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War and Conflict

Mary Matthews took a furlough to the United States in 1913. When she returned, she barely made it back to Monastir before travel opportunities seized up. "It was necessary to stay two years [in the United States]," Matthews wrote, "and I returned in September 1915, just in time to get into Monastir before the World War reached Serbia. By November, the way from Salonica was closed, and the Armies of the Central Powers, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria had covvered all of Serbia and occupied Monastir after severe battles on the plains for five weeks." Overseas travel had also been a struggle, due to the increasing threat of war boats. 

By 1916 Delpha Davis and Rada Pavlova -- who had been Mary's teaching assistants over many years -- departed Monastir for New York. This left Mary virtually alone in the Monastir Mission. She attended to many different women and children during the war years with courage and determination. 

Mary and her remaining companions fared relatively well, apart from some close calls (an explosion while all the students were occupied elsewhere, an unexploded shell in the front yard, which remained lodged in a tree for a long time...). However, they were not without their own tragedies. 

Mary wrote at this time, "Suddenly, without any warning, [a shell] fell into the street near the house. The windows of the large room where we were upstairs were shattered. I thought we three were safe and that it was a wonderful deliverance. I looked at Mrs. Harley..and she seemed frightened and unable to speak. I looked again and saw blood on her forehead. A bit of shell or of glass had entered her head quite deeply. [The French Hospital] was kind and tried to operate at once, but Mrs. Harley died at that time, about half an hour after she was struck."

Monastir changed political hands twice over the course of World War I. The first event was the Bulgarian invasion of Monastir in November 1915. Despite the invasion factor, Mary described the situation as "safe to go about the city," with order being maintained. A year later, however, the Serbian army (aided by British and French forces) took Monastir back from its Bulgarian conquerors. The Bulgarian/German/Austrian troops were forced to retreat to the mountains, from which they shelled Monastir for 22 months. These shells occasionally hit the American missionary property. 

Whether or not Monastir was under Bulgarian control or Serbian control often caused varying struggles for the American School. German or French soldiers (depending on who held the city at the time) would sometimes attempt to requisition missionary buildings for their own purposes, such as supplying their horses or boarding troops and staff. Mary also had to be careful with how she presented the school -- at one point, she moved an American flag from its flying post and put it in the front window, so that it could not be seen in the air by bombers.