Halime lost her ability to walk after being injured in a Greek bombing. She was honoured with one of the top medals of gallantry after Turkey became an independent country.

When tens of thousands of Turks fought for their independence between 1919 and 1923, they had a woman disguised as a man fighting alongside them. Not for a second, her fellow soldiers could tell that Sergeant Halime Cavus was a woman not least because she showed  remarkable fighting skills — from engaging with the enemy on the frontline, to supplying arms and ammunition to different combat units. 

Since the Turkish forces were male-dominated, Halime introduced herself as Halim, the male version of her name, and shaved her facial hair every morning to mingle with male militiamen.

Born in a village called Durucay, in Turkey’s Kastamonu district in 1898, Halime’s family was reluctant to allow her to join Turkey’s War of Independence. Turning a deaf ear to her family’s concerns, she joined the Turkish forces masquerading as a man, although there were no restrictions for women to fight alongside the army. Some historians say the reason why Halime chose to disguise herself as a man and embrace the male identity is unknown. During the war, hundreds of Turkish women laid down their lives while fighting against the foreign occupational forces. 

Halime served in the logistics unit of the army, ensuring the smooth supply of arms and ammunition to Turkish forces deployed between Inebolu port on the Black Sea and Ankara. She used bullock and ox carts to transport the light and heavy duty weaponry. 

“The main interesting point was that she shaved her non-existing beard every single day and it was such a difficult thing to do as a woman,” Erdal Aslan, journalist and historian from Halime's home district Kastamonu, told TRT World.  

Aslan said even after Halime's real gender became public knowledge, she never had any hesitation or reluctance in serving the Turkish army. After the country became a secular republic in 1923, it made laws that gave women equal representation in almost every field, including air force, navy and the army.    

Meeting Ataturk

During the war of independence, Halime once crossed paths with Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Ataturk) when at the time he was leading the resistance forces. 

Ataturk noticed that Halime was not wearing her coat despite the harsh winter and that she had taken it off to cover a bundle of guns and ammunition instead. She wanted to cover them from potential damage because of snow. 

Ataturk asked Halime why she was coatless and she replied, saying: “Being cold is not an issue for me, but covering the ammunition would save hundreds of thousands of people.”

Ataturk then asked her to show her identity card. This was when he realised that Halime was a woman. He noted down her personal information and returned to Ankara. 

During the same period, she won general approval of the people during the battle. On June 9 1921, the Greek cruiser, Georgios Averof, bombarded Inebolu and Halime’s leg was badly wounded. She became permanently handicapped and could not return to the battlefield. 

At the end of the war, Halime was invited to Ankara to meet Ataturk and his wife Latife. In light of her service, she was promoted to the rank of a sergeant and honoured with the Medal of Independence. She was also put on a special retirement salary.

Following the enactment of the surname law in Turkey in 1934, she took the family name of ‘Kocabiyik’ and adopted her brother’s son, Sadik. 

According to historian Aslan, she used to attend all National Holiday ceremonies with her uniform, and became the mother of Kastamonu - likewise the entire Anatolia. 

Halime never married and died in 1976. In the last 6 years of her life, she was confined to bed. Until the last day, she kept shaving her beard and buzz cutted her hair and pretended to be a man. Her memory still resonates across Turkey. 

Source: TRT World