Patrick Leigh Fermor 1915-2011

Christopher Hitchens’ wonderful farewell salute to a great man. Extract:

One of Leigh Fermor’s colleagues, another distinguished classicist named Montague Woodhouse, once told me that Greek villagers urged him to strike the hardest possible blows against the Nazis, so as to make the inevitable reprisals worthwhile. He lived up to this by demolishing the Gorgapotamos viaduct in 1942, wrecking Nazi communications. But the brutality of the combat doesn’t negate that moment of civilized gallantry at Mount Ida, where the idea of culture over barbarism also scored a brief triumph. (Woodhouse went on to become a Conservative politician and active Cold Warrior, but while fighting Hitler he was quite happy to work with Communist and nationalist fighters, and he wrote in his memoirs that “the only bearable war is a war of national liberation.”)

What a cast of literally classic characters this league of gentleman comprised. Bernard Knox went with poet John Cornford to fight for the Spanish Republic, was later parachuted into France and Italy to arrange the covert demolition and sabotage of Vichy and Mussolini, and, after the war, set up the Center for Hellenic Studies at Yale. Nicholas Hammond, who had walked rifle in hand over the mountains of Epirus and Macedonia, later suggested from his study of the terrain that those seeking the burial treasure of Philip of Macedon might consider digging at Vergina. (He was right.) Some of the brotherhood was very much to the left: Basil Davidson helped organize Tito’s red partisans in Bosnia, and after the war he went to work with the African rebels who fought against fascist Portugal’s dirty empire. Frank Thompson, brother of the British Marxist historian Edward Thompson, was liaison officer to the resistance in Bulgaria before being betrayed and executed. Others were more ambivalent: Sir Fitzroy Maclean was a Tory aristocrat but helped persuade Churchill that Tito’s forces in Yugoslavia were harder fighters than the monarchists when it came to killing Nazis. On the more traditional side of British derring-do, Billy McLean and Julian Amery emerged from the guerrilla resistance in Albania with a lively hatred of Communism and later took part in several quixotic attempts to “roll back” the Iron Curtain. Col. David Smiley saw irregular action in almost every theater, and in the 1960s and 1970s he organized the almost unique defeat of a Communist insurgency in Oman.

Now the bugle has sounded for the last and perhaps the most Byronic of this astonishing generation.

Lots more from The Greatest Living Englishman website. Here is Erik Bruns:

Many will remember the TV show This is Your Life. Greek television had their own version, and in 1972 it was Paddy’s turn to be embarrassed and surprised by meeting again people that he had come across in his life. His surprise and clear delight at meeting with the ‘Abduction Gang’ of Cretan Andartes is clear. The ‘senior’ partisans, Manoli and George (see picture left) are the first two guests, and they seem barely changed.

The highlight must be when the presenter introduces a slightly frail General Heinrich Kreipe. Paddy is delighted to see him again, and immediately starts to talk to the General in German saying how good it is to see him after all these years. (more…)

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