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Ernest John Winchester 1895-1983

Private M2-176707 - Army Service Corps - Salonika - WWI

My grandfather, Ernest Winchester, served in the Army Service Corps during the first World War but I have few details of his army career. However, it is clear that he spent most of his time in Greece where he was stationed for some of the time at Bralo, a major supply post near Delphi in the South. The Army Service Corps was responsible for transport and keeping the fighting troops supplied with whatever they needed. Ernest may have been a driver.

ASC postcard

Bulgaria attacked Serbia in October 1915. This new threat led Serbia to appeal to the British and French governments for military assistance. At the same time Greece asked the Allies for help with their treaty obligations to Serbia. The British and French sent a small force which began landing at the Greek port of Salonika (Thessalonika) at the end of October. They advanced into Macedonia but were too late to help the Serbs who had to retreat through the Albania mountains. The Allies then withdrew back to Salonika and set up an entrenchment camp around the town known as the "Bird cage" for the amount of barbed wire used and waited for the Bulgarians to attack. The Bulgarians did not advance on Salonika, but instead consolidated their gains in Macedonia.

The British continued to build up their forces, and by early 1916 the force had increased from just the 10th (Irish) Division to the 10th, 22nd, 26th, 27th and 28th divisions.

The Allies advanced up to the Serbian frontier and liberated Monastir. Trench warfare then began. The Allies attacked in the spring of 1917, but failed to break through. However, in September 1918 they attacked again and within two weeks had obtained Bulgaria's unconditional surrender.

The campaign in Macedonia was considered by many to be a "side-show". The Allied army was known back home as the "Gardeners of Salonika" due to the apparent lack of activity and people would comment "If you want a holiday, go to Salonika".

First World War medals

Despite the view of those at home, life in Macedonia was far from easy. The British Salonika Force not only had to cope with the extremes in temperature but also malaria. In 1916 it was possible to evacuate the most serious cases. However, with the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare in April 1917 this was no longer possible. Consequently the cases of malaria soared as the infected men were compelled to stay in Macedonia. Hospital admissions in 1917 alone were 63,396 out of a strength of about 100,000 men. By early 1918 the British were again able to evacuate the worst cases and under the 'Y' scheme nearly 30,000 were evacuated.

Many men suffered numerous relapses made worse by having to remain in Macedonia. Even when they were finally evacuated many would still suffer relapses for many years to come. Ernest returned to England on a hospital ship in 1918, suffering from malaria and probably part of the 'Y' scheme, and spent a further 12 weeks in hospital, possibly Devonport Military Hospital.

Among his souvenirs were a number of photographs taken in Greece, some of which are shown below. A few of them appear on the Imperial War Museum site among a collection taken by private Christopher Reynolds of 913 Motor Transport Company. Perhaps he and Ernest served together. The photos give an idea of conditions there at the time, both for the army and for civilians.

turkey for dinner?
Turkey for dinner ?

Stuck in the mud!
Four members of 913 MT Coy. with a Peerless lorry engaged in carrying stone and gravel from
the riverbed for use in road repairs. To assist the recovery of the lorry from the riverbed a tow
rope has been fixed to the front of the vehicle should the weight of stone prevent the lorry's
movement. Note the box container for carrying stone fixed to rear of the vehicle's chassis and
gang of local labourers standing in background. Note also the butterfly emblem painted on the
side of the drivers cab.

Ooops...
British and French officers and men stand around a stricken French lorry which has collided
with the parapet of a stone bridge. The lorry hangs precariously over the side of the bridge,
having knocked the stone parapet into the riverbed below

Bulgarian prisoners arriving at a camp
A convoy of lorries belonging to 913 MT Coy (ASC) travelling through a wide valley along the
Bralo-Itea road. In the foreground can be seen the white bell tents of a military camp
- enlargement shows more lorries way down the road

wedding party Haymakers Road workers Road workers

The four photographs above show typical greek scenes from the time; a Greek wedding, haymakers, road workers (all women!) and a ploughman.

Pierrots Museum

Clearly life wasn't all hard work though, as there were also photographs taken in a museum and some of camp entertainment.

Among Ernie's momentoes is a type-written programme for an evening's entertainment with the 'Purple Pierrots' with the usual mix of music, singing, recitations and comedy acts. Included in the credits were such people as the acting manager, Mr Whyte Dickie; lighting & effects, Mr Q Pydd; and the stage manager, Mr Ringem Downe - you get the idea.

Finally, below is a poem which neatly expresses the frustration which must have been felt by the troops taking part in what, for much of the time in Salonika, was just a holding operation. This musical monologue was apparently written on 1 October 1918, two days after the Armistice terms with Bulgaria were signed, by Sapper Jim Morris with music by Pte H Collins and recited by Pte Laurie Sweetapple at a GHQ Concert Party.

I gather that printed copies were soon available for purchase, although the copy my grandfather had was hand-written.

 

Who Won The War, and Why

You wants me to tell you a story
Of who won the war, and why?
Well your Grandad ain't quite what he was boy,
But as you wants the truth well I'll try.
There's some things we'd like to forget lad.
There's things that your memory keeps green
Though they say I've "The Tap", I remembers
What happened since August fourteen.

You say that you've read all the histories!
Of who started the war and when
But you can't find out just who won it,
And why they won it - and then
You comes to your poor old Grandad
Who'll tell you the truth as you knows
Just wait till I've had my Quinine lad,
Twenty grains, that's better, here goes.

You see, it was like this, the Germans
Thought they'd like all the Earth to run,
So they started by walking through Belgium
Into France. Now look here my son,
It's no use of you interrupting,
And telling me you knows all that
I'm telling this story, not you, see
And I'm telling the truth, compree that?

It's never been put in the histories,
And the War Office records don't show
The why and the wherefore of winning,
But I was there, and I know.
I was just going to say when you stopped me
We bunged our lads over to France,
And we stopped Mr Fritz in his travels
And led him a hell of a dance.

We was keeping him busy when Turkey
Thought she'd like to come in the show,
Then Italy wanted a flutter,
Don't interrupt, you don't know.
Then old Johnny Bulgar got busy
And Serbia, well Serbia went "west"
So they sent some of us out to help 'em
I was one of 'em, one of the best.

It's a hell of a country, excuse me,
When I thinks of all I've gone through
In the country they call Macedonia,
Well, my language, it ain't fit for you.
We stewed in the sun in the summer,
We froze in the cold winter nights,
At a hundred and four with 'dingey',
We didn't enjoy ourselves quite.

And each day we read in the paper,
How the boys out there in the West
With their tanks and planes and gas shells
Were pounding old Fritz's nest,
While we out in Macedonia
Were doing ourselves real fine
Yes, with dysentery, dingey and suchlike
M and D, Castor Oil and Quinine.

Well, we stuck it as best we were able,
We went into dock and came out,
Did Con Camps and Rest Camps and stunts which,
As a kid, you knows nothing about.
Why, your Grandad once wangled the "Y" scheme
And his prospects of Blighty were gay,
But they tumbled he hadn't Malaria,
So they gave him a board, marked him "A".

Did I ever come home on leave, boy?
Did I leave Salonique? Did I hell!
Did you ever see an oyster
Come out for a walk from his shell?
It was like that with us, we was fixtures,
We was in but we couldn't get out,
And the chances we had of leaving
Was nothing to shout about.

The years went by, still we waited,
They said we was having a rest,
A-basking all day in the sunshine,
While the boys did the work in the West.
We'll admit they was doing some scrapping,
And at times catching Fritz on the bend,
But they never seemed to get nearer
What we wanted to see, "The End".

You see, we worked it out this way,
If we made Johnny Bulgar collapse
We could tie the Turk up and he'd chuck it,
Then we might get to Blighty, perhaps.
Course the Austrians, well, they'd be easy,
And without all the others, the Hun
Wouldn't stand very long on his lonesome
And the blooming old war would be won.

Well, we got fairly fed up with waiting,
So one day without any fuss
We went out and toused Johnny Bulgar,
We thought it was right up to us.
Gave him one in the neck, a good 'un,
Got him groggy and well on the run.
In a fortnight he'd chucked the old sponge up
And that's how the war was won.

You've asked for a story, you've got it,
Who won the war, now you can see,
Never mind what it says in the books, boy,
When you want the truth come to me.
Now you wants to know "Why" we won it
The reply you must surely perceive
The Salonika Force Won The War, Boy,
'Cause They Couldn't Get Home On Leave.

Glossary:
Blighty England
Con Camps Convalescent Camps
Dingey Dengue, an infectious fever caused by a virus transmitted by the mosquito.
Dock Military Hospital
M and D Medicine and Duty - A pill was given to a soldier who reported himself sick without much cause, together with orders to report to his platoon sergeant for duty (and a cursing).
Quinine Soldiers were issued with 5 grains of Quinine a day to prevent Malaria. It was also used as a treatment for Malaria, caught by two thirds of soldiers!
Rest Camps Camps behind the lines where troops returning weary from the line were harried with incessant parades and brass-polishing. Also used, ironically, for cemeteries!
Stunts Military forays
the Tap fever-induced madness - also Dolally Tap - from Deolali, a sanatorium in Bombay, and the Hindustani 'tap' (fever).
"Y" scheme In 1918, under the "Y" scheme the British were able to evacuate over 30,000 of the worst cases of Malaria.

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