Sannaiyat | Lolkisale | 6 Apr 1916

Apologies for the rather disjointed update schedule of late. Stick with it; hopefully we’ll get back on terms by next week. Anyway.

Siege of Kut

Well well. Yesterday, against all the odds, we had some actual good news from the attempt to relieve the Siege of Kut. The relief column exploited some confusion among the Ottoman defenders to capture two of the defensive positions between them and Kut. There’s still more work to be done, though. General Gorringe has correctly reasoned that there’s no point waiting for the enemy to re-organise. The only thing to do is push on, as soon as possible.

He’s sent in a couple of relatively fresh brigades, but this is where the good news ends. They’re supposed to attack Sannaiyat before dawn. However, moving forward through twisty, unfamiliar trenches is far from easy. Many of the men have got tangled up with the wounded coming back, and the quartermasters bringing the rations up. Eventually they’re back into open ground, but too late, and they run out of darkness nearly a thousand yards short of the Sannaiyat trenches.

The Ottoman response is predictable and violent. And for once, I think we can forgive the generals for ordering an impossible assault. They have to break through, or Kut runs out of food in about ten days. They have to trust to luck once more, and push on against impossible odds regardless. Doing nothing is not an option. But they’re fresh out of miracles, and the defenders are more than ready for the assault. A few of the more intrepid men manage to stay alive long enough to scrape new positions for themselves, about 800 yards shy of the enemy line.

Night falls. Gorringe does the only thing he can do, and orders another attack tomorrow, before dawn.

Meanwhile, the Royal Flying Corps has begun its own interesting footnote to the back end of the siege. They’re attempting nothing less than the world’s first airlift of supplies into Kut. The terribly under-strength and under-resourced 30 Squadron will eventually manage, by the end of the siege, to airlift over a ton of supplies per day. That’s about the figure needed to keep the garrison alive and repelling Ottoman attacks; but, as a chaplain recorded rather sadly in his diary, “often as not their parcels go into the Tigris, or the Turkish trenches!”

Still, it’s the thought that counts. And they’ll do enough to prove that the idea of airlifts into a besieged city is not completely ludicrous and might be possible under more favourable conditions.

Edward Mousley

Meanwhile, in Kut itself, belts continue to be tightened. Edward Mousley has been re-assigned away from the divisional ammunition column and back to his artillery battery. Again, he can hear the day’s fighting.

Downstream a terrific bombardment went on intermittently for hours. We are on six ounces of bread today and are almost on to our emergency rations, which can be made to spin out for three days. Green cress has been issued from the gardens, and every effort is made to save every crumb. The sick and those in hospital are worst off, as hospital comforts like cornflour and Mellins’ Food have long since gone.

It is a beautiful day, but the river came up during the night and beat all previous records of the siege by two inches. How very close the relieving force has driven things. Altogether the situation, as Punch said of the man dangling from the drag rope of a balloon, is most interesting. I hope to enter on the next page that the siege has been lifted.

Mellins’ Food for Infants & Invalids was a very interesting halfway house between patent medicine and modern commercial baby foods.

March to Kondoa

I wonder if things are any better in Africa. In the Middle East they’re starving; on Lolkisale, the South Africans are suffering horribly from thirst, having had no water in three days. But the important event in this standoff came last night. Alexander Hergott, it turns out, has no stomach for a fight at all. After an evening and a night of sitting and listening to the guns firing, he’s decided to prevent further bloodshed and surrender to General van Deventer. So far, so good.

The South Africans have certainly, ahaha, ridden their luck, and it’s paid off for them. By the end of the day they’ve sent a message back to headquarters and are setting out again to march on Kondoa Irangi. It’s still a bloody long way to go, through searing heat, and there’s still little enough water, and little enough in the way of reconnaissance to stop them blundering into the enemy. There’s still the possibility that the rainy season will begin and maroon them in the middle of nowhere.

And, on top of all that, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck now knows what’s going on. He’s extremely irritated that Hergott’s nerve failed. And he’s in no mood to just sit around and allow the march to happen. More soon!

Grigoris Balakian

As the caravan waits to resume their journey towards Hasanbeyli, they’ve found a newly-built road between Adana and Aleppo. There are German trucks with German officers inside. Grigoris Balakian, as de facto spokesman, tries to beg help but is quickly rebuffed. These Germans are no Armin T. Wegner, and want nothing to do with them.

A long day’s walk follows; eventually they read Hasanbeyli, where the Jandarma beat them to stop them buying food. They also encounter members of an Armenian labour battalion, alive only on sufferance from the people who still find their labour useful.

My shoes were so worn that my toes were sticking out. My robe and overcoat were torn. I showed no trace of normal human appearance.

[The labourers] worked ten to twelve hours a day in the cold, snow, rain, and wind. To eat they were given [a pound] of bread a day. If they fell ill, they were as good as dead. Their living quarter were…simply tents. Many of them were torn. And yet those men were not dissatisfied, having been allowed to live. Their comrades, in the interior provinces, had met violent death.

The labourers go off to buy food; Balakian tries to negotiate with the local authority to let them stay, and the local authority wants no part of them.

“Even if there is space in the city, I will not allow you to spend a night here. You’ll sleep outdoors and then go to Der Zor, where you can establish an independent Armenian state.”

Someone, in 2016, is trying to establish an independent state in Der Zor. It’s not the Armenians, though. The caravan moves out and sleeps in a likely-looking river valley. If any of them are to escape, they’re fast running out of time.

Trebizond

More excitement in the Black Sea, where U-33 is spotted by the Russian destroyer Strogi and rammed. Unfortunately, this achieves little except wrecking the destroyer’s bows and sowing further panic among the Russian admirals. General Yudenich is on his way to oversee the final attack on Trebizond, due to begin in about a week, and he’s going to have some work to do when he gets there.

Clifford Wells

The idiot son of a Montreal millionaire remains in quarantine owing to this rotten measles outbreak.

I was hoping to come out of quarantine on Monday, but this morning my room-mate went to the hospital with measles, and so I am due for 16 days’ more. I am going to apply for leave when I get out.

Robinson, my roommate, was much pleased to be going to the hospital. He was not feeling very sick, but had a beautiful rash. When he comes out of the hospital, of course, he will be out of quarantine, while I may still be confined.

It’s looking more and more likely that Maximilian Mugge will beat Clifford Wells to France, you know. Speaking of whom…

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge continues his genuinely fascinating record of camp life in England. He’s just had his six shillings’ pay for the week.

A man in my squad got one hour pack drill for blowing his nose whilst on parade. If you want to blow your nose (which you really should not do at all) you ought to fall back one step behind the line and then perform the operation. At least that is the rule in the 3rd Royal Sussex. Other regiments, I hear, insist on your taking one step forward. Well, this wicked boy of ours blowed his nose in the simple civilian style, and, probably loath to attract the attention of the whole square, without stepping behind.

Such a trunk call reaches the ears of the mighty captains; the movement of a man in the frozen, rigid sea of humanity on the square is sure to catch the eyes of the major gods. They frown. One hour pack-drill. When a hundred years hence they have industrial armies based on universal and compulsory service for all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five in order to get the world’s heavy and essential work done, I hope they will have different methods to ensure discipline.

Pack drill is what it sounds like; hard, merciless drilling in full marching order with about 60 pounds of crap on your back. Just wait until Mugge finds out about Field Punishment Number One! And it turns out that no, in a hundred years we may have another voluntary army, but it’s still very fond of a good beasting.

The story continues.

Immediately after pay-parade a corporal came round and offered a fountain pen for raffling, value two shillings and sixpence at the outside. Yet everybody in this hut and the next hut paid his twopence. Result, about six shillings; net profit, three shillings and sixpence. I understand raffling is a common practice for NCOs to add to their pocket-money.

The men, of course, do not like refusing such a brilliant opening for assuring the goodwill of the minor Lords of the Square. The fountain-pen corporal was followed by another NCO peddling in brooches with the regimental arms. After which appeared the laundry-men. My own drill-sergeant, an ex-bricklayer, takes in my washing; his customers, he says, are those who dislike the Company methods of laundrying. His wife returns the exact number of articles, well washed and well aired.

There is not much of my six shillings left now.

It’s genuinely very useful to hear about life in the ranks from someone who, although eager to do his duty, is already a bit cynical and worldly and prepared to record these acts of pettiness from the NCOs. It may be useful, by the way, to have a quick lesson in British old money. 12 old pence in a shilling, 20 shillings to the pound. It doesn’t make any logical sense and by this point, just about nobody in living memory ever pretended it did.

Louis Barthas

Private Louis Barthas has not heard anything of his request for a hearing with Colonel Douce, so continues poking the bear until Commandant Quinze-Grammes suffers his presence.

“Why do you want to talk to the colonel?” he asked.
“Commandant, sir, it’s about my punishment.”
“You know full well that if Captain Cros has punished you, he had good reason to do so.”
“That’s not my opinion.”
“So you are persisting in your intention to protest this matter?”
“Yes, commandant, sir.”
“You know, I won’t support your request for a hearing.”
“Commandant, I’m sorry, but I will persist all the same.”
“Fine. Go to it.”
“Commandant, may I go there right away?”
“Certainly not. You’ll wait until the colonel asks for you.”

Well, that’s progress. He’s one step closer to getting back the stripes that he doesn’t want. More soon.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

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