Splitting the infinitive is almost as controversial as splitting the atom, but clearly a lot easier to do. What I hope is not easy dear readers is to upset you by the variety of posts on this blog, and in particular some of the more recent ones.
Yesterday Francis Fermor added a most unkind comment saying that the blog is no longer interesting as it is no longer all about Paddy and that “too many people are joining the band waggon and taking advantage for their own personal ends.” This was in relation to the post about Owen Martell’s walk across the USA.
For one thing I don’t think Owen has made any money out of his adventures. At least he has not written any books on the subject that I can find. I post such things as I personally find them interesting and they fit with my editorial policy of being “Paddy related”. Owen contacted me after his first walk as he was interested in Paddy and had been inspired by him. I am sure the man himself would have been most interested in Owen’s journeys: a lot of you are. Paddy would have encouraged him and wanted to hear his story.
Paddy may be dead, and not much new will emerge, but his work and his life remain as an inspiration to many, including those who read this blog. A lot of people are inspired to set out on journeys of their own. Nick Hunt’s attempt to follow Paddy’s route was not for any great “personal end” but because he wanted to do it and thought that others might like to read about the great changes that Paddy himself wrote about via his Polymath. Ed and Charlotte walk parts of his route each year for no other end than they enjoy it and find one of those Songlines to follow; a Songline chanted by Paddy and now in our memory.
How long can I continue with material on here? As long as there is an audience, and my stats tell me that there is one with over 20,000 regular visits each month. We are now within a few thousand visits of one million since opening in 2010. That I find pretty phenomenal. People visit here for a variety of reasons and the material that I post attempts to address those varied interests.
So how long can I continue? There is plenty more directly related material and my self-appointed “task” here is to create a unique on-line archive of Paddy related material. So I will continue to do that. And I will do it until I test you so sorely that you leave me alone with just a few die-hards.
Finally, to continue the theme of “personal ends” I would like to remind you that I will start my 70 mile walk to Bath tomorrow on behalf of the charity Shelter in aid of the homeless and there is still plenty of time to donate via my Just Giving page.
Between 10-13 Dec you can join with me to increase awareness of the scourge of homelessness and to help raise funds for the UK’s leading charity for the homeless, Shelter. I will walk 70 miles from Winchester to Bath over one of the most sparsely populated areas in England, sleeping rough under a simple shelter, enduring the December cold, and the long, cold, lonely nights: just like THEM. All you have to do to join me from your warm home is to please give some money to Shelter at my Just Giving page. These are your fellow human beings and they deserve some help and comfort. You can join me walking to Bath Abbey on 13 Dec. Just email me or comment on this post. PLEASE SHARE THE FACEBOOK EVENT I CREATED (click here) on your Facebook timelines: it is a public event. Give your money: £, Euros, US $, Yen, Lei, or whatever here.
You may remember in 2012 I posted a video of Owen Martell walking “the wrong way” across Europe from Istanbul to Edinburgh. It was quite an epic journey.
This last year or so Owen walked across the United States from Seattle to New Orleans pushing and sometimes dragging his load in a trolley contraption through snow and desert, encountering some very strange Americans, and just good normal people on his way. There were times when he had some close shaves, suffering from noxious gases in oil production fields, and getting caught up in “security situations” in an America that can sometimes be hostile to the wandering traveller as it fights the war against its unseen, and perhaps imagined, enemies.
I hope that you enjoy watching Owen’s journey in his wonderful You Tube video accompanied as ever by the delightful music of the very talented folk group Darlingside.
Watch Owen’s walk across Europe here.
by William Dalrymple
First published in the New Statesman 4 December 2014
On 20 May 1941 the German army launched its airborne assault on Crete with the largest parachute drop in history: in less than an hour 15,000 men fell slowly into the olive groves and vineyards of the island. They had no idea that the British, using Ultra intercepts, knew of their plans and were sitting waiting for them. Resistance was so staunch – as much from ordinary Cretans as the Greek, New Zealand or British army units stationed there – that the elite Fallschirmjäger regiment was almost entirely wiped out in one day.
The story of that extraordinary civil resistance, and the long saga of the continued Cretan defiance of the Nazis throughout the rest of the war, is now well known. Perhaps the most famous moment of all is the abduction of the Nazi commandant of the island, General Heinrich Kreipe, on 26 April 1944 by a team of Special Operations Executive agents led by Paddy Leigh Fermor, later one of the great contemporary prose stylists and travel writers of our time.
There already exist at least four excellent accounts of this story. The first off the block, only five years after the war, was William Stanley Moss’s yarn Ill Met By Moonlight, which became a popular Powell and Pressburger film with the role of Paddy played by Dirk Bogarde. Five years later, a Cretan perspective came from a messenger in the resistance, George Psychoundakis, whose Greek manuscript, The Cretan Runner, partly written in prison, was translated into English by Paddy. I was a devoted disciple of Paddy, and the last time I went to stay with him in Greece he gave me his own annotated copy of Psychoundakis’s book. I have it by me as I write.
In 1991 the young Antony Beevor wrote the episode up in the first of his celebrated sequence of Second World War books, as Crete: the Battle and the Resistance. Finally, two years ago, Beevor’s wife, Artemis Cooper, brilliantly retold it in her biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: an Adventure.
Given the startling quality of these four accounts it is fair to ask if there is anything a new account can possibly add. The answer in this case is, surprisingly: a lot. Abducting a General brings into print for the first time Paddy’s own account of the kidnap, originally written for Purnell’s History of the Second World War, but up to now never published at full length (5,000 words were commissioned; Paddy characteristically delivered 30,000; 25,000 words were cut, and appear here for the first time, other than a brief extract in Cooper’s 2003 anthology Words of Mercury). The book also contains Paddy’s intelligence reports, sent from caves deep within Crete. Meanwhile Kidnap in Crete by Rick Stroud provides a rollicking outsider’s account, written with great verve and dash, containing much telling new material, some of which is gathered from previously untapped Cretan sources.
In 1941 the Allies seemed on the verge of defeat. The Nazis, who had already swept through most of northern Europe, had succeeded where the Italians, their Axis allies, had failed in Greece, and within a few weeks had broken through and taken Athens. Now they wished to take Crete and hold it as a staging post for evicting the British from Egypt and North Africa.
Given the advance knowledge of Nazi plans, Crete should have been the first German defeat of the war. But a fatal misunderstanding, which led the British wrongly to expect a substantial naval assault, turned the battle into a defeat. Despite record casualties the Germans managed to take several crucial airfields and land large numbers of reinforcements. By 27 May the British had begun to withdraw, but could rescue only half their soldiers: 16,000 were ferried to Egypt, but 17,000 spent the rest of the conflict as prisoners of war.
Nevertheless, communications remained open between the Allies in Alexandria and the spirited Cretan Resistance, and by early 1942 plans were afoot to raise morale through a series of intelligence operations. These were designed to disrupt the German occupation and avenge its horrors – mass executions and the punitive massacre of entire villages.
As a fluent Greek speaker, the 26-year-old Leigh Fermor was quickly singled out for intelligence work on the southern front and was sent first to Albania, 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 German invasion. From there he was evacuated to Alexandria, where he set up house with several other SOE 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 Captain Leigh Fermor was sent back to Crete to work with the resistance. He and an odd collection of recently enlisted Greek-speaking classical scholars and archaeologists were parachuted into occupied Crete disguised as shepherds. For a year they lived a troglodyte existence in sheepfolds and under the stalactites of Cretan mountain caves, commanded by Tom Dunbabin, a former classicist who was a fellow of All Souls.
Occasionally, Paddy, dressed in a double-breasted suit as “a Heraklion gadabout”, would descend to the capital to gather intelligence. There he delighted in tempting fate by carousing at parties where German officers were present, on one occasion even teaching them the pentozali, a traditional Cretan dance said to make the dancers dizzy five times over. Paddy’s bravado once came close to backfiring when his companion Micky Akoumianakis offered everyone cigarettes that were quickly recognised as English, “and the dance came to an abrupt halt when the Germans asked him where he had got them. Thinking on his feet, Micky said he had bought them on the black market, which had been flooded with stuff left behind by the retreating allies. The soldiers fell for the story, drank more raki and the dizzying lessons went on.”
The port from which Paddy set off was captured by Rommel’s advancing Afrika Korps the day after he left. “It was a bad, low moment in the war,” he once told me. “The Germans seemed to be advancing in triumph in all directions.” He described watching wave after wave of Luftwaffe planes heading over in formation, and wondering if there were any hope of defeating the advance. It was partly for this reason that his bosses gave permission for his wild scheme to raise morale by kidnapping the German commander of the island.
The general’s routine was studied and the various possibilities for ambushing considered. In the end it was decided to stop his car at night on a deserted stretch of road between the officers’ mess, where Kreipe liked to play cards of an evening, and Villa Ariadne, his residence on the edge of the Palace of Knossos, where he would return each night for his dinner. The plan was to knock out the driver with a cosh and bundle the general on the floor of the staff car, with a knife to his throat, while Leigh Fermor would take his place, and his hat, and impersonate him as they drove to safety. That he was a man of the strictest routine and great punctuality made the idea in the end irresistible.
In Paddy’s own account of the abduction of Kreipe, the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at 9.30pm by a British SOE party dressed in the stolen uniforms of German military police, nor as they drive coolly through no fewer than 22 German checkpoints in the city of Heraklion with the general lying gagged at their feet, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle Kreipe into the Cretan highlands and thence 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 is the opening line of one of the few Horace odes I know 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.
In her biography, Artemis Cooper has already drawn attention to the terrible moral dilemmas Leigh Fermor suffered during his work with the Cretan resistance, when the Nazis would wipe out whole villages in response to a single ambush. She also writes illuminatingly about the moment Paddy accidently shot his Cretan friend Yanni Tsangarakis, embroiling himself in a blood feud that was resolved only in the 1980s.
Rick Stroud’s account in Kidnap in Crete also examines these matters at length and provides what is probably the fullest, most fluent record of the kidnap yet written, while giving the Cretan partisans a more central role than they have received in any account since that of Psychoundakis. Weighing up the operation in the final chapter, he concludes that, “seen in isolation, the abduction was exactly what Kreipe called it: ‘a Hussar stunt’ – dangerous, exhilarating and with elements of an undergraduate prank about it. But Kreipe’s capture was one in the eye for the oppressors and a great morale booster for the islanders. Whatever it cost in life and property, many saw it as worth it. Even so, it is impossible to argue that the kidnap caused no reprisals.”
Reading these two accounts, it is easy to see why Pressburger originally landed on the Kreipe Operation for a movie: it inspired further fictional accounts (and then films) of similar operations, by Alistair MacLean in books such as The Guns of Navarone, which were once essential reading for all schoolboys of my generation. Having tried out these films on my kids, and seeing how slow they now look by contemporary standards, I can only hope that some producer quickly buys up the rights for both these books. It’s clearly time for a reshoot. l
Buy William Dalrymple’s Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
Thank you to so many of you for donating to the charity Shelter in conjunction with my walk to Bath between 10-13 December. The approximate route is above – Google insists on roads even though I am walking over country – which offers an idea of where I shall be going. The original £500 target has been smashed and I have now doubled it to £1,000 so I still need you to give more. Please donate here!
Homelessness is a terrible scourge. I will “walk home for Christmas” from Winchester Cathedral to Bath Abbey to visit my daughter and to raise money in support of the UK charity for the homeless, Shelter.
I will be living out for three nights under a simple tarpaulin in the middle of a cold and damp British winter to try to experience something of what our homeless have to go through every day.
Whatever your location in the world, as long as you have a debit card, credit card or PayPal account you can contribute something to help.
The plan is to arrive at Bath Abbey at midday on 13th December. I would be very happy to see any of you there if you can make it.
Much discussed over the years, the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society has finally been formed by a group of UK-based Paddy enthusiasts, and is associated with the Alliance of Literary Societies. The press release issued by the Society to mark today’s launch follows. Not sure I agree with the estmate of £500,000 to restore the house but who are we to argue with the venerable Benaki? We shall watch the progress of the Society with great interest and hope to support its activities. At this time we wish them every success.
The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society has been formed to bring together the many PLF enthusiasts in this country and around the world. It will organise lectures and other events and plans to publish its journal The Philhellene three times a year.
The stated aims of the Society are to promote interest in the life and works of Patrick Leigh Fermor and to support his legacy, including contributing towards the upkeep of his house at Kardamyli, which he built between 1964 and 1966 on the west side of the Mani peninsula in the southern Peloponnese. The house is a cross between a farmhouse and a monastery, designed by PLF and his wife Joan, built of old stone among the olive groves, under the range of Mount Taygetus.
PLF died in 2011 and bequeathed the house to the Benaki Museum, to be opened as a researchers’ retreat, and the museum estimates that a total of some £500,000 will be needed for its restoration and upkeep. The Society will work closely with the Benaki towards achieving the necessary repairs and other tasks, so that the house can be reopened as soon as possible to fulfil PLF’s wishes.
In addition to devoting a substantial part of its subscription income to the dedicated fund that the Benaki has set up, the Society is inviting individual and corporate Sponsors to make donations of £100 upwards and several potential donors have already been identified prior to the launch of the Society. It is hoped that special arrangements to visit the Kardmyli house will be made for all members of the Society when they are in the area.
The annual subscription for ordinary members will be £20 a year and there is an option to become a life member for £200. The Society is a member of the Alliance of Literary Societies.
The website of the Society is http://www.patrickleighfermorsociety.org.
Enquiries to: Charles Arnold, Director on +44 (0) 20 8579 1948 or Julia Weston-Davies, Membership Secretary on +44 (0) 1451 850128
I couldn’t resist the headline. It is not often that we get Paddy and the Pope mentioned in the same article. So, shameless as this is, I am going to publish as it meets my editorial requirements of “establishing an online archive of all things Patrick Leigh Fermor”. It is also in Italian, but there is always Google Translate for the non-Italian speakers.
The context of the article is the visit of Pope Francis to Turkey – Istanbul link to Paddy – and this new Pope’s role in reinvigorating the Catholic Church and the “trans-Mediterranean” role he is developing.
Read all here.
I thought that you might enjoy this picture taken by Rodolph de Salis at Paddy’s house in 2010.
Maybe you are reading this just before lunch or ‘after the sun has passed the yardarm’ and it will accompany you as you settle down for a relaxing Drink Time!
Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)