Faces of Salonika : Bill Devereux and the Great Fire

My thanks go to Richard Devereux who provided this photo of his grandfather, Bill, enjoying a cigarette in the ruins of Salonika in the aftermath of the Great Fire, having done his bit to help.

Private Bill Devereux, 11th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, sitting in the ruins of Salonika after the Great Fire of August 1917. Photograph provided by his grandson, Richard Devereux.
Private Bill Devereux, 11th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, sitting in the ruins of Salonika after the Great Fire of August 1917. Photograph provided by his grandson, Richard Devereux.


















Richard is a Bristol based poet who has been widely published in anthologies and magazines and has kindly given permission for his poem on the fire to be published here on the centenary.

The Great Fire

A careless Turkish housewife caused The Fire.
While frying aubergines for lunch one day,
she popped outside to natter to her mate.
The pan caught light, the flames leapt higher and higher;
a mighty conflagration underway –
all efforts to extinguish it – too late.
Fanned by the Vardar breeze, the fire swept through
the neighbourhoods of Turks and Greeks and Jews.

The soldiers gazed in awe at the glow and smoke …
were sent on trucks to give what help they could.
‘All hands to the pumps!’ but the Fire Brigade had none
that worked. Bill did what he could. He helped a bloke
load onto a cart his few pathetic goods.
In the photograph, Bill’s having a fag. Job done!

The poem is taken from Bill, a book which tells the story of Bill Devereux’s life through a collection of poems. You may recall that the book was given a mention back in March on World Poetry Day.

Find out more

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.

One thought on “Faces of Salonika : Bill Devereux and the Great Fire”

  1. I came across this site by chance when I googled ‘The Balkan News’ Why would I want to Google it?
    It is the result of a co-incidence.
    My late father was in Theological College in Bala when the war started and the whole year volunteered as non combatants- they would do anything but they wouldn’t carry a gun. So dad joined the Welsh Regiment in Brecon and soon found himself in the Welsh Students Company RAMC and being sent across to Salonika where he stayed until the war ended. He preached a gospel of peace and reconciliation all his life and rarely, talked about the war except the funny bits.
    His last words to me on being asked in stentorian tone ‘Whats your army number then?’- was just that! 81956- this was quite strange when you consider that he had been in a coma for the whole of that week. The next day was even stranger when my brother, who was talking ‘at him’ at the time was amazed to see him struggle to try and sit up saying ‘Something terrible is happening at Suvla Bay! The date August the 8th 1975- sixty years to the day that the event was happening.
    Today is the 22nd August and tidying up my study I came across a rather fragile piece of newspaper in amongst my father’s documents; carefully opening it up I found it was the front page of the ‘Balkan News’ describing the great fire in Thessalonika, how it started and how it swept through the streets of this two thousand year old city. It described how they had to evacuate the printing shop where they were putting the paper to bed- only to find when they got back there that all had been saved but they couldn’t get it out because they couldn’t get transport. the date on the front of the paper? August 22 1917!

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