The Opportunity He Had Been Waiting For

Posted on July 27, 2017 by Cape Rebel

From Patrick Leigh Fermor – An Adventure
by Artemis Cooper


Patrick returned to Cairo in July where things suddenly became more interesting. He was summoned to Rustum Buildings, known to every Cairene taxi driver as ‘Secret Building’, from where covert operations were controlled. Here he was inducted into what became known as the Special Operations Executive, although in those days it lurked behind a smokescreen of different names, of which perhaps the best known were MO4 and Force 133. Paddy was interviewed by an unknown colonel whose language was so veiled and elliptical that he had no idea what was being said, nor how he should respond. But his pay was raised, and he was told that he would soon receive his orders.

He was to join a unit known as ME 102, probably at the suggestion of Monty Woodhouse. The unit was a training camp for people who wanted to continue the fight by joining resistance units that had been formed across Europe. Paddy went to Palestine in September 1941 to join ME 102, established in a spacious house on the slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking the town of Haifa. They called the house Narkover, after the imaginery school invented by J. B. Morton (‘Beachcomber’) where the pupils were taught forgery, gambling, theft and arson. From his only surviving notebook of the time, the place seems aptly named: it is peppered with remarks such as ‘Demolitions were new to all except the fishermen and sailors, and as usual aroused great interest’, or ‘The Molotov cocktail lecture and practical went off successfully’. The students also learnt map-reading and report-writing, how to handle boats, wireless sets and small arms. They came from a wide range of nationalities, including Yugoslavs and Kurds.

Among the Cretan Greeks, Paddy met two men who were to be among his closest wartime companions: George Tyrakis and Manoli Paterakis, both of whom were later key figures in the Kreipe Operation. Paddy was probably more useful as a Greek speaker than as a weapons expert. Most of his students had been handling guns since childhood and had an instinctive grasp of how they were put together, whereas their instructor had to spend hours in the armoury, mugging up how to dismantle and reassemble guns with the aid of an instruction manual.

Paddy went to Jerusalem for the New Year 1942, where a number of friends from Cairo had gathered. Roaring about on a motorcycle, he took the opportunity to visit all the holy places around the Sea of Galilee. At the Hotel Saint-Georges in Beirut he ran into Costa again, and that night the energy and skill of Costa’s dancing brought the hotel ballroom to a standstill. Costa explained that this was probably his last opportunity to dance, for he had only joined the Free French in order to get himself to the Middle East. Now he was transferring to the Greek army, in which dancing was forbidden for as long as the homeland was occupied.

Paddy left Narkover for Cairo in April 1942, and soon after that new orders came through: in the next few weeks he would join the handful of SOE officers sent into occupied Crete, to work with the Cretan resistance. He would be in Crete, out of uniform, living in the open, in constant danger. This was the opportunity he had been waiting for.


The Germans increased pressure on the resistance with raids on mountain villages, and arrests were made all the more terrifying for being undertaken by large numbers of men. The kapetans responded by executing six informers in May, but this led to the immediate killing of fourteen patriots. In June, the first of what became an annual sabotage operation was undertaken by the Special Boat Service. One team destroyed five aircraft at Kastelli while another Free French team, under Captain the Earl Jellicoe, destroyed eighteen planes and a number of vehicles at Herakleion airfield. The following day fifty hostages, including the ex-mayor of Herakleion and the ex-governor-general, were shot by the Germans.

Such a brutal show of strength threw the Cretans into a state of shock and panic, and many questioned whether there was anything to be gained from heroic resistance. But the instinct to strike back at the oppressors was as strong as ever and, in the hope of launching a general uprising, the kapetans urged SOE to give them more support. Tom Dunbabin explained that the moment was not yet ripe, but they insisted on being taken to Egypt in order to put their case to GHQ Cairo. Dunbabin agreed with reluctance and, on the night of 23 June, Bandouvas, Petrakogeorgis and their families, together with Satanas, who was gravely ill with cancer, were assembled on a beach near Trypiti, awaiting the caique Porcupine, which was bringing Paddy for his first spell of duty in occupied Crete.

The Porcupine stayed discreetly out at sea, while a tender rowed the incoming party to shore. Paddy was accompanied by a wireless operator, Sergeant Matthew White, and Yanni Tsangarakis, a runner for Ralph Stockbridge who had volunteered to return as Paddy’s guide. Each of them was carrying a heavy load as they disembarked in a rough sea, and Paddy’s boots were ripped apart as he scrambled over the wet rocks to the beach.

The officer in charge of the tender made it clear that he could not accommodate all those awaiting passage, and that the sea was too rough to attempt more than one journey back to the Porcupine. Only Satanas and his family were evacuated that night, leaving the other kapetans and their entourages seething with anger and resentment. This was reflected in Paddy’s first signal, which began with the words: ‘Situation Here Ugly’.