Retreat from Ctesiphon
It’s rearguard action day on the Retreat from Ctesiphon, as General Townshend is obliged to turn about and do something to stop his main body being overhauled before it can reach Kut-al-Amara. A confused and vigorous action follows, with many artillery shells being flung back and forth. The Ottomans’ shooting is considerably better, and Townshend’s Regatta is thrown into chaos.
One of the gunboats, Firefly, takes a shell to the boiler and is immediately disabled. Comet, another gunboat, then attempts to tow Firefly to safety. However, they only succeed in running both ships firmly aground onto the riverbank, directly in front of the advancing Ottoman infantry, and there’s barely enough time to get the crew away before the ships are overrun. Nevertheless, despite the comedy hour on the Tigris, the rearguard action is a broad success and the retreat continues, albeit with the men tiring fast.
Diplomatic wheels are now chugging slowly into action on the Entente side. There clearly needs to be a serious and wide-ranging discussion on how exactly to prosecute the war in 1916, in all its various theatres. To that end, there’ll be a Franco-British conference in Calais on the 4th, followed by a multiple-day conference of all the Entente at Chantilly beginning on the 6th. Some kind of original thinking is desperately needed, especially as General von Falkenhayn is busy with his own such effort (of which more soon).
War always seems to turn out exactly the opposite to what you imagine is going to happen. Such a great proportion of it consists of “an everlastin’ waiting on an everlastin’ road,” as someone has already written. Bairnsfather hits it off exactly in his picture of the young officer with his new sword. How he pictures himself using it, charging at the head of his company, and how he really does use it, toasting bread over the camp fire!
I told [the officer’s] orderly to make him some hot tea and stand outside the door to see that no one came in to disturb him. As the tea did not seem to be forthcoming, I went out presently to see what was up, and found him with several of his fellow orderlies sitting in the snow round the camp fire having a meal of some kind. He said he had made the tea, but had not any sugar; so I asked some of the others.
“Now, don’t you say ‘Nema’ to me,” I said, before he had time to speak, ” but go and find some, because I know perfectly well you have got it.” It is a Serbian peculiarity, which I had found out long ago, that whenever you first ask for a thing they invariably say “Nema” (“There isn’t any”). I have frequently been told that in a shop with the thing lying there under my eyes, because the man was too lazy to get up and get it.
They thought it a great joke, and of course produced it, and “Don’t say ‘Nema’ to me” became a sort of laughing byword amongst some of the men afterwards whenever I asked for anything.
They’re now about to cross the Albanian border.
Actions in Progress
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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)