Kut surrenders | Easter Rising | 29 Apr 1916

Surrender of Kut

General Townshend is apparently too sick to surrender personally. He is, however, apparently well enough to issue one last message to the blokes suggesting that parole might still be possible. Shut the fuck up! You are not helping! The surrender is eventually made official by General Delamain, the very same man who led the first troops into Basra 18 months ago. The town is occupied. Edward Mousley is fighting a losing battle against looting Ottomans. They’ve all been ordered to gather at the hospital.

We got some sepoys to carry our kit, or rather the remains of it, and as I left the tiny courtyard the last thing I saw was poor Don Juan’s black tail hanging on a nail on the post in the sun to dry. I wanted it for a souvenir of a trusty friend, but there was not a second to be lost. In the street the Arabs were all hostile to us. Turks full of loot raced up and down. We met officers whose rings had been taken and pockets emptied.

The padre’s wrist-watch and personal effects were taken. In hospital, Square-Peg and I lay on our valises on the ground of the tiny yard, as the hospital was overflowing and officers kept still arriving. Sir Charles Melliss came shortly after. He had a bed beside mine near the doorway, and I thought looked very ill. His little white dog was beside him and all around him were sick and dying officers.

Nothing I can say could measure my gratitude and admiration for Major Aylen, the C.O. officers’ hospital. While living on the hardest and most severe of diet himself he has gone from minute to minute with only one thought—for his charge. He is everywhere, and in adversity his industry, patience, and hopefulness are all we have left. If I am to be fortunate enough to survive this ordeal I shall have him to thank.

Tudway turned up as arranged for the evening meal. We pooled our flour and had Chuppatis, one-fourth of which we gave to Holmes my orderly. We lay on blankets on the ground and smoked the lime-leaves, and Tudway said good-bye. He announced his intention to go upstream with some other brigade, and I said good-bye to a very pleasant companion.

The night was hot. One heard the moans of the enteritis patients and the tramp of troops all night long.

So far, they’d have had about equal treatment had they been taken on the Western Front by Germans. Except for one important point: there is, as yet, no food. More to follow. The siege of Kut is over, but the story of the prisoners is only just beginning. Lieutenant Tudway RN leaves the story for a while today; but don’t worry, he’ll be back soon.

Meanwhile, in Persia, General Baratov’s too-little too-late relief expedition has won a minor victory at Karind. The Ottomans, as you might expect, settle for holding him up for a day and then retire to avoid taking heavy casualties.

Gas at Hulluch

There’s another round of phosgene gas releases by the Germans at Hulluch, near Loos. This is on a rather smaller scale, and sees the weather change abruptly, blowing the gas back onto the German trenches. Many of the men here are caught by surprise, without their own masks to hand, and casualties are much higher than they otherwise might have been. Gas is far from a reliable weapon, as this demonstrates quite clearly. There are a few more raids, but the excitement is now mostly over.

There’s two important things to learn for the BEF. Most of the men here were equipped with the old-style PH Helmet, a glorified sack with eyeholes. However, the Lewis-gun teams had been given priority for issues of the new Respirator Small Box. The new gas mask’s performance has far outstripped the PH helmet in every possible way; production will soon be stepped up so that by July, the PH Helmet will be an endangered species.

Also, the attacks have flagged up important deficiencies in gas precautions. Officers have been trying to protect their dugouts with anti-gas blankets at the entrances, which have mostly proved useless. Ammunition and rifles exposed to the gas have been rendered unusable due to corrosive chemical deposits. On the other hand, those Lewis gunners have again led the way. Many of their weapons were wrapped in blankets and the blankets drenched in Vermorel anti-gas solution; their guns have been only slightly damaged and are soon back in full working order.

That’s the end for gas at Hulluch; but we do have more tomorrow.

Easter Rising

Another brief note from Ireland. From an Irish perspective the Rising is by far one of the most important moments of the war. However, in terms of affecting the actual fighting between empires, it’ll do so only obliquely. It’s much more important for its political consequences, of which there will be quite a bit more to come.

The actual rebellion in Dublin we can reduce to a few sentences for now, and maybe come back to the details for the book of 1916. In brief, the rebels seized a number of Dublin buildings, but were unable to gain control over any of the city’s railway stations, nor to impede the British Army’s use of the River Liffey. Combine these strategic failings with a below-par turnout and the interception of a vital German arms shipment, and there was only ever going to be one result. General Maxwell, late of Egypt, sent to take command of the situation, arrives in Ireland in just enough time to take the rebel surrender.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson is perhaps slightly annoyed by a testy message from his colonel, and vents against a passing field ambulance.

Woken up by an Indian with a telegram from Colonel Freeth saying that we were to come on as soon as possible as the car was urgently required. Am afraid it will be a very difficult job as there has been a lot of rain the last 2 days and looks like more to come. Legg has not come back with the motor yet so we shall not be able to move off for another day or two yet. The S African Indian Field ambulance marched on about 9 o’clock making an awful coolie noise.

I hope their stretcher-bearers drop you on your head when you get wounded, you arse.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas is finding that sleep doesn’t come easy in his latest barn at Conde-en-Barrois.

Along one wall, numerous sacks of oats had been piled up. I perched myself there, happy to have found such a nice spot. But once the brouhaha of two hundred men packed in there had quieted down, and the last candle of a few manille players had been extinguished, it was as if an order or a signal had been given. All along the wall, the roof beams, the ground, brushing up against me, nibbling, gnawing, with little yelps of joy, along my legs, across my body, my face—all the rats of the neighborhood, gathering for their daily feast.

In vain I tried to frighten them off by turning on my flashlight, and swinging a club back and forth. No sooner had I turned off the flashlight and set down my club than an even bigger mob swarmed to the feast. Defeated, I had to move and lie down on a beam along one wall. But why didn’t the owner of these bags of oats realize that, in a fortnight, he’d be left with only a handful?

I stopped wondering when, the next day, a neighbor told me that these oats had already been requisitioned and paid for. So if they went into the mouths of rats or of horses, what difference did it make?

C’est la Grande Guerre. Manille is the French soldier’s trick-taking card game of choice.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still giving Corporal Barthas a serious run for his money in the Complaining Stakes. He’s a lot of time to put in yet before he qualifies for the title of grognard, mind you. And he’s rather more high-minded.

These home-service companies are really and truly nothing but labour colonies to provide forced labour at a wage the trade unions would scorn. To hide this unpleasant fact, all the tomfoolery of uniforms and of button cleaning is not sufficient. The NCOs are foremen and their “fatigues” are labour gangs. Anyhow, stripped of all the seductive verbiage of honour and glory and of the glittering and trappings there is a little difference between slavery and army life. It is true the whip of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has disappeared.

But the busting frogs of N.C.O.’s have other weapons. Their tongue is the least harmless. Nobody minds being told, “Put more gutts [sic] into it, man!” But the “criming” power of the NCO is wicked…

“When the history of this war comes to be written,” as our brilliant journalists have it, thus pressing the highly problematic testimony of future generations into service as laudatory witnesses to the efficiency and patriotism of Lord Gryllus … the scribes will point out that the European War marks the first step towards Industrial Armies.

This is almost certainly a reference to a satire by Plutarch often referred to as “Gryllus” after one of its characters. Warming to his theme, Mugge sets out a system for a “citizen army of industry” to get important but undesirable jobs done by citizen service.

Theirs would be a genuine spirit of duty, especially as long as everybody knew that Lord Gryllus’s sons would find no tribunals to exempt them from serving the first months in the Sewage Battalion. Why should not the Crossing Sweepers’ Battalion and the Heavy Porterage Brigade have as loyal and gentlemanly men as Kipling’s Subaltern or Newbolt’s Admirals’? All a question of spirit and training, sir! You treat a man as a gentleman and not as dirt, and in nine cases out of ten he will live up to it! Your nine successful cases will help you in bullying the tenth, the rotter, into working decency.

Everyone who’s giggling at the thought of public schoolboys in the Sewage Battalion, raise your hands.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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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</a

Unconditional surrender | Lt-Col Churchill | 28 Apr 1916

Siege of Kut

Let’s go straight to Edward Mousley. It’s been an extremely busy day, and I feel I owe it to him to let him tell us what has just happened. It begins with General Townshend issuing an utterly cynical general message. In it, Townshend says he has high hopes of obtaining parole to India for the Kut garrison, which seems suspiciously like a pile of old shit. Nevertheless.

A great arrangement. We are a sick army, a skeleton army rocking with cholera and disease. Instead of the lot of captivity in this terrible land…the garrison may see India again and have a welcome there. The fact that the communiqué does not state for absolute certainty the condition of parole does not detract so much from the spirit of the garrison, such faith have they in the [General Officer Commanding], and General Townshend’s prestige with the Turks is held sufficient to get this condition. Besides, they say a general must always leave a big margin, and when he states probability he means certainty.

I cannot imagine a greater change than this that has come over all to-day. Dying men laugh and talk of Bombay and news of home. The sepoy sees again his village and feels the shade of the banyan. “Not to bear arms against Turkey.” That still leaves Germany and all the rest.

Yeah, you know who else has noticed this would-be-clever clause? The Ottomans. Because they’re not simpletons, and they know what happens when you try to bluff with no cards in your hand. Townshend, you cynical wanker. Ye gods. There are a lot of things in this war that I struggle to understand, and a lot of crimes by generals that appall me. This, however, is in a category all of its own. What an utter and total arse.

Later.—Two junior officers visited the Turkish headquarters’ camp. General Townshend did not go.

They brought back news that Enver Pasha had refused parole and demands unconditional surrender. Destruction of our ammunition, spare rifles, and kit, proceeds apace. I have just destroyed my two saddles, field-glasses, revolver, and much else. Detonations are heard all along the trenches. Kut falls to-morrow. This news on top of these few short hours of hope seems incredible, and the silence with which the garrison received it is too magnificent for reference.

I don’t think I can say any more about this without just descending into a potpourri of incoherent swearing. Or possibly singing the Internationale. Fuck Townshend. He’s trying to rescue the situation by upping his proposed bribe from £1 million to £2 million, a plan best responded to with mass coordinated flatulence. Anyway, there’s more about today, from people who aren’t complete and total shitheads, so let’s go spend a little more time with them instead.

At lunch Tudway informed me in his quiet way that he contemplated running the gauntlet downstream in the Sumana to-night in the hope of saving his ship from the Turks. He invited me to come with him. I felt very complimented and after some consideration I agreed. Tudway knew his ship, the river, and the likely stoppages. He had counted the risk of cables. The current would help us and the Turkish guns were all still, no doubt, pointing downstream against other possible Julnas. In two hours we should be down. We left things at this and Tudway went to make inquiries.

He has just returned in a resigned frame of mind. The project was absolutely private and not known to headquarters, who, however, sent anticipatory orders to Tudway that the Sumana was under no circumstance to be damaged but kept intact in Kut. The surrender was unconditional, and we were destroying everything. The Sumana, however, was a most valuable asset for inducing Turks to give us transport.

We have considered the chance of getting downstream by night on a ship’s lifebelt, the current doing several knots and quite enough to carry one down. There was, of course, the considerable chance of capture by the devilish Arabs or being seen by the Turks. The chief question, however, was whether we could stay in the water six or seven hours. In our present health we decided it out of question, even if we had covered ourself with oil.

At 9pm, our little mess had its last talk. We sat and smoked, divided the remnants of tobacco and tin of atta, and awaited news. I am told to come into hospital, but a later report says there is no room.

This is how the siege ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper from all the boots I’m putting into the architect of this farce. Townshend’s decision to invite a siege can be argued either way on military grounds, but the manner in which he’s conducted the siege has been absolutely pathetic. Enough! More tomorrow.

Winston Churchill

A brief note from the front, where one Lieutenant-Colonel Winston Churchill of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers has now rediscovered his appetite for politics after a few months of living in a ditch at Plugstreet. More than once he’s been given leave to attend debates in the House of Commons. Now he’s had enough of the outdoor life, and will soon give up his commission for good and return to London. This is on the understanding that if he flip-flops again, the Army isn’t interested in an officer who serves only when it suits his whims. Of course, private soldiers who attempt to do the same thing face a rather different fate…

David Lloyd-George, incidentally, has no interest in seeing Churchill return. He’ll tell the man, during a later dispute, “You will one day discover that the state of mind revealed in (your) letter is the reason why you do not win trust even where you command admiration. In every line of it, national interests are completely overshadowed by your personal concern.” He’s not wrong there.

The Sunny Subaltern

The Sunny Subaltern is up the line in the Ypres salient at Hooge, just about the worst place on the Western Front right now that isn’t at Verdun. He’s spending the next eight days there.

[This is] veritable hell in a rotten part of the line. We occupied a series of holes, some connected and some isolated, ranging in distance from thirty
to fifteen yards from Fritz’s lines. They were old German trenches taken some time ago, and it is almost impossible to do any great amount of work on them. Then, the interminable night with every nerve and muscle strained in a long “stand to”, with the added exertion of placing an additional platoon that came up as reinforcements.

And the cramped, numb feeling as one sat in a narrow trench with the intermittent rattle of rifle fire, the insistent tattoo of a machine gun, or the hazy smoke of flares that ever and anon “swizzed” up here and there, lighting in their ghastly magnesium the faces of the men who, cramped and cold, waited for they knew not what. All these factors, I say, broke the nerve and strained the mentality. After that, “stand down”, and then Rum.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly who this person is, by the way. Watch this space.

Malcolm White

Malcolm White, in close reserve, still has plenty of time to write.

Russell-Smith lent me E.F. Benson’s new school story. E.F.B. and Ian Hay, etc., represent a kind of breezy school in modern literature, who have the ideas of the last generation and the smart phraseology of the present. An anthology of their works might be made by E.V. Lucas and called “In Praise of Public School Men”.

Pause.

A while ago, I reviewed the relationship between White and Evelyn Southwell, and I cast a few aspersions on the apparent homoeroticism there. Now we have an important piece of supporting circumstantial evidence. “E.F. Benson’s new school story” is almost certainly David Blaize, published 1916 (although nobody knows in what month, which is irritating). Benson was gay, and about as openly so as it was possible to be in 1916. His school and university stories are, erm. They’re about as gay as it’s possible to be in print in 1916. Which is to say, extremely gay, but with a careful veneer of plausible deniability over it.

This is far from conclusive evidence. However, it’s not unlike looking at someone’s DVD collection and seeing a complete box set of Xena: Warrior Princess. It’s also not beyond the realm of possiblity that White could just have been this decade’s answer to the odd clueless Xena fan who gets into constant heated arguments with other fans because Captain Clueless sees absolutely no gay subtext in Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship whatsoever. I’m still not saying anything for sure. But still.

Resume. He’s also making some notes about the sounds of various shells, although nothing has dropped closer than about 75 yards to him. Oh, and Ian Hay is the author of “The First Hundred Thousand” in Blackwell’s Magazine, which Bernard Adams admired so much even though it leaves bits out.

The Whizz-bang; which comes from a field-gun, close up to the enemy’s front line, and is generally shrapnel. This bursts almost before you know it is coming, so that there is no time to feel frightened, and one says, ‘Hallo (hello, halloah, halo, etc. [there are various ways of spelling this]), that was a shell’.

Our own; which one hears whistling through the air all the way, from the report of the gun to the explosion near the enemy’s lines. One knows roughly where they are, and there is nothing to excite more than a mild interest.

The enemy’s big-gun and howitzer shells. These, especially the latter, can be heard whistling for some time, and one can tell if they are coming in one’s direction or not. These have affected me unpleasantly; a series of them came over, and one hit our trench one day. It was not very alarming, because I was in bed in my dug-out at the time. Still, I did just feel as I heard them coming that it might be serious, and felt like saying,’ For goodness’ sake burst, and tell me where you are’.

Now that, I imagine, is the real shell feeling, which is accentuated in the case of a real bombardment, which I have not experienced.

It seems that English is finally standardising on “Hello”; but “Hullo” and “Hallo” are not quite archaic yet. If I had my way they would be carefully preserved for use by future generations. To my ear, all three variants carry distinctly different sounds, even though they mean the same thing. Er, anyway.

Maximilian Mugge

As is all too usual, Maximilian Mugge has Important Thoughts that keep him from, as he’d probably prefer, musing on such peculiarities of language.

Tucked away in a corner of our camp is the canteen. Its primitive structure is only surpassed by the conveniences for the men, which are an open row of semi-circles in a board. There the men squat like penguins and smoke and crack jokes. Of course excusable in the Field, but here! In the canteen, a tiny Wild-west shanty hardly bigger than a suburban drawing room a fat Civilian fills the foaming bumpers. There are no chairs or tables. Two benches along the walls, and half-a-dozen beer barrels make up the furniture. The cooks simply live in the canteen during their off-hours.

If one judiciously reminds them that the fat Civilian would be pleased to supply them with another pint and another one, these old sodjers [sic] use their discretion next morning when issuing breakfast-rations for the range-folk. If Munchausen had had the gift of some of these old soldiers who are nightly spinning their yarns in this smelly and smoky gold-digger shanty he would have done much better. These men have seen twelve, sixteen, twenty years of service and their thirst is simply phenomenal.

The stories they tell make the choicest anecdotes of old Boccaccio appear almost fit reading matter for a school for the daughters of gentlemen. Of course their style is not so refined as that of “Three Weeks.” Most of these yarns are unprintable. One of my hut-mates has written down for me three, which I think are the mildest he knows. There is, of course, a certain monotony about them. But after two thousand years of Christian culture they make interesting reading.

Can’t you just see this wannabe-intellectual, sitting up late in the canteen listening to the old sweats talking bollocks for half the night? I’d love to know what happened to the transcripts. Giovanni Boccaccio, by the way, is a 14th-century Florentine writer who dared both to write in common Italian, and also dared to write about sexy things.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

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

Negotiating for Kut | Hulluch | 27 Apr 1916

Siege of Kut

Today General Townshend attempts to open negotiations for his surrender. I say “attempts” advisedly, since he spends a great deal of time talking about money, and the details of parole. Meanwhile, and pardon me for being crude, but Halil mostly gives his opposite number the arsehole. And well he might; his men have spent the last six months or so dispensing liberal kickings to British Empire forces. It surely shouldn’t be a surprise that Townshend is instead met with a demand for unconditional surrender. Halil does at least do them the courtesy of referring the question of money to Enver Pasha, but I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, inside the garrison, Edward Mousley continues recording his thoughts.

Last night we destroyed surplus ammunition. Today General Townshend, Colonel Parr, and Captain Morland have gone upstream to interview the Turkish Commander-in-Chief. There is a hum of inquiries. One says it is parole and marching out with the honours of war. Another talks of the Turks requiring our guns as the price of the garrison.

Today it is a changed Kut. It is armistice. No sound of fire breaks the hush of expectations. The river-front, grass-grown from long disuse, and the landing-stage likewise, for it has been certain death to go on that fire-swept zone, to-day swarm with people walking and talking. The Turks on the opposite bank do the same. It is strange. I walked a little with a stick. Hope has made one almost strong.

This afternoon I went over the river to Woolpress village, where the tiny garrison has been the whole siege, and many of them have not once visited Kut. The defences are excellent. They have also had to fight floods. A little hockey ground and mess overlooking the river safe from bullets suggested Woolpress as a peaceful spot, notwithstanding its liability to instant isolation from Kut.

This is a deeply fertile ground for the growing of latrine rumours. General Townshend is about to do his own part to patronise them, incidentally. Tonight the garrison eats the last of its last-resort emergency iron rations. Tomorrow they are officially out of food.

Actions at Hulluch

It’s been a hot week or two in the Loos sector, with heavier than usual bombardments. If that were the only thing that were up, so much so normal. However, three days ago a deserter came across No Man’s Land with a warning that a gas-supported attack was imminent. This information confirmed earlier suspicions (which included a large number of rats fleeing the German trenches, which could potentially have been because of leaky gas cylinders), and General Kavanagh has put his corps on high alert for a gas attack.

This morning it comes, with a large release of a mixture of chlorine, phosgene, and tear gas. The clouds have reduced visibility to 3 yards, gas masks are being worn three and a half miles behind the front lines, and the smell is carrying a full 15 miles into the BEF’s rear. When the infantry attack comes, it’s almost entirely made up of large raiding parties, heading in with hand grenades and melee weapons to capture prisoners and papers.

It’s a pain in the arse, of course, but it’s not too much more. Indeed, while the Germans will be able to return with useful intelligence, this might actually turn out to be a useful chance for the defenders to study carefully what might happen in the aftermath of a gas attack. More to come.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues his efforts to drive a car across the Tanzanian backcountry in the middle of the rainy season.

Legg went back to workshop No.2 to see if he could get his spring fixed up and also to see if he could get some rations. He got stuck in the river while going across but with the aid of Sergeant Grey and his section and a motor lorry we soon got him out. After lunch I went out shooting. It rained pretty heavily during the night but I managed to keep dry as I slept in Legg’s waterproof shelter.

The spring, you may recall, was broken on a rock while trying to cross a particularly nasty bog.

The Sunny Subaltern

The Sunny Subaltern has been released from his penance at Hellfire Corner, taking rations up and down the Menin Road every night as transport officer. Now he’s going up the line with everybody else. And when they do go up the line, it’s still going to be to the very nastiest spot of all at Hooge.

I return to my company tonight. The transport job was all right but I d just as soon go back to my platoon. However, the Commanding Officer in turning over to the Transport Officer said I had done good work and he would remember it; also, he wouldn’t remove me were it not for the fact that I was a senior subaltern in the regiment. So, tomorrow night up we go into the trenches, into a real delightful spot; at least delightful in the fact that Fritz makes it very warm there. Casualties have been quite heavy there lately.

Humor out here is a saving grace, and I can assure you there are lots of chances to acquire the grace. For instance, while passing through [Ypres], a soldier on sentry duty in my hearing said “I was sent back to do base duty. This is an ‘ell of a base!” This caustic remark was made as he stopped the transport to inform me the road ahead was being shelled. And as we stopped, Fritz lobbed over a couple of shrapnel just ahead some twenty yards.

Base duty usually means a long and very boring spell guarding some bridge or headquarters out of sound of the guns, to make sure nobody steals it.

Clifford Wells

More humour from idiot son of a Montreal millionaire Clifford Wells, back in England.

We have a saying in the army which indicates well the optimistic spirit which prevails, showing as it does that we always look on the bright side of things. Whenever anything goes wrong, or an unexpected (or in one’s own private opinion an unnecessary) disagreeable task is thrust on one, the customary remark, uttered in a tone of patient resignation and determination not to be discouraged, is “Well, we have a good navy, anyway,” or “Thank goodness, we have a navy.”

The other day it was storming so hard that we knew it would be impossible to carry out the “battle practice” at the ranges according to schedule, but as Divisional Orders said we were to go to the Ranges, we went. On arriving at the ranges, we were officially informed that the weather conditions were unfavourable, and so we marched back again—eight miles altogether in a driving, pouring rain.

When I reached my room wet to the skin, my batman’s greeting was “Good gracious, Mr. Wells, ain’t it a good thing we have a navy?”

The Navy is, of course, the last line of defence that prevents an invasion of England. Allegedly. When its battleships aren’t crashing into each other like a pair of town drunks. I smell heavy potential for a running joke here.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge, meanwhile, has plenty to complain about.

Probably, if a trained philologist should ever take the trouble to correct my amateurish opinions, the latest hypothesis of mine as to the origin of the phrase, “We’ll gie ’em beans!” will be considered silly and absurd by those learned Mandarins whose assertions even about the most uncertain things are always vehement in their insistence. To give “beans” to somebody is an equivalent to give him “socks,” i.e., inflict pain on him, chastise, punish him.

Now should it not be possible that the phrase owes its origin to bean-fed soldiers, to men who were overfed with beans, who were ” fed-up” with beans? For a whole fortnight now the only vegetables we have had for dinner were beans. Beans yesterday, beans to-day, beans to-morrow.

Interesting that he doesn’t have any comment on the origin of “socks”. It of course is the more punchy of the two standard responses to the German cry “Gott mit uns!”, which presages some immediate and violent response. “You’ve got mittens? Well, here’s socks!” (The more long-suffering response is simply “Yeah, we got mittens too.”) It’s clearly travelled back to Blighty with the wounded.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

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

BEF intelligence | Kut | 25 Apr 1916

Siege of Kut

At the Siege of Kut, negotiations are now under way for the garrison’s surrender.

Frantic messages have been pinging between General Lake (downstream) and General Townshend (in Kut). There are, after all, laws of war. They’re still holding out some hope that, in exchange for a suitably large bribe and a pinky promise that none of the garrison will ever fight against the Ottoman Empire again we totally promise you guys, the garrison might be allowed to march out and go home. Someone has rather crudely suggested an offer of one million pounds for their freedom.

Most of the evening is spent in putting together a suitably diplomatic proposal for the Ottomans. It also includes the suggestion that special negotiators attend, including the secondment of one Captain T.E. Lawrence from the Cairo intelligence staff. (Yes folks, that’s Lawrence of Arabia.)

BEF Intelligence

The performance of the BEF’s intelligence department has, to say the least, been a very long-running Matter of Some Debate. The debate mostly revolves around its most notorious head, one General John Charteris, and charges that he routinely massaged and falsified his own department’s reports to make them more optimistic. We’ll be investigating Charteris himself a little in days to come.

However, there’s more to the story of intelligence than Charteris’s oafishness, and subalterns laughing at the inanities of Comic Cuts, the daily field intelligence briefing. One of BEF Intelligence’s major concerns about now is producing an accurate estimate of German manpower. This of course is critical to Haig’s professed strategy of fighting a series of “wearing-out” battles until the Germans are no longer able to feed fresh reinforcements into the fight, at which time they can aim for a decisive victory.

One of the major things they’re trying to do at the moment is to work out which German conscript classes are being called up. Under normal circumstances the German army calls up men at age 20; each class is then designated by year, so every German who will be 20 years old in 1916 is in the “1916 class”. This is a very important point for British intelligence. If they were to find out, for instance, that the 1917 class is in fact being called up in 1916, that’s a clear and obvious indication that the Germans are taking heavy losses.

General Charteris has made a major effort to expand the capacity of his department on two fronts. First, by stepping up their analysis of captured German orders, letters, and diaries. Second, by obtaining copies of as many German newspapers as possible, since the call-up of various classes is usually issued by notices in the papers. (Charteris also has a sideline going in attempting to analyse German politics by reading their papers, of which more later.) And it seems that the news is very good.

Recently, the War Office has issued an important new intelligence summary. The practical upshot of this is that the German 1917 class is now being sent to the front to replace losses sustained at Verdun. Furthermore, the 1918 class is now being called up for training and garrison duty a full two years ahead of schedule. (It’s a mostly accurate assessment.) If the summer offensive were to succeed and cause mass German casualties, they’d be left with a very nasty choice indeed. Either they throw in the 1918 class early to stop the rot, or save it for six months and leave strategic manpower shortages that might be exploited at a tactical level.

More to follow. These points are absolutely critical to understanding the mindset of British and French generals in the next year or so of the war.

Grigoris Balakian

Grigoris Balakian, in disguise, is now at work at Bagche, on the Berlin to Baghdad railway.

Two Jandarma under our command worked as guards of the station. It was only they who reminded us that we were living in the Turkish state. Everything around us was European, even the hats everybody wore, for only the common labourers wore fezzes. I had given myself the name Krikor Garabedian in order to eliminate any trace of my being a fugitive. I cultivated relationships with no-one. I lived in seclusion. The station was our workplace, and our [home]. At the top of the stairs, the first room was my bedroom, where Nishan Mavian had shown exceptionally kind hospitality, making space in already tight quarters.

This station served as a technical workplace. An Austrian German named Klaus was superintendent civil engineer/surveyor. An astute professional, he was an equally subtle politician and a noble man who rendered quite a bit of service to us Armenians. Through his clever arrangement, for the sake of appearances, I had assumed control of all professional surveying, and the accounts. There were six or seven Armenian employees besides me. There was Nishan Mavian; a young Armenian surveyor-draftsman; a general secretary; and an Armenian foreman in charge of hundreds of labourers.

Here there will be security. For a time.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson is still out in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania, trying to repair his car so they can get down the road to Arusha.

Just after breakfast a mule convoy came through and I saw Nighty with it. He had been sent to Nairobi for 6 weeks with fever and was rejoining his Regiment. Rest of the morning tidied up the tent. Had only tea for lunch. Had a chat with Nighty before he left, then Legg and I had a cross-country ride in the motor to a German farm house about 4 miles north to get some galvanised iron to make a dry proof dwelling for ourselves. Things were pretty badly smashed up but we managed to get some iron and poles. The journey back was pretty noisy and bumpy.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas is still marching endlessly about the French countryside, waiting to take the Voie Sacree up to Verdun. He passes through a village, Sommeilles, that had been completely razed in 1914.

All that was left was the blackened carcass of the church. The newspapers had told how the Germans, exasperated by the fierce resistance offered by a tiny rear-guard unit, avenged themselves atrociously on this village, which they pillaged and burned, and on its inhabitants. It was said that people were shot, children were raped and killed, women’s breasts were cut off. But I have to say that, of the inhabitants of the region whom I questioned about these matters, none could give me precise information.

On the ruins of the houses they had built cozy little wooden habitations, painted in bright colors, garlanded with climbing flowers, all in an unexpected, charming, and picturesque appearance. In these devastated places where I expected to find only lugubrious silence, I heard the song of a young girl, the laughter of a child, a dog barking, a cow mooing. Sommeilles was arising from its own ashes.

Well, isn’t that uplifting?

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still in Newhaven, but he’s just been transferred to a different camp.

Owing to heart trouble, I have been transferred to No. 8 Company, Home Service only. In charge of a young lance-corporal I was posted to my new unit, and, escorted by him, duly delivered in my new quarters. My guardian was one of the men who joined up with me a month ago; eighteen years of age. Glorious youth; what chances! Lance-corporal after a few weeks! He should go far.

There are no drills or parades here in Railway Camp. Some of us, called “Sanitary Police,” look after the lavatories in the various camps; others, the [military] police, stand about the streets and near important gates and passages. Still others are engaged in postal work on the mails during the night and come back to the huts to sleep during the day.

Language slightly stronger, since most men here are either old soldiers who served in previous wars or were “broken” in this one; or they are old “crocks” like myself. There is a regulation threatening all kinds of punishment for bad, obscene, and disgusting language. What abaht it?

I do declare! He might just be going native. Well, even more native. You know what I mean. Unless yer wanta buncha fives, yer slaaag.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

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

Julna | Easter Rising | 24 Apr 1916

Siege of Kut

Today sees the final, desperate throw of the dice for relieving the Siege of Kut. A large paddle steamer, the Julna, has been loaded with medical supplies and rations for another month or two, heavily armoured, and sent on a death-or-glory charge up the River Tigris.

It’s a wonderfully buccaneering idea, but despite the relief column’s best attempts at a distraction, she’s soon spotted and heavily shelled. The Ottomans have also strung a large and sturdy cable across the river, just below Kut, in case of just such an eventuality. Edward Mousley reports on the ship’s fate.

Her officers were killed, Lieutenant Cowley captured, and she was taken within sight of our men waiting to unload her by the Fort, and of the sad little group of the garrison who beheld her from the roof-tops of Kut. She lies there now. It appears that this tragic but obvious end of so glorious an enterprise is a last hope. We have scarcely rations for to-morrow.

I have been compelled to abandon keeping my diary owing to excruciating pain in my spine from the shell contusion. What is wrong I can’t make out, but sometimes the tiniest movement sends a sharp thrill of keenest pain through one’s whole being. After lying in one position for any little time this particular spot in my spine aches with a most ravaging pulsation of neuralgia, and I find it difficult to sit upright for many minutes. On these occasions if I lie still my arms and legs shoot out at intervals with a sort of reflex action, and sometimes repeat the performance several times.

I have even walked a little with a stick, and the twitching is much less violent and less often. My eyes, however, are still dim, and I find it difficult to see very distinctly. To complete the list of my infirmities of the flesh the enteritis, which has continued in a mild form for three weeks, has got worse, and I find emmatine the only thing that has done any good.

There is precious little glory to be had in this war, for those who believe in such things. There was, I think, some during the Battle of the Marne. Perhaps there is just a little here, as well; but after the manner of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. C’est de la folie.

Easter Rising

Well, they’re not really ready for it, and not all their leaders are committed to it. Indeed, as soon as he heard of the capture of Libau and the loss of its arms shipment, key rebel Eoin MacNeill and his associates have spent most of their time in the last few days trying to stop the whole thing. Orders and countermands and counter-countermands have been flying around, and as it turned out, the number of rebels who’ve answered the call to arms have been rather smaller than hoped for.

On the other hand, those who have risen up number in the thousands, and they have secured a number of important locations in central Dublin by mid-afternoon. Headquarters is quickly established in the General Post Office, and barricades are set up on the streets. Despite ample warning, both the British government and the Army have been caught almost entirely by surprise. There’s very little shooting while everyone tries to work out what to do next.

Outside Dublin there are several pockets of rebels, but most of them get caught between inadequate armament and a lack of orders, and consequently achieve very little; we’ll be concentrating on Dublin in the next few days.

Lowestoft Raid

From the North Sea, the story so far. The Grand Fleet went to sea a few days ago in response to reports that the High Seas Fleet had gone out. They wandered around aimlessly near the mouth of the Skagerrak for a while, and then started crashing into each other in the dark, so went back to Scapa Flow to refuel. Almost as soon as they arrived back, they heard that the High Seas Fleet was totally really for reals out at sea this time. But of course they needed to finish coaling before they could put to sea again…

So now we find the fleet trying manfully to make headway in extremely rough seas. The weather’s so unfriendly that their destroyers have had to return to port. With Admiral Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Squadron further out in front of the fleet than usual, they spend an unhappy night and morning sailing south.

Meanwhile, at the business end of things, the High Seas Fleet is heading full speed for the south coast of England. This is right back to 1914 in terms of tactics. Admiral Scheer is hoping to draw out a smaller British force that can be outnumbered and destroyed by his fleet, and so change the entire balance of power in the North Sea. The raid has also been carefully timed to coincide with the Easter Rising. And, with the Grand Fleet still nowhere useful, the only Royal Navy ships in the area are the light cruisers and destroyers of the Harwich Force.

When they interrupt the detached German battlecruisers who are bombarding Lowestoft and Yarmouth, this is surely an opportunity to achieve something. Sure, it’s not nearly as good as directly taking on some element of the main British Fleet. However, the Harwich Force is a vital component of British efforts to interfere with German minelayers and submarines, and to protect their own mine-laying efforts. If it had taken serious losses, that would surely have been a major political embarrassment for the Admiralty, never mind its operational consequences.

And yet, the German Admiral Bodicker showed absolutely no interest in chasing the force down. As soon as it’s obvious that the enemy is adopting the time-honoured (and entirely sensible) military tactic of running away very quickly, the German battlecruisers turn and rejoin the High Seas Fleet. In turn, Scheer has just heard that the Grand Fleet is on its way to intercept, and he orders a prudent return to port. Another chance missed; and when Scheer returns home and starts working out what exactly just happened, he will not be a happy bunny.

German submarine warfare

Back in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II has come to a decision on the question of submarine warfare; in short, “knock it off already”. They’re back on Prize Regulations; submarines may no longer sink ships without warning, but must first stop them and take the crew off. Since this effectively nerfs their usefulness, Admiral Scheer will quickly recall them to port for a tactical rethink. It actually fits in rather well with his mindset, anyway; the U-boats can now be used in support of the grand, war-changing action he’s still planning to fight against the Grand Fleet.

Robert Pelissier

Sergeant Robert Pelissier of the French Army has been detached from his unit to do a training course at some headquarters or other. It leaves him plenty of time to read the papers, and to have opinions on politics in general and the position of the Americans in particular. He writes a letter to his brother.

I am studying new things and I hear other things which I have heard a great many times, but on the whole the work is interesting and well supervised by people who know their business. Moreover, I enjoy my three meals and my beautiful room in a way which might lead the casual observer to believe that your brother has sunk into a deep-rooted and remorseless materialism. The truth is that I am making up for lost opportunities and I distrust the future more than I can tell.

Now, this excellent [President Wilson] seems to be speaking plainly and firmly. Perhaps it is high time he should do it, but, of course, he has had and he still has on his hands a very complicated situation. It is what I am doing my best to explain to our country-people who, in spite of Red Cross ambulances, hospitals and even volunteers from far beyond the sea are tempted to believe that in the United States there is an overwhelming feeling in favor of the Teutons. “C’est tout boche,” a judgment which is rather summary.

As someone who spent some years teaching in America before the war, it’s probably not much of a reach to suggest that he might have been asked for his opinion more than once by various interested parties.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge’s light duties continue to afford him plenty of time for voluminous complaint. Easter festivities have afforded the lads plenty of time for their favoured form of recreation.

What inveterate gamblers soldiers are! Yesterday, there were no parades and the boys played “Brag” from 10am till “lights out.” You should see the flushed faces of these children. Some of them have nothing but their three or six shillings weekly pay. Meals are either skimped or gobbled down. The Hut-corporal plays; sergeants come and play. A boy not yet nineteen cleared about £1 14s yesterday. “Not a bad day’s work!” he remarked as he dropped into bed.

And the Army Authorities frame lovely rules! There is an outpost, of course, to warn the gamblers should anybody above the rank of a sergeant be seen anywhere within a radius of half a mile.

The young lad is, of course, too young to go to France just yet. He may have been accepted on the grounds that he soon will have his birthday, or he might just have lied about his age at the recruiting-office. Three-card brag is an old working-class gambling game, an ancestor of poker. If you’ve seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, that’s the card game they play.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

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