British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor dies

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British travel writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose work includes a much-loved account of his teenage journey across 1930s Europe on foot, died Friday at the age of 96, press reports said.

The writer had lived in Greece since the 1960s but returned to England shortly before his death, according to reports citing his publisher John Murray.

He died before finishing the trilogy of books about the year-long walk he made from Rotterdam to Istanbul when he was 18, which included the hugely popular "A Time of Gifts" (1977) and "Between the Woods and the Water" (1986).

Although some people questioned the accuracy of the events he described, Leigh Fermor was hailed for his lyrical writing and his ability to recreate the vivid worlds in which he travelled, as well as his understanding of them.

His own wartime exploits would also have filled a history book.

In 1944, as a major in the British army during World War II, Leigh Fermor led a group of British officers and Greek resistance fighters in the audacious capture of the German general in command of Nazi-occupied Crete.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his action and the escapade was later recorded for posterity in a 1957 film, "Ill Met by Moonlight", starring Dirk Bogarde as the intrepid British major.

Leigh Fermor was knighted in 2004, a year after the death of his wife, Joan. The couple had no children.

"Paddy was not just the greatest living travel writer, and one of the greatest masters of English prose, he was a strong contender for the title greatest living Englishman," said author and historian William Dalrymple.

"As well as being a writer of genius he was also a war hero, walker, lover, aesthete, and out and out gentleman. His death marks the end of an era."

© 2011 AFP

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