On Thursday September 7, Gilbert sent a last article written from Athens to the Morning Post in London, which published it immediately on Saturday September 9. It was entitled “Greece’s Disaster” and subtitled “Misled by Mr. Lloyd George.”
“The news of the disaster in Asia Minor, for it can be called by no other word, has produced the greatest consternation in Athens. There can be no doubt that Mr. Lloyd George’s speech [of August 4] has made matters in the Near East far more complicated than they were before. The general opinion is that Kemal decided to begin the offensive through fear of the results of the Venice Conference [proposed for September 1922] were Mr. Lloyd George’s policy to triumph, and on the other hand Greek public opinion was lulled into a sense of false security. Everyone expected the speech to be followed by positive action, varying from a loan to the permission to occupy Constantinople.”
In a desperate attempt to induce the Allies to help withdraw their armies safely out of Anatolia, the Greeks had transferred 50,000 troops over to eastern Thrace in late July as if to advance on Constantinople, although the Greek Foreign Minister Baltazzi had to admit that they would not attempt this without Allied permission but the actual effect was to decrease substantially the Greek forces in Anatolia.
“Kemal has certainly chosen his time well and has conducted the operations with consummate skill. The capture of Afion Karahissar and the run of events thereafter have put all the Greek army in the greatest danger, the capture of the railway line between Afion and Eskishehr allowing the Turks to concentrate troops at any point of the front with great rapidity. I have received information from Smyrna that the foreign colonies there are afraid of a general panic.
The Constantinople Blunder.
All the Press severely criticizes the Government, and especially M. Stratos, for having taken 50,000 men away from the front to concentrate in Thrace to support their famous bluff against Constantinople. This weakening of the front is supposed to be the immediate cause of the defeat, and the transport of the troops cost the Government over 200 million drachmas, quite apart from the expenses of the return journey to Asia Minor. The Government said that the purpose of that declaration about Constantinople was to induce the Allies to settle the Eastern question and that they never had any intention of fighting the Allied troops there. If that is the case, why was it necessary to weaken the front, thus giving Kemal the opportunity of settling the question on his own account? Most people think that if the situation in Smyrna gets too desperate the army in Thrace will make an attempt to occupy Constantinople by force, and here again the British Premier’s speech has made the Greek people believe that he secretly is in favour of the push on Constantinople and that the British troops there would receive the order not to fire on the Greeks. …
It is rumoured that the failure of detecting the concentration of the Turkish forces and the inaction of the Greek Air Force is due to a serious disagreement between the General Hadjianestis and the naval authorities, under whose command the Air Force is. But properly to appreciate the difficulties and dangers of the situation one should also consider the appalling financial situation of the country. Had they tried to pay their debts, the forced loan of four months ago would have been barely sufficient to cover them.
The other day a Greek manufacturer, to whom the Government has long been owing several millions, came to Athens to try to get paid. He managed to obtain 20,000 drachmas. A few days before the offensive I was told that by October 1 the Treasury would be empty, and how are they going to replenish it? In the last few days the new bank notes, in substitution of those cut in halves for the loan, have been put into circulation, and the populace suggests that it is been done in order that they may cut them again.
Kemal on Top.
Even were the offensive to be arrested the Kemalists have been able to prove that they are now the strongest Power in Asia Minor. They have plenty of men (when I was in the Anatolia a month ago I was struck by the great number of young men about), and their officers are excellent. They have proved that they are powerful enough to take the initiative, while the Greeks are not.
These facts must be taken into consideration when the Venice Conference meets, if it does meet, and, so far from modifying the Peace Terms in favour of the Greeks, they will have to be modified in favour of the Turks. As for the Greeks, they are all now aware that they will have to abandon Asia Minor, but no man has the courage to give the order and face the returning army. In the meantime they continue to spend their blood and money in a hopeless enterprise, and the more they defer it the more difficult will the evacuation be.”
This was Gilbert’s summary of the political situation on Thursday September 7, the day before he was to leave Greece. He wasn’t aware of the rapid disintegration of the Greek forces rushing to reach the Aegean coast before the Turkish armies, nor of the flight of Greek refugees into Smyrna. The time for an orderly evacuation had passed.