Obituary: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, travel writer

• Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE, Author and distinguished war record. Born: 11 February, 1915, in India. Died: 10 June, 2011, in London, aged 96.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was an academic, writer and a man of action who led one of the most audacious sorties of the Second World War. As a member of the Special Operations Executive, Leigh Fermor was despatched to Crete to kidnap the commander of the German garrison. After being parachuted on to the island, Leigh Fermor completed the operation and his exploits formed the basis of the film Ill Met By Moonlight starring Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor and Marius Goring as the general.

Leigh Fermor was also the author of highly-regarded books on travel. He was an exceptional linguist and this gave him an immediate affinity with many of the inhabitants of some of the more remote areas of Europe. His most celebrated books recounted his year-long walk across Europe from Rotterdam to Istanbul in 1934 - published in two volumes in 1977 and 1986 - A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. They were written with great perception and amounted to an early autobiography.

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Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor (known as Paddy to his friends) was the son of a well-to-do industrialist who was often in India. Leigh Fermor attended King's School, Canterbury, from which he was expelled when spotted holding hands with a greengrocer's daughter.

Though never a scholar, Leigh Fermor had a passion for literature and from an early age read voraciously - especially the novels of Sir Walter Scott. The family suggested he joined the army, but while studying (not very efficiently) for the entrance exams for Sandhurst, he started planning his trip across Europe in 1933.

He left Rotterdam in December of that year ("dressed like a tramp or pilgrim") and slept anywhere he could find. He walked through Nazi Germany, the Balkans and got to Constantinople on New Year's Day 1935. He then travelled to Greece, spending his 20th birthday on Mount Athos getting to know the country that was to have a lasting influence on his life.

He stayed in Greece for three years, but on the outbreak of war Leigh Fermor joined the Irish Guards. However, he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps due to his linguistic skills and his knowledge of the Balkans. First, he operated as a liaison with the Greek army, which was fighting the Italians in Albania. In 1941, he was sent to Crete to join the resistance and organise covert operations.

While on leave in Cairo, he proposed to his seniors a daring plan to kidnap the German General Kreipe on Crete. It was put into operation by Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss in April 1944. Disguised as German military policemen, the duo intercepted the general's car in Knossos and Leigh Fermor, wearing the general's cap, took the driving seat and drove off at speed. Amazingly, they drove through 22 checkpoints - with German troops saluting them respectfully - before abandoning the car. Typically, Leigh Fermor left a note stating that the operation was carried out, not by locals, but by British intelligence.

They made Kreipe walk over the mountains to the south of the island, where they were met by a Royal Navy launch and taken to Egypt. A fascinating incident occurred as Leigh Fermor and Kreipe waited for the launch overlooking Mount Ida. - the mythical birthplace of Zeus. Both well-read men, they quoted Horace's odes to each other. "It was very strange" Leigh Fermor wrote later. "As though, for a moment, the war had ceased to exist."

The war ended as Leigh Fermor was preparing an equally audacious scheme - to parachute into Colditz castle and take it over.

Leigh Fermor then worked for the British Council in Athens. But he was increasingly drawn to writing and after translating several novels from French and Greek, he wrote a book on the Caribbean. But Greece was his abiding love and inspiration.

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Two books celebrated those feelings - Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) - and were written with a profound affection and understanding of its people, history and traditions. By the early 1960s, Greece had also become his homeland.

One of the most endearing of his many later books included the witty and beguiling compilation of the 50-year correspondence he had enjoyed with the Duchess of Devonshire (In Tearing Haste, 2008). His sharp and keen use of language pervades the book and shows Leigh Fermor to have been an engaging wordsmith. This was his crisp reaction to the duchess's account of her attendance at the funeral of John F Kennedy: "You tell it in a whizz-bang planchette style, hitting the nail on the head again and again without even looking."

Leigh Fermor, who was knighted in 2004, married Joan Rayner in 1968. She died in 2003, there were no children.