GWL 3rd May 1919

“I have come back from Kars.  It has not been the slightest use writing as no posts go from that part of the world except once in a blue moon.  On the whole we had a very comfortable journey, but I hate travelling on these railways.  They only go fast when it is positively dangerous.  The engine driver looks round calmly tells you he cannot stop the train.  All the track is littered with derailed engines & trucks.  Five of us had a saloon carriage with compartments to sleep in, and a saloon for day time.  We arrived in Alexandropol and found that the man we wanted, or rather one of them, was in Kars, so we paddled off there.  Alexandropol is one of the big centres for Armenian Relief and really it is an awful sight.  At present they are feeding 56,000 Armenian refugees there.  All are or have been starving & they expect that about half will die from the effects.  The death rate is now about 120 a day; it has been as high as 400.  I went into some of the compounds and really it is too awful for words.  If those Turks are not made to pay in money and life for what they have done it will be an everlasting disgrace.  You see children and men and women crawling about eating grass.  In Erivan they have dug up their dead and eaten them.  Things should improve a bit now a good deal of flour and food is coming through & thank goodness there is no epidemic.  From Alexandropol to Kars you can only go in daylight, as the Tartar has a cheery habit of monkeying with the rails and when you come along, your train quietly sits down in between them.  On arriving in Kars we were cheered by the news that another man we wanted, having got there first, was 80 miles away in the mountains.  18 feet of snow in the passes and they said he could not arrive for 5 days.  Lord be praised, on going up, he had dug out the drifts and he got back in two days by motor car.  Kars is a very big fortress indeed.  Rather bigger than Port Arthur, I think.  I was offered the military governship of it, but refused.  A very interesting place from the military point of view, but desperately lonely & just now you and I have had enough of being lonely.  The whole impression the country gives you is intensely sad.  Somehow when you look at the place you forget that the people in it are still Armenians.  You only see their ruined homes & churches & you seem to be looking at a dead civilization.  Of course you see prosperous villages, but they are all Tartar.  The Turk took all the farm implements & seed grain from the Armenians & gave it to the Tartar.  Then came massacres.  The result is that the population is physically incapable of work.  There is just a chance that we may be able to get seed so that they can sow before the rain stops.  It is all very terrible and I think it would do a lot of people in England, who do nothing but dance and enjoy themselves, a great deal of good to do a tour in this country.  Tiflis seems quite civilised again after the South.  

Should start home soon.”

Alexandropol, modern day Gyumri in Armenia, was destination to a large number of refugees who escaped from the Turkish genocide of the Armenian population within the Ottoman Empire.  Estimates of the number of Armenians who died during the protracted and systematic attempts to eradicate them range from 1-1.5 million.  The men were generally assassinate.. The women and children were murdered locally by a variety of means including burning, drowning, toxic gas and medical experimentation or were starved to death on the “Death Marches” into the Syrian desert without food or water.


Armenian corpses

Corpses of Armenian women and children by the roadside


Armenian woman kneeling by a dead child in the Syrian desert on a “Death March”

{next post 5th May}


GWL 24th April 1919

“Very warm.  As a rule now we have a thunderstorm between 2 & 3 PM which makes venturing forth rather uncertain. I forgot to tell you that I went to the midnight mass in the Russian Cathedral on Easter Eve.  It was a most wonderful show.  The singing was magnificent.  All unaccompanied.  I stayed for about 2 hours & then went home.  I think my friend, who went away about the middle of last month, will be back shortly.  He has been fooling round South Russia & I hear from his fellow that he was caught by the Bolshevik in Manipol, I shall be awfully pleased to see him again.  Absolutely no news.  Nothing much to do in barracks or out.  We are all awfully fit these days.  We have a half hour’s walk into the decent part of the town.  I hope the time is getting near now when I shall see you.  Beastly scirocco to-day.”

{next post 26th April}

GWL 22nd April 1919

“Warm.  To-day the local authorities performed their famous trick of cutting off the water! Why heaven only knows.  It hurts us, perhaps, more than the inhabitants, because they do not wash.  The hot weather has rather disorganised the Princess’ family and household.  This morning I arrived at 11.30 for my lesson and they were all still n bed! So I sat in the dining room until what time the good people chose to get up.  Comic crowd.  They lead a pretty hectic existence, I think – people always running in and out.  Here the only time at which you do not call is between 3.30 & 4.30 PM.  Any other old time will do, up to about midnight.  I am afraid the Colonel is very fed up with this place.”

{next post 24th April}

GWL 19th April 1919

“No news at all.  This place is quite quiet, although there are a good many Bolshevik soldiers and one or two commissaire who have crawled in in the last week or two.  Awfully hard to find anything to write about.  I don’t think the Colonel takes kindly to this place at all.  Here in Tiflis you must do as the Tiflisians do or go quietly mad or take up Pelmanism.  Personally I prefer the first course.

“I am sorry you cannot find an abode against my coming home.  I think we should be all right in Ashburn Place.  I think Mother is sure to be away somewhere in the early summer.  During the last few days I have met one or two new people.  Interesting in their way but mostly so damnably conceited that one is strongly tempted to shoot them.  However it is all experience.  Easter apparently is a season at which everybody gets drunk & remains in that condition as long as possible.”

Pelmanism was a system of training the mind devised by William Ennever and taught by correspondence from the Pelman Institute.  It purported to cure a number of psychological disorders.

{next post 22nd April}

GWL 17th April 1919

“No news at all.  We are hunting 3 days a week, but it is getting rather hot in the forenoon now for that.  Things very quiet here now.  All the papers are run by Bolsheviks but that seems to be about the limit of their activity.  The loss of Odessa to the Bolsheviks is very serious.  Unless it is retaken I think there is a good chance that the B. may unite with the Austrian and German odds and ends and the result will be the loss of Bessarabia & possibly Roumania.  The French seem simply to have left the place and taken no precautions at all.  This is a funny old life.  I don’t quite know what will happen here when the Peace Conference decisions come out.  I suppose it will be all right.  People here all preparing for Easter, which apparently is the chief feast of the year.  What we should really do is to disarm the whole bally population.”


Entry of Bolshevik troops into Odessa.

{next post 19th April}

GWL 12th April 1919

“Things here quite quiet.  What will happen when the decision of the Peace Conference comes out regarding Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan, I don’t know.  Unfortunately there are in Georgia still a certain number of people who consider that they are fit to govern and will be rather annoyed when they find that, people in a position to know, think differently.

“Armenia, round by Erivan & Naklichevan (Ararat) is in an awful state.  You get groups of Armenian villages & then groups of Tartar villages.  The latter are prosperous because they were pally with the Turk & have bagged all the cattle & agricultural implements of the former.  The Armenians are now living on their dead and have actually dug up recent graveyards!  The grown up people are too far gone, really, to have anything done for them.  I think the only hope is in the children.  It is all awfully sad.”

Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan had all declared themselves independent republics in 1918.  All three came under increasing pressure after the War with Bolsheviks from the north and Ataturk from the south.  Although British forces occupied the area their role was confused and any moves to support the three republics was ambiguous.  The other major powers were disinterested.  Armenia was invaded by both Russian and Turkish forces in 1920 and in 1921 the three Republics were incorporated as the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic which in 1922 along with Russia became the founding members of the Soviet Union.

{next post 17th April}

The First World War seen through the letters of George Power