My thanks go to Edward’s grandson, David , not just for contacting me about Edward’s story and sending some splendid photos to share here, but also for his great patience. I’m ashamed to say that he first got in touch in early 2018 and only now have I published this! I know there are others out there who have submitted material to me so, I hope that this will reassure you – I may be slow but I will get there in the end!
It is a pleasure to be able to share images of some interesting things relating to Edward’s time in Salonika, but this is also a good opportunity to address some of the pitfalls of researching a soldier who served in Salonika (see below for further reading).
In an ideal world you would simply access the service record of your relative to see where and with which unit(s) they served and what they got up to. Of course, as is well known, many of these records were destroyed in an air raid in 1940 so, instead, many have to make do with official unit war diaries to find out locations and broad activities. To do this, though, you need to know which specific unit (infantry battalion, yeomanry regiment, artillery brigade, transport or field company etc.) your relative served with. This can be a stumbling block for many as, even if you know that your grandfather served in the Army Service Corps, identifying the specific unit can be tricky if not impossible.
With no medals, cap badge, pay book etc. in the family’s possession, David has no idea of the regiment or corps that Edward served with. A search in The National Archives Medal Index Cards (MICs) reveals four men with the same name and, narrowing it down to those in regiments/corps which were with the BSF, gives three possibilities: Northumberland Fusiliers, Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) and the Army Service Corps (ASC). The Northumberland Fusiliers was Edward’s local regiment so that must be a strong contender, although I know of a Londoner who ended up in the Connaught Rangers so a local regiment doesn’t always follow. A man’s trade can give a clue, for example, chauffeurs would be welcome in ASC mechanical transport companies. Edward was a plumber, so a good candidate for the Royal Engineers, but that doesn’t help us. Don’t assume the army was logical!
In one respect, David has an advantage in that he has proof that Edward served with the BSF, in the shape of a Red Cross New Testament signed and dated ‘Salonica 8/4/17’. There is also an inscription by ‘Dodsworth’ – but I can’t make out the initials and it’s not an uncommon name in the MICs – and a place, ‘Kalamarov’ (?), which I can’t find in our gazetteer of place names. Touchingly, the book still contains pressed flowers and grasses.
For many there is no such proof and even when the MIC gives the date of first service overseas it may not show the Balkans as many of the BSF came from France or via Egypt. I’m lucky to have various bits and pieces from my grandfather but none make any mention of Salonika – I only know he was there because he told me. If only there had been a First World War equivalent of the Second World War campaign stars (i.e. Burma Star) this would be much easier!
David also knows that Edward sailed to Salonika on HMT Transylvania from Marseille, thanks to an undated postcard written – but maybe not sent – to his family in Gateshead. The ship was torpedoed in May 1917 but we know from the New Testament that Edward was ‘safely’ in Macedonia by then.
David is fortunate to have two splendid photos of Edward in uniform with friends. Photos can provide useful clues, so what do these tell us? The men are dressed for hot weather and are enjoying a glass of ‘pig’s ear’ – welcome in the hot Greek summer no doubt – almost certainly at at an establishment in Salonika.
Edward is seated second from right, with his sun helmet on his knee, kitted out for mounted duties – i.e. Bedford cord riding breeches, puttees tied at the ankle, spurs and a leather bandolier – as are some of his comrades.
In the same establishment, Edward is now seated on the far right, looking very relaxed, although he’s wearing someone else’s cap! They seem to have been joined by at least one Frenchman, a Russian and possibly a Serbian. This sort of photo depicting amicable allies was not uncommon in Salonika – nor was the swapping of hats, which can make identification even trickier!
So we know that Edward was a mounted soldier, but does that help us identify his regiment/corps? Sadly not. Whilst an ASC horse transport company is an obvious conclusion, the RGA also had mounted men and even infantry battalions had their own horse transport sections. So, unless further evidence comes to light, that seems to be the end of the line for David.
Researching a family member who served with the BSF can be rewarding, but also very frustrating – you need the patience of Job and the skills of Sherlock Holmes! Even so – like David – you may not come to a neat and tidy conclusion, but you can still gain a good impression of a soldier’s life with the BSF even without knowing your ancestor’s specific unit. Thanks to the SCS, the campaign is better documented than ever before, with many accounts of participants published in our Journal and on this website and we have links and pointers to many useful resources. There is also the excellent book – Under the Devil’s Eye – on the experiences of the BSF and many fine photos in the IWM’s online collection.
So what are you waiting for? There’s never been a better time to research a Salonika soldier and remember those, like Edward Gallon, who served with the BSF.
Find out more
Please be aware that the Salonika Campaign Society has no records of those who served with the British Salonika Force and is not able to undertake family history research, although we may be able to offer limited advice.
Joining the Society is a good way to find out more about the campaign, meet people who have experience of researching their Salonika ancestors and maybe even visit the battlefields. We sell digitised resources which can assist this research:
- British (and other) maps from the Salonika campaign, plus other material;
- a full set of The Mosquito (1927-1969) – the publication of the Salonika Reunion Association – which contains various branch membership lists and some obituaries of members as well as being full of first-hand accounts and photos from the campaign.
You will also find much advice online on researching those who served in the First World War; here are some links for starters:
- The Long, Long Trail – this is a marvellous website and is a good place to start your research
- The National Archives at Kew – home of most surviving WW1 records, some of which are available online: