To the Battalion – January 14th, 1918

Monday Jan 14th, 1918

Route march 8:30, warned for going up lines to our Battalion on Wednesday. Bob Prenty leaves me for further training, sorry to lose him – a very good chum, far better than some professed Christians.  Hope he will follow on soon. Warned for Officers Mess.  Glad – will be able to get something to eat.

Mixed blessings

Frank has good and bad news to share today.  On the one hand, he will be joining his Battalion on Wednesday – after travelling thousands of miles over the past six weeks he will, at last, reach journey’s end.  He also heard that he is in the Officers’ Mess tomorrow and is already looking forward to the food. On the other hand, his friend and fellow from Shaw, Bob Prenty, is leaving to go on a  training course.

We haven’t been able to decipher the background to Frank’s comment ‘a very good chum, far better than some professed Christians’.  Bob could be of a different faith, an atheist or an agnostic. His surname doesn’t really provide any clues: while it is uncommon, originated in France and relates to being an apprentice of a Guild, it is recorded as a name in Britain as early as the 13th century.  In peace time, Bob and his siblings worked in the cotton mills and his father worked on the railways.  Bob’s journey through the Manchester’s 13th Battalion to the 9th and then his transfer to the Cheshire’s mirrors Frank’s. While they might be parting today, they are to be posted together until long after the war is over.

Absent without Leave (AWOL)

In today’s Battalion War Diary, one soldier is recorded as AWOL after going on pass into Salonica.  This is interesting because it was very unusual for soldiers to go on leave while serving in Macedonia.  Home leave was virtually out of the question, given the distances involved.  Therefore many Tommies who served in the BSF were away from Blighty and loved ones for the duration of the campaign – which had started in 1915.

Even passes to Salonica town were rare.  As the American war correspondent, G. Ward Price noted, ‘It is the terrible monotony of life on the Macedonian front that is one of its chief hardships. Away up there on stony hillsides, with nothing but the same great tracts of open country before their eyes, the men hanker above everything for a change. They have many of them hardly seen a town since they landed in the Balkans nearly two years ago, nor even a building, except for the mud hovels of a ruined Greek village. The official title “Salonica Army” has led to the notion that our force on the Balkan front spends its time sitting in cafés in Salonica itself. By far the great majority of the men have never seen the place except as they passed through it on their way up-country, a few hours after setting foot on the Quay.’¹

13th (Service) Battalion War Diary – 14th January 1918 – Minden Camp, No.1 Sector

Artillery of both sides fairly active all day. Enemy machine gun fired at Basing Hill in the early morning. A few trench mortar shells fell on B2, B4 & B6. 3 OR struck off from 2-1-18 strength after Medical Inspection at Base. 1 OR who did not rejoin from pass to Salonica is struck off effective strength from 12-1-18. 3 OR struck off effective strength under GRO 1011 (one from 13-1-18 and two from 14-1-18). 6 OR having rejoined are taken on from 12-1-18.

References & further reading

¹ ‘The Story of the Salonica Army – 1915-17‘ by G. Ward Price, written in 1917

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