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Remembered Today:

Salonika Anti-aircraft Battery


Rockdoc
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Here are some scans taken from photographs I've recently received from another member of my family. To the best of my knowledge, they show my Grandfather's AA battery in Salonika in 1917/18. One view shows the gun reasonably close up and, from his notebooks, I think it's a 13 pounder 6cwt mounted on a Thorneycroft chassis as it looks similar to the photo on this page. The third photo shows the lorry from the front.

On the general shot of the site, there are large boards(?) at the top of the hillock and above a sand-bagged enclosure. Anyone know what they were?

Keith

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If one looks at a few other gunners records that he may have gone out with, there is a fairly good chance he left either 23-1-1917 and arrived 3-2-1917, or left 5-3-1917 and arrived 17-3-1917. He may then have been posted to either 97, 98 or 99 AA Sections. Of course there may have been others he may have gone to, but these are the ones I have seen that are the most likely. He would not have received his new number until 14-12-1917.

Kevin

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It would make sense for him to have arrived with the second group as he was wounded at the Somme and didn't return to duty until early 1917. What part of the RA did the AA batteries belong? His MIC and discharge documents say that he became a member of the RGA after he returned to duty but his discharge-related documents record him as being back in his beloved RFA.

In with these documents is a menu for a dinner served 12/11/18, obviously to celebrate the end of the War. I know that it was a French "show" over there but this appears to have been held in a French mess for a couple of reasons:

  1. it's all in French and I wouldn't expect many Tommies would be familiar with restaurant French
  2. it's inscribed on the back in what looks very much like Franglais.

The menu is:

Croutes au pot

Saumon sauce mayonnaise (edited from Gammon 5 January 2009 - Keith)

Langue de Porc

Roti de boeuf

Puree de Pommes de terre

Poulet roti

Chicoree frisee

Gateau de riz caramel

Ananas

Biscuits

Noisettes

Cafe

Brandy

Bordeau blanc - Chateau St Romainy

Grands Vins des Cotes du Rhone

Champagne

which doesn't look like British rations!

On the reverse is inscribed:

Best remembrance from the WO of the Poste 1/2 fine d'AAA 281 to the Comrade Gaskin followed by three signatures. I can only read one: Ideques Minotte. Edit 6 January 2009: Jacques Minotte

Does 1/2 fine 281 mean anything to anyone?

Edit 6 Jan 2009: Thanks to Forum Pal Pierre, this has been found to be Poste 1/2 fixe d'AAA 281. French AA groups were described as fixe (permanent), semi-fixe (could be moved but not readily) and mobile (mounted on lorries) so 1/2 is an abbreviation for semi-. 281 is the Regiment number. The French unit is, therefore, the 281st semi-permanent AAA Regiment.

Keith

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Here are some scans taken from photographs I've recently received from another member of my family. To the best of my knowledge, they show my Grandfather's AA battery in Salonika in 1917/18. One view shows the gun reasonably close up and, from his notebooks, I think it's a 13 pounder 6cwt mounted on a Thorneycroft chassis as it looks similar to the photo on this page. The third photo shows the lorry from the front.

On the general shot of the site, there are large boards(?) at the top of the hillock and above a sand-bagged enclosure. Anyone know what they were?

Keith

Looks to me like the Elswick 3-inch 13 pounder Mk IV, of which Ian Hogg says only 6 were in service... see the Wikipedia page here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QF_13_pounder_Mk_IV_AA_gun

Rod

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It certainly could be, Rod. I was going with the Mk III for several reasons:

  1. there were two Mk IIIs left in Salonika at the end of the War
  2. his notebooks give the most space to this type
  3. the Mk 1 mount for the Mk III also had two recuperators above the barrel

Against that, the Wikipedia photos of the Mk III show a different arrangement of wheels near the breech on the RH side to that on the close-up of the gun in my sequence of photos and it does look more like that shown in the upper of the Mk IV photos on Wikipedia in the link you gave. However, the lower of the two photos shows one man operating two wheels and the sight where the notebook says that three men are used for those functions. I don't think that's definitive, though, because that photo is staged. Four men are standing around doing nothing on the RH side of the gun while three are setting the fuzes. Those three are standing at the rear of the lorry when two should be standing by an ammo box with the third handing the readied shells to the men working the gun. Whatever type of gun was being used, I wouldn't have thought the disposition of the men would have varied very much.

I've rephotographed several more of the photos since my original post and have worked out that the large, round object on top of the hillock in the broad view is a huge searchlight. There are also dug outs and huts built into the hillock so wherever my Grandfather was based must have been a permanent site - some kind of base or stores depot I would imagine.

I've attached one of the latest images that appears to show someone sighting. I can't tell if he's using a telescope or just a piece of metal to sight along but I would guess that there are three protractors attached to the base to that the aircraft position can be given. Behind him can be seen a searchlight and the huts are clearly quite substantial.

Keith

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The 57659 number is for the RFA, and the 197636 is the RGA one. The AA Section would have been under the control of the RGA. I am surprised he didn't mention what number Section he was attached to in his notes. Being a pre war regular perhaps he was sent to his home depot for demobilisation and given his old number back there. I have seen it working the other way round for RGA gunners who served with the RFA during the war.

Kevin

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You're pretty much spot on, Kevin. Siegebatteries found a transfer order for me that shows he was transferred back to the RFA - into CXXIX Brigade - in November 1918 and that he resumed his old number.

The notes look mostly the kind of thing you'd take down in a training session. His last pay-day in England was 12th March 1917 and the first record of firing in his notebook is 26th July. I don't know how long it took to travel to Salonika but I doubt it was more than a couple of weeks so I would expect he received the training after he got there.

The notes that are specific to his service are tantalising for not giving the Section number. He lists the Section Roll, presumably from when he arrived in July 1917, plus corrections as the men changed and his (No 2) Detachment roll but there's nothing I can see to to identify the unit. What may help is that, in another thread, Pierre has identified two figures as French. This tends to support, along with the menu listed here, that wherever he was there was a French presence, too. All most intriguing!

Keith

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I would have thought that if you have a nominal roll of the AA Section he was with, there is a chance that at least one of the gunners records have survived to identify the unit. Any of these names on there;

Hargest, John

Jacobs, Frederick Peter Ellis

Barr, Robert

Lake, George Albert

Young, James

Davies, Isaac

Keeley, Arthur William

Grocutt, John William

Kevin

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None of those names appears. The Section Roll seems to be headed BH Section Roll but I'm not entirely sure of the second letter - it could be a 4 - nor the significance, if any. The original names on the roll are:

37653 Sgt Lynch EJ - C of E - Married

57003 Sgt Clifton G - C of E - Single

57659 Sgt Gaskin H - C of E - Married

2733 Cpl Davies I - C of E - Single

27799 Cpl Hardisty PH - C of E - Single

43624 Br James Jno - Unitarian - Single

53286 Br Sheriff T - C of E - Single

58369 Br Packwood J - C of E - Single

95616 A/Br Lapsley WD - Unitarian - Married

114128 A/Br Herrington D - C of E - Single

96092 Gr Barrie J - Presbyterian - Married

114100 Gr Birch G - C of E - Married

95578 Gr Cameron EA - Presbyterian - Married

95962 Br Cunningham J - Presbyterian - Married

95592 Gr Davidson AF - Presbyterian - Married

110488 Gr Farmer MB - C of E - Married

14517 Gr Harris G - C of E - Married

65278 Gr Harris JH - Weslyan - Married

75600 Gr Hamilton F - Presbyterian - Married

96103 Gr Jenkinson JJ - Presbyterian - Married

114070 Gr Laverick TH - Weslyan - Married

110347 Gr Leitch AJ - Presbyterian - Married

73338 A/Br Martin JM - Weslyan - Single

186234 Br Mason JW - C of E - Married

86986 Gr Moorhouse F - C of E - Single

75212 Gr Peach C - C of E - Married

73357 Gr Robertson RM - Presbyterian - Single

107427 Gr Semple DF - Presbyterian - Married

78172 Gr Stevens HW - C of E - Married

Rangetakers: Gr Moorhouse, Gr Semple

Telephonists: Br James, Gr Cameron, Gr Cunningham, Gr Harris JH

Keith

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For completeness, here's the No2 Detachment:

1 - Sgt Gaskin

2 - Gr Hamilton

3 - Cpl Hardisty

4 - Gr Birch

5 - Br Sheriff

6 - Gr Davidson

7 - A/Br Herrington

8 - Gr Harris G

9 - Gr Stevens

10 - A/Br Oliver

11- Pvt Tyrell

12 - Pvt Jackson

Rangetaker: Br Packwood

Telephonist: Gr Cameron, Gr Harris JH

A/Br Oliver is not mentioned on the Section Roll and the Nos 11 & 12 are the ASC drivers.

Keith

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Yes there is.

2733/197639 Isaac Davies. Enlisted 29-3-1915, 43rd Welsh Division. Served with 121 Brigade until sent to a reserve brigade before going to Salonica on the 5-3-1917. Renumbered 14-12-1917. Served with 99 AA Sect.

With look for others tonight after work to confirm.

Kevin

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Looking again, there is a Keeley in the list but the last letters are faint and I initially read it as Keel. Unfortunately, he's a replacement and there is no service number nor initial to be sure it's the chap you mentioned. I hope you manage to find some more records so that we can pin down the Section once and for all. Then, I suppose, I'll have to get myself down to Kew to read the relevant part of WO 95/4802.

Keith

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RFA 43624 John William James 99 AA Sect

RGA 73338 John McOwen Martin 99 AA Sect

Of course you will want to read these gunners records while you are there. In all likelhood they all went to Shoeburyness first for training before being sent to Salonica.

Kevin

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Thanks, Kevin. I would say that three records all saying 99 AA Section is fairly conclusive. It would be nice to discover when 99 went to Salonika and where they were based while there. "Under the Devil's Eye" does not include it in its listing of groups in Salonika in early 1917 so it may be that my Grandfather went with the Section from Britain. I don't know whether they normally sent troops out there in dribs and drabs but my Grandfather notes that his last pay-day in England was 12 March 1917, a week after Isaac Davies left.

If I find anything out I'll update this thread.

Keith

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I've had a look at the NA on-line catalogue again for WO 95/4802 and the records for 99 AA Section start in July 1917, which would tie in nicely with my Grandfather's note that the first firing of the gun was 26th July. If it was a newly-established unit then I'm hopeful that he NA records will not take too much rooting through to find something useful.

Keith

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  • 2 weeks later...
In all likelhood they all went to Shoeburyness first for training before being sent to Salonica.

I've been transcribing my Grandfather's notebooks and found a second, inked copy of his personal pay records - what he was due, what he drew and what he had in the bank. I already knew that his last pay-day in England was 12 March 1917 but now I know his first in Salonika was 21 March 1917. That leaves the whole of April, May and June and half July before he records the first time they fired their guns. That's ample time for training out there, I would have thought, without much need for training before they went, assuming they were all Gunners with some experience. With several AA Sections already there I wonder of they did some of their learning on the job?

Keith

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I am sure most gunners learnt on the job. A week in the field was probably worth at least a month at home.

As I said I think you would learn a lot about the composition of the AA Section by reading the records of men he actually served with... and some he didn't but who also may have had a similar path. I believe you can sign up free for 2 weeks with ancestry so it will not cost you a penny. Those I have identified serving with 99 AA Section are;

RGA 65278 Harris, John Henry

RGA 73338 Martin, John McOwen

RGA 95962 Cunningham, John

197635 was RFA 43624 James, John William

197639 was RFA 2733 Davies, Isaac

197645 was RFA 128242 Keeley, Arthur William

197657 was RFA 85848 Grocutt, John William

Those who were there in the other AA Sections and whose records are available are;

197573 was RFA 137030 Hargest, John

197620 was RFA 110781 Jacobs, Frederick Peter Ellis

197625 was RFA 176068 Barr, Robert

197628 was 66252 Lake, George Albert

197663 was RFA 55561 Gooding, William

197679 was RFA 82041 Strutt, William

197680 was RFA Simpson, Henry Lancelot

197681 was RFA125523 Watson, William

Kevin

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I wonder what they did after they got there. My Grandfather attended training sessions, that's clear, and I can't imagine the others didn't but as 99 was a new Section they wouldn't be landing in an established group. I'm sure there'd be a huge amount to do to be up and running. On the othe rhand, I've come across some photos tonight that might mean they replaced another AA Section that moved elsewhere. The photo of the chap range-taking shows substantial huts. The new one shows a group of gunners and men from another regiment - ASC? - beside one such hut. When I got the photo onto my computer I could see that the cladding is made up of dozens of petrol tins that have been carefully unsoldered and flattened. They're definitely petrol tins because they all say Shell Spirit and have the Shell stamped on, too. Dos that suggest an airfield or were there other sites where a great deal of fuel would be used?

But what about that scarf that chap in the front row's wearing? It's tucked through his belt!

And you've given me more names to play with! I'm going to Kew on Saturday and the plan is to look at the records of 99 AA Section so I'll have a look at some, at least, of these records while I'm there.

Thanks,

Keith

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I'll need more time to digest everything but I found out some useful info at TNA today. The Section was based at the Harmankoy Tumulus on the Daut-Bali Ridge for its entire existence. I have no idea yet where that might have been but the tumulus must be the large mound in the background of several pictures.

(Edit Keith 11/01/09) Daut-Bali is now known as Oreokastro and lies more or less due north of Salonika. The ridge appears to lie NW of the town.

My Grandfather was definitely part of that Section as he's recorded as being sent to the hospital at one point. Somewhere not too far off was Summerhill, the location of a French Aerodrome and the Artillery Training School.

The guns were 13 pdr 6 cwts. The Diary records

  • 12 February 1919 Two 13 pdr 6 cwt Guns on Motor Lorry Mounting Equipment and stores of Section passed to D Cadre AA.
  • 27 February 1919 Section passed to D Cadre AA.

There were three commanders:

  • Captain H E Harker RGA, who moved to command Salonika Air Defences on 11 February 1918;
  • Lieutenant H R Price RFA, who commanded until 12 February 1919 when he went on leave;
  • Lieutenant R W Briscoe RFA who put up the shutters.

As I wondered and kevrow thought, there was on-the-job training. A lot of men were sent from the Artillery Training School, in batches of up to 20 at a time.

Keith

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Hi Keith,

You've found Dautbali and its ridge. Well done! It's very confusing - as I'm sure you've found! - because virtually all place names have changed since.

I can't find any mention of a toumba/tumulus on the ridge itself. The nearest is the egg-shaped patch at the southern edge of Oraiokastro/Dautbali village at 40.7183 22.9183 in Google Earth. I'd assume that this is what was meant by the Harmankoj Toumba, because it's beside what was the road to Harmankoj which was about 3.5 miles SSW (centered around 40.6714 22.8954). There are/were a couple more tumuli closer to Harmankoj, but they were nowhere near the ridge, and in any case, would have been on the edge of the French and Italian camps at Zeitenlick.

If you've got street names switched on, you'll see that the road running south down the east side of Dautbali Toumba (as it's always been called by the locals) is named Parodos Aerodromiou - Aerodrome Road. Follow this road south for about a mile until you come to the junction with Symmachiki. Its full name is Symmachiki Odos Diavaton = Allied Road to Diavata (previously Dudular). The NW quadrant of this crossroads is the site of the old French aerodrome - known to the British as Lembet Airfield.

I'm pretty sure that Summerhill Camp was just east of there, and just north of the camp and depots at Lembet (which were around where Google Earth says Efkarpia).

Hope this helps!

Can you post a photo of the tumulus? Or is it the mound in your first photo above? Looks a bit small for a toumba...

Adrian

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You've found Dautbali and its ridge. Well done! It's very confusing - as I'm sure you've found! - because virtually all place names have changed since. I can't find any mention of a toumba/tumulus on the ridge itself. The nearest is the egg-shaped patch at the southern edge of Oraiokastro/Dautbali village at 40.7183 22.9183 in Google Earth. I'd assume that this is what was meant by the Harmankoj Toumba, because it's beside what was the road to Harmankoj which was about 3.5 miles SSW (centered around 40.6714 22.8954). There are/were a couple more tumuli closer to Harmankoj, but they were nowhere near the ridge, and in any case, would have been on the edge of the French and Italian camps at Zeitenlick.

I used a link to some Austro-Hungarian maps of the pre-War period and that's helped no end. I still can't find the places referred to as VERIA, VERTIKOP (sounds like it was named by a Boer War veteran!), GUNEO and RADEO in the Diary, though.

I'm confused but, being a bear of little brain, that doesn't take a lot of doing! The Diary begins by calling the site Harmankoy Daut-Bali Ridge and the word tumulus is addd in later reports. The toumba you mention doesn't look a good fit, to me, because it's well off the ridge itelf and, I would have thought, being sited on a ridge would have given them a better chance of seeing planes early than being down on the plain near the toumba itself. I really don't understand the Harmankoy reference because that's further onto the plain again and nowhere near the ridge. There are roads on the northern side of the ridge so the unit being on the top isn't completely out of the question. Do you know of any Greek histories of the period that might help?

If you've got street names switched on, you'll see that the road running south down the east side of Dautbali Toumba (as it's always been called by the locals) is named Parodos Aerodromiou - Aerodrome Road. Follow this road south for about a mile until you come to the junction with Symmachiki. Its full name is Symmachiki Odos Diavaton = Allied Road to Diavata (previously Dudular). The NW quadrant of this crossroads is the site of the old French aerodrome - known to the British as Lembet Airfield.

I'm pretty sure that Summerhill Camp was just east of there, and just north of the camp and depots at Lembet (which were around where Google Earth says Efkarpia).

Can you post a photo of the tumulus? Or is it the mound in your first photo above? Looks a bit small for a toumba...

It's all very useful, Adrian. A local's knowledge is infinitely more valuable than guesswork.

That mound in the background appears in quite a few of the photographs and while it may not be as big as the toumba I think it's still quite substantial. There are dug-outs built into it that could be garages for the lorries - in addition to the Thorneycrofy Type J AA lorries, they had five Peerless three-ton lorries, a Douglas motorcycle and a Sunbeam light car at the beginning and sent back four 30 cwt Daimler lorries, one Ford van and one Douglas motorcylce to Base MT Depot when it was closed down. On that basis, the roof height for the two dug-outs in the wide view is going to be about 12 feet so the mound must be 25-30 feet from ground level. I would be surprised if the RE would go to the trouble of building something that big from scratch just to stick a searchlight on the top.

Ah, the ecstasies and frustrations of the genealogist! Knock down one brick wall and there's always another behind it! :lol:

Keith

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Veria/Karaferia = Veria/Verria (40.5229 22.2050)

Vertekop = Skydra (40.7670 22.1540, several British General Hospitals were based here)

Both are quite a way from Salonika, on the "Edesza" section (40-41.jpg) of the Austrian maps at http://lazarus.elte.hu/hun/digkonyv/topo/3felmeres.htm which I assume are the ones you've found.

Guneo and Radeo have me stumped for the moment... Any clues, like other places in the vicinity? How many days' march to get there?

Your remarks about Dautbali have got me thinking, too! The ridge does descend to the level of the village, so the tumulus is almost like a mini-extension to the ridge. But I think the visibility northward from the tumulus is pretty good too, as the ground is generally fairly high around there anyway. And it's certainly possible to see the harbour from the tumulus/village, but the view would be better from the ridge, of course!

There were two tumuli near 40.7 22.88 and another about a mile ESE of there (perhaps the patch at 40.6955 22.8996), which were on a sort of elongated east-west hillocky thing rising above the plain, but not by much! I don't imagine that would be called the Harmankoj-Dautbali Ridge when there are other much more prominent features nearby!

By the way, I was wrong with my previous location for Harmankoj (working from old data!). The centre of the old village is actually at 40.6710 22.9124.

I'll try to get out that way for a recce sometime this week!

Adrian

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The map-link you give is the one I found and 40-41 and 41-41 are the two that contain the place-names I've identified so far. I need to find a way to print the maps as a series of tiles so I can get them at a decent scale, though. Print them on a single sheet of A4 and you're struggling, even with a magnifying glass.

I'm transcribing the extracts from the diary I made yesterday at Kew and I'll send them to you in a couple of days if you PM me your email address.

I think Guneo and Radeo were in the Vardar valley. They may well be French OPs as some reports from them and from some other sites are tagged French HQ. The impression I'm getting is that there was very close cooperation with the French. A few examples of the entries:

17-7-1917 07.45 GUNEO report one Enemy Plane flying from GJEVGJELI towards SALONICA

17-7-1917 07.45 GUNEO report one supposed Enemy Plane flying over VERTIKOP very high in direction VERIA

17-7-1917 18.00 RADEO report one Enemy Plane coming from GJEVGJELI towards SALONICA

17-7-1917 18.15 GUMENZE report the Enemy Plane crossing the VARDAR and coming towards SALONICA

99th AAS seem to have received reports from all over the area of aeroplane movements, including from its sister Sections 90, 95 and 98, but, I suppose, being just north of Salonika would make the likelihood of them seeing any plane reaching the area that much higher so it makes sense.

Was 28th General Hospital in Salonika itself, do you know? 99th AAS sent a lot of men their way. It doesn't usually say why for the OR but for officers it was usually diarrhoea so I'd guess it would be the same for the men.

I really thought I'd cracked this when I found the site location in the file yesterday but I'm not sure how much clearer I am today. Working horizontally in Google Earth with the terrain switched on doesn't seem to show a ridge between Harmankoy and Daut-Bali and it isn't as if the two places are exactly next door to one another, either. I'm planning another day at Kew in October so I might try to find some HQ and/or RE paperwork that mentions developing the site. There is no mention of erecting anything in the War Diary and they were ready for action within a day or so of receiving their first gun. That suggests to me that they moved onto a prepared site so the RE would have to have been involved, surely?

Keith

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28 General Hospital was around 40.6706 22.8875, just northwest of "Harman Road" (i.e. Harmenkoj Rd) railway station, which is the area of sidings you can see on Google Earth.

I'd be extremely interested to see what you have, and will PM you my email address.

Adrian

EDIT: Your Gumenze is probably GÜMENDŽE on the map (on the Edesza section, follow the Vardar river up to Karasuli and then go WSW. There was a French airfield at Gorgop nearby. Now called Goumenissa (GE 40.9459 22.4504).

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I don't know if this will help the search for the actual site of 99th AA Section but I remembered something I transcribed from my Grandfather's notebooks. He lists all the forms he needed to do admin work and the reports. One report is:

Every Monday for men billeting: ½d per night Officers 1fr - Original to Mayor

I don't know if it was a ha'penny but that's what it looks like. I suppose the 'd' could mean Drachma but, then, we'd need to know the exchange rate between the Drachma and the Franc in 1917! Anyway, at least some of the men were billeted in a nearby place that was big enough to have a mayor. I have no idea whether mayors were a common feature of Greek villages at the time or were only found in towns.

The Section fighting strength was probably never all that big. There are 3 Officers and 40 Other Ranks in November 1918, after which the unit began to be run down. With 11 men per AA gun that leaves 18 ORs. At that time they had four Daimler 30 cwt lorries, a Ford van and a Douglas motorcycle. I'm guessing that the lorries and van would have had two ASC-MT drivers each and the bike one so that's another 11. That leaves 7 for other duties, including signals and range-takers so that sounds about right. They did get occasional drafts of up to 20 men posted from the Artillery Training School at Summerhill for training, though, so probably had to put them somewhere. I'm starting to think they received these trainees because they were the nearest AAS to Summerhill Camp.

The great majority of firing against enemy aircraft took place in daylight but there were a couple of occasions late in the War when they fired at night, in one case around 01.00 hours. Whenever there was an action, though, both guns were recorded as firing so there would either have to have been skeleton crews on night watch or the billets were close enough that they could get to the guns and be ready to go within minutes of the alarm being given. I presume that there would have been men and at least one officer on duty at all times? With so few people you wonder how they ever got any sleep!

I have no idea how billets would have been arranged in relatively static situations like this nor whether the Army would have built any kind of accommodation on site later, especially for such a small unit. The photos I have show only one bell tent but that could well be misleading. The photos of the Section seem to have been taken within a short time and, by the number of petrol tins cladding some of the buildings - as shown earlier in the thread - this must have been well after they arrived in July 1917.

Keith

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