The ox and the army

February 20 2011

The Greek retreat after the Second Battle of İnönü (March 26-31 1921) in the Greco-Turkish War. From January to September 1921 Toynbee was a war correspondent for the Manchester Guardian.

From the bank above the road I commanded a marvellous view of kindly Olympus, the plain and town of Ainegöl, and the Nazyf Pasha heights on the horizon, eight hours’ march away. I sat there watching the immense procession and looking out for the mule which was carrying my knapsack – I could identify him because he was also carrying two deal folding tables belonging to the divisional staff.

As I watched, one of two oxen yoked to a cart just below me lay down deliberately in the road, and the whole file of carts, guns, and lorries halted behind him for miles. It was a dramatic act on the part of the ox, for there, far away on the road zigzagging down into the plain from Nazyf Pasha, I could see the dust raised by the Turkish cavalry as they came down at last in pursuit. In some circumstances an ox may decide the fate of an army, but the driver of this ox was more than a match for him. After kicking and prodding the animal with no result whatever, he stooped down, picked up its tail, and, to my amazement, started carefully parting the hairs. Then, assuming a ferocious expression, he dug his teeth into the tail flesh. Perhaps this was an ultima ratio for dealing with oxen which had been handed down in the man’s family for generations. Anyhow it worked. The ox got up with alacrity and walked on, the whole column followed, and I myself was caught up in a motor-car, whirled away to see the progress of the 3rd Division, and finally deposited in a hotel at Brusa at two o’clock next morning, after a twenty-three hours’ day.

Passage written at Bursa (he calls it Brusa) on April 5. It appeared in the Manchester Guardian on May 12.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

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