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nee Blackler resident in Greece

Mrs Manussis’s forebears on her father’s side emigrated from Devon, where there is still a hamlet called Blackler, to America, in the 17th century and of his descendants, were two brothers in Boston, one of whom tried his luck as a trader in Turkey. She does not know of the name of their father as the records in Boston were destroyed in a fire in the 1800s. Her great grand father, Francis Chipman Blackler, came to Smyrna around 1830 and married Sophie Routh whose father was the British Consul at Adrianople at the time. Initially he traded with his brother based in Boston but later the venture ended in bankruptcy caused possibly by his brother’s misdemeanours. The shock caused a fatal heart attack and forced his only son, Francis ‘Frank’ Blackler to end his education in London Highgate to provide for his mother and 5 sisters. In Smyrna Francis took a job with an insurance agency. Later (around 1880s) he teamed up with William Griffith and together they ran the ‘William Griffith Carpet Company’. Francis also married the eldest daughter of William Griffith’s, Mary. When William Griffith’s only son John died early, in his 30s, Francis took over running of the company. The business involved the villagers in Anatolia weaving carpets to order for the British and US markets, brought down by camel train. All this came to an end with the events of 1922, and the son of Francis, William, took the family to Greece with the intention to return later.

 Notes: 1- Both of these Griffiths have granite tombstones in the Anglican cemetery surrounding the church of Buca, as highlighted by Mrs Manussis. The father, William, lived between 1815 and 1906 (aged 91), and the son John between 1851 and 1889 (aged 38). Mary Rebecca Blackler is listed in the Athens Anglican cemetery listing, as having died in 1941 aged 86. Francis C. Blackler’s tomb is still visible in the Buca cemetery (1823-1875), together with his wife, Annie S. B. Blackler (1823-1910), born in Trieste and their second daughter (Evelyn) who died as a baby in 1854. The place of death is shown as Boudjah, however Mrs Manussis believes this at the time was their summer house, and their chief residence was in Smyrna. However this puts a minimum date of the family’s association with Boudjah. The Trieste link maybe linked to the fact that by the late 18th century to attract merchants, the Hapsburgs made Trieste a free port, waiving all trade levies, and allowed freedom of religion. The incentives beckoned ambitious merchants from throughout the Austrian empire and beyond. In a few decades, these merchants created a port that was among the busiest in Europe, and a city that represented their varied backgrounds. The Anglican church from that period still stands in the city.
2- From information obtained later on the web, the probate records of 1911 records, Annie Sophie Bowsher Blackler left her estate valued at £509 to Francis Blackler (her son ‘Frank’), merchant.
3- Carpet trading was nothing new by this time and the story of this trade in Smyrna is analysed in some detail in:

Through her grandmother Mary, Mrs Manussis knows a bit of the family history of the Griffiths. The father of William from Wales, was an officer in the British army fighting Napoleon in Egypt, and later went to Malta, to settle down. Finding that there wasn’t much to do in Malta, his son (Mrs Manusis’s great-grandfather) tried his luck in Smyrna where he worked with some other family. Like the Blacklers, a religious family, William had given the family bible to Mary, which had a family tree outlined in the back, that is now lost.

In 1922 the great fire had destroyed the offices and carpet factory in Smyrna. The payout in insurance taken, for loss through civil disturbance, in no way covered the loss. With time it became obvious to the family that conditions in Smyrna would never be the same again, and eventually the 3 family houses, all in Buca, were sold by Willie in the 1930s for a pittance.

The mother of Mrs Manussis, Eleanor Valide, was from the West Country of England, (nee Gabriel) and was known as ‘Va’. The reason why one of her names was Turkish (meaning the Queen mother), was due to her father’s (John William Gabriel) fascination with Turkey. Helena’s uncle was the lord mayor of London at the time (Thomas Gabriel, elected 1866) and during the visit of Abdülaziz (1872) to that city, the Sultan told him he and his family were ‘welcome to Constantinople at any time’. The uncle being older could not take up the offer, but John William, Mrs Manussis’s grandfather did. As was the aristocratic custom in those days, John had made ‘the grand tour’ of Europe and on the way visited Athens, doing a tour of the surrounding countryside on horse back with an armed guard as in those days such precautions were necessary. However he was most impressed with Constantinople.

In 1972 Mrs Manussis revisited Buca for the first and last time, and was struck to recognise the sites from her childhood, starting with the garden gates near the stables of one of their former houses. This was her parent’s house opposite the old de Jongh house, and remembers as a playmate Brian de Jongh. Brian and his family later settled in the Psihiko district of Athens and Brian later wrote a guide book for southern Greece and Mrs Manussis still has a copy of this book. During the 1922 events she and her family were luckily in England on holiday. The house in 1972 was used as a hostel for students, and the columns holding up the terrace were linked with plaster boards to provide for extra accommodation.

 Note: It appears this house has since disappeared as Mrs Manussis describes a large garden to the left of the house with pine trees, and a coach house beyond and a flower garden to the right. The pine trees corresponding to the site, shade a mini park and if my inference is correct the former site of the house is now occupied by apartment blocks and restaurant underneath.

The other 2 houses were seen but not visited inside. The old Blackler house set within gardens facing the Anglican church, still has a room over the gate and was used by her grandmother Mary as a studio as she was a gifted artist. At least one of the paintings still survives; a view of pine trees.

The last house was the Griffith house, on the left hand side a bit up the road out of the railway station, with a double stairway leading up to a balcony and the front door, where the ground floor was the servants’ quarters. It had a small garden in front.

 Note: This house is likely still to be preserved, possibly no: 21 Atadan cad, now a driving school and nursery.

Also visited was the Anglican Church which at the time was used as a young people’s club. A portion of the cemetery was cleared to provide a recreation area, but the brass eagle lectern, given originally by her grandfather was still displayed.

 Note: This information places the cemetery ground clearance date much earlier than I earlier suspected, pointing to the council breaking their vows soon after receiving control in 1965. This is also the first information concerning a brass lectern as opposed to the wooden one, both of which have since disappeared.

William Blackler bought land covered in pine trees in the then remote and undeveloped neighbourhood of Athens of Kiffissa, starting building a house in 1929, completed in 1930. It had a view of the sea now obscured and only an earth road linked it to Athens. The house was sold to a wealthy developer in 1985, demolished and replaced with offices. A six lane highway, running through the former garden, now links the site to Athens.

Mrs Manussis has vivid memories of his father’s ‘huge old’ Talbot car, that was commissioned for a Russian general during World War One, but the revolution of 1917 prevented shipment, so was sold to them. In those days there were no tarmac roads in Greece and pick axes and ropes were carried on board at all times to effect rescues. She recalls the chauffeurs taking time to polish the brass of which it was mostly made of, and the instruction manuals were in Russian.

During the Second World War, Mrs Manussis’s husband, Constantine John Manussis was in the Greek air force and later in the British Army in Egypt - his online account of the air war. 10 days before her family were evacuated German bombers were able to strike at a British ammunition ship in Piraeus harbour [postcard views], and the resulting explosion could be heard across the region. They left Piraeus harbour in an island steamer full of civilians escorted by a destroyer, and taking a tortuous route to dodge enemy attack, arrived several days later in Alexandria in Egypt on 24th of April 1941. One of Mrs Manussis’s tasks on this cramped boat was to boil milk to prepare baby food in the galleys below for her son John. Unlike most other expatriates they had not arranged for cabins so her father had to sleep on deck, however Mrs Manussis’s husband was an enterprising Greek who got on well with the ship’s purser and managed to get their dark blue Triumph car (not the Talbot) on board which proved a very useful vehicle for the family later in Egypt. This unique event was a subject of envious gossip and was much to the annoyance of the other refugees, many of whom had to leave their cars on the dockside never to be seen again. Mrs Manussis believes her father would have taken his Triumph car back to Greece after the war, but the Talbot was never seen again. Mrs Manussis spent the years of 1942-44 with baby John away from her husband in South Africa, as he was fighting in the battles of El Alamein and beyond.

Mrs Manussis believes the Germans did a bit of looting as would any occupying army and some things were missing from her father’s house. This however may have been the work of communist guerrillas some of whom moved in after the Germans. They broke up furniture for fires to cook their food. As far as any British people who chose to stay during the occupation, she only knows of Mr and Mrs Rex Henderson (no Smyrna background), who were interred and later released. However later back in their own house they were dragged off one night by the communists and together with a large body of Greek captives herded off north, all the way to the Bulgarian border, and Mr Rex died on the way through exhaustion. The survivors of the group were eventually rescued by the British who had become embroiled in this civil war.

Of the Smyrna émigré community Mrs Manussis knew well David Forbes, who also lived in Kiffissa, and had built his wealth on liquorice trading, but had no children. Liquorice was an important additive to cigarettes as a flavouring. He possessed a large yacht with a funnel, named ‘The Calanthe’, with which he would take friends on hunting expeditions to Albania, for wild boar. During the German invasion this vessel carried a number of refugees from Salonica, dropping anchor near islands during day to avoid being caught out by German bombers. The tactic did not work as bombers did detect it near a deserted island and was sunk with its crew. Fortunately the passengers were on dry land, and the episode was seen by villagers from a nearby island, who rescued the stranded group, who eventually made it to British controlled Egypt. Mr Forbes was in Canada during the war. The Forbes were more Mrs Manussis’s parents’ friends as they belonged to that generation, so she does not know where they died, but she is sure it was not Greece.

However she is more knowledgable of the Forbes’ long term companion Lulu Keyser. Ms Keyser came from a well to do merchant family in Smyrna and must have escaped to Greece during the ‘troubles’. She became friendly with the Forbes who arrived at the same time, spoke fluent Greek and they did not (the Forbes must have had their own translators to communicate with the locals when in Turkey). She thus became an invaluable help to them and became a great friend, almost like a daughter of the house. She had no interest in her appearance, threw on any old clothes, looked rather like a ‘gypsy’, but was an absolute ‘dear’. We were all very fond of her, she inherited the lovely Forbes house and the surrounding garden property (few acres) in Kifissia and died around the early 1970s.

Mrs Manussis’s brother, Raymond who was studying in Oxford just before the fall of Greece and was visiting, could not return to England, so he joined the artillery corps of the British army in Egypt.

In Egypt Mrs Manussis met up with another Smyrna émigré, Mr Nat Barker, who despite the information being classified at the time, recounted in detail his role in the guerrilla group that blew up the long and guarded Gorgopotamos (George river) bridge, vital strategically as it linked up North and South of Greece, stopping all German traffic for a time.

 Note: This was one of the most successful S.O.E. (British agents operating behind enemy lines) actions in Greece, as at the time this line was used to supply Rommel’s Africa corps just before the vital El Alamein battle. The group was parachuted from the air on the 1st of October 1942, and was headed by a regular army engineer Eddie Myers (& more), and seconded by Chris ‘Monty’ Woodhouse, a classics scholar. The initial mishaps that nearly jeopardised this operation and rivalries between the various Greek resistance groups that the parachuted commandoes had no inkling of, and the way this all panned out later, is a study in itself and is beyond the scope of this story. By the time the bridge was blown up, 25th of November, the British had already won the vital battle of El-Alamein.

Mrs Manussis was also on friendly terms with Mr Christopher Tower, who had amassed an impressive collection of books, that she believes, after his death, partly went to London to his sister Pam, living in Montague square. His mother, Cynthia Tower was a beauty in her day, and her first husband died in WWI. The second husband was from the diplomatic core, and his aristocracy allowed her to become Lady Ramsey.

Christopher Tower was an Eton graduate, who worked for a time as a personal assistant to the British representative in Teheran. After World War 2, he became an advisor to King Idris of Libya.

 Note: Idris, (1890-1983), the king of Libya from 1951-1969, a conservative ruler who was deposed by a coup by Colonel GadhafiInternet. Emir Mohammed Idris al-Senussi was the first national leader of the country following the British military caretaker administration (1943-1951), thus British influence was retained to an extent by Mr Tower. One of Gadhafi’s first acts was to close the British and American base facilities in the country.

Around the turn of the century, Rev Alexander MacLachlan from Canada, who after long and hard negotiations with the authorities was able to open the ‘American college’, in ‘Paradise’ (modern Şirinyer) near Boudjah, on the stipulation that there was to be no religion in the curriculum. Rose Blackler who was the sister of Francis Blackler married Alexander Maclachlan. It was their daughter, Rosalind [letter sent by her before her marriage] who married Cass Reed, the second in command of the school. For a time they all lived in houses within the college complex.

 Note: From the Donald Simpson account of the Anglican history of the region, MacLachlan is referred as Dr (in a clerical manner), and the college he was the president of ‘The International College’ p.97. Click here to view a section of Alexander MacLachlan’s memoirs provided to me by one of his descendants.

The institution probably did not survive the events of 1922. Mr MacLachlan was highly instrumental in rescuing Armenian civilians caught up in the events from Turkish troops who were rounding them up, and placed them on American ships, despite the decree at the time and enforced vigorously by the crew of the allied ships in the harbour that no civilians were to be evacuated. This behaviour obviously was not to the liking of some ‘thugs’ in Paradise village who set up on him and was only rescued by a Turkish officer on horseback who cried, ‘stop that he is my old teacher’. He recuperated at the Blackler household for a few weeks afterwards. Both Mr MacLachlan and Reeds became refugees in Athens; however Mr Maclachlan later went to found the American college in Beirut, and was joined by the Reeds in the 1930s. The site of the American College in Paradise currently serves as a NATO regional headquarters (Southern command). During Mrs Manussis’s visit to the area with ‘aunt Rosalind’ in 1972, many elder folk of any importance, scattered in the surrounding villages, were crying in emotion and kissing their hands, grateful for the education they otherwise may not have received.

 Note: The web site for the American university of Beirut, gives details of the involvement of Alexander Maclachlan and exact dates. ‘American institution founded in 1891 by Alexander Maclachlan in Smyrna, Turkey. At the invitation of Dr Bayard Dodge, then president of the American university of Beirut, it moved in 1936 to Beirut and merged with this university’s ‘Prep School’…’

During the same visit Mrs Manussis also paid a visit to her distant relation Gladys Routh, the former Buca church secretary who as an elderly lady by then, lived in Izmir and produced an old and extensive family tree.

At the end of the Second World War Mrs Manussis’s father acting as financier, brother and husband ran the franchise for the bottling of Coca-cola in Kenya between the years 1947-63, at the end of which the instability caused by the Mau Mau rebellion forced them to return the franchise to the parent company. The entire family including Mrs Manussis also left Nairobi for good.

 Note: According to Willem Daniels it was Henry de Jongh jr who was Willie Blackler's partner in the Kenyan Coca-Cola fiasco. Henry and Hilda stayed in Nairobi until they moved to England years later.

Unfortunately Mrs Manussis died peacefully in her sleep aged 90 a week before Christmas 2004.

to top of page interview date 2002