London And Constantinople
( Originally Published 1923 )
Interview with Sir Henry Wilson – Interview with Lord Curzon – Reception of my reports – My instructions – Journey via Paris and Rome to Taranto – Embark on a hospital ship – Passage of the Dardanelles – Orders to fit out a new party at Constant – 'A' mess – Organization of my Mission – Their training – Admiral de Robeck – Dinner on the Iron Duke – Fox-hunting – Golf –A fire-ship in the Bosphorus -- Sail for Trebizond
REACHING London on August 28th, after a record journey of twenty-one days from Erzeroum, I reported at the War Office next morning, and had the honour of having a long and extremely interesting interview with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Sir Henry Wilson) .
I reported to him the details of the Turkish Nationalist Movement and its progress up to the time of the Erzeroum Conference, which had concluded on August 7th, and handed him a summary of the National 'Pact', then agreed upon, the details of which had been supplied to me by Mustapha Kemal himself.
I pointed out to him that the definite refusal of the Eastern Turks to submit to disarmament and demobilization, according to the terms of the Armistice, was no sudden decision on their part, but was rather the result of the deliberately patriotic attitude adopted by the delegates at the Erzeroum Conference, and formed an important and integral part of the future policy of the whole Nationalist Party throughout the Turkish Dominions.
At that time the intention of the British Government to retire their troops completely from the Caucasus and to evacuate the port of Batoum had already been decided upon, and this decision, having been published, no doubt had much to do with the choice by the Nationalists of that particular moment for the throwing-off of all disguise, and the adoption of a policy of open defiance of the Supreme Council of the Allies.
The outcome of my report as to present conditions in the interior was that eventually the Chief of the Imperial General Staff agreed to reconsider the date upon which Batoum was to be evacuated by our troops, and the garrison there, then under orders to leave the port during October, received instructions that the evacuation would be postponed for a time at any rate, pending the further development of the political situation.
I was then instructed to report to Lord Curzon at the Foreign Office, whom I had the honour of seeing in person the following day. This interview, of which I retain the most vivid recollection, was, of course, chiefly devoted to the political aspect of the situation, and particularly to the personality of Mustapha Kemal, his influence and aspirations, his prospects of organizing a successful revolution against the Sultan's Government and the Constantinople Party, and the ultimate aims and objects to which such a revolution, in the event of its success, would be directed. With respect to these very elaborate and difficult questions it was only possible for me to offer the opinions that I had formed on the spot, from personal acquaintance and discussion with the principal members of the Nationalist Party, and the result of my observations as to the spirit and general attitude of the civilian population, as well as those of the military element.
With suitable emphasis and, I trust, due deference, I rendered my report, and answered many searching questions. In the course of the interview I was repeatedly astonished to find the diversity and depth of the knowledge possessed by Lord Curzon of the whole situation in the interior, down to even small details, his familiarity with which impressed me more than anything else. The conviction was irresistible that our Government were fortunate indeed in having at their disposal, in the person of their Foreign Minister, a degree of knowledge and a variety of experience of the character and views of our diplomatic adversaries in the East, in all probability unrivalled by any of his predecessors in that great and responsible position.
The impression with which I left the Foreign Office on that occasion, however, was that, although my reports were listened to with considerable interest, particularly as containing certain elements of novelty in the picture I presented of the possibility of a great future Moslem Republic, yet they were by no means taken as furnishing reliable information as to the aspirations of the new Turkish Party: nor was it considered that, even if the forecast put forward should prove to be correct as to the objects of the Nationalist Movement, there was the least likelihood of the Turkish Revolutionaries having either the enterprise or the resources at their command which would be necessary to enable them to carry out the unexpectedly ambitious programme which I ascribed to them. It can hardly be disputed to-day that the subsequent policy of our Government and the course of events since that date have tended to confirm the above conclusions as to the British official attitude towards the Kemalist Revolution at that time.
Having rendered my reports to both the War Office and the Foreign Office, it was intimated to me by the Military Authorities that instead of proceeding, as had been proposed, to Archangel, it would be preferred that I should, if I was prepared to continue in the Service, return to Constantinople as a Special Service Officer, in the same position as before; and on my stating my readiness to remain in the army as long as I could be of any service, I was instructed to call again at the Foreign Office, and then proceed once more to Constantinople.
I therefore had the honour of a further interview with Lord Curzon, on which occasion I again repeated what I had gathered Mustapha Kemal's objects and intentions to be, and what possibilities there appeared to be of his being in a position to carry them out. I then received instructions from Lord Curzon that I should, if possible, see Mustapha Kemal again and endeavour to ascertain as definitely as might be possible from him what Peace terms his party were expecting to obtain, and what conditions (short of the terms of their 'Pact', which was looked upon as impossible) they would be prepared to accept. At the same time it was to be officially understood that I was returning to Anatolia on purely military duty, for the purpose of reporting as to the fulfilment by the Turks of the military conditions of the Armistice, and that any interviews I might succeed in obtaining with Mustapha Kemal would be of a quite informal and unofficial character, and that I was in no way to be considered as other than an officer employed on ordinary military duty.
Armed with these somewhat vague and purely verbal instructions, I left London on October 20th, to report once more for special service at General Headquarters of the Army of the Black Sea at Constant. The journey, via Paris and Rome, to Taranto offered no special incidents of interest, but the trains were still very crowded, although a little less so than on the last occasion of my following this route. I found, however, that travelling had become considerably more expensive; not only was it no longer possible for a soldier in uniform to take a certain meagre amount of kit with him without payment, but prices had gone up in every direction: especially was this the case in Rome, where the hotels were crowded to overflowing, and a decent meal not only cost a small fortune, but was actually difficult .to obtain. All trains were also many hours late, and we were seventeen hours between Rome and Taranto, with no chance of obtaining a meal.
On arrival at Taranto, it was again necessary to wait some days for a ship, during which time I once more experienced the amenities of the rest-camp, and suffered even more from the cold and damp than on my previous visit to that delectable retreat. I was, however, able eventually to embark, on October 27th, on the Gloucester Castle, a hospital ship doing temporary duty as a trans-port, and then bound for Salonika and Constant. On going on board I found myself again O.C. Troops, with 198 officers and between 500 and 600 men under my orders.
The doctor who was in charge of the ship was an old friend of , mine, whom I had known in London before the war, and whom I was very glad to see again. The officers were a very nice lot, a considerable portion of whom were going to join Denikin's Army in South Russia, to see to the equipments furnished to that force by us and to the training of the men. We had a pleasant journey as far as Salonika, where we had to take on board a number of Bulgarian and Turkish 'sick' prisoners, not pleasant shipmates at any time. The weather was good, quite hot, and a calm sea, and, this being my first trip through the Dardanelles, I was deeply interested. We passed close up to Cape Hellas, where the first landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula took place. My note made at the time says:
I gazed with horror and astonishment, unable to conceive how anyone could order men to land at such a spot, in the face of a strong resistance, as, above the low mud cliffs, a gentle slope, without cover of any kind, rises up for several miles to the heights which command it absolutely. No one can have had any hope of crossing this slope to storm the heights above, unless the works there had first been reduced by artillery-fire. Those who tried to were heroes, every one; and there they lie to-day in the many, many cemeteries which, together with the wrecks of the ships on the beach, serve now to mark the spot.'
That was written when seeing the place from the sea, and for the first time, but on the next occasion of my passing there I was able to land and go over the whole ground, including the Turkish positions on the heights of Achi Baba, with reference to which there will be more to tell later on.
The Dardanelles is much the same class of waterway as the Bosphorus, but bears no comparison to the latter with respect to natural beauty, as the hills on the Gallipoli shore, though high, are bare of all but low scrub, and on the Asiatic side the country is much flatter and offers no interesting points except at the 'Narrows' below Chanak, a small and insignificant town, near which the waterway narrows to about one mile, and some higher ground on the Asiatic side comes nearly to the water's edge. This is the site where Zerxes, the great Persian King of ancient days, threw across his bridge of boats for the passage of his army to Europe.
On reporting at General Headquarters at Constant, I had the pleasure of once more meeting my old Chief, General Sir George Milne, then Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Black Sea. I learned from him that I was to return as soon as possible to Anatolia, in the same capacity as before, but that, in the mean-while as my previous party had been demobilized, I was to organize a new party of volunteers from the troops in Constant, and that orders would be at once given to facilitate my fitting them out in a suitable manner, as I should this time have to cross the mountains in mid-winter, which was understood to be an arduous and somewhat precarious undertaking.
I found myself quartered on this occasion in 'A' (that is the Senior Officers') mess. This mess occupied the town-house in Pera of the representative in Turkey before the war of Krupps, the great German munition firm, the same gentleman whose country-house at Therapia was occupied by the Commander-in-Chief. I found my quarters most comfortable, and the establishment of the same class as the country-house, already described, at Therapia. The mansion in Pera occupied a really splendid site, commanding the anchorage of the Allied Fleets in the Bosphorus, and the view obtained from there on the bright sunny mornings which distinguish the winter in Constant would be hard to equal anywhere. As Mr. Krupp, or his representative, had with true German thoroughness seen that nothing was wanting to make his house comfortable, or his cellar without a rival in the East, the busy time passed in preparations for my journey formed a most pleasant contrast to my previous experiences of the East.
The party I was to get together was to consist of twelve men all told, including myself and an interpreter, as well as four cars, with my two machine-guns and two others, so that each car might be armed. I was also given a pretty free hand to draw clothing, in th& shape of fur coats, gum-boots, etc., for the snow, and also to fit out the cars so that we could cover them in with sail-cloth and sleep in them in the 'snow, as we were sure to be frequently obliged to do. I was authorized to ask for volunteers, on the understanding that they were not expected to be away more than three months, a somewhat optimistic estimate it seemed to me at the time, but about which it was well to make no remarks.
The men were to be made up as follows:
Four Army Service Corps drivers and four machine-gunners, with one non-commissioned officer from the Machine-Gun Corps, as well as my own batman, Leadbeater by name, who had been with me on the last trip, and was both a skilled machine-gunner and also a motor-driver, and was therefore capable of replacing any man in either category who might be incapacitated.
With regard to the machine-gunners, so many volunteered that it was necessary to parade them all and select the most likely-looking ones, which I did. With respect to the Army Service Corps drivers, however, the proposition was much more difficult, as, although I was fortunate indeed in obtaining one really first-class man at once, yet in order to obtain the remainder I had to . be content with whomsoever I could get. A suitable interpreter was even more difficult, as, although there were any quantity of 'Armenians' fully qualified for the post at the disposal of the Intelligence Corps, yet I was determined, in view of my past experiences in that direction, to take no 'Armenian' with me into the interior. I was therefore delighted when one evening I was accosted in the streets by a miserable-looking specimen of humanity in civilian clothes, who addressed me by name, and whom I at once recognized as a Russian who had been with me as interpreter on my last trip from Tiflis to Kars and Erzeroum, whom I was very pleased to take on again in the same capacity.
The 'personnel' being now complete, the preparations of the cars and the drawing of kits was pushed on, so as to permit of my giving them some training before starting on our travels, and this I was soon able to undertake. The training took the form of expeditions through the surrounding country, packing and unpacking the cars, bivouacking, and also forcing our way through difficult country where there were no roads worthy of the name, a state of affairs in no way difficult to find in the neighbourhood of Constantinople. It was also necessary to exercise them in the use of their arms from the cars, and for this purpose I had to obtain permission to take them into the forest of Belgrade, a large and beautiful natural forest, lying about twelve miles to the north-west of Fera. This forest is said to be infested with brigands of sorts, and our officers were not supposed to go into it; but upon my representing that, if we should be fortunate enough to meet the real article, it would be by far the best form of training for my men. I obtained the necessary permission to visit this most promising training-ground.
At this time I had the pleasure of dining on the Iron Duke, the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, with the High Commissioner, Admiral Sir John de Robeck, one of the most illustrious representatives of the British Navy, whose personality is as charming as his record is distinguished. I have before me a letter, written on the day after the dinner, which may of be interest to many who have not had the advantage of partaking of the hospitality of an Admiral Commanding-in-Chief on his own flagship. The letter runs as follows:
I dined last night with Admiral de Robeck, on his flagship, the Iron Duke, in the most spacious and palatial apartment, the ship being about 100 feet broad and the dining-room in proportion, and much the largest room (a cabin hardly describes it) that I had ever seen on a ship, other than the dining-saloon on a big liner. The ship's band of first class musicians played during dinner, and afterwards we went up on deck to see a variety entertainment, given by a most excellent company, all members of the 83rd Brigade, who had come off from their camp ashore to give the flagship a "show".
'They must, I think, have been in "the profession" before joining the army and pretty good performers even at home, as one would see many worse shows, and none better, in London. The company consisted of six' men and two "ladies"; the latter, who were splendidly got up, sang in falsetto and danced to perfection, causing all the sailors to roar with delight. As there were about 1,200 men on the ship, and they were all there to the very last boy, you may understand that they made some noise! I know that I enjoyed it immensely, and so, I think, did everyone else, the Admiral included.'
The weather up to the middle of November had been excellent, bright and sunny, and neither too hot nor too cold, with that pleasant nip in the air in the morning which is such a distinguishing feature of autumn in Constant. After the middle of the month, however, storms came on, and most unfortunately held up the transport for which we were waiting, as she was kept in the Dardanelles, being unable to discharge her cargo there, except in calm weather, so that our departure was delayed till December 3rd. In the meantime, not only did we complete our training, but an opportunity was afforded for enjoying the various forms of amusement which the British Army is in the habit of organizing at any place where its stay may be a prolonged one. Having been a stranger to any form of amusement since 1914, this opportunity was much appreciated, and I enjoyed several days hunting with the army hounds, and several rounds of golf on the links which had been established on the hills to the north-west of Pera.
One night, just before leaving Constant, I determined to obtain a photograph of the Bosphorus, with the Allied Fleets at anchor by moonlight, in the endeavour to obtain a record of a sight of beauty which I considered could not fail to appeal to many who might never have the opportunity of seeing it. I therefore arranged my camera for a long exposure on the topmost balcony of Mr. Krupp's residence from which coign of vantage the whole anchorage was dearly visible, glittering in the moon-light.
Quite unexpectedly, just at this moment, the crews of all the ships at anchor seemed suddenly to become wild with excitement. Sirens commenced to hoot in all directions, and every warship commenced signalling with her signal lights, whilst the beams of many searchlights shot up from all parts of the anchorage. These, gradually sinking and concentrating on one spot, revealed at last the cause of the commotion.
A large ship, burning fiercely, was floating down the current from the direction of the Black Sea, straight for the crowded anchorage, where over one hundred ships were lying at their moorings. It was a most remarkable sight: bright moonlight and a silver sea alive with lights, the crew of every vessel becoming suddenly as busy as bees, whilst little launches converged from all directions upon the burning vessel. The whole scene produced the effect of a gigantic illuminated regatta, suddenly startled into the extreme of activity.
From the care with which the launches approached the burning ship it was evident that they momentarily expected her to 'blow up', but, as her sides commenced to show red from the heat without the expected explosion taking place, a chain was finally got on board, and she was towed across the current and allowed to float harmlessly past the crowded anchorage, close under the Asiatic shore, out into the open waters of the Sea of Marmora. Having enjoyed this almost unique spectacle, I was able to get my photograph, which turned out more successful than I had dared to hope.
At the end of the month our transport at last arrived, and, having discharged her cargo, commenced to load with many mules and horses, as well as munitions of all kinds, which were to cross the Black Sea and be placed at the disposal of the Russian forces then operating under General Denikin in Southern Russia.
I had the honour of dining once more, before leaving, with the Commander-in-Chief at Therapia, and of taking his final instructions, the official portion of which was in writing, with reference to my military duties. The unofficial portion was conveyed in a personal conversation of which I took private notes, which I subsequently submitted to the Chief for his approval and then committed to memory and destroyed. After a farewell interview with the High Commissioner (Admiral de Robed), who told me that if I was in trouble he would send a ship to take my party 'off' from any Black Sea port at any time, we finally embarked on His Majesty's transport Huntscastle, on December 3rd, bound for Trebizond.
Our trip this time, which was estimated to last three months as . maximum, actually lasted two years, and each of those two years seemed to us to be ten.
Adventures In The Near East:
The Russo-turkish Frontier-trouble Brewing
The Russo-turkish Frontier - Kurds And Armenians
Turkish Armistice A Fiasco — Foundation Of The Nationalist Party
In Kemalist Turkey (november, 1919, To November, 1921)
London And Constantinople
Anatolia In Winter
Erzeroum In 1920
Exchange And Home
Read More Articles About: Adventures In The Near East