Away from the Western Front - Salonika & Sandham
'Away from the Western Front' is a two year charitable project (2017-2019) funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional grants from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial) and the Centre for Hidden Histories. The main focus is the heritage of the men and women from Britain and its former Empire who served in the often overlooked campaigns of Salonika, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and Africa. Eight regional sub-projects are researching soldiers who served away from the Western Front, bringing their stories to wider audiences through a range of arts activities.
The Salonika Campaign & Sandham
This has largely been forgotten but was an important theatre in the First World War with a multi-national force fighting in terrain combining rugged mountains and malaria-infested swamps. The ultimate success of the Allies against the Bulgarian army at Salonika in 1918 started the chain of events which led to the defeat of the Central Powers.
The Sandham project highlights this campaign, with a particular focus on the human experience of fighting in Greece and Macedonia through the story of Harry Sandham and the paintings of Stanley Spencer.
" We talked about the 'holy box' .. and with this thought in mind, each made up our own personal box to collect work and things of interest in over the weeks of the project.."
This project focuses on Salonika, a campaign which took place in Greece and Macedonia from 1915 to 1918, involving soldiers from many parts of Britain and its former empire, fighting against Bulgarian, Austro-Hungarian and German forces.
We selected Susan Francis an artist who works in object, video and installation and who has exhibited internationally with work held in public and private collections and also had extensive experience of instigating, managing and implementing participatory projects to identify and work with a group of people who would not necessarily know much about the campaign or more importantly perhaps associate themselves with somewhere like Sandham. Susan identified Alabaré, a charity, founded in 1991, that supports homeless, vulnerable and marginalised people. It helps them transform their lives, providing accommodation and helping them gain the skills, confidence and opportunities to live a fulfilled life. Susan worked with a group of military veterans supported by Alabaré.
Using the extensive knowledge and experience of the Salonika Campaign Society and the Imperial War Museum, with additional material, including letters, photos the paintings and extensive archive of materials at Sandham Susan and the veterans met weekly since October 2017 and have produced responses to the material they have seen and heard.
" Mental health is mentioned a lot ... & it is at the forefront of their minds when they consider what people went through. We talked about them feeling abandoned - “I think that feeling of abandonment is standard" - Oli when describing leaving service. "They didn’t have jobs, they had nothing – no support – there was no understanding of mental health, they were just written off’. – Tony. Mark felt at times those with mental health problems were less visible as ‘heroes’, ‘just 'cause we don’t have legs hanging off, but we might be a bit tapped up here’ pointing to his head."
In addition to the work undertaken by Susan a film ‘Salonika’ was commissioned in 2018 by Away from the Western Front, again with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund the purpose of which is to add historical detail to the interpretation at Sandham . The film was made by Khaki Devil using footage taken during a visit to the battlefields organised by the Salonika Campaign Society and is narrated by Alan Wakefield, Head of First World War & Early 20th Century Conflict at the Imperial War Museum and chair of the Salonika Campaign Society.