A “disgrace to the British nation!” Celebrating St Patrick’s Day with the 10th Irish in Salonika

I’m sitting at home finishing up an upcoming presentation and social media reminds me that it is St Patrick’s Day.

I recalled a passage I read recently in Patrick McGill’s The Red Horizon:

St Patrick’s day was an event. We had a half holiday, and at night, with the aid of beer, we made merry as men can on St Patrick’s Day. …for to all St. Patrick was an admirable excuse for having a good and rousing time. (page 36)

An important excuse for many the world over to drink to excess, but not, tonight, for me. Instead I’ll celebrate by remembering some St Patrick’s Day celebrations (or lack thereof) in Salonika during the First World War.

St. Patrick's Flag Day
St. Patrick’s Flag Day© IWM (Art.IWM PST 10882)

For many soldiers, particularly among the Irish divisions, St Patrick’s day was a day for celebration with concerts, sporting matches, and yes, drinking.  In 1917, while recuperating from malaria at St Patrick’s hospital in Malta, Private Brooks celebrated with a “St Patrick’s Day concert in Y.M.C.A.”

William Knott, a stretcher bearer with a field Ambulance in the 10th (Irish) Division, noted that the entire division was given a holiday for St Patrick’s Day in 1916, and he marked the holiday by attending a football match. The following year, Knott (a member of the Salvation army and a strong disapprover of strong drink) was visiting a friend.

We recalled the happy time we spent by the Shannon two year ago and proposed the writing of a book ‘From the Shannon to Struma’, it is true many and varied experiences we have had in the time in between these two St Patrick’s days. Unfortunately the night was a time of drinking for the majority and before 8 o’clock I do not think there was a dozen sober men in the camp. It is events like this that prolong this terrible war; it is a disgrace to the British nation!

On that note, I think I’ll have a glass of wine…


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