The Burma Mule

Having recently read two books about the second Chindit expedition in Burma (March-August 1944) I was delighted – if a little surprised – to come across a living history group, The Burma Mule, at a ‘Desert Rats’ commemorative event in Thetford Forest.

Unfortunately there were no mules present as their two 16 year old mules are now largely retired, but there was still much of interest. I was especially pleased to see mule saddles up close. Of relevance to the Salonika campaign is the one shown below, which is very similar to those used in the First World War. This could carry a variety of loads and you can see, here, a portable forge. Although date stamped ‘1940’ it is likely that similar kit – including a small anvil – was in use by earlier generations of mule transport units. Keeping the feet of mules and ponies in tip-top condition is, of course, vital for their well-being and efficiency.

Their other saddle was of a later pattern with a rigid metal frame and was, apparently, less popular than the previous one. Whether this was with the mules or muleteers wasn’t clear! The load shown is illustrative only and, in reality, would have been more balanced, i.e. a pair of howitzer wheels or two loads of ‘K ration’ boxes.

You can find out more about The Burma Mule on their Facebook page.

To read more about the use of mules by the British (and Indian) Army, from the Peninsular War to 1975 – including detailed chapters on both world wars – I heartily recommend The Mule in Military Service, a slim paperback by distinguished military historian and SCS member, Anthony Clayton (The Book Guild Ltd, 2017). It looks like it is out of stock, so you may have to hunt for a secondhand copy.

If you’re interested, the books on the Chindit expedition that I read were:

  • Chindit by Richard Rhodes James (1980)
  • The Road Past Mandalay by John Masters (1961)

Well, it can’t all be about Salonika can it?

Great War Huts – Hospital Blues

The latest video offering from the excellent Great War Huts seems particularly relevant to the Salonika campaign – Hospital Blues: The British Hospital Uniforms of the First World War. Given the high sickness rates in the BSF, not to mention wounds and accidents, many men would have found themselves in hospital blues.

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Lyn Macdonald podcast

Back in March I noted the death of distinguished First World War historian, Lyn Macdonald. Whilst I have read several of her books I had never heard her speak, so I was delighted when a talk of hers at the 2017 Chalke Valley History Festival was broadcast on the History Hits Warfare podcast. Entitled They Called it Passchendaele it’s a fascinating talk with some interesting thoughts on remembrance.

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More military mules

Photograph of Muffin, Adoption Star of the Redwings Horse Sanctuary, and adopted mule of the Salonika Campaign Society.

Military mules may be history for the British Army, but their versatility in tricky terrain means that they are still valued by some armed forces around the world. Back in March I shared a video from the US Marine Corps about Alice, a mighty military mule who was described – unfairly in my opinion – as the meanest mule in the USMC. I’m pleased to say that the good people at the 2nd Marine Logistics Group have shared a further video of their wonderful mules.

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Faces of Salonika : Edward Gallon

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!

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Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2018 – the Macedonia one!

If, like me, you are not a subscriber to Sky TV you may have been disappointed at missing the 2018 series of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year which – to coincide with the centenary of the end of the First World War – had as its prize a commission to paint a picture for the IWM of the Kosturino battlefield in Northern Macedonia. I’m pleased to say that, not only is the TV channel Sky Arts now available on Freeview (channel 11), but they are repeating their series of Landscape Artist of the Year, with that for 2018 starting on Thursday 10 June at 11am (repeated at 5am the following morning).

The winner was Jen Gash who visited Salonika at the time of the armistice commemorations and met with Alan Wakefield of the IWM (and SCS Chair) and SCS members on the centenary battlefield tour and was present at the service at the Doiran Memorial with the Duke of Kent. You can read more about the experience on Jen’s website. Members at the Society’s 2021 annual meeting in London will have the opportunity to meet Jen as she will be giving the talk, entitled: In the Footsteps of Stanley Spencer. The meeting is on Saturday 2 October and booking forms can be found in the latest issue of The New Mosquito.

Sandham Memorial Chapel (NT) has re-opened to visitors

Given the size of the indoor spaces and in order to keep everyone safe, visits are limited to one ‘bubble’ per hour, so capacity is very limited. All of the slots for the first week were taken within 24 hours of booking opening!

You can find more information on the Sandham Memorial Chapel website and they’ve put together a specific page of information about what to expect from a visit: Sandham Memorial Chapel indoor reopening information | National Trust.

Thanks to Property Operations Manager, Paul Grist, for keeping us informed about developments at Sandham.

Centenary of the Royal British Legion

On the morning of Sunday 15 May 1921, a small group of ex-servicemen and representatives from four organisations – The National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers, The British National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers, The Comrades of The Great War and The Officers’ Association – met at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall. At 9am precisely and they laid four wreaths representing these four organisations which, from then, became the British Legion and, fifty years later, the Royal British Legion.

To my knowledge my grandfather was never a member of the Salonika Reunion Association but he was an active member of the British Legion/Royal British Legion, particularly once he retired from the Metropolitan Police. He was on the East Barnet Branch Committee for very many years and was an enthusiastic member of their Horticultural Society; I have many happy memories of helping him with their annual flower shows and also enjoying the pantomimes held at the hall. A busy and active man until his death at 92, he still visited his ‘old boys’ on behalf of the RBL, even though many were considerably younger than him! To me, he epitomised the Legion’s motto of Service Not Self.

East Barnet British Legion Committee members (pre-1971); Fred Braysher is standing, second from right
Fred Braysher – a veteran of the Western Front and Salonika – laying a wreath on behalf of the East Barnet Branch of the Royal British Legion at the New Barnet war memorial on Remembrance Sunday (date unknown)

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