The third invasion of Serbia continues unabated as Field Marshal Putnik orders a general retirement to a more easily defended line while he waits for the French to pull their fingers out. In the west, the Austro-Hungarians have crossed the Drina and returned to Sabac, which they’d so bitterly defended at the arse end of the first invasion; the next target for them, once again, is Valjevo. In the north, allied forces occupy Vranic, and cross the River Ralja. It’s all going about as smoothly as any multinational operation over difficult terrain could have done in 1915.
Meanwhile, as the Bulgarians in the south are starting to head in force towards Skopje, General Sarrail finally has enough men in theatre to consider doing something. (There’s still plenty more to be landed, mind you.) He orders one regiment forward as an advance guard towards Krivolak, about 25 miles up the railway line from Strumica, where his main body is now both trying to concentrate for an advance. Not easy when they must also help the Serbians as they scrap periodically with their Bulgarian opponents outside Strumica.
Hmm, Krivolak. That name sounds familiar…
Louis Barthas is being favoured once more with the august presence of General Niessel (this time as Niessel inspects the trenches), who begins with a jolly good rant at a sentry who apparently failed to be adequately deferential. It seems that his Occitan nickname “I’m-Going-To-Beat-You-Up” is well-earned; and he continues in this vein when he happens to cross paths with Commandant de Fageoles, who only recently refused Niessel’s order to attack. (Barthas’s squad is on the extreme wing of his company, which is in turn on the wing of his battalion; they’re in contact with de Fageoles’s battalion.)
“Look at the Boches, commandant, what work they’ve done over the past two weeks, and we’ve done nothing! Nothing! And I mean to change that. Every day I want a detailed report on all the work that’s done, and I’ll come verify it myself.”
At a humble interruption by his interlocutor, Niessel shouted so loudly that the Boches must have heard him:
“I’m not asking for your advice, I’m giving you an order! And tell your men that we have to get the Boches out of here. We have to attack, if not today, then tomorrow. You’ll get the order.”
And then, casting a scornful eye on the ragged, muddy, dirty men who had gathered around him out of curiosity, he said, “Look at these outfits, you’d think they were a bunch of militiamen. I could have done more with a section of my old Zouaves than with your whole regiment!”
Niessel then turns his attentions upon our hero, who deftly avoids his wrath.
Brusquely the general turned to me and said angrily, “Have you passed the word that I am here? It’s been twenty minutes, and no one has come to meet me.”
“Excuse me, general. I told my sergeant that you were here.”
“So that’s how your captain takes care of business. We’ll go have a look.”
But as for me, I couldn’t go have a look, which was too bad. Our captain, Master Cros-Mayrevieille, had to take the heat, according to his rank. This devil of a general mistreated his officers like simpletons, with no regard for their stripes.
Almost as soon as Niessel has shouted his way out of the trench, fresh orders arrive. Not only has the offensive been terminated, but after nearly a year’s fighting, their regiment will soon be allowed home leave. So much for “we have to get the Boches out of here”.
Kenneth Best is healing well, but has been dispatched back to Blighty to recuperate, and here his published diaries end with his return home. They won’t be able to keep him out of France too long; he’ll serve most of the rest of the war closer to the sharp end than most staff officers and will eventually be asked to consider a combatant’s commission (which he’ll refuse). The war will stay with him the rest of his life, and will play a part in the eventual loss of his faith.
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