The story of a community
For the past few years I have been working on 2 projects, the first involving the memoirs of a relative of mine, George Miniotis, a Greek patriot during WWII who worked closely with one of the Levantines of Smyrna, Noel Rees, and a summary of the resulting text is viewable here. The other project has been the research, editing and consolidation of my grandfather’s manuscripts. I believe both of these works will help shed light on two periods of significant history, that had ramifications for all the communities of the region.
After his retirement in 1960, my maternal grandfather Stamatis Hadjiyannis began writing down his reminiscences, mainly concerning three topics:
One complete manuscript was handed to me by my grandfather, a few years before his death in 1990. I proceeded to convert it into digital form and to edit it, finishing in 1992. This version was printed out in 5 copies and given as a present to close relatives.
Many years later the whole set of my grandfather’s manuscripts were given to me by my mother, and they ended up being buried in some cartons in my store–room. Only in 2009 were they retrieved, and I began leafing through them.
I soon discovered the wealth of detail, and even whole incidents that were missing from the original manuscript presented to me, back in the 80s. Now having more spare time, I decided to try to isolate the most interesting parts of those other versions of my grandfather’s story and incorporate them into the version I already had in digital form, thus creating a new “authoritative” version.
This is the task I’m currently working on. I am now half way through it, and I expect it will be completed in about a year. After that I’ll have to do some more research and enrich the document with maps and pictures, and then it will be ready to be published. Meanwhile I have prepared an English translation of the fourth out of nine chapters, dealing with my grandfather’s first months in Asia Minor. I have added a summary of the chapters preceding and following it, to help readers understand the context. At this point I would like to thank Joanne Anast & Jannis Hachlakis for their help in editing this translation, as well as for their suggestions, which significantly improved the readability and style of the story, although some sections were intentionally translated crudely, to preserve the original flavour of my grandfather’s narrative.
My grandfather Stamatis Hadjiyannis at our summer house, ca. 1980
My grandfather Stamatis Hadjiyannis was born in 1897 at Kato Panagia [“Virgin Mary of the Lowlands”, Çiftlikköy], a village in Asia Minor just 5 miles from and in sight of the Greek island of Chios. As he had an excellent voice, in 1910 he was sent to Athens to study Byzantine music, but because his older brother, who was supposed to support him there, soon fell seriously ill, my grandfather was forced to work for a living. Little Stamatis found a job at the prestigious “Hotel d’Angleterre” at Syntagma [Constitution] Square in Athens, where he came to wait upon many important personalities who at various times resided at the hotel, one of the two most renowned in Athens. During this period, he could not avoid getting involved in the politics of the era, which was dominated by the antagonism between King Constantine and Prime Minister Venizelos. The dispute between the two men concerned the issue of which side Greece should join in the Great War that was taking place in Europe. Venizelos had opted for the Anglo–French Entente, while the King, whose wife was a sister of the German Kaiser, had selected a policy of neutrality.
Just before the war broke out, the Turks, urged by German advisors, expelled the entire Greek population from the coastal areas of Asia Minor, forcing them to cross to mainland Greece and the Aegean islands. My grandfather’s family made their way to Athens, along with many other refugees from Asia Minor, where they all soon became ardent supporters of Venizelos, who was in favour of Greece’s entry into the war on the side of the Entente and against the Turks. In the meantime, Prime Minister Venizelos resigned after a disagreement with the King and moved to recently liberated Salonica. The Allies, following their defeat at Gallipoli, had occupied the city and opened a new front to the north of it. Venizelos promised to organise a new Greek Army to fight at their side, and went on to set up a revolutionary Greek government in Salonica. Thus the rift in Greek politics widened, and as a result, all refugees from Asia Minor, regarded as Venizelists, were persecuted in southern Greece, where King Constantine held on to power. Young Stamatis, though not a refugee, was disturbed by the persecution of his family and acquaintances, which gradually led him to become a Venizelist.
In the summer of 1917, the Entente forced King Constantine to step down from the throne and to be succeeded by his second son Alexander. Venizelos returned to Athens, re–uniting the two Greek states, and promptly entered the war on the side of the Allies. My grandfather enlisted in the army as a volunteer, despite not being a Greek but an Ottoman subject. On account of his literacy he was allocated to the field artillery and after some initial training he was sent to the Macedonian front, north of Salonica. This front was relatively stationary in the months to come, with the exception of an allied thrust in May 1918, which resulted in the capture of the Bulgarian–held stronghold of Skra–di–Legen. Stamatis Hadjiyannis participated in this battle as a gunner. In September 1918 the Allies launched a widespread offensive, finally breaking through the German–Bulgarian defence line and advancing into Serbian Macedonia, liberating it. Stamatis followed his unit’s march as far north as Kocani, near Skopje. Before long, the Central Powers capitulated and the Great War came to an end. Not long after that, Stamatis was decorated for his valour and rose to the rank of corporal.
After a brief spell in Athens recovering from an injured foot, which had been hurt while playing a silly game with fellow soldiers, Stamatis returned to his regiment, which in the meantime had been relocated to the Serres area in eastern Macedonia. This region was occupied by Bulgaria during the war and was now heavily guarded by the Greek army. It also bordered on Western Thrace, still under Bulgarian control at the time, but expected to be ceded to Greece as war compensation. During his stay in Serres, Stamatis practiced with his unit, attended lectures on field artillery theory and even studied by himself, reading some artillery books he had acquired while in Athens. Finally, in December 1919, his regiment prepared to leave for Salonica to embark on a journey to Smyrna [İzmir], which had been occupied by Greek troops since May of the same year. But now he received a grave disappointment. He was not to follow, but instead remain in Macedonia to train artillery recruits! After trying all legitimate methods to convince his superiors to let him follow his unit to Smyrna, he was finally promised that he could tag along when they left. Then, one day the units bound for Smyrna left unexpectedly without him! Stamatis decided to run away on his own the same night. He walked for five hours, crossing the flooded plain of Strymon River, and finally caught up with his unit. There he managed to be tolerated until their arrival at Salonica, where he persuaded the benevolent Battalion Commander to take him aboard ship to Smyrna, as his special skills were badly needed.
But it’s time to let my grandfather speak for himself…
«… after a wonderful voyage with very favourable weather, and after sailing the rest of the day and the entire night, at daybreak of the following day, New Year’s Day of 1920, we set our eyes on the Bride of Ionia, the City of a Thousand Songs, Smyrna.
Central Smyrna neighbourhoods pre-1922 and the fire zone.
ASIA MINOR REVIVAL
Arrival at Smyrna
As we neared the harbour, a magnificent scenery awaited us – the famous shores of the Smyrna Gulf! To the left, proud Cordelio with its superb quay, golden sands and the villas of the rich Smyrniots and the Turkish pashas that extended to Pappa Skala [Bostanli] and had private wooden ramps extending into the sea, with bathing cabins at their tip. As an extension of the gulf, a smaller bay approaching Bornova with its exquisite maidens and ladies. To the right of the Gulf of Smyrna, 3 miles from the sea, Vourla [Urla] with its renowned young men, whom the Turks could not expel in 1914, before World War I.
Before entering the harbour the small fort Karabournaki [Karaburun] and the suburbs Kokaryalı [Güzelyalı], Göztepe etc. Vis–a–vis the Quay, which hosted the mansions of Smyrna’s aristocracy, of Greek, English, French or Italian origin, and every other lofty race. To the right of the Quay and towards the Konak [Governor’s House], the very beautiful Koumerki [Pasaport] – the customs – and a smaller harbour, just like today’s marinas for yachts. In the background, like a laurel on the famed city’s forehead, the castle Kadifekale, and on the slopes to the right stood the upper city quarters, descending towards the centre.
Let it be noted that Athens had a population of 150–160 thousand residents at the time, while Smyrna had over 400 thousand, that is 200–250 thousand Greeks, 75–100 thousand Turks and 100–120 thousand of various other nations, French, English, Italian, Armenian, Jew etc.
After a while our ship docked at the wooden ramp of Punta, at the left side of the Quay, where all freighters anchored and unloaded their goods. Disembarkation started immediately after mooring, first the animals, being more useful, followed by the men, I being one of the first.
I was handed a cart, accompanied by two men and an officer. Our mission was to find meat and bread from the bakeries for the men. Troops were continuously pouring in and many residents from the countryside, afraid of raging Turks, were taking refuge in Smyrna, so the bakeries couldn’t satisfy the huge demand for bread. Meat was in short supply too, due to the festivities of the New Year.
Upon learning that I came from the greater Smyrna area, they may have assumed that I was a resident of the city and therefore knew my way around Smyrna. However, I had never been there, nor did I know any Turkish. Fortunately it wasn’t necessary, because Smyrna had, as I already mentioned, 200 thousand Greeks, hence its Turkish name, “Giaur (Infidel) Smyrna”.
So we made a tour around bakeries and butcher’s shops with the cart and gathered whatever we could get our hands on. In the meantime the weather deteriorated, a heavy rain suddenly started and naturally we became drenched. Finally, when we had gathered enough food, we returned to Punta, near St. John the Malaria Healer, at an empty lot towards the end and to the right of the avenue that began at the harbour. I think the quarter was named Chiotika [Demiryolu]. It was rumoured that the cheap brothels were at the end of this road.
That was where the batteries had settled, having unloaded the animals and some material, but the rain had converted the area into a swamp.
Searching for the quartermaster’s tent to deliver the foodstuff, I recognised it from a mule standing by the tent and eating from a sack of chickpeas. Apart from all the damage being caused by the mule, there was also danger that the mule would die if it later drank some rainwater and the chickpeas swelled up in his belly. However, to avoid being drenched by the rain, nobody came out of the tents to chase it away.
I drove it away towards the stables, delivered the collected food to the quartermaster and sought to find refuge in a friendly tent, to rest and dry off. While walking in the middle of the rainstorm, I saw something that moved me profoundly and stirred patriotic chords in my heart.
Three fair Smyrniot girls with covered baskets in their hands, disregarding the flooding rain that had literally soaked them, visited all tents handing out pastries and local bread rolls. They sought to provide some family solace, becoming for the festive day. We were all moved, and everyone took something off their tender hands. As it was New Year’s Day, they reminded us of our sweet homes, from which we were so far away. The one thought which comforted us was that we endured this deprivation for the grandeur of our Fatherland.
The rain continued through the afternoon and when it became dark we got order to pack our tents, as we were going elsewhere. It was time, because the area was beginning to be flooded and the settlement was turning into a swamp. We gathered our stuff and some of us were transferred inside the St. John church, while others went to the nearby–located Greek primary school. There we were able to dry somewhat, to recuperate and to get a good night’s rest, away from the dampness of the falling rain.
The next morning the weather had substantially improved. The sun illuminated the exquisite Ionian city, and we even had some time to see a part of it. I went with the rest of the gunners to Punta harbour to continue the unloading of cannons, carts and other material. We loaded them directly onto train cars stationed at the railway line that extended right to the ship. The drivers (riders holding reins for the horses) were ordered to go on horseback to Magnesia [Manisa], while gunners, guns and material would be transported there by train.
I went with the gunners, too. Even though the horses left that very day, we departed next day at noon. From far away we could see the town of Bornova with its chilly and famous waters. Farther away the scenery was enchanting. A vast plain, which despite the early season was thriving in green, the famous Menemen plain which produces the finest melons in the world, as it is said. Abundant waters flowed in small streams, maybe tributaries of the river Hermos [Gediz Nehri] or due to overflowing brought on by the rain. However, despite having travelled almost the entire day under a splendid sun, in the evening a light drizzle started, and when we arrived at 11 at night with the slow–moving railway at Magnesia there was even some snow.
The drivers waited for us at the station with the horses. After unloading the guns and material, they harnessed the horses to them and moved them to the town, less than a mile away. This night, the battery at which I had been attached camped at the city outskirts, in a fenced yard that had a shed made of metal sheet at the rear. We heard that this was an abandoned alcohol factory. There we erected our tents, while the field kitchen and the repository were lodged under the shed.
Trying to stay in Asia Minor
The following morning at 11, all captains, along with Battalion Commander Vladimiros Kolokotronis, the great–grandson of Greek Revolution hero Theodore Kolokotronis, appeared before the Regiment Commander Nikolaos Papadimas to report their batteries’ strength, and also let the Commander acquaint himself with the newly arrived officers.
Captain Dimitropoulos, commander of the 7th battery, reported the presence of two provisionally attached men, a reserve corporal, that was me, and a permanent sergeant named Kyriakos Gitakos from Kalamata. The Regiment Commander ordered that we report to him at once. As soon as Commander Papadimas saw us and heard that we had come along without permission or regular transfer to the Asia Minor Army, he was outraged and sent us away. He immediately arranged to provide us with marching orders to return to our old regiment in Macedonia.
Major Kolokotronis disagreed, especially concerning my case, and supported our stay there, arguing that we were indispensable and that the battalion was in need of petty officers, but Commander Papadimas insisted. They exchanged some angry words and just about threatened each other, Papadimas saying, “I am Papadimas, and I command here!” and Kolokotronis replying, “And I am Kolokotronis!”
Finally, Papadimas’ position prevailed, as he was Regiment Commander, although they were of equal rank. This was all reported to me after the fact from men serving at the regiment headquarters.
When we left the regiment, my fellow truant, sergeant Gitakos, a brass hat and a tough guy, said to me:
“Never mind, you say nothing and trust me, they can’t get rid of us as easy as they think. There are ways to stay here, even if they don’t want us!”
The next day they summoned us to the regiment to provide us with marching orders for Salonica, but we pointed out that we had no money, not even a penny. They had to give us some money, otherwise we would be forced by poverty to steal, or even rob a Turk on our way back!
There was a standing order to treat Turks well, to demonstrate good conduct. In front of Aristidis Stergiadis, the Greek High Commissioner in Smyrna, the Turks were nearly always vindicated, even if they were in the wrong, and the Greek soldiers got punished.
Now, who would give us money, which would never be returned? Nobody! Thus the regiment paymaster refused to give us anything and he reported all that had taken place to the Regiment Commander.
Finally, as nobody was ready to assume the responsibility of a possible robbery by us, our departure was postponed until our old regiment would reply whether they would approve our stay in Asia Minor. They sent a telegram for this purpose and we were ordered to follow the battery we were currently attached to and wait for the answer.
We stayed a few more days in Magnesia, and then the battery was ordered to advance to the front, to a village called Mütevelli, and assume battle position. Thus one day at noon, just after lunch, the battery set forth for its new location.
When we started the weather was pretty good, and the sun was quite warm for the season. There was a drizzle here and there, but initially this didn’t worry us at all. The road was paved with irregularly shaped stones, called kaldırım in Turkish, and the gun wheels were echoing vexingly at our ears.
We were marching very slowly to avoid accidents, but meanwhile it started to drizzle more frequently, and soon the drizzle turned into regular rain. During the previous days we also had some rain. Nonetheless we moved on, and just before sunset we turned left into a dirt road that led to Karaağaçlı, a village before Mütevelli. Now this road, dug three feet and more below ground level, was flooded, and as we moved on it turned into a swamp that threatened to completely immobilise us.
When it had gotten dark we arrived at a point where any further progress would have been impracticable. The guns were buried in pulp–like mud up to their axles, and the horses experienced similar difficulties, not finding any solid ground to step on. We also were drenched from the rain and couldn’t even budge. With great effort we managed to pull out the first three cannons, which got through after the addition of a 4th team of horses. The transport carts had fortunately gone ahead. But the 4th gun was stuck, as the swamp had been deepened from the weight of the preceding vehicles and the mud now reached up to the horses’ bellies! In no way could the cannon be pulled out, so captain Dimitropoulos ordered to unharness the horses and abandon the gun and the limber (two–wheeled cart towing the gun), along with unit E, two caissons (carts carrying ammunition chests) with missiles that followed. We had to try to walk through the fields to reach the village.
Meanwhile the night had advanced, and a light snow was falling. The ground was so slimy and slithery, that a mule slipped and fell onto the elevated flank at the right of the road. Despite our help, the mule was unable to rise and stand on its feet, as its side was sticking to the mud. It seemed to be united to the ground! So we abandoned that too and proceeded to the village. By the time we got there, we could hardly lift our boots, so much was the mud that stuck onto them.
Once there we found again the men who had gone ahead, and fortunately also the kitchen, which had been sent ahead before we were stuck. Thus when we arrived, trembling from the cold and wet to the bone, we received a cup of hot tea instead of supper and we recovered a bit. We changed our clothes, lit a fire on the dirt floor in the middle of the room and warmed ourselves, and then we slept like logs.
In the morning we got up and after we sipped our morning tea, we got with us some peasants and 6 teams of oxen, as more resilient, and departed for the place where we had left the gun. There we were confronted by a most appalling sight.
The mule we had left there was still alive, but during the night wild beasts, possibly wolves or jackals, had jabbed out his eyes and had begun eating its fore parts. As it lay flat on its side, maybe they couldn’t get near its feet because it was kicking. We were forced to give it the coup de grace with two shots, to release it from its agony.
The cannon was still in the mud, but in my opinion we should praise God that no Turk had turned it towards the village to mow us all down! There were enough missiles in the limber and the caissons. Of course it would be somewhat harsh to assign troops to guard them, but if some Turks, even civilians, managed to load the gun and started to fire at the village with the 30 shells we had left in the limber, they would overwhelm us, and the entire front would be unsettled!
Finally we harnessed the oxen to the gun and the other vehicles, and with great exertion we managed to move them to the village. There we were all lodged in empty houses.
In any case, captain Dimitropoulos was unforgivable. First of all, rather than setting off in the morning, or even at noon, at one o’clock, to have enough time to arrive at the designated place, he hit the road almost at three o’clock. Secondly, he should have scouted the ground before he even set off. He should have sent an officer ahead, who’d have warned us and we’d have avoided entering the mud bog. Next, the guns shouldn’t have been left unguarded, alone in the fields during the whole night. That notorious captain should have assigned a garrison, even two men relieved every hour till dawn. The village was nearby and the replacement of the guards would have been easy.
In fact, when I came to know him as a captain, I was completely disillusioned. It was as though he did it deliberately. First, he had a tic – he seemed to wink with one eye all the time while he twisted his mouth, bloating his cheek at the same time – which made him look ridiculous. He had no real contact with the men, his only contact being the battery report, and he couldn’t find a kind word for anyone.
Next, all soldiers looked almost like beggars and were as good as barefoot too. That was so because when someone requested a piece of clothing, be it drawers or a jacket, he punished him with 10 days imprisonment, ostensibly because the man’s clothes were ruined through his carelessness. The soldiers would get new boots or leather to mend their soles, if necessary, however the 10 days imprisonment was unavoidable! Thus most soldiers preferred to be barefoot than ask for anything and thus be punished. As for me, although the knees of my breeches had some holes, I avoided to present myself before him.
The meal rations were insufficient too, although we qualified for 50 cents more each day from the moment we set our foot on Smyrna. This amount was not negligible at that time, when a soldier’s daily food ration allotment was 1 drachma and 25 cents in mainland Greece.
Just the same, all this skimpiness didn’t help him at all, for when he later handed over the battery to his replacement captain Moschovitis, huge deficits were discovered in all kinds of materials and he was forced to pay for them out of his own salary, as I heard.
This same day the battery went to Mütevelli, about one hour to our left, while the auxiliaries stayed at this village, along with the 300 mules brought from Macedonia to replenish the regiment’s animals. I stayed with the transports, like a stray dog, and nobody assigned me anything to do. Anyway this battery was not one of the units I knew and served for.
After some days we were again summoned to the Regiment in Magnesia, because they had received an answer from our old regiment in Macedonia. Indeed, after the battery provisioned us with bread and dry food for four days, we set forth for Magnesia. There we appeared before the Commander and were provided with marching orders to Smyrna by rail and from there to Salonica by ship, as our old regiment had moved its headquarters there. When we again protested “And where are we to go with no money at all?”, they answered:
“You get away from here, and you can go to hell!”
What had happened? The Regiment in Salonica not only had disapproved our stay in Asia Minor, but had telegraphed that we were declared as deserters, and we should be arrested, bound and sent back. Thus, after learning the particulars of our tale, they were sending us back to get clear of all that.
Actually the whole situation arose because of the stuffiness of the Regiment Commander major Papadimas, who had studied at the Military Academy in Berlin. He was afraid that order and discipline in the army might be upset if he kept us, while there were many examples of soldiers who had left their units in Macedonia and were then attached to other units at the front line, with no consequences for them. So he didn’t care at all what we would do or where we would go, provided he got rid of us. Let it be noted that, due to my unauthorised departure from Macedonia, I hadn’t any money at all. My family had completely lost contact with me for three months, and they had no idea where I was. Indeed, believing I was dead, they were preparing a memorial service for me! That was so because they were sending all their letters and money to Macedonia, post code 901 if I remember correctly. Naturally my regiment was expecting I would be returned to Macedonia bound as a deserter, while I was in Asia Minor, and they were withholding the letters, or were returning them after marking “Missing” on them.
Besides, at the same time I was leaving the unit where I served, my family dissolved all business we had in Athens and returned to my village, Kato Panagia near Tsesmes [Çeşme] in Asia Minor. So my letters to them were also being returned to me from Athens. It was only a few days before I was summoned to the Regiment that I learned that my family had returned to our homeland.
Back in Smyrna
Finally we got on the Magnesia train and the same night we arrived at Smyrna. As we had no money, I intended to find shelter for the night at a female relative from my village, but my companion sergeant Gitakos told me we should go to an acquaintance of his, in order to not be separated, as we had agreed to appear the following day before General Ioannou, Commander of the Smyrna Army Corps.
So we went to Punta, to a baker from Epirus he had met when we landed at Smyrna. How he came to know him during the two days we stayed in Smyrna, I don’t know. Nevertheless, he was very amenable and told us he was very happy he had the chance to host Greek soldiers at his home. He invited us to their table and we ate very well, and then he let us sleep in his lounge, in luxurious sheets and mattresses soft as feathers. Only heaven knows how many louses we left him!
In the morning we were served breakfast very early, for we were in a hurry to see General Ioannou and petition him to mind to keep us here.
After asking we found the General’s house, which was in the European Quarter, at the other end of Smyrna. So we went to the marble mansion where the General lodged and settled in to wait for him to come out. There was also a car there waiting for him. At about eight thirty his adjutant came out first and summoned the driver to draw near. Then General Ioannou appeared.
We stood at attention and saluted him. Meanwhile the adjutant approached us, followed by the General, who asked us:
“What do you want, my boys, here at this hour?”
He was very tall and somewhat stout, a giant with a friendly smile that encouraged one to express oneself. Sergeant Gitakos spoke first. After saluting, he told him that when the Battalion left Macedonia they took him along to help with the transport of animals and material, and now that his job was supposedly done, they were sending him back to Macedonia in a hurry. He wished to stay, as he was a permanent sergeant and hoped to distinguish himself at fighting and maybe even get a promotion.
I was dumbfounded by the lies he reeled off. As I have mentioned before, it was me they had kept to help them transport the Battalion’s animals to Salonica. Only these bogus excuses were finally accepted!
Then the General turned to me and said, “And you, what do you have to say?”
I told him the whole truth, namely that I was from Asia Minor and had asked hierarchically to be sent to fight for my Fatherland, but they did everything to prevent it, because as they said I was indispensable as a recruits trainer. I also said that I had appeared at the Regiment where they promised to transfer me, but they broke their promise and left me behind. Thus I was forced to run away and follow the Battalion. In order to bring me back they declared me a deserter, while I was absent only 5 hours, the time it took me to catch up with the Battalion coming to Asia Minor. My action could only be designated ‘Off barracks’, which is punishable by 10 days imprisonment.
Then he said, “For the sergeant maybe something can be done, though for you…”
I knew exactly what he was getting at, that is “…since you are a deserter…” so I pre–empted him:
“My General, I came to fight for my Fatherland, and I have no other ambition. You want to take me to the front? That’s fine by me! You don’t want to take me to the front? My village is not far from here! I could go to my village and really become a deserter, if that’s what everyone wishes!”
He then gave me a pensive look. Perhaps he sensed that my mind was made up, or maybe he saw the decoration of the Martial Cross and the markings for 4 semesters at the front that were sewn onto my uniform, so he told me: “Hey, come now! Let’s not overreact…” And he continued, “Now I am in a hurry. Come to see me at 8 in the evening at the ‘Grand Hotel Kraemer’, and we’ll see.”
We saluted him and he entered the car with his adjutant and left. With our hopes revived, we split up with Gitakos, after making an appointment to meet in the evening at the “Hotel Kraemer” on the quay. This hotel was very noble, the Smyrna equivalent of the Athenian “Grande Bretagne”.
I headed for the Konak Square and reached the quay, called the Quai by the Smyrniots. I intended to visit that relative of mine, who was working as a maid in a house there. I was still limping due to the wounds inflicted by my boots, when they were soaked in water while I was crossing the lagoon of the Strymon valley. As I was walking absentmindedly, following the quay and passing before the Koumerki, I heard someone shouting, calling my name:
“Hey, Hadjiyannis! Hey, you corporal!”
I was turning my head around, trying to locate the source of the voice, but I couldn’t discern anything at all. Finally I detected two hands, signalling at me to come close, while the voice continued to call me, and I then realised that the shouts came from the horse–drawn tram, which was ahead and had already advanced well away. I started running with all my might, forgetting my lameness, until I reached the tram.
I jumped on the tram gallery, where I saw three officers. Among them I recognised lieutenant Polymeros Moschovitis, the adjutant of my old regiment in Macedonia.
We shook hands and he greeted me, asking, “Any news? How are you, where have you been?”
I recounted a summary of my adventure and concluded that we are now racing along, trying to stay in Asia Minor. He then said:
“Remember what I had told you, that I will bring you back, and bound at that? You didn’t hear me… Now race along!”
I would have liked to tell him, “But you cheated me and didn’t do what the Colonel had said!” but I didn’t want to irritate him. I only said that I expected I would have an answer by the evening, and I hoped I could stay. He wished me luck and said he had been transferred to the Army staff, but he would prefer to take charge of a battery at the front.
I saluted them, got off and set out for the house where I would meet my relative, and be invited for lunch. She was working at an Armenian house at the quay and was named Despina Pappas, or Sourlis.
A visit to Cordelio
Nearby I saw the pier of the boats that serviced the Smyrna – Cordelio line. Seeing as I had plenty of time and that it might be my only chance, I thought to myself, instead of going to my relative, why not pay Cordelio a visit and see the Kostas Kodjias family, who were one of the richest families in Smyrna. I had known them from Athens, when I had waited on them while working at the “Hotel d’Angleterre”, where they had been staying as guests, Kodjias and his two daughters, after escaping from Smyrna in 1914. Thus I went to the pier and got on the boat to Cordelio, without a ticket, common practice among soldiers. There weren’t many passengers, maybe because of the hour, for it was nearly 10 and eventual workers had probably shuffled earlier. There were some passengers on the deck, but inside just two at the back of the salon, and on a couch a Turkish woman, a Hanım. I sat on a couch just opposite her. The Hanım seemed very elegant and high society, as she didn’t wear the usual black robe and veil worn by all lower class Turkish women. She wore a light violet silken dress, a veil of the same colour, nice slippers and golden jewels on her hands. She was a little corpulent, as it was then fashion for women to be fattish. A little farther away sat a second Turkish woman, elderly as judged by her movements, maybe her attendant, who was dressed in black as usual.
After a while the boat, having not so many passengers, started chugging out of the harbour. I was staring in the Hanım’s direction, but she also had her eyes on me.
Then, as if by miracle, the Hanım sitting opposite me raised her veil for a while and I must admit that I then looked upon one of the most sublime creatures I ever saw in my life: A radiant sun glowed before me, an angelic face radiating beauty and symmetry, two rose–coloured cheeks, an ethereal being hard for even the best poet to describe! Two black eyes burning like fire were transfixed on mine, and I couldn’t avoid them even if I wanted to. I even thought she smiled at me…
Then she lowered her veil to avoid being seen by the other woman, and I felt that the sun had blanked out. I was left speechless… I must admit I hadn’t ever seen such an angel, although I had seen many beauties at the hotels “d’Angleterre” and “Grande Bretagne”, where I used to work.
As for myself, I couldn’t stop staring at her and being immersed in thoughts for the next half hour, until the boat arrived at the pier of Cordelio.
We got out of the boat and the Hanım walked ahead while I followed for a while, up to the point where we each had to go our separate ways. She had turned occasionally looking backwards, while I was considering whether I should follow her. I was a shabby soldier, unkempt and even somewhat unshaven. What would she want of me?
I desired to run after her, but because of the fact that I had noticed a giant Negro, possibly an eunuch, following her from afar, and also because I feared a trap, I was compelled to abandon any thoughts of following. I had read enough novels about harem odalisques, who seduced young men. After sucking them dry, they killed them, put them into sacks with stones and threw them into the Bosporus, never to come out again. I couldn’t of course spare the time for such business. I had another goal to accomplish, not to relish for a while and then go down the drain.
At any rate I have to admit that this event shocked me, for the raising of the veil was a provocation. I knew only too well that Turkish women are forbidden to show their face to men, and in particular to Giaurs (infidels), as their Koran says.
Thus, intoxicated but also scared, I went on my way. I asked someone where the house of Kodjias was and he told me, “Before you arrive at Pappa Skala [Bostanlı] and just before the last row of houses, you’ll see it.”
Indeed, the Kodjias mansion was the largest and most beautiful house, a three–floor palace. The attic at the top resembled turrets, roofed with metal shingles instead of tiles. An enormous iron door shut off a vast and very lovely garden with many flowers, and opposite the house a wooden ramp penetrated into the sea, having a big kiosk at its tip to let the family get ready to bathe. This little palace was so grand at that time, that even King Constantine was put up there when he visited Smyrna.
The two Kodjias daughters, two outstanding beauties of the era, had married in Athens, one of them to the heroic Commander Botsis, the destroyer of “Fethi Bülent”, a big Turkish warship torpedoed in 1912 inside Salonica harbour. The second daughter was also married to a Navy Commander, named Bouboulis.
I rang and Alexandra, their chambermaid whom I had known from Athens, opened the door. I was lead to the first floor and after a while the girls also appeared. They welcomed me and suggested that I should stay for lunch, but I had other work to do and couldn’t stay, so I thanked them but declined. Thus they just offered me sweets and drinks, served by Alexandra.
Having passed the morning there, I went to the pier, boarded the boat and returned to Smyrna.
Permission to stay
After walking around for a while and also visiting my cousin, early in the evening I made my way to my appointment with sergeant Gitakos and waited for him outside of the “Kraemer” hotel.
At the ground floor there was a deluxe café, where I waited. When the other one arrived, we ascended the flight of stairs to reach the large hall on the first floor. The stairs were wooden but neat, with parquet and a carpet in the middle. The landing was quite large, and a four–leaved door with opaque glass squares served as an entrance to the hotel proper. Although my clothes were a mess, I courageously opened the door and stood transfixed, almost like a statue, such was the spectacle before me. Having previously worked at the “Hotel d’Angleterre”, I was no novice to luxury and opulence, but this was marvellous.
An enormous hall, with all walls clad by huge gold–rimmed Venetian mirrors, where everything under the many crystal chandeliers was splendidly multiplied! An exotic garden with every fine flower one could imagine! Ladies and maidens looking like fairies in their fine–spun low–necked toilettes, and diamond ornaments sparkling on swans’ necks…
The whole aristocracy and beauty Smyrna was able to display was gathered there, along with all Army officers, staff and otherwise, with their gold–trimmed uniforms, decorations, epaulets and golden cordons. Just about everyone attended this ball. I didn’t dare enter with my patched–up and even torn and dirty clothes, and stood there as if I had been turned into stone…
We hardly had the time to at least satiate our eyes with the spectacle, when a push by the General’s adjutant brought me to my senses. After leading me a little out of the door, he asked me:
“What are you doing here?”
I reminded him that in the morning the General himself had asked us to come here, and he told us, “Come to Magnesia tomorrow, the General will be there too. Now scram! This is a levee!”
I said, “Do you think they’ll let us go to Magnesia? No one will let us, without marching orders.”
He told us to wait outside. He then turned around and went to the General. When he returned, he gave us a note for Garrison Headquarters, saying:
“To Smyrna Garrison: As commanded by General Ioannou, you are hereby ordered to provide the bearers with marching orders to Magnesia.”
We thanked him, saluted and descended the stairs, full of enthusiasm and with our hopes revived. We went to Punta, to the house of that kind baker, who would take us in eagerly and good–naturedly as if we were his own relatives. They too were delighted after hearing the good news, and they asked us again to sit at their table, even if we had already eaten, to keep them company. I wonder, was this gentle family rescued after all?
The next day we thanked that hospitable patriot and went directly to Garrison Headquarters. We presented the General’s note and they indeed provided us with marching orders to return to Magnesia. We went to the Basmahane [Basmane Garı] railway station, got on the train and arrived again at Magnesia in the afternoon.
We went to the Regiment and asked to be settled somewhere until the General arrived, and they sent us to the 9th battery for provisioning.
For two days we were going to the Regiment to meet the General, but the first day we were informed that the General hadn’t come yet and the next day we were told to reappear the day after that at 11 o’clock.
Indeed we went, waited and saw the General, a real giant, turn up. When he saw us, he told the officer of the day: “Hasn’t Papadimas arrived yet?”
The officer answered that he had been given a ring, and that he was on his way.
After a few minutes we saw Papadimas, the Regiment Commander, ascending the stairs. At the same time the General stepped out of his office and into the hall. They met, saluted each other and then the General asked Papadimas:
Ioannou: “Papadimas my boy, tell me, are we in want of petty officers?”
Papadimas: “Certainly we are, my General!”
Ioannou: “Why don’t we keep them, then?”
Papadimas: “Because their regiment is asking for them. They have telegraphed us to send them back, to be tried as deserters.”
Ioannou: “Well, don’t we have military tribunals here?”
Papadimas: “We do.”
Ioannou: “Then send them to the batteries that need petty officers, to cover our needs. Since they are deserters, let their regiment send us the paperwork to court–martial them here! Agreed?”
Papadimas: “As you order!”
Indeed, we were sent to the Regiment adjutant, where we were asked as to which battery we wanted to join. We told them we preferred the Moschovitis battery, because in the meantime we had learned that lieutenant Moschovitis had assumed command of the 7th battery, previously commanded by Dimitropoulos.
7th artillery battery
They gave us an attachment note and the same afternoon I set out alone to Mütevelli. The sun was still high when I arrived at the village, which was predominantly Christian, with only a few Turks. It even maintained a Greek school, where now the battery was lodged. The school was an old building with a surrounding wall at the front. At the two sides it may have had doors once, but now the doors were missing, for the Germans had collected all iron artefacts during the war due to a shortage of iron. Even the walls were half–demolished.
When I got in through the south entrance, I saw captain Moschovitis and second lieutenant Kolias, very familiar to me from the Salonica front, standing near the opposite entrance, the north one, talking. Once the captain spotted me heading towards him, as I was limping a little, he welcomed me with the following words, though smiling:
“You came to me here, you cripple? Beware, we don’t tolerate crabsticks here! I will smash you!”
I answered, “We’ll be fine, captain, sir!”
When I drew near, he said, “Where do you want to be posted?”
And I, “Captain, sir, I’ve always been at the guns, never at the transports. Therefore, at one of the gun units of the battery.
The captain drew away with Kolias and they exchanged some words between themselves. When he returned he told me, “Now you’ll temporarily go to the transports, to the village Karaağaçlı, and after that we’ll see.” As the sun had not yet set, he told me to leave at once for the village, which was less than half an hour away.
Maybe I shouldn’t have accepted the post, but I was reluctant to react, as I didn’t want to give rise to quarrels from the first moment. I mounted a horse and departed immediately, to avoid being on the road after dark. I went to the village, which was familiar to me, as it was the same one we had been to with captain Dimitropoulos initially.
Only now the situation was completely different. The food had improved and all men were properly clothed and shoed. Discipline had yet to be restored, but through no fault of the soldiers, as I soon discovered. What was missing was the spiritual link between the low–rank officers and the reservists.
I reported before reserve warrant officer Georgiou, commander of the transports, who provided me with clothing, blankets etc. He put me in charge of all indisposed material, carts, mules and horses we had brought from Macedonia to replenish the batteries. These were all ill–tempered animals that bit and kicked. And that was not all. The transport men were of the same disposition too, all crabsticks as they are called in the army.
I went to the house where the men I was in charge of were settled, in order to sleep. The building was nearby, just before the village coffeehouse. It was a room built of mud–bricks, spacious as all old Turkish houses, but utterly slipshod. Turkish houses were usually paved with wooden boards on the floor, and they had a kind of sofa, also made of boards but standing a mere six inches off the ground, and the traditional fireplace at one corner. This room in contrast had a dirt floor, no wooden boards, just that it was elevated about three feet from street level and there was no danger of flooding when it rained. As for the street, it was still a muddy swamp, although more than a few days had passed since the last rain.
I picked out a corner, spread out one of the blankets I had been given and lay down to sleep. I slept soundly, as I had taken a long walk from Magnesia to Mütevelli, and from there a ride to Karaağaçlı.
In the morning we were all awakened by clarion call as usually. I shook the dirt of my blankets and folded them orderly. I noticed however that the men, all veterans of the Salonica front, had rolled their blankets very sloppily, together with all the dirt they had possibly taken up from the ground where they had been spread. I rebuked them, saying that they were soldiers and were not supposed to act this way, and adding that they had to shake and fold their blankets orderly. Then, someone answered:
“Don’t you think you are asking too much, corporal, sir? You think we are rookies?”
I replied that I was sorry, but if they wouldn’t shake their blankets, then I would do it for them. At the same time I grabbed his blankets, stepped out of the door to a small porch and started shaking them.
He then ran and wrested the blankets out of my hands, saying, “I didn’t mean you should shake my own blankets, corporal, sir!”
He then proceeded to shake his blankets. Everyone emulated him and all shook and folded their blankets orderly, just like my own. In the meantime I asked for their names and told them that I am a fan of order. Above everyone’s berth I would place a small card with one’s name, to be able to know when someone’s place and things weren’t shipshape.
I also found out that some would try to avoid going out with the carts on duties when the weather was bad. They resorted to the doctor, a benevolent man from Epirus, who would release them of service, even for one day, so that master sergeant Manousos was obliged to find substitutes.
I declared that I would prepare a service list for stable guards and other jobs, where all names would be written down in succession. I would post it at our chamber, so that everyone would be able to tell by himself when he had a service to do. No one would be allowed to jump the queue without a sound reason, and even then one had to report it beforehand. In this case, when one recovered, one had to take on the service of the next sick man.
Finally I told them that I would do everything I could to suit their needs, and that we would get along fine, like brothers.
That was it, and in this way everything was settled.
When the captain came on Saturday to perform his weekly inspection, he was impressed. He then asked the warrant officer:
“What about this change? Who managed to put this horde in order?”
And warrant officer Georgiou replied, “The new corporal you sent me.”
Naturally the captain didn’t mention that to me, but the warrant officer told me about it when the captain had left.
Unfortunately, hardship burst out after a few days. I was overcome by a high fever, the doctor diagnosed malaria and naturally quinine was the best remedy. In any event, although the doctor had freed me from any service for four days, and four more after that, I continued to do my job whenever possible.
About a month passed from the day I had taken charge of the transports. We frequently took the animals to graze in the plain, where the grass was plentiful, because when the river Hermos flooded, it irrigated everything. With my men I got along very well, no complaints and no grumbling. As for me, after all that I had suffered to remain in Asia Minor, I was happy and content.
Service was operating like a clock, when one afternoon sergeant Anastasios Ioannou from the battery at Mütevelli turned up, riding a reddish mare. By captain’s order, he would take charge of the transports, along with the kitchen as quartermaster, and I would return to the battery to take over gun unit C, which had been commanded by the sergeant himself up to now.
This sergeant, a good man and a fine fighter from Patras, had nevertheless no idea of cannons, as he had initially been a driver, that’s horse rider, and had been promoted to corporal and then to sergeant through his bravery.
He handed over his horse, I mounted it and rode to Mütevelli, where the battery was posted ready for battle. It was in the middle of March, and that year there was a mild, early spring. The plain up to Magnesia and beyond, reaching Kasaba [Turgutlu], was ever so green with its blossoming almond trees and countless white and yellow daisies. It was simply intoxicating, only this illusion was not meant for us seasoned fighters…
Instead of enjoying the fragrant early spring, I was galloping most of the way to arrive at my destination as soon as possible. It was sunset when I arrived at Mütevelli. I reported to the captain and he led me out and to the right of the village, onto the slopes of a hill where the guns were deployed, ready for battle. He showed me gun unit C, which I was to command, smiling:
“This is your unit. Make sure you get to know your men, I may need you soon.”
At the 7th battery there were at least 10 sergeants, yet the unit was assigned to me, although I was only a corporal. This was very extraordinary. I was surely accustomed to it from the previous battery I had served, however we now were at the front.
I went to my unit to supervise the gun’s cleaning and acquaint myself with my fellow gunners. Truly, getting to know about 14 men wasn’t so easy for me, as the time I had for this task was too little. This is because in the evening of the day after I arrived, the captain called me and said:
“Have your unit ready at 5 in the morning. We’re going somewhere.”
I used to always get up earlier than my men, even when I was just a gun layer (responsible for aiming the gun at the target). Thus in the morning I raised my men earlier than usual, for they had to groom the horses, water them, feed them and harness them, ready for departure. Just after dawn the captain appeared. After inspecting us and finding everything in order, he remounted his horse and ordered us:
“Attention! Mount! Ready, march!”
Our launch was smooth enough. A sole unit, my own, was led out of the village and we advanced to the left of Mütevelli, towards our vanguard in the plain. We may have had some infantry with us, although I didn’t see it. If so, it may have gone ahead of us, as we advanced even beyond our actual lines.
We marched an hour and more, and then we left the straight road and turned in the direction of a watermill, which was about two miles away from the Saruhanlı railway station.
Near the station there was a minaret, which was used as a forward observation post by the Turks. From there they could follow our every move in the plain. The plain was vast and devoid of any irregularities, so that the enemy couldn’t miss even one of our activities. For this reason the Corps had decided to shoot it down and the execution of the order was assigned to our battery.
This operation would be attended by the Regiment Commander Major Papadimas, who had met us midway.
We arrived at the watermill, where nothing else was standing but a few demolished but high walls. There was also a small, shallow stream, its bed consisting of pebbles and rocks, clear as those in the sea. The stream passed and vanished under the ruins of the watermill, re–appearing at the other side. Apparently its waters would have once been used to move the watermill wheel.
We unlimbered inside the stream waters, covered by the watermill ruins and some shrubs that had grown on them long ago. The captain climbed on the ruins, using them as an observation post, and gave us the distance and deviation for an indirect shot, for the target was not visible, being hidden by the walls of the mill:
“Drum 10, abacus 0!”
I conveyed the data to the gun layer, a young Macedonian named Maletsikos, and checked the execution, having myself once been a gun layer.
The captain ordered, “By explosives!” The first gunshot was fired to regulate the shots, the deviation was somewhat adjusted and we were ordered, “Twofold, by explosives!”
We had nearly reached accuracy limits, for gunshots always exhibit a certain dispersion. Indeed, when the ground where the gun stands isn’t firm enough, the dispersion is greater.
Now the captain instructed me to put the quadrant – a device used to determine the degree of elevation of the gun – on the gun’s tube. A precision shot began, correcting the distance by millimetres, as the target was somewhat small and therefore difficult to hit. He fired one more shot and then started giving commands for various slight distance variations, “50 farther!” or “25 nearer!”
We might have fired some 15 shots, but the minaret was still standing intact. Then Commander Papadimas interfered, saying:
“What are you doing, Mr. Moschovitis? You have fired so many shots, with no result!” He was concerned, as the cost of each shell exceeded 4 golden sovereigns. All the shells fired by Moschovitis had a total cost of 63 golden sovereigns.
But Moschovitis, fretting, turned around and told him:
“What’s the fuss, Commander, sir? I bet the minaret will tumble down before I reach 30 shots. If you can shoot it with 50, I’ll lose whatever you want!”
Commander Papadimas was dumbfounded. He didn’t reply, maybe because he had never performed a precision shot. Anyway the firing continued till the 25th or 26th shot, when we saw the minaret falling into ruins.
Immediately the gunners cleaned the gun. We called the drivers with the horse teams, harnessed them to the gun and made our trip back to Mütevelli, while the Commander returned to the regiment’s headquarters in Magnesia. At noon we had lunch with the rest of our colleagues at the battery, as though nothing had happened.
During the following days there was much work to do, mainly battery, rapprochement and manoeuvre exercises, as well as simulated shots. Although I had participated in battery exercises many times, these specific exercises were magnificent in their precision, above all the approaches to occupy a position.
The regiment commander didn’t miss an opportunity to observe our battery. Once or twice I noticed that he expressed some criticism to our captain, but Moschovitis would talk back whenever appropriate. It was maybe for this reason, namely for impertinence, that Papadimas had disciplined him often enough with ten days prison, as Moschovitis wouldn’t leave anything unanswered. He had a reply ready for everything.
Notwithstanding Papadimas’ apparent dislike for our captain, the Commander, doing him justice, listed him as the best in the rating order index of the regiment, as I heard from headquarters. And this was the battery that was on the verge of collapse when administered by Dimitropoulos. Now it was exemplary: All soldiers considered recalcitrant in other units were sent to the Moschovitis battery for correction. And could one say that he was very strict? Not at all – with his smile and thoughtfulness, he disarmed any resistance to discipline.
First of all, our food was the best in all units. Secondly, the clothing was excellent. In the Dimitropoulos era everybody was in rags, while now all men had dual uniforms, one for the daily exercises and a second, brand–new one, for going out. As for boots, everyone had a pair in excellent condition, and two or three blankets if required.
Of course the men didn’t have to carry anything. The gunners stowed their knapsacks on the limbers of the guns, the drivers had their saddlebags and the transport men put everything in the carts.
Wherever our battery passed by, it left the best impressions. Before long, it had become a legend!
A raid to Bin Tepe
At the front line at Mütevelli we cooperated with and supported the 5/42 Evzone infantry regiment, called “Şeytan Asker” [Satan’s Army] by the Turks and commanded by major Plastiras.
The Evzones were elite infantrymen in Greek Revolution (1821) attire, wearing a kilt and rustic upturned shoes with large black tufts at their tip.
The regiment had many mules, as well as donkeys. After an arrangement between Moschovitis and Plastiras, second lieutenant Kolias undertook the training of an infantry section, subsequently called the “Donkey–Cavalry” of Plastiras. They were trained as mounted infantry, and they wreaked havoc on the enemy! Especially during pursuit, when the enemy was forced to retreat, they were startled seeing the Evzones, like demons, hot on their heels. This was the result of a suggestion by Moschovitis, whom Plastiras, the feared “Kara Biber” [Black Pepper] of the Turks, admired for his ingenuity.
The days passed and we were now in the middle of the Lent, when the regiment was ordered to carry out a raid towards Bin Tepe, to drive out and punish the enemy. Bin Tepe, meaning “Thousand Mounds”, were several hills east of Kasaba, suitable for defence. From there some Turkish irregulars, called Çetes, set off and disturbed the nearby villagers. They grew bolder however, and one night they descended on Papazli [Halitpaşa], a village very close to the front, where they managed to kill two Christians and burn their houses before being driven out by our own soldiers.
Our Allies and mandate assigners had designated a Greek occupation zone, and it was forbidden to pursue the enemy into the hinterland without their permission. This raid of the Turkish irregulars was justification enough to undertake the Bin Tepe operation. Our goal was to disperse the Turkish gangs that infested the countryside and, if possible, disarm the civilians too. These would sometimes attack and, when pursued, enter their villages, hide their weapons and pretend to be peace–abiding citizens.
There were about 10–12 sergeants in the battery. Thus it was odd that the captain called me to tell me that the following day we would set off, following the 5/42 Regiment of Plastiras to support it on the raid to Bin Tepe. The 2nd section of the battery, that is gun units C and D, should be made ready.
I was further amazed at departure, when I saw that no sergeant would participate in the raid. Instead of sergeants as unit commanders, as prescribed by regulation, there were two corporals, me for unit C and corporal Constantine Elenis from Kiourka in Attica for unit D. Corporal Elenis was probably Albanian-speaking, barely educated and had no idea of guns, as he had been a horse driver before being promoted to corporal and hadn’t attended any specialist training. However, he was a good fellow and disciplined enough, and handsome. Others who would follow us were permanent sergeant Gitakos, my former colleague at the hardships we had suffered while trying to stay in Asia Minor, acting as master sergeant, along with two more corporals as second–in–command of the gun units, both also originating as horse drivers. Finally, second lieutenant Anastasios Kolias would join us too.
The following morning, the battery section was ready. It was a spring day indeed, the sun shining but without any heat. Thus we started, following the narrow dirt cart–road that joined Mütevelli and the other villages to Kasaba.
An hour after we had set off, just after we had crossed our lines, a large group of Turkish horsemen tried to stop us by dismounting and fighting on foot, and thus we had our first skirmish. To avoid any casualties, our infantry demanded artillery support. We unlimbered and, after firing a few well–aimed shots, we forced the enemy to flee. After that we started advancing towards Kasaba, our objective for that day.
After the end of the battle and just before we started moving, the captain called for master sergeant Gitakos. He ordered him to get one of the two carts that were following us and go to the Turkish villages we had captured towards our right in the plain, to procure some hay and barley for the horses. However, he left and disappeared, and we only saw him again after we had returned from our operation! To excuse himself, he said that he lost us and wasn’t able to find us, a big lie of course, as Kasaba was visible from everywhere in the plain. Afterwards we learned that instead of barley and hay, he looted the villages, collecting various domestic implements, maybe even animals, and sold them in other villages!
The captain reported him, but at the same time accepted his excuse, not willing to destroy him by sending him to be court–martialled. He was nevertheless punished with 45 days imprisonment and immediately after that he was transferred to another battery. Thus we got rid of this scoundrel…
We continued towards Kasaba. In the afternoon we arrived at the river Hermos, located just in front of the town. There, on an improvised bridge constructed with boats by our engineer corps, I met the notorious major George Kondylis, who was heading towards our old positions to cover the gap created by our departure. I must confess that he didn’t strike me at first sight. Although astride a magnificent reddish horse, he was very short and this led one to underrate him. I changed my mind, however, when I observed him more carefully. He had the eyes of a predatory falcon that flashed like lightning, set in a very dark face that seemed to conceal the power of a lion ready to make a dash, along with the sneakiness of a tiger. Maybe that’s why he would later be called “Thunder”. Unattractive but virile, with a small moustache twirled like “hooks”, as the peasants say, his presence imposed such power that one was impressed immediately.
I stayed at the end of the column, waiting for all our vehicles to cross, while he was facing me. I was setting my eyes on him for the first time, that’s why I stayed behind to observe him better, because he was famed all over the army for his courage, and his name had become a legend. And we know that in order for somebody to be valiant and brave, it isn’t necessary for one to be tall or handsome. He greeted the captain with familiarity and proceeded at the head of his regiment’s column, maybe to meet major Plastiras.
We got on, and we arrived at Kasaba late in the afternoon. Soon after we watered the horses and received our meal it became dark, so no one was interested in visiting this verdurous town. We set up our tents in the vicinity of some walled gardens at the city’s outskirts and lay down to sleep.
In the morning we rose, watered and looked after the horses, and got ready for departure. When we set off, the captain told me that Gitakos hadn’t returned, and that I should be careful.
We got out into the plain to pursue the enemy. The enemy, who possessed many horses, used to fight as dismounted cavalry, so as to manoeuvre rapidly, but they had some machine guns too. Now, falling back to more defensible positions, they intended to resist us, but because of the stormy impetus of our Evzones and also because of their own lack of artillery, they were forced to retreat again.
On our way we encountered a small village with a few houses, but we passed it from afar and didn’t enter. Out of it, on some rocky outcrops, there were thermal springs with very hot waters. One of the fountains was inside a door–less roofed building, and there were also two or three other structures, resembling semi–covered basements, possibly serving as locker rooms or basins for the baths. Other boiling waters spouted from some rocks and merged into small streams that spread about in the plain.
We proceeded and pitched camp in a small ravine, formed by two hills without signs of any vegetation. Thus we had a sort of cover.
Let it be noted that I was still limping a little. The wounds inflicted by the water of the Strymon River, that had entered my boots when I crossed the flooded plain to catch up with the Battalion headed for Smyrna, were still bothering me.
Yet I was obliged, apart from being unit commander, to assume the duties of corporal of the day, sergeant of the day and master sergeant. I had to take care of the horses, the men’s service, garrison and stable guards, the meals, in short everything required of an artillery unit in miniature during combat. I had to supervise everything, so that some of the bolder soldiers, regarding it a little funny that I took on all duties, started mimicking my gait, limping and addressing me with snickers, “At your orders, master sergeant, sir!”
Unfortunately my colleague corporal, being fresh, had no idea of anything. Second lieutenant Kolias too, who was with us and was a very active and smart officer, was always following the captain acting as lieutenant, in case something happened to the captain. Anyway he exhibited complete indifference for everything else, or maybe he feigned indifference while watching me. Thus I was responsible, as battery section commander, for the execution of the captain’s commands too.
I don’t know if this was a test, as they say, to check my abilities. Of course, I managed, since I had been specially trained, I had studied the regulations, and I also had participated in battles and in the offensive and pursuit of the enemy at the Salonica front. But when I went to sleep, for a few hours at least I was as like a dead man…
It was the third night after we had started.
When morning arrived, we set off again. As I learned from the officers, we were in the vicinity of Lake Marmara. This time the enemy force was larger and they intended to fight. The machine guns sang nicely and the battle lasted for several hours.
As the second lieutenant was at the forward observation post, I was responsible for the battery section. The captain phoned, the telephonist communicated the calls to me and I supervised the execution of the shots. But maybe from the load of work, or the sun, or the chronic malaria, I got a high fever. Yet how could I rest, while the battle was going on! Anyway there was no remedy at this time, only in the evening would we be issued some quinine, taken with a spoon from a bulk bottle.
That day we nearly had an accident.
At about 4 in the afternoon a shell fell ahead of the Plastiras detachment staff, a short distance – about 200 yards – in front of it. Of course I didn’t realise it immediately, but almost at the same time I understood what had occurred, I received a phone call from the captain, who was asking what had happened.
By that time I was already examining the error. This was either a fault of the gun layer, or it was brought about by the shifting of the gun, which occurred after every shot. The ground had a small slope and was soft and sandy, so the gun–trail couldn’t be secured on steady ground. Thus the gun was continuously recoiling by 2, 5, or occasionally even 20 inches when the shots were consecutive, and the distances couldn’t be kept constant.
On account of this instability, but also because the spirit-level tube kept shifting, the shell had fallen near the regiment staff, where the captain happened to be, too.
Finally, in the evening the enemy started retreating, and the Evzones with their “Donkey–Cavalry” pursued them beyond Lake Marmara. This resulted in their utter collapse, as they were forced to leave behind them more material, wounded and dead than during any of the previous days.
After the end of the battle, to anticipate any contingency, the captain pinpointed various targets and possible passages, from where the enemy could attack. Thus he would avoid being surprised during the night.
After pointing out the targets, he phoned to tell me to set up a night marking point, by mounting a lantern on a tree some 50 yards behind the battery. This however presupposed that the guns were firm, and that no recoil occurred after every shot! Hence, without even asking the captain and although I was being tormented by the fever, I first marked all targets on a remote point to the right side, on a high mountain that had a distinctive tree on it. Then I moved the guns about 40 yards sidewise to the left, onto solid ground. From there I again marked the targets one by one, first on the remote point to my side and then on the night marking point I had set up behind the guns. Thus I had the two new deviations, one for the day and one for the night, i.e. the shot data, drum and abacus for an indirect line of fire.
After marking all targets I ordered to light up the night lantern, for it was already getting dark. As for me, I hastened to lie down in my tent, as I had more than 39 degrees fever and I was having trouble standing on my feet. It was after dark, about an hour after having lain down, when I heard some horses galloping. It was the captain and the lieutenant, along with the captain’s attendants, the shot corporals, the liaison officer, Giannoulis the groom etc. At the same time I heard an enraged captain yell and swear:
“You, Hadjiyannis! Hadjiyannis, where are you?”
I got out of my tent, practically crawling, and saw a frantic mounted Moschovitis, yelling:
Moschovitis: “What the hell have you done here, you cuckold?”
Me: “Calm down, captain, sir.”
Moschovitis: “How can I calm down, you idiot? Who told you to move the guns? How can I fire at the enemy, if they attack during the night?”
I told him again to calm down and I begged him to hear me out, and then he could punish me if he so pleased. Indeed, he stopped yelling and told me, “Talk!” I then started to explain in detail what I had done, while he listened carefully:
“Captain, sir, I marked all targets with the data I had from that remote point. Then I moved the guns 40 yards to the left on solid ground, I confirmed the targets on the day marking point, and finally I marked every target on the night marking point you see right behind us. You just have to convert the yards the guns moved to the left to corresponding millimetres to the right, taking the targets’ distance into account. If you do the correction, sir, we’ll be right on target. I could even do it myself.”
After he had heard all my explanations, he looked at me thoughtfully and told me, “Say, where the heck did you learn all that?”
I replied, “Captain, sir, I try to be alert and I can read. I thought of it myself, since I am familiar with the gun and the sight vane, and I know enough about shooting regulations. Besides, all these years I am serving, I have learned a few things.”
Now, noticing that I was shivering with fever, he said to me with a smile, “Good. Now go to bed, my chap. Lie down and rest, and if you need a doctor I’ll send you one…”
He said good–night and drew away towards the transports, about three hundred yards to our rear, going to his own tent to sleep.
The events of this night, where we after all didn’t have to fire a shot, were the reason why captain Moschovitis just about never went anywhere for battle, with the battery or a section of it, without taking me along. Even, once in Çongara near Proussa [Bursa] and once in Kios [Gemlik], when he didn’t take my battery section along, he left me behind because he sensed danger and he wanted to be sure that the remaining part of his battery would pull through all tough occasions while he was away.
Since the enemy had been driven beyond Lake Marmara and manifested no attempt to counter–attack, the next day we were ordered to return to our positions, now that our objective had been accomplished. Moreover, we had no freedom of action for further away. Kondylis as well went to his old position, since his move was intended to shield our wings during our operation.
So we set off to return, just that this time it took us only a day and a half, as there was no enemy present to slow us down.
When we returned to the battery at Mütevelli, the captain refrained from sending me to the doctor, fearing that if I were sent to a hospital, there would be a chance that I would be transferred to another battery after that, so that he would lose me. Instead he ordered that I should have a tent just for myself to rest, and a soldier to wait upon me. He also ordered the kitchen to prepare special meals for me to strengthen myself, for I had wasted away somewhat. He even excused me of all services, because I still had a slight fever, which was continuing to discomfort me.
I have to admit that the attention given to me was unprecedented in the army.
Indeed one day the captain told me, “We two won’t separate hereafter, except when going to where even the King himself goes bareheaded!” - meaning the toilette.
Proposals for promotion
Some days passed like that, but as soon as I felt better I started making my way down to the stable to watch the men attend to the horses with the currycomb. The very first day, I don’t know what had happened, the captain visited the stables seemingly steamed up. After noticing that some corporals and privates were chatting while looking after the horses, he called the master sergeant who was following him and ordered:
“Two days arrest for all corporals present, because they don’t apply the regulation that forbids every conversation while attending the animals. And at night they’ll sleep at the detention barracks!”
I too was among them, although I was present there accidentally, having no obligation to be there. Anyway the master sergeant recorded my name too.
We didn’t have any detention barracks, so two empty rooms next to the battery office were designated as such. Thus, after our evening meal, most corporals took our blankets and got there. The irony was that after our return from Bin Tepe the whole battery slept in tents, but we the punished ones would sleep in houses paved with wooden planks! So not one of the others complained. I on the other hand could not tolerate the injustice of the punishment, so I protested by discussing the matter with others. Without knowing that the captain was in the adjoining office, as the hour was late, I was saying that tomorrow I would possibly report my complaint, because this was unfair for all and especially for me, who had been there without being obliged to, as I was excused of all services, and additionally I hadn’t been speaking at all.
Probably the captain heard the dialogue, because the master sergeant appeared shortly after and told me, “Your punishment is withdrawn, and you may all go sleep in your tents.”
So he set us all free and we returned to our tents.
At that time we received an order from the Division to propose men for promotion to corporals and sergeants. Our battery, which was the main actor at the Bin Tepe operation, naturally put forward their proposals. They proposed the two gun layers we had taken along, as well as other soldiers and gun layers for corporals. The corporal of the battery section’s other unit, Elenis, was proposed for sergeant and he subsequently got transferred elsewhere. Other corporals, who hadn’t taken part at all in the operation, were proposed for sergeants too.
The only one who “stayed out of the bridal chamber”, i.e. was skipped, was myself. For me there was no moral reward or anything else. Of course I didn’t mind at all, for if I had cared for military ranks, I would have stayed in Macedonia. However, among the officers, petty officers and especially among the men of the battery there was much mumbling, about how could it be that I had been exempted, I who had stood out most during the action! So one day two officers who were wondering why, second lieutenant Kolias among them, teased me by saying:
“Well–done, Hadjiyannis. You went and fought, and with your toils others were promoted and got filled with chevron, who didn’t even participate in the operation!”
I replied, “Why do you care? I don’t mind, because I fought for my country and not for chevron. Please, leave me alone!”
It was Passion Week, and we were doing preparations to celebrate Easter.
We dug two parallel trenches in the ground, not too deep, so that the feet of anyone sitting could rest on the ground, and in the middle we let a strip un–dug, to be used as a table where the food would be placed on pieces of paper. Although we didn’t have any timber or anything convenient to build seats and tables, we thus found our own way to produce both of them!
We created shade with branches from pines and various other trees. We put up posts and arches, building a kind of shed, which we covered with the branches and ornamented with flags. A little farther away we dug pits and threw in plenty of dried vine branches for the fire, to roast lambs on the turnspit.
The resurrection liturgy was celebrated in the open air, for we had been living out of the village after returning from Bin Tepe, and we even had a priest. I, with the experience I had as a child when I helped the church chanter at my village, chanted at the liturgy, and I even read out the Gospel. Then we walked through the camp, carrying about a holy icon and chanting.
It was the first time we celebrated Easter with such enthusiasm in the army. In the morning, instead of having tea, we sipped the traditional magiritsa, a soup made of lamb liver and entrails, and then we had roasted lamb, eggs, sweets and wine, all the standards of a Greek Easter. Unfortunately it was also the last one, because in the following two years I can’t remember any similar luxury. We had lamb of course, but not roasted, just cooked in the battery cauldron. There where we had been living, there weren’t any ovens to roast the lambs.
Finally Easter passed with eating and drinking wine, and plenty of dancing and singing that lasted for several hours. All were drinking and dancing, only I didn’t dance. I couldn’t because of my foot, but also because I wasn’t much of a dancer.
In any case, it was the best Easter I had in the army, even if my colleagues and even the officers kept pestering me each day about the injustice that had been inflicted upon me. However, they obliged me to disappoint them by my attitude.
One of these days, a Turk I had casually come to know invited me for lunch at his home. I accepted, more out of curiosity. He cared for me very well, although we hardly exchanged a word, for he barely spoke Greek and I didn’t speak any Turkish at all. That was because in my village we had no Turks, and no one had been born there. The policeman, the tax collector and the müdür – the civil representative – came daily from Tsesmes, 20–30 minutes away on foot.
He was young and he had 4 wives, as he had said to me. However when we went to his home, I was puzzled by the fact that I only met one of them. When I asked him about the others, I learned with difficulty that one had gone to cut wood, another was attending the sheep and the last one was working in the fields. The food was decent enough and the service too, though time passed quickly. I thanked him and left, and I never saw him again because after a while we moved away.
The Holy days passed and one evening the captain sent for me and called me to the Battalion headquarters. It had just become dark and they had lighted up a petroleum lamp. As I entered the office, I saw the Battalion Commander, major Vladimiros Kolokotronis, sitting behind a wooden table serving as a desk. On an improvised chair in front of the desk sat my captain, Moschovitis, who, after seeing me enter, said to me with a smile:
“Come here, Hadjiyannis, approach nearer. Don’t stand at attention, I want to talk to you.”
Moschovitis: “Listen, my boy, I know I have been unfair to you, but I’ll tell you why. You appear to be attached just to my battery, your old regiment keeps asking for you and maybe some day they’ll get you back. For this reason I proposed my own men for promotion, even if you have all qualifications, because they will stay with me. I am nevertheless ready to grant you any favour you’ll ask to compensate for the injustice you’ve suffered. Tell us what you want, and I and the Battalion Commander will try to satisfy your wish.”
Me: “Captain, sir, I am here to fight for my Fatherland, and I ask for nothing, except to stay with your battery.”
Moschovitis: “That you have already accomplished at the Corps. But do you want anything else that may depend on us? What would you wish? Do you want to be proposed for promotion now?”
Me: “No, captain, sir. I have asked you once whether I’ll be discharged at the same time as plain soldiers will be, and you’ve replied that maybe I’ll have to stay a little longer. Thus I want no further ranks.”
Then Kolokotronis intervened, saying, “Surely there is something you’ll want, it can’t be otherwise. Something should be done for you.”
Me: “If I must ask for something, then I want a leave for my village, to see my family. I haven’t been in my village for 10 years.”
Moschovitis: “All right. Leaves have been suspended, and they allow only four–day leaves for Easter. These haven’t been suspended yet, so we can grant you 4 days. Tell me, where are you from, and how far is your village from here, or from Smyrna?”
I told him that my village was at the tip of the Erythraean peninsula, a little farther than Tsesmes, and that it was about 60 miles from Smyrna, and of course more than that from Magnesia.
At that time communication with my village was done with carts, as follows: The cart left in the morning and arrived in the evening at Vourla, where it stayed overnight. The next morning they left for Smyrna, where they arrived approximately at noon. On the return trip they left from Smyrna in the afternoon, stayed overnight at Vourla and in the morning they departed again, arriving at my village in the evening. Let it be noted that the carts were laden with both goods and passengers, as then there were no cars, nor regular transport service.
“But then”, they said, “the four–day leave doesn’t even suffice to get there and come back. There won’t be any time left for you to stay at your village!”
I answered, “Let’s forget it, then.”
“No”, said the captain, “we told you that you can ask for something, and we have to find a way to satisfy your request. Well, then: You’ll get a normal four–day leave and an additional four days, granted from us unofficially. That’s on the condition that on the 8th day at 9 o’clock in the evening you’ll be present at the battery report. If you don’t, you’ll be declared a deserter and you’ll be court-martialled. As there is a precedent, you won’t get off lightly. All right?”
I replied, “Certainly!” as I had a great desire to see my own people and above all my village.
And captain Moschovitis said, “Then go to the warrant officer, and tell him to prepare the leave documents.”
Indeed I went, and they immediately issued the documents for my leave, which was to commence on the following day. Then I went to sleep, though I practically didn’t sleep at all till dawn. I could hardly wait!
On the road to my village
Bright and early the following day, even before the roll call, I set out to walk to Magnesia, where at noon I got on the train to Smyrna. I once again crossed the Menemen plain with its famous melons, and late in the afternoon I arrived at Smyrna. I went directly to the Great Taverns. The carters who went to the villages hung out there, at the large coffeehouses, as they had said to me. I enquired if there was a cart bound for Tsesmes or Kato Panagia, but was informed that the carter Makaronas, a compatriot from my own village, had already left in the morning and that he was coming and leaving every other day.
I asked if there was another carter leaving and they answered, “No.” Only the day after tomorrow Makaronas would come and leave again. But if I was in a hurry, all advised me to go to Vourla. A Turkish carter had left in the morning going there, to load flour for Tsesmes. He would leave Vourla tomorrow at 11 in the night for Tsesmes.
I considered leaving for Vourla immediately, but if I did, I wouldn’t gain anything at all, as the carter would leave from there tomorrow night. Nor did I want to travel at night, as I didn’t know the way, since it would be the first time I would travel by this route. Besides it was also dangerous, because I was alone and unarmed. If something unpleasant occurred to me, I wouldn’t be able to cope with it, since, as they said, there were gangs of armed Turkish rogues at large.
I slept at this cousin of mine, who was employed as a cook by a rich Armenian family. In the morning, still dark and cool with the dew, I got up and soon I was on my way to Vourla. The road was maintained in good condition by the Turks, since it was also being used for military purposes. I had to walk 16 miles to Vourla, and to get out of Smyrna another 2 or more. It was a 5–hour walk, less for me of course, although I had lately become unaccustomed to walking, as I used to go everywhere on horseback.
It was springtime and I must admit that the route was enchanting: Gardens and fields sown, the vines green, the trees flowering and the wildflowers spreading about their fragrant smells. To the right a calm, azure sea complemented the scenery.
The inhabitants of Vourla had not been expelled, since they had resisted being driven away. In addition, their few Turkish fellow citizens, who had benefited from living beside the Christians, didn’t put pressure on them to leave. Only those liable for military service had left, to avoid being drafted into the Turkish army. But even those had returned after the occupation of Smyrna by the Greek army, and had started to cultivate the land of their fathers and ancestors with zeal. This sea of green was an eye catcher, for all the devastation had been turned into a paradise on earth by the hands of these hardworking people. In contrast, the Turk had destroyed everything during the few years that intervened between the forced emigration of 1914 and up to 1919.
Walking lightly, as if I was flying, about noon I arrived at the famous for their valiant lads Vourla, that had a population of more than 40 thousand inhabitants, 80% of them Greeks. The central streets, the coffeehouses and the shops were throbbing with life and activity, as if it was a holiday. The commercial stores were loaded with goods, and all sidewalks outside of the coffeehouses were occupied by men drinking ouzo or coffee. Conversations were taking place everywhere, producing a continuous buzz, like a beehive. I couldn’t believe it, for I feared that after the expulsion I would face ruins. Instead, I saw a city full of vitality and action – Greeks and Turks like good friends, almost like brothers, apparently at least.
I asked for the han – the inn – frequented by carters. Somebody showed it to me and I went and questioned the innkeeper, who told me not to worry, for the cart would be leaving for Tsesmes at 11 in the night. I should be at the inn before that time. I was forced to wander around the town for a while to kill some time, and then I returned to the inn to rest and take a nap, to be ready for my nocturnal voyage.
The Turkish carter turned up at about 11 o’clock. He was a bit older than me, 25 to 30 years old, and had a physique more or less like mine. He loaded flour sacks by himself, and together we loaded everything else he had to transport. I weighed him up of course, and then I climbed on the cart and lay down on the sacks behind him and to his right. Finally we set off, while I of course kept my senses in vigilance, for besides the dark, the road passed through a lot of wooded areas and was very dangerous! It was a perfect desolation…
We were going for hours on end without encountering a living soul. From time to time we exchanged some words, because I didn’t want to fell asleep and I had to be very alert.
At about half past three in the night we arrived at Zingoui [Uzunkuyu], a small village in the middle of a forest of huge pines, whose shadow made the night seem still darker. The village was a stop over for all carters, who halted at an all–night coffeehouse full of every kind of people, almost all Turks. There were many colliers and woodcutters too, because of the huge forest, from which the whole province obtained coal and timber for construction. There was also plenty of game, but hunting wasn’t very widespread at that time.
Later, George Miniotis, a relative of mine, related the following incident, which occurred after 1948:
On the Tsesmes – Smyrna line there were now buses instead of carts. Passing through Zingoui, they paused there to have some coffee. Miniotis saw a villager carrying three killed partridges. As he stared at them, the villager noticed it and told him, “Do you want any partridges?” He replied, “Yes, but I would need about a dozen.” And the Turkish villager said, “I’ll go and fetch them.” “All right, but the bus leaves in a quarter of an hour.” “Good, I’ll go now to get them.” He didn’t believe him, however before the quarter of an hour was over, the Turk brought him the partridges! Miniotis asked him, “Where did you find them, so quickly?” and he replied, “There’s a riverbed nearby, and there are so many of them there! That’s where I killed them.”
So there, at Zingoui, we halted to rest, and also water and feed the horse. The carter bought me coffee and had one himself too. However I hardly saw the village, for pines and other trees were obscuring everything, so that it was totally dark. As my carter said to me, there was probably a Greek outpost there, though I didn’t see any gendarme.
We sipped our coffee and set off again in the dark. Again, I didn’t dare to sleep and continued to have my eyes on the movements of my carter, fearing that the Turk would attack me if I slept, and throw me into a riverbed! He was unarmed of course, but so was I. Dawn broke in. After one or two miles we arrived at a stream with hardly any water, over which there was a wooden bridge. At this bridge, the bridge of Zingoui as it was called, in a winter night some 12 years ago, the most dramatic incident I can remember from my childhood had happened.
A dignitary from my village, named Xenophon Pantazidis, was returning by carriage from Smyrna, where he had gone to treat one of his children, a little baby. During his return voyage it started pouring in torrents, a storm threatening to devastate everything. As they approached the bridge, the stream had overflowed and the water was coming in waves up to and over the bridge. They tried to cross, however the horses run wild, the carriage was toppled and the passengers were thrown into the river! The Pantazidis couple themselves were rescued, but the baby, a cute boy, slipped off their hands.
Before the shocked parents could recover, the child had disappeared. The stream had swept it away. It was found the next day after a search, but unfortunately drowned. I remember that there was much crying and lamentation at the village, as this was unprecedented till then. Nearly everybody, parents, relatives and friends, and generally all villagers wept for his loss…
I asked the Turkish carter about it, and he confirmed that he had heard of the incident.
A little farther on, to the right of the road, was dug an improvised gun emplacement. I asked my Turkish carter about it and he told me that a Turkish long–range cannon had been installed there, which sometimes fired at Chios during the war of 1915 – 1918.
Finally we got ahead and we saw to our left the fields of the town Alatsata [Alaçatı], vineyards and plenty of olive trees, at a time when olive oil was one of the most precious products. However, although the Christians had been away for 6 years and the fields had been left uncultivated, they had afterwards tended them so well, that nobody would believe they had been absent for so long.
Alatsata was a quite large town that hadn’t suffered much damage, and even if it had, the hard–working Alatsatians had restored everything except for a few houses in ruins. Before its population had been expelled it had 17.000 inhabitants, almost all of them Christians. I didn’t know how many it had now, but there wasn’t much activity, as it was only about eight thirty when we passed through its centre.
In Alatsata I had some cousins through my mother’s sister, having the surname Karayannis or Kaleditses. They were 4 sisters, fairly well–off and all married to Alatsatians. Many prosperous householders from Alatsata, and from Tsesmes too, came to find wives from my village Kato Panagia, for its women were famous for their beauty and their fine long hair.
Nevertheless I had no time to visit my cousins, so I didn’t mention it to the carter.
We passed by the city cathedral, the church of Virgin Mary, and we got out of the town, now following the most beautiful road of the whole route. To the right and left, huge jujube trees covered the road for more than one mile. This road I was acquainted with, for when I had once visited the thermal baths at Lidjia [Ilica] with my mother, we had also gone to Alatsata to see one of those cousins of mine.
Lidjia and Tsesmes
Finally we arrived at Lidjia, which had been the best spa town in Turkey before the expulsion of the Greeks. Then it had been a summer resort for many foreigners living in Smyrna, and also for others who came for the baths from all over Turkey, the nearby Aegean islands, and even from Egypt and other distant places. Now, of course, there was not so much activity as in bygone years, as the season was unsuitable too. Nevertheless I later learned that when King Constantine was re–instated, all princes had gone there for several days in the summer to swim.
Lidjia was well known to me, for I had visited it as a child and stayed there for several days during my mother’s spa therapy. That’s what the womenfolk used to do each year at September then. The thermal waters flowed from a spring that had plenty of mud too. Many who suffered from gout or rheumatism would have baths in this mud and would subsequently be cured.
The sea was hardly more than 60 feet away. Its water was blue and crystal–clear, and lukewarm from the thermal waters that flowed into it. Every two or three days there was a minor tide. From morning till noon the sea receded 100 yards and more, and many went to collect eels and small fish and other sea creatures that had been left behind in small pits or under stones. Of course I went too, and that was something that carried me away.
In Lidjia there were also several luxurious villas, belonging to the rich of the time, British, French and Greek. Among them were the ship–owners Pantaleon, owners of a steamship fleet of more than 3.000 tons, the Viteleon (undoubtedly the Whittall family of Bornova and Smyrna), gross–exporters of raisins, figs and other agricultural products, and the Ritz - maybe the Rees family of Smyrna – who turned up regularly in their large and small yachts. At the same time there were also several hotels there, deluxe as well as for the common folk.
I recalled that when I was young we had stayed at such a hotel, a common inexpensive one. My aunt Aphrodite Kakoyannakis, my mother and me lodged in a room, having brought our own sheets and mattresses. They used to rent just the bare rooms, huge but with no beds, and it was in them that we cooked, ate and slept.
There at Lidjia a funny thing happened to me.
I was then maybe 7 or 8 years old. My mother was taking baths with some 3 or 4 fellow women villagers in a large marble tub, resembling a small cistern. Women then bathed almost completely dressed, as they were wearing long nightgowns that almost reached to the ground, and did not show even their ankles to males. As I was young, however, I was sometimes taken along to the baths, and I must admit I was very innocent.
Since my childhood I used to sing fairly well, and loudly and melodically too. So when the women took me along, they let me sing, and their mothers who accompanied them taught me the verses and I sang some liberal and lively songs for that era.
This same thing happened once, when they took me along to the baths they would have. Once they entered the bath chamber, they told me to sing.
When I started singing, the mother of one of the bathers told me to sing this verse at the refrain of the song, “I can’t bear it nor endure it, to just look and not to touch.”
What followed is beyond description:
The women roared with laughter and screamed, “For Stamatis, we’d sacrifice everything!”
Outside of the bath chambers there was a great tumult. Some women were asking what was happening, another one let the incident be known, and someone else got the desire to hear me singing.
Thus, one day when I went out of the hotel courtyard, incidentally called the Hotel “Bahri”, a man grabbed me, put me on top of one of the marble pillars at the entrance that held together the iron bars surrounding the courtyard, and demanded that I sing. I started to cry and he then told me, “Don’t be afraid, but do start singing, or else I won’t let you down!”
I was forced to start singing, after all what else could I do! Just in front of me was the main square of Lidjia. There a large crowd soon gathered and started applauding enthusiastically, resulting in a pandemonium. Finally my captor released me, and he even put some pennies in my pocket.
When my mother learned about it she got very angry and didn’t ever let me leave the hotel alone. Fortunately my father, who was a seaman, hadn’t been there, otherwise the man who had forced me to sing would have been in big trouble.
Generally, however, as a young child I used to have a very pleasant time. Since I was three, whenever I came out of the door of my house in the village, people used to get me to the neighbourhood coffeehouse and encourage me sing in order to entertain them. After that they used to give me a few dimes, or sweets and nuts. But when I came back home, my mother would whack me on the bottom and say, “What will you become, a singer and the fool of the village?” And then she would thrash me.
Back at Lidjia, a nun from my village who was a chanter with an excellent voice, named Alimonitsa, used to call me to her hotel and let me sing in a low voice, or accompany her at chanting. She kept telling me I should become a chanter too when I grew up, and I would have done just that, for that’s why I had left my village to come to Athens. Unfortunately, other reasons forced me to start working, leaving me no time for studies.
In Lidjia lived a wealthy Turk as well, practically the ruler of the province. He had the most beautiful house, a mansion with a fine garden, and large estates too. He was considered the greatest landowner and merchant, cooperating with a Christian from Alatsata. He was a young and handsome man and was called or nicknamed “Karabinas”. He regularly visited his partner’s house at Alatsata, who had a very attractive daughter, whose name I can’t recall. There he succeeded in seducing her and the Turkish Bey and the Christian woman fell in love, and one day they eloped.
There was a huge uproar and the Christian threatened to react violently, but some people intervened and no harm was done. Finally the father wrote off his daughter, and the daughter did the same for her family. It seems though that the couple lived happily ever after, since Karabinas kept her as his only love and wife until his old age. He didn’t get another wife although his faith permitted him to get 4, and have as many concubines as he wished in his harem as well. He allowed his beloved one to continue practicing her Christian faith, and she begot him 5 or 6 sons.
Thus, while passing through Lidjia, I had a lot of memories…
After Lidjia we were approaching the celebrated Tsesmes, the end of my journey. Because of its location, Tsesmes would later allow the Greek army to escape to Chios, during the Asia Minor Disaster.
Before arriving, however, I spoke to my carter, who probably would not have the courage to ask me for a transport fee, as I was a soldier:
“Listen, lad, I have no money on me right now. My name is Hadjiyannis. My brother is a grocer in Kato Panagia and a good many people know him here in Tsesmes. I’ll go to the village and bring you the money you usually get as a fee. Tell me your name and I’ll come and find you during the day. My village isn’t more than half an hour away.”
The Turk told me, “I happen to know your brother too, for I occasionally make deliveries to your village.”
And I, as I noticed that he was shabbily dressed, told him, “I could pay you another way, if you wish. I have a shirt and some army drawers, brand new. I could give you these, instead of paying you.”
The delighted Turk replied, “If you give me the clothes, you’ll please me very much and I’ll be obliged, for after the Christians departed, we were left bare of clothes. Our own women don’t weave and the European stuff is thin and quickly wears out.”
Indeed, almost all Turks were dressed in rags. During the absence of the Greek population they suffered terrible shortages of everything, as they said, because the Rum – the Romans, i.e. the native Greeks of Asia Minor – did all the work, so that the Turks could live well…
Finally I gave him the clothing and we parted as friends.
I set off for my village, which was 25 to 30 minutes away at the most. The road was familiar to me from childhood, when I had been following my mother to Tsesmes. She went there to sell woven cloth to the merchant master–Manolis, or to collect money sent to us by my father or my brothers.
Now I was passing by well–known locations, however Tsesmes didn’t resemble the town I knew. Tsesmes was once a lively town, with a bank and large shops, and it was also a commercial port. There docked the ships that used to be loaded with raisins, the most important product of the province, with anise, whose quality was regarded as the best worldwide, and with natural red cotton, which today no longer exists. However most merchants hadn’t returned yet, and many houses weren’t like they were before, as I had known them.
I crossed Tsesmes and reached the quarter named “Morika”, meaning “The Moor quarter”. There lived a few families of Arabs, who made bread rolls and sold them. They also made kadayıf, a sweet pastry that was straight and sold by the pound or ounce accordingly. They made other sweets as well.
I proceeded and got to the outskirts of Tsesmes, to “Evreika”, the Jewish (Hebrew) quarter. There the Jews had their homes and gardens, surrounded by high walls.
Nearby there was a marble fountain, where we had often drunk water with my mother when we went to Tsesmes. Next to the fountain flowed a small stream, pouring its waters into the sea. I don’t know if Tsesmes, which means “Fountain”, was named after this one.
Finally I left the town and started walking along the public road. After a while, at a twist of the road, I passed by the shed once serving as a slaughterhouse. The shed was at the rim of a small cliff over the sea. There, on the rocks, they used to spill the blood and mess of the slaughterhouse. Exactly next to it there were two devices like those used today for lifting anchors and the loading of ships, as well as several scrap metal pieces from wrecked ships of the Turkish armada, which had been sunk by the Russian fleet during the Russo–Turkish war of 1770.
Farther on was a site called Yasmata, the “Holy Waters” of Tsesmes. When going as a child with my mother to Tsesmes, I had time and again seen several hanıms – Turkish women – sitting there side by side, and even now I saw again from afar a few small black lumps. At that time I had learned that there was a spring of natural laxative water. Those in need went to this place, drank from the water and cleansed their stomach and body almost immediately.
Going ahead, I reached the hill located at the middle of the distance. To the left the hill ascends gently and joins Mount Karadai [Karadağ], as we called it, a dark grey mountain made of rock, which rises as the boundary separating our village from Tsesmes. To the right the mountain extends to the sea, forming a small promontory. At its tip one could distinguish the chapel of Agioi Saranta, the Forty Saints.
My village, Kato Panagia
I walked a little uphill on a road segment paved with stone slabs and I found myself at the highest point of the road. From there I could see my village, and I was stirred by emotion.
Finally I started descending towards the village, which stretched lazily around the small bay. A little later I arrived at the first fields of my village, our own Yasmata. There the soil was red and soft, and one could see fruitful vineyards and tobacco fields everywhere.
I paused to fill my lungs with the cool spring air.
I felt that nothing had changed since I had left as a child, 10 years ago. Everything was green, just as I had known it. Just one year had passed since repatriation, and yet so much had been done, that one could believe that no expulsion had intervened, and no 4 years of absence! Since then, everyone who had returned to their place of birth had started to repair the damage, working hard like ants or bees. The ruined houses were repaired or rebuilt, the fields were cleared from the wild grass and weeds that had taken hold of them and they began resembling gardens again. I must admit that if the few remaining ruins and some weedy streets had been also cleared, I would have doubted whether such a whirlwind had passed by, the uprooting of an entire people from its homeland.
As I entered the village I was overcome by great emotion and my heart started to beat joyfully in my chest!
I was at the entrance of the village and was walking on the road known as Karotsodromos, the Carriage Road. The first houses to the right were called Tabahana, the former tanneries, from the Turkish: Tabakhane. Once these houses had been buzzing like a swarm of bees, from the children of their owners, mostly fishermen. A beach well–known to me followed, ending at the Pantazidis houses. It was a superb sandy beach, with crystal clear, azure–blue water. Almost every afternoon, in summer as well as in winter, when the weather wasn’t too cold or rainy, we used to skip school for a while until the teacher came, and swim in those waters.
The boys’ school building, where I too learned the few letters I know, was less then a hundred yards away. This was a huge one–storey structure where more than 300 boys went to school, and able to accommodate 3 or 4 thousand on special occasions. Then, towards the sea, was the school backyard, the surrounding wall, the road, and just opposite the old Turkish Konak, i.e. the police station, which was now deserted. Immediately after that there was the snow–white sand and the sea, and in the background one could discern the Oenoussae Islands and the town and port of the island of Chios.
Now the houses were dense. I passed through Stafidadika, the Raisin Depots, and came to the first coffeehouse of the village, the noblest, let’s say, called “Zephyr”. There, a few fellow villagers were sitting, mainly young people who didn’t know me. However I proceeded towards the first bridge connecting the two banks of the dry stream that crosses the village, coming from the hills around the Kyrikli locality.
I cut through the village towards Gianellis’ grocery and I tracked the whole way I used to walk every day when going from home to school. Many fellow villagers looked at me but nobody could remember me, and I couldn’t remember them as well, for I left as a 13–year old boy and returned as a 22 – year old man, with a huge moustache.
I reached the main road, turned right and passed by the shops of Psaroudakis and Papahadjidakis, of Matthios from Kavala and of Piperas. To the left was the butcher’s shop of Stelios, followed by the coffeehouse of Pantelis Mamatsas or Kazanas – my future father–in–law – and the Baluhana, the fish market, from the Turkish: Balıkhane.
I headed a little further down the road, towards the house and shop of my brother Yannis. When I got inside, everyone there was stunned! Was it because of my sudden appearance? Of course I had neither written to them that I would come, nor had they received any other letters from me for a long time. Thus my family were very concerned about me, for there were rumours circulating that I had been killed! My mother kept telling them, “My boy is dead, and you’re concealing it from me!” but eventually she would let herself be comforted, for if I had been dead they would have been notified by the War Department.
Finally, I was overwhelmed with embraces and kisses from all my family and relatives, who started to come after the news of my arrival spread. First of course were my mother and father, with tears of joy in their eyes…
On the same day, a Friday if I remember correctly, I also went to my own house, that’s where my father and my mother lived. Unfortunately it was demolished, it had been pulled down. The Turks who had populated the village after we had been expelled had torn down a few hundred houses, for they thought it was all right to procure the wood for fire and for every other need from houses that stood empty. It was estimated that the village had about 1.700 houses, but it was re-populated by only about 80 Turkish families when we had been expelled in 1914.
So now my house was a wooden shed, a single room with a kitchen built by my parents. My brother, who was a merchant, had brought the timber to replace the burnt doors and windows of his own house, and also for the needs of other villagers who had suffered the same disaster. My brother had a large house, of course, but my parents preferred to live alone.
It should be noted that in 1971, nearly 50 years after the Catastrophe of 1922, when I visited my village as a tourist (photos from a later visit in 1980, scroll down through gallery), I counted less than 10 houses in decent shape. 60 families, as I learned, were living in as many remaining houses, and even some of these were just about to collapse!
So, I went to my shed and had lunch with my parents. At night however I slept at my brother’s, who had a large and spacious two–storey house, and I did the same for the next 3 nights I stayed in my village. My brother also had a very large wholesale and retail shop, the kind of those common in villages, selling anything one might ask, such as foodstuff, novelties, even some bicycles he had brought from Athens.
The village was as I remembered it, although I had been living in Athens for 10 years. Naturally, in the back alleys of the village, enormous wild shrubs had grown out of the stone pavement.
On Saturday morning I went with my father out of the village to a small field belonging to my brother, who had planted it with vegetables, tomatoes etc. I spent that afternoon accompanying my aunt Aphrodite to the countryside, to Agios Giorgis. So was called a small hamlet, where my aunt and some other families had their farms. There they had built one– or two–storey cottages, called by them “towers”, and they used to stay there in the summer to harvest their fields.
The hamlet was tiny, 20 houses built on a hill that dominated the place. It was in an excellent location: To the east was the village, Kato Panagia, less than 20 minutes away. To the west the plain, vast fields towards the cape Aspra Homata [White Earth, Akburun or Beyaz Burun], the two small islands, the Fanari [Lighthouse, Süngükaya adası] and the Gaïdouronisi [Donkey Island, Bogaz adası], and just opposite the sweet–smelling Chios, not more than 4 or 5 miles away. To the north one could see Chios, Oenoussae Islands and an excellent beach named Skafidi, and to the south Samos Island when the weather was fine.
Right there, in a vineyard a little further on, we lay down on the ground and sang a few songs old and new, which my aunt wished to teach me. I recalled my childhood, when she used to put me into one of the side–baskets carried by the donkey she rode, to keep her company, for she had no children of her own.
Finally, we had something to eat and went back to the hamlet, which couldn’t have been more enchanting. In the evening we returned to the village, on the way meeting many villagers returning from the fields, who greeted us warmly.
The next day, a Sunday, I went in civilian clothes to the church of the Assumption. This church was the pride of my village and everybody who had known it! There are perhaps many great churches, but in beauty, splendour and light this one was unrivalled. And it was also sufficiently large, since at its festive day it could accommodate the whole village, as well as all pilgrims arriving from nearby places!
At any rate the Turks hadn’t touched it, and the same applied to Agios Dimitrios, a miniature of the Virgin Mary church. The Agios Nikolaos church in contrast had been destroyed, for it had been provisionally erected as a wooden structure after it had been burned down some years ago, and the Turks used all timber as fuel.
In the fields where I had gone I saw several chapels, and the Turks hadn’t destroyed them as well [view remains of two of these, Agioi Saranda & Panagitsa].
The church of Kato Panagia, built by the Halepas family of marble carvers from the island of Tinos, possessed something special, an unusual charm. When one entered, one felt as if illuminated by a light grander and brighter then the sun. Perhaps this came about by the temple, unequalled in size and grandeur, or maybe by the cheerful Greek colours…
The all–marble temple was a masterpiece of art. It was at least 25 to 30 feet tall and it featured 3 rows of icons framed by white marble columns, which were carved from Italian Carrara marble. The 5 gates were huge, framed with red and green or deep blue marbles. Only at the highest points, which they couldn’t reach, the Turks had smashed the marble crosses by shooting some bullets at them.
The bishop’s cathedra was made of sculptured marble throughout, but here too the Turks had removed the carved marble canopy covering it. This my fellow villagers had replaced with a silk blue–and–white Greek flag, which had a golden cross on top.
The pulpit, a miracle of art, was supported by a gigantic marble Angel, which itself rested on a huge marble sphere. The Angel, with stretched hands above the head, was holding the base of the gold-plated chiselled pulpit, which also leaned on the marble column next to it.
The loft consisted of an all–exterior cornice, internally supported on the main edifice and projecting like a kind of balcony.
Externally it was propped by about fifteen marble columns resting on an elevated floor, which was on the same level with the church floor and made also of marble.
Outside of the church, on the highest point of the front, hanged an oversize gilded double–headed eagle with its wings spread out.
During the 1914–1919 period all expelled villagers would come each sunset to the quay of Chios to watch the sparkling eagle and pray to Virgin Mary for their return.
The immense courtyard was enclosed with high walls having four doors, one of which was four–leaved. Various trees and plants flanked the walls. As for the small plaza inside the courtyard and just in front of the church, it was also paved with white and blue oversized egg–like marble pieces, fixed on porcelain.
The belfry rearwards and to the right was worthy of the main edifice, built mainly of marble. It had several bells which, when chimed, would fill the air with joyful, you might say even heavenly, music.
Note that everybody was segregated here: Old men on the right, old women on the left, younger men in the middle, male boys to the front. Young women, married or single, as well as young girls, in the loft, which had a great external marble staircase and an internal netlike grille, impenetrable to the curious eyes of everyone standing in front of it.
When I entered the church, my body was overwhelmed by an emotional shudder. In this church I had been helping the chanters for 3 or 4 years, warbling like a nightingale, singing the sacred hymns as high as I could. Times uncounted I trilled the Gospel at the foot of the bishop’s throne, spreading religious shudders to the congregation. And after mass, how many times had I been hugged, and even kissed, by my fellow villagers…
Now of course I was like a stranger and many were asking who I was. Nobody could recognise the child who had warbled in this church many years ago when looking at the young warrior with the large moustache…
In the afternoon I went to some more relatives’ houses, and also to Tsesmes, to my cousin Argyro Moutafi, whose husband had there a nice house and a large caïque, a kind of sailboat.
Finally, next morning, three and a half days after my arrival, supplied with everything I would need, I left the village with the cart that serviced the line to Smyrna, consistent with my promise that I would be present at my unit at the designated time.
I set off on the return journey hoping that it wouldn’t be long before I would come back permanently. I couldn’t even imagine the Catastrophe, and that I wouldn’t ever see again the place where I had set my eyes upon the sun for the first time…
On the following day before noon I was in Smyrna. I went directly to the railway station and boarded the train. In the afternoon I arrived at Magnesia and left right away for Mütevelli, where my battery was established.
Thus, in the evening of the 8th day I was present there, as promised. I was now well supplied with money and clothing from my home.
Areas of control for the period between autumn 1919 to May 1920 and the routes taken by Stamatis Hadjiyannis.
… AND AFTER
On the day following my return, I immediately started taking part in the battery exercises, once again commanding gun unit C. These exercises lasted throughout the period until early June, when the order came for the great offensive of June 1920…»
The summer operations of the Greek army had been authorised by the Allies to relieve the British garrison of Nikomedeia [İzmit], which was constantly harassed by the Turks. The Greek army advanced north, meeting minimal resistance and quickly reaching the Sea of Marmara. A detachment crossed it to liberate Eastern Thrace, Stamatis Hadjiyannis following it with his battery. Other units proceeded to seize Proussa [Bursa], the first capital of the Ottomans.
After my grandfather’s return from Thrace, his unit rested for a while at Mudanya and Proussa, where he was promoted to sergeant. Then they advanced to a village named Kadıköy, on the front line northeast of Proussa. There they helped neutralise Turkish pockets of resistance in the newly occupied area and defend a territory extending up to the outskirts of Nikaea [İznik] and Yenişehir.
These easy Greek successes put pressure on the Ottoman government to sign the treaty of Sèvres, which ceded Eastern Thrace except Constantinople to Greece and declared the autonomy of the Greek occupation zone around Smyrna. Its future would be decided by a future referendum, and there was no doubt what its outcome would be. Greek Prime Minister Venizelos hastened to declare general elections for November, expecting to capitalise on the recent Greek gains.
However in the time between Sèvres and the forthcoming elections something happened, which probably changed the whole course of events. King Alexander was bitten by a pet monkey at the palace gardens, dying of septicaemia after a few weeks. As the throne was now vacant, this lent the upcoming elections the character of a virtual referendum for the return of exiled King Constantine.
The King’s supporters exploited the war–weariness of the Greeks as well, so that although Venizelos managed to secure a slim majority of the votes, his opponents won most deputies and the elections due to the complicated voting system. Venizelos himself was left out of the parliament and chose to leave for France. Shortly after that a real referendum was held, allowing King Constantine to get back his throne.
The return of King Constantine had a disastrous effect on the army. Many high– and middle–rank officers, considered Venizelists, were forced to resign, while others chose to leave on their own, including General Ioannou. They were replaced by others, loyal to the King but with no war experience. Moreover, the Allies took advantage to withdraw their support, for King Constantine was unwelcome on account of his pro–German attitude during the Great War.
The new government was now faced with a hard dilemma concerning the Asia Minor state of affairs. Should they strive for a diplomatic solution, or should Sèvres be enforced by escalating the war? To be able to judge the military situation, in December the Greek army embarked on a reconnaissance in force, towards Afyonkarahisar in the south and Eskişehir in the north. Stamatis Hadjiyannis and his battery fought in the north near the town of İnönü, but this time the Greeks, headed by inexperienced officers, encountered more than token resistance. Nevertheless the Turks were driven back towards Eskişehir, and the Greeks, now having a clear idea of the Turkish military strength, returned to their bases.
After futile attempts to achieve a political solution, a renewed offensive of larger forces against the same positions followed in spring, but this time the Turks were better prepared. The Greek army was forced to retreat, narrowly escaping a crushing defeat. At that time my grandfather was engaged at Çongara, south of Proussa, successfully guarding a mountain road linking Proussa with Kütahya. After this first Greek defeat, the Turks under Mustafa Kemal started gaining an advantage in the international scene. The Russian Bolsheviks began to support them, followed by the Italian and French “Allies”, these last of course not quite openly. Only the British continued to support the Greeks, though only in the diplomatic field, refraining to provision them with arms or to supply a much–needed loan.
In a meeting headed by the King himself in the Kodjias mansion in Cordelio, the Greeks decided to push for a decisive military victory. The Greek army charged in July 1921 for the third time, this time following different routes and attempting to outflank and encircle the enemy. Despite fierce Turkish resistance, they managed to capture Afyonkarahisar, Kütahya and Eskişehir on the Anatolian plain, along with the railway line connecting them, thereby greatly enhancing Greek communications.
The Turks tried to recapture Eskişehir but were defeated in the plains east of it and were forced to retreat east of the Sangarios [Sakarya] River. The Greeks had achieved a tactical though not a strategic victory, as most of the Turkish army had managed to escape and remained intact.
Stamatis Hadjiyannis’ unit advanced through recently abandoned İnönü during these operations, arriving in Eskişehir only after the Turks had left.
After a brief repose the Greeks advanced once more, determined to crush the Turkish army and thereby achieve a military solution. After 10 days they crossed the Sangarios and made contact with the Turks, who were entrenched in a triple line of defence on a 60–mile front, some 50 miles from their base at Ankyra [Ankara]. The ensuing battle lasted for about three weeks and was fierce and murderous, for both sides felt that this wasn’t just a battle between two armies, but a struggle for the survival of their respective nations.
The Greeks managed to push forward for about 10 miles, while the Turks fell back into secondary defence lines. Stamatis Hadjiyannis fought along with his artillery unit, twice narrowly escaping death. Sometimes though they had no shells and had to fight like ordinary infantry, for the greatest problem the Greeks faced was logistics. At times they had no ammunition, nor even food. They were happy if they could have a ration of boiled wheat. The bloody fighting round-the-clock took its toil too, as some units were reduced to one third of their nominal strength.
The Turkish troops suffered likewise. At a certain point, Greeks and Turks were so fatigued and reduced in numbers, that both sides were ready to retreat.
Finally it was the Greeks who retreated first. They were pursued by the Turks, but the Greek artillery successfully covered the retreat of the main forces to their previous positions at Afyonkarahisar and Eskişehir.
The demoralised Greek troops, bereft of their best soldiers who had fallen at Sangarios, dug in for nearly a year. My grandfather was at first located at Dedetepe, north of Eskişehir, and afterwards near Seydi Gazi [Seyitgazi], southeast of it.
During this year there were many efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution for the Asia Minor situation, though all were doomed to fail. The Greeks on one side could not accept their unconditional withdrawal from the area, while the Turks felt that time was their ally. Now they were openly provisioned with arms, supplies and money from the Bolsheviks, Italians and French, especially after the Franco–Turkish treaty, while at the same time they were reinforcing their army.
In August 1922 the Turks launched an all–out attack at the most vulnerable location, south of Afyonkarahisar. Exploiting their 3–to–1 local numerical superiority and the absence of the Greek high command from the battlefield, they quickly broke through Greek defences. A large number of Greeks were taken captive, including their newly appointed Commander–in–Chief. The remainder of the southern Greek army was driven towards Smyrna and the coast.
The disorderly retreating Greeks set fire to a large number of Turkish villages, and this was followed by similar atrocities by the advancing Turks, culminating in the burning of the Christian quarters of Smyrna.
In the north the Greek army managed to carry out an orderly retreat. My grandfather’s unit however was commanded to hasten to defend the city of Kios [Gemlik], and was thus cut off from the main forces. These succeeded in reaching Panormos [Bandırma] on the Sea of Marmara and were forwarded to the opposite European shore.
After retreating from Kios, Stamatis Hadjiyannis’ unit joined a lingering Greek division and they all together proceeded to Mudanya, their way to Panormos being blocked by the Turks. There they were eventually encircled and had no other option but to put themselves under the protection of the small French garrison guarding the Mudanya railway station. They were later delivered to the Turks as prisoners of war.
My grandfather didn’t let himself get captured. Instead, he stripped, jumped into the sea and swam to a French ship about a mile from the shore, clinging to a wooden board. All he had with him was a wallet hanging from his neck, containing three fourths of a 1.000 drachmae note. After a while he was moved to a larger British ship waiting nearby, which carried him to Thrace along with several other unfortunate Greek soldiers.
Soon Stamatis Hadjiyannis, being an Ottoman citizen, was discharged from the army and travelled to the island of Chios, right opposite his village Kato Panagia, where he happily met his family. They had been lucky to escape before the Turks reached the village.
However, his father Michael had stayed behind, together with a large number of villagers who were reluctant to leave their homeland for a second time in 8 years. These were not as fortunate. Women and children were allowed to leave after a while, but all males older than 14 years were taken hostages and transported to the interior. From about 800 men, only 25 succeeded in reaching Greece after one year. Michael Hadjiyannis was one of them. He escaped while crossing the Jewish quarter of Smyrna, mingled with the crowd and vanished. After hiding and eating garbage for a week, he eventually was allowed to board one of the ships transporting the Christian refugees to the nearby Greek islands, where he rejoined his family.
Similar fates awaited all Greeks of the East. Thus, Hellenism’s 3.000–year long presence in Asia Minor came to an end…
Notes: 1- In 2011 Mr Poulimenos gave permission for Turkish researcher Prof. Umur Sönmezdağ to use elements of the above article, added to his findings, to create a historical article on Çeşme, published in Turkish in the October 2011 edition of Çeşme Life and the author has given permission for its publication also here:
2- George Poulimenos was one of the 3 co-researchers and co-authors of the book ‘A Lexicon of Smyrneika’, published in September 2012 - cover
3- Mr Poulimenos would welcome any contact for questions or extra information: gpoulim[at]gmail.com
submission date 2010