First we go to Mount Mrzli, where they’re now suffering from a shortage of kitchen sinks to throw in. The line rocks and reels wildly throughout the day, advancing to within touching distance of the summit, then tumbling all the way back down to the trincerone, the Big Trench, often literally. Another attack gets to within ten yards of the enemy barbed wire, still stubbonly intact. First the defenders throw hand grenades. Then rocks. Then boulders. Then barrels. Then snowballs. Finally, full tin cans, fresh from the latrines.
Meanwhile, another attack at Gorizia fails, and the fighting at Mount San Michele slacks off somewhat, which the Austro-Hungarians quickly take advantage of to shuffle some fresh troops into the line. Poor buggers.
Retreat from Ctesiphon
Getting the regatta up the Tigris had been a difficult job, with the river becoming steadily narrower, shallower, and harder to navigate. (They of course have no proper maritime charts, except for what can be bodged together with ad-hoc soundings at short notice.) The process of General Townshend’s boats back towards Aziziya is less a case of sailing, and more a case of ungainly lurching between various sandbanks. The river is tricky enough that when one boat runs aground, everyone else stops for fear of doing the same, and in any case nobody particularly wants to split up at this point.
So then the offending ship needs to be hauled off whatever obstruction it’s hit this time. This generally involves using the heaviest ships as impromptu tugs. The task is considerably enlivened by the presence of unfriendly local tribesmen, who pass the time by loitering on the edge of rifle range and taking pot-shots at all and sundry. The retreat continues.
Speaking of which, the Second Regiment appears to have been given orders to protect the army’s line of retreat; they’re still strung out between Bitol and Prilip. And Flora Sandes learns another important lesson about life in the field; she’s lost a friend. However, she’s doing her best to keep morale up.
The Kid went back to Bitol to fetch some clothes, and I never saw her again, though I believe she did want to come back to us later on.
I used to sit over the camp fires in the evenings with the soldiers, and we used to exchange cigarettes and discuss the war by the hour. I was picking up a few more words of Serbian every day, and they used to take endless trouble to make me understand, though our conversations were very largely made up of signs, but I understood what they meant if I couldn’t always understand what they said. It was heartbreaking the way they used to ask me every evening, “Did I think the English were coming to help them?”
I used to cheer them up as best I could, and said I was sure that they would come, and that even if they did not they must not think that the English had deserted them, as I supposed they had big plans in their head that we knew nothing about, and that though we might have to retreat now everything would come right in the end. It was touching the faith they had in the English, whom they all described as going ” slowly but surely.”
You need to be lucky in order to be unpopular in the Army, and Louis Barthas is certainly unpopular with his bosses. Now, in the wake of the recent “attack” on the listening post, someone is trying to stitch him up.
I alone encountered unpleasant results. The famous Sergeant Faure said loudly to the captain, “It’s not astonishing that this forward post was surprised. Corporal Barthas must have been sleeping.” This nasty insinuation gave the captain the idea of launching an inquiry. What luck, if they could profit from this opportunity to get rid of me by sending me before a court-martial!
But this time they didn’t succeed. Sublieutenant Malvezy, making his rounds, had stopped to chat with me a moment before the “attack” occurred. Sergeant Marc and my grenadier Sergeant Lasserre had likewise spoken with me between four and five that morning. They attested to it spontaneously, vigorously, at the risk of alienating the captain and the commandant, who then had to leave me alone.
And he also provides a welcome note of caution to any historian who has ever, say, relied on a battalion war diary to figure out what was going on.
This affair of the grenade attack was the object of dispatches and reports which, from hand to hand, must have arrived under the eyes of Joffre himself. They were written according to our bosses’ imagination, because neither my comrades nor I, who commanded at the forward post, were ever asked to give anything like accurate information. That’s how the history of this war will be written.
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