Diary kept by Grace Williamson of Smyrna, 1922


We left Limassol, Cyprus, on Sunday evening the 22nd October 1922 in the S.S. ‘Dalmatia’, bound for Smyrna.

I was full of hopes for I had heard that our old Nursing Home was intact and probably not taken over by the Kemalists, and as we were told that the British Consul had sent for a few men, heads of big firms, to come back and see to their business premises and property I thought I came into that category as a possessor of property in the shape of the Nursing Home and all that was in it – so I made up my mind to go and look after what I could.

We reached Smyrna on Oct. 25th about two in the afternoon and the view was desolate even along the coast, the little villages and farmsteads were burnt or deserted, not a soul about, my heart felt very heavy, and then Smyrna came into view. What desolation! The quay quite empty of people and only ruined houses to be seen. From Bellavista to the big Freight Custom house all destroyed, and a blackened mess at the back of ruins!! – and the feeling of desolation got worse – We had on board about 300 Turkish people who were being repatriated so it took up a little time before I could get my passport ‘vised’ for landing, the order was that I would not land unless I got permission from the authorities, but it was granted very graciously by a Turk who spoke excellent French and who asked if I had a house to go to, and told me to let other of my friends know who had houses that they should return to them! I felt so happy and got a boat and quickly went off. I was taken to the jetty before the Fig packers stores and there showed my pass to a man with a green tie.

He looked at my pass-book, turned it over and put it on one side and leisurely turned to the Turkish passes and passed group after group, till there were no more left and then he took mine and in a rather insulting way said and “what do you want?” in bad French. I answered and he took notes in a large book. This went on for three quarters of an hour at least after which he handed the book to a police inspector and he took it away after politely giving me a chair to sit and wait, and I did wait! It was nearing sunset when he came back and said, now we must go to the Military Police!

Well I thought, now I am in for spending the night in the street, for my Home is a good distance towards the Point Station and it was almost sunset – not a cheerful time to go and open up a shut up home with no one in and probably in a very great mess of dust.

We drove to a fearful and dilapidated house on the quay front about the first two storied house after the Fig Packers stores going down from the Konak. About the dirtiest and most horrible house I have ever entered it made me shiver it was so sinful looking. There in the front room was spread a very fine carpet probably one from the Oriental Carpet Stores a bit further down the quay, and two new writing desks, very likely McVitties! and sitting behind one of the desks was a man with the most horrid wicked face, he was very neglected in his clothing and unbuttoned.

He asked me in a harsh voice what I wanted in Turkish – I gave my book and said, permission to go home. He looked it over and read some notes that were attached, written by the man with the green tie, and then he said Wait!! I waited and waited. Every minute getting more desperate. After a long time the man got up, put on his coat as if he was trying to gain time and slowly went away down the stairs, I was practically left alone with a few miserable Greek prisoners and some gendarmes.

The sun had set before he returned and then he came and said, Now we must go to the police central!! I knew the place of old it is near the Konak at the starting point of the Cocaryalee [Kokaryalı] Trams a place that many of the British prisoners have a bitter knowledge of its horrors.

Some of my friends will remember the rickety little wooden staircase leading up just inside the entrance. On the right as you enter is a frowsy room with an evil odour – and on the left a passage which is all day crowded with men prisoners waiting for the evening to go in a batch to the central prison. In the small passage in front of the door and under the staircase the women were huddled, closely packed. As I went in my heart sunk down into the depths of woe – and I remembered the tales of my old friends’ woes!! And how little I then thought that I too will go through the same thing. This time a worse man sat behind a still dirtier writing desk and he demanded what I wanted and I had to repeat my tale – that I wished to be allowed to go home and if that was impossible to be allowed to be allowed to go back on board the ship and return to where I came from.

“You will neither go home nor return to the ship” he yelled at me, “You will spend the night here”. When I protested he told me not to speak in any language but Turkish in his hearing! and he pointed to an interpreter who drew me on one side and told me not to speak as it would be worse for me. When I said that I could not possibly spend the night there, he said to me not to say a word as the chief might send me to the common prison with the other women!

Blackness settled on my heart and I kept repeating the last lines of Major Johnston’s poem on the horror of being a Turkish Prisoner of War.

I was given a chair and broken at that – and it was placed close to the wretched women who I found were Greeks dressed up as Turkish women! One was a very old little woman, with a sweet nut-cracker face – and such woe and sorrow in it. There were some children and an infant in arms. All look desperate and hungry, and I felt the same. After a little time had passed a boy came from across the road and called out if any one wanted food some few who had money got a plate others, most of them, went without.

Some of the officials also ordered food and it was brought and clapped in a plate without a tray on the untidy writing desks. Next thing that happened the prison policeman came and the men were first mustered up and marched off and next the women and children. I whispered to one and asked where they were going and she said to prison, and the policeman heard and he sharply said, it is there where you ought to go too, this is much too good a place for such as you! What was going to happen to me and what were they going to do? I must try and get a note to our consul, or the Red Cross, or to the American Consul. Fortunately I had a letter addressed to Mr. Barnes, the American Vice Consul, given to me by a member of an American firm to deliver in Smyrna, and I asked if I might be allowed to send that, a huge shrug of the shoulders was the only answer I got. Then a Jew appeared with a scraggy beard and husky voice who said he would take the letter to the American Consulate for a consideration. I gave him a Turkish pound and told him he should have another if he brought help. Then came a time for desperation, I felt what a fool I had been to leave my people and perfect safety in Cyprus and trust to the word of these evil people. For they are not the Turks we know they are a race of wild Bolshevists. Not one man amongst them had the slightest resemblance to the good old Anatolian Turk – or the old fashioned official with the black broad cloth and white beard, red fez and polite manners. They were rude, rough and unwashed and had long untidy black hair sticking up on end, more in the style of the Tatars. Never was the word Allah mentioned by any of them, so different from the right sort of Mussulman we know, who always says “if God wills” it shall be so- I wonder if Ali Han and other right minded Mohamedans know that these Kemalist are so different from the true sort of Mussulman. I remember and have lived with Turks for years and they are totally different from these. But to get on with my night of horror. After most of the prisoners went off there were a few women and a child left behind the staircase and I was invited to take my place with them, I refused and sat in my broken chair as near the street door as possible! Presently my good angel found me in the shape of an anaemic lanky youth who came and spoke very kindly leaning his back against the door post next to me, whispering so that no one noticed him. He told me his story, he and his brother a bit older than himself had been in this awful place for over ten days. They are Cypriots, British subjects. Their father is an old man employed by the Ottoman Railway Company, as a Station Master in a station near Diniehri [Dinarşehir?]. These two lads were marched from this place to Smyrna about 60 or 70 miles without anything in the way of food being given to them, they got what they could with the money they possessed, but very soon their money was robbed and they reached Smyrna penniless, without shoes, they were in tatters and hardly a decent rag on.

My heart bled for these two lads. I knew their father, he was a patient of mine several times in the Seaman’s Hospital, a very nice family they were. Our British Consul was doing his best for these lads, but he is handicapped for want of ready cash to get them tickets for Cyprus.

The lad’s advice to me was that when the night Policeman came we would ask him to let me go and sit on the Sofa!! in the office. I would be much more comfortable there! Well I did get to the sofa for although it was hard and not over clean it was a little more private than the corner where numbers of men kept going past to the dirty and awful back premises as well as the women prisoners, there was only one place for both sexes, and a fearful wash-house to wash in that was covered with slime and other terrible things. Every now and then during the night some strange weird thing happened, either a horse fell down in the street or dogs started giving awful howls or squads of soldiers went by with their arms and guns.

At ten or it might have been eleven the Vali drove up in a large motor on a surprise visit or was it in consequence of my letter that I sent to the American Consul? my heart beat with hope. He came straight in and stood in the doorway with the light full on his face, a rather stout man with a round and perfectly white face and coal black little ‘Kemal’ moustache and a black cap pack. He stood there and looked me all over. All the police jumped up and stood at attention so I guessed he must be a person of high standing. He addressed his men in rather a queer sounding voice, and they were all very deferential and saluted profoundly, he seemed very annoyed at seeing me there and from what I gathered called the Commisari and gave it to him. Then the great man left, and his minions mocked and laughed at him. One took his voice off and all screamed with laughter, it was rather comical and it made me laugh in spite of my misery. They all yelled with laughter. If only the Vali could have heard them!! Ten minutes after the Vali left a great rush of men came on horseback and they filled the small room I was in. It made me quake! Once the commander stood in front and began abusing the chief of the Police, I enjoyed that, gave it to him soundly, I suppose because he had me there looking and hearing all that went on. Then he took up the telephone and got furious because he could not get an answer. From what I gathered it was an order for me to be sent off and I heard something about Hospital, I concluded I was to go back to my blessed ‘Home’ and I had visions of my comfortable bed and snug room!

The rest of night was spent in a perfect battle with awful and unholy insect pests. I put up my dress collar and buttoned it tight, fortunately my sleeves were long or there would have been little left of me. Towards dawn it was interestingly to see the life of the back parts of Smyrna in war time. Everyone seemed to be in fear of their lives and I was struck with their hunted looks and never a cheery word as in the old times. Ah! dear me, such a strange and changed Smyrna.

Cups of Salep were bought by the rich prisoners and nothing for the poor, I gave my two boys money and they got themselves some breakfast, I had a cup of coffee, the first thing that passed my lips since lunch on board the day before. Towards eight o’clock the trams kept coming in packed tight with Jews, but they did not look happy either. They looked frightened, no women to be seen at the early hours.

I longed for some sign from the American Consul. The Jew who took my letter brought a receipt but only a scribble in Turkish so I did not believe he had taken it. But about 9 o’clock a young man appeared with what looked to me like a cavash from the American Consulate. He was dressed in dark blue and had a scarlet arm band with a white crescent and Turkish writing which might mean the A.C.R.N.E. badge. This gave me hope. The young man’s face I seemed to know, he is of fair complexion and wears Fairy eye-glasses, he was dressed in a pale grey simple European suit. I mention this that the Americans may recognise who I mean. He made no sign to me and I dare not address him but all day he was there close to me so I got to trust that he was guarding me so that nothing bad should happen to me. I know it was a comfort having him. Time went heavily but fortunately I had the window to look out and my two dear boys who helped me all they could and who managed to send for me by a sure hand a little scrap of paper to Mr. Urquhart our consul. Every now and then a little progress was made in the signing of various and common scraps of paper connected with the permit for me to go home. How far and uncertain it seemed. By noon hunger overcame me and fearful though it seemed to eat with the same spoons the murderers use still I had to eat a little yayourti and bread and I saw to it that the boys had a good meal. I began to fear there would be no release for me. The brute of a chief policeman was all day long committing miserable starved lads to prison, they were brought in two or three at a time by police who gathered them from their hiding places. Ah how I pitied them, they had such despair in their faces. Some women too were brought from up country and they were treated fearfully and banged about, I shall never be able to forget the sorrows of these people.

The lads told me that it was a good day, there were others much worse and the prisons were quite full and lots had to die from want of food, I saw the dead cart go by once and it seemed very heavy, it came from the prison. The French Sisters go and give money and food but that is like a drop in the ocean.

At last by three o’clock in the afternoon my papers were ready and so I jumped up, but I was waved back and laughed at and the papers were put on the desk and forgotten, half an hour passed and I was told to call a carriage and go with a policeman to the Caracolee [Karakol = police station] at the Point close to our ‘Home’ at last I was out in the open and what joy. We drove along the quay and I got a glimpse of my old ship ‘Dalmatia’. On the way up I caught sight of some friends Mr. S_ of the Ottoman Aidin Railway and others. It was such a cheer, and my spirits rose. At last we got to the Caracolee and there began again the old story of waiting and insults, I again got desperate, but cheered up when I saw a team of our seamen going to play football. What a contrast. Sailor boys playing football at one end of the town and abject misery going on at the other, Smyrna all over!

Gradually I realized that there was another delay going to take place for I was handed over to a military policeman and sent to the Konak! back again to the other end of the town and more of my few remaining pounds to be spent and despair again settled on my heart. My consolation was the ‘Dalmatia’ was still in and I might catch a sight of someone to make a sign, but nothing happened and we got to the Konak where I was told that after that I should be allowed to go home!! I believed nothing by then.

When we entered the Konak first I was taken in a fairly decent office filled with a bit better class of officials but nothing happened and I was sent to another office. Now this part is meant for some of my Greek friends who would like to know what is going on in the Konak that they had done up so beautifully. The room I was in had four desks in, all dirty and untidy, the beautiful painted walls were spotted and the floor was filthy and cigarettes all over the place. There were piles of things and bundles of loot etc. Soldiers were carting desks in the corridor outside and furniture was taken out. It was more like a bedlam than anything, everyone seemed to get into everyone else’s way and there was no respect of rank. There were officers and men all trying to do things and for ever scribbling on bits of paper and never finishing on thing and starting something else between, two small cheeky lads were in this room who thought they would like some light refreshment, they spread on a bit of an old newspaper a slab of unleavened bread like an Australian damper and some oily halva and eat with relish! Such are the Government Offices of Smyrna!

As soon as I came into this office I found the young man in grey and eye-glasses. He gave me a swift look, but not a word spoken. The same old story was begun of scribbling on bits of paper and sending them to other departments to be signed!! Suddenly out of heaven I was going to say but really from the door there darted in the two British Consulate cavashes, they both seized me by the hands and I could have kissed them, but they had to run out and call Mr. Urquhart who was looking for me, well it was a joy to greet a bit of England, and oh there is no country in the world like it or men like ours. It was now about half past five and they told me that they were looking for me since half past three when my note reached them!

I told Mr. Urquhart in as few words as possible what had happened and he asked me if we had got any of his telegrams which he sent to Cyprus. No we had never received any telegrams – Well he had sent word that we were not to return and that although he had tried his best to save our houses he had been unable to do so. And the Nursing Home was occupied by soldiers for the last fort-night so that I could not possibly go there!! What was to be done. I said can I catch the ‘Dalmatia’, she was still in the harbour when I passed at half past four. We thought we could so. Mr. Urquhart took my passport, dropped all the numbers of scraps of paper with wretched stamps on, ran into a really smart office at the end of the corridor, asked a high official probably the Military Governor, to sign it for me which he promptly did, and we jumped into a carriage and drove to the Customs House, saw the ‘Dalmatia’ was still in, raced to the Customs Office, was greeted at the door by the man with the green tie who was profuse in his attention and who literally liked my Urquhart’s feet and instantly fixed us up and came and handed us into our boat and off we went and got on board and had five minutes to spare so as to talk things over. Twenty minutes of Old England did everything.

We are more than right in loving and being proud of our country.

I went to Constantinople and from there will take the first ship for Cairo – and there start to try and make some money as I am penniless and have not anything in the world but debts which who knows when I shall be able to pay. I borrowed the money for this trip to Smyrna from my butcher boy who we saved and took to Cyprus with us!!

I spoke to Mr. Urquhart about those two Cypriot boys who want to go to Larnaca and he said he is doing all he can but the want of ready cash is most embarrassing. I am sure that if it is possible some money will be sent at once especially for these two boys, if it were sent by wire they might be taken on this Dalmatia which is returning to Cyprus via Smyrna in fifteen days’ time, their names are, Alkevilis George Potalis and Antony Potalis. £30 will be enough for their tickets and ten each to start a new life in their native town. Surely with all the good hearts in England something will be at once done.

I heard that my nephew William Lewis was at the church house and well, I left money with Mr. Urquhart for him. All this is for the family to know who are scattered at each corner of the globe. My own friends may be told that there is very little hope of their goods being in existence those whose houses have remained unburnt will find them almost ruined. But Smyrna will never be the same and it is better for us older people to forget it.

Grace Williamson

Transcription of earlier diaries kept by this lady during September 1922 & October 1914-May 1920 period - view images of Smyrna before, during and after the 1922 fire: