Another day, another violation of Greek neutrality. This time the target is Cephalonia, away to the south, rather closer to Salonika than Corfu is. For some reason the Greeks have refused the use of their railway network to literally haul the entire Serbian Army clear across the country. It’s much easier to just take over another Greek island and use it as a staging point to send the Serbians over by sea. Meanwhile, the Italians are forming a new army corps for service in the Balkans. Who knows, maybe something might actually happen here soon!
In news from a less congealed front, General Yudenich’s preparations to seize Trebizond are advancing nicely. He’s travelled to the notoriously rainy port of Batumi for discussions with Admiral Eberhardt of the Black Sea Fleet for the transport of two brigades from Crimea down to Anatolia, and then the plan for an amphibious attack on Trebizond.
Meanwhile, Vehip Pasha has now arrived in theatre at Erzincan to begin kicking his Third Army back into shape. With the Russians inland finally at a standstill his first priority is Trebizond, but reinforcing them will be very much easier said than done. However, he’s just about to get a significant assist. Russian intelligence is even now getting some rather odd (and pretty much entirely spurious) reports from friendly villagers of mass landings at Trebizond, divisions’ worth of Ottomans, thousands more Germans. Some people are even claiming to have seen submarines in the area…
Grigoris Balakian arrives in a small, remote village, more than half-empty after its Armenians had been deported. They’re given an effusive welcome and can buy provisions for a reasonable price; Balakian falls into conversation with the local imam.
I asked whether perhaps they weren’t content that the area was left solely to them, without a competitor. After all, they had come to own the deported Armenians’ homes, gardens, goods, [etc.] their entire wealth. Weren’t they grateful to the government for…having brought them such immense wealth?
The imam replied “Effendi, what are you saying? … Our households made a living thanks to our Armenian neighbours. We worked on their lands as partners and we lived well and were prosperous. Talaat and Enver deserve to die for deporting the Armenians, whereby they ravaged the country and impoverished us as well!”
It’s a rare good night in the middle of hell.
When we left Bernard Adams, he was calling in artillery retaliation after the death of a lieutenant and the serious wounding of a captain, both of whom he knew well. Now it’s tomorrow, and he’s trying to come to terms with what’s happened.
In the Straw Palace, Lieutenant Davidson and I were sitting discussing last night, when the doctor looked in. “How’s [Captain] Robertson?” I asked at once.
“He died this morning, three o’clock this morning. Pretty ghastly, isn’t it? Two officers like that in one night. The CO is awfully cut up about it.”
“Robertson, dead!” said Davidson. And so we talked for some minutes. The old doctor was used to these things. He had seen so many officers fall out of line. But to us this was new, and we had not gauged it yet. You might have thought from his quiet jerky sentences that the doctor was almost callous. You would have been wrong.
Eventually the other mortar officer, Lieutenant Macfarlane, appears. After some further chat, he takes Davidson off and the business of the day begins.
Even when I came to the place where Robertson had been hit, and saw the blood on the fire-step, and some scraps of cotton wool lying about, I looked at it as you might look at a smashed egg on the pavement, curiously, and then passed on. ”Am I indifferent to these things, then?” I asked myself. I had not realized yet that violent emotion very rarely comes close upon the heels of death, that there is a numbness, a blunting of the spirit, that is an anodyne to pain. I was ashamed of my indifference; yet I soon saw that it was no uncommon thing.
Besides, one had to “carry on” just the same. There was always a silence among the men, when a pal “goes west”; so now Edwards and I did not talk much, except to discuss the ordinary routine.
As I came back along 78 Street, I met Davidson again. He was looking for a new site for his gun. I went with him, and together we found a place behind the big mine dump to the left, and close to one of our rifle-grenade batteries. As he went off to get his corporal and team to bring the gun over and fix it in position, he said something in a rather low voice. There would be a funeral that night at nine o’clock. Thompson and Robertson were being buried together. He thought I would like to know.
Adams is acting company commander, and with the battalion already short on officers, he’s forced to deputise Lieutenant Edwards to go instead. Day turns to evening; he clears a trench so the tunnellers can blow another mine. The inevitable exchange of shelling follows for about half an hour, and a recently-arrived reinforcement draft gets acquainted with the feeling of standing in a trench, waiting to die.
Davidson looked in on his way down to Maple Redoubt. “[Our bombs] weren’t going short, were they?” he asked.
“No. Just right. The fellows were awfully bucked with it.”
“Oh, good. You can’t see a bit from where we are, and the corporal said he thought they were going short. But I’d worked out the range and was firing well over 120, so I carried on. I’m going down to have dinner with O’Brien. I think we’ve done enough to-night” Then I saw that he was tired out.
“Rather a hot shop?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said in his casual way. “They were all round us. Well, cheerio! I shan’t be up till about ten, I expect, unless there’s anything wanted.”
And off he goes again. Adams’s mind turns back to writing reports, and going out of the line again tomorrow.
Suddenly, up the Old Kent Boad I heard a man running. My heart stopped., I hate the sound of running in a trench, and last night they had run for stretcher-bearers when Robertson was hit. I looked at the sergeant-major, who was biting his lip, his ears cocked. Round the corner a man bolted, out of breath, excited. I stopped him; he nearly knocked into us.
“Hang you,” said I. “Stop! Where the devil–”
“Mr Davidson, sir … Mr Davidson is killed.”
The Germans have scored a direct hit on his mortar position; the position that earlier in the day, Adams helped him choose…
Cold and windy, an ideal day for a leather chair with book-rest in one’s study before an open fire, or for Grieg’s music, for there is a whip and a whistle in the wind, and Peer Gynt is passing over us.
For dinner we had a very excellent roast joint of horse and some rice. I find that first-class horse is better than second-class mule, and only second to second-rate young donkey. It beats camel and eclipses buffalo altogether. The horses decrease most sadly. Poor Don Juan! No insurance company on earth would look at him.
Don Juan is Mousley’s personal horse, brought with him to the war.
There is good news from the Battle of Kahe, at least; they’re still achieving success. It’s a quiet day for E.S. Thompson.
Neck giving a lot of trouble and very painful. Heard 3rd Brigade had taken Rusthaus Kopje. 14 men returned who had been lost in the bush and spent the night there. 1st Brigade took over Latema, so we returned to River Himo camp. Very hot dusty and tiring march and I had to keep my head on a side all the the time. Slept in trench and was woken up at about [midnight] by hearing very heavy firing about 4 miles off.
After hastily fortifying the front line, it is noticed that there is no second line of defence in front of Nancy. Yet again we work frantically. The guns are more active and it is difficult to go out. What to do besides? We are forbidden to ride, to leave billets, to carry a camera. We would prefer to go to the trenches.
He’s learning quickly, but he’s not yet developed the ability to do nothing and wait.
Actions in Progress
Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 goes on sale in less than a week!