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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:
Arrival at Thessaloniki airport and city tour (depending on arrival time).
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. In the city, we will pass by the villa that hosted the French general Maurice Sarrail, and then visit the first jetty of the harbour, where the British and French armies first disembarked. 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.
Accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay in Thessaloniki.
After breakfast, we leave Thessaloniki for a day trip. The first stop will be 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 Ctations, 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 can optionally head to Goumenissa, where we can enjoy some of the famous local wine at a winery that today is located right where the headquarters of the French Army used to be. The church and school of Polikastro were at that time converted into hospitals, while just out of the town there was one of the most important airports in the region, with a force that reached 20 airplanes.
We proceed 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 and overnight stay.
After breakfast, departure from the hotel. First stop in Exochi (Kirekoy), just outside Thessaloniki. The XVI Corps Headquarters were at Kirekoy from January 1916, soon after the opening of the Salonika Campaign, until the advance to the Struma in September 1916.
From Kirekoy we continue towards Lachanas, a landmarks for both the Balkan Wars and the World War I. Some of the toughest battles along the Macedonian Front took place here, and their outcome had serious political and military consequences for the Allies. The cemeteries of Lachanas and Kalokastro (Struma), used by the 27th Casualty Clearing Station, commemorate the courage of the fallen on the Struma Front.
In Kalokastro (Struma), we visit the military cemetery. On the northeast, across the river, there was a road used by the Allies to send supplies and military units to the front. Close to this road was the 40th Casualty Clearing Station: its original name was Kilo 71 Military cemetery, due to a stone, marking the 71st kilometer of the road.
Arrival at the city of Kavala, accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay.
Early breakfast and departure for the harbour of Kavala, where we embark for Thassos island.
Very few people know that in the village of Prinos there was an operational military airport, a strategic place where Greek pilots supported the Commonwealth Forces. Its main target was the German Air Force airport situated in Drama, but the Allied forces also used it to take action against the Bulgarians and the Turks. At the port of Prinos, a memorial commemorates the Allies’ presence on the island. Before departure from Thassos we will have the opportunity to visit a local ceramicist to get in touch with the art of pottery.
From Prinos, we embark to Kavala and then depart for Thessaloniki. Accommodation in the hotel, dinner and overnight stay.
Time at leisure until the departure. Transfer to the airport for the return flight. End of services.