Sannaiyat | Lolkisale | 6 Apr 1916

Apologies for the rather disjointed update schedule of late. Stick with it; hopefully we’ll get back on terms by next week. Anyway.

Siege of Kut

Well well. Yesterday, against all the odds, we had some actual good news from the attempt to relieve the Siege of Kut. The relief column exploited some confusion among the Ottoman defenders to capture two of the defensive positions between them and Kut. There’s still more work to be done, though. General Gorringe has correctly reasoned that there’s no point waiting for the enemy to re-organise. The only thing to do is push on, as soon as possible.

He’s sent in a couple of relatively fresh brigades, but this is where the good news ends. They’re supposed to attack Sannaiyat before dawn. However, moving forward through twisty, unfamiliar trenches is far from easy. Many of the men have got tangled up with the wounded coming back, and the quartermasters bringing the rations up. Eventually they’re back into open ground, but too late, and they run out of darkness nearly a thousand yards short of the Sannaiyat trenches.

The Ottoman response is predictable and violent. And for once, I think we can forgive the generals for ordering an impossible assault. They have to break through, or Kut runs out of food in about ten days. They have to trust to luck once more, and push on against impossible odds regardless. Doing nothing is not an option. But they’re fresh out of miracles, and the defenders are more than ready for the assault. A few of the more intrepid men manage to stay alive long enough to scrape new positions for themselves, about 800 yards shy of the enemy line.

Night falls. Gorringe does the only thing he can do, and orders another attack tomorrow, before dawn.

Meanwhile, the Royal Flying Corps has begun its own interesting footnote to the back end of the siege. They’re attempting nothing less than the world’s first airlift of supplies into Kut. The terribly under-strength and under-resourced 30 Squadron will eventually manage, by the end of the siege, to airlift over a ton of supplies per day. That’s about the figure needed to keep the garrison alive and repelling Ottoman attacks; but, as a chaplain recorded rather sadly in his diary, “often as not their parcels go into the Tigris, or the Turkish trenches!”

Still, it’s the thought that counts. And they’ll do enough to prove that the idea of airlifts into a besieged city is not completely ludicrous and might be possible under more favourable conditions.

Edward Mousley

Meanwhile, in Kut itself, belts continue to be tightened. Edward Mousley has been re-assigned away from the divisional ammunition column and back to his artillery battery. Again, he can hear the day’s fighting.

Downstream a terrific bombardment went on intermittently for hours. We are on six ounces of bread today and are almost on to our emergency rations, which can be made to spin out for three days. Green cress has been issued from the gardens, and every effort is made to save every crumb. The sick and those in hospital are worst off, as hospital comforts like cornflour and Mellins’ Food have long since gone.

It is a beautiful day, but the river came up during the night and beat all previous records of the siege by two inches. How very close the relieving force has driven things. Altogether the situation, as Punch said of the man dangling from the drag rope of a balloon, is most interesting. I hope to enter on the next page that the siege has been lifted.

Mellins’ Food for Infants & Invalids was a very interesting halfway house between patent medicine and modern commercial baby foods.

March to Kondoa

I wonder if things are any better in Africa. In the Middle East they’re starving; on Lolkisale, the South Africans are suffering horribly from thirst, having had no water in three days. But the important event in this standoff came last night. Alexander Hergott, it turns out, has no stomach for a fight at all. After an evening and a night of sitting and listening to the guns firing, he’s decided to prevent further bloodshed and surrender to General van Deventer. So far, so good.

The South Africans have certainly, ahaha, ridden their luck, and it’s paid off for them. By the end of the day they’ve sent a message back to headquarters and are setting out again to march on Kondoa Irangi. It’s still a bloody long way to go, through searing heat, and there’s still little enough water, and little enough in the way of reconnaissance to stop them blundering into the enemy. There’s still the possibility that the rainy season will begin and maroon them in the middle of nowhere.

And, on top of all that, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck now knows what’s going on. He’s extremely irritated that Hergott’s nerve failed. And he’s in no mood to just sit around and allow the march to happen. More soon!

Grigoris Balakian

As the caravan waits to resume their journey towards Hasanbeyli, they’ve found a newly-built road between Adana and Aleppo. There are German trucks with German officers inside. Grigoris Balakian, as de facto spokesman, tries to beg help but is quickly rebuffed. These Germans are no Armin T. Wegner, and want nothing to do with them.

A long day’s walk follows; eventually they read Hasanbeyli, where the Jandarma beat them to stop them buying food. They also encounter members of an Armenian labour battalion, alive only on sufferance from the people who still find their labour useful.

My shoes were so worn that my toes were sticking out. My robe and overcoat were torn. I showed no trace of normal human appearance.

[The labourers] worked ten to twelve hours a day in the cold, snow, rain, and wind. To eat they were given [a pound] of bread a day. If they fell ill, they were as good as dead. Their living quarter were…simply tents. Many of them were torn. And yet those men were not dissatisfied, having been allowed to live. Their comrades, in the interior provinces, had met violent death.

The labourers go off to buy food; Balakian tries to negotiate with the local authority to let them stay, and the local authority wants no part of them.

“Even if there is space in the city, I will not allow you to spend a night here. You’ll sleep outdoors and then go to Der Zor, where you can establish an independent Armenian state.”

Someone, in 2016, is trying to establish an independent state in Der Zor. It’s not the Armenians, though. The caravan moves out and sleeps in a likely-looking river valley. If any of them are to escape, they’re fast running out of time.

Trebizond

More excitement in the Black Sea, where U-33 is spotted by the Russian destroyer Strogi and rammed. Unfortunately, this achieves little except wrecking the destroyer’s bows and sowing further panic among the Russian admirals. General Yudenich is on his way to oversee the final attack on Trebizond, due to begin in about a week, and he’s going to have some work to do when he gets there.

Clifford Wells

The idiot son of a Montreal millionaire remains in quarantine owing to this rotten measles outbreak.

I was hoping to come out of quarantine on Monday, but this morning my room-mate went to the hospital with measles, and so I am due for 16 days’ more. I am going to apply for leave when I get out.

Robinson, my roommate, was much pleased to be going to the hospital. He was not feeling very sick, but had a beautiful rash. When he comes out of the hospital, of course, he will be out of quarantine, while I may still be confined.

It’s looking more and more likely that Maximilian Mugge will beat Clifford Wells to France, you know. Speaking of whom…

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge continues his genuinely fascinating record of camp life in England. He’s just had his six shillings’ pay for the week.

A man in my squad got one hour pack drill for blowing his nose whilst on parade. If you want to blow your nose (which you really should not do at all) you ought to fall back one step behind the line and then perform the operation. At least that is the rule in the 3rd Royal Sussex. Other regiments, I hear, insist on your taking one step forward. Well, this wicked boy of ours blowed his nose in the simple civilian style, and, probably loath to attract the attention of the whole square, without stepping behind.

Such a trunk call reaches the ears of the mighty captains; the movement of a man in the frozen, rigid sea of humanity on the square is sure to catch the eyes of the major gods. They frown. One hour pack-drill. When a hundred years hence they have industrial armies based on universal and compulsory service for all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five in order to get the world’s heavy and essential work done, I hope they will have different methods to ensure discipline.

Pack drill is what it sounds like; hard, merciless drilling in full marching order with about 60 pounds of crap on your back. Just wait until Mugge finds out about Field Punishment Number One! And it turns out that no, in a hundred years we may have another voluntary army, but it’s still very fond of a good beasting.

The story continues.

Immediately after pay-parade a corporal came round and offered a fountain pen for raffling, value two shillings and sixpence at the outside. Yet everybody in this hut and the next hut paid his twopence. Result, about six shillings; net profit, three shillings and sixpence. I understand raffling is a common practice for NCOs to add to their pocket-money.

The men, of course, do not like refusing such a brilliant opening for assuring the goodwill of the minor Lords of the Square. The fountain-pen corporal was followed by another NCO peddling in brooches with the regimental arms. After which appeared the laundry-men. My own drill-sergeant, an ex-bricklayer, takes in my washing; his customers, he says, are those who dislike the Company methods of laundrying. His wife returns the exact number of articles, well washed and well aired.

There is not much of my six shillings left now.

It’s genuinely very useful to hear about life in the ranks from someone who, although eager to do his duty, is already a bit cynical and worldly and prepared to record these acts of pettiness from the NCOs. It may be useful, by the way, to have a quick lesson in British old money. 12 old pence in a shilling, 20 shillings to the pound. It doesn’t make any logical sense and by this point, just about nobody in living memory ever pretended it did.

Louis Barthas

Private Louis Barthas has not heard anything of his request for a hearing with Colonel Douce, so continues poking the bear until Commandant Quinze-Grammes suffers his presence.

“Why do you want to talk to the colonel?” he asked.
“Commandant, sir, it’s about my punishment.”
“You know full well that if Captain Cros has punished you, he had good reason to do so.”
“That’s not my opinion.”
“So you are persisting in your intention to protest this matter?”
“Yes, commandant, sir.”
“You know, I won’t support your request for a hearing.”
“Commandant, I’m sorry, but I will persist all the same.”
“Fine. Go to it.”
“Commandant, may I go there right away?”
“Certainly not. You’ll wait until the colonel asks for you.”

Well, that’s progress. He’s one step closer to getting back the stripes that he doesn’t want. More soon.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 goes on sale in less than a week!

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

Submarines | Sussex | 24 Mar 1916

German submarines and Sussex

When last we considered German submarine policy, we found a hilariously badly-conceived compromise. On the one hand we had General von Falkenhayn and friends loudly advocating a return to unrestricted submarine warfare; on the other, everyone who has to worry about German foreign policy was warning that unrestricted submarine warfare would undoubtedly lead to the USA entering the war. The eventual compromise policy permitted the torpedoing of enemy merchant steamers and troop transports without warning, but not enemy passenger vessels.

Hey, guess what both sides have done with a lot of passenger liners in the war? If you said “requisitioned them for the Navy and turned them into troop transports”, congratulations, you’ve won a 10-shilling voucher to spend at Gamages. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to point out the potential pitfalls of this approach, but I guess he isn’t too popular in Germany. So it came to pass that today, UB-29 (not to be confused with U-29, rammed and sunk almost exactly a year ago to the day by HMS Dreadnought) is wandering around the Channel looking for trouble.

Early in the morning, UB-29 found it in form of the mid-sized cargo steamer Salybia; the ship is duly sunk off Dungeness. UB-29 has plenty more torpedoes, and strolls off. Things are quiet until mid-afternoon, and then she sights what appears to be a large passenger liner, full of troops heading to the Western Front. UB-29 splats her with a few more torpedoes, cutting the forward section of the ship clean off, and makes a quiet departure.

Unfortunately, this is no troop transport. This is SS Sussex, sailing the civilian boat-train service from Folkestone to Dieppe with a large number of passengers aboard. And, of course, among them are several American citizens, eight of whom die. The Official Naval History claims some 880 passengers were aboard; more recent history has a rather more sober figure of 325. Either way, this is pretty much the exact opposite of what the Germans need right now. In Washington, the President chooses to wait for further details before responding. More to come.

Cavalry on the Western Front

You might think that cavalry are a busted flush on the Western Front, but they’re still there. As a cavalryman himself, it’s not surprising that General Haig is trying to do something useful with them. From his diary.

When a break in [the German] line is made, cavalry and mobile troops must be at hand to advance at once to make a bridgehead (until relieved by infantry) beyond the gap with the object of checking hostile reserves which the Enemy might rush up, and so give time for our own divisions to deploy.

This is far from the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. There’s more to argue about with the concept that the German line can be broken at all! As long as there’s enough room for the cavalry to physically ride through the gap without getting shot at, this is a good and sensible idea, and we’ll have a chance to see the idea in action as the year rolls on. The historian Stephen Badsey has, very colloquially, described the concept as being like “very short-range paratroopers”. Mutter it quietly, but this might just be an example of the allegedly hidebound and stuck-in-the-mud Haig actually being ahead of the curve!

Marie and Hyacinth

A quick note from German East Africa, where the unloading of the supply ship Marie has been proceeding without interference. It’s as near over as makes no odds by now; but at last someone in the Royal Navy has noticed her, and HMS Hyacinth appears. Somehow, the British light cruiser hits Marie over 100 times without damaging the ship’s engine room or boiler room. And of course, all her supplies are well salvaged by now. Talk about your illusory victories.

Grigoris Balakian

Things are starting to get very, very, very slightly easier for Grigoris Balakian as he continues marching through the Armenian genocide.

We moved fast to get away from the bloody places wherein were scattered the limbs and skulls of hundreds of thousands of martyrs. We were rushing to reach our beloved Cilicia as soon as possible, because we all believed that if we reached Cilicia alive, we were saved for good. Alas, what naivete! … We spent the night in a small Kurdish village, where we were treated well. The further we got from the bloody regions of Yozgat-Bogazliyan-Kayseri-Tomarza, the less cruelly the villagers treated us.

Cilicia was once an independent Armenian kingdom, before the rise of the Ottoman Empire put paid to that. It’s on the corner of the Mediterranean, today in mid-southern Turkey.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson is still in a bad way. Fortunately, he’s taken my advice to go see the medical officer already! Let’s see how that turned out?

Spent a wretched night so went to the Dr in the morning who gave me some chlorodyne. Moved our camp to the front line of the trenches and rebuilt our hut. Had nothing to eat all day and vomited twice. Dopey gave me a quinine tablet and I felt a bit better later. Hassett returned from Maktau and said that Bibby was very bad with dysentery and had been sent to Nairobi.

Chlorodyne, as readers with long memories may recall, is in fact a popular patent medicine. I take it back! I take it back. Self-medicate all you want, honey. This doctor is clearly a quack.

Edward Mousley

At the Siege of Kut, Edward Mousley has competing duties. He has humanitarian concerns, but he also needs a new chess partner.

I saw Cockie this morning, and heard him from afar. Near him is an officer lying very still and white and quiet with his whole leg shattered, silent with the paralysis of extreme pain. I assisted Cockie with letters and other things, and got away as quickly as I could, as I felt this other sufferer wanted silence.

I walked through the palm woods to the 4-inch guns, where I found Parsnip alone in his glory. There he has been the whole siege with a very comfortable tent under the trees, and his only job is to repeat orders from the telephone to his two antediluvian guns. As a field gunner I am not enamoured of his monotonous and stationary job.
Parsnip is a subaltern, and has two characteristics. In playing chess he seizes the pieces by the head, and after describing an artistic parabola, sets them down. He is a Radical, as you would expect of any fellow so handling a pawn, let alone a queen. His second claim to notoriety is said to be as author of a future publication entitled, “Important People I intend to meet.” As a hobby he kills mosquitos with a horse flick.
For over an hour beneath those biblical palms Parsnip and I stood by his guns and smoked and looked out over the darkening plain where shadow chased shadow under the capricious moon, and where, like will o’ the wisps of an extravagant dream, tiny flashes tempted us still to hope on. For what? Well, there were the flashes. They were the flashes of our guns.

Still no news from General Gorringe’s attempt to scrape together a last-ditch relief effort. The siege continues.

The Sunny Subaltern

Our pseudonymous Canadian friend the Sunny Subaltern was last heard of in hospital, nursing a really big blister. Good news: he’s been discharged and is currently in close reserve, waiting to go up the line again. Bad news: like a good little boy, he’s trying to observe OPSEC while also telling his mother where he happens to be right now.

I believe you may have heard of this place, but I know that its importance is not known to you. Ask any school boy the principal city of France and he’ll say Paris, but “Somewhere” has recently so increased in population that I believe it supersedes gay Paree in importance to-day.

His battalion went up the line at the southern end of the Ypres salient and he hasn’t moved that far from there, so “Somewhere” is most likely to be Bethune or Hazebrouck. (It might be Poperinghe, but he’d surely know that Poperinghe is in fact in Belgium.) After a considerable amount of blether, he gets on to some useful observations.

Over here the aspect of the war narrows down considerably. You are really only interested in your actual front, as it were, and usually have enough to do to look after that. What the Grand Duke Nicholas is doing, or whether Turkey has been carved, or why Manitoba voted dry, doesn’t count. It’s what is Fritz going to do next in this few yards of trench I’m responsible for, or I wonder if we’ll move in or out to-morrow. One has plenty to do to see the men fed and quartered and inspect their feet and rifles twice a day and see that they have their proper amount of ammunition and an emergency ration uneaten.

Every man must always keep that, for it is against regulations to eat it except when in dire straits and on the orders of a Company Commander. But once in a while Tommy has a gnawing in his eight-cylinder self-starting 1916 model stomach. Then you see he has to report that “I’ve lost my iron ration, Sir.” Of course you ask where, and he says that someone stole it, or the rats ran away with the works, or it fell in a well, or a starving aviator came down and stopped him, so out of the goodness of his heart he gave him the food.

Almost any story made up on the instant goes. You berate him for being careless, knowing meanwhile he ate it, then proceed to apply through your Company Commander to the Colonel, thence the Quarter Master, who indents on the Army Service Corps for another. Hurrah for the life of a soldier!

Anyway, the general opinion here seems to be that the war can’t last much longer than, say, next fall. The Verdun affair means something and perhaps a few last gasps like that will see the tag end in sight.

Perhaps he’s not quite as naive and idiotic as I’ve been poking fun at him for being. Certainly he seems to understand that you do not put Tommy on a charge in this situation.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
Lake Naroch Offensive

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 goes on sale in less than a week!

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.)

The Wadi | Durazzo | 11 Jan 1916

Siege of Kut

We begin in Mesopotamia, where the weather has finally cleared enough to allow the Royal Flying Corps, after a prolonged period on the ground, to get their planes into the air. There’s plenty for them to see, and for General Aylmer, none of it is good. Several miles upstream of his lead elements is a large wadi, a steep valley with a watercourse of some sort at the bottom, that’s often only wet during the rainy seasion (not unlike the many deres on Gallipoli). This wadi is so large that it’s known to the invaders simply as “The Wadi” or “the Canal”. And, aren’t they just in luck, the Wadi is full of water right now.

That’s not all it’s full of. This is where the Ottoman blocking force has fallen back to, to prepared and well-sited defensive positions. A large and impassable salt marsh blocks the left bank of the River Tigris, and the blocking force is concentrated on the right bank. Their trenches are anchored, several miles up the Wadi from the Tigris, on a walled enclosure rather grandly called Chittab Fort. And the fliers also have an updated estimate of the enemy’s strength; they’re now pegging it at about 11,000.

At best, the strength of each force is now even; at worst, the Ottomans now have a slight manpower advantage. Time for thinking caps to be put on.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer spends another day at Sheikh Sa’ad, waiting for orders. After the past few days of marching every which way, the rest is very welcome. Even better, mail from home has been brought up with the rations. Time for some product placement!

Two fine days (though it freezes at night) and rest have restored us. A mail arrived this morning, bringing letters to December 7th. On these cold nights the Little Kitchener is invaluable; so is soup. Of the various brands, Ivelcon is the best. The chocolate is my mainstay on day marches. Also the Diet Tablets are very good. Bivouac Cocoa is also good. The Kaross is invaluable.

We have had absolutely no outside news since January 1st, and get very little even of the operations of our own force. I then went to see Foster who has had to go sick and lives on our supply ship. About 20 per cent. of our men are sick, mostly diarrhœa and sore feet. The former is no doubt due to Tigris water. They don’t carry the chlorinating plant on trek, and men often have to replenish water-bottles during short halts.

Personally I have so far avoided unboiled water. I have my bottle filled with tea before leaving camp, and can make that last me forty-eight hours, and eke it out with soup or cocoa in the Little Kitchener at bivouacs.

Cha-ching! There’s more than a few products being sent to Robert Palmer by his family that I’ve seen advertised by the Daily Telegraph. I used to spend a lot of time poking fun at those adverts. They don’t seem quite so funny now, though.

For the record, a “Little Kitchener” is a portable stove, one of many brands of Tommy cooker. They’re advertised as having been used since the Sudan. Sometimes the name appears with capital letters to emphasise “Kitchener”, sometimes it appears without to emphasise “kitchen”. A kaross is a large, heavy sheepskin cloak/blanket, as modelled by millions on the Western Front; and the Diet Tablets could be any one of a hundred patent medicines.

Erzurum Offensive

Day two of the Erzurum Offensive, still confined to probes on the Cakir Baba. And for the most part, it’s still a whole lot of nothing but poking at well-sited defences and getting cut down by machine-guns. For the most part. There is one important exception; there’s been a small breakthrough, apparently insignificant from the defenders’ point of view. However, there are now men in position to attack a mountain shoulder, the Kozican-dag. Take it, and they’ll be in position to break through onto the western Top Yol.

And not a moment too soon. A blizzard is blowing in, and although General Yudenich had hoped for a little more success, the Kozincan-dag position is the most important thing. The attack now breaks off, so as to give the impression to the Ottomans that it was only a distraction, and the blokes settle down to the serious business of trying not to freeze to death.

Flora Sandes

Time now to return to Corporal Flora Sandes and the Serbian Army, still outside Durazzo, waiting to be taken off and sent to Corfu for rest.

We were about 10 miles from the town of Durazzo, though it did not look anything like so far, and we could see it plainly at the end of the long line of yellow sands jutting out into the sea. There were several wrecks round there, one of them a Greek steamer, which had hit a floating mine. There were a great many of these floating mines about, and the Austrian submarines were also very active, adding immensely to the difficulty of getting food and supplies, which all had to be brought by sea to the troops.

…I rode into Durazzo with three of the officers to see the sights of the town. The first sight I did see was a real live English sergeant-major walking down the street. I could hardly believe my eyes, it seemed so long since I had seen an Englishman, and I did not know there were any there. I almost fell on his neck in my excitement, and he seemed equally astonished and pleased to see a fellow countrywoman. He took me up at once to the headquarters of the British Adriatic Mission, and fed me on tea and cakes, while we were waiting for [his Colonel] to come in. Afterwards I had lunch with the Colonel and his staff.

It was the first time for so long that I had sat on a chair and eaten my meals off a table with a table-cloth that I had almost forgotten how to do it. I went back late in the afternoon laden with sundry luxuries they had given me in the way of butter, jam, and a tinned plum pudding, and also two loaves of bread which I had bought in the town, as in those days when we got near a shop we always bought a loaf of bread, in the same way that people at home would buy cake.

I feel duty-bound to provide a moment’s humbug and point out that King’s Regulations strictly prohibit officers and NCOs socialising. Maybe it’s because she’s a Serbian corporal? (Please read with heavy amounts of dry sarcasm.)

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Erzurum Offensive

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 is now in production and should, touch wood, be available to order very soon.

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.)

General Hunter-Weston | 20 Jul 1915

Second Isonzo

The grand old Duke of Aosta has succeeded in marching his ten thousand men to the top of the hill. (Well, after disease and casualties there’s rather fewer than ten thousand, but it’s still a mildly amusing joke.) The summit of Mount San Michele is now in Italian hands. And now they discover another Western Front lesson that should have been taken into account. It’s all well and good taking enemy trenches, but when you do that, you find that the enemy artillery knows exactly where their old trenches are. The men holding the top of the hill are now learning this rather explosive lesson.

The Duke puts in another request for reinforcements, and once again, General Cadorna will take his sweet time deciding whether to grant it. On the other side of the hill, the need for reinforcements is being taken rather more seriously.

Our Advertising Feature

The claims of patent medicine: a real Cockle's Pills story!  Geddit?

The claims of patent medicine: a real Cockle’s Pills story! Geddit?

General Hunter-Weston

General Hunter-Weston, despite his bumptious attempts to put a brave face on things, is not in a good way. The exact nature of his ailment is, naturally, a Matter of Some Debate. If you’re minded to be charitable to him, the official diagnosis of sunstroke is the last word on this. It is, after all, rather hot and sunny in theatre.

On the other hand, Sir Ian Hamilton’s diary says “He has had a hard time and a heavy responsibility and is quite worn out”, making no mention of sunstroke. Whether you want to call it nervous exhaustion, neurasthenia, or something more modern, it’s entirely possible that Hunter-Weston’s nerves have finally cracked after nearly four months of failure at every turn. He’ll soon be on his way back to Blighty to recuperate, and he therefore leaves our story for a while.

He’ll be back.

Battle of Malazgirt

General Oganovski is rather disgruntled to find his brand-new positions on the Belican Hills coming under attack to the north and the west. Nothing decisive, but it does conflict with his intelligence assessment of Ottoman strength in the area. More soon.

Kenneth Best

Kenneth Best has been put on a boat. Once again the situation with food and water is pretty dire, although improving.

Sailing for Alexandria. Doc has put me on soup and fish. Wish they were more generous with the helpings. Padre came in and lent me V. Staley on Natural Religion, afforded me a little gentle mental exercise. I felt I was wholly disassociated from realities of life. It took me back to quiet scholastic days when I felt I was on the brink of discovering universal truth.

I wish I were back at the Front and fit again. Shaved by an Indian barber. Wrote to Robin.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Malazgirt
Battle of the Isonzo (Second Isonzo)

Further Reading

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. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

Legacy of the Konigsberg | 18 July 1915

Konigsberg

Having finally succeeded in ending the Konigsberg, Admiral King-Hall has now found himself carrying the can for the failure to put her to bed any sooner. He’s also managed to alienate virtually all of his subordinates, and there’s a large bucket of cacky waiting for him back home. Today he leaves East Africa. When he returns to Blighty he’ll be refused an active command and will spend the rest of the war mouldering away as base commander at Scapa Flow.

Meanwhile, the destruction of the Konigsberg has been followed by six days of horrible weather. It clears today, and Piet Pretorius leads a party up the Rufiji delta to find the wreck. He does so, and confirms that the ship is thoroughly out of commission and has apparently been abandoned by its crew. When the report gets back to the Admiralty, their opinion will be “Job done!”

This, sadly, is not sufficient. Even as the survivors lie low a few miles inland, Captain Looff is preparing salvage expeditions both for Konigsberg and Kronborg. In about a month’s time, the ship’s guns will have been taken away, and most of the crew will be journeying to Dar-es-Salaam to join Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck. It’s a pretty staggering oversight on the Royal Navy’s part.

Our Advertising Feature

Mineral water as patent medicine.  Ballsy, but I like it!

Mineral water as patent medicine. Ballsy, but I like it!

Second Isonzo

General Cadorna has considerably reduced his expectations for the Second Battle of the Isonzo, beginning today. He’s planned an attack on and around Mount San Michele, having correctly identified it as the keystone of the Austro-Hungarians’ defence of the northern Carso. After a couple of days, they’re also going to have another crack at Mount Cosich, once reinforcements have been committed to San Michele.

The preliminary bombardment begins early today on Mount San Michele. They’ve tightened up the accuracy and developed an actual fire plan, with some guns hitting the front line and some hitting the rear areas. The Austro-Hungarians have a pretty decent front line, by now. In many places the men have managed to dig themselves decent dugouts. However, their rear areas are still poorly fortified and the reserves take heavy casualties.

The Italians go over the top at 1pm, and this time they actually get somewhere! Almost by accident, they’ve hit on a successful tactic. Many of their oppnents are caught still down in their dugouts when the Italians arrive. More only escape in enough time to retreat before being overrun. It’s still nasty, hot, bloody work, but this time they’re at least going somewhere. More soon.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas and friends have arrived at Hersin-Coupigny, a few miles behind the lines, for seven days’ rest.

The two oldest veterans of the squad, Ayrix and Lapeyre, invited me to go with them to the end of the road that met the main road passing through the village. At this crossroads the company’s field kitchen had set up shop, in the open air.

I was ready to follow my two buddies when, all of a sudden, I was overcome by an indefinable sensation of worry, anguish, fear. I was sure of it; this was the imminence of danger which I was feeling.

He talks for a while longer about his intuition. In the end, Barthas makes an excuse and declines the invitation. Instead he goes into a postcard shop with Private Ventresque, and potters around for a while.

We were on our way out when suddenly a series of explosions could be heard. A volley of powerful, timed-fuse shells had just fallen on Hersin. Next to the shop was a little courtyard with a skylight roof; a big shell fragment shattered it, producing a shower of broken glass.

We rushed back to our billet. There we learned that three powerful shells had fallen right onto the crossroads where our field kitchen stood. The four cooks were critically injured. The kitchen had its chimney knocked off, and the cooking pot was blown apart. We would go hungry that day.

Ayrix had such a serious wound to his arm that it had to be amputated. Lapeyre was badly wounded in the leg. A shell fragment had sliced off, as neatly as a pastry slicer, a piece of his calf as big as a chestnut, and the blood poured out like a fountain.

In all, the company had twelve wounded men, all of whom had been standing around the field kitchen, chatting away. Very luckily, less than a hundred metres away was a military hospital where the wounded were taken quickly and given immediate attention.

The bloke has damn good instincts, I’ll give him that much.

Kenneth Best

Kenneth Best is now being evacuated. He’s not in a good mood.

As I left, Colonel Parker beamed on me and shook hands warmly. Always found him hard and cold before. Wondered if he feared I should lay charge of enteric to insanitary state of dressing station and their water?

About 12:30 I was borne off and placed in a wagon. Drove down to pierhead and then was carried by smelly Greek natives and laid on small constructed pier. Next I was dumped into a lighter from which hay was still being unloaded, rocked about until hay was off and sick men were on.

We were towed to the Newmarket. I was first to be put on, so last to be taken off. Got off, and was laid in blazing sun with men constantly passing over me. No food or drink. Later I was pulled into shade and given a little barley water. That was all I had all day. The non-stretcher cases were having glorious feeds.

We come up to Hospital Ship No. 1. All serious calls to go aboard, the rest ashore [to Mudros]. What a farce. Lots of fellows fed up with roughing it, but with no real ailment, sneak aboard.

Best is taken ashore and put to bed. Still he gets no food or water. We can just about excuse “no food” on the grounds that it might just go straight through him, but he desperately needs to be rehydrated. And let’s remember here that he’s an officer. If this is all that officers get, what about the men?

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Malazgirt
Battle of the Isonzo (Second Isonzo)

Further Reading

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. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)