Defences of Verdun | 12 Sep 1915


The work to alter Verdun from being a position based on the forts to a position in which the forts reinforce a modern trench network has been continuing well enough, but now runs into a problem. Second Champagne is starting in under two weeks, and launching a major attack is clearly a higher priority than reinforcing a defensive fortification. A lot of the men who had been stationed at Verdun have now been taken away and put into the reserve for Second Champagne.

Not only that, but with the continuing need for heavy artillery pieces to support an attack, Verdun’s fortress guns have suddenly become premium items. 237 of them have been removed, and most re-assigned to bolster the weight of artillery available for Second Champagne. That’s a lot of guns by any measure, but especially when you consider that the total number of heavy pieces at the battle was about 400.

Kenneth Best

More signs of a bad situation as Kenneth Best takes services and encounters a quietly mutinous general.

The morning service mainly consists of [medics and engineers]. The 10th Manchesters were quite ready to come when ordered to do a fatigue which ultimately was cancelled. Major-General Douglas and Staff came and sat in front row. About 30 strong for Holy Communion including whole of Divisional Staff. General Douglas stayed behind and invited me to lunch. But before that I went up line and held service for 5th East Lancs. I have never had such a large turnout. Quite remarkable, as they were not led by officers. Again, a good number stayed for Holy Communion.

Got back and found General Douglas waiting for me. I was given honour of his right-hand place. He seemed annoyed at GOC’s management of things in general; for instance, the delay in forming a canteen. The red-yellow-green double series of signals was jeered at as an amusement for a lot of out-of-work subalterns who wanted something to play with. Large congregation for Evensong on Gully Beach. Singing was fine.

Louis Barthas

The news from Louis Barthas is starting to get worse again.

On September 12 we changed our billet. We went about five kilometers to a farm between Oost-Cappel and Rexpoëde. Every day now was taken up with marches and grand maneuvers directed by the famous General Niessel, a brawler who dreamed of nothing but combats and assaults. We didn’t know what it meant that we were being assigned to this saber rattler. He was quickly baptized “General Tenglandi”.

“Tenglandi” is apparently an Occitan dialect word which is rather hard to translate; but the original editor of Barthas’s notebooks suggests that Barthas’s new boss has been called “General I’m-Going-To-Beat-You-Up”. For a while there it seemed like Barthas was going to escape taking part in Third Artois, having taken part in the first two. Suddenly it seems less likely.

Meanwhile, he’s had a considerable personal misfortune also, which I’ll leave for tomorrow.

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