There’s a large diversionary attack taking place around the St Mihiel salient at the moment. It’s achieving very little in military terms, but it’s doing a lot to rearrange the geography. Walking slowly east and north from Les Eparges, the French miners are digging forward in greater and greater numbers.
They’ve gone from detonating one mine a month to two mines a week. Sharp fighting then ensues as both sides race to be the first to occupy and fortify the brand-new crater, and to incorporate it into their trench lines. Mining continues unabated also at half a different other points along the Western Front…
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The Haricot & the Quadrilateral
Even General Hunter-Weston has had his offensive enthusiasm dampened slightly by the recent failure at Third Krithia. General Gouraud, on the other hand, newly arrived in the theatre, and bubbling with fresh ideas from the Western Front, is desperate to succeed where others have failed. Accordingly, he’s planning another attack onto the Kereves Spur.
He’s brought with him General Foch’s theories on bite and hold, and he’s insistent that if only they let him carefully save his artillery and do some detailed planning, his men can storm the Haricot and the Quadrilateral. This would allow a Fourth Krithia to be launched when British reinforcements arrive, and this time they’ll be able to advance without having to deal with enfilade fire from those two strong redoubts. It’s sound reasoning, but can it be done without taking disproportionate casualties?
Two vignettes from Kenneth Best in the trenches. Yesterday, he did a number of quick services for the blokes. Today, he’s doing Mattins and Evensong in the rear. Let’s compare his view of them.
My new batman Craston rigged up roof for dugout. First quiet Sunday. Many men want Holy Communion. They appreciate this above all over services. Most of troops now seem to be provided with respirators. In evening among 10th Manchesters.
Had short evening prayers in various parts of the trenches. Nearly all knelt reverently and added “Amen” which clearly came from their hearts. Some even in face of death feel uncomfortable about professing themselves Christian. However, all said “thank you” and “good night” very warmly. One lad sat on a Turk’s corpse, and deemed it a soft cushion.
Brekker with 89th Field Ambulance. Very kindly lot. Complain of sickness among E Lancs on arrival. Mattins at 9. Evensong at 7. Very nice, but my criticism is that we are here to minister to our men, not ourselves. Some of the regimental chaplains lie in tents most of the day reading, and criticising those who go among troops. Attended a footling meeting.
Signallers see me on my way back and invite me to a birthday party. They are very refined, interesting lot. Return to find my dugout wrecked by shell. Water, fire, and earthquake. I have been pretty fortunate.
He just can’t catch a break, can he? So much for that nice new Communion set. Perhaps it’s a message from Above. “Thou shalt not appropriate thy friends’ stuff quite so freely.”
The squad spends most of the night digging out Mondies to bury him properly.
We stuck on top of it a rude cross of two pieces of wood, next to which we planted a bottle, neck down, with a piece of paper with his name on it. We knew that a couple of shells landing nearby would soon make an end of it, and the name Mondies would live only in our memories.
The squad has an exciting day, mostly spent running back and forth across the trenches dodging enemy shelling. As darkness falls, they get back together again.
While I was up at the forward post, a shell had wounded Ferie in the leg. Having staunched his wound with his own bandages, he made his way to the first-aid station. In him the squad lost a steady, thoughtful soldier, on whom you could count in any situation. He was a hard worker. I was sorry not to be able to shake his hand when he left.
That night, they’re relieved and sent back out of the line to Barlin for rest, resupply, and to incorporate a reinforcement-draft into their ranks. They’ll get ten days of mostly rest, between there and Sains-en-Gohelle.
Actions in Progress
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)