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.