Tag Archives: Xan Fielding

Until I have reached Constantinople

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

In the catalogue to the exhibition Charmed Lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor (at the British Museum until July 15), Michael Llewellyn-Smith writes that, in his later years, Patrick Leigh Fermor “had an all-purpose excuse to send to pesterers”. The note read: “It was very kind of you to write. The trouble is that I am having to work to a strict deadline for the completion of my new book. This makes me a poor correspondent until I have finished it and have reached Constantinople – I am not sure when this will be”.

By James Campbell

First Published in The Times Literary Supplement 12 April 2018

The warning to inquisitive readers, colour-supplement journalists, adventurous holidaymakers and others was despatched from Kardamyli in Mani, in the Southern Peloponnese, from the house which Fermor had built himself, with local labour and expertise, in the mid-1960s. It was where he had completed the first two parts of his account of the “great trudge” across ­Central Europe in the 1930s, projected to end, in a long-anticipated third volume, in “Constantinople”. The book itself had become something of a pest, and he failed to complete it before his death in 2011, aged ninety-six. His wife Joan had died there eight years earlier.

I knew nothing of this when I posted a letter to Kardamyli in the autumn of 2003. I was not a Fermor devotee (there were many, though nothing like the numbers that exist today) and had read scarcely anything he had written. It was not my idea to seek him out, but that of my editor at the Guardian Saturday Review, for which I was at the time a contracted writer. The regular task was a literary profile, of a good length – 4,000 words – and of a certain seriousness. Starting from a position of ignorance didn’t bother me. I liked “finding out”, and enjoyed the homework.

Suggestions from Farringdon Road came by telephone, later email, and were always to the point. “How about Patrick Leigh Fermor?” That was it. No address, no telephone number, no deadline. The rest was up to me, but I was free to go where I liked and when I liked. I had fulfilled many commissions in this way, and had discovered something: it works better when you contact the intended subject yourself to make arrangements, rather than going through the publisher’s press office. The people there do necessary work, but with their more valued (and venerable) charges there is a protective instinct, and a need to control the show.

Fermor was definitely a protected species. His ninetieth birthday was approaching. His publisher John Murray was desperate for him to reach Constantinople. The journey, which had taken place in the 1930s, had been given elegant shape in two books written forty and fifty years after the events described: A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). The final volume, endlessly, pestiferously, inquired about, was said to be inching forwards. Both my editor and I made approaches to the publicity department; both received vague promises of representation. In the end, both were urged to think about volume 3, like everybody else.

I decided to take the direct route. But how to find him? I tried some acquaintances who might know his address. None did. Someone suggested Elizabeth Chatwin, widow of Bruce, Continue reading

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

From time to time I plan to re-publish some of the best blog posts as we have over 700 posts on here and many get lost. This first re-post was inspired by my attendance last night at the presentation by Dr Roderick Bailey – Hazardous Operations: British SOE Agents in Nazi Occupied Greece – which was both informative and entertaining. The story of Reg Everson and powdered egg was first published on 10 June 2012 …

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.


In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

Xan Fielding – the Armenian cousin of Vivien Leigh

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

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

Running the blog I am very fortunate to have all sorts of people get in touch with me about a whole range of interesting subjects. Few however can be so detailed, well researched and fascinating as Liz Chater’s site which is dedicated to research about the Armenian diaspora to India, and related matters. In this latest article on her website, Liz explores the truth behind Vivien Leigh’s Armenian heritage and then goes on to uncover some fascinating facts about Xan Fielding’s family who also have an Armenian background. Liz has also traced the Anglicisation of his surname from the Germanic Feilmann to Fielding. The following is a series of excerpts from the article on Liz’s site which can be visited here and includes many digital copies of original documents.

From Liz Chater’s website Chater Genealogy

I want to touch on the lives of Vivien’s cousins, and one in particular, Alexander Fielding-Wallace aka ‘Xan’ Fielding (above). Whereas Vivien had loving and devoted parents, her cousin Alexander ‘Xan’ never got to know his parents, his early start in life was beset with tragedy. Knowledge of the cousin connection between Vivien and Alexander has diminished with the passing of time, there are very few who mention his Armenian ancestors or those individuals he had in common with Vivien.

‘Xan’ was officially named and baptised Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace, he was born on the 26th November 1918. Seven days later he was baptised at the Sacred Heart Church In Ootacamond, India. In fact Alexander was baptised twice, the second occasion was on the 18 February 1919at the Catholic Church Middleton Street, Calcutta in the name of Fielding-Wallace. I can only speculate about why he was baptised on a second occasion but I cannot help wonder if it was directly connected to the process of becoming a member of the Feilman family and how he eventually ended up using the name of Fielding. This will become clearer a little further on in the blog.

Ten days after his baptism, his mother Mary Wallace (nee Feilmann) died on the 13th December 1918 in Ootacamond from fever.

The weeks and months that followed on from the death of Mary were to shape the life of Alexander forever.

Alexander’s father Major Alexander James Lumsden Wallace had a deep Scottish heritage. Born in Kirkcaldy in 1889 the name Alexander served four consecutive generations as a Christian name. A great deal of the Wallace family history can be found on the internet on various genealogy websites including many connecting records on Scotlandspeople.com.

Alexander Senior, for whatever reason, be it grief or the realisation that as young widower and an Army Captain he (later became a Major) was not in a position to bring up such a young baby, appears to relinquish all parental responsibility for the young Alexander. Ironically, Alexander Wallace (sr) remarried in London in 1925 to Marjorie Evelyn Hime. He retrained as a barrister in 1927 successfully passing the Hilary examination of students of the Inns of Court held in Middle Temple Hall in December 1926. In March 1927 he passed the Easter exams held in Inner Temple Hall, and passed his final Bar exams in December 1928. He and Marjorie can be found living briefly with her parents Walter and Florence Hime in Hampstead in 1929, by then they had a 5 year old little girl, Margaret Xanne Wallace, she would have been a half sister to Xan. Alexander and Marjorie’s marriage didn’t last and by the middle of the 1930s they had separated and presumably they divorced. He married for a 3rd time in 1944, passing away on the 19th November 1966 in Hampstead. I can find no evidence that young Alexander had any contact with his father, half sister or two stepmothers.

After the death of Alexander’s mother Mary Gertrude in 1918, he was effectively scooped up by her Feilmann/Fielding parents and into their still growing family. Suddenly Alexander’s uncles and aunts (brothers and sisters to his mother Mary Gertrude) became his brothers and sisters. According to Hugo Vickers in his biography of Vivien Leigh “…Xan was raised for eight years in the belief that he was the son of his grandparents…”

It must have been quite a shock to him to find out that the children he thought were brothers and sisters weren’t.

Alexander’s grandparents Percival Maurice David Feilmann and Mary Patricia nee Yackjee were just as keen as Vivien’s parents Ernest Richard Hartley and Gertrude Mary Yackjee to remove themselves from India back to England so they could offer their children and their grandchild the opportunities they would not have access to if they stayed in India.

Perhaps influenced by his grandfather and his uncles (more on them later in the blog), after joining the British Army, ‘Xan’ Fielding went on to become a wartime secret agent, writer and translator as well as serving as a Special Operations Executive in the British Army in Crete, France and the Far East. Lengthy biographical information has been written by author Patrick Leigh Furmor, although Alexander’s Indian Armenian family history has been overlooked. A blog by Tom Sawford on Patrick Leigh Furmor’s findings with references to Xan fielding can be found here

Alexander ‘Xan’ fielding married twice, his second marriage was to reconnect him with his own Armenian heritage because he married the widow of renowned Armenian artist Arshile Gorky, she was Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Magruder, her obituary can be read here.

Although Mougouch was not Armenian, her connection to an Armenian, and Alexander’s own Armenian links to India were perhaps a psychological tie to the ancestors of his grandmother. The connection would not have been lost on Xan, but the subtly of it has long gone for the modern-day enquirer searching out his story, but it is one that the Armenian community of today will enjoy and perhaps be a little surprised at too.
Percy Feilmann’s Anglicising to Fielding

Again, stepping sideways for a moment in this story of Armenian ancestry, and Vivien Leigh and her cousins, I want to turn now to the Feilmann name. Although not directly connected to Vivien Leigh they would have been an enormous support to her mother Gertrude when her own father died. It goes a little way to explaining how, with some astute forward thinking, Xan’s grandfather Percy Feilmann (Vivien’s uncle) and his family went from being German Jews from Hamburg to accepted members of colonial society in India and England as well as the South of France. How exactly did Alexander Percival Feilmann Wallace aka ‘Xan’ end up with the surname Fielding and also having his Armenian heritage set aside, just as his cousin Vivien’s Armenian heritage had been?

We have already seen the evidence of Xan being baptised twice, once in the name of his birth father Wallace, and secondly in a subtle shift to the double-barrelled surname of Fielding-Wallace. The name of Feilmann in Calcutta was synonymous with the animal hide and tannery business.[13] Hugo Vickers in his biography of Vivien Leigh described Percival Feilmann as a “box-wallah” i.e. a travelling salesman or merchant. This is incorrect, in fact Percy was involved with the tanning business, an area his uncle Maurice Feilmann was also involved in. They regularly exported raw hides to Europe, which were then made into shoes, bags, rugs and other items. It was Vivien’s uncle by marriage Ernest Lehmann who had married Vivien’s aunt Agnes (Gertrude’s sister) in 1898 in Darjeeling that was an agent of wooden boxes and chemical remedies.

As I looked into the Feilmann name and in particular the background of Alexander’s grandfather Percival Feilmann/Fielding I made some fascinating, if a little disturbing discoveries. Firstly, his full name was Percival Maurice David Feilmann[14] born in Hamburg on the 27th September 1864[15] according to the naturalisation document of “doubtful origin”, meaning that although his father John Bernhard Feilmann was born and brought up in Germany, Percy strongly maintained that his father had been naturalised as a British Subject, purely on hearsay no proof was ever remitted to this effect. Other independent records suggest that the Feilmann’s had a Jewish German family history. As remarkable as ‘Xan’ was during his lifetime, so indeed was his grandfather. Percy underwent the most unusual step of acquiring naturalisation as a British subject THREE TIMES during his lifetime each with a distinct ruthless calculation to erase anything German from his background. According to official records, the first application was made in India in 1905. Unfortunately there are no copies available of the 1905 certificate, but there are for the other two.

The next in 1916 and lastly in 1919 he was again granted naturalisation as a British subject.

Percy’s Special Naturalization Certificate was granted in India by the Governor General and he swore Allegiance to His Majesty King George 5th on the 6th November 1919 when his application was finalised. His naturalization application stated his parents were John aka Julius Bernhard Feilmann and Caroline Farlow, both British subjects. Although Julius is likely to have also been born in Germany he must have also applied for Naturalisation, although I haven’t been able to locate it yet (and having read Percy’s file, I am in some doubt as to whether Julius really was ever a naturalised British citizen). John and Caroline had married in Calcutta in 1855[16] and had at least 8 children, 6 of whom were born in Calcutta, Percy and his sister Alicia were the only 2 who were not.

Feilmann’s Anglicising to Fielding

… In the 1919 application Percy Feilman in a clear contradiction to his signed and sworn affidavit of 1916 attempted to change his father’s nationality. He had effectively disowned and sold his late father down the river for 30 Rupees – which is what it cost to have the naturalisation certificate endorsed in India.

Xan Fielding would have learnt at the knee of a master manipulator the techniques he would use in later life on how to successfully play one side off against the other during the course of his career. His grandfather had successfully displayed such qualities and had no hesitation in lying and denying his own heritage. Percy cleverly manipulated the Indian Government authorities into granting him three naturalisation certificates just because he didn’t want his father listed as German. The erasure of his origins was the most important fact Percy needed to achieve. It makes one wonder exactly how he managed to pull off such an unusual act of administrative penmanship and who exactly he was on particularly friendly terms with to achieve such a collection of certificates. They were so readily agreed to in India but were looked upon with suspicion at the Home Office in London.

Read the full article with documents here.

The Stronghold and Hide and Seek – selling fast!

Xan Fielding in Crete

Xan Fielding (front centre) in Crete

Xan Fielding’s books about his time in SOE and wartime Crete have been republished by Paul Dry Books and are now available from Amazon and are selling fast.

Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-Time Agent
is available for order now at £9.95 on Amazon – through the link above.

The Stronghold: The Four Seasons in the White Mountains of Crete
is also available for order now at £9.95 on Amazon – through the link above.

These books are very difficult to get hold of and The Stronghold in particular is quite rare and sells for between £200-£500 on eBay.

Paul Dry Books link is here.

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order the third volume of Paddy’s trilogy,The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Magouche Fielding – Arshile and Agnes Gorky: Master and Muse

Arshile Gorky and Magouche or Mougouch

Arshile Gorky and Magouche or Mougouch

I have received word of the death of Xan Fielding’s wife, Agnes “Magouche” Fielding. She had apparently been ill for some time and I am informed that she died on 2 June 2013. We know little about Magouche who was married to Paddy’s very dear friend Xan until his death in Paris in 1991. This article tells us much more and is by her step daughter, the art historian and writer, Hayden Herrera.

First published in Vogue and reformatted for Vogue.com December 2009.

The painter Arshile Gorky’s relationship with his wife, “Mougouch,” was passionate, turbulent—and misunderstood.

I grew up surrounded by the paintings of Arshile Gorky, one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century and the subject of a current retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The paintings belonged to my stepmother, Agnes (nicknamed Mougouch), and they gave me hints not only about Gorky but about who Mougouch was and had been in the past. Full of searing colors, peculiarly animate shapes, and energy-driven lines, they moved me in ways I did not understand. Since then, I have looked and looked at Gorky’s work. I even wrote a biography of Gorky in order to try to figure out why he painted the way he did. Still, his work remains a mystery. That was the way he wanted it.

The specter of Gorky came into my life in the summer of 1948, when my father, a painter named John C. Phillips, met Agnes Gorky at a party in New York City. The host took my father aside and said, “Be nice to Mougouch. Her husband, Arshile Gorky, just died.” My father was happy to comply, for Mougouch was a beautiful and vibrant 27-year-old with long brown hair, a sensuous mouth, and large eyes that held a hint of mischief. Her responsiveness and her blend of boldness and femininity made her a magnet to men.

In the months that followed their meeting, my father and Mougouch fell in love. In December, together with her two young daughters, Maro and Natasha, they sailed for Naples and finally settled in France. My older sister and I learned about our father’s new family from photographs he sent us at our boarding school. During summers on Cape Cod we came to know our stepmother and our new sisters, who called our father “Daddy.” Compared with our previous stepmother, Mougouch was astonishing in her affection and her sense of fun. She called us “darling,” and I was entranced by her swift, graceful walk and her melodious voice.

When to my delight my father returned with his family to the United States and bought a house on Beacon Hill in Boston, my mother, who lived in Mexico, sent me to live with them. Mougouch was so motherly that when my baby sisters Antonia and Susannah were christened at Boston’s Trinity Church, I decided to be christened with them so that she could be my godmother. Our house in Boston was full of Gorky’s art books and, even better, his art. His presence was alive there, for Gorky remained a powerful figure in Mougouch’s world. Ten-year-old Maro, who herself became a painter, talked about her father incessantly, holding on to the image of his genius. She insisted that with his Armenian background, he was a much more compelling figure than my proper Bostonian father. We would try to decode Gorky’s imagery. Some works had almost cartoon-like lines that nearly coalesced into recognizable creatures. In one, we definitely discovered Bugs Bunny.

Mougouch was born Agnes Magruder in 1921, the eldest daughter of a naval officer and a mother who was descended from the renowned neoclassical sculptor Harriet Hosmer. Agnes’s childhood was full of travel—school in Washington, D.C., then the Hague, Virginia, and finally Boston, where she was sent to live with her dying grandmother and where she fell in love with painting. “My mission,” she explains, “was to cheer up my grandfather and his gloomy house overlooking the Charles River.” Her mother thought college unnecessary, so Agnes finished school in Switzerland. When her father was posted to Shanghai in 1940, she was so rebellious—she spent the night with a young diplomat and broadcast her fascination with Chinese Communism—that her parents packed her off to college, after all, in Iowa City. From there, she took a bus to Manhattan and enrolled at the Art Students League, only to quit for a typing job at a magazine called China Today. What she remembers about this period was her extreme loneliness. Every day on the way to work she said hello to the man behind the newsstand just to have a human exchange.

In February 1941, Willem de Kooning and his future wife, Elaine Fried, told Agnes that she ought to meet de Kooning’s great friend Arshile Gorky. Elaine described Gorky as a “terrible show-off who sings and dances and makes everyone dance in a circle waving a handkerchief.” A few days later Gorky stopped by de Kooning’s studio and said he wished he had a strong American girlfriend like Elaine. Elaine persuaded him to come with them to a party where they would introduce him to a nice blonde American girl. At the party, Agnes remembers, she sat on a bench between de Kooning and “a man with a mustache who was very quiet and rather pokey.” She was still waiting for the exotic stranger to appear when most of the guests had departed. On her way out, the man with the mustache stopped her and said in his accented English, ” ‘Miss Maguiger?’ And I said, ‘Oh, Gorky!’ ” He had expected a blonde, and she had expected an extrovert. They went to a coffee shop, and Gorky asked her so many questions that she finally emptied her handbag onto the table to give him a picture of her identity.

The following evening he took her to an Armenian restaurant. Soon they saw each other daily, and he gave her the name Mougouch, which he said meant “little mighty one.” When Gorky identified the welts on her stomach as bedbug bites, he moved her to a new apartment, whose skylight he scrubbed so thoroughly that the putty collapsed and rain poured in. The upshot was that she moved into his studio on Union Square.

That summer Gorky was to have an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He and Mougouch drove across the country with Gorky’s good friend the sculptor Isamu Noguchi. When he and Noguchi argued about clouds, in which Gorky was absolutely certain he saw peasant women, Mougouch sided with Noguchi, and Gorky was furious. Crossing a bridge over the Mississippi, he became so angry that he ordered Noguchi to stop the car. He was going to walk back to New York. “I went after him,” Mougouch recalls. “He almost threw me into the Mississippi River!”

Upon their arrival in Los Angeles, Gorky was in a pique because the hotel was too expensive. Exhausted, Mougouch went to bed. Noguchi came in to say good night, and Gorky, in a fit of jealousy, burst into the room and dumped a bagful of lawn clippings on top of her. Mougouch insists that “there was not a murmur of electricity between me and Isamu,” but the critic Katharine Kuh suspected “a flirtation on Noguchi’s part.” In fact, both Mougouch and Noguchi were extremely seductive. Mougouch was brought up to be amusing and articulate and to make whomever she talked to happy. Gorky, reared in the Armenian province of Van in Ottoman Turkey, was highly puritanical. He did not understand that for Mougouch, flirtation was simply part of good manners. To this day, as a great-grandmother, she is an irrepressible flirt with men, women, children, and animals.

In September Mougouch and Gorky were married in Virginia City, Nevada, scandalizing her patrician family. She was 20. Gorky, who lied about his age, was probably about 41. They bought a curtain ring at Woolworth’s, found a justice of the peace, and said their vows. After drinking champagne in a bar, they camped in the Sierra Nevada in a double sleeping bag. During these early years, Mougouch and Gorky struggled to make ends meet. She worked for United China Relief, and Gorky made a few sales and did some teaching. He had not had a New York show in years, and his reputation was at a low ebb. Mougouch tells me that even Noguchi had warned her not to marry Gorky, because he was “stuck in a rut” and kept scraping and repainting the same canvas.

With the captivating Mougouch at his side, Gorky’s circle of friends expanded. Over the years, Léger, Mondrian, and Miró all had occasion to visit. The couple met Surrealists Roberto Matta, Yves Tanguy, and André Masson, who had come to the United States to escape the war. At a dinner specially organized for them to meet the Surrealist poet André Breton, Mougouch served as translator, and the friendship took off. She remembers dancing down the street with Gorky because Breton had promised to visit the studio. Later, she was apprehensive: “What does one give a poet for dinner?” The menu—artichokes, pilaf, and Brie cheese—was a success, and Breton was full of admiration for Gorky’s paintings.

The breakthrough in Gorky’s work came in the summer of 1943, when Mougouch’s mother invited him, Mougouch, and their infant daughter, Maro, to stay at her farm in Virginia. Being in the country surrounded by family was a catalyst for Gorky. “Gorky came back one day with this rather complicated drawing and said, ‘Will anybody understand this? Do you think I’m mad?’ ” Mougouch told him his drawing was marvelous and to go back into the fields to make more. “This summer was the real release of Gorky,” Mougouch wrote to an aunt. He had created a world of his own, a world so immersed in nature that he could look in and out at the same time.

Mougouch had a deep understanding of Gorky’s work and was also a brilliant facilitator of his career, charming potential dealers and cooking delicious meals for museum curators. But during their second Virginia summer, her letters to her best friend, Jeanne Reynal, expressed a feeling of aimlessness. For a woman of Mougouch’s intelligence and energy, cooking, cleaning, and looking after her baby was not enough. She wished she could be a writer, and her letters indicate that she might have excelled in that field. She set up her typewriter in a cabin, wishing “to lay an egg myself and when I get up and look, nothing there…humiliating.” In another letter, she rationalized: “…o well hell there is time and there are more important fishes to fry, how to live and propagate gorkys, paintings and infants though I know it would be better if I did more I don’t so there.” Jeanne told Mougouch to look at Maro and at the transformation in Gorky’s work. “You have had a part in this. These things are not to be sniffed at.” (Mougouch did produce another Gorky—Natasha, born in 1945.)

Thanks to the dramatic change in Gorky’s painting, the dealer Julien Levy took him on and gave him a show in 1945. Then came the first of a series of disasters that made Gorky’s last years a calvary. On January 16, 1946, his studio at their house in Connecticut burned down, and many of his paintings were lost. Early in March, disaster struck again. Gorky underwent a colostomy for rectal cancer. He became, Mougouch recalls, “totally paranoid …a tree cut down.” No matter how hard she tried to convince him that his “rearranged body” did not disgust her, he himself, a fiercely fastidious man, was revolted. He sometimes burst out in violence. The miseries that plagued Gorky seemed to rekindle the horrors of his childhood—his experience of the Armenian genocide in 1915 and, four years later, the trauma of his mother dying of starvation in his arms. Mougouch wrote to Jeanne, “Gorky has to do some drawing or he & I will die.”

Soon, “working like a mad man—a happy one,” as Mougouch wrote, Gorky was drawing as though it were a race against mortality. But his total focus on work was distancing. “More and more our marriage was just about my engagement with Gorky’s painting,” she recalls. “But I loved him.” She wrote him letters of encouragement when she took her daughters away for the summer: “Everything that comes from your beautiful hand seems touched with magic that sings in my chest.” Gorky wrote back, “…when you return I want my harvest too [sic] be very big and good…. You are with me my darling without you I could not go on working.”

When Mougouch returned, she was thrilled with Gorky’s “harvest.” Gorky, however, was depleted and unable to work. He talked of suicide. Ever the optimist, Mougouch tried to lift his spirits. At a party for her twenty-seventh birthday, in June 1948, she remembers “whirling around with a lunatic pleasure,” dancing by herself in the vegetable garden. But Gorky’s depression was invasive. “He was wrapped in silence all those last months.” In mid-June she had had enough. She left the house and spent two days with Matta, who, over the years, had made many attempts to seduce her. “I felt a new strength. I felt that somebody had loved me and I could go on forever.”

Gorky found out about the affair but for a while said nothing. Another disaster swiftly followed. Gorky’s neck was broken in a car accident. His right arm was temporarily paralyzed, and he thought he would never be able to paint again. Mougouch did what she could to alleviate his misery, but, she recalls, after the accident “everything just collapsed.” One night in a rage, Gorky broke furniture and tore up drawings Matta had given them. Mougouch tried to soothe him, but he pushed her away, and she fell down the stairs. Later that night, she told him that she loved him and would not leave him. The next day, Gorky’s doctor told her that Gorky was dangerous. He insisted that she take her daughters to her mother’s in Virginia. On the morning of July 21, Gorky called Mougouch and said he was going to commit suicide in order to “free her and free himself.” She said she would come back to him, but it was too late. Having left ropes dangling from various trees and rafters, Gorky hanged himself in a shed. He left a note written in chalk on the box he’d stood on and kicked away: “Goodbye my loveds.”

After Gorky’s death, Mougouch stayed in the city with Jeanne. Matta’s love, she says, “held me up.” In August she went to Maine, and Matta joined her. On their way back, they stopped at my father’s house on Cape Cod. My father was out, but when he returned he discovered Mougouch—with whom he had flirted at the party they’d met at just the month before—dancing with Matta. In the following months, he and Matta vied for Mougouch’s love. Mougouch went to Marcel Duchamp for advice, and he told her that the responsibility of a wife and two children would be too much for Matta. He said, “I think you should go somewhere with the children and paint or write.” Mougouch wept as she saw Matta off on his flight to Chile to see his family.

She and my father were married at the Closerie des Lilas in Paris in 1949. For Mougouch this was a marriage of equals—she was not in my father’s thrall. She kept the myth of Gorky alive and shepherded his legacy, finding dealers to handle his work and encouraging museums to show and buy it. Though the shadow of Gorky’s suicide hung over her life, she was the perfect artist’s widow, just as she had tried to be an ideal artist’s wife. Since then, her life has been rich in friendships with artists, writers, and filmmakers. She is admired as a dazzling hostess, witty, elegant, and subtle. Restless always, she left my father after ten years and eventually married the writer Xan Fielding, with whom she seemed content. While he was dying of cancer, they lived in Paris on the Rue de Rivoli. I remember with various sisters following Mougouch down the Paris street and trying to imitate her proud, sensuous, and graceful stride. I did not love her any less after she was no longer my stepmother. Over the years, I have learned from her how to cook, decorate a house, dress, talk, walk, and look at paintings.

Today, Gorky is seen as a bridge between the School of Paris and Abstract Expressionism, a movement that took off just at the moment when he died. As her best friend put it all those years ago, Mougouch played a part in this artistic transformation. When the Gorky retrospective opened in Philadelphia in October, Mougouch could not be there, but the coming together of so many magnificent Gorky paintings and drawings is testimony to her triumph as well.

Find out more about Arshile Gorky on his Wikipedia page.

Related article:

Xan Fielding obituary

Xan Fielding Crete books to be republished

Xan Fielding in Crete

Xan Fielding (front centre) in Crete

I have just discovered that Xan Fielding’s books about his time in SOE and wartime Crete are to be republished by Paul Dry Books and will be available, if Amazon is to be believed, in June 2013.

Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-Time Agent
is available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

The Stronghold: The Four Seasons in the White Mountains of Crete
is also available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

These books are very difficult to get hold of and The Stronghold in particular is quite rare and sells for between £200-£500 on eBay.

Paul Dry Books link is here.

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order the third volume of Paddy’s trilogy,The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 4

The fourth of Christian Peter’s walks.

4.   Sfakián Monopatia – The old connection between Asi Gonia and Anopoli  – Sfakiá/Crete

How often did Paddy, Xan Fielding and George Psychoundakis walk the old Monopati from Asi Goni via Askifou to the Sfakian mountain villages of Anopoli and Agios Ioannis? Did that connection play a major role during the Cretan resistance?

The mountain region of Sfakiá is the heartland of what Xan Fielding called The stronghold.  Here, in the Highlands of the White Mountains, Crete until today remained as pure and unspoiled as it always was. The walk starts in the birthplace of the Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis, then reaches the hamlet of Goni in the Askifou-Plateau and continues via to Kali Lakki to Anopoli. Next to Anopoli, on the ridge of the Aradena Gorge, lies the ruined village of Aradena, where in 1947 a vendetta broke out and made its inhabitants leave. Aradena is as well the imaginary village, where Ioanna Karystiani’s novel Suit in the earth (Greek title: Koustoumi sto choma) might take place. Karystiani’s family is originally from Askifou. Following the bridge over the gorge, the walker continues to Agios Ioannis, Crete`s highest mountain village. A little bit underneath of Agios Ioannis you can find a place called Sellouda, which for me is the most impressive place in entire Crete. With the Levka Ori in your back you stand thousand meters high above the sea spotting Africa on the horizon. Although the cliffs seem impossible to pass through you can easily follow a stone paved Kalderimi through steepest terrain which leads you almost thousand meters difference in altitude down to the church of Agios Pavlos on the beach. From there you can continue your two days trek to Agia Roumeli.

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Books about the region:

Xan Fielding (1954): Hide and Seek. Secker and Warburg.

Xan Fielding (1955): The Stronghold: An account of the four seasons in the White Mountains of Crete. Secker and Warburg.

Ioanna Karystiani (2000): Suit in the earth (German title: Schattenhochzeit)

Loraine Wilson (2002): Crete. The White mountains. A walking and Trekking guide. Cicerone

Peter Trudgill (2008): In Sfakiá. Passing time in the Wilds of Crete. Lycabettus Press.

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

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.


In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die, an essay by Margot Demopoulos

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

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

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

On to the profile ….

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

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

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

Access the pdf of the article here.

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”.

Xan Fielding Obituary

I am reposting this obituary to Xan Fielding at this time as he was Paddy’s very good friend, the one to whom Paddy wrote his open letters at the start of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Those who have found this site for the first time might wish to read about his friend. At the end is a special tribute written by Paddy.   I believe this to be the only on-line copy and it now includes newly discovered photographs.

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After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Fielding, who had adopted the style and dress of a Greek highland peasant, was accompanied by a First World War veteran, who was inseparable from his solar topee and unrecognisable as the village schoolmaster he was supposed to impersonate.

Fortunately it was not long before he teamed up with the far more kindred spirit of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Sporting a royal blue waistcoat, lined with scarlet shot silk and embroidered with black arabesques – and singing folk songs in several languages – “Paddy” Leigh Fermor enlivened their meetings in desolate mountain hideouts.

Fielding understood the need for reliable intelligence and communications, and he daringly set up his headquarters near Crete’s northern coastal road in the proximity of German units. He experienced, as he put it, a childish excitement in “brushing shoulders with the Wehrmacht” in the corridors of the town hall when calling on the mayor of Crete’s capital, Canea. And he found it entertaining to attend parties given for the Germans by Cretan associates feigning fraternisation.

Operationally, Crete had become a massive transit camp to reinforce the Afrika Korps. Among his intelligence successes Fielding signalled the timetable of transports taking off from the airfield at Maleme, enabling the RAF to intercept them.

After six months he was picked up by a Greek submarine and given a breather in Cairo. This gave him a chance to niggle about the inaccuracy of RAF air drops.

As a result Fielding was invited to observe, from the front turret of a Wellington, a drop arranged for Leigh Fermor high up in the White Mountains. Considerably shaken by the experience – not least the anti-aircraft fire- he returned to the island by Greek submarine at the end of 1942 and never complained again.

Following the Crete mission, he parachuted into the south of France in the summer of 1944. Bearing papers announcing him as Armand Pont-Leve, a young clerk in the Electric Company of Nimes – but codenamed “Cathedrale” – Fielding was received by Francis Cammaerts (alias “Roger”) and also by Christine Granville.

Fielding found them an “imposing pair”. Still in uniform, he felt “rather like a novice in the presence of a prior and prioress”. The canister containing his civilian clothes, with poison pill sewn into the jacket, was missing and he felt something of a freak in the baggy Charlie Chaplin trouserings produced by “Roger”.

Shortly afterwards he was in the Cammaert’s car when it was stopped at a road block near Digne. Questions revealed that SOE staff in Algiers had failed to stamp a current date on his otherwise impeccable papers. Worse Fielding had split a large sum of French money between “Roger” and himself, and the enemy twigged that the notes were all in the same series.

Christine Granville was not with them and news of their arrests reached her on the Italian border. Earlier she had been arrested, but had managed to convince her German interrogators that she was a local peasant girl.

She arrived at Digne prison and passed herself off as “Roger’s” wife – and, for good measure, as a niece of Gen Montgomery. She persuaded an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, a liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Siercherheitsdienst, to co-operate by reminding him that the Allies had already landed on the Riviera.

Schenck put Christine on to a Belgian, Max Waem, who agreed to help, though his price was two million francs. SOE in Algiers dropped the money in. As a result Fielding and “Roger” were led out of prison. Believing themselves on the way to be shot, they were astonished to be welcomed by Christine who was waiting with a car.

Fielding was awarded the Croix de Guerre in France in 1944. Before the war in Europe ended, he returned to Crete; he was one of the first into liberated Athens.

During the war Fielding would often pass through Cairo, which became a sort of SOE headquarters for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and meet up with kindred spirits such as David Smiley, “Billy” McLean (qv), Peter Kemp (qv) and Alan Hare. In 1945 they decided the place to be was the Far East. As Fielding put it: “I was at a loose end and wanted to see what was going on out there.”

He spent some months in Cambodia, with a Japanese driver fighting the Vietminh. Then came as six-month stint with the Special Intelligence Service in Germany, and an appointment as United Nations observer in the Balkans.

Peacetime, though, brought disillusionment and a disturbing sense of misgiving. But in 1948 an encounter with the Marchioness of Bath at what she described as an “hilarious lunch” predestined the course of much of the rest of his life. She had recently taken up photography in place of painting; he was planning a book on Crete. The upshot was that Daphne Bath accompanied his return to the White Mountains to illustrate the book. They married in 1953.

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

Soon there was another and more welcome distraction. Michael Powell was filming Ill Met by Moonlight – the story of Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wartime abduction of Gen Kreipe, the German commander in Crete – and Fielding was hired as technical adviser. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor and Fielding lent him his Cretan guerrilla’s cloak and coached him in the part.

Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: After an early essay at painting, Xan Fielding wandered to Greece and the islands, added Greek to his list of languages and acquired a lasting attachment to the Greeks.

His life took on an adventurous and peripatetic turn. Early in 1942 he was landed in plain clothes and by submarine in German-occupied Crete. Germany was in full advance on all fronts and Crete was a strongly galvanised Luftwaffe base for the Desert War. The mountains were full of stray British and Commonwealth soldiers who had broken out of PoW camps or been left behind after the Battle, a mortal danger to the Cretans who hid and fed them.

Gathering and evacuating them from remote caves was among Xan’s first tasks. Establishing a network of agents and signalling information back to Cairo came next followed by parachute drops to the growing guerrilla bands and the e organisation of sabotage, and propaganda while maintaining liaison with the island Resistance leaders.

Light and fine-boned when suitably cloaked and daggered, Xan could be taken for a Cretan. With his determination, humour and intuitive sympathy and his quick mastery of dialect and songs, he made countless friends, and worked there precariously for two years.

In 1944, the war moving west, he was dropped in the Vercors region to the French maquis. He returned to Crete for a final two months before the liberation, then headed for Cambodia on further SOE missions and spent some time on the Tibet border before returning to the West Bank in Greece.

Xan commanded a mixed Allied unit supervising the 1946 elections, and during prolonged leave in Rhodes, his friend Lawrence Durrell – who was press officer there – insisted on printing a set of Fielding’s poems, which make one wish he had written many more. Chafing at Oxford life as a demobilised undergraduate, he worked for a spell with the Beaverbrook Press and found it even less congenial.

These years were perplexed by tangled Dickensian lawsuits in Nice: family property had been unrecoverably misappropriated in the occupation. During that harassing time he wrote Hide and Seek, an exciting account of his experiences in Crete.

Soon after he married Daphne Bath, and they travelled all over the island (of Crete) for his long book The Stronghold, a combination of travel and history.

They first settled in Portugal. Then a long sojourn in the Kasbah of Tangier – perhaps inspired by the film Pepe le Moko – gave rise to his book Corsair Country, the history of the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Near Uzez in Languedoc, their next long halt, his excellent French suggested translation as a profession and he put more than 30 books into English, including many by Larteguy and Chevalier, and Malrauz’s Les Noyers d’Altenborg [Ed: and perhaps better known Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai]

After a friendly separation from Daphne he married Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Adml John II Magruder, of the United States Navy. They were extremely happy.

Xan and Magouche took root in the Serriana de Ronda, which looks across Adalusian ilex-woods to the Atlas. There he edited the correspondence of his friend and neighbour, Gerald Brennan, with Ralph Partridge, and continued his translations.

Xan’s own book, The Money Spinner, about the Monaco casino – the hazards of gambling had always fascinated him – came out in 1977. Later, Winds of the World gave free rein to his interest in atmospheric commotions and their mythology.

In the winter of 1990 One Man and his Time appeared; it described the life, and the Asian, Ethiopian and Arabian travels, of his old friend “Billy” McLean (qv), the wartime commander of the SOE mission in Albania.

At almost the same time Xan was smitten by cancer and he and Magouche moved to Paris for therapy. Though fatally stricken for the last eight months, he was suddenly, three months ago, granted a reprise which exactly coincided with the ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the Resistance.

At a special parade of the Greek navy at Souda, he and six Allied officers were decorated with the commemorative medal of the Resistance, and for 10 days he visited scores of mountain friends from 50 years before. His return was everywhere greeted with feasting and songs.

Xan Fielding was a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, deeply committed to this friends, civilised and bohemian at the same time, with a thoughtful style leavened by spontaneous gaiety and a dash of recklessness. He was altogether outstanding.

August 20 1991

Audible

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

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

by Thos Henley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related article:

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

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Well Met By Sunlight

This is from an excellent website devoted to Powell and Pressburger the producers of Ill Met by Moonlight, and recalls the  Fielding’s first meeting with Dirk Bogarde.

By Daphne Fielding (wife of Technical Advisor and SOE agent on Crete, Xan Fielding)
From her book  The Nearest Way Home (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970)

Daphne writes in her chapter, “Well Met by Sunlight”…

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde

Long before leaving England, long before our journey along the Barbary Coast, long before our marriage in fact, Xan had been asked by the film director Michael Powell to act as technical adviser on the production of Ill Met by Moonlight, the story of the abduction of the German General Kreipe by Paddy Leigh Fermor in enemy-occupied Crete. Afterwards the project had been postponed until Xan had almost forgotten it. Now, five years later, he was summoned by telegram to the south of France where work on the film was due to begin in a few days’ time.

… Xan agreed to take Salote [one of their dogs] with him, leaving me to follow with Sunflower [the other dog] as soon as I had arranged with a newspaper to write a series of articles on the making of the film, which would give me a valid reason for joining the unit.

Xan wrote to me a few days later from Nice to say that in spite of the urgency of his summons there was no sign of Michael Powell or of any film unit in the vicinity. Meanwhile he was enjoying the luxury of the Hotel Negresco, where rooms had been booked for him …

I arrived just in time. On the very next morning a car turned up at the Negresco to take us to Draguignan, which had been chosen as the unit headquarters. Here we learnt that the actor cast for the role of Paddy was Dirk Bogarde. He was not staying at Draguignan, however–there was no proper place for a star in a little market town already overcrowded with the production staff, camera crews, sound engineers … but in St. Raphael, on the coast, where Xan was to meet him before shooting started.

Though I looked forward to meeting him too, I was rather nervous about it, for in spite of my newspaper commission I still felt like an interloper. I was almost relieved when our repeated attempts to reach him were in vain: Mr. Bogarde was busy, had just gone out, was not available. Eventually, in the bar of his hotel, we ran to earth his manager Tony Forwood, whose blue eyes sized us up in a wary glance, then suddenly twinkled. “So you’re the Fieldings, are you?” he said. “Dirk’s upstairs in his room. I’ll go and fetch him.”

When he reappeared with him a few minutes late they both seemed to be enjoying some private joke, which added to my confusion, especially as I happened at that moment to be trying to extricate myself from the dogs’ leads which had wound themselves round my legs. Dirk’s smile turned to a broad grin as he watched my antics. “Just how many legs have you got?” he asked.

After the ice was broken, at ease with him, I said, “You seemed to be avoiding us on purpose.”

“I was”, he admitted. “Mickey had told me about Xan’s war record and I’d conjured up a dreadful picture of you both — ‘The Major and his Wife’, a sort of Osbert Lancaster cartoon. I couldn’t bear the idea of meeting you. If it hadn’t been for Tony …”

… “Yes”, said Tony. “I told him Xan didn’t have a clipped moustache and you weren’t wearing a regimental brooch, so we took the plunge.”

“Anyway, now we’re met”, Dirk concluded.

“Well Met by Sunlight”, I said to myself.

Two days later, after the cast had assembled, there was a final reading of the script followed by a wardrobe meeting. Though some of the costumes did not meet with Xan’s approval — “they look more Ruritanian than Cretan”, I heard him complain — Dirk at least could not have been dressed more authentically, for I lent him my Cretan guerrilla’s cloak, and Xan had brought with him a black silk headkerchief which had been part of his own wartime disguise and which he now taught Dirk to bind over his brow in the proper Cretan fashion.

Dirk was rather alarmed by this unfamiliar headgear. “What on earth do I look like?” he asked.

“The genuine article”, Xan truthfully assured him. “Very dashing. Just like Paddy.”

Next morning the whole unit was up before dawn, ready to move off for the first day’s shooting and, as the sun rose, the long convoy of char-a-bancs, headed by the director’s yellow Land Rover, was on its way to the chosen location up in the hills.

I had been slightly worried about my unofficial position. Was I entitled to a seat on one of the buses? And was about Sunflower and Salote [her dogs]? With characteristic thoughtfulness, Dirk solved the problem for me. “There’s plenty of room in my car”, he said, “for you and Xan and the two dogs. I’ll call for you.” And so we set off, in undeservedly grand style, in the star’s Bentley.

This was to be our daily programme for several weeks and I never tired of it … The locations had of course been chosen for their suitability, but to me they seemed to have been specially selected for their beauty and variety …

It was also fascinating to watch the various members of the cast at such close quarters, to see each one’s interpretation of his role. For the first time I realised what an exacting and exhausting job film-acting must be, especially for anyone as meticulous as Dirk Bogarde. Before each take he would sit by himself, so withdrawn that his nervous tension was contagious. Throughout working hours he remained apart and abstracted, hardly reverting to his own character even when off the set. But once the strain was over — during the luncheon break, for instance, or when packing up for the day — he resumed his normal personality and the relief from his intense concentration would lead to an outburst of high spirits and gaiety which usually took the form of teasing me.

Knowing that I was in awe of the director, and knowing too that shyness makes me clumsier than usual, he would score off me by suddenly saying, “Look out, Daphne, those dogs of yours are eating Mickey’s sandwiches”, or, “I didn’t like to tell you at the time, but during that last take one of your six legs was almost in shot.” I became so apprehensive lest Salote or Sunflower, or indeed myself, might unconsciously stray within the range of the camera … I took exaggerated measures of precaution … and would almost take to my heels at the sight of Michael Powell for fear of a reprimand.

During the last stages of the production we all moved from Draguignan up to Peira Cava, a skiing resort close to the Italian border, and here Paddy Leigh Fermor joined us for a few days.

Paddy’s impending visit had been dreaded by Dirk as much as the prospect of meeting Xan and me. I sympathised with him, realising how awkward it must be for an actor to play a living character when that character is watching him at it. Xan tried to reassure him:

“Don’t worry, Paddy’s not a typical army officer or guerilla leader. He’s not a typical anything, he’s himself, a romantic figure, in the Byron tradition. Very erudite, a sort of Gypsy Scholar, with an inexhaustible fund of incidental knowledge. He can talk to you for hours about hagiography or heraldry or …”

“He sounds too damned intellectual for me.”

But Paddy’s charm and adroitness immediately overcame Dirk’s prejudices, in spite of an incident on the night of his arrival which might have affected their future friendship.

One of Paddy’s wartime henchmen, Ciahali Akoumianakis, who had played a leading part in the abduction of the general, was also attached to the unit as a technical adviser and had brought with him from Crete a demijohn of tsikoudia, the potent local spirit, which he had been saving for just such as occasion as this. “We’ll have a proper Cretan glendi”, he said but, since no other member of the unit would touch the stuff, it remained for Paddy, Xan and myself to help him celebrate in the appropriate fashion — with some trepidation on my part, for I knew from personal experience that a glendi involves a great deal of noisy singing and dancing and is likely to last all night.

By midnight, long after everyone else in the hotel had gone to bed, the tsikoudia was beginning to take effect, and Paddy and Xan had broken into song. Soon the bar, empty but for the four of us, was resounding with matinades punctuated by the thump of feet performing the pentozali.

“Please stop it”, I begged them. “You’re keeping everyone awake.”

“But we’ve only just begun”, they objected, “and the bottle’s still half-full.”

“In that case I’m going to bed”, I announced, foreseeing, as I fled, an irate Michael Powell appearing in the bar like Christ in the temple.

Even from upstairs the sound of revelry, though not quite so deafening, continued for some time, unabated. I was on the point of going back to make one last attempt at stopping it, when it came to an end. A few minutes later Xan stumbled in.

“Dirk came down”, he announced.

“No wonder. Was he furious?”

“He looked a bit angry. But all he said was, ‘Some people have to work in the morning and want to get to sleep.’ He’s right of course. I don’t blame him. Anyway, Paddy and I have just slipped a note under his door to say we’re sorry.”

In the morning Dirk did not even mention the matter, nor did anyone else in the unit. But Paddy did. At breakfast he casually remarked to Michael Powell: “Who the devil was making that fiendish din last night? I couldn’t sleep a wink.”

Such frivolity and exuberance endeared him to everyone, though these qualities did not accord with the preconceived idea of him which some members of the unit had formed. “I just can’t see him capturing a German general”, Dirk’s dresser said. “He’s not the strong, silent type at all.”

“What about Major Fielding?” Dirk asked.

“Major Field? Oh, yes. He looks like a f…..g little killer.”

Whether this was meant as a compliment or not, from then on Xan was referred to on the set as F.L.K.

[At the conclusion of the film, the Fieldings drove with Dirk to Paris to catch a flight and en route stayed in the Hermitage in Digne “one of Dirk’s favourite hotels in France.”]

For Xan, however, Digne had other associations. It was here, while working as a secret agent during the occupation, that he had been arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death. In fact the house in which he had been imprisoned was next door and we could see it from our bedroom window. Dirk was extremely upset when Xan mentioned this to him over dinner.

“You should have told me at once”, he said. “We could easily have stayed somewhere else. We’ll move out now if you like, it must be horrid for you …’

“Not at all”, Xan told him. “I don’t mind a bit. In fact I’m glad to be back here in such different circumstances. After all this time. Twelve years … Good heavens, it’s twelve years exactly, to the very day!”

“This calls for a bottle of champagne”, said Dirk.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: The man who walked

 

Patrick Leigh Fermor was a major in the Paras during the Second World War

This profile by William Dalrymple is perhaps the most well known of all the on-line pieces about Paddy. I have so far been reluctant to add it to the blog, but as my blog is meant to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for all things Leigh Fermor I have decided its time has come.

 

By William Dalrymple

First published in the Telegraph 06 Sep 2008

At 18 he left home to walk the length of Europe; at 25, as an SOE agent, he kidnapped the German commander of Crete; now at 93, Patrick Leigh Fermor, arguably the greatest living travel writer, is publishing the nearest he may come to an autobiography – and finally learning to type. William Dalrymple meets him at home in Greece

‘You’ve got to bellow a bit,’ Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor said, inclining his face in my direction, and cupping his ear. ‘He’s become an economist? Well, thank God for that. I thought you said he’d become a Communist.’

He took a swig of retsina and returned to his lemon chicken.

‘I’m deaf,’ he continued. ‘That’s the awful truth. That’s why I’m leaning towards you in this rather eerie fashion. I do have a hearing aid, but when I go swimming I always forget about it until I’m two strokes out, and then it starts singing at me. I get out and suck it, and with luck all is well. But both of them have gone now, and that’s one reason why I am off to London next week. Glasses, too. Running out of those very quickly. Occasionally, the one that is lost is found, but their numbers slowly diminish…’

He trailed off. ‘The amount that can go wrong at this age – you’ve no idea. This year I’ve acquired something called tunnel vision. Very odd, and sometimes quite interesting. When I look at someone I can see four eyes, one of them huge and stuck to the side of the mouth. Everyone starts looking a bit like a Picasso painting.’

He paused and considered for a moment, as if confronted by the condition for the first time. ‘And, to be honest, my memory is not in very good shape either. Anything like a date or a proper name just takes wing, and quite often never comes back. Winston Churchill – couldn’t remember his name last week.

‘Even swimming is a bit of a trial now,’ he continued, ‘thanks to this bloody clock thing they’ve put in me – what d’they call it? A pacemaker. It doesn’t mind the swimming. But it doesn’t like the steps on the way down. Terrific nuisance.’

We were sitting eating supper in the moonlight in the arcaded L-shaped cloister that forms the core of Leigh Fermor’s beautiful house in Mani in southern Greece. Since the death of his beloved wife Joan in 2003, Leigh Fermor, known to everyone as Leigh Fermor, has lived here alone in his own Elysium with only an ever-growing clowder of darting, mewing, paw-licking cats for company. He is cooked for and looked after by his housekeeper, Elpida, the daughter of the inn-keeper who was his original landlord when he came to Mani for the first time in 1962.

It is the most perfect writer’s house imaginable, designed and partially built by Leigh Fermor himself in an old olive grove overlooking a secluded Mediterranean bay. It is easy to see why, despite growing visibly frailer, he would never want to leave. Buttressed by the old retaining walls of the olive terraces, the whitewashed rooms are cool and airy and lined with books; old copies of the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books lie scattered around on tables between Attic vases, Indian sculptures and bottles of local ouzo.

A study filled with reference books and old photographs lies across a shady courtyard. There are cicadas grinding in the cypresses, and a wonderful view of the peaks of the Taygetus falling down to the blue waters of the Aegean, which are so clear it is said that in some places you can still see the wrecks of Ottoman galleys lying on the seabed far below.

There is a warm smell of wild rosemary and cypress resin in the air; and from below comes the crash of the sea on the pebbles of the foreshore. Yet there is something unmistakably melancholy in the air: a great traveller even partially immobilised is as sad a sight as an artist with failing vision or a composer grown hard of hearing.

I had driven down from Athens that morning, through slopes of olives charred and blackened by last year’s forest fires. I arrived at Kardamyli late in the evening. Although the area is now almost metropolitan in feel compared to what it was when Leigh Fermor moved here in the 1960s (at that time he had to move the honey-coloured Taygetus stone for his house to its site by mule as there was no road) it still feels wonderfully remote and almost untouched by the modern world.

When Leigh Fermor first arrived in Mani in 1962 he was known principally as a dashing commando. At the age of 25, as a young agent of Special Operations Executive (SOE), he had kidnapped the German commander in Crete, General Kreipe, and returned home to a Distinguished Service Order and movie version of his exploits, Ill Met by Moonlight (1957) with Dirk Bogarde playing him as a handsome black-shirted guerrilla.

It was in this house that Leigh Fermor made the startling transformation – unique in his generation – from war hero to literary genius. To meet, Leigh Fermor may still have the speech patterns and formal manners of a British officer of a previous generation; but on the page he is a soaring prose virtuoso with hardly a single living equal.

It was here in the isolation and beauty of Kardamyli that Leigh Fermor developed his sublime prose style, and here that he wrote most of the books that have made him widely regarded as the world’s greatest travel writer, as well as arguably our finest living prose-poet. While his densely literary and cadent prose style is beyond imitation, his books have become sacred texts for several generations of British writers of non-fiction, including Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron, Philip Marsden, Nicholas Crane and Rory Stewart, all of whom have been inspired by the persona he created of the bookish wanderer: the footloose scholar in the wilds, scrambling through remote mountains, a knapsack full of books on his shoulder.

As Anthony Lane put it in the New Yorker, Leigh Fermor ‘was, and remains, an Englishman, with so much living to his credit that the lives conducted by the rest of us seem barely sentient – pinched and paltry things, laughably provincial in their scope… We fret about our kids’ Sats, whereas this man, when he was barely more than a kid himself, walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul. In his sixties he swam the Hellespont, in homage to Lord Byron – his hero, and to some extent his template. In between he has joined a cavalry charge, observed a voodoo ceremony in Haiti, and plunged into a love affair with a princess. He has feasted atop a moonlit tower, with wine and roast lamb hauled up by rope. He has dwelt soundlessly among Trappist monks.’

For myself, it was the reading of his travel books while at Cambridge that inspired me to attempt to follow in his footsteps. With a paperback of Leigh Fermor’s in my backpack, I set off to Jerusalem following the route of the Crusaders during my first summer vacation. Meeting my hero for the first time at Bruce Chatwin’s house, just before the publication of my first book in 1989, was the nearest thing I have had to a formal graduation ceremony as a writer, the moment when you suddenly feel that maybe you really have passed out of your novitiate.

Foremost among Leigh Fermor’s books are his two glorious Greek travelogues, Mani and Roumeli; an exquisite short study of monasticism, A Time to Keep Silence; and most celebrated of all, an account of his journey in the early 1930s, travelling on foot, sleeping in hayricks and castles ‘like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar’, from Holland to Constantinople. On and off for nearly 70 years Fermor has been working on a trilogy about this epic walk. The first volume – and many would say his masterpiece – A Time of Gifts was finally published in 1977. The second, Between the Woods and the Water, followed nine years later. Since then, 22 years have passed with no sign of volume three, the book that should take us to the gates of Byzantium.

Leigh Fermor is now 93 and his fans are getting anxious. But travel writers have longer professional life expectancies than most – Norman Lewis, for example, produced four books between his 88th birthday and his death five years later – so we should not give up hope. Indeed, on a low table when Leigh Fermor showed me into his study, lay an 8in-high pile of manuscript, some of it ring-bound, and some in folders, on which was scribbled in red felt-tip: Vol 3.

In the meantime, Fermor fans have a small savoury to keep them going until the final course is served. This week John Murray is bringing out In Tearing Haste, a volume of letters between Leigh Fermor and the last surviving member of the Mitford sisterhood: Debo Devonshire, his close friend for nearly half a century. The letters are the nearest thing Leigh Fermor may ever get to writing an autobiography, faithfully chronicling his movements since the mid-1950s with the same detailed, painterly, highly written style that he uses in his travelogues.

Though inevitably slighter than his more polished work, the book includes wonderful accounts of some of his most celebrated adventures, such as his disastrous visit to Somerset Maugham at Cap Ferrat. Here he describes the elderly Maugham’s face as ‘so discoloured and green that it looks as though he has been rotting in the Bastille, or chained to a bench of a galley, or inside an iron mask for half a century’.

Having committed the faux-pas of appearing to draw attention to Maugham’s stammer at dinner, Leigh Fermor, who had initially been invited to stay for a week, was approached by his host at the end of the evening who offered him ‘a hand as cold as a toad, with the words “W-w-well I’ll s-s-say g-good-b-b-bye now in c-case I’m not up b-by the t-time y-you l-leave.”?’

It emerged that Leigh Fermor’s proof of the book had yet to reach the Peloponnese, so after supper I produced my own copy. He frowned: there had been a disagreement between the authors and their publisher over the cover produced by the artist John Craxton, who has illustrated all Leigh Fermor’s book since the 1950s, and the book was now covered with something more sketchy, and clearly not at all to Leigh Fermor’s liking. ‘Debo and I complained,’ he said, holding the book almost to the end of his nose and peering disapprovingly at the illustration, ‘but they kept on about business trends or some such jargon. What was it now? Market forces, that’s it. Well I never…’

As he flicked through the proof, I asked if the rumours were true: that after a lifetime of writing in longhand, he was now finally learning to type, the quicker to finish the third volume of his masterpiece.

‘Well, not exactly,’ he replied. ‘At the moment I seem to be collecting typewriters. I’ve got four now. People keep giving me their old ones. But it is true, I am planning to take typing lessons in Evesham this September.’ He paused, before adding, ‘In truth, I am absolutely longing to get down to it, before my sight gets any worse.’

Patrick Leigh Fermor was born in London in 1915 to Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, the director general of the Geological Survey of India, and the ‘sophisticated and wild’ Eileen Ambler. His mother was a bohemian and highly literate woman, who loved reading to her children and encouraging them to learn poetry by heart. She had been brought up in the wilds of Bihar, as a result of which Leigh Fermor can still sing, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in Hindi. ‘Although I was brought up in England,’ he remembered, ‘India was a presence in the household, like voices in the next room.’

Almost immediately Leigh Fermor was deserted by his parents. It was the war, and they had to return to India; given the threat of U-boats, it was decided to leave the young Leigh Fermor in England so that someone would survive if the ship were torpedoed. The boy was sent to a farm in Northamptonshire where he was allowed to run free. ‘I think it formed me, you know,’ he said. ‘Made me restless and curious. I was constantly climbing trees and hayricks.’

When his mother and sister returned to collect him three and half years later, he ran away from these ‘beautiful strangers’. In retrospect, Leigh Fermor thinks the experience of ‘those marvellously lawless years unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint’, something that marked the rest of his career, especially at school, where he was expelled from a variety of establishments until finding happiness at ‘a co-educational and very advanced school for difficult children’.

After that school was closed down due to a series of ‘vaguely guessed at improprieties’, Leigh Fermor moved on to the King’s School Canterbury. He liked the fact it was founded during the reign of Justinian ‘when fragments of Thor and Odin had barely stopped smouldering in the Kentish woods’; but his teachers were less sure about their new pupil: ‘He is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness,’ his housemaster wrote, shortly before expelling him. Unqualified to join Sandhurst, the direction in which his family had been pushing him, he attended crammers in London where he began to write poetry and to read voraciously.

Patrick Leigh Fermor at school, Kings' Canterbury

One of the books he chanced across was The Station, Robert Byron’s newly published book about his travels through the monasteries of Mount Athos. A subsequent meeting with Byron in a ‘blurred and saxophone-haunted nightclub’ made Leigh Fermor, aged 18, ache to follow in the author’s footsteps and visit ‘serpent-haunted dragon-green Byzantium’. He had also read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933. With nothing to keep him in Britain he set off, having first borrowed a knapsack that had accompanied Byron to Athos, aiming to walk to that living fragment of Byzantium while living as cheaply as Orwell: ‘I loved the idea of roughing it.’

On the wet afternoon of December 9, 1933, the year that Hitler came to power, as ‘a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats’, Leigh Fermor left London, boarding a Dutch steamer at Irongate Wharf. His rucksack contained pencils, drawing pads, notebooks, The Oxford Book of English Verse and a volume of Horace. He would not lay eyes on Britain again until January 1937, when he returned ‘for better or for worse, utterly changed by my travels’.

‘I thought I’d keep a diary and turn it into a book, which of course is what I did,’ he said. ‘Except I am still writing that book more than 70 years later.’ It was not just that the journey gave Leigh Fermor the subject for his lifework, it ‘broadened my mind, taught me history, literature and languages. It opened everything up: the world, civilisation and Europe. It also gave me a capacity for solitude and a sense of purpose. It taught me to read and to look at things. It was a great education. I didn’t go to university, I went travelling instead.’

The journey also led him to meeting one of the two great loves of his life, a beautiful Byzantine princess named Balasha Cantacuzene. Leigh Fermor met Balasha in Athens, to which he walked after finally reaching Athos in early 1937. She was 12 years older than him, and had just separated from her husband, a Spanish diplomat. ‘She was 32, and I was 20. We met at just the right time and fell into each other’s arms. It was instant, we clicked immediately. We went off together and lived in a watermill in the Peloponnese for five months. I was writing, she was painting. It was heavenly.’

Balasha Cantacuzene

From there the couple moved back to Balasha’s rambling country estate in the dales of Moldavia, where they moved in with Balasha’s sister. Leigh Fermor has written that the two sisters were ‘good, beautiful, courageous, gifted, imaginative, immersed in literature and the arts, kind, funny, unconventional; everybody loved them and so did I.’

For Leigh Fermor, this was one of the happiest periods of his life. For two years he lived there, savouring the last remnants of a world that was just about to disappear: ‘Her family was part of an old-fashioned, French-speaking, Tolstoyan, land-owning world: country-dwelling noblesse of the sort described by Turgenev. They were intensely civilised people. The house was an old manor house, not grand, but delightful and full of pictures and books.

There was a butler who was always a bit tight, and no electricity, so we read with lamps and wicks. I spent the time reading my way through the whole of French literature and playing chess – when I wasn’t making a hash of writing this book.’ He paused, then added, ‘Of course I wanted to marry her, but she said, “Don’t be ridiculous – I’m much older than you.”?’

Both the romance and the world in which it was set were ended for ever by the war. ‘We were aware that war clouds were looming, but didn’t realise how serious it was. We were out on a picnic, some of us on horseback and some in open carriages, when someone shouted across the fields that the Germans had gone into Poland. I made the decision at once: if war had broken out I had to join the Army. I thought it would be over in six months.’

In the event, Leigh Fermor did not lay eyes on Balasha again for a quarter of a century. With the end of the war came the Iron Curtain, and Balasha could no more get out of Romania than Leigh Fermor could get in. When he eventually managed to find a way to get in as a journalist, he found Balasha living in poverty in a Bucharest garret, surviving by teaching English, French and painting. ‘We sat up and scarcely went to bed for 48 hours, laughing the whole time: “Do you remember?” By this time I was with Joan. Balasha took it all in such a philosophical and charming way. She was an extraordinary person.’

It emerged that the Cantacuzenes had been branded ‘elements of putrid background’ and Balasha’s lands had been confiscated soon after the end of the war. She had lost everything. The day Ceausescu’s commissar turned up she and her sister had been given quarter of an hour to pack. The house had subsequently been turned into a lunatic asylum. In Leigh Fermor’s account of the reunion, he wrote how he ‘found them in their attic.

In spite of the interval, the fine looks of my friends, the thoughtful clear glance and the humour were all intact; it was as though we had parted a few months ago, instead of 26 years… [But] early thoughts of leaving Romania lapsed in the end, and they resisted the idea partly from feeling it was too late in the day; secretly, perhaps they also shrank from being a burden to anyone. One by one the same dread illness carried them away.’

The same war that destroyed Leigh Fermor’s great love affair also made his name as a man of action. From Moldavia he returned to Britain and enlisted in the Irish Guards. As a fluent Greek speaker he was soon singled out for intelligence work, and was sent first to Albania and then to Greece as a liaison officer working with the Greek army. After the fall of Greece he found his way to Crete just in time to fight in vain against the Nazi invasion. From there he was evacuated to Alexandria where he set up house with several other young intelligence agents and a refugee Polish countess, Sophie Tarnowska, who moved in with her few possessions: ‘a bathing costume, an evening gown, a uniform and two pet mongooses’.

Before long Leigh Fermor was sent back into Crete to work with the Cretan resistance. He and an odd collection of recently enlisted Greek-speaking classical scholars and archaeologists were parachuted into the occupied island disguised as shepherds and established a troglodyte existence under the stalactites of mountain caves, commanded by a Fellow of All Souls. The port from which Leigh Fermor set off was captured by Rommel’s advancing Afrika Korps the day after he left. ‘It was a low moment in the war: the Germans seemed to be advancing in triumph in all directions.’ It was partly for this reason that Leigh Fermor’s bosses gave permission for his wild scheme to raise morale: kidnapping the German commander of the island.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and Moss

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

In Leigh Fermor’s own account of the abduction of General Kreipe, the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at night by a British SOE partly dressed in stolen German uniforms, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle the general into the highlands and hence to a waiting British submarine; but instead as ‘a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida’.

‘We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the general, half to himself, slowly said, “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”. It was the opening of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off… 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 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.’

It is an archetypal Leigh Fermor anecdote: fabulously erudite and romantic, and just a little showy. For his greatest virtues as a writer are also his greatest vices: his incantational love of great waterfalls of words, combined with the wild scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact. On the rare occasions he gets it wrong, Leigh Fermor has been responsible for some of the most brightly coloured purple passages in travel literature. But at his best he is sublime, unbeatable.

Back in Egypt, Leigh Fermor met his future wife, and the companion for the second half of his life. Joan Eyres Monsell was then working for the intelligence department as a cipher clerk. ‘She had a house near the Ibn Tulun mosque, and was very go-ahead,’ Leigh Fermor remembers. ‘She was a nurse when the war broke out, and had lived in Spain and Algiers before Cairo. We met at a party and hit it off very quickly.’

When the war was over, Joan and Leigh Fermor remained in Greece, wandering the country and initially finding work in the British Council, whose Athens office was then run by the other great British philhellene of that generation, Sir Steven Runciman. But as ever, Leigh Fermor’s wanderlust soon got the better of him, and before long he had resigned. In 1949 they caught a ship to the Caribbean, a trip that resulted in two books: a travelogue, The Traveller’s Tree, and a fine novel, The Violins of St Jacques. Both were written partially in Trappist monasteries, an experience that Leigh Fermor turned into his third and most tightly written book, A Time to Keep Silence.

It was in the early 1960s that Leigh Fermor married Joan and settled down with her in Kardamyli, to continue his life of writing travel books, interspersed with weekly book reviews for Cyril Connolly’s Sunday Times book pages. It is this more settled phase of life that is so well captured in the new book of letters between Leigh Fermor and Deborah Devonshire. There are lovely descriptions of Leigh Fermor and Joan finding the bay at Kardamyli; the struggles to finish A Time of Gifts; Leigh Fermor’s surprise and pleasure at its rapturous reception; and the slow writing of its sequel.

The final 50 pages of the book have a more melancholy tone, as their friends begin to die, one by one: the English ones often of cancer, the Cretans, more dramatically, falling from precipices, and the like. Finally come the deaths of both Debo’s husband, Andrew, and of Joan Leigh Fermor: ‘The cats miss Joan bitterly,’ Leigh Fermor writes at the end of the book. ‘They are not the only ones… I keep thinking of things I must remember to tell Joan at lunch, knowing they could make her laugh. Letters addressed to her still arrive from distant parts, but even they are dying out now, and increasingly it’s only subscriptions to be renewed.’

Leigh Fermor enjoys a two-hour siesta after lunch – ‘Egyptian PT’ as he calls it. But on my last day in Kardamyli he emerged at 4pm, smiling from ear to ear. ‘Didn’t sleep a wink,’ he said. ‘Got quite carried away reading the book. I was rather dreading it, but was pleasantly surprised.’ He held up the proof approvingly. ‘Some passages are really awfully good.’

Paddy at home in the Mani

After our lunch we went up the mountain beside the house to see the Byzantine chapel around which the ashes of his friend Bruce Chatwin had been scattered. The chapel was very small – only a little larger than a big garden shed. It had a domed red-tiled roof and round arcaded windows. It lay in the rocky fields near the village of Exchori, high above Kardamyli, and was built from stone the colour of halloumi cheese.

The sun was slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of goat bells cut through the drowsy background whirr of cicadas as shepherd children led their flocks back for the night. It is perfect, beautiful, a peaceful place for anyone to end their days, and as we headed back I asked Leigh Fermor whether he would like to be buried there, too.

‘Oh no,’ he replied instantly. ‘Joan is in Dumbleton. I’d rather like to end up there.’

It’s a characteristic of so many of the greatest English travellers that they come back home in the end. TE Lawrence, for example, finally recognised ‘that I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin’, and the same is true of Leigh Fermor. For all his years in Greece, he remains almost the archetypal Englishman, in its best possible form: ‘My heart is in both,’ he said as we headed downhill. ‘England is not a foreign country to me.’ He paused and looked down over the Aegean, glinting now like broken glass far below us: ‘I do love both countries,’ he said as we headed on home. ‘I really do.’

My first edition of Hide and Seek by Xan Fielding

It may not look like much but today I managed to bag a first edition of the very rare Hide and Seek by Xan Fielding.

I am pleased with myself as I let the last one slip by on an eBay auction during the first election debate in April.

Hide and Seek – Xan Fielding 1st Ed. 1954

Title: Hide and Seek – The Story of a War-time Agent

Author: Xan Fielding

Publisher: Secker & Warburg, London

Pages: 255

Condition:  Good.  Tight copy, pages slightly foxed, in rubbed and marked boards.  No dust-wrapper.

Synopsis:  Illustrated with black-and-white plates, and maps on endpapers.  First Edition (1954).

Obituary: Daphne Fielding

The obituary of Xan’s first wife of whom Paddy was very fond. She once said of him: “Do you know Paddy? He’s such a good friend. He should be turned into pills so that you can take him when you feel low.”

by Hugo Vickers

First published in the Independent Wednesday, 17 December 1997.

Daphne Winifred Louise Vivian, writer: born 11 July 1904; married 1926 Viscount Weymouth (succeeded 1946 as sixth Marquess of Bath, died 1992; two sons, and two sons and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1953), 1953 Xan Fielding (died 1991; marriage dissolved 1978); died 5 December 1997.

Daphne Fielding was a society author in the decades between 1950 and 1980. Having been a part of the world of Bright Young Things in the 1920s, she was well known in society as the Marchioness of Bath, and following her marriage to Xan Fielding she produced a stream of books of easy charm which achieved great popularity. Good-looking when young, in later life she was a tall, handsome figure, and could have been mistaken for a distinguished actress.

Daphne was the daughter of the fourth Lord Vivian and his wife, Barbara, a former Gaiety Girl, who was to marry three further times. The family was eccentric; many years later, her brother the fifth Lord Vivian (who died in 1991), variously a farm labourer in Canada, a publicity manager in San Francisco and a partner of the impresario C.B. Cochran, had the misfortune to be shot in the stomach in 1954 by his mistress Mavis Wheeler, the former wife of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the archaeologist, a drama which occupied the headlines for many days.

Daphne emerged from a childhood which was a mixture of hilarity and insecurity, later described with relish in her memoirs, Mercury Presides (though Evelyn Waugh declared these as “marred by discretion and good taste”). She passed through Queen’s College in London, and St James’s, Malvern, and gravitated, through her friends the Lygon sisters, to the stimulating world of Oxford in the 1920s, and to that set dominated by Harold Acton, Evelyn Waugh and Brian Howard. The friends she made then were friends for life, a group that gave each other unswerving loyalty despite infidelities and political differences, everlastingly self-protecting; and a group through which she met Viscount Weymouth, heir to the Marquess of Bath.

There was parental opposition to their union, Henry Weymouth’s father declaring that he needed “a steady wife” and finding that Daphne did not fit this category. Weighing in, her father announced that he thought Weymouth an unsuitable husband. They were married in secret at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, in 1926, and then again considerably more publicly at St Martin-in-the Fields in 1927, the bride dressed by Norman Hartnell. (When eventually they were divorced, there was a prolonged court case before three judges to dissolve that earlier marriage, and regularise the unusual situation.)

Old Lord Bath in 1928 handed the running of the Wiltshire family seat, Longleat, to his son (not without certain misgivings about his capacity for work) and he and Daphne threw themselves wholeheartedly into the management of the estate. They employed Russell Page to redo the gardens and were involved in extensive forestry work. To supplement her income, Daphne wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, which brought her under the protective care of Lord Beaverbrook.

They had four sons and a daughter. The eldest boy died in 1930, just before his first birthday, and the youngest, Lord Valentine Thynne, died after hanging himself in 1979. Her daughter Caroline predeceased her, and she is survived by two sons, the present Marquess and his brother, Lord Christopher, who are on notoriously bad terms. (There was a rumour that at Lord Christopher’s wedding to Antonia Palmer in 1968 the cake was laced with LSD. The Queen was a guest.)

Henry Weymouth spent much of the Second World War as a prisoner of the Germans, which did not help the marriage. In 1946 he succeeded his father as Marquess of Bath. Forced by crippling death duties he opened Longleat to the public in 1949, with an entrance fee of half a crown a head. By 1953 he had added a tearoom and tennis court, laid out a putting green, and floated pedalos for hire on the lake. But the marriage was over and the Baths were divorced in May 1953.

Daphne wrote the first guidebook to Longleat, a lively history of the Thynne family from 1566 to 1949, which she researched and wrote in three weeks. This she followed with Before the Sunset Fades (1953), a slim 30- page book about life above and below stairs at Long- leat, decorated, appropriately, by her old friend and Wiltshire neighbour Cecil Beaton.

In 1953 she married the war hero and travel writer Xan Fielding, a man 14 years her junior, a happy marriage which lasted until 1978. During these years they lived variously in Cornwall, Morocco, Portugal and Uzes, where they settled for some years, surrounded by a variety of pets and visited by their many friends.

While married to Fielding, she wrote her books Mercury Presides (1954) and its sequel, The Nearest Way Home (1970), and a novel, The Adonis Garden (1961), of which Evelyn Waugh wrote that she had “squandered six books in one”, adding, “You have used almost everything that has happened in the last twelve years.”

The Duchess of Jermyn Street, a life of Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel subsequently serialised on television, was to have been written with the help of George Kinnaird (a writer who also used to help Baroness de Stoekl with her books), but he gave up while going through a divorce. It was published in 1964 and Evelyn Waugh described it as “jolly good but I think full of inaccuracies”.

She wrote a joint life of Lady Cunard and her daughter Nancy, Emerald and Nancy (1968), which her friend Dirk Bogarde judged “light on the intellect”, fearing that Fielding had whitewashed these two monsters on the grounds that “she couldn’t be beastly to chums”; and a portrait of Iris Tree, The Rainbow Picnic (1974).

Raleigh Trevelyan, of Hamish Hamilton, then commissioned her to write a life of Gladys Deacon, the 93-year-old Duchess of Marlborough, whom he had come across while researching his book about the Whitakers of Sicily, Princes Under the Volcano (1972). This was not her usual milieu, since the duchess belonged to the belle epoque and intellectual world of Paris of a generation older than Daphne Fielding. Nevertheless she was able to tap her wide circle of loyal friends for anecdotes. To her surprise a man wrongly described as “a young intellectual” proved to have embarked on the same research. However, her friends closed ranks around her, and a word from Lady Diana Cooper to her biographer, Philip Ziegler, caused him to drop the rival’s incipient Collins contract like a hot potato.

I know this, for I was that rival. Both books were in due course published, hers under the title The Face on the Sphinx (1978). But the story had a happy ending, for those same friends helped me with my life of Cecil Beaton, and Diana Cooper, in her more usual role as peacemaker, effected a successful rapprochement between us. I enjoyed a number of meetings with Daphne in New York in 1981, during which she chatted amicably about our experiences and regaled me with Cecil Beaton stories. I always remember her line about Patrick Leigh Fermor: “Do you know Paddy? He’s such a good friend. He should be turned into pills so that you can take him when you feel low.”

Her friend Robert Heber-Percy averred that Daphne Fielding was a better conversationalist and letter-writer than author of books.

In 1978 Xan Fielding left Daphne for a lady described by her friends as “an older woman”. Bereft but brave, she was lucky to meet once more an old Oxford friend, Ben Kittridge, an American millionaire, with whom she went to live in Arizona until his death in 1981. Thereafter she returned to England and settled in the Old Laundry in the shadow of Badminton, where for two years the fox-hunting 10th Duke of Beaufort (“Master”) lived on, and where, until her death from cancer in 1995, her daughter Caroline lived as the next Duchess of Beaufort.

Daphne Fielding’s last years were spent there. At the famous Horse Trials she could be seen driving about in a tiny self- propelled vehicle and every Sunday she lunched with her son-in-law, where she was a by no means unnoticed figure at the table.

Related article:

Xan Fielding Obituary

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OPRIG GAGINONANUS

Here is something completely ridiculous, a challenge for you all that recalls Paddy’s late night walk through Shepherd Market, London in early October 1992.

In a letter to Debo Devonshire dated 6 November 1992 (see page 293 of In Tearing Haste), Paddy writes to tell her of a strange experience just before he left for a trip to Antibes to collect a French literary prize for A Time of Gifts. Paddy and Joan had dinner with Magouche Fielding (Xan’s second wife). Joan left early and Paddy decided to walk home … “through Shepherd Market – my old haunt when young * – and into Market Mews. I had only gone a few paces when, on a wide black surface on the left side, I saw a strange message in huge letters in White:

‘OPRIG’, it said,

And underneath,

‘GAGINONANUS’

What could it portend? It looked simultaneously insulting, enigmatic and vaguely improper, especially the message below.”

Paddy enclosed a sketch.

Paddy's first sketch - OPRIG

It was only when he stood four square in front that all was revealed – click here to see the picture.

The challenge therefore is for those of you who live in London, or who are visiting this month, to see if you can find GAGINONANUS. There are enough geographic clues, and to add to this Paddy further writes to Debo, “If on leaving your front door, passing the Curzon Cinema, and turning right into the Mews, you’ll [see it].”

Let’s hope that like for Paddy the concertina doors will be ajar so that you can see it just as Paddy did. Perhaps they have been painted over? Do they still exist?

If you find GAGINONANUS then send me a photograph (tsawford[at]btinternet.com) with a brief retelling of your search. Special merit if you can include a cat in the picture!

The prize? Well, the satisfaction of ‘being there and having done it’ and a first edition copy of Words of Mercury for the first person to send a picture.

I shall personally resist the temptation to find it until the end of August. If we have had no responses by then, I shall go on a search myself.

* Paddy had lived at 43 Market Street before he departed on his journey in 1934

Xan Fielding’s Obituary from The Times

The following obituary of Xan Fielding was sent to me by blog correspondent Yvonne Carts-Powell to whom I am very grateful. It is from The Times and dated August 21, 1991. Times content is now subscription only so there is no point in putting up a link.

Xan Fielding, DSO, wartime secret agent and author, died in Paris on August 19 aged 72. He was born in India on November 26, 1918.

In his temperament, talents and physical courage Xan Fielding was well equipped to have made a mark in many spheres of life. Crete in the aftermath of the German invasion in May 1941 provided a theatre in which his individuality was able to blossom. Guerrilla warfare was particularly congenial to one of his character. He cherished the amateur’s view of war which saw it as a clash between the prowess of individuals and not as a contest between technologies backed by armaments industries and reserves of manpower. In addition to an innate romanticism, he possessed in abundance the classical Greek quality of arete (that excellence in thought and performance so often imperfectly translated as “virtue” in school texts) and revelled to the point of exultation in the exercise of his own initiative. Yet at the same time, through his mastery of the language and his psychological insight, he extended a discerning admiration to the often contrary and ferocious Cretan andarte groups which his efforts were designed, at least in part, to serve.

Regimental soldiering was anathema to him and the sharpest barbs of his wit were always reserved for the staff. But his exploits went far beyond being of mere nuisance value to the allied cause. In two remarkable years following the fall of Crete the efforts of Fielding and that other like-minded spirit, Patrick Leigh Fermor, built up a guerrilla network in the occupied island, facilitated the escape of many Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had remained in hiding and, most important, built up an intelligence network which provided invaluable information to the allies in North Africa on the movement of Axis materiel through this most important staging post.

Alas for the hopes of these romantics, who would have loved to have fulfilled the dream of the guerrillas and to have led an avenging descent out of the mountains to drive the German invader into the sea, such a moment was never to come. After the allied decision to invade Sicily and pursue the Italian option Crete was left to wither on the vine as a fruit to be plucked when a convenient moment should arrive. Guerrilla operations there were relegated to a sideshow and Fielding felt there was nothing more he could usefully do. More drama awaited him. Transferred to the Western European theatre, he was parachuted into France, captured by the Gestapo and escaped execution only thanks to the courage and resourcefulness of the ill-starred Christine Granville, to whom he later dedicated his book Hide and Seek (1954).

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootcamund, India, into a military family which had given long service in the subcontinent. His father was a major in the 50th Sikhs. After the death of his mother he was brought up in the South of France where her family had property and thus acquired fluent French. Sent to school in England at Charterhouse, he added the classics to his linguistic and cultural arsenal and acquired a profound knowledge of German through later studies at Bonn, Munich and Freiburg universities. This German sojourn gave him a thorough understanding of the nature of the Nazi threat to civilised values at a time when the British government under Chamberlain was temporising on the road to disaster. In a spirit of more than mild disillusionment Fielding wandered about Europe eventually gravitating to Cyprus. There after a short and unsuccessful flirtation with journalism on the Cyprus Times he ran a bar with not appreciably greater success. He simply could not comprehend the inability and unwillingness of his colonial compatriots to understand the island they administered while the automatic disdain which was extended to the governed populace was utterly odious to him. None of these attitudes endeared him to his British contemporaries and consequently made him a less than popular mine host in a colonial ethos. His determination to master Greek also made him an object of suspicion to the authorities, most of whom had neither the wit nor inclination to come to terms with the language. When war broke out Fielding went briefly to Greece, dreading the thought of being drafted into the forces in Cyprus and being forced to live by the dictates of the mess and the parade ground. But after Dunkirk, when Britain stood alone, this course came to seem a somewhat dishonourable one and he returned to Cyprus where he found a not totally uncongenial berth in army intelligence. Even this provided a somewhat circumscribed field for the exercise of his talents and it was not until after the German invasion of Crete that he was able to come into his own when he volunteered for service with the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Put ashore on Crete from a submarine with a load of explosives and weapons, Fielding quickly linked up with local resistance leaders and adopted the protective camouflage of a Greek peasant. Nowhere in occupied Europe was resistance organised so quickly and effectively as it was in Crete. Clandestine operations took shape almost in the very chaos of evacuation. Fielding was lucky to team up with that other great linguist, philhellene and guerrilla leader, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and the mental kinship between the two men, who complemented each other in spite of their different temperaments, was instrumental in putting Cretan resistance operations on a sane and sound footing. Fielding realised at the outset that the task must be limited to building up an intelligence network and developing his guerrilla force with an eye to its use in the future, rather than wasting it in futile heroics which would certainly have drawn down ferocious reprisals on the unprotected civilian population. With great boldness he established an HQ not far from Crete’s northern coast from which he often sortied forth with impunity in his persona as a local to the town of Canea to visit the mayor who was astonished at the audacity with which the resistance leader virtually brushed shoulders with Wehrmacht officers on these calls.

With the battle for North Africa in full swing Crete had become a major staging post for the supply of Rommel’s forces and the intelligence Fielding was able to pass to the allies was invaluable. One of his most resounding successes was to be able to signal the precise air movements at Maleme airfield, thus enabling the RAF to intercept German supply aircraft on their way to the North African littoral.

After a spell in Egypt to rest and recuperate Fielding returned to Crete in 1942. In this second period one of his most remarkable feats was to engineer, in November 1943, a pact between the two main groups of andarte, the communist-led EAM-ELAS and the EOK, the national organisation of Crete.

But as the dream of liberating Crete faded Fielding felt more and more frustrated and early in 1944 he volunteered to join the French operations of SOE. Soon after being parachuted into the south of France, however, he and a French officer and another agent were stopped at a road block at Digne where minor discrepancies in papers, which had otherwise been forged with scrupulous care, led to their arrest and imprisonment by the Gestapo. Totally resigned to being shot, they were in fact rescued by the nerve and feminine guile of the SOE courier “Pauline”, Christine Granville, formerly a Polish countess. “Pauline” who had already been arrested herself but escaped after convincing her captors that she was a French peasant girl arrived at the prison at Digne and through a mixture of bribery and by telling the agents’ captors that the Americans had already landed on the French riviera, secured their release three hours before they were due to have been shot. Indeed Fielding was convinced that he was being marched from the prison to have precisely that sentence carried out on him and was astonished when he was, instead, bundled into “Pauline’s” car and driven off.

Fielding, who had already been awarded the DSO was given the Croix de Guerre by the French later in 1944 and did subsequently return briefly to Crete. But in the meantime Leigh Fermor had carried out his legendary abduction of the German general Kreipe later filmed as Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor and with no decisive further action in prospect the atmosphere there was something of an anti-climax for Fielding. He was sent briefly to the Far East by SOE but here, too, the war was coming to an end. After witnessing the winding down of operations in Indo-China Fielding made a journey to Tibet on his own account.

After the war he wrote a number of books. Besides his account of SOE’s Cretan operations he published The Stronghold which combined the experience of his days as a kapetan of the resistance with a scholarly knowledge and love of the island, its history and culture, all of which shone through in his account. Among his other books were Corsair Country, an account of a journey overland along the Barbary coast from Tangier to Tripoli, and The Money Spinner, an elegantly constructed history of the Monte Carlo casino. At one time Fielding’s linguistic abilities gave him a useful income as a translator and he was also a technical adviser on Ill Met By Moonlight. He had, in spite of illness, been able, recently, to attend Greek celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the battle for Crete, and was among allied officers awarded the the commemorative medal of the resistance on that occasion.

He was twice married, first, in 1953, to Daphne Bath, nee Vivian. The marriage was dissolved and he married, secondly, in 1978, Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Admiral John H. Magruder of the US navy.

Related post:

Xan Fielding Obituary (from The Telegraph)

Related category:

Obituaries

Paddy’s Friends

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

When you get involved with the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor, you find all sorts of possible avenues to explore. One group I am trying to bring together on the blog are the occupants of Tara in Cairo during the war. Given my interest in the Balkans, Albania in particular, I followed the route of “Billy” McLean and the British Military Missions to Yugoslavia and Albania which were manned by SOE men. Billy was an occupant of Tara and Xan Fielding wrote his biography. Of course Paddy was there as well.

In the course of my investigations I have read, in the last few weeks, the book Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MacLean who as a very young Brigadier was personally chosen by Churchill to lead the mission to Tito’s partisans, and Billy McLean’s biography – One Man in His Time. Both books are interesting and I will review them if I have time. I have to say I was a little disappointed in Xan’s writing style, but it is workmanlike and is probably an accurate portrayal.

Billy McLean’s life is absolutely fascinating. He was a real adventurer and never stopped his adventures or travel until he died in 1986. I have dug out his obituary from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries – Heroes and Adventurers, and as I did before with Xan Fielding’s obit, I have retyped it word for word as I cannot find an online version.

Go on, explore your own Paddy related avenue, and maybe write to me and we can publish for others to hear about!

First published in the Daily Telegraph, 20 November 1986.

Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean, who has died aged 67, spent 40 years playing his own version of the Great Game. Like some latter-day knight errant, he travelled tirelessly in the Muslim world, working always against the encroaching influence of the Soviet Union, while at the same time seeking adventure among tribal peoples.

McLean’s unusual life often had elements of intrigue that no one else could unravel. “What is Billy really up to?” was a question that would be asked at the bar of White’s Club as he set off on another trip to Jordan or Iran, Morocco or the Yemen.

In McLean’s character there were shades of Buchan and Lawrence and Thesiger. All seemed to coalesce in the Yemen, where from five years, from 1962, McLean helped the royalists under Iman al-Badr to resist President Nassar’s attempts to take over the country. He made numerous reconnaissances in the Yemen desert and many arduous journeys, by camel and on foot, to the royalist forces in their remote mountain strongholds.

It was entirely due to McLean that Britain never followed America in recognising Nassar’s, and the Soviet Union’s, puppet republican government in the Yemen; and it was he who persuaded the Saudis to increase their aid to the Iman’s forces. Thanks also to McLean, the royalists received Western mercenary support and arms from the RAF. Largely as a result of McLean’s efforts, North Yemen did not become one of Nassar’s fiefdoms and did not join its neighbour South Yemen (Aden) in the Communist camp.

Neil Loudon Desmond McLean was born on November 28 1918, a direct descendent of “Gillean of the Battle-Axe”, known in Argyll in the 13th century.

After Eton and Sandhurst (where he rode several winners in point-to-points), McLean was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys and sent to Palestine [prior to the war] in 1939.

At the end of the following year he went to occupied Abyssinia [Ed: Ethiopia] where he proved himself an outstanding guerrilla leader, as part of Orde Wingate’s Gideon Force. He led a force of Eritrean and Abyssinian irregulars – known as “McLean’s Foot” – against the Italians near Gondar.

His burgeoning career as an irregular soldier continued in Special Operations Executive; in 1943 he led a five man military mission to Albania, to co-ordinate resistance to the Axis powers. Peter Kemp (qv) described his first meeting with McLean when he parachuted into Albania to join the mission: “Approaching up the hill with long, easy strides came a tall figure in jodhpurs and a wide crimson cummerbund, a young man with long fair hair brushed back from a broad forehead and wearing a major’s crown on the shoulder straps of his open-necked army shirt.”

With one break, McLean remained in Albania until the German retreat from that country and inspired those under him with his military skill and courage. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel at the age of 24.

His contacts with the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha turned sour when the left-wing elements of SOE favoured the partisans at the expense of the Zogist faction led by Abas Kupi, which McLean supported against charges of collaboration with the Germans.

In 1945 he volunteered for SOE duties in the Far East, where he became military adviser in Kashgar, Chinese Turkistan. Here he learnt the ways of the Turkis, Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks and Tartars, who were under threat of domination by the Soviet Union, and travelled extensively in Asia. McLean’s fascination and sympathy with Muslim minorities and tribal peoples would continue for the rest of his life. He devoted much of his time to the cause of the Pathans and the Kurds, as well as the royalist Yemenis.

After the war he sought election to Parliament, twice unsuccessfully for the Preston South constituency, in 1950 and 1951. He became Conservative MP for Inverness in 1954, and held the seat until the 1964 general election.

As a Highlander himself, McLean was able to identify with the Celtic character of his constituents. But they could not be expected to appreciate the reasons for his long absences on the Middle East.

While he was an MP, and afterwards, McLean was, as described by a colleague, “a sort of unpaid under-secretary for the Foreign Office”. His political contacts in the Muslim world were probably unique among Westerners, in particular his relationship with King Saud during the Yemen war and his personal friendship with King Hussein over many years. In the mid-1960’s he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to “spring” a revolutionary leader from jail in Algeria [Ed: using a yacht and accompanied by King Leka of the Albanians who fancied coming along for the ride. The attempt was foiled by the CIA who wanted the ‘kudos’ of freeing the man, which they did some months later].

McLean was always passionate in defence of British interests, as he saw them, which did not always accord with the Government’s view. In his later years, still pursuing those interests he visited Somalia, Iran, Western Sahara, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, China, Israel, Turkey and Jordan.

In 1979 Harold Macmillan wrote to McLean: “You are one of those people whose services to our dear country are known only to a few.”

By his many friends and admirers he will be remembered as possibly the last of the paladins. While his role may not always have been appreciated in Britain, his independence and total integrity were recognised n all the countries where his influence was felt.

Alongside his flair for guerrilla fighting, he had a passion for secret enterprises, deep-laid schemes, and political complexities. He combined acute political understanding with military gifts ideally suited to irregular warfare.

His comrade-in-arms in Albania and the Yemen, David Smiley, has written of McLean: “His charming character seemed languid and nonchalant to the point of idleness, but underneath this façade he was unusually brave, physically tough and extremely intelligent, with a quick, active and unconventional mind.”

His wisdom, sense of humour, human curiosity and kindness endeared him to a wide circle of contemporary friends and younger people, who saw his values as ones they could respect without sentimentality or danger of being considered old-fashioned. He revelled in argument and banter, and was always interested in the opinions of the younger generation.

McLean was both a keen shot and underwater fisherman: one of his great pleasures was to spear moray eels off the coast of Majorca. He was very partial to Middle Eastern and Chinese cooking.

He married, in 1949, Daska Kennedy (neé Ivanovic), who supported, sustained and understood him during his unconventional life.

Related article:

Xan Fielding Obituary

The Travellers Club, C R Cockerell and a Tale of Two Foxes

It should come as no surprise to learn that Paddy is a member of the London gentleman’s club The Travellers Club. The following was sent to me by Blog reader and correspondent James who had scanned it from a copy of “More Tales from the Travellers” which seems to be almost impossible to get hold of in print. I have typed it out exactly as it is printed in the book. It is a speech that Paddy gave to members at an event to celebrate sixty years of membership of the Travellers in 2004. I do hope that you enjoy this wonderful ‘tail’.

In the Library of the Travellers Club

Sixty years is a long time to belong to any institution, let alone one as venerable and distinguished as The Travellers. Sometime, looking back, the lapse of time seems far less, and at others (especially if one dabbles in history at all, as I do now and then) it seems to reach very far back, almost out of sight.

My War-time brother-in-arms, Xan Fielding, and I were put up for the Club when we were in our twenties. Arthur E.E. Reade, our sponsor, was rather older, and a member of long standing when the candidature was set in motion on 1942. We were all three at the time SOE captains dressed up as shepherds, deep in ash and lice, huddling cross-legged over the embers and under the stalactites of a cave in German-occupied Crete. Arthur sealed the envelope putting us up. Obviously it would take some time before it could be handed to the next caique or submarine, longer still to reach Pall Mall. To the south of us, on the other side of the Mediterranean, Rommel was hastening on to El Alamein. Our candidature might take a while.

We asked Arthur what the ‘E.E.’ stood for in his name on the back of the envelope, and he said ‘Essex Edgeworth’. Was this anything to do with Maria Edgeworth, the pre-Jane Austen, Anglo-Irish novelist, we asked, the author of Castle Rackrent? We had just about heard about her.

‘Yes,’ Arthur replied. ‘She was a sort of great-great-aunt.’ This we learned, made him a relative of her uncle, the Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, the Jesuit son of a convert kinsman who had settled in France and, during the Revolution, became chaplain and confessor to Louis XVI. He accompanied the king to the guillotine where he was reputed to have said, just before the blade fell, ‘Fils de Saint-Louis, montez au ciel!’ He then hastened down the steps and dashed away through the Jacobin crowd.

We also learned that the Club later on was very much the background of those dilettanti who ventured farther east then Venice and Florence in Regency times; particularly the ones who pushed on to Constantinople where, under the auspices of our fellow-member Sir Charles Barry, the amazing British Embassy – damaged by a bomb only a few months ago – was soon to be built. It was of course Barry who designed the premises that surround us at this very moment. Many of these travellers would have hobnobbed with the Ambassador there, Sir Stratford Canning – the ‘Great Elchi’ of Kingslake’s Eothen – who first took up has task at the age of twenty-four and held it all through the Napoleonic Wars, steering Turkey away from hostilities with Russia in order to foil Napoleon’s advances in the north-east.

Canning’s world was the Levant of janissaries and mamelukes, a region wonderfully handled, in those times, by Nelson and by Sir William Sidney Smith of Acre, and by Canning himself. The only communication from London during Canning’s long tour of duty was a very un-urgent and very unimportant enquiry from Wellington’s brother Lord Wellesley, about some antiquarian manuscripts he had vaguely heard about in the archives of the Grand Seraglio. What an example to us all …

Another member born in the same year as Byron and, like him, a sort of Apollo – as one sees by the portrait painted later in Rome by Ingres – was the architect Charles Robert Cockerell. He was the great-nephew of Pepys, and after exploring Italy and Sicily, he had set off from Constantinople into Asia Minor, heading for Troad and Smyrna, and then crossed the Ægean to continue his researches in the Morea. How little the Napoleonic Wars seems to hamper archaeological research!

In 1811 Cockerell and three scholarly companions discovered – or rather re-discovered – the lonely and wonderful Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassæ, built here by Ictinus to celebrate the end of the plague in the same decade that he put the Parthenon together. The temple at Bassæ combined Doric and Ionic columns and, for the first time, launched the Corinthian styles into the architecture of the world. (I say ‘rediscovered’ because halfway through the eighteenth century the French traveller Bochon had barely set eyes on Bassæ when he was murdered by bandits, who thought the brass buttons on his coat were gold.) A generation later the English party, more soberly dressed, gazed at the temple in wonder. There it stood almost complete in its vast and lonely Arcadian glen, one of the wildest and most haunted regions of the Peloponnese. They were struck dumb.

Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassæ

We know the rest of the story: the rescue and reassembly of the frieze that had run round the cella of the temple; the long pourparlers with the Vizir of Tripolitza; the bargaining, the transport of the slabs in a British ship to Zakynthos – Zante, that is – in the newly acquired Ionian Islands; their arrival in England and their final erection on the British Museum, where they were second only to Lord Elgin’s Athenian loot.

The Travellers Club was founded three years after Waterloo and very soon up went Cockerell’s casts of the never-ending conflict that rages just above our heads.

Arriving back to be demobbed at the end of our war, I made a bee-line for Pall Mall. (Xan Fielding and I were members now – Arthur Reade’s letter, three years in transit, had worked.) I dashed upstairs, barely touching Talleyrand’s ramp, and into the Library, to gaze up at the battling Amazons and Greeks and Lapiths and centaurs that girdle this marvellous room. It was a great moment.

I was back in Greece soon afterwards, a peripatetic deputy-director of the British Institute improvising lectures to patriot warriors all over the country, largely about Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – and I’m not sure how gripping the whiskered guerrillas found them. Accompanied by Joan, whom I had married, and by Xan Fielding who was still in the Army, we set off in his jeep and drove from Tripoli to Andritsaina into the fierce Arcadian mountains and on to Phigaleia and – at last! – to Bassæ. We trudged the last few miles along goat tracks, reached the austere and silent temple after dark, and dossed down among the pillars. The early sunbeams over Mount Elaios lit up not only the wonderful columns, but also a young fox sitting in the middle of them. He gave us a long pensive look, the trotted off in search of somewhere less crowded.

Back in the Library here, much later, I was led to Davis Watkin’s Life of C. R. Cockerell and settled with it in a corner (where the centaurs seemed to be getting the upper hand) and it fell open on the page where Cockerell and his friends were inspecting the ruins: ‘One day when they were scrambling about amongst the great fallen columns.’ I read. ‘a fox that had made its home deep down amongst the stones, disturbed by the unusual noise, got up and ran away’. I nearly jumped out of my skin. ‘In the light that streamed into its momentarily emptied lair, they discovered a glint of marble, then the first slab of what turned out to be the felled bas-relief – then another and another, and yet another, until the whole wonderful cincture was resurrected and linked together.’

Our fox must have been a descendent of theirs, the great-great-great-great-great-great – in fact, the hundred-and-fortieth great-grand cub of the one that jumped out of its hole on that momentous day a century and a half before. After all, it was only two thousand, three hundred and seventy-odd years since Ictinus and his fifth-century BC team, having finished their task, piled the spirit-levels and hammers and chisels into the panniers of the baggage-train, shut their dividers, coiled their measuring ropes, brushed off the chips and poured a last libation to Apollo and , perhaps, another down their throats – before following our track across the glen; and we were unshakeably convinced that a small fox, ancestor to all the others, must have watched them out of sight.

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR

The above is the text of a talk given by the author at a Library Dinner in 2004 to celebrate his sixtieth year of membership.

The original scanned pages in pdf format, of which there are three, are here: One, Two, Three

 

The obituary of Daphne Fielding from The Independent

Paddy was very close to Daphne Fielding. She was the wife of the man who must be considered his best friend (read In Tearing Haste and you will have few doubts).

First published in The Independent 17 December 1997.

Daphne Winifred Louise Vivian, writer: born 11 July 1904; married 1926 Viscount Weymouth (succeeded 1946 as sixth Marquess of Bath, died 1992; two sons, and two sons and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1953), 1953 Xan Fielding (died 1991; marriage dissolved 1978); died 5 December 1997.

Daphne Fielding was a society author in the decades between 1950 and 1980. Having been a part of the world of Bright Young Things in the 1920s, she was well known in society as the Marchioness of Bath, and following her marriage to Xan Fielding she produced a stream of books of easy charm which achieved great popularity. Good-looking when young, in later life she was a tall, handsome figure, and could have been mistaken for a distinguished actress.

Daphne was the daughter of the fourth Lord Vivian and his wife, Barbara, a former Gaiety Girl, who was to marry three further times. The family was eccentric; many years later, her brother the fifth Lord Vivian (who died in 1991), variously a farm labourer in Canada, a publicity manager in San Francisco and a partner of the impresario C.B. Cochran, had the misfortune to be shot in the stomach in 1954 by his mistress Mavis Wheeler, the former wife of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the archaeologist, a drama which occupied the headlines for many days.

Daphne emerged from a childhood which was a mixture of hilarity and insecurity, later described with relish in her memoirs, Mercury Presides (though Evelyn Waugh declared these as “marred by discretion and good taste”). She passed through Queen’s College in London, and St James’s, Malvern, and gravitated, through her friends the Lygon sisters, to the stimulating world of Oxford in the 1920s, and to that set dominated by Harold Acton, Evelyn Waugh and Brian Howard. The friends she made then were friends for life, a group that gave each other unswerving loyalty despite infidelities and political differences, everlastingly self-protecting; and a group through which she met Viscount Weymouth, heir to the Marquess of Bath.

There was parental opposition to their union, Henry Weymouth’s father declaring that he needed “a steady wife” and finding that Daphne did not fit this category. Weighing in, her father announced that he thought Weymouth an unsuitable husband. They were married in secret at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, in 1926, and then again considerably more publicly at St Martin-in-the Fields in 1927, the bride dressed by Norman Hartnell. (When eventually they were divorced, there was a prolonged court case before three judges to dissolve that earlier marriage, and regularise the unusual situation.)

Old Lord Bath in 1928 handed the running of the Wiltshire family seat, Longleat, to his son (not without certain misgivings about his capacity for work) and he and Daphne threw themselves wholeheartedly into the management of the estate. They employed Russell Page to redo the gardens and were involved in extensive forestry work. To supplement her income, Daphne wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, which brought her under the protective care of Lord Beaverbrook.

They had four sons and a daughter. The eldest boy died in 1930, just before his first birthday, and the youngest, Lord Valentine Thynne, died after hanging himself in 1979. Her daughter Caroline predeceased her, and she is survived by two sons, the present Marquess and his brother, Lord Christopher, who are on notoriously bad terms. (There was a rumour that at Lord Christopher’s wedding to Antonia Palmer in 1968 the cake was laced with LSD. The Queen was a guest.)

Henry Weymouth spent much of the Second World War as a prisoner of the Germans, which did not help the marriage. In 1946 he succeeded his father as Marquess of Bath. Forced by crippling death duties he opened Longleat to the public in 1949, with an entrance fee of half a crown a head. By 1953 he had added a tearoom and tennis court, laid out a putting green, and floated pedalos for hire on the lake. But the marriage was over and the Baths were divorced in May 1953.

Daphne wrote the first guidebook to Longleat, a lively history of the Thynne family from 1566 to 1949, which she researched and wrote in three weeks. This she followed with Before the Sunset Fades (1953), a slim 30- page book about life above and below stairs at Long- leat, decorated, appropriately, by her old friend and Wiltshire neighbour Cecil Beaton.

In 1953 she married the war hero and travel writer Xan Fielding, a man 14 years her junior, a happy marriage which lasted until 1978. During these years they lived variously in Cornwall, Morocco, Portugal and Uzes, where they settled for some years, surrounded by a variety of pets and visited by their many friends.

While married to Fielding, she wrote her books Mercury Presides (1954) and its sequel, The Nearest Way Home (1970), and a novel, The Adonis Garden (1961), of which Evelyn Waugh wrote that she had “squandered six books in one”, adding, “You have used almost everything that has happened in the last twelve years.”

The Duchess of Jermyn Street, a life of Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel subsequently serialised on television, was to have been written with the help of George Kinnaird (a writer who also used to help Baroness de Stoekl with her books), but he gave up while going through a divorce. It was published in 1964 and Evelyn Waugh described it as “jolly good but I think full of inaccuracies”.

She wrote a joint life of Lady Cunard and her daughter Nancy, Emerald and Nancy (1968), which her friend Dirk Bogarde judged “light on the intellect”, fearing that Fielding had whitewashed these two monsters on the grounds that “she couldn’t be beastly to chums”; and a portrait of Iris Tree, The Rainbow Picnic (1974).

Raleigh Trevelyan, of Hamish Hamilton, then commissioned her to write a life of Gladys Deacon, the 93-year-old Duchess of Marlborough, whom he had come across while researching his book about the Whitakers of Sicily, Princes Under the Volcano (1972). This was not her usual milieu, since the duchess belonged to the belle epoque and intellectual world of Paris of a generation older than Daphne Fielding. Nevertheless she was able to tap her wide circle of loyal friends for anecdotes. To her surprise a man wrongly described as “a young intellectual” proved to have embarked on the same research. However, her friends closed ranks around her, and a word from Lady Diana Cooper to her biographer, Philip Ziegler, caused him to drop the rival’s incipient Collins contract like a hot potato.

I know this, for I was that rival. Both books were in due course published, hers under the title The Face on the Sphinx (1978). But the story had a happy ending, for those same friends helped me with my life of Cecil Beaton, and Diana Cooper, in her more usual role as peacemaker, effected a successful rapprochement between us. I enjoyed a number of meetings with Daphne in New York in 1981, during which she chatted amicably about our experiences and regaled me with Cecil Beaton stories. I always remember her line about Patrick Leigh Fermor: “Do you know Paddy? He’s such a good friend. He should be turned into pills so that you can take him when you feel low.”

Her friend Robert Heber-Percy averred that Daphne Fielding was a better conversationalist and letter-writer than author of books.

In 1978 Xan Fielding left Daphne for a lady described by her friends as “an older woman”. Bereft but brave, she was lucky to meet once more an old Oxford friend, Ben Kittridge, an American millionaire, with whom she went to live in Arizona until his death in 1981. Thereafter she returned to England and settled in the Old Laundry in the shadow of Badminton, where for two years the fox-hunting 10th Duke of Beaufort (“Master”) lived on, and where, until her death from cancer in 1995, her daughter Caroline lived as the next Duchess of Beaufort.

Daphne Fielding’s last years were spent there. At the famous Horse Trials she could be seen driving about in a tiny self- propelled vehicle and every Sunday she lunched with her son-in-law, where she was a by no means unnoticed figure at the table.

Back to the Hellespont – Swimming the Hellespont

As we know Paddy was 70 years of age when he swam the Hellespont with his wife Joan encouraging him ( whilst probably very worried) from a boat. His good friend Xan Fielding was waiting for him upon his return with a bottle of champagne. There is a long account in the excellent “In Tearing Haste”. Paddy was inspired by, amongst others, Lord Byron and his swim in 1810. There was a very interesting Radio Four programme about this yesterday … you have until approx 24 May to listen again on the BBC iPlayer.

Click here to listen again but only until approx 24 May 2010.

Lord Byron

It is 200 years since the poet Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, commemorating the feat in a poem and setting off a mania for swimming throughout Europe. He said it was his proudest moment.

His talent for swimming was one of the qualities that made him a legend and wherever he swam became almost a sacred spot. On the shore of the Bay of Spezzia, where Shelley drowned, stands a plinth dedicated to “Lord Byron, Noted English Swimmer and Poet”. Note which comes first!

Comedian and Channel swimmer Doon Mackichan takes a look at the man and the event through his poetry and journal entries, comparing Byron’s swim with the experiences of some of the swimmers who turn up every year for a race across this historical channel that separates Europe and Asia. Organised by the Canakkale Rotary Club, it is one of the highlights of the wild water swimming calendar.

Byron was inspired by Leander who, according to Ovid, nightly swam the strait to visit his beloved Hero and, after hours of love making, swam back home again. No slouch in the sack himself, Byron marvelled that Leander’s conjugal powers were not “exhausted in his passage to Paradise”.

Swimming gave Byron, lame as he was, some of the most exhilarating moments of his life. Only in swimming was he able to experience complete freedom of movement and freedom was a state he aspired to in all things – political and sexual.

How many of today’s swimmers have been inspired by Byron to put pen to paper? The programme set them a challenge and you can hear some of the best entries alongside Byron’s own effort.

Related website:

The Hellespont swim: following in Byron’s wake

Xan Fielding Obituary

After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Continue reading

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.

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