Keeping Morale Up in Salonika

A poster advertising the 27th Division’s horse show.

July 23 1917, Salonika–The Allied troops around Salonika, far from home, suffering from malaria, and with little action on the front since May, faced a growing morale problem.  This was especially true for the French.  Strict censorship had prevented news of the mutinies from reaching Greece (beyond possible word of mouth), the soldiers did learn of their effects–most notably, a new, more generous leave policy.  This was obviously difficult to extend to the Army of the Orient, which caused discontent and even a brief mutiny on July 16.  Although it was soon broken up and around ninety mutineers arrested, Sarrail recognized that morale was a growing problem.

Leave was difficult to grant because it took so long to get back to France by sea, and doing so meant traveling through U-boat hunting grounds in the Aegean.  However, with King Constantine’s abdication and Greece’s subsequent entry into the war, her railroads and ports were now fully available.  On July 23, Allied transports began using the port of Itea, in the Gulf of Corinth.  A much shorter sea voyage, to Taranto and the Italian railroad network, was now available, making the granting of leave (and the movement of troops in general) much more feasible.

The British attempted to keep their morale up in the meantime through a variety of diversions.  The 28th Division kept a pack of beagles, which had the run of the front, often crossing over into the Bulgarian lines.  The Bulgarians always graciously returned the beagles to the British without incident.  The 27th Division held an impressive horse show lasting from July 23rd to the 25th, under the protection of Allied air cover.  Sarrail himself even attended the final day of the festivities.

Today in 1916: Failed British Attack on Pozières Ridge

Today in 1915: Fighting Dies Down Around Mt. San Michele After Most Italian Gains Reversed
Today in 1914:  Austrian Ultimatum Delivered to Serbia

Sources include: Alan Palmer, The Gardeners of Salonika.