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…

<

blockquote>
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.

<

blockquote>

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

Delville Wood | High Wood | 15 Jul 1916

Battle of the Somme

We start the day with a story from the 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. They’re urgently needed as reinforcements. 4th Army desperately needs to rotate some fresh men into the battle; some battalions have been fighting for almost two weeks with little rest. Today they’ve marched about 11 miles in high summer, one mile an hour, fifty minutes marching and ten minutes’ halt. They’ve just reached Fricourt; from here, it’s another ten miles (in a straight line; far more than that in the trenches) to High Wood, and of course it’ll now be uphill all the way. Corporal Jack Beament:

There was Jack Brown, and old Billy Thompson, and his pal Charlie Thompson from West Hartlepool, and myself. Billy wasn’t a big chap, but how he could swear! I always remember him after that march taking off his equipment and his boots and socks and swearing like hell. “Those fucking, bloody bastards! Those bloody fucking bastards!” Between us we said more than a word or two, because it was so hot and we had full equipment and 120 rounds of ammunition to carry. I’ll never forget the relief of it, coming to this stream and bathing my poor bloody feet. We weren’t there long, and there was more swearing when we were told to pick up our stuff and march up the line.

I shall never forget that scene. As we marched along there was a corpse of a soldier with no head plonked up against the side of this sunken road. A bit further on, sticking up above the ground, a hand and obviously a body underneath, but all you could see was a hand. And, on the left-hand side, just lumps of flesh with the innards and remains of a poor horse all rolled up there together. A shell must have got them. But we had to take it all in our stride because we couldn’t do anything about it. We’d got to go forward. That was our job.

And he hasn’t even started being shelled yet. There’s a lot of that about right now. The new German command structure is being put to a severe test, but it doesn’t take much wit or understanding of the situation to order “go here, dig trench, then counter-attack”. Aided by a bit of panic when a large column of BEF prisoners is mistaken for a major breakthrough, the gap in the German line has been plugged by dawn. The rest of the day is spent with the BEF, short of reserves, trying to consolidate its new positions, and three divisions’ worth of fresh German artillery trying to stop them.

Once again the question is “now what?” General Haig spends most of the day touring 4th Army corps commanders while he works out the answer. Let’s go to the map.

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey map

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey map

There has now been enough time for the Germans to fully garrison a “switch line”, an intermediate trench line between major defensive systems, which runs from Flers to Martinpuich by way of High Wood. Had the attack been pressed home yesterday afternoon, there’s every chance the cavalry might have beaten the Germans into their own trenches. They haven’t. Now General von Below has a safe halfway house for men moving forward to the two main sources of fighting: High Wood, and Delville Wood.

Delville Wood

General Haig has, unfortunately, been told that the whole of Delville Wood was captured today. The truth is rather more difficult. Though we’ve mostly heard of South Africans so far fighting in Tanzania, they have sent a brigade of three thousand men to the Western Front. Today it goes into Delville Wood, which has been stubbornly resisting for 24 hours now. The South Africans go in, the Germans carefully withdraw to a switch line running through the north of the wood and through Longueval also, to allow their guns a chance to shoot with minimal risk. Once again, tactical cohesion rapidly begins breaking down inside the thick wood. Captain Medlicort is trying very hard not to die.

In view of the fact that there is no wire in front of my firing line—neither is there any in front of the Huns and No Man’s Land is only about 300 yards—I think an ample supply of ammunition for Lewis Guns chiefly should be on hand with me. It was most difficult work getting the men to husband their ammunition—especially as we had to allow several hundred Huns to go in peace at a range of 800 yards. But it paid as we caught them at 500 yards. My supply of ammunition is very short.

It’s not easy.

High Wood

The situation at High Wood is no better. It’s taken just 24 hours for the latest push on the Somme to drift out of the control of the Army Commander and into penny-packet attacks authorised at division, brigade, and battalion level. After a punishing couple of days of marching, Corporal Beament and the lads from the 16th KRRC are trying to get forward to assist in High Wood, but…

I remember wondering if the Germans had machine-guns in the trees, because as we were getting back, I remember the bullets hitting the ground, just like heavy raindrops. There were explosions all over the place, it wasn’t very pleasant. I just had to struggle on as best I could and hope to God we would get back. What a shambles it was. I didn’t get more than thirty yards, or forty at most. We just couldn’t make any advance at all. It was a horrible, terrible massacre.

We lost all the officers out of our company. We lost all the sergeants, all the full corporals and all the NCOs right down to Herbert King, the senior Lance-Corporal. He was my pal, and he brought A Company out. There were more than 200 of us went in, and Herbert brought them out. 67 men, that was all.

The BEF is not going to break the switch line in penny packets. It needs another pause, a proper consolidation, and then a proper bite-and-hold leap. Aiming for a breakthrough is probably hopeless; the Germans have kept a few pioneer units spare to work on the Third Line, which in most places existed only in outline until a month or two ago. Now it’s being deepened as fast as the shovels can dig it, and they’re not nearly out of men who could garrison it.

Ovillers

JRR Tolkien is lucky. He doesn’t have to lead men through the hopeless tangle of trenches that make up the final German holdings at Ovillers. This is good; one platoon commander in his battalion dies today, and five more officers are wounded. In fact, he’s almost at something of a loose end. His job now as signalling officer is to set up and operate the battalion’s signalling capabilities. He spends a little time trying to lay some telephone wire, and then gives it up as a bad job. In any case, now that it’s known the Germans can listen in, use of the field telephone has been banned except as a last resort.

His signalling capabilities are one extremely temperamental wired Morse buzzer that spends most of its time cut off, and a few extremely unhappy runners who are now having to do all the work. He has at least installed himself at the bottom of a very deep dugout, and nothing except the order to go into reserve billets is likely to get him out again.

Fort Souville

Time for the first of many real attempts by General Nivelle to take the initiative at the Battle of Verdun for the first time in, well, ever. I’d get sarky and start saying “and he’s not going to let failure put him off!” but that’s unfair. The attacks of the last few days have been hasty, poorly-planned, and launched with tired men. Now they’re going to do some proper planning and come up with a really good idea for some time in August. That time for sure, Bullwinkle!

Romania

Meanwhile, it’s irony everywhere as General Joffre continues Operation Suck Up To Romania by ordering General Sarrail to plan an offensive in Salonika, assuming his current strength plus 50,000 Russians. About now there’s some rather interesting communications between Joffre and Wully Robertson, the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff. A cynic might suggest that, although both men are officially assuring the other of cooperation, they’re both writing and reading “yeah, my arse” and other such cynical comments between the lines of their diplomatic communications. They’re both committed Western Fronters, after all…

Battle of Erzincan

General Yudenich is running about as high as he possibly can be. His men are sweeping towards Bayburt and Erzincan. The Ottoman Second Army is, for the moment, keeping their powder dry. (They’re now approaching full strength, although desertion is still a problem and they’re short of artillery and shells.) At the moment, his army just can’t stop winning, and again I note how nice it is to occasionally check in with someone who consistently seems to know what he’s doing. More soon!

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler is displacing forward once more to support the continued advances on the Somme. It’s been a horrible process, full of rain and tear gas and enemy high explosive. As a good battery commander, he is ever on the lookout for ways to improve his situation.

As we are again the right-hand British battery, the French infantry in support are beside our guns. On our arrival I succeeded in bribing a party of them with 100 Woodbines to dig a tiny dug-out for me on the fire-step of their trench, roofed with three sheets of galvanised iron. The one bright spot about our position is the possession of two deep Hun dug-outs, in which the bulk of the men can sleep in perfect safety. Anything which saves labour and economises energy is a blessing, particularly as the men were pretty beat after fifty hours’ non-stop firing and digging.

There’s plenty more firing to come, don’t you worry. A Woodbine is a strong unfiltered cigarette favoured by the Tommies.

Robert Pelissier

University professor turned soldier Robert Pelissier is writing to an American friend, with an eye to entertaining the internet in a far-off future. I do like it when people are polite enough to appeal to modern tastes.

I refuse to write a letter it’s too hot and besides there is nothing to say as life is as flat as a pancake or a Kansas town or a faculty meeting. We trot around and over the country in pursuit of imaginary Boches, then we sleep and eat and so days go by as alike as Siamese twins. A squash bug life of the purest Beverly type is more full of imprevu than our existence.

Did I ever tell you my opinion of cats? Well, for your sake I never killed any, but I may have betrayed my country in being so forbearing. At the last trenches where we were, German cats came across the line to us and we used to feed them and show them every courtesy, but with very few exceptions they would go back to the German lines and probably tell on us. I have thought since, that we should have put them in irons right away.

Nah mate, you were right first time.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Battle of Mecca
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan

German counter-attacks | 4 Jul 1916

Battle of the Somme

A huge rainstorm has blown in. Even if the BEF had been in position to launch a major attack on the German Second Line today, it may well have been postponed. The French advance to the south is suffering; they not only need dry weather, they need serious reinforcements, and they have neither. To the south, the BEF is starting to run into trouble again. They’ve taken most of Bernafay Wood and a few smaller areas nearby, but General Rawlinson is unwilling to move into the much more difficult Trones Wood without French support, which won’t be available in a couple of days’ time.

Once again I say: a bolder advance would have taken Trones Wood by now; but for all they knew at the time, it might also have walked right into undetected German positions and got slaughtered. The question of whether Rawlinson was being prudent or just dithering is unanswerable, and therefore a perfect Matter of Some Debate. A new plan is emerging, once they’re in position to strike at the German Second Line. North of the Albert to Bapaume road, offensives are to be abandoned for the moment. The main push will be a strike, very roughly from Contalmaison and Bazentin towards Pozieres, and from Longueval and Trones Wood toards Ginchy and Flers.

Meanwhile, the BEF has now secured La Boisselle; but that’s not the end of the story. Many Germans, cut off inside the village, are refusing to surrender. They have food, and ammunition, and a series of dugouts and cellars that are connected by tunnels. Here’s a new map.

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey

It’ll take another few days to winkle out all the last holdouts, and that while fending off German counter-attacks.

German counter-attacks

But those German counter-attacks seem rather easy to fend off, don’t they? Nowhere is the BEF going further backwards than about 50 yards at a time. There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s rooted in von Falkenhayn’s order to hold every inch of ground and to counter-attack wherever possible. In their desperate attempts to comply, mid-level German commanders are not allowing any time for units to re-organise themselves after they’ve been forced to retreat from a position. They’re scraping together scratch forces of whoever’s available, and throwing them right back into the fight again without any thought for unit cohesion, mostly with diminishing returns.

The only casualty figures that people remember from the Somme are the 60,000 British from the first day. However, now, as these piecemeal German counter-attacks are battering hopelessly against the BEF’s Stokes mortars and Lewis guns (and the French crapouillots and Chauchats), the German casualty figure is starting to rise sharply. It’ll take a good while to reach parity, but it seems that they’re determined to have a bloody good try.

Our little wet home in a trench

The BEF is now occupying a large number of German trenches; for the first time it becomes clear just how good they are. General Haig has just had word about this…

General Headlam visited the captured positions about Fricourt yesterday. Some of the dugouts were 30 feet below ground, and in places a double tier! Also there were places arranged for shooting upwards from below at anyone in the trenches. [He considered] the effect of the artillery shooting was good, and the fire accurate.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Lionel Ferguson of the 13th Cheshires is looking around some trenches elsewhere.

This trench was dug about 15 feet deep and duckboarded. We must have gone through a mile of this, which was just wonderful; each fire bay had a ladder to it, also a deep dugout quite near; and after all our bombardment the trench was little damaged. If it had not been for a big mine we put up, we should surely never have been able to penetrate this system. We then selected a dugout for company headquarters; the best thing in dugouts I have ever seen.

It had two entrances being about 40 feet deep, extending underground about 30 yards. The inside room was fitted up with glass-doored cupboards, these contained detonators and mining implements. A large stove was fitted, also a periscope looking over the old British line. In an anteroom at one end was an engine for working the electric light of the trench system. At the opposite end was a tunnel large enough to place about 100 men.

There are, still, by the way, occasional casualties crawling back across the original No Man’s Land to the old British front line. They’ve been surviving off the iron rations and water bottles of the dead.

Battle of Erzincan

Meanwhile, in the Caucasus. Vehip Pasha’s recently-reinforced Third Army has surely done more than could have ever been expected of it by now. The end begins now; there’s been a breakthrough near Dencik, and elements of a Russian division are now securing the road to Bayburt. When the men immediately around the road realise this, they begin falling back. Panic quickly begins spreading, battalion by battalion, as every commanding officer notices the men on his flank executing a hasty advance to the rear. Nobody’s in a mood to get captured, or to fight to the last anything.

Eastern Front

Quick check in with the Brusilov Offensive, which we last saw a few weeks ago beginning to stall out due mostly to the need to give General Brusilov’s men a rest. Now the Russians have joint offensives ready to go at last. To the south Brusilov himself is launching a battle on the River Styr, near Kostiuchnowka (yes, I copied and pasted that). In the north, General Evert has finally been bullied into attacking something. Let’s play a game; one of these two attacks is going to work, and one is going to end in horrible failure. Who do you think succeeded in doing what?

Yeah, so the Austro-Hungarians are on the run again, and only a large and determined rearguard stand from the Polish Legions, a very interesting unit who we’ll learn more about in 1917, prevents complete disaster. Evert, meanwhile, totally unwilling to learn anything from the debacle of the Lake Naroch Offensive, presides over another bloody slaughter. So that’s fun. Offensives on both fronts, yo! Give it another month or so and I’m sure General Cadorna will be ready to join in. As it is, he’s still ordering pokes at the edges of the Asiago plateau, mostly for the look of the thing.

This is not all of note, though. The opening of the Battle of the Somme has won the Entente a diplomatic coup. During the summer of 1915, there were intensive negotiations between the Entente governments and Romania. Although the Prime Minister, Ion Bratianu, eventually backed off after the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive got rolling, he did manage to secure an important concession in principle. If Austria-Hungary survives the war, it will be stripped of large amounts of territory in which ethnic Romanians live.

Bratianu now thinks he sees which way the wind is blowing, and now signals that he’s ready for negotiations to restart. He has three conditions; two of them are easy enough to satisfy, but the third, not so much. The first two are that the Romanian army should be supplied with arms, and that the offensives on all fronts will be maintained; they were doing that anyway. The third, on the other hand, is that Romania should be guaranteed that as soon as they join the war, the Bulgarian Army won’t just turn round and stroll over their large land border to the capital Bucharest, barely fifty miles away.

Why is Romania worth making such lavish territorial promises to? Simple. Their army, fully mobilised, and including men fit only for rear-area duties, is 1.2 million men strong. A free 1.2 million extra men is, at this point, absolutely nothing to be sniffed at. More on all that to follow.

The war at sea

Admiral Scheer, commanding the German High Seas Fleet, has now finished an official report to the Kaiser on the Battle of Jutland. It starts well enough, with some thrilling narrative and a hopeful suggestion that he’ll be ready to put to sea again in mid-August. But, after the sugar, there comes some less palatable assessments. “Even the most successful outcome of a fleet action in this war will not force England to make peace”, he suggests. Jutland has made him a born-again convert. Unrestricted submarine warfare, he says, is the only way of using naval power to win the war.

Battle of Mecca

Some British artillery pieces have now arrived at Mecca, to help Hussein bin Ali and his rebels end the stalemate in the streets. With no artillery of their own, the Ottoman garrison is now faced with a choice between surrender and death, and they will, over the course of the next few days, choose to surrender. The fight for the Hejaz is now well and truly underway; more to come from the Arab Revolt.

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien, as a second lieutenant, is now learning very quickly how to supervise a working party. As working parties go, he’s being thrown in at the deep end. No easy jobs building supply dumps in the rear for him. His men are expanding an official cemetery at Bouzincourt, mostly to take men who are dying of their wounds at the aid posts in the old British front line. And as he’s doing this, he’s had no news of either of his two friends who led platoons over the top on Z Day.

Alan Bott

We first met Lieutenant Alan Bott of the Royal Flying Corps early in June, with rumours of an imminent departure for France flying everywhere (hohoho). The rumours have continued for about a month; now, a serious development.

On July 4 a large detachment departs, after twelve hours’ notice, to replace casualties in France. Those remaining in the now incomplete unit grow wearily sarcastic. More last leave is granted. The camp is given over to rumour. An orderly, delivering a message to the Commanding Officer (formerly stationed in India) at the latter’s quarters, notes a light cotton tunic and two sun-helmets. Sun-helmets? Ah, somewhere East, of course. The men tell each other forthwith that their destination has been changed to Mesopotamia.

A band of strangers report in place of the draft that went to France, and in them the NCOs plant esprit de corps and the fear of God. The missing identity discs arrive, and a fourth Date is fixed, July 21. And the dwellers in the blinking hole, having been wolfed several times, are sceptical, and treat the latest report as a bad joke. “My dear man,” remarks the subaltern-who-knows, “it’s only some more hot air. I never believed in the other dates, and I don’t believe in this. If there’s one day of the three hundred and sixty-five when we shan’t go, it’s July the twenty-first!”

We’ll check back on July 21 to see who was right. At any rate, the role of the RFC on the Somme is often grossly overlooked in favour of mud and blood in the trenches. Having Bott around will help to correct that; once he finally gets out there, that is.

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has reached Ras-el-Ain. He’s survived the desert marches.

The column grew weak and slower, and at the end we had to use three carts to move the sick on in relays. The march to Tel Ermen was the worst. We were raided by Turkish troops on the march, and lost our boots and lots more. Above us the famous old town of Mardin lay perched up on its altitude, a high-walled and ramparted city of the Ancients looking over a waste of desert and enjoying a secluded life. We wondered how many treks like ours it had seen. We left more and more of the men and orderlies behind. The last stage was terribly trying, and we were doing forced marches by night and day.

We were done to a turn. Only the driving power of one’s will made one press on. At last we are arrived in the wretched village, but as I write I hear a locomotive puffing and puffing. We are on the railhead. No sailor after being tossed amid shipwreck in a frantic ocean ever felt happier to be in port than do we, to realize the long march is done. There are other marches ahead over mountains, but they are short, we hear. The desert is crossed.

I have just visited secretly a German NCO camp of mechanical transport close by. They gave me coffee and biscuits, and, in exchange for a khaki jacket and jodpurs, some tins of bully, a bag of coffee, and some cheese. They were on the point of giving me some more, but I had to go. They told me a lot about Germany, and of the German victory at Kattegat, of which I saw a description in a cutting just received by one of them. We believed, nevertheless, the German had in reality been well hammered on the sea.

The Germans couldn’t understand my incredulity, and said they didn’t see why they shouldn’t do on the sea what they had done on the land. Verdun, they said, would be taken in two weeks. They admitted the French defence was a surprise. Lord Kitchener’s death at sea I didn’t believe. Nevertheless, one feels one has reached partial civilization to be able to speak of France and the fleet, even to a German.

They’ll soon be moved on again, but as he suspects, the worst is now over. The “victory at Kattegat” is of course the Battle of Jutland.

E.S. Thompson

More bullshit to swallow for E.S. Thompson, the South African machine-gunner.

Anniversary of the July Strike. Cold morning. Shook blankets and had a good wash. Bought 4 chickens for supper tonight. Mac went to see his pals in town. Rest during the morning and had a shave. Paddy’s brother came along again and told us he was being sent back to the Union. He is suffering from heart disease. Read again during the afternoon and examined my clothes for ‘greybacks’ finding a good few. Mac returned bringing Alf and I a piece of shell each fired from the German gun. He told us that the ‘Supplies’ were betting that peace would be declared on Thursday. An armistice is supposed to be on.

The July Strike, in this context, was a major 1913 strike in and around Johannesburg by gold-miners. The government response, led by one J.C. Smuts (now transformed into General Smuts and presiding over the South African contribution to this giant cake and arse party in Tanzania), was to attempt to break the strike by force. July 4 was the day when railway workers called a sympathy strike and violent clashes followed on the streets.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas has now been taken away from his gas duty at the Bois de Chenilles and sent to rear-area billets. Colonel Douce has just been promoted; there’s a new boss, and he’s intent on making his mark.

From dawn to dusk we had nothing but long exercises, maneuvers, and marches in a withering heat. It made us miss the trenches. This pounding and bashing came at the orders of the firm-handed colonel sent to the 296th Regiment, it was said, to shape us up, or to get us back into shape, because evidently someone had noted a slippage of discipline in the regiment. This was Colonel Robert.This terrible fellow stuck his nose into everything, watching, surveying first-hand to make sure that the numerous rules he issued each day at roll call were being observed.

What bothered him most of all was seeing the tail flaps of our uniform coats even a centimeter out of place, when they were folded back.
Even if you were a hero, brave as could be, or as smart as anyone, you were nothing but an idiot, a good-for-nothing, if you showed too much of the pocket underneath the flap.

The newly-restored Corporal Barthas, meanwhile, has been put in charge of a squad of new recruits in his battalion. Perhaps this is Commandant Quinze-Grammes’s idea of a punishment?

Some came right out of reform school; others, as delivery boys, had neglected to hand over to their bosses some money from a client; some, employed by the post office, had had the indiscretion to peek into the content of private letters. One of them had found nothing better to do than to kidnap a young miss of fourteen whose folks didn’t want to give her to him in marriage. Finally, there were those who, young as they were, had been convicted as pimps, and they proudly showed off the letters, packages, and money which their faithful “hens” sent to them.

To these kids precocious in vice, they had opened the prison gates in exchange for enlistment for the duration of the war. This was offered as a form of rehabilitation. Among them were a number of unfortunate orphans who, to free themselves from the tutelage of Public Assistance, had enlisted. They had been snared, dazzled by life on the front lines as depicted in the newspapers, and now they came to live out fantastic adventures and gather up stripes and medals with ease.

Let me hasten to say that these young rascals always treated me with respect and, I’d even dare to say, affection. It’s true that I didn’t use a rough manner. I reprimanded them as a comrade, as an older brother rather than as a superior in rank. I took an interest in their fates, writing applications for charity awards for these disinherited ones. And these poor little guys, many of whom would have only me to weep over their deaths, in exchange for my solicitude to them, took on a true and touching attachment for me.

He’ll have about two weeks in the rear, being drilled, getting to know his new charges, and letting them know he’s on their side.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Battle of Mecca
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan