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Historical Fiction: The Elias Panoussos Story – Part 2

Εθνικός Κήρυξ

Celebration in 1920 at the Athens Panathenaic Stadium with Eleftherios Venizelos, King Alexander I of Greece, and Themistoklis Sofoulis following the signing of the Treaty of Sevres. Photo: Enosi Demokratikou Kentrou (Democratic Center Union), via Wikimedia Commons

Upon my return from the London Conference in early April 1921, my editor gave me several days off to recuperate. There were dramatic changes in the newspaper with the sudden death of the owner, Spyros Nikolopoulos, and the resignation of the editor, Kostas Demertzis. I was shocked when I learned of this news from Kostas himself, with whom I enjoyed a good working relationship.

The ownership of the newspaper passed onto Spyros's son, Ioannis, who hired Sotiris Michailidis as the new editor. Both of them were dynamic individuals with plenty of new ideas to expand the paper's circulation. I learned that Sotiris disliked Kostas with a great passion but couldn't fire him so long as his father was alive. One of my colleagues who wished to remain anonymous told me that Sotiris got into lots of arguments with Kostas over editorial policy. They never saw eye-to-eye on anything.

There were lots of things happening in Asia Minor but my focus would be covering Greek domestic politics for a short time. Three issues would occupy my time. I covered the parliamentary discussions on the establishment of an Agricultural Bank to help our farmers in Thessaly and Macedonia. Many of them suffered great damage to their crops and properties during the great war. They needed cheap loans to restart their farming activity. We needed to reduce our dependence on food imports.

 The parliamentary discussions were heated at times that the country couldn't afford to create such an institution. A compromise was reached where the bank would be funded partly by the Government and partly by the National Bank of Greece. The farming community was ecstatic with this outcome, as were their parliamentary representatives.

Other issues that attracted many hours of discussions were the Franco-Kemalist and Italo-Kemalist agreements that had been negotiated during the London Conference. I remember the prime minister, Dimitrios Gounaris, speaking with bitter disappointment that our so-called allies would seek economic concessions at a time when our army was fighting the Kemalists. I considered the French and Italian decisions an act of treachery. They also wanted to hand over Smyrna and Thrace back to the Turks after they were awarded to us in the Treaty of Sevres. Even the Venizelists in the Chamber supported the government on this issue. There was nothing we could do about it other than prove ourselves in defeating the Turks.

At the end of April, I was sent to Piraeus to interview Greek wounded soldiers returning from the Asia Minor front. They were greeted by a welcoming committee of the leading ladies of Piraeus. The soldiers were offered chocolate and cigarettes before being taken to a nearby military hospital for treatment. Some of the members of the Royal family attended with Queen Sofia, praising the soldiers for their gallantry.

I spent a few days interviewing the soldiers to learn about their experiences in Asia Minor. Two common themes emerged from the interviews. They wanted to quickly return to combat duty and to defeat Kemal. I found out there were some Turkish POWs whom I interviewed. The Turks told me they received excellent medical care and were being treated with kindness and respect. My interviews appeared as a series of feature articles on the front page of our newspaper.

Michailidis was so impressed with my soldier interviews that he sent me to Smyrna. Our newspaper didn't have a correspondent covering the Asia Minor war, so it struck a deal with the Smyrna Bugle allowing us to use their offices to wire our reports to Athens. My reports provided an account of the conflict and helped to boost our daily circulation. As a journalist, I wrote articles without breaching censorship. It wasn't easy but I achieved it. Our readers wrote glowing letters to the editor about my coverage of Asia Minor.

In Smyrna, I met Archbishop Chrysostomos, High Commissioner Aristidis Sterghiadis, and the Commander-in-Chief of our army, General Leonidas Papoulas. They gave their views on the prosecution of the war. Chrysostomos feared that the Christians would be massacred if the Kemalists won. On the other hand, Sterghiadis was charged with the administration of the city, to maintain law and order and to ensure fair treatment for all its residents. Papoulas told me the recent military setback was a minor hiccup and was confident of an eventual victory.

I met a British officer attached to the Greek army. Lt-Col. Nairne Hoare gave me important information about the state of our army. He mentioned that our army was being reorganized, being supplied with the latest weapons, and the appointment of experienced military officers for the assault on Angora. I traveled with Hoare outside Smyrna to observe this reorganization. I was impressed with our preparation and seeing aircraft for the first time. This modern warfare machine would allow us to surveil our enemy's troop movements from the air.

I found Smyrna a fascinating city with its multilingual inhabitants and its convivial social life. I understood why people never wanted to leave this place. I loved walking along the quay with its many fine buildings and seeing foreign ships docked in the harbor. Turkish hamals (laborers) loaded and unloaded goods from the ships. I visited the local bazaars seeing buyers and sellers haggling over the price of an item. One seller offered me an American typewriter but I wasn't interested in his offer. "You are a journalist, you must buy – it's a good thing in your work," he said. "No!" was my answer, and walked away. I understood why Smyrna was such an important trading center for the major powers.

In early June, King Constantine arrived with his entourage in Smyrna. Though Smyrna was largely a Venizelist stronghold, the inhabitants gave him an enthusiastic reception. The streets were thronged with thousands of Greek Smyrniotes cheering the royals as they made their way to our High Commission. Constantine addressed the crowd that he was happy to be in Smyrna and ready to knockout the Kemalists. The crowd roared its approval of his message. A couple of days later, I followed Constantine to the front where he inspected the troops. The coming days would see the military preparations being laid for the big prize-Angora.

I sensed there was an air of confidence in our military command and soldiers that our occupation of Angora would be achieved.