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

The Kreipe pennants – the story of their rediscovery by Billy Moss’ daughter

The pennants from General Kreipe’s car

Discovering the full details behind a particular story or event is often tricky with clarifications, enhancements, or downright contradictions emerging sometimes many years after the event. Fortunately we have not had to wait so long for some further detail to be added to the story I ran last year about what happened to the pennants on General Kreipe’s car at the time of the kidnap, and their subsequent discovery many years later.

‘Billy’ Moss’ daughter Gabriella Bullock read Artemis Cooper’s account of how the pennants were found after so many years in a trunk in Paddy’s house at Kardamyli. Gabriella then wrote to me to ask me to pass on the full story behind their (very fortunate) re-discovery in Ireland some years before and how they were passed by her mother (Sophie Moss née Tarnowksa) to her. It sounds like we are very lucky to have them at all.

Gabriella’s account starts during a recent visit to Crete …

In Rethymnon we met the delightful people who run the Folklore Museum. This is where the pennants from the General’s car are now housed, in accordance with PLF’s wishes. We found that they were very interested in the story of how the pennants were randomly and luckily rediscovered, and this leads me to think that the story definitely has a place on your website

In the early 1950s my family lived in Co. Cork, Ireland, but moved back (supposedly temporarily) to London in 1954. My parents intended to return, and left many of their possessions in the safe-keeping of various Irish friends or in store. My father never did go back to Ireland; indeed, in 1957, eight years before his death in 1965, my father also left England never to return. As things turned out, however, it was also many years before my mother went back, and all that had been left in storage was lost.

A number of years after my father’s death my mother bought a cottage near Cork, and thereafter divided her time between London and Ireland. I was staying with her at the cottage one summer in the late 1970s when a friend of hers announced that she had a trunk belonging to us which she wanted to return; it had been sitting in their attic since the 50’s.

A battered tin trunk duly arrived with my father’s name, rank and regiment painted on the outside in white. My elder sister has it now and it is, without doubt, the one described in the first chapter of our father’s book A War of Shadows, even down to the grains of sand:

“an old letter, a scrap of notepaper smeared with the sweat of one’s hip-pocket, the rain-spattered pages of a diary, an operational report written in the bloodlessly forbidding vocabulary of a headquarters’ clerk – these relics, discovered in a tin trunk which still creaks with grains of sand when you open the lid…”.

My mother opened and unpacked it, and said to me, “I think you’d better have these”. Amongst the things inside it were my father’s original diary, already entitled Ill Met by Moonlight, in remarkably good condition and perfectly legible, and the two German pennants.

It was a heart-stopping moment. My mother gave these things to me, and I gratefully and unthinkingly received them. I was in my mid-twenties then. The diary I still have. As for the pennants, they were much prized, and adorned a wall in my house for nearly 15 years.

But one day about 17 or 18 years ago, when I was re-reading IMBM, it dawned on me for the first time that in fact since it was Paddy who had taken them as trophies from the General’s car, they were rightfully his. So I gave them to him. This was in the early 90’s. Paddy was completely astonished, and moved, to see them again, so unexpectedly, after 50 years! He was awfully pleased, and after his death they were donated to the Folklore Museum in Rethymno, in accordance with his wishes.

And now they are back in Crete, which is absolutely as it should be.

With best wishes,

Gabriella Bullock

Further reading:

The Kreipe pennants

Articles about the kidnap in the Ill Met by Moonlight category

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

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.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1998 interview with Amalia Negreponte

Amalia Negreponte

I was alerted to this interview by Mark Granelli. As ever we have to be cautious about things that may have got lost in translation but I was a little suspicious about this interview as Paddy appears to go further out on a limb than recorded elsewhere. You will understand what I mean when you read it. Is she being totally honest? 

My reply to Mark was …

Mark – thanks for being such a good sleuth! I will put it up but I am slightly suspicious of this one. Paddy appears more political than I have ever read before. Maybe he opened up to her because she is very pretty, if a little thin.

But without further ado let’s go to the interview which can be found online at Amalia Negreponte’s website on 20 July 2011 ….

War hero, great hellenist, major British author, scholar and soldier, who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during World War II (kidnapped German general, heading Nazi troops invading Greece). He was widely regarded as “Britain’s greatest living travel writer”, with books including his classic “A Time of Gifts” (1977).  A BBC journalist once described him as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s interview to Amalia Negreponti, published in my book:“Hellenists: Greece does not wound them” (LIVANIS publishing company, 1998), pre-published in “TA NEA” in 1998

Born: In England. First traveled to Greece: When he was 19 years old, in 1935, during his tour of Europe. Main bibliography: “Mani”, “Roumeli”, “The Violins of Saint-Jacques”, “Between the Woods and the Water’, “A Time of Gifts”. Lived most of his life after World War II: In Mani (Kardamyli); frequently travelling to England, where he recently passed away, 40 days ago. He will be remembered by all- and certainly by us Greeks- with gratitude, admiration, love.

Five images. A man dressed in a British Army uniform, alone, on a snowy mountain – he is in Albania, in 1941. He speaks fluent Greek. The Greek soldiers endearingly call him “The Englishman”. Whenever he can, he talks of poetry and literature. Second image, the same manly uniformed figure, next to Giorgos Seferis, in Cairo. He has just arrived, right after the tragic Battle of Crete. His sorrow is vividly reflected on his face. Third flash. Haifa, 1942. The officer, the blackboard and the class of uniformed men. It is one of the war lessons the officer with the penetrating gaze gives to the Allies.

Crete, 1944:While the British commando takes off the German Army uniform he has deceptively worn, his five Cretan companions and a British officer hold a German officer captive. He is General Heinrich Kreipe – the commander of the German Occupying Forces in Crete – recently kidnapped by the men. On peaceful nights, the captive and the English officer-kidnapper talk of Homer and the great tragedians.

Last image: Mani, 1998, in a small cottage. The man sets aside, just for a moment, his writing – the bookcase is full of his highly acclaimed books. His eyes sparkle. “Greece was in danger. She was suffering. I did what anyone else would have done. Nothing more, nothing less”. Without any need for introductions, he is Paddy. Michael. Filedem. Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Ramrod-straight, soft-spoken, keeping his youthful impetuousness intact. “Dear God! It was nothing!”, he says every once in a while, with extreme modesty and reserve, as soon as he is reminded of his legendary status and heroic activity. He talks of his books with the excitement of a small child.

Whenever he talks of the historical battles – always playing the leading role – he fought in Greece during World War II, he never uses the pronoun “I”. It is always “we”; whether he talks of British soldiers and fellow officers – he keeps mentioning Christopher “Monty” Woodhouse, Xan Fielding, John Pendlebury, the archaeologist-hellenist who died, fighting heroically, during the Battle of Crete – his Cretan companions – George Psychoundakis, Manolis Paterakis, George Tyrakis – or the whole of Greece.

We meet Patrick Leigh Fermor in mid-July at his home, in Kardamyli, Mani, where he permanently lives during the last few decades with his wife, in a cottage he built by himself. The 83-year-old Anglo-Irish Fermor, having fought for Greece throughout his life, throughout her difficult moments with vigour, self-sacrifice and passion that transcends heroism; awarded with all the possible military distinctions for his actions in battle; highly valued throughout the world for his books – they are considered “masterpieces” by the most severe European and American critics – and living a reclusive life, exclusively dealing with what he has been dreaming of since he was a child: book writing.

At the moment, he is fervently preparing the story of his adventures during the entire war. His achievements are known through official documents (Foreign Office), as well as his companions’ and historians’ memoirs. He, however, has remained silent until now.

“Since I was a child, I was determined to become a writer; that’s for sure”, Patrick Leigh Fermor – Paddy, to his friends – remembers. “For that reason – to collect experiences and meet different people and things – and since I wasn’t particularly good at school, I set out, when I was 18 years old, on a journey to Constantinople, a journey that would mark and determine my life”.

The journey lasted a whole year and included the whole of Europe. Alone and moneyless, Fermor sailed from England to the Netherlands and went on, through a snowy landscape, to Germany. He followed the course of the Rhine upstream and turned eastwards, towards the Danube. He crossed the borders to Austria and Czechoslovakia. He borrowed a horse in Hungary, crossed Transylvania, Romania and Bulgaria, over the Balkan mountain range and reached the Black Sea coast: Varna, Nesembar and Burgas; then, across the borders of Turkey, towards Edirne. On January 1, 1935, he reached Constantinople.

At the monasteries

His next stop was Greece. “My love for her was unconditional”. He lived in monasteries of Mount Athos, in Thrace and Macedonia, in Peloponnese and Athens. The few words of ancient Greek he had learnt at school turned, almost magically, to fluent modern Greek and Greece got an eternal hold on him. “And then, around 1936, I returned to England.

The months away from Greece seemed intolerable. That’s why when, in 1941, I joined the Intelligence Corps, I asked to be transferred to Greece, fighting at the time against Italy in Albania. It so happened”. And Patrick Leigh Fermor became an integral part of the Albanian Epic. And, right after that, of the Cretan Resistance. From 1941 until the bloody Battle of Crete, Fermor was there, in the first line, along the Cretan warriors who considered him “more Cretan than the Cretans”, he says with pride. “Where can I begin?

The long night marches, the growth of the Resistance form village to village, from mountain top to plain? Waiting for boats in secluded coves, waiting for drops of ammunition in plateaus, visiting intelligence gathering networks in cities, sending commandos on sabotage missions, escaping German raids, on the mountains, the eagle nests and the crags we used to live… Since the first Axis invasion of Greece, we English felt that we were allies of the only nation left to fight darkness and tyranny.

The rest of the world remained neutral, defeated “in peace” or, worse still, had joined the enemy – through alliances and treaties. When the war came to Crete, the solitary allies – Greece and England – fought hand in hand. And then came 1942. In horror and despair. England was being devastated by heavy bombardments, the Germans were marching at full speed towards Stalingrad, Erwin Rommel’s tanks and canons were hammering our lines in the desert, pushing us back towards our last line of defence, El Alamein; and the USA had not entered the war yet.

My men and I, driven out of Crete after the Battle of Crete on May 20, 1941, crushed and shattered, had escaped towards the Middle East. First Alexandria and Cairo. And then Haifa, near Palestine, where I taught allied officers in a war college. What did I teach? The essentials. Secret landings, sabotage, using enemy arms and ammunition, parachute drops, commando raids, evasion tactics, setting mobile radio stations – everything.

My heart and thought, however, were with Crete, suffering more than ever. Villages were being burnt. Thousands of Cretans were being taken captive. Inhuman tortures and mass executions were on the agenda every single day. But the Cretans had not given up. They were continuing the Resistance, in any possible way, with vigour and stoicism. But not only that. They were also helping, risking their lives and the lives of their own people, the English allies who had been trapped in the highland villages and mountains of Crete. They were taking care of them as if they had been their own children.

It was a great honour. We became and still are the children of the Greek people. I am grateful for that – to be part of such a brave and noble kind of people was the greatest honour for me. We were strangers who came to Greece from afar to take part in the battle, to fight, to shed our blood on your mountains. We, however, risked – of our own accord – our lives, whereas the Greeks who helped us at the time of our greatest weakness did not only risk their lives, but also the lives of their families and the destruction of their villages, their motherland. Therefore, let’s not talk of our own sacrifices…”. “I could no longer resist staying away from Crete – I longed to return there”.

Thus, on July 24, 1942, at midnight, he returned from the Middle East to Crete by fishing boat, assigned a special mission in Central Crete. “Hard times. We were cut off from Africa and any supply shipments, whereas the Germans ravaged Crete, killing and torturing civilians whenever the Resistance struck a blow against them. The only good thing for our Crete out of that period, until 1944, was that we were not affected by the Civil War raging in mainland Greece – we were not aware of it”. At the beginning of 1944, Filedem – who lived on the mountains of Crete, organizing the Resistance disguised as a Cretan shepherd – is ordered to return to Alexandria. “I didn’t want to leave”. However, he couldn’t help it. No matter how reluctant he was, Fermor finally left.

He returned a few months later as the leader of a highly important mission for Crete in particular and Greece in general: the kidnap of the German military governor of Crete. Unfortunately, the target, General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, was replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe just before he arrived.

“On February 4, 1944, I was parachuted into Lasithi, Crete. The rest of the team – Stanley Moss, Manolis Paterakis and George Tyrakis – couldn’t follow due to bad weather. During the next two months, they kept trying to join me, but it was impossible. Finally, on April 4, they arrived in Soutsouro by sea. We immediately started hatching the general’s kidnap plan.”

The kidnap

Fermor finally came up with an idea – dressed as a German soldier, he stopped the general’s car on his way home at what was supposed to be a routine check point; the rest of the team took care of the driver and drove the car and the general away – met with success.

Hunted by German patrols, the team moved across the mountains and villages of Crete “in order to evacuate our captive safely, making sure that no reprisals were taken against the civilian population”. Whenever he got off the car, Fermor was met with murderous stares and open enmity by the Cretans due to the German Army uniform he was wearing.

“I realized then what it meant to be a German. I felt lucky not to be one. Upon arriving in Sphachta, where my friend father Giannis Skoulas lived, his wife came out of their house and stared at me in disgust. Full of joy, I tried to embrace her. Get away! She screamed. It’s me, Michalis, I said. No point… It took some time for her to recognize me and get over the repulsion the German Army uniform was causing her”.

The outcome of the mission? General Heinrich Kreipe was sent to Cairo, safe and sound. “We treated him with respect, honour and care! After all, he was our captive”.

Fermor met Kreipe decades later – to discuss World War II. The atmosphere was genial… “He was well-versed in poetry, Latin and ancient Greek – I realized it when we kidnapped him. We had drunk from the same fountains, we had sprouted out of the same roots, well before the war started – and that changed things”. Even the usual reprisals were avoided.

Fermor left a letter to the Germans when he abandoned the general’s car: “Gentlemen, your Commander was taken captive by a British Battle Force under our command (editor’s note: Fermor and Moss). When you read this, the General will be in Cairo. We want to point out that the operation was conducted without any kind of help from the Cretans… Any reprisals against the local population would be unjustifiable and unfair. Auf baldiges Wiedersehen! (editor’s note: the two signatures). PS: We are sorry to leave the car”.

Fermor (his code names during the war were Michalis or Filedem), who was idolized by the Cretans because he constantly put his life at risk for Greece, seems to have been left alone, a symbol of an era of heroes. He transcends the meaning of the term hellenist; he is a philhellene, with all the idealism and struggle the term includes.

He reacts when I ask him whether Greece wounded him. “Of course not! How could she? I devoted my life to Greece; to justice. My success is my greatest satisfaction. I’m hurt when I see people attacking Greece – usually unjustly. I’m hurt when I see strangers treat her contemptuously and scornfully. I’m hurt when they ignore, use and distort history to strike a blow – for example, when they support FYROM.

The Turks

“I don’t want to hear anything more about “bad feelings” of the Greeks towards the Turks. For God’s sake! The Turks seized and illegally occupy Northern Cyprus – it’s a well-known fact. Fewer and fewer Greek are living in Constantinople anymore – as a direct result of the rioting, looting, extermination, murder, coercion and general pogrom they suffer.

Europe should never forget what Greece has offered and act accordingly. I’m not talking of ancient Greece; I’m talking of modern Greece – World War II Greece. Greece prevented the whole of Europe from collapsing when the sky blackened.

They should all remember what Greece stands for. Because ideas change, people die and monuments collapse with the passing of time.

What can’t be destroyed, however, is the spirit of the Greek people – it includes all virtues, it inspires, it shines – just like the light that shines on the Greek mountains: your mountains. Our mountains”.

“In 1941, those of us who survived the Battle of Greece fled to the Middle East. First Alexandria and then Cairo. Right there on the bank of the Nile and the city of Alexander the Great, I had the chance to meet and befriend Giorgos Seferis, who had also taken refuge there. His hard features betrayed an anxiety and a sorrow that transcended our everyday stress about the outcome of the war. In the Middle East during that critical phase of the war when everything seemed lost, Giorgos Seferis was giving his personal battle: in politics and letters – poetry”.

Seferis wrote the poem “Days of June 1941” when Fermor arrived in the Middle East, right after the Battle of Crete.

“The new moon came out over Alexandria with the old moon in her arms while we were walking towards the Gate of the Sun in the heart’s darkness–three friends”.

“There are times when I feel I’m still there”, says Fermor. “Feeling the sorrow for my dead companions and the lost battle, seeing that man with the dark eyes driving away the clouds with his words.

Just words. Words of an educated and scholarly man who had experienced the horror of broken bodies and the pain of loss”.

Fermor takes out an old photograph, depicting the poet and him. Both men are thoughtful. With heavy gazes. “We didn’t stay together long”, Fermor recalls, “I was always on the run – missions and training… “You have to reckon how to move. It’s not enough to feel, to think, to move”, he used to say – exactly the way he wrote.

He was always reserved and cautious. He didn’t talk much; you never got tired of listening to him. Modest and discreet. I respected him at the time. I loved him as a poet later. He was educated and had a breadth of knowledge transcending the borders of nations and civilizations.

Giorgos Seferis recorded our experiences with accuracy and sensitivity. Yes, we had come from all around the world, as he says in the poem “Last Stop”, “from Araby, Egypt, Palestine and Syria”. Although he was very reserved, he never got detached. You could see the accumulated strength inside him”.

A Year of Memory: the top ten posts on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

As the year comes to a close it is time to reflect upon what has passed and to look forward to 2012. I make no predictions for the coming year. There are some things which are almost certain such as the continuing Euro crisis and the much anticipated publication of Artemis Cooper’s authorised biography about Paddy, but forecasts tend to be overtaken by events and are quickly forgotten.

What we can do is to look back on this year in the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The major event of course was Paddy’s death on 10 June at the age of ninety-six. A sad event for his family and close friends, but also for those of us who admired him for his writing and the life he lived. As the year closed it was time to celebrate his life at his Memorial Service held on 15 December in London.

As I hoped the blog has become a significant source of material about his life including rarely seen video. There have been over 228,000 visits over the last year and you have made it a much more interactive experience by using the comment facility to exchange information, provide your own memories of Paddy, and to express your admiration for him. At the time of his death I opened a page where you could express your thoughts about Paddy which has run to over 120 comments.

Paddy would probably have been somewhat bemused by the whole idea of the blog, but perhaps even more so by the interaction we now have with social networking sites with nearly 4,500 visitors finding the site from Facebook, and 850 via Twitter.

To conclude the year, and as the 365th post on the blog, let us take a look at some of the most popular articles over the last twelve months. Perhaps I can make one promise to you all which is that there is much more to come on the blog in 2012 which includes a lot of material submitted by you the readers of the blog.

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

Paddy’s funeral service was held on a typical English summer’s day at his home in Dumbleton. He returned to England just one day before his death and is buried beside his beloved Joan.

Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper 

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

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

The amazing video from the Greek TV programme which reunited the participants of the Ill Met by Moonlight kidnap including Paddy, many of the Andartes, and General Kreipe and his wife.

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view 

One of the most comprehensive profiles of Paddy which is now freely available to all. (the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page)

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

A series of personal photographs sent to me by Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew and who now lives in Canada where he works as an artist.

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

The ever popular video where Paddy talks in some detail about the Kreipe kidnap. (press play on Battle of Crete 7).

Colonel David Smiley 

David Smiley was a fellow occupant of Tara in Cairo with Paddy and Billy Moss et al who continued his military career with some distinction after the war and even led Japanese soldiers in a charge against VietMinh rebels!

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger 

It is probably the James Bond/Ian Fleming association which maintains the popularity of this article.

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár) 

No list of popular posts can be complete without the compelling combination of my passions for Paddy, Romania, Miklós Bánffy, and Cluj.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

The order of service from the joyful occasion that was Paddy’s Memorial Service.

Finally I would like to thank so many of you for your encouragement and support during 2011, and wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Tom Sawford

Snail’s pace to Byzantium: journey of a lifetime

This is a combination of profile and review of Words of Mercury. An interesting piece.

by Ann Elder

First Published in Athens News, 9 Jan 2004

“I HATE the word travel-writer,” London-born, Mani-based Patrick Leigh Fermor told a British journalist in 1995. Under the title Words of Mercury, a selection of his writings was published by John Murray this autumn. The excerpts from half a dozen of his books, some articles and reviews show clearly why he must flinch from being slotted anywhere confining.

As his followers know, he writes with an enchanted pen. Any topic he takes up becomes something ‘rich and strange’. He has a story-teller’s knack of compelling interest, like the Ancient Mariner mesmerizing listeners with his glittering eye. And he has a particular flair for catching the heightened receptivity and visceral thrill felt at new encounters, what Cavafy wished the traveler in his poem Ithaka:

Pray that your journey may be long,
that many may those summer mornings be
when with what pleasure, what untold delight
you enter harbours never seen before.”
(Kimon Friar translation)

Not least, Leigh Fermor wins readers’ allegiance by creating the sense of affinity with an engaging personality, uncensorious, untinged by chauvinism, reveling in life, akin in spirit to A E Housman, onetime professor of Latin at Cambridge, in his lines:

Could man be drunk forever
With liquor, love or fights
Lief should I rouse at mornings
And lief lie down at nights.

Edited by Artemis Cooper, a writer (Cairo in Wartime) and wife of historian Antony Beevor (Crete: The Battle and the Resistance), the book has five parts: travel, Greece, people, books and flotsam (finishing with a poem on Christmas maybe better forgotten). Cooper gives brief introductions to each piece and starts off with a succinct biography.

As an 18-year-old living on a pound a week in a flat off Picadilly in 1933, Leigh Fermor spent more time partying than buckling down to write. As fate had it, he had read The Station: Athos: Treasures and Men by the irreverent young Robert Byron in 1928. The ‘great and misunderstood spirit of Byzantium’ had greatly impressed him.

“About lamp-lighting time at the end of a wet November day, I was peering morosely at the dog-eared pages on my writing table,” he related later. “A plan unfolded – to set out across Europe like a tramp – a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a broken knight.”

“The chief destination was never in a moment’s doubt. The levitating skyline of Constantinople pricked its sheaves of thin cylinders and its hemispheres out of the sea-mist; beyond it hovered Mount Athos; and the Greek archipelago.”

In excess of his wildest dreams, he found material to write about. All was grist to his mill, but his mill ground slowly. His writing proved to require long gestation. He became fanatical about polishing his product, and research, the more obscure, the more it seemed to appeal to him, like the origins of the Sarakatsans or the Laz-speaking Greeks of Trebizond. The first book about his venture, A Time of Gifts, came out in 1977, over 40 years later, and the second, Between the Woods and the Water about “those mysterious regions between the Vienna Woods and the Black Sea” as Saki put it – in 1986. In France they called him “l’escargot (the snail) of the Carpathes.”

Real life and events also delayed his writing. The trek took him about a year. He reached his goal on New Year’s Eve, 1934, after ending his traverse of Bulgaria with a splash, falling into the Black Sea on a cold December evening. He came to the coast some 150 miles north of the Bosphorus. “An old man was smoking a narghileh on the doorstep of a hut beside a little boat beached among the rushes – a Tartar fisherman, the only human being I saw all day,” he  wrote over 20 years later in an article in the May 1965 Holiday Magazine.

Darkness fell. “I lost my footing on a ledge and skidded – waist-deep into a pool. Jarred and shaken, with a gash on my forehead and a torn thumb, I climbed out, shuddering with cold. At the bottom of the pool, about two fathoms down, my torch was sending a yellow shaft through sea anemones and a flickering concourse of fish.”

Crawling round the rocks, he came to a veritable Cyclop’s cave sheltering a dozen Greek fishermen and Bulgarian goatherds with their 50 goats and cheese-making apparatus, eating lentils by a thornbush fire. The young wayfarer was soon dried and warm, tossing back slivovitz and eating fresh fried mackerel.

Leigh Fermor is in his element in the climax of this thoroughly Homeric episode, when one of the Greeks, Costa, turns out to be an unsung Nijinsky, his dancing invested with a ‘tragic and doomed aura.’ He performed the stunt  with which Greek cruise ships like to wind up their Greek night shows: dancing with a table between the teeth.

“On a rock, lifted there to clear the floor, the low, round, heavy table was perched. Revolving past it, Costa leaned forward: suddenly the table levitated itself into the air, sailed past us, and pivoted at right angles to Costa’s head in a series of wide loops, the edge clamped firmly in his mouth and held here only by his teeth. The dancer whirled like a dervish, till the flying table melted into a disc, finally returned to its rock, glasses, cutlery, lentil pot and cigarette burning on the edge of a plate undisturbed.”

Time in Greece he dates from his 20th birthday, February 11, 1935, when he arrived at Mt Athos as ‘snowflakes were falling fast’ and ‘in deep snow, trudged from monastery to monastery.’ In Athens later, he frequented the  Romanian embassy, meeting descendants of Phanariot hospodars, Ypsilantes, Ghikas and Cantacuzenes. As with Greece, he fell in love with Balasha Cantacuzene whose forebear, Emperor John Vl, invited the Seljuk Turks to  Europe (and is recalled sorrowfully in a Cavafy poem for having coloured glass not jewels in his coronation crown).

After time writing and painting in an old mill among the lemon groves overlooking Poros, they went to her decaying family estate in Moldavia. Published in 1961 was a perfectly pitched account of a picnic in sunlit  countryside by open carriage and on horseback on September 2, 1939, the last day of peace. “It had been a happy day, as we had hoped, and it had to last us a long time, for the next day’s news scattered the little society for ever.”

Utterly desolating is the Daily Telegraph weekend magazine article of May 1990 on his first breaking through the Iron Curtain in 1965. He found the Cantecuzene sisters in a Bucharest attic eking out a communist state pension  teaching. The gracious old houses he had stayed in among flowery meadows and nightingale-filled woods were psychiatric hospitals, their owners dead.

Leigh Fermor seems happiest gilding the past, writing to ‘the brave music of a distant drum,’ as old Khayyan put it, not dwelling on ‘bitter furies of complexity’ or ‘that gong-tormented sea’ of Yeats’s “Byzantium” which he refers to at the outset in Time of Gifts. The days of his youth were the days of his glory and he evokes them with zest, if no doubt some selective memory. He admits he is beset with ‘retrogressive hankerings,’ but these add to the richness of the embroidered prose dazzling his readers, to twist Yeats a bit. And sometimes he might be shoulder-to-shoulder with the poet:

Of all Arabia’s lovers I alone
Nor dazzled by the embroidery, nor lost
In the confusion of its night-dark folds,
Can hear the armed man speak.

His review of Edmund Keeley’s Cavafy’s Alexandria in a 1977  Times Literary Supplement (TLS) shows him at his serious best. He recalls “the blacked-out, jolly, rather wicked wartime port” he knew as a young British World War Two agent, then is off with Cavafy into the Judaeo-Hellenic Franco-Levantine city “old in sin, steeped in history, warrened with intrigue.”

He notes the depths of irony and dark humour in the notion of citizens aghast with consternation when the barbarians fail to invade them on cue. He ponders “the jagged Ithaka at the long Odyssey’s end; the imminent Ephialtes ready to sell the Thermopylae of the spirit.” He goes on: “Issued without preamble from an atmosphere of earthly delights these warnings sound as harsh, for a moment, as the words of Mercury after the songs of Apollo at the end of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost.'”

Leigh Fermor is a mild Mercury though. In a review of Oxford classicist CM Bowra’s Primitive Song in a 1962 Spectator he commends him for eschewing ‘a softer technique, swaying to the seductions of every coincidence  and historical chance-shot.’ He himself tends to yield to the tempting vistas of ‘alluring byways.’

The selections from his writings on Greece include a report he wrote for London’s Imperial War Museum archives in 1969 on how the German commander General Heinrich Kreipe was abducted by a Cretan-British force he led in April 1944. While still controversial, the coup makes a cracking good story.

At Anoyeia where captors and captive rested, villagers were ‘convulsed by incredulity, then excitement and finally by triumphant hilarity. We could hear running feet in the streets, shouts and laughter. “Just think, we’ve stolen their General!”‘

Heading south round Psiloritis – Mt Ida of antiquity, over 2,200 metres high and snow-covered till late May – the getaways were to meet a British vessel on the coast to spirit them to Egypt. After a night in a shepherd’s hut sharing  one blanket, “a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mt Ida which we had been struggling across for two days. We were lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said (in Latin): ‘See, how it stands, one pile of snow’. I was in luck. It is the opening line of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off (likewise in Latin);

‘neath the pressure yield
Its groaning woods; the torrents flow
With clear sharp ice is all congealed.
Heap high the logs, and melt the cold,
Good Thaliarch; draw the wine we ask,
That mellower vintage, four-year-old,
From out the cellar’d Sabine cask.

(Conington’s translation)

The stanzas are much-loved, ‘a picturesque Christmas card,’ say scholars. They evoke the perfect ambience in which to peruse the book. Those unfamiliar with Leigh Fermor will surely have appetites whetted for more. Those who know him and have his books around will dash for them to locate the extracts, then hotly debate the choices, such as the punning Achitectural Notes from a 1994 Spectator: “If you squinch, aisle screen,” and “Put those Saxon  here Norman,” and “Overhung? Per apse, when dais done.”

The author has covered himself. “Pure nonsense is as rare among the arts as an equatorial snowdrop”, he wrote in a review of George Seferis’s Illustrated Verses for Small Children in a 1977  TLS.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s complete SOE file now on-line

I am very pleased to be able to present the complete SOE file of Patrick Leigh Fermor which was released to the public in August 2011 by the National Archive at Kew. My thanks go to Steven Kippax who is an SOE historian for gathering this information.

Click on the image to go to the new page which is in the Photographs section.

“He is consistently hunted by the occupying troops” – The commendation for Paddy’s OBE

It is clear the original intention was to award Paddy a DSO, but that was struck out in favour of an OBE. Paddy was later awarded the DSO for his part in the Kreipe abduction. Interestingly they had difficulties with his surname … Fermor is crossed out and replaced by Fermer!

The commendation reads:

This officer infiltrated into Crete on 22 Jun 42. Since that date, by his courage, cheerfulness and steadfastness, he has been most valuable in maintaining morale among the civilian population in most difficult circumstances.

At different times he has been in charge of our revolutionary and espionage services in the prefectures of Canea, Rethymnon and Heraklion and has been responsible for providing much valuable information regarding enemy activity and intentions. In addition he has made a personal reconnaissance of the ports of Suda and Heraklion under most hazardous circumstances.

On his own initiative he has organised defeatist campaigns in the ranks of German troops. With complete disregard for personal safety … he has carried these enterprises through to a successful conclusion.

He is still in Crete, where his determination, devotion to duty, and steadfastness of purpose have been invaluable in helping the local population to sustain their faith in their allies.

He is consistently hunted by the occupying troops.

Signed by Head of Mission 9 Apr 43.

(requested that should the award be made there should be no publicity for security reasons.)

The source for this is the Kew public records office. This is not in Paddy’s SOE file.


Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey – tonight in Crete

Apologies for a second post so soon but it appears that in tonight’s episode Joanna will visit Crete and according to the blurb ‘… in the high remote mountains she spends time with the shepherds who played a key role fighting the Nazi occupation alongside British SOE Agent, Patrick Leigh Fermor – whose exploits became the basis for the film Ill Met by Moonlight.’ Don’t expect too much accuracy but I am sure that there will be oodles of gushing admiration for Paddy. 

Apparently ‘… Crete is also the birth place of Zeus and the home of raki, a local firewater that fuels traditional festivities.’ Enjoy but only available in the UK … and I am currently in Romania. 😦

A reconstruction of the Kreipe abduction in Crete

I believe this is something of a regular event in Crete. The story of the Kreipe abduction and then a ‘reenactment’ of the abduction on the actual spot it took place. The action starts at 2 minutes 20 seconds!

Don’t forget we have a whole section on these events and video as well:

Paddy talks about the abduction

General Kreipe, Paddy and the abduction gang on Greek TV 1972

more stories related to Ill Met by Moonlight 

Related article:

The Kreipe pennants 

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

Ill Met by Moonlight film review

Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster

For a decade and a half, the partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger illuminated the cinema with an array of extraordinary films. But the massive reputation the team garnered during and immediately after World War II – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I’m Going!, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes in just five years! went into steep decline in the Fifties. There were no Archers films at all between The Tales of Hoffmann (’51) and Oh… Rosalinda!! (’55), and both of those were disastrous failures, critically and financially. Perhaps to cover themselves in the ultraconservative British film industry, Powell and Pressburger finished their partnership with two conventional war adventure movies – rattling good yarns that, alas, were widely perceived as rattling just a bit too much.

First published in Film Comment 13th March 1995 v 31:n2. p37(4)

The Battle of the River Plate (’56) was a box-office success and had a royal premiere, but it now looks like the corniest of the Archers movies. An account of Britain’s first major naval victory of WWII, it does have the great virtue of showing actual ships maneuvering about in an actual ocean instead of models in a tank – Powell’s main pleasure in directing the movie, one imagines. But this is exasperatingly offset by far too many shots of actors on studio bridgehead sets being doused with water as they strike poses in front of a cyclorama. The local color Powell provides is a bit sticky, too, given that Uruguay, where the German battleship Graf Spee was forced to seek shelter before being tricked into self-destructing, was and still is a nation notorious for its concealment of Nazis. Peter Finch, as the captain of the Graf Spee, manages an impressive performance, but none of the other actors in a lively cast Anthony Quayle, John Gregson, Patrick Macnee, Anthony Newley, Christopher Lee, John Schlesinger in a bit as a German sailor – has much chance to create a real person. The Germans are all decent fellows, really, whilst the characterization of the Brits is entirely on the level of good-show-chaps caricature.

Powell seemed rather attached to this movie in later years, but had no love at all for the very last Archers film, Ill Met By Moonlight (’57). “I felt imprisoned by the facts,” he was wont to complain; and there were problems with the script Pressburger provided. Ian Christie’s book about Powell, Arrows of Desire, goes so far as to refuse to list the film as a collaboration at all, his filmography (reproduced, incomplete and inaccurate as it is, in Powell’s memoirs) giving Powell’s name alone as writer, producer, and director. Dissension between Powell and Pressburger coincided with antagonism from the Rank Organisation, which refused them money for color. Once the film was finished, so were the Archers.

After Ill Met By Moonlight, then, the deluge. It would be foolish to suggest that the film – miserably renamed Night Ambush for U.S. release and cut by 11 minutes – is anywhere near the level of the team’s masterworks. Even so, it’s more interesting than legend suggests. The (true) story, set in occupied Crete in 1943, concerns the kidnapping of a German general (Marius Goring) by Cretan partisans led by a British officer, Patrick Leigh Fermor (Dirk Bogarde). Film buffs will recall that the real Leigh Fermor was one of the scriptwriters of John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven (also the author of some bestselling travel books). Then again, the film seems to ask, who exactly is the “real” Patrick Leigh Fermor – or the real anyone? Taking its title from a play concerned with dreams and disguises, magic and power, Ill Met By Moonlight is all about questions of identity.

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Under the credits, we see Dirk Bogarde in uniform; then, unexpectedly, we see him in the flamboyant outfit of a Cretan hill-bandit. A title informs us that Major Leigh Fermor was also known by the Greek code-name “Philidem.” In other words, there are two of him (at least), and on one level the adventure the film is about to unfold reflects a conflict in his personality. It’s a conflict shared, unknowingly, by his Nazi opposite number, the fierce, arrogant General Kreipe (an unlikely “proud Titania,” but it’s true that he “with a monster is in love” – the monster of Nazism). Kreipe’s human side is so rigorously repressed by the demands of war and “glory” that he is genuinely unaware of it; ironically, this humanness, which constitutes the true manhood of this Teuton warrior, is revealed by a boy (equivalent to Shakespeare’s Indian Prince?) – who, in turn, is the most grownup person in the movie.

Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster - Bogarde as Paddy the flamboyant Cretan

If “Philidem” appears under the credits, caped and open-shirted, a romantic dream-figure out of an operetta or a storybook, he is first seen in the film proper as a coarser, more down-to-earth version of the same thing – an ordinary Cretan peasant in a shabby suit, waiting for a bus. When he makes contact with the Resistance, his personality fragments further. To some, he is the mystical Philidem, Pimpernel of the Hellenes and righter of wrongs. To others he is “Major Paddy,” the happy-go-lucky Englishman of popular movie myth conducting war as if it were a branch of amateur theatricals, a gentleman adventurer relying on breeding to get him through and making fun of the whole business. To Bill Moss (David Oxley), the newly arrived junior officer sent to assist him, he is the cool, fast-thinking professional soldier. And to himself? In his quietly passionate defense of Cretan life and culture, he seems someone else again: a scholar and aesthete outraged by the barbarism and folly of war, and by the moronic arrogance shown by his captive toward the Cretan people.

Whatever his persona, Leigh Fermor is a chameleon who never seems to change very radically in himself. Perhaps because he has this quality of seeming all things to all men – and being those things – he remains unfazed by the monolithic might of the German military machine. Fluent in Greek, he can also speak German like a German and is easily able to assume another disguise, that of a faceless Nazi officer. Although he and Moss make fun of themselves – “If only I had a monocle!” muses Moss when Leigh Fermor tells him he “looks like an Englishman dressed like a German, leaning against the Ritz bar” – they are able to effect the kidnapping with an ease that seems appropriately Puckish. General Kreipe is ignominiously thrust onto the floor of his own limousine, gagged, and sat upon by a couple of the peasants he so despises. Kreipe’s rage is compounded by his firm conviction that he has been snatched by “amateurs” – a belief Leigh Fermor and Moss slyly make no objection to, knowing how it will gnaw at his already shaky Master Race self-confidence.

Soon, partisans and captive are up in the hills, where they stay for most of the movie (though the biggest of the film’s mountaineering set-pieces, a nocturnal descent through fog, was filmed on elaborately stylized studio sets). Once there, Kreipe determines to leave a trail for following German troops to pick up on – his cap, buttons from his uniform, even a couple of medals from his impressive display of such baubles never realizing that each emblem of his authority is no sooner dropped than it is retrieved by the vigilant Moss.

Rare Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster

Among Major Paddy’s partisans is a young war orphan, Nico, who has, while shinning up and down the mountains, much occasion to complain of his need of a pair of boots. Nico knows that the cost of a new pair will always be far beyond him; Kreipe, who has been friendly enough toward him in a rather patronizing way, seizes on this need by showing the boy his own impressive footwear and offering a gold coin with which to buy an identical pair. A German gold coin, he stresses, not one of the sovereigns Leigh Fermor keeps a supply of; it is, in fact, a coin the General is known to keep as a good-luck charm. Nico is impressed by the General’s largesse. But, of course, the Nazi requires a quid pro quo. All Nico has to do, when he goes down the mountain, is tell the searching German patrols where the General is, using the coin as a bona fides. But Kreipe has misjudged the boy (indeed, he can be said to have misjudged the whole of the human race): it never occurs to him that the boy will not do what he says. What Nico actually does is simply point the patrols in the wrong direction, leading them into an ambush; the magic gold coin is lucky for the Greeks, not the Germans. This makes the escape from Crete of the Britishers and their ill-met prisoner the easiest part of their long journey.

Once aboard a British ship, and naked of the symbols of military power, the General seems a new person – not such a bright man, not such a strong man, but also not such a bad man, either. He is visibly moved by the return of his possessions, especially the gold coin: despite his genuine pleasure in Nico’s company, Kreipe had assumed that the boy, like every non-German, is someone who can be bought and sold, and that “friendship” had been merely his gift, and not a privilege from which he might derive spiritual benefit rather than tactical advantage. The very simplicity of Nico’s ruse in deflecting rescue was the, final humiliation, the last stage in General Kreipe’s lengthy symbolic disrobing – which is precisely why his possessions can now be given back to him. If he started this modern midsummer night’s dream as imperious as Oberon, he ends it as foolish as the donkey-headed Nick Bottom. But then, Bottom the simple weaver is always better-liked by everyone than the unearthly and tyrannical monarch of Shakespeare’s enchanted forest.

And from his elaborate humiliation, the stiff-necked German learns a good deal about himself and about humanity. His curt acknowledgment at film’s end that he has been kidnapped not by amateurs but by professionals is also his acknowledgment of his own fallibility and that of the creed he has so proudly espoused. And so he regains a measure of dignity, along with those tokens of an identity he no longer needs. Nico himself get his new pair of boots after all (they belong to Leigh Fermor, who is barefoot in his final exchange with his prisoner), but, by a sad irony, is about to change identity as well: he will wait out the rest of the war far away from Crete in the distant England of which he has heard much but knows nothing. But at least he has a friend – a real friend, now – in General Kreipe, who has learned that the respect of an uneducated boy is worth more than a medal from the Fuhrer. “Gentles, do not reprehend / If you pardon, we shall mend.”

And Patrick Leigh Fermor, aka Major Paddy, aka Philidem – and, if you stretch your imagination just a smidge, aka Robin Goodfellow? – what of him? In the film’s closing moments, he is far from being self-assured intellectual or dashing amateur adventurer or legendary outlaw of the hills. He’s just a tired man who wants to go home and rest up. “How do you feel?” asks Moss. “Flat” is the reply. “You look flat!” says Moss. “I know how I’d like to look …” murmurs Leigh-Fermor wistfully. Moss knows what he’s going to say, and joins in the litany: “Like an Englishman dressed like an Englishman – and leaning against the Ritz bar!” It’s easy to imagine them ordering drinks at that renowned watering-hole with all the suavity required by this little fantasy. Still, the film’s last images of Crete receding in the distance, until all we can see is the sea, suggests that maybe Major Paddy’s heart is really back in those hills in the “fair and fertile” land that has become as much a Powellian landscape of the mind for us as the studio-built Himalayan convent of Black Narcissus or the monochrome Heaven of A Matter of Life and Death. And, as we depart both Crete and this film, we may reflect that being “dressed like an Englishman and leaning against the Ritz bar” would, for Patrick Leigh Fermor constitute yet another disguise. After all, he was Irish.

… now watch the movie trailer.

Ill Met by Moonlight

Related articles:

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

General’s long trip home

Crete, Greece: Ghostly soldiers on the Battle of Crete anniversary

The Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda Bay in Crete where the main anniversary commemorations will take place

It was sunny but cold, last month in Crete – what the locals call “ilios me dontia”, sun with teeth. I sat on the beach at Sfakia on the south coast of the island. Around me a toddler played among the stones while taverna owners were applying final licks of paint in preparation for the new tourist season.

My late father sat on the same beach in May 1941. Around him there was chaos and despair. Evelyn Waugh, who was there too, later captured the scene in the novel Officers and Gentlemen: “The ghosts of an army teemed everywhere. Some were quite apathetic, too weary to eat; others were smashing their rifles on the stones, taking a fierce relish in this symbolic farewell to their arms.”

This tiny harbour is the finish to the story of the Battle of Crete, which started 70 years ago on Friday, May 20 — a significant anniversary that will be commemorated across the island. There are few veterans left now, but strands of the narrative may still be picked up among the rocks and wild flowers of the beautiful western end of Crete.

I had long meant to do this journey, to discover what my father – and thousands of others – went through. He himself hadn’t been the best source as he wouldn’t say much about it. And then he died, with the story largely untold.
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To help me uncover it, I enlisted the services of a Briton who has been a resident of Crete for 25 years and offers guided tours of the key sites. For Tim Powell, tourist guide, musician and lover of all things Cretan, the Battle of Crete was characterised by the heroic resistance of the civilian population. “This ‘insurgency’ led to a declaration that for every German soldier killed, 10 Cretans would be executed — which of course did nothing to stop them,” he said.

He started the story at the end, the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda Bay where the main anniversary commemorations will take place. The 1,500 headstones memorialise some colourful characters, none more vivid than John Pendlebury, an archaeologist with a glass eye who was operating in Crete as a secret agent when he was killed on May 22 1941.

The battle and its aftermath of guerrilla resistance threw up a cast of such chaps — suave British secret agents, brave Cretan warriors, even a monocle-wearing German aristocrat — whose deeds are recorded in some compelling accounts. Ill Met by Moonlight, for example, recounts the kidnap of the German General Heinrich Kreipe in 1944, masterminded by the secret agent (and future travel writer) Patrick Leigh Fermor.

But the Crete campaign also included many ordinary soldiers and civilians whose names and actions remain unrecorded and for whom the experience was far from glamorous. One of them was my father, a lance sergeant in the Northumberland Hussars, who was evacuated to Crete from Athens towards the end of April 1941 after mainland Greece fell to the Nazis.

He dug in with a force of about 21,000 combat-ready British, Australian, New Zealand and Cretan soldiers to defend the island. The Germans launched their attack on May 20 in wave after wave of paratroop drops by parachute and glider. What followed was a series of military blunders on both sides in which the Allies managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The key fighting took place around the airfield at Maleme, and Hill 107 above it, to the west of Chania. Since 1974 Hill 107 has been the site of the German War Cemetery on Crete, the last resting place of 4,465 soldiers of whom nearly 2,000 were killed on that first day.

Many fell not to soldiers but to civilians. “The Germans had never seen something like this in Europe,” explained George Bikoyiannakis, the owner of the Café Plateia in the village of Galatas near Chania, the site of fierce fighting. “These people were fighting with farming tools. Even broomsticks. They would tie kitchen knives to them and use them as spears.”

George runs a little museum next to the church that commemorates the heroic efforts of locals and New Zealanders to defend the village. The Kiwis are remembered in the name of a street, Neozilandon Polemiston, which means “Road of the New Zealand Warriors”. Down a narrow alley, a garden gate has been fashioned from an old piece of British Matilda tank.

The civilian resistance — by women and priests and as well as men young and old — offended the Nazis’ sense of how war should be waged and their commander, General Kurt Student, ordered reprisals to be carried out “with exemplary terror”. The sites of these massacres are marked by monuments across the island, some of them displaying the skulls and bones of victims behind glass.

At Alikianos a marble column and canopy bear witness to one of the bravest feats of the Battle of Crete, in which 850 lads of the locally recruited 8th Greek Regiment held out for a week against German onslaught. More than 200 villagers, ranging in age from 14 to 80, were subsequently shot in reprisal.

“The Germans were surprised because the women didn’t turn away,” said Powell. “They watched their husbands and sons being executed.” The significance of the action at Alikianos is that it bought the Allies time to organise the evacuation of Crete. On May 27, realising the island was lost, the Allied commander, Major General Bernard Freyberg, ordered his forces to retreat south across the Levka Ori, the mountains that form the snowy spine of Crete, to an embarkation point on the southern coast.

My father and his fellow Geordies abandoned the ground they held around Chania and joined the exodus. The route they took, with little or no food, in rotting boots, under frequent attack from Stuka dive bombers, was nicknamed the Via Dolorosa. Today you can drive it in your little Nissan or Peugeot hire car.

In 1941 it was a dirt track that ended in the five-mile-long Imbros Gorge. A Stuka was shot down as it came in for the attack here. Its propeller is one of the prize exhibits in the war museum at Askifou, which lies on the Via Dolorosa. Walking the gorge myself, I tried to imagine the Stuka screech my father once remarked on, but all I could hear was goat bells.

His reward for reaching Sfakia, where Royal Navy ships evacuated 16,000 men over four nights, was to be told there was no room for him. He would have to stay behind and wait to be captured. All told, 5,000 Allied troops didn’t make it off Crete. None of those left behind was above the rank of lieutenant colonel.

One eyewitness talked of the “damnable and disgraceful scramble for priority, a claim to the privilege of escape based on rank and seniority”. Evelyn Waugh thought it a shameful episode. My father didn’t mention it.

After sitting on the beach at Sfakia I sat down for lunch at one of those spruced-up tavernas and ordered a plate of gigantes, butterbeans in tomato sauce. Then I remembered that butterbeans were my father’s favourite thing to eat. He would have appreciated a plateful as he sat twiddling his thumbs just a few feet away, waiting to be captured.

He spent the next four years, from the ages of 20 to 24, in various POW camps in Germany, but he took it all on the chin. The only bit I can remember him grumbling about was having to march the 50 miles back over the mountains, along the Via Dolorosa, after being taken prisoner. He said he could have done without that.

By Nigel Richardson – First published in The Telegraph

Related articles:

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

Ride of the Valkyries: The Vichy perspective on the German invasion of Crete

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

Crete: 11th Day Movie with Paddy

Meine Suche nach Patrick Leigh Fermor

This title from a book by the German author Michael Obert hits the spot for me. Like Michael I am also engaged in a ‘search’ for Paddy and I know from your comments and emails that many of you are finding your own ways to follow in Paddy’s footsteps and to understand and enjoy his works.

Following the publication of the Wolfgang Büscher video just a few days ago, I was contacted by Christian from Koln (Cologne) saying how pleased he was to see the video and at the same time sending me a couple of other articles from German newspapers and magazines. Christian made the point that in recent years there have been many features and articles published in Germany about Paddy, including Michael Obert’s book which provides the title to this article. Chatwins Guru und ich: Meine Suche nach Patrick Leigh Fermor by Michael Obert is available from Amazon.

I have pdfs of two more articles and those of you who followed the blog in its early days may remember that I have previously featured a further article by Wieland Freund. Therefore, perhaps for the first time in one place, a collection of German (and Swiss) material about Paddy.

Der letzte Byzantiner by Wolfgang Büscher, first published in Die Zeit 24 May 2006

Wolfgang Büscher discussing A Time of Gifts video

Mit der Feder im Rucksack durch die Welt by Georg Sütterlin, first published in Der Bund 30 Aug 2005

Besuch beim Haudegen des Peloponnes by Wieland Freund first published in Welt Online 8 July 2007

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

 

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

A bond deeper than blood. The friendship forged in wartime Crete between Patrick Leigh Fermor and shepherd George Psychoundakis was commemorated in George’s memoir about the Resistance, The Cretan Runner. With the book republished, it was time to meet again.

by Allison Pearson

First published in The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 13th June 1998

Two old men sitting at a table talking about the war. A Cretan and an Englishman. A voluble eye-popping tenor and a growly teddy-bear bass. “Remember the sick doctor we disguised as an old woman and carried for miles to get help?” “Yes, and remember when you dressed up as a general and kidnapped a real one!”

They interrupt each other. They sigh for the dead. They laugh for dear life, knowing exactly how much it can cost. Although one of the men speaks only Greek, I think I can detect a rhythm to their reminiscing: the Cretan talks everything up and the Englishman plays it right back down again. The sudden memory of one “bad Greek” acts on the Cretan’s weathered face like a drawstring, pulling it taut to a scowling walnut. But the Englishman, all silky diplomacy, jumps in and offers a more optimistic assessment of the fiend in question: “I think he just lost his head a bit.”

Later, when the Cretan mentions the Englishman’s name in the course of what sounds like a pretty fulsome tribute, his friend stops translating for me altogether. What did he say? “He was more than kind about me.” Yes, but what did he say? “Oh, I couldn’t possibly repeat it.”

The bashful Briton is Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, traveller, scholar- gypsy, war hero and writer of genius. His fiery friend is George Psychoundakis, author of The Cretan Runner, an extraordinary account of the anti- Nazi Resistance on the island, which was translated by Leigh Fermor and is now republished.

The Cretan Runner

There have been other memoirs of wartime Crete, such as Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek and Ill Met by Moonlight, W Stanley Moss’s record of the kidnapping of General Kreipe (later made into a movie, with Dirk Bogarde assigned to fill Leigh Fermor’s dashing boots). But those were visitors’ books. George’s story, as Leigh Fermor points out in the introduction, is unique. It is no longer the locals who are colourful aliens, but the Allied officers and their wireless operators – good sorts and good sports in the main but, none the less, foreigners with some very dodgy customs. “A most peculiar man,” George says of one buffer. “He had pyjamas and a washbasin.”

Even more baffling for the Cretans, who think Nature is a place where you go and shoot things, the buffer turned out to be an amateur botanist and geologist: “He was not only in love with different kinds of weeds but with stones as well.”

Paddy and I have been sitting in the front room of George’s small vine-clad house, outside Khania in western Crete, for more than two hours now. At least one of us is reeling under the bombardment of Cretan hospitality. Celestial cheese tarts made by Sofia, George’s wife, have given way to nuts, glistening sweetmeats and, as if that weren’t enough, shots of tsikoudia, a spirit so lethal it feels less like drinking a liquid than sipping scalded air. After three of these, I am not entirely sure whether the spools on my tape recorder are going round: after four, I don’t care.

George – one eye sleepy, the other coal black with embers of mischief – is joking about whether he should have given lessons in sheep stealing (a local speciality) to one of the wireless operators. “So when he got back to Scotland he could have organised sheep rustling.” Paddy pretends, unconvincingly, to be shocked.

Through the window behind them, you can see the White Mountains – a range so towering and snowy, even on this May day, that it is hard to tell where rock stops and cloud begins. More than half a century ago, those slopes were Paddy and George’s stamping-ground. “George’s life was dangerous and absolutely exhausting,” explains Paddy. But George is having none of it: “I felt as if I were flying. Running all the way from the top of the White Mountains to Mount Ida. So light and easy – just like drinking a cup of coffee.”

George has difficulty walking now – at 78 he leans on a stick as gnarled as himself – but his mind can leap from memory to memory, as if he were still flying. I ask George what he thought the British had learnt from the Cretans and vice versa. “What they learnt, because there was very little to eat, was to drink a lot and to dance and to shoot for joy in the air. We saw how much they loved our country and it made us love it still more. The fact that they loved Crete so much gave us even greater courage.”

The first time George Psychoundakis met Patrick Leigh Fermor he thought he was very tall. The young Cretan had just crawled on all fours through thick bushes into the heap of boulders where the officer was hiding. In fact, the Englishman was not especially lofty (a touch over 5ft 9in, according to his passport). It was the Greek who was tiny. “As fine-boned as an Indian,” recalls Leigh Fermor. “Lithe and agile and full of nervous energy.”

Anyway, height didn’t matter much back then. It was the July of 1942 in occupied Crete and the stature of men was not measured in inches, rather in a bewildering range of abilities. These included: keeping cool when a member of the Gestapo approaches your mule while it is carrying a combustible load of wheat and wireless; keeping warm in a cave-bed with a canopy of stalactites; and finding the courage to tuck into a dinner of local produce – grass cooked with snails. “We took the grass blade by blade, picked off the broken shells and ate it with much laughter,” recalls George.

Psychoundakis was a runner for the Resistance – a vertical postman, he delivered messages and equipment at barely credible speed. On a map, Crete doesn’t look too daunting – a sirloin steak beaten to a succulent sliver by a butcher. But it rises so sharply into such broken-toothed cragginess that it is pointless to measure it in miles: the islanders calculate distances in the time taken to smoke cigarettes. George’s wartime business was mainly conducted at eagle-height, or as he felt his way down the vertebrae of his homeland towards some hiding place where even goats didn’t dare.

He was 21 years old when he first met the 27-year-old Leigh Fermor. George addressed Paddy as Michali (all the Allied soldiers had Greek nicknames) or sometimes Mr Michali in half-amused respect (irreverence being the key to the Psychoundakis psyche). Paddy, meanwhile, code- named George either the Clown or the Changeling, for his cockeyed wit, his impish insubordination and a magical ability to spirit himself out of trouble.

Patrick Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy Moss

The two men were not just worlds apart: a glance at their biographies suggests you would need to hire a time machine to bring them together. Born in Asi Gonia, a village with a long history of giving invaders a hard time (asi is Arabic for uncommandable), George lived the kind of peasant life that had not changed for centuries. His family slept together in a single room with a beaten earth floor. After a scratchy education at the local primary school, he followed his father on to the mountains as a shepherd. By the time German parachutes blotted out the sky in May 1941, he had visited only two of Crete’s towns and had never seen the capital, Heraklion.

By contrast, Leigh Fermor was born into a smart Anglo-Irish family and educated at prep school and King’s, Canterbury. [Just like someone else we know] By 1939, he had walked across every country between London and Constantinople – a stroll commemorated in his two dazzling volumes, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water – and also appeared to have drunk in most of their national literatures.

Scrape through what Leigh Fermor called his “Fauntleroy veneer”, though, and you find a rougher grain. With his parents abroad for the first four years of his life, Paddy was entrusted to the family of a small farmer and, left uncultivated, he ran wild. The experience, he later wrote, “unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint”. His behaviour at a flurry of schools led to his being sent to two psychiatrists, although it is unlikely that either rivalled Paddy’s clinical diagnosis of himself as “a very naughty boy”. He was finally expelled from King’s for crimes that included “trying to be funny” and holding the hand of a greengrocer’s daughter. His housemaster’s report noted: “He is a dangrous mixture of sophistication and recklessness, which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.”

Almost 70 years later, I find it hard to improve on that verdict, save to replace the word dangerous with delightful. As it turned out, his influence on other boys was all to the good, and the most remarkable boy of all was George Psychoundakis.

While Paddy was in Kent writing “bad and imitative verse” and lapping up ancient Greek because it was a passport to a world of heroes, George was scavenging books from the village priest and the doctor, and occupying the long woolly hours by the sheepfold composing patriotic poems and beady skits on local life. (An early effort entitled Ode to an Inkspot on a Schoolmistress’s Skirt sounds distinctly Paddy-like in its high- flown cheekiness).

Although George’s father, Nicolas, was illiterate, he could recite by heart the whole of the Erotocritos, the 17th-century Cretan epic poem that comprises 10,000 lines of rhyming couplets. And the rhythm lodged in the son’s head and on his tongue: poetry to these people was not the object of solemn study but a spur to the spinning of legends and the cue for a bloody good song.

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

Which is to say that when the ragged and practically barefoot Cretan wriggled into the hiding-place of the Englishman in 1942, they had more in common than an enemy. George spoke only one perfect sentence of English – “I steal grapes every day” – but Paddy soon extended his repertoire. On long marches to the coast to meet supply vessels or during the dark hours awaiting a parachute drop, the Britons taught the Greeks folk-songs and the Greeks taught them mantinadas – waspish local couplets with a sting in the tail.

On their first trek together, Paddy recalls how George recited a poem he had written on the unambitious theme of The Second World War So Far. “It covered the invasion of Poland, the fall of France, the German invasion of Greece and Rommel’s final advance. It lasted more than two hours and finished on a note of triumphant optimism and presage of vengeance, which he emphasised by borrowing my pistol and firing it into the sky with the remark that we would soon be eating the cuckolds alive.”

Leigh Fermor, meanwhile, attempted to satisfy Psychoundakis’s ravenous curiosity about the world. What was Churchill like? Why do the Scots wear kilts? How about astronomy, religion, trains? How many sheep does the average Englishman own?

The task of the British Special Operations Executive in Crete was to assist the local Resistance. Having spent centuries in revolt against the Venetians and the Turks, the islanders didn’t actually need much encouragement. During the airborne invasion in 1941, when many young Cretans were away on active service, descending parachutists were met by old men, women and children – by anyone, in fact, who could point upwards and shoot. “Aim for the legs and you’ll get them in the heart,” ran the local wisdom. Four thousand Germans died. Those who survived took swift revenge. Reprisals, read one Wehrmacht memo, “must be carried through with exemplary terror”. Between May and September of that year, 1,135 Cretans were executed.

The Cretan Runner begins with the invasion. “Out of the sky the winged devils of Hitler were falling everywhere … the aeroplanes came and went like bees in a bee-garden.” One grounded plane is set upon by furious locals till it resembles “a bit of bread thrown on to an ant-hill”. From the opening pages, you get a pungent impression of the Psychoundakis style – a vertiginous mix of the epic and the demotic, the Homeric and the homely. Of the enemy, George writes: “They reached to our very bowels and provoked a storm in the soul of the race like the hiss of a poisonous snake about to strike.” No British account of the battle of Crete could contain a sentence like that. Too purple. Too embarrassing, frankly. But it feels utterly true to George and the hot-blooded rhetoric of his race.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of a book that documents the burning of villages, the casual slaughter of comrades and a life of mesmerising danger is how often it makes you smile. No stranger to hardship anyway, George embraces discomfort as though it were a shy friend with a lot to offer. We see George at the end of a knackering three-day trek using pieces of wood to mime someone hobbling. We hear him enthusing over yet another dank hiding-place as though he were writing for some actionable travel brochure: “The cave was perfect. We collected our drinking and washing water from stalactites. We arranged luxurious couches for ourselves from the branches of various shrubs that were better than the softest mattress!”

Best of all, there is George richly enjoying his British friends, not least their congenital inability to walk over the rocky landscape. (In one incident, Leigh Fermor threw himself pluckily at a high stone wall in emulation of local bravado, only to fall off backwards: the Cretans in the party walked around the side of the wall, shaking their heads and laughing.)

SOE officer Ralph Stockbridge (centre, in the spectacles) with some of his comrades in Crete

“It was plain that George was enraptured with the excitement of our secret life,” says Paddy. The same could be said of all of them, I think. As a boy Leigh Fermor confessed to being guilty of “a bookish attempt to coerce life into a closer resemblance to literature”. In this case, the literature was Greek. The Cretans, for their part, seemed all too willing to live up to the legends the Englishmen had imbibed at school. Most battles look romantic only in retrospect, if then: Crete was different. It seems to have struck its leading men as touched with an air of romance, even as the drama was unfolding. As they approached by boat on a moonless night, the first the soldiers knew of the island was perfume, the scent of wild thyme that wafts miles out to sea.

Once on shore, they changed into local costume – breeches, black bandanas, embroidered waistcoats and spiffy jackboots. There were lessons in how to curl their new moustaches. They were an extraordinary bunch – poets, archaeologists, free spirits thirsty for adventure. SOE chose them because they had some knowledge of ancient Greek. But, as Leigh Fermor explains, since Greek was no longer compulsory at school, those who opted for it had already marked themselves out as “a perverse and eccentric minority”.

I cannot get enough of the photographs of the Resistance taken through those years in the mountains. Remember, these are snapshots captured at a time when to have a likeness of yourself in existence was itself a threat to that existence. There is the legendary Xan “Aleko” Fielding, looking uncannily like the young Hemingway. Gimlet-eyed and bare- chested, he regards the lens with Olympian amusement. And there is Yanni Tsangarakis, one of the bravest and most trusted guides, slightly woebegone behind a Zebedee moustache, and the redoubtable Manoli Paterakis, whose unforgettable profile suggests he may have been the love-child of Montgomery of Alamein and a peregrine falcon. [I think he’s trying to say he was nasally overendowed]

Looking at the smiley countenance of Tom Dunbabin – a fellow of All Souls in peacetime – you can see why he inspired such love; ditto the gaunt saintly faces of Aleko Kokonas, the schoolmaster of Yerakari, and his wife, Kyria Maria. And then, of course, there are Paddy and George: the first as debonair and unfeasibly handsome as Errol Flynn casting about for a galleon to capture; the second apparently auditioning for the role of Puck.

In Louis de Bernieres’s novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, set in wartime Cephalonia, there is a posh Englishman who lives in a cave and comes out declaiming ancient Greek. He is a bit of a joke. And, to be sure, there is something potentially laughable about the Boy’s Own aspect of all this dressing up and blowing stuff up. What redeems it from absurdity, what transforms it into real rather than fantastical heroism, is the nagging presence of death, which circled above these lives like a hawk. There was nothing comic-book about Anton Zoidakis, captured by German soldiers, tied to their vehicle and dragged along the road until his face and his life were wiped away. And even George’s account of merry scrapes is pulled up short when 20 Gestapo visit Asi Gonia: “They said I was wanted for interrogation and if didn’t go to Retimo before January 17 they would set fire to the whole village.”

Three of George’s fellow runners were executed, two after what the Wehrmacht would probably have considered exemplary torture. In his superb book Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, Antony Beevor points out that the penalty for a shepherd caught whistling to warn of the approach of a German patrol was death.

War had transformed George Psychoundakis’s life. In February 1943, it enabled the former shepherd boy to travel abroad for the first time. He was spirited off to SOE headquarters in Egypt, where he was knocked sideways by wonders, not least the grass in the Gezira gardens: “Fat, short grass like green velvet carpet.” As for the zoo, “I could almost have deemed that I was in the middle of paradise”. The most misguided character in the whole of The Cretan Runner is the soldier who advised George not to climb up the Pyramids because it was “very tiring and tricky”. A short hop later, the Cretan runner got out his stiletto and “cut my name and fatherland” into a stone at the top.

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

On the day the war was over, a “high-spirited Mr Leigh Fermor” bought a dubious Mr Psychoundakis a lot of drinks. “If I drink all that I’ll be drunk,” protested George. “But my child, what is drink meant for? It’s no use for anything else,” replied Paddy.

Soon after, in a school where a whole village was gathered together, George recited a heart-stopping poem he had written on the lovely village of Yerakari, now destroyed, where once “white houses lay like doves asleep along the sill of heaven”. He had survived, but for a while it was hard to see what for.

Fortune, who had smiled on George in a time of insane adversity, appeared to doze off once the shooting stopped. Because of missing documents and in spite of his British Empire Medal (awarded in 1945), he was arrested as a deserter and imprisoned for several months. One can scarcely imagine the wound inflicted on his pride. Over three days, that great shaggy helmet of hair all fell out. Subsequently, he had to do two more years of fighting in the civil war. Returning at last to Asi Gonia, George found all the sheep stolen and his family in gruesome poverty. The Changeling had run out of magic.

George took a job as a navvy working on a road. At night, he sheltered once more in a cave and by the light of an oil lamp began to fill notebook after notebook with a furious, cramped hand. “I think he undertook this task as a kind of exorcism of the gloom of his circumstances, ” says Paddy. When they met up again in 1951, George gave his friend the completed work: Pictures of Our Life During the Occupation. Better known as The Cretan Runner.

Leigh Fermor, now living on the Greek mainland, took the precious grime-covered manuscript home to translate. George, meanwhile, was working to help his old friend, too. In 1943, with a German patrol approaching, Paddy, who was checking what he thought was an empty rifle, accidentally shot Yanni Tzangarakis in the leg. He died soon afterwards, but not before absolving his friend of all blame. Paddy was devastated: imagine killing the proud son of a country for which you were willing to lay down your own life.

This wretchedness was deepened by foolish rumours that eventually led to a vendetta being declared by some of Yanni’s relatives. This was only laid to rest after years of delicate negotiation by George, who found a very Cretan solution to the Englishman’s impasse: Paddy Leigh Fermor became godfather to Yanni’s great-niece. In Greek society, this bond is deeper than blood.

Two old men sitting at a table talking about the war. A Cretan and an Englishman. “We’d better censor that, George, it’s libellous,” says Paddy, trying to sound stern. As usual, he fails.

George goes off into the bedroom and comes back with a rifle. It is nearly as tall as he is, and its working parts are in similarly creaky order. As George poses with the gun, the photographer asks him to smile. George scowls and spits out a guttural retort. “Oh dear, oh dear,” says Paddy, shaking his head and laughing. What did George just say? “He said he won’t smile because he’s killing Germans.”

At the front of A Time of Gifts, Leigh Fermor quotes from Louis MacNeice’s great poem:

For now the time of gifts is gone
O boys that grow,
O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill.

Since the war, both men have found satisfactions. Leigh Fermor, though unfairly saddled with the label of travel writer, has become one of the greatest exponents of English prose.

Psychoundakis, meanwhile, has translated both the Odyssey and the Iliad into Cretan and been honoured by the Academy of Athens. Still, I can’t help wondering whether the time since their great adventure had been an anti-climax.

“To some extent all our lives were in those years,” admits Paddy. “Of course, one went on to do interesting things, but … ” George has come up now and stretches out his fingertips to reach the shoulders of his friend, the tall Englishman. “Ah, George says to tell you that those years up in the mountains were the best years of his life. He’ll never forget it. Never. And that’s why he wanted to commemorate our days together.”

Just as we are getting ready to leave, George gives Paddy a photograph. It is of George himself and Xan Fielding, taken somewhere in the mountains. You can just make them out. The emulsion is breaking up and great snowy specks of it are blizzarding them into oblivion. Yet looking back at the Cretan resisters, we see only a thrilling clarity. Their existence was both mortally serious and a great wheeze – perhaps a definition of the best kind of life you can hope to lead.

Years after the war ended, George Psychoundakis sang for his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor a mantinada. This is what it said:
With patience first and patience last, and doggedness all through,
A man can think the wildest thoughts and make them all come true.

Related articles:

The obituary of George Psychoundakis aka The Cretan Runner

General’s long trip home

Related category:

Ill Met by Moonlight

Crete: Island of Heroes

“The courage of the Cretan facing the firing squad is legendary … When executions were to take place I would leave my desk and walk out onto the balcony to watch their moment of death. Nowhere else have I witnessed such love of freedom and defiance for death as I did on Crete.” So said General Alexander Andre, the German Commander of the Occupation Forces on Crete.

This video features pictures from the film 11th Day and includes some pictures of Paddy, including a new one to me at least of himself and Moss with the kidnap gang.

It is said that the Germans had never encountered the extent of civilian resistance that they encountered on Crete.

Retribution was swift. The German High Command wanted to break the spirit of the populace and do it quickly. In this they failed and failed miserably. In retaliation for the losses they incurred, the Nazis spread punishment, terror and death on the innocent civilians of the island. More than two thousand Cretans were executed during the first month alone and twenty five thousand more later.

Even in the face of certain death while standing in line to be executed, Cretans did not beg for their lives. This shocked the German troops. Kurt Student, the German Paratrooper Commander who planned the invasion, said of the Cretans, I have never seen such a defiance of death. General Alexander Andre, the German Commander of the Occupation Forces was amazed and said: “The courage of the Cretan facing the firing squad is legendary. Cretans turn into mythical figures. They are so proud of their moment of death that one can hardly fail to admire their courage. When executions were to take place I would leave my desk and walk out onto the balcony to watch their moment of death. Nowhere else have I witnessed such love of freedom and defiance for death as I did on Crete.”

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

Crete: 11th Day Movie with Paddy

General’s long trip home

Related category:

Ill Met by Moonlight

Colonel David Smiley

We have come across David Smiley before. He was one of the occupants of Tara, worked with “Billy” McLean in Albania, and it seems he rearmed and led Japanese troops against the Vietminh. There cannot be many British officers who have led Japanese soldiers! Paddy was a friend and wrote the foreward to Smiley’s 1984 book, Albanian Assignment. One has to wonder, when reading the stories of these amazing characters, whether the British could ever find such people again. I hope so.

First published in the Telegraph 9 Jan 2009.

Special forces and intelligence officer renowned for cloak-and-dagger operations behind enemy lines on many fronts.

Colonel David Smiley, who died on January 9 aged 92, was one of the most celebrated cloak-and-dagger agents of the Second World War, serving behind enemy lines in Albania, Greece, Abyssinia and Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand.

After the war he organised secret operations against the Russians and their allies in Albania and Poland, among other places. Later, as Britain’s era of domination in the Arabian peninsula drew to a close, he commanded the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces in a highly successful counter-insurgency.

After his assignment in Oman, he organised – with the British intelligence service, MI6 – royalist guerrilla resistance against a Soviet-backed Nasserite regime in Yemen. Smiley’s efforts helped force the eventual withdrawal of the Egyptians and their Soviet mentors, paved the way for the emergence of a less anti-Western Yemeni government, and confirmed his reputation as one of Britain’s leading post-war military Arabists.

In more conventional style, while commanding the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), Smiley rode alongside the Queen as commander of her escort at the Coronation in 1953.

During the Second World War he was parachuted four times behind enemy lines. On one occasion he was obliged to escape from Albania in a rowing boat. On another mission, in Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand, he was stretchered for three days through the jungle with severe burns after a booby-trap meant for a senior Japanese officer exploded prematurely.

Though a regular soldier, Smiley was frequently seconded to MI6. As an assistant military attaché in Poland after the war, when the Soviet-controlled Communists were tightening their grip, he was beaten up and expelled as a spy, after an operation he was running had incriminated a member of the politburo.

After that he headed the British side of a secret Anglo-American venture to subvert the newly-installed Communist regime in Albania led by the ruthless Enver Hoxha. But Kim Philby, who was secretly working for the Russians, was the liaison between the British and Americans; almost all the 100 or so agents dropped by parachute or landed by boat were betrayed, and nearly all were tortured and shot. This failure haunted Smiley for the rest of his life.

Smiley’s exploits led some to suggest that he was, along with several other candidates, a model for James Bond. It was also widely mooted that John le Carré, albeit unconsciously, had taken the name of his hero from the real-life Smiley.

David Smiley with el Hassan and bodyguard in Yemen

Born on April 11 1916, David de Crespigny Smiley was the youngest son of Major Sir John Smiley, 2nd Bt, and Valerie, youngest daughter of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, 4th Bt, a noted jockey, balloonist, all-round sportsman and adventurer, also famed for his feats of derring-do.

After the Pangbourne Nautical College, where he excelled in sport, David went to Sandhurst in 1934. He served in the Blues from 1936 to 1939, based mainly at Windsor, leading the life of a debonair man-about-town, owning a Bentley and a Whitney Straight aircraft. Before the outbreak of war, he won seven races under National Hunt rules. In his first point-to-point with the Garth Hunt, he crashed into a tree, suffering serious injuries. Over the years Smiley was to break more than 80 bones, mainly as a result of sport; on two occasions he broke his skull, once in a steeplechase and once when he dived at night into an almost-empty swimming pool in Thailand.

After the war, he held the record for the most falls in one season on the Cresta Run in St Moritz; bizarrely, he represented Kenya (where he owned a farm) in the Commonwealth Winter Games of 1960.

After war broke out, the Blues sailed for Palestine, where one of Smiley’s first jobs, as a lieutenant, was to shoot his troop of 40 horses when it became clear they were of no use in modern combat. His introduction to warfare was against Vichy French forces in Syria. For his nocturnal reconnaissance work in ruins near Palmyra he was mentioned in despatches.

Later in 1940 Smiley joined the Somaliland Camel Corps, arriving at Berbera the very day it was decided to evacuate British Somaliland. Returning in frustration to Egypt, he persuaded General Wavell, a family friend, to recommend him for the newly-formed commandos, in which he became a company commander with the rank of captain. Sneaking from Sudan into Abyssinia, Smiley operated for the first of many times behind enemy (in this case Italian) lines.

In 1941 he returned to his regiment to command a squadron of armoured vehicles being sent from Palestine to raise the siege of Habbaniya, 60 miles west of Baghdad in Iraq, where the king and regent had been overthrown in a pro-German coup led by Rashid Ali. Under Colonel John Glubb, he led a charge alongside Bedouin levies in full cry (they were known to Smiley as “Glubb’s girls”, because of their long black locks). After helping to capture Baghdad, Smiley’s squadron was sent to Mosul with the task, among other things, of capturing the German ambassador, who escaped.

His squadron then moved east, to capture the Persian capital, Tehran, followed by “two weeks’ celebration with plenty of vodka, caviar and women”. After a spell in Palestine, Smiley led a Blues squadron of dummy tanks into the Western Desert pretending first to be British Crusaders and then, on a further foray, American General Grants, which were repeatedly attacked by Stukas. When Rommel broke through, they withdrew to Cairo. Three months later Smiley commanded a squadron of armoured cars at the battle of El Alamein – his last bout of conventional warfare.

After training at a school for secret agents in Haifa and taking a parachuting course with his friend David Stirling and his Special Air Service (SAS) near the Suez Canal, Smiley joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the organisation set up at Churchill’s instigation to “set Europe ablaze” by helping local partisans sabotage the Nazis’ infrastructure. He was parachuted with his life-long friend Neil (Billy) McLean into the mountains of Albania, then occupied by the Italians (and later by the Germans). For eight months he organised the fractious partisans in a series of ambushes and acts of sabotage (bridge demolition, sometimes by climbing under them at night while German troops were patrolling above, became a Smiley trademark). He was awarded an immediate MC. In early 1944 he was again parachuted into Albania, with McLean and Julian (later Lord) Amery, to liaise with the royalist guerrillas loyal to King Zog.

Colonel David Smiley, front 3rd right and band of Albanian fighters

Colonel David Smiley (left) in Albania

After leaving Albania, where his activities brought Smiley a Bar to his MC, he was transferred to the Siamese section of SOE, known in the Far East as Force 136, where he liaised with guerrillas operating against the Japanese who ruled the country through a proxy government. It was then that he was injured by the premature explosion of a booby-trap meant for a Japanese officer.

After recovering in Government House in Calcutta, where he consorted with both Nehru and Gandhi, he was parachuted behind enemy lines into eastern Siam, shortly before the dropping of the atomic bombs and the surrender of Japan, whereupon he organised the liberation of several prisoner-of-war camps, including the one on which the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was based. Though only a major, he personally took the surrender of the 22nd Division of the Imperial Japanese Army.

On Lord Mountbatten’s orders, Smiley re-armed a Japanese company and led them against the Communists of the fledgling Vietminh (who later became the Vietcong) in French Indo-China. Among other exploits, he freed 120 French women and children who had been taken hostage by the Communists. The only British officer in an area the size of Wales, he then took the surrender of Vientiane, Laos’s capital, from another Japanese general. For his activities in Siam and Indo-China Smiley was awarded a military OBE.

He later ruefully noted that, at that time, the Vietminh were backed by the American OSS (the CIA’s forerunner); Smiley was wary of what he considered to be America’s naïve enthusiasm for proclaimed democrats and its hostility to the British and French empires.

After his early post-war exploits in Poland and then his efforts to roll back communism in Albania were betrayed by Philby, Smiley returned to more conventional duties in Germany and thence to command his regiment, the Blues, at Windsor.

In 1955 he was appointed military attaché in Sweden, from where he made surveillance trips with his young family along the Russian border with Finland and Norway. But the pinnacle of Smiley’s post-war career was his three-year tenure as commander of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman’s armed forces during a civil war which threatened to bring down one of Britain’s more reactionary allies in the Gulf.

By now in his early forties, Smiley ran a gruelling counter-insurgency which gradually drove the guerrillas back from the scorching plains into their mountain retreat, the 10,000ft high Jebel Akhdar, which had never been successfully assaulted. With two squadrons of the SAS under his command, Smiley planned and led a classic dawn attack on the mountain fastness, finally crushing the enemy.

After leaving Oman in 1961, Smiley was offered the command of the SAS, but chose to retire from the British Army and file occasional reports for Raymond Postgate’s Good Food Guide.

He was not able to relax for long. Within two years he had been persuaded to help bolster royalist forces in Yemen. Liaising with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and MI6, who arranged for former SAS and other mercenaries to accompany him, Smiley made 13 trips to Yemen between 1963 and 1968.

Often disguised as a local, Smiley travelled on foot or by donkey for weeks at a time across Arabia’s most rugged terrain. He won the admiration of his colleagues, both Arab and British, for his toughness, bluntness, and shrewdness as an adviser. King Faisal, whom Smiley greatly admired, personally expressed his appreciation.

After ending his Arabian career, Smiley moved to Spain, where, for 19 years, he grew olives, carobs and almonds, and continued to advise Albania’s surviving anti-Communists, by now all in exile, before returning to live in Somerset and then Earl’s Court.

To Smiley’s delight, he was welcomed back to Albania in 1990, as the Communist regime, which had sentenced him to death in absentia, began to collapse. He forged a friendship with the country’s first post-Communist leader, Sali Berisha.

Smiley was appointed LVO, and Knight Commander of the Order of the Sword in Sweden and Grand Cordon of the Order of Skanderbeg in Albania.

In 1947 he married Moyra, daughter of Lord Francis Scott KCMG, DSO, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch’s youngest son. He is survived by his wife, two sons, a stepson and a stepdaughter.

Related articles:

One Man’s Great Game: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Related category:

Other SOE Obituaries

Profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Max Hastings

A personal view by Max Hastings who thinks that Paddy’s best book is Mani.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 12:01AM GMT 04 Jan 2004

Not long after the Second World War, an English couple chanced upon a remote taverna in the mountains of Greece. As they ate their simple lunch the proprietor, perceiving their nationality, remarked: “We had another English couple here once, before the war. They stayed for weeks. They were so beautiful and so in love. And every night they dressed for dinner!”

It was this last foible that had plainly captivated him, and indeed conjured for his listeners an enchanting vision of young lovers in “the full soup and fish”, as P G Wodehouse would have said, in this lonely Greek inn. All became clear when the innkeeper added: “His name was Lefemor.”

This was, of course, the inimitable Paddy (he has never been known as anything else), though the innkeeper was wrong about the nationality of his other guest – she was in truth a Romanian princess, Balasha Cantacuzene, with whom he enjoyed a romantic idyll through the last few years before the war.

Legend has it that “Lefemor’s” distraught family ordered him home, finally cabling the fare when he pleaded poverty to explain his inability to return. He merely used the money to protract the affair.

Like many stories told both by and about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – as he became this week at the age of 88 – this one may be a trifle fanciful, owing as much to soaring imagination as to historical fact. No matter. It is the sort of story about Paddy which ought to be true.

He richly deserves his honour not only for what he has written – some of the finest travel books of all time – but for what he has been. In prose, as I heard one of his oldest friends put it recently, “he possesses an extraordinary gift for expressing beauty in words”.

He has fulfilled the dream of so many upper-class Englishmen of his generation, to live, love, play the hero, sage and wit with a lightness of touch which, translated into the milieu of the kitchen, would produce a souffle of genius.

He was the son of Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, a geologist who travelled widely and made his reputation in India. “His tall, straight figure might often be seen dancing in Calcutta,” the DNB observes playfully. Paddy’s somewhat erratic schooling terminated at King’s Canterbury, from which he was sacked for some misdemeanour – “holding hands with the greengrocer’s daughter” is his own version, which will serve as well as any other.

Rejecting parental plans for Sandhurst and the Army, in December 1933 at the age of 18 he set out instead to walk to Constantinople, with very little money but some rather grand letters of introduction. The consequence was that for the next 18 months, he was wafted from schloss to schloss across old Europe, plunging his insatiable social, cultural, intellectual and linguistic curiosity into a river of happy encounters.

These he has described in the two volumes, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). A third instalment of the journey has been long in preparation, but it is unlikely that anyone except his publisher expects it to get finished.

He has always been a slow writer, each of the eight books in his modest output requiring long and painful labour. His dilatoriness has been reinforced, perhaps, by indifference to money. Though he has never had any, somehow God or friends have eagerly provided. He has practised a superior brand of Micawberism, founded upon the belief that something or somebody would turn up, which in his case it always has.

When war came in 1939 he left Baleni, the wonderful Romanian mansion where he had been living with his princess, to join the Irish Guards. Instead, however, he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps as a Greek speaker. He spent the winter of 1940 as a liaison officer with the Greek Army.

Affectionately sceptical friends say that Paddy’s linguistic fluency is a trifle exaggerated. Sixty years ago an Englishman who heard him gassing away nineteen to the dozen said to a neighbouring Greek woman: “Is he as fluent as he sounds?” She replied: “No. He is simply making a wonderful noise.” This is a little unjust, and of course he has indeed become a master of the Greek language after living in the Peloponnese for so long. He possesses a gift for communicating with his fellow man of any nationality, class or condition, without need for anything as vulgar as a phrasebook. Continue reading

Visit to the veteran of the Peloponnese by Wieland Freund (from Welt Online)

A 2007 interview with Paddy by Welt Online. The Germans have almost the same fascination for Paddy as we do. Afterall his first adventures took place in Germany (A Time of Gifts) and his part in the kidnap of General Kreipe has a particular fascination. 

He also confirms that “Volume Three” is being written – translated by Google – Oh yes, “he says in the rich sunshine,” I will write this book. There is to end on Mount Athos. From there, I have notes for every day. 

So here is the Google translated version. The original in German for the purists and the linguists is the next article below. 

Stop Press! I have had an offer to translate this properly and when I receive it I will replace the trash from Google. In the meantime, my apologies and enjoy trying to make sense of it!

Resistance fighters, hikers, travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor went to Istanbul as a young man, kidnapped in 1944 in Crete an army general and now lives in Mani. There he kept on the typewriter by Bruce Chatwin. 

Since the sixties, the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor: the Mani peninsula in the Greek Peloponnese. 

That there could be his house did not think you would have to climb into a closet or throw himself into a rabbit hole in order to achieve it – this idea comes with the darkness and returns, turned back into the Enchanted. 

The way to Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Herodotus of the 20th century, leads, it seems, to the edge of the world and then one step beyond. The shimmering leaves of the olive grove, the giant lemon and the red, Greek past of heavy earth might as well be the props of a dream. 

“Paddy” came first in 1952 by Mani 

We keep a vigilant group of cypress trees and follow the overgrown path until a sky-blue gate. Do I need a spell, so it opens and appears Fermor, the travel writer, war hero, the legend? Knocking at least seems too little. 

With 92 years, Patrick Leigh Fermor of immortality as close as it is today even comes close. His way of fame is just off the beaten track to have the world, behind firmly closed doors or in such places as the taciturn Mani. 

Paddy, like not telling the familiar without reverence, came here in 1952 for the first time. How the Spartans and the Byzantines, who fled from Slavs and Turks, and of which he knows everything, he climbed the passes of the up to two and a half meters Taygetos, the Mani, the middle finger of the Peloponnesian hand, centuries made for a natural fortress.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Berlin

The knocking does not answer 

The back of the slopes wrinkly rich almost to the bay. Bruce Chatwin, who came to Paddy as a “guru to worship” or how to overthrow a king, saw eagles soar over the house of Leigh Fermor. Twenty years later, Paddy Chatwin ashes buried – next to a crumbling Byzantine church not far from here. The Mani is famous for its action songs. 

Southward, on the faded, twinkling towers over the tiny villages, run, it means that a chasm into Hades. Leigh Fermor found it flooded. “Phosphorgefiedert,” he wrote, dip it into the cold depths and swim “through the heart as a huge sapphire. 

We knock in vain to dare us to elaborate the cobbled courtyard and whisper with the housekeeper. It leads us through the garden open arcades, which might as well bend over a cloister. 

Leigh Fermor is tattooed like a sailor 

Leigh Fermor has written so many monasteries in Europe, in towers of “solid ivory, and if anyone here was an escapist, The doors to the rooms, however, the numerous tables, which depends on the sound of glasses and laughter as a smoke curtain, speak a different language. 

Leigh Fermor speaks many. Photographs show it once hung over bursting with charm and zest for life, sometimes almost professorial, and again obviously as a sailor and tattooed. 

We wait under the coffered ceiling of the spacious, wonderfully cluttered living room, from which the English poet John Betjeman once wrote that it was “one of the rooms of the world.” On one wall hang paintings by Nicolas Ghika and John Craxton, leaning on a shelf worn, faded volumes of the great English stylist. On the floor there is a band “Sherlock Holmes”. “Enchanting easy, right?” 

The family left behind her son with strangers 

This could be Merlin: a jumble the gray, wavy hair, sharp features and eons of age in the eyes. Leigh Fermor carries the threadbare sweater a garret of scholars and the trousers of an artist in his studio. 

He is of overwhelming kindness, perfectly shaped “upper class”. In the sunlit bay he called almost everyone who comes to the question, “marvelous”: writers, painters, musicians. “They all knew.” – “I am,” he says mildly, “that old.” 

“For at least one of us children would remain alive, if a submarine sank the ship,” Paddy was in the care of a small family back in England. 

1933 – the first trip to Istanbul 

“I ran,” he says, “shouting and screaming across the yard. I never learned discipline. I was a difficult student. “-” Lazy? “-” Disobedience. “Even a psychiatrist who also treated Virginia Woolf was consulted. Paddy still flew from the school. He had kept up with the daughter of the greengrocer’s hands. 

The autumn of 1933 found him in a room not far from trouble blowing from London’s Shepherd Market, where he should have been cramming so that at least the military school would take him. 

Instead, he took a verse of George Herbert at his word: My way is free, free to the horizon, / Much like the wind. “In December 1933 he embarked for Holland. From there, he wanted to walk into a “green dragon”, Byzantium, which he never called Istanbul. 

On the trip report, the fans are waiting until today 

He is famous for getting lost in the widely spread European history, which he knows like no other. In Mani, one of his best books, the “opposite of a travel guide,” as he says, there is a footnote, the sheer joy of the strangest here, “and there crafty peoples’ lists of Greece: the Melevi Dervishes of” Tower the winds “, the fire dancers from Mavroleki, the hiking quack Eurytaniens. With the gypsies, whom he met in 1934 in the highlands of the Carpathians, said Patrick Leigh Fermor Latin. 

Paddy arrived on New Year’s Day of 1935 in Constantinople, and had better things to do than to write about his trip. He is one of the great English stylists working, slowly, life itself seems always in your way. 

It was not until 1977 “was published, the time of the gifts,” which describes his journey from Hoek van Holland to the middle Danube, nine long years later, “between forests and water”, which leads to the Iron Gate. The third book, the description of the phenomenon must last up to Constantinople, is still expected with such longing that leave a few words from the mouth of Paddy’s heave a sigh British press today. 

Where Chatwin’s old typewriter? 

When Sir Patrick, as he was allowed to call since 2004, was awarded in March in Athens the “Order of the Phoenix,” he told his casual way that he, because his handwriting was always bad, just learn to touch type. 

Oh yes, “he says in the rich sunshine,” I will write this book. There is to end on Mount Athos. From there, I have notes for every day. “We are walking through the garden, the Gulf of Messinia in a dozen colors of light blue. On the burnt grass stretches herself a hangover: “His great-grandmother one day was just there.” 

The studio is housed in an outbuilding. In an iron chest, which bears the inscription of “Traveller’s Club” that tape, books are stacked on the wall a faded French hunting scene. Somewhere there must be also Chatwin old typewriter, a 51er Olivetti. But where? Where? 

Soldier, he was happy because “was always something going on” 

On Mount Athos celebrated his 20th Birthday, then went to Athens, as he later went to Paris and Rome. With a Romanian princess, he lived in an old water mill in the Peloponnese, and followed her to finally Balení, the seat of her family in northern Romania. 

Russia and the horrors of communism were suddenly within reach. “Many of your friends were communists at that time.” – “I did not speak up,” he says. “ “I was so apolitical.” 

In Balení reached him of the war. He, which six years earlier at the Shepherd Market has become clear, “how little I was good for soldiers in peace time,” volunteered. The departure was hasty. “Not even my notebook I took with me. We were so naive. In a few months ago we believed us again. “It took decades. “Were you like a soldier?” – “In a way, yes. “ There was always something going on. ” 

In 1944, he kidnapped a German general 

Books are also in the bathroom and somewhere between them is a plaque commemorating the Battle of Crete. When she was lost, went back Leigh Fermor as major of the Special Operations Executive to Crete. One and a half years he lived disguised as a shepherd in a cave – “wrapped in white cloth from goat and horribly dirty” – and organized the Cretan resistance against the German occupiers. 

The rest is legend, one of the most daring commando raid of the Second World War. One night in April 1944, a large Opel on the road to Knossos, Paddy in a stolen German uniforms on the way. A scuffle and then, at the roadblocks, again and again the cry of “General car. 

For days wandered Leigh Fermor, the people and kidnapped the German General Kreipe through the mountains until they reached the coast, and finally Libya (Egypt). On the difficult journey Kreipe murmurs once verses of Horace. Leigh Fermor is one. „Ach so, Herr Major“,  

About the death, he never speaks 

Paddy has never really written about it. “Ill Met by Moonlight,” the book that tells this story in full, comes from Bill Stanley Moss, his former deputy, and was filmed with Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. 

When it first appeared in 1950, just came Paddy’s first book, “The Traveller’s Tree,” a description of his travels in the Caribbean out. DThen he was – in the UK, famous in Greece “He embodied an idea of the Renaissance,” writes Cooper, Artemis, “a man of action, which is just as much a scholar.” 

Cooper, the friend and daughter of a friend is writing Paddy’s biography, when he, as he says, “is just gone.” “But now that you mention it: We never really talk about it.” 

The stones for the house came with the donkey 

For lunch there are lemon chicken, tzatziki and Retsina. We sit on chairs Andalusian, a Venetian table at the foot of a guillotined by the passage of time Roman Sibyl. Leigh Fermor has picked up in Rome on the way, he collects nothing. 

He tells the story of Niko Kolokotronis, the Mauerermeister that the contract was to build his house, because six generations were Kolokotronis wall masters, and played all the violin. That was the beginning of the sixties. In the bay there was no electricity, donkeys brought the stones, and Paddy and his wife Joan were living in tents, until the house was finally finished. 

“I scribble in the studio in front of me,” reads a letter from the most beautiful, vibrant with life days in the bay.”Through the window I can see Joan, their army cats invites you to dinner; mass meows to rise, and their tails make waves like the sea.” 

A picture of his wife Joan (cats) in her hand 

Leigh Fermor demands a picture of the mantel, Joan in the forties, which he portrayed with a pencil. “Come on!” She called from a boat, as Paddy, like his hero, Lord Byron swam the Hellespont. “It took three hours.” 

Joan died in June 2003 here.”She was,” he says, his drawing in hand, “in truth much more beautiful. 

Original article here.

Ill Met by Moonlight movie trailer

The final movie from the famed Powell and Pressburger partnership starring Dirk Bogarde (as Paddy), Cyril Cusack (as Captain Sandy Rendel), David Oxley (as W. Stanley “Billy” Moss, M.C.)and the superb Marius Goring (as Major General Heinrich Kreipe). Not forgetting the island of Crete of course. Click the picture to watch the trailer!

Ill Met by Moonlight

Sophie Moss

Sophie Moss was wilful, lively and bloody-minded, with an almost total recall of a past in pre-Second World War Poland that was privileged yet full of turmoil. Later, in wartime Cairo, she lived with members of Britain’s Special Operations Executive in a house where wild parties were the norm.

Sophie Moss was born Countess Zofia Roza Jadwiga Elzbieta Tarnowska on 16 March 1917 on the estate of her father, Count Hieronim Tarnowski, at Rudnik in Galicia, south-eastern Poland. She spent her childhood roaming free, taming foxes, birds and deer. When she was 13 her parents separated, and she went with her mother, née Countess Wanda Zamoyska.

She married Andrew Tarnowski, a close cousin she had fallen in love with at 17 on a wolf hunt, and by 1939 she had had two sons; the elder died the day his brother was born. Sophie never forgot her return to her marital home with her second baby, (who would also soon die). She stood on Krakow Station: “I saw my train arriving with blood streaming down its side. Young military conscripts had travelled on the roof and, as it passed under a low bridge, had lost their lives. The sight of that train pouring blood was an omen of what, within days, was to be the fate of Poland.”

Within hours of the German invasion, refugees from western Poland started arriving. Sophie put them in bedrooms, then on mattresses, and in the stables, then had sheep and cows from the estate killed to feed them. She said that it was then that she grew up. She was persuaded by her husband and brother to flee with them. The men wanted to enlist abroad to fight for their country and, after an arduous and long journey they ended up in Palestine, and eventually Cairo, where she started the Polish branch of the Cairo Red Cross.

In autumn 1943, estranged from Tarnowski, she was invited to live in a villa with seven young British officers working for the Special Operations Executive. She moved in with a bathing suit, an evening gown and two mongooses she had rescued for 10 shillings.

She called this time her “university”, her teachers being the daredevil officers. Tara residents included Arnold Breene, Billy Maclean, David Smiley, Rowland Winn (later Lord St Oswald) and Xan Fielding. Another was William Stanley Moss (Billy), whom Moss went on to marry, in 1945.

In 1944 Moss and Patrick Leigh-Fermor kidnapped General Major Karl Kriepe, commander of the German forces occupying Crete; Billy’s account of the incident, Ill Met by Moonlight (1952), was made into a 1957 film.

Wild parties were thrown at the house, for diplomats, officers, war correspondents, princes, the British Ambassador and King Farouk. Moss tried to replicate the liqueurs from her father’s estate, using plums added to vodka. However, the concoction was always drunk before it had had a chance to ferment. At one party, Poles shot out all the light bulbs.

Another resident was a beer-drinking, house-trained bear, acquired in Russia by Poles who had been let out of Stalin’s gulags to form the Second Polish Army. Worried that the British authorities would not allow the bear to continue fighting with them into Europe, they asked Moss to take him while they retrained. She appealed to King Farouk, who declared: “You are my guest, and so is the bear!” and delegated Egyptian policemen to take it for walks. The bear went on to experience many battles, including Monte Cassino, and died in Scotland of old age. He now resides, stuffed, in London’s Sikorski Museum.

Last year Sophie’s poems, written mostly in Cairo during the war in Polish, were found. Sophie’s relation, the actress Rula Lenska, helped translate them at a launch held at the Sikorski Museum, the stuffed bear nearby In one poem she wrote: “If I fear death / it is of dying of boredom.”

Elisa Segrave