DESCRIPTION: "My husband's in Salonika ... I wonder if he knows he has a kid with a foxy head" (;the slackers "puts us in a family way"). When the war's over slackers will have two legs but soldiers a leg and a half. With all the taxes they still can't beat the Hun.
EARLIEST DATE: 1978 (OCanainn)
KEYWORDS: war nonballad political injury money
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
OCanainn, pp. 60-61, "Salonika" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: The reference is to the First World War. On September 12, 1915 British and French troops attacked Salonika [Thessaloniki] in Greek Macedonia. (source: The Irish in Uniform 1915 The Fame of Tipperary Group at Eircom site); Wikipedia just says "a Franco-British force landed at Salonica in Greece to offer assistance and [unsuccessfully] to pressure the Greek government into war against the Central Powers."
A post-war verse: "Now never marry a soldier a sailor or a marine, But keep your eye on the Sinn Fein boy with his yellow white and green" - BS
The Wikipedia citation strikes me as somewhat more accurate than the Eircom description. The Salonika landing was not really a attack on the Central Powers; it was the preparation for an attack -- an attack that never came off. It was one of the most inefficient operations of the whole inefficient war.
According to Keegan, p. 236, the idea of a landing at Salonika was first suggested in late 1914. But there was no particular need for it at the time -- the idea was to reinforce the Serbs, but the Serbs were doing just fine against the Austrians on their own.
That changed in 1915, when the Germans decided to take care of Serbia. Unlike the Austrians, the Germans were highly efficient. In October 1915, the Salonika invasion gained interest as a way to defend the country where the war had started (Liddell Hart, p. 153). No matter that it mean landing in neutral Greece! (Keegan, p. 255). In all, three French and five British divisions were sent there in 1915 -- too late; Serbia had fallen to a combined attack by the Germans and the Bulgarians (Marshall, p. 186). But the Allies had lost far too many battles by then to want to suffer another propaganda blow; rather than risk admitting defeat; the troops stayed in Greece, where they were allowed to rot and suffer malaria. Indeed, over the years, they were actually reinforced.
This even though it would have been almost impossible for them to do anything had they wanted to; Marshall, p. 194, notes that "Salonika was an inadequate Greek port with only a single-track rail line running north into Bulgaria. To the logisticians it was perfectly clear that the locality could not support an advancing field army." He adds that "A few troops on the heights can hold back legions. Withal, the Salonika countryside is terribly unhealthy, malaria-ridden, subject to heavy flooding in winter and intense heat in summer. Why the Allies imagined it a pearly gate to opportunity is one of the war's enduring mysteries."
Worthless as the spot was, the "Army of the Orient" sat there until late 1918. There were no enemies to fight, and the invasion force did not cause the Germans to divert troops; a few Bulgarians sufficed to watch over the whole. Allied casualties to disease were ten times those due to combat, and the Germans are said to have called Salonika "the greatest internment camp in the world."
According to Stokesbury, p. 294, "through most of 1916 and 1917, the Allied commanders [in Salonika] had been more occupied with badgering the Greeks than with fighting the Bulgarians"; in 1917, they even forced the abdication of the Greek king. But they still didn't do anything. It wasn't until September 1918, when the Bulgarian and Austrian armies were collapsing, that the troops in Salonika -- Stokesbury says there were 700,000 of them by this time, including Italians and miscellaneous Slavs -- finally moved. Naturally the Bulgarian army collapsed almost without a fight. Bulgaria signed an armistice on September 29. Theoretically, it was a victory for the Allies; in practice, they had wasted a strong army for two years and subjected it to horrid losses. And, because Salonika was so far from England, communications with home were even worse than in the trenches.
I can't help but think that the Salonika farce was the ultimate proof of the bankruptcy of military command in World War I. There was every reason to think a crisis might arise in Serbia -- it was a country with a violent reputation, hated by Austria and supported by the Russians. Anyone with sense could see that it could entangle the Habsburg and Russian empires -- which, given the nature of the alliance system of the time, could bring in Germany and France also. Yet no one thought about how to reinforce Serbia -- even though it was a land-locked country with no direct connections even to Russia, let alone the sea; the only way to reach it from Britain or France (apart from the routes through Austria) was from the Adriatic through Albania, Greece, or Montenegro -- all very difficult routes due to the mountains. Someone should have made up staff plans, and negotiated with the local states, *before* the war began!
The charge of high taxes during the war is certainly true; the conflict broke the economies of every power involved. The real problem for Britain (and France), though, was the absence of competent generals. Germany had an army that was, man for man, better than that of the Allies (and, initially, much larger), and her generals could at least pull off an attack (as they showed by conquering Serbia and Romania). They didn't entirely understand trench warfare, but the Allies never did cease their tendency to assault trenches. The reference to mutilated soldiers is certainly dead-on; millions of women were left widows, and millions more found their husbands and boyfriends blind or maimed or with lungs damaged by gas. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Keegan: John Keegan, The First World War, Knopf, 1999
- Liddell Hart: Sir Basil Liddell Hart, A History of the World War 1914-1918, 1970 edition with news maps published as Liddell Hart's History of the First World War, Papermac, 1997
- Marshall: S. L. A. Marshall, The First World War, American Heritage, 1964
- Stokesbury: James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of World War I, Morrow/Quill, 1981
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