Thanks to increased interest in the experiences of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) during the First World War, I recently attempted to redress the lack of focus on the nursing outpost of India. It would be a great shame to then omit the service of our girls in Salonika, who likewise faced extreme difficulties with remarkable courage and professionalism. Such hardships would eventually come to mark this theatre of war as one of the most difficult for the AANS.
Map of Salonika showing its strategic location.
Salonika (also known as Salonica, Thessaloniki or Thessalonica) in Greece was a sideshow to the Western Front, but was nevertheless an important campaign to regain control of the Balkans and to prevent enemy forces from gaining control of areas leading to the Suez Canal and the Middle East. It wasn’t until September 1918 that the stalemate was broken, when the Bulgarian army, which was an ally of Germany, was forced to capitulate. Salonika was a major base in this operation.
Following the invasion of Serbia by Austro German forces and the Bulgarian Army in October 1915, Anglo French forces were dispatched north from the Greek port of Salonika to assist the beleaguered Serbian Army. A number of British and Canadian hospitals were then established in Salonika in 1916. Although there were no Australian soldiers fighting on this front, Australian nurses were sent to relieve the British, French and Canadian nurses and to provide nursing care to British soldiers and Bulgarian Prisoners of War. As Australian nurses were present in a theatre of war where they could not nurse the Australian soldiers they so desired to, they were inherently disappointed. Nursing ‘our boys’ was a major motivation for overseas service.