From Abducting A General
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Anoyeia, the largest village in Crete, was too remote and isolated for a permanent garrison. High on the northern slope of Mount Ida, it is the key foothold for crossing the great range. Famous for its independent spirit, its idiosyncrasies of dress and accent, and its tremendous local pride, it had always been a sure hideout.
The year before, Ralph Stockbridge and I had baptised the daughter of a brave and dashing man, and local leader, Stephanogiannes Dramountanes. Our god-brother had been killed – shot down, while trying to make a break for it, by jumping over a wall with his hands tied, after a German encirclement of the village – but I knew we could find all the backing we needed from other god-relations and friends, and to spare.
There was no hint of it, as we climbed those windy and dawn-lit cobbles. I was still wearing a German uniform. For the first time, I realised how an isolated German soldier, in a Cretan mountain village, was treated. All talk and laughter died at the washing troughs; women turned their backs, and thumped their laundry with a noisy vehemence. Cloaked shepherds, in answer to our greeting, gazed past us in silence; then stood and watched us out of sight. An old crone spat on the ground. The white-whiskered and bristling elders, with jutting beards, shorn under the chin, were all seated outside the coffee shop; baggy-trousered, high-booted, headkerchiefed men, leaning on their gnarled sticks. (I knew a few of them, but the German Waffenrock – or uniform – and the missing moustache were an impenetrable disguise.) They stopped talking for a moment, then loudly resumed, pointedly shifting their stools to offer their backs, or their elbows, in postures of studied hostility. Doors and windows slammed along the lane. In a moment, we could hear women’s voices wailing into the hills: ‘The black cattle have strayed into the wheat!’ and ‘Our in-laws have come!’ – island-wide warnings of enemy arrival. We were glad to plunge into a side alley, and the friendly shelter of Father Manoli’s house. But Father Chairetis, one of the celebrants of the baptism, and a great friend, was out. The kind old priestess, retreating down the corridor in alarm, refused to recognise me. It is amazing what a strange uniform and the removal of a moustache, or of the beards that we all grew, at one time or another, could do. ‘It’s me, Pappadia, Mihali!’ ‘What Mihali? I don’t know any Mihali?’ Deadlock.
Alerted by a neighbour, the priest arrived; and at last, amid amazement and then laughter, all was well. The village were told that we were harmless scroungers; and later, that we had left. The giveaway garments were peeled off. My god-brother, George Dramountanes, was soon there; and other friends and helpers arrived discreetly. A runner was found, in a moment, who would carry our news to Sandy – nearly a hundred miles away, to the south-east now, in the mountains above Males and Ierapetra – and another for Tom Dunbabin, of whom more later, on the other side of Mount Ida. Raki and mede appeared under the great arch of the house, and, sitting on the cross-beam of her loom, plucking a chicken in a cloud of feathers, the priestess was all smiles and teasing now. (Nobody had heard of the capture yet. What was happening at Knossos, Archanes, Herakleion? Had the car with the letter been discovered? How were the others getting on?)
Thank heavens for Strati’s police uniform. He soon appeared. The ascent had been laborious – the General’s leg had received a bang, during the struggle at the car – but safe. They were now sheltering in a gulley, a mile or two away. He and Manoli had found two eager and nimble shepherd boys, from a nearby fold. Enjoined to speed and secrecy by their fathers, they sped south and east, with messages from Billy to the same destination as mine; two strings to each bow. (It was a wise measure against the stormy days that we foresaw.) A basket of food and drink was stealthily dispatched, and I was to join them after dark, with a guide and a mule for the General.
In the late afternoon, the noise of an aircraft flying low over the roofs, brought us all to our feet. Running up the ladder to the flat roof, we saw a single-winged Fieseler Storch reconnaissance plane, circling above the roofs, moulting a steady snowfall of leaflets. It wheeled round several times, then whirred its way up and down the foothills, vanished westwards still trailing its white cloud, and then turned back towards Herakleion. ‘To all Cretans’, the text went in smudged type, still damp from the press.
‘Last night the German General Kreipe was abducted by bandits. He is now being concealed in the Cretan mountains, and his whereabouts cannot be unknown to the inhabitants. If the General is not returned within three days, all rebel villages in the Herakleion district will be razed to the ground, and the severest reprisals will be exacted on the civilian population.’
The room was convulsed by incredulity, then excitement, and finally by an excess of triumphant hilarity. We could hear running feet in the streets, and shouts, and laughter. ‘Just think, they’ve stolen their General!’ ‘The horn-wearers won’t dare to look us in the eyes!’ ‘They came here for wool and we’ll send them away shorn!’ How had it happened? Where? Who had done it?
The priest, who was in the know, and our god-brother George, Strati and I, lowered our eyes innocently. I told them it was the work of an Anglo-Cretan commando, mostly Cretan; ‘And you’ll see! Those three days will go by, and there won’t be any villages burnt, or even shooting!’
I hoped this was true. I seemed to be the only one in the room undisturbed by the German threat, and I prayed that urgency would lend wings to the messengers’ heels, and scatter our counter leaflets, and the BBC news of the General’s departure from the island.
Had the Germans found the car yet, and followed our paper chase of clues down to the submarine beach?