Mustapha Kemal in the Saddle: The Story of Mark O. Prentiss in a New Iliad of Greek History



ALL night long, while Smyrna burned, and thousands of helpless men and women crouched by the edge of the quay, weak from fear, wounds, hunger, and exposure, our little group of American naval officers and relief workers sat on the deck of the United States Destroyer Litchfield, with cinders raining all around us, and watched it burn. It was like having an orchestra seat at a tragedy that one would almost rather not have seen, yet from whose dreadful fascination the eye refused to turn aside, even for a moment. All that human strength could do to help the suffering people, we had done. The little vessel was loaded until it could hold no more. We could stand by, helplessly waiting for morning and whatever it might bring — that was all.

As I sat with my glasses fixed upon the dancing reflections of fire and smoke in the harbor, I saw, suddenly, a head that bobbed unsteadily up and down in the waves — for the harbor at this hour was always rough — while it splashed its way questioningly toward the Litchfield. I could make out obscure figures on one of the vessels lying near us, which pointed toward the destroyer, and could hear them crying to the moving head, ‘American, American!’

The head came on toward the Litchfield until it was just opposite the place where I was sitting, amidships, and some thirty yards away. It turned, and moved slowly through the water toward the bow and parallel to the ship, with the fiery ribbons dancing in the waves all around it; turned again, and so made a complete circle, still fairly close to the vessel.

A sailor in the bow yelled in amazement, ‘Good God, it s a girl!’ and made a clean dive from the side.

The girl, exhausted and almost ready to sink, was slowly guided around to the ladder and carried up — sheer disobedience of orders, for the Litchfield was loaded to capacity; but nobody worried over that. She had only a single garment, which she had knotted up over her back in order to be able to swim. We carried her below, unconscious; and presently, reviving a little, she began to murmur faintly in unintelligible Greek. We called an interpreter, who listened attentively, smiled a little, and then turned to us.

‘She thinks she’s dead. She thinks this ship is Heaven.’

And indeed it was heaven enough, — though I am not sure whether naval uniforms and grimy civilian clothes are much affected in the mansions of the blest, — when we looked back across that fiery sea to the inferno of rocketing fire, with the pitiful hordes of black shapes crouching on the water-front.

She was a very pretty middle-class Greek girl, whose father, mother, brothers, and sisters, still somewhere among the flames and falling buildings on shore, had allowed her to leave their refuge when the fire made it of no more avail, in order to save her if possible from the soldiers. Her name was Maria Jordanoglou. I did not learn all about her until months later, when Maria was safely in Brussels and wrote me her own story. Because it is typical of thousands, I am going to quote it here.

Now I will tell you how I happened to be in the water. When Smyrna was occupied by the Turks, I was frightened and could neither cat nor sleep. Therefore, on the second day, my parents, to quiet me, wanted to take me to a store on the quay of Smyrna, because the ships were near by and I would have been better protected there, as the Turks opened houses and looted property, dishonored, killed, and ran away.

‘On Monday my elder brother took me and my younger sister to the store to protect us. We were there without any bed and rest, and we had only a blanket and our bed was the floor. At night the Turks on the parallel streets were gathering women and children and driving them with their spears [Maria apparently means bayonets] toward the Government House. At night my father came, so that we might not be left alone. When I heard the noise I fainted, and my little sister was very much frightened and said, “Maria,

I prefer to stay with our mother.” She ran away but I had no strength to walk and stayed with my father, who was trying to revive me. The fire began on Wednesday. When I saw it coming I asked my father to open the door and let me run away; but he understood I had bad intentions and kept me. When night came and the fire advanced toward our store and the fire and the flames reached us, we opened the door to run away.

’We saw the Turks to our right, who prevented us. It was then midnight. On (he left hand we saw the Turks were driving the people toward the Government House. Then I said to my father that it would be better if he left me to get drowned; but he held me with all his strength, so that I might not run away. . . . When he saw how the Turks near us took hold of the people and did evil things, he preferred that I get drowned rather than fall into the hands of the Turks, so he decided to let me go. Then I embraced my father and kissed him for the last time.

‘When I reached the shore I saw that the ships did not take anybody in. I saw many people falling into the sea. . . . I thought then that there was no better way than death, so I fell into the sea in order to swim deep and far, because I had to get tired in order to go far and get drowned. When I was passing by an English ship I heard people shouting that I should go near the American ship, and that they would save me there. I approached your ship but the waves pushed me away. Then I saw a man swimming to me who pushed me to the ship. When I came there, as good Americans they took me in immediately to the ship.’

At six o’clock next morning the destroyer Edsall appeared. She ran in and lay gunwale to gunwale with our ship, the two were lashed together, and our whole 670, plus Maria, were passed over into the Edsall, which was the speedier of the two destroyers. And then the senior officer said something that gave me a thrill:

‘I ‘ve been thinking this over,’ he remarked, slowly, ‘and I ‘ve decided that the Navy can’t mix up in this. The United States is neutral. We’ve never been at war with Turkey. We have n’t any authority for taking these people off and we have n’t any authority for landing them. We can’t involve the Government, whatever happens. Now, you’re a civilian and unofficial. With the exception of navigation, I ‘ll turn this job over to you. You’ve got to land these refugees. Where can we take ‘em?’

It was a perplexing situation. Would the Greeks allow us to land them, and if so, where? We decided on Saloniki as the most promising port, and were off at thirty knots an hour.

It was a trying trip. The destroyer’s stores, ample for her own little crew, were nothing for 670, and there was a more serious complication. A fair proportion of our passengers were babies, who had suffered a good deal already, and there was no milk. A small supply of condensed milk belonged to the officers’ mess, the babies’ only hope. We watered these few cans until we had milk enough to go around — a very thin and doubtful-looking fluid, but the only milk to be had in the middle of the Ægean Sea in time of war. That was for the babies. For the others there was only stew. All day long Lieutenant-Commander Morris went about, carrying a big kettle, and ladling out their rations to one wretched little group after another.

The most unpleasant event of the voyage was the discovery that an Armenian boy, who had come on board with pockets bulging with milk chocolate, was retailing it at fabulous prices to the starving people, who were ready to barter almost anything for food of any kind. The boy was in a fair way to become wealthy when he was discovered, but thereafter he had to be protected from the infuriated sailors, who vowed he deserved to be thrown overboard. He was not thrown overboard, but his chocolate was taken in lieu of passage-money, and went to swell the common stock of provisions.

In war or peace the officers’ mess of a naval vessel dines formally each evening, and halfway to Saloniki we invited little Maria Jordanoglou to dinner. She came in what clothes she had, and a sorry state they were in after a half-mile swim in salt water and an impromptu drying in the boilerroom. Her stockings were the most difficult portion of her wardrobe. Her garters lay somewhere at the bottom of Smyrna harbor, and as she came into the ward-room, the stockings began to slip down. Eight officers of the United States Navy, who had risen with formal courtesy to receive their guest, stood at an impeccable attention. There was a pause that lasted a fraction of a second. Lieutenant-Commander Morris’s eyes mutely sought mine.

Then he slipped into his office, and emerged triumphantly bearing two immense and official-looking rubber bands, which he passed to me. I handed them to Maria, indicating, by gestures as decorous as possible, their use. The Greek girl took them, smiled, blushed, turned aside, and lifted her foot to put one on. Sixteen heels clicked. Eight officers executed about-face as provided in the drill regulations, and then we all found ourselves with our backs to Maria, looking at one another, a little amused, a little pleased at the automatic unanimity of that about-face. Then we sat down to dinner. We spoke no Greek, Maria no English, but I don’t think she found it dull. It was probably the only dinner she had eaten in two weeks.

We made Saloniki at midnight, and the Greek military, naval, civil, and police authorities met us in a body, warned of our coming by the local manager of the Standard Oil Company and the American consul, to whom we had wirelessed, asking them to prepare the way for our cargo of refugees.

Captain Hepburn had told me to get permission first of all to land the refugees we had on board, — otherwise we should have been left floating about the Ægean with them; for we certainly could not take them back to Smyrna, — and then to induce the Greeks, if I could, to send ships enough to take off the thousands who remained. The Greek officials crowded into the destroyer’s little wardroom — all inclined to be rather formal. Three or four who could speak English served as interpreters.

It was no time for the forms and ceremonies of diplomacy. There was one definite thing to do; to secure their consent; and that could be done only by a dramatic appeal that would touch their hearts — the simple story of what we had seen in Smyrna, without any discussion of where the guilt lay. I told the circle of silent Greeks that hundreds of thousands of their kin were suffering agony, with no prospect but starvation and death. I told what we had all seen. Our 670, who had had a day’s rest and at least a little food, were hardly fair specimens of the misery we had left behind. Then I asked for ships.

The Greek officials were tremendously affected. One went out and, climbing up on a ladder, welcomed the fugitives to their Fatherland. They gave immediate permission to land our passengers, and though they had no authority to promise ships, they urged the authorities at Athens to send them — urged to such good effect that a small fleet was speedily on its way to Smyrna.

Under the searchlights of the Edsall and of two Greek ships that lay near by, we checked the refugees as they filed down the gangplank. We had not lost one, and of the 671, who had had no chance to wash — even if they had wanted to — since the Greek retreat, 670, I am sure, kissed me enthusiastically as they passed. Gratitude, no doubt, is chief of the virtues, but somehow I should have preferred to dispense with it, just then. Little Maria, I am sorry to say, was the sole exception.

Maria was too helpless, too forlorn, and far too pretty, to be left adrift in Saloniki. The American consul made room for her in his car, and I placed her in his special care. It was time to be starting back, and I was halfway up the gangplank when there was a cry from Maria. In an instant she had sprung from her seat and was running to the radiator of the consul’s motor, where a tiny American flag was fluttering in a brisk sea breeze. She snapped the slender staff short off, and leaped back into the car, waving the little flag. The effect was electric. As the young Greek girl raised her tiny banner, forty or fifty sailors and a half dozen of the destroyer’s officers, who were standing near, stiffened crisply to salute. The Greek officers saluted. The refugees burst out cheering there in the night, while the city slept behind us. It was a climax.

Maria turned and held out her arms as if I were deserting her. That was too much. I turned back, and as I did so, the girl, overwrought with all she had been through, crumpled up in the tonneau. It was dramatic — too dramatic to seem theatrical, so dramatic that it could be nothing but real life.

The Edsall turned back toward the ruined city. Behind us the Greeks were combing their harbors for ships and sending them over one after another. At Athens they must have nearly emptied the Piræus. In all, twenty-seven Greek merchantmen came ploughing across the Ægean to our aid. There was still hope for the suffering in Smyrna.


Within a day or two of our return to Smyrna, I went with a few officials, under Turkish escort, into the country behind the city. If anything could be worse than what we had been seeing, it was the devastation of the countryside. Whole villages were in ruins, isolated houses here and there were heaps of ashes, and everywhere, on a trip that took us more than two hundred miles back from the coast, we saw bodies of all ages and both sexes. Not even the children had escaped.

Most of the bodies were mutilated. I am not going to describe those mutilations — they could not be described outside a surgical textbook. Many of the Turkish civilians were still alive but horribly maltreated — cripples for life. After the Turkish army had advanced victorious, to find its own soil and its own people left like that by the defeated enemy, I wondered that a single Greek had escaped their vengeance in Smyrna.

Mustapha Kemal himself described to me the terror of General Tricoupis, the Greek commander-in-chief, who was captured early in the offensive and brought before his conqueror. The Greek general was trembling violently. He could scarcely stand and had to be supported by his guards.

‘I had seen the devastation of our country,’ said Kemal, ‘the work of the retreating Greeks, and it broke my heart. I was beside myself with anger.’

"‘Why did you do it?” I asked the Greek commander.

‘“It was not I, Pasha,” he said. “ I did not do it. It was my soldiers, and you see that God has punished them.”

‘“Get out of my sight!” I yelled at him; and the guards led him away, still whining that he was not responsible for the killing of Turkish women and children by the soldiers he commanded.’

I left with a distinct impression that Kemal intended to execute his late opponent.

At Magnissa, sixty-six kilometres from Smyrna, less than 1000 out of 16,000 houses were still standing, and these were located in suburbs of the city far up in the hills. The normal population was 50,000, of whom only 8000 were Greeks. No question, then, which side was responsible for the destruction. Cassaba, ninety-three kilometres inland, was a total waste. There were several concentration camps crowded with Turkish refugees, who took the wiping-out of all they owned or loved with true Oriental fatalism. There was no weeping, no appearance of distress, though they were suffering and hungry. I found a number of extremely old people who had been shot, hacked with hatchets, or stabbed with bayonets by Greek soldiers.

Two thirds of Salihli, with a population of 10,000, only a tenth of whom were Greeks, had been burned over, seventy-six people were known to have burned to death, and a hundred young girls were said to have been taken away by Greek soldiers. I talked with many victims of Greek atrocities. Let me quote some of my notes: —

Very old man stabbed and had one ear hacked off.

Boy of eight years shot by soldiers.

Girl of eight years reported being robbed, and later soldiers chopped off her father’s head.

Boy of seven said he saw his brother beheaded.

Boy of eight with severe scalp wound said Greek soldiers killed his father and mother before they struck him.

Old woman shot through hand.

Sixty wounded children were being cared for at Salihli and forty others had been sent to the hospital in Smyrna.

Three miles from Menemen there was a well into which it was said the Greeks had thrown the bodies of eighteen peasants who had been murdered by their soldiers. The odor from this well was almost intolerable; and a Turkish soldier who dredged in its muddy depths with a long pole gave me only too convincing ocular evidence of the reason. At another place, one fresh grave after another was opened to convince me of the atrocities committed by the Greeks.

Most heart-rending of all, however, was the stoicism of the little ones. A child should cry when it is sick and hungry, but these Turkish children endured in silence. I commented on this to a Turk, who replied briefly:

‘ We shed our tears three years ago’ — that is, in 1919, when the Greeks first came in. The Turks were entirely stolid, utterly impassive. I told the people of one starving village that I would do my best to get them food — which, one would have thought, was about the best news they could hear; but I might have been discussing the weather for all the interest or enthusiasm that they showed. After the victory at Smyrna one could hear exultant voices, sometimes, in the night, or soldiers singing; but I never heard anybody cheer. I never saw anybody throw a fez in the air. At a great demonstration in Constantinople I saw flags waved, but as for cheering, the Turks just, don’t do it.

I had had my first meeting with Mustapha Kemal in Smyrna, a few days after the Turks came in. I was on the quay when I saw him coming toward me, surrounded by staff officers, some of whom I knew. The Ghazi was in high spirits, laughing and talking with his aides, and gazing round at the buildings of the city he had captured, with an interest so naïve that he might almost have been mistaken for a countryman on his first visit to a city — though Kemal has, of course, been welleducated, and has traveled much.

Being acquainted with some of the officers, I joined the group and was presented to their commander-in-chief. I apologized for taking up his time, but he replied jovially: ‘Plenty of time. Come with us’; and I fell into step with the rest and went with them to headquarters. Kemal does not speak English very well, and consequently preferred to converse through an interpreter. I commented on the magnificent condition of his troops, in spite of their arduous campaign, but he waved all compliment aside. His men were always like that, and ‘You know,’ — in a burst of confidence, — ‘they really fought for only five days. After that they could n’t catch up to the Greeks to fight with them.’

Kemal’s headquarters were in a private house which once must have been richly furnished; but everything had been cleared away and a severe, soldierly simplicity reigned. There were tables, desks, chairs. That was all. On Kemal’s desk were two field-telephones, whose wires stretched along the wall. Into these telephones, or directly to the subordinates who approached him with marks of respect that seemed exaggerated even in an army, he snapped sharp, quick commands with the rapidity of a machine gun. He did not seem like a professional soldier, even as he sat there in the midst of his staff in the city he had conquered. It would have been easier to think of him as the superintendent of a big railway. Not the president, not the titular head, but the manager with his hands on the wires, the man who every minute of the day is getting things done — though a railroad manager, to be sure, does not play ceaselessly with a tasseled, silken string of prayer beads, while he talks.

He kept reminding me, incongruously enough, of Colonel Roosevelt — the same way of biting off his words, the same vigor, the same zest in the game he played. The word ‘bully’ is not in the Turkish vocabulary, but the attitude toward life that it suggests is Kemal’s.

While we were returning to Smyrna from the interior, the train on which our party was traveling met the Pasha’s on its way back to Angora; and as they stopped on adjacent tracks, I talked with him a second time. Kemal’s special train was unpretentious enough — a few flat-cars for automobiles and a passenger coach or two for himself and his staff. There, standing along the track with Kemal and his officers, I heard the men who executed it describe the defeat of the Greek army. With supreme contempt for the art of war that prescribes for the commanderin-chief a post far to the rear of his troops, Kemal placed his headquarters on a hilltop, within two miles of the Greek lines, and there for six months he stayed, ceaselessly studying them, so close that with his glasses he could discern the figures of individual soldiers. Meantime, at Angora, his army was drilling, drilling, drilling, for the day when it would be launched against the enemy.

The Turks’ bold announcement of their contemplated offensive, weeks in advance, was never taken seriously. When all was ready, Kemal struck first with his right, then with his left; again with the right and again with the left; and then sent his cavalry pouring in behind the defeated Greeks.

Except for a few thousand taken during the first day of the advance, the Turks did not trouble about prisoners. That is Kemal’s own statement. He remarked to me that the Greeks fought well enough for the first two days, but after that the battle became a mere pursuit. The surprise was so complete that, when a Turkish captain kicked in the door of the room where the chief of the Greek Intelligence Service lay asleep, the Greek officer — mistaking the intruder for a servant — turned over in bed and called out that it was not time to get up yet.

‘Oh, yes it is,’ replied his captor grimly; and the surprised officer climbed sheepishly out of bed and began to dress. The Greeks felt so secure that many of the officers had their wives with them, only a little way behind the front line.

All the papers of the Greek intelligence staff were captured, and Kemal’s chief intelligence officer took huge delight in assuring me that every bit of Greek information regarding the Turkish strength and positions was erroneous. Six days after the offensive began, when the fighting was all but finished, a full Greek division, marching down from the north, unaware of what was happening, fell into the hands of the Turks.

‘You made them all prisoners?’ I asked. But the Turkish officers only shrugged their shoulders. It was not until long after General Tricoupis was a prisoner and his army shattered that his commission as commander-in-chief arrived from Athens, together with a message of congratulation — both destined to fall into Turkish hands. Kemal and his staff were quite willing to talk freely about their army, its equipment, and its training. I asked repeatedly about their numbers and always got the same answer, ‘Under 200,000’; although Kemal added that when he marched to Constantinople he would have 250,000 troops at his back. At several places in the interior I saw large bodies of young men who, I was told, were still being called to the colors.

They were quite frank about Turkish Nationalist relations with Soviet Russia, though for some reason they were unwilling to describe their agreement as a formal treaty. Their understanding provided simply that the Bolsheviki should supply them with money and munitions and should refrain from propaganda in Turkish territory. In return, the Turks agreed to make no peace treaty not approved by Russia.

I heard the essential points of the Lausanne Treaty, as it was finally signed, outlined by Turkish officers there in the theatre of war, months before the Conference met. The Turks were perfectly aware of what they wanted and intended to fight until they got it. Kemal felt himself almost the father of the new Turkey. When I told him he reminded me of Roosevelt, he look it very seriously, — far more seriously than I ever intended, — pondered a while, and finally replied that if he were to be compared to any American, he preferred George Washington! He felt that he was fighting for the freedom of the new Turkey as Washington had fought for American independence.

The development of their country lay very close to the hearts of these Turkish leaders. When I first met Noureddin Pasha in Smyrna, immediately after the victory which he had planned, I asked him what the next step would be. I expected the conventional talk about conquest and glory; but Noureddin quietly began to discuss the economic future of Anatolia, the need for getting rid of the Capitulations, which hampered Turkey’s development, and his desire for American participation in the work of reconstruction. It was the biggest surprise I had in the Near East.

Kemal and his staff officers told me that the cloth for their uniforms was brought from Russia, but that the uniforms themselves were made in Turkey. Most of their arms, they said, also came from Russia. Many of the rifles were plainly of German and French manufacture, — I could see that for myself, — but even these may very well have come by the Bolshevist route.

I asked everyone I could get to talk with me, whether there were any foreigners in their army in any capacity whatever, and they all said, ‘No.’ The Turks boasted of the popularity of their cause and of the voluntary taxes that were levied in Constantinople for their benefit, while the Allies held the city, and were sent on to Angora by secret couriers. Contributions to their Nationalist treasury had poured in from all over the Moslem world.

(The story of the experiences of MARK O. PRENTISS will be concluded in the January Atlantic.)