London 1918, the Armistice and Gallantry research

London County Council in the Great War 1914 - 1918

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Salonica.

Before describing the British share in the Allied expedition to Salonica it should be mentioned that the Austrians followed up their declaration of war on Serbia by bombarding Belgrade, the capital, and on 13th August crossed the Danube at Shabatz, 40 miles to the west. Within a few days they were driven out, and a more threatening attack in November and December, which reached Valjevo, 30 miles to the south of the Danube, and led to the fall of Belgrade on 2nd December, was also completely repulsed.

After the first Balkan war, waged by the Bulgarians with the help of Serbians and Greeks against the Turks in 1913, the Bulgarians fell out with their allies, and, in the war which followed, lost most of their gains. It was feared that they might take advantage of the general European war to avenge themselves upon the Serbians, and the latter were urged to secure their neutrality or even alliance, by conceding the territory in dispute. Naturally the Serbians were unwilling to do this, and Germany and Austria by counter proposals, including a substantial loan, obtained the promise of assistance from the Bulgarians. During September, 1915, when the crops had been harvested, their army was mobilised, ostensibly to maintain an armed neutrality. Early in October an Austro-German expedition under Von Mackensen invaded Serbia from the north and the Bulgarians, at length throwing aside all pretence, attacked the Serbians from the east. The Serbian army, already reduced by a year's fighting to about 100,000, was thus set upon by forces four or five times as numerous, and, in spite of an heroic resistance, was rapidly driven back. By the end of November, having lost practically all its guns, ammunition and stores, it had ceased to exist as an organised unit.

The Greeks were parties to a treaty which required them to assist the Serbians but, under the guidance of King Constantine, whose wife was a sister of the Kaiser, had no great scruples in ignoring their responsibilities. France and Great Britain, however were ready to assist, and Salonica, a Greek port of some 140,000 inhabitants, was offered and accepted as a base. A French force, which included the British 10th Division from Gallipoli, was landed in October, 19 15, and endeavoured to join hands with the retreating Serbians by advancing up the valley of the Vardar along the railway from Salonica to Uskub and Nish.
After severe fighting by the French, an attempt to reach Veles failed and the force returned, through dreadful hardships,- to Salonica. The British, who were stationed between Lake Doiran and Dedeli to the north-west to cover the retreat, were heavily attacked early in December during a fog and some what roughly handled. They were able, however, to complete their task, and to retire into Greek territory. The Bulgarians did not cross the frontier and the Allies, being unmolested, spent the winter of 1915/16 in constructing very strong defensive works from Lakes Beshik and Langaza to the Vardar.
There was much else to be done. " When you step out of Salonica you step into a virtual desert, roadless, treeless, uncultivated, populated only by scattered villages . . . inhabited by a low-grade peasantry." Only two roads, both quite inadequate for heavy traffic, and three lines of single railway led from the town towards the enemy. " Winter, right up to the beginning of April, is a season of snow, rain, and, above all, mud. Tracks dissolve into quagmires, main roads break up into holes and ridges, impassable for motor traffic." Roads and bridges were therefore made, wells sunk, supplies stored, hospitals and buildings of all sorts erected, and to enable it to cope with the extra traffic the harbour was deepened and improved. Although the Allies had been officially invited to Salonica, an influential party among the Greeks opposed their work in every way. Worse followed, for on 26th May, 1916, Rupel, commanding the valley of the Struma, was seized by the Bulgarians, the Greeks apparently conniving. In reply the French commander-in-chief placed Salonica under martial law, and on 30th August the town definitely sided with the Allies.
A strangely composite force, comprising French, British, Russians, Italians, Serbians, Portuguese, contingents from French and British colonies and Greek volunteers, was gradually collected. To the British 10th Division were added the 22nd, 26th, 27th, 28th and 60th Divisions, but of these the 10th left in 1916 and the 60th in 1917 for Palestine. After a quiet winter and spring the line was slowly advanced during the summer of 1916, with the British in general in the sector between the Struma and the Vardar, but the Bulgarians captured Kavalla on our right and were successful at Lake Ostrovo on our left. The British made captures to the west of Lake Doiran on the night of I7th/18th August, and on nth September successfully attacked the Macukovo salient on the left bank of the Vardar, and crossed the Struma at and near Orliak. These affairs were a prelude to an advance on the left by the French, who stormed Fiorina on 18th September and Monastir on 19th November. On 30th September and succeeding days British troops captured Zir, and other positions towards Seres, and on 31st October captured Barakli Jumaa.

The campaign of 1917 was marked by a determined British attack on the enemy's position in front of the Petit Couronne to the west of Lake Doiran. Front line trenches were captured in a night attack on 24th/25th April, but most of them were commanded by the enemy's reserve trenches and had to be evacuated, and an attack on the night of 8th /9th May had a similar result. The total British casualties were about 10,000. During the summer, in order to escape the malaria and other diseases which infested the low-lying ground, both sides retired to the hills which line the valley of the Struma, forward positions being held only by outposts.

Lieut. T. W. Greenstreet (R. Irish Fus,, Educ.) was awarded the M.C. for his gallantry, on the night of 20th/21st April, to the east of Lake Doiran. While he was guiding an attacking party over difficult country an alarm was given and, the party being much broken up, he was left alone near the enemy's position. " He then, single-handed, kept the enemy at bay, and it was due to his great gallantry that very severe casualties to the retiring party were prevented. Having exhausted his ammunition, he clubbed a rifle and continued to fight until, wounded and overcome, he was captured."

Co.-Sergeant-Maj. A. E. Dawes (2/2oth London, Educ.) received the D.C.M. for his gallantry during a raid on 23rd April, when, " although wounded, he organised a bombing party, and succeeded in knocking a machine-gun out. Afterwards, though wounded three times, he carried out his duties with the utmost coolness and gallantry."

Lance-Corp W. G. Gosford (R.A.S.C., Educ.) died of malaria on 3rd September, 1916. Lieut. H. F. Bartram (7th Wilts, Comp.) was killed during the attack on 24th April, 1917, and Lieut. W. L Partridge (loth Devons, Comp.) and Daniel Conley (2/20th London, Ch. Engr.) on the 25th. Lance-Corp. J. D. Allen (2/16th London, Educ.) died on 10th May of wounds received two days earlier. W. F. Fish (R.A.M.C., Asylums) who was gassed in March, died on 24th May of paraplegia, E. H. Doherty (Durh. L.L, Tram.) died of malaria on 25th August and Staff-Sergeant -Farrier G. M. Dobson (R.A.S.C, Ch. Engr.) of the same disease on 16th October.

The front was quiet during the spring and summer of 1918, but on 15th September the French and Serbians broke through on a front of seven miles, and rapidly extending their success, within a few days advanced some twenty miles. The British and Greeks prevented the transfer of reinforcements by attacking near Lake Doiran, and on the 27th captured Strumnitza. Prilep fell to the French and Serbians on the 23rd, Ishtip on the 25th, and Uskub on the 29th. The Bulgarians, with their communications cut, were thus threatened with annihilation and applied for an armistice. This was signed at Salonica, Bulgaria evacuating Greece and Serbia, demobilising her army, surrendering all arms and munitions, making over to the Allies all means of transport and receiving Allied garrisons into various parts of her territory. Even after the surrender of Bulgaria a few German and Austrian troops attempted to oppose the Allies, but this resistance was brushed aside, and the Serbians entered Nish on 12th October, and Belgrade on 1st November.
In four weeks from the opening of the offensive 90,000 prisoners and 2,000 guns were captured.

Lieut, W. R. Reeve (E. Surr., Educ.) received the M.C. for his gallantry on the night of 26th/27th September during two successful patrols when the company under his command had to locate and occupy a strong enemy position. Capt. and Quarter-Master E. A. Beattie (R.A.M.C, Educ.) received the M.B.E. in recognition of his gallantry in saving a man's life at Kavalla on 17th December, 1918.

Co.-Sergeant Maj. F. Challen (9th Bord., Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. "He took charge of officers' parties, and it was mainly due to his courage, energy and determination that long lengths of wire entanglements were erected in a very short space of time."

Richard Lloyd (R.A.S.C, Stores) died of nephritis on 16th January, 1918, Corp. C. J. Bateman (R.A.M.C, Asylums) of haemorrhage on 16th March, Percy Berridge (R.F.A., Stores) of pneumonia on 14th April, Lance-Corp. D. C. Belcher (R.A.M.C, Pub. H.) of dysentery on 5th July, Lance-Corp. T. S. Tonkin, B.Sc. (R.A.M.C., Solr.), of malaria on 17th October, E. Chauvin (R.G.A., Educ.) of malaria and pneumonia on 17th November, S. Swindells (R.N.A.S., Tram.) on the 18th of pneumonia, T. H. G. Willcock (R.A.M.C, Parks) on the 28th of pneumonia on his way home, and A. D. Cripps (R.G.A., Pub. H.) on 17th December, also of pneumonia. In January, 1919, Lance-Corp. G. G. Smith (R.A.M.C, Educ.) died on the 9th and Staff-Sergeant W. Dobson (R.A.O.C, Parks) on the 16th, both of pneumonia.