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Stretcher-bearers

I was listening a while ago to an oral history on the Imperial War Museum’s site from an unnamed British stretcher bearer on the Struma Front. He may have been forgotten but he lives alongside more remembered company in the form of composer Ralph Vaughn Williams and artist Stanley Spencer, both of whom served as stretcher-bearers in the campaign.

Stretcher Bearers – Stanley Spencer. Source: IWM

The Great War Stories: Luton’s Greatest has an account by Private Robinson who in Gallipoli, faced challenges that stretcher-bearers in Salonika would have found very similar,
“People have no idea what difficulties and dangers have to be overcome in evacuating wounded. The hilly nature of the country does away with the idea of mechanical transport, and every case has to be carried to other hospitals on the beach on stretchers.”

Perhaps it’s because many conscientious objectors signed up for medical, rather than military service, that many accounts of the lives and work of stretcher-bearers have not survived. Maybe, but that’s just speculation on my part… However, one set of diaries has not only survived but been re-discovered by author Sara Woodall, great-niece of the author of the diaries.

Sara discovered her great-uncle’s diaries while at home in Cambridge and was astounded to find both written accounts and accomplished illustrations. The author of these diaries was Bernard Eyre Walker, a stretcher-bearer for the British Expeditionary Force and later one of Cumbria’s leading painters.

The existence of the diaries is something of a miracle in itself. Forced to retreat by a German attack, Bernard had to abandon the diaries in a field hospital. The diaries were later picked up by a German soldier and taken to Belgium, before eventually making their way home to Bernard in Keswick.

Illustrations by Bernard Eyre Walker from his war-time diaries.

Sara has edited and published the diaries, complete with 140 of Bernard’s illustrations from the trenches. I haven’t read the diaries myself, and it’s not an account of stretcher- bearers in Salonika, but it’s a primary source of a largely unrecorded aspect of the time and likely to have a wide appeal. There’s more about the book here. Should you wish, you can order the book directly from the author at jdt.woodall@btopenworld.com or from the address below.

A Voice From the Trenches 1914-1918   From the Diaries and Sketchbooks of Bernard Eyre Walker. Edited by Sara Woodall. Price £19.95 (+ £3.10 p&p) from Sara Woodall, 17 High Street, Great Eversden, Cambridge, CB23 1HN

Now Online! ‘Military Operations Macedonia’

Readers will be very grateful to SCS member Keith Roberts, and Great War Forum member ‘maureenE’, for pointing out the online availability of two major texts related to the Salonika Campaign.

Military Operations Macedonia Volumes One and Two, by Captain Cyril Falls* were part of the series History of the Great War and based on official documents. Free, immediate, and online access to these texts is a wonderful benefit to anyone interested in the Salonika Campaign.

The digital versions of Volume 1 (1933) From the Outbreak of War to the Spring of 1917, and Volume 2 (1935) From the Spring of 1917 to the End of the War both contain the full text. However, both volumes are missing the maps which were originally in separate cases.  Many of these maps are, however, available from the society here, albeit for a relatively small charge.

Both volumes are available on two sites: Internet Archive and Google Books. My preference is to use Google Books, I find the search tool a little easier to use, but that’s a personal choice.  Either way, it’s a great that we now have these texts online for all.

Archive.org

Google Books


*Author Cyril Bentham Falls CBE was a British army officer turned military historian and journalist. After completing his military service, he began writing military histories. From 1923 to the outbreak of war in 1939 he researched and wrote several volumes of the British Government’s ‘Official History of the War’, including the two-volume history of the Macedonian campaign.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Falls

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?

September 2021 Battlefield Tour

Unfortunately, the continuing uncertainty surrounding foreign travel has made the planning and potential running of a battlefield tour this year too complicated an undertaking for the Society. Therefore, we have decided to push the tour back to September next year, with provisional tour dates being 19 – 26 September 2022. We are proposing to keep the same itinerary, which means that, alongside visits to the Doiran and Kosturino battlefields, the Struma Valley and parts of the ‘Birdcage’ defence line, the tour will look to cover the Kajmakcalan battlefield and a visit to the area around the village of Krastali (now Korona) just to the west of Pip Ridge. As always, the tour dates aim to overlap with the ceremonies of commemoration at the Lembet Road Military Cemetery in Thessaloniki, at the Five-Nations Memorial, Polykastro, and Doiran Memorial and nearby Greek Military Cemetery. Anyone interested in potentially joining the tour in 2022 should contact the Chairman, Alan Wakefield.

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.

Continue reading “Great War Huts – Hospital Blues”

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.

Continue reading “Lyn Macdonald podcast”

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.

Continue reading “More military mules”

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!

Continue reading “Faces of Salonika : Edward Gallon”

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.