anzac POW freemen in europe

Part Five - Other European "Free Men"

 Chapter 6 - Turkey

Escape via Neutral Turkey

Looking at the map of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, one can see that Athens in Greece is roughly on the same latitude as Izmir (Smyrna) in Turkey, some 100 sea miles away to the East across the Aegean Sea. But much closer to the Turkish coast are many Greek islands with that of Chios being only about 10 sea miles from Kusadesi in Turkey.

In the turmoil that followed the surrender of Greece to the Axis powers, shortly to be followed to the surrender of Crete, this section of the Aegean  was to become critical to the efforts of MI9 to establish Allied escape routes for escapers and evaders to get back to Allied Lines in Egypt. While they had left behind many POW, they had also left behind a good radio communications network operated by many patriotic local intelligence agents.

It had always been Churchill’s dream to establish a Balkan Front, pivoted by Turkey as a co-combatant with the Allies. But with more realism than him, Count Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law, is quoted as saying: “The Turkish ideal is that the last German soldier should fall on the last Russian corpse” (“Churchill's Secret War” J2 Ch3).

Turkish policy was to remain strictly neutral at all costs.

Fortunately for Turkey, it could repatriate any escapers reaching its territory either by rail through liberated Syria, or by boat back to Palestine or Egypt. So allied escapers reaching neutral Turkey were promptly directed back to their own lines.

In 1941, the British Vice-Consul at Chios was Noel Rees. He was an ex-Commander of the British Navy, and enjoyed excellent relations with the Turkish authorities. His mother was Greek and his family provedore business was well known and respected throughout the Levant.

With the help of Lt Col C.E. Hughes, an Australian who enjoyed similar good relations with the Turkish government and was in charge of the British War Graves Commission at Gallipoli, a Greek yacht “Kalamata” was acquired. There was not enough fuel to sail to Crete, but there was enough to get to Cesme in Turkey, where Noel Rees has established a clandestine naval base on the peninsula west of Izmir. He had even  succeeded in getting the Turkish authorities to keep this as a restricted area “off limits” to everybody in Turkey, including Axis diplomats. He had also established another caique base on Greek soil at Antiporas, which was a supply link in the escape routes back to Egypt. After leaving Kios, Noel Rees became British consul in Izmir.

In Crete, Lt Cmdr Emanual Vernicos, RNR, under the nom de guerre “Captain Emilios” ran a family business in marine salvage and supply. The Vernicos Salvage and Towing Company, which operated the boom which guarded the harbour of Suda Bay in Western Crete is still operating today.

“Captain Emilios” failed in his attempts to locate a suitable escape caique, but with the knowledge that hundreds of Allied evaders were “on the run” south of Canea, he decided to establish an escape HQ at Omalos, arranging with local Cretan chieftains to feed and support groups of 50 escapers each.

With SOE agents, Myles Hilyard, Michael Parish, and Captain Fred Embrey of the 2/1st Bn AIF, he set out in a small caique to seek further help from Allied HQ in Cairo. With with superb stamina and seamanship he managed to bring his tiny craft to the German-occupied island of Milos. Posing as a fisherman, he made the his passengers walk to another hamlet on the island, while procuring supplies and distracting attention of the German guards.

Finally “Captain Emilios” brought his small party to the island of Kimilios.
Hearing that he was there, a local fisherman who had served in one of his salvage boats, brought him a steel box, which he had salvaged from the wreck of the British Athens Embassy yacht “Calanthe” sunk by the Germans  on its way to Cyprus. This box was still sealed. It contained secret codes and other valuable papers.

The party finally reached Turkey on September 4. Lt Cmdr Vernikos handed over the box, still intact, to the British Military Attache in Ankara. There, Captain Embrey left his friends, managing on his own to return to his unit - then stationed in Damascus - through liberated Syria. (The details of his epic voyage are described in Michael Parish’s “Aegean Adventures” J1 p142/8 and UK Archives file WO 208/554.

DX176 Major Clifford Johnson MC, 1 Anti/Tank Rgt AIF was captured by a German patrol near Lamia in Greece. He escaped from his German holding Camp with CSM Hill of the 21 Bn 2 NZEF.

After spending several weeks underground in Greece, with Hill and 3 others, set off from Volosin in a small caique. Sailing and rowing via Skianthos and the northern Sporades, the party managed to reach Turkey on 11.09.41 (A6 Wynne Mason p.74).

The small group was immediately repatriated by Turkey to Syria.

Only 2 New Zealanders and 7 Australians reached Turkey from Crete. Details of these 9 ANZACs are here in .pdf format.

With more favourable geography 33 AIF and 18 NZEF reached Turkey from Grrece. Details of these 51 ANZACs are here in .pdf format.


J1 “Aegean Adventures”, Michael Parish, The Book Guild, Lewes, 1993. ISBN 0863327885
J2 “Churchill's Secret War”, Robin Denniston, Sutton, 1997. ISBN 0750923296
“Escape from Crete”, Charles Jager, Floradale, Sydney, 2004. ISBN 097252933
A2 “Greece, Crete and Syria”, Gavin Long, Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1962.
J4 “On The Run”, Damer and Frazer, Penguin, 2006. ISBN 0143020307
A6 “Prisoners of War”, Wynne Mason, Wellington, Dept Internal Affairs, NZ 1954.
J6 “War in the Islands”, Adrian Seligman, Sutton, Glostershire, 1996. ISBN 0750911808

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