28th Division – The Prequel!

Towards the end of October 1915, units of the 28th Division entrained for Marseille, sailed to Egypt and then, after a period of training and reorganisation, to Salonika. Barely a month before, the Division had been embroiled in a bloody and confusing battle to hold the German Hohenzollen Redoubt at Loos; a battle they had subsequently lost.

This defeat – considered ‘bad form’ for a British Regular Army Division – had put them under a cloud with the High Command and possibly explains why they were content to lose an experienced, if battered, Regular Division – and their sister Division, the 27th – from the BEF and despatch them to Salonika.

The 28th Division is much neglected. There is neither a divisional history nor a divisional memorial and it was only on the Western Front in 1915 – a year which is poorly represented in the First World War historiography (apart from the Gallipoli adventure!) – and in Salonika, and we know how much that theatre is ignored! Furthermore, it doesn’t fit into the common narrative of the war: it was a Regular division yet not part of the esteemed ‘Old Contemptibles’ and, of course, the Regular Army is widely accepted to have been destroyed at First Ypres! After that, interest turns to the New Armies at the Somme.

I am pleased to say, though, that Dr Spencer Jones has at last challenged this neglect and given the 28th ‘their due’, whilst acknowledging their shortcomings, and identified the failed battle for the Hohenzollen Redoubt – a battle they couldn’t win – as the real end of the Regular Army in the First World War. I recommend his lecture from the WFA online series, which is now available on YouTube.

Captain Cyril Falls, who compiled the Official History volumes on the Macedonian campaign, makes no mention of the controversy over the 28th Division’s performance at Loos, but says this:

The 27th and 28th were Regular divisions. Both had been heavily engaged at “Second Ypres”, in which the 28th was almost destroyed; and the 28th had just taken part in the Battle of Loos. These two divisions were still, however, far above the average in quality; and in the force as a whole the general standard of discipline, training, and military experience was higher than that of the divisions successively landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Bands of the British 28th Division playing at a divisional review attended by General Maurice Sarrail and Lieutenant General Sir Bryan Mahon near Salonika, April 1916. Bands of the British 28th Division playing at a divisional review attended by General Maurice Sarrail and Lieutenant General Sir Bryan Mahon near Salonika, April 1916. THE SALONIKA CAMPAIGN 1915-1918 [click on image to see full size] © IWM (Q 31889)

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Author: Robin B

Robin's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915 to 1917, mainly in the Struma valley. Robin joined the SCS in 2003 and served on the committee for 18 years as journal and web editor. Opinions expressed in these posts are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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