From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Dick Barnes’s messenger, when he arrived, turned out to be George Psychoundakis. He had been Xan Fielding’s guide and runner for a long time, then mine, when I had taken over Xan’s area in the west for several months. This youthful, Kim-like figure was a great favourite of everyone, for his humour, his high spirits, his pluck and imagination, and above all, the tireless zest with which he threw himself into his task. If anybody could put a girdle around Crete in forty minutes, he could. George, who was a shepherd boy from the great village of Asi Gonia, later wrote a remarkable book about the whole of the occupation, and the resistance movement. I translated it from his manuscript and it was published under the title The Cretan Runner (John Murray, London), with great success. It is a wonderful book, which I hotly recommend to anyone interested in these things. His account of those particular days is moving, very lively, funny, and always true.
This extraordinary boy not only brought a letter from Dick, but, by speeding over the whole of Retimo and setting a swarm of lesser runners in motion, he helped many of our problems on their way to solution. He found Leftheri Papayanakis from the village of Akhtounda, just inland from the stretch of coast due south of us, from which I hoped we could find a German-free beach on which to get away. A garrison had long been established at Preveli Monastery; but what about the little cove of Karamé, on the steep southern slope of Mount Kedros. Leftheri was to spy out the land and report.
Next George found and brought Yanni Katsias, for whom I had been searching, a great, tough, free-booting giant, like a Kazantzakis hero, who knew every stone, spring, hole and footpath of the southern region mountains. Up to the neck for years in the old feuding and raiding life of these ranges, and a veteran of flock-rustling forays, he was the perfect man to guide us over old hidden tracks, and keep us out of sight and away from harm. He came loping over the hills to join us, with his wary and wolf-like gait. Extremely good-looking, and armed at all points, a heavily fringed turban redundantly shaded a face already by no means open; and his size and strength was such that the rifle that was never out of his hand, carried loosely at the point of balance, seemed reduced to the size and weight of a twig. A better friend than foe, luckily we had always been very fond of each other.
Dashing away to the north-west again, to the crevasse at Dryade where their wireless set was, George returned again the next morning with Dick Barnes himself, an utterly convincing Cretan in boots, kerchief and shaggy cape. I feared that the same difficulties about transport, while everything was still upside down, would prevent his set from coming any closer; also, he would have to go off the air for a day, just when we needed it most. Much better to leave it in situ, with the Changebug (George) flying to and fro like Ariel. Should no beach be suitable due south, he was in favour – unlike Ralph – of fixing up something in the Rodakino area, about three days’ march westwards.
This reunion with Dick – like many occasions in occupied Crete when one wasn’t actually dodging the enemy – became the excuse for a mild blind. ‘Mr Pavlo and I set off to Yeni,’ writes George Psychoundakis in his book:
‘where we found Mr Mihali’ (me) ‘and Uncle Yanni Katsias. We sat there until evening and the sun set. Yanni took us to the east side of the village where they brought us some food and first rate wine, and our Keph (our well-being) was great. The four of us were soon singing. Mr Mihali sang a sheep-stealing couplet to the tune of Pentozali, which went –
Ah, Godbrother, the night was dark
For lamb and goat and dam, Sir,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only stole the ram, Sir.
The ram – the head of the flock – meant the General. It was a couplet he’d made up in the style of the old Cretan mantinada which runs:
Ah Godbrother, we couldn’t see,
The night was black and dirty,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only rustled thirty.’
(It is a satirical couplet about a sheep thief, suddenly finding out that the animals he plans to lift belong to his god-brother; but seeing his god-brother’s earmark, he takes only thirty instead of the whole flock.)
Yanni had shot an enormous hare, in the afternoon, which he had cooked with oil and onions. He had come to be very fond of the Changebug, who had rescued his two small children from a village fired by the Germans a few months earlier, by running across a whole mountain range with them piggy-back. We sat late in the moonlight, emptying the demijohn. It was just what we all needed to forget the stress and anxiety of the situation. George got back with the news that all was going well with the other party. I slept properly for the first time for many nights, still vaguely thinking about the problematical arrival of the boat, but, thanks to that first-rate wine, at one remove. (It’s my delight on a shiny night and the signals are Monkey King.) Dick and George Psychoundakis returned to their den the next day.
Excellent communications had now been established. On the night of the 7th, the party with the General moved by an easy night march to Patsos, which was only two or three hours away from me. They were being fed and guarded by George Harocopos and his family. (George, a thoughtful and well-read boy, later to become a gifted journalist, was the son of a very poor, but very brave and kind family, all of whom had been great benefactors to the wandering British.)
All was going according to plan, if only the news from the coast turned out well.