Remembering William James Pearce : 1916

My thanks go to Mark Pearce who has very kindly shared extracts from his great-grandfather’s diary about his time in Salonika and allowed me to put them here. Extracts from 1917, 1918 and 1919 will follow shortly.

Portrait of Corporal William James Pearce, Devonshire Regiment, 1910.As with so many First World War soldiers, there doesn’t seem to be much left in the official records about William Pearce. His medal index card at the National Archives shows that he served as a private with the Army Service Corps, which isn’t much to go on, but the ‘M’ bit in his service number tells us that he served in an ASC Mechanical Transport unit (army service numbers are something of a dark art, but the invaluable ‘Long, Long Trail’ website gives some handy hints). This isn’t altogether surprising as it is known that before the war he worked in a garage repairing vehicles and inside the cover of his diary is written: MT ASC. Unfortunately neither the official record nor the diary give any indication of which specific MT unit he served with, which would allow us to read the unit’s official war diary at Kew (a list of the ASC units of the BSF can be found here).

Intriguingly, this was not William’s first experience of the army as Mark has a splendid portrait of him (above) as a soldier in the Devonshire Regiment, possibly in one of the Territorial Battalions, taken in Torquay in 1910. Whether he had already left the Territorials before the outbreak of war or he, or the army, decided he would be better employed as a motor mechanic is unknown.

23 Oct 1916

Left Avonmouth 1000hrs, arrived Southampton 2pm, left 7pm on Princess Victoria arrived Havre 2:30am Tues morning 24th, marched to rest camp about 4 miles on hill.

25 Oct 1916

Left camp 3pm marched through town to station, left 7pm travelled at night, arrived just outside Paris by daybreak, sat on siding 4 hours then followed river for about 50 miles then open country, stopped for (……) Travelled all night.

27 Oct 1916

Arrived Lyons 3am went through mountains. Arrived Orange 1pm had dinner, washed and shaved in tubs on platform, stayed 2 hours, went on through miles of vineyards and olive trees followed Rhone for miles, very fine country, flat. Arrived Marseilles 8pm, went straight to docks boarded Megantic 11pm, went to bunks 2nd class, good cabin, started during night.

28 Oct 1916

Fine sea, calm, boat very fast, escort T.B No 69.

29 Oct 1916

7am, N Coast of Africa in sight, passed Sicily on Port Side saw many big ships, clock put on 50 min.

30 Oct 1916

Arrived St Pauls Bay Malta 10am, fine place, weather fine, lots of small boats came around. Left 5pm, began to get rough, ship rolled, had got sick, rough night.

A hand tinted photo of St Paul's Bay, Malta. From Robin Braysher's collection.
St Paul’s Bay, Malta. From Robin Braysher’s collection.

31 Oct 1916

Passed H J Brittinac White Star fine ship going to Malta. No land in sight.

1 Nov 1916

Sea very rough, lots of islands all round, change escort.

2 Nov 1916

Arrive Salonika early morning, long channel to harbour, lots of English and French warships, several H Ships. Very busy, fine view of shore, some fine buildings, weather fine, land 3pm drive to camp through town, very dirty in parts.

Take a stroll through the street of Salonika, courtesy of British Pathé

3 Nov 1916

In camp called Summer Hill about 3 miles from town, very large camps all round, sleep in cars.

4 Nov 1916

Pitched tents, settled in camp, weather fine, quite hot.

British troops in camp - probably Lembet Road in 1916. From a French postcard in Robin Braysher's collection.
British troops in camp – probably Lembet Road in 1916. From a French postcard in Robin Braysher’s collection.

5 Nov 1916

Fine weather.

21 to 24 Dec 1916

Half rations, enemy planes over, weather fair, very busy in shop.

25 Dec 1916 Christmas Day

Fine day, good dinner, air fight, sports, concert.

26 Dec 1916

Fine day, rum.

27 to 31 Dec 1916

Weather fair, very cold wins, fine sunrises, planes over, plenty of work.

1917 follows here …

Author: Andy Hutt

Andy's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Arthur, who served in Salonika as a sapper with the Royal Engineers from 1916-1918. Opinions expressed in these posts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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