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Resident in London

A private paper I came across by chance, written by Mr Wallace, an 80 year old (in 2002) London based barrister and writer, has kindly given me permission to include this passage which I include unaltered. This is a paper that covers the 1922 events that were calamitous to all communities of Izmir, with the least amount of blame allocation that makes for a refreshing change.

In 1922, the First World War had ended with Turkey as the defeated ally of Germany and substantial Allied Fleets occupying all the Turkish ports including Constantinople following the Turkish surrender. The Sultanate had itself fallen in 1917 following the Young Turk military revolt against the Sultan, and the country was therefore in political turmoil following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, while at the same time the Turkish armies, which had fallen back m retreat before Allenby’s advance through Palestine, were themselves comparatively unscathed. The Allies, exhausted by their own losses in the War and anxious to demobilise, were not themselves willing to commit land forces to occupy Turkey and enforce any subsequent Treaty obligations imposed on Turkey as a defeated enemy. In this situation Lloyd George and Clemenceau, as architects of the Treaty of Lausanne, had foolishly if not irresponsibly grasped at enthusiastic offers by Greece to provide an army of occupation, which duly entered Turkish territory and occupied the hinterland with varying degrees of penetration into the Anatolian interior. The security situation was further complicated by the fact that a very large Greek-speaking population of Greek ethnic origin had for over a century inhabited the coastal areas of Turkey, together with other minorities such as Armenians and Kurds, all under the overall control of the Ottomans.

By 1922, however, the foreseeable had happened and Turkish guerrilla forces operating out of mountain fastnesses of Anatolia, and under the overall command of Turkey’s future national leader Mustafa Kemal, had begun to over-run the over-extended Greek forces at the far points of their penetration into the interior, and what began as a Greek retreat from the central Anatolian mountains soon degenerated into a rout, with the Greek forces falling back in disorder onto the coastal towns, and in particular onto Smyrna (Izmir), which was the largest and most important entrepot trading port in Turkey, and where substantial allied naval forces were gathered. Smyrna had large Greek and Armenian communities in the city itself and in its environs, together with a substantial expatriate community of Levant Company merchants and traders occupying what was in effect a virtually European enclave not unlike those in Shanghai, Singapore and other major trading stations in the world. This mercantile community, with substantial English, Huguenot French and other European elements, had created their own residential quarter in the suburb of Bournabat, where they had lived with their servants and retainers for generations. Even during the war with Turkey, the allied nationals in this community, no doubt in recognition of their important economic contribution to Turkish life, were in most cases permitted by the Ottomans to continue to live in their houses under a benign form of theoretical house arrest, and carry on their business activities relatively undisturbed.

At this time when the retreating Greek forces were falling back on Smyrna in 1922 and a complete breakdown of law and order seemed imminent, the Allied powers were taking the formal position that their very substantial individual fleets should if necessary evacuate their own nationals only. This, with a small and inadequate Greek navy, clearly involved placing the very large indigenous ethnic minorities at the mercy of the advancing Turkish forces. Matters were not helped by the fact that the Greek retiring forces had pursued scorched earth policies involving setting fire to Turkish villages and mistreating the local Turkish peasant populations.

The British Eastern Mediterranean fleet in the area was very substantial, and in the case of Smyrna the rather unusual berthing arrangements meant that a number of major warships, including the battleship “Iron Duke”, were moored stem to quay. Since it was obvious that there would be a major security problem as soon as the Turkish forces arrived in Smyrna, and consistently with allied policy, the English expatriate civilian community were brought onto the British warships, with the exception of a few eccentric individuals who refused to leave their homes. In most cases the homes in the Bournabat area were locked up, with outdoor servants such as Kurdish or Turkish gardeners or bodyguards left in charge though naturally tending to disappear. But the community was able to do nothing to protect their (usually Greek) female house servants. In this situation the British Admiral (de Robeck) did obtain undertakings from the senior officers of the approaching Turkish forces that civilians and property would be respected, but there could obviously be little certainty in the then state of confusion of their ability to honour this undertaking, while the Fleet’s own orders precluded any action being taken by them to avert the approaching calamity. The situation, though eminently foreseeable, was thus one for which the allied powers bore a heavy responsibility, which they showed no sign of wishing to discharge.

My own father, Duncan Gardner Wallace, seems to have played quite an important role in what was to follow. He had been called up in England as a reservist officer in the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the War, and after serving at sea in home waters in the Grand Fleet and the Harwich Force eventually ended the War on the staff of the CIC of the Mediterranean Fleet with the rank of Paymaster-Commander RNR. Since he had been a practising barrister in London prior to his naval service, the Admiralty requested him at the time he was due to be demobilised and sent home in 1919 to remain in the area to carry out the considerable amount of legal work on their behalf connected with enemy property and shipping and other problems arising at the end of hostilities, and for this purpose he had opened a legal office in Smyrna. While still serving prior to his demobilisation he had married my mother, Eileen Agnes Wilkin of Bournabat, whose great grandfather had bought a seat on the Levant Company and settled in Boumabat as long ago as 1815. I myself was born in April 1922, and so was some five months old when irregular Turkish forces began arriving around Smyrna in September, setting fire to the town and massacring very large numbers of civilians of all nationalities, but in particular Greeks and Armenians. In some cases the few Europeans who had refused to be evacuated were able to survive with the help of Turkish and other servants, and the Turkish soldiery were in any case clearly less likely to mistreat obviously European expatriate foreigners as opposed to Greek and indigenous ethnic minorities. My father had by now been recalled and re-attached to Admiral De Robeck’s staff on the “Iron Duke”, itself moored stem to quay in the harbour. The city itself was on fire, and civilians of all ages and sexes were running down to the quays and being killed by Turkish soldiers, in some cases jumping into the sea and swimming alongside the ships begging to be taken on board while being fired at from the quayside. In the light of their orders from London, the situation was obviously horrifying for the crews and those in command of the British ships, particularly in the light of our own country’s political and moral responsibility for what was happening.

By this time my mother, Eileen Agnes Wallace, and her parents Albert (the ‘Whittall family tree’ shows him to be Robert, probably incorrectly) and Adele Wilkin (née Whittall, 1866-1962), were already on board the “Iron Duke” as refugees, while I myself was accommodated in a miniature hammock which had been constructed for me by the Iron Duke’s Chief Boatswain’s Mate and had been slung in the accommodation provided for the English women and children. Meanwhile my father had endeavoured to protect our Greek housemaids by boarding and locking up our house by the beach at Bournabat, and arranging for a destroyer to play a searchlight all night on the house in the hope of deterring looters or Turkish soldiers from breaking in.

 Note: Bournabat is not by the sea, and the only possible beach near Smyrna (~10km) where a Levantine neighbourhood existed was Turan (Trianda), a summer retreat for the richer families, whose buildings have all but been obliterated by heavy industry moving into the area from the 1930s.

Another family problem facing my father was that my great-aunt Alithea, who was herself a qualified nursing sister and who [then or later] married my great-uncle Fred Whittall, had set up a small clinic in which she was nursing both Greek and Turkish wounded. This indomitable lady had refused the offered safety of a British warship, unless all her patients (I believe some 40 in number) were also to be taken on board. As a result of the Fleet’s orders this had not been possible, with the result that she was now herself in great danger, together with her patients.

 Note: The strength of character of this lady was later confirmed by Edward de Jongh who personally knew this lady to which like many others he was devoted. She was a great raconteur and initially started nursing voluntarily in earthquake zones in Turkey, an amazing feat of bravery for a Western lady in those days. Through descendants on the Williamson side, a jointly written diary of this nurse of those traumatic days survives, text viewable here:

Faced with the two problems of the safety of our Greek housemaids and of Alithea Whittall and her patients, together with the rapidly deteriorating situation on shore, it was clearly essential to obtain a change in the Fleet’s orders from England. As an independent practising lawyer with a first-class record as a sea-going staff officer for Commodore Tyrwhitt on the Harwich Force and later in the Queen Elizabeth serving at sea in home waters throughout the whole of the First World War, I believe that my father’s suggestions or advice would have been influential and have some persuasive force. At any rate, my father told me that he had himself suggested to Admiral de Robeck that a signal should be sent to the Admiralty asking for a change in orders on the ground that otherwise it might not be possible to maintain the discipline of his ship’s companies when atrocities were taking place literally before their eyes, and this was, in fact, duly done. Whether or not assisted by press or diplomatic reports which were probably now reaching allied governments of developing events, and of the manifest inability of the small and out of date Greek warships to cope with the vast number of vulnerable Greek civilians, the orders were at last changed and British ships authorised to take off refugees of all nationalities who were in danger.

My father then immediately approached Admiral de Robeck with the safety of our own Greek house-servants and of Alithea Whittall and of her patients particularly in mind, asking for a landing party to be organised to rescue them. For understandable reasons no executive officers could be spared to leave the ships, but my father was offered a small landing party of seamen, (who would have been armed with cutlasses and rifles, with neither of which they would have been very familiar), and my father volunteered to lead the party since he knew the location of the houses involved. Relying on what he hoped might be their psychological impact on out of control Turkish soldiers, my father also decided to wear his full dress uniform (i.e. frock coat with epaulettes and sword).

This improbable force, with my father at their head, stepped onto the quay and marched through the then burning town full of drunken Turkish soldiery and looters on their rescue mission. Sadly, they found that our house had been broken into and my father discovered the bodies of our two Greek maids, who had been murdered, in the garden on the edge of the beach. At Alithea Whittall’s house the situation was however better, possibly because of the presence of some Turkish wounded among the patients, and the party then proceeded to return to the British ships on foot, with walking wounded helping each other and almost the whole of my father's party of blue jackets carrying the stretcher patients. It was now getting dark and the party, with my father at their head endeavouring to convey an impression of official importance and confidence to the expedition, and with Alithea Whittall shepherding her patients behind him, mercifully reached the British ships without being molested. It may be inferred that the extraordinary spectacle of a small party of British sailors armed with rifles and cutlasses (though in most cases fully occupied with carrying stretchers) with a single English woman in charge of walking wounded and led by a British naval officer in full uniform, may have astonished or deterred the Turks and ensured the success of what otherwise must have been a very questionable and perilous mission.

I never succeeded in finding out from my father whether he had at any time actually drawn his sword or worn his cocked hat, but to this day I do have in my possession the “historical hammock” in which I myself had been cocooned in “Iron Duke” (where I was, in fact, later christened on board while the ship was in Limassol in Cyprus on our way to Alexandria in Egypt). I also still possess my father’s sword and the cocked hat which he may just possibly have worn, though this seems unlikely. Our family eventually disembarked in Alexandria in 1922 as penniless refugees (my father’s office in Smyrna, together with all its contents and the valuables in its safe, had been destroyed in the fire). My father many years later became the leader of the English Bar in Egypt, being appointed Crown Advocate by Lord Halifax as Foreign Secretary in May 1939, only shortly before my father’s death while on holiday in Scotland in September 1939 at the early age of 57.

Though it has nothing to do with the events of the 1922 Fire of Smyrna the following incident gives an indication of the unique circumstances of the small mercantile community in Smyrna during the preceding War years. Shortly after the attempted Gallipoli landings with their very heavy Allied casualties to the north of Smyrna, a British Sopwith aircraft flying on reconnaissance over Smyrna was hopelessly outclassed and shot down by a German Fokker fighter aircraft, and the English expatriate community were allowed by the Turkish authorities to recover the bodies of the two English airmen and to conduct a funeral ceremony for them (I believe in the Bournabat Church of England parish church). My mother remembers that while the interment was taking place a German aircraft appeared and dropped a wreath over the mourners. This gives some idea of the civilised values and tolerance in this strange little backwater on the fringe of the terrible conflicts and casualties then taking place at Gallipoli and in Europe.

A further recollection of my mother relates to the effect of the Allied blockade, which meant that cane sugar was unobtainable in Turkey. My mother remembers the servants placing crushed grapes in trays in the sun in order to obtain a grape syrup substitute for sugar. This seems to have been her principal impression of the War years and the “house arrest” conditions in which English Bournabat residents, as enemy nationals, lived at that time!

 Notes: 1- This article was published in the journal for the Royal Society for Asian Affairs in Volume 34, Number 1, March 2003, pp. 54-57(4). This society has been going on since 1901, and its journal is published 3 times a year. The journal generally consists of articles on specific countries, locales or historic episodes, including social and political perspectives, as well as contemporary affairs. The society web site:
2- Apart from Whittall family photos taken in Smyrna, the only photo that vaguely recalls these traumatic times in the possession of Mr Wallace is one showing the Iron Duke, alas without a background of buildings etc.
3- I. N. Duncan Wallace, QC studied law at his father's old college, Oriel, Oxford University, before spending the war years in the Navy. After the war he completed his law course, was called to the Bar in 1948 and took silk in 1973. His legal career involved practice in Pacific Rim countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as stints as ‘visiting’ scholar and professor at the University of California at Berkeley and King’s College, London. Aged 80, he is still active in producing legal textbooks.
4- Unfortunately Mr Wallace has died on the 1st of August 2006, (obituary), may he rest in peace...

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