Mouquet Farm | Contalmaison | 11 Aug 1916

Battle of the Somme

Problem: To dislodge the Germans from Thiepval, Reserve Army needs to push north-west from Pozieres and threaten their rear. Just over a mile down the hill, Mouquet Farm links two strong German Second Line redoubts. So now, having had their fill of attacking uphill, they’re going to get a chance to attack downhill. Can’t attack Mouquet Farm without jumping-off positions, after all. Stands to reason, that does. And so, under the guns, Mucky Farm is getting muckier by the day.

Meanwhile, the Germans have just thrown in a couple of fresh divisions to meet this latest attack; of course it’s the ANZACs who’ve got to do it. The attack today is often only looked at from the BEF’s familiar side of the hill, where it comes over like another penny-packet half-arsed attempt to bite and hold. (It is at least a relatively successful one, gaining about 600 yards of ground; note use of word “relatively”.) From the German side, it’s an entirely more sinister affair, though. For a moment, although it would have taken a major stroke of luck for the attackers to know, they were in serious trouble.

The inexperienced new battalions coming into the fight have been thrown into an unfamiliar world of trenches, with few maps, where everything looks the same, under heavy shelling. The two who were supposed to be the divisional boundary didn’t have time to properly link up with each other before they were under attack and falling back. For a few hours there’s a rare gap in the German line, and a great deal of confusion up the chain of command. But of course the attackers can’t know, and they’ve taken bad enough losses as it is just pushing forward and getting counter-attacked and falling back a bit.

In the end, just one of a thousand missed opportunities. As all this is going off, a new field ambulance has just arrived at Contalmaison to assist with the ANZACs’ casualties. Medical officer Lawrence Gameson has been given some rather odd sailing directions that nevertheless proved completely reasonable. The conditions in his new place of work, on the other hand…

Contalmaison is quite completely ruined. We were told to turn left at the second bad smell. The directions proved to be as accurate as a precise map reference. We live in the remains of a chateau. A few chunks of wall and part of one room is all that is left above ground. The cellars are sound. Soon the wounded began to arrive: some walking, some carried, some just helped along; the usual bloody, patient battered crowd, without a grouse and with scarcely a groan. Here at Contalmaison I feel most curiously and disturbingly isolated, as if one was going to be stuck here forever.

The flow of work in our cellar was uncertain. Times of slackness alternating with times of great stress, when the place was filled with scores upon scores of reeking, bleeding men. These times of great stress were not isolated incidents, to be dealt with, cleaned up, then forgotten, like a railway accident. They recurred regularly. They went on and on and on. Sometimes a man on a stretcher would vomit explosively, spewing over himself and his neighbours. I have seen mounted troops brought in with liquid faeces oozing from the unlaced legs of their breeches.

Occasionally a man would gasp and die as he lay on his stretcher. All this was routine and the waiting crowd looked on unconcerned. No one spoke much during these seemingly endless periods of congestion.

Look at this, our Susan. “Died of wounds”, it says here. “Died of wounds”. What does that mean? That nice Lieutenant Eyewash-Woggler wrote to us and said our Tommy, he died quickly and without any pain, he saw it himself…

German defences

Regardless of General von Falkenhayn’s intermittent burblings about holding every inch of ground (more on him very soon, I promise), the German units who have been through the Somme are doing some extremely quick institutional learning. This is no time for pooh-poohing ideas that might work. If some hairy-arsed private has an idea, he’ll probably get a chance to try it. If he dies, it probably isn’t any use. If he lives, or at least takes a lot of the enemy with him on the way out, it’s probably worth doing again. The secret machine-gun or bombing post is just one such idea that’s catching on very quickly.

Someone crawls out to a random shell-hole about 50 yards in front of their main fire trench; there are plenty of those around. They lie still and quiet (often under a blanket) until the BEF’s latest attackers are right on top of them. Then they open up at point-blank range. Other units are, very quietly, experimenting with allowing attackers into booby-trapped trenches and then counter-attacking only after the attackers trigger the traps. These methods are currently being passed on by word of mouth. Perhaps someone might collate these things and turn them into doctrine; wouldn’t that suck to have to attack?

Speaking of doctrine, the French have just managed to capture in a trench raid some spectacularly useful papers. Some of them set out the defence in depth theories that von Falkenhayn is so determined to ignore. Some of them discuss lessons learned from infiltration-style attacks early at the Battle of Verdun, the first use of proto-stormtroopers. Food for thought for the intelligence department, especially when compared to reports that the Germans seem to know this is a good idea, but they’re not being allowed to do most of it…

Max Plowman

Max Plowman is thinking about how best to ingratiate himself with his men. Well, he’s not putting it in those terms, but.

I am getting to know the men of my platoon. About a third of them, the pick of the bunch, are miners from the north of England: short, tough, reserved men, used to hard work and not given to “grousing.” More than half of them are married. … Spencer is a tall, red-faced lad, awkward but intelligent. I presume the pits have given him that incurable stoop. The trades of the rest make an extraordinary list. Labourer, wheelwright, railway storekeeper, farmer, platelayer, cabinet-maker, rag-conditioner, oil-presser, painter, shoe-salesman, driller, grinder, wool-sorter. What occupations a civil world provides!

Barlow calls himself a “horseman,” and, being the platoon fool, can give no more explicit description of himself. … Jenkins is an “interpreter” of languages, perhaps; but I rather suspect the description as being designed for purposes of reference when those “chits” from the orderly room come round, promising comfortable billets for men of strange trades. I suspect this because Jenkins shows himself a cute student of his own well-being in other ways.

That little wisp of a man, Jackson, who has been to India with the regular army, is something of an enigma. He is smart enough, but he wears a bored expression and seems strangely reticent and unresponsive. To-day, when I told him I wanted him to [become a lance-corporal], seeing that in point of service he was nearly the oldest soldier in the platoon, he replied that he would rather not. Well, he must, for there’s nobody else.

Corporal Neal, who escaped injury on July 1st with the old battalion, has lost his nerve, if he ever had it. He is demonstrative in his authority; but I do not like his stupid, shifty eyes or his subservient manner. Still less do I like the sergeant I am saddled with by the colonel. He has a criminal look, and why he should suddenly be promoted from the ranks to full sergeant I cannot imagine. He has served in Gallipoli, but we do not know his record. Like Neal, he is too servile, and I am a bad judge of men if he proves trustworthy.

He almost certainly feels much more of a connection to the men than to his brother officers; he left school at 16 and worked in his father’s brick business.

Neil Tennant

Neil Tennant hasn’t been mucking around in boats so much as boating around in muck on the River Tigris, but he’s finally making progress.

Ali-Gharbi proved a mere collection of Arab shelters and the tents of a small British post; not a tree to be seen. Here we left T3, as she would only have blown on the shoals in the shallow and tortuous channels above. I shall never forget going ashore that morning in this god-forgotten spot; bending low against the gale, I searched for a British officer. Eventually there appeared a ragged individual in pyjamas and helmet; he had been there all summer and had long since lost all interest in life. The arrival of fresh blood from England, however, cheered him, and talk of London over a bottle of warm beer seemed to awaken further desire to live.

Our intention of crossing the desert to Sheikh Sa’ad in a motor was not advised on account of possible attack by Arabs, so a telegram was sent to Squadron HQ for their motor-boat. Captain Murray, commanding at ‘the time, met us, and we ran up to Sheikh Sa’ad in four hours in spite of taking several shoals at twelve knots. The tents of a squadron of Flying Corps and afew other troops were the sole means of distinguishing Sheikh Sa’ad from Ali Gharbi. Otherwise, as spake the British Tommy, “there was miles and miles and miles of sweet fuck all!”

Tennant claimed the British Tommy actually said “sweet damn all”, but we know better than that. He’s arrived now to take command of 30 Squadron and kick it into some kind of fighting shape, but that might not be easy.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues to, oh, I’ll let him say it.

Slept late. Had a narrow escape from boiling porridge falling on my face as half a dixie full upset.

The man is a walking pratfall, he really is.

Sewed patches on my shorts and packed my valise putting my camera in again. Still feeling a bit stiff and footsore. … Got orders to move at 4pm. Made doughboys for the stew and had it at 3.15pm. Marched 3 hours doing 7.5 miles, then halted for 2 hours and made some coffee. Feet very sore from little splinters in the left foot. Marched on again for 4.5 miles. Total for the day 12 miles [19 km]. Collected some wood and made some porridge and coffee.

His mates have also vented their feelings about not being able to drink the machine guns’ water by confiscating a sergeant’s oversize water bottle. There’s not much water around for anyone right now, but as long as they make good time they’ll be in Dodoma tomorrow.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has found an excellent way of occupying his time at rest in the rear, as he tells to his father.

This morning I was alone; so I went along the river bank, and made a highly important discovery, which is that the Field Service Post Card makes a capital boat in skilful hands like yours or mine. I put one afloat this morning, within twenty yards of a huge artillery camp on the bank, but not in the least abashed by the watchful eyes of one or two inquisitive gunners at their ease on the bank. I put her well out, and with a poke from a stick off she went.

All went well (this was a very important voyage, and you must forgive me if I dwell on it rather lengthily) for quite a long time- it was necessary to throw one big stone into a shallow, to prevent her coming to rest much too soon. And there was a certain home-sick look about her (perhaps she caught it from her designer), which was a little too apt to make her aim at unexpected little harbours on the way down. With this exception, however, she did well, and it was no fault of hers that she did go right down to join the — Oh dear, here’s the Censor again. One can’t even run one’s private navigation without being careful.

Of course he can’t say which river this was. I do like to imagine the other half of this anecdote, though. That’s the story told by the two gunners (I also want to think they’re from Neil Fraser-Tytler’s battery) who were sitting around having a quiet rest, when suddenly this idiot officer appears and starts floating a boat folded from a field service postcard down the river…

Curiously, it is far, far easier in a less easy period than in what we call a ‘cushy’ one. In the Ypres days, ‘twenty-four hours out’ was a thing to look forward to, and down in our last place a week out seemed short! So I fully hope it will be, here: in fact, I know it is so. One says to oneself that it is silly even to think of anything unpleasant till we get to So-and-so at the earliest, and there one stops. At least, I think so.

“So-and-so” is clearly somewhere like Albert, the last big town before the Somme battlefield begins.

Maximilian Mugge

Private Maximilian Mugge, newly-minted member of the 30th Middlesex (a unit, as we shall see, of many nicknames) still has his outrage in first gear. Today he contents himself with a description of his new unit’s history. But don’t worry, he’ll have plenty of time to get steaming mad about being exiled to the “Boche Battalion”.

I hear that this Battalion was formed on 12-7-16 as the 33rd (I.W.) Bn. Midshire Regiment, at Balmy Camp, Sussex; Captain P. L. Thornly 10th East Lancers Regiment assuming temporary command. The majority of the men are conscripts and were recruited under Army Council Order 1209; they are of enemy (German, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian) Alien parentage.

On the 13th July 1916 Headquarters and 300 men of this Unit proceeded to Peas Pudding Camp, Reptum, as an advance party; on the twentieth Colonel Byle took over command of the Battalion, and seven days later the remainder of the battalion arrived. On the 3rd August, 1916 200 men of A. Company under 2nd Lieut. Singleway proceeded to Fodderham and were attached to the Guards for Trench Digging at the Bombing School.

Usually I translate Mugge’s pun-filled substitute names into their real equivalents, but here I’m leaving them as written. The officers too have had their names obscured; but Mugge does like a good pun, so perhaps someone can work out who they are. For an example of how his mind works; Peas Pudding for “Pease Pottage” is relatively transparent, and “reptum” is a Latin verb meaning to creep or crawl, as in Crawley, the large town near Pease Pottage village and Army camp. Good luck.

Army Council Order 1209, incidentally, was drawn up right after someone noticed that conscription was going to require taking into the Army men of alien parentage who had previously attempted to volunteer and not been accepted.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Romani
Battle of the Isonzo (Sixth Isonzo)
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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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

Pozieres Windmill | 29 Jul 1916

Pozieres windmill

Between the ANZACs and Pozieres windmill, there is a very nasty interconnected trench system with two main fire trenches. The staff knows them as OG1 and OG2 (for “Old German”, because aerial photographs have shown them to be much older than the rest of the Second Line). Quick recap; from the windmill’s mound you have an unobstructed view everywhere and can theoretically make the Germans’ intact First Line positions untenable. General Gough has therefore pressured the 2nd Australian Division into attacking without proper preparation.

And we all know what happens without proper preparation. Since No Man’s Land is about 500 to 700 yards in many places, and sapping forward immediately provokes heavy shelling, they’re going to try and replicate the success had at Bazentin Ridge with a night attack. Fair enough, except at Bazentin Ridge the enemy was still struggling to find its arse with both hands, and the ground had not yet been excessively shelled. Here the ground is a hellscape of dead earth and shell-holes. And German engineers have been sneaking out at night, dropping barbed wire arrangements down the shell-holes.

And then, in the name of surprise, the artillery moves straight from general harrassing fire to an intense barrage of only a few minutes. There’s no accompanying rolling barrage. And so, all the BEF achieves by attacking at quarter past midnight is making it very difficult to see that the artillery has, by and large, failed to cut the German wire. And so the attack plays out like so many others on the Somme; the occasional foothold gained here and there, but most of the men forced right back to where they started. Many attacking battalions have taken 50% casualties and 100% disillusionment. Advance if you can, indeed.

The Chief will not be happy when he hears about this. But hopefully he’ll be able to work out what went wrong.

The attack by the 2nd Australian Division upon the enemy’s position between Pozieres and the windmill, was not successful. From several reports I think the cause was due to want of thorough preparation.

Correct! He goes into considerably more detail, identifying that the men had to advance far too far in the dark and over ground they were unfamiliar with. He also is worried by reports that the men didn’t have time to form up properly before going over, and that one brigade marched into the trenches and then almost straight over the top. Surely the correct thing to do now is go and visit the offending generals and give them a piece of one’s mind.

After lunch I visited headquarters Reserve Army and impressed upon Gough and Neill Malcolm that they must supervise more closely the plans of the ANZAC Corps. Some of their divisional generals are so ignorant and (like so many Colonials) so conceited, that they cannot be trusted to work out unaided the plans of attack.

Oh. I see. So let me get this straight. Haig’s spent the last week, at least, reminding Gough again and again of the importance of proper preparation. Gough has paid attention to absolutely none of this and instead forced his men to go off half-cocked. Haig is now blaming the ANZACs for doing what they were told. It gets better.

I then went on to HQ ANZAC Corps at Contay, and saw Generals Birdwood and [chief of staff Brudenell White]. The latter seems a very sound capable fellow, and assured me that they had learnt a lesson, and would be more thorough in future.

I pointed out to Birdwood that Pozieres village had been captured thanks to a very thorough artillery preparation. Last year the French had spent often a fortnight in taking such villages (Neuville St Vaast, Souchez, etc.) Still, the capture of Pozieres by the Australians would live in history! They must not however underestimate the Enemy or his power of defence. I had sent him a very experienced and capable [Commander Royal Artillery], and he must trust him.

Birdwood was very grateful for my visit and remarks.

Is that what he told you? Quite how Birdwood was able to listen to this ill-informed, patronising lecture without just hauling off and punching Haig is surely one of the great military miracles. But then he’s been in the Army since 1883, so I suppose this is what they mean by “military discipline”. Or maybe, like Father Ted with Bishop Brennan, he really did kick the Chief up the arse and then immediately pretended he hadn’t…

Caucasus

The fighting that’s now beginning on the Caucasus front is so little-known that it’s all but impossible to find an agreed English name. I’m going with “Battle of Bitlis”, although most of the fighting won’t be anywhere near it. This is because, for reasons best known to himself, Ottoman Second Army commander Izzet Pasha has divided his forces into three groups, who will be too widely spread to easily communicate and won’t be able to offer support if their mates get into trouble. His basic idea was a decent one, mind. Let’s try an extended metaphor.

Imagine a man holding a pike out in front of him; the pike is the Russian forces and supply lines in the Caucasus, and the man represents Sarikamis. Now, give him two opponents. One wears very thick gloves, walks in front of the pike, and holds it on the end so it can’t move about. (This is what Third Army should have done.) The other walks in from the side while the pike is being held in place and quickly saws it off a quarter of the way up; this man is the Second Army, now advancing on Erzincan and Erzurum from the south.

A reasonable idea, but now built on entirely faulty assumptions. For one thing, it turns out that our pikeman has just run the Third Army right through, so he’ll be turning round in a moment, and you may look out when he does. For another, instead of walking in with a chainsaw and making one strong cut on the pike, splitting their forces now means that Second Army will be trying to saw through in two separate places with a hacksaw in each hand, while also trying to kick the pikeman in the balls from three feet away.

Even the presence of one Mustafa Kemal, late of Gallipoli, as a corps commander, isn’t going to do much good here. The Russian pikeman is already turning to face his new enemy and bring the pointy end to bear, although it’ll take him a few weeks to finish turning round completely. Nevertheless, when he does finish, pike will surely beat hacksaw. If Second Army were moving like this a month ago, even as three columns they would have been a threat that could have stopped the Russians advancing on Erzincan. Now they’re just a chance for General Yudenich to pad his CV.

Louis Barthas

Yesterday, Louis Barthas introduced us to the ordinary soldier’s homing instinct for locating fresh sources of pinard, beyond the daily ration. Unfortunately, going to the rear to buy one’s own supply from the merchants is strictly forbidden.

A corporal from my company, having decided to go to Somme-Suippes, thought himself clever enough to make up a false authorization which he signed, by his own hand, with the name of the company commander. But the gendarmes who stopped him got suspicious and sent this permission slip to the division, which sent it to the colonel, and finally to the captain, and the trick was discovered. This corporal was in a real mess. No one talked of anything less than a court-martial, breaking in rank, forced labor. I don’t know how he pulled himself out of it.

But this zeal in carrying out such a rigorous and absurd duty irritated the poilus, who went out in groups and administered some hard knocks to the gendarmes with stout clubs. But these reprisals went too far. One day they found two gendarmes swinging from the branches of a pine tree, with their tongues hanging out. From this moment, the poilus could go get food in the neighborhood without worrying about a thing.

Well, that took a turn for the horrific. The General’s response was to have an order of the day read out in praise of the heroic military policemen. Now, you might expect the blokes to react to this fatuous, inadequate proclamation with flatulence and heckling, and indeed they do. However, apparently some of the junior officers are now joining in, which is not a good sign at all.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

It’s a day of celebration for our correspondent Neil Fraser-Tytler today. Someone has managed to arrange a coincidence.

My birthday. It started well, as when shaving in my hole on the firestep, to my great surprise Peter (Captain P.S. Fraser-Tytler) turned up with an army of signallers. He had come into action near Montauban the night before, and was anxious to make use of our line to get his howitzers registered at once. His men laid a line to the French battery, thus getting in touch with our exchange. Then we went up to Trones Wood, and had a most successful shoot.

He came back to join in my birthday dinner (our light cart had previously gone to Amiens to buy food and liquor suitable for the occasion). Unfortunately, just as we were starting, orders came in that I was to go immediately to Group HQ. Five courses and a bottle of champagne had to be gulped down in quick time.

I have two observations. First, how many other brothers can say they’ve celebrated a birthday by killing large numbers of German soldiers with an extremely large gun? Second, you would be quite correct in doubting whether the blokes get a five-course birthday dinner with champagne on their birthdays.

Oskar Teichman

Oskar Teichman’s mates have been warned to move, but so far…

We were ready to move off all night, with horses and camels saddled, but no orders arrived. In the afternoon one of our aeroplanes flew over rather lop-sided and very low. On arrival at Kantara the pilot, who had been shot through the chest, died of wounds.

There’s also an extensive selection of intelligence reporting, all to the effect of “there’s a lot of the buggers out there”. Apparently they managed to kill an Austro-Hungarian officer; I never knew they went as advisers to the Ottoman army in the same way that the Germans did.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues going nowhere, despite all the rumours flying around.

After parade Smikky made a protest for us to Mr Parsons against doing the colonel’s fatigues, as machine gunners are exempted from fatigues. Drew rations. Heard we are going back to Moshi on Monday and I hope so too as it is very slow doing nothing here. Lunch consisted of steak, coffee, bread and syrup. The motor returned with the 2 new machine guns with auxiliary tripods, new chain belts, battle-sights, etc. Put the stew on to boil then started filling the belts.

So, over the past two weeks or so, they’ve been variously going home, going forward to Dodoma, and going back to Moshi…

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has now arrived at the end of his journey in Kastamonu. Remote enough to be out of the way and dissuade escapes, large enough to accomodate a large number of house-guests.

No words could describe my unbounded joy at receiving to-day news from the outside world. There was a postcard from friends in Camberley, saying that our defence has at last been understood, and asking what one wanted. It was such a cheery word. There was also a tiny letter three and three-quarter lines in length, which came many thousands of miles congratulating us on the siege, and announcing that parcels had already left for me. We hear they cannot arrive for months.

There is yet, however, no word from my dear mother, or from home. I am now practically without socks, shirt, vests, or anything else, my boots in ribbons, and with one blanket. We are to get seven liras a month, and our board and lodging costs nine liras at the least, as we have to pay an unjustified rent. What with tobacco and medicine, not to mention English food with which we must reinforce this Oriental provender, it will be at least fourteen liras and possibly eighteen a month.

All the people here seem well disposed towards us. They know we represent cash to them. At least they think so.

This arrangement is in accordance with the Hague Convention, just about.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is being kept up with debates in Parliament that are relevant to his interests.

A friend of mine writes that in the House of Commons Mr. Reddie asked (July 26th): “Is the right hon. gentleman aware from this and other questions, of the spread of Germanophobia or German Fever; whether a lot of persons are affected with it in this House, and that it creates extraordinary delusions such as war babies, Channel Tunnel and other crazes; and whether he can take prompt steps to check it; if not, will he fumigate this side of the house, so as to allay the effect upon our nerves?”

I am still sleeping in the open. One good result: I had not to join the others in their lice-hunt last night. The tents in our line seem to lie across the track of some big army of lice looking for new quarters. I take it that some royal louse amongst them, gifted with a prophetic vision, warned them off their old feeding-ground, held by a Division with an energetic comanding officer, and told them about the warm and snug army blankets in the xth Division near the Reinforcement Office. “They never fumigate their blankets and it is heaven for lice. Fresh blood daily!”

Mr Reddie is Michael Reddy, MP for Birr in what’s now County Offally. He was finishing a short period of questions to the Home Secretary on the treatment of various German nationals. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which supports gaining Home Rule by military means, he’s very interested in who the Government chooses to intern and why, especially so soon after the Easter Rising.

A “war baby” is a baby who’s been named after a particular battle, often one that their father fought or died in; and the concept of a submarine-proof tunnel under the Channel now has a parliamentary committee investigating its feasibility, for obvious reasons. (There have been a lot of submarine sightings in the Channel recently, which is delaying cross-Channel traffic, including the despatch to France of the first Mark I tanks.)

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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

General Gough | ANZACs | 28 Jul 1916

Battle of the Somme

In Pozieres, the battered and bruised 1st Australian Division is being removed from the line and replaced with fellow Gallipoli veterans the 2nd Division. Time to rewind a bit; don’t worry, we’re coming back to a relevant point. When the concept of a Reserve Army was created, General Haig did so on the grounds that he was creating a force of exploitation, with plenty of cavalry, to thrust through a gap at Pozieres and gallop towards Bapaume at double-quick speed. So he appointed as its commander General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough, a fellow cavalry officer with strong aggressive tendencies.

Unfortunately, the situation has developed somewhat since then. Reserve Army, far from being an instrument of exploitation, has now been transformed into an instrument mostly of occupation, to hold the line north of the Albert to Bapaume road so General Rawlinson can concentrate on the south. This is not the kind of situation suited to Gough’s personality. He’s not handling it well, either. Now, this might sound a bit rich after having just said some extremely rude things about Haig and Rawlinson’s lack of control over their armies.

However, it still must be said that Gough has gone far too far the other way. There is a happy medium between exercising no control, and exercising too much control. Gough is exercising too much control. We saw before the first push on Pozieres how Gough tried to pressure the ANZACs into attacking without much of a preliminary barrage. Fortunately, that time the strong-minded General Walker had the backbone to tell Gough where to go. However, now he’s trying the same trick again, and General Legge of 2nd Division has given in.

So they’ll attack tomorrow against the Pozieres windmill, to capture that critical high ground. Meanwhile, preparations continue apace off to the south-east for a combined French/British attack towards Guillemont and Maurepas. And that’s not all, of which more in a moment. But first.

General Haig

General Haig has two observations for us today. One of them is somewhat promising. The other one…

The 5th Brandenburg Division, the crack corps of Germany, was driven from its remaining positions north of Longueval village this morning, and also from the whole of Delville Wood. This is a fine performance. Two counter-attacks made yesterday by the Enemy on the wood were repulsed with great loss. [Some prisoners] were captured in the wood, and some officers in the village surrendered. They said they were the only survivors. They were greatly depressed and said “Germany is beaten”. This is the first time we have taken German officers who have arrived at that opinion…

This assessment of morale is also being backed up by BEF Intelligence’s analysis of captured letters. Among the men who have seen particularly hard fighting or heavy bombardments, there is a small but growing body of opinion that has lost faith in ever being able to win the war. Haig is quite right to be encouraged by it. On the other hand, he is once again working from faulty information when he’s told that Longueval and Delville Wood have been secured, they’ve not. Still.

General Birch [Haig’s artillery commander] in the evening reported that the Australians had at the last moment said that they would attack without artillery suppoart and that “they did not believe machine gun fire could do them much harm”! Birch at once saw Gough who arranged that the original artillery programme should be carried out.

This, on the other hand? This is bollocks. 2nd Division spent three months at ANZAC Cove and all would have known what happened to men of the 1st Division at the Nek during the summer attacks. Perhaps some clueless Australian staff officer said his piece about machine gun fire. However, the general implication that the impetuous Australians are having to be restrained by General Gough is completely arse forwards. It’s the ANZACs who are being pressured into attacking without proper planning or preparation by Haig’s mate. We should not be surprised if the result is piss-poor performance.

The air over the Somme

The Germans haven’t just been transferring men and artillery away from the Battle of Verdun. They’ve been transferring their aeroplanes away, too. The process is continuing, but they’ve already sent enough men and enough machines to make a real difference. The first order of business for the Germans is to interfere with the small but regular RFC air raids against road and rail junctions in their rear areas. A private of the German 24th Division complained about how this looked from the trenches:

You have to stay in your hole all day and must not stand up in the trench because there is always a crowd of English over us. Always hiding from aircraft, always, with about eight or ten English machines overhead, but no-one sees any of ours. If German machines go up at all, they are only up for five minutes and then retire in double-quick time. Our airmen are a rotten lot.

But the bomber pilots are beginning to notice not only a significant increase in the number of enemy flyers in superior planes, but their anti-aircraft fire is coming on by leaps and bounds. Even with almost total air superiority, they’ve lost 111 men and enough planes for the RFC’s commanders to be worried whether they can send out enough replacements to keep the numbers up. And the battle goes on.

The Caucasus

Today, with Kelkit and Erzincan secure and the remnants of the Ottoman Third Army fleeing the field, General Yudenich orders an immediate halt to operations. He’s taken a risk by attacking, and it has paid off handsomely. The Caucasus Army’s intelligence has been aware for some time that there is a new force gathering off to his south, and recently estimates of its strength have become very worrying. it’s now clear that this is an army-sized formation. And it’s just had orders from the commanding officer, Izzet Pasha, to begin an attack on the same Russians who’ve spent the last month marching and fighting.

Had Izzet caught them overstretched, looking to their front towards Third Army, the Russians would have been outnumbered and in a very difficult position indeed. He’s now delayed just long enough for his opponents to begin redeploying to face his men and deal with them. Even better, even though he still has more fit, fresh men than his opponents, he’s seen fit to divide his forces into large, widely-spread, independent columns. It’s time to remind ourselves of a mildly silly military term, “defeat in detail”.

This is when a smaller force wins against a larger force by taking on smaller enemy sub-groups with overwhelming force and fighting a series of actions in which they have a local advantage. It’s what the Germans did at on the Eastern Front in 1914, and what their Navy has been trying to do in the North Sea to the Grand Fleet. Izzet’s strategy is nothing so much as one giant invitation to be defeated in detail. He’s played right into Russian hands. More to follow.

Romania

Yesterday we reminded ourselves of all the different things that the Romanian government has been asking for in exchange for joining the war. Now they’ve just dropped a massive shell into negotiations. They’ve been forced to admit to the French that they don’t actually intend to declare war on Germany or the Ottoman Empire, just Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. Which has gone down in Entente-friendly capitals like a cup of cold sick. The obvious implication is that Romania is only interested in fighting that will directly benefit their prime minister Ion Bratianu’s extensive territorial ambitions.

This is an important tipping point for Entente attitudes towards Romania. A set of secret, parallel negotiations now begin between London, Paris, and Petrograd. The theme, not unreasonably, is that they feel like Bratianu is trying to pull a vast confidence trick on them. They’d all been counting on future Romanian assistance on the Eastern Front, or against the Ottoman Empire. Now nobody feels morally obliged to hold to any of the promises they’re putting in the alliance treaty, on the grounds that they were negotiated under false pretences. Two can play at that game.

Louis Barthas

Now, speaking of morale. Back on a trench duty cycle, Louis Barthas is having his four days in close reserve. Water is of course strictly rationed, but of course there are ways for an enterprising NCO to get things done on a less than official footing.

They didn’t give out water to just any passerby. Only a regular work detail, with a non-com bearing a written order, could come and partake of it. Although you could quench your thirst there, you couldn’t get water to clean the mud and the lice out of your clothes. For that you had to bribe the Territorial on guard duty in front of the barrels, or distract him, which could be done only at night, if at all. Well, you didn’t need a hundred-franc note, or even a tenner, to purchase the Territorial’s compliance.

For me, all that was needed was a three-sou cigar to get him to turn his back while I filled a canvas bucket, which was all I needed to do my laundry. Certain desert animals have the gift of finding water, I don’t know how many leagues away. Similarly, the poilu could sniff out pinard at a great distance. In this camp there was no way to get anything to eat. The food cooperatives were only in the planning stage, and the truck gardeners didn’t risk coming up this close to the front lines. A jug of coffee, a jug of wine for a drink, the meager company mess for food, that was all.

We were in the same state as an army under siege, except for Messieurs les officiers who, through their rationers, lacked neither the necessities nor the luxuries.

More to come about the ordinary soldier’s relentless pursuit of pinard, the cheap red wine (I’m told that “plonk” is a fair loose translation) that fuels the French Army.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler continues his adventures around the rear near Trones Wood, ever on the lookout to improve things for his men as best he can. Half a French soixante-quinze battery has appeared near his lone forward howitzer, an excellent opportunity for some socialising.

I went round to call on them, and found them rather unhappy. Owing to the incessant [German] barrage on the road, they had not been able to get a [telephone] line back to their battery, and had not received any orders or food for 24 hours. They had, however, ensconced themselves in some wonderful dug-outs they discovered in a deep quarry. I promptly moved my people up to live there too, and on returning to the back areas, I located their battery after much hunting.

They seemed very glad to get news of their section, and eagerly accepted my invitation to run a line to my battery, and to be made honorary members of our line to Bernafay Wood and our observation post at Hardecourt. They soon got this done and then shelled a ravine vigorously all day, chattering like magpies the whole night, all of which could be heard as it passed through our exchange.

They’re all preparing for this combined Guillemont-Maurepas attack. I have to say, he’s painting a picture of an effective field officer; wherever possible he leaves the donkey work of shooting the guns to his junior officers, and instead applies himself to wider concerns.

E.S. Thompson

Mail call for E.S. Thompson as he waits for orders to go forward in the wake of the South African Horse, and he takes in a diet of top quality rumours.

Had a huge breakfast of porridge and honey and bread. Mail of newspapers came in, got a ‘Sunday Times’ and ‘Railway Magazine’ for June. Chilly wind still blowing… The machine guns [section] and [car] returned from Moshi, but without machine guns. Heard that there had been scrapping ahead and that the motor machine guns had got into it. German prisoners say that they cannot last out 20 days.

Dick went out foraging and brought back tomatoes, pumpkins and milk. Owens, the driver of the motor, brought us 8 [tins of] golden syrup, 8 lbs [3,6 kg] of sugar, 3 boxes of cigarettes and matches. Pinched a tin of bully beef off the motor.

I will never not be amused that this steely-eyed machine-gun dealer of death takes Railway Magazine to read in his copious free time. As for the prisoners, I’m not holding my breath.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge once more weighs in on matters of religious importance.

I have been helping in the “Scottish Churches Hut”, a large refreshment room for the Jocks in our neighbourhood. If there is a possibility for an outsider to judge the management of some of the more prominent huts in this camp, I should place the Scottish Hut first; a Roman Catholic and a Salvation Army Hut second.

Though the people of our Church Hut are certainly more courteous than the snappy self-conceited crew I have met in another camp, there is too much Religion about them. We appreciate their notepaper but we love the people and the refreshments in the Scottish Hut. And the fried eggs (two at 5d.) in the Salvation Army Hut are only surpassed by the fruit dishes of the Roman Catholic Hut.

As to the lovely hot baths which Lady Seraphina Besfor provides in her hut, there is only one opinion, they are a boon and a blessing, but there are not enough of them to go round. Often after waiting in a long queue, some of us have to tramp back to our respective divisional camps without the luxury of a bath, because groups of officers arrive, and these demigods, claiming precedence, fill the few vacant cubicles again.

Amusingly, a modern-day Google for “Lady Seraphina” turns up a Calgary dominatrix; the full name “Lady Seraphina Besfor” appears to have been a private joke of some sort. Suffice to say that there are plenty of aristocratic do-gooders around the BEF’s base areas in France, operating all kinds of huts to make the blokes’ life a bit more comfortable; it could have been any one of many.

Incidentally, isn’t it interesting how we rarely hear stories of these boorish officers who hog the baths in accounts written by other officers? Sometimes a little reading between the lines might be necessary; if yer man says “we marched into billets and I had a lovely bath”, you may wish to ask who he might have elbowed out of the way to get it.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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

Delville Wood | Longueval | 26 Jul 1916

Battle of the Somme

General Rawlinson is not particularly happy at the moment, having presided over a gigantic wet fart of an offensive on the 23rd. Something must be done, so he’s thought back to the Bazentin Ridge offensive. The Chief is still very annoyed that Delville Wood and Longueval have not been taken. It’s a very small area, barely a square mile. The successes of Bazentin Ridge came from more artillery and a narrower front. This time, he’s going to take as much artillery as was firing between Bazentin and Delville Wood last time, and turn it all on Delville Wood and Longueval for an hour tomorrow.

Between shrapnel and high explosive, over the course of that hour, there will be one shell for every 25 square yards of ground. It will be theoretically impossible to stand in the same place for that hour and not get hit by something. Of course we know it doesn’t work like that; there will be a few lucky souls who survive, because there always are. But, ye gods, a much smaller weight of shell saw the South Africans off last week. I’d say “nothing exceeds like excess”, but I rather suspect that this kind of excess is in fact the new normal.

Meanwhile, the brutal shelling continues at Pozieres. The ANZACs can’t last like this forever. They need food and water at least, to say nothing of ammunition or reinforcements. (The 2nd Australian Division is now moving forward to replace the 1st.) Sergeant Preston of the 9th Australian Battalion has volunteered to take a party back to the rear and find something, anything, to bring back to their mates.

Big shells were falling thickly. We could see them like black streaks coming down from the sky just before they hit the ground. Often times we were thrown to the ground with concussion, great clods of earth showering us and making our steel helmets ring. One member of the party, Private Fitzgerald, was partly buried, but was quickly dug out and left in the nearest trench to await the stretcher bearers. Eventually we reached Contalmaison, got some water in benzene tins, and made our way back to the front. The water, as can be imagined, had a strong benzene flavour.

On the way we passed Fitzgerald, badly wounded, but still alive.

I do quite sincerely doubt whether anyone complained about the taste of the water.

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien is back up the line. This time he’s gone to Beaumont Hamel. Which brings us, incidentally, to an important change. General Haig has finally got round to deciding what should be done about that fucker Hunter-Weston and VIII Corps. The BEF is exceedingly short on good candidates for corps command at the moment. (An uncharitable person might suggest they’re pretty short on good candidates to clean the latrines, never mind corps commanders.) Sacking Hunter-Weston is, apparently, not possible; and if he were sacked, he might very well end up in Sir John French’s gossip factory in London, making mischief.

However, what can be done is to transfer his corps to 2nd Army and send them to the Ypres salient. The implication will be quite obvious, and it will also be simple enough to keep bouncing him away from any future offensive. Hunter-Weston himself will soon be writing a letter to his wife, protesting far too much that he most certainly isn’t being confined to the kiddie pool and made to wear armbands and use floats. But I’m not buying that, and I sincerely hope that this is the last time I have to type his stupid double-barrelled name.

Anyway, so Tolkien’s corps is now in VIII Corps’s place, and his battalion is now up the line for the third time. Tolkien has been elevated from company to battalion signals officer, a role for which he’s almost completely unprepared. The new role is almost entirely managerial; deciding where things should go and who should do what duty. There’s plenty to do, and no senior officer to help. One suspects he might have spent a lot of time asking his senior sergeant “so, how would you arrange things?” and then letting him get on with it.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler is feeling rather better, and this time manages to make it all the way to an observation post, by way of a colleague’s position.

I visited Maclean and his lonely howitzer at dawn. He had been slightly wounded in the neck, but was carrying on; they all looked very red and blistered about the neck, having had their gas-masks on for seven hours during the night, besides encountering tear gas the rest of the time. The aroma round that spot is really remarkable. I counted thirty-eight men and fifteen horses lying dead between their dug-out and the gun. Being near the main road to Longueval, that spot is continually shelled, and passing units never have enough time to clear up any mess.

I heartened them with a promise to send up a sack of [chloride of] lime to sweeten the place. I spent the rest of the day in Hardecourt. The village had been taken originally by [French colonial troops] after desperate hand-to-hand fighting. Judging by the state of the dead, they are certainly rather messy fighters.

I’m pretty sure that if your hand-to-hand fighting goes off without mess, you’re probably doing it wrong. And if the people you killed two weeks ago aren’t a mess by now, they’re probably zombies and then you really do have a problem.

Oskar Teichman

The tension at the Suez Canal continues ratcheting up; but all medical officer Oskar Teichman is being bombarded with right now is paperwork.

The following mobile column order was issued:

“Attention of [Officers Commanding] is called to the following:
1. As the number of sand-carts and cacolets is limited, great care should be exercised that they are only indented for when absolutely necessary. An indent should bear the signature of a responsible or medical officer.
2. As it is probable that the troops will be fighting without their tunics, OCs will take steps to ensure that when this occurs all field dressings are extracted from the pocket of the tunic and pinned to the breeches.
3. All ranks are reminded that when dressing the wounds of a comrade the field dressing belonging to the wounded man should be used, and not that of the man who is dressing the wound.

With regard to order 2, I was very against this, and strongly advised that our men should continue to wear their tunics in order to avoid sunstroke, and also in order to make it possible to wear the cavalry equipment, which it was difficult and painful to carry without shoulder straps. Eventually this was agreed upon, and our men fought in their tunics and preferred it.

During the afternoon an “aviatik” dropped a message asking us to mark our hospital tents more clearly.

Point 3 has been an Army principle as long as anyone can remember, and still is today. You use the casualty’s stuff because you may well need yours in a few minutes’ time. A cacolet is an entirely hilarious construction, two stretchers nailed to each other and then mounted on the back of a camel or donkey.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas has a defining moment of his war. He’s finished his infantry gun training and is now back in the trenches with his squad.

At daybreak the sentry who was watching the periscope, which was hidden behind a high clump of grass, signaled me frantically to come up. I looked in the mirror and was stupefied to see a German’s head reflected in it—a neck like a bull’s, a big square head, a thick red mop of hair, a bestial look—all enough to give you nightmares. This apparition was coming out of the earth, barely four or five meters from us, into our own barbed wire which surrounded our outpost, without the slightest shovelful of disturbed earth to indicate that there was any sort of trench or excavation around him.

Evidently this was not a mirage; the Germans must have dug a subterranean passage, carrying back to the rear the dirt they removed. The sentry took a grenade and was about to toss it at this intruder, looking at me for approval. I held his arm. I will always be faithful to my principles as a socialist, a humanitarian, even a true Christian, even if they cost me my life, of not firing on someone unless in legitimate self-defense.

And was it in our interest to break the neighborly relations which existed between our two adjoining outposts? “If this lascar is poking his head up only out of curiosity,” I said to my comrades in a low voice, “that’s all the same to us. If he is coming to check out our position in order to send over a couple of grenades, we’ll open our eyes so that he doesn’t show us his big square head again, or we’ll make it round for him.”

The incident goes off without violence. “Lascar” is a word that in other languages refers specifically to sailors and marines from east of the Cape of Good Hope who were hired to crew European-owned ships. In 1914 the British merchant marine alone employed over 50,000 such seamen on extremely, ahem, cost-effective terms.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge has a less-than-promising report on the BEF’s morale, and the shock news that ANZAC soldiers like a drink.

The people in the villages tell me how fed up they are, and how they wish the cruel war were over. On the fields and in the farmyards the women do the work; I have not seen one able-bodied Frenchman between 16 and 60 anywhere.

The tradespeople, especially the inn-keepers, are, however, reaping a golden harvest. Anxious to be able to say later on how they have “seen life,” our wealthy Australian soldiers are consuming oceans of citron a l’eau, which the shrewd peasantry sells at six shillings a bottle, labelled “champagne!” The British Tommy does not indulge in such riotous living, but occasionally he orders and solemnly consumes a bottle of “vinn rooge,” a reddish syropywater-concoction [sic] slightly vinegared.

In the afternoon we had two parades to make up a draft for the Front. It needed three men to complete its numbers; when the Regimental Sergeant-Major asked for volunteers, one man out of about 400 stepped forward. So the missing two were picked out at random and ordered to go.

Citron a l’eau I do believe is Mugge’s Franglais for “fizzy lemonade” (the French call it, and other carbonated drinks, “limonade”, even though a lemon is a “citron”). I’m not entirely sure I buy that story, but I am reminded of the story from 1914 about the Tommies who confiscated some apparent bottles of champagne and then found they’d been hauling litres of mineral water around…

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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

Erzincan | Haig & ANZACs | 25 Jul 1916

Battle of Erzincan

Erzincan has surrendered. A second overwhelming Russian victory in 1916 is now complete. Vehip Pasha’s Third Army has, for the second time in 1916, been scattered to the four winds. They’ve lost about 30,000 casualties, and most of the rest have deserted. Last time, there were divisions coming free from Gallipoli who could be used as reinforcements. This is the kind of loss that will take the Ottoman Army years to recover from, if it ever can. The priority for General Yudenich is now obvious; consolidate as quickly as possible and prepare to deal with Izzet Pasha’s brand new Second Army, which is now at full strength and on the move. More soon!

Battle of the Somme

Pozieres. Counter-attack. Germans. ANZACs. British Territorials too. Blood and guts. Heavy losses. Sergeant Preston:

The enemy came over the ridge like swarms of ants, rushing from shell hole to shell hole. Our men, full of fight and confidence, lined the parapet and emptied magazine after magazine into them. Some of the boys, anxious to get a shot at the Germans, pulled one another down from the firestep in the midst of the fight. Under this fire and that of our machine guns and the artillery, which tore great gaps in the advancing lines, the enemy attack withered. The survivors were later seen retiring beyond the ridge, which was barraged by our artillery.

General von Falkenhayn is absolutely livid at the failure to hold Pozieres, the failure of this counter-attack in particular, and the failure of counter-attacks in general. Army group commander General von Gallwitz blames general exhaustion among the men. Always important to remember this. The Germans do not think they are doing at all well here. They can’t see all the behind-the-scenes bungling on the other side of the hill. They don’t know just how favourable the casualty ratio is to them. All they know is that they keep getting kicked, hard.

The Chief’s diary

Meanwhile, General Haig is busy being patronising.

After lunch I visited HQ Reserve Army and HQ Australian Corps. … The situation seems all very new and strange to Australian HQ. The fighting here and shell fire is much more severe than anything experienced at Gallipoli! The German too is a different enemy to the Turk! … I spoke to Birdwood about his [artillery commander], General Cunliffe Owen. The latter had served with me at beginning of war, but soon left France and so had no experience of our present artillery or the methods which had developed during the war.

I therefore wished to give [Birdwood] an up to date [artillery commander]. He thanked me, and said he would take anyone I selected. … I also saw Cunliffe Owen and explained how sorry I was to have to move him, but in the present situation I would be failing in my duty to the country if I ran the risk of the Australians meeting with a check through faulty artillery arrangements.

Oh, get tae fuck. You saw them after they arrived in France! You could have kept them at Armentieres with Mademoiselle if you thought they needed more seasoning on the Western Front! And instead, he pisses in their pockets and has the meterological officer send them a note warning of rain. Can you imagine being Birdwood and having to listen to this lecture and not being able to just haul off and deck him? Right tae fuck.

Tanks

Chief of the Imperial General Staff Wully Robertson is beginning to get rather worried about a number of strategic matters. There’s a major debate in London on the question of when exactly the tanks should be used. General Haig has said more than once that he’s in favour of using them as quickly as possible to win a decisive victory on the Somme. There is a counter-argument gaining steam in London, though. Colonel Swinton has been telling anyone who’ll listten that it’s vitally important to instead hold them back until they can all be used en masse, and with fresh infantry support.

It’s got wide support in London, in the Cabinet and at the War Office. Swinton’s French counterpart Colonel Estienne has been lobbying his own and the British government to exactly the same effect. He’s dreaming of a joint attack in spring 1917, when the Schneider CA1 will be ready in large numbers. The Tank Supply Committee has just put their arguments to Robertson. With another large British construction order, there will be nearly 1,000 tanks in spring 1917, and their crews will have had six months of training.

It’s a powerful argument; we’ll be considering it, and Haig’s counter-arguments, in the days to come. Robertson writes to him today with a summary of the objections. However, he doesn’t explicitly support them, or order Haig not to use them. His final message is “In the meantime, every possible step is being taken to expedite the preparation of the tanks so that a small number may be available at the earliest possible date…” On the other hand, Lloyd George’s successor as Minister of Munitions, Edwin Montagu, is travelling to GHQ to put the arguments against using the tanks to Haig in person.

While all this is going on, the haggling has begun over future tank production. The initial run of 100 machines is approaching its end; continuity of production is important so that money, materials, and skilled workers can’t be re-allocated. After a little haggling over whether the extra machines should be of a substantially different design, Robertson will soon be approving 100 more machines with only minor design changes based on issues already identified. They’ll eventually become known as the Mark II and Mark III tanks. And, at Elveden, a section of six tanks and a field workshop is already preparing to leave for France…

Romania

Negotiations with Romania are really beginning to drag now. The Romanian Prime Minister, Ion Bratianu, is still trying to nail down the details of the attack out of Salonika. Entente military leaders are quite certain that only a limited offensive will be possible to keep the Bulgarian Army from responding to the Romanian declaration of war. Bratianu wants a full-scale invasion of Bulgaria, with the eventual object of a supply line being established from the Greek coast to Bucharest. This is, ahem, a slightly optimistic aim.

He’s also concerned that the Entente might leave him twisting in the wind. He wants a specific provision in the treaty along the lines of existing Franco/Russian/British agreements to not seek a separate peace. The fear is that Austria-Hungary might collapse, sue for peace, and cut a deal to take them out of the war before the Romanian Army can conquer all the territory they’ve been promised. He’s also after a commitment that Romania will have equal representation on any general peace deal, so their interests can’t get shuffled aside. Negotiations continue…

Henri Desagneaux

Captain Henri Desagneaux, as he now is, is going back up the line, only three weeks after leaving Verdun. He’s been sent south to Pont-a-Mousson, just north of Nancy, one of the quietest sectors on the front.

Things will soon hot up. This sector was guarded for 18 months by the same troops. Reservists, they had got into bad habits, and not intending to kill themselves, they even went as far as fraternising with the Boches. They passed cigarettes to each other in the trenches. They even sang songs together. Our division has orders to stop this and to harass the Boches. Our gunners don’t have to be asked twice and pound the enemy, who are not long in replying. Attacks follow, and the sector will become harder.

There has evidently been a hardening of hearts against the enemy after surviving Verdun.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler is trying to go up to his observation post, but has to turn back. Apparently he doesn’t feel quite right after his narrow escape yesterday.

Walking over this country is not a very pleasant pastime, floundering continually up and down the sides of huge craters, and being tripped up at every step by half-hidden barbed wire. There was one exceptionally large crater which I measured; it had a circumference of 45 yards. I think that the daily dose of gas at the Trones Wood corner tends to rot one’s inside.

For a shell crater, that’s large enough to have come from a heavy howitzer. The ground here is completely dead and desolate.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has just been ordered to move. His time to join the Battle of the Somme may be at hand.

I could not possibly do anything but send [my father] a copy of Rupert Brooke’s poems, called “1914 [& Other Poems]”, because there are poems about the soldier which seem to me to hit perhaps the very highest note that has ever been struck during the War. No one who has not been here knows, I think, how difficult those tremendous ideals are, but is the better, I think, out here for reading them. … I think “Safety” is the greatest thing of the War.

Things may be going to happen. There cannot be any more faltering over him. Surely, surely, if all the world is not wrong, I must think ‘All’s well with our Man’, after all. He knows too now, I most deeply believe, he has found at last his music, his art, and his loves And I think, through all my sorrows, of him reaching down to his faltering friend.

Not without many a prayer that I, too, may somehow find sight, to see which way it is written for me to go, and neither to doubt nor to complain any more at all.

Have you tried asking the Adjutant? Or the colonel? I’m sure he knows where it’s written for you to go.

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has now reached Cankiri on his latest journey, where Grigoris Balakian was interned until his deportation.

My wonder at these carts increases daily. Rattling and loosely bolted and wobbling, they appear to be on the point of breaking down every minute. Sometimes three of the tyres of our cart simultaneously were almost off, and the pole hung between the body of the cart and the tree often quite detached. If the wheel slips off they bash it on with a rock or lump of wood, and, like Turkey itself, it just goes on.

At 3 p.m. we reached the small town of Cankiri, the only place of any importance between Angora and Kastamuni. We were frightfully done, but luck ordained it that we were bivouacked by a stream and under some trees quite close to the town. It is a pleasant little town with ten mosques on the steep hillside, heights all round, and many green orchards all about. We got honey, apples, and apricots, fairly cheap. I saw the Angora goat at close quarters. He is a classy little fellow, small, and prettily shaped, with fine bright eyes and carrying the most spotless silken white fleece in the world.

He habitually uses the old spelling “Angora” for “Ankara”, which I usually swap out. Although maybe I shouldn’t, since the Angora goat does not grow Angora wool; it grows mohair (and looks like a curly-haired emo kid). Angora wool comes from rabbits.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still doing fatigues, as he will for the rest of the war unless something very serious happens.

If, as most of the elderly and more cynical sceptics have it, life is but a gamble, selection for a fatigue here in camp is more puzzling than the [WANKY GREEK WORD]. A certain generosity in the way of standing “pints”, etc., does, of course, enter into the transaction, but that alone explains it not. Every morning we are lined up higgledy-piggledy hundreds of us behind the dining-hall on the sandy desert of our “Square”. You choose any neighbour you like in this game of chance. Then you wait.

The Sergeant-Major counts, One, Two, Three, etc., and if you are happy enough to be number nine, you will be one of the fortunate Ten who go on ” wash-house fatigue.” If you are number eleven or twenty-two you will be on the “coal fatigue.” In the former case an elysian existence is yours for the day; twenty bowls are to be cleaned with water and sand by the ten lucky beggars, who after an hour’s pretence of work, dawdle through the morning somehow, smoking and yawning. The others, the poor coal fatigue men, have to slave all day and ” work their guts out.”

Still others get the dining-room fatigue, that smelly messy work that makes one wish to live in a period when all meals are taken as pills, or if that be impossible, when all crockery is made of papier mache, and may be burnt after having been used. Blessed are those that escape the fatigues altogether, for they are “swingin’ the bloody lead!”

Mugge’s date of death does not appear to be known by Mr Google, though he was apparently born in 1878. I would like to think he lived long enough to see the invention of disposable picnic cutlery, was duly amused by the concept, and spent the next few hours happily boring somebody about “during the war…”

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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