Singing And Storytelling With The Cretans

Posted on July 27, 2017 by Cape Rebel

From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor


The sierras of occupied Crete, familiar from nearly two years of clandestine sojourn and hundreds of exacting marches, looked quite different through the aperture in the converted bomber’s floor and the gaps in the clouds below: a chaos of snow-covered, aloof and enormous spikes, glittering as white as a glacier in the February moonlight. There, suddenly, on a tiny plateau among the peaks, were the three signal fires, twinkling. A few moments later, they began expanding fast: freed at last from the noise inside the Liberator, the parachute sailed gently down towards the heart of the triangle. Small figures were running in the firelight and in another few moments, snow muffled the impact of landing. There was a scrum of whiskery embracing, a score of Cretan voices, and one English one. A perfect landing!

The Kathero plateau was too small for all four of the passengers to drop in a stick: each jump needed a fresh run-in. So, once safely down, I was to signal the all-clear with a torch. But the gap I had dropped through had closed; our luck, for the moment, had run out. We took turns to signal towards the returning boom of the intermittently visible plane just the other side of the rushing clouds until the noise died away, and we knew the plane had turned back to Brindisi. Our spirits sank. We were anxious lest the noise should have alerted the German garrison in Kritza; dawn, too, might overtake us on the way down.

Scattering the fires, whacking the loadless pack mules into action, and hoping for a snowfall to muffle our tracks, we began the long downhill scramble. Tauntingly, a bright moon lit us all the way. At last, we plunged wearily through the ilex and the arbutus into the home-cave as the dawn of 6 February 1944 was breaking.


As it turned out, I stayed with Sandy Rendel in his cave for over a month. It was perched near a handy spring in the Lasithi mountains, above the village of Tapais in Eastern Crete. Smoky, draughty and damp, but snug with strewn brushwood under the stalactites, it was typical of several lairs dotted about the island, each sheltering a signal sergeant, a small retinue of Cretan helpers, and one each of a scattered handful of heavily disguised British Liason Officers.

None of these BLOs were regulars. The only thing they had in common was at least a smattering of Ancient Greek from school. They all had a strong feeling for Greece and Crete, and were deeply involved, not only in the military grandeurs and miseries of the island, but, as the occupation lengthened, in every aspect of its life: the evacuation of our own stragglers, and (for training and re-entry) of resistence people on the run; in trying to help the bereaved, gathering information about the enemy, assisting commando raids, and the dropping of arms and supplies, the organising of resistance and the composing of discord between leaders.

We became, as it were, part of the family. Our cave-sojourns were often brief. They were a cruel danger to the villages that supplied us with runners and with food and look-outs, and we were often dislodged by enemy hunts in force. It was a game of hide-and-seek, usually ending in a disorderly bunk to a new refuge in the next range. We could not have lasted a day without the islanders’ passionate support: a sentiment which the terrible hardships of the occupation, the execution of the hostages, the razing and massacre of villages, only strengthened.

A time of bitter weather ensued: postponements, cancellations, and false starts. Night after night, Sandy and I set out with our party for the plateau; again and again, we heard the plane circling over the clouds; always in vain. Sergeant Dilley was permanently crouched over his set, tapping out or receiving messages from SOE Headquarters in Cairo. (How far away it seemed!) We filled our long leisure lying round the fire, singing and story-telling with the Cretans, keeping the cold out with raki and wine. There were endless paper-games and talk, and plenty of time, it soon turned out, to grow one of the moustaches that all Cretan mountaineers wear, and to get back the feeling of mountain clothes: breeches, high black boots, a twisted mulberry silk sash with an ivory-hilted dagger in a long silver scabbard, black shirt, blue embroidered waistcoat, and tight black-fringed turban; augmented, when on the move, with a white hooded cloak of home-spun goat’s hair, a tall twisted stick, a bandolier, and a slung gun – the apt epitome of a long and reckless tradition of mountain feud, guerrilla, and armed revolt against the Turks. There was time, above all, to think about the scheme on hand.