Myres, John Linton, 1869-1954

by T J Dunbabin

03 Feb 2017

Sir John Myres. Elected Fellow of the British Academy 1923.

Extract relating to military intelligence work:

Oxford in October 1914 was at first little changed, except for a shortage of undergraduates, and a corps of middle-aged civilians, known from the G.R. on their armlets as the Gorgeous Wrecks, who drilled and got fit before a nine o’clock lecture. But in July 1915 he was called to the Admiralty and asked if he would go to Budrum – in hostile Turkey. He promptly accepted and travelled out to Athens with [David] Hogarth [FBA], also on a special mission, and on to Samos, where he learnt intelligence duties with a motor-caique engaged on patrolling the Turkish coast and landing agents on it. His sphere of action was the Dodecanese; Italy was still neutral, and he had some difficulty in explaining his mission to Italian officers, but with the acquaintance gained in his travels with [W. R.] Paton he was able to organize look-outs and shipping reports. The Greeks of Kalymnos, where he made his headquarters, hoped for more active participation in the war. After some months here he received command of the tug Syra, as Lieutenant-Commander R.N.V.R., with a warrant-officer navigator and light armament. He transferred to the little island of Gaidaro south of Samos, inhabited only by a few fishermen and shepherds, and recruited a force of islanders whose chief operations were raids on the Turkish mainland for cattle – as many of them owned farms on the mainland, they were only taking their own. These activities and continuous close-in reconnaissances of the coast were designed to hold substantial Turkish forces in this area in anticipation of large-scale landings. Although these never occurred, the most elaborate raid succeeded, with covering support from more regular naval units, in taking possession of the Cnidian peninsula. Myres went up with a seaplane to direct the bombing of Yeronda, the ancient Didyma, where the German excavators’ house was believed to be used by the enemy, and to ensure the safety of the Temple of Apollo. He says, ‘What distracted me all the time was the unexpected view of the villas and gardens of Roman Branchidae. I would never willingly dig again without air reconnaissance.’ Syra was ubiquitous in the Aegean, and occasionally an embarrassment to friend as well as foe; her commander frankly enjoyed buccaneering and took every sort of risk whether authorized or not: he often needed his quick wit to thread the consequent complexities of service and inter-allied misunderstandings and jealousies. It was a hard life on board; but he thrived on it and better in health than he had been for years. It amused him to record that he qualified for ‘hard-lying allowance’ only when he enjoyed the relative comfort of a destroyer. There were excitements over submarines, and reports of submarine bases among the islands; and near-shipwrecks on the unlighted and ill-charted islets of the Archipelago. These adventures were eventually too much for Syra, which had to retire to refit. Reorganization of intelligence work led to Myres temporarily forming part of Compton Mackenzie’s staff on the island of Syra, but he soon had another ship, the former royal yacht Avlis, with a Greek crew and a roving commission.

Towards the end of 1917 he came home on leave, and on his return was stationed in Athens, to take charge of Information and Passport Control, with instructions to report direct to London. This led to strained relations with some of the many and various intelligence officers at work in Greece, and the divided state of Greece itself, and of allied feeling towards parties there added to the difficulties. Myres formed good relations with Eleutherios Venizelos, the power in Greece at this time, whom he had met in Crete in 1898. But he was less happy in Athens than on his own ship with a roving commission. At the end of the war, and now Commander R.N.V.R., he was awarded the O.B.E. and the Greek Order of George I.


To his regret Myres was unable to spend the Second World War as he had spent the first; but he employed his knowledge of the Aegean in editing handbooks for Naval Intelligence.

[Sir John Myres was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1923. The above extracts are from the Memoir published in Proceedings of the British Academy 41.]

(See: List of humanities scholars who worked in military intelligence in the Second World War)

Sign up to our email newsletters