It may be the first of February, but things are about to get damn hot on the Suez Canal. There’s a large body of men at Moyia Harab.
There’s about 15,000 Ottomans forming up now, more than half of them at Moyia Harab. This would be more than enough to put a serious crimp in the Empire’s day, without the recent arrival of ANZAC troops, sent to Egypt for potential use in Mesopotamia or the Dardanelles. As it is, there are now plenty of bodies in hand, and the New Zealanders are moving forward to the Suez Canal to join the existing garrisons. Warships have been detached from their regular duties and sent into the canal, and occasional skirmishes are breaking out.
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Kenneth Best feels very strongly that when there’s fighting afoot, his place is as close to the front as possible, seeing to the blokes.
General Watson was having lunch when I stumbled in to find out if I could get to El Ferdan. He was affable and kind, sending a captain off in the middle of lunch to find out when a bat was leaving and arrange that it should take me. He told me I could have General Younghusband’s private launch as a rule, if I advised them when I should need it.
He takes the long journey up to El Ferdan, and they nearly trip over the camouflaged position. Padres had a considerable amount of freedom of movement, as they saw fit. Some chose a rather more comfortable way of life.
Went to Officers Mess. They had just received message of probable Turkish attack either that night or at daybreak. I therefore decided not to go back by boat and managed to miss train. Had scratch meal. Tents were dropped. Most of the night spent digging our trench and carting ammunition brought up by train. The intervals of rest were spoiled by barking of wild prairie dogs and buzzing and stings of mosquitoes. No attack.
Along the railway line proceeded the stream of refugees carrying all their backs. Armoured train proceeding up and down. Yet, the ordinary Suez Express passed with all lights blazing. Chilly sleeping in open, but managed to dig myself a comfy trench. English officer in Indian regiment says he’s jolly glad no attack was made, as 20th Battery was badly under-equipped.
Sound of firing further north.
In early February…
Doing this project the way I am, the phrase “Early in [month]…” narks me off more than almost anything else. No! Give me a date, you bastard! How am I supposed to know which day’s post to put it in? So, failing that, here’s a quick round-up of things that are going to happen “in early February”.
The German diplomat Wilhelm Wassmuss has been in Persia for some time, and is deeply familiar with the situation. Soon he’ll be on a steamer heading down the River Tigris towards Kut, and from there he’ll head east into the Persian desert. His mission is to stir up anti-British and anti-Russian feeling in the region, and generally annoy the enemy as much as possible by doing so. By analogy to a later British factotum, he’s sometimes known as “Wassmuss of Persia”…
The pre-war French Army plans to replace the old blue coat/red trousers ensemble are now being put into effect. Starting about now, the new horizon blue uniforms are starting to make their way to the poilus. Some other bright spark has also come up with a design for a steel helmet to protect against shrapnel, and plans for a prototype will be distributed early in February.
In Galicia, the Russian occupying forces are beginning to target Jews as a security risk. Their movements are being placed under severe restrictions, and legislation has been introduced allowing the military government to confiscate Jewish land.
Finally, the situation in Italy continues to rumble ominously. Their parliament is due to open in the middle of the month, but before it can do that, the former prime minister Giovanni Giolotti can see which way the wind is blowing. Early in Feburary he makes a statement putting himself firmly against war with Austria-Hungary.
I certainly don’t consider war to be a blessing, as the nationalists do, but a misfortune that must only be faced when the honour and the great interests of the country require it. Anyone is free to throw his life away for an emotion, but not the country.
Sadly, he’s underestimated entirely the ambitions of Salandra and Sonnino. Giolotti would be content with waiting for the Austrian situation to allow the Trentino to be diplomatically ceded and an arrangement worked out for Trieste. He’s pretty sure that he can rally enough support against the prime minister to keep him from doing anything stupid in pursuit of a goal that quite categorically doesn’t require war.
Salandra and Sonnino’s dreams are in a completely different league. They’re intent on turning the Adriatic Sea into an Italian pond, an ambition that only war can satisfy. And their ambitions are known to only one other person. Sadly, he happens to be the King of Italy. By the end of the month, they’ll have convinced Victor Emmanuel III to use his reserve powers to support them if necessary.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day.
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)