Marcella Millicent Tracey (1894-1970) and her brother Harold (1896- ?) at the Salonika Front in WW1

Malcolm Billinge 2020

Marcella Millicent Tracey was born in Johannesburg but in 1911 she was in England staying as a visitor with her paternal aunt Miss Maria Tracey at The Manor House,East Street, Bovey Tracey. (1911 Census). The year before ‘the Misses Tracey from Manor House’ attended a local funeral which would indicate that Marcella was enjoying an extended stay with her aunt (The Western Times 29 April 1910, p. 6). When Marcella sailed to South Africa in 1923 and when her sister Beryl sailed to England from South Africa in 1922 and again in 1928 both gave Bovey Tracey as their UK address (

This article aims to introduce the Tracey family of South Africa which had close ties with England, and particular attention will be paid to Marcella and her brother Harold’s roles at the Salonika Front during the First World War.

Marcella and Harold’s father was Percival White Tracey who had been born in Dartmouth in 1845. Percival was a son of Henry ‘Harry’ Tracey and Anna Maria née Adair. Henry Tracey died in 1861 and Anna Maria then lived in various places in Devon but by 1901 she was living at Pitt House on East Street, Bovey Tracey. Anna Maria died in 1902 after which her daughter Maria who had been living with her re-named Pitt House as ‘The Manor House’. This needs to be understood within the context of the history of Bovey Tracey whose lords of the manor in medieval times were the de Tracy family. No manor house for Bovey Tracey was ever recorded so this re-naming of Pitt House was aggrandisement perhaps to suggest a link, based on no evidence, between Maria Tracey’s family and Bovey Tracey’s earlier lords.

Marcella was born in Johannesburg in 1894 and her father Percival White Tracey described himself as a ‘digger’, that is, a prospector for diamonds. In 1898 Percival and a rich associate Thomas Major Cullinan discovered a large diamond in alluvium washed down from nearby Elandsfontein farm. They reasoned, correctly, that a rich pipe of kimberlite lay under this ground and, following the ending of the Second Boer War, in 1902 Cullinan bought the farm for £50,000 and established the Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Company (Gavin Whitfield, 2015. 50 Must-see Geological Sites in South Africa, South Africa, Penguin Random House), no. 42, Cullinan Diamond Mine; Fig.1).

Figure 1. Percival Tracey sitting 2nd from Right. c.1902-1908. The Heritage

This rich mine became known as the Cullinan Diamond Mine and, enjoying the proceeds, Percival had Beauvais, a fine forty-roomed three storey house built for himself and his family in Johannesburg in 1907, but only two years before his death in 1909 at the age of sixty-four (Fig. 2).  Percival’s widow, also Marcella was left caring for her several offspring aged between twelve and twenty-five.

Figure 2. Beauvais, the Tracey’s house in Johannesburg. The Heritage

In 1901 Percival’s wife Marcella was staying at a boarding house in Brighton with her daughter Marcella aged seven and son Harold aged four (1901 Census). Two older daughters, Muriel and Beryl were resident at a school boarding house in Cheltenham. No doubt Marcella experienced a similar style of care / schooling in England, possibly at Cheltenham Ladies College which opened in 1853 ( The schooling of the two boys, Francis and Harold Adair Tracey has yet to be confirmed but All Hallows School, Honiton is a possibility as H. A. Tracey was awarded prizes there in 1913 and 1914 when Harold would have been seventeen/eighteen (All Hallows School Honiton: Sadler prize for Form 2, H.A. Tracey, The Western Times 28 July 1913, p. 3; Prize for mathematics , op.cit., 16 December 1914, p. 3).

 In July 1910 Marcella (Mrs?) and thirteen-year old Harold arrived at London from Cape Town aboard the SS German (Ancestry). This could have been his mother bringing him to the UK for his secondary schooling but as no 1911 census record exists for either of them, perhaps it was a short visit. 

Miss Marcella Tracey sailed to South Africa in November 1912, and in April 1913 Marcella then nineteen and her aunt sailed from South Africa back to England accompanied by Marcella’s older sister Beryl and their mother Mrs Marcella Tracey (1912; 1913 In May 1913 it was announced in the press that Maria Tracey and her niece Marcella were staying at the Pulteney Hotel in Bath (Bath Chronicle 24 May 1913, p. 4).

This was a short visit to the UK and in October 1913 Marcella and her sister Beryl sailed from Southampton, first class, aboard SS Walmer Castle back to Cape Town, presumably returning for a while to their family home in Johannesburg (; Fig. 3).

Figure 3. SS Walmer Castle.

The First World War

WW1 began in the summer of 1914 and in July 1915 Mrs Marcella Tracey sailed from South Africa to London with her daughters Beryl now twenty-eight, ‘Millicent’ (ie Marcella) twenty-one and her son Harold, now a nineteen-year old student (

In January 1916 Harold enlisted as a lieutenant in the South Wales Borderers and in November 1916 he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps. He trained on a Henri Farman biplane (The National Archives Servicemen’s Records; The London Gazette 25 January 1916, p. 1008; Fig.4).

Figure 4. Maurice Farman MF 11 Biplane.

Harold served in France during 1916 and in 1917, now a Second Lieutenant he was posted to East Africa (No. 26 (SA) Squadron) and Egypt. He was hospitalised in Egypt in June 1917 before being transferred to No. 47 Squadron on the Salonika Front in the Balkans, probably in November 1917 (The National Archives Records of Servicemen).

In January 1918 R.F.C. Salonika (but not No. 47 Squadron) was re-equipped with SE5As, Bristol Monoplanes and Sopwith Camels that replaced the Nieuport 27s that had previously been operating in this theatre (Figs. 5)..

Sopwith Camel.

Figures 5. The crashed plane of Joseph Bamford, killed in Salonika.Either a Sopwith Camel or a Vickers FB19 Mk2.

Harold Tracey’s Capture

In January 1918 2nd Lieutenant Harold Adair Tracey, R.F.C. was reported missing (WMN 26 January 1918, p. 3) but in February ‘Sec-Lt H.A. Tracey of the South Wales Borderers, attached to the R.F.C. who was previously posted as missing, was Friday night reported by the War Office to be a prisoner of war in Bulgarian hands’ (Western Mail 16 February 1918, p. 5). It was a dangerous place as described by Wakefield, ‘For pilots and observers death could come at any time. Enemy aircraft, engine failure and anti-aircraft fire all provided a threat. There was also the possibility of coming down behind the enemy lines and being taken prisoner. This fate was suffered by 2nd lieutenant H.A. Tracey and his observer Lieutenant Arthur Rowan (both No. 47 Squadron, RFC) on 3rd January 1918, when they came down behind the Grand Couronne’ (Alan Wakefield, and Simon Moody, 2004. Under the Devil’s Eye, Sutton publishing p. 190).

Henry Albert Jones gave a very full description of Harold Tracey’s ’s misadventure in Salonika (Henry Albert Jones, 1923. Over the Balkans and South Russia,  Ist published 1923, re-published 1987, Greenhill).

“The first day of January (1918) for No. 47 Squadron, as for all other units on the fighting fronts, came along very much like all the other days that had preceded it. The first casualties of the year occurred on the third day of the month. Three Armstrong Whitworths on photographic duty were attacked by three enemy scouts near Cestovo. After a short combat one of the A.W.’s, with 2nd Lieutenant H.A. Tracey, pilot, and Lieutenant A. Rowan, observer, went down in a spin, but afterwards flattened out and was seen to land north of Lake Doiran. Shortly afterwards clouds of smoke were observed to come from the machine, ‘and’, says the official record, ‘it was believed that the occupants landed safely and then destroyed the machine.’ A little further light was thrown on to the fate of these two officers by the enemy wireless two days later. ‘An English aeroplane,’ it stated, ‘was brought down by a German sergeant-major in an air combat, and fell behind our lines north-west of Lake Doiran. The occupants, two Englishmen, were made prisoners.’ What actually happened is told by Tracey in his own words:”

Jones continued to describe the event in Harold Tracey’s own words, a brief extract from which is:

‘On the night of January 5/6, we were taken to Uskub by train and put into the local gaol. The Hun wing headquarters sent for us and gave us some breakfast about 12.30. After a second examination we were sent on. The train was nearly the death of both off us, as there was no way to keep warm, and by the time we got to Nish, we were far from feeling anything, and it was all we could to change into the Sofia train. At 6.0 am in the morning of the 7th of January, we reached Sofia, and three more hours in a local train brought us to Kjustendil. Here we were marched to the War office, and had our first meal since we left Hudova (the breakfast at Uskub was only a couple of sandwiches’ …  ‘On the following day we got to the prisoners-of-war camp at Philippopolis.’

Harold’s war record states that he was shot down over enemy territory. He was arrested near the Grand Couronne which was a large hill overlooking the  Doiran territory that the British attacked unsuccessfully in Autumn 1917 and again in 1918 suffering heavy losses on both occasions (The National Archives, Servicemen’s Records; Fig. 6). The ‘Devil’s Eye’ in the title of Wakefield’s book refers to the Bulgarian fortress built into the Grand Couronne.

Figure 6. Grand Couronne and the ‘Devil’s Eye’. Imperial War Museum

Harold Tracey had been on a photographic reconnaissance mission and his war record states that he was an ‘A.W. pilot’ –  he flew the Armstrong Whitworth FK 3. The A-W FK 3 was a 1915 two-seater general purpose biplane that was used for artillery sighting, reconnaissance and light bombing. When used for bombing, however the pilot had to fly without his observer.

In December 1916 2nd Lt. Arthur Dent with No. 47 Squadron wrote ‘The machines that they use here are all of one type called Armstrong-Whitworths – very stable. The observer’s seat faces backwards and there are two guns, the pilot’s in front and the observer’s behind’ (Alan Wakefield 2004, op.cit.).

The Bulgarian forces were supported by a very small contingent of the German air force. British aeroplanes far outnumbered the Germans but the latter’s young Lieutenant Rudolph von Eschwege was an ‘ace’ who was finally defeated when a booby-trapped British observation balloon exploded ‘On the occasion of his twentieth aerial victory on November 21st 1917’ (Heydemarck p.191). It therefore could not have been him who shot down Harold Tracey in January 1918. Along with Harold, two further British casualties are recorded:

Lt. Arthur Stropher was, like Harold Tracey, captured during the Salonika campaign following the emergency landing of his Armstrong Whitworth FK 3 (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Armstrong Whitworth FK 3 as used in Salonika from February 1917.2nd Lt Arthur Stropher landed on a Bulgarian aerodrome and was duly captured.His plane was pressed into German service!

Heydemarck quoted from a letter received by an R.F.C. Major from a junior officer who had also fallen into German/Bulgarian hands: “I have just dined with the German Flying Corps. They have been very kind to me. I am going up to Philoppopolis tomorrow. The Germans have asked me to ask you to throw them some coffee on Drama (the German’s airfield) which they want in Mess here” (Haupt Heydemarck, War Flying in Macedonia, (Ist published London, Hamilton 1935; reprinted 2017, Uckfield, Naval and Military Press Ltd, p. 57). Despite fighting on opposite sides, WW1 airman maintained cordial relationships and they routinely informed each other when pilots had been shot down or captured. This, however did not stop them bombing each other’s airfields with alacrity!                                                                      

Despite the lack of British advancement in 1917 and 1918 the combined French/Serbian/Greek and British forces did secure a breakthrough in the summer of 1918 and the Bulgarians suddenly capitulated in September. Following General Allenby’s successful campaign in Palestine the Ottoman Turks signed the Armistice of Mudros in October and Germany capitulated in November.

Marcella Tracey in Salonika

Harold’s sister Marcella would have received the news in January 1918 that her younger brother was missing in action on the Salonika Front. She would have been heartened to learn in February that he was alive, but now a prisoner of war in Bulgaria. No doubt she feared for his safety and well-being.

Marcella volunteered as an orderly in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals that had units attached to the Serbian army in Salonica. During the holding of the Macedonia Front throughout 1917/18 by the British Salonika Force (with its allied French and Serbian troops) there were high rates of malaria to contend with as well as other diseases and battlefield wounds.

Marcella served in Salonika from 2nd March 1918 until 9th September 1918 during which time her brother Harold was being held in captivity at Philppopolis in Bulgaria (The National Archives WWI records). Harold, aged only twenty-two was released from imprisonment in November.

Harold and Marcella after WW1

Harold was repatriated on November 29th 1918. In February 1919 Harold was admitted to hospital but by June he was at RAF Netheravon, Wiltshire. There was a further short hospitalization in July 1919 and in February 1920 Harold relinquished his RAF post, returning to the army (The National Archives Servicemen’s Records). Harold had secured his place at Oxford University and he became a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University from 1920, graduating in 1923. He then studied to become a doctor / surgeon and was awarded his Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (L.R.C.P St Barts) in 1927 (

In 1923, on completing his B.A. Harold married Miss Constance B.D. Rooth at Kensington and he then began his career as a doctor/surgeon in London.

Meanwhile, in 1919 Marcella, her sister Beryl and their mother Mrs Marcella Tracey sailed from London to the Cape on SS Gaika and Mrs Tracey later described herself as a farmer (

Marcella’s aunt Miss Maria Tracey died at Bovey Tracey in 1939 but beforehand, in 1930 when making another of her several journeys to South Africa, Marcella’s UK address was given as c/o National Provincial Bank, Oxford Street, London and no longer Bovey Tracey (

During the inter-war years Marcella and Beryl sailed at least six times to England, travelling first-class and giving several different London addresses. Marcella did not marry and she died in Johannesburg in 1970 aged seventy-six.

Percival White Tracey had been a partner in the Cullinan’s diamond mine and the fine house he had built for his family in Johannesburg suggests that he was a man of considerable wealth. However, when Percival died in 1909 his estate was valued at a modest £1,749 the equivalent of about £199,000 in 2018. When Marcella died in 1970 her estate was valued at £1,312 or £21,000 in 2018 which suggests that an earlier fortune had long since disappeared.

Although Marcella Tracey would appear to have long since ended her association with Bovey Tracey, in 1939 her first cousins Eleanor and Beryl Tracey were both living at The Manor House, East Street, Bovey Tracey. They are still remembered for giving delicious teas to local schoolchildren (Mike Steer personal communication 2020).

The death of Marcella’s brother Harold Tracey has yet to be ascertained.