9th (Service) Battalion Border Regiment (Pioneers)
The 9th (Service) Battalion Border Regiment, the Pioneer Battalion of the Regiment, spent the duration of the Great War in preparing the way for others and making good the roads, bridges, trenches and strong points that were used during the fighting that took place in and around the area of Salonika, Greece. Their story is unique in as much as they spent little time in actual battle yet their skills as a Pioneer Battalion were put to use time and time again to a successful conclusion and, like their counterparts serving in the Western Front, were highly praised for their efforts on many different occasions.
The Western Front (1915)
Their journey started in the latter half of 1915 when, at a strength of 30 officers and 935 other ranks, they disembarked at Havre on the 4 September, making an early start to Amiens by train. Sometime during the evening they were ordered to detrain at Longueru and march from there to Flesselles, which at that point was the location of 22nd Division headquarters. There they stayed for a few days awaiting new orders before moving on to their next calling. However, whilst there conflicting orders were received and rumours were making the rounds as to probable moves. It wasn’t until the 11th September that they were in fact issued with orders to march to La Neuville where they were intended for attachment to the 18th Division for the sole purpose of Pioneer duties of every sort. Before the end of the month the 9th Battalion had moved several times via Herleville and Bayonvillers, working on orders given and sustaining their first casualties; one other rank wounded, 2nd Lieutenant A.F. Sandeman slightly wounded and 2nd Lieutenant Ogilvie was killed accidentally by rifle discharge.
The events the 9th Battalion were involved in kept them in the general area for a few weeks longer continuing their duties but it was somehow becoming clearer that these events were slowly shaping them up for involvement of a new distant theatre of war. As Col. Wylly states:
- “The isolation of Serbia and Montenegro, and the attitude of Bulgaria and Greece had caused the Allied Powers to decide to land forces at Salonika to open up communications thence with the Serbian Army. Already early in the autumn of 1915 three French divisions had been despatched under General Sarrail, and in October the 10th British Division, withdrawn from Suvla, had been ordered to and had landed at Salonika. The 22nd Division was now also directed to proceed thither from the Western Front, and was in due course followed by the 28th, 26th and 27th, in the order named.”
In a timely manner, and as a result of these arrangements, new orders were given to the 9th Battalion to make their way back to Longueru where they were to entrain for Marseilles on the morning of the 26th October. Battalion strength at this time as thus: 29 officers and 860 other ranks. Two days later, when arriving at port the men embarked on the Egra (minus Captain Wilson and 62 other ranks including all the transport animals, who journeyed later on a different boat) and the following day steamed out of port to a new theatre of war.
The journey was quite uneventful and then men enjoyed good weather and calm seas all the way. When they arrived at Alexandria they had spent a week on ship. It was the 3 November and orders were issued almost straight away for them to stand fast in the event of a change of destination. These orders, however, did not come through and the Battalion were to make their way as originally instructed; this they did the following day on the 4th leaving one man behind in hospital as a result of sickness. The 9th Border Regiment once again steamed out of port and were on their way to Salonika under strict orders to be vigilant owing to the reported sighting of enemy submarines in the Mediterranean’s eastern waters. As a precaution, during the night, all lights were shielded and the men were ordered to have their life-belts to hand at all times.
Three days more on board ship and the sights of Salonika came into view. It was the 7 November and disembarkation began in an organised and regimented style with Companies B, C and D making way to shore first. These were under the command of Major Wootten and orders were received for them to march to camp 8 miles distant on the banks of the River Galiko. A Company and the machine-gun section remained on board with instruction to aid the disembarkation of Battalion stores. Major Wootten and his Companies arrived at camp but there was little there to justify a camp of any sorts. They were met by the Commanding Officer and Adjutant who had gone on ahead to assess the grounds and by this time it was night, the temperature had dropped considerably and the air was cold. Camp consisted of nothing more than a wind battered hillside; no tents or provisions available only the bleak reality they were far away from home. The next morning A Company and the machine-gun section rejoined the Battalion and work, by all hands, began on clearing the camp of rocks and stones in preparation for bringing in the stores and building shelters.
For almost the next two weeks the 9th Border Regiment were busy in their efforts of improving the water supply and building new roads in the immediate area. During this time they remained accommodated in camp awaiting much needed bell-tents, which unfortunately did not come through in a timely manner and never more than two or three at a time, if they were lucky. Around the 13th, Captain Wilson and his men from transport, who had left Marseilles at a later time, rejoined the Battalion. The weather was comfortably warm during the day but at night became cold, however, the men remained good spirited and in good health. There never seemed to be shortage of tobacco, as smoking was a favourite pastime amongst many of the men, but the basic necessity of bread proved a little different and was somewhat harder to come by. On the 19th training was under way with Signallers and Battalion scouts and all ranks were exercised. The following day they marched to a new camp closer to Salonika. Here they were employed in bridging a stream, amongst other minor details but were soon on their way again, this time based at camp on the east bank of Galiko River with the artillery of the 22nd Division.
It was now the 27 November and even in countries of a warmer climate, the winters can creep in quickly and the weather can turn for the worse at a moments notice. Snow had befallen the men, which in turned had changed into a blizzard and then by night they were fighting the frost. The cold was intense and supplies were proving difficult to get through. A supply of rum, which was issued to the men, however, was "kept for the next day", as recorded in the Battalion war diary. By the 30th there were signs of improvement and as the worst of the weather broke the Battalion received new orders to prepare to move out at short notice. Acting on these orders the 9th Border Regiment marched into Salonika on the 1 December where they later entrained for Doiran, arriving at a new camp only 400 yards from the Greek frontier, close to Doiran Village. The sights at camp were similar to that when they first arrived; there were no tents (as these were left behind at Salonika) and so instead bivouacs were erected in their place. It was here that the 9th Border Regiment were attached, all be it temporarily, to the 10th Division for new duties pertaining to operations in the area.
Work had begun on a stretch of road that connected Doiran Railway Station and the village of Kilindir. During this time is was becoming evident that something was being prepared for; officers were ordered to cut the weight of their packs down to a maximum of 15 pounds whilst the men had to relinquish their second blanket to be returned to Salonika; emergency rations were issued on the 8th and later all excess Battalion equipment and baggage also had to be sent back. By 8pm new orders were issued stating that Battalion Headquarters, three companies and the machine gun section were to move out immediately to a location south of Hasanli where their numbers were to make up part of the 29th Brigade reserve. The night was cold spent out in the open and now the men, officers included, had to suffer this with only one blanket.
By the 10th December the men had taken over the trenches that, up until that point, had been held by the 29th Brigade. These trenches, located on particularly high ground just north of Pazarli, took some effort to reach simply because of the terrain in which they were situated and so blankets were carried by pack mules and all men had to discard their kits. Upon their arrival they took up position in between the 14th King’s Liverpool Regiment and the Royal Irish Rifles on the left and right respectively. Further pioneer work was required on the Kilindir Road and this was the responsibility of D Company of the Battalion who remained behind to complete this task. As Wylly describes of the situation at this time:
- “Every precaution had here to be taken and patrols were constantly moving out to the front, for reports had been received that the enemy were advancing in force over the hills to the N.; but nothing was seen of them on the front held by the Battalion. Nevertheless, about midnight orders were issued for the evacuation of the position, and the troops were withdrawn to Hasanli, all stores being brought away and lieutenant Grace remaining behind with 20 scouts to cover the withdrawal. The rearguard of the Battalion left Pazarli about 5.30am on the 11th, arriving at Hasanli about an hour and a half later; here a halt was made while all ranks got some food, and the retirement was then continued through Doiran Village to a camping ground just E. of Doiran Railway Station, which was reached at 1pm. The men came in splendidly, though some of them were carrying as much as 70lbs. weight of stores which could not be brought away by the small number of pack-mules available. As Lieutenant Grace and his scouts left the position, enemy scouts were seen to be coming down towards Hasanli.”
It was now at this time that 9th Border Regiment left as temporary attachment to the 10th Division and returned back to the 22nd Division. Wylly continues:
- “The operations in which, while attached to the 10th Division, the 9th Battalion had taken part, were the result of the decision which had early in the year been come to of sending Allied troops to the assistance of Serbia. The 10th British and two French divisions had accordingly penetrated into that country, but it was very soon evident that the power of resistance of the Serbian armies had temporarily been broken, and that Allied forces thus belatedly arriving could offer them no material assistance; while the position of the British troops was daily becoming more precarious, owing to the concentration of a large German-Bulgarian force in the Stumnitza Valley. The advancing troops were accordingly ordered to withdraw to Greek territory….The right of the 10th Division was attacked on the 6th, 7th and 8th December, but it repulsed the opposing Bulgarians and the final retreat to Salonika was not further interfered with.”
A few days later on the 13th the Battalion continued their journey without any further attacks back to Salonika and their former camp on the east bank of the Galiko River. As with much of their time spent on this foreign soil thus far, they never stayed in one place for very long before receiving fresh orders to move on. The next four days was no exception to this pattern. On the 17th, while A Company marched to Akbunar, B, C and D Companies, along with Battalion Headquarters entrained for Gradobor, or rather a location nearby, with G.S Wagons horsed by the Royal Field Artillery. By 7pm they had reached their destination and all hands were ordered to make for the camp just north of Gradobor. Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke, commanding officer of the Battalion, had been appointed a new command in the 67th Brigade and so the Battalion was duly handed over to Major Wootten. With only two weeks left before the end of 1915, the Battalion remained in and around the area of Pirnar where they spent these few days engaged in further pioneer work of all kinds in preparation for the coming year.
On New Year’s Eve, most likely at a time of celebration, if this was at all possible, the enemy decided to bomb their camp.
Further action of the Battalion (1916-1918)
- The 9th Battalion at Salonika (1916)
- The 9th Battalion at Salonika (1917)
- The 9th Battalion at Salonika (1918)
Roll of Honour
The 9th Battalion World War One casualty list has been compiled using the publication Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19, Volume 39, The Border Regiment and cross-referenced with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. The number of casualties compiled to date does not necessarily reflect the total number of casualties for this battalion due to the possibility of missed names and the (current) exclusion of officers and other ranks that were attached to the Border Regiment.
For the 9th Battalion roll of honour, see 9th Battalion Border Regiment Casualty List.
The Battalion moved on the 20 October, 1918 to Stavros, on 28 October to Dedeagatch then back to Stavros on 13 November and following days. On the 16 January, 1919 the Battalion proceeded to Kukus then Janes on 7 March. On the 16 March, greatly reduced in strength, the Battalion embarked on HMT Katonia bound for Constantinople, where it remained until 10 November when all remaining officers and other ranks were posted as a draft to the 9th Battalion The King's Own Regiment.
Second World War (1939-1945)
The 9th Border Regiment, after a period of inactivity during the inter-war years, was reformed at Workington on 9 October 1940 out of a 'holding battalion' of ready-trained men between the ages of 23-27 awaiting to be sent as reinforcements to their units.
Further action of the Battalion
References / notes
- Previously commanded the 5th and 7th Battalios of the Regiment
- 9 The Border Regiment. Orders of Battle. Retrieved 5 August, 2013.
- Douglas Sutherland (1972). Tried and Valiant - The Story of the Border Regiment 1702-1959. Leo Cooper. ISBN 0850520428. p.134.
- Colonel H.C. Wylly, C.B. (1925). The Border Regiment in the Great War. Gale & Polden Ltd. ISBN 1847342728. p.70.
- Colonel H.C. Wylly, C.B. (1925). The Border Regiment in the Great War. Gale & Polden Ltd. ISBN 1847342728. p.107.
- Colonel H.C. Wylly, C.B. (1925). The Border Regiment in the Great War. Gale & Polden Ltd. ISBN 1847342728. p.107-108.
- Horse-drawn wagons of the time used for transporting a range of different items from artillery to barbed wire and even hay for the horses or mules themselves.
- Colonel H.C. Wylly, C.B. (1925). The Border Regiment in the Great War. Gale & Polden Ltd. ISBN 1847342728. p.257.
- 9 The Border Regiment. Orders of Battle. Retrieved 5 August, 2013.
- Douglas Sutherland (1972). Tried and Valiant - The Story of the Border Regiment 1702-1959. Leo Cooper. ISBN 0850520428. p.182.