The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury by Imogen Grundon, with a Foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor - review by Raleigh Trevelyan

Raleigh Trevelyan

The Cretan Lawrence

The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury


Libri 384pp £25 order from our bookshop

The name John Pendlebury will be familiar to admirers of Dilys Powell’s marvellous account of the Villa Ariadne at Knossos, where for a while he was curator in succession to Sir Arthur Evans. But the photograph on the jacket of this book shows him – inescapably English – proudly wearing a many-layered ancient Egyptian necklace, acquired, as we learn, when he was director of excavations at Tell el-Amarna, the city of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. Amazingly he held both posts simultaneously, moving from one to the other, at the age of twenty-five.

A foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor is enough to suggest that here was a man with a passion for Crete and Greece, most probably also a war hero – and both turn out to be true. Pendlebury was killed a few days after the German parachutists had landed at Crete, but for long afterwards he remained a mythical figure: immensely brave, handsome, with incredible stamina, and above all the organiser of fiercely loyal Cretan guerrillas. The Germans called him the Cretan Lawrence. Leigh Fermor describes him as giving a ‘wonderful buccaneer and rakish impression’, due in part to his having a glass eye. ‘His presence filled everyone with life and optimism and a feeling of fun.’

At school at Winchester and then at Pembroke, Cambridge, in the mid 1920s, Pendlebury was a champion athlete. He competed in hurdles with Lord Burghley, the inspiration for Chariots of Fire, and cleared 6 foot in the high jump, ending up with a Blue for athletics. Early on he developed

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter