Faces of Salonika : Refugees

Refugees fleeing conflict are rarely out of the news today, but this is not a new phenomenon. With the Balkans facing its third war since 1912 it is hardly surprising that there were communities of refugees across the region, although they are rarely mentioned.

On their arrival in the Struma valley during the summer of 1916, British cyclists found themselves in a very modern-sounding scenario as they manned checkpoints on bridges over the river, dealing with refugees keen to escape the advancing Bulgarians. They had to persuade the refugees to carry on towards the coast and confiscated rifles, ammunition and petrol (28th Divisional Cyclist Company War Diary WO95/4907).

The War Diary of 12th Cyclist Battalion (WO95/4827) describes another encounter with refugees in the Struma valley, on 16 March 1917. The Battalion’s Intelligence Officer travelled from their headquarters at Badimal to the village of Ilidze. He found the village to be occupied mainly by gypsy refugees. He described them as friendly, but not interested in anything outside the village.


A French published postcard showing refugees 'fleeing before the invader' although it gives no clue when or where this took place. From the collection of Kate and Martin Wills.
A French published postcard showing refugees ‘fleeing before the invader’ although it gives no clue when or where this took place. From the collection of Kate and Martin Wills.
A French published postcard showing a caravan of Macedonians evacuating their village, although it gives no clue when and where this took place. From the collection of Kate and Martin Wills.
A French published postcard showing a caravan of Macedonians evacuating their village, although it gives no clue when and where this took place. From the collection of Kate and Martin Wills.
A French published postcard showing refugees in the Vardar district of Salonika. From the collection of Kate and Martin Wills.
A French published postcard showing refugees in the Vardar district of Salonika. From the collection of Kate and Martin Wills.

Author: scswebeditor

Robin Braysher joined the SCS in 2003 and from 2008 has been the Society's web editor. His interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915 to 1917, mainly in the Struma valley. Robin hands over the role in October 2021 to Andy Hutt. Andy's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Arthur, who served as a Royal Engineer from 1916-1918. All posts prior to February 2021 are by Robin. Opinions expressed in these posts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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