Tag Archives: Smith

Ladies to the Left

A female partisan, photographed by SOE's Bill Tilman

A female partisan, photographed by SOE’s Bill Tilman

My last post, which included the first entry of Lt Col Arthur Nicholls’ SPILLWAY diary, didn’t go so well. A few hours after I put it up Rod Bailey emailed to say the Imperial War Museum are very antsy about people quoting their materials, and advised me to remove it sharpish. Rather than face the wrath of their legal department, I’ve complied. What a shame.

A bit of an issue for me as I’m currently languishing in Tirana ahead of a meeting with the British embassy on Monday, and am yet to hit the mountains to research the route of September’s Endurance Vile Trail, so don’t have a huge amount to blog about. Tirana, to be fair, isn’t a bad place to languish. It may lack beauty, but it certainly doesn’t lack charm. Shabby charm, to be sure, but charm nonetheless.

So as a filler, I thought I’d share some great photos I found in the National Archives, which I’m pretty sure I can post without being taken to court. They’re of various partisan girls, including Liri Gega who, it’s worth mentioning, was shot on Enver Hoxha’s orders in 1956. She was pregnant at the time. In The Anglo-American Threat to Albania, Hoxha suggests she and SOE’s Victor Smith had a bit of a pash in 1944, but Hoxha’s extensive memoirs are often less than reliable (though to be fair he was right to suggest that SOE’s Albania expert Margaret Hasluck had been the lover of the elderly Albanian regent under the Germans, Lef Nosi. Whom Hoxha had tortured and shot…).

Curiously, many of the photos seem to have been taken by another British Liaison Officer, the mountaineer Bill Tilman, who I had always assumed was homosexual. Rod reckons he was asexual, but perhaps his penchant for the turn of a partisan heel suggests he was just terribly, terribly repressed. He did bathe in mountain streams each and every day through the harsh winter of 1943/44, which has to mean something.

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New Albania 30 years on

New Albania. Not so new any more, but still Albanian

New Albania. Not so new any more, but still Albanian

I must have spent close to four weeks, on and off, in Tirana this winter. It’s a bizarre city. Every now and then in a restaurant I’ll see black and white photos on the walls showing cobbled streets and Ottoman villas in the days before first Fascist and then Communist architects got their hands on the place. Hard to believe but it must have been picturesque. It isn’t now. But it does have a real, shambolic, charm – I like Tirana a lot, and am sad to be driving back to the UK, even if only for a few weeks.

During my stays here, I’ve generally slept at the Villa With Star, a small 1930s apartment hidden between the truly hideous tower blocks that are sprouting up willy-nilly across the city. It’s close to the old bazaar, or what remains of it, and plenty of good, cheap eateries (and five minutes’ walk from Skanderbeg Square). But one of the Villa’s big attractions is that it’s also home to Albaniantrip.com, who have a great collection of Communist memorabilia. Yesterday I entertained myself with an album of early 1980s New Albania magazines. There was so much good stuff that I had to create a Facebook gallery. I tried to limit myself to just 10 pages and spreads, but found it impossible. So instead I’ll post 10 a week, the first instalment of which you can see here.

Noteworthy articles include “A New Appearance for an Ancient City”, in which the writers wax lyrical on the destruction of old Durrës and its replacement by uniform blocks of flats. “The new buildings are constructed according to the standard designs provided by the Study and Design Institute of Town-panning [sic] and Architecture in Tirana,” it says, before mentioning that many buildings were built by “voluntary labour contributed by the working people”. How nice of them.

“The Distribution of Income in the Agricultural Cooperatives” is, I’m sure, fascinating, but I somehow couldn’t find the time to read it in full. The cover of Issue 3/1982 shows an ill-but-benevolent-looking Enver Hoxha, and includes a small article by Jashar Kemal (“A Turkish Writer”), who, apparently, left Albania Extremely Happy. He was particularly impressed by the fact that water could be brought to one place from another, many miles away – “a real miracle”. The Romans would have been astonished.

And all written in that stilted, dead, empty English favoured by Communist bureaucrats and Ivy League social science faculties. Very strange indeed.

When I’m back in London I’ll be delving into the private papers of Neil ‘Billy’ McLean at the Imperial War Museum, and also trying to get to the bottom of what happened to a small party of British soldiers who left the Mati region in April for evacuation to Italy, but only turned up on the coast in August. No one seems quite sure what beach they were extracted from or what happened to them in-between. The officers were Bulman, Smythe and Hands, with NCOs Brandrick, Clifton, Goodier and Smith. If anyone out there has any information, I’d love to hear from you.

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