Herbert Sulzbach | 28 Jan 1915

It’s another day for people’s stories. Before we go join them, let’s check in with General Joffre, who is indulging in a little micromanagement.


Joffre is the kind of commander to keep tight control over his army. He is somewhat tolerant of new ideas (allowing de Langle to attack in Champagne in the way he felt fit), but he still likes to know exactly what’s going on. Historians who have studied the GQC archives have seen the vast amount of paperwork that bears his signature or initials. By comparison, when General Petain will eventually take command (spoilers!), he’ll delegate almost everything to his chief of staff and only personally review the most important documents.

Today he’s writing letters to his generals. His men have been out reviewing the various armies’ trench-digging efforts. To General Sarrail of Third Army, he writes complaining that a section of line has been dug too close to the crest of a hill. General de Langle gets a letter drawing his attention “…to the importnce of forming to the rear of your actual second line a series of centers of resistance supported by natural obstacles.” As long as Joffre’s widespread political support endures (he’s still the hero of the Marne), this is all well and good. However, should that support ever start to erode…

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Herbert Sulzbach

It might seem like this is the German gunner Herbert Sulzbach’s lucky day. He’s been posted to the Battalion staff as a mounted messenger. For an infantryman, this would be a welcome chance to get away from the front for a while. However, the range of Sulzbach’s battery is about four miles, and it generally spends its time well back from the lines, to the point where Sulzbach is actually going forward to take up his new post.

This is actually quite an honour, as Captain Bachmann selected me himself. I have to leave my little dog behind me at the Battery. Duties are not very onerous, but most interesting.

However, during this tour of duty I have an experience that upsets me for some time. One of my mates keeps having terrible attacks, going completely out of his mind. It is very hard indeed to calm him down.

The man is almost certainly suffering from what was just beginning to become known in English as “shell shock”. Hopefully those words will turn blue soon.

Kenneth Best

Meanwhile, Chaplain Best is just about to go forward to the men on the Suez Canal. First, a friend takes him to see some of the locals participating in a traditional religious ritual. Rankin and Best join with a local resident, Porter, who runs a mission school, and go to see what they can see. The first thing to see is a very large and very drunk soldier, who they tactfully remove before the ceremonies start.

Then they started to sway, reciting Creed, then livening up saying “Allah”, head flopping about like that of dead man, they move head and upper trunk back and forward. Then back to old transverse movement with emphasis now on second syllable of “Allah”. It is all a kind of mysticism. There is no connection with original Mohammedanism and Zikkar mysteries are often held in contempt by true Moslems.

Glad to see he’s doing his bit for religious understanding. I’m interested by how like charismatic Christian worship all this sounds…

From 10pm to 3am, mysteries continue, Mystics practice from verse of Koran which says “Using the name of God is beneficial.” As a matter of fact the motion and violent exhalation is the important thing in producing the state of ecstasy.

For some reason, I’d really like to see them go and heckle one of his church parades now.


At about 2:30 this morning, there’s a seemingly-minor incident in the British trenches at Wulverghem. A patrolling German creeps up in the darkness and startles the defenders of the 1st Cheshires. This causes considerable panic, and it’s been suggested that the sentries had fallen asleep. An entire section loses their heads and begins running to the rear, shouting all the way that there were Germans in the trench. Their NCO, Corporal George Povey, is caught up in the panic and goes with it instead of taking control.

Calm is restored when the platoon reaches the support line, having raised the alarm. They’re soon turned about and returned to their posts. In the morning, the officers begin working out what’s happened. Most of the section and Corporal Povey are arrested. We’ll come back to them in a couple of weeks to see what’s happened.

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: Rudyard Kipling speaks at a public meeting to get marching bands going for recruitment (Page 11). One of the chief French quartermasters has apparently been stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down (Page 10).

It’s quite a dull day in the paper today. The inquest into the Streatham railway accident continues, and is joined by another into a crash at Ilford (page 6), and Page 7 worries about the prices of gas and coal.

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

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