My pink half of the drainpipe | 29 Apr 1915

And breathe. With the failure of First Krithia, General Hunter-Weston orders the men at Cape Helles to dig in and rest. We’re also going outside the Ypres salient on the Western Front for a change, as some bored gunners try to entertain themselves.


Sir Ian Hamilton spends today touring the beaches, seeing what can be seen. First, he frets about their supply situation.

A biggish sea running, subsiding as the day went on—and my mind grew calmer with the waves. For we are living hand-to-mouth now in every sense. Two days’ storm would go very near starving us. Until we work up some weeks’ reserve of water, food and cartridges [stationed ashore], I shan’t sleep sound.

Once again, Colonel Hankey’s points rise like a spectre above the peninsula.

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Touring the beaches

Hamilton has extensive comments on the situation at W Beach and ANZAC Cove. W Beach first.

What a scene! An ants’ nest in revolution. Five hundred of our fighting men are running to and fro between cliffs and sea carrying stones wherewith to improve our pier. On to this pier, picket boats, launches, dinghies, barges, all converge through the heavy swell with shouts and curses, bumps and hair’s-breadth escapes. Other swarms of half-naked soldiers are sweating, hauling, unloading, loading, road-making; dragging mules up the cliff, pushing mules down the cliff: hundreds more are bathing, and through this pandemonium pass the quiet stretchers bearing pale, blood-stained, smiling burdens.

In a small matter that says so much, he intends also to see the positions that the French are establishing. However, when he arrives in the French sector, he finds that General d’Amade has gone to visit Queen Elizabeth in order to see him…

Later he sails round to ANZAC Cove.

The Australians and New Zealanders had fixed themselves into the crests of a series of high sandy cliffs, covered, wherever they were not quite sheer, with box scrub. These cliffs were not in the least like what they had seemed to be through our glasses when we reconnoitred them at a distance of a mile or more from the shore. Still less were they like what I had originally imagined them to be from the map.

Their features were tumbled, twisted, scarred—unclimbable, one would have said, were it not that their faces were now pock-marked with caves like large sand-martin holes, wherein the men were resting or taking refuge from the sniping. From the trenches that ran along the crest a hot fire was being kept up, and swarms of bullets sang through the air, far overhead for the most part, to drop into the sea that lay around us.

Yet all the time there were full five hundred men fooling about stark naked on the water’s edge or swimming, shouting and enjoying themselves as it might be at Margate. Not a sign to show that they possess the things called nerves.

[General Birdwood] tells me several men have already been shot whilst bathing but there is no use trying to stop it: they take the off chance. So together we made our way up a steep spur, and in two hours had traversed the first line trenches and taken in the lie of the land. Half way we met Generals Bridges and Godley. From the heights we could look down on to the strip of sand running Northwards from Ari Burnu towards Suvla Bay.

Perhaps understandably, Hamilton elides one rather important detail. That would be the corpses lying everywhere, beginning to bloat and smell as the process of decomposition begins. Burying the dead is right at the bottom of the list of priorities, and understandably so. As Hamilton leaves, the Ottoman artillery opens up with a massive shrapnel bombardment. Fortunately he’s safely on board the destroyer by then, but if the bombardment had been five minutes earlier, or he’d left five minutes later…

Second Ypres

Once again the Germans are content just to bombard the salient without significant infantry attacks, so Sir John French postpones the retirement for another 24 hours. Another day is spent strengthening and reinforcing the GHQ Line. General Foch continues ordering French counter-attacks towards Pilckem, and the Germans continue swatting them aside.

The drainpipe

Meanwhile, the heat is off for the men who’ve remained at the south of the BEF’s line, near Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge. They’ll be back in action soon, but for now, with little firing to do, the gunners are bored. Two signallers have been permanently posted to an obscure observation post well out of everyone’s way, and most of their time is spent wandering the countryside, seeing what can be seen.

The devil makes work for idle hands, and in this case he presents himself in the person of a large old drainpipe, found in a half-ruined house. The thought occurs that with communications frequently interrupted, an emergency signalling system would be an excellent idea. A conversation ensues with some of their gunners. The practical upshot of this is that they’ve pointed the drainpipe back at their battery, wedged it firmly in place, and they’ll then at night send Morse code messages to the Battery by shining a signalling lamp through the pipe, who will reply with a similar apparatus.

The experiment is apparently a success. The Battery can see them. They can see the Battery. Unfortunately, the Battery is signalling forwards, and all concerned have forgotten that there are other people in advance of the observation post. The Germans, for instance. In the morning, a large number of military policemen appear, and it’s a considerable job to convince them that it’s just a signalling experiment and they’re not, in fact, German spies

Actions in Progress

Defence of Van
Battle of Ypres (Second Ypres)

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

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

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