Digging into a box with documents and photos I found in pieces a travel document belonging to my maternal grandfather, Spyridon Mavrogenes. I assembled it in one piece and present it as an object that tells a story.
Spyridon Mavrogenes was born in 1878. At the age of 37, in the year 1915, he travelled to Russia. I presume the trip had to do with his profession, which was to export olive oil and other agricultural products like Corinthian raisin (stafida) from the Peloponese to various countries.
Europe and the Balkans in 1915
In 1915 Europe and the Balkans were in turmoil. I have picked some morcels from the press of the period.
In a dispatch from Petrograd, the capital of tsarist Russia, we read that “Constantinople must be taken” by the Russians. I remind the reder that Russia had declared war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914.
At the same time, the Austrians are attacking Turnu -Severin, a major port city on the Danube, with strategic importance for Vienna.
Two days before my grandfather got his travel document from the prefecture of Thessaloniki, on 26th April 1915 in London, Italy had signed the Treaty of London, becoming an ally of the Triple Entent and betraying the Triple Alliance where it belonged. As a result of the treaty, Italy took over control of the Dodecanese islands.
In September 1915, the Bulgarians threw in their lot with Germany and Austria-Hungary by concluding an alliance. On October 6, the great Austro-German offensive began against Serbia and Bulgaria declared war on Belgrade eight days later. Bulgarian troops spilled over Serbia’s eastern border, and an Anglo-French landing at Salonika in Greece failed to blunt the Bulgarian advance. By December 1915, the Serbian Army had collapsed and was in full flight. The Bulgarians established a defensive line to contain the Allied forces in northern Greece.
In October 1915 Romania decided to join the side of England, France and Russia, on condition that the Allies send 400,000 troops to the Balkans.
My grandfather’s trip appears ot have taken place between May and July 2015. He narrowly escaped the fireworks!
The travel document
The travel document was issued by the Prefect of Thessaloniki on the 28th April 1915. What you see above is the front side of the document.
ΤΟΥ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΟΥ ΤΗΣ ΕΛΛΑΔΟΣ
Προσκαλουμεν παντας τους αξιωματικους του Βασιλειου της Ελλαδος, πολιτικους τε και στρατιωτικους και παρακαλουμεν τους των φιλων Δυναμεων να αφησωσιν ελευθεραν την διοδον εις τον Κον Σπυριδωνα Γ. Μαυρογενη απερχομενον εις Ρωσσιαν δια … χωρις να εμποδισθη ή ενοχληθη παρ’ ουδενος, να χορηγηθη μαλιστα, εν αναγκη, προς αυτον πασα ευκολια και υπερασπισις.
Επι τουτω εξεδοθη το παρον υπογεγραμμενον παρ’ ημων.
Εν Θεσσαλονικη τη 28 Απριλιου 1915
Ο ΝΟΜΑΡΧΗΣ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ
DU GOUVERNEMENT DE GRECE
DU ROYAUME DE GRECE
Requerons tous les officiers,civil et militaires, du Royaume de Grece, et prions ceux de pays amis de laisser passer librement M Spyridon G Mavrogenis se rendant au Russie pour … sans qu’ il soit empeche ni moleste par personne, et de lui preter aide et protection, en cas de besoin.
A cet effet nous avons delivre le present, signe par nous.
Fait a Salonique le 28 April 1915
LE PREFET DE SALONIQUE
The afficionados of this sort of thing will note the civil duty stamp of 5 drachmas on the top left of the document.
Its back is full of stamps and approvals, and also has the photo of the traveller.
I will try to use the document to reconstruct part of the trip.
The document by itself as issued by the Prefect of Thessaloniki was not enough. There had to be approvals by the other countries. As you see above, the Conculate of the Kingdom of Romania approved the trip on the 29th April 1915. It says also that a tax of five Lei has been applied and paid.
Likewise, there had to be an approval by the Serbian Consulate in Thessaloniki.
The trip begins on the 30th April 1915, as is shown on the stamp dated accordingly, by the “Passport Office of Railroad…”
From a stamp on the back side, I gather that he made his way through Serbia by railroad to the Danube port town of Prahovo. Today Prahovo is a small town of 1600 people.
The stamp on the document has a date of July 1915, apparently on the traveller’s way back to Greece.
Did the traveller follow the same route on his way to Russia, and then back? We will never know.
From there, 31 kilometers to the North is the town of (Drobeta) Turnu Severin, where he entered Romanian territory. There is a stamp from the police of the port in “T-Severin” to prove it.
Most likely he took a river boat to get there, although there is no way of knowing.
Turnu-Severin is a city built by the river Danube and at the beginning of the twentieth century was a significant transport hub, for moving goods to and from Central Europe to the East and the South.
“As a major port on the Danube, the freedom of trade facilitated the entry of goods by boat from Vienna and the exchange of material necessary for economic development. Severin experienced a steady economic, urban and social growth until 1972, when it received the name of Drobeta-Turnu Severin.” (Source: Wikipedia)
The photo above, which I found in Valentin Mandache’s informative and specialized blog “Historic Houses of Romania“, provides testimony to the wealth an the might of the town back then.
Given its importance as a commerical traffic port, Turnu – Severin may not have been only a stop over. It is likely that my grandfather was using it as a port for shipping goods to Vienna, where he was also doing business.
From Turnu-Severin, the travelled went to Bucharest, where he got an approval to stay in Romania as the stamp dated 15 June shows.
I cannot deduce how long he stayed in Romania and when and how he travelled on to Russia and back.
A little more than a month after he got the stamp from the Greek Consulate in Bucharest, he appears in the Serbian Consulate in Bucharest and receives a stamp so that he can enter Serbia. The date of the stamp is 19 July 1915.
The next day, 20 July 1915 my grandfather receives a stamp from the Greek Consulte in Bucharest, allowing him to travel to Greece.
Two days later, on the 22 July 1915, he exits Romania at the port of Turnu-Severin.
He arrived in Prahovo on the same day, 22 July 1915.
Four days later, and almost three months after he left Thessaloniki, on 26 July 1915, he exits Serbia, entering Greece.
There is no information regarding the date of his arrival in Thessaloniki.
As I cannot read Cyrillic, I cannot deduce anything about the traveller’s Russian itinerary and the relevant stamps.