With the Allies in Salonika
By Richard Harding Davis
[Scribner's Magazine, April 1916]
If it is true that happy are the people without a history, then Salonika should be thoroughly miserable. Some people make history; others have history thrust upon them. Ever since the world began Salonika has had history thrust upon her. She aspired only to be a great trading seaport. She was content to be the place where the caravans from the Balkans met the ships from the shores of the Mediterranean, Egypt, and Asia Minor. Her wharfs were counters across which they could swap merchandise. All she asked was to be allowed to change their money. Instead of which, when any two nations of the Near East went to the mat to settle their troubles, Salonika was the mat. If any country within a thousand-mile radius declared war on any other country in any direction whatsoever, the armies of both belligerents clashed at Salonika. They not only used her as a door-mat, but they used her hills to the north of the city for their battle-field. In the fighting, Salonika took no part. She merely loaned the hills. But she knew, whichever side won, two things would happen to her. She would pay a forced loan and subscribe to an entirely new religion. Three hundred years before Christ, the people of Salonika worshipped the mysterious gods who had their earthly habitation on the island of Thasos. The Greeks ejected them, and erected altars to Apollo and Aphrodite, the Egyptians followed and taught Salonika to fear Serapis; then came Roman gods and Roman generals; and then St. Paul.
The Jews set up synagogues, the Mohammedans reared minarets, the Crusaders restored the cross, the Tripolitans restored the crescent, the Venetians re-restored Christianity. Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Persians, Franks, Egyptians, and Barbary pirates, all, at one time or another, invaded Salonika. She was the butcher's block upon which they carved history. Some ruled her only for months, others for years. Of the monuments to the religions forced upon her, the most numerous to-day are the synagogues of the Jews and the mosques of the Mohammedans. It was not only fighting men who invaded Salonika. Italy can count her great earthquakes on one hand; the United States on one finger. But a resident of Salonika does not speak of the "year of the earthquake." For him, it saves time to name the years when there was no earthquake. Each of those years was generally "the year of the great fire." If it wasn't one thing, it was another. If it was not a tidal wave, it was an epidemic; if it was not a war, it was a blizzard. The trade of Asia Minor flows into Salonika and with it carries all the plagues of Egypt. Epidemics of cholera in Salonika used to be as common as yellow fever in Guayaquil. Those years the cholera came the people abandoned the seaport and lived on the plains north of Salonika, in tents. If the cholera spared them, the city was swept by fire; if there was no fire, there came a great frost. Salonika is in the same latitude as Naples, Madrid, and New York; and New York is not unacquainted with blizzards. Since the seventeenth century, last winter was said to be the coldest Salonika has ever known. I was not there in the seventeenth century, but am willing to believe that statement, not only to believe it, but to swear to it. Of the frost in 1657 the Salonikans boast the cold was so severe that to get wood the people destroyed their houses. Last winter, when on the English and French front in Servia, I saw soldiers using the same kind of fire-wood. They knew that a mud house that is held together with beams and rafters can be rebuilt, but that you cannot rebuild frozen toes and fingers.
In thrusting history upon Salonika the last few years have been especially busy. They gave her a fire that destroyed a great part of the city, and between 1911 and 1914 two cholera epidemics, the Italian-Turkish War, which, as Salonika was then Turkish, robbed her of hundreds of her best men, the Balkan-Turkish War, and the Second Balkan War. In this Salonika was part of the spoils, and Greece and Bulgaria fought to possess her. The Greeks won, and during one year she was at peace. Then, in 1914, the Great War came, and Servia sent out an S. 0. S. call to her Allies. At the Dardanelles, not eighteen hours away, the French and English heard the call. But to reach Servia by the shortest route they must disembark at Salonika, a port belonging to Greece, a neutral power; and in moving north from Salonika into Servia they must pass over fifty miles of neutral Greek territory. To do this, Venizelos, prime-minister of Greece, gave them permission. King Constantine, to preserve his neutrality, disavowed the act of his representative, and Venizelos resigned. From the point of view of the Allies, the disavowal came too late. As soon as they had received permission from the recognized Greek Government, they started, and, leaving the King and Venizelos to fight it out between them, landed at Salonika. The inhabitants received them calmly. The Greek officials, the colonel commanding the Greek troops, the Greek captain of the port, and the Greek collector of customs may have been upset; but the people of Salonika remained calm. They were used to it. Foreign troops were always landing at Salonika. The Oldest Inhabitant could remember, among others, those of Alexander the Great, Mark Antony, Constantine, the Sultan Murad, and several hundred thousand French and English who, over their armor, wore a red cross. So he was not surprised when, after seven hundred years, the French and English returned, still wearing the red cross.
One of the greatest assets of those who live in a seaport city is a view of their harbor. As a rule, that view is hidden from, them by zinc sheds on the wharfs and warehouses. But in Salonika the water-front belongs to everybody. To the north it encloses the harbor in a great half-moon that from tip to tip measures three miles. At the western tip of this crescent are tucked away the wharfs for the big steamers, the bonded warehouses, the customs, the goods-sheds. The rest of the water-front is open to the people and to the small sailing vessels. For over a mile it is bordered by a stone quay, with stone steps leading down to the rowboats. Along this quay runs the principal street, and on the side of it that faces the harbor, in an unbroken row, are the hotels, the houses of the rich Turks and Jews, clubs, restaurants, cafés, and moving-picture theatres. At night, when these places are blazing with electric lights, the curving water-front is as bright as Broadway—but Broadway with one-half of the street in darkness. On the dark side of the street, to the quay, are moored hundreds of sailing vessels. Except that they are painted and gilded differently, they look like sisters. They are fat, squat sisters with the lines of half a cantaloupe. Each has a single mast and a lateen-sail, like the Italian felucca and the sailing boats of the Nile. When they are moored to the quay and the sail is furled, each yard-arm, in a graceful, sweeping curve, slants downward. Against the sky, in wonderful confusion, they follow the edge of the half-moon; the masts a forest of dead tree trunks, the slanting yards giant quill pens dipping into an ink-well. Their hulls are rich in gilding and in colors: green, red, pink, and blue. At night the electric signs of a moving-picture palace on the opposite side of the street illuminate them from bow to stern. It is one of those bizarre contrasts you find in the Near East. On one side of the street a perfectly modern hotel, on the other a boat unloading fish, and in the street itself, with French automobiles and trolley-cars, men who still are beasts of burden, who know no other way of carrying a bale or a box than upon their shoulders. In Salonika even the trolley-car is not without its contrast. One of our "Jim Crow" street-cars would puzzle a Turk. He would not understand why we separate the white and the black man. But his own street-car is also subdivided. In each there are four seats that can be hidden by a curtain. They are for the women of his harem.
From the water-front Salonika climbs steadily up-hill to the row of hills that form her third and last line of defense. On the hill upon which the city stands are the walls and citadel built in the fifteenth century by the Turks, and in which, when the city was invaded, the inhabitants sought refuge. In aspect it is mediaeval; the rest of the city is modern and Turkish. The streets are very narrow; in many the second stories overhang them and almost touch, and against the sky-line rise many minarets. But the Turks do not predominate. They have their quarter, and so, too, have the French and the Jews. In numbers the Jews exceed all the others. They form 56 per cent of a population composed of Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Bulgarians, Egyptians, French, and Italians. The Jews came to Salonika the year America was discovered. To avoid the Inquisition they fled from Spain and Portugal and brought their language with them; and after five hundred years it still obtains. It has been called the Esperanto of the Salonikans. For the small shopkeeper, the cabman, the waiter, it is the common tongue. In such surroundings it sounds most curious. When, in a Turkish restaurant, you order a dinner in the same words you last used in Vera Cruz, and the dinner arrives, it seems uncanny. But, in Salonika, the language most generally spoken is French. Among so many different races they found, if they hoped to talk business—and a Greek, an Armenian, and a Jew are not averse to talking business—a common tongue was necessary. So, all those who are educated, even most sketchily, speak French. The greater number of newspapers are in French; and notices, advertisements, and official announcements are printed in that language. It makes life in Salonika difficult. When a man attacks you in Turkish, Yiddish, or Greek, and you cannot understand him, there is some excuse, but when he instantly renews the attack in both French and Spanish, it is disheartening. It makes you regret that when you were in college the only foreign language you studied was football signals.
At any time, without the added presence of 100,000 Greeks and 170,000 French and English, Salonika appears overpopulated. This is partly because the streets are narrow and because in the streets everybody gathers to talk, eat, and trade. As in all Turkish cities, nearly every shop is an "open shop." The counter is where the window ought to be, and opens directly upon the sidewalk. A man does not enter the door of a shop, he stands on the sidewalk, which is only thirty-six inches wide, and makes his purchase through the window. This causes a crowd to collect. Partly because the man is blocking the sidewalk, but chiefly because there is a chance that something may be bought and paid for. In normal times, if Salonika is ever normal, she has a population of 120,000, and every one of those 120,000 is personally interested in any one else who engages, or may be about to engage, in a money transaction. In New York, if a horse falls down there is at once an audience of a dozen persons; in Salonika the downfall of a horse is nobody's business, but a copper coin changing hands is everybody's. Of this local characteristic, John T. McCutcheon and I made a careful study; and the result of our investigations produced certain statistics. If in Salonika you buy a newspaper from a newsboy, of the persons passing, two will stop; if at an open shop you buy a package of cigarettes, five people will look over your shoulders; if you pay your cab-driver his fare, you block the sidewalk; and if you try to change a hundred-franc note, you cause a riot. In each block there are nearly a half-dozen money-changers; they sit in little shops as narrow as a doorway, and in front of them is a show-case filled with all the moneys of the world. It is not alone the sight of your hundred-franc note that enchants the crowd. That collects the crowd; but what holds the crowd is that it knows there are twenty different kinds of money, all current in Salonika, into which your note can be changed. And they know the money-changer knows that and that you do not. So each man advises you. Not because he does not want to see you cheated—between you and the moneychanger he is neutral—but because he can no more keep out of a money deal than can a fly pass a sugar-bowl.
The men on the outskirts of the crowd ask: "What does he offer?" The lucky ones in the front-row seats call back: "A hundred and eighteen drachmas." The rear ranks shout with indignation: "It is robbery!" "It is because he changes his money in Venizelos Street." "He is paying the money-changer's rent." "In the Jewish quarter they are giving nineteen." "He is too lazy to walk two miles for a drachma." "Then let him go to the Greek, Papanastassion."
A man in a fez whispers to you impressively: "La livre turque est encore d'un usage fort courant. La valeur au pair est de francs vingt-deux." But at this the Armenian shrieks violently. He scorns Turkish money and advises Italian lire. At the idea of lire the crowd howl. They hurl at you instead francs, piastres, paras, drachmas, lepta, metaliks, mejidie, centimes, and English shillings. The money-changer argues with them gravely. He does not send for the police to drive them away. He does not tell them: "This is none of your business." He knows better. In Salonika, it is their business. In Salonika, after money the thing of most consequence is conversation. Men who are talking always have the right of way. When two men of Salonika are seized with a craving for conversation, they feel, until that craving is satisfied, nothing else is important. So, when the ruling passion grips them, no matter where they may meet, they stop dead in their tracks and talk. If possible they select the spot where by standing still they can cause the greatest amount of inconvenience to the largest number of people. They do not withdraw from the sidewalk. On the contrary, as best suited for conversation, they prefer the middle of it, the doorway of a café, or the centre aisle of a restaurant. Of the people who wish to pass they are as unconscious as a Chinaman smoking opium is unconscious of the sightseers from up-town. That they are talking is all that counts. They feel every one else should appreciate that. Because the Allies failed to appreciate it, they gained a reputation for rudeness. A French car, flying the flag of the general, a squad of Tommies under arms, a motorcyclist carrying despatches could not understand that a conversation on a street crossing was a sacred ceremony. So they shouldered the conversationalists aside, or splashed them with mud. It was intolerable. Had they stamped into a mosque in their hobnailed boots, on account of their faulty religious training, the Salonikans might have excused them. But that a man driving an ambulance full of wounded should think he had the right to disturb a conversation that was blocking the traffic of only the entire waterfront was a discourtesy no Salonikan could comprehend.
The wonder was that among so many mixed races the clashes were so few. In one place seldom have people of so many different nationalities met, and with interests so absolutely opposed. It was a situation that would have been serious had it not been comic. For causing it, for permitting it to continue, Greece was responsible. Her position was not happy. She was between the Allies and the Kaiser. Than Greece, no country is more vulnerable from an attack by sea; and if she offended the Allies, their combined fleets at Malta and Lemnos could seize all her little islands and seaports. If she offended the Kaiser, he would send the Bulgarians into eastern Thrace and take Salonika, from which only two years before Greece had dispossessed them. Her position was indeed most difficult. As the barber at the Grande Bretagne in Athens told me: "It makes me a headache."
On many a better head than his it had the same effect. King Constantine, be cause he believed it was best for Greece, wanted to keep his country neutral. But after Venizelos had invited the Allies to make a landing-place, and a base for their armies at Salonika, Greece was no longer neutral. If our government invited 170,000 German troops to land at Portland, and through Maine invade Canada, our neutrality would be lost. The neutrality of Greece was lost, but Constantine would not see that. He hoped, although 170,000 fighting-men are not easy to hide, that the Kaiser also would not see it. It was a very forlorn hope. The Allies also cherished a hope. It was that Constantine not only would look the other way while they slipped across his country, but would cast of all pretense of neutrality and join them. So, as far as was possible, they avoided giving offense. They assisted him in his pretense of neutrality. And that was what caused the situation. It was worthy of a comic opera. Before the return of the allied troops to Salonika, there were on the neutral soil of Greece, divided between Salonika and the front in Servia, 110,000 French soldiers and 60,000 British. Of these, 100,000 were in Salonika. The advanced British base was at Doiran and the French advanced base at Strumnitza railroad station. In both places martial law existed. But at the main base, at Salonika, both armies were under the local authority of the Greeks. They submitted to the authority of the Greeks because they wanted to keep up the superstition that Salonika was a neutral port; when the mere fact that they were there, proved she was not. It was a situation almost unparalleled in military history. At the base of a French and of a British army, numbering together 170,000 men, the generals who commanded them possessed less local authority than one Greek policeman. They were guests. They were invited guests of the Greek, and they had no more right to object to his other guests or to rearrange his house rules than would you have the right, when a guest in a strange club, to discharge the servants. The Allies had in the streets military police; but they held authority only over soldiers of their own country; they could not interfere with a Greek soldier, or with a civilian of any nation, and even the provost guard sent out at night was composed not alone of French and English but of an equal number of Greeks. I often wondered, in what language they issued commands. As an instance of how strictly the Allies recognized the authority of the neutral Greek, and how jealously he guarded it, there was the case of the Entente Café. The proprietor of the Entente Café was a Greek. A British soldier was ill treated in his café, and by the British commanding officer the place, so far as British soldiers and sailors were concerned, was declared "out of bounds." A notice to that effect was hung in the window. But it was a Greek policeman who placed it there.
In matters much more important, the fact that the Allies were in a neutral seaport greatly embarrassed them. They were not allowed to censor news despatches nor to examine the passports of those who arrived and departed. The question of the censorship was not so serious as it might appear. General Sarrail explained to the correspondents what might and what might not be sent, and though what we wrote was not read in Salonika by a French or British censor, General Sarrail knew it would be read by censors of the Allies at Malta, Rome, Paris, and London. Any news despatch that, unscathed, ran that gantlet, while it might not help the Allies certainly would not harm them. One cablegram of three hundred words, sent by an American correspondent, after it had been blue-pencilled by the Greek censors in Salonika and Athens, and by the four allied censors, arrived at his London office consisting entirely of "and's" and "the's." So, if not from their censors, at least from the correspondents, the Allies were protected. But against the really serious danger of spies they were helpless. In New York the water-fronts are guarded. Unless he is known, no one can set foot upon a wharf. Night and day, against spies and German military attaches bearing explosive bombs, steamers loading munitions are surrounded by police, watchmen, and detectives. But in Salonika the wharfs were as free to any one as a park bench. To suppose spies did not avail themselves of this opportunity is to insult their intelligence. They swarmed. In solid formation German, Austrian, Bulgarian, and Turkish spies lined the quay. For every landing-party of bluejackets they formed a committee of welcome. Of every man, gun, horse, and box of ammunition that came ashore they kept tally. On one side of the wharf stood "P. N. T. O,," Principal Naval Transport Officer, in gold braid, ribbons, and armlet, keeping an eye on every box of shell, gun-carriage, and caisson that was swung from a transport, and twenty feet from him, and keeping count with him, would be two dozen spies. And, to make it worse, the P. N. T. 0. knew they were spies. The cold was intense and wood so scarce that to obtain it men used to row out two miles and collect the boxes thrown overboard from the transports and battleships. Half of these men had but the slightest interest in kindling-wood; they were learning the position of each battleship, counting her guns, noting their calibre, counting the men crowding the rails of the transports, reading the insignia on their shoulder-straps, and, as commands and orders were wigwagged from ship to ship, writing them down. Other spies took the trouble to disguise themselves in rags and turbans, and, mixing with the Tommies, sold them sweetmeats, fruit, and cigarettes. The spy told the Tommy he was his ally, a Servian refugee; and Tommy, or the poilu, to whom Bulgarians, Turks, and Servians all look alike, received him as a comrade.
"You had a rough passage from Marseilles," ventures the spy. "We come from the peninsula," says Tommy. "Three thousand of you on such a little ship," exclaims the sympathetic Servian. "You must have been crowded!" "Crowded as hell," corrects Tommy, "because there are five thousand of us." Over these common spies were master spies, Turkish and German officers from Berlin and Constantinople. They sat in the same restaurants with the French and English officers. They were in mufti, but had they appeared in uniform, while it might have led to a riot in this neutral port, they would have been entirely within their rights.
The clearing-houses for the spies were the consulates of Austria, Turkey, and Germany. From there what information the spies turned in was forwarded to the front. The Allies were helpless to prevent. How helpless may be judged from these quotations that are translated from a Greek newspaper published daily in Salonika and which any one could buy in the streets: "The English and French forces mean to retreat. Yesterday six trains of two hundred and forty wagons came from the front with munitions."
"The Allies' first line of defense will be at Soulowo, Doiran, Goumenitz. At Topsin and Zachouna intrenchments have not yet been started, but strong positions have been taken up at Chortiatis and Nihor."
"Yesterday the landing of British reinforcements continued, amounting to 15,000. The guns and munitions were out of date. The position of the Allies' battleships has been changed. They are now inside the harbor."
The most exacting German General Staff could not ask for better service than that! When the Allies retreated from Servia into Salonika every one expected the enemy would pursue; and thousands fled from the city. But the Germans did not pursue, and the reason may have been because their spies kept them so well informed. If you hold four knaves and, by stealing a look at your opponent's hand, see he has four kings, to attempt to fight him would be suicide. So, in the end, the very freedom with which the spies moved about Salonika may have been for good. They may have prevented the loss of many lives.
During these strenuous days the position of the Greek army in Salonika was most difficult. There were of their soldiers nearly as many as there were French and British combined, and they resented the presence of the foreigners in their new city and they showed it. But they could not show it in such a way as to give offense, because they did not know but that on the morrow with the Allies they would be fighting shoulder to shoulder. And then, again, they did not know but that on the morrow they might be with the Germans, and fighting against the Allies, gun to gun.
Not knowing just how they stood with anybody, and to show they resented the invasion of their newly won country by the Allies, the Greeks tried to keep proudly aloof. In this they failed. For any one to flock by himself in Salonika was impossible. In a long experience of cities swamped by conventions, inaugurations, and coronations, of all I ever saw, Salonika was the most deeply submerged. During the Japanese-Russian War the Japanese told the correspondents there were no horses in Corea, and that before leaving Japan each should supply himself with one. Dinwiddie refused to obey. The Japanese warned him if he did not take a pony with him he would be forced to accompany the army on foot.
"There will always," replied Dinwiddie, "be a pony in Corea for Dinwiddie." It became a famous saying. When the alarmist tells you all the rooms in all the hotels are engaged; that people are sleeping on cots and billiard-tables; that there are no front-row seats for the Follies, no berths in any cabin of any steamer, remind yourself that there is always a pony in Corea for Dinwiddie. The rule is that the hotel clerk discovers a vacant room, a ticket speculator disgorges a front-row seat, and the ship's doctor sells you a berth in the sick bay. But in Salonika the rule failed. As already explained, Salonika always is overcrowded. Suddenly, added to her 120,000 peoples, came 110,000 Greek soldiers, their officers, and with many of them their families, 60,000 British soldiers and sailors, 110,000 French soldiers and sailors, and no one knows how many thousand Servian soldiers and refugees, both the rich and the destitute. The population was quadrupled; and four into one you can't. Four men cannot with comfort occupy a cot built for one, four men at the same time cannot sit on the same chair in a restaurant, four men cannot stand on that spot in the street where previously there was not room enough for one. Still less possible is it for three military motor-trucks to occupy the space in the street originally intended for one small donkey. Of Salonika, a French author has written: "When one enters the city he is conscious of a cry, continuous and piercing. A cry unique and monotonous, always resembling itself. It is the clamor of Salonika."
Every one who has visited the East, where every one lives in the streets, knows the sound. It is like the murmur of a stage mob. Imagine, then, that "clamor of Salonika" increased by the rumble and roar over the huge paving-stones of thousands of giant motor-trucks; by the beat of the iron-shod hoofs of cavalry, the ironshod boots of men marching in squads, companies, regiments, the shrieks of peasants herding flocks of sheep, goats, turkeys, cattle; the shouts of bootblacks, boatmen, sweetmeat venders; newsboys crying the names of Greek papers that sound like "Hi hippi hippi hi," "Teyang Teyang Teyah"; by the tin horns of the trolley-cars, the sirens of automobiles, the warning whistles of steamers, of steam-launches, of donkey-engines; the creaking of cordage and chains on cargo-hoists, and by the voices of 300,000 men speaking different languages, and each, that he may be heard above it, adding to the tumult. For once the alarmist was right. There were no rooms in any hotel. Early in the rush John McCutcheon, William G. Sheppard, John Bass, and James H. Hare had taken the quarters left vacant by the Austrian Club in the Hotel Olympus.
The room was vast and overlooked the principal square of the city, where every Salonikan met to talk, and the only landing-place on the quay. From the balcony you could photograph, as they made fast, not forty feet from you, every cutter, gig, and launch of every warship. The late Austrian Club became the headquarters for lost and strayed Americans. For four nights, before I secured a room to myself by buying the hotel, I slept on the sofa. It was two feet too short, but I was very fortunate. Outside, in the open halls, on cots were English, French, Greek, and Servian officers. The place looked like a military hospital. The main salon, gilded and bemirrored, had lost its identity. At the end overlooking the water-front were Servian ladies taking tea, in the centre of the salon at the piano a little Greek girl taking a music lesson; and at the other end, on cots, officers from the trenches and Servian officers who had escaped through the snows of Albania, their muddy boots, uniforms, and swords flung on the floor, slept the drugged sleep of exhaustion.
Meals were a continuous performance and interlocked. Except at midnight, dining-rooms, cafés, and restaurants were never aired, never swept, never empty. The dishes were seldom washed; the waiters—never. People succeeded each other at table in relays, one group giving their order while the other was paying the bill. To prepare a table a waiter with a napkin swept every thing on it to the floor. War prices prevailed. Even the necessities of life were taxed. For a sixpenny tin of English pipe tobacco I paid two dollars, and Scotch whiskey rose from four francs a bottle to fifteen. On even a letter of credit it was next to impossible to obtain money, and the man who arrived without money in his belt walked the water-front. The refugees from Servia who were glad they had escaped with their lives were able to sleep and eat only through the charity of others. Not only the peasants, but young girls and women of the rich and more carefully nurtured class of Servians were glad to sleep on the ground in tents.
The scenes in the streets presented the most curious contrasts. It was the East clashing with the West, and the uniforms of four armies—British, French, Greek, and Servian—and of the navies of Italy, Russia, Greece, England, and France contrasted with the dress of civilians of every nation. There were the officers of Greece and Servia in smart uniforms of many colors, blue, green, gray, with much gold and silver braid, and wearing swords which in this war are obsolete; there were English officers, generals of many wars, and fed-cheeked boys from Eton, clad in businesslike khaki, with huge cape-like collars of red fox or wolfskin, and carrying, in place of the sword, a hunting-crop or a walking-stick; there were English bluejackets and marines, Scotch Highlanders who were as much intrigued over the petticoats of the Evzones as were the Greeks astonished at their bare legs; there were French poilus wearing the steel helmet, French aviators in short, shaggy fur coats that gave them the look of a grizzly bear balancing on his hind legs; there were Jews in gabardines, old men with the noble faces of Sargent's apostles, robed exactly as was Irving as Shylock; there were the Jewish married women in sleeveless cloaks of green silk trimmed with rich fur, and each wearing on her head a cushion of green that hung below her shoulders; there were Greek priests with matted hair reaching to the waist, and Turkish women, their faces hidden in yashmaks, who looked through them with horror, or envy, at the English, Scotch, and American nurses with their cheeks bronzed by snow, sleet, and sun, wearing men's hobnailed boots, men's blouses, and, across their breasts, men's war medals for valor.
All day long these people of all races, with conflicting purposes, speaking, or shrieking, in a dozen different tongues, pushed, shoved, and shouldered. At night, while the bedlam of sounds grew less, the picture became more wonderful. The lamps of automobiles would suddenly pierce the blackness, or the blazing doors of a cinema would show in the dark street, the vast crowd pushing, slipping, struggling for a foothold on the muddy stones. In the circle of light cast by the automobiles, out of the mass a single face would flash—a face burned by the sun of the Dardanelles or frost-bitten by the snows of the Balkans. Above it might be the gold visor and scarlet band of a "Brass Hat," staff-office, the fur kepi of a Servian refugee, the steel helmet of a French soldier, the "bonnet" of a Highlander, the white cap of a navy officer, the tassel of an Evzone, a red fez, a turban of rags.
This lasted until the Allies retreated upon Salonika and the Greek army evacuated that city. It was a most orderly, polite retreat, a sort of "after you, my dear sir," retreat. Those of us who for a few days were in it did not know we were retreating. We were shelled off the top of a mountain in Servia, but no one else left the mountain, nor, from the way they were digging themselves in, seemed to have any intention of leaving it.
But a week later the Servians, retreating into Albania, left the French flank exposed, forcing the Allies to withdraw upon Salonika. Then, to give them a clear field in which to fight, the Greeks withdrew, 100,000 of them in two days, carrying with them, tens of thousands of civilians—those who were pro-Germans, and Greeks, Jews, and Servians. The civilians were flying before the expected advance of the Bulgar-German forces. But the central powers, possibly well informed by their spies, did not attack. That was several months ago, and at this writing they have not yet attacked.
What one man saw of the approaches to Salonika from, the north leads him to think that the longer the attack of the Bulgar-Germans is postponed the better it will be, if they love life, for the Bulgar-Germans.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald