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The 9th (Service) Battalion East Lancashire Regiment in Macedonia

The Macedonian Campaign

Please refer to the first paragraph on this link for an introduction to the Great War Macedonian Campaign.

The Maps can be found HERE

Harry has provided some very interesting studies of the battlefield 100 years after the events HERE


The 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. Caulfield.

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.



Salonika


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 no fighting.

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 Headquarters. 

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 dressing stations.

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.



The Macukovo attack

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


The 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 Hodgson: For 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.




The 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 to duty.

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.




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 Ridge. 

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 DSO.

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




The 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 enemy. 

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 objectives.

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 ravine.

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 leg!” 

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 Ravine.

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 Commanding Officer.

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.



Pursuit 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 forces.  


Operations 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.


The 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.


Commemorations

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 still lie.

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




Awards 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. PEARSE.  

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.


French Awards

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.  

Roumanian Award


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 Lancashire Regiment.  

Serbian Awards


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.


Greek Hellenic Awards

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 are listed)

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).

Nicholson, Maj. 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).

Rutter, Owen. The Song of Tiadatha.  Download at: https://archive.org/details/songoftiadatha00ruttiala

The website of the Salonika Campaign Society may also be of interest: http://www.salonikacampaignsociety.org.uk/index.php/campaign/76-campaign  

 
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