International Women’s Day may have gone, but I see no reason not to remember some other women of the campaign who played a vital role but are largely forgotten: the Macedonian women who worked on the roads, especially the Seres Road.
Salonika Memories 1915-1919, published in May 1969, was the final publication of the Salonika Reunion Association (it is available on DVD with all issues of ‘The Mosquito’). Amongst the many fascinating articles is one on transport in Macedonia (pp16-18), which describes the challenge of maintaining the roads and the role played by women in this.
The Seres road was a key artery for the BSF and switchbacked for 50 miles, north-east from Salonika to the 16th Corps area of operations in the Struma valley. For three years it carried convoys of lorries, ambulances, horse and mule-drawn limbers – 20, 30 or more vehicles long – and columns of marching men, choked by the dust. The constant traffic and heavy winter rains meant that it needed continuous repair and patching up. Lloyd George described it as the “Golden Seres Road” because it cost about ten million pounds to build, but the BSF could not have managed without it.
Whilst much of the construction and maintenance work was done by machines, a lot of hard manual work had to be provided by military and civilian labour, supervised by engineers. The latter also did blasting in quarries, to obtain stones which were then delivered to roadside dumps.
Here the stones were broken up by Macedonian women wielding hammers that looked too much for them to handle. As the lorries rumbled by, smothering them with dust, they usually cheered or frantically waved their hands. Occasionally children helped.