Negotiating for Kut | Hulluch | 27 Apr 1916

Siege of Kut

Today General Townshend attempts to open negotiations for his surrender. I say “attempts” advisedly, since he spends a great deal of time talking about money, and the details of parole. Meanwhile, and pardon me for being crude, but Halil mostly gives his opposite number the arsehole. And well he might; his men have spent the last six months or so dispensing liberal kickings to British Empire forces. It surely shouldn’t be a surprise that Townshend is instead met with a demand for unconditional surrender. Halil does at least do them the courtesy of referring the question of money to Enver Pasha, but I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, inside the garrison, Edward Mousley continues recording his thoughts.

Last night we destroyed surplus ammunition. Today General Townshend, Colonel Parr, and Captain Morland have gone upstream to interview the Turkish Commander-in-Chief. There is a hum of inquiries. One says it is parole and marching out with the honours of war. Another talks of the Turks requiring our guns as the price of the garrison.

Today it is a changed Kut. It is armistice. No sound of fire breaks the hush of expectations. The river-front, grass-grown from long disuse, and the landing-stage likewise, for it has been certain death to go on that fire-swept zone, to-day swarm with people walking and talking. The Turks on the opposite bank do the same. It is strange. I walked a little with a stick. Hope has made one almost strong.

This afternoon I went over the river to Woolpress village, where the tiny garrison has been the whole siege, and many of them have not once visited Kut. The defences are excellent. They have also had to fight floods. A little hockey ground and mess overlooking the river safe from bullets suggested Woolpress as a peaceful spot, notwithstanding its liability to instant isolation from Kut.

This is a deeply fertile ground for the growing of latrine rumours. General Townshend is about to do his own part to patronise them, incidentally. Tonight the garrison eats the last of its last-resort emergency iron rations. Tomorrow they are officially out of food.

Actions at Hulluch

It’s been a hot week or two in the Loos sector, with heavier than usual bombardments. If that were the only thing that were up, so much so normal. However, three days ago a deserter came across No Man’s Land with a warning that a gas-supported attack was imminent. This information confirmed earlier suspicions (which included a large number of rats fleeing the German trenches, which could potentially have been because of leaky gas cylinders), and General Kavanagh has put his corps on high alert for a gas attack.

This morning it comes, with a large release of a mixture of chlorine, phosgene, and tear gas. The clouds have reduced visibility to 3 yards, gas masks are being worn three and a half miles behind the front lines, and the smell is carrying a full 15 miles into the BEF’s rear. When the infantry attack comes, it’s almost entirely made up of large raiding parties, heading in with hand grenades and melee weapons to capture prisoners and papers.

It’s a pain in the arse, of course, but it’s not too much more. Indeed, while the Germans will be able to return with useful intelligence, this might actually turn out to be a useful chance for the defenders to study carefully what might happen in the aftermath of a gas attack. More to come.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues his efforts to drive a car across the Tanzanian backcountry in the middle of the rainy season.

Legg went back to workshop No.2 to see if he could get his spring fixed up and also to see if he could get some rations. He got stuck in the river while going across but with the aid of Sergeant Grey and his section and a motor lorry we soon got him out. After lunch I went out shooting. It rained pretty heavily during the night but I managed to keep dry as I slept in Legg’s waterproof shelter.

The spring, you may recall, was broken on a rock while trying to cross a particularly nasty bog.

The Sunny Subaltern

The Sunny Subaltern has been released from his penance at Hellfire Corner, taking rations up and down the Menin Road every night as transport officer. Now he’s going up the line with everybody else. And when they do go up the line, it’s still going to be to the very nastiest spot of all at Hooge.

I return to my company tonight. The transport job was all right but I d just as soon go back to my platoon. However, the Commanding Officer in turning over to the Transport Officer said I had done good work and he would remember it; also, he wouldn’t remove me were it not for the fact that I was a senior subaltern in the regiment. So, tomorrow night up we go into the trenches, into a real delightful spot; at least delightful in the fact that Fritz makes it very warm there. Casualties have been quite heavy there lately.

Humor out here is a saving grace, and I can assure you there are lots of chances to acquire the grace. For instance, while passing through [Ypres], a soldier on sentry duty in my hearing said “I was sent back to do base duty. This is an ‘ell of a base!” This caustic remark was made as he stopped the transport to inform me the road ahead was being shelled. And as we stopped, Fritz lobbed over a couple of shrapnel just ahead some twenty yards.

Base duty usually means a long and very boring spell guarding some bridge or headquarters out of sound of the guns, to make sure nobody steals it.

Clifford Wells

More humour from idiot son of a Montreal millionaire Clifford Wells, back in England.

We have a saying in the army which indicates well the optimistic spirit which prevails, showing as it does that we always look on the bright side of things. Whenever anything goes wrong, or an unexpected (or in one’s own private opinion an unnecessary) disagreeable task is thrust on one, the customary remark, uttered in a tone of patient resignation and determination not to be discouraged, is “Well, we have a good navy, anyway,” or “Thank goodness, we have a navy.”

The other day it was storming so hard that we knew it would be impossible to carry out the “battle practice” at the ranges according to schedule, but as Divisional Orders said we were to go to the Ranges, we went. On arriving at the ranges, we were officially informed that the weather conditions were unfavourable, and so we marched back again—eight miles altogether in a driving, pouring rain.

When I reached my room wet to the skin, my batman’s greeting was “Good gracious, Mr. Wells, ain’t it a good thing we have a navy?”

The Navy is, of course, the last line of defence that prevents an invasion of England. Allegedly. When its battleships aren’t crashing into each other like a pair of town drunks. I smell heavy potential for a running joke here.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge, meanwhile, has plenty to complain about.

Probably, if a trained philologist should ever take the trouble to correct my amateurish opinions, the latest hypothesis of mine as to the origin of the phrase, “We’ll gie ’em beans!” will be considered silly and absurd by those learned Mandarins whose assertions even about the most uncertain things are always vehement in their insistence. To give “beans” to somebody is an equivalent to give him “socks,” i.e., inflict pain on him, chastise, punish him.

Now should it not be possible that the phrase owes its origin to bean-fed soldiers, to men who were overfed with beans, who were ” fed-up” with beans? For a whole fortnight now the only vegetables we have had for dinner were beans. Beans yesterday, beans to-day, beans to-morrow.

Interesting that he doesn’t have any comment on the origin of “socks”. It of course is the more punchy of the two standard responses to the German cry “Gott mit uns!”, which presages some immediate and violent response. “You’ve got mittens? Well, here’s socks!” (The more long-suffering response is simply “Yeah, we got mittens too.”) It’s clearly travelled back to Blighty with the wounded.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

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