zeitenlik, which means “olive grove” in turkish, lies near Lagada st. about 1.5 km north of Vardaris square. It is the biggest military necropolis in Greece since the end of WWI. Here are buried more than twenty thousand soldiers from the Entente forces, French, British, Italian, Russian, Serbian, but also some Bulgarian prisoners of war, who all lost their lives in the battles of the Macedonian front between 1914 and 1919.
In the cemetery’s entrance there is a Serbian cenotaph housing the bones of roughly 5.500 Sebian soldiers, making it a place of pilgrimage for the serbian people.
From the beginning it was the Allies that took responsibility for this area and it is truly remarkable the good condition the place is in and the great respect that has been shown for the dead of this war. It is really sad to think what would have happened if the greek state had the responsibility to look after this place.
My first visit here happened by chance a few years ago, when I was in the area and had time to spare. The moment you walk inside, it is like all sounds cease to exist, even though there is a very busy road right outside. You are overcome with a strange feeling, as you realize that all these endless crosses represent people, mostly young ones, that lost their lives here, away from all that they loved. And for what reason?
It is a place that reminds you that in death we are all equals. From the soldier to the high ranking officer they all have a cross or a plaque with their name, age and perhaps a small tribute from their family. The only tomb that stands out is in the british sector and it belongs not to a man, but to the only woman that is buried here.
That woman is Katherine Harley, a British nurse with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH), who served in France before coming to Greece to help the Macedonian front. In late 1915 she helped establish a hospital in a disused tobacco warehouse in the town of Gevgelia and later she established a motorized ambulance unit – The Transport Column. The role of the unit was to operate near the front line to collect Serbian casualties and bring them to the SWH hospitals for treatment. In late 1916 she had to end the unit’s function because of some of the drivers reckless behaviour. Together with her daughters she went to the recently liberated town of Monastir (today Bitola), where she acted independently, providing assistance to the inhabitants of the town. The population in Bitola then suffered from diseases, illnesses and the ravages of war and was in especially bad condition. Katherine Harley rented a house within the town, which was on the actual front line, with the Bulgarian and German army located on the surrounding mountains from where Monastir (Bitola) was constantly bombarded.
On 7th March 1917 Katherine Harley was with her daughter, when the shell hit in the street, shattering the window glass, which pierced her head.
Even though she was a civilian at the time of her death, her body was moved to Zeitenlik with great honors and the presence of Prince George of Serbia and General Milne, the commander of the British forces. On her grave it is written: “The generous English lady and great benefactress of the Serbian people, Madame Harley a great lady. On your tomb instead of flowers the gratitude of the Serbs shall blossom there for your wonderful acts. Your name shall be known from generation to generation.”
On the day of the photoshoot, when I arrived at the british sector I met two workers that were taking care of the place. One of them asked me: “Serbian? English?” I said: “Greek”. He was surprised. “Usually only the Serbs come here.”