The difference between fair terms & absolute surrender

The son of the vicar of Radley, Captain Austin Longland was serving in Salonika with the Wiltshire Regiment, where he struggled with the heat, but hoped the Germans were about to give in.

Thursday July 6th [1916]

Temperature in here continues at 95-105 degrees I’m told by the doctor. Also I’ve just had my 2nd dose of typhoid & perityphoid inoculations & have a day off duty in consequence. Twice clouds have gathered, & once we had a violent storm of thunder & lightning but never a drop of rain. Needless to say all beauty’s gone. The sun glares down, trying the eyes, and our view of the town is blurred by a continuous cloud of fine grey dust. I have told you that from the sea up to the hills the ground rises steadily till the last steep ascent, & we’re therefore, tho’ considerably below the level of the actual hills, some height above the town which is about 5 miles away. We are to the left of the road this time, but we can see the sites of our 2 early camps and get a rather different view of the town & the citadel. You remember the shock I had on returning our bivouacs last Sunday fortnight & finding them gone and all my kit packed. My first idea then was that we were going forward – first stop Nish or Sofia, but when it was known that we were to march back over the hills no one knew what to expect.

The men were more cheerful than I’ve seen them in this country – all firmly persuaded that they were going back to France – an opinion which I hadn’t the heart to discourage, but did not hold myself.
Since then nothing has happened. From about 6 to 6.45 each day in the morning the battalion does its old physical drill, & parade which the officers, except Waylen who takes it, do not attend, going out instead to study tactics with the NCOs, each company by itself. This lasts 6 till 9. Three days a week we go a route march from 5-8 a.m. In the evening we parade from 5.45 till 6.15. doing physical exercises gain, officers & all – & that is the day. The NCOs class was ordered by the Brigade & is most useful – tho’ of course it’s what we ought to have done at Marlboro’. So from 9 till 5.45 every day & from 6.30 onwards we have nothing to do except sit in our hut.

Wood as usual is scarce, so there’s not chance to make a chair. At present I am seated on 2 sand-bags, which raises one off the ground a bit. We have a hut for a common room, but tho’ it has forms and a table, it’s very hot & full of flies. Here the flies grew so unbearable that I ordered yards of muslin from the town & with its aid we ae at last at peace. We feed in a hut off a sand bag table & seated on sand bag seats. I’ve just been busy trying to make that fly-proof – harder but even more necessary. If you sit still for a moment you can always count over 50 on the plate in front of you.

We do well in the food line, for a limber goes daily to the town & we can even get ice – a great luxury, but cheap at any price.
Today a strong wind is blowing, but it’s a hot wind. As to the photos, I’ve had more evil adventures with the films & should doubt my competence were it not that everyone here who has used them gives them a bad character. (The ‘autographic’.)

I have had a day in the town since I last wrote, & a very good day too. We set out at 7.30. the road was inches deep in dust when we reached it, but we soon got a lorry. When we reached the outskirts of the town, we descended from our bus & followed the old wall up to the citadel, and for the first time we went on beyond about a ¼ mile & looked back over a fine panorama. Then as it was growing very hot, we walked back into the circle of the walls, found a shady patch under the lie of one of the towers, & there rested for an hour or so. The shade was deep & a sea breeze blowing, so we passed 2 of the hot hours very comfortably.

Then I applied to the Greek officers for leave to enter the citadel itself – which he gave me. A shoddy individual met us within – unshaven, & with eyes too small for their sockets, & he conducted us round the place. It is used as a prison, & rows of cells have been built into the circle of the walls. Nothing v. interesting to see – the citadel is as plain as possible – simply a circular wall with 7 windowless towers round it & the courtyard full of wooden buildings. The prisoners looked far more respectable than the average wayfarers outside, & pressed us to buy strange bead ornaments. [He sent one to Sybil.] But as the janitor took the money for them, I fear they may not have seen much of it. However they all looked healthy & happy. I took some photos, but the whole of the reel came to grief.

We lunched near the White Tower. Here is a garden surrounding a restaurant & theatre, running down to the sea. It is planted with plenty of small trees, & they give you a v. good lunch. Such a treat to eat at a table with crockery & a table cloth – no flies, & the sea lapping the esplanade. We lingered there till 3, not caring to move about in the sun, & then I went & took a few more photographs. Tea at the end of Venizelos St. This is the main modern thoroughfare – tho’ that word’s ill chosen for the end near the sea is closed to wheeled traffic & partially filled with small tables, where one has tea. The quay is to the left & all along the front are moored big Greek fishing boats which bring various wares from the islands besides their fish. In this part one sees the gaudy officers & the latest European fashions.

After tea I went out by train to the far side of the new town & there visited Young in the Canadian Hospital. He had recovered & entertained me for a time, & then I went back to the White Tower gardens. In the evening a band plays there and all the elite of the place collect. A most amusing scene, which one can watch over one’s dinner.

The Greek officers are attired in white, as are our own naval men. Officers of all ranks and nationalities formed a large part of the crowd. But there were many Greek civilians there with their ladies – smart, but not “the quality”, who have left the place. There followed a rather hot five mile walk back to camp, threatened by the thunderstorm that never came, and bed at about 10.30. all this happened a week ago – now it’s Sunday again& there’s little more to record, except – well-a-day – we’re threatened with another battalion here & expensive discomfort.

The news is good, isn’t it? I have got a bet on with Stoodley on Sept 30th as the date for the last shot, but I’m not very sanguine about it. I’m sure the Germans will make some offer by September, for I’m sure they’ll be pretty nearly done by then – and I’m afraid people may not see – when a fair offer comes – that only a comparatively slight continuance of the war will make all the difference between fair terms & absolute surrender. I’m quite certain that we have now only to wait, their ruin being inevitable. But in spite of the above I do still think it possible that this year will see their unconditional surrender.

It’s interesting that the present offensive (western) should be just at the spot I’ve seen. Last week we had a pierrot show got up by the RAMC, & extremely good. With the exception of that & recreational sing-songs & theatricals got up by battalions, there’s no amusement for the men at all. No villages to go to – no shops – no French girls – little ground or suitable weather for sports – only empty stretches of burnt grass. Their only occupation is training, and that we’ve all been doing daily for nearly 2 years.
Seven new officers have joined us – nothing striking about them except that most of them have been on Gallipoli. One has been abroad 14 months – but they’re being treated just as I was when I first joined!

Did I ask for some more Eno? It’s a good drink in this climate!

ACL

Letter from Austin C Longland of Radley to his wife Sybil; written from Salonika [now Thessaloniki]

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