Today was a public holiday in Belgium, so I took another step in my efforts to familiarise myself with the Macedonia campaign of the first world war. This is much more of a grass-roots story compared to Alan Palmer’s geopolitical survey, livened up by direct accounts from the soldiers themselves, either from contemporary letters or from memoirs. It also concentrates exclusively on the British, with one benefit being an entire chapter on the Struma Valley battles of 1916 which Palmer almost ignores. The maps are by far the clearest of any of the books I’ve consulted so far (though I do wish I had access to the colour maps which graced Cyril Falls’ first edition).
The true discovery of this book for me was the poetry of Owen Rutter, who wrote an epic called “Tiadatha” (“Tired Arthur”) in the style of Wadsworth’s Hiawatha, itself of course based on the Kalevala, which really caught my eye (not just because of my own recent efforts). There are some particularly moving passages which I will save for a later occasion, but for now his description of the city at the centre of the campaign will do:
Tiadatha thought of Kipling,
Wondered if he’s ever been there
Thought: “At least in Rue Egnatia
East and West are met together.”
There were trams and Turkish beggars,
Mosques and minarets and churches,
Turkish baths and dirty cafés,
Picture palaces and kan-kans:
Daimler cars and Leyland lorries
Barging into buffalo wagons,
French and English private soldiers
Jostling seedy Eastern brigands.
Rutter went on to make a name for himself as a travel writer, and was a district administrator in Borneo; his novel “Lucky Star” was filmed as “Once In A Blue Moon” in 1935, and IMDB rates this as having been sf; who knows?