: Second World War

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

From time to time I plan to re-publish some of the best blog posts as we have over 700 posts on here and many get lost. This first re-post was inspired by my attendance last night at the presentation by Dr Roderick Bailey – Hazardous Operations: British SOE Agents in Nazi Occupied Greece – which was both informative and entertaining. The story of Reg Everson and powdered egg was first published on 10 June 2012 …

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.

Chryssa Ninolaki – part of the Greek resistance on Crete

Chryssa Ninolaki, centre, with Stephen Verney, left, and her brother, Tassos.

By Tony Knight

First published in The Guardian, Monday 3 October 2011

My friend Chryssa Ninolaki, who has died aged 80, played a courageous part in the struggle for freedom in Crete. She was a true ambassador for her native island, which she loved.

At the beginning of the second world war, when Chryssa was a pupil at the French school in Chania, her family moved to her grandfather’s farm near the monastery of Chrysopigi on the outskirts of the city, to escape the bombing. After the fall of the island in 1941, Chryssa and her family were part of the Greek resistance and supported the work of the Special Operations Executive agents who operated in the White Mountains, Xan Fielding, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Stephen Verney among them.

Chryssa and her family spent the war living next to a German garrison. Her parents and her brother, Tassos, carried out acts of defiance at great risk. On one occasion, they moved a cache of arms buried in the orchard just hours before the property was searched. They became part of an underground network assisting, sheltering and hiding British and Commonwealth soldiers for escape attempts on the island’s south coast. “We are crazy people: we act first and never mind the consequences,” Chryssa once told me.

After the war, Chryssa started to work for holiday companies, first the Travel Club of Upminster and then Simply Crete. She was a very different type of travel representative, freely sharing her beloved Crete with many British visitors. For the 50th anniversary, Chryssa took visitors on her celebrated Battle of Crete tours. A close friend reflected the feelings of many when she said: “For me, Chryssa was Crete. She brought so much joy to so many Brits.” Chryssa is survived by her sister, Helen.

Xan Fielding Crete books to be republished

Xan Fielding in Crete

Xan Fielding (front centre) in Crete

I have just discovered that Xan Fielding’s books about his time in SOE and wartime Crete are to be republished by Paul Dry Books and will be available, if Amazon is to be believed, in June 2013.

Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-Time Agent
is available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

The Stronghold: The Four Seasons in the White Mountains of Crete
is also available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

These books are very difficult to get hold of and The Stronghold in particular is quite rare and sells for between £200-£500 on eBay.

Paul Dry Books link is here.

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order the third volume of Paddy’s trilogy,The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

The life of the most extraordinary man to play Test cricket

Bob Crisp in 1935 at Cardiff, where South Africa were playing a match against Glamorgan. Photograph: Fox Photos/Getty Images

This article was sent to me by Charles Hennah, and I am sharing it with you for three reasons. The first his the life of Bob Crisp is pretty extraordinary and worth a read; as the generation who fought the war die-off we read less and less every day about these brave men. Second, Paddy gets a mention, but I doubt that they were very close even though they appear to have been virtual neighbours in the Mani. Finally, Crisp’s life was a mix of fact and fiction;he had this in common with Paddy.

From Kilimanjaro to war escapades, via Fleet Street and a wild century, the remarkable story of Major Robert Crisp, D.S.O, M.C.

by Andy Bull.

First published in the Guardian 5 March 2013.

“Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true.” That fine line is the first in William Goldman’s Oscar-winning script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Screenwriters enjoy a little more licence than journalists, but sometimes we play a little fast and loose too. “My concern with accuracy,” as Hunter S Thompson put it when someone pointed out to him that Richard Nixon didn’t actually sell used cars with cracked blocks, “is on a higher level than nickels and dimes”. The spirit of the story can be as important as the facts of the matter. It hasn’t been possible to check every detail in this article. But, for what it is worth, most of this is true too, one way or another.

Let’s start with the certainties. We can be sure of these few things, because they were set down in the Wisden Almanack: Bob Crisp played nine Tests for South Africa, the first of them in the summer of 1935, and the last of them in the spring of 1939, 77 years ago last week.

Crisp was a fast bowler, who had the knack of making the ball bounce steeply and, when the weather suited, swing both ways. His 20 Test match wickets cost 37 runs each. The best of them were the five for 99 he took against England at Old Trafford, including Wally Hammond, clean bowled when well-set on 29. Admirable but unremarkable figures those. A few more: Crisp took 276 first class wickets at under 20 runs each, twice took four wickets in four balls, and once took nine for 64 for Western Province against Natal. Impressive as those numbers are, they still seem scant justification for the description of Crisp Wisden gives in his obituary: “One of the most extraordinary men ever to play Test cricket.” But then, as the big yellow book puts it, “statistics are absurd for such a man.”

Wisden is right, the traditional measures aren’t much use. A few other numbers, the kind even Wisden’s statisticians don’t tally, may help make his case. The first would be two, which was the number of times Crisp climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. The next would be three, which is both the number of books he wrote, and the number of occasions on which he was busted down in rank and then re-promoted while he was serving in the British Army. Then there are six, which is the total number of tanks he had shot out or blown up underneath him while serving in North Africa, and 29, which is the number of days in which all those tanks were lost; 24 is the number of years he lived after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. And finally, most appropriately for a cricketer, comes 100, which is, well …

In 1992 Crisp, then 81, was in Australia to watch the 1992 World Cup. One of his two sons, Jonathan, had flown him there as a treat. At the MCG, Jonathan bumped into the old England wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans, who he knew through Evans’s work as a PR for Ladbrokes. “Godfrey said to me, ‘Your father is here? Oh God, I’ve got to meet him, he’s my hero,” Jonathan Crisp says. “I said ‘Come off it Godfrey, you were a proper cricketer, how can he be your hero?'” Evans replied that Bob Crisp was the first man make a 100 on tour. “I said ‘What? How can he be? Plenty of people have made 100s.’ And Godfrey said, “No, no, not runs, women, 100 women.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jonathan Crisp and his brother were estranged from their father for a long time. Bob, too footloose for family life, abandoned them when they were still young.

In the mid-1950s Bob’s wife, the boys’ mother, won on the football pools. It was timely; Bob had just resigned in a fit of pique from his job on the Daily Express, who had told him he couldn’t run a scurrilous story about corruption in greyhound racing. Bob took her winnings and spent them all on a mink farm in Suffolk. “He did that, and did it so badly that my mother had to take it over and turn it into a successful business,” Jonathan says. “He ran off and got a job as a leader writer for the East Anglian Daily Times, a job which allowed him to live in the style he was accustomed to.”

Later, when Bob was 56, he ran further still, all the way to Greece. “He had some friends there who he could live with.” Jonathan says. “Or rather, live off.” When Jonathan found his father again, years later, Bob was living alone in a goat hut on the Mani peninsula. He had no running water, and no lavatory. But he did have a cravat, and a clipping from a biography of Field Marshal Alexander which read “the greatest Hun-killer I ever knew was Major Bob Crisp”. The page had been laminated, and Bob Crisp took great glee in handing it over to any Germans he met in the village. “He thought that sort of thing was funny.”

When Jonathan flew to Greece to meet his father, he found him at the head of table in Lela’s Taverna. “There were 10 women around him. And it was clear he was bedding all of them. He was 70 at the time.” Jonathan says that the lamentations of the local women became a familiar refrain: “You must help me, I am in love with your father.” Some of them were in their mid-20s. Some of them were in their mid-50s. It didn’t make any difference. Bob wasn’t the settling sort.

Lela’s was made famous by Patrick Leigh Fermor, who lived in that part of Greece at the same time. The two men, both writers and raconteurs, were friends and rivals. It would have given Crisp enormous satisfaction to read this story by Guardian journalist Kevin Rushby. When Rushby arrived in the village of Kardamyli last year, the locals had little recollection of Leigh Fermor (or, indeed, of another famous travel writer who had passed through, Bruce Chatwin), but could not stop talking about Bob. “What about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor? You must know about him.” asked Rushby. “The old man shook his head. ‘No, I don’t think so. There was a writer called Robert. Now he was famous – cured himself of cancer by walking around Crete. He was very famous.’ [He] leaned back and shouted in Greek to his wife in the kitchen. She came through, cloth in hand. ‘Robert Crisp,’ she said, smiling. ‘What a wonderful man! So handsome!'”

Jonathan was too close to his mother to be that blind to his father’s faults, and too appreciative of his father to let those faults obscure his feats. “He was a remarkable and extraordinary man,” he says. “An absolute charmer. And an absolute shit.” The drinking, womanising, and gambling, Jonathan points out, “can seem heroic or can seem awful. It depends which side of the coin you were on.”

Not everyone had such a balanced view. As George Macdonald Fraser puts it in Flashman: “In England you can’t be a hero and bad. There’s practically a law against it.” One of Jonathan’s most vivid early memories is sitting down with a copy of the Eagle comic, only to open it up and find there was a story about his father in it, an illustrated account of his exploits in the war. “It was very odd, but he was that kind of man.” He and his brother, who are working on a book about their father’s life, are still trying to unravel the strands of his life, to sort, where they can, fact from fiction.

They think it is true, for instance, that just before Bob Crisp was called up for the South African team for the first time, for the tour to England, he climbed Kilimanjaro. The story goes just as he was coming down through foothills, he bumped into a friend of his and said: “It’s fantastic up there, have you ever been up?” He hadn’t. So Crisp turned right around and they climbed it again, together. Just below the summit, the friend fell and broke his leg, so Crisp picked him up, carried him up to the top, and then carried him all the way down again.

They know it isn’t true that, as the elderly Greek man reckoned, Crisp cured his cancer by walking around Crete. He was diagnosed when he was 60, and told it was terminal. “He had always wanted to walk around Crete with a donkey, so when he was told how ill he was he thought ‘fuck it’ and set off,” Jonathan says. Bob paid his way by selling the story to the Sunday Express. “When he came back he decided to row a boat around Corfu. But the boat sank.”

What cured Crisp’s cancer, it seems, was an experimental drug, an early form of chemotherapy, which he was given by the Greek doctors. He was told to apply it to his body, but instead he drank it. “It was so disgusting that he mixed it with a bottle of retsina and drank that instead.” There was a time, shortly after, when he was flown to England and the USA by various consultant oncologists, who were trying to find out whether he had found some miracle cure in the combination of this unknown chemical and rotgut alcohol.

That was his second death. The first was 30 years earlier. That was in the Libyan desert, the day after he discovered, while listening to the BBC’s 9 o’clock news on his tank’s wireless set, that he was to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry. Shell shrapnel hit his head. As he lay crumpled at the foot of his turret, Crisp felt “beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to die. The darkness I was sinking in to was the darkness of the grave. Strangest of all, I didn’t care a damn. As I went out into eternal darkness the last thought I had was … death is easy.” He survived, thanks only, he was told by the gynaecologist who performed emergency surgery on him, “to the good thick bit of skull” that the metal hit.

So far as anyone can be, Bob Crisp was an honest memoirist. As his son says “like most biographers, while they appear to be critical of themselves they very rarely appear in a light that is totally unflattering”. He does write with startling honesty about his mistaken assault on an English tank. He accidentally killed its gunner, “a young lad, red hair, fair skin, freckled face. As they pulled him out, the head rolled side-ways and two, wide-open, empty eyes looked straight into mine. In that moment I touched the rock-bottom of experience.” The war moved so fast, though, that he scarcely had time to dwell on what he had done. More cheerfully, Crisp also admits that he once caught crabs after pinching another officer’s pair of silk pyjamas to sleep in (and foolishly tried to cure himself by dousing his genitals in high-octane petrol).

The early months of Crisp’s war were spent carousing in Alexandria, singing and dancing for his dinner (typically escalope Viennoise and a bottle of white wine) in the local cabaret clubs. He seduced a local showgirl, Vera, who he had to leave behind when he was sent to Greece. He writes so tenderly of their relationship that he almost persuades the reader he really was in love. Until he describes their final kiss: “I knew that I would always think of that last, innocent contact – and that if I ever missed her it would help me to remember how her breath always smelled, just a little bit, of garlic.”

Greece was little more than a rout, one long retreat from the border with Yugoslavia back to the bottom tip of the country. Along the way Crisp had three tanks blown up underneath him, hijacked a New Zealand officers’ Mess lorry, and shot down a low-flying German Heinkel bomber with a burst from his machine gun while it was in the middle of a strafing run. The beating he took seemed to fuel his thirst for action. He found it at the battle to lift the German siege of Tobruk, where he fought continuously for 14 days, on an average of 90 minutes sleep a night. He won his DSO at Sidi Rezegh, where he led his tank in a single-handed charge across an airfield that temporarily checked an advance of 70 German Panzers.

Crisp later told the cricket writer David Frith that his courage was a “reaction to the shame he felt at being afraid”. But his modesty concealed a darker truth, as he once confessed to Jonathan. To his shame, Crisp admitted to his son that he actually “loved the war. He enjoyed it. He thought it was fantastic”.

MacDonald Fraser, who also served in North Africa, writes brilliantly about men like Bob Crisp. They epitomise, Fraser says, “this myth called bravery, which is half panic, half lunacy”. After the attack on Sidi Rezegh, Crisp seemed to catch a fever for fighting. The next day, stranded on foot, he commandeered a signals tank whose crew had “never even fired their gun before”, let alone been in battle. Crisp hauled their officer out of his turret, and with a cry of “Driver advance! Gunner, get that bloody cannon loaded!” led them in a surprise attack on a group of German anti-tank guns. Afterwards the driver was so shell-shocked by this startling turn of events that he started running around in small circles with a wild look on his face. The poor chap hadn’t the faintest idea where he was or what he was doing.” Crisp cured him with a “tremendous kick up the backside”.

Jonathan Crisp says he has it on “very good authority from a lot of different people” that his father was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but Field Marshal Montgomery refused to allow it because Crisp was so ill-disciplined. He was demoted three times. But then he was also mentioned in despatches four times. Crisp was awarded the Military Cross instead. He was presented with it by King George VI, who asked him if his cricket career would be affected by the wound. “No sire,” Crisp replied. “I was only hit in the head.”

In fact Crisp was too injured to play cricket again. After the war he went back into journalism, and, almost a footnote in his life this, founded Drum, the radical South African magazine for the township communities. He fell out with his fellow editors there. “Like a lot of rogues,” Jonathan says. “He was very charming and entertaining until things started to go wrong.” So he came back to Britain to work on Fleet Street, and fell back in to his old friendships with two fellow rakes, Denis Compton and Keith Miller.

Having survived the war, and cancer, Bob Crisp finally died in his sleep, at home, in 1994. When Jonathan found his father’s body in the morning, there was a copy of the Sporting Life in his lap. The only thing Bob Crisp left in the world was a £20 bet on the favourite in that year’s Grand National. “It lost,” says Jonathan. “Of course.”

There is a line in Big Fish, Tim Burton’s movie about how we can never really know the lives of our parents, which goes: “In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate the fact from the fiction, the man from the myth. The best I can do is to tell it the way he told me. It doesn’t always make sense and most of it never happened … but that’s what kind of story this is.” Well, Jonathan Crisp knows that most of his father’s story really did happen. And if there are a few exaggerations and fabrications along the way, well, the story is truer for their inclusion. “One of the most extraordinary men ever to play Test cricket,” says Wisden. If there’s someone out there who tops him, I’d like to hear their tale.

Russians on Crete, oligarchs and controversial journalism

"Billy" Moss with his Russians

“Billy” Moss with his Russians

I was woken from my post New Year slumber by an email from someone called John Helmer who claims to be the longest-serving western journalist in Moscow. He said that he wanted to write a review of An Adventure and asked for the Paddy Blog community’s help in clarifying one or two points about mentions of Russians in Crete and whether or not Paddy had fired his weapon on any other occasion other than the unfortunate accident that led to the death of Yannis Tsangarakis. This all sounded fair enough and the Russian angle was clearly one that would make his article interesting for his Russian readers.

The experts on this subject generally are those involved in trying to prove the actual route of the kidnap in Crete as they have amassed a huge amount of general evidence in their years of research. Billy Moss mentions the Russians in Ill Met by Moonlight (and is pictured with them) and in his sequel, War of Shadows, they are mentioned regularly, forming a key part of his strike force in the vehicle ambush that Moss leads (see War of Shadows).

We passed on this information to Helmer who then wanted to dig deeper into the Russian angle. The problem is very little evidence exists, but Moss, who spoke Russian, mentions them time and time again. Helmer  remained unconvinced, stating that they may have been Bulgarians which is clear nonsense.

There are references to escaped Russians serving in ELAS units (see Sarafis, 1964) on the Greek mainland. When this was mentioned to Helmer he seemed to think that Moss was recruiting Russians as some sort of counter-propoganda move by the British against communists. Clearly Moss saw them as well-trained and aggressive fighters. Other sources have said that in other post-war SOE accounts mention is also made of Russians fighting alongside Cretan partisans.

Unless documentary evidence exists we may never know the extent of the number of Russians prisoners used as forced labour on Crete as they may well have been slaughtered by the retreating Germans (but where are they buried?). Any that did survive and fell into British hands were probably shot by their own side upon return to Russian control as happened in so many places. In war life is cheap; Russian life even cheaper.

Whilst these arguments were put to Helmer he clearly decided that was going to write a most extraordinary review full of venom and hyperbole. Some sources have previously questioned the Australian journalist’s balance and indeed it is said that he has a controversial reputation in Moscow with apparently inappropriate contacts to a number of Russian oligarchs. This short article appears to sum up what some think of his work and character.

Helmer makes some good points about the weaknesses in Paddy’s character, and Artemis’ biography, but it is a pity that he wraps up his prose with so much pent-up spite that the meaning is lost. Quite a lot of the ‘Paddy Magic’ has been lost as Cooper has revealed much more about the man behind the curtain, but his achievements and the pleasure he gave to so many cannot be taken away. It is certain that Helmer has missed a trick by not pursuing the Russians in Crete idea further.

This review is one to add to the list of reviews of the book, and a negative view is always welcome. You just wish that he could have done it with some style. Paddy would have liked that.

Read Helmer’s review here or click the picture.

A man so charming he won over his hostage

Charles Moore reviews ‘Patrick Leigh Fermor: an Adventure’ by Artemis Cooper (John Murray) 

By Charles Moore

First published in the Daily Telegraph 08 October 2012.

The single most famous story about Patrick Leigh Fermor is his kidnap of the German General Kreipe in occupied Crete in 1944. The fugitive party of two British officers and three Cretans spent an uncomfortable night on the slopes of Mount Ida. As the dawn broke, and lit the mountain, Leigh Fermor heard the General muttering the first line of Horace’s Ode to Thaliarchus: “See, Soracte’s mighty peak stands deep in virgin snow.” Leigh Fermor recognised the Latin, and quoted the rest of the poem. As he later put it, “…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.”

This moment of ancient, shared civilisation overcoming a terrible present is a great theme. It is the subject, for example, of Jean Renoir’s film La Grande Illusion, in which a French and a German officer on opposite sides in the First World War feel that they share what really matters.

Leigh Fermor’s long life (he died last year aged 96) was full of dash, variety and colour. He wrote beautifully, and entranced beautiful women. He was physically brave, and travelled widely, intrepidly and observantly. He was, in a self-taught way, learned, and a superb linguist. He could sing, dance, compose impromptu poetry and make everyone laugh. He and his wife Joan built a house in Greece of such character and interest that John Betjeman called it “a book in itself”. He was a war hero and, like Byron, a model for many aspiring writers greedy to combine art and life, rather than choosing between one and the other. I knew Paddy a bit myself, and I have never met a man with more charm, by which I mean the ability to create in his interlocutor the feeling of pleasure and possibility. But was it all a grande illusion, a wonderful holiday from reality?

Artemis Cooper was a family friend of Leigh Fermor, and loved him dearly. This excellent, well-sourced book is sympathetic to him. But she is aware of how he could be painted differently, and states the case. Was he, for example, a show-off and a sponger (he was chronically short of money and depended heavily on Joan’s private income)? Was he, as Somerset Maugham put it, “a middle-class gigolo for upper-class women”? Was he, both in life and art, a sort of Peter Pan, shying away from anything grown-up (such as fatherhood), always looking for a Wendy so that he could go on having smiling, heartless fun? He was once asked to contribute to a book about great parties in history with the astonishing title of Memorable Balls: does the phrase fit the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor?

There are certainly moments when it feels like it. The information that Joan used to give him cash so that he could visit prostitutes is one. So – though there is artistic reason for it – is his tendency to present the product of his imagination as fact. Some even argue that the famous kidnap was a piece of useless swagger – what Kreipe called a “hussar-stunt” – which ensured that the Cretans, in reprisal, were treated even more bestially by the Germans.

One cannot ignore these criticisms, and Leigh Fermor felt them himself. Like many delightful, gregarious companions, he doubted whether he deserved to be loved. But, in Artemis Cooper’s convincing reading, he wins in the end.

First, he wins as a friend. He was always grateful to people who helped him (not a well-known characteristic of most writers). He thanked them beautifully, and he did what he could to help them in return. He was famously hospitable, and his life was cluttered by efforts to advance the careers of others, particularly impecunious Greeks. As an editor, I quite often asked Paddy to write things. Most commissions would be refused or – he was famous for this – arrive incredibly late, but whenever I asked him to contribute a memoir of a friend who had just died, he did it with great speed and generosity.

Second, he wins as a writer. Not everyone likes what Lawrence Durrell called (in praise) his “truffled style”, but, unlike so much “fine writing”, it is saved by its energy and wit, its close attention to detail, and its astonishing virtuosity.

I think the friendships and the art went together. Leigh Fermor was profoundly sensitive to human character, particularly in its oddities. His interest in peasants, or monks, or petty gentry, cut off from industrialisation, his fascination with their traditions and customs, their languages and dialects (the more obscure the better) was a human interest, not an academic one. He loved them, and he wanted to rescue and decorate their story.

His most famous books, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, describe his journey on foot, which began in 1933, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. They capture, with painterly vividness, what he saw and whom he met. And because those scenes and people were almost obliterated by the Second World War and then by communism, by writing about them afterwards, he gave them the eternal status of literature rather than mere memoir.

In the early Seventies, Greek television did a sort of This is Your Life, in which Leigh Fermor was reunited with his Cretan companions and with General Kreipe himself. How had Paddy treated him, journalists asked the general. “Ritterlich. Wie ein Ritter,” Kreipe replied – “Chivalrously. Like a knight.” Possibly such virtues are dead, but if so, we are the poorer. In life and in literature, Patrick Leigh Fermor proved that chivalry was not all illusion.

Related article:

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor: extract from the new biography

Patrick Leigh Fermor with Billy Moss in Crete, April 1944, wearing German uniforms Photo: Estate of William Stanley Moss, by permission

The Telegraph ran an extract from the biography over the weekend. It was the Kreipe kidnap again!

In an extract from her life of the travel writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor, Artemis Cooper chronicles a daring kidnap in wartime Crete.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 29 September 2102.

After months of training in clandestine warfare in Palestine, Paddy Leigh Fermor joined the handful of SOE officers in occupied Crete who were working with the Cretan resistance in June 1942. His big chance came in the autumn of the following year when he formulated a plan to kidnap a German general: not just any general but the hated Gen Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, responsible for the butchery of the Viannos villages in September 1943. Supposing Müller were kidnapped and whisked off the island? At a time when Greece was beginning to feel like a backwater as the war pushed up through Italy, an operation of this kind would generate a lot of noise and publicity: it would make the Germans look remarkably foolish, and give a terrific boost to Cretan morale.

Despite questions being asked about the mission because of the risks it posed to Cretan lives, the plan went ahead on January 6 1944. A car came to pick up Paddy and his number two, Billy Moss, a young Coldstreamer who had had a spell guarding Rudolf Hess, in the early hours of the morning, and drove them to Heliopolis where they met the rest of the party.

They flew to an airstrip east of Benghazi, where they spent two miserable weeks in sodden tents waiting for the weather to clear. Since it refused to oblige, they were flown to Bari, hoping for better flying conditions there. On February 4 they took off from Brindisi for Crete, aiming for the Omalo plateau, a tiny, shallow bowl in the jagged, snow-covered peaks in the mountains south of Neapolis. For the pilot, the zone was so restricted that the team could not be dropped in a “stick” formation – he would have to circle and come in again four times, dropping each man off individually.

Snow and loose cloud swirled around the open bomb-bay, and far below they could see the dropping zone marked by three pinpricks of light formed by three signal fires. Paddy was the first to jump. Welcoming Cretan hands hauled him to his feet, and then all eyes turned again to the snow-streaked sky. Paddy gave the all-clear with a torch to signal his safe arrival, but the clouds were thickening and the pilot could no longer see the signal fires: he was forced to turn back.

The bad weather continued. Paddy spent the next seven weeks in a cave with Sandy Rendel, the SOE officer in charge of the Lasithi area. But in late March came news that threw the whole mission into question. The intended victim, Gen Müller, had been posted to Chania as commander of Fortress Crete. SOE Cairo was informed, but decided to go ahead with the operation anyway. After all, the aim was to boost Cretan morale and damage German confidence; from this standpoint, one general was as good as another. Continue reading