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

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”

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”

Cecil Deadman: a motor transport driver in Salonika

My thanks go to Rosemary Newton, granddaughter of Cecil Deadman who served in Salonika with the Army Service Corps. 175347 Private Deadman was in 706 MT Company, ASC, which was part of the supply column attached to the Serbian army.

Cecil Deadman in Salonika

Rosemary has published a book of her family history (1880-1950), which includes an account of Private Deadman’s time in Salonika. She has kindly made this part of her book available to us and you can see it online here. This fascinating article is copiously illustrated with original photos, postcards and documents. Amazingly, he was one of the three brothers serving with the BSF – and they had the opportunity to meet up!

Find out more

Something else for Black History Month …

Black soldiers in the BSF seem to be rather thin on the ground – in fact I only know of one: Charles Bailey of 9/King’s Own. I first gave Charlie a mention last year, but am happy to mention him again in case you missed the fascinating website in which he features: Charlie Bailey’s War – The story of WW1 soldier Charles Bailey a Welsh miner of West Indian origin plus some of the men he served with.

Continue reading “Something else for Black History Month …”

World Refugee Day: Faces of Salonika

Today is World Refugee Day.  Refugees and displaced persons have always been a feature of war and the Salonika campaign was no exception. There were refugees from earlier conflicts in the Balkans, the ongoing hostilities and the devastating fire which destroyed much of Salonika in 1917. Continue reading “World Refugee Day: Faces of Salonika”

John Staple’s Souvenirs of the War in the East

My thanks again go to Simon and Christine Briggs for kindly sharing with us John Staple’s photographs from Salonika, Egypt and Turkey and for taking the trouble to photograph his interesting collection of ‘trench art’ souvenirs. These photos are reproduced below with notes from Simon. Continue reading “John Staple’s Souvenirs of the War in the East”