Another quick note from Africa, where a British Empire brigade continues preparations for the attack on German East Africa by evicting the Schutztruppe from a camp near Mbyuni. This is no mean feat. The major challenge here is water; much of the land is arid desert, and an enormous water pipe has had to be laid from deep inside Kenya. Even that isn’t enough; that Indian Railway Corps has laid another narrow-gauge railway forward, and most of its time is being taken up in hauling vast water tanks to Mbyuni.
The camp, incidentally, also happened to be an important guerrilla base. Over the next couple of weeks, the number of raids on the Uganda Railway is going to fall sharply.
Military Service Act
Time to turn at last to Westminster, where after great political ructions both in the Cabinet (not least on the grounds of who’s supposed to pay the wages of all these new soldiers) and then in Parliament, a Military Service Bill is being rammed forcibly through the legislature. To a European observer, for whom conscription is a simple fact of life and rite of passage as a young man, this must have looked extremely odd. The silly English, having finally agreed to start conscripting all men of military age, are now tying themselves in knots over exemptions!
As far as the Army is concerned this is quite simple. Voluntary recruitment simply isn’t providing enough men to replace losses and expand the Army to a point where it can fight a war-winning battle. Therefore, the text of the Bill (just about to stumble drunkenly out of the House of Lords and off to see the King) says that every British man aged between 18 and 41 in March will have enlisted and therefore will be subject to military law. Sounds simple enough. The devil, as ever, is in the details, and the ways in which men can be exempted from the call-up.
The first exemption is for married men, as long as they were married before November (to prevent a stampede to the churches with any vaguely willing woman). For many politicians it is still a red line that families cannot be compulsorily deprived of their breadwinner, and this issue will not be going away any time soon. Then there are men doing work of national importance; a very large category. They’re munitions workers, coal-miners, railwaymen, and so on. It’s no good enlarging the Army if the Grand Fleet can’t leave Scapa Flow for lack of coal to fuel their engines. The French and Germans have been trying for a while to exempt men who could be better used elsewhere, but they’ve had considerable trouble getting the Army to give up men they already have. Perhaps it will be easier if the relevant men aren’t already on active service?
So far, so reasonable; and that continues with exemptions for men who have been rejected for voluntary service already on medical grounds, or who have been discharged with wounds. But then our Continental friend starts scratching his head again. There’s a rather nebulous category for men whose call-up would cause “serious hardship…owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations, or domestic postion.” This being legislation, no examples are given; defining “serious hardship” is someone else’s problem. Johnny Foreigner may well be further confused by a specific exemption for priests; as we’ve seen, priests such as Father Galaup fight in the ranks of the French Army with everyone else.
And then the European surely throws his hands up, mutters something about how the English are crazy, and stalks off in search of a decent cup of coffee. The final category for exemption is “on the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service”, something completely unknown to the rest of Europe. (If the option had been available, Louis Barthas would probably have written his memoirs about being an imprisoned dissident.) This is rather a big subject, and we’ll have to park it for now and come back later. Suffice it to say that we are coming back to it. Local tribunals will be set up to decide who qualifies for exemption.
Oh, there’s one more thing. Having looked at what’s in the Bill, there is one important thing that is not in the Bill. The Bill refers to “British subjects…ordinarily resident in Great Britain”. It quite deliberately says nothing about Ireland. There’s a lot of well-founded concern that conscripting Irishmen might prompt a full-scale rebellion. Things in Ireland aren’t exactly sweetness and light at the moment; again, that’s one for another day.
The fallout from Gallipoli
Now we’ve got a day with no new military developments, we can also have a quick look at the fallout from the end of the Gallipoli campaign. Most obviously, it’s had a lasting impact on British strategy. With Lord Kitchener sidelined and Lieutenant-Colonel Winston Churchill exiling himself to the Western Front (in a few days he goes up the line with his battalion for the first time), there’s a lack of strong arguments in London for operations in any other theatre than the Western Front.
Reinforcements for Mesopotamia will come almost exclusively from India. The campaign in German East Africa will be mainly fought by white South Africans, more Indians, and black Africans from the rest of the Empire. Commitments to Salonika will be kept as small as possible. Nobody will be in a rush to argue for anything other than concentration on the Western Front. Unless, of course, some great disaster might occur. But what are the chances of that?
Australia and New Zealand now have reason to feel they’re in the war. They’ve learned many important lessons about the realities of war. Many of the blokes have also come away with a nasty little suspicion that perhaps the English don’t have their best interests at heart. Still, I’m sure that this can be dispelled, just as long as the next time they go into action (they’re currently recuperating in Egypt), some great disaster doesn’t occur.
There are of course plenty of lessons to learn for the British, but most of them are painfully obvious (it’s a good idea to have adequate supplies, don’t let General Hunter-Weston near a major battle, trying to land men on defended beaches should be avoided if possible), and of questionable relevance to the Western Front. As long as certain twerps don’t re-appear, there seems little chance of the fallout from Gallipoli prompting some major disaster to occur.
In Constantinople, as I mentioned a few days ago, the mood is distinctly chipper. They’ve just won a major military and propaganda victory and have been left with about the best problem possible. “Now that we’ve won in this theatre, where do we send the troops for best effect?” There are two obvious candidates in Baghdad and Erzurum, and plans to re-organise and dispatch them are now in hand. The irritating loss of Koprukoy aside, everything seems to be going rather well. (As long as some major disaster
The main problem now is, as ever, those damned logistics. The Ottoman railway “network” genuinely deserves to be written in inverted commas. It’s just about a railway, but it certainly isn’t a network (of which more later). Almost nothing’s been done since the start of the war to improve matters. Moving the Gallipoli men to other theatres of the war is going to take many, many months to complete. And many of those months will be spent marching.
There is one other interesting thing that I want to mention here. After this war finishes, one Mustafa Kemal, already fast becoming a national hero after Gallipoli, will lead a Turkish nationalist movement. By 1923 it have created the modern Republic of Turkey out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire. This will, inevitably, require more armies, more fighting, more wars. It is no coincidence that, during the Turkish wars of independence, all but one of Kemal’s key generals (and many more besides) were men who had served with him on Gallipoli.
Actions in Progress
Siege of Kut
Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 is now in production and should, touch wood, be available to order very soon.