Tuesday, 9 May 2017

9th May 1917 - The End Of The First Battle of Doiran

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914 and three days later Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, made his first appeal for volunteers to join the British Army.  By 12th September 478,893 men had joined up including John "Jack" Spiers, a French polisher who lived in Shoreditch in London.
 
Jack enlisted on his thirty-first birthday, 2nd September, although he lied about his age and claimed to be only thirty.  Leaving behind his wife, Carrie, and two year-old daughter, Julie, he marched off into the Royal Field Artillery, transferring into the Royal Berkshire Regiment, 7th (Service) Battalion after six months.  The battalion set sail for France on 19th September 1915 and from there moved to Salonika, now called Thessaloniki, where the borders of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria meet, two months later.  There, the British Salonika Force (BSF) joined an international Allied army which had been asked to protect Serbia from the Bulgarian Army. 
 
The Salonika Front stretched from Albania to the mouth of the River Struma in Greece and by March 1917 the BSF was holding 90 miles of that front. In April, the Allied forces launched an offensive and on the night of 24-25 April the BSF tried to overpower the Bulgarian armed positions near Lake Doiran.  The British retreated with heavy casualties and tried again on the night of 8-9 May, sending in the first of five waves of troops at 9pm.  The fighting continued all night and into the next day until the British retreated again, ending the First Battle of Doiran.  They had lost 12,000 men (killed, wounded or captured); the Bulgarians had lost 2,000.
 
One of those wounded men was Jack, shot in the head, chest and right arm.  The army sent a standard letter to Carrie which has a date stamp on it of 23 May 1917 from the Infantry Record Office in Warwick.
 
MADAM,
 
I regret to have to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect that (No.) 16995 (Rank) A/Cpl. (Name) J. Spiers (Regiment) ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGT. was wounded on the 9th day of May 1917.
 
It has not yet been reported into what hospital he has been admitted, nor are other particulars yet known, but directly any further information is received it will be at once communicated to you.
 
I am to express to you the sympathy and regret of the Army
 
Yours faithfully
 
W. Payton
 
The words and numbers I have shown in italics were handwritten on the lines printed on the form, the name of the regiment was stamped and the rest of the letter was typed.  Poor Carrie.  Two days later, another standard letter was sent:
 
MADAM,
 
I regret to have to inform you that a report has on this day been received from the War Office to the effect that (No.) 16995 (Rank) A/Cpl (Name) Spiers. J. (Regiment) ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGT. is dangerously ill at 28 Gen. Hospital Salonica suffering from wounds.  12.5.17
 
I am at the same time to express the sympathy and regret of the Army Council.
 
Any further information received in this office as to his condition or progress will be at once notified to you.
 
I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant,
 
W Payton
 
On 26 May, another standard letter was sent:
 
MADAM,
 
With reference to previous notification I have to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect that
(No.) 16995 (Rank) Pte
(Name) Spiers J.
(Regiment) ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGT.     is
Still dangerously ill.  19.5.17
 
Any further information received in this office as to his condition or progress will be at once notified to you.
 
I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant,
 
W Payton 
 
Over the ensuing weeks, a further seven of these forms were sent to Carrie.  On 2 June, Jack's condition was "slightly improved" (and his rank was restored to Acting Corporal), on 9 June he was again "slightly improved" but on 16 June, more than seven weeks after he was wounded, he was "still dangerously ill".  On 23 and 30 June he was "slightly improved" and at last, on 7 July, he was "out of danger".  How Carrie's heart must have lifted when she read that.  The last of these forms, dated 24 August but not dated in Warwick until 18 September, reported that Jack "is now at Military Hos. Tigne Malta".  He was well enough to be moved. 
 
Jack was in hospital in Malta for more than five months before he came home to England, arriving at the beginning of February 1918.  He had been away for more than three years but I don't think he was home yet because this photograph shows him wearing the blue invalid uniform, "Hospital Blues", which was issued in British hospitals to those patients who could get out of bed.  Jack is the first chap on the left of the back row (as usual, click on the photo to see it enlarged and it's probably worth it with this one). - 

 
 
 
Jack was discharged from the army in August 1918, "no longer fit for war service" and in March 1923 the Ministry of Pensions assessed his disablement at 30% due to the wounds in his head and his right arm and so awarded him a life pension: 13 shillings with 5 shillings 3d for his wife and child every week, to be readjusted in 1926.   I am glad that he was awarded that pension for the rest of his life because he received it for more than thirty years: a boy born in this country in 1883 had a life expectancy of 42 years but Jack was 70 years old when he died in 1954, not killed by a Bulgarian bullet but by lung cancer.
 
Carrie kept those ten letters sent to her by the army and then her daughter, Julie, kept them until she died in 2005.  Julie's son, my father, has them now, along with the medals Jack was awarded for his service. 
 
Jack was my great-grandfather. 
 
See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x
 
 
 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Five April Things

Hello, thank you for your patience and your kind comments.  You lot are bloomin' lovely.  It's all still rumbling on and I am putting one foot in front of the other every day.  Last weekend we went to North Yorkshire, a hospice visit to one of my two remaining aunts.  The week has flown by since then but I was keen to join Five on Friday this week as I haven't been able to join in since Tricky Wolf began hosting.  Easter might seem a long way back now but it's really only a fortnight since the new school term began.  We had a good break, a mixture of chores, relaxation and outings, including our trip to London, so here are five things we did during the holidays.
 
1.  Llangollen
 
On the spur of the moment the Best Beloved and I drove to Llangollen one sunny afternoon and took a trip on the canal in a horse-drawn boat.  It took about twenty-five minutes for Harley to pull us a mile down the towpath, a lovely, gentle journey past leafy trees and flower-filled gardens accompanied by a family of ducklings and the steady clip-clop of Harley's hooves.  It was impossible not to slow down mentally and relax.  Then we glided back to the wharf and ate ice creams in the sunshine.  I still feel a bit strange doing this kind of thing without our girls, and a teeny bit guilty, but I am learning how to have fun without them.  (Oh, and in case you were wondering, it's pronounced Clan-goth-len.)

 
 
2.  The Long Mynd
 
The Mathematician flew home for a few days and we took her over to the Long Mynd to remind her that while Guernsey may have beautiful beaches, Shropshire has stunning scenery too.  A blue sky with cotton-wool clouds perfectly set off the greens and golds but my goodness, it was windy up there.

 
 3.  Jesus Christ Superstar
 
It has become our family tradition to watch this film, the 2000 version, on Good Friday, preferably whilst eating a gazillion hot cross buns.  I have a video copy, yes, old-fashioned VHS, and I am probably the only person I know who still has a video recorder on which to play it.  Well, if I didn't have the machine, I wouldn't be able to watch the film, would I?  Last year we were a little worried that the video might be wearing out as it was a bit shaky in places so this year, I bit the bullet and bought a DVD copy; it was like watching a different film!  The quality of the images was amazing.  I wept buckets.  (There were not enough hot cross buns, an epic failure on the part of the Best Beloved, who will now have to wait a whole year to redeem himself.)

 
 4.  Pistyll Rhaeadr
 
(Try this: Pistith Rye-adder).  Pistyll Rhaeadr is the tallest waterfall in Wales and taller than any waterfall in England.  We have been going there for more than twenty years and this was the first time we have been without any children.  Many memories surfaced of happy, sunny picnics and splashing in the water.  This visit was different but it's a special place which, as usual, worked its magic upon me and it probably deserves a blogpost of its own but in the meantime, here it is.
 
 
5.  Crochet
 
I have been spending a lot of time in the passenger seat of a car recently so I have been using that time to learn to crochet.  I know that some of you are very skilled in this art but I only started learning last year so I am delighted with this, the beginnings of a rainbow blanket for a baby due next month. 

 
So that, with a trip to London and a fair bit of gardening, was our Easter holiday.  Thank you to Tricky and Carly at F.A.S.T. for hosting Five on Friday - if you have time, gentle reader, please hop over there and see what everyone else is sharing this week.
 
I shall be back here on Tuesday with another post.  I know that's terribly definite, but 9th May is a very definite date. 
 
See you then.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle  x