"Memoirs of a
Soldier of Fortune"
The following two chapters of General Rafael de Nogales' book,
"Memoirs of a Soldier of Fortune" (Garden City, NY, 1932) provide
most revealing insights into the Turkish character, fighting man, and war
conditions. De Nogales is more famous for having written "Four Years
Beneath the Crescent," excerpts of which has been made good use of in the
Armenian Genocide propaganda industry. The Venezuelan castle rustler and
soldier-of-fortune evidently had feelings of ambivalence. While happy to get a
shot at playing soldier on the side of the Ottomans, he no doubt disliked the
idea of combating fellow Christians, the Armenians. He demonstrates his
"complex" throughout, as well as his confused sentiments. (He refers
to Van as the "capital of Armenia," for example.)
In this book, he wrote that he was sentenced to death, because he knew too
much. (P. 287.) He "had the misfortune of being the only Christian among
the sixty thousand Turks who had put down the Armenian revolution,"
witnessing scenes "no Christian should have ever witnessed and lived to
tell about later." He felt that Khalil and Djevded (governor of Van) had
it in for him, because if de Nogales had reached "Constantinople alive
and let out [his] information, they would have a devil of a time justifying
themselves." Yet he speaks well of both men, saying they were "the
best of friends," and their murderous intentions were only the result of
"self-preservation," and that he would "probably have done the
same," had he been in their place. Although he decided to "shut up
like a clam on all matters concerning the Armenian massacres until the day
arrived when [he] could write about them from a safe distance!" (p. 290),
it seems odd he would have been allowed to slip through the Turks' fingers if
murder was really the Turks' intent. If de Nogales was truly threatened by the
two men he named, that only demonstrates — if these two were guilty of
indiscriminate mass murder — that crimes were committed on the local level.
If there were a centrally-directed plan for systematic extermination, and if
the Ottoman leadership decided de Nogales would spill the beans afterwards, it
would have been very easy to have done away with him.
(With thanks to Cihan.)
PERHAPS battles are not always fought by efficient soldiers. Consider, for instance, our
attack on the Suez Canal in January, 1915. That affair, according to the majority of the
Turkish soldiers who took part in that expedition, turned out to be a failure because two
of our Takaut reserve officers, of the old "Hamidian school," were
carrying, concealed in their saddlebags, several chickens and a rooster so as to have
fresh eggs for breakfast. The enemy, according to our askars, never suspected our
presence on the eastern shore of the Suez Canal until dawn-when the blessed rooster
suddenly stuck its head out of the saddlebag and let out a sonorous
"cock-a-doodle-doo" which put the wary Britishers wise to our scheme.
But for that confounded rooster—our askars claim—we would probably have won the
World War; because by interrupting the traffic on the Suez Canal we could have cut off
England from India and Australia as well as France from her north and central African
possessions, since our occupation of the western shore of the Canal would, undoubtedly,
have caused a revolt in Egypt, and this, in its turn, a general revolt of Islam against
Occidental world supremacy.
General Sir John Maxwell, the "savior of Egypt" during that occasion, ought to
carry, therefore, the image of a crowing rooster on his coat-of-arms in memory of that
droll yet, according to the Turks, absolutely historical incident. Speaking of efficient
soldiers, the effectiveness of the Turkish army during the World War (in spite of the
damaged reputation it gained during the Balkan Wars) should be attributed partly to the
services of Field-Marshal Von der Goltz; for thirty years he had served as instructor of
the Ottoman army in an advisory capacity; he had not been, therefore, in a position to
build up the army in the way he would have desired. But he left the terrain prepared, so
that when Marshal Liman von Sanders, the hero of the Dardanelles, was appointed director
of the German military mission in Turkey, in 1912, with executive powers, all he had to do
was to build the structure on the ground already prepared for him by Von der Goltz.
The Turks were excellent artillerymen and machine-gunners. During the Gallipoli campaign,
for instance, during which some of the mightiest battleships the world has ever seen were
sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean by the Turkish mines and submarines, those two
splendid arms of the Ottoman army filled the forty or fifty thousand graves which our
gallant foes left on the golden shores and historic battlefields of ancient Troy.
During that fearful struggle Allah stood by us. He even "threw sand," as the
Arabs say, into our enemies' eyes on a certain occasion so as to prevent Constantinople
from falling into their hands. This happened after a series of tremendous attacks which
cost the British and French fleets several of their strongest units and caused them to
withdraw, temporarily at least.
If, instead of withdrawing, the Allies' fleets had ventured another attack, they could
have easily forced the entrance of the Dardanelles, because by that time we had hardly any
heavy artillery ammunition left. It was then that Allah gave us a helping hand by
"throwing sand" into our enemies' eyes, because, when the Allies had recovered
from their shock, had rubbed "the sand" out of their eyes and renewed their
attack, several trainloads of heavy artillery ammunition, which had arrived in the
meantime from Constantinople, enabled us to shut the entrance of the Dardanelles tighter
than a Scotsman's purse.
Our machine-gunners and artillerymen, however, were not the only bravos in
the Ottoman army; even our auxiliary troops, for instance our sappers; were endowed
with extraordinary sang-froid and determination. During our attack on the
Suez Canal, in January, 1915, one of the outstanding events was the voluntary
sacrifice, not to say suicide, of a company of Ottoman sappers who, after crossing
the canal by means of a hastily constructed pontoon bridge, let themselves be killed
to the last man rather than surrender.
Our cavalrymen were also excellent soldiers;
but they did not seem to husband their mounts the way they should have done,
probably on account of their Tartar descent. It should not be forgotten that
centuries ago the Mongolians, like their pupils, the Cossacks, used their horses not
only for warfare but as beasts of burden, to transport their troops across the
steppes and deserts between Turkestan and India, China and Hungary.
Each warrior of those long KaImuck raids used to take along ten or more tough,
frugal little ponies, which maintained themselves all the year round on moss and
natural pasturage, requiring no care from their master. Only in this way could the
Turkomen have made seventy or eighty kilometers a day, day after day, month after
month, without losing their mounts. The Tartar's attitude toward his horse, as a
creature requiring neither food nor care from him, persists with the Turk to-day.
That is why the Ottoman cavalry, which approximated an army corps at the beginning
of the World War, had become reduced at the end of it to almost nothing.
The only blot on the Turkish army was the Takaut officers. I still remember
with consternation the various months when I had to deal with them while I held the
position of mufetish, or inspector of our Mamoureh-Kadme service of supply center in
northern Syria, in 1915.
The majority of those Takauts belonged to the retired officers' corps of
ex-Sultan Abu-Ul-Hamid's regime; that is to say, they had been recruited from among
the sergeants and corporals for fear that graduate officers, if given the command of
troops, might organize a revolution. Those "regimentaries," or "old
regime reserve officers," were, as a rule, abhorred throughout the country
because of their rapacity and rascally instincts.
They were only employed in the commissary departments. They represented in my
opinion the greatest plague that devastated Turkey during the World War, because
locusts, al- though voracious, usually destroyed nothing except harvests and
pastures; while those inveterate parasites sold the medicines and rations of man and
beast and, had they found a buyer, would probably have sold the locomotives of our
That is why the officers' corps of the Young Turks who dethroned Sultan Abu-UI-Hamid was
composed almost entirely of regular army officers, that is to say, not of officers who had
risen from the ranks, but of military academy graduates belonging in many cases to the
most aristocratic families of the empire. The most efficient arm was represented in our
Ottoman army by the infantry; by those fierce askars who once laid the banners of
over a hundred conquered nations at the feet of their mighty sultans.
While fighting and running alternately on our various fronts I had opportunity to observe
our Turkish soldiers rather closely. We hardly ever dared to order them to attack with the
bayonet, for we had no way of recalling them after they had started to charge. We did not
use bugles in action, only whistles.
As soon as the command to attack was given, off they went, shouting " Allah,
Allah," to die to the last man beneath the concentrated enemy artillery and
machine-gun fire. Those askars never looked back, only forward.
In the Bukowina, in northern Rumania, for instance, we had two or three Turkish divisions
helping the Germans and Austrians stem the Russians' advance. Every time the mujiks
attacked the Austrians our Turks had invariably to rescue Emperor Joseph's soldiers and
drive back the enemy. So much so that finally orders were given that the Austrians'
military activities should be limited to digging trenches and to preparing food for the
Turks who, in exchange for the Austrians' menial work, would do all the fighting alone.
One day the Turks were not satisfied with the way the Austrians had dug out a new set of
trenches and went on a strike ; they attacked the Russians without orders and refused to
return unless the Austrians were ordered to rebuild their trenches in a proper way.
Whenever I entered one of our barracks and watched our soldiers fixing up their beds,
mending their uniforms, or squat- ting cross-legged on the floor, reading their prayer
books, I could not help feeling as if I had entered a cage full of tame lions and Bengal
I will cite my chief orderly, Tasim Chavush, as an example. He had served for twelve years
in the cavalry and was generally known as a "son of Satan" until I got hold of
him and tamed him properly. From then on he became my shadow. He used to spend the night
wrapped in a blanket in front of my tent or sleeping-room, in full war regalia: carbine,
saber, cartridge belt, etc. Several enemy spies and sundry other vermin who tried to
"intrude" had been quietly buried in our courtyard without my ever knowing
anything about it.
That spurred, rosy-cheeked Albanian giant, with his short sandy mustache and the boyish
look in his light blue eyes, was usually silent as the grave; but he was awake to
everything that was going on-ever ready to attend to everybody in the proper way when
necessity forced him to do so.
My few earthly possessions were in his hands. He bossed my household like a born mayordomo.
Whenever he referred to anything—my clothes, my horses or the beautiful grayhounds which
a Kurdish sheik had given me—he would invariably refer to them as "ours." For
instance-" Beym, I wonder what- ever became of that little pair of scissors of
ours which we bought in Erzeroum two years ago?" He had the keys to my luggage; he
carried my purse, and tasted every drop of coffee, liquor or food before it was served to
me because—L'Orient c'est l'Otient! In spite of the cavalry escort which
accompanied me every- where, Tasim never lost sight of me. He always kept close to my
heels. Whenever the enemy opened fire on us unexpectedly he would ride up immediately,
apparently for the purpose of asking for orders but, in reality, to protect me with his
body from the enemy bullets. As soon as we had passed the danger line he would fall back
at once and follow me as before, at regulation distance.
The Turk reveals plainly his Tartar descent during theatrical performances when, as among
the Chinese, male actors substitute for female actresses. He is also like a Tartar in his
way of dressing. Most of our soldiers, like the average Kalmuck of central Asia, were of
the opinion that heavy clothing protects one not only from cold but also from heat. I have
frequently seen some of our Takaut reserve officers take off their military tunics
and then peel from their bodies, as from an onion, one layer after another; first, two or
three fancy waists with gaudy designs—birds, flowers, etc.; next, three or four striped
or polka- dotted shirts and, finally, maybe half a dozen woolen under- shirts, before they
Some of the oldtimers among the civilian population of Asia Minor used to wear even in
midsummer, on top of all that paraphernalia, also a silken kaftan, or a sort of
nightgown entwined around their waists by a ten-yard-long silken or woolen scarf, and a
heavy fur-lined overcoat; not to mention their big white turbans.
Those old fellows seemed to enjoy their wardrobes immensely. Many of our soldiers wore,
seemingly without discomfort, even in the heart of the desert, the same heavy woolen
uniforms which they used among the eternal snows of the Caucasus.
Another of the peculiarities of the Turks was their preference for bread. They ate,
as a rule, very little meat or vegetables; but bread, no matter whether fresh,
stale, black or white, they .would eat by the bushel, probably on account of their
Koran, which, like the Bible, speaks feelingly about "our daily bread."
Our soldiers were always buried lying sidewise, with their faces turned south, in
the direction of Mecca and Medina, the Holy Cities of Islam. The feathers of their
religious sentiment were frequently ruffled by the thoughtlessness of some of their
German instructors, as happened once in our military camp of Baalbeck, in central
Syria, where Major X had two parallel rows of new baths constructed for the
convenience of his men. The latter, however, to his great disappointment, bluntly
re- fused to make use of those comfortable newly dug baths. Luckily, after a while,
some friendly soul whispered into the major s ear :
"Don't you see that those baths have been dug with their entrances toward the
north instead of the south, in the direction of Mecca and Medina ? "
Only then did the major understand. Naturally, no True Believer would ever turn his
back on the Holy Cities while taking a bath. That would be rank sacrilege. So he had
the baths reconstructed, facing south, whereupon his askars blessed Allah for
having enlightened him. They reverently bowed toward Mecca and Medina every time
they took a bath.
I could not help admiring the religious sentiment of our Turkish soldiers, a
sentiment which was usually kept alive by the presence of numerous priests in their
"Come over here," I barked once at a black-bearded, white-turbaned soldier
who was busily engaged sweeping the floor of one of our barracks at Jerusalem;
whereupon the bowlegged askar in his baggy olive-green uniform shouldered his
broom, waddled clumsily, like a fat pelican, in my direction, came to a halt with
much shuffling of his trailing, yellow morocco slippers, and finally managed to
stand at attention in front of me.
I had to smile inwardly as I riveted a stern look on the stolid- faced, comical
creature who kept eying me wistfully—with almost a scared look in his eyes. His
left instead of his right hand was respectfully raised to his bat-like ear which the
heavy turban was causing to stand out at a forty-five-degree angle. He was a typical
hodcha-effendi, or clergyman; for in Turkey even the clergymen had to don the
Sultan's uniform during the World War and fight for the glory of the Caliphate. One
of our crack regiments on the Sinai front was, for instance, that of the
"Howling Dervishes," which suffered heavy casualties and finally had to be
withdrawn because those holy men stubbornly refused to take off, while in action,
their two-foot tubular fezes which used to betray them to the enemy
sharpshooters every time they rose over the trenches.
The only distinction between our priest-warriors was that the "seculars,"
or ordained priests, as well as the students of the Mohammedan seminaries, were
classed as "officiers aspirants," or acting lieutenants, whereas
the laymen, or brothers of the monasteries—that is to say, the hodcha-effendis—had
to serve in the ranks as privates or non-commissioned officers. The one I had
summoned was a layman and, therefore, a plain soldier. I always felt sorry for those
poor fellows, and generally maneuvered around until I managed to get them a decent
job, usually as clerks in our commissary department.
Mter sizing up our priest for a while I asked him gruffly: "What was your
occupation before the war ?"
" A clerical layman, Beym," he answered meekly, and shifted
uneasily from one foot to the other.
"Can you write and read?' Do you know anything about arithmetic?" I
continued questioning him while I pulled nervously at my short-clipped mustache,
"Yes, Bt'ym," he answered, "I used to help keep the books in
our monastery at Konia. "
"In that case,” I said, “ you report at once to the capudan- effendi of
our service of supplies and tell him to put you to work in his office right away.
You get me? And now, beat it-haidi git!"
Though the face of our hodcha-effendi remained inscrutable I could not help
noticing in his deep-set eyes a look of sincere gratitude as he turned around slowly
and waddled awkwardly off in the direction of our Intendence, whose low,
dark-gray buildings must have looked at that moment to the poor humiliated sky-pilot
like heaven itself:,
In such a manner I became, little by little, the protecting angel of every hodcha-effendi
who had the misfortune to fall into my clutches, and I must confess that giaur—Christian
dog—though I was, those poor grateful wretches always stood by me faithfully, and
obeyed my orders implicitly even under the most trying circumstances, Through them I
acquired much valuable information about the inner political conditions in Turkey
during the World War, and about the soul of the Orient,. which will always remain a
mystery to most Gentiles, no matter how long they may have lived in Asia.
On the first of January, 1917, occurred an incident which might have precipitated
our loss of Palestine but for the valor and cold-bloodedness of a hodcha-efft'ndi
whom I had befriended and appointed chief accountant of our Twelfth Infantry
Regiment. His name was Suleiman Effendi. At daybreak of that date a veritable
cyclone broke loose over Es-Salt, capital of Transjordania, accompanied by
torrential rains, which totally destroyed our military automobile road to Jerusalem,
bridges and all. Almost simultaneously with this disaster came the news that the
English had passed beyond El-Arrish and were at the gates of Gaza; also that our
troops stationed there were barely sufficient to check the enemy's advance.
One hour later a message arrived from Colonel von Kress Bey, commander-in-chief of
our expeditionary army in Egypt, ordering our garrison to march forth at once to
reinforce the battleline on the Gaza front.
Half an hour later our four thousand askarsset out for Jerusalem with no
other equipment than their arms, while I remained behind, in Es-Salt, with barely a
hundred or so picked men to guard our stores of guns and ammunition which would have
been sufficient to make the Arabs masters of Palestine could they have got hold of
them. And, to make matters worse, it seems that the English advance had electrified
and galvanized into revolt the twenty thousand inhabitants of Es-Salt, Who
immediately armed themselves to the teeth and prepared to besiege us in the massive
old Catholic church, in which we had hurriedly entrenched ourselves and in whose
interior were piled up, sky-high, thousands of boxes with rifles and countless kegs
of powder and dynamite.
The church was situated in the center of the town, at the bottom of a steep canon
through which ran the main thorough. fare of the city. If our powder magazine had
blown up, the whole town, which rose in terraces on both sides of the canon, would
have collapsed as if struck by an earthquake and tumbled like a landslide into the
bottom of the valley.
Five minutes after our troops had left, the flat roofs of the surrounding buildings
were covered with thousands of howling, shrieking and gesticulating armed Arab
tribesmen, who demanded that we surrender or face extermination. Foreseeing all
that, I had ordered Suleiman Effendi, the hodcha-effendi of the Twelfth
Regiment, to invite the three sheiks or clan chiefs of the town to have tea with me,
while we discussed the matter of surrender.
As soon as we had finished our unsuccessful pour-parler and the sheiks had
stepped out, haughtily, through the main entrance of the church into the street,
Suleiman Effendi arrested them in the midst of the excited townspeople, then
hog-tied and threw them into our powder magazine with the warning that "no
quarter would be given," and that the minute any tribesman or citizen should
fire a shot at us, I would order Suleiman to "press the button" and blow
the sheiks, ourselves and the city of Es-Salt with every living soul in it, into the
Three days and three nights Suleiman Effendi sat on top of that mountain of
explosives ready to "press the button," while the twenty thousand
inhabitants of Es-Salt howled bloody murder without daring, however, to fire a shot
at us. Finally, during the afternoon of the third day, a message from Colonel von
Kress announced the definite withdrawal of the enemy from Gaza, whereupon the Arabs
quickly hid their guns, cheered and blessed our crimson crescent and welcomed with
tears in their eyes their three lost sheep, who probably had never gone through such
a harrowing experience before in their lives.
After our evacuation of Bir-Es-Sabah and the retreat of its garrison to Jerusalem,
the three regiments of the Third Imperial Lancers kept defending the rear of Our
troops against the enemy cavalry, which did not give them a minute's rest. At
Daharie, where the Bir-Es-Sabah-Hebron military road entered the foot- hills of
southern Palestine, our Third Imperial Lancers stopped suddenly, faced about,
deployed in battle formation and, protected on both Ranks by their divisional field
artillery and machine-gun sections, made ready to fight back the numerous British
and Australian cavalry regiments which were pursuing them.
The Britishers prudently stopped at a safe distance, suspiciously eying the wily Turks.
How was it possible—they probably asked themselves—that three tattered, starving
Turkish cavalry regiments should dare to defy in the open eight, ten or maybe more,
well-fed and splendidly equipped British and Australian regiments? Of all the impudence!
Such a thing had never happened before! Still, it had happened before, less than a year
previously, during the second battle of Gaza, when that same tattered and starving Third
Cavalry Division of ours had cut off the enemy's right wing, composed of the bulk of the
British and Australian cavalry in Egypt, and forced it to with. draw after inflicting
heavy losses on it.
While the Britishers sat tight, trying to find out what it was all about, one of our
regiments, the Sixth, finally got tired of waiting, rode forth with raised lances and
challenged an enemy regiment to single combat. Seeing that its challenge was not accepted,
the Third Squadron of our Sixth then sallied forth alone and defied single-handed a whole
British or Australian regiment.
That was a little too much even for the phlegmatic Britishers. A squadron of Australians
picked up the glove. The Cross and the Crescent clashed amid a cloud of dust. After the
fight was called off only about three dozen Australians and Turks remained standing in
their stirrups. Not a rifle, machine-gun or fieldpiece cracked or thundered on either side
until that handful of Knights of St. George and Paladins of Allah had safely re- treated
to their respective lines. El-Hand-Ul-Illah! While speaking about the Turkish
soldier I cannot help remembering Enver Pasha, the greatest man that Turkey produced for
many a generation. He was a soldier, a statesman and a patriot. It was on a sunny morning
of January, 1915, that we met; a day which I will never forget because that morning I felt
as if I had discovered America. It all seemed so strange to me, especially after I had
donned my first Turkish uniform and walked up the broad marble staircase of the war
department to report to his Excellency, Colonel Enver Bey (later Enver Pasha), secretary
of war and vice-generalissimo of the Ottoman Empire.
When I stepped out of the auto at the main entrance of the enormous rectangular
four-story-high Ministère de la Guerre, which stood solitary in the center of an
empty maidan surrounded by kiosks and a tall, iron railing, a military band,
dressed in historical uniforms, was playing a weird, wild march such as the janissaries
used to play long ago, while besieging Budapest or charging Napoleon's Old Guard at the
foot of the Pyramids.
I felt a real thrill as I crossed and recrossed the beautifully decorated reception halls
before I was finally ushered into Enver's office. The minute I entered he rose, smiled
affably, shook hands with me cordially, invited me to sit down and, after we had smoked a
cigaret and enjoyed a thimbleful of black coffee à la turca, we parted the best of
friends. He was about forty or forty-two at that time*, medium-sized, slender, extremely
good-looking, wore a mustache à la Kaiser and had a charming personality.
He never used his official titles.
"I am Enver; glad to meet you," was the way he introduced himself.
Being the first A. D. C. to the Sultan he naturally wore an A. D. C.'s uniform, but only a
plain one, like that of any of his own A. D. C.'s.
Once, in the spring of 1918, one of our former Austrian officers on the Sinai front, a
captain of artillery, wanted to meet Enver very badly before he returned to Austria. He
had been proposed for a war medal which only Enver could confer. So he begged me to secure
him an audience with II Seiner Exzellenz! " I got it for him, naturally. He
was to be received on Tuesday at 2 p.m. sharp. His audience was to last five minutes, which
means two minutes more than was usually granted to subaltern officers.
*Enver, born 1881, was 33 or 34 years old
A few days later I met our captain again. He had got his medal all right, but there
was a story attached to it. After being ushered through four different reception
rooms, and after having been asked by four different A. D. C.'s whom he wanted to
see, he entered a fifth salon where another A. D. C., dressed exactly like
the others, addressed him with a courteous:
" Anything I can do for you, sir ? "
"Do what?" the captain snarled angrily. "of course you can; I have
got to med: Enver Pasha at 2 p. m. sharp. Through all of these blooming delays I
have lost already three of the precious five minutes which my audience is supposed
Instead of getting angry, the A. D. C. smiled affably and replied:
"Please, don't worry, Captain. I am Enver." He immediately granted the
Unlike other Young Turk leaders, Enver was a man who ro~ by his own force of
character. He was the hero of the Tripoli campaign, during the Italo-Turkish
conflict in 1910-11, and it was he who turned the tide in favor of the Turkish army
during the Second Balkan War.
After the fall of Adrianople the Turkish Cabinet which was then in power had
assembled in the palace of the Sublime Porte for the purpose of signing an armistice
by means of which Turkey ceded not only Adrianople, but practically the whole of
Thrace to the Bulgars. A few minutes before the proposed treaty was to be signed and
sealed, Enver and two other Young Turk army officers presented themselves,
unexpectedly, and demanded that the cabinet immediately sign its resignation. The
secretary of war was the only member of the council of state who refused to sign,
whereupon Enver shot him down and, assuming the supreme command of the Turkish army,
reconquered Adrianople from the Bulgars and built up, with the help of Marshal Liman
von Sanders' German military mission, a modern Turkish army.
This not only withstood the Allies during the World War, but finally freed the
Ottoman Empire from the humiliating "extraterritorial rights," or
capitulations, by means of which the imperialistic European nations had kept Turkey
in bondage for over half a century.
Enver died during the Greek conflict in 1923, while he rushed at the head of several
thousand Turkomen to the aid of Mustapha-Kemel, who had begged him to come to his
rescue. He shot his way through the Bolshevik troops which tried to block his
advance, but ran out of ammunition and, when he charged again at the head of his
tribesmen, a Red soldier pumped a machine-gun load into him, at five yards distance,
which tore him to pieces.
Thus died Enver Pasha, the biggest Young Turk and the real protagonist of modern
The indomitable courage—or fanaticism; call it what you will—and the traditional
boldness of the Osmanlis, frequently during the World War offered examples of that
ferocious endurance which, from time immemorial, has made them famed as one of the
most valiant and warlike nations of the Old World.
During our Caucasus campaign I repeatedly ran across trenches filled with
corpses-the frozen bodies of our askars, both officers and men—who had
frozen to death rather than budge from the positions they had been ordered to hold
at any price. During those dreadful months among the eternal snows of the Caucasus
the Muscovite high command had ordered its Russian divisions to be replaced by the
Siberian Iron Legions, because even the Russian mujiks could not withstand
any longer the terrible cold.
We were fighting most of the time up to our necks in the snow, at an altitude
anywhere from ten to twelve thousand feet above sea level Nevertheless the Turks,
who had been rushed to the front with hardly any preparations at all, or even an
adequate service of supplies, owing to the rapidity with which things had happened,
stood their ground wonderfully well; sometimes even without overcoats or proper
footwear; in many cases without the necessary medical attention and, most of the
time, with hardly anything to eat except a crust of bread. Those were men who knew
how to fight and die without a murmur, without ever showing the slightest sign of
During our miscarried offensive of Sari-Kamish; near Erzeroum, in 1915, for
instance, we lost thirty thousand men in less than two days, mostly frozen to death.
Nevertheless, in spite of that drawback, our Third Caucasus army kept fighting the
Russians and driving them back at the point of its bayonets with more vigor than
A far greater toll than by bullets and cold was exacted from us by the terrible
typhus epidemic which broke out in Turkey almost immediately after the beginning of
the World War. On our Caucasus front, where we were separated from the rest of the
world by a roadless barrier of two hundred miles of mountainous frozen wilderness,
hundreds and even thousands of our wounded and typhus-stricken askars , for
whom there was no room left in our Erzeroum lazarets, were handed some money and a
knapsack full of food and allowed to trek back across the howling wilderness in
search of Erzindjan, Trebizond or Sivas, which were the only three towns provided
with hospitals within a radius of two hundred miles.
I met hundreds of those poor dying wretches along the goat- trails which crossed
those snowy wastes. Most of them were al- ready on their way to the great beyond:
Living skeletons who were dragging themselves by the dozen on hands and knees over
the frozen snow-fields, closely followed by ravenous bands of wolves which were
waiting only for the night to set in. I remembered a wounded soldier who had
bandaged a fresh saber-cut on his arm with some filthy rags which he had torn from
the festering wounds of a dead comrade.
I mention the foregoing examples only to support my contention that the Turk is one of the
most enduring, best-disciplined of soldiers. I would pity the European officers who should
try to submit their troops to the hardship and misery which the Turkish soldier suffered
during the war. Yet our askars never uttered a word of complaint, but stumbled
along starving and fighting for the glory of the crimson crescent and the cause of the
Mohammedan world until merciful death finally put an end to their sufferings.
I remember well how one afternoon, while. we were fighting the Siberian Iron Legions in
the heart of wild Kurdist.an, my horse was shot and I landed knee-deep in the snow. As I
protected my face with one hand from the raging blizzard and fought off with the other a
Cossack, I felt someone pulling at the hem of my long military coat. It was Ismail
Effendi, one of our squadron commanders, who by half buried beneath the snow. One of his
ryes had been put out by a deep sword-thrust. His violet, trembling lips were muttering
feebly, as if in a dream :
"Nogales Beym, bir limonade, reyaederim, " which means "please get
me a lemonade, Nogales Bey." At that moment I managed to get clear of my Cossack
assailant with a well-aimed saber-cut and, bending down, I lifted Ismail's head carefully
and whispered into his ear:
"Right away, brother, right away."
He stretched out his weary limbs, trembled slightly and smiled happily as he passed the
threshold of Paradise. To show the devotion of the Turkish askar to his officers I
will cite the following example:
At dawn of April 25, 1915, during the siege of Van, capital of Armenia, which I was
conducting, our artillery opened fire by sections, and the thunder of musketry, which had
been diminishing during the night, recommenced emphatically. Wherever our shells fell
walls and roofs crumbled to the ground, raising columns of smoke and dust intermingled
with showers of sparks which, scattering, poured down like lava torrents upon the
While inspecting our eastern sector I noticed a commotion. Bayonets flashed. Wild Kurdish
tribesmen with drawn yataghans
poured by the dozen from a neighboring building like rats fleeing from a sinking ship. A
concussion shook the building in which some of our artillerymen had placed a fieldpiece
for the purpose of breaking through the walls which separated them from the enemy. As a
result of the repeated discharges of the gun the roof had caved in with a crash, burying
beneath its debris and cutting off a part of the gun-crew who ran the risk of falling into
the hands of the Armenian comitadchis. These had not been loath to take advantage
of the general confusion in order to invade the burning building. Having made up my mind
to save our gun and its crew at all costs, I rushed into the midst of the ruin, followed
by a sergeant and a corporal who had joined me voluntarily.
I soon got sight of the crimson fezes of the Armenians. They were yelling and rushing
hither and thither, like giant bats, across the thick smoke-screen and the clouds of dust
which the crumbling walls kept kicking up as they toppled over and hit the ground with a
crash that could be heard for blocks around. They fired their Mauser pistols pointblank at
us and occasion- ally slashed at our faces with their long, curved, razor-like yataghans.
Though half blinded by the flash of the shots and volleys which illuminated
fantastically the surrounding twilight, the sergeant and I continued to repulse the
Armenians. They kept pressing us from the front and both sides. Finally, the corporal
succeeded in fastening a rope to the gun-carriage of the field- piece and the rest of the
crew began to pull it hurriedly from the smoldering ruin. The salvage of that gun cost us
five lives and a number of wounded, the corporal among the latter, as a bullet had
ploughed through his cheek at the last minute.
After the siege of Van we decided to retreat with our expeditionary army across Kurdistan
for the purpose of entrenching ourselves around Bitlis, in western Armenia. Our Van
Gendarmery Division, composed of twelve veteran battalions, was to form the vanguard; and,
after picking up some reinforcements at the kasaba of Shaghmanis, it was to
continue in the direction of Vastan, followed closely by the rest of our expeditionary
Our unexpected retreat did not fail to alarm the Russians, who immediately turned all
their artillery loose on us and launched a vigorous bayonet charge against our rearguard.
Nevertheless, their efforts to keep us penned up along the Persian- Turkish frontier
proved in vain, for we broke through their lines and made for the mountain regions of
Bervar and Nordoz, with Vastan as our destination.
Our situation was extremely difficult and the worst might have befallen us but for the
prompt arrival of a Kurdish bandit, by the name of Noro, who, in exchange for the
commutation of the death sentence hanging over him, engaged himself to lead our thirty
thousand men across the snows and ice-covered wastes of the upper Bohtan-Su and Mount
Djahydi. Governor Djevded Bey, the Vali of Van, assured me that I was the first foreigner
to visit those regions. It was the second time in my life that I found myself traveling
across geographically unexplored lands. At first the Russian cavalry followed us, though
at a safe distance; but noticing that we paid no attention to them, they finally turned
back, perhaps fearing an ambuscade.
On the following day we ascended a snow-covered range, craggy and threatening, whose
'silvery summits arched from peak to peak and from crest to crest until they melted
into the Hartosh, neighbors of the clouds. We were in the midst of an absolutely
unknown land, in the heart of wild Kurdistan.
After crossing a divide which was covered with a fifteen-foot layer of hard-packed
snow we descended the almost perpendicular face of that harsh and beetling range by
following the wild mountain streams whose reddish boiling waters thundered over
rocks and cliffs, dragging along huge blocks of ice and forming cataracts which
dashed against the depths of the precipices with a deafening roar.
We were so short of food that during the following three days we had to subsist
almost entirely on wild onion-like herbs which the Kurds used in the preparation of
cheese. However, vegetation increased as we descended, so that about sunset of the
fourth day our thirty thousand soldiers were comfortably camping around mighty fires
from which sparks showered amid the scarlet flames. As I lay somewhere in the
shadows, wrapped in my heavy overcoat, listening to the whisperings of the night and
watching the neighboring cliffs, tinged with purple by the glare of our fires, the
uncanny silence of the night was rent now and then by a strident howl or weird,
long-drawn moan which seemed to descend from the shadowy summits of the silver
hillocks which surrounded us.
As soon as our Kurds, who were crouching in circles around their camp-fires, heard
that dreadful moan, they immediately murmured verses from the Koran so as to be
delivered from the devil of those mountain wastes.
That infernal moan and the distant howling of the hunting- pack reminded me
occasionally that we were in the heart of the Keliehan, which was not man's dominion
but the exclusive kingdom of djinns, or spirits of the wilderness.
After picking up our reinforcements at Shanghmanis, near where I spent the night
among the ruins of an ancient castle which was said to have been inhabited once by
Tamerlane, we continued our advance on Vastan. This fair-sized kasaba was
situated south of Lake Van. We had it occupied the previous night by a detachment of
two or three hundred askars for the purpose of protecting our right flank. I
was leading the vanguard. As we approached the hamlet of Kasrik we heard the
incessant rat-tat-tat of machine-guns and after a while the ever- increasing
rumble of artillery fire.
That kalabalik, or messed-up affair, was due to the fact that our two or
three hundred askars who had been ordered to hold the Vastan divide at all
costs had just been attacked by the Russians and the Armenian volunteers from Van,
whose combined force was not less than three or four thousand foot soldiers and
about eight hundred Siberian Cossacks, with two or three batteries of mountain
Our situation was serious; in fact, extremely serious, for if the enemy managed to
sweep our handful of bravos off the Vastan divide it could crush our right flank and
cut us off from our main force which was following us at a distance of several
miles. Therefore, the defile had to be held!
With that in mind I galloped away toward Kasrik, at the head of our vanguard
cavalry, while my A. D. C. hastened back to summon our Erzeroum and Mussul
As we raced over the dusty, rock-strewn Valley of Kasrik, which rose gradually until
it reached the Vastan divide, the enemy shells started ploughing up the ground all
around us. My orderly's mount went down with a crash, but he jumped deftly on the
rump of the nearest soldier's horse and, when my horse stumbled over a boulder and
fell, I did likewise because we did not have a minute to lose.
I could see our askars lying in rows and firing at top speed from behind some
hastily thrown-up stone breastworks. Some of them were moving about like ants,
carrying off the wounded or filling in the gaps which were widening rapidly; while
silhouetted on the deep blue sky, amid a cloud of powder smoke, our crimson crescent
fluttered proudly, as if beckoning to us and urging us to take a hand in the fray.
Finally, after minutes which seemed an eternity, we jumped off our horses and raced
to the top of the divide at the very moment when the Russians and the Armenian comitadchis
were reaching also the top from the opposite direction.
Then we clashed. It was a fight to the death: no quarter was given, no quarter asked—
l'Orient c'est l'Orient! A tall, gray- haired, bare-headed comitadchi in
a flowing kaftan made a lunge at me with his long, curved yataghan, only to
crumple up in a heap as one of our soldiers placed a bullet right between his eyes.
Though the clash of steel, the roar of volleys at short range and the yelping and
howling of the storming enemy kept me busy trying to keep my soul and body together—for
one's skin does not grow but once—I could not help admiring the utter disregard
for life of our grim-faced askars, who kept shooting and hacking away all
around me, with only a subdued "Allah" passing now and then through
tightly pressed lips, or a low moan when an enemy bullet, bayonet or yataghan, found
They, or we, rather, were doomed and they knew it. Nevertheless they continued
fighting savagely, in an almost suicidal manner, against that avalanche of
fur-capped mujiks whom the Russian officers kept driving against us before
their whips like sheep—much the same as had happened during the famous battle of
Thermopylae almost twenty-five hundred years before.
In the meantime things had happened in our rear. Our Erzerown Battalion had advanced
on the double-quick and hurled itself suddenly against the enemy's right flank,
while our Mussul Battalion had taken possession of a series of heights from which it
could sweep the enemy artillery with its rifle and machine-gun fire; so that in less
than an hour we found our' selves once more the sole possessors of the Vastan divide
and, a title before nightfall, also the absolute masters of the situation. Allah
akbar! Allah kerim!
For only a few weeks did I enjoy a real rest in Turkey during the World War. This
was after I had passed my superior staff officer's examination in the Kiaght-Hane
military academy in Constantinople and had become comandane-vekile of the
First Imperial Lancers, whose Fourth Squadron was doing duty in the Sultan's palace
Our First Lancers were at that time, in July, 1918, the only complete cavalry
regiment which was left in Turkey; for the regimental units of the Third Cavalry
Division and other cavalry detachments on our various fronts had shrunk to one-
third or less, perhaps, of their original fighting strength.
Our regiment was lodged in the dependencies of former Sultan Abd-Ul-Hamid's palatial
residence of Yildiz-Kiosk, of Pierre Loti fame. I used to lead it almost every day
to our Shishly training camp, where it usually remained until nightfall. I felt
proud of those boys in their carefully polished and spurred riding-boots, their
olive-green homespun uniforms, and their woolen military caps drawn deep over their
young, sun- burned, manly faces. With their broad, sheathed swords dangling from the
right side of their German saddles, their shining Mauser carbines hanging across
their backs and the long steel lances resting lightly on their stirrups, they sat on
their horses like so many born cavalrymen.
They seemed to be conscious of the secret pride which I felt every time I looked
them over carefully from head to foot. And 1¥hy shouldn't they? Weren't they the
descendants of those fiery Janissaries, Comitadchis and Goenelies who paraded for
centuries the emerald-hued banners of Mohammed and the crimson crescent of their
mighty Caliphas from one end of the Old World to the other, cowing nations and
forcing them to adopt their creed in the one and only God ?
As soon as my bugler had blared out my command to assemble for the evening salute
and the buglers of the different squadrons had followed suit, the grayish plain of
Shishly was suddenly enveloped in a dense cloud of dust as our eight hundred
chargers, each mounted by a grim-faced daredevil, thundered up from different
directions at breakneck speed to form in battle- line. Their officers, a dashing,
smartly uniformed, yet thoroughly soldierly looking set of young military academy effendis,
were racing ahead of their men at regulation distances. Though trained in the
Prussian school, none of them wore a monocle except myself, and I only because I
needed it: my right eye had been roughly treated at the Sinai front.
All of our effendis were excellent horsemen; some of them had distinguished
themselves during the military tournaments, especially in the tests of endurance and
jumping. But their endurance was not limited only to their riding ability, for they
could outdrink even our Bavarian guests without batting an eye. The most remarkable
thing about the proceeding was the air of modesty and resignation which they used to
affect as they drained at a single gulp an enormous glass of native anisette which
would have put most Christians completely hors de combat.
Jove, those Turks are certainly the first gentlemen of the Orient!"
By the time our squadron had halted, reassembled and lined up in battle formation, I rode
forth and took my place in front of them. There I remained for a while waiting for the
muezzins to call from the top of the neighboring minarets the Faithful to the vesper
prayer. Their sonorous, long-drawn “La-Ilah-Il-Lalah ...!” was timed to the
setting of the brick-red sun. When it came my bugler sounded attention while I, with my
feet firmly set in the stirrups and my right arm raised high over my head, called three
times in succession, at the top of my voice :
"Padishamis Tchok fashaaaa!"
Our men, with their swords and lances flashing in the air , shouted back my salute,
"Hail thee, our Lord, our Mighty Sultan!" with a thundering, frantic, savage
Shout, which almost caused the earth to tremble beneath our horses' feet, and finally died
out gradually, almost reluctantly, like the distant roar of a wounded lion.
I will never forget as long as I live that terribly sublime, awe- inspiring scene; that
mighty, savage sound as I heard it so often in the deserts of Arabia, Mesopotamia and
among the eternal snows of the Caucasus, when scores of neighing horses raced up with
empty saddles and stood proudly in line, by sheer force of habit, as soon as our buglers
sounded "assembly;" when many a wounded soldier in blood-drenched uniform kept
swaying back and forth in his saddle while vainly endeavoring to stem with his poor,
knotty hands a steady stream of blood and shouted, or tried at least to Shout, with a last
hoarse effort, "Hail thee, our Lord, our Mighty Sultan!"
Whenever I remember those scenes of almost incredible valor, I cannot help feeling proud
of having led those brave and modest "unknown soldiers" of the Ottoman Empire
during the four years of the World War, for those tattered fellows with rusty swords and
lances certainly knew how to fight and die like men when grim death knocked at their doors
and grinned. No wonder that when Marshal Izzed Pasha, during the Armistice parleys,
indignantly refused to surrender the German troops which remained still in Turkey the
British commander of the Allied forces exclaimed aghast at such gallantry:
"By Jove, those Turks are certainly the first gentlemen of the Orient!"
If one adds to that Britisher's opinion that of the majority of the British and colonial
officers who fought against the Turks in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Dardanelles and who
unanimously declared the Turk to be a "clean fighter," one may be able to draw
an approximate picture of the Turkish soldier as I knew him and studied him during the
four years of the World War.
According to the Turks it is not a disgrace to "run" as long as one stops once
in a while and looks back. That is the way they did it during the Second Balkan War .After
their defeat at Adrianople the Turks retreated toward Istambul, hotly pursued by the
Bulgarian army, which did not give them a minute's rest. finally, tired of tramping along
on an empty stomach, one of the Turkish soldiers borrowed from his comrade a cigaret,
lighted it and crouched behind a boulder to have a rest. His example was promptly followed
by other retreating soldiers, who also lighted cigarets and crouched comfortably behind
the rocks to have an occasional pot-shot at the advancing Bulgarians.
Thus, after a quarter of an hour, the retreating Turks had formed their famous Tchajaltla
line, at first by taking a rest and smoking cigarets, and afterward by digging themselves
in behind the rocky ledges and boulders of the surrounding plain in order to enjoy a good
In that way an Osmanli askar, by stopping and looking back for a moment, had
halted the retreating Turks and forced the victorious Bulgarian army to beat a hasty
retreat and to abandon Adrianople once more to the Osmanlis.
Many a Turkish proverb explains why the apparently clumsy and slow-witted Turk
usually has his way when he settles down to business. One of them states that the
easiest way of catching a rabbit is to hunt it down in a carriage. After scaring it
up one most follow at a slow trot and, after catching up with it and scaring it
again and again—about a couple dozen times—one steps out of one's carriage and
picks the tired rabbit up by the ears.
There is a lot of philosophy in that simple system of yawash, yawash, equivalent
to "take it easy; don't get rattled!" which, when applied to politics or
warfare, represents the real reason why the European nations, in spite of their many
efforts, have never been able to put anything over on the wily Turk. Once the Turk
has made a resolution it is almost impossible to beat him at his game.
I used to enjoy watching our soldiers in their routine life in the barracks,
especially during their meal hours. The minute the mess call sounded they filed in
solemn groups of eight to their company or squadron kitchens where the cook and his
white-aproned assistants dished out to them in their collective big, shallow, tin
platters their eight rations of soup, bread, meat and vegetables, as well as a big
pitcher full of steaming sugared tea.
After thanking him with a dignified phrase—for the cook is a very important
personage in a Turkish military unit—the various groups sat down cross-legged on
the floor, preferably beneath a shady cypress or a blossoming orange tree. After
pulling up their sleeves, they produced their precious tin spoons, which they
treasured higher than anything else in the world. They usually carried those spoons
jammed deep into the top of their woolen leggings or the shafts of their
riding-boots. Only after the corporal or the oldest member of the group had taken
the first mouthful of food did the rest dig in also. The Turks are very respectful
of their elders.
No "real" Turk will ever sit down or address his superior or elder—be he
a prince or only a ragged white-bearded beggar— until the latter has sat down or
addressed him first.
One of the reasons why my men used to feel kindly toward me must have been that I
never allowed anyone to cheat them out of their rations, and I also saw to it that
the sick and wounded were always cared for. I used to go frequently from one company
or squadron kitchen to another examining their food. On several occasions I even
exiled to the desert delinquent officers and medical men. Those radical measures
were usually crowned with success, because they helped to strengthen the faith of
our soldiers in their superiors, causing them to plug along steadily under
circumstances which might have deterred any other but a Turkish soldier.
|If it had not
been for the Greek and Armenian profiteers who accumulated fortunes at the expense of
our poor half-starved Turkish soldiers we would have had provisions to spare.
I have never yet heard a Turkish soldier complain of hunger or thirst. Those askars
of ours would file along, grim and silent, sometimes with no more nourishment than a crust
of stale bread or a handful of olives, without letting a complaint or even a whisper of
dismay cross their fevered lips.
Though the Mohammedan religion may appear admirable and inspiring to the occasional
unbiased observer, it nevertheless has certain faults which are a regular nuisance and
caused us many unnecessary losses during the war. For instance, its precept: "Thou
shalt not kill inoffensive animals." How often did I look on in dismay, and
absolutely powerless to prevent it, while our kind-hearted askars, on a sunny day
in the snow- covered mountains of the Caucasus, squatted around their camp-fires examining
their underwear and instead of squeezing the cooties to death dropped them on the floor
still alive; where- upon those cooties wagged their tails with appreciation and clambered
immediately up the nearest soldier's leg to thrive and multiply.
Another of the precepts which used to drive me wild because it deprived me sometimes of a
much-needed drink of water was the one which demands that every True Believer shall wash
his face, arms, feet and so forth every time—which means five times a day—before he
recites his prayers. Owing to that most holy rite, I had to pick out our vanguard very
carefully, because the minute our True Believers spied a waterhole they rushed it
immediately and plunged into it to perform their ablutions with the result that by the
time we got there even our horses would not go near it.
Our askars reminded me always of overgrown boys. They were voracious whenever they
had a chance to make up for lost time. Though tortured by gnawing hunger, sometimes for
weeks, there were fortunately also days when we lived on the fat of the country, for the
Turkish government provided for us generously whenever it could.
If it had not been for the Greek and Armenian profiteers who accumulated fortunes at the
expense of our poor half-starved Turkish soldiers we would have had provisions to spare.
During my few months' stay in Constantinople the food which I was entitled to buy every
day from our military commissariats at ridiculously low prices included five kilos of
meat, five kilos of white bread and ten kilos of wholewheat bread.
In Beersheba, on the Sinai front, I was granted, also at a ridiculously low price, a
monthly allowance of tobacco, consisting of ten kilos or more of all sorts, from cigarets
of the Turkish Regie down to German Knaster cigars. That I could not consume all those
foodstuffs and delicacies alone is natural, but we usually gave a speedy account of them
between all of us, for I had a big household to provide for.
My happy family consisted of Tasim and Mustapha, my two orderlies, and their two horses;
furthermore of our pack-mule, our cook, Mr. Silberstein, and his saddle-donkey, and my
five saddle-horses, all of whom had to be properly cared for.
It was a lucky thing that the war ended as soon as it did. In spite of the fact that
the Turkish government provided for me very generously, by the time of the Armistice
I had only twenty- five dollars left of a cheque of two thousand dollars which I had
taken with me to Turkey for a rainy day.
One of the most charming traits of the Turkish military life consisted of the loyal
camaraderie which existed as a rule between the officer and his orderly. The
latter's faithfulness was usually amply rewarded.
No officer will ever rise from the table without leaving an it at least half of his
meal for his orderly. Inborn kindness and generosity are the noblest qualities of
every true Turk, whereas distrust and extreme cruelty, when his wrath has been
aroused, represent his biggest drawbacks.
Probably because I always respected their religious opinions and their domestic
rules, my Turkish fellow-officers treated me always with the greatest regard, even
when they were carrying my death-warrant in their pockets. I remember, for instance,
how one afternoon, while several of us were sitting together in the Istambul
military casino, discussing the siege of Adrianople, a major, who was especially
interested in our discussion, suddenly exclaimed:
"Yes, it was precisely on that day that the Bulgarians attacked our positions
and we launched a counter-offensive; and when the Bulgarians attacked us again we
sallied forth and not a single Christian was left alive!"
When I meekly protested against his remark about the Christians on the grounds that
I also was a Christian, he and the other officers laughed good-naturedly and patted
me on the back with a hearty:
"That's true, but you have proven to be also a good Moslem!"
"Thank you," I retorted quickly and buried myself in a club chair to do
some tall thinking. The remark of that major, who was supposed to be an ultra-modern
and unbiased young Turk, reminded me of the fact that a Turk, no matter how cultured
and liberal-minded, will always remain a Turk and a raving fanatic when you happen
to strike him on his crazy-bone, which is religion.
The fact that the young Turks used to eat pig's meat and drink schnaps by the
gallon does not imply by any means that they had decided to stop their religious
controversies. The leopard cannot change its spots. It is for that reason that I
feel a little sceptical about Mustapha Kemal's reforms, for we old- timers have
witnessed such miracles more than once-on paper. It should not be forgotten that the
Mohammedan world could have elected a new caliph long ago if it had wanted to; but
it does not want a new caliph, it wants its former caliph back again on his throne.
The Turkish soldier is a rather ticklish citizen when one tries to step on his toes.
There is the case of Field Marshal von der Goltz's son-in-law, or nephew, I don't
remember which, who was holding the job of instructor in a Turkish regiment at
Adrianople just after the Second Balkan War. While the young lieutenant was trying
to explain in true Prussian style to one of our Albanian askars the way he
ought to wear his military fur cap, and shoved it unceremoniously back to where it
belonged, the askar, without saying a word, raised his gun and shot the
Lord Kitchener who served several years as a captain or major in the Turkish army,
and Field Marshal von Moltke, the hero of the Franco-Prussian War, who also served
in the Ottoman army, are supposed to have witnessed and reported cases of a similar
character which go to uphold the statement that one must never try to step on a
Turkish soldier's toes or mistake him for a fool or an easy mark, especially when he
smiles. Beware of the Turk when he smiles!
The first time I observed his smiling countenance was when I arrived at Mush, in
ancient Armenia, in March, 1915. I was having supper as the guest of the
sub-governor of the province, when another honored guest, also of Christian
extraction, Senator X, who was on his way to Istambul, started upbraiding me in a
most impudent way because I, as a Christian, had joined the Turks. Whereupon I gave
him in good old cowboy style a piece of my mind which caused him to go away back and
sit down. What surprised me in the performance was that neither the sub-governor nor
his Turkish guests seemed to resent the vulgar and insolent remarks of that Armenian
but, on the contrary, smiled at him and flattered him in a way that made his
Excellency swell up like a peacock.
Next morning the sub-governor and several other high dignitaries accompanied the
senator to his carriage and waved him good-bye. Half an hour later his Excellency's
escort of mounted gendarmes returned with his Excellency's—empty—carriage. His
Excellency's name was not mentioned again while I remained in Mush.
During a memorable trek from Istambul to the Caucasus I enjoyed at the hamlet of
Gumereck one of those peculiar Turkish breakfasts which only an Oriental chef is
capable of designing and preparing. It consisted of an omelet swimming in fat and
stuffed with almonds, raisins and pistachio nuts; followed, pell-mell, by sweet
gelatine, sausages fried with garlic ; tea; a salad of raw onions; fresh
strawberries with cream; hunks of cheese saturated with olive oil; ice cream
smelling of rose and violet, and, finally, fried barley, or "bulgur,"—the
obligatory final dish of every Near Eastern menu.
After partaking liberally of that excellent breakfast, I was afraid at first that I
would die—and then again that I wouldn't. I remained prey to the most conflicting
feelings until my faithful Tasim rushed up with a stiff drink of raki which
finally put me on my feet again.
One of the various reasons why I have always felt kindly toward the British and
Colonial officers is because they usually gave a man credit for what he has done,
even if he were an enemy. How often have I listened with intense satisfaction to the
matter-of-fact way in which those officers used to praise our askars. As, for
instance, while referring to the capture of the city of Es-Salt, in Transjordania,
where the British expeditionary forces suffered heavy losses through the Turkish
machine- gun fire from a neighboring height.
After the Britishers had stormed the ridge they found it occupied only by two
Turkish machine gunners Who had stopped the enemy's advance for over an hour with
their steady and murderous fire. The same thing happened, according to those
officers, near Tine, after the fall of Beersheba, where a Turkish machine gunner
fought single-handed the whole British army until his ammunition gave out. The
Australians found him afterward sitting on the ground with an air of quiet
contentment on his face, with both hands Comfortably resting on his stomach, and a
lighted cigaret in his mouth.
I will never forget a certain chilly morning in the Sinai Front, just before dawn, when
from an enemy trench the sound of a song started floating slowly in our direction. As soon
as we heard its first melodious strains—"Oh, Paddy dear, and did you hear.. ."—firing
ceased all along our line. And when the last strains of "The Wearing of the
Green" had died out like a sigh in the morning breeze, though nobody but myself had
understood a word, a murmur of appreciation rose from our trenches.
Shortly after that incident I had to go to Jerusalem on some business or other. While
visiting the ruins of an old monastery in the hamlet of Bethany one of our men pointed out
to me a low, narrow, doorless, pitch-dark opening in a wall which he claimed was the
entrance to the sepulcher of Lazarus. I passed it as if it did not interest me, because
among Orientals one must never show surprise or curiosity at anything if one wants to keep
When I returned to Bethany the following day I dismounted a few hundred paces away from
the ruin and ordered my orderly to wait there for me with our horses. The minute I was out
of sight I retraced my steps and, trailing along some crumbling walls, I reached the
entrance of Lazarus' sepulchral cave.
I entered resolutely, feeling my way ahead through the darkness. I had advanced only a few
yards when I suddenly slipped or stepped into a void and, after turning a couple of
somersaults in the air, landed with a thud on a pile of rocks, spraining my left foot and
cutting a deep gash in my right knee-which put me temporarily out of commission.
It seemed that the upper part of the stone staircase had collapsed. At any rate, there I
was, dragging around my legs like a wounded cockroach in the gloomy sepulcher of Lazarus,
with hundreds of bats flapping around my head and with no earthly hope of ever getting out
of that gruesome place alive on account of my injuries.
Remembering the old Turkish saying "don't get rattled," I sat down in the
darkness, lighted a cigaret and waited for Allah to come to my rescue. Fortunately, Allah
finally took pity on his heathen sore-kneed warrior, for, while I lighted my third cigaret
—the first and second had been knocked out of my mouth by the bats—I suddenly heard a
faint voice drift down from the top of the ruined staircase.
It was Tasim, my faithful orderly. After waiting in vain for me to return, he had tied our
horses to an olive tree and followed my tracks. If it had not been for Tasim's common
sense I would probably still be in that cave in company with the spirit of Lazarus and his
When I returned to Jerusalem that afternoon I found an invitation waiting for me. One of
our Arab army chaplains, Who had wandered to his native village without permission and had
remained there for two years without the slightest intention of returning to the ranks,
was going to be shot publicly, as an example. It was a rather spectacular affair.
To make a long story short: A few minutes before the execution took place the doomed
chaplain sat down on a rug, with a lighted cigaret in his mouth, surrounded by a
"square" of some four thousand Arab soldiers belonging to our pick and shovel
battalions. The show had been staged for their benefit—to deter them from deserting by
the dozen. The crime of desertion is a thing which no Arab peasant recruit will ever be
able to understand. The reason why they seldom went over to the "Inglis" was
because they knew that the "lnglis" would put them to work right away. Therefore
they deserted to their villages instead, where their womenfolk would do all the work for
them and support them as usual.
As soon as the chaplain had sat down on the rug and started puffing unconcernedly at his
cigaret, as if nothing were the matter with him, another chaplain, who was supposed to
con. sole him during his last moments, sat down in front of him. But, instead of
conversing about spiritual things, they started a philosophical discussion which would
probably have wound up with a fist fight if several members of the military band, which
was playing the "Funeral March" of Chopin for the entertainment of the public,
had not dropped their instruments, rushed to the fray and separated those two
fighting-cocks who were already preening their feathers and preparing to jump at each
After the firing squad had done its duty our poor, dying chaplain doubled up slowly and
lay quiet, with the ignited cigaret still in his mouth.