The House that Tommy Built ‘somewhere in Greece’: Pantomimes produced by the 85th Field Ambulance in Salonika 1915-18

Martina Lipton

Abstract


This paper examines the pantomimes Dick Whittington (1915), Aladdin in Macedonia (1916) and Bluebeard (1917), produced by the 85th Field Ambulance (3rd London) of the 28th Division while stationed at Salonika on the Eastern Front between 1915 and 1918. Gordon Williams describes the politicization of pantomime on the British stage during the First World War but he doesn’t extend this to pantomimes produced on the Front. Meanwhile, Alan Wakefield’s research on the experience of the British Army in Macedonia only briefly mentions these Salonika pantos. Similarly, J.G. Fuller and L.J. Collins acknowledge the role that pantomime had in alleviating boredom and boosting troop morale but they don’t provide analysis of how pantomimes produced by servicemen for their comrades differed from those being professionally produced in British theatres at the time. Examination of the extant scripts, theatre ephemera, photographs and press reviews shows that in addition to their entertainment value these pantos helped to diffuse tension between the ranks by providing a rare licence for servicemen to express their frustrations and grievances about conditions at the Eastern Front. Despite inadequate clothing and accommodation to survive in such a harsh environment, malaria and influenza epidemics, and paucity of leave, the British Salonika Force was depicted in the British popular press as the ‘gardeners of Salonika’ since the campaign in Macedonia was considered by many to be a ‘side-show’ due to the apparent lack of activity there compared to the Western Front. Annual revivals (1921-31) in London of the 85th Field Ambulance pantomimes again provide evidence of a much-needed figurative ‘home’ for many ex-soldiers of the British Salonika Force who missed the comradeship and security of army life and typically felt lonely and alienated as forgotten heroes of the Balkans campaign.


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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303