It’s a big day in the development of aerial warfare. We’re having rather a lot of those, aren’t we? This one comes from Paris. Quick recap: while one of the articles of the Hague Conventions forbids the shelling of inhabited towns, the wheels of war have efficiently crushed it into the mud. Then the German Zeppelins came. When someone suggested dropping bombs out of aircraft, the idea was quickly developed into occasional bombing missions over German cities. Remember those Hispano-Suiza engines? Some at GQG have been arguing that they should primarily go to an enormous bomber fleet.
French politicians have, so far, been resisting the idea of a strategic bombing programme. While General Joffre isn’t interested in a thousand-plane bomber fleet, he’s nevertheless been lobbying hard for authorisation for some kind of strategic bombing effort. And he’s finally worn them down. Today he gets his authorisation, although with the requirement for strict scrutiny to ensure that only military, industrial, and transportation targets are selected. Political resistance towards the use of gas by the French Army is also weakening sharply in the face of the Battle of Verdun.
The situation in Africa continues developing fast. The grand plan for three combined offensives to throw a net over the Schutztruppe and hopefully defeat as much of it as possible in small, isolated groups is now fully underway. The last element of it is an attack out of Nyasaland by General Northey and a force of just under 3,000 men. They’re coming from the south-west, at the very bottom end of Lake Tanganyika. In the long term, they’re to march to the Central Railway, over a thousand miles away, and meet General van Deventer there.
But, in the short term, the Schutztruppe have a number of forts on the border that have to be dealt with. Northey has split his force in two. The right wing will have a relatively easy time of it; but the left wing, just over a thousand Rhodesians, have been sent to Namema, easily the strongest of all forts. And, knowing this, Lieutenant Franken of the Schutztruppe has had his men putting it into a state of defence for a long old time. This could get difficult. Things usually do in Tanzania. More soon.
While we were waiting for the wagons Mr Parsons explained to us that we were taking up a position on Battery Hill and that we were not to show ourselves above the skyline as the Germans had the range to a nicety. We began climbing and in a quarter of an hour arrived at a fairly flat place, so off-saddled and dossed down for the night. I found a fairly level patch and slept comfortably with the exception of cold legs and feet.
As if he wasn’t having a hard enough time not dying when there were no enemies around to shoot at him!
Haig and Robertson
After dinner, we discussed whether the British Army should comply with [Joffre’s] request to attack in the month of July, or wait till August 15th when we would be much stronger. I had gone fully into the various aspects of the question and what might be the results if we did not support the French. I came to the conclusion that we must march to the support of the French. Robertson entirely agreed, and took my notes away to study.
It’s still the French who have the moral authority to guide the conduct of the war. It’s General Joffre who has arranged and timetabled the grand summer combined offensive. Of course Haig’s going to give it the old college try for getting a delay, but of course they’re not going to fight this one too hard. It is, quite literally, not their hill to die on.
Fortunately, Army doctor Oskar Teichman is the kind of boring old sod who likes to go into great detail about the logistical arrangements that keeps an army in the field. And I love me some good crunchy logistics on the practicalities of keeping an army alive and fighting in the Egyptian desert.
Arrived at Ballah, a post on the western side of the Suez Canal, between Kantara and El Ferdan. Horses had been sent to meet us, as our camp was some distance across the desert. Here we found the remains of our regiment [Worcestershire Yeomanry], which had suffered so severely at Katia and Oghratina on Easter Sunday.
In addition to our regiment there were in this camp two squadrons of Warwickshire Yeomanry, “B” Battery Honourable Artillery Company, our Field Ambulance and Army Service Corps, Army Veterinary Corps, and Royal Engineers details. Nearer the Canal was a part of the 33rd Field Ambulance and the 26th Casualty Clearing Station; on the opposite bank were some Brigades of the Eleventh Division. Two squadrons of Gloucester Yeomanry were at El Ferdan and one squadron of the Warwickshire Yeomanry were at Ballybunnion.
Our drinking water supply came by pipe from Ismailia and was carried from a depot near the station by water-cart. Washing water was obtained from a branch of the Sweet Water Canal; this water contained [parasitic worms], and in order to render it safe for ablution purposes it had to be pumped into tanks and allowed to stand for forty-eight hours before use. The organism, whose habitat is the snail, dies twenty-four hours after it leaves its host. A sentry was always on duty at the tanks and an RAMC water-duty man was in charge.
The Sweet Water Canal was built in order to make construction of the Suez Canal itself possible; it brings fresh water down from Lake Timsah.
Malcolm White’s battalion is on permanent rest/working party duties for the next little while.
Went up to the ground for work this morning, with Gracey and Pagan, a weary walk. At night the Company worked in those same trenches from 9:30pm to 1:30am in pouring rain. Got back in an ‘uneasy dawn’ at 3 am, drenched and muddied. And whereas we officers could change and sleep in something like beds, the men had not a dry stitch save their great-coats in which to lie on the floor of their barns, and I felt ashamed at this unavoidable injustice.
With the amount of comfort that an officer has and must have, it is easy to love the tiredness for sleep and the hunger for food that are so frequent in this kind of life.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop. Rewind. Back up. Reverse. Holdest thine equines for just a moment, Mr White. “Must” have? Must have??? We’ll come back to him tomorrow, and see if I can get through it without wanting to brick my computer screen.
We passed by Vitry-le-Francois, and at daybreak we went through Chalons-sur-Marne. At the station at Saint-Hilaire-au-Temple there was a brief halt. Commandant Leblanc took advantage of it and went to the toilet. Was he constipated? Or did he linger to examine these restrooms—a subject about which he was very knowledgeable? I can’t set straight anyone who reads these lines, but the outcome was that when Quinze-Grammes stepped back onto the station platform, our train had disappeared.
At the station at Cuperly they had us get out of the train. This was the end of an ordeal. Now we could relax our arms and legs, loosen up our shoulders and our flanks, after twelve hours of being piled up in cattle cars too small for the number of men they contained. This was a great relief, a blessing. It’s true that a fine, thick rain was falling, and that the wait in front of the station, with arms stacked, really lasted a bit too long. What were we doing there, anyway, instead of proceeding to our next encampment?
Well, the reason was that the commandant alone knew where our battalion had to be. He was stuck in the lavatories back at the Saint-Hilaire station, and he had to arrive in order to reveal to us the site of our next billet—a secret which he had kept to himself like a state secret. When the news of his misadventure spread through the battalion, it brought on a general outburst of laughter. He himself arrived sooner than we thought he would, brought by an automobile which a providential fate carried to Cuperly.
Almost immediately, the bleating of a hoarse goat was heard. It was the whistle of Quinze-Grammes giving the signal for departure.
These heroes of Verdun are eventually given a load of shacks to sleep in, in the middle of a forest, without even straw to soften the wooden floors. But, you know, officers must have comfort. Can’t do any officering if you don’t have comfort. Well-known fact. Look at Edward Mousley, he didn’t have any comfort and he couldn’t do any officering.
(I’ll stop now before I start singing The Red Flag. See you tomorrow.)
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