1923 - Charles Harington, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of Occupation
The last Sultan escapes
One day, a Wednesday, when I was at lunch with Major-Generals Hastings Andersen and McHardy, I got a message to say that the Sultan's A.D.C. was in the office. I sent over an A.D.C. who found that it was the bandmaster. The latter then told us that all at the palace had turned disloyal, even the Sultan's doctor, who had been with him for years, and that the Sultan sent a message asking me to save his life, as he thought that he was to be murdered at the Selamlik service on the coming Friday. As I naturally did not wish to be accused of kidnapping a Sultan, I had to ask for the request to be made in writing, and I have before me two very wonderful documents written by the old Sultan in his own handwriting in Turkish, under his own seal. I have these letters framed. The translation of the first is as follows:
To His Excellency General Harington, C.-in-C. of the Forces of Occupation in Constantinople.
Considering my life in danger in Constantinople, I take refuge with the British Government, and request my transfer as soon as possible from Constantinople to another place.
November 16th, 1923.
(Sgd.) Mehmed Vehideddin,
Caliph of the Mussulmans.
It was a difficult problem as no one could go near the palace. With Brigadier-General Julian Steele and Colonel Colston (now Lord Roundhay), commanding the Grenadier Guards, we solemnly sat down to make a plan to get the last Sultan of Turkey out of his palace alive. The plan we decided on was that the Sultan and his son, and one or two servants that remained loyal, should be out for a walk in the garden (6 a.m. I think) on Friday. At that moment the Grenadier Guards should be drilling on their barrack square, which adjoined the Sultan's back gate, but they should be drilling so badly that they had jammed two ambulances together actually outside the gate and at the given moment the gate should be forced, and the Sultan and his son should be put into the leading ambulance, and the rest of the party and a certain amount of kit into the second. I may say that the gate was covered by machine-guns from every angle. My A.D.C. and another officer of the Grenadiers were to be on the ambulance with loaded revolvers. Other officers were to be at every turn of the route, supposed to be out for an early morning walk. Lorries full of machine-gunners were supposed to be broken down opposite every Turkish palace en route, in case the alarm should be given. A naval detachment of 100 strong, with guns, was to be landed at Dolme Batche, presumably for practice.
We had to be terribly careful on the Thursday for fear of anything getting out, and only the actual officers in command knew anything.
The Friday arrived; I remember so well eating eggs and bacon about 4 a.m., before going off to rescue a Sultan. As it happened, it was the most awful morning, pouring in torrents. The troops and sailors must have thought that their officers had all gone mad to think of a parade on such a morning. I believe one wretched Turk, going dose to the Yildiz Square on his way to work, was seized by a large guardsman and fairly thrown on his way! I can see all those officers out for their morning stroll as I write, die rain coming down in buckets. I was to receive the Sultan in the naval dockyard, and pot him on my launch, and hand him over to H.M.S. Malaya for transport to Malta. I waited for what seemed hours only to find the ambulance with the Sultan had had a puncture! However, it did not matter; he duly arrived, and I handed him over to H.M. S.Malaya. In my launch on the way out I perhaps hoped that he might give me his cigarette-case as a souvenir, instead he suddenly confided to me the care of his five wives; this alarmed me to some extent! I never saw them, however, but I did act as post office for some time after he left. I was to see him again at San Remo, where I called on him and he was very courteous and grateful. Oddly enough the first man I met in his villa at San Remo was the doctor who had deserted him. I do believe that no one in Constantinople knew for four hours after we got him away, and many went to the Selamlik at noon as usual to see him. I think the Nationalists were very glad when they found he had gone.
Tim Harington looks back