The Last of the Scholar Warriors

Farewell to Patrick Leigh Fermor and his extraordinary generation.

By Christopher Hitchens

Patrick Leigh Fermor. Click image to expand.Patrick Leigh Fermor

The death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor at the age of 96, commemorated in many obituaries as the end of a celebrated travel writer, in fact rings down the final curtain on an extraordinary group of British irregular warriors whose contribution to the defeat of Hitler, significant in military terms, still managed to recall an age when nobility and even chivalry were a part of warfare. All these men were "travel writers" in their way, in that they were explorers, archaeologists, amateur linguists, anthropologists, and just plain adventurers. Men, as Saki put it so well in The Unbearable Bassington, "who wolves have sniffed at." But they put their amateur skills to work after the near-collapse of Britain’s conventional forces in 1940 had left most of the European mainland under Nazi control, and after Winston Churchill had sent out a call to "set Europe ablaze" by means of guerrilla warfare.

Suddenly it was found that there were many bright and brave young men, not very well suited to the officers’ mess, who nevertheless had military skills and who had, moreover, back-country knowledge of many tough neighborhoods in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.

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