"Dear Xan"

A Time of Gifts, Introductory letter to Xan Fielding, page 1.

I’ve been guilty of skipping the preface to many books in order to get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible.  But to do this with A Time of Gifts would be a mistake.  Paddy’s preface takes the form of an introductory letter to his friend and comrade in arms Alexander Fielding, known to his friends as Xan.

Major Alexander Wallace Fielding DSO, intelligence officer and author.

Born 26 November 1918, Ootacamund, India

Died 19 August 1991 (aged 72) Paris, France

Fielding was born Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace in British India, where his father was serving in the Indian Army. Early in his life both of his parents died and Xan was apparently adopted by Percival Wallace Fielding, whose surname he adopted.  As Paddy alludes, Xan had a similar wild, if privileged, upbringing.  Fielding went to school at Harrow and Charterhouse, before choosing to go to Bonn University, as opposed to the more conventional Oxford or Cambridge.  M. R. D. Foot’s biography of Fielding for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography then describes how, as an undergraduate in the early the thirtiesXan participated in anti-Nazi activities, attempted to join the International Brigades fighting the fascists in Spain, before ending up tending bar in Cyprus.  With a CV like this it is no wonder that Xan ended up in the Special Operations Executive where he met Paddy and served alongside him in occupied Crete - and the fleshpots of Cairo.

Further reading:

M.R.D. Foot, “Fielding, Alexander Wallace [Xan] (1918–1991), intelligence officer and author.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (2013)

A. W. Fielding, Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-time Agent (London, Secker & Warburg, 1954)

Artemis Cooper, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. (London: John Murray, 2012)

Photo credit:

Photo of Paddy (Left) and Xan courtesy of the National Library of Scotland