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Martina

Theatre & entertainment during Salonika campaign

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Martina

Hello everyone,

I am new to this Forum - but so glad that I've found it. I am researching theatre productions in Salonika, ranging from impromptu outdoor entertainment to touring tent shows and productions in theatres such as the Gaiety and Kopriva Palace, also performances on board ships in Salonika Harbour. I would be grateful to hear from anyone who has information or images relating to theatre/entertainment by service personnel in Salonika.

I have copies of the four pantomimes produced by the 85th Field Ambulance & my journal article, which is available online in Popular Entertainment Studies special issue on theatre in times of war, deals with the first three of these: "The House that Tommy Built: Pantomimes Produced by the 85th Field Ambulance in Salonika 1915-18." Popular Entertainment Studies 5.1 (2014): 28-57.

I am now broadening my research & I'm particularly interested in the army career of Sgt. Weston Drury RAMC 79th Field Ambulance who wrote, produced and acted in many of the shows at the Gaiety Theatre.

I'd be delighted to hear from you & wish you all good luck with your own researching.

Best wishes,

Martina

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Gardenerbill

Hi Martina,

Welcome to the forum, sorry I don't think I can help you , there are lots of references to entertainments, reviews pantos etc. in the literature but probably not the detail you are looking for. I am sure some of the regular forum pals will have something for you.

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Martina

Hello Mark - thanks for your message. I'm in an information gathering stage at the moment but look forward to sharing my research with you all in a paper when I get that far.

Cheers, Martina

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Martina

Hello Andy,

Thanks for your message & IWM link - it's much appreciated. Yes, I'm aware of IWM's images & not sure yet how broad my focus will be. I bought a very interesting photograph on Ebay recently showing an impromptu outdoor Serbian theatre stage at Salonika with the prompter in situ - so I'm spreading my information gathering widely & will see what I'm left with. I was at IWM last month & have just received the photocopying I ordered whilst there - so now trying to digest this. I always enjoy the research & information gathering part of a project - it's a bit like playing detective searching for clues. Thanks for your valued help!

Cheers,

Martina

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keithmroberts

Martina

You should get in touch at some stage with Kate Wills by PM. She has a vast fund of knowledge about concert parties, and a particular interest in Salonika.

Keith

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Martina

Thanks Keith & Mark - I will get in touch with Kate Wills since she shares my interest in entertainment in Salonika. I've been chatting to those on the 22nd Div Theatre Company Tour. It's so wonderful to be able to share information on such a welcoming, collaborative forum.

Cheers,

Martina

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Kate Wills

Welcome to the Forum Martina.

I have been researching this subject for some years, present lectures on it, and hope to produce a book sometime. I have undertaken much research Weston Drury, for an article of my own. You may be interested in this article, which I wrote in 2009 for the Salonika Campaign Society (sorry it's so long, but I'm a great one for recycling!):

Following Gramps’ Footsteps

“We’d tap-out our boots every morning in case a scorpion had curled-up inside overnight…one of our officers had been with Scott in the Antarctic…we used to get a penny, and draw a circle over a piece of newsprint, then take bets on the letters in the circle. I knew that e was the most common letter in the English language and always bet on that, and won nearly every time…”

Scenes from everyday life in Salonika, recounted by an old soldier in the Sixties. I could have helped myself to an entire bookful of such memories, had I been interested. The trouble is, 10-year-old girls are not taken with dreary wars in distant places, and scraps such as these are all I have left of my direct link with Britain’s forgotten army in Salonika. Such are the fortunes of war for the BSF – ignored or dismissed by the nation while they fought, and again at home while the memories lingered on.

The memories belong to my grandfather, Pte 13274 Alfred Ernest Lines of A Company, 7th Ox & Bucks LI, who would have been surprised to know that by my late teens disinterest had transformed into obsession. But we Great War enthusiasts reap a poor harvest from Salonika. In contrast to the glut of literature from the Western Front, the Macedonian Campaign produced few books, and none of the divisions that served there for the duration produced histories. As the years rolled by, travel to the battlefields of France and Flanders became common, and eventually, now married, I followed Gramps’ initial footsteps on active service, for the 7th Ox & Bucks (as part of 26th Division) began their war opposite Fricourt in the Autumn of 1915, being amongst the first British troops deployed on the Somme sector. But could I, would I ever, follow Gramps’ trail to Salonika?

Grandfather had his own drawer by the fireplace, where his pipe and tobacco and other oddments remained after his death in 1968. One of those oddments was a Salonika Reunion Association badge, and there was also a battered copy of The Mosquito. It’s worth remembering at this point that, while travel became easier in the intervening years, half the battlefields of the Macedonian Campaign lay locked behind the Iron Curtain, and the other half lay strewn in a Greece prone to political turmoil. For most of my life Gramps was the only person I knew who had ever been to Albania.

The break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s led to new wars in the old Balkan states. Each day’s footage brought another atrocity. Roaming around the Balkans was impossible, and potentially lethal – again! So much for the war to end wars. But wars must end, and British soldiers of KFOR eventually began to send reports of visiting places known to their Great War predecessors. Then, news of the formation of the Salonika Campaign Society, and a New Mosquito magazine, and talk of a tour. YESSSS!!!

Now I have toured twice in as many years, thanks to SCS founders Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody and friends in Salonika and FYROM. What follows are a few scenes from those visits, made in company with fellow members of the Salonika Campaign Society.

When Gramps enlisted on 2nd September 1914, I imagine something more than patriotism spurred him. The London & North Western Railway Company promised to re-engage staff who volunteered for war. Gramps was 27 and still single, and here was a Heaven sent opportunity to leave the daily grind for adventure, fully funded. He would have to be patient. 26th Division were amongst the last to proceed overseas, and for an entire year Gramps footslogged around Oxford and Salisbury Plain. A rumour went round that the division was held back for so long due to an unusually large proportion of married men in their ranks, though I have seen no supporting evidence.

Their stay in France was brief. 26th Division were pulled from the line on 9th November 1915 and ranged along the platforms at Longeau near Amiens for a leisurely train journey down to Marseilles, and fortnight’s zigzag voyage through the Med and into the Aegean. During this time Gramps, as a Lewis Gunner, was probably one of the men who carried out target practice from HMS Terrible’s 6 inch guns on a barrel tossed over the side. Our modern journey was quicker, though standing in line for ages and sitting around waiting was something common to both parties.

WW1 memoirs speak of the attractiveness of the city from the sea. It looks attractive from the air too. Arriving at Salonika Airport, we were greeted by the beaming faces of Romeo Drobarov and Adrian Wright. Such a welcome from the locals would have buoyed the troops no end. A postcard home in our collection records a sharp contrast:

Dear Mother

I don't think I ever saw a more dirty lot of folks in my life. They sit and lay about all over and as for the town it’s rotten. You see the men here with baggy trousers and looks as if they hadn't had a wash for months. Hope I don't look like it when I come home. - Walt"

The city bustles, as it has done throughout its long history. We added to that bustle by joining a fast road and striking west, bound for Katerini, the Margate of Macedonia, whose shops offer an all-seasons mix of furs and flip-flops.

It was here that 60th Division came ashore for their six-month sojourn in December 1916. One of their soldiers was the composer Pte Ralph Vaughan Williams, of 2/4 London Field Ambulance RAMC. Over the years, my interest in WW1 has spawned research into the music and entertainment of the period, especially military concert parties, and the trips provided an opportunity to explore Salonika as a literal theatre of war.

We lunched on the narrow Vromeri beach near a jetty about 50 yards long, of similar construction to a drystone wall. In her biography of her husband, R.V. W., Ursula Vaughan Williams records:

“They moved from Dudular (Camp), this time by paddle steamer, to Vromeri beach where there was no jetty of any kind. The men made a human chain and the stores were passed from ship to shore by hand.”

After a good lunch at a restaurant by the jetty, our party set-off to explore 60th Division’s sector. The tobacco crop was drying on wooden frames resembling makeshift bedsteads. These green hillsides lay at the foot of Mount Olympus, and it was somewhere here that Vaughan Williams gathered his soldier-choir and conducted a carol concert on Christmas Eve 1916:

“Snow-capped Olympus, the clear night, the stars, and Ralph’s choir singing carols with passionate nostalgia. The choir made that Christmas so far from home one that had a special quality, a special beauty, long-remembered.”

One of the items was, appropriately, I Saw Three Ships. In 1917 RVW published Nine Carols For Male Voices, his arrangement of that evening’s music.

Moving back to the environs of Salonika, and back to Christmas 1915, when 28th Division had been newcomers to this strange land, and were corralled, cold and homesick, in Lembet Camp to the north of the city. With the bitter Vardar winds chilling their bones, the thoughts of 85th Field Ambulance RAMC turned to home and the pantomimes of Drury Lane, and the medics set about creating one of their own. Within a fortnight they had written the script for Dick Whittington, arranged the music (including composing two original songs), made costumes, wigs, props and an auditorium. Their theatre consisted of two marquees. On Christmas Night the unit gathered round, and so successful was their show that Gen. Briggs (O.C. 28th Division) ordered the troupe to take their production on tour to all units of the division.

The Lembet Camp area is green with scattered rocks and occasional outcrops. It was September, and swifts, maybe en route from England, banked the hillsides. Hereabouts are the traces of trench systems, which include Alice Lane and Fitzwarren Corner, for such was the success of Dick Whittington the characters lived on in the trench names.

85th Field Ambulance’s pantomimes became legendary, and though concert parties were a long-established part of military life, other units were spurred into thespian activity. Concert parties, variety shows and drama groups sprang-up in every British sector, and some shows were staged with unscripted lighting and effects. Charles Packer, serving with 26th Divisional Ammunition Column, recounts one such event in the Doiran sector his memoir Return to Salonika:

“A concert party making a series of one-night stands gave a performance in our neighbourhood, which drew a big attendance. As the concert got underway, the sound of gunfire grew louder and louder. About half way through a messenger arrived, there was a hurried consultation among some officers, then some of them left quickly. With the glow from the stage shining out into the darkness and lighting up the faces of the crowd of troops, and the gun flashes on the horizon, the scene was common enough in wartime, yet possessing all the elements of melodrama.”

Drama, melodrama, pantomime, enacted in the land where the very words originate. All these need a theatre, another Greek word, and British-built theatres sprang-up everywhere. Realising the morale-boosting effects of laughter and music, 26th Division commander General Arthur Gay, apparently a keen theatre-goer himself, ordered the creation of a theatre near Kalinova. As we were passing, I asked if we could stop for a look. I didn’t know the actual location, but at least I could take a few photos of the general area, of cotton fields and scrubby hills. I’m so glad I did. While snapping, a van pulled-up and the driver asked what was so interesting – as well he might, being the farmer of these sprawling acres.

Adrian explained we were a party of Great War historians, and this lady is researching army concerts, and knows the British army built a theatre near here.

“That’s interesting,” said the farmer, “because my family have been here since the 1920s, and one of our fields has always been known as Theatre Field, but we have never known why. Follow me”; which we did, and a little further down the road he pointed across to Theatre Field, now laid to wheat. So here was the site of the Gaiety Theatre, named to honour its benign patron, General Gay.

Kalinova was near the shores of Lake Ardzan, ‘was’ because the lake is no more, having been drained to erase a breeding-ground for that curse of the Allied troops, the malaria-carrying mosquito. Another vague memory of Gramps is a feverishness that sometime overcame him. Nan was anxious. I remember Gramps’ head lolling as the doctor examined him, a repeat of the illness contracted so far away in place and time.

Other geographic features are disappearing too. Quarrying eats into the landscape, and having drained several shallow lakes to thwart mosquitoes, marshland near Serres was flooded in 1932 to create Lake Kerkini. Ornithologists amongst the wartime troops had a fine time in Macedonia, and storks nests atop chimneys and telegraph posts are a common sight. Lake Kerkini teems with herons, pelicans and numerous birds of passage. Tommy had bully beef while he watched the buffalo carts plod their weary way to market. Buffalo dishes are a culinary speciality here, and delicious when cooked to perfection. The surrounding country is a fertile plain. It is my aim to identify the locations of British military theatres, and another existed in Kopriva, but I was out of luck this time. Nearby is the curious bun-loaf shaped feature known as Cole’s Cop*, a natural strongpoint, and one which is well-worth the climb for the stunning view of the battlefields.

I have not mentioned the cemeteries so far, which are without exception, immaculately kept. Perhaps this is most in evidence at Lembet Road, where the British plot can be identified as much for the bowling-green lushness of its turf as by its GWGC features. I think Lahana is my favourite. I had gone to visit the grave of Captain Basil Capel Cure of the 2nd Gloucesters, who lies, appropriately for a rector’s son, nearest the Stone of Sacrifice. Lahana is set amid hills that we would find familiar at home. My arrival caused a basking lizard to wake and spring away. They love these quiet white headstones. There were gleaming white mushrooms in lush grass, and the sound of bells, from the goats and the church across the meadow. Basil, a former boy chorister of King’s College Chapel Cambridge, lies in perfect peace.

Political peace has only descended sporadically on the region. So long under the Ottoman yoke, the broader ethic mix has made this a land of shifting borders and races. Serbia had gained land in the Balkan War that is now called FYROM, the Former Yogoslav Republic of Macedonia. Having crossed the border, watches are set back an hour, though they should be set back half a century in the village of Tatarli. We had come to find the location of a tumbledown building, which had been photographed during 10th Division’s brief rest during the Battle of Kosturino, covering the Serbian withdrawal through the mountains towards Albania. A photograph shows a group of 5th Connaught Ranger officers posing for the camera before moving off, which we re-created, ankle-deep in broken tiles and briars. Stone-scattered mountains with occasional welcome meadows lay beyond. It is hard going at the best of times, and the locals said we would never make the hike across. We did, though it was one of the most vigorous hikes of the tour.

Tatarli’s most notable architectural feature is a slender white minaret, for this is a Turkish village. The scenes here have changed little since the war. A donkey cart trots through disgorging schoolchildren, and villagers and animals wander at will. A small Turkish flag rests in the café, where we asked the local schoolmaster about the history of the village. There was much mulling over our photos as coffee arrived. A lady’s grandfather had spoken of British soldiers who had given gifts to the children. Their young descendants loved this sudden influx of Western exotics, and a loose scrum of children appended our every move. We too handed out sweets and little gifts (not sure if the Percy the Pig sweets were appropriate!) and smiled. How sad we could not exchange more than the odd word, for Turkish remains the indigenous language in Tatarli, a living legacy of the Ottoman Empire.

There is no escape from the mountains in Doiran. They ring every horizon, and hedge you in like a great jagged wall. Nearby is the literal highpoint of this pilgrimage, the Grand Couronne with the Devil’s Eye at its summit. In 2007, the return journey took 14 hours of struggle and toil. Teaming-up with local guides Geli and Binko (the latter bearing a billhook) we traversed ravines, and hacked, scrambled and hauled ourselves up the tree and boulder-clad slopes. It was a fight in itself, and finally we entered the Devil’s Eye, the mountaintop pillbox that lies at the very summit. Bats hold it now, and don’t like intruders any more than the original Bulgarian occupants did. Take care inside, for treading on 90 years worth of bat droppings caused a landslide which nearly launched me toward a six-foot drop into the darkest recesses of this deserted fortress. I like to think Gramps was smiling at us as we rested on the summit, temporary masters of the lake and valleys below.

Once the Devil’s Eye was attained in 1918, the endgame was played out. The Bulgarians were in retreat this time, and so, in a sense, was Gramps. He would not be following them to Sofia, for in November 1918, Gramps was granted leave after three years unbroken service in Salonika, interrupted only by hospitalisation with the almost obligatory malaria. Another morsel I recall was him saying he had travelled the length of Italy during the war. Leaving 660 Company ASC Heavy Repair Workshops in Kalamaria (he had transferred to the Army Service Corps in 1917) his journey home involved boarding a train to Bralo, to await transport by lorry to Itea, then board ship to cross the Ionian Sea to Taranto, followed by several days train journey through the length of Italy, and across France to Boulougne. Having crossed the Channel he now had only two more rail journeys to bring him home to Wolverton. Jet transport is swift, but not travel in its purest sense – but no complaints, for at last I had ventured in Gramps’ footsteps across the ancient land of Macedonia.

Katharine Wills

* One theatre is noted as the Cole’s / Coles Cop Coliseum, though this could be alternative name for the Kopriva Palace Theatre.

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Martina

Hello Kate,

Thanks for sharing your wonderful, evocative paper - I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I live in Australia but visit England for research, conferences & to see family quite regularly, so hope one day to venture to Salonika when time permits. I'm also writing a book, twentieth century pantomime in Australia, but it's taken a back seat of late as I'm co-editing a book, reviewing another & writing journal articles in addition to my university work as a theatre historian. Still, we are never bored! Your note about Cole's Kop Coliseum is interesting. I have a copy of a Cole's Kop Coliseum programme 1918 from IWM & at the moment I'm treating it as distinct from the Kopriva Palace Theatre since the 85th FA at least still referred to their theatre as KPT and Kopriva Palace Theatre in their post-war programmes for annual London productions. So the title Kopriva Palace Theatre persisted. I suppose it's possible that another company used the same theatre & gave it a different name but I'd have thought that would be confusing for potential audiences. It's a mystery but I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who has more information about Cole's Kop Coliseum & I'll keep digging & let you know if I find anything. How amazing that you managed to solve the enigma of Theatre Field!!!

Thanks again for your terrific article, which I'm now going to read again...

All the best,

Martina

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Gardenerbill

Martina,

Do you hve a copy of Wakefield and Moody's excellent book 'Under the Devils Eye'?

I am part way through rereading it and there are a couple of (fully referenced) pages on theatre productions (page 156).

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Martina

Hello Mark,

Yes, I do have a copy & it's excellent. Thanks for reminding me about its references to theatre entertainment & links to original sources - I'll check these out.

Cheers,

Martina

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Martina

I've just come across a reference to "a group of Pierrots who have called themselves The Royal Fusees at the Matchbox Theatre somewhere in Macedonia. The theatre was once a stable, the stage is lined with yellow drapery adorned with huge black grenades and fuses. The troupe, which has been organised by Lieut. S. Hillyard, is said to include some members who were in peace times on stage. They wear black costumes with yellow rosettes."

I welcome any information you may have about this Pierrot troupe, the theatre and Lieut. S. Hillyard. I'm also curious to know if there is any significance to the black- yellow colour scheme.

Cheers,

Martina

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Gardenerbill

Not a lot of help, but Royal Fusees is probably the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (31st Brigade 10th Irish Division), Struma front again which appears to be a hot bed of theatrical activity. Also, oddly, I can't find a medal card for a Lieutenant S. Hillyard!

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Kate Wills

Martina, I imagine your source is the syndicated press release dated 10th February 1916 from PA.

I don't know of any particular significance to the yellow and black colour scheme (perhaps materials in those colours were most readily available or affordable), but the troupe was formed from the 8th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers of 26th Division. The officer was West-End actor Lt Stafford Hilliard (who had patented a folding wardrobe!). Post war he developed a film career, and died in February 1941.

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Martina

Thanks Mark & Kate! This morning we've been to the Anzac service at Gallipoli Barracks, Brisbane where our daughter's fiancé is based - all very moving beneath the Southern Cross. On arrival everyone is offered coffee laced with rum! My source is The War Budget 9 March 1916. I couldn't find a medal card record for Lt. S. Hillyard either but I was searching 'Hillyard' as spelt in the article, so will try again using 'Hilliard' if you think there was a journalist's error with the spelling of his name. As always, you have been a marvellous help & I much appreciate your generosity & kindness. Cheers, Martina

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Martina

Hello Kate,

Thought you might like to know that Lt. Stafford Cockburn Hilliard toured to Australia & New Zealand with Fay Compton's company in 1937-38 for J. C. Williamson Ltd. He wasn't the leading man but he did get good reviews & he appeared with his wife Ann Codrington. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

Cheers,

Martina

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acreusch

Hi, I am wanting to find out about Arthur Charles Rensch who was in the 7th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinhamshire Light Infantry in WWI. I know that he died in 1916 and is on the Doiran memorial, Greece (info from CWGC).

 

Firstly, does anyone already have the war diaries from the National Archives they could share before I get those ?

 

Also, does anyone already have any information about him/what his battalian did or know where I can find some ?

 

Thanks ! from his GGGniece

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Gardenerbill
17 hours ago, acreusch said:

Hi, I am wanting to find out about Arthur Charles Rensch who was in the 7th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinhamshire Light Infantry in WWI. I know that he died in 1916 and is on the Doiran memorial, Greece (info from CWGC).

 

Firstly, does anyone already have the war diaries from the National Archives they could share before I get those ?

 

Also, does anyone already have any information about him/what his battalian did or know where I can find some ?

 

Thanks ! from his GGGniece

 

Hi Acrensch,

Welcome to the forum, I think your best option would be to start a new topic, I think you have added your reply to the wrong topic by mistake.

Once you have started a new topic, I think you will get some responses. For example the 7th Ox and Bucks Light Infantry attacked Horseshoe Hill near the town of Doiran exactly 100 years ago today.

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James A Pratt III

Martina

The book "The Gardeners of Salonika" I believe has some information on entertainment

 

Military Operations  volumes I believe mentions entertainment too

 

This included horse jumping shows, football and one unit had a pack of hounds and put on hunts. One day I believe the dogs ran into Bulgarian lines and the Bulgarians returned them.

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Gardenerbill

@Martina and @Kate Wills,

The September 1928 edition of The Mosquito (available on DVD from the SCS) has a reprint of a programme for the 26th Division pantomime at the Gaiety Theater Kalinova.

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