Harry has provided some very interesting studies of the battlefield 100 years after the events HERE
9th (Service) Battalion East Lancashire Regiment
Like other ‘service’ battalions the 9th
East Lancashires was raised from volunteers and embodied for the duration of
the war only. The Battalion started its
life in Fulwood Barracks, Preston, in late August 1914 and in early September
1,000 men moved to billets in Lewes and Eastbourne. The recruits were three-quarters Lancastrian
and one quarter Welsh. The Commanding
Officer, Lieutenant Colonel A. C. Gabbett, located his headquarters at Lewes
but at the end of October a battalion move was made to Seaford to join the 65th
Brigade. The other battalions in the
Brigade were 14th Liverpool Regiment, 12th Lancashire
Fusiliers and 9th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment. The Brigade Commander was Colonel F.W.J.
The Battalion trained on the south coast
until 1st June 1915 when it moved to Aldershot, and there Brigadier
General Herbert took over command of 65th Brigade which was now part
of 22nd Division commanded by Major General the Honourable F.
Gordon. After an intense period of
musketry and brigade manoeuvre training, on 4th September the
Division embarked for France where on arrival it was inspected, General Monro declaring
that: “This Brigade is the best Brigade in the Division and your Battalion
Colonel Gabbett, is the best Battalion in the Brigade”. The Battalion spent five months in France,
training and serving on trench duty but without any serious incident, and on 28th
October it embarked at Marseille for an unknown destination.
The Battalion sailed on the converted
P&O liner His Majesty’s Transport Ionian,
and after departure when the sealed orders were opened the destination was seen
to be Alexandria in Egypt. However that
destination was subsequently changed to Salonika in Greece, and after observing
strict anti-submarine precautions because of the threat from the Austrian
Mediterranean coastline, the Ionian
berthed on the Salonika quay on 5th November. The men were medically examined, disembarked,
and marched 13 kilometres on a very hot day to a campsite outside Salonika
city. Four days later a draft of 47
non-commissioned officers and men joined from the 3rd East
Lancashires, and this raised the total of all ranks in the 9th
Battalion to 1,041 men, with a few officers yet to arrive.
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, and in late November 65th Brigade 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 their first taste of how
cold and harsh Macedonian winters could be.
After confusion in the Allied ranks over which contingent should be
holding which ground, the Brigade withdrew in reasonably good order except for
the 9th King’s Own who lost many men when a company commander
wrongly assumed that advancing Bulgarian troops were French soldiers. The withdrawal of the 9th East
Lancashires was successfully covered by a platoon commanded by Lieutenant J.S.
Robinson, who was soon to come to notice as a courageous and effective officer,
earning a decoration. The Brigade
withdrew by train watched by openly hostile groups of Greek soldiers, but as
the Bulgars stayed on their side of the international boundary line there was
The Allies decided to stay in Salonika and
an impressive line of defences, called the ‘Birdcage’ was constructed around
the city. The Battalion was camped at
Daudli, 18 kilometres north of Salonika, Regimental Sergeant Major Frederick
Foxon having traced the camp lines out on the ground. For four months the men were employed on
trench digging and road construction; during this time Colonel Gabbett, who had
worked himself to the bone, was medically evacuated to England and the Second
in Command, Major Sidney Arthur Pearse, took over command. When not on duty the men were entertained in
unit and YMCA and other canteens, and trips were made to Salonika where the
many-tongued and diverse inhabitants of the old city provided fascinating
insights into life in the Balkans.
In April 1916 a move was made forward to dig-in
on a front being established at Doiron; the Bulgars sat in very strong
positions on the mountain tops whilst the Allies attempted to create
trench-lines and bunkers that could withstand enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Malaria and dysentery now began to take a
toll on the health of the soldiers. After
two months of strenuous digging and laying defensive barbed wire the Battalion
handed over to French troops and was withdrawn to Daudli; from there a more
pleasant interlude occurred when it moved to camp in the largest public park in
Salonika to perform all the guards and duties required by the Allied Base
Above: Doiran battlefield from the East
But after a fortnight of city life the
Battalion returned to the Doiran Front, occupying Hill 420. Here on 5th August the first
officer casualty occurred when 2nd Lieutenant Cyril Stuart Guest,
attached to the Battalion from the 10th South Staffordshires, was
killed whilst out on patrol. He had
become detached from his men and was found on the wire shot through the heart. Four days later the Battalion moved slightly
forward into the Pearse Brook line in a ravine system facing La Tortue, a
feature held by the Bulgars until the final days of the war. In these narrow ravines daytime movement
attracted enemy artillery fire which often killed by blast effect rather than
by shrapnel. To counter this the Allies
became adept at working by night on defences and in using darkness to bring
forward supplies and reinforcements whilst evacuating casualties to the rear
The French 154th and 156th
Colonial Infantry Regiments were the neighbours of the Battalion and they
courageously attacked La Tortue, but were beaten back after twice capturing the
objective. During the preparations for
this attack Lieutenant Leonard Wilberforce Croft of the Battalion led a two-man
patrol that resulted in him receiving the Military
Cross with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry
and resource. With one man he successfully carried out a dangerous
reconnaissance by day. He met an enemy picquet of eight men in their trench,
but, though fired at, at five yards' range, he successfully withdrew. The soldier with him, 14281 Private Thomas
Towler was awarded the Military Medal.
After a month of front-line trench duty in
Pearse Brook the Battalion was moved westwards to the area of Reselli, north of
Lake Ardzan. The Serbs and French were
fighting hard further to the west and it was decided that the 22nd
Division should prevent enemy troops from moving westwards by mounting a
‘holding attack’ on hills in between the Vardar River and the high Pip Ridge
that dominated the Doiran battlefield.
On 8th September 12th Lancashire Fusiliers
successfully raided the enemy positions at Macukovo north of Reselli, and
identified the enemy unit that the 9th East Lancashires would have
to face as the 59th German Infantry Regiment.
The Battalion attacked on the night of 13th
September, assaulting in two columns from a trenchline occupied by the 11th
Welch Regiment. The four rifle companies
met resistance but all had seized their hill-top objectives by 1030 hours the
following morning. A good haul of
prisoners was taken and casualties had not been heavy. On the left flank 14th King’s
Liverpools and 12th Lancashire Fusiliers had taken the German
trenches that were assigned to them and 9th King’s Own was located
in support in ravines near Macukovo village.
But at 1500 hours after a short, intensive and accurate bombardment a
strong enemy attack drove the King’s Liverpools backwards. This made the position of the left hand East
Lancashires’ company untenable and it too retired.
On seeing the situation the Brigade
Commander ordered the 9th East Lancashires to advance in support of
the King’s Liverpools. This was done in
‘artillery formation’ by companies in lines of sections in file; this formation
was designed to minimise casualties caused by enemy artillery fire. There was no cover on the bare hillside and a
sun blazed overhead whilst German machine gunners and artillery observation
officers brought effective fire down onto the Battalion. The advance was over 1,000 metres of rocky-covered
ground and around one third of the Battalion were killed or wounded, including
Colonel Pearse who was severely wounded.
British artillery support was delivered on the enemy trenches as the
Battalion neared them, and this killed or drove back the enemy occupants. The surviving two-thirds of the Battalion
linked up with the King’s Liverpools and Lancashire Fusiliers on the left, and
the Brigade Commander then issued withdrawal orders.
Above: Bulgarian trench & sniper's shield
The British Official History of the
Macedonian Campaign includes a description of the attack by the 9th
East Lancashires that reads: “Its advance in artillery formation over open
ground and in face of heavy fire was carried out with the steadiness of a
movement on the parade ground and rendered invaluable service by supporting the
King’s Regiment and then covering the withdrawal.” The withdrawal was protected from a surprise
counter-attack by a Bulgarian battalion led by a mounted German officer when an
observant British artillery officer spotted the Bulgar column marching forward
in ranks of four and eliminated it with shrapnel shells.
Although this British attack had been
costly in casualties it achieved its objective, and German troops who had been
sent westwards to fight the Serbs and the French were hurriedly returned to the
Macukovo sector. Gallantry awards in the Battalion included the Military Cross to 2nd
Lieutenant Victor Charles Witham: For conspicuous gallantry
in action. He led a party of men with great courage and skill, driving out
enemy snipers and a patrol. Later, he rescued a wounded officer and several men
under very heavy fire. Number 14323 Private Eric Williams received a
Distinguished Conduct Medal: For conspicuous gallantry in action. He carried messages across the open under
heavy fire with great courage and skill.
Later, he carried a message over 1,000 yards across the open and
returned. Eric was later
promoted to Sergeant. Military
Medals were awarded to 14179 Sergeant Archibald McMillan for displaying bravery
and resource; to 13579 Signals Corporal Frederick Bennett for continuously repairing
telephone cables whilst under enemy fire; and to stretcher-bearers Privates 13413
Percy Curwen and 14653 C. Griffin for continuously recovering wounded men
whilst under fire.
No. 14426 Corporal Tom Whittaker from
Nelson was badly wounded and crawled into a ravine where he lay for five nights
before being seen and recovered. He had
heard movement during the nights but had not cried out in case enemy patrols or
packs of wolves, a very serious hazard in those hills, were about. He was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal but he died
of his wounds just before the award was published, and so could not receive it. Captain Richard Arthur Brodie James would
have been recommended for a Military
Cross because of his gallantry during the initial attack, but as he was
killed he received a posthumous Mention
in Despatches. Colonel Pearse was
awarded a Distinguished Service Order,
and after his evacuation Major C.P. Foley took over command of the Battalion.
Left: British camouflaged 18-pounder gun firing near Doiran
Krusha Balkan Hills
After the Macukovo fighting the Battalion
was pulled back to rest and re-organise, and then it relieved the 11th
Welch in the trenches that had been the Battalion start line for the recent
attack. Life here was quiet for a few
weeks although to the west the French and Serbs were involved in fighting that
led to the capture of Monastir. In late
October the Battalion was relieved by 11th Welch and moved to
Kalinova on the south side of the Doiran Hills, relieving 12th
Hampshires of 79th Brigade. The
weather now broke and the troops lived in the trenches accompanied by constant
cold and wet weather, but as rifle companies rotated through the role of
reserve company they could enjoy the use of clean and disinfected billets in
the rear in Cidemli village.
On 18th November a ‘cutting out’
operation (a stealthy night attack for a very limited period) was mounted
against Goldie’s Hill, an enemy outpost 500 metres from the Battalion trenches. The aim of the operation was to seize prisoners
and extract information from them.
Captain H.V. Leonard with 50 men attempted to attack the hill from the
rear so that a party under Captain L.M. Trist could intercept the enemy as they
withdrew. However Leonard’s previously
reconnoitred route was found to be occupied by Bulgars who opened fire at close
range, wounding a few East Lancashire soldiers, and the operation had to be
abandoned in order to evacuate the casualties.
Captain Henry Verdon Leonard, Cheshire Regiment attached to 9th
East Lancashires, was later awarded a Military
Cross for his gallantry in reconnoitring and then commanding the operation. Henry was to gain a Bar to this award before the war was over.
As the British were now taking over the
entire eastern sector of the Macedonian Front, at the end of November the
Battalion moved onto the Krusha Balkan Hills that rose from the plain between
the Doiran Hills and the Struma Valley to the east. The Battalion, along with the remainder of 65th
Brigade, marched 60 kilometres in 36 hours through ankle-deep melting snow. This march tasked the strength of all
involved, and for the final ascent of the Krusha Hills packs had to be dumped
at the bottom at Snevce village. Italian
troops were relieved and the Battalion moved into trenches that overlooked the
small plain to the north, but the trenches themselves were overlooked by
Bulgars dug-in on the Belasica Planina mountain range beyond the small plain.
On the northern slopes of the Krusha Hills
65th Brigade was detached from 22nd Division and was
directly under the orders of XII Corps Headquarters. On the night of 5th January 1917 a
small raid was mounted. The King’s Own
attacked a village named Brest, and to cause a diversion the East Lancashires
attacked and captured the Hodza Redoubt.
This redoubt was a heavily-wired advance enemy post on the north bank of
the Hodza Suji, a small river that ran into Lake Doiran.
Captain Andrew Rollo with Lieutenants John
Robinson and Harold Gibson and 50 men approached the redoubt silently and blew
a gap through the wire; Lieutenant Robinson was shot through the chest and head
whilst lighting the fuzes. The enemy
garrison ran the other way whilst Rollo and his men surged through the gap and
occupied the redoubt for 70 minutes; then Rollo withdrew through the enemy
artillery barrage with one man dead and 20 wounded. The Military
Cross was awarded to Captain Andrew Duncan Rollo: For
conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He personally cut his way through
the enemy's wire, entered a redoubt, and drove the defenders out with his
revolver. He set a fine example of courage and initiative throughout.
Lieutenant John Scott Robinson also was later awarded a Military Cross but without a citation. Lieutenant Harold Leslie Gibson received a Mention in Despatches later in the
campaign. The Military Medal was awarded to 14843 Corporal (Acting Sergeant) John
gallantry in action.
The King’s Own successfully seized Brest.
Above: British infantry with mules march to the Struma Front
A week later the raid was repeated on a
larger scale. The King’s Liverpools
operated on the right to block the Akinjali garrison from withdrawing and the
East Lancashires again attacked the Hodza Redoubt and Akinjali East, also known
as Karali village. This time five and a
half Allied artillery batteries supported the raiders during the attack and cut
the enemy wire defences. The East
Lancashires fielded three parties each of 50 raiders. Captain Walter Heurtley attacked Hodza
Redoubt, Captain Gerard Chowne attacked a strong-point in Akinjali Church and Captain
Henry Leonard attacked another strong-point in Akinjali named the White
House. All the East Lancashire
objectives were taken but elsewhere the Akinjali garrison managed to get away
losing only four men.
In late January 65th Brigade
returned to its previous location south of the Macukovo battlefield for seven
weeks, and the Battalion manned trenches in Glencoe Ravine. During this time Colonel Foley was posted
back to England and Major Percival James Gout MC (94th Russell’s
Infantry, Indian Army) was appointed as Commanding Officer. Colonel Foley was awarded a Mention in Despatches for his
leadership of the Battalion.
First Battle of Doiran, April – May 1917
In the Spring of 1917 the French Allied
Theatre Commander in Macedonia, General Maurice Sarrail, ordered an
offensive. 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 an attack on Serres
to the east of the Struma River but General Milne, not liking the low ground
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 highest hill top 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 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 searchlights were sited to illuminate
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.
Left: Bulgarian artillery hits British trenches on the Doiran Front
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 is never easy
and requires superiority in artillery so that enemy trenches and gun positions
can 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 Point 4½ on Pip Ridge (known as Pip 4½ or just P4½) 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 Pip 4½ to 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 British 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 the 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.
During the initial phases of the battle 65th
Brigade was in divisional reserve and out of the action, but on 27th
April the 9th East Lancashires moved forward and relieved 13th
Manchesters on the left of the new line.
During this relief enemy artillery killed Lieutenant Walter Douglas Laidlaw
Purves and nine men, whilst Captain Rollo, Lieutenant Witham and 36 men were
wounded. The next two days were quieter,
giving opportunities for burying the dead whose corpses rapidly decomposed in
the hot sunlight. On the 29th
and 30th April Bulgar shells killed 3 more men and wounded 26
others. The evening of 1st
May and the following day saw more effective enemy artillery fire that killed
Captain Gerard Henry Tilson Chowne, a battalion stalwart, and three men, whilst
Lieutenant Herbert Cyril Coaks, 2nd Lieutenant William Young and 27
men were wounded. In the forward trenches which included Jackson
Ravine the Battalion was on new ground that had not previously been prepared
for defence, and so there were no shelter bunkers to occupy when enemy guns hit
the trenches. Because of the British
advance forward on the left without a compensatory advance on the right, Bulgar
machine guns could fire directly up Jackson Ravine from the east, inhibiting
daylight movement and suddenly killing men working at night. The first
priorities on new ground were the correct siting and construction of fire trenches
and machine and Lewis gun posts, and the laying of defensive barbed wire. After this period of attrition the Battalion
was relieved by the Lancashire Fusiliers and withdrew to rest at Kidney Hill;
here the men could clean their bodies and their equipment and sleep at night
instead of working.
During the remainder of the 1st
Battle of Doiran 66th and 67th Brigades advanced slightly
up Pip Ridge to improve the newly won ground, and another British formation, 60th
Division, modestly advanced to gain tactical ground in the valley further
west. On the British right 26th
Division attacked again, losing nearly 2,000 men killed or wounded, but 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. 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 theatre front, and
they knew how to hold it.
Above: Low level Bulgarian bunker west of Lake Doiran
After the battle General Gordon was
evacuated and General John Duncan CMG DSO was appointed the new commander of 22nd
Division. The Battalion rotated between
trenchlines in the Brigade area or to rest locations in the rear where visits
to the Divisional bath unit could be enjoyed.
A few more men were lost to enemy shell fire. On 20th June the Bulgars raided a
Battalion outpost on Hill 380. After
engaging the enemy, firing Verey cartridges to request an immediate artillery
barrage, and lighting a red flare to signal evacuation of the feature, No. 14478
Corporal (Acting Sergeant) Patrick Burke, the outpost commander, complied with
Standing Orders by retiring to the main British defensive line. From there Sergeant Burke immediately
volunteered to lead a counter attack and back on Hill 380 he found the enemy
gone. However he and his men were still
in danger as the Bulgars, being no fools, repeated the Hill 380 barrage request
flares and the British artillery responded, shelling just forward of the
outpost. There were no British
casualties and the Military Medal was
awarded to Patrick Burke: For gallantry and devotion
Besides fighting as infantrymen the Battalion
was also called upon to man posts in headquarters and administrative units, and
in late June Captain Heurtley was detached for duty as the Deputy Governor of
Salonika Military Prison; Walter Heurtley was later to receive an Order of the British Empire (OBE). At the end of that month the Battalion was
back in Pearse Brook near Vladaja, where it was entertained by the ‘Splints’
Concert Party, a group of talented performance artists drawn from a British
field ambulance unit. On 19th
July No. 13372 Private Henry Pilkington received a Military Medal, probably for gallantry displayed during the First
Battle of Doiran. In the same ceremony
Lieutenant and Quartermaster George Frederick Frost received the Meritorious Service Medal. On the following day Colonel Percival Gout,
who had been awarded a Military Cross
whilst serving in the Battalion, was recalled to the Indian Army and Lieutenant
Colonel Charles Edward Davies, Royal Warwickshire Regiment attached to 9th
East Lancashires, was appointed to command the Battalion.
activities during 1917 and early 1918
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 regimental history comments: “One must
imagine a community of men living always together and enduring the same daily
hardships with no tangible hope of circumstances altering the conditions of
their lives for the better. Leave was
practically negligible, malaria or dysentery (or both) a certainty, a wound or
being killed a probability. There were
no towns in the whole area which were not in ruins, and the majority of the
battalion never saw a shop or an inhabited house except on arriving or
departing from the country.”
When deployed on a two-week spell in the
trenches the men went out on reconnaissance or fighting patrols, improved
defences and wiring, evacuated casualties, laid and repaired telephone lines, and
brought forward ammunition, supplies and rations. All this work had to be undertaken at night
as during the day the locations that the Battalion often occupied – Senelle,
Plym, Exeter and Xmas Ravines – were overlooked by the Bulgars not only from
the front and the flanks but also from the rear by enemy positions on Pip
The evacuation of casualties worked well
providing that the wounded men could stay alive until darkness fell. After being treated and assessed by the
Battalion Medical Officer, Captain L.W. Evans MB, Royal Army Medical Corps, 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. After the campaign ended Captain Leslie
Wilson Evans was awarded a Military
Cross in recognition of the many times that he had treated the wounded
whilst under enemy fire.
In rear areas the soldiers worked on road
construction tasks, constructed second-line defences and sometimes erected
dummy campsites to mislead enemy observers in the hostile aeroplanes that flew
overhead. In their own camps the men had
to constantly work on rigorous hygiene measures aimed at eradicating mosquito
and fly-borne diseases; standing water was drained away, tents were constantly
repaired to be insect-proof, and night-sentries wore veils over their helmets
and faces and applied anti-mosquito cream on their hands. Quinine tablets were taken twice a day for a
set period, often on parade so that swallowing the unpleasant-tasting tablet
could not be dodged.
Right: Bulgarian prisoners taken at Doiran 1916.
As well as this administrative activity
training courses were run to qualify signals and weapons specialists and
stretcher bearers, and to prepare privates and junior non-commissioned officers
for promotion. Occasionally drafts
arrived and were inducted into the rifle companies. Whenever possible inter-company events were
held and in July ‘B’ Company won at bayonet fighting, ‘C’ Company at Section
Drill, and ‘A’ Company at musketry.
The Battalion had a Transport Section of
one officer and 75 men whose job was the handling of mules and carts for
bringing forward supplies when the Battalion was in the trenches. Whilst it appeared that these men had a safe
rear-echelon role in fact they operated in dangerous conditions in the ravines,
often being targeted by enemy artillery and machine gun fire.
New weapons were introduced, but sometimes
not without dangers and problems. On 15th
August 1917 Lieutenant Godfrey Buckley was killed when a rifle grenade
accidentally exploded, and a month later another officer and a soldier were
wounded in a similar incident. Trench
mortars were very welcome when they arrived in theatre. Using the high trajectory of the bombs
Battalion mortar teams were able to hit back at enemy mortars located in narrow
ravines on higher ground. However mortar
bombs, rifle grenades, machine gun belts, Lewis gun ammunition drums, hand
grenade and rifle ammunition boxes could only be transported forward by mule
part of the way; after that human porters had to carry these dead weights
forward in darkness, when a sudden burst of enemy fire could land amongst the
carrying party, shredding human flesh and bone and causing temporary havoc.
At the end of October No. 7788 Regimental
Sergeant Major Ernest Bancroft DCM of Bury was promoted to 2nd
Lieutenant and posted to ‘B’ Company. He
had been awarded the Distinguished
Conduct Medal after the First Battle of Doiran: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to
duty in organising work of defence and supply of Royal Engineer material under
heavy shell fire. In spite of being
severely wounded he continued his duties till the cessation of operations. As Acting Regimental Sergeant Major he set a
magnificent example to all.
On 20th December Lieutenant Lancelot
Arthur Lenny, 5th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers attached to 9th
Battalion East Lancashires, was killed by enemy machine gun fire whilst
supervising a working party in a ravine.
The Battalion spent Christmas in the front line and was relieved by the
King’s Own on 29th December, allowing New Year’s Eve to be spent in
a more relaxed fashion in the rear.
Doubtless the old soldiers in the Battalion wondered how many more New
Year’s Eves would occur during the war, and how many of those, if they were
lucky enough to see them, would be in Macedonia.
In the New Year’s Honours List the
following month Captain (Acting Major) Leslie Hamilton Trist, Lincolnshire
Regiment attached to 9th East Lancashires, was awarded the Military Cross. During the First Battle of Doiran he had gone
forward to create an observation post that he occupied for a full day without
being spotted by the Bulgars, and from which he plotted the enemy positions
facing the Battalion. During April 1918
the 65th Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Bayley, was
transferred to England and replaced by Brigadier General Bernard John Majendie
During the same month Colonel Davies was
transferred to France where he was to win a Distinguished Service Order and Brevet Major James Alexander
Campbell DSO, Suffolk Regiment attached to 9th East Lancashires, was
appointed Commanding Officer. Colonel
Davies received a Mention in Dispatches for
his work in Macedonia. Three months
later Major Trist relinquished the post of Battalion Second-in-Command when he
was elevated to command the 11th Welsh Regiment. Leslie Hamilton Trist MC had been with the
Battalion since 1915 when he returned from serving in France, bringing much-needed
practical battlefield experience to the Battalion. He had often stood-in as
Temporary Commanding Officer during the absences of Colonels, and the bravery and
leadership that he displayed in Macedonia was to earn him the award of the Distinguished Service Order along with other
French and Roumanian awards for his gallantry in the forthcoming Second Battle
of Doiran. Major Philip Gottwaltz MC,
South Wales Borderers attached to 9th East Lancashires, was
appointed as the new Second-in-Command.
Above: French troops in Macedonia
Second Battle of Doiran
The French government had removed General
Sarrail from Macedonia and replaced him as Allied theatre commander with
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. In
preparation for the offensive the 9th East Lancashires was withdrawn
from the line in mid-August 1918 for a month of intensive training in fighting
in open country – advancing, attacking and withdrawing whilst in contact with
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 Pip Ridge 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 remained high.
Left: British infantry entrench near Doiran
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. Only one 67th
Brigade objective was taken and held whilst the Greeks held their initial
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 withdrew into Jackson
Ravine. After darkness fell on the
battlefield 66th Brigade, having lost 857 men, could make no further
offensive effort and it withdrew.
65th Brigade had been held in
reserve because of its weakness in numbers due to illness, but during the early
hours of 19th September 9th East Lancashires moved
forward to seize Jackson Ravine, tasked with attacking forward at 0500 hours to
support another attack by French Zouave (North African light infantry) troops
against enemy trenches named the Warren, a kilometre ahead of the Battalion. Above on Pip Ridge 9th King’s Own
was to attack and capture P4½, and P4.
The operation fell apart when the French commander disregarded British
advice on which routes to take to his start line and came under Bulgarian
random shell fire in the dark. Certain
that they were under observation by the enemy and would be decimated, the
Zouaves fell apart, blocking the routes, and their commander declined to
advance. Advancing British troops had to
walk on the bodies of the Zouaves who had laid down across the floor of the
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.
Down in Jackson Ravine 9th East
Lancashires waited for signs of the French attack but nothing happened. The Battalion could hear that the attack
above it on Pip Ridge had failed, and there was no French attack on the
right. This left the 9th East
Lancashires isolated 800 metres ahead of the current British front line with
orders to attack frontally onto enemy positions 500 metres ahead near Tzebira
Ravine, where the barbed wire had not been cut by shell fire and no artillery
support was offered; enemy positions overlooked the Battalion from all sides. The
ground ahead was littered with Greek corpses from the previous day’s failed
attack. To the Battalion the orders,
which were confirmed, appeared suicidal.
However Colonel Campbell assessed the
situation from a vantage point with his company commanders, conferred with them
as to which companies should move forward first and which should follow, and
ordered an advance with ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies forward and ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies
in reserve. The formation used was ‘artillery’
to be changed to companies in line, each company forming two lines, when the
enemy guns started hitting the Battalion; thus there would be four attacking
lines on the objective. The Medical
Officer and the Battalion Headquarters signallers were to remain in Jackson
Ravine; Colonel Campbell personally led the attack.
After advancing 150 metres the Bulgars near
Tzebira Ravine observed the Battalion and fired their barrage signal flares, calling
down defensive artillery fire onto the 9th East Lancashires. Shortly after that enemy machine guns from
the heights on both flanks commenced firing into the ranks. ‘Artillery formation’ was changed to
companies in line and the advance continued.
To quote the regimental history: “As an example of the indomitable
courage of the men the following example is typical. A machine-gunner of ‘B’ Company was brought
down by a shell and was seen to calmly hand his Lewis Gun to a member of his
section, and as the latter moved forward with the gun, he was called back by
his wounded comrade who wished to hand over another drum of cartridges he had
found. And this in spite of a shattered
Luck was with the 9th East
Lancashires that morning. By the time
the enemy wire was reached the Battalion frontage had been reduced to 140
metres, and enemy fire was concentrated on it.
An officer and a corporal crawled up to the wire but could find no way
through it. What saved the Battalion
from losing many men was that the ground in front of the wire dropped away,
concealing the reserve companies from the Bulgar trenches. Also the enemy enfilade machine gun fire from
Pip Ridge was being fired at a downwards angle that gave the Bulgar machine
gunners range-finding problems, whilst the fire from the east was aimed from a
distance, again providing problems of trajectory and range finding for the
enemy gunners. Knowing that he had
performed his duty but that he could go no further without pointlessly losing
his battalion, Colonel Campbell ordered a fighting withdrawal back to Jackson
Above: Doiran Hills from Krusha Range (courtesy of IWM)
In the ravine the casualty count was found
to be remarkably light considering the risks taken and the lack of support
provided. Eight soldiers had been
killed, ten were missing and 100 officers and men had been wounded. Colonel Campbell was amongst the first to
have been wounded, and his courageous leadership was acknowledged by the award
of a Bar to the Distinguished Service
Order: For conspicuous gallantry in the
field.He led his
battalion in an attack on enemy trenches in Jackson’s Ravine on 19th
September 1918. Whilst doing so he was
wounded but continued in command. After
the first attempt failed he reorganized the battalion and again attacked, but
was severely wounded in the advance.
Finding his flanks open, and being exposed on all sides to heavy
machine-gun fire, he ordered a withdrawal, continuing in command until he was
no longer capable of action. He set a
fine example of courage and initiative to all under his command.
2nd Lieutenant Horace Barnes
received a Military Cross for bravery
displayed in Jackson Ravine: For conspicuous gallantry
on 19th September, 1918, after the withdrawal from the Corne to Jackson's
Ravine, and after the battalion was reorganised and awaiting further orders he
repeatedly went out in front, and brought in wounded under intense machine-gun
and artillery fire, on one occasion crawling a distance of 100 yards, dragging
a wounded man to cover. Throughout the action he set a fine example of courage
and devotion to duty.
At noon the Battalion was ordered to withdraw
to Green Ravine, and after dusk to Shelter Ravine, where it arrived at 2200
hours. There ‘D’ Company was disbanded,
the unwounded men from it going to strengthen ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies. Major Gottwaltz took over as Temporary
The Second Battle of Doiran had ended for
the Allies with little ground gained between Pip Ridge and Lake Doiran but with
a casualty figure of 6,709 all ranks, not including the Zouaves whose figures
were not known; 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 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.
of the Bulgarian Army
But 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 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 Bulgar ammunition stocks started exploding on
and behind the hill tops; the enemy was destroying supplies and equipment that
could not be quickly moved. British
reconnaissance patrols confirmed that Bulgar troops were thinning-out and
abandoning positions. On 23rd
September the 9th East Lancashires along with the remainder of 65th
Brigade moved into a divisional reserve role at Grand Shoulder; the enemy
having evacuated the Pip Ridge – Grand Couronne – Lake Doiran line.
During the following two days 65th
Brigade pursued the Bulgars in an exhausting trek over the Belasica Planina mountain
range, the Battalion losing four men killed or died of wounds and 28 officers
and men wounded to the accurate artillery fire that the Bulgars laid down
behind their withdrawal. On 26th
September the Battalion was ordered to halt and reorganize, the fighting
strength at that time being 16 officers and 327 men. On the final day of the month Bulgaria agreed
an armistice with the Allies and ceased hostile action. Allied occupation troops entered Bulgaria as
quickly as possible, severing the land route between German and Turkish
against the Turkish Army
With Bulgaria out of the war General Milne mounted
operations 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 for ten days
and then it began marching eastwards and eight weary days later arrived at
Stavros port on the Gulf of Rendina. There
on 20th October the Bishop of London addressed 65th and
66th Brigades. Bravery during
the Second Battle of Doiran was recognised by medal ribands presented by
General Milne. Colonel Campbell received
the Bar to his Distinguished Service Order; 2nd Lieutenant Horace
Barnes received his Military Cross. The Military
Medal was awarded to 13982 Lance Corporal Harold Beaver; 14423 Lance
Corporal William Fletcher; 26916 Private George Woods; 14430 Private James
Casson; and 14379 Private William Hughes.
From Stavros on 26th October the
Battalion, less the land transport group, sailed aboard the crowded ‘M’ Class
destroyer HMS Parthian for Dedeagach
on the Bulgaria-Turkey border. The first
attempt to land failed as the weather was so rough that the lighters being
towed from Mudros Island could not leave harbour, but a successful landing was
made on 28th October. But as
the regimental history puts it: “Not a Turk was to be seen. Not a single gun was heard or even a sentry’s
rifle discharged.” Dedeagach was
occupied by 65th Brigade and two days later hostilities with Turkey
ceased; 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.
Army of Occupation in Turkey
Much as the men of the 9th East
Lancashires wanted to go home and resume civilian life there were other duties
to be performed first. Four days in
well-fertilised cattle trucks on the Bulgarian railway, followed by a short
truck ride and six days more marching saw the Battalion back in billets at
Stavros. Education classes were started and
were attended on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On 1st January 1919 the first
group of men, all former miners, were sent for demobilisation. Further groups of men trickled out towards
demobilisation but some drafts of reinforcements also arrived. In the January 1919 New Year’s Honours List
Lieutenant John Stephens Oldham was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry displayed on Pip Ridge, probably
whilst leading a patrol; and No. 17578 Company Sergeant Major Thomas Hibbert
was awarded the Meritorious Service
Medal. During late February the
Battalion was ordered to join the British Army of Occupation in Turkey.
On 7th March 1919 the remaining
11 officers and 200 men of the 9th East Lancashires sailed from
Salonika aboard HMS Kapurthala for
the Dardanelles. The Battalion landed at
Chanak on the eastern shore and relieved the 1st York &
Lancaster Regiment, taking over that unit’s stores and equipment. One hundred and five officers and men of the
York & Lancasters were posted to the Battalion, as were an officer and 139
men of the 1st Loyal North Lancashires. On the 28th of March the last
Battalion casualty recorded in the war diary sadly occurred when 204155 Private
George Hunt died after being kicked on the head by a mule. A military funeral was held the following day
and George’s body was buried in Chanak Consular Cemetery where it still lies.
In April 1919 the 9th (Service)
Battalion East Lancashire Regiment was disbanded and never re-formed.
In Greece over 120 men of the 9th
Battalion East Lancashire Regiment are commemorated by the Commonwealth War
Graves Commission in their Sarigol, Kirechkoi-Hortakoi, Lahana, Doiran, Mikra,
Dedeagatch, Karasouli, and Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemeteries. But the bodies of 29 of their comrades were
never recovered from the battlefield and those men are commemorated on the
Doiran Memorial that looks across Lake Doiran to the wild ravines and steep slopes
of the Doiran Hills where the remains of those gallant East Lancashire soldiers
In Malta three men of the Battalion lie in
Pieta Military Cemetery and doubtless they succumbed to wounds there after medical
evacuation from Salonika.
Above: First EAST LANCS panel Doiran Memorial
Above: Second EAST LANCS panel Doiran Memorial
to personnel of the 9th East Lancashires for service in Macedonia
Names have been extracted from the
Battalion War Diary and verified in the London Gazette.
Bar to Distinguished Service Order Lieutenant J.A. CAMPBELL DSO (Suffolk
Regiment attached to 9th East Lancashires).
Distinguished Service Order Major (Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) S.A.
Military Cross 2nd Lieutenant H. BARNES; Temporary Lieutenant L.W. CROFT; Captain L.W.
EVANS MB (Royal Army Medical Corps attached to 9th East
Lancashires); Captain P.J. GOUT (94th Russell’s Infantry, Indian
Army, attached to 9th East Lancashires); Temporary Captain H.V. LEONARD; 2/Lieutenant F.C.A.C. NEAL; Temporary Lieutenant J.S. OLDHAM; Captain F.S. PEARSON (Dorsetshire Regiment
attached to 9th East Lancashires); Temporary Lieutenant J.S. ROBINSON; Captain A.D. ROLLO; Captain (Temporary Major) L.M. TRIST
(Lincolnshire Regiment attached to 9th East Lancashires); Temporary
Lieutenant V.C. WITHAM.
Distinguished Conduct Medal 2/778 Company Sergeant Major (Acting Regimental
Sergeant Major) B. BANCROFT; and 14323 Private E. WILLIAMS.
Military Medal 3/20923 Lance Corporal N. AINSWORTH;
9/13982 Private (Lance Corporal) H. BEAVER; 13579 Corporal F.W. BENNETT;
9/14478 Corporal (Acting Sergeant) D. BURKE; 9/14430 Private J. CASSON; 13413
Private E. CURWEN; 9/14423 Private (Lance Corporal) W. FLETCHER; 14653 Private
C. GRIFFIN; 9/14843 Corporal (Acting Sergeant) J. HODGSON; 9/14379 Private W.
HUGHES; 9/1479 Sergeant A. McMILLAN; 9/13572 Private A. PILKINGTON; 14281 Private
T. Towler; 3/26916 Private G.W. WOODS.
Meritorious Service Medal 12325 Warrant Officer Class I (promoted to
Lieutenant and Quartermaster) G.F. FROST; 5878 Temporary Sergeant Major J.H.
HARDING; 9/17578 Company Sergeant Major T. HIBBERT.
Mention in Despatches 2nd Lieutenant R.H. AYLWIN;
2/7788 Company Sergeant Major (Acting Regimental Sergeant Major) E. BANCROFT;
Lieutenant W. BAYLEY; 9/13982 Private H. BEAVER; Lieutenant R.A. BRODIE-JAMES;
14123 Sergeant P. BROWN; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel C.E. DAVIES; 18183
Private (Acting Lance Corporal) C. DONOHUE; 9/19650 Sergeant J. DOWNING; 19654
Private J. DUFFY; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel C.P. FOLEY; Temporary Lieutenant
H.L. GIBSON; Captain P.J. GOUT MC; 5727 Sergeant E. GRAYSON; Temporary Captain
W. HEURTLEY; 9/14319 Private S. HEYWOOD; Temporary Captain E.L. JONES;
Temporary Captain H.T. KINGDON; 9/14263 Corporal E. LANCASTER; Temporary
Captain H.V. LEONARD; Temporary Lieutenant H.B. MACKEOWN; 2nd
Lieutenant F.C.A.C. NEAL; 9/16796 Private (Acting Sergeant) J.W. NEVILLE; Major
(Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) S.A. PEARSE; Captain F.S. PEARSON (Dorsetshire
Regiment attached to 9th East Lancashires); Temporary Major A.
PELTZER; 9/14035 Private (Acting Lance Corporal) R. THOMPSON; Temporary Major
L.H. TRIST (Lincolnshire Regiment attached 9th East Lancashires);
14146 Corporal H. WILD; 9/14532 Corporal (Acting Sergeant) T. YEOMAN.
Croix de Guerre with Palms Lieutenant L.H. TRIST MC; and 13982
Corporal H. BEAVER MM.
Croix de Guerre Captain H.V. LEONARD.
Medaille Militaire 9/14323 Lance Corporal E. WILLIAMS DCM.
Officer of the Order of the Crown of
Roumania Captain (Temporary Major) Leslie Hamilton Trist, DSO MC,
Lincolnshire Regiment (Special Reserve), attached 9th Battalion, East
Serbian White Eagle 4th
Class Major (Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) A.C. GABBETT.
Serbian Gold Medal 9/13307 Private G. TREEBY; and 9/14915
Private R.B. HUGHES (both ‘C’ Company.
Military Cross 2nd Class Lieutenant Colonel J.A. CAMPBELL DSO.
Military Cross 3rd Class 19650 Company Sergeant Major J. DOWNING;
14423 Private W. FLETCHER MM; and 14430 Private J. CASSON MM.
SOURCES: (the most economical publications
Falls, Cyril (compiler): History of the Great War.Military Operations Macedonia. Two
Volumes. (Battery Press reprint 1996).
Nicholls, Brian. The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army. An Anthology.
(D.P. & G. Military Publishers, Doncaster 2006).
General Sir Lothian & Major H. T. McMullen.History of the East
Lancashire Regiment in the Great War 1914-1918.
(Littlebury Bros. Ltd., Liverpool 1936).
Wakefield, Alan and Moody, Simon. Under the Devil’s Eye. The British Military Experience
in Macedonia 1915-1918. (Pen & Sword Military 2011).
War Diary. Specially typewritten and bound
copy of 9th Battalion East Lancashire
Regiment War Diary September 1915 – April 1919 held in the archives of the
Lancashire Infantry Museum, Preston.
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).