Faces of Salonika : John Staple and friends

My thanks go to Simon and Christine Briggs for sharing a fascinating set of photos belonging to Christine’s grandfather, John Staple. John served with the Army Service Corps Remount Service in Salonika for two-and-a-half years.

The limited surviving records show that John was a private in the ASC with the service number R4/140644 (‘R4’ specifically indicating ‘Remounts’). He is described as serving with ’43rd Remounts’, but whether that was a depot, company or squadron I can’t work out. Searching through the Unit War Diaries on the National Archives website I can only find that of the Remount Base Depot in Macedonia. Please leave a comment if you can shed any light on this. Incidentally, for a while the Depot was commanded by George Denholm Armour (1864-1949), a noted equestrian artist whose work was much reproduced in Punch and Country Life. I recommend his autobiography (details below) which has several chapters on his war service.

But back to John and the first of his photos. This is a super one and is so characteristic of the campaign, showing a group of allied troops. I have never worked out whether these were groups of men who had met in a bar or café and decided to have a photo taken together, or whether the photographers grabbed men as they went past and persuaded them all to have a photo taken together and, of course, all buy a copy!

Salonika Allies. From the collection of John Staple of the Army Service Corps Remount Service.

My thoughts on the men in the photo are – but feel free to disagree and comment:

  • standing at the back – is this the owner of the establishment where the photo was taken?
  • back row, left to right: Russian, French Tirailleurs Sénégalais (Senegalese Sharpshooters), John (with his distinctive Remount Service cap badge), Serbian;
  • front row, left to right: Russian (but is that a Serbian cap?), Russian, Russian (although the beard looks French!), an Army Service Corps comrade of John;
  • standing in the front: a local lad who seems to be wearing a French side cap.

The presence of the Russians in winter kit puts the photo in the winter of 1916/17 at the earliest. The first Russians arrived in Salonika during the summer of 1916 but were soon up on the frontline with the French; however, a second brigade arrived in the October. I was initially puzzled by the Russians, but found a photo in Osprey Publishing’s Armies in the Balkans 1914-18 which confirms that the artificial fur winter caps were worn in Macedonia. The three men in greatcoats are all wearing the same style – double-breasted with concealed buttons – which seems to be unique to the Russian Army.

This photo is a tangible reminder of what a coalition effort the Salonika campaign was. If you are interested in the various armies that fought with and against each other in the campaign, I strongly recommend the Osprey book (see link below), Armies of the Balkans 1914-18 by Dr Nigel Thomas and Dusan Babac and magnificently illustrated by Darko Pavlovic. An inexpensive and slim volume it is, nevertheless, packed with information on, and images of, the various armies.

Next time we’ll look at some more photos of John and his comrades.


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Author: SCS Web Editor

Robin Braysher joined the SCS in 2003 and soon after became editor of the Society's journal - 'The New Mosquito' - a role he held until 2008. He then became the Society's web editor, a role he seems unable to shake off. His interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915 to 1917, mainly in the Struma valley. Opinions expressed in these posts are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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