“Among the first British troops to land were three Canadian Hospitals, No. 4 and No. 5 General, and No. 1 Stationary; the first from the University of Toronto, the second from Vancouver, and the third from Montreal and Quebec. These three units were privileged to render continuous service to the British forces in Macedonia for the first two years of the expedition. They cared for thousands of wounded and sick, and were recalled to England only after their personnel had been thinned out by malaria and dysentery. It was necessary to reorganize for service to the Canadian Corps on the Western Front”. In these words a medical student from the University of Toronto describes his experience in Salonika as a member of the 4th Canadian General Hospital. It was in February 1915 that the University offered to provide a general hospital with staff from its members – including undergraduates – and covering large part of the cost of its equipment. After a short period in England, the hospital moved in October to Salonika, west of the city first and from 25 May 1916 to Kalamaria, east of Salonika.
Canadian General Hospitals: Sunbathing of patients in the Kalamaria site, March 1917, photo by Ariel Verges (IWM Q 32802)
According to the 1921 Roll of Honor of the University of Toronto, the new site “was healthier and more suitable, and the new quarters were constructed entirely of substantial wooden huts. On the highest part of the ground were the quarters for the officers, nurses and men. The administrative huts formed a line through the centre of the hospital proper. Branching off from this line to the north and south were the ward huts, those for surgical cases to the south, and those for medical cases to the north. The huts were mostly of uniform size, 140 feet long by 18 wide, with walls 9 feet high. The roofs were tiled, with an air space between them and the wooden ceilings. Next to No. 4 was No. 5 Canadian General Hospital from British Columbia”.
Nos 4 and 5 Canadian hospitals were next to the Aeronautical Park of Kalamaria. The aerial photo of that period shows in A the gardens of the Allatini Villa, in B the French Aviation Park, in D the Chateau des Aviateurs (Denain’s residence), in C the Greek Cavalry Baracks (the Kodras Barracks) and in E the 4 and 5 Canadian Hospitals. The next photo shows the same area as it is today.
The hospital site
Professor J.J. MacKenzie, serving with the grade of captain and head of the hospital laboratory, used to send frequent letters to his wife. In his letter of June 4, 1916 he wrote: “Here all is quiet in spite of the fact that the Allies seized the Customs, Post, Telegraph and other public buildings yesterday. The Greek Cavalry Barracks about half a mile from us seemed very much upset and excited yesterday, but today is very quiet and subdued”… and on June 11: “This is the hottest day we have had…After dinner McGillivray and I walked down to the sea and sat there for an hour enjoying the breeze. We are fortunate having the sea so close”. And two days later (13 June 1916): “Today has been quite as hot, but there was a breeze off the Gulf which made the heat bearable… The American Consul dined with us tonight and he tells me this weather is unusually hot but that in July it may be hotter! Our great advantage is that we are on the point between the two arms of the bay, so that we almost always get a breeze off the water”.
Professor MacKenzie with a group of officers serving in the No 4 hospital west of the city. Photo from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto.
The Roll of Honor of the University of Toronto reveals that the daily average number of patients was about 1,300. The majority of cases were men suffering from malaria and dysentery.
The tennis court of the hospital
Drinking tea in the afternoon
The No 5 Canadian General Hospital originated in British Columbia. Part of the medical staff left Victoria very early, on August 21, 1915, for England. After England they moved to Lemnos island (for the Dardanelles operations) and finally to Salonika in December 1915. Times were not easy upon their arrival due to harsh winter conditions and to many casualties from the operations in the Vardar valley with frozen feet, reumatism and influenza. Enemy aviation paid them some visits too: “We had another air raid. This time the bombs were dropping all about us. Everyone was more or less terrified and indeed one can not soon forget the horrible whizzing noise of those bombs…. After this raid fatigue parties were sent to dig dug-outs for the sisters which were to be bomb proof” writes sister nurse Laura Gamble in her diary on January 7.
Bringing casualties to No 5
The summer of 1916 was difficult. At that period “we have been very busy in hospital, 1300 pts [patients]. Enteritis, dysentery, malaria. We had one death in officers ward from dysentery” writes Sister Nurse Laura Gamble in her diary on July 22.
Patients and staff of No 5 Canadian hospital in a wooden hut in Kalamaria
The Canadian hospitals were sent to Europe following an urgent request from the British Army Medical Services. However, the fact that three Canadian hospitals were sent to the Macedonian Front, an area with no Canadian troops, sparked a controversy in Canada. Following this debate the decision was taken to transfer the hospitals to the Western Front where Canadian troops were present. The three Canadian hospitals of the Macedonian Front left Salonika in the Summer of 1917. In the evacuated Kalamaria site four British hospitals were installed : the 43 and 52 General Hospitals planned for the reception of surgical cases and the 29 and 50 General Hospitals mostly for Greek sick and wounded to supplement the Greek hospitals. The 52 hospital was then known for the treatment of malaria and had an annex of malaria wards.
After the departure of the 4 and 5 Canadian hospitals in Summer 1917, the Kalamaria hospital site hosted the 29, 50, 43 and 52 British hospitals.
The Sisters’ huts of 43 and 50 (next photo) General Hospitals
Four British hospitals took the place of the 4th and 5th Canadian hospitals in the summer of 1917. Photo of the 50th BGH from the collection of Mr A. Wright (wrongly indicated as 52nd) probably taken from the same point as the very first photo above. The hospital seems empty indicating that the war was over and medical staff were about to leave Salonika. Far in the horizon are visible the two peaks of the Hortiatis mountain.