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annieb22

Photographs of Stavros and the Balkans

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annieb22

It's been suggested that I post some photos which belonged to my husband's grandad, Observer Sub Lt Cyril Norman Ellen (as he was at the time). He was stationed at Stavros with D Squadron between August 1917 and November 1918.

Note: The photos are in an album but are sadly not annotated and the album also contains pictures which Cyril took whilst serving in India and Egypt in 1919 and 1920. I believe the majority of the Greece and Bulgaria images are near the beginning of the album but I don't think they are all in the right order as there are photos of people in RAF uniform with WWI ribbons amongst what I think are Stavros pictures.

I'd appreciate any input from forum members if you are able to shed further light on any of the images.

The picture below appears at the front of the album and is Cyril's only annotation.

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Is this one of the bases at Stavros?

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annieb22

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pete-c

Many thanks for putting these pictures on the forum Annie.

The photo of the Short 184 is more than likely at the seaplane base at Stavros. The men in the water are not as you might think simply 'skinny dipping', they have probably just assisted the seaplane off the beach. During the summer months this was the most practical 'rig' for the fitters!

The other panoramic pictures I'm not sure of. I'm pretty sure it is not Stavros; to my mind the location has got the look of Egypt rather than anywhere in the Aegean theatre. Note the Bessonneau hangars in the centre picture.

Anyone else got any ideas?

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annieb22

Pete, did they launch the seaplanes from the beach? I know they had seaplane carriers back then so I had thought that they were normally launched out at sea near them. I suppose if you've got a beach, it's just as good as anything.

What would the significance of the Bessonneau hangars be? Would they have housed land planes or did they not have them in the Aegean? I was so hoping it was a photo of one of the Greek Islands.

More images..

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Cyril Ellen is second from the left.

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Am I getting any warmer with this one?

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pete-c

There was a single Bessonneau hangar at the seaplane base at Stavros. These hangars were used for aircraft accommodation where no permanent buildings were to be erected. They were used in their thousands during WW1, at home, on the Western Front and in all other theatres.

The seaplane base at Stavros was first used in early 1916, and I believe it was still in use towards the end of the war. As you rightly point out the seaplanes were launched from ships; in the Aegean this was usually when they were needed to spot for the big guns firing at targets on-shore, up and down the coast, but they also flew from these shore bases. There was another seaplane base on the Island of Thasos.

At the time when Cyril Ellen was serving in this theatre the seaplanes main task was keeping an eye out for enemy submarines along the Bulgarian coast. These aircraft were part of 'A' Flight, 2 Wing. 'D' Flight, who I think I'm right in saying were based at the airfield at Stavros, were equipped with land planes. They were there during August 1916, then moved to Thasos the following month, and were back at Stavros during October.

The last picture could well be of the pier at Stavros - that might be a ships funnel just to the left of the diagonal rope. Stavros town was situated on the hill-side to the left of the pier, behind the trees, and the seaplane base would be to the left, just out of picture. 'D' Flight became 'D' Squadron in late 1917, and then became 221 Squadron upon formation of the RAF in April 1918.

I'll see if I can find some more info for you.

Peter.

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apwright

The last photo is definitely the village of Stavros.

I understand that the airfield was a mile or so north of the village where the ground is flatter, on the coastal plain towards the modern town of Vrasna, but I would still expect to see a mountain or two in the panoramic photo. Also, the walled village on the extreme right is more reminiscent of Egypt or Palestine to my mind, than of Northern Greece.

Great photos! Thanks for posting them!

Adrian

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annieb22

Just had a quick re-read of some of Frank Marlowe's diary where he describes Stavros when he arrived in November 1917.

The aerodrome here is very narrow, and the far end faces a rocky gorge, and when a 'gorge wind' comes along - a wind straight down the gorge - it can turn a machine over when taking off towards it or even when flying near it. At the other end there are various obstructions including the row of our huts along the beach, almost at the water's edge. Taking off in this direction you are over the sea just after leaving the ground. Stavros itself is just along the coast to the right where the harbour is situated, with naval HQ, battleships etc.

So the aerodrome for the landplanes was also very close to the sea. This would be why the men were living on the beach.

Here's the coastline photo blown up a bit larger.

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annieb22

Thank you for your input Adrian. So it seems the panorama near the top of the thread is definitely not Stavros but good news that the other image is.

Here are a couple more pictures. Your thoughts please.

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post-90569-0-88146900-1425914800_thumb.j

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annieb22

There was a single Bessonneau hangar at the seaplane base at Stavros.

Hi Peter. On checking Marlowe's diary for July 1918, he states the following after a storm, "Two of our Bessonaux full of machines were split open". Presumably he's talking about the landplane base because there's obviously more than one hangar. So as I try to get this clear in my mind, the seaplane base was erected first but was not so much in use by the time my chap arrived in Aug 1917. The men's quarters were still on the beach and the aerodrome wasn't too far away.

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pete-c

Hi Annie,

Yes, this would be the landplane base - I believe there were four Bessonneau hangars at this base. I've been checking through my books but I cannot find an image of this airfield. One thing that might help you get a clearer impression of the area is a photo available on-line via the Imperial War Museum site.

Click on Collections and Research - in the top right-hand corner type in Q 13780 don't forget the space. This photo shows the village of Stavros c1916. The land base was situated inland from the curved section of the bay at top left, just behind the hillside. The seaplane base was situated just out of picture to the right.

I believe the seaplane base was still in use towards the end of the war - the aircraft from there mainly flying anti-submarine patrols. The aircraft from the land base were used in more offensive roles.

The first of your last two photos is interesting. I don't recognise this location but it certainly looks like a seaplane base. I'm wondering if it is one of the bases within Mudros bay - possibly Ispatho Island. Lemnos is a likely location for Cyril to have visited during his time in this part of the world.

Annie, I'm going to send you a PM with an attachment - hopefully. My internet connection is less than reliable at the moment!

Edited by pete-c

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annieb22

Hi Peter. Thanks for pointing out the IWM photo - very useful. I wonder if the last photo I posted above is taken from down on the beach. There isn't much to go on in my picture, of course. I was wondering whether the photograph above it was the seaplane base. To my untrained eye, there appears to be one hangar but I think maybe the landscape shouldn't be quite so open.

I've PM'd you my email address if it makes life any easier.

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annieb22

Next installment. Does the terrain in theses photos look like I'm in the Stavros or Balkans area?

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post-90569-0-00525600-1426006281_thumb.j

Would anyone be interested in seeing a panoramic view of Enemy Front Line Positions in the Lower Struma?

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pete-c

I think we can discount the photo of the seaplane base being that at Stavros. This one appears to be on a piece of land possibly surrounded by water - note the slight change of tone above the hanger. This is what made me surmise that it could possibly be Ispatho Island. The structures to the left could well be old aeroplane transport containers, these were much sought after by the officers as accommodation - the other ranks had to be content with tents!

Not knowing the exact date when the aerodrome at Stavros was set up, it is difficult to speculate on Cyril's accommodation arrangements. It is of course possible that he may have flown from the seaplane base, especially considering his previous experience flying in seaplanes and so he could well have been resident at the base for some time. The reason it was set up in the first place was as a base for the seaplanes from Ark Royal to make a photographic survey of the area so Cyril's experience with photographic equipment may well have been a reason for his being there. That said, this survey was completed by the middle of the year so Cyril's starting date with 'D' Squadron in August may knock that theory on the head! Is there any mention of Ark Royal on his service record immediately preceding his joining 'D' Squadron?

Stavros aerodrome was certainly very active by the middle of 1917 with daily offensive raids being flown from here. However,from the end of July the Squadrons at both Thasos and Stavros were reorganised with all the spotting and reconnaissance aircraft thereafter being based at Stavros.

Your next two photos are interesting. I would think they could be of areas in the hills above Stavros, then again if you have other photos of the Struma Valley they could have been taken near Salonika. The second one of the walled house is very picturesque isn't it - I wonder if it is still there?

Speaking personally I always find it interesting to see any photos that illustrate the 'sideshows' so the answer to your last question Annie would be a resounding yes.

Edited by pete-c

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annieb22

Peter, I hadn't heard of Ispatho Island so I looked it up and I can see how the said photo could well be of that place. Even the mountains in the background look much more like pictures I've seen on the net.

Funny you should mention Ark Royal. I have two documents amongst Cyril's papers as follows:

Dated 9.7.17 - Addressed to a London address (presumably where he was living):

To Observer Sub-Lieutenant Cyril N. Ellen, RN. The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty hereby appoint you Temporary Observer Sub-Lieutenant of His Majesty's Ship Ark Royal additional for Eastern Mediterranean and direct you to repair to your duties accordingly. You will receive further instructions as to your passage. Your appointment is to take effect from the 16th July 1917.

Dated 1.8.17 - Initially addressed to Ark Royal but crossed out and addressed to No 2 Wing RNAS:

To Observer Sub-Lieutenant Cyril N. Ellen, RN. The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty hereby appoint you Temporary Observer Sub-Lieutenant of His Majesty's Ship Ark Royal additional for No 2 Wing. Your appointment is to take effect from the 1st June 1917.

I find it odd that the later letter has an earlier start date for the appointment than the first letter. Were they not certain where exactly they wanted him to begin with?

What I can tell you from the Ark Royal logs is that Cyril arrived on board Ark Royal on 8th August 1917 and was discharged from the ship 'to Stavros by M.28' on 13th August. I had assumed he was there waiting for a ride to Stavros but perhaps he had some work to do on the Ark Royal during that time. Incidentally, he left England on 23rd July so not much time to do anything else before then.

I'll post some pictures of the men in what I believe to be their accommodation in the next post(s) and then I'll get the Lower Struma picy organised.

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annieb22

I believe these are photos of Cyril.

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annieb22

And some other chaps...

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annieb22

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What plane is this? I presume it's still in Greece 'cause the chap's cap badge looks like Navy rather than RAF.

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Gardenerbill

Annie,

even if it is not possible to identify who and where, these are still great photos, thank you for sharing them.

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annieb22

What it looked like inside the huts. And, in the lower image, it looks like the headland in the background.

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annieb22

Annie,

even if it is not possible to identify who and where, these are still great photos, thank you for sharing them.

You're very welcome, Mark. Glad you're enjoying them.

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annieb22

More strangers. It may be possible that some of these men are mentioned in Frank Marlowe's diary. I've also got a menu with signatures on the back dated 19 April 1918. It's a case of trying to find photos of these guys to see if they match any of my images but I think that'd take a bit of time and detective work.

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pete-c

Annie, wonderful snaps. What a shame we don't know the names of these men. With a bit of luck though someone on the forum may recognise their ancestors.

What palatial residences these chaps shared - and a beach-side location to boot! I wouldn't mind betting that these are all converted aeroplane cases - have you noticed the stencil 'PLANE' on the last photo?

The aircraft is an FBA (Franco British Aviation) flying boat, probably a Type 'H'. Just visible are the letters BA on the front. The chap on the left is definitely a 'Naval' type. The RNAS did operate some of these, two of which were at Malta from late June 1917, so maybe Cyril snapped this one whilst he was in Malta on his way to Ark Royal at Mudros.

In the group of five photos of Cyril the structure with the extra shading behind him on the horse could well be his darkroom. There are some interesting little details in these snaps. In the next set of six, top right, note the improvised cooking stove on the sand - ready for a brew-up! The photo of the blazer wearing horseman illustrates just how close these huts were to the shore-line.

Edited by pete-c

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annieb22

Yes, I saw the 'PLANE' logo and thought the same as you - that they'd made them out of aeroplane cases. It does appear quite sophisticated compared to some of the living accommodation some poor fellows had to put up with.

How did flying boats get off the ground or did they have to be launched from water? Were they used for combat or more for getting about? I can be almost certain Cyril was in Malta as I have a mess chitty for HMS Isonzo dated 30.7.17. Marlowe also travelled from Rome to Malta on this vessel about a fortnight later.

These photos (and your help interpreting them) is like taking the journey with Cyril, seeing what he saw. I love that it may even be his dark room - it's very primitive but obviously did the job.

Just going back to my documents, what does the term 'additional for .....' mean? I've seen this in Cyril's records before when he was granted a temporary commission as Sub-Lieutenant R.N.V.R. effective from 27th November 1916 and appointed President additional for R.N.A.S. for Observer's duties. Is it like a short-term placement ready for the next thing?

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annieb22

The photo of the blazer wearing horseman illustrates just how close these huts were to the shore-line.

Seems to confirm what Marlowe said in his diary about the huts being along the beach almost at the water's edge.

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apwright

I'm afraid I can't immediately recognise any of the other locations, but the photos in post #12 are almost certainly somewhere in northern Greece, based on the minarets in the first photo and the architecture of the church in the second pic.

And just a note (not that it helps...) that the French operated a large number of FBA flying boats from various bases in the Aegean, so there is at least a possibility that the ones in your photo might be "visitors", although the men in the pics are definitely Brits.

Fascinating photos, Annie! Keep 'em coming!!

Adrian

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