From The Sea To The Milky Way

Posted on November 10, 2017 by Cape Rebel

From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor


Manoli, Andrea, Kotsiphis and I climbed down from the rocks and the roots in the afternoon, to see what the Germans were up to. All was quiet. Andrea went up the cliff again, and we lay and smoked behind a rock until the others should come. Manoli reckoned that we must have seen about four hundred people since the capture. Knowing Crete, he went on with a wry smile, many hundreds more must have a pretty good idea of our whereabouts by now. Yet here we were.

To avoid the look of too large a procession, the others came down in two parties, and we all lay up until nightfall on a ledge in a deep hollow of the cliffs, where an icy spring trickled down the rocks. An old Rodakiniot had walled it in with sea boulders, to make a little grotto, like a hermitage, deeply shaded by fig trees and oleanders. We soaked Stathi’s hard bread, and munched it with the old man’s onions and lettuces and radishes, and sat talking until long after dark. Then we crossed the short distance to the little cove we hoped to leave from. It seemed to us all, with its walls of rock on either side, and the sand and the pebbles, the lapping of the water, and the stars, a quiet place for our adventure to end.

As we stood about, talking in whispers at first, although there was no one to be afraid of, Andartes climbed down the rocks in twos and threes to join us. There were the Rodakino Kapitans, Khombitis and Manoli Yanna and Andrea Kotsiphis, and there too, suddenly, with the great fair moustache that had made us christen him Beowulf, was Petraka, the Kapitan of the Asi Gonia band, and one of our closest friends on the island. He had brought a contingent of Goniots to join the other Andartes in guarding our departure, and also to say goodbye.

The place was filling up like a drawing room. Groups were lounging about among the rocks or strolling with slung guns, conversing in low tones.

Quietly composed, with his sling neatly retied by Manoli, the General sat on a rock by the water’s edge. I said it would be nice for him to be in a bunk with sheets, after all our ups and downs. Billy told him we’d all soon be eating lobster sandwiches – the captain of the ship was famous for them. The General smiled: ‘Danke, Herr Major; Merci mon Capitaine’, as much at the intention as at the prospect of these delights. He had had a rotten time, and he knew we were trying to be nice.

Signalling was to begin at 10 o’clock, not Monkey King after all, but S.B. (Sugar Baker), once every five minutes. To our consternation, we realised that neither of us knew what B was in Morse code; only the S from SOS. Billy flashed the three short dots, then a sort of ‘S’ something, in the hopes that Brian Coleman, the captain, would make allowances for us not being regular soldiers.

At last we all thought we could hear the ship’s engine, and a wave of excitement ran along the beach. Then, after a series of faster signals, the sound grew fainter and seemed to die away, and a mood ofdismay assailed us all. These awful moments often occurred on beaches at times like these. Perhaps it was because one’s ears, after straining out to sea, played tricks; but today there was a real reason for concern.

This agony was finally resolved by the arrival of Dennis, who was also due to leave. Fortunately, he knew Morse code, and we started desperately flashing the correct signal. At last, faint at first, then gradually louder, the sound of the ship came to us, and a great sigh of relief rose from the waterline. (It occurs to me now that we ought to have asked the General. He must have been as eager to go as we now were. Did we not think of it, or was it shame at our amateur status?)

There was a slight coil of mist over the sea, so it was not until she was quite close that we saw the ship. We could hear the rattle of the anchor going down. Then two boats were lowered. They headed for theshore, full of dark shapes. We had forgotten all about George Jellicoe’s raiding forces. We could soon see that the boats were manned by figures in berets and jerkins, all bristling with sub-machine guns. When thekeels touched the pebbles, they leapt into the shallow water and rushed ashore at full tilt. I heard someone shout my name. They thought we might have had to retreat, fighting to the rendezvous. When they saw that we were unsoiled, I think they were all a bit downcast, especially the commander, who was not Jellicoe, but Bob Bury, whom I hadn’t seen for three years.

I introduced him to all of the party, and to the guerrilla leaders who were crowding about us, in a state ofgreat jubilation, and to the General. He bowed stiffly, shook hands, and said: ‘Sehr gefällig, Herr General,’ in a perfect German accent.

The moment had come. Bob Bury and his commandos emptied their rucksacks of all their stores and cigarettes, and handed them over to those of our companions who were remaining. We all pulled off our boots to leave them behind: this was always done – even in rags they came in useful. Soon we were saying goodbye to Petraka, and the Rodakino Kapitans, and Yanni Katsias, and the guerrillas, and lastly to Antoni Zoidakis. We all embraced like grizzly bears. I tried to persuade Antoni to come with us. He wavered a moment, and then decided against it. I wish he had. A sailor said: ‘Excuse me, sir, but we ought to get a move on.’

As we neared the ship, the figures waving along the shore began to grow indistinct among the shadows and, very fast, it was hard to single out the cove from the tremendous mountain mass that soared from thesea to the Milky Way.

The ship grew larger, her pom-poms and Bofors anti-aircraft guns shining in the starlight. When we drew alongside, sailors in spotless white were reaching down into the bulwarks to guide the General up therope ladder – ‘That’s right, sir! Easy does it!’ – while we, Billy, Manoli, George and I, helped from below.

A moment later we were on the deck in our bare feet, and it was all over.