Fly Past in Bagni di Lucca

The solemn procession consisting of dignitaries, including the mayor of Bagni di Lucca, family members of Italy’s first licensed pilot and ace aviators from the past wended its way down Bagni di Lucca’s high street to line up before the Villa Gamba. The occasion? The unveiling of a memorial plaque to Mario Calderara, Italy’s first pilot, on the façade of the house he lived in in BDL, together with the blessing of our local parish priest on the proceedings.

A private invitation from Pietro, the highly personable descendant of the Gamba-Calderara family, enabled us to visit the gardens and the piano Nobile of the villa, which is otherwise strictly closed to the general public. Pietro showed us some valuable blueprints of his ancestor’s airplane designs.

It was a marvellous event to take place on Italy’s liberation day, a national holiday commemorating the freedom from Nazi-fascism and liberation also in terms of the Italian pioneer and mankind’s ability to fly free from the constraints of gravity into the air and the blue sky such as the day blessed us with.

This was a day to remember for a very long time. The villa, with its immortal connections with Byron and especially Puccini (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/turandots-carillon/ is now graced by a plaque that  commemorates Calderara, Italy’s first aviator and inventor of its first flying boat. (For more on this do look up my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/bagni-di-lucca-takes-flight/ ).

My sincere thanks to the Gamba-Calderara family and their generous kindness towards us, enabling us to enjoy a very special day of Italian Liberation.

 

 

PS It is only so sad that Italy’s flag airline company, ‘Alitalia’, is in such dire trouble at present. (Their ‘Etihad partnership, which I used to fly to Vietnam a couple of years ago, broke down).  I’ve flown with Alitalia on several occasion in the past (indeed it was the first ever airplane flight I took at the age of seven and alone….) and never have I been served better by the stewards and been offered such eatable, indeed delicious, food on board – a rare occurrence, unfortunately, on most airlines today.

 

 

Italy’s Eel-Pie Island

In Italy, Pasquetta or Easter Monday is traditionally a time to go for a journey ‘fuori le mura’ – outside the walls, which here doesn’t just mean getting out of one’s house but out of one’s town which, like Lucca, is often surrounded by defensive walls.

We chose a local coach firm, largely to experience this aspect of Italian traditional life.  We crossed the Apennines through Renzi’s greatest achievement – an alternative Autostrada del Sole route (variante di Valico) opened in December 2015. It traverses the mountain range almost entirely through tunnels and has cut the journey time from Florence to Bologna by almost an hour. It’s fine on speed, not so good on panoramas. Luckily the old autostrada route has been kept for more scenic travel.

We then travelled through the lush Emilia-Romagna lands with their rows of San Giovese grapevines and dramatic cloud formations.

Our first stop was Ravenna which should by all rights deserve at least a couple of days to visit decently. Although we felt short changed on mosaics we did, at least see some of the extraordinary sights of this city which, at one time in its glorious past, was capital of the Roman Empire.

Theodoric’s’ mausoleum dating from 520 AD is an amazing feat of engineering with a solid stone roof carved out of one stone block weighing tens of tons and originally transported to cap the structure via a ramp.

The Arian baptistery with its beautiful dome mosaic is unique in the world for being the only architectural evidence of a heresy which believed Christ to be literally the son of God i.e. born from the creator and, therefore, subservient to him without any hint of the Trinity as expounded in the Nicaean creed and which is recited by most Christians today. (There’s a tablet inscribed with the Nicaean creed in Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican church, now library).

Dante’s tomb is surely the holiest secular shrine in the Italy and it’s a moving experience to see where the major formulator of the Italian language and the author of the Divine Comedy now rests.

Although bashed about a lot in the Second World War Ravenna retains many characteristic town corners including a lively main piazza.

The biggest event of the ‘scampagnata’, or Italian Easter Monday trip, is, of course, the lunchtime meal which in this case took place in a vast restaurant with no less than five halls. It was quite amazing how quickly and how well we were served with appetizing food. I sometimes think that if cooks and restaurateurs were elected to run the country Italy would turn out to be far better administered! Our lunchtime company was very congenial and remarkably well travelled too.

After lunch we headed for the valli di Comacchio which is an extraordinary area of wetland – probably the largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, approaching the Danube delta in dimensions. A continuation of the Venetian lagoon, the area is flat, often marshy, filled with immense brackish lagoons, canals, dykes, clearly a bird-watcher’s paradise and, above all, famous for its eels.

The main town, Comacchio is the centre of eel fishing and production and is a charming place in its own right with a highly photogenic triple bridge and some delightful traffic-free streets.

Half-way along what must be one of the longest porticoed streets I’ve walked along is the entrance to the eel manufactory where eels are dried and canned. The old factory is now a museum with interesting exhibits showing the boats and basket nets used. Among the photographs were stills from a Sophia Loren film I have yet to see, describing the romantic life of an eel-canner and appropriately entitled ‘La Donna del Fiume’ ‘(the lady of the river.’)

It was then time to return home. Since we’d joined the coach at 6 am in Fornoli by the time we reached Bagni di Lucca close to midnight we were ripe for bed-time, falling swiftly into a dream-world where Theodoric, Arianism, eels, lagoons and La Loren were collaged together in ever unbelievable sequences.

 

Bagni Di Lucca and the Lie of War

2017 commemorates the hundredth anniversary of perhaps Italy’s greatest military disaster, certainly its most costly one: the Great War’s battle of Caporetto, otherwise known as the twelfth battle of the Isonzo. The Italian army’s front line, under the command of General Cadorna, was broken and had to push back to the Piave river. Only the battle of Monte Grappa stopped the Austrians from entering wholesale into the Adige and Po valleys. It was the great resistance at the Piave that stopped the Austrian reconquest of Italy, a fact that is still recognized today when we crossed this river – which ran red with the blood of soldiers in 1918 – while driving on the A4 motorway through Veneto.

The Italian army comprised 874,000 soldiers as against 350,000 Austrians. The Italians also had 6,918 artillery pieces against just 2,213 Austrian. So what went wrong?

By the end of the battle there were 305,000 Italian casualties as against 70,000 Austrian, more than four times as many… In addition, over half a million civilian refugees poured into Italy escaping from well-documented rape and pillage (in the town of Portogruaro alone there were over three hundred illegitimate children born nine months later).  Many refugees were welcomed by Bagni di Lucca. Indeed, the companion of Evangeline Whipple, (the author of ‘A famous corner of Tuscany’ about Bagni di Lucca) died as a result of contracting Spanish flu while nursing the refugees. (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/a-rosy-relationship/ for a fuller account).

The ‘disfatta di Caporetto’ was notorious for the Austrians’ use of what would later develop into the Hitlerian Blitzkrieg: intensive fire with highly mobile units and widespread use of machine guns, flame throwers and light trench mortars. Notoriously too, arsenic-chloric and diphosgene poison gas canisters were launched causing devastating effects on Italian casualties and morale.

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(A trench at Caporetto)

The defeat was blamed on Cadorna, a martinet and an incompetent commander who brought a new level of ineptitude to the management of the Italian army. Cadorna was infamous for his application of military discipline. For example, Italian soldiers made prisoners-of-war were termed deserters and were not allowed any Red Cross food parcels or medicines. Thousands literally died of hunger or disease in Austrian camps such as Spielberg and Mauthausen. Those who were not captured by the enemy but retreated when ordered to advance were decimated i.e. one out of ten were selected to be court-marshalled and usually shot. It’s been estimated that 6% of the Italian army was found guilty in this way. Unsurprisingly, Cadorna was relieved of his command after the rout of Caporetto and the Italian army was placed under the command of General Diaz who led it to final victory at Vittorio Veneto the following year.

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(Luigi Cadorna)

Bagni di Lucca played a role in the Great War out of all measure to its population: over 250 young men lost their lives in action out of a total population of just 5,000.  I’ve written a post on the part our comune played in WWI  at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-the-great-war-from-an-italian-perspective/ and local historian prof. Natalia Sereni has also written a fascinating book on the subject titled ‘Bagni di Lucca nella Grande Guerra. (See https://www.ibs.it/bagni-di-lucca-nella-grande-libro-natalia-sereni/e/9788865504871 )

There’s nothing, however, more poignant than to focus away from the broad perspective of WWI and delve into its effect on individual young men. The Uni-tre’ lezione’ this week was delivered by Prof Marcello Cherubini who read and commented on letters written by two soldiers from Bagni di Lucca, Arnaldo and Amos Contrucci. Censorship is a major issue in any correspondence during a war situation and these letters were no exception to the rule. Specific places could not be mentioned – just an ‘area of operations’ or ‘zona di guerra.’ Some soldiers got round this by writing where they were stationed underneath the postage stamp (and then sometimes adding on the envelope ‘please find where I am by looking under the stamp…!) Furthermore, soldiers could not say they were freezing to death or dying of hunger on the front. Everything had to be couched in positive terms. Indeed, Cadorna would cancel soldiers’ leave with the excuse that soldiers returning home might tell friends and relatives what conditions were really like at the front. Another problem with writing home was that almost half the Italians at that time were illiterate. So even if one could write a letter, who, in the family would actually be able to read it?

The letters of Arnaldo and Amos, two local brothers,  describe not only their military conquests – they were part of the first regiment to march into the newly conquered city of Gorizia ‘la Maledetta’ – the damned – otherwise known as the sixth battle of the Isonzo and in which 20,000 Italian soldiers lost their lives as against just (!) 9,000 Austrians. The letters also describe amorous conquests too with a ‘bella goriziana’. All letters state that the soldiers are in the best of health (even though the true situation might be utterly the opposite) and winning every battle they fight in. They conclude with best wishes to their family members all listed by name in highly concentrated sheets of densely-written paper.

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(Amos)

Sadly, in the twelfth battle of the Isonzo – the terrible defeat of Caporetto (now Kobarid in Slovenia) Amos was taken prisoner by the Austrians and languished in the concentration camp of Mauthausen – which subsequently became the notorious extermination camp under the Third Reich). Now the letters make desperate pleas to send food especially flour. Clearly, Amos was still being retreated as a ‘deserter’ like so many other Italian prisoners-of-war. The letters finish with a note from a fellow prisoner to Amos’ family poignantly describing their son’s last moments and death through – probably – Spanish flu and a follow-up letter of condolences from the military authorities.

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(From left, Profs Natalia Sereni, Marcello Cherubini, Valeria Catelli)

Cherubini’s talk was captivating and moving in equal measure. Statistics of thousands missing or dead may often be too enormous to comprehend by the individual human mind: read out, however, the correspondence of named soldiers from Bagni di Lucca, now stuck in atrocious condition of mud, cold and sleeping in water-logged trenches often filled with excrement and unburied bodies of previous fatalities from ‘over-the-top’ and attacked by vermin of all sorts and then war and the pity and the lie of war come out to the forefront in massive measure. As that greatest of war poets, Wilfred Owen, wrote:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

PS On a lighter note I’m giving a ‘lezione’ for Bagni di Lucca’s Unitre on Thursday April 6th at 4 pm. The subject is “Giovanni Battista Cipriani: un artista Toscano in Inghilterra” and is about the famous painter of the royal gold coach, co-founder of the Royal Academy and ancestor of my wife.

 

 

 

 

 

From Carpet-Eaters to Carpet-Baggers

The carpet-eater of Braunau am Inn started off by admiring someone who was once Churchill’s favourite Italian. (In  January 1927, he wrote to Mussolini: “If I had been an Italian I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”)

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(Berlin 1937)

Sadly by 1938 it was the other way round. The Italian racial laws implemented that year forbade all those of Jewish descent and other minority groups to hold property, marry white Italians etc. etc. M was truly sucking up to H. This poster dating from that year sums it all up:leggi1

(Jews can’t …….)

It’s interesting to note that the terms ‘racialist’ or ‘racist’ at the time meant those who believed in the implementation of the theory of a superior race: quite the opposite of what the term means today, as these posters from post-1938 Italy demonstrate:

To the credit of Italians the majority of that nation was shocked by such grossly xenophobic rules. For years Jews had been integrated into Italian society in a way often unimaginable in other European countries. They had contributed profoundly to the peninsula in terms of culture politics and science and fought with distinction in the First World War. Jews and those of African descent were also fully integrated in Mussolini’s ‘balilla’ fascist youth movement’:

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Just to name a few Italian composers of Jewish descent the following come to mind: Giacomo Orefice, Leone Sinigaglia, Felice Boghen, Fernando Liuzzi, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Aldo Finzi (a relative of the English Gerald Finzi, also a composer), Renzo Massarani and Vittorio Rieti.

The contribution of Jewish-origin people to Tuscany was particularly significant and the ‘Ebrei/Jews in Toscana/Tuscany’ exhibition in the Galleria delle Carrozze (next to the Medici-Riccardi palace on its right)  brought out this contribution in an excellently designed and documented display which, opening last December, continues until 26th February from 10 to 6 daily..

From the relaxation of mediaeval persecutions to the establishment of thriving communities, particularly in Livorno and Florence, the exhibition documents, with flair, the essentiality of Jewish culture in Italian society and culture .

It’s unfortunate that the Jewish ghetto, together with the old market, in Florence’s mediaeval centre was torn down by misguided town-planners in the late nineteenth century,  One has to go to such places as Pitigliano (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/imposing-pitigliano-with-its-little-jerusalem/) to savour the atmosphere of these ancient centres and, of course, visit Venice where the original ‘ghetto’ was founded back in mediaeval times in an area of that city with the same name.

As compensation one can visit Florence’s beautiful synagogue where the exhibition continues:

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When faced with the draconian racial laws several Italian ‘Schindler equivalents’ saved many Jews from being entirely ostracized. However, after the establishment of the Repubblica di Salò puppet state in 1943, when Italy was divided between Nazi fascists and Allied-army supporters, anti-Semitic persecution got really bad. Underground movements and the Catholic Church provided shelter and escape for Italian Jews;  the numbers finishing up in the gas chambers were far less than those in other parts of the Third Reich. Around 7,500 Italian Jews were victims of the Shoah as distinct (for example) from 500,000 Hungarian Jews,(and Hungary had a total population of just nine million  as compared to forty-five million Italians in 1940….)

I have already written posts about particular people of Jewish extraction (see my post on the great Piero Nissim at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/a-plea-for-justice-and-civility-in-italy/) and also his ancestor, Giorgio Nissim.

01142017-330Giorgio Nissim, an Italian Schindler)

On my mother’s side of the family (my mother originated from northern Italy) there was at least one marriage between Gentile and Jew. Eliezer Turri (whose son now lives in Denmark with his Danish wife, and where he directs a media company) was a distinguished artist and writer. I remember him, particularly from childhood days, when a visit to his house was a supreme treat, for Eliezer was fascinated by model railways and had built an incredible Rivarossi set complete with local and international express trains. The display even incorporated a tram system. It was thanks to the absence of racialist sentiments among his friends that Eliezer was able to avoid a real-life train journey to Silesia’s extermination camps.

It’s important to realize this and reflect on danger signs that are returning to impinge on our society today. There is no need to remind intelligent and tolerant citizens of what these signs are. We got one yesterday…

Indeed, this Monday in Fornoli, at 10 am, there will be a ceremony in the peace park in memory of little Liliana Urbach from Bagni di Lucca who wasn’t so lucky and was the youngest Italian to die in a death camp. (For more information on her do look at my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/from-bagni-di-lucca-to-auschwitz/)

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It’s so important to remember what happened in Italy to a seemingly well-integrated community. It doesn’t take a demagogue to change opinions – all it requires is indifference.

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 (Platform 21 at Milan Stazione Centrale – final destination Auschwitz)

 

The Florence Flood Fifty Years On

Just over fifty years ago a third major disaster affected Florence’s unique cultural heritage. After the misguided and speculative ‘sventramento’ (disembowelment) of the city’s centre, the old market and the former ghetto in the nineteenth century,

(Florence’s old ghetto before its shameful demolition in the 1880’s)

and after the blowing up of the mediaeval houses north and south of the Ponte Vecchio during WWII (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/a-squalid-square-in-florence/) came the disastrous flood of 4th November 1966. This did not so much destroy historic buildings as damage their precious contents.

Santa Croce’s Cimabue crucifix, with its moving fragmented appearance, stands as a symbol to the time when there was no organized civil defence, no excess water drainage channels and when the interests of a few goldsmiths on the Ponte Vecchio were placed before the population of the city (these received warnings to evacuate much later…).

(Cimabue’s Crucifixion in Santa Croce before and after the 1966 flood).

I was a very young lad at the time of Florence’s inundation. Yet I was already a member of London’s Italian Institute of Culture and made aware of the catastrophe that had occurred. My future father-in-law, secretary general of the Institute and a Florentine, was instrumental in the coordination of assistance to the beleaguered cradle of the renaissance. He organized the transport of pumps and helped in the requests for volunteers to salvage what remained among the detritus of mud, sewer water and petrol.

The ‘angels of the mud’ were largely young enthusiastic people who came to Florence to save everything from paintings to manuscripts, from sculptures to musical instruments. It was truly a fantastic call to European solidarity and unity at a time when more people than ever felt what significance Florence had for them. I wish the UK had a similar sentiment towards the continent of which it’s a part today…..

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In many sectors the work of clearing up the flood mess, begun by the angels, continues today. Manuscripts are still being dried out, frescoes reconstructed, sculptures salvaged and archaeological items pieced together. The exhibition at Florence’s Medici-Riccardi palace, inaugurated last year, gives us an overview of the whole tragic event with archive footage and continues to emphasise the positive aspects of Florence’s 1966 calamity. For the flood gave an impetus to the development of more effective restoration techniques, laid down the basis of the city’s present civil defence system and began work on outflow channels for the excess waters of the Arno, a river described by Italy’s supreme poet and native of Florence, Dante, as a ‘maledetta e sventurata fossa’ (‘accursed and unfortunate ditch’).

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Indeed, with global warming conservation and restoration is needed now more than ever as water levels rise. This was the Arno last November when alarm bells were again rung:

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The exhibition is well-organised and explained. First there’s a map showing Florence and the levels of flood water which reached over 35 (!) feet in some areas. You can see that it was the Santa Croce area with the darkest blue (Florence’s ‘East End’) which was worst affected, with 34 dead and over 10,000 families made homeless.

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At the exhibition there are examples of paintings restored as far as possible to their original glory:

Books and scrolls have fared less well

As have musical instruments.

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(A saved mandolin and a lost lute)

Here are further objects which have had to be restored. I was particularly taken by the Etruscan bronze with lion heads which, I feel, could have been an incense burner, rrather like those we saw around the Jokhang during our trip to Lhasa last year.

This seventeenth century model of San Firenze church with at least six different type of wood used, has only recently been salvaged as far as it is possible (wood swells up to five times its original size when immersed in water and since so many old pictures are painted on wooden panels it presents almost insurmountable problems.)

As with everything in life ‘pazienza’ (patience) is the keyword. Who knows how long we will have to wait for such other places, this time devastated by the hands of men, to be restored to as far as their primal glory as is possible? Palmyra, Aleppo and Nimrud come to mind…

Talking about which, I had to negotiate a migrant/refugee protest outside the palace which is also the seat of the regional government of Tuscany. But that demands another post.  Suffice it to say that even in the very heart of cultural delight, the world’s calamities have their sovereign shrine.

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Incidentally, the Palazzo-Medici Riccardi has plenty more going for it.

  • The state rooms including that fabulous golden hall painted by Luca ‘fa Presto’ (‘works quickly’) Giordano.

 

  • The ancient statues gallery in the basement.

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  • The garden with orange trees in winter – so delightful!

 

 

 

Fidel Alejandro Castro

R.I.P. a un grande rivoluzionario, una persona coraggiosissima che si è opposta alla corruzione del governo mafioso che lo precedeva.

Ricordando i nostri amati ricordi di un’isola descritta dallo stesso Cristoforo Colombo come la più bella che abbia mai visto. Rammentando le nostre avventure in scooter poco più di dieci anni fa attraverso paesaggi mozzafiato, spiagge stupende, gente cordialissima e architettura coloniale rinascimentale come mai vista prima; assaporando il Mohito in quel famoso albergo dove sentimmo il club Buena Vista; gustando l’onesta, la veracità di un popolo sofferto sotto dei terribili malintesi degli Stati Uniti che Obama finalmente riconobbe ma che ora dovremo risoffrire sotto un altro che tra poco….oddio!

Fidel Alejandro Castro, ricordiamo la nostra visita alla tua casa, apprezziamo a fondo il tuo eroismo che purtroppo viene sempre più malmesso in questo mondo, nel quale abitiamo, ora sempre più incerto, sempre più senza mete incorruttibili.

Come dicevi tu e come mi ricordo da quella tua trasmissione sulla tele a Santiago di Cuba (come potevi parlare!): “raccontano del fallimento del socialismo ma dov’è il successo del capitalismo? Trovo il capitalismo ripugnante e alienante perché crea solo guerre, ipocrisia e misera.”

Povera Europa….povero mondo. Abbiamo perso un altro grande. Troppi quest’anno……

Quando ci sarà un altro Davide che si alzerà contro il Golia che ci comincia ad avvolgere tutti per un’ennesima volta?

Addio caro fratello di pensiero….e di azione! Con tutto rispetto e solidarietà.

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Lest we Forget the British Salonika Force

I found myself in Salonika (now Thessaloniki) without any money to take the ferry across the Adriatic to Italy where I had a return air ticket back to London from Catania. I would be able to hitch across northern Greece and then round southern Italy’s instep but money was definitely needed for the ferry…

It was the end of my first truly epic journey and I’d travelled through twelve countries, including Syria, Iraq and Kuwait to get to the hippy Shangri-La of Kathmandu. Now a little thinner but a lot wiser I was raring to get home and start my year at uni.

The British consul at Thessaloniki was very courteous although he gave me a ticking off about all those young people that want to travel round the world without proper financial preparations. He arranged money to be cabled to me from home but warned me that it might take a couple of days for it to arrive.

My grandfather was still alive, although increasingly suffering from dementia. I also remembered that as a boy scout I’d helped assist the British Salonika force veterans of the campaign at Horse Guards parade. My grandfather had been a member of that contingent – a diminishing but still stalwart band, alas now all long since vanished.

These thoughts came to my mind today since the Balkan field of military operations formed another part of that human tragedy called World War One and, in particular, of the start of the bloodiest battle of them all, the battle of the Somme where over a million lost their lives on both sides and where the flower of a whole generation was lost. (This battle is eloquently described by expert writer and guide on these matters Stephen Liddell in his post at https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2016/06/29/the-battle-of-the-somme-100-years-on/ )

Stranded in Salonika, I slept under the walls of that ancient town. I also visited some very beautiful byzantine churches and the iconic watch tower on the sea front.

(My remaining photographs of Thessaloniki )

I also discovered that there was a military cemetery (Mikra) just to the north of the city.

I walked to the cemetery with the intention of taking a few photographs for my grandfather in the hope that it might wake him up a little from the dementia he was fast slipping into. After all, old memories, however painful, are able to achieve some kind of therapy, I thought.

The cemetery was very large and contained the remains of First World War soldiers from Serbia, France and Italy. Always open, I spent a night there among the tombs of the fallen. It was an eerie but very poignant experience.

What were the British doing in Salonika anyway? The Greek Prime Minister Venizelos had invited three French divisions and the 10th Irish Division from Gallipoli in October 1915. These forces were joined by Commonwealth, Italian and Russian troops. (How ironic that Italian forces were then involved as Axis forces against Greece in the next war – yet another tragic episode so eloquently written about in that magical-historical-fiction book ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’.)

The Greeks were worried about an invasion from the Ottoman Empire, which was then an ally of Germany and Austro-Hungary. The Greeks, however, did not commit themselves to the allied side until August 1916 when revolution broke out in Salonika and the Greek national army joined in the slaughter of World War One on the allied side.

You’ll remember how the tinder that began the bloodiest war the world has ever known was the assassination by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, of Franz Ferdinand, the Austria-Hungarian archduke, in Sarajevo.

Serbia was invaded by the Hapsburgs with the assistance of Bulgaria and an allied force had to be sent out to prevent the total collapse of Serbia. (Again another irony – how the allies of Serbia changed in that bloody part of their history at the end of the last millennium…)

Salonika (Thessaloniki) became the base of the British Salonika Force under the command of General Bryan Mahon; succeed by Lt General George Milne, as part of the allied effort to defend Serbia. The Salonika base housed headquarters, barracks and eighteen hospitals for war casualties.

Actually, the real threat came from pro-German Bulgaria which still had a corridor of land linking it to the Aegean (lost after the Versailles peace treaty).

By the end of the war there were one thousand eight hundred Commonwealth soldiers buried in the cemetery in addition to French, Serbian, Russian and Italian combatants

These are the faded pictures I took of the cemetery all those years back.

Regrettably, my grandfather was too far gone to really react to those photographs. Perhaps, the pain of those years was anyway too harsh for him to remember much.

In any case, although in an often forgotten theatre of conflict in World War One, the British Salonika Force should never be forgotten. My grandfather survived the slaughter and without that survival I would not be here to write this unlike, so tragically those potential grandfathers who lost their lives, loves and hopes in such a useless and unnecessary but sadly so humanly endemic aberration that is war.

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(Dead soldier in the snow on the Salonika front, 1916)