H. Collinson (Harry Collinson) Owen.

Salonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war online

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stout units) retired under orders before the invasion.
The Bulgars swarmed down on to all the strategic
points covering Central and Eastern Macedonia. On
June 1st, 1916, the Bulgars occupied Rupel. Two days
later General Sarrail declared a state of siege in
Salonica. It was rather piquant that this was the
fete day of Constantine, and the town was gay with
bunting in his honour. While a crowd in their best
clothes were proceeding to St. Sophia to be present at
the solemn Te Deum, Allied patrols and machine-guns
appeared in the streets at strategic points, and almost
in the twinkling of an eye the posts and telegraphs,
the veins and nerves of Constantine's widespread es-
pionage system, were in Allied hands.

When Rupel Fort was taken by the Bulgars, the
garrison made some sort of resistance. But the tragi-
comedy was complete V(^hen later it was learned that
by the orders of the Athens clique the shots fired had
been blank, and that the surrender had been frankly
" greased " by a new loan from Germany. So may
men, at the bidding of an overpowering desire or ob-
session, juggle with the honour of their country. The
invasion of Eastern Macedonia continued with little to

161 M


stop it. At Dcmir-Hissar and Seres, Colonel Christo-
doulos, commanding part of the 6th Greek Division,
made a spirited defence and afterwards retired on
Kavalla. But here, early in August, Colonel Hadjo-
poulos, commanding the Greek 4th Corps, gave up most
of his corps, his material and the forts to the Bulgars.
This base surrender included 10,000 men, 8 groups of
mountain artillery and field artillery ; the heavy artil-
lery of the Kavalla forts, 7,000 reserve rifles and large
depots of munitions of all sorts. Hadjopoulos and his
men had a splendid time at first and were feted in
Austria and Germany. But their later adventures were
quite different. They were interned. Many died of
neglect and the rest were put on to work for the Bulgars
behind their lines. Christodoulos, with a large propor-
tion of his Division, secured French naval help just in
time to avoid capture, crossed to the island of Thasos,
and on September 18th made a triumphal entry into
Salonica. A large French transport, and two smaller
Greek ships, came into the harbour with the four
thousand heroes. The excitement was terrific, and the
cheering intense as the men, after landing, marched
along the front. The gallant Colonel was covered with
flowers, and kissed many times. As things were in
Greece, he had thoroughly earned it.

Meanwhile Salonica had been very much sitting up
and taking notice of the handing over of Macedonia to
the enemy. The Press campaign in the Greek papers
against the Athens clique was very fierce and bitter.
I remember on July 1st being called over to the offices
of the Rizospastis (Radical) to see the outrage done by
a group of Royalist officers. The editor had written a
fierce article against Constantine. The morning it
appeared sixteen Greek officers walked up the stairs.
Two stood guard and the others entering the editorial



sanctum, drew their swords. " Are you the Editor-in-
Chief ? " they asked. The Editor replied that he was.
They thereupon fell upon him and his assistant and
wrecked the place.

When I called a little later, the Editor was sitting
with a bloodstained bandage round his head writing a
fiercer article for the morrow. A French officer was
taking notes of the outrage. The pathetic flimsy fur-
niture of the office was smashed ; a portrait of Veni-
zelos on the wall was beaten in. Sympathisers
crowded in to shake hands. And the Editor went on
writing, occasionally lifting his left hand to be seized
by an admirer. At General Sarrail's instance the six-
teen officers were afterwards sent to Athens for disci-
plinary action, but nothing unpleasant happened to

Monster meetings of protest against Constantine's
policy were held in Salonica. The excitement and
indignation resulted in the formation of the League for
National Defence, and its Headquarters were in the
very building near the White Tower from whence was
launched, some nine years earlier, the Young Turk
Revolution. A vibrant proclamation to the people was
posted all over the town, calling on them to join the
movement, and calling on the Greek Army to join the
Army of National Defence, and resist the handing over
of their counfry to the hereditary enemy. Everybody
in Salonica was talking of revolution. We talked of it
at lunch in the Club, but one imagined it was too hot
for anybody to do anything. The air was full of sen-
sational rumours from Athens, and Constantine was
said to have fled. In the afternoon it was reported
that the battalion of Cretan gendarmes in the town,
Venizelists to a man (Venizelos himself being a Cretan)
3ad really begun the revolution. So it would seem.



The town was seething with excitement, which ap-
proached delirium when Colonel Zymbrakakis, putting
himself at the head of the gendarmes, and followed by
an enormous crowd, proceeded to French General Head-
quarters, and offered the support of himself and his
followers to General Sarrail. There were loud cries of
" Down with Constantine " and " Zito Venizelos " as
the procession returned. And on the night of August
80-31st the Salonica Revolution definitely arrived. It
was in many ways a comic opera sort of affair, but if
was big with consequences. It was the real beginning
of the entrs'^ of Greece into the war. The Royalist
officers and men who would not join the movement were
sent to Old Greece and the Committee of National
Defence began immediately to mobilize Macedonia.

Venizelos landed in Salonica on October 9th, after
having visited his native Crete and other islands. He
left Athens secretly on September 27th. The revolt
spread to many of the lEgesm Islands ; Corfu, on the
far Adriatic, joined in, and a large part of the Greek
fieet came with the statesman to Salonica.

The town and the harbour was smothered in blue and
white flags, and portraits of Venizelos were everywhere.
All portraits of the King and Queen in the town had
disappeared some time before. Noting this at Floca's,
I asked a waiter where they were. " In the cellar,"
he replied unguardedly. *' To be brought up again if
there is another change? " I enquired. He grinned and
passed on to the next customer.

We watched the landing of Venizeios and his fol-
lowers from the balcony of the club. The crowds below
were enormous, and a little before the moment General
Sarrail arrived and pushed his way through to the
Marble steps. As Venizelos came ashore all the steam
sirens of the ships opened up with thwr joyoois wailing.



The pleasant and mobile features of the famous patriot
Avere Avreathed in smiles. The French Commander-in-
Chief shook hands with the head of the new Provisional
Government and pushed his way out of the crowd
again. A mass of shouting people surrounded the Great
Cretan, who was swayed this way and that. One could
not help thinking of the chances of an assassin down
there, and there were many in Salonica who would have
been glad to hear that the new movement had been
arrested at its triumphant birth. With Venizelos and
his companions still surrounded by a compact mass of
people, the procession then moved off down the water
front, with everywhere flowers and cries of delight and
enthusiasm flying through the air.

Venizelos came to Salonica accompanied by his two
great henchmen, the diminutive and distinguished
General Danglis, who reminded one rather of Lord
Roberts, and Admiral Condouriotis, a popular hero of
the sea war of 1912 with Turkey. They made an im-
pressive trio, and under the impulse of their presence
the new movement made rapid progress. They formed
the National Triumvirate. All the public services in
Macedonia were taken over by the Provisional Govern-
ment, which was almost immediately recognised by the
British and French. Lord Granville was sent out as
Minister from London, and Salonica grew rapidly in
its own estimation. That was the hey-day of life at
the club. Many of the better-class Athenians had fol-
lowed Venizelos. There were distinguished persons in
the club, and what is more, handsome women. Officers
down from the Line used to sit in deep arm chairs and
look at them across the room, fascinated; thinking a
hundred things, no doubt, about their " ain folk " at
home. Evening dress, both masculine and feminine,
appeared. It was a great time. Meanwhile the mobili-



zation of Macedonia was proceeding rapidly, and one
saw constant processions of the most rag-tag and bob-
tail people it is possible to imagine, guarded by gen-
darmes, and preceded by skirling primitive pipes,
marching glumly to the various unsanitary places
where thej- were locked up until they could be made
into soldiers. To pretend that the great bulk of these
people wanted to fight for Greece or anybody else is
absurd. They were of all Balkan nationalities, and
they did not care a hang to whom Macedonia belonged
if only they could be left in peace. What a happy land
is England, where we have no ethnological problems,
and where we know exactly at what points the race
begins and ends. In any string of these recruits there
were probably men of Greek, Bulgar, Serb, Kutzo-
Vlach, Albanian and gipsy race. There were very few
Jews. The Salonica Jew is a clever person, and by an
infinity of means managed to "wangle" out of mobili-
zation, though many of them had quite narrow escapes.
But one could hardly blame them for being unen-
thusiastic. The Jew has been by no means pleased
with the coming of the Greeks to Salonica. They smack
too much of competitors. Many Jews indeed sigh for
the old Turkish days, with their mixture of abuses and
purchasable privileges. They always knew how to get
on with the Turk. In any case they have no national
feeling for Macedonia, although they have a distinct
civic feeling for Salonica. Many of them, at various
times, came to me and said earnestly, " Could not Eng-
land take over Salonica? " There is no end to what
we might do if we listened to everybody.

Only four days after arriving, Venizelos and his two
chief supporters were entertained to a great banquet
in the White Tower Restaurant. It was a brilliant
occasion. The pale blue and white of Greece blazed



everywhere and leading from the gate to the door of
the banqueting room (the scene of many uproarious
Allied evenings) was a guard of Cretan Gendarmes in
their fine-looking full-dress uniforms, which include the
funniest baggy trousers known. The White Tower
produced such a show of glass and napery as fairly
staggered one. They had kept this very dark up to
now, the average drinking glass in a Salonica restaurant
being a quarter of an inch thick. Venizelos, sitting
between General Danglis and Admiral Condouriotis,
seemed radiant with joy and enthusiasm. A Greek
officer rose and read out a long heroic poem in ancient
Greek which I was informed very few people under-
stand a word of. And when Venizelos addressed the
meeting one felt that here was a great man, although
I did not understand a word of his discourse either. He
was simplicity itself, but he had the true art of the
orator. He held them all in his clenched hand, and
the " Zitos " that rose after some of his passages were

Meanwhile Constantine and his numerous followers
down at Athens were surpassing themselves in bluff and
chicanery. He was making urgent representations to
his brother-in-law to do something, and marking time
with the Allied representations until, as he hoped, the
" field-greys," having finished their all-conquering
bull-rush through Roumania, would come sweeping down
through the Balkans, and finish the Salonica Armies
once for all. Before the pressure of the Allied Govern-
ments, and the presence of their blockading fleet, now
off the Piraeus, Constantine did amazing tricks of poli-
tical juggling, and one cabinet of third-rate politicians
succeeded another with extraordinary rapidity. The
epistrates, or reservists, were all served out with arms.
Greece was now divided into two definite halves with



the famous neutral zone in between. Constantine was
King in the South, and Venizelos, under the sheltering
wing of the Allies, the power in the North. The Allies
pressed their demands, and with his eye on the battle
line in Roumania Constantine gave way just as much
as was necessary, and no more, to keep the Allies dan-
gling. Baron Schenk, with his propaganda millions all
spent, and the rest of the German, Austrian and Bul-
garian clique, were kicked out of Athens. But things
were going beautifully — for the enemy — in Roumania,
and Constantine, cheered by his wireless reports from
Berlin, judged the moment opportune to show resistance.
The reservists were all armed. The hills of Athens
were fortified. The Allied ultimatum, wliich insisted
on disarmament of Greece as a guarantee of her neu-
trality, was drawing to a close. It expired on Decem-
ber 1st. On that day came one of the Allies' greatest
muddles and Constantine's supreme treachery. The
Allied marines landed by Admiral d'Artige du Fournet,
were caught in ambush and shot down by machine-gun
and rifle fire, and for the best part of twenty-four
hours the French Admiral was a prisoner, and his
meals brought to him. The Allies' long duel with Con-
stantine seemed to have fizzled lamentably. For the
moment " My dear Tino " was on top.

Salonica was black with foreboding when the news
came through. Authentic details arrived three days
later. It was a period of heavy rain and the streets
were a vile, slippery quagmire, as is usual in wet
weather in Salonica. The gloomiest reports and im-
pressions ran round like wild-fire. The mixed local
population was exceedingly depressed, and looked at
the Allies with glances which seemed to say, " And to
think that we have trusted you all this time, and here
you are, going to lose the war after all." Constantine



had at last declared himself. The news from Roumania
was the very worst. There would be a move north-
wards by the Greek Army. The Germans would come
down from Roumania. The Salonica Force would be
caught like a nut in crackers. People were saying
freely in the streets that it was the end of all Allied
operations based on Salonica. We should have to
evacuate or be crushed. *' And then," thought the
townspeople, "where shall we be; we who have said
openly that we like the Allies and want them to win."
I was approached as to whether it would be difficult
to get a passage with the British Nav^^

One, of course, smiled at all this sort of thing, and
said, in effect, " Don't be silly." But whatever one
said, it was impossible to feel cheerful. It was a black
daj\ That evening, the town electric light was off— a
common occurrence. Outside the office windows, down
below in the wet and muddy street, with the rain
coming down ceaselessly, some sort of a fight v/as going
on. There was a revolver shot, and we could hear
the groans and gasps of struggling men out in the
darkness. It was reported that Italian and Greek
soldiers were fighting with their bayonets. The de-
pressing news, the pitch-black darkness of the stteets,
the rain, the gasping noises of the fight below— all
this gave an extraordinarily vivid impression of every-
thing going wrong, of ill-luck, of anarchy. There were
scared and white faces among the polyglot group of
compositors out in the composing room. Down at the
Club, later on at dinner, the blackest pessimism
reigned, and the people from Athens sat huddled to-
gether, talking in low voices and exchanging the
wildest rumours and ideas. At last, it seemed, the
sinister work of Constantine and his men had borne
its full fruit, and the blow in the back, which had



always been a possibility ever since the Allies came to
Salonica, would now be delivered under the worst

possible circumstances for us It was days

before the black cloud lifted a little from the town.

Who could have thought then, that within less than
six months King Constantine would have become ex-
King Constantine, and would have been drawn from
Athens as by a magnet, together with his Queen and
the Crown Prince, leaving behind his second son
Alexander as King ? And that a few days later, on
June 24th, 1917, M. Venizelos would re-enter Athens
amidst wild enthusiasm and find himself again at the
head of a united Greece, with full powers, backed by
the Allies, to guide his country along the road which
he had long foreseen truth and courage had ttaced for

The mills of the Allies ground very slowly, but in
the end they ground to some purpose. The bloody
events of December 1st. 1916, and the days imme-
diately afterwards, were followed by another ultimatum
on December 14th, in which Royalist Greece was
ordered to transfer her troops and munitions to the
southern province of the Peloponnese, where, joined
to the mainland only by the narrow Isthmus of Corinth,
they would no longer be a source of danger to the
Salonica Allies ; and to cease immediately all move-
ments of troops and material towards the north. For
nearly six months longer Constantine played his astute
game, but always losing a little; never living up to his
promises to the demands made on him, but never having
quite the courage to defy them entirely. Gradually,
but ceaselessly, the pressure of the Allies went on —
mixed though it was by a very strong dash of hesita-
tion and weakness — and still German help did not



come to Athens. And at last we had drawn sufficient
of his teeth to make it possible to apply the final pres-
sure without any danger of an armed Greece rising in
our rear at the bidding of its pro-German King. A
strong French force, joined by a small detachment of
British (500 men of the East Yorkshire Regiment)
advanced down into Greece with the double object of
securing the corn crop of the Thessaly plains, and
threatening Athens from the north. The Isthmus of
Corinth was occupied, so that all the Greek troops and
material south of it in the Peloponnese were cut off.
And a strong Allied Fleet had Athens at the mercy of
its guns. On June 11th the King departed for
Switzerland, the first of the enemy " rois en exil."
His fall was partly one of the many quiet triumphs of
sea power. Without the sea open to her, Greece sooner
or later must capitulate. The blockade was an argu-
ment against which the wireless messages from Berlin
had no answer.

Greece still had many difficulties to face, but the
man at the head pulled her through. With great
labour and many ugly incidents — which were uniformly
dealt with in drastic fashion — the Greek Army was
re-organised and made to right-about-face. In April,
1918, 1 visited the first complete Greek Division to enter
in line with the British. They were on the Struma.
Before them the men saw Seres glinting white and
enticingly in the sunshine, and they wanted to take
it at a bound, and could not understand that they
would be annihilated if they tried to. Less than a year
before, this had been a Royalist unit — the first Larissa
Division. It was disbanded, and had slowly to be
reconstituted. " I am a soldier," said General Nider,
its commander, " and do not discuss politics. I am
glad to be in liaison with the British and I do what I



am told." More and more Divisions came into line,
with the French and ourselves, until, at the opening
of the big offensive, there were nine of them in the
field. The aspect of the Balkan situation had under-
gone a complete change. Greece, no longer threatening
us in our rear, was now in line with us. It largely
explains both our earlier difficulties and failures and
our final success. And it most certainly could never
have happened without the inspiration of one man,
Eleutherios Venizelos.

There is an authentic little anecdote which makes
a suitable envoi to this chapter. The armistice under
which Bulgaria capitulated was signed in Salonica on
the morning of September 29th. M. Venizelos, who
was present, returned immediately after the historic
ceremony to the house which he occupies when in
Salonica, formerly a residence of Constantine himself.
As he sat down to talk over what had happened, a
friend with him said : —

*' This must be a great moment for you. I wonder
what Constantine is thinking now?"

And Venizelos replied : —

" I am happy to think that man is still alive to know
it." And one may pardon even a statesman this little
common human touch of exultation.

Finally we may close this chapter with a short and

amazing poem which was written in honour of the

triumphal return to Athens. The author, one George

Alexiades sent it to The Balkan News, dating his

effusion from the Hotel d'Angleterre at Athens. The

poem ran : —


" All in a tide flooded up

The Germans from their land ;
Innocent soids were frightened
Of the wild band.



Miles and miles flooded up.

Smashing defendless bars ;
But suddenly he stepped in front

The tallest of the stars.

His helmet wasn't signing,

His eyes in a frown.
And on his forehead bearing

Steel thoughts instead of crown.

And all the Greeks are now sure

That with aid the British skill,
It's a common thing to bend

The * German-made ' steel."

At least the author meant well, and we may forgive
his verse for the sake of his sentiments.



Mud and Malaria.

Mud and Malaria ! In these two simple words were
enclosed the two outstanding difficulties under which
the Salonica Army laboured. Macedonia, when we
came to it, was practically roadless. There were only
tracks, and tracks, in wet or snowy weather, mean
mud. Not the genteel film of mud which one sees in
a London street, which energetic municipal roadmen
sweep down the handy grids with their squeegees. But
mud in the nth degree ; mud three or four feet deep ;
mud which will engulph a motor-car up to its bonnet
and swallow a kicking mule. The facetious anecdote
of the lorry driver discovered up to his neck in mud
on the Monastir Road, who said to his rescuers when
they came along, " I'm all right, I'm standing on my
lorry," is no more an exaggeration than the average
fish story.

And malaria ! The history of the Panama Canal
shows what malariia may do to strong, healthy men.
Malaria helped to produce one of the greatest social
and political scandals in the history of modern France,
because de Lesseps' failure was largely due to a tiny
pest which up to that time (in the 'eighties) science
was powerless to combat. The Americans came a few
years later, cleared the country of its malarial swamps,
and built the canal. But what the Americans could
do in Panama in peace time was not possible to us
in Macedonia in war time. We knew when we went



there that it was a malarial country. But nobody
could possibly have realised to the full how deadly,
for instance, was the Struma Valley. It is one thing
to hear about a danger and another to experience it.
We know that cyclones occur in America, but we do
not quite expect to get struck by one if we go there.
We knew that malaria existed in Macedonia, but no-
body could possibly have foreseen that splendid batta-
lions a thousand strong would be struck down whole-
sale and in a few days or weeks reduced to a few score
healthy men. Even if we had realised it to the full,
there was no help for it. It proved to be our role to
go and fight there, and an army in a malarial country
is bound to become infected by malaria. Under peace
conditions, men can be protected. But in war, with
fighting going on, men have to take their chance.

The crying need of good roads was evident from the
first moment we set foot in the country. There were
three more or less main routes leading into Salonica —
the Monastir, the Naresh and the Seres Roads. They
were all — from the modern European requirements of
heavy traffic — in a shocking condition. Up to our
coming, in all the innumerable wars they had wit-
nessed, they had borne nothing but animal traffic.
We came with heavy lorry and motor traffic, and we
were like skaters who had no ice to skate on. We had
to make roads before we could use our vehicles. It is
true that we should have done better if we had been

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Online LibraryH. Collinson (Harry Collinson) OwenSalonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war → online text (page 13 of 23)