The march towards Mouquet Farm continues for the 4th Australian Division at the Battle of the Somme. They’ve almost done their job too well at this point. They’re butting into the trenches that directly defend the farm. Over the last four days they’ve worked their way a mile down from the Windmill Hill at Pozieres, and irritated General von Gallwitz so much that he’s going to go into the trenches at Warlencourt and have a look for himself at the ground. As befits an Army Commander, he’ll be a respectable distance behind the front at Warlencourt, but more-than-theoretically within the range of the BEF’s heaviest guns.
Rather more depressing for the Germans is the intelligence they’re gathering from prisoners taken around Pozieres about now. They’ve discovered that the 4th Division is far from a load of hardened Gallipoli veterans; there’s a few in there as a stiffener, but it’s mostly “inexperienced replacements”. A British skeptic might look at the last few days and see a lot of mud and guts and six inches towards Berlin. The Germans at the time are looking at this, and seeing they’re being pushed off ground by raw recruits, and they can’t take it back.
That’s not good for morale, or their intelligence’s assessment of their own fighting quality. As ever, the picture of the Battle of the Somme is far more complex than just blokes walking at machine guns and getting mowed down.
General Haig’s “Ineffectual Burblings 1916” tour continues with a visit to II Corps’s HQ.
I impressed two points on General Jacob. … 2. Information from divisions frequently reaches HQs of Corps, Armies, and GHQ very slowly. Too slowly! So I desired Jacob to see that intercommunication between [brigades and lower] in a division, and Divisional HQ, was efficiently kept up. I further pointed out that Staff officers must be able to explain the plans of their General, as well as to see that the actual orders are carried out.
Well, yes, it’s a point in his favour that he is trying to solve the problem. However, it’s not unlike trying to solve the problem “the river keeps flooding” by going out in a boat and and shouting at it in the middle of a flood.
Time was allowed for the Turk to have his supper and get to sleep; he had never been bombed by night before, and we hoped that the surprise of
this little jaunt might further its effect. Just after eleven Captain de Havilland left the ground with a cheery wave and was gone in the darkness; a
few minutes later came “Contact, sir!” from my mechanic, and I was away. Our course took us over the desert west of the river, which shone like quicksilver in the moonlight far to starboard.
A strong head-wind made progress slow, but it was pleasant to be up in the cool vastness of the night above that strange country. It seemed ever so long ago that I had left England. A series of flashes in the distance ahead dispelled reverie; D.H. was attacking. Gliding slowly with engine off, I arrived short of the aerodrome at a height of 400 feet, when suddenly there burst a storm of heavy and concentrated rifle fire from what must have been at least a thousand rifles under well-directed control.
It had been my lot during the war to come under fusillades of varying intensity, but this reception was perhaps the warmest up to date: the sound was like the tearing of a piece of calico. After dropping the bombs on the hangars,my speed downwind gave the Turks small chance. The results were unknown in the uncertain light and dust of the explosions; time would tell.
The evening finished with a cheery supper by the Tigris at 2 a.m. off sardines and coffee with the lads who could not sleep for sand flies. The sand flies at Sheikh Sa’ad defied description, and mosquito nets were of no avail, the net specially designed against these pests entailing a mesh so small as ‘to make ventilation impossible ; the expedient of emptying ‘the kerosene from one’s “butti” (lamp) over bed and body gave relief for perhaps an hour till it had dried off, and the torture started again. In those days men sold their souls for kerosene.
In the Army, the officers send the men off to die in the mud. Navy officers and men all go off to die together on a giant torpedo magnet. In the Royal Flying Corps, the men cheerily wave their officers off to go and die, and then they go back inside and drink tea or have a wank, according to preference. Nice to see at least one branch of service getting things the correct way round.
Once again, I remind the reader that these people are flying aeroplanes made out of plywood and fabric. Mad as March hares, the lot of them.
Max Plowman has now seen the Leaning Virgin of Albert. He’s also come under fire for the first time, sort of.
We have moved another step forward. This field by the cross-roads, where we sleep in the open, is called Belle Vue Farm, though I see no farm. As to the belle vue, that has been spoilt. The town of Albert, which lies below us to the north, has been raked with shell-fire and looks half ruins. Some chimney-stacks still stand. They sway beneath the gilded figure of the Mother and Child. That figure once stood triumphant on the cathedral tower; now it is bowed as by the last extremity of grief. Troops still occupy the cellars of the town, but shells drop into the place every day.
I woke just now to an eerie watery sound, followed by a long whizzing rush, and then a thud: shells falling behind us. I did not recognise them at once, their watery gurgle through the air as they passed overhead seemed so slow and tame.
Time for the big boy breeches, sunbeam.
Herbert Sulzbach is still the laziest arse in the German army.
We hear from the Italian front that the town of [Gorizia] has been occupied by the Italians. I still have duties in Noyon now and then, and these outings make a nice change. You can actually go to a military club, what they call a “Kasino”, and have a meal at a table with a cloth on it, as though it were peacetime.
I’m sure there are plenty of lazier slackers in the army than him, but I guess they were too lazy to write a memoir.
Maximilian Mugge is still reviewing the situation in which he finds himself. Don’t worry, his outrage is going to come out of neutral and into first gear soon enough.
At present the “Bing-boys” are either drilling and learning the elements of military routine or they are engaged on camp fatigues. We, the former expeditionary force men, are shedding our formidably dirty and picturesque rags and are putting on new uniforms, whilst we tease the young NCOs, and wait for our service leave. The new “Bing-boys” here as far as the “Hun Section” goes may be divided into three classes:
(a) British born. Parents either naturalized British subjects of German descent or actually Germans resident in Great Britain. Usually only father “tainted.” These boys, almost without exception, pure English type ; in speech, character and appearance. Facial contours interesting proof of maternal preponderance. (Vast majority of English mothers.) [WANKY GREEK WORD]
(b) Naturalized British subjects:
1. Perfectly acclimatised specimens ; appearance often, language almost always pure English. Absolutely loyal.
2. Imperfectly acclimatised specimens. Speech usually more or less “tainted” or even broken. Sympathies now often wavering; result of persecution.
I presume the action of the Government in forming this “regiment” was partly due to the existence of a few doubtful individuals in Class B2, but I am convinced that the number of such doubtful individuals has been at least quadrupled by the stupid policy of “Isolation.” Many a good man from B1, must have become in respect to his feelings, a B2 man. We, the former “Expeditionary Force Men,” however, have nothing to do with all that. We volunteered to fight for England and we all object to being “concentrated” with conscripts.
The younger men are very bitter that they were recalled from France, and will never forgive the Government.
I do wish I knew what that Greek word was.
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