Tour of Duty

Alex Smyth in the village of Xibër

Alex Smyth, the son of SOE officer Captain Frank Smyth, approaches the house in which his father spent three months hiding during World War II

Mission creep. When I started this blog it had a simple purpose – to publicise the trek I hope to organise in the footsteps of Brigadier E.F. ‘Trotksy’ Davies’ SPILLWAY mission of winter 1943/44 [there should be an announcement on this in the next few weeks]. But one thing led to another and last summer I agreed to help Alex Smyth, the son of one of the SOE officers who served in Albania during World War II, put together a tour in his father’s footsteps.

One thing that had been driven home to me during my dalliance with Albania is that the roads are terrible. The only way to get around is by serious 4×4, unless you’re happy to stick to the main city-to-city roads. So after a raki or two with my friend Elton Caushi of Tirana-based tour agency Albanian Trip, we decided to start a new brand and website focused on off-road adventure tourism in Albania. And it was under this new guise – Drive Albania – that the Smyth tour was organised.

A lot of planning went into the tour, and several recce trips were made. Some failed – the village of Xibër, where Alex’s father Captain Frank Smyth spent about three months in early 1944, proved impossible to reach due to a combination of landslides and mechanical failure. Some succeeded, like our trip to Macukull described in the last post (ironically, the heavy rain that has afflicted the Balkans this spring meant we couldn’t reach Macukull with Alex Smyth when it mattered).

Figuring out just where Captain Smyth had been in Albania 70 years on was a painstaking task. Dr Roderick Bailey – whose new book on SOE’s war against Fascist Italy, Target Italy has just been published – was an immense help, as was SOE researcher Dr Steven Kippax, who introduced Alex to us in the first place.

The artist Robert Permeti

Alex Smyth (left) talks with Robert Permeti while Elton Caushi (centre) translates

The tour took 11 days, and you can link through to photos via the Drive Albania website. One of the most interesting days (for me, anyway) was a meeting with the artist Robert Permeti, whose painting “The Abyss” sits at the top of this blog. I’ll put a post up about this fascinating day shortly. In the meantime, you can check out photos from the first five days of the tour here, here, here, here and here.

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8 thoughts on “Tour of Duty

  1. Great to hear that Alex got his wish to follow (well nearly) in his Fathers footsteps. Glad all the cog wheels fitted together to make this happen 🙂 Seems like ages since he was in first contact with us. Steve A (Operation Dark of the Moon)

  2. 3drews says:

    Well done Ed, great to hear that Alex got his wish to Follow (well nearly) in his Fathers footsteps. Seems an age since he first got in contact with us.
    Keep up the good work.
    Steve A (Operation Dark of the Moon)

  3. Alex Smyth says:

    It was an mazing trip well led by Ed Reeves of Drive Albania, and Elton Caushi of Albanian Trip. Understandably quite emotional too – less obvious reasons being the the harsh (but beautiful) terrain, the variable weather, and the very challenging road conditions. Thankfully Ed and Elton provided us with a couple of excellent, very robust 4WD vehicles!

    • It was a pleasure, despite the freakishly bad weather. Visiting Xibër was a joy, especially with the Mayor of Xibër and his moustache looking after us. Shame the sun only came out when we reached the coast! Will put more photos up shortly. Ed

  4. Does anyone know how Brig. E.F. Davies got the nickname “Trotsky,” which must have impressed Enver Hoxha who no doubt reveled in the real Trotsky’s assassination three years earlier?
    Arthur Hughes

    • Ed Reeves says:

      Hi Arthur. According to Rod Bailey’s book The Wildest Province, he earned the nickname at Sandhurst for ‘a kind of disciplined bolshevism in his character’. He was a true king & country man, certainly not a lefty. Best, Ed

  5. Arthur Hughes says:

    Ed, hello–
    Since E.F. Davies was born in ca. 1901 he might have been at Sandhurst at the time the Red Army, under Trotsky as Commissar of War, was pushing back the Whites and their British interventionist forces in the Russian Civil War, 1918-22. This would give a twist to his having the nickname “Trotsky.” Secret admiration, perhaps. Arthur

  6. Ed Reeves says:

    Might well have been the case! Certainly wouldn’t have admired Trotsky for his politics….

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