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

“Improving the position” | 18 Aug 1916

Bulgarian initiative and First Doiran

Quick recap; Romania has just signed on to enter the war. The French have agreed to lead an attack to pin the Bulgarian Army down on their southern border so they can’t just turn round and kick Romania’s back door in. They’re due to start properly in two days. Unfortunately, the Central Powers are well aware that something is going on, and so the Bulgarians have been on the move for a week. Around Lake Doiran they’re now heavily engaged with British, French, and Serbian Army troops.

Good news for exciting combat anecdotes from Flora Sandes. Bad news from just about any other point of view.

Battle of Verdun

The other day I mentioned that General “Whatever you do, you lose a lot of men” Mangin has ordered a few limited attacks to recapture Fleury village and roll back some other recent German gains. Some of them fail miserably, but the headline news is that Fleury is French once more, and with gratifyingly few casualties even where attacks have been thrown back. Maybe there is a way to do limited position-improving attacks in this war after all! (It includes a lot of artillery preparation, including heavy emphasis on counter-battery fire, and the infantry only having to cross 100 metres or so of No Man’s Land.)

Battle of the Somme

Now then. In theory, what we have here is a grand joint Franco-British attack from High Wood to the River Somme itself. General Haig has shown almost no interest in it, preferring to concentrate on his Flers-Courcelette push. General Fayolle has set extremely limited objectives for his men, seeking to advance the line only a couple of hundred metres. General Rawlinson, meanwhile, has managed to ensure enough co-ordination for everyone to attack at the same time. Unfortunately, this means attacking in broad daylight, in mid-afternoon, and heading for trenches that are mostly far too far away.

At a lower level, there has been a sign of original thinking; the 4th King’s Liverpools are attacking between High Wood and Delville Wood. Good news; they’re to be assisted by a company of the Machine Gun Corps. Over the last few days, they’ve been digging machine-gun pits out in No Man’s Land; the MGC will then move in, occupy the pits, and lay down fire to keep the Germans suppressed during the final rush. It’s a good idea and proof that no, battalion and brigade commanders didn’t just witlessly keep using the same battlefield tactics (at least, not all of them). They’re trying to innovate and war better.

Bad news; the MGC has been formed to be specialists in operating the BEF’s heavy, water-cooled, crew-served Vickers guns. Their crews, hauling the heavy equipment and water supplies, have got caught up in traffic jams in the trenches. They were supposed to sneak out before the main attack and be in position well before zero hour. But when zero hour comes, Private Arthur Russell of the 13th Company MGC finds himself going over the top with the infantry. And he’s far from alone in being late.

The infantry commenced to scramble over the parapets and our crews of Vickers machine gunners to move up the saps in No Man’s Land. Almost at the same moment the German front which for several hours had been uncannily quiet, broke into violent action with a great crash of artillery, trench mortars, field guns, howitzers and siege guns—everything they had. At the same time their trench garrisons let off into the ranks of the attacking British troops a blaze of rifle and machine gun fire, and a shower of stick bombs.

Russell was in a crew of six; a shell lands almost on his head, killing four of his mates and leaving just himself and his ammunition carrier. Ted Gale, meanwhile, had been a rifleman with the 1st Rifle Brigade at the Battle of Mons two years ago. He’s since been kicked in the mouth by a horse and lost all his teeth, then had an almost-fatal bout of food poisoning after eating bad rations, then got promoted to Lance-Corporal and sent to the 7th Battalion. He delivers an example of how nasty it is trying to attack trenches positioned near the bottom of a reverse slope.

Our own guns had put down this terrific barrage but, because we were a bit higher up than the Germans, in order to hit them they’d had to sight the guns so that they would just skim to top of our trenches. There we were, crouching in this terrible noise, and these terrible shells going over just inches above. One fellow had the top of his head took off with one of our own shells. His brains were all over the place. The artillery couldn’t help it. They had a terrible job to get the elevation right. It didn’t do much for us to see that sort of thing before we went over!

Five minutes after we went over the top, we were finished. The German machine-guns went through our lines just like a mow goes through a field of corn. I don’t think we got two hundred yards. I was in a shell-hole with the Sergeant, who’d been sampling the rum. He kept jumping up and shouting “Why don’t we advance?” Nothing would keep him quiet. The third time he jumped up, they got him and blew half his face away.

Out of a company of nearly 250 men, Gale and 22 others return. He had been wondering, as he lay in a shell-hole and looked back up the hill, why the other company he could see lying in No Man’s Land weren’t coming forward to help. Of course, once darkness fell and he was able to get back, he soon realised it was because they were all lying dead…

It’s not all total failure. This time, the orders have accounted for the possibility of not being able to get to the German trenches. Of course, that’s what the staff would like, but for many units, if you can just shove forward to within 200 yards of the enemy and survive long enough to dig new trenches under cover of darkness, that’s now a win. I’m torn between sighing despairingly at the lack of ambition, and nodding approvingly at a sensible reaction to a difficult situation. (Yes, a truly sensible reaction might well be to stop entirely, but you can go tell General Haig that and I’ll be over here watching.)

Neil Tennant

Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Tennant is getting to know the pilots under his command in 30 Squadron.

There was ” Bert” sometime cavalry officer planter in Burma artillery brigade commander in South Africa; now hawk-like observer,mess president and cocktail-mixer-in-chief; there was little that “Bert” did not know or could not do; his joy and the youthfulness of his heart were those of a boy, his manner that of a courtier. “Bert” became famous through the land. Then “D.H.,” otherwise “Mark 2,” being the youngest of a famous pair. Life was not serious for “D.H.” The ground hardly knew him, but when it did it smiled; he feared neither God nor Man.

Thank God, someone with a little indiscretion. Tennant earlier gave his full name, and it’s quite clear that “D.H.” is Lieutenant Hereward de Havilland. His older brother Geoffrey is currently chief designer for Airco; in 1920 he will set up his own “De Havilland” aircraft business at Hatfield.

His mate was “Oo-Er,” a vermilion machine and the terror of the Turk. When by chance on the ground, he would play golf round the aerodrome, a palpitating tyke following in his train. In the dog days came “Chocolo,” which is short for “Chocololovitch” (after a soldier comedian who sang a song of that name), a broth of a boy with a brogue of Fermanagh. He presented himself from his Indian unit at a time when there was no vacancy for embryo observers; however, as a result of the difficulties of transport for his return and a determination not to budge, “Chocolo” remained for two years.

Then there was “Bobby,” an imperturbable representative from Caledonia. Bobby was stolid; when threatened with expulsion after appalling crashes, he would remain quite stoically undisturbed with a grin on his face. He said little. The only times that Bobby blossomed to the outside world were on such occasions as New Year’s Eve or St. Andrew’s Night, when our friend would become suddenly brilliant, the central figure of the evening; after which he would retire into his quiet canny shell until another Festival came round on which he thought it fit to blossom forth once more.

Later on he distinguished himself by shooting down a Hun in aerial combat and received the Military Cross. Questioned by the General as to how many he had crashed, Bobby replied: “Sixteen; fifteen English and one German, sir.” His next crash, alas! was his last.

Toffs at war, my friends Toffs at war.

Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke is in Berlin, becoming ever-more-monosyllabic as he goes. Fortunately, we’ve still got the Dicta Boelcke to review. Principle 4 is “Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.”

It sounds obvious, but Boelcke has learned by experience that in the heat of battle, it’s all too easy to become distracted for a moment and then lose sight of whoever you were chasing. He’s also seen enemy pilots escape impossible situations by pretending to spiral out of control, and then recovering from the spiral after their opponent turns away, thinking he’s won. The importance of having all this common sense written down as a reference for new pilots can’t be overstated.

And, although his published diary doesn’t mention it, the head of the German army’s air service, General von der Lieth-Thomsen, has just convinced the Kaiser to send Boelcke back to flying duty. Boelcke will spend the next ten days assembling his pick of the best German fighter pilots to form a new elite squadron, which will become commonly known as “Jasta 2”.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson heads out into the bush with some mates to supplement his rations. Oooh, I wonder what he’s going to fuck up this time? So many options.

…After walking around in a large circle I bagged a guinea fowl and in following up the flock put another shot at them, but missed. When going to see the result I suddenly came across a herd of about 8 koodoo. One saw me, gave a bellow and turned to run but I let him have it and the bullet went between his hind legs, hit him in the stomach and came out at the breast. He scampered off and I thought I had missed him but, afterwards, I heard him grunting and throwing himself about, so I went up to him and watched him die.

When it was nearly dead and stopped kicking I cut its throat then started back to camp. Great excitement when I brought in the guinea fowl and greater excitement still when I told them about the koodoo. After having some breakfast and cleaning the guinea fowl John, Smikky, Rose and I with 2 boys started out, having a few shots on the way, but hitting nothing. As soon as we arrived at the koodoo we ‘gutsed’ it and cut it up into 4 quarters, keeping the liver, kidneys, heart and tongue. The rest of the entrails and the neck we gave to the boys.

Rose and I carried one of the quarters and Smikky and John the other, the 2 boys carrying the forequarters. We went back through the bush nearly getting scratched to death by the thorns and arrived back at the camp very thirsty. We kept a hindquarter for ourselves and gave the other to the other 3 messes, a forequarter to Paddy, the other forequarter to the natives; a sirloin cut to Mr Parsons and another to Dick’s Germiston friend. Fried buck cutlets in batter and tea for lunch.

Cleaned my rifle and had a shave. Heard No. 4 platoon of the Motor Cyclists had been ambushed. Paddy found my bullet in his portion of the buck and returned it to me through Bibby. Did clerk duty on the post for about 2 hours. … Went to bed fairly early and slept fairly well but had pains in the stomach during the night.

Outstanding, Private Pyle! I think we’ve finally found something you do well! A koodoo (these days usually rendered “kudu”) is another species of antelope.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell is soon to be going up the line near Delville Wood, not too far away from where Max Plowman is getting his first taste of trench life. Like Plowman, he’ll be spending much of his time in reserve trenches; he writes to his friend H.E.E. Howson.

We go up into the trenches tomorrow, so I’ve not time for a very long letter. One can, I think, feel more quietly and happily about our dear Man now. At least, I feel much happier than at first. I think his wonderful letter must lead that way. Our bit of the line will not be what is known as a soft job, though our present intentions after arrival are somewhat doubtful. But I would like you to think I’m fit and well and happy, and not to be anxious at all.

I too hope that if I go to one of the deadliest parts of one of the deadliest battles in history, my friends will not worry about me. He’ll need more than a little luck to avoid being grabbed for one of those stupid “minor” attacks to improve the line in front of Delville Wood…

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

Preparing for Flers-Courcelette | 15 Aug 1916

Battle of Flers-Courcelette

Deep, long-suffering sigh. For reasons that we’ll get into in a moment, General Haig has decided that now is the time to begin preparing one more great heave at the Battle of the Somme. The Germans are apparently out of men. The French aren’t getting anywhere south of Guillemont. Time for an operations order; it goes on at some length, but here’s the important bit.

The general plan of the attack projected for the middle of September will be to establish a defensive flank on the high ground south of the [River Ancre], north of the Albert–Bapaume road, and to press the main attack south of the Albert–Bapaume road with the objective of securing the enemy’s last line of prepared defences between Morval and Le Sars, with a view to opening the way for the cavalry.

That “last line” is what at the end of June we were calling the Third Line. In the month and a half since, it’s gone from a half-finished half-outline to a perfectly cromulent defensive system with all German mod cons. And guess what? Some clever sod has had the idea to begin digging out a Fourth Line, which the Royal Flying Corps will no doubt be discovering if they can make it that far into the German rear. Let’s have the map again and see what’s what.

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey map

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey map

The eagle-eyed will note that General Rawlinson is now being ordered to capture the Third Line, which is still the line over there somewhere. There’s still the switch line behind High Wood to deal with before they can even have a wallop at the Third Line. All right, so unless someone can talk the Chief out of it, they’re going to have some tanks to throw in. Is that really going to be enough to stop this just turning into one great big Guillemont attack, biting off far more than they can even fit in their mouths, never mind chewing it?

Charteris and Intelligence

This is becoming a bit of a theme, isn’t it? “Why was Haig so unreasonably optimistic?” “He was working from flawed intelligence.” You know, a few hundred years before this war, every military commander worth his salt had his own personal astrologer to ensure he acted at the most favourable time. I wonder how differently the war would have turned out if we could just throw General Charteris into a muddy shell-hole and replace him with Mystic Meg?

I’m rather peeved about something. A couple of weeks ago, the said Charteris, General Haig’s intelligence chief, was delivering a series of perfectly sober and accurate assessments to General Macdonogh, his boss, the Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office. They both seemed in agreement that German manpower had been dented, but they weren’t in danger of running out for at least another year. Now he’s changed his tune almost entirely. Like Haig he wrote extensively to his wife with his thoughts.

His thoughts are about to flip 180 degrees. Apparently he’s now thinking that the Germans themselves are “absolutely sick of war”, and that there might be an even chance of ending the war entirely in the next six months. “[The] crack may come much sooner than many expect”. Quite where he got this idea is not clear. There have been a few prisoner interrogations of remarkably demoralised officers; but then, there are similarly demoralised British prisoners talking to German intelligence, and the Germans aren’t expecting a British collapse any time soon.

On top of that, the Chief is also getting a very interesting report from Macdonogh at the War Office. Apparently (although such efforts are yet to reach London) the German government is trying to send unofficial peace feelers out to the Entente; and if they’re unsuccessful they fear “a serious revolt” among the civilian population. No wonder there’s such enthusiasm about renewing the offensive. Haig is getting more and more indications that he’s in fact on the verge of winning the wearing-out battle.

And now I feel obliged just to remind everyone about First Ypres, back in 1914. It was Haig’s job to defend Ypres, which somehow his corps managed to do despite being flagrantly outnumbered. They were literally throwing engineers and cooks and drivers and anyone who could hold a rifle into the line. The Germans had them right on the point of complete attritional defeat and then, after being repelled time and again, they gave up with the Channel ports at their mercy. It’s impossible to overstate how determined Haig is to not make the same mistake.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman continues the long march forward, towards Mametz.

Hardy and I are off to Pommiers Redoubt, where we are to report that the battalion will arrive this evening. We descend the long hill leading to Fricourt, dodging about the stream of traffic that stirs the dust of the road to a thick haze. Near the bottom of the hill we come upon the old front line of July 1st.

The country here is stricken waste. The trees that formed an avenue to the road are now torn and broken stumps, some still holding unexploded shells in their shattered trunks, others looped about with useless telegraph-wire. The earth on both sides of the road is churned up into a crumbling mass, and so tossed and scarred is the ground that the actual line of the front trenches is hardly distinguishable. … Everything needs pointing out, for the general impression is of a wilderness without growth of any kind.

We come upon guns hidden under the banks of the roadside and camouflaged above by netting. The road through Mametz is still under enemy observation; so we turn sharply to the right to go round the back of the rising ground that faces us. All that remains of the village of Fricourt is a pile of bricks; there appear to be just about enough to build one house; and Mametz Wood is nothing more than a small collection of thin tree-trunks standing as if a forest fire had just swept over them.

A little farther on we come upon all that remains of a German field cemetery: two or three painted triangular wooden crosses; the other graves will now go unmarked for ever. Here we leave the road and begin to climb over the forsaken trenches. Barbed wire, bombs, bully-beef tins, broken rifles, rounds of ammunition, unexploded shells, mess-tins, bits of leather and webbing equipment, British and German battered steel helmets, iron stakes, and all the refuse of a battlefield, still litter the mazy ground.

I come across a skull, white and clean as if it had lain in the desert.

This is an excellent and detailed description, and this is what it’s going to be like for just about everyone on both sides who goes up the line on the Western Front through the rest of the war.

Clifford Wells

Idiot son of a Montreal millionaire Clifford Wells is still at Le Havre, but he’s also having a most jolly time.

I am not yet with my battalion, but am enjoying life in this most interesting and historic region. It is really a great piece of good fortune and a great privilege to have been of an age and in a position to come overseas to take part in this war. I only wish I could write in detail of all the interesting things I see day by day. On Sunday a grand band concert was given at the camp here, and the country people for miles around came in to hear the music. They seemed especially interested in the pipers.

It was very interesting to see the country folk in their best Sunday clothes, mingled with hundreds of Canadian, and a few French, soldiers. I have seen lots of German prisoners. They are well treated and always appear to be on good terms with their guards. I heard of a German Major who, when told he was to be sent to England with other prisoners, laughed and said he knew that was impossible, as England was completely blockaded by the German fleet (presumably he meant the German submarine fleet).

This is a true story.

I love how he too feels the need to mention “I am not making this up” after some particularly ridiculous funny story.

E.S. Thompson

Our favourite felonious South African soldiers are attempting to improve their situation.

John went foraging and returned with an old sofa for a bed. Bibby and I went afterwards and brought back one each. They were rather heavy but we managed to get them in. Went to town to get a long bamboo and pinched one from our camp. … Fine boiled pig and sweet potatoes for lunch. Went to a German house and got a door for a table, a shutter for a shelf and some planks. Major Thompson and Colonel Freeth made an inspection and were quite pleased. Nice stew and mashed sweet potatoes. Started to mount guard but were relieved by B Company later.

There’s a footnote which claims that the sofas were actually seats from discarded railway wagons. I am extremely skeptical of this claim.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge continues to annoy me with his discretion.

The position of [Pease Pottage Camp] is fine. On one side lined by pinewoods, it has trees on all the others. A two-hourly bus service connects us with Reptum. Our tents are all blackened or patterned to keep off the Zepps. On the neighbouring squarethere are several other regiments stationed here; the Queens, the R. Fusiliers and another [Middlesex Regiment]. Innumerable parties of “Housie-Housie” players sit about and, with their monotonous sing-song break the peace of these pretty woodlands.

Walking with two chums of mine to [Crawley],I was stopped by a military policeman, who informed me that though we were walking on the left side of the High-road, we were yet at fault. Men should walk two deep only. Since the high road is as broad as Oxford Street I asked him most courteously whether the latest order was already in force that the pocket handkerchief should be used with the left hand only. The watchdog of the Law growled and we went along in triangular formation, as long-as he could see us.

Conversation begins to pall, since injustice and stupidity are the everlasting topics. The boys refer again and again to a pre-eminent personage, and say he ought to be Honorary Colonel.

Who? Who, damn you? The Fairy Tinkerbell? At a wild guess I’m going to suggest that it might be Prince Louis of Battenberg, who was run out of the Admiralty on a rail in 1914 by a hysterical anti-German witch-hunt from the newspapers. (Thank God our respected Press doesn’t do that any more!)

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