Australian Submarine AE2 Crew as POWs in Turkey
by Dogan Sahin
(B.Edu.English; Turkish Translator-Amateur Researcher)
Surely, wars aren’t meant to be nice. It has been 93 years since the worst war in human history shook the world to its foundations. It was a time when human beings mastered the art of killing by coordinating the air, sea and trench battles.
More than 60 million people were involved. It was the Great War.
There is no such thing as a “just” war. However, I have always believed that the wars are declared by States, but fought by individuals. It is this belief in the powers of individual that drove me to begin a search on the Prisoners of War in the Great War. As I searched through the records, I realized that it was rather hard to find out whether an individual was in fact taken a prisoner of war or died in battle. The fact that neither of the sides took many prisoners and Allied powers have confiscated some Turkish State Archives following armistice and British records were destroyed in WW II made my job difficult. Another obstacle was no matter how small or detrimental, many documents of the Ottomans were kept in the original state in old script. The republican archives had information in current Turkish script. Also, due to the fact that many of the Turkish soldiers were illiterate and not many soldiers from the Allied ranks published personal records meant that I had to rely on a very few diaries that were available through internet and state records online. There was not much information in the Western records regarding the foot soldier. It was relatively easier to find out information on the officers.
I was fascinated by the sorrows, hopes, destitute, cries, joys, artistic achievements, lament, love, pain, suffering, daily lives and cultural attitudes of the POW; of those who suddenly found themselves in conflict with other human beings, whether voluntary or otherwise.
Cultural and sociological structures of whole societies had changed; the individuals’ look on life had been distorted. In a way becoming a Prisoner of War to the “enemy” meant life! After all, the war was over for the POW. That is, the danger of being shot or blown to pieces by artillery fire was over. This in turn meant another kind of suffering for many. Life was easier for an officer as a POW, for all sides held a certain unwritten respect for the officer. For example, when General Townsend surrendered to Turks in Kut, he was treated with utmost respect and spent the rest of the war in Istanbul in perfect conditions. Whereas, many of his men had to be distributed to around 20 POW camps in Turkey and most of them were made to work, as has been the case for those who had fallen POW to the Allied powers.
Those diaries of the POW I have read from both sides of the conflict had a variety of attitudes towards the enemy. It seemed as if writing the negative aspects of life as a POW was much preferred. I did not expect the POW, the one who had positive experiences, to write for it seems illogical that you can write “good” things about your enemy. This was a forced attitude.
An individuals experience as a POW widely differed. Some complained about the harsh treatment one received and this was based purely on the belief that he suffered because he was the enemy. The individual never wrote about his behavior towards the captor in terms of discipline and respect to the culture of the enemy. Some delved into artistic endeavors and wrote poems and painted. Yet others entertained themselves by learning the language of the captor or other POWs in the same camp. My main purpose in this research was to find out facts about the life of POW in Turkish hands. Comparatively speaking, what I realized was that in fact the Turk’s behavior towards the captives was not as atrocious as some soldiers had portrayed in their writings, or some writers would make us believe for a reason that is unbeknown to myself.
There were quite many individuals, who said they were happy with the treatment they had received. Certainly, the populace themselves were almost always good towards the captive. The POW were treated as “guests” rather than the enemy. Because, once captured they were harmless and not the enemy anymore. Expectations of those who delved into the negative, I found were mostly unrealistic. They may have felt that Turkey was as rich as their own country! What they didn’t know was that the whole Turkish population was suffering the disasters of the war. Food was scarce, money was almost non existent, their country was being invaded, their husbands, uncles, fathers, brothers, sisters were killed; they were on the defensive. Having difficulty in feeding themselves and contributing to the war efforts on 7 theatres, they now had to keep the POWs alive. There were POWs from a variety of nations such as the Russians, English, Indians, Ghurkas, Australians, New Zealanders and others in Turkey.
When compared to the camps such as “the Stalag” in Germany or “Maadi Camp” in Egypt for the Turkish POWS in the Great War, one cannot call the Turkish “garrisons” as a “camp” as such.
Second to the fact that there was not even one book on this particular niche subject in Turkish, apart from the not so well translation of “Stoker’s Submarine” by Brenchley’s analyzing the then lives of the crew and events, one of the most interesting and satisfying events throughout my research was to discover that in fact an Australian Institute and a Turkish institute was collaborating on determining the future of AE2 submarine, the first Australian submarine, scuttled by its commander in the Çanakkale straits. By then I was densely into research and scanning hundreds of pages of diaries and notes and reports and opinions on the POW aspect of the Great War and the individuals fallen POW to Turks. Definitely interested in what in fact happened to the crew, those individuals for whom the noisy side of the war was over, I had the good fortune of being invited to TINA-SIA Organizations Workshop in Istanbul in April.
There I had the chance to discuss with wonderfully equipped experts.
My studies led me to believe that the Australian AE2 crew were not encamped in places surrounded by barbed wire. They suffered from the abundant lice and bugs, harsh winters, hot summers, lack of food and other nutrition, the alien nature of relations with the locals, they suffered the results of uprisings by ethnic elements, brigands, absconders, dirty businessman, cheats, pitiful soldiers, revenge attacks, lack of knowledge and misinformation, international politics and the Great War within those few years of captivity like the rest of the country did. Almost all males from the age of 14 upwards were mobilized to fight on “7 fronts”. The populace mainly consisted of widows, older men and children. Here of course one needs to place great consideration on the thoughts and knowledge of the Australian individual on the Ottomans “ The Turk”. The image created by the Allied powers of the Turk as the enemy is what defined the attitude of the Australian “identity”. Perhaps the “Broken Hill” story may have contributed to the negative image.
The prisoners of war, once given parole, were allowed to mingle with the population, stay in private houses and buy their own food etc. so long as they didn’t attempt to escape. Escape, some did and those were officers! Why would a private want to escape? He was alive, although life was difficult to what he had been used to. But an Officer was expected to try and escape...Some cultural differences and expectations I have discovered in the diaries were truly fascinating and made me smile.
One POW, J. Wheat from Australian Submarine AE2 wrote *“...About 7 pm. they brought us off a good meal from ashore, or at least we found out afterwards that it was good meal for Turkey. This meal consisted of two small loaves of bread each, two big dishes of stew having a very strong taste of garlic, two dishes of a kind of salad, some sort of green stuff with olive oil, which had a horrible greasy taste.” “..We learnt from the sentries that the name for tea was “Çay” and this was the first Turkish words we learnt. Needless to say we were always calling out for “Çay”. In the evening we were served with a meal that is a kind of pea cooked in nauseous Grease floating over the top of the water, which we learned afterwards is always put with these meals. There were three dishes brought in and placed on the floor. We were given a wooden spoon each and told to divide the food between ourselves. Just imagine an Englishmen with a dirty spoon squatting on the floor all eating from the same dish, food not fit for a pig (He is writing about lentil soup here which in those days must have been a treat for them! Same food is still served as stable in the modern Turkish army and is called “Kara Simsek” amongst the ranks. Full of protein!).
He continues “…August 1st- a great number of Turkish recruits arrived in AfyonKarahisar. They camped outside the mosque close to us. They were all about middle aged. One thing we were surprised at was whenever we were going or returning from work the populace never showed any sign of hate against us...”
The records of William Wolseley Falconer, one of the 33 of the Australians from the same submarine show that ” he was first interned in AfyonKarahisar and later sent to Belemedik. His technical expertise made him a valuable asset to German engineers contracted to build the railway through Taurus Mountains”
Yet another Australian, Lionel Stanley Churcher’s records suggest ” By all accounts he was a fiery and temperamental POW. He clashed particularly with Australian Corporal Kerr. They were drinking and card playing buddies and often fought: His litany of irritations included “inadequate bedding” “being ignored” and “lack of assistance” in his job as a cook. Obviously after one of his fights he was sent back to AfyonKarahisar;” on accounts of disturbing the peace I assume!
William Thomas Cheater’s records say “In AfyonKarahisar camp his duties as a batman included going to the local markets to buy food and clothing for the officers... As months passed in captivity Afion officers staged plays and concerts for which Cheater bought all materials, props, sets and costumes including women’s clothing and veils. Apparently Lt. Stoker (the commander) and his fellow officers were already planning to escape dressed as women. After the escape by Lt.Cdr.Stoker, Lt Price and captain Cochrain (both from E7Submarine) escaped, Cheater was singled out and held partly responsible for escape. The Turks had traced the escape disguises back to h is market excursions, for which he was punished”
The official report* prepared by the Commander Stoker of AE2 – in response to what seems to be application to G.O.C British in Istanbul states in parts of “Charges Laid Against Djevad Bey “ on 29 November 1918:
“ 1. In May 1915, shortly after capture, I was placed in a prison at Constantinople, close to Ministry of War under the orders of Djevad Bey. The prison contained civilian prisoners under sentence for all sorts of crimes…It was filthy and filled with many kinds of vermin-but chiefly with bugs which there were legion. …….In order to force information of military value from me I was subjected to all sorts of threats and and offers of humiliating nature, separated from my brother officers,……with 4 Turks. Finally placed in solitary confinement. All protests remained unanswered”
Here I note that he states from the beginning that “ they were captured”. I guess I wouldn’t call the situation a “capture” but simply a “surrender”. This only proves the different cultural mentality of the captor and the captive. As an officer surely, he would be interrogated but I note that there were no more harsher treatment than “threats and offers..”.
This distinguished officer of the British of course wished a different treatment but his situation proves my vision that the POW was not an enemy of the Turk once captured. Thus, his placement amongst the civilian Prisoners. After all, he was prisoner in general sense. His “non-important” documentation was taken. I don’t believe any other captor would behave differently!....
“2…In October 1915 Sub –Lieut Fitzgerald; R.N.R and I were sent from Afion karahissar to Stamboul and again placed in prison under the orders of Djevad bey in similar circumstances to (1). All protests by me remained unanswered for 4 days and Djevad bey informed me that he was acting under the orders of Enver Pascha but did not know the reason…….…We were fed on Turkish soldiers bare ration (which in fact meant bread and water) and allowed to buy no extras. In this situation we remained for 25 days and were then , I believe, only released on the repeated demands of American Ambassador. This treatment we were informed, was placed on us on account of ill treatment of Turkish Officers by the English in Egypt *.”
The same is noted in the diaries of the American Ambassador in his diaries and relates to the reports that Turkish POW in Egypt Maadi Camp of the British were being mistreated and he notes “ I wish the British had kept better records”. However, a red Cross report on British POW camps in Egypt exists (in response to a complaint that up to 15 thousand Turkish POW were blinded as a result of British practice of subjecting the POW to “Lissol” treatment.). My opinion on this particular matter has been published in Bodrum İskele Meydani Magazine in Turkey.
“ 3. In April 1916 , having been recaptured with two companions after an attempt to escape, I was taken to Stamboul and again placed in prison under Djavid bey. He stated that I had broken parole (I had never given a parole) and that the English Government had arranged with the Turkish Government that no prisoner would attempt to leave his place of internment…..I was condemned to 25 days imprisonment and the Turkish General who presided stated that we had already been in prison for 6 months now and would be immediately released…”
So we see that an officer is always trying to escape, unlike the foot soldier individual.
The more I read, the more I realized how effective it would have been for the Australian if they knew a bit about the “enemy”. However, little did the executing officer know about the actual reason of this war, never mind the ordinary foot soldier from either of the parties to the war.
So, I now believe that in order for AE2 to be told to future generations, both peoples must work in cooperation and tell “the story” of the Silent Anzac Submarine and Sultanhisar “the captor” boat together.
*I should express my appreciation to NSW Heritage Society, SIA, AE2 Commemoration Committee and TINA for providing me kindly with copies of original documents in the archives and 1914-1918Invisionzone.com for directions in my research into this sensitive subject and the published declarations by Mz. Jennifer Lawless of Australia in enlightening me.