One hundred years ago today, Serjeant Michael Margiotta died of dysentery and pneumonia in Salonika. He is buried in the CWGC Lembet Road Military Cemetery.
Micheal Margiotta was a pre-war regular soldier who joined the 3rd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment in 1904. In late 1914 the battalion returned to England from India and, with other battalions returned from distant overseas garrisons, was combined into 28th Division (27th Division was similarly constituted). Michael was was the member of a platoon which volunteered to join the 28th Divisional Cyclist Company; my grandfather, with 1/Suffolk, did the same. Most of 1915 was spent on the Western Front, with Second Ypres providing a desperate baptism of fire, followed by Loos in the autumn. Then, all of a sudden, they were off to Egypt and in December found themselves in Salonika.
I first came across Michael Margiotta whilst studying the 28th Divisional Cyclist Company war diary (WO 95/4907) and discovered he had played an important role in the campaign whilst in the Struma valley.
19.08.16 0800 No. 6 platoon at Marian to send patrols to Seres to gain information on the Bulgarian advance.
1030 Sgt, l/cpl and 2 men set off via Komarian Bridge, Karadzakok, Zir-Bala, Kamil and Seres.
1300 Arrived. NCO in charge, Sgt Margiotta, informed by Greek lieutenant that the Bulgarians had occupied Kavakli Ciftl; the officer had just withdrawn from the village with his detachment. Bulgars 3km from Seres and intending to occupy. Troops at Kavakli Ciftl estimated as one and a half cavalry regiments. Streets of Seres deserted except for a number of armed civilians.
1600 Arrived Marian. GOC 28 Division accordingly appreciative of the patrol.
Two months later, Serjeant Margiotta was transferred to 26th Divisional Cyclist Company at Vergetor on the Doiran Front as Company Quartermaster Serjeant. This meant that when, in December 1916, divisional cyclist companies were combined into corps cyclist battalions, he found himself in that of XII Corps. Although he had left 28th Divisional Cyclist Company, his name pops up once more after his departure, to announce his award of the Gold Medal of Serbia – by the King of Serbia himself – for …
resource and initiative in leading the patrol to Seres in August 1916 and obtaining useful information of enemy movements and dispositions. List no. 216 Rewards, GHQ EEF 20/10/1916.
I next came across Michael Margiotta when planning my visit to Thessaloniki in 2016 and was investigating Army Cyclist Corps graves. But the story doesn’t end there. In my own family history research I have come across very few army service records, but Michael’s is one of those which survived the air raid in 1940, albeit with scorch marks, and I am grateful to Tim Mole for bringing it to my attention.
From this we can see that he was first admitted sick to 86 Field Ambulance on 14 September 1918 – so just as the final offensive was about to start and was finally admitted to 42 General Hospital on the 25th with dysentery. By 5 October he was described as dangerously ill and died at 2305 on the 6th. His possessions at his death were:
three handkerchiefs, wooden box, shaving brush, prayer book, two razors, artificial teeth (broken), leather belt, sponge, wrist watch and strap.
These were sent to his widowed mother who signed for all except the wrist watch, which was missing. There followed a tragic correspondence as his mother and sister tried, unsuccessfully, to recover the watch. They had further cause to write when his campaign medals were sent to the wrong address!
One hundred years on, it is good to be able to remember Michael Margiotta.