Grecian Gropes and Macedonian Meanders-Part 5

We left the once malarial infested Struma Valley and took the long road west to Lake Doiran and Macedonia.  100 years ago this part of present day Macedonia was in Serbia and we crossed the Greek border at6.00pm to find it was only 5.00pm.  Although Doiran is on the same longitude as Thessaloniki, Macedonia has to be different from Greece and is therefore one hour behind Greece time.  We are now one hour in front of GMT.  Our hotel is the Romantique, a lovely modern hotel on the lake shore.  Lake Doiran is oval shaped on a north south axis about ten miles long and three miles wide and about 30 foot deep with an abundant supply of seven species of edible fish which the men of the district fish by line keep what they need and sell the rest to local restaurants.

Our hotel is superb I have not stayed in better with very attentive staff, my room overlooks the Lake with scowling Greece, three miles away.  My euro gives me 6o dinar, 500cl bottle of beer is 100 dinar, a bottle of very good local wine is 200 dinar.  I was two days trying to spend €5.  All our food and drink at meals is included in our tour price.

The first night dinner is in the hotel, starting with glasses of the customary Raki, then a vegetable soup followed by chicken chasseur or its Macedonian equivalent washed down with a remarkable Pinot Noir.  This grape is notoriously difficult to make properly but the locals have got it off to a fine art.  By now our party had gelled completely, not one person out of kilter, except for myself possibly.  It is so easy to be nice and relaxed unlike the wicked witch from Turkey.  A cool night in my room with a mild breeze drifting across the lake and thank the lord no mosquitoes.  We are here in the mountains of southern Macedonia and they only bite in the lowlands of northern Greece.

On the morning of Day 5 the group set out for a trek through the hills and battlefields.  I, who is sensitive to hill walking and even more sensitive to the idea of turning battlefields into places of celebration, stay back at the hotel to write this missive.  I really enjoy sitting in the sun at the waterside, doing nothing but throw words onto paper.  I am totally safe, the security forces of Macedonia, the police and the army are holding a conference in the hotel and the place is full of armed six footers, who all seem very pleasant but I keep my distance and wait for the returning walkers.

They arrive about 5.00pm, hot and thirsty but in good health, relating their experiences of the day and saying how tough the going was which confirms my original decision not to bother.  Our evening meal is in the local hot spot, a fish restaurant where we sample the seven varieties of fish from the lake, its name in Macedonian is Φυκ Τακ which reads in English Fuk Tak, which is what the local fishermen must say to the management of the restaurant when offered peanuts for hard caught fish.  However the courses of fish were excellent, especially the carp.  Bottles of a local white wine washed the food down well.

On the far side of the lake lies Greece and the border which disects the lake is marked off by a series of buoys, men of either country cannot cross this line without fear of punishment, but with the different living standards in the two countries I am sure a little honest skulduggery goes on.

Day 6 was the same as day 5, the group went off to do harm to their bodies whilst I sat by the lake and wrote.  It is now 2.30pm and my words have caught up with my experiences.  I await the groups return and might just have a spot of shut-eye for an hour,  It is funny when people take an interest in the Great War, some look at battles, some at campaigns, some at individual generals, some at armaments, some at aircraft.  My only interest now is the Connaught Rangers.  So if you draw a circle representing the war and put a dot in the circle somewhere, my concentration is the centre of that dot.  I cannot get interested in campaigns and this one in Salonika has me beat.  A league of nations sent possibly 750,000 men to Salonika for what I wonder.  Bulgaria eventually declared war on Serbia, the powers that be decided Serbia had to be protected but in 37 months of the campaign, they just kept up a holding role keeping the Bulgarians in check.  I suppose if I read more I will understand it better.  I just pity poor Paddy from Connaught in the West of Ireland who enlisted in the hope of Home Rule after the war or possibly to help poor little Catholic Belgium and sitting on a bleak snow covered hillside on a December morning at Kosturino suffering from frost bite in both hands as five or six battalions of Bulgarians came rushing at him, whilst he wondered to himself “What the fucking hell am I doing here” having already said to himself 13 weeks earlier on Hill 60 in Gallipoli exactly the same thing.  It would make you think.

That evening of Day 6 became interesting when Romeo, our Macedonian policeman took us to Ghevaglija, or some such town, 45 minutes drive away.  It is a main line station for the north/south railway to Serbia.  The newspapers and television have been telling the world that the refugees are coming out of Turkey making for this rail hub for trains heading north for Serbia and northern Europe.  The town is beseiged with impoverished poor from Syria.  In fact the town was like Boyle on a Tuesday night, not a soul to be seen.  We had dinner in a pizza restaurant and saw more pizzas than refugees.  They are now the disparu.

The pizzas were only middling, the wine so so and nowhere near as good as the night before.  I was glad to be back at the hotel and early to bed and a good night’s sleep.  This refugee situation although I do agree is sad for those on that trail as been blown out of all proportion by the hacks and photographers looking for a story

Today the party have gone to Kosturino, a hillside where the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers took an awful pasting on 7th December 1915.  900 men against 5000 Bugarians equipped with modern German artillery pieces.  OF my travelling companion will lay a plaque at the hut which was 10th Irish Division HQ in 1915 and which they are turning into a museum  The Higgins family in Boyle have given him a set of rosary beads to lay at the spot where there uncle Corporal Patrick Higgins 4354 was killed.  Patrick and his brotjher Joseph were in the 4th Battalion Special Reserve before the war and came out in a draft in September 1915 after Gallipoli.  They were two sons of Martin and Bridget Higgins of Carrick Road, Boyle, Co Roscommon and their modern day families populate the town of Boyle today as well as parts of Lancashire and America.

It is a lovely morning here sitting on the terrace of the hotel looking out over the lake, the sun spilling its 22C on everything.  The only cloud is over in Greece on the mountains surrounding that side of the lake.  We have been here four days now and I have not seen the top of those hills once, the clouds providing a permanent cover.  Possibly the Lord’s intervention on a stricken country.

Doiran really is a marvellous town if all you want to do is nothing, write and stroll.  I have been told to look at an ancient crusade church up the road, so I am off to take a look.  I will be back later to relate.

The church is a definite 12/13th century construct with modern day working replacing the roof and the corbelled domes caused by British Artillery in 1915 putting a few shells through the roof.  It is built on a low bluff overlooking the lake with 75 steps taking you up from the road to the entrance to the nave, an adjacent but more modern campanile is built adjacent, possibly 14th century.  It is complete with ancient bell but no rope.  On top of each aisle are three small corbelled brick domes and in the nave three large corbelled domes.  The original roof or what was left of it has been replaced with timber spars and purlins and topped with modern tiles.  A very impressive structure which really needs to be finished but I suppose is waiting for funds.

Back at the hotel I have decided to have lunch in the restaurant.  It was delicious.  I ordered lightly because the evening meals in this neck of woods are enormous.  The young waiter who speaks perfect English brought me chicken noodle soup, pork chop, french fries and an onion, carrot and lettuce salad and a large glass of lovely local white wine.  Total price 370 dinar or €6.  I would recommend everybody if they can get their arses to Macedonia, to come to Doiran and stay at the Hotel Romantique, it surely is the finest and without doubt the cheapest place I have ever stayed.  The staff are excellent and nothing is too much trouble.

It is now 1,10pm on our last day, time to relax, have a snooze and await my battle weary companions.  Having climbed the heights of Kosturino, they will be hungry and thirsty.  Doiran is so quiet I am beginning to miss the stentorian decibels of Apostolos, or am I.

We return home with an early start and an easy route through border clearance and back into Greece only to be balked after getting on our return flight because of bad weather at Gatwick causing  a ninety minute delay which put our connecting flight to Dublin in some jeopardy.  However all flights into Gatwick were delayed so there was Mr O’Leary’s plane waiting for us with open wings as we rushed across the Southern Terminal and back through security.  I eventually walked through the door of my house two hours late but in need of the lovely chilli con carne my daughter had left.

My heartfelt adieus to my very decent companions especially to Romeo and Alan for making this trip one to remember.

Grecian Gropes And Macedonian Meanders-Part 4

After leaving Lembet Road Cemetery we returned for our last night in Thessaloniki and enjoyed a fantastic meal of many courses of meze preceded by the traditional glass of Raki. a liqueur taken as an aperitif.  I was beginning to like this idea by the time our week’s stay was over, made from grape skins, it contains quite a kick.  On our way home eight or nine of us decided that we would stop somewhere for a last drink because it was so warm and that the walk uphill had made us thirsty.  We found a Greek hostelry still open.  In typical style they served bites to eat with each drink bought, a little like Tapas in Spain.  So after four or five rounds we had as much to eat as we had at the restaurant earlier.  Day 3 was finally done in the early hours of Day 4.

After a fretful sleep in a bare room with intermittent Air Conditioning I awoke and was glad to be out of Thessaloniki.  There must be better hotels in the town but not many as bad as Hotel Pella.  We were heading north west to the Struma Valley where the Rangers were stationed in late 1916 to early 1917.  Another border area with Bulgaria when the Allies decided to widen their front.  We are dropped off on a minor road in the middle of the country and Romeo leads us along a footpath lined with fig trees between fields of ripe sunflowers just ready for harvest.  About a mile down this path we arrive at Struma Military Cemetery which must be the most isolated spot of any of the graveyards I have visited but at the time probably a very busy spot.  It was known previously as Kilo 71 Military Cemetery which meant it was on the 71 kilometre post from Thessaloniki, but there was no main road round here that we could see.  There are 11 Connaught Rangers buried here mostly brought in from solitary graves, chuchyards and Field Ambulance sites in the area after the war.

1. 2nd Lt George Francis Macnie aged 23.  He had joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli and was made Transport Officer, once in Thessalonika he had been attached to Brigade Transport and then to the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers from whence he returned to Rangers but shortly afterwards was taken ill and died in a local Field Ambulance Hospital on 5th September 1916.  He was the son of Mr and Mrs George Macnie of Church Hill House, Kilmainham in Dublin.  He is also remembered on the Memorial Window at the Presbyterian Church in Clontarf in Dublin.

2. 7349 Corporal Richard Dobbins from Templeogue in Dublin who was killed in action on 30th September 1916.  He enlisted in 1902 in Dublin and saw service in India.

3. 5702 Private James Doohan who was 40 years old.  James died of wounds received on a night raid near Demetric on 30th September 1916.  By this stage of the war 40 years of age was rather old for enlistment but he had obviously proved his fitness  He had been born in Gweedore, Co Donegal and had enlisted in Edinburgh where he worked.  He was the son of James and Grace Doohan of Meenacladdy, Letterkenny, Co Donegal.  He had joined the Battalion on Lemnos in a draft sent out in late September 1915.  Only two weeks prior to this trip his family now living in Ulster had contacted me wanting to know of the last few months of his life.  I was happy to provide them with a photograph of his grave and a piece OF gave me of that fateful night raid.  James had survived Kosturino and that was a feat in itself.

4. 9857 Bandsman Henry Shea aged 21, died of wounds received on 3rd October 1916.  George had attended the Royal Hibernian School in Phoenix Park in Dublin, a school mainly for the orphaned sons of soldiers.  He had been born in London and had enlisted in 1909 as a boy soldier straight from school.  The bandsmen were the Battalion stretcher bearers.  He was the son of Robert William and Catherine Shea of 41 Leman Street, Wandsworth, London.  He is also remembered on the Royal Hibernian School Memorial, Phoenix Park, Dublin.

5. 5900 Private William O’Brien was killed in action on 1st February 1917.  He was from Wellington Quay on Tyneside and his next of kin was his aunt Sarah Hagan of 37 Headlam Street, Wellington Quay, Tyneside.  William had enlisted in early 1915 and joined the Battalion in Thessaloniki in October 1915.

6. 5006 Private Leonard Warner died of illness on 8th March 1917.  Leonard had been born in Paddington and had enlisted there.  He had joined the Battalion on Gallipoli in early September 1915 in a draft from Lemnos.

7. 6068 Thomas McGeean died of illness on 24th April 1917.  Thomas was born in Poplar, London and enlisted at Grays in Essex where he lived.  He was formerly No 28778 of the Essex Regiment and had joined the Battalion in a draft to Thessaloniki after Kosturino in December 1915.

8. 6189 Private Neil Francis Sweeney was killed in action on 6th May 1917.  Neil Francis was born in Garrison, Co Fermanagh and enlisted at the Curragh in Co Kildare but lived in Kiltyclogher, Co Leitrim.  He would have joined the Battalion after Kosturino in December 1915.

9. 5408 Private James Fogarty was killed in action on 21st June 1917.  James was born in Liverpool where he enlisted and lived.  James had joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli in October 1915.  James, and the following Thomas Hunwick and Joseph McGowan were in a raid on a Bulgarian held village in and were posted missing after the Battalion had retired.  It was a few months later in August 1917 when the 5th Battalion took the village were the remains of these three men found, their bodies ravaged by wild life and recognised only by their dog tags.  Their remains now lie buried side by side in this very pleasant remote cemetery.

10. 6293 Lance Corporal Thomas Hunwick aged 22 was killed in action on 21st June 1917. Thomas was born in Durham and enlisted in Middlesborough and lived in Marton in Yorkshire.  He was the son of Francis and Margaret Hunwick of Marton Hall Buildings, Marton, Yorkshire.  He was formerly No 11991 of the Yorkshire Regiment.  He would have joined the Battalion after Kosturino in December 1915.

11. 3218 Private Joseph McGowan was killed in action on 21st June 1917.  Joseph was born in Boyle, Co Roscommon but enlisted in Oranmore, Co Galway but lived in Boyle.  Joseph landed in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and survived that campaign.  A month before leaving on this trip a man from Mohill called into King House to see me.  He handed me Joseph’s Death Penny the bronze plaque given to the families of all soldiers who died whilst on military service.  The man had been walking across the tip and kicked a bag lying on the surface, he realised something was in it and opened it up and in it was this Death Penny.  I have it in my hand now as a tear comes to my eye as I relate the story of his death to my wife.

Also at this cemetery I found the grave of Arthur Rox 6/22090 of the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers who was killed in action on 3rd October 1916.  Arthur was from Dublin and had enlisted in the Connaught Rangers in late September 1914 and had been put into the 6th Battalion that was training in Fermoy in Cork.  However in June 1915 just prior to the 10th Irish Division sailing for Gallipoli it was realised that they had 1200 men who were not at peak fitness.  Army Orders instructed the 16th Irish Division of which the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers were part to send their fittest 1200 men to Basingstoke and join the 10th Division and for the 16th Division to accept the 1200 men who were not quite there in terms of fitness.  Arthur was one of these fit 1200 and he was attached to the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he went with them to Gallipoli and landed there on 6th August 1915 and fought with them throughout that campaign.  I would like to claim him as one of ours because of this connection.  His family also contacted me prior to this trip trying to understand why when he enlisted in the Rangers did he die with the Dubs.  They were happy to know his story.

We will not forget them.


Grecian Gropes And Macedonian Meanders-Part 3

The native staff on our tour bus were an interesting mix.  One Greek with a Macedonian mother and two pure bred Macedonians.  The Greeks look down on the Macedonians as being people without a country, virtual refugees and it is the Greek veto stopping Macedonia getting in Europe.  The Macedonians, a proud people consider the Greeks to be lazy bastards and they want the Macedonian part of Northern Greece back.  The three spoke to each other in English because neither had bothered to learn their neighbour’s language.

Dragee our driver is typical of his race, historically certain where the correct boundaries of Macedonia should be.  He tells me present Macedonia  is a country of two million people, 80% Macedonian, 18% Albanian, 1% Serb and 1% Turk.  He firmly believes Macedonia should be given its southern lands back in Northern Greece and wants to join the European Union which task is being balked by Greece and asks the question why they with their reputation should rule the roost.  Dragee was taught English at school but had no interest, married with two kids, he has worked in Finland and Sweden, can speak both Scandanavian languages, he relearnt English from the internet and watching films on television and can now read , write and speak tolerably well, but has only very basic idea of the Greek language.  Romeo the other Macedonian is a very hard working policeman trying to set up his military history tourist business in his spare time and at the same time taking an external Masters Degree in Security.  He is a very useful man to have around in two countries that abound with police and border guards.  His smile, chat and shake of hands have got us past some very surly individuals.

He has a very interesting take on the so called recent refugee problem in that part of the world.  He blames the media for exaggeration as to numbers of those coming through Macedonia, which is a crossroads for these people making their way to western Europe.  He says those coming in to Macedonia are actually quite rich people, students in the main making their way to European Universities who have offered them a place to continue their studies if they can get there.  Travel permits in and out of Syria, Lebanon and Turkey are blocked, so the illegal refugee route, expensive as it is, is the only route available.  The Macedonian authorities make them pay the full fare on the trains taking them north into Serbia and he has seen nobody who could not afford them.  Both Dragee and Romeo have little time for the present system of allowing people to pass over borders with no papers.  After all they say we cannot travel out of Macedonia without passports and visas.  The third man in our team is Apostolos and I have said enough about him and will not embellish.  Too loud, too many strange words and just too much, to entertain.

After a trip round northern Salonika, south of Doiran, looking at still intact military installations, it was back to Thessaloniki.  But first a stop at Lembet Road Military Cemetery, probably the largest cemetery in the area containing the graves of British, French, Serbian, Italian and Russian soldiers along with 15 Connaught Rangers who died of wounds received or illness in late 1915 to late 1916.  I list them all here in memory of these brave men:-

1. 3/4077 Private Stephen Connell who had come out in a draft from Cork only a few weeks previously, did not fire a shot in anger, contracted dysentry and was put on a hospital ship HS Grantully Castle for shipping to Alexandria but he died before it sailed on 27th October 1915.  The Grantully Castle was a liner of the Union Castle line built in 1910 by Barclay, Curle and Co at Glasgow.  She had a displacement of 7612 tonnes and had a speed of 13 knots.  She took the first of the troops to Lemnos in early 1915 and converted to a hospital ship of 552 beds at Malta in late 1915.  She reverted to her civilian role on 11th March 1919 and served her company for another 20 years before being broken up in 1939.

2. 4414 Lance Corporal Martin McGinn, who was a Gallipoli veteran and wounded at Kosturino on 7th December and died in hospital here at Lembet Road on 10th December 1915.  Martin was a native of Westport in Mayo but had emigrated to Leeds in Yorkshire where he was working when he enlisted.

3. 5614 Private Patrick McDonagh who died of wounds received at Kosturino on 10th December 1915.  Patrick was a native of Galway Town but lived at Lettermore in Connemara.  He had come out in a draft in early October 1915.

4. 668 Sergeant Michael Rafter aged 28, another Gallipoli veteran who died of wounds received at Kosturino on 12th December 1915.  Michael was from Ballina in Mayo who had enlisted at Hamilton in Scotland where he was working.  He was the son of John and Catherine Rafter of Ardnaree in Ballina, a district of the town famed for its recruitment.

5. 6442 Corporal John Whalen who died of illness on 14th December 1915 aged 32.  John was a native of Dublin where he enlisted and had come out in a draft in early October.  He was the son of Frank and Mary Whalen of Dublin and was married to Mary Whalen of 102 Lower Clonbrassil Street in Dublin.

6. 5684 Private William Griffin who died of illness on 18th December 1915.  He had come out in a draft to Lemnos and had joined the Battalion after they returned from Gallipoli.  William was a Galway man from Barna but who lived and worked in Blackrock in Dublin

7. 8331 Private Michael Conway who died of wounds received at Kosturino on 27th December 1915.  Michael was from New Village in Galway but had enlisted in Newcastle.  He lived at Hebburn on Tyne where he worked in the shipyards.  He had come out in a draft from Ireland and joined the Battalion in October 1915.

8. 787  Sergeant Francis William Corry aged 30, who died of heat exhaustion on a route march to Cuvezne in the Struma Valley on a very hot day on 5th June 1916.  He was a Gallipoli veteran and he was born in Camberwell in London where he enlisted but he lived in East Dulwich.  He was the son of Sergeant F E and Annie Corry of 11 Derwent Grove, East Dulwich, London.  He was buried locally but after the war his body was exhumed and reinterred here at Lembet Road.  He is remembered also on the Dover Memorial, Deal Road, Dover.

9. 2895 Private James Teggart who died of illness on 2nd July 1916 aged 20. James was another Gallipoli veteran who had enlisted in Belfast in December 1914 and came from Loughkeelan,  Co Down and had enlisted in Belfast.  He was the son of Hugh Teggart of Ballyvennaght, Bangor, Co Down and his present day grand nephew, Hugh Teggart, who still lives in Ballyvennaght was highly delighted with the photograph we took of James’s grave.

10. 2878 Private Michael O’Leary who died of illness  on the 5th July 1916.  Michael was also a Gallipoli veteran and came from Ennis, Co Clare.

11. 5332 Private William Wilson who died of illness on 1st August 1916.  He was born, lived and enlisted in Glasgow and he had come in on a draft and joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli.

12. 3040 Private Henry Denton aged 24.  Henry died of illness on 7th September 1916.  He was one of about a dozen Dewsbury, Yorkshire men to join the Connaught Rovers who enlisted  in late 1914.  He was a Gallipoli veteran and the son of Alice Bradshaw (nee Denton) of 196 Forest Cottages, Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury.

13. 9908 Private William Burke who died of illness on 18th September 1916.  William was from Headford in Co Galway but he lived and worked in Ballinrobe in Co Mayo.  He was the son of Martin and Margaret Burke of the Cottages, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo and he had joined the Battalion as part of a draft into Salonika in 1915.

14. 5462 Private Thomas Heffron who died of illness on 20th November 1916.  Thomas was born in Glasgow but who lived and enlisted in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.  Thomas had joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli.

15. 5081 Private Michael Farrell died of illness on 31st March 1917 at 42nd General Hospital. He was from Howth in Dublin.  Michael had joined the Battalion in Gallipoli as part of a draft from Lemnos in early September 1915 but  saw little fighting as the 5th Battalion had been pulled out of the firing line as being at less than company strength.

May they all rest in peace.

Grecian Gropes And Macedonian Meanders-Part 2

After two hours of being bored by foreign speeches and absurd ceremony whilst having the cobwebs blown from us and being washed with rain, the party ended, the uniforms were saluted, the Greek Army marched away with their band and we made our way to the bus.  We had a date at the Greek Army Officers Club for lunch in Polycastro and a lovely buffet lunch it was with copious wine to go with it.  I was kitted out in Connaught Ranger blazer and tie trying to eat my salad and cold meats when a French Admiral in his whites and medals galore came over to engage in conversation, not a trace of a French accent but there was a trace of South Dublin.  He had recognised the crest on my blazer, his father he told me had been in the Munster Fusiliers and that he had spent his early life in Dalkey in South Dublin Bay.  He told me that he was Naval Attache to the French Ambassador in Athens and that his name was Colman.  Who said the tradition of the Wild Geese had gone, here was one alive and kicking in front of me.  We chatted for some minutes until a small Greek Army officer came up and he morphed into French with ease.  A nice chap and a pleasure to talk to.

After lunch and it was back on the bus and we headed for the Doiran Memorial, just on the Greek side of the Macedonian border. overlooking Lake Doiran and most of the adjacent countryside.  A most imposing setting where the Commonwealth War Graves Committee were holding a centenary commemoration.  It was a Menin Gate type of memorial listing the names of the dead who fought at Kosturino in early December 1915 who had no known grave.  It was clear looking at the list that the Connaught Rangers with 110 names had taken the biggest beating of all the regiments there.  The poor 5th Battalion  having been reduced to 135 officers and men coming off Gallipoli from the 800 who had landed 55 days previously and having been rebuilt to a strength of 1000 officers and men were again laid flat with a 50% casualty rate.  No wonder Acting Lieutenant Colonel Henry Jourdain had a breakdown shortly after Christmas and had to be shipped home to England.

After a quick visit to the Greek Cemetery, we stopped at Doiran Military Cemetery at the bottom of the hill where only one Connaught Ranger, 5375 James Smith from Bellshill in Glasgow was buried.  He had been captured by the Bulgarians at Kosturino on 7th December 1915, had taken ill whilst a POW and had been repatriated but had died of pneumonia on 10th October 1918 nearly a year after the 5th Battalion had left these shores for Palestine.  In fact they were at that time taking another beating at Cambrai in France during the latter days of the war.

Our last stop on a busy day was a visit to the Indian Cemetery on the Monastir Road out of Thessaloniki.  An interesting place where Buddhists and Sikhs are commemorated along with Muslim soldiers.  They were all part of the Indian Army of that time.  The Muslims all died at the end of the war1918-1920 of flu or dysentry and were buried here in this little cemetery.  The names of the Sikh and Buddhist dead are commemorated on monuments.  These men died and according to the Indian lady from the British Museum were accorded full religious rites on the battlefield where their dead were burnt on funeral pyres in the field, each Battalion being given a ton of wood and 30 gallon of paraffin for each corpse to ensure full incineration.

Apostolos continued to plague me with his high volume non-perfect English and he was threatening to take us to his son’s restaurant that evening.  I vowed to act alone so I sloped off early before the crowd had gathered and ate alone and with regret as it happened.  My choice of restaurant was not good and I was charged €35  whereas the son’s restaurant was excellent and was in with the cost of the trip but at least I was remote from the dreaded Greek.

After two days in Thessaloniki my first impressions of the town and country are strangely positive.  A great cafe/entertainment area down by the sea front, fine restaurants, great bars, crowds of people, although the end of September is a little out of season.  Lots of expensive shops on the main thoroughfares although few customers.  However as you tramp uphill from the waterside area, poverty overwhelms, closed down businesses, poor roads, discarded rubbish all over the place.  The new Greece is obvious, a city of one million people soon becomes a city of 950,000 living on the breadline.  New cars are few and far between, old bangers in abundance.  On top of all of that is a city that is still trying to find its identity.  It has been Greek, Macedonian, Roman, Turkish and has reverted to Greece but with remnants of its mongrel past all around.  Although there is no racial violence, there is no trust between factions.  In the country poverty is all to evident, lots of nothing more than shacks in agricultural areas, very, very few fancy houses.  Compared to Ireland, which is also on the lower end of the European economic slopes, Greece is many years down the hill.

Agriculture although abundant and necessary looks as though it does not pay.  However the food on display looks a lot healthier, mounds and mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit available everywhere and unbelievably cheap.  Supermarkets are few and far between with the French chain Carrefour and the German Lidl to the fore.  Booze the same price as Ireland, food 75% less, Diesel is €1.17 per litre, petrol €1.47 but wages at best are 50% below Ireland’s.  I doubt for the normal 5/8th that Greece is the place to be at the moment.  Empty half built structures litter the countryside and not half built last week but ten or twelve years in the past.  The economic downturn happened a long time ago.

Day 3 starts with a visit to Mikra Cemetery where two Connaught Rangers lie.  John Holland Fairchild 20367 who was really a Devon Yeomanry man but was attached to the Connaught Rangers and was left behind by them when they exited for Palestine in late 1917.  He died of dysentry on 1st March 1918.  Also there was the grave of Michael Short 10603,  Michael was from Enniskerry in Co Wicklow, a pre-war soldier who had obviously served through the Gallipoli Campaign.  After Kosturino the 5th Battalion were sent to a quiet place, Rendina on the other side of the peninsula.  Whilst unloading stores at the shoreline Michael shot himself, he died three days later in hospital on 30th December 1915, obviously the trauma of battle must have not only affected his mind but also his aim.  After the war his grave at Rendina was exhumed and Michael was re-interred at Mikra Cemetery in Thessaloniki.

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