Grace Williamson’s Smyrna Diaries: entries relating to Ebeth Scobbie

At the beginning of September 1916, Alithea Williamson (pictured) and Nurse-Matron Mary Parkinson from the Beaconsfield New Hospital struggled hard to keep my great-aunt Ebeth alive, and Grace wrote:

We are not sure yet what the end will be.

Grace Williamson wrote vivid contemporary letters/diary entries, and the Williamson family via the Levantine Heritage Foundation have made these and many other resources available online. It is therefore possible to get a flavour of life in Smyrna in 1916 generally, to read in more detail Grace’s experience of running a Maternity Hospital, and to read first hand accounts of Ebeth Newton (neé Scobbie) and her situation. It is hard to imagine a better way to gain insight into Ebeth’s role as the wife and then widow of a mission doctor and hospital superintendent (at the Beaconsfield), and as a single mother.

The diarist Grace Williamson (1865-1945) was the daughter of William Williamson, an expat Yorkshire merchant and Elizabeth née Barker, whose family had lived in Turkey for a few generations already. Elizabeth’s grand-father, William Barker of Smyrna had been admitted as a member of the Levant Company in 1759. Grace’s sister(?) Alithea Williamson (pictured) features extensively in Grace’s 1914-1920 diary. Alithea nursed Ebeth, that’s why I’ve included the lovely picture above from 1906, from one of the online photo collections at LHF. Also, it’s here because it is so beautiful.

Grace was I think a nurse and midwife, who arrived to work in the Nursing Home in August 1914, but almost immediately…

on Wednesday afternoon we heard that the Port was closed!
What could it mean?
No one seemed to know but all feared it meant war….!!
If war – what should we do?
What about our Nursing Home?
Of course everyone thinks of No. 1.

Here are Grace’s entries (edited lightly) from 18 months later, in the days just before the 30th May, then the events of the 30th itself, then others relating to Ebeth, highlighting in bold the parts most relevant for Ebeth’s story. There is significant news of Ebeth below, for example, in May and then September 1916, following the birth of her daughter Elizabeth, and in a few additional entries, including, I think, her departure from Smyrna in 1918. The complete original is well worth reading for the historical context and is nicely written, but for a quick flavour, I have extracted a large number of sample entries elsewhere, and the earlier ones here help explain some of what comes below.

23 May 1916.

“The Germans are very energetic in their efforts to stamp out the Cholera. They are making fresh Serum at the old B.S.H. [British Seamen’s Hospital], and insisting on everyone being inoculated. I went there this morning and it is galling to see how they have taken possession of everything and how energetic they are and what heaps of things they have brought from Berlin. There is no end of work being done. They have lovely microscopes and instruments, have put up a telephone etc. I wonder if they ever will be driven out. It does not look like it at present. And they are very cock sure of themselves. We hate them all the more they show us their worth, for they certainly have their points, and I suppose soon Smyrna will be clean and smart etc. They have ordered more bread to be given to the people, as a first preventive of Cholera.”

24 May 1916.

“At 3.30 this morning, an aeroplane threw bombs at Basmahane station and the Turkish quarter of the town. I watched from my window the flashes in the dawn of the day. I can’t help thinking that modern warfare is horribly cruel and unjust. People killed in their beds. Both women and children. One whole family all together. It might be our turn next. We are close to the railway station if their aim is to destroy railways we stand a poor chance of escaping with our lives. Two bombs were also thrown on the gas works, but did no particular damage. This does not look as if the “Peace Conference” was successful.”

25 May 1916.

“The Turks are [so] furious with the Allies for throwing bombs and killing their people that today they took all the English and French men to the Konak. You can imagine what we felt all day. They began taking them from yesterday afternoon and went on all night. They went to the Bretts [? William Henry Brett, Anglican Chaplain of Smyrna 1909-1919] at 2.30 am. At noon today they let them go on condition they all return at six this evening and sleep in the Turkish quarter of the Town. Also they have told them that whatever property belonging to the Turks has been damaged they will take the equal from the belligerents, also that for every Turk killed they will hang a belligerent of the same sex and station in life. So now here we are. What good have the Aeroplanes done? Damaged a few broken down houses and killed a few innocent people for which we will have to pay with our lives. This is war and we must put up with it, but oh. It does seem awfully unfair, and of course the people think the English are brutes and the little respect they had for us has now gone under. They are not much more pleased with the Germans, and if this had not happened they might have been won round to our side.”

26 May 1916.

“All the English and French and Italian and Montenegrins, and Russians, about 5000 in all they say, have been obliged to go and sleep in the Turkish quarter of the Town. They are kept there all night and allowed to return to their homes by day. It is a sort of concentration camp. Some of them have rather good quarters. That is to say, bare rooms but airy and clean, others mere huts. They have to take their own bedding and every thing they need. It is a horrid bore for all our men who are used to their nice homes to have to turn out and go to such places every evening at six. We watch them come from Boudjah and are very sorry for them.”

27 May 1916.

“I went down to the quay this evening after six and was so disgusted. Nothing but Austrians and Germans and Turks to be seen. Not a man of any other nation. Can you imagine the feelings I had. I felt ill and tired too. Which made me have the blues.”

28 May 1916.

“I was in bed all day quite ill and awfully afraid I had the Cholera.”

29 May 1916.

“Still in bed ill and did not sleep all night, was very depressed that a bore it would be to everyone if I died just now when things are so difficult for everyone. At about three in the morning when it was hardly light those fearful Aeroplanes came and threw bomb upon bomb. The women and children on their terraces all screaming and screaming. Poor old Mrs. Cros. She had hysterics, she has a son-in-law and a son in the Turkish quarter, and Mrs. Charlie Walker on our other side had hysterics on her terrace. Her husband is there too. Such an inferno. You can’t imagine. I was feeling awfully ill but I crept downstairs and lay on the floor of the sitting room waiting for the end of all things. … many Greeks were killed, men, women and children and about ten houses in complete ruin.

30 May 1916.

“The authorities keep all the belligerents day and night now as prisoners of war. All the families are desperate. … ”

Another dreadful bit of news is that poor Dr. Newton died this morning.* He had Typhus. But we had news he was a little better yesterday, and today he is gone. Poor, poor, Mrs. Newton. How awfully miserable she must be. And she expects a baby in the Autumn. They had such a happy nice little home, and he did such splendid work amongst his patients. In fact he over did the work and could not resist the illness. He makes the 18th Dr. dead since the war.

*All other sources state 31st May.

17 Jun 1916.

“Caleb came yesterday and brought us some American newspapers, with such depressing news of the War it makes us feel awfully miserable but all they say is true. The English will soon be humbled to the very dust. We hear that General Townsend is in Constantinople a prisoner of war. This is true for a person came from there and told us. I wonder what the Russians are doing. The Turks are making great preparations from here and all round, no end of trains full of troops go by every day. They have mended the bridge near Ephesus. We hear that a lot more Aeroplanes are coming to throw bombs tomorrow morning. Last Sunday they destroyed a heap of more houses and killed men, women and children, and the prisoners got so frightened as the bombs fell close to them, all round about. We managed to get two sacks of flour, 80 okes each, and paid fourteen pounds for them. All our money goes on bread, coals and food of the plainest of plain quality. Soap is an enormous price, 6 octa the piece. You can imagine how dirty the poor people are getting. Nellie Lawrence has a good crop of apricots this year and her boys are enjoying them. They are so happy and strong. Life is one joy for them as they are so full of life and good spirits. Our old Mother is very well, and has got used to going without sugar, and sweets and puddings. It is hard for the old to be deprived of the things they love. I shall not write again for a long time. We are miserable, and feel that the English are being beaten all round so it is no use hoping for anything.”

4 Sep 1916.

We have Mrs. Newton here. She had her baby girl six weeks ago, but unfortunately she had contracted Typhoid fever a few days before she came to us, and she has had a very bad time. In fact she is not out of danger yet. We put her in the Garden house soon after the baby was born, and there Alithea and Miss Parkinson her nurse have struggled hard to keep her alive. We are not sure yet what the end will be. But we are more hopeful today than we were yesterday. Her baby [Elizabeth] has a paranama [sic – cf. paramana, ?wet-nurse / doula?] and is doing very well. It is a healthy fine child, and so sweet we love it very much. Mrs. Tibaldi has kept her home in the B.S.H., but poor thing she is very dull, and surrounded by Germans whom she hates. She comes here everyday and sometimes twice a day. We all love and pity her, and Mother enjoys having her. She says she would have gone mad if it had not been for us. Our Clinique [sic, cf. clinic] is the rendez-vous of a large circle of friends, and we are kept alive with our work etc. You will be surprised to hear that poor Mrs. Newton has almost entirely been attended by the German and Austrian doctors, and they have been splendid. We have no English doctors here and the few Smyrna doctors remaining are no good. The doctor from the B.S.H. [British Seaman’s Hospital] have been simply splendid. So clever and gentle, and devoted to her. He comes twice a day regularly and any extra time we wish to send for him he at once comes.

10 Nov 1916.

“… Mrs. Newton returned home quite well and her baby splendid. She nurses it herself as her milk has come back to her. The past few months have gone and we are still waiting and waiting. We get no news whatever and it is hard to keep up our spirits when we are surrounded by cocksure Germans. They have taken absolute possession of everything. The B.S.H. is quite theirs. Although Mrs. Tibaldi is still in her house, but we do not think she will be left there for long as German Sisters are soon coming out to run the place. The poor Armenians are having an awful time these days, driven out of Smyrna to the interior, women and children and all rich and poor alike. The Hadkinsons had a hot time a month ago, the whole lot of them were clapped into prison, taken out of their beds in the middle of the night. … This has made everyone most careful about what they say and do. I hide this old diary and am awfully afraid it should be found. We also have had police searching our house, but they let us off easy. We are still stewing in our own juice.”

24 Mar 1917.

“… Alithea has been in Bournabat for the last ten days nursing Alsa Giraud. She has had Typhus fever and died last Wednesday. Such a sad case, she is quite a young woman and leaves two little children, the youngest a baby of two and a half years. Her husband is serving in France, and they have had no news of him for a long time. All Bournabat is in panic over this fever. And I must say we all feel nervous. For hundreds are dying all round us. There is hardly a house spared now. Yesterday we heard that poor Miss Parkinson is down with it. She is Mrs. Newton’s nurse. She has been taken to the old B.S. Hospital, and is being nursed by the Germans. It is so sad for the poor thing can’t speak a word of anything but English, and there the Sisters don’t speak a word of anything but German. Alithea took her there and she felt very sorry to leave her amongst all those strangers. What will happen to poor old Smyrna. There are no more horses left alive and only wretched people. How long, oh Lord, how long?

20 Nov 1918.

“The last few weeks have been very stirring. Military coming and going. And the remaining civilians who wish to leave getting ready. Such packing and selling of furniture etc. On Monday at 10 in the morning two tugs full left from the railway pier. We went and saw them off. In one tug were all the officers, about 300. And the civilians, Partridges, Newtons, Bretts, Morrisons, Ed Whittalls [probably Edward Sidney Whittalll, (1888-1960) son of Edward Whittall of Bournabat, the botanist, and Mary Maltass, who married in 1913 Dorothy Jane Peacock] etc. They sang Auld Lang Syne, and cheered in a good old English style. Now we are only a very small remnant left with only one clergyman, Mr. Ashe, things are very quiet, but the prices are higher than ever. And as yet the English have not made anything of a move here. They are too busy with Constantinople. The port is not yet open. There are too many mines knocking about. The civilian Germans are being sent away and of course there are many who do not wish or are too old to go and they are unhappy and that makes Mother unhappy and our old friends the Webers are also very unhappy. In fact we are all dull and the weather is very wet and depressing.”

Thanks to LHF for permission to use the photo. To give a flavour of the excellent Grace Williamson diaries, and to put the entries relating to Ebeth in context, I have taken a great many more excerpts, at roughly monthly intervals (with these ones above set in the appropriate chronological order) and set them out elsewhere, as noted above.




4 thoughts on “Grace Williamson’s Smyrna Diaries: entries relating to Ebeth Scobbie

Add yours

    1. Fantastic! It is so nice to have a wave across time and space from you. What would they think if they could see me on my phone in the garden, replying to you now. What woukd we be amazed by, in the early 2100s, a century hence?


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