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The Elias Panoussos Story Part 8: The Court-Martial of Prince Andrew

Ευρωκίνηση

The Great Fire of Smyrna, also known as the Catastrophe of 1922. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari via Art Exhibition concerning Smyrna)

The trial and execution of the ex-Royalist politicians and military officers – ‘The Six’ –defused tensions in the country. There were hotheads in both the Venizelist and Royalist camps who wanted to settle old scores. Thank goodness commonsense prevailed. We had a major refugee crisis on our hands and we did not need to add further fuel to our national misfortunes.

Prince Andrew had been under house arrest for five weeks. The Revolutionary Committee (RC) had him high on their list for execution. Foreign intervention saved his life and I will say more about this later. My news editor assigned me to cover this important court-martial case.

The court-martial was presided by ten military officers with General Vlachopoulos as president. It lasted several days, starting 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.

General Papoulas gave evidence for the prosecution that the Prince's refusal to obey orders resulted in our defeat at the Sangarios River outside of Ankara. 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.

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 witness testimonies portrayed Prince Andrew as an incompetent commander whose actions cost us dearly in Asia Minor. The defense tried to cast doubt on the evidence given by Papoulas and Sariyanis, but they stuck to their testimonies without blinking an eye. Our newspaper saw Papoulas and Sariyanis as creditable witnesses for the prosecution.

The first witness of 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 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 to save Andrew's neck 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 because he 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. He left on board a British warship bound for Brindisi, then on to Rome, Paris, and his final destination, London. His removal from Greece was conducted with the utmost of secrecy, thus avoiding assassination by some disgruntled army officers.

I didn't like the court's final verdict but in the scheme of things, we were already diplomatically isolated with Venizelos doing his utmost to defend our national interests at the Lausanne peace conference. At the same time, we learned that just before and after the court-martial the behind the scenes foreign intervention had saved Andrew from execution. Our nation received unfavorable foreign press coverage regarding the recent executions of “The Six’, describing us as "barbarians", "monsters" and "savages." Such epithets were unfair. As a sovereign nation, we had the right to prosecute and impose these harsh sentences.

I learned through foreign press reports and my overseas contacts that the intervention of Venizelos and the Pope had saved Prince Andrew's life. However, Venizelos remained silent throughout the trial of ‘The Six’ which I thought was his way of leaving the RC to deal with his former enemies. He was questioned by a journalist in Lausanne to which he replied "I am a private citizen representing my country at a conference and am not involved in domestic politics." I suppose like Pontius Pilate, he sought to wash his hands of intervening to save their lives.

At Lausanne, the Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Maglione asked for Venizelos's intervention regarding Prince Andrew. Venizelos promised to telegraph Athens telling the RC to abide by the Pope's appeal to spare the Prince from execution. It seemed that Venizelos's telegram must have had a moderating effect on the RC's attitude towards the Prince. I later heard that the RC had to overcome a fanatical group of junior officers who wanted to execute Andrew.

The former British naval attache in Athens, Gerald Talbot, arrived in Athens an hour after the execution of ex-cabinet ministers and military officials. His mission was to halt any further executions, especially that of Prince Andrew. He secured from the Minister of War, General Pangalos, and Colonel Plastiras, that Andrew wouldn't be executed and would leave the country in his care. Negotiations securing the release of Andrew weren't easy but Talbot's determined stand was successful in guaranteeing the Prince's safe passage out of Greece.

Prince Andrew and his family arrived in Brindisi and then proceeded to Rome where he met the Pope and Cardinal Gasparri, thanking both of them for their intervention in saving his life. Then on to Paris where he was greeted by his brother, Prince Christopher at Gare de Lyon. He stayed at the Central Hotel instructing the management that he didn't wish to be disturbed by news reporters. 

Prince Andrew took the opportunity to visit Paris's main cultural sites and drove to see the beautiful French countryside. On December 10, he arrived in London, his final destination, to spend the remainder of his life there.

After this trial, I pondered about my future. Do I remain in Greece or go to live in another country?