e g r e g o r e s

"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

C.M. Woodhouse: scholar-soldier and philhellene

I first encountered C.M. Woodhouse through his wonderful 1986 book George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes. Considering Plethon’s central importance to the Italian Renaissance it is remarkable that Woodhouse’s is the only book-length treatment of the man in the English language. For those interested in finding out more about Plethon you might want to check out my blog post titled Contra Atheos, Part Deux: A Gentlemen’s Agreement, as well as the post George Gemistos Plethon: Sources.

It turns out that Woodhouse himself was quite a remarkable character. Below is a brief biography that appears at the website of Denise Harvey Publishers, the publisher of Woodhouse’s last book, Rhigas Velestinlis: The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution. And click here to read Woodhouse’s obiturary in the New York Times (Woodhouse died February 13, 2001).

Christopher Montague (Monty) Woodhouse was one of the small band of Second World War scholar-soldiers who became legends as young men. Educated at Oxford, where he read Classics and gained a double first along with other prizes, he then went to the British School at Athens intending to return to an academic career at Oxford. On the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the Royal Artillery and it was because of his knowledge of modern Greek, learnt while in Athens, that he was sent to Greece as a member of the British Military Mission. He was first in Athens, and then in German-occupied Crete collecting intelligence and helping British solders escape from the island where he learned ‘to feed on snails, mountain grass and ground acorns’. After a spell at a training school in England he was parachuted as second-in-command with a small British team into mainland Greece with the object of making contact with local resistance fighters and sabotaging the main railway line. This was successfully achieved when the railway viaduct at Gorgopotamos was blown up, one of the most spectacular wartimes acts of resistance in occupied Europe, and an act that gave great momentum to resistance to the Germans. Woodhouse stayed in the mountains for the rest of the occupation, becoming head of the now Allied Military Mission. In his unpublished 1945 report on the Mission, he wrote:

‘Nothing matters so much in this story as the Greek mountains. The rolling downs of Olympus, the precipitous ravines of Agrapha, the orchards of Pelion, the staggering crags of Smolikas, the long, thin ridge of Taygetos, the pine forests of Giona, are almost individual characters in the story, their roles perpetually changed by sun and snow and rain. Without them no guerilla movement could have been born.’

In the immediate post-war years he was largely engaged in helping to clear up and record the Balkan disarray, and he was attached to the British Embassy in Athens and was secretary-general to the Allied Mission for observing the Greek elections a year later. Posts in industry, the Nuffield Foundation, and a spell at the Foreign Office followed, and from 1955 to 1959 he was Director-General and Director of Studies of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). In 1959 he entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Oxford and represented the constituency, except for a four-year break, until 1974. He was also for several years visiting professor at King’s College, London, perhaps the British academic institution with the closest links to Greece, a position which he greatly enjoyed.

From the war onwards as a writer he concerned himself primarily with Greek history. His first book, The Apple of Discord: A Survey of Recent Greek Politics in their International Setting (1948), was an important analysis of Greece during the war. There followed many other books, including The Greek War of Independence (1952), The Story of Modern Greece (1968), The Philhellenes (1969), The Struggle for Greece, 1941–1949 (1976), Karamanlis: The Restorer of Greek Democracy (1982), The Rise and Fall of the Greek Colonels (1985), and Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes (1986). His last published book was Rhigas Velestinlis.

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