After leaving Lembet Road Cemetery we returned for our last night in Thessaloniki and enjoyed a fantastic meal of many courses of meze preceded by the traditional glass of Raki. a liqueur taken as an aperitif. I was beginning to like this idea by the time our week’s stay was over, made from grape skins, it contains quite a kick. On our way home eight or nine of us decided that we would stop somewhere for a last drink because it was so warm and that the walk uphill had made us thirsty. We found a Greek hostelry still open. In typical style they served bites to eat with each drink bought, a little like Tapas in Spain. So after four or five rounds we had as much to eat as we had at the restaurant earlier. Day 3 was finally done in the early hours of Day 4.
After a fretful sleep in a bare room with intermittent Air Conditioning I awoke and was glad to be out of Thessaloniki. There must be better hotels in the town but not many as bad as Hotel Pella. We were heading north west to the Struma Valley where the Rangers were stationed in late 1916 to early 1917. Another border area with Bulgaria when the Allies decided to widen their front. We are dropped off on a minor road in the middle of the country and Romeo leads us along a footpath lined with fig trees between fields of ripe sunflowers just ready for harvest. About a mile down this path we arrive at Struma Military Cemetery which must be the most isolated spot of any of the graveyards I have visited but at the time probably a very busy spot. It was known previously as Kilo 71 Military Cemetery which meant it was on the 71 kilometre post from Thessaloniki, but there was no main road round here that we could see. There are 11 Connaught Rangers buried here mostly brought in from solitary graves, chuchyards and Field Ambulance sites in the area after the war.
1. 2nd Lt George Francis Macnie aged 23. He had joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli and was made Transport Officer, once in Thessalonika he had been attached to Brigade Transport and then to the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers from whence he returned to Rangers but shortly afterwards was taken ill and died in a local Field Ambulance Hospital on 5th September 1916. He was the son of Mr and Mrs George Macnie of Church Hill House, Kilmainham in Dublin. He is also remembered on the Memorial Window at the Presbyterian Church in Clontarf in Dublin.
2. 7349 Corporal Richard Dobbins from Templeogue in Dublin who was killed in action on 30th September 1916. He enlisted in 1902 in Dublin and saw service in India.
3. 5702 Private James Doohan who was 40 years old. James died of wounds received on a night raid near Demetric on 30th September 1916. By this stage of the war 40 years of age was rather old for enlistment but he had obviously proved his fitness He had been born in Gweedore, Co Donegal and had enlisted in Edinburgh where he worked. He was the son of James and Grace Doohan of Meenacladdy, Letterkenny, Co Donegal. He had joined the Battalion on Lemnos in a draft sent out in late September 1915. Only two weeks prior to this trip his family now living in Ulster had contacted me wanting to know of the last few months of his life. I was happy to provide them with a photograph of his grave and a piece OF gave me of that fateful night raid. James had survived Kosturino and that was a feat in itself.
4. 9857 Bandsman Henry Shea aged 21, died of wounds received on 3rd October 1916. George had attended the Royal Hibernian School in Phoenix Park in Dublin, a school mainly for the orphaned sons of soldiers. He had been born in London and had enlisted in 1909 as a boy soldier straight from school. The bandsmen were the Battalion stretcher bearers. He was the son of Robert William and Catherine Shea of 41 Leman Street, Wandsworth, London. He is also remembered on the Royal Hibernian School Memorial, Phoenix Park, Dublin.
5. 5900 Private William O’Brien was killed in action on 1st February 1917. He was from Wellington Quay on Tyneside and his next of kin was his aunt Sarah Hagan of 37 Headlam Street, Wellington Quay, Tyneside. William had enlisted in early 1915 and joined the Battalion in Thessaloniki in October 1915.
6. 5006 Private Leonard Warner died of illness on 8th March 1917. Leonard had been born in Paddington and had enlisted there. He had joined the Battalion on Gallipoli in early September 1915 in a draft from Lemnos.
7. 6068 Thomas McGeean died of illness on 24th April 1917. Thomas was born in Poplar, London and enlisted at Grays in Essex where he lived. He was formerly No 28778 of the Essex Regiment and had joined the Battalion in a draft to Thessaloniki after Kosturino in December 1915.
8. 6189 Private Neil Francis Sweeney was killed in action on 6th May 1917. Neil Francis was born in Garrison, Co Fermanagh and enlisted at the Curragh in Co Kildare but lived in Kiltyclogher, Co Leitrim. He would have joined the Battalion after Kosturino in December 1915.
9. 5408 Private James Fogarty was killed in action on 21st June 1917. James was born in Liverpool where he enlisted and lived. James had joined the Battalion on Lemnos after they had returned from Gallipoli in October 1915. James, and the following Thomas Hunwick and Joseph McGowan were in a raid on a Bulgarian held village in and were posted missing after the Battalion had retired. It was a few months later in August 1917 when the 5th Battalion took the village were the remains of these three men found, their bodies ravaged by wild life and recognised only by their dog tags. Their remains now lie buried side by side in this very pleasant remote cemetery.
10. 6293 Lance Corporal Thomas Hunwick aged 22 was killed in action on 21st June 1917. Thomas was born in Durham and enlisted in Middlesborough and lived in Marton in Yorkshire. He was the son of Francis and Margaret Hunwick of Marton Hall Buildings, Marton, Yorkshire. He was formerly No 11991 of the Yorkshire Regiment. He would have joined the Battalion after Kosturino in December 1915.
11. 3218 Private Joseph McGowan was killed in action on 21st June 1917. Joseph was born in Boyle, Co Roscommon but enlisted in Oranmore, Co Galway but lived in Boyle. Joseph landed in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and survived that campaign. A month before leaving on this trip a man from Mohill called into King House to see me. He handed me Joseph’s Death Penny the bronze plaque given to the families of all soldiers who died whilst on military service. The man had been walking across the tip and kicked a bag lying on the surface, he realised something was in it and opened it up and in it was this Death Penny. I have it in my hand now as a tear comes to my eye as I relate the story of his death to my wife.
Also at this cemetery I found the grave of Arthur Rox 6/22090 of the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers who was killed in action on 3rd October 1916. Arthur was from Dublin and had enlisted in the Connaught Rangers in late September 1914 and had been put into the 6th Battalion that was training in Fermoy in Cork. However in June 1915 just prior to the 10th Irish Division sailing for Gallipoli it was realised that they had 1200 men who were not at peak fitness. Army Orders instructed the 16th Irish Division of which the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers were part to send their fittest 1200 men to Basingstoke and join the 10th Division and for the 16th Division to accept the 1200 men who were not quite there in terms of fitness. Arthur was one of these fit 1200 and he was attached to the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he went with them to Gallipoli and landed there on 6th August 1915 and fought with them throughout that campaign. I would like to claim him as one of ours because of this connection. His family also contacted me prior to this trip trying to understand why when he enlisted in the Rangers did he die with the Dubs. They were happy to know his story.
We will not forget them.