Tag Archives: William Stanley Moss

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

Billy Moss at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

William “Billy” Stanley Moss, at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

One of the great pleasures of running this blog is that I often receive contacts from people in all corners of the world on topics related to Paddy and his friends. Sometimes this can lead to putting people in touch who have lost contact, or being able to upload some interesting content for you all to enjoy.

In early October I was boarding a plane to Spain to walk a short leg of the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, when I received an email from John Ewing. We have never met but he was trying to reach Billy Moss’ daughter, Gabriella Bullock, to pass on some items from a trans-Pacific journey completed by Billy in 1959. They have never met, and Gabriella was unaware that this information existed.

Hi Tom,
My name is John Ewing, I sailed with Billy Moss across the South Pacific in 1959. I have quite a lot of information and some photographs of the trip and Bill, which I would like to share with his family. It is likely that your society would have contact details for his very proud daughter Gabriella, I would appreciate your forwarding this email to her so that we may communicate by email.

I was able to put them in touch and I am grateful to John for sharing this photograph of Billy at the wheel of the yacht Crusader, on the way to Rarotonga, the most populous island of the Cook Islands. How wonderful is this?!

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have something to share with the blog community of over 1,000 readers. See About and Contact for details.

Evi Dimitrakaki’s response to the award of the first prize in memory of Billy Moss

In September last year I reported on the new award established by Gabriella Moss in memory of her father William Stanley Moss which will be awarded annually to the best student studying Philology, History and Archaeology at the University of Crete in Rehtymnon. The inaugural winner was Evi Dimitrakaki who is the granddaughter of Alexandros Platurrahos, a partisan who was actively engaged in the fight against the German occupation of Crete. Gabriella has been kind enough to pass on the text of the emotional speech given by Evi at the award ceremony.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends and family,

I would like to share with you some personal thoughts and emotions, regarding the prize in honour of William Stanley Moss. Due to the nature of the prize and its relation with the Second World War and the fights of Cretan people, I considered to be almost obliged to participate as a candidate, no matter what the outcome would be. You may wonder why… As the granddaughter of one of the partisans, who fought on the Psiloritis mountain during the German Occupation, I think that I had the duty to do so!

Alexandros Platurrahos coming from the village Kouroutes of Amari in Rethymnon, my grandfather, used to tell us stories related with the National Resistance period. He was narrating to us while we were sitting under the lemon tree in the yard of his house almost every summer night. You can imagine two children (me and my brother Giorgos) hanging upon his lips. And later on, imagine two teenagers listening with interest and waiting anxiously for him to finish the narrations of his adventures.

In these stories of course, my grandfather was not the only one to participate. His brother, Giorgis, who was imprisoned and tortured by the Germans, and his younger brother, Haridimos, who fought although he was just sixteen years old, were also acting against the Germans. Furthermore, the women of the family, Popi and Marioleni, were providing the partisans with supplies, such as clothes and food. They were also offering shelter to other partisans at the risk of their own and the whole family’s lives. The members of my family were not the only fighters during the Occupation period. There were a lot of them all over the country!

I think that it’s worthwhile to let you know of one more thing: when I was informed that I was one of the candidates selected for the prize, I felt the same emotion I was feeling when I was a kid, during my grandfather’s narrations. I was informed on the 25th of March, which is my name day, while I was visiting my grandfather’s house in Kouroutes. Was it just a coincidence? Fate? Or maybe God?

Hence, you can understand the particular emotional feeling that overwhelms me just by participating in this contest. This prize is therefore dedicated to him, to his memory and his fights. It is devoted not only to the sacrifices he made, but also to those made by the rest partisans, sacrifices that were never acknowledged for most of them! For those of you that may feel touched, shed tears, or even resent by hearing these words: you know and we all know that their first and only thought was their country and they were never looking after for any kind of appreciation!

They did that not because it was easy or usual. As my grandfather used to say, “Evita (that’s how he was calling me) being and acting as a partisan was very difficult. We fought for the country risking our lives”. He also used to say: “They were extremely difficult times because fear and misery were spread everywhere”. So they were risking their lives without caring to the slightest bit. Their moral honour didn’t allow them to act otherwise! We should at least acknowledge that!

Having in mind as a life model my grandfather Alexandros and each one of us his own Alexandros, it is our duty to stand up and be worthy inheritors of their legacy, their morality and their virtues!

Reaching the end, I would like to thank my supervisor, Associate Professor Ioanna Kappa, who has always been helpful to me during my studies. I also want to thank Professor Elena Anagnostopoulou, since the project evaluated for the prize was accomplished under her guidance during her seminar lectures.

Above all, I would like to thank Mrs Gabriella Bullock who established the prize in honour of Stanley Moss. Not only because of the financial assistance (which is very important for me to carry out my studies), but mostly because in this way she recognizes the fights and sacrifices made by her father and our own people. We are grateful to you and your family, because like your father, who offered the maximum of his powers to the Cretan people without hesitating seventy-one years ago, you are honoring Crete today in your own way! Mainly though, I would like to thank you because due to the prize, you have given me the opportunity (I hope to others as well) to recall that we have the privilege to be proud children of those fighters, proud Cretan, proud Greek!

Thank you all for your attention!

The original story of the award is found here.

The Kreipe kidnap from the Victor comic 1973

Victor coverIn 1973, the Victor comic, well-known to all boys of a certain age, published the story of the kidnap in their usual style. The British, brave and clever fighting against the odds. The Germans, cunning and morally bankrupt.

I have been able to obtain a copy of the Victor from October 6th 1973. Read and download the pdfs and enjoy! Page 1 and Page 2.

 

An award in memory of William Stanley Moss at University of Crete

Gabriella Bullock (Left) and guests at the inaugural awards 21 July 2015

Gabriella Bullock (Left) and guests at the inaugural awards 21 July 2015

In July, Gabriella Bullock, one of “Billy” Moss’ daughters, travelled to Crete with her husband Hugh to present the inaugural prize in Billy’s memory at the University of Crete in Rehtymnon. The annual William Stanley Moss award is open to graduate students of the Faculty of Philosophy studying the subjects of Philology, History and Archaeology.

Gabriella is funding the award from royalties of her father’s books as an expression of gratitude and debt to the Cretan people on behalf of her father. She described the whole experience as ‘very moving, very dignified and warm and emotional for everyone.’

The ceremony on 21 July was attended by the Metropolitan of Rethymno and Avlopotamos the Reverend Nicholas Nikiforakis, the Rector Euripides C. Stephen, the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy Lucia Athanassakis, the Dean of the School of Education Anthony Chourdakis, the Chairman of the Department of Literature Angela Kastrinaki the President of Department of History and Archaeology Antonia Kiousopoulou, Emeritus Professor Anastasios Nikolaidis, Professors of academic departments of the University of Crete, Foundation staff and students.

Gabriella and Hugh went on to deliver talks in Anogeia and Patsos where they met many relatives of those who worked with Billy and Paddy in those desperate days of the war.

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.

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.

Relaunch of A War of Shadows by Billy Moss

A War of Shadows

A War of Shadows

In 1952 Billy Moss published his second volume of war memoirs, focusing on his activities after the Kreipe kidnap which he had described so vividly in Ill Met by Moonlight.War of Shadows has recently been republished by Bene Factum and I was honoured to have been invited to the recent launch party at the RAF Club.

A War of Shadows is a darker book than Ill Met. It starts with a discourse on death in its many forms, variety of impacts, and importance. Billy is in reflective mood as he describes the last year of his war, during which time he engaged in ambushes in Crete with his Russians whilst Paddy was recuperating from his illness in Cairo. There were even plans made to repeat the kidnap with the replacement General!

From Crete, Billy is deployed to Macedonia where he encounters a more cynical form of resistance. As the war in Europe passed on towards the shrinking Germanic core, Billy volunteered for SOE operations in the Far East and was parachuted into Siam, where he saw out the dog days of the war, occasionally listening to test matches on the BBC World Service.

The launch of the book represents a significant triumph for his family, especially his daughters. There is a view that Billy’s part in the Kreipe kidnap has been played down over time with more attention on Paddy’s role. It is important therefore to Billy’s memory that his role is recognised and that people know that after the kidnap Billy continued to engage in fierce operations against the Germans and Japanese, showing tactical skill and great bravery.

Billy Moss at a book signing in the early 1950's

Billy Moss at a book signing in the early 1950’s

I read A War of Shadows a couple of years ago (I managed to find a first edition) and it is a very enjoyable read, offering us more detail on the Crete operations and an interesting perspective on the way the war ‘wound down’. The new paperback edition has a delightfully personal introduction by Billy’s daughter Gabriella, and closes with an end-piece by acclaimed SOE writer Alan Ogden which is to all intents and purposes a short biography of Billy. So if you want to know more about this extraordinary man you should buy a copy of the new edition of A War of Shadows.

Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

Billy’s whole family are very much involved in preserving his memory. Proceeds from the book will go to support various charitable activities on Crete. At the launch, Billy’s granddaughter Liely gave a wonderful speech honouring his memory. She wore a beautiful jacket of silver thread depicting Mongol horsemen at the charge with bows taut; this jacket belonged to her grandmother Sophie, the woman who dominated that vibrant community of heroes and free thinkers in Cairo that was Tara. The jacket was hand-made in Cairo from cloth that Sophie bought in the souk. The text of Liely’s speech follows.

You can purchase War of Shadows in all good book stores but if pressed for time click here to buy from Amazon. A War of Shadows

 

Thank you Anthony, on behalf of all my family, for your kind words – and for all you have done: this evening celebrates the first reprint of A War of Shadows since 1952, and I want to take this opportunity to say how enormously we appreciate your unstinting dedication in bringing this book back into the light.
For us it is a very special occasion, and I want to thank all of you for coming this evening – my family welcomes you all.

We have just returned from Crete where, 3 weeks ago, we commemorated together the 70th anniversary of the Special Operation Executive’s abduction of the German General Kreipe – the only successful such kidnap of the war – carried out by Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy, with the help and support of a great swathe of the Cretan population. It was Billy’s diary, written in the field, which became the book, and then the film, Ill Met by Moonlight. Paddy and Billy spirited the General by boat to the Middle East.

From this point – or rather, from the point of his treasured friendship with Paddy – A War of Shadows takes up the story of the rest of Billy’s SOE war : in Crete for a second time, then Macedonia and the Far East. It is a candid observation of the times, places, personalities and politics. It liberally mixes humour with stark reality. Never melodramatic, it is at times a sobering and thoughtful book on what it actually means to be a soldier, dealing with death. At times it is also a very personal account : the answers to many questions lie within its pages.

Billy’s life, from the moment he was born, was extraordinary in so many ways but it was tragically short. He died in 1965. We his family carry him within us always, but it seemed that, as the decades passed, he would largely be forgotten by the world at large.

It is impossible to describe what it was to find, in Alan Ogden, Billy’s ultimate champion. Alan had already written about Billy and other SOE agents in his books Sons of Odysseus and Tigers Burning Bright. My parents first met Alan at the Special Forces Club in January last year, and it was he who absolutely insisted that Billy’s story should be told, and so he introduced them to his publisher, Anthony Weldon!

Alan threw himself into writing a short biography of Billy which is now published as the Afterword to A War of Shadows. ALAN, we are just so grateful for everything you have so generously done for Billy’s memory.

There are myriad ways in which we have felt support, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all of you whom we have gathered here tonight.

There are so many strands, and some of you have very particular links to my grandparents. ONE of you was a baby in wartime Cairo : SIMON, your mother was a marvellous and lifelong friend to them both. ONE of you is the son of their fellow Tara inmate, and named after another Tara inmate : XAN, your father was ever the dearest of friends. ONE of you, as a girl, knew them – and even knew Pixie the Alsatian – when they were living in Ireland in the 1950s : MERCEDES, you have vivid memories of Billy having to rescue you when Pixie had you pinned against a wall.

As I mentioned, we have just visited Crete. Some of us had been before, and for some of us it was the first time. It is hard to find words to express the experience, or our heartfelt gratitude towards the people there, or to say how much we are moved by their generosity of spirit.

There is also the most extraordinary of Cretan links: during the operation known in Crete as the Damasta Sabotage, one brave man was hit by an enemy shell full in the belly, and it seemed he could not possibly survive ; but survive he did – all this is described in A War of Shadows; and tonight one of his twelve grandchildren is here – a research biologist at Glasgow University – our dear EMMANOUELA.

So on behalf of Billy and all his family, we thank all of you for coming to share this evening with us. Let’s raise our glasses in Cretan fashion: Eviva!

Relaunch of Ill Met by Moonlight website to mark 70th anniversary

Capture

Ironically I was away in Munich when Tim Todd posted this comment on the Your Paddy Thoughts page. It has been 70 years since the kidnap and there are a number of events and publications associated with it. Both of Billy Moss’ books are being republished (more to follow), and, as has been already mentioned on here, a version of Paddy’s own account is due later this year.

Tim Todd is probably the leading authority on the kidnap and the route used during the evasion phase. He works very closely with Chris White on this project which never seems to be short of new aspects or details to investigate. The Ill Met by Moonlight website is very well worth visiting. Here is Tim’s update about his reworked site and a cautionary tale about retracing the route.

Well, today, Saturday 26th April 2014, is the 70th anniversary of the abduction of General Kreipe by Paddy, Billy and their Cretan colleagues.

To mark the occasion may I draw attention to my relaunched website and in particular to a transcription of Paddy’s own short report on the abduction. It is the first of a number of his reports that will be appearing on the illmetbymoonlight.info website now that I am free of another commitment that had taken up a lot of time.This report, one of nine by Paddy, can be found here.

Interest in his Cretan adventures remains as great as ever and I have just heard back from one party who did the full route in the last few weeks, from Dermati to Rodakino in a remarkable 7 days and three hours – and pushed himself to the point of exhaustion in the process. Aspiring route followers should not, under any circumstances, consider this a realistic target though as the parties concerned were not your average walkers by a long way. The report came back accompanied by a warning about map accuracy, not the first, and the recommendation is always to seek local guidance for the more remote locations and not to rely on GPS coordinates.

‘The Ariadne Objective:’ Spooks, Germans and the battle for Crete

Ariadne-jacket-453x680A review of Wes Davis’ recently published book by Alexander Clapp.

First published in Ekathimerini.com 8 March 2014

On May 27, 1941, days after the first airborne invasion in history, the German army hoisted a Nazi flag atop an abandoned mosque in Hania, western Crete. The gesture was poignant. Crete – which had overthrown three centuries of Turkish rule just three decades prior – was again under the heel of an occupying power.

The Cretans were unshaken. The island’s peasantry armed itself with muskets and daggers and took to the crags and caves of the White Mountains. The campaign of sabotage that followed – an echo of repeated revolts against the Ottomans, Venetians and Arabs – marked the first mass civilian resistance to Nazi rule in Europe. “We had encountered for the first time an enemy that was prepared to fight to the bitter end,” marveled a German lieutenant.

Wes Davis’s “The Ariadne Objective” (Crown, 2013) traces the British intelligence service’s collaboration with this hardscrabble fifth column. The plans to wrest Crete from Nazi control formed part of a larger wartime strategy to “set Europe ablaze” through the Special Operations Executive (SOE), “Churchill’s secret army.” In Crete the stakes were particularly high. Cretan restlessness proved crucial to delaying Hitler’s march to the East. As the war in North Africa came to a close, the island was to become a strategic linchpin to the European theater. By 1943, the British naval command looked to Crete as a promising base from which to retake the Aegean and the Continent at large.

“The Ariadne Objective” distills existing accounts of the Cretan conflict – W. Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met by Moonlight,” George Psychoundakis’s “The Cretan Runner,” Antony Beevor’s “Crete” – into a thrilling, highly readable narrative. The book benefits from a remarkable group of protagonists. Just as the Greeks of 1821 attracted a spirited cast of Western philhellenes, so too did the Cretan resistance become a curious meeting ground for a platoon of Anglophone scholars. Most were Classicists who had scraped together the rudimentary basics of Modern Greek. Many – N.G.L. Hammond, Thomas Dunbabin – went on to hold distinguished academic posts after the war; others – Evelyn Waugh, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor – were to become the literary giants of their generation. “It was the obsolete choice of Greek at school which had really deposited us on the limestone,” recalled Leigh Fermor.

Davis weaves in and out of these figures’ fascinating back-stories. The book narrates Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding’s respective hikes across Europe in vivid detail; the one-eyed Cambridge archaeologist John Pendlebury provides an excursion into the British excavations at Knossos; a chapter on life in wartime Cairo – including a detour into the rowdy antics of the “Tara villa” inhabitants – acts as a kind of comic relief from the grittiness of the Cretan front.

Sporting shepherds’ crooks and cork-dyed mustaches, these British guerrilla leaders spent months sleeping in caves, organizing resistance bands and smuggling supplies to the beleaguered islanders. Over time their efforts paid off. In the words of a German commander on Crete, the Nazis made the mistake of “regarding a quite substantial partisan movement as nothing more than a few gangs of cattle thieves.”

This thinking was not entirely unfounded. Some Cretans chose to collaborate with the Germans against their countrymen. Those who did resist were internecine and uncertain of their objectives. The available weaponry was hopelessly antiquated. “Stand still, Turk, while I reload” was still the threat of choice among the elderly fighters.

But if the Germans underestimated the determination of this ragtag uprising, so too did they misunderstand its means. In order to deny the Germans any legitimate right to bring reprisals against the local population, the British SOE commanders concentrated the Cretans’ efforts on disrupting Nazi supply lines, provoking discord between Axis commanders and draining the occupiers’ morale through a carefully crafted propaganda campaign. “We want not so much to kill Germans as to terrify and bamboozle them,” advised SOE resistance leader Tom Dunbabin. The smuggling of Italian commander Angelo Carta from Crete to Cairo in 1943 was one such bloodless blow to the enemy’s morale. It was also the dry run for a more devastating attack on German confidence – a ruse that forms the theatrical climax of the “The Ariadne Objective.”

On April 26, 1944 Patrick Leigh Fermor, W. Stanley Moss and a team of Cretan partisans abducted the German commander of Crete, General Heinrich Kreipe, from his headquarters at the Villa Ariadne in Iraklio. Passing through 22 enemy checkpoints, the team worked their way to the southern coast of Crete, sheltering in caves by day and evading German search parties by night. By May 15 Kreipe was in Alexandria; two weeks later he was a prisoner of war in Canada.

“The galvanizing effect of the mission could still be felt in the tense months that followed the end of the war,” writes Davis. “As the rest of Greece plunged into civil unrest – pitting factions of Communist partisans against each other and against various stripes of nationalists – Crete remained relatively calm.”

An intriguingly highbrow current runs through the book’s otherwise soldierly narrative. Greece was not merely a shared strategic prize for German battalions and British spies; it was also an intellectual middle ground for two competing nationalisms, each of which claimed the cultural mantle of the Classical world as its own. Evidence of this mutual enthrallment to antiquity resurfaces throughout “The Ariadne Objective.” The German invasion of Crete is code-named “Mercury.” The British cruisers stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean are named the Orion and the Dido. Shipping out to the front line, Pendlebury reads Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” for a crash course in military strategy. Following their conquest of Crete, the Germans import their archaeologists to tend to the island’s historical sites. The diary entry of a German commander flying out of Crete: “just as Daedalus had done so many centuries ago.” “Minotaurs, bull-men, nymphs of Ariadne, kings of Minos, and German generals – a splendid cocktail!” writes Moss after abducting Heinrich Kreipe.

The most arresting example comes a few days following the general’s capture. In a well-cited incident on the slopes of Mount Ida, Kreipe quietly quotes the opening lines of Horace’s “Soracte” ode. Taking up where the general had paused, Leigh Fermor, Kreipe’s captor, recites the rest of the poem’s 24 lines.

“It was a reminder that the war itself was the aberration, interrupting something far more important and lasting. The moment of connection he and the general had just shared had sprung from a deep-running current of literature, art, and civility,” notes Davis.

The incident – like much of the clash in Crete – represents a strange last flowering of the world of the 19th-century imperialist scholar. “The Ariadne Objective” examines that story ably and admirably. This is necessary reading for anyone interested in Greece in the Second World War.

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.

Patrick Leigh Fermor celebrated author of one of greatest travel books ever written

By Michael Dirda.

First published in the Washington Post, 23 October 2013.

In the annals of armchair adventure, nothing can rival a travel classic by a good-looking, sandy-haired young Englishman — or Englishwoman. If you’re planning ahead for some ideal winter’s reading, you can’t go wrong with any of the following:

  •  A.W. Kinglake’s “Eothen.”
  •  Peter Fleming’s “Brazilian Adventure.”
  •  Freya Stark’s “The Valleys of the Assassins.”
  •  Robert Byron’s “The Road to Oxiana.”
  •  Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World.”
  •  Sybille Bedford’s “A Visit to Don Otavio.”
  •  Wilfred Thesiger’s “Arabian Sands.”
  •  Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.”
  •  Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia.”

All of these are wondrous. Still, the most beautifully written of modern “travel books” — an awkward term — may well be Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” (1977) closely followed by its sequel “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986). These two volumes lyrically memorialize a youthful walk across Europe in 1933-34, starting from the Hook of Holland and passing through Germany and much of Eastern Europe. A never-completed final volume — drafts of which will be published in March (in the US) as “The Broken Road” — would have followed its boyish hero to Constantinople and Mount Athos.

While most of Leigh Fermor’s work is highly personal, his various books — and these include one about the Caribbean, “The Traveller’s Tree” (1950), and two about Greece, “Mani” (1958) and “Roumeli” (1966) — offer only carefully chosen glimpses of his long and astonishing life (he died at age 96 in 2011). Artemis Cooper’s excellent biography, “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” fills in the details, corrects errors and makes clear that Paddy — as he was always known — often conflated incidents or fudged details in his writing, sometimes for reasons of art, sometimes to protect a friend or a woman’s reputation.

When Paddy began his European rambles, he was not quite 19. Up until then he had been an indifferent student, although passionate about reading and gifted with a phenomenal memory. Paddy also possessed, along with good looks, daring and boundless curiosity and a seemingly irresistible charm. He originally expected to doss down in haystacks and barns as he trudged along; in fact, he regularly smiled his way into country houses, consulates and baronial manors — and sometimes into the beds of young women and lonely divorcees. Letters of introduction then eased his way into other homes. As he cheerfully sauntered along, he would belt out each region’s folk songs.

At the end of his journey, Paddy met Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, a scion of one of the great dynasties of Moldavia and Wallachia. She was 16 years his senior, but the two fell in love and the young Englishman passed four idyllic years living on her family estate at Baleni in what was then known as Rumania. During these years he read voraciously — history, reference works, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Gide, Proust, Tolstoy and much else. To his personal magnetism and general sexiness, the magpielike Paddy soon added a mind filled with poetry and out-of-the-way knowledge.

When Britain declared war on Germany, the stylish young adventurer immediately left Baleni to enlist. He was, at this point, all of 24. But Paddy already knew much of Europe intimately, had made friends everywhere, and could speak French, German, Romanian and Greek. He was a natural for the Intelligence Corps.

Lieutenant, later Major Leigh Fermor spent much of the war behind the lines in Crete, helping to coordinate its resistance to the Germans. Periodically, though, he would be pulled out for R&R in Cairo, where he partied all night, slept in the arms of exotic girlfriends and drank champagne with King Farouk. During one particularly orgiastic revel, the young intelligence officer came up with a plan to kidnap the commanding German general in his area of Crete. It would give a boost to the partisans’ morale. He eventually recruited his admiring friend William Stanley Moss to join him in this crazy exploit.

The two actually brought it off. Dressed as German border patrolmen, Paddy and Moss stopped General Heinrich Kreipe’s car, which was immediately surrounded by Cretan guerrillas. For more than two weeks, the ambushers and their victim eluded capture until they were able to rendezvous with their escape boat. In her biography, Cooper provides the most detailed account available of this “hussar stunt,” the highlight of which occurred on a morning when the raiding party was hiding in a cave:

“No one slept well that night, and as dawn broke and the sun illuminated the great snow-streaked hump of Mount Ida, the General murmured a line in Latin: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte.’ ”

As it happened, this was not only a poem that Paddy had once translated — the line from Horace means, in his schoolboy version, “See Soracte’s mighty peak stands deep in virgin snow” — but one that he knew by heart. Taking up where Kreipe had paused, the youthful British major went on to recite the entire poem.

Cooper then quotes Paddy’s own account of what happened next:

“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 fountain long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

This whole adventure was later chronicled in W. Stanley Moss’s minor classic “Ill Met By Moonlight.”

After the war, Paddy — now all of 30 — found work at the British Institute in Athens, where his colleagues included the historian of the Crusades Steven Runciman and the translator and novelist Rex Warner. But, despite all his gifts or because of them, Paddy couldn’t hold a 9-to-5 job. He was too free-spirited, too feckless, in some ways, too spoiled. For years he would rely on, sometimes live on, the generosity of rich and aristocratic friends and lovers.

And there were many. When he finally returned to England, Paddy cemented his connections with the aging members of the Brideshead Generation. The second half of Cooper’s biography is packed with the usual names: critic Cyril Connolly, the famous beauty Diana Cooper (the biographer’s grandmother), the Duchess of Devonshire (nee Deborah Mitford), Ann Fleming (wife of Ian), poet John Betjeman and many others. With Joan Rayner, whom he had first met in Cairo, Paddy would settle into a permanent, if extremely open relationship. By the time the two finally married in 1968, they had already bought property in Kardamyli, Greece, and built their ideal house (marble, open air, lots of books, cats), where they would welcome celebrated friends, former Cretan partisans and numerous admirers of Paddy’s books.

Easily distracted and as much a perfectionist as Flaubert, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor — as he eventually became — always found writing difficult. His descriptions are like tapestries, rich in color and intricate design; his bravura diction often requires a dictionary close at hand; and sometimes his weaker pages are clotted and overwrought. Yet “A Time of Gifts” marvelously evokes an ancient Mitteleuropa now almost wholly vanished. If you’ve never read it, do; and if you have, you’ll certainly want to follow up with this fine biography of its adventurous and romantic author.

Dirda reviews books for The Washington Post every Thursday.

 Artemis Cooper will be at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, at 6 p.m. Nov. 2. Call 202-364-1919.

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

Previously unpublished images from the Kreipe kidnap

William Stanley Moss, PLF, and Manoli pose for photos before the kindap of General Kreipe

Paddy and ‘Billy’ Moss in a cave

I am very grateful to John Stathatos who sent these pictures from his family’s Cretan archive. The first with Manoli is one that I don’t think we have seen before in this setting.

I’m sending you a little present for the blog – scans of four original photographic prints of the Kreipe operation which I’ve dug out of the family archives.

The prints are on glossy photographic paper, and must have been produced by the British army press and propaganda section in Cairo very shortly after Paddy’s return. They were given a narrow white border, and all four have very slightly different dimensions, ranging from 185×143 mm for the vertical one to 147×199 mm for the group photo. They are in remarkably good shape considering their age, showing no evident deterioration beyond a very slight yellowing.

Note: certain of these images are kindly shown here by permission of John Stathatos. Please ask if you wish to reproduce.

Other pictures provided by John:

A map of Crete as drawn by Paddy on operations in Crete

Traveller’s Rest

New – Full length interviews with Kreipe and Paddy

We have all seen the famous 1972 video of Nico Mastorakis’ TV show “This is Your Life” which brought Kreipe and his old enemies together before the cameras. If you have not seen it you can find it here.

In this newly discovered video Nico Mastorakis presents a documentary about the whole kidnap event, and includes full length and exclusive interviews with Paddy and General Kreipe. The General even says that “next year I will spend my holiday in Crete.” I wonder if he ever did?

There is much more about the kidnap in the Video and Audio section. Take a visit now.

 

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.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1998 interview with Amalia Negreponte

Amalia Negreponte

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

My reply to Mark was …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the monasteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kidnap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Turks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

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

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

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

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

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

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

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

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

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

Colonel David Smiley 

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

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

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

Tom Sawford

William Stanley Moss

"Billy" Moss with his Russians

There appears to be no surviving obituary for Billy Moss (if anybody can find one please contact me). His Wikipedia page has to serve as a substitute.

Ivan William “Billy” Stanley Moss MC (1921–1965), was a British army officer in World War II, and later a successful writer, broadcaster, journalist and traveller. He served with the Coldstream Guards and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was a best-selling author in the 1950s, based both on his novels and books about his wartime service. He featured events of his SOE years in Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe (1950), which was adapted as a British film released under the main title in 1957. Moss travelled around the world and went to Antarctica to meet the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

He was known as William Stanley Moss, or I. W. S. Moss, or W. Stanley Moss, or plain Bill or Billy Moss – but never as “Stanley Moss”.  Stanley was the surname of a female forebear.  All family members (including Billy and his two daughters) were given this name, which was considered part of the surname, though not hyphenated.  Much like “Leigh Fermor”.

Early life and education

William Stanley Moss, (called Bill or Billy) was born in Yokohama, Japan. His mother was a White Russian émigrée, and his father, an English businessman. The family survived the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Moss attended Charterhouse in England (1934–39).

Soldier

In the autumn of 1939, Moss, aged 18, had just left Charterhouse and was living in a log cabin on the Latvian coast. By the outbreak of war, he reached Stockholm, and succeeded in crossing the North Sea to England in a yacht. After full training at Caterham, he was commissioned as an ensign into the Coldstream Guards. He served on King’s Guard at the Court of St. James’s punctuated by bouts of Churchillian duty at Chequers.

Posted to reinforce the 3rd Battalion, the Coldstream, after the losses at Tobruk, Moss fought with Montgomery’s Eighth Army chasing Rommel across North Africa to Alamein and finished up the campaign in Chianti and Pantellaria. He returned to Cairo, where he was recruited into Force 133 of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Tara, Cairo

In 1943 in Cairo, Moss moved in to a spacious villa, with a great ballroom with parquet floors, which four or five people might share. Moss chose to live in the villa rather than the SOE hostel, “Hangover Hall”. He moved in alone at first, then bought his Alsatian puppy, Pixie; Xan Fielding, who had worked in Crete, joined him. Next was Countess Zofia (Sophie) Tarnowska, forced to leave Poland in 1939 by the German invasion, followed by Arnold Breene of SOE HQ. Finally Patrick Leigh Fermor, an SOE officer who had spent the previous nine months in Crete, joined the household. The villa’s new inhabitants called it Tara, after the legendary home of the High Kings of Ireland.

Sophie Tarnowska and two other women had been asked to share the house with the SOE agents, but only she went through with it, after the men pleaded with her not to let them down. Estranged from her husband, she moved in with her few possessions (a bathing costume, an evening gown, a uniform and two pet mongooses). She protected her reputation while living in the all-male household by the invention of an entirely fictitious chaperone, “Madame Khayatt”, who suffered from “distressingly poor health” and was always indisposed when visitors asked after her. The group were later joined by SOE agents Billy McLean, David Smiley returning from Albania, and Rowland Winn, also active in Albania.

Tara became the centre of high-spirited entertaining of diplomats, officers, writers, lecturers, war correspondents and Coptic and Levantine party-goers. The residents adopted nicknames: “Princess Dneiper-Petrovsk” (Countess Sophie Tarnowska), “Sir Eustace Rapier” (Lt-Col. Neil (Billy) McLean), “the Marquis of Whipstock” (Col David Smiley LVO OBE MC), “the Hon, Rupert Sabretache” (Rowland Winn MC), “Lord Hughe Devildrive” (Major Xan Fielding DSO), “Lord Pintpot” (Arnold Breene), “Lord Rakehell” (Lt-Col Patrick Leigh-Fermor DSO) and “Mr Jack Jargon” (Capt W. Stanley Moss MC). By the winter of 1944, the Tara household had to leave their battered villa and move into a flat. Their landlord secured their eviction on the grounds that the villa had not been let to “Princess Dneiper-Petrovsk” et al., as stated on the villa’s name plate.

Abduction of General Kreipe

Moss is best remembered for the capture of General Heinrich Kreipe on Crete and abduction of him to Egypt, in April and May 1944. He and Leigh Fermor led a team of Cretan Andartes, part of the Greek resistance.

Moss and Leigh Fermor thought of the Kreipe abduction one evening in the Club Royale de Chasse et de Pêche (Royal Hunting and Fishing Club) and planned it during the winter of 1943. On the last evening before Moss and Leigh Fermor set off, Smiley presented Moss with the Oxford Book of English Verse – his companion from Albania – for good luck.[2] McLean gave him a complete Shakespeare dedicated, “To Bill, with best of luck for Guernsey, Bill”.

Promoted to the rank of Captain, at age 22 Moss set off with Leigh Fermor, age 29, to Crete in 1944. Leigh Fermor landed by parachute. Moss, unable to jump due to cloud cover, followed several weeks later, landing by boat on the south coast where he joined Leigh Fermor, Andartes and other support. Walking north, they passed through Skinias, Kastamonitsa and Haraso. Just south of Skalani, they prepared for the abduction. Throughout the operation, as they travelled across Crete, they were hidden and supported by the Resistance and the local population.

Moss and Leigh Fermor, disguised as German soldiers, stopped the General’s car. With the help of their team, the driver was bundled out and the General and car seized. With Leigh Fermor impersonating the General, and Moss his driver, and with the General bundled in the back, secured by their Cretan team, Moss drove the General’s car for an hour and a half through 22 controlled road blocks in Heraklion. Leigh Fermor took the car on, as Moss walked with the general south into the mountains to Anogeia and up towards Psiloritis. Reunited, the entire abduction team took the general on over the summit of Psiloritis before descending, aiming for the coast. Driven west by German forces cutting off escape to the south, they travelled to Gerakari and on to Patsos. From here, they walked on through Fotinos and Vilandredo before striking south, finally to escape by ship.

After the war, a member of Kreipe’s staff reported that, on hearing the news of the kidnapping, an uneasy silence in the officers’ mess in Heraklion was followed by someone saying, “Well gentlemen, I think this calls for champagne all round.”

Post-war correspondence explains that Kreipe was disliked by his soldiers because, amongst other things, he objected to the stopping of his own vehicle for checking in compliance with his commands concerning troops’ reviewing approved travel orders. This tension between the General and his troops, in part, explains the reluctance of sentries to stop the General’s car as Moss drove it through Heraklion.

Moss was recommended for and received the Immediate Award of the Military Cross: “For outstanding courage and audacity.”

The episode was immortalised in his best-selling book Ill Met by Moonlight (1950). It was adapted into a film of the same name, directed and produced by Michael Powell and released in 1957. It featured Dirk Bogarde as Patrick Leigh Fermor and David Oxley as Moss.

The abduction is commemorated near Archanes and at Patsos.

Damasta Sabotage

Returning to Crete in August 1944, Moss led a resistance group consisting of eight Cretans and six escaped Russian soldiers in launching an ambush on German forces, intent on attacking Anogeia, on the main road connecting Rethymno and Heraklion. They chose an ambush site by a bridge in the Damastos location, one kilometre west of the village of Damasta. After the team destroyed various passing vehicles, among which was a lorry carrying military mail to Chania, the German force targeting Anogia finally appeared. It consisted of a track of infantrymen backed up by an armoured car. Moss and his group attacked the troops, Moss destroying the armoured car by dropping a grenade into the hatch. In total, 40 to 50 Germans and one Russian partisan were killed in the clash that followed. The operation is described in full in Moss’s book A War of Shadows (1952) and commemorated at Damasta. Moss’s exploits in Crete are recorded in the Historical Museum of Crete.

Macedonia and the Far East

After being promoted to Major, Moss served in Macedonia. Toward the end of the War, he served in the Far East, also described in A War of Shadows.

Marriage and family

In Cairo in 1945, Moss married Countess Zofia Tarnowska, his former housemate.  She was the granddaughter of Count Stanislaw Tarnowski (1837–1917) and a direct descendant of Catherine the Great of Russia.

They had three children: Christine Isabelle Mercedes, Sebastian (who died in infancy) and Gabriella Zofia. Initially living in London, they moved to Riverstown House, County Cork in Ireland. They later returned to London. They separated in 1957.

Writer and Traveller

Moss achieved success as an author with three novels, as well as his two books based on his wartime adventures. In addition, he travelled to Germany and wrote an investigation of post-war Germany, studying what happened to gold accumulated by the Nazis: Gold Is Where You Hide It: What Happened to the Reichsbank Treasure? (1956).

Disappearance of Reichsbank and Abwehr Reserves

Between 1952 and 1954, Moss joined up with his friend and former SOE agent, Andrzej Kowerski, (who adopted his cover name, Andrew Kennedy, after the war), in order to unravel a mystery of the final days of the Third Reich. In April and May 1945, the entire remaining reserves of the Reichsbank – gold (730 bars), cash (6 large sacks), and precious stones and metals such as platinum (25 sealed boxes) – were dispatched by Walther Funk from Berlin under armed escort to be buried on the Klausenhof Mountain at Einsiedel in Bavaria, where the final German resistance was to be concentrated. Similarly the Abwehr cash reserves of hundreds of thousands of dollars where hidden nearby in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Shortly after the American forces overran the area, the reserves and money disappeared.

Moss and Kennedy travelled back and forth across Germany and into Switzerland and corresponded with fugitives in Argentina, to research what had happened. They talked to many witnesses before finally establishing what had become of the treasure. What Moss and Kennedy uncovered, and the conclusions they reached on the various people responsible for the disappearances, have not been disputed to this day. The disappearance of Major Martin Borg, the US Military Governor of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the time, has not been explained.[22] (And? who and what?)

Later, Moss and Kennedy went on to uncover the consequences of Heinrich Himmler’s order of 28 October 1939, which confirmed the Lebensborn programme. They researched what had become of the children born as a result of the order.

Antarctica

He continued to travel extensively first to New Zealand from where, on 14 February 1958, he flew in a Globemaster aircraft (with one engine cutting out six hours from his destination) to Scott Base at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica to report on the arrival of the first Antarctic crossing achieved by the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1957-8 led by Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary. Months later, he returned to New Zealand in the icebreaker, The Glacier.

Sailing the Pacific

Taking to sea from New Zealand again, he sailed with Warwick Davies, John Ewing, Rex Hill and Bill Endean in Endeans’s 47 ft Alden-rigged Malabar ketch, the Crusader,[23] through the islands of the Pacific via Tahiti, Pitcairn Islands, Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands to Panama, eventually landing at Nassau, Bahamas in December 1959.
Jamaica

He moved on to Kingston, Jamaica, where he settled. He died on 9 August 1965, aged 44.

How to Kidnap a General – a review of Ill Met by Moonlight

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Moss

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Moss in German Uniform Prior to the Abduction of General Kriepe

“There was a rush . . . our torches illuminated the interior of the car — the bewildered face of the General, the chauffeur’s terrified eyes . . . [The] chauffeur was reaching for his automatic, so I hit him across the head with my kosh [blackjack] . . . and George . . . dumped him on the road. I jumped in behind the steering-wheel, and . . . saw Paddy and Manoli dragging the General out of the opposite door. The old man was struggling with fury . . . shouting every curse under the sun . . . [We bundled] him into the back seat [and he] kept imploring, ‘Where is my hat? Where is my hat?’ The hat, of course, was on Paddy’s head.”

First published in Time magazine 4 September 1950

Why a German general’s hat should be on a British officer’s head is pretty much the gist of III Met by Moonlight. For as the staff car, driven by Author Moss, moved along the road in northern Crete, sentries at no less than 22 German traffic-control posts smartly saluted the behatted “general”‘ and waved the car on. They had no inkling that prostrate on the floor in the back seat lay the real general, with guns pointed at his head. Twenty days later, on May 16, 1944, kidnaped Major General Karl Kreipe was handed over to British authorities in Cairo, putting finis to what Harold Nicolson has called “one of the best adventure stories that I have read.”*

Behind the Lines. The scheme of raiding German-held Crete and trotting off with the divisional commander was the brain child of youthful Major Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Captain W. Stanley Moss, who had achieved the schoolboy dream of becoming secret agents. At their base in Cairo, they shared a villa and sampled the fleshpots of Egypt. It was in a nightclub that they first hatched the plot that was to land their party from a motor launch on the south coast of Crete.

The two Britons could depend on help from guerrillas and from intelligence corpsmen hidden in the hills. One British agent, a Cretan, actually lived next door to General Kreipe’s Villa Ariadne, near the north coast. Through him, Moss and Leigh-Fermor learned the general’s daily routine to a nicety—off to headquarters by car at 9 a.m., back in the evening any time after 8 or 8:30 p.m., depending on how many rubbers of bridge he stayed to play.

Slowly, painstakingly, the two agents planned a night ambush. Hidden guerrillas lay at vantage points on the road to the villa, a buzzer and torch flashes relayed warnings of the general’s approach to the waiting kidnapers, who were in German uniforms.

After the snatch, the general (who quickly became resigned and quite amiable) was marched from cave to cave half the length of Crete, while the furious Germans fruitlessly finecombed the island. By the time a Royal Navy motor launch nosed in to a southwest beach and took off both captive and captors, Moss and Leigh-Fermor knew that they had achieved their principal aim—to astound the enemy and make him the laughingstock of the local population.

Author Moss wrote his story in the mid-’40s, but the British War Office refused to let it appear then. Today, having reached the elderly age of 29, Moss is a bit abashed by the “22-year-old exuberance (almost bumptiousness) with which it was written.” Bumptious or not, it is one of the most melodramatic and audacious stories of the war.

*And notably more successful than another daring plan hatched in Cairo. In November 1941, British commandos under 24-year-old Lieut. Colonel Geoffrey Keyes made their way 200 miles behind Axis lines in an attempt to capture or assassinate Nazi General Erwin Rommel. At night, with cork-blackened faces, Keyes and his commandos achieved complete surprise, wrecked Rommel’s HQ with grenades. But Keyes was killed and Rommel was untouched: he had gone to a birthday party.

The oral heroic poetry of the Kreipe kidnap

I have extracted this from a fairly long book review about Professor M I Finley’s 1978 revised edition of his book The World of Odysseus. It has a fascinating section about an oral heroic song from Crete that is about Paddy and the Kreipe abduction, and how it had evolved in just the few years since the end of the war.

From Triumph of a Heretic by Bernard Knox, first published in the NYRB 29 June 1978.

It is now more than two decades since the Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge (who was then an ex-professor from Rutgers) published a book which in a limpid, hard-hitting prose and with a bare minimum of footnotes attempted to draw “a picture of a society, based on a close reading of the Iliad and Odyssey, supported by study of other societies….” This is how Professor Finley characterizes the book now, in the preface to a revised edition which makes only minor changes in the original text but adds two valuable and stimulating appendices, replying to criticism and bringing the argument up to date. He goes on to claim that “the social institutions and values make up a coherent system” which, however strange to us, is “neither an improbable nor an unfamiliar one in the experience of modern anthropology.” The fact that the later Greeks and the nineteenth-century scholars found it incomprehensible on its own terms he dismisses as “irrelevant” and adds that “it is equally beside the point that the narrative is a collection of fictions from beginning to end.” ….

… Oral heroic poetry is not a medium that preserves historical fact—as Finley pointed out, with a reference to the Chanson de Roland, which made out of a Basque attack on Charlemagne’s rear-guard an assault by Muslim beys and pashas, all carefully identified by names which are “German, Byzantine, or made-up.” A modern example, from the Second World War and from Greece itself, strengthens his case and gives a fascinating glimpse of epic “history” in the making.

In 1953 the late Professor James Notopoulos was recording oral heroic song in the Sfakia district of western Crete, where illiterate oral bards were still to be found. He asked one of them, who had sung of his own war experience, if he knew a song about the capture of the German general and the bard proceeded to improvise one. The historical facts are well known and quite secure. In April 1944 two British officers, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain Stanley Moss, parachuted into Crete, made contact with Cretan guerrillas, and kidnapped the German commanding general of the island, one Karl Kreipe.

The general was living in the Villa Ariadne at Knossos, the house Evans had built for himself during the excavations. Every day, at the same time, the general was driven south from the Villa to the neighboring small town of Arkhanes, where his headquarters were located. He came home every night at eight o’clock for dinner. The two British officers, dressed in German uniforms, stopped the car on its way home to Knossos; the Cretan partisans overpowered the chauffeur and the general. The two officers then drove the car through the German roadblocks in Heraklion (the general silent with a knife at his throat) and left the car on the coast road to Rethymo. They then hiked through the mountains to the south coast, made rendezvous with a British submarine, and took General Kreipe to Alexandria and on to Middle East Headquarters in Cairo.

Here, in Notopoulos’s summary, is the heroic song the bard produced:

“An order comes from British and American headquarters in Cairo to capture General Kreipe, dead or alive; the motive is revenge for his cruelty to the Cretans. A Cretan partisan, Lefteris Tambakis (not one of the actual guerrilla band) appears before the English general (Fermor and Moss are combined into one and elevated in rank) and volunteers for the dangerous mission. The general reads the order and the hero accepts the mission for the honor of Cretan arms. The hero goes to Heraklion, where he hears that a beautiful Cretan girl is the secretary of General Kreipe.

“In disguise the partisan proceeds to her house and in her absence reads the [English] general’s order to her mother. When the girl returns he again reads the general’s order. Telling her the honor of Crete depends on her, he catalogues the German cruelties. If she would help in the mission, her name would become immortal in Cretan history. The girl consents and asks for three days time in which to perform her role. To achieve Cretan honor she sacrifices her woman’s honor with General Kreipe in the role of a spy. She gives the hero General Kreipe’s plans for the next day.

“Our hero then goes to Knossos to meet the guerrillas and the English general. ‘Yiassou general,’ he says. ‘I will perform the mission.’ The guerrillas go to Arkhanes to get a long car with which to blockade the road. Our hero, mounted on a horse by the side of the blockading car, awaits the car of Kaiseri (that is what the bard calls Kreipe). The English general orders the pistols to be ready. When Kreipe’s car slows down at the turn he is attacked by the guerrillas. Kreipe is stripped of his uniform (only his cap in the actual event) and begs for mercy for the sake of his children (a stock motif in Cretan poetry).

“After the capture the frantic Germans begin to hunt with dogs (airplanes in the actual event). The guerrillas start on the trek to Mount Ida and by stages the party reaches the district of Sfakia (the home of the singer and his audience; actually the general left the island southwest of Mount Ida). The guards have to protect the general from the mob of enraged Sfakians. Soon the British submarine arrives and takes the general to Egypt. Our bard concludes the poem with a traditional epilogue—that never before in the history of the world has such a deed been done. He then gives his name, his village, his service to his country.”

So much for epic history. Nine years after the event the British protagonists have been reduced to one nameless general whose part in the operation is secondary and there can hardly be any doubt that if the song is still sung now the British element in the proceedings is practically nonexistent—if indeed it managed to survive at all through the years in which Britain, fighting to retain its hold on Cyprus, became the target of bitter hostility in Greece and especially among the excitable Cretans.

It took the Cretan oral tradition only nine years to promote to the leadership of the heroic enterprise a purely fictitious character of a different nationality. This is a sobering thought when one reflects that there is nothing to connect Agamemnon, Achilles, Priam, and Hector with the fire-blackened layer of thirteenth-century ruins known as Troy VII A (the archaeologists’ candidate for Homer’s city) except a heroic poem which cannot have been fixed in its present form by writing until the late eighth century, at least four illiterate centuries after the destruction.

To read the full article click here.

SOE’s correspondence to Paddy trashing the draft of Ill Met By Moonlight

“We have had the opportunity of reading this through and I must confess it seems to me the most unutterable trash. Literary criticism is, however, not within our province of officiality. Apart from that there are quite a number of points which it is undesirable to see published … and I very much doubt if descriptions such as that of General Gubbins acting as a horse in a sham bullfight would be sanctioned by those concerned.” Thus starts a correspondence from the War Office to Paddy on the subject of a draft of Stanley Moss’ book.

In April 1945 the War Office were in receipt of a draft Moss’ book Ill Met by Moonlight. Paddy’s recently released SOE file shows that not only were they sensitive to the security aspects of the book, but these Staff Officers thought very little of its literary style.

It appears that Moss had given Paddy ‘full powers’ to deal with the publication of the book. This seems to have dragged Paddy into some degree of trouble.

In a letter dated 29 March 1945 an officer says “LEIGH-FERMOR does not submit willingly to discipline, and I think, requires firm handling.”

The correspondence is quite amusing “Good taste and discretion are hardly attributes of the writer as illustrated by his description of one of his lady friends as an “over-sexed mongoose”. It is clear that the final version was quite severely edited, but some of the missing parts are quoted at length by Staff Officers who clearly had too much time on their hands .. or were they merely jealous that they had missed out on all the fun in Cairo?

Paddy himself in a covering letter to Colonel Talbot Rice with the submission of the draft for clearance says; “It is not a very good book – too much is made of too little” But he did think it would “sell like blazes”.

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A reconstruction of the Kreipe abduction in Crete

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

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

Paddy talks about the abduction

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

more stories related to Ill Met by Moonlight 

Related article:

The Kreipe pennants 

The troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear

Paddy in Greece photographed by Joan

Don’t you feel like me that with the passing of Paddy as one of the last of his generation we have clearly entered a new age dominated by uncertainty; a lack of confidence in the values we once held as unquestionably true? These beliefs that bound us (in the West?) together for the latter part of the twentieth century are now unravelling at an ever-increasing pace. As we enter the End Game of the economic crisis, and as the decade of The Forever War rumbles on like the noise of a busy road in the middle distance – there only when we take the trouble to notice – we suffer a dearth of leadership and heroes of substance. Paddy and those of his generation had no such crisis of confidence; they served without question. They sacrificed themselves for the things they believed in, and they provided the leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and wisdom that helped rebuild Europe after almost half a century of ethnic and social strife, and destructive war. Maybe they also share some blame for the way things turned out, but who will step up now?

In this considered profile, which prompted my rambling reflection, Paddy’s good friend Colin Thubron assesses his contribution, not as a warrior, but as a writer, and I think for the first time, reveals the torment of Paddy’s troubling writer’s block towards the end of his life.

by Colin Thubron

First published in the New York Review of Books, Volume 58, Number 14

When Patrick Leigh Fermor died in June at the age of ninety-six, it seemed as if an era had come to an end. He was the last of a generation of warrior–travel writers that included the Arabian explorer Wilfred Thesiger, the controversial mystic Laurens van der Post, and the indefatigable Norman Lewis of Naples ‘44. Among these, Leigh Fermor shines with the élan and the effortlessly cultured glow of an apparent golden age. A war hero of polymathic exuberance, brilliant linguistic skills, and an elephantine memory, he was sometimes fancifully compared to Lord Byron or Sir Philip Sydney.

Two pairs of books came to exemplify his achievement. The first pair—Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966)—celebrated the Greece that held his abiding fascination and where he lived for forty-five years on a once-wild promontory in the Peloponnese. In Mani, especially, he described this backwater region as a world whose way of life had survived in a fierce and enchanted time warp.

The land he depicted is barely recognizable now—tourism, he observed, destroys the object it loves—but it was less the Greece of classical antiquity that beguiled him than the spirit and folk culture of the hinterland: the earthy, demotic Romiosyne that he once contrasted with the Hellenic ideal in a playful balance sheet of the country’s character.

In these, and in later books, the style was the man: robustly imaginative, cultivated without pedantry, unstoppably digressive, forgivably swanky, and filled with infectious learning. The impression—overflowing into elaborate footnotes and flights of learned fantasy—is one of omnivorous delight in the quirks and byways of history, art, language, genealogy, myth, song, superstition, costume, heraldry, and everything else that struck his fancy.

His literary models were Norman Douglas and Robert Byron, but his writing was more vivid than the one, more kindly than the other. Despite the richness of his prose (occasionally slipping into purple) he forged an illusion of intimacy with his readers, as if they were sharing his mind in the moment of writing. But in fact his manuscripts were worked, reworked, and reworked again with such painstaking perfectionism that his publisher (the benign Jock Murray) often had to reset his galley proofs wholesale. The apparently natural flow of words was in reality a densely worked choreography, which came at cost.

Fifteen years ago, swimming in the Ionian Sea beneath his home, where nobody could overhear us, Paddy (as friends and fans called him) suddenly confessed to me the writer’s block that would plague the rest of his life. The expectations of a now-avid public, and his own obsessive perfectionism, were taking their toll, and he could not overleap this cruel impediment.

I remember him strong into old age. He swam every morning, with a sturdy breaststroke far out to sea, the tattoo of a twin-tailed mermaid glistening on his shoulder. He still kept up a striding march in the Taygetus foothills, where he and his wife Joan had designed their own house above the ocean. It was a place of “mad splendor,” he wrote. Its sitting-room library—bookshelves banked nine feet high—opened onto a vista of cypresses and the Messenian Gulf, and was flagged with the greenish stone of Mount Pelion. In the afternoon Paddy would disappear into his study to confront—or escape—the demons of his failed writing, and would emerge to the liberation of ouzo or whiskey, generally to report some arcane piece of research—that the Huns wore stitched field-mouse skins, perhaps—or to share a passage of Ovid. We dined in the monastic half-cloister he had built beside his home, and once we visited the tiny, red-tiled Byzantine chapel where—five years before—he had buried the ashes of Bruce Chatwin.

The conflict between a natural gregariousness and the solitude of writing never quite resolved for him. In a short, intriguing study named A Time to Keep Silence (1953) he recorded his sojourn in three great French monasteries. He described this retreat not as a religious exercise, but as a need for a haven for writing, and the nature of its cleansing—”the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear”—remains suspended like a question mark in the oeuvre of a man to whom self-revelation seemed indulgence.

The second pair of books, which established Paddy’s primacy among travel writers, must be among the most extraordinary ever written. In 1933, as a youth of eighteen, he left England for a journey that would take a year and a half. As “a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly,” he set out to walk to Constantinople (as he nostalgically called Istanbul). Walking stick in hand, a copy of Horace’s Odes in his rucksack, he pursued a meandering course up the Rhine and down the Danube, across the Great Hungarian Plain, into Romania and through the Balkans to Turkey.

It was almost forty-five years before he published the first part of this journey, and another nine years before the second. A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) represent prodigious feats of memory. They record the rite of passage of a precocious, exuberant young man as he encounters the peoples and languages of a Middle Europe now littered with obsolete names: Bohemia, Transylvania, Wallachia. His story must have become the dream journey of every enterprising and footloose adolescent.

Inevitably the accuracy of Paddy’s memory was questioned, and he was frank about occasional imaginative license and conflation. (His first diary was stolen in Munich, a solitary last one recovered years later in Romania.) Certainly his recall was extraordinary. I remember the first time we met (by chance), when he quoted verbatim from my first book passages that I had myself forgotten. A year before his death we chanted verses from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám together in an antiphonal competition (which he won).

His urge to describe his epic journey more than forty years after its end was a deeply natural one. He was revisiting his youthful persona with the judgment and knowledge of maturity; yet in a sense he had remained unchanged. Despite his sophisticated learning, he retained an almost boyish innocence, as if the troubles of the modern age had bypassed him. In the Peloponnese, where he settled to live in the 1960s, he had remained in thrall to a more ancient, rooted culture than that of the urban West.

The final volume of his proposed trilogy—carrying its author through the Balkans and down the Black Sea coast to Turkey—became his tormenting and elusive project for the next quarter- century, and was never completed. Some near-finished version, however, survives him, and will eventually be published.

With his youthful trek done, Leigh Fermor’s career took off into near fable. Caught up in Greek unrest, he joined in a triumphal royalist cavalry charge against wilting Venizelist rebels. In Athens he fell in love with the artist Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, twelve years older than him, and lived with her in Moldavia for over two years, before World War II recalled him to London.

As a fluent Greek speaker he was recruited by the Intelligence Corps, and sent as a liaison officer with the Greek army first to Albania and finally to Crete, where he survived the brutal German invasion. For almost two years, while an officer in the Special Operations Executive, he lived disguised as a shepherd in the Cretan mountains, organizing the gathering of intelligence.

Then, in 1944, occurred the exploit that—more than any other—was to burnish him into legend. He and his fellow SOE officer Stanley Moss dreamed up a scheme of harebrained bravado. Dressed in stolen German uniforms, with a party of Cretan guerrillas, they ambushed the car of General Heinrich Kreipe, the German commander of occupied Crete, kidnapped him, and concealed him under the back seat. Moss took the wheel, Paddy donned the general’s cap, and together they drove through twenty-two checkpoints to emerge on the far side of Herakleion and march Kreipe for three weeks over the mountains, to be picked up by motor launch and taken to Egypt.

It was during this hazardous Cretan march, as the dawn broke over Mount Ida, mythical birthplace of Zeus, that the abducted general began to murmur a verse of Horace: Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/Soracte….1 It was an ode that Paddy knew by heart, and he completed the six stanzas to their end. “The general’s blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine,” Paddy later wrote,

—and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. 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.

This precocious kidnapping was later reimagined in a lackluster movie named Ill Met by Moonlight (1957) with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy. But there were other exploits too. Paddy had already engineered the defection of the Italian General Angelico Carta from Crete; and he was due to undertake a near-suicidal mission to Colditz when the war ended.

His upbeat account of these events was tempered by regret. He had planned that the abduction of Kreipe be bloodless, but his accompanying Cretan partisans slit the chauffeur’s throat, and rumors of grim German reprisals for the abduction have never quite died down. Above all, Paddy’s accidental shooting of one of his fellow guerrillas may have stained his memory of the whole period.

On June 16 Leigh Fermor was buried back in the English countryside, attended by an Intelligence Corps guard of honor, to lie beside his wife Joan, his dear comrade since 1946. This was, in a sense, fitting. For in certain ways he was exemplary of a wartime Englishness now almost gone, whose more dashing qualities merged seamlessly into the hardy stylishness of Greek leventéa.

To those who knew him, his books are hauntingly redolent of his sensibility. His conversation was irrepressibly warm and inventive far into old age, moving from arcane anecdotes to fanciful wordplay or bursting into polyglot song (sometimes singing the lyrics backward). His friends ranged from Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire—last of the six legendary Mitford sisters (his correspondence with her was published in 20082)—to early acquaintance with a raffish interwar bohemia and his own great predecessor, the travel writer and aesthete Robert Byron, whose borrowed rucksack he bore across Central Europe as a youth.

Almost the last time I met Paddy, he had returned home after an operation for suspected cancer, and I feared he would be depleted, his old zest gone. He was growing deaf, and he suffered from tunnel vision (which he called Simplonitis). For a while, sitting over lunch, he seemed subdued. Then something struck him. He perked up, and said: “You know, there is an apple lying on a table in the hall. It’s been there all weekend. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if it cocked a snook at Newton, and simply took off into the air!”

This was typical of his boyish resilience. In the field of travel he evoked both the youthful wanderer who discovers another world and the avid scholar who melds with it. His prose was too rich and elaborate to be a safe influence on others (although a few have tried); but he brought to the genre not only the distinction of his densely brilliant books, but his innate dignity, ebullient mind, and capacious heart.

  1. 1″See Mount Soracte white with snow….”
  2. 2The correspondence, In Tearing Haste , edited by Charlotte Mosley, was published in the US by New York Review Books (2010), which has also republished the other books by Patrick Leigh Fermor mentioned in this article, as well as The Traveller’s Tree .

The Kreipe pennants

The Kreipe pennants - Copyright Artemis Cooper 2011

The pennants from General Kreipe's car

What happened to the flags on General Kreipe’s car when Paddy abandoned it and joined the main abduction gang? Well here is the story. I am very grateful to Artemis Cooper for submitting this. I hesitate to say that this is a world exclusive, but it probably is! These have not been seen in public since the car drove through the heavily garrisoned town of Heraklion with the General in April 1944.

As I’m sure you know, just before abandoning the General’s car on the night of the abduction of Gen Kreipe, Paddy and George Tyrakis ripped off the two metal pennants that stood proudly on the bonnet. One might argue that, combined with Billy’s confident driving, it was those pennants that had let the car pass unchallenged through 22 German checkpoints! Since Billy had driven the car the pennants were given to him; and after his death, Billy’s daughters – Gabriella Bullock and Isabella Cole – felt that Paddy should have them. Paddy held onto them for many years, very much under wraps. I think the main reason he kept them hidden was because he had always felt so wretched about the death of Alfred Fenske, the General’s chauffeur.

They were kept in a tin trunk in his study, and very few people knew they were there. He showed them to me only once. The reason for that was so that I should be aware that after his death, they were to go to the Rethymnon Museum of History and Folklore. This had been arranged in the 1990s, with the encouragement of Niko Kokonas.

In August the flags were given to the Rethymnon Museum, according to Paddy’s instructions.

I have a photo of the flags. They stand about 15″ high, the triangular pennant sticking out about 12″. The first is painted red, white and black in horizontal lines, like the German flag. The other shows the gold Nazi eagle with outspread wings perched on a wreath, embroidered onto a piece of grey fabric which is then mounted onto the metal pennant.

I hope this is a real joy to all the Ill Met by Moonlight fans out there.

This article and photograph copyright Artemis Cooper 2011

Ill Met by Moonlight film review

Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster

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

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

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

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

… now watch the movie trailer.

Ill Met by Moonlight

Related articles:

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

General’s long trip home

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

Anthony Lane's New Yorker article, May 2006

In trying to make this blog a focal point for all information related to Paddy I have had some problems accessing all on-line material. The one I most sought is the acclaimed May 22, 2006 profile by Anthony Lane which was published in the New Yorker.

This has sat behind their subscriber firewall, tempting us with one-off subscriptions. Now it appears that (possibly marking Paddy’s death?) this is no longer the case. You can now visit their archive, read the article in full on-line, print it or possibly even download it.

There are many profiles of Paddy. This is probably one of the longest and best, and includes interview material with him that many will have not seen before.

Take a trip to the New Yorker website and have a read.

Editor’s Note:  the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page.

A Traveler’s Tale: On Patrick Leigh Fermor

by Wes Davis

First published in The Nation, December 2010

At a Chelsea-to-Richmond boating party held sometime in the early 1950s, the Duchess of Devonshire, then a beautiful young woman of 30, met a dashing man, some five years her senior, who was dressed as a Roman gladiator and armed with a net and trident. It was a look she thought suited him.

The fancy-dress gladiator was Patrick Leigh Fermor, a former officer in Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), a covert unit that aided resistance movements throughout occupied Europe, and an up-and-coming writer best known at the time for kidnapping a German general during the war. He had crossed paths with the duchess before and remembered her clearly from a regimental ball in 1940, when she was still Deborah Mitford—the youngest of the soon-to-be-famous Mitford sisters. She was then engaged to Andrew Cavendish, a tall naval officer and younger son of the Tenth Duke of Devonshire who had no expectation of inheriting his father’s title until the war took his older brother’s life four years later. Leigh Fermor had watched the couple dance their way through the evening, “utterly rapt, eyes shut, as though in a trance.” Mitford had not noticed him.

But when they met again—as duchess and gladiator—Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor struck up a friendship that has endured for more than half a century. In Tearing Haste, a collection of their letters newly available in this country, gives the impression that the conversation that started at a boating party so many summers ago has never stopped. Spanning 1954 to 2007, the volume reads like an accidental memoir of a disappearing world stretching from the manor houses of the English aristocracy to the olive groves of Greece, its people and places rendered with a kind of care that’s becoming scarce in our age of helter-skelter communication. At the same time, the book’s title, a phrase deriving from Leigh Fermor’s habit of dashing off messages “with a foot in the stirrup,” captures the vigor and bustle of the lives that nourished the correspondence. I once happened upon the manuscript of a chatty letter Leigh Fermor had written in 1944 to an Englishwoman stationed in Cairo. Amusingly composed and illustrated with a witty hand-drawn cartoon, it closed with Leigh Fermor mentioning offhand that he was in hiding on occupied Crete and that an undercover runner was waiting outside to receive the communication.

In Tearing Haste is engaging from start to finish. There isn’t a dull letter among Charlotte Mosley’s selections. Even her annotations, often incorporating information from the book’s two correspondents, are as surprising as they are informative. One biographical note on the painter Augustus John includes Deborah Devonshire’s recollection of meeting him in London: “He looked me up and down and said, ‘Have you got children?’ ‘Yes.’ Another long look. ‘Did you suckle them?'” More than anything else, the collection is important as an addition to Leigh Fermor’s body of work, both because his letters constitute a larger portion of the volume and because the writing in them harmonizes with the books that established his literary reputation. But let it be said that the Duchess of Devonshire is no slouch either. Her letters, though generally shorter and less frequent than Leigh Fermor’s, share his wit and many of his interests—a fascination with language, for example, or with the byways of English and European history. She puts a charming twist on these topics while adding a few bright threads of her own to the correspondence.

Deborah Devonshire’s books—beginning with The House (1982) and The Estate (1990)—focus largely on the management of Chatsworth, the massive estate in Derbyshire that she and her husband put into charitable trust and opened to the public in 1981. (The house was a stand-in for Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in a film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and throughout the letters Leigh Fermor refers to it as “Dingley Dell,” after Mr. Wardle’s house in The Pickwick Papers.) As a writer, she is best when describing the seasonal rhythms of country life (the arrival of the year’s pullets, say) or assessing the gamut of rural arts (from drystone walling to mushroom gathering) and tilling their linguistic soil. In Counting My Chickens, a collection of notes and essays published in 2001, she remembers leaving Leigh Fermor “stumped” by the meaning of words gleaned from the glossary of a pamphlet about sheep. “One sheep disease,” she recalls, “has regional names of intriguing diversity: Sturfy, bleb, turnstick, paterish, goggles, dunt, and pedro all are gid.” On the same page she can be found rhapsodizing over “the glorious language of the 1662 prayer book, with its messages of mystery and imagination.”

She takes any opportunity to undercut the preconceived notions one might have about a duchess’s likes and dislikes. “I buy most of my clothes at agricultural shows,” she says in Counting My Chickens, “and good stout things they are.” For the playwright Tom Stoppard, who contributed an introduction to the book, this was one of her most characteristic revelations. For me, a close runner-up is her discussion of flower gardening on a grand estate, where she admits, “I prefer vegetables.” Many of her stories turn on a similar blend of unexpected rusticity and unflagging old-school civility. In an essay about the life the Mitfords led for a time on the island of Inchkenneth in the Hebrides, she describes traveling by train in the company of a goat, a whippet and a Labrador back to her sister Nancy’s house in Oxfordshire when the war broke out. “I milked the goat in the first-class waiting room,” she confesses, “which I should not have done, as I only had a third-class ticket.”

For all her modesty, the duchess isn’t embarrassed to mention boldface names that have sailed in and out of her social circle. (They range from Fred Astaire to the Queen Mother, the latter called “Cake” when she appears in the letters.) The humor in one anecdote depends on knowing that John F. Kennedy was intimate enough with the duchess to employ her nickname. This caused some confusion when her uncle Harold Macmillan, then prime minister, found himself involved in a telephone conversation with the American president about matters involving Castro, SEATO and NATO. It took him a moment to switch tracks when Kennedy asked, “And how’s Debo?” (Evelyn Waugh, a friend of hers, might well have written the scene.) In the letters, Kennedy is counted among the “bodies to be worshipped,” and several entries describe the friendship that developed between JFK and the duchess in the years between his inauguration and his death.

Her relationship with Leigh Fermor has many dimensions, its ardor fueled by humor, charisma and delight in a good tale. The revealing joke that runs through In Tearing Haste is that Devonshire is not a reader and that despite her lively correspondence with Leigh Fermor, she can’t manage to read his books. She praises one of his letters not for its vivid language but because it has instructions about which parts to skip. Leigh Fermor takes revenge in another letter, marking a set of passages with notes “don’t skip” and “ditto.” The bit he wants her to see—a foray into history by way of language—might well have been lifted from one of the books that made him famous: “The inhabitants are Koutzovlachs who speak a v. queer Latin dialect akin both to Rumanian and Italian. Some say they are Rumanian nomad shepherds who wandered here centuries ago with their flocks and never found their way home again. Others, more plausibly, say they are the descendants of Roman legionaries, speaking a corrupt camp Latin, stationed here to guard the high passes of the Pindus, miles from anywhere.” Continue reading