Hostilities in the Balkans was one of the primary causes for the outbreak of war in 1914. Initial fighting had been between Austria-Hungarian and Serbian forces. The Austrians launched three successive offensives to take the Serbian capital Belgrade. However, by the end of the year, the Serbs had managed to push back the invaders and regained their territory. With the entry of Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Central Powers in late 1915, Serbia was attacked again on two fronts – from Austria and Germany to the north, and Bulgaria from the east. Driven back southwards, the Serbians approached the neutral Greek border.
The Greek Prime Minster invited allied support (British-French) to land at Salonika [Thessaloniki] on the north Greece border. The first allied troops landed in early October.
They advanced through southern Macedonia and into Serbian territory, where they were repulsed by the Bulgarian army at Kosturino. Reinforcements were sent to the expeditionary force which include the 26th Division, containing the 11th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, as part of the 78th Brigade.
The 11th Battalion arrived at Salonika on the 24th-25th November, under the command of Colonel R. M. Rainey-Robinson CB. As news filtered back of the failure at Kosturino it was anticipated that the Bulgarians would not stop at the Greek frontier. The Allies entrenched around Salonika approximately 8 miles from the city. By 18th December when the entrenchment was almost complete, it became apparent that the Bulgarian armies had halted. The retreating 10th Division and their French comrades had reached Salonika and had joined the main Allied army. Work on the defensive line was continued until after Christmas.
As gradually it became apparent that the enemy had no intention of making an attack on the fortified positions, the energies of the troops were diverted from labour to training.
Towards the end of March the 78th Brigade was withdrawn from the front line into Divisional Reserve. There, the 11th Worcesters remained for two months, in camp near Lembet. The climate of Macedonia was fast claiming its victims, with malaria and enteric becoming rife.
By June the strategy of passive defence was abandoned, as the Allies sort to regain touch with the enemy; the French pushed forwards towards the Serbo-Greek border. The 11th Worcesters moved northwards with the Brigade on 25th July, by way of Sarigeul, Haidarli and Vetegor, to Malovtsi. On the night of 30th they advanced through rain and darkness into reserve positions near Chuguntsi; the 26th Division was now on the left flank of the British Army, next to the French.
The Bulgarian positions covering the small town of Doiran were established on a series of steep ridges. One such ridge now faced the 78th Brigade. Forward movement was established as soon as possible, and ‘Castle Hill’ and ‘Kidney Hill’ were secured. On 16/17th August a patrol led by Captain P. A. Leicester carried out a daring reconnaissance of ‘Horseshoe Hill’, enabling a plan of attack. The position was captured, with the Worcestershires taking over the captured ground. The battalion suffered many casualties as the enemy tried to regain the lost hill. A week later the line was taken over by the 79th Brigade.
On 9th October the 11th Worcesters were ordered to make a small raid against the ‘Mamelon’ ( a low-rounded feature on the far side of the village of Doldzeli). Captain Leicester, Lt. Turner, and 30 other ranks, got within a a few hundred yards under intense fire and the raid failed with Pte. J.W. Rudd and Capt. Leicester badly wounded
Two days later another raid against ‘Mamelon’ was mounted this time composed of two companies of the 11th Worcesters. Throughout the day of the 11th October the British guns kept up an intermittent bombardment against their target. At 11.30, the signal for the attack was given and the Worcesters began their advance towards the enemy trenches. After a fierce fight the enemy’s forward trench was cleared, but it could not be held and they fell back to the British trenches. Losses had been considerable (4 killed, 3 officers and 44 other ranks wounded).
The 11th Battalion saw out the last days of 1916 in reserve trenches and shelters near Chugunsti. The severity of the winter months kept both sides immobile and in discomfort.