The bird in Mansell Copse | 17 Mar 1916


So, as we saw on the 14th, there’s a major problem for the men in German East Africa at Kahe. They’ve had a pause of a few days while General Smuts has sent out his scouts, and now the reports are back in. They’re not very promising. Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck is planning to make a major stand here, with yet more well-prepared defensive positions. Not only have they concentrated their field artillery, they also have one of the guns from the Konigsberg to provide long-range support.

I’d try to build this up to a “well, there are two options…” assessment, but Smuts’s personality means that in fact there is only one. That’s to attack again as soon as possible, and drive the Schutztruppe out of Kahe before the rains begin in earnest. “As soon as possible” is tomorrow.

The bird in Mansell Copse

Time now for a small vignette from the Somme sector. Private Albert Conn of the 8th Devonshires is stationed near Mametz.

A small bird sang on a stunted tree in Mansell Copse. At the break of dawn we used to listen to it and wonder that amongst so much misery and death a bird could sing. One morning a corporal visiting the fire posts heard the bird singing and, muttering, ‘What the hell have you got to sing about?’ fired and killed it.

A couple of the lads told him to fuck off out of it. We missed the bird.

Gee, I sure do hope that isn’t some piece of morbid foreshadowing before the battle to come.

Grigoris Balakian

Early in the morning, having been told of the caravan, girls from Jane S. Wingate’s American school in Talas arrive with food and a friendly ear. They’ve had a whip-round so that the deportees won’t run out of money; when she sees their situation, Mrs Wingate immediately heads off to get some more. Many of the deportees have also had a vital chance to tell their stories, so that via Jane Wingate they might be able to get out into the wider world. And then…

[The Talas Jandarma captain] suddenly entered and [bollocked] our Jandarma, loudly reprimanding them for letting the American teachers and girls talk about our plight and what we had seen on the way. This was the reason they didn’t want to take us into cities; they didn’t want us to communicate to anybody the truth about the massacres.

As punishment, the captain ordered that we prepare to depart in a few hours. He forbade us even to rent beasts of burden to transport out possessions. We had no choice but to divide up our small bundles among ourselves and then set out toward evening for Tomarza.

Off they go again.

Louis Barthas

Private Louis Barthas and a new pal have been awoken at night by the people who are billeting them for an urgent assignment.

If he wasn’t already a priest, my neighbor was training to be one. Steeped in devotion, he had little to do with us except the most strictly indispensable relations and conversations. He spent his free time in the company of the battalion’s curates, monks, and seminarians. Galin was his name. But what was this peaceable duty we were recruited for? There was no enemy outpost around here to be raided.

It was simply to lend a hand to a cow who was having a hard time calving. Modestly I confessed my inexperience in these matters. The abbé Galin’s inexperience was no less than my own, but as a true disciple of Christ he couldn’t refuse to help his fellow man.

After much effort they succeed in birthing the calf, but too late, and it soon dies.

These good folks wanted to thank us nonetheless for our troubles, and they invited us to drink a bowl of mulled wine. I accepted with pleasure, but Galin refused. Thinking that he didn’t like wine, they offered him a little glass of excellent rum, but he refused it quite obstinately. These people were dumbfounded. For a poilu to refuse a glass of wine was extraordinary enough, but to turn down a glass of rum, that went beyond anything a Picard could imagine.

But once Galin had left, I explained that, he being a priest, and the next day being Sunday, the day of communion, he couldn’t risk his soul’s salvation by swallowing even a drop of water, midnight having been rung a few moments before. The farmers were astounded to learn that they had recruited a clergyman to help their cow to give birth. They felt a vague remorse at having tempted a minister of God and placing him at risk of mortal sin.

The blokes have also now had time to consider where they might go next. Verdun is the obvious answer. Only time will tell whether they’re right.

The Sunny Subaltern

I wonder if our anonymous Canadian friend the Sunny Subaltern has any more cavalier remarks about the trenches?

Here I am again in hospital. It seems as though I never get out of the bally spot.

Goddamnit! Get out of there!

Nothing serious, you know, just crocked up with a deuce of a cold and a very sore heel. The heel comes from endeavouring to break in a new pair of shoes and started with a blister which, like Finney’s Turnip, grew until the length, breadth and depth thereof was some thing to marvel at, and the pain in keeping with the dimensions. Talk about exquisite torture, but I sure feel that the methods of the Inquisition have nothing on this.

However, she is fast healing up and we will go back to finish the breaking in of the new shoes. This breaking in stuff is no joke and I have not yet discovered whether it consists in moulding the boot to the shape of your foot or vice versa, but I think it is vice versa.

My heart bleeds. The reference is to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (of “Paul Revere’s Ride” fame, among others). It’s about a really, really, really large turnip. Apparently he wrote it at age 9, and in that context it’s quite good. Private Baldrick would have approved, at least.

Edward Mousley

The siege of Kut drags onwards in banal fashion. Edward Mousley is still looking for new ways to stave off boredom.

We had an extraordinary breakfast of kedjereed tinned salmon Square-Peg brought with him. Cockie’s temperature is increasing and ought to be diminished. I played patience a little, which I can’t stick for long. There are not many books circulating.

“Patience” is the traditional British name for one-person card games.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. (If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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