On the Ground: Siege of Aleppo like Bombardment of Marash

Trench Warfare in Turkey circa 1920 with Red Cross symbol

What is it like to be on the ground during the bombardment of your city? We can only begin to imagine the fear in Aleppo today. A similar situation took place in Marash (now Kahramanmaraş) almost a hundred years ago. One of the nurses providing humanitarian aid recorded her thoughts in a diary. From it we can get a hint of the ensuing tragedy.

By the winter of 1919-20 fighting between the Greeks, French and British against the newly formed Turkish Nationalist army had been waging for almost seven months. Most of the battles at that time took place in the Cilicia region (around the southeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea), from Adana to Marash. Miss Frances S. Buckley, an American Red Cross nurse, had signed up after her stint in WWI as part of the relief effort in Turkey. She was posted to a boys’ orphanage in Marash, where 3,500 Armenians sought shelter.

The following excerpt from her diary was printed in The Acorne, the weekly newsletter of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (later Near East Relief), and reprinted in the monthly journal of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission’s Missionary Herald in June 1920. This is but one example of why I titled my book Grit and Grace in a World Gone Mad.

Diary of Miss Frances S. Buckley, RN

January 21: The shooting commenced about two o’clock, and the people from the neighboring houses came to Beitschallum. Almost immediately a man was wounded as he came through the street. A man was killed in the sick room window this afternoon. Every corner of the house is filled with refugees. I moved to the kitchen, as my apartment is very unsafe, and will get as much rest as I can on my cot under the stairway. Vartavae, the baby, has appropriated the clothes basket.

January 22: A woman who was running to us this morning with her baby was shot just as she turned the corner of the house. The baby was wrapped and rolled just beyond the dead mother’s feet. We hear her crying, and no one can go to her. It is dreadful. Our sick room is filling with wounded.

January 28: I did dressings during the morning. My apartment has many bullet holes. The minare1 does the most harm.

January 24: We were doing dressings when the battle commenced on the cemetery. The officer in command was brought in dying. The fighting was so near we could not finish dressings until afternoon.

map of MarashJanuary 25: This day has been what Sherman says war is2. The early morning was quiet, so two old women started for a walk. One was shot dead and the other brought to us seriously wounded. She cannot live through the night. The adjutant told me what to do with the people if we were burned out. Nothing is as bad as the horror of being burned out. It means 3,500 people turned into the streets as targets for the Turks.

January 26: We have twenty-three patients. All but three are doing well. There is no surgeon, so Miss Tim will amputate an arm in the morning. We are anxious tonight, as there are fires so near.

January 27: A little girl and boy, who were coming to us for protection and killed at our gate, were buried tonight. A little boy died who was shot on the sick-room stairs this morning. The civilians who are tearing down the houses near us, to protect us from fire, are bringing in food. They have brought enough to supply the people for a couple of weeks.

February 1: The eighth baby was born today.

February 2: There was a signal from the First Church for help, but no one can reach them. Worked hard over dressings all morning.

February 2: At three o’clock, two bombs hit the house. At the same time there was great firing, and fires started in the houses. I prepared to leave if the place burned. We held a conference in the pantry. I like to know what is going on. It makes me less nervous.

February 5: Bombs from Turks again today at three. Two struck the house and one came through the attic roof. The second floor is not safe, so about fifty people came to the kitchen.

February 8: Machine guns mowed the people down as they tried to leave the city. A tunnel has been made under the street. There are holes in the house across the street where they try to set us afire with a long pole and kerosene cloths.

February 10: The French officers called me and said they were ordered to leave the city. Miss Tim thought we should go with the French, but I thought best not, as it would mean certain death to hundreds of underfed and poorly clothed people. We must keep on trusting in our good Lord.


Marash fell to the Nationalist army. Though many were killed, Frances Buckley survived. She was awarded a bronze medal of honor for heroism in 1922, and died in Harrison, New York in 1947 [Cape Vincent Eagle, December 4, 1947]. I could find no record of what happened to the 300 orphan boys in her care.

  1. My sincere thanks to Irfan Karatutlu on October 19, 2018 for the definition of minare: the tower of a mosque.
  2. William Tecumseh Sherman was a US Civil War general who stated “War is cruelty.”
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