|Bert's Christmas Card 1915|
Kostorina and Lake Doiran, with the Bulgarians holding a facing ridge.
There were 10 000 Bulgarian troops deployed along the line. Many locals had evacuated months before. In late November a three day blizzard hit. George Ward Price, a journalist and war correspondent for the London Daily Mail, described it in detail in his 1918 book The Story of the Salonika Army.
It began on November 27th with torrents of rain which soon turned to snow. Then it froze so quickly that the drenched skirts of greatcoats would stand out stiff like a ballet-dancer's dress. Even down at Strumnitza Station in the valley, 7.6° below zero Fahrenheit was registered, and up on that exposed knife-edge ridge where our trenches were, the biting wind made the cold more piercing still. The men had no shelter but waterproof sheets pegged across the top of the open trench and the weight of accumulated snow soon broke those in. They had had no time to make dugouts in the rocky mountain side; and if they had had time they had no materials.
In that terrible weather our patrols and those of the Bulgars which used both to visit the unoccupied village of Ormanli would be driven to shelter and light fires in houses so close together that each could hear the other talking, and each by tacit agreement left the other undisturbed. It was too cold to fight.
There were 750 cases of frostbite in one brigade alone during those three fierce days, when it seemed as if the Balkan winter were showing the worst of which it was capable. Men frozen stiff were carried in scores from the trenches to the first-aid posts to be rubbed back to life again. Warm underclothing reached the division in the very middle of the snowstorm, but the cold was too bitter for the men to undress to put it on, and it was added anyhow to the sacks and blankets and other additional garments that each did his best to accumulate, a pair of drawers being used as a muffler or tied round the middle. George Ward Price The Story of the Salonica Army Ch III
The Allies were outnumbered between two and four to one, and during December gradually retreated to Doiran, inside the Greek border, blowing up bridges and roads as they left.
|British camp. Bert's postcard.|
|Bert's postcard showing road building|
They spent their first four months of winter fortifying their position. The French fortified the approach from the rolling plains. Everything had to be brought in by mule while roads and railways were built.
Chris Baker’s website The Long, Long Trail has this to say about Salonika in 1916:
During the first four months of 1916 the British Salonika Force had enough spadework to last it for the rest of its life. Large amounts of barbed wire were used and a bastion about eight miles north of the city was created connecting with the Vardar marshes to the west, and the lake defences of Langaza and Beshik to the east, and so to the Gulf of Orfano and the Aegean Sea. This area was known as the 'Birdcage' on account of the quantity of wire used. The Bulgarians and Austrians also fortified the heights of the hills surrounding Salonika during the same time which had dire consequences later on. ...The Salonika Force dug-in until the summer of 1916, by which time the international force had been reinforced and joined by Serbian, Russian and Italian units.
In May 1916 the local inhabitants caught sight of their first Zeppelin. As George Ward Price tells it in Chapter Five of his book:
|Bert's Postcard of the town and church of St. Sophia|
|One of Bert's postcards - mountain monastery|
In July 1916 the Bulgarians invaded Greece. The Allies repelled them near Lake Doiran.
|trenches in Salonika|
The Royal Flying Corps began bombing in support of the effort in Salonika in the summer of 1916.
|An Ancient Greek Church in the hills - Bert's postcard.|
The Balkan front was largely a holding operation. Allied efforts gave support and heart to Serbia in pushing back the Bulgarian invasion. However, the Bulgarians were backed by German forces and in a much better supply position.
|Bert's postcard of fortified walls in the mountains.|
|Bert in Salonika with Capt. Bailhache|
The campaign is a tribute to determination and stubbornness in the face of failing diplomacy and a superior enemy position.
There is a battle memorial to the British in Salonika designed by Sir Robert Lorimer with a sculpture by Walter Gilbert, unveiled in 1926.