Smyrna – English Nursing Home

Tuesday 5th Sept. 1922
I must write a continuation of the diary I wrote during the great war in 1914, when we were interred in this place for the whole time – 4½ years – until the Greek occupation. Now it looks as if the Turks are coming back again and events are following fast one upon another. Sunday a fortnight all the Greek people held a demonstration of thanks giving to Lloyd George for his speech in their favour in parliament and presented an address to be sent to him at the British Consulate. However much the Consul disapproved of this movement he had to put up with it and accept the address which he promised at once send on to Lloyd George. The day was a bright fine one with a hint of autumn in it and the quay was very gay with the different processions & their flags & banners. Also the women were all out in their gayest & finest clothes. The bright parasols made the whole scene most picturesque and bright but I remember, saying to my friends that people were not as gay as they seemed & there was something at the back of their minds. No spontaneous shouting or fun – all the coming week we heard rumours that the Turks had started an offensive at Afion Karahisar and that it was not very well with the Greek. On Monday and Tuesday it was said that the Greek was retreating & later on in the week we heard that Afion was evacuated & the Greeks were massed at Ouchack [Uşak]. But on Sunday; that is seven days ago, the Greek was again in full retreat & in fact three battalions were reported to have refused to fight & had disappeared in the mountains – Alachier [Alaşehir] was threatened – that is within 100 miles from here. So people began to be alarmed. Was Kemal actually coming to Smyrna! Awful thought! Fancy the feelings of the Greeks? After all their boasting & their blue flags! All during the week the news got worse & worse, people got so nervous that our Padre spoke to us from the pulpit yesterday & told us we were to try & help & not hinder by going away & leaving the people, it was up to us to stand by as English. But dear me what a poor lot we all are, ever so many have already gone & shown how terrified they are. Yesterday morning, Monday, the news was confirmed that the whole of the Greek army was ordered to evacuate Asia Minor at once. You can imagine what confusion & panic there is in this place. Refugees from all over the country coming into the town all day long, the trains coming in as fast as it is possible day & night. The sight from our windows is thrilling & so pathetic! Crowds & crowds of every sort & description of Greek – women with trousers & weird costumes carrying babies wrapped in gay colours & caps. The sturdy country children of course think it is a huge picnic & it is the only cheerful sound there is. They can sing & shout, for they know not what is before them & they are not hungry yet. Where will they sleep & when will they get back to their homes and their vineyards, which are so full of grapes? The church yards & schools & all empty buildings are getting packed and yet more & more are coming, what will be in a day or two? When they have exhausted their little store of food they have brought with them? Ships are taking them away, but where will they put them, this a huge country, and there must be 40, 50 or 60 thousand, more perhaps, where will they go? Surely some one ought to stop their coming & yet who can leave them in the villages, they will all be killed. Yesterday was a most exhausting day for us all – so many came & asked for advice – so many births took place in the wards of the clinic & one accident came in and another English man came with malaria and two young Englishmen travellers who had fallen ill in the hotel & were brought here, had to be sent on board with all their goods and looking so ill? and taken to a filthy little Greek boat, packed to bursting point with refugees, you have no idea how sorry I felt for them, they must have suffered agonies all night & who knows how they will arrive in Pireaus and if they will be allowed to land!

Tuesday morning
Today an English boat is take as many English as care to leave. To Cyprus or Malta. A good many I believe will go. Pengellies think of going as they have Mount Troodos to go to. Our Louisa will not be able to come on her promised visit, it does seem a shame after all these years we expected her.

Next morning, Sept 6th
What a day yesterday? We were all exhausted & worn out by the evening. From eight o’clock the whole Pengelley family arrived to be ready to start on board as soon as orders were given that they must go. Next came Louisa Langdon & 3 babies nurses & granny bundles galore, baskets, boxes etc. – crying children, distracted mothers – then little by little nearly every one seemed to crowd into the clinic. Fortunately there is an eating house quite close & we did not have to provide meals, but the confusion was awful. Why should they scare the English so?? French & Italians are calm & not one is leaving, but the English were at first told leave & then the order was made optional? with a rider at “at your own risk & expense”. Of course many then refused to go, so hundreds came down & returned back to their homes. In fact the English have made fools of themselves & the others are on top. At last the day came to an end and the clinic was left in peace anew. At six in the evening, the Pengellies did go, as they had arranged everything, but oh! what they will suffer in that horrid little steamer, packed full, of course all the penniless & people with very little brains were on board. Those with common sense remain behind. With us there is no choice I am thankful to say. We have to stick by the clinic and our patients. The streets are now packed with refugees from the country, they sleep at every door step & who can prevent them!! Order is maintained & they are a good & quiet crowd. Evacuation of the troops is steadily going on.

I went with a friend, Mrs de Candolle, in a motor to Bournabat to see the Patersons & find out how many people were leaving. The people are very undecided, as long as we don’t see any horrors we feel we are all right, but ex officers of the army are very determined to take the women & children out of the way. I think they are responsible for the scare and of course the Greeks seeing the English are taking fright, are in a blue funk and every one wants to go! How can they; there are over two hundred thousand, Major General de Candolle told me, and where are they to go? Greece can’t take them all. What a ruination this has been. And all because the stupid Greeks would not listen to people who knew better than they did, what would happen if the came here

Sept 7th
A big regiment of Venezolists came in yesterday & tried to hearten the people by carrying the flag along the streets – but such half hearted shouts and mostly from children.

Every mortal place is packed with refugees, we have given all we can. The church garden & memorial hall to respectable people. Some are the best class of Greek from Aidin & Nazli, well to do families who have just got off with a bundle. It is very pitiful & they will suffer more and more, it is awful! Our rooms are all full with maternity cases, and we have Marion Fryatt & Doris Pengelley who expect in a month’s time, they could not travel & are too nervous to remain in the country. Gracie, Herbert & the boys came yesterday afternoon. They spend their days in town & go home at night. Herbert does not like to have them far from the ships & sea.

Sept 8th
This morning early Lilla went down and found our sitting full of sleeping men! She came & told me and I asked her, what sort of sleeping men? And she said they looked like ---? Armenians! They turned out to be Englishmen! Some from Aidin & who had been travelling all night & day amongst them was Leslie Stephenson, Jessie’s husband! A train had brought them in from the country at mid-night and as they had no where to go, they took shelter in the good old clinic!! They were also two English ladies who came at night as they were too nervous to remain in their own home. Well we have got to a pass, and no mistake - more & more people crowding into the clinic. I don’t feed them, they have to provide their own food and bedding - but what a fuss it creates - and what a lot of new complications a war does entail.

The panics are the most awful things to cope with; suddenly without apparent reason there are screams & a mad rush of the people, we have to guard our door ourselves for a servant is no good, they don’t know the danger of a mad mob rushing in! Twice it happened & we had such a difficult task to push them out, and their mad yells nearly kill our women who have just been confined. The Padre & I tried to get in a cab to see after an Englishman who was at the Dutch Hospital. Fortunately we found he had been taken on board the Iron Duke. But to get there made me have some idea of the way the town is disorganised and the thousands of troops that are being embarked. I don’t believe they made any resistance the wretches, after all that expense to their country. They threw up the sponge at the sight of the Turk...

What we fear is the rabble and the dread lest the Turks arrive before the army has cleared out. There are dozens & dozens of ships intaking them as hard as they can, and the soldier in his hurry to get off pushes & scrambles and drops his rifle and everything he can so that the town is strewn with things and guns etc. I hope this will be a lesson to the great Powers and that it will make them understand that the Greek is a cur to be avoided like the plague & thrashed unmercifully - he is only fit to be kept under by the strong & powerful and I believe the Turk is the most capable for he has a holy fear of him. I wish Lloyd George could have been here to witness all that has gone on. If their rifles were examined I expect most of them will show signs of never having been fired. We got one terrible specimen who squeezed himself into the house in one of the mad rushes & he wept & cried. Mr Dobson was so disgusted. In the end he had to dress him in one of his old suits & turn him out, looking such a sight in old clerical garments! No Byrons or any one can possibly wipe out this last disgrace.

One rather comical incident happened. I sent for bread from the baker, asked for ten loaves but got four with difficulty, during the morning a wild trembling scream at the door made me rush to it and there was our baker with a penakoti & ten loaves. I let him in and the loaves & he fell on the carpet on the floor & begged me to save him. I don’t remember what I told him but Alithea says I told him in a calm voice, “wait till I put the loaves in the cupboard & then I will save you”!! I suppose I did say that for I was so anxious to lock up the bread that I could think of nothing else. I have so many to feed & if this state of things goes on, who is to bake bread, much less go out & take it to peoples houses!! I rather hope Kemal will come soon.

About twelve o’clock there was an extra stir & a new lot of Greeks went by. They were followed by strings & strings of camels & carts with solid wheels drawn by bullocks, full of things that looked like loot from the towns. Ouchak & Alashier etc. have all been burnt and sacked. Aidin, young Lorimer tells us when he left there was only the station & Forbes factory standing, all the rest burnt. They say they will do the same by Smyrna, this is the Greeks work. I hope they will not have time. Towards evening the news came that the Turks were at Torbali & Magnesia [Manisa] quite close. You should have seen how the army hurried. It became a frantic run. Dropping everything. All night they were being shipped. Not a bit of rest in the town only a rumble. In the morning of the 9th Saturday the bay was practically clear of all ships except the man-o-war of the Allies.

Sept 9th
This is the day of looting. The soldiers left behind them stores of flour, soap, sugar etc., hospital requisites, blankets etc. The doors of the stores were flung open by two soldiers & the people standing by were told to take & leave nothing to the Turk. Nothing can describe the sight past our windows, every miserable animal & every sort of cart was used to carry big sacks of flour, barrels of oil were rolled along, cases of sugar on every imaginable little cart or pram or barrow. Men, women & children carrying every mortal thing!! I wish I were an artist & could paint, it was a marvellous picture. I would not have missed the sight for the world. And they were all doing it at a run. Our man who sells us grapes deposited his two baskets of grapes in our yard & went off with his horse to get what he could. We bought a case of sugar, a bag of coffee & a sack of soap for next to nothing!! And I put in the garden a nice wheel barrow!!

If we did that you can imagine what others did & what was happening all around us. Still there is every excuse for the people let them get a bit of benefit whilst they can; they paid for everything by having their Drachma halved, and then reduced to nil!

By eleven o’clock there was another mad rush & someone said the Turks have arrived. A pause, and then a realization of what had happened. Everyone seemed to crouch & disappear. Presently a squad of very tired horsemen headed by smart & dusty officers rode slowly passed. They had drawn swords and they made signs to the people to fear nothing. Of course the hypocrites in the crowd clapped their hands and a few silly women raised their voices & cried Welcome! Welcome! in Turkish!! Really life is very interesting. What a week we have spent!! I believe there was hardly a bit of trouble, only one silly fellow fired at the officers & he was promptly arrested & disarmed. No shooting in the streets! Thank God. Such a relief, everyone is inwardly delighted to have the Turks back again.

Sept 10th Sunday
I believe so far this has been the most interesting day of all. In the early morning we realized that there were no more Greek soldiers in the town. But all is not so easy to settle up. No end of rounding up to be done & the Smyrna rabble to be subdued & made to behave. Turkish troops keep coming in as they pass by our windows, we can see everything so well in the square. They are a very fierce lot, well mounted & in good condition & order, but of course very weary & worn from their rapid march through the devastated, hot & dusty country. Rabble at the back of the troops sometimes stop Greeks & make them give them all the money they carry. One Greek refugee sitting under our window had his bundle opened and of course there were millary things in it which they took. The Greek offered him a garment & he scorned it & cried in a terrible voice: “what do you take me for? a thief like your miserable self! I only want my own back again. Give me the boots you are wearing, those are Turkish & stolen property. Oh you curs, you curs, are you never going to be satisfied!!” All this was listened to by a trembling Armenian lady who was sitting near me, and I see she cried & wept & said “you see, you see. They are going to kill us all & take away everything we have”. I felt inclined to say, but the man deserved it, a thief like that! However I pity them all for I expect they will get what they deserve from the Turks & not much mercy. We hear that the villages are quiet, I mean Boudjah & Bournabat also. The seaside places on the bay - but of course we cannot get out to see anything. No vegetables or fruit is sold & we have no more potatoes. I wonder if the butchers will sell meat, we got some this morning. How dependant one is on the outside of the house. The shops etc. We thought we had every thing, but we forgot salt! Fire wood has come to an end. Coals we have. Today we must make biscuits instead of bread, for we have no big oven for baking. I will see what I can do, but it is a huge responsibility. There are over 35 adults, 4 little children and nine infants! No joke is it? By the evening we were fifty one!

On the whole the town is quieter today and some people are tiding up. The O.R.C. [Oriental Railway Company] has sent five or six men with brooms to sweep the square and a cart to take the rubbish. It has been filled about 10 times & it is a big railway wagon. W. Dobson has not had a service as no one could go and also he had to help a Greek priest to bury several corpses that were lying about. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon a splendid cavalry regiment marched in, company upon company, awfully fine & fierce men. The populace quaked before them, but they just went to their quarters, followed by the usual flock of sheep & goats & some baggage carts. Very little trouble in the streets. Kemal marched in at four o’clock & took up his quarters in the newly restored Konak! I hope the Greeks had the good sense not to filthy it. They have some insane vengeful habits. Our O. Railway manager & heads of staff went to pay him a visit. And I suppose the admirals of the fleets. Of course things are not over yet, but we had a peaceful night and all slept soundly.

Sept 11th
This is a rather celebrated day, the taking over of the whole town by the Kemalists. No end of the blue funk in the town. Most people have gone. Houses on the quay that were occupied by the G.H.G. [Greek head of government?] left wide open & a Turkish flag stuck on the door!! If only the Greeks could have seen themselves. How they must be despised by the Turks!! A huge army of them cast their arms down & flew like the wind. At one time during Saturday there was a scare in the street & all the servants rushed into the sitting room and screamed with terror. I had to yell at them & try & shame them. I told “what are you afraid of? There are at least five soldiers to every woman in the town! Surely they can protect you!” but one of them replied “more likely the whole five would try & hide under my skirt!” and it is about true.

I managed to go down town as far as the British Consulate to see if I could get some food stuff. One of the men there who is worth the whole staff put together had a brain wave, there was the key of a groceries shop deposited at the consulate and he sent me with the cavash & we opened the shop and I got what I wanted! Now we are all right about food. The rest will be managed. Lots of Turkish police have appeared in their old uniforms - they must have put it by for the day. Order is being carried out as quickly as possible. Of course there is a certain amount of looting & the Armenian quarter has suffered because many Armenians have had bombs & hand grenades also fire arms. They really are the nuisance of every town in the East and an island must be found for them & they all deported there. Leslie Stephenson has done a bolt, he was with us till last night but he could not stick it out. I am afraid that from all we hear Boudjah has been looted, there were so many empty houses there. Tommy Rees’s & Forbes etc. but I won’t say anything until it is certain. We slept, 51 souls in this house last night. Bread can be got with difficulty. The O.R.C. officials both English & Greek have put on the fez! Major General de Candolle, the manager as well as all the rest of the employees. Hardly any train can work yet; the line & stations down to Sediquey are all burnt & the whole railway is very damaged. Between Paradise & Smyrna there was a fight and the American buildings were under fire, many soldiers & refugees were killed. The campus was strewn with dead & wounded. Some of the houses on the outskirts were sacked amongst them Mr. Burgess’ but no one was in or hurt of the Americans. They had a guard from their man-o-war with two machine guns at the gates. Everyone looked very grave & melancholy as they have a fear England may go in for war with Turkey and if so what a bad outlook for us all!

Sept 12th
This day I think has been the worst and let us hope from now on, things will get better. All day there has been a black cloud over us, as the Allies may have a war with Turkey and in that case we are all done for. From the villages the most dreadful accounts come in. You have read of atrocities, well it is no use my saying anything about them except that the newspapers have if anything been unable to describe them in their true colours. They are too bad to spoken of. And they are taking place all around. The Turks vengeance has been smouldering for three years, and he is having his fling now. It seems they have spared very few houses in Bournabat. And where the owners remained in they were beaten up. Old Dr. & Mrs Murphy, he 87 & she 75 years old were brought to us by Sir Harry Lamb in a terrible state, both had their heads banged by the butt end of a rifle & he was shot in the shoulders. I don’t expect the old Dr. will live. Their house had everything stolen that could be carried & what could not was smashed, all the other houses the same. This old couple were lying in Lawson’s little house with some other wounded for three days & the Consul at last was able to go and bring them into town. Oscar de Jongh & Cleo are both killed, they were shot with a rifle. How thankful I am all the relatives went away. Leslie was right to go when he could for we might be shut in for ages, and we know what that means. Last night we had no gas & our stock of petroleum? Again we will have those awful dark nights!! Everyone advises us to clear. But I at least must stop behind. I gave my word to the staff that I would stick by them whatever happens, and I cannot leave them. Besides I have no money & we are bound to guard this house if it is possible, it is owed to the Brothers. Lilla wants to stay with me but Alithea must go. Poor girl, just as we were all so happy.

The streets of the town were being cleaned and a bit of order was gradually restored; but it looks dreadful, no end of dead & rubbish all together! I think that now no British are left in any of the outskirts of the town, the last few were put in the empty vicarage to wait orders. If it is war out, they will have to go to the first ship that can take them, and oh the horror of travelling as a refugee. How I cling to my home and my own room...

This diary was found on the floor of my room amongst a heap of other letters and papers. The remains of what the Turks left when they looted the whole house of all that was any use to them.

About Midday of the 12th Sir Harry Lamb [the British Consul-General] & the Admiral of the “Iron Duke” came & gave us a last chance of leaving the place. They strongly advised us to do so, but how could we leave our patients & staff behind! impossible. The admiral would only take British subjects. I urged Leila for the sake of her children to leave - but she would not - Alithea & I stuck together.

By the afternoon the whole town of Smyrna was in flames and it was impossible to move. We did not know what to do, comforting this one, attending to that; how weary we were towards afternoon. All the English & our friends gone! And the flames coming nearer & nearer. Alithea advised that we should pack our suit cases with some clothes in case we had to flee for our lives, but I was too weary to do anything. Dr. Murphy died about 11 pm. We laid him out & locked the door of his room. At that hour an Armenian patient’s husband arrived & in a desperate state of funk decided to take his sick wife & try to get on board one of the Italian men-o-war. He left with his wife, what a pity? He might have been saved, but for that, for we have never heard of him or his wife since. At last about 1 o’clock I retired to my room & went to bed too weary for any more struggles. About 3, we were all roused by loud knocking on the door. The night nurse went to open & found two British officers. They said they had come with fifty of their men & some stretchers to take us and all the patients & staff as they had orders from Head quarters to save & evacuate the British Nursing Home. What joy & what a relief it was marvellous how soon we all got together & were out on the square in the middle of an open square, made of British sailors holding oars to form a square. The patients were put in their stretchers first, then all the staff including the Greek doctor & his family & all of us. Leila begged her son Bill should be called from the church, but the officer in charge said he could not risk his men as he had only orders for the Nursing Home & no further. So Bill had to be left behind poor chap. He did his duty tho & saved the church from being robbed & perhaps blown up, he also saved about thirty women & children who had taken refuge in the crypt of the church & Memorial Hall.

We were marched to the sea front & on going I saw our poor Armenian & his wife looking like nothing on earth with fright. They made signs to me, but I could do nothing. I was under orders. At the quay front we were put in small boats & rowed to the “Iron Duke” where we were received by the Admiral who said “Thank God you are all here sister”. Well I did thank God. My heart ached for all we had left behind & it seemed that we would never see our beloved home again.

From the deck of the Iron Duke we watched Smyrna burn, the fire seemed to reach very near our home. Such a fearful sight of flames & people running here & there, some flinging themselves into the sea in hopes of being able to reach some little boat & safety!!

On the morning of the 13th we were called on the Deck of the “Iron Duke” and each one was asked to choose the place they wished to be taken to, Pireaus, Saloniki, Cyprus or Malta? We chose Cyprus and some of our patients chose Greece or Saloniki, according to the nearness of their friends. When all were fixed up those for Cyprus were put on board an English cargo steamer. Many, many people were on that little boat & we were rather short of food, but thank God we got to Cyprus on the fourth day after leaving Smyrna. Our party left the next day for “Aspro” on Mount Troodos where we were expected & given a warm welcome.

On the 28th of October 1923 we were allowed to return to Smyrna and our ruined homes!! All the English community suffered and how we all picked up the dreadful & dirty remains of nice homes is a wonder. We worked like niggers for there were no servants or workmen about. One of the awful results of a burnt town are the poor pet cats & dogs that are left homeless! Their howls in the night were dreadful to hear and it was weeks & weeks before they all died & ceased to cry.

After six months one could hardly tell that our ‘New Home’ had ever been touched or lived in by sick Turkish soldiers. We had a small indemnity given us by the British government and that helped.

It is now ten years since those dreadful times but thank God we have lived comfortably & are well.

written by Aunt Grace Williamson and Althea Williamson married to Fred [Frederick James - son of Charlton Whittall - 1863-1938, married (2nd partner) 1922, so just married - W.F.T.]

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