( Originally Published 1923 )
The Fort at Trebizond Good treatment We are told we are to return to prison Our officer's offer to send a letter to Constant My dispatch -- Our departure Americans at Gumush Khaneh Erzeroum Prison again Kindness of the officer commanding the prison -- My accounts and precautions We are searched for money My dictionary Permission to sit in the prison yard The Bulgarian officer The letter in a cigarette Moonlight music Visit from Nouri Pasha Ordered to the coast Billet at Trebizond -- Maman Colonel Baird arrives We are taken on board H.M.S. Somme
WE remained confined in the fort at Trebizond for sixteen days, during which our treatment was good, and the fresh air and exercise which we were able to obtain did much to restore our health. The apparent imminence of our release, however, was, without doubt, the factor chiefly responsible for our recovery, as we were given to understand that at any moment a British ship might be expected to arrive for the purpose of embarking us.
A Turk Lieutenant was detailed to remain in charge of us, and occupied the room next to mine in the fort. He appeared very friendly, and I was permitted to accompany him into the town to effect purchases or visit the baths or restaurant; and so confident did I become of our approaching release that I visited the local barber and went though the very unpleasant operation of having my beard removed, having now worn it for over a year.
However, on April 16th, about midday, when going, as usual, for a walk with the officer, I became aware that he was very silent, and seemed overcome by emotion. I therefore asked him what was the matter whether he had received any news. To this he replied that he had news, but that it was bad news, and that he hesitated to communicate it to me. This, of course, gave me a terrible shock, as I at once realized with dismay that some obstacle must have arisen in the carrying out of our exchange. However, I told him that I was neither a child, nor a man unable to face whatever adversity fate might yet have in store for him, and begged him to tell me his news at once, as shortly and plainly as possible.
He then told me orders had that morning been received by telegraph from Angora that we were to be sent back at once into the interior; he did not know to what destination, but that orders had already been given for the carts and guards to be got ready, and arrangements had been made for them to go at any rate as far as Baiburt. It appeared that at first it had been proposed that we should start that very afternoon, but it had finally been arranged to delay our departure till the next morning.
I will not attempt to describe what a. terrible blow this was to me, as no words could be capable of conveying the effect of this sudden shattering of all my hopes, which in the last three weeks had gradually grown so strong and confident as to amount practically to a certainty of our approaching release. I trust, however, that I received this sentence with proper courage and self-control, saying that it would be necessary to return at once to the fort to communicate this sad news to my men, and to commence our preparations for the journey.
The young officer, who made this very unpleasant communication, displayed himself, I am glad to say, a great deal of feeling, for the possession of which I had by no means previously given him credit. On our way back to the fort he told me that he was terribly distressed at the unhappy turn events had taken, and that he would be prepared, if I so desired, to convey secretly any letter I might wish to write to my friends in Constantinople, undertaking to give it himself to the commander of an Italian vessel, then at anchor off the fort, which he had to visit that evening, and which was due to sail during the night. For this I thanked him most sincerely, and having called at the bank, where I drew a further 1,000 pounds Turkish (then worth about L120), we returned at once to the fort.
It is due to the two brave men, then in charge of the Ottoman Bank, to explain that, although they knew well that they risked their lives in supplying me with money, they did not for a moment hesitate to do so. Further, they undertook to honour any draft of mine which might reach them at any time, in future, from the interior; and this although a banker at Samsun, in a similar position to themselves, had, as they well knew, a short while previously paid with his life for a very similar action. I do not know these men's names, and even if I did, it would, in their interests, probably be unwise to publish them, but I made a point of reporting the action of the bank to the Commander-in-Chief at Constant, and of personally visiting the manager of the head office there, on my eventual release, to render my thanks, and to draw the attention of the board of directors to the very meritorious action of their employees, to whom I here once more tender my sincerest gratitude.
On arrival at the fort, my hardest task lay immediately before me namely, to 'tell the men'. I have had in all my life no harder task than that. . . . Feelings were then stirred which were at the time, and are even now, far too deep for words, my one object being to do my utmost to assist and help them to meet the blow in a proper and soldier-like spirit, and, as far as in me lay, to set them the example which it was my duty and my privilege to do. But it was hard, and if, as I fear was the case, my voice trembled, it was small wonder, as my physical strength was at a sadly low level, and my own burden was a heavy one to bear.
The bad news was, however, spoken at last, and received with an absolute silence, far, far more expressive than any words; after which I did my best to help them to 'face the music' and to get busy with our preparations. Before concluding this account of that most painful scene, I wish to take this opportunity of thanking my comrades once again for their help, and of saying, with deep respect and true appreciation of their courage, that these were fine men, tried and proved, and that I was proud indeed to be their commander.
The remainder of the day, and until the officer came for my packet at midnight, I was hard at work preparing the papers which were enclosed therein, and which consisted of
1. A letter to the Commander-in-Chief, dated April 16th, 1921.
2. A summary of my original diary, the full text of which had been taken from me at Erzeroum.
3. My accounts for the whole period, which had been re-turned to me before leaving Erzeroum.
4. Diary of our journey from Erzeroum to Trebizond, March 28th to April 5th.
No. I will be found below, and will itself explain, better than any other description could do, the sad position in which I felt we were placed, and the light in which I then regarded our future chances of survival.
'TREBIZOND, April 16th, 1921. 'MY DEAR GENERAL,
'Self and party have been here since 6th instant, awaiting exchange, and are now ordered to return to ERZEROUM tomorrow. I have obtained the promise of the officer in charge of us to send this letter, and I have every hope that he will do so, and also the accounts, which I send, as no papers are safe in our possession, and we are liable to be stripped at any moment. I have tried on many occasions to communicate, but fear I have been unsuccessful, notably through the Americans at Trebizond, under date of January 5th, January loth, and February 24th, on which dates I was very doubtful whether we should survive. Now, however, we have been, fed, are regained some strength, and I have obtained money, which is the most important of all, as, with it and the experience I have, I can employ it to great advantage, and, unless it is taken from me, we shall last till the winter comes again, if such is required of us. I have also arranged with the manager of the Ottoman Bank here to credit any draft in future, which he is quite prepared to do, and for which he deserves great thanks.
'My last communication received was mail-dated London, January 25th, 1920, and Constantinople, February, reaching me at Erzeroum March 12th, and newspapers to April 3rd, 1920, and half-dozen whisky, received from you, Sir, with our very deepest thanks, on June 10th. No news of any sort since.
'The extracts from my Diary, which were overlooked when all my other papers were taken on February 24th, 1921, will explain themselves, and you will see that our treatment since they took our cars and I put them out of action first has been a disgrace to any nation, and of a barbarity which I find it impossible to understand. I am told that it is largely on account of my having destroyed the cars and refused to say how, or to help the Turks, that they have treated us so badly; but we only did what it was our duty to do, and no maltreatment would have any effect on the gallant fellows I have here now, though the one Irishman could not stand it.
'My men are now L/Corpl. ANKERS, No. 196424, 766 M.T. Coy. R.A.S.C.; Pte. H. CARTER, No. 97505, 85th Coy. M.G.C.; Pte. R. LEADBEATER, No. 59194, 66th Coy. M.G.C.; and I wish to say that they have all behaved splendidly in the face of the greatest hardships, and have done their utmost to maintain the best traditions of the British soldier. At no time has there been, nor, come what may, will there be, any treatment of the Turk by these men other than as an enemy.
I attach a short statement to the Command Paymaster, in explanation of the accounts which go with this, and I shall be greatly relieved when they go, as they have been a great anxiety to preserve.
I wish to say, in conclusion, Sir, that I can understand that it is more than possible, and, in fact, only too probable, that the Turks may have put such a price on our exchange that it may not be in the country's interest to pay it, and that, under those circumstances, we return to our prison readily, and only trust that we may have the strength to carry out anything that our duty may demand of us, and we shall take pride in so doing, whatever it may be.
'To illustrate how they have treated us, I send you a snapshot of myself, taken by one of my men just over a year ago, since when we have been in much worse condition. However, I trust our trip to the seaside (!) may have given us a fresh reserve of strength, and, in any case, our hearts are in the right place, and we fear no Turk nor his atrocities.
I have not the heart to write to my wife or brother, Sir, as this is a hard job to face as it is, but they are always in my thoughts, and you will please let them know, Sir, that I have every hope of coming through all right in the end, and that I fear nothing for myself except to cause them pain and anxiety.
'Always yours sincerely,
'(Signed) A. RAWLINSON.
' P.S. There are about 3,000 Armenian prisoners in the neighbourhood of Erzeroum, in terrible case and starving.
'P.P.S. If this letter is very informal, Sir, please forgive, as I am still very weak, and today's news makes me so that I hardly know what I am doing, and the officer waits whilst I write so very disconcerting!
The whole country is now being combed again for men. Parties are everywhere coming in on roads. Men are young and good, and are everywhere coming willingly (1 guard to 250 conscripts). Numbers are impossible to estimate, but met two or three parties of fifty and upwards during nine days' journey from Erzeroum.
'P.P.P.S. I hear it is possible we may be kept at Baiburt this time, but either from there or Erzeroum it would be possible to get away if we had outside assistance, horses, and a boat on the coast. In any case, "Off," between Rize and Trebizond, would be probably the best place to make for over the Chorokh above Ispir. This is a feasible path and very unfrequented, and would not be suspected, but will hardly be passable much before June. Anyone to help should land at "Off," or, anyway, come over the hills from there, and it might be possible to ascertain at Trebizond where we were either from Red Cross, or Bank, or Americans. There is no chance without horses, clothes, and help, and a boat, but we should have the strength if the chance came along. I have been in fear that they herded us with the Armenians in order to have an "accident" (!) by letting the townspeople in at them, and at us with them, as the prison looked prepared for that, and the townspeople would make a quick job of it; but the time had gone by when we left, and, for the time at any rate, there was less bloodthirsty feeling. (Signed) A.R.'
I sealed this packet very carefully with my Turkish seal in various places on the thick cardboard cover in which it was enveloped, in the presence of the officer, who took it with him on board the Italian ship, for which I saw him embark at mid-night from the little pier within the fort. I therefore had every right to conclude it was his intention to carry out his promise; and it gave me the greatest relief to think that, in all reasonable probability, the packet would reach its destination, and afford at last definite news as to our fate up to that time.
In the evening I had been presented to the officer who was to be in charge of our party, and had also seen the Trebizond jobmaster, from whom I obtained a victoria for the journey which, without being anything but a very inferior conveyance, was none the less an improvement upon the terrible contrivance in which I had arrived. The officer was very young, and impressed me chiefly by his excessive nervousness, as this was apparently the first 'job' which he had ever been called upon to undertake on his own responsibility, and I therefore foresaw much unnecessary discomfort on the journey, which forecast subsequent events proved to be an absolutely correct one.
We finally left Trebizond at 10.30 a.m. on April 17th, accompanied by many more guards than had been considered necessary on our previous journey, and also by a party of mounted gendarmerie. I was not able to ascertain the reason for these excessive precautions, but I concluded it was considered that the many. Greeks who had then already fled to the mountains, where they were in arms and in open revolt against the Turks, might possibly try to effect our rescue, of which laudable project, however, we saw no signs on the journey.
We reached Jeveslik, at 1,800 feet altitude and seventeen miles from Trebizond, at 6.3o p.m., and found good quarters, or, at least, a small dry room to ourselves. The road was fair, but in the deep valley the heat was quite considerable that is, much hotter than the hottest day of an English summer this, of course, being caused by the powerful rays of the sun striking on the rocky walls of the confined valley. That night our very 'jumpy' officer told me he intended next day to cross the Zigana and reach Zigana Khan, on the other side of the pass, and that we should be accompanied by a large detachment of mounted gendarmerie, who would scout ahead of us over the upper pass.
The distance from Jeveslik to Zigana Khan is thirty-two miles, and the summit of the pass is 5,600 feet above our starting-point, after which we should have to descend a further 2,500 feet to reach Zigana Khan. It was easy, therefore, to foresee that we were in for a terribly severe day, especially as the upper pass lay deep in snow. I was not surprised, therefore, when we were told we should start in the dark, at 4.30 a.m., which we did. There was much less snow on the pass than when we had come over it, in such high spirits, just fourteen days before, and we reached our destination at 7.30 p.m., having seen no signs of anyone but our numerous guards, my only comment in my notes on the journey being 'A very long day,' which description, I think, will be considered as amply justified by our fifteen hours' continuous march!
The next night we reached Gumush Khaneh, after ten hours' travelling, and on arrival the men told me they had seen and spoken to some Americans on entering the town. We were, as on our last halt at this place, quartered in the large common room, which serves the purpose, fulfilled in more civilized countries by an inn, of affording shelter for travellers; but on this occasion, thanks to the extreme nervousness of our young officer, all the public were ejected and we were hurried inside as quickly as possible. Before reaching the door, however, I saw an obvious American in the crowd, who shouted 'Hulloa!' to which, however, I was only able to answer by a sign that I could not talk to him, as he was hurriedly shepherded off by Turkish soldiers, I being as hurriedly hustled into the building, where even the windows were promptly closed and covered. Our officer himself sat up the whole night to make sure that no communication should be possible between us and our American sympathizers in the town.
I understood that the gentlemen formed part of the American Relief staff, who had, to my knowledge, for long been doing their usual splendid work in relieving the starving Armenians in the Kars and Erivan districts. I gathered that they were now being forced to leave the country by the Turks, to whom, of course, any idea of philanthropy is hopelessly inexplicable, and who were inclined to treat these heroic workers in the cause of humanity as spies whose objects were to excite the sympathy of Europe and America in favour of the Christian minority, whom it is, and has long been, the deliberate policy of the Turkish Government to exterminate.
Next morning our departure was delayed, and we were not allowed outside, until the Americans had left the town on their way to Trebizond, when we continued our journey in the opposite direction. The Americans, however, had seen our party, and, having actually recognized me, were therefore able to report that fact on their arrival at Constantinople, from whence it was telegraphed home. This formed the first and only reliable news received as to my then being still alive, though on my way again to captivity in the interior.
The remainder of our journey was uneventful but exceedingly disagreeable, as the marches were long and our guards brutal to a degree, whilst the anxious young officer was a most unsuitable person for such duty. Above all else, we knew well with what misery we were now confronted, and therefore suffered even more in our minds than in our bodies.
On April 24th we finally reached Erzeroum, where the snow still lay deep and the wind was as bitter as ever, and returned to our prison, where we were given the same cells that we had previously occupied, and into which we were thrust without any kind of provision in the way of light, heat, or furniture of any kind, the cells being absolutely bare. I feel sure we shall always remember that first night in the old prison which we had been so rejoiced to leave, as we thought, for ever, and the awful sensations of forsaken loneliness and misery with which our surroundings insistently oppressed us. However, we were, shortly after our arrival, visited by the officer then in charge of the prison in succession to Salah-a-din, who, to our infinite relief and joy, proved to be one whom we already knew well and much liked, but whose name, in his own interest, I am bound to withhold.
His sympathy was of the utmost value, and I obtained readily his permission to send out to the restaurant in the town for food, and to have my men into my cell, so that we might all be together, at any rate during that dreadful night, for warmth and society. In the morning our prison Commander detailed a non-commissioned officer to effect purchases for us in the town, which now, having funds at our disposal, we were well able on this occasion to afford, and we indulged in stoves, lamps, cooking-pots, etc., so that we were much better off than we had been when last here, once the initial shock of the first night was past.
I also received an invaluable hint that, in all probability, we should be searched for our money, and we took immediate steps to safeguard this, to us, priceless treasure, by the following means. I was, of course, well aware that any search which might take place would be of the most rigorous nature, and I therefore again had recourse to an elaborate review of the situation, so as to utilize what experience of the limitations of our gaolers' intelligence I already had, in order to defeat our searchers by imagining myself to be in their position, and endeavouring by that means to determine exactly what they would be likely to do and how they would do it.
After some hours' hard thinking, I then proceeded to take the first step, by dividing our funds into nine different portions, of which six were comparatively small sums, two others were of more considerable amounts, and the last one was equal to the half of our total resources. These divisions were, of course, based upon the various positions in which I proposed to secrete our bank-notes, these positions, again, being determined with a view, first, to the possibility of our being separated or moved to other places of confinement; and, second, with a view of accessibility, so that small amounts might be readily available, whilst the larger amounts would be more permanently and safely concealed.
The men had made for themselves, long ago, slippers, the soles of which consisted of the thick rubber from the inner tubes of our motor car, and these had been worn so long that the various thicknesses of which they consisted had become pressed practically into one solid piece of rubber. All these were now opened sufficiently to admit of certain of the smaller notes being inserted between them, and in this manner six of the smaller parcels of notes were disposed of in the six slippers of the three men, being not only easily accessible, but insuring that no man would be left penniless, even in event of us all being separated.
The next two parcels were of considerably higher value, and were more permanently concealed. As we still possessed two ordinary Service water-bottles, of which it was unlikely that we should be deprived, I proceeded to split the thick felt with which the outside of the bottles is covered, and inserted the notes therein, afterwards well damping the felt and submitting it to pressure, until the original slit became impossible to find, even when one knew where it had been made.
For the last and greatest treasure I had reserved a hiding-place which I considered would defy detection, however ingenious might be the searchers. For this purpose I made use of my old portmanteau, which was in a very dilapidated condition, all the linings, fittings, and stitchings having now perished or been torn away. The good English leather, however, was about a quarter of an inch thick, and this I split and inserted the notes in the interior of the leather, afterwards damping it and closing the slits by pressure when wet, so that it became absolutely impossible to conceive that anything could be concealed in the thickness of the material itself, where no opening could be found.
Having taken these precautions, I then proceeded to use my experience of the intellectual limitations of the Turks to even better purpose, without which further measure I have no doubt at all that none of the others previously taken would have been of any ultimate avail. It was my invariable custom, as the Turks knew, to keep the most careful account of my expenditure and to take receipts for all payments. I therefore balanced my accounts carefully, showing the exact amount received from the bank at Trebizond (of which the Turks, I felt sure, would have already received accurate information), as well as the payments made by me, including a purchase of furs in Trebizond for dispatch to England, which payment, curiously enough, precisely corresponded with the amount of our concealed resources.
The account, which was quite clear and simple, showed finally a balance of 86 pounds Turkish in hand, as well as some small change which was in daily use as petty cash. These preparations completed, I was ready for the search, which we knew we might' expect at any moment. As a matter of fact, although we had been very quick, yet even then we were barely in time, for on the after-noon of the third day after our return I received a visit from Avni Bey, a most interesting and original character, who, having risen from the ranks, was now, at the age of sixty, a Major of artillery, and Commandant of the 'Merzke', or town and fortress headquarters. The moment I saw this old gentleman, whom I well knew to be a most efficient officer and one whose experience in this sort of business was probably unequalled in any country, I felt I had an opponent whom it would be a proud achievement to get the better of. I therefore, from the start, exhibited the utmost candour and played my part with the greatest care, to the full extent of my ability.
One great advantage was mine from the beginning: I knew what he had come for, and he did not conceive or suspect that it was possible that I could know the purpose of his visit, as on receipt of his telegraphic personal orders he had come straight to my cell, and had spoken to no one on the way. I feel sure that, if the scene that then took place could be reproduced on the stage, it would afford my countrymen at home the greatest possible entertainment; and for myself, I cannot conceal that it afforded me, at the time, the purest joy.
Our most cunning old friend, on his arrival, was extremely polite, and sat down and talked on general subjects, our journey and so forth of anything and everything, in fact, except the money he had come to. find. And I, taking the bull straight by the horns, replied with childlike innocence that of course the journey and all the conditions had been much easier this time than before, as I had been able to draw some money from the bank at Trebizond. This news rather 'hit him in the wind', though he gave no sign of it, merely replying: 'Oh, is that so? And have you the money now?'
My answer was, 'Of course I have', and, putting my hand in my pocket, I produced the piece of india-rubber in which I kept my notes rolled up, and handed it to him at once. He then asked me how much was there, and I said I thought it was 86 liras (Turkish pounds), and that I had some small notes also, which I produced from my breeches pocket, and got up to get my accounts, which I said would at once verify the amount which should be there, if he would kindly count. This he did, being obviously disconcerted at the absolutely straightforward nature of the whole proceeding. When he had finished counting, and found the total correct, he asked to see my accounts, and then asked searching questions as to the 'furs', of which some had actually been bought for me at Trebizond by some Greeks for dispatch home. This incident he also knew of, though providentially he had not been able to ascertain the actual amount, nor was he aware that I had not then paid for them.
At this point this most interesting of cunning old barbarians dropped his mask, and told me he had orders to search me for the money which it was known I had drawn at Trebizond, and which I was not to be allowed to keep. I then told him I could easily comprehend that, but, as he had it already, I didn't understand what more he wanted, as he could see from my accounts, which he had already checked, that the amount was correct. This set the old fellow thinking hard, with the result that he presently handed me back my money, saying I was entitled to keep that, but that he must nevertheless search formally everywhere, for such were his orders.
I most politely agreed that of course he must carry out his orders, and search he did; but I am quite convinced that the 'sting' had gone out of his keenness, and that his search, keen though it still was, was perfunctory only, compared to what it would have been had he not had 'the wind taken out of his sails' before commencing; for it was evident to me that he now expected to find nothing, and, to my great relief; his expectations were in no way disappointed.
Although this very dangerous interview had finally reached such an entirely satisfactory conclusion, I was far from confident that, on reflection, further steps might not be taken. I therefore wrote a letter to Emin Bey, the Commander of the district, telling him that I had made arrangements for any drafts of mine to be honoured at the Ottoman Bank at Trebizond, and pointing out to him that, as I had brought very little money back with me, it would shortly become necessary for me to cash a cheque, asking him, at the same time, whether, if I drew it to his order, he would undertake to remit me the amount when received. To this he did not consent, but there was no further question of any search, and this had, of course, been the real object of my request.
About this time the snow began to disappear, and finally we were allowed to go out into the yard, at such times as the Armenian prisoners were not there, which proved the greatest possible boon, and for which we have to thank our friend the Commander of the prison, who in this instance acted on his own responsibility, and subsequently incurred grave censure from his superiors for his humanity.
I now worked hard at my model house and drawings, and completed them, and also was able to purchase a 'very third-rate Turkish-French dictionary, which I proceeded practically to learn by heart, and which I always took with me during the time I spent in the yard. This practice eventually became the means of my being able to establish communication with a Bulgarian officer who was confined with the Armenian officers in the building on the west side of the square, and who finally carried for me the only communication I was ever able to make to the outer world.
Our practice in communicating was difficult but exciting, as it necessitated my innocently taking my seat in the neighbourhood of the 'field kitchen', where the Armenian officers' ration of wheat soup was boiled, and where several of the Armenian prisoners were always in attendance to see to the fire, amongst whom the Bulgarian would place himself. One of my men would then come and sit with me, and I would apparently proceed to read to him from my dictionary, whilst the Bulgarian, fifteen yards away, would talk to one of his companions -- at least, that is what appeared to be taking place; in reality, however, we were able to converse in this manner, as no one understood what we were saying; until, finally, one day he informed me he was to be re-leased, and that he was prepared to take a letter for me to Constantinople, if I would recommend him to our Intelligence Branch there for employment. This I most readily consented to do, and told him I would drop a cigarette out of my window into the yard during the Armenian officers' roll-call parade that night, with my letter rolled inside it, and that he must endeavour to mark where it fell, and get hold of it before anyone else did. This was agreed to, and I wrote the following letter, which, alone of all my communications, reached its destination in safety.
'To General Staff Intelligence, Allied Forces of Occupation, Constantinople.
'IN ERZEROUM PRISON,
August 1st, 1921.
'The bearer, a Bulgarian officer and fellow-prisoner, is to be trusted, and we are indebted to him for help under difficulties. He can give full information as to our sad state and hopes, and possible means of realizing same.
I sent my accounts and receipts from Trebizond on April 16th, and also a letter to the C.-in-C,, by hand of a Turk whom I had reason to trust, and who swore he gave them to the captain of the Italian ship which sailed for Constantinople that night. If they have failed to reach you, I consider it impossible to get away without outside assistance. Then it would be feasible, and if a dak (relays of horses) was laid over the hills and a boat of sorts provided, either at Off or in the lower Chorokh, we could get out and succeed.
'We were searched for money on our return from Trebizond, by order of G.H.Q., but I expected it, and they failed to find any.
'One of my men, Mahoney, of A.S.C., joined the Turks, and betrayed the fact of our having put our cars out of action, and disclosed the hiding-place of the parts. Look after him, if you get him, as he has been the cause of our disgraceful treatment, solitary confinement, starvation, and misery.
'Our health is wonderful, considering great privations and disgusting conditions, but we have kept our flag flying, and neither whined nor begged for anything. "God Save the King!"
'(Signed) A. RAWLINSON.
'P.S. I have three men only left CORPORAL ANKERS, A.S.C,; Privates CARTER and LEADBEATER, M.G.C. Please advise their people, and give my love to my wife and family, and brother, who are all constantly in my thoughts. All literature is denied us' but for the last two months we are allowed "out" in prison-yard once a day. Never out before that. No news received since June, 1920, fourteen months; then received Times of April 20th.'
This was dated August 1st, and was written very minutely on a small, thin sheet of paper, and rolled in the centre of the tobacco contained in a cigarette. That evening I stood for some time, smoking cigarettes, at my window, until, choosing a moment when the arrival of a Turkish officer in the yard attracted the attention of both the guards and all the Armenian prisoners (who were by no means to be trusted), I was able at last to drop the all-important communication unobserved. We had agreed that in the event of his securing it safely the Bulgar was to whistle 'God Save the King', and our relief may be imagined when, a little later, we heard the strains of that glorious anthem, and knew that, this time at least, the chances were greatly in favour of our communication reaching its destination in safety.
The nights on that upland plateau in August are beautiful beyond description, and I have spent many hours gazing through the bars at the distant mountains, which stand out in the bright moonlight even more clearly than by day, the slight haze which the sun raises from the marsh being then absent. At these times the Armenians would sing, and sing well, the old songs of their country, which sound like hymns, but to which they would impart an amount of plaintive sorrow and sentimental pathos in proportion to the misery of their present condition and the hopelessness of their future prospects. Our own condition and weakness also, I feel confident, did much to enhance our appreciation of these moonlight concerts, so full of the purest melody and yet of such unutterable sadness.
About this time I received several interesting visits, the first of which occurred one afternoon in early August, when my door suddenly opened and a Turk in civilian dress entered, whom I had never seen before. He proceeded, to my infinite astonishment, to announce himself as Nouri Pasha, which was confirmed by the officer who accompanied him. Nouri Pasha I have always understood to be the elder brother of Enver Pasha, he was at one time a prisoner in the hands of the Allies, and was sentenced by court-martial to death for certain offences during the war and subsequent to the Armistice. He, however, succeeded in escaping from British custody at Batoum, and as he had, I knew, always acted as Enver's representative, I was immensely surprised to find him now at Erzeroum.
Incidentally I afterwards heard that he left Erzeroum for Angora, but never arrived there, though whether or not his throat was cut on the road, as is quite probable, I never have been able to ascertain.
In the meanwhile, what interested me most was that, having many sources of information at his disposal, he assured me that I could not be much longer retained by the Turks, whose real object in confining me was to make use of me, both as a channel of communicating their views unofficially to the Allies and as a means of obtaining Rιouf Bey's release by exchange; and that, although they had now come to the conclusion that I was of no service for their first purpose, yet they were certain to make use of me for the second, which could not be now long delayed.
All this latter time we were much better off than we had before been, as we were now allowed to sit on the roof of the prison, where we spent all and every day in the open air, and as our funds were ample, we were able to have meat, which the men managed to eat, though my own digestion was too much destroyed to permit of my eating it myself. Still, I had soup every day, and, though weak, was certainly not then losing strength, though I am quite convinced I could never have survived another winter at Erzeroum. On October 2nd, I received a visit from Emin Bey, who told me orders had been received for us again to be sent to the coast for exchange, and that we should leave on the 5th. Our preparations were soon made, and I obtained this time a different type of conveyance, of a model unknown in Europe, but in which one can lie down, and which has a roof; and in this peculiar chariot, accompanied by four arabas, we started on October 5th.
We arrived without incident at Trebizond on October 14th, the tenth day after leaving Erzeroum. I noted, however, that the coast range and its fertile valleys, hitherto intensively cultivated by the Greeks, was at this time everywhere deserted, the villages being abandoned and the crops unreaped. Also I had not failed to observe the many gangs of Greek prisoners which we had passed on their way to the interior under guard, so that it was evident the Greek population were then being deported into the interior to replace the Armenian prisoners, of whom by this time very few remained alive.
We halted for the last night of our journey at Jevislik, where I received a telephone message from the Military Commander at Trebizond saying he would send a motor car to bring me in the next day. I therefore remained where I was next morning till the car came for me, the remainder of the party leaving early, as usual. The car, when it arrived, contained a Turkish naval sub-lieutenant named Naffi, who had been detailed to be responsible for me, and a very agreeable and considerate companion he proved to be.
On arrival at Trebizond we were well received by the Commander, whom I saw now for the first time. He escorted me him-self to a fine house in the town, the property of an old Greek widow lady, a Madame Cosvekis, upon whom we were to be billeted, the naval officer who had met me at Jevislik being ordered to remain both day and night with me, and a warrant officer of police being detailed for like duty with the men.
Our guards on this occasion were most sympathetic, and we were allowed to do almost as we pleased, provided they were always with us, my officer even exceeding his orders by sleeping in the room opposite to me instead of in my room, so that he might give me more freedom. Added to all this was the fact that nothing could possibly exceed the kindness of the old Greek lady herself and all her family, who racked their brains to devise any possible thing they could do in our service, and it will be under-stood how deep was our appreciation of their kindness after our past experiences of so opposite a nature.
After being in Trebizond about a week, a most interesting event took place. One afternoon I was informed a Turkish officer was asking to see me, his visit being timed during the absence of the naval Sub-Lieutenant Naffi, who was my constant companion. As my visitor himself was a member of the Headquarters Staff, he was at once admitted by my guards, and handed me, to my intense surprise, some English newspapers, for which I felt and expressed the deepest thanks. He then, first making certain that we were quite alone, handed me a small note, which had evidently been nailed up in the heel of someone's boot, as the marks of the nails were clear, and, having delivered it, he instantly disappeared without a word.
On opening this letter, I found, to my inexpressible relief, that it was from Constantinople, and signed by General Harington. He informed me that he had received my note in the Bulgarian's cigarette, and that he had at last obtained authority to take steps himself for our release, which matter had previously been in the hands of the Foreign Office, and that he felt sure that he would eventually succeed in effecting our exchange. In the meanwhile he begged me to have patience, and, above all, to make no attempt to escape, and also informed me he was in communication both with my wife and my brother, who were both well, the former in England and the latter in India.
This was absolutely the first definite news I had as to anything which had been happening elsewhere during our imprisonment, and the moment I saw Sir Charles Harington's name I understood that he must have become Commander-in-Chief at Constantinople, as to which I had previously had no information. I learnt also for the first time that my brother was in India, and therefore knew he must have become Commander-in-Chief there.
Further most interesting intelligence was to the effect that Mahoney was at Constantinople, and would be kept there till we arrived; so that the amount of information contained in so short a letter was really remarkable, as well as overpoweringly interesting.
On October 31st, after having been eighteen days in Trebizond, an officer visited me soon after midday, and told me a British warship had anchored that morning off the port, and that the Commander of the garrison wished us to pack our gear and to go at once to his headquarters. Actually within fifteen minutes of this notice we were all en route for headquarters, with all our possessions, 'George' proudly leading the procession, and my famous new tunic having been specially donned for this long and deeply desired occasion.
Arrived at the headquarters, I was at once ushered into the Commander's room, where I found Colonel Baird, our military Attachι at Constantinople, waiting for me. It would be quite useless to try to convey to my readers the emotions with which I once more met a British officer, free and able to speak as the representative of the great nation and army which, in the past, I had myself been so proud to represent; but I found myself only able with the greatest difficulty to utter a word.
Baird at once came forward, his eyes shining with the deepest sympathy, and told me that he had come in a destroyer from Ineboli, some 500 miles farther west, where the exchange was to take place, and to which spot the Turkish prisoners had been sent from Malta, and were now waiting on board our ships for the exchange to be effected. At the same time he informed me that the Commander at Trebizond was not authorized to release me, but that he had prevailed upon him to allow me to proceed to Ineboli, he (Baird) passing his word that, in the event of the business not being completed, I should be returned to Turkish custody there.
Here, indeed was an unexpected development, with which, however, I was at the moment by no means disposed to interfere. I therefore at once expressed my readiness to fall in with that proposal, and, advancing to the Commander, shook hands with him and thanked him for myself, and in the name of my men, for the courtesy and consideration which we had experienced at his hands at Trebizond. I also shook hands with the naval officer who had been responsible for me on this occasion, and also with the doctor, who had been most kind and attentive during our previous stay as well as during our present visit. That ceremony being concluded, we made our way to the pier, where the most glorious sight of all awaited us namely, a steam launch manned by real British bluejackets, with smiles all over their faces, and the white ensign, that glorious emblem of the British Navy, floating proudly over the stern.
We were, of course, all very weak, and very naturally, at the moment, our feelings were too deep for words. I did not fail, however, to note the catch in the breath on the part of the sailors and the gripping of their hands, as they 'took in' our appearance and condition (so different from that of the Turkish prisoners in our hands), and came forward to assist us with the utmost gentleness and care to climb on board the launch.
'George', I remember well, sat right against me and kept looking in my face, as if to ask who were these men in blue, whom he now saw for the first time, and who were evidently not Turks, as they were so kind and friendly. I could not, of course, tell him, but I dare swear that after the reception he received from the British Navy, both then and later, he would now go straight up to any British sailor at any time, in any place, with the certainty that, inside any British naval rig, he could count on finding a loyal friend.
We were soon on board the destroyer, the Somme, whose name recalled so many memories, and there, needless to say, once over the side, the great British Navy, from the highest to the lowest, just took entire charge of the whole lot of us, affording us an all too fleeting glimpse of that deep sympathy for suffering which is inseparable from true courage, and which forms the priceless attribute of all those who go down to the sea in ships, and especially of the British sailor.
For ourselves, the relief was wonderful beyond description, but the reaction was severe, and we were all, I think, more than content just to close our eyes in peace, knowing our work was done, and that, once more safe amongst our own people, all our troubles were over.
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
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