What did Holst do in Salonica? What were the soldiers like? What had they been through? How did this affect Holst? I am hoping to find out some of these answers in my trip to Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) where the action took place and where Holst travelled to teach music. Yesterday on my first day in Greece we visited the Dorian Memorial, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission war memorial to the British Salonica Force. There are thousands of names on the memorial, including many from Gloucestershire.
Today, on Holst’s birthday we went walking in FYROM, after crossing the border early yesterday evening. In the hills we found caves where the troops sheltered during bombardment. There is other evidence of the war in the hills: barbed wire reused in people’s gardens, shrapnel and fascinatingly Bulgarian bullets amongst the scree. Holst travelled to this area from Salonica to teach and was very reflective about the fighting that had taken place here in his letters home.
I am beginning to get my bearings here and to understand the conflict in more detail. I am starting to see this as a significant part of Holst’s story and one which has been curiously overlooked so far. A year of his life was spent out here and in Constantinople – how did this impact on him as a person as well as a composer?