Kigi | Joffre’s position | 20 Aug 1916

Joffre’s hopes

General Joffre has been bombarding General Haig with requests to launch a major offensive almost night and day since Haig’s little dinner joke last week. Interestingly, in his memoirs, he claims that the first day on the Somme had shown that the BEF was incapable of launching the kind of large multiple-army offensives that he had ordered in 1915. And yet, here he is trying to convince an apparently useless army to attack again. His liaison officer today informs him of Haig’s plans to attack between Flers and Courcelette (good), but not until mid-September (less good) and to continue with small prepatory attacks in the meantime (even less good).

But this is apparently a minor matter. His own men have done as well as could be expected without proper support from their allies, of course. German gains at Verdun are still being slowly rolled back, a few hundred metres per day. And with the imminent entry into the war of Romania, Austria-Hungary will be left with men on four separate fronts. To the west, they’re fighting the Italians; to the north, the Brusilov Offensive continues to rumble determinedly towards the Carpathians. To the south, they’ve committed considerable manpower to the occupation of Serbia.

In one more week, the Romanian army attacks them from the east. Surely something will have to give, on one of those fronts. His thinkers are talking airily about an “inevitable collapse”, and “irredeemable ruin” for the Central Powers over the winter. He’s now talking boldly of the prospects for a war-winning offensive in 1917 in an effort to shore up his own position.

Battle of Bitlis

Russian reinforcements continue flowing into the west of the battle. The Ottomans have been slowly advancing out of Kigi, under heavy artillery fire, for the past week. However, remember that there was a large body of Russians slogging from Erzincan over trackless mountainsides to this part of the battle? Not only have they arrived in the perfect position to hit the Ottoman flank, they’ve even arrived in high spirits and with enough energy to get stuck in. The terrain north of Kigi is sharply hilly and strongly favourable to the defenders, so they’re not going to cause a rout.

However, one out of three Second Army corps has now been fought to a standstill. They need to be pushing their Russian opponents back, taking ground, following up boldly. No such luck.

Emilio Lussu

The tragicomic adventures of Emilio Lussu continue, up on the Asiago plateau. A few days ago he got to witness yet another farcical attack, but it seems that for now, the Blood God has had enough blood. The bloodthirsty General Leone is visiting, and today he’s paying particular attention to all the trench loopholes, speaking with intelligence and a sensible eye for detail as he does so. This, of course, only makes him all the more baffling; why does a man with such obvious military intelligence insist on ordering his men to run uphill at machine-guns?

Anyway. Lussu then takes the general to the next sector over, the domain of his friend Lieutenant Ottolenghi. Who, you may recall, has a few loopholes of his own. The general continues offering sensible advice, leavened with a few orders for improvements. They move along…

“Up ahead here we have the best loophole in the whole sector”, said Ottolenghi. You can see all the terrain in front of it, and up and down the whole enemy line, every part of it. I don’t think a better loophole exists. It’s right here. Loophole fourteen.” … Detached from the others, higher than the others, and easily distinguishable, was loophole 14 with its steel plate.
“Look here”, said the general, raising the shutter and immediately letting it drop. “The hole is small, and doesn’t allow observation by more than one person.”
I made some noise, banging my stick against some stones, trying to get Ottolenghi’s attention. I looked for his eyes to make a sign that he should desist. He didn’t look at me. He understood, but he didn’t want to look at me. His face had turned white. My heart was trembling. Instinctively, I opened my mouth to call out to the general. But I didn’t speak.

The general walked over in front of the loophole. He moved in behind the shield, bent his head down, raised the shutter, and put his eye up to the hole. I closed my eyes.
He said, “It’s magnificent! Magnificent! Here now, it looks to me like, the little cannon is positioned in the trench…but it seems unlikely…”

To cut a very long and extremely tense story tragically short, the general remains at the loophole for a few minutes, looking for a particular trench mortar that he wants to knock out. No sniper opens fire. Ottolenghi orders his own machine guns to fire some bursts of indirect harassing fire, the better to provoke enemy reprisals, with the general’s approval. Apparently it’s the Austrian lunch hour, and nobody shoots back, General Leone staring approvingly through loophole 14 all the while. Eventually he bores of this sport.

“Bravo, lieutenant! Tomorrow I’ll have my chief of the general staff come here, so he can get a better idea of the enemy positions. Good-bye!” He shook our hands and walked off, followed by his two carabineri. We were left alone.

“You must be crazy!” I exclaimed. Ottolenghi didn’t even answer me. He was red in the face and walking around in circles.
“You want to bet that if I open the loophole, the imbecile sharpshooter will wake up?”
He took a coin out of his pocket, raised the shutter, and held the coin up to the hole. A strip of sunlight lit up the hole. And what came next was all one; the hissing of the bullet, the crack of the rifle shot. The coin, shot out of his hand, flew off into the fir trees. Ottolenghi seemed to have lost all self-control. Furious, he stamped his feet on the ground, bit his fingers, and cursed. “And now he wants to send us his chief of staff!”

That night, we dismantled loophole 14.

RIP, loophole 14. We’ll not see your like again, that’s for sure.

E.S. Thompson

Two days ago, we had a rare outbreak of competence from our South African friend E.S. Thompson, as he shot an antelope and used its meat to feed all his mates. Yesterday one of those mates was given 21 days of some punishment (Thompson doesn’t specify, could have been field punishment, could have been something else) for “losing” his rifle on the last long march, and another was let off with a bollocking after having a Negligent Discharge from his rifle while unloading it. And today? Today is his birthday…

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Complimented on it being my birthday. Went to draw the meat. Nos. 5 and 6 doing quarterguard. Saw Shenton who told me about Austin dying from dysentery at Arusha. Read during the afternoon then went to get the rations, which were full. Read the news at the station that Bagamoyo had been taken, another 4.1-inch gun captured and 2 more at Ujiji. Chaps betting that it will be over in 2 weeks. Stew for dinner. Dished out rations. Had a long chat with Cyril Wackrill and Clifford Jones about the Robinson Deep and mining matters. Slept very well.

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The Robinson Deep was (possibly?) the first deep mine in South Africa, near Johannesburg, funded by Cecil Rhodes, to find gold and diamonds. At the time I believe it was the deepest mine in the world (at over a mile and a half deep), and it seems to have been mined for nearly a hundred years. There’s not much information about it on the internet, which is quite the omission. Anyway, it seems that our friend appears to have survived his birthday without maiming himself through some drunken high jinks. Maybe I need to stop poking fun at him at every opportunity.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas is out of the line and is enjoying a rare luxury.

it was with pleasure that we went to Somme-Suippes to take showers in a model bathing facility paid for by Her Majesty the Empress of All the Russias, if you please! We had never been showered and disinfected like we were in this imperial installation. While we were in the showers, our effects passed through a superheated brazier, where ticks of every generation, from those who had not yet burst from their eggs to the old, black, hairy ones, were smothered without reprieve.

This was a memorable day. After many months this was the first time we didn’t feel the slightest itchiness. It was enough to make us call out, “Vive la Czarina!” Despite my revulsion for tyrants, thanks to her we were going to spend a couple of restful nights.

Louis Barthas, arch-socialist, offering praise to the Czarina of Russia. Now I’ve seen everything.

Ruth Farnam

Ruth Farnam’s experience as an alien in wartime Britain is, ahem, slightly different to that of Maximilian Mugge. We met her yesterday, as an agent from America of the Serbian Relief Fund.

Arriving at the Carlton Hotel in London, I was informed that I must report as an “alien” at the nearest police station within twenty-four hours. So the next morning I went to Vine Street, and had a pleasant interview with a nice old police sergeant, who said I must let him know the day before I wished to leave London. As soon as he had given me my papers, I began to inquire about permission to go to France. The French authorities were very strict about allowing civilians to enter the country and the English were nearly as obdurate about letting them out of England.

But on appealing to Colonel Walker, at the Home Office, my way was made smooth by a letter from him to the officer in command at the French Consulate-General. As there had been submarines in the English Channel lately, the boats often did not sail for several days together and when they did go, of course, they were very crowded. Armed with my passports, credentials, letters and a stack of photographs, I went to the Consulate very early in the day and obtained, with little delay, a French passport, which was warranted to get me into France but not to get me out.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Farnam’s done a good job of making friends and contacts on her previous trips to Serbia; and she does possess enough, ahem, personal resources to fund a trans-Atlantic crossing and a room at the Carlton, Cesar Ritz’s first London hotel.

Actions in Progress

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

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

Albatros | Nieuport | SPAD | 13 Aug 1916

Battle of Bitlis

About a week too late, Mustafa Kemal’s corps has finally been given permission to get into the Endres Valley. Having done so, they’ve blundered straight into an enemy rifle division, fresh from some rather dull garrison duty in Erzurum. The Third Army’s advance is about to come to an extremely undignified halt. Like many things in the Caucasus theatre, this was not in the Ottomans’ plan. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Unfortunately, the Russians weren’t in on that meeting.

Delivery, sign here please

There’s a lot of new aircraft about on the Western Front. The Germans have finally introduced an aeroplane to match (and, indeed, exceed) the performance of Nieuport’s Bebe, and it makes the Royal Flying Corps’s Airco DH.2 fleet look like Morris Minors next to a Porsche. Its manoeuvrability isn’t anything special, but the Albatros D.I is both lighter and stronger than any other fighter currently flying. It’s not only faster than anything the Entente can field, it can be faster while being armed with twin machine-guns, a first. And it’s made out of plywood. Plywood! They were all totally mad.

The only reason there aren’t about 150 flying over the Somme right now is that the first pilots to get one have been complaining about a lack of upward vision. So the D.I, already outclassing every other fighter, is about to be slightly redesigned into the D.II, and by the end of September there’ll be 150 Albatros fighters of both types on the Western Front. This could get painful if there’s no response. But wait, what’s this from France? The Nieuport firm hasn’t been standing still, for one thing. They’ve recently started production runs for a number of different models, all an advance on the Bebe; the most important is the Nieuport 17.

And, not just that. Top French ace Armand Pinsard is just about to begin testing a prototype SPAD VII, the first aircraft to use that Hispano-Suiza engine about which there were such ructions earlier in the war. It’s all a big game of rock-paper-scissors, of course. If most of the Nieuport 17s go to Verdun, and the Albatros fighters go to the Somme, it won’t be much consolation to the RFC in their DH.2 pushers that there are more Nieuport 17s in existence than there are Albatroses…

Meanwhile, some aggressive destroyer patrolling has ended the recent submarine scares in the Channel. The tanks are heading for Le Havre again. It’s all but impossible that General Haig will have 150 tanks to throw into another push in mid-September, though. 25, almost certainly. Maybe 50, if he’s a good boy and eats up all his Shredded Wheat without complaining.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas has been yanked out of reserve. He’s managed to dodge going over the top for a year and a half, but it seems that his luck might just have run out. Someone far above his pay grade has decided to have a diversionary attack to improve the tactical position.

The wind was in our favour. They were going to launch against the Boches the famous poison gas, for which we had been preparing for so long. Nobody within my hearing was particularly happy about this operation. There was going to be a big bombardment, on both sides, and from what the patrols told us we might have to occupy certain enemy positions. While waiting, our section was going to occupy a jumping-off point in a part of the trench with no shelter at all in which to protect ourselves from the likely bombardment.

Soon we learned that the time was set for midnight, the hour of crime. But you could say that the wind was guilty of collusion with the enemy: at ten minutes to midnight, the wind was blowing too hard. They postponed the business to two in the morning. But by that time the wind had stopped blowing altogether, to the point where it wouldn’t have moved a candle’s flame. The order came down to go back to our dugouts. A reprieve of 24 hours was granted to the Kaiser’s subjects who were swarming throughout Champagne.

Over the next week, the wind continues changing; the attack will never come. Another fortunate escape.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman is nearly at the Somme.

The sun is setting over Albert.

I have wandered out alone to the top of this hill, learning that a view of the battle-front may be had from this spot. Nearly all the rough ground hereabouts is taken over by some department of the army; dumps and camps are littered about everywhere like a child’s toys strewn over the nursery floor. But here, for a few hundred yards, where the scrub is clear, poppies and cornflowers stud the ground about my feet and glow bright as jewels in the evening light. …

I turn from them to look out over the east.

The sky is purple dark and all along the horizon gun-flashes quiver as if some fearful aurora borealis were continually appearing. Every now and then huge explosions send up pillars of smoke, as though the internal fires of the earth had broken through. Nearer, the darkness is pricked by lesser lights that rise to fall and fade successively, like matches thrown into the air; and to all these ominous illuminations there comes the continual accompaniment of roll and roar: the grind and belch of guns and the shock of countless explosions.

It is an inferno. Can anything live in that? Heaven on one side : hell on the other. One should not hope to come out of that alive. It is a continuous earthquake. Well, life must end somewhere. One wouldn’t have chosen it there.

And this on a day when it seems that “nothing of importance” is occurring.

E.S. Thompson

Architectural expert E.S. Thompson is exploring Dodoma.

Mealie-meal and tea for breakfast, after which looked round the place a bit. Station quite a neat but foreign-looking one. Saw [a Reo Speedwagon] with flanged wheels running, also a Ford car. Quite neat houses near. The water tank had been knocked over and destroyed. Had tea and porridge for lunch during which John arrived with a sow. After lunch cleared out a place for a kitchen and got some stones from a cemetery nearby. Rose and Bibby brought some sweet potatoes back. Motor Cycle Corps left for Kilossa making a great noise.

Ali and the other Mohammedan boys much disgusted with the pig. George stuck it for us and it died quite calmly. Skinned and cleaned it. Fried the steak with which we had sweet potatoes for dinner. Mouth very sore. Got into bed early. Had to do an hour’s guard each.

So what you’re saying to me is that the Germans have different looking architecture??? Cor blimey, slap me vitals, and other unconvincing expressions of disbelief.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge has been gathering information about his new home, the political concentration camp for soldiers too dangerously German to remain in fighting units. He begins with a description of how the 30th Middlesex was formed; I’m leaving his original names in rather than trying to translate them.

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 Instruction 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.

I would love to know if anyone could track down the true identity of either “Captain Thornly” of the “10th East Lancers” or “Colonel Byle”; Mugge is fond of puns (“Peas Pudding” for “Pease Pottage”, for instance), so it wouldn’t be completely hopeless. Beyond my resources at the moment, though.

The boys here call themselves “Bing Boys,” I believe after some London Revue. They are a quite superior lot as far as I can judge. Almost one-fifth seem to be clerks and city people. A very considerable number of Jews are amongst them and with the usual shrewdness of their race all the more comfortable billets like staff sergeants and quartermasters’ jobs have of course been appropriated by their financial magnates, stockbrokers and others. The cooking is excellent as only to be expected, our cook being a former chef of the Metropole.

There is in my tent a poor creature, cannot walk at all: rheumatic gout; had to be carted here. Born in England. Before Appeal Board; chairman, on being pointed out utter inability of man, alleged to have said “O ! they will find some work for him and he will be amongst his brother Huns.” The boy is in law and in fact English. Another boy with two gold stripes arrived today. Another “bloody Hun” who fought for England and was wounded for the cause of liberty.

Uncomfortable shifting at this anti-Semitism from a man of German parentage. The Metropole is a grand hotel in London that’s been requisitioned as Government offices; and a gold stripe is worn on a man’s sleeve to indicate that he was wounded on active service, one per wound.

We’ve also run into references to the Bing Boys a few times before. The revue is so popular that the name “Bing Boys” is being self-applied to units of dubious fighting value or extreme disorganisation. This is in much the same way that in 1914 and 1915 it was popular to call the Kitchener recruits “Fred Karno’s Army”, after the pioneering slapstick comedian who popularised throwing custard pies at people.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
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!

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

Bitlis | Romani | Verdun | 5 Aug 1916

Battle of Bitlis

In the Caucasus we have rather a curate’s egg of a battle for the Ottomans. On paper, things are going quite well. They’ve retaken Bitlis and Mus unopposed. Even better, the Russians who recently gave them a bloody nose at Ognot have continued advancing and are now about to be hideously outnumbered. General Yudenich is trying to apply the brakes, but these things take time. There’s a brief window of opportunity here to counter-punch and put the Russians in this sector of the battle onto the back foot.

But it seems nobody is interested in taking advantage of the opportunity. While the Ottoman commanders dither, Russian commanders boldly push their men forward unopposed, occupying key strategic points. A regiment of Kuban Cossacks is undertaking the most ridiculous of tasks, setting out on a 170-mile march from Erzincan over trackless mountains towards Kigi. The scale of this redeployment is a truly massive feat of logistics and flexibility; it deserves far more space and attention that I’m entirely unable to give it.

Battle of Romani

Meanwhile, at the Suez Canal. Nobody’s in particularly good shape after a few days of marching and a solid day of fighting in the Egyptian summer. However, it’s the Ottomans who are suffering more; they’re the ones who have just marched across the Sinai desert for months. Smelling victory, their opponents order fresh counter-attacks today. Let’s go see what Oskar Teichman made of the day’s fighting.

It was known that the enemy had retired eastwards through Katia, where a very strong force had been left to cover the retreat of the main army. It was now the duty of all the Mounted Brigades to “make good” the country west, north-west and south-west of Katia before an attack was launched on that place.

Everywhere we came across Turkish equipment which had been thrown away during the retreat and large numbers of killed and wounded Turks. Many of the latter were lying under the little sun-shelters, which their comrades had presumably erected for them before retiring. It was a pleasing sight to see an Australian and a Turkish Field Ambulance working side by side amongst the wounded. As we advanced slowly, more cases of sunstroke developed, and these were sent into Bir Abu Hamra, where we had already collected some Turkish prisoners.

At about two o’clock the enemy opened fire on us with shrapnel and high explosive, and as we galloped forward we soon came under rifle fire. “Action dismoun” was given, and the Brigade proceeded to line a low ridge and to open fire on the enemy, who could now and then be seen in their trenches outside Katia. The ground, being uneven, afforded us a good deal of cover, as it abounded in small hummocks and ridges.

I established my dressing station, and had just attended to some casualties when a shell exploded in the middle of our little group. I was thrown to the ground after being struck by a fragment of the shell, and realized at once that my leg was broken. I was carried back a short distance, and my orderlies dressed the wound and fixed up the leg with improvised splints. It was extraordinarily lucky that the fragment did not strike my leg “full on,” otherwise the whole foot would certainly have disappeared.

Meanwhile the enemy’s big guns in Katia were very troublesome, and some Turkish infantry with machine guns and a field gun, who had moved out of Katia towards Abu Hamra, proceeded to enfilade us in a most uncomfortable manner. I was not quite aware what happened during the next two hours, as the morphia which I had taken to allay the pain had begun to make me drowsy.

Leg broken by shrapnel? Hopped up on morphine? Mustn’t grumble. Teichman is then put on his horse and sent back to the rear; no jokes about “physician, heal thyself”, please. It’s another excellent day, one of the most successful days that any British Empire force has seen since Edward Mousley and chums were pushing a different Ottoman force back towards Baghdad in late 1915. More to follow.

Battle of Verdun

Yes, this is still a going concern. General von Knobelsdorf’s push towards Fort Souville has withered on account of lack of men, but there’s still heavy scrapping going on. The front is still moving by a hundred yards here, and fifty yards there. We drop in now on the diary of one Charles Hartley, a British civilian with the Red Cross, who’s been driving the Voie Sacree for the last month. He’s now found an excuse to go into Verdun itself and play battlefield tourist, and luck has brought him there when the German gunners are all shooting at something more urgent.

The town was full of soldiers and whole streets were in a complete state of ruins. The Cathedral itself was practically intact. The bridge across the Meuse, the entrance to which is through a Norman Gateway, has escaped the bombardment. This being my first visit to a town under bombardment I was greatly impressed with everything I saw around me. Partridge and I went into a number of shattered houses and shops, in which furniture and valuables were lying about in confused heaps everywhere.

Looting is of course forbidden and the French soldier, at any rate, knows what to expect if he is caught. Sympathetic soldiers passing along nodded to us and asked us if we had found any little ‘souvenir’. I managed to secure some good snapshots with my camera which I always carefully carried with me and produce guardedly on suitable occasions. If one goes about it in a right way and does not show a camera under the very nose of the military police, one can do a great deal, and I have often succeeded in getting French officers to tactfully look away when photographing something of interest.

Cameras at the front are, of course, strictly forbidden. Like diaries, this means that every tenth man is wielding one.

The Chief

General Haig attempts to praise the Australians, and just ends up with innuendo.

The Australians gained all their objectives north of Pozieres and beat off 3 counter-attacks. A fine piece of work.

Chortle chortle chortle. Haig has some very approving comments about the artillery arrangements, which have been adapting Behaviour Modification principles to great effect. His real work is yet to begin, though; tomorrrow he’s going to be deluged in dignitaries. General Joffre, President Poincare, the King, the Prime Minister, anyone who’s anyone will be visiting Haig’s HQ for a big extended social affair. Meanwhile, General Rawlinson prepares to have another crack at Guillemont so the dignitaries can have a success to admire.

E.S. Thompson

Off your arse! Time for the 7th South Africans and E.S. Thompson to get moving up to Dodoma.

Took our letters to the 9th Regiment’s orderly room and asked the Sergeant-Major to post our letters, which he did. Got back in time to get my kit ready and saddle up. Moved at 8.05am and did 7 miles having 2 surprise attacks on the way for practice. Lost our tent and very much fed up with the sergeant for not allowing us to use the water out of our red tins. Mean to have our own back one day. Very nice day for marching. Sky overcast. Kit inspection and a row made as the sergeants carry too many pots and pans on the motor.

The red tin contains what the quartermaster might call “water, cooling, Maxim guns, for the use of”. So no, you pillock, they’re not just going to let you drink it because you’re a bit thirsty. A few days’ uneventful marching follows.

Henri Desagneaux

Captain Henri Desagneaux is really not having much luck at all. Nancy is supposed to be a quiet bit of the line, but some gung-ho idiot has been stirring things up. Anyone know the French for “Am I as offensive as I might be?” Here is the result.

We relieve the “Marseilles” sector near Regneville. Heavy mortar fire. For the second time, my shelter, a fragile cellar, collapses. These mortar shells are causing huge damage, but the rats, bugs, and fleas are even more formidable. We live in filthy squalor. Every day the trenches are devastated. My command post is 10 metres below ground, with water streaming in from all sides. Every morning we have to bale out 10-15 bucketsful of water coming from a nearby cesspit. How damp and dark it is!

Yeah, mate. Water. From the cesspit. That’s what it is. Water. You tell yourselves that. The mental effort required to keep this up causes the captain’s diary to fall silent for a while.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman has been plucked out of Etaples and sent up to the 10th Green Howards. The battalion is still recovering from a nasty kicking at Fricourt. B Company returned with one officer (who has been recommended for the Victoria Cross) and 27 men, and the rest weren’t much better off. Time to get rid of some of the silly romantic ideas about the Army that even a pacifist can pick up by cultural osmosis.

I had formed a mental picture of how a subaltern joined his regiment. First he met the adjutant, who took careful particulars of training and special qualifications. Then, with due ceremony, he was taken into another room and formally introduced to the colonel, who deigned to extend his hand and wish the young man luck. Then the colonel would follow this with some details of the battalion’s immediate history, a footnote on esprit de corps and the honour of the regiment, and finally give a few words of fatherly advice. The subaltern saluted and returned to the adjutant, who now gave the junior particulars of his company, told him how he could obtain an orderly, what were the regimental messing arrangements and any other local details.

But it does not happen like that.

As the draft reaches the top of the last hill, we are met by a sallow-faced cadaverous-looking young man on a horse, who in a Cockney accent shouts directions to the troops. He tells Hill and me we are for C Company and will report to Captain Rowley. We pick our way across the dungheap and enter a room that seems to be fulfilling nearly all the purposes of human habitation at once. Captain Rowley lies fully dressed on the sheets of one of the unmade beds, dozing. We tell him who we are and he replies in a mild friendly voice, but hardly takes a look at us; he is evidently very tired.

A moment later another subaltern, Mallow, the bombing-officer, comes in. He begins to hold a conversation with Rowley which is one of the frankest I have ever heard. It appears that on the previous evening they rode into a neighbouring town where they spent the night with women of easy affections, and now they proceed to recount the details of their adventures and discuss the possibilities of similar entertainment, with a coarseness which is without reserve. They drink big tots of whisky, but seem too dissipated to raise more than a mirthless laugh.

A British officer? Using the services of a prostitute??? Well, I’ll try to carry on with the blog. But I must confess, I’m shocked and appalled. Plowman excuses himself and goes for a walk with another new arrival, Lieutenant Hill. “We are neither of us prudes”, says our narrator, a claim so inaccurate it could be in the intelligence briefing.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is becoming downright fatalistic.

Since Wednesday last, when we were issued gas-helmets, a number of us have been expecting to go up into the firing line any moment. I wish they would send us on. I am sick of waiting. Apparently the Interpreters’ Corps or Intelligence Department are “off” and I may as well do what many better men had to do.

To fit up part of the “bull-ring” for some sports to be held, a large fatigue party of us proceeded this morning to that dreadful place. The “bull-ring” is a huge desert in the neighbourhood where the boys arriving from England get their final training, a kind of finishing school. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! Here the last remnant of individuality that may have held out hitherto is bludgeoned down and the perfect war-slave is manufactured.

Whilst I was carrying planks and tables, I marvelled at a group of Jocks that were driven around the immense ring like circus horses. Trenches barring their progress had to be taken. Each trench was supposed to be full of Huns. And the boys had to lower their bayonets and then charge the next trench “at the double.” Again and again they had to repeat the turn! If they did not shout madly enough a fat blood-curdling Sergeant Major instructed them in the real blood-curdling Red Indian War-Whoop.

Well, that sounds like the exact opposite of promising. The quotation is of course from Dante’s Divine Comedy, as the inscription over the gates of Hell. Mugge quoted it in the original Italian; once again I think it has a little more punch in this form. But, not to fret! I happen to have read ahead, and these are the last thoughts he will share with us from Tatinghem. His hopes will soon be fulfilled, and he’ll be on the move again.

Actions in Progress

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

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

Justifying the Somme | 2 Aug 1916

Battle of Bitlis

Off to the Caucasus for starters today, where Ottoman commander Izzet’s three-independent-corps concept is already starting to wobble. One corps is finding unexpectedly difficult going in the Ognot Valley, where their advance guards have just been thrown back by Russians who booked an earlier train and showed up first. Elsewhere, Mustafa Kemal’s men are enjoying numerical superiority near Mus; the Russian commander sensibly orders a withdrawal into more defensible mountain positions, within range of most of his artillery. More to come, this one’s going to be a slow burner.

Haig justifies the Somme

Well, sort of. I suppose that perhaps “justifies” is too strong a word. But then, it doesn’t flow nearly as well as “writes down his reasons for continuing”. Like Winston Churchill’s comments the other day, these points will soon be distributed to the War Committee for their consideration. They’re formulated as a direct response to Wully Robertson’s four questions, which were: will casualties of 300,000 (double those already sustained) lead to a big victory? should we not revise and limit plans? why does it seem like we’re doing all the fighting and the French aren’t? and have we not already relieved the pressure on Verdun, which after all was the primary strategic aim?

Haig begins by discussing the strategic implications of the first month’s fighting.

(a) Pressure on Verdun relieved. Not less than six Enemy divisions besides heavy guns have been withdrawn.
(b) Successes achieved by Russia last month would certainly have been stopped had enemy been free to transfer troops from here to the [Eastern Front].

This is a debatable point, since the Brusilov Offensive has been very specifically directed against the Austro-Hungarian Army. However, while we can haggle about what effect they might have had, it is fair to surmise that potentially an Army-sized formation could have been sent East without the Somme. Haig now moves on to some slightly grander thinking.

(c) Proof given to world that Allies are capable of making and maintaining a vigorous offensive and of driving enemy’s best troops from the strongest positions has shaken faith of Germans, of their friends, of doubting neutrals in the invincibility of Germany. Also impressed on the world, England’s strength and determination, and the fighting power of the British race.

Now, this sounds like so much old shite, but it shouldn’t just be dismissed out of hand. It is fundamentally based in Intelligence assessments of captured German letters and diaries. The image of the Central Powers under combined attack from all angles has certainly made joining the war a more tempting prospect for the Romanian government. The French no longer have cause for complaint that their allies are not pulling their weight. There are more considerations to alliance warfare than just strict military ones.

(d) We have inflicted very heavy losses on the enemy. In one month, 30 of his Divisions have been used up, as against 35 at Verdun in 5 months! In another 6 weeks, the enemy should be hard put to it to find men!

Hrm. German casualties so far are about 100,000. The French have lost 50,000 men and the BEF 160,000. “Heavy”, fine; not sure I’d spring for “very heavy”. The assessments of divisions “used up” (that is, made useless for further front-line fighting until after a long rest) is, of course, bollocks. However, the 6 weeks idea is absolutely critical. Haig’s staff is now beginning to plan for the next effort on the scale of the Bazentin Ridge attack, and they’re roughly targeting 15 September for Z Day, which is in about six weeks.

(e) The maintenance of a steady offensive pressure will result eventually in his complete overthrow.

On this, all we can say is that time will tell. Having prepared the ground, Haig then lays out what he’s going to do next, a restatement of what he told General Rawlinson the other day; keep up the pressure, attack only after proper preparation, secure territory gained after each push. There are a few supplementary comments worth flagging up.

Our losses … cannot be regarded as sufficient to justify any anxiety as to our ability to continue the offensive. … Proceeding thus, I expect to be able to maintain the offensive well into the autumn. It would not be justifiable to calculate on the enemy’s resistance being completely broken without another campaign next year.

The bit where Haig talks about casualties has been used against him with monotonous regularity, but he is quite correct. As the next few months of the war will show, they did take a damn good kicking in July, but 4th and Reserve Armies will still be capable of attacking and repelling counter-attacks. And yes, he’s being just slightly blase about having sent 40,000 men to their deaths and 120,000 more to their wounds (ahem). But, as I’ve said before, his job is to fight and win the war. As General Mangin said, “whatever you do, you lose a lot of men”. He can’t do his job if he thinks properly about the human consequences of his orders.

On a similar level, I hope that we’ve seen in May and June that almost nobody in high command was thinking of the Somme as an offensive that could win the war. Setting the Germans up for defeat in 1917 has always been the long-term aim here. The ludicrous over-optimism that filtered down to some of the blokes was very often the doing of junior staff officers and brigade commanders, not men at Haig’s pay grade.

It all sounds so nice and reasonable when the commander-in-chief sets it out for us. And then a battle happens, we go to the blokes on the ground, and it’s all machine guns up the jacksie and guts spilling out everywhere. Funny, that.

Emilio Lussu

With the Army now preparing for a Sixth Isonzo (more on that in a moment), Emilio Lussu’s sector of the Dolomites remains quiet. He’s been randomly visited by a young lieutenant, a staff officer with a cavalry regiment. He’s come down to the trenches, in impeccable gleaming uniform, in response to millions of soldiers’ prayers for the ignorant HQ-dwellers to do just that and see what conditions are like.

He said to me, “I think you [infantrymen] are too cautious. Wars are not won with caution.”
“It’s just that we can only count on our own two legs”, I retorted. “In a difficult moment a soldier’s knees might start shaking. If his knees shake, he can’t take a step forward. You’re much luckier. You can be scared to death and your horse’s legs will carry you forward just the same.” Later I regretted what I had said, by right then it was satisfying. It seemed that the cavalryman had it coming.

Lussu takes the staff officer to see loophole 14; he explains how enemy snipers are watching, and the blokes have taken to waving targets for them to hit. The guest wants a try.

He raised the shutter and put the end of his whip in front of the hole. A shot rang out and the end of the whip was severed. He laughed. He picked up a piece of wood, stuck a coin on the end of it, and repeated the experiment. The coin, struck right in the center, was blown off the stick and whistled through the air. I moved on, and pointed out the next loophole. “From here,” I said, “you can see another sector that’s less important. You see, way down there, a pile that looks like a bag of coal? It’s camouflage for a machine gun.”

The conversation goes on for a while, and then Lussu’s well-honed spidey-sense tells him that something is not quite as it should be.

I was sure that he was looking out too, behind me. The loophole was big, and there was room for two. Then I heard his voice, a little way off, as he said “The legs of an officer in the Royal Piedmont shake less than the legs of his horse.”

A rifle shot came on the heels of his words. I turned around. The lieutenant was standing at loophole 14 and crumbling to the ground. I rushed over to hold him up, but he was already dead. The bullet had struck him in the forehead.

Loophole 14 is not to be fucked with.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has now arrived at his new billet, which is far too near where Malcolm White used to be for peace of mind. Still. If he’s going to be here, then that will surely keep him safe from the next Big Push at High Wood?

There is a deal of difference between inability to feel one and the other of two propositions – ‘Carry on’; and ‘The Man is dead: Carry on.’ The first is being done; the second has a sort of brilliant ring about it which, if attainable, would be rather fun, but happens to be entirely foreign.

What I really meant was what I called absence of attitude altogether: one plods along, not particularly hearty and not particularly sensitive; for some at least of one’s emotions here die easily: after a month and a half in the line, with a period out in supports, one becomes rather a low order of being – I mean all but the good men do. We are now no great distance from the Man, [and] life above ground has been very good for some days: we are ‘seeing the light’ (in a sense no Greek ever guessed), and a very delightful change that is.

He uses the time to write a number of letters, including one to a friend who is still at Shrewsbury School, where he recently made some end-of-term remarks to a class of young men who will now surely be applying for officer’s commissions.

Let me have your address in Chapel, won’t you? Later on, perhaps, I will send you some news, should there be any. At present we are happy enough in this existence, [thinking] a little, but generally too tired and contented for more than [thought]; and, perhaps luckily, we are not allowed too much time for that, either. In fact, now I come to think of it, I doubt if I’ve done any of that for some time now. It seems a trifle futile, considering how very little there is to be wondered at, and how many better men have contrived to get through with no wondering at all. But I would like to see your address, all the same.

He actually used the words “wondering” and “wonder”. Usually I don’t interfere like that when a correspondent says something obscure, but here I think it makes the meaning immediately obvious, whereas it took me about fifteen minutes and a second opinion to riddle the original meaning out.

E.S. Thompson

Glory be, E.S. Thompson needs rely no longer on latrine rumours; he’s actually received some orders!

Parade as usual. Moving the day after tomorrow. Finished my slack-shorts then cooked the tea for lunch. … Paddy and Piet paid us a visit from hospital. … While having our dinner we saw some German prisoners coming in on the transport. There were about 10 whites and 8 askaris. The Germans looked fat and well but a bit pale. Great excitement in camp especially among our native porters. They were captured near Dodoma.

Time to get back to work, my lad! No more lazy camp days for you.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge has discovered that he does not, in fact, like being in the Army.

“When a man is not great enough to let change and chance guide him, he gets convictions and dies a fool.” I wish I could remember who said it! Was it Voltaire? Somehow I hate opportunists,and yet with the herd of human kine a policy of straight lines is even in peace-time a very risky thing to say the least of it. But the man who is not an opportunist in the Army in war-time is doomed to extinction.

Army Discipline will not allow any man to have opinions, ideas, ideals. Its chief purpose is to break in the individual. An Intelligence that is convinced of its sovereignty is an impossibility for everybody bar perhaps the Field-Marshal. Discipline wants cog-wheels, bayonets, numbers, not intelligences. The only conviction you may have in the Army is that you are nobody. “Morale” is a mixture concocted from lies and terror.

On Monday I was detailed off with five others to make purchases for the officers’ mess in the neighbouring town. The NCO simply walked alongside and “supervised” our pushing heavy wheelbarrows. There seems to be little hope for democracy. Give a man a little authority, and lo! he is worse than those at whom he used to rail. And the Machiavellian rulers of Europe know that. Divide and rule!

Assuming that Mugge is not being facetious, he’s half-remembering a novel by one Gilbert Parker, called The Seats of the Mighty, for that quotation. It’s a fictionalisation of a British Army officer’s memoirs who served in Canada before and during the War of 1812. Parker gave his main character a French companion and antagonist, Doltaire, “the character of Voltaire spelled with a big D”, who could make appropriate philosophical remarks at intervals. The quotation is in fact Doltaire’s, and therefore Parker’s.

By the way, “kine” is not a spelling mistake or a typo, it’s a plural for “cows” or “cattle”, now archaic, although it was common enough 100 years ago for H. Rider Haggard to use it freely.

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

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