H. Collinson (Harry Collinson) Owen.

Salonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war online

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Editor of The Balkan News, and Official Correspondent
in the Near East

With a Foreword by


Commander-in-Chief of the

British Salonica Force








These men in our Eastern Armies have had the dust
and toil, without the laurel, of the race to victory."

— The Times.



This book, written by the only member of the
British Press who has devoted his whole time to
the Macedonian Front, will be welcomed by the
friends and relatives of all ranks of the Biitish
Salonica Army, and of those who have laid down
their lives for their country in a little known
part of the Balkans.

It will help to lift the veil of mystery which
hung over the doings of the Army, due to the lack
of publicity given to those events in Macedonia
which ultimately led to the defeat in the field of
the Bulgarian Army, worn out by three years of
constant and harassing warfare.

The chapters dealing with the attacks en the
Doiran position summarise the great difficulties
which had to be surmounted by men whose
strength was being slowly sapped by prolonged
residence in the most unhealthy portion of Europe,


but whose esprit de corps was of the highest and
whose faith in ultimate victory never faltered.

This book may help some to see in proper per-
spective how the crowning achievement of long
and weary vigil in a secondary theatre of opera-
tions struck at the Achilles heel of the Central
Powers and materially aided in their rapid collapse
during the dramatic Autumn of 191 8.




Advanced General Headquarters,
Guvesne, Macedonia.


The publication of this book, which was written in the
earlier part of the present year, was delayed for some
months owing to the Author being abroad. But this
proves to have been a happy thing, as in the meantime
Ludendorff has given us his Memoirs, and these support in
signal fashion all that is here claimed for the Balkan Front,
and show that the sub-title, " The Sideshow that Ended
the War," is in no sense an exaggeration, but is a plain
statement of military fact.

Had the book been published earlier in the year, no doubt
many people would have taken exception to this description,
and said that the Author was too easily carried avv^ay by his
enthusiasm for his subject. But if anybody knows exactly
why our enemies crumbled up so suddenly and dramatically
Ludendorff should. We will examine very briefly what he
says on the subject of the break-through on the Balkan
Front in September, 1918.

Writing of the Allied 1918 offensive on the Western
Front, Ludendorff says {Tiynes, August 22nd, 1918) : —
" August 8 was the black day of the German Army in the
history of this war. This was the worst experience that I
had to go through except for the events that, jrom Septem-
ber 15 onwards, took place on the Bulgarian Front and
Staled the fate of the Quadruple Alliance.^*

The comment of the Times on Ludendorff's own descrip-
tion of the march of events on the W^estem Front is as
follows : —

*' The other fact that stands out was the defeat of the


Bulgarian Army, a fact which in Ludendorff's mind seems
completely to have overshadowed the sensational victory
of the British Army at Carnbrai at the end of September."
Another Press comment on the same point was : " When
Bulgaria, too, went, he threw up the sponge, and even
the tremendous British victory in forcing the Hindenburg
Line is dismissed in a few v/ords as a mere incident in the
general ruin."

Ludendorff himself continues : — " It very soon became
clear that from Bulgaria nothing more was to be expected.
. . . . The position in the field could only become
decidedly worse. It was impossible to tell whether this
process would be slow or precipitate. The probability was
that events would come to a head within a measurable time,
as indeed actually happened in the Balkan Peninsula and
on the Austro-Hungarian Front in Italy.

" In this situation I felt incumbent upon me the heavy
responsibility of hastening the end of the war and of pro-
moting decisive action on the part of the Government,'*

The British Salonica Force could not desire a more
striking tribute to its long devotion and ultimate triumphal
success than these few plain words from Ludendorff.
Together with the famous letter from Hindenburg in which,
speaking of the Bulgarian collapse, he said, " It is no longer
possible for us to resist; we must ask for an armistice,"
they demolish all that was ever said in criticism of the value
of the Salonica Army and at the same time lift that Force
to its rightful place in the history of the Great War.

^ H. C. O.

London, August, 1919.



I. — Getting there

II. — When the B.S.F. was Young
III. — Salonica Nights
IV. — A Day in Town ...
v.— The "B.N."
VI. — Friends up Country
VII.—" The Coveted City '
VIII.— The Fire
IX. — Two Balkan Days — January and


X. — The Balkan Stage
XI. — Ourselves and our Allies
XII. — The Army from Without
XIII. — The Conversion of Greece
XIV. — Mud and Malaria
XV. — Home on Leave
XVI. — The Allied Operations

XVII.— Doiran

XVIII.— Victory

XIX.— The Pursuit

XX. — . . . . And After

Appendix I. — Work of the 16th Wing,

Appendix II. — A Note on Malaria

Index ...








General Sir George Milne, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., at a Horse Show

at Guvesne ........ Frontispiece

Salonica in the days of the Turk: a photograph taken in 1911.
It is interesting as showing the crenellated walls round the
White Tower which still existed at that time . . . 16
Salonica in the days of the Allies. A section of the crowd

listening to the French Band in the Place de la Liberte . 45
Some of the Comitadjis who worked for the British in the

Struma Valley 45

A scene in Jean, Tchimiski Street, December, 1916 ... 60
The Limonadji, or street lemonade seller ..... 60
Macedonian shepherd on the summit of Mount Kotos (4,000

feet) overlooking Salonica Harbour 75

Salonica the day after the fire 96

British Transport in Macedonia : A typical road on a summer

day 11-2

Our Balkan Allies : Serbs at Mikra, after landing from Corfu,

1916 128

Evzones of the Venizelist Army leaving for the Front, 1917 . 128
Macedonian mud : Serbian Artillery horses rescuing a Ford car 176

The Pass Road from Bralo down to Itea 194

Macedonian " Ladies " breaking stones for road-making . . 194
The British Balkan Front from Gjevgjeli to Orfano . . . 208
Doiran, showing Tortoise Hill, Jumeaux Fiavine and Petit
Couronne on the left just above the lake. From here the
hills rise upwards, over Doiran Town, to Grand Couronne,
with its scarred crest. Dominating Grand Couronne is
seen the undulating Pip Ridge, and beyond this again the
snow-clad mountains of Serbia ...... 224

The British Fleet passing up the Dardanelles. Photo taken
from the Flagship Superb, showing Temeraire, Lord Nelson
and Agamemnon astern ........ 272

A map of the Balkan Front End paper



Getting There.

" Whoever would have dreamed of coming to
Salonica ?" sighed a melancholy and homesick young
captain from up the line. We were sitting in the
famous cafe of Floca — famous not for any startling
merits on the part of Floca Freres, but just because it
was our premier cafe, and the rendezvous of every-
body in general — and the world must have a rendez-
vous, even in Salonica. Outside, through the newly
glazed windows, we looked upon the charred skeletons
of the buildings destroyed in the great fire — a confiagra-
tion which should really be referred to as the Great Fire,
and will always so be thought of by those who saw it.
And inside the flies were buzzing merrily — or fiercely —
for the heat had come early, and they were in the first
flush of their spring ardour. They settled on our hands,
heads and faces, tickling, biting and enraging us. They
buzzed round in clouds exploring milk jugs, beer pots,
sticky cakes on plates {gateaux mouches, as somebody
wittily called them) and generally behaving as all flies
in the Near East do, as if to make up by their extrava-
gance of vigour for the natural indolence of the inhabi-
tants. And the flies were merely the sauce piquante, so
to speak, to the general boredom and weariness of men
who had been living for years without leave in a dis-
tressing country which they heartily disliked. The
captain from up the line — like many others — had not
seen hbme for over fwo and a half years. He was



weary of Macedonia, and his heart longed fiercely for
home — "Blighty" on a wet evening if you like, with
the lights turned low and all the theattes showing their
"House Full" boards, but "Blighty" under any con-
ditions if the impossible could only happen. And the
sigh that welled up from him de Profundis, "Whoever
would have dreamed of coming to Salonica ?" spoke

But to pass from his melancholy, which was a very
common symptom in Macedonia, whoever would have
dreamed of coming to Salonica ? True it is now a
household name, like " Plugstreet," Mesopotamia, and
many other blessed words. But before the war who
could have taken his atlas and, putting down his finger,
said triumphantly, "There is Salonica!" True, we
knew it existed somewhere, like Syracuse or Antanan-
arivo. But very few people in our world knew anything
more of it than its bare existence. St. Paul, we might
remember, once wrote an epistle to the Thessalonians.
But very few people, again, ever dreamed of connect-
ing, however distantly, " certain lewd fellows of the
baser sort" with the people of the modern city where
Jew meets Greek in a perpetual tug of war. England,
in short, never had any business with Salonica, and
never expected to have any. It was as far removed
from our ken as any place on the map could be. Bel-
gium had been swallowed up ; Paris had been menaced
and saved ; the battle of Loos had been fought and lost ;
Gallipoli had flared up with heroic glory and died down
into a smoulder of forlorn hopes, and some people were
already talking of " war weariness " — and still we had
not heard of Salonica. And then there came a sudden
and unexpected turn in the wheel of war. A new name
appeared in the newspaper headlines — Salonica — and
the convenient maps that accompanied the news of


our men landing there showed exactly where it lay.
The military critics told us exactly what the new ex-
pedition meant, and all it was going to do. Torres
Vedras was mentioned, and what Wellington did. The
public was much excited and waited eagerly for the
glad news that history had repeated itself. (It came
indeed, but after how many delays and doubts and
grumblings ?) The amateur strategist played joyfully
with the latest idea, and trotted happily up and down
a new country which looked delightfully small and easy
on the map. The first exchange of shots was opened
which developed into the long-drawn battle between
Easterners and Westerners. The immediate doom of
the Turk was announced. People said, "By the way,
is it Saloneeka or Sal/onika or Salonyker?" And so
the new word — in various disguises — passed into the

And there it will remain. The many thousands of
men of the British Armies who passed through it into
Macedonia, and carried the Old Flag into lands where
it had never been seen before ; or who trod its uneven
cobbles on very occasional leave ; or lay weak with fever
or wounds in the great hospitals that ringed it round,
will see to that. They may have loathed Salonica as
they loathed, in earlier days, the six o'clock hooter on
a Monday morning. But in their minds it stands for
Victory. And they will not let it be forgotten. When
t.o-morrow's children are listening to stories of Ypres
and Cambrai and Neuve Chapelle a great many others
will be listening to what happened in Salonica and

The new name had not yet lost its first flush of popular-
ity at home when the writer received an intimation that
his humble services might be useful to the British Ain^y



out there. The Army in and around Salonica, cut off
from all that was good for it, needed a daily newspaper,
and it was suggested that one used to newspapers
should be sent out to produce it. By all the rules of
war (if all the stories we have heard be true) a dentist
or a stockbroker should have been selected. But in this
detail, at least, the Great War was quite rationally
organised, and one familiar with big newspapers was
sent to see about the production of a little one.

It meant saying good-bye to certain cherished hopes
of continuing indefinitely a brief spell of work as cor-
respondent on the Western Front. But the new idea
had its own particular appeal. A recently published
account of Salonica, written on the spot, gave the im-
pression that it was a very "one horse" place indeed,
with one cafe and one cinema. No doubt the editor
would sit on a biscuit box and learn to give orders to
the office boy in Turkish. The general idea was that
aerial bombardments occurred on most days of the
week. It was, in fact, a plunge into the unknown which
promised to be interesting and moderately exciting.
You may run a war in a wilderness. But a newspaper !

However, after a number of interviews at that for-
bidding place of interminable corridors in Whitehall,
where the idea of a newspaper for an army was treated
a little gingerly, rather as a small dog approaches its
first hedgehog, a start was made. It was an itinerary
that was then rather novel during the war, but has
since become familiar to many thousands. Havre
(raining heavily and very melancholy) ; Paris (begin-
ning to look almost normal again) ; Rome (quite normal,
except for many officers and soldiers walking about in
neat uniforms as yet unstained by war), and so down
to Messina, where a Greek steamer was due to sai!
for the Pirspus. And after a very hot, dusty and tiring


afternoon walking about the ruined city in quest of
various visas and permits, I boarded the s.s.

We sat down to an early dinner. There were about
twenty of us in the little saloon ; a mixed company,
with Greeks predominating, but everybody spoke
French. We included a rough-cut old Greek merchant
skipper who did not seem worth more than five pounds.
But during dinner he told me something of his affairs.
He owned a steamer which, before the war, was worth
£40,000 and which was now worth £120,000. From his
blue serge coat he produced a document showing that
he had just paid £4,666 10s. war risks insurance for one
three months' voyage of his precious barque. He had
been to London with £50,000 to try and buy another
steamer, but had not been successful. "It is difficult
to buy steamers now," he remarked casually, much as
one might say that the price of boots was high.

There was also an elegantly whiskered Greek
merchant of thirty-five or so, from Marseilles, who had
a very lively eye, and immediately set it, and his con-
versation, at a very pleasant and quiet little French
woman. She easily kept his advances at arms' length,
and later mentioned that she was proceeding to visit her
husband, who was an officer at Salonica. The visit, one
gathered, was sub rosa; it was essential that the mili-
tary authorities should not hear of it. How M. le
Capitaine X. had arranged it we were not told. "We
have not seen each other for nearly eight months," she
said, impressively. It seemed a dreadfully long time
then. But Salonica altered that point of view. And
there was Mr. S., an elderly Englishman, lately of
Smyrna, engaged in the liquorice trade ; one of that
large number of Englishmen whose families have been
attached to the Near East for generations past, and who


see very little of England, and of whom the home
Englishman never hears. One learned that liquorice
was used almost entirely for the tobacco trade, and
that only round Smyrna will it grow really properly,
as liquorice should. It is only on trains and steamers
that one learns this sort of thing.

It was a pleasant trip across the Ionian Sea (with
some little concern as to submarines, which we under-
stood occasionally stopped and searched Greek ships),
and so up through the picturesque and storied Gulf of
Corinth, with the rugged mountains of the Peloponnesus
looking across the narrow waters to the high crest of old
Parnassus; past ancient Corinth — a tight squeeze
through the narrow canal in its rock cutting — and so to
the bare headlands which are the gates to the harbour
of Piraeus.

A feeling of the keenest disillusion came over me at
the sight of the parched and brown earth surrounding
it. This such classic ground ! And that utterly com-
monplace huddle of buildings Piraeus ! One had
imagined — well, all sorts of things infinitely more
gracious and pleasing. And as we steamed into the
harbour a wave of torrid air that might have come from
the fires of Hades swept past the ship. Piraeus seemed
a mean, uncomfortable and scorched sort of place,
utterly unworthy to be the gateway to Athens. The
crowd of noisy boatmen who suddenly surrounded the
ship, swarmed on deck like pirates and descended,
shouting and quarrelling, on the luggage, did nothing
to soften the brutal first impression of their native

Fortunately, a young Greek from Athens, who had
been deputed to meet Madame, appeared at the same
moment as the pirates and proved to be most useful
in piloting us to the shore, through the customs, and



so on the light railway up to Athens, and there to a
hotel. It was an oppressively hot day, and the services
and activities of this excellent young man were beyond
all price. After learning that Madame was en route
for Salonica I had offered to be of any service I could
during the journey. It was thus that I found myself
also sheltering under the wing of Mr. Achilles Leon-
dopoulos, and listening to his views on the latest phase of
the political situation at Athens, and on what the Allies
ought to do in the conflict of wills proceeding between
Constantine and Venizelos. From what I remember of
it he uttered a lot of sound common sense. Firmness
on the part of the Allies was necessary, he said. It was
a long time before we employed it.

In those days the railway was not completed between
Athens and Salonica, and Mr. Leondopoulos "charged
himself" with the mission of finding out when the next
boat was sailing. Two days later we returned to
Piraeus and pushed off into the busy harbour. It was a
beautiful evening, and the idea of a two days' voyage
to Salonica was pleasant to dwell upon.

" There is the //eZda," said Leondopoulos, after a
little while, and pointed to a small steamer. "I am
afraid it is a little crowded."

I looked, and my heart fell at what I saw. Madame
looked — and received the blow extremely well.

The Helda was a very small boat, and we were near
enough to see that it was packed from stem to stern
with human beings. As we drew still nearer we saw
that numerous cattle and a general cargo were crowded
higgledy-piggledy in the waist.

"Ce n'est pas exactement une transatlantique,^^ mur-
mured Madame.

"There are cabins for ladies," said Leondopoulos,
brightly, and I wondered what they were like. (Madame



told me later.) The noise of the chattering multitude
on the ship came to our ears. We boarded her, and
climbed on the after deck. To gain a footing there was
like forcing oneself into the main stteet during a village
fair. We were surrounded by a mob of unclean in-
dividuals including, apparently, bandits and cut-throats
of all sorts ; Greek soldiers ; one pretty French girl,
assiduously waited on by a young Greek with a very
English manner; commercial people from Athens,
Salonica and Kavalla ; a score of long-haired and untidy
Greek priests and, as I afterwards found, many Greek
refugees from Asia Minor. And still boats came, bring-
ing further pilgrims. I sought out the captain on
Madame's behalf. He promised to do what he could,
and said that if she liked she might sit in a chair on
the bridge whenever she wished. We sat in the saloon
a little later, making the best of dinner. It was hot
and crowded and noisy. Opposite sat the pretty French
girl with her ardent Greek cavalier, who dropped collo-
quial English phrases now and again to show that his
clothes were not the only thing he had acquired in
London. Madame was all attention to the little
romance proceeding before us, and watched the pretty
girl with great attention. "E/Ze n-est pas serieuse,'^
Madame announced finally and decisively. But the
young lady was undeniably attractive, and the exquisite
from Athens was making the most of his chances. (I
saw him a year or more later, by the way, in a Salonica
tram, and he had become a private in the Greek Army.)
The Helda was most decidedly badly overloaded.
She also had a considerable list on her. I wondered
what would happen to her if there were any sea on.
But morning found us anchored off Chalcis. The day
was hot but beautiful, the coast of Euboea most pic-
turesque, and the Helda mercifully at rest. Only the


crowded unwashed refugees, still stretched out where
they had originally staked their claims, spoiled the
beauty of the morning. A brisk trade in olives and
goat's milk cheese was proceeding from boats alongside.
And a little old man came up the side with a case of
books. He proved to be a colporteur of the British
and Foreign Bible Society. He passed round the decks
selling here and there small religious pamphlets, talking
goodness knows how many languages and dialects. He
halted before me. "I have books in all tongues," he
said, in English. "I have your Bible." I bought a
small Bible from him, beautifully bound and finished
for drachmae 2.25, or a little less than two shillings,
and he passed on, through the lowing cattle amidships,
to continue his work amidst the people thickly crowded
in the forward part of the ship. It was a scene Borrow
himself might have conjured up.

That day, on the hot crowded decks, seemed as long
as twenty. Fortunately we were in beautifully calm
water, between Euboea and the mainland, and there
was no fear as to the behaviour of the Helda, who strug-
gled gamely along, like a duck with a broken wing.,

Evening brought us into the pretty little port of Volo,
nestling under the slopes of Pelion. Day was just turn-
ing into dusk, the lights on shore were beginning to
twinkle. It was a pleasant prospect. Suddenly a
rumour ran round the ship. We were taking on still
more cargo ! There was much excitement, and the
heated conversations on every hand gradually resolved
themselves into a sort of meeting of outraged passengers
in the saloon. Were we all to be drowned just to satisfy
the greed of the captain and his owners ! Two hundred
and fifty cases of cheese were even now being trans-
ferred from boats ! We should sink under the extra
weight ! The meeting became extremely heated. It



was decided to send a deputation of eight to the Capi-
taine du Port to lodge a vehement protest. As the only
Englishman present I was pressed to join.

VVe crowded into a boat and the mob on board bid
us good luck and success in their various tongues. We
consisted chiefly of Jewish and Greek tobacco mer-
chants from Salonica and Kavalla. The house of the
Captain of the Port was found after a little delay. He
received us in his office, and though very short and
plump, looked competent. There was an excited con-
versation in Greek. The Capitaine du Port finally sug-
gested that we should return immediately to the ship,
as otherwise we might find it gone without us. He
would come aboard immediately in his own boat and
look into the matter.

The scene that followed on board with the captain
of the ship, the Capitaine du Port, and the deputation,
with various other people intervening, cannot be
described. The saloon rang and trembled with noise.

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Online LibraryH. Collinson (Harry Collinson) OwenSalonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war → online text (page 1 of 23)