“Improving the position” | 18 Aug 1916

Bulgarian initiative and First Doiran

Quick recap; Romania has just signed on to enter the war. The French have agreed to lead an attack to pin the Bulgarian Army down on their southern border so they can’t just turn round and kick Romania’s back door in. They’re due to start properly in two days. Unfortunately, the Central Powers are well aware that something is going on, and so the Bulgarians have been on the move for a week. Around Lake Doiran they’re now heavily engaged with British, French, and Serbian Army troops.

Good news for exciting combat anecdotes from Flora Sandes. Bad news from just about any other point of view.

Battle of Verdun

The other day I mentioned that General “Whatever you do, you lose a lot of men” Mangin has ordered a few limited attacks to recapture Fleury village and roll back some other recent German gains. Some of them fail miserably, but the headline news is that Fleury is French once more, and with gratifyingly few casualties even where attacks have been thrown back. Maybe there is a way to do limited position-improving attacks in this war after all! (It includes a lot of artillery preparation, including heavy emphasis on counter-battery fire, and the infantry only having to cross 100 metres or so of No Man’s Land.)

Battle of the Somme

Now then. In theory, what we have here is a grand joint Franco-British attack from High Wood to the River Somme itself. General Haig has shown almost no interest in it, preferring to concentrate on his Flers-Courcelette push. General Fayolle has set extremely limited objectives for his men, seeking to advance the line only a couple of hundred metres. General Rawlinson, meanwhile, has managed to ensure enough co-ordination for everyone to attack at the same time. Unfortunately, this means attacking in broad daylight, in mid-afternoon, and heading for trenches that are mostly far too far away.

At a lower level, there has been a sign of original thinking; the 4th King’s Liverpools are attacking between High Wood and Delville Wood. Good news; they’re to be assisted by a company of the Machine Gun Corps. Over the last few days, they’ve been digging machine-gun pits out in No Man’s Land; the MGC will then move in, occupy the pits, and lay down fire to keep the Germans suppressed during the final rush. It’s a good idea and proof that no, battalion and brigade commanders didn’t just witlessly keep using the same battlefield tactics (at least, not all of them). They’re trying to innovate and war better.

Bad news; the MGC has been formed to be specialists in operating the BEF’s heavy, water-cooled, crew-served Vickers guns. Their crews, hauling the heavy equipment and water supplies, have got caught up in traffic jams in the trenches. They were supposed to sneak out before the main attack and be in position well before zero hour. But when zero hour comes, Private Arthur Russell of the 13th Company MGC finds himself going over the top with the infantry. And he’s far from alone in being late.

The infantry commenced to scramble over the parapets and our crews of Vickers machine gunners to move up the saps in No Man’s Land. Almost at the same moment the German front which for several hours had been uncannily quiet, broke into violent action with a great crash of artillery, trench mortars, field guns, howitzers and siege guns—everything they had. At the same time their trench garrisons let off into the ranks of the attacking British troops a blaze of rifle and machine gun fire, and a shower of stick bombs.

Russell was in a crew of six; a shell lands almost on his head, killing four of his mates and leaving just himself and his ammunition carrier. Ted Gale, meanwhile, had been a rifleman with the 1st Rifle Brigade at the Battle of Mons two years ago. He’s since been kicked in the mouth by a horse and lost all his teeth, then had an almost-fatal bout of food poisoning after eating bad rations, then got promoted to Lance-Corporal and sent to the 7th Battalion. He delivers an example of how nasty it is trying to attack trenches positioned near the bottom of a reverse slope.

Our own guns had put down this terrific barrage but, because we were a bit higher up than the Germans, in order to hit them they’d had to sight the guns so that they would just skim to top of our trenches. There we were, crouching in this terrible noise, and these terrible shells going over just inches above. One fellow had the top of his head took off with one of our own shells. His brains were all over the place. The artillery couldn’t help it. They had a terrible job to get the elevation right. It didn’t do much for us to see that sort of thing before we went over!

Five minutes after we went over the top, we were finished. The German machine-guns went through our lines just like a mow goes through a field of corn. I don’t think we got two hundred yards. I was in a shell-hole with the Sergeant, who’d been sampling the rum. He kept jumping up and shouting “Why don’t we advance?” Nothing would keep him quiet. The third time he jumped up, they got him and blew half his face away.

Out of a company of nearly 250 men, Gale and 22 others return. He had been wondering, as he lay in a shell-hole and looked back up the hill, why the other company he could see lying in No Man’s Land weren’t coming forward to help. Of course, once darkness fell and he was able to get back, he soon realised it was because they were all lying dead…

It’s not all total failure. This time, the orders have accounted for the possibility of not being able to get to the German trenches. Of course, that’s what the staff would like, but for many units, if you can just shove forward to within 200 yards of the enemy and survive long enough to dig new trenches under cover of darkness, that’s now a win. I’m torn between sighing despairingly at the lack of ambition, and nodding approvingly at a sensible reaction to a difficult situation. (Yes, a truly sensible reaction might well be to stop entirely, but you can go tell General Haig that and I’ll be over here watching.)

Neil Tennant

Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Tennant is getting to know the pilots under his command in 30 Squadron.

There was ” Bert” sometime cavalry officer planter in Burma artillery brigade commander in South Africa; now hawk-like observer,mess president and cocktail-mixer-in-chief; there was little that “Bert” did not know or could not do; his joy and the youthfulness of his heart were those of a boy, his manner that of a courtier. “Bert” became famous through the land. Then “D.H.,” otherwise “Mark 2,” being the youngest of a famous pair. Life was not serious for “D.H.” The ground hardly knew him, but when it did it smiled; he feared neither God nor Man.

Thank God, someone with a little indiscretion. Tennant earlier gave his full name, and it’s quite clear that “D.H.” is Lieutenant Hereward de Havilland. His older brother Geoffrey is currently chief designer for Airco; in 1920 he will set up his own “De Havilland” aircraft business at Hatfield.

His mate was “Oo-Er,” a vermilion machine and the terror of the Turk. When by chance on the ground, he would play golf round the aerodrome, a palpitating tyke following in his train. In the dog days came “Chocolo,” which is short for “Chocololovitch” (after a soldier comedian who sang a song of that name), a broth of a boy with a brogue of Fermanagh. He presented himself from his Indian unit at a time when there was no vacancy for embryo observers; however, as a result of the difficulties of transport for his return and a determination not to budge, “Chocolo” remained for two years.

Then there was “Bobby,” an imperturbable representative from Caledonia. Bobby was stolid; when threatened with expulsion after appalling crashes, he would remain quite stoically undisturbed with a grin on his face. He said little. The only times that Bobby blossomed to the outside world were on such occasions as New Year’s Eve or St. Andrew’s Night, when our friend would become suddenly brilliant, the central figure of the evening; after which he would retire into his quiet canny shell until another Festival came round on which he thought it fit to blossom forth once more.

Later on he distinguished himself by shooting down a Hun in aerial combat and received the Military Cross. Questioned by the General as to how many he had crashed, Bobby replied: “Sixteen; fifteen English and one German, sir.” His next crash, alas! was his last.

Toffs at war, my friends Toffs at war.

Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke is in Berlin, becoming ever-more-monosyllabic as he goes. Fortunately, we’ve still got the Dicta Boelcke to review. Principle 4 is “Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.”

It sounds obvious, but Boelcke has learned by experience that in the heat of battle, it’s all too easy to become distracted for a moment and then lose sight of whoever you were chasing. He’s also seen enemy pilots escape impossible situations by pretending to spiral out of control, and then recovering from the spiral after their opponent turns away, thinking he’s won. The importance of having all this common sense written down as a reference for new pilots can’t be overstated.

And, although his published diary doesn’t mention it, the head of the German army’s air service, General von der Lieth-Thomsen, has just convinced the Kaiser to send Boelcke back to flying duty. Boelcke will spend the next ten days assembling his pick of the best German fighter pilots to form a new elite squadron, which will become commonly known as “Jasta 2”.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson heads out into the bush with some mates to supplement his rations. Oooh, I wonder what he’s going to fuck up this time? So many options.

…After walking around in a large circle I bagged a guinea fowl and in following up the flock put another shot at them, but missed. When going to see the result I suddenly came across a herd of about 8 koodoo. One saw me, gave a bellow and turned to run but I let him have it and the bullet went between his hind legs, hit him in the stomach and came out at the breast. He scampered off and I thought I had missed him but, afterwards, I heard him grunting and throwing himself about, so I went up to him and watched him die.

When it was nearly dead and stopped kicking I cut its throat then started back to camp. Great excitement when I brought in the guinea fowl and greater excitement still when I told them about the koodoo. After having some breakfast and cleaning the guinea fowl John, Smikky, Rose and I with 2 boys started out, having a few shots on the way, but hitting nothing. As soon as we arrived at the koodoo we ‘gutsed’ it and cut it up into 4 quarters, keeping the liver, kidneys, heart and tongue. The rest of the entrails and the neck we gave to the boys.

Rose and I carried one of the quarters and Smikky and John the other, the 2 boys carrying the forequarters. We went back through the bush nearly getting scratched to death by the thorns and arrived back at the camp very thirsty. We kept a hindquarter for ourselves and gave the other to the other 3 messes, a forequarter to Paddy, the other forequarter to the natives; a sirloin cut to Mr Parsons and another to Dick’s Germiston friend. Fried buck cutlets in batter and tea for lunch.

Cleaned my rifle and had a shave. Heard No. 4 platoon of the Motor Cyclists had been ambushed. Paddy found my bullet in his portion of the buck and returned it to me through Bibby. Did clerk duty on the post for about 2 hours. … Went to bed fairly early and slept fairly well but had pains in the stomach during the night.

Outstanding, Private Pyle! I think we’ve finally found something you do well! A koodoo (these days usually rendered “kudu”) is another species of antelope.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell is soon to be going up the line near Delville Wood, not too far away from where Max Plowman is getting his first taste of trench life. Like Plowman, he’ll be spending much of his time in reserve trenches; he writes to his friend H.E.E. Howson.

We go up into the trenches tomorrow, so I’ve not time for a very long letter. One can, I think, feel more quietly and happily about our dear Man now. At least, I feel much happier than at first. I think his wonderful letter must lead that way. Our bit of the line will not be what is known as a soft job, though our present intentions after arrival are somewhat doubtful. But I would like you to think I’m fit and well and happy, and not to be anxious at all.

I too hope that if I go to one of the deadliest parts of one of the deadliest battles in history, my friends will not worry about me. He’ll need more than a little luck to avoid being grabbed for one of those stupid “minor” attacks to improve the line in front of Delville Wood…

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

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

Sixth Isonzo | Boselli | Bissolati | 17 Aug 1916

Romania

Negotiations for bringing Romania into the war have finally concluded, to the alleged satisfaction of all parties. I’m far from convinced. After a little subterfuge, everyone seems to think they’ve got either what they wanted or what they can easily renege on, and the papers have been officially signed. General Joffre’s somewhat exasperated verdict on the negotiations: “a web of Penelope”. In Greek myth she was the wife of Odysseus, and spent twenty years fending off the advances of other men while he was off doing his twenty years’ worth of mythical deeds.

The deeds done now will be, ahem, slightly less than mythical. At one point there was a hope that Romania could be attacking on or around the 1st of August. Now they’re looking at August 28th. General Sarrail at Salonika has been accordingly ordered to delay his pinning attack until the 20th. Gee, I sure do hope that no large-scale Bulgarian movement of troops is going to interfere with this plan! That would be an absolute tragedy, I tell you. Meanwhile, the Romanian government is drawing up a declaration of war, to be delivered to Austria-Hungary right as their army rolls over the border into Transylvania. More soon!

Sixth Isonzo

There had also been hopes that Sixth Isonzo could have been launched to coincide with the Romanian entry into the war, which really would have been a kick in the dick. Alas; after a week’s worth of fruitless uphill attacks across the Vallone Doberdo and east of Gorizia, General Cadorna calls a halt. But he’s in the best mood he’s been in since the start of the war. Two victories in the summer fighting, and he’s successfully deposed an energetic Prime Minister and installed an apparent non-entity instead. Of course he’s ordering a Seventh Isonzo, to begin as soon as possible to capitalise on the Romanian entry into the war.

As it turns out, “as soon as possible” will mean “in mid-September”. Which by lucky hap will also coincide with General Haig’s Flers-Courcelette offensive. I wonder who will have the most success? Or, should I say, the least failure? On which note, there’s just space to mention that the casualties for Sixth Isonzo are about equal; 51,000 Italian and 42,000 Austro-Hungarian.

Anyway. Cadorna’s position is not quite as rock-solid as he’d like to think. The new Prime Minister, Paolo Boselli, has formed a government of national unity. Bypassing the official minister of war, deputy Leonida Bissolati has been given a cabinet post without portfolio and responsibility for “relations with the military”. Bissolati is perhaps the closest thing Italy has to Winston Churchill; he argued to join the war, and then put his money where his mouth was, volunteering at age 58. He’s won two bravery medals, and is now back at his parliamentary duties.

For the last month or so he’s been touring the fronts to see what’s what. This has not gone down at all well with General Cadorna, of course, worried that his glorious victories might in fact be misinterpreted as bloody failures. Cadorna is now trying to get him banned from the front, but Bissolati has had plenty of time to travel around and find out who’s got the dirt. Chief among them is one Colonel Douhet, staff officer and aviation pioneer. Douhet has given him an uncompromising and highly accurate assessment of the commander-in-chief as a blithering idiot…

Central Railway

In German East Africa, General Smuts is trying to advance to Morogoro on the Central Railway, just over 100 miles west of the capital Dar-es-Salaam. It’s the same old story here, though. He greatly outnumbers the enemy, but they all rather rudely are refusing to just stand and fight, preferring instead to run a series of delaying operations as they retreat through the Nguru Mountains. Meanwhile, the Navy has landed a small detachment of men at Bagamoyo, just up the coast from Dar-es-Salaam.

Just pushing the enemy back, or capturing towns, isn’t going to do any good, though. What they need are encirclements and captures of large bodies of Schutztruppe. General van Deventer’s South African Horse is now back on the move, but Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck is now well south of him. Spoilers; van Deventer won’t be able to link up at Morogoro in nearly enough time to trap the enemy forces out to the east. All the attackers appear to have achieved is marching an awfully long way, looting a number of small towns en route, and losing more than half their strength to disease.

Edward Mousley

Speaking of which. Edward Mousley is trying hard to make the best of a bad job.

The mornings continue fine and sunny, but in the afternoons a sharp, shadowy wind springs up, and the evenings are quite cold. We are anxiously awaiting the parcels waylaid in Stamboul. The fever has largely gone, but muscular rheumatism has taken its place. No one hears from or is allowed to write to Yozgat or Kara Hissa.

The Turks here seem to have already settled on their plan of campaign, which is to make us get into debt at huge prices, which already are increasing. I am, however, assuming a sublime indifference to money matters. The financial anxiety of the trek was enough, and I have a long score to pay off against the Turk in this respect, so once in his debt he will have to facilitate our getting our money from home, or else receive cheques.

What a quaint town this is! All water is drawn from springs or wells. There are no lights of any kind, except, possibly, some faint glimmer burning from a police station. There are no trams or much vehicular traffic, donkeys being the chief transit. In the early morning one hears the ancient Biblical solid-wheeled oxen cart groaning on its turning axle beneath the weight of a huge tree trunk brought in for firewood. At night the distant tinkling of bells sometimes reaches one as the goats come back.

And, later still, over the sheets of darkness in deep, pulsing waves, like the voice of a dark and mysteriously moving spirit, floats the muezzin, which is taken up from mosque to mosque until the whole town echoes with the cry.

“Stamboul” is a common pre-1923 rendering of “Istanbul”, for the city which at the time was still officially Constantinople. Sometimes the name was used by English speakers to differentiate the historic walled city from the general metropolis.

Briggs Kilburn Adams

Briggs Kilburn Adams is now finishing up his insane summer job driving ambulances on the Voie Sacree. He’s been rotated off to another unit at Juilly. and I’d like to believe that the casualties he’s been evacuating included men who were shelled by Herbert Sulzbach’s guns. Things are much quieter here than they were at the Battle of Verdun.

The fellows in this squad are all very nice, and but one older than I, being in the thirties. The sergeant is an Englishman exempt from service for some physical trouble. He is a circus in himself. Every minute of the day he is saying or doing some ridiculously funny thing, and he has a very fine bass voice, by which ordinarily he earns his living. One evening we came upon a piano in one of the empty recitation rooms. One of the fellows sat down and began to play, and I happened to find a violin in good condition in the cupboard. The sergeant brought out some songs, and we spent a very enjoyable evening.

Juilly is within a couple of miles of the farthest advance by the Germans on Paris in September, 1914, and the place where actual fighting took place is within easy walking distance. We hired a car the other day and went for quite a long ride, to and through the region of the Battle of the Marne, and it was very interesting. Hundreds of graves are lying in every direction according as the men fell, the Germans mixed in among the French, the former being marked only by a black stick, while the latter are marked by a wooden cross and a wreath or two.

You would never believe one of the greatest battles of the world had been fought here; for everywhere rich crops of grain are growing, and nothing is prettier than the golden oats, among which are scattered red poppies and blue bachelor buttons, like kale in our oats at Hilltop Farms.

And this is the last we’ll hear from him for an entire year. He’ll soon be on a boat back to America and Harvard University; but this is far from the last he’ll have to do with the war.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of the Isonzo (Sixth Isonzo)
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

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

Sixth Isonzo | Gorizia | 8 Aug 1916

Sixth Isonzo

Hopefully you’re not still chewing on your knuckles from yesterday. The irony here really is painful. The Italian Army has spent a long, painful year learning to be careful and cautious, to limit its objectives, to discourage junior officers from using their initiative. Now that’s exactly what they need to do. Junior officers feeling able to use their initiative today might just have dislodged the entire front. The message coming from high command early in the morning, is to do the exact opposite. Hard-learned caution reigns among the Brains Trust.

Meanwhile, at the sharp end, half a company of the Italian 28th Infantry has discovered a supply tunnel leading under Podgora towards the one intact bridge leading back to Gorizia. Here there is a rear-guard with the remaining machine-guns and ammunition; a particularly fearless lieutenant seizes a flag and uses its pole to steady himself as he fords the river, showing the men the safe way across. Some are washed away by the tide, but more follow him. The artillery’s observation posts watch the flag crossing the river and calls in fresh shelling to support it

By afternoon, the Austro-Hungarian rearguard is fleeing for the mountains, having done its job and bought the army time to fall back. To the south, on the Carso, opportunity is still knocking. General Cadorna has been told of the capture of Podgora, and quite reasonably he begins now to commit his reserves, pouring them in to follow up the success. In theory, they might just be able to turn south from Gorizia and get into that Austro-Hungarian second position before the defenders can get there.

They’ll be ready to attack in force tomorrow…but it’s going to be a day too late. On the other side of the hill, General Boroevic has already ordered the retreat to take place tonight, under cover of darkness. The western edge of the Carso is cut off from the main plateau by a deep, wide, dry valley, the Vallone Doberdo, often in this context simply called “Vallone”. Since time immemorial it’s been a natural boundary between Italians and Slovenes, and today it forms the border between modern Italy and modern Slovenia. (At one time there was a river there.)

By lucky hap, it’s also a first-class place to put some defensive works in a trench war. The positions are ready, and the artillery packs up and leaves by day. During the night, the infantry almost evaporates into thin air. It’s far from an easy march in pitch darkness over rough ground, but there’s nobody to interfere with them…

Battle of the Somme

Guillemont. Loud explosions. Men over the top, advancing nearly a mile just to reach the German trenches. Intact barbed wire. German advance posts out in shell-holes, lying concealed, waiting for men to advance past them before shooting them in the back with machine-guns. Strong German artillery fire, not enough BEF counter-battery fire. Horror, blood and death, and all of it of a kind we’ve seen before.

Still. Maybe something can be achieved somewhere else? With Pozieres in hand, some brave people have been right up to the top of the ridge, looking down towards Thiepval. Various HQs have been guilty over the last month or so of assuming rather blithely that to capture Pozieres is automatically to make Thiepval untenable. Let’s have the map again.

This map is for educational purposes, not navigational purposes.

This map is for educational purposes, not navigational purposes.

The problem here…the main problem here…one of many problems here, is that the Germans have put two large redoubts into the Second Line behind Thiepval. They’re linked into a large agricultural holding, Mouquet Farm, which has now been thoroughly fortified. It’s also sprouting a series of newly-dug trenches at right angles to the First and Second Lines. These now defend Thiepval against an attack from the direction of Pozieres. Hmm. This needs some serious thinking.

Meanwhile, General Haig is entertaining his King.

The King came into my writing room, and I explained the situation, etc, to him. He then spoke a great deal about a paper which Winston Churchill had written, criticising the operations in France, and arriving at the conclusion that nothing had been achieved! … [George V] also said that Sir John French had been very nasty and that he was “the most jealous man he had ever come across”. I said that these were trifles and we must not allow them to divert our thoughts from our main objective, beating the Germans. I also expect that Winston’s head is gone from taking drugs.

Miaow! Saucer of milk for the Commander-in-Chief! It’s also not entirely clear whether that was a private thought, or whether he actually said it to the King. Nobody should be surprised that in the typed version of his diary he altered this to the rather less bitchy phrasing “I expect that Winston’s judgement is impaired…”.

He’s also just sacked one General Keir, a corps commander at Arras, whose general lack of offensiveness has thoroughly offended his army commander General Allenby. Not moved to a quiet sector, mind you, sacked outright. And he didn’t even get a chance to preside over any horrendously bloody slaughters like Hunter-Weston, who still has his job, chateau, gluttonous meals, etc. Interesting, that. No wonder Keir is making a massive row, and openly threatening to go home and join Sir John French’s bitching society.

Eastern Front

A quick note now from the still-neglected Eastern Front. The German-led counter-attack at the Battle of Kowel is now ending; it’s put a massive dent in the Russians’ manpower. Absent any other considerations, the Brusilov Offensive could easily have ended here. But of course, they’re about to bring Romania into the war. The Russian staff has just about given up on taking Lvov back, but a drive to the Carpathians still appeals. If they can get into position to push through into Hungary from the north, as the Romanians advance from the east, it’s not impossible that the Austro-Hungarian army could collapse entirely.

So the offensive continues, slowly and painfully, the combined casualty figures ratcheting relentlessly up past a million dead, wounded and captured. More than the Somme and Verdun put together, you know.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson has been on the march for a good few days now, doing more than ten miles per day. Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased to know that he’s still just as much a plonker as he was back in camp.

Road awfully dusty and the country very hot and dry. Camped at 10.45am. Made some tea out of dirty yellow water which made nearly every one in the section feel queer for a while. The boys drew no water and were very dry. Had a rest and aired our feet. Saddled up and moved off at 1pm. A snake was found in one of our ammunition pack saddles and promptly despatched. Camped in an open plain, very dry and tired. Some of the men made a rush for the waterholes, but the colonel stopped them. Smikky, Dick, Bibby and I went for wood and a big branch of a thorn tree fell on me, tearing my shirt a bit.

Total for the day 12 miles. Colonel sick in the motor car as a result of the water, I suppose.

Chortle chortle, tea that makes you feel queer. On a more serious note, there’s enough disease going round at the moment (most units have now lost 60% or more of their men to disease) without this cretin trying to poison everyone.

Herbert Sulzbach

Germany’s laziest gunner-sergeant Herbert Sulzbach is being shuffled about. I wonder if this will mean him having to do any more work?

I move house to the Loermont site, a hillside position which is, if anything, even more idyllic than Evricourt. It is in a meadow at the edge of a wood; there is still a huge amount to be done, reinforcing dugouts and completing the concrete gun-pits. It’s beautiful up here as the late summer days pass. In the evenings we sit at the guns and entertain each other, and in addition we get entertained by our Very light lookout, who sits up a tree on and sings songs. This sentry is up there to keep track of the coloured lights the infantry fire off. The colour codes are often changed, of course, so the French don’t find out what each colour means.

Of course not. The trench mortars on each side get into semi-frequent scraps, but the field artillery remains mostly quiet, conserving ammunition. It’s a lovely war.

Louis Barthas

Let’s keep the mood up, shall we? Louis Barthas spends rather a lot of time describing a particular position where the French hold one part of an old communication trench, and the Germans another, with a small and rather weedy barricade in the middle. Then he wonders how scared some rear-echelon slacker might be if he were forced to garrison this most dangerous of outposts.

Calm and tranquility reigned in this area. Some smoked, others read, some wrote, a few squabbled, without lowering their voices one note. And if these patriots, these slackers, had lent an ear, they would have heard the Germans coughing, spitting, talking, singing, etc., with the same lack of ceremony. Their stupefaction would have changed to bewilderment if they had seen the French and German sentries seated tranquilly on their parapets, smoking pipes and exchanging bits of conversation from time to time, like good neighbors taking some fresh air at their doorsteps.

From relief to relief, we passed along the habits and customs of these outposts. The Germans did the same. Even if the whole Champagne burst into flames, not a single grenade would fall in this privileged corner. It’s certain that a clever command could have profited from this opportunity to gain specific intelligence about the sector: the likelihood of poison-gas attacks, the plans for blowing up mines, or attacks, or various positions. All that would be needed would be a few litres of pinard or a few quarts of eau-de-vie, which the Germans lacked, to loosen their tongues.

But no one would have dared suggest this to our bosses. This would have been admitting the start of fraternisation with the enemy. A firing squad could well have been the response to such a suggestion. It’s as if, in the time of the Inquisition, a poor fellow had confessed that he had just had a conversation with Satan.

Barthas, unsurprisingly, likes this sort of thing, and continues his loving exposition for several pages. I do like to hear about sensible chaps getting along with each other, but I can only do so much writing per day…

Clifford Wells

Lieutenant Clifford Wells is still training at Le Havre, with enough time to make friends with attractive chaps, cough cough, and still write home to his dear mother.

It has been, and is, extremely warm and dusty, and the swim in the sea, which I manage to get in nearly every day, is very refreshing. I can really float in the salt water, so you no longer have the family monopoly of that accomplishment. I am beginning to like salt water for swimming, although I always used to prefer the fresh. What kind of a time did you have in Knowlton this year? I was glad to receive the picture post card of the place.

It seems more than a year since I was there. I am enjoying life here. I have many nice friends among the officers, and am continually running across men whom I have met in one capacity or another since I enlisted. When I first joined up, I knew scarcely anyone in the whole Expeditionary Force. Now I have many acquaintances and friends from all parts of Canada. One of my best friends is a boy named Ford, who recently received his commission. He was at McGill University when war broke out, and is an exceptionally attractive chap.

He is commonly called “Henry” after his famous peace-making namesake, who, as he is very careful to state on every possible occasion, is no relative of his.

Knowlton is a small village on the banks of Brome Lake in Quebec, which has long been a favourite haunt of the wealthiest Montreal millionaires (and their idiot sons). When Princess Anne competed in the Olympics in 1976 and her family all came to Canada to support her, including the Queen, they stayed in a large country house on Brome Lake.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Romani
Battle of the Isonzo (Sixth Isonzo)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

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

General Gough | ANZACs | 28 Jul 1916

Battle of the Somme

In Pozieres, the battered and bruised 1st Australian Division is being removed from the line and replaced with fellow Gallipoli veterans the 2nd Division. Time to rewind a bit; don’t worry, we’re coming back to a relevant point. When the concept of a Reserve Army was created, General Haig did so on the grounds that he was creating a force of exploitation, with plenty of cavalry, to thrust through a gap at Pozieres and gallop towards Bapaume at double-quick speed. So he appointed as its commander General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough, a fellow cavalry officer with strong aggressive tendencies.

Unfortunately, the situation has developed somewhat since then. Reserve Army, far from being an instrument of exploitation, has now been transformed into an instrument mostly of occupation, to hold the line north of the Albert to Bapaume road so General Rawlinson can concentrate on the south. This is not the kind of situation suited to Gough’s personality. He’s not handling it well, either. Now, this might sound a bit rich after having just said some extremely rude things about Haig and Rawlinson’s lack of control over their armies.

However, it still must be said that Gough has gone far too far the other way. There is a happy medium between exercising no control, and exercising too much control. Gough is exercising too much control. We saw before the first push on Pozieres how Gough tried to pressure the ANZACs into attacking without much of a preliminary barrage. Fortunately, that time the strong-minded General Walker had the backbone to tell Gough where to go. However, now he’s trying the same trick again, and General Legge of 2nd Division has given in.

So they’ll attack tomorrow against the Pozieres windmill, to capture that critical high ground. Meanwhile, preparations continue apace off to the south-east for a combined French/British attack towards Guillemont and Maurepas. And that’s not all, of which more in a moment. But first.

General Haig

General Haig has two observations for us today. One of them is somewhat promising. The other one…

The 5th Brandenburg Division, the crack corps of Germany, was driven from its remaining positions north of Longueval village this morning, and also from the whole of Delville Wood. This is a fine performance. Two counter-attacks made yesterday by the Enemy on the wood were repulsed with great loss. [Some prisoners] were captured in the wood, and some officers in the village surrendered. They said they were the only survivors. They were greatly depressed and said “Germany is beaten”. This is the first time we have taken German officers who have arrived at that opinion…

This assessment of morale is also being backed up by BEF Intelligence’s analysis of captured letters. Among the men who have seen particularly hard fighting or heavy bombardments, there is a small but growing body of opinion that has lost faith in ever being able to win the war. Haig is quite right to be encouraged by it. On the other hand, he is once again working from faulty information when he’s told that Longueval and Delville Wood have been secured, they’ve not. Still.

General Birch [Haig’s artillery commander] in the evening reported that the Australians had at the last moment said that they would attack without artillery suppoart and that “they did not believe machine gun fire could do them much harm”! Birch at once saw Gough who arranged that the original artillery programme should be carried out.

This, on the other hand? This is bollocks. 2nd Division spent three months at ANZAC Cove and all would have known what happened to men of the 1st Division at the Nek during the summer attacks. Perhaps some clueless Australian staff officer said his piece about machine gun fire. However, the general implication that the impetuous Australians are having to be restrained by General Gough is completely arse forwards. It’s the ANZACs who are being pressured into attacking without proper planning or preparation by Haig’s mate. We should not be surprised if the result is piss-poor performance.

The air over the Somme

The Germans haven’t just been transferring men and artillery away from the Battle of Verdun. They’ve been transferring their aeroplanes away, too. The process is continuing, but they’ve already sent enough men and enough machines to make a real difference. The first order of business for the Germans is to interfere with the small but regular RFC air raids against road and rail junctions in their rear areas. A private of the German 24th Division complained about how this looked from the trenches:

You have to stay in your hole all day and must not stand up in the trench because there is always a crowd of English over us. Always hiding from aircraft, always, with about eight or ten English machines overhead, but no-one sees any of ours. If German machines go up at all, they are only up for five minutes and then retire in double-quick time. Our airmen are a rotten lot.

But the bomber pilots are beginning to notice not only a significant increase in the number of enemy flyers in superior planes, but their anti-aircraft fire is coming on by leaps and bounds. Even with almost total air superiority, they’ve lost 111 men and enough planes for the RFC’s commanders to be worried whether they can send out enough replacements to keep the numbers up. And the battle goes on.

The Caucasus

Today, with Kelkit and Erzincan secure and the remnants of the Ottoman Third Army fleeing the field, General Yudenich orders an immediate halt to operations. He’s taken a risk by attacking, and it has paid off handsomely. The Caucasus Army’s intelligence has been aware for some time that there is a new force gathering off to his south, and recently estimates of its strength have become very worrying. it’s now clear that this is an army-sized formation. And it’s just had orders from the commanding officer, Izzet Pasha, to begin an attack on the same Russians who’ve spent the last month marching and fighting.

Had Izzet caught them overstretched, looking to their front towards Third Army, the Russians would have been outnumbered and in a very difficult position indeed. He’s now delayed just long enough for his opponents to begin redeploying to face his men and deal with them. Even better, even though he still has more fit, fresh men than his opponents, he’s seen fit to divide his forces into large, widely-spread, independent columns. It’s time to remind ourselves of a mildly silly military term, “defeat in detail”.

This is when a smaller force wins against a larger force by taking on smaller enemy sub-groups with overwhelming force and fighting a series of actions in which they have a local advantage. It’s what the Germans did at on the Eastern Front in 1914, and what their Navy has been trying to do in the North Sea to the Grand Fleet. Izzet’s strategy is nothing so much as one giant invitation to be defeated in detail. He’s played right into Russian hands. More to follow.

Romania

Yesterday we reminded ourselves of all the different things that the Romanian government has been asking for in exchange for joining the war. Now they’ve just dropped a massive shell into negotiations. They’ve been forced to admit to the French that they don’t actually intend to declare war on Germany or the Ottoman Empire, just Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. Which has gone down in Entente-friendly capitals like a cup of cold sick. The obvious implication is that Romania is only interested in fighting that will directly benefit their prime minister Ion Bratianu’s extensive territorial ambitions.

This is an important tipping point for Entente attitudes towards Romania. A set of secret, parallel negotiations now begin between London, Paris, and Petrograd. The theme, not unreasonably, is that they feel like Bratianu is trying to pull a vast confidence trick on them. They’d all been counting on future Romanian assistance on the Eastern Front, or against the Ottoman Empire. Now nobody feels morally obliged to hold to any of the promises they’re putting in the alliance treaty, on the grounds that they were negotiated under false pretences. Two can play at that game.

Louis Barthas

Now, speaking of morale. Back on a trench duty cycle, Louis Barthas is having his four days in close reserve. Water is of course strictly rationed, but of course there are ways for an enterprising NCO to get things done on a less than official footing.

They didn’t give out water to just any passerby. Only a regular work detail, with a non-com bearing a written order, could come and partake of it. Although you could quench your thirst there, you couldn’t get water to clean the mud and the lice out of your clothes. For that you had to bribe the Territorial on guard duty in front of the barrels, or distract him, which could be done only at night, if at all. Well, you didn’t need a hundred-franc note, or even a tenner, to purchase the Territorial’s compliance.

For me, all that was needed was a three-sou cigar to get him to turn his back while I filled a canvas bucket, which was all I needed to do my laundry. Certain desert animals have the gift of finding water, I don’t know how many leagues away. Similarly, the poilu could sniff out pinard at a great distance. In this camp there was no way to get anything to eat. The food cooperatives were only in the planning stage, and the truck gardeners didn’t risk coming up this close to the front lines. A jug of coffee, a jug of wine for a drink, the meager company mess for food, that was all.

We were in the same state as an army under siege, except for Messieurs les officiers who, through their rationers, lacked neither the necessities nor the luxuries.

More to come about the ordinary soldier’s relentless pursuit of pinard, the cheap red wine (I’m told that “plonk” is a fair loose translation) that fuels the French Army.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler continues his adventures around the rear near Trones Wood, ever on the lookout to improve things for his men as best he can. Half a French soixante-quinze battery has appeared near his lone forward howitzer, an excellent opportunity for some socialising.

I went round to call on them, and found them rather unhappy. Owing to the incessant [German] barrage on the road, they had not been able to get a [telephone] line back to their battery, and had not received any orders or food for 24 hours. They had, however, ensconced themselves in some wonderful dug-outs they discovered in a deep quarry. I promptly moved my people up to live there too, and on returning to the back areas, I located their battery after much hunting.

They seemed very glad to get news of their section, and eagerly accepted my invitation to run a line to my battery, and to be made honorary members of our line to Bernafay Wood and our observation post at Hardecourt. They soon got this done and then shelled a ravine vigorously all day, chattering like magpies the whole night, all of which could be heard as it passed through our exchange.

They’re all preparing for this combined Guillemont-Maurepas attack. I have to say, he’s painting a picture of an effective field officer; wherever possible he leaves the donkey work of shooting the guns to his junior officers, and instead applies himself to wider concerns.

E.S. Thompson

Mail call for E.S. Thompson as he waits for orders to go forward in the wake of the South African Horse, and he takes in a diet of top quality rumours.

Had a huge breakfast of porridge and honey and bread. Mail of newspapers came in, got a ‘Sunday Times’ and ‘Railway Magazine’ for June. Chilly wind still blowing… The machine guns [section] and [car] returned from Moshi, but without machine guns. Heard that there had been scrapping ahead and that the motor machine guns had got into it. German prisoners say that they cannot last out 20 days.

Dick went out foraging and brought back tomatoes, pumpkins and milk. Owens, the driver of the motor, brought us 8 [tins of] golden syrup, 8 lbs [3,6 kg] of sugar, 3 boxes of cigarettes and matches. Pinched a tin of bully beef off the motor.

I will never not be amused that this steely-eyed machine-gun dealer of death takes Railway Magazine to read in his copious free time. As for the prisoners, I’m not holding my breath.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge once more weighs in on matters of religious importance.

I have been helping in the “Scottish Churches Hut”, a large refreshment room for the Jocks in our neighbourhood. If there is a possibility for an outsider to judge the management of some of the more prominent huts in this camp, I should place the Scottish Hut first; a Roman Catholic and a Salvation Army Hut second.

Though the people of our Church Hut are certainly more courteous than the snappy self-conceited crew I have met in another camp, there is too much Religion about them. We appreciate their notepaper but we love the people and the refreshments in the Scottish Hut. And the fried eggs (two at 5d.) in the Salvation Army Hut are only surpassed by the fruit dishes of the Roman Catholic Hut.

As to the lovely hot baths which Lady Seraphina Besfor provides in her hut, there is only one opinion, they are a boon and a blessing, but there are not enough of them to go round. Often after waiting in a long queue, some of us have to tramp back to our respective divisional camps without the luxury of a bath, because groups of officers arrive, and these demigods, claiming precedence, fill the few vacant cubicles again.

Amusingly, a modern-day Google for “Lady Seraphina” turns up a Calgary dominatrix; the full name “Lady Seraphina Besfor” appears to have been a private joke of some sort. Suffice to say that there are plenty of aristocratic do-gooders around the BEF’s base areas in France, operating all kinds of huts to make the blokes’ life a bit more comfortable; it could have been any one of many.

Incidentally, isn’t it interesting how we rarely hear stories of these boorish officers who hog the baths in accounts written by other officers? Sometimes a little reading between the lines might be necessary; if yer man says “we marched into billets and I had a lovely bath”, you may wish to ask who he might have elbowed out of the way to get it.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

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

Erzincan | Haig & ANZACs | 25 Jul 1916

Battle of Erzincan

Erzincan has surrendered. A second overwhelming Russian victory in 1916 is now complete. Vehip Pasha’s Third Army has, for the second time in 1916, been scattered to the four winds. They’ve lost about 30,000 casualties, and most of the rest have deserted. Last time, there were divisions coming free from Gallipoli who could be used as reinforcements. This is the kind of loss that will take the Ottoman Army years to recover from, if it ever can. The priority for General Yudenich is now obvious; consolidate as quickly as possible and prepare to deal with Izzet Pasha’s brand new Second Army, which is now at full strength and on the move. More soon!

Battle of the Somme

Pozieres. Counter-attack. Germans. ANZACs. British Territorials too. Blood and guts. Heavy losses. Sergeant Preston:

The enemy came over the ridge like swarms of ants, rushing from shell hole to shell hole. Our men, full of fight and confidence, lined the parapet and emptied magazine after magazine into them. Some of the boys, anxious to get a shot at the Germans, pulled one another down from the firestep in the midst of the fight. Under this fire and that of our machine guns and the artillery, which tore great gaps in the advancing lines, the enemy attack withered. The survivors were later seen retiring beyond the ridge, which was barraged by our artillery.

General von Falkenhayn is absolutely livid at the failure to hold Pozieres, the failure of this counter-attack in particular, and the failure of counter-attacks in general. Army group commander General von Gallwitz blames general exhaustion among the men. Always important to remember this. The Germans do not think they are doing at all well here. They can’t see all the behind-the-scenes bungling on the other side of the hill. They don’t know just how favourable the casualty ratio is to them. All they know is that they keep getting kicked, hard.

The Chief’s diary

Meanwhile, General Haig is busy being patronising.

After lunch I visited HQ Reserve Army and HQ Australian Corps. … The situation seems all very new and strange to Australian HQ. The fighting here and shell fire is much more severe than anything experienced at Gallipoli! The German too is a different enemy to the Turk! … I spoke to Birdwood about his [artillery commander], General Cunliffe Owen. The latter had served with me at beginning of war, but soon left France and so had no experience of our present artillery or the methods which had developed during the war.

I therefore wished to give [Birdwood] an up to date [artillery commander]. He thanked me, and said he would take anyone I selected. … I also saw Cunliffe Owen and explained how sorry I was to have to move him, but in the present situation I would be failing in my duty to the country if I ran the risk of the Australians meeting with a check through faulty artillery arrangements.

Oh, get tae fuck. You saw them after they arrived in France! You could have kept them at Armentieres with Mademoiselle if you thought they needed more seasoning on the Western Front! And instead, he pisses in their pockets and has the meterological officer send them a note warning of rain. Can you imagine being Birdwood and having to listen to this lecture and not being able to just haul off and deck him? Right tae fuck.

Tanks

Chief of the Imperial General Staff Wully Robertson is beginning to get rather worried about a number of strategic matters. There’s a major debate in London on the question of when exactly the tanks should be used. General Haig has said more than once that he’s in favour of using them as quickly as possible to win a decisive victory on the Somme. There is a counter-argument gaining steam in London, though. Colonel Swinton has been telling anyone who’ll listten that it’s vitally important to instead hold them back until they can all be used en masse, and with fresh infantry support.

It’s got wide support in London, in the Cabinet and at the War Office. Swinton’s French counterpart Colonel Estienne has been lobbying his own and the British government to exactly the same effect. He’s dreaming of a joint attack in spring 1917, when the Schneider CA1 will be ready in large numbers. The Tank Supply Committee has just put their arguments to Robertson. With another large British construction order, there will be nearly 1,000 tanks in spring 1917, and their crews will have had six months of training.

It’s a powerful argument; we’ll be considering it, and Haig’s counter-arguments, in the days to come. Robertson writes to him today with a summary of the objections. However, he doesn’t explicitly support them, or order Haig not to use them. His final message is “In the meantime, every possible step is being taken to expedite the preparation of the tanks so that a small number may be available at the earliest possible date…” On the other hand, Lloyd George’s successor as Minister of Munitions, Edwin Montagu, is travelling to GHQ to put the arguments against using the tanks to Haig in person.

While all this is going on, the haggling has begun over future tank production. The initial run of 100 machines is approaching its end; continuity of production is important so that money, materials, and skilled workers can’t be re-allocated. After a little haggling over whether the extra machines should be of a substantially different design, Robertson will soon be approving 100 more machines with only minor design changes based on issues already identified. They’ll eventually become known as the Mark II and Mark III tanks. And, at Elveden, a section of six tanks and a field workshop is already preparing to leave for France…

Romania

Negotiations with Romania are really beginning to drag now. The Romanian Prime Minister, Ion Bratianu, is still trying to nail down the details of the attack out of Salonika. Entente military leaders are quite certain that only a limited offensive will be possible to keep the Bulgarian Army from responding to the Romanian declaration of war. Bratianu wants a full-scale invasion of Bulgaria, with the eventual object of a supply line being established from the Greek coast to Bucharest. This is, ahem, a slightly optimistic aim.

He’s also concerned that the Entente might leave him twisting in the wind. He wants a specific provision in the treaty along the lines of existing Franco/Russian/British agreements to not seek a separate peace. The fear is that Austria-Hungary might collapse, sue for peace, and cut a deal to take them out of the war before the Romanian Army can conquer all the territory they’ve been promised. He’s also after a commitment that Romania will have equal representation on any general peace deal, so their interests can’t get shuffled aside. Negotiations continue…

Henri Desagneaux

Captain Henri Desagneaux, as he now is, is going back up the line, only three weeks after leaving Verdun. He’s been sent south to Pont-a-Mousson, just north of Nancy, one of the quietest sectors on the front.

Things will soon hot up. This sector was guarded for 18 months by the same troops. Reservists, they had got into bad habits, and not intending to kill themselves, they even went as far as fraternising with the Boches. They passed cigarettes to each other in the trenches. They even sang songs together. Our division has orders to stop this and to harass the Boches. Our gunners don’t have to be asked twice and pound the enemy, who are not long in replying. Attacks follow, and the sector will become harder.

There has evidently been a hardening of hearts against the enemy after surviving Verdun.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler is trying to go up to his observation post, but has to turn back. Apparently he doesn’t feel quite right after his narrow escape yesterday.

Walking over this country is not a very pleasant pastime, floundering continually up and down the sides of huge craters, and being tripped up at every step by half-hidden barbed wire. There was one exceptionally large crater which I measured; it had a circumference of 45 yards. I think that the daily dose of gas at the Trones Wood corner tends to rot one’s inside.

For a shell crater, that’s large enough to have come from a heavy howitzer. The ground here is completely dead and desolate.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has just been ordered to move. His time to join the Battle of the Somme may be at hand.

I could not possibly do anything but send [my father] a copy of Rupert Brooke’s poems, called “1914 [& Other Poems]”, because there are poems about the soldier which seem to me to hit perhaps the very highest note that has ever been struck during the War. No one who has not been here knows, I think, how difficult those tremendous ideals are, but is the better, I think, out here for reading them. … I think “Safety” is the greatest thing of the War.

Things may be going to happen. There cannot be any more faltering over him. Surely, surely, if all the world is not wrong, I must think ‘All’s well with our Man’, after all. He knows too now, I most deeply believe, he has found at last his music, his art, and his loves And I think, through all my sorrows, of him reaching down to his faltering friend.

Not without many a prayer that I, too, may somehow find sight, to see which way it is written for me to go, and neither to doubt nor to complain any more at all.

Have you tried asking the Adjutant? Or the colonel? I’m sure he knows where it’s written for you to go.

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has now reached Cankiri on his latest journey, where Grigoris Balakian was interned until his deportation.

My wonder at these carts increases daily. Rattling and loosely bolted and wobbling, they appear to be on the point of breaking down every minute. Sometimes three of the tyres of our cart simultaneously were almost off, and the pole hung between the body of the cart and the tree often quite detached. If the wheel slips off they bash it on with a rock or lump of wood, and, like Turkey itself, it just goes on.

At 3 p.m. we reached the small town of Cankiri, the only place of any importance between Angora and Kastamuni. We were frightfully done, but luck ordained it that we were bivouacked by a stream and under some trees quite close to the town. It is a pleasant little town with ten mosques on the steep hillside, heights all round, and many green orchards all about. We got honey, apples, and apricots, fairly cheap. I saw the Angora goat at close quarters. He is a classy little fellow, small, and prettily shaped, with fine bright eyes and carrying the most spotless silken white fleece in the world.

He habitually uses the old spelling “Angora” for “Ankara”, which I usually swap out. Although maybe I shouldn’t, since the Angora goat does not grow Angora wool; it grows mohair (and looks like a curly-haired emo kid). Angora wool comes from rabbits.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still doing fatigues, as he will for the rest of the war unless something very serious happens.

If, as most of the elderly and more cynical sceptics have it, life is but a gamble, selection for a fatigue here in camp is more puzzling than the [WANKY GREEK WORD]. A certain generosity in the way of standing “pints”, etc., does, of course, enter into the transaction, but that alone explains it not. Every morning we are lined up higgledy-piggledy hundreds of us behind the dining-hall on the sandy desert of our “Square”. You choose any neighbour you like in this game of chance. Then you wait.

The Sergeant-Major counts, One, Two, Three, etc., and if you are happy enough to be number nine, you will be one of the fortunate Ten who go on ” wash-house fatigue.” If you are number eleven or twenty-two you will be on the “coal fatigue.” In the former case an elysian existence is yours for the day; twenty bowls are to be cleaned with water and sand by the ten lucky beggars, who after an hour’s pretence of work, dawdle through the morning somehow, smoking and yawning. The others, the poor coal fatigue men, have to slave all day and ” work their guts out.”

Still others get the dining-room fatigue, that smelly messy work that makes one wish to live in a period when all meals are taken as pills, or if that be impossible, when all crockery is made of papier mache, and may be burnt after having been used. Blessed are those that escape the fatigues altogether, for they are “swingin’ the bloody lead!”

Mugge’s date of death does not appear to be known by Mr Google, though he was apparently born in 1878. I would like to think he lived long enough to see the invention of disposable picnic cutlery, was duly amused by the concept, and spent the next few hours happily boring somebody about “during the war…”

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

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