On Saturday 2nd October, society members gathered in the drizzle at the Cenotaph, London for the annual short ceremony of words and wreath-laying to remember the men and women of the BSF who served in Salonika. In particular, to remember those who died during the campaign or from the results of injury or disease.
Afterwards it was but a short walk to the Civil Service Club for lunch, followed by the society’s annual general meeting. This year, an actual meeting and not one via Zoom! Before the business of the meeting though, there was an excellent talk from Julie Adams of the British Museum. Her talk, Birdman of Salonika: The Life and Afterlives of Paul Montagu, was an interesting and moving account of Lt Paul Denys Montagu – a multi-talented anthropologist, naturalist and musician, killed in action when his plane crashed behind enemy lines on 29th October 1917. Julie’s book, Museum, Magic, Memory – Curating Paul Denys Montagu is, no doubt, available from all good book sellers.
We are pleased to hear from our friends at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham, that the museum is open to visitors. To find out more – and how to book your visit – take a look at the museum website.
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.
Chinese New Year seems an auspicious time to launch the latest iteration of the Society’s website. No major changes of design this time – and still with the familiar WordPress – just a change of hosting arrangements which will save the Society money and should be easier to manage. Please bear with us as we get used to the new setup.
This is a good time to introduce Andy Hutt who has joined the SCS Committee team and will take over the role of Web Editor from Robin in October. Andy and Robin will work together on the website until then. The Committee is grateful to Andy for stepping forward.
Oxen are often seen as slow and dull-witted, but in Chinese culture they are honest and earnest, low key and never look for praise or to be the centre of attention. This often hides their talent, but they’ll gain recognition through their hard work. This sums up so much of the work that goes on throughout the Society, as members in various parts of the world ensure that the Salonika campaign and those who endured it – especially those who did not return home – are not forgotten.
Here’s a hardworking and patient Macedonian ox, from a German postcard.
With COVID-19 rampant and our annual meeting held online on 3 October, there was no opportunity for the Society to lay its customary wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall this year. An alternative venue was offered by the National Trust’s Sandham Memorial Chapel, with the intention of holding a small remembrance service in the gardens on 11 November.
It is with regret I have to announce that, due to uncertainties caused by COVID-19, the decision has been taken to reschedule the annual SCS Battlefield Tour, as advertised, to September 2021. The main reason for reaching this decision is the issue of the Greece – North Macedonia border. This border is currently closed, as are Greece’s borders with Albania and Turkey, due to those countries having higher rates of COVID-19. At present there are no dates projected for reopening the border and the potential exists for the border, if opened, to be closed again at short notice. Therefore, it is all but impossible to organise the cross-border leg of the tour with any certainty of it being possible to cross into North Macedonia or to guarantee the group would be able to return to Greece for homeward flights. In addition, with our usual ground handler and transport being based in North Macedonia the border situation causes major logistical problems. There are also different COVID-19 related administrative regulations in place in the two countries, which helps make a two-country tour overly complicated.
Therefore, the SCS is investigating the possibility of running a Greece only tour this coming September. However, given the close proximity to the Greece – North Macedonian border, visits to Kajmakcalan and Korona (Krastali) will not be included. The proposed tour would instead focus on the Birdcage Line, Struma Valley and parts of the Vardar sector of the front. Whilst a Greece only tour is viable, there are lots of COVID-19 related hoops to jump through from arrival in Greece onwards. These range from the need for each traveller to have a valid Passenger Locator Form to enter the country, through the possibility of members of the tour group being selected for a COVID-19 test and needing to quarantine for 14 days if found positive, to possible limitations on the number of people able to congregate in a group in a public space. These issues are being looked into at present by local SCS contacts and we hope to be in a position to make a final decision on the viability of this year’s tour by Sunday 2 August.
As I sit writing this over Easter, the world is in the grip of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you and your families are keeping well and that you are getting used to the social and commercial lock-down that is currently in place. Like many of you, I’ve been working from home since mid-March and coming to terms with only seeing work colleagues, friends and family online. Thankfully we live in an age of remarkable communications technology enabling us to maintain instant contact across the globe from our living rooms. One can only imagine what the men and women of the BSF would have given for anything approaching this level of modern comms.