I WAS the officer in charge of fresh (i.e. frozen) meat, serving both the British and the French armies. My customers took about a hundred tons a day, and as I had to account for every hind of beef or carcass of mutton that left our cold-storage dépôt, the job had its responsibilities. One day in March an orderly presented me with an official message. ‘Report at once to the Brigadier-General at Army Headquarters,’ it said. So on went my best uniform and over the side went I. I have omitted to mention that my cold-storage dépôt was the S.S. Pecuare, wellknown in the banana trade and duly fitted with a freezing apparatus covering four roomy hatches.
Ashore i found the brigadier.
‘You understand newspaper work,’ he began: ‘I want you to edit the Balkan News.’
I saluted — and here I am, quite the most conspicuous editor in Salonica.
Before we go any further, I had better explain the sheet I was ordered to take over. In November, 1915, when the British first landed, a local firm of printers and newspaper owners decided to speculate in a daily paper for ‘Tommy,’ There was no opposition; the whole of the Salonica Expeditionary Force would be at their mercy. They hired the one English-speaking person available, purchased a copious supply of paste, subscribed to half-a-dozen British newspapers and butted in. For news they went to Army Headquarters and were given the daily sheet that comes by wireless; also they had the use of the news-service of two local papers. The Balkan News as we first knew it was therefore a thing of scissors and paste, varied by a sprinkling of indifferently edited or translated telegrams. To add to the comedy, the person in charge was a hot pro-German, possibly an agent, though hardly in a position to do much harm. Our General Staff had decided to put an end to this anomalous situation, and with the full concurrence of the proprietors —hot Ententistes — had cast about for an officer familiar with newspaper work. Apparently I was the most conspicuous of such fauna.
I took over the News a month ago, and since that date the scissors and paste have vanished, our circulation is bounded only by the capacity of the machine, and I have to turn away the advertisers. In brief, I am holding what can only be described as an ideal editorship.
The first ideal feature of my present ‘divarshon’ is that none of us works for money. I edit for fun, my assistanteditor (another officer) does likewise, and so does Rifleman Gulliver, who sub-edits. Each of us receives our outof-pocket expenses, and there it ends. We are excused all other duties. Our contributors are in the same happy plight, excepting the duties. Our contributors, however, are our readers. All the editor has to do is to wade through about thirty manuscripts every morning, pick out the best ones, and send them to the printer. I have a threepage sheet to fill, a bare six or seven thousand words, and a third of this space is devoted to news. This last item comes to Army Headquarters by wireless from the fleet and gives us little trouble.
Another ideal feature is the absence of competition, so while I cater for everybody I need pander to no one. The ordinary editor often refuses a poem or an essay because it is ‘above the heads’ of his readers. I have no such concern. A youthful Keats, Chatterton, or Meredith would find instant appreciation in the Balkan News. Probably I would choke off a Chesterton or an Oscar Wilde as too given to fireworks, and the yellow journalist with a sensational and overloaded story would promptly get shown the door. I edit for the average healthy individual; and for an editor so constituted Thomas Atkins and his officers are the ideal contributors. And only once have I attempted a scoop. It happened this way.
There was an air-raid at 5.30 one morning. I stood on the roof of my hotel and watched it till all the glass went and my perch shook like a jelly. So the rest of the show had to be observed from the quay. An air-raid is really rather exciting if one has plenty of company, if one is wide awake and in good physical condition, and if one has not the bad luck to get hit. The thing lasted a good half-hour and then, still in pajamas and overcoat, I went to the office and stopped the press. We were the only morning paper in Salonica that had an account of the raid. Otherwise I have not yielded to ‘the commercial spirit of the age,’ and I’m afraid that this sole occasion was regarded rather more as sporting than as commercial.