I’m afraid we’re starting today with pretty much the worst news possible from Italy. General Cadorna has just cancelled all leave from the army. That can mean only one thing; that a Third Isonzo is in the offing.
For once it would be unfair to pour upon him all the blame. With Serbia now under attack, the entire Entente is jumping up and down and shouting at the Italian government to do something, anything that might possibly draw men away from Serbia. It’s a hopeless suggestion, but for diplomatic reasons it can’t very well be refused. We must do something, this is something, we must do this. Ye gods.
Belgrade has been captured, again. This time there is no grandiloquent communique from the victorious generals, laying it at anyone’s feet. There’s still a job to do. Perhaps, if we’re in good humour, we might suppose that General von Mackensen emitted a satisfied Teutonic grunt. I’m not in particularly good humour right now, though. Particularly not as the Bulgarian government has just broken off diplomatic relations with Serbia.
Still, good thing General Bailloud is now in possession of orders to get into Serbia and help, right? Aaah, wrong answer. Early in the morning, Bailloud receives yet another missive. Under no circumstances may he cross the border into Serbia; no offensive action is to be taken until General Sarrail arrives to be responsible for it. Good for Bailloud’s promotion prospects, perhaps. Less good for the Serbians’ ability to, you know, win the war.
Speaking of people who aren’t in good humour, here is Captain Lecluse, who’s just about to finally escape from the hell of the 6th at Second Champagne.
In the middle of this mass grave, my men, undaunted, had dug individual holes where they stoically sat, with the passive resignation of men from Brittany. Not a complaint, not a question, but what expressions on their faces, pale from fatigue and anguish. Their stares told me everything I needed to know.
The order to pull back finally arrived. It was about time! You could feel that officers and men were all at the end of their rope. The infernal bombardment was not yet over, but who cared? We quickly scaled the trench wall and moved out of range.
And all of this took place without our making one move, without seeing the enemy, without firing, or hearing a single shot.
He then goes on a passionate expostulation in which he carefully constructs a method for dealing with all this. He stridently declares that there is no such thing as a useless sacrifice. Every death contributes towards the final victory in its own way. Ordinarily I’d be happy to point and laugh and call it claptrap, but here we have a deeply traumatised man trying to come up with something, anything, to help him deal with sights that nobody should have to see.
That done, he proceeds to the rear to bury his commandant and three of his more intact blokes.
While our pet officer suffers, Corporal Louis Barthas (All-Minervois Moaning Champion 1908-1912) has received good news. They’ve been marched to the rear, and have ended up lodging in the grounds of General Niessel’s chateau. For a moment, he is as happy as a pig in shit to be getting a little rest, and then…
This news made us happy. Certainly, we thought, a campsite right under the eyes of the division’s general must be equipped with all the comforts we could desire. But how great was our disappointment when they stuck us in a stable, with a thick layer of manure covering the whole floor! A hundred men would have had trouble lying down in there. They were piling up 250, and we also had to make room for fifty sappers.
In vain I looked all around for a barn, a pig sty, any sort of shelter suitable for spending the night. I found nothing. I was forced to go back to the stable, where we arrayed ourselves as best we could, one on top of another, in every position. We could hardly sleep at all because someone was always coming in or going out, which couldn’t be done without trampling on someone and provoking angry shouts, complaints, and threats from those being stepped upon.
You’ll be shocked to hear that they didn’t get a great night’s sleep.
Lieutenant Bernard Adams of the 1st Royal Welch Fusiliers has finally arrived at Battalion Headquarters; he’s assigned as a platoon commander to D Company. Adams notes that the battalion commander is “quite young, by the way”; not surprising since the battalion has been going through commanding offficers like they’re going out of fashion. Lt-Col Cadogan died in its near-annihlation during First Ypres. His successor, Lt-Col Gabbett, also died taking his men over the top at the Battle of Festubert. His successor, Lt-Col Berners, has probably been wounded (the record is unclear, but he disappears for two months before reappearing as colonel of a different battalion in the same regiment). The man Adams met would have been John Minshull-Ford, and for a commanding officer he is indeed quite young at 34. In peacetime, an officer would be lucky to become lieutenant-colonel by 40. Dead man’s shoes are fine as long as you can avoid being the dead man…
Anyway. Lieutenant Adams has arrived; his company is still short of officers and men, but that doesn’t stop them being sent on the first of many working parties.
So at last I was fairly lodged in my battalion. I had been directed, dumped, shaken, and carried, in a kindly yet most amazingly haphazard way to my destination. There I found myself quite unexpected, but immediately attached somewhere until I should sort myself out a little and find my feet. In the afternoon I went with Davidson [another company officer] to supervise a working party which was engaged in paving a communication trench with tiles from the neighbouring houses.
More to come as he settles in.
Battle of Loos
In the light of yesterday’s counter-attack, Sir John French presents General Foch with his compliments and a very nice hand-written note from his mother. On account of certain problems that have arisen after the German attack, deeply sorry, completely unavoidable, but Sir John is excused from appearing in M. Foch’s games lesson until his temporarily weakened constitution improves, hopefully in a few days’ time.
Now, it’s true that this attack was never going to succeed, regardless of whether it was done in a coordinated fashion or not. But, hey, taking an entirely heartless attitude such as has to be adopted by a general in a world war, there is at least some small value in launching a hopeless attack in the name of earning some brownie points with your frenemies. Sir John has now managed to ensure, over the past three weeks or so, that absolutely nobody who he has regular contact with likes him. This is not an ideal state of affairs when people are starting to question his fitness for command.
Foch, seized by a fit of Frenchness, attempts to launch his own attack tomorrow anyway, but (and I know you’re going to be shocked to hear this) the weather is so bad that the artillery can’t really see what they’re shooting at for their prepatory bombardment, and the attack is postponed.
Actions in Progress
Battle of Loos
Battle of Artois (Third Artois)
Fourth Invasion of Serbia
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