Evacuation of Suvla & ANZAC | Gallipoli | 20 Dec 1915

Evacuation of Gallipoli

Time for the ANZACs to leave ANZAC Cove. Before we get into the details of what they’re doing, first we must take note of the first actually useful attack from Cape Helles since the First Battle of Krithia. It’s an unashamed diversion, of course, and it achieves its purpose of getting the Ottomans to not look at the north of the peninsula, nothing to see there, hoo boy, no way at all.

So, on with the ANZACs. They leave behind them a considerable quantity of food and supplies, several amusing notes to their opponents, and very, very slightly less than 12,000 dead (8,700 Australian and 2,780 New Zealand). They’ve also completed several courses of an extremely important lesson: the British Empire does not necessarily have their best interests at heart. The blokes have also been passing the last few nervous hours with some ingenious constructions. Lance-Corporal William Scurry, 7th Victoria Battalion:

t occurred to me that if we could leave our rifles firing we might get away more surely. The sand of the hourglass was the first germ of the idea. If the sand could be made to trickle from above into a container attached to the trigger, the increased weight would finally release it. Next day I started on the idea but it wouldn’t work. The sand wouldn’t run and the trigger wanted a jerk to pull it. The jerk was easily got over by the cartridge box full of dirt, but water was the only thing that I could think of to replace the sand.

Hundreds of those rifles have been installed in the line. In other places, individuals are wandering up and down a trench, firing off shots and throwing grenades from various positions to give the impression that they’re all occupied. The Ottomans can’t do anything without terrifying the blokes. Everything is potentially the first indication of a surprise night attack. But nothing turns out to be. The last men escape with blankets wrapped round their boots. Mines have been left with a time-delay fuse to explode after everyone’s been taken off.

At Suvla, there’s less comedic ingenuity and contraption building, but also a great deal less worry. I’d quote Lieutenant Clement Attlee (6th South Lancashires) more extensively, but his reminiscence is remarkably dull. Attlee was certainly one of the very last men to leave, reputedly the last but one (just ahead of General Maude, 13th Division’s commander).

Everything was very peaceful, though there were occasional shots to be heard from Anzac. Then we got the order to move. The men hustled up the trench, machine guns going first. I brought up the rear and found at the pier a few military police, General Maude and a few of the staff. We went on board lighters which seemed to go round and round. Flames shot up from the dumps of abandoned stores.

And, before the sun has risen, they’re long gone, having got clean away with barely more than a stubbed toe to show for it. Just to add a full stop, the weather turns in the afternoon and a severe gale blows in. It doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if they’d delayed another day.

Schneider CA1

It’s another important day for French tank production; about a year after the Army began investigating the idea, the Schneider company’s tank project has been given official sanction and support. It’s a positive step, but the Schneider CA1 is still six to nine months behind the comparable British effort. Still, better late than never.

Flora Sandes

Private Flora Sandes is currently having her first in-service experience of that great shared military experience, “waiting in the arse end of nowhere for something to happen”.

My company was told off to take up a position by itself on a range of hills, and we went up there in the afternoon by a very bad steep track, through bushes with very big prickly thorns. The hills were covered with bracken, which we cut down to make beds of, and pitched our tents in a little hollow.

We were all by ourselves up there, and had a very quiet four days, as we seemed at last to have shaken off the pursuing Bulgarians, and it seemed sometimes as if everyone had forgotten all about us. We were the only company up there, and were a very funny looking camp, with the men sitting about resting and repairing their clothes, and washing hanging out on all the bushes; in fact, we said ourselves that we looked more like a travelling gipsies’ encampment than the smartest company in the regiment.

Louis Barthas

Things are looking up for Louis Barthas. He appears to actually been given that period of rest that he’s always being promised. But first, the company has to march under the command of Captain Cros-Mayrevielle.

We covered the journey on foot. We had to loosen up our legs, which had stiffened after three months in the trenches. Unfortunately for me, like for many others, the more I walked, the wobblier my legs got, and soon it seemed like I was carrying a load of lead on my shoulders, so heavily was my pack weighing me down. We were marching steadily. It was noon. The time for a break had passed a moment ago. The company, at a fork in the road, had left the column and was proceeding by itself, under the orders of our Kronprinz, perched on his nag.

A few timid cries of “How about a rest break?”—quickly suppressed by the section chiefs—must have reached the big ears of the captain, but he appeared not to hear them. He was serious, lost in thought, careful. His mind was no doubt seeking the solution of some thorny strategic problem, or perhaps, more prosaically, he was thinking about whether he would find a comfortable bed, a well-stocked table, and pretty ladies at the next cantonment.

After the best part of the day, the blokes stagger into Beaudricourt and find holes to crawl into for the night.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer, still convalescing at Amarah, is now getting better and hopes to be able to go up with the first expedition to relieve the Siege of Kut.

I want to be there very much, to look after them, poor dears: but I must say that Tommy Atkins’s view that a place like Kut is desirable to be in never fails to amaze me, familiar though it now is. I had another instance of it last night. About twelve of my draft were left behind on various duties when the Coy. went up-river in such a hurry. Hearing that my knee was so much better they sent me a deputy to ask me to make every effort to take them with me if I went up-river.

I agreed, of course, but what, as usual, struck me was that the motives I can understand—that one’s duty is with the Company when there’s trouble around, or even that it’s nicer to be with one’s pals at Kut than lonely at Amarah—didn’t appear at all. The two things he kept harping on were (1) it’s so dull to miss a “scrap” and (2) there may be a special clasp given for Kut, and we don’t want to miss it. They evidently regard the Coy. at Kut as lucky dogs having a treat: the “treat” when analysed (which they don’t) consisting of 20lb. kits in December, half-rations, more or less regular bombardment, no proper billets, no shops, no letters, and very hard work!

My leg is very decidedly better now. I can walk half-a-mile without feeling any aches, and soon hope to do a mile. There is an obstinate little puffy patch which won’t disappear just beside the knee-cap: but the M.O. says I may increase my walk each day up to the point where it begins to ache.

We have had no rain here for nearly a month; but there are light clouds about which make the most gorgeous sunsets I ever saw.

I do find it interesting that he seems to regard the blokes’ attitude as having spontaneously manifested, rather than having been deliberately cultivated. Up-river, the siege continues.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

Evacuating Gallipoli | 18 Dec 1915

Gallipoli

The intermediate stage of the evacuation of ANZAC Cove and Suvla Bay has now been completed. You may have noticed that there’s been a distinct lack of updates about it, and this is because they’ve done most everything in good order and without fanfare. The Ottomans opposite remain completely in the dark about the withdrawal. The staged quiet periods described earlier

Now it’s time for the most dangerous part of the process to begin; under cover of darkness, over the next three days the entire British Empire presence at these two locations (the poor sods at Cape Helles will have to wait a little longer) is going to evacuate. The 1/1st West Somerset Yeomanry won’t have too much more time to kill, and they’re now daring to wonder where they might go next. Lieutenant Alfred Richardson…

We know nothing as yet and spend all day arguing as to what our final destination may be. In fact, we have started a sweepstake. The horses running are:

(1) England
(2) Western Front
(3) Helles
(4) Egypt
(5) Balkans
(6) Townsend’s Expedition
(7) East Africa
(8) The Field, which includes any place not mentioned above.

If anybody comes back from the orderly room it is correct for him to put on the air of ‘knowing a lot, but not being able to tell’!

If anyone wants to nip back in time 100 years to enrich a relative or family friend, then I hear that the smart money is on number 4, Egypt. Tonight’s evacuation goes absolutely without a hitch, as good as anyone might have hoped it to be. There’s about 10,000 blokes left; most of them are set to leave tomorrow. Just as they’re getting settled in for a very long and nervous day of waiting, things are enlivened considerably by the arrival of two Ottoman deserters. History does not record how they reacted at finding the enemy trenches half-empty…

Verdun

Excrement, like many things, has a distinct inclination to roll downhill. Therefore: questions are asked in the Chamber of Deputies. General Gallieni, on their behalf, bitches at General Joffre. General Joffre defends himself vigorously; and both Joffre and Gallieni complain at General Herr, commander at Verdun, for different reasons. (Presumably then General Herr goes and shouts at his chief of staff for things going so slowly that he’s getting flak; the chief of staff goes and kicks the cat; the cat slaps the mouse around; and the mouse bites Private le Baldrique on the bum.)

It’s good to see French higher command working so harmoniously together! General Herr has also decided that it might be good for his career if after Christmas he travels to Paris to offer a personal report. More soon, from the German side of the hill.

Siege of Kut

As the Siege of Kut continues, back at Basra, General Nixon is at least trying his utmost to get as many men as possible into theatre. There is, however, an immediate logistical concern; most of the Empire’s shipping in the Mediterranean is busy. If they’re not evacuating Gallipoli, they’re supplying the Gardeners of Salonika, or busy rescuing the Serbian Army from Albania (more on that in a moment). With the best will in the world, you can’t march an army across the sea.

However, there is good news on this score; if the force at Kut can hold out until February, there will by that time be five divisions available for service, a hell of a lot when you consider that most of the key players in the Army and the War Office are intent on following General Joffre’s prescription to focus on the Western Front as far as possible. The siege continues.

Corfu

The main problem with rescuing the Serbian Army is of course “where are these people going to go?” The first men out were temporarily taken to Italy, but the Italians were quite unequivocal that this wasn’t going to be a long-term solution. So instead, the evacuees will be taken to Corfu to rest, recuperate, and be turned back into a proper army. Men are now arriving there from today.

There is just a slight theoretical problem with this arrangement. Corfu is a Greek island. Greece, of course, is theoretically neutral, but the temptation to refer to it as at least partly being under Franco-British occupation is growing every time I have to discuss its situation. Respecting someone’s neutrality is, of course, only important when it works to one’s diplomatic advantage. So, the Greek government has been strong-armed into not kicking up too much of a fuss. Yet. This can’t last, and it won’t; although it’ll be something of a slow burner.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

Louis Barthas’s Memorial | Gallipoli | 10 Dec 1915

Gallipoli

Let us, at last, talk evacuation. The men on the ground have been preparing for it since General Monro recommended it; all they needed was the official approval from London. Let’s now, with some relief, talk about how it’s going to be done, rather than whether it’s going to be done.

General Monro was presented with two competing plans to decide on. The first one was solidly traditional, along the lines of any other kind of withdrawal. It primarily came from the staff of IX Corps at Suvla Bay and was based around a fighting withdrawal from the Anafarta Plain in stages to two positions on either side of the now-wet Salt Lake in front of the Suvla beach itself, followed by a final withdrawal. It’s simple and based on sound military sense.

But it also has significant flaws. Crucially, it lacks any element of surprise. The Ottomans can’t possibly fail to notice what’s going on, and direct all their artillery, including their new toys, onto the well-ranged rear trenches and the exposed beaches. And in any case, the position at ANZAC Cove needs to be evacuated immediately. They aren’t far enough inland to perform a staged withdrawal. When they go, they go for good. Monro himself, thinking along similar lines, has estimated casualties of 30% to 40%

With this in mind, the ANZACs’ chief of staff, General White, has developed an entirely different plan, and it’s this plan that has been officially adopted. The MEF is going to try to sell the world’s biggest dummy to their opponents. They will leave absolutely no sign that an evacuation is in progress until after the last man has left the beaches. It’s a risk, but not as big of one as it might appear to be.

The worst-case scenario is that the evacuation will be discovered and the Ottomans will attack, causing horrendous casualties, right? The IX Corps plan pretty much assumes that that will happen as standard and does nothing to mitigate it. The ANZAC plan at least affords them the possibility that they might just get out of things scot-free; and if they don’t, they just end up with what was going to happen anyway, happening.

The evacuation is now well underway. Everything that can be taken off easily is now gone. This is the time for making hard decisions about exactly how much food and ammunition can be taken away, and how much must be left behind. Of course, it’s one thing to know “we’ll probably get the word to leave”, and knowing it for certain. The MEF has been forced to provision itself against staying into January or February, just in case. Now many of those supplies will have to be abandoned. Some of the Australians have been doing some rather clever thinking. Here’s CSM William Burrows of the 16th South & West Australians.

All available ammunition and bombs were collected. These were buried and on a cross stuck into the ground was the following inscription: ‘To the Memory of Private Bullet. RIP.’ That was to prevent the Turks from becoming inquisitive and digging up the ammunition and bombs!

There’s another problem. Surely the Ottomans will notice something amiss if all the enemy’s guns stop firing at once? This too has been considered. Orders have come down to enforce regular “silent periods” of many hours’ duration, during which nobody is to fire anything (or, if in one of the front-line trenches that’s within easy earshot of the enemy, make any noise at all). Weapons will only be fired to repel an enemy attack. Captain Basil Holmes of the 17th NSW Battalion reports from Quinn’s Post on the effectiveness of this.

The Turks did send a patrol across the 15–20 yards to look into our trenches to see whether we were still there or not, as we had suddenly stopped replying to any of their bombs. They were very suspicious, they came over and one brave Turk jumped down into a part of the trench at Quinn’s Post. There was no one in it and he started to walk along the trench.

He hadn’t gone far, no distance at all, when there was a lead off the trench and one of our fellows just shoved the bayonet into him and killed him. No shots were fired. There were four or five other fellows on the bank and they realised that something had happened, that we were there and they headed back to their own trench and left this dead body with us.

The Ottomans soon lose their taste for inquisitive patrolling at night, and a critical victory has been won. How desperately frustrating that it should be in the service of leaving. However, if there’s one thing that British Empire military history shows, from Corunna to Dunkirk, it’s that retiring from a tricky spot that they have no right to escape from is one thing you can usually count on them to do properly. (Offer not valid in Afghanistan.)

Louis Barthas

Good news from the Western Front, for once. Let’s allow Louis Barthas to set it up. This is his victory over war and militarism.

The next day, December 10, at many places along the front line, the soldiers had to come out of their trenches so as not to drown. The Germans had to do the same. We therefore had the singular spectacle of two enemy armies facing each other without firing a shot. Our common sufferings brought our hearts together, melted the hatreds, nurtured sympathy between strangers and adversaries. Those who deny it are ignoring human psychology.

Frenchmen and Germans looked at each other, and saw that they were all men, no different from one another. They smiled, exchanged comments; hands reached out and grasped; we shared tobacco, a canteen of coffee or pinard. If only we spoke the same language! A huge devil of a German stood up on a mound and gave a speech, which only the Germans could understand word for word, but everyone knew what it meant, because he smashed his rifle on a tree stump, breaking it into two in a gesture of anger.

Applause broke out on both sides, and the “Internationale” was sung. Well, if only you had been there, mad kings, bloody generals, fanatical ministers, jingoistic journalists, rear-echelon patriots, to contemplate this sublime spectacle!

There is far, far more to the story of ordinary soldiers and fraternisation, truces, and defiance of strict military authority than just one day at Christmas in 1914. Barthas continues his thought.

Who knows – maybe one day in this corner of Artois they will raise a monument to commemorate this spirit of fraternity among men who shared a horror of war and who were forced to kill each other against their wills.

It’s not often that I get to write a thought in this blog that I’d describe as unequivocally “happy”. Satisfying, sure. Funny, often. Bittersweet, all the time. But here’s something to make us all happy.

After nearly thirty-five years of intermittent attempts, Louis Barthas’s wish has now come true. Work on the monument to fraternity between “enemy” soldiers began last summer. It’s now complete, and it’s been built in the proper place, the village of Neuville-Saint-Vaast, the very corner of Artois where Barthas was stationed 100 years ago today. There’s an event being put on to commemorate its completion and discuss Barthas’s life in a few days’ time, which his grandchildren will be attending.

By the way, I’ve been able to see that paragraph in Barthas’s original French. The man seems to have been constitutionally incapable of resisting a good pun. In English, he speaks of commemorating a “spirit of fraternity”. However, it’s worth considering his exact phrase, which was was “élan de fraternité”. Can this possibly be a coincidence? Surely this is his small effort to reclaim, with humour, that word “élan” from the grasp of the officers and the attack-at-all-costs theorists. May the monument preserve this spirit for ever.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. (If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

Gallipoli | Chantilly | 7 Dec 1915

Evacuation of Gallipoli

Yes, you read that right. Sing Hallelujah and ring the church bells. The British Cabinet has a meeting today, where it’s faced with a stark choice. Either they have to start a public spat with the French by withdrawing from Salonika without an agreement, or evacuate Gallipoli. Colonel Hankey later suggested that going against the French might have toppled Aristide Briand’s government, which smells a bit whiffy to me. More practically, it would have meant also disagreeing with all Britain’s other Entente allies, who are standing foursquare behind whatever General Joffre says is a good idea at the moment.

And so, finally, no fewer than five weeks since General Monro’s report, the Cabinet agrees to the evacuation of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove, as quickly as possible. They’re still hanging onto Lord Kitchener’s last crumb of belief that something might be achieved by staying at Cape Helles for the moment, but don’t worry, they’ll soon change their minds on that.

On the ground

Meanwhile, the ANZACs are starting to get a preview of how untenable life might have been under Austro-Hungarian mortar bombs, had they stayed. Private Scott, 4th NSW Battalion:

We were resting in Victoria Gully, till then untouched by Turkish shellfire, when I was called away to watch a ‘Two-up’ game and maybe hoping to try my luck as well! Suddenly a newly arrived howitzer battery (Austrian, it was said) dropped one amongst the five or six I had just left. All died; amongst them I found Sergeant Jack Herbert just alive. Before he died he whispered, ‘They’ve got me downstairs, Scottie – no more fun for me!’ So they had.

There’s really not much more to be said. They’d been consistently out-gunned even before the opening of the Berlin-Constantinople supply route. More soon, when we can finally turn to the evacuation arrangements.

Chantilly Conference

The conference continues with, once the topic of conversation moves away from Salonika, everyone now wholeheartedly with everything General Joffre says. His suggested plan for 1916 is simple; to launch in the three principal theatres (France, Russia, Italy) coordinated, simultaneous mass offensives on a scale never before seen. This will put Germany and Austria-Hungary under maximum possible pressure and prevent either of them shuffling men between fronts to meet the various threats.

He’s also calling for caution when judging the prospects of each individual offensive. He’s now expecting them all to be primarily attritional battles. If we think of the combined Central Powers as a large bridge, Joffre intends to repeatedly attack the legs of the bridge. It’ll take a while and be relatively costly; but, eventually, the legs will somewhere be damaged enough that the entire span of the bridge (representing the armies on a particular front) will collapse somewhere and result in a chance at a war-winning victory.

This plan of action is unanimously agreed by all present, and the timescale is set for as soon as possible after next March. This will allow for proper planning and preparation (which, as we all know, prevents piss-poor performance), and also allow the winter weather time to clear. It’s all very nice, heart-warming, common-sense stuff. The devil will be in the details, of course. And we won’t have to wait long to find out what they are. The first item on General Joffre’s to-do list after the end of the conference (after lunch, naturally) is to review his army-group commanders’ suggestions and determine a location for the Western Front offensive.

Sir John French

The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, has finally lost patience with Sir John French’s attempts to haggle over the exact nature of his bribe for resigning as commander-in-chief of the BEF. Sir John has been told in no uncertain terms to resign or be sacked; and he’s chosen to resign, recommending Wully Robertson to succeed him. The resignation will become effective on the 18th.

Siege of Kut

And there’s just time for us to mention that today the Ottoman main body has arrived at Kut and surrounded the town. General Townshend’s belated cold feet have now been entirely overtaken by events. The Siege of Kut is underway, and it’s unlikely to be lifted until and unless the Indian Corps can be removed from the Western Front (not a problem with more and more divisions of Kitchener’s Army becoming available as replacements) and sent to Mesopotamia. More to follow.

Louis Barthas

With his officers prudently belting up to avoid being fragged, Louis Barthas now attempts to lead his men forward through flooded trenches to their designated position.

With a shovel in one hand and my electric lamp in the other, I launched myself ahead, into the sewer. My comrades let me go about ten paces ahead, then some of them risked following me. I was an old veteran of the trenches, because this was the second winter that I was slogging through the mud. Except for the rationer Terrisse, who had stayed back with the field kitchens, the squad was made up of reinforcements who had spent the first winter safe at home.

I led my comrades with the advice that my experience had taught me. “Walk with your legs spread as wide apart as possible. Walk on your toes, not flat-footed. Take small steps. Don’t stop!” I called out to them. Finally I heard voices—not celestial ones, but human. I could see a light. We were saved. Here was the Mercier shelter. Barely half the section reached the shelter. It was only the next day that the laggards rejoined us. Out of fear of drowning or sinking, they had preferred to spend the night, an interminable December night, in the trench!

And again we had to go back to rescue some, especially those whose legs were too short. Some left their shoes in the mud. Others had wrenched hernias for themselves. The strange thing was, not one of us came down with a cold.

Small mercies.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

Battle of Ctesiphon | 22 Nov 1915

Battle of Ctesiphon

As often happens with these kinds of things, the (spoilers) impending and slow-unfolding military disaster in Mesopotamia caught rather a lot of people by surprise. The Battle of Ctesiphon was going rather well today, until suddenly it wasn’t. The morning had gone well enough, with the attack on the Vital Point of the Ottoman defences being pressed home after three hours’ hard fighting. It should surely have been child’s play to then execute the obvious stage 2 of the plan, that of turning left towards the river and rolling the Ottoman defences up from the flank.

At this point, a number of knotty little problems all exploded at once. Earlier reconaissance had revealed the presence of a large number of blockships and mines in the River Tigris, comprehensively barring the river to General Townshend’s regatta. What the reports failed to appreciate was that this then forced the considerable quantity of riverine artillery to fire from a reach of the river in which the banks rose high over the level of the water. Townshend’s plan had imagined those artillery pieces being able to support the infantry with direct fire, as had been done several times before this year. Instead, they’re now forced to use indirect fire, and with no pre-arrangements for spotting or ranging, this was, ahem, not as effective as it might have been.

And then the Ottoman artillery began firing. Once their opponents’ recon planes and ships had left yesterday, they moved a number of artillery batteries onto the south side of the river, correctly predicting that Townshend would order all his men to the north. Those batteries will now spend all day today providing counter-battery fire at will against both the flotilla and the attackers’ land-based guns.

And, in the middle of all this, the British Empire commanders then start losing control of the battle. Nearly half the force abandoned plans to roll the line up from the left and instead took off into the Ottoman rear to capture some guns which had been abandoned, on its own initiative. With them running around out of control, the subsequent attack on the rest of the defenders’ line was forced to be partly frontal, and again the attackers succeeded but with far higher casualties than they’d been expecting.

By mid-afternoon the Ottoman defences were in enemy hands, but in the hands of an exhausted and weakened force that lacked rather a lot of the artillery support that they’d been expecting. When the Ottomans counter-attack with three completely fresh battalions, they’re able to attack the British Empire force in three separate parts and force them back out again. As darkness falls, General Townshend orders a general retirement to yesterday’s camp, and he later claimed in his memoirs that he already knew that he didn’t have enough men to win the battle.

Gallipoli

Speaking of retreating. After nearly three weeks of sitting on the pot, Lord Kitchener has finally taken a dump. He’s wired London with his approval for General Monro’s initial assessment that Gallipoli should be evacuated. Of course, this is Lord Kitchener, so it can’t be a simple affair; looking a bit closer at the detail, he’s recommending the evacuation only of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove, with the positions at Cape Helles held through the winter for no very good reason.

This overwhelming body of evidence for withdrawal is now in the hands of the War Committee. We clearly need action, not words. It’s action that counts, not talking about it. So it’s unsurprising that, in the style of the People’s Front of Judea, this calls for immediate discussion. You can’t have a resolution until you’ve voted on it, obviously. If only there could be some outside event in the near future that might force the situation and stop the evacuation being held up by bureaucratic niceties? I think we might be in luck here, you know. More soon.

Flora Sandes

By daybreak, Flora Sandes is well away on the retreat with her new friends in the Second Regiment of the Serbian Army.

A most unpleasant night we had rumbling along in the dark, halting every few miles, not knowing whether the Bulgars had got there first and cut the road in front of us, or what was happening. It was bitterly cold besides, and as the Kid and I were black and blue from jolting about on the floor of our wagon I began to wonder how the poor wounded ever survived it at all.

The sun rises, the sun sets, the day passes. By the end of it they’ve gone past Prilip and are heading vaguely in the direction of Bitol, and our hero is grateful for having picked up an old tip from an Austro-Hungarian prisoner in Kragujevac hospital some time ago.

Poor boy, he had been badly wounded in the leg, and was telling me some of his experiences during the war and about the terrible journey after he was wounded, travelling in a bullock cart. He said he had a flask full of brandy, and that was a help while it lasted. When that was all gone he filled up the flask with tea, which was pretty good, too, as it had a stray flavour of brandy still, and then when he had drunk all that he put water in, and that had the flavour of tea!

A nice funny story, and Sandes’s flask is duly well-fortified with the old brandy.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas is now moving forward to a very hairy spot on Vimy Ridge. They’re in a formerly German trench system, and the previous occupants haven’t been fully evicted yet. Communications trenches lead out of the new French fire trench in both directions, some of them leading to the new German fire trench. The trench has been barricaded and a listening post placed nearby in case the Hun should try anything. Guess who gets to go sit in the listening post?

[It] was fixed up in accordance with recent instructions from General Niessel. For this he deserved congratulations, because this was the first time that one of our big chiefs showed the slightest concern about protecting the soldier from intemperate weather and battlefield dangers. First of all, a piece of sheet metal across the top, for the sentinels. Then a screen of metallic mesh, farther to the rear, to ward off bombs and grenades. Finally, a dugout, seven or eight steps deep, where between watches the men could, if not lie down, at least rest and shelter themselves.

It’s only taken them a year of trench warfare to figure out that this might be a good idea.

In this forward post you couldn’t show any curiosity about the surrounding landscape, because as soon as you stuck your head above the parapet it would be shot full of holes, like a kitchen strainer. Instead, to survey the territory, we had to use periscopes. In spite of the care we took to conceal the upper mirror behind a tuft of grass or a clump of dirt, crack!—three times bullets shattered the periscopes. From morning to night, German snipers, with fingers on the triggers, had their sights trained on our forward post, and on us. We didn’t even know the exact position of their own forward post, it was so well hidden.

Well, that at least sounds like an excellent excuse to stay quiet and do as little as possible.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Third Invasion of Serbia
Battle of Krivolak
Kosovo Offensive
Battle of the Isonzo (Fourth Isonzo)
Battle of Ctesiphon

Further Reading

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(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)