German memories | 23 Jan 1915

Time to head back to ground level on the Western Front to see how the blokes are getting on. I’ve recently got hold of some translated accounts from German soldiers, and we’ll see what they’ve been making of the show so far.

John Chilembwe

But first, in Nyasaland, John Chilembwe is ready to move. Parties of rebels are heading in all directions, but their main activity will be an attack on the infamous Livingstone-Bruce plantation at Magomero. Not only was the cruelty of the regime there particularly notorious, in 1913 Livingstone-Bruce workers were responsible for the burning of one of Chilembwe’s churches. (Insert barbed comments about who could have suggested they do that.)

Time for the receipt. The rebels split into two groups, attacking the plantation house itself and the nearby village. The plantation manager has his head cut off, possibly in front of his wife. His estate manager is also found and killed, and the plantation house has two modern Mauser rifles. In the village is another plantation official, who goes the same way. Other rebels hurry to cut the telephone lines to prevent the alarm being raised – but two white colonists escape from the village, and during the night they’ll walk some six miles to the next plantation over…

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas is coming out of the line and heading back for a few days of rest in Vermelles, after twenty-one days up the line. He reports Vermelles leading a charmed life. Although several batteries of the famous French soixante-quinze are installed in the village, the German five-mile snipers are generally disinclined to shoot at them. They set about finding quarters.

No house stood undamaged. The least deteriorated were requisitioned by the big shots with gold stripes on their sleeves. Those half-demolished became the property of lowly adjutant and lieutenants. Finally, those missing three-quarters of a roof, or one floor out of two, were the camping ground for a squad.

The first night, the whole company piled into a ballroom. My squad, being the last one in, had to take the only places that were left; the balcony where the orchestra played, rather high up. With no ladder we had to get up there by means of acrobatic tricks. Five or six musicians would have been quite comfortable here, but it was a bit narrow to serve as a berth for sixteen sleepers. Fear of crashing down onto those below kept us from getting a good sleep ourselves, which I greatly needed.

The next day, following the law of first-come first-served, we took possession of a house which appeared quite comfortable to us.

Chess, by I. Gunsberg

The adverts today are all dull.  Anyone fancy a go at their chess problems?
The adverts today are all dull. Anyone fancy a go at their chess problems?

German Sapper

The German Sapper chose to remain anonymous when recording his experiences. I’ve called him the German Sapper, because he’s German, right, and he’s an engineer. You’ll pick it up quick-oh. He’s just returned from hospital after catching a charming trench disease, and is on his way back to Vauquois, about 25 miles west of Verdun.

We saw French prisoners mending the roads, most of them black colonial troops in picturesque uniforms. When at noon we reached the height of Varennes, we saw the whole wide plain in front of us. A little further up on the heights was Vauquois. No houses were to be seen. One could only notice a heap of rubbish through the field-glasses. Shells kept exploding in that rubbish heap continually, and we felt a cold sweat run down our backs at the thought that the place up there was our destination.

We had scarcely passed the ridge when some shells exploded behind us. At that place, the French were shooting artillery at individuals. As long as Vauquois had been in their power, they had been able to survey the whole country, and we comprehended why that heap of rubbish was so bitterly fought for. We ran down the slope and found ourselves in Varennes. The southern portion of the village had been shelled to pieces and gutted. Only most of the chimneys, build apart from the bottom upward, had remained standing, thin blackened forms rising out of the ruins into thin air.

Everywhere we saw groups of men collecting the remaining metals, which were sent to Germans. Church-bells melted into shapeless lumps were loaded on wagons and taken away. All the copper, brass, tin, and lead that could be got was collected.

He’ll have enough to busy himself very soon. Vauquois will be host to some of the most energetic mining of the war. The village itself is already a complete hellscape. In time it will be simply and efficiently removed from the map.

Herbert Sulzbach

Meanwhile, a lance-bombardier called Herbert Sulzbach is a few miles further east, near Ripont Mill. There are quite a few lost villages in this part of Champagne. He’s just been up the line to an observation-post.

They’re this side of some high ground just 100 metres behind the front trenches. I can ride towards the front without being seen by the French, but a hellish burst of fire starts up as I arrive. Small arms and artillery compete with each other. I’m as hoarse as a crow and can’t speak a word. I get my orders and ride back to the Battery.

Once again, there’s dreadful fire on the limber and battery positions. We think it’s better to get out of the dugouts and lie in the mud. Several casualties. Two of our trusty horses are dear. It’s a good thing you don’t get round to thinking much, but when you do have time, you always paint pictures of marching back home victorious. We mustn’t weaken, mind. We’re old soldiers now. But, will proper peacetime ever come back again?

Dogger Bank

Meanwhile, the game in the North Sea is well and truly afoot again. After the success of the bombardment on Hartlepool, Scarborough, and Whitby, the Germans are planning another operation. This one is purely a raid; and it’s a raid on the British fishing fleet in the rich grounds of the Dogger Bank. The Royal Navy seems suspiciously well-informed of German naval movements, and they suspect that the trawlers are telling tales out of class.

Meanwhile, the Admiralty’s plentiful supply of code-books has enabled the secret cryptology team in Room 40 to read vast volumes of German naval signals. The composition and mission of the German force is quickly passed on, and in no time Vice-Admiral Beatty has set sail with more than enough force to give the Hun six of the best, trousers down. He plans to ambush them at dawn tomorrow…

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Chilembwe Uprising

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: The editor appears to be a little peeved at the lack of hard news coming from the Front, and the amount of censorship. A leader on Page 8 sets out the totally-not-self-interested reasons why the Army should be loosening its iron grip on information a little. How are the chaps at the front supposed to get any glory if we don’t know what they’re doing?

Elsewhere: Page 3 sees the start of legal proceedings into the Army allegedly being supplied with bad meat; extensive evidence is heard. Mrs Eric Pritchard’s A Page For Women is promoted onto Page 6, and celebrates by writing about the joy of dried fruit, and how nasty it must be for the German people to discover that nobody likes them. And Page 7 has a letter on the subject of “Migratory Buffets & Kitchens”, sadly more boring than the title suggests.

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

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