Tag Archives: William Stanley Moss

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

 

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

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

by Allison Pearson

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

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

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

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

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

The Cretan Runner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy Moss

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles:

The obituary of George Psychoundakis aka The Cretan Runner

General’s long trip home

Related category:

Ill Met by Moonlight

Crete: Island of Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

Crete: 11th Day Movie with Paddy

General’s long trip home

Related category:

Ill Met by Moonlight

General’s long trip home

 
 
 

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Moss

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

Something interesting to add to the Ill Met by Moonlight story.

First published in the Daily Mail 19 July 2007

By Charles Legge

Question: The book Ill Met by Moonlight tells the story of the kidnapping of German General Kreipe. What became of him after he was taken to Cairo?

In January 1944, Cairo East section of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) hatched a daring plot to kidnap the commander of the 22nd InfantryDivision based on Crete, General-Leutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller.

The plot was led by Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, along with his second-in-command, Captain W. Stanley Moss (later author of Ill Met by Moonlight, a book made into a film of the same name), and two Greek SOE agents, all of whom arrived by sea.

General Major Kreipe succeeded Muller on March 1, 1944, but SOE elected to continue with the kidnap mission. Joining with Cretan partisans, the SOE agents studied Kreipe’s daily work habits and his travel route from his quarters at Knossos to the divisional headquarters at Ano Arkhanais.

Saying goodbye to General Kreipe

On the evening of April 26, 1944, Major Leigh Fermor and Captain Moss, dressed as German military policemen, stopped Kreipe’s staff car on a hairpin turn under the guise of a routine traffic control point. After pulling the General out of the car and throwing him into the back seat, the agents drove him to an isolated spot, where he was taken on a gruelling cross-country trek over the mountains to the southern shore of the island.

On May 14, 1944, the SOE agents and their captive German general were picked up by a British motor launch off a desolate beach near Rodakino and spirited away to Mersa Matruh, Egypt. Leigh Fermor and Moss both received the Distinguished Service Order for the operation.

Kreipe was taken to London for interrogation before being transferred to prisoner-of-war camp near Calgary in Canada. He was later returned to the UK and imprisoned at Island Farm, Special Camp 11 near Bridgend. He was twice treated for diabetes at hospital Camp 99 at Shugborough Park in Staffordshire.

On October 10, 1947, he was transferred from Camp 99 to Hamburg via Southampton aboard the El Nil. Kreipe was honourably discharged from the military in 1947 and retired to Hanover.

Kreipe flanked by surviving andartes while talking to Paddy on Greek TV

On May 7, 1972, the abduction team (minus Moss, who had died tragically in 1965) held a reunion in Greece at which Kreipe was also present. During the banquet, Leigh Fermor, in fluent Greek and German, said: ‘After 28 years, General, we apologise to you for what happened and hope you have no hard feelings.’ The white-haired general, sitting with his wife, nodded and said, ‘None; otherwise I would not be here.’ Later Kreipe and his captors appeared on the Greek This Is Your Life programme. When asked how he was treated by his abductors, Kreipe said firmly, ‘Ritterlich’ chivalrously.’ Kreipe died in Hanover in 1976 at the age of 81, Patrick ‘Paddy’ Leigh Fermor was knighted in 2004.

Related article:

Ill Met by Moonlight movie trailer

Related categories:

Ill Met by Moonlight – photographs from the book by William Stanley Moss

Ill Met by Moonlight

Where d’you get them bird-like ways recruit Leigh-Fermor?

I am currently reading my first edition of A War of Shadows, William Stanley Moss’ sequel to Ill Met by Moonlight. It covers Moss’ wartime activities from the point after he and Paddy arrived back in Cairo with the captured General Kreipe.

Moss returned to Crete to attempt a repeat of the first escapade but was frustrated in this by much increased levels of security and constant betrayal by the Communist ELAS andartes. He was then posted to (Greek) Macedonia and finally to the Far East where he saw out the war.

Paddy was unable to accompany Moss to Crete as he had been brought down with a very severe attack of rheumatic fever after the rigours of the Kreipe kidnap, and the harsh conditions they experienced whilst on the run. As we know Paddy did recover and returned to Crete. It is perhaps a little ironic that whilst Paddy was described as being somewhat less physically strong, it is Paddy who has outlived virtually all of his contemporaries and, as far as we know, still swims even to this day.

There is one little piece that amused me and I would like to share it with you. Whilst Moss was waiting upon his expected return to Crete after the failure of his second kidnap mission (he never made it back, being sent to Macedonia instead), he joined Paddy in Beirut where he was convalescing at the home of the commander of the British legation. Moss and Paddy were sitting on a patio enjoying whisky and soda, recounting stories and Moss relates the following (p 68):

Though a little thin in the face, Paddy looked surprisingly well; and it was only when he walked that one could have guessed that he had just recovered from so dangerous an illness. “But I manage to crack along,” he said, “—like some strange bird.”

We laughed at the recollection of an incident at the Guards’ Depot during the early days of the war, when Paddy had been a recruit in the Irish Guards. “Recruit Leigh-Fermor!” the drill sergeant had bawled across the parade ground. ”Why’re you walkin’ about like some strange bird? Where d’you get them bird-like ways? Put ‘im in the book, Corporal Driscoll. For walkin’ about like some strange birrrd!”

Having been on the wrong end of Guards sergeant-major’s humorous put-downs I can sympathise! Perhaps my fondest memory is of an Irish Guards Sergeant-Major ordering us to get sorted out before an orienteering event at Sandhurst: “Get into your t’ree groups … A, B, C, and D!”

Profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Max Hastings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Paddy” came first in 1952 by Mani 

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

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

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Berlin

The knocking does not answer 

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

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

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

Leigh Fermor is tattooed like a sailor 

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

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

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

The family left behind her son with strangers 

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

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

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

1933 – the first trip to Istanbul 

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

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

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

On the trip report, the fans are waiting until today 

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

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

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

Where Chatwin’s old typewriter? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1944, he kidnapped a German general 

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

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

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

About the death, he never speaks 

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

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

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

The stones for the house came with the donkey 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article here.

Besuch beim Haudegen des Peloponnes Von Wieland Freund (Welt Online)

Widerstandskämpfer, Wanderer, Reiseschriftsteller: Patrick Leigh Fermor ging als junger Mann nach Istanbul, entführte 1944 auf Kreta einen Wehrmachtsgeneral und lebt heute auf Mani. Dort bewahrt er die Schreibmaschine von Bruce Chatwin auf.

Dass es sein Haus gar nicht geben könnte, dass man in einen Schrank steigen oder sich in einen Kaninchenbau stürzen müsste, um es zu erreichen – dieser Gedanke kommt mit der felszerklüfteten Dunkelheit und kehrt tags, ins Verwunschene gewendet, zurück.

Der Weg zu Patrick Leigh Fermor, dem Herodot des 20.Jahrhunderts, führt, scheint’s, an den Rand der Welt und dann noch einen Schritt darüber hinaus. Die flirrenden Blätter des Olivenhains, die riesenhaften Zitronen und die rote, von Vergangenheit schwere griechische Erde könnten ebenso gut die Requisiten eines Traums sein.

“Paddy” kam erstmals 1952 nach Mani
Wir halten auf eine Gruppe wachsamer Zypressen zu und folgen dem zugewachsenen Pfad bis vor eine himmelblaue Pforte. Braucht es einen Zauberspruch, damit sie sich öffnet und Fermor, der Reiseschriftsteller, der Kriegsheld, die Legende erscheint? Klopfen jedenfalls scheint zuwenig.

Mit 92 Jahren ist Patrick Leigh Fermor der Unsterblichkeit so nahe, wie man ihr heute noch nahe kommt. Seine Art Ruhm ist nur abseits des Weltenrummels zu haben, hinter fest verschlossenen Türen oder an so verschwiegenen Orten wie der Mani.

Paddy, wie die Vertrauten nicht ohne Ehrfurcht sagen, kam 1952 zum ersten Mal her. Wie die Spartaner und Byzantiner, die vor Slawen und Osmanen flohen und von denen er alles weiß, erklomm er die Pässe des bis zu zweieinhalbtausend Meter hohen Taygetos, der die Mani, den Mittelfinger der peloponnesischen Hand, Jahrhunderte lang zu einer natürlichen Festung machte.

Read more here!

Photographs of Ill Met by Moonlight

The abduction gang - PLF centre Moss to his left

Visit the photographs page to see pictures  from the book by William Stanley Moss which documents the famous abduction of the commander of German forces in Crete, General Heinrich Kreipe. They show the development of the story from the planning stage, the ‘abduction gang’ selection, and pictures taken during the escape with the General to the south coast and freedom.

Major Dennis Ciclitira Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Published: 12:00AM BST 16 Jun 2000

SOE officer undercover in Crete who organised the German surrender

MAJOR DENNIS CICLITIRA, who has died aged 81, was in charge of SOE’s operations in western Crete during the Second World War and eventually arranged for the German surrender of the island.

Ciclitira arrived on Crete just before Christmas 1943, taking over supervision for the area around the town of Canea from Xan Fielding. Liaison with the Cretan Resistance was led by the classicist Tom Dunbabin, who from the spring of 1942 had been supervising the activities of a handful of SOE officers, among them Patrick Leigh Fermor, who were living rough with the andartes or guerrillas in mountain eyries.

Ciclitira at sea between Cairo and Crete. (The Times)

One of Ciclitira’s first important tasks was to help to organise the evacuation of Leigh Fermor after he and Billy Moss had successfully abducted the commandant of the island, General Kreipe, from his staff car in April 1944. In his book Ill Met By Moonlight (1950), Moss describes encountering Ciclitira in his cave hideout.

“He has grown an impressive beard,” he wrote, “which he treats with the affection of a spinster for her favourite cat, and wears an elegant sort of musical comedy costume, complete with wine-coloured cummerbund, turban and the usual trappings.”

Two of Ciclitira’s men had already been killed by the Nazis, but despite their strenuous efforts to catch him, he managed to maintain wireless communications with Cairo and to arrange for Leigh Fermor and his prize to be picked up by motor launch. When he arrived at the rendezvous he found Moss and Leigh Fermor flashing their torches out to sea in frantic desperation, as neither knew the Morse Code for the pre-arranged signal. Fortunately, Ciclitira did.

Ciclitira left with them on the boat, but subsequently returned to Crete, where he operated under the codename Dionysios. In January 1945, the German garrison of 12,000 began to withdraw to the western end of the island, taking with them prisoners who included Costa Mitsotakis, later the Prime Minister of Greece but then an agent for the Resistance. The Germans had orders to execute all such captives, but Ciclitira managed to contact the German authorities with a view to making an exchange of prisoners.

Ciclitira went to the meeting with Captain Lassen of the Special Boat Section, who soon became exasperated by the horse-trading and suggested that his commando unit, who were hiding in the mountains, should play the Germans at football, with the winner to take all. This suggestion greatly amused Bishop Xirouhakis of Kydonia, who was mediating at the talks and offered to act as referee in any such match.

In the event, after Ciclitira had travelled by caique to Athens for further discussions, 36 German PoWs were exchanged for 10 Cretan agents, probably saving their lives. On May 8, Ciclitira received a message to contact General Benthag, the German commander, to make arrangements for a formal surrender. Dressed in suits, he and Mitsotakis – a fluent German speaker – presented themselves at Benthag’s headquarters. Preliminary terms were then agreed, but since the general could only surrender to an officer of equal rank, it was decided that he should be flown to the British HQ at Heraklion.

Benthag asked how Ciclitira proposed to contact his senior officer, and was most put out to discover that Ciclitira’s transmitter was hidden next door to German HQ, where the volume of radio traffic concealed Ciclitira’s own signals from direction-finding cars. The next evening, although the surrender had not been made public, Ciclitira and his comrades sneaked into Canea and invited their German counterparts to a party; the garrison provided them with a jazz band. The next day, Ciclitira joined in the wild celebrations that greeted Liberation.

Read the full Telegraph obituary.

The Moss Conundrum

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

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

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

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

If anyone knows please add a comment to this article.

Welcome to the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

Tom at Lake Ohrid on the Via Egnatia, 2009

My name is Tom Sawford and I live in Winchester, Hampshire, England.

I first became aware of Paddy quite late in life; I guess he is an acquired taste. Maybe you need to have some awareness of the broad range of subject matter that he can, often without warning, cover in his books. Perhaps it is only after formal education, reading widely, developing a broad appreciation for history, and just plain living that you have the ability to grasp some of what he is getting at. A strongly developed vocabulary is also a boon; or at least a dictionary and of course now with access to Google it is possible to quickly research some of the more obscure topics that Paddy assumes mere mortals will be aware of. I remember the first time I read A Time of Gifts and being amused that Paddy clearly expected his readers to have at least a schoolboy/girl grasp of Latin as phrases pour out with no explanation or translation.

But surely that is the attraction of his work. It aims for the highest pinnacles of linguistic and intellectual endeavour and if you like what you read it drags you along with it, drinking from the cup of knowledge that Paddy offers.

He is of course so much more than a writer. It has been said that he is the ‘greatest English travel writer’. I don’t agree with that. I believe he travels to write, having so much more to say than to merely discuss the merits of one hotel over another or the quality of food in Greek fishing  villages. In my view he was the “Greatest Living Englishman”. Not that we don’t have other great Englishman (but perhaps less than we once had), but more than that he is that unique person who personifies what was once the mark of an Englishman; educated; heroic, handsome, generous; and modest (to a degree).

Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor DSO OBE lived a full life, and had experiences that few others will likely ever have again. He had lived a pretty full life before the second world war, even living with a Romanian princess who was older than he, and during that conflict he applied his skills to fighting behind German lines, and was unique in achieving the capture, with “Billy” Moss, of the German Garrison Commander of Crete, Major General Kriepe. After the war he travelled, wrote, married, developed long-lasting friendships, and built a house in Greece. My epithet stands because few can match what he has done and also the manner in which he did it.

The purpose of this blog is to bring the life and work of Paddy, and his many colleagues, to the attention of a wider audience, and to create an archive of on-line material. He, and they, deserve to be recognised and remembered in a world that has changed much during their lives, but would be the poorer without them.

If you would like to help with the blog, make a contribution or anything else, please contact me tsawford[at]btinternet.com.

Tom Sawford

April 2010

Ill Met by Moonlight movie trailer

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

Ill Met by Moonlight

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Sophie Moss

Sophie Moss, who has died aged 92, was, as Countess Zofia Tarnowksa, the hostess of a villa in wartime Cairo where high-spirited young SOE agents on leave from secret assignments behind enemy lines held some of the most riotous parties of the war.

With considerable misgivings (and a fictitious chaperone), she agreed to join the all-male household on Gezira island at the invitation of her future husband, the officer Billy Moss, and moved in with her few possessions, which included a swimsuit, an evening dress, a uniform and two pet mongooses.

In the field, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Billy McLean, David Smiley, Rowland Winn and Xan Fielding were cold, hungry, lice-ridden and in constant danger. But on leave with months of back pay to spend, they held uproarious parties at the villa, which they called Tara.

These attracted the most distinguished soldiers, diplomats, writers and, on one occasion, King Farouk, who arrived with a crate of champagne. The evenings grew steadily more rowdy. Usually glasses were smashed. One night some chairs were broken when a mock bullfight was staged. On another, Sophie’s Polish friends shot out all the light bulbs, and on yet another a sofa caught fire then was hurled through a plate-glass window.

Since costly repairs were needed afterwards, Abbas, the butler-cook, tried to raise funds by accosting guests at the gate and holding out his tarboosh for contributions. Sophie put a stop to this, then remembered how soft fruits were added to vodka to make delicious liqueurs on her father’s Polish estates. The household agreed to an experiment using the bath, in which prunes were mixed with raw alcohol from the local garage. The results were disappointing, though Sophie insisted that this was because they were too impatient to wait for the mixture to mature. When they started drinking it after three days, two imbibers passed out.

The bathroom had other uses. In late 1943, when Leigh Fermor and Moss were planning a kidnapping on Crete, they sat around wearing next-to-nothing while David Smiley, fresh from Albania, explained how to organise the perfect ambush – drawing a diagram on the steamed-up tiles. After their success in capturing General Heinrich Kreipe, Leigh Fermor and Moss returned to Tara as heroes.

Zofia Roza Maria Jadwiga Elzbieta Katarzyna Aniela Tarnowska was born on March 16 1917 at Rudnik, a forested estate near Tarnobrzeg, a town in south-eastern Poland founded by her family in 1593. Over the centuries the Tarnowskis had held some of the highest offices in Poland. But Sophie’s father descended from a cadet branch of the family, and wanted to be only a country gentleman. His marriage was unhappy, and Sophie and her brother Stanislaw grew up headstrong and mischievous.

Her tricks and practical jokes turned her governesses into nervous wrecks until her mother sent her to a convent. Sophie got into trouble for standing on a pudding to prove it was inedible, ran away and refused to go back. She was happiest with animals, galloping through the forests on horseback or playing with deer, foxes, a goat and a red squirrel.

In 1937 she married Andrew Tarnowski, a member of the senior branch of the family. Her first son was under two when he died (on the day she gave birth to her second) in July 1939. As war drew closer, Sophie decided that she would never abandon Poland and burned her passport. It was, as her daughter said, “a very romantic and Polish thing to do”, but it changed nothing. On September 8, when the Germans were pouring over the western frontier and the Russians were approaching from the east, she set off by car for Romania with her husband and their baby, her brother, his fiancée Chouquette and her sister.

On arriving in Belgrade she lost her second son before the family drove on to Greece and Palestine. Her husband, now a corporal in the Carpathian Rifles, was on leave in Jerusalem when he told Sophie he was in love with Chouquette. Later Sophie accompanied Chouquette and her son to Cairo, where an uncle of King Farouk, who had often hunted on the Tarnowski estates, had offered them a luxurious villa. She soon moved out.

After joining the International Red Cross, Sophie met General Sikorski, Poland’s prime minister, who suggested she start a Polish branch of the humanitarian organisation. She agreed, but only if it were established without ranks. “Are you a communist?” asked Sikorski. “No” was the reply. But senior Polish ladies might resent a badge of superiority on someone whose husband was only a corporal, she explained. The general agreed, but when he departed she had difficulty confirming her position.

Finally she presented a large bouquet of flowers to the wife of the British ambassador in Cairo, Sir Miles Lampson – with whose help she was equipped with a committee, an office and a truck to
deliver clothes and food. She also visited hospitals and arranged patients’ outings, and helped Polish PoWs in Germany to contact their scattered families.

After divorcing Andrew, she married Billy Moss in 1945. The couple settled in London, where he prepared his Cretan diary about the kidnapping for publication as the best-selling Ill Met By Moonlight. But money was always tight. She lost a third son, but had two daughters. She and Moss translated a book of short stories by the Polish writer Bruno Schultz. But by the late 1950s, their marriage was over. She took in lodgers and spent time in Ireland, where she became a keen gardener.

In 1957 Sophie and her brother were allowed to visit their childhood home, where the NKVD had used the cellars as a jail during the war. They were not allowed into the building, but were treated to an open-air banquet by dozens of old retainers and peasants. At Gora Ropczycki, the house where she and her first husband had lived till 1939, old farmhands thanked her for keeping up their spirits in the first days of the war.

After the fall of communism Sophie’s nephew Adam bought back Rudnik, and Sophie presided over a family gathering in 1999. But too much had changed for her to contemplate settling there.

Last year some of the poems she had written in Cairo were published in a private edition. One, which was translated into English, asks for the white wings of her childhood guardian angel to take her home.

She died on November 22, surrounded by her family in Sussex.

Sophie Moss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisa Segrave