Monthly Archives: August 2013

A day in Orenje

Ferit Balla with friends, Orenje, August 2013

Ferit Balla with friends, Orenje, August 2013

‘All the people who are to associate with him [Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies] must be sound, intelligent, prudent, close-mouthed, and a hundred per cent loyal to our cause,’ I instructed the commander.

‘I have everything clear, “my dear friend”.’

‘Where do you think we might billet the British General for the time being?’ I asked Kadri Hoxha, pretending that I could not guess the place he would name.

‘In Orenje, “my dear friend”,’ he replied with a wink of his eye, smiling his sardonic smile and stroking his dapper moustache. ‘The General will be nicely caged up there.’

‘I agree,’ I said. ‘Establish him in Orenje with your friend Beg Balla. They tell me that the General is getting on in years*. Since Beg is elderly, too, it might please him to talk to the General, but mind you don’t let Beg gossip with him much.’

The group commander smiled.

‘I was only pulling your leg, as he is your friend,’ I said. ‘Because Beg Balla is a sympathizer of the National Liberation War.’

From The Anglo-American Threat to Albania by Enver Hoxha (insert your own “Mwahahaha”)

A traditional three-storey house at Orenje

A traditional three-storey house at Orenje

This blog’s regular reader might remember that a few months back I met up with Professor Ferit Balla and his son Herold, whose family sheltered Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies and his mission for several days in December 1943. The Germans were none too pleased, and blew Chez Balla up (using British plastic explosive, I think). Ferit’s uncle was left with just the clothes on his back, and his wife and eight children to care for. It wasn’t until 1950 that he was able to rebuild the house, on a much smaller scale.

My main cause for excitement when I met Ferit and Herold was the fact that they turned up with the unpublished memoirs of Kadri Hoxha, who was with Davies’ SPILLWAY mission for most of the harsh winter of 1943/44 (I’ll be posting more about the memoir anon). Ferit also mentioned that he intended to restore the Balla house, which at the time of our meeting was in a pretty bad state. Well, last week I was finally able to get out to the village of Orenje, in the heart of the Çermenika hills to the east of Tirana, to see what Ferit and Harold had been up to.

The trail to Labinot leads through the valley in the distance

The trail to Labinot leads through the valley in the distance

First, a word on Orenje. It’s down a rough dirt track, about 50 minutes from Librazdh – not a road you’d want to tackle in a hatchback. It’s just a perfect situation; traditional stone houses peppering a lush green valley. I’m rapidly discovering that the Çermenika region is a real rural idyll. And no one in Albania seems to know it exists. To be frank, and at the risk of being controversial, young Albanians are usually pig-ignorant about their own country, but even I’m shocked by how off-the-radar the Çermenika is. Albanian women hate the countryside on principle as they associate it with goat-herding and chipped nails, and Albanian men are too busy drinking espresso, staring lustfully at the Balkan version of MTV and peeing over loo seats to explore their homeland, so it’ll probably be a few years before the area gets discovered and improved with half-built concrete-and-marble villas.

Fireplace-bbq in the kitchen at the Ballas' house in Orenje

Fireplace-bbq in the kitchen at the Ballas’ house in Orenje

Now for the Ballas’ house. It’s going to be really special. I met a bloke from a travel company last year who was looking into adding Albania to his portfolio. He decided against it as it could be so “tacky” (his word). He was right; there is a dearth of charming, characterful, tasteful accommodation. He was probably hoping to find something like this, and arrived a few years too early. Ferit and Herold intend to use the house themselves, and rent it out to tourists at other times. I suspect it’ll be booked out solid from April through October. There’s just nothing like this in Albania right now. It even comes with its own cow.

A cow comes as standard

A cow comes as standard

I’ve paid a couple of visits to Orenje now, and the house is coming on quickly. What would take months for a team of builders in the UK gets done in just a few days over here, and as a fraction of the price. Unfortunately not a lot is left of the original, blown-up house, which was apparently three stories high. Just a couple of doors. Ferit tells me that he and his brother used to play with a British Army typewriter when they were children and, as kids do, destroyed it.

A relic of the war - an Italian Beretta automatic

A relic of the war – an Italian Beretta automatic

There are no restaurants in Orenje, so we popped next door to Ferit’s sister’s place for lunch on our first visit… and raki. It turns out that Ferit worked for the Ministry of the Interior back in the communist days, and dealt with both Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu (a grim character). He assures me that when Enver died the prisoners were crying more than the guards.

One of those sobbing prisoners, it is pertinent to mention, would have been Kadri Hoxha, who spent about 40 years in various lock-ups after the war.

Ferit also poo-pooed some of the more extreme rumours about Enver Hoxha (no relation to Kadri, by the way). No, Enver didn’t receive blood transfusions from new-born babies to treat his cancer (I’ve met two thirty-something men whose mothers made a point of giving birth outside central Tirana for just this reason). And no, Enver didn’t go gay when he was in Paris in the 1930s – he was too busy mucking around with Edif Piaf.

Anyway, you can see a gallery of my Orenje photos here.

* Davies was 42; Enver Hoxha 35.

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The first tourist in Okshtun

The road north from Librazhd, into the heart of SPILLWAY territory

The road north from Librazhd, into the heart of SPILLWAY territory

One of the frustrations in scouting the route taken by Brigadier ‘Trotksy’ Davies’ SPILLWAY mission of winter 1943/44 is that no one in Albania seems to have any familiarity with the area it took place in. Bizarre really, as it’s so close to Tirana. There’s no tourist infrastructure, no paved roads (until last year, when tarmac reached Shengjergj, a half-hour or more west of Biza, where Davies parachuted in) and no helpful websites. I had hoped to walk a fair stretch of the route in May, but the bizarre monsoon conditions put paid to that. But it’s August now and I’m back in Albania, so last week I hired a 4×4 and went in search of two key villages, Okshtun and Kostenje.

Normally on a trip like this I’d have my partner-in-crime, Elton Caushi of Albaniantrip with me, but his wife Vilma has just given birth to a bouncing baby girl (Nina, congratulations to them both). Instead I roped in a recently graduated tourism student, Edwin Brovina, to translate.

We headed to Librazhd, a six-donkey town about 25km east of Elbasan, and then struck out north. Due to a good dollop of EU cash, the road was brand-new and perfect for about 20km, then ended. We drove on dirt for about three hours, till a couple of helpful chaps told us we had passed the Okshtun turn. We doubled back, found the turn (unsigned, of course) and bumped our way down it. The track came to an end and we walked into Okshtun. Only it turned out to be a village called Lejçan instead.

We got a good welcome though, first from a tiny little old lady festooned with gold jewellery, who spoke a language Edwin couldn’t identify, let alone speak. At the next house we met the Limoni family, who sat us down, gave us coffee and the inevitable raki, and explained the little old lady spoke Macedonian (the border’s a bit fluid here). They also gave us the temporary use of their son, Erjon, to guide us to Okshtun, which they assured us was in the next valley.

The road to Okshtun

The road to Okshtun

Frustration No.2 of organising the ‘Endurance Vile Trail’ is that there aren’t any professional-quality photos available to ‘sell’ the area to prospective trekkers. There still aren’t – I just took snaps on my mobile (you can see a gallery here). But take it from me, this is a lovely area. Okshtun is about a half-hour from the main (gravel) road, down a seriously underused dirt track. A few old stone houses clinging to the slopes of a fertile, green valley. It used to be home to over 100 families, apparently, but now there are just seven or so.

We parked up when the track ended and were greeted by a bemused young man wearing just a pair of underpants (it is August, after all). Not unnaturally, he was curious as to why we had come. Edwin explained I was a tourist interested in Enver Hoxha and General Davies. Erblin (for that was his name) did a double take then jokingly punched the air – apparently I was the first tourist to visit Okshtun. Erblin was soon joined by his father, Refek, who sat us down and proved himself the consummate host, taking us down to the river for a welcome swim.

Refek shows off the facilities at Okshtun. Davies was here in December 1943, so it's unlikely he took a dip

Refek shows off the facilities at Okshtun. Davies was here in December 1943, so it’s unlikely he took a dip

Refek, though, didn’t know anything about the war. Disappointing, as elsewhere in these parts there’s a strong corporate memory. Davies came here twice, in fact, the first time on Christmas Eve 1943, for one night, then returned for an extended stay from 27 December to 2 January 1944. He and his team were in a bad way by then – his second-in-command, Lt Col Arthur Nicholls, was already suffering from the frostbite that was to contribute to his death a few weeks later.

The diary Nicholls kept, against orders, notes that they enjoyed a delicious dish of chicken with nut sauce on Christmas Eve. Refek had 60 chickens though no nut sauce, and was keen for us to stay for a BBQ (and raki), but we had to cry off as we didn’t fancy negotiating the roads at night. A shame – Refek struck us as a man who’d know how to do a mean BBQ.

Refek's son Erblin with trout caught that morning in the river

Refek’s son Erblin with trout caught that morning in the river

As you’ll see from the photos, the houses in Okshtun are pretty ropey, so a home-stay is off the agenda here. It’s a perfect place to camp, however, particularly with Refek toiling away over hot charcoal and Erblen pouring the raki.

I’m not allowed under pain of death to quote from Nicholls’ diary without permission, due to the Imperial War Museum’s team of crack lawyers, but Enver Hoxha wrote of Okshtun in his deeply untrustworthy Anglo-American Threat to Albania (available as a free PDF here). Hoxha’s chronology is a bit dodgy as he has the bedraggled group arriving in Okshtun for the second time on Christmas Eve, when in fact that was the day of the first arrival, but you’ll get the general idea…

Night had fallen by the time we reached the base where we were to stay and our hosts had come out in the snow in the darkness to welcome us. They embraced us and took us inside. We took off our dripping coats and handed our rifles to the head of the house, who hung them on the wall, one beside the other. The small ante-room was warm. A great sense of satisfaction stole over us. The General watched with pleasure and curiosity how we embraced the people of the house, how we handed over our rifles, took off our boots and shoes at the entrance to the room, and he did his best to follow suit.

Our host opened the door of the big room with the fire-place and invited us in.

‘Please, come in, my home is yours.’

‘You go first,’ I said, giving the General the honour. We entered the room. It was truly a miracle, not only for the British General, but also for us, who were the sons of this land and this people. After such a wearying journey through the forest, sometimes on and sometimes off the track, through snow and blizzard, we entered a room of a peasant’s home which made the Englishman exclaim: ‘What a miracle! Can I be dreaming?’

Our host asked me where the General was from and what language he spoke. I introduced the General to him.

At the head of the room there was a big fire-place, with a blazing fire which spread warmth and light from end to end. Two or three kerosene lamps had been lit and at the one end of the room, snow-white sheep-skin rugs had been laid out, with pillows in clean pillow-slips to rest on. In the middle of the room was a big Dibra carpet, while corncobs in regular rows like soldiers were hanging from the rafters over- head. Neither beams nor roof could be seen, only the corncobs glowing like gold in the light of the fire.

‘This is marvellous! This is paradise!’ murmured the General. ‘Even in dreams I could not have imagined such a Christmas night.’

Could this be the house in which the SPILLWAY mission enjoyed chicken with nut sauce?

Could this be the house in which the SPILLWAY mission enjoyed chicken with nut sauce?

‘You see what the homes and hearts of the ordinary Albanians are like, General,’ I said. ‘They truly are paradise without Mammon or God, as in your Milton’s Paradise Lost. Perhaps you remember Lord Byron’s beautiful verses full of feeling. In his Childe Harold he pointed out the fine virtues of the Albanian and wrote:

The Suliotes stretched the welcome hand,
And piled the hearth, and wrung their garments damp,
And filled the bowl, and trimmed the cheerful lamp,
And spread their fare; though homely all they had.
Such conduct bears Philanthropy’s rare stamp.’

‘Yes, Mr. Hoxha,’ said the General, ‘what Byron wrote about you Albanians I am seeing in reality and in difficult times which the world is going through.’

‘General,’ I said, ‘this hospitable atmosphere which our host has created reminds me of what I have read about the life of Byron. It was in such an atmosphere that the great English poet who had gone to Greece to fight for the freedom of the Greek people lay on his death bed. When the Albanians and their valiant leaders — Marko Boçari, Kolokotroni and others, were fighting all around Missolonghi, those who were serving the poet on his death bed were Albanians — the Suliotes.’

‘In find your words very moving, Mr. Hoxha,’ the British General replied.

‘Byron has written about this generosity and hospitality of our people, too. Somewhere he relates how, while he was travelling in Albania and night overtook him in a village, he was obliged to seek shelter in a house where he was welcomed with all the good things they had. Before he left the next day, Byron brought out his money to pay. His host said indignantly: ‘No, the Albanian does not want money but friends.’ And Byron remained a true friend of the Albanians.

Our host loaded the table with food, as is the custom of the people of Dibra. The General rose to his knees, put his hand on his heart to express thanks whenever his host offered him cigarettes, or clinked glasses with him. Our weariness disappeared immediately. The General opened his eyes in astonishment and asked me: ‘I cannot understand where we are here, in the city or in the countryside?’

‘We’re in a village, the inhabitants of which have fought for freedom since ancient times. They are poor, but when friends and comrades come they do everything possible to avoid being disgraced. This is how our whole people preserve the traditions of our ancestors, General,’ I told him.

‘What an astonishing culture you have! What politeness!’ exclaimed the General.

Nicholls’ version is, ahem, slightly different.

Kostenje, Refek told us, couldn’t be reached by car so I’ll be walking there soon. Instead, the next day we visited Orenje, which I’ll post about next time…

Bread and honey as served by Refek - the honey was just out of this world

Bread and honey as served by Refek – the honey was just out of this world

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I Spy – the Mysterious Case of Fred Brandt

Fred Brandt (left) chats to Billy McLean and Julian Amery (National Archives)

Fred Brandt (left) chats to Billy McLean and Julian Amery (National Archives)

Some strange things happened in Albania during World War Two. Strangest, perhaps, is the mysterious tale of Fred Brandt, German soldier, spy, and butterfly collector (there’s surely a thesis to be written on the connection between espionage and lepidoptery).

Brandt gets a mention in Roderick Bailey’s The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle. The story goes that a lonesome British Liaison Officer in the north, Tony Neel, was told by a local, frankly inept, wannabe guerrilla leader, Nik Sokoli, that a German soldier was keen to desert. A meeting was arranged and on 11 April 1944, in Sokoli’s home, Neel was introduced to a tall, very Teutonic lance-corporal, Fred Brandt. After a fair amount of raki, it was decided that Brandt should return to his unit of Tajik soldiers and persuade them to desert en masse. Brandt’s main interest, he assured Neel, was collecting butterflies, of which Albania had (and still has) an abundance.

An unlikely friendship developed over the following weeks between the British officer and the German NCO; Neel even had Brandt round for tea to meet Billy McLean and Julian Amery, when they dropped into the country. SOE HQ, by then based in Bari, was more suspicious than Neel and did their due diligence. Years later Neel recalled

… one day my wireless operator… Corporal Button… came in and he said ‘Got a message for you, sir.’

I said, ‘What is it?’

He said, ‘This man Brandt, who you’ve contacted. Is he about five-foot-ten? Ginger-haired?’ and so on and so on. ‘Because if he is, he’s a colonel in the Abwehr [German military intelligence]…’

Tony Neel, not at his best (National Archives)

Tony Neel, not at his best (National Archives)

At their next meeting, Neel confronted Brandt with the message. Brandt agreed that the description did match his, and agreed to come to Bari for questioning. He was evacuated in October by boat (Corporal Button drowned when a dinghy overturned in heavy seas), and flown off to England, along with his butterfly specimens, for interrogation by MI5. He cheerfully admitted he’d been keeping his German bosses in the loop as to his progress (they were pressing him to round up a whole bunch of BLOs in one masterful stroke) and had had difficulty preventing his Tajik soldiers capturing Neel’s party when they had the chance.

After reading Brandt’s interrogation transcripts, the Albanian section’s intelligence officer, John Eyre, wrote ‘This account makes me shiver… our ALOs [Allied Liaison Officers] like sheep among wolves…’

Brandt wrote his own account of his experiences in the Seventies, and it’s available in English at this amazing website, Albanianhistory.net, a labour of love by writer and translator Robert Elsie.

Weirdest bit? This, probably –

That evening, at dinner, I spoke to Major Neel, explaining to him what needed to be done. After the withdrawal of German forces, a national Albanian government would have to be created and supported. He reacted with enthusiasm and promised to contact Bari about the idea straight away.

The reply came two days later – complete agreement! The northern Albanians would receive everything they needed, even weapons, and we were to inform British headquarters of what they required most urgently. The next morning, I took the good news to the Albanians in the forest glade. They were jubilant!

The next step was to choose a leader for the national resistance movement. The choice fell upon me. I was acceptable for all sides, and was neutral. The Catholics regarded me as one of theirs. The Muslims regarded me as a follower of Allah, and I was even a friend of the British, their commander, and indeed a “colonel.”

Brandt’s account has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Hasn’t it?

There’s a sad postscript. It seems that after the war the extraordinary Brandt was handed over to the Soviets. He spent eight years in the gulags, only returning to Germany in 1955, sick with tuberculosis and a variety of other nasty diseases. He died in 1995.

Did that really happen? Neel reflects on his close shave in Bari, October 1944 (National Archives)

Did that really happen? Neel reflects on his close shave in Bari, October 1944 (National Archives)

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Soviet Moles in SOE Cairo. Surely not?

Was this man really running SOE Cairo?

Was this man really running SOE Cairo?

A few months ago I posted a piece saying that it was impossible to understand what was happening in Albania over the winter of 1943/44 without an understanding of what was happening in Cairo, from where SOE ran its Balkan operations. Well, the same goes for Yugoslavia – without a good grasp of the factors that drove the British to back the Stalinist Tito over the Anglophile Mihailovic (who we built up as a hero, then ditched) very little in Albania makes sense either.

Unfortunately, this way madness lies. You’ll soon find yourself up to your neck in a Balkan tangle of conspiracy theories, the gist of which is that SOE Cairo had been infiltrated root-and-branch by Soviet moles who distorted intelligence from the field, thus hoodwinking Churchill into backing Tito, and delivering Yugoslavia to Stalin (for a few years, at least).

If you want to enter this web of intrigue, an entertaining if not necessarily reliable starting point is The Rape of Serbia, written in the late 1980s by Michael Lees, a BLO who served with Mihailovic’s Çetniks (it’s all online here). Lees, it’s worth pointing out, was a real hero, but seems to have had unfortunate views on Serb nationalism in light of what happened in the Nineties (he died in 1992).

On a smaller scale, so the story goes, the same thing happened with Albania – thanks to treacherous commies in Cairo, we armed and supplied the ruthless maniac Enver Hoxha over nicer chaps like the charming Abas Kupi.

Dr Roderick Bailey, who covered all the conspiracy theories off in his PHD, takes the view that yes, there were communists in the Yugoslav and Albanian sections and, yes, they would have distorted intelligence as and when they could. But it didn’t make any difference in terms of Churchill’s decision to back Tito, as Ultra decrypts of German signals were crossing his desk daily. These quite clearly proved that Tito was creating more problems for the Germans than Mihailovic and therefore was the man to back.

There’s a convincing article about it here, by John Cripps, taken from the book Action This Day.

But I’m not going to let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy. I grew up in a left-wing household, and knew from an early age that not only are there reds under the bed, but also the only reason they come out from under the bed is to take a bit of exercise by marching through our institutions. Certainly they had no interest in doing any housework.

So Ultra be damned – let’s pretend we don’t know about it and get back to Soviet moles, which make for a much better story.

Stalin's man on the SOE Yugoslav desk - James Klugmann

Stalin’s man on the SOE Yugoslav desk – James Klugmann

In his (brilliant) memoir No Colours or Crest, Peter Kemp recounts that he was briefed in London by Ormond Uren (soon to be caught passing secrets to the Russians), arrived in Cairo to be met by (the communist) Basil Davidson, then bumped into an old Cambridge acquaintance, James Klugmann (quite definitely a Soviet mole and invariably described by Lees as ‘sinister’, though ‘smelly’ might have been more accurate according to his colleagues). Both Davidson and Klugmann worked in the Yugoslav section.

In Sons of the Eagle, Julian Amery suggests a similar Staliny flavour to the Albanian section in SOE Cairo, as does David Smiley in Albanian Assignment. In fact, in the Nineties Smiley even claimed that signals front the field were brazenly torn up in the office, if they cast Hoxha’s partisans in a bad light.

(It’s only fair to point out that Peter Kemp fought in the Spanish Civil War, for Franco, Julian Amery’s brother John used to deliver cheerful radio broadcasts from Berlin and was hanged for treason in 1945, and David Smiley’s politics, such as they were, can best be described as Mein Kampf filtered through Horse & Hound.)

It’s worth mentioning too that the section’s Albanian expert, Margaret Hasluck, walked out in February 1944 in disgust at what she thought was pro-communist bias (and was immediately replaced by a mentally unstable communist called John Eyre, who later claimed he’d been recruited by the Soviets in the Thirties). Interestingly, the SOE Map Room was a source of much of her anger. She thought the maps, studded with lots of impressive pins indicating partisan control, bore no relation to reality. Michael Lees claims that on his return from a stint with Mihailovic’s forces, the BLO Jasper Rootham was so furious when he saw the map of his region that he swept all the pins off and then upbraided Klugmann.

Maps mattered. Lees quotes a December 2 1943 cable sent to Churchill from Desmond Morton, his personal assistant –

“SOE Cairo has given me for you a copy of their MOST SECRET MAP showing the disposition of the Partisan forces and Mihailović as at 8 A.M. this morning December 2nd. . . . This map shows the position much better than the one you receive daily in London. The London version suggests that the Germans hold most of the country with the Partisans hiding in inaccessible districts. Cairo’s operational map, which is corrected daily from the large number of operational telegrams which they receive from the field, shows almost the reverse to be the position. The Germans are holding all the main lines of communications but the greater part of the country is in Partisan hands. The Cairo map also shows the very small districts now held by Mihailovic.”

On December 10 Churchill made the decision to ditch Mihailovic and back Tito, following a two-hour briefing from his old friend William Deakin, who had been wounded with Tito in Yugoslavia. (Funnily enough, that morning Deakin had written a glowing reference for Klugmann to MI5, assuring them that he was in no way a security risk).

Philip Leake, Watrous' who ran SOE's Albanian section till being killed by a German bomb at Shepr in June 1944 (National Archives)

Philip Leake, who ran SOE’s Albanian section till being killed by a German bomb at Shepr in June 1944 (National Archives)

But back to Albania. I’m not convinced the Albanian section was particularly biased in favour of Hoxha’s partisans while Hasluck was in situ. Its head, Philip Leake, even wanted to remove one BLO, Bill Tilman, as he worried he was too pro-partisan. But Leake was killed in June 1944, and was replaced by a young man (just 21 or 22 at the time) named Elliot Watrous.

Watrous enjoys his first trip to Albania (National Archives)

Watrous enjoys his first trip to Albania (National Archives)

It’s hard to believe a small department like the Albanian section could have been a festering hotbed of communism if the boss wasn’t on board. So was Watrous a commie?

In The Wildest Province, Rod Bailey writes that Watrous’s sons recalled that he was a “‘staunch conservative and libertarian’ whose antipathy to socialism almost prompted him to emigrate when Harold Wilson became Prime Minister”. A colleague from Cairo, John Naar, didn’t think he was left-wing at all (conspiracy theorists alert – Naar was a socialist so no doubt part of the plot).

I don’t think Watrous thought much about politics; in fact I think his main focus was chasing FANYs (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, usually chosen for their looks when employed by SOE). But I do think, at the time, he was a lefty. Most of the army was, by then – the Communist Party of Great Britain had done a hell of a job radicalising it. Google “Forces Parliament Cairo” if you don’t believe me.

In February 1945, when Hoxha’s true colours were becoming clear, Margaret Hasluck, now a private citizen, wrote to Sir Andrew Ryan, who she knew from her pre-War days in Albania –

“He [Watrous] is very largely guilty of the present position. Being half-American and ambitious as the young naturally are he decided that the Partisans were the paying side and backed them exclusively… he had sole say in what information should be given… Not one word about [Abas] Kupi’s exploits – or indeed much about those of these officers – was allowed to get out of that office, not even to the head office in London, according to Hill [Darryl Oakley Hill, who worked in SOE’s London office]… W suppressed everything…”

And then in March 1946 –

“Col. Barbrook has just arrived – says Watrous is no longer red and pleads that they were all young and inexperienced.”

This suggestion, that Watrous was a repentant lefty post-war, appalled at seeing the reality of communism in Albania, is backed up by a letter Neil ‘Billy’ McLean wrote to Julian Amery in March 1948, regarding two Albanians who were about to arrive in London (Said Kryeziu and Ishan Toptani, both friends to the British during the war and therefore on Hoxha’s long list of people to kill) –

“… I have written to Watrous to ask if he can see an opening for either of them on the B.B.C. If you feel inclined, you might speak to him in the same sense yourself, representing perhaps that it would be a good opportunity to make amends for the past!”

Watrous gets a tour of King Zog's old palace in Tirana (National Archives)

Watrous gets a tour of King Zog’s old palace in Tirana (National Archives)

I could write on and on but to cut a long story short, my take on it is that Watrous, like many other impressionable young men and women at the time, had an idealised view of socialism/communism (which wore off very soon after the general election of 1945, in which perhaps 80% of the armed forces voted Labour). This naive understanding of the partisans’ true nature, and fashionable, unthinking admiration for Uncle Joe, was exploited by the likes of Klugmann and Eyre. It was unfortunate that the lives of so many millions of people in the Balkans were blighted as a result.

You see – it is a much better story if you ignore Ultra.

I’ll leave the last word to a real pillar of the postwar British Establishment, Sandy Glen, who seved in both Albania and Yugoslavia. In his memoir, Footholds Against a Whirlwind, he writes –

“Many of us were suffering from a mania that everything to the Left was good. We have not much to be proud of during this period.”

Note on sources – the letters from Hasluck and McLean’s letter to Julian Amery all come from the Julian Amery Private Papers held at the Churchill Archives Centre. Deakin’s confidential report for Klugmann is quoted in an article by Roderick Bailey in The Politics and Strategy of Clandestine War. I should mention that somewhere in the National Archives is a typically breezy letter from Watrous expressing surprise at the left-wing stance taken by the boss of the Balkan Air Force, Bill Elliott, in a meeting, which goes to show that even more mature folk weren’t immune from the spirit of the times. Even more interestingly he then adds, in brackets, something along the lines of “Remember Deakin’s talk…” Unfortunately I can’t find the reference for this letter so I might have dreamed it, or I might be part of a massive right-wing conspiracy. Who knows… 

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