When I last read Alan Palmer’s classic history of the Macedonian campaign (The Gardeners of Salonika, 1965) several years ago, I came across a story which I thought would be worth sharing here; needless to say I then completely forgot about it … until now. With the death of Prince Philip, it is a good time to remind ourselves of his connection with the Greek royal family and the war in Salonika.
At the end of 1915, the Allies were busy fortifying Salonika but were in the odd situation that, because of Greek neutrality, the city included consular representatives of hostile powers: Germany, Turkey, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The British were keen to seize the consulates as soon as their troops withdrew from the frontier, but the French wanted to wait until an air raid – supposedly aided by the consulates – gave them a reason. This came early on 30th December and caused little damage and just one casualty (an unfortunate shepherd), but it was enough for General Sarrail. Later that day, French and British troops entered the four consulates and arrested the staff; they also rounded up ‘enemy aliens’ and alleged spies in the city. This did nothing for Allied relations with the neutral Greeks, as Palmer writes:
The mutual hostility of the Greek and Allied authorities eased a little in December, once Sarrail and Mahon had received a Greek staff officer sent by the General Staff in Athens to regularize the position of Greek units around the city. But now, at the end of the month, it flared up again. Sarrail evidently hoped that the air raid would mute Greek protests at his own action against the consuls. He reported to Paris, with undisguised satisfaction, that one bomb had fallen near a squadron of cavalry which was commanded by the King’s brother, Prince Andrew (who six years later, was to become the father of the present Duke of Edinburgh). Yet if Sarrail really believed that Greek susceptibilities would be assuaged by this inadvertent affront to dynastic dignity, he was swiftly disillusioned.Palmer, A (1965), ‘The Gardeners of Salonika’; London: Andre Deutsch Ltd (pp53-54).
Relations between the Allies and the Royal Greek government did not improve especially when, later in 1916, the Bulgarians crossed into Greek Macedonia in force, much to the delight of Royalist circles in Athens and possibly with the foreknowledge of the Greek General Staff. In September, King Constantine I sent his brothers to appeal to his royal cousins; Prince Nicholas went to Petrograd to meet the Tsar and Prince Andrew was despatched to London where King George V was especially unhappy with Allied policy towards neutral Greece and suspected the motives of Republican France. It did no good and in 1917, with the loss of his support from the Tsar in revolutionary Russia, King Constantine I abdicated and left Greece with most of his family, leaving his son, Alexander, to become king.
It is interesting to speculate how many aspects of history may have changed if the bomb dropped by the German aeroplane near Prince Andrew’s cavalry squadron had instead, killed its commander!