View from the Krusha Balkan Hills and across Lake Doiran to the hills and ridges over which the British Salonika Force fought its two major battles of the Salonika Campaign. The painting illustrates the nature of terrain on the Doiran Front, with its jumble of hills, ridges and ravines backed by open plains. Wood also captures the beauty of the springtime Macedonian landscape, something that contrasted sharply with the trench warfare being fought at Doiran.
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By 1917 a multi-national Allied force under French General Sarrail numbering 500,000 troops faced the Bulgarian Army and German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish units, totalling 300,000 men. The front line stretched from Albania to the mouth of the River Struma in Greece. By March 1917 the British Salonika Force (BSF) under General Milne held 90 miles (144 km) of front, including the key strategic position at Doiran.
Sarrail launched an offensive in April 1917, with French, Italian, Russian and Serbian troops. In support, the BSF attempted to capture Bulgarian positions around Doiran. When this offensive failed, static trench warfare continued until autumn 1918. Living conditions for soldiers on both sides were harsh; winter and summer brought extremes of climate, and disease, especially malaria, caused many more casualties than fighting.
On 15 September 1918, Allied forces, directed by French General d’Esperey, went onto the offensive. The BSF attacked at Doiran, helping French and Serbian troops to break the Bulgarian defences. Unable to stop this advance, the Bulgarian Army was forced into full retreat. On 29 September, Bulgaria signed an armistice and fighting ceased the following day.
Mosquito net for wearing over the head. This type of net was part of a range of anti-mosquito clothing issued to British troops on night duty during summer months in the Balkans – when malaria-carrying mosquitoes were at their most active. The net was worn over a helmet, with the lower end tucked into a soldier’s tunic.
Men of the 5th Battalion, Connaught Rangers taking their daily dose of quinine, July 1916. Quinine was issued to troops during summer months, when risks of contracting malaria were greatest. In total, the British Salonika Force suffered 481,262 non-battle casualties, a rate 20 times higher than casualties from fighting. Of that total, 162,517 were due to malaria. Worst affected were men of XVI Corps serving in the Struma Valley.
Major Christopher Hughes, a Marlborough College art master, served as a company commander with the 7th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment in Macedonia. By the time of the Second Battle of Doiran (18–19 September 1918), he was serving on the staff of 77th Brigade. Here Major Hughes describes the surprise felt by British troops on 21 September upon discovering that the Bulgarians had abandoned their strong defences at Doiran after fighting the British to a standstill just two days earlier.