Who Do We Think He Was?

Thursday saw the start of the latest series of the popular BBC TV family history programme, Who Do You Think You Are? which will be repeated tomorrow, Tuesday. The first subject was comedian and presenter, Sue Perkins and there was – in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment – the very briefest mention of the Salonika campaign.

The first part of the programme looked at Sue’s paternal grandparents, but not in any great detail, although I understand why the producers focused more on her maternal family with its Eastern European connections.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers but, suffice it to say, Albert Perkins had a difficult start in life and escaped it all by joining the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1892 at the age of 17. Service with the 1st Battalion followed, in India and Burma, and probably included the Tirah campaign of 1897. The Battalion missed the South African War but, instead, found itself guarding Boer POWs in Ceylon. With his twelve years service up, Albert would have been back on civvy street, although there was no indication of what he did.

In spite of being in his late thirties when war broke out, Albert returned to the colours in 1914. The programme glossed over this, mentioning that he served in Macedonia, but that trench foot put paid to his military career. Even so, he was not discharged until April 1919, being able to carry on in uniform in spite of this! According to his marriage certificate from 1917, he was a serjeant at the DCLI depot in Bodmin – where he married – which suggests that he served with the BSF before that and the trench foot saw him shipped back to Blighty. Makes a change from malaria, I suppose! He married a nurse from Hounslow – did he meet her whilst recuperating in the UK?

Being a nosey chap, I decided to look him up in The National Archives medal index cards – which are still free to download – and found a surprise …

The medal index card of Albert E. Perkins (WO-372-15-2004 73). © The National Archives

Two battalions of the DCLI served with the BSF – 2/DCLI with 27th Division and 8/DCLI with 26th Division – but it looks as if his re-enlistment took him into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers instead. As he went directly to Salonika on 18 November 1915 – rather than going via Gallipoli – that suggests he was with a draft of replacements for either the 6th or 7th Battalions, which had landed the previous month. 10th (Irish) Division had already advanced to the Serbian frontier by then and taken its place in the line at Kosturino.

Sean Connolly’s splendid article in the Kosturino centenary issue of The New Mosquito (32 – Sep. 2015), “Better Than No War At All” The Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Serbia, October – December 1915 (p.10), explains how Albert came to be with the ‘Dublins’ and what happened to him soon after his arrival in Salonika:

A group of 180 men from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry had the misfortune to arrive as replacements [for 6/RDF] in these remote barren hills on the day the blizzard began. They joined their new comrades in the miserable wait for the impending assault.

The expected Bulgarian offensive began on 6 December, when the Division was preparing to evacuate its position. 5/Connaught Rangers and 10/Hampshire were attacked and overwhelmed, falling back on the second line held by 6/RDF. Following fierce fighting on Crete Rivet and Crete Simonet, 6/RDF managed to slip away to the village of Tartali, where they grabbed handfuls of biscuits and bully beef and continued their retreat to the Dedeli Pass. 10th (Irish) Division acted as rearguard for the French withdrawal and, although threatened with encirclement on the 10th, the Bulgarians did not push their advance and on the 11th the last Irish troops crossed back into Greece and retired to Salonika, by train if they were lucky, or the whole 90 miles on foot. If Albert had trench foot by this point, it is to be hoped he travelled by train!

Infantry manning part of the 10th (Irish) Division’s line on the Kosturino Ridge, December 1915. © IWM (Q 62966)

So that’s the rather more detailed story of Serjeant Albert Perkins than you will get on TV. What a story they missed by not following him to the Kosturino battlefield. I’m sure Alan Wakefield would have been happy to be their guide!

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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