Battle of Hanna
It’s time to attack at the Hanna chokepoint in Mesopotamia. The Siege of Kut has to be relieved somehow. Can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, et cetera. And, after several months of relaxation and a few weeks of marching, it’s time for Robert Palmer of the 1/4th Hampshires to lead his men into battle, on the extreme left of the attack; it begins just before 8am.
As soon as we left the trenches we were under a heavy rifle fire, and as we advanced this became more and more intense, with machine gun and shrapnel fire added. The ground was perfectly flat and open with no form of cover to be obtained, and our casualties soon became very heavy. We continued to advance till we got to within about 150 yards of the enemy’s trenches, but by this time our casualties were so heavy that it was impossible to press home the attack without reinforcements, though at the extreme left of our line, our troops actually got into the first line of trenches, but were bombed out of them again by the Turks.
No reinforcements reached us, however, and we afterwards heard that the Regiment which should have come up in support of us was enfiladed from their right and was consequently drawn off in that direction.
But these are not his words; this account is credited only to “An Officer Who Was There”. A brother officer, Lieutenant Vernon, gives a few more details.
…He was the only Hants officer actually to penetrate the Turkish trenches with a few men. That was on the extreme left close to the river. Our men, however, had not been supplied by the Indian Government with bombs. Consequently the Turks, being so provided, bombed them out, and only one or two men escaped capture or death. It was here that [he] was mortally wounded while trying to rally his men to hold the captured sector.
A further account tells of Robert Palmer being seriously wounded in the chest by a grenade and surviving until mid-afternoon, before dying of the wound in an Ottoman aid post. However, it will take the better part of four months to collect the story and inform his family that he is dead; in the meantime, he will be officially missing.
Meanwhile, the battle goes on. Another bombardment is ordered for early afternoon, followed by another infantry charge. The rain has come back by now, heavy as ever it was. The ground has been pulped by both sides’ shells, and this attack sinks hopelessly into the mud, doomed to fail. The relief force has taken over 2,700 casualties and achieved absolutely nothing.
Before we leave the Battle of Hanna behind, a quick note. You may remember last week Robert Palmer telling us how he narrowly avoided having to organise a firing-party to shoot three Indian soldiers for either cowardice or desertion. Two Indian battalions were supposed to advance along with Robert Palmer, but according to Major Stilwell of the Hampshires, when they saw the impossible conditions, they refused, despite their white officers waving revolvers around.
It seems that, unlike Palmer, the executed men’s friends have drawn the correct conclusion from their example. Talk about giving your life so that your friends may live…
Louis Barthas’s leave is over. He’s acquired two companions to make the journey slightly less dull.
One was my friend Allard from Peyriac, a veteran of the 13th Squad and survivor of Lorette who was joining his new regiment of Territorials, where his age had earned him a spot. The other was Private Sabatier, from Rieux, in the same battalion as mine. Illiterate, ignorant, and simpleminded, not understanding even French, Sabatier would not have been able to get back to the front without me.
Here we pause to remind ourselves again that Barthas and his friends would have thought and spoke amongst themselves in Occitan, with standard French only used when necessary. (Anyone want to bet that Captain Cros-Mayrevielle always uses standard French?) We know the good corporal quite well by now, so it should be no surprise that he’s barely out of his village before he’s found something to complain about.
By the time we arrived in Toulouse, the train of returning leave takers had already departed. The railway employees compelled us to take the express train to Paris, which was just about to pull out. This obligation made us suspicious, and we were right. They wanted to rid the Toulouse station of the mob of soldiers, but then at each station they would empty out a car or two.
So there we were in Brive-la-Gaillarde, stuck for twenty-four hours. Since it was the same thing every day, the hotel keepers flocked to the station to offer their hospitality (at a price) for the night to the disoriented leave takers. We had no choice but to spend a night in a hotel bed.
Actions in Progress
Siege of Kut
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