Patrick Leigh Fermor


Patrick Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick 'Paddy' Michael Leigh Fermor DSO OBE (born 11 February 1915, London) is a British author, scholar and soldier, who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Battle of Crete during World War II. He is famous for his travel writing and is widely regarded as "Britain's greatest living travel writer". [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2025178,00.html Literary legend learning to type at 92 | News | guardian.co.uk Books ] ]

Background

Leigh Fermor's father, Sir Lewis, was a distinguished geologist. Shortly after Patrick was born, his mother left to join his father in India, leaving him behind with another family. As a child, Leigh Fermor had problems with academic structure and limitations. As a result, he was sent to a school for difficult children. He was later expelled from The King's School, Canterbury when he was caught holding hands with a local greengrocer's daughter. He continued educating himself, reading texts on Greek, Latin, Shakespeare and History with the intention of entering the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Early travels

He soon decided, however, at just 18, to walk the length of Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Leigh Fermor set off on 8 December 1933, when Hitler had recently come to power in Germany, with a few clothes, the "Oxford Book of English Verse" and a volume of Horace's "Odes". He slept in barns and shepherds' huts, but also in the country houses of Central Europe with the landed gentry and aristocracy. Along the journey he listened to the many stories and dialects he came across. Two of his subsequent travel books, "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water", detail this journey and, as they were written decades later, benefit from his scholarly learning, giving a wealth of historical, geographical, linguistic and anthropological information as the narrative proceeds. A planned third volume, intended to follow the journey to its completion in Constantinople, has not yet appeared.

Leigh Fermor arrived in Constantinople on 1 January, 1935 then continued on to travel around Greece. In March, he was involved in the campaign of royalist forces in Macedonia against an attempted Republican revolt. He fell in love with Greece and its language. In Athens, he met Balasha Cantacuzène ("Bălaşa Cantacuzino"), a Romanian 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 then moved on to "Băleni", the Cantacuzène house in Moldavia, where Leigh Fermor was when World War II was declared.

World War II

He joined the Irish Guards, but due to his knowledge of Greek he was commissioned in the General List and became a liaison officer in Albania and fought in Greece and Crete. During the German occupation he returned to Crete three times, once by parachute. He was one of a small number of Special Operations Executive officers posted to organise the island's resistance to German occupation. Disguised as a shepherd, he lived for over two years in the mountains and led the party that captured and evacuated the German Commander, General Heinrich Kreipe, in 1944. The episode was immortalised in the book and later film, "Ill Met by Moonlight" in which Leigh Fermor was portrayed by Dirk Bogarde. He was awarded the DSO, was made Honorary Citizen of Heraklion and later of Kardamyli and Gytheio. The National Archives in London hold copies of Leigh Fermor's wartime dispatches from occupied Crete, in file number HS 5/728.

In 2005, a documentary film on the Cretan resistance movement entitled "" was released. The documentary, produced by filmmakers Christos and Michael Epperson, contains extensive interview segments with Leigh Fermor, filmed in 2003, in which he recounts in great detail his service in the S.O.E. and his activities on Crete, including the capture of General Kreipe.

Post war

In 1950, Leigh Fermor's first book, "The Traveller's Tree" was published about his post-war travels in the Caribbean. The book won the Heinemann Foundation Prize for Literature and established his career path. 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. Many critics and discerning readers regard his 1977 "A Time of Gifts" as one the very greatest travel books in the English language. He translated the manuscript, "The Cretan Runner", written by his former subordinate on Crete during the war, the dispatch runner George Psychoundakis, and had it published. He also wrote a novel, "The Violins of Saint-Jacques", which was turned into an opera by Malcolm Williamson.

Leigh Fermor's extraordinary charm and gift for bridging the cultural divide between the United Kingdom and the Hellenic world (for which he was knighted in 2004) was vividly described by his close friend, Lawrence Durrell, in "Bitter Lemons" (1957). During this difficult period which saw the outbreak of the Cypriot insurgency against continued British rule in 1955, an episode which severely strained Anglo-Hellenic relations, Durrell describes how Leigh Fermor visited his villa in Bellapaix: "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." (pp.103-4)

Later years

After many years together, Leigh Fermor was married in 1968 to the Hon. Joan Elizabeth Rayner, née Eyres Monsell, daughter of Viscount Monsell, who accompanied him on many of his travels until her death in Kardamyli in June 2003 aged 91. They lived part of the year in their house in an olive grove in the Mani Peninsula, southern Peloponnese, and part of the year in Worcestershire.

In February 2004 Patrick Leigh Fermor accepted the knighthood which he had declined in 1991; [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2004/01/04/do0410.xml Daily Telegraph profile] ] in February 2007, the Greek government made him Commander of the Order of the Phoenix. At the same time, it emerged that, for the first time, he had decided to work using a typewriter - having written all his books long-hand until then. [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2025178,00.html Literary legend learning to type at 92 | News | guardian.co.uk Books ] ]

Legacy

His life and work were profiled by fellow travel writer Benedict Allen in the documentary series "Travellers' Century" (2008) on BBC Four.

Books

* "The Traveller's Tree" (1950)
* "The Violins of Saint-Jacques" (1953)
* "A Time to Keep Silence" (1957)
* "Mani - Travels in the Southern Peloponnese" (1958)
* "Roumeli" (1966)
* "A Time of Gifts" (1977)
* "Between the Woods and the Water" (1986)
* "Three Letters from the Andes" (1991)
* "Words of Mercury" (2003) edited by Artemis Cooper

References

External links

* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3482547.stm Faces of the Week - you can hear Leigh Fermor's voice there]
* [http://www.era-ewv-ferp.com/index.php?page_id=29 Long Distance Paths E6, E8 and E3 trace similar routes across Europe]
* [http://www.crete1941.com Official site of the documentary film "The 11th Day" which contains an extensive interview with Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, and documents the Battle of Trahili, filmed in 2003.]


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