This memoir is published in memory of my father. It is written almost entirely in his own words, taken from his own private correspondence written during the Second World War, mostly in the form of letters to his parents. The letters begin in December 1942, when he was twenty-two years old and working for the Special Operations Executive in Cairo. They end with his election as a Labour member of parliament in June 1945.
Francis's father, Philip Baker, was a Labour politician and served in Churchill's coalition government during the War. His mother Irene Noel owned a forest estate in Greece. The two joined their names when they married in 1915, having met while working for the (Quaker) Friends' Ambulance Unit during the First World War. FNB's political inheritance came from both parents, and was extremely rich and demanding: the one involving the Labour party in Britain and international affairs, with a decolonial, disarmament and socialist bent, and the other a more practical involvement in Greek affairs.
Everything that happened to Francis afterwards is in some way predicted in these letters. They show both his own personality, his attitude to politics and people, his charm and energy and humour, but also the way in which he became caught between two countries, Britain and Greece, as a representative of the one and an advocate of the other, and how this led to him being tragically misunderstood in later life, with sad and lasting consequences both for him and for his family.
During the war FNB worked for the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) which was at work on 'black' propaganda into enemy occupied Europe. He was transferred to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and flew out to Cairo with the plans of the British-designed Gorgopotamos railway bridge in Thessaly in Greece, which an SOE team was to blow up with support from the Greek guerrillas. His job was to be part of the Cairo back-up for the small British military teams which were operating inside occupied Greece and trying to cooperate with and unify the various Greek guerrilla bands. He was also in touch with the Greek Forces in the Middle East and with the representatives of the Greek government-in-exile headed by the Vice-Premier, Panayiotis Canellopoulos. He “had some contact too, with the British Embassy to that government under Sir Rex Leeper with whom, and with the Foreign Office, SOE was continually at war.”
The Greek Communist Party (KKE), which had been illegal under Metaxas and was therefore experienced in subversive activity, took the lead in organising resistance to the Germans. During the war FNB was “privately a supporter of EAM/ELAS on the ground that it was they who were most active in resisting the occupation”. Meanwhile the Foreign Office were doing everything they could to support right wing groups which they felt were less likely to bring Greece into the Communist sphere of influence. When FNB returned to Greece in 1945 he changed his views about EAM, as did many others. However his sensitivity to Greek feeling and the subtleties of the situation had made him a superb spokesman and advocate for the Greeks. He strongly believed that it was British Foreign policy towards Greece during the war which indirectly led to civil war in Greece, and he was effectively side-lined and silenced for his views.
After the war FNB wrote a book about the politics of occupied Greece, published in 1945. It was an attempt to explain Greece's complicated politics to an English readership confused by the onset of the civil war.
These letters are striking for the light they shed on the fate which befell his own family in later years, partly through what they show of his own character, and partly in what they say about Anglo-Greek relations. The letters show FNB's fierce love of Greece and his hatred of “stoogery” , that is to say the self-importance and narrow mindedness of officials and politicians who he thought cared more about their own self-advancement and peace of mind and unblemished ideological point of view than about the man in the street, or in the field. But more specifically, in his letters to his parents FNB predicts the effect that British Foreign Policy might have on him and his family in despite of their own utter commitment to Greece's welfare. He warns his parents that they will be the ones to suffer if Britain gets it wrong, and behaves badly towards the Greeks. Uncannily he predicts what did indeed happen to him some 30 years later, after he had abandoned British politics and came finally to settle at Achmetaga. He foresees the vicious attacks on him and his family after the two great betrayals of Greece by Britain which came long after these letters, the first during the 'Colonels' administration from 1967, and the second with the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Whereas after the war the family were still held in great esteem at least by those on the left, by 1974 hatred of “the Englishman” rained down on him and his family with such fury that he never really recovered.
FNB's love of Greece was centred on Achmetaga, the beautiful mountain forest with its village in the valley which was founded by his great grandfather Edward Noel - Achmetaga had always been and remained a touchstone for the family: it reminded them of the importance of social relationships and the value of human dignity; of the natural landscape as a source of livelihood for a community; of the plight of misunderstood and beleaguered nations faced with the activities of a chauvinist post-colonial British foreign policy. Of poverty and its causes.
But for Francis it was much more than this: it was a love that went very deep, from his earliest memories, intertwined with the smell of the house with its beeswax and woodsmoke, lilac and wisteria wafting in from the garden, the scent of the pine trees, the forest with its oaks, cypress, pine, Judas trees, arbutus and wild flowers, the river valley with its ancient plane trees, the village with its sounds and voices and the house and garden with its people, above all the people, whose company and conversation he adored and who held him and his family securely in their affections and to whom he always referred mentally whenever he was discussing or thinking about anything to do with Greek politics, British Foreign affairs, the plight of the poor and sick, transport, health, community, the prospects for a village community in a changing world, the 'development ' of western nations, plastic, compost and waste disposal, drink, conversation, affection, humour, respect, tolerance, forgiveness. He was an absolute snob in the best sense of hating anything pretentious and untrue, and would be happier in his old age sitting and drinking tsipouro in a cafe in the square or outside his house with the butcher, the barber, the goatherd, the forest guard, than with anyone else or anywhere else, except for possibly a London pub. He adored their stories, their humour, their warmth, their ability to forgive and to forget, their memories of his own family which went back for generations and their affection and tolerance towards him as well as his towards them.
In his own memoir, published in 1987, FNB writes that after he left school in 1938 he had a year off, partly in Greece and partly in France, before going up to King's College Cambridge to read history. In Greece he was sent to the Lake Copais Company's large agricultural enterprise between Thebes and Levadeia in Boeotia. Lake Copais was run by an English company which first drained and then farmed the former lake, having taken over from a French company which failed. The agriculture was extensive - huge machines cultivating hundreds of acres: FNB already shows a sensitivity to the needs of a local community which may often be at odds with “improved” methods or ideas that are imposed from outside. This belief in the local control of farming and forestry by people who know the land well and depend on it for livelihood and community was to remain with him throughout his life.
“At Lake Copais... I found the other residents of the 'Bachelors Mess', where I was put to live, unsympathetic. They had no Greek and no contact with the local population. I found the company of the local left-wing postmaster more agreeable, but learnt little that was of practical use on our own estate, which was mostly forest with only 125 acres of arable land. Indeed the only result of my Copais visit that I can remember was that I rearranged our cowshed in the old stables at Achmetaga, much to the distress of the cows who greatly preferred their familiar stalls, and to the annoyance of my mother who promptly restored the status quo. Perhaps - as I thought - the Lake Copais Company was irrelevant to our situation on the estate, or perhaps I was too young to make the most of being there. At all events my stay there was a failure... But I wrote my first journalistic article, for the Spectator, there.
After Lake Copais, I returned to Euboea, but I and my mother were summoned home to England by my father when the Italians invaded Albania in April 1939...
Francis was being educated as a socialist, as the son of a Quaker, and as the custodian of the family property in Greece. Bizarrely the two sides of his family were utterly united in their principles, though their histories couldn't have been more different. His parents were keen for him to learn about the practical reality of hard work and how agriculture could be made less toilsome and more productive; they also wanted him to avoid the dangers of intellectualism and a privileged education. It was practically inevitable that politics would eventually become a part of his life.
In July of 1939 I went to France to learn about resin tapping, then an important activity on the Achmetaga estate. Bordeaux was the world's resin capital, supplied with gum from the nearby maritime pine forests of the Landes...
My first home in the Landes was at Morcenx, a small railway junction near Mont de Marsan. There I lived in the bungalow of a widower, Henri --. Henri was a gemmeur (resin tapper) and a communist. Whenever a comfortable-looking motor car drove by us on the plane-tree lined road to work, he would spit and say 'sale cagoulard' or some such derogatory name, thus indicating to his satisfaction that he was a member of the working class and had no truck with the fascist, car-owning bourgeoisie. The fact that my father was a deputé travailliste had helped him to accept me as his guest and pupil”.
In France FNB was given a fascinating introduction to the troubled European country which he was later to visit, undercover, during Franco's regime (Spanish Summary, Hutchinson, 1948)
“...I chummed up with some of the republican Catalan refugees from the Spanish civil war who were housed in a camp at Moret nearby, particularly two girls called Carmen and Otilia, who must have been about 18 and 17 and taught me some Spanish and a few words of Catalan...”
In the autumn of 1939 Francis went to King's College Cambridge. He writes that he spent most of the year involved in undergraduate politics, where together with friends he split the communist-controlled Socialist Club (CUSC) and founded the University Labour Club (CULC).
We organised a successful 'Finland Fund' to raise money for the beleaguered Finns who were then gallantly resisting a dastardly soviet invasion. We had a stall in Cambridge Market, and held a fine concert in King's Chapel, in the presence of the Finnish Minister, with trumpeters from a guards regiment and a harp solo from Countess Benckendorf.
...I suddenly realised to my horror that I would have to sit my 'Mays' exam that summer. This was a daunting prospect because my father, as well as being President of the Union and of the Athletic Club and a Blue, had also won a double First and a Scholarship in Economics. So I had to get down to work, late though it was.
I worked like hell. In the evening after Hall (which in wartime was at 6 o'clock), I started work in my sitting room overlooking King's, and went on working right through every night until the sunlight was shining on the towers of the Chapel. I then had a substantial breakfast, crowned by Cooper's Marmalade and a small glass of gin, and went to sleep till lunch time.
After a month of this eccentric routine, I took the last three days off and bicycled round the countryside outside Cambridge with a friend.
It worked: much to my surprise, I got a First and a College Exhibition. Even my godfather, the eminent Cambridge economist Professor A.C. Pigou, known at King's as 'the Prof', was impressed: he called me 'the workless wonder'. I was very pleased. So was my father...
Then, after an interval in London, helping to write a Fabian pamphlet, I went with three Cambridge friends to Dolgelly in north Wales to work for the Timber Control, loading pit props and peeling 'wood woolers': big conifer trunks which were destined to be cut into shavings for packing ammunition. We were known locally as the 'College Boys'.
The pressure was on for FNB to show academic excellence and political involvement, while still keeping his feet on the ground. He wasn't a sporting man like his father, and perhaps less driven towards excellence and changing the world, but he was also in a way less earnest and more connected to the people around him and able to see things from their perspective; perhaps this was because he had grown up in Greece where life was hard and it wasn't so easy to be self-consciously moral. He could enjoy and smile at the delights of cultivated and distinguished Cambridge undergraduate friends, while feeling happy and at ease with the locals, whom in many ways he respected more.
“The Stationmaster at Penmaenpool, Mr Humphrey Jones, was a Bard and told me about eglins and other Welsh poetic forms. Our foreman was known as Will Bach ('little Will') and had a noisy motorcycle. Our workmates were a gang of Welshmen who spoke little English and one Irishman who had married a local girl but spoke no Welsh. We were paid 35 shillings a week, then the normal agricultural wage, and our keep at Mrs Jones' caff cost 30 shillings. But when we were on piece-work, peeling the wood-woolers, we would earn up to 4 pounds a week - and it nearly killed us. We had to keep up with our tough Welsh mates because we were split into syndicates and their pay depended on the whole syndicate's performance, including ours.
But before that, two of my friends had been sacked on the spot. They were Prince (later Professor Sir) Dimitri Obolensky, professor of Byzantine History at Oxford, and John Weiner, the son of a Viennese refugee, who later made good in the City. When not on piece-work, our Welsh mates were an idle lot and sat and smoked and read the paper and recited eglins until they heard Will Bach's motor bicycle coming up the hill. Then we would all set to and be working furiously when he arrived. But one day, by bad luck, Will Bach found Dimitri and John still sleeping in the sun. So that left Eric Rideal and me, and we two moved into a tent to be nearer our work and to economise. My experience of the working-man's reactions to basic wages and to piece-work has been useful ever since. I liked the Welsh and thought them more intelligent and sensitive than their english equivalents - my own celtic blood was showing through, perhaps”.
FNB had volunteered for the Navy in 1938. He was not called up until September 1939, and then into the 43rd Army Tank Battalion. He went to a Royal Armoured Corps Officer Cadet Training Unit near Aldershot and was commissioned after only three months, in May 1940, because of the shortage of British army officers after the evacuation from Dunkirk. His first posting was to a battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers after which he transferred to special duties.
From November 1942 until January 1944 FNB was doing liaison work with the Greeks in the Middle East. Then he went back to the UK, and from there on to America for two months in the summer when he was attached to the Embassy at Washington, though he was in New York most of the time. He went back to the Middle East in November 1944, spent some weeks in Egypt, and was then posted to HQ Palestine. He managed to get leave of absence to visit Euboea in April 1945, and was then forced to return to Cairo and then Palestine, before leaving to stand as a candidate in the British elections of 1945.
The following extracts are taken from letters to his parents, written mainly during the period between 1942 and 1945 when he was in Cairo and then Palestine.
The letters from Cairo were subject to censorship and so often they are light hearted descriptions of his experiences, outings and the people he meets, with the odd coded references to people and politics. He took every opportunity to travel and to meet local people, including many Greeks, although at times he found Cairo society stultifying and the landscape very harsh compared with his beloved Greece. Occasionally he is able to find a courier to take a letter directly to England and in these letters he gives vent to his full and true feelings. He had absolutely no hesitation in becoming involved at the deepest level in attempting to influence policy towards Greece. Friends who knew him at the time have told me that his charm was quite irresistible and that he had the effect of lighting up a room with his presence. His sense of duty and responsibility seem to be limitless, as well as his feeling that he is truly in a position to affect the outcome of events. He must also have been completely maddening to people who did not agree with his views, or who took a more measured and diplomatic line when affecting policy decisions. In time his position became completely untenable due to his political views. He was given leave from the army to stand as a labour candidate in the British elections of June 1945. To the family's horror he won the seat for Labour with a considerable majority.
FNB was only 22 when he began these letters, and 25 when he was unexpectedly elected as Labour member for Brentford and Chiswick, which is where this passage ends.
3rd December 1942
Most estimable parents!
...Let me say before more ado - and to pacify any maternal anxiety on the point - that I am in the best of both health and spirits. Very much improved since leaving London. And that largely due to my journey, and being cheered up by seeing real Greeks, and amusing places. Palestine was lovely, and I liked Jerusalem awfully. Incidentally I am now a Hadji having paid my respects to the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday with Ellie.
E I delivered suitable messages to. I was very glad to see her, but she is in a bad state of mind being so intensely hostile not only to the whole Govt but to Can. (Canellopoulos) as well, and full of grievances not justifiable and otherwise so that I think she has made herself more or less useless for any work. Even if one could get her a non-political job she would turn it into a minor civil war in five minutes!
During the war all three members of the family gave broadcasts on the BBC into occupied Greece, which were listened to by their friends at home. FNB writes to his parents at length about these broadcasts; he is enthusiastic about them and about what he sees as their enormously positive effect on Greek morale. His letters show his growing disillusionment and fury at British foreign policy and its effect on Greek affairs:
...It's extraordinary how all Greeks claim to know Father and rally round when the mystic name Noel-Baker is shouted about. For example Beirut. the Hotel, where we stayed was run by Greek staff. The young man on the reception desk was terrifically excited when I told him my name and soon the whole staff was demonstrating its amiability, flowers and things in my bed room and would I please tell my Father (whom they all thought they had seen somewhere or other) how fine they thought him and his broadcasts.
...The reason for Father's enormous popularity among the Greeks is interesting. Partly it's because he is a good chap anyway. Partly because he is such an excellent speaker and the best English Greek broadcaster. But very largely it's because he is the one prominent Englishman known to interest himself in Greece (indeed there are hardly any others) who is not identified with F.O. policy or the many ways in which the Greeks feel - quite reasonably - the British Government has let them down. So an enormous body of Greek opinion here, and inside Greece pin their faith in Father for the future. This, please believe me, is no exaggeration, and it carries with it considerable responsibilities as far as Father is concerned.
Briefly IT IS ESSENTIAL that Father should do his utmost to inform himself about the Greek political situation in every way he can, and then when he finds out the disastrous errors that are being committed should do something about them vis à vis the F.O. and elsewhere.
Father may think I'm a young man of immature judgement, often I have justified such a view. But this time I beg him to believe that I'm writing in all seriousness on what I believe to be a very grave matter. So grave that the whole of Anglo Greek relations depend partly on what Father does.
And it's all very well for people not intimately concerned with Greece, the stooges here and in the FO, to muck things up. After the war they'll go back to their government departments or their houses in England, and all they'll need to be able to say is that they held their job down - whatever job it was - during the war. But it's different for us. More than ever now I know something about them at the present time, I admire and I like the Greeks. I think we, as a country and as individuals, owe them a tremendous debt. And we three shall want to go back to Greece after the war. We shall want the Greeks to admire and like us as English people and as individuals. We shall want the people at Achmetaga, and our friends in Athens to have reasons for being grateful to the English as good as our reasons for being grateful to them. There is a very serious danger that the Greeks may begin to hate the English, all of them, and may even treat the three of us as people who helped to betray and delude them. I don't think the people at Achmetaga will ever do that. However much the FO embitters the Greeks, the Achmetaoi will still be able to differentiate between the British Government and the Noel Bakers as they did at the time of Munich. But not so easily. Father is now a cabinet minister, and partly responsible for what the Government as a whole does. And anyway God forbid that we should have to go back to the stage when we had to apologise for our own country's policy...
Sometimes he encloses secret documents and at other times sends visitors from Cairo to his parents' house in London, to help give his father an idea about what is going on on the ground. There is a letter from PJNB which reassures Francis that despite feeling sidelined by the foreign office, his communications do eventually find their way through and effect government policy, though perhaps not far enough to satisfy the “”ravings of their idiot son”.
I won't go on with this subjicket here in my letter, but I'll enclose a little document for you. And I do BEG you to read and consider it. What I really ultimately aim at is getting Father over here (and Mother too if it can possibly be wangled) ostensibly on a War Transport visit (and apparently there are enough crying scandals in that sphere to warrant it) but really to see some good Greeks, and learn the facts for yourself. And I do assure you that NOONE can begin to know what's going on in Greek affairs over in London. Neither HMG nor the Greek Govt nor anyone else...
I may perhaps sometime soon do a broadcast from Cairo (probably I'll have to fix another lot of office obstruction first as I did in London). If I do I'll try and wire you first. I got your message about P's Saturday broadcast but only when I got back here so I missed it in Jerusalem. However lots of Greeks told me it was fine, and you sounded full of beans.
Important note. When I hold forth at such length about P's broadcasts don't imagine I exclude Mother's which I consider well worth going on with (despite BBC obstruction) because they are extremely valuable. Fewer Greeks remember having heard them than have heard Fathers simply because Mother speaks less often and can't obviously speak with such officialness. But broadcasts of her kind, simple and very moving because deeply felt, are much needed, and all those Greeks who have heard her were enthusiastic.
...Oh by the way I flew down from Jerusalem the other day (Monday in fact) which was also a very good thing. The first time I had been in a land plane, and I was surprised in what a short distance it took off compared to those flying boats. The desert is certainly a very displeasing place, even from several hundreds of feet up, and even nastier from down below...
...About Achmetaga nothing new. Its quite definite that there are no Germans there, and that there is more to eat than elsewhere, but apart from that I know nothing. I haven't come across any Evvoevs except one from Chalcis who said that the town had NOT been badly bombed, but had only had one or two very small bombs in the harbour during the whole campaign. I also met the man H from Katounia who apparently blew up the old swing bridge before the British left, so we shall have to have a new bridge I suppose.
...Please don't let Mother lure you into discussing the enclosed scribble about the FO with anyone BECAUSE 1) it's very highly irregular. 2) I don't yet know all the facts by any means. When I do I shall write a longer and more sober document which maybe you might be able to use. In the meantime please may I be certain that you will use same for your own edification only?
...There's no doubt this is the place for me to be, and I have a feeling that ultimately everything in the business line (this must be code for Greek liaison work) may begin to prosper quite a bit. But liaising with Greeks is a job to try the intrigue-proofness of saint Radegonde or whoever the lady was who grew the beard.
Letter from Cairo 6th December 1942
May I recommend you very strongly to invite the bearer of this letter to No. 16, and to get him to tell you all about Greece, about which he probably knows as much as any Englishman (at least about Greece during the war and since the invasion) anywhere, and certainly more than anyone at all now in London. But don't invite the F.O. to the same meal!
The letters continue thick and fast, and despite being driven into a fury by the Foreign Office, FNB seems to be really enjoying his position in Cairo, his ability perhaps to influence events, as well as having nearly first hand news from Achmetaga. His letters, especially when they are due to be censored, show an equal excitement and enthusiasm at being able to travel, to see new places - the desert reminds him of how beautiful Achmetaga is - and to meet an intriguing variety of people. The letters are several pages long, closely typed, and all numbered and kept as carbon copies. It is clear that his parents provide a lifeline for him, for shared thoughts, opinions and encouragement in his work, a way to vent his frustration and openly articulate his thoughts. They are often written in a hilarious style (with shades of P.G. Wodehouse) and he seems relieved to be able to let off steam without causing offence.
December 14th 1942, Cairo
This will be another rather hasty letter, as I think I have found a second fast courier who will I hope deliver it to you very shortly...
Everything is going extremely well. I am in the most excellent spirits and health, and feeling on the whole rather pleased with things. The stooges so far fail to get me down, and I hope eventually to get them down, or make them see the light of day. (A considerable undertaking).
...Do let me know how the Ministry and politics generally are going. Here one begins to feel rather remote, specially as I live think and talk nothing but Greece... which I'm DELIGHTED to be able to do...
ACHMETAGA - nothing much I'm afraid. but more people have been telling me that the food in our bit of Euboea is very much better than any other part of Greece, and that at Limni the distribution was so good that there was very little suffering. A. and family are apparently sometimes at Rovies and are well... the women are mostly in Athens working for the Red Cross.
That particular courier fell down on me... so I shall go on. I have in the meantime found another one: the old Canadian Air Marshall who flew out with me and is flying back to England on Monday I think. I met him quite by chance having dinner the other night...
The major news of the moment is your telegramme telling me that you have got the -- letter, and that a broadcast is due on Wednesday. I shall glue my ear to the wireless and hope to hear the fine reverberating parental voice thrilling its message of hope through the ether. And it had better be a message of hope furthermore. A spot of hope is precisely what our poor friends require at this juncture for reasons which I shall explain shortly... I haven't yet succeeded in doing a broadcast from here but will get down to it shortly I hope.
...Incidentally the chap I was having dinner with was an old colleague from that displeasing depot at Winchester. One Morley, still a corporal poor man and deeply to be commiserated with, but an excellent and amusing type. We had rather a good dinner. I usually manage to do so when i eat out which is sometimes because all the waiters and most of the restaurants are Greek...
...Two days or so ago I drove off with a colleague of mine called George to see the Pyramids. I consider said pyramids to be one of the finest monuments to human futility ever devised by the mind of man. If they were small they would be silly and ugly. Since they are not small they are merely enormous and ugly, and entirely without any point at all. But they certainly are enormous, fantastically enormous, positively mountainous. The Sphinx on the other hand is a good thing I consider. Its back view is unimpressive (anyway its behind is all corroded away) but its face is really rather remarkable. Napoleon did a spot of artillery practice on the nose which was a mistake, but it really is very impressive, and it has been staring out into the desert for no less than five thousand years which is something. I can imagine going extremely queer after some time if one had to live in close proximity to the Sphinx. Well anyway the last twelve lines are all in aid of what I am now about to say which is that while we were looking at the above Pyramids and Sphinx who should appear from nowhere but my old school chum from PWE Horace White. Mother may remember that he was the ex chief subeditor of the Herald who worked on the “news room” at Bush House, and took me down to the Prospect of Whitby pub near Wapping one evening. More probably she remembers him as a young man who was in the Foreign Office and played Lord Nelson in a film, but that's neither here nor there because he isn't. Anyway dear old Horace is on his way to Kuibyshev to edit Engliski Soyuznik, the British version of Soviet War News, and I'm glad it's him not me as I gather that it is snowing quite somewhat in those parts. The poor man was suffering from Sand-fly fever which is a distressing disease, but he was quite amusing despite it, and we had dinner together last night during the course of which one of the tyres of “my” motor car was stolen by a passing Arab which was a pity but which brings me on to the next paragraph... (FNB has succeeded in being lent a motor car)
...Today I went to lunch with a man called Sir Walter Smart who is oriental secretary at the Embassy and who has a Syrian wife whose sister I had met in Jerusalem with Ellie. They were both rather nice and there were some other persons there some of whom were quite amusing. It's rather difficult to discover at first who is what, but I gathered that one woman was another Syrian, and another something else doubtful from this part of the world, and a tiresome young man from the Embassy with a stammer who was dieting, and a large apparently Egyptian man who invited me to lunch - I shall go - and what have you.
I think the time has now come for me to hold forth about Greece.
As you will no doubt know by the time you get this letter there is a very large scale crisis on in the Greek Government. It all began with Eden's Albanian declaration.
What happened was more or less this.
Eden - because of the State Department's similar statement, and because of the 'psychological drive' against Italy thought it would be a good plan to make a statement about Albanian Independence. He consulted Tsouderos, who as usual wanted to avoid a row at all costs. Motivated by this one consideration (which is the only thing that makes him do anything) he said “jolly good show” and proceeded to add a little declaration on his own. Can heard about the declaration and promptly blew through the roof. It would, he maintained, have a disastrous effect inside Greece for the following reasons:
Great Britain has NEVER ONCE made any kind of statement about Greek claims, about the right of Greeks freely to choose their own form of govt after the war, or anything else. 400,000 Greeks fought in Albania for Great Britain. ?1,000 (illegible numeral) are now creeping round Greek streets with no feet. The rest of Greece is fighting magnificently on our behalf in Greece. There is already strong suspicion that Great Britain is going to impose fascism on Greece after the war, and is not going to return the Dodecanese or Cyprus for fear of annoying the Turks. A total of THREE Albanians came over to the Greek forces during the campaign, and those three because they were hungry and cold. The Greek people definitely want a part of Northern Epirus after the war.
Given all this, England suddenly starts making gratuitous statements about Albania's rights, and the right of the Albanians freely to choose their own form of Government.
If no such statement had been made the Greeks would have been content to let the territorial questions rest for the time being. Now they are afraid that first Albania, then Bulgaria, then perhaps Italy will all be assured of England's good will, and Greece forgotten. In fact England's traditional policy of oiling up to her enemies and making every kind of concession to them, while treating her friends like dirt because they already are her friends and are therefore not worth bothering about.
But the statement has gone out.
Apart from what counter statement can now be made to appease the violent indignation of all the Greek people, another question arises.
This last episode shows that Ts is now wholly incapable of running Greek affairs. He is so out of touch with Greek feeling that he cannot even see what effect such a statement would have, and more or less encourages the FO to make it...
All this is not my version, but my interpretation of what Can thinks. A lot of it is perfectly correct. E.G. the reaction against the statement and the fury created among all reasonable Greeks here is a historical fact. (Incidentally I am in a good position to know what I'm talking about because I think I've spent more hours lately with Can talking about all this (at his request, as it is in no way my job to be mixed up in internal Greek politics) than any other English official.)
For the Greek people, and for us and anyone who has to deal with Greece, it is essential that Can (who is the only reasonable man, almost, and the only one ever likely to have any popular support) does NOT leave the Govt, but DOES become P.M. Without him the Government will go right down the drain. With it incidentally will go any hope the King may still have of getting back, or of any of the rest of them.
I tell you all this, more or less in breach of official secrecy, and in very strict confidence as far as the source is concerned, only because when Can does come to London if he does it is ESSENTIAL that you should know what is going on, and help him all you possibly can. I know he will want to see and talk to you all about it. Indeed he's only been talking to me as a bad second best for you. (a pretty lousy one at that).
I repeat that I sincerely admire him, and believe him to be the one hope for the Greek people at the present moment. I like him, and I think he has the right views, and very many of the necessary qualities of a great statesman, and I HOPE desperately that he will become P.M. in the interests of Greece and of Anglo-Greek friendship. He is the only thing which can really save the latter.
This has all been written in a great rush...You may know it already.. but PLEASE be discreet about it, or I get shot.
I think I MUST stop this and deliver same to Air Marshall. Forgive a rather hectic style. All my love, and Christmas and New Year Greetings. May next Christmas be spent at Achmetaga with Arghyri, Tsimbida, Xenophon, Mitso, and the rest of them. I very definitely believe that it very likely will.
It becomes clear that FNB got as good as he gave to his parents in terms of strongly held views. There is no question that his approach is one of open-minded and intelligent curiosity, and this seems to lead inevitably to a dogged persistence when he feels that he has, after the necessary consideration and research, acquired what he feels to be an accurate grasp of the truth. It must occasionally have been maddening for his parents, who perhaps sometimes had a wider view of things, but no doubt the balance made for an interesting combination and good team-work.
It is FNB's humour that rescues him from self-importance. He claims to be able to bow to his parents “superior intellect” where necessary, and it seems that the three of them, Philip, Irene and Francis, were united in their aims, operating very much as a team, sharing a sense of humour and of the absurd.
26th December 1942
...I must say I was in a way depressed by your letter. Evidently you have been talking to Mick and perhaps Ts (Greek politicians in London), about Can. I don't for a minute suppose they have been trying to mislead you, but all that you write shows again how difficult it is for people in London to keep in touch with what is going on.
I do assure you that I know as much as any Englishman here what is happening in Greek affairs, both here and in Greece, and I do assure you that neither Mick, nor Ts, nor anyone as far away from the real centre can understand what is happening.
I should never be so vain as to pretend that I could diagnose Norwegian events from Cairo - even if I were the Norwegian “Govt” - no more can Ts, or you or Father with the little information at your disposal, know about Greek events in the same way that I do.
Perhaps this sounds a little impertinent. Please forgive me if it does. That is not the intention. But I do feel so desperately deeply that it is worth not letting the Greeks feel we have betrayed them, and that Anglo-Greek friendship does matter. (I don't refer to the Albanian declaration, that is a minor matter now, but to the whole of our - or rather Eden's - Greek policy).
...I know you think I'm a bit fickle in my opinions, and that I get excited about people and things. I beg you to believe me that I am not being over-emphatic or hasty in this case, and I would not lay down the law on the basis of my own very limited experience alone. I've had manifold opportunities of discussing these things with the British here who deal with these things, and everyone of them who is worth anything... agrees.
Anyway all I ask is that you and FATHER read and CONSIDER the enclosed, and see and talk to Can at length about it all. Then if you think I'm exaggerating or talking through my hat, I shall just have to bow to the weight of superior intellects.
Just one more word about the Albanian declaration. I personally agree that the statement was perfectly harmless if possibly slightly injudicious. But all the Greeks blew up about it, and Can is not exaggerating this at all. The state of fury here (and inside) is really very frightening. I agree that they are being unreasonable about it, but damn it all after two years of hun occupation you cannot expect people to be paragons of reasonableness.
ENOUGH OF THAT.
About your broadcasts, I'm terribly disappointed too but I didn't hear it, and I didn't know you had broadcast until you told me so. I listened to the first transmission, but couldn't for business reasons to the second on Wednesday. Next time you telegraph me say BROADCAST if it is Father, and SPEAK if it is you, Mother. Your question. I am perfectly convinced that using your names cannot possibly harm Arghyri or any of our friends. That I solemnly promise you in full understanding of the terrible responsibility I should bear if I gave you this advice ill-considered. Further I believe that it is important that you should use your names.
It's no exaggeration to say that the name Noel Baker has an enormous influence among the Greeks now. They listen to you both and trust what you say and lend more importance to your words because you are Noel Bakers, and because they believe that you are honest and sincere Philhellenes not responsible for many of the blunders of HMG, any more than you were for Chamberlinism.
27th December 1942
...I do hope you don't think I've been overstating my case about Can. I honestly don't think I have, and when you have seen him I don't believe you will think I have. You certainly wouldn't if you could read and see all the documents and people that come my way.
Yesterday I had dinner with R --, who has just got the M.C. having been (slightly) wounded at Alamein. 2 of his colleagues were there, and made me feel slightly ambusqué sitting here comfortably at GHQ on my behind. However, R was in very good form and very nice. .. Do send me a letter back with Can. all about Greek (and English) politics, and whether you feel cheerful about things and so on.
Very much love...
January 14th 1943
MOST ESTIMABLE PARENTS this letter will be of the hasty. Mick is leaving some time tomorrow, and I have to get this to him tonight. It ought however to reach you before the return of Canellopoulos, so PLEASE load him up with the reply. It will be the first time either of us has been able to endulge in anything like snappy repartee... which is difficult over a space of two or three months between question and answer.
(This should really have been this letter's headline). Father's Broadcasts. I listened yesterday evening just before dining with Mick at Shepherds. Reception could hardly have been better. I tuned in at the moment Photiades' trumpet was blowing, and heard the whole thing perfectly from A-Z. Technically it was not as good as one or two Greek broadcasts I have heard Father do - you stumbled over several words... unnecessarily complicated and unfamiliar words I thought - and I guessed that you hadn't had enough time to practice it. But the end was extremely well spoken and impressive. However all that is quite irrelevant: what mattered was WHAT you said, and what you said was absolutely FIRST CLASS AND EXCELLENT and precisely what ought to have been said ages ago. I was vain enough to imagine that some of the things I had written to you had influenced you just a little, and I guess that you had had a talk or two with Canellopoulos. Anyway I listened to it with growing delight and exultation, and came away fearfully impressed and pleased. You can't imagine what a good effect it will have inside Greece and how delighted everyone will be.
To emphasize the point I interrupted this to ring up one of the leading democratic Greeks now in Cairo. The first thing he said to me: before I'd even mentioned the subject, was “Itan ektakto to logo tou patera sou”, and he added that all the Greeks here had been enormously pleased because it was something that urgently needed to be said by an important Englishman, and until now no one had said it. He went on to say that as soon as the text arrives here he and a group of Greeks will telegraph to you asking you and the BBC to repeat it...
The main point is that your broadcast last night was a masterpiece, and an extremely important and valuable political contribution, which will undoubtedly do a lot inside Greece to counteract doubts and suspicions all too prevalent about British intentions. DO repeat it if you possibly can. It really means something to a much wronged ally: the Greek people.
I hope you've seen enough of (Canellopoulos) to be convinced that he is a good and fundamentally right man: whether he's “too enthusiastic” or inexperienced, I don't know, but the first accusation is I think rather in his favour. (I often get accused of over-enthusiasm. There's no such thing, and if a few more people, some of these dead-from-the-toes-up old bloaters like ---, had a bit of “enthusiasm” the world would be a better place.)
...What else?... You know I'm really enormously lucky doing the job I am; having all the invaluable experience I am and the chance to learn a terrific lot. I sometimes envy myself.
FNB was fiercely scathing, one could almost say bigoted, about certain types of people, especially narrow-minded officials or the so-called “cream of society” who were obsessed with wealth for its own sake.
...“Why are creams of society always so nasty. Fat tiresome idiot old women, without any brain and a painfully visible absence of all the Christian virtues, and nastier old men, most of them with a sense of their own importance totally unjustified by either their appearance or their qualities. Maybe I'm silly and young, but official parties of that kind... always make me feel violently bolshie...” (23rd June 1943)
Generally though his enjoyment of people made him indulgent towards their faults, weaknesses and charm, not letting their unreliability or imperfections spoil his own enjoyment in their company, but rather the opposite. If this open-mindedness made him a worse politician, it made him quite a good critic. He likes sharing his views of people with his parents. Despite their at times fiery relationship it is clear that he respects their judgement.
Letter to his parents, 10th April 1943
About A, with whom I had a long discussion in bed last night: many of the things you (Irene) wrote about him were perfectly true. Indeed all your definite conclusions about people are absolutely right always. That is a characteristic which you have very sharply defined (it's rather like the Noel nose - in the sense of smell sense, I hasten to add - on a higher plane), and perhaps I have inherited it a little. Your judgement of people is invariably sound, which is one of the things which makes people want your advice, and which makes your advice so fearfully valuable to the people who are lucky enough to have it... even your tiresome little son! I really do mean that, and it is one of the ways in which I have been so amazingly fortunate, almost unfairly fortunate. When I say that I have inherited it, I think that I am able to a certain extent to sense what people are like and what they are thinking and feeling. When I err it is usually in thinking that they are absolutely marvellous and perfect, because some of their characteristics strike me as amusing or pleasant. Can and the little man P (two Greek politicians) whom you did NOT fancy are two cases. About Can I do insist on the basis of all my relations with him, that he is a wonderfully kind, and fundamentally good person. He has faults. At first I didn't see them. But all his faults are good faults essentially. I mean his faults are not the results of meanness or dishonesty or pettiness, but rather because he is too trusting: he thinks everyone is as kind and good and guileless as himself, and one of the results of that is that he is terribly easily influenced.. A. (an English colleague) is ambitious and not always straight, and a “realist”, and is not a great believer in “love” as Christ meant it, all of which makes a pretty damning charge against him. The thing that saves him, in my view, is that he is aware of these faults, and no man can be condemned until he is doing what is wrong because he believes it to be right... He has often in his own words been very much “up against it”. A person is nearly always the product of his environment (I myself would perhaps say “always”, thereby loosing another Class One platitude on the realms of thought). S. (a female friend of the family) is a good example, I think, of someone who has become a better person by being involved in the most horrible catastrophe. A. has not become a better person by having troubles and being in a rotting atmosphere. But I do like him a great deal...
...Naturally here I'm not always fully up to date about the goings on of the FO, but I have been hearing what sound like very ugly things not only about Greece, but Jugland and elsewhere. Do Father keep an eye on what they're up to if you can. I would urge this very very strongly because some ghastly crimes are going to be committed against thousands, millions, of our friends by the FO if care isn't taken. I don't rule out the possibility of civil war in Greece even, and the FO is continually giving mr.BJ all the worst and most reactionary advice. In future please note, I shall refer to our country as 'the flat'...
24th May 1943
You will have had my telegram of May 22nd about Mother's broadcast. I was delighted to have heard it. I got your telegram only on the relevant Monday at lunch time, and in such a rush was I (as usual) that I didn't realise what the day of the week was, until that evening in the middle of dinner with a group-Captain - director general of the Greek Air Ministry. Fortunately, just as we were sitting down to feed, he asked me when my parents were next going to broadcast. I told him about the cable that had just arrived, and he reminded me that it was Monday. Whereupon I leapt from the table like a scalded cat, borrowed the appropriate taxi-fare (having characteristically left all my money and pocket-book at the office) from my kind host, and left the party standing - or rather sitting - disconcerted, just as the “floor show” of the place where we ate was about to begin. I went to the house of my friends the Iliascos, who... announce the Greek broadcasts from Cairo and consequently know all about broadcasting, apart from having a very excellent wireless of their own. On it I heard my dear mama wafting across the ether. I must admit that for the first few minutes I was not certain whether I recognised her voice. Partly because reception was not very good here, and partly because I think you pitched your voice rather too high, so that it sounded at times a little squeaky. Towards the end it was better. But for all that it was extremely well spoken, rang with a very real sincerity (which would have been apparent to anyone, not only I who knew how sincerely it was all meant), and contained a lot of very sound stuff. The Iliascos and I agreed that it was a very worth while broadcast, admirable propaganda, and that you ought to do more.
Which gives me a good opportunity for making a few points about what I think constitutes a good broadcast in Greek at the present moment. Or rather what produces a good reaction on my various Greek friends here as I watch them listening to broadcasts, and what I deduce from what they tell me talking about the various programs afterwards. Added to which is what I hear from time to time from people who have come out etc.
ONE It is absolutely impossible to overdo praise of the Greeks' achievements to date. Attribute the fall of Tunis, the holding of Stalingrad, the panic in Italy - even almost the American victories in the Pacific - to Greek efforts in Albania and since the collapse, and you will delight your auditors... without being so very far off the point. Talk in glowing terms about how the Greek merchant Navy has contributed to the anti-submarine war, or of the strategic value of Greek guerrilla resistance, and they will say how shrewd is your understanding of Greek problems... and again they wouldn't be very far from the truth. But don't just lay on praise like treacle, link it up (as you have been doing) with specific events in the course of the war. TWO When talking about what a lovely time the Greeks will have after the war (which is a good theme) and how it will have all been worthwhile then, BE SPECIFIC. Don't make vague references to Atlantic Charters and Relief schemes. Talk about what the Undersecretary for Canals and Sewers said in the House last Thursday about the Greek post-war drainage system, of how the BMA is discussing anti-malaria measures for Thessaly, or exactly how much money who has collected for what precise purpose. THREE This applies with even more force to topics nearer the real point. When talking about Atlantic Charters and Freedom from this and that be SPECIFIC. Quote Winston at dinner in his club (if you can) or what the feeling in the House is, or what such and such a newspaper says, or what Joe Pluggins your constituent at Derby thinks about Greece, and how he is determined to stop any funny business. If necessary devote a few lines to Joe, what he does, how his ideas about Greece have changed since the war, and how much he hears about Greece now. But BE SPECIFIC when you get to the point. Our friends have good reason to be suspicious of vague promises and platitudes, and need to be convinced that there isn't even the remotest chance of any funny business of any kind whatever. So BE DEFINITE AND MOST REPEAT MOST SPECIFIC. FOURTH Put in a bit of personal stuff in each time, who you are and what you are, but make it refer to Greece: why you are interested in what happens there, what your ties with the place are. There may be a few Greeks who have never heard of either of you, and there are many who aren't sure exactly what you both antiprosopevi. For example there was a story that you were the Mpeker who lived in a villa at Psychiko (God preserve us!). Forgive me if I lay down the law, but I think I know what I'm talking about.
The flat situation stinks just at the moment. T. is a first class menace, and is getting himself much disliked. Naturally your old friend M. is angry with him, having been more or less demoted by him recently. I don't frankly think much of the latter - except as a person, he is of course educated and amusing - nor do many other people. C. is still depressed, and seems to be going to be idle for some time. He went around with bad friends. Everything is going fine as usual, A. sends his greetings...
...As I was saying, the flat situation stinks, and requires the very closest investigation..
Have decided after the war to: (i) Stand for parliament at once (ii) Fail to be elected (iii) Go back to Cambridge thereafter. Or perhaps journalise, or perhaps broadcast, or perhaps stay in Greece for a bit. In short no decision at all. But Cambridge and Parliament are both good ideas.
21st June 1943
Of course I was desperately interested in Mrs M's news of Achmetaga. It will be very very horrid if we find a lot of the old things which have belonged there so long that they have become a living part of the house gone, but let's hope that Arghyri has managed to save many of the things we have most affection for. And in any case I don't believe that whatever the devils do they can really spoil very much of Achmetaga.
I think your plan for your own clinic and relief centre in Chalkis is a most excellent one, and I think that you ought to start getting it thoroughly organised from this very moment, collecting the people and the money and planning just how it will all work, what you will need and so on.
...As D will tell you, I am hoping to go on another short journey soon (which will NOT be referred to please in your letters) to which I am looking forward a very great deal. I shall (I fear) be back at my desk all too soon, but I expect it to be enormous fun while it lasts.
Now and again, just very occasionally, I begin to wonder whether all this most interesting, but in many ways artificial life, isn't beginning to hal (spoil) me a little. I hope not, and perhaps the realisation of the danger means that I'm not being seriously halassed (spoilt), or I wouldn't be aware of it myself. But now and again an antidote from ministers and official personalities is rather salutory... and luckily I can get it in nice little men like my dear Triantafyllos (the little driver), or the two Iliasco brothers with whom we swam yesterday. But before I go on to them, I shall express my ardent hope that if I ever become a personality I shan't lose my sense of proportion, or swallow the flattery of the flatterers and begin to think I am something different, give more importance to the “responsibilities of position” than they deserve, and above all lose touch with the real people who matter, the ordinary people who aren't anybody. So please, posterity, quote this at me if the time ever comes! Shut up, pompous ass.
About your broadcasts - both of you - I AM absolutely certain that the use of your names can do no possible harm to anyone. The only reason that mine isn't given when I speak from here, is that I am allegedly the mouthpiece of GHQ and it is supposed to be official and not personal. By the way I am still wondering why I had no acknowledgement from you to my telegram announcing my last broadcast, so I've no idea whether you heard it. I didn't do one last week, but shall speak on Friday if I can get the thing done in time.
...I am still at the stage when life is getting more and more amusing and interesting, because one's experience enables one to do and understand more and more things, and enjoy more things. I hope that will continue till I die.
ABOUT... ABOUT???? ABOUT TIME I STOPPED? OH-no! ABOUT GREECE:
Note: This is serious. So serious that it may affect the future of millions of Greeks, of the relations of Greece with England, and - most acutely - of ourselves. I know you must find it hard to attach any importance to the views of the idiot son, merely because it is idiot son expressing them. BUT try to imagine I am merely a “well-informed source” - which I am.
i) The bulk of Greek public opinion is anti King. Violently so because:
a) He has never done anything to be popular, and has done much that makes his memory odious.
b) He is (rightly) held responsible for the Metaxas dictatorship, against which there has been a most violent reaction, beside which hatred of it before the war pales.
c) The great majority of his ardent followers inside Greece, have remained what they were before, pro-German, and are now among the ranks of the traitors.
ii) Almost every Greek, and especially all the politicians with hardly any exception, wants a Plebiscite at the end of the war to decide whether Greece is to become a republic or a monarchy. This is because:
a) People fear the restoration of a dictatorship
b) They believe it is the ONLY way to get unity for the future, and kill the old divergences and dissensions. (it = plebiscite)
c) They believe (poor dopes) that the Atlantic Charter grants them the right to decide their own futures, and that the Allies do not consider the Atlantic Charter a mere propaganda stunt.
iii) If we refuse to say definitely and concisely that the Greeks shall be allowed to have a plebiscite to decide their own future as soon as that becomes a practical possibility, they naturally conclude that we have a good reason for stifling the expression of popular will: i.e. that we intend to reimpose an unwanted regime by force.
iv) If that impression is allowed to get around we are throwing the Greeks into the hands of the Communists, who are preparing for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, who (like Communists everywhere) are exploiting public anxiety, and who have become terrifyingly strong, because only they have a clear-cut, simple policy.
v) The FO “hopes that the King will be welcomed back to Greece”... It is, in fact, doing everything it can to STOP the King and his government doing the one thing which might save them. It is encouraging them to be more reactionary than they already are. It is closing its eyes to blindingly obvious facts, and it is doing its very best to ensure chaos, bloodshed, hatred of the British, and Communism in Greece.
vi) And, how pathetically ironical, it is doing all this in “the cause of stability” in Greece.
Do these people realise that we are fighting for democracy? Just exactly in order that people shall have the right to choose how they are going to live after the war? Do they mind about these things? Do they really dislike dictatorship? Can they recognize fascism when they see it? Judging them by their actions, I'm afraid the answer is no. I myself don't believe that the choice facing the Greek people is a Communist State or British-imposed Fascism. But if that were the choice I should choose the former. And an average Greek in Greece can be perfectly well excused for believing that that is the choice. That is why we (the FO) MUST make a clear definite statement..
If that could be done now (and now is the last possible moment) then: the non-communists would leave the Comms, and there would be no danger of a Red Revolution succeeding, the anti-British trend would stop, and a victory of immense importance would have been won by those who believe in the Atlantic Charter, rather than in the rotting reaction of FO secret diplomacy.
I know a little of this sounds familiar of Communist-bogey stories. But I do believe that all forms of dictatorship are bad. I do believe that a free progressive democratic-socialist state could provide a happier future for our friends in Greece than they would have under a Soviet system, and I do desperately want the Greeks not to feel at the end of the war, that in return for all the magnificent heroism and idealism and suffering of the last two years their friends have sold them in favour of British financial interests, or doddering Chamberlainist imperialism!
I beg and beseech you to think a little about this. And unless you can explain to me where and why I am wrong (and after all I know more of the facts than you do, because - quite simply - I am a little in touch, whereas you are not), to act on it. I feel passionately about it all, and I don't suppose there could be anything so frustrating as the thought that one's own parents, whose judgement and goodness one respects as much as I do, are either indifferent, or else just too lazy, to try and use what influence they have to prevent a gigantic and ghastly crime being committed.
If I exaggerate forgive me.
And please NEVER quote this to ANYONE until I have given you my direct permission. Which won't (I am afraid) be until it is all settled one way or the other. I am, in the interests of what I believe right, committing a considerable military crime.
...I'm off at a much too early hour tomorrow morning for no. 3 of Noel-Baker's tours of the Levant, and must consequently finish what I have to say - or rather what the idiot son's garrulousness leads him to suppose he has to say - before I go to sleep.
About Broadcasts: you must repeat MUST repeat MUST, Father, start b'casts again at ONCE and once a month regularly. What the Greeks now want, and the biggest service you can do them and the common cause, is to talk in general and “Atlantic Charter” terms about what we are fighting for: i.e. democracy, and the freedom of peoples to choose the regime they are to live under, and what we owe the Greeks, and how determined the British PEOPLE are to see that they are fairly done by - internally and as far as their post war external claims are concerned. Democracy, Atlantic Charter, our gratitude, and our sincere wish to see Greece strong and happy and united after the war, in the way a father would look upon his child (you can quote that), and how we really do reciprocate their touching love of the English (more misguided).
...very very very VERY VERY much love to you both from your most devoted and affectionate
When not involved in Greek affairs or spending time with Greek people, FNB would often be reminded of home in some way or other by what he saw around him, comparing the aridity of the desert with the forests of Euboea, or imagining through a trick of the light that a particular view could almost be a familiar one.
23rd June 1943
...The desert, the bit we saw today, was really almost pleasant. Quite why I don't know, except that it undulated a bit, and near Suez there is actually a mountain visible. I suppose in fact it is nothing but nasty and bare rock, but in the slightly hazy distance it looked almost as though it had trees on it, and one could deceive oneself into imagining it was like the downs. Then in the evening light on the way back it went purply, and with the blue sea (I can't quite make out what sea it could have been, but it was there all right, and very blue) it reminded me a little of the hills opposite Chalcis, as they look as one is getting to the bottom of the road down from the Aghios on the way to Chalcis..
25th September 1943
...Picnics at Achmetaga are not so far ahead. We shall -- D.V. all be there at least by Easter, and perhaps still even by Christmas. One of the many things I have vowed in these last few days to do at Achmetaga is to walk and ride all over every inch of every hill, forest, lakka, and field, till I know the name of every little bit of the Estate that has a name. Another vow is to plant and plant and plant trees - pefka, elata, oaks, cypresses, poplars, pins mediterraneans if they'll grow, even plane trees if there's a place where they should be and don't grow by themselves, and perhaps some cedars. Agree? The deforestation in this part of the world is a grim and terrible warning to anyone who lives where there are still trees and might be more. Incidentally there seems to be no evidence that the Achmetaga-Drazi forest has suffered by the occupation, and I doubt very much whether the olives, or any of the productive resources of the place, will have suffered either.
He saw his experiences as leading on to more time for study at Cambridge, and once again his thinking is in terms of Greece, on the one hand, and politics on the other.
...I long to have time to read what I like, write what I like, and think in whatever direction appeals to or amuses me. When I did have the time I didn't really know how to use it. Now, I think, I've got a better idea. I'm still torn between another year of history, (at Cambridge) and some economics. Both are essential I think, if there is time (P will doubtless say there is). History because I only did enough just to get a first faint idea when I was up, and what little idea I did get I have now forgotten. Economics because for politics they are indispensible. It's amazing, so little do I remember of what I got my “first” on, I can't even recollect what periods or subjects I was supposed to be reading, and as for knowing the difference between Popes Gregory I and VIII, I don't.
If I did specialize on any period of history, Byzantine is the thing I think, because it's a fascinating period, Greece gives me a personal interest in the places and people, and anyway very few people are real experts on it which makes it all the more fun, because not all the ideas have possibly been thought of already by some old stooge with a beard.
Damn, it looks as if I shall have to spend the rest of my life at King's (which God forbid, much as I love the place) if I'm going to begin to learn a quarter of the things I now want to learn.
By 1943 a civil war had begun to brew in Greece and FNB's predictions were beginning to come true. His sense of frustration and horror at what was happening in Greece was overwhelming and he began to look for another job. Yet again he predicts that his family will one day suffer for the crimes of the British.
14th November 1943
I am most unhappy in my present job. How much you know about my job I can't tell, but probably you've been able to piece together enough of various people's indiscretions to have a pretty shrewd idea, and I expect talking to T will make most of the rest clear.
I am unhappy about my job (and when I say “most” I mean most) for two reasons. One: present British policy to Greece is criminally bad, and I cannot escape a share of the responsibility for that policy as long as I remain a member of a military department with Greek affairs. Two: for reasons mainly political I have been gradually squeezed into a completely stoogy job where I am wasting my time.
I don't want to go into a whole long rigmarole to explain the first. To cover adequately the failings of HMG's attitude to Greek affairs, one would need to write a whole Modern Political History of Greece Before and During the Axis Occupation, and that would take more time than there is available before tomorrow morning. Suffice it to say that being in possession of the facts to a greater extent than anyone else except most senior diplomatic and military officials -- and very probably to a greater extent than even them -- I consider that British Foreign policy has made more criminal blunders in respect of Greece than in respect of any of the international problems it has successfully made a hash of. And that is saying quite a lot.
One couldn't have conceived of a more gallantly united, or more pathologically pro-British people than the Greeks at the time of the Axis invasion. Here, if anywhere, British policy had an ideal field of activity... What has happened? Today there is a civil war raging in Greece, and the Greeks are not only murdering each other, but (with every justification) the British liaison officers who were sent in to coordinate the work of their guerrillas. (I don't know whether that last fact has been published in London. It is street gossip here.) We are gradually and deliberately turning the Greeks against us, driving them to hate us... and we have given them every justification for doing so. In the civil war we are, inevitably it seems, backing a small reactionary unrepresentative clique, against a national popular resistance movement many times the size of any other, merely and simply because it is directed by the left wing.
Alas, our apparent determination to impose an unwanted King on Greece (about which I have raged in the past in those of my letters I thought would not be read by foreign office spies), is but the least of our crimes against the Greek people.
And it is you and I, Father and Mother, who will suffer for those crimes, not the despicable little diplomats and staff officers who are now responsible, but who will all drift on to new comfortable jobs elsewhere where they can commit further outrages of incompetence and immorality, in blissful ignorance of the damage they did while they fought their paper war of intrigue and rival ambitions here in Cairo.
In short: I hate and detest what the British Government, and the departments and branches serving it, including my own, are doing to the Greeks at the present time. I am, unfortunately, now in a position where I can do absolutely nothing to influence policy or the deluge of blunders being committed daily. I am now not even allowed to give an opinion. But I feel that as long as I remain a member of a branch dealing with Greek affairs, morally I bear a part of the guilt for what it is doing. Again -- on a more brutally practical level -- I should not have the face to return to Achmetaga after the war as “one of those people in Cairo” who took a part in kicking in the face of the most loyal and brave of all our allies.
...Well, what does all this boil down to? I'm only clear on a few points myself. These are:
a) I must leave my present job. It is useless, anyone could do it, it is completely frustrating, and I am getting myself tarred with the responsibility of a policy I deplore though I'm powerless to affect it by one jot or tittle. (Greeks, good Greeks, have already begun to denounce me here.)
b) As long as Greek affairs are as shockingly handled in Mideast as they now are, any job connected with them in any other branch, would have precisely the same disadvantages.
c) If I'm to stay in Mideast I must do something other than Greece, idiotic as that seems in view of my qualifications (such as they are), and after the efforts I made precisely in order to get a Greek job...
I most awfully wish the “political” objection hadn't held against my doing something a little more active but Greek (the nature of which you can guess, and to which I'd been looking forward a lot, without much concrete hope of doing it). But as things now are perhaps it's a good thing. I wouldn't undertake to handle or deal with Greeks -- “real Greeks” -- while FO policy remains as fascist as it now is. I shall be surprised if many of the Englishmen doing such jobs now will want to show their faces in Greece ever again...
One factor is my great and urgent desire to be in this part of the world when an invasion of Greece does happen, or at least to get back there as soon as possible afterwards. It is a factor to be taken very definitely into consideration.
Tony Keswick is going to discuss the whole thing with you fullier than I can now. I incline very strongly to the view that if it is physically possible for me to get to London now -- even for a short time -- it would be much the best thing. I might even be able to help just a little in getting some heat put on the FO, and that in itself is well worth doing at this moment. And I feel that a job in England for a short time, if it wasn't stoogery, would be a good thing, and would by any means make it impossible, or even unlikely, that I could get back here (or to Italy) again, at the appropriate moment, to get into Greece quick.
I feel no hesitation in using any influence Tony may be good enough to want to exert for me, for getting the next job. I do feel every hesitation in using any that Father might be able to exert. Indeed I beg him not to: or rather -- in so far as I can -- I forbid him to. But, I think you will agree, Tony is a person I have got to know quite apart from Parental influence, and if as a friend he can help me, I can see no valid reason why he shouldn't. The more so as he would presumably only do so because he thinks I could be better employed than at present, and that (if one can say such a thing) my stooging is not in the general interest. Do you see what I mean?
Another entirely different king of dilemma I've involved myself in is Joy. As you know, my vasiki archi (or basic arch... I must digress for a moment onto the subject of anglicised modern Greek which can be made into a language almost incomprehensible to almost everyone. Father, for example is the Yphypurge for Polemic Metaphor... no one would know what you meant, not even, perhaps, yourself. Very usifull!) as I was saying, my basic arch in the whole affair has been that it will NOT become a permanent thing...
In 1944 FNB was finally posted back to London and then to New York, at the request of his former PWE deputy-boss at Woburn, the Queen Mother's brother, David Bowes Lyon. Bowes Lyon was now head of the British Political Warfare Mission with his own office at the British embassy in Washington. FNB's job was “to brief appropriate American organisations of certain aspects of an Anglo-American occupation of the Balkans: an occupation which, of course, never took place, apart from Greece”. His immediate impressions of America confirm an early bias against the essentially debilitating aspects of our modern consumer society.
Letter to a friend, Washington, 22nd August 1944
...It's extremely difficult to disentangle the many sharp but confused impressions that strike one when one first arrives here, and even after over a month I have no very clear idea what has principally impressed me. I know that I am very glad to have come here, and that I hope to find an opportunity to come here again for longer after the war: I also know that I have become much more consciously and violently European after seeing American material civilisation. (To the casual observer, as I have necessarily been, there is apparently no other.) I am amused by doors that open themselves, lifts that take one to the 37th floor without stopping, air-conditioned motorcars, “automats” where one eats out of slot machines (I went to one yesterday), bread that's bought already sliced to save labour, but they make me miss acutely the squalor and complementary spiritual and intellectual development of the Greek peasants.
It seems that despite a successful time in Washington, and despite the support of his friends, FNB continued to be side-lined by the powers that were, and prevented from being as closely involved in Greek affairs as he would have wished, presumably due to his perceived communist leanings.
Letter from David Bowes Lyon, Washington DC, 14th Sept 1944
My dear Francis
Many thanks for your letter which made we almost as angry with the miserable, jealous, intriguing of petty people who turned you down as you must be yourself. Truly it makes one despair when one sees those in powerful places stultifying all efforts on the part of youth to do something advantageous to one's own side. As you say, I wish to God I was over there. I would anyway make a stink about it.
...I am glad you are beginning to regret having left here so soon though I regret your absence much more. It really was fun having you here with us and I should have truly enjoyed it had you been able to stay on. It made a lot of difference having you blowing in here and cheered me up a lot. You are, I promise, welcome at all times even coatless at 1AM, either here, at home or wherever our paths lead us. One path, however, I have every intention of treading, the one to Euboea - and soon, I hope. I should love to see you on your nearly (illegible - dearly beloved? -) native land and enjoy it all with you. Being selfish, I would like to do so before you contract marriage because I feel she would get much more than the accustomed lion's share and in Euboea I want a sizeable chunk of your companionship to learn about this land you love so much...
From David Bowes Lyon, British Political Warfare Mission, British Embassy, Washington D.C.
14th October 1944
...I am glad to put on record my appreciation and gratitude for the excellent work you have accomplished on the Mission's behalf during your visit to this country. The work you were able to do with the appropriate American Government Department on our mutual problems in the Balkans has been invaluable and will, I think, be of lasting usefulness. Your particularly exact knowledge of Greece has perhaps been the most helpful of all and I am satisfied that your trip to this country has been a most successful and profitable one for us.
CONFIDENTIAL from London, 15th October 1944 (not sent)
Dear Mr Law,
You may perhaps remember a paper which I wrote early last spring, just after I had got back from the Middle East.
Coming from a junior Intelligence Officer, it might fairly have been considered both impertinent and indiscreet in that it suggested that at that time mistakes were being made in His Majesty's Government's policy towards Greece. Nevertheless, you were good enough to suggest that it would be worth while for you to show the paper to the Secretary of State.
I imagine that a copy is still on the files of the Southern Department. In any event, my argument (which was consistent with what I have written and said on the few other occasions when I have been at liberty to express my own views) was briefly as follows:
i) The King of Greece had so little support inside the country that British pressure to secure his return could only do us harm.
ii) The E.A.M. was militarily so strong, and politically so representative, that there was no practical alternative to collaboration with it.
iii) H.M.G. would be mistaken if it continued to hope for a counter- balance to E.A.M. in discredited and semi-quisling right-wing groups.
As events turned out, it seems that H.M.G. itself has now recognised the validity of these contentions. Your Office has advised the King not to return before a plebiscite has been held, it has insisted that E.A.M. should join the Greek Government, and it has sanctioned the denunciation of the so-called Security Battalions and their associates.
It is not my intention to suggest, on the basis of what has happened, that I possessed any unusual insight into Greek politics, but merely to explain that my views on the subject have never been any more revolutionary than the policy which has now been adopted by your Office.
It is for this reason that I do not understand why the Ambassador to Greece should have made a personal complaint against me, or why, since the time that I first became persona non grata with him, I have found myself banned from any work connected with Greek politics or Greek resistance.
Between last November and this summer, I was successively: removed from my appointment with S.O.E. Cairo, prevented from going as a Liaison Officer to Greece, finally dismissed by S.O.E. and stopped from going back to the Mediterranean area with P.W.E. On each occasion, I was officially informed that my relations with Mr Leeper were the reason.
Apparently the ban still applies. When I returned from Washington at the beginning of this month, I came with a recommendation from the Head of my Mission (Mr Bowes-Lyon) that I should go straight on to the Mediterranean area in order to complete the job I was doing in America and at the same time be available when the liberation of Greece began. The Director-General of P.W.E. was at first perfectly willing to send me. As soon as he had consulted the Foreign Office, however, I was once again informed that my presence in Mr. Leeper's “sphere of influence” was not desirable...
It has never been thought necessary to give me any explanation of just why I became “persona non grata with the Foreign Office” (a phrase so often quoted at me by P.W.E. and S.O.E.) and I have assumed that it must be for one of three alternative reasons. Either it is because I happened to be at one time a subordinate of the (subsequently dismissed) Lord Glenconner, or it is because of the “extremist” views expressed e.g. in my paper of last spring, or it is, quite simply, because my Father is a member of the Labour Party.
Now that the war in Greece is nearly over (with myself safely at the other end of Europe) and that Foreign Office policy to Greece has changed so radically, I feel that it is only fair that I should be told the reason for the Foreign Office boycott that has dogged me for almost a year, has led to my dismissal from two departments and has isolated me from Greece. I should also be really grateful for some indication as to how long it is likely to last...
To David Bowes-Lyon from London, 26th October 1944
...I shall, God willing, be in Greece by December. By that time the last German will certainly be behind bars, but I shall be quite content to distribute endless numbers of babies' bottles once I'm actually in the country. And if anyone tries to get me out again I shall take to the top of the highest Euboean mountain and fight my own guerrilla war (if necessary becoming King of Euboea and seceding from the rest of Greece). I am now on embarkation leave,... almost two years to the day since I flew out there last time. This time it will be slow sea: but as long as I arrive it can be as slow and as rough as red tape and the weather can make it. I will send you a telegram from Athens.
... The Greek news is good. I enclose for your amusement the latest “Spectator” article, and also an earlier one. I do in fact believe that everything has gone incredibly well so far... so well that there has been no bloodshed, no “disorder”, and the F.O. has had to do a complete somersault on every important issue. But being right is a crime which is apparently not easily forgiven. A few days ago, and chiefly for my internal relief, I wrote the enclosed letter to Dick Law. On advice from Father, I haven't sent it in. But I want someone to read it, so here it is for your waste-paper basket.
The Foreign Office about turn had come too late. By December British tanks were driving into the streets of Athens, firing on so called communist rebels, who until recently had been their staunchest allies in the war.
Letter to David Bowes Lyon, December 9th 1944 sent c/o Lady Smart, British Embassy, Cairo
...the Greek news is ghastly, and I feel desperately unhappy about it. I'm even glad not to be there: to be in Athens (or, worse still, Euboea), at a time when we're using Sherman tanks and spitfires against our allies and all but bombing the Parthenon would be an insult both to the uniform I'm dressed up in and to my family's hundred-year old tradition of philhellenism. And we told them it was going to happen. They were warned time and time again. They sacked and exiled us, they went on twisting the facts and lying and intriguing to try and justify their ignorance and their blunders, and this is where it's got them. And then they get up and say they're only trying to ensure a “stable Government”. Christ! Look at their stable government. Two days before the shooting started in Athens Sophoulis had got the agreement of all parties, including the left and the so-called extreme left, to the formation of a coalition government, and he was forbidden categorically by both Leeper and Scobie to form it. “The moment was not ripe for a change of regime”, “The Prime Minister asked him to give his support to M. Papandreou”. The whole filthy story was in the press here two days ago. And then they can still pretend that what they want is a stable government.
I can see only one solution now - or rather one immediate way to stop the shooting, and that is the announcement that a commission is going at once to Athens with full powers, from London, and an appeal for a truce. At the same time, let the wretched Greeks form their coalition government which the P.M.s intervention has so far stopped. This campaign against them can't go on: in any case it would take months to suppress them. It took the Germans three years and five divisions and even then they didn't succeed... admittedly the Germans never went to the lengths of using tanks in the middle of Athens, but even so. I hope you haven't taken the Colonel Blimp attitude to the whole thing David. I can't imagine that you have. I'm no more in favour of a left-wing dictatorship in Greece than you are - indeed, very much less so, because I want to go back and live in Euboea. But the F.O. by its criminal lunacy is forcing the Greeks to face the choice between dictatorship of the extreme left and dictatorship of the extreme right. Any middle solution, which would have been so easy at the beginning -- or even a few weeks ago -- and which is what the great majority of Greeks have been praying for, is being steadily made impossible. It's obviously no good hurling all this at your head. I wish I could write you a proper paper on the whole thing, but there would be no way of sending it. Please forgive the round-about address. I hope it may make it more likely for my “subversive” sentiments to reach you intact.
December 17th, 1944
My Dearest Parents,
...The following seems to be important:
i. Greek opinion should not be left with the impression that it was merely the military impossibility of fighting a successful campaign against the ELAS which caused a change of British policy. They should be shown that it was the spontaneous revulsion of the British Parliament, Press, and Public which was responsible; and that had information been available and discussion possible sooner, the reactionary policy would have been reversed long ago.
ii. The EAM must be adequately represented in whatever new Government is formed (it should not be forgotten that it was Churchill's direct personal intervention via Leeper that prevented a Coalition Government being formed, before the real shooting began), but that Government must not be exclusively EAM.
iii. That there has been terrorism in some parts of Greece -- notably the Peloponnese -- by the EAM is undeniable. It is, however, to my mind simply and purely the reaction to our consistent EAM-busting policy over the last three years, and to the right-wing and semi-quisling elements on whom Leeper relied right up to the moment of Liberation...
M.E. Letter No. 10.
My Dear Arthur,
...I expect to be here in Jerusalem for some months at least. As you can imagine, I was in many ways bitterly disappointed not to have been sent 'in', but when the troubles started my chief anxiety was to stay out: and just at that moment - in the odd way that things usually happen - the people here got instructions to post me there forthwith. By great good luck, I was able to solicit the help of someone powerful enough to intervene... and now here I am...
Having done everything he could to avoid being sent in to Greece while the British were shooting the Greeks, FNB was now anxious to get back there as soon as possible. However once again he was unable to keep quiet, and this made it ever more unlikely that the Foreign Office would let him go anyway near Greece. He was as active as he could be in supporting those so-called Greek communists who he felt had been treated unjustly by the British Government. His own experiences had made him very sensitive to the wrongs committed by governments in their attempts to silence those who took a stand against them, and in unjustly condemning people as spies or political rebels. John Peltekis (D.S.O) had been a brilliant undercover agent in Greece during the war, code named 'Yvonne'. After the war FNB dedicated his book about Greece to him. Peltekis went on to become a Minister in the post-war government. He was with FNB when his election result was declared in Brentford in 1945.
Cairo, 16th January 1945
Personal and Confidential
My Dearest Father,
This letter is to introduce to you Major Kennedy whom I first met when I originally came out here in 1942 and whom I have been seeing fairly frequently since my return to Middle East last month. His work as a member of GHQ has brought him into contact with John Peltekis whom he now knows very well both officially and personally. That is why I have asked him to come and see you as soon after his arrival in London as he can manage.
2. You will remember my telling you something of John Peltekis when I got back to England last January. At that time he was again in Athens (his first visit to Cairo was in the summer of 1943, when he lived in my flat at Agusa), and naturally I could say very little about his work. You may also remember, however, that I had a letter from him later last spring, and that I had some difficulty in getting a reply to him. That was during his second visit to Middle East. Major Kennedy will tell you what he had been doing in the mean time.
3. When I arrived here a month or so ago, to my surprise I found that John was being kept in Cairo because he had been accused by Leeper of being a crypto-Communist, and that a court of enquiry had been called to investigate his conduct in Greece. Needless to say, he was finally completely cleared by the court, but by that time very great damage had been done not only to him personally, but also, as I think you will agree when you know the details, to the cause of Greece and to the allied war effort. It is no exaggeration to say (and in this Major Kennedy will bear me out) that had John been in Athens during the final months of the occupation and the first weeks of the “liberation”, the port of Piraeus might not have been virtually destroyed by the Germans, and the civil war might never have taken place.
4. I understand that a report on the findings of the court (which was apparently instituted on the personal instructions of the Prime Minister) has been issued, and that there are a number of copies now in the possession of the various departments in London concerned with Military and Political affairs in Greece. I would suggest that you ask to see this report, and I believe that when you have read it you will agree that an outrageous injustice has been done, and that a very formal apology should be made by the Foreign Office.
5. That in itself, however, would not be enough: apart from the fact that John Peltekis is interested not in extracting apologies from British departments, but in doing something to rescue his unfortunate country from the disaster into which the Foreign Office has plunged it, and incidentally to salvage the remains of British prestige in Greece.
6. As an authority on current Greek affairs Peltekis has few, if any, rivals at the present moment. His predictions of the course of events has been astounding - for example, as early as 1943 he warned us that we were heading for a civil war in which the British would probably be defeated, unless the Foreign Office changed its tactics. He is now desperately anxious to come to London where he feels that his experience and knowledge would be of value. I have no doubt that it would.
7. It has in fact already tentatively been suggested to him by his former office here that he should make a short visit to London. A hitch has apparently occurred however: a hitch which I have little hesitation in attributing to the usual source! I don't know whether you are in a strong position at the moment to help, but I would beg you to do everything you possibly can.
M.E. Letter NO. 12 H.Q. Palestine 14 January 1945
My Beloved Parents,
I regret to say that I am in a thoroughly gloomy state of mind. I arrived here the day before yesterday, to find myself a very junior stooge in a not particularly prepossessing office doing a job about which I as yet know nothing and of which I shall probably tend to disapprove. Added to which, I don't find my colleagues particularly inspiring, I know no one in Jerusalem except the ex-Sargent Major, and the only place in which I could find a room was the annex to a pension in which I have a cell about two feet square, unheated. However it is by no means impossible that in a week or two I shall be writing enthusiastically about the joys of Jerusalem, and whatever happens I don't intend to stay in this place indefinitely. In fact, my plan is to spend just long enough to get a fairly satisfactory line on local affairs, and then go...
...I got a copy of the report that Gerald Green had made about Achmetaga, it arrived yesterday, and he says he is sending you another copy. it's pretty gloomy, and makes me desperate to get there somehow. I am now going to apply for some compassionate leave to go specifically for the purpose of looking at Achmetaga, as soon as things settle. i don't know whether it will be granted or not, but it's worth trying anyhow... Hell, how I loathe this filthy war, specially since we started fighting for rather than against fascism...
By the end of January it seems that FNB had been effectively silenced and sidelined by the Foreign Office, much to his frustration, and sent out of harm's way to Jerusalem. Apart from his desire to return to Greece and help with the desperate situation there, where people were starving and the country and all its infrastructure had been completely destroyed by the war, he was needed at home: members of EAM were now terrorizing the local population and proving more difficult for the villagers to deal with than the fascist regime before the war.
20th/21st January 1945 H.,Q., PALESTINE
My Dear David,
...I hope to God that I'm not turning into a professional grouser, but I do find it difficult to prevent myself finding the past two months a bit gloomy. I came out here really (and very foolishly) believing that at last I was on my way 'back', and all that happened was that I spent two months waiting for a posting, and was then sent up here to the stoogiest imaginable job, while horror piled itself on horror at 'home'. Now I don't know quite where I stand. In theory I'm here indefinitely, but at the same time I've put in an application for either compassionate leave or temporary release to go and see to the estate. The bailiff having been threatened with execution and having thereupon (quite rightly) left the village, I am literally the only person available to start getting the place going again and to try and save our many destitute dependents. Its horrible because they were at their last gasp two months ago, but had just managed to hold out that long, and were thanking God that their afflictions were over: then it all began again. I've little idea now who is dead and who's alive.
Gloom notwithstanding, FNB fell to keeping up to date with Greek affairs from afar, via his Father's secretary, and to learn everything he possibly could about Palestine.
To Marion (probably secretary to PJNB) from HQ Palestine 23rd January 1945
May I add to your troubles by asking you very kindly to make sure that I get copies of all the Hansards covering Greek debates? Also, if they're possible to buy from the Stationary Office, I should be most grateful for copies of the various Blue Books (I think there were about four in all) and White Papers issued on Palestine since 1924. I'm afraid that sounds rather a tall order, but perhaps you could mention it to your Boss?..
Letter to a friend, Palestine, 5/6th February 1945
...Oddly enough I was in the curious position of having to prevent myself from going to Greece about two months ago. Just in the middle of the civil war they tried at last to send me there: but I didn't want to get myself involved with shooting Greeks of any kind, so I managed, after a bit of anxiety, to fix this in stead. It's possible that I may at long last get home fairly soon now things have settled. After that I suspect it will be the Far East for me too, which might be fun...
Letter to a friend, Headquarters, Palestine 19/20th February 1945
I got to Egypt at the end of November after a very pleasant journey which almost wasn't long enough... GHQ didn't seem to know what I was for - I've sometimes wondered myself, since - so I spent a happy two months doing nothing and living with the Smarts in Cairo... and by myself in Alexandria where endless and fantastically lavish parties peopled by equally fantastic and lavish levantines - the “society” of Alex - would have provided a garish background for almost anything you care to think of... personally I didn't bother to think what, but if I wrote novels I'd have got lots of oh-so-exotic atmosphere. Then I came here, which I refuse to recognise as anything but temporary, but which I now enjoy, partly because I can have breakfast in bed, (that is when I wake before my eggs are stone cold) and partly because it gives me an opportunity to “study the Palestine problem” and to come to no conclusion whatever. I also dance with a descendent of the prophet whose grandfather was eminence grise to Abdul Hamid and whose family is credited with supernatural powers...
(and again, from a letter to friends written later, on 26th April, from Athens:)
...In January I went up to Jerusalem and spent just over two months there. I was appointed to a job in our headquarters there, and though the job itself was on the whole uninteresting and very far from the war, being in Palestine was an experience well worth while. I got down to reading a number of books about the “Palestine problem” (about which you are doubtless hearing a good deal in the States just now), I talked to a lot of people - both Jews and Arabs - and travelled about a certain amount. I came to the conclusion that the solution of the problem was a good deal less easy than some member of the House of Commons (or Congress, for that matter) would have us believe...
Meanwhile news was coming in from Achmetaga, as the British troops stationed in Chalcis were able to send it through to Headquarters in Palestine. Irene had managed to fly out via Italy on a small army plane, waved off at the airport by Philip, who wrote to her of how proud he felt in seeing her set off on her own, and of the important work she had to do there. Irene began immediately to work alongside others in co-ordinating relief, medical supplies and food for Greece. Philip was too busy with his own affairs in government to accompany her, but gave her every possible support in the arrangement of transport, pulling strings with the army to borrow trucks, arranging for deliveries of Cadbury's chocolate to sweeten the children's milk so that that they would be able to drink it.
Letter to friends, 20th February 1945, Headquarters, Palestine
...The news from Achmetaga, incidentally, is on the whole a great deal better than could have been hoped for. Zisimos and all our other retainers seem to have survived. They behaved magnificently... even going so far as to take and hide for us almost the whole contents of the house. (Two pianos got as far as thirty miles away - to Chalcis - God knows how.) The house itself was burnt at the end of 43 by the Italians (NOT by the guerrillas as the Daily Telegraph so impudently stated - my Mother wrote them a fierce démenti), and small areas of the forest were also burnt, but apart from that and the inevitable loss of things like the lorry, car, and tractor, the damage does not seem to have been very great. Mother is (to the best of my knowledge) now in Greece, having flown out there a few days ago. I am hoping perhaps to get a little special leave to go and help her during the beginning of the rehabilitation of Achmetaga.
Letter to his Parents, 5/6 Feb 1945
My Beloved Parents
...I got three letters from Arghyri on 3 Feb. Two of them were for you, dated 35 (sic) Dec and 14 Jan and written in Athens; the third was for me and I have kept it here. Of the two, one contained a full list of the various household things that were hidden during the occupation and the names of the people looking after them. Before forwarding it.. I made the following extract just in case the original should go astray: there follows a list of all the papers, books, clothing, pictures, photographs, furniture (including the two pianos) and silver which were hidden in various houses in the village or taken to Chalcis for safekeeping...
The house had been burnt to the ground, but it didn't seem to matter at all. The relief at finding everyone alive and unharmed, and the fact that almost all their belongings had been saved meant more to them than anything else. The saving of the belongings was most important because it showed such deep affection for the family, and for the house where so many in the village had felt at home, found work, and, as they would have said, eaten their bread. FNB uses the term 'retainers', which was quite literal since whatever had not been requisitioned by occupying troops had been in the care of local people for the six years during which the family had been unable to visit their home. Both before and after the war the family were often in England for long periods, and they relied on their 'retainers' especially their 'bailiff 'and friend, Arghyri, to keep the place going and take responsibility for everything that happened there. From reading his letters it becomes clear that 'political correctness' was a completely alien concept to FNB. He tried to tell the truth and use words as accurately as possible. 'Peasants' means country people who work on the land. He had nothing but the highest respect for them, and thought them far superior and more agreeable to be with than almost any other kind of human being.
Thank you, Mother, for the first half of your (letters numbered and dated) which arrived since I last wrote. I quite agree: damage to the konaki is far far preferable to the death or starvation of any of our very faithful retainers. Just how faithful they have been is shown vividly by the way in which they undertook to look after our belongings...
Meanwhile FNB is still stuck in Palestine and doing his best to control his fury at being kept out of Greece. However it didn't stop him dashing about to look at everything, find out about agriculture, make new friends (many of whom were to be lasting ones) and pick up a Charming Moslem. The eating and drinking that went on was in sharp contrast to the starvation in Greece. The lack of trees a constant reminder of the ones he would plant when he got home.
His affection for Achmetaga and the people there seems to have fixed his sympathies squarely with “real” people. The things he seems to detest most are mindless officialdom and 'stoogery' of every kind, the ignorance of the British when faced with customs different to their own, and displays of meaningless wealth. As ever he is apparently less concerned about his own promotion, position and good name than in communicating what he feels to be the state of affairs 'on the ground'.
Letter from Palestine, 8/9 Feb 45
My Beloved Parents...
...On Tuesday I had lunch with the Sheikh of the big mosque here, ate a simply outrageous quantity of food, returned with a distended paunch and slept it off till 5. I felt violently anti-British for the rest of the afternoon because of the revolting manners of the ill-bred collection of pleased-to-meet-yous who were also lunching with the sheikh and who behaved so vilely to him that I now believe every horror I hear about the British Colonial Service. Personally I should sack half of them and give the other half a five-year course in elementary politeness, stressing to them that they are an exceedingly common, vulgar, smug, collection of promoted office boys (who never should have been promoted anyway) and that democracy means knowing how to treat their betters with suitable respect, especially when they are given the privilege of dealing with foreigners whose culture and general intelligence and breeding is a great deal higher than theirs. My rage makes me forget what I did on Tuesday evening.. Wednesday was my day off and I slept till 9.30.. I then got up, went for a brisk walk to clear my head, came back and dealt with Greek press cuttings.. I then lunched at a thing called the Arab centre in the old city where young officers (very well selected) are learning Arabic and about this part of the world (and again ate too much) and after that Kit and I came back here, picked up the charming moslem, drove to Bethlehem, walked and looked at the very fine Byzantine church (see my letter of a year and a half ago, perhaps), bussed back again, had tea with a man called Farrel the Director of Education and a friend of Wacey-Pace, (Alan Wace, Director of the British School at Athens), came back here with a young intellectual Arab (descended from one of Saladin's generals) talked about Palestine and tried to remember the whole of 'he clasps the crag with crooked hands', then had dinner and danced with the ch.m., then helped her write a speech for her bazaar which happened today but which she didn't make, then took her home then went to sleep then got up again (with considerable effort) this morning just in time to be mildly late for an excellent bey who drove me out to a fine place on the top of a hill (the car got stuck in the mud a la Psachna and we had to walk) where small Arabs are taught agriculture and where we discussed olives and I invited him cordially to Achmetaga in which he expressed great interest (we shall have half the middle east there soon) then went to see two Arab schools with him at places called Ramallah and Bireh respectively near Jerusalem then had an excellent lunch with him and his family then went to the ch.m's bazaar then came back and did 3 hours work (?) sic then went and ate a very hasty meal, then went to the Pal. Orchestra concert (Handel, Brahms, Beethoven, Weber, Mozart - excellent) with a Semite and the district commissioner (in the almost-royal box) then went to a party of Agronsky's.. (etc. Etc.)
Letter to David Bowes Lyon 20th Feb 1945
...Jerusalem I find entertaining - having hated it like hell when I first arrived. Apart from the amenities of life which (my conscience having been strangled by 4 years of red tape) I no longer feel guilty at enjoying, I've been able to travel a little round this very arid but rather attractive country (my God I shall plant trees when I get back to Euboea)..
Letter to David Bowes Lyon, Headquarters, Palestine, 28 February 1945
I have just been writing you a touting letter (the merchandise touted being, as usual, myself), but was finally overcome by shame and tore it up. The extreme fatuousness of my file-pushing here (which would defy description even if my present medium allowed me to describe it) combined with the news that I am still very much non grata, rather got the better of me.
It seems that if I ever am allowed into the place (Greece) it will be conditional on my giving an undertaking that I shall confine my activities exclusively to reorganising the estate. Maybe they will want me to report to the police daily, just to complete the spectacle of the 'dangerous subvert'. In any event there is no sign yet that my application for compassionate leave is going to be granted - it has been at the feet of GHQ for six weeks now - and I'm nearing flash point...
Palestine - from the point of view of tourism and extreme physical comfort - is pleasant, and, had it not been for the existence of a contemporary war (a detail which most of my aged and dreary colleagues seem long to have forgotten), might have been an amusing if fatuous interlude in my education. I am going to Amman on Saturday to visit Brigadier Glubb of whom you may have heard, and I gather from the fact that I am to take a bed roll with me that there is some kind of expedition into the desert afoot. My short periods of release from clerking have so far been very entertaining. Last weekend I went to Haifa and back via Nablus and then on to Jericho. After Amman I'm going to try and stay with Julian Oxford at Beersheba and look at some of his Bedouin: he has a small kingdom with several thousands of them in it. If I ever get time I shall try and write some descriptions. In the meantime I must go off to buy my goddaughter a present and then return to the compilation of quite fascinatingly idiotic lists.
Forgive this silly letter,
Extract from Barbro Noel-Baker's book, An Isle of Greece, The Noels in Euboea:
“In the spring of 1945 Irene Noel-Baker returned to Achmetaga. By then she already knew that her house had been burnt down during the war. She came and saw all that was left - a pile of rubble. The four corners of the house were still standing, and the front door was found intact, probably blown away by the explosion of the gunpowder stored in the cellar below. Argyri had rescued the old guest-book of 1895. In it she wrote her comments:
I came to Greece by air, leaving England on Tuesday, February 13th Rome that night, Naples on the 14th. I left Naples on the 17th and arrived at Kalamake (Phaleron) that day. I came to Achmetaga for the day on March 2nd and I came to stay on March 15th. The house had (by accident) been burnt down by the Italians on the 5th January, 1943. All my animals, except three cows and an ox which Argyri saved, have been taken either by Italians, Germans or Andartes. The granaries and hayloft are completely empty. I have no tools, no agricultural implements, no lorry and no car. And everything is in a state of complete dilapidation. In fact, I have to build up the estate from scratch, on loans.
'Pensez a Bien!' I.N.B.”
Irene was anything but alone at Achmetaga: she was surrounded by friends who were pleased to see her back. She was in the place she loved and never for once thought of leaving or giving up. Buoyed up by her own inner strength and will-power, the insuperable optimism of her husband, Philip, and the enthusiasm and energy of their son Francis, she started to put things to rights.
Letter from Philip, 19th March 1945
...I have had a long diary letter from M. beginning with her departure from here, and going on up to the end of her first visit to A. (Achmetaga) It was a tremendous success. She had a most moving reception from all the people. Zismos there looking very well. Zenophon is the same as ever and very keen on the work, and very sweet, and most anxious to start operations on the olive grove and the vineyard without delay, and without any wages. The destruction of the house is, M. says, much worse than the patrol reported. The water pipes have been cut, water has penetrated all over the place. the kitchen is quite ruined, and even the grafeion may take weeks or even months to put into proper repair. I suppose there would be a shortage of paint, and of a good deal else, but not, I am glad to say, of timber. The forest has been burnt from St. George down the far side of the river as far as the olive grove, and apparently right away across to Pili. This is very bad for two reasons. Part of it contains some of the best trees of all, including some splendid oaks. The rest of it was burnt only 22 years ago, and then took a very long time to re-sow itself. Whether it will do so at all now remains to be seen. If not, we shall have to carry out a plan which I have always believed to be practical, and re-sow it by hand, as they do in any other country. Apart from this piece of burnt forest, everything else seems to be unspoilt, including the whole of both sides of the river below the village. Only a few plane trees have been cut, and those in fields which, in any case, belong to the refugees, and M. says you hardly notice their loss. The mill was very dilapidated but still working, and when she arrived Tasso was down there having some wheat turned into flour. The people look tired and rather thin, but are better in health than she expected. Their clothes are very bad. The children have psyra (lice), which M. says is re.. (illegible) itch. She was to have gone out on Monday to live, but I have a further telegram saying she has postponed it till Thursday because she had not finished her business in Athens.
Middle East Letter No 26, 15th March 1945
My beloved Mother,
The lights have just failed in my office here, and I'm typing this by candlelight and guesswork (largely the latter). Both parts of your 23 (dated 7 Mar) arrived yesterday. The first part of your 22 (27 Feb) has evidently been suppressed by the censor. Your reception at Achmetaga sounds thrilling and most moving, and makes me feel more than ever that we must do everything we possibly can for the peasants, both now and also in the less immediate future. I really can hardly bare not to have been there and not to be with you now to help. You seem to be working wonders on your own however, and getting things going admirably fast.
When you next write, do please include a list of the things you most want me to bring or send from here. I shall try and go down to Egypt in the next ten days or so, and shall probably get an opportunity to send off another crate of food like the last one which seems to have been useful to Arghyri (REPLY PLEASE).
Letter from Irene, Achmetaga, March 24th 1945.
My Most beloved Francis,
I have so much to say that I shall say very little - not time enough. Today Captain Ellis A.I.S. came out from Chalcis in a lorry and brought me rations and letters - also clothes for distribution at St Anne. ...Darling I did all that is possible to get you here when I lunched with the very nice person I told you about on the 13th, and today in my report to him on conditions here which I am sending by Cpt Ellis I have asked again that he should do all that is possible to get you seconded for service, where I say that you would be of immense use not only to me but to all the people. You ought to be attached to whatever battalion is in Chalcis. They change with startling rapidity but you could be permanent. Darling I can't tell you how happy I am to be here but for perfection you and P. must be here too - I have two very nice rooms in Argyri's house: a bedroom and sitting room with all our own furniture. They have saved a marvelous amount - I have breakfast and tea in my own rooms - luncheon and supper with the family. Always there is a 'parea' after dinner and entrancing koubentes and stories of the war, the occupation and our friends the E.A.M. The latter would finally convert you to the opinion that the present organisation is as abominable as can be - in every way- On Weds: three E.A.Mites from Strofilia came to the village and orated for an hour on loudspeakers against the English and against me and for the organisation in the most provocative and also idiotic way. The whole village (except for the five koukoues) was terrified and only breathes again because of Ellis coming today - you would entirely share my views if you were here - the village has been perfect to me. Presents of eggs and honey and nuts which they can't spare. Visits from all the men and on Sunday morning and afternoon from all the women. I distributed clothes for Drazi on Monday and for Achmetaga - Prokopi - for five hours on end on Tuesday - I've also got them some provisions. Zenophon is working in the olive grove and vineyard with four workers and two girls - I hope to make a contract with a timber merchant (for firewood and charcoal) sent out with me last week by S.P.(?) so as to get a few pennies. I don't want to raise a large loan as P. advises because I don't want to sell out all my investments in England. Zismos Argyri and I had a heavenly picnic last Saturday at Ktounia and cut kolorizia (suckers) afterwards with Zenophon. We were going again today but were stopped by Ellis's arrival. It is just heaven to be here again and in spite of the ghastly state of our own belongings: garden, courtyard, granaries etc I don't really mind at all, because as you once said nothing is spoilt. You must come and see an Achmetaga spring again. The blossom is just coming out.
All love from your devoted Mother.
At the end of March 1945 FNB finally managed to get leave for eighteen days to return to Achmetaga.
Letter to David Bowes Lyon, 28th March 1945
My Dear David,
You are one of the first people who must be told that at last I've arrived. A year and a half of exile is over! You can imagine how excited I was to be told, eight days ago, that I'd been granted 14 days special leave in this country and was to report to the GOC here forthwith. I left Jerusalem (with very little regret, though it was interesting enough for the two months I was there) on the 21st. I spent one night in Cairo and arrived in Athens in the early afternoon of the 22nd. There I had my interview which, as you can guess, I had not been looking forward to, but which, thanks to the kindness of the General, was as pleasant as could be... It seems that my troubles are, for the moment, at an end, and that I shall be allowed to stay in this country. I bitterly regret not having coming here a long time ago, but the excitement of arriving at long last, and, above all, my reception when I got back to Achmetaga, have made up for many many weeks of exasperation in London and Egypt.
You'll never really be able to understand, David, why I'm so much in love with this country, until you have come to Achmetaga... and I do frightfully hope that you won't delay your visit. At this moment I'm writing in our shepherd's house. It's at the top of the village, not far from the ruins of our own 'konaki' which was burnt by the Italians two years ago. In the distance the hills are still covered with a lot of snow, shining in the sunlight, and in the valleys the blossom is just beginning to come out. The judas trees ought to be in full bloom in a few days, and the the plane trees along the river will start to go green...
The devastation is less than I had expected although a lot of the forest has been burnt (some of it for the third time during my life), and the Germans, Italians, Security Battalions and Guerrillas between them have left us practically nothing of the estate movables. The car, lorry and a lot of agricultural machinery and tools have gone, all the animals have gone, all the sheep have gone... we haven't even got a chicken. But as soon as we can get hold, by hook or by crook, of a lorry work will start again.
My Mother, who's been here about a month now, has already worked wonders and has done a lot to help with the distribution of food and clothes to the peasants of this and four other villages. Our principal need now is police and the reestablishment of government services, of which, in this area there is so far no sign. However I hope we shall not have very long to wait.
Our own two villages have got off lightly. Only two peasant houses burnt in Drazi (an hour's walk up in the hills: I went there yesterday) and our own destroyed here. But we still have the stables, the estate office, a guest room, the granaries, the Kitchen and one of the servants' rooms... devastated by the eam and not yet habitable but likely to become so soon.
One major problem is that the peasants here haven't fully recovered from guerrilla terrorism, which has been infinitely worse than anything they've suffered under the various dictatorships which afflicted this country since the last war. So far I know nothing about other parts of Greece, and I believe that the terrorism here was relatively mild, but even here it's going to take some time before the peasants can really breath freely. However, I must write at length about all this when I know more...
One of the most impressive things has been the devotion of our retainers in the village, and of a lot of other peasants, who, as far as I know, have never been under any particular obligation to us, during the occupation (and as far as this area is concerned the “occupation” only began to finish this January). The amount of furniture they hid and saved for us, the risks they took for us, and their delight at our return, have made me realise even more than before what admirable people they are and how much we owe them. Given a little peace and stability, I hope our two villages will become the best and happiest in Greece. I can see no reason why they shouldn't - once the local eam gaulleteers (who are really rather pathetic, but who had enormous power while there were guerrillas in the hills to do their political assassinating for them) are put in their place...
(In pencil beneath)
Forgive an incomplete letter. I have to go and prune some trees. Father is expected here today.
In other letters to his friends written later, FNB again describes this trip to Greece and how he feels about the EAM now.
Letter to friends 26th April 1945, c/o British Embassy, Athens
On the 21st March, to my great delight, I finally left for Greece. My first visit (of eighteen days) was almost entirely taken up with the special leave which I got in order to go and help my Mother who had gone out to our estate on the island of Euboea a month earlier. ...
Things in Euboea were a good deal better than I had expected...
Most urgent problem was (and still is) transport. After that, shoes and clothes. Out of two hundred families in our village only about a dozen people had any shoes at all, and they were all pre-war and in tatters. The food situation was better than expected, but then none of the Greek countryside has suffered a tenth of the starvation which devastated the towns.
And again, in a letter to a friend written 25th May 1945
...In the end of March I finally got myself over to Greece - on “special leave”.. The peasants were in a much better state than I had thought possible, physically, and much more violently anti-EAM. What I saw modified my views a lot. I'm afraid that as far as the countryside is concerned all this talk of Greek democracy being suppressed by wicked whitehall was a particularly insidious kind of bluff. EAM control in the villages - in our area anyway, and I have no reason to suppose that it was not typical of the rest of rural Greece - was quite literally a red terror under which the peasants suffered much more than they ever had done under the Metaxas fascist dictatorship of 36-41, and which did absolutely nothing for them. They were heartily relieved when the British finally arrived and took over, and the great majority of the people I talked to were anxious that we should stay as long as possible and intervene more rather than less in the running of the country... a job which it is going to take some time for any Greek administration to be capable of.
Greece, March 1945.
Notes from FNB's diary
24 Mar (Sat)
Saw Scobie at 10. Arranged that I should go on leave and that my job in Greece should be arranged on my return to ATHENS.
Left by GHQ jeep for Achmetage via THEBES and CHALCIS arriving just before 4.
Greeted by Mother and various friends at Arghyri's house (where M is living) talked to Priest and Hadji-Pavlos who were anxious to be reassured that the British were not going to abandon Greece.
25th Mar (Sun Gk Indep. Day)
Went to Church, heard speeches outside including EAM propaganda by Vasili T... and John K...
26th Mar (Mon)
With Arghyri to mill and through new kapsali to Ktounia for lunch with Mother, Zisimos etc. Worked in olive trees.
27th Mar (Tues)
To Drazi with Arghyri, met by Vasili A... at damn, on to mill. Talked to Thanassi (miller) and son.
Inspected school (relatively good, children sang National Anthem), church (good, some cracks in wall), houses burnt by Germans (Spiros K..., Themios G...).
Talked to Dim D... (EAM Ypefthinos) about our return, EAM, not using school for meetings etc, and then to him and others (including EAM) at the vineyards. Good reception.
Returned via north boundary, mill and big plane tree.
Talked to Vasili T... and other EAM at Inn on same lines as at DRAZI, but with less good reception.
Worked pruning apple trees below KONAKI, lunched there. Father arrived in afternoon from LONDON (having left 48 hours before)
29th Mar (Thurs)
To MANTOUDI with Arghyri in P's truck to recover various furniture etc. Lunched by apple trees with workers. Walked with P and Arghyri south to Striveloraka etc. Inspected cut plane trees and newly opened fields.
Arranged with Priest for Doxology on Saturday.
FNB was forced to return to Egypt, and now set about trying to be transferred back to Greece. He failed, predictably, but in the meantime set about shopping for much needed supplies in Greece.
Letter to Gerald Green, from Egypt, SIME, GHQ, MEF.
17 April 1945
My dear Gerald,
Unofficially I gather that the General's letter has been received, and replied to, by MS Branch here, and that they have said that they have no objection to my transfer. They have apparently suggested that your office should get another (and I sincerely hope, final) O.K. from the Embassy, after which it remains for you to signal GHQ (action SIME) asking for my person.
All this you doubtless know... but ten days in Cairo have had their usual effect on me, and I'm now pining once again for olive trees and pine forests: hence this untimely (and doubtless quite unnecessary) reminder of my existence. So, please, a signal!
The more I think of Athenian politics, the more I hope that from time to time I shall find myself dealing with real Greeks (the kind you refuse to come and see in Euboea, and consequently don't really believe in) in the provinces.
Letters to his parents from Egypt, April to June 1945
17 April 1945
My dearest parents,
I have not written before, because I was hoping that I should get away so soon that I should arrive at Achmetaga before any letter I should be able to send to Mother, and that I should be able to write to Father from there. However, I'm still here...
The shopping has gone very well - I now have everything we decided on except the truck... which can't be done from here owing to Egyptian export difficulties all about which P's Ministry must know. Even so, the weight is enormous, and I shall have to do a lot of persuasion if I fly. If I can't take it with me, I shall try and come with it by sea... it's not worth risking losing it all.
From the Greek Press here I saw that the Regent had received you. I hope that that and the other interviews were a success, and that we now have masses of transport in sight... plus an enormous loan! Likewise that all the local officials have not been sacked.
You can imagine how I'm longing to get back... I'm going to Alexandria the day after tomorrow to say farewell to a few friends and see what the shipping possibilities are like for later on... should we want to use them... I've also come across a man who thinks he's also descended from the Rajput Princess who married Gen Doyle.
All my love to you both, and kalli antamosi very soon. My warmest greetings to Harry (Arghyri), Tsimbidha and all the spitaleion please. Tell them the shee (finding a wife for Francis) problem will shortly be solved, and that I'm simply longing to see them again..
...there's only one item missing at the moment, and that is seeds for the garden which I think would please M. I might also try and get some good vegetable seeds. It ought to be possible to find both at Alexandria.
Letter to a friend, 19th April 1945
...I'm still in Cairo. I've been in this damned country a month today, and now - after an endless and utter silence - Athens tells me there has been a “technical hitch” which they are “trying to rectify”...really!
...I've waited and waited, sometimes persuading myself that I shall certainly leave on the next day, sometimes deciding that I shall be here till the end of the next war but three - a tall thin shrivelled old man with wispy grey hair doddering off to a telephone every morning to ring up a GHQ which hasn't been there for twenty years and asking the operator in a tremulous wavering voice whether there is any news from Athens...
So there you are.
Ma is in Greece, and when I last heard all was going well at Achmetaga- there's a story that I'm going to the Embassy there, and another story that I'm going to something else there, and everyone assures me that i shall soon be off, and still I stay.
Still, even now there are complications... I mean compensations - my mind's going - the chief one takes the form of a Pasha (Abdul Ghaffar) who was apparently befriended sometime in the 1880s by a great cousin (Wilfred Scawen Blunt) who was an Arab nationalist and must have been about as non grata with the Foreign Office as I was... even a little more - he spent two months in Galway Gaol. Anyway this Pasha is now Minister of Agriculture and that is why I have been touring the Delta looking at Egyptian Government Agricultural Stations - mostly animals - and being quite impressed. Also I've seen a good deal more of Egypt in the last few days than many of my colleagues here: which is not saying much.
Tomorrow morning I shall try and get up early and go and learn the Egyptian method of grafting olive trees. On Saturday I hope to go for a three day camping expedition to the Red Sea... faintly hoping that once I'm completely inaccessible GHQ will start frantically looking for me to send me to Greece.
I'm also trying to buy a lorry for the estate... through the good offices of the Pasha, who is really rather fun and just what a Pasha should be.
Gradually FNB is becoming more and more disillusioned by people who lay claim to some kind of superiority over their fellow man, whether as political or government officials or as part of a social elite, without having anything to substantiate their position.
Always in his mind is a vision of the beloved people of Achmetaga, living an honourable and noble life of hard work, dignity in adversity, firmly held traditions, generosity, hospitality and warmth. Their poverty was matched and surpassed tenfold by their generosity and wealth of spirit. Old men with 'nothing' who would load us with whatever they had, lemons, figs, honey, cheese, as if they owned all the riches of the earth. My father's cousin told me that he has scarcely been able to visit Achmetaga in recent years, so strong is his memory of the place and people at that time that he didn't want anything to spoil it. The contrast with Cairo could not have been more extreme. The thought of how politicians and plutocrats from outside this society have had the power to twist and destroy it stayed with FNB throughout his life, and to a large extent he lived to see it happen.
19th April 1945
In the Cairo-Alexandria train
...I think Cairo is the most demoralising and demoralised city I've ever been in... the atmosphere is suffocatingly vicious in every way... or perhaps I'm reacting against it more violently this time (I've quite enjoyed it in the past), because I spent my time practically exclusively with what would doubtless be insulted unless called Cairo “society”. God, what a rotten lot. There's nothing, absolutely nothing good, useful, or even entertaining (except in an idiotic, rather nasty, way) about them. There's only one thing they do have, and that is money - masses of it, ground out of the miserable, starving, sweating, flyridden, disease-racked, poverty-stricken felahin, slaving away in the fields or rootling for scraps of food in the Cairo dust-bins. One day Hell's own revolution will tear this country to pieces and all the Pashas and Levantine merchant-princes and their wives and hangers-on will go down in a cataclysm of atrocities... and they and their wives and their hangers-on will go quacking and bleating around in their elegant levantine french, wondering what has hit them. And they won't know... Well, anyway that's the way things are going at the moment, or the way they ought to go: but I don't suppose it'll happen for quite a lot of years, and when it does the western press will express indignation at the sudden “outbreak of native fanaticism”...
Sorry about all that: but I've had a little too much of trying to be charming to vicious nitwits at “smart” lunches - or maybe it's the contrast with Achmetaga that made it all revolt me so much.
26 April, Alexandria
One of the more aggravating things about all this hanging around Egypt, my beloved parents, is the fact that I'm temporarily more or less isolated from communication with you... and, incidentally, with anyone else who may or may not have written to me during the past month...
I have, however, had one cable from Father (date 14th) and I have sent a message to Cairo asking the Smartery to ring up the stooge in GHQ who deals with me should any more cables arrive... Likewise I yesterday sent Father a cable saying that 1) both transfers had arrived (Mother's fund money (Irene's Euboean Childrens' Fund) was here all the time but the Bank of Athens had lost the relevant letter). 2) that I was “impatient but well” (I am both: but the emphasis is on the former)...when a telegram arrived yesterday from Athens saying that a “technical hitch has occurred which he (Gerald Green) is trying to rectify”, my exasperation was all that you will credit me with plus a good deal more...
There has been one single compensation. A man called Professor Furness who was at King's in the year dot has introduced me to the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture who in the year dot plus ten or so was at Oxford and when there was taken up by Wilfrid Blunt who (as you doubtless know but I had forgotten) was at one time an ardent Egyptian Nationalist and must have hated the Foreign Office very nearly as much as I do. Well, the sins of the cousin-several-times-removed are now being visited on me in the shape of any number of kindnesses from the Minister of Agriculture. These have so far taken the form of an excellent lunch, a visit to an exhibition of Arab horses (including progeny from Cousin Anne's stables) a visit to a State Stud a visit (lasting three days) to various state agricultural stations in the Delta an invitation to dinner (tonight) a visit to the Ministry's horticultural section where I looked at their system of olive grafting (very different from ours) the prospect of a visit to Fayoum to look at more olives and some vines and last but by no means least the promise of a permit to enable me to buy an ex-army lorry with the prospect of shipping it to Greece later on. I am going to exploit the Pasha's kindness to the hilt.
...If you work it out (and I have recently done so more than once), the last time that I can seriously claim to have made some practical use of my faculties on behalf of His Majesty was at the end of August in Washington. Since then I have waited in London, waited in Yorkshire, waited on a ship, waited in Cairo, waited in Alexandria, and waited (admittedly entertainingly, and to some advantage as far as my own knowledge of Palestine goes) in Jerusalem, for jolly nearly eight months... which is a little too long.
...I wish to god I could get out of this place and back to Achmetaga. Oh, god how I wish it.
I left Cairo after a week... which was really six days too late. For want of other things to do I found myself blexed in a round of meals and whatnot with what would be insulted to be called anything but Cairo Society, and which one would have to be a brilliant and exceedingly bitter novelist adequately to describe...
There they go quacking away in their levantine French, deploring the price of corsets and the fact that they're so bored and that Europe “won't be the same” to travel in after the war, interested only in money and what money will buy in the shape of clothes and houses and cars and food and parties for themselves, their heads empty not only of any vestige of intelligent of constructive thought, but of any flicker of social conscience.
Maybe one oughtn't to go around expecting people to have “social consciences”: but in that case neither ought one to hope for anything better than a deluge of blood and atrocity which will sweep them lock, stock and barrel out of this country of revolting wealth and ghastly poverty...
Damn. I've gone all “idealistic! Well, maybe that doesn't matter so much either. May the Aghios (to whom I shall now have to build another church somewhere else) grant that I shall be back at Achmetaga very very soon, and give me the patience to retain a bit of my balance while I'm here! My love to you both.
And love and greetings to all our friends. Zisimos' photograph is a masterpiece!
Letter to his parents 8th May 1945
...The armistice has not produced a ripple on the surface of this damned town except a few flags and the opportunity for a few idiots to get drunk. I shall not be one of them, but shall try, if I can, to join a locust mission that is going to Sinai. That might be an amusing way of wasting time till the .............. military machine decides to do something with me.
Letter from PJNB 17th May 1945
...Although I agree with your exasperation, I think your experiences with the Minister of Agriculture may well have repaid you for the time lost. Especially if you go up on the locust hunt - I am strongly in favour of that. In any case, all the agricultural experience is a first-rate thing, and it is also a splendid thing to have known the Minister.
Letter to a friend, 25th May 1945
...One of the things which I don't believe people in England know about, and which would, and should, shock them, and which they ought to be told about is the intolerable “herrenvolk” attitude which the Englishman abroad, and specially the secondary school junior officer adopts. It has really disgusted me, and has done more than any amount of Axis propaganda to make people in the Middle East anti-British... and quite rightly so. It's the awful smugness that gets me, and the idiocy of trying to pretend you're in Tooting or Balham when you have the chance to get to know something about what is, after all, a fascinating and most amusing part of the world...
At this point, when FNB was still waiting to be sent back to Greece, his father had been approached by the Labour party in Britain. About his selection Philip Noel-Baker wrote: “The Spokesman of Brentford and Chiswick rang me up and said “We want your son as a Labour candidate”. I said, “Nonsense, you have never seen him”. He said: “Never mind, his name will elect him”. I said “If you had him he would be a very good candidate”. I then rang Transport House and said “Can B and C be won?” T.H. said: “Never! The Tory is Vice-chairman of his Party, strongly entrenched and has endless money. His majority is 9.296. No hope of winning”. I therefore telegraphed the invitation from B & C to you in Egypt and said to your mother: “At least we shall see him six or eight months sooner” as parliamentary candidates were immediately “demobbed” for the duration of the Election... The Colonel wanted you to become an Arabist and stay in the army; and you had refused. The Colonel therefore delayed your return and when you reached B & C you had only three weeks before polling day. You spent one week organising the B & C Party on army lines, and did so with great success. Then you began your two week campaign. You were already well known and already popular with all the Party members. Your Party friends were very loyal, efficient and good”.
His mother's fears that it would be a real curse if he were elected, turned out to be true. His father was appalled when he got in, at the age of 25, and sent him a long letter of advice begging him to be careful. He missed finishing his degree at King's, and was thrown headlong into British politics, for which he was as temperamentally unsuited as it was possible for anyone to be. It took him another 25 years before he realised that though.
Letters from Irene Noel-Baker
May 28th 1945
...after all this fuss to get you here I don't see how you can get home and stand as a candidate. Do you?... I imagined you would try to get back to Cambridge in the autumn and that you had given up the idea of standing for Parliament. Anyway you and I must talk about Achmetaga plans and organise the estate before either of us leave the country..
Darling - my talk with Gerald (Green) yesterday has very much changed my ideas because he says that there would be no difficulty at all about you getting back to England if you have really been adopted as a candidate by a constituency. I still very much regret this candidate plan as I think you would be much more useful here.. dear I can't feel any enthusiasm for this prospect and I think it will be a real curse if you get elected now - And who is going to produce the money? ..
Memo from Director of Recruiting and Demobilization, June 1945
The War Office
You have been released from military service for the purpose of resuming your civilian employment which is considered to be of national importance...
Letter from Gerald Green, Office of the Commander in Chief, Headquarters Land Forces, Greece
2 June 1945
My dear Francis,
Congratulations upon Brentford - I sincerely hope that your opponent has a majority of one - since you told me that you do not wish to be elected. If, however, you have changed your mind, and now wish to assume the mantle of grave responsibility, I give you my best wishes and assure you that no one will be more pleased than I to know that you have been successful...
6 June 45 Cairo
SIME GHQ MEF
My Beloved Parents,
At last it looks as though I shall very soon be shaking the dust of this damned Headquarters off my boots. This morning I was told by the appropriate branch that the official signal from the War Office to Mideast had arrived, confirming that I had been adopted by Brentford (sic) and that preparations were being made for me to leave on or after the 9th, Noone in Mideast seems to know when nomination day is, but I shall just have to hope that I am in time.
...I am still battling (principally with the Embassy, who have so far been obstructive) with the Export Permit for the truck. I have, however, succeeded in fixing the shipping which is going to be undertaken by UNRRA. They will take it over at Alex, where the dealers will send it, and deliver it in Athens. They will then (I hope) notify Achmetaga that it has arrived...
...I cabled Mantoudi on about 31st May that I was “deeply disappointed most unlikely visit you before returning fight Brentford” and so I am. Five months out of the last seven have I spent doing nothing in this country when there was so much that I could have done in Greece... whether at Achmetaga or elsewhere. It is damnable, and I am desperately sorry about it.
I am looking forward, however, to a real crack at Brentford, and when that fails (as presumably it must) to coming out again to Greece. It should be very much easier to arrange from London where there are contacts, and which is not as bloody minded about me as GHQ here seems to be.
All my love to you both and to my dear friends at Achmetaga, and please forgive a very rushed letter.
Your devoted F
Memo from the Assistant Adjutant General at the War Office
Unless you have been elected a Member of Parliament, and have reported to the War Office that you wish to remain on release from Military Service to enable you to attend your Parliamentary duties, you will be posted to Intelligence Pool...
Note in pencil by Francis Noel-Baker (undated)
Just five months ago Britain's new parliament assembled at Westminster. Crowding the government benches and overflowing onto the other side of the House, four hundred Labour members waited eager and elated for the royal summons to the House of Lords where for the first time in history, the “gracious speech from the throne” was to outline a five-year programme of socialist legislation”.
Suddenly cheering broke from the sadly shrunken Tory ranks, and, to the strains of “for he's a jolly good fellow”, we watched Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservative Party in its most shattering electoral defeat, walk past the Speaker's chair and take his seat on the opposition Front Bench. The response was immediate and dramatic. As one man, the Government supporters rose to their feet, and I was told afterwards that they heard our singing of the 'Red Flag' all over the Palace of Westminster.
In many ways that, unplanned, spontaneous episode symbolised the British elections of 1945 and set the key note for the session which followed. The British people had elected a socialist government with an enormous parliamentary majority. The Labour Party had come to power on a detailed domestic and international programme...
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