Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29 2014. Will the Turks enter the fight against ISIS? It seems likely. If they do, ISIS’s days as a ‘state’ seem likely to be numbered sooner rather than later. The Turks are formidable soldiers.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives (at Gallipoli battles).. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now living in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

"If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha."

Field Marshal Sam Makenshaw

Ataturk is widely and justifiably regarded as the founder of modern Turkey. His story is fascinating—well worth while reading about.


Many years ago, I spent some time with a Turkish army unit in Cyprus—in Famagusta, as I recall, and was impressed. At the time they were surrounded and outnumbered by the Greeks—and feeling more than a little exposed (which they certainly were). They were very calm about their situation and were resolved to give the Greeks a hard time when they attacked (‘if’ was not considered a possibility)—even though they knew they were so outnumbered they would be overrun.

It’s strange to talk to people whom you are pretty sure are likely to be killed shortly. False reassurances didn’t seem to be in order. It was clear the Turkish soldiers knew precisely what they were up against. There was no macho talk at all. They were calmly realistic.

In the end, after considerable Greek provocation, the mainland Turks invaded in a classic airborne assault—and seized the north of the island to protect the Turkish Cypriots. They were roundly condemned by one and all, but they had my sympathy. I had seen how the Turkish Cypriots were being treated. To this day, I don’t think Turkish Cyprus has been recognized internationally—which I think is decidedly unfair to the Turks. But, invasions are frowned upon.

I never did find out how the Turkish unit I had talked to had fared. I had left by that time. I did get a rather strange feeling when  I saw video of the hotel I had been staying in in Famagusta pock-marked with canon fire.

My grandfather—John Lentaigne, the one who had died from cholera in Burma—had fought the Turks in WW I in the Middle East—but had made it through the war itself unscathed. He was a Gurkha officer (something of a family tradition). An interesting detail about commanding Gurkhas is that they have to accept you. If an officer doesn’t earn their respect, then you are removed. In effect, the men you command can vote you out. When they do decide you have the right stuff, there is a ceremony—and something of a feast. I seem to recall that an ox is slain with a kukri—ideally with one blow. Anyway, blood comes into it somewhere. These men are warriors.

Officers and men tend to bond closely in the Gurkhas. After he was demobbed, my grandfather took his batman with him. In fact I can well recall my grandmother describing her consternation and amusement at finding the Gurkha batman chasing the Chinese cook around the garden, kukri in hand (see photo below).

One of my favorite authors, John Masters, was a distinguished Gurka officer. He served under my great-uncle, Major General Joe Lentaigne (see photo) who commanded the Chindits after Wingate was killed. Wingate’s son, also called Orde, was a classmate of mine at Ampleforth. His godfather, believe it or not, was the Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie.

Why so? Well, Wingate’s father had led the force that had evicted the Italians and had restored the emperor to his thrown. Wingate then went on to found the Chindits. Before Abyssinia, Wingate—though a serving British officer—helped found what became the Israeli Defense Forces. All in all, he accomplished an extraordinary amount in the last decade of his life.  

Given all this (and this is the short version—we seem to have been an infantry oriented family), I’m somewhat amazed that I didn’t end up in the military. It remains a world that interests me greatly—but I have never had a second’s regret about becoming a writer.

A last word on the the Turks--they displayed great courage during the Korean War and were the only allied troops never to succumb to brainwashing.

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