MARK DUANCE (1897-1916)

Private Mark Duance 24198 Royal Dublin Fusiliers & previously The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry was killed in action at the battle for Jenikoj in Macedonia on 3rd October 1916.

Sitting at home at Penhole near Coad's Green and reading the Western Daily Press, Mr and Mrs Duance could have been forgiven for thinking that there was good news from the Balkans. The British had defeated the 'Bulgars' and the fighting at Jenikoj had "resulted in a complete success for our troops".

They may, however, have been filled with apprehension upon reading that an Irish battalion had "specially distinguished themselves". Their son, 19 year old Mark Duance, was with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was fighting in the Balkans. They prayed regularly at the Methodist Church in Coad's Green for his safe return. Sadly their fears were justified. Private Mark Duance was killed on 3rd October 1916 in the fighting for the Macedonian village of Jenikoj.

Why their son was fighting the Bulgars in the Balkans may have been a question that a farm labourer and his wife, living deep in the rural Tamar Valley, would have found difficult to answer.

The Balkans had been an area of unrest for many years and the proverb "my enemy's enemy is my friend" never rang more true. The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Prince Franz Ferdinand set his nation and their ally Germany against Serbia, the country of the assassin. Russia came to the aid of Serbia but the Bulgarians, who blamed Russia for their failure in earlier Balkan Wars, sided with the Central Powers. Britain was at war with Germany and sent troops to help its allies in the Balkans. It was all very complicated.

Five years earlier young Mark, the tenth of thirteen children, had been working locally as a farm labourer on Joseph Moyse's farm in North Hill. As with many young men in the area, his life in rural Cornwall and Devon may have seemed mapped out before the Great War intervened. Mark enlisted along with Sydney Perry on 14th December 1914 into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and trained in Falmouth. He served in France and was reported wounded on 10th July 1915. He was treated at Cork Hospital before being moved to the Isle of Wight, where he stayed until November. He was then sent to Salonika (now known as Thessalonika) where some time after his arrival he contracted a fever and was sent back to Malta.

In 1916 Mark transferred to the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF). In the very early hours of 3rd October 1916, Mark's battalion was 50 miles north east of Salonika awaiting the impending attack to capture the village of Jenikoj, a short distance to the north. At 5:00 a.m. the British big guns sent shell after shell into Jenikoj village. In the dim light of early dawn it was possible to discern the smoke rising from the burning houses. Half an hour later the troops moved up behind the artillery barrage. In less than an hour the village was taken without any serious casualties. Mark's battalion took up a position north of the village. They had captured the village more quickly than the artillery had expected, and the relentless barrage from their own heavy guns was now creeping towards them.

Despite this early success, neither side gained the upper hand. The enemy counter attacked fiercely and the allies fought back to regain the ground. Troops were advancing and falling back all day. In the hail of bullets and shells Mark was one of many cut down. Some British troops were caught up in the bombardment by Allied artillery and were killed under friendly fire. Exactly how Mark was killed is not known but he was one of 128 from the 7th Battalion who were recorded as dead, missing or wounded.

A few days later, back in Cornwall, his parents were reading of the army's success in the Balkans. Some weeks passed before they received notification that Mark was amongst the dead. His name was recorded on the Roll of Honour in Coad's Green Church (shown here).

Report in the Cornish & Devon Post

Official news was received on Thursday last week, of the death of Private Mark Duance, of Penhole, Coad's Green, who was killed in action whilst serving with the Balkan Forces. Deceased enlisted on the 14th December, 1914, was sent to Falmouth for training, and was in the trenches on May 1st, 1915. He was reported wounded on July 10th and moved first to Cork Hospital and then to the Isle of Wight where he stayed from August to November. He was then sent to Salonica, where some time after his arrival he contracted fever, and was sent back to Malta. On his recovery he was sent to the Balkans, where he was killed at the age of 19 years. The greatest sympathy is extended to Mr and Mrs Mark Duance and family in their sad loss. They have two sons serving their country, and two sons-in-law.

At the close of a meeting in the Wesleyan Chapel on Friday evening the superintendent minister (Rev W Ball) referred to the death of Private Duance, a former Sunday school scholar, and whose parents are regular attenders at the chapel. A vote of sympathy was passed with the bereaved ones; also with the parents and family of Private Sydney Perry, DCLI, who enlisted at the same time and was killed in action a short time ago. After Monday morning's service the organist (Miss Hicks) played the 'Dead March'.

Along with his fallen comrades, Mark was buried in the nearby Struma Cemetery (shown below), now in Northern Greece.

These images of Struma Cemetery and Mark's grave were provided by his great niece, Angie.

The images at the top of the page show (L-R): Mark Duance; his grave plaque in Struma Cemetery; the cap badge of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; British War Medal (WW1)