He is perhaps most celebrated for the events surrounding the abduction of a senior German officer, General Kreipe, in Crete in the Second World War – a daring raid by a mixed team of SOE and Cretan partisans.
For several days they marched with their captive across the mountains and then paused… This is how he describes the situation:
We woke up amongst the rocks, just as a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of [the snow-covered peak of] Mount Ida… We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum / Soracte…’
I was in luck. It is the opening line of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart (Ad Thaliarchum, I.ix). I went on reciting where he had broken off: ‘…Nec iam sustineant onus / Silvae laborantes, geluque / Flumina constiterint acuto’* and so on, through the remaining five stanzas to the end.
The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine – and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.
*See, how it stands, one pile of snow / Soracte! ’neath the pressure yield / Its groaning woods; the torrents’ flow / With clear sharp ice is all congeal’d.