Leaning Virgin of Albert | 26 Jan 1915

Yes, those four words belong together. I’ll explain them in a little while, but after we’ve checked in with Nyasaland and Mesopotamia.

Chilembwe Uprising

A group of rebels travels to Nguludi, attacking a Catholic mission, the priest, and his armed guards. One guard is killed, the priest is wounded, and his church is thoroughly burned. Meanwhile, the King’s African Rifles advance cautiously into Mbombwe, encountering only sporadic resistance after Chilembwe’s departure. They do succeed in arresting David Kaduya, the former askari mentioned a couple of days ago.

The KAR puts an exclamation point on their success by setting demolition charges around Chilembwe’s own mission and blowing it up real good. Kaduya will be taken back to Magomero, on the fast track to execution. A few of the rebels are preparing to fight to the death. More are fleeing with John Chilembwe towards the Mozambique border. The rest are attempting to quietly disappear among the general population.

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When last we checked in with Qurna, we found the British Empire commander driving off an initial Ottoman probe. Things have been quieter for the past two weeks, but now he’s received word that there’s another large force in the area. This time they’re heading from Amara towards Ahwaz, some 150-odd miles to the east. Ahwaz is controlled by a local sheikh, and the defence of the area has been left to him. There’s a token half-company of blokes there, fighting the soldier’s endless battle with boredom…

This is a problem. Most of IEF “D” is sitting in Qurna or Basra. A major oil pipeline runs through Ahwaz and then continues southwards, close to the route of the River Karun. Eventually, it arrives at an oil refinery on the Shatt-al-Arab, close to where the Karun joins it. This is some way south-east of Basra. If the Ottomans can reach Ahwaz, then not only can they potentially cut the pipeline, they could also then advance down the Karun and cut off IEF “D”‘s supply line and exit route.

Two more infantry brigades will be put together and sent from India as reinforcements, but the first won’t be ready to sail for at least a week. In the meantime, the Empire forces resort to a literal flag-showing operation on the Karun to shore up local support. A half-battalion is sent back from Basra to the Karun, but the situation is starting to look a little hairy. Of course, if they’d not stopped in Qurna, and had continued to Amara and then to Kut on the way to Baghdad….

Leaning Virgin of Albert

Back in September 1914, you may remember that the French and Germans collided heavily with each other at the Battle of Albert while trying to turn each other’s flank on the River Somme. The line eventually settled down just in front of Albert itself as the fighting flowed away from it.

The town has a particularly large church, topped off by a spectacularly grandiose golden statue of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. This place has been the focus of more secular concerns recently. The church tower makes both an excellent observation post for French artillery spotters, and an excellent target for the German guns. About now, one of those guns succeeds in scoring a direct hit, high on the tower.

Somehow the statue is not destroyed, and does not fall. Instead, it stays lodged there at a 90-degree angle. When French engineers attend the tower, they’ll eventually fix the statue in place rather than attempting to restore it. Anyone here surprised that it’ll soon become the focus of a grand array of superstitions over what will happen when the statue finally falls down? No, me neither.

German Sapper

It’s the German Sapper’s turn to go up to Vauquois, under cover of darkness since the French are laying down plenty of ordnance at anything that moves during daylight hours.

There were no traces of trenches. All that could be seen were pieces of stones. That heap of ruins, once a village, had already changed hands no less than fifteen times. In the absence of a trench we sought cover behind stones, for it was absolutely impossible to construct trenches. The artillery shot everything to pieces.

Thus the soldiers squatted behind piles of stones, and fired as fast as their rifles would allow. Guns of all sizes bombarded the village incessantly. There was an army of corpses, Frenchmen and Germans, lying about pell-mell. At first we thought that that terrible state of things was only temporary, but after a few days we recognised that…day and night, ever the same.

This is the last we’ll be hearing from him for a few months, as he’s too busy staying alive to worry about how he’s doing it. You may also want to hold the thought of blokes not being able to dig trenches, and instead resorting to building loose stone breastworks.

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: Page 2 sets the tone by declaring a “Dull Day” in the money market. On Page 4, Henry Leach makes up for this lack of incident with a spectacular diatribe against spectators at golf-tournaments. I mean, that’s all very well for such a low-class sport as football, but for golf, it’s the thin end of the wedge!

Ahem. More reports on Page 5 of warlike rumblings in Italy. Page 9 has an interesting little note about the formation of a Temperance Company of soldiers (we’ll see how long that lasts once they get up the line). And Page 11 has more on what’s threatening to develop into a cost of living crisis. There’s no potato bread in sight yet, but there’s clearly a growing question mark over Britain’s ability to feed its population.

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

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