Siege of Kut
The siege continues. The garrison, and Edward Mousley, has just had bad news.
Two paramount budgets of especial interest and importance reached us first thing this morning. One was that Cockie was annoyed with us for eating our own fowl, the other being from Sir Percy Lake to the effect that Gorringe cannot possibly be present here for the 15th, but will have great pleasure in doing so by the 21st instant. With the help of God and the strength derived from having eaten the hen, we hope to survive the first budget.
To this end Square-Peg and Tudway and I immediately slaughtered the second hen and sent a polite message of this information to Cockie with a promise to reserve for him the head and feet. Tudway has been in shrieks of laughter all day, and mounted guard over the hen himself. To be sure I intended to reserve for [Cockie] half of my portion, but the others voted this treachery, as they think he has done very well lately with hospital rations of fish and eggs.
The news from Sir Percy Lake is serious enough. Our men are now dying by the score and their condition is reduced to the last degree, many being scarce able to walk. It is not merely rations that they require, but sick comforts.
“Our own fowl” was the one eaten on the 7th, four days ago. There is good news, of a sort; General Gorringe has worked out a plan for getting ahead without needing to attack Sannayiat again. This one involves throwing a boat-bridge across the River Tigris at Fallahiya and then doing a southern end run around the Sannayiat trenches to attack Bait Isa, a mile or two behind Sannayiat. And then there’s only one final defensive line at Es Sinn to deal with! And then they just have to fight their way through the force that’s besieging Kut!
Still, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Unfortunately, they can’t do much of anything today; the Tigris has long since burst its banks. Much of the ground that the men will need to cross on their end run is thoroughly flooded. Now those overworked engineers are needed to build causeways. (Meanwhile, the Ottoman engineers are doing their best to worsen the flooding.)
There’s now a development on the diplomatic front. Back in late March, SS Sussex was torpedoed by a U-boat while sailing as a passenger liner. The German foreign office has now, in the fullness of time, decided to adopt a policy of strict denial. Submarine, you say? Stuff and nonsense! None of our submarines were anywhere near there. Torpedo attack? Foul libel, designed only to impair friendly relations between Germany and the USA!
Unfortunately for all this wounded drivel, the American government has been investigating the sinking for itself. American investigators have been working with British and French experts. The advice being given to President Wilson is clear and accurate; the Germans are lying through their teeth. Wait until the newspapers get hold of this! American citizens were on the ship, although none were killed. Plenty died on the Lusitania. This is the sort of thing that could bring the USA into the war.
A quick note from Corfu. It seems that the Serbian Army is now just about ready to be shipped back to Salonika, and begin the process of taking back its country. There are 112,000 soldiers ready to get back into the fight; the operation will take the better part of two months. Meanwhile, the Birdcage itself remains mostly quiet, with occasional shelling and exchanges of fire; the air buzzes with air raids and counter-raids. There still isn’t any political will to do much of anything.
When I told him that in 1914 I had been at the University of Berlin, he promised to do what he could to help our caravan be transported to Aleppo by train. In my presence he sent a telegram to the commander-in-chief, requesting special permission for our caravan.
When, at his suggestion, I met with him again, he informed me with much joy that the order had come to allocate one railway car to us. But a maximum of 60 could accompany me. The remaining ones would have to go to Aleppo on foot. It was most upsetting, for the Cankiri and Yozgat groups, who had been joined in such tragic circumstances would now, for want of money, have to separate for good.
A couple of days pass while they sort out who is going to go by train.
I learned from the colonel’s aide, who was from Homps, that Commandant Leblanc (Quinze-Grammes) and Captain Cros-Mayrevielle (the Kronprinz) were harshly lectured by the colonel. What made him the maddest was that they had blocked my requests for a hearing. He ordered them to restore my stripes to me at the next promotion ceremony.
That meant little to me, but I was satisfied by the stroke of bad luck which these two interesting characters had encountered.
Score one for the good guy! Corporal Barthas he is once more, or soon will be. He doesn’t want to be, of course, but that’s not the point.
Meanwhile, in news from people who actually want to hold their rank, Sergeant Robert Pelissier is once again being inspected by Important Personages.
In the morning, sham attack and in the afternoon grand review and parade before a Serbian Prince and a Serbian general, two enormous big fellows. Our Major, who is not a dwarf, looked like a mite before them, but a pretty spunky and wiry mite.
It is not entirely beyond the realms of possiblity that the general might be Field Marshal Putnik himself, if he’s well enough to be doing such things. After being rather crudely sacked from his job, he’s been welcomed by the French government and given a quiet villa near Nice where he might be able to recover his health. Afterwards, Pelissier continues with his rear-area duties and will eventually detached for a few weeks at some headquarters or other.
I have been introduced to War, and at present I find him a sunshiny old devil by day and a star-spangled old wizard by night, attended by countless elfish little devils who sigh through the air when we stand to arms just before daybreak.
So strange are the emotions stirred by all the circumstance of this trench-life-the rough awakening after an hour or two of sleep, when one staggers out of a dug-out, chill and sleepy, to hear the monosyllabic rifles and the chattering machine guns, who have, it seems, kept up their palaver during one’s period of forgetfulness.
I do wish I could express my whole psychological attitude to all this. Someday, I shall try. At present I feel it’s beyond the powers of psychology and literature. The apparent harmlessness of all this banging and whizzing in such fine weather, making the whole thing seem like a game which one has been prevailed upon to play out of mere compliance with the established order of things.
The growing familiarity with the various frequent noises, like the two German machine guns which join in like geese raising an alarm, when an aeroplane is flying low; the different batteries, and all the sounds to which one assumes a kind of personal attitude and well understands why the armies have given names to them like ‘Archibald’, etc
Well, he did want to test himself.
Guess what’s just caught up with Maximilian Mugge?
One of the men in our hut has fallen ill with measles. That is the third case in Hut 1 within a few weeks. All the precautions taken after the patient has been removed into hospital consist in airing his four blankets outside the hut before the next comer sleeps in them. For once, however, they are aired.
This measles epidemic certainly is making itself at home on the south coast of England. Clifford Wells is still firmly quarantined. Mugge, being a private soldier, not quite yet. To do that would disqualify an entire platoon from drill and working-parties, and that would never do.
Actions in Progress
Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!