The author … here gives a magnificently graphic description of the inexorable fire which swept over the city in August 1917. Mr Collinson Owen at this time was editor of the soldier’s newspaper “The Balkan News”, and with the characteristic resource of a keen journalist only missed two days’ publication through the ravage of his office and printing works.
Saturday, August 18, 1917 is a day that will be long remembered by many thousands of members of the Salonika Force. They may not always be able to recall the date itself, but they will never forget the fire that occurred on it, when nearly a square mile of the city was burned down in a few hours.
In those days I lived in a very pleasant and roomy apartment above one of the town’s big shops. It was a very hot day, and the local sirocco – a hot wind from the direction of the Vardar – was blowing half a gale, and had been doing so for two or three days. I was sitting at tea, clad as lightly as the convenances would allow, when Christina, the Greek maid from Constantinople, came in with some more hot water.
“You know there is a big fire,” she said. “They say half the town is burning.”
Of various miracles one of the greatest was that the “Balkan News” office was unharmed. Then followed a miserable month if ever there was one. Wreckage, dust and misery everywhere. No water to wash in … Explosions everywhere as the French sappers blew up dangerous buildings, with flying bricks thudding down on the roof. And Salonika with the life and soul gone out of it; a heap of rubble with not a hotel left, nor a restaurant, nor any place to go, save only the White Tower Restaurant. One lunched off tinned things and worked in a sort of daze. Oh, for the Club!
And Salonika never recovered during the occupation of the Allies. It remained a “washed-out” city; the wreckage was too big to repair.
This account and these images are taken from a post-war part-work. You can download and read the full article here (PDF). Unfortunately I have no idea what the publication is – if you know, please get in touch.