Armstrong W.

WILLIAM ARMSTRONG (1898-1917)

5767 Private William Armstrong 1st Battalion the Prince of Wales’ Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians) was killed in action 29 May 1917 and is buried at Struma Military Cemetery.  He was 19 years old, the son of William and Mary Agnes Armstrong. [1]

Family Details

William was born c.1898 at Hartley, Westmorland the son of William and Mary Agnes Armstrong.  There were at least 5 children all born in Westmorland:

  • Thomas bc.1895
  • William bc.1897
  • Margaret bc. 1900
  • John bc.1901
  • Mary Agnes bc.1904 [2]

In 1901 the family lived at Hartley, Kirkby Stephen in east Westmorland where 36 year old William worked as a farmer.[3]  By 1911, the family lived at Worsall Grange, Yarm, North Yorkshire where William was employed as “cowman” and 14 year old William was recoded as “milk cart driving”.[4]  Presumably by the outbreak of war, the family members were working in the West Auckland area since William and Mary lived at 136 Front Street, West Auckland.

Military Details

The service record of Private William Armstrong and the war diary of the 1/Leinster Regiment have not been researched.  William Armstrong enlisted at Bishop Auckland, formerly 9319 Training Reserve Battalion.[5] At some time later he was transferred to the Leinster Regiment and was allocated the regimental number 5767.[6]

The 1st Battalion, the Leinster Regiment was stationed in India at the outbreak of war and returned to the UK in November 1914.  It came under the orders of the 82nd Brigade, 27th Division and landed at Le Havre 20 December 1914 moving to Salonika, Greece 12 December 1915.  In November 1916 it was transferred to the 29th Brigade in the 10th (Irish) Division.[7]  At this time the 29th Brigade comprised the following units:[8]

  • 6th, Royal Irish Rifles
  • 5th, Connaught Rangers
  • 6th, Leinster Regiment
  • 1st, Leinster Regiment joined November 1916
  • 29th Machine Gun Company formed May 1916
  • 29th Trench Mortar Battery joined October 1916

Private W. Armstrong did not enter a theatre abroad until after 1 January 1916.[9]  He possibly entered Salonika with his battalion in November 1916.

The Salonika Campaign [10]

In October 1915 a combined Franco-British force of some two large brigades was landed at Salonika (today called Thessalonika) at the request of the Greek Prime Minister. The objective was to help the Serbs in their fight against Bulgarian aggression. But the expedition arrived too late, the Serbs having been beaten before they landed. It was decided to keep the force in place for future operations, even against Greek opposition. The Greek Chief of the General Staff in Athens had told them:

“You will be driven into the sea and you will not have time even to cry for mercy.”

Some Greek factions, including King Constantine, were pro-German. The outcome of the Gallipoli campaign was in the balance and most shipping in the area was involved so they really had no choice. In December 1915 the British element fought a battle at Kosturino, north of Lake Doiran, after withdrawing from Serbia. After this there was little action except for occasional air-raids on Salonika.

1916

  •  The Occupation of Mazirko (2 October)
  • The Capture of Karajakois ( 30 September – 2 October)
  • The Capture of Yenikoi (3-4 October)
  • The Battle of Tumbitza Farm (17 November – 7 December)

During the first four months of 1916 the British Salonika Force had enough spadework to last it for the rest of its life. Large amounts of barbed wire were used and a bastion about eight miles north of the city was created connecting with the Vardar marshes to the west, and the lake defences of Langaza and Beshik to the east, and so to the Gulf of Orfano and the Aegean Sea. This area was known as the ‘Birdcage’ on account of the quantity of wire used. The Bulgarians and Austrians also fortified the heights of the hills surrounding Salonika during the same time which had dire consequences later on. The original two Brigades eventually were reinforced by larger units until 22nd, 26th, 27th and 28th Divisions were there. If the Bulgarians had descended from their Doiran and Struma heights it would have been very difficult to “push us into the sea”, for the force was deployed to fortify an advanced defensive line.
The Salonika Force dug-in until the summer of 1916, by which time the international force had been reinforced and joined by Serbian, Russian and Italian units. The Bulgarian attempt at invasion of Greece in July was repulsed near Lake Doiran. At the beginning of October 1916, the British in co-operation with her allies on other parts of the front, began operations on the River Struma towards Serres. The campaign was successful with the capture of the Rupell Pass and advances to within a few miles of Serres.

1917

  •  The First Battle of Doiran (22 April – 8 May)
  • The Capture of Ferdie and Essex Trenches (near Bairakli Jum’a) (15 May)
  • The Capture of Bairakli and Kumli (16 May)
  • The Capture of Homonodos (14 October)

During 1917 there was comparatively little activity on the British part of the front in Macedonia, due in part to complex political changes in Greece throughout the year. The main fighting took place around Lake Doiran, where the line was adjusted several times by each side early in the year. In April 1917, the British attacked, gained a considerable amount of ground and resisted strong counter-attacks. In May, the Bulgarians attacked the British positions, but were firmly repulsed. The British action in May triggered a series of attacks elsewhere on the front by the other Allies, known as the Battle of Vardar.

Private W. Armstrong may have served in Salonika from November 1916 until his death in May 1917.  In which case it is possible that he saw action at:

  • The Battle of Tumbitza Farm (17 November – 7 December 1916
  • The First Battle of Doiran (22 April – 8 May)
  • The Capture of Ferdie and Essex Trenches, near Bairakli Jum’a (15 May)
  • The Capture of Bairakli and Kumli (16 May)

But, between 1 November 1916 and 1 October 1917, there were 2 officers and 13 other ranks serving with 1/Leinsters who died which does not suggest heavy involvement with fighting.  There were 5 deaths in May 1917, the month in which Private W. Armstrong was killed which was the highest number over the period researched. [11]  The circumstances of Private W. Armstrong’s death remain unknown.  SDGW records that he was killed in action.[12] It is possible that he was caught in a skirmish with the enemy or was subject to sniper activity.

Private W. Armstrong was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[13]

Burial

Private W. Armstrong is buried at grave reference VII.D.2 Struma Military Cemetery, Salonika, Greece.  In the autumn of 1916, the 40th Casualty Clearing Station was established and the cemetery followed.  Graves were brought in from the battlefields, from churchyards at Homondos, Haznatar and Kalendra and from small front line cemeteries established by Field Ambulances.  There are 947 Commonwealth burials from WW1. [14]

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1901 & 1911 census

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] Soldiers Died in the Great War: T.R. – Training Reserve Battalion

[6] SDGW; CWGC & Medal Roll

[7] http://www.1914-1918.net/leinster.htm

[8] http://www.1914-1918.net/10div.htm

[9] Medal Roll

[10] http://www.1914-1918.net/salonika.htm

[11] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[12] SDGW

[13] Medal Roll

[14] CWGC

Photographs:

Thanks to Martin Gibson, Alan Wakefield and members of the Salonika Campaign Society and Minas and his daughter for taking the time and trouble to photograph William Armstrong’s grave.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAM STRUMA CEMETERY

ARMSTRONG WILLIAM
STRUMA MILITARY CEMETERY

ARMSTRONG WILLIAM GRAVE

ARMSTRONG WILLIAM
GRAVE

ARMSTRONG W. Medal Roll

ARMSTRONG W.
Medal Roll

One thought on “Armstrong W.

  1. Pingback: WEST AUCKLAND | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s