Over the last four years, Australia has commemorated the various stages of the First World War. This year marks the centenary of the end of the war. While the focus will be on 11 November, as the centenary of the end of the war on the Western Front, we should not forget the impact of the other major armistice of the war – that with the Ottoman Empire.
The signing of the Armistice was a momentous event. It brought to a conclusion the First World War across the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire had joined the Central Powers – as the Alliance of Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was known – in August 1914, with hostilities commencing with the attack on Russia’s Black Sea ports by Ottoman warships. The war would extend from Egypt to the Caucasus, from the marshes of the Tigris and Euphrates – and to the borders of Greece.
The Greek island of Lemnos – as well as Imbros and Tenedos – would play key roles in the tragic Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and the war would spread across Greece’s northern border – known as the Salonika Front. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the nations of the Entente Powers would serve in the trenches and battlefields that surrounded Thessaloniki, stretching from Macedonia to Thrace. In May 1918 the Bulgarian defences in northern Macedonia were successfully breeched by the Greek Army at the battle of Skra-di-Legen.
Throughout the Middle East, the forces of the Ottoman Empire were in retreat. The fall of Jerusalem was followed by that of Allepo and Damascus – with Australian troops playing an important role in these victories. The surrender of Bulgaria in September brought to an end the front across Macedonia, with the Entente armies now free to advance through eastern Thrace to Constantinople itself. By this stage of the war, the Ottoman Empire was exhausted. This is the context for the Armistice of Mudros.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers had fought across the Ottoman Empire, including tens of thousands of Australians. Australian soldiers had served in the defence of Egypt, the battles across Palestine, Mesopotamia and Syria. They had fought at Gallipoli, served on Lemnos and with British Army units on the Salonika Front. Hundreds of Australian nurses and other medical staff had tended to the sick and wounded of these campaigns.
The signing of the Armistice brought all these campaigns to an end. The guns and rifles would fall silent from Damascus to Thrace. Thousands of Allied prisoners of war – some captured during the Gallipoil campaign – would be released and begin their long journey home.
The signing of the Armistice
The Ottoman Empire delegation arrived at Lemnos in October to begin the negotiations for an armistice. The negotiations took place on the great British warship – HMS Agamemnon. Not only had this mighty warship taken part in the Gallipoli and Salonika campaigns, but her very name brought to mind the siege of Troy and the stories of Homer. Witnesses from the time recall that Lemnos’ great Mudros Bay was again full of warships and other naval vessels – as she had been in 1915 when the same waters had played host to the armada sailing for the Gallipoli peninsula. And two of those ships which lay at anchor in Mudros Bay in October 1918 were Australian – HMAS Torrens and HMAS Yarra.
Negotiations for the Entente were led by the British Admiral Gough-Calthorpe and the Ottoman Empire by Rauf Bey, the new Minister for Marine and a distinguished naval commander during the war. The negotiations commenced on 27 October, concluding with the signing of the Armistice on 30 October.
The terms of the Armistice would see the occupation of strategic points across the Ottoman Empire, including Constantinople, as well as the Gallipoli peninsula. Ottoman forces would be demobilised. Soon a great Allied armada – including Australian warships – was sailing up the Bosphorus to Constantinople. The Hellenic flagship Averof would follow and set anchor in the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Gallipoli peninsula itself would be occupied by British and French troops.
It is true that the signing of the Armistice did not result in a long lasting peace. The occupation of Constantinople and various zones of the Empire by Entente forces would eventually lead to further conflict, the Asia Minor catastrophe and the exchange of populations between Greece and the new Turkish state.
Nonetheless in commemorating the Armistice we commemorate the end of four years of terrible war that wreaked havoc across the world. We acknowledge the service of all those who served on the various fronts across the Ottoman Empire, especially those who died or were wounded and their loved ones at home. We acknowledge the relief that must have been felt by the survivors of the war. We acknowledge the upheavals and sorrows experienced by millions of civilians across the region. And we also acknowledge the important role of Greece in this important part in the story of the First World War.
Greece’s Lemnos island had played a key role as the advanced base for the Gallipoli campaign. Hellenic volunteers had fought alongside the Anzac and British troops on the peninsula and the people of Lemnos had shown their hospitality to the tens of thousands of Allied soldiers who had come to their island in 1915. Even the donkey used by Australia’s Private John Simpson at Gallipoli was one of many sourced from Lemnos, with a memorial to both erected in the grounds of the Shrine. And one hundred years ago Lemnos played host to negotiations that would end the war across the Ottoman Empire.
The first commemoration
It might be pointed out that October is a significant month in the history of Lemnos. Not only was the island joined to Greece in 1912 during that month but Lemnos was liberated from German occupation in October 1944. The Armistice of 1918 should be yet another important date in Lemnos’ commemorative calendar.
As far as my research can tell, the Armistice of Mudros has never been commemorated – in Australia or in Greece. Its signing was no doubt over-shadowed by that of 11 November. This year we will correct this commemorative anomaly. And we will do so every year from now on. Please join us in commemorating this important occasion in the Hellenic link to Anzac and the First World War.
In coming months, Melbourne and Lemnos will witness the first ever commemorations of the signing of the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, which ended the First World War across the Ottoman Empire.
The Melbourne commemorative service has been organised by the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and will be held at the Sanctuary of Melbourne’s magnificent Shrine of Remembrance on Wednesday 31 October. Master of Ceremonies for the service will be Lee Tarlamis OAM, President of the Committee.
The service will be held on Wednesday 31 October – 100 years to the day when the Armistice came into effect in 1918. It will commence at 11.45 am and be followed by light refreshments. The service will be preceded by a short presentation by myself in the Shrine’s Education Centre, commencing at 10.30 am. All are welcome to attend both the service and presentation, although bookings are essential for the latter (to make a booking call (03) 9661 8100 or book online at https://www.shrine.org.au/Visit-the-Shrine/Talks-and-Events/Centenary-of-the-Armistice-of-Mudros).
A series of commemorative events on the Armistice of Mudros will also be held on Lemnos itself, between 2 and 4 November. Details of each day’s events are yet to be finalised. When confirmed these will be advertised on the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee website: https://lemnosgallipolicc.blogspot.com/
* Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and has been Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee since 2011. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org