Tag Archives: SOE

Terrific Fun – The Short Life of Billy Moss: Soldier, Writer and Traveller by Alan Ogden

“Billy” Moss with his Russians

With grateful thanks to Alan Ogden and Gabriella Bullock for permitting me to share this with you. It is the first extensive attempt at a biography of William Stanley Moss MC, known to us as “Billy” Moss, the second-in-command to Paddy during the Kreipe kidnap, and also author of a number of books including Ill Met by Moonlight and its sequel War of Shadows.

A full pdf of this with extensive footnotes is available to download and print here. A slightly shorter version, edited for the 2018 Coldstream Gazette, and also downloadable as a pdf is here.

by Alan Ogden

The Fates had at first been kind to Billy Moss. Born into a privileged background and brought up by devoted parents, he was good looking, athletic and a precociously talented writer; he had penned his first book Island Adventure by the time he was fifteen. With a languid charm and a playful self-deprecation typical of his era, Billy had every chance of succeeding in whatever career he chose to pursue. Then, three months after his eighteenth birthday, a reluctant Britain declared a state of war with Germany and his future was no longer a matter of choice; it was a day that was to impact on him for the rest of his life.

Childhood, boyhood and youth

Billy’s father, Stanley Moss, was born in Japan in 1875. The son of Charles D. Moss , the Chief Clerk and Registrar of H.B.M.’s Court for Japan, Stanley was a successful businessman, making and losing a fortune three times over. At the age of forty, Stanley married Natalie Galitch, a Russian national eighteen years his junior born in Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, at that time a busy port in Eastern Siberia. Her father at one point was the mayor of Harbin, a city of 60,000 which had been built during the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway [1897-1902] that linked Vladivostok with Chita.

An only child, Billy was born in Yokohama on 15 June 1921 and two years later, after a devastating earthquake levelled most of the city – ‘the house was wrecked and after spending one week on the hill above the house with no protection and sleeping in the open air [we] were taken off by American destroyer’ – the Moss family made their way to Kobe, then to Shanghai and from there to England. It was to be the first of many such journeys; by the time he was a teenager, he calculated he travelled two and a half times around the world, including a return journey to Japan in 1927/28.

Schooling started for Billy at the age of five; at The Hall School in Weybridge he was viewed as ‘a most promising child’ and at St Dunstan’s School in Finchley Road, he received a similar appraisal the following year. From there, he was sent to Lydgate House School in Hunstanton in Norfolk where he made an excellent impression. On his leaving, the headmaster wrote to his parents that ‘he had been a fine little fellow, has proved himself most capable and loyal as Head Boy’. With a wide range of interests such as art, theatre, cinema, and music, together with sports such as cricket, football, boxing, and tennis, Billy soon settled in to his public school, Charterhouse, set in the Surrey countryside outside Godalming.

In his final year at Charterhouse, with the help of two friends, he produced Congress, a school magazine to which he invited illustrious Old Carthusians to contribute. Many accepted with the exception of Robert Graves who wrote a testy letter of refusal – ‘Dear Mr Editor, Sorry: I have no story and don’t write articles and the chief connexion I have with the school is a recurrent nightmare that I am back there again…’ The one and only issue with a print run of 1,000, and illustrated by Billy, was by any standards a considerable success. It included fiction by Richard Hughes of High Wind in Jamaica fame; a history of the Boer War by Lord Baden Powell; humour by Ben Travers and W.C.Sellar of 1066 and All That; reminiscences of actors Aubrey Smith and Richard Goolden; articles by golfer Henry Longhurst and travel writer Henry Baerlein; and Lieutenant-Commander Scourfield’s account of the mining of HMS Hunter off Spain.

Stanley Moss, having lost his first fortune in the Yokohama earthquake disaster, had worked hard to accrue a second, only to lose it in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. A third foray into Japanese mining proved successful until the Japanese government sequestered his assets. Stanley died suddenly in 1938. They had been a close-knit family, travelling together to many parts of the world. Billy found he felt the loss of his father more acutely as time went on than he did at first.

He and his mother were left in relatively straightened circumstances and the fees for his final year at Charterhouse were paid by his uncle, the diplomat Sir George Moss, later Adviser on Chinese Affairs to SOE’s Delhi Group.

On leaving school in July 1939, Billy accompanied his mother together with her sister, Olga, and her brother-in-law on a trip to Riga. Leaving Tilbury on 3 August, they arrived in Gothenburg and after a brief stopover in Stockholm, they reached Riga on 7 August. Almost immediately they found themselves caught up in the chaotic events that surrounded the British declaration of war against Germany on 3 September. Running perilously low on money, they left Riga on 7 September and reached Stockholm where they caught a train to Oslo. After several adventures in search of a ship, they ended up in Bergen where they found a passage to Newcastle. Their ship, The Meteor, once the Kaiser’s yacht, sailed at 11.30 p.m. with over 200 passengers on board, most of who slept on deck in fear of being torpedoed by a German U-boat . The very next day Billy started work as a trainee accountant with The British American Tobacco Company , which had recently relocated from London to Egham after the Ministry of Supply had requisitioned its Westminster Head Office. After finding digs in Staines, Billy worked for the company until the New Year of 1941 when he joined the Army.

Off to war with the Coldstream Guards

Enlisting in the Coldstream Guards, one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished regiments, Billy started his military career at the Guards Depot in Caterham, the home of ‘spit and polish’, and moustachioed Sergeant Majors with a variety of encouraging phrases. Accepted for officer training, he progressed to Sandhurst in April and by the beginning of August was gazetted Second Lieutenant Emergency Commission . Soldiering on the home front at that time was somewhat akin to peacetime; King’s Guard at St James’s Palace, cocktail parties, deb dances and a spell with the holding battalion at Chequers . In his diary, he noted ‘it had been wonderful staying at Chequers at a time when every word spoken by Churchill was gospel and thrilling to see him “off duty” and to speak with him and eat and drink with him and understand him and his ways’. A period of guarding Rudolf Hess at Mytchett Place in Surrey was followed by a posting to the 6th battalion before finally being sent overseas in August 1942 to join the 3rd battalion. As Billy put it, ‘there had been the blitz, and yet we had all been so gay – theatres, night-clubs, restaurants and riotous weekends’. Continue reading

The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE

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

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

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

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

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

Robin’s book claims to offer:

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

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

Despatch from the Hellenic infused colonies

My thanks to Brent McCunn for sending me this article which features PLF historian (co-editor of Abducting a General) and supplier of many “then and now” photographs, Chris White, on a trip to Australia.

by Brent McCunn

PLF (Patrick Leigh Fermor), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and Cretan WW2 history is alive and well in Melbourne. One should expect this, after all we are the third largest Greek city.

Recently our visiting ‘Pohm’ (Prisoner of his majesty), Chris White, was introduced to a circle of locals who have an above average interest in the afore mentioned historical proceedings.

Chris was staying with us (Brent and Elaine McCunn) and after Saturdays bush walks and BBQ, in unseasonable steamy heat, I introduced Chris and his ‘caveman photographs’, to a local historian Jim Claven who, despite being a ten pound Scot from Glasgow, lives in the suburb affectionately known as Oakleighopolis. This moniker is due to the, rather noticeable, ratio of Greek heritage residents, cafes and restaurants – their main mall area is like a downtown portion of an Athens café zone! Jim is a historian and freelance writer and specialises in ANZAC/Hellenic connections. In addition he has lead military history tours to Greece and is currently writing a book about Lemnos and its WW1 ANZAC history. He is a PLF fan, having read his Mani book many years ago and visiting PLF’s home last year along with members of the British Veterans of the Greek Campaign Association.

Following this Mythos lubricated encounter Jim rallied some of the heavier artillery of ANZAC history and the Cretan community, one of whom, a restaurant owner, offered us his establishment as a meeting venue for the Monday night. “Others have to see what you have done Chris’, exclaimed Jim.

After a traffic jammed drive across Melbourne during rush hour we arrived to the suburb of Moonee Ponds, “This is where Dame Edna came from exclaimed an excited Chris White”!

Our restaurant venue, The Philhellene, is recognised as being in the top three Greek eateries in Melbourne and serves a range of regional foods, in particular Cretan cuisine. I had heard about it before, as a friend plays there with his Rebetika band, but due to its location we had not ventured there – traffic you see!! We will revisit!!!!

With such short notice we were pleased to meet the owner John Rerakis, and another restaurant owner, Antonios (Tony) Tsourdalakis – I must mention that Tony (Antonius) is the owner of another of the ‘Top Three’ Greek restaurants – Kritamos in Richmond (Melbourne). Tony is also the secretary of the Melbourne based, ‘Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council’. This Council was formed a few years ago and brings together historians, politicians, veterans descendants, service organization representatives and many representatives from Melbourne’s Greek community organizations. The Council organizes a series of annual events commemorating the Greek and Crete campaign as well as participating in events in Greece and on Crete.

Then we had Jim Claven of course, and Peter Ewer – historian and author of the seminal work, ‘The Forgotten Anzacs” – yes I brought along my copy for a dedication! Our two Cretan/Aussies were key people in the Cretan community committees and have extended family connections to the villages Chris has explored and the events of WW2. John, Jim and Peter are also committee members of the same organization mentioned. I had hoped to have the nephew of Manoli Paterakis – George Paterakis – in attendance, but he was not well at this time. We had only planned for a small group for this introduction.

The food and Cretan red wine started to flow and in between gastronomic groans of pleasure we discussed PLF and ANZAC history, along with our two hosts family connections. Chris was soon holding all the assembled attentions with his slide display. Our hosts recognised some valleys and villages, but not the caves!

Our host then walked us around the small museum he has created on his restaurant walls. Framed photographs record his family history along with local Melbourne connections. In the dining area we were seated in was part of his extensive collection of movie posters collected by his father who operated a cinema playing English, Greek, Italian and other ethnic background movies. John said he had ‘piles’ of posters stored away, but pride of place here were the Italian posters for ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’!!!

The food continued and desert offered up freshly made Loukoumades, accompanied by home made Halva flavoured ice-cream!! Just when you think a Cretan has finish expanding your stomach out came a small elegant bottle twinned with a neat stack of small shot glasses. Yes it was spirit, but infused with Cretan herbs and honey!!

Brent and Elaine McCunn were paying participants on the inaugural PLF tour in 2016. They are the owners of specialist group tour operator, Passport Travel in Melbourne. In 2018 they are operating a rather unique tour to Greece, which weaves some PLF and ANZAC history into its core structure. The main theme is Rebetika Music. Brent has organised a number of music tours that have concentrated on themes such as, Blues, Reggae, African and Cuban Salsa and has been a fan of Greek Rebetika for many years. Perhaps his long association as an amateur Blues musician assisted with his discovery of the Greek Blues. The tour will be led by Australia’s premier Rebetika musician, Con Calamaris , a friend and near neighbour of Brent. The tour, whilst not designed for a hardened PLF, or military history enthusiast, it will bring these two topics into the itinerary and leave time at the end for those who desire more time to pursue further personal explorations.

There are many examples where the history of PLF conclaves with Australian and New Zealand history. The ANZACs on Crete is obvious. Hydra also casts up other connections.

There is also a strong link to Australian writers and the bohemia movement. From Sidney Nolan to Peter Finch, artists gravitated around the glamorous Australian literary couple, George Johnston and Charmian Clift, on this tiny Aegean island in a time of rebellion, romance and creativity. It was a time of great inspiration and camaraderie as the expat artists drank, argued, dreamed and created. It was here that Johnston wrote his novel, My Brother Jack, and his close friend Cohen penned the musical masterpieces Suzanne, Bird on a Wire and So Long Marianne

The tour is formatted to attract a younger audience and has been hailed by the local Greek community as being attractive to 2nd and 3rd generation descendants. In addition, to those with Greek ancestry, Rebetika also attracts interest from those of other backgrounds. Brent and Elaine’s own son is one such example.

The tour is not a rage trip. It does have a range of ages, all being united with a common musical and historical bond. Passport Travels long established contacts in Greece (we have operated special interest groups for some 25 years to multiple worldwide destinations) have expressed their own delight at seeing something so unique being offered. “We have not seen such a theme ever and it is nice to see something different for Greek tourism, rather than the cliche”, is the comment most relayed.

More details can be obtained via this website link. Questions, via the web page, will get to Brent McCunn. http://www.uniquepassport.com/EnterTitleGreekRebetika.php

On the return home journey, Jim took Brent, Elaine and Chris to visit the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the first dedicated memorial to the major role of the Greek Island of Lemnos and its nurses, to the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. This memorial was erected with community support in August 2015, the centenary of the arrival of Australia’s nurses on Lemnos. This ANZAC nurse division continued its work in Greece and of course Crete during WW2.

One of two original movie promotional posters from the Italian language edition of ‘Ill Met by Moonlight

Team Crete. From left: John Rerakis: Peter Ewer: Brent McCunn: Chris White: Jim Claven: Tony Tsourdalakis: With 2nd of two original Italian Language release of “Ill Met by Moonlight”.

ANZAC Day March

This year other nationalities, in traditional costume marched with surviving diggers and family representatives. This was the first time this happened and is still subject to controversy. Within the organisers (The RSL – Returned Servicemen League) there are those who feel this divergence makes the event a ‘Parade’ rather than a ‘commemorative march’. They also feel that only, those that served, or direct descendants, should march and all be dressed formally as their ancestors would have. The other arena of thought is for the march to be more inclusive of those allies that worked with and for the ANZACs. The debate will continue.

This party marched with an Australian battalion that saw action in Greece.

To the left of Brent McCunn is John Rekakis and then 3rd to the right is John Tsourdalakis. To Brent’s immediate right is a New Zealander, Peter Ford, who self published a book about his fathers experiences on Crete, eventual escape with others via a small fishing boat, unexpected meeting with Rommel in his staff car as they came ashore in Nth Africa, and eventual return to British lines.


When John opened up this current restaurant he hung the top image which showed a local ANZAC who knew his family since they arrived. According to John the ANZAC veteran couldn’t understand why he would want a picture of him on his wall. As John said to me, the image says why!

George Pakerakis. Nephew of Manoli Pakerakis at commemorative ‘Battle of Crete’ lunch in May 2017 at Cretan Centre. George recalls PLF coming to his village with his uncle. George, as a teenager ran messages for the local resistance and still carries the scars from being shot by German soldiers.

Chris examining an image featuring local; Cretans and priests with a group of New Zealanders and Australians they have sheltered. Taken in front of a stone walled sheep pen of some sort. Chris now has a new photograph to add to his further explorations! Perhaps we will see a copy a, ‘then and now’ gracing these walls in future years.

Lemnos Nurses Memorial

Beachside suburb of Albert Park. The closet parcel of land, local council would allow, to Melbourne passenger ship wharf – Princess Pier. This is where all troop and nurse convoys set sail from in WW1 and WW2. ‘Fitting Spot’ as they say for all Victorian Greek connected campaigners!

John Pendlebury and the Battle of Crete – Paddy’s speech

John Pendlebury at Knossos

John Pendlebury at Knossos

The following is the text of a speech given by Patrick Leigh Fermor at Knossos, Crete, on 21 May as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Spectator 20 October 2001

John Pendlebury is an almost mythical figure now, and, in some ways, he always was. Everyone connected with ancient or modern Greece, and not only his fellow archaeologists, knew all about him. He was born in 1904. In addition to his classical triumphs at Winchester and Cambridge, a dazzling athletic fame had sprung up. He broke a 50-year record at the high jump by clearing the equivalent of his own height of six feet and flew over hurdles with the speed of a cheetah. His classical passion was humanised by a strong romantic bent; he revelled in novels about knights and castles and tournaments. And all suspicion of being a reclusive highbrow was scattered by his love of jokes and his enjoyment of conviviality. A strong vein of humour leavened all.

The British School of Archaeology was his Athens anchor and wide learning, flair and imagination led him to many finds. He dug for several Egyptian seasons at Tel-elAmarna, but Crete became his dominating haunt. He was on excellent but independent terms with Sir Arthur Evans but, when he was away from Knossos and the Villa Ariadne, he was constantly on the move. He got to know the island inside out. No peak was too high or canyon too deep for him to claw his way up or down. He spent days above the clouds and walked over 1,000 miles in a single archaeological season. His companions were shepherds and mountain villagers. His brand of toughness and style and humour was exactly right for these indestructible men. He knew all their dialects and rhyming couplets. Micky Akoumianakis, the son of Sir Arthur’s overseer, told me he could drink everyone under the table and then stride across three mountain ranges without turning a hair.

This is the moment to slip in a word about Nicholas Hammond, the brilliant scholar and archaeologist turned soldier, and a very old friend of Pendlebury’s, whose involvement in the run-in to the battle and whose adventures in the caique Dolphin deserve an entire saga of their own. (It is he who should be writing about Pendlebury, not me, But he was 94 this year and died, lucid to the end, in April. Just before he died, he wrote to me saying, ‘I’m sure you’ll do him proud’; so I must do my best.)

Pendlebury in Cretan dress

Pendlebury in Cretan dress

Pendlebury’s knowledge of the island was unique, and when, in the end, he managed to convince the sluggish military authorities, he was sent to England, trained as a cavalryman at Weedon, commissioned as a captain in a branch of military intelligence and then sent back to Crete as the British vice-consul in Heraklion. It was typical that he referred to his military role as ‘trailing the puissant pike’, like Pistol in lienly V. He didn’t mind that his consular cover story in Heraklion fooled nobody. But his mountain life changed gear: he presciently saw that the Cretan veterans of the old wars against the Turks would be vital to the eventual defence of the island. These regional kapetanios, natural chiefs — like Satanas, Bandouvas and Petrakogiorgis, and many more with their sweeping moustaches and high boots — had many virtues and some, perhaps, a few faults, but they were all born leaders. They were all brave, they passionately loved their country and they recognised the same qualities in Pendlebury. They trusted his judgment when he began to organise a system of defence, arranging supply lines, pinpointing wells and springs, preparing rocks to encumber possible enemy landing places, storing sabotage gear, seeking out coves and inlets for smuggling arms and men, and permanently badgering the Cairo authorities for arms and ammunition.

When the Italians invaded Greece from Albania and were flung back by the Greek counter-attacks, the probable sequel became clear at once: Germany would come to the rescue of her halted ally. The whole Wehrmacht was available and so was Germany’s vast Luftwaffe. The implications were plain. Pendlebury and the Cretans made guerrilla strikes on Kasos, the Dodecanesian island 25 miles from the eastermost cape, and there was a far-flung caique operation on Castellorizo. off the south coast of Turkey_ Like all Crete, Pendlebury lamented the absence of the 5th Cretan division, which had covered itself with glory in Albania, only to be left behind on the mainland. With them, and the 10,000 rifles Pendlebury longed for, he felt that the island could be held forever. But, to his exasperation, the arms only came in driblets. Even so, there was hope.

If the worst happened, Pendlebury was determined to stay and fight on with the guerrillas until Crete was free. His stronghold would have been the Nidha plateau, high on the slopes of Mount Ida. It was grazed by thousands of sheep, inaccessible by roads, riddled with caves — Zeus was born in one of them — and it could only be reached through the key village of Krousonas (the stronghold of Pendlebtny’s friend, Kapetan Satanas) and the great resistance village of Anoyia (the eyrie of Kapetans Stephanoyianni Dramoudanis and Mihali Xylouris). During all this time, the knowledge that the rest of Europe was either conquered or neutral and that England and Greece were the only two countries still fighting was a great bond.

We must skip fast over the German invasion of Greece. Most of the British forces, which had been taken from the battle in the Libyan desert to help the Greeks, got away from the mainland with the Royal Navy’s help and the island was suddenly milling with soldiers who had made it to Crete. I was one. I was sent from Canea to Heraklion as a junior intelligence dogsbody at Brigadier Chappel’s headquarters in a cave between the town and the aerodrome.

The daily bombings were systematic and sinister. Obviously, something was going to happen. It must have been during a lull in this racket that I saw Pendlebury for the first and only time. One man stood out from all the others that came to the cave,’ I wrote later on. I was enormously impressed by that splendid figure, with a rifle slung like a Cretan mountaineer’s, a cartridge belt round his middle, and armed with a leather-covered swordstick.

One of his eyes, lost as a child, had been replaced by a glass one. I heard later that, when out of his office, he used to leave it on his table to show that he would be back soon. He had come to see the Brigadier to find out how he and his friends could best contribute, and his presence, with his alternating seriousness and laughter, spread a feeling of optimism and spirit. It shed light in the dark cave and made everything seem possible. When he got up to go, someone (Hope-Morley?) said, `Do show us your swordstick!’ He smiled obligingly, drew it with comic drama and flashed it round with a twist of the wrist. Then he slotted it back and climbed up into the sunlight with a cheery wave. I can’t remember a word he said, but one could understand why everyone trusted, revered and loved him.

We all know a lot about the battle: the heavy bombing every day, followed at last by the drone of hundreds of planes coming in over the sea in a darkening cloud, and the procession of troop-carriers flying so low over the ground they seemed almost at eye-level, suddenly shedding a manycoloured stream of parachutes. When the roar of our guns broke out many invaders were caught in the olive branches and many were killed as they fell; others dropped so close to headquarters that they were picked off at once.

Heraklion is a great walled Venetian city. The enemy forced an entry through the Canea Gate, and after fierce fighting they were driven out by the British and Greeks with very heavy losses. This was the first astonishing appearance of Cretan civilians, armed only with odds and ends — old men long retired and boys below military age, even women here and there — suddenly fighting by our side, all over the island. In Heraklion the swastika flag, which had briefly been run up over the harbour, was torn down again. The wall was manned by Greek and British riflemen, successful counter-attacks were launched and, apart from this one break-in, the town and the aerodrome remained firmly in our hands until the end.

After leaving the cave, Pendlebury and Satanas headed for the Kapetan’s high village of Krousonas by different routes. They hoped to launch flank attacks on the steadily growing throng of dropped parachutists west of Heraklion. He got out of the car with a Cretan comrade and climbed a spur to look down on the German position. They were closer than he thought and opened fire. Pendlebury and his friend fired back. Here the fog of battle begins to cloud things. Pendlebury and a Greek platoon were still exchanging fire with the Germans when a new wave of Stukas came over and Pendlebury was wounded in the chest. He was carried into a cottage, which belonged to one of his followers, George Drossoulakis, who was fighting elsewhere and was killed that same day. But his wife Aristeia took him in and he was laid on a bed. The place was overrun with Germans; nevertheless, one of them, who was a doctor, cleaned and bandaged the wound. Another came in later and gave him an injection. He was chivalrously treated. The next morning he told the women of the house to leave him. They refused and were later led away as prisoners. A field gun was set up just outside . . and a fresh party of parachutists was soon in the house. Here was an English soldier dressed in a Greek shirt and with no identification. A neighbour’s wife saw them take him out and prop him against the wall. Three times they shouted a question at him, which she couldn’t understand. Three times he answered ‘No’. They ordered him to stand to attention and then opened fire. He fell dead, shot through the head and the body.

The battle raged on. Heraklion stood firm and we had similar tidings from the Australians and Greeks defending Rethymnon. After the lines of communication had been cut, we had no glimmer of the turn things were taking at Maleme over in the west. We thought we had won. The news became still more bitter later on, when we learnt that enemy casualties had been so heavy that for a time they had considered abandoning the campaign.

Much later we learnt what happened to Pendlebury. At first his body was buried near the spot where he fell. Later, the Germans moved him to half a mile outside the Canea Gate beside the Rethymnon road. I remember bicycling past his grave the following year dressed as a cattle-dealer. It was marked with a wooden cross with his name on it, followed by liritischer Hauptmann’ . There was a bunch of flowers, and new ones were put there every day until the enemy shifted the grave to somewhere less central. (He now lies in the British war cemetery at Souda Bay.) Meanwhile legends were springing up. For the Cretans, it was the loss of an ally and a friend with a status close to that of Ares or Apollo For the enemy, he was a baleful and sinister figure, a darker T. E. Lawrence, and perhaps he was still lurking in the dreaded mountains. Many bodies were exhumed until a skull with a glass eye was dug up and sent to Berlin — or so they said. According to island gossip, Hitler had been unable to sleep at night for fear of this terrible incubus, and kept the trophy on his desk. To the SOE officers who were sent to Crete to help the Resistance, he was an inspiration. His memory turned all his old companions into immediate allies. We were among friends. Pendebury — Pedeboor Pembury — however it was pronounced, eyes kindled at the sound.

John Pendlebury

John Pendlebury

We must go back to 28 May 1941, seven days after Pendlebtuy’s death and the night of the evacuation. The British troops were lining up to board the ships that were to carry us to Egypt. I was interpreter. Everyone felt downhearted at leaving the Greek friends who had fought beside us for the last eight days. The battered and silent town smelt of burning, explosions, smoke and fresh decay All at once, an old Cretan materialised out of the shadows. He was a short, resolute man, obviously a distinguished kapetan, with a clear and cheerful glance, a white beard clipped under the chin like a Minoan and a rifle-butt embossed with wrought-silver plaques. He said he would like to talk to the ‘General’. The Brigadier was a tall man and an excellent commander, tanned by a lifetime’s soldiering in India. The kapetan reached up and put his hand on the Brigadier’s shoulder and said, ‘My child,’ — paidi triou’ in Greek — ‘we know you are leaving tonight; but you will soon be back. We will carry on the fight till you return. But we have only a few guns. Leave them all you can spare.’ The Brigadier was deeply moved. Orders were given for the arms and a Black Watch lieutenant led away the kapetan and his retinue. As we made our farewells, he said, in a kind but serious voice, ‘May God go with you, and come back soon.’ Meanwhile, escorting destroyers from HMS Orion and HMS Dido were stealing towards the mole.

It was only later, looking at photographs, that the old man was identified as Pendlebury’s friend, Kapetan Satanas. He died the next year, after handing his gun to a descendant, saying, ‘Don’t dishonour it.’

Looking back, he represents the innermost spirit of Crete. Ever since, the two men have seemed to symbolise the brotherhood-in-arms that brought our two countries so close together and made us feel that this season of desolation would somehow, against all the odds, end in victory and the freedom they were all fighting for.

Patrick Leigh Fermor addresses the Special Forces Club on its 40th anniversary

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

My thanks to Gaz Wild who discovered this gem in the PLF archive of the National Library of Scotland last year. There are two versions, one a pdf of Paddy’s original with many handwritten corrections, and a tidied up draft made after his death. It would have been written in 1985 for the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the Special Forces Club, and is referred to in a letter of Paddy’s to Rudi Fischer dated 10 November 1985, which appears in Dashing for the Post page 393, para 2. Paddy remembers especially John Pendlebury, Mike Cumberlege, and Manoli Paterakis.

A special treat for the holiday period. I hope that you enjoy it.

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary-tidied

The Sabotage Diaries – video by author Katherine Barnes


The Sabotage Diaries from Katherine Barnes on Vimeo.

I first wrote about this excellent book in March. Author Katherine Barnes has now produced a video which is worth a watch, even if only to view some of the extraordinary photographs showing SOE operations in mainland Greece.

The Sabotage Diaries is the thrilling story of Allied engineer Tom Barnes, who was parachuted behind enemy lines in Greece In 1942 with eleven others to sabotage the railway line taking supplies to Rommel in North Africa. The target chosen was the Gorgopotamos bridge. Tom led the demolition party to lay the explosives while fighting raged between the Italian garrison and a combined force of Greek resistance fighters and Tom’s fellow-soldiers. A great story of courage and endurance.

Buy The Sabotage Diaries

The Wildest Province

David Smiley (left) and "Billy" McLean in Albania 1944

David Smiley (left) and “Billy” McLean in Albania 1944

The stories of the activities of those who served in SOE are still emerging thanks to the availability of hitherto classified archives, and the release of personal diaries and accounts by those involved, in many cases, after their deaths. We are able to understand so much more of the successes and failures of the country missions, the work of individuals, and the strategic political and military context. Diligent researchers and authors are accessing these materials and writing new accounts which can raise as many questions as they answer, and debunk myths such as the extent of communist infiltration of British operational Staff HQs.

I have just got around to reading Roderick Bailey’s The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle, which charts the story of SOE operations in Albania over the period 1940 to 1945. It is an incredibly well researched book, presenting the story from ill-fated early attempts to overthrow the Italians in 1940-41 by MI6 and SOE, to the commencement of the more organised missions of “Billy” McLean and David Smiley, through to the expansion into well over a dozen different teams spread over all parts of the country.

The hardships experienced by them all, especially during the long and harsh winter of 1943-44 are unimaginable. There are many examples of personal bravery, doggedness, and also treachery by Nationalist elements within Albania. The Partisans, led by this time by Enver Hoxha and his LNC staff were almost wiped out in the north as were the SOE missions there. Further ‘drives’ against the LNC in the south in early 1944 had almost similar results. Bailey’s book argues that the significant efforts put into these eradication attempts by the Germans, and the high quality of troops they deployed, demonstrated the success of the resistance by the LNC and the overall quality of the Partisan Brigades, as well as the positive impact of the SOE mission to Albania. However, the fighting quality of Albanian Partisans was variable resulting in continued debate about whether or not back some Nationalist groups. Growing suspicion of the British by the increasingly communist LNC made SOE’s mission in Albania during 1944 and into 1945 increasingly difficult and towards the end almost impossible.

For those who have an interest in SOE operations and Albania, or who want to understand more about British and Allied operations in the Balkans this is a highly recommended book. You will want to know what happens to the individuals and the story for some did not end in 1945, but continued with the British sponsored MI6 and CIA attempt to overthrow Hoxha’s regime in 1953 which ended in disastrous failure and death for many.

Read more on the Blog about SOE operations in Albania: 

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

Albanian Assignment

Buy The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle paperback here and the hardback here.

New Book: The Sabotage Diaries

Sabotage diariesThis book made much more sense to me following the excellent talk by Dr Roderick Bailey about the psychological effects of SOE operations on the men involved. Dr Bailey spoke at length about Operation Harling and this team.

The The Sabotage Diaries is written from the first person perspective of Tom Barnes (from his diaries) so has all the gripping suspense of a novel. It is a thrilling read of wartime exploits, daring, intrigue and resourcefulness. It is the true story of Allied engineer Tom Barnes, who was parachuted behind enemy lines in Greece in October 1942 with a small team of sappers and special operations officers. Their brief was to work with the Greek resistance in sabotage operations against the German and Italian occupation forces. Under-equipped and under-prepared but with courage to spare, their initial mission was to blow up a key railway bridge, cutting Rommel’s supply lines to North Africa, where the battle of El Alamein was about to begin. Operation Harling was only the start of a lengthy and perilous clandestine mission.

Written by Tom Barnes’ daughter-in-law, award-winning author Katherine Barnes, and drawn from Tom’s wartime diaries, reports and letters, plus many other historical sources and first-hand accounts, The Sabotage Diaries is a vivid and gripping tale of the often desperate and dangerous reality behind sabotage operations.

Buy The Sabotage Diaries

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.

Event – Hazardous operations: British SOE agents in Nazi-occupied Greece and the strain of clandestine warfare

During the Second World War, small teams of elite Allied soldiers were dispatched into Occupied Greece to fight alongside local guerrillas. Most were agents of the Special Operations Executive, a secret British organisation tasked with encouraging resistance
and carrying out sabotage behind enemy lines. From Crete to Thessaly and Thrace, SOE personnel shared the dangers and straitened circumstances of the Greeks they had come to help – and suffered accordingly. Illustrated with images from declassified files, this lecture discusses the nature and impact of the mental and physical stresses and strains to which SOE agents in Greece were exposed.

Dr Roderick Bailey is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine. A specialist in the study of the Special Operations Executive, he is currently researching the medical aspects of SOE’s work. His particular focus is the processes by which candidates were recruited and screened for this high-risk, high-strain, unconventional employment, the psychological stresses inherent in SOE work, and the procedures in place for diagnosing and treating survivors who returned from the field with psychological problems.

Monday 8 February, 6.30 -8 pm at Anatomy Lecture Theatre (K6.29), King’s Building, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS. Free to all.

Sons of Odysseus by Alan Ogden

Layout 1Sons Of Odysseus is a fascinating study of SOE heroes in Greece. Respected SOE expert and author Alan Ogden recounts how SOE missions through their courage, patience and determination, attempted to come to terms with reconciling British political and military objectives in the cauldron of internecine Greek politics.

From the very beginning, ‘political headaches’ abounded as SOE tried to establish a unified Greek resistance movement. For most Missions, it was a steep learning curve, accelerated by the experience of finding themselves in the middle of a bitter civil war during the winter of 1943 – 44, having to endure attacks by Axis occupation forces at the same time as being caught in fighting between EAM-ELAS and EDES guerrillas.

Living behind enemy lines for long periods of time, SOE officers and men were nevertheless able to bring off a series of spectacular sabotage acts and with the assistance of Greek partisan forces doggedly harassed German forces as they withdrew North in the autumn of 1944.

Ogden has been in contact with many of the families of these SOE heroes and has had access to letters, photographs and diaries. Drawing on these sources as well as official archives and published memoires, Sons Of Odysseus profiles the service records of nearly fifty SOE officers and men as they battled against a ruthless enemy, endured the privations of the Greek mountains and struggled to prevent civil strife. Their extraordinary stories illustrate the many and varied tasks of SOE missions throughout the different regions of Greece from 1942 – 44 and thus provide a fascinating collage of the history of SOE during the Axis occupation and in the run-up to the tragedy of the Greek Civil War of 1944-49.

Buy Sons Of Odysseus

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Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance

An interesting new perspective on SOE, the kidnap, why the SOE guys and gals were able to cope with the hardships of their particular kind of warfare, and how it may help us all live healthier lives. Well that appears to be the claim which we could take with a pinch of apparently unhealthy salt! A review of Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance
by Chrisopher McDougall.

by Chris Maume

First published in the Independent, 9 April 2015.

One of the most daring, madcap episodes of the Second World War was the kidnapping by Patrick Leigh Fermor, dirty trickster supreme, and his band of British eccentrics and Cretan hard men, of the German general Heinrich Kreipe.

Seventy years later, youngsters in inner-city London and the suburbs of Paris were becoming experts in parkour, using the urban landscape as an obstacle course to be negotiated with joyful freedom and intense physical discipline.

Christopher McDougall connects these two points, and many in between, in a heady confection that encompasses, among other subjects, military history, archaeology, Greek mythology, neat ways to kill a man and ideas on health and fitness that might just change your life. A line from an old M People song kept coming to mind as I read on, the one about searching for the hero inside yourself.

The Kreipe caper involved an insane trek across the murderous Cretan terrain, which by then should already have done for the motley crew of poets and classicists who had been tasked with detaining on the island German soldiers who would otherwise have been marching on Stalingrad. Had they failed, the progress of the war may have been very different, as Winston Churchill would later acknowledge.

Few of the Special Operations Executive men who joined Leigh Fermor in the Mediterranean could be described as hero material, however: they tended to be, like him, romantic misfits, many of whom might not even have got into the regular army. They proceeded by brain-power and imagination, but on the rugged island of Crete they also needed to hack it physically. And McDougall thinks he knows how they did that.

“The art of the hero,” he contends, is the art of natural movement,” and his answer to the question of how the Cretan mob were able to achieve so much boils down to two basic strands: one is the idea that true physical strength comes not from muscle power but from the fascia profunda, the net of fibres that envelopes our bones and muscles and imparts the energy of “elastic recoil” that allowed us to spring across the savannah in pursuit of lunch, as well as chuck the rocks or unleash the slingshot that killed the lunch for us.

Learn to use your fascia profunda, says McDougall, and you’ll find yourself able to do things you never thought possible. The Cretans, skipping across peaks and valleys like mountain goats, do it naturally, and the SOE boys, he says, learned from them.

The other ancient secret which Leigh Fermor and Co unwittingly accessed, according to McDougall, was the idea of using fat, rather than sugar, as fuel. The fatty-meat, low-carb diet which sustained our hunter-gatherer ancestors until agriculture came along and spoiled everything, has resurfaced from time to time (remember the Atkins diet?), and McDougall believes it’s the way to go.

Cut out those grains, all that pasta and anything remotely sugary, and get some flesh inside you, he recommends. Do that while preventing your heart rate exceeding a certain mark (for which there’s a simple formula) and soon you’ll be lean, lithe and fighting fit. The guru of carbo-loading for distance runners, Dr Tim Noakes, he reminds us, eventually recanted – and, McDougall notes, the SOE boys and their local comrades could cross the mountains on little more than a few nuts and a drop of wine.

He constructs a fascinating edifice of ideas around these two notions, and eventually finds a modern-day hero of his own. But the pleasures of the book are as much to do with the fascinating panoply of characters, war heroes all, British, Commonwealth and Cretan, whose exploits contributed so much to Hitler’s downfall.

Buy Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance

The letter to the mysterious Mr Todhunter about Bob Bury

A letter dropping out of a book, in a hotel room in Ithaka. The letter referring to a wartime colleague in Palestine from 1941. The letter writer being Paddy to a mysterious “Mr Todhunter”. A delightful little article. Who can identify Mr Todhunter? What do we know about Bob Bury in Palestine? We know he met Paddy in Crete in 1944. You can comment at the end of this article or contact me.

By Andrew Pippos

First published in The Australian, 17 January 2015

A common feature among reviews of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s work is a reference to him as the greatest travel writer of his time. Because of such reviews I’d intended to read Fermor some day — the highest praise is a memorable introduction — but still hadn’t got around to it when I came across his 2003 collection Words of Mercury on the bookshelf of a hotel room in Ithaka, Greece, about two years ago.

A handwritten letter dropped from between the pages when I opened this book — and it may as well have fallen out of the sky, it may as well have been addressed to me, given my surprise to open a book by a famous writer and find inside a letter from the author himself.

Addressed to “Dear Mr Todhunter”, the letter was signed “Paddy Leigh Fermor” and dated 2004. Fermor turned 89 that year. His handwriting was both pretty and difficult to read: some words resolved only after you stared at them long enough. In the letter, Fermor asked Todhunter for help with his next project. Before coming to the nature of this help, he first offered some background: in 1941 he was visiting an Allied camp near Mount Carmel, Palestine, when he met a troop of Kurdish fighters led by a “clean-shaven figure with gold-rimmed spectacles”, whom Fermor learned was an Englishman named Bob Bury.

This Bury, “a delightful chap”, was training Kurds to form resistance groups in the event the Nazis broke through in the Middle East.

Next, Fermor’s letter told a story about his 1944 abduction of General Kreipe, the German commander of Crete. On a beach in southern Crete, Bury was among the small team of British soldiers who came ashore to meet Fermor and take custody of the captive general.

Kreipe and Fermor and the soldiers then sailed to Cairo. Bury would be killed a few months later in Italy.

Fermor wrote to Todhunter: “I want to write something about him (Bury), and would very much like to be in touch with his kith and kin. The only thing anyone seems to know about him is that he went to Eton. Would the provost of Eton know his family? I would be most beholden for any guidance!”

Todhunter, from what I can gather, was an editor in London. Years ago he might have visited the village of Vathi in Ithaka, stayed in that hotel on the town’s lake-like harbour, and left behind the letter and book by Fermor. Perhaps the book arrived there some other way.

Who was Bury? Did Fermor intend to write a story about him? The letter described Bury coming ashore in occupied Crete “with Tommy gun at the ready, very disappointed there would be no rough stuff involved”. He might have been a wartime version of the aristocrat who sought adventure in the crusades or the colonies.

After finishing school in 1933, Fermor walked across Europe to Constantinople, later writing about this experience in a trilogy of travel books, only two of which were published in his lifetime: A Time of Gifts, which tells of his travels from Holland to the Danube, and Between the Woods and Water, which takes him to the border of Serbia and Romania.

A final volume, The Broken Road, was published posthumously in 2013.

Wanting to know whether he did discover more about Bury, and why, at the age of 89, he wanted to write about an acquaintance who died 60 years earlier, I sent an email to Fermor’s biographer, Artemis Cooper. She replied the next day: “Paddy never did write about Bob Bury, but he used every possible excuse to postpone work on the book he was supposed to be writing — the third volume of his trilogy about his walk across Europe. He also thought about writing a book on Crete and another on Romania, but they never came to anything either.”

Cooper might have forgotten that she had already replied to my email, because a month later she wrote again: “Dear Andrew, Sorry I’ve been so slow to reply to you.” Cooper suggested the Bury material was for a book about Fermor’s time as a British special operations officer in occupied Crete. She added: “By 2004 Paddy’s eyesight was deteriorating fast: he could not admit it, but it was too late to begin any major project.”

Both replies provide for the one picture: Fermor avoided work on the unfinished trilogy by writing about his war stories from Crete (and such a book, Abducting a General, was published late last year). In that letter he was pursuing whatever idea gave him pleasure. Fermor, who died in 2011 at 96, intended to write as his blindness approached. He was already very old but had many years of work ahead of him.

Andrew Pippos is a Sydney-based writer.

Map of Crete as drawn by Paddy on operations

This map was hand drawn by Paddy, probably whilst on operations in Crete 1943-44, including a self-portrait. The map is from Paddy’s SOE file. First published on this blog in 2011, I am republishing it as part of a series of unique materials on the blog to tie in with the 70th anniversary year of the kidnap and the recent publication of Paddy’s own account. Click on the pictures to zoom.

The reverse of the map …

The drawing is typical of Paddy’s style. Compare it with this sketch sent to us by John Stathatos, about which John tells us:

This delightful sketch of himself in Cretan dress was penned at the top of a letter to my mother dated 17th November, 1944; as he explains, “I have been lost again in a forest of whiskers for about three weeks, and my old mountain chums are down in the plains now, looking incredibly wild and shaggy”.

“I have been lost again in a forest of whiskers for about three weeks, and my old mountain chums are down in the plains now, looking incredibly wild and shaggy”

Related article:

Traveller’s Rest by John Stathatos

More derring dos and don’ts from Paddy Leigh Fermor

With General Kreipe

Billy Moss (L) and Paddy (R) With General Kreipe

Justin Marozzi gives us a review of Abducting a General, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Kidnap in Crete, by Rick Stroud. An exhilarating account of Paddy’s hair-raising kidnapping of a Nazi general that was ultimately of dubious strategic value.

By Justin Marozzi.

First published in The Spectator, 4 October 2014.

Recent years have seen the slim but splendid Patrick Leigh Fermor oeuvre swell considerably. In 2008 came In Tearing Haste, an entertaining collection of letters to and from Deborah Devonshire, followed last year by The Broken Road, the posthumously sparkling and long-awaited completion of the ‘Great Trudge’ trilogy, which finally delivered the 18-year-old Paddy from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Now comes another volume, setting out in full for the first time one of the great moments in a life heavily laced with glamour and incident.

It takes some chutzpah to kidnap a German general — and serious presence of mind to get away with it. Paddy, the Special Operations Executive commander of a group of 11 Cretan andartes, or guerrilla fighters, together with his second-in-command Captain William Stanley Moss, had excessive stores of both. At 9.30 p.m. on the night of 26 April 1944, the Anglo-Cretan desperadoes intercepted the car carrying General Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the 22nd Luftlande Division.

Paddy then impersonated the general as the Moss-chauffeured car drove on through 22 German checkpoints, the hair-raising prelude to an 18-day Nazi manhunt described in exhilarating detail in both of these books. The moment one morning when the Englishman overheard the captured general reciting an ode by Horace is already famous. The autodidact and show-off couldn’t help jumping in and finishing the stanza:

The general’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine, and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though, 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.

After many terrifying moments, some shattering climbs and descents and no shortage of near misses, Kreipe was finally spirited away onto a British ship headed for Cairo and the swashbuckling operation was over.

If the immediate success of the kidnapping is in no doubt, what of the much more vexed question which haunted its mastermind for years: was it worth it? The point of it all had been to inflict a major blow on enemy morale. Extensive steps were taken to ensure there were no Cretan reprisals by making it appear an exclusively British mission — but to no avail. The Germans, 75,000 strong on Crete, already had a viciously enforced policy of reprisals on the island, taking 50 Cretan lives for every one of their own soldiers killed. General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, Kreipe’s predecessor and the original target of the operation, was nicknamed ‘The Butcher of Crete’ after committing a number of such atrocities.

With Kreipe kidnapped, Müller was sent back to Crete pour décourager les autres and on 13 August gave the order to raze the village of Anogia, long a centre of resistance. In a characteristically methodical operation that lasted from 13 August to 5 September, 117 people were killed and 940 houses destroyed, together with vineyards, cheese mills, wine presses and olive groves. Other villages in the Amari valley received the same treatment, with hundreds more civilians slaughtered.

Roderick Bailey, the SOE historian who has written the introduction to Paddy’s account, argues that the kidnapping operation had ‘no strategic or tactical value’. A senior British staff officer in Cairo had opposed it from the start, arguing that ‘the only contribution to the war effort would be a fillip to Cretan morale, but … the price would certainly be heavy in Cretan lives’. Kreipe himself called it a Husarestück, a Hussar stunt. More recently, Kimonas Zografakis, who sheltered the kidnappers, described Paddy as ‘neither a great Philhellene nor a new Lord Byron… he was a classic agent who served the interests of Britain’, causing ‘terrible suffering’. This last comment looks unduly harsh and certainly does not square with the lifelong friendships Paddy forged with his Cretan brothers-in-arms, nor with the deep affection most Greeks had for him.

Abducting a General, unlike Stanley Moss’s Ill Met by Moonlight, is the work of a mature man, anxious to pay proper tribute to the Cretans who were the backbone of the resistance and ran by far the greatest risks. His SOE reports, which run to 90 pages here, provide gripping cinematic portraits of Leigh Fermor the soldier.

Warrior, writer, lady-killer, Paddy was also a boulevardier who loved his threads. Page three finds him rhapsodising about his Cretan mountain shepherd disguise:

Breeches, high black boots, a twisted mulberry silk sash with an ivory-hilted dagger in a long silver scabbard, black shirt, blue embroidered waistcoat and tight black-fringed turban…

and that’s without mentioning the flamboyant moustache, homespun goat’s hair cloak, stick, bandolier and gun. Enough to frighten any Nazi general.

Click here to buy Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete

Click here to buy Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General

Justin Marozzi’s latest book is Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood.

A new book by Patrick Leigh Fermor- Abducting a General – to be published in October

'Billy' Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

‘Billy’ Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

I have just learned that we can look forward to a new book by Paddy relating the events of the Kreipe kidnap. Based upon his own account called Abducting a General, the book is due to be published by John Murray in October 2014. A pity it misses the precise date of the 70th anniversary, but welcome nonetheless.

We will be blessed with a lot of new material about the abduction and its key players this year. We have already had the new book by Wes Davis, The Ariadne Objective, which contains a lot of new material after painstaking research, and ‘Billy’ Moss’ account of his time in SOE after the exploits on Crete, A War of Shadows, is also due for republication in April.

The John Murray website tells us this:

A daring behind-enemy-lines mission from the author of A Time of Gifts and The Broken Road.

One of the greatest feats in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s remarkable life was the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, on 26 April 1944. He and Captain Billy Moss hatched a daring plan to abduct the general, while ensuring that no reprisals were taken against the Cretan population. Dressed as German military police, they stopped and took control of Kreipe’s car, drove through twenty-two German checkpoints, then succeeded in hiding from the German army before finally being picked up on a beach in the south of the island and transported to safety in Egypt on 14 May.

Abducting a General is Leigh Fermor’s own account of the kidnap, published for the first time. Written in his inimitable prose, and introduced by acclaimed SOE historian Professor Roderick Bailey, it is a glorious first-hand account of one of the great adventures of the Second World War. Also included in this book are Leigh Fermor’s intelligence reports, sent from caves deep within Crete yet still retaining his remarkable prose skills, which bring the immediacy of SOE operations vividly alive, as well as the peril which the SOE and Resistance were operating under; and a guide to the journey that Kreipe was taken on from the abandonment of his car to the embarkation site so that the modern visitor can relive this extraordinary event.

The publication date for Abducting a General is set for 9 October.

The Ariadne Objective: The Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazis

Ariadne-jacket-453x680Recently I returned from a business trip to Cluj, the loveliest city in Romania, to find a parcel on my desk. It was a copy of The Ariadne Objective, a new book by Wes Davis about the resistance and SOE operations in Crete. It is added to my pile of books that I will read throughout the course of the year.Hugh and Gabriella Bullock (‘Billy’ Moss’ daughter) provided information to Wes about Billy and his wife Sophie Tarnowska. Hugh believes that this book makes ‘a different study of the people concerned’.

You can buy the book on Amazon. The Ariadne Objective: The Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazis

The blurb says this ….

The incredible true story of the WWII spies, including Patrick Leigh Fermor and John Pendlebury, who fought to save Crete and block Hitler’s march to the East.

In the bleakest years of WWII, when it appeared that nothing could slow the German army, Hitler set his sights on the Mediterranean island of Crete, the ideal staging ground for German domination of the Middle East. But German command had not counted on the eccentric band of British intelligence officers who would stand in their way, conducting audacious sabotage operations in the very shadow of the Nazi occupation force.

The Ariadne Objective tells the remarkable story of the secret war on Crete from the perspective of these amateur soldiers – scholars, archaeologists, writers – who found themselves serving as spies in Crete because, as one of them put it, they had made “the obsolete choice of Greek at school”: John Pendlebury, a swashbuckling archaeologist with a glass eye and a swordstick, who had been legendary archeologist Arthur Evans’s assistant at Knossos before the war; Patrick Leigh Fermor, a Byronic figure and future travel-writing luminary who, as a teenager in the early 1930s, walked across Europe, a continent already beginning to feel the effects of Hitler’s rise to power; Xan Fielding, a writer who would later produce the English translations of books like Bridge on the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes; and Sandy Rendel, a future Times of London reporter, who prided himself on a disguise that left him looking more ragged and fierce than the Cretan mountaineers he fought alongside.

Infiltrated into occupied Crete, these British gentleman spies teamed with Cretan partisans to carry out a cunning plan to disrupt Nazi maneuvers, culminating in a daring, high-risk plot to abduct the island’s German commander. In this thrilling untold story of World War II, Wes Davis offers a brilliant portrait of a group of legends in the making, against the backdrop of one of the war’s most exotic locales.

Rotterdam to Istanbul by foot

Patrick Leigh Fermor, 85, hasn’t quite finished the story of the epic walk he made at 18. He tells James Owen why. An old article I found in The Telegraph.

By James Owen.

First published in The Telegraph, 19 Feb 2000.

For an insular race, the English write surprisingly well about foreign places, and none better than Patrick Leigh Fermor. It was his intoxicating prose that first prompted me to travel and he occupies a prominent niche in my private pantheon of gods. But it is a quarter past three on a cold winter’s afternoon and, nice as is his doorstep is, my hero is late.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: resembles an amused sparrowhawk, alert and energetic
Then he comes scrambling out of a taxi and ushers me into his kitchen. “Really,” he says, “I’m awfully sorry. Will you have a drink?”

Age is bowing him a little now, but although he was 85 on Friday, Leigh Fermor still looks remarkably hale and, with his iron-grey hair and unlined face, could pass for a man 20 years younger, or even Trevor Howard in his prime. “Yes,” he says, “a cup of tea, that’s the thing”, and we begin to talk about his contemporary Sir Wilfred Thesiger, whom he remembers seeing stride down Piccadilly in hat and gloves “like a stern, immaculately attired eagle”.

Leigh Fermor himself resembles more an amused sparrowhawk, alert and energetic, his startled eyebrows a clue to the exuberant personality revealed in his books, most notably in the unfinished trilogy of his year-long walk from Rotterdam to Istanbul in 1934, when he was 18 and continental Europe was on the cusp of cataclysmic change.

It was a journey of physical adventure and cultural awakening, recalled in distinctive prose. His baroque and meticulously polished style, informed by a romantic eye, has brought him a host of admirers – yet there are those who doubt that he could remember such detail half a century on and accuse him of private myth-making. So, I ask him, do travel writers improve on truth for the sake of art?

“I say,” he declares, his vocabulary that of the schoolboy yarn, “that’s rather a difficult question. I think one does improve on things; it’s irresistible sometimes. After all, one is telling a story. I am a bit worried that I’ve got a slightly ‘disinfectant’ memory, as if some goblin had washed out the gloomy parts and let the luminous ones survive. But, overall, I don’t think I’ve sinned too heinously.”

Still, if you wanted to create the perfect fictional travel writer, you would be hard pressed to devise a better life story than Leigh Fermor’s. He was born of Anglo-Irish stock, his father a naturalist whose discoveries included a worm with eight hairs on its back and a particular formation of snowflake; his mother was a red-headed, cigarette-smoking, fur-boot-wearing playwright.

After his parents divorced, young Paddy’s education was sporadic. A spell at a progressive establishment where pupils and staff alike dispensed with clothes was followed by King’s School, Canterbury, from which he was expelled at 16 for holding hands with a greengrocer’s daughter. Dispatched to London, he lodged with Beatrice Stewart, the model for the figure of Peace at Hyde Park Corner, before planning his great trek across Europe.

Having reached his goal – what he insists on calling “Constantinople” – Leigh Fermor visited for the first time the country with which he would become most associated, Greece, spending his 20th birthday in a snowbound monastery on Mount Athos. He then found himself caught up in an anti-royalist revolt and, with customary dash, attached himself to a cavalry regiment. The campaign brought him novel challenges.

“I’d heard about swimming horses across rivers,” he recalls, “so I thought I’d give it a go. It was the most extraordinary thing – the water comes up to your waist, and the horse’s head sticks out like a chessman.” A little later, Leigh Fermor’s comrades were ordered to draw sabres for what must have been one of the last cavalry charges in Europe.

Fittingly for a philhellene, Leigh Fermor is a latterday Byron, a man of action as well as of letters, and long before he made a reputation as a writer, he was celebrated for one of the most daring missions of the Second World War. Having organised guerrilla operations in occupied Crete for two years, in 1944 he and a friend, disguised as German soldiers, kidnapped the island’s garrison commander, General Kreipe, and successfully bluffed their way through two dozen checkpoints in his official car.

For three weeks, they evaded German search parties, then marched the general over the top of Mount Ida, birthplace of Zeus. As the general gazed up at the snowy peak, he began to recite the first line of an ode by Horace; Leigh Fermor immediately continued the poem to its end, and the two men realised that they had “drunk at the same fountains” before the war. Kreipe was eventually taken off Crete by motorboat, Leigh Fermor awarded the DSO, and the whole exploit filmed as Ill Met By Moonlight in 1956, with Dirk Bogarde improbably cast as the burly commando.

The incident cemented Leigh Fermor’s standing on Crete (where he soon found himself with 27 godchildren), and his experiences there confirmed his love of the Greeks themselves. After the war, Greece became his adopted home and he built a house deep in the Peloponnese, close to the sea, where he likes to bathe (at the age of almost 70 he swam the four miles across the Hellespont). Now he and his wife spend most of their time in Greece, which has inspired perhaps his two most original books, Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966), distillations respectively of the history, folklore and culture of the far south and north of a country that has since vanished forever.

“I think Greece has changed, on the whole, for the good,” he says, “but tourism has spoilt it more than the Greeks themselves realise. Yet I still like the Greeks and one’s always grateful to countries where one is happy.”

He now intends to stay close to home, “tinkering with one’s work”. He much prefers research to the painful business of writing and re-writing; his prose usually goes through four or five drafts before he deems it to have passed muster. I ask him if he thinks he has written enough. “No!” he says sharply. “I’ve been far too slow, mucking about, wasting time. Of course, I ought to have written a great deal more.

“Sometimes it does rip ahead. The first time it happened to me I was in the deserted monastery of Sant’ Antonio, outside Rome, where I was toiling on The Traveller’s Tree [his book about the Caribbean]. I started after dinner and went on for what I thought was two or three hours, whipping away, when I noticed something funny about the light. Then the birds began to sing all around the monastery. I’d been writing from dinner time to dawn.”

There are two more books that he would like to write, he says. The first is an account of the Resistance movement on Crete, which he feels duty-bound to record. The other is his current project, and will come as welcome relief to those addicts of Leigh Fermor who have been waiting 15 years since the last instalment of his walk – Between the Woods and the Water – to see if he reaches Constantinople.

“It’s been very desultory and jerky,” he confesses, “but I’ve got to finish what I’m working on, the third step of that journey. I’m not sure now if this is a good title, but I’d thought of calling it ‘Parallax’, which means looking at the same thing from a different angle – the time when all this happened and now, when one is old Methuselah scribbling away.

“At my immense age, when I look back, I think: ‘Thank God I didn’t let every opportunity slip by.’ ” Good grief, I say, what did you fail to cram in? But Patrick Leigh Fermor just smiles good-naturedly, as if to say: “Yes, well, now that’s another story.”

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.

Perkins and Pendlebury in Crete, and a hunt for Xan Fielding’s grave

It’s holiday time and some of your fellow readers have been setting off in the footsteps fairly early this year. We had the excellent report from Paddy’s Italian Fans; the report from Kardamyli by our on the spot reporter John Chapman, and now a postcard from Julian Aburrow who visited Crete with his wife back in May; he sent us some pictures of the graves of Perkins and Pendlebury.

Julian was quite anxious to know whether Xan Fielding was buried on Crete, and as time ran out and his departure from the island loomed we asked Artemis Cooper if she had any better idea.

Dear Tom,
As you say, Xan died Paris and was cremated there. At some point after that Magouche, Paddy and Joan took his ashes into the White Mountains, and scattered them to the winds. Among Paddy’s photos now in the National Library of Scotland there is a photo which I think must have been taken at the time: in the foreground are a few beautiful red flowers (cut flowers that is, but not in a bouquet), a branch gnarled and bleached by the weather, and a great sweep of mountains beyond. If I go and see Magouche again, I will ask her to tell me in more detail. [Edit – of course Magouche passed away on 2 June 2013 just after Artemis wrote this note: see this article]

Artemis

In the meantime a regular correspondent to the blog, Paul George (who is one of those unfortunate souls who is an ex-pat and lives in Crete – you have our sympathies Paul 🙂 ), got in touch with some pictures of his recent walk into the White Mountains to the area where Xan’s ashes were scattered. It is a harsh and bleak landscape; it makes you think of the toughness of men who lived and fought here during the war.

The mountain hut is Kallergi at @ 1700 mtrs….this is the location that Xan Fielding’s ashes were scattered… The photograph taken in the mountain is of me trekking up Melindaou…… Xan Fielding, PLF et al…..would have know and walked in this area.

Trekking up Melindaou

Trekking up Melindaou

Kallergi hut near the location that Xan's ashes were scattered

Kallergi hut near the location that Xan’s ashes were scattered

Kallergi hut @ 1700 m

Kallergi hut @ 1700 m

Staff Serjeant Dudley Churchill Perkins

Left behind on Crete after the evacuation and subsequently captured. He then escaped and lived on his wits, with help from the locals, until 1942. When he was finally evacuated and rejoined his group, he found that he no longer fitted in and transferred to a different group. He returned to Crete where he was met by Xan Fielding.
More info here: http://www.my-crete-site.co.uk/vasili.htm. Vasili, The Lion of Crete by Murray Elliott is a very good read.

Captain John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury

Instrumental in organising early resistance, mentioning his name was a key to getting help from the Cretans, who thought very highly indeed of him. He is still known on Crete today: when we went to Knossos a few years ago, someone tried to sell us a guide book. When
I showed him my copy of ‘The Palace of Minos, Knossos’ by JDSP, he said ‘Blebbery, still the best’. Blebbery being the closest pronunciation that they can manage.
Imogen Grundon’s book The Rash Adventurer is a great read. Also, he knew Dilys Powell, Humfrey Payne et al and was highly influential in both Egyptian and Greek archaeology. I admire him very much.
Hope this is of interest and look forward to yet more posts on the blog.
Best wishes

Julian Aburrow

Related article:

Read more about John Pendlebury here: The magnetic John Pendlebury

Audible

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld: Veteran of the SOE

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld

A wonderful obituary of this brave and colourful figure who probably did not know Paddy, but was in the SOE, and whose story is well worth reading anyway. For some reason it is no longer available on the Telegraph website where it was published on 29 June 2012.  You can read a pdf of it here. The version below is written by Phil Davison and was published in the Independent on 21 June 2012. Thank you to Mark Granelli for bringing this to my attention.

Descended from an ancient French noble family, Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld was one of the last surviving French agents of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the secret organisation set up by Winston Churchill to aid anti-Nazi resistance fighters. There are now believed to be only two surviving French agents of the SOE, which Churchill ordered to “set Europe ablaze” through sabotage.

While General Charles de Gaulle organised his Free French Forces (FFL) from his London base, some Frenchmen were hand-picked and trained by the SOE before being sent back to their occupied country to provide money, equipment and training to the local maquis. De la Rochefoucauld was recruited by Captain Eric Piquet-Wicks, who was in charge of the SOE’s RF Section of French nationals based at 1 Dorset Square, London. They worked in parallel with, though not always in agreement with, the more famous F Section run by the legendary spymaster Maurice Buckmaster. The SOE would later be dubbed “the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.

De la Rochefoucauld received parachute, sabotage and commando training at secret locations in England and Scotland, including “silent killing” techniques taught by the renowned duo Fairbairn and Sykes – designers of the famous commando knife – at Arisaig, Inverness-shire, before being parachuted back into his homeland.

Dropped into France twice by the RAF, captured twice by the Nazis and once sentenced to death by firing squad, he survived by using the unarmed combat skills taught to him in the Scottish Highlands. He killed one German guard by strangling him, donned his uniform and shot two more guards to escape. He attacked an electric power plant at Avallon in the Morvan mountain massif of Burgundy, but perhaps his greatest feat, in the spring of 1944, was blowing up France’s biggest munitions factory, at Saint-Médard near Bordeaux, occupied by the Nazis and crucial to their war effort.

Count Robert Jean-Marie de la Rochefoucauld was born in Paris in 1923 into one of France’s oldest aristocratic families with records dating back to the 10th century. The family controlled most of what is now the Charente department, based in the magnificent Château de la Rochefoucauld on the river Tardoire, where a branch of the family still lives. On his maternal side, Robert was descended from the old de Wendel family. He was 16 when the Nazis stormed into France in May 1940.

Young Robert was living underground in Paris when he was tipped off by a sympathetic post office worker that someone had denounced him to the Gestapo as a “dangerous terrorist”. Deciding to join de Gaulle in London, he hooked up with the Resistance, who helped him cross the border into Spain in late 1942 along with two British RAF pilots shot down over France.

The three were apprehended by Franco’s police and interned for two months in the infamous Miranda de Ebro camp for foreign prisoners which had been used by Franco’s forces as a concentration camp for Republicans during the Civil War. De la Rochefoucauld was lucky to have been with the British airmen: Britain’s ambassador to Spain sprang all three of them and arranged an RAF flight to London.

Once there, de la Rochefaucould met de Gaulle at the latter’s headquarters in Carlton Gardens but, partly thanks to his two airmen friends, found himself recruited by the SOE. Churchill had asked his Minister of Economic Warfare, Hugh Dalton, to set up the clandestine SOE, partly to resist any German invasion of Britain and partly to support resistance groups in Europe. When de la Rochefoucauld told de Gaulle that the British SOE wanted to recruit him, the latter reportedly replied: “Even allied with the devil, it’s for France. Allez-y.”

Kept in the dark as to what his missions would be, De la Rochefoucauld was trained in unarmed combat at Arisaig, and later at RAF Ringway near Manchester (parachute training, including jumps from as low as 400 feet) and finally at the SOE’s “finishing school” on Lord Montagu’s estate around Beaulieu in the New Forest. Those who didn’t quite cut it were sent to the “cooler,” Inverlair Lodge in Scotland, where they were quarantined, albeit in comfort, so that they couldn’t reveal SOE missions. (Inverlair later became the inspiration for the backdrop to the 1960s television series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan.)

After first parachuting into the Morvan region and destroying the Avallon plant, de la Rochefoucauld was caught by the Nazis and condemned to death, but escaped. He reached Calais, where a pro-Resistance fishing boat got him to a British submarine and back to England. After parachuting back again to the Bordeaux region, he led local maquis fighters in blowing up the sprawling Saint-Médard munitions plant 12 miles outside Bordeaux. The noise, at 7.30pm on 20 May 1944, was heard for tens of miles around and gave a major boost to the Resistance with D-Day in the air.

De la Rochefoucauld then linked up with the famous résistant known as Aristide – real name Roger Landes, a bilingual British citizen (Independent obituary, 12 August 2008) – but was again arrested by the Gestapo and thrown into the Fort du Hâ in Bordeaux, a fortress built by Charles VII in the 16th century. He considered two options, one of them to take the cyanide”L-Tablet” hidden in the heel of his shoe, which would kill him within 15 seconds. But he took the second option, faked an epileptic fit, strangled his guard and shot dead two others before fleeing.

After the war, de la Rochefoucauld trained French commandos in Indochina and for their assault on the Suez Canal in 1956. On retirement from the military, he set up a transport business in Senegal and ran a plantation in Venezuela to import bananas to Europe. He also served from 1966-96 as the popular mayor of Ouzouer-sur-Trézée in north-central France, where he died.

Robert de la Rochefoucauld published his memoirs in 2002, titled La Liberté c’est mon plaisir. His awards included Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, Croix de Guerre, Médaille de la Résistance and Britain’s Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld is survived by his wife Bernadette (née de Marcieu de Gontaut-Biron), his son Count Jean de la Rochefoucauld and three daughters, Astrid, Constance and Hortense.

Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld, wartime SOE agent: born Paris 16 September 1923; married Bernadette de Marcieu de Gontaut-Biron (one son, three daughters); died Ouzouer-sur-Trézée, France 8 May 2012.

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

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

Remembering Lord Jellicoe by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In February 2007, following the death of his friend, Paddy wrote about George Jellicoe in the Spectator magazine.

George Jellicoe, who died last week, was an early member of David Stirling’s SAS, and soon became commander of the Special Boat Service. We first met in pitch darkness soon after midnight on 24 June 1942 in a cove off southern Crete, both of us in rubber boats, one of them taking off Jellicoe and his comrades — most of them French — back to Mersa Matruh, the other landing me on the island for a SOE mission. We exchanged shadowy greetings. On landing, I soon learnt from the Cretans of the success of their long, strung-out series of raids, and the number of enemy aircraft and the stockpiles of ammunition and fuel they had destroyed.

When George and I met by daylight a year and a half later in Cairo, I was struck immediately by the tonic effect of his presence, his initiative and his inflexible determination, and his knack of command. Also, his humour and buoyant spirits. We became great friends. He had a gift for getting on with his own soldiers and sailors and, most importantly, with our Greek allies. Among many operations, he worked several times with General Christodoulos Tsigantis — the ‘General Gigantes’ of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet — the dashing, original and very effective commander of the Sacred Brigade, mostly enlisted from guerrillas who had escaped from occupied Greece and which he led brilliantly from Cairo to Rimini. Many years later, Tsigantis told a friend that George was the bravest man he had ever met.

When the tail end of the German army was retreating from north Athens, George — well in advance of the advance mission — was already pedalling into the city centre on a borrowed bicycle. As we know, the same energy and flair carried him through his successful spell as a diplomat, and to great heights in postwar politics.

Tidcombe Manor, in the Wiltshire downs, was a delightful retreat from his manifold duties, which were here replaced by swimming, riding, reading and music, and the company of friends, in which he was wonderfully abetted by his wife Philippa. George meanwhile had painlessly developed from a young centurion to an active senator and then to a retired paladin, and evenings there were marked by lively talk and much laughter, a spirited combination of punctilio and bohemia.

George often returned to Greece, where his name is revered. Below the window of the house in the southern Peloponnese, where these lines are being hastily written, a favourite promontory juts into the sea, affectionately known as ‘Jellicoe’s leap’.

You can read more about Lord Jellicoe on the Royal Society website.

The 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: We May Just Forget to Die, an essay by Margot Demopoulos

This is the probably most significant full length profile of Paddy that has appeared since his death. It is by Margot Demopoulos a writer who lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, Mondo Greco, The Athenian, and other publications.

The interesting aspect of this profile is an extensive exploration of the events surrounding the Kreipe kidnap with particular attention to the contentious subject of post-operation reprisal by the Germans.

The subject line appeared in an earlier blog post from June 2011 where I highlighted Diana Gilliland Wright’s correspondence with Paddy.

On to the profile ….

“Englischer Student . . . zu Fuss nach Konstantinopel…” eighteen-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor told the kindly woman sewing by the fire that snowy night at Heidelberg’s Red Ox. He sat at a nearby table, recording the day’s events in a notebook, hunting for German words in a dictionary, consulting maps for the next leg of the journey, “thawing and tingling, with wine, bread, and cheese handy,” as melting snow pooled around his boots.

“Konstantinopel?” Frau Spengler said. “Oh Weh! ” O woe! So far!

Far indeed, especially in the snowdrifts of mid-winter, but there he was — undaunted, spirits high, finally setting out on his own path — nearly two months into his journey to cross Europe on foot, with Constantinople the terminus. Nearly forty-five years later, he would publish the story of that journey in A Time of Gifts. Read More ….

Access the pdf of the article here.

London Gazette Moss MC and Fermor DSO announcement

Billy Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor

A copy of the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 13 July 1944, which announces the award of the Distinguished Service Order to Captain (temporary Major) Leigh Fermor and the Military Cross to Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Stanley Moss.

You can find the pdf here Moss MC and PLF DSO announcement (once open scroll down) or an online link here.