We Want Action

Australian Greeks Urge Motherland to
Ally with Entente Powers in WWI

By Stavros T. Stavridis

WWI Italian postcard represents Serbia fighting with Austria and Germany,
while Bulgaria tries to kill Serbia with a knife and Greece watches from the sideline

The Scotsman, an Edinburgh newspaper, published a Reuter’s cable from Sydney Australia on November 20, 1915 with the headline “Greeks in Australia. Message to M.Skoudoulis.” It stated that “At an enthusiastic meeting of 3000 Greeks at the [Sydney] Town Hall. It was resolved to cable the following resolution to the Premier of Greece.” It outlined that the “ Greek community of Sydney, following the agony in these critical circumstances the fortunes of the motherland, is expecting daily to see the Greek nation fighting on the side of England and her Allies for the cause of justice and freedom. Greece fighting for her Allies can crush her old enemies the Turks and the Bulgarians, and attain her national ideal.”

A detailed commentary is in order regarding the news story above. The figure of 3000 Greeks attending the Sydney Town Hall meeting is a gross exaggeration, especially, when just over 2000 Greeks were resident in the whole of Australia in 1915. According to Australian census which is conducted every 10 years, the number of Greek-born residents is as follows: - 878 in 1901, 1820 in 1911 and 3654 in 1921. Around 40% of these immigrants came from the islands of Kythera, Ithaca and Kastellorizo. Probably three hundred people attended this very important meeting. The Sydney Greeks were overwhelmingly pro-Venizelist in sentiment and loyal to the British Empire.

Their resolution urged the Greek Government to caste their lot with the Entente-Britain, France, Russia and Italy- against the Central powers in the Great War. They were annoyed with King Constantine’s neutral foreign policy which twice led to the dismissal of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos in March and October 1915.

Furthermore the Sydney Greeks would have wanted King Constantine to declare war against Bulgaria and Turkey. Bulgaria invaded Serbia in October 1915 meaning that Greece might be overrun by the Central Powers. Venizelos invited Anglo-French troops to land in Salonika without the knowledge of King Constantine in early October 1915. These allied forces were being transferred from Gallipoli Peninsula to Salonika. Venizelos intended to use the Salonika expedition in getting the King to declare war against the Central powers. The Greek Premier was hoping to present the King with a fait accompli in reversing his original policy of neutrality. Constantine dismissed Venizelos and replaced him with Zaimis who only lasted a few weeks in the Premier’s job. The octogenarian Skouloudis became the new Greek Premier to whom the resolution was addressed by the Sydney Greeks.

The Salonika mission of October 1915 was an Anglo-French project with the object of providing military assistance to Serbia and allowing Greece to fulfill her treaty obligations to her ally. Under the terms of the Greek-Serb Treaty of 1913, Greece was obliged to aid her ally against a Bulgarian attack. Constantine refused to come to Serbia’s aid “claiming that the Treaty did not apply to a war in which Serbia was not only attacked by Bulgaria but by a Great Power (Germany).”

Britain and France saw the Salonika landing from different perspectives. For France the Salonika mission presented the political opportunity to deflect French public opinion away from the carnage on the Western Front. The British undertook this mission to ensure that its prestige and influence in Greece was not supplanted by the French.

The elimination of Turkey from the war was something that the Sydney Greeks would have strongly desired. During this time Australia, New Zealand and British troops were fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Gallipoli Peninsula. Some Greeks enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F). It should be noted that conscription into the A.I.F was voluntary. The Australian Government tried to persuade its young men to do their patriot duty by enlisting in the A.I.F.

The Australian Labor Party led Prime Minister William M. Hughes wanted to make conscription compulsory. Two referenda held in October 1916 and December 1917 on the issue of conscription were defeated by the Australian electorate. Furthermore, the Labor Party split in November 1916 over conscription leading to resignation of Prime Minister W.M. Hughes and of 24 Labor Parliamentarians who then formed the National Labor party. The parliamentary future of the National Labor Party was dependent on the goodwill of the Liberals. Therefore, the two parties decided in January 1917 to amalgamate, thus forming the Nationalist Party

The columns of the Sydney Morning Herald were replete with news stories of the gallantry and heroism displayed by Australian and New Zealand forces (ANZACS) at Gallipoli. It maybe inferred that the Sydney Greeks would have wanted Skouloudis to declare war on the Ottoman Empire because the addition of Greek military and naval assistance would have tipped the balance in favor of the Entente at Gallipoli and in the Balkans. This would have assisted in reducing the flow of German war material into South East Europe and thus leading to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria would have been politically and militarily isolated to face an Anglo-French-Greek force. None of these scenarios eventuated in November – December 1915.

Another factor that possibly influenced the Sydney Greeks to urge war against Turkey was the plight of the Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire. From January-November 1915 the Sydney Morning Herald printed many news stories of these atrocities. Here is a small sample of some of the news headlines: - “Turkey in Asia. Armenians Massacred...” January 14, “Turkish atrocities. Minister Crucified “, May 12, “Armenians. Massacres by Turks”, May 19, “Armenian Massacres”, August 3 1915, “Turkey. Massacre of Christians” August 7 1915, “Armenian massacres. Lord Bryce’s appeal”, September 23, 1915.

The articles of January 14, May 12 and 19 deal with the massacres of Armenians in the regions of Salmas and Urmiah located in North West Persia (Iran). The article of August 3 stated that “… Several Greeks in Marsovan were compelled to dig a trench as a grave before being shot. Greek women were given the alternatives of embracing Islam or death. They refused to change their religion. Their lives were spared, but were left to the mercy of the soldiers, being compelled to accompany the troops on a long march. Some became exhausted and abandoned their babies.” A quotation of this type appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald would have infuriated the Greeks of Sydney.

However the resolution of the Sydney Greeks failed to move Skouloudis into action. King Constantine’s policy of benevolent neutrality remained intact.

© 2005 Not to be reproduced or distributed without the consent of the author.

(Posted originally October 2005; reformatted March 2007)

About the Author

Stavros Terry Stavridis was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1949 of Greek parents. He migrated to Australia with his parents in September 1952. Stavros has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Political Science/Economic History and B.A (Hons) in European History from Deakin University and M.A in Greek/Australian History from RMIT University. His MA thesis is titled "The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: an Australian Press Perspective."

Stavros has nearly 20 years of teaching experience, lecturing at University and TAFE (Technical and Further Education, the equivalent of Community College in the US) levels. He has presented papers at international conferences in Australia and USA and has also given public lectures both in Australia and on the West Coast of the US. Many of his articles have appeared in the Greek-American press. He currently works as a historical researcher at the National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.

Stavros' research interests are the Asia Minor campaign and disaster, Middle Eastern history, the Assyrian and Armenian genocides, Greece in the Balkan Wars 1912-13 and the First World War and history in general.

Readers interested in the works of Stavridies may read more of his fine articles posted on HCS at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/stavridisone.html.

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