Ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties …

A Halloween offering from ‘The Mosquito’, reprinted in the Salonika Reunion Association’s final, souvenir album: Salonika Memories, 1915-1919, edited and produced by G E Willis, OBE, JP – the SRA’s long-standing Editor – and published in May 1969 …

A cartoon from 'The Mosquito' showing various creepy-crawlies encountered by members of the BSF

From ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us!

The above was the prayer said for all in her tent by Juliet de Key Whitsed a V.A.D [Voluntary Aid Detachment] in Salonika. She describes the nights in Salonika as wakeful and strange.

You listen to the shrill tinkle of goat bells, for the Macedonian shepherd takes his flock to feed at night, sheltering them from the heat in the daytime, there is the insistent drumming of mosquitoes trying to force an entry under your protecting net, the barking of wild dogs, growling and fighting, the howling of hyenas, the uncanny note of the laughing jackals, and the chirping of innumerable grasshoppers. All this makes a confusion of mingled sounds, cut across now and again by the menacing whirr of an aeroplane. One wonders if the next will be hostile aircraft – when there is only the canvas of the tent above.

This country has a frightful number of noxious insects and creatures that properly belong only to Biblical times, like locusts. Pugnacious goats and ancient tortoises abound. Some of the tortoises date back to Methuselah, judging from their size and aged appearance. One is devoured all day by ants and sandflies, and at night the mosquitoes come out to eat up the remains. One of the men caught a beetle, the size and shape of a cigar, with a rhinocerous-shaped head, black, polished like jet. The spiders and grasshoppers are shuddersome beasts. But I love to see the lizards darting swiftly in and out of the rocks on the ground and across one’s path on the way between the quarters and the hospital. One Sister has tethered a baby tortoise, not much bigger than a thumb nail, to the tent ropes with a bit of cotton and coos over it.

I recall my grandfather telling me how necessary it was to empty boots out before putting them on, just in case a scorpion or similar beastie had taken up residence – something mentioned in many Salonika veterans’ diaries and memoirs. Hopefully, though, for the modern traveller Macedonian fauna is a source of fascination rather than horror. I remember finding some scorpions under a rock on Corfu, much to the delight of my young son who was a Gerald Durrell fan at the time. We didn’t see a huge variety of fauna on our trip to Thessaloniki in 2016: a tortoise was glimpsed from a moving car but, best of all, were these snakes on the edge of Lake Doiran …

Snake at the edge of Lake Doiran; editor's photo, March 2016Snake at the edge of Lake Doiran; editor's photo, March 2016

I suspect they are Grass Snakes – or similar- but if you know differently, please do tell me.

Night, night, sleep tight … and mind the bugs don’t bite!

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.

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