Commissioned, 30th October 1917, into the Suffolk Regiment, Lt Borgonon previously served briefly on the Western Front in France as a private soldier of the Middlesex Regiment. We know he was a gas casualty on the front but this could not have been too serious as he was subsequently posted to Salonika, regarded at the time to be a suitable posting for soldiers returning to active serice after convalescence.
The diary is an almost day-to-day record of an ordinary junior officer's duties in the latter part of the First World War. It starts with the collection of a draft of 68 men at Felixstowe and follows their 3 week journey by train, sea and road across war torn Europe to Greece.
There are amusing insights into the military life of the time but the diary terminates abruptly in depressed mood and with a sad incident, after the end of the war.
The original diary is now in the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London.
Although V E Borgonon lived into his eighties, ironically, he died after gas poisoning from a faulty domestic heating appliance.
To help the reader, titles in parentheses have been inserted with links as follows:
(Collecting the Draft)
(The Train Journey)
(Arrival in Greece)
(Up the Line)
(Change of Air Camp)
(Return to Base)
(Collecting the Draft)
January 18th 1918
Arrived home from Gravesend 4 p.m. with the assurance that I should have that day, also the next, free. To my great disappointment I found a wire had been sent from Gravesend requiring me to report immediately to Felixstowe.
Caught the next train to London accompanied by my wife and found a train left Liverpool St at 5.25 p.m. Took leave of my wife amid great confusion and bundled into 1st class carriage occupied by 7 other officers of varying ranks. Looked upon, more or less, as an interloper - probably rather less, but I had started on my new life, a life full of experiences in a foreign country, so what did it matter to my depressed state. We all religiously avoided conversation with each other possibly each being too full of his own troubles to worry about his neighbour.
At Ipswich I was more than delighted to find an old acquaintance belonging to my regiment, making his way back to Felixstowe. Needless to say I welcomed him with open arms and our tongues wagged as only tongues can wag when depressed spirits meet on a dark wet dreary night. On arrival at Felixstowe I signed the book at the station kept by the police. I was not a resident - hence the precaution on entering a coast defence town station. I made my way the my Battalion headquarters to find the Adjutant and Commandant enjoying their dinner with the Band playing. Whilst I, poor soul, was wet through, cold and hungry. But what did it matter, I was merely a stranger in a strange place. So I hurried me hence to a Boarding House styled 'Derby House' whose good landlady, Mrs Thorburn, got me an excellent meal and a good bed. Next morning I went to see the adjutant who told me he knew nothing about me or the Draft I had come for. My hopes ran high because fool-like, I dreamed a mistake had been made and I should be going back. "Oh No", he said, " We may get a wire any moment."
Then a brilliant idea struck me, and I suggested I might go home until the Draft was ready and return to Felixstowe upon receipt of his wire. "Oh No", again. So I wandered about all the next day, and the next, also the next. On the Monday (21 Jan 18) I received my instructions that the Draft would be ready in the afternoon for my inspection and I should leave by the 8 am train next day for London. Several of my officer friends made a great fuss of me and provided a top hole dinner at the Felix Hotel in my honour.
Next morning at 8 am I boarded the train with my Draft of 68 men. We arrived at Liverpool Street at 11 o'clock and marched across London to Waterloo. My Draft were feeling none too pleased with themselves and I was very sorry that they had to march with their kit bags, equipment and rifles whilst all my kit was being conveyed across London in a taxi in charge of my Corporal. We arrived at Waterloo at 11.55, train due out at 12 noon.
A very excited little man wearing a frock coat and a tall hat came rushing madly over to me asking if I was the officer who had charge of a Draft for Southampton. I replied that it certainly looked as though that were the case. He said for goodness sake do hurry up the train is due out now. I replied that he was quite wrong, "the train was due out at 12 noon and it is now 11.55." He told me I was late and was keeping the train back. I said "go away- you make me feel ill." He still continued in his excitable way and I told him he had nothing to worry over or get excited about as it was I who was leaving England not him.
He then went down to a First Class Car after I had got all my men into a Third and opened a door for me. I got in, it was then 3 minutes to 12. At 12.1 I put my head out of the window and watched for my little man to come along. I saw him and casually remarked that the train was "awfully late today." He killed me with his look and took his departure.
At 12.5 the train steamed out of the Station bearing many Officers and men, some for France, others for Eastern Countries, many unfortunately destined never to return to their Homeland. We reached Southampton at 2.30 and the indescribable confusion was too awful for words.
I was in the unenviable position of having to do two things at once. Firstly I had to see that all my men were out of the train with all their baggage. Secondly to see that my kit was out of the guards van. A Boy Scout was knocking about so I collared him to guide me to the E.O (Embarkation Officer) I collared also two porters to carry my kit to the Embarkation Officer. After waddling through mud puddles and over a network of railway lines we arrived at the E.O's shed. My kit bags were dumped outside the shed and were quickly lost to view under an enormous pile of other officers' baggage. It was then raining merrily. I put my men into the shed for shelter and reported to the E.O.
By the way, when I was at Waterloo, an officer came up to me and said he had instruction to hand a draft of 12 men over to me together with some money which I was to pay out to them. I asked him where the men were and demanded his written instructions. He said the men were in the train, I said I have only your word for that and don't intend signing for men I had not seen, neither did I intend giving a receipt for money I had not counted. He said can't you trust me. I said if you put it that way "No". I told him to jump into the train and I would sign for the men and money at Southampton. Very reluctantly he took my advice and I relieved him of his responsibility at Southampton. I then had 80 men to look after, several of whom were old soldiers and about whom I had particular instructions to see none escaped.
Of all the jobs I have had in the army I think this one took the biscuit.
After report to the E.O., and wandering through my sheaves of papers, pay sheets, conduct sheets, nominal rolls, etc., I took a walk to see if my kit was all right, and to my horror I found the whole pile had been shifted. I walked round the building to make sure I was on the right side but no signs of my baggage was to be seen. I enquired of the Porters and was informed that all the baggage had been put into the hold of the "SS" Lydia. I went aboard and saw in the hold two bags resembling in appearance and was satisfied that mine were safely on board.
At 6 o'clock I marched my men on board and got aboard myself. Down into the forepart of the hold I went, wet, cold, hungry, and miserable. A few hasty lines scrawled on a piece of paper contained my farewell to my wife. I handed this to one of the stewards trusting him to post it.
About 6.30 we moved off and my journey to the unknown had commenced. I tried to snatch a few hour's sleep, but I am afraid my brain was too full up to rest. About midnight the boat stopped and the rumour quickly went around that submarines were about. I was just in that state of "don't caredness(?)" that it did not worry me. After about an hour we started off again.
What happened after that I know not but when I awoke next morning at 8 o'clock there was great confusion going on around me. Everyone seemed to be rushing about except myself. I went on deck and found we were at Cherbourg and the day was 23rd Jan. I watched all the baggage come off and to my great dismay mine didn't turn up. I marched my men to the Rest Camp which was a very long way from the Docks and we passed the night there. I shared a tent with a certain Lieut Hopper whom I introduced myself to at Southampton. I lost sight of him on the boat but after finding him again we stuck to each other like leeches. He was in the same "boat" as myself journeying to Salonica and had left a wife and kiddie at home. He was a newspaper correspondent in civvy life and a more sociable fellow I think I have never met. We cheered up each other and shared our joys and our sorrows. We had a good percentage of the former toned down with few of the latter. The Rest Camp provided quite a decent mess and our meals were very enjoyable.
One thing marred my happiness it was the knowledge that my kit was somewhere where it should not be. Of course I reported my loss, and was told these things often happen. I marvelled that after 3 years and 4 months such things were possible and wondered what happened in earlier days.
(The Train Journey)
At 3 o'clock on the 24 Jan we marched down to the Station and were put into an Italian train where we were destined to stay for 9 days to do a journey of something like 1440 miles. Two other officers were in the carriage who turned out to be padres. One bound for Egypt, a first class C/E minister, the other not a first class Wesleyan bound for Salonica, Hopper and I completed the party of four. Our car boasted of electric light and lavatory accommodation.
Our first stop was at Caen where the soft stone comes from. Next stop Mézidon where bread & cheese, margarine & jam also hot tea was brought to the carriage. This was indeed acceptable after a cold 6 hours journey. The rest of the day was passed with card games, snap and whist, accompanied by chocolate, biscuits and apples. We secured boxes, which we put between the seats, pulled the cushions off the seats, laid them across and then laid ourselves across these at 12 o'clock midnight. Gently rocked asleep by the motion of the train, awoke at 8 a.m., shaved in cold tea, and found ourselves at St Pierre des Corps town s., where we had bread, bully and tea rations served. Off again after a short stop, we arrived at St Germain (near Lyons) at 8 a.m.. next day (Sat. 26/1/18), marched to the rest Camp where we found an excellent breakfast consist of Porridge, Bacon and Eggs, Jam and tea awaiting us. I made various purchases in the town of stores which I considered might be useful on the train. At the rest Camp, we secured an excellent lunch, tea and late dinner, the charge for the day being 5 Francs (4s/2d). Joined the train again at 10 p.m. and started away at 1 a.m. Arriving at Pierre Latte at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning 27/1/18.
Charged the Corporal of the Guard with neglect of duty: for allowing his men for straying away from the train after I had posted them to guard the Officer's baggage. He was severely reprimanded by the O.C. train. Train off again only to stop several hours at Arles. Glorious weather favoured us and greatly added to the scenic effects en route. Snow topped mountains, acres of olive groves and great marble quarries. Off again at 6 o'clock p.m. Passed through Marseilles at 9 o'clock Sunday night, too dark to see anything and through Toulouse at 9 o'clock Monday morning. Sunday dinner in the train consisted of tinned crab, oxo, bully beef, figs, apples, chocolate, lime juice cordial, coffee. All impromptu provisions which I had purchased at St Germain and which were certainly well appreciated by we four. The remainder of the provisions were put on the luggage rack and included a tin of café au lait which had been opened. We retired to rest, I with my British Warm over myself for warmth. In the small hours of the morning I felt something dripping on my face and head and concluded the roof was leaking, so I pulled my coat over my head. When I awoke next morning I was surprised to find everything near me seemed sticky. It was only the café au lait running out of the tin and goodness knows how long it had been dripping. I only know I was simply smothered with it. My coat bears the stain to this day. I was thankful that I had not very much hair on my head because it would perhaps not have been quite such a simple matter to remove it from my cranium. One of the party suggested I should put my head in a bucket of boiling water to make a hot drink. I did not think the suggestion a very intelligent one, consequently I didn't carry it out.
Breakfasted at Les Arcs at 11.30 a.m.. on 28/1/18. Passed through Cannes at 5.30, Nice 7 o'clock, then took the Mediterranean Coast line route through Nice where we received vociferous cheering from the inhabitants, flag waving was the order of the day and every man, woman and child seemed to possess a flag of some sort. Monte Carlo we passed through at 8 o'clock the train did not stop so we could not put a Franc on the wheel of fortune or perhaps misfortune. Mentone and San Remo we soon left behind. At this latter place we advanced our watches one hour. A long run to Voghera (sic) which we reached at 3 o'clock 29 Jan brought us to dinner time which consisted of oxo, crab, bully, figs, nougat, chocolates, red wine, anchovies, biscuits, cheeses and wonder of wonders - real butter. Here I might say a word for the inventor of Tommy's cooker. It proved a blessing in disguise and all for 8d. Another 4 hours and we reached Borgo San Domino - so named after the great soldier Borgonon who played dominoes. Still more travelling and we reached Firenze in Italy 30 miles from the Italian frontier, at 8 am on 30 Jan.
We stayed for the day at the Hotel Carona where I penned a few cards to those at home. A splendid string orchestra helped to pass the dinner hour off very nicely and the excellent wines and liqueurs made one feel very happy with oneself and at peace with the world. I often remarked what a terrible war this was. Hopper and I visited several of the sitting rooms and lounges and were sorely tempted to put one of the cushions adorned with beautiful lace up our tunics for use as a pillow on the train., because one only wants to rest one's head on a hairbrush and comb mirror, jack knife and mess tin and mug in a bumpy railway carriage to appreciate fully the comforts that a soft cushion could give. But we thought we might be suspected of having eaten too much, and knowing what a serious offence this is in wartime, we considered discretion the better part of valour and yielded not to the temptation.
In the train again at 10 o'clock p.m. we passed through Parma where the violets come from onto Castemara (sic) where we arrived at 10 am on 21 January. Thence all along the Adriatic coast to Brindisi which we reached at 8 am on Feb. 1st.
In coming along this coastline, we had to screen all lights and make no noise, the engine keeping her fire box closed and puffing silently and slowly along. Enemy submarines were reported in the Adriatic and the train was in full view for several hours. Hence the necessity for night travel. Another 7 <½>; hours and we were at Taranto which we reached at 3.30 p.m. on 1st Feb.. Having completed the whole journey through France and Italy, a distance of 1414 miles from Cherbourg in 9 days. An average of 160 miles a day or 6 2/3 miles per hour including stops.
We stayed in Taranto until Feb. 5th. A concert was provided on the Saturday night. Several of the items were very good, several were not. Early celebration on Sunday morning which was well attended. In the afternoon Hopper and I drove into the town of Taranto 4 miles away for which we were charged the exorbitant sum of 3 Lira each = 1s 6d. We dined at the Grand Hotel Bologna where we had a row with the waiter over the bill which came to 18.95 Lira which equals 9s 6d. The fish they put before us we simply could not eat, the macaroni we struggled with for quite a long time. It was in long strands, about a yard long. We watched the Italians eat it and tried to imitate them.
It appears the correct way to eat it is to stick the fork in one end of the yard length and twirl the fork round and round until it winds up into a kind of ball about the size of an orange. Then extend the jaws to their full opening capacity, then a little wider and bring the whole lot into the cavity. Hopper nearly got lockjaw. I could not help laughing at him, he looked so funny. But he was laughing at me, I wondered why then I caught sight of me in a mirror opposite and found the cause of his mirth. My mouth, from ear to ear, was smothered with a brown substance which was running down my cheeks and trickling down my chin. Two loose ends of macaroni were sticking out of the corners of my mouth whilst another bit, about a foot long, was mixed up with my tie, various small pieces were lying on the cloth around my plate.
It appears that whilst watching the Italian people manipulating theirs, I had stopped revolving my fork and the macaroni had unwound itself. We had in addition to the fish, which we did not eat and had sent back and the macaroni, one small orange each and two bottles of wine (the latter being very cheap in Italy) and we were surprised at the charge. We argued with the waiter and told him in English what we thought of him of his hotel and fish, and he returned the compliment by telling us in Italian what he thought of us. It sounded horrible but we ignored his remarks and he showed his independence by reducing the bill to 14.00 Lira. We showed our independence by telling him he could take his tip out of the difference. Seeing that no money had left our pockets I wondered afterwards whether he saw the tip or only our point of view.
After this dinner we naturally felt as though we would like something to eat, so we went into another restaurant where we had a light meal of bread and butter, jam and cake. A small boy waited upon us and we thought we would like to give him a tip but he disappeared and a big man was to be seen lurking suspiciously near our hats and coats. His intention being to secure the tip which we had intended to give to the boy who had waited upon us. Here I might add that the wine we had at dinner, though cheap, was strong, and apparently red wine on top of white wine is the wrong order. Anyhow, I felt very big and was quite ready to argue with the big waiter, so I said "Garcon - send me 'petit garcon.'" He pretended not to understand my Italian, but I stood up and repeated my request. When he saw my statue , he said "Non, you pay me I pay de boy. I said " Non, we pay de boy he pay you." and under my breath added the word, perhaps. He explained his view of the situation in Italian, I explained my mine in English. He could see I understood him, and I think he understood me, because he disappeared and returned very quickly holding the small boy by the collar of his coat. I handed the small boy a 2 lira piece so that he could not give part of his tip to the big man. The big man looked over my shoulder as I handed the tip to the boy, I turned round and said "Go away - you are not in this." He paid me several compliments in Italian I sweetly smiled and asked what time supper would be ready.
In the evening we visited an Italian music hall and one item "Marionettes" was remarkably clever. The other items were songs rendered by fat Italian women and coarse sketches, the Italians seem to have a very extraordinary style of music hall performances. One comedian proved very popular with the audience, he smoked a clay pipe and brought forth great applause by constantly making a grimace and expectorating on the stage.
The performance concluded, we returned to camp on a motor lorry. It was a gloriously fine day, quite mild, and proved very interesting. The town boasted of some very fine shops & buildings.
On Feb. 3 my enquiries regarding my baggage began to bear fruit for I received a wire from the Camp Commandant at Cherbourg telling me to wire to Embarkation Officer at Southampton, particulars of my missing baggage. I wired the necessary particulars and once again began to have hopes of seeing my kit again.
On Feb. 4 I handed over the 12 men attached to me at Southampton and was jolly glad to be rid of them.
On Feb. 5 we were up at 6 am., landed on a lighter at 8 am and got aboard the "SS Snaefell" at 8 am. Sailed at 3 p.m. the "Rose" following, also one destroyer. We passed out of harbour and had a fine view of the Italian navy which seemed to be standing by. Some very fine boats she had, or at any rate they looked fine and very formidable bristling all over with big guns.
Soon after getting aboard I was detailed as Orderly Officer of the Ship from 8 till 12 o'clock I had to tramp over every inch of the ship with my life belt on to see that no noise was being made and that no lights were visible. Men were lying asleep in every possible hole & corner and it was with great difficulty that I picked my way. I heard many a muttered curse as I kicked a man's head here or trod on a man's hand there. But still they could not see me as I could not see them so I didn't complain at their hard words. On one of my tours I walked into an opening which I thought was a stair case to the upper deck but on cautiously putting my foot inside feeling for the first stair up, I found the first stair down. It was the stoke hole, I felt sorely tempted to strike a match and chance submarines. One thrill per hour for 4 hours is likely to get on any mans nerves. Sea was calm and the phosphorous on the water making fantastic shapes as the sea was churned up was very fascinating and I looked long at it, my thoughts wandering to the Homeland and I wondered when, if ever, I should make the return journey.
In addition to this duty I was put in charge of the Starboard Collapsible Lifeboat. Collapsible is an excellent name for it. I asked one of the sailors where the Starboard Collapsible Lifeboat was and he said: "at the starboard side, Sir". Of course I did not want him to think I didn't know the starboard from any other board, so I said I know all about that but where is the lifeboat. He said there Sir, right in front of you. I said do you mean that bundle of boards and canvas and he said "Yes that's it". I said how does it work. He said "Oh you wait till the ship sinks and when the upper deck is level with the sea the boat opens and floats off." I said it was awfully interesting and thought that life boat was an excellent name for it. I said have you been at sea long and he said "Oh yes, Sir, all my life." I said you are certainly very much 'at sea' with your ideas of a lifeboat and the way it works. He didn't seem very pleased with my remarks, he seemed less pleased when I reminded him of the submarine danger and the risk of many men's lives being lost through an Officer not being able to get some practical instruction in the use of a contrivance he had never seen before. He went away looking a bit sheepish, later a real live seaman came along - I got the necessary information on how to act in the event of the lifeboat being required.
On Feb. 6th, I found another job, this time being Baggage Officer, which meant superintending the transfer of the Officers' bags and baggage from the hold of the ship to the lighter at the side, then from the lighter to the quay and again into lorries.
Oh, the irony of it, lost all my own stuff & now had to look after other peoples.
(Arrival in Greece)
Feb. 7th. landed at Itea(Greece) packed into lorries, hauled out again and marched to Rest Camp where we stayed the night, bread at tea time most unpleasant. Had a smell and tasted of paraffin. Soup tasted like paraffin soup.
Itea is a very interesting place. Having finished our sea journey I endeavoured to send a cable home. Found the Telegraph Office but as the operator couldn't understand English, he refused to send the cable. As he acknowledged he didn't understand English I felt quite safe in telling him what I thought of Greek Telegraph Offices, in good plain English.
Next day we packed into motor lorries for a long journey over the mountains. This was a most gorgeous trip 50 motor lorries forming the convoy, up steep winding slopes round and round like a great snake. I was in the first lorry and it was most strange to look down from our upper road to see the tail end of the lorries hundreds of feet below. Eventually we reached the top and found quite thick snow, it was awfully cold. Then we started the descent down the other side. I was riding in front beside the driver, he cheered me up immensely when we came to hairpin bends. He said this is the spot where many lorries have dashed over the side. Many accidents have happened and several have been killed. I thanked him for his comforting words and suggested walking, but he said "Oh, don't be nervous, I never have accidents, unseen by him I touched wood.
It was curious to see Greek women working on the roads, breaking stones and patching the bad places. Children, both boys and girls, were working too. I found afterwards that it was quite a common thing for the women and children to work, and work hard, whilst the men loafed, except of course those who were in the Army. After 4 hours ride we reached Bralo (Brállos?) having completed 35 miles by road. At Bralo I found there was a Telegraph Office 3 miles away. It was a very hot day and I had a headache through the powerful sun but I walked to the office and succeeded in sending my cable home. It cost only 6/6 (1/6?) but I should have sent it even if it only cost me my last penny as I was anxious to let those at home know I had completed the sea journey without mishap.
On Feb. 9th we entrained at Bralo at 10.50 a.m. for the last stage of our journey and after 24 hours spent in ration wagon we arrived at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning Feb. 10th at Summerhill Camp Salonica, having taken 19 days to come from Southampton.
Here I had the unpleasant experience of being posted from my travelling companions and being dumped amongst strangers. No kit to hand yet so I went into the empty tent allotted to me with only the things I stood up in plus my haversack which held my shaving and washing materials. I quickly secured 4 empty ration boxes and borrowed 6 blankets from the stores which my servant made into quite a respectable bed. The only drawbacks being that it was Oh so very hard, and I had to keep waking up and feeling the sides of the boxes to make sure I was lying in the centre, because the boxes were very narrow and I was in imminent danger of falling off. I have previously mentioned that the last 24 hour train journey was spent in the ration wagon - I think it hardly necessary to add that I did not go short of rations in consequence of their close proximity. The guardsman who was a Greek asked me for a cigarette. I gave him one and he produced a flask of cognac. He asked me to drink some, I did. He asked me to give him 10 cigarettes and he would give me a whole flask. I did and he did.
My companions being sent to No 2 and No 3 Base respectively, I was left alone in my tent. This is where Tommy gets the advantage of company and is always with his own pals as the draft men invariably move all together. But I was glad of my solitude in a way, I lost my old pals, new ones cannot immediately take their places.
The next day, Monday 11th Feb. I was put on duty giving men instructions in the value and use of gas helmets. The Field Cashier, coming in the afternoon enabled me to draw 125 Drachma = £5-4-2d. Next day I was driven in a motor to the hospital for an Eye Test and on returning to Camp found I was posted to the 11th Worcester's (a Service Battn in the line). The Base Doctor seeing this and reading my eye report, decided that I was not fit for a Service Battalion so he washed me off. Which I was not sorry for. I had previously experienced winter in the trenches in France. I visited Salonica Town in the evening and dined at the Hotel Rome along the sea front, a rattling good dinner for 5/-. I quickly formed the opinion that Salonica was a reasonably cheap place but I was quickly disillusioned in the next few days. My kit not having turned up, I bought boots, socks, vests etc. at the army ordinance depot. Hailed a passing motor and was whisked back to camp, a distance of five miles in a little over ten minutes. I don't know whose car it was, but the driver was satisfied with the tip. The rest of my days at Summerhill were filled up by duties as orderly officer, censor, etc.
On Feb.. 15th, I was sent for another eye test. A shocking blizzard blowing all day, tents came down wholesale, ropes broken, self wet through. Several Gravesend officers arrived, was glad to see them. Next day, gale still blowing, raining in torrents, self and twenty other officers slept in the mess. I slept on the table, bitterly cold, fed up. Never heard such a wind in my life. Fortunately the mess hut stood it all right. Many tents were torn to shreds. Summerhill being really a hill with no surrounding hills to protect it, always got the full force of the periodical Vardar winds. This particular wind blows continuously and on this occasion blew for 36 hours solid. It nearly carries one off one's feet. I marvelled that the military authorities did not put up wooden structures for the accommodation of officers and men, but it appears that soldiers cease to be human beings when they go overseas. Snow lying thick on the ground, which the wind blew along in clouds. I felt very happy, contented and comfortable. I had a box made to keep my few things I had brought in.
The wind proved a blessing in a way because it enabled me to become possessed of certain articles such as blankets, waterproof sheets and several minor items which would never have come my way if the wind would not have blown them to me. I thought truly 'tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good. I fear however, that same wind was being cursed by certain other people, but I consoled myself that I was not responsible for the wind.
A day or so after I with some of the Gravesend Officers, went into the town again, but left it rather late in starting for home. One of the party chartered a Greek garry (?) and we drove in the ramshackle affair back to camp. The Greek driver demanded 25 Drachmas = £1 - he was told not to be silly and was handed 10 Drachmas. He seemed very displeased and got off his seat, to follow us into camp, all the time cursing us horribly. We told the sentry on duty to send him away as he was annoying us. The sentry like a good soldier obeyed his orders and the poor old Greek had to clear off with his 10 Drachs which really was not bad considering it worked out at about 2 shillings a mile. And after all, the conveyance was a shabby, broken down affair, dragged along by two ponies.
On 19/2/18, I handed in my claim for my lost kit. The next six days were all blanks, nothing happened, same old thing, rain, snow, wind, heat, cold all mixed up.
On 27 Feb.. quite a number of new officers arrived. I showed my appreciation of them by having a washing day (my servant having been sent up the line with my draft). Sat on my collars whilst they were damp to iron them.
On Feb. 28th I received orders to proceed to Number Two P/W camp Payachia (?) where I was to act as Adjutant. I was delighted at the prospect of getting away from Summerhill.
Next morning I proceeded by motor lorry to Sarakli. and joined a Mr Striven bound for the same destination as myself. No accommodation was available on the Decanville Railway, which by the way is a narrow gauge affair with a tiny engine which always required pushing up small inclines, so we had to climb on top of one of the hay wagons and sat on the tarpaulin cover. We passed through miles of open country, past the beautiful lake Langaza to Langevuk (?) As we sat on the tarpaulins, we ate our rations, bully beef on bread seasoned with soot and smuts from the engine. It was a very enjoyable meal. It was a good job the journey only lasted a little over five hours.
Arrived at Langevuk we told the cook a pitiable tale of two starving officers. He took pity and quickly produced stewed rabbit and some hot tea. This finished we proceeded by means of horse transport namely ASC wagons to our final destination Pazarkia where we arrived in time for dinner, looking back over these last few lines it looks as if eating was the chief occupation of the day. But really winter days spent on top of a railway truck make one feel a bit hungry. Anyhow, the stewed eels, roast beef fruit and custard and bread cheese and coffee found a good home. I was given a very comfortable tent and found my servant had a nice charcoal brazier burning brightly. I was soon to bed and fast asleep.
Next morning Striven and I saw the Camp Commandant (Major). I was told I should be the Adjutant and Striven should be the Escort Officer. He at once said he could not ride a horse and was indeed too heavy. Seeing that he weighed about sixteen stone I think he was right. I was asked if I could ride, needless to say I said yes. So the order of things was reversed and I became Escort Officer. The officer I was replacing asked me if I cared to go for a ride. I said yes so the horses were sent for.
Willlie came along and looked at me. I looked at him and I think I noticed a merry little twinkle in his eye. I had seen army horses before and had heard many tales about them. I think this one could have told a tale if he had liked but he only stood there eyeing me in silence. Well I took my courage in both hands and jumped on his back. Away he went, I knew not where he was bound for and cared little. I only know I had one hand holding the reins and the other hand gripping the front point of the saddle for dear life. When he had gone as far and as fast as he wanted he slowed down to a trot; this was my opportunity and I seized it.
I grasped the reins with both hands and guided him back to where he had started from. I took good care to keep a tight hold on his head so that he could not rush away just as he pleased. When I got back the other officer who had been patiently awaiting me asked if I had enjoyed my ride. I said yes why didn't you come I thought you were following me, but apparently I was riding too fast for you. I thought this was a very fine speech; I saw my horse deliberately wink his eye.
Well whether I upset this man or not I cannot say, suffice it to say we started off together at quite a respectable trot until we reached some open ground. Then away his horse went at a maddening gallop. Mine following of full tilt. The miles flew past and I was not sorry when we stopped and turned once again in the direction of home. We got back without mishap, but I felt very sore indeed and was forced to believe that my remarks about riding too fast for my companion were perfectly ridiculous.
(Handwriting changes here - the remainder may have been copied from another document.)
The next day I started on my new duties. I was to act as Escort Officer. There were some 900 Turkish Prisoners of War in the Compound who were being very usefully employed in building a light railway from Langevuk to Stavros The prisoners worked very well when one considers their high rate of pay (something equalling about 4d per day and of course they were fed and generally looked after very well. They went out in batches of about 50 with an armed escort of 4 or 5 men. My job was to ride round the different gangs to see that they were working satisfactorily and that the guards were watching them carefully. The area that the prisoners were working in covered about 10 square miles so that I had ample opportunity of improving my horsemanship.
Every alternate night I had to sleep in the officers guard tent and had to visit my sentries twice during the night, which by the way is a none too pleasant duty. Its no joke turning out of a warm bed about 12 o'clock and again about 4 in the morning but apart from this, it was really a delightful life. The country around was simply charming and lake Beshik, with Beshik village across the other side, was a very picturesque spot. The headman from the village used to row across to our camp occasionally and each time he came he brought large baskets of fish with him. A large coarse kind of mackerel and salmon also eels. He told us through his interpreter that he paid an equivalent of £3,000 to the Greek Government for the exclusive fishing right in the lake.
Near to our camp was an old Turkish bath erected by the Turks some centuries ago. The bath was fed by hot springs and the water running into the bath even in winter is quite hot. The camp Commandant had the bath cleaned out and many rings, bracelets, bangles also old Turkish coins were found in the mud deposit. I was not fortunate in securing any as the Major gave orders that everything found was to be handed to him. Whilst at the compound some of the prisoners refused to go out to work as they maintained that the work of railway construction was work of an military nature, so the Commandant said he would punish them by striking their tents, leaving them with no shelter at night. Next day they still refused, so their bread ration was cut down. Next day they still refused so their water supply was threatened, that finished the strike because the Turks are very keen on their water supply so they all went out to work that morning and did not give any more trouble.
I must say the prisoners were well treated and had every consideration shown them. They all had cigarettes and matches supplied to them and I have seen the time when our own soldiers went short of their issue because there were not sufficient matches to give each prisoner a box. Our own men had one box between two. As regards the feeding, I have seen the prisoners sell some of their bread to Greek shepherds on the roadside.
The work of building the railway has since been completed and I have ridden over the track on an engine. Only one thing marred my pleasure and that was the Major's craze for bridge. He simply nailed me every evening after dinner also the Doctor and Kirby (the other Escort officer) and we played till I could hardly see. Consequently when I went to my tent I found my fire out and I had to go to bed in the cold. Bridge is all right for those who like it, but I don't. However, I had no option so I had to grin and bear it. I resolved that if ever I got away from Pazarkia I would stoutly deny to my dying day that I knew anything about card games.
On March 12th I felt awfully bucked, because the Major told me I was to proceed to Langevuk (?) with 300 prisoners and 60 British personnel to take charge of the compound there and to act as Camp Commandant. The Major gave me his own black charger for my personal use and at 8 o'clock I started away at the head of my procession. Well directly my horse felt the touch of my riding cane he went off at a mad gallop right away from the procession I tried to turn him back, but he refused to budge. He shied and kicked up his hind legs then very nearly stood on his head and tried to get me to do the same. Then he whacked backwards up a steep bank, his hind legs just about a foot from the edge of the embankment. If he had gone back any further he would have gone down about 40 feet on to the lower ground. I felt in a somewhat precarious position, anyhow he seemed content to stay in this position so I was agreeable and then we waited until the procession came in sight. I think however my position and appearance was not a very impressive one but I could not help it. I was so to speak in my horse's hands. I did not know which way he intended going when he did make a start, either backwards or forwards, of course I preferred a forward movement, but I had no option.
Well, to cut a long story short I got fed up with the brute so I called over one of my mounted men and told him to swap horses with me. He said OK I know that black one Sir, I've seen him before. I said "Well I've really seen him behind" and I've seen enough of him. We swapped and I very gallantly let the other man risk his neck. Now the Turk is a very funny man. When on the march, he won't hurry and, if he wants to pray by the roadside, no one is allowed to interfere with him. One can doubtless imagine what a grand job I had escorting 300 of the beauties, each one having a different time in which he wanted to say his prayers. It simply meant about 300 halts of about half a minute each.
Eventually we arrived at Langavuk and to my great surprise I found other orders had been issued and another officer was already in charge. I was to return to Payakia. The distance was 12 miles and the only means of getting back was a bumpy ambulance wagon. I got in and arrived back at Payakia at 8.50 no dinner in consequence.
On my return I found orders to return to base next day and so my glorious little job had come to an end. Next day a lorry took me back to Langavuk where I had lunch and then train to Sarakli. I phoned for a car but had to wait till the next day. The rail Commandant provided me with a splendid dinner and breakfast also tent. Next day I motored back to base and found orders awaiting me to report to second/fifth DLI.
On March 18th therefore I started off in a motor lorry to Dudulan arriving there at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I was informed that my train left at 5 am next morning. Had to spent the night on the floor of the waiting room. Next day my train came along and took me as far as Sarajot (?) about three hours journey. Thence on a light railway to Rajairora(?). The journey to this place was most interesting the line in some parts runs along the centre of the road and people and children also cats and dogs scatter right and left when the little engine comes puffing along. Arrived at rail head at 12 o'clock and phoned to 2/5th HQ for mules, two arrived at 3 o'clock, one to carry my kit, such as it was, and the other to carry myself. Had a very tedious journey over the mountains, I got so weary of the monotonous jog-trot of the mule, that after 2 hours of agony I got off the brute's back and walked leading the animal behind me.
At 6.30 I arrived at my HQ and was posted to 'D' Co. On the journey over the mountains I saw deep down in a ravine a human skeleton, whether my mule saw it or not I know not, but upon passing behind him he landed out with his hind leg, fortunately my haversack was hanging at my side and contained a stale loaf. This received the force of the blow instead of my ribs but nevertheless I went spinning backwards and eventually sat down. To those whom it may concern let me advise you never to pass behind a mule. Always pass in front and risk having your ear chewed off. Mules have some funny ways.
(Up the Line)
My first night "up the line", I spend in an old Greek house with a nice wood fire burning in the grate. Had dinner in the mess with my new Company commander (Hon H de Vere Stacpoole) quite a nice chap. Next morning I took over my post in the front line together with the Platoon who were holding it .
The Bulgars were quite a safe distance away, but not too far off to send a few shells over occasionally. Here(?) the unit I joined was essentially a garrison unit and was composed of category men, men with defective vision, defective hearing, bronchial subjects, malarial wrecks etc.. These were the types of men holding the front line. It was not surprising therefore that I could go right up close to the sentries in the middle of the night without being challenged.
Fortunately, nothing serious happened.. Its true Very-lights went up from our trip wires, also grenades went off, but these were probably occasioned by stray dogs.
Talking of dogs I had a beauty come to my dugout. A large white dog more like a polar bear than a dog but he was a splendid companion and used to sleep outside my dugout every night. I often heard him growling and barking in the night whenever any of the men passed near my dugout.
By the way, my dugout was a splendid structure under a large plum tree and even in March with snow upon the ground, the tree was in full blossom. The country round this part is very prolific, grape vines are entwined round about practically every tree, pears peaches also grow in profusion.
Men forming my platoon had been out in this country for over two years, many had never been into the town of Salonica or seen a woman since they landed in the country. Their days were made up of drills, work, sentry go, outpost duty, fatigues, with football as a recreation once a week. Truly a monstrous life for a man. Lt King at the next post formed a choir, and I assisted him, singing bass. We had regular choir practice and though we had no musical instruments we got together quite a decent choir. King and I also started a concert party and were practising turns ourselves. Duets etc., also a conjuring stunt, but unfortunately before the great day for our first performance I received orders to go back to base. So our concert party fell through.
I had an Irishman as my batman but unfortunately he got the impression that he had ceased to be a soldier and was not subject to military discipline, consequently when my sergeant warned him to attend a parade for Saluting Drill and said that he had been a soldier for 23 years and if he did not know how to salute now, he never would know. Well I ordered him to attend the parade, he did so, but made up his mind to be awkward. He deliberately stuck his finger in his eye instead of holding his hand in the correct position. When the sergeant corrected him he stood quite still and refused to carry out the movement. I asked him in front of the platoon how long he had been in the army, he replied '23 years Soir!" I said its about time you knew how to salute and ordered him an extra hours drill in the evening. This got his Irish back up still worse, eventually I got my two corporals to stand by and told my wild Irishman that these two corporals would conduct him to the guardroom if I had anymore nonsense from him. I had no more trouble that day.
Now my Irishman had a weakness for rum - as I kept the surplus issue in my dugout I noticed the quantity grow appreciably less. Now there was only one person who had access to my dugout so it was not difficult to fix the culprit. I secured an empty bottle, put some cold tea in it also some salt and pepper and shook the mixture up well. I put the cork in and stood it in the place of the rum which I put elsewhere. Next morning I found a quantity representing a good mouthful had gone and I wondered if the thief had enjoyed it . I don't think he did relish overmuch because he didn't take any more.
I have remarked previously the enemy were quite a distance away. In proof of this I might say I often wandered out, unaccompanied, in front of our wire entanglements in broad daylight in fact I often went out to burn reeds and tall growing grasses as a malaria preventative measure. It appeared that so long as we did not annoy Johnny Bulgar with shells he was content to keep quiet. Patrols went out each night towards enemy lines and on one occasion the British patrol "bumped" against a Bulgar Patrol, the British were taken prisoners, owing to the superiority of the Bulgar numbers. The next might our new Patrol found a notice written by the captured British Patrol Leader asking his C.O to send his kit down to the enemy wire and the Bulgars would send two men down to carry it to him. His C.O was to give an undertaking that the two Bulgars would not to be interfered with and the enemy would give a similar undertaking regarding the British messengers(?). The undertaking were exchanged and the kit sent down. Next night a receipt was found on the post thanking the C.O for sending kit which was safely received.
On March 31st (Easter Sunday) I started on my return journey to the Base. My C.O, Captain Henry, insisted on my riding his black charger, a grand horse, back to Rajournovia(?). The orderly brought him round to the mess. My Captain expressed his regrets at losing me, and told me if I had a chance of going up line again he would welcome me back.
I mounted the charger, and upon the orderly's advice I started to ride "loose rein". I soon found however, that the loose rein idea was a rotten one, because the horse simply bolted away with me. I thought what a rotten orderly he was, but in my mind I wondered if it was my rotten horsemanship that was to blame. Anyhow, after many exciting moments we succeeded in crossing the snow-topped range of mountains with out mishap and arrived at the rail head at 12 o'clock. Had to wait till 12 next day for a train - only 24 hours' wait - not bad.
The Rail Commandant, Captain Booth, a glorious fellow, insisted on my staying for tea, dinner and breakfast, with him. Cigars and whisky flowed freely all the evening and we had a most pleasant time, nice comfortable dugout with a splendid fire and a gramophone. At 1 am, Adamson, who had ridden over with me, and I, made our way to our tent; well whether it was the whisky or the dark night I don't know, but we could not find our tent, we wandered about for 1 hour and eventually at 2 am we got inside our tent. Now Adamson is not a heavy fellow but when he laid on his bed, it started giving way, bit by bit, until with a crash he eventually fell through the canvas, in the morning he discovered himself lying on the floor with bits of canvas forming sort of fancy decoration round him.
We finished breakfast at 12 o'clock, got on the train to Sargol where we stayed the night at the Rest Camp. In the evening we had a very fine concert which we greatly appreciated. There were many really good turns. Next morning we continued our train journey to Dudular thence motor lorries to No 2 Base. Here we received orders to proceed to 2/9 DLI (?) where we were supposed to have been sent in the first place, but someone had made a mistake in the orders.
On Apr. 3rd I reported myself to 2/9 DLI at Besch Chinar Gardens, which were once a pleasure resort at the south side of the bay. We, Adamson and I , went into the mess where we were received with frigid politeness. Later, in our tents, Adamson & I compared opinions and both agreed that the other officers were stand-offish. We both truthfully said we would sooner be up the line again, because all the officers up there were so particularly friendly from the Colonel down to the newest subaltern.
After several weeks at the Gardens however, things improved, and speaking for myself, I am quite happy in my surroundings, being particularly friendly with some of my brother officers. The Colonel is simply a grand chap, he is a soldier and has seen service in France, likewise one or two others. The majority of them have not been to France, I have and perhaps this fact has weighed in my favour.
Anyhow the 'insularity' soon became a thing of the past, and as later events will show, I won the regard of all.
On April 10th our Concert Party gave a matinee of "Camouflage" and several "Sisters" were invited to the show with tea afterwards in the Gardens. The officers were detailed to look after them and I had two palmed onto me. They had a pleasant time and invited me to the hospital. I have not accepted that invite, one was very pretty, the other was not.
On my birthday, Apr. 11th I dined with Woods at the French Club. The scene there is very gay with officers of all ranks and in uniforms representing France, England, Russia, Greece, Serbia, America, Italy all showed up to advantage in the glare of Electric Light. The meal was an excellent one, comprising Fish Soup, joint, Ices, Cheese, Fruit, white & red wines ad-lib. The charge 5 Francs, most moderate. Met two naval Commanders and spent the evening with them at the Skating Rink.
On 9th Apr. my baggage which had caused me so much inconvenience and anxiety, arrived with only one strap missing from my gladstone bag. I was so glad to see it I had my bed made up at once and got into it, so different to sleeping on boxes.
On 15th Apr. attended my first Court Martial for instructional purposes.
On 24th Apr. Hopper came from the line and we dined together in the town. Had a very enjoyable evening and talked like magpies.
On May 4th I went by motor boat from our "pier" to Karabarum, 2 hours trip each way. The sea was awfully rough and the homeward trip so rough in fact that the boat shipped so much water that it stopped the motor and we were tossing hopelessly about for one hour. A storm came on with thunder & lightening and I wondered if I should ever see land again. However after an hour's hard pumping and attention from the engineer, the motor started again and we got back safely.
On May 6th, I joined Woods and Lawrence at a picnic at the 63rd General Hospital - there I met a Sister whose brother I knew well in England. We had quite a nice tea and pleasant chat, one incident only marring an otherwise pleasant time. Now it happened in this way(?).
I was making my way alone over a deserted tract of country when I spied in the distance two great dogs bounding towards me with eyes flashing, jaws open, displaying excellent sets of teeth, and making most hideous growling noises. I guessed I was "for it", I had only a slender walking cane as protection and kept the brutes at bay by swinging the cane vigorously to and fro. One dog got behind me, and as though by signal, each sprang at me simultaneously one in front and one behind. I made a rush at the one in front, he turned tail, then I turned suddenly upon the other who was in the act of springing upon me. I stepped to one side and then rushed madly at him - he also turned tail. By this time, a little Greek boy had come to my assistance and stoned the dogs so that they made off. I was told afterwards that these dogs are very cowardly, they only attack single individuals but always attack in pairs. They are however very afraid of stones.
I continued my journey home in safety, but my dreams that night were of wild dogs.
On May 10th I had the unique experience of seeing a Turkish prisoner under sentence of death. He was caught in the Town, he was a spy.
(Change of Air Camp)
On June 22nd for a rest at the Change of Air Camp at Karabarum, and was in charge of a party of 5 Officers and 450 other ranks. I marched them through the town to the harbour got aboard the "SS" Wave, and after a glorious trip across the Bay, of about 1<½>; hours, we arrived and had a glorious 10 days. Plenty to eat and drink. Commander Stone was at the Camp, invited a party of officers to visit his Patrol Ship, which was at anchor outside the submarine bar. He sent his ship's cutter to fetch us and we had a very enjoyable morning on board. It was a fine vessel and was well provided with big guns, anti aircraft guns etc.. Every boat coming to Salonica or leaving, had to be boarded and inspected by the Patrol Boats officer, papers examined, also cargoes etc.. Even the little Greek fishing boats could not get in or out without being examined. Concert parties and bands helped the time to pass quite nicely and the sea bathing left nothing to be desired. The sea was a beautiful blue and the camp was set right on the edge of the cliff, altogether a glorious spot.
The holiday finished I returned to the Gardens to carry on with the old humdrum existence. Things remained pretty much the same until September when I was warned on Sep. 7th for duty under sealed orders. It appears that I had been specially asked for by my Captain Alexander.
So, on the 11th (Sep) I started away with gas helmet, steel helmet and all equipment for a journey up the line. I had an advance party of 25 men with tents and cooking equipment. We arrived at Yanesh at 1 am on the 12th. My men were busily engaged in getting up the tents etc. out of the train, when, to my annoyance, the train started away at top speed taking 11 of my men and the remainder of the tents with it. My remaining 14 men I took to the rest camp the other unfortunate 11 returned the next day at 7 am after spending the night in the train without food.
At 9 am we all started off in lorries to Jenikry(?) just behind the line where we pitched our camp with a cookhouse and a prisoner's compound. We lived on bully beef until our cookhouse was ready and then we had roast joints and stews.
On the 14th inst. I was invited to the R.A.F(?) mess to dinner and spent a very enjoyable evening. The next day the balance of the party arrived and found everything ready for them. The river ran at the front of our camp & I made a large bath in the bed making a splendid place for the men to bathe & wash their clothes. I made an inlet and an outlet so that there was an ever running stream of fresh water in the bath. Alexander and myself used to go down in the evening for our bath and quite enjoyed the moonlight experience. The weather at this time was awfully hot.
On Sep 18 we had the first 1000 Bulgar prisoners through our compound and right glad they were to be there. They were in a bad state, half starved, half naked, and hundreds bootless, many were wounded and quite a lot were suffering from effects of gas. One or two could speak English fairly well and expressed great surprise to find the French and English were so friendly with each other as they had been told the war would soon be over, because the French and English were fighting against each other. They were also told by their German officers, when they were mobilised, that they were going to fight with the British not against them.
On the 19th Sep I had to get up at 3 am to take charge of the prisoners, including 10 Bulgar officers, back to Salonica & put them in the Karassi P/w compound. I had an escort of 25 men only. We marched to the railway siding stopped the train and all climbed into the cattle trucks. At 1 p.m. we arrived at Dudular railhead and then had to march 8 miles to Karassi(?) in the hottest part of the day. All had full equipment and wore serge clothes. Some of the prisoners fell down from sheer exhaustion which necessitated stopping the whole column. I saw they were too weak to carry on so I left some of my guard behind to put the poor wretches onto motor lorries and started off with the remainder.
When in the train I had the 10 Bulgar officers in my truck with only one armed escort with me, we had no trouble. Whenever we passed a water standpipe I had the greatest difficulty in keeping order, because the prisoners were so famished that they simply fought each other to get water. They had bits of broken bottles and bully tins, old rusty cigarette tins, in fact anything that would hold a mouthful of water. I could only restore order with my revolver. Previous to drawing my revolver, they had broken out of the ranks and were actually drinking the dirty water running from a trough where the French were washing their dirty clothes. Filthy water not fit for pigs.
There were a number of disreputable Greeks about and I could not tell which were my prisoners and which Greeks. I went up to a man standing near and said get back into the ranks you blighter, he said me no Bulgar me Greek. I said well get out of the ....way very quick. He needed no second bidding, but made himself scarce. At the next stand pipe I placed some of the guard with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets because I did not want a repetition of the previous trouble, and took my stand by the men with a determined air and a loaded revolver in my hand. The Bulgars were quick to perceive my intentions and passed quietly on. I felt awfully sorry for them, but I had my duty to perform and I had to impress them with the fact that I was going to be master of the situation.
Eventually we arrived at the compound and, upon my numbers being checked, I had the satisfaction of knowing I had not lost any on the way. I had orders to return on foot to Dudelar but refused to march saying my men were unfit for the return journey. At last after a talk with the Major I secured a lorry and we all rode back to the station. We arrived at Yanesh at 12 o'clock midnight and had a 2 hour march back to Yenickry(?). When I got to my tent at 2 a.m.. I found another visiting officer snugly tucked up in my bed. I woke him up and turned him out because I did not like his cheek and after my 23 hour day and a strenuous one at that, I did not fancy passing the remainder on a cold hard stony floor.
No more prisoners arriving we had orders on 21/1/18 to return to Base. We packed up all the tents, cooking utensils and stores and spent the night on the railway siding awaiting the train. Eventually we arrived back at Dudular and just as we had got the last of our luggage nicely out of the train, a messenger came along bearing orders for us to return to where we had come from. Certain remarks we heard from the Captain and myself also the men, but they are not fit to record here. On our return to Yanesh we marched our men to the Rest Camp whilst Captain & myself booked a bedroom at the Yanesh Hotel. We had supper and retired to our room. I found a lodger already in possession, in the shape of a great centipede, these are nasty things, but this one will not be nasty any longer.
Next morning our orders arrived to report to 12th Corps at Guginichi(?), so we had a very interesting trip in motor lorries over ground that lorries had never been over before. It's impossible to describe the sensations of this journey to anyone who has not actually experienced a similar ride. Arriving at 12th Corps H.Q. we received our orders to proceed to Killer(?) Hill to bury the dead.
Now I would like to pass quickly over the gruesome details, but just mention that our men had to work with their gas helmets on all the time, that two of our men died, two went off their heads, and thirty four went into hospital, it will convey a slight idea of the sacrifice entailed in paying the last respects to the lads who had given their lives to King & Country.
We buried over 300 British whilst with the Greeks, French & Bulgars we totalled over 620. Just a plain stick with what particulars we could gather marked their last resting place. Nearly all the bodies had been stripped of boots and clothing by the enemy. Our work covered an area comprising the Pips, Sugar Loaf Hill, The Maze, Warren, Scabbard (or Scotland?), Hib(?), Sceptre, Grand Couronné, Petit Couronné, 03, Drumcase(?) Ravine, Vladajin Ravine, Sword Ravine. On Sugar Loaf we were pestered with fleas and in a period of about 20 hours the Captain and I caught about 48 fleas. I had no rest for two nights. I doused my bed with flea powder and nearly choked myself with it, violent fits of sneezing seized me and I wondered if the remaining fleas were sneezing also. I hoped so. After about a week we were quite free of them.
Our next job was to salve rifles, bayonets, equipment, machine guns, ammunition etc.. We carried on with this until 5 Oct. when we received orders to return to Base.
Nothing further happened until the 11 Oct. when we had fresh orders to pack up and wait for lorries. None turned up, on 12 Oct. same, we had packed up our tents and consequently had to sleep in the open. As nothing in the shape of lorries turned up we pitched our tents again and remained there waiting for another week. On the 19th Oct. the lorries arrived and conveyed us to Corsica(?). At 6.30 we got aboard the train just as the train was about to move off a motor messenger arrived with instructions for Cap A and myself also 10 men to remain behind - more foreign language escaped our lips and once again we pitched tents for our party remaining behind. The remainder of the men proceeded home.
At 11 o'clock that night we were snugly in bed when another mounted messenger arrived with a wire stating Brigadier General Holbrook desired to see us tomorrow. At 8 o'clock the General's car arrived and whirled us to the General's H.Q. our(?) interesting interview resulted in a 34 km ride the next day over to the place we had just come from, namely the area where we had been working. I had a grand horse and apart from feeling utterly wearied, enjoyed the gallop.
(Return to Base)
On 25(?)th Oct. we returned to Base, but Capt Alexander insisted on my staying with him at his detachment camp as he said I required a good rest. He was right - I was awfully fagged out and felt about 100 years old. After four days of complete rest and feeding up well with some good tonic tablets, I began once again to take an interest in life and, by the time I returned to the Gardens, I was feeling more or less fit. For several weeks however, I could not get the ghastly sights out of my mind and I found everything a great exertion. My limbs were stiff and my head seemed strange, I ached in every particle of my body and often wondered what had happened to me and if I should ever be my old self again. However, on the Doctor's orders I took things easily and after a month or so I began to get fairly fit again and carried on with my various duties.
On Nov. 5th (Inkermann Day) the day upon which my unit distinguished itself years ago, we had quite a flare up in the Gardens. Many "Sisters" were invited from several hospitals, bunting was hanging everywhere, our Band playing all the afternoon, tea in the Gardens. Aunt Sally Shows, Coconut Shies and motor boating round the bay. Oh what an awful war. The men all had a special feed with cigars and cigarettes, also free beer. Whilst the officers had a special feast.
The next day of great importance, or rather greater importance was Nov. 11th - the day the general armistice was signed.
The ships in the harbour at 2 o'clock fired rockets and guns and dressed ship. All the men made as much noise as possible banging empty tins and oil drums. The motor boats contributed their small quota by sounding their sirens and hooters. Our sergeants marched right round the camp with the band instruments, making (the) most unearthly noise. This lasted for about an hour then all quietened down again and things in the Garden returned to normal.
In the town the Greeks and French went mad, loosing off their rifles indiscriminately with the consequences that some fatal accidents happened.
On December 9th I visited the great Greek Prison built hundreds of years ago in the old town part, inside the city walls. Here were men, prisoners of all nationalities a most bloodthirsty crew. Some under sentence of death for desertion from their respective armies. One blood thirsty brute came up to me and said " you officer from Karanassi(?) P/W Camp." I quickly denied my identity and said "No, Johnny." I might add I was on top of the wall which was about 6 ft wide but has a sheer drop down of about 80 feet. And as I was particularly anxious to see my home again, I did not feel as though a push by my questioner would help me realise my ambition.
As regards Salonica, it is a dirty foul place - I was told that when the British Army first arrived it was a common thing for sentries on isolated posts to be found stabbed and robbed, tales are also told of French Colonials (Black Troops) taking young children up into the hills and cooking and eating them. I have had this information from reliable sources and can quite believe these things possible.
I do know that British Tommies have been offered ride in Greek lorries and have been robbed and thrown off whilst the lorries have been travelling fast over lonely roads. There is at the moment a Base Order prohibiting British Troops riding in Greek lorries. Personally I always go about with my automatic in my pocket. Little wonder that the city was reduced to ashes in Aug. 17. There were some very fine buildings once, but now they are merely shells. The dirt and squalor in the city doubtless accounts for so much fever. A tophole place to spend a picnic - I only wish the singer of the song could be condemned to spend one year in Salonika, it would soon knock the picnic idea on the head. Probably the Bishop of London has given the ignorant a better idea of what our lads have gone through. It's satisfactory to know that the despised Balkan Force were the first to win a success that proved the forerunner of the great collapse of the greatest enemy.
Christmas and New Year passed pleasantly enough.
On January 7th (1919) Adamson and I had an invitation to dinner on the "SS Indarra" an Australian liner. A motor boat took us to the liner which was lying in the harbour, and at night, the black servant tapped at the door of the Chief's sitting room where we were all making merry to the accompaniment of a gramophone, to announce that our motor launch was alongside. It was just like one reads about in books.
The skipper would not hear of our going yet and gave orders for the motor boat crew to come aboard and have a feed and some drinks, we eventually made our way, somewhat unsteadily down the ship's ladder and got aboard our motor launch for the trip back to the Gardens.
Our dinner on board was tophole: SOUP, CHICKEN, ROAST PORK, LOBSTER MAYONNAISE, cutlets, fish, pudding, nuts, fruit, black men to wait upon us dressed in spotless white suits.
We all went over the boat at will, down into the engine rooms, refrigerators, bedrooms, bathrooms, lounges, lounges, libraries & so forth. It was indeed a splendid vessel. The drawing room was like a fairy palace, white enamel and gold decoration. A baby grand piano, thick carpets & splendid parquet flooring. I would have given a lot to have stayed on board for the journey to England.
But today I come back to firm realities - my job being to guard an N.C.O. who has been awaiting trial 16 days, and now is waiting for sentence since last Friday actually(?) (12 days ago) 28 days in close confinement up till today.
Another murder committed last night on the 'Lambeth' Road making about 16 in the last fortnight. British Tommies returning from town about 8 p.m. are waylaid, murdered and robbed. I shall be glad to get away from this rotten hole.
Aug. 4th: Lt Mathews (Suffolks at Gravesend) committed suicide at 8 a.m.. in bed (with revolver)
Aug. 5th In charge of Firing and Burial Party to render last respects.