IF the Allied campaign in the Balkans has met with little positive success, the reason chiefly lies in two important conditions, the prejudice of which weighs much more heavily on us than upon the enemy. Both as regards transport and as regards fever the balance of advantage has always been with our opponents, thanks to the physical characteristics of the region in which we are fighting.
One of the principal factors of the success of an army in the field is obviously the ease and rapidity with which reinforcements, war-material, ammunition and supplies can be brought up to the fighting-line. And in calculating this, the distance of the battlefront from the base, in the ordinary military sense of the term, is of much less importance than the accessibility of the base from the manufacturing districts at home where the weapons of war are forged.
In this respect it would have been difficult to find another theatre of war in the world where the advantages of the situation were more completely on the side of our enemies than is the case in the Balkans. We are on the outside of the circle all the time. Our source of supplies, England, and our area of operations, Salonica, are both on the circumference, and we have to come round a great arc, 2,000 miles long, from one to the other. The enemy's supply-base, the manufacturing districts of Germany, is at the centre of the circle, and he has only got to bring his material of war down the straight, short line of a radius to get to the same battle-zone. The comparative advantages and drawbacks of inside and outside lines could not be illustrated more glaringly.
The Germans load up a railway-truck with shells in an Essen factory-yard, and that same truck travels, in perfect security over the best railway-system in Europe without breaking bulk, right up to the Bulgar railhead, not a dozen miles behind the front we are fighting them on. What happens to a truckload of shells that we send put from Birmingham? It travels down to a port and is there transferred to a ship. Then it either starts on a 3,000-mile voyage by way of Gibraltar, with a good chance of being sent to the bottom by a submarine on the way, or it is taken over to a French port, discharged, and loaded again onto a truck, which crosses France to another port, where it is once more put on board ship and still has to face the danger of torpedoing in the narrow seas of the Ægean.
In case of need, the enemy can rush a whole division of reinforcements with all its equipment out to the Balkan front from Germany in six days. I should think it would take us three weeks at least to put through a similar process on our side.
The consequence of this has been that we have simply had to go without things in the Balkans which we really need if we are to do anything. Heavy artillery, tanks, unlimited gun ammunition---such things have not been available for the Balkans hitherto, owing to the long and exposed transport system, with frequent breakings of bulk, which was the only way of getting them out there.
I have made frequent references throughout this book to the conditions of local transport in the Balkans. They are very bad indeed. We have improved the existing railways and built sidings and loops and supplementary lines; we have immensely increased the number of main roads (two) which existed in Macedonia when we got there, and have raised many others to a standard of surface and gradient which enables them to carry motor traffic.
But still the problem of moving supplies and material of war in the Balkans is very great. The country is so hilly and the hills are so impassable with their stony, rocky sides, scored with deep ravines and covered with impenetrable scrub, through which neither man nor horse can force a way except with the greatest labour. To feed Luzista on the Struma from Likovan on the Seres road over tracks that have been cut along the side of these hills needs five echelons of pack-transport.
And, however much you work at your roads, however many Greek labour-gangs, stone-crushers, special tip-up stone-carrying lorries, and steam-rollers you may accumulate there,---when you use one single highway as fiercely as we use the Seres road, you can't prevent it simply crumbling away out of existence under your wheels when the winter rains start soaking it.
With the muddy season you have to increase the number of your lorries; this in turn helps on the disintegration of the road. Last winter we had motor lorries pounding up the Seres road day and night, together with ambulance-cars, staff-cars and horse-limbers innumerable. The result was that the road simply disappeared. Last February I drove---or rather bumped and crashed wildly over---long sections of it on the hill above Orliak bridge, where it was worn into holes that made it far more like a flight of irregular stairs or the bed of a mountain cascade than the principal supply-route for the British forces in Macedonia. They told me that my Ford probably wouldn't be able to get down the hill; certainly it wouldn't be able to get up, the only motor-vehicle that could manage that road, as it then was, being a four-wheel-drive tractor, which is first-cousin to a tank. Without any exaggeration, there were stretches on it where, if it had not been for the ditch on each side, you would not have known that it had ever been a road at all. You would have thought you were on a bit of the earth's aboriginal rough surface.
The consequence was that instead of supplies being taken forty-five miles up the Seres road by motor transport, the lorries during ten whole weeks in January, February and March could only carry them thirty-five. Horse transport had to do the rest, right up to the front line, twenty miles on,---and when you think how many limbers it needs to take over the load of one lorry, you can imagine the block on that road. To complicate things still more, there were many places where even horse-transport could only use one-half of the road at a time, the other half having been ground up into a treacly pulp of mud. It must have been a ghastly experience to be brought down from the Struma wounded, in an ambulance-waggon, last winter. It was exhausting enough to do the journey on the front seat of a motor-lorry; you were constantly thrown so high in the air by the bumps that your head hit the roof of the hood. Fine fellows those M.T. drivers proved themselves to be. They started driving at four in the morning; they were often not back in Salonica till nine o'clock at night. Sometimes they had had nothing but cold bully and biscuit all that time. Frequently they were so dead-beat at the end of their run that they had to be lifted off their seats. Long after dark the long convoys were streaming up and down the endless hills, with headlights gleaming like a string of incandescent pearls. It can be no comfortable job to steer a three-ton lorry all day and half the night over such a surface, and that there was danger in it was not unseldom shown by the sight of a lorry upside down on the steep slope beside the road, its driver having blundered in the dark.
The supply and transport service of an army is one which gets little public appreciation when things go well and is the first to be objurgated if a hitch occurs, no matter whose the real responsibility may be. Certainly in Macedonia it is the most important branch of our whole military organization; on it everything, literally, depends. And it has fought gamely and with a great measure of success against difficulties such as no supply system of any modern army has ever had to face in the past,---difficulties which turned out to be greater even than was anticipated.
"The state of the roads, both in regard to surface and gradients, has placed a great strain on all motor-vehicles, and it redounds to the credit of all officers concerned with the administration and executive control of mechanical transport that the vehicles have been kept in a state to undertake the journeys that have necessarily been performed."
This is the praise accorded to the S. & T. branch of the Salonica Army by the Commander-in-Chief, General Milne, in his despatch of December, 1916, and when that was written the M.T. organisation had its time of greatest strain still to come.
Particularly responsible, and particularly trying, has been the work of keeping the motor-vehicles on the road. Macedonia plays the very devil with cars and lorries. You need more spare parts and springs in two months of Balkan motoring than you could find use for in two years' driving at home. And the repair situation was complicated by the constant possibility that a shipload of urgently needed spare-parts might be torpedoed and sunk on its way out to Salonica. But the Base M.T. depot,---under the command of one of the youngest lieutenant-colonels in the Army Service Corps, his promotion having been won by merit displayed under these arduous circumstances, grappled with and gradually overcame the problem of maintaining in being a mechanical transport service in a country where motor-vehicles had never been thought possible before.
The Army Corps on the Struma was the worst off, because it had no railway to supply it, and every round of ammunition, every bale of forage and every tin of bully had to come up one narrow ribbon of road; but the roads in the sectors of our Allies in the Balkans were just as bad. I shall never forget that patch between Nrodena and Ostrovo on the Monastir road. It was only a hundred yards long, but for some reason it was left unrepaired, and it usually took one hour or two to get over it. The road before you reached it, and after you passed it, was not so bad. "It had bottom," as a friend of mine, well versed in Balkan travelling, would say. That meant that although your wheels might be six inches out of sight in liquid mire, below that there was solid ground, perhaps the stone foundation of an old Turkish road, so that they would grip and you could get on. Accordingly, one car after another, there are not many cars on the Monastir road, would come splashing and skidding along, seeing nothing unusually bad ahead and would charge into this slough of despond, where every one of them would stick like flies on a fly-paper, with their engines racing just as unavailingly as a fly frantically beats its wings. When this happened to your own, you would get out of the car, gingerly insert your legs half-way up the calf into the mud, and examine the situation. The Ford would be up to the axles and lying over at a drunken angle to one side. "I should try backing her," you say to the chauffeur. He backs her, with the only result that the wheels skid round at a dizzy speed and complete your personal demoralisation by splattering you all over from head to knees with mud; from the knees downward you were under mud already.
Then you look around for Greeks, or, better still, a team of bullocks. If these are in sight all is yet well. Every sensible car carries its own tow-rope; you hitch on the bullocks or the Greeks and you are extricated at the cost of a small backsheesh. But if the landscape is empty you must take the sack that the spare inner-tubes are kept in and go and look for stones. You stagger back with these, and the driver uses them to build for each wheel an individual little causeway to run on out of the mud. After this he lays a foundation of particularly big stones under the back axle, puts the jack on that, jacks up the car as high as he can get it and then, with all the passengers shoving, regardless of rank, age or condition, you may struggle out, but are more likely to skid off the laboriously laid causeways and have to start all over again. I once had to wait two hours till reinforcements for the Italian Army came marching up the road and I could get the help of five of them, who were not employed in man-handling their own mulecarts through the morass, to lift my Ford practically bodily and put it back on dry ground.
But if you want to have an accurate idea of what the conditions have been in the Balkans with regard to the provision of all the conveniences of transport and existence that are necessary for an army in the field, read the following able account by one who can speak with far more authority than I:
"The Force in the Balkans is peculiar in one great respect. It is expected to hold a front under modern conditions with communications which would have been considered inadequate in the Napoleonic period. In those days armies operated in comparatively compact masses on a narrow front. Nowadays the reverse is the case.
"The extension of the port facilities at Salonica and the rearrangement of roads have gone on almost imperceptibly, each extra facility being added as it was forced on the armies by stress of circumstance.
"As they stood at the end of 1915 the town and harbour of Salonica constituted a defile on our communications. The streets were narrow and ill-paved, and the two main roads, to Seres and Monastir, were reached by little better than lanes which broke up rapidly under the traffic and necessitated constant deviation.
"This has to a great extent been remedied. The approaches to the port were taken in hand and vastly improved by the French, notably by the cutting of the 'Avenue de la Base,' giving direct access from the Vardar Gate, known locally as 'Piccadilly Circus,' to the quays and the main road along the front.
"The French, having arrived first, availed themselves of the deep water west of the quays as far as the Olympus Brewery to make small floating piers to lands their stores at.
"The British have made two deep-water piers, Pinto Pier and Malta Pier, near the Standard Oil Company's depot, and two shoal-water piers, Gravesend Pier and Marsh Pier, to the extreme west of the town.
"All these piers, French and British, are now connected by direct road or rail with the main depots on the Monastir road and Seres road, and enable the vast amount of stores for the various armies to be landed and handled so as to free the shipping as expeditiously as possible.
"So much for the base itself, now expanded until it covers a sector of a circle of nearly eight miles' radius.
"There were two main roads, and two only, from this base, i.e., that to Monastir on the west and that to Seres on the north. The area between these two roads is rolling or mountainous, and quite impassable to heavy traffic.
"The roads themselves were of light construction, a mere skin of road-metal laid on an ill-drained foundation, and promptly proceeded to break up under the traffic imposed on them. During the first few months it was a daily occurrence for the culverts on these roads to break through. Nothing heavier than a slow-moving ox-waggon had ever been over them, and the pounding of three-ton lorries was more than they could stand.
"The work of keeping these two roads in order was, and has been ever since, an incessant duty of the engineers of both armies, the French on the Monastir road and the British on that to Seres.
"The chief difficulty has been that of obtaining suitable stone in large enough quantities near the roads and at frequent enough intervals. In many cases it is necessary to carry stone as far as nine or ten miles. Even then the stone is not sufficiently hard to stand the constant grinding, and in wet weather a few days suffice to reduce sharp broken stones to round pebbles which make consolidation impossible.
"Many cross-country tracks have been made passable for horse-drawn traffic. But the main roads on which lorry traffic is possible are still only three, spreading fanwise and diverging as they go.
"Light railways have, to a great extent, enabled the country off the Sarigöl and Seres roads to be opened up, and constitute important lateral communications in a country otherwise closed to all but light-wheeled or pack transport.
"There are other difficulties. The local labourer is not by any means a pattern of industry. Centuries of massacre have taught him to avoid the semblance of riches, and the country population is, in consequence, the result of the survival of the poorest,---in the rich soil of Macedonia, the laziest. And the difficulty of obtaining even this labour is not decreased by the demand of the army.
"Macedonia is, to all intents and purposes, a desert. Everything has to be imported. In the beginning, Salonica was undoubtedly the Cinderella of our Mediterranean efforts, and Salonica had largely to subsist on what could be spared after Gallipoli and Egypt had been satisfied. With the increase in the force, and the shifting of the strategic centre, this drawback has disappeared, but there is still a long interval between the time stores are demanded and that of their receipt. This is, of course, inevitable, as it is often impossible to foresee requirements until they appear. One consequence of this is that only works of the simplest description have been carried out; but a considerable amount of latent ingenuity has been brought to the surface by force of circumstances, and improvisation has had to be resorted to in a marked degree.
"It is to be feared that a somewhat exaggerated opinion of the resources of the town and district prevailed at the commencement of operations. Tools in particular were scarce, and this alone added considerably to the difficulties experienced.
"As the Force grew and the Base expanded, the supply of water began to be inadequate. Surface wells, while good as regards quantity, were bad in quality, and recourse was had to artesian boring. As many as twenty-nine wells have been sunk, and these have enabled requirements to be met. At the same time, advantage was taken of the ancient aqueducts in the country round which constitute a network of old pipe-lines, some dry and others running to waste, and good supplies have been recovered from sources whose origin is lost in antiquity. The existence of these lines, often crossing one another, is a curious indication of the unsettled history of the country in times past, as they must have been made in times of considerable prosperity succeeding periods of trouble during which the records of their precursors were lost. Incidentally, the reopening of these sources of water has been of value in dry marshy tracts. The plains of Salonica and its neighbourhood are full of malaria, and the steady draining and drying up of marshy ground, both as such and as a means of obtaining water, cannot but have a beneficial effect on the health of the district. As a matter of fact, malaria was almost non-existent in the town itself during the summer of 1916, and according to the statements of inhabitants was much reduced in the country immediately round the town."
Among the most prominent institutions of Macedonia is that horrible little creature the anopheles, a mosquito who carries the malarial infection from one man to another and may be known by the facts that:
1. He sits up in a hunchbacked attitude when at rest;
2. He does not make a singing noise;
3. He usually has spotted wings (but you must catch him first to ascertain this).
4. When he is killed he lies flat, not curled up like other kinds.
He breeds in, and lives near, swamps or stagnant water, rests all day, comes out at sunset, and proceeds to make a meal off any human being who is handy. If one of his victims has malarial germs in his blood, the mosquito transfers them to the blood of the next person he bites.
Macedonia is one of the most malarial places in the world. Hippocrates, I am told, wrote a treatise on the disease as he had observed it there, and distinguished between three different kinds. It kills off large numbers of the natives, and not one of them but has got it in his blood, and has an enlarged spleen. That is why they are so sallow and unhealthy-looking. In places where the mosquitoes have become particularly bad, as on part of the Struma, where the river has altered its course and left swamps that provide the mosquito with suitable breeding-grounds, you will find whole villages deserted, evacuated under the compulsion of this fragile but deadly little beast, the anopheles.
The worst of malaria is that once you get it you are liable to go on having it. Men who were first infected last summer kept on going sick for a few days with the same thing regularly all winter. They call them recurrent cases.
Your symptoms are a high temperature combined with a chilly feeling; you can't stand the sight of food; you probably have a headache; you tremble all over, and you simply have to go to bed and shiver and sweat alternately until the attack is over. This sort of thing repeated several times leaves you very thin and weak. The only thing to do is to take quinine regularly, about five grains a day, when you are exposed to infection, and to go to all the trouble you can to stop mosquitoes from getting at you. Neither of these gives perfect security, but they help. In the Salonica hospital they used intravenous injections of quinine.
When we first arrived in Salonica at the beginning of winter, a map was made of the Base area with all the swamps and pools of water marked. These were drained by Greek labour or filled in, or where both .those methods were impossible, they were sprayed with paraffin. The result of this has been that round Salonica itself there is very little malaria now, but you cannot carry out those processes in the Struma valley, which has ever so many square miles of swamps and stagnant water. The only thing to do there is to come out of it and away up into the hills in the summer where there are no mosquitoes. That is what we have done this summer, leaving only outposts and bridgeheads to hold the Struma line. And as the Bulgars would have just as bad a time as we if they came down into the valley in force, the field is more or less left to the mosquito alone.
But malaria is by no means the whole tale of the plagues of Macedonia. There are dysentery and diarrhoea, both very weakening, and almost unavoidable, at any rate to a mild degree. For these the flies are chiefly responsible. In fact, the fly is probably as deadly as the mosquito. The only way to keep down flies is to see that they get nothing to feed on. All food must be in boxes with wooden lids, which are kept shut. Nor will flies go where it is dark, so that latrine trenches are made eight feet deep.
There is a sort of local heat-fever, too, in Macedonia which is very trying. It lasts four days, begins with pains in the neck and head, and causes very high temperatures, up to 106° and even higher.
Last year men would often get malaria and dysentery together, and then they had little chance. This year, thanks to the greater knowledge which has come with experience, an official message published August 11th was able to say: "Cases of malaria are slightly fewer than last year. Dysentery and diarrhoea are appreciably less prevalent. The admission rate for fevers other than malaria shows a reduction of nearly four-fifths."
On the figures for 1916,---which, of course, have since changed for the better,---Salonica's rate of admissions to hospital for sickness was nearly two and one-half times that of France, but only one-third of the rate in Mesopotamia.
MACEDONIA is a country of big horizons, a bare and treeless land with monotonous stretches of plain, covered with thin grass, and ranges of hills that are masses of evergreen scrub. Its most characteristic features are the frequent nullahs that make it a most futile thing to attempt to cut straight across what looks like an open stretch of country; the steep and narrow little ravines are not to be seen until you are right upon them, and if you scramble in and out of one in the hope that it may be exceptional you only find that you have let yourself in for a very slow and laborious journey.
In the sector that our troops occupy there are no mountain-positions such as the boulder-strewn heights, with their fangs and pinnacles of sheer rock, where the Serbs and Italians have been fighting in the loop of the Cerna river further west; nor anything so steep as the jagged peaks between Ochrida and Prespa lakes where the French began their last spring offensive with a fight in a blinding snowstorm. "Gibraltar," a sheer and naked pyramid of rock, rises in the middle of our Army area, and there is the commanding height of Mount Hortiach close behind Salonica, but neither of these has called for occupation by our troops. The greatest mountain of all in the whole Allied line is the 8,000-feet-high Kaimakchalan. where the Serbs fought well on into last winter among the bitter snow and above the damp grey mists that veiled it from our eyes below like the scene of an Olympic battle.
Except for the black wall of the Belashitza mountains in the Bulgarians' country over against our lines, there is nothing that can be called grand or imposing in the part of Macedonia where the British Army is campaigning. The lack of trees or rocks to break the monotony of the rolling plain, the rarity of water, make of it a landscape of which you soon tire. I cannot imagine any one now belonging to the Salonica Army being filled with yearning in years to come by the memory of its natural beauties. Not but what there is much there that is picturesque. I myself have a view above all preferred, and that on the very outskirts of Salonica itself. I hit upon it quite by accident one Sunday in the winter. I had been out for a ride with a paper-hunt organised by officers at the Base who took revenge upon their sedentary duties by that form of exercise on Sunday afternoons, and instead of returning home by road I made across the hills towards the old citadel of Salonica that overtops the town walls at their highest point on the landward side. For a time the rolling slopes around hid all sight of the town, and then quite suddenly, as you came over a rise, there rose up before you the long line of the mediæval wall, with bastion, tower and battlement each standing out in silhouette against the sky. The empty countryside reached to its very foot; no modern building clashed with the completeness of the mediæval scene. High and stern and solid, softened by no sentimental growth of ivy, marred by no decay, the grey stone ramparts faced the naked wilderness, abruptly marking off the desert from the town, standing in ample defence of the riches of the townspeople within against the greed of the marauding barbarian without. To come upon such a scene in the rich light of a flaming sunset, and to approach it by so archaic a manner of motion as on the back of a tired horse, was to swing back at once in imagination through several centuries. One looked at the grim towers as many a road-weary traveller must have seen them with the relief in his heart of once more beholding signs of the civilisation that he had left behind him at the Danube. That glint of light from an embrasure might be from the helmet of the watchman of the gate, and the distant hooting of a steamer in the port sounded to the fancy-haunted ear like the winding of his horn.
But if you are going to give rein to your imagination, Macedonia will have much fascination for you. The feet of many of the world's most historic figures have trodden the dust and mud of this bleak land. Start out from the town along the Monastir road, past main supply depots, field-bakeries, R.E. parks and through a never-ceasing stream of motor-lorries, limbers, ambulance-cars and dingy Greek labourers on foot. You are following the exact line of the old Roman Egnatian Way that led from Durazzo on the Adriatic shore to Constantinople. Pompey travelled along it in his horse-litter; and you will probably meet an English general going precisely the same way in a touring-car. Fifteen miles out from Salonica, where the naked untilled plain stretches away out of sight all round, as empty as the prairie, with no sign of human habitation, you will come suddenly upon a great stone fountain by the side of the road. There is no fountain in London so big; it is even larger than the Fountain of Trevi in Rome. You climb up steps to the side of a cistern big enough to swim in, and there are basins and cascades of water all around. No one uses that fountain now, except an occasional Macedonian peasant watering his bullock-team in the middle of their slow day's march, but once it was the centre of a big city; for centuries, perhaps, people came there every day to draw their water; they gossipped round it, made love round it, fought round it. For it stood in the market-place of the capital of Philip of Macedon, and only a little further off you will see rising incongruously out of the empty plain, a great fragment of a lofty wall, immensely thick, which once formed part of the defences of that wealthy city, of which no other traces but these remain. But you have only to poke about among the stones and you will pick up in five minutes half-a-dozen fragments of the glazed household pottery of two thousand years ago, and you will notice too that what look like shapeless boulders lying about are often the broken and weatherworn fragments of the carved capitals of marble pillars. Pella, for so the place is marked on the maps, no doubt once seemed to whole generations of people as permanent and immutable as Piccadilly Circus does to Londoners. When the war is over I feel inclined to buy a job lot of picks and shovels and carts, which like many other Army implements will be going for an old song in Macedonia then, and peg out an excavating claim on the site of Pella. It is so tantalising when your car has a puncture near the fountain to walk about on the rough grass and say to yourself, "Here, where I am standing, there may be another Venus of Milo or a Winged Victory a bare ten feet underground, while there, by that stone, the High Priest of the city buried the gold vessels of the temple when the barbarians swept down." When you think of all the burying of valuables that went on in the days when there were no banks and no safe-deposits, the dingy green grass that covers Pella begins to take on the gleam of an Eldorado.
It was in the company of General Sarrail that I first visited the site of the vanished city. The French Commander-in-Chief seldom has time for an excursion of any kind, and this one indeed was combined with the inspection of the cavalry outposts that were all we had at that time (February, 1916) along the Monastir road. I got the invitation overnight from the General's son-in-law, Captain Bouet, and it brought home to me how strenuously Sarrail takes even his rare distractions. " The General would be glad if you would accompany him on an excursion to-morrow to see the ruins of Pella. Start from Headquarters at 5.45 A.M." I rose at 5.15, a most unpleasant hour in February. Punctually to the stroke of a quarter to six, Sarrail appeared at the door of the Headquarters building. He had already been through the reports that had come in during the night, and presumably had had breakfast, which I had not. His son-in-law and an interpreter-officer made up the party of four. The big limousine did a quick time to Pella. There is one basement of a house there that can be found with some trouble, intact and open to the air. Some archæologists disinterred it a few years ago. The General explored these ruins with the energy of a boy. He had question after question for the interpreter officer, who in private life is a, professor of archæology himself. To find a fragment of a broken vase delighted him; he was full of jokes about the statue of a lady which some French soldiers had unearthed; a weasel, scampering off among the stones, drew from him a vigorous view-halloa. But for his plain khaki uniform any one passing would have seen no more than a tall, vigorous, white-haired man finding unusual zest in his country walk; they would hardly have suspected that on those shoulders rested the responsibility for the most complicated campaign in which the Allies have engaged. But this easy-going mood only lasted for half an hour, about as much time as, if he were a smoker, the General might spend over an early cigar,---and it was not yet seven in the morning. By ten minutes past Sarrail was the Commander-in-Chief again. We had gone on to the Headquarters of a French cavalry regiment, and he was snapping out his swift questions, and pouring out his rapid flow of talk, which loses nothing in vigour and intensity from an over-particular choice of polite language.
Energy, concentration, ambition, fearlessness, an absolute craving for responsibility rather than the dread of it which afflicts some men when at his age of sixty they have found themselves loaded with the cares and the risks of commanding a large army in the field,---those are some of the dominant features of the personality of General Sarrail. He radiates vitality; he is always keyed up to concert pitch. By these things you may know a leader of men. You must add to this a remarkable charm of manner, which is by no means all due to the fact that he is one of the handsomest men in the army he commands. He is a tall man, over six feet high, and his height would be even more noticeable were it not for a stoop of the shoulders which has come to him through years of concentration as a military student, but which yet accords well with an air of refinement and intellectuality that is in his bearing. His face is one of unusual distinction, clear-cut and aquiline, and his high forehead rises to fine, wayward hair of that radiant whiteness which is an adornment rather than a disfigurement of age. His grey eyes are alert and full of expression,---humorous if he is not crossed, glittering with fierceness if he is roused. For General Sarrail has a temper that is not slow of kindling. "They say I am impetuous," he said once to a friend of mine who knows him well. "I am; I admit it. I am patient as long as I can be, but---gare le jour où la moutarde me monte au nez! "
There are few generals in the Allied service who have been set a harder task than Sarrail. For one thing, he commands a more heterogeneous army than has been gathered together since the Crusades. Each of the Allied contingents under his leadership has a different language, different methods, different traditions, different prejudices. They all of them want to win the war, but among people of such varied character and temperament it is easy to see how divergences of opinion may arise as to which is the best way to do it. There never was yet a football team of eleven men in which criticisms and even squabbles did not arise, and when you have nearer half a million people of six distinct nationalities to deal with the same thing will happen. Even the Allied Governments need to be constantly meeting in council so that they may "bring their views into harmony," but at Salonica, which is a microcosm of the Allies, there is nothing to keep our different military contingents working together in a loyal and co-ordinated effort except the personality and the authority of General Sarrail. He has had to hold his team together as well as to fight the enemy, and for nearly two years he has carried that task through with courage, energy and success.
And, furthermore, Sarrail has been all the time in the difficult position of a workman who is called upon to make bricks without straw. The Western front has had the first call upon men and material of war. Commanders there have had personal access to the Allied General Staffs to explain and urge their plans, while Sarrail has been in charge of a campaign which is liable both to suffer from divergences of view among the Allies and to fall into the background through its own remoteness. It is easy., when full success fails to crown an enterprise, to lay the blame upon the man responsible for conducting it on the spot, but in this case, given the inadequate numbers of the Balkan Army, and the unusual difficulties of the country it is fighting in, who can say that another general would have accomplished more?
The same lack of full comprehension that has inspired criticisms of our generals in the Balkans has led to the development of the idea that Salonica is a "picnic" for the men. If it were, one can only say that people out there keep extraordinarily quiet about the good time they are supposed to be having, and show praiseworthy self-sacrifice in trying to get away from it and back to the Western front. But the idea that the soldier lives an easy and safe life in Macedonia is absurdly false. He works as hard as a human being can all the time, whether he is in the line or out. When he comes out it is not to go into the relative rest of billets, as in France. He is brought back a few hundred yards and sets up his bivouac shelter-tent, which is all he has as protection both against summer sun and winter snow, and digs, digs, digs eternally. There is very little leave for the soldier in the Balkans. There are battalions which have been in the front line for seven months without relief, and when you consider that our trenches are shelled every day and that patrols go out every night, seven months needs a good deal of luck to get through without hurt. As for malaria, dysentery and other diseases unknown to the soldier in France, the figures I have given in another chapter are an indication of the extent to which they appear in the programme of the "picnic." You are about as likely to get through the summer without malaria in the Balkans as you are to go through an English winter without catching cold.
It is the terrible monotony of life on the Macedonian front that is one of its chief hardships. Away up there on stony hillsides, with nothing but the same great tracts of open country before their eyes, the men hanker above everything for a change. They have many of them hardly seen a town since they, landed in the Balkans nearly two years ago, nor even a building, except for the mud hovels of a ruined Greek village. The official title "Salonica Army" has led to the notion that our force on the Balkan front spends its time sitting in cafés in Salonica itself. By far the great majority of the men have never seen the place except as they passed through it on their way up-country, a few hours after setting foot on the Quay.
But, though I have visited every part of our Macedonian front, I have never seen or heard of the least sign of a flagging of their spirits. They are eager for a fight when it comes, and between whiles they hold the line, and dig, and carry water up steep slopes through endless communication-trenches with cheerfulness in their hearts, if voice and bearing be any key to their feelings. I cannot imagine on what strangely inaccurate reports the suggestion made recently in the House of Commons was based, that the men of the Salonica Army were losing their morale. On the contrary their discipline is remarkably good, and military "crime" rare.
They keep themselves amused, in the rare leisure that they get, by their own exertions. No companies of London actors or travelling cinema-shows reach the Balkans, but the quality of the entertainments that the men themselves produce is really astonishing. One division's pantomime played to 20,000 people during its run, and it would have gone with as great success on a London stage. A huge barn was fitted up by the Engineers as a theatre, close up to the front lines, and arrangements were made for detachments of men belonging to battalions that were out of the line to be brought to see it. A tumble-down Greek house next door was fitted up into the "Palace Hotel" for officers who had come so far that they had to stay the night after the show.
It was remarkable how every unit that produced a show invariably found some one to fill excellently the part of principal girl. The leading lady of the highly successful revues "Hullo, Salonica" and "Bonjour, Salonique" at the Ordnance Base Depot was a marvel of feminine grace and beauty. There was a charming brunette in the Durham Light Infantry's "Aladdin" who rolled most captivating eyes at her audience, while the "Kitty" of a divisional pantomime was the flapper of a dream,---dainty, modest, with eyes, and a smile, and ankles that made it seem impossible, as you looked across the footlights, that she should be a corporal in a field-ambulance who had been wrestling in the mud with refractory mules all day. Kitty and the Beauty Chorus which supported her were dressed regardlessly, to the full extent of the resources of the dressmakers and lingerie merchants of Salonica, and somewhere in the archives of the Salonica Army there is a telegram sent down from the front to an officer of the division who was on three days' leave in town, in approximately these terms: "Urgent. Bring back with you without fail to-night the following: Three pairs silk stockings size seven and one lace-embroidered camisole for Kitty, five yards pink satin for Abanazar's second wife and a black stuff dress for Mrs. Twankey." And scrawled across the telegram is the indignant endorsement: "G.H.Q. demands an immediate explanation of this idiotic rubbish passing over Army wires."
Gardening is another diversion of the British Army in the Balkans. It is, indeed, officially enjoined, with. the aim of raising as much as possible on the spot in the way of vegetables for varying and expanding the rations of the troops, and prizes are offered for the best produce in a brigade or divisional area. I remember one quaint meeting I had with a stolid old fellow up at the front, elderly for a private, who, but for his khaki trousers, would have been the type of a family gardener at home. His little patch was in a nullah that was shared by a battery of sixty-pounders, whose particularly violent discharges filled the echoing ravine with din about once a minute. Yet, undisturbed, he leaned upon his rake and looked at his plants in that resigned way beloved of gardeners, "Yus, the tomaties is doin' well, I don't say but what they ain't. Them beans now---" Cr-r-rash -" from a sixty-pounder---them beans won't never come to no good. Sun's too 'ot for them. Want a bit o' rain, that's what they want. That air spinach now seeded afore it was three inches high. Too thin, the syle is; that's what it is,"---and another eruption of the guns punctuated his dreary monotone.
A little shooting is about all that officers get in the way of amusement. Game abounds in Macedonia; there are snipe and duck in the marshes, partridges and hares on the plains and hills. These excursions lead sometimes to strange encounters. There was an officer of Yeomanry on the Struma who went out before dawn one day for the morning flight of geese to a place he had noticed when on patrol between the lines. While lying up there he saw with some consternation three Bulgars with rifles in their hands advancing through the reeds. Was it a patrol that had seen him go in, and was bent on capturing him? He tried to move off as inconspicuously as possible, but the Bulgars saw him,---and immediately dropped their rifles and put up their hands. The situation having taken this agreeable turn, the officer decided that there was no need to interrupt his morning's sport, so he kept his prisoners waiting until he had shot three geese and two duck, and then made them carry them in for him.
Another sportsman, who bears a name well-known at Olympia Horse Shows in bygone days, got out several couples of beagles and hunted hares, as in the story of Brigadier Gérard. One day his beagles ran a hare out through our lines and into Poroi station, which was held by a Bulgarian outpost, where the master, who had followed them as far as seemed prudent, abandoned them as certain prisoners to the enemy, and broke off the hunt. But a few hours later his little beagles came trotting in, perfectly safe and satisfied with their run into the enemy's country.
The night patrolling, which makes up so much of the day-to-day work of the troops in the front line in the Balkans, is entered into with zest. In fact, I have heard an officer whisper, when out with a night-patrol, as the severest threat he could use to a man, "If you can't make less noise than that, Brown, I won't bring you out again." This night hunting appeals to the sporting instincts of the men, and it is wonderful training for young officers. For patrolling in the Balkans is not, as on the Western front, a matter of crawling about in a shell-cratered interval of a couple of hundred yards in width, lit up by ceaseless German flares. The Macedonian method has greater scope. It involves a sort of little campaign of its own. It fixes on its own line of advance, chooses alternate routes for possible retirement, has supporting patrols at certain points in rear to fall back upon in case of need, decides what defensive positions it shall hold if attacked by superior force,---the Bulgars hardly ever venture out except in parties of fifty at a time,---sends out scouts ahead and maintains a rearguard behind. For there are places on our front where the opposing lines of trenches are a couple of miles apart, the lie of the ground being such that if either side advanced its position it would put itself in a condition of inferiority with regard to the other, and in that space there is plenty of room for ambushes and traps and night surprises. There are hills and ravines and woods and ruined villages, the last of which are usually the goals of our patrolling parties, as the enemy outposts sometimes occupy them at night. It is an eerie business moving for two miles or so in single file, with all the stealth of burglars crossing a wired lawn (for the same reasons too, since the Bulgars occasionally lay trip-wires for our men to ring a bell or detonate a bomb, so that they, lying up at close range, can get a sitting shot). Each step has to be taken as gently as if you were in a sickroom, and innumerable times you must crouch to the ground completely motionless, while the leader reconnoitres a mysterious shadow that looks as if it might be a lurking Bulgar. The meeting of hostile patrols, when it does come, is a sudden affair of bomb and bayonet, which, though it end in victory, often means a difficult journey back across rough country carrying wounded men in the dark.
Strange things happen sometimes in villages that are regularly occupied by our outposts. In one of them our men noticed that punctually at nine-fifteen every evening a country-bred dog came loping along the main street, and about a quarter of an hour afterwards went silently back towards the Bulgar lines. He did not look like the ordinary scavenger dog of Greek villages, who snaps at your heels till you pelt him away with stones. This dog had a serious air, as of one in regular employment. He never varied his pace; he was as regular as a city man going for his morning train. The men got a little uneasy about him. His punctuality and purposefulness were uncanny. Titbits of bully beef were held out as he trotted past. He did not even glance at them. Then some one suggested that there might be a Bulgar spy hidden in the village and that the dog had been trained to fetch and carry messages between him and the enemy. In the first indignation of this idea a sergeant took a shot at the dog. It missed, but the dog never even growled; he just swung on a little faster towards his mysterious destination. He was clearly a soldier-dog, and prepared to accept the risks of his calling. So orders were given that the animal was not to be shot at any more. He was to be tracked instead, followed on his errand. It was a clever, elusive mongrel, though, and despite the fact that men were posted at the crossings of the different streets to watch which way he went, he would slip in and out of the confused shadows of those tumble-down houses so quickly that in the poor light even the sharpest-eyed soldier could not follow him.
There was a denouement to this. A soldier, going into one of the deserted houses to look for firewood, suddenly met, at the turn of the wall, a grey-coated figure face to face. Both men, Bulgarian and Englishman, started back in mutual astonishment. Then the spy leapt round into the darkness, for it was at night. The Englishman was after him immediately, but the Bulgar knew the twists and turnings of his lurking-place, and got away,---to fall later into the hands of a party sent to search for him. Was he the mysterious dog-messenger's master? You could hardly expect him to give so faithful an animal away.
Occasionally the patrols find proclamations that have been left for them by enemy parties the previous night. These have to be approached cautiously, since they are sometimes only a decoy to bomb-traps. Here is the text of one that was found while I was staying with a brigade on the Doiran-Vardar front. We had seen it with glasses stuck up on a bush in front of the Bulgar trenches, and the following night a small patrol went out and got it. It begins:
WE ARE DEFENDING THE FRONTIERS OF OUR COUNTRY AND THE RIGHTS OF OUR PEOPLE. You are well aware of the love Bulgarians possess for theier (sic) country and the bravery with which they are fighting against the aspirations of their numerous enemies is well known to you. For our country's glory we are ready to die and we shall do every think (sic) to prevent the enemy from entering our territory. What are you doing in this foreing country? in the hideous lies of your statesmen telling you are fighting for the liberty and independence of the small nations? Has it never come to your thoughts that you are doing just the contrary here? Look at Roumania, hitherto so flourishing. There you will see the work your diplomats have been doing. She also was forced to take part in this war and in hardly more than 2 months she has been conquered by us and our allies. Bukarest and the whole Roumanian territory are in our hands. More than 250,000 Roumanian soldiers and 1000 guns have been captured. Practically the whole country is devastated in consequence of operations of war. Look at Greece. What are your governments doing with her poor and unfortunate populations? Are the manipulations going on the re (sic) not disgracefull and certainly not creditable to nations pretending to be the guardians of the small nations? Why are you still following your leaders? Why not ask them to be brought back to your country where your wives and children are awaiting you impatiently? If this is impossible, come over to us. Don't believe that we are barbarians. Our prisoners, but especially English and French, are very well treated by us, and the nourishment leaves nothing to be desired. Instead of staying in humid trenches day and night and thereby supporting an unjust and disgracefull action come over to us and render yourselves, in order to put and end to the injustice and infamy your statesmen are forcing you to do."
Despite all this eloquence, including that touch about nourishment that "leaves nothing to be desired," which stamps the author of the document as a German ex-hotel manager, the enemy in the Balkans never got a single prisoner from the Allies for whom they did not have to fight hard, and very few indeed of those, while on the other hand there are great camps at Salonica of both Bulgar and German captives in addition to those who have been shipped away.
The Allied propaganda took a more artful form. The French had a lot of picture postcards taken showing Bulgar prisoners lining up for their midday ration, each with a half-loaf of bread under his arm and a steaming pannikin of soup in his hand. These they got Bulgar prisoners to sign, with the addition of a little message about the good treatment they had received, and they were then dropped over the enemy lines as a corrective to the stories which Bulgar officers used to tell their men about the certainty of execution which awaited them if they fell into the hands of the Allies. The plan met with much success. Deserters kept constantly coming in, and many of them brought these postcards with them, evidently considering them as a sort of safe-conduct or prospectus. One man said he had paid fifteen francs for his copy to another Bulgar who had found it.
But the Bulgar is by no means a despicable fighter. He is as good as the 1917 Boche. Physically he is a sturdy fellow, as ugly as sin, with the Mongolian writ plainly on his unshaven face. In all essentials he is well equipped. Prisoners always have good boots. Their packs are full of practical things,---such as a sort of German "Tommy's cooker" spirit-stove. One deserter had five pounds of sugar in his pack.
In action the Bulgars are slow to renew a first effort that has been defeated. In a retreat it is likely that they would be quite undisciplined. The tactics which we have from the first employed against them, to attack with dash and counter-attack at once,---have invariably justified themselves. Their artillery is good but they do not seem to be able to stand shelling, being in that respect very different to their Turkish allies, who are stolid and impassive upon the defensive under the worst bombardment.
On the whole uur men feel no special resentment against the Bulgar as an enemy. They will tell you, in fact, several stories of instances in which he has behaved chivalrously in battle, in the way of letting wounded men be brought in, even by means of ambulance-waggons within short range of the Bulgar positions. There is reason to believe that such men of ours as fall into the enemy's hands are well treated, until at any rate they have been passed back behind divisional headquarters; what happens to them in the interior of Bulgaria is not entirely known; probably the Bulgars differentiate in their treatment of the various nationalities among the Allies. A Bulgarian deserter gave me a grim account of the massacre of Serbian prisoners at Prilep in November, 1915, of which he said he had been an eye-witness. Three or four hundred of them were marched out from the town, made to dig their own grave, then surrounded by a cordon of infantry and cut down by a squadron of cavalry who rode in amongst them, after which dead and wounded alike were pushed into the pit and covered up.
Taken prisoners themselves, the Bulgars behave sullenly but with docility. Stolidity, doggedness, obstinacy and the quality of being what they call in Scotland "dour," are the most marked traits of the Bulgar character. They were always the Boches of the Balkans,---disobliging, self-confident to the degree of arrogance, worshippers of uniform, both of the military officer and the civilian official , ---the sort of people one did not get on with personally, however one might admire their independence of character and the energy which had changed Sofia from a Turkish provincial town into a tolerably modern city in one generation. Their temperament inclines them to take the war with a certain sober relish and earnestness. I was with their army,---then an untried and underestimated force,---on manuvres five years ago, and was struck by the seriousness with which the rank and file entered into the details of mimic warfare. I also saw them beat the Turks at Lule Burgas, and though with the other side, one could not help realising that they were an army of high quality and training for a Balkan state. They had already acquired the first elements of some facts that were not yet fully realised by far more important European armies, even when the Great War came, for it was by artillery superiority and by great predominance of machineguns that they defeated the Turk at Lule Burgas, however much the latter's natural disorder in a war of movement under his own native leadership contributed to his undoing.
Among recollections of Macedonia the one which will live longest in the memories of those who have spent a summer there, is that of its flies.
"Reveille is when I get up," is the remark attributed to some general who had strong views about early rising. He could not have been so positive if he had been a general in the Salonica Army, for there, in summer at least, reveillé is when the flies get up. They take good care of that, and their punctuality in this respect, to say nothing of their dash, elan and determination in following up an objective, is enough to make the Macedonian fly a stimulating example to the young soldier.
The time between about four and five on a bright June morning, when it is already broad daylight, but not yet time to turn out, ought really to be the pleasantest of all the hours of rest. The sun shines into the tent strongly enough to rouse you, yet reveille is still distant. The disagreeable necessity of having to leap up from happy unconsciousness to face instantly the ordeals of shaving and dressing is completely avoided. You ought to be able to pass gently over a sort of twilight bridge from slumber to activity.
But the kindly dispositions of Nature in this respect are entirely defeated in the Balkans by the misplaced activity of the fly. No sooner has the morning sun, flooding in through the triangle of the tent-door, brought you to a voluptuous state of conscious repose, than the first fly of the day, with startling suddenness, settles on your face.
An instantaneous and only half-conscious twitch sends him off again as abruptly as if it were just a mistake. A second later, though, and he is back,---a brief buzz as he lands, then that maddening, concentrated tickle of his six feet. With deliberate malice he perches on the corners of his victim's lips, his temples,---anywhere that is peculiarly sensitive.
His buzzes of delight now awake the other flies sleeping in the conical tent-top. They shake themselves, preen their wings and legs complacently at the prospect of another day of persecution, and come trooping down to join him. The weary soldier, with a sleepy oath, pulling the blanket over his head, fights in vain for that last half-hour of drowsy slumber. The flies have discovered that drawing up the blanket has thrown his feet open and they start a diabolical tickle-dance upon his toes. He twists and wriggles, tugs the blanket this way and that, waves clumsy hands ineffectually through the empty air. The damnable titillation skips from one part of his body to another, and his temper is already one of black fury before he is properly awake. Reveillé comes as a relief under such circumstances, and in an atmosphere studded with flies, growing more and more active and excited as the warm sun cooks the tented air up to its morning temperature of 105°, he starts to dress.
But it is only the comparatively slow-witted flies that choose tents for their area of operations; the wide-awake ones, as you find when you go across to breakfast, are all in the mess, and the result is that your first impression of the breakfast-table is that it is not set for a meal at all, but for a conjuror's entertainment. No food is visible. Instead, there are a number of objects completely hidden under thick shrouds of gauze, and several large tins turned upside down like the hollow black boxes from beneath which glasses of water are made to vanish by the tap of a wand at children's parties.
"Butter, sir? " says the mess-waiter, approaching the mysteriously furnished board. One has a fascinated feeling that he may suddenly produce it from one of the pockets of your tunic, or offer instead a white rabbit or bowl of goldfish drawn out of the folds of green gauze. As he pulls away the veil, however, you see a dish of half-melted butter, into which twenty flies spring with suicidal eagerness. You snatch a dripping spoonful, the waiter vigorously chases the surviving flies out again, and the butter vanishes once more beneath its shroud.
The most ticklish part of the meal, though, is when it comes to helping yourself to marmalade. This calls for the closest co-operation between breakfaster and mess-waiter, since the most active flies reserve themselves entirely for attacks upon the marmalade. As the waiter twitches off the tin conjuring-box you find underneath a smaller tin of marmalade whose gaping mouth is instantly almost blocked by greedily jostling flies. Pushing these aside with your spoon you take what you want, usually burying one or two of the bolder insects at each spoonful, and you then have to carry on a sort of rearguard action with the remainder until the pot is safely within its defences once more.
Meanwhile other flies are attacking the marmalade on your plate, and as you raise each jam-spread piece of bread to your mouth, you are obliged to protect it on its way by waving your right hand to and fro over it in the air. The sight of a whole mess eating bread and marmalade on a hot morning like this is remarkable. They look like a party of would-be magicians making futile passes over their food in the hope of changing it into something more appetising.
It is not to be supposed, however, that the flies have it all their own way. Most vigorous reprisals are practised upon them, and it may be said that its own high standards of energy, ingenuity and pertinacity are thoroughly maintained by the British Army in warfare with these ever-present enemies.
The multitude of the means by which the defeat of the fly may be compassed is astonishing. They are of two chief classes,---preventive and punitive. Flywhisks, fly-proof huts, gauze curtains, mosquito-netting and the burning in saucers of mysterious substances supposed to keep flies away, are some of the preventive measures used. But it is the engines of retaliation that are naturally more popular with the soldier.
The most elementary of these is the fly-strafer, or fly-kesh. This consists simply of six inches by three of wire gauze let into a twelve-inch wooden handle, and the demand for these primitive instruments can be realised from the fact that though the cost of their manufacture might conceivably be a penny, the largest store in Salonica sells hundreds of them at a shilling each.
Fly-destroyers of a more scientific kind are also sent out from London by parcel-post, chiefly of the nature of fly-guns (a dilettante weapon), and swatters of complicated kinds. But the use to which they are put is so enormous that such elaborate instruments soon break under the strain, and spare parts cannot be obtained.
As regards fly-papers, whole pages could be written of the various kinds that are in use and their comparative merits. The mere difference of opinion as to whether a fly settles more readily on a flat surface or on an edge is enough to divide the Salonica Army into two distinct schools. One prefers the broad slabs of treacly paper that seem to be the favourite arm of the local population, while the others have a higher opinion of the killing qualities of a long, sticky, spiral string. The best thing is to back your chances both ways.
Officers of scientific training claim that the fumes of certain liquids are what the fly most dreads. They wait in such patience as they may till evening, when the tired fly gathers by hundreds in the narrow funnel of canvas at the top of the tent-pole, and then fumigate him with the vapours of ill-smelling chemicals burnt in the lids of tobacco tins. The expedient is rather a thankless one for during the rest of the evening a constant drizzle of stupefied flies prevails and it takes a long time to brush the bodies out of one's hair afterwards.
But undoubtedly the methods of fly-extinction that give the most satisfaction to the persecuted soldier are those which are a little vindictive in their operation. The buzz of ineffectively struggling wings that comes from a well-covered fly-paper has a savagely soothing effect upon one's temper, and to see a tentful of hot, tired, irritated Tommies clearing for action as a fly-strafing party on a sultry afternoon is a lesson in studied ferocity. You must realise that at Salonica with its June temperature of over 90 in the shade, daylight saving is not a legislative luxury but a primary necessity. The men start work at 5 A.M., and in standing camp during the hottest part of the day, as far as the work of the unit allows, they rest. "To rest" is hard enough anyhow, sweltering in a tent as hot as the jowl of Moloch, but when you have got to share that tent not only with seven other men but with as many hundred flies, the very pretence is a torture, so a fatigue of two of the surest fly-slayers goes first into the midst of the buzzing, tickling, maddening crowd. "Reach me that 'ere towel, Bill," hisses the leader through tight lips. "Got yours? Now then, you blighters." And frantic flies, stampeding for safety to the top of the tent, are felled and flattened by dozens at a blow.
By the same token a certain kind of wire trap seems popular because it catches the little fiends alive and keeps them buzzing and bumping up against each other all day so that they get, before they die, a taste of the irritation they cause. I suppose it is the utter uselessness of the fly that makes normally humane people feel so barbarous towards him. If their attacks had some clear object, such as biting or stinging, one might even hate them less, but the futility of an insect that goes crawling all over you for apparently no reason but exercise is not to be borne.
Needless to say the most painstaking trouble is taken in the army to stop flies breeding, just as Mrs. Partington took trouble to sweep the Atlantic from her doorstep. The doctors did everything conceivable in the spring to keep them down, and even invented a mysterious and special preparation known as "Solution C" to sprinkle over everything that was capable of serving as a fly maternity home. Manure is burnt or buried; horse-lines are swept and garnished several times a day. But where hundreds of thousands of men and hundreds of thousands of animals are gathered together, especially in that climate, and in the neighbourhood of towns and villages where public health regulations barely exist, you might as well hope to stop the summer sun from rising as to make more than a relative difference to the plague of summer flies. The fact that the army is not persecuted a thousandfold worse shows how well the doctors' precept and the soldiers' practice have worked together.
It is at the hospitals, of course, that the fly gives the worst trouble, and he is fought there like the pest he is. To let the air in and keep the flies out is the great problem of every hospital. Not only do flies help more than any other cause to fill the dysentery wards, but they torment enfeebled fever-patients to the borders of insanity. In an active campaign it would be far worse, of course. The most ghastly recollection I brought away from the Peninsula was the chance remark of a doctor that during the worst of the summer weather there, as you went to touch a helpless wounded man, a black cloud of flies would start up from inside his gasping mouth.
But in a standing general hospital all sorts of ingenious devices exist to slaughter the fly, including at one casualty clearing station near Salonica what is claimed to be the largest fly-trap in the world,---a thing as big as a hencoop, of wire gauze, within which millions of baffled flies buzz desperately until evening brings them sudden death. The best bait for these has been found to be a cocktail, Salonica cocktails being the sweetest and stickiest liquid known. But they have the disadvantage of costing two francs each.
Curiously enough, absolutely the worst place for flies that I have found in Salonica was just where one would have expected to be free of them entirely,---on board a battleship over a mile from shore. It seems that when the wind sets, as it generally does, off the Vardar marshes, it blows great clouds of flies out to sea, and they avail themselves in dense swarms of the life-saving reputation of the British Navy.
But if humans suffer, what of the unfortunate horses, tied up on their lines, with no fly-traps, no flypapers, no strafers, nothing but their tails, mercifully allowed to grow long, as a weapon against such unwearying malvolence? And not only flies, hut superflies. Beastly, yellow-bellied things that, if you hit them with your fly-whisk, just scuttle contemptuously to another spot, and can only be induced to leave by being pulled off with the fingers. However quiet your horse may stand as a rule, it is well to keep out of range of his heels in summer, for he is often stung into a sudden lash-out at such a trying world in general, as not a few unlucky grooms can tell.
Fortunately even flies must sleep, and at night they cease from troubling. But then, just when the flies go to sleep, the mosquito wakes up.
But not all the fauna of Macedonia are the soldiers' foes. Some of them he makes his intimate companions. Tortoises, for instance, which are as common in the Balkans as field-mice in England, not only serve him as pets but as accessories to sport. Some men keep a racing stable of them, and will back their best tortoise against the fastest flyer of the next battalion over a ten-yard course. The young of these animals seem extraordinarily hardy. They make long journeys through the post, confined in cardboard boxes addressed to families in England, with no water and no nourishment other than a handful of green leaves stuffed in with them, and yet arrive in quite a lively condition.
There was a general who tamed an eagle, but most officers content themselves with adopting a puppy of the local breed of immense sheep-dog, which is supposed to be a lineal descendant of the war-dogs of Alexander the Great, is as big as a small calf and as fierce as a wolf. He becomes tame and affectionate with those he knows, but his welcome for strangers is simply to charge straight at them with great white fangs showing and a vicious snarl that leaves no doubt as to his intentions. If you do not know the owner of the brute the only thing to do when this happens is to shoot him if you have a pistol,---quite a number of men have been pulled down and worried by them,---or to throw stones at him if you have not. Once, going outside my tent in my pyjamas in the early morning at a Corps Headquarters, I was attacked by two of them which seemed to belong to the place. There were no stones about, but I went through the motions of picking them up, which kept the two dogs at bay for a moment with the thick manes on the back of their necks bristling and their lips laid back. One was working round behind me, though, and I fully expected to feel a set of savage teeth meeting in the back of my leg, when a sleepy voice from a tent near by, awakened by the clamour, called out in gentle reproof, "Endymion, Endymion, come here, you naughty dog!" Endymion, however, was out for blood, and would have had it a moment later if his indulgent owner had not got out of bed and appeared with a hunting-crop, at the sight of which both the hulking animals crept growling away.
The French do not go in so much for taming the wild creatures of Macedonia as for eating them. Wherever a French battalion is encamped, there will you find half a dozen soldiers wading about in the stream driving the frogs into a net they have set further down. Some of them, in a fine spirit of enterprise, tried fillets of the snakes they caught lying out in the sun, and I was assured by a French officer that much was to be said for a dish of tortoise's brains, which a former chef in his company prepared exquisitely, the ingredients for it being obtained by catching a number of tortoises and tickling their tails until the irritation compelled them to stick out their heads at the other end, which were instantly cut off.
There is one sector of the Balkan front that I have not yet mentioned, but of which I always think with pleasure, partly perhaps because I only visited it under the beautiful conditions of early summer, when the Struma valley for a few brief weeks is one of the loveliest places in Europe. It is the eastern end of the Struma line, at the top of the Gulf of Orfano, the most difficult part of our front to reach from Salonica. When I went there in the spring, all the wild flowers one had ever heard of seemed to be in brilliant bloom. Above all, poppies. Millions of crimson wild poppies, great fields of heavy white opium poppies. Unless you have seen the Dutch tulip fields in spring, you can hardly realise the masses of solid colour made by these fragile flowers of the Struma. You ride up to the horse's belly in flowers, and heavy, seductive scents rise up from the petals you trample down. But a week or two later the hot sun has shrivelled everything, and only a waste of burnt yellow vegetation remains.
As for crops, there are such crops of wild-sown oats as would satisfy many an English farmer for a season's labour. Fruit of all kinds, peaches, watermelons, tomatoes. The best tobacco in the world. of course. "Why, they even grow cotton-wool here." I heard an English soldier from Wigan say, astonished to find on a plant what he had always before seen in bales.
Very pleasant and restful the Struma looks in the spring, and so it would be if it were not for the war, and the fact that the valley is one of the most deadly malarial belts on earth, capable of contesting with West Africa the title of "White Man's Grave."
Down at the eastern end of the Struma front we are fighting on the very site of the ancient city of Amphipolis, which Cleon attacked in the Peloponnesian War. "Clean, the demagogue, don't you know," explains a subaltern who was on the Modern side at school three years ago, speaking with the authoritative air of a Regius Professor of History, "and of course, Brassidas, the Spartan fellow, was killed here too,---just about down there by those mule-lines we think it would be; and then Thucydides, you know, got Stellenbosched for not getting his fleet up in time from Thasos over there, so he naturally got disgruntled, and wrote his history to explain what really happened."
And as you go round their trenches and have it pointed out to you that "their palisade probably followed just about the line of our wires," you reflect how English schoolboys have suffered for generations in their souls and persons to acquire painful knowledge of a series of skirmishes that nowadays we should hardly put in the communiqué.
But grave trouble is preparing for the archæologists of the future on the site of Amphipolis. Where antiquaries debate and hesitate, the soldier steps boldly in. "This---is Brassidas's tomb, then?" I said to a staff-officer, pointing to a spot so marked on the brigade map. "Well, I called it that," was the modest reply. "There was a rather fine carved lion there and I happened to want a name for that place, so I decided to give old Brassidas the benefit of it as a monument."
AMONG the many extraneous and political rather than military problems with which the Allies have had to grapple in the Balkans is that eternal and thorny question of Albania.
It was some time before Albania was drawn into the Balkan battle-area, but first the Austrians advanced from the north down to the line of the Skumbi river, then the Italians, who had landed at Valona, extended their area by successive steps up-country with a view to stopping contraband between Greece and the Central Empires, while the French were led by similar reasons to push on into Albania from the other side. The result of these converging movements was that on February 17th the French and Italians met near Erzeg, about halfway across Albania, and the Allied front across the Balkans was joined up into a continuous line that now stretches from where the English sentry stands on the shore of the Egean at Stavros to the Italian sentry on the shore of the Adriatic at Santi Quaranta. These movements of penetration naturally implied the conciliation as far as possible of the native Albanian population. But the natives of Albania are most difficult people to conciliate, because so few of them think alike. Though of the same race and language, some of the population is Mussulman and some Christian. The Albanians are moreover divided by most bloodthirsty family feuds. They go armed and have been accustomed for centuries to carry on murderous vendettas among themselves. Their country is a roadless, rail-less, riverless desert of very steep and barren mountains for the most part, though in south-western Albania there are extremely fertile valleys. Hospitable to the few individual strangers who travelled in their land (who were before the war chiefly Austrian agents and young Englishmen of adventurous tastes), they have always been formidable neighbours. The Greeks used to have a significant proverb, used to encourage people in distress: "Don't despair. God is not an Albanian." The Turks claimed to be the overlords of Albania from the middle of the fifteenth century till 1912, but their rule amounted to nothing more than spasmodic attempts at the exaction of tribute, which usually led to the massacre of the soldiers sent to collect it. Turkish sovereignty consequently manifested itself by little more than the conferring upon some Albanian feudal chief the title of Pasha.
After the Balkan wars followed the misguided attempt of the Powers to settle the condition of these wild clansmen in the heart of Europe by giving them a German king---the Prince of Wied. He exercised a ridiculous semblance of sovereignty, while the Greeks entrenched upon his realm in the south and the Austrians in the north. Essad Pasha, one of the great Albanian Beys of the north, who had begun as the Prince's Minister of War, was driven away by the jealousy of the Austrians, who dominated the so-called "Mpret of Albania." They even bombarded his house with a field-gun at 600 yards' range the last night he was in Durazzo, in the hope of putting an end to his career. So Essad went away, then returned and drove out the Prince, and became President of Albania in his stead, until he, too, was compelled to leave his country by the Austrian invasion.
The one sentiment which the turbulent inhabitants of Albania seem to have in common is a fierce determination that Albania shall remain independent. They hate the Greeks, whose bands of irregulars have attempted to secure southern Albania for their country by the simple process of massacring the nonorthodox Albanians who live there. Leskovici, a beautifully situated and once prosperous town on the solitary road across Albania, is now no more than a heap of burnt-out ruins, every Mohammedan house there having been destroyed by Greek bands in 1913.
At the beginning of the war the Albanians were inclined to desire the victory of the Central Powers, because they believed that this would secure the autonomy of Albania, which had been championed by Austria at the Conference of London in 1913. They feared that the triumph of the Entente would mean the division of Albania between the Greeks and the Serbs. The need of foreign protection they recognise, but they cannot make up their minds whose protection they would like.
Albanian misgivings as to the intentions of the Entente with regard to their country have been, however, considerably modified by the action both of France and Italy in proclaiming the independence of Albania in the sectors of the country which they occupy. To add to the confusion which seems the inexorable fate of this distressful country, however, the Austrians have also proclaimed the independence of Albania in their zone of occupation in the north.
The French carried out this measure with. great thoroughness of detail, making Korytza, an important town in a fertile valley on the trans-Albanian road, the capital of the new republic. They hoisted as national standard the double-headed black eagle of Scanderbeg, a mediaeval Albanian chief who has been glorified into a national hero. They issued postage-stamps, created a paper currency, founded an "Albanian gendarmerie" 800 or 900 strong, and entrusted the government of the Korytza region under French Deputies "of fourteen tutelage" to a "Chamber of members, seven Mussulmans and seven Christians." I had the honour when visiting Korytza of being received in full session of this body, and having "conferred upon me the honorary citizenship of the Republic of Albania," and my surprise was not small when Colonel Descoins, the French officer who presided over the proceedings, pointed out the best-dressed deputy present, a robust and middle-aged gentleman looking like a prosperous local banker, as Themistocles Germeni, a noted leader of comitadji bands, who had until a few months before been in the pay of the Austrians as a captain of irregulars, but had been won over by the proclamation of the independence of Albania to such an extent that he had become the prefect of police of the new republic.
During the short life which this district has had under French military suzerainty, the indication has been evident of the possibility of prosperity for Albania under firm government. Banditism and assassination have ceased in the region patrolled by French troops, and the budget of the little "republic," £1,800 a month, covers the public expenditure. In the western part of the Italian sphere, which had only been occupied a month before I got there, the condition in which our Allies found the population was one of terrorism and starvation. The only authority was exercised by the bands. The people were living in the most abject poverty. You could buy a child for a loaf of bread, and as an officer said to me: "A company of bakers will do more to keep this country in order than a company of riflemen."
The Albanians are by no means unintelligent, savage and primitive though they look in their national dress of white or black frieze with a little skull-cap on their close-cropped heads, and now that the road right across Albania to Santi Quaranta has been put in order, you can motor the whole way, though up gradients and round such hairpin bends as make it, I should say, the most dangerous road in Europe, through a series of valleys which, as you approach the Adriatic, become more and more fertile and beautiful, their slopes being thickly wooded and the ground looking capable of responding richly to cultivation. The increasing use of this road by Italian motor-transport from Santi Quaranta leads to constant attempts by the Austrians to get down to it and interrupt the service. These are usually made through the mountains in the neighbourhood of Korytza where the road lies nearest to the territory that they occupy. Both sides employ Albanian irregulars for the most part, who, no matter on which side they fight, are all of them enrolled, curiously enough, in the name of the "independence of Albania," and paid three francs a day with rations of three pounds of flour and thirty centimes a day for meat. These comitadjis, whose military quality is not of the best, and whose allegiance is often dubious, are stiffened on either side by detachments of Austrian or French regulars.
I happened to be at Korytza when one of these Austrian attacks occurred. Two days previously I had been out with Colonel Descoins to visit the ruined town of Moschopol in the mountains north of Korytza, once one of the most flourishing places in Albania, but burnt, sacked and left without a single living inhabitant by a Mohammedan band in 1914. While we were there a peasant came in who had made the journey across the mountains, and told the interpreter of a concentration of some 1,200 enemy comitadjis, accompanied by Austrian regulars with machineguns, at a village four or five hours' march away. Two days later this force was reported on the move, with the avowed intention of retaking Korytza. So the Albanian irregulars in the pay of the French were mobilised and sent up into the mountains to meet them. The process of putting on a war-footing the militia of the republic of Korytza was very simple, and must have resembled the way in which the old independent towns in the Middle Ages assembled their citizens to resist an aggressive neighbour. The comitadjis, who the day before had been shopkeepers or blacksmiths or small cultivators, were summoned by the town-crier, served out with captured Austrian rifles, 200 rounds of ammunition and a loaf of bread, and then drifted off at their leisure in little parties under their own leaders up into the hills. It was impossible to concentrate them into a collected force, for each little band would only obey the orders of its particular captain, and most of them had longstanding quarrels of such acuteness with the other groups that if they were brought into too close intercourse there was the chance that they might start fighting among themselves.
Quite a number of these inhabitants of Korytza had been to America for two or three years, and returned after making a little money, and it was astonishing to be addressed in a broad Yankee twang by armed individuals who looked like nothing so much as brigands of the mountains. I was standing at a street-corner talking to an American ambulance man when a straggler of the forces which we relied upon for our defence went past; he was a peculiarly fierce-looking native, in short jacket, tapering pantaloons and shoes with up-curling toes, and had a big-bore rifle flung across his shoulders and a large old-fashioned silver-plated ivory-handled revolver stuck into his belt. He looked as though he had lived in a mountain cave all his life, torturing prisoners for ransom, but when he saw us his sinister features expanded into a cheery grin, "Wa-al, boys, I'm off to the war, you see. S'long," he said, and left us agape.
I followed this heterogeneous host up into the mountains; you crossed the plain for four miles to their edge, and then passed up a narrow and rocky gorge to the village of Djonomas, a handful of rough-built cottages stuck one above another on the steep mountain-side like a series of pigeon-cotes. Just beyond this was the position on which the defenders of Korytza were awaiting the enemy. The reserve line was held by elderly French soldiers of the Territorial, under the command of a gallant and picturesque old captain who had fought in the war of 1870. About 800 yards ahead on the next ridge were the Albanian irregulars, each little band under its own chieftain, crouching behind the rocks. Nothing much happened that night, but next morning we were attacked. We could see the enemy irregulars doubling over the next sky-line beyond our front, and hiding among the rocks. Our own Albanians immediately started rapid fire at a range of over 1,000 yards at any point where they saw or thought they saw something moving. I went up to their line with a French officer, who urged their leaders at all cost to economise ammunition, as further supplies might be long in coming up. But as the Frenchman knew no Albanian and the Albanians extremely little French, our irregular Allies persevered in this their habitual method of fighting. For the Albanian dislikes encounters at close quarters, while the noise of rapid rifle fire, even though ineffectual, has an uplifting effect upon his spirits. An hour or two later, in consequence, while the lie of the position was being explained to a French staff-officer who had just come up from Korytza, some one exclaimed suddenly, pointing to a ridge which was about 500 yards on the left of our reserve line, and enfiladed it, "Are those people ours or theirs?"
"Oh, ours," said another confidently. "Our Albanians have been there all the morning," and then, as we all turned our glasses in that direction, " they seem to be facing in this direction, though. Bon Dieu! I see what it is. Our sacrés Albanians are coming away. Those are the enemy's people on top there."
This diagnosis of the situation was immediately confirmed by a bullet which with unusual accuracy rapped up a little cloud of dust right in the middle of our group. What had happened was perfectly clear. The Albanian irregulars on our side had used up all their ammunition, were bolting, and had almost let us be surrounded.
A few moments later our unstable allies streamed past us down the hill and into the village. The appeals and curses of the French officers had small effect, being very little understood. This was the traditional Albanian method of fighting. The side that used up its ammunition first always came away, and as there was no artillery to check the advance of the enemy, the only thing to do now was to fall back on the village of Voskop at the other end of the gorge where a reserve of ammunition was to be found and our irregulars could be persuaded to go on fighting. But now an Albanian leader arrived, very breathless, with the disconcerting news that the enemy had got round both flanks, and were waiting on the top of either side of the gorge to shoot us down as we retired along it. This proved to be quite untrue, but the information greatly stimulated the eagerness of the Albanians to get away. There were a few horses in the village, and some of the Albanians seized upon them with a view to making a quicker time down the gorge. The villagers clung onto the heads of the horses and a free fight started. As it all took place at an angle of the street which was about the size of a large drawing-room, the combat was very concentrated. Clubbed rifles fell with heavy thuds on shaven pates, but the Albanian head is solid and its owner continued to fight just as violently with blood streaming over his face. A French officer, vigorously cursing his turbulent auxiliaries, was in the middle of the mêlée trying to disarm the leaders, who entered with much more gusto into a bickering of this kind than into the larger encounter which they had just deserted. Some of the Albanians began to shoot, and it would really have been dangerous for all of us if they had not in their excitement fired without levelling their rifles, so that the bullets flew up in the air over everybody's head.
Eventually the incident was settled in some way and the retirement continued down the defile. Before we reached the end of it we met some French Senegalese advancing with grins of delight to take part in the conflict, which was particularly to their taste because there was no artillery concerned in it, so that there was a good chance of getting to close quarters where, as they said, with much relish, brandishing their heavy knives, which are like a Ghurka's kukri, "Coupe-coupe va travailler."
There were two mountain-guns at Voskop which had come up from Korytza, and with these reinforcements the French drove the enemy right back, not only out of the village he had temporarily captured. but away across the hills beyond.
The situation of the Allies with regard to Albania is complicated a little further by the fact that while the independence of the country is being proclaimed, Essad Pasha, whom the Entente recognised as President of Albania, is living at Salonica, with his flag, a black star on a red ground, flying over his house as the residence of the President of Albania. Essad is a big, stalwart man of fifty-two, with a red face, black moustache, alert eyes and an expression of vigour and strength. He comes of an old Albanian family called the Toptani. (Top means cannon; his family once had a gun at a time when artillery was rare.) He was the general who defended Scutari for the Turks in the first Balkan War. When he had replaced the Prince of Wied as ruler of Albania he declared war on the Austrians in September, 1914, and the 500 men of his bodyguard who accompanied him to Salonica are fighting on the Balkan front, brigaded with the French, but paid by him. I have had several conversations with Essad Pasha about the future of Albania. His view is that the Powers after the war should re-establish a Commission of International Control, with functions not of interference but of inspection, such as was working there before. A native gendarmerie of ten to fifteen thousand men would be provided by national compulsory military service; it would be commanded by foreign officers, chosen from nationalities that have no interest in Albania, and able to speak either Albanian or Turkish. The old Commission of International Control had already drawn up a form of constitution for Albania which had been referred back to the governments represented upon it for consideration when the great upheaval came. It provides for a Chamber of Deputies, elected without regard to the religious differences that divide Albania into two strongly marked communities. The proposed constitution would depend upon a common race, language, tradition and spirit of independence to overcome that difference and unite the Albanians into one people.
The idea of a federation of Christian and Mussulman cantons on the Swiss system, which has been proposed for Albania, is not regarded with favour by Essad, because he considers that it would emphasise the existing divergencies of religion and lead to hostility between the cantons. A loan, according to him, would not be necessary if the regime of the Capitulations, which is an inheritance of the old Turkish days, were abolished, so that the eleven per cent. ad valorem customs duties could be raised. Other sources of revenue for Albania are:
Port and lighthouse dues,
Taxes on forests, mines and fisheries,
Following the example set at the time of the liberation of Bulgaria from Turkey, an international loan might be necessary for the buying out of Albania's share of the Ottoman Public Debt.
But whatever be the future of Albania,---and it will be a small but very difficult question among those which the Allies will have to settle after the war,---the Albanians can feel assured that at any rate we shall not make the mistake of giving them a German prince again.
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