Christmas 1916 : Aladdin in Macedonia

A pantomime in two acts, given by members of the 85th Field Ambulance to the 28th Division, Christmas 1916 in the Struma Valley.

Aladdin In Macedonia

  • Act I – A well in Macedonia.
  • Act II – Outside Widow Twankey’s house in Bali Bluma.

Book by Frank Kerchington and lyrics by Norman M. Hadfield.

Background

Shortly after the run of “Dick Whittington” was concluded the Division [28th] moved up country to the Struma valley by gradual stages, – gradual because it was necessary for the troops to make their own roads across the mountains as they went. Here the Bulgar was first met with as an active enemy, and here also was encountered another enemy, smaller in size, equally dangerous and far larger numbers; to wit, the malaria-carrying mosquito. England seemed far away in this lonely valley.  Even Salonika, over 50 miles distant, and only to be reached by a long and uncomfortable journey over rough roads, seemed almost as inaccessible. The native inhabitants had long since departed with their creaking ox-wagons laden with their household goods, leaving only a few stray dogs and emaciated chickens as a rear-guard. The mountains behind and the mountains in front shut one in as in a prison. Away in France tremendous events were happening, but here things seemed to be at a standstill. The arrival of a fresh stock of tinned provisions for the canteen was an event of first importance. Life grew very monotonous. It was hard not to feel like men in exile. Clearly another pantomime was necessary to keep up the spirits of men and officers alike, and arrangements were put in hand for the production of “Aladdin”.

On this occasion the work was commenced much sooner, and although the Division was further away than ever from civilization, it was found possible to improve in many ways on the production of “Dick Whittington”. A large barn in the deserted village of Kopriva was converted by the engineers into the Kopriva Palace Theatre, with seating accommodation for about 800, and complete with dressing rooms and refreshment bars. The costumes, though still for the most part home made, were more carefully planned, and more elaborate than on the previous occasion. A full orchestra replaced the piano, violin and tin-whistle combination, and there was more original music. “Aladdin” like its predecessor, had a most successful run. In fact it ran longer than the Drury Lane pantomime.


This is from the introduction to Music in Macedonia by Frank Kerchington (who became a Second Lieutenant in the RFA). The book was published after the war by Charles H. B. Jaques, who had also served with 85th Field Ambulance and wrote the music for the shows. It contains a synopsis of each of the pantomimes – the 1917 production was ‘Bluebeard’ – and the words and music of the original songs. I am grateful to Martin Wills who kindly provided a photocopy of the book.

SCS Concert Party, anyone?

Author: SCS Web Editor

Robin Braysher joined the SCS in 2003 and soon after became editor of the Society's journal, 'The New Mosquito', a role he held until 2008. He then became the Society's web editor, a role he seems unable to shake off. His interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915-1917, mainly in the Struma valley.