Edgar Turner in WWI

2nd Lieutenant Edgar Turner
of Brentford and the Welch Regiment 1895-1916

2nd Lieutenant Edgar TurnerEdgar Turner (pictured right) was the second son of Fred Turner,  who was the Senior Librarian at Brentford’s town library.

Following his enlistment in the Royal Sussex Regiment in August 1914, Edgar Turner’s military career saw him sent to Northern Greece, where the Allies hoped to save Serbia from Germany and Austria by their Salonika Campaign.

In 2007, the resident of Fred Turner’s former home in Osterley found Edgar Turner’s campaign photographs, which had been left in the loft with other personal papers by Fred Turner, who died in 1959.

The photos offer a remarkable insight into the life of a British Army soldier in Northern Greece during WW1.

 

 

 

 

 

Enlistment and Officer Training

Edgar Turner, taken during his officer training course 2Edgar Turner, taken during his officer training course 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


“When war broke out the (Turner family) were spending a holiday at Brighton. While there, unknown to his friends, (Edgar) joined the Royal Sussex Regiment, with which he received his earliest training.” [The Middlesex Independent; November 8th 1916]

Both of these pictures of Edgar Turner were taken during his officer training course.

The Salonika Campaign

The Salonika Campaign of 1915-1916 marked a shift away from the conflict on the Western Front by the Allies. French and British troops were deployed in Northern Greece to protect Serbia from a German invasion. However, despite a spirited effort by the typhus-ravaged Serbian army, the Serbs  were forced into a disastrous winter retreat through the Albanian mountains.

The Allies found themselves confined for nearly a year within their own “concentration camp” around Salonika and were unable to break out decisively to the north until 1918. The Allied force was “guarded” by half of the Bulgarian army with some German reinforcement.
Disease (notably malaria, in the marshy lowlands of the Vardar and Struma rivers) took a heavy toll of Allied troops. Greek political intrigues and Allied suspicions of the neutral Greek government served to exacerbate a difficult situation.” [Arthur Banks, A Military Atlas of the First World War, Pen & Sword/Leo Cooper,1989 & 2001]

Arrival in Salonika

Salonika

It was not until 5 May 1916 that young Lieutenant Turner arrived at Salonika. The Middlesex Independent states that he “had a most exciting voyage”. He witnessed a Zeppelin attack on the city and also “had the satisfaction of seeing (the  Zeppelin) brought down”. Zeppelin LZ85 was fired on by the battleship HMS Agamemnon and subsequently crashed in the Vardar marshes, west of Salonika. [The Middlesex Independent; November 8th 1916]

“Many soldiers retained vivid memories of their first sight of Salonika. In the harbour, a fleet of caiques rode at their moorings; and further back a dozen minarets pointed skywards, slim, white pencils above the domes of the Byzantine churches”.  [The Gardeners of Salonika; p.13; Andre Deutsch,1965]

Northern Greece: Summer 1916

French Machine Gunner 1916

This picture shows a French machine-gunner, whose distinctive dark beret marks him as a member of a Chasseurs Alpins unit.  The picture illustrates the shift between French and British deployments that took place around the Vardar in the Summer of 1916. Requests for hats, sun helmets and mosquito nets for the British Salonika Forces were never fully met. Mosquito netting provision remained inadequate until 1917, when the effects of malaria on British troops provided indisputable evidence of the need for mosquito nets.  The largely treeless landscape meant that troops were regularly exposed to the glowing sun.

Heat and Thirst

Heat & Thirst in the Balkan Summer - marchingIn the heat of a summer day, in a largely treeless landscape, shelter from the sun was very important.
Excessive heat prevented all but essential work from being done between half-past one and four o’clock each afternoon.

Heatstroke was a problem for marching troops in the Balkan summer. Steel helmets, issued for use by front line troops, were not popular. “They may have been excellent things to wear in cool countries; but not in Salonika, in the summer!“(Captain Nicholson, 10th Hampshire Regiment)

Heat & Thirst in the Balkan Summer - restingOne private soldier wrote that:
“Marching is very hot and tiring, and we get a thirst which no amount of drinking will satisfy; our water bottles are a very precious thing…(they are) filled before moving off and no man must drink until the order is given.. The water men have difficulty keeping up the supply, which has to be carried in leather bags on the mules.” [Under the Devil’s Eye: Britain’s Forgotten Army at Salonika 1915-1918; p.51; Alan Wakefield & Simon Moody, 2004]

The Effects of the Balkan Wars

shallow slit trench, an old Turkish trench from the war of 1912Northern Greece had suffered from recent wars – the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.

In October 1912 the Russians had encouraged Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia to make common cause against Turkey.

However, the Balkan allies fell out over the division of the spoils. Bulgaria claimed to have done most of the fighting but to have received the least reward. In 1913 Bulgaria made an unsuccessful attack on Serbia and Greece. The Austro-German attack on Serbia in 1915 seemed to provide a new opportunity for Bulgaria to redress the unsatisfactory settlements of its earlier wars – so 300,000 Bulgarian soldiers joined the Central powers and fought against the British, French and Serbians on the northern frontier of Greece.

The picture of the shallow slit trench, an old Turkish trench from the war of 1912, is a reminder of how difficult it was to dig-in on the rocky heights above the Vardar valley. In the uplands, much of the shrapnel resulting from shelling would have been rock fragments, blasted from the ground where the shell landed.

Life Away From the Front Line

Compared to Northern France, Northern Greece was barren and impoverished.  Although fighting was never as intense as it was on the Western Front, leisure activities for soldiers were much more limited and in remote Northern Greece it was more difficult to get home leave.

In the hot summer months, a chance to go swimming was welcome. Engineers dammed streams and created bathing places.

Letters, parcels and newspapers from Britain played a vital part in keeping up morale.

Allied troops spent time away from the front line in the city of Salonika, pictured here.

Letters, parcels and newspapers from Britain played a vital part in keeping up moraleEngineers dammed streams and created bathing places

Life Away From the Front Line (continued).

Life Away From the Front Line, troops in SalonikaLife Away From the Front Line, troops in Salonika

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading on page 2.

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