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Historical Observations: The Escape of Prince Andrew

Prince Andrew of Greece was held under house arrest in Corfu in early October 1922. The Revolutionary Committee (RC) had him high on their list for execution. Foreign intervention saved his life.

The Prince’s trial attracted the interest of Great Britain, which severed its diplomatic links with Greece over the Trial and execution of six former Greek Royalists politicians, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Asia Minor army, General Hadjianestis. The former British Charge d’affaires in Athens, Francis Lindley (1921-22) informed Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon on November 28, 1922, that Prince Andrew’s position was becoming more dangerous since the executions of the royalists. Lindley mentioned that even sending a British warship as a show of force would only inflame the situation and bribery was also considered. Both ideas were rejected.

At the Lausanne Conference, Curzon asked Eleftherios Venizelos privately about his views of the recent executions. The latter declined to express his personal view or use his influence in this matter. However, Venizelos stated that he asked his personal friend former British naval attache in Athens, Gerald Talbot to go to Athens to urge the RC to moderate its stance towards Andrew. Curzon thought Venizelos’ response was most unsatisfactory. Venizelos responded that he would resign his position as Greece’s chief delegate at Lausanne if more executions were to be carried out.

In their continuing discussion, Curzon informed Venizelos that the British government was horrified over the recent executions and also any impending ones. Venizelos left the room to contact Athens to stop any future executions, communicating that if carried out, it would make his position untenable at Lausanne. Furthermore, the Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Maglione, also asked for Venizelos’ intervention to request the RC to abide by the Pope’s appeal to spare Andrew’s life from execution.

The RC discussed the matter urgently and begged him to stay as Greece’s chief representative at the conference. Talbot believed that Venizelos’s resignation would have a devastating impact in the internal situation in Greece and would endanger the lives of all prisoners awaiting trial.

The interim British Charge d’Affaires, Charles Bentinck noted “given the tragic result of abstention from action, I trust Venizelos will strongly support Mr. Talbot’s actions as unless he urges moderation I fear more lives will be lost. I have given Talbot a complete list of ex-Ministers and he will endeavor to get specific assurance about each. When this has been obtained he will do his best he can for a military man.”

On November 30, Talbot obtained promises from the two leaders of RC, Colonels’ Plastiras and Gonatas, that Prince Andrew wouldn’t be executed but would be permitted to leave Greece in his charge. Andrew would face a military court-martial and would be sentenced to penal servitude or possibly be sentenced to death. However, Plastiras will grant pardon and then hand him over immediately to Talbot for removal with his family to be taken by a British warship to England.

The British warship had to be at Phaleron by noon on December 3 and the captain had to report immediately to the Legation for his orders. The operation was conducted in the utmost secrecy with the captain not indicating the reason of the voyage.

Talbot extracted the promise from the RC with the greatest difficulty and thought secrecy was essential to save the Prince’s life. Andrew and his family needed not to be told of this arrangement. Any such leak would cause problems for the RC, imperil Andrew’s life, and would offer some disgruntled Venizelist officers the opportunity to execute Andrew. The entire situation rested on secrecy and the warship arriving at the designated time.

The court-martial was presided by ten military officers with General Vlachopoulos as president and lasted several days. It started on December 1, 1922, with Colonels’ Caloyeras and Nicholas Avraam designated prosecutors and Nicholas Damaskinos as defense counsel. The charges were read out in the court and Caloyeras formally charged Prince Andrew of disobeying orders given on the battlefield.

The ex-Royalist General Papoulas gave evidence for the prosecution that the Prince’s refusal to obey orders resulted in the Greek defeat at the Sangarios River outside of Angora. He asserted that if the Second Army Corps had attacked, victory was possible. Papoulas conceded that the Prince couldn’t be dismissed from his command because he was Constantine’s brother. At the same time, Papoulas was trying to save himself from execution.

Another prosecution witness, Colonel Sariyanis, stated that in his opinion the Second Corps should have carried out its orders. He added that the Prince’s refusal to execute was the subject of comment throughout the army and the attitude of the second corps had a bad influence and led to the retreat. Both prosecuting witnesses testimonies portrayed Prince Andrew as an incompetent commander whose actions contributed to Greece’s defeat in Asia Minor.

The first witness for the defense, General Trivilas, vigorously supported the Prince’s orders and thought Papoulas’s orders were contradictory. He denied that the accused ever refused to carry out his orders or hesitated to do so. Trivilas thought that Andrew was a very good commander who always had at heart the best interests of his men under his command. Major Skilakakis, an officer of the Second Corps, made a similar statement supporting Prince Andrew.

Carvounis, the Greek war correspondent, regarded the Prince as an exemplary officer from every viewpoint. He shared his men’s hardships and spent nights without the shelter of a tent. Andrew treated the officers equally and never took advantage of his position as a member of the Royal family. The defense produced witnesses that save Andrew’s life from the firing squad.

Prince Andrew appeared in court wearing civilian clothes. He read out a prepared statement pleading extenuating circumstances and that it was unfair that he should be treated similarly to a general. According to his version of events, before attacking, he waited for instructions from the Third Army Corps which never arrived. Andrew argued that he was merely a figurehead and occupied his position as commander of an army corps and happened to be the King’s brother.

Damaskinos pleaded with the judges that the accused be shown mercy and to judge him as any other soldier. The judges could have easily have applied the death penalty but ordered that Prince Andrew be stripped of all his military titles and be banished from Greece for life.

Prince Andrew never set foot in Greece again, but his recently deceased son Prince Phillip went to Athens “to visit his mother before she moved to London in the 1960s” according to Royal Historian, Hugo Vickers.

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