From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Ever since the Battle of Crete, the Amari had been a hideout from the enemy. Hundreds of British and Commonwealth stragglers left behind at Sphakia, or broken out of POW cages, had been clothed and sheltered and fed here. It was a sort of transit camp on the way to secret evacuation at a dozen points on the rocky southern coast. Guerrilla bands, harried from their native ranges, came here to lick their wounds. The place was a general haven; and there was hardly a goat-fold, or ledge of rock, or cave, or olive grove, or orchard on the mountainside that had not been the hideout of a British Liason Officer, with his signaller, wireless transmitter, guards and runners.
All of this was due to the spirit of the villagers, and the harmony and the trust that prevailed between them.
The place was notorious to the enemy. Countless searches had been unable to yield anything or to deter the Amariots. It was not just the Cretan guerrilla tradition that flourished here. It was the courage, the high spirits, the hospitality, the charm, the humour and the kindness which, throughout the Cretan mountains, accompanied the fiercer Cretan traits. The thoughtful literary strain – rather than its poetical counterpart which, in proverbs, marks the home of Retimo – seemed to hover, almost palpably, in the Amarian air. They were just as determined to win the war as anyone in the mountains with a gun; and their losses, by the end, were terrible. But the particular task of the region – as vital and difficult as attack – was that of preservation, rescue and sanctuary.
The reaction to the capture, all over Crete, was – it seems – one of unbridled hilarity and jubilation. Antoni related all the rumours and all the talk of the villages: what a smack in the face for General Müller and for the whole German garrison. And – as a wonderful example of the Cretocentric theory of the universe among the simpler of its islanders – they could just imagine how furious Hitler must have been. (None of our party had thought as far afield as this; presumably the remote abduction had been mentioned in despatches; could there have been a minor outburst in the Wolf’s Hole?)
It was the same in Canea and Retimo – we learned from Micky and Elias, who had suddenly arrived, after walking from the bus stop at Retimo and wisely heading for Antoni’s village. And in Herakleion, too. Nothing but grins and innuendo in the street. Almost overt rejoicing, in fact. And somewhat surprisingly, intrigued amusement – here and there – among the lower ranks of the Germans themselves. And of course, utter fury and bewilderment higher up.
Micky, after the General had been introduced to the missing two of his captors, told him – through me – that all the guards of the villa were under arrest, and that his aide-de-camp was in prison, on suspicion of complicity. The General’s blue eyes opened wide with disbelief, then he laughed delightedly. He couldn’t bear him, the General told us. The man was a complete dunce.
The night of 2 May was hard to endure. There we were, only a few miles from the lonely shore, where, if all had gone well, we should have been stumbling along, for the last time, down those steep crags running down to the sea, hearing the purr of the engine out to sea, flashing our signals, watching for the sailors’ white uniforms materialising across the dark of the cove as the creak of the rowlocks grew louder; answering muted hails over the water; then sneaking aboard with our captive and our confederates. (Should the General be piped aboard? After all, we had done our best to maintain standards under trying circumstances.)
Would Billy’s Captain, the bluff and bearded Brian Coleman, greet us from the wheel? Soon, as the ship turned about, we would be waving to our dwindling comrades on the rocks as we headed for Africa before the moon got up; then, down to the soft lights of the wardroom, the glow of mahogany and polished brass, the clink of ice. (Pink gin? Whisky? Brandy? Champagne perhaps?) The great silhouette of the island, with the icy watershed of Ida and the White Mountains flashing in the moonlight, would diminish through the porthole.
Red Tabs to greet us the next day at Mersa Matruh, then the flight to Cairo, pointing out to the General the wreckage of all the battles of Montgomery’s advance in the desert below, perhaps persuading the pilot to fly in a loop that would embrace El Alamein, landing at Heliopolis; presenting arms, goodbye to the General; and then, returning in glory to Clusium’s royal home, with all the delights of Cairo waiting.
This, roughly, was the talk, in English and in Greek, that accompanied the consoling circuits of the raki bottle among the brambles.
Tomorrow night perhaps.