As the Germans and French continue mulching themselves in front of the Mort Homme and in front of Fort Vaux, there’s a lot of lovely, lovely infighting in the rear for us to cover. My enthusiasm is almost.
To begin with, General Foch has finished beetling away and has produced a first draft for the French contribution to the Battle of the Somme. This is almost like looking into an alternate universe; it’s briefly, awesomely fascinating. He’s planning a grand attack with three French armies on a 30-mile front between Maricourt, just north of the River Somme, and Lassigny, right at the apex of the Noyon salient. The 6th Army is settling in there now, and the 10th (with Louis Barthas in tow) is, as we’ve seen, resting at the other end of the river.
And now reality must intervene. General Joffre’s original plan called for 2nd Army to be the other part of this grand offensive. You may have seen that they’re just a little busy at Verdun right now. Joffre has also now given up on his attempts to restrict General Petain’s noria arrangements, and the twenty-division general reserve is diminishing rapidly. It’ll take a couple of weeks for all this to shake out, but this bold, grand plan will never see the light of day. It would surely, if nothing else, have been different to what we eventually got.
For one thing, with the French having two-thirds of the total men in the attack and the BEF only providing a third, that surely means that it would have been Foch, not General Haig, whose views would have taken precedence. Foch may have been planning a wide-scale offensive, but he’s strongly in favour of the new bite and hold-style attacking doctrines. More soon on the impact of a reduced French commitment.
Meanwhile, General Pierre Roques has been relieved as commander of 1st Army and sent back to Paris to be the new minister of war, in place of the terminally ill General Gallieni. Roques has been appointed with the express consent of General Joffre, and as far as Joffre is concerned, he’s just put his own man in place to stop the kind of Unpleasantnesses that Gallieni has recently been responsible for.
Meanwhile, in the Balkans! The two chief generals, Sarrail (for the French) and Mahon (of Gallipoli infamy, and yes, I’ve very much got it in for him, he’s a prissy idiot), are now trying to justify their existence, in case someone thinks of redeploying their men elsewhere. Accordingly, there are some small operations underway to expand the area of the Birdcage and to take full control of the railway system in the area. (Once again I remind readers that they are in Greece, a neutral country.) Never mind the pissing rain and the frequent flooding; orders is orders.
I am hoping to be able to check back in a few times with the blokes here. They’re very easy to gloss over as, for the most part, nothing is happening except disease and sickness casualties. We’ll see how that goes.
Grigoris Balakian and friends have spent a sleepless night in a village coffee-house after their incredibly narrow escape yesterday. However, they have met a rare good man on their journey through the Armenian genocide.
When I asked the elderly Turkish innkeeper how much we owed for the night’s lodging, to our great surprise he answered, “How could it be acceptable to God for me to charge such wretched persons who, having left behind house and home, family and wealth, are being taken into exile like a flock of sheep?”
He condemns the profiteers who before him have charged the caravans swingeing prices. The deportees set out on the last leg of the journey to Kayseri, very slightly enheartened, and then walk right into a horrendous sandstorm. When it passes, they’re handed over to the Kayseri Jandarma, and marched…somewhere else.
We realised that instead of taking us into Kayseri, they were escorting us to Talas, a town on a hill an hour away. As we were proceeding along the outskirts of Kayseri, a crowd of curious Turks formed to gawk at us. They were surprised that there were still Armenians left in Anatolia.
When our caravan was passing through the streets of [Talas], we saw in the windows of the houses women clutching handkerchiefs, apparently crying. We heard that these were Islamised Armenian families, who had been moved at the sight of new caravans of exiled compatriots. No doubt they thought that we too were being taken to Der Zor.
In the night, some of these women find ways to spirit food in to the deportees. Overnight, the news also spreads to a girls school, which had been set up by an American missionary with a strong interest in Armenian culture.
In Tanzania, E.S. Thompson gets a few reminders that he’s still at war, as if he needed any.
After lunch we moved to a better position for camp and entrenched ourselves. We were awakened by shots and a few bullets whizzed overhead. It appears that a few snipers had fired into the camp but nobody was hurt. This is the first dry night we have had at this camp and we have not seen Kilimanjaro free from clouds yet. [I officially found out] that Signaller E.J. Thompson had died of wounds. Very sorry to hear it as he was a very decent chap and my second cousin. He had been reported as missing after Salaita.
He thinks that they may well be waiting here a while, possibly until that narrow-gauge railway works its way forward to them.
The Siege of Kut continues. So does Edward Mousley of the artillery.
It is a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and the only blur on the silvery brightness is the muddied [River Tigris] winding like a yellow ribbon over this flat desert land. I felt so weak during my walk yesterday that to-day I merely strolled about the “gardens.” It was a fine sunset. Away over the muddy plain the Western skies were dragon-red, and clouds stirred by the evening breeze sailed in and out of the luminous belt which reflected a soft pink on the face of the rising moon climbing over the Eastern horizon.
I stale-mated a game of chess.
One way or another, this surely can’t end in stalemate. Can it?
Bernard Adams is out of the line at Morlancourt for a couple of days.
Some tea was on the table, and bully and bread and butter; there was no sugar, however. Richards smiled and said the rats had eaten it all in [the dugout], but Davies was buying some. Whenever anything was missing, these rats had eaten it, just as they were responsible for men’s equipment and packs getting torn, and their emergency rations lost. In many cases the excuse was quite a just one; but when it came to rats running off with canteen lids, our sympathy for the rat-ridden Tommy was not always very strong.
Private Davies is Adams’s batman, and Richards does the same for Lieutenant Dixon.
To-day, a new reason was found for the loss of three teaspoons. “Lost in the scuffle, sir, the night of the raid,” was the answer given to the demand for an explanation. I remembered there had been some confusion and noise behind the arras that night when the Germans raided on the left; apparently all the knives and forks had fallen to the ground and several had snapped under the martial trampling of feet when our retainers stood to arms.
For many days afterwards when anything was lost, one’s anger was appeased by “Lost in the scuffle, sir.” At last it got too much of a good thing. “Why this new teapot, Davies?” I said a few days later.
“The old one was lost in the scuffle, sir.”
“Look here” I said. “We had the old one yesterday, and this morning I saw it broken on Madame’s manure heap. Here endeth ‘lost in the scuffle’. See? Go back to rats.”
“Very good, sir.”
This is a good sensible piece of officering from Adams. Of course the batmen will make themselves popular by confiscating the odd buckshee and redistributing it somewhere else (the Sergeants’ mess, for instance). As we’ve seen, the Army runs on this kind of mild thievery (so long as it’s not of personal possessions). However, here he carefully indicates to Davies that he’s pushing his luck a little and should tone it down slightly; Davies, being sensible, complies. Nobody else needs to be involved, and nothing of importance has occurred.
After dinner, Dixon and Adams sit together, as friends do, and set the world to rights.
“Richards talks a jolly sight too much, sometimes, but after all what does it matter? They try their best; and think how we curse them! As soon as anything goes wrong, we strafe like blazes, whether it’s their fault or not. A fellow in England would resign on the spot. But they don’t care a damn, and just carry on. This cursing’s no good. Hang it all, they’re doing their bit same as we are, and they have a damned sight harder time,” [said Dixon].
“I don’t think they worry much about the strafing,” I said. “It’s part of the ordinary routine. Still, I agree, we do strafe them for thousands of things that aren’t their fault.”
“I don’t know how it is. One would never dream of cursing the men like we do these fellows. You know as well as I do, the only way to run a company is by love. It’s no earthly use trying to get the men behind you, by cursing them day and night. I really must try and stop cursing these servants. After all, they’re the best fellows in the world.”
“The men curse all right,” I said, “when they don’t get their food right. I guess we’re all animal, after all. It’s merely a method of getting things done quickly. Besides, you know perfectly well you won’t be able to stop blazing away when there’s no fire or food. It creates an artificial warmth.”
“Damned artificial,” laughed he. There was a silence.
“By Jove,” he said at last, getting up to go to bed. “When’s this war going to end?”
I’ll let you know, Mr Dixon.
Actions in Progress
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 is now available for pre-order!