Grecian Gropes And Macedonian Meanders-Part 3

The native staff on our tour bus were an interesting mix.  One Greek with a Macedonian mother and two pure bred Macedonians.  The Greeks look down on the Macedonians as being people without a country, virtual refugees and it is the Greek veto stopping Macedonia getting in Europe.  The Macedonians, a proud people consider the Greeks to be lazy bastards and they want the Macedonian part of Northern Greece back.  The three spoke to each other in English because neither had bothered to learn their neighbour’s language.

Dragee our driver is typical of his race, historically certain where the correct boundaries of Macedonia should be.  He tells me present Macedonia  is a country of two million people, 80% Macedonian, 18% Albanian, 1% Serb and 1% Turk.  He firmly believes Macedonia should be given its southern lands back in Northern Greece and wants to join the European Union which task is being balked by Greece and asks the question why they with their reputation should rule the roost.  Dragee was taught English at school but had no interest, married with two kids, he has worked in Finland and Sweden, can speak both Scandanavian languages, he relearnt English from the internet and watching films on television and can now read , write and speak tolerably well, but has only very basic idea of the Greek language.  Romeo the other Macedonian is a very hard working policeman trying to set up his military history tourist business in his spare time and at the same time taking an external Masters Degree in Security.  He is a very useful man to have around in two countries that abound with police and border guards.  His smile, chat and shake of hands have got us past some very surly individuals.

He has a very interesting take on the so called recent refugee problem in that part of the world.  He blames the media for exaggeration as to numbers of those coming through Macedonia, which is a crossroads for these people making their way to western Europe.  He says those coming in to Macedonia are actually quite rich people, students in the main making their way to European Universities who have offered them a place to continue their studies if they can get there.  Travel permits in and out of Syria, Lebanon and Turkey are blocked, so the illegal refugee route, expensive as it is, is the only route available.  The Macedonian authorities make them pay the full fare on the trains taking them north into Serbia and he has seen nobody who could not afford them.  Both Dragee and Romeo have little time for the present system of allowing people to pass over borders with no papers.  After all they say we cannot travel out of Macedonia without passports and visas.  The third man in our team is Apostolos and I have said enough about him and will not embellish.  Too loud, too many strange words and just too much, to entertain.

After a trip round northern Salonika, south of Doiran, looking at still intact military installations, it was back to Thessaloniki.  But first a stop at Lembet Road Military Cemetery, probably the largest cemetery in the area containing the graves of British, French, Serbian, Italian and Russian soldiers along with 15 Connaught Rangers who died of wounds received or illness in late 1915 to late 1916.  I list them all here in memory of these brave men:-

1. 3/4077 Private Stephen Connell who had come out in a draft from Cork only a few weeks previously, did not fire a shot in anger, contracted dysentry and was put on a hospital ship HS Grantully Castle for shipping to Alexandria but he died before it sailed on 27th October 1915.  The Grantully Castle was a liner of the Union Castle line built in 1910 by Barclay, Curle and Co at Glasgow.  She had a displacement of 7612 tonnes and had a speed of 13 knots.  She took the first of the troops to Lemnos in early 1915 and converted to a hospital ship of 552 beds at Malta in late 1915.  She reverted to her civilian role on 11th March 1919 and served her company for another 20 years before being broken up in 1939.

2. 4414 Lance Corporal Martin McGinn, who was a Gallipoli veteran and wounded at Kosturino on 7th December and died in hospital here at Lembet Road on 10th December 1915.  Martin was a native of Westport in Mayo but had emigrated to Leeds in Yorkshire where he was working when he enlisted.

3. 5614 Private Patrick McDonagh who died of wounds received at Kosturino on 10th December 1915.  Patrick was a native of Galway Town but lived at Lettermore in Connemara.  He had come out in a draft in early October 1915.

4. 668 Sergeant Michael Rafter aged 28, another Gallipoli veteran who died of wounds received at Kosturino on 12th December 1915.  Michael was from Ballina in Mayo who had enlisted at Hamilton in Scotland where he was working.  He was the son of John and Catherine Rafter of Ardnaree in Ballina, a district of the town famed for its recruitment.

5. 6442 Corporal John Whalen who died of illness on 14th December 1915 aged 32.  John was a native of Dublin where he enlisted and had come out in a draft in early October.  He was the son of Frank and Mary Whalen of Dublin and was married to Mary Whalen of 102 Lower Clonbrassil Street in Dublin.

6. 5684 Private William Griffin who died of illness on 18th December 1915.  He had come out in a draft to Lemnos and had joined the Battalion after they returned from Gallipoli.  William was a Galway man from Barna but who lived and worked in Blackrock in Dublin

7. 8331 Private Michael Conway who died of wounds received at Kosturino on 27th December 1915.  Michael was from New Village in Galway but had enlisted in Newcastle.  He lived at Hebburn on Tyne where he worked in the shipyards.  He had come out in a draft from Ireland and joined the Battalion in October 1915.

8. 787  Sergeant Francis William Corry aged 30, who died of heat exhaustion on a route march to Cuvezne in the Struma Valley on a very hot day on 5th June 1916.  He was a Gallipoli veteran and he was born in Camberwell in London where he enlisted but he lived in East Dulwich.  He was the son of Sergeant F E and Annie Corry of 11 Derwent Grove, East Dulwich, London.  He was buried locally but after the war his body was exhumed and reinterred here at Lembet Road.  He is remembered also on the Dover Memorial, Deal Road, Dover.

9. 2895 Private James Teggart who died of illness on 2nd July 1916 aged 20. James was another Gallipoli veteran who had enlisted in Belfast in December 1914 and came from Loughkeelan,  Co Down and had enlisted in Belfast.  He was the son of Hugh Teggart of Ballyvennaght, Bangor, Co Down and his present day grand nephew, Hugh Teggart, who still lives in Ballyvennaght was highly delighted with the photograph we took of James’s grave.

10. 2878 Private Michael O’Leary who died of illness  on the 5th July 1916.  Michael was also a Gallipoli veteran and came from Ennis, Co Clare.

11. 5332 Private William Wilson who died of illness on 1st August 1916.  He was born, lived and enlisted in Glasgow and he had come in on a draft and joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli.

12. 3040 Private Henry Denton aged 24.  Henry died of illness on 7th September 1916.  He was one of about a dozen Dewsbury, Yorkshire men to join the Connaught Rovers who enlisted  in late 1914.  He was a Gallipoli veteran and the son of Alice Bradshaw (nee Denton) of 196 Forest Cottages, Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury.

13. 9908 Private William Burke who died of illness on 18th September 1916.  William was from Headford in Co Galway but he lived and worked in Ballinrobe in Co Mayo.  He was the son of Martin and Margaret Burke of the Cottages, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo and he had joined the Battalion as part of a draft into Salonika in 1915.

14. 5462 Private Thomas Heffron who died of illness on 20th November 1916.  Thomas was born in Glasgow but who lived and enlisted in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.  Thomas had joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli.

15. 5081 Private Michael Farrell died of illness on 31st March 1917 at 42nd General Hospital. He was from Howth in Dublin.  Michael had joined the Battalion in Gallipoli as part of a draft from Lemnos in early September 1915 but  saw little fighting as the 5th Battalion had been pulled out of the firing line as being at less than company strength.

May they all rest in peace.

Grecian Gropes And Macedonian Meanders-Part 2

After two hours of being bored by foreign speeches and absurd ceremony whilst having the cobwebs blown from us and being washed with rain, the party ended, the uniforms were saluted, the Greek Army marched away with their band and we made our way to the bus.  We had a date at the Greek Army Officers Club for lunch in Polycastro and a lovely buffet lunch it was with copious wine to go with it.  I was kitted out in Connaught Ranger blazer and tie trying to eat my salad and cold meats when a French Admiral in his whites and medals galore came over to engage in conversation, not a trace of a French accent but there was a trace of South Dublin.  He had recognised the crest on my blazer, his father he told me had been in the Munster Fusiliers and that he had spent his early life in Dalkey in South Dublin Bay.  He told me that he was Naval Attache to the French Ambassador in Athens and that his name was Colman.  Who said the tradition of the Wild Geese had gone, here was one alive and kicking in front of me.  We chatted for some minutes until a small Greek Army officer came up and he morphed into French with ease.  A nice chap and a pleasure to talk to.

After lunch and it was back on the bus and we headed for the Doiran Memorial, just on the Greek side of the Macedonian border. overlooking Lake Doiran and most of the adjacent countryside.  A most imposing setting where the Commonwealth War Graves Committee were holding a centenary commemoration.  It was a Menin Gate type of memorial listing the names of the dead who fought at Kosturino in early December 1915 who had no known grave.  It was clear looking at the list that the Connaught Rangers with 110 names had taken the biggest beating of all the regiments there.  The poor 5th Battalion  having been reduced to 135 officers and men coming off Gallipoli from the 800 who had landed 55 days previously and having been rebuilt to a strength of 1000 officers and men were again laid flat with a 50% casualty rate.  No wonder Acting Lieutenant Colonel Henry Jourdain had a breakdown shortly after Christmas and had to be shipped home to England.

After a quick visit to the Greek Cemetery, we stopped at Doiran Military Cemetery at the bottom of the hill where only one Connaught Ranger was buried, 5375 James Smith from Bellshill in Glasgow was buried.  He had been captured by the Bulgarians at Kosturino on 7th December 1915, had taken ill whilst a POW and had been repatriated but had died of pneumonia on 10th October 1918 nearly a year after the 5th Battalion had left these shores for Palestine.  In fact they were at that time taking another beating at Cambrai in France during the latter days of the war.

Our last stop on a busy day was a visit to the Indian Cemetery on the Monastir Road out of Thessaloniki.  An interesting place where Buddhists and Sikhs are commemorated along with Muslim soldiers.  They were all part of the Indian Army of that time.  The Muslims all died at the end of the war1918-1920 of flu or dysentry and were buried here in this little cemetery.  The names of the Sikh and Buddhist dead are commemorated on monuments.  These men died and according to the Indian lady from the British Museum were accorded full religious rites on the battlefield where their dead were burnt on funeral pyres in the field, each Battalion being given a ton of wood and 30 gallon of parrafin for each corpse to ensure full incineration.

Apostolos continued to plague me with his high volume non-perfect English and he was threatening to take us to his son’s restaurant that evening.  I vowed to act alone so I sloped off early before the crowd had gathered and ate alone and with regret as it happened.  My choice of restaurant was not good and I was charged €35  whereas the son’s restaurant was excellent and was in with the cost of the trip but at least I was remote from the dreaded Greek.

After two days in Thessaloniki my first impressions of the town and country are strangely positive.  A great cafe/entertainment area down by the sea front, fine restaurants, great bars, crowds of people, although the end of September is a little out of season.  Lots of expensive shops on the main thoroughfares although few customers.  However as you tramp uphill from the waterside area, poverty overwhelms, closed down businesses, poor roafds, discarded rubbish all over the place.  The new Greece is obvious, a city of one million people soon becomes a city of 950,000 living on the breadline.  New cars are few and far between, old bangers in abundance.  On top of all of that is a city that is still trying to find its identity.  It has been Greek, Macedonian, Roman, Turkish and has reverted to Greece but with remnants of its mongrel past all around.  Although there is no racial violence, there is no trust between factions.  In the country poverty is all to evident, lots of nothing more than shacks in agricultural areas, very, very few fancy houses.  Compared to Ireland, which is also on the lower end of the European economic slopes, Greece is many years down the hill.

Agriculture although abundant and necessary looks as though it does not pay.  However the food on display looks a lot healthier, mounds and mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit available everywhere and unbelievably cheap.  Supermarkets are few and far between with the French chain Carrefour and the Gertman Lidl to the fore.  Booze the same price as Ireland, food 75% less, Diesel is €1.17 per litre, petrol €1.47 but wages at best are 50% below Ireland’s.  I doubt for the normal 5/8th that Greece is the place to be at the moment.  Empty half built structures litter the countryside and not half built last week but ten or twelve years in the past.  The economic downturn happened a long time ago.

Day 3 starts with a visit to Mikra Cemetery where two Connaught Rangers lie.  John Holland Fairchild 20367 who was really a Devon Yeomanry man but was attached to the Connaught Rangers and was left behind by them when they exited for Palestine in late 1917.  He died of dysentry on 1st March 1918.  Also there was the grave of Michael Short 10603,  Michael was from Enniskerry in Co Wicklow, a pre-war soldier who had obviously served through the Gallipoli Campaign.  After Kosturino the 5th Battalion were sent to a quiet place, Rendina on the other side of the peninsula.  Whilst unloading stores at the shoreline Michael shot himself, he died three days later in hospital on 30th December 1915, obviously the trauma of battle must have not only affected his mind but also his aim.  After the war his grave at Rendina was exhumed and Michael was re-interred at Mikra Cemetery in Thessaloniki.

Grecian Gropes and Macedonian Meanders- Part 1

It was the 25th September 2015 and I was on another trip following in the footsteps again of the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers.  Fresh from their annihilation in Gallipoli in August 1915, they were sent to Lemnos, a Greek island in the Aegean, built up to full strength with willing enlistees and sent into another campaign in October 1915.  This was to Salonika where the British Army half-heartedly committed 228,000 soldiers in a quintuple alliance with France, Serbia, Greece and Russia who all contributed to a greater or lesser extent in keeping the Bulgarians from overrunning Serbia.

Bulgaria decided to throw their lot in with the Central Powers of Germany and Austro/Hungary on 14th October 1915 and the British Army prematurely placed XII Corps of the 10th Irish Division, 22nd Division and 26th Division and XIV Corps of the 27th, 28th and 60th Division at the disposal of the alliance.  The 10th Irish were there first arriving after some delay on 10th October 2015 and disembarked from the aptly named SS Aeneas in the port of Thessalonika in Northern Greece.  It was a war far removed from the idea that the Irish soldier had for enlisting in September and October of 1914.  Home Rule and poor little Catholic Belgium were a million miles from the mountains of Northern Greece and Southern Serbia, but here they were and determined to help their good old friend Serbia in their hour of need.

I set out from Boyle in the late morning bound for Dublin and having one stop to make en route to pick up my travelling companion Mr OF in a remote part of South Leitrim.  We had been invited by the Salonika Association to accompany them on this arduous pilgrimage in the southern Balkans.  Our first stop was Dublin Airport for a late flight to Gatwick Airport entailing an overnight stop in a very functional hotel, The Bloc.  The Bloc was situated in the South Terminal metres away from security and passport control.  Our rooms were tiny but with an excellent wet-room and a comfortable bed.

Up early, through security and on the plane for the 5.55am flight to Thessaloniki, to give it its native spelling.  Gatwick was heaving with people at that early hour and we were glad of the ease with which we were processed and deposited just prior to noon local time in Greece’s second city, the home of a million people consisting of Greeks, Turks, Macedonians and a mish-mash of Serbs, Bulgars and Romanians.

Flying into Thessaloniki from the north west over fields set out in geometrical patterns as though designed by a teacher of mathematics than a farmer; we approached over water until the water stopped and the tarmac began.  We arrived in blazing sunshine of about 30C after seeing nothing but cloud on our flight across Europe.  As we settled into our hotel we were bombarded by rain, the streets of Thessaloniki were running with water.  The rain was incessant and stopped our exploration of this city, although we did try and got soaked for our troubles whilst looking for a friendly bar.

We eventually washed up in the Dubliner, surprise, surprise, owned by a Mayo man from Ballinrobe.  The rain continued, Manchester United beat Sunderland 3-0 on the television and went top of the Premier League.  South Africa overcame Samoa and we were almost overcome with local ale as we waited for our local guide, as it turned out, a garrulous Greek by the name of Apostolos, who was to take us to his cousin’s restaurant.  He arrived and after a walk of about two miles we arrived at this second rate cafe specialising in basic, cheap Indonesian cuisine.  The food was eatable but Apostolos’s presence unbearable and by luck he sat next to me.  Words poured out of his mouth in no particular order.  I ate my main course and made a bolt for the door, two others followed.  It wasn’t just the car crash of words it was the volume I hated .  He was talking at least 100 decibels louder than our combined tones.

We three jumped in a taxi and decamped to the hotel bar, where the drinking of a couple of glasses of wine caused the hotel to run out of stock.  We retired to our various rooms and to sleep.  Day 1 was a long but not a good day.

Day 2 started with a telephone call to wife of many years who has not been in the best of health but had agreed to look after herself although hardly able whilst I skimmed off on this trip.  It was reminiscent of Davy Bowie at the Alamo in the film Davy Crockett, wounded, he told everybody to vamoose whilst he held the marauding Mexicans at bay with his trusty knife.  As I have found out since their were more Irish in the marauders than Mexicans and I knew she could withstand them easily.  However it was heartening to hear that Daughter No 3 fresh from second child and trip to Marakech was flying over from Manchester to administer to her in my absence.

Our party of 12 0r 13 were a decent bunch of good natured English people with myself, OF and a father and two sons from Wicklow Town.  There was an entertaining and incisive lady from Morpeth, born a Scot but with travels in Sheffield, who called a spade a shovel and had a few few exciting adjectives to go with her choice of nouns.  There was a quiet 60 odd year old widower from Lichfield but who had come from Cambridge originally, a very friendly couple of bell ringers from Warwickshire, the wife especially the most positive person I have ever met.  A man, his wife and son from Strensham in Worcester who I gelled with because of our common interest in cricket and a man from Manchester Airport who I never spoke to and who left us after a couple of days.  The staff of the expedition  were our tour manager AC of Barnet association, an Indian girl from the British Museum, a girl from Bucharest who seemed only remotely interested in proceedings, our Greek, Apostolos and his Macedonian counterpart, Romeo and our driver Dragee, another Macedonian completed the party.

The night between Day 1 and Day 2 had been arduous, the AC device in the room did not work properly, the mosquitoes were in abundance and I was bitten in several places, even though anti-insect juice had been applied liberally.  The breakfast was about as bad as it could be and I was glad to get into our air-conditioned Macedonian Mercedes coach for the trip up to Polycastro for a very important ceremony at the five nations monument representing the five nations that formed the alliance in this campaign against the encroaching Bulgarians.

There was lots of speeches, lots of wreaths and lots of people.  An almost no-show by the Russian youth who led his delegation of two and did not speak, enlightened the proceedings a little.  The whole show went on at the top of a hill in driving winds and pouring rain.  Two Greek soldiers had been detailed to stand either side of the monument dressed in traditional military dress of black pumps, white tights, white tutu, a fancy waistcoat and shirt and a beret with a long black tassel that came down to the waist.  These two soldiers had to remain still throughout the proceedings whilst the wind blew their black tassels around their heads and up their noses and a young lieutenant in modern uniform had to keep climbing the steps to rearrange the tassels in correct order every few minutes.  Our leader AC gave a speech in English depicting the work of the British Army, the other three nations did the same and laid wreaths galore.  The Russian youth laid a wreath.  It was about the same involvement as the Russian Army had in this campaign 100 years ago.

St Bede’s College In Manchester And All That.

I have just returned from Macedonia and I am in the process of producing a blog or two about my trip but in the meantime just one or two thoughts on my old Alma Mater and the diocese that runs the establishment.

In my inbox as I returned was an e-mail from a trusted reporter of fact which I just thought I would pass on to you.  In doing so I am reminded of the fact that I said that I would not draw the new head of St Bede’s College in Manchester through the mud until he had chance to prove himself.  After all Brendan Rogers was given over three years at Liverpool before it was decided by the powers that he no longer was doing the job that they were expecting of him.

The new head at Bede’s only started in January 2015 after a cocked up process, I suppose caused by old Opus Dei Kearney throwing his dummy out of the pram in early 2014.  So I suppose he cannot have 100% of the blame thrown on to his muscular shoulders for the abysmal performance at A Level of the 2nd year sixth at this year’s external examinations.

Last year 2014 had the stamp of Kearney all over it, when according to the Daily Telegraph,  St Bede’s College in Manchester came 185 out of 320 private schools in England.  This year unfortunately they came 285 out of 320, only Bury Grammar School, that well known academy for turning silk purses into sow’s ears, did worse in the north west.

Now to drop 100 places in just over three hundred in one year, smacks of more than Kearney’s influence and perhaps Mr New Head should put his hand up and take some of the blame.  After all I think Mr Daniel Kearney has been treated abysmally by his friends and supporters and I would not like to see him suffer any more in his dotage.

We will not say anything more about these terrible results but I hope Mr New Head realises we are watching his every move.  Let us face it, it is not that difficult to improve from 285 out of 320.

Another thing that came to my attention and has more to do with the Salford Diocese than St Bede’s College in Manchester although the passing on of bodily fluids did actually take place within the portals of this hallowed institute.  Sometime in 2013 three boys from the 1957 intake having obviously read of our campaign against child sexual abuse at St Bede’s decided to fight their own corner and instead of coming to us, they went to that well known purveyor of slack justice in the North of England, Panone’s in Deansgate which had recently morphed into Slater Walker, the international firm of lawyers more intent at sliding victims through a process than fighting their client’s corner.  Slater and Gordon’s man on the pitch is no other than Richard Scorer, the expert in sexual abuse or so his book goes.  Scorer loves fast tracking victims he is not there at all for the long road, he has too many idiot clients. He went forward with two out of the three and within months it was all over.  In and out and collect me money is Richard’s philosophy.

Now I have witness statements from these two lads given to me by my friends at Slater Walker albeit some time after the event and let me tell you they suffered some awful abuse from the groinal digit of Monsignor Thomas Duggan’s holy frame, over a lengthy period of time.  To actually write out these statements must have put them through a trauma they would have liked not to have suffered.  Two intelligent lads destined to go down hill from the age of 14.  They have suffered terrible lives and they are now 72 years old and in need of financial and psychiatric help.

Witness statements taken in late December 2013, the court date fixed for the Manchester Court in early April in 2014, I had booked my flight and intended to be there for the whole hearing. Then Bingo!, the case was off, the two lads had agreed to settle out of court, my journey wasted.  It seems the Holy and Venerable Catholic Diocese of Salford had offered the two, £5,000 apiece for Duggan’s phallic insertions.  Scorer or a minion presented this magnanimous offer to the lads telling them that was the best they would get under the circumstances and that they should accept the offer immediately.  The two men under tremendous pressure accepted, the Diocese paid the £10,ooo into court and some weeks later the kindly Slater and Gordon after taking their cut presented the two men with £300 pounds apiece.

Not a word in the newspapers, these private settlements are never reported, the Salford Diocese came away with not a smear, not a seminal smear on their good name.  They ought to be ashamed of themselves.  If that is love and goodness in a holy church give me hell any day.

Meanwhile on the first floor of I think they call the Gonne building, at St Bede’s College in Manchester on Alexandra Road, at the third door on the left as you walk from the staircase, the servants of the diocese are still trying to chip away the calcified drips of Duggan’s excitement from the cracks in the floorboards of his old study and pretending to the world that nothing happened here.

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