Haig and Rawlinson | 22 Aug 1916

Haig and Rawlinson

It seems that the rule among the BEF’s high command at the moment is “if in doubt, shout at General Rawlinson”. While General Melchett might have approved of this man-management strategy, he’s about the only one. To be sure, General Haig has every reason to be peeved about the performance of his 4th Army commander, and has told him so in no uncertain terms.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the repeated failure of attacks on Guillemont is that something is wanting in the methods employed. The next attack must be thoroughly prepared for in accordance with the principles which have been uccessful in previous attacks and which are, or should be, well known to commanders of all ranks. …

In actual execution of plans, when control by higher commanders is impossible, subordinates on the spot must act on their own initiative, and they must be trained to do so. But in preparation close supervision by higher commanders is not only possible but is their duty, to such extent as they find necessary to ensure that everything is done that can be done to ensure success. … It is not interference but a legitimate and necessary exercise of the functions of a commander on whom the ultimate responsibility for success or failure lies.

Oh, physician, why dost thou not heal thyself? You’re right, General. It is indeed both legitimate and necessary. So why are you, personally, so incapable of doing it? He goes further when describing to his diary Rawlinson’s latest plan for taking Guillemont.

I disapproved of…his plan because the whole advance would be under the Enemy’s machine gun fire from Guillemont Ridge. Numerous shell holes afforded excellent cover for his machine guns. In fact I thought the scheme doomed to failure.

So why didn’t you make him un-fuck it before allowing him to attack again, you hopeless pillock? It’s enough to make anyone want to scream.

JRR Tolkien

Tolkien and his friend G.B. Smith are doing some soul-searching, just as hundreds of thousands of other men are, who’ve so recently seen their mates die in a dubious cause. He and his school-friends declared years previously that they were destined to do great things in the world, and now it’s uncertain whether any of them will survive the war. Smith offers his grieving friend some high-minded words of encouragement; Tolkien comes to the conclusion that if only one of them lives, that one might achieve greatness on his own.

As they try to eat together for the last time before Smith has to go back up the line, their rear-area billet is shelled and they have to dive for cover. Tolkien’s course is ending; he’ll be back in the trenches soon. And this will be the last time he sees Smith alive.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman, meanwhile, has been wounded. Sort of.

Castlereagh, bright lad, has made me a drink of tea, which I am thankful to accept even from his mess-tin. But while drinking it, I feel a smack on the neck and look round to see who is throwing earth about. No one looks guilty, and putting my hand up I find my neck bleeding; and there at my feet lies an inch of shrapnel I had not seen before. Luckily it must have been the flat side that hit and split the skin. Hill ties me up and we laugh over our first “casualty.” Then Rowley comes along and, brushing my ridicule aside, insists that I must report to the Medical Officer.

He’s passing this off with a stiff upper lip, but he was very possibly only a few inches from death. The side of the neck instead of the back, the carotid arteries; or a sharp edge breaking through to the spine or the brain…

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley continues trying to make the best of a bad job.

I attempted a long walk, permission having been obtained for a party of us to go. The direction led me over hills towards some pine woods—a considerable climb for those in our condition. An extraordinary phenomenon common to almost all Kut people, young and old—but more especially to the young who had starved on account of enteritis troubles—is their sudden huge girth expansion. One’s figure protrudes like any Turk’s. The fatty foods and weak state of the stomach are said to be the cause of this.

The next day I actually turned out to rugger for our house, as left wing three-quarter. The delight after all one’s sickness in feeling one’s legs really attempting to run was so encouraging that one Brabazon and I, for dinner, divided a bottle of German beer. This is to become a custom. We played three spells of ten minutes each, and quite enough too, with a ball stuffed with wool, as we had no bladder. Kastamonu is totally hilly, and the footer ground over a mile away, is uneven and stony, but the best we can get. Correct collaring is barred, but we go croppers just the same.

I have had some rough chessmen made out of bits of wood, and am settling down to discipline my mind again to some sort of methodical thinking. One feels that some such effort as this stands between us and oblivion.

He seems quite determined to portray Kastamonu as the world’s worst CenterParcs resort. And I can only imagine the fun had by anyone who did not grow up in England, trying to decode the sentence “Correct collaring is barred, but we go croppers just the same”.

Ruth Farnam

Ruth Farnam has now gone from London to Southampton to catch a boat. She lived in Southampton for a while before the war, and has heard that one of her old household staff has been wounded in France and is now in a local hospital, so pays him a visit.

When I saw poor Mursell, my faithful gardener of happier days, on crutches and heard that he had been wounded in the legs, he seemed to think that I ought to have an explanation. As he is only five feet four inches in height he was, for a time, ineligible for military service, but after a while “Bantam Regiments” were formed and he was among the first to join and was the tallest man in his regiment! “Yes, madam,” he said, “I caught a shell-splinter in my legs. Why, a man six foot four could have been wounded there.”
He was quite cheerful and happy, in spite of the pain which he was suffering, to have “done his bit” in the great war.

On my way to dinner in the town, I remembered that my presence at the police station was required, so I went there. The sergeant on duty asked my business.
“I’m an alien and am here without an identity card,” I said. “Are you going to arrest me?”
“What for, madam?” he asked.
“Oh, I just thought you might want to,” I replied.
“Wouldn’t think of such a thing. And I didn’t know you was a h’alien, madam.” This courteously.

I looked surprised and he laughed and said he remembered often having seen my husband drive with me down the High Street when we lived near Southampton and he ‘ad h’ always supposed that I was H’english, though he knew that Mr. Farnam was a H’american.

I do henjoy seeing someone take note of the peculiar speech patterns hof the workin’-class British man who is puttin’ on hairs, on haccount of bein’ in a position of hauthority.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

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