You may be familiar with the Californian if you’ve ever looked into the Titanic disaster in any detail. Californian was the passenger liner whose wireless operator attempted to warn Titanic of icebergs in the area only a few minutes before the disaster, to be met by the message ” Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!” from Titanic’s wireless operator; and then failed entirely to recognise Titanic’s distress signals and move to give assistance until far too late.
Anyway, she’s since been requisitioned by the British government and is now working as a transport between Salonika and Marseilles. The good news is that she’s safely delivered to Salonika and is now on the way back to Marseilles. The bad news is that Californian has run foul of U-35 while leaving Greece, and one torpedo sends her to the bottom 60 miles off Cape Matapan. Supplying the blokes is hard enough without these German U-boats running around at will.
The other day we covered the rapid enlargement in permanent members of the War Committee. It may be only one member over Asquith’s stated maximum of five, but this conceals another problem. The First Sea Lord (Sir Henry Jackson) and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Sir Archibald Murray) have also begun inviting themselves to meetings to offer their two penn’orth. (Hankey subsequently commented that it was never made clear whether their role was as members or as guests.) And the process of bloat is far from complete! The Prime Minister hasn’t even announced the members of the committee to Parliament yet, and it’s already got out of hand. And there’s another development to come.
Lord Kitchener has now arrived in theatre; his first stop is Egypt, for a strategic discussion with Generals Monro and Maxwell and Sir Henry McMahon that will go on for quite a few days and be almost entirely boring, so let’s move quickly on.
Bernard Adams is still up the line, having meaningful thoughts about trench duty during the cold nights.
I gaze across into No Man’s Land. I can just see our wire, and in front a collection of old tins. Other regiments always leave places so untidy. You clean up, but when you come into the trenches you find the other fellows have left things about. You work hard repairing the trenches; when you return, the relieving regiment has done “damn all”, military slang for “nothing”. And all other regiments, it seems, have the same complaint.
A German flare lights up everything. You can see our trenches all along. Everything is clear as day. You feel as conspicuous as a cromlech on a hill. But the enemy can’t see you, fog or no fog, if you only keep still. The light has fallen on the parapet, and lies sizzling on the sandbags. A flicker, and it is gone. “Crack-plop.” “Crack-plop.” A couple of bullets bury themselves in the sandbags, or else with a long-drawn “ping” go singing over the top. Why the sentries never get hit seems extraordinary. I suppose a mathematician would tell you the chances against bullets aimed “at a venture” hitting sentries exposing one-fourth of their persons at a given elevation at so many paces interval. Personally I won’t try, as my whole object is to keep awake until four o’clock.
“Tap-tap-tap.” “There’s a wiring-party out, sir. I’ve heard ’em these last five minutes.” Undoubtedly there are a few [Germans] out in No Man’s Land, repairing their wire. I tell the sentries near to look out and be ready to fire, and then I sent off a Very light, fired by a thick cartridge from a thick-barrelled brass pistol. It makes a good row and has a fair kick, so it is best to rest the butt on the parapet and hold it at arm’s length. Even so it leaves your ears singing for hours. The first shot was a failure, only a miserable rocket tail which failed to burst. The second was a magnificent shot. It burst beautifully, and fell right behind the party, two Germans, and silhouetted them. A volley of fire followed from out awaiting sentries. I could not see if the party were hit. Anyhow, they stopped.
One working party may have been inconvenienced, but nothing of importance has occurred.
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