Chilembwe Uprising | Jan 25 1915

John Chilembwe’s efforts in Nyasaland continue, and there’s the fallout from the Battle of Dogger Bank to consider. Also, if you care about British generals, Wully Robertson’s taken one of his final steps from private to Field Marshal, moving from Quartermaster-General to Chief of Staff of the BEF.

Chilembwe Uprising

The King’s African Rifles arrive at Mbombwe to suppress the Chilembwe Uprising. There’s a classic clash of firepower (on the side of the askaris) and manpower (on the side of the rebels). It ends inconclusively, with the KAR unwilling to take casualties that might not prove necessary. Nevertheless, the attack brings home to Chilembwe how precarious his position is. Cunningly disguised as ordinary black Africans to evade the watchful eye of the white authorities, Chilembwe and many of his followers make a discreet exit.

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The Boche can take a lot of things, but they'll ne'er take our pianos!
The Boche can take a lot of things, but they’ll ne’er take our pianos!

Battle of Dogger Bank

Lion, badly crippled, is being carefully towed back to port, with seemingly half the Grand Fleet in attendance to make sure that she gets there. In strict military terms it’s a relatively minor victory. Of course, the propaganda value of sinking anything German bigger than a jolly-boat is considerable, as Further Reading will no doubt demonstrate.

The real effect of the battle comes in Germany, where the loss of Blucher has gone down like a cup of cold sick. The commander of the High Seas Fleet is unceremoniously sacked. The episode will mostly put paid to efforts to use the fleet as anything other than a fleet in being for the next calendar year.

And there are always lessons to be learned. Whether they will be learned is another matter. The Germans open the stakes in this regard by blaming the ambush on British spies monitoring their naval movements.

Arthur Agius

When we left Lt Arthur Agius of the 3rd Londons, he was in the mud-pit that would eventually become Etaples. For the past few weeks he’s been trying to form a machine-gun section to operate the battalion’s two machine guns. However, it took the Army some time to actually provide the said machine guns, and Agius was reduced to endless theoretical lectures in mind-numbing detail.

But happier times are afoot. They’ve had their guns, and today they’ve got orders to move again. By 8:50am they’re back on the train and are leaving the filthy tents far behind. By tomorrow they’ve gone into reserve at Tatinghem, where they’re quartered in mostly dry barns that seem like five-star hotels. Tatinghem is near GHQ at St Omer, and the latrines buzz with rumours of an offensive in the next couple of months.

Trench navigation

Journeys up the line from the rear areas are often not straightforward, especially when they have to be done under cover of darkness. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an experienced guide to take you where you’re going. Lieutenant Denis Barnett of the 2nd Leinsters now has a rather macabre funny story about what happens when you are unlucky.

His men are out of the line for a rest, in theory. In practice, the Engineers need every spare man for digging parties, and he’s building reserve lines and communications trenches behind the actual front line.

It is a very difficult journey from here to where we are digging. The ‘sailing’ directions are like this. “…Across field to haystack. Bear half-left to dead pig. Cross stream 25 yards below dead horse. Up hedge to shell hole. Then follow the smell of three dead cows across the next field, and you’ll arrive at exactly the right place!”

The best of these landmarks is that you can use them on the darkest night. I brought my lads back on a short cut I devides for myself, including a couple of dead dogs, and a certain amount of one German. It is a much better way, and I got the bearing so well that I walked right into the last cow without even smelling her, so strong was the wind blowing the other way.

The casual horror of “a certain amount” of the dead German is quite something to think about. Reading between the lines, I can also imagine the expressions on the blokes’ faces, as their enthusiastic subaltern tries out his latest Good Idea and walks straight into a gently rotting cow…

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Chilembwe Uprising

Further Reading

WARNING: Anyone who is allergic to patriotism or sanctimony should turn back now.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Yes, there’s a lot about Dogger Bank. “…victory which has been one in the name of defenceless men, helpless women and little children.” Pass the sick bucket.

Meanwhile. Page 8 finds space to note that a committee has been set up to fob off look into converns about the cost of living. If the accounts of the Metropolitan Water Board get your motor running, don’t read Page 2 in mixed company. Page 9 notes that there have been air raids on Zeebrugge and Dunkirk, and there’s a railway accident in Streatham which nearly becomes a major disaster (Page 10).

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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