RECORD OF THE 7th (SERVICE) BATTALION. 1st July 1917 to 31st December 1918.
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES
The first twelve months of this period may be described as uneventful. The Battalion, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel P. Villiers-Stuart, continued to carry out trench routine duties on the Doiran-Vardar Front, suffering less from the Bulgars than from the climate.
The following are brief extracts from narratives supplied by officers of the Battalion (Captain C. A. Salvesen, M.C. ; Major C. Wheeler, D.S.O.; Major G. B. Martin, M.C.; Lieut, and Adjt. A. T. W. Stukely, M.C.) :--
July.--The first part of this month was spent in I Sector of the trenches without incident. Heat excessive, and mosquitoes arid flies troublesome. Some Brigade competitions were held, and the Battalion won the Khud Race and the Lewis Gun. On the 18th the Battalion, on being relieved, marched to Kirec and went into XIIth Corps Reserve. Here training was carried out and games played until the end of the month.
August.--On the 2nd the Battalion moved to Smol Hill, where it formed Brigade Reserve until the 15th. Smol Hill lies at the western end of a range of hills running from Lake Doiran to the Vardar River. Rising to a height of 1,100 ft. above sea level, it forms a. huge rampart between Lake Ardzan and the Vardar. Its western slopes fall precipitously into the deep gorge, 8 miles long, which separates it from the main mountain block of Southern Serbia. Through the gorge, and on the western bank of the Vardar, runs the Vienna-Salonika railway, so Smol Hill is of great tactical importance. Here is our second line of defence—at present very incomplete; and some 2,000 yards farther north is our front line, dug on the northern slopes of a welter of hills about 400 ft. above the sea; while another 2,000 yards farther north is the Bulgar line.
Our plateau on Smol Hill was an ideal camping ground, almost free from dust, arid with always a good breeze blowing. Ground for training and for football was quite handy, and, to complete our comfort, the Y.M.C.A. were at last allowed into the forward area, and erected a large marquee, which was a real joy to the men.
The fortnight passed pleasantly enough, with training in the mornings, games in the afternoons, and four hours work on the trenches after dusk. On the 15th Captain and Adjutant L. J. Ellis, who had been with the Battalion from its early days, proceeded to England. Before leaving he was given a dinner at Battalion H.Q., all the Company Commanders being present. He was succeeded in the adjutancy by Lieut. E. Riley, Lieut. J. C. Bartlett taking command of D Company.
On the 16th we took over L and M Sectors of the front line. The length of line held made the work strenuous, since the sentry groups were numerous and in some cases 600 yards apart, necessitating constant patrolling along our wire and out into No Man's Land— here a mile or more in width. In this sector we remained until the 1st September, untroubled by the enemy, except for occasional shelling, which did little damage.
September.—On relief from the front line, on the 2nd, we returned to Smol Hill, where the Battalion stayed until the 17th, and then went back to L Sector until the end of the month. The strength of the Battalion on the 30th was 27 officers and 872 other ranks. During the month 1 man was killed and 2 men were wounded.
October.--The work of this month was similar to that of the last— sixteen days on Smol Hill, and the remainder of the month in L Sector.
November.—On the 7th our Brigade was relieved by the 1er Regiment de Marche d'Afrique, and the Battalion marched about 4 miles east to P.N. Camp, moving on on the 10th to Tertre Vert Camp, just north of Kalinova. Here we remained in Brigade Divisional Reserve until the 23rd. and then went up to the line in H Sector. The enemy was now more active, and besides shelling us occasionally, made several raids on some of our advanced posts which were unoccupied.
December.—From the 1st to the 11th the Battalion was in Brigade Reserve at Tertre Vert, Cidemli, and Crow Hill, and from the 12th to the 19th up in the front line again. The only incident of this tour was a raid carried out by 50 other ranks of D Company (under Lieuts. G. D. Boissier and A. C. Thomas) on an enemy post. Our artillery put down an excellent box-barrage, and the post was rushed, several of the enemy being killed, and one prisoner taken. The Colonel, in his report, wrote: "I think great credit is due to the officers and N.C.O.'s who led the pursuit very energetically in difficult circumstances right up to our barrage, but all ranks showed dash and determination," For this Sergeant Simons was awarded the military medal by the Corps Commander.
From the 20th to the 27th the Battalion was in Brigade Reserve, training and digging, but otherwise quiet, the only excitement being the Christmas dinners, which all ranks thoroughly enjoyed. Then from the 27th to the 5th January the front line was occupied again, the worst enemy being the intense cold.
1918. January.—5th to 12th in Brigade Reserve; 12th to 20th in Corps Reserve; 21st to 30th in the front line again. On the night of the 25th the Bulgars ambushed one of our patrols. For a long while it had been customary to send an officer's patrol to the village of Dantli, but officers could no longer be spared for the duty, and the patrol had to be run by a N.C.O. On this unfortunate night, Sergeant Ayres and 9 of D Company went out, and were ambushed just in front of Dantli. They put up a good fight against about 50 Bulgars, but of course had no chance. Sergeant Ayres was killed, 3 men were wounded, and 2 were captured. A patrol was immediately sent out from Glengarry Post, but the enemy had disappeared, and all they succeeded in doing was to bring in Sergeant Ayres's body and that of a dead Bulgar (of the 58th Regiment).
On the 30th the Battalion was relieved and went into Divisional Reserve in the neighbourhood of Dache, The great excitement at this time was the Divisional Theatre (called " The Gaiety "—after General Gay, our Divisional Commander), where was being performed nightly " Robinson Crusoe "—a really splendid pantomime.
February.—This month was spent by the Battalion out of the line, carrying out strenuous training. Four new subalterns (Amos, Bray, Wylie, and Wheeler) and 107 other ranks joined the Battalion.
March.—During this month the Battalion had two tours in the front line, with rest intervals at Smol Hill. Early in the month Major G. B. Martin, M.C., assumed the duties of second in command when Major C. Wheeler, D.S.O., went home on leave On the 22nd and 23rd March a terrific blizzard swept over the camp, blowing down tents and creating general havoc.
April.--The first three weeks of April were spent in the front line (M Sector), and much patrolling was carried out. The remainder of the month was passed at Smol Hill, where the Battalion stayed until the 12th May, when it returned to the front-line trenches. During May Major C. Wheeler, D.S.O., was appointed to the command of the 11th Worcestershire Regiment (T/Lieut.-Colonel), and Lieut. A. T. W. Stukeley succeeded Captain Merrie as Adjutant, the latter going to Brigade H.Q. on attachment to the Staff. On the 31st May the effective strength of the Battalion was 31 officers and 849 other ranks.
The Company Commanders were now as follows: A, Captain N. J. Peirson; B, Captain L. A. Gibson; C, Captain G. Hulm; D, Captain J. C. Bartlett.
June.—The successful Greek and French offensive, launched at the end of May on the west side of the Vardar, and resulting in the capture of some 1,200 prisoners, raised great hopes of a general advance. But June was passed by the Battalion, as had been previous months, by tours in the front line and intervals at Smol Hill.
Narrative by Captain C. P. Ker, M.C. The beginning of July 1918 found the Battalion still in the line and the enemy inactive. But, quiet as things were, a month in the line, combined with much outpost duty, was very tiring to the men. The Bulgars also appeared to be fatigued, for between the 5th and 10th three deserters from the 39th Bulgar Regiment came in with pitiful tales—if, perhaps, exaggerated—of bad food, disaffection among their men, and the effective shooting of our gunners. Incidentally, they supplied much useful information about their posts, and of the two men of our Battalion who had been captured in June.
On the 8th July the Colonel (Villiers-Stuart) returned from the French School of Tactics, having had an interesting, amusing, and instructive time. Many notable French commanders had attended the course, and the new Commander-in-Chief himself had lectured. In his absence, the Colonel's name had appeared in dispatches, together with the names of Captain Peirson, Lieut. Thomas, C.-S.-M. Finch (A Company), and Sergeant Ross (D Company).
Three days after the Colonel's return the enemy made another attempt to capture the outpost known as Van 6. Though they worked on the same lines as before," and occupied the post unseen by day, yet their efforts on this occasion proved a total failure. The party going out under 2nd Lieut. Munro saw them, opened up rapid fire, and charged. The Bulgars fled, and, we hope, walked into the barrage put down behind them.
With the exception of an unsuccessful attempt to capture an enemy day post, which the deserters had stated lay up in Macucovo with a telephone, nothing further of interest occurred before the 16th, when the Battalion was relieved by the 11th Worcesters.
About this time the authorities began to show a laudable desire to get the leave question in hand—at any rate, as far as the officers were concerned. Captain Gibson left for the Base on the 13th, and on the 19th the Chaplain (Captain T. C. Phillips) also went, followed two days later by Captain J. C. Bartlett, and, lastly, on the 31st of the month, the Colonel himself handed over the command to Major Martin, M.C., and proceeded on leave, when Captain Peirson was posted as Second in Command.
The fortnight out of the line passed all too quickly. Less digging was done, and a little training was added to the usual routine. Among other amusements 2nd Lieut. Wootten got up an excellent concert in the Y.M.C.A. tent. A piano is always a great addition to a sing-song, but perhaps on this occasion the accompanist was a trifle sketchy. However, everybody enjoyed it.
On the 30th July the Battalion relieved the 7th Royal Berks in L Sector. The night before the Berks had attempted a raid, unfortunately without success, and D Company of our Battalion had to stand by in reserve to them, in Morgan Gully, but their services were not required.
THE ADVANCE INTO BULGARIA. The following account has been contributed by Captain A. T. W. Stukeley, M.C., Adjutant of the 7th (Service) Battalion :-- Preparations for the advance began about the 1st August, and throughout the month frequent raids were carried out along the whole front from Lake Doiran to the Vardar. The XIIth Corps (Lieut.-General Sir H. F. M. Wilson) held from Lake Doiran to a point 5 miles west of the Vardar.
The order of battle was as follows :—22nd Division (Major-General Duncan), Lake Doiran to " P " Ridge (inclusive) ; 26th Division (Major-General Gay), " P" Ridge (exclusive) to River Vardar; 27th Division (Major-General Forestier-Walker), River Vardar to point of liaison with the French Army—approximately 5 miles. The whole Corps front was 12 miles long.
At the end of the month the Battalion was detailed to raid MacD., a strong system of enemy trenches just west of The Nose. (A raid by the Berks a little earlier had not met with success.) A Company (Captain G. D. Boissier, M.C.) was selected to carry out the raid, which proved most successful, heavy casualties being inflicted on the enemy, and 4 prisoners taken.
A heavy and almost continuous bombardment was kept up on the whole of the Xllth Corps front during August.
On the 30th August the Battalion came out of the line, and on the 1st September, on the opposite side of the Vardar, the Hants and Gloucesters, of the 27th Division, attacked and captured some outpost positions in front of Ghevgeli. It now was ascertained that the enemy was bringing up reserves into this sector, evidently fearing an attack up the Vardar Valley.
About the 8th September the Hellenic Corps on the Struma made a demonstration, and pushed forward the line in some places. On the 15th the Franco-Serbian Armies started the main attack on Dobropolje, thirty miles west of the Vardar, and, after hard fighting, defeated the enemy, and commenced to drive a wedge into his line. Next day, according to plan, the whole of the Xllth Corps began concentrating for an advance.
The dispositions of the 78th Brigade (Brigadier-General G. H. F. Wingate, D.S.O.) were now as follows : the 11th Worcesters held the whole of the Brigade Sector; the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were in " L " Sector ready to advance; and the 7th R. Berks in "M" Sector.
All transport was concentrated in ravines just behind the line front, with the M.G. Company and Trench Mortar Battery.
On our right was the 79th Brigade similarly concentrated, and the 27th Division, on the west of the Vardar River, was in the same state of readiness.
On the 18th at dawn the 22nd Division (reinforced by the 77th Brigade of the 20th Division) and one Greek Division .launched an attack after terrific artillery preparation from the Lake to "P" Ridge. Intense fighting went on all day with varying success. On the right the Greeks advanced over 1,000 yards, and took and held Doiran Town; on the left the brigades of the 22nd Division were mown down by a tremendous barrage and machine-gun fire from the impregnable positions of the "P" Ridge, and were unable to make good any of their objectives.
On the 19th the fighting continued. The 77th Brigade and the 7th South Wales Borderers fought their way through the Bulgar Defence Line as far as Grand Couronne, but could not hold on. No troops could have done better, but their task was impossible, as anyone who knows this country will readily concede. This attack was not altogether a failure, for the 9th Bulgar Division lost enormously, and was useless as a fighting unit during the retreat.
At about 6 p.m. on the 20th came orders to resume normal conditions. Accordingly the Battalion took over "M" Sector, the Worcesters went into "L" Sector, and the Berks went back in reserve on Smol Hill, while all transport returned to their permanent lines.
The morning of the 21st was thick with a heavy heat haze, which precluded all chance of observation. At 2p.m. the C.O. got a sudden order to go up to Brigade H.Q. At 3.30 the Brigade rang up and said that news had just come through that the French and Serbians had broken the Second Bulgar Army, and that Serbian Cavalry was threatening the rear of the 11th Bulgar Division, which was on the west of the Vardar River; that low-flying 'planes reported that the 9th Bulgar Division (opposite us) was blowing up its dumps, as if preparatory to a retirement.
A standing patrol (1 officer and 30 other ranks of C Company) was immediately sent out with orders to try to get into the enemy's front line and test their strength.
At about 4 p.m. the C.O. returned with confirmation of this news, saw all Company Commanders, and made preparations for an immediate advance. The Transport Officer was also ordered to move up 1st Line Transport at once.
At 7 p.m. the C.O. decided to send out the remainder of C Company, although no report had been received from the patrol. By this time it was dark, and everywhere behind the Bulgar line dumps of ammunition and other stores were blazing.
At 7.30 p.m. the visual station with H.Q. reported that someone was trying to signal from the Dome. Afterwards this turned out to be our own patrol, who had aligned on the wrong hill. On this being reported to the Brigade we were ordered to move out the whole Battalion.
D Company prolonged C Company's line to the Vardar; A in support of C; B in reserve; and Battalion H.Q. behind A Company. All 1st Line Transport (24 mules per company) went out with the Battalion.
At first Battalion H.Q. were established on Piton des Mitrailleuses, but after a brief examination of the situation it was decided to push C Company out in front as outposts, A and D Companies occupying the line from the Dome to the Vardar, with Battalion H.Q. on the Dome, and B Company behind Mitrailleuse in reserve.
It was an almost unbelievable situation to be occupying these strong positions without firing a shot, and the whole affair was rendered more weird by the rumble of the explosions, the fires in the distance, and the salvoes of our heavies shrieking overhead.
At dawn on the 22nd, after a wretched night amongst swarms of fleas, the C.O. and I reconnoitred the country in front of us. Several platoons were then pushed forward to commanding positions on the Bogorodica Road. But instead of being ordered to pursue vigorously, as we fully expected, we were told to stand fast. We therefore remained in our positions until 2 p.m., when we followed the Berkshires down the Bogorodica Road. They went through the village and took up an outpost position for the night, while we bivouacked in the village, and the Worcesters spent the night in Stojakovo.
Next morning (23rd September) the Brigade group started off at 6 a.m., the Battalion with a battery of field artillery being the advance guard. It was intensely hot, and the march was very trying for the men. About 2 p.m. we arrived at Gernica, and took up an outpost position with one company (D). Two or three Bulgar stragglers were captured by B Company in the village. The Worcesters arrived at 5 p.m., and took over the outpost line. One of our patrols came under fire from an enemy machine gun, which could not be located.
The 24th was destined to be a most hectic day, though we little suspected this when we engaged in a superficial bath and breakfast at 4a.m. The Worcesters and ourselves started off together; the Berks and the rest of the Brigade group being back at Gjavato. The Battalion moved in two columns, A and C on the right under Captain Peirson, and B and D with Battalion H.Q. on the left. The Worcesters moved on the Vardar Road to our left.
All that we knew of the situation was that the 27th Division (Major-General G. T. Forestier-Walker, C.B.) was advancing on the other side of the Vardar River, but was not up level with us. On our right, in the Bogdanci Hills, near Kasanduli, was the 79th Brigade, with whom our right column was ordered to get touch.
The Lothian and Border Horse reported the enemy to be in force on the Valandovo Plain.
After crossing a range of low hills we came on to an open plain, passing through the first inhabited village of Serbia. Then we turned half-right and advanced towards Valandovo, above which towers the range of mountains forming the Serbian-Bulgar frontier. B and D Companies very soon came under shell-fire, and had to open out, finally occupying an extended line along the Hudovo-Cestovo railway, with the Worcesters on their left. A and C Companies had a very wearisome march over the hills and did not turn up till about 2 p.m.
Meanwhile the Lothian and Border Horse entered Valandovo, but returned at a gallop, having met with a hot rifle and machine-gun fire.
The Bulgar artillery now became very active, and shelled B and D Companies pretty continuously, but without causing any casualties, although a battalion of the 79th Brigade on our right suffered heavily while deploying outside Cestovo.
About 4 p.m. I went back to Brigade H.Q. at Mravinca and got orders to push on through Valandovo and occupy the foothills beyond the village, but I failed to get any information as to the estimated strength of the enemy or the situation to our right. - A and D Companies in small columns led the way, but met with very little opposition; B and D followed, and were badly shelled by an enemy field battery, until one of our planes dropped a bomb into the middle of the battery and silenced the guns.
We then established an outpost line in the foothills and got into touch with the Worcesters, who were occupying Piravo; after which, as it was getting dark, the men not on duty set about getting a meal, having had nothing since breakfast.
About 8 p.m. the C.O. of the 7th Berks (Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Dene, D.S.O.) arrived with orders from the Brigade that the Battalion, followed by the Berks, was to move at once, and, with a local guide, go over the mountain range in front of us by a goat track. Finally we were to reach Izlis—the first village in Bulgaria—by dawn. We were not too delighted with the prospect, as the mountains in our front rose up steeply to over 4,000 feet, and we were tired after a fairly strenuous day. However, we swallowed what food we could, concentrated the Battalion, and moved off, with the Berkshires following, as well as the pack transport of both battalions and a section of the M.G.C.
The march will not readily be forgotten by anyone who took part in it. The track was indistinguishable in places, and the whole column moved in single file up and up, with precipitous heights towering above us, and always the pleasing uncertainty as to whether a machine-gun would open on us as we negotiated each corner of our winding way.
The moon was bright when, at about half an hour after midnight, Ave reached an open plateau between twin heights—Fortin Serbe and Fortin Bulgar. The men were all dog tired after the exhausting scramble of the past three hours; but to those who were aware of the fact there was consolation in the knowledge that we were the first British troops to enter Bulgaria. General Milne's Dispatch, in which the Derbyshire Yeomanry were credited with being first over the frontier, would appear to be incorrect, as the Yeomanry did not enter Bulgaria until after dawn on the 25th September.
B Company was pushed out as outposts, and C employed for patrols, to endeavour to get touch, while the remainder of the Battalion slept where they lay. Soon afterwards the two battalion C.O.'s decided to send a strong patrol down the bottle-neck gorge which led out of the pass into Izlis. This was accomplished, and the C.O.'s followed the patrol, while I and the Berkshire Adjutant (Captain S. Dale, M.C.) went back to form up our respective battalions and bring up the transport, which had arrived at the top, though how the loaded mules were got up that track is and always will be a puzzle.
After getting word that all was clear, Ave moved down the gorge, the Berkshires leading. On our left were three very commanding peaks, known as Les Trois Pyramides. We arrived at the end of the gorge just as dawn was breaking, and we halted about half a mile short of Izlis, to reform in column of route. The C.O. and I had just mounted and were riding along the companies, Avhen a sharp burst of machine-gun fire opened from one of the Pyramides.
The Berkshires, who were between us and the enemy, faced round to the left and rapidly extended. We extended behind them and lined a bank along the country road which led to the village. We managed to get all transport into a narrow little ravine which ran down from the pass towards Izlis, and secured a little cover, but not much.
The enemy machine-guns were very skilfully placed; it was impossible to move without drawing fire. We tried frontal attacks, hoping to rush the position, but we found them too costly, in the face of well-aimed machine-gun fire, especially as we had to move over very difficult country. We then sent A Company to try to get round the left-hand position, but the Bulgars saw the move and brought a murderous fire to bear on them. We learned afterwards,from Bulgars who had been there that they had 16 machine guns and about 200 men. They did not expect us to come over by night and were surprised to see us when dawn broke.
Our Vickers guns were of little use, as the ammunition soon ran out. Our C.O. (Major Martin) soon saw the futility of attacking, and got the companies under what cover it was possible to find, though not before C Company lost one officer (2nd Lieut. M. Barr) wounded and a dozen men. We then set to work to keep the Bulgar fire down with our Lewis guns, Captain Ker, with the four B Company guns, doing most admirable work at a range of about 1,200 yards, and, from what we picked up afterwards, he must have knocked out four of the enemy machine guns.
While we were thus fully occupied, the Worcesters, who did not reach the plateau until dawn, were also held up and suffered heavily, as they were quite unprepared, and expected to find everything clear. Amongst their casualties (badly wounded) was their C.O., Lieut.-Colonel C. Wheeler, who had previously been second in command of our Battalion.
The situation is difficult to describe, but there is no doubt that the Bulgar had us fairly in a very nasty position, and the only thing for it was to stay where we were and do what damage we could without unduly exposing ourselves. The Bulgar shooting was good, and all movement on our part was very quickly noticed and fired on. On the top of this, it must be remembered that we had been on the go for over 24 hours with very little food, and now we were compelled to lie in a blazing sun without moving.
However, relief came at last. About 3 p.m. one of our howitzers began to shell the enemy's position, and this, coupled with the fact that French cavalry were getting round to his rear, induced the Bulgar rearguard to decamp soon after 4 p.m.
Two companies of the Berks were dispatched in pursuit, but they lost touch very soon, so remained out as outposts.
That we did not suffer heavy casualties during the day was due entirely to our C.O. We had ten mules slightly hit, and the Berkshires had a horse and two mules killed, besides some wounded, but on the whole the transport was very fortunate, as they were standing more or less in view of the enemy the whole time.
Our M.O. (Captain Beaumont, R.A.M.C.) seemed supremely happy all through, and, despite the fact that his temporary aid post was exposed to the enemy's fire, he walked about in the open attending wounded, as if machine-gun bullets were no more troublesome than the flies.
The next day (26th September) the rest of the Brigade group joined us in Izlis, and we cut across country on to the Kosturino road, along which the whole Division was pouring post haste towards Pechevo. I met the C.R.A. of the 26th Division, who told me that some Bulgar delegates had just gone through with a white flag. We slept that night at Pechevo, and on the following day marched through Strumnitza (Strumnica) and bivouacked in a village just outside.
There we stayed for 24 hours, washing and feeding in luxuriant ease. Vegetables, eggs, and chickens were plentiful, and we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, though the men were beginning to go sick—chiefly with malaria and Spanish influenza.
On the 28th we started off at about 3 p.m., as advance guard to the Brigade, and, with a battery of field artillery, marched across the Strumnitza Plain to Jeni Mahale, where we arrived about 7 p.m., and then took up an outpost position which the Lothian and Border Horse had been occupying. The enemy shelled us in a desultory way whilst we were crossing the plain, and all night on our right there was heavy artillery fire where the Greeks were getting engaged after crossing the Beles Mountains.
We remained in this position until 3 p.m. on the 29th, when the Brigade got orders to move to the right preparatory to supporting the 79th Brigade in forcing the pass above Hamzali and turning the Bulgar right. As soon as the Brigade group started off we were heavily shelled, and had to open out. Then we got orders that the Battalion was to make for Canakcelli, a village about a mile to the west of Hamzali, and there await orders. I rode on ahead, and, with Wootten, collected all the men of the village and shut them up under guard, in order to prevent them from conveying information to the enemy. They were mostly Turks, and, with sullen docility, they did as they were told.
The Battalion was rather badly shelled when entering the village, but, as all companies were well opened out, we suffered no casualties. We bivouacked that night in ravines north of the village under the foothills. All night a furious artillery fire was kept up on both sides, the Greeks, supported by our artillery, being heavily engaged at Jenikoi by a strongly entrenched Bulgar rearguard.
At about midnight an orderly from Brigade H.Q. woke me up and delivered orders. We were to be ready to move at 6 a.m., and we were to follow the 79th Brigade up the Hamzali Pass. It appeared that the 79th Brigade had had a fairly bad time at their first attempt to force this pass.
We were up and ready to move by 6 in the morning, but no orders came until about 7.30, when a breathless mounted orderly arrived with the news that hostilities with Bulgaria would cease from noon today, 30th September. Hamilton and I dashed for our horses, and rode round the companies, where the news was received with great enthusiasm. The utter peace which we felt that day is hard to describe, but I do not think that any of us actually realized that, for a time at any rate, we had finished with fighting.
The next day we heard that the 26th Division had been selected to form part of the Army of Occupation of Bulgaria, and that we were to march up to Sofia.
We marched down the Strumnitza Valley to Petric, and then up the Struma to Slatino, mostly through barren and uninteresting country, the only remarkable feature being the Kresna Defile, where our airmen had wrought such havoc on the routed enemy, the results of which were still plainly visible when we passed.
At Slatino plans were changed, and the Division was hastily entrained and swung down to Mustapha Pasha on the Turkish frontier. From this place, but for the deadly ravages of influenza, we might have captured Adrianople. True, we had no artillery with us and no transport, but the scheme was nearly put into action, and who knows but that it might have come off.
Our part in the advance had not been exciting; we had very little real fighting, but we marched, and marched hard. Considering that since August 1916 the Battalion had never been farther back from the front line than the position of its field guns, except for brief and infrequent periods of a fortnight, considering that the majority of the men were totally unfitted for marching on account of constant attacks of malaria, and later of influenza, also that they were often on half rations, it is impossible to say too much for those who went all through the very trying marches up country. Many men dropped as they marched, and others became seriously ill through holding on long after their strength had been taxed to the utmost. However, we kept the Light Infantry spirit ever before the men, and they responded manfully, thus upholding in the Balkan Peninsula the tradition created by the Light Division a century ago in the Peninsula of Spain.
The total distance covered by the Division from the 21st September, when we left our trenches, to the 15th October, when we entrained at Slatino, was 273 kilos. We did not march continuously, and of course the greater part was done in October, after the armistice with Bulgaria; but all the same, when one takes into account the nature of the country, the condition of the roads, and the state of the weather, it was not a bad achievement for a division, and I can safely say that the 26th Division beat the other Divisions.
After three weeks on the Turkish frontier, three wretched weeks of cold, damp, and influenza, camped in a swamp, with short rations and no warm clothing—we entrained at Suilengrad, and, after enduring four days of travelling on a Bulgar railway (50 men per truck), we arrived at Rustchuk, on the Danube. Thence we went to Rasgrad, and at the beginning of December moved to Varna, on the Black Sea, where we spent a happy and enjoyable Christmas, and afterwards proceeded to the Dobrudja.
Owing to weakness, the Battalion was reorganized, at the beginning of November, into Headquarters and two companies. No. 1 Company was commanded by Captain Peirson and afterwards by Lieut. Hutchins; while No. 2 Company was commanded by Captain Ker, M.C.
Between 1st September and 1st November 1918, 7 officers and 186 other ranks were admitted to Field Ambulance. --
CASUALTIES IN THE 7th (SERVICE) BATTALION THROUGHOUT THE WAR.
Killed.—7 officers and 184 other ranks.
Wounded.—24 officers and 731 other ranks. Prisoners of War.—9 other ranks.
Between 26th November 1915 and 13th February 1919 the admissions to hospital on account of sickness were 44 officers and 3,021 other ranks.
SUMMARY OF HONOURS AWARDED TO THE BATTALION. Distinguished Service Order.—3. Military Cross.—10. Distinguished Conduct Medal.—2. Meritorious Service Medal.—7. Military Medal—19. Foreign Decorations.—16. Mentioned in Dispatches.—27.