Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest – the WW1 Memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 3)

Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest – the WW1 Memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 3)

“But …my peaceful and agreeable little life in Odessa … alas, must soon end.” 

This is Part 3 of Great Uncle Frank’s WW1 memoir. It is 1917 and the Russian Revolution is about to break out. Once again Frank and his father find themselves at the centre of a great conflagration as Russia descends into revolution and anarchy.


In 1914 Frank Calleja and his father left their home in Constantinople to stay with his uncle in Bucharest in Romania fully expecting the war to all be over within a matter of months. Two years later and with the Germans advancing on the Romanian capital, they found themselves once again fleeing from conflict as they made their way to Russia (see Part 1). After several months of settled life in the beautiful city of Odessa things suddenly started to change (Part 2). In this third and final part Frank begins with an account of the assassination of the monk Rasputin as one of the precursors of the Russian revolution. He then sketches out some of the key political events that followed before describing how life changed for the ordinary citizens and refugees like himself in the ensuing chaos.

Frank does not provide much in the way of dates in this part of his memoir, so I have included additional notes and references in […] and italics around key events. It broadly covers the beginning of 1917 to the spring of 1918 but the memoir concludes quite abruptly and before the end of the war.

Part 3: Revolution by Frank X Calleja

Rasputin 1872-1916. Public Domain

First there was the assassination of the monk Rasputin by the Prince Yussopoff [sic. Yusopov]; this illiterate monk, so they say, had such a malevolent influence that he had completely subjugated the whole royal family and a large number of noblewomen. It is alleged that the German agents in Russia would take advantage of this monk and his influence for their own ends. Be that as it may, the young court nobles and the officers, whose wives were completely under the influence of this adventurer, decided to put an end to this state of affairs.

Prince Felix Yusopov, 1914. Public Domain

The lot fell on the young prince Yussopoff, who not knowing Rasputin personally very well, thought first to make a friend of him in order to gain his confidence and draw him more easily into the trap that he was preparing for later. He therefore paid him a few visits, which Rasputin returned to Yussopoff’s palace on the banks of the Neva. Reserved at the beginning and even suspicious he [Rasputin] was eventually conquered by the amiability and charm of the young prince Yussopoff.

On the day decided by the prince and his acolytes for carrying out their project [30 December 1916], Rasputin was invited to spend the evening at Yussopoff’s palace. The prince received him alone, his friends remaining hidden upstairs awaiting Yussopoff’s signal telling them that it was all over; all the while entertaining Rasputin pouring him little glasses of wine and offering him cakes laced with cyanide. The alcohol had started to work on the monk, but not the poison, which seemed to have no effect on him. Rasputin got up suddenly and in a faltering walk went to admire the numerous objets d’art that littered the young prince’s apartment. That was when Yussopoff losing patience, got out his revolver and fired it at Rasputin several times. The monk collapsed without even making a sound.

Basement of the Yusopov Palace, St Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia CC

His body was thrown into the Neva [sic. River Nevka] amongst the enormous lumps of ice that were starting to form. It was retrieved some days later and incinerated on the riverbank, to the great joy of all. The distress of the royal family, above all of the Tsarina,was indescribable, who saw in this assassination the “Mane, Thecel, Pharès” and the collapse of all her hopes.

[The reference above comes from the King James Bible, Daniel 5:25-28 – And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians”].

A detail on the ineffectiveness of the cyanide, was that the wine served to Rasputin was sweet and the sugar, so to speak, was an antidote: as explained in the Petrograd press which I can’t confirm not being a chemist myself.

Lenin – October 1917

Immediately after the assassination of Rasputin, the events pushed on: first there was the abdication of the Tsar [2 March 1917]; the establishment of the [Russian] Provisional Government of Kerensky, [Alexander Kerensky, leader of the Menshevik or Minimalist Party]; its fall and the takeover by the Maximalists or Bolsheviks whose leader was Lenin aided by Trotsky; Lunaciarsky, Tchitchernine and others. [The Bolsheviks seized power following the October Revolution in 1917].

The general armistice that followed the takeover by the Bolshevists [Reds] freed all the criminals who dispersed themselves in the towns terrorising the populations.

Revolutionaries in Odessa 1916

The immensity of the Russian territory rendered the task of central government, which had established itself in Petrograd, very difficult. The whole Tsarist administration suddenly collapsed, causing disorder, chaos, armed robberies everywhere. The freed prisoners were joined by this rabble who, in all countries, appear at times of revolution coming from who knows where.

The local councils of the principal towns and villages governed by the Soviets, were powerless to maintain order, being at the mercy of all these louts. No more authority: no more police: assassinations, thefts and acts of banditry multiplied. In the streets in broad daylight, passers by were assailed and stripped of their possessions, even of their clothes.

One day I saw, towards midday in the middle of the Rue de Ribas, a woman whose beautiful fur coat had been forcibly removed by a bandit. He also wanted her shoes, so she told him to get down and take the trouble to unlace them himself. He knelt down and started to undo the laces, while she leaned back against a shop window, pulled a revolver from her corsage and shot her assailant. She quietly took back her fur coat and went. These various events became more and more frequent each day.

[Ed. See also Alexander Albov chapters 11, scenario 3, p.62 which recounts similar scenarios including visiting a friend only to find him stripped down to his underwear by bandits. Workers demonstrations and strikes reduced output and freight trains were being redeployed for troop movements across Russia which stopped food and clothing supplies reaching Odessa leading to major shortages]!

This horror soon added itself to the political horror. The prisons emptied by the armistice were filled afresh by a crowd of innocents whose only crime was to belong to the nobility, the clergy and to the upper middle class. The branches of the detested Tchèka [Cheka – the Bolshevik secret police established early 1918] were established all over the place. A huge building in the Rue de Richelieu had been taken by their terrorist organisation; the cellars of this building which were vast, served as a temporary prison where all the people arrested during the day were thrown Pell Mell; they didn’t stay there for long, and that’s why I intentionally used the word “temporary”. When night fell the motors of old lorries in the courtyard were started up and left to run; their backfiring camouflaging the noise of gunshots in the cellars. This, according to certain reliable testimonies, happened each evening. One of the superintendents on duty, after a good meal, tipsy on wine and a good dose of cocaine, went down into the cellar and brought out one by one the unfortunates who were locked up there. He shot a good number of them with a revolver and then, revolted by his horrible sport, he cried out “dovol’no” Enough! and went back upstairs to sleep off his wine, to start again the next day.

And so, the systematic rule of terror by which the new regime tried and succeeded in prevailing, established itself all over Russia.

Revolutionary soldiers in Odessa 1916.

The peace restored at Brest-Litowsk returned liberty to millions of soldiers who came to augment the numbers of unemployed and revolutionaries. Sailors, soldiers, criminals, working class Communards and even, revolutionary women, all wearing the red cockade, and armed to the teeth, made the law anew! Above all in the south, where I found myself, the central government of Petrograd [St Petersburg] couldn’t assert control, lacked security and had no authority for the protection of the individual who were at the mercy of the first who comes along, because of its remote location.

[WikipediaTrotsky wanted to concentrate Russian resources on the revolution, not on fighting with Germany so the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, 1918, between the new Bolshevik government of Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire). It ended Russia’s participation in World War I  but at an enormous cost. Russia lost half its European territory, huge tracts of agricultural land, 80% of its coal mines and 50% of its industries which were carved up by the Central powers. It was seen as a massive betrayal by many and contributed to the outbreak of civil war between the Whites and the Reds].

The nocturnal attacks on private houses by the revolutionary gangs, and the total absence of protection, obliged the population itself to form a type of civil guard. In Odessa in the residential quarters of the town, there were no private houses or villas but large apartment blocks were everywhere which could contain some 50 families. Each building could therefore furnish 30 men, young and strong, who, in case of attack could defend the women and children. A commissionaire elected in each building, assigned a role and responsibilities to each person and the rota for being on guard during the night. It had been decided at the beginning that if a house was attacked, the “civil guard” of the neighbouring building must go to the aid of the house in question. This was simple in theory, but in practice all these decisions meant nothing. We didn’t have weapons and we couldn’t see how we would be able to defend ourselves against drunken, armed gangs.

Jewish self defence unit, Odessa 1918. Source: Fanconi’s.

In these extremely distressing circumstances that I was going through with my Russian friends, the fact that I was a foreigner didn’t really count and I accepted at the beginning that I would join the civic guard.

Having decided however that the civic guard of each building must go to the help of besieged neighbours made me think. It was normal for me to be in solidarity with the families I lived with, but I didn’t see the necessity of risking my life in adventures which would certainly end badly. The British Consulate being still at Odessa I went to ask advice on the code of conduct. The Consul shared my opinion and entreated me not to take unnecessary risks. The other inhabitants of my building gave me leave to raise the question, being themselves of the opinion that we should just look after our own.

At night, the task of mounting the guard fell to roughly 20 of us young men. We kept watch in twos or threes, never alone and each had a role. That winter was excessively hard, with a Siberian cold of 25 degrees below freezing, especially when I had to take my turn from midnight until 3 am or from 3 am until 6. It was just tolerable when I took my place under the great entry porch from 9 in the evening. Apart from the lack of sleep, the intense cold, anxiety also prevailed amongst us as to what might happen to us if we were attacked. Ears pricked, the slightest sound alarmed us. The rue Tiraspolskaya where our apartments were, was occupied by the firebrand Bolsheviks on one side and on the other by the Ukrainian troops who were rebelling: our building was virtually on the frontier and day and night there was the sound of gunfire and grenades exploding. One night, when I was on guard, towards 2 in the morning, the sound of crossfire detonated suddenly on an enormous barricaded doorway. My two comrades, opening the peephole to see what was happening [outside] found themselves confronted by two or three Bolsheviks, all completely drunk, one of them a woman, their guns slung across [their bodies], grenades in their hands. In a menacing tone they told us that we had fired on them from the top of our building. My comrades did their best to calm them down and persuade them to come back in the morning. The fact that they were drunk and not in possession of all their faculties could have posed a real danger. However by sheer good luck the opposite happened. They went off with a torrent of abuse promising to come back the next day. In the event the next morning, as the porter Vassili unbarricaded the door we saw 4 or 5 revolutionary sailors enter, revolvers in hand. They lined up all us men in the main courtyard, arms above our heads and kept threatening us with their guns. Two sailors accompanied the Commissaire of the building and led him to the top floor, where there was a penthouse which faced the street. Being sober they could examine the windows, all covered in dust and cobwebs and which confirmed that one couldn’t have fired on them from there. For us below, it was the “Rabelaisian quarter hour” [Ed. a well-known french expression referring to the hour of reckoning] waiting for the moment when they came down again and gave us our freedom.

Red Guards in Petrograd 1917. Pubic domain.

For the few foreigners still in Odessa, the soviets had distributed information to be posted on their doors; these stated that those named were foreign, of such and such nationality, and that he the titular must not be persecuted or molested etc etc. I had one of these notices on my bedroom door but it was pure chance that I was never bothered. What protection could come from such a notice against a band of revolutionaries, for the most part illiterate and almost always drunk.

The situation in Odessa was further aggravated by the insurrection of the Ukrainians who didn’t want to submit to the new regime, taking arms against the soviets to defend their independence. It was the civil war, which didn’t last long. The working class areas of Peressip and of the Moldovanka were in the hands of the communists: the Ukrainians occupied the rest of the town.  We lived in uncertainty and fear until the day where the Ukrainians would be forced to put down their arms and submit to their opponents. There were still here and there, several kernels of resistance, which the communists ended up getting the better of.

As if the situation wasn’t already bad enough, the Romanian communist party also wanted to have their “little page of history”. Rakowsky [Khristian Rakovsky 1873-1941] a lawyer of Bulgarian origin, subsequently naturalised as a Romanian and leader of the communist party, knowing that there were thousands of refugees in Odessa come to establish themselves in the south of Russia because of the chaotic situation in Jassy [Iasi], asked Lenin for permission to have his own revolution, which Lenin agreed to.

Khristian Rakovsky c. 1920. Public domain.

Rakowsky and his bands of “sans Culottes” began to persecute their own citizens. These, as you might think, almost all belonged to the cream of Romanian society. Among them were the old senator, Jorgulescu and his family who I mentioned above. At the Hotel Metropol where they lived, were also a good number of their friends.

[Rakovsky’s attempt at a coup in Romania was organised around December 1917. It failed but around the same time Rakovsky became leader of the Bolshevik administrative body called the Rumcherod in Odessa. It is believed these persecutions were reprisals on Romanian nationals in Odessa. Ref. Wikipedia].

Rakowsky had already started his demonstration in the streets of the town; followed by his band of fanatics carrying enormous placards with the usual threats in revolutionary times of “Death to the Nobility! To the gallows for the Bourgeoisie” etc

My poor friends no longer left their houses; they were living in terror under the threat of imminent arrest. One evening where, as usual I went to keep them company and to take them the day’s news, I found on the landing outside their rooms, Madame Jorgulescu and her two daughters waiting for me with tears in their eyes, in the grip of an indescribable panic. In a few words some rumours confirmed by the events that followed during the night, had circulated among the refugees on the subject of Rakowsky’s intention to carry out his threats and arrest a good many Romanian citizens from the Elite. They begged me to take the old Senator with me, who in the meantime had come to rejoin his family on the hotel landing. Two other people that I didn’t know, one the President of the Chamber of Deputies, another a member of the Supreme Court of Appeal, came to add their pleas to those of their friends.

What could I do? Refuse? And abandon to their fate these defenceless people? Agree to lodge them at my house for the night, knowing full well what I risked and the risk I took for my father and the family I was lodging with if we were discovered? In these times of danger and revolution, it wasn’t easy to make a decision. After mature reflection, and seeing the despair in the hearts of these unfortunates, I said to myself: “Too bad, I must do what I must do, come what may”. Today, after more than 50 years, I think with terror of what could have happened to us if we had been followed.

I came to an agreement with my friends to meet up opposite the hotel along the wall of the cathedral, which at that late hour was plunged into darkness. I left first advising the three Romanians to each leave the hotel at 10 minute intervals, in order to avoid arousing the suspicion of two communist workers who were guarding the hotel door.

I left the hotel without incident. In those days, when it wasn’t prudent to appear bourgeois I dressed somewhat like a Proletariat. Hat askew and unshaven, I passed between the two guards who stared at me without saying a word and let me pass. I headed towards the cathedral and there under a porch I waited patiently for my friends. They didn’t take long to join me; they had also been able to leave without much difficulty: we set off and headed for the Tiraspolskaya where I lived and which was only quarter of an hour from the cathedral. The old senator held my arm and the other two followed closely behind. From time to time we discretely looked back in order to see if we were being followed. On the way I thought with anxiety of the reception that awaited us. During these terrible times, the great entrances of the apartment blocks closed very early and all the comings and goings of the occupants were strictly controlled by the doorman of the building, who being a Worker, looked through the peephole to assure himself of the identity of visitors.

I arrived at our destination, followed by my three Romanians, I rang and saw through the little peephole the honest face of our old doorman, Vassili. He recognised me and on being told that my companions were old friends, he let us in without any difficulty. It wouldn’t have been the same if his son, Victor, had been there: staunch communist and member of the local council, he would’ve bombarded us with so many questions which I would not have been able to answer.

I took my companions to the little bedroom that my father and I occupied. My father, to whom I had explained the situation, and who in fact already knew Senator Jorgulescu very well, made the best of the situation and accepted the disagreeable prospect of spending the night in a chair. We shared our supper with our guests who struggled to hide their anxiety on the subject of their respective families still at the hotel. I myself was tormented by the idea that old Vassili, seeing that our old friends hadn’t left again despite the late hour, would come to see what was going on. Nothing happened: we chatted quietly, the day’s events being the subject of our conversation: Going over what happened, then helped by the emotion and the fatigue, we slept in our chairs: an uncomfortable sleep, interrupted from time to time by the desire to smoke a cigarette. Five smokers in such a small room finally made the atmosphere unbearable. Half asleep we regarded each other as though through a fog. At last the dawn began to show up; I opened my window and the gust of cold air that rushed into the little room made a shot in the arm for us all which put an end to our torpor. My Romanian friends, impatient to know what had happened in their little hotel during the night, wanted to get off. I advised them to wait until the big gate was opened by Vassili, which would make their leaving less noticeable and wouldn’t have provoked suspicion. At the right time, they left us one at a time, not without acknowledging our hospitality.

A few days later, when I went to see them it was confirmed that the notorious Rakowsky and his band had indeed passed by the hotel the night they stayed with me. He arrested a number of people, including one or two old Generals who hadn’t had the luck to find someone who could put them up. They were apparently taken on board one of the Russian battleships, which were moored in the port of Odessa, and subjected to a load of humiliations and ill treatments. We never saw them again and I wonder what had been their sad fate.

Colonel Joe Boyle 1918. Wikimedia.

[Ed. In fact in autumn 1917 around 50 prominent Romanian aristocrats and government officials were taken prisoner and put aboard Russian ships bound for Sevastapol where it is almost certain their fate was to be shot. They were saved by the brave intervention of Colonel Joseph Boyle, a Canadian officer with close connections to the Romanian royal family. I cannot say if these were the same people rounded up by Rakowsky but there are definite parallels with Frank’s story. See The Rescue of Romanian Prisoners in Odessa  and Joseph Boyle 1867-1923 bio]

As for me, I got off lightly for what some were tempted to call my imprudence for having given hospitality to the three friends hounded by revolutionaries. Nobody noticed anything. The old doorman Vassili who had seen us come back that evening, happily wasn’t there to witness their leaving and I am sure that even if he had been in his lodge he would have understood the situation and wouldn’t have breathed a word.



Frank’s memoir covers events up to the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in March 1918. For what followed I will refer to the memoir of Alexander Albov, (the son of a Polish high court judge also exiled in Odessa at this time).

Within a matter of days, German troops arrived and captured Odessa. The Bolsheviks were driven out, law and order was restored, food and supplies reappeared in the shops and fighting ceased. Albov describes how the terrorised population reacted with mixed feelings; while the German enemy was stripping bare the Ukrainian hinterland they could not help feeling a huge sense of relief to be finally freed from the tyranny of the Bolsheviks.

With Russia out of the War however, German troops could be redirected back to the Western Front but following further major defeats there, the enemy suffered a huge loss of morale. Even though the Germans were losing the War, nevertheless Odessa was now occupied territory and for refugees like Frank and his father, unsafe on a new and different level. Over the summer of 1918 many people took the opportunity to flee the city or get out of the country altogether. This would have been the ideal time for Frank and his father to get out too. We are fairly certain they made it back to Constantinople in 1918 but Frank’s papers are silent on how and exactly when they left Odessa.

As it happens, after the Armistice in November 1918, the Germans left the city and the communists moved back in. Once again there was rioting and terror everywhere, made worse by the fact that this time the Bolsheviks were better organised. This lasted for several weeks until the Allies eventually took over, so I think if Frank had waited until then, he probably would not have got home until early 1919.

In his memoir Frank remarked how much he loved the city of Odessa and initially saw himself settling there permanently. The revolution put paid to that. In the spring of 1919 the Bolsheviks were back again and this time it was they who were staying.

“The iron curtain descended over Russian history with much noise, creaking and screeching. The play was over and people in the audience rose to collect their fur coats and go home. They looked around and saw neither their coats nor homes.” (Vasily Roganov, 1918 in ‘The Apocalypse of our Times’).

Sources and Further Information

My thanks to Esmé Clutterbuck for translating Frank’s memoir and for permission to edit and publish it.

The Russian Provisional Government of 1917, led by Alexander Kerensky – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Provisional_Government

Cavendish, R. (2008), The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in History Today, Vol 58. Issue 3 at: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/treaty-brest-litovsk

Recollections of pre-revolutionary Russia, the Russian revolution and civil war, the Balkans in the 1930s and service in the Vlasov army in World War II [ca.1972], Alexander Albov, a dictated memoir transcribed by Professor Richard A Pierce, University of California, Berkeley: http://archive.org/stream/recollprerevolution00alborich/recollprerevolution00alborich_djvu.txt

An account of the Bolsheviks’ persecution of Romanian senators and MPs in Odessa: https://europecentenary.eu/the-exile-of-the-romanian-parliament-1916-1918-the-memoirs-of-grigore-procopiu/

A reading list of essays, memoirs and novels of the revolutionary period: https://www.calvertjournal.com/features/show/8285/revisiting-revolution-reading-list-1917-novels-non-fiction

In part 2, Frank referred to Robinat’s, one of the cafes of the literati where he used to go. Here is some further information. https://cafesixzero.wordpress.com/the-samovar-cafe-fanconis/

Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest – The WW1 Memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 2)

Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest – The WW1 Memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 2)

The Potemkin Stairs, Odessa. Source: English Russia.

In this second chapter of my Great Uncle Frank’s WW1 memoir, it is December 1916 and he and his father find themselves at the Russian border post of Ungheni, having spent around 2 weeks fleeing from the German advance on Bucharest (see Part 1). From there, they must make their way to the Black Sea port of Odessa where they hope to be able to find refuge for the remainder of the war.

This memoir has been translated from the French original manuscript by Esmè Clutterbuck and jointly edited by Esmè and I. Explanatory comments in the text are indicated by […].

Part 2:  In Holy Russia by Francis Xavier Calleja

“It was already night-time when we arrived at Ungheni: we were exhausted and the cold was intense but what did all that matter; we were at last on Russian soil in an Allied country”.

I don’t know if the formalities of the arrival, passport checks, luggage etc were always as laborious as they were that evening right on the frontier but like Romania, Russia was on the verge of war and we could only accept with good heart and without rancour [maugrier] – the inconvenience of questionnaires to fill in, despite the tiredness and hunger for supper that gnawed at our guts.

A corps of officers sat at a table in a horseshoe shape and posed a pile of questions, for the most part seeming like those in our written declarations but formulated differently with the aim of seeing if we contradicted ourselves. These gentlemen, were they from the Okrana, the famous tzarist secret police? Were they intelligence officers? We couldn’t know: only having been in Russia for a quarter of an hour. We couldn’t even tell the difference between the different uniforms. In any case the officers who were extremely courteous and perfect polyglots quickly put us at our ease and seemed satisfied with our answers; a big stamp for entry into Russia was entered on our passports and we were given permission to go [off] to rest and have some food in the station waiting room, with the firm advice not to leave the station, because a train for Odessa could arrive at any moment in the night.

Railway station at Ungheni, Moldavia 1915-17

We made our way to a little room on the door of which had been written the word “BUFFET”, the word guessed rather than read, because it had been written in Russian I think, a language of which I only had a vague idea. In Bessarabia, the Romanian language was more or less known. It’s thanks to Romanian, which I spoke fluently, that I could manage at first.

We went inside therefore, to find a big stove roaring agreeably (because it was cold outside), a well stocked buffet and in a corner an enormous samovar, some wooden benches and a counter with newspapers and some books, all of them, unfortunately for me, in Russian, served by the bookseller who, despite her thirty years, wore two blond plaits which fell down her back. That was all. You couldn’t expect in this little Bessarabian village to find the luxurious modern comfort that one met in the railway stations of big towns. After being restored, we settled ourselves on an empty bench next to our luggage, firmly convinced that the train for Odessa wouldn’t be long arriving. The majority of passengers who had got off the same time as us, were going in different directions to us and had already left. We never could have guessed that we would spend 2 whole days and nights at this little station. The trains coming from Romania bearing the wounded and soldiers on leave, unloaded their human cargo onto the platform, whilst others full of soldiers or war supplies arriving from different regions and destinations at the front, also discharged at this point on the frontier. It was well known that to protect herself against invasion, Russia had had all her railway system on a network of wider gauge lines than those of Europe. No train coming from Europe could travel on the Russian rails and vice versa. This explains why all the trains coming from Romania couldn’t go any further: all the new arrivals before traveling to the interior had to wait for a Russian train, hence the chaos and confusion that reigned on the platform of Ungheni.

I went out onto the platform to stretch my legs and to get to a better sense of my surroundings and of the Russians who, I must confess, had taken me aback by their apparent coldness. A number of soldiers and civilians waiting for their trains were assembled around an enormous boiler, warming themselves up. I later learned that there were similar boilers in every station, where the passengers, benefiting from a few minutes stop, got boiling water to make tea. All the middle class Russians and those of the working class travel with their kettles, their teapots, and all the paraphernalia in order to do “tehai” in their compartments. One mustn’t forget that it took in those days at least 11-12 days by train from Odessa to Moscow. All those who couldn’t pay the restaurant car traveled with their cookware and a good quantity of provisions that they wouldn’t be able to find en route.

As there were no trains in the station at the moment and, in consequence, no one needing the water, there were only around 30 people who, with greatcoats unbuttoned, were warming themselves, with arms opened in front of the boiler. Open-mouthed at the sight that was so new to me I didn’t hear the “Berequiss!” – (Look out!) shouted out by two soldiers and fell into a large basket that they were carrying almost at ground level because it was so heavy and that contained, fortunately, only linen. If this had been a cauldron of hot soup it might have been different.

I got up confused, to the laughter of the two soldiers who had stopped to let me get out of the linen basket. I took a few steps on the platform and as I felt the cold penetrate my bones I went to join the others and stood in front of the boiler. I didn’t understand a word of what was being said around me, but I studied with interest the brave people close to whom I found myself, for the most part soldiers, all over 6 feet tall. Their greatcoats, which almost swept the ground, rendered them in my eyes, real giants. The smell of their leather boots made me retch [“haut le coeur”]: it’s an odour that one smells everywhere in Russia but to which I acclimatised in time and ended up finding quite agreeable. It’s probably for this reason that a lot of toiletries in Europe are perfumed with Russian leather. [Ed. Russian leather is still a popular men’s fragrance today, such as Cuir de Russie by Chanel and Russian Leather by Molton Brown, it is also the same scent used in Imperial Leather soap].

I stayed there a little while and then decided to go back to the buffet where the travelers were huddled and collapsed on the wooden benches, snoring nineteen to the dozen. My father who wasn’t asleep was trying to understand what an elderly Jewish man wanted, who thankfully spoke a Moldavian Romanian, the Romanian of the north. He explained to me in a few words that right next to the station, where he lived, he was able to offer us a room for a few roubles and that it wasn’t worth waiting for a train which, he was certain would never arrive during the night. It was late and we were so tired that in the end we let ourselves be convinced. Lantern in hand, he took the lead and we followed. In effect the little one story wooden house wasn’t far and one of the windows giving onto the street was lit. Inside the poor and dilapidated house, he guided us to a little room, the very same we had seen lit up from outside. A strong smell caught in the throat, a feminine smell of patchouli, and of cooking spices. The furniture was just a bed, a sofa, a wobbly table and a chair. In the bed a young woman with a very Jewish face but beautiful enough, was nonchalantly reclining, allowing more than a glimpse of abundant milky flesh through a transparent and very low cut blouse. The old man introduced her as his daughter at the same time indicating for her to clear off. You didn’t have to be a mastermind [grand clerc] to realise that the old rascal [fripon] was playing a double game and sizing up his potential clients. For my father, a tired man who seemed much older than his years and for me, who seemed much younger than I was, the old man played the role of a good affectionate papa, full of remorse for having disturbed his daughter at such a late hour of the night. For other men, on their own, the paternity, which was probably nothing but a fiction, would have disappeared, leaving nothing in its place but an old purveyor of pleasures that were sordid but in demand at this isolated point on the frontier.

Ungheni border and Eiffel bridge

My father, with a sad face, slept fully clothed on the bed, still warm from the young woman’s caresses and I took the sofa, which happily was clean and not the nest of fleas I had feared. We slept until 8 o’clock; this rest of only a few hours restored us and we made our way to the station anxious to know if we had missed our train. Luckily no train for Odessa had yet reported; we therefore took our place on one of the benches, firmly decided not to repeat the experience of the night before but to wait patiently for the moment when we could leave.

In fact, nothing had changed in the little buffet. The group of travelers going in the same direction as us were still there, their clothes a little more crumpled than last night: the buffet also more replete with sandwiches and pastries than the night before: the samovar emitting monotonous jets of steam and the blonde bookseller with the plaits down her back still at her counter of books and magazines.

And it’s thus, in this atmosphere, as enervating as it was monotonous, that we spent the day and the second night: this time sleeping on the wooden benches that made us miss the beautiful Jewess and the odour of patchouli. The third day came at last, that rolled on slowly like the one before. We tried a few times to hold conversations with our traveling companions, but without success, none of them spoke any other language but Russian. Oh! That train for Odessa! When would it come? Like Sister Anne, we had long gazed down the length of the tracks that stretched to infinity and like Sister Anne, we saw nothing coming. [This is a reference to a French novel called ‘Sister Anne’ published by Charles Paul de Kock in 1902].

At last towards eight in the evening a loud voice coming from the enormous chest of the station-master announced “the train for Odessa”!! The hour of our liberation had come at last. We took our luggage to the platform and a few minutes later the train entered the station. There followed a bit of confusion caused by those who were disembarking and those who wanted to get on the train quickly, some jostling accompanied by swearing that we didn’t understand except by the way it was expressed and by the narrowed eyes of those who spoke, and there we were installed in our carriage. Much larger than the European carriages, most of the Russian carriages nevertheless had couchettes fixed at head height and almost touching the heads of the occupants of the banquettes below. All the train was packed and we considered ourselves lucky to find two unoccupied places in a corner. Four hours of travel and there we were at the station of Odessa, but as always, an arrival at an inappropriate time: it was past midnight. There were still a few “Moshky” carriages [sic or possibly Droshki, the Russian equivalent of the Hansom cab] with coachmen enveloped in their sheepskins sleeping on their seats. At this time in Russia, public transport consisted only of these horse drawn Moshky  , completely uncovered and with sides which were not as high as the occupants. They offered no protection against the elements, nor against the unfortunate drawbar (tailgate) of another carriage when following too close behind. At this late hour this last danger did not exist, all the roads were deserted.

Horse drawn carriages at the Railway station square in Odessa, early 20th C. Source: ViknaOdessa

The coachman asked us which hotel we wanted to go to. To this it was impossible to respond because we didn’t know any. He drove us therefore to the Deribasovskaya street, right in the centre, and stopped in front of two or three hotels that he knew and where alas we found stony faces: no one wanted to receive us. It is 50 years ago, and probably because it was the war, the hotels didn’t have a night service and at midnight all the personnel had gone away leaving the hotel in the care of the night porter. Furthermore there was a police order forbidding all hotels from accepting travelers without immediately informing the nearest police station. Even supposing that the police stations were open at this hour, it was probable that there was only the night porter at the hotel and he couldn’t or wouldn’t fulfill the necessary formalities.

Rue de Deribasovskaya, Odessa

Also in the first three hotels we stopped at, a frightened doorman just opened the door a crack and closed it again with a resounding “Niet”. The coachman had run out of patience and told us that he could not carry on running around hotels with us all night; he put our bags down onto the pavement, settled up and went off, leaving us all alone in the night and in a town that we didn’t know. The weather, although very cold, was beautiful and dry. We stayed for some time sitting on our suitcases then in despair I rang once more at the last hotel that had refused us sanctuary. The doorman opened up grumbling and deigned to reason with me. He was a Bessarabian and spoke quite good Romanian; I explained our situation to him and, as he was humane, he let himself be convinced and consented to let us enter, whilst reminding us that it was against the law and that we would have to leave at seven in the morning. The director of the hotel would arrive a little bit later and if he were to discover us the doorman would certainly be fired. All that he could do for us was to give us two seats on the first floor landing. We followed him and there he showed us two chairs, wished-us good night and that was all. After three nights without sleep we would have preferred a comfy bed, but nonetheless were happy not to still be on the pavement. All the same our introduction to Russia was less than encouraging, but we couldn’t do anything about it and the main thing was not to lose hope.

At precisely 7 o’clock the doorman came to politely tell us that we must go. We paid him the few roubles that he had asked for and went out into the street that was still deserted. We were in Deribasovskaya, right in the centre, a beautiful avenue flanked with trees, for the time being completely bare, because it was winter. Right opposite the hotel where we’d stayed the night, was a cafe where two or three sleepy boys were putting their establishment in order. We ordered something hot, a coffee or a tea. They eyed us with indifference not being used to having clients so early in the morning; one of them, all the same, smiled at us and said “Sey tchass” [sic]. In Russian this means “in a minute.” We had to wait almost an hour before we were finally served with a thousand excuses for the delay. This famous saying “Sey tchass” is a pleasantry to which the Russians even add “Tcherez tchass”- “in an hour”. Whether in a cafe or restaurant the client must wait and never get annoyed. That would only prolong the delay in being served. Sey tchass, Tcherez tchass! !

After this breakfast my father phoned a distant relative whose address he had, whom he’d known from a young age when he [i.e. the relative] came to Constantinople to complete his studies, but who I had never met. This relative didn’t hesitate to come to our aid. He drove us to his home where his wife, his two little girls and his young son received us with the greatest cordiality and where we experienced for the first time the amazing proverbial Russian hospitality that one doesn’t find anywhere else.

We briefly updated our hosts on the twists and turns of our travels since Constantinople and how we had been reduced to refugees, with no definite plan or knowledge of what to do. They offered us hospitality for as long as necessary. They took us to a pretty little guest room which was to be ours for almost two months and beseeched us to consider it as home.

Those two months at the heart of family life allowed us to find the address of other relatives of my mother, who had also been in Russia for many years. [Ed. possibly his mother’s second cousin Arthur Griscti, whose wife Emilia Claudi was born in Odessa]. I also had the address of my English friends from Constantinople, who now lived in an old apartment on the Gretchiskaya and with whom I had been in correspondence. In fact while I was still in Bucharest, they had told me about their life in Russia and had encouraged me to go there.

Rue Grechéskaya, Odessa. Source: English Russia

I took myself off one afternoon to Rue Gretchiskaya. The father Monsieur C…. had obtained a government post in Mudros [Ed. possibly Moudros, a strategic port on Lemnos] just before Romania entered the WW1. This permitted him to pass through Bucharest without inconvenience in order to rejoin his post; he came however to see me at Strada Cometo where I lived with my uncle; he also advised me to go to Russia if the situation in Romania took another turn. [Ed. Frank and his father stayed with his uncle Octave Calleya at Casa Calleya in Strada Cometo, Bucharest from 1914-16. Octave was a successful architect in Bucharest and built this palatial house for his family].

Casa Calleya, Strada Cometo, Bucharest

Of the family C… there only remained in Russia the mother, four young girls, and a young boy of roughly fourteen. At their home I met another person who would later become a great and dear friend. He was also from Constantinople and belonged to the Armenian minority, having taken refuge in Odessa some time before the entry to the war of Turkey on the German side. He took an interest in my situation and recommended me to a certain Monsieur Pages who was director of the Odessa branch of the General Society of French Polishers. The factories of this society were in the Moldsvanka, rue Golovkorskaya, an essentially industrial quarter.

I didn’t lose any time and went to see Monsieur Pages who engaged me straight away for a period of two months. There was a job to establish the inventories and balance sheets in French for the head office of the Society. He trusted me with this job and promised that if I could successfully learn a bit of Russian within these two months, I could perhaps keep the job. I therefore applied myself valiantly to the job, occupying myself during the day to the task I had been assigned and in the evening, at home, trying to get to know the Russian language, with the help of some books that I had bought.

I did so much and so well that at the end of two months I was in a position, not only to read fluently this language so different to those I already knew, but also to speak it and to write it. Monsieur Pages, my boss, kept his promise and engaged me permanently as a member of staff of the Society of Polishers. My friends in the office, all Russian except for one or two foreigners living in Russia, were a testimony to friendship and showed themselves ready to help me in case of difficulty.

Being now more or less sure of the immediate future we found a room in rue Tiraspolskaya, owned by Madame Orlovskaya, a widow, who had two charming young daughters; Katia, who was a bit closer to my age, and her younger sister Lydia, with whom I made friends straight away [Frank was about 24]. It’s thanks to this everyday contact with these young Russians who didn’t know any other foreign language that I perfected my knowledge of the language of Tolstoy. I often told them some incongruities that made them burst out laughing, still not knowledgeable enough to place the tonic accent in the right place. One of the singularities of the Russian language – apart from its very difficult declensions – is that certain words can have two very different meanings, according to whether the tonic accent is put on the first syllable or on those which follow. Basically, Katia corrected me and the little notebook that I always had with me, served to take note of these corrections.

Now that I was working I was happy and my hours in the office were without doubt my happiest. In those days, offices opened at 08:00 and closed at 15:00 hours, making 7 hours of continual attendance and this was the system of work that I liked the best. Around midday, Tina the young female office attendant brought us a cup of tea accompanied by a sandwich and a biscuit; a light snack that we ate while working.

At 15:00hrs accompanied by the manager, Monsieur Klontchmikoff, I went to a nice woman who ran a cheap popular kitchen from her house, not far from the office. For a rouble, she gave us a nice plate of Borscht and a portion of what in Russia they call chops, and which in reality are only meatballs. It was good and clean but the bad thing was that the good woman did not bother to change the menu so that it was always the same thing every day.

Arriving home while it was still early in the afternoon I would find my father, as always, sombre and taciturn; the poor man was depressed, not being able to get used to his exile. Despite the fact that he was only 57, for a man who adored his family and had never been apart from them, I understood how cruel this situation was for him.

Frank with his extended family in Constantinople c.1922. Family archive.

My thoughts also would frequently carry me to my family; totally deprived of any news I asked myself what was happening in Constantinople; what had become of my dear family; the rumours that reached us from there spoke of misery, the Germans doing badly back home, exported from Turkey all that was transportable at the expense of the population who were deprived of everything. I thought about all that and obviously was sometimes obsessed by this state of affairs: but, being young, I was more able to cope, and not make myself ill: plus I had distractions: my work at the office, the few friends, of whom I have already spoken, and who I visited sometimes and Katia, who looked forward each evening to our long walks across Odessa: I began to love this town, to such an extent that I decided to stay here even when this horrible war had finished.

Odessa was truly a beautiful modern town, with beautiful avenues lined with lime trees and chestnuts which when they flower in spring spread a lovely perfume and in summer form a green canopy which protected from the sun.

It was two French engineers, Ribas and Richelieu, whose statues were on the boulevard, who laid out the plans of the modern Odessa. Reportedly, built upon the ancient [site], rumour has it that the old town still exists in the form of catacombs, the portals being known by only a few people, amongst them certain criminals and bootleggers, who use them for their shady dealings.

Steered by Katia I explored the town, which in the end, I knew like a native; we had long walks in the Rue de Ribas, the Rue Richelieu, the Preobrojinska, la Koudra Tenko and so the days passed without me noticing.

Rue de Richelieu, Odessa Source: English Russia

Rue Preobraienskaya, Odessa. Source: English Russia

Cathedral Square, Odessa. Source: English Russia

And so, here we are, more than two months later, and the news that reached us from the newspapers wasn’t too bad concerning the Romanian front. The German advance had been stopped south of Jassy by the Romanian army, which had been reformed after its terrible defeat at the beginning, aided by our brave Russian allies. The soldier king Ferdinand, always at the head of his troops, set a dutiful example. Without seeking to diminish the merit of our two allies, it is likely that the German army didn’t want to push further preferring to maintain the positions they occupied and to concentrate all their efforts on the Western Front.

The situation at Jassy itself stayed confused and chaotic; the overcrowding and absence of lodgings had obliged a huge number of Romanians to take refuge in Odessa where, despite the war life was a lot easier.

So it was that one day while walking by the cathedral I found myself face to face with the Senator Jorgulescu an old friend of my uncle’s from Bucharest [Octave Calleya]. He and his family lived in the little Hotel Metropole, not far away. He took me to see his wife, his two daughters Mimi and Lenuzza and his young son, Nicholas, who I knew very well. They told me of their escape from Bucharest, of their stay in Jassy, which became impossible and of their decision to become refugees in Odessa, at the same time as other friends.

It was around this time that one day going into the French cafe Robinat, where I went from time to time to unwind, I was struck by a face that I was sure I knew but which I couldn’t put a name to. This young man, very well placed, sat at a table in a corner trying to hide behind a newspaper, intrigued me. Seating myself a little further away, I spied on him discretely. “Mon Dieu” I said to myself all of a sudden, “he’s the spitting image of Prince Carol of Romania. On reflection I realised all the same that this couldn’t be him and that this resemblance was just a simple coincidence. The prince was at the Front at his father’s side.

Carol II and Zizi Lambrino 1918-9. Wikipedia.

A little while later I learned from the newspapers that Prince Carol had in effect been in Odessa, coming incognito to marry Zizi Lambrino, the daughter of a General, and who he was in love with; all this without the knowledge of the Romanian royal family [Ed. In fact this marriage took place in August 1918]. Ferdinand, learning of the news of the morganatic marriage, decreed it null. The Prince underwent court martial for leaving the front without permission and was put under arrest for a period I can no longer remember. After the war he married Princess Helene of Greece with whom he had a son, Michel, in favour of whom he abdicated and who became King Michel, who today is a so-called refugee in Portugal.

On the death of Carol, King Michel, who found himself in Paris, became the object of legal proceedings by a young man who claimed to be his half brother. With documents and supporting evidence, this young man proved in effect that he was the son of Zizi Lambrino and Carol and secured his legitimate share of Carol’s fortune.

But let’s return to my peaceful and agreeable little life in Odessa, which alas, must soon end.

At this point I will conclude Part 2. Coming up in Part 3 – Frank’s idyllic new life comes to an abrupt end with the start of the Russian Revolution.

Sources and Further Information

My thanks to Esmè Clutterbuck for the use of family photos and documents.

Photos of old Odessa at Vikna-Odessa : http://viknaodessa.od.ua/old-photo/

and English Russia: https://englishrussia.com/2013/09/18/old-odessa/


Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest!  The WW1 memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 1)

Evacuation 1916: Adieu Bucharest! The WW1 memoir of Frank Calleja (Part 1)


German soldiers entering Bucharest 1916. Source: reddit.com

Frank X Calleja. Source: J Neave

Evacuated as refugees to Romania from the start of the Great War in 1914, my great uncle Frank and his father suddenly found themselves with just hours to flee the country when Germany advanced on the capital, Bucharest, in November 1916. So begins the 1916-17 memoir of Francis Xavier Calleja, a British subject of Maltese/Italian descent, born in Constantinople in 1892.  From the panic of imminent invasion, the hardships, deprivations and indignities facing refugees, to the cruelties of revolution, this is an extraordinary first hand account of what happens to civilians who get caught up as collateral in turbulent times. Do we learn anything from history? Sadly it doesn’t seem so.

Frank’s father, Joseph Calleja. Source: J Neave

Privately written by Frank in the 1960s, the memoir wasn’t shared with anyone and only came to light after his death. Even then, with the original lengthy text in tiny handwritten French, it continued to languish in a box waiting for someone to take on the long and pain-staking task of translation and editing. For the last several months, this has become a labour of love for his great niece and God-daughter, Esmè Clutterbuck and for myself. Frank’s writing is nothing if not evocative, dramatic and full of filmic vignettes and side alleys. We are a little sad to have finished it and Frank, if he were here today, would no doubt be overjoyed to find he had reached an appreciative audience. Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ what you think. Due to the length of the original manuscript, I have decided to publish this in 3 parts.


At the outbreak of WWI in 1914 Turkey was an ally of the Kaiser, which meant that any man of military service age from an enemy country, could potentially be interned by the authorities. (The same applied to German and Italian residents in the UK, many of whom were interned on the Isle of Man). Frank and his father fled Turkey and went to stay with his father’s brother, Octave Calleya, who lived in Bucharest in Romania, then a neutral country. His mother, aunt and sisters stayed behind in Constantinople.

This memoir starts from 25th November 1916, the day it was decided that the government and administration of Bucharest must be evacuated to Jassy (Iași) in northern Romania, following news of the German advance on the capital. Frank and his father were advised to get out of the country as quickly as possible and so headed for Russia. The following text is Frank’s. Additional editing notes and references are italicised in […].

“Evacuation: Adieu Bucharest” – 26 November 1916 By F.X. Calleja

Bucharest, Boulevard Schitz Magureaux and the big clock of the French hospital had just chimed midnight. All those who had to accompany the Colonne Sanitaire Francaise, in its retreat towards the north, were present except Monsieur et Madame Dormoy, prominent players of the French community in Bucharest. We couldn’t wait any longer to leave.

In the basement of the hospital there were fifteen of us: two medical officers, the pharmacist, two nurses and a few others French, English and Belgian who not being able to leave town in the normal way, had been kindly invited by Dr Borel, the head of the mission, to travel with him.

We were all anxious and exhausted. The day had been rich in emotions and many had to leave behind loved ones and important interests that they were not sure of finding again on their return. The events of this memorable day had been so unforeseen that we could hardly believe the evacuation of the Romanian capital was happening; our departure was one of the last.

German Field Marshal August Von Mackenson: Public Domain

The evening before, the Germans, with the aid of their agents, alas so numerous in Romania during the Great War of 1914-18, had spread rumours that General Averescu had just gained a crushing victory in the Carpathians encircling almost the whole of Mackensen’s army. In fact the opposite had happened and the Romanian General had just had time to jump into a plane and get away to the unoccupied territory.

In any event the news had caused a sensation and in the blink of an eye the whole of Bucharest was out on the street. The students always alive to what was going on, had organised, on the Field of Processions where the public were gathered, flags, music, patriotic songs and above all a holiday atmosphere alas long since gone from the once gay and insouciant Romanian capital.

The high command here, who very probably knew how this would end, immediately stopped these demonstrations of joy: the flags were taken down and a proclamation was soon stuck up all over town, exhorting the population to calm and enjoining them to only trust official communiques.

Despite all these measures public opinion wasn’t swayed and all they [the people] could talk of was the big victories that the authorities thought premature to publicise and that, according to them, would be announced to us a few days later.

The day passed quietly enough, without air raid sirens and without having prolonged stays in the cellars that served us as shelters. Since the 28th August 1916 when Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies, the German planes and zeppelins, as if petrified in the blue Romanian sky, were always there, wreaking havoc day and night with their engines of death and destruction.

WW1 Zeppelin

Here, a few words on the subject of Romania’s entry into the war after nearly two years of neutrality. Although the whole Romanian nation had for a long time embraced the cause of the Allies, the affection and great respect for her old king Carol [Charles], a Hohenzollern uncle of the Kaiser, had stopped her from openly taking sides against the Germans. It was only at the death of this latter, who was succeeded by his nephew, King Ferdinand, that Romania gave free rein to these sentiments and joined her fate with those of the Allied Nations.

Pro-War demonstration in Bucharest 1915. Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Ferdinand, also a Hohenzollern, was immediately dispossessed by the Kaiser of all his property in Germany, and Prince Hohenlohe who, with Mackenson, was the head of the German armies, was charged with seizing Ferdinand dead or alive and sending him back to Germany. But Romania after her rout in the south reformed the Front in the north, repulsed all the German attacks, and held out right up until the signature of the Armistice in 1918.

So let’s go back to my story relating to this day of false information and denials, of which there was no shortage. We were left perplexed in a night of alarming rumour mongering. A false back-story of the famous victory fabricated by Bosch spies started to circulate. The German, Bulgarian and Turkish armies, finding hardly any resistance, had liberated the Danube and marched on Bucharest; in the Ministry where work to pack up the records was going on frantically and secretly in order to avoid alarming the population; the evacuation of the town had been decided at the reconvening of the Cabinet, held late at night.

The next day, at first light I went to the English embassy, which was also the consulate, to get some clarification on the situation and, if possible, advice on how to act. As soon as I crossed the threshold of the embassy, the sound of loud hammer blows on packing cases very quickly told me what was happening. The embassy was being evacuated. The secretary with whom, as a refugee, I was often in contact, and who, one week earlier had put me on guard against the politics of cafes, told me in so many words what was happening and what I had to do, to leave immediately no matter how; tomorrow, even tonight could perhaps be too late. He gave me a rendezvous in Jassy [Ed. modern day Iași], if I ever managed to leave. There was no time to lose.

The Fall of Bucharest 6 Dec 1916. Source: www.mentalfloss.com

I rushed to the Gard de Nord in the Calea Grivitei to find out if I could take the train going north, and there the most desolate and unforgettable sights awaited me. All the doors giving on to the station were barricaded and with platoons of soldiers with fixed bayonets at the ready.

The pitiful crowd, seized with wild panic, were swarming around the great concourse, crying and demanding trains in which to flee. In the private guarded military enclosure, were cannons, tanks, horses, military lorries loaded with boxes and all sorts of stuff, embassy cars and ambulances, all mixed up in an indescribable jumble. You need to have been involved in the evacuation of a town in less than 24 hours to really understand how much tragedy and sadness the concept of the word “evacuation” contained.

On the concourse a stream of thousands swelled without cease, praying, begging, threatening to take the station by storm and all a sea of fury, threw themselves at the steps from where the soldiers forced them to go back with blows from their rifle butts. Suddenly, the military commandant of the station appeared on the first level overlooking the square; he tried to harangue the crowd but their cries drowned out his voice. Taking advantage of a momentary lull, he made an appeal to the patriotic feeling of the public: “The country is in danger, the cooperation of citizens is essential in order for the measures being taken on their behalf by the authorities to be effective. Each morning at 7 o’clock tickets will be distributed to all those that want to leave, and will be valid for the next day.” I didn’t want to wait any more. I quickly understood there was no time to lose.

To see tens of thousands of people beside themselves, even tramping on the spot, I understood that I would never be able to leave by rail, neither tomorrow, the day after or ever. And the embassy secretary had told me to leave immediately?

Bucharest c. 1920s

What to do? I left the station and went to the Imperial cafe in Calea Victoria, which was at that time a rendezvous for many foreigners, hoping to find some friends who would get me out of this misery. At a back table, bleak and anxious, were gathered one or two of my French friends: a painter well known in Bucharest and one or two war correspondents. All of them reservists, to whom the idea of falling in to the clutches of the Germans was hardly appealing. In truth this prospect amused no one.

Athenee Palace, Bucharest (photo c. 1920s).

In a few words I filled them in on what was going on at the station, which they already suspected. They told me not to make myself sick with worry [Ed. mauvais sang] and let me know that that very evening at 11 o’clock, they were to go to the Athenee Palace [Ed. now Atheneum Palace Hilton Bucharest] to wait for Dr Borel, chief of the Mission Sanitaire Francais. Those that had to leave in the night included some French friends and allies who had been invited by the Mission to take up the Romanian government’s offer. It was important for me to be presented to the head of the Mission and obtain authorisation, for my father as well, to travel with the Colonne Sanitaire. And this is how, after an interview of a few minutes, at the Athenee Palace, we all found ourselves towards midnight at the French hospital.

At Bucharest one could only drive at night by the light of the stars, unless there was moonlight, so it was not easy to get around the streets. If the weather was clear there were always zeppelins around.

I went straight back to my uncle’s [Octave Calleya], woke my father who’d already gone to bed, hurriedly picked up our bits and pieces and went back to the French hospital, the place of our rendezvous.

The government let us have three cattle trucks because they couldn’t give the French Red Cross railway carriages. These would take us as far as Ploesti, the first stage. There, perhaps, we could take a train leaving for Jassy.

The three cattle trucks were already in the hospital courtyard when we arrived: one had been transformed into a sleeping car with the aid of some mattresses and plenty of covers, because it was autumn and the nights were cold. The second contained the medical supplies and an old wood stove belonging to the hospital and which we carried with us as we had to take into consideration how we would feed ourselves during the journey, at that point a big question mark.

Would there be a train at Ploesti as we hoped? Only God knew. In the third carriage were the medical director, his two assistants, the pharmacist and the cook as well as the luggage.

[By the time] the sleepy ones (M & Mme Dormoy) had at last arrived, it was past midnight when we left.

Boulevard Kisellef, Bucharest. Source: FB Old Bucharest Community

We crossed the silent and fearful town, then the beautiful Kisselef road, which we would never see again, and left Bucharest to find ourselves on the highway which would take us to Ploesti.

I snuggled up in the first carriage with the others but didn’t stay there long; the cold and anxiety stopped me from closing my eyes. So I jumped down and went to speak with the cattleman. In order to be doing something I took the lantern from him and once in a while I went ahead of the convoy in order to light the way. My exhaustion had magically disappeared and I walked like that the whole night. Towards dawn the convoy stopped on the border of a large forest that we had edged along all night. The cook served us a cup of really hot chocolate and some biscuits, which set us straight.

Despite our fatigue, we soon had to set off again; time was pressing and we had to get to Ploesti before nightfall. We had no news of the German advance and we had to get away from Bucharest as fast as possible if we wanted to be out of reach of the enemy armies. On two occasions we had to leave our carriages to lie flat on our stomachs in the ditch that followed the track; the German surveillance were flying over us, probably some scouts who were trying to detect the movement of troops, but not seeing the long and pitiable convoy of refugees they left us alone to continue on our journey.

German cavalry entering Bucharest 1916. Wikimedia Commons.


We arrived at last at Ploesti around eight in the evening, all dead tired having covered 60 km in less than 24 hours, but happy to find a good supper and above all a bed to sleep in and gather our strength for the next day. We were still uncertain of what tomorrow might bring, but all the same we were hopeful that the government would be able to give us proper carriages so we could continue our journey more quickly.

I forgot to say that our convoy had been provided with permits and a requisition order that allowed one of the members of our group- on this occasion it was our pharmacist who was the Marechal de Logis – to requisition the lodgings necessary to accommodate us, once we arrived at the towns or villages on our way.

Thus it was that as soon as we arrived in Ploesti, after a brief supper, we were directed towards a house big enough to contain us all and that was said to be or had been a brothel. Evidenced by the dyed hair and excessively made up face of the young woman who had quickly organised our reception, the hypothesis I just mentioned wasn’t ruled out by the fact that she had been confirmed [a catholic]. After all what did that really matter; it was wartime and we considered ourselves lucky to have found somewhere to stay.

There was amongst us a brother of the Ecole Chrètiennes, a Belgian, who for more freedom was temporarily – at least I hope temporarily, in mufti. After some years of convent life he felt, free of his priestly robes, a man like any other. Although tired and on the point of going to sleep we could not stop ourselves from seeing him in a recess of the large bedroom turned dormitory, tickling the young woman who had received us, who collapsed with laughter. We allowed ourselves to quickly fall into the arms of sleep, forgetful of everything that had happened around us and of all our worries.

The next day when we woke up, we learned that the Germans were almost at the gates of Bucharest, so we had only just left in time, but we couldn’t forget that we still had many kilometers to go before arriving in Jassy the end point.

We were very disappointed to learn that it was impossible for the government to allocate the [train] carriages and that we had to carry on by road. Unable to do otherwise while waiting for something better we rejoined our trucks a bit discouraged but resigned to the necessities of war. After all we could comfort ourselves we were in good company and wanted for nothing. Our cooks, always on the lookout, bought from the farms on our way, corn fed chickens, little suckling pigs, fruit, cheeses etc. etc. Our menus were always varied and well prepared, and the fine wine of the French hospital, which we had a few cases of in the baggage truck, helped us to gather our strength and to see a little of life through rose tinted glasses. Needless to say, that for these brotherly feasts we always stopped somewhere not too far from the road.

The latest news told of the fall of Bucharest where the Germans had, for the time being, stopped. That allowed us to take things more easily, not too much however, because Ploesti with its famous petrol reserves was of vital importance for the enemy, who would not delay their advance towards this town. We took care not to prolong our outdoor picnics always mindful of the next village or town we had to get to before the sun went down. [Ed. the Germans occupied Bucharest 6 December 1916, which was actually a few days later than this timeline suggests]. 

German soldiers in Ploesti 1916


Having left Ploesti early in the morning we reached our second stop, which was Buzău, more or less at the right time. After a comfortable meal in one of the restaurants in town, momentarily spared by the war, we picked up our lodgings for the night.

Although the enemy armies were still far away, Buzău, once Ploesti had been occupied, would soon follow. All those who had the means had already abandoned the town and it wasn’t difficult for our Marechal de Logis to requisition lodgings close to each other, in the residential quarter of the town. That facilitated our gathering the next day at the appointed hour without fear of getting lost in a town that we didn’t know and without delaying departure.

The house that had been allocated to my father and me was a little hotel of particularly noble appearance; it probably belonged to some rich landowner who had preferred to flee rather than make the acquaintance of the “Fritz”. I rang, and the old valet dressed in a red gilet, came and opened the door and, informed of our arrival, took us without waiting to a big, richly furnished and beautiful bedroom on the first floor. The interior of the house had a truly baronial atmosphere due to the superb carpets and paintings, some by well-known artists, and the beautiful crystal and decorative goblets that one saw all around. Our situation as unknown refugees didn’t allow us to ask too many questions and what is more, our taciturn old valet was certainly not disposed to answer. We contented ourselves therefore with casting an admiring glance on whatever surrounded us while asking ourselves what would remain of all these riches after the Germans had passed through.

The next day, after a good night, there we were again in the little restaurant of the evening before, our meeting point. It was almost three days since we had left Bucharest and the idea that we still had a good way to go was not encouraging; although in good company as I said before, the slowness and hobbling along of the cattle trucks had begun to grate on our nerves and we had not the least hope of having a faster mode of transport.

“Courage donc” and therefore en route for our third stage which would be Mizil. We arrived as the sun was going down over the beautiful Romanian countryside. I will not speak of the adventures of this fourth day, I will say nothing. [Ed. As noted above, due to the passage of time, Frank’s memory of precise dates and places must have got confused. Mizil is actually  between Ploesti and Buzău, so must have been the second stop].

It’s said that one day follows another and no two days are the same: for us, they were unbearably the same. To cap it all I had the constant worry of what to do once we arrived in Jassy where huge crowds of refugees would be met coming from the South. Our plan was to go to Russia, to Odessa where we had some distant relatives and good friends, the family C, who had been living there since the start of the war and with whom I had been in correspondence. But would we make it?


In short, in Mizil, we lodged with a couple of very brave people who couldn’t do enough for us. They weren’t rich but they big heartedly gave up their modest little, but extremely clean bedroom for us. It had a big four-poster bed with curtains, which one needed the help of a footstool to be able to climb into, because of the pile of the mattress. The half-brother of my cousins was in Mizil, lieutenant in a regiment of fighters, stationed in this little town. The brave people in whose house I was, told me that it would be of no avail to look for my lieutenant cousin, the regiment in question having left town to go to the front.

[Ed. this was Leonidas Constantinescu, Zoe Calleya’s son by her first marriage. There is a monument in Mizil dedicated to the troops of the 72nd Mizil Infantry Regiment, who fought during the Romanian Campaign (1916-1917). Built in 1921, it includes a bronze plaque naming the 1190 officers and enlisted men who died in the Battle of Mizil. From the details above could Leonidas have been a participant?]

Colonel John Norton-Griffiths

In Mizil we learned from the local papers of the fall of Ploesti and the destruction, by it was said, an English captain [sic], of the petrol tanks ahead of the arrival of the German army, in order to stop the enemy from taking possession [Ed. the sabotage and spillage of 800,000 tons of petrol happened on 5th December, Ref. ]. Later, in Odessa, this exploit was confirmed by the captain himself, as by coincidence he was the brother-in-law of my director in Odessa; I knew that he was a military attaché at the embassy in Bucharest and had been charged by the Minister of War to blow up the oil wells, a mission that he had accomplished with great success.

[Ed. The officer referred to here was in fact Colonel John “Empire Jack” Norton-Griffiths. A full account of this real-life Boys Own adventure can be found at this link:  hellfire-jack-norton-griffiths]

Above: Romanian soldiers guarding oil fields and destruction of the wells at Ploesti Nov 1916.

Unlabelled images from Frank’s archive, possibly Ploesti.

Focsani & Barlad

Peasant farmer by A. Chevallier (1881-1963). Source: romaniadacia

After Mizil our convoy made for Focsani where we stayed the night. This time in a little farm, where the brave villagers made us as comfortable as they could. They served us a modest supper consisting of “Mamaliga cu branza” otherwise called cornflour, cooked with an abundance of cheese and which is one of the ambrosian Romanian national dishes, all products of their farm.

Romanian peasant girl by A Chevallier. Source: romaniadacia

The next day at dawn it was the youngest daughter Yleana, who came to wake me, asking me to follow her to the courtyard to wash. She was a brunette, Yleana, pretty as an apple in her “fota” of green and white blouse. The fota is a Romanian peasant dress and consists of two or three metres of woven cloth [Ed. gros tisse] wound around her bosom, held in place by a belt. Yleana, armed with a stoneware jar of cold water that she tipped bit by bit into the palms of my hands [was] seeming amused by this summary toilette. As to me despite the soap, which burnt my eyes, I hazarded an admiring glance from time to time at this little Romanian Samaritan, to which she responded with a smile. I didn’t leave Foscani without kissing the little Yleana and thanking the brave villagers who had given us hospitality.

We stopped that evening at Barlad where we had a big surprise that we had been waiting for for a long time. After a little summary breakfast the following morning, our officials were instructed to take us to the station with all our goods and baggage. In the end two animal trucks, all that the Romanian government could give us, had been allotted to continue our journey. Our quartermaster, aided by the cook and one or two volunteers, were quickly proceeding with the arrangements for what was to be our home until Jassy.

Thanks to large bales of hay spread the width of the wagon we prepared beds for all the men while in the opposite section a little corner surrounded by sacks of jute in the guise of curtains, was reserved for Madame Dormoy, the only woman of our company.

The centre of the wagon was transformed into a dining room, the crates served as tables and benches. The large stove was installed in the second wagon where our baggage and the Red Cross equipment were also housed. The lines crowded with military trains transporting soldiers to the south or, coming back up to Jassy loaded with the wounded, had priority. This obliged our train to stop in the sidings for what were often long periods of time. That allowed our Cordon Bleu to transfer to our wagon the food he had prepared and that we awaited with impatience.

Frank’s photos, believed to be Romania 1916 (unlabelled).


We travelled like this for almost three days and arrived at last at Jassy, the end of our journey. It was the end of an adventure and beginning of another in our lives as refugees. We took leave of our travelling companions and thanked Dr Borel, thanks to whose help and hospitality we were now out of peril. My thoughts focussed on Bucharest asking me what had become of the relatives that I had left, based on the news published in Jassy. Bucharest had offered no resistance; therefore there had been few bombings, and the town was intact. What tortured my father and I was the total absence of news of our loved ones in Constantinople; my mother, my aunts and my three darling sisters. While Romania had stayed neutral we had had the possibility of exchanging letters from time to time, but since the Romanian declaration of war with Germany and her Allies, including Turkey, we lived in complete ignorance of what was happening over there. We had left Constantinople in November 1914 with the hope that the war would have finished by Christmas of the same year; it was impossible they said that a war between the great powers would last long, but we were already in 1916, and instead of reconciling with Turkey, we had moved further and further away. My father and I avoided communicating our thoughts on the subject because we didn’t want to upset each other.

As was predicted Jassy, the ancient capital of Moravia, had been literally overrun by the thousands of refugees arriving from all corners of Romania. Apart from the civilians there was also the royal family, all of the court, the ministers, ambassadors, the Red Cross departments, in brief, all the country’s administration. The officials, naturally having nowhere to stay, the private residences and stately homes belonging to the nobility had to be put at their disposal.

Refugees from Bucharest 1916. Source: www.historia.ro

It was another kettle of fish for the civilian refugees. The rooms were rented by public auction; going to the highest bidder, even the cafes were instantly transformed into dormitories, two tables put together became lots and were rented for fantastic sums. These were obviously temporary arrangements just so that everyone could find lodgings. It was sickening to see the greed of human nature that can profit under all circumstances, even the most tragic in order to exploit the misfortune of others; here were people who, seized by panic had left their homes, their comfort, perhaps their loved ones and who saw themselves duped without pity by their own countrymen. All that didn’t encourage us to stay an instant longer in Jassy. We didn’t know anyone: trying to find lodgings was out of the question; therefore the only and best solution was to leave as soon as possible.

I went to the British Consulate and asked to see my ambassador’s secretary who received me immediately. Happy to see me again safe and sound, he asked for details of our flight from Bucharest. I told him how, on the very same day that he had told me to leave, we had been invited [along] by the French Red Cross, about our departure from the hospital at precisely midnight as well as all the adventures of our journey. That seemed to spark his interest. He got my passport ready and that of my father and once again advised me to leave as soon as possible, the situation at Jassy being untenable.

We were lucky, as soon as we arrived at Jassy station, there was a train for the Russo-Romanian frontier, to the little village of Ungheni, Rushi. It was already nighttime when we arrived at Ungheni: we were exhausted and the cold was intense but what did all that matter; we were at last on Russian soil in an Allied country.

Map of Romania showing Frank’s route from Bucharest to the Russian border at Ungheni.


End of Part 1 – to be continued…

Sources and further information

My thanks to Esmè Clutterbuck and Jeremy Neave for the use of family photos and documents.

The People of Bucharest and the Bombings of 1916 by Ana Maria Schiopu: https://europecentenary.eu/the-people-of-bucharest-and-the-bombings-of-1916/

Another contemporary account of the fall of Bucharest and the flight of refugees: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/89713/wwi-centennial-fall-bucharest-lloyd-george-pm

The Revenge of the Germans in Bucharest 1916: https://europecentenary.eu/1916-the-revenge-of-the-germans-in-bucharest/

Field Marshal August Von Mackenson : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_von_Mackensen

Images of Bucharest in the interwar years: https://romaniadacia.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/old-bucharest-interwar-pictures/bucuresti-bucharest-capital-city-romania-little-paris-micul-paris/

More on the destruction of the Ploesti oil fields: https://europecentenary.eu/sabotaging-the-german-war-machine-the-destruction-of-the-romanian-oilfields-in-november-1916/

And at this link: furcuta.blogspot.com

Photos of old Romanian and Moldavian life by Adolphe Chevallier (1881-1963): https://romaniadacia.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/old-romania-adolph-chevallier-photography/



Dr Violi – Pioneering Paediatrician of Constantinople 1849-1928

Dr Violi – Pioneering Paediatrician of Constantinople 1849-1928

Dr Giovanni Battista Violi.    Source: Family archive.

Today in 2020, the whole world holds its breath, quite literally, waiting and hoping for a vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the killer outbreaks came from infectious diseases such as smallpox and TB. It seems timely therefore to tell the story of an extraordinary individual connected to my family history, an Italian doctor called Dr Giovanni-Battista Violi. His pioneering work on vaccination along with his tireless developments in child health must have saved the lives of thousands of children, while also helping to build an international clinical network in paediatrics for the sharing of research and innovation in clinical treatments.



Dr Violi in 1906.

Early Years

Giovanni-Battista (or John-Baptista) Violi was born in Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy in about 1849. Not much is known about his early life but he trained as a doctor before moving to Vienna in Austria to specialise in paediatrics (children’s medicine). After qualifying sometime in the 1870s he initially worked in Thessaloniki. He moved to Constantinople/Istanbul in Turkey in 1874 at the age of 25.

In 1879, on 22nd February, Dr Violi married Paolina Calleja at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Galata. Paolina worked at the Italian Embassy in Pera (a district of Istanbul on the European side now called Beyoğlu). She was the sister in law of my Great Great Aunt Elise Calleja nee Callus who married Paolina’s brother Joseph Calleja in 1891. Elise was the sister of my Great Grandfather Henri Callus. My family connection to Dr Violi is therefore fairly distant and comes through these marital relationships (illustrated below).

Initially Dr Violi and Paolina lived at her family home at 83, Rue Bouyuk Hendek in Galata, Constantinople, along with her parents and brothers. Later they moved to San Stefano (now known as Yesilkoy). They had 4 children. Their first son called Umberto, was born in 1889 but died at just 2 years old. There followed another son, Giuseppe known as “Peppino”, in 1894 and 2 daughters, Nella and Germaine (dates unknown). They remained close to their extended family and when Paolina’s brother Octave moved to Romania, they would exchange family holidays between Istanbul and Bucharest.

L-R: Mary Calleya (niece), Dr Violi, Zoe Calleya (Sis-in-law), Paolina Violi (wife), Octave Calleya (bro-in-law), ? Germaine or Nella Violi (daughter). Bucharest c. 1910. Source: Family archive.


Career Development – Vaccination Innovations

Order of the Medjidie

After getting married, Dr Violi’s career really started to take off. In 1880 he established “Dr Violi’s Institute for Smallpox Vaccine” at Beyoglu Aynali Pasaje no 15 in Pera. This was a private clinic which specialised in the administration of a cowpox vaccine invented by Violi and manufactured by Hugo Avelis from calf material. Theirs was the only smallpox vaccine and serum produced in Turkey until 1892 (Dinc & Etker, 2004). Violi submitted a sample of this vaccine to a major exhibition in Chicago c. 1890 and won a medal for his work. This followed other forms of recognition such as the Ottoman medal of 4th rank (Osmani Nisau) from the municipality of Constantinople as thanks for the many poor children he treated for free. He also received the Sultan’s medal, the Medjidie in 1888, this time alongside Dr Edros, for helping to suppress a smallpox outbreak in the city that killed 12 children (Yildirim, 2010).

One of the difficulties for the containment of smallpox was getting enough people to take up the vaccine. As smallpox was such a terrible disease which killed many and disfigured survivors, one would think that people would flock to be vaccinated. This wasn’t the case. For starters, there was little state provision for healthcare so Violi treated many of the poor for free. Another problem was getting people to declare symptoms and signs of infection in other family members because once declared the authorities applied quarantine restrictions and the burning of all clothing and other belongings. Like today, if you were poor or believed you might lose your job, you might be inclined to ignore symptoms if they didn’t seem too severe. As a result, there were many outbreaks here and there across the city. In 1890 the authorities sent Dr Violi and a colleague to Buyukdere, one of the Princes Islands and to the Mezaburnu district to vaccinate around 700 people against one such outbreak which killed 17 children.

His interest in infectious diseases and vaccination continued throughout his career and extended well beyond smallpox. In 1889 he wrote a paper on the major epidemic diseases prevalent in the Ottoman Empire including bubonic plague, cholera and an Arabian form of Dengue. He worked extensively on the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis (TB), but also meningitis, diptheria, scarletina, typhoid, cholera and others. He later became one of the administrators of the Ottoman Vaccination Centre.

Paediatrics Specialisation

With respect to his work as a paediatrician, here he proved himself a true clinical leader and innovator too.

His first key role was as the Medical Director for Paediatrics at the Austrian Sen Jorge (St George) Hospital. This facility was established in 1895 in Galata in Constantinople, on the site of the former Austro-Hungarian Hospital which had been founded by the Lazarites. It had 50 beds for paediatrics, an ophthalmology clinic with 30 beds, a poly-clinic and a soup kitchen for serving the poor.

An interesting coincidence is that the ophthalmic division was headed by Dr Edwin Van Millingen. He also happens to be connected to my family history through a completely different marital line. He was married to my Great Grandmother’s sister, Marie Pouhalski. Edwin trained as a doctor in Germany and then, like Violi, he also went to Vienna to do his specialist training, returning to Constantinople in 1874, the same year as Violi. They were about the same age too so it is possible they met in Vienna. Dr Van Millingen also became an eminent ophthalmologist at home and on the international stage.

Sen Jorge Hospital Archive.

In 1897 Dr Violi restructured the hospital turning it into the first international children’s hospital in the Ottoman empire. It had a laboratory, an operating theatre, a first aid room and a gymnasium for patients. Continuing his interest in infectious diseases, Dr Violi used the laboratory to produce his own serums and conducted many clinical trials for passive immunisation (Dinc and Etker). He published many articles and regularly attended international conferences.

Dr Violi’s approach to his patients’ care was to my mind, quite modern and broad-minded by the standards of the day. The children were nursed in specially modeled children’s beds from Marseille. Mothers were encouraged to stay with their children for the duration of their admission. Violi’s publications demonstrate his attention to systematic and scientific analysis alongside a holistic and caring attitude that placed a value on the promotion of well-being as an aid to recovery. For example his publications included advice for mothers and an interest in things like the effect of dental caries on general physical health. Patients who could pay were accommodated in separate rooms but treatment was offered to any child regardless of race, religion or financial background.  (Yildirim, 2010). By 1901 nearly 20,000 children had received consultations there and nearly 14,000 had gone on to be treated.

The hospital was served by nuns from the St Vincent de Paul order from Graz in Austria and received financial support from the municipality and the Italian Society in Istanbul. However in 1897, Violi established the Societé Internationale pour le Protection d’Enfance for ongoing finance and to raise funds for the development of a summer sanatorium and a new build for the international hospital.

Austrian St George Hospital 2018 – the original wooden building was demolished after 1929.

St George’s Children’s Sanatorium Burgaz Island

Views of St George Sanatorium on Burgaz Island. Source: Salt Research Galata.

In 1902, Violi established the first summer sanatorium for orphaned and homeless children on the island of Burgaz (Princes Islands). The island is also known as Antigoni. The sanatorium was affiliated to the St George children’s hospital and was funded by monies raised by Violi’s childrens’ society. It was primarily for treating children with TB but also treated some children with rickets. Its philosophy was to aid recovery through exposure to sunshine and fresh air and to this end had a house on the seashore so that children could swim and sunbathe. In its first summer of 1902, 40 children were treated there. It closed sometime after 1929.

Sunbathing and relaxation was a key part of the therapy at Burgaz Sanatorium. Source: Salt Research, Galata.

Şişli International Childrens Hospital (Chichli de Kain Beyn-el-Milel Etfal Hastanesi)

Over the years, Dr Violi’s relations with the Austrian Hospital’s serving sisters had deteriorated, perhaps over differences in approach, we don’t really know but in any case he was determined to transfer his clinical practice to a new hospital and to sever his relations with them. The new hospital was built in the up and coming Şişli district of Istanbul at Ciftlik Sok 14-16, not far from the Ottoman children’s hospital which opened in 1895 (Etfal Hastanesi Hamidiye) and the Veterinary Hospital.

Its first patients transferred to the new hospital at Şişli 17 Sept 1905. Violi took everything with him from the old hospital which rather exacerbated the bad atmosphere with the Sisters at Sen Jorge, who had to appeal to the Austrian government to get re-equipped. To be fair to Violi, this might not have been as unreasonable as it at first appears as much of the furniture and equipment such as the beds, were specifically for children and he may have presumed the Sen Jorge would revert to adult care. As it happens this wasn’t the case and the old hospital continued to operate under the title of St George International Children’s Hospital at the site in Sok Medresse, Galata. Not all of the kit came from the old hospital though. The new hospital was the first to have x-ray facilities in the whole of the Ottoman empire (Yurdakok & Cataldi, 2004).

Sadly I have been unable to locate a single picture of the Şişli hospital. It does seem incredible that none should survived to the present day. Perhaps this article will help one to resurface.

During WW1 the hospital was requisitioned for use as barracks by the Austrian army (was this revenge perhaps)? It seems that Dr Violi had left Turkey during this time and did not return until 1918 but I am unsure where he went or what he did during this time. Some of his male relatives with British nationality took refuge in Romania because they were at risk of internment by Turkey as “enemy aliens” but there was no mention of Violi having joined them. Italy was neutral until 1916 when it joined on the side of the Allies, at which point many Italians left Turkey.

On his return he established a small paediatric clinic in Tunel (Ensiz Sok no. 6) which he called the International Children’s Hospital. After the Armistice the Italian army took over the original building in Şişli but Violi did manage to reuse some of it in 1922 for a short while. It appears this ceased after the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. By this time however, Dr Violi was in his seventies.

‘La Pediatrie en Turquie’ – the First Paediatric Medical Journal

In 1909 he founded the first paediatric journal in the Ottoman Empire which also happened to precede its British equivalent. ‘La Pediatrie en Turquie’ was a monthly bi-lingual publication in Turkish and French that ran for 31 issues from 31 January 1909 to 1 June 1914. Publication was interrupted for a while during 1911 (due to the Turkish Italian war over Libya 1911-12 when many Italians were expelled) but then had to cease altogether at the outbreak of WW1.

As editor-in-chief Dr Violi introduced each edition with a review of morbidity and mortality statistics for the key infectious diseases, provided reviews of new research, publications and international conferences and published original articles on a wide range of topics from leading doctors and academics from all over the world including Paris, Berlin, Oslo, Rome, even as far afield as Buenos Aires.


Violi/Calleja family grave – Ferikoy RC cemetery, Istanbul

Giovanni-Battista Violi died in Istanbul 22 January 1928 at the age of 79. He is buried in the Violi/Calleja family grave at Ferikoy Latin Cemetery alongside his baby son and his wife Paolina. She died at the grand old age of 96 in 1956. Despite the size of the grave edifice it has no epitaphs on the headstone.

It is believed that all Violi’s children moved to Switzerland in the 1920s or 30s and I should also mention that his son, Peppino, also became a doctor.

The work of this pioneering doctor who saved the lives of so many children has until recently been completely forgotten in Turkey, yet Yurdakok and Cataldi (2013) state that Giovanni Battista Violi was probably the most influential physician from Italy in the Ottoman Empire. A number of academic research papers have in recent years been published on the contributions of foreign and Levantine doctors in this period and all cite Violi as one of the most significant. These papers have proved invaluable in the writing of this article.

Detail – the grave.

Sources and Further Information

Dinc, G. and Etker, S. (2004), Child Health in Istanbul: Dr G.B. Violi and his monthly La Pediatrie en Turquie (1909-14), in Osmanli Bilini Arastirmalan (Studies in Ottoman science), 5 (2); 61-102.

For more information on Turkish-Italian relations, read the interview with Francesco Pongiluppi from Jan 2018, Levantine Heritage Foundation: http://levantineheritage.com/francesco-pongiluppi-interview.html

Salt Research Galata – hold 4 issues in digital format of Violi’s bi-lingual (French/Turkish) journal ‘La Pediatrie en Turquie. They can found at this link: https://archives.saltresearch.org/handle/123456789/1413

Photos of the Burgaz Sanatorium are published under the Creative Commons licence from the repository held by Salt Research Galata. The complete photo album can be viewed at this link:


Violi, G.B. (1889), Brevi Cenni su alcune Malattie Epidemiche che dominano nell’impero Ottomano from the Giornale Medico Lo Sperimentale, Nov 1889, Firenze; Cenniniane.

Violi, G.B. (1897), De la Sérotherapie dans la Diphtheria, Gazette Médicale d’Orient, 41 (23); 372-3 cited in Dinc & Etker ibid.

Yildirim, N. (2010), A History of Healthcare in Istanbul – The Istanbul 2010 European Capital City of Culture Agency and Istanbul University Project No. 55-10. (Book).

Yurdakok, M. & Cataldi, L. (2013), Italian contributions to Turkish Paediatrics during the Ottoman Empire, Acta Med-Hist Adriat 2013, 11(2); 313-318.

My thanks to Esmé Clutterbuck for family photographs of Dr Violi and to Marianne Marandet for data from the Istanbul parish registers and Ferikoy cemetery.


Maltese Levantines of Constantinople: the Calleja family

So far, I have recounted how my Maltese Callus and Griscti ancestors found themselves settled in Constantinople in the middle of the 19th century. Their descendants went on to marry into many other families of the Maltese diaspora. One of the families that retained an especially close connection to the Callus line were the Calleja family. Elise Callus, my Great Grandfather’s sister, married Joseph Calleja in 1891. In this article I want to share what I know about their story.

Saverio Calleja c. 1882 With permission: E. Clutterbuck

First Generation – Saverio (Xavier) Calleja

Joseph Calleja was the eldest son of Saverio (Xavier) Calleja and Maria Parisi. The family legend is that Saverio was an architect, one of 5 brothers who set up business trading in marble between Italy, Malta and the Middle East, around the time of the Napoleonic invasion of Malta and the subsequent takeover by the British. It was the newly acquired British status of the island that then enabled the Callejas to move to Constantinople to take advantage of the Ottoman “capitulations”. These were concessions granted to foreigners taking up residence or trade in the Ottoman Empire that meant they came under the jurisdiction of their home country rather than the Ottoman laws. It also conferred benefits such as tax exemptions and lucrative trading rights.

The facts bear this out quite well. Parish records in Istanbul indicate that Saverio was born in Malta around 1823. This means that his business must have been developed around the 1840s or 50s although this is of course quite some time after the Napoleonic period (1798-99). However to date I have been unable to locate any vital records  for Saverio or his family in Malta itself, so with regard to his being one of five brothers, this has been impossible to verify. He married in Constantinople in 1858 so this suggests he moved the business abroad in the early 1850s which is consistent with the modernising period of the Ottoman Empire.

To further my search for potential siblings, I looked at a number of other Calleja families residing in Constantinople at this time. Some, such as the family of Antoine Calleya Bey (sic), (he was a noted chemist working by royal appointment to the sultan), do not appear to be related at all, as they came to Constantinople several generations earlier.

Of the other families, there are just one or two who might turn out to be related. For instance, Laurentio Calleja born c. 1822 in Malta was a contemporary while Francisco Borg and his wife Francesca Calleja were another. Saverio was Godfather to their son Joseph Borg born in 1852 in Constantinople and connections to this family continued with his children.

It is possible that the five siblings have been conflated with Saverio having had five children himself. His wife Lorenza “Maria” Parisi, was born in Constantinople but her family migrated from Malta before she was born. Maria’s parents married in Malta but were themselves originally tailors from Augusta, Siracusa (Syracuse) in Sicily.

In the 1860s, Saverio and Maria lived in Rue Hendek near the Galata Tower. The house has since been demolished to make way for the  modern road network.

Sarkis Balyan Source: Public Domain.

Much of his business was with the Ottoman court, where he was known as Savrijo Kalfa. His business address was in Karakoy Square by the Galata Bridge, a downhill walk of about 10 minutes from Rue Hendek. According to family recollections, the Calleja business was extremely successful and Saverio became very rich. Many of the fine objets d’arte described by Frank Calleja in my earlier post on Petraki Han, were inherited by his father from Saverio.  His commissions with the Sultan included the Pertevniyal Valide Mosque, Aziziye Mosque and the Akaretlar Row Houses.  For these his dealings were with the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, Sarkis Balyan, a member of the famous Armenian Balyan family of architects, who were responsible for buildings such as the Beylerbeyi, the Çırağan and the Dolmabahçe Palaces among many others.

Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque. Image c. 1890-1900. Public Domain

Akaretler Row House built 1875 for Dolmabahce palace officials. Source unknown.








Then one day disaster struck. The Sultan Abdulaziz, who had commissioned a new mosque to be built with marble imported by Saverio, died. On 30th May 1876, he was deposed and was found dead 6 days later with his wrists slit. It was reportedly suicide but foul play was suspected. A total of 17 doctors were called to examine the body, but they were only allowed to examine his wrists, which further accentuated suspicions. One of the doctors was Dr Julius Millingen (father of Marie Pouhalski’s husband Dr Edwin Van Millingen).

Saverio Calleja portrait in oils dated 1882.

Abdulaziz was succeeded by his son (Abdul Hamid II) who cancelled the building project.  Sarkis Balyan incurred massive debts as a result. In 1878, after 3 years of non payment for the commissioned materials, Saverio Calleja and Eugène Maillard submitted a petition against him to the Grand Vizier on behalf of the other creditors and artisans requesting reimbursement. Sarkis was formally disgraced and exiled to Paris as a consequence, where he remained for 15 years (Wharton, 2015). However it was too late for Saverio, he went bankrupt and the marble was unused. His grand-daughter Lydia said she remembered playing on the marble blocks and pillars lying around the grounds of his home!

He died a broken man in 1882, the same year of this rather melancholy portrait painting of him. He is buried in the family vault in the Ferikoy Latin RC cemetery in Istanbul.

Second Generation

Saverio and Maria had five children, described in more detail below.

Joseph Calleja

Joseph John Calleja born 27 January 1859. It is thought he worked for the British government as some sort of administrator. He married my Great Grandfather’s sister Elise Callus in 1891 and they lived most of their married life at the apartment building Petraki Han, which is opposite the Galata Tower. They had 5 children; Frank Xavier, Elvira, Edouard, Irma and Lydia. There appear to have been two children named Elvira, exactly one year apart. The first Elvira was born 29 December 1893 and has a burial date of 4th August 1894 in the register of the Ferikoy Latin Cemetery (Geneanet), while the second Elvira was baptised 29 December 1894.

Joseph died in 1930 in Constantinople and is buried in Saverio Calleja’s family grave in the Ferikoy Latin cemetery. His wife Elise, remained in Constantinople, by then renamed Istanbul, and died in 1841.

L-R: Frank, Elise, Joseph, Lydia, Irma, Elvira Calleja. c. 1920

Paolina Maria Concepta Calleja born 16 March 1860. She worked at the Italian Embassy in Pera. She married an Italian paediatrician called Dr Giovanni Battista Violi, who had an international reputation and was a pioneer and champion of childhood vaccinations, more about him in a future post! Together they had 2 children; their first son Umberto Giuseppe died in infancy, but the second Giuseppe Umberto survived and also became a doctor. Paolina died in 1956 and is buried in the Calleja family grave in the Ferikoy cemetery alongside her husband.

Unlabelled portrait believed to be Ottavio Calleja c. 1882.

Ottavio Vincenzo Calleja born 26 June 1861. He was known as Octave Calleya (a french rendition). Between 1875-1880 he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and became a renowned architect. Incidentally, Sarkis Balyan had also been educated there. A colleague in Paris was Traian Săvulescu from Muscel, in Romania. He invited Octave to visit Romania when he returned to Istanbul. This visit ultimately led him to establish his business there and is also where he met his wife, a divorcee called Zoe Albescu Baldovin who lived close by to Săvulescu. They married in 1899 and had 8 children; one daughter, Mary, and five sons plus another two who died in infancy. Zoe had inherited a substantial estate in Campulung, Muscel and Octave was a very successful entrepreneur who made a fortune. In 1910, he built Casa Calleya as a family home in the centre of Bucharest. There are some interesting blogs published on both Octave and Zoe, all in Romanian. I will endeavor to get permission to reblog them on this site in English as their stories are interesting and rather romantic. Octave died in 1927 and Zoe in 1955.

Casa Calleya, built by Octave in Bucharest 1910.

Octave and Zoe and family c. 1920 Bucharest.

Antoine Calleya 1906 Source: Ottoman Bank Archives

Antonio Carmelo Vincenzo Calleja born 13 January 1863. Antonio (known as Antoine Calleya), worked for the Imperial Ottoman Bank on Voyvoda Street in Constantinople. The advert for the bank (below) is from 1914 and cites him as the bank manager (chef du bureau) for the Pera branch.

He married Catherina Pangalo in 1893 and had 3 daughters; Angela, known as Octavie in 1896, Maria Antonia in 1899 and Sylvia in 1900 who died at the age of 7. Angela married Haik Zipcy (an Armenian name) and Maria to someone called Fernandez. Both ladies remained in Constantinople and lived to old age.

Antoine died quite young at 54. They are all buried in the Calleja vault in the Latin RC cemetery at Ferikoy.


Advert for the Imperial Ottoman Bank. RHS M A. Calleya cited as bank manager for the Pera bureau.


William/Gullielmo Carmelo Calleja born in 1865. Died aged 2.

Calleja Family Tree

Calleja Family Tree – updated May 2020




My thanks to Marie Ann Marandet for her searches of the Istanbul parish records and the Ferikoy cemetery register, to Esmé Clutterbuck for the use of family photos and documents and to the late Alex Baltazzi of the Levantine Heritage Foundation for the image of the Imperial Ottoman Bank advert. Other sources are listed below.

Further information and sources

Geneanum is the most comprehensive database of baptisms, marriages and deaths for Malta. Website: http://en.geneanum.com/malta/databases/baptisms.html#

Geneanet is another go-to genealogical database that is particularly good for records outside UK and USA. Website: https://en.geneanet.org/fonds/individus/

SALT Research Galata – this research centre is housed in the former Imperial Ottoman Bank in Istanbul. It has some useful genealogical sources including trade directories, some parish records for christian churches in Galata and personnel records for various institutions including the Italian Embassy and the Imperial Ottoman Bank itself. Website: https://archives.saltresearch.org/

L’Indicateur Oriental Annuaire du Commerce (various eds. 1868-95). SALT Galata, Research at http://saltresearch.org/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=salt&dscnt=0&dstmp=1521833686969&backFromPreferences=true

Wharton, Alyson (2015), The Architects of Constantinople: The Balyan Family and the History of Ottoman Architecture, New York: I.B. Tauris.

The Ottoman Architecture Seen Around Balyan Family at : https://www.motleyturkey.com/the-ottoman-architecture-seen-around-balyan-family/

Les architect élèves de l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts 1793-1907 – publication available at Geneanet (Premium ed.)

How many ancestors do you have?

With the media surrounding the Danny Dyer tv programme seeming to perpetuate the idea that everyone in the UK is descended from William the Conqueror, I thought it might be interesting to reblog this fascinating (if rather long) article on some of the stats and probabilities. Thanks to Charmaine at her Miss Malta blog for sharing first.

The Wild Peak

Many of us are interested in where our families come from as well as who our ancestors were. What and where are our ‘roots’? Some of you might even have researched your genealogy or family history. Yet have you ever seriously considered how many direct ancestors you really have? Obviously it’s a lot, but how many? You might have even heard statements to the effect that all Europeans are descendants of Charlemagne in the eighth century or that all people of English ancestry are descended from 86% of the people living in England at the time of William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago. If you live in North America and have English or European ancestors the same questions apply. Indeed wherever you live and whatever your ethnic ancestry the questions of descent and ancestry are the same. This short article attempts, in a non-mathematical way, to answer or at…

View original post 6,864 more words

In the Beginning – My Callus Pedigree from the 1500s

In the Beginning – My Callus Pedigree from the 1500s

Most genealogists like to find out just how far back a particular ancestral pedigree can be traced. When I first started researching my Callus family tree, the family could only be plotted back to the latter part of the 17th century. Gradually over the years, the layers have been peeled back and today I can show my oldest Callus ancestor to be Pasquale Callus of Zurrieq in Malta, born about 1568, presumed son of Giovanni Callus born about 1545.

Now the reason why I cannot be more categorical about Pasquale’s parentage, is that there are three parish marriage records in Zurrieq for a Pasquale Callus around this period:

  1. Pasquale Callus, son of Giovanni and Nuza, married Agata Tonna 25 Nov 1590.
  2. Pasquale Callus, son of (left blank) and Nuza, married Angela Farrugia 28 Aug 1594.
  3. Pasquale Callus, son of Angelo, married Catherina Camilleri in 1596.

The first two marriages share the mother’s first name but the father’s name is missing in the second record. The third marriage shown is quite clearly unrelated. In the first marriage, one son is born in 1591 and then no further records can be found on mother or son. The second marriage occurs very soon after this. I think it is not an unreasonable assumption to conclude that Agata Tonna probably died and that the second marriage shown is the same Pasquale as the first. However without a written record to back this up, the jury must stay out on whether this means that Giovanni and Nuza from marriage 1 are the same parents for marriage 2. To date I have been unable to trace a baptism or burial record for Pasquale. His wife Angela is recorded as the widow of Pasquale in 1613 when she remarried.

There are no records for Giovanni and Nuza Callus aside from these marriage entries so this is the end point for this particular family tree. Parish records for births, marriages and burials were introduced shortly after the Knights of St John arrived on the island of Malta in 1530 but it probably took a little while for this record keeping to become standard practice. Very early records do exist (some as early as 1522, pre Knights) but they are very patchy and do not start to appear in significant numbers until the 1540s.

There are just a handful of vital records for earlier Callus families in Malta, as described in my earlier posts on Hyeronimus Callus the Apothecary and A Maltese National Hero – Dr Joseph Callus. It is however nigh on impossible to trace a direct link to these although it is a fair assumption that we share a common ancestor.

The first part of the family tree from Pasquale is illustrated below and shows parents, children and grandchild Giuseppe Callus of Crendi born about 1612 and discussed in my earlier post Tracing 17th Century Callus Ancestors. Giuseppe married Marietta Vella in 1642.

Hourglass chart for Pasquale Callus c.1568-1617 showing parents, children and grandchildren.

The chart below shows the descendants of Pasquale and Angela with my own direct line highlighted in blue. Other names are their siblings and offspring. The chart ends at my grandfather’s generation, the 11th. With some of my cousins themselves now grandparents, this pedigree today has 15 generations!

Direct Descendants of Pasquale and Angela Callus

1 Giovanni Callus* TBC (~1545 – ) & Nuza (~1550 – ) m. abt 1566

1.1a Pasquale Callus* (~1568 – <1613) & Angela Farrugia m. 28 Aug 1594, Zurrieq, Malta (presumed 2nd marr)

1.1a.1 Giovanni Callus di Crendi* (1596 – <1640) & Caterinella Bartolo ( – <1640) m. 3 Sep 1617, Zurrieq,

1.1a.1.1a Giuseppe (Joseph) Callus di Crendi* (~1612 – <1688) & Marietta Vella (~1623 – ) m. 12 Jan 1642, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.1a Caterinella Callus (~1643 – ) & Domenico Tonna m. 1 Oct 1676, Porto Salvo, Valletta

1.1a.1.1a.1b Caterinella Callus (~1643 – ) & Lorenzo Gristi di Curmi ( – <1676) m. 19 Apr 1660, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.2a Bartolomea Callus (~1653 – ) & Battista Grech/Verrela/Battandi Bapt slave ( – <1689) m. 18 Jan 1671

1.1a.1.1a.2b Bartolomea Callus (~1653 – ) & Pietro Paulo Vella m. 10 Sep 1689

1.1a.1.1a.3 Francesca Callus (~1656 – ) & Antonio Tabone di Tarxien (~1649 – ) m. 18 Oct 1681, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.3.1 Aloisia Tabone (~1678 – )

1.1a.1.1a.3.2 Joseph Tabone (~1681 – )

1.1a.1.1a.4 Gregorio Callus* (~1664 – <1715) & Maruzza Farrugia (~1667 – >1715) m. 18 Sep 1688, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.1 Giuseppe Callus (~1694 – <1758) & Grazia Bonnici (~1695 – >1758) m. 17 Nov 1715, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.1.1 Orsola Callus

1.1a.1.1a.4.2 Alberto Callus* (~1696 – >1758) & Magdalena Debrincat (~1702 – ) m. 6 Oct 1720, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.1 Nicolo Callus (~1720 – ) & Maria Cauchi m. 27 Aug 1741, Porto Salvo, Valletta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.2 Vittoria Callus (~1723 – ) & Antonio Cassar m. 12 May 1743, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.3 Giovanni Callus (~1727 – ) & Clara Zammit m. 1 Oct 1747, Parish Church of St Catherine, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a. Gio Battista Callus (~1748 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Catarina Callus (~1749 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Arcangelo Callus (~1758 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Salvatore Callus (~1758 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Maria Callus (~1764 – )

1.1a.1.1a. Gaetano Callus (~1764 – )

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.4 Maria Callus (~1728 – ) & Giovanni Vella m. 19 Jan 1749, Zurrieq, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a Andrea Callus* (1736 – <1810) & Caterina Cauchi m. 29 Oct 1775, Zebbug, Malta (2nd marr)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1 Phillip Alexandre Augustus Callus (1779 – ) & Therese Secondini (~1784 – ) m. abt 1802, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.1 Catherine Callus (<1804 – <1810)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.2 Marie Catherine Jerome Callus (~1804 – ) & Etienne Corticchiato (~1803 – ) m. 24 Apr 1824, Ajaccio, Corsica, Fr

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.3 Dominique Callus (1810 – 1810)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.4 Catherine Callus (1810 – 1842) & Ange Francois Nicolai m. 8 Feb 1840, Ajaccio, Corsica, France

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.1.5 Andre Callus (1817 – 1818)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2 Joseph Callus* (~1787 – 1813) & Anna Galea m. 8 Jul 1810, St Paul Shipwrecked, Valletta, Malta

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1 Andrea Pasquale Annunziaso Callus* (1811 – 1898) & Marie Anne Griscti (~1830 – 1908) m. 4 Sep 1848, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.1 Joseph Callus (1849 – ~1849)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.2 George Nataly Callus (1850 – 1852)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.3 Anna Maria Callus (~1853 – 1853)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.4 Henri Joseph Callus* (1854 – 1930) & Christina Josephine Puchalski/Pouhalski (1853 – 1901), m. 22 Sep 1884, S.S. Peter and Paul, Galata, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Harry Mary Edward Callus (1885 – 1961) & Helen Grundy ( – 1997) m. abt Dec 1924, Pembroke, Wales

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Andrew Theodore Callus (~1886 – 1961) & Mabel Florence Devereux (1891 – 1979) m. 1913, Wigan.

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Victor John Callus* (1887 – 1963) & Mary Taylor (1897 – 1982) m. 8 May 1920, Croydon, London

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Charles Albert Callus (1889 – 1977) & Agnes Imms (1900 – 1971) m. 1924, Cardiff, Wales

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Arthur Ernest Callus (1893 – 1965) & Florence May Kelly (1898 – 1980) m. 23 Sep 1929, Adelaide, S. Australia

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.5 Elisabetto Amelia Callus (~1856 – 1856)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.6 Emilia Vincentia Callus (1857 – 1936)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.7 Edouard Emmanuel Callus (1859 – 1887) & Ada Johnson (~1866 – ) m. 4 Jan 1886, Chatham, Kent

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.8 Therese Angela Callus (1861 – 1948)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.9 Ernesto Joseph Callus (1862 – 1914)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.10 “Elise” (Elizabeth Josephina) Callus (1864 – 1941) & Joseph John Calleja (1859 – 1930), m. 1891, Galata, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Francis Xavier Calleja (1892 – ~1970)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Elvira Calleja (1893 – 1894)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Elvira Calleja (1894 – ) & Isaac “Acky” Beckler ( – 1942)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Irma Lee (Maria) Calleja (1896 – 1958) & Edgar L Solomon ( – 1959) m. Apr 1926, Tendring, Essex

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Edouard Andrea Joseph Calleja (1898 – 1899)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a. Lydia Henrietta Valentina Calleja (1902 – ~1975) & “Harry” Henry Spittle (1891 – ~1970), m. 1922, S.S. Peter & Paul, Constantinople, Turkey

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.11 Josephine Callus (~1867 – 1868)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.12 Josephina Maria Callus (1869 – 1942)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.13 Alexander Dominic (aka Alfred) Callus (1871 – 1874)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5a.2.1.14 “Hortense” (Rosalia Ortentia) Callus (1875 – 1950)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.5b Andrea Callus* (1736 – <1810) & Rosa Cauchi, m. 30 Oct 1757, Siggiewi, Malta (1st marr)

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.6 Teresa Callus

1.1a.1.1a.4.2.7 Anna Callus

1.1a.1.1b Giuseppe (Joseph) Callus di Crendi* (~1612 – <1688) & Caterina Bugeja ( – <1642) m. 21 Apr 1640, Qrendi, Malta (1st marr)

1.1a.1.2 Domenica Callus & Gio Maria Vella m. 12 Jan 1642, Qrendi, Malta

1.1a.2 Giuseppe Callus (1599 – 1616)

1.1a.3 Gioannella Callus (~1602 – )

1.1a.4 Inziona (or Enciona) Callus (1604 – ) & Gio Maria Dalli m. 29 Jun 1623, Mdina, Malta

1.1b Pasquale Callus* (~1568 – <1613) & Agata Tonna (~1570 – ) m. 25 Nov 1590, Zurrieq, Malta (1st marr)

1.1b.1 Domenico Callus (1591 – )


Sources and Further Information

The Callus family crest shown above was published in 1925 in a series of cigarette cards by the Camler tobacco Co. https://www.heraldry-wiki.com/heraldrywiki/index.php?title=Camler_Tobacco_Co._-_Arms_of_Maltese_families



Callus Family History News

Callus Family History News

I have recently started to compile a print version of my family history research on this blog and this has presented me with an opportunity to revisit some of my earlier articles.

Fortuitously this has enabled me to locate new research which means that I am now able to answer some of the questions left hanging in the original articles. In some cases, the articles have just minor tweaks and updates but I am also planning to draft new material for some more meatier revelations.  For instance, in the story of Alexandre Callus who was exiled to Corsica after Napoleon’s invasion of Malta, it was unclear in what way he was involved in the French occupation. I have now found information that strongly suggests he was one of the few Maltese in the French garrison holed up in the Siege of Valletta 1799-1800!

I will also be publishing a new article on my earliest Callus ancestry, going way back to the 1500s and the full family tree of descendants up to my grandfather’s generation.

In terms of my more recent family history discoveries, there is more to come from Frank Calleja’s memoirs. The next one will cover his travels in Georgia and Armenia in the early days of the Soviet Union (1922) and there is also a long account of his escape from Bucharest in Romania to Russia during WW1 after the German occupation. (Frank and his father left Istanbul in 1914 to avoid internment as enemy aliens).

So I invite my regular visitors to return to some of my original posts and pages and hope you will continue to follow this journey into my family’s past.

For anyone looking forward to finally reading something about my paternal Lancashire ancestry, I have a wealth of material in waiting and have firm plans to be using my forthcoming retirement to share some of this too.

Petraki Han – A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Petraki Han – A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Frank Calleja, c.1968

This is the charming memoir of a childhood spent in No.4 Petraki Han, Constantinople. It was written by my grandfather’s first cousin, Frank, (Francis Xavier Calleja) in the 1960s when he was by then living in a little flat in West Kensington, London.

The place he describes, Petraki Han, is a 19th century apartment block directly facing one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, the Galata Tower.  Frank was born in 1892 to Maltese parents and lived in Petraki Han for nearly 40 years until the early 1930s.


Petraki Han: A memoir by Francis Xavier Calleja (1892-1970).

Translated from the French manuscript by Judith Mulcahy and Esmé Clutterbuck. Transcribed and edited by Angela Fry with explanatory notes and comments in […].

These two words, one Greek, the other Turkish, would make no sense to those who do not belong to this region where races and languages eternally dance their ludicrous saraband, these words, which are indifferent to those who read them, yet so soft upon my ear, so full of charm for me and so rich with memories, these are the names of the house where we lived for more than forty years. We, who are we? We! were my maternal grandparents, my parents, four aunts, my three dear sisters and myself. A matriarchal family one would say.

The occupants of No. 4 Petraki Han c. 1905. L-R back row standing: Emily, Josephine, Hortense Callus, Frank Calleja. L-R middle sitting: Therése Callus, Elise Calleja nee Callus, Marie Callus nee Griscti and Joseph Calleja. Front L-R: Irma, Lydia and Elvira Calleja.

Nowadays families so closely linked by a reciprocal affection, by the same fear of God, by a respect for traditions and by a feeling of duty towards family, are few, and the description of such will perhaps make the youth of today laugh.

But it is in this old fashioned and charming setting that the principal events of my childhood, adolescence and a good part of my youth took place. It is this dear chapter of my memoir which I will try to describe.

“Petraki Han” witnessed my first steps, my first words, my first tears. Petraki Han! Magic words to the memories, which you see, awakened in my soul, are magic words to the gentle ghosts of the past and which inhabit my solitude. Be blessed!

Those who are no longer, and whose names are written on my heart in letters of fire; those who are living still, but whom life has thrown to the four corners of the earth, those, the living and the dead will understand me. The others, strangers who read these lines, these indifferent lines, these stringless guitars as I call them from whom no sound echoes, they will smile perhaps and certainly treat me as a romantic.

Aerial view of Galata. Source: SALT online.

The Petraki Han was situated next to the old Genoese tower of Galata, which formed the Northern limit of the ancient province of the Genoese Republic. There stood the old walls, of which a few vestiges remain still today, starting from the tower and descending on one side towards the Golden Horn and on the other side towards the Bosphorus which encircled the ancient quarters of Galata. These quarters had previously formed, before Byzantium, this part of the small, wealthy republic, which used to face the commercial and less wealthy Venetian Province [Province Vénitienne], which was to be found on the other side of the waters of the Golden Horn.

Galata Tower and remaining Genoese walls 1880

Our house was a great square building on five floors, without any adjoining building. Its large terraced roof, like those popular in the orient, was famed in our close circle for the fresh air and the marvelous spectacle of the view.

Petraki Han apartment building opposite the Galata Tower, 2012.

View to the east to Asian shore and Bosphoros.


To the east one could see the Bosphorus, with the Asiatic Coast and the beautiful Haidar Pasha station with its turrets reflected in the Sea of Marmara, further off the Moda holiday resort, and in the distance, fading in the mist one can make out the almost green isle of Fanaraki by its great lighthouse.

View south of the British Seaman’s Hospital, Galata bridge and old Stamboul with the Sea of Marmara  beyond.



To the south and in the foreground is the English hospital, an architecturally imposing building a bit like a Scottish medieval chateau, behind which tranquilly flows the Golden Horn with its two bridges, those of Galata and Azap Kapisi which in the Caucasian language we used to call “the old bridge”. In the background there was Istanbul with its high hills on top of which are the famous mosques silhouetted against the blue sky with their elegant minarets in white marble. Sometimes in the evening in the moonlight you can pick out behind Istanbul a strip of silver, the Sea of Marmara.

To the west of our house, we have the tower of Galata which hides a lot from us but which at least protects us from the winds from the west, the Tarsanali. Further away the populous working districts of Pera spread out in terraces offering us a view of a jumble of disparate houses, irregular roofs and chimney-stacks.

Galata Tower with Petraki Han on the left c.1918.

This Petraki Han despite fleeting memories, all the same had nothing attractive about it. It was one of these large houses made into flats in a very modest area inhabited only by the lower bourgeoisie without any great wealth, whereas at the beginning and when my family first lived there, the flat was new. I was only 2 then and all my sisters were born there. [Ed. Petraki Han was built around 1895 following a major fire which destroyed most of the buildings in the area]. Thanks to a landlord who was only really interested in the rent, the upkeep of this flat like many others of the same sort, was left to tenants to look after. In the summer we were literally suffocated by a very strong smell which used to penetrate the building caused by a colony of feral cats who lived in the cellars and left the remnants of their food there. The staircases were so dark we used to go up them on all fours because we had an inexplicable fear of going past the large doors that went over the road [Ed. I am not clear what this refers to as the staircases went up the centre of the building, see floor plan below. They were adjacent to a lightwell]. In the evening a smoking gas lamp lit every landing. In winter most of the time, a strong wind whistled and blew through the slightly ajar back door putting out the lamps.  That, for us children made the stairwell all the more sinister and mysterious.

Armenian porter by Edmondo de Amicis, 1883

The old porter, Simon, an Armenian, did not give us cause [for concern?]. He used to wear blue billowing culottes and a Brandebouga gilet, had tufts of hennaed hair sprouting either side of the “Chechia” planted on his head [Ed. a type of Islamic hat] and was nearly always in his little place near the entrance crouched down on an old divan, a trail of smoke coming from his nargile [Turkish water pipe] watching all the comings and goings from the house.

Old ugly incorrigible darling that he was, old Simon was however a really good man. He would ceremoniously accompany the proprietor when he came to collect the rent and always enquired after the tenants’ needs, which despite his promises he always managed to forget. “Something wrong with the kitchen, well how can that possibly be?” “The windows won’t shut you say? But of course we will do everything necessary”. And in a voice that did not admit of a reply, the proprietor gave orders to the faithful Simon who cried out to the Guardian, repeating without ceasing “Pek eyi Efendius! Pek eyi efendius!” [Ed. – sic – Turkish pek iyi Efendi “very good Master”], but naturally he never did anything. These two characters were something of a comedy act.

In spite of the odour from the cats, the dark stairwell and old Simon, the flat where we lived on the second floor was for us sanctuary, where surrounded by the affection of our family we lived happily and carefree. There were cares obviously, certainly there were and many of them, but at this time, they were only ones which our parents took notice of and they did everything possible to protect us from them. The family was large and although the cost of living wasn’t very high we never had anything spare. We couldn’t afford any extras without it having an impact.

Original floor plan of Petraki Han. Source: MA Thesis by
Dilsad Gözübüyük Melek, 2004.

Entering into our house at no. 4 you found yourself in a little rectangular hallway which was quite dark in high summer but practically black in winter. The little light that there was came from two tiny windows one from the living room on the left and one from the dining room opposite, one being completely covered in the winter by heavy door hangings made from wool from Smyrna which father had a penchant for; he had them in all the bedrooms. In summer we took them all down because of the heat and fear of mites. All curtains and rugs were put in a large trunk with naptholine. At the end of October and the beginning of November we began to decorate the apartment again. Everything needed to be ready by the 19th this being a big name day for our good mother. [Ed: The name day is a tradition in some catholic and Eastern orthodox countries. It is similar to a birthday but celebrates the feast day of the named saint, in this case St Elizabeth of Hungary].  Curtains, carpets, trinkets and all other fripperies had to be put back in place for the little ones, and I believe for the big ones as well, an event we always looked forward to! When everything was ready we used to come into the living room on tip toes, proud of our carpet from Brussels, of our beautiful piano, of our large “Glace de St Gobain” [type of mirror], which nearly took up all the height of the room, our Louis XIV furniture which came from our grandfather, and an assortment of goblets and liqueur glasses which at this time were the joy of the whole family. In fact this living room had the air of a museum within which you couldn’t circulate very easily, nothing like this these days.

Cartoon of a Western style 19th century interior. Source: Dilsad Gözübüyük Melek, 2004.

I loved our living room, I took refuge in it but took great pleasure in it when I was bigger and started to learn the piano and with my sisters we received many friends. When we were still little and there were lots of people in it, we were only ever allowed to stay long enough to say hello to the ladies and then sent politely away. This was still the time when children weren’t allowed to hear conversations.

Elvira at the piano with sisters and friends c. 1918.

On Sunday evenings in the winter, our father used to play the violin accompanied at the piano by one of the aunts. The modern cacophony called music hadn’t yet made an appearance. This was Viennese waltzes, ballades and nocturnes which charmed the ears of us children. It’s true that this music sometimes made me cry. I sometimes went and hid behind the curtain in my mother’s bedroom, which adjoined the living room. Here no one ever thought to look for me, I could listen while sobbing to the “Song of love”, “After the ball”, “Always and never” or “The military silence” and why was I crying? I wasn’t unhappy, if it’s ever possible at that age, it was a manifestation of the mind, in this day of isms it was something like sentimentalism if it was ever that simple, but what drove me to these sudden melancholic crises, these reminiscences of the mind, in a life that was neither happy nor unhappy? Was it a premonition of what my life was to be later; the agonising passing of time? Could I already have enlisted that that very instant of our lives, once it’s gone is irremediably lost forever? In summary this little living room, which was all orderly, discrete and intimate, will always remain vivid in my memory.

House party Aug 1918.

So it was a wrench when later, when our father died, we had to separate. When we had to sell off all our family heirlooms it was a catastrophe not because of the material value but for sentimental reasons; we lost all these things and the memories attached to them.

Frank’s father, Joseph Calleja

So in order to continue the description of our flat, next to the living room and adjoining was my parents’ bedroom. I can still see when I think about it, the large bed back against the centre of the wall of the room, surmounted by a large canopy with curtains on either side of lace, white like snow; this bed which assisted most of our entrances to this world and was later the witness to the partings of him that I loved. He suffered atrociously and finally left for another world, supposedly a better world, in the pursuit of modest but unrealised dreams. The bed was taken apart and sold to an old antiques dealer as soon as my father left. [Ed. Joseph Calleja died 16 Sept 1930 and is buried in Ferikoy Latin Cemetery].

On the side a little further away in a corner, there was a little bed. This was mine until the age of eight. I was its first occupant and it then became the bed of all my young sisters until the age of eight. One of the sides came down but as I was a bit of a sleepwalker and could not stay still, and was restless even when sleeping, my parents always kept it shut. The ultra religious education at school as well as at home made me a bit of a mystic. I always dreamed of Jesus and the Madonna, the angels with their wings and halos of gold and standing upright in my bed draped in my long white night shirt and although in a deep sleep would whisper unintelligible prayers to the Lady of the Rosary who was at my bedside. My good mother, still awake, used to approach trying not to frighten me and would very carefully calm me down, arrange my blankets and kiss me. I remember this as clearly as if it was yesterday. Such a long time has passed since and this guardian angel who was my mum is no more and has been at rest for a long time now in the little cemetery at Ferikeuy, still very raw in my emotions.

Parnasse studio front

Frank’s sister, Irma with her parents and Aunt Josephine, probably first communion. Date c. 1905.

Later on and when it was my younger sisters’ turn to share my mother’s room, they prepared me a little corner in another room which [?] overlooked a large light well [clair voie – a partition that lets light in]. This room was divided in two. Father constructed a large cupboard with two shelves, which took up a good quarter of the room. All the clutter that all houses collect were gathered there.

A little dressing table and chair were the other bits of furniture in it. In the winter it was so dark we had to have a lamp on all the time even in the middle of the day. Despite this, it was in this little room that I spent my best years, first my school years and then my college years, which meant I spent long hours studying there in the evenings often until eleven o’clock. My little sister used to come in and being a bit of a tease, would come in on tip toe, tickle my ears and then scream to frighten me. This invariably came to a bad end and my sister used to leave crying. Later on, after the college years and the start of my life, my small and modest room continued to represent for me the saint of saints where I still sought refuge with delight.

Frank as young man. Source: J Neave.

The rest of the flat was occupied by my aunts and my young sisters. One large room in the corner looked out on the northwest side, this was my sisters’ room. In the winter it was a real ice box. When we had a lot of snow the wind whistled and sometimes the snow came through the cracks in the windows, which like the rest of the building, never shut properly. At the beginning of the winter we always tried to seal up the windows but the wind always got through to the great despair of my young sisters and the aunts who felt the cold. This room however, although very exposed to the intemperate climate, was to us children the loveliest room which after big snowfalls we got up to admire the blanket of snow and marvelous ice arabesques.

Terliks or handmade Turkish slippers. Source: Etsy.

For the adults and for the children, the harsh winters of Constantinople constituted an important event; Mum and the aunts plunged themselves into their crafts and looked for bits of woollen material, and under lamplight proceeded to make the “terlicks” [Ed. sic. Turkish word is terlik], little slippers to wear outside […] so as not to slip on the ice. The streets, particularly in the little passageways where we lived, were all downhill and treacherous in the winter.

Life at this time was relatively easy. People mostly stayed at home in bad weather and when the snows came, schools were shut and offices too because of the lack of transport. So in nearly every house families gathered together around a brazier to roast chestnuts in a big pan with roast potatoes in the ashes, eating them all smoking.

Winter streets of Istanbul

Our dining room was in the centre of the flat and adjoined directly every bedroom. I can see it now thinking about it, this central room with its old furniture and tapestries of flowers, where in the evening after a laborious day we all gathered around the large table. How could I ever express what I feel about these intimate evenings. On Saturday night in particular, because the next day was a feast day and we didn’t have to get up early, we extended our evenings to the early hours.

I would read or write, my sisters would be occupied with making embroidery or tapestry while our lovely mum used to sing airs from the opera in a very flute like voice but which still resounds in my ears.

The memory of the night before Christmas those lovely memories of another time are still vivid; when we all used to go to midnight mass at the little church of St. Peter, our parish church [Ed. St Peter and Paul RC Church in Galata].

After the evening meal, always particularly light on that day, we amused ourselves playing dominoes or tombola while waiting for the time when we had to leave for church nearby. Old Aunt Emilie, always the first to signal the time, appeared at eleven thirty, at the door of her bedroom, all ready to go.

Aunt Emily, 1922

It was then when the laughter and teasing began, “Oh Aunt Emilie, you are ready? there’s a good half hour to midnight and the church is only 2 minutes away” but Aunt Emilie didn’t bite, she maintained her composure in all circumstances and said that we shouldn’t run to go and see God but should take our time. And that’s how it was in all things for her until the end of her life, energetic, methodical, and not allowing herself to be impressed or discouraged by anything. She never succumbed to any obstacles.  Her strong character helped her to get through all the vicissitudes of life with courage and there were many of them. She remained always for us a model of a strong and energetic woman, an example to us all.

But coming back to our Christmas Eve, the celebration above all, maintained its particular charm for me, so much so it makes it hard for me to express. When it was time to go to mass, we dressed ourselves warmly and went off with a light step, but carefully because of the snowfall so as not to fall. The road down to the church was steep but that didn’t matter, one fall more or less was of no consequence.

The distance wasn’t great but with the weather dog cold as it always was, we were frozen to our bones, so it was with great relief we went into the little church where there was a large number of the faithful gathered. [There we find] the old organ playing familiar hymns, the large candles on the main alter and the numerous candles on the candelabras making all the precious chalices and sacred vessels twinkle, as well as the tassels on the end of the tapestries that ran around the walls and which were put there to celebrate the great feast day.

Interior of S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church, Galata.

Entering the church on the left, all down the side there was an enormous straw crib, a masterpiece of old vintage in front of which all the faithful were ecstatic. The donkey and the cow were perhaps disproportionate compared to the other figures who peopled this little corner of Galilee made of glue and papier-mâché. The little houses put there were a bit too like Swiss chalets and had nothing of the local colour. Also in among the papier-mâché were a few beautiful dolls all done out in velvet and lace.  It didn’t matter, no one was looking at the details. The impact of the religious manifestation was above all and just blew away any critical thoughts. We were all in agreement it was a really lovely thing.

Once mass finished, or rather the three masses, because we weren’t able to go home alone and our elders wanted to be part of all three, even though we were falling asleep, we found ourselves back in the street where everything was covered in a blanket of snow. The cold woke us up immediately but the idea of a lovely traditional supper waiting for us was enough to help us forget our tiredness.

Kaimak – Turkish delicacy like a clotted cream. source: Wikimedia.

As soon as we got back we all kissed each other and wished each other Happy Christmas and then sat down to table. Oh the lovely smell of foaming hot chocolate and the exquisite cake made by my mum and the famous Turkish kaimak which always appeared on the table on Christmas Eve after mass. It was so simple but so wonderful.

Once the meal was finished, we exchanged good wishes again and then finally, happy and contented, we went to bed not forgetting to place our slippers somewhere obvious so that Jesus could put some nice things and sweets in them that we had earned during the year. Many times I remained disappointed on finding in the morning when I got up, a piece of coal or onion, indisputable proof because it came from Jesus himself, that I had not been good enough which led to floods of tears, but all swept away when mother suggested that if I made amends, and promised to be good then little Jesus might change his mind – which was always the case!

“Oh, our early days! what would we have become without them?” as Alfred de Musset said in his famous elegy. [Ed. Possibly this refers to the quote “A lively retrospect summons back to us once more our youth, with vivid reflections of its early joys and unstained pleasures.”] I confess it without any embarrassment, I believed in this little legend of Jesus for a long time and in Father Christmas bringing presents to little children who were good and when the time came when I couldn’t believe it any more, it was if there was a real tear (wrench?) inside me, I felt a bit of poetry disappear out of my life and a bit of resentment at having been misled for so long.

In the summer on holidays we assembled on our large terrace with all the people who lived in the block. The adults formed little groups, some chatting, talking politics or fashion [fanfreluches]. The children played ball or flew kites. Sometimes we played “Four corners” [a children’s game] or we danced and sang the old song about le pont d’Avignon. Normally I didn’t join in much with the others; I preferred to shrink into a corner or perch on a wall, my nose in a book. I had a real liking for pink headed books from the library like Le Gribouille or Le General Dourakine or Le Petite Comtesse that I read or reread many times. [These were childrens books written by la Comtesse de Segur born Rostopchine, daughter of the governor of Moskow. She wrote them for her grand children and they were published in a special collection with a red-pink color cover]. These stories from my childhood engrossed me to such an extent that the world around didn’t exist for me anymore. It also meant that I was really annoyed when from a very nearby place I could hear my father or mother’s voice calling me down for a meal.

We gathered together our bits and pieces and went down making a lot of noise on the iron staircase which led from the last floor onto the terrace. Later on this terrace at Petraki was witness to a little love affair without any [good] end it’s true, but which I always remember with much emotion.

Left and Centre – on the roof terrace, with Galata tower just visible. Right – Lydia with puppy (is this Mapi? see below), c. 1920s.

One evening by moonlight I took my little white terrier, “Mapi”, a dog who was afraid of everything and everyone, even his own shadow made him tremble and he would not be comforted. Probably to hide his inferiority complex he made an infernal noise barking at everything everywhere. Some new tenants came to occupy number 7, a German family who were very distinguished, composed of a father, mother, and two young girls, and a young man who was, it seemed at that time, the darling of all the women and young girls of Perote society which meant we never saw him. As always we were very curious to see the new arrivals and that evening my wish was granted thanks to my little dog. The terrace was deserted except for the two young German girls who were alone and admiring the beautiful panorama of the Golden Horn and the minarets bathed in moonlight.

View from the terrace. Image c/o https://www.istanbulplace.com/

Etiquette didn’t permit me to approach them, when my dog, approached by a fly ran towards them furiously barking. I shut him up and went up to them to apologise, which allowed me to present myself and make acquaintances of these two charming sisters. I was immediately attracted to the diaphanous beauty of the older one. She was blonde, very slender, with big grey eyes and a Madonna like look that I would never forget. I don’t know why blondes have always held so much attraction for me because they’ve never brought me much happiness.

Briefly that evening, the great sentimentalist I’ve always been, felt his heart beat a little bit faster and a little more softly. Following that, our respective families got to know each other and met up quite often. Sometimes when we were alone my blonde friend played me waltzes and Chopin nocturnes, which she knew how to embellish.

Both of us had dreams that were never to be realised. The war of 1914-18 arrived to put a stop to our idyll. Forced to leave the country I took refuge in my uncle’s place in Bucharest. [Ed. as Turkey sided with Germany in WW1, the family being British subjects were considered “enemy aliens” and the men risked internment. It was decided they would leave for Romania to stay with Joseph’s brother Octavius Calleja until it was safe to return]. During the first months of my exile I received touching letters but later on our correspondences became rarer and then ceased completely. I heard nothing more about her until my return to Constantinople after the war where I learned that she had married a Swiss German who had lived in our place. This is how the little love affair born on a Petraki rooftop terrace by moonlight ended.

Another memory amongst all the others, is that of the 1st September, the feast day of S.M. Abdul Hamid, given the name The Red Sultan.

Fireworks from the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul. © Photo by Nightstallion03

This day was celebrated every year with great aplomb and significance. [Sept 1st is start of a 4 day public national holiday in Turkey. Called the Sacrifice Feast it commemorates the story of Abraham displaying his obedience to God by offering to sacrifice his son]. The whole of Constantinople was on its feet with parades, military music, and great pomp. In the evening all the public buildings, the palaces, the bridges, the mosques were resplendent with light. Hundreds of lanterns were lit with large candles because even though SM [the Sultan] had electricity within his palace at Yildiz, he refused to allow it for the people in the capital. In the daytime of the 1 September we climbed onto our roof to watch the “karakaula” or guardian of the [Galata] tower set up his decorations with flags and lanterns.

Galata Tower lit up. Image © Ilkin Karacun.

In the upper part of this colossal edifice, a red light was perched. From where we were it gave the impression of little devils up to some sort of mysterious work and our hearts trembled to see it.

In the evening our terrace became the rendezvous for the whole apartment block, from where we would watch everyone circulating all along the Corniche.

Before going up to meet our friends, our father brought down from the old cupboard little packets all wrapped up in paper, where they had been stowed away for several days. We all knew what they contained. We were really proud of possessing Bengal fires, roman candles and firecrackers. Equipped with all these things, we hastily climbed the three floors and let off the firecrackers. Indeed we had great fun at that time and age had nothing to do with it, because the adults had as much fun as the youngsters.

Panorama of Istanbul looking South from the Galata Tower, c. 1877.

I have tried basing things uniquely on my memory, to give you as accurate description as possible of our life in no 4 Petraki Han.  I have simply decided to mention certain events which I remember very clearly and which made an indelible impression on me. I’ve never intended to put a whitewash on all our daily lives. For forty years a large amount of work and an absence of notes has made this impossible to write and it wouldn’t have interested anyone.

Callus/Calleja family group 1922. Back standing-Hortense-Therese-Frank-Lydia-Harry-Emily-Josephine. Front sitting-Elise-Irma-Elivra-Joseph

In conclusion I would say after 60 years I have only to close my eyes to see it all again. The day when we left the place which saw us all born, where we left this great apartment standing alone and empty – YES empty! But so many memories.

This has been a sort of pilgrimage across the rooms, the desolate empty rooms, a real Stations of the Cross. I’ve stopped at each one and alone with myself I have tried to condense everything that’s been in my spirit; all the events I’ve witnessed. Thus plunged into reminiscing about a happy past I found myself called by the porters who demanded the keys and wanted to lock the apartment. I’ve now left and must never go back there.

Petraki Han side entrance

Today a long way from this place (and there have been a large number of occupants who have gone through towards a better life), all I can do is put my thoughts about Petraki Han on paper and what has happened in front of my eyes is a magnificent vision, a kaleidoscope of marvelous forms which have crystallised in such a way that I’ve had difficulty in discriminating between the past and the present. What has unfurled in front of my eyes is so real that I refuse to believe that the past is really past.

All our acts, all our thoughts, our secrets, our desires, our emotions, all of these are manifestations of our spiritual being which is always there. We form a sort of backdrop in front of which inexorably we are all pushed by destiny and advance without respite and without hope.

The End


My thanks go to: Esmé Clutterbuck for sharing Frank’s manuscripts and many family photos, Jude Mulcahy for translating the document into English, Jeremy Neave and Moira McGrother for additional family photos.

Further Information

Daily Sabah, 2017, Magic Slippers: Tales of the Turkish “Terlik”: https://www.dailysabah.com/expat-corner/2017/08/11/magic-slippers-tales-of-the-turkish-terlik

Sultan Abdül Hamid – Hero or villain?

Gözübüyük Melek, Dilsad, (Dec. 2004), New Interpretations of Domestic Space and Life: the Emergence of Apartment Buildings in 19th Century Istanbul. MA Thesis submitted to the Graduate School of Social Science of Middle East Technical University.

In recent years Petraki Han has been fully renovated and a number of the apartments are now available for holiday lets. Modern and luxurious, many original features have also been retained and visitors have free access to the wonderful roof terrace. Go to Istanbul Place Apartments for more details.


The Callus Family of Constantinople in the Mid to Late 19th Century

The Callus Family of Constantinople in the Mid to Late 19th Century

View of Galata from Stamboul. Source: Collection of Maggie Land Blank.

My Great Great Grandparents Andrea Callus and Marie Ann Griscti married in Constantinople in 1848. Both were born in Malta but arrived in the Ottoman Empire as part of a wave of Maltese migration in the first half of the 19th century. In my earlier post on the Maltese community in Constantinople/Istanbul, I described some of the social conditions of their life there. In this episode I will set out a bit more about their family life.

Karakoy Square. Source: Collection of MaggieLand Blank.

Andrea Callus

Andrea was born in 1811 in the town of Cittá Rohan or Żebbuġ in Malta. He migrated to Constantinople in 1829 when he was about 18. Parish records indicate he was a ship chandler but I have not been able to locate any further details in the trade directories of the period. Andrea was about 38 when he married Marie Ann, but it is said they had a model marriage which lasted nearly 50 years!

Marie Ann Griscti

Portrait thought to be Marie Ann Callus nee Griscti c. 1860s

Marie Ann (always Marie Ann in parish records but she may have been known just as Marie at home), was part of a large extended family from Malta who originally migrated to Smyrna (modern day Izmir) around the same time as Andrea. The family moved to Constantinople in 1843 when she was about 12. Her father Joseph was, like Andrea, a ship chandler and so also was her first cousin Antonio and her brother John, so it was probably the family business. Their establishment in 18681 was at 26, Rue Gueumruk (see map below), which is very near the quay by the Galata bridge. At this time her brother Emmanuel had a forge in Rue Chiché Hane but in 1896, he had a shop at no. 19 Rue Gueumruk specialising in rubber goods.

Click here to enlarge: Annotated map of Galata and Pera 1905 pdf (opens in new window).

In the 1860s Antonio and Emmanuel Griscti lived in Rue Chiché Hane, in different abodes with another Callos (sic) as a neighbour. It seems quite likely therefore that Andrea and Marie Ann also lived nearby, as families in these communities liked to stay together. They all attended the parish church of St Peter and St Paul which is on Rue Koule Dibi, near the Galata Tower.

The genealogy of Marie Ann’s Griscti family can be found on the Griscti and Diacono pages of this website.

Marriage and Family Life

Andrea and Marie Ann were married on 4 September 1848 at S.S. Peter and Paul RC Church in Galata. The witnesses were Marie Ann’s brother John Griscti and Andrea Maresia.

They went on to have fourteen children so Marie Ann must have spent the most part of her married life either pregnant or nursing! Tragically the first three children died in infancy, Joseph in his first year, Georgio at age 2 and Anna Maria within a few days. It must have been incredibly hard to bear. My Great Grandfather Henri was the first to survive to adulthood. She then had a stillbirth followed by more survivors. Later another two children died in infancy, so she lost six children in all. This was not uncommon for the period before the availability of childhood vaccinations or any kind of state supported health care. Istanbul was a crowded city with regular outbreaks of terrible diseases like cholera and typhus which also took its toll on families. All the children were baptised at S.S. Peter and Paul parish church.

The eight children who survived into adulthood were:

Henri Joseph born 28 March 1854.

Henri J. Callus c. 1900

Henri was the first child to survive into adulthood and was my Great Grandfather. He moved to London around 1870 to train as a marine engineer and lived for a while in Greenwich in London where it appears he worked for the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Co. in Blackwall.

Later he moved to Cardiff and worked as chief engineer in the merchant navy on various tramp steamers traveling around the Mediterranean and to places like the Baltic.

However he maintained close contact with his family in Constantinople and visited whenever he could such as for important family occasions. He also met his sweetheart Christina Pouhalski (aka Puchalski) in Constantinople and somehow managed to continue his courtship from the UK, eventually returning to marry her in September 1884 at S.S. Peter and Paul RC church in Galata, Constantinople. They then settled in Cardiff and had 5 sons.

Emilia Vincentia (known as Emily) born 28 May 1857

Emily Callus c. 1878

Emily was the first daughter to survive into adulthood. She never married and lived all her life with her sisters. For over 30 years she lived in the apartment building known as Petraki Han, opposite the famous landmark the Galata Tower.

Emily and “the princess” c. 1915-20.

She worked as a teacher and governess. One of her charges was a little girl they called “the princess” but no one knows if this was just a pet name or her real status! She was also Godmother to her little brother Alexander known as “Alfred” who died at the age of 3 in 1874.

Around 1930 Emily left Constantinople to go and live in Malta with her nephew and two of her sisters. She died there on 6 January 1936 aged 78 and is buried in the cemetery at Sliema.

Edouard Emmanuel born 27 March 1859

Like Henri, Edouard moved to England as a young man to train as a marine engineer and then worked for the merchant navy. He lived in Gillingham in Kent and on 4 January 1886 married Ada Johnson at Chatham in Kent. Tragically on 3 April that same year he was admitted to  Angelton Hospital County Asylum in Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan (later known as Glan Rhyd Hospital) suffering from acute melancholia and “General Paralysis”(of the Insane)2.  At this time, the link with syphilis was unproven but suspected due to its prevalence in the military and in men in their 30s and 40s living in port towns and urban centres.

Edouard’s admission report described him as of medium height 5’4″, weighing 8 1/2 stone and with black hair and a sallow complexion. It indicates he had been exhibiting symptoms for 2 months. This means it must have become evident almost straight after his marriage!  It also states he had a brother as next of kin and had been staying in Cardiff, so Henri must have had him admitted.

This Asylum had a good reputation as a progressive institution with a non-restraint policy3, but sadly for Edouard, his was a terminal illness with little in the way of effective treatment available. He died there in June 1887 aged just 27 and was interred in an unmarked grave in the hospital grounds. It is assumed he died without issue. I have since discovered that his wife eventually remarried so thankfully she did not contract the disease. No photo of Edouard has been found. Although his family would have had no knowledge of the cause of his mental illness, in Victorian times there was a pathological fear of “lunacy” and it was deeply stigmatised. As a result he was probably quietly forgotten and never spoken of again.

Therése Angela born 30 January 1861

Therése Callus c.1878

Like Emily, Therése grew up in Constantinople and worked as a teacher or governess. There were many good quality Levantine schools in Pera where she may have taught although it is thought that all the sisters mainly tutored privately for families.

She never married and lived all her life with her sisters. She moved to Malta with Emily and Josephine around 1930 and died 30 May 1948 aged 87.




Ernesto Joseph born 28 December 1862

Little is known about Ernesto, except that he was single. We do not even know what he did for a living. Around the 1880s he went to live in Malta, where he returned to the home town of his father in Żebbuġ. What prompted this move we do not know. He may have fallen out with the family or he may have wanted to return to “the homeland” where perhaps there were relatives who could help him find work.

However on 9 September 1890 the British Consul in Constantinople arranged for him to be admitted to a mental health hospital following the manifestation of  symptoms of mania (an old term for bi-polar disorder). Why this required the intervention of the Consul is a bit of a mystery. He remained there for the rest of his life, eventually dying of TB in 1914 aged 52. No photo of him has been found, possibly due to the same reason as Edouard.

Elisabeth Josephina (known as Elise) born 1 December 1864

Elise Callus c.1886

Elise was the only daughter to marry. Her husband, Joseph John Calleja, was the son of another Maltese Levantine family from Constantinople. Joseph’s father was an architect and importer of Maltese and Italian marble. His mother was the daughter of a Sicilian tailor. It is thought that Joseph worked as an administrator for the British government in Constantinople.

L-R: Lydia, Elise, Irma, Frank, Joseph and Elvira Calleja c. 1920.

Elise and Joseph had six children, two of whom died in infancy; Francis Xavier, Elvira (died in her first year), another Elvira, Irma, Edouard (died aged 1) and Lydia.

After Joseph died in 1930 the family had to move out of their apartment at which point, his son Francis Xavier taking three of his aunts to live in Malta. Elise stayed on in Constantinople living with just her younger sister Hortense. She died in 1941 during the 2nd World War and is buried with Joseph in the Ferikoy RC cemetery in Istanbul.

Joséphine Maria born 2 May 1869

Joséphine Callus c.1905

Joséphine was the third unmarried daughter who worked as a teacher or governess in Constantinople and returned to Malta with her sisters. Little else is known about her although a few photos survive. She died 6 June 1942.




Rosalia Ortentia (known as Hortense) born 10 November 1875

Hortense Callus c. 1895

Hortense was the last child of Andrea and Marie Ann. Her godfather was her brother Henri who was more than 20 years her elder. A number of letters between her and Henri and his son Arthur survive suggesting she was the one who maintained strongest contact with Henri’s Cardiff family. During WW1, Turkey and the UK were on opposing sides and the two families were cut off from any news of each other. Two very brief and poignant telegrams between them trying to find out if everyone was alright, now rest in The National Archives in Kew, London4, because these had to pass through the British Government’s War Office.

Hortense c. 1920

Hortense was also a teacher and never married. She stayed in Constantinople for most of her life, eventually moving to Portsmouth in England to be near her niece Lydia, after the death of her older sister Elise in 1941. Exactly when she moved is not known; she may have had to wait until the end of WW2. She died in 1950 and is buried in Portsmouth.

Andrea and Marie Ann – End Days

As for their parents, in the dying days of the 19th century, they moved with their four spinster daughter and their married daughter Elise and her family, into a rather smart apartment block facing the Galata Tower called Petraki Han. The lease was taken by Andrea’s son-in-law Joseph Calleja. My earlier assumption was that the family had done rather well to be able to afford this place. Certainly members of Marie Ann’s family had become very wealthy but the likelihood is that actually the Callus family were somewhat poorer. They were more likely to have been what Theresa May would describe as ‘Just about managing!’  Frank Calleja wrote a family memoir of life in this apartment which is now translated and published on this website.

Andrea died at Petraki Han in Constantinople at the grand old age of 87 in 1898 and Marie Ann died in 1908, aged about 78. Their funeral notices are shown below. They were both buried in temporary graves in Ferikoy Latin RC cemetery so no memorials exist. Occupants of temporary graves are usually transferred to a common ossuary within the cemetery after a certain number of years so they are still there somewhere.

Andrea Callus’s funeral card 1898 c/o Moira McGrother.


Marie Ann Callus’s funeral card 1908 c/o Moira McGrother.



My thanks to Francis and Irina Osborn for their initial searches in S.S. Peter & Paul parish records, Moira McGrother and Esmé Clutterbuck for family documents and photos,  Marie Ann Marandet for multiple parish record searches.


1 L’Indicateur Oriental Annuaire du Commerce (various eds. 1868-95). SALT Galata, Research at http://saltresearch.org/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=salt&dscnt=0&dstmp=1521833686969&backFromPreferences=true

2 Glamorgan County Records Office, Cardiff. Website: https://glamarchives.gov.uk/

3 An account of the grounds and care regime at the Bridgend County Asylum (Angelton/Glan Rhyd) https://hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/bridgend-asylums-south-wales/

4 The National Archives – Foreign Office (1917), Turkey: Prisoners of War and Aliens Dept: General Correspondence from 1906, Ref. FO 383/344.