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Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ill met by moonlight

Well it had to come I guess. Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor was after all 96 years old. And they were 96 years well lived.
I suspect that he'll be best remembered for his wartime exploits on the German occupied island of Crete, events that he never wrote about although they are the stuff of a Boys Own annual. The Powell and Pressburger film of his adventures show their trademark love of location, a love shared by Pat. The tale of the abduction and evacuation of a nazi general is barely credible but happen it did and bizarrely the events were very much in character.
His was an educated mind but an academic failiure culminating in an assignation with a greengrocers daughter that got him expelled from Kings College Canturbury. His family believed the army would be a fitting career but a peacetime army wasnt for him and so he decided that he would tramp from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople across a continent overshadowed by the upcoming war. A Europe now long vanished, noble families, relics of the Austro-Hungarian Empire swept away in the flood of post-war communism.
His two volumes of travel memoirs A time of gifts and Between the woods and the water are extraordinary - dense, lyrical, erudite and utterly bewitching. He set off in 1932 with an allowance of £5 a month and via - hostels and monasteries, sheep byres and castles reached Constantinople on New Years Day 1935. Unfortunately the final leg of his journey will now never be detailed. He spent his 20th birthday in a monastery on Mount Athos and a month later took part in a cavalry charge suppressing a rebellion in Greece. He fell in love both with Greece where he spent many years and also a Romanian princess. On the outbreak of war he returned and joined the Intellegence Corps were he was employed as a liasion officer with the greeks fighting the Italians to a standstill and then once the Germans invaded being evacuated to Crete where he fought a guerilla war.
He published his first book The Travellers Tree in 1950 a recital of his travels in the Caribbean after the war but his love was on the Mediterranean and Greence in particular and he lived the rest of his life in the sun - soaking up all he could of life. He wrote in long hand only very recently adopting a manual typewriter which mirrored a lengthy writing process where each word was measured before use.
He married in 1968 but leaves no children.

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