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Ernest Hemingway Reports on the Greco-Turkish War 1922 — Part 2

Greeks fleeing Turkey 1922.

Three weeks after his October report from Adrianople, Ernest Hemingway sent another, much longer piece to his newspaper, this time by post, which read:

“ No matter how long it takes this letter to get to Toronto, as you read this in the Star you may be sure that the same ghastly, shambling procession of people being driven from their homes is filing in unbroken line along the muddy road to Macedonia. A quarter of a million people take a long time to move.”

Hemingway goes on to write that Adrianople was not a very pleasant place, describing the railway station as a mud hole, crowded with suspicious Greek soldiers and huge mounds of belongings, mainly bed springs and bedding, all getting soaked in the rain, with kerosene flares lighting up the place like a painting by Goya.

Hemingway continues:

“ The stationmaster told me he had shipped fifty-seven cars of retreating troops to Western Thrace that day. The telegraph wires were all cut. There were more troops piling up and no means to evacuate them.”

It was the same kind of chaos that Hemingway had experienced in Italy in 1918 when the Austrian’s attacked, and he knew that if the Turks arrived anytime soon there would likely be not only a massacre of the retreating troops but of civilians too, plus war correspondents and an American film crew who had appeared out of nowhere in a battered old car.

After an itchy night in a lice infested hotel run by a fat French woman, Hemingway begged a lift in the film crew’s car back along the road heading west, with the fleeing Greeks’ bullock carts full of soaking belongings, only to be hampered and slowed by commandeered and empty Turkish carts heading east: each cart with a Turkish driver and a Greek soldier, heading back to pick up belongings discarded by the Greeks. Utter chaos, and a death trap for the Turkish driver and Greek soldiers. Utter stupidity. Hemingway writes:

“ At the fork of the stone road in Adrianople all the traffic was being routed to the left by a lone Greek cavalryman who sat on his horse with his carbine slung over his back and accomplished the routing by slashing dispassionately the face with his quirt [riding whip] any horse or bullock that turned toward the right. He motioned one of the empty carts driven by a Turk to turn off to the right. The Turk turned his cart and prodded his bullock [which]… awoke the Greek soldier guard riding with him, and seeing the Turk turning off the main road, he stood up and smashed him in the small of the back with his rifle butt.”

The Turk driver then fell from his cart onto his face, picked himself up, and terrified, ran down the middle of the road, only to be ridden down by the Greek cavalryman who, with two other Greek soldiers, piled into the Turk with their fists and rifle butts. The bloody and beaten Turk was then told to drive his cart in the direction he’d been instructed. No one in the mass of refugees took any notice. They were just “…Thracian peasantry plodding along in the rain leaving their homes behind.”

It is still possible in these days of instant news coverage to imagine the affect of Hemingway’s report on Star readers as they ate their breakfast, or travelled to work on the morning train. Electrifying.

It made Hemingway’s name.

Henry Strater’s portrait of Hemingway 1930.