Saturday, May 22, 2021


It is fair to say that sadly, even today, the region of Pontus exists on the margins of the Greek national and historical narrative. A remote land nestled between the Pontic mountains and the Black Sea, it abuts Colchis, the mythical land of the Golden Fleece. Its major city, Trapezounta, was not only the capital of a historically significant multicultural empire that was a major political player in the Middle East but also the western terminal point of the fabled Silk Road. For all that, regretfully, in the popular mainstream consciousness of most Modern Greeks, its people are stereotyped as those who dress in a strange bandolier strapped costume and perform warlike dances while speaking in an incomprehensible tongue. 

            For most Australians, Pontus registers not at all, except for the more classical minded who would be familiar with Mithridates, its fabled unpoisonable king who took on the might of Imperialist Rome and lost everything. Yet at a time of great crisis, indeed, during the unspeakable agony of Pontus’ genocide, one Australian did all he could to raise awareness of the plight of the Pontians and advocate for the establishment of an autonomous Pontic republic, even to the extent of being elected, in 1921, an honorary member of the Pontic Greek Committee of Constantinople, the committee writing to him in gratitude for his activism on their behalf: “We have noted your exchanges with His Majesty concerning the action of the Pontic Greeks to gain their liberation,” implying that he had communicated with King of Greece Constantine on the subject. That Australian was journalist and war correspondent William Lloyd and his life proves the veracity of the saying “the truth is stranger than fiction,” at least, if the facets of his life that he describes, could be in any way verified. 

            New Zealand born in 1875 and migrating to Australia at an early age, he claimed to have been present in Constantinople during the Hamidian massacres of 1896-1897, occasioned when the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire sought civil reform and more equitable conditions, and in which tens of thousands of Greeks were according to scholars, also killed, although the reasons for his presence in that city and not clear and cannot be substantiated. 

            William Lloyd makes his first appearance in Australian print media in January 1917, writing in the Melbourne Argus under the soubriquet “Philhellene Lloyd.” In his piece he protests against the treatment of Greek-Australians during wartime. As Greece’s Germanophile King refused the Entente’s entreaties to enter the war on their side and instead declared neutrality, causing a national schism, Greek-Australians were treated as enemy aliens, many were interned and subjected to verbal and physical abuse. William Lloyd took great pains to point out that Australia’s Greeks were “among the most law-abiding and industrious of our citizens.” Soon after, assuming the title of journalist, he embarked for military service, being discharged in Cairo at the end of the war, in February 1919. 

            After a brief sojourn in Jerusalem where he participated in the ceremonies of Orthodox Holy Week, William Lloyd, as Near East correspondent for the Liverpool Courier then travelled from Syria to Turkey, in order to report on the Greek army’s Asia Minor Campaign, which had commenced after the Greek army landed in Smyrna after being granted a mandate to do so by the Entente Powers at the close of the First World War. Lloyd sought and obtained permission from the Greek General Nieder to accompany Greek troops to the inland city of Aydin, known in Greek as Tralles. There, he provided a harrowing account of one of the most confronting atrocities of the Greco-Turkish War; the massacre of the Greek boy scouts of Aydin by Turkish irregulars and the discovery of their mutilated bodies after they refused to convert to Islam. It is considered that Lloyd’s account was sufficiently detailed so as to move Sir Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the Scout movement to demand that the Council of the League of Nations take a stand on the massacre. 

Profoundly moved by all that he had witnessed, William Lloyd lobbied and interviewed politicians attending Paris for the interminable meetings that were taking place in order to map out the post-War order, so as to influence public opinion about the plight of the Greeks in Asia Minor. On behalf of the Anglo-Hellenic League, founded in the aftermath of the 1912–13 Balkan Wars in order to counter anti-Greek propaganda in the United Kingdom, he travelled to Liverpool in January 1920 to give a series of lectures on the prevailing conditions in Asia Minor and specifically the atrocities directed towards its Greek population. 

 So passionate was William Lloyd about the cause of the Greeks of Asia Minor that he attracted the attention of the Greek government, with the Greek ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dimitrios Kaklamanos reporting to the Foreign Ministry about one of Lloyd’s articles about atrocities directed towards Asia Minor Greeks, published in London’s Daily Telegraph. He suggested that Lloyd be encouraged to report regularly to that newspaper, as his dispatches were, in his estimation, highly influential in moulding public opinion. 

In addition to his advocacy on behalf of the beleaguered Greeks of Asia Minor, William Lloyd was also an outspoken supporter of the independence of Pontus, a prospect that was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, proposed by Metropolitan Chrysanthos of Trapezounta but ultimately rejected by Greek Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos as unworkable, on the grounds that the proposed state would be too remote for military assistance from Greece and too weak to defend itself against any Turkish attack. William Lloyd wrote to the Pontic Greek Committee of Constantinople urging them to remain steadfast and not to give up on their goal of seeking independence. 

In 1925, William Lloyd returned to Australia. Already well known through his writing to the Greeks of Australia, he was greeted in Sydney by a welcoming committee comprised of members of the Greek community of that city. Soon after he enhanced his celebrity status by making, as historian Hugh Gilchrist relates, a number of sensational claims: that he had lived in the Near East for twenty seven years, that he had served with the Greek army between 1919 and 1922 in Thrace and Asia Minor and most astonishingly, that he was the sole surviving member of the “Constantinople Committee for the Liberation of Pontus,” all the other members of that organization having been massacred by the Turks. He went on to claim that he had been sentenced to death for smuggling Greek woman and children to safety but had escaped captivity after three weeks on a Greek warship sent specifically to rescue him. To this effect he informed the press: “I am at present still under sentence of death and have to thank the Greek Government that I am still alive today.” 

Styling himself as W.A Lloyd, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, (he was apparently knighted by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem during the war), he wrote to the Brisbane Courier in 1926 to refute claims that King Constantine, who had dies three years before, had been pro-German. In his letter, he claimed that during the duration of the Asia Minor expedition, he had been in close contact with “everyone of importance in the Hellenic world…..I was with Constantine on the Asia Minor front and met him several times in Athens… I discussed the various phases of the war with him often…” 

When not recalling his wartime exploits, William Lloyd remained a passionate and outspoken supporter of Greeks both in Greece and Australia. In the Bulletin in 1926, he wrote against the establishment of a quota on Greek immigration, while in the Truth, defending Greeks against the racist slurs of the time opined: “I know the Greek probably better than most of my countrymen, and I have nothing but admiration for his splendid qualities.” In the same year, he also wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, as former British Correspondent in Turkey, denouncing Turkish moves to deport the Ecumenical Patriarchate from Constantinople and providing an analysis as to why in his belief, the Treaty of Lausanne which saw an end to the Greco-Turkish War was inequitable. 

William Lloyd died in December 1926 and in his obituary in the Greek Herald, Edward Parry referenced his fighting for Greece during the war, his occupation of diplomatic positions both under implacable enemies King Constantine and Eleutherios Venizelos, his dramatic rescuing of women and children and his death sentence and escape. A remarkable life, his is a swashbuckling narrative of high drama and immense bravery and his persistent attempts to seek justice and safety for the Greeks of Asia Minor and to create sympathy for the establishment of the Republic of Pontus were greatly appreciated by the Greeks of Australia and deserve to be remembered with gratitude. 

Notwithstanding the marvelously romantic narrative he constructed around himself and his undisputed pro-Greek activism, as historian Hugh Gilchrist points out, certain aspects of William Lloyd’s thrilling account of his life do not bear close scrutiny. Accordingly, the Greek army appears to have no record of Lloyd’s service. Despite his claims of acting in diplomatic posts on behalf of Greece,  there is only mention of him in Greek diplomatic files once and he makes absolutely no appearance in British consular dispatches. Until further research proves otherwise, we are therefore compelled to treat this Munchausean adventurer, with the reverence, awe but also skepticism that his thoroughly engrossing self-spun life-narrative, deserves. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday, 22 May 2021