Breslau | Trenchard | 13 Apr 1916

Breslau in the Black Sea

The preparations for the final attack on Trebizond are nearly complete, and then what must be the final straw is cast onto the camel’s back. Surely the already-panicky Russian Brains Trust will lose their minds completely when Breslau, the state-of-the-art formerly-German cruiser now serving as the Ottoman flagship, strolls over to Humurgan. The minimal Russian naval assets scatter and Breslau casually chucks some shells at the infantry on shore before departing again.

You might expect that, given the rather Shaggy-like qualities of all General Yudenich’s subordinates thus far, they might collectively cry “Zoinks!” and flee in search of an impractically large sandwich. But, funny thing, it actually turns out that Admiral Eberhardt has undergone a magical transformation into Fred, or possibly Velma. At any rate, sending his battleships out to get potted at by submarines is one thing. Having a crack at Breslau is quite another. The infantry advance will now have the same naval support as every other phase of the campaign.

Riddle that out! How did we get from there to here?

Hugh Trenchard

Meanwhile, in London, two pioneers of military aviation are having a stitch-and-bitch. Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Air Organisation, is complaining about the recent failures of the Joint War Air Committee, and the attempts of the Royal Aircraft Factory to build an aeroplane to match the Nieuport Bebe. His confidante is one General Hugh Trenchard, field commander of the Royal Flying Corps. And their letters are talking, in, to say the least, rather drastic terms.

“I get more and more impressed with the rottenness of our system and our institutions and a large portion of our people every day”, huffs Sir Sefton. “The Boches will beat us yet unless we can hang our politicians and burn our newspapers and have a dictatorship!” Presumably he subscribes to the “It’s Us Doing It” theory of moral acceptability. Trenchard, presumably nodding sagely, opines “Our institutions badly want revising, and I am afraid we shall not move until things get worse.”

Trenchard is positively bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at this stage of his career. You’d never guess that he will eventually ask Winston Churchill to set him up as an all-arms generalissimo in another war, would you? But he’s far from the, hohoho, trenchant advocate for strategic bombing at all costs that he’d eventually become. Why, he’s even now fending off other people’s attempts to reassign resources away from recon and artillery spotting and into strategic bombing! I’m sure we’ll bump into him a few more times. Hopefully he won’t be leading a military coup against the Prime Minister.

Grigoris Balakian

With the departure of the train to Aleppo approaching, Grigoris Balakian is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. The caravan is now divided into those taking the train and those going by foot. Balakian stops to exchange yet more stories of woe with another passer-by. And then he trusts to sheer dumb luck.

I instinctively ran after him and grabbed him, then told him about my secret plan. After calmly listening, he said, “I’m just the person you were looking for. God must have sent me to you. I’m a native of Van, but since the resistance, I’ve been saying that I’m from Bardiz. For fourteen years I was involved in tobacco smuggling in and around Izmit. Finally the government made me a Jandarma with special pay so I could track down the other smugglers. I’ve often gone as far as Armash, and I think I’ve seen you there.”

“Reverend Father, it’s a shame for you to sacrifice yourself for the sake of these deportees. They’re done for. I’ll help you flee, and tell you wherever you want. Just tell me where you want to go.”

And that is what I call happy hour in the Last Chance Saloon. Balakian accepts, and begins considering how best to slip away from the train.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson’s battalion is going nowhere fast owing to the rain and the mud. This is not good. This is not good at all. If this weather catches up with General van Deventer’s mounted brigade, they’re all boned.

Had a good sleep but woke up to find a dull damp morning. Had bread soaked in milk and coffee for breakfast. It became fine about 9.30am so I took my camera and after taking a photo of us at breakfast we walked into Moshi to have a look around. The roads were very slippery with mud which made us wonder whether we could leave today. We had a look at the Post Office, a double-storeyed building then went down to the station. Legg took a photo of Rose and I standing in front of Moshi station.

The Cape Coloured Corps are garrisoning this place for the present. They seem quite a serviceable lot. We walked back to camp through the town and saw about 50 Askari prisoners sitting in front of a house… . It came on to rain in the afternoon so we covered up the motor as well as we could and got under shelter which leaked badly. We had dinner with the mechanics which consisted of soup and curry and rice and it warmed us up nicely. Just before retiring to bed some German snipers fired into the town so our patrols were sent out after them.

Absolutely boned, I tell you.

Um, so the fighting in this theatre is extremely irregular when compared to the Western Front. The majority of the Schutztruppe are several hundred miles south and east, but the distances are so vast that detaching a few blokes here and there to go on harrassing operations is entirely reasonable. Also, from a white South African in 1916, describing a Cape Coloured man as “quite a serviceable lot” is almost akin to asking him to marry one’s daughter. It’s a high compliment.

Edward Mousley

Yet more men squelch forward towards the Two Pimples in Mesopotamia. Inside the Siege of Kut, Edward Mousley might just, at long last, be drifting into sarcasm. I’m not sure, I can’t tell.

It has been said that the soldier becomes callous. It would be more true to say that he merely becomes indifferent. But an exceptional phase of death removes the blinds from many disused windows of his mind, and he sees all too well. Such an event is the loss of this kind-hearted general, and it has given to many a higher altitude in point of view. This morning I was visited by some of my old section at the battery, and talked a time to the men, and I gave them some Arab tobacco. I find they have thought a good deal about things in general.

Outside in the street, beneath my window, a decrepit Arab beggar, in a deep passionate voice, asks for alms. It is often the first sound I hear in the morning. Later in the day the Arab children make their appearance in groups, begging and wailing piteously. Once the babes in their mothers’ arms used to cry the whole day long, but the unfortunates are probably long since gone. The Arab population has been dying by the hundreds, and they look dreadfully shrunken and gaunt. A few escaped, but were shot by the Turks.

One is informed that if Kut had not been held, the position of the Turks would have been consolidated, and the tactical and strategical usefulness of its position with the enemy. These are the most cheerful thoughts possible in the garrison when one feels extra weary and sick.

There’s much more, most of it teetering on the tightrope between sincerity and sarcasm.

Louis Barthas

Sadly, Corporal Louis Barthas, as he is once more, is not the only person to have gone up in the world recently. Captain Cros-Mayrevielle has just been promoted to a big compound French rank, which I believe in English would be a cross between the battalion’s second-in-command and discipline officer. The job might have been made for the Kronprinz.

The useless functions of capitaine-adjutant-major had been abolished by a superior officer less stupid than the others, but then they were restored by some idiot at headquarters.

The next few days, at the daily assembly, it was nothing but prohibitions, orders, punishments, threats. Beforehand we had enjoyed a state of relative liberty at our cantonments. The good times were at an end. In the [town hall] of Lamotte-Buleux, where once the daily affairs of the village were decided, our new tyrant had established his headquarters. From daybreak he was right there, booted, gloved, girded in his English getup. His first duty was to pay a visit to the prisoners locked in the firehouse; he counted and re-counted them with scrupulous care.

Then, with his chronometer in hand marking the official Paris time to which all watches would be set, he went about his tasks, verifying departures, assemblies, work details, units going out on exercises, etc. Each day a whole company, armed with long brooms made of branches so abundant in the nearby Crécy forest, scoured the streets of Lamotte, with shovels, spades, rakes, wheelbarrows, tumbrels, sweeping, scraping, scouring, until the appointed hour when the work detail was completed. A few dry leaves or an overlooked sardine can would be enough to put him into a furore.

I wonder if I’m interpreting this properly? France at the time officially observed GMT, as did most everyone west of the Rhine, which in Belgium they still call (very quietly) “l’heure des allies”. However, they only made the change in 1911. Before then, since 1891, French railway time had been set to the exact solar time in Paris, which is GMT plus 9 minutes and 21 seconds. Could the Kronprinz really be so petty as to make this battalion the only one in the entire French Army that runs on proper French time?

What am I saying? Of course he could. I’d almost be more surprised if he hadn’t. I bet he painstakingly corrects all the orders he gets from higher authority from GMT to Paris time, too. Still, at least they’re still safe in the rear, and they won’t have to attack anything any time soon. And a few days ago, Lieutenant Cordier threatened to knock Cros-Mayrevielle’s glasses off his nose. Small victories!

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has made it to Boulogne on his way home on leave, but there’s a spanner in the works. Quite why this happened, by the way, I’ve no idea. Could just have been the fancy of a passing transport officer. Southwell’s guesses are all fair enough, if inaccurate.

Well, off I went to the Quai, and there it was: ‘All officers and men on leave will require’ (silly idiom that!) ‘to return to their units. Those proceeding on duty to England will continue journey. Further announcements later.’ “Oh, so that’s it, is it ?” we thought. Explanation obvious; Ypres, Verdun, and Arras all taken, London in flames, fleet at the bottom of Channel, entire BEF on verge of extermination.

At least what I really thought was not quite that: I thought probably the Hun had made a bit of a success of some attack on Verdun, and got near enough to make it advisable for everybody to ‘stand by’. That doesn’t seem to be the case; at least I’ve not read of such a thing. One explanation is that it is a traffic matter in England merely; but in any case I needn’t waste time (and carbon) by more guesses.

He’ll spend a couple of days in Bolougne, and another couple in Amiens, and then be sent back to his battalion.

Maximilian Mugge

Naturalised citizen Maximilian Mugge is again inadvertently displaying that he didn’t grow up in England. If he had, he would have had an instinctual understanding of the class system. As it is…

There is in my opinion too great a distance between the commissioned and the non-commissioned ranks. Anyhow, from the point of view which I consider to be that held by the spirit of true British Democracy.

A private soldier is not allowed even to approach or address an officer unless an NCO has taken the wriggling worm in front of the superman. If I should walk up to my own officer and talk to him without being “taken before” him, I shall expiate the awful crime with pack-drill, jankers or clink, if I am not even shot at dawn.

This semi-divinity business is un-English. Somewhere and sometime it will exact its penalty here too. I do not object to discipline. It is a wholesome school for the naturally lazy animal called man. No team-work, no large enterprise is possible without discipline. But I do object to the ridiculous and brutal code of rules that turns the wheels of the military machine.

Balls. This semi-divinity business is as English as it’s possible to get. This is where I remind everyone that 40% of British men, including very probably a majority of the men in Mugge’s hut, do not have the vote, correct? Perhaps he’d have been happier if he were one of Herbert Sulzbach’s gunners. Sulzbach’s been hob-nobbing with his officers since he was a lowly war volunteer. I should note, in the interest of fairness, that a lot of officers do remove the sticks from their arses once they’ve all been up the line a few times.

Oh, and “jankers” is a succession of menial jobs, given as punishment; and “clink” is confinement in the guardhouse. Once again I feel great anticipation at how outraged he’s going to be when he discovers what Field Punishment Number One is…

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

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