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Travel writer P.M. Leigh Fermor dead at 96

ATHENS, Greece -- British travel writer Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, who tramped across Europe in his teens and captured a German general in Nazi-occupied Crete during World War II, died in Britain on Friday. He was 96.

Leigh Fermor died in Britain where he had arrived on Thursday, a day before his death, his publisher, John Murray, said.

Leigh Fermor's war exploits and books about Greek travel made him highly popular in Greece, where he lived most of the year in a house he had designed in the 1960s near the southern village of Kardamyli.

A Greek Culture Ministry statement described him as "perhaps the greatest contemporary travel writer, (who) loved Greece as his second country." It also called him one of Greece's most significant cultural ambassadors in the world.

Known as "Paddy," Leigh Fermor combined a love of adventure with the erudition of an older age -- and the eclectic inquisitiveness that spawned his mini glossary of beggar slang from remote Greek villages.

His elegant prose, with baroque digressions into the arcana of history and folklore, furnished more than half a dozen books and earned literary awards.

At 18, after a disastrous career at several schools, Leigh Fermor decided to walk from Holland to Constantinople, modern Istanbul. It was 1933, the year Adolf Hitler came to power.

As a British army major 11 years later, Leigh Fermor headed a team of British special operations officers and Greek resistance fighters that captured the German military commander of Crete, Gen. Karl Kreipe. Eluding a furious manhunt, the small band spirited the disgruntled Kreipe over the island's snow-topped mountains to a southern cove, from which he was shipped to Alexandria.

The action, for which Leigh Fermor won the Distinguished Service Order, reportedly prompted the infamous Nazi order to execute captured allied commandos. With a price on his head, he returned to Crete to coordinate covert operations.

The escapade was recorded by Leigh Fermor's fellow officer William Stanley Moss in his book "Ill Met by Moonlight," later turned into a film starring Dirk Bogarde. The protagonists were reunited for a Greek TV show in 1972, where Kreipe said he bore his abductors no ill will "otherwise I would not have come here."

He was knighted in 2004 -- accepting the honor he had declined in 1991. In 2007, Greece awarded him the Order of the Phoenix.

His wife, Joan Leigh Fermor, died in 2003. The couple had no children. A funeral is expected to be held this week in Dumbleton village, near Cheltenham in England, where he had a house and where his late wife is buried.

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