Alex Smyth’s father served in Albania as a Special Operations Executive agent during the Second World War. Alex, who was referred to Ed Reeves by SOE historian Dr Roderick Bailey (author of The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle), travelled to a very wet and rainy Albania from sunny Australia in spring 2014. Despite the unusually terrible weather, we were able to take him to many of the remote spots his father had operated from, including the beautiful village of Xibër, where his father’s mission house still stood, seemingly caught in a time warp.
“Having corresponded extensively by email with Ed Reeves in the 18 months preceding our arrival in Albania I was quietly confident that we on track for a unique experience. I knew that Ed had researched my father’s involvement in the Special Operations Executive mission to Albania thoroughly, and that we would be ‘challenged’ in getting to some of key sites such as my father’s mission house which, from the 1943 photographs (held in the UK National Archives) we knew was in the village of Xibër. Armed with the photos, discussions with the enigmatic mayor of Xibër revealed that the mission house was in fact located in a summer pasture an hour’s walk further up in the hills above the village.
“My assessment about the challenges proved accurate as the unsealed, very muddy single-track road conditions, combined with poor weather in the mountains had all our eyes out on stoppers at times. Thankfully the two 4WD vehicles (a Land Rover Discovery 2 and a Mitsubishi Pajero) provided by Drive Albania were up to the task, and with off-road-driving experience growing for all by the minute we coped well, carefully negotiating landslides, potholes, and fast-flowing mountain stream crossings as a matter of course.
“Naturally the other driving challenge was in the cities and towns, and the remarkably variable road conditions in between. Ed showed that he was very adept at manoeuvring his vehicle between the various modes of transport using the roads (donkeys to semi trailers) at the same time maintaining an amusing commentary of his experiences as an expatriate Englishman in Albania. His willingness to adopt local practices was remarkable. All in all an emotional family odyssey for my son and I, which was a four-wheel-drive adventure for us and our two friends.”
Alex Smyth, May 2014. You can see photos from Alex’s tour at our Facebook page.