A few weeks ago I heard Artemis Cooper talk about her recent biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Leigh Fermor is best known as a travel writer. His travel writings included a trilogy about his journey on foot from Rotterdam to Istanbul. The final instalment, edited by Artemis Cooper and Colin Thurbon, has only just been published.
His journey began in December 1933, when he was 18. He reached Istanbul at the start of 1935, but then travelled in Greece, before living with a Romanian noblewoman until the start of World War II. I am most interested in his war career, so will concentrate on that, but Artemis Cooper’s Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure covers all his life, not just WWII: he lived from 1915 -2011.
Leigh Fermor wanted to join the Irish Guards, but was assigned to the Intelligence Corps, because of his language skills. He was trained by SOE for operations behind enemy lines, before being sent to Crete, a vital German supply base, in June 1942. He spoke Greek, but with a clearly foreign accent.
His time with the local andartes (rebels/guerrillas) was a mixture of danger and monotony. He relaxed with poetry and song. After accidentally killing an andarte he became the target of a blood feud that was not lifted until 1972. Until then he was safe on his post-war visits to Crete only when in the company of somebody not in blood feud with his enemy. He loathed the Communist ELAS partisans because he had learnt of the famines in the USSR from his Romanian contacts.
After the Italian surrender in September 1943 Leigh Fermor escorted an Italian general off Crete. High seas meant that Leigh Fermor had to stay on the vessel that was taking the Italian to Egypt. He was parachuted back into Crete in February 1944, and planned to kidnap General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the brutal commander of the German garrison.
Bad weather delayed the arrival of the rest of the SOE party, including Captain William Stanley Moss. Müller was promoted and replaced by General Heinrich Kriepe. Leigh Fermor decided stick to the plan of kidnapping the German garrison commander.
On 26 April 1944 Leigh Fermor, Moss and a group of Cretan andartes kidnapped Kriepe. They drove him through 22 German checkpoints to a beach where they were picked up and transported to Egypt.
Leigh Fermor was awarded the DSO, but always felt that the andartes received too little credit for their role in the kidnap. After the war Moss published an account of the kidnap titled Ill Met by Moonlight. It was made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor, David Oxley as Moss and Marius Goring as Kriepe.