Grigoris Balakian in the Armenian Genocide
It’s now time to return to Cankiri, where our previously-occasional correspondent Grigoris Balakian is being arrested again. If you want to click on his name and remind yourself who he is, now would be a very good time. The police commissioner has offered him a chance to bribe his way out, but he doesn’t have nearly enough money. In fact, every Armenian in the city, whether part of its community or a deportee from Constantinople, is being arrested. A few can buy their way out again.
But, for most of the Armenians, this can only be the start of their final journey. Der Zor, in the Syrian desert, is their supposed final destination, but nobody can hope to reach it.
After deliberations, we decided that our families should remain in Cankiri, at least to be spared a trip lasting months. And we deportees would at least be spared seeing the agonising tortures and perverse deaths of our loved ones.
The exact details of the deportations were often a little capricious. In Cankiri, the local government will only force the men to leave. Women and children can go if they choose, but “protection” is promised to anyone who wants to stay. Sometimes this meant a quiet but harsh existence on the fringe of some small town. More often it meant the women and children being forcibly absorbed into local families, their Armenian identities denied; or to be caught up in the net of some later round of deportations; or worse.
Anyway, we’ll now be following Balakian day-by-day on the road to nowhere.
Sir Douglas Haig
General Haig is on his way back to London for a meeting with Lord Kitchener about this Verdun business. (His diary entry places that meeting today; for reasons of space, we’ll bump it to tomorrow.) However, on the way, he stops off at Dover for a jolly good chat with two men. One of them, Admiral Bacon, we’ve not met before except on the most extreme of tangents. He commands the Dover Patrol, which seals the Channel against U-boats and anyone else who would disrupt the BEF’s supply lines.
The other man, sadly enough, we have met before. General Hunter-Weston has now recovered from whateveritwas that had seen him sent home from Gallipoli; sadly, he hasn’t recovered from being an incompetent twerp. Casual abuse aside, they’re meeting for an extremely interesting reason. General Haig is still offering patronage and support to the dream that the BEF has held dear since 1914; an attack out of the Ypres salient in Belgium. He may be committed to the Battle of the Somme, but here he’s still dreaming the dream of an amphibious operation to capture Ostend. (This is surely why he’s called for Hunter-Weston, the closest thing to an experienced amphibious man at Haig’s disposal.)
We agreed that it was not a feasible operation until the Enemy’s reserves had been drawn off. I had always held that view. I now directed that the whole scheme should be worked out in the most complete detail, but that the moment for execution of the scheme must depend on the military situation.
I do think this is a very interesting direction. You might expect the Chief to be concentrating all his resources and attention on the Somme, but this clearly is not the case. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing can of course be argued either way. (The British 4th Army has not yet begun its planning for the Somme; their staff won’t be ready to present a plan to Haig for some while yet, and of course they have plenty of time to do so.)
Clifford Wells, the idiot son of a Montreal millionaire, has finished his bombing course. It finishes with a company-sized exercise, and Wells is playing with some very interesting toys.
The fight took the form of an infantry attack upon a redoubt defended chiefly by grenadiers. The attackers numbered about 200, the defenders about 50. As the attackers advanced in short rushes, we opened fire with our few riflemen (firing blanks of course) and then with our 3 catapults, and 2 spring guns firing bombs, which weigh 2 pounds, about 200 yards.
I had charge of a West Spring Gun. The gun crew consists of five men, three to compress the spring, one to place the bomb in position, and light the fuse, and one to fire as soon as the fuse is lighted. The bomb would burst 4 seconds later, usually just after striking the ground.
The War Office is hard at work developing a proper rifle grenade, but the technology needs much more testing before it matures. In the meantime, these kinds of catapults are spreading all over the front, often designed and hand-built by bored engineers. The exercise comes to an end, and then…
The enemy paused after reaching our trenches to get their breath, and during the pause someone threw a snowball. The next minute something like 250 snowballs were flying through the air. Officers and men acted like schoolboys, and for the next fifteen minutes one of the greatest snowball fights that ever occurred was raging.
It is my private opinion that about thirty men of the Fourth University Company who happened to be among the attackers chose me for their particular target, but I may have got this impression simply from not making good use of the available cover. Altogether, it was the most enjoyable quarter of an hour I have had for some time.
When it was all over, the men picked up their rifles, and the officers picked up their canes and their dignity, and tried to look as if they had never thrown a snowball in their lives. The whole thing was spontaneous, unpremeditated by anyone.
Stayed in bed all day till tea-time. Fortunate enough to see a doctor. It is a desperate business being ill now. I am lucky to be in Reserve; otherwise I am feeling very wild about it all.
He underplays it considerably here, but he’s actually quite badly ill. He’ll spend most of the next ten days in bed, or being seen to by the medics.
The show downstream has been postponed. More reinforcements are necessary.
History repeats itself, and we are down to three slices of bread a day. It is a lovely morning. Some gunners were around to dinner last night, bringing their own bread, as is the correct order of things in Kut. We had an excellent roast of horse. For sweets we had rice and date juice, and instead of savoury, “post mortems” on [the Battle of Ctesiphon].
Tomorrow night, he’ll have an extended nightmare which involves various generals bellowing insults at each other over the desert with the aid of enormous megaphones.