Barclay Acheson felt an early call to a life of service. An ordained minister, Acheson became the Associate General Secretary of Near East Relief in 1922.
He spent the summer of 1922 visiting orphanages and relief stations throughout the Near East. The experience left Acheson with a profound appreciation for fieldwork.
A year later he assumed the direction of all relief work in Greece, Syria, and the Caucasus. Acheson was based in Athens in the wake of the Smyrna disaster and the tumultuous population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
Responding to Every Crisis
By 1925 Acheson had risen to Director of Overseas Operations. This was a major role in an organization that continued to feed and shelter tens of thousands of people throughout a war-torn region.
In November of that year Acheson was called to Beirut to address a growing refugee crisis. As widespread political revolts gripped Syria, Acheson created an emergency evacuation plan for 45,000 orphans and refugees in Near East Relief’s care. Fortunately, it was not necessary to implement the plan.
In October 1926, a violent earthquake struck the Caucasus region. Entire communities were destroyed, giving rise to a new wave of refugees. The orphanage complex at Alexandropol sustained heavy damage. Acheson traveled to Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia) to help make a plan for rebuilding the devastated area.
An Eye for Humanity
From approximately 1922 to 1928, Barclay Acheson built a small collection of photographs documenting his travels in Greece, Syria, Palestine, and the Caucasus region. These photographs and negatives form a vital part of our historical collection.
Ranging from joyful pictures of laughing children to haunting portraits of refugees, these images capture the essence of Acheson’s life with Near East Relief. The collection shows that Acheson’s work was not just his career – it was his calling.
Barclay Acheson received numerous accolades for his work with Near East Relief, including the Greek Red Cross Medal and the Greek Cross of the Redeemer. But when asked about his greatest accomplishment, Barclay Acheson simply said “I made the children laugh.”