Kut surrenders | Easter Rising | 29 Apr 1916

Surrender of Kut

General Townshend is apparently too sick to surrender personally. He is, however, apparently well enough to issue one last message to the blokes suggesting that parole might still be possible. Shut the fuck up! You are not helping! The surrender is eventually made official by General Delamain, the very same man who led the first troops into Basra 18 months ago. The town is occupied. Edward Mousley is fighting a losing battle against looting Ottomans. They’ve all been ordered to gather at the hospital.

We got some sepoys to carry our kit, or rather the remains of it, and as I left the tiny courtyard the last thing I saw was poor Don Juan’s black tail hanging on a nail on the post in the sun to dry. I wanted it for a souvenir of a trusty friend, but there was not a second to be lost. In the street the Arabs were all hostile to us. Turks full of loot raced up and down. We met officers whose rings had been taken and pockets emptied.

The padre’s wrist-watch and personal effects were taken. In hospital, Square-Peg and I lay on our valises on the ground of the tiny yard, as the hospital was overflowing and officers kept still arriving. Sir Charles Melliss came shortly after. He had a bed beside mine near the doorway, and I thought looked very ill. His little white dog was beside him and all around him were sick and dying officers.

Nothing I can say could measure my gratitude and admiration for Major Aylen, the C.O. officers’ hospital. While living on the hardest and most severe of diet himself he has gone from minute to minute with only one thought—for his charge. He is everywhere, and in adversity his industry, patience, and hopefulness are all we have left. If I am to be fortunate enough to survive this ordeal I shall have him to thank.

Tudway turned up as arranged for the evening meal. We pooled our flour and had Chuppatis, one-fourth of which we gave to Holmes my orderly. We lay on blankets on the ground and smoked the lime-leaves, and Tudway said good-bye. He announced his intention to go upstream with some other brigade, and I said good-bye to a very pleasant companion.

The night was hot. One heard the moans of the enteritis patients and the tramp of troops all night long.

So far, they’d have had about equal treatment had they been taken on the Western Front by Germans. Except for one important point: there is, as yet, no food. More to follow. The siege of Kut is over, but the story of the prisoners is only just beginning. Lieutenant Tudway RN leaves the story for a while today; but don’t worry, he’ll be back soon.

Meanwhile, in Persia, General Baratov’s too-little too-late relief expedition has won a minor victory at Karind. The Ottomans, as you might expect, settle for holding him up for a day and then retire to avoid taking heavy casualties.

Gas at Hulluch

There’s another round of phosgene gas releases by the Germans at Hulluch, near Loos. This is on a rather smaller scale, and sees the weather change abruptly, blowing the gas back onto the German trenches. Many of the men here are caught by surprise, without their own masks to hand, and casualties are much higher than they otherwise might have been. Gas is far from a reliable weapon, as this demonstrates quite clearly. There are a few more raids, but the excitement is now mostly over.

There’s two important things to learn for the BEF. Most of the men here were equipped with the old-style PH Helmet, a glorified sack with eyeholes. However, the Lewis-gun teams had been given priority for issues of the new Respirator Small Box. The new gas mask’s performance has far outstripped the PH helmet in every possible way; production will soon be stepped up so that by July, the PH Helmet will be an endangered species.

Also, the attacks have flagged up important deficiencies in gas precautions. Officers have been trying to protect their dugouts with anti-gas blankets at the entrances, which have mostly proved useless. Ammunition and rifles exposed to the gas have been rendered unusable due to corrosive chemical deposits. On the other hand, those Lewis gunners have again led the way. Many of their weapons were wrapped in blankets and the blankets drenched in Vermorel anti-gas solution; their guns have been only slightly damaged and are soon back in full working order.

That’s the end for gas at Hulluch; but we do have more tomorrow.

Easter Rising

Another brief note from Ireland. From an Irish perspective the Rising is by far one of the most important moments of the war. However, in terms of affecting the actual fighting between empires, it’ll do so only obliquely. It’s much more important for its political consequences, of which there will be quite a bit more to come.

The actual rebellion in Dublin we can reduce to a few sentences for now, and maybe come back to the details for the book of 1916. In brief, the rebels seized a number of Dublin buildings, but were unable to gain control over any of the city’s railway stations, nor to impede the British Army’s use of the River Liffey. Combine these strategic failings with a below-par turnout and the interception of a vital German arms shipment, and there was only ever going to be one result. General Maxwell, late of Egypt, sent to take command of the situation, arrives in Ireland in just enough time to take the rebel surrender.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson is perhaps slightly annoyed by a testy message from his colonel, and vents against a passing field ambulance.

Woken up by an Indian with a telegram from Colonel Freeth saying that we were to come on as soon as possible as the car was urgently required. Am afraid it will be a very difficult job as there has been a lot of rain the last 2 days and looks like more to come. Legg has not come back with the motor yet so we shall not be able to move off for another day or two yet. The S African Indian Field ambulance marched on about 9 o’clock making an awful coolie noise.

I hope their stretcher-bearers drop you on your head when you get wounded, you arse.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas is finding that sleep doesn’t come easy in his latest barn at Conde-en-Barrois.

Along one wall, numerous sacks of oats had been piled up. I perched myself there, happy to have found such a nice spot. But once the brouhaha of two hundred men packed in there had quieted down, and the last candle of a few manille players had been extinguished, it was as if an order or a signal had been given. All along the wall, the roof beams, the ground, brushing up against me, nibbling, gnawing, with little yelps of joy, along my legs, across my body, my face—all the rats of the neighborhood, gathering for their daily feast.

In vain I tried to frighten them off by turning on my flashlight, and swinging a club back and forth. No sooner had I turned off the flashlight and set down my club than an even bigger mob swarmed to the feast. Defeated, I had to move and lie down on a beam along one wall. But why didn’t the owner of these bags of oats realize that, in a fortnight, he’d be left with only a handful?

I stopped wondering when, the next day, a neighbor told me that these oats had already been requisitioned and paid for. So if they went into the mouths of rats or of horses, what difference did it make?

C’est la Grande Guerre. Manille is the French soldier’s trick-taking card game of choice.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still giving Corporal Barthas a serious run for his money in the Complaining Stakes. He’s a lot of time to put in yet before he qualifies for the title of grognard, mind you. And he’s rather more high-minded.

These home-service companies are really and truly nothing but labour colonies to provide forced labour at a wage the trade unions would scorn. To hide this unpleasant fact, all the tomfoolery of uniforms and of button cleaning is not sufficient. The NCOs are foremen and their “fatigues” are labour gangs. Anyhow, stripped of all the seductive verbiage of honour and glory and of the glittering and trappings there is a little difference between slavery and army life. It is true the whip of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has disappeared.

But the busting frogs of N.C.O.’s have other weapons. Their tongue is the least harmless. Nobody minds being told, “Put more gutts [sic] into it, man!” But the “criming” power of the NCO is wicked…

“When the history of this war comes to be written,” as our brilliant journalists have it, thus pressing the highly problematic testimony of future generations into service as laudatory witnesses to the efficiency and patriotism of Lord Gryllus … the scribes will point out that the European War marks the first step towards Industrial Armies.

This is almost certainly a reference to a satire by Plutarch often referred to as “Gryllus” after one of its characters. Warming to his theme, Mugge sets out a system for a “citizen army of industry” to get important but undesirable jobs done by citizen service.

Theirs would be a genuine spirit of duty, especially as long as everybody knew that Lord Gryllus’s sons would find no tribunals to exempt them from serving the first months in the Sewage Battalion. Why should not the Crossing Sweepers’ Battalion and the Heavy Porterage Brigade have as loyal and gentlemanly men as Kipling’s Subaltern or Newbolt’s Admirals’? All a question of spirit and training, sir! You treat a man as a gentleman and not as dirt, and in nine cases out of ten he will live up to it! Your nine successful cases will help you in bullying the tenth, the rotter, into working decency.

Everyone who’s giggling at the thought of public schoolboys in the Sewage Battalion, raise your hands.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

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