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5) The Story of the Salonica Army, by G. Ward Price

I spent yesterday in the city known to its inhabitants as Θεσσαλονίκη and variously called in English Thessaloniki, Thessalonica or Salonica. I was there to discharge certain duties, but happened to find on the internet this account of the Allies' campaign in the region from 1915 to late 1917. The text as presented online seems to be a U.S. edition of a book originally published for a British audience, mainly altered by the addition of a foreword addressing American readers by Lord Northcliffe.

This is one of the forgotten corners of the First World War - the Western Front is of course well known, especially (but not only) here in Belgium, and for the British and Irish (and rest of the then Empire) the only eastern campaign that lives on in memory is Gallipoli. Many of the survivors of the Gallipoli debacle ended up in Thessalonica (as I tend to call it) in late 1915, at first in a vain attempt to shore up the Serbian army from collapsing, and then just as a continuing irritant to the Axis powers.

It was observed that they were not, in fact, doing an awful lot of fighting. The first major engagements were all managed retreats down the Vardar valley, followed by another from the shores of Lake Doiran, which I understand my grandfather was involved with. The Allied soldiers in more combative zones, such as the Somme, dubbed the Macedonian contingent the "Gardeners of Salonika", because they actually had time to engage in a bit of gardening. (Hence the second half of my earlier question.)

Anyway, this account is a pretty good first-hand telling of the story from a journalist who was actually there. You have to strongly filter for propaganda, but there are numerous really good and vivid descriptive scenes that would make me willing to buy the book if it were ever actually reprinted.

Of course, today's Thessalonica is a completely different place - after the disastrous fire of 1917, it was mostly razed and rebuilt in the early 1920s, and its majority Jewish population almost all left/were kicked out at about that time. So although I was looking out for traces of the first world war in the city yesterday, and being taken around by a friend who knew her history, there was very little to see. I'm hoping to be able to look at some of the actual battlefields next month. (Means I will miss the Doctor Who finale, but I will finds means of catching up.)

The best story in the book is from just after the recapture of Monastir (now Bitola) by the Allies and its consequent restoration to Serb rule in 1916. The (ethnic Greek) owner of one of the hotels is caught embarrassedly repainting the hotel's sign. It turns out that when the Serbs first captured it from the Turks in the 1912 Balkan war, he had renamed the establishment "l'Hotel de la Nouvelle Serbie". But then when the Bulgarians marched in three years later, he had renamed it "l'Hotel de la Nouvelle Bulgarie". Now the Serbs were back, he was covering his bets, and had renamed it (perhaps permanently) as "l'Hotel Euroopéen".

On my flight into Thessalonica late Thursday night, the gentleman sitting next to me, who had been reading over my shoulder, leaned over and asked my nationality. I told him that I am Irish (a convenient shorthand; of course I have dual citizenship, and often carry both passports). He informed me that there were some mistakes in the text I was reading, and that Macedonia is not a country, but a region. I told him that there were no statements in the text I was reading about that particular issue. I just didn't feel like an argument.

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