Expert talk on the Battle of Verdun by Tim Cockitt on Friday 8th October at 6.00pm via Zoom

This was the longest battle of WW1, from February 1916 through to December 1916.  The British were not directly involved, and the battle is not so well understood in UK, compared to the Somme. 

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The 4th best church in the UK …

… is Sandham Memorial Chapel! That’s the opinion of Rachel Morley, Director of Friends of Friendless Churches. She was a guest of the podcast series, The Rest Is History, presented by historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook on 13 September. Rachel’s task was to list her top ten British churches, which is quite a task given that there are more than 16,000 in England alone!

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Two sisters of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals

The Society has received an enquiry about two sisters who served with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the Balkans. If you can help with this, please either add a comment to this post or use the ‘Contact Us’ form.

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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.