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Sunday, 29 April 2012

13. A Soldier's Life in Salonika.

 The fighting season in Salonika was largely restricted to April/May in Spring and October/November in Autumn. Cold in Winter and mosquitos and disease in Summer were restrictive. Much time was spent building roads, railways and bridges, shoring up dug-outs, obtaining supplies and healing the sick.

The following account by George Ward Price in The Story of the Salonika Army  gives an indication of the sort of thing Bert, as batman to Captain Bailhache, would have done during the ‘non-combat’ time of the campaign. 

One of Bert's postcards
The low, two-storied houses, each in a little compound of its own, are the kind of dwelling you find all over Macedonia. The lower rooms are dank, earth-floored stables or storehouses, where the winter's supply of Indian corn is kept. A ramshackle outside wooden staircase leads up to a broad verandah on the upper floor. You need to walk gingerly, for half the planks are loose. Off this open the two or three rooms that make up the dwelling. These, when they have been cleaned with the vigour which the British soldier puts into such operations, when years'-old accumulation of filth has been scraped off the floor and burnt, and when walls and ceilings have been whitewashed, become quite tolerably habitable. The half-dome fireplace, indeed, reminds one rather of modern villa architecture at home. The furniture, if any, is of the roughest, but the roofs of these cottages are generally sound and the soldier asks no more. It is always astonishing to observe the resourcefulness and zeal with which army batmen will manufacture tables, chairs, washstands, bookcases, for their officers. They "scrounge" the material somehow under the most improbable circumstances, and are amply rewarded for hours of labour in what might have been their own spare time by a casual remark of their "boss." "Oh, by the way, Jenkins, the Colonel liked that armchair you knocked together for me, when he was in here to-day. He wants to know if you can't make one like it for him." And yet all their labour is of no more than temporary service. When the battalion moves on these products of ingenious carpentry must be left behind. With four officers' kits to go in one half-limber there is no room for chairs. But where would you find such energy in peace time? If a castor came off a sofa would your butler, at thirty shillings a week all found, put it on again for you? If he noticed you had nowhere to keep your smoking things, would he sit up at night in his pantry carving you a pipe-rack? Yet your batman, at half-a-sovereign a month, will improvise you a bed or a bath-tub as cheerfully as he brings your morning tea. War is a great energiser. 

These were things at which Bert was skilled. He could always improvise, mend and fix. Most of his half-a-sovereign went home to Nell, getting by with her two children, support from family and her own capacity to improvise. 

An English language newspaper broadsheet, The Balkan News, provided information about the War on other fronts, local events, commentary on the War and advertisement for local businesses. Bert kept the edition of Tuesday 11 July 1916, the 343rd day of the War. The front page stories are largely on the War in France.

The commentary is hardly critical of the War, nor objective, but does give soldiers a big picture of the other fronts of the War.
 Clearly quite a few businesses have grown up around the needs of the troops stationed in Salonika, not all of them run by Greeks.
It is unlikely that Bert, the batman, frequented local hairdressing salons, even when he found himself near a town.

The local authorities used the newspaper to try to improve the efficiency of local services, as evidenced in the tramways notice.

Of course, the newspaper itself created some local employment.

Bert's drawing
Sometime in 1916 Bert occupied himself drawing his own souvenir of his War to that point.

Salonika seems to have been, on the whole, frustrating rather than horrific as a war zone.In March 1916 alone, 98 men were detained with malaria. While not without its battles, extremes of temperature and disease were the Salonika soldiers' most powerful enemies.

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