Farce at Loos
I’ve had enough of calling this load of old crap a “battle”. A battle against sanity, maybe. But to my mind, a battle involves two sides and both of them have an actual chance of winning; so what we have instead is a farce. General Foch and Sir John French still aren’t talking to each other; Foch postpones his attack one more day to the 11th in the face of yet more terrible weather. If this goes on, he may well end up co-ordinating with the BEF by accident! On the ground, squabbling continues in front of the Hohenzollern Redoubt between the Guards and the Germans, to no great effect except creating a few more widows.
Louis Barthas and chums are in no mood to be polite after a night in a stable with everyone lying on everyone else, while General Niessel sleeps soundly in a luxurious chateau a hundred yards away. There is, incidentally, a vicious rumour going around about what Niessel might be doing at night with the rather attractive lady of the manor. Being a Frenchman, one presumes that the scandal would be if he wasn’t having it off with her.
As soon as day broke, a large number of us went out into the courtyard and started into vigorous calisthenics to battle against the bitter cold. We made quite a racket, like true Southerners who never lose their petulance. Suddenly a door of the château burst open, and the general appeared, bareheaded, with an angry scowl, and cried out in an irritated voice: “Would you please shut up, or I’ll have you sent to the trenches right away! Go back to bed and get some rest!”
He was talking to us just as a master talks to his dogs. He was granting us permission to go to bed, without deigning to think about whether there was any place to do that.
This at least silences the blokes for a few minutes, and by the time they think of getting aggressive, the general is safely inside again. Still, not the best thing for morale.
Lieutenant Clement Attlee of the 6th Lancashires is doing his best to keep his pecker up. Being the man he was, he spends quite a few of his evenings in what passes for a Sergeants’ Mess at Suvla Bay, eagerly talking about socialism and trade union politics with his NCOs; with their established leadership skills, shop stewards provided a rich vein of corporals and sergeants as long as they were handled carefully. And then, from time to time…
We used to have a merry time at headquarters where I used to go frequently of an evening. The CO would say, ‘Let’s have a good strafe, send for Attlee!’ and after dinner we would discuss some broad proposition such as, ‘All socialists are scoundrels!’
Also of note here is that Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett has arrived back in London, and is adding his considerable voice to the din of criticism falling on the whole campaign from those in the know.
Lieutenant Bernard Adams of the 1st Royal Fusiliers has joined the battalion at the right time; their stint up the line is over, and back he goes to rest billets in Givenchy. The village is thoroughly wrecked and there’s nothing to do, so he goes off to Bethune.
One could do all the shopping one required, and get a haircut and shampoo as well. Expensive cocktails were obtainable at the local bar. There was also a famous teashop.
The shops were doing a roaring trade and I was amazed to see chemists flaunting auto-strop razors, stationers offering “Tommy’s writing pad” and tailors showing English officers’ uniforms in their windows, besides all the goods of a large and populous town. To think that I had treasured a toothbrush as a thing that I might not be able to replace for months! Were we really within six miles of the Germans? Yet, officers were discussing “the hot time we had yesterday”, while “we only came out this morning”, or “they whizz-banged us pretty badly last night”.
To comply with King’s Regulations that prevented officers and men from fraternising together, it would have been common practice to cordon off the centre of Bethune for officers only, and to exile the men to a smaller, grottier quarter where they could eat egg and chips, drink vin rooge, and find a quick shag without offending Captain Piddling-Thingtwistle’s delicate sensibilities.
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