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PHalsall

Repatriation of Turkish PoW

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PHalsall

Hi

 

I am trying to establish how my grandfather, a PoW in Turkey, escaped and got back to England in 1918. I am particularly interested in the likely routes through Europe and the support from friendly forces available to men in this situation. He 'escaped' in 1918 at a point when he believed that the war was over (or about to be over?), and feared that the Turks would retain him for slave labour, At this point the guards have given up taking their duties seriously and so he slips away. Word of mouth in the family has it that he travels on the roofs of trains for part of the journey, at some point meets friendly soldiers, is given some money by an English man (or 'the English'), and finds his way back across Europe, eventually crossing from Calais to Dover then a train(s) to Birkenhead. Given that he left Gelebek in rags and penniless and was back in Birkenhead by December 12th it seems to me that he must have been assisted significantly. I am intrigued as to what the British did when they encountered men like this, were they washed, fed and kitted out and put on trains / ships with returning troops, given cash to find their own way, whatever? The only other clue from surviving elderly family members is that he seems to pass through Brindisi at some point. Unless he left Gelebek earlier than the October 30th armistice it also seems that he got through Europe surprisingly quickly!

 

The known facts are these:

 

1348 Lance Corporal James Irwin, 4th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, then 200141 Imperial Camel Corps.

PoW in Gelebek, Turkey - date of escape unknown, assuming late 1918

Army Form B indicates he arrives at Dover on December 8th 1918

 

I would imagine that he travels atop trains to Constantinople as the diaries of Grace Williamson in Smyrna include this entry:

 

November 20th 1918:

The last few weeks have been very stirring. Military coming and going. And the remaining civilians who wish to leave getting ready. Such packing and selling of furniture etc. On Monday at 10 in the morning two tugs full left from the railway pier. We went and saw them off. In one tug were all the officers, about 300. And the civilians, Partridges, Newtons, Bretts, Morrisons, Ed Whittalls [probably Edward Sidney Whittalll, (1888-1960) son of Edward Whittall of Bournabat, the botanist, and Mary Maltass, who married in 1913 Dorothy Jane Peacock] etc. They sang Auld Lang Syne, and cheered in a good old English style. Now we are only a very small remnant left with only one clergyman, Mr. Ashe, things are very quiet, but the prices are higher than ever. And as yet the English have not made anything of a move here. They are too busy with 
Constantinople. The port is not yet open. There are too many mines knocking about. 

 

 

It would seem that Smyrna is not open as a port until after 20th Nov, so as he is in England by December 8th it seems unlikely that he passed through Smyna, leaving Constantinople as the only really viable alternative as far as I know.

 

I appreciate this question is a little general, but any ideas about how he could of got back, especially if the Brindisi inclusion makes sense, would be very welcome.

 

Pete

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Maureene

Gelebek was a railway work camp in the Taurus mountains. Could he have gone south in the direction of Baghdad, where there would be Allied troops, rather than north to Constantinople? 

For general background , and some escape narratives, (most of which were unsuccessful),  see the FIBIS Fibiwiki page Prisoners of the Turks (First World War)

https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Prisoners_of_the_Turks_(First_World_War) and the linked page Mesopotamia Campaign-External links and Historical books online

 

I think a successful escape must have been very rare. Perhaps there may be an account in a local newspaper?

Cheers

Maureen

 

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PHalsall

Thanks Maureene,

 

My first assumption was exactly the same, the British held Aleppo by the time he seems to have escaped so my guess was that he headed south to get there. Mind you, we cant asume that he would know that.

 

Since making the post earlier, I have discovered that an Australian, Joseph O'Neill, captured at the same time and also imprisoned at Gelebek also makes the Calais - Dover crossing on the same day (8th Dec), and so I assume the same boat as James irwin. His record shows that he got there via Cairo... It surely cant be a coincidence, so I assume that James Irwin was at Cairo en route home. Whether he got there by going South or West I cant yet decide.Perhaps he reached friendly forces somewhere and was assimilated into the mainstream repatriation process.

 

And yes, I tried local newspapers. Nothing, but he was like so many men at the time, he came home and said nothing!

 

In terms of escape, I think it was made possible by the guards basically having turned a blind eye as defeat was either in sight or had happened. He was helped, apparently, by a Greek who provided clothing to enable him to pass off as a local.

 

Thanks for your help.

Pete

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Maureene

Not too sure whether you have the full service record for the Australian Joseph O'Neill,  (mentioned above) but if not,  I believe all  Australian WW1 service records are available  (free) on the website of the National Archives of Australia.

https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/SearchScreens/BasicSearch.aspx

I have seen a service record for an Australian soldier  POW who died in Turkey, and there was quite a bit of information in it.

 

Cheers

Maureen

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charlie962

There was an article written by Capt EH Keeling that appeared in Blackwoods Magazine available here see page 682 et seq on "How Prisoners left Turkey".

Capt Keeling was himself a remarkable successful escaper and went back afterwards as the Turks were collapsing to help get PoWs repatriated as fast as possible.

 

Charlie

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PHalsall

Thanks Maureene and Charlie962.

 

The wiki.fibis page is a great source of information, I think I have read almost every available reference on there in the last few weeks! The Keeling story is amazing as well, especially to attempt to escape to the north.

 

James Irwin was one of Colonel Newcombe's force, captured in Nov 1917. There were three Aussies taken at the same time and it seems they all end up at Gelebek. I have been looking though their records on the Australian National Archives and there are some interesting patterns regarding repatriation that might give me a clue.

 

2309 John McPerson arrives Alexandria on Nov 6th then shipped to Australia on Nov 15th.

2167 Henry Thorneycroft arrives Alexandria on Nov 21st the off to Australia on 25th Dec.

2148 Joseph O'Neill records indicate that he arrives in Dover on Dec 9th, leaves for Australia on 3rd May 1919.

 

The first two I suppose simply show that soldiers were taken to Alexandria to await ships home via the Suez canal. As Smyrna is not yet operational, I assume that they must be coming from Constantinople..

 

O'Neill is the interesting one for me. He arrives in Dover on the same day as James Irwin. I cant imagine it being a coincidence. (I imagine he might have gone to England for a few months for treatment for malaria before attempting the journey home). My guess is the James Irwin escaped just a little before repatriation and then is taken up in the general system for repatriation to England. What I need to establish is what that route was? Looking at O'Neill's record attached there is a reference to Cairo. I wonder if anyone with more expertise than mine could have a look at that and decipher whether that indicates that he has gone to Eygpt (Alexandria) first then on to England (Boat, train??), or that Cairo is just an admin centre for soldiers returning from the Eastern mediterranean? Whatever route O'Nell took seems likely to be the same as my GD.

 

J Oneiil Dover.jpg

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charlie962

Pete,

In Keeling's account there was a story of an RFA man who escaped right at the end and went of with a bunch of Syrians but was robbed by Kurds and luckily relocated and brought back into Keeling's evacuation chain. Just for background.

Charlie

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PHalsall

Maureene and charlie, yet again I am indebted to your patience and interest in this subject. Thanks.

 

I have picked through the Blackwoods magazine article but failed to note the significance of the lines Maureene pointed out that from Aleppo it seemed no rail link was possible to either Constantinople or Smyrna. The grey area there might be that the tunnels west of Adana in the Taurus mountains are completed and there is a railway from there to Constantinople, and as far as I can see also to Smyrna. It might perhaps have been possible, therefore, for a man to get to one of the western destinations 'on top of trains'. That's assuming of course that any were running as use of the railway as far as I can see was erratic. Anyway, as mentioned earlier, with reference to the Williamson diaries, Smyrna is not operating as a port until at least Nov 20th and he gets to Calais by Dec 8th. I think the link you both provided must almost certainly be the correct route out - apart from anything else, he knows the route, and knows that the British are heading in his direction from Palestine, so you might expect him to head in that direction. I think that article is also extremely useful in making it clear that PoWs from this area were all taken to Alexandria and then wait there for ships home - either via the suez canal from the ANZACS and Indians, or to Britain. The one element of the route home that his (now deceased) younger brother could recall with confidence is that he passed through Brindis at some pont. Looking at a map of the area it is immediately clear that the quickest route home for a British soldier would be by sea from Alexandria to Brindisi then rail to Calais, then Dover. I do know for certain that he came through Calais so that all makes sense. As he made the Calais - Dover crossing on the same day as Joseph O'Neill, and possible others (must check that out) being repatriated, it seems likely that the men were despatched in groups with a shared destination, perhaps on troop trains, whatever.

 

The Blackwoods article was a tremendous find, thanks again, its the only reference Ive found so far that deals directly with this episode first hand. Brilliant.

Interesting story about the escapee robbed by Kurds. One lucky man that care was taken to retrieve him!

 

Cheers

 

Pete

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stevebecker

Mate,

 

Many Austrialian soldiers were granted what they called UK leave during 1919. Most units had what was called a 10% for UK leave and many on the early 1914 leave went to the UK.

 

How they left Egypt was the two main routes either via Gibraltar by sea to the UK, or via Italy by train.

 

Many of these Ex Pow's were granted this leave, since they had been released in Nov 1918 went back to Egypt then sent on leave from there.

 

See the service record of this man "BLECHYNDEN    Reuben John" page 25

 

reads the same as James and John

 

Arrived UK 17-12-18 from Dover 18-12-18

Arrived Alexandria 21-11-18 from Turkey

 

Cheers

 

S.B

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PHalsall

Thanks for clarifying that point Steve, I was unaware of the option for Australians to take leave in England before returning home, so very welcome.

 

I think I have his (James Irwin) return home worked out now, including this last leg from Alexandria. If, as the spoken record in the family has it, he escaped on the roofs of trains I now realise that that must mean coming south from Belemedik to Adana and then on from Adana in the direction of Alexandretta and it some point encountering friendly forces and being shipped over to Alexandria. If true it would mean that he follows the same route as James Bond in the opening sequence of the film 'Skyfall', Varda Viaduct and all...Its a nce sequence, if for nohting else it shows that section of the railway and the nature of the tunnels constructed very clearly.

 

I do realise by the way that the viaduct was constructed before these PoWs were used in construction projects!

 

Thanks again

Pete

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stevebecker

Mate,

 

As to how they got to a some point to return to Egypt is not shown on any record so far I can find.

 

But with the early surrender of the Ottoman Empire, they were free to return, but how they got to the coast or to some other place is not mentioned, but the Train seams the best way since thats how they got there, but again the Allepo is a long way from the rail system, and many returning Ottoman soldiers would have been flooding that area as well as formed units as the Ottoman commander prepare his defenses for and Allied advance.

 

I'll check some more accounts to see what other Australian PoW's say they returned to see what is going on here.

 

Cheers


S.B

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PHalsall

Steve

 

Really appreciate your insights on this. A good case has been made about the difficulty of travelling west across Turkey, and so the likelihood of his going East/South instead. On the other hand, I have been following his story as recorded by his younger brother (now deceased). In parts you can see that he isn't sure what happened and he usually makes clear, but most of it is spot on, even being captured behind enemy lines in a large group of men with a colonel then marched north and so on. Its very accurate in the most part. Regarding his escape the brother's memory of events goes like this...

 

'.. he landed at the port of Brindisi. Up until then train journeys had been on the roof of the trains as did most of the poor in the manner of the times. That is in Turkey anyway. For the most part Jimmy did travel on the train roof. I remember asking him about that. He said he was in rags, dirty, and hardly distinguishable as different from the other travellers. Anway, he did arrive at Constantinople or Istanbul whatever it was called then. He did meet an English man there who helped him. Turkey had called for an armistice in the October (1918) so he was no longer in hostile country'.

 

The brother wrote this in 1996, years after the events, and he is around 90 years old at the time, it is fair to assume that 'an English man' means British forces, and he doesn't seem to recall or have heard that he is probably picked up and taken to Alexandria first. However, he does seem very certain about getting to Constantinople, but you never know, memory plays tricks on all of us. It would be brilliant if there was anyway of deciding which direction he went in...

 

By the way, a while back you asked if I had any photos. I have one of him now, its on leave in 1915. He's in uniform but its pre-camel corps so might not be of use to you. If you are still interested I will be more than happy to upload a copy.

 

Thanks once again for your help,

Pete

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charlie962

Pete

It is a very interesting story and you are doing well to try and track his route. I'm sure there is info out there, just it's a neglected area of campaign/research so difficult to know where to dig. The report and papers of Keeling must have ended up somewhere- but where ?

Always keen to see a face put to a name.

 

Charlie

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PHalsall

Thanks Charlie. Its a bit like reading a good book, hard to put down until you get to the end! Mind you, I never expected to get as full a story of his exploits as I have so far, and that's all due to the amazing help from experts on this site.

 

I've attached two photos. The first is taken in 1915, home on leave before being sent to Suvla bay. He is 19 in that picture. The second is in June 1919, six months after getting home. Included that one as it amazes me how well he looks given the trials he's been through! He's 23 there. Nothing like the recovery powers of the young!

 

 

scan0009.jpg

scan0002.jpg

Oh, and the woman in the first photo is his sister Annie.

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charlie962

Great photos. It was only the strong who really had any chance of surviving Turkish captivity. As one gets older one doesn't bounce back like before.

 

Did you see the ring on his left hand?

 

Charlie

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PHalsall

Well spotted! No I hadn't noticed the ring but I'll investigate it.. Doubt he still had it on his return!

 

A few little pointers that might support the notion of a flight west to Constantinople.

 

The British Parliament in mid November 1918, debating the return of PoWs from Turkey. Many prisoners are already in Egypt and most others are now in Smyrna (notice that Lord Newton corrects himself at the bottom of the page for confusing Salonica with Smyrna). There seems an implication here as well that they are then shipped directly to Italy, presumably Brindisi, which marries with the story handed down.

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1918/nov/14/repatriation-of-prisoners-of-war

 

This reference is from the American YMCA. http://www.gutenberg-e.org/steuer/steuer/steuer.ch17.html

When the war suddenly ended, the YMCA still had not sent WPA secretaries into the Ottoman Empire. The International Committee reported at the American YMCA International Convention in Detroit in November 1919 (1918 surely?) that the Turkish Armistice had been signed before WPA secretaries could report to Constantinople. With the end of the fighting, Allied prisoners left Turkish prison camps and labor detachments and headed for the Ottoman capital. British POWs trickled into the city, and in December 1918 the Board of Managers of the Constantinople Association offered the use of the Red Triangle building to the English YMCA for British soldiers.4

 

This suggests to me that James Irwin is one of numerous PoWs who decide the war is over and so won't hang around in the camps, so head for Constantinople. Mind you, if he did so from Gelebek he has a longer trip than most to get there.

 

Pete

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charlie962
Posted (edited)

I have looked at several books on 'Kut' prisoners and I see that those men in camps near Constantinople may well have stopped off there. Smyrne as a port of embarkation is also mentioned a lot.

 

There are two ships names that I've seen

1)   Australia Hospital Ship KANOWNA which made the first repatriation voyage 1/11/18. A search on Discovery NA didn't reveal any Diary but the FO 383 files have discussion involving her. Perhaps Aus War Memorial have something ?

This FO file includes:

--Voyages of the ships Empire and Kanowna, employed for the purpose of repatriating British and Turkish prisoners and distinctively marked to assist in identification.

--List of Turkish prisoner of war camps with details of number of British prisoners in each.

--List of names of British civilian prisoners of war who arrived in Alexandria on 9 November 1918 for repatriation.

 

This site has some more info on Kanowna including this:

                                 2052210754_KutKanowna1.JPG.b56b5e1368ad70fa2af12680d107aa49.JPG

 

2)   KATOOMBA also known as Columbia, an Australian coastal steamer requisitioned as a troopship 1918

---- Katoomba carried Australian, British, Indian, United States and Turkish troops in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and in the Mediterranean. She was the first Allied merchant vessel to pass through the Dardanelles after the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918.

 

 

I see also that  prisoners were known to have  disembarked at Tarranto (about 40 miles from Brindisi, other side of the heel)

 

Charlie

Edited by charlie962

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Where exactly was Gelebek? I can't find it anywhere on Google Maps. And the Taurus Mountains cover a huge area.

What modern towns is it near?

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charlie962

One such repatriation interview was published recently here and mentions galebek inter-alia. Well worth a read.

   288798434_Kutgalebek.JPG.dfab546b680c9a8b972d71575c501ac5.JPG

 

Charlie

   

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charlie962
Posted (edited)
15 minutes ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Where exactly was Gelebek?

Galebek ? Fibiswiki gives this:  Gelebek, Kelebek (Taurus Mountains)

 

John H Wheat Narrative  Lots of mention of Gelebek and escaping, eg  :  We arrived at the village or town of Belemedik (see photo) on 1st day of February. This was our first introduction to the renowned Bagdad Railway which proved to be our destination. Here I had better give a brief note on the importance of the Bagdad Railway to the enemy, especially of the narrow gage part with which I was more immediately concerned. It had a broad gage down to the town of Gelebek (Gulek Basar?) on the Bagdad side of the Taurus Mts.

 

Edited by charlie962

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Maureene

As charlie962 has indicated Gelebek was in the vicinity of Belemedik. 

 

The link http://www.gutenberg-e.org/steuer/steuer/archive/AppendixA/Turkish Prison Camps/prison_shell.html?Belemedik says

 Belemedik served as the main camp for Allied prisoners working in the North Taurus Sector of the Taurus-Amanus Railway line. Belemedik supported labor detachments working in Kouch Joular (a camp located on top of a hill with British POW's from the Palestinian Front; they constructed four tunnels through the mountains); Tasch Dumas (a camp that had problems with malaria, gastritis, and dysentery epidemics); Hadjkiri; and Gelebek.

 

Cheers

Maureen

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Thanks Maureen & Charlie.

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PHalsall

Getting closer!

 

I haven't yet followed up all of the excellent leads suggested in the last few posts but here's something interesting. Charlie suggested looking into the possible ships involved. A search on Katoomba led me to this thesis https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/data/UQ_335055/s40556615_phd_final.pdf?Expires=1531340667&Signature=If5yq90PJeaTSFa~4wjNKN-JrTRpg~VGmmU1~wGpeJNwPocBdbGIWO-~s2VdD9cAzsjhISQIBe0eiE~mE4j~ttBZR1UKupxpoVVx-CSKjmgsWdLtl67sq9wyIKfsIyBg~A2nApV4-BZ-b8AP0Ku0UhosjjIh-cTbVbtseRxH9iZP~wZJXTk-OovwvaKHlHCoj04I3EE6kDMZk2kijF1x2vT0GDrKv7irnFbjXJxKnGbUDeFxFztXFC-keb1op0buPEG-WQx1RxpgXD6Zv2VDCA8Sfy0zYdgvg9du8DtctuBx437DjmL1fJJilmSxNCxVQGlddMfHWoCnXwRGYP19sg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJKNBJ4MJBJNC6NLQ

which includes the following detail.

 

Armistice and Homecoming
The Armistice between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies was signed on 30 October 1918 at Mudros Harbour. Overstretched, under-resourced, and cut off from communications with the other Central Powers after the capitulation of Bulgaria, the Turks sought a separate peace agreement. The Mudros agreement included provisions for the demobilisation of the Turkish Army, the Allied control of various transport and communication infrastructures including the rail network, ports and anchorages, and the telegraph network.1 It also outlined instructions for the transfer of all prisoners of war to Constantinople for immediate handover.2 At the time of the Armistice, 140 Australians were scattered throughout various prison camps in Turkey. News of the Mudros agreement reached these camps through different means; Edgar Hobson was told by his Commandant at Nisibin that the men, no longer prisoners,
were “his guests,” while Leslie Luscombe and his fellow POW officers at Afyon were informed by an interpreter.3 Representatives of the protecting powers told others, while some found out through newspapers or local residents. Prisoners reported mixed feelings upon the end of their captivity. For Luscombe, still desperate to do his part for the war effort, finding a way to rejoin his battalion and continue the fight against the Germans was of utmost importance.4 For others, celebrations were in order. Maurice Delpratt told his sister that “we all went
mad” upon receiving confirmation of the Armistice at Afyon. Prisoners hoisted a Union Jack flag over the Armenian Church and marched into the town bazaar.5 At San Stefano, Reginald Lushington reported his billet had been in “a seething uproar” once they heard the news and “like foxhounds suddenly let out we streamed out to Freedom.”6 But celebrations came in different forms. As soon as Ron Austin heard of the Armistice, his thoughts turned to disposing of the belongings he had accrued while in captivity. Together with his roommate, Austin organised an auction for the local townspeople. Low bidding prices frustrated the two men, and they instead decided to destroy the items:
A crowd formed outside [the house], chiefly women and children, and we would hold these things up and ask them how much they would give. They only made low bids and if the bid was not enough Pettit used to chop the thing up with an axe and we made the people pretty wild. They were crying, shouting, and yelling, asking us not to smash these things up; but we said unless they paid a fair price we were going to break everything. We sold an odd thing just to keep them going, but we chopped up almost everything we had there.7

Regardless of their feelings, getting out of Turkey was the primary concern of the ex-prisoners. There were no heroic stunts to liberate the camps and, in some instances, the men were effectively left to make their own way to Constantinople. Prisoners at San Stefano simply walked out of their camp and into the offices of the Dutch legation, where they were welcomed with money, food and comforts parcels, and accommodated in a hotel. Others who reached Constantinople, such as Charles Flatt from Daridje, or George Talbot, who had been working in a fabric factory in the capital, were similarly welcomed and accommodated. The ex-prisoners were free to roam the city before they left onboard the Katoomba, the first troopship to enter the Dardanelles after the Armistice.8 The Katoomba transported the men to Salonica, then Taranto in southern Italy, where they entrained for Calais. From Calais they sailed to Dover, and reached London on 8 December. For those in work and rest camps further in the interior, getting to Constantinople was not feasible. Indeed, as escaped British prisoner Edward Keeling argued in his 1924 memoir, the idea of establishing one central collection point for prisoners reflected the lack of appreciation the military authorities had for the
situation in Turkey.9 Those in the Nisibin area were transported via the newly occupied rail network to Aleppo, and then to Tripoli and Port Said.10 Others were instead sent to Smyrna (present day Izmir). Prisoners at work camps in the Taurus mountains travelled on trains to Afyon, where officers organised with the stationmaster passage by train direct to Smyrna.
Upon arrival in Smyrna, the ex-prisoners were welcomed in much the same manner as those in Constantinople. Officers were accommodated in buildings requisitioned by the American Red Cross, were taken in by local French and English families, or stayed in hotels. According to Leonard Woolley, “the Turks had by now washed their hands of us” and the ex-prisoners were able to wander the town, visit the theatre and the bazaar, and dine in local restaurants.11 Ron Austin, obviously feeling more benevolent towards his fellow POWs than the Afyon locals, treated several of his comrades to champagne dinners.12 From Smyrna the men were repatriated to Alexandria by the hospital ship Kanowna, then travelled to Port Said, where they were concentrated at the No. 14 Australian General Hospital and received medical treatment from Australian doctors and nurses.13 The trip onboard the Kanowna was particularly exciting for submariner John Wheat, as it marked the first time he had seen an ‘English’ woman – a nurse – in over three years.14 Landing at Alexandria was also a special moment for Delpratt, who had embarked for Gallipoli from the same wharf over three years earlier.15 For Edgar Hobson, arrival in Egypt also brought with it the realisation that he was free from life as a captive of such an alien culture; he completed his report to the AIF by stating “thanking God that I am now once more amongst my own people.”16 These signs of familiarity marked significant moments in the prisoners’ reverse transition out of captivity, as they offered reminders of places and people associated with home and normality.

The Australian government had specific interests in repatriated prisoners. The Department of Defence was eager to “counteract any Bolshevik propaganda” that threatened British claims to the moral high ground regarding their conduct during the war, and wanted to create a comparison study between the treatment of British POWs in enemy hands and the treatment of enemy POWs in British hands.17 Major John Treloar, officer-in-charge of the Australian War Records Section, despatched an Australian photographer to Calais to take pictures of the recently liberated men. However, to his consternation, the official photographer arrived too late to photograph the worst cases. An AIF Representative at Calais stated that “so many of our British prisoners have been receiving such excellent treatment from British and Allied authorities that by the time they reach here, the prisoners have regained their bodily  strength.”18 Existing photographs were too cheerful, seemingly “taken with a view of showing the lighter side.”19 According to the Secretary of the British Photographic Section, “in nearly all the cases the men are smiling with pleasure at the thought that they are free once more.”20 Clearly, ideas about the usefulness of prisoners for propaganda purposes, first realised during the war to boost recruitment, were still in circulation.


Those who arrived in Egypt were also of specific interest to the AIF. A memorandum was issued instructing all officers, NCOs and enlisted men returning from Turkey to submit a full report of their experiences of captivity. It compelled the men to “give a faithful comprehensive picture of the circumstances attending the capture and life in enemy country.”21 Items to be addressed in the postwar report included ‘treatment while being conveyed to place of internment’, ‘nature of employment and scale and nature of rations’ and ‘when and how news received of great British advance’. A separate section asked for information about missing men or those who died as prisoners.22 Like the photographs, these reports were collated for
the benefit of the Australian War Records Section. Questions focussing on experiences of captivity marked a different approach towards prisoners of war from early 1918, when the first medically unfit repatriates were brought back from enemy countries. These prisoners were asked to complete a similar report with far less importance placed on their time in captivity; in a letter dated 22 February 1918, Treloar explained to AIF Headquarters in London that “the circumstances of a man’s capture are of greater historical value than the details of his treatment as a prisoner.”23


During the war significance was placed on information prisoners could provide about the strength of enemy forces or ways to avoid potential capture. The cessation of hostilities meant the emphasis shifted to the experiences of Australians at the hands of the enemy and the stories they could provide for both propaganda purposes and trials of those accused of breaches of the international laws of war. While the authorities wanted to use the prisoners, they also acknowledged the difficult nature of their experiences. In a move that suggests the AIF and the Department of Defence felt ex-prisoners of war deserved some measure of special treatment, the repatriated prisoners were offered the choice between priority return to
Australia, or two months paid leave in England.24 Many opted to immediately return home. The desire to be reunited with anxious relatives, or to restart civilian life after years away, was strong. For one ex-POW, the fact that he was “not in love with the army” was motivation enough, while another admitted that he was “rather afraid of the English winter.”25 45 ex-prisoners of the Turks left for Australia before the end of 1918. Others took the opportunity to visit England, where they were given back pay and allowed to travel. Although in some instances men were concerned they would be deemed selfish by family for not returning to Australia straight away, many were overcome with excitement that they would finally be in the ‘motherland’. As Richard White points out, travel was a keen motivator for enlistment.26 The ex-prisoners expressed wonder and delight at touring sites of historical and cultural significance that, from their prison camps, many may have assumed they would never get the opportunity to see. For those travelling from Calais, such as Luscombe, spotting the
iconic white cliffs of Dover was a particularly poignant moment: “Ever since the Declaration of War … I had looked forward to the possibility of catching sight of these White Cliffs.”27 In London the prisoners joined other Australian servicemen and explored Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, and the Houses of Parliament. Delpratt conveyed his excitement in a letter to his sister in Queensland: “Here I am in London with my mouth wide open at its wonders.”28 The ex-prisoners received a welcome reception in England. Officers could partake of the British Empire Hospitality Scheme’s many facilities for accommodation in stately homes across the country, or take a room at a hotel. Repatriated prisoners were not charged for lodging at soldiers’ hostels, and were able to join sightseeing tours, attend the theatre, and meet up with old friends. British civilians, keen to entertain an Australian, accommodated some. Colin Campbell told Elizabeth Chomley of the POW Department of his appreciation of the family who accommodated him during his period of leave: “I am having a lovely holiday so far 
and hope it continues. The people where I am staying are very kind to me they cannot do enough for me. I feel absolutely at home one cannot help it.”29 The POW Department had set aside funds to provide entertainment for Australians returned from both Turkey and Germany, and many men were treated to afternoon teas and other meals at the Department’s offices. Some were also able to travel to visit family in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, while others, including George Kerr, went to France.30

 

Several were hospitalised for medical conditions for extended periods of time. Joseph O’Neill was one of many ex-POWs transferred between different hospitals in England – O’Neill
spent time in various hospitals and rest homes between December 1918 and his embarkation for Australia in May 1919 suffering from recurrent attacks of acute malaria.31

 

If my GD had got to Constantinople early, as an escapee there would be a good chance that he would have left on the Katoomba. The mis-match in the evidence is that the Katoomba POWs get to London by Dec 8th, but my GD and Joseph O'Neill (mentioned earlier in the thread) get to Dover by that date? Could that be just an error in record keeping, or does it tell us they were not on this ship? So close.

 

The Kanowna doesnt match as it gets to England via Gibraltar on 25-26th Nov.

 

What an amazing coincidence to see Joseph O'Neill appear in this thesis!

 

Loved the John Wheat narrative, thanks Charlie. Did give me the feel that a man could possibly get to Constantinople under his own steam from Gelebek in maybe 3-4 days so not ruled out. 

 

Thanks once agian for all the help everybody.

 

 

 

 

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