Tag Archives: Sophie Moss

Hellraisers with deadly intent: the hard-living war heroes who captured a Nazi general

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

We are about to hit the season for new books about Paddy and associated book news and plugs here on the blog. There are two books about the Kreipe kidnap due out this autumn. Paddy’s own account Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and Soe in Crete will follow on 9 October, but first on the grid is Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General by Rick Stroud (Bloomsbury) which is published on Thursday 11 September. The introduction to this Telegraph article gives us a dramatic start: ‘Backed by local guerrillas, Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss led an audacious operation in wartime Crete that is celebrated in a new book’. I am sure we will be buying both! Some interesting new photographs to go with this article.

By Rick Stroud

First published in the Telegraph 7 September 2014

One evening, just before Christmas in 1943, three ex-public schoolboys sat naked in a steamy bathroom in Cairo discussing how to capture a German general from outside his headquarters on the island of Crete. They were agents of the Special Operations Executive (Force 133, Middle East).

In the hot bathwater was Xan Smiley, the son of a baronet, busy drawing maps in the condensation on the tiles. Perched on the edge of the bath were a handsome, name-dropping buccaneer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, known as Paddy, and a tall, “devilishly languid” young Coldstream Guards officer called William “Billy” Stanley Moss. Smiley was lecturing them on the mechanics of an armed ambush, about which he knew a great deal.

The bathroom was in a grand house that Moss had rented and christened Tara, after the ancient castle of the kings of Ireland. Tara came with a cook and several servants, including a butler called Abbas. At its centre was a vast ballroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows, two huge crystal chandeliers and a sprung parquet dance floor.

When Moss moved in with Pixie, his alsatian puppy, he began to look for kindred spirits to join him. He soon recruited a Polish refugee, the Countess Zofia Roza Maria Jadwiga Elzbieta Katarzyna Aniela Tarnowska, or Sophie, who Moss nicknamed “Kitten”. She arrived with a swimming costume, a uniform and two pet mongooses. Other Tara residents included two Force 133 agents operating in Albania: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean, a doyen of White’s club, and Xan Fielding, traveller, linguist and sometime bar-owner.

Smiley described the days spent at Tara as the happiest time of his life. “I loved it. I really loved it. We were all such good friends.”

Sophie remembered that whenever an agent left for the field, “there would be a big party and a car would call and those who were going to be parachuted into enemy territory left just like that, without a goodbye, without anything. We never allowed ourselves to be anxious. We believed that to be anxious was to accept the possibility of something dreadful happening to them.”

A few weeks after the bathroom conference, a German Junkers Ju 52 flew over the bright-blue Mediterranean towards Crete. On board was Major General Heinrich Kreipe, the newly appointed second in command of the island. The plane landed, Kreipe climbed from the aircraft and a soft breeze wafted the smell of thyme across the field. He was unaware that he had entered a trap that would soon spring shut, ruining his career, destroying his reputation and nearly costing him his life.

Meanwhile in Cairo, the New Year was seen in at Tara with high-octane revelry. The house was the hottest social spot in the city; its guests included diplomats, war correspondents and royalty.

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Moss wrote in his diary about “the night we had the bullfight . . . the night we broke 19 windows”. The bullfight in the ballroom ended with a blazing sofa being hurled through a window and a Polish officer was encouraged to shoot out the lights. For their Christmas lunch, Leigh Fermor cooked turkey stuffed with Benzedrine tablets. Sophie remembered that, in Poland, they had made liqueurs by adding soft fruit to vodka. She tried to recreate this with prunes and raw alcohol. After 48 hours, someone tried the cocktail and collapsed. Sophie complained that he should have waited for three weeks before drinking it.

Early in January, Paddy Leigh Fermor got clearance to carry out his plan to kidnap a Nazi general; Billy was to be his second in command and they were joined by two Cretan guerrillas, Manolis Paterakis, Leigh Fermor’s right-hand man, and George Tyrakis. The equipment list read like something out of an adventure comic and included pistols, bombs, coshes, commando daggers, knuckle-dusters, knock-out drops and suicide pills.

Moss remembered sitting around a small red lacquer table at the Tara farewell party, faces lit by four tall candles, drinking and singing, as they waited to leave on the first leg of the adventure. Just before sunrise, Billy McLean appeared, a shy, nearly naked figure. He presented them with the complete works of Shakespeare and The Oxford Book of English Verse, which he thought had brought him luck in Albania; he hoped that the books would work the same magic for his friends.

When they flew over the rendezvous, Leigh Fermor jumped first, and was greeted by a party of guerrillas and an SOE agent, Sandy Rendel. Suddenly the weather closed in and clouds hid the ground, making it impossible to drop the others – they arrived by motor launch nearly two months later.

They were met on the beach by what Moss thought was a group of pantomime pirates. One, filthy, unshaven and dressed in rags, shook his hand, saying: “Hello Billy. You don’t know me. Paddy will be along in a minute.” It was Rendel. Leigh Fermor wore clothes that included a bolero, a maroon cummerbund that held an ivory-handled pistol and a dagger. He told Moss: “I like the locals to think of me as a sort o’ duke.”

The next fortnight was spent in planning and wild living. Moss found that “wine takes the place of one’s morning cup of tea and one often drinks a liberal quantity before brushing one’s teeth”.

The original target had been Lieutenant General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller – “the Butcher of Crete” – but he had been transferred and his place taken by Kreipe. With the help of the Cretan underground intelligence, the kidnappers devised a plan to capture the general on his way home from his headquarters.

On the night of April 26 1944, Leigh Fermor and Moss, disguised as military policemen, flagged down the general’s car. As it stopped, the doors were torn open, 11 guerrillas leapt out of ditches along the sides of the road, and 90 seconds later, Kreipe was on his way towards Heraklion, handcuffed on the floor in the back of the Opel. Moss drove fast, bluffing the car through 22 German roadblocks, after which it was abandoned with a note saying that the abduction was a British commando initiative and that no Cretans were involved. Leigh Fermor hoped that this would stop any reprisals. Sometime that night, the guerrillas killed Kreipe’s driver.

It took nearly three weeks to get Kreipe to the rendezvous beach on the south coast. The kidnappers climbed Mount Ida, trudging above the snow line, over the summit and across some of the most rugged terrain in Europe. The general was dressed in the uniform he had put on for a quiet day at the office. Thousands of German soldiers surrounded the mountain, cutting off escape routes and access to the beaches. For several days, radio contact was lost with Cairo. When it was re-established, Leigh Fermor sent a signal that ended with the words “situation ugly”.

Sometimes the kidnap team passed within yards of enemy patrols, while in the distance they heard the thud of explosives as German engineers blew up villages. Throughout the journey, the kidnappers were led and protected by the guerrillas, who had risked their lives and those of their families to help the group escape. Kreipe was astonished at the loyalty and friendship shown towards the British. One guerrilla explained that “it is because the British are fighting for our freedom, while you Germans have deprived us of it in a barbarous way”.

Leigh Fermor and Moss developed a love-hate relationship with their captive. At one point, Kreipe looked at the snow-covered mountains and quoted from Horace; “Vides ut alta . . .” Leigh Fermor knew the ode and completed it, thinking that, for an instant, the war had ceased to exist and finding a strange bond with the general. Kreipe spent a lot of time complaining that he was not well, causing Moss to lose his temper and shout at him to be quiet. He later wrote in his diary: “I could have killed him.”

On May 14, they reached the only rendezvous beach not occupied by German patrols. Near midnight, they heard the noise of a motor launch, but when they tried to flash the recognition signal “Sugar Baker”, Leigh Fermor and Moss realised that they did not know the Morse for Baker. They were saved by Dennis Ciclitira, another SOE agent who had been ordered to return to Cairo. He appeared, grabbed the torch and, shouting “bloody fools”, flashed the code.

By midnight, Kreipe and his kidnappers were at sea, heading for Egypt and eating lobster sandwiches. The general told his captors: “It’s all very well, but this hussar stunt of yours has ruined my career.”

Back in Cairo, Leigh Fermor and Moss went straight to Tara, where they were given a hero’s welcome. News of the kidnap flashed around the world and quickly became a sensation. Newspapers carried pictures of the gneral, his arm in a sling, chatting to a group of senior British officers. Leigh Fermor was decorated with a Distinguished Service Order and Moss won a Military Cross. Kreipe was taken to London and interrogated. The interviewing officer described him as “rather unimportant and unimaginative”. He spent the rest of the war in Canada and was released in 1947.

In 1945, Moss married Sophie and, in 1950, published his account of the kidnap. Kreipe sued him for defamation of character, and won an injunction stopping the book’s publication in Germany. For the rest of his life, Leigh Fermor agonised over two things: the death of Kreipe’s driver and whether the “hussar stunt” had brought reprisals on to the heads of his friends, the heroic people of Crete.

Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General is available for pre-order or purchase. Click on the highlighted text.

Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and Soe in Crete is available for pre-order or purchase. Click on the highlighted text.

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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.

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

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

Some of you may recall an article I published by a young wandering minstrel, Thos Henley, about his visit to Paddy’s house (see here). Thos is a hard-working and aspiring musician who seems to have a happy life, perhaps somewhere on the Left Bank in Paris, entertaining the Parisians with his music and DJ talents. Recently Thos has completed a piece for the blog which contain excerpts about Lawrence Durrell and his meetings with Paddy.

by Thos Henley

These are all excerpts concerning Paddy from the book “Lawrence Durrell: A Biography” by Ian MacNiven about the life of Durrell the writer best known for his travel books and the infamous and epic romantic “Alexandrian Quartet”

After Lawrence Durrell is welcomed into Walter Smart’s social circle in Cairo he meets Paddy for the first time:

“Under tree in the Smarts’ garden in 1942 Larry met Patrick Leigh Fermor, and officer with the SOE who as a youth had walked from Holland to Romania, and the two talked far into the night.”

Now in living in Alexandria, Lawrence or Larry Durrell, who had recently published his first major novel ‘The Black Book’; would often have to travel into Cairo where he once again met up with Paddy and Xan:

“Closer to Larry’s old flat in Zamalek, Xan Fielding, transformed into an agent with the SOE, now camped intermittently at ‘Tara’, a mansion on Sharia Abou el Feda at the north end of Gezira Island. Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss had established Tara as the unofficial Cairo rest house of the SOE. Xan and Paddy had spent many months together ‘in caves and goat-folds’ on occupied Crete, and Xan had told Paddy about The Black Book and had regaled him with anecdotes about Larry  in Athens…

The men of Tara passed most of their time incognito in Crete, Greece, France or elsewhere, but when they hit Tara it was with months of back pay and a great deal of pent-up exuberance to spend. For a few weeks at least they could forget the German reprisals on Crete, the civil war that was shaping up in Greece, or the coming conflict between Tito’s Partisans and the royalists in Yugoslavia. Tara had many bedrooms, a grand ballroom with a parquet floor, and a piano borrowed from the Egyptian Officers’ Club. The resident spirit was the young Countess Sophie Tarnowska, separated from her husband. Among Larry’s familiars who were often found there were Ines Walter, remembered by Moss as ‘enormously décolletée, happy in the role of a Hungarian peasant’, and Alexis Ladas, ‘singing Phillidem’ and recovering from and appendectomy. Against heavy competition, Tara was arguably the site of the wildest parties held in the wartime Cairo. At one of these, Countess Tarnowska’s Polish friends shot out all the light-bulbs; at others, everything from gold balls to sofas were thrown from the windows; once King Farouk appeared with a case of champagne. Such happenings became almost the norm in wartime Egypt.

Paradoxically, Tara was also a place where some of the best literary conversation in Cairo was available. Paddy had been translating Villon, and the books that he and moss were later to take along on their seemingly suicidal but successful mission to kidnap General Kreipe, the Divisional Commander of Crete, indicate the range of their interests: Cellini, Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Tolstoy, Marco Polo, Les Fleurs du Mal, Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare.”

We catch up with Paddy and moss later on as Larry soaks up and contemplates the city of Alexandria, the two men are in Crete (McNiven also mentions Xan Fieldings capture and the help he received from the Polish SOE agent, Krystyna Skarbek):

“While Larry was experiencing the little death of Alexandria, his friend Paddy Leigh Fermor, together with William Stanley Moss, were confronting real death on Crete. Paddy had been parachuted into Crete on 4 February 1944, and Moss had followed him two months later. With the help of several bans of andartes, Cretan guerilla fighters, they kidnapped General Kriepe, the commander of the Germain garrison, and kept him hidden on the island for eighteen days while the entire German Force frantically combed the island. Finally a rendezvous was made with a fast patrol boat sent from Egypt. Then shortly after the Normandy invasion Xan Fielding was dropped into southern France, where he was captured by the Gestapo. He was due to be shot, but was rescued through the courage of a woman accomplice.”

After the war, Larry wrote an account of his pre-war life on Corfu and then found himself indulged in the two best years of his life in the idyllic and reforming island of Rhodes:

“In the late Summer of 1946 several old friends showed up for a week of rollicking days of exploration and nights of talk and song around the baobab tree. Xan Fielding, Paddy Leigh Fermor and ‘the Corn Goddess’, as Larry called Paddy’s wife Joan Eyres Monsell, burst upon the scene. During that ‘first miraculous summer’ after the war, Paddy had read Prospero’s Cell on Corfu, and the trio had resolved the visit Larry. For Larry it was and orgy of talk about books: “We sat up in my churchyard till three every morning reading aloud,’ until the Mufti rattled his shutters in protest. Paddy had a vast repertoire of songs in at least five languages and Larry pronounced him ‘quite the most enchanting maniac I’ve ever met’. With full daylight they would plunge into the turquoise sea, pack some food and wine, and set off. Larry took them one day to the ruins of Cameirus, where ‘wine-sprung curiousity’ sent them into the vast network of the ancient plumbing, ‘crawling on hands and knees through the bat-infested warren of underground water-conduits’, to emerge covered with cobwebs and droppings. At one point they came upon a sacrificial stone, and nothing would suffice but a re-enactment of an ancient ritual, with Paddy as the subject for a circumcision, Xan brandishing a large knife in one hand while extending the victim’s member with the forefinger and thumb of the other , Larry the officiating prest, and Joan recording the scene on film. The climactic point at Cameirus came when Xan, inexplicably naked, leapt a couple of wards from a wall to the top of a column, which rocked sickeningly for some moments while the others froze. The column steadied and Xan posed, ‘like a flying stylite’. Never had they all felt so immortal, so invincible.”

Paddy is non-existent in the book except for a few dedications in Larry’s books to him and Xan until 1953 when Larry is teaching English and living in the villa Bellapix on Cyprus, a period that would be remembered in his masterpiece ‘Bitter Lemons’:

“Larry seemed to embrace interruptions. Paddy Leigh Fermor came to stay with him for a week in mid-November, and they went on long rambles across hills where the seasonal rains had brought out the greyish leaves of the asphodels, the bright splashes of crocuses and celandines. Back at Bellapix, they celebrated the predictable riotous evenings. Once they went through Paddy’s vast repertoire of Greek songs far into the night, the lane outside the house filled with quiet neighbours, among them the usually boisterous Frangos, who told Larry, “Never have I heard Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’”

Related article:

I knew Patrick Leigh Fermor through his words, and he will know me by mine

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Moss Conundrum

I have been reading ‘In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh-Fermor’ (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley. It is really quite good and gets better as Debo writes more often to Paddy; she is very funny.

On page 22 of my paperback version in a letter from Paddy written on 26 August 1956 he writes:

“I was asked by W.S.M. (William Stanley Moss – his partner in the Kreipe kidnap escapade – see Ill Met by Moonlight) to a meal of reconciliation and amends, where we met as affable strangers. It was really a gasbag’s penance and I, having learnt the hard way, vouchsafed little more than a few safe monosyllables.”

Well what does this mean? It is clear something had caused a breakdown in what was once a good friendship. They had been through a lot together and to feel like this, there must have been something terrible to cause such a rift. Was it the way Moss portrayed the events of the Kreipe kidnap? The fact that Moss married Sophie? Who knows?

If anyone knows please add a comment to this article.

Sophie Moss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisa Segrave