Faces of Salonika : French soldiers in The Birdcage

As the French were the senior partners in the Armées Alliées d’Orient, it seems appropriate to include a photo of French soldiers, early on in this series.

A postcard showing a group of French infantry in 'The Birdcage' lines, near Salonika in February 1916. A previous owner of the postcard, bought on eBay, has identified them as members of the 260e Régiment d’Infanterie (113th Brigade, 57th Infantry Division), near Hidzerabati, Macedonia. From the SCS Web Editor's collection.

Bought on eBay, this postcard shows a group of French infantrymen in ‘The Birdcage’ in February 1916. The only thing that really links it to the campaign is a note on the back to say ‘Souvenir of the East’.
Whilst the rocky hillside looks very Macedonian, it could just as easily be in France. The text on the back adds no further clues:

Love to all the family, Emile [?] and it is addressed to: M. Ch. Constant [?], Avenue d’Alsace, Belfort; an address which can be viewed on Google Earth.

The vendor or a previous owner has noted on the back: 260th Infantry Regiment, Hidzerabadi, Macedonia. I’ve examined the photo closely with a magnifying glass but cannot make out the numbers on the collar tabs of anyone except the chap standing in the greatcoat and his show ’28’. The 28e RI did not serve in Salonika so he may have been with 28e Bataillon de Tirailleurs Sénégalais, the only ’28e’ unit that I can find in the French Armée d’Orient (34th Brigade, 17th Colonial Infantry Division). His greatcoat does look a slightly darker shade than that of the others, which could mean the mustard/khaki of the colonial troops, but it could just be that greatcoat cloth looks darker than tunic cloth. So something of a mystery.

The 260e Régiment d’Infanterie certainly had a Belfort connection, being part of the 57th Infantry Division (113th Brigade), a reserve division based in the city. This was the division on the right of the French sector in ‘The Birdcage’, next to the British 22nd Division.

The 260e regimental history – which is available on line – has this to say about their sojourn in ‘The Birdcage’ (loosely translated):

On 20 December [1916], the 260e occupied the left bank of the River Galiko
towards Hidzerabati. The terrain that the regiment had to fortify was formed of rocky heights with ridges radiating out towards the north around Mount Cevin [known as the Matterhorn]. In front the view extended over the plain just as far as the village of Ambarkoj.

The good weather returned and brought back the cheerfulness and helped them forget the hardship of the retreat. Everyone set about work with a new enthusiasm.

Would the Bulgars come as far as us?

On 1st April 1916 the entrenched camp at Salonika was formidably arranged. The Bulgars hadn’t come to us; we were going to return to them. Detachments were put together to form the advance guard on the march. The 260e stayed for the time being to guard the fieldworks and it wasn’t until 5th May that they moved to the Krusha Balkan.

A photograph taken by the SCS Web Editor in April 2016 on the site of French fortifications dug by the 57th Division one hundred years ago as part of the 'The Birdcage' and looking across the plains from where the Bulgarians were expected to come.
A photograph from April 2016 on the site of French fortifications dug by the 57th Division one hundred years ago as part of the ‘The Birdcage’ and looking across the plains from where the Bulgarians were expected to come (SCS Web Editor).

Author: Andy Hutt

Andy's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Arthur, who served in Salonika as a sapper with the Royal Engineers from 1916-1918. Opinions expressed in these posts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

4 thoughts on “Faces of Salonika : French soldiers in The Birdcage”

  1. The mystery man is probably an engineer. Three companies (1, 6 and 21) of 28e Bataillon de Génie were attached to 57e Division.
    The diary of Cie 28/1 records that a detachment consisting of caporal Saras and sapeurs-mineurs Michelot and Desloges were attached to 260e RI between 2 Jan and 16 Feb 1916.
    Caporal Saras (Auguste Léon Emile) was born in Paris in 1885, but lived in Belfort from 1908.

    1. P.S. Where did you get your information that the 28th Senegalese Bn was with 17e DIC? As far as I can see, 28e BTS never came to the Salonika Front! It was attached to 11e DIC for a few months in 1916, but that was before that division came to Salonika.

      1. This is embarrassing, I’ve just looked back at the French Order of Battle by Viv John in New Mosquito issue 14 (September 2006) which I previously consulted to find that, as you say, it isn’t there. Clearly I either can’t read or can’t count – or probably a mixture of both! Thanks for the clarification and for solving the mystery. Best wishes, Robin

    2. Hello Adrian – good to hear from you. Thanks for that, it makes perfect sense. With a Belfort connect too and even having a name – that’s incredible! Clearly just darker blue greatcoat material. Best wishes, Robin

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