Reginald Wyon.

The Balkans from within online

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The following little incident will explain better what
I mean. It occurred not far from Monastir last August.
The insurgents, more, I think, to prove their capability
than anything else, had Mown up a small bridge, which was
as promptly repaired. As a guard there was a company of
infantry under the conmiand of a captain a few hundred


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yards away, and a little farther down the line was another
small detachment commanded by a sergeant. The bridge,
however, was carefully left unguarded, and the railway
engineer after completing the repairs pointed out this
omission to the captain.

The captain hummed and hawed till the engineer angrily
told him that it was his duty to provide a guard.

" But I have too few men," pleaded the ofl&cer.

" Well, get some from the sergeant," roared the engineer
very indignantly, for he wanted to get back to Monastir
before dark.

"If the sergeant gives five men, I will detail another
ten," said the officer, and the engineer, thinking the matter
settled, climbed on the ^igine and went home.

At daybreak he returned and found to his very pardon-
able disgust, the bridge totally unprotected. As soon as
it was fully dayUght the soldiers of the two posts collected
at the bridge, rejoicing that it had not again sufiered at
the hands of those thrice-accursed Christian dogs«

The engineer saw the matter in a different light, and angrily
demanded of the captain why his instructions had not been
carried out. He also asked him if he thought he was going
to rebuild this bally bridge every day just because his men
were too tender to stop out all night.

Quoth the gallant officer with pride —

" My ten men were ready, but the sergeant never sent
his five."

The worthy non-com. became so indignant and retorted
so hotly that captain and sergeant were with difficulty
restrained from blows.

The confusion entailed when the troops are being
moved about is almost indescribable. Empty trains are


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telegraphed for and proceed to certain stations. Here
they wait, for no troops are th^%» tiU they return empty
in disgust, or if the troops are there, the order is counter-
manded. I remember when the insurrection broke oat in
Razlog, some sixteen battalions were concentrated along
the line at Monastir and Sorovi6. Suddenly four bat-
talions left Monastir by road for Ueskiib, and trains were
ordered to go down to Sorovi£ and take <ni several regi-
ments to Demir-Hissar in vilayet Salonica. The railway
staff worked all night putting the trains together. Next
morning off they went but came back empty at night.
Similarly the marching battalions were recalled when half
the distance had been covered. Three days later it was
all done over again, and this time carried out, dislocating
the whole traffic, for I went down to Salonica that day, of
course leaving Monastir at 2 p.m. instead of 8 a.m., and
arrived at Salonica past midnight, after a most unenviable
night journey spent in praying that the insurgents would
not mistake my train for a troop train.

Their army maps are most inferior and the ignorance
displayed by staff officers simply extraordinary.

When Krushevo was in the hands of the insurgents,
several batteries of artillery were dispatched after the
infantry had left to support them. They arrived four days
late, because the commanding officer had mistaken the name
of the town for Kirchevo two days' mardi in another direc-

Talking of artillery reminds me of an amtising and in-
structive conversaticm held with a certain Pacha.

One of us had seen a battery on the march and comjdi-
mented the Pacha on its smart appearance.
"But,'* ronarked another correspcmdent, "they never


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fire a round in practice. What would happen in the case
of war ? ''

"(Ml," responded the Pacha blandly, "the non-com-
missioned officers know how to handle the guns, and in war
time we shall call in the men who fought them through the
Greek war."

Another young artillery officer who was asked why the
Turkish artillery when they once attacked a village invari-
ably battered it to pieces, even though every one had been
killed or had fled, responded —

" We are only too thankful for the chance of a little

And it is precisely the same with the infantry. They
never fire even blank cartridges, let alone " ball." It is
most amusing, or extremely annoying if the stranger is a
late sleeper, to reside in the vicinity of a barrack square or
drilling ground.

At daybreak in smnmer drilling commences — if the
ccmmianding officer be of an enei^etic disposition — and
in the event of firing exercise it is the buglers who blow
lustily to mark "fire." The soldiers do not even ease
springs at " the present." Similarly no aiming drill is
practised. This maybe different at Constantinople, under
the auspices of foreign instructors, but in provincial
garrisons, and particularly during ihe active insurrection,
practically all drill was suspended.

As I travelled by rail once throu^ the vilayet of Salonica,
a particularly smart young Ikutenant entered my compart-
ment. He b^an reading a German novel, and we soon got
into conversation. He told me that he had come straight
from the field of operations at Razlog, and that previously
he had been attached to a regiment of Russian infantry.


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Of course we talked of the fighting, and the lieutenant
was exceedingly bitter against the insurgents.

" You have no idea how hard it is for me ; " he said.
" Just back from the law and order of Prussia, I am sup-
posed to turn my knowledge to account with my own bat-
talion, but as long as the insurrection lasts I am powerless.
The men wonH be drilled.^*

He added that the recruits received only the barest
possible instruction. .

It was on the same line on an earlier occasion that I met
a colonel and acting brigadier. He was to take his brigade
up to Razlog the next day and was full of their praises. As
it happened, he had been engaged near Monastir for the
past few weeks during my stay there, so that I was able to
follow his accotmts fairly accurately, thoi^h he little guessed
my identity.

In answer to my question if he had had much fighting,
he staggered me considerably by remarking —

" We often saw a band, but we never fire first unless our
position is very favourable. Usually we let the band depart
in peace.'*

This confirmed what I had often heard from the insurgents
themselves. Unless they were surrounded by an over-
whelming force the Turks never attacked.

I think the story of the battle of Smilevo one of the
most striking examples of this kind. A certain consul and
myself succeeded in verifying it fully by comparing both
the Turkish and insurgent accoimts.

At the very commencement of August (1903) a force of
some twelve hundred insurgents took up a very strong
position on the heights round Smilevo, a village some four
hours distant from Monastir. Each ceta or band held some


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more or less inaccessible crag, and the only ap{M:oach for
attack was up a high-lying ravine under the very rifles
of the defenders. On August 2 a considerable force of
Turks " reconnoitred " the insurgent position, and finding
it not to their liking, returned to Monastir. Twice this
daring act was repeated, though not a shot was exchanged
— ^neither side cared to conunence — and the seccmd time the
Turks were so dose to the most advanced insurgent post
that the latter distinctly heard an argument between two

Both insisted that the other should ccmunence the attack,
and neither would accept the onerous duty. Ultimately,
on the 27th of the month, seven battalions and one battery
returned, and this time it was business. The infantry
deployed, firing conmienced, to the great disadvantage and
loss of the Turks, and then the guns got to work. Very
gallantly the Turkish infantry stormed the hillsides imder
cover of their guns, and captured the insurgent position.
But the insurgents were all gone, and not more than twenty
dead bodies were found. At the first gun the insurgents
had retreated in cajHtal order, as they invariably do when
artillery is available, for they never face shell fire, after
defying an army corps for twenty-eight days and causing
thousands of fresh troops to be poured into the

The Turks were so annoyed that the nearest village,
iU-fated Smilevo, was sacrificed to the infuriated soldiery.
That episode I have told elsewhere.

There is another characteristic of the Turkish army of
to-day besides their bad shooting and hatred of hand-to-
hand fighting, and that is their appalling waste of ammuni-
tion. It is dangerous to witness a fight from any ixMnt, for


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bullets fly even at comidete right ao^es, as a German officer
once tdd me after a most mipleasant experience.

Their one idea is to blaze away and make as much noise
as possible.

The attention of a high Turkish ofiBcer was oace drawn
to this utter lack of marksmanship and waste of good powder,
but he pooh-poohed it, saying, " Our soldiers don*t care for
shooting ; they love to use the bay<met." So they do, if
the man is dead, or in a massacre, as any one will testify
who has seen a man murdered in the streets by soldiers.
Likewise the most gallant and fiercest charges are made —
at manoeuvres — ^when bayonets are flashed and brandished
hterally in the faces of the friendly foes.

Yet the Turks show the greatest reluctance to close with
even the anaUest handful of insurg^its. Whenever a band
is localized in a village, a mass of troops surround it and
bombard it for hours from a respectful distance — there are
always those accursed bombs to be considered.

When the insurgent fire is fijially silenced, the tro(^
close in cautiously and sack the village, usually discovering
that somehow or other ihe Httle band has given than the stip.

During last August a case in point occurred at Banitza,
also in the vilayet of Monastir. The village was held by
thirty-five Bulgars and successfully surrounded at daybceak
by two battaUons. At ii a.m. the Turks b^;an pouring
a hail of lead into the village. Towards one o'clock the
band broke out, twenty-one got away, but the other fourteen
were caught in a small hottow.

For another three hours the Turks concentrated their
fire on the unhappy Bulgars, and ultimately ceased at 5 p jn.
Of course the little band was Uterally shot to pieces, probacy
in the first ten minutes.


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Another (this time a purely comical ]^case) happened at
Amatovo, a small station on the Ueskiib-Salonica line.
Qose by, a band had made an extensive marsh its head-
quarters for many days, and the Turks getting wind of
this, dispatched a small army, with guns, to effect its

For a whole day the Turks bombarded that swamp with
shell and rifle fire, to the detriment of the stationmaster's
windows, when one shell burst too near and broke them.
But the band had left the night before.

This was perhaps the most amusing episode of last
year's sununer campaign. Several thousand rounds of
ammunition had been wasted on a barren stretch of swamp
and rushes. It was more or less the same ever)rwhere,
reckless expenditure of cartridges and a minimum loss of
life from this mode of fighting.

On the other hand, indiscriminate shooting is rife and
accounts for many unlucky peasants. A patrol thinks
nothing of " potting " a man working harmlessly and all
unheeding in his field. Corpses strewed the melon-gardens
and remained unburied. Riding once a short distance
from Monastir, I met a gendarmerie patrol marching along
the high road beguiling the monotony of the way by dis-
charging a rifle alternately at about every hundred yards.
They did not trouble to point their rifles in the air, but
fired point blank across the fields, all of which were under


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Reminiscences. IV


THE Turkish army is divided into various classes, as,
indeed, are all Continental armies raised by con-
scription. The last chapter dealt practically only with the
•* Nizam," or regular army, the backbone of the Ottoman
Empire. There are three more classes, viz., the Redifs, or
reserves ; Haves, or second-class reserves ; and Mustaphis,
or " Landsturm." It is true that these names are now
officially abolished, and the more euphemistic term, Redif
second and third class, substituted. Turkey was, as usual,
very subtle in this change of names ; they sound better, and
a few European statesmen were hoodwinked once more.
The only people who suffer are the few decent redif regi-
ments, who naturally share the local odium caused by
terming this ill-disciplined and badly-armed horde ^' redife.''
Then, we still have the gendarmerie, or military police, a
force that Europe is so thoroughly determined to reform.
That they want it is obvious to any one who has studied
the ways of these uniformed blackmailers, but it is like
operating on a man's finger when his arm is diseased to
the shoulder.

There are now a goodly number of foreign officers em-
ployed in the very laudable attempt to reform this force,


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and it will be curious to see how long the farce will last.
Last summer there were only two foreign officers, Scandi-
navians, who were attempting this Augean task single-
handed. They arrived last May. In August their first
primary reform had still been carefully ignored, viz., to
pay up the men. As long as the men are unpaid, or partially
so, the crying evil will remain : tiiat these protectors of life
and property will help themselves wherever they go, and,
in the words of the advertiser, " wiU see that they get it."
Furthermore, the foreign officers were sternly confined to
the towns, and never under any pretext whatever allowed
to visit country posts, where their presence was most

The introduction of Qiristians into the gendarmerie was
a great cruelty to these persecuted races. These unfortu-
nate men were alwa}rs in a minority to their Mahometan
comrades, who made their lives a hell. In Albania they
were, and are still, being ruthlessly murdered. Often have
I heard these men's bitter complaints, and very pitiable
it was to listen to them, predicting sooner or later their
own sudden death*

Besides this, their presence was only an encumbrance to
the reform officers, because, bdng Christians, and omse-
quently utterly ig^iorant of the use of firearms, they were
more thai^ useless as armed men.

This same remark applies equally to a vast number of
the redifs, second and third dass. They were men
originally exempted from military service in their youth
now suddenly called up for active service without any
previous training whatever, and at an age when to learn is
an impossibility. Men of fifty and even sixty can be seen
anywhere, and the average age can be put down at forty.


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Of course many of them have possessed or handled rifles
in their youth, but there have been plenty of instances,
as with the Christian gendarmes, where they have not
known which is the business end of the rifle just served out
to them. But they make an imposing show on paper, and
when we read that twenty more battalions of redife,
second class, have been mobilized in one district, and thirty
more somewhere else, we pity the handful of insurgents and
admire Turkey's energy. Likewise, we realize the hopeless-
ness of little Bulgaria ever trying to conquer this m^immoth.
The consuls, however, think very differently, and the
presence of any exceptionally large number of these official
Bashibazouks in their respective towns invariably calls
forth energetic remonstrances to the local governor. They
are the men who will one day head the massacres, but as for
fighting Bulgaria, they will only be of use if Bulgaria is
conquered. Then they will eat up and murder whatever is
left by the victorious army. However, there is little fear
of that, but all the more for the Europeans residing in the

There is something to be said for the Turkish soldier, too,
be he nizam or any dass redif . They are supposed to
receive about 3s. 6i. a month pay. I say " supposed '*
advisedly, for it is very rare that they get it, in spite of all
statements to the contrary. The money may have been
sent from Constantinople for this purpose — and certainly
I have seen orderlies removing sacks of silver from the
branches of the Ottoman Bank on one or two occasions —
but it never reaches the private soldier. Sometimes tiiey
are paid up a few months' arrears from the previous year,
but that always leaves a goodly balance to their credit.
When they are out presumably " working " the mountains

6s F

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for instirgents, they do not mind so much — there are the
pleasant valleys, where many happy days may be spent in
the villages with sport, food, and loot galore ; but as for
prolonged residence in the big towns, that is a very different
thing. They may not even kill a man there, nor steal —
unless they are very careful — and there are alwa}^ those
prying Christian dogs of consuls about, whom the law
actually requires them to salute.

The only people who get paid in Turkey are the high
officials through whose hands the money must pass, the
Oriental Railway Company, and the army contractors.
The latter require to be paid in advance, and as usual in
every country, make an excellent profit. They absolutely
refuse to issue a loaf of bread imless it has been paid for,
and it is by no means a rare occurrence for the troops to go
four or five days without rations.

That they steal openly, even breaking ranks to do so,
is obvious, and, humanly speaking, excusable. This hap-
pened at Prilep whilst I was in Monastir, when a redif
battalion, marching through the bazaar, deliberately broke
ranks and swept the shops bare. And there are many other
authenticated instances. Then, as for murder and cruelty^
it is natural for a fanatical people, called away from their
homes for an indefinite period of most impleasant and
dangerous work, unpaid, ill-fed, whilst their families may
half-starve without the breadwinners, to vent their pent-up
feelings on those they imagine to be the cause of all their
sufferings — the Christian inhabitants.

Of course, this is no excuse for the bestial inunorality of
this depraved race, and the inhuman barbarities practised
oa their wretched scap^oats. Many of their deeds may
never be mentioned, but they are known and proven.


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When I was at Kirk-KiUsse a Christian gendarme
told me many mstances of horrible cruelty, because the
vilayet of Adrianople suffered even more than the others.
I will select the least repulsive. The gendarme on duty in
the town one day — ^he was a Greek, by the way — saw a
few cartloads of wretched prisoners. In one cart he noticed
that a prisoner had sunk to the floor, evidently dying or
seriously ill, whilst a soldier was stamping with his booted
heel on the sick man's manacled hands. The gendarme
went nearer, and recognized in the moaning prisoner a
brother Greek, and remonstrated with the soldier.

^^ Dost thou not see he is dying, and cannot get up ? '*
he said to the soldier. " Cease torturing him."

With a look of fury the soldier paused a moment.

^^ Art thou another Christian dog ? Wait, thy turn will
also come." And he resimied his pastime.

This gendarme trembled when he related the story.
"For," he said, "my days are numbered. He will not

Admirers of the Turks and haters of the Bulgars, please
note that this was a Greek story.

Even amongst the Turkish soldiers there are some who
sicken at the sights they see. There was a young officer
once employed in exterminating the Bulgars in Monastir,
who threw up his commission in the army and fled, utterly
horrified. He had been at Armensko.

I can quote another instance that I learnt at Adrianople
from a young merchant who had been called out as a redif •
He returned to his home with many poimds of silver, most
of it loot from the churches.

" As long as we only looted I did not mind," he naively
remarked ; " but later the order came to kill, and then


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it was awful. The butchery absolutely sickened me.'*

Oddly enou^, England has no representative at Adria-
nople. It is a great pity, and a mistake I hope that wiU be
rectified. The result of this omission, as far as I am con-
cerned, was that my accoimts of the horrors committed in
that vilayet were the only ones discredited by our Foreign
Ofl&ce. As long as my telegrams were confirmed by con-
sular reports I was believed; but had I wished to stay
longer in Turkey after my Adrianople reports, it would have
been impossible. The Porte would have secured my ex-
pulsion, as I subsequently learned. Yet all my information
was gleaned from the Greeks, and it was a Greek school-
master who told me one of my most discredited stories.

He swore to having seen Albanian soldiers displaying
pickled women's breasts and ears as trophies when they
were on their way home. This horrible statement I sought
to shake by most cunning cross-questioning on two occa-
sions, but he remained firm, even repeating the soldiers*
remarks. And this Greek even admitted a hatred for the

Adrianople is a large vilayet, and the chief town, where
a few foreign consuls reside, is on the confines. At large
towns like Kirk-Kilisse and Timova there are no European
consuls, but simply a few consular agents, native Greeks
of the towns.

Consequently, the Turkish soldiery had a free hand, and
even embarrassed the local authorities, as witness the
hasty removal of the Albanians.

Throughout the vilayet the soldiers deserted in bands
and constituted themselves into highwaymen. This was
of course after the land had been gutted. These highway-
men soldiers respected no one, and Mahometans were robbed


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as well as Christian wayfarers. I remember an old Turk,
a well-to-do merdiant at Adrianople, on hearing that some
cartloads of his merchandise on the way to the city bazaar
had been looted and destroyed by insurgents, dasping his
hands over his head and exclaiming —

** It is not the insurgents who are doing these things, but
the soldiers."

There is another weak point to-day in the Turkish army,
and that is the officers' corps. The old fighting Ueutenant
of former times who rose fn»n the ranks has largely dis-
appeared, and exists only in the more deserted garrisons.
All new vacancies are filled by cadets from the Bfilitary
School at Constantinople. Some of them may possess
more scientific knowledge, but physically, and doubtless
morally, they are characteristic specimens of the modem
Turk. The fine old race, the Beys, are no more. They
have been beggared or absorbed into Constantinople. These
pasty-faced, weak-kneed young gentlemen are their offspring,
rotten with vice, inherited and acquired. Many have had
no training whatever. I saw scores of them arriving daily
in Monastir, resplendent in new uniforms and accoutrements.

Europe by no means realizes the deterioration of the
Turk, which is but the natural result of centuries of corrup-
tion and bad government. I have quoted the remarks of
a Prussian trained Ueutenant whose men would not drill,
and of the war-grizded brigadier who never fired first. Let
me add two more examples.

It was at Kirk-Kilisse that I was joined by several young
officers in the hotel dining-room one evening. They began
relating stories of their prowess in the field in terms of most
boastful idiocy. One, fresh from the Bulgarian border,
told of the cowardice of the Bulgar frontier guards ; how,


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had he occasion to speak with the officer, the Bulgar came
trembling and with shaking knees. I greatly doubted this
statement at the time, and later, in Bulgaria, had ample

Online LibraryReginald WyonThe Balkans from within → online text (page 5 of 31)