Before we get onto the events of the day, someone has just made me aware that 1,001 years ago (give or take a couple of months), the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires fought a Battle of Strumica, which is of course where we now find the increasingly-overstretched French force trying to defend against the Bulgarian Second Army. Yet more proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Anyway. The situation continues to deteriorate. The French are still sitting at Strumica. Soon-to-be-outgoing minister of war Millerand is nevertheless manfully lobbying for the British troops at Salonika to do something, anything useful that might free up Frenchmen to go and fight. And the parade of conquests for the opposing alliance continues unabated. Skopje is now firmly in Bulgarian hands. Austro-Hungarians are now advancing on Palanka and Petrovac. Men are flooding almost unabated into Serbia from north, west, and east.
The only crumb of comfort comes on the River Sava, where the best Austro-Hungarian monitor blunders into a Serbian mine and quickly sinks. It’s a tiny, easily-overlooked crumb. The conflict is, of course, rapidly moving away from areas where monitors can easily provide support. And if that weren’t enough, a far more critical intervention comes from a German submarine, U-35, which has been lurking outside Salonika along with her mates U-33 and U-39. U-35 has sunk the SS Marquette, a British liner now doing service as a troop transport. Most of the self-loading freight survives, with help quickly available, but less fortunate are 491 critically important mule carriers and 50 horses. In addition, a significant number of the dead were New Zealand medics, sent to set up a field-hospital.
The Italians have achieved something on the Carso! After three days’ hard fighting on Monte Sei Busi, Six (Hundred) Holes Mountain, they’ve, er, captured the Austro-Hungarian front line. And they’re now scrambling to turn the trenches round to resist the inevitable counter-attack. Which falls on them after night comes. But it’s something!
Meanwhile, on Mount San Michele, Hill 124 is attacked again, and the attack is repelled again.
Across the way, the steady toll of attrition continues, never mind that there’s very little actual fighting going on. Private John Gallishaw, a Newfoundlander, has recently left Suvla Bay, too weak to move.
The eyes of the man next to me were large with pain. I smiled at him, but instead of smiling back at me, his lip curled resentfully, and he turned over on his side so that he could face away from me. As he did, the blanket slipped from his shoulder, and I saw on his shoulder strap the star of a Second Lieutenant.
I had committed the unpardonable sin: I had smiled at an officer as if I had been an equal, forgetting that he was not made of common clay. Once after that, when he turned his head, his eyes met mine disdainfully. That time I did not smile. I have often laughed at the incident since, but there on that boat I was boiling with rage. Not a word had passed between us, but his expression in turning away had been eloquent.
I cursed him and the system that produced him.
British Empire sources can often be rather reluctant to criticise their officers; where Louis Barthas is happy to recount all the details of Commandant Quinze-Grammes’s latest blunder, a British source (whether officer or soldier) will often discreetly elide the stories of the idiots and emphasise the admirable. Nevertheless, there’s a reason that the Wipers Times once published a semi-famous cartoon of a chinless subaltern pondering the question “Am I as offensive as I might be?”, a genuine question posed by higher command to its junior officers to encourage them to organise frequent trench raids and patrols of No Man’s Land by night. Keeping the balance up to reflect this is not easy.
Speaking of the newly-minted chief of the grenade section, Louis Barthas is complaining again.
On October 23, at 6 in the evening, we went to billet at Agnez for four more days. This time we were lodged not at Niessel’s château but at another one in the middle of the village. They bunked us in piles of hay with, for our pillows, bunches of straw where legions of ticks and fleas swarmed.
This château was a true nest of shirkers for the whole division: telephone operators, stenographers, stretcher-bearers, gendarmes. All of these folks naturally occupied the best spots, and looked upon us with visible disdain.
He’s spent the last few days dutifully attempting to train his new charges by having them throw stones; they all now have sore and aching shoulders for their trouble.
Actions in Progress
Third Invasion of Serbia
Ovce Pole Offensive
Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!
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.)