The 9th (Service) Battalion the Border
Regiment (Pioneers) in Macedonia
Macedonia November 1915 – March 1919
by Harry Fecitt MBE TD
Had you been there when the dawn broke, Had you looked from out the trenches, You'd have seen that Serbian hillside, Seen the aftermath of battle. Seen the scattered picks and shovels, Seen the scraps of stray equipment. Here and there a lonely rifle, Or a Lewis gun all twisted. Seen the little heaps of khaki Lying huddled on the hillside, Huddled by the Bulgar trenches Very still and very silent, Nothing stirring, nothing moving, Save a very gallant doctor And his band of stretcher bearers Working fearless in the open, Giving water to the dying, Bringing in those broken soldiers. You'd have seen the sunlight streaming, And perhaps you would have wondered How the sun could still be shining, How the birds could still be singing, While so many British soldiers Lay so still upon the hillside.
Extract from The Song of Tiadatha by Owen Rutter
(Harry provided a large amount of photo material of the battlefields are they are today and I prefer to include it all. To make this possible I have included two extra links PHOTOS and MAPS )
Between October 1915 and September 1918 the
Allies engaged Bulgarian, German and Turkish forces in an area of Macedonia
north of the Greek port of Salonika in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Allied effort was promoted by France and
the initial aim was to rescue the Serbian Army that was being driven southwards
by the Central Powers. The intervention
initially failed as after a brief campaign in severe winter conditions
Bulgarian troops pushed the Anglo-French force back towards the Mediterranean
coast. Britain then advised withdrawing
from the theatre but France, Russia and Italy disagreed so Salonika was
prepared for defence and another inland advance was made in 1916.
Russian and Italian troops entered the
theatre, as did a reconstituted Serbian Army, and the town of Monastir fell to
Franco-Serbian troops in November 1916.
Despite aggressive action little else was gained by the Allies for the
next two years as the Bulgarians, who proved to be tough infantrymen and
excellent artillery and machine gunners, held the vital ground on the mountain
tops inland. In 1917 Greece joined the
Allies and Greek troops fought hard in Macedonia in 1918. Finally an Allied offensive in September 1918
led to a Serbian break-through west of the River Vardar; the enemy forces
crumbled and Bulgaria surrendered to the Allies on 30th September
1918, and the land-link between Germany and Turkey was severed. This quickly led to the collapse of the
Turkish, Austro-Hungarian and German war efforts. In the end Macedonia had proved to be the
decisive front in the Great War.
Britain regarded Macedonia as an
unnecessary ‘Sideshow’ but at its height the British force in the theatre
comprised six divisions organised into two corps. Pioneer and Infantry battalions from North-west
England were prominent in the Macedonian campaign and some of them saw hard
fighting and lost many men; however far more casualties occurred due to
diseases and afflictions such as malaria and dysentery than were caused by
Bulgarian bullets and shells.
9th (Service) Battalion The Border Regiment
Like other ‘service’ battalions the 9th
Border Regiment was raised from volunteers and embodied for the duration of the
war only. The Battalion started its life
in Carlisle, Cumberland, in late August 1914 and in mid-September moved to
billets in Lewes, moving after ten days to Seaford and then three weeks later
to Eastbourne. The first Commanding
Officer was a Border Regiment Reserve officer, Major (Temporary Lieutenant
Colonel) G. Browne. The Battalion was placed
in the 66th Infantry Brigade of the 22nd Infantry
Division. The other battalions in the
Brigade were 14th Manchester Regiment, 9th South
Lancashire Regiment, and 8th Shropshire Light Infantry. The Brigade Commander was Brigadier General C.P.
Ridley CB, and Major General R.A. Montgomery CVO CB commanded the
Division. The 9th Border
Regiment performed some strenuous training in the Eastbourne area and the
miners and agricultural workers that had enlisted quickly assisted their
comrades to become very impressive at trench digging; this led to the Battalion
later being selected to be the specialist Pioneer Battalion within 22nd
Left: Bulgarian trench & sniper's shield on rifle
Initially many in Britain thought that the
war would be over before Christmas 1914.
However the early fighting against German troops in France showed that
not only was the war going to last longer, but serious thought had to be given
to quickly protecting infantry and artillery from the destructive effects of
enemy artillery shells and machine gun fire.
Far too many infantry men were being deployed on building fortifications,
trenches and shelter bunkers, and many of those men were unskilled and slow at
this work. The Royal Engineer units in
the Army needed specialist support.
The Secretary of State for War, Field
Marshall Herbert Horatio Kitchener, had earlier introduced a concept into the
Indian Army of each Division having one Pioneer Battalion on its order of
battle. Lord Kitchener forecast that
this war would last at least three years, and he introduced the Pioneer
Battalion concept into the British Army.
The over-riding criteria was that a Pioneer battalion had to contain men
capable of fast efficient digging, and divisional commanders could select one
of their existing battalions that met this criteria or ask for such a battalion
to be posted into their divisions. The
Pioneer battalions were still regarded as fighting infantry units, and each
battalion was equipped with rifles and a section of four medium machine guns;
also by 1916 eight Lewis light machine guns had been issued. Often the medium machine gun sections were
detached and employed as the anti-aircraft defence for divisional headquarters;
the Lewis guns were distributed amongst the four companies. Each Pioneer battalion had an officer and a
senior rank from the Royal Engineers attached to it to provide technical
Pioneer battalions were expected to dig, shore-up
and revet trenches, build dugouts, provide overhead cover and shell-proof walls
to gun positions, dig approach trenches called saps towards enemy positions, to
tunnel and mine when necessary, and to build trackways for men, pack mules, horses
pulling guns and for motor transport.
They had to be able to make roads, fell trees, build bridges, construct
barbed-wire obstacles and prepare railway embankments. The concept called for battalions of
organized and competent labour that could also immediately fight as infantry
when called upon to do so.
In late December 1914 it was decided that
each Pioneer battalion should have at least 16 carpenters and joiners, 16
blacksmiths, 16 masons and bricklayers, 8 tinsmiths and 4 engine drivers and
fitters. These 60 or more tradesmen were
to be distributed equally amongst the four companies in each Pioneer
battalion. The typical establishment of
a Pioneer battalion was 24 officers and 860 men, but in certain theatres of war
the figure for men rose to over 1,000.
In recognition of their specialist status the men received two pence more
per day than an infantryman received, and they were eligible for the normal
additions to their pay for being classified in relevant infantry skills.
After spending a year on training exercises
in the south of England the Battalion left Aldershot and arrived at Le Havre, France,
on 4th September 1915. The
commanding officer was now Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Fothergill Cooke who had
a Pioneer background in the Indian Army, as his parent unit was the 32nd
Sikh Pioneers. The Battalion strength
was 30 officers and 935 men.
The Battalion entrained for an overnight
train journey to Longeau with no lights allowed. The Battalion then marched 20
kilometres and camped near 22nd Divisional headquarters at
Flesselles for a couple of days, allowing a French interpreter to be attached
and also for five absentees from Aldershot to catch up and be dealt with. At Flesselles Sergeant Potts of ‘D’ Company found
that his rifle bolt was missing, it presumably had dropped out somewhere in the
dark – but these were early days and everyone had much to learn about
operational procedures in France.
Tasks were then allotted to the Battalion
such as wood-cutting, building barricades on roads, deepening communication
trenches, roofing dugouts and digging support trenches. Meanwhile Lewis light machine gunners
received specialist training. Carpenters
were given suitable tasks and 25 men claiming former railway experience were
tested for skill and aptitude. The
occupation of trenches began and the men quickly realised that their immediate
enemies were the plagues of rats that damaged iron rations and equipment, both
in the trenches and in the billets behind the lines that were occupied when
companies rotated out of the trenches.
Heavy rainfall introduced the men to living and working in glutinous
An unfortunate incident occurred on 27th
September 1915 when 2nd Lieutenant W.E. Ogilvie was accidentally
shot dead by the negligent discharge of one of his men’s rifles whilst he supervised
a carrying party in the trenches; the enemy were sniping the carrying party at
the time. Number 14225 Private A. Meikle
was wounded by the same bullet. The
negligent discharge had come from the rifle of No. 14232 Private W. Metcalfe of
‘B’ Company whose rifle was slung over his shoulder whilst he carried a box of
gunpowder forward. Private Metcalfe went
before a Field General Court Martial for his negligence and was sentenced to 3
Months Field Punishment No.1; this involved tying the prisoner’s hands and feet
and securing him in the standing position to a fixed object such as a gun wheel
for two hours per day, three days out of four.
However further up the line more moderate counsel prevailed and the
General commanding the British Third Army quashed the sentence.
In late October the 22nd Division
received orders to move overseas and the Battalion entrained for Marseille on
the French Mediterranean coast. From
there the Battalion except for the Transport Section embarked on 28th
October on the SSEgra for an unknown destination. The Battalion Transport Section consisted of
one officer, 62 men and an allocation of carts and limbers, this Section
embarked on a later boat. The officers’
riding horses and draught horses and pack mules that had been used in France
stayed in that country.
Right: Bulgarian prisoners taken at Doiran 1916.
After departing Marseille sealed orders
were opened and the destination was seen to be Alexandria in Egypt. However on anchoring in Alexandria harbour
the final destination was named as Salonika in Greece, and after observing
strict anti-submarine precautions because of the threat from the Austrian
Mediterranean coastline, the Egra
berthed on the Salonika quay on 7th November 1915. ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies disembarked and
marched 13 kilometres to a campsite outside Salonika whilst ‘A’ Company and the
Machine Gun Section stayed on board to unload the ship, joining the other
companies the following day. At this
point in time the Battalion Machine Gun Section appears to have consisted of
four Lewis guns, the establishment tables for Pioneer Battalions in Macedonia
differing from those used in France.
There were no tents on the campsite and the
men cleared the area of stones and built shelters from reeds until bell tents
trickled in, two or three at a time.
Luckily although the nights were cold the days were warm. Soon groups of men were deployed on building
roads, digging wells for water supplies and most importantly as far as the
staff was concerned, establishing the Divisional Headquarters campsite. Training in hill warfare commenced and the
Battalion signallers and reconnaissance scouts received specialist
training. The Transport Section arrived
and worked with borrowed animals until an issue was made. The health of the men was good but all ranks
missed their normal issues of bread, tobacco and cigarettes, all of which were
in short supply. Two more changes of
camp were made before harsh winter weather appeared in late November, complete
with blizzards and frozen road surfaces; rum was issued as a compensation.
At this time Greece was not one of the
Allies and the sympathies of many of its soldiers and politicians lay with
Germany; after much political wrangling the Allies decided to dominate the
situation in Greece using both threats and troops. On 1st December the Battalion
entrained for Lake Doiran where the Bulgarians were advancing and pushing back
Allied formations including the British 10th Division. Here, on higher ground, the men experienced
how cold and fierce Macedonian winters could be; tents had not been brought so
bivouacs were built and in the mornings frozen greatcoats could be stood up on
the ground without support.
The Battalion immediately started working
on road improvements but on 8th December that ceased and all non-operational
stores were back-loaded to Salonika whilst the men marched forward to be
attached to 29th Brigade of the 10th Division; the
brigade was in a reserve position near Hasanli north of Lake Doiran, and the
remainder of the division was making a fighting withdrawal against repeated
Bulgarian attacks. On 10th
and 11th December the Battalion climbed up a steep hill to occupy
trenches near Pazarli village, ‘A’ Company was on the right, ‘C’ Company in the
centre and ‘B’ Company on the left; ‘D’ Company was in reserve on the road
below the hill. The four Lewis guns were
deployed along the line and ‘B’ Company was in contact with 14th
King’s Liverpool Regiment of 65th Brigade, whilst ‘A’ Company linked
up with 6th Royal Irish Rifles of 29th Brigade. Pack mules brought up ammunition, rations,
tools and one blanket per man.
The Bulgarians were reported to be
advancing in strength, and the Allied Force commander in Macedonia, the French
General Maurice Sarrail, sagely decided that the best course of action was to
withdraw to Salonika and defend the city in its rural outskirts. Consequently before midnight on the 11th
orders were issued for the Battalion to withdraw, leaving a covering force of
Lieutenant William Grace and his 20 military reconnaissance scouts, who
followed when the Battalion was clear of the hillside, having observed
Bulgarian patrols approaching. The
Battalion made a clean break and had no further contacts with the enemy, which
was not the case with the 9th King’s Own in 65th Brigade
who lost many men when a company commander wrongly assumed that advancing
Bulgarian troops were French soldiers.
As there were only a few pack mules available many Border Regiment
soldiers marched back to Doiran railway station carrying loads weighing up to
40 kilograms. The Battalion was then
moved by train back to its old campsite outside Salonika and it rejoined 22nd
the ‘Birdcage’ and other pioneer tasks
Colonel Cooke was promoted to command 67th
Brigade, where he was later to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and he handed over command of the
Battalion to Major Herbert Edward Wootten of the Border Regiment. The men were tasked with making and repairing
mule tracks, roads and girder bridges. On
Christmas Day two hours work was put in before a Divine Service was held in the
camp followed by the best dinner that could be provided; Boxing Day saw ‘B’
Company moved to Lembet to construct huts in a big camp there, whilst ‘C’
Company started blasting work for the Royal Engineers. This line of work developed and soon men from
the Battalion were detached to live at suitable locations where road-stone
quarries could be operated. Metal slides were constructed to move the
stone from the reduction area to the nearest road, which made for easy loading
of carts. This stone was often hauled
away by Indian Army drivers and their mule carts, each cart being able to carry
around a quarter of a tonne. Later in
the year light railways were constructed to the major quarries allowing for
much more stone to be transported at one time.
The Allies were constructing a line of
defences around Salonika that became known as the Birdcage, and much of the
Battalion’s effort went into providing stone to support Royal Engineer
projects. The men became used to
watching attacks delivered by enemy aeroplanes and sometimes the bombs dropped
near camps and worksites. The Chaplain
that attended to the Battalion at this time was Reverend Joseph Morris Bold of
the Army Chaplains Department; he arranged services for different denominations,
and later he was to receive the Military
Cross for distinguished service performed in the Macedonia theatre.
Left: Medal group of Chaplain J.M. Bold MC
More tasks allotted to the Battalion were
the construction of aerial ropeways and the building of trestle bridges and
stone piers for a two-span bridge.
Artillery gun positions were blasted out of rocky reverse slopes (the
back slope) of hills, so that enemy observers could not directly observe the
guns firing; the roofs of these gun positions were constructed with concrete. In one hill a chamber was tunnelled from the
rear and an observation slit cut out of the rock on the forward slope, so that
British artillery observers and their signallers were protected from enemy
fire. A welcome change from road-making
for some of the men was the construction of ammunition storage dumps using
sandbags. In Macedonia the Allies
continued to use horses and mules until the end of the war, particularly for
pulling field artillery pieces and for carrying mountain guns; this led to many
tasks for the Battalion such as digging wells, diverting water-flows, and
constructing dams and watering pools and troughs. Large civilian labour
gangs of Macedonians were supplied to the Battalion to help with repetitive
labouring work, but this support ended in early May. During this period
the Second-in-Command, Major Thomas Ricketts Morse, left the Battalion; he
later transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps and was appointed to be an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).Major
George Herbert Garrett took over as the Battalion Second-in-Command.
Left: Double-apron barbed wire fence
Regular training days were held and on 22nd
February 1916 the Battalion rotated through a trench line and fired at static
dummy targets; all the men fired 3 rounds deliberate at 600 yards, 3 rounds
rapid at 400 yards and 4 rounds rapid at 200 yards. The wind blew some targets down but 10% hits
were recorded; as the war diary states: ‘This
is not a high percentage, on the other hand a very large number of additional
shots would have found a billet in an attacking force.’ On 16th March a 16-kilometre
battalion route march was made without any man falling out. This type of shooting and marching usually
occurred on at least one day each month, and these were the only times that
Colonel Wootten could see many of his soldiers in one place and speak to them;
doubtless the men also enjoyed catching up with friends and acquaintances. On 4th April the 12th
Cheshires demonstrated to the Battalion a drill showing how an advance from the
trenches is carried out after being rehearsed.
Two days later Regimental Sergeant Major Herbert Kidson was gazetted as
a 2nd Lieutenant; he continued to serve in the Battalion.
An enemy Zeppelin airship raided
Salonika on 7th May and was brought down by Allied anti-aircraft
fire. On Easter Thursday a concert was
given to the Battalion by a talented team from 67th Field Ambulance,
Royal Army Medical Corps, and Easter Friday was declared a rest day, with a
football match taking place in the afternoon.
On the last day of March the Battalion team played football against the
previously unbeaten Divisional Headquarters team and beat it 10-nil! On 13th May the Battalion moved in
two groups to establish a new camp for itself near Kukus; here the Commander
Royal Engineers allocated stretches of roads that were the Battalion’s
responsibility for improvement and maintenance.
Flash-floods enlivened life, sometimes leaving men stranded for a few
hours on the wrong side of a watercourse.
As light Decauville railway lines were
laid alongside existing roads the Battalion was not only involved in
constructing the tracks and laying the lines, but also in making new road and
track alignments to prevent the lines crossing the roads in too many
places. These light railways were able
to quickly move many tons of stores and men to forward areas, and to bring back
in reasonable comfort wounded men and leave parties. The weather became much hotter in June, the
temperature often being over 38 degrees Centigrade, and men did start to fall
out on route marches. However this
probably reflected weaknesses induced by attacks of malaria and dysentery which
were a fact of life in Macedonia, rather than a lack of resolve. On 1st July the Battalion moved to
a new campsite at Givesnes on the Salonika-Serres road; the following night saw
a terrific 30-minute hurricane hit the campsite accompanied by thunder and
lightning but fortunately no rain, but all the bivouacs were blown down.
July temperatures rose to over 43
degrees Centigrade and often created unpleasant dust storms. Companies started to move away to camp near
distant quarries and work sites, but Colonel Wootten maintained his grip by making
regular inspection visits. The report on
the Transport Section stated: ‘Animals: excellent; Wagons: wheels 60 %
bad, spokes very loose.’ A special piece
of equipment received was a petrol-engine road roller that was attached for
road work. At the end of July another
Battalion move was made back to Kukus to an area near an old Turkish fountain.
Above: British infantry with mules on the march
A prisoner of war compound was
constructed at Rates, as the King’s Own had taken the first Bulgarian prisoner
secured by the Division, and then the Battalion was ordered to work at night in
a forward area. The tasks were now being
allocated south of the Doiran Hills, west of Lake Doiran, and Battalion work
parties could only work under the cover of darkness because during daylight
hours Bulgarians on top of the hills could observe them and bring down
artillery fire. However enemy artillery
fire was also brought down in a random fashion at any time and the Battalion
started taking casualties. Number 14237
Private Thomas McClaren was hit on the ankle by shrapnel on 20th August, and on
the following day No. 6187 Lance Corporal Daniel Kelly received a wound on his
arm. The next day saw the first
Battalion fatality to enemy fire when the camp of ‘A’ Company in Vladaja Ravine
was hit by shells; the first one to impact killed No. 16492 Private Daniel
Burton and wounded five other men.
Normally if the first shell to land was not accurate that gave time for
the men to run to their splinter-proof shelters. As the men were now working in locations
where tactical movement was necessary because of enemy observation, Battalion military
training days were abandoned and one hour per day was devoted to training
locally. Groups of officers and men were
occasionally attached to infantry battalions to gain experience of routine
activities in the firing line.
In September the Battalion was working
west of the Doiran Hills, supporting 65th Brigade who attacked
positions held by German troops at Macukovo.
The 14th King’s Liverpools, 12th Lancashire
Fusiliers and 9th East Lancashires attacked successfully but were
then subject to strong enemy counter-attacks.
The 9th Border Regiment (Pioneers) worked in the rear areas
and stood-by in case it was needed to support 65th Brigade in the
firing line, but the Brigade made an orderly withdrawal thanks to a courageous
counter-attack by the 9th East Lancashires during which that
battalion lost one third of its strength.
After that operation the companies were separated again in different
locations, working on an airfield, a Decauville railway line, quarry
operations, and other pioneering tasks below the Doiran Hills in the Spancovo
Left: British infantry entrench near Doiran
In mid-October a reinforcement draft of
two officers and 106 men arrived from 3rd Border Regiment, and in
late November another draft of 156 men arrived from 10th Border;
these men were given for four days to the Regimental Sergeant Major who smartened
them up and introduced them to the requirements of the 9th Battalion. This draft was followed by four officers
arriving from the Westmorland & Cumberland Yeomanry. These drafts replaced men who had been
evacuated with wounds and medical conditions such as malaria. The war diary entry for Christmas Day 1916
was: ‘Xmas Day. Warm & fine. Commanding Officer visits all Companies,
except “C” Company at SNEVCE. The men have pork, turkeys, eggs, plum puddings,
oranges, cigars, cigarettes, beer, & whiskey & rum & nuts. They
enjoy the day & make the most of it.’
first quarter of 1917
Pioneer Battalion activities continued in the New Year of 1917, with
detachments being sent around the 22nd Divisional area to build
Irish bridges (concrete causeways below the normal water levels), to construct
culverts to carry off winter rain and melted snow, and to prepare artillery gun
positions. Lieutenant Wilfrid Grace and
his military scouts had a successful contact in February whilst patrolling
forward of the British front line. Plans
were being prepared for an Allied offensive and the Battalion was diverted from
its regular night pioneer duties to assisting British artillery gunners bring
their batteries forward; tracks were constructed and guns man-handled into
prepared positions, all done at night.
Tracks in ravines were also improved in preparation for anticipated
casualty evacuations. On 19th
February Major M.C. Peake, 2nd King’s Own, was appointed Battalion
Second-in-Command; later in the campaign when serving with the 9th
King’s Own Malcolm Peake was to be awarded the Military Cross. Groups of up
to 20 enemy aeroplanes passed overhead on two or three occasions, apparently on
their way to attack Corps Headquarters.
On the night of 21st-22nd
February 260 men under Captain V. Wilkinson very quickly carried wire and
picquets forward under enemy shell fire and completed 460 metres of
double-apron defensive wiring within three hours; by now the Battalion had
gained a high reputation for speedily completing arduous, difficult pioneer
tasks in forward areas. Later in the
campaign Valentine Wilkinson was to be awarded the Military Cross. Cold winds blew,
sometimes so strongly that horse riders had to take shelter; snow fell on the
campsites in late March and the Bulgarians livened things up by firing gas
shells into the 22nd Division area.
On the last day of March a new prisoner of war cage was optimistically
laid out in the Divisional area, and an enemy aeroplane shot down the British
observation balloon tethered above Kalinova, the balloon crew managing to
escape by parachute.
Above: Bulgarian artillery hits British trenches on the Doiran Front
On 8th April 1917 an enemy
plane bombed the British ammunition dump at Karasuli scoring a direct hit on a
truck load of artillery ammunition. Five
men from units working in the dump were killed and around 20 others were
wounded; the Karasuli station buildings were blown down and the adjacent forage
dump was destroyed. The Battalion had a
rest day, but one officer lying on his bed was attacked by a 1.5-metre long grass
snake, however no harm was done. Ten
days later another good concert show was put on for the Battalion and the
King’s Shropshire Light Infantry by the 66th Field Ambulance
pioneer work continued on draining marshes to get rid of mosquitos and on
The evacuation of casualties from forward
areas worked well providing that the wounded men in forward positions could
stay alive until darkness provided cover for movement. After being treated and assessed by the Battalion
Medical Officer and his team, the non-walking casualties were carried by
stretcher until they could be transported by travois - triangular frame
structures pulled by mules. After
passing through dressing stations and field ambulances seriously wounded men
were moved by motor ambulance or light railway to military hospitals in
Salonika, and from that port the worst cases moved by hospital ship to Malta or
England. In the last 18 months of the
campaign the threat from enemy submarines prevented many casualties from
sailing to Malta, and they remained in Salonika.
Left: British camouflaged 18-pounder gun firing near Doiran
First Battle of Doiran, April – May 1917
General Sarrail had ordered an offensive
for the Spring of 1917. The main thrust
was to be in the west where the enemy had to be pushed back so that its
artillery could not hit recently captured Monastir. The commander of the British Force, General
George Milne, a former artilleryman, was required to attack in a supporting
role in his eastern sector. General Sarrail
favoured a British attack on Serres to the east of the Struma River but General
Milne, not liking the low ground there and the prevalence of malarial swamps,
got this changed so that the British would attack up the Doiran hills. Perhaps a general whose life had been spent
in the infantry would have avoided those hills, as the Bulgarians occupied
commanding positions and excellent observation posts. Sitting on top of the high summit of Grand
Couronne, to the west of Lake Doiran, was a massive enemy concrete observation
bunker unaffected by Allied shell fire and appropriately named ‘The Devil’s
Eye’ by British troops. Targets in
likely British attack locations had been accurately predicted by the Bulgarians
so that speedy artillery fire missions could hit those areas. Barbed wire defences were strong, formidable
concrete bunkers protected the artillery and machine guns, and many searchlights
were sited to illuminate British attack routes.
Machine gunners had devised ‘fixed lines’ of firing so that they could
hit troops in ravines even during periods of darkness. The morale of the Bulgarian soldiers was high
as the best formation in their army, the 9th (Pleven) Division,
defended these hills.
From the British viewpoint few soldiers
were optimistic as the ground was extremely broken by ravines and steep slopes,
making command and control whilst under effective enemy fire very difficult to
practise. Fighting uphill was never easy
and required very fit infantrymen and a superiority in artillery so that enemy
trenches and gun positions could be destroyed or at least neutralised; the
British, despite General Milne’s requests to London, did not possess
superiority in heavy artillery. Around
20,000 artillery gas shells were brought into Macedonia for the offensive, but
two-thirds of them were found to be defective.
In any case the Bulgarians all carried good respirators to wear whilst
under gas attack and they were well-trained and confident in fighting
defensively whilst wearing them.
At 2145 hours on the 21st
April 1917 the British 22nd and 26th Divisions attacked
the Doiran Hills from a crest named Pip 4½ (or just P4½) on Pip Ridge in the
west to Lake Doiran in the east. During
that night on the left 66th Brigade fought hard and bravely and
seized objectives, forming a new line from forward of Pip 4½ to forward of Hill
380 and holding that line during the following night against two strong enemy
counter-attacks. On the right 26th
Division soldiers displayed immense courage crossing partially cut wire whilst
in the glare of searchlights to gain several footholds in the enemy first-line
trenches. But the 26th
Division troops were always killed, captured or driven back by counter-attacks
when reinforcements and fresh supplies of ammunition failed to come forward. The main problem for 26th Division was the
presence of Jumeaux Ravine lying across its axes of advance. The Bulgarians filled the ravine with
artillery and machine gun fire, cutting down advancing troops, ammunition
resupply parties and stretcher bearers; often the blast effects of shells
killed more British soldiers in the narrow ravines than shrapnel did. On one occasion a British officer observed
several soldiers leaning against the side of the ravine, but when he ordered
them forward he saw that they were unmarked by shrapnel but had been killed by
Above: Artillery fire attempting to cut or break up a barbed wire obstacle
role of 9th Border Regiment (Pioneers) in the 1st Battle
The Battalion deployed two companies,
‘B’ and ‘D’, for the attack and their specific role was to rapidly lay
defensive wire forward of the two objectives that would be taken in the attack
up the dominating Pip Ridge and on Hill 380 to its east. The north-south running Pip Ridge was the
vital ground on the battlefield as it overlooked all other features on both
sides. ‘B’ Company was commanded by
Captain Cyril Woodall-Smith and ‘D’ Company by Lieutenant Millie Dow Stott. Royal Engineer instructors had trained both
companies in rapid wiring by day and night with sudden gas alarms, and the
company commanders had practiced their men in marching whilst wearing
To quote from the regimental history:
‘For better supervision and independence of action each company was divided
into two half-companies and given its own portion of about 700 yards (640
metres) to work on, while these half-companies were again told off into seven
wiring sections of 9 men, each man being allotted to and trained in his own
definite task in the general wiring scheme, and instructed what to carry
forward from the Royal Engineer dump to the wiring position. Thus each wiring section had a frontage of
about 100 yards (92 metres), and, it was anticipated, about four hours before
dawn in which to erect a complete line of trench wire, with 6-feet (1.83-metre)
stakes driven in at five paces interval to a height of 4 feet 6 inches (1.37
metres) through the back of it’.
The Border soldiers carried wire and
stakes forward as did the rear line of attacking infantry, however the
infantrymen could not always be relied upon to bring their materiel forward, as
if they took casualties from shellfire they would drop their wire and tend to their
wounded comrades. The anticipated final
result would be a wire obstacle consisting of a 4-strand barbed wire fence,
forward of which would be aprons of barbed wire plus low wire entanglements
designed to trip up counter-attacking enemy troops. The half-companies of ‘B’ Company were
commanded by Lieutenant Eric Kirk and 2nd Lieutenant James Brownlie,
and those of ‘D’ Company by 2nd Lieutenants C.P. Moore and Frederick
Warden. ‘D’ Company was to follow the
attack by 8th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry on Hill 380, and on
Pip Ridge ‘B’ Company followed the attack by 13th Manchesters on P4½.
After the British guns had fired for
three days in attempts to both cut gaps in enemy barbed wire and to hit enemy
artillery and machine gun positions, the British attack went in on the evening
of 24th April. Before 2100
hours both Hill 380 and P4½ had been taken, the King’s Shropshires and the
Manchesters moved forward of those features in order to avoid incoming enemy
artillery fire, and the Border Regiment wiring companies moved even further
forward and commenced work, ignoring enemy fire. The wiring on Pip Ridge worked well despite
many of the company sergeants and corporals being wounded on the approach march,
and the obstacle that was erected stopped most men in a Bulgarian counter
attack at 0415 hours the next morning. Forward of Hill 380 ‘D’ Company had less wire
and stakes as the infantry did not bring forward all their loads, but a fence
was erected with the wire carried by the Company. This also impeded an enemy counter attack
next morning. On both locations the
Bulgarian attackers were surprised to find new wire obstacles confronting them.
‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies did not lose any
men killed but 2nd Lieutenant Moore and 55 men were wounded. 22nd Division on the left had
succeeded because the attacking troops moved forward of their objectives once
they had taken them, thus avoiding enemy barrages onto the captured
positions. On the right 26th
Division had much more difficult ground to advance over and a momentum was
never achieved to take troops beyond their initial objectives.
The following night ‘C’ Company moved
forward to perform a similar wiring operation from Hill 380 eastwards for 500
metres. The wiring party organisation
followed that of the previous evening, with Captain John Watson and 2/Lt
Nicholson commanding the half companies. Both stretches of wire were completed with the
loss of four men wounded. At dawn when
‘C’ Company moved back to the Battalion location Lance Sergeant Chadwick and 16
men stayed on Hill 380 to guard stores left behind, and they became involved in
fighting off an enemy attack. To quote
the war diary: ‘During evening this detachment was called up to help repel an
enemy attack on Hill 380 and are reported as having done excellent work in
bringing up ammunition & bombs to the front line through heavy enemy barrage
without a single casualty. These men were much delighted at being in a real
scrap, & bayonetting a few Bulgars’.
The Battalion received a commendation
for the excellent work of the three wiring companies during the attack and the
consolidation of the captured features.
Second Lieutenant James Rutherford Brownlie, who had re-organised his
half company in the dark after many casualties had been taken, was awarded the Military Cross with the citation: For conspicuous
gallantry and devotion to duty. He organised his wiring party, which had
suffered heavy casualties. He led them out to the position and carried out his
task under heavy shell fire. The Military Medal was awarded to Private
Dugdale of ‘B’ Company and Sergeant Graham of ‘C’ Company: For conspicuous
bravery; the regimental numbers and forenames
of these two men have not been identified.
Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Edward Wootten was awarded the Distinguished Service Order after the
battle. Later in the campaign Captain
Millie Dow Stott also received the Military
A second British attack was ordered for
the night of 8th May 1917, with the aim of advancing the front line
of 26th Division to the point that 22nd Division had
reached. The Battalion was not tasked in
this attack, as 22nd Division’s role was to create diversions to
attract enemy fire away from 26th Division’s attacking troops. In this second attack 26th
Division lost nearly 2,000 men killed or wounded, and the troops were pushed
back to their starting lines for the same reasons as before. Skirmishes, trench
raids and attacks to hold small tactical features continued on the British
front until General Milne cancelled offensive activity on 20th
May. 22nd Division withdrew
from the ground it had taken, and that the Battalion had wired, in order to
straighten the British front line. General
Gordon was evacuated with a heart condition and General John Duncan CMG DSO was
appointed the new commander of 22nd Division. British dead, wounded and missing in the
first Battle of Doiran totalled over 5,000 men; the Bulgarian casualty total
was probably less than 1,500. Further
west French, Russian and Serb troops had attacked boldly but had failed to take
their objectives. The Bulgarians were
occupying the vital ground all along the Macedonian front, and they knew how to
in 1917 after the 1st Battle of Doiran
For the next year activities across the
British sector in Macedonia quietened down.
Many troops were removed and re-deployed to other theatres such as
Palestine and France, and those men remaining had a full work-load. The Battalion re-interred Allied bodies that
had been initially buried but which had come to the surface due to animals breaking
up the ground, and work on gun positions and road surfacing continued. Anti-malarial drainage ditches were dug and
hair-pin bends were eliminated on steep roads by making new alignments. On the 29th May an enemy shell
burst amongst a working party in Pearse Ravine, killing No. 19853 Private Joseph
Healy and No. 32240 Private Duncan McPherson, six other men were wounded; one
of the severely wounded men, No. 25746 Private George Park, died of wounds on 1st
The fast pace of work continued during
the summer leading to Sunday religious services often being declared voluntary,
so that those who wished could visit the Divisional bath unit instead. The Transport Section held a competition: ‘D’
Company won the prize for the best turned out pair of animals in a limber
harness, ‘C’ Company came first in ‘the best three animals cared for by one man’
competition, ‘A’ Company took first prize for presenting the best officers’
saddlery, ‘HQ’ Company tied with ‘D’ Company for turning out the fastest and
smartest transport section in a time of eight minutes, and No. 18633 Corporal A.W.
Stitt of ‘B’ Company won the prize for the smartest turned out transport
section commander. Albert Stitt was
later promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Meritorious
Service Medal. The talented
‘Splints’ concert troupe from 26th Division gave performances in the
22nd Divisional area. In July
the Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess beat the Officers’ Mess at cricket, an
enemy shell landing nearby without causing damage. Two officers left the Battalion, Lieutenant
David Harper went to join the Royal Flying Corps and Lieutenant A.C. Elliott
joined the Indian Army, serving in the 1st Battalion 95th
Russell’s Infantry. On 30 July No. 16667
Sergeant James Myers was killed at his worksite.
Colonel Wootten spoke to the Battalion
on 17th August, saying farewell as he was leaving with medical problems. Major Peake assumed temporary command until 2nd
October when Lieutenant Colonel D.W. Bruce was appointed to command. David Bruce came from the 11th
Royal Welsh Fusiliers where he had been Second-in-Command. When the men were not employed on pioneering
tasks such as well digging to supply water for artillery horses, the companies
took their turn in holding positions in the British front line, often sending
patrols forward. As winter approached
culverts were dug and excavations made for bunkers, and road stone was quarried
in preparation for muddy roads. The 22nd
Divisional soccer final was played in late October and the Battalion beat the
King’s Shropshire Light Infantry by one goal to nil. Hazards remained on the battlefield, and
seven men of ‘C’ Company were temporarily gassed when passing old gas shell
holes that had not been previously located and dealt with. On 15th December newly-arrived 2nd
Lieutenant Henry Lowther Holliday of Aspatria was killed in action, perhaps by
shellfire. Two weeks later Colonel Bruce
was medically evacuated to England; Major Charles Godfrey Jones of the Royal Welsh
Regiment took over command of the Battalion. Drafts had arrived throughout the year to
replace battlefield and medical casualties, and on the last day of 1917 the
Battalion effective strength was 30 officers and 944 men.
Above: Bulgarian Devil's Eye bunker on summit of Grand Couronne
and Summer of 1918
As 1918 commenced pioneering duties
continued for the Battalion. In the New
Year’s Honours List Captain James Hendrie Mitchell was awarded the Military Cross and No. 18608 Sergeant
James Miller was awarded the Meritorious
Service Medal. Major T. Potter from
9th South Lancashires was appointed Battalion
Second-in-Command. In late April a
Battalion skills competition was held: ‘B’ Company won at musketry and Lewis
gunnery, ‘C’ Company at assault drills and grenade throwing, ‘D’ Company at
sniping, and ‘A’ Company at rifle grenade firing.
In the June Honours List Lieutenant Colonel
C.G. Jones was awarded the Distinguished
Service Order and Captain Eric Sidney Kirk received the Military Cross. Number 5653 Company Sergeant Major Frederick
Challen won a Distinguished Conduct
Medal: For conspiciuous gallantry and
devotion to duty. Often, when wiring had
to be carried out under heavy shell fire, he took charge of officers’ parties,
and it was mainly due to his courage, energy and determination that long
lengths of wire entanglement were erected in a very short space of time. His utter disregard for his own safety set a
fine example to his men. Number 18616 Sergeant S. Pritchard and No.
15630 Sergeant John Rutherford were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.
On 24th July Captain Valentine
Wilkinson relinquished his commission in order to return to the United Kingdom
to resume his medical studies. Meanwhile
the men did anti-malarial drainage work, opened new quarries, and held
positions in the front line for periods.
As September approached preparations for another British offensive were
Second Battle of Doiran
The French government had removed General
Sarrail from Macedonia and the new Allied theatre commander was General Louis
Felix Marie Francois Franchet d’Esperey, immediately nick-named ‘Desperate
Franky’ by the British troops. Franchet
d’Esperey was a Balkans specialist and the right man for the job, and he could
see that Bulgaria was war-weary and ready to be knocked out of the conflict, a
view shared by General Milne. The Allies
planned a major attack using the Serb Army in the west to break through the
enemy lines; the Serbs were the toughest and most highly motivated soldiers on
the Allied side. General Milne was
required to attack the Doiran heights to hold the Bulgarian troops there in
place and he had two Greek Hellenic divisions to assist him.
The final order of battle at Doiran from
west to east was 26th Division on the plain east of the Vardar
River, 22nd Division facing Pip Ridge, the Greek Serres Division
fighting forward from a line east of Hill 380 to Lake Doiran, and the Greek
Crete Division attacking north-westwards from north of Lake Doiran. 26th Division was only tasked with
creating a diversion, but the other formations were given specific objectives
to fight for.
Attacking three days after the main Serb
attack to the west the British troops in the Second Battle of Doiran were not
in good shape physically, as many suffered from debilities caused by repeated
malaria and dysentery bouts and the influenza epidemic that had arrived in
Macedonia. The infantry battalions were
all weak in numbers. As before the men
had to attack uphill carrying heavy loads whilst their opponents engaged them
from the heights above. British
artillery again used gas shells in an attempt to disrupt the Bulgarian gunners,
but when that happened the enemy infantry compensated by accurately firing
trench mortars and machine guns into the ravines below them. As previously at Doiran the weight of British
artillery was insufficient to destroy the strong enemy fortifications, although
wire obstacles were generally cut as planned.
The morale of the defending Bulgarian 9th (Pleven) Division
On 18th September the Greek
Serres Division attacked with elan on the right supported by 67th
Brigade and penetrated two lines of Bulgarian defences but lost many men whilst
trying to break into the third line; the Allies did not have the weight of
numbers of artillery or infantry to keep maintaining momentum in uphill
attacks. 67th Brigade took very
heavy losses, having only 200 men left fit to fight, and some of those were gas
casualties. The Greeks held their
initial objectives but only one 67th Brigade objective was taken and
Right: Barbed wire obstacles
On the attack up Pip Ridge by 66th
Brigade, advancing in column of battalions because of the narrowness of the
ridge, the plan was that 12th Cheshires captured P4½, P4, and P3,
with 9th South Lancashires moving through to capture Little
Dolina. 8th King’s Shropshire
Light Infantry would then take the lead and capture P2 and P1. The battle for Pip Ridge was lost when the
Cheshires were held up at P4½ and the British artillery barrage, working to a
timetable rather than to the activities of the troops on the ground, moved too
far ahead, allowing the enemy on P4 to come out of their shelters and man their
firing trenches before the Cheshires arrived to attack. The Cheshires got some men into P4 and there
was fierce hand-to-hand fighting until the Commanding Officer was killed and
the few survivors withdrew into the shelter of Jackson Ravine. The South Lancashires and King’s Shropshires
moved forward in their turn, the South Lancashires also losing their Commanding
Officer killed, but both battalions were stopped in their tracks by Bulgarian
defensive fire until they also withdrew into Jackson Ravine. After darkness fell on the battlefield 66th
Brigade, having lost 857 men, could make no further offensive effort and it
The following morning before dawn the 9th
King’s Own of 65th Brigade was ordered to fight up Pip Ridge and
capture P4½ and P4. French Zouave troops
(North African light infantry) were to attack in the ravines on the right, but
they were disorganised by enemy artillery fire and their commander refused to advance. Learning of this delay General Duncan ordered
his artillery to keep firing onto P4 for an additional 20 minutes before
reverting to the timetable. Six runners
were sent to tell the King’s Own of this change to the artillery plan, but in
the darkness none caught up with the battalion before it moved off. The King’s Own took P4½, and were fighting
hard and well for P4 when the British artillery hit the battalion. The one battery of 8-inch howitzers that the
British possessed had been tasked with hitting P4 and this battery caused
carnage amongst the King’s Own, only 10 men getting into P4; the King’s Own
withdrew having lost 233 men.
The Second Battle of Doiran ended for the
Allies with little ground gained between Pip Ridge and Lake Doiran but with a
casualty figure of 6,709 all ranks, the Bulgarian casualty figure was less than
3,000 all ranks. Without any doubt many
of the Allied methods of attack were too complex, and it appears that the staff
planners had little appreciation of the difficulties involved for heavily laden
men fighting along the ridges, through the ravines and up the steep slopes on
the battlefield. The Bulgarian 9th
(Pleven) Division had been under-estimated again, and it had stood its ground,
always ready to fiercely counter-attack.
Above: the Iron Cross Award Document to a German artilleryman from a Heavy Artillery battery attached to the Bulgarian 9th Division.
role of 9th Battalion the Border Regiment (Pioneers) in the 2nd
Battle of Doiran
During the initial stages of the battle the
Battalion was employed on pioneer tasks in the ravines to the rear of the
battle area, but three days later ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies were allotted to 66th
Brigade and ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies to 67th
Brigade. Both Brigades used the Border
companies to stiffen up the French Zouave troops in the front lines of their
brigade sectors, allowing the battered attacking infantry units to withdraw
with their casualties. ‘B’ and ‘D’
Companies came under heavy Bulgarian artillery fire. However the ground taken by the two brigades
could not be held safely and a withdrawal was made to the old British front
line trenches, the Battalion carrying many discarded weapons and pieces of
equipment as it withdrew. The companies
on Pip Ridge then had the unpleasant task of burying the British dead lying along
that feature. On 24th
September the Adjutant, Captain J.M. Brownlie MC, was wounded and evacuated, his
appointment being filled by Lieutenant John Warrington.
After the battle Lieutenant Douglas Farish
Ridley was awarded a Military Cross:
conspicuous gallantry-in action. He displayed great courage and determination
when in charge of a covering party, continually repelling superior numbers of
the enemy until the working party which he was covering was withdrawn. The Military
Medal was awarded to 13121 Private Francis Balfour; 11877 Sergeant Archibald
Jackson; and 25439 Lance Corporal George McKenna. The Meritorious
Service Medal was awarded to 32054 Sergeant T. Brannon; 13927 Sergeant
David Cowe; and 18608 Sergeant James Miller.
At the end of September the Battalion had
reverted to its usual pioneer tasks and the casualty figures for the month were
5 men dead and 3 officers and 63 men wounded.
The dead men were No. 32056 Lance Sergeant Edwin Ibbotson and Privates
15183 Bowman Paterson, 14268 John William Parnaby, 21427 William Irving, and
32249 Archie Smith. The Battalion
effective strength was 29 officers and 786 men.
collapse of the Bulgarian Army
At this time momentous events were
happening all along the Macedonian Front.
The Serb attack in the west had broken through the Bulgarian
mountain-top lines and Serb soldiers were on a ruthless rampage in enemy rear
areas, thirsting for vengeance for the brutalities done to their people in
enemy-occupied Serbia. The Bulgarian
Army could not cope with this situation and its German and Turkish allies had
their own hands full with events in France and Palestine. The Bulgarian Army commenced withdrawing back
into its native heartland and General Franchet d’Esperay’s Allied formations
were ordered to pursue and destroy it.
On the Doiran front the first intimation of
the Bulgarian decision was when enemy ammunition stocks started exploding on
and behind the hill tops; the Bulgarians were destroying supplies and equipment
that could not be quickly moved. British
reconnaissance patrols confirmed that enemy troops were thinning-out and
abandoning positions. The British infantry
units marched swiftly northwards in an attempt to destroy the Bulgarian Army
but the Battalion remained near the Doiran Hills working on pioneer tasks to
keep the British lines of communication open as supplies had to be rapidly
moved forward. On 30th September
1918 Bulgaria agreed an armistice with the Allies and ceased hostile
action. The 26th Division
immediately entered Bulgaria as Allied occupation troops, severing the land
route between German and Turkish forces.
against the Turkish Army
With Bulgaria out of the war General Milne
mounted operations with 22nd Division against Turkey whose frontier
lay to the east through Bulgar territory; meanwhile General Franchet d’Esperay
marched in the opposite direction towards Belgrade and Vienna. The Battalion was allowed to rest on the 18th
October to clean its equipment and to allow the men to bathe, as autumn rain
was falling and making conditions muddy, and then it began marching eastwards
and eight weary days later arrived at Stavros port on the Gulf of Rendina. From Stavros the Royal Navy embarked the
Battalion aboard the destroyer HMS Archer
and disembarked it at Dedeagatch on the Turkish border on 31st
October. The men were immediately put to
work on preparing an airfield. Sadly
nine men had died that month of bronchial pneumonia.
Political events then moved rapidly. Hostilities
with Turkey ceased at the end of October, Austria-Hungary signed an armistice
on 3rd November and the final Central Powers belligerent, Germany,
did the same on 11th November.
The long war was finally over, and the Allied Force in Macedonia had
been instrumental in causing the disintegration of the Central Powers.
in post-war Macedonia
Much as the men of the 9th Battalion
The Border Regiment (Pioneers) wanted to go home and resume civilian life there
were other duties to be performed first.
After working on the improvement of railway sidings at Dedeagatch, a
long journey on the Bulgarian railway was followed by more marching and the
Battalion was back in billets at Stavros at the end of November. The Battalion strength was 26 officers and
During December a combination of pioneer
work and military training was carried out.
Indian Army battalions were now entering the Macedonia theatre and five
officers had been detached from the Battalion at the end of October to join
Indian units and familiarise them with the theatre. They were: Major James Mitchell MC, Lieutenant
David Low and 2nd Lieutenants Herbert Wurr, Arthur Lockhart and (forename not known) Thomson. In mid-December Divisional Headquarters
ordered that the Battalion had to send a draft of 160 soldiers to join the 26th
Middlesex Regiment. This was the last
thing that the men wanted and those of them with the shortest amounts of
overseas service were chosen; the Commanding Officer addressed the draft before
it left. 2nd Lieutenant
Percival Cobb left to join a Regular Army officer’s training course.
In January 1919 education classes were
started within the Battalion to prepare the men for civilian life and the first
group, all former miners, were sent for demobilisation. These lads had nearly all been with the
Battalion since its formation and they were given a rousing send-off; this
group had contained the best footballers in the Battalion and initially it
became much more difficult to obtain good results in soccer matches, but that
situation quickly improved. Colonel Jones
was elevated to assume command of 65th Brigade and a succession of
temporary commanding officers were appointed as demobilisation continued for
all ranks; the final commanding officer of the Battalion being Major William
Herbert Durst MC of the King’s Own. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Godfrey Jones DSO
went for demobilisation shortly afterwards and his service was further
recognised by his appointment as an Officer
of the Order of the Crown of Roumania.
In late January the Battalion moved by
train to the Janes area and took over a camp there. Pneumonia was still killing men but at the reduced
rate of one per month. Further groups of
men trickled out towards demobilisation but a draft of 170 men arrived to join
the Battalion from the 2/6th Devonshire Regiment; these new men had
been serving in India. In early March
the Battalion sent four officers and 100 men by train to Constantinople to join
the army of occupation in Turkey. In
Macedonia quarry work and pioneer duties to alleviate wintry conditions
continued. The Transport Section trained
new men to replace those that were being demobilised.
– the final leg of the journey
In late March 1919 the Battalion was ordered
to move by sea to Turkey. All equipment
and the 19 horses and 168 mules were handed in in Macedonia, the animals going
to the 17th Veterinary Hospital whilst the equipment went to an
Ordnance depot, only six small items being deficient. All men who enlisted before 1st
January 1916 were sent for demobilisation.
On 21st March the Battalion, now 4 officers and 15 men
strong, sailed on a naval vessel for Turkey.
A week later the Battalion began taking over duties in Constantinople
from 3rd Middlesex Regiment, and 15 officers and 200 men from that
regiment were attached to the Battalion, as their unit was being reduced to
cadre strength. The Battalion was now
part of the 85th Infantry Brigade of the 28th Division,
and it provided men for fatigues, work parties and security duties; the
remaining men practiced military skills such as Lewis gunnery. The local inhabitants of the Battalion’s area
were mostly Greeks and Armenians and they wished to be friendly with the
Allies, whilst the Turkish military elements were sometimes obstructive.
In May 1919 the Battalion strength was 35
officers and 359 men, hardly any of them coming from Cumberland or
Westmorland. The war diary entries ceased
at the beginning of that month and it is likely that the Battalion was then
disbanded, never to be reformed as a Pioneer unit.
9th (Service) Battalion The Border Regiment (Pioneers) had been an
operational unit throughout its life in France, Macedonia and Turkey. In the specialist Pioneer role it was second
to none in the Macedonian theatre, receiving many complements from senior
officers for its highly disciplined and motivated attitude. Whilst not being subject to the slaughter
that other British infantry battalions had to suffer, the Battalion performed
steadily in all the tasks allocated to it, including the spells of duties in
the front line trenches. Reading through
the Battalion war diary you get the impression that the unit was a proud and
strong team of physically able men who shared a regional identity and common skills
In Greece 56 men of the 9th (Service)
Battalion The Border Regiment (Pioneers) are commemorated by the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission in their Sarigol, Kirechkoi-Hortakoi, Doiran, Mikra, Bralo,
Karasouli, and Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemeteries. Each man has an individual grave marker.
In Malta one man of the Battalion lies in
Pieta Military Cemetery and doubtless he succumbed to wounds or disease in a
hospital there after medical evacuation from Salonika.
Medical figures for Malaria Treatment in Macedonia
Hospital admissions for malaria
Evacuations for Malaria to England or Malta
1917 7,298 1918
In addition to the
above, in early 1918 the ‘Y’ Scheme was introduced. Under this scheme 30,000 men who were out of
hospital but who were chronically ill with malaria and unfit for operational
military duties were transferred from Macedonia to England between January and
in Dispatches to members of the 9th (Service) Battalion The Border
Regiment (Pioneers) in recognition of personal performance in Macedonia.
No. 13052 Private W. ARMSTRONG; No. 16493
Private F. BARNES; No. 13125 Serjeant G. BLACK; No. 32054 Serjeant T. BRANNAN; Temporary
Captain T.H. BUSHILL; No. 5653 Company Serjeant Major F. CHALLEN; No. 5649 Serjeant
V. CLEMENS; No. 32221 Lance Corporal T. CORNTHWAITE; No. 13606 Corporal W. CROSS;
Temporary Honorary Lieutenant and Quartermaster B. DAVIS; No. 19364 Private E.
GIBSON; No. 14123 Lance Serjeant J.T. HARVEY; No. 18588 Private W. HEPPLE; No.
14114 Private J. HICK; No. 12505 Corporal W. HINDLE; No. 17437 Private (Acting
Lance Corporal) L. HOLLIDAY; No. 18589 Company Quartermaster Serjeant F.
JACKSON; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel C.G. JONES DSO (twice); No. 5371
Regimental Quartermaster Serjeant A.T. KNAPP; Temporary 2nd Lieutenant J.M. LESLIE;
No. 15243 Serjeant R. LIGHTFOOT; No. 33035 Private W. MARSHALL; No. 18608
Serjeant J. MILLER; Temporary Captain J.H. MITCHELL; No. 30193 Private A. RIMMER;
No. 12980 Corporal T. SLOAN; Temporary Captain J.M. STIRLING (twice); No.
241231 Private A.C. TEASDALE (5th Battalion, Territorial Force); Temporary
Captain V. WILKINSON; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel H.E. WOOTTEN (twice).
(The above Mentions in Dispatches were
awarded at various times between 1916 and 1920 and they often do not reflect
the final rank and decorations of an individual.)
The Macedonian battlefields remain
untouched by development and are easy to visit and understand, whilst the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains its military cemeteries in Greece in
excellent condition. The region offers
very economical accommodation, good food and wine, and air fares from the
United Kingdom are inexpensive. Local
operators offer suitable tours, and anybody with a military interest in the
Great War Macedonia Campaign is urged to make a visit.
SOURCES: (the most economical publications
Falls, Cyril (compiler): History of the Great War.Military Operations Macedonia. Two
Volumes. (Naval & Military Press reprint).
Mitchinson, K.W. Pioneer Battalions in the Great War. Organized and Intelligent Labour.
(Leo Cooper, London 1997).
Nicholls, Brian. The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army. An Anthology.
(D.P. & G. Military Publishers, Doncaster 2006).
Nicoll, Graham. Uncle George. Field Marshall Lord Milne of Salonika and Rubislaw.
(Reedminster Publications 1976).
Owen, H. Collinson. Salonica and After. The Sideshow that Ended the War. (Hodder and Stoughton 1919).
Wakefield, Alan and Moody, Simon. Under the Devil’s Eye. The British Military
Experience in Macedonia 1915-1918. (Pen & Sword Military 2011).
Wylly, H.C. CB, Colonel. The Border Regiment in the Great War.
(Naval & Military Press softback reprint).
War Diary. Specially typewritten copy of 9th Battalion Border Regiment War Diary
September 1915 – April 1919 held in the archives of Cumbria’s Museum of
Military Life, Carlisle.
RECOMMENDED BACKGROUND READING:
Casson, Stanley. Steady Drummer. Reminiscences
of the Macedonia Campaign. (Naval & Military Press softback reprint).
Hickey, Michael. The First World War (4). The Mediterranean Front 1914-1923. Osprey Publishing softback 2002. (Part of the
Essential Histories series).
Mazower, Mark. Salonica. City of Ghosts. (Harper Perennial paperback 2004).
Packer, Charles. Return to Salonika. (Cassel, London 1964).
Palmer, Alan. The Gardners of Salonika. The Macedonian Campaign 1915-1918. (faber
and faber softback, originally published in 1965).