Joffre, Petain and Nivelle | 26 Mar 1916

French elbows

As the Battle of Verdun continues going nowhere, General Joffre attempts to make the best of a bad job. He’s still extremely put out at having to sack Generals Dubail and de Langle at the request of the government, but there is some lemonade to be made from these lemons. His own position has been kept secure in large part due to there being no obvious replacement for him. However, he clearly sees the potential threat that might arise if General Petain gets another few months of universally positive press.

He needs a new army-group commander. Petain has been covering himself in glory. Now is the perfect time, it seems, to promote Petain out of the way and let some other general take direct credit for the defence of Verdun, and so muddy the waters for anyone trying to pick a successor. Petain will accordingly soon be promoted to commander of Central Army Group (although it won’t take effect until May). Oh, and his replacement at 2nd Army will be one Robert Nivelle. Tee hee. Politics can be so very ironic. Talk about too clever by half.

(The new Eastern Army Group commander, by the way, will be Franchet d’Esperey. The cynical might suggest that he’s being kept carefully out of the way of anything interesting.)

Tighe and Hoskins

There’s another change of command brewing in Africa. Someone’s finally noticed General Tighe’s limitations, and he exits our story, promoted out of the way to a senior paper-pushing job in India. General Smuts is disappointed, but like Joffre it does serve a purpose. He’s able to get General Hoskins, that experienced old African hand, off his staff (to be replaced by a South African, natch) and into a field command.

Grigoris Balakian

Grigoris Balakian has not just been turned out of Hadjin, he’s also been turned away from the next village too. The night’s almost over by the time the caravan staggers into Yardibi.

[We paid] three Ottoman gold pieces to stay in a few stables at the lower end of the village. They insisted we purchase food at the prices they demanded; we were obliged to accept whatever conditions they dictated. Having now walked twelve hours with only short breaks, we plopped down on some dry dung in a corner and pretended we were at home.

The Jandarma allowed us to push off rather late in the morning, and once their malice was tempered with bribery, they treated us in a friendlier manner.

Money, the great leveller. It won’t last forever, of course…

Edward Mousley

The days continue scraping by for Edward Mousley at the Siege of Kut. Every day in every way, they’re getting slightly more ill, slightly more run down, slightly more disease-ridden.

I am in Indian khaki again, for summer has come to Kut. It is even getting unpleasantly warm. The massaging has decreased the rheumatics if anything, although I am very much weaker and can’t walk 400 yards without getting blown. It is worth while to avoid the chaff bread, and I stick to an occasional egg and rice-husk and soup. How fit I was when I started on this front!

Square-Peg was seedy yesterday and in pain. I gave him some essence of ginger tabloids, and later on opium, which relieved him somewhat.

Rumours about an impending relief effort continue to swirl. They’re still mostly rumours.

Flora Sandes

Back now after a longer break than I’d hoped for, to see Corporal Flora Sandes of the Serbian Army on Corfu. When we left her, she was sloughing through bureaucracy to get her men some new uniforms. That done, she now has a rather knottier problem to negotiate.

I had airily promised the French that I thought the English authorities could give me the transport; so I went up to them, and they said they would see what they could do. “How much stuff have you?” inquired the officer in charge.
“Three thousand two hundred and fifty uniforms,” I replied, ” and the same number of vests and pants.”
“Well, that doesn’t tell me anything,” he said.”I want to know the bulk and weight: you’re no good as a corporal if you can’t tell me that. Let me know exactly by eleven o’clock to-morrow morning, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Here was a poser, for, though I said at once that I would let him know, I had not the faintest idea of how to work it out. [Fortunately, I thought] of my sheet anchor, the big English corporal on the quay, who always seemed to be able to solve any difficulty. Sure enough, he did it for me, and I telephoned the required information. In the end I got the stuff loaded on to a barge and took it myself to a point about 2 miles from my camp, whence it was carried up by a company, and we had the proud distinction of being the first regiment to be fitted out in new, clean English khaki uniforms.

Jolly good show, Sandes. Carry on.

Clifford Wells

Clifford Wells, the idiot son of a Montreal millionaire, is still in camp in England. Hopefully he’s working hard in preparation for going out to the front when his turn comes!

I am quarantined.

They’re all cursed! It’s the only explanation.

One of the officers in this hut developed the measles last week. He was sent to the hospital, and his room-mate and batman were quarantined. On Sunday the batman managed to get drunk and visited the room where all the other batmen sleep. They, of course, in the pursuance of their duties entered the officers’ rooms in the hut. The Medical Officer, when the circumstance was reported to him, put the whole hut under quarantine.

Only three officers were caught, however. The others happened to be out at the time, and are sleeping in other huts. But my room-mate and I, and one other officer, and the batmen, are shut up for sixteen days, with a sentry with fixed bayonet in front of the door. All our meals are brought in to us.

I sometimes have breakfast in bed.

All right for some. Measles in 21st-century Europe is usually an annoyance at worst (and decreasing sharply thanks to immunisation); 100 years ago, although usually not fatal, it can be a major pain in the arse. The risk to an army which, when on active service is living in extremely unsanitary conditions, is pretty obvious.

Bernard Adams

A quick vignette from Bernard Adams, on the subject of a good sergeant-major.

As I went along with that tower of strength, Sergeant-Major Brown, followed by an orderly carrying two ram jars produced from under my bed, I discussed the subject of working-parties for the night, and other such dull details of routine. Also we discussed leave. His dug-out was at the corner of Old Kent Road and Park Lane, and there I found the “Quarter” (Company Sergeant-Major Roberts) waiting with five dixies of hot tea, just brought up on the ration trolley.

Sergeant Roberts saluted, and informed me that all was correct. Then the sergeant-major spilled the contents of the two jars into the five dixies, and as he did so the ten orderlies, two from each platoon, and two Lewis-gunners, made off with the dixies. Then I made off, but followed by Sergeant Roberts with several papers to sign, and five pay-books in which entries had to be made for men going on leave.

One signed the pay-book, and also a paper to the quartermaster authorising him to pay 125 francs (the usual sum) to the undermentioned men, out of the company balance which was deposited with him on leaving billets. I signed everything Sergeant Roberts put before me, almost without question.

This is a mildly interesting way of distributing the men’s rum ration. I’ve more usually seen reference to a ceremonial happening between the sergeant, the bloke, and a large spoon. Anyhow, nothing of importance has occurred.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
Lake Naroch Offensive

Further Reading

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