Patrick Leigh Fermor

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Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor
Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1966.jpg
Leigh Fermor in 1966
BornPatrick Michael Leigh Fermor
(1915-02-11)11 February 1915
London, England
Died10 June 2011(2011-06-10) (aged 96)
Dumbleton, England
OccupationAuthor, scholar and soldier
Notable worksA Time of Gifts, Abducting a General
Notable awardsKnight Bachelor; Distinguished Service Order; Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Spouse Joan Leigh Fermor, née Hon. Joan Eyres-Monsell
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Service/branchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Years of service1940–1946
Rank Major
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Officer of the Order of the British Empire

Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE (11 February 1915 – 10 June 2011), also known as Paddy Fermor, was a British author, scholar, soldier and polyglot [1] who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during the Second World War. [2] He was widely regarded as Britain's greatest living travel writer during his lifetime, [3] based on books such as A Time of Gifts (1977). A BBC journalist once described him as "a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene." [4] The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society was formed in 2014. [5]

Distinguished Service Order UK military decoration

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat. Since 1993 all ranks have been eligible.

Order of the British Empire British order of chivalry

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

Cretan resistance

The Cretan resistance was a resistance movement against the occupying forces of Nazi Germany and Italy by the residents of the Greek island of Crete during World War II. Part of the larger Greek Resistance, it lasted from 20 May 1941, when the German Wehrmacht invaded the island in the Battle of Crete, until the spring of 1945 when they surrendered to the British. For the first time during World War II, attacking German forces faced in Crete a substantial resistance from the local population. Cretan civilians picked off paratroopers or attacked them with knives, axes, scythes or even bare hands. As a result, many casualties were inflicted upon the invading German paratroopers during the battle.


Early life and education

Fermor was born in London, the son of Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, a distinguished geologist, and Muriel Aeyleen, daughter of Charles Taafe Ambler. [6] Shortly after his birth, his mother and sister left to join his father in India, leaving the infant Patrick in England with a family in Northamptonshire: first in the village of Weedon, and later in nearby Dodford. He did not meet his parents or his sister again until he was four years old. As a child Leigh Fermor had problems with academic structure and limitations, and was sent to a school for "difficult" children. He was later expelled from The King's School, Canterbury after he was caught holding hands with a greengrocer's daughter.

Lewis Leigh Fermor British geologist

Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, OBE, FRS, was a British chemist and geologist and the first president of the Indian National Science Academy and a director of the Geological Survey of India (1930-1935). His son was the writer and traveller, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Northamptonshire County of England

Northamptonshire, archaically known as the County of Northampton, is a county in the East Midlands of England. In 2015 it had a population of 723,000. The county is administered by Northamptonshire County Council and by seven non-metropolitan district councils. It is known as "The Rose of the Shires".

Weedon Bec farm village in the United Kingdom

Weedon Bec, usually just Weedon, is a large village and parish in the district of Daventry, Northamptonshire, England. It lies close to the source of the River Nene. The population of the civil parish as of the 2011 census is 2,706.

His last report from The King's School noted that the young Leigh Fermor was "a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness". [7] He continued learning by reading texts on Greek, Latin, Shakespeare and History, with the intention of entering the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Gradually he changed his mind, deciding to become an author instead, and in the summer of 1933 relocated to Shepherd Market in London, living with a few friends. Soon, faced with the challenges of an author's life in London and rapidly draining finances, he set upon leaving for Europe. [8]

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Royal Military College, Sandhurst British Army military academy

The Royal Military College (RMC), founded in 1801 and established in 1802 at Great Marlow and High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England, but moved in October 1812 to Sandhurst, Berkshire, was a British Army military academy for training infantry and cavalry officers of the British and Indian Armies.

Early travels

At the age of 18 Leigh Fermor decided to walk the length of Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (Istanbul). [9] He set off on 8 December 1933 with a few clothes, several letters of introduction, the Oxford Book of English Verse and a Loeb volume of Horace's Odes . He slept in barns and shepherds' huts, but also was invited by landed gentry and aristocracy into the country houses of Central Europe. He experienced hospitality in many monasteries along the way. Two of his later travel books, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), were about this journey. A book on the final part of his journey was unfinished at the time of Leigh Fermor's death, but was published as The Broken Road: Travels from Bulgaria to Mount Athos in September 2013 by John Murray. The book draws on Leigh Fermor's diary at the time and on an early draft he wrote in the 1960s. [10]

Hook of Holland Place in South Holland, Netherlands

The Hook of Holland is a town in the southwestern corner of Holland, at the mouth of the New Waterway shipping canal into the North Sea. The town is administered by the municipality of Rotterdam as a district of that city. Its district covers an area of 16.7 km2, of which 13.92 km2 is land. On 1 January 1999 it had an estimated population of 9,400.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Byzantine Empire, of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). In 1923 the capital of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, was moved to Ankara and the name Constantinople was officially changed to Istanbul. The city was located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul.

Istanbul Metropolitan municipality in Marmara, Turkey

Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosporus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives in suburbs on the Asian side of the Bosporus. With a total population of around 15 million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world's most populous cities, ranking as the world's fourth largest city proper and the largest European city. The city is the administrative center of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul is a bridge between the East and West.

Leigh Fermor arrived in Istanbul on 1 January 1935, then continued to travel around Greece. In March he was involved in the campaign of royalist forces in Macedonia against an attempted Republican revolt. In Athens he met Balasha Cantacuzène (Bălaşa Cantacuzino), a Romanian Phanariote noblewoman, with whom he fell in love. They shared an old watermill outside the city looking out towards Poros, where she painted and he wrote. They moved on to Băleni, Galați, the Cantacuzène house in Moldavia, Romania, where he remained until the autumn of 1939. [2] On learning that Britain had declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 Leigh Fermor immediately left Romania to return home and enlist in the army. [11]

Macedonia (Greece) Traditional region of Greece

Macedonia is a geographic and administrative region of Greece, in the southern Balkans. Macedonia is the largest and second-most-populous Greek region, with a population of 2.38 million in 2017. The region is highly mountainous, with most major urban centres such as Thessaloniki and Kavala being concentrated on its southern coastline. Together with Thrace, and sometimes also Thessaly and Epirus, it is part of Northern Greece. Greek Macedonia encompasses entirely the southern part of the region of Macedonia, making up 51% of the total area of the region. It also contains Mount Athos, an autonomous monastic region of Greece. Macedonia forms part of Greece's national frontier with three countries: Bulgaria to the northeast, North Macedonia to the north, and Albania to the northwest.

Athens Capital and largest city of Greece

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and its earliest human presence starting somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

Poros Place in Greece

Poros is a small Greek island-pair in the southern part of the Saronic Gulf, about 58 km (36 mi) south from Piraeus and separated from the Peloponnese by a 200 m (656 ft) wide sea channel, with the town of Galatas on the mainland across the strait. Its surface area is about 31 square kilometres (12 sq mi) and it has 3,780 inhabitants. The ancient name of Poros was Pogon. Like other ports in the Saronic, it is a popular weekend destination for Athenian travellers.

Second World War

Members of the Kreipe abduction team (from l. to r.): Georgios Tyrakis, Moss, Leigh Fermor, Emmanouil Paterakis, and Antonios Papaleonidas. The two British officers are in German uniform. Kreipe Abduction Team.jpg
Members of the Kreipe abduction team (from l. to r.): Georgios Tyrakis, Moss, Leigh Fermor, Emmanouil Paterakis, and Antonios Papaleonidas. The two British officers are in German uniform.

As an officer cadet, Leigh Fermor trained alongside Derek Bond [12] and Iain Moncreiffe, and later joined the Irish Guards. Due to his knowledge of modern Greek, he was commissioned in the General List in August 1940 [13] and became a liaison officer in Albania. He fought in Crete and mainland Greece. During the German occupation, he returned to Crete three times, once by parachute. He was one of a small number of Special Operations Executive (SOE) officers posted to organise the island's resistance to the occupation. Disguised as a shepherd and nicknamed Michalis or Filedem, he lived for over two years in the mountains. With Captain Bill Stanley Moss as his second in command, Leigh Fermor led the party that in 1944 captured and evacuated the German commander, General Heinrich Kreipe. [14] There is a memorial commemorating Kreipe's abduction near Archanes in Crete. [15]

Derek Bond British actor

Derek William Douglas Bond, MC was a British actor. He was President of the trade union Equity, 1984 – 1986.

Iain Moncreiffe British officer of arms

Sir Rupert Iain Kay Moncreiffe of that Ilk, 11th Baronet, CVO, QC, Chief of Clan Moncreiffe, was a British Officer of Arms and genealogist.

Irish Guards part of the Guards Division, is one of the Foot Guards regiments of the British Army

The Irish Guards (IG), part of the Guards Division, is one of the Foot Guards regiments of the British Army and, together with the Royal Irish Regiment, it is one of the two Irish infantry regiments in the British Army. The regiment has participated in campaigns in the First World War, the Second World War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan as well as numerous other conflicts throughout their history. The Irish Guards claims six Victoria Cross recipients, four from the First World War and two from the Second World War.

Moss featured the events of the Cretan capture in his book Ill Met by Moonlight . [7] (The 2014 edition contains an Afterword written by Leigh Fermor in 2001, setting the context of the operation.) It was later adapted in a film by the same name. It was directed/produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and released in 1957. In the film, Leigh Fermor was portrayed by Dirk Bogarde. [2] Leigh Fermor's own account Abducting A General – The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete was published in October 2014. [16] [17]

Wartime honours and legacy

The National Archives in London holds copies of Leigh Fermor's wartime dispatches from occupied Crete in file number HS 5/728.

Leigh Fermor, photographed by Dimitri Papadimos Patrick Leigh Fermor.jpg
Leigh Fermor, photographed by Dimitri Papadimos

After the war

In 1950 Leigh Fermor published his first book, The Traveller's Tree, about his post-war travels in the Caribbean. The book won the Heinemann Foundation Prize for Literature and established his career. The reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement wrote: "Mr Leigh Fermor never loses sight of the fact, not always grasped by superficial visitors, that most of the problems of the West Indies are the direct legacy of the slave trade." [20] It was quoted extensively in Live and Let Die, by Ian Fleming. [21] He went on to write several further books of his journeys, including Mani and Roumeli, of his travels on mule and foot around remote parts of Greece.

Central part of Leigh Fermor's villa at Kalamitsi, Kardamyli Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor's villa at Kalamitsi, Kardamyli.jpg
Central part of Leigh Fermor's villa at Kalamitsi, Kardamyli
Leigh Fermor's office, c. 2009, view of French wallpaper Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor office, c. 2009, view of French wallpaper.jpg
Leigh Fermor's office, c. 2009, view of French wallpaper
Desk in Leigh Fermor's garden near Kardamyli, 2007 Desk in the P. M. L. Fermor garden near Kardamyli, August 2007.jpg
Desk in Leigh Fermor's garden near Kardamyli, 2007
Leigh Fermor's grave at St Peter's, Dumbleton in Gloucestershire St Peter's church, Dumbleton, churchyard, PLF 08.jpg
Leigh Fermor's grave at St Peter's, Dumbleton in Gloucestershire

Leigh Fermor translated the manuscript The Cretan Runner written by George Psychoundakis, a dispatch runner on Crete during the war, and helped Psychoundakis get his work published. Leigh Fermor also wrote a novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques , which was adapted as an opera by Malcolm Williamson. His friend Lawrence Durrell recounts in his book Bitter Lemons (1957) how, during the Cypriot insurgency against continued British rule in 1955, Leigh Fermor visited Durrell's villa in Bellapais, Cyprus:

After a splendid dinner by the fire he starts singing, songs of Crete, Athens, Macedonia. When I go out to refill the ouzo bottle...I find the street completely filled with people listening in utter silence and darkness. Everyone seems struck dumb. 'What is it?' I say, catching sight of Frangos. 'Never have I heard of Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!' Their reverent amazement is touching; it is as if they want to embrace Paddy wherever he goes. [22]

Later years

After living with her for many years Leigh Fermor was married in 1968 to the Honourable Joan Elizabeth Rayner (née Eyres Monsell), daughter of Bolton Eyres-Monsell, 1st Viscount Monsell. She accompanied him on many of his travels until her death in Kardamyli in June 2003, aged 91. They had no children. [23] They lived part of the year in their house in an olive grove near Kardamyli in the Mani Peninsula, southern Peloponnese, and part of the year in Gloucestershire.

Leigh Fermor was knighted in the 2004 New Years Honours. [24] In 2007, he said that, for the first time, he had decided to work using a typewriter, having written all his books longhand until then. [3] The house at Kardamyli was featured in the 2013 film Before Midnight. [25]

He opened his home in Kardamyli to the local villagers on his name day. [26] New Zealand writer Maggie Rainey-Smith (who was staying in the area while researching for her next book) joined in with his name day celebration in November 2007, and, after his death, posted some of the photographs taken that day. [27] [28]

Leigh Fermor influenced a whole generation of British travel writers, including Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron, Philip Marsden, Nicholas Crane and Rory Stewart. [29]

Death and funeral

Leigh Fermor was noted for his strong physical constitution, even though he smoked 80 to 100 cigarettes a day. [30] Although in his last years he suffered from tunnel vision and wore hearing aids, he remained physically fit up to his death and dined at table on the last evening of his life.

For the last few months of his life Leigh Fermor suffered from a cancerous tumour, and in early June 2011 he underwent a tracheotomy in Greece. As death was close, according to local Greek friends, he expressed a wish to visit England to say good-bye to his friends, and then return to die in Kardamyli, though it is also stated that he actually wished to die in England and be buried next to his wife. [31]

Leigh Fermor died in England, aged 96, on 10 June 2011, the day after his return. [32] His funeral took place at St Peter's Church, Dumbleton, Gloucestershire, on 16 June 2011. A Guard of Honour was provided by serving and former members of the Intelligence Corps, and a bugler from the Irish Guards sounded the Last Post and reveille. Leigh Fermor is buried next to his wife in the churchyard at Dumbleton. The Greek inscription is a quotation from Cavafy [33] that can be translated as "In addition, he was that best of all things, Hellenic".

Awards and legacy

Leigh Fermor's signature-and-address manuscript stamp, in Greek Manifestation of Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor's Greek signature and address manuscript stamp.jpg
Leigh Fermor's signature-and-address manuscript stamp, in Greek






Books about Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor

See also

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  1. Sir Max Hastings, who first encountered Leigh Fermor while in his early 20s, says: "Across the lunch table of a London club, hearing him swapping anecdotes, in four or five languages, quite effortlessly, without showing off. I was just jaw-dropped." (
  2. 1 2 3 "Patrick Leigh Fermor (obituary)". The Daily Telegraph . London. 10 June 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 Smith, Helena "Literary legend learning to type at 92", The Guardian (2 March 2007).
  4. Woodward, Richard B. (11 June 2011). "Patrick Leigh Fermor, Travel Writer, Dies at 96". The New York Times . Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  5. The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society
  6. His mother, Muriel Eileen (or Aeyleen), who was born 26 April 1890 and died, at 54 Marine Parade, Brighton, on 22 October 1977, was the daughter of Charles Taafe Ambler (1840–1925) whose father was Warrant Officer (William) James Ambler on HMS Bellerophon, with Captain Maitland, when Napoleon surrendered. Muriel and Lewis married on 2 April 1890.
  7. 1 2 Cooper, Artemis (11 June 2011). "Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor: Soldier, scholar and celebrated travel writer hailed as the best of his time". The Independent . Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  8. Leigh Fermor, Patrick (2005). A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (Pbk ed.). New York: New York Review Books. ISBN   1-59017-165-9.
  9. Gross, Matt (23 May 2010). "Frugal Europe, on Foot". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010. It was December 1933, and an 18-year-old Englishman named Patrick Leigh Fermor put on a pair of hobnail boots and a secondhand greatcoat, gathered up his rucksack and left London on a ship bound for Rotterdam, where he planned to travel 1,400 miles to Istanbul—on foot.
  10. Flood, Alison. "Patrick Leigh Fermor's final volume will be published", The Guardian (20 December 2011).
  11. Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, 2012, p. 120.
  12. Derek Bond, Steady, Old Man! Don't You Know There's a War On, (1990), London: Leo Cooper, ISBN   0-85052-046-0, p. 19.
  13. "General List" The London Gazette (20 August 1940), Issue 34928, p. 10.
  14. Howarth, Patrick. Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000; ISBN   978-1-84212-240-2.
  15. Banasakis, Georgios. "Αφιερωμα ςτη μνημη της ομαδας απαγωγης του διοικητη των Γερμανικων Δυnαμεων κατοχης (ςτρατηγου Κραιπε) 24-04-1944" ("Tribute to the memory of the abduction of the Governor of the German occupation (General Kraipe) 24-04-1944") (photograph) (23 September 2008).
  16. Leigh Fermor, Patrick, Abducting a General, John Murray, 2014.
  17. Andy Walker (10 October 2014). "Patrick Leigh Fermor: Crossing Europe and kidnapping a German general". BBC News. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  18. "To be Additional Officers of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order" The London Gazette (14 October 1943), Issue 36209, p. 4540.
  19. "The Distinguished Service Order" The London Gazette (13 July 1944), Issue 36605, p. 3274.
  20. Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, 2012, p. 250.
  21. Chancellor, Henry (2005). James Bond: The Man and His World. London: John Murray. p. 43. ISBN   978-0-7195-6815-2.
  22. Durrell, Lawrence. Bitter Lemons, pp. 103–104.
  23. "Joan Leigh Fermor". The Independent. 10 June 2003. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  24. Diplomatic Service and Overseas List The London Gazette (31 December 2003)
  25. Brevet, Brad (22 May 2013). "Before Midnight Location Map – Celine and Jesse Vacation in Greece". Rope of Silicon. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  26. Rainey-Smith, Maggie (10 June 2008). "Greece: The write stuff". NZ herald. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  27. "Maggie Rainey-Smith's tribute to Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and her 2007 meeting". Patrick Leigh Fermor. 11 June 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  28. Rainey-Smith, Maggie (11 June 2011). "Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor". A curious half-hour: conversations with my keyboard. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  29. Dalrymple, William (6 September 2008). "Patrick Leigh Fermor: The man who walked". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  30. "Travelling man: Biographer of a charmer" (review), The Economist (20 October 2012).
  31. "The Man of the Mani", Radio 4 (22 June 2015).
  32. Associated Press.
  33. Boukalas, Pantelis (7 February 2010). "Υποθέσεις" [Hypotheses] (in Greek). Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  34. "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  35. "Leigh Fermor, Patrick Michael", International Who's Who of Authors and Writers, 2004.
  36. Hastings, Max. "Patrick Leigh Fermor: Profile", The Daily Telegraph, 4 January 2004.
  37. Campbell, James. "Patrick Leigh Fermor obituary", The Guardian (10 June 2011)
  38. Sattin, Anthony (15 September 2013). "The Broken Road – A Review". The Observer. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  39. edited by Peter Quennell
  40. about the Mani

Further reading