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Ill Met by Goonlight – just 5 days left!!

July 10, 2014

GoonsThe Goons as our heroes Paddy and Billy. Neddie Seagoon is sent to capture the German general who commands the island of Crete. Stars Spike Milligan. From March 1957.

Thanks to Tim Todd for pointing this one out. Just 5 days left to listen on BBC iPlayer for those who can get access (country specific).

Click the picture or here to go to the BBC iPlayer site.

Visiting Paddy’s grave

July 7, 2014


We were in Stratford-upon-Avon at the weekend to watch two brilliant performances of Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts I and II, and on the way home we paused to visit Paddy’s grave. It was a lovely day and as ever a beautiful and peaceful setting. Do visit if you can; Dumbleton is just 5 minutes off the A46.

Relaunch of A War of Shadows by Billy Moss

June 1, 2014
A War of Shadows

A War of Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

Liely Bullock at the recent relaunch of A War of Shadows

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German or Romanian neighbour – which would you choose?

May 20, 2014
The Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco (1912 - 1994).

The Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco (1912 – 1994)

At some point I have to break my silence and say something about the ongoing debate currently raging in Britain about the Euro elections, The UK Independence Party (UKIP), Euro federalism, and of course …. Romanians.

By Tom Sawford

It may not take the brains of an archbishop to work out where I personally stand with regard to the bloated, unaudited bureaucracy that is the European Union (answers on a postcard please), and the unelected people who run it; people who have been failures in their own national politics.

There is no real place on this blog to discuss politics. It is all about Paddy, his friends and their collective achievements, but the debate in the UK is getting nasty, and frankly quite unhinged, particularly with regard to Romanians. The Bulgarians appear to be keeping their heads down and good for them. Last week UKIP’s Nigel Farage added fuel to the fire. He was apparently reported as saying that British people should be concerned if a “group” of Romanians came to live next door to them. All sorts of unfounded statements are being bandied about, and Rod Liddle, no stranger to controversy, has now jumped in with this Spectator blog piece (fairly tame and probably written just to provoke debate).

Many of us living in the UK would probably be very concerned if a “group” of our fellow Britons moved in next door. It is the concept of “the group” that is the issue; by some definitions it is threatening. Another tribe moving onto or close to our patch. Can we defend ourselves? What might they do? Will they steal our daughters?

These statements address very base instincts and fears within us all, and quite naturally so, as we want to defend our families, our group, and our property. But using such terminology about one particular nationality is deeply offensive and ill judged. I am not sure it is racist as some claim; is it possible to be racist about people from essentially the same ethnic grouping? I don’t know and I digress.

I think Romania – and Romanians – has been singled out because it truly is a far away land of which we know little. I am quite sure without checking the facts that more British have been to Bulgaria to have cheap holidays on Sunny Beach and to lose their shirts on off-plan apartments in the property boom than would know how to find Romania on a map. The current debate stirs up our fears of the unknown and that is why it is so powerful and ultimately disturbing.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was very well travelled, and a man of sophistication and taste. Why did he say that after Greece that it was Romania that he loved most? In his lovely book, Walking the Woods and the Water, Nick Hunt retraces Paddy’s journey and concludes, despite being attacked by sheep dogs, that it was Romania and the Romanian people that he liked most. Add Prince Charles to the list of fans.

Romania has a very long and proud history. Under warrior kings and princes they fought off the Ottomans. They have produced great artists, poets and writers such as Eugene Ionesco, Mihai Eminescu and the composer George Enescu. It has some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe with a wide variety of rare mammals. It remains a relatively poor country (with great resources of land and an educated people); its politics may be tainted by corruption, but its people are friendly, even gentle, and always looking to party. Apart from the criminals who we find everywhere, Romanians pose no threat to us and will make a positive contribution if they move here.

Personally I really like Germany and the Germans. But if I had Romanians living next door I think that the parties would be livelier.

Jan Morris – Travels Round My House

May 14, 2014
Jan Morris and members of the 1953 Everest team

Jan Morris and members of the 1953 Everest team

Jan Morris knows a good story when she sees one, and she is one too. A gravestone under the stairs; a posthumous book written and printed; over 60 books – history, biography and novels under her belt; Jan Morris has lived and written as a man, as a woman, and believes one day she may transcend both conditions. In this BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature we hear Jan interviewed and can listen to readings from her books.

As the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing’s conquering of Everest approaches, writer and critic Anthony Sattin visits the Welsh home of Jan Morris and gets an exclusive peek into the scrap books and mementoes from that great Imperial adventure – part of the sketches and the relics of a lifetime’s travel.

Morris recalls the scoop that made her reputation; joining the successful Everest expedition of 1953, and, against extraordinary odds, reporting the successful ascent back to The Times of London, in code, and in perfect timing – the news reached London to be announced on the morning of the Coronation.

To ferry the news back to London she employed two runners who actually ran all the way from her wind-battered tent at the foot of Everest, 180 miles to Kathmandu and back; avoiding the clutches of Daily Mail journalists, eager to steal the story.

A committed Welsh Nationalist Republican – though not actively involved in burning things down or blowing them up – Morris tells of early years in Wales, hobnobbing with more active nationalists, and of her infatuation with things as diverse as Manhattan and her recently deceased cat Ibsen. She also discusses the ‘ten confused years’ during which she undertook gender reassignment, and the approach of mortality – hence the gravestone under the stairs.

Fellow writers Pico Iyer and Sara Wheeler, both talk of the inspiration she has provided over the years.

And for Jan, the last word, “It was all in aid of fun”.

Presenter: Anthony Sattin
Reader: Eleanor Bron
Producer: Sara Jane Hall

Listen to the programme by clicking on the picture below of Mount Everest.


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

May 2, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

Nick Hunt on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live

April 30, 2014
Nick Hunt and James Naughtie

Nick Hunt after his walk with James Naughtie

Many of you will now be reading Nick Hunt’s fine new book, Walking the Woods and the Water. As is usual Nick is hard at work promoting the book in a number of ways and this Saturday, 3 May, will find him on the quirky BBC Radio 4 programme Saturday Live from 9.00 am. 

He will be joined by the acerbic food critic Jay Rayner who has managed to achieve the nickname Acid Rayner due to his sour demeanor – [Edit - listening to the show Mr Rayner comes over as a pretty friendly type].

I am sure Nick and Jay will get down to discussing the quality of food on such a long journey. If you have read the book it is no surprise to say that it was extremely variable.

We wish Nick well with this excellent opportunity to let more people know about his journey and wonderful book. Brief programme details are available here.


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