Patrick Leigh Fermor

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, based on books such as A Time of Gifts (1977).[3] A BBC journalist once described him as "a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene".[4]

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor
Leigh Fermor in 1966
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
SpouseJoan Leigh Fermor, née Hon. Joan Eyres-Monsell
Military career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1940–1946
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
Officer of the Order of the British Empire

Early life and educationEdit

Leigh Fermor was born in London, the son of Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, a distinguished geologist, and Muriel Aeyleen, daughter of Charles Taafe Ambler.[5] 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.

His last report from The King's School noted that the young Leigh Fermor was "a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness".[6] 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.[7]

Early travelsEdit

At the age of 18 Leigh Fermor decided to walk the length of Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (Istanbul).[8] 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. But at the time of his death, a book on the final part of his journey remained unfinished. To address that, with editing and assembling of Leigh Fermor's diary of the time and an early draft he wrote in the 1960s, The Broken Road was published by John Murray in September 2013.[9]

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.[10]

Second World WarEdit

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[11] 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[12] 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, and 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, Major General Heinrich Kreipe.[13] There is a memorial commemorating Kreipe's abduction near Archanes in Crete.[14]

Moss featured the events of the Cretan capture in his book Ill Met by Moonlight.[6] (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, which 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.[15][16]

During periods of leave, Leigh Fermor spent time at Tara, a villa in Cairo rented by Moss, where the "rowdy household" of SOE officers was presided over by Countess Zofia (Sophie) Tarnowska.[2]

Wartime honoursEdit

Leigh Fermor, photographed by Dimitri Papadimos

After the warEdit

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."[19] It was quoted extensively in Live and Let Die, by Ian Fleming.[20] He went on to write several further books of his journeys, including Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and Roumeli, of his travels on mule and foot around remote parts of Greece.

Central part of Leigh Fermor's villa at Kalamitsi, Kardamyli
Leigh Fermor's office, c. 2009, view of French wallpaper
Desk in Leigh Fermor's garden near Kardamyli, 2007
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.[21]

Later yearsEdit

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.[22] 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.

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]

He opened his home in Kardamyli to the local villagers on his name day.[23] 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.[24][25] The house at Kardamyli was featured in the 2013 film Before Midnight.[26]

Leigh Fermor influenced a generation of British travel writers, including Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron, Philip Marsden, Nicholas Crane and Rory Stewart.[27]

Death and funeralEdit

Leigh Fermor was noted for his strong physical constitution, even though he smoked 80 to 100 cigarettes a day.[28] 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.[29]

Leigh Fermor died in England, aged 96, on 10 June 2011, the day after his return.[30] 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[31] that can be translated as "In addition, he was that best of all things, Hellenic".

Awards and honoursEdit

Leigh Fermor's signature-and-address manuscript stamp, in Greek


The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society was formed in 2014.[36]

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

A repository of many of his letters, books, postcards and other miscellaneous writings can be found within the Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.



  • The Traveller's Tree. (1950)
  • The Violins of Saint-Jacques. (1953)
  • A Time to Keep Silence (1957), with photographs by Joan Eyres Monsell.[37] This was an early publication from the Queen Anne Press, a company managed by Leigh Fermor's friend Ian Fleming. In this book he describes his experiences in several monasteries, and the profound effect the time spent in them had on him.
  • Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958)
  • Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (1966)
  • A Time of Gifts – On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977, published by John Murray)
  • Between the Woods and the Water – On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland: the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates (1986)
  • Three Letters from the Andes (1991)
  • Words of Mercury (2003), edited by Artemis Cooper
  • Introduction to Into Colditz by Lt Colonel Miles Reid (Michael Russell Publishing Ltd, Wilton, 1983). The story of Reid's captivity in Colditz and eventual escape by faking illness so as to qualify for repatriation. Reid had served with Leigh Fermor in Greece and was captured there trying to defend the Corinth Canal bridge in 1941.
  • Foreword of Albanian Assignment by Colonel David Smiley (Chatto & Windus, London, 1984). The story of SOE in Albania, by a brother in arms of Leigh Fermor, who was later a MI6 agent.
  • In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley. (Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest of the six Mitford sisters, was the wife of the 11th Duke of Devonshire).
  • The Broken Road – Travels from Bulgaria to Mount Athos (2013), edited by Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron from PLF's unfinished manuscript of the third volume of his account of his walk across Europe in the 1930s.[38]
  • Abducting A General – The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete (2014)
  • Dashing for the Post: the Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor (2017), edited by Adam Sisman
  • More Dashing: Further Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor (2018), edited by Adam Sisman




  • "A Monastery", in The Cornhill Magazine, London, no. 979, Summer, 1949.
  • "From Solesmes to La Grande Trappe", in The Cornhill Magazine,[39] John Murray, London, no. 982, Spring 1950.
  • "Voodoo Rites in Haiti", in World Review, London, October 1950.
  • "The Rock-Monasteries of Cappadocia", in The Cornhill Magazine, London, no. 986, Spring 1951.
  • "The Monasteries of the Air", in The Cornhill Magazine, London, no. 987, Summer 1951.
  • "The Entrance to Hades",[40] in The Cornhill Magazine, London, no. 1011, Spring 1957.
  • "Swish! Swish! Swish!",[41] originally written for the Greek edition of Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, first appeared in The London Review of Books, London, Vol. 43, No. 15, 29 July 2021.

Books about Patrick and Joan Leigh FermorEdit

  • Artemis Cooper: Patrick Leigh Fermor. An Adventure (2012)
  • Dolores Payás: Drink Time! In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor (2014)
  • Helias Doundoulakis, Gabriella Gafni: My Unique Lifetime Association with Patrick Leigh Fermor (2015)
  • Simon Fenwick: Joan. The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor (2017)
  • Michael O'Sullivan: Patrick Leigh Fermor, Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania (2018)

See alsoEdit

Others with or alongside the SOE in Crete:



  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. ^ a b c d "Patrick Leigh Fermor (obituary)". The Daily Telegraph. London. 10 June 2011.
  3. ^ a b c 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. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Flood, Alison. "Patrick Leigh Fermor's final volume will be published", The Guardian (20 December 2011).
  10. ^ Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, 2012, p. 120.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "General List" The London Gazette Supplement (20 August 1940), Issue 34928, p. 5146.
  13. ^ Howarth, Patrick. Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000; ISBN 978-1-84212-240-2.
  14. ^ Banasakis, Georgios. "Αφιέρωμα στη μνήμη της ομάδας απαγωγής του διοικητή των Γερμανικών Δυνάμεων κατοχής (στρατηγού Κράιπε) 24-04-1944" ("Tribute to the memory of the abduction of the Governor of the German occupation (General Kraipe) 24-04-1944") (photograph) Archived 9 March 2019 at the Wayback Machine (23 September 2008).
  15. ^ Leigh Fermor, Patrick, Abducting a General, John Murray, 2014.
  16. ^ Andy Walker (10 October 2014). "Patrick Leigh Fermor: Crossing Europe and kidnapping a German general". BBC News. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  17. ^ "To be Additional Officers of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order" The London Gazette (14 October 1943), Issue 36209, p. 4540.
  18. ^ "The Distinguished Service Order" The London Gazette (13 July 1944), Issue 36605, p. 3274.
  19. ^ Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, 2012, p. 250.
  20. ^ Chancellor, Henry (2005). James Bond: The Man and His World. London: John Murray. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-7195-6815-2.
  21. ^ Durrell, Lawrence. Bitter Lemons, pp. 103–104.
  22. ^ "Joan Leigh Fermor". The Independent. 10 June 2003. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  23. ^ Rainey-Smith, Maggie (10 June 2008). "Greece: The write stuff". NZ herald. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  24. ^ "Maggie Rainey-Smith's tribute to Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and her 2007 meeting". Patrick Leigh Fermor. 11 June 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  25. ^ Rainey-Smith, Maggie (11 June 2011). "Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor". A curious half-hour: conversations with my keyboard. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  26. ^ Brevet, Brad (22 May 2013). "Before Midnight Location Map – Celine and Jesse Vacation in Greece". Rope of Silicon. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  27. ^ Dalrymple, William (6 September 2008). "Patrick Leigh Fermor: The man who walked". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  28. ^ "Travelling man: Biographer of a charmer" (review), The Economist (20 October 2012).
  29. ^ "The Man of the Mani", Radio 4 (22 June 2015).
  30. ^ Associated Press.
  31. ^ Boukalas, Pantelis (7 February 2010). "Υποθέσεις" [Hypotheses] (in Greek). Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  32. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  33. ^ "Leigh Fermor, Patrick Michael", International Who's Who of Authors and Writers, 2004.
  34. ^ Hastings, Max. "Patrick Leigh Fermor: Profile", The Daily Telegraph, 4 January 2004.
  35. ^ Diplomatic Service and Overseas List The London Gazette (31 December 2003)
  36. ^ "The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society". Archived from the original on 16 November 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  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
  41. ^ on the Mani olive harvest.

Further reading

External linksEdit