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|The son of the manager of the Ottoman railway company records his memories on tape for posterity|
Using an 1950s subscription listing for the former Izmir St. John’s church magazine, ‘Candlesticks’ I was able to make contact in 2003 with Francis (aged 80) and Sheila Holton now living in London.
The father of Francis, Francis Smithers Holton, died in the 1960s, and it was he who bought ‘Old Hall Farm’ in Sussex. The farm was sold off in 2001.
In 2002, we made a trip to the Greek island of Samos [info - archive views] where Francis Smithers Holton and his wife Kate née Heginbotham and their young son John aged about 3, spent a year in a Red Cross refugee camp, having escaped with other expatriates in the war of 1922. Francis Holton was conceived during that year on Samos. But with time it became clear to his parents that conditions in Smyrna would never be conducive for a return, so they moved to England. While on the island, we were constantly reminded of the parents’ ordeal in the 1920s and actually made some unsuccessful enquiries as to the whereabouts of this refugee camp.
Having left virtually all in Smyrna, the Holtons arrived in England in a near destitute state, and could only afford a small farm in 1923 near to the small town of Jarvis Brook in Sussex where Francis Smithers’ parents (father also Francis) had established themselves.
Note: From the Guildhall library church registers, Francis Charles Holton was married to an Emily Jane (née unknown). However the Internet shows us she had the same surname and gives us information on the earlier generation too.
Adjusting to the new circumstances was trying to all members of the family, particularly the mother Kate. She came from a British family that had established itself before the Holtons in Boudjah. The farm did not even have running water initially, whereas in Boudjah they had servants to assist them during the day. It is an interesting observation that Francis Smithers considered the Turkish servants more trustworthy than the Greek servants. And for many years French and Greek would be used in the farm by them, when a secret language was needed. The nostalgic yearning for the Boudjah days must have been somewhat alleviated by the reunions that went on the Old Farm, but these were tiresomely boring to the young Francis Holton as the only subject talked about at length were the old days in Smyrna.
The Holtons know that grand-father, Francis Charles Holton, worked for the railways (ORC) in Boudjah (the registers show that he was a railway cashier). They also know that he had a few children the oldest of whom was Francis Smithers, and the youngest was Charles Blyth. The middle brothers Alfred and John both died in WWI - a fuller family tree here:
Note: The war dead commemoration plaque in St. John’s church shows this, and in the Commonwealth war graves commission web site, this further information is available. Alfred Edward (1891-1919) won a Military Cross, and died a year after the end of the war, presumably of his wounds. His brother John Arthur (1893-1917) died earlier, attesting to the shockingly high casualty rates among the British Levantine volunteers from Smyrna. The records also show a Mrs Holton (presumably their mother, Emily Jane) ran a school in Boudjah at least during 1894, probably a rudimentary house school.
Francis and Sheila Holton actually visited Buca in the summer of 1981, and identified some family graves in the churchyard.
Notes: 1- There are no Holton graves as such in the churchyard but there are a few of the Heginbotham family; Arthur Willis 1867-1921 and probably his son (same tomb) John Edgar 1899-1911, probably the brother of Kate Heginbotham. There is also a now invisible grave of Lillian Holton, recorded in the 1928 cemetery survey, the infant child, born 1888, of Francis Charles Holton - listing.
2- In June 2011 contact was made with Jeremy Greenwood who was able to give insights into the origins of the Heginbotham family, though not a descendant of that family. Arthur Willis Heginbotham was born in 1873 in Hyde, Cheshire and married Charlotte Broadbent in 1892, Denton (a former hat industry centre, Greater Manchester) and Kate was born the same year. Later children born in Boudjah. Information obtained from the ‘General Register Office: Miscellaneous Foreign Marriage Returns’ - pdf listing. There were substantial trade links between Manchester and Turkey particularly in cotton. There is still a significant number of Armenians (or their descendants) in Manchester.
3- One of the daughters of Arthur Heginbotham, Marjorie Constance Heginbotham was a plant collector in South Africa. Her biography shows the family lived for a couple of decades in Greece before the German invasion forces another emigration.
4- According to archive local oral history, the former Heginbotham house of Boudjah:
Francis Charles Holton who in later years lived near the farm, was fortunate to have a pension as the railway company he worked for was British owned. His son Francis Smithers Holton was fortunate enough to have studied agriculture in the University of Egypt, before 1922, that gave him the ability to pursue a farming career in England. Charles Blyth, the youngest son of Francis Charles Holton, recorded on a series of 9 cassettes his memoirs that the family have retained, of which the first 3 I have made copies of and have transcribed below. Charles also served in the tail end of WWI and later fully in WWII, visiting Buca in the 1950s and found the grave of Lillian, still visible then.
HISTORY OF THE HOLTON FAMILY - - click for audio versions of half an hour segments, to download these segments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Recorded in the spring of 1974.
Mother and father were I believe second cousins, with the same surnames before marriage. Soon after getting married, they went to Turkey in 1880-85, working for a British railway company, for a line being built, and stayed with the company till 1936-7. Mr Henry Smithers was a distant relation of the family and it was he, as the director of the company based in London, who gave father this job and sent him out to Smyrna. I don’t know what job he got when he started to work, but my first recollection when I was 8-9 years old, was him as a storekeeper. He was in charge of and had to keep a close records of everything used on the railways, including wagons, carriages, coal stocks, nuts, bots, wire, kerosene, pencil and ink. He was a storekeeper for 10-15 years, and then suddenly promoted to chief accountant, quite a jump. He remained chief accountant for quite a while, and then the general manager, Mr Herbert Barfield found that he needed an assistant general manager. Father was lucky enough to be given the job, another big step up, especially so as Mr Barfield was not in very good health and insisted on spending 4-5 months of the summer in England to escape the heat. Thus my father was left as acting general manager. I would say here, that all the big jobs were held by Britishers, such as locomotive superintendent, traffic superintendent, telegraph superintendent, storekeeper, chief accountant etc. Father was indeed lucky, and deservedly so, to get this plum job. He was exceedingly conscientious, and with time I gradually realised what a capable and clever man he was. He always thought out all the decisions carefully, and frequently made decisions which on the face of it were difficult to understand, but in the long term proved dead right every single time.
Being manager of a railway in Turkey was not quite the same as being a railway manager in this country, for one had to deal with a head office which in those days of no wireless and no telephone service actually in the country itself, in a country in which it was difficult to communicate quickly with your directors and many of the decisions had to be taken some of them were purely technical and railway decisions. Quite a lot of them dealing with the Turkish government and authorities were semi-political, such as for instance Turkey was in several Balkan wars and the railway frequently had the job of running many long trains purely for military purposes, long distances carrying thousands of soldiers and general war material for which incidentally Turkey never paid in hard cash and the railways simply had to carry all these expenses on their books as a debt owed to them by the Turkish government and incidentally these debts amounted to 2-3 million £ sterling by the time my father left the railway. In fact a year or so after he left the railway the company was nationalised by the Turks, it was sequestrated, seized, no compensation was paid and the Turks did not even pay the debt they owed to the company which I referred to before, for the carriage of troops, now at £7 million [an error or accumulated through interest?].
In the course of time the railway had been extended from Smyrna to Aidin, the original railway, some 100 miles, it was eventually extended to Dinar some 350 miles, and a further 100 miles after that, to the shores of the great big lake of Egridir.
My mother had gone out to Smyrna at the age of 21. She was comfortable, and country bred and lived in Bules on the borders of Essex and Sussex, the daughter of a non-conformist big farmer, from narrow minded folk. When she arrived in Smyrna she knew not the language, foreign currency, food, habits, in a country where there was no electricity. In fact the Turkish sultans would not allow electricity considering it the invention of the devil and she found herself in this village of Boudjah some five miles outside Smyrna, with no running water, just a well in the garden, and she seemed to have coped admirably. But things couldn’t have been easy for her. Then the family started arriving, there were 5 children born, the first born was a little girl, Lillian, but she died at the age of 2 or 3 long before I came on to the scene. Then came my brother Francis some 2 or 3 year later, and then Alfred some 3 years after that, and then John 3 years after that, and then I came along 4 years later. As time went on it was obvious to father that the education of the 4 boys was going to present quite a problem. He was a storekeeper on the railways earning in those days a reasonable salary but hardly one that would permit him to send 1,2 or 3 boys to England to be educated. He wasn’t keen on the local religious schools, several French Roman Catholic schools, an English run by an English clergyman, and a Scot school run by a Scottish missionary and so on. So he thought of the idea eventually of starting a school of his own. He got hold of a big house in Boudjah, and Boudjah was quite a town, although it was called a village, some ten thousand inhabitants, and the house had 30-40 acres of grounds. He brought out from England 2 English schoolmasters, and from France 2 French schoolmasters and the Greek and Turkish school masters were recruited locally. We had some 10 or 12 boarders and of course the English and French schoolmasters were also living in, there was mother, father and 4 of us, making 6 of us and 4 schoolmasters, that’s 10, and then 10-12 boarders, that’s some 20-25 all told. So obviously mother had to have several servants helping, a cook, housemaid, assistant housemaid, and at least one man or boy to help with the hard work such as pulling water from the well, chopping wood for fires. The school was very successful as a school, the curriculum had been very carefully worked out, and we were enabled to receive a fairly good education, not only did we learn languages naturally by associating with French, Greek, German and Turkish boys, but also the languages thought in the school. On top of that commercial training was also incorporated in the curriculum, so that we learned bookkeeping, typewriting, shorthand and various other office qualifications if you like, which in England would only be picked up in at evening classes or special business training colleges. So on the whole our education was fairly comprehensive and fairly good. For sport we did a little cricket, a lot of football, and we ran ‘the’ football team in the whole of Asia Minor really, certainly in Smyrna. A cup was paid for each year, by all the big schools, and although ours was probably the smallest school, we held the cup for more years than any other school did. And in fact we held the cup for 2-3 years at a time several times, perhaps then missed one year and then picked it up again the following year and carried on for another year or two and so on. But our football was good. We also had long holidays and as boys we learnt to be fairly independent, in so far as father of course continued with his work on the railways, mother was responsible for the running of the school, but in the summer holidays we had plenty of scope for picnicking, very long walks up on the hills in the lower mountains. A lot of our picnics were on donkeys, very fine donkeys too they were, so we learned to ride, and this was very useful to me later on in the army when I joined the cavalry as a private. I was able to sit a horse quite easily and naturally owing to my experience as riding donkeys! We also a did a good deal of swimming, fishing, rowing, sailing, and as a whole my youth and that of my brothers was a very complete one, both from the educational and the sporting point of view and the experience gained by rubbing up against different nationalities, languages, habits, customs etc. was very useful in later life.
Now going back to the railway, we carried on with our schooling and so on, until my brothers went to various schools in England, and when I was the only one left at our own school, father decided it would be much more economical to close the school and to send me to a local French school. I went to this French school, it was an excellent school, very high standards, run by Roman Catholic priests, but by that time I was 14 and I was too old to be influenced unduly by the Roman Catholic surroundings. I stayed there for 3 or 4 years and then I went to the railway. My brother John had been the general manager’s secretary, and had left about 6 months before to take up his studies in England, he was going in for the Indian civil service. I left school at the age of 17 and went and took his place as the general manager’s secretary on the railway. That of course was very short lived as I started end of June and the First World War started on the 4th of August 1914. Turkey didn’t come into the war just then, but by around November, Turkey was dragged in by the Germans on their own side and the exciting part of one’s life began. It started this way; Turkey came into the war and about a day later, a message was sent by the governor general of Smyrna, saying that he, and the commander in chief, a certain Pertev pasha would be calling on the general manager of the railway that afternoon at 3 o’clock on the purpose of taking over the railway and giving the manager his orders as to how he was to carry on. This was all very fine, but there were many snags. The Turks wanted to take over the railway, Mr Barfield was general manager, and here I criticise him very strongly. He was the man put there by the board to look after the railway’s interests. He went into his office, sat down, took a piece of paper, wrote a few words on it, walked back into my father’s office and said, ‘here you are Mr Holton, you are general manager of this railway, I have resigned, I am now going home’, and he walked out to his own house, which was the railway company house right by the station, a beautiful house, public gardens, tennis courts etc, and he resigned, leaving my father to carry the baby. My father never shrugged any responsibility, he had to stay and see the thing out. He saw the Turks when they arrived, they told him that they had decided now that they were at war with Britain, that the British railway would be taken over and it would be run by the Turkish military command, and they would appoint my father to run this railway and the French railway running into the interior of Turkey in a different direction, from a place called Alasehir, a station some 100 miles away from Smyrna, on the French railway. No telephones, no nothing, and father was supposed to run two railways under the instructions from Turkish military authorities. He didn’t hesitate, he said to the Turks, ‘gentlemen you know me, I am a great friend of the Turks and always have been. But unfortunately our two countries are at war, I can not obey your instructions and I will not obey your instructions , if I did so I would be helping the enemy of my own country and I should be accountable to my own government in due course for aiding the enemy.’ They walked out simply saying ‘you heard your instructions, and there you are, get on with it’. As soon as they left, father phoned the permanent waste man attendant and told him to come round with the motorcar on rails which the company owned, and to run us, the father and myself, to Boudjah. Got home, had a bit of meal and father walked down the road to see Mr Calligari, he was an Austrian, the chief cashier, a very nice man, no loyalty really to Austria whatsoever, much more loyalty to the company and to my father than he had to his country Austria. I very much doubt he could even speak German. He and my father then went down to Smyrna on the last train that night, somewhere around 9 o’clock, Calligari took his strong room keys with him, they went into the vaults, took out all the gold coins that was there, some £10,000, put it in bags, got into a horse carriage, drove to the American consulate and deposited this gold with the consulate. They then came back to the station, got a special train, just an engine and a carriage, and came back to Boudjah. When he got home, he took mother, my brother Francis and myself down to the cellar of the house and taking the diagonal lines from the corners of the cellar where they crossed, we dug a hole some 2 foot deep, he took out a bag with £200 in gold, buried it in this hole, filled it up and just turned to us and said ‘now we have £200 in there, and whatever happens, anything happens to any of us, or all of us, whoever is left there is some money there.’ That was that. The next day, father did not go up to Alasehir, he had sent word to all the other British employees, telling them that the Turks had ordered all the British employees to go to Alasehir, that he himself was not going to obey the order, that under British law that would be aiding the enemy, and he was not going to obey the order. But he left the decision as to whether to whether they were to go or not to go to Alasehir to each individual person, a long decision. About midday, a Turkish officer, with a sergeant and some 7 men arrived at our house in Boudjah, and placed my father under house arrest, which meant that no man could come into the house, father could not leave the house, ladies could come into the house, and we could all come and go as we wanted to. That was his first clash with Turkish authorities. This went on for a week or two. But we were very fortunate.
The commander in chief, Pertev pasha was a great Anglophile and he lived in a very big house that they had taken over from another English family, Mr Rees. Mr Rees was a big ship owner, very wealthy, and he had a beautiful house, and this became the commander in chief’s headquarters. Nearly every night, after dark, my brother Francis and I would go across to the Rees’s house to try to see Pertev pasha, to see if he could anything about a) to get father free from this house arrest and b) to get us permits to leave the country. We never saw Pertev pasha himself, but we invariably saw his adj. and we received every courtesy and consideration. In due course, we were informed that the guards were to be taken away from the house and that father was free. Furthermore Pertev pasha got a permit, how he did it I don’t know, because Constantinople would have been furious. He got a permit for my father, mother, and myself, as I was 17 not of military age, but my brother Francis was of that age, so he couldn’t leave the country. In addition, Mr and Mrs Barfield, their daughter and her husband, who was the chief engineer, and Mr Elliot, the locomotive superintended, and his wife and daughter, we were all permitted to leave the country. That was more easily said than to carry out, because the gulf of Smyrna, although enormous, comes through a very narrow entrance, where the Turks had sunk two big cargo ships to block the entrance in to the gulf, so nothing could leave that way. So my father and I went to Smyrna and went to offices of one of the small Greek shipping companies and one of them, said they had a very small ship leaving the little port of Vurla [Urla], some 40 miles from Smyrna, in a couple of days time. So there and then, father took the whole ship, chartering the ship for all of us, the Barfields, Elliots and ourselves to take us to Piraeus. I forget what that cost, but of course we had the £200 which had been sunk down there, and I don’t know whether there was any other money available, but any how this was arranged, and lo and behold one fine mid-day, 4 carriages, each loaded up with these families, left Smyrna and Vurla, and Pertev pasha had even gave us a Turkish military escort as sentry with fixed bayonet sitting with the coachman. At Vurla there was this little Greek ship waiting, we got to the ship and sailed that evening, and it was after we had left Turkish waters on the way to Piraeus that Mr Barfield and father were talking and they both turned round to us all, and said ‘we are lucky because both Mr Holton and Mr Barfield had been ordered to appear before a court martial in a couple of days time. So we only got out by the skin of our teeth. Once in Athens we go on an ordinary ship to Brindesi, and from there by train through Italy and France back to in England where we arrived on Christmas eve 1914. The only events that I can remember on the way home was the stop in Milan, where we had a chance to see the cathedral, and I suppose one of the most wonderful cathedrals I had ever seen up to that time in my young life, that left quite an impression. The other thing that struck me was going through Switzerland, we got to the Swiss frontier more or less at sunset, the train skirted Laguna majora, and the view of the lake and the isla bella right in the centre of it, with the surrounding mountains covered in snow, the sun setting, a brilliant wonderful sunset all reflected on the snow and the whole lot of that then reflected on the lake with the little island, la isla Bella showing up just like a jewel. The other thing I remember was going through France and some of the stopping places on the way, British soldiers wearing sheep skin coats, coming up to the train and everybody on the train throwing to their mouths cigarettes and chocolate, and the soldiers filling up their dixies with boiling water from the engine. That I think is the last thing that I remember of that trip home.
We stayed with our cousins the Hauxes, for a day or two and then found furnished rooms at Ilford where we stayed for quite a time, I suppose about a year. Father in the meantime was receiving from the railway half a pay, this lasted for 6 months after which he went on to quarter pay for another 6 months and that was the end of his financial income. What he had in England in the way of money, I don’t know. But I know that he told me I should look for a job and I did, and I found a job with a French manufacturer’s agent in London wall. He sold hardware, chiefly razors, kitchen knives, shaving brushes, chain burnishes and other hardware from samples sent by the French manufacturers and he only wanted one clerk with a knowledge of French and I seemed to meet his requirements. I started work there with a salary of 17 shillings and 6 pence a week, which after a couple of weeks he put up to 20 shillings a week. I stayed with him for about a year, after which I went to the board of trade the exhibitions branch, which had now been converted in to an inter-allied supplies commission on which all the allies, Belgian, French and I believe the Italians as well, had representatives. Every time any of our allies wanted any goods for war purposes from our country, they had to apply to this commission and if the company supplying goods was supplying the admiralty or the war office and was up to date with their deliveries, then a permit was given to them to export to France or Belgium. If however they were not up to date with their deliveries, the permit would not be given until they had met the requirements of the war office, ministry of munitions or the navy. I stayed with them again for about a year.
By which time I had reached the minimum age for entry in to the army, which I was very keen to enter. My parents had warned me that if I tried to join before I was old enough, they would have me back again. Father and mother raised no objection for me to my joining the army, provided I was of the right military age. They contended that one brother out in Turkey, mother, two brothers John and Alfred, being already in the army, we were doing our bit, and it was not for me to join before my time, but they had no objection to my joining as soon as I was of military age, and I joined up on my 19th birthday. I joined the Essex Yeomanry, because John was already in the Essex Yeomanry out in France, Alfred was with the Royal naval division in the Dardanelles.
Here I think I should digress from the activities of myself and my two brothers and go back to what my father was doing. All this time father was doing nothing, but I suppose he must have been getting short of cash, he never discussed money matters with us, with me anyway, and he suddenly had a brainwave. He didn’t want to try to get a job for the sake of making money only. He also wanted to do something that would be helping with the war effort. So he suddenly thought of Churchill, and wrote to him, reminded him of their previous meeting with him out in Smyrna, telling him of his qualifications as an experienced accountant and so on, and asking him whether some sort of a job could be found for him which help with the war effort. He had no reply from Churchill, but he had a letter from one of the heads of the ministry of munitions to whom Winston had passed my father’s letter. He was asked to see them at the Hotel Metropol on Northumberland Avenue and he was offered a job, not a frightfully well paid job, about £250 a year, but it would keep the wolf from the door, and it was a job to do with the war, and father felt that that was good enough and he took it and stayed with them right till the end of the war. Now I don’t think there was anything else that happened as far as father was concerned, or mother. Mother did help out with service canteens and things like that. So you see the whole family, except Francis who was out in Turkey, was engaged in some way or another in helping the war along.
Now back to myself. I went down to the Essex Yeomanry and joined the 3rd battalion in Aldershot. I must say, although my stay with them was rather short lived, I did enjoy the experience tremendously. I was a private, I had a horse and I had been on the back of a horse once or twice, donkeys many many times. So that when I joined up and had a horse to look after and to ride, I wasn’t exactly quite as much as a green horn as other new recruits that came along. My life in the Essex Yeomanry wasn’t very eventful, just one or two little amusing bits. The first day I went on parade, the sergeant major called out the names and then said, ‘anybody’s name I haven’t called out, step forward’. I step forward one pace, and he said, ‘hello, and where you come from’, and I said, rather nonplussed and I didn’t know what to say, ‘oh, I’ve come from Turkey’, he said, ‘what, you bloody Turk!’, of course that was that. My name after that in the 6th Yeomanry was ‘Turkey’, I was known by the nickname of ‘Turkey’ by all my pals. The next little amusing thing was when I first got on to a horse, my first riding school effort. There were several other recruits there, and I was on the horse, in the first ride, the beginners class, the corporal looked at me and said, ‘hello, where you come from?’. So I said, I’ve only just arrived, I am a recruit. So he looked at me, and said, ‘where did you learn your riding’. I said, ‘I haven’t learned any riding’. He said, ‘don’t talk to me like that, when I say you’ve been on a horse before, you’ve been on a horse before. Where have you been on a horse before?’ So I sort of looked at him, and I said, ‘not much horse riding, but I’ve done an awful lot of donkey riding out in Turkey’. Of course the whole crowd laughed and he laughed, and that was that. But I did get on well, I was keen young soldier, kept myself fairly smart, took part in all the activities, particularly in football, and there I think I rather shone, especially after our squadron played another squadron and half time we were down rather badly, 3 love against us, or something like that, chiefly because everybody was wrongly placed. The sergeant was acting as our non-playing captain, and he just shoved the chaps in different places without knowing anything at all about how they played. And at half time, I went up to the sergeant and I said, ‘look sergeant, all this steam is wrong, completely wrongly placed. Can I switch them round a bit.’ ‘Well, you doing so damn badly, you do what you jolly well, what you like. I don’t care a damn what you do, but you can’t do worse than you doing now.’ So I switched them around, and the result was from a half time 3 love score against us, we beat the opposing side 5-3, we scored 5 times in the second half. Of course that made my reputation, and next thing I knew, I was picked to play for the whole of the battalion. And later I was picked to play for the whole of the shop command.
I forgot to record something that happened in 1912, this is when Winston Churchill and his wife and Mr and Mrs Effie Smith, later Lord Birkenhead, came out to Smyrna. Father had a message from the British consul general saying that 2 rather important people wanted to come and see him, and in due course they arrived. Winston and Effie Smith, they wanted a special train, and wanted to visit the whole of the British railway line right to the terminus at Egridir, and to stop at certain places on the way, which were of interest. Places like Ephesus, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and so on; in due course terms were arranged and father agreed to let Churchill have a special train, and he gave him the general manager’s special carriage. A beautiful carriage with bedrooms, sitting rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, and everything else and men to look after them, cater for them. And then there was a bit of a bomb shell, Winston said, ‘we want a seat, like a garden seat, fixed in front of the engine’. Father said, ‘sorry, nothing doing, I can’t have that’, anyhow Churchill insisted, and father insisted he couldn’t have it. Still, in due course they got a compromise fixed up, father said, ‘I’ll have that seat put there for you, but I must make one or two conditions. One is I am going to have a strap right across the seat, and you’ll give me your undertaking, that no one will sit on that seat, while the train is going, unless that strap is properly fixed. The second condition is that you will not sit on that front seat, when the train is going through a tunnel. There are only 3 or 4 tunnels on the whole line, but those tunnels are not like those in Britain, they are not brick lined. They were cut through solid rock, and frequently, a lump or rock would drop through the vibration of the train. So Churchill said, ‘right we give you that undertaking’. And father said, ‘one more undertaking’. I want it in writing that is that you will hold the company and me personally entirely blameless if anything should happen to you. You are important people, and I am not risking my position, my reputation or anything else unless I have your undertaking to fulfil these conditions. Churchill agreed. Well the thing was all set up, and next morning at 8 o’clock father came down from our village of Boudjah to see them off. The best railway engine we had was put to the train and a special engine driver called Stavery, a Greek, short stumpy little fellow with a little pointy beard, but he knew a little English, he was our star driver and he was put in charge of the train, so off they started. Before they went father called Stavery across to him and said, ‘look Stavery, you know your orders, you will not drive that train through any tunnel, if there is anybody sitting in the front seat.’ ‘Yes, yes Mr Holton, I understand’ said Stavery, and off they went. Of course in due course the natural thing happened, they went to Ephesus and stopped at Ephesus for 3 or 4 hours while they visited the ruins, and when the party came back, front of the engine again, and off they went, very steep incline and 2 tunnels to go through. They got outside the first tunnel, and Stavery pulled up the train, got off his engine, went to the front and said, ‘please we now go through a tunnel, will you now please go into the train’. Old Churchill waved him aside and said ‘no, no, go on, go on, drive on, drive on.’ So Stavery said ‘no I’m sorry, you heard my general manager’s instructions, my orders are not to drive this train if you are sitting there, and I will not drive this train if stay in front of the engine, on that seat’. They argued a bit, but in due course, they had to give way, and the whole party came inside. I wonder what poor old Stavery felt later on, when he saw the position of importance that Churchill had risen to when he felt that he, an engine driver, was able to order Churchill back into the railway carriage. But of course another thought crosses my mind; how the whole course of history could be changed, governed by one little incident or accident. I have often wondered, what the fate of the world would have been, had my father not taken those precautions, and had Churchill sat in front of that engine and a lump of rock dropped and knocked or killed him or had some really serious effect on him, for his future life.
1- An anecdote recalled by the now Paris resident Mrs Gwen Giraud is that when Churchill visited Smyrna, he sprained his ankle, but being the cheeky sort, dropped his trousers at the clinic run by the English lady, Sister Grace, much to her annoyance.
2- According to Richard Langworth, editor of the Churchill centre, WBC got the idea of riding at the front of the engine in 1908 in Africa, the way in which he saw much of the continent and in their archives they have a photo of him so mounted.
The paragraph above, with an introductory background text has been submitted by me to the editor, and has been published with accompanying photos in the 126/Spring 2005 issue of ‘Finest hour’ journal.
3- The editor has been kind enough to provide this extra information: ‘I was able to determine that the date was actually 1910, and Martin Gilbert pointed out the episode in his book, which fits so nicely with Francis Holton’s recollections!’
Sir Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life records the Churchill visit, during a two-month holiday cruise of the Mediterranean and Aegean aboard Baron de Forest’s yacht ‘Honor’:
“At the Turkish port of Smyrna, accompanied by ‘a proper escort against brigands,’ Churchill went on a special train the whole length of the British-built railway to Aidin, ‘with a seat fitted up on the cow-catcher,’ a journey of 260 miles. There was ‘no better way,’ he told [Foreign Secretary Sir Edward] Grey, ‘of seeing a country in a flash.’ Reflecting on his travels through Greece and Turkey, he told the Foreign Secretary, ‘The only view I have formed about this part of the world of ruined civilisations & harshly jumbled races is this—why can’t England & Germany come together in strong action & for the general advantage?’”
Reverting to my life in the Essex Yeomanry and then on to Salonica, and was sent to Athens with Grant MacLachlan, P.S. and Charlie Gout. We got to Athens, reported to the embassy and we were allotted to various jobs. What had happened in Athens was this. Just before we arrived in Athens, about an hour before we got in to Piraeus harbour, we passed a big liner called the ‘King Constantine’ and we didn’t know it at the time, but on this liner was King Constantine himself, the king of Greece who had been deposed by the allies, that is the British and the French, who had decided to take control of the affairs in Greece. Venizelos who had been deposed himself as prime minister, by the king was then recalled and he took over the government of Greece, more or less under the instructions of the Franco-British alliance. The allies then decided for the safety of the British army in Salonica, it was essential that certain services should be completely controlled by the allies. Hence the arrival in Athens of us 4. We got there and we found that there was already a naval, or nucleus of officers who had been allotted to control the various ports in Greece. Grant MacLachlan found that his brother Bruce who was working with Compton Mackenzie in the islands on intelligence also frequently came into Piraeus, so he had an opportunity on meeting him. Grant and P.S. and Charlie Gout went on port control in Piraeus. Because my father had been manager of a railway and I had worked in my father’s office, not that I knew much about railways, but I was the only one who knew anything about railways. So our boss, General Beaumont said, ‘right Holton, you’re the only one who has any chance of doing anything, so you are going down to the Athens railway station, after you had a chance of seeing how the French are doing things there, to report to me as to the best way of controlling the Greek railways. Now don’t forget that I was not 20 years old yet and I was put down there to report on the controlling of the Greek railways. Luckily there was a very nice French captain who was already trying to organise some form of control and he was a great help, and after I spent a couple of days with him, he showed me everything and told me everything I wanted and I was able to write a report for General Beaumont in which I could point out quite wisely I think, that it was impossible to control the Greek railways unless we had a personnel of at least half a dozen officers and quite a number of senior NCOs all with a knowledge of Greek. The NCOs to travel on the long distance trains say from Athens to Salonica and so on, who could have some control on the train like that, and the British officers would be stationed at certain principal stations like Athens, Larissa, Salonica and so on, from where they could control sections.
Notes: 1- The later to be knighted Compton Mackenzie became director of the Aegean Intelligence Service and wrote a book covering his memories of this period (1917-1918) - Aegean memories - published in 1940 by by Chatto and Windus, London. At the outbreak of war in 1914, when living on the Italian Isle of Capri, Compton Mackenzie tried unsuccessfully to get into the Seaforth Highlanders but had to settle for a commission in the Royal Marines. He spent an exciting and glamorous three years as a secret service agent serving in the Dardanelles and later headed the British Aegean Intelligence Service. These adventures resulted in four volumes of war memories, of which the first book was Gallipoli Memories, published 1929.
2- We can get more insight into Grant MacLachlan’s wartime experiences through his father’s memoirs here, nicely complimenting the information in this account.
Well when I sent my report in to General Beaumont, he looked at it and said ‘well this is really excellent but, it seems to me that it cannot be done, without as you say, quite a number of more officers and NCOs and these are simply not available. So I think we should have to throw the ball back to the French and let the French control the railways throughout Greece and let us concentrate on controlling the ports’. Which was a very wise move, I was then sent down to Piraeus to join the others and quite a number of naval people there. Our boss was commander Rogers assisted by lieutenant commander Campbell, and then there was just 3 or 4 of us army chaps, who had the job of controlling the actual port. Our duties consisted of living on a small yacht which had been requisitioned and we had 2 motor boats and every ship that came in had to anchor in the outer harbour, whilst one of us, whoever it was on duty had to board the ship, examine the cargo manifest, the crew list and if there were any passengers also the passenger list. We had the right to search the ship and to report on anything irregular that we found, quite an interesting job, but on the whole not very eventful. Now and again something would happen, but very seldom which necessitated something a bit special, like the day that the old duke of Connaught arrived in Piraeus, he was visiting the king of Greece and I was called in by Commander Rogers as I was on duty the next morning and I was told there was a British warship coming in first thing daylight and I was to board her and show the captain a place that had been reserved for him to moor this cruiser HMS Lowestoft, which I did. I didn’t know who the important person on board was and I clambered on to the ship, before she came in to the outer harbour, went up to the bridge and to my surprise I saw an elderly field marshal, that I recognised as the duke of Connaught at once, but I also found a civilian pilot who had the job of bringing in the HMS Lowestoft in to her mooring berth. So really my presence there was completely and absolutely unnecessary, cause I felt very very small, I was only a second lieutenant, and facing rear admirals, naval captains, field marshals and really having nothing to do. Nevertheless all went well and a few days later there was a reception given at the British embassy where we were all invited and to my surprise I found that the duke of Connaught was present, and also the newly appointed king of Greece king Alexander who later on died as a result of a monkey bite from one of his pet monkeys, Mr Venizelos himself. We were all presented in turn to his majesty, to the duke of Connaught and to Mr Venizelos and while we were there, we were told we were all given a rather important Greek decoration, the order of the redeemer, which was a very senior decoration and seldom given to anybody under the rank of a full colonel in the Greek army. But I suppose to commemorate and to honour the presence of the duke of Connaught, the king of Greece, distributed these orders of the redeemer to each one of the British officers who was serving there. Well it wasn’t a greatly merited decoration, but it is one which is very highly regarded by the Greeks and if one only mentions to a Greek of any rank of status in society that one holds the order of the redeemer, one goes up in their estimation very very high. Rather like Greek who may tell an Englishman that he has the order of merit or that sort. Well that was that.
From Athens in due course, I was sent down to Patras, to help a naval lieutenant Maska, to do port control work in Patras in the gulf of Corinth, a most unsatisfactory posting, for Maska was a conceited drunkard who did nothing except socialise with one or two French and Italian officers who were there, and all the work was left to me, the whole darn lot. This went on for a few months and I couldn’t very well complain, but one day commander Rogers came down from Athens and I had an opportunity to have a few words with him, without saying too much against Maska, I did implore him to take me back to Piraeus, as I was most unhappy in Patras. This he did within a matter of a couple of weeks of going back to Piraeus, he sent orders down to me to return to Piraeus with my kit and in due course luckily for me I wasn’t there, but Maska was put under arrest and court martialled for misappropriation of funds which he’d been using for his own pleasures, irrespective of whether he had any permission to overdraw the invest account or not. He just used this money and in due course when Rogers sent down somebody to look at his books they found that something like £200-£300 overdrawn without authority. So he got the boot. In the meantime I went back to Piraeus and various of my friends had changed things a bit, Grant MacLachlan had gone to Crete.
The Greeks by now had come in to the war themselves and felt that the control of the ports should not be entirely in the hands of the British. They didn’t mind the British being in charge of each port, but they insisted they should be assisted by Greek officers. This didn’t work out too well, for the Greek officers were very slap-dash, and they were not going to cause any trouble with their own Greek ships and captains, and shortly afterwards I asked Rogers to get me transferred back to Salonica, back to the army as I wasn’t too happy with the conditions as they were.
The only thing of note that I did there was that one day we had a note from the chief of the British intelligence in Greece, saying that there was a certain man called Geristatis, who was expected to arrive in Greece sooner or later, carrying correspondence from the king of Greece, Constantine, who was now exiled in Switzerland to his underground supporters in Greece, presumably for the purpose of starting some trouble. You see Constantine’s wife, Queen Sophia was sister of German Kaiser, hence the allied suspicion that Constantine was in the pay and under the influence of the Germans. We got this note saying that this Greek Geristatis was expected sometime or another and we were told to keep an eye open to see if he came by sea. It just did happen that one day a ship did arrive with a fairly short passenger list and on this list we found the name of Geristatis. I had him held for 5 minutes whilst a Greek sailor and I went down to his cabin and searched his luggage and cabin, and we found the correspondence that we wanted, a whole bundle of letters in a little leather case. So we took him ashore and handed him to the harbour master and the Greek harbour police, and informed the British authorities that we got the man, and he was under arrest. I had a personal letter of thanks and congratulations later from General Beaumont for having spotted him. I don’t think there was anything other special than that; whilst in Piraeus of course we had plenty of time for bathing in the harbour as our home was in, as I said before, on a requisitioned yacht and I also bought myself a little dingy with a sail and I used to do quite a lot of sailing in an around Piraeus. Later when I went back to the Salonica front and back to the army, Grant MacLachlan who was in Crete had written to me asking me whether I could get him a boat. I sent to him on one of the boats that went from Athens to Crete, so I sold my little boat to Grant MacLachlan. So it had another life with Grant at the helm.
Well I went back to Salonica, I went on to back area work with a man called Charnaud, five military policemen and five native brigands, and we kept ‘comitagis’, but they were mountain men, born and bred in the mountains, very very loyal, exceedingly conscientious, exceedingly brave and their main job was to lie up in the mountains along trails that escaped prisoners or spies coming in from across the line, trying to work their way to Salonica, along trails that they would use. They would catch different people as they came through, and they also had friends in every village and we had 36 villagers under our control. They got news of any suspicious characters that came to these villages and quite frequently we would then raid these villages using the British military police and we would either find escaped prisoners who’d escaped from prison compounds down in Salonica and were working their way back trying to get over the lines or else traces of men who had crossed the line in the other direction and coming back in to Salonica for spying purposes. They would use these villages where they had sympathisers perhaps, to change their uniform and put on civilian clothes, and there you are. Of course these people weren’t Germans, they were Bulgarians and Macedonians who knew the country and knew the place well and it was up to us to catch them if we could; we did get a few. I stayed with Charnaud for about 6 months, after which things were happening up at the front and intelligence officers were needed by the fighting units, and I was sent up to the 27th division up on the Vardar [river flowing in from Macedonia].
Notes: For reference war maps and images of the Salonica front are viewable here:
Archive postcard views of the city of Salonica are viewable here:
Now this was quite a different game. Here we had a front and my duties were quite different. The intelligence officer of the brigade had an observation post and the certain duties there were the occasional deserters that came in, prisoners were taken, and we carried out our first interrogation of these chaps before they were passed down, and we also had various other duties. There was nothing very exciting that happened while I was there, we had a very fine and happy little mess, brigadier, his staff captain, brigade major, his Adc, the Mo, the padre and myself, and we had a fairly happy time, nothing very much happened until the big offensive. We had the Vardar on our right, on our left was a Greek division, and on their left was a Serbian division, and the Serbs were undoubtedly the finest fighters in the whole of the Middle East, probably some of the finest fighters in the whole of the allied armies. Wonderful hard men, brave, who could climb mountains and get across country, over any territory, nearly as fast as blessed cars can get across the M1 today. Well we chased the Bulgarians right across Macedonia, till we got to Cressenar pass. Now the Cressenar is about 35 km long and the Bulgarian armies all had converged on this one pass. It was only about 40 to 50 yards wide, a rushing river some 20 yards wide, a narrow decovil railway line, and the road. Then on each side were very steep, very high craggy cliffs. The Bulgarian entered this pass as an organised fighting army, but by the time the RFC [Royal Flying Corps], as it was known in those days, who had half a dozen bombers, finished with them, just going backwards and forwards, loading up bombs, coming along, dropping them, going back, getting more bombs, dropping them, with these cliffs on each side, the concussions of the exploding bombs must have been terrible, for when we came through chasing after the Bulgarians, there was the proof all along. Lorries and guns overturned, onto the railway line, into the river, on the road, bodies of men and horses smashed up against the rocks, anyhow the Bulgarian army came out the other end as a rabble. As they came through the other end, they just threw away their arms and went home, and that was the end of the Bulgarian war, and the armistice was singed on 30th of September or something like that. From there we were going on to meet the Turks so we had to switch around, but by the time we had gone very far, a week or so, the Turks had themselves surrendered. Then we had to come all the way back, hundreds of miles, back to Salonica, where I went with one of the brigades to Chanak on the Dardanelles. We had quite a length of period there, most interesting, of course war was over as far as we were concerned; a lot of riding and swimming and a quite a lot of interesting things to do and see, especially going through and over the very old forts that the Turks had in the Dardanelles. There are about 8 or 10 of these forts on each side of the straits, very old but most extraordinarily efficient. There was no stone work at all, just earth works with slits for the big guns to fire through, and we were surprised at the guns they had. The shells were absolutely anti-diluvian in appearance, but the size of the guns made one gasp. An American general that I had the honour to take round one day, to show him some of these forts, looked at one of the dates, amazed to see 1897 and they had 13.5 inch guns. ‘And do you know we in America in 1897 had one, just one 9 inch gun, which was the pride of our army and the greatest military secret weapon as we thought! And here these people had all the time 13.5.’ We stayed in the Dardanelles for quite a time and then went up to Constantinople, and the divisional headquarters went on to the Asiatic side at a place called Moda, not far from a place called Kadiköy and Scutari, Scutari of course being the place where Florence Nightingale had her famous hospital. We were in Moda for quite a time, really having an army of occupation comfortable time. We requisitioned 2 big hotels which became both our office headquarters and living quarters. We organised a very fine mess and we were there for quite a time. Whilst there I was able to have one short leave and I went to Smyrna where mother and father had now returned and I spent 10 days with them, and then back again to Istanbul. Another few months and I was given one or two odd jobs to do, one of which was to go back to the Dardanelles, where I picked up an Indian groom and a batman and 4 horses, one each for us and one as a pack horse. I was given £200 in gold and a map with certain districts and roads which were actually non-existent, marked out and army headquarters wanted a report on this particular district inland. So this batman, groom and myself, with four horses and we had 3 weeks of finding our own way from place to place, all around the interior of the Dardanelles. I had to report on the state of the roads, bridges, the terrain whether it was hilly, marshy, healthy, malarial and so on, the attitude of the natives, whether they were friendly or not and so on. This was quite an experience. There was I, I was 21 and I had this job, which I think was quite a big job for a youngster that age. We went round these villages, and I was making reports and taking photographs of certain rivers and bridges and so on, and every night we’d stop at a village where we were always very well received and one mustn’t forget that the people in these villages had never seen a British officer or probably a Britisher at all. There were no hotels, no nothing, but every village had a little guest room, empty, no furniture, just a hole in the wall one end for fire, and you were welcome to put your bed down and sleep there. It was always kept clean, mud floor, and I would always send for the headman of the village and of course he would come along accompanied by 2 or 3 other chaps. Then there would be an argument as to food, who was going to supply the food, we were prepared to pay for it. But these people wouldn’t hear of such a thing, we were guests. The headman would say, ‘well my wife will kill a chicken’ or something else; the schoolmaster would probably insist that he was the only man in the village who could read and write, he was the educated man, it is up to him to entertain the honoured guests, so his wife would supply the food. And then somebody else would say, ‘I am the richest man here, I am the biggest land owner, I am going to do this, my wife and I are going to kill a lamb and we’ll have roasted lamb’, and so on and so forth. I also had to supply fine food for the horses, mostly grain of course, they could of course graze a little bit, and after staying there a night or possibly two, we’d move on. Try to pay, and they would really look at you blankly, absolutely insulted that you should have even thought of paying. You were their guests and they were honoured to look after you and to provide you with food and so on and we didn’t even have to pay for any food for the horses. The only thing I could do, was whenever the opportunity did arise and the opportunity did not arise very often was to stock up on sweets and a lot of small change and before leaving calling on the many kids, there were always plenty of kids about, to my side, and dishing out a few coins, pennies and sixpences to various kids and perhaps a few sweets and chocolates but of course I did not have many sweets to give, the opportunity of buying sweets were very few and far between. None of these villages had any shops or anything at all. Got back eventually back to Constantinople, up to headquarters, sent in my report accompanied by a lot of photographs and the £200 that they had given me to spend I gave them back about £190, 3 weeks, 3 men, 4 horses and all we’d spent was about £10 and that was practically all for the little gifts for the various children we came across.
Well having done that I thought it was time to get back to civilian life, and I applied for my demob, this I was given, came back to England, and in due course I was repatriated back to Turkey. Then I was going to join Francis for his tobacco growing efforts. Now I think I should go back a bit and see what’s happened to the other members of the family. First of all Francis, he was in Smyrna course of the war, in Boudjah of course, free to do what he wanted, except for 3 days when all the Britishers in Smyrna and the suburbs were rounded up and kept under guard, because British warships were shelling the outer forts in the gulf of Smyrna. Now, this of course was quite understandable, and there was no ill feeling towards the Turks, and it only lasted 3 days, and they were freed again. Francis lived in the servants’ quarters in the house in Boudjah. The Turks had taken over the whole house but they let him stay in the servants’ quarters with a couple of rooms, a wash house, a kitchen, and a downstairs loo, so he was able to stay there. As far as earning a living was concerned, well we had the vineyard, and Francis kept on working the vineyard with the help of 2 other English lads, quiet lads, young Oliver Ashe, Bobby Ashe’s brother and Arthur Heginbotham and they made enough money to keep body and soul together, for the rest of the war, grapes and raisins, selling some, and using a lot themselves of course and they survived. After the war, Francis then started tobacco farming.
But now I have to go back and talk about father and other members of the family. Father carried on with his work at the Metropol hotel with the ministry of munitions till the end of the war. And then the war office wanted the railway in Smyrna to be got back to operation and told father to go off at a moments notice. In the meantime, Alfred who was killed at the end of the war had got married, and his widow, Connie, joined mother and father and they went back to Smyrna. The war office was so keen to get father back quickly that they rushed him to Dover, Dover to Calais by destroyer, caught the fast express to Marseilles, all at government’s expense, and a destroyer waiting for him at Marseilles which went at full speed from there to Smyrna, a couple of days of fast travelling. Father restarted the railway. This went on for a bit and the railway still had its own shall I say, unwritten law, of a civil engineer as general manager. Father was no civil engineer, so they had to find one. And they found a certain general De Candall, retired, who had been general manager of the Buenos Aires and great southern railway. They fished him out and brought him to Smyrna, as general manager, with my father as his assistant. Well De Candall was an absolute washout, he made an unholy mess of things and in 1921 [1922 in reality] when the fire of Smyrna took place, he bolted.
So now I have to digress and come back to what caused the fire of Smyrna and then I will proceed to describe the happening inside Smyrna at the time of the fire. See the fire came about as a result of the peace treaty of 1918-19. I was in Constantinople at the time and saw how the Turks felt about this peace treaty. Whatever one thinks of the harsh terms of the peace treaty against Germany, this was nothing as compared to the harshness of to the peace treaty against Turkey. Turkey lost practically everything, all the islands around Turkey, some of them within practically within stone’s throw from the Turkish coast were taken over and given to the Greeks. Then of course there was the mainland; on the mainland Turkey lost all but just a few square miles in Europe, on the Asiatic side, well lets start with Africa, she lost Egypt to the British, then in Asia she lost Palestine to the league of nations who put Britain in as administrator, she also lost Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Arabia, Mesopotamia, now Iraq, and up in the Caucuses she lost 2 big provinces to the Russians, Azerbaijan and Armenia. And as if this wasn’t enough, when the conference was held in Paris, the Greeks who had already been given all the islands demanded Smyrna. Why the Allies ever gave Smyrna to the Greeks, I don’t know. No one can really understand it, but Smyrna was the life blood of the whole country. It was the third or fourth most important port in the Mediterranean, and certainly the most important port in Turkey. All the products of the whole of Asia Minor came to Europe and America via Smyrna. Be tobacco, figs, raisins, minerals, god knows what, they all came through Smyrna, and this was taken and given to the Greeks. The Turks felt very very bitter about this indeed. I was in Constantinople with the army of occupation at the time, and saw the heart-rending scenes of Turks crying in the street. Every house nearly had a Turkish flag at half mast draped in black. Every little bum boat in the harbour also had a little flag dressed in black. All the ferry boats, all the steam ships, every thing you could think of that could fly a flag, flew a flag at half mast draped in black.
The Greeks arrived in Smyrna under the protection of British warships. They landed and they behaved atrociously on landing. And I heard this from a British naval officer who was concerned with the escorting of the Greeks into Smyrna. He told me that they saw Greeks bashing people over the head who were wearing fezzes and throwing them into the sea. On his ship, all hands had to ordered below deck because the British sailors were uncovering guns and getting ready to shell and fire on the Greeks who were doing this massacring of the Turks. Anyway the Greeks were not content with occupying Smyrna, they wanted a bit of hinterland, so they took 5 or 6 miles all around Smyrna. And then they started going a bit further and a bit further, this went on and on and on. Now Smyrna had a very large portion of Greek speaking inhabitants, Christians, some of them of course were Turkish nationals. But as you went inland, so the population became more and more Turkish and after about 20-25 miles there were no Greeks at all, they were all Turks. But the Greeks still went on advancing, pushing, pushing and pushing, no resistance, and eventually they got about 300 miles into the interior [archive views of this campaign]. Just as though the Germans had been given Southampton, and within 18 months they were in Glasgow. Well Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Ataturk, he raised the flag of revolution against the sultan and the people rallied to him. The sultan was in Constantinople completely under the dominion and influence of the allies. Mustafa Kemal set up his headquarters in Ankara. Hundreds and thousands of Turkish soldiers coming back from the war, most of them had to walk all the way from Palestine were coming home, no jobs, in tattered uniforms, most of them had their rifles with them and of course they all rallied to Mustafa Kemal’s army as at least something to do. And of course one way of perhaps venting their hatred of the Greeks. So Mustafa Kemal went on building this army and the Greeks went on advancing. Now the Greeks made a dreadful mistake, what the Greek generals were thinking of, I just don’t know, for the very junior second lieutenant in the British army could not have ever done what the Greeks did. They advanced 300 miles without bringing in any more armies from Greece, just the original army of occupation was stretched, and stretched and stretched, just like a piece of elastic. And of course as it stretched every so many miles, they had to leave a dump of arms and food and so on, and the troops left to advance further, got less and less and by the time they gone 300 miles as they did, it was quite a weak army. Kemal Ataturk had commanded the Turkish forces in the Dardanelles, at the time of our attack there and he was no mean general. He put up his army and waited behind the Sakarya river, not a very wide river, but enough to form a bit of an obstacle, he was about 250,000 strong and by the time the Greeks got there, they had very small forces indeed. He put about 5,000 troops across on the Greek side of the river with instructions that they were to offer token resistance and at a given point they were to bolt and rush back over the bridge and go on running, so the Greeks could chase after them. This in due course happened, the Greeks chased after them over the bridge and there were a quarter a million Turks all dug in waiting for them. What had taken the Greeks 18 months to occupy, the Turks got the whole lot back in about 10 days. They chased the Greeks all the way to Smyrna and of course they had all the Greek dumps in different places to feed them and of course the native population was all on their side. The Greek generals had never taken that into consideration, they had stretched that bit of elastic till it got to breaking point, all in enemy territory, the people keeping Mustafa Kemal informed of all the Greeks’ doings, comings and goings, and the Greeks on their side not knowing anything that Mustafa Kemal was doing.
Anyhow, in Smyrna then everybody bolted who had anything to do with the government, the police, army, fire brigade, postal services, everybody bolted. Allied and foreign ships came into Smyrna by the hundreds to take people out. Big British men-o-war, battle-cruisers, battleships came in as well and most of the foreigners were taken off. Of the Greek speaking population many escaped but of course a lot had to stay there, couldn’t all get away and after a bit the fire of Smyrna broke out. My brother Francis and his wife Katie, and a new born baby, John, went on board one of the British merchantmen, and Francis and Katie were on the stern of the ship moored to the quayside. One of Katie’s friends, Gladys Routh who was secretary of the British consul, came down to the quay and called out to Katie, ‘Katie, what have you got with you? What clothes and things have you got?’. Katie called back, ‘just what I am standing up in and nothing else at all.’ Gladys Routh took off her coat, made a bundle of it and threw it up to Katie. She took off her dress, made a bundle of it, and threw it up to Katie. She took off her shoes and threw them up to Katie. And she had to walk back to the consulate in her underclothes and without her shoes. I am going to say that Gladys Routh was later given an OBE.
The other British population in Smyrna had all been warned by the consulate to be ready to evacuate and here again the British knack of knowing how to do things and organising things came into play and as far as we were concerned, Boudjah was five miles from Smyrna; my father lived in the company house next to the station, there was no telephone service, the only communication was by the railway telegraph. So the consulate asked my father to be the consular representative in Boudjah and instructions could be sent by the railway telegraph to my father who lived right alongside the station. In due course instructions were sent to my father, ‘tell all the Britishers in Boudjah to leave within the next 36 hours, ship waiting for them in the harbour’. Now father had the job of walking, on his flat feet of course, to all these various English houses; Boudjah was a big village, with 11-12,000 inhabitants and he told me about this afterwards. He went from house to house, telling people what the consulate had said, what their instructions were, and he also had to go and see a very elderly gentleman and his wife, a Mr and Mrs Barff who lived at the other end of the village, and father described it to me this way. He said, ‘if ever I was scared, it was this time. Shooting was going on right and left, all over the place, and I had to walk past the ‘Konak’ which is the gendarmerie, little barracks, and there were Turkish soldiers sitting just outside these barracks all trigger happy, with their rifles on their knees, no one visible anywhere, and I had to walk past them, that was alright as long as I was facing them, but then I had about 200 yards to walk uphill towards the Barff’s house within sight of these soldiers, all of them of course down from the mountains and they didn’t know an Englishman from a Chinaman, and anyhow I had no means of identifying myself as being a Britisher. I daren’t run as I knew if I ran they’d shoot, so I walked steadily as fast as I thought was safe and I went to the Barffs and told them what the consulate instructions were, and I said, what do you think?’ They said, ‘ohh, we’re not going take no notice of the consulate. We’re not going to leave, we’re going to stay here, we like the Turks, quite good enough for us, we’ll stay here’, and then I had the job of walking all the way back again. This time not quite so bad because I was facing the gendarmes, the soldiers at this barracks place, I walked passed them, right along past the English church and the church yard, quite a long straight road, and then out of a doorway stepped out Mr Bourdalakis. Now I must explain that Mr Bourdalakis was a Greek, he was the chief smuggler of tobacco in the Smyrna district and he was known as such. And Bourdalakis of course as a smuggler, although he had made a lot of money, he was a wealthy man, he was looked down upon by virtually all the decent folk and certainly by all the British. Bourdalakis stepped out and he said, ‘excuse me Mr Holton, but Mr and Mrs De Jongh’, they were some Dutch people who were treated as really English people, always came to our church and so on, ‘have been shot dead and are lying just at the entrance of their house’. So I went back with him, and he took one, and I took the other on our backs, dead and we carried them to the English Protestant church yard that I had passed coming back from the Barffs. We shut the door and lay them on the ground amongst the other graves and I then had an idea, cause next to the English church and the churchyard was a high wall, and on the other side of the high wall was a Franciscan [actually Capuchin] monastery and I said to Bourdalakis, you find some sort of implement, a fork, a spade or anything you can and dig a shallow grave. I am going over the wall to the monastery. Father clambered over the wall to the monastery and after some time came back again with a Franciscan monk. Now to all those who feel that religion and differences of religion are so important. Father came back with a Franciscan monk, a Roman Catholic, Bourdalakis was a Greek Orthodox man, if he had any religion at all, and he dug the grave. The monk said prayers and read the burial service in the Roman Catholic fashion. The other 2 present, one was a hard-bitten British Anglican Protestant businessman and the other was a smuggler, Greek Orthodox, and in the presence of death and for the last rites, these 3 so different persons were united. After the war, I once said something about Bourdalakis and he insisted that I call him, ‘Mr Bourdalakis, he is a gentleman whatever else he is’. Well father and mother stayed at home for another day and then father decided - as I said before, De Candall, the general manager, he bolted - that he and mother should go down in to town into Smyrna and they went to the general manager’s house along side the railway station, inform the consulate all the other Britishers had gone, mother and father were the last to leave. The consulate told them to stay there until such time that somebody came to fetch them, but not to go to bed at night, to just sit in comfortable chairs and sleep in comfortable chairs with their bags packed. On the second night about 2 o’clock in the morning, knock at the door, a British naval officer with about 20 men, sailors, told father and mother to follow them, they walked in the middle flanked by about 10 British sailors on each side and this officer in front and the sailors carrying their bags. They went to the nearest point on the quay, where a British pinnace from HMS Iron Duke was waiting. They got on the Iron Duke and from there they went to Malta. Amongst the things that happened in Smyrna, mother described how coming down from Boudjah to Smyrna on the train, everything was upside down, everybody was shocked. There was a Greek woman in the carriage with a baby in one arm and a parcel in the other, half way down to Smyrna, the poor dear was so distraught she decided to throw out the parcel and concentrate on just carrying the baby, but she was so distraught she threw the baby out of the window and held on to the parcel, till she found out what she had done and then just shrieked.
On the funnier side of things however, father also described what he saw; a Greek soldier being chased by a Turkish soldier, a the Greek soldier was riding a donkey and the Turkish soldier a little pony, they were 2-300 yards away from each other and they were chasing each other on the quay. The Turkish soldier was trying to fire his rifle whilst riding this pony, of course an aim not within yards of the Greek on the donkey. The Greek looked round and saw the Turk was rather gaining on him, so he saw a little rowing boat tied to quayside, pulled up his donkey, jumped off, jumped into this rowing boat, put the oars out and started rowing like hell to the nearest ship. By the time the Turk got to the spot, jumped off his horse, and went on shooting at this Greek, the Greek had rowed a 100 or 2 yards. The Turk of course was absolutely out of breath and his rifle was shaking all over the place and these bullets were going yards away from the boat the Greek was in. Well that’s that.
In the meantime of course the town of Smyrna was burning. Father did say what an awesome sight it was that evening as the Iron Duke went off towards Malta and in the back saw the whole town, from one end to the other in one huge blaze of fire. Now one has said, as I said to my father, ‘who burnt Smyrna, how did it burn? Was it the Turks or was it the Greeks?’ Father of course gave me the absolutely right answer, ‘the Greeks, oh no, the Greeks wouldn’t burn Smyrna, they were too damned keen to get out as quick as they could to save their skins, oh they couldn’t stop to burn anything.’ So I said, ‘well then the Turks.’ He said, ‘no of course not, why should the Turks burn Smyrna, that’s what they’d been fighting for, this is the jewel that they’ve recaptured. They weren’t going to recapture their jewel and then chuck it away by burning it, no no.’ So this is what happened undoubtedly, the fire brigade had all bolted, the police had all bolted, everybody had bolted. But there is no doubt that in the Armenian quarter, which was one of the poorest quarters of Smyrna, there must have been plenty of bad characters, who thought this was a good opportunity to pay back old scores, to murder, to loot or to do anything. Undoubtedly there was plenty of paying back of old scores in that quarter and to cover their tracks, they would upset an oil lamp and set fire to whatever was there. A lot of those houses were built of wood, no fire brigade, every afternoon the ‘imbat’ blew, a special wind you get in the Levant in the spring and summer time every afternoon, and that spread the flames. Without any fire brigade or police to do anything about it, they just spread and spread until the whole of Smyrna was burnt down.
Now father went to Malta, and all the railway people also had been taken to Malta, where the British government had organised hotels, to put all these Britishers up and that was that. They had to wait there till they could get back again to Smyrna. From Malta father came over to London, to see the board of directors and to report, because as I said, De Candall had bolted and in due course father was sent back as general manager and to hell with having civil engineers or any special person to run the railway. As the board told my father, ‘we want somebody who knows the Turks, and somebody who knows the country and somebody who knows the railway and somebody who is loyal to the company’ and father was appointed general manager. Now that is as far as that is concerned, but one or two things must be said.
After all this the allies who had sent the Greeks to Smyrna, decided to look into the matter once again. So they didn’t drive out the Turks from Smyrna, but there were some half a million Greeks in Turkey and some half a million Turks in Greece, particularly in Thrace, between Salonica and Constantinople. So all these clever politicians, Mr Lloyd George, Mr Quancarré, Mr Wilson of America, sat on their back sides in Paris and decided the best thing to do would be to take all the Greeks from Turkey and send them to Greece and all the Turks from Greece and send them to Turkey. Half a million lives in each case, about a million people, to be just taken up, uprooted and sent to another country. Most of them would have been farmers who knew their conditions and their crops, the weather, the markets and to be taken up and sent to another country where they wouldn’t know either weather, markets, crops or methods of tilling the ground. So came the greatest scandal of all when 1 million people were uprooted and sent from one country to another. The Turks arriving from Greece to Turkey were regarded with great suspicion by the Turks. The Greeks who came to Greece from Turkey were called ‘Turkish dogs’ by the Greeks and nothing was done to rehabilitate them or to house them. I know for a fact that 7 or 8 years later, I was in the Swiss bank in London, and father would come to me and say, ‘I want you to write me a letter for me in Greek to the wife of Athanasis’. Athanasis was a man that we used to employ in our vineyard in Boudjah. Father knew he was dead, or was pretty certain of it, but his wife didn’t know it and father didn’t want to tell her that, but he used to send her a little money, not much, £5, £6 each time every 2 or 3 months. A letter written by me for my father, asking her how she was and how the family was, whether she had any news from Athanasis, which of course we knew she wouldn’t have had and really trying to help in any way we can. So you see, the Greeks had done nothing to help her. I think they supplied the basic necessities of food but 5 or 6 years later she and hundreds more were still sleeping on the floor of a school in Athens. I always feel that there is a special little place in hell for politicians who interfere in the affairs of people outside their own country knowing nothing about the conditions, trying to what they think is making things better, instead of which they make things worse and the conditions having been created by their own folly a year or two before.
Father went back to Smyrna as general manager, he got things going once again, the old staff came back and there was quite a lot of new recruitment to be done, of new drivers, guards, station masters and all that sort of thing because all the Greek element had gone, and when things were running reasonably well, father came back to London, saw the board and said to them, ‘I have had to run for my life with my wife and family in two occasions, in 1914 and 1921. I have gone back 2 or 3 times and restarted the railway, I have done so again now, the railway is running and I think its time that you found another general manager as I think its time that I should retire after all I am about 60 and I don’t want to have to start again building up a home and everything else in Smyrna’. The directors agreed and said to my father, ‘that’s all right Holton, but who are we going to get to take your place? We’ve had enough of people like De Candall and realise now how wrong we were picking our managers in the past. So we want your suggestion’. Father said, ‘there’s only one man who can do it. That man is Robert Mazade.’ Robert Mazade was a Frenchman who had fallen out with De Candall and had left the railway and was living in France. Father said, ‘I think I can trace him and if I can, I’ll let you know and then you’ll have to just get in touch with him and make your conditions etc. and see what he says’. Well to cut a long story short, Mazade took on the job, father went back with Mazade and reported to the board that everything had now been handed over and Mazade was in charge. The board then did something that they’d never done before. The company had no pension scheme or anything of that sort, there was very little money in the kitty and the board called father before them all to extend their thanks for the wonderful service that he had rendered the company over so many years and he was told, ‘we have no money that we can really compensate you sufficiently, but purely as a token of our esteem and appreciation of what you have done, we are giving you this cheque and long we wish it could have been 10 times more’. They gave father a cheque for £5,000. Under the circumstances my father thought this was most generous and he was most touched by their action.
After the fire, Francis went to Cyprus for a few weeks and then decided to go to Canada, to take up fruit farming. He came to London, father persuaded him to stay in this country and to try farming over here. Father’s argument was, ‘we’ve lost 2 sons, and we only have you and Charles here; Charles is settled in London, if you go to Canada, it will be a number of years before you can really settle down there and do much. We’re getting too old to travel and it is quite likely we shall never see you again. So will you consider trying farming in this country and I will stand behind you and help you all I possibly can’. Francis did this, he bought a small farm at High Hurst Wood in Sussex about 2 or 3 miles from Upfield and Buxted. He never made much of a success of it and really ended his working days there with father having to subsidise him all the way. From 1922 to 1940 when father died, father helped Francis all along the way, not with huge sums, but it was just a question of £10, £20, £30 every month to pay bills and so on. Besides which of course mother did all sorts of things to help Katie with the house, for instance, mother always made enough marmalade for the whole family, by that time they had another child and they were 4 of them in the family. Father paid for their education and mother made, 50, 60, 70 pounds of marmalade for them at a time, besides doing all their mending and a lot of repairing and buying the children a lot of clothes and so on. So Francis really didn’t make a success, not even a partial success with the farm at High Hurst Wood. In 1946-7 poor old Katie died, and Francis lived on his own for a year or so, and then went to live with his married younger son Arthur. Got gangrene in a toe, which spread up his leg and had to have a leg amputated, his wish to live had gone, with the passing of his dear wife Katie, a wonderful person.
John had gone into the army in the Second World War, in the veterinary corps. He then joined the gunners as an officer, went to West Africa and then onto India-Burma frontier, came back and took up his studies once again as a vet. Got married to a girl he met in the army, one of his ATS girls, Vera, charming lovable little person, and he went on studying and eventually passed his exams and set up as a vet for a veterinary surgeon at Rayleigh near Southend, as a paid assistant to a Mr Mackenzie. He had 2 children, both sons, who today in 1974 are aged about 23 and 21, and John himself carried on with Mr Mackenzie as a paid assistant, till Mr Mackenzie took him into partnership. In due course Mr Mackenzie committed suicide and John took over the whole of the practice and employed his own assistants and is now I believe doing very well.
Francis’s other son Arthur also had married. He was at Cambridge when he came out of the RAF where he had been a met officer and he and his wife, both very clever; she’s a lecturer at one of the hospitals and Arthur is also a lecturer and last time I heard he was a lecturer at a veterinary college, strangely enough. They both do a lot of travelling all over the world, giving lectures, and holding discussions and conferences with people in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, United States of America and so on, but whilst we have kept very close in touch with John, Arthur and his wife Pam seemed to have drifted out of our circle, and although we do hear of them through John now and again, we have very little communication with them direct.
After the First World War was over I went back to Smyrna, joined Francis for tobacco farming at Develiköy, only for a short time, saw there was nothing in it and sold out to an army colleague called Bliss and I went to the Melachrino tobacco company as office manager. Just a small office in Smyrna where we bought tobacco from all the growers round the district. We employed 4 or 500 hundred natives to manipulate the tobacco, to sort it out and put it into different categories and then we shipped it to America direct to the parent company. My boss was a Mr Snow, quite an interesting man, and the Middle East headquarters were in Kavala in Greece. I went to Kavala for 2 or 3 months and long before that, before I going back to Smyrna, I had got engaged to a girl called Jess Atridge in Sutton. It had been arranged that I would go back to Smyrna, fix up things for an autumn marriage. I went back to Smyrna in February, fix up things for an autumn marriage, come back to England to collect her about September / October. When I was in Kavala I had a letter from her breaking off the engagement, that was that. Soon after leaving Kavala I went back to Smyrna, I decided that there was no future for me in Smyrna, I intended one day to get married, I wasn’t greatly thrilled with the idea of having a family out in Smyrna with a local English girl perhaps making the second or third generation. I’d seen enough of so called Levantines, English people who lived out there, who had married, remarried and inter-married generation after generation till although they still looked English, they spoke English, they really thought more in Greek or Turkish. I decided I was coming back to England. There was great opposition on the part of my parents who couldn’t see why I couldn’t stay in Smyrna, but I overcame the opposition, came over to England and it is really extraordinary how things work out.
I was in London, I’d gone in with a chap who had advertised for an assistant, put quite a few hundred pounds in his business, found out the chap he was a swindler and he’d been swindling a lot of young ex-officers. We took the matter up to Scotland Yard, handed it over to them, they prosecuted the chap, cost us nothing and the chap got 2 years in the ‘second division’. In the meantime I’d met in London, and old school chum, actually my greatest chum in Smyrna, was Ernest Xenopoulo, the son of an English mother and a Greek Roman Catholic father. The mother had been a Miss Wade, later on they settled in Paris and they changed their name back to Wade. So Ernest was my great pall. His elder brother Willie was in London, we met up, had a few meals together and one day he said to me, ‘look I’ve got to go back to Paris, and I have a date here to go to a dance on Saturday with a Miss Potter who is a friend of a chap who came out to Smyrna from England, and he gave us the introduction to this girl, Miss Potter, she’s a nice person, and I would like you to take my ticket and go to this dance. I will write to her and tell her that I can’t come, but I’ll pass my ticket on to an old chum from Smyrna’. So I went to this dance and met this Miss Potter, and we met again and again, and in due course, Miss Potter, her proper full name, Edith Florence Potter, but she’d lost 2 brothers in the war, and they always called her ‘Sis’, with the result that she was always known as Sis Potter, and Sis became my wife. We married in 1923. I had lost quite a bit of money with that swindler. I got an introduction to the manager of a labour exchange at Leggatt Hill, who told me to go and see the Swiss bank, as they wanted people from Switzerland and he refused to give them permits to bring people from Switzerland, as he said, he could find them people in London. So I went to the Swiss bank, had my interview, saw the general manager who on hearing that I knew Greek, just said one word to me in Greek, ‘omiliti ilinica’, do you speak Greek? To which I replied, ‘malista, omlom ilinica kala’, I speak Greek quite well. ‘That’s enough, that’s enough, I don’t know anymore, that’s all I know’ and then he started talking about various people he knew out in Turkey, including some of the Whittalls, all of whom I know. As a result of, I joined this bank. I stayed with them, on and off till the end of the peace are, when in 1939 I joined the army again, and in that time I was mostly in the foreign exchange department, but the last 7 or 8 years I was given charge of what was known as the ‘credit information department’. It’s a department that enquires into the credit worthiness, the reputation and standing of clients or people who want to do business with you or who want credit and so on. They had a very fine organisation…[a section detailing the bank].
Perhaps a little anecdote about joining the army maybe interesting. The war office had sent for me as they wanted somebody with a knowledge of Greek and Turkish. They had my name down amongst with a lot of others, and I went to the war office. Lo and behold, there were 20, 30 or 40 people like myself in civilian clothes waiting to be interviewed. Every now and again out would come somebody who’d just been interviewed and he would be surrounded by these other chaps. ‘What did he say, what did he want, could you answer his questions easily, how much did he tell you?’ this and that and the other, and I got to know exactly what questions were going to be asked.
Well the truth of the matter is I had been up to be interviewed at the time of Munich and I saw the same officer, a major, who amongst other things said to me, at the Munich time, ‘would you be prepared to go to Cambridge for a refresher course in Greek?’ To which I then said, ‘I don’t think it is necessary, my Greek is good, I don’t have to have any refresher courses. As soon as I get into the harness and I start working on Greek I should not need any refresher courses at all’.
So this time, in Feb 1940, when I went up before him, I had already got an idea from the others who had come out, as to what he was going to say to me, and I had already prepared everything in my mind. These chaps said, ‘oh, he’ll give you a bit of a newspaper to read in Greek, and then he’ll want a translation in English. He’s then going to give you a letter in English written by the divisional general to a battalion commander, telling him that the divisional general accompanied by his chief of staff, would be visiting the battalion front next day and he wanted to be met at a certain place by an officer who was capable of showing round the front. So when I went in to see this chap, he said to me, ‘oh, you’re the man, you’ve been here before, you’re the man who refused to go to Cambridge for a refresher course, aren’t you?’ And I just got my back up and intended to bluff things out as hard as I could. So I said, ‘I never refused to go to Cambridge, I just said, it wasn’t necessary’, I said, ‘my Greek is good, I don’t have to go to Cambridge for a refresher course’. ’So, well see, read this bit of paper’, so he gave me a bit of Greek newspaper, which I read, gave him the translation at once, he said, ‘excellent, now here’s a letter in English, I want you to write it in Greek.’ Well having been primed beforehand, as to what the contents of this letter was, I read it, picked up a piece of paper and a pencil and I threw back the English letter to the major, who then said, ‘here, you’ll want this, you’ll want this, I want a translation of it’. I said, ‘I’ve read the letter, you want it in Greek. I’m now going to give you a word to word translation, I’m going to write that letter in Greek’. Having already got it all packed in my mind, I just scribbled away as fast as I could. ‘Major’ and I thought I would go one further in my bluff, so I said to him as I pushed it across to him, ‘there we are Major, I think we’ll find that this is absolutely perfect grammatically and every word is correct. The spelling however is probably damn awful, but I think you’ll agree that in a week or two, dealing with the Greek papers, letters, newspapers and so on, I will soon be not only word perfect but also spelling perfect’. He picked up my letter and said, ‘oh, we’ll see’, starting looking at it and I saw a smile coming over his face and he kept on saying, making remarks like, ‘oh yes, good, oh yes, perfect’. Then he turned round to me and said, ‘oh my dear chap, I do apologise, I never realised that your Greek was as good as this.’
Well I went back home and that same evening I had another message from the war office to go up the following morning. I did so and this time I saw the Major who was in charge of appointments and he got hold of me and said, ‘oh is it you Holton?’ I said ‘yes’. ‘I want to see you in my office’, when I went in, ‘I understand your Greek is absolutely bloody marvellous man. We want you to go straight out to France tomorrow.’ I said, ‘what tomorrow?’ He said ‘yes tomorrow’. I said, ‘oh no, this is February 1940 , the war started in September, I’ve been waiting to be called to the war office and now you call me up having waited 5 or 6 months, you want me to go out in 24 hours, nothing doing, I’m still a civilian, I can still refuse. I have things to settle up at home and I have things to settle up with the bank where I’m employed and I certainly want a few days.’ He said, ‘alright, we’ll give you a week, what about Sunday week?’, so I said, ‘yes, I think I can do it in that time’, as I had to get uniforms and everything else and make arrangements both at home and at the bank.
Well I went straight back to the bank and I saw the general manager, Mr Lorsingiou, a wonderful man with whom I always felt at home, I could speak and talk quite openly without giving offence and he would always listen. He was hell of a fire eater, but he was also very very fair. So I saw him, and I told him what had happened and I said, ‘before anything else, I want to know how I stand financially, vis-à-vis with the bank?’
What follows is a synopsis of the contents of the next 3 cassettes, though very interesting, have little bearing on anything Levantine.
The slight disagreement was then after a discussion amicably settled. Mr Holton was then posted to France and based in Amiens for a few months was responsible for censuring letters sent by 2 companies of Cypriots based in France. It was a challenge as these men were more or less illiterate and would write in either Greek or Turkish in either Latin characters or their own script. Later on as the front approached, he saw first hand and was sickened by the sight of the effects of German air attacks on civilian columns packing the roads. He was evacuated via Boulogne, and continued censorship duties based first at G.P.O. in London, later Northern Ireland, and later posted to Egypt. He met by chance Bobby Ashe, on the same boat Eastbound, now an intelligence officer in the R.A.F. He worked for a time in the British army section of censorship in Palestine (Jerusalem). Later got called back to Cairo, to take over P.O.W. censorship (M12), he feels was the biggest, finest and most rewarding from the war effort point of view, he performed. He was given 2 hours notice to take over from Major Cunningham who was in civilian life the head of ICI Middle Eastern section. There were about 400 mostly civilian, both sexes, all classes, multitude of nationalities, and professions represented by the readers of P.O.W. letters (both inbound and outbound), and they were well organised. At this stage of the war, the bulk of Axis prisoners were kept in the Middle East. Information was sent to London, such as location of enemy troops etc. gleaned from a combination of these letters. Many charming anecdotes on characters and events, but not connected with our subject matter. The recollections on tape 6 end at around the time of the Italian capitulation.
…Now I’m going to reveal another personality. Probably the finest man, the finest Christian that I have been privileged to know and to call my very intimate and dear friend, this is Grant MacLachlan. Grant was the son of Scottish minister in Smyrna and the head a big school there. Grant and I were friends as children, we met up 1914-18 war in Macedonia, then in Athens and so on and we naturally lost sight of each other during the peace between the wars. When the Second War started, I had a letter from him saying that he was in Canada and together with another chap were running quite a big timber business and he had arranged with his partner to leave him temporarily for the duration of the war as he had been asked by the then newly appointed minister of war, Will Rodgers to go to him as his personal secretary, which he did. Now later on during the war, I saw in the paper that Will Rodgers had been killed in an air crash with his private secretary and I naturally presumed this was Grant.
Now Grant MacLachlan was cousin to Bobby Ashe, about whom I’ve spoken earlier on, who was the son of the English clergyman out in Smyrna and who I found on the convoy in the Second World War once again on my ship. So in talking to Bobby Ashe, I said to him, ‘have you heard anything about Grant? I presume he is dead, he was killed in that air crash with Rodgers’. Bobby said, ‘oh no, I haven’t heard, but I know he’s not dead’, I said, ‘how come’, ‘oh’, he said, ‘I don’t know. I should have heard if he was dead, after all he is my cousin’. So I said, ‘for god sake, write home to your people and find if he is alive and if so, what his present address is’. So in due course he gave me Grant’s address. I wrote to Grant and found out what had happened. This chap Rodgers was a horse for work and he absolutely rushed Grant off his feet and eventually Grant had a nervous breakdown, and had to go in to hospital. It was during this period that Rodgers had to appoint another temporary manager to take Grant’s place that Rodgers was killed with the man who had taken Grant’s place. Grant of course in due course came out of hospital and he was perfectly alright. So we got in touch with each other again and carried on corresponding all through the war. After the war he and his wife Sarah came over to England, spent a week with us in Great Oakley and later on they came over again and spent a few days with us here where we are now in Plastow in Sussex. One day we got hold of a book from the library by somebody who had done a trip to Turkey entitled ‘byroad to Turkey’. We read it and we said, ‘I wonder whether we can do the same trip with Grant and Sarah, they are coming over next year’. So I wrote to Grant and suggested he might like to join with his wife and we could do the trip to Turkey in our car. I never had a reply quite so quickly, within 2 or 3 days I not only got a reply, but I got a cheque for £100; ‘would you please start booking things up, we are all for it. I am sending you a £100, there will be a lot of expenses, book cross-channel steamers and everything else you need to book, we can settle up later on’. So in due course they came over. This is of course in 1967 or 8 thereabouts, we went off and had a most wonderful holiday for 7 weeks with Grant and Sarah, over to France over to Switzerland…
…In Athens, the MacLachlans, Grant and Sarah, ‘Sis’ and I, then arranged to go in to Smyrna. We left the car with Willie Blackler was and old friend from Smyrna in pre-war days and who was also a cousin of Grant MacLachlan’s. He had a most beautiful house, lived alone, house keeper, gardener etc. at Kiffissia about 5-6-7 miles outside Athens. We took the car and left it there. Went back by bus and got on a boat in Piraeus, went to the island of Chios, which is one of the nearest points to the Turkish coast and from which there is a little ferry boat, runs across the 5-6 miles of sea to Çesme. Got to Çesme and by bus to Smyrna where Sarah and Grant had the address of an American sort of missionary college. They called on these people, who said they could put us up and they put us up for no charge, Grant being friends of his and Sarah’s and also having the connection of the school which was sort of affiliated to some organisation to which his own father’s school used to belong. Grant made them a handsome money present I believe, with which they were going to buy some chairs. We went up to Boudjah and over to Cordelio which is across the bay. Had a look around Boudjah and whilst we were there we had a look at our old house which had been rather badly ‘improved’, I suppose they would call it. For after all we had it as one house and by the addition of the number of chimneys and things that they added, it had obviously been turned to various flats and quite near there was the house that my brother Francis and I used to call on the Turkish commander-in-chief beginning of the 1914 war when father was more or less a house prisoner.
This house belonged to Mrs Rees. So Grant, Sarah, ‘Sis’ and I popped over to the Rees’s to have a look at the house and garden. When we got right up to the house, there was a long avenue leading to the house, a young lady came along to greet us and asked us what we wanted and we told her that we were friends of the original owner Mrs Rees, we hadn’t been to Smyrna for 20 or 30 years and we thought we just liked to have a look at the place and they were overjoyed to have English visitors to come and see them. The place had been turned into a teacher’s training college, they made us sit down, they brought us refreshments, we sat and talked for quite a long time and eventually went back to Smyrna and back to the school for the night. Also went out to dinner that night, another friend, that Grant had been to school with, took us out to dinner. The following day went back to Chios via Çesme…
Holtons c. 1905 From left: Alfred (died of flu with war wounds in Belgium 1919), Emily Jane (wife of Francis Charles), Francis Charles Holton, John (killed in action 1916, Belgium), Francis Smithers Holton (interned in Turkey) with young Charles Holton in sailor suit. Details supplied by Francis Arthur Holton (born 1923, son of Francis Smithers), photo provided by his daughter Ruth. Father Francis Smithers, mother Kate and brother John (aged 2) left Izmir in 1922 and went to Bhyiar [Bayındır ?] in the interior land in Turkey, then returned briefly to Izmir before travelling via Greece and arriving in England to live in Bromley, Kent where Francis Arthur was born in December 1923. They moved to Sussex soon after that.
The photographer’s stamp on reverse of photo, the photographer is called: Ioulios Linth which sounds like a hellenized version of the name Julius Lind, if he was Austrian or German of course. The address is 47 Rodon (=roses) street, Smyrna - translated from Greek by Achilleas Chatziconstantinou - hover for image.
Click here for further photos from the Holton family album and here to view a simplified family tree: - in detail:
Click here to view a sample of letters sent by the last Turkey resident of the family, Francis Arthur Holton.
The section of a diary Francis Smithers Holton (deduced from name referencing) penned at the time of the Smyrna Fire.
Mr Holton died about 10 years after this recording around 1984 and was survived by his now late wife by a good many years. In addition the still living John Holton, one of the sons of Francis Smithers, has written a brief story of his own (penned March 2002), covering also his childhood in Turkey, transcribed below.
HISTORY OF THE HOLTON FAMILY 2
In the late 1880s (or thereabouts) my grandfather and grandmother went out to Greece [actually Turkey]. My grandfather was an accountant and my grandmother (who was also a Holton, cousin of grandfather) came from Suffolk, from a large landowning family. Hence the name Holton in several of the place names in that region, such as Holton-St. Mary.
My grandfather went as cashier to a company building a railway from Smyrna, on the coast, to the interior. The family consisted of four boys – Francis (1887-1964), Alfred (1890-1918), John (1893-1917) and Charles (1897-?). A daughter Lilian (1884-1886) died in childhood. A photo of the family was hanging in the central bedroom at the farm and is now in the possession of one of my grand-children.
As the family grew, the question of the education of the children arose. Rather than send them all to England, the parents hired tutors to come out to educate them and other local children. My grandfather ran the school and supervised the meals etc.
Meanwhile my grandfather had worked his way up to become general manager. All went well until 1914 when the Great War broke out. Two sons, Alfred and John went to England to enlist. My father, Francis (the eldest) was in Egypt working with Dr. Balls, the great cotton expert. I am a bit vague about things from now on, but I do know that my father was later employed by the American Red Cross. Charles, when he was old enough, joined up and spent his time in that area. In 1917 and 1918 John and Alfred lost their lives in France, and we have plaques in their memory.
I assume that Smyrna was part of Greece at that time. Greek was the language and all the family spoke it fluently.
In 1922 the Turks under Kemal Ataturk attacked Smyrna and set it ablaze. Women and children were advised to leave at once. A British naval vessel was standing by, and my mother with me not yet 2, had to rush to the harbour with no belongings (my mother without shoes, so I am told) and got away en route to Malta.
From now on its guesswork, but I do know that at some time my mother must have gone back to join my father, and then my grandparents, and my mother and father embarked for England. Charles was already in England, working in the City.
They must have been able to bring quite a lot of belongings, including the Turkish carpet which now is in my veterinary surgery.
Of the journey, I remember coming through the Corinth Canal. Some people say I couldn’t remember at that age, but I do!
We came to England, my grandparents settled in Jervis Brook (near Crowborough) and my father bought Old Hall Farm, to where we went in 1923.
In December 1923 my brother was born and christened ‘Francis Arthur’, but was called ‘Arthur’ to avoid confusion with my father. Both he and I spent our childhood there. After the village school we went to Lewes Country School, and I went to the Agricultural Institute at Plumpton. In 1939 I, with several other students, joined the Territorials. We did this because we could see the war coming and we wished to join a unit where we knew one another, rather than waiting for calling-up papers and be sent to who-knows-where.
War broke out, and in 1940 I went to France and was stationed near Abbeville in Northern France at a little hamlet called Forges-les-Eaux. When the Germans broke through the Somme we got out quick! We became cut off from Dunkirk (fortunately). We carried on West, past Dieppe which was being bombed, (we left our lorries and took to the fields while the German planes were buzzing about – we weren’t interested in medals) and finally reached Cherbourg where we embarked for England.
After a few months I obtained a transfer to the Veterinary Corps and was stationed on Doncaster Race Course (sleeping quarters were in the Grandstand). After a couple of years of doing nothing, except groom horses, I applied for a commission in the Royal Artillery. I was eventually posted to a gun-site near Wolverhampton, a mixed battery, and it was there that I met Vera.
In 1943 I was posted overseas and was given the usual 14 days embarkation leave. By this time I had been moved from Wolverhampton to London where the guns formed part of the ‘London Barrage’.
Having met Vera I wanted to make sure of her. So I phoned her up, asked her to marry me, she said ‘yes’ and that was it. (In those days marriage was looked upon as binding, at least it was to us). I went to Sierra Leone to an African battery. The troops were Africans, officers and NCO’s were European. From there we went to India and up to Assam. We were near Kohima and were expecting the Japs to break through.
Thanks to the many British and Indian troops who gave their lives in the battle of Kohima, the Japs were beaten back. We were getting ready to follow-up the retreating enemy when, on August 15th 1945, the Americans dropped the atomic bombs and the war was over!
I went back to Africa without battery, saw troops demobbed, and came back to the U.K. I went to Veterinary College in 1946, and thanks to a devoted wife who was quiet every evening while I studied (I did take her to the cinema every Saturday evening!!) I qualified in 1951. We came to Rayleigh, and here I still am.
Note: Mr John Holton died in October 2006, God rest his soul...