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On October 5th, 1915, the 10th Irish Division and the 156th French Division landed at the port of Salonika, Greece. Their arrival was brought on by the combined attack of the Germans and Austro-Hungarians on Serbia. Such was the force of the attack, that it threatened the very existence of Serbia and the participation of Bulgaria only came to make matters worse for the Allied Forces. Despite their efforts, they could not prevent Serbia’s defeat.
That was the start of the Salonika Campaign, one of the lesser known but more interesting chapters of the Great War. Between 1916 and 1918, ferocious battles were fought along the Doiran Front by an Allied army of remarkable diversity – 6,000 men from six different nations: British, French, Greeks, Italians, Russians and Serbians.
Ultimately, the Allied Forces could not force the Bulgarian Army out of its well-fortified positions. Nonetheless, not a single Bulgarian soldier was sent to support the Central Powers west of the River Vardar. This achievement allowed the continuing advance of the combined French and Serbian Forces.
During the ‘Gardeners of Salonica’ historical tour, we will visit some of the most important battlefields, memorials and cemeteries around the region of Salonika and Northern Greece, as well as places associated with the support operations, which will provide us with a clear overview of the evolution and historical importance of the Salonika Campaign. Among the most touching visits are:
Upon arrival at Thessaloniki (Salonica) the capital of the modern region of Macedonian, we are visiting the city, founded in 315 BC by King Kassander of Macedonia, brother-in-law of Alexander the Great. The city has known such glory in the Roman period, being under the tetrarchy of Diocletian, one of the four capitals of the Roman empire. Second capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Thessaloniki has been a city of great importance also for the Jews. Among our visits, the important archaeological museum of the city, the Rotunda, roman governor Galerius’ Arch and his Palace. Continue visiting the church of the city’s patron Saint, Hagios Demetrios, an impressive Byzantine monument protected by UNESCO, as well as the Roman Forum. Transfer to the hotel, accommodation dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
After breakfast, we leave Thessaloniki for a day trip. The first stop will be at Kristoni (Sarigol), the only round cemetery in the region, containing casualties from the Third Battle of Doiran. The Third Battle was the last attempt of the Entente Army to break through the enemy lines.
From Sarigol we make our way to Lake Doiran, scene of the fiercest battles of the Salonika Campaign. The Doiran Memorial marks the centre of the line occupied by the Allies in Macedonia, commemorating the massive losses suffered by the Commonwealth and the Allies during the ferocious battles of 1917-1918.
On the foothills of the memorial hill lies the Doiran Military cemetery, resting place for the men of the 22nd and 26th Divisions.
From Doiran we reach the villages of Mikro Dasos and Pefkodasos (Smol), where the churches were converted into medical stations. The Taxiarchon church in Pefkodasos, although heavily modified over time, became particularly famous after Stanley Spencer’s painting “Travoys arriving with wounded at a dressing station at Smol, Macedonia”, painted in 1919 under commission from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee.
In Karasouli (Polykastro), we will visit the cemetery built for the use of Casualty Clearing stations, and the Allied Memorial built in memory of the 40,000 dead and 100,000 injured and missing from the Entente forces.
From Polikastro we head to Gefyra: the military museum is found in the very building used on 25 October 1912 for the negotiations between the Greek commander Prince Constantine and the commander of the Ottoman forces Hasan Tahsin Pasha.
Return to Thessaloniki, dinner, time at leisure and overnight stay.
Thessaloniki was the centre out of which the Allies operated, reorganised, and sent out medical assistance to the combat troops. Thousands of newcomers converted the multicultural city, which had only just been annexed to the Greek State, into a melting pot of people and languages. Our visit will start at the British cemetery and Memorial in Mikra, which was opened in 1917 and remained in use until 1920. After a visit to the Indian Monastir memorial and cemetery, where more than 200 Indians serving the Royal Artillery, Transport Corps and Mule Corps found their final resting place, we head for the Zeitenlik (Lembet road) Allied cemetery, dedicated also to Serbian, French and Italian casualties.
After the tour, transfer to the airport for the return flight. End of services.