FINEST HOUR 126, SPRING 2005
BY MEHMET ALI SALUTAS & WILLIAM CHARLES BRICE
“IN THE TERRIBLE SLASH of the last war…we fought as brave and honourable opponents. But those days are done…”
Churchill undertook several risky trips abroad during World War II. One of the least-known was his hazardous flight to Turkey, from Cairo, early in 1943, just after the Casablanca Conference with Roosevelt: a period which saw him away from England for nearly four weeks.
Churchill had been wooing the Turks since 1941. Now, both in Russia and the Mediterranean, the tide of war was turning in favour of the allies. Churchill deemed it important, and secured Roosevelt’s agreement at Casablanca, to try again to forge an understanding with the one great neutral state which lay athwart both of these theatres of war: the Turkish Republic.
It was arranged in utmost secrecy that on Saturday, 30 January 1943, Churchill, chief of Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Alanbrooke, and others, should fly to Adana and meet Ismet Inonii, President of Turkey. The details of their discussion were confidential, but it became known that Inonii was promised direct help if his country were to join the allies by declaring war on Germany.
The meeting took place about thirty miles from Adana in a coach on a siding of the small railway station of Yenice, on the branch line between Adana and Mersin. With the passage of time, the “White Coach” became forgotten and neglected. Fortunately, however, Sudi Abac of Mersin was a high school student at the time of the meeting of the two great statesmen, and saw their coach in use as he commuted on the railway. Abac initiated the idea of tracing this important wartime relic, arranging its restoration, and moving it to a Memorial Park in Yenice.
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Editorial note: The following is an English translation of excerpts from the splendid illustrated brochure published by the Turkish Ministry of Culture to accompany the official opening of the Peace Park on 30 January 1993, the fiftieth anniversary of the Inonul Churchill meeting.
Turkey: Ismet Inonii, Head of State; Sukru Saracolu, Minister of State; Marshal Fevzi Cakmak, Chief of General Staff; Numan Menemencoglu, Foreign Minister; Feridun Erkin, Foreign Secretary; General Sefik Cakman, General Staff Air Counsellor; Albay Fasih Kayabali, General Staff Transport.
Great Britain: Winston S. Churchill, Prime Minister; Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, Chief of Imperial General Staff; General Maitland Wilson, Commander, Iran and Iraq; General Sir Harold Alexander, Commander, Middle East Forces.
Churchill was received at 2pm at Adana Airport by the Chief Minister of State, the Foreign Minister, the British Ambassador and the Vali of Adana, Akif Eyidogan. On arrival at the Airport Garden and after breakfast, the guests, offering their separate greetings and respects to their several hosts, entered their cars. Lunch was taken at 3pm.
The wise words of Ataturk,* addressed to the Turkish nation and people worldwide, “Peace at Home, Universal Peace,” were stressed and adopted by our second Head of State and President, Ismet Inonii, who, despite all persuasion, resisted participation in the Second World War.
To try and prevent German conquest of the Middle East, the British and Americans put strong pressure and even threats on Turkey to enter the struggle. But in the end, careful appraisal and common sense prevailed. Inonii and Churchill, meeting on a rail coach, agreed that Turkey would preserve her neutrality.
After 1942, pressure on Turkey to enter the war became intense. Churchill proposed a meeting in Cyprus, the Turks at Ankara; but it was eventually agreed to arrange an assembly at Yenice. When Inonii arrived with his army commanders, they showed signs of not wishing to be involved in his propositions, some it is said by feigning sickness. Inonii was very upset by this, but the British representatives chose simply to ignore it. They agreed that “Turkey will be supplied with arms from our hands if the time comes when she is aware of needing them through being forced into war.”
The next morning Churchill completed a memorandum of their discussions, which he entitled “Morning Thoughts.” It is a puzzle as to when he actually composed this account, as he talked with his hosts until very late and rose very early. Throughout the discussions, frank opinions were exchanged. Later, menus were passed round for signatures. Inonii seized the opportunity to mention his need for substantial military aid irrespective of circumstances. However, there was not time for Churchill to make such a promise.
At the close of the final meeting, Churchill proposed the foundation of an Ismet Pasha Prize for diplomatic achievement in avoiding territorial wars. This would be awarded indefinitely on an annual basis and would take the title of the Inonii/Churchill Yenice Meeting Award.
The historic coach in which the talks were held was eventually rediscovered in a ruined state after a long search at Konya Station. It was entrusted for expert care and investigation to the TCDD (Turkish Government Railway Directorate). The project took three months of hard work by Atilan Akhunlar, a machine engineer and expert in old trains, who led the restoration team.
The Municipality of Yenice proposed to construct a park and, with support from the Ministry of Culture, the Peace Park was opened on 30 January 1993. The opening was well attended by dignitaries, including the Deputy Prime Minister, Erdal Inonii, representing his father, and Ambassador, John Goulden, representing Her Majesty the Queen. Also participating were the Turkish Minister of Culture, D. Fikri Saglar, the Vali of Icel, the Kaymakam of Tarsus, the Vali of Adana, the Mayor of Mersin, other city chiefs from the district, and Turkish Railway Authorities. The driver of the train which had bought Ismet Inonii from Adana to Yenice for the 1943 meeting was present, and recounted many lively and moving recollections.
The foregoing is self-explanatory but it does leave a few questions. Churchill had taken pains to disguise his mission into territory dangerously close to Axis forces—to the extent of drawing Stalin into a role as decoy by announcing that he was heading to Moscow. All returned safely, but the participants must have had prior notice, surely a security nightmare. How to explain the “walk-out” of President Inonii’s military advisers, who were apparently so appalled at the idea of an alliance with the British that many of them “feigned sickness”? Why was the meeting so short? Just two cramped half-days joined by an informal supper seems hardly worth the trouble for all those distinguished personages; yet the importance of trying to bring Turkey in with the Allies was evident, particularly given Churchill’s interest in getting back on the European mainland, perhaps from an unexpected direction. The answer to the last question may be that Churchill, who never believed in wasting time, quickly realized Turkey’s position was irreversible, and decided to move on.
Churchill’s personal diplomacy did not meet with obvious success: Turkey did not declare war on Germany and Japan until 23 February 1945. Yet the effort was not entirely ineffective, as Sir Martin Gilbert notes in Road to Victory, volume VII of the Churchill official biography. Surveying the war situation in May 1944, Churchill told Parliament that Turkey “had displayed an exaggerated attitude of caution,’ but had yet rendered ‘good service’ by the personal initiative of President Inonii to halt all chrome exports to Germany.”
Gilbert also records, in his Churchill: A Photographic Portrait, the poignant letter Churchill had handed Inonii on 30 January 1943:
I have not been in Turkey since 1909,** when I met many of the brave men who laid the foundations of modern Turkey. There is a long story of the friendly relations between Great Britain and Turkey. Across it is a terrible slash of the last war, when German intrigues and British and Turkish mistakes led to our being on opposite sides. We fought as brave and honourable opponents. But those days are done, and we and our American Allies are prepared to make vigorous exertions in order that we shall all be together…to move forward into a world arrangement in which peaceful peoples will have a right to be let alone and in which all peoples will have a chance to help one another.
It is evident from the touching story of the Peace Park and the restoration of the Peace Wagon that Churchill’s sentiments in 1943 were not misplaced; and that the Turkish people have an affectionate memory of their distinguished visitor.
*Inonii’s predecessor, Mustafa Kemal, founder of the modern Turkish state after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
***He meant 1910; see preceding article.