Margaret Box letters from Bralo

One hundred years ago my Great Aunt, Margaret Box was in Greece at a rest camp, near the village of Bralo (Bralos, Brallos), toward the start of the time she spend towards the end of the First World War, nursing in Salonica and Serbia (see this post for further related articles). On the 5th, 6th and 7th of October 1918 she wrote to her parents, my Great Grandparents, with an update. First to her father, on Saturday 5th:

Sisters Rest Camp

?Rtea

Greece

Saturday

5.10.18

My Dear Father,

So far – so good ! We are sitting out on a veranda looking at the most wonderful view, the mountains are all round us and the water below is as smooth as a mirror.

What I miss more than anything is the green grass & I should just like a walk in the garden now. I suppose all the michaelmas daisies are coming out now & I wonder if the lilies are done yet.

I slept like a top in my little camp bed last night – we kept the door of  the tent open & the dawn at 6 o’c this morning was just fine. Our sitting room is a mud hut but all whitewashed inside with green windows and doors – we have curtains and tablecloths & an assortment of comfy chairs.

Our Orderly looks after us very well & gave us a fine breakfast not coffee & black bread – but a real English breakfast – fried bacon & tomatoes – a thing we have not tasted for a long time – he makes good tea too – the best I have had since leaving home.

Last night we had a game of whist before turning in to bed & sang songs. We are the only Sisters here at present & we are just enjoying it all on our own.

Please tell Mother the biscuits & chocolate have been most useful – there won’t be any left to hand over ! It has been almost impossible to get biscuits on the way – but chocolate was much more plentiful.

Very much love to all

Your loving Daughter

Margaret Box

 On the following day, continued on Monday 7th, she wrote to her mother:

Rest Camp

Bralo

Greece

Sunday

6.10.18

My dear Mother,

We have moved on from our last resting place – we were quite sorry in a way to leave there – it was a nice quiet little place. We are under canvas here & tomorrow we hope to do a day’s work to relieve the sisters a bit, they are all so busy.

This evening we went to church at 5.30 p.m. in a tent – it was such a nice simple service – the first time we have been able to go to church since coming out.

Last night Yesterday afternoon we had a terrific thunderstorm – we all sat out on the veranda & watched it, the lightning dashed about & the thunder echoed all round the mountains – it soon passed on & the sun came out & we saw the most beautiful rainbow with its reflection from end to end.  The lightning continued all evening jumping up from below the mountains opposite & running along the top.

7.10.18

I got up to 7 o’c breakfast this morning & have been working in the wards – we may stay here some time as there are so many men ill & so few sisters, it is quite strange to work again.

Is not the news splendid.

I have no idea when we shall get to our destination or where we shall find the hospitals !

Much love to all

Your loving Daughter

Margaret Box

Notes

Splendid news

I am not sure exactly what this would have been, but by October 1918 it was clear that the Allied forces were winning the war and that the end was in sight.

You need not feel anxious about your daughter, Mr Box

My Great Aunt, Margaret Box, left Britain on the 17th of September 1918 to serve as a nurse in Salonica and Serbia.
Her father, my Great Grandfather, John Box, clearly did not hear from her for a while as he contacted The Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Home and Foreign Service (London Society of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies).
They wrote back to him on 3rd October, with the following letter:

This was a different world, where communication was much slower (as well as women not yet having the vote in the United Kingdom). Fortunately there was indeed no cause for concern, and Margaret was on a Troopship in the Gulf of Corinth.
 

Margaret Box, nursing in Salonica and Serbia

Margaret Ada Box (1890-1986), my Great Aunt, daughter of John Box, volunteered as a Civilian Red Cross Nurse in 1918. She has a record at Forces War Records (which needs Full Access Membership to see it),  which shows that her Department was “Scot. Women”, her Rank was “N.S.” (whatever that is), her Service Number was “cert no. 17847 passport no. 202114”, her Duty Location was “Salonica“.
If that was all I had to go on, this would be a very short topic, however Great Aunt Margaret wrote a number of letters home, and collected some mementos, which I will scan and post, updating this post as I do so.
The letters to her were sent in envelopes made from newspapers by disabled soldiers.

Background

The Long, Long Trail website has a military overview of the Salonika Campaign – a little known part of the First World War. The Salonika Campaign Society website covers the campaign in more detail,  even having a section on Medical Services. The British Army was in Greece as allies of Serbia (which had been invaded by Austria Hungary in 1915 , and as allies of the Greek Provisional Government of National Defence – a breakaway Greek Government,  opposed to the neutral position of the Greek King Constantine I.
The Battle of Dobro Pole between 15th and 18th September was a major breakthrough in the Macedonian Front, leading to the Liberation of Serbia by the Allied forces. They pushed up through Serbia, presumably establishing a hospital at Sarajevo, as that is where Margaret Box worked.

Timeline of Margaret Box Journey to the Hospital Unit in Serbia, and return

  • 19th November 1890 – Born in Croydon
  • 17th September 1918 (aged 27) – Waterloo, Southampton, Paris,Lyon,Modena,Turin, Genoa, Rome
  • Week in Rome
  • 29th September – to Taranto
  • 3rd October – Troopship  to Gulf of Corinth – Iteon (first night in a tent) – Also the Scottish Women’s Hospitals secretary writes to John Box to say that his daughter is (probably) safe.
  • 6th October – Train to Bralo – possibly the village or pass of Gravia (Location of the 49th Stationary Hospital) where Margaret started working. There is also a  War Grave Cemetery for casualties who did not recover – Margaret writes to her parents from here.
  • 18th October – Train to Thessaly, Larissa
  • 19th October – Salonica
  • 20th October – Monastir to Prilip – in meat lorries. Stay to help at hospital.  (interestingly two other intrepid women, Anne Powell and Flora Sandes, seem to have made similar journeys)
  • 25th October – On to join rest by car – Veles, Uskub, Skopije – join unit
  • 25th November – Train (cattle trucks) – Veles, Strumitze (bridge destroyed – by lorry to next station), rejoin train to Salonica
  • 3rd December – embark SS Danube.
  • 10th December – Gallipoli
  • 11th December – Taranto
  • 13th December – Bay of Vebova, Topli Bay, Cataro Bay
  • 16th December – Trip to Castelnova
  • 17th December – left SS Danube. Train to Zelinka, Ragusa, Hum, Mostar
  • 18th December – To Sarajevo (where Germans were still running the hospital)
  • 22nd March 1919 – Left Sarajevo to Ragusa
  • 27th March – Boat to Spalato (Split)
  • 29th March – arrive Fuime
  • 30th March – another boat to Polla, Venice
  • 3rd April – Train from Venice to Pisa
  • 8th April – Genoa (night in station), Nice, Marseilles
  • 9th April – Paris – St James Hotel (diary ends)
  • 12th April – Telegram from Folkstone “Home tonight Margaret”