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The EK1

The 9th (Service) Battalion the Border Regiment (Pioneers) in Macedonia

Macedonia November 1915 – March 1919

Compiled by Harry Fecitt MBE TD (ex-4 BORDER)

Had you been there when the dawn broke,
Had you looked from out the trenches,
You'd have seen that Serbian hillside,
Seen the aftermath of battle.
Seen the scattered picks and shovels,
Seen the scraps of stray equipment.
Here and there a lonely rifle,
Or a Lewis gun all twisted.
Seen the little heaps of khaki
Lying huddled on the hillside,
Huddled by the Bulgar trenches
Very still and very silent,
Nothing stirring, nothing moving,
Save a very gallant doctor
And his band of stretcher bearers
Working fearless in the open,
Giving water to the dying,
Bringing in those broken soldiers.
You'd have seen the sunlight streaming,
And perhaps you would have wondered
How the sun could still be shining,
How the birds could still be singing,
While so many British soldiers
Lay so still upon the hillside.

Extract from The Song of Tiadatha by Owen Rutter

(Harry provided a large amount of photo material of the battlefields are they are today and I prefer to include it all. To make this possible I have included two extra links PHOTOS and MAPS )

The Macedonian Campaign

Between October 1915 and September 1918 the Allies engaged Bulgarian, German and Turkish forces in an area of Macedonia north of the Greek port of Salonika in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  The Allied effort was promoted by France and the initial aim was to rescue the Serbian Army that was being driven southwards by the Central Powers.  The intervention initially failed as after a brief campaign in severe winter conditions Bulgarian troops pushed the Anglo-French force back towards the Mediterranean coast.  Britain then advised withdrawing from the theatre but France, Russia and Italy disagreed so Salonika was prepared for defence and another inland advance was made in 1916. 

Russian and Italian troops entered the theatre, as did a reconstituted Serbian Army, and the town of Monastir fell to Franco-Serbian troops in November 1916.  Despite aggressive action little else was gained by the Allies for the next two years as the Bulgarians, who proved to be tough infantrymen and excellent artillery and machine gunners, held the vital ground on the mountain tops inland.  In 1917 Greece joined the Allies and Greek troops fought hard in Macedonia in 1918.  Finally an Allied offensive in September 1918 led to a Serbian break-through west of the River Vardar; the enemy forces crumbled and Bulgaria surrendered to the Allies on 30th September 1918, and the land-link between Germany and Turkey was severed.  This quickly led to the collapse of the Turkish, Austro-Hungarian and German war efforts.  In the end Macedonia had proved to be the decisive front in the Great War. Britain regarded Macedonia as an unnecessary ‘Sideshow’ but at its height the British force in the theatre comprised six divisions organised into two corps.  Pioneer and Infantry battalions from North-west England were prominent in the Macedonian campaign and some of them saw hard fighting and lost many men; however far more casualties occurred due to diseases and afflictions such as malaria and dysentery than were caused by Bulgarian bullets and shells.  

The 9th (Service) Battalion The Border Regiment

Like other ‘service’ battalions the 9th Border Regiment was raised from volunteers and embodied for the duration of the war only.  The Battalion started its life in Carlisle, Cumberland, in late August 1914 and in mid-September moved to billets in Lewes, moving after ten days to Seaford and then three weeks later to Eastbourne.  The first Commanding Officer was a Border Regiment Reserve officer, Major (Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) G. Browne.   The Battalion was placed in the 66th Infantry Brigade of the 22nd Infantry Division.  The other battalions in the Brigade were 14th Manchester Regiment, 9th South Lancashire Regiment, and 8th Shropshire Light Infantry.  The Brigade Commander was Brigadier General C.P. Ridley CB, and Major General R.A. Montgomery CVO CB commanded the Division.  The 9th Border Regiment performed some strenuous training in the Eastbourne area and the miners and agricultural workers that had enlisted quickly assisted their comrades to become very impressive at trench digging; this led to the Battalion later being selected to be the specialist Pioneer Battalion within 22nd Division.  

Left: Bulgarian trench & sniper's shield on rifle

British Pioneer Battalions

Initially many in Britain thought that the war would be over before Christmas 1914.  However the early fighting against German troops in France showed that not only was the war going to last longer, but serious thought had to be given to quickly protecting infantry and artillery from the destructive effects of enemy artillery shells and machine gun fire.  Far too many infantry men were being deployed on building fortifications, trenches and shelter bunkers, and many of those men were unskilled and slow at this work.  The Royal Engineer units in the Army needed specialist support.

The Secretary of State for War, Field Marshall Herbert Horatio Kitchener, had earlier introduced a concept into the Indian Army of each Division having one Pioneer Battalion on its order of battle.  Lord Kitchener forecast that this war would last at least three years, and he introduced the Pioneer Battalion concept into the British Army.  The over-riding criteria was that a Pioneer battalion had to contain men capable of fast efficient digging, and divisional commanders could select one of their existing battalions that met this criteria or ask for such a battalion to be posted into their divisions.  The Pioneer battalions were still regarded as fighting infantry units, and each battalion was equipped with rifles and a section of four medium machine guns; also by 1916 eight Lewis light machine guns had been issued.  Often the medium machine gun sections were detached and employed as the anti-aircraft defence for divisional headquarters; the Lewis guns were distributed amongst the four companies.  Each Pioneer battalion had an officer and a senior rank from the Royal Engineers attached to it to provide technical assistance.

Pioneer battalions were expected to dig, shore-up and revet trenches, build dugouts, provide overhead cover and shell-proof walls to gun positions, dig approach trenches called saps towards enemy positions, to tunnel and mine when necessary, and to build trackways for men, pack mules, horses pulling guns and for motor transport.  They had to be able to make roads, fell trees, build bridges, construct barbed-wire obstacles and prepare railway embankments.  The concept called for battalions of organized and competent labour that could also immediately fight as infantry when called upon to do so.

In late December 1914 it was decided that each Pioneer battalion should have at least 16 carpenters and joiners, 16 blacksmiths, 16 masons and bricklayers, 8 tinsmiths and 4 engine drivers and fitters.  These 60 or more tradesmen were to be distributed equally amongst the four companies in each Pioneer battalion.  The typical establishment of a Pioneer battalion was 24 officers and 860 men, but in certain theatres of war the figure for men rose to over 1,000.  In recognition of their specialist status the men received two pence more per day than an infantryman received, and they were eligible for the normal additions to their pay for being classified in relevant infantry skills.

Activities in France

After spending a year on training exercises in the south of England the Battalion left Aldershot and arrived at Le Havre, France, on 4th September 1915.  The commanding officer was now Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Fothergill Cooke who had a Pioneer background in the Indian Army, as his parent unit was the 32nd Sikh Pioneers.  The Battalion strength was 30 officers and 935 men. 

The Battalion entrained for an overnight train journey to Longeau with no lights allowed. The Battalion then marched 20 kilometres and camped near 22nd Divisional headquarters at Flesselles for a couple of days, allowing a French interpreter to be attached and also for five absentees from Aldershot to catch up and be dealt with.  At Flesselles Sergeant Potts of ‘D’ Company found that his rifle bolt was missing, it presumably had dropped out somewhere in the dark – but these were early days and everyone had much to learn about operational procedures in France. 

Tasks were then allotted to the Battalion such as wood-cutting, building barricades on roads, deepening communication trenches, roofing dugouts and digging support trenches.  Meanwhile Lewis light machine gunners received specialist training.  Carpenters were given suitable tasks and 25 men claiming former railway experience were tested for skill and aptitude.  The occupation of trenches began and the men quickly realised that their immediate enemies were the plagues of rats that damaged iron rations and equipment, both in the trenches and in the billets behind the lines that were occupied when companies rotated out of the trenches.  Heavy rainfall introduced the men to living and working in glutinous mud.

An unfortunate incident occurred on 27th September 1915 when 2nd Lieutenant W.E. Ogilvie was accidentally shot dead by the negligent discharge of one of his men’s rifles whilst he supervised a carrying party in the trenches; the enemy were sniping the carrying party at the time.  Number 14225 Private A. Meikle was wounded by the same bullet.  The negligent discharge had come from the rifle of No. 14232 Private W. Metcalfe of ‘B’ Company whose rifle was slung over his shoulder whilst he carried a box of gunpowder forward.  Private Metcalfe went before a Field General Court Martial for his negligence and was sentenced to 3 Months Field Punishment No.1; this involved tying the prisoner’s hands and feet and securing him in the standing position to a fixed object such as a gun wheel for two hours per day, three days out of four.  However further up the line more moderate counsel prevailed and the General commanding the British Third Army quashed the sentence.

In late October the 22nd Division received orders to move overseas and the Battalion entrained for Marseille on the French Mediterranean coast.  From there the Battalion except for the Transport Section embarked on 28th October on the SS Egra for an unknown destination.  The Battalion Transport Section consisted of one officer, 62 men and an allocation of carts and limbers, this Section embarked on a later boat.  The officers’ riding horses and draught horses and pack mules that had been used in France stayed in that country.

Right: Bulgarian prisoners taken at Doiran 1916.


After departing Marseille sealed orders were opened and the destination was seen to be Alexandria in Egypt.  However on anchoring in Alexandria harbour the final destination was named as Salonika in Greece, and after observing strict anti-submarine precautions because of the threat from the Austrian Mediterranean coastline, the Egra berthed on the Salonika quay on 7th November 1915.  ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies disembarked and marched 13 kilometres to a campsite outside Salonika whilst ‘A’ Company and the Machine Gun Section stayed on board to unload the ship, joining the other companies the following day.  At this point in time the Battalion Machine Gun Section appears to have consisted of four Lewis guns, the establishment tables for Pioneer Battalions in Macedonia differing from those used in France.

There were no tents on the campsite and the men cleared the area of stones and built shelters from reeds until bell tents trickled in, two or three at a time.  Luckily although the nights were cold the days were warm.  Soon groups of men were deployed on building roads, digging wells for water supplies and most importantly as far as the staff was concerned, establishing the Divisional Headquarters campsite.  Training in hill warfare commenced and the Battalion signallers and reconnaissance scouts received specialist training.  The Transport Section arrived and worked with borrowed animals until an issue was made.  The health of the men was good but all ranks missed their normal issues of bread, tobacco and cigarettes, all of which were in short supply.  Two more changes of camp were made before harsh winter weather appeared in late November, complete with blizzards and frozen road surfaces; rum was issued as a compensation.

At this time Greece was not one of the Allies and the sympathies of many of its soldiers and politicians lay with Germany; after much political wrangling the Allies decided to dominate the situation in Greece using both threats and troops.  On 1st December the Battalion entrained for Lake Doiran where the Bulgarians were advancing and pushing back Allied formations including the British 10th Division.  Here, on higher ground, the men experienced how cold and fierce Macedonian winters could be; tents had not been brought so bivouacs were built and in the mornings frozen greatcoats could be stood up on the ground without support. 

The Battalion immediately started working on road improvements but on 8th December that ceased and all non-operational stores were back-loaded to Salonika whilst the men marched forward to be attached to 29th Brigade of the 10th Division; the brigade was in a reserve position near Hasanli north of Lake Doiran, and the remainder of the division was making a fighting withdrawal against repeated Bulgarian attacks.  On 10th and 11th December the Battalion climbed up a steep hill to occupy trenches near Pazarli village, ‘A’ Company was on the right, ‘C’ Company in the centre and ‘B’ Company on the left; ‘D’ Company was in reserve on the road below the hill.  The four Lewis guns were deployed along the line and ‘B’ Company was in contact with 14th King’s Liverpool Regiment of 65th Brigade, whilst ‘A’ Company linked up with 6th Royal Irish Rifles of 29th Brigade.  Pack mules brought up ammunition, rations, tools and one blanket per man.

The Bulgarians were reported to be advancing in strength, and the Allied Force commander in Macedonia, the French General Maurice Sarrail, sagely decided that the best course of action was to withdraw to Salonika and defend the city in its rural outskirts.  Consequently before midnight on the 11th orders were issued for the Battalion to withdraw, leaving a covering force of Lieutenant William Grace and his 20 military reconnaissance scouts, who followed when the Battalion was clear of the hillside, having observed Bulgarian patrols approaching.  The Battalion made a clean break and had no further contacts with the enemy, which was not the case with the 9th King’s Own in 65th Brigade who lost many men when a company commander wrongly assumed that advancing Bulgarian troops were French soldiers.  As there were only a few pack mules available many Border Regiment soldiers marched back to Doiran railway station carrying loads weighing up to 40 kilograms.  The Battalion was then moved by train back to its old campsite outside Salonika and it rejoined 22nd Division.

Constructing the ‘Birdcage’ and other pioneer tasks

Colonel Cooke was promoted to command 67th Brigade, where he was later to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and he handed over command of the Battalion to Major Herbert Edward Wootten of the Border Regiment.  The men were tasked with making and repairing mule tracks, roads and girder bridges.  On Christmas Day two hours work was put in before a Divine Service was held in the camp followed by the best dinner that could be provided; Boxing Day saw ‘B’ Company moved to Lembet to construct huts in a big camp there, whilst ‘C’ Company started blasting work for the Royal Engineers.  This line of work developed and soon men from the Battalion were detached to live at suitable locations where road-stone quarries could be operated.   Metal slides were constructed to move the stone from the reduction area to the nearest road, which made for easy loading of carts.  This stone was often hauled away by Indian Army drivers and their mule carts, each cart being able to carry around a quarter of a tonne.  Later in the year light railways were constructed to the major quarries allowing for much more stone to be transported at one time.

The Allies were constructing a line of defences around Salonika that became known as the Birdcage, and much of the Battalion’s effort went into providing stone to support Royal Engineer projects.  The men became used to watching attacks delivered by enemy aeroplanes and sometimes the bombs dropped near camps and worksites.  The Chaplain that attended to the Battalion at this time was Reverend Joseph Morris Bold of the Army Chaplains Department; he arranged services for different denominations, and later he was to receive the Military Cross for distinguished service performed in the Macedonia theatre. 

Left: Medal group of Chaplain J.M. Bold MC

More tasks allotted to the Battalion were the construction of aerial ropeways and the building of trestle bridges and stone piers for a two-span bridge.  Artillery gun positions were blasted out of rocky reverse slopes (the back slope) of hills, so that enemy observers could not directly observe the guns firing; the roofs of these gun positions were constructed with concrete.  In one hill a chamber was tunnelled from the rear and an observation slit cut out of the rock on the forward slope, so that British artillery observers and their signallers were protected from enemy fire.  A welcome change from road-making for some of the men was the construction of ammunition storage dumps using sandbags.  In Macedonia the Allies continued to use horses and mules until the end of the war, particularly for pulling field artillery pieces and for carrying mountain guns; this led to many tasks for the Battalion such as digging wells, diverting water-flows, and constructing dams and watering pools and troughs.  Large civilian labour gangs of Macedonians were supplied to the Battalion to help with repetitive labouring work, but this support ended in early May.  During this period the Second-in-Command, Major Thomas Ricketts Morse, left the Battalion; he later transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps and was appointed to be an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).  Major George Herbert Garrett took over as the Battalion Second-in-Command.

Left: Double-apron barbed wire fence

Regular training days were held and on 22nd February 1916 the Battalion rotated through a trench line and fired at static dummy targets; all the men fired 3 rounds deliberate at 600 yards, 3 rounds rapid at 400 yards and 4 rounds rapid at 200 yards.  The wind blew some targets down but 10% hits were recorded; as the war diary states: ‘This is not a high percentage, on the other hand a very large number of additional shots would have found a billet in an attacking force.’  On 16th March a 16-kilometre battalion route march was made without any man falling out.  This type of shooting and marching usually occurred on at least one day each month, and these were the only times that Colonel Wootten could see many of his soldiers in one place and speak to them; doubtless the men also enjoyed catching up with friends and acquaintances.  On 4th April the 12th Cheshires demonstrated to the Battalion a drill showing how an advance from the trenches is carried out after being rehearsed.  Two days later Regimental Sergeant Major Herbert Kidson was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant; he continued to serve in the Battalion.

An enemy Zeppelin airship raided Salonika on 7th May and was brought down by Allied anti-aircraft fire.  On Easter Thursday a concert was given to the Battalion by a talented team from 67th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, and Easter Friday was declared a rest day, with a football match taking place in the afternoon.  On the last day of March the Battalion team played football against the previously unbeaten Divisional Headquarters team and beat it 10-nil!  On 13th May the Battalion moved in two groups to establish a new camp for itself near Kukus; here the Commander Royal Engineers allocated stretches of roads that were the Battalion’s responsibility for improvement and maintenance.  Flash-floods enlivened life, sometimes leaving men stranded for a few hours on the wrong side of a watercourse. 

As light Decauville railway lines were laid alongside existing roads the Battalion was not only involved in constructing the tracks and laying the lines, but also in making new road and track alignments to prevent the lines crossing the roads in too many places.  These light railways were able to quickly move many tons of stores and men to forward areas, and to bring back in reasonable comfort wounded men and leave parties.  The weather became much hotter in June, the temperature often being over 38 degrees Centigrade, and men did start to fall out on route marches.  However this probably reflected weaknesses induced by attacks of malaria and dysentery which were a fact of life in Macedonia, rather than a lack of resolve.  On 1st July the Battalion moved to a new campsite at Givesnes on the Salonika-Serres road; the following night saw a terrific 30-minute hurricane hit the campsite accompanied by thunder and lightning but fortunately no rain, but all the bivouacs were blown down.

July temperatures rose to over 43 degrees Centigrade and often created unpleasant dust storms.  Companies started to move away to camp near distant quarries and work sites, but Colonel Wootten maintained his grip by making regular inspection visits.  The report on the Transport Section stated: ‘Animals: excellent; Wagons: wheels 60 % bad, spokes very loose.’  A special piece of equipment received was a petrol-engine road roller that was attached for road work.  At the end of July another Battalion move was made back to Kukus to an area near an old Turkish fountain.  

Above: British infantry with mules on the march

On the battlefield

A prisoner of war compound was constructed at Rates, as the King’s Own had taken the first Bulgarian prisoner secured by the Division, and then the Battalion was ordered to work at night in a forward area.  The tasks were now being allocated south of the Doiran Hills, west of Lake Doiran, and Battalion work parties could only work under the cover of darkness because during daylight hours Bulgarians on top of the hills could observe them and bring down artillery fire.  However enemy artillery fire was also brought down in a random fashion at any time and the Battalion started taking casualties.  Number 14237 Private Thomas McClaren was hit on the ankle by shrapnel on 20th August, and on the following day No. 6187 Lance Corporal Daniel Kelly received a wound on his arm.  The next day saw the first Battalion fatality to enemy fire when the camp of ‘A’ Company in Vladaja Ravine was hit by shells; the first one to impact killed No. 16492 Private Daniel Burton and wounded five other men.  Normally if the first shell to land was not accurate that gave time for the men to run to their splinter-proof shelters.  As the men were now working in locations where tactical movement was necessary because of enemy observation, Battalion military training days were abandoned and one hour per day was devoted to training locally.  Groups of officers and men were occasionally attached to infantry battalions to gain experience of routine activities in the firing line.

In September the Battalion was working west of the Doiran Hills, supporting 65th Brigade who attacked positions held by German troops at Macukovo.  The 14th King’s Liverpools, 12th Lancashire Fusiliers and 9th East Lancashires attacked successfully but were then subject to strong enemy counter-attacks.  The 9th Border Regiment (Pioneers) worked in the rear areas and stood-by in case it was needed to support 65th Brigade in the firing line, but the Brigade made an orderly withdrawal thanks to a courageous counter-attack by the 9th East Lancashires during which that battalion lost one third of its strength.  After that operation the companies were separated again in different locations, working on an airfield, a Decauville railway line, quarry operations, and other pioneering tasks below the Doiran Hills in the Spancovo area. 

Left: British infantry entrench near Doiran

In mid-October a reinforcement draft of two officers and 106 men arrived from 3rd Border Regiment, and in late November another draft of 156 men arrived from 10th Border; these men were given for four days to the Regimental Sergeant Major who smartened them up and introduced them to the requirements of the 9th Battalion.  This draft was followed by four officers arriving from the Westmorland & Cumberland Yeomanry.  These drafts replaced men who had been evacuated with wounds and medical conditions such as malaria.  The war diary entry for Christmas Day 1916 was: ‘Xmas Day. Warm & fine. Commanding Officer visits all Companies, except “C” Company at SNEVCE. The men have pork, turkeys, eggs, plum puddings, oranges, cigars, cigarettes, beer, & whiskey & rum & nuts. They enjoy the day & make the most of it.’   

The first quarter of 1917

 Normal Pioneer Battalion activities continued in the New Year of 1917, with detachments being sent around the 22nd Divisional area to build Irish bridges (concrete causeways below the normal water levels), to construct culverts to carry off winter rain and melted snow, and to prepare artillery gun positions.  Lieutenant Wilfrid Grace and his military scouts had a successful contact in February whilst patrolling forward of the British front line.  Plans were being prepared for an Allied offensive and the Battalion was diverted from its regular night pioneer duties to assisting British artillery gunners bring their batteries forward; tracks were constructed and guns man-handled into prepared positions, all done at night.  Tracks in ravines were also improved in preparation for anticipated casualty evacuations.  On 19th February Major M.C. Peake, 2nd King’s Own, was appointed Battalion Second-in-Command; later in the campaign when serving with the 9th King’s Own Malcolm Peake was to be awarded the Military Cross.  Groups of up to 20 enemy aeroplanes passed overhead on two or three occasions, apparently on their way to attack Corps Headquarters.

On the night of 21st-22nd February 260 men under Captain V. Wilkinson very quickly carried wire and picquets forward under enemy shell fire and completed 460 metres of double-apron defensive wiring within three hours; by now the Battalion had gained a high reputation for speedily completing arduous, difficult pioneer tasks in forward areas.  Later in the campaign Valentine Wilkinson was to be awarded the Military Cross.  Cold winds blew, sometimes so strongly that horse riders had to take shelter; snow fell on the campsites in late March and the Bulgarians livened things up by firing gas shells into the 22nd Division area.  On the last day of March a new prisoner of war cage was optimistically laid out in the Divisional area, and an enemy aeroplane shot down the British observation balloon tethered above Kalinova, the balloon crew managing to escape by parachute.

Above: Bulgarian artillery hits British trenches on the Doiran Front

On 8th April 1917 an enemy plane bombed the British ammunition dump at Karasuli scoring a direct hit on a truck load of artillery ammunition.  Five men from units working in the dump were killed and around 20 others were wounded; the Karasuli station buildings were blown down and the adjacent forage dump was destroyed.  The Battalion had a rest day, but one officer lying on his bed was attacked by a 1.5-metre long grass snake, however no harm was done.  Ten days later another good concert show was put on for the Battalion and the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry by the 66th Field Ambulance troupers.  Meanwhile pioneer work continued on draining marshes to get rid of mosquitos and on entrenching duties.

The evacuation of casualties from forward areas worked well providing that the wounded men in forward positions could stay alive until darkness provided cover for movement.  After being treated and assessed by the Battalion Medical Officer and his team, the non-walking casualties were carried by stretcher until they could be transported by travois - triangular frame structures pulled by mules.  After passing through dressing stations and field ambulances seriously wounded men were moved by motor ambulance or light railway to military hospitals in Salonika, and from that port the worst cases moved by hospital ship to Malta or England.  In the last 18 months of the campaign the threat from enemy submarines prevented many casualties from sailing to Malta, and they remained in Salonika. 

Left: British camouflaged 18-pounder gun firing near Doiran

The First Battle of Doiran, April – May 1917

General Sarrail had ordered an offensive for the Spring of 1917.  The main thrust was to be in the west where the enemy had to be pushed back so that its artillery could not hit recently captured Monastir.  The commander of the British Force, General George Milne, a former artilleryman, was required to attack in a supporting role in his eastern sector.  General Sarrail favoured a British attack on Serres to the east of the Struma River but General Milne, not liking the low ground there and the prevalence of malarial swamps, got this changed so that the British would attack up the Doiran hills.  Perhaps a general whose life had been spent in the infantry would have avoided those hills, as the Bulgarians occupied commanding positions and excellent observation posts.  Sitting on top of the high summit of Grand Couronne, to the west of Lake Doiran, was a massive enemy concrete observation bunker unaffected by Allied shell fire and appropriately named ‘The Devil’s Eye’ by British troops.  Targets in likely British attack locations had been accurately predicted by the Bulgarians so that speedy artillery fire missions could hit those areas.  Barbed wire defences were strong, formidable concrete bunkers protected the artillery and machine guns, and many searchlights were sited to illuminate British attack routes.  Machine gunners had devised ‘fixed lines’ of firing so that they could hit troops in ravines even during periods of darkness.  The morale of the Bulgarian soldiers was high as the best formation in their army, the 9th (Pleven) Division, defended these hills. 

From the British viewpoint few soldiers were optimistic as the ground was extremely broken by ravines and steep slopes, making command and control whilst under effective enemy fire very difficult to practise.  Fighting uphill was never easy and required very fit infantrymen and a superiority in artillery so that enemy trenches and gun positions could be destroyed or at least neutralised; the British, despite General Milne’s requests to London, did not possess superiority in heavy artillery.  Around 20,000 artillery gas shells were brought into Macedonia for the offensive, but two-thirds of them were found to be defective.  In any case the Bulgarians all carried good respirators to wear whilst under gas attack and they were well-trained and confident in fighting defensively whilst wearing them. At 2145 hours on the 21st April 1917 the British 22nd and 26th Divisions attacked the Doiran Hills from a crest named Pip 4½ (or just P4½) on Pip Ridge in the west to Lake Doiran in the east.  During that night on the left 66th Brigade fought hard and bravely and seized objectives, forming a new line from forward of Pip 4½ to forward of Hill 380 and holding that line during the following night against two strong enemy counter-attacks.  On the right 26th Division soldiers displayed immense courage crossing partially cut wire whilst in the glare of searchlights to gain several footholds in the enemy first-line trenches.  But the 26th Division troops were always killed, captured or driven back by counter-attacks when reinforcements and fresh supplies of ammunition failed to come forward.  The main problem for 26th Division was the presence of Jumeaux Ravine lying across its axes of advance.  The Bulgarians filled the ravine with artillery and machine gun fire, cutting down advancing troops, ammunition resupply parties and stretcher bearers; often the blast effects of shells killed more British soldiers in the narrow ravines than shrapnel did.  On one occasion a British officer observed several soldiers leaning against the side of the ravine, but when he ordered them forward he saw that they were unmarked by shrapnel but had been killed by blast effect.

Above: Artillery fire attempting to cut or break up a barbed wire obstacle

The role of 9th Border Regiment (Pioneers) in the 1st Battle of Doiran

The Battalion deployed two companies, ‘B’ and ‘D’, for the attack and their specific role was to rapidly lay defensive wire forward of the two objectives that would be taken in the attack up the dominating Pip Ridge and on Hill 380 to its east.  The north-south running Pip Ridge was the vital ground on the battlefield as it overlooked all other features on both sides.  ‘B’ Company was commanded by Captain Cyril Woodall-Smith and ‘D’ Company by Lieutenant Millie Dow Stott.  Royal Engineer instructors had trained both companies in rapid wiring by day and night with sudden gas alarms, and the company commanders had practiced their men in marching whilst wearing respirators. 

To quote from the regimental history: ‘For better supervision and independence of action each company was divided into two half-companies and given its own portion of about 700 yards (640 metres) to work on, while these half-companies were again told off into seven wiring sections of 9 men, each man being allotted to and trained in his own definite task in the general wiring scheme, and instructed what to carry forward from the Royal Engineer dump to the wiring position.  Thus each wiring section had a frontage of about 100 yards (92 metres), and, it was anticipated, about four hours before dawn in which to erect a complete line of trench wire, with 6-feet (1.83-metre) stakes driven in at five paces interval to a height of 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 metres) through the back of it’.   

The Border soldiers carried wire and stakes forward as did the rear line of attacking infantry, however the infantrymen could not always be relied upon to bring their materiel forward, as if they took casualties from shellfire they would drop their wire and tend to their wounded comrades.  The anticipated final result would be a wire obstacle consisting of a 4-strand barbed wire fence, forward of which would be aprons of barbed wire plus low wire entanglements designed to trip up counter-attacking enemy troops.  The half-companies of ‘B’ Company were commanded by Lieutenant Eric Kirk and 2nd Lieutenant James Brownlie, and those of ‘D’ Company by 2nd Lieutenants C.P. Moore and Frederick Warden.  ‘D’ Company was to follow the attack by 8th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry on Hill 380, and on Pip Ridge ‘B’ Company followed the attack by 13th Manchesters on P4½.

After the British guns had fired for three days in attempts to both cut gaps in enemy barbed wire and to hit enemy artillery and machine gun positions, the British attack went in on the evening of 24th April.  Before 2100 hours both Hill 380 and P4½ had been taken, the King’s Shropshires and the Manchesters moved forward of those features in order to avoid incoming enemy artillery fire, and the Border Regiment wiring companies moved even further forward and commenced work, ignoring enemy fire.  The wiring on Pip Ridge worked well despite many of the company sergeants and corporals being wounded on the approach march, and the obstacle that was erected stopped most men in a Bulgarian counter attack at 0415 hours the next morning.   Forward of Hill 380 ‘D’ Company had less wire and stakes as the infantry did not bring forward all their loads, but a fence was erected with the wire carried by the Company.  This also impeded an enemy counter attack next morning.  On both locations the Bulgarian attackers were surprised to find new wire obstacles confronting them.

‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies did not lose any men killed but 2nd Lieutenant Moore and 55 men were wounded.  22nd Division on the left had succeeded because the attacking troops moved forward of their objectives once they had taken them, thus avoiding enemy barrages onto the captured positions.  On the right 26th Division had much more difficult ground to advance over and a momentum was never achieved to take troops beyond their initial objectives.

The following night ‘C’ Company moved forward to perform a similar wiring operation from Hill 380 eastwards for 500 metres.  The wiring party organisation followed that of the previous evening, with Captain John Watson and 2/Lt Nicholson commanding the half companies.  Both stretches of wire were completed with the loss of four men wounded.  At dawn when ‘C’ Company moved back to the Battalion location Lance Sergeant Chadwick and 16 men stayed on Hill 380 to guard stores left behind, and they became involved in fighting off an enemy attack.  To quote the war diary: ‘During evening this detachment was called up to help repel an enemy attack on Hill 380 and are reported as having done excellent work in bringing up ammunition & bombs to the front line through heavy enemy barrage without a single casualty. These men were much delighted at being in a real scrap, & bayonetting a few Bulgars’.

The Battalion received a commendation for the excellent work of the three wiring companies during the attack and the consolidation of the captured features.   Second Lieutenant James Rutherford Brownlie, who had re-organised his half company in the dark after many casualties had been taken, was awarded the Military Cross with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He organised his wiring party, which had suffered heavy casualties. He led them out to the position and carried out his task under heavy shell fire.    The Military Medal was awarded to Private Dugdale of ‘B’ Company and Sergeant Graham of ‘C’ Company: For conspicuous bravery; the regimental numbers and forenames of these two men have not been identified.  Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Edward Wootten was awarded the Distinguished Service Order after the battle.    Later in the campaign Captain Millie Dow Stott also received the Military Cross

A second British attack was ordered for the night of 8th May 1917, with the aim of advancing the front line of 26th Division to the point that 22nd Division had reached.  The Battalion was not tasked in this attack, as 22nd Division’s role was to create diversions to attract enemy fire away from 26th Division’s attacking troops.  In this second attack 26th Division lost nearly 2,000 men killed or wounded, and the troops were pushed back to their starting lines for the same reasons as before. Skirmishes, trench raids and attacks to hold small tactical features continued on the British front until General Milne cancelled offensive activity on 20th May.  22nd Division withdrew from the ground it had taken, and that the Battalion had wired, in order to straighten the British front line.  General Gordon was evacuated with a heart condition and General John Duncan CMG DSO was appointed the new commander of 22nd Division.  British dead, wounded and missing in the first Battle of Doiran totalled over 5,000 men; the Bulgarian casualty total was probably less than 1,500.  Further west French, Russian and Serb troops had attacked boldly but had failed to take their objectives.  The Bulgarians were occupying the vital ground all along the Macedonian front, and they knew how to hold it.

Activities in 1917 after the 1st Battle of Doiran

For the next year activities across the British sector in Macedonia quietened down.  Many troops were removed and re-deployed to other theatres such as Palestine and France, and those men remaining had a full work-load.  The Battalion re-interred Allied bodies that had been initially buried but which had come to the surface due to animals breaking up the ground, and work on gun positions and road surfacing continued.  Anti-malarial drainage ditches were dug and hair-pin bends were eliminated on steep roads by making new alignments.  On the 29th May an enemy shell burst amongst a working party in Pearse Ravine, killing No. 19853 Private Joseph Healy and No. 32240 Private Duncan McPherson, six other men were wounded; one of the severely wounded men, No. 25746 Private George Park, died of wounds on 1st June.

The fast pace of work continued during the summer leading to Sunday religious services often being declared voluntary, so that those who wished could visit the Divisional bath unit instead.  The Transport Section held a competition: ‘D’ Company won the prize for the best turned out pair of animals in a limber harness, ‘C’ Company came first in ‘the best three animals cared for by one man’ competition, ‘A’ Company took first prize for presenting the best officers’ saddlery, ‘HQ’ Company tied with ‘D’ Company for turning out the fastest and smartest transport section in a time of eight minutes, and No. 18633 Corporal A.W. Stitt of ‘B’ Company won the prize for the smartest turned out transport section commander.  Albert Stitt was later promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.  The talented ‘Splints’ concert troupe from 26th Division gave performances in the 22nd Divisional area.  In July the Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess beat the Officers’ Mess at cricket, an enemy shell landing nearby without causing damage.  Two officers left the Battalion, Lieutenant David Harper went to join the Royal Flying Corps and Lieutenant A.C. Elliott joined the Indian Army, serving in the 1st Battalion 95th Russell’s Infantry.  On 30 July No. 16667 Sergeant James Myers was killed at his worksite.

Colonel Wootten spoke to the Battalion on 17th August, saying farewell as he was leaving with medical problems.  Major Peake assumed temporary command until 2nd October when Lieutenant Colonel D.W. Bruce was appointed to command.  David Bruce came from the 11th Royal Welsh Fusiliers where he had been Second-in-Command.  When the men were not employed on pioneering tasks such as well digging to supply water for artillery horses, the companies took their turn in holding positions in the British front line, often sending patrols forward.  As winter approached culverts were dug and excavations made for bunkers, and road stone was quarried in preparation for muddy roads.  The 22nd Divisional soccer final was played in late October and the Battalion beat the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry by one goal to nil.  Hazards remained on the battlefield, and seven men of ‘C’ Company were temporarily gassed when passing old gas shell holes that had not been previously located and dealt with.  On 15th December newly-arrived 2nd Lieutenant Henry Lowther Holliday of Aspatria was killed in action, perhaps by shellfire.  Two weeks later Colonel Bruce was medically evacuated to England; Major Charles Godfrey Jones of the Royal Welsh Regiment took over command of the Battalion.  Drafts had arrived throughout the year to replace battlefield and medical casualties, and on the last day of 1917 the Battalion effective strength was 30 officers and 944 men.

Above: Bulgarian Devil's Eye bunker on summit of Grand Couronne

Spring and Summer of 1918

As 1918 commenced pioneering duties continued for the Battalion.  In the New Year’s Honours List Captain James Hendrie Mitchell was awarded the Military Cross and No. 18608 Sergeant James Miller was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.  Major T. Potter from 9th South Lancashires was appointed Battalion Second-in-Command.  In late April a Battalion skills competition was held: ‘B’ Company won at musketry and Lewis gunnery, ‘C’ Company at assault drills and grenade throwing, ‘D’ Company at sniping, and ‘A’ Company at rifle grenade firing. 

In the June Honours List Lieutenant Colonel C.G. Jones was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Captain Eric Sidney Kirk received the Military Cross.  Number 5653 Company Sergeant Major Frederick Challen won a Distinguished Conduct Medal:  For conspiciuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  Often, when wiring had to be carried out under heavy shell fire, he took charge of officers’ parties, and it was mainly due to his courage, energy and determination that long lengths of wire entanglement were erected in a very short space of time.  His utter disregard for his own safety set a fine example to his men.  Number 18616 Sergeant S. Pritchard and No. 15630 Sergeant John Rutherford were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

On 24th July Captain Valentine Wilkinson relinquished his commission in order to return to the United Kingdom to resume his medical studies.  Meanwhile the men did anti-malarial drainage work, opened new quarries, and held positions in the front line for periods.  As September approached preparations for another British offensive were made.

The Second Battle of Doiran

The French government had removed General Sarrail from Macedonia and the new Allied theatre commander was General Louis Felix Marie Francois Franchet d’Esperey, immediately nick-named ‘Desperate Franky’ by the British troops.  Franchet d’Esperey was a Balkans specialist and the right man for the job, and he could see that Bulgaria was war-weary and ready to be knocked out of the conflict, a view shared by General Milne.  The Allies planned a major attack using the Serb Army in the west to break through the enemy lines; the Serbs were the toughest and most highly motivated soldiers on the Allied side.  General Milne was required to attack the Doiran heights to hold the Bulgarian troops there in place and he had two Greek Hellenic divisions to assist him. 

The final order of battle at Doiran from west to east was 26th Division on the plain east of the Vardar River, 22nd Division facing Pip Ridge, the Greek Serres Division fighting forward from a line east of Hill 380 to Lake Doiran, and the Greek Crete Division attacking north-westwards from north of Lake Doiran.  26th Division was only tasked with creating a diversion, but the other formations were given specific objectives to fight for.

Attacking three days after the main Serb attack to the west the British troops in the Second Battle of Doiran were not in good shape physically, as many suffered from debilities caused by repeated malaria and dysentery bouts and the influenza epidemic that had arrived in Macedonia.  The infantry battalions were all weak in numbers.  As before the men had to attack uphill carrying heavy loads whilst their opponents engaged them from the heights above.  British artillery again used gas shells in an attempt to disrupt the Bulgarian gunners, but when that happened the enemy infantry compensated by accurately firing trench mortars and machine guns into the ravines below them.  As previously at Doiran the weight of British artillery was insufficient to destroy the strong enemy fortifications, although wire obstacles were generally cut as planned.  The morale of the defending Bulgarian 9th (Pleven) Division remained high.

On 18th September the Greek Serres Division attacked with elan on the right supported by 67th Brigade and penetrated two lines of Bulgarian defences but lost many men whilst trying to break into the third line; the Allies did not have the weight of numbers of artillery or infantry to keep maintaining momentum in uphill attacks.  67th Brigade took very heavy losses, having only 200 men left fit to fight, and some of those were gas casualties.  The Greeks held their initial objectives but only one 67th Brigade objective was taken and held.

Right: Barbed wire obstacles

On the attack up Pip Ridge by 66th Brigade, advancing in column of battalions because of the narrowness of the ridge, the plan was that 12th Cheshires captured P4½, P4, and P3, with 9th South Lancashires moving through to capture Little Dolina.  8th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry would then take the lead and capture P2 and P1.   The battle for Pip Ridge was lost when the Cheshires were held up at P4½ and the British artillery barrage, working to a timetable rather than to the activities of the troops on the ground, moved too far ahead, allowing the enemy on P4 to come out of their shelters and man their firing trenches before the Cheshires arrived to attack.  The Cheshires got some men into P4 and there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting until the Commanding Officer was killed and the few survivors withdrew into the shelter of Jackson Ravine.  The South Lancashires and King’s Shropshires moved forward in their turn, the South Lancashires also losing their Commanding Officer killed, but both battalions were stopped in their tracks by Bulgarian defensive fire until they also withdrew into Jackson Ravine.  After darkness fell on the battlefield 66th Brigade, having lost 857 men, could make no further offensive effort and it withdrew.

The following morning before dawn the 9th King’s Own of 65th Brigade was ordered to fight up Pip Ridge and capture P4½ and P4.  French Zouave troops (North African light infantry) were to attack in the ravines on the right, but they were disorganised by enemy artillery fire and their commander refused to advance.  Learning of this delay General Duncan ordered his artillery to keep firing onto P4 for an additional 20 minutes before reverting to the timetable.  Six runners were sent to tell the King’s Own of this change to the artillery plan, but in the darkness none caught up with the battalion before it moved off.  The King’s Own took P4½, and were fighting hard and well for P4 when the British artillery hit the battalion.  The one battery of 8-inch howitzers that the British possessed had been tasked with hitting P4 and this battery caused carnage amongst the King’s Own, only 10 men getting into P4; the King’s Own withdrew having lost 233 men.

The Second Battle of Doiran ended for the Allies with little ground gained between Pip Ridge and Lake Doiran but with a casualty figure of 6,709 all ranks, the Bulgarian casualty figure was less than 3,000 all ranks.  Without any doubt many of the Allied methods of attack were too complex, and it appears that the staff planners had little appreciation of the difficulties involved for heavily laden men fighting along the ridges, through the ravines and up the steep slopes on the battlefield.  The Bulgarian 9th (Pleven) Division had been under-estimated again, and it had stood its ground, always ready to fiercely counter-attack.

Above: the Iron Cross Award Document to a German artilleryman from a Heavy Artillery battery attached to the Bulgarian 9th Division.

The role of 9th Battalion the Border Regiment (Pioneers) in the 2nd Battle of Doiran

During the initial stages of the battle the Battalion was employed on pioneer tasks in the ravines to the rear of the battle area, but three days later ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies were allotted to 66th Brigade and  ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies to 67th Brigade.  Both Brigades used the Border companies to stiffen up the French Zouave troops in the front lines of their brigade sectors, allowing the battered attacking infantry units to withdraw with their casualties.  ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies came under heavy Bulgarian artillery fire.  However the ground taken by the two brigades could not be held safely and a withdrawal was made to the old British front line trenches, the Battalion carrying many discarded weapons and pieces of equipment as it withdrew.  The companies on Pip Ridge then had the unpleasant task of burying the British dead lying along that feature.  On 24th September the Adjutant, Captain J.M. Brownlie MC, was wounded and evacuated, his appointment being filled by Lieutenant John Warrington.

After the battle Lieutenant Douglas Farish Ridley was awarded a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry-in action. He displayed great courage and determination when in charge of a covering party, continually repelling superior numbers of the enemy until the working party which he was covering was withdrawn.  The Military Medal was awarded to 13121 Private Francis Balfour; 11877 Sergeant Archibald Jackson; and 25439 Lance Corporal George McKenna.  The Meritorious Service Medal was awarded to 32054 Sergeant T. Brannon; 13927 Sergeant David Cowe; and 18608 Sergeant James Miller.

At the end of September the Battalion had reverted to its usual pioneer tasks and the casualty figures for the month were 5 men dead and 3 officers and 63 men wounded.  The dead men were No. 32056 Lance Sergeant Edwin Ibbotson and Privates 15183 Bowman Paterson, 14268 John William Parnaby, 21427 William Irving, and 32249 Archie Smith.  The Battalion effective strength was 29 officers and 786 men. 

The collapse of the Bulgarian Army

At this time momentous events were happening all along the Macedonian Front.  The Serb attack in the west had broken through the Bulgarian mountain-top lines and Serb soldiers were on a ruthless rampage in enemy rear areas, thirsting for vengeance for the brutalities done to their people in enemy-occupied Serbia.  The Bulgarian Army could not cope with this situation and its German and Turkish allies had their own hands full with events in France and Palestine.  The Bulgarian Army commenced withdrawing back into its native heartland and General Franchet d’Esperay’s Allied formations were ordered to pursue and destroy it.

On the Doiran front the first intimation of the Bulgarian decision was when enemy ammunition stocks started exploding on and behind the hill tops; the Bulgarians were destroying supplies and equipment that could not be quickly moved.  British reconnaissance patrols confirmed that enemy troops were thinning-out and abandoning positions.  The British infantry units marched swiftly northwards in an attempt to destroy the Bulgarian Army but the Battalion remained near the Doiran Hills working on pioneer tasks to keep the British lines of communication open as supplies had to be rapidly moved forward.  On 30th September 1918 Bulgaria agreed an armistice with the Allies and ceased hostile action.  The 26th Division immediately entered Bulgaria as Allied occupation troops, severing the land route between German and Turkish forces. 

Operations against the Turkish Army

With Bulgaria out of the war General Milne mounted operations with 22nd Division against Turkey whose frontier lay to the east through Bulgar territory; meanwhile General Franchet d’Esperay marched in the opposite direction towards Belgrade and Vienna.   The Battalion was allowed to rest on the 18th October to clean its equipment and to allow the men to bathe, as autumn rain was falling and making conditions muddy, and then it began marching eastwards and eight weary days later arrived at Stavros port on the Gulf of Rendina.  From Stavros the Royal Navy embarked the Battalion aboard the destroyer HMS Archer and disembarked it at Dedeagatch on the Turkish border on 31st October.  The men were immediately put to work on preparing an airfield.  Sadly nine men had died that month of bronchial pneumonia.

Political events then moved rapidly. Hostilities with Turkey ceased at the end of October, Austria-Hungary signed an armistice on 3rd November and the final Central Powers belligerent, Germany, did the same on 11th November.  The long war was finally over, and the Allied Force in Macedonia had been instrumental in causing the disintegration of the Central Powers.

Duties in post-war Macedonia

Much as the men of the 9th Battalion The Border Regiment (Pioneers) wanted to go home and resume civilian life there were other duties to be performed first.  After working on the improvement of railway sidings at Dedeagatch, a long journey on the Bulgarian railway was followed by more marching and the Battalion was back in billets at Stavros at the end of November.  The Battalion strength was 26 officers and 696 men.

During December a combination of pioneer work and military training was carried out.  Indian Army battalions were now entering the Macedonia theatre and five officers had been detached from the Battalion at the end of October to join Indian units and familiarise them with the theatre.  They were: Major James Mitchell MC, Lieutenant David Low and 2nd Lieutenants Herbert Wurr, Arthur Lockhart  and (forename not known) Thomson.  In mid-December Divisional Headquarters ordered that the Battalion had to send a draft of 160 soldiers to join the 26th Middlesex Regiment.  This was the last thing that the men wanted and those of them with the shortest amounts of overseas service were chosen; the Commanding Officer addressed the draft before it left.  2nd Lieutenant Percival Cobb left to join a Regular Army officer’s training course.

In January 1919 education classes were started within the Battalion to prepare the men for civilian life and the first group, all former miners, were sent for demobilisation.  These lads had nearly all been with the Battalion since its formation and they were given a rousing send-off; this group had contained the best footballers in the Battalion and initially it became much more difficult to obtain good results in soccer matches, but that situation quickly improved.  Colonel Jones was elevated to assume command of 65th Brigade and a succession of temporary commanding officers were appointed as demobilisation continued for all ranks; the final commanding officer of the Battalion being Major William Herbert Durst MC of the King’s Own.  Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Godfrey Jones DSO went for demobilisation shortly afterwards and his service was further recognised by his appointment as an Officer of the Order of the Crown of Roumania.

In late January the Battalion moved by train to the Janes area and took over a camp there.  Pneumonia was still killing men but at the reduced rate of one per month.  Further groups of men trickled out towards demobilisation but a draft of 170 men arrived to join the Battalion from the 2/6th Devonshire Regiment; these new men had been serving in India.  In early March the Battalion sent four officers and 100 men by train to Constantinople to join the army of occupation in Turkey.  In Macedonia quarry work and pioneer duties to alleviate wintry conditions continued.  The Transport Section trained new men to replace those that were being demobilised. 

Turkey – the final leg of the journey

In late March 1919 the Battalion was ordered to move by sea to Turkey.  All equipment and the 19 horses and 168 mules were handed in in Macedonia, the animals going to the 17th Veterinary Hospital whilst the equipment went to an Ordnance depot, only six small items being deficient.  All men who enlisted before 1st January 1916 were sent for demobilisation.  On 21st March the Battalion, now 4 officers and 15 men strong, sailed on a naval vessel for Turkey.  A week later the Battalion began taking over duties in Constantinople from 3rd Middlesex Regiment, and 15 officers and 200 men from that regiment were attached to the Battalion, as their unit was being reduced to cadre strength.    The Battalion was now part of the 85th Infantry Brigade of the 28th Division, and it provided men for fatigues, work parties and security duties; the remaining men practiced military skills such as Lewis gunnery.  The local inhabitants of the Battalion’s area were mostly Greeks and Armenians and they wished to be friendly with the Allies, whilst the Turkish military elements were sometimes obstructive.

In May 1919 the Battalion strength was 35 officers and 359 men, hardly any of them coming from Cumberland or Westmorland.  The war diary entries ceased at the beginning of that month and it is likely that the Battalion was then disbanded, never to be reformed as a Pioneer unit.

 The 9th (Service) Battalion The Border Regiment (Pioneers) had been an operational unit throughout its life in France, Macedonia and Turkey.  In the specialist Pioneer role it was second to none in the Macedonian theatre, receiving many complements from senior officers for its highly disciplined and motivated attitude.  Whilst not being subject to the slaughter that other British infantry battalions had to suffer, the Battalion performed steadily in all the tasks allocated to it, including the spells of duties in the front line trenches.  Reading through the Battalion war diary you get the impression that the unit was a proud and strong team of physically able men who shared a regional identity and common skills and interests.


In Greece 56 men of the 9th (Service) Battalion The Border Regiment (Pioneers) are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in their Sarigol, Kirechkoi-Hortakoi, Doiran, Mikra, Bralo, Karasouli, and Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemeteries.  Each man has an individual grave marker. In Malta one man of the Battalion lies in Pieta Military Cemetery and doubtless he succumbed to wounds or disease in a hospital there after medical evacuation from Salonika.

British Medical figures for Malaria Treatment in Macedonia

1.    Hospital admissions for malaria

1916  29,594.  1917  63,396.  1918  67,059.

2.    Evacuations for Malaria to England or Malta

1916  21,902  1917  7,298  1918  3,257

In addition to the above, in early 1918 the ‘Y’ Scheme was introduced.  Under this scheme 30,000 men who were out of hospital but who were chronically ill with malaria and unfit for operational military duties were transferred from Macedonia to England between January and October 1918.

Mentions in Dispatches to members of the 9th (Service) Battalion The Border Regiment (Pioneers) in recognition of personal performance in Macedonia.

No. 13052 Private W. ARMSTRONG; No. 16493 Private F. BARNES; No. 13125 Serjeant G. BLACK; No. 32054 Serjeant T. BRANNAN; Temporary Captain T.H. BUSHILL; No. 5653 Company Serjeant Major F. CHALLEN; No. 5649 Serjeant V. CLEMENS; No. 32221 Lance Corporal T. CORNTHWAITE; No. 13606 Corporal W. CROSS; Temporary Honorary Lieutenant and Quartermaster B. DAVIS; No. 19364 Private E. GIBSON; No. 14123 Lance Serjeant J.T. HARVEY; No. 18588 Private W. HEPPLE; No. 14114 Private J. HICK; No. 12505 Corporal W. HINDLE; No. 17437 Private (Acting Lance Corporal) L. HOLLIDAY; No. 18589 Company Quartermaster Serjeant F. JACKSON; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel C.G. JONES DSO (twice); No. 5371 Regimental Quartermaster Serjeant A.T. KNAPP;  Temporary 2nd Lieutenant J.M. LESLIE; No. 15243 Serjeant R. LIGHTFOOT; No. 33035 Private W. MARSHALL; No. 18608 Serjeant J. MILLER; Temporary Captain J.H. MITCHELL; No. 30193 Private A. RIMMER; No. 12980 Corporal T. SLOAN; Temporary Captain J.M. STIRLING (twice); No. 241231 Private A.C. TEASDALE (5th Battalion, Territorial Force); Temporary Captain V. WILKINSON; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel H.E. WOOTTEN (twice).

(The above Mentions in Dispatches were awarded at various times between 1916 and 1920 and they often do not reflect the final rank and decorations of an individual.)

Battlefield visits

The Macedonian battlefields remain untouched by development and are easy to visit and understand, whilst the Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains its military cemeteries in Greece in excellent condition.  The region offers very economical accommodation, good food and wine, and air fares from the United Kingdom are inexpensive.  Local operators offer suitable tours, and anybody with a military interest in the Great War Macedonia Campaign is urged to make a visit.

SOURCES: (the most economical publications are listed)

Falls, Cyril (compiler): History of the Great War. Military Operations Macedonia. Two Volumes. (Naval & Military Press reprint).

Mitchinson, K.W. Pioneer Battalions in the Great War. Organized and Intelligent Labour. (Leo Cooper, London 1997).

Nicholls, Brian. The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army. An Anthology. (D.P. & G. Military Publishers, Doncaster 2006).

Nicoll, Graham. Uncle George. Field Marshall Lord Milne of Salonika and Rubislaw. (Reedminster Publications 1976).

Owen, H. Collinson. Salonica and After. The Sideshow that Ended the War.  (Hodder and Stoughton 1919).

Wakefield, Alan and Moody, Simon. Under the Devil’s Eye. The British Military Experience in Macedonia 1915-1918. (Pen & Sword Military 2011).

Wylly, H.C. CB, Colonel. The Border Regiment in the Great War. (Naval & Military Press softback reprint).

War Diary. Specially typewritten copy of 9th Battalion Border Regiment War Diary September 1915 – April 1919 held in the archives of Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, Carlisle.


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:

The website of the Salonika Campaign Society may also be of interest.  The Society runs regular battlefield tours to Macedonia.:

A number of the black and white photos are courtesy of the Imperial war Museum

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