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 Vaughan 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.

The book is available on amazon.co.uk or you can order it directly from Sara 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

28th Division – The Prequel!

Towards the end of October 1915, units of the 28th Division entrained for Marseille, sailed to Egypt and then, after a period of training and reorganisation, to Salonika. Barely a month before, the Division had been embroiled in a bloody and confusing battle to hold the German Hohenzollen Redoubt at Loos; a battle they had subsequently lost.

Continue reading “28th Division – The Prequel!”

What a scorcher!

Are you enjoying the hot weather? I don’t mind it hot as long as I can sit in the shade and not do anything! When it is particularly hot I often think about the BSF and the trials of putting up with hot weather – day after day – along with the dust and flies and having to dig or lug around ammunition boxes and stores or maybe a Lewis gun. Continue reading “What a scorcher!”

Red Castle, Yellow Castle …

I am a member of just two military societies, the SCS – of course – and The Friends of the Suffolk Regiment. The latter on account of my grandfather who served with the Regiment from 1906 until 1914, when he volunteered for the newly created Army Cyclist Corps. The latest issue of the Friends’ Gazette (No. 16, March 2020 pp6-7) touches on the Macedonian campaign, so I thought I would share this with you and explore further an inconsequential – but to me entirely fascinating – piece of military ephemera, which follows on very nicely from my previous post on slouch hats in Salonika.

Continue reading “Red Castle, Yellow Castle …”

22 April 1915 at 5pm: Gas!

From Before Endeavours Fade, by Rose E. B. Coombs, MBE (An After the Battle Publication).

[Steenstraat], lying amid the rich fields, was at the western end of the French line on April 22 1915. Their line ran eastwards to a point south of Poelcappelle where it joined the sector held by the Canadian Corps with the British 27th and 28th Divisions beyond them east of Zonnebeke and Polygon Wood.

Continue reading “22 April 1915 at 5pm: Gas!”

NEW BOOK : “So once more it was bundle and go!”

The New Mosquito of September 2016 contained a fascinating article entitled ‘4034 Trooper James Scott Anderson, 1/2 Scottish Horse’. Written by Ann Walker -James’s daughter – it contains an account of his service as a scout in Macedonia from 1916 to 1918. What makes it especially remarkable is that this detailed narrative was written from memory many years later. If, on finishing that article, you wanted to hear more from James, then I have good news for you …

Continue reading “NEW BOOK : “So once more it was bundle and go!””

Faces of Salonika : Pte Harold Monkman, ASC, Salonika, 20 Oct 1916

Photographs of soldiers in Salonika for sale on eBay are not unusual, but to have one with the full name and date of the photo is. Continue reading “Faces of Salonika : Pte Harold Monkman, ASC, Salonika, 20 Oct 1916”

Faces of Salonika : Somerset Miners

This rather small and tatty picture – another eBay purchase – shows a group of men sitting on a quayside, which may be Salonika. The mixture of service dress (as worn in the UK and on the Western Front) with a sun helmet would certainly be appropriate for men of the BSF after about mid-1916. The extremes of the Macedonian climate make all sorts of combinations of dress possible which, for me, is one of the fascinations of the campaign. Continue reading “Faces of Salonika : Somerset Miners”

George’s War Letters, 1914-1919

My thanks go to Richard Power who has sent me the link to his centenary blog – George’s War Letters – in which he is publishing, in real-time, the war-time letters of his Great Uncle, George Power. Continue reading “George’s War Letters, 1914-1919”