Welcome to Episode Twenty of our nightly audio adventure, Greenmantle. I mentioned in my introduction to John Buchan's thriller that, less than a year after its publication, George V's cousin the Tsar of All the Russias was overthrown, and this was one of the books he and his family read in captivity - before the new Communist regime decided to slaughter them all. One can understand why the final chapters of Greenmantle might provide a small crumb of comfort to the Romanovs. In tonight's episode the wily Afrikaans hunter Peter Pienaar is anxious to get through to Britain's Slav allies:
'Who are you? Who sent you?' asked the puzzled voice.
Peter had a happy thought. 'The Companions of the Rosy Hours,' he said.
'Then are we friends indeed,' said the voice. 'Come out of the darkness, friend, and I will do you no harm. I am a good Turk, and I fought beside the English in Kordofan and learned their tongue. I live only to see the ruin of Enver, who has beggared my family and slain my twin brother. Therefore I serve the Muscov ghiaours.'
'I don't know what the Musky Jaws are, but if you mean the Russians I'm with you.'
A "ghiaour" is a non-Muslim, an infidel. Kordofan is a province of central Sudan, which the British took back from the Mahdi's men in 1898. Not sure why a Turk would have signed on for that one, but Peter Pienaar has a knack for getting lucky like that.
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Erzerum in February 1916 was a strategically vital fortress city of the Ottoman Empire, linking metropolitan Turkey with Mesopotamia and Araby beyond. You can understand why the Russians would wish to take it, but, ringed by daunting mountains, it's not the easiest target - even with the help of Peter Pienaar. We'll see how that plays out. However, the countdown to the Battle of Erzerum rang a bell with a first-month Founding Member of the Steyn Club, Michael Zerbee:
I have not heard anyone mention Erzerum since 1991. My first duty station when I joined the Army in 1989 was in Turkey. I was assigned to the 528th Artillery Group which had five separate detachments. Four detachments were relatively close together with one on each side of the Bosphorus, one on the Dardanelles, and one near the Bulgarian border where I was stationed. The final detachment was way out east in Erzerum and was affectionately nicknamed "The Rock." I remember being told by soldiers who had been out there that it was far more Islamic than where we were. Now all of Turkey is more Islamic than it was and Ataturk's grand vision is over.
Very true, Michael. 1991 is not long ago, but it is not just Turkey that is "more Islamic than it was".
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