Saturday, November 14, 2015
Say the word Treloar to a Greek who has never heard of him, and the connotation is immediate - in the accusative, Τρελό means crazy. Similarly, the refugee village named after him in Thrace, also conveys a connotation: ΘΡYΛΟΡΙΟΝ, because this means Place of Legends. And these are the two aspects of Major George Treloar's character that the descendants of victims of what possibly was the first organized genocide of the Twentieth Century, in collaboration with the Russian community and the City of Ballarat wish to honour, by way of a public monument to his legacy: his madness - a divine madness (which is George Treloar's middle name) that caused this restless spirit to push himself into a succession of novel and multi-faceted experiences, culminating especially for the Pontian community and White Russian refugees, in him being lifesaver.
Secondly, and the work lifesaver is key, here, is his legend, which endures to the present day. And it is this legend that makes the memory and example of Major George Devine Treloar, enduring.
At present we have been witnessing hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants flooding into Greece from Turkey, many of them drowning on the way. They are fleeing from one of the most brutal wars ever to have blighted the Middle East, which has completely destroyed their homes, livelihood and the very society that they felt secure in. None of these people have any idea where to go. They have no homes and no money. In actual fact, that have no certainty of a future. They are also following in the footsteps of previous refugees, and George Treloar would have been familiar with their by ways.
Here lies the significance of George Devine Treloar and why for Greek-Australians, he is a legend. He was a restorer of hope. As a representative of the League of Nations High Commissariat for Refugees in northern Greece, he organized for Pontian refugees basic facilities and provided for needs that restored to people in exactly the same position as the current Syrian refugees, their dignity and humanity. He provided security where before there was chaos, warmth where there was hatred and confidence where before there was despair. Thanks to the plucky Treloar, who did not hesitate to take on his Greek and International superiors, who wanted to play politics rather than attend to the humanitarian crisis, or profit from their charges misery, the refugees in his care were given what they desperately needed most, the understanding and charity necessary to rebuild their shattered lives. In this way, he facilitated in the re-settlement of one hundred thousand refugees. At the same time, the residents of Ballarat were also raising funds for the relief of these refugees, something that their descendants, especially those in Australia have never forgotten because the generosity of Treloar and his people has become a legend, a θρύλος, since the recipients of that generosity have made sure that it was passed down to us. They revere him, absolutely, as a selfless humanitarian who reached out to our people in their pain and provided them with succor, fittingly in accordance with the Gospel of Matthew: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you ... to eat; I did thirst, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye received me."
Major George Treloar is a legend for another reason, and this is because of the immensely positive experiences that the Greek people had with noble, selfless and thoroughly decent Australians like him that made them, when faced with a choice, decide to migrate to Australia. In that way, Treloar, others like him and the residents of Ballarat form an important part of the backstory behind the Greek-Australian experience, showing a bond that pre-existed post-war migration, one that endures to the present day.
Treloar is even more so legendary because his divinely crazy life reads like a film script. Some of the key scenes that made the director's cut are worth mentioning:Born in 1884 at Ballarat, he educated at St Patrick's College, where recently he was commemorated by the Pontian Genocide Co-ordinating Committee with the installation of a plaque. The peripatetic Treloar was a bank clerk at Ballarat for five years, then a jackeroo in western Victoria before he farmed in Western Australia. While travelling by ship to Adelaide, he was recruited by actor-manager Julius Knight and toured Australia with his troupe, playing in romantic dramas. Treloar also travelled to South Africa and England where he was acting when war broke out in 1914.
Having previously served at Ballarat as a lieutenant in the 3rd Victorian Rifles, Treloar immediately volunteered. He served in France, was commissioned and ultimately promoted to major. Buried twice by shellbursts on the Somme and almost bullet-riddled at Ypres, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. In 1918 he commanded the Brigade of Guards Officers' School of Instruction and, following the Armistice, served with his battalion in the Rhineland Occupation Force.
After commanding the post-war Royal Military, Naval and Air Force Tournament at Olympia, London, in 1919, Treloar joined the British Mission to the White Russian armies as assistant military secretary to Major-General Holman. At Constantinople after the withdrawal of the mission, Treloar served with the Tsarist army as a colonel under the White leader Baron Wrangel. When the White Russians were defeated Treloar commanded a British camp for Russian refugees at Tusla on the Sea of Marmara. During his time, with Wrangel, he would have had ample time to collaborate with the native Greek forces along the Black sea who fought with him, and also, to see the beginning of their expulsion and destruction, in an eerie precursor to the Asia Minor debacle. He worked for two years voluntarily and continuously, endeavouring to improve the hardship and sufferings of these Russian refugees and amassing a valuable photo archive of the time he spent with them.
On behalf of the League of Nations, between 1922-26 Treloar was engaged in the resettlement of Greek refugees from Asia Minor; at first at Komotini and later in Thessaloniki. By 1923 his mission was handling over 108,000 refugees. His efforts to organize food, shelter, medical care and resettlement precipitated disputes with indifferent league officials in Geneva and with a senior Greek official. However, for his efforts, Treloar was appointed to the Order of the Saviour and the refugee village Thrilorion near Komotini was named after him.
In Constantinople in 1923 Treloar married Kathleen May Douch whose father was an engineering consultant to the Turkish government. Further strengthening the Greek connection, Kathleen was born in Thessaloniki, as were their children, including David Treloar, who is the patron of the current effort to erect a monument in his memory.
When the league's resettlement operation ended, Treloar returned to Australia where he sold insurance and sought business opportunities in Queensland before unsuccessfully contesting the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Ashfield for the United Australia Party in 1930. In 1935 he moved to Western Australia. As 'The Archer', he became known for his trenchant radio commentaries on foreign affairs and for his programme, 'Perth Speaks'. A man of commanding presence, forthright speech and strongly-held conservative views, 'the Major' stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Council seat of West Province in 1950 and worked for the Liberal and Country League until 1956. Treloar died on 29 November 1980 at Dalkeith and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery, Perth.
The poet, Yiannis Ritsos wrote of trying to find a word commensurate with the stature of freedom. Similarly, no one can find no words or in fact any monument commensurate with the stature of Major George Devine Treloar's humanity, bravery and decency. What we can do, however, is to collaborate not only in making our thanks manifest, in the form of a public monument that will serve to remind all of the life-changing brilliance of this boy from Ballarat, but further, to ensure that such attributes best exemplified by the legend that is Treloar, are celebrated and hopefully serve as an inspiration for those in the future who would follow in his footsteps, that began a century ago, on a no longer so distant land.
The Jews have a saying: "He who saves one man, saves the world entire." The Greek descendants of the refugees saved by Treloar are now estimated at two million. In honouring him with a monument in his home town, the Greek community and the City of Ballarat are forever establishing Ballarat as a place of pilgrimage and as a key location in commemorating the aftermath of the Asia Minor catastrophe.
The Treloar Monument Fundraising campaign was officially launched at the Central Pontian Association "Pontiaki Estia" last Friday, in conjunction with the City of Ballarat.
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 14 November 2015