Mouquet Farm | 14 Aug 1916

Mouquet Farm

The march towards Mouquet Farm continues for the 4th Australian Division at the Battle of the Somme. They’ve almost done their job too well at this point. They’re butting into the trenches that directly defend the farm. Over the last four days they’ve worked their way a mile down from the Windmill Hill at Pozieres, and irritated General von Gallwitz so much that he’s going to go into the trenches at Warlencourt and have a look for himself at the ground. As befits an Army Commander, he’ll be a respectable distance behind the front at Warlencourt, but more-than-theoretically within the range of the BEF’s heaviest guns.

Rather more depressing for the Germans is the intelligence they’re gathering from prisoners taken around Pozieres about now. They’ve discovered that the 4th Division is far from a load of hardened Gallipoli veterans; there’s a few in there as a stiffener, but it’s mostly “inexperienced replacements”. A British skeptic might look at the last few days and see a lot of mud and guts and six inches towards Berlin. The Germans at the time are looking at this, and seeing they’re being pushed off ground by raw recruits, and they can’t take it back.

That’s not good for morale, or their intelligence’s assessment of their own fighting quality. As ever, the picture of the Battle of the Somme is far more complex than just blokes walking at machine guns and getting mowed down.

Communication

General Haig’s “Ineffectual Burblings 1916” tour continues with a visit to II Corps’s HQ.

I impressed two points on General Jacob. … 2. Information from divisions frequently reaches HQs of Corps, Armies, and GHQ very slowly. Too slowly! So I desired Jacob to see that intercommunication between [brigades and lower] in a division, and Divisional HQ, was efficiently kept up. I further pointed out that Staff officers must be able to explain the plans of their General, as well as to see that the actual orders are carried out.

Well, yes, it’s a point in his favour that he is trying to solve the problem. However, it’s not unlike trying to solve the problem “the river keeps flooding” by going out in a boat and and shouting at it in the middle of a flood.

Neil Tennant

Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Tennant has decided that the best way to ginger things up after taking command of 30 Squadron RFC in Mesopotamia is to lead a raid, immediately.

Time was allowed for the Turk to have his supper and get to sleep; he had never been bombed by night before, and we hoped that the surprise of
this little jaunt might further its effect. Just after eleven Captain de Havilland left the ground with a cheery wave and was gone in the darkness; a
few minutes later came “Contact, sir!” from my mechanic, and I was away. Our course took us over the desert west of the river, which shone like quicksilver in the moonlight far to starboard.

A strong head-wind made progress slow, but it was pleasant to be up in the cool vastness of the night above that strange country. It seemed ever so long ago that I had left England. A series of flashes in the distance ahead dispelled reverie; D.H. was attacking. Gliding slowly with engine off, I arrived short of the aerodrome at a height of 400 feet, when suddenly there burst a storm of heavy and concentrated rifle fire from what must have been at least a thousand rifles under well-directed control.

It had been my lot during the war to come under fusillades of varying intensity, but this reception was perhaps the warmest up to date: the sound was like the tearing of a piece of calico. After dropping the bombs on the hangars,my speed downwind gave the Turks small chance. The results were unknown in the uncertain light and dust of the explosions; time would tell.

The evening finished with a cheery supper by the Tigris at 2 a.m. off sardines and coffee with the lads who could not sleep for sand flies. The sand flies at Sheikh Sa’ad defied description, and mosquito nets were of no avail, the net specially designed against these pests entailing a mesh so small as ‘to make ventilation impossible ; the expedient of emptying ‘the kerosene from one’s “butti” (lamp) over bed and body gave relief for perhaps an hour till it had dried off, and the torture started again. In those days men sold their souls for kerosene.

In the Army, the officers send the men off to die in the mud. Navy officers and men all go off to die together on a giant torpedo magnet. In the Royal Flying Corps, the men cheerily wave their officers off to go and die, and then they go back inside and drink tea or have a wank, according to preference. Nice to see at least one branch of service getting things the correct way round.

Once again, I remind the reader that these people are flying aeroplanes made out of plywood and fabric. Mad as March hares, the lot of them.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman has now seen the Leaning Virgin of Albert. He’s also come under fire for the first time, sort of.

We have moved another step forward. This field by the cross-roads, where we sleep in the open, is called Belle Vue Farm, though I see no farm. As to the belle vue, that has been spoilt. The town of Albert, which lies below us to the north, has been raked with shell-fire and looks half ruins. Some chimney-stacks still stand. They sway beneath the gilded figure of the Mother and Child. That figure once stood triumphant on the cathedral tower; now it is bowed as by the last extremity of grief. Troops still occupy the cellars of the town, but shells drop into the place every day.

I woke just now to an eerie watery sound, followed by a long whizzing rush, and then a thud: shells falling behind us. I did not recognise them at once, their watery gurgle through the air as they passed overhead seemed so slow and tame.

Time for the big boy breeches, sunbeam.

Herbert Sulzbach

Herbert Sulzbach is still the laziest arse in the German army.

We hear from the Italian front that the town of [Gorizia] has been occupied by the Italians. I still have duties in Noyon now and then, and these outings make a nice change. You can actually go to a military club, what they call a “Kasino”, and have a meal at a table with a cloth on it, as though it were peacetime.

I’m sure there are plenty of lazier slackers in the army than him, but I guess they were too lazy to write a memoir.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still reviewing the situation in which he finds himself. Don’t worry, his outrage is going to come out of neutral and into first gear soon enough.

At present the “Bing-boys” are either drilling and learning the elements of military routine or they are engaged on camp fatigues. We, the former expeditionary force men, are shedding our formidably dirty and picturesque rags and are putting on new uniforms, whilst we tease the young NCOs, and wait for our service leave. The new “Bing-boys” here as far as the “Hun Section” goes may be divided into three classes:

(a) British born. Parents either naturalized British subjects of German descent or actually Germans resident in Great Britain. Usually only father “tainted.” These boys, almost without exception, pure English type ; in speech, character and appearance. Facial contours interesting proof of maternal preponderance. (Vast majority of English mothers.) [WANKY GREEK WORD]

(b) Naturalized British subjects:
1. Perfectly acclimatised specimens ; appearance often, language almost always pure English. Absolutely loyal.
2. Imperfectly acclimatised specimens. Speech usually more or less “tainted” or even broken. Sympathies now often wavering; result of persecution.

I presume the action of the Government in forming this “regiment” was partly due to the existence of a few doubtful individuals in Class B2, but I am convinced that the number of such doubtful individuals has been at least quadrupled by the stupid policy of “Isolation.” Many a good man from B1, must have become in respect to his feelings, a B2 man. We, the former “Expeditionary Force Men,” however, have nothing to do with all that. We volunteered to fight for England and we all object to being “concentrated” with conscripts.

The younger men are very bitter that they were recalled from France, and will never forgive the Government.

I do wish I knew what that Greek word was.

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

Mouquet Farm | Contalmaison | 11 Aug 1916

Battle of the Somme

Problem: To dislodge the Germans from Thiepval, Reserve Army needs to push north-west from Pozieres and threaten their rear. Just over a mile down the hill, Mouquet Farm links two strong German Second Line redoubts. So now, having had their fill of attacking uphill, they’re going to get a chance to attack downhill. Can’t attack Mouquet Farm without jumping-off positions, after all. Stands to reason, that does. And so, under the guns, Mucky Farm is getting muckier by the day.

Meanwhile, the Germans have just thrown in a couple of fresh divisions to meet this latest attack; of course it’s the ANZACs who’ve got to do it. The attack today is often only looked at from the BEF’s familiar side of the hill, where it comes over like another penny-packet half-arsed attempt to bite and hold. (It is at least a relatively successful one, gaining about 600 yards of ground; note use of word “relatively”.) From the German side, it’s an entirely more sinister affair, though. For a moment, although it would have taken a major stroke of luck for the attackers to know, they were in serious trouble.

The inexperienced new battalions coming into the fight have been thrown into an unfamiliar world of trenches, with few maps, where everything looks the same, under heavy shelling. The two who were supposed to be the divisional boundary didn’t have time to properly link up with each other before they were under attack and falling back. For a few hours there’s a rare gap in the German line, and a great deal of confusion up the chain of command. But of course the attackers can’t know, and they’ve taken bad enough losses as it is just pushing forward and getting counter-attacked and falling back a bit.

In the end, just one of a thousand missed opportunities. As all this is going off, a new field ambulance has just arrived at Contalmaison to assist with the ANZACs’ casualties. Medical officer Lawrence Gameson has been given some rather odd sailing directions that nevertheless proved completely reasonable. The conditions in his new place of work, on the other hand…

Contalmaison is quite completely ruined. We were told to turn left at the second bad smell. The directions proved to be as accurate as a precise map reference. We live in the remains of a chateau. A few chunks of wall and part of one room is all that is left above ground. The cellars are sound. Soon the wounded began to arrive: some walking, some carried, some just helped along; the usual bloody, patient battered crowd, without a grouse and with scarcely a groan. Here at Contalmaison I feel most curiously and disturbingly isolated, as if one was going to be stuck here forever.

The flow of work in our cellar was uncertain. Times of slackness alternating with times of great stress, when the place was filled with scores upon scores of reeking, bleeding men. These times of great stress were not isolated incidents, to be dealt with, cleaned up, then forgotten, like a railway accident. They recurred regularly. They went on and on and on. Sometimes a man on a stretcher would vomit explosively, spewing over himself and his neighbours. I have seen mounted troops brought in with liquid faeces oozing from the unlaced legs of their breeches.

Occasionally a man would gasp and die as he lay on his stretcher. All this was routine and the waiting crowd looked on unconcerned. No one spoke much during these seemingly endless periods of congestion.

Look at this, our Susan. “Died of wounds”, it says here. “Died of wounds”. What does that mean? That nice Lieutenant Eyewash-Woggler wrote to us and said our Tommy, he died quickly and without any pain, he saw it himself…

German defences

Regardless of General von Falkenhayn’s intermittent burblings about holding every inch of ground (more on him very soon, I promise), the German units who have been through the Somme are doing some extremely quick institutional learning. This is no time for pooh-poohing ideas that might work. If some hairy-arsed private has an idea, he’ll probably get a chance to try it. If he dies, it probably isn’t any use. If he lives, or at least takes a lot of the enemy with him on the way out, it’s probably worth doing again. The secret machine-gun or bombing post is just one such idea that’s catching on very quickly.

Someone crawls out to a random shell-hole about 50 yards in front of their main fire trench; there are plenty of those around. They lie still and quiet (often under a blanket) until the BEF’s latest attackers are right on top of them. Then they open up at point-blank range. Other units are, very quietly, experimenting with allowing attackers into booby-trapped trenches and then counter-attacking only after the attackers trigger the traps. These methods are currently being passed on by word of mouth. Perhaps someone might collate these things and turn them into doctrine; wouldn’t that suck to have to attack?

Speaking of doctrine, the French have just managed to capture in a trench raid some spectacularly useful papers. Some of them set out the defence in depth theories that von Falkenhayn is so determined to ignore. Some of them discuss lessons learned from infiltration-style attacks early at the Battle of Verdun, the first use of proto-stormtroopers. Food for thought for the intelligence department, especially when compared to reports that the Germans seem to know this is a good idea, but they’re not being allowed to do most of it…

Max Plowman

Max Plowman is thinking about how best to ingratiate himself with his men. Well, he’s not putting it in those terms, but.

I am getting to know the men of my platoon. About a third of them, the pick of the bunch, are miners from the north of England: short, tough, reserved men, used to hard work and not given to “grousing.” More than half of them are married. … Spencer is a tall, red-faced lad, awkward but intelligent. I presume the pits have given him that incurable stoop. The trades of the rest make an extraordinary list. Labourer, wheelwright, railway storekeeper, farmer, platelayer, cabinet-maker, rag-conditioner, oil-presser, painter, shoe-salesman, driller, grinder, wool-sorter. What occupations a civil world provides!

Barlow calls himself a “horseman,” and, being the platoon fool, can give no more explicit description of himself. … Jenkins is an “interpreter” of languages, perhaps; but I rather suspect the description as being designed for purposes of reference when those “chits” from the orderly room come round, promising comfortable billets for men of strange trades. I suspect this because Jenkins shows himself a cute student of his own well-being in other ways.

That little wisp of a man, Jackson, who has been to India with the regular army, is something of an enigma. He is smart enough, but he wears a bored expression and seems strangely reticent and unresponsive. To-day, when I told him I wanted him to [become a lance-corporal], seeing that in point of service he was nearly the oldest soldier in the platoon, he replied that he would rather not. Well, he must, for there’s nobody else.

Corporal Neal, who escaped injury on July 1st with the old battalion, has lost his nerve, if he ever had it. He is demonstrative in his authority; but I do not like his stupid, shifty eyes or his subservient manner. Still less do I like the sergeant I am saddled with by the colonel. He has a criminal look, and why he should suddenly be promoted from the ranks to full sergeant I cannot imagine. He has served in Gallipoli, but we do not know his record. Like Neal, he is too servile, and I am a bad judge of men if he proves trustworthy.

He almost certainly feels much more of a connection to the men than to his brother officers; he left school at 16 and worked in his father’s brick business.

Neil Tennant

Neil Tennant hasn’t been mucking around in boats so much as boating around in muck on the River Tigris, but he’s finally making progress.

Ali-Gharbi proved a mere collection of Arab shelters and the tents of a small British post; not a tree to be seen. Here we left T3, as she would only have blown on the shoals in the shallow and tortuous channels above. I shall never forget going ashore that morning in this god-forgotten spot; bending low against the gale, I searched for a British officer. Eventually there appeared a ragged individual in pyjamas and helmet; he had been there all summer and had long since lost all interest in life. The arrival of fresh blood from England, however, cheered him, and talk of London over a bottle of warm beer seemed to awaken further desire to live.

Our intention of crossing the desert to Sheikh Sa’ad in a motor was not advised on account of possible attack by Arabs, so a telegram was sent to Squadron HQ for their motor-boat. Captain Murray, commanding at ‘the time, met us, and we ran up to Sheikh Sa’ad in four hours in spite of taking several shoals at twelve knots. The tents of a squadron of Flying Corps and afew other troops were the sole means of distinguishing Sheikh Sa’ad from Ali Gharbi. Otherwise, as spake the British Tommy, “there was miles and miles and miles of sweet fuck all!”

Tennant claimed the British Tommy actually said “sweet damn all”, but we know better than that. He’s arrived now to take command of 30 Squadron and kick it into some kind of fighting shape, but that might not be easy.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues to, oh, I’ll let him say it.

Slept late. Had a narrow escape from boiling porridge falling on my face as half a dixie full upset.

The man is a walking pratfall, he really is.

Sewed patches on my shorts and packed my valise putting my camera in again. Still feeling a bit stiff and footsore. … Got orders to move at 4pm. Made doughboys for the stew and had it at 3.15pm. Marched 3 hours doing 7.5 miles, then halted for 2 hours and made some coffee. Feet very sore from little splinters in the left foot. Marched on again for 4.5 miles. Total for the day 12 miles [19 km]. Collected some wood and made some porridge and coffee.

His mates have also vented their feelings about not being able to drink the machine guns’ water by confiscating a sergeant’s oversize water bottle. There’s not much water around for anyone right now, but as long as they make good time they’ll be in Dodoma tomorrow.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has found an excellent way of occupying his time at rest in the rear, as he tells to his father.

This morning I was alone; so I went along the river bank, and made a highly important discovery, which is that the Field Service Post Card makes a capital boat in skilful hands like yours or mine. I put one afloat this morning, within twenty yards of a huge artillery camp on the bank, but not in the least abashed by the watchful eyes of one or two inquisitive gunners at their ease on the bank. I put her well out, and with a poke from a stick off she went.

All went well (this was a very important voyage, and you must forgive me if I dwell on it rather lengthily) for quite a long time- it was necessary to throw one big stone into a shallow, to prevent her coming to rest much too soon. And there was a certain home-sick look about her (perhaps she caught it from her designer), which was a little too apt to make her aim at unexpected little harbours on the way down. With this exception, however, she did well, and it was no fault of hers that she did go right down to join the — Oh dear, here’s the Censor again. One can’t even run one’s private navigation without being careful.

Of course he can’t say which river this was. I do like to imagine the other half of this anecdote, though. That’s the story told by the two gunners (I also want to think they’re from Neil Fraser-Tytler’s battery) who were sitting around having a quiet rest, when suddenly this idiot officer appears and starts floating a boat folded from a field service postcard down the river…

Curiously, it is far, far easier in a less easy period than in what we call a ‘cushy’ one. In the Ypres days, ‘twenty-four hours out’ was a thing to look forward to, and down in our last place a week out seemed short! So I fully hope it will be, here: in fact, I know it is so. One says to oneself that it is silly even to think of anything unpleasant till we get to So-and-so at the earliest, and there one stops. At least, I think so.

“So-and-so” is clearly somewhere like Albert, the last big town before the Somme battlefield begins.

Maximilian Mugge

Private Maximilian Mugge, newly-minted member of the 30th Middlesex (a unit, as we shall see, of many nicknames) still has his outrage in first gear. Today he contents himself with a description of his new unit’s history. But don’t worry, he’ll have plenty of time to get steaming mad about being exiled to the “Boche Battalion”.

I hear that this Battalion was formed on 12-7-16 as the 33rd (I.W.) Bn. Midshire Regiment, at Balmy Camp, Sussex; Captain P. L. Thornly 10th East Lancers Regiment assuming temporary command. The majority of the men are conscripts and were recruited under Army Council Order 1209; they are of enemy (German, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian) Alien parentage.

On the 13th July 1916 Headquarters and 300 men of this Unit proceeded to Peas Pudding Camp, Reptum, as an advance party; on the twentieth Colonel Byle took over command of the Battalion, and seven days later the remainder of the battalion arrived. On the 3rd August, 1916 200 men of A. Company under 2nd Lieut. Singleway proceeded to Fodderham and were attached to the Guards for Trench Digging at the Bombing School.

Usually I translate Mugge’s pun-filled substitute names into their real equivalents, but here I’m leaving them as written. The officers too have had their names obscured; but Mugge does like a good pun, so perhaps someone can work out who they are. For an example of how his mind works; Peas Pudding for “Pease Pottage” is relatively transparent, and “reptum” is a Latin verb meaning to creep or crawl, as in Crawley, the large town near Pease Pottage village and Army camp. Good luck.

Army Council Order 1209, incidentally, was drawn up right after someone noticed that conscription was going to require taking into the Army men of alien parentage who had previously attempted to volunteer and not been accepted.

Actions in Progress

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

Joffre and Haig | Tanks | 10 Aug 1916

Sixth Isonzo

The Italian Army is now, three days too late, pulling its collective finger out for a jolly good bash at the Austro-Hungarians’ reserve positions behind Gorizia. General Boroevic’s reserves have now finally arrived from their billets far behind the line; the defenders are firmly installed. After a brief period of excitement, we’re now back in exactly the same situation we’ve been in for the past year. The enemy is firmly dug into new positions, just as resistant to attack as the ones they’ve just left. There are half-arsed attacks without proper artillery support or observation. Rinse and repeat for a solid week.

All General Cadorna can do is bleat helplessly about his subordinates’ alleged slowness in following imaginary orders to capture Gorizia and push on. Well, in private, at least. He’s also made sure to invite all his pet newspapermen for personal briefings on the glorious victory he personally has just won. And so soon after repelling the perfidious enemy’s attack on the Asiago plateau, too! By the time the papers are done, the worst general of the war will also be its biggest hero. For a little while.

Battle of the Somme

Generals Joffre and Haig are total BFFs about now, visiting each other’s headquarters and writing letters to each other to propose grandiose combined offensives. For reasons that remain hard to explain, apparently a good thing to do is to launch a major all-out push from High Wood to the north bank of the River Somme. With seven days to prepare. Ugh. While relations between the two commanders-in-chief appear better than ever, they’re both having a rather unpleasant day.

General Haig is trying every measure possible (short of taking actual responsibility) to get 4th Army commander General Rawlinson to do his job properly. His latest wheeze is to send chief of staff General Kiggell round with a rude message to the effect of “please take personal control and responsibility for the next attack”. Meanwhile, those ANZACs at Pozieres are being given orders to push north-west tomorrow, downhill towards Mouquet Farm. The blokes, incidentally, prefer to call it “Mucky” or “Moo Cow” Farm.

Meanwhile meanwhile, General Joffre’s problem appears to be General Haig. Or so his liaison officer at Haig’s headquarters is saying, in an absolutely devastating report. Words like “disoriented” and “disarray” and “slow” have been used with worrying regularity. He’s extremely offended by the “small, distinct attacks” that the BEF is carrying out. “As far as the English are concerned, the Battle of the Somme is dead.” He concludes with the damning observation that neither the Commander-in-Chief nor his army commanders are actually commanding; real authority is only to be found at corps or division level.

Tanks

Meanwhile. Everyone and his dog, it seems, has a complaint about how the tank development programme is being managed. There’s the few short-sighted twerps, of course, who can’t see what they’re for in the first place. Then there are the military geniuses, who are convinced that having seen a tank run once for half an hour, they clearly know exactly how to use them. This is causing considerable friction between the Staff and Lt-Col Brough, Colonel Swinton’s liaison officer. Brough, unlike almost anyone else at GHQ, has read Swinton’s Notes on the Employment of Tanks, and he’s insisted on advocating loudly for its principles.

This is deeply unwelcome. Brough has now been officially deemed “difficult” after just three weeks in France and will soon be replaced by a fresh, hopefully more compliant man. And not one who will complain about plans to stage a punishing series of tank tests in France, or proposals to use tanks as individual infantry support weapons rather than as a solid mass of metal. On top of all this, General Haig has just been sent a deeply annoying letter stating that there can be no spare parts for the tanks until 1 September at the earliest. Insert disgruntled Scotch groans here.

First Doiran

The French attack near Doiran Lake.

Yeah, good luck trying to find out any more about it, I had the devil’s own time. In theory the French have the requisite three-to-one advantage that’s required to get anything done. In practice? Seems that the defending Bulgarians gave them a jolly good spanking and sent them back to their trenches to think again. Still, these attacks aren’t necessarily supposed to succeed, just happen. I’m sure it was a comfort to the families of the dead. No, sorry, “wasn’t”. Wasn’t a comfort. At all.

Briggs Kilburn Adams

Briggs Kilburn Adams continues his ridiculous summer job as an ambulance-driver on the Voie Sacree.

Any number of cars have been smashed, and fellows are getting nicked all the time, for they are more exposed than the men in the trenches. One fellow had a blow-out, so he got out to fix it. Just then a shell took off the seat he had left. Another driver was lying underneath his car fixing something. A shell hit it and knocked the car away and smashed it to bits, while he was left there lying on his back in the road with his hands reaching up holding a wrench, more surprised than you could imagine, and without a scratch.

Another fellow was famous for being the rottenest driver in that section. In one of the worst places he stalled his engine. While he was down cranking it, a shell went through his car killing one of the wounded fellows. The driver got his Croix de Guerre for bravery under fire! If he had been a decent driver he would have been out of the way and would not have got it.

Aeroplanes are as thick as flies about here. Just now I can see three playing tag, pretending one is a German and chasing it.

He’ll soon have to go back home and get on with his university studies at Harvard.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman is moving forward, closer to the Somme, leading his platoon on the march. The 10th Green Howards have received another reinforcement-draft, but they’re still comfortably below full strength.

There is a boy from D Company doing Field Punishment No. 1. His outstretched arms are tied to the wheel of a travelling field-kitchen. The Regimental Sergeant-Major has just told me that the boy is there for falling out on the march. He defended himself before the Commanding Officer by saying that he had splinters of glass in his feet; but the Medical Officer decided against him. Quite possibly the boy is a liar; but wouldn’t the army do well to avoid punishments which remind men of the Crucifixion?

And these two men being marched up and down in the blazing heat, under the raucous voice of the provost-sergeant, they disturb all peace of mind. I do not know from what offences they are doing “pack-drill,” but it is depressing to see them, loaded with rifles and full packs, going to and fro over a piece of ground not more than twenty yards long, moving like automata under that awful voice.

Volunteers going into battle! I think with almost physical sickness of the legends that sustain our armchair patriots at home.

Field punishment is sometimes excused by people who take great pains to point out that the Manual of Military Law expressly prohibited tying men in a way that caused physical harm. And yet, it’s still happening; this is a stress position. Funny how that happens despite the regulation, isn’t it? I’m sure the fire-breathing colonel approved.

Oswin Creighton

Padre Oswin Creighton has switched camps and finds his new surroundings, at Witley Camp in Surrey, much more to his liking than Romsey.

I had such a warm welcome here. The officers are so friendly. No one knew I was coming, but they made me at home at once. They are all young fellows with very strong Manchester accents, analytical chemists and such like. Several of them were out at Gallipoli. One remembers me at the Depot. We talk a great deal about Gallipoli.

Later. – I am with the 5th Lancashire Fusiliers now. It is a quaint sort of job, but I am getting into the way of looking at all these jobs from an explorer’s point of view. Almost nothing of a religious nature seems to have been attempted among the men here, and there is the usual sense of the utter estrangement of the Church from them.

Creighton has his work cut out for him. Unfortunately, his mother didn’t think the details, if ever he wrote of them, to be of much public interest, so edited them out of the published collection of his letters. Thanks for that.

Maximilian Mugge

The full nature of Maximilian Mugge’s predicament has now become apparent. He’s washed up at Pease Pottage Camp outside Crawley, home of the 30th Middlesex Regiment. But his latest unit is even stranger than the Non-Combatant Corps.

When I had recovered from the first shock and regained my breath. I turned to the pale faced clerks in the Orderly Room Tent and said, ” Then I take it, this is not a Regiment at all! This is a political concentration camp!”

“Hush! hush! You mustn’t say such a thing”, exclaimed a horrified staff sergeant but the six feet of formidable and dirty picturesqueness of my appearance as an expeditionary soldier overawed these knights of the pens, and nothing happened to me.

One of my tent-mates who had arrived from a fighting unit a few hours before me was crying bitterly half the night. He was English bred and born, spoke no other tongue but that of Shakespeare, had volunteered in 1914, had been wounded in the Mons retreat and here he was, as he cried, “Treated like a bloody Hun!” It was heart-rending to listen to that boy’s agony, his sighs and curses and groans.

I doubt anyone wants to read six paragraphs’ worth of incoherent swearing in response to this concept, although I did type some of it out and then delete it again. This is exactly what Mugge says it is; a quarantine battalion for people considered too dangerously German to be allowed in the rest of the Army. More details will emerge in due course as our correspondent gets his righteous anger into high gear.

I really, really, really don’t want to nitpick the guy today, but. I do have to make the observation that it would be all but impossible for a man to volunteer in August 1914 and then end up on the retreat from Mons. I do hope someone hasn’t been, ahem, improving their story slightly. I suppose it’s possible that he joined the Army in the early months of 1914, but usually when people talk about volunteering “in 1914”, they mean they volunteered at the start of the war.

Actions in Progress

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

Sixth Isonzo | Gorizia | 8 Aug 1916

Sixth Isonzo

Hopefully you’re not still chewing on your knuckles from yesterday. The irony here really is painful. The Italian Army has spent a long, painful year learning to be careful and cautious, to limit its objectives, to discourage junior officers from using their initiative. Now that’s exactly what they need to do. Junior officers feeling able to use their initiative today might just have dislodged the entire front. The message coming from high command early in the morning, is to do the exact opposite. Hard-learned caution reigns among the Brains Trust.

Meanwhile, at the sharp end, half a company of the Italian 28th Infantry has discovered a supply tunnel leading under Podgora towards the one intact bridge leading back to Gorizia. Here there is a rear-guard with the remaining machine-guns and ammunition; a particularly fearless lieutenant seizes a flag and uses its pole to steady himself as he fords the river, showing the men the safe way across. Some are washed away by the tide, but more follow him. The artillery’s observation posts watch the flag crossing the river and calls in fresh shelling to support it

By afternoon, the Austro-Hungarian rearguard is fleeing for the mountains, having done its job and bought the army time to fall back. To the south, on the Carso, opportunity is still knocking. General Cadorna has been told of the capture of Podgora, and quite reasonably he begins now to commit his reserves, pouring them in to follow up the success. In theory, they might just be able to turn south from Gorizia and get into that Austro-Hungarian second position before the defenders can get there.

They’ll be ready to attack in force tomorrow…but it’s going to be a day too late. On the other side of the hill, General Boroevic has already ordered the retreat to take place tonight, under cover of darkness. The western edge of the Carso is cut off from the main plateau by a deep, wide, dry valley, the Vallone Doberdo, often in this context simply called “Vallone”. Since time immemorial it’s been a natural boundary between Italians and Slovenes, and today it forms the border between modern Italy and modern Slovenia. (At one time there was a river there.)

By lucky hap, it’s also a first-class place to put some defensive works in a trench war. The positions are ready, and the artillery packs up and leaves by day. During the night, the infantry almost evaporates into thin air. It’s far from an easy march in pitch darkness over rough ground, but there’s nobody to interfere with them…

Battle of the Somme

Guillemont. Loud explosions. Men over the top, advancing nearly a mile just to reach the German trenches. Intact barbed wire. German advance posts out in shell-holes, lying concealed, waiting for men to advance past them before shooting them in the back with machine-guns. Strong German artillery fire, not enough BEF counter-battery fire. Horror, blood and death, and all of it of a kind we’ve seen before.

Still. Maybe something can be achieved somewhere else? With Pozieres in hand, some brave people have been right up to the top of the ridge, looking down towards Thiepval. Various HQs have been guilty over the last month or so of assuming rather blithely that to capture Pozieres is automatically to make Thiepval untenable. Let’s have the map again.

This map is for educational purposes, not navigational purposes.

This map is for educational purposes, not navigational purposes.

The problem here…the main problem here…one of many problems here, is that the Germans have put two large redoubts into the Second Line behind Thiepval. They’re linked into a large agricultural holding, Mouquet Farm, which has now been thoroughly fortified. It’s also sprouting a series of newly-dug trenches at right angles to the First and Second Lines. These now defend Thiepval against an attack from the direction of Pozieres. Hmm. This needs some serious thinking.

Meanwhile, General Haig is entertaining his King.

The King came into my writing room, and I explained the situation, etc, to him. He then spoke a great deal about a paper which Winston Churchill had written, criticising the operations in France, and arriving at the conclusion that nothing had been achieved! … [George V] also said that Sir John French had been very nasty and that he was “the most jealous man he had ever come across”. I said that these were trifles and we must not allow them to divert our thoughts from our main objective, beating the Germans. I also expect that Winston’s head is gone from taking drugs.

Miaow! Saucer of milk for the Commander-in-Chief! It’s also not entirely clear whether that was a private thought, or whether he actually said it to the King. Nobody should be surprised that in the typed version of his diary he altered this to the rather less bitchy phrasing “I expect that Winston’s judgement is impaired…”.

He’s also just sacked one General Keir, a corps commander at Arras, whose general lack of offensiveness has thoroughly offended his army commander General Allenby. Not moved to a quiet sector, mind you, sacked outright. And he didn’t even get a chance to preside over any horrendously bloody slaughters like Hunter-Weston, who still has his job, chateau, gluttonous meals, etc. Interesting, that. No wonder Keir is making a massive row, and openly threatening to go home and join Sir John French’s bitching society.

Eastern Front

A quick note now from the still-neglected Eastern Front. The German-led counter-attack at the Battle of Kowel is now ending; it’s put a massive dent in the Russians’ manpower. Absent any other considerations, the Brusilov Offensive could easily have ended here. But of course, they’re about to bring Romania into the war. The Russian staff has just about given up on taking Lvov back, but a drive to the Carpathians still appeals. If they can get into position to push through into Hungary from the north, as the Romanians advance from the east, it’s not impossible that the Austro-Hungarian army could collapse entirely.

So the offensive continues, slowly and painfully, the combined casualty figures ratcheting relentlessly up past a million dead, wounded and captured. More than the Somme and Verdun put together, you know.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson has been on the march for a good few days now, doing more than ten miles per day. Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased to know that he’s still just as much a plonker as he was back in camp.

Road awfully dusty and the country very hot and dry. Camped at 10.45am. Made some tea out of dirty yellow water which made nearly every one in the section feel queer for a while. The boys drew no water and were very dry. Had a rest and aired our feet. Saddled up and moved off at 1pm. A snake was found in one of our ammunition pack saddles and promptly despatched. Camped in an open plain, very dry and tired. Some of the men made a rush for the waterholes, but the colonel stopped them. Smikky, Dick, Bibby and I went for wood and a big branch of a thorn tree fell on me, tearing my shirt a bit.

Total for the day 12 miles. Colonel sick in the motor car as a result of the water, I suppose.

Chortle chortle, tea that makes you feel queer. On a more serious note, there’s enough disease going round at the moment (most units have now lost 60% or more of their men to disease) without this cretin trying to poison everyone.

Herbert Sulzbach

Germany’s laziest gunner-sergeant Herbert Sulzbach is being shuffled about. I wonder if this will mean him having to do any more work?

I move house to the Loermont site, a hillside position which is, if anything, even more idyllic than Evricourt. It is in a meadow at the edge of a wood; there is still a huge amount to be done, reinforcing dugouts and completing the concrete gun-pits. It’s beautiful up here as the late summer days pass. In the evenings we sit at the guns and entertain each other, and in addition we get entertained by our Very light lookout, who sits up a tree on and sings songs. This sentry is up there to keep track of the coloured lights the infantry fire off. The colour codes are often changed, of course, so the French don’t find out what each colour means.

Of course not. The trench mortars on each side get into semi-frequent scraps, but the field artillery remains mostly quiet, conserving ammunition. It’s a lovely war.

Louis Barthas

Let’s keep the mood up, shall we? Louis Barthas spends rather a lot of time describing a particular position where the French hold one part of an old communication trench, and the Germans another, with a small and rather weedy barricade in the middle. Then he wonders how scared some rear-echelon slacker might be if he were forced to garrison this most dangerous of outposts.

Calm and tranquility reigned in this area. Some smoked, others read, some wrote, a few squabbled, without lowering their voices one note. And if these patriots, these slackers, had lent an ear, they would have heard the Germans coughing, spitting, talking, singing, etc., with the same lack of ceremony. Their stupefaction would have changed to bewilderment if they had seen the French and German sentries seated tranquilly on their parapets, smoking pipes and exchanging bits of conversation from time to time, like good neighbors taking some fresh air at their doorsteps.

From relief to relief, we passed along the habits and customs of these outposts. The Germans did the same. Even if the whole Champagne burst into flames, not a single grenade would fall in this privileged corner. It’s certain that a clever command could have profited from this opportunity to gain specific intelligence about the sector: the likelihood of poison-gas attacks, the plans for blowing up mines, or attacks, or various positions. All that would be needed would be a few litres of pinard or a few quarts of eau-de-vie, which the Germans lacked, to loosen their tongues.

But no one would have dared suggest this to our bosses. This would have been admitting the start of fraternisation with the enemy. A firing squad could well have been the response to such a suggestion. It’s as if, in the time of the Inquisition, a poor fellow had confessed that he had just had a conversation with Satan.

Barthas, unsurprisingly, likes this sort of thing, and continues his loving exposition for several pages. I do like to hear about sensible chaps getting along with each other, but I can only do so much writing per day…

Clifford Wells

Lieutenant Clifford Wells is still training at Le Havre, with enough time to make friends with attractive chaps, cough cough, and still write home to his dear mother.

It has been, and is, extremely warm and dusty, and the swim in the sea, which I manage to get in nearly every day, is very refreshing. I can really float in the salt water, so you no longer have the family monopoly of that accomplishment. I am beginning to like salt water for swimming, although I always used to prefer the fresh. What kind of a time did you have in Knowlton this year? I was glad to receive the picture post card of the place.

It seems more than a year since I was there. I am enjoying life here. I have many nice friends among the officers, and am continually running across men whom I have met in one capacity or another since I enlisted. When I first joined up, I knew scarcely anyone in the whole Expeditionary Force. Now I have many acquaintances and friends from all parts of Canada. One of my best friends is a boy named Ford, who recently received his commission. He was at McGill University when war broke out, and is an exceptionally attractive chap.

He is commonly called “Henry” after his famous peace-making namesake, who, as he is very careful to state on every possible occasion, is no relative of his.

Knowlton is a small village on the banks of Brome Lake in Quebec, which has long been a favourite haunt of the wealthiest Montreal millionaires (and their idiot sons). When Princess Anne competed in the Olympics in 1976 and her family all came to Canada to support her, including the Queen, they stayed in a large country house on Brome Lake.

Actions in Progress

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

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