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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.

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Gas! 22 April 1915

Thursday, 22 April, was a beautiful spring day: warm, sunny, with a faint breeze. German guns shelled French and Canadian trenches throughout the morning but fell silent in the afternoon. The brief period of peace suddenly ended at 4:00 p.m. when the Germans unleashed a violent bombardment, first on the salient and then gradually extending to nearby roads and Ypres, turning the town into a flaming inferno and causing its citizens to flee. An hour later an ominous greenish-yellow wall of fumes was seen drifting slowly across no-man’s-land toward the French line.

Cassar, G.H. (2014), Trial By Gas – The British Army at the Second Battle of Ypres; Potomac Press, University of Nebraska Press.
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“With the Serbs in Macedonia.”

Many thanks to Society member Keith Roberts for information about this book, With the Serbs in Macedonia.

Its author, Douglas Walshe, was an officer in one of the British Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport Companies sent to drive small Ford trucks with equipment, food and ammunition to the Serbian army. The book can be found in digital format on the SCS map disk, and is also free of charge to download on the Internet Archive.

Keith recently took delivery of a printed edition complete with an intact dustjacket. Now rather ‘grubby’, the book is the original 1920 edition and amazingly, says Keith, the “book has never been read. How can I tell? The pages have not been cut.” Says Keith, “it is easy reading, and surely worth an hour or two of anybody’s time.”

I agree with that, having just started it myself. Something of the tone of the writing can be heard in the opening pages, “Here, as far as our men are concerned, there are no records of days and nights in waterlogged trenches under concentrated shell-fire, and no pulse-stirring descriptions of hand-to-hand encounters and bayonet charges. We never fired a shot at anything more exciting than a petrol tin for revolver practice, or a wild goose or duck for a dinner that usually remained in the air. But we did our job, and we saw a little of the Balkans. Mainly married and mostly of inferior physique, we ‘carried on’ – when there was any carrying on to be done.”

The online version of With the Serbs in Macedonia can be found here.