Lualaba | Third Artois | 11 Oct 1915

Third Invasion of Serbia

The Austro-German advance into northern Serbia proceeds well. It’s now time to kick the Serbian Army in the nuts while they don’t have any mates around. Today the Bulgarian army carefully stages an exchange of fire with some Serbian border guards. This of course is immediately presented as vile provocation and shameless flouting of Bulgaria’s neutrality (good thing they’ve recently become an armed neutral, eh?). Bulgaria officially declares war and her two armies begin rumbling into action. More soon.

Africa

Man, I was really hoping this would be something not totally ridiculous. I’ve got to go talk about the French farce that finishes Third Artois in a minute. And now it turns out that the lead-in involves catching up with Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson and his ridiculous boat-hauling safari.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that, now that Mimi and Toutou are sailing down the River Lualaba, they’ve found a problem with the river. They’re at the back end of the dry season. Which is a good thing, from one perspective, since they need the ground to be passable for the last railway journey and going anywhere other than inside during the rainy season usually doesn’t end well. On the other hand, it means that the river is at dead low water. The Belgians have sent a steamer, the Constantin de Burlay, to help, but the ship has got stuck well short of the ridiculous expedition’s location.

So now it’s a question of paddling. Fortunately, the implements are equally effective at propelling the boats through water, pushing the boats off the mud, or bopping the native crocodiles firmly on the nose. On one day, the boats run aground on no fewer than fourteen seperate occasions; Spicer-Simson wonders idly if perhaps this might be a record.

Third Artois

So now General Foch finally gets to launch his second push against the top of Vimy Ridge. Hands up anyone who remembers what it is he’s actually trying to achieve by this? Sometimes I wonder if he could remember. Two hours of blind artillery fire is the best the guns can manage. The log in Foch’s headquarters records “progress almost nil, preparation by artillery insufficient, attack conducted by exhausted troops, enemy forewarned and strongly reinforced with artillery”. General d’Urbal, in operational command, cuts his losses as soon as decorum allows.

Foch’s explanation for this failure is simple; preparing for Day 1 his artillery fired 73,000 shells, and preparing for today they fired 21,600. Which is a smaller number. He’ll continue exchanging optimistic letters with General Joffre for a week or so, but this is the end of the Third Battle of Artois, and the end of the French autumn offensive. They will still support Sir John French’s upcoming waste of time and lives with an artillery demonstration at Hill 70, but nobody’s leaving their trenches.

Louis Barthas

Despite starting the day at the rear, of course Louis Barthas has to be in there at the death of this offensive. It begins, quite bizarrely, with General Niessel apparently attempting to curry favour with the men by handing out packets of pencils. By midday they’re on their way back up the line; and as they go past Neuville, the Germans start dropping shells on the French communication trenches. From the commandant on down, the battalion decides discretion is the better part of valour and scarpers in all directions.

When calm returned, [Quinze-Grammes and Cros-Mayrevieille] sent out their servants (or I should say their orderlies) to gather us up. This wasn’t easy, since we were widely scattered. The attack took place, but two sections of the 281st Regiment who went over the top from the trenches were immediately cut down by machine guns.

In spite of repeated orders from Niessel, no one else wanted to go out.

At seven in the evening, our company went up to reinforce the 281st Regiment. We occupied a communication trench which was badly damaged by shell-fire. We had to spend the night in the open, despite frequent volleys of shells which the Germans haphazardly sent over onto our lines.

The troops, General Foch, are not so much “exhausted” as “seriously fucked off”.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Loos
Third Invasion of Serbia

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

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.)

Parcels for the dead | 30 Sep 1915

Autumn offensive

Today is a mostly quiet day. Second Champagne is put on hold as it becomes apparent that news of a breakthrough was in fact spurious bollocks and there is in fact no hope of same. General Joffre authorises a temporary transition to local actions in order to straighten the line out, with a view to having another push in a few days.

Meanwhile, the French are also winding down Third Artois in order to re-organise for a second combined French-British push towards Lens. Fighting continues on top of Vimy Ridge, but it’s looking less and less likely that either side can be easily dislodged. No Man’s Land is narrowing sharply, as both sides know that artillery is only accurate to about 90 metres, and if they can get closer than that to the other side’s front line they’ll be safe from shelling because the enemy won’t want to risk hitting their own trench.

A major adjustment of positions is going on. The BEF has spent most of 1915 taking on gradually larger parts of line to allow General Joffre to use the men formerly holding it as a strategic reserve. Now they’ve agreed to do the same thing in reverse; the line around Loos will be taken back by the French so the BEF can have another reserve for another push on the 3rd south of Hulluch. At the same time, the French will push again against the northern part of Vimy Ridge and so break through onto the flat ground south of Lens.

Meanwhile, reinforcement-drafts are being sent out to some of the battalions who were in the first couple of days at the Battle of Loos. Private Carson Stewart of the 7th Cameron Highlanders has only just arrived to join his new battalion, and they’re already filling his head with tales of being on top of Hill 70.

Soon after I got there, there was a mail came in. All the boys in my company crowded round to see what there was for them. The Post Corporal was calling out the names, dishing out the letters and parcels. Half the names that were called, there was nobody to answer for them.

Then a voice would call out “Ower the hill.” Then one or two more, then another name. There would be silence. Then his chum would call out “Ower the hill.” That was all you could hear. “Ower the hill.” “Ower the hill.” “Ower the hill.” If it was parcels, they dished them out anyway and we all got a share of the parcels that were meant for the boys who’d got killed.

It may sound rather callous, but this is exactly what the dead men would have wanted. There was an extremely strong culture in the BEF of share and share alike. Sergeant Beard, who went over the top a few days ago eating the last of his cured ham, would almost certainly have shared most of it with the men in his platoon. It was a vital part of bonding the men together, especially during their spells up the line.

Louis Barthas

After yesterday’s attack was cancelled, Louis Barthas and chums were put to work deepening a trench, which they’ve spent all night doing.

At daybreak, our commandant Quinze-Grammes sent the battalion adjutant, the Peyriacois François Calvet, to check on the work we had done. He had barely entered the trench when a stray bullet tore up his right shoulder quite badly. One centimeter closer and there would have been one less Peyriacois in the world. Our pal Calvet was hardly bothered by this. “My wound might save the lives of others,” he said, “because before I’m evacuated I’ll say in my report that this trench is in full view of the Boches and open to enfilading fire.”

We had worked ten hours for nothing, but this thought of Calvet’s showed a generosity of spirit that many others, in the emotion of being wounded and the joy of getting out of these bad places, would not have had.

The sharp-eyed may notice that there’s not been an awful lot of time for the squad to get some sleep in the middle of all this nonsense.

Gallipoli

Yesterday, Sir John French came under attack from his subordinates; but he’s not the only senior British officer being undermined from the rear. Sir Ian Hamilton is in serious trouble, although he has no idea of it. Quick recap: on the 21st, Keith Murdoch was arrested in Marseilles, and the letter he was carrying was lawfully confiscated. A couple of days ago, the news filtered back to General Braithwaite, Hamilton’s chief of staff, who immediately and unwisely expelled Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett (the Daily Telegraph correspondent who had been involved in writing the letter) from Gallipoli. Ashmead-Bartlett is now sailing for London, clutching the mother of all axes to grind.

Meanwhile, Hamilton is carrying on his extensive slagging-off of the prospect of going to Salonika, and is keeping his pecker up by chortling about recent events. He’s just been informed that Murdoch was carrying a critical letter for the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.

I could not help laughing heartily at the blue looks of Tyrrell, the Head of our Intelligence. After all, this is Asquith’s own affair. I do not for one moment believe Mr. Asquith would employ such agencies and for sure he will turn Murdoch and his wares into the wastepaper basket. I have reassured Tyrrell. Tittle-tattle will effect no lodgment in the Asquithian brain.

This is a staggeringly short-sighted view. Once his letter had been confiscated, Keith Murdoch was released and allowed to go to London, where he made contact with the editor of the Times. Murdoch is still carrying a valid commission from his own Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, to investigate various aspects of the ANZAC war experience. He’s used that to write another letter home, but of course it has to travel back by steamer. It’s likely that when it finally arrived in Australia and been passed on to London, it would have had a similarly devastating effect, but in the meantime the length of the fuse on the bomb has been considerably shortened. He’s had a personal meeting with David Lloyd-George, and Lloyd-George has had a copy of the letter passed on to the Prime Minister. Asquith in turn has immediately begun circulating it among senior figures without asking for a second opinion.

And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s also the not-yet-disgraced General Stopford, who has no intention whatsoever of carrying the can. He feels, not entirely unreasonably (only mostly) that he’s been completely stitched up. Stopford’s been doing his own rounds with his own version of the story, in which he battles manfully against impossible conditions, incompetent men, and ridiculous over-optimism from the Commander-in-Chief. Hamilton has no way to defend himself against the whispering campaign that Stopford is stoking in his own little way.

It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for Sir Ian Hamilton at this point. Once again his judgement has proved dead wrong, and now his dreams of being pulled under the water are coming closer and closer to being realised.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Loos
Battle of Champagne (Second Champagne)
Battle of Artois (Third Artois)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

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.)

Sir John French | Blame | 29 Sep 1915

Battle of Loos

With the Germans turning up the pressure on the Hohenzollern Redoubt higher and higher, General Haig has his eyes firmly on the most important priority: how to ensure that Sir John French cops all the blame for the failure to hold Hill 70 and break through the reserve German line. He writes a long and exceptionally pissy letter to Lord Kitchener in which he takes every possible opportunity to slide the knife into his boss.

It is Haig’s contention that success was entirely possible on the 25th and 26th of September, but was prevented mainly because Sir John French stationed the reserves too far to the rear and then took far too long to release them to move into the battle. We’ll take these points in reverse order.

First, the composition of the two reserve divisions deserves some criticism. 21st and 24th Divisions were both of Kitchener’s Army, men who had volunteered in 1914 on the outbreak from war, fresh from training, and completely green without any shakedown period in the trenches before going into battle. They’d been selected on the idea that they would be exploiting a breakthrough rather than slogging through trenches, and therefore their lack of any kind of battle experience would not be a problem. That’s clearly a terrible and gargantuan error, and it’s fair enough to lay a large part of the blame at Sir John French’s door (although Haig does not, before the battle, appear to have considered it a problem either).

Second, the stationing of reserves to the rear is perhaps not such a bad idea as Haig would have Kitchener believe. Sir John French was doubtful about the chances of a breakthrough, and that if there was one it was most likely going to be on the second day of the battle. With this in mind, the decision to station the reserves out of German artillery range becomes rather more understandable. Still probably a mistake, but more in the nature of a simple and forgivable error of judgment.

Third, and most damningly, Haig’s criticism of French’s speed of reaction is entirely justified. The decision by Sir John French to go at short notice from GHQ at St Omer to a forward past at Lilliers, which had no direct telephone line either to General Haig’s advanced HQ or to General Haking, commanding the reserves, seems to defy rational explanation. French also maintained personal control over when the reserves were to be deployed. So, when Haig received reports of success soon after zero hour on the 25th he immediately sent a car to Lilliers to request they start to move. French instead decided to himself go to see Haig, and didn’t arrive until some four hours after the request had first been made. Having been convinced, he then decided not to use Haig’s telephone to give the necessary orders to General Haking, but pissed away another 40 minutes while he was driven to give the order personally.

However, there’s one important thing to note here. The case that Haig is now building against French is fatally flawed. There was never a breakthrough against the German reserve line anywhere from Lens to Hulluch, or anywhere else for that matter, nor does it seem as though one would have been possible against a line protected by 40-yard belts of barbed wire without another bombardment equal to the preliminary bombardment for the offensive. The Battle of Loos simply wasn’t capable of breaching the reserve line. Whether Haig had been misled into believing by inaccurate reports, or invented the suggestion that success would have been possible if he’d been able to quickly commit reserves out of whole cloth, I’m not sure and don’t care enough to try to find out.

It’s a tricky one. I do, somewhat cautiously, be of the opinion that this battle does demonstrate that Sir John French wasn’t up to commanding a BEF whose numbers in the field will soon begin to approach a million men. For all his many flaws, General Haig appreciates that the way to command a modern large army is, like General Joffre, to sit at an easily-accessible location where you can always be found and can instantly communicate via the telephone to other HQs; and to move heaven and earth to get swift, accurate reports to that location as quickly as possible. French simply doesn’t get it. It’s not necessarily his fault. The British Army was never designed to put multiple army-sized formations into the field in a major land war. None of these senior officers have been trained to command the kinds of forces that they’re now having to command; inevitably, some will find themselves unequal to the task.

Anyway. Right now, it doesn’t even necessarily matter whether Haig’s claim that success would have been possible is accurate. If he can get Lord Kitchener to agree with him that it would have been, then for the purposes of French’s job security then the objective accuracy of the idea is irrelevant…

Artois & Champagne

And, speaking of inaccurate reports that the German reserve line has been broken through, that’s exactly what arrives at General Castelnau’s headquarters at Second Champagne early in the morning. What’s actually happened is that the reserve line has been penetrated and that the attackers are now clinging onto a couple of trenches in that line. However, for reasons that have never satisfactorily been identified, that somehow got mangled during transmission into reports of a complete breakthrough.

Castelnau is naturally electrified, immediately orders heavy attacks and activation of the cavalry reserve to exploit this breakthrough, and contacts General Petain to launch yet another push from Second Army. This could be a serious disaster in the offing…

Meanwhile, Third Artois has exploded into life as both sides throw the kitchen sink at the crest of Vimy Ridge, the top of the hill changing sides time and time again. It’s quite a wide, flat area with steep drops on either side, about 500 yards or so, more than enough to comfortably contain two front-line trench systems…

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas and friends are being kept on high alert to go into the attack at a moment’s notice. After the last few days of bullshit, they’re in no mood to obey.

Each one had come to the same resolution. We would not attack. We would not move out from the trench. The word went from the front to the rear and back again, at least twenty times: “Pass the word. We’re not attacking.” Some may call this cowardice. But mounting an attack against sturdy, well-defended trenches, protected by thick barbed-wire entanglements, without the slightest artillery fire beforehand—wouldn’t you call that criminal?

Beside me, Father Galaup told me that if the order came, saying “Forward!” his priest’s conscience would compel him to go forth, even if he were the only one.
“I have one favor to ask you,” he said. “If I’m killed in the attack, I beg you not to leave me unburied out there. Nothing horrifies me more than the thought of being prey to the rats and the crows.”

Barthas declines, so Galaup compromises. If Barthas, his corporal, follows the order to advance with a direct order to stay put, he’ll stay put with a clear conscience. The men continue waiting for the order, and eventually Gayraud, the inside man, arrives with news that another unit has refused to attack and they won’t be going anywhere today.

Mother

The British landships project continues apace. With the Battle of Loos demonstrating the urgent need for a reliable way to destroy barbed wire, they literally can’t finish too soon. The War Office has a testing ground at Wembley, and Colonel Swinton has had a full-size wooden model of “Mother”, his prototype landship, to demonstrate to the great and the good. Influential representatives from the Ministry of Munitions, the War Office, and the BEF Experimental Committee are all present. The exercise is a complete success and gains the project plenty of important new supporters. More to come.

Battle of Es Sinn

The British Empire force outside Kut-al-Amara prepares for another day of battle at Es Sinn. However, they’re taken almost completely by surprised when the sun rises and they find that instead, the Ottomans have decided once more to advance swiftly to the rear. The cavalry and the gunboats attempt a chase, but can’t achieve much thanks to very difficult river conditions above Kut and a well-organised enemy rearguard. While they do that, the blokes march into Kut unopposed and the town is surrendered.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Loos
Battle of Champagne (Second Champagne)
Battle of Artois (Third Artois)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

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.)

Battle of Es Sinn | 28 Sep 1915

Let’s try to break out from the Western Front a little, shall we? The other theatres of the war have obligingly kept quiet these past few days so we could sweat and bleed and toil with the blokes in Northern France. Now it’s time to expand our field of view once more.

Battle of Es Sinn

Quick recap; in Mesopotamia, General Nixon has launched a rather rash expedition up the River Tigris towards Kut-al-Amara and then, if his subordinate General Townshend feels like it, on to Baghdad. Kut is defended by an extensive prepared Ottoman position a few miles downriver at Es Sinn, and after the better part of a month the British Empire force is now ready to attack.

Technically speaking, the battle started yesterday, with skirmishes and demonstrations to disguise Townshend’s intention to spread out and flank the prepared defences. He also intends to exploit a lack of care when preparing positions that run right up to marshland, launching several pin-point thrusts against the edges of the defences. It’s a fine line between getting at the dodgy sections and sinking in the marsh, and heavy fighting rumbles for most of the day. It’s certainly been a better day for Townshend than any commander on the Western Front who you’d care to name, but when night falls the Ottomans are still in possession of several key parts of their line. The battle continues tomorrow.

Attack on Luvungi

The elderly General Wahle has managed to convince the military commander of German East Africa (today Tanzania), Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, to let him go on another adventure, the failure of the Siege of Saisi notwithstanding. This time it’s a much better bet, aimed at pre-empting any Anglo-Belgian attempt to regain control of the enormous and critical Lake Tanganyika, currently ruled over with an iron fist by SMS Goetzen, the famous flat-pack warship. (Goetzen has, incidentally, just had her armament greatly increased with the arrival of a comedically large gun that’s been hauled clear across the colony by the survivors of the Konigsberg.)

Wahle has rounded up a force of 1,500 men and now intends to use them to drive a wedge between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Kivu. This would effectively split the Belgian Congo’s brutal gendarmerie, the Force Publique, in two. The key Belgian holding in the area is at Luvungi, but due to the manpower problem inherent in defending lands as vast as the Belgian Congo (bigger than France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Spain put together) with about 20,000 men, the current garrison is one FP company of 150.

It should have worked, and on military merits it probably deserved to work. However, by a colossal stroke of good fortune, a battalion-strength unit is currently located only two hours’ march away. When it arrives in the afternoon General Wahle suddenly finds himself facing a force of approximately equal size and battle soon turns to stalemate. He’ll keep ineffectually poking at Luvungi for a few more days before being forced to withdraw due to lack of supplies.

Mimi & Toutou

British and Belgian attempts to regain the balance of power on Lake Tanganyika continue. The Belgians are now attempting to assemble their own flat-pack steamer, the Baron Dhanis, as a direct response to Goetzen. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson’s entirely ridiculous scheme to man-haul two small motor-boats, Mimi and Toutou, from Cape Town to the lake has reached an important waypoint. This is Sankisia, which happens to have a railway station.

The man-hauling element of the journey is now mostly at an end. The ships are now loaded onto another train for the short journey to Bukama, from where they can be launched into the River Lualaba and given an African seaworthiness trial. They’re reckoning on a two-week sail to Kabalo, and then one final railway journey to Lake Tanganyika itself. About 2,400 of the 3,000 miles of travelling have now been successfully completed.

Battle of Loos

And after all that, it’s back to the Battle of Loos. The chief area of concern for the BEF is now the Dump and the Hohenzollern Redoubt. There’s heavy fighting here, with both sides launching attacks and counter-attacks; and by the end of the day the BEF has once again come off second best, having now been forced all the way back to the Redoubt itself.

We followed Private Harry Fellows and Captain David Pole of C Company, 12th Northumberlands (a Kitchener’s Army battalion) as they went up (and back down) Hill 70 on the 26th. They’ve since been relieved by the Guards, and the battalion’s survivors have been straggling back to the rear, to their assigned re-assembly point at Vermelles. This is the town that Louis Barthas watched his comrades liberating from the Germans back at the start of the year.

By evening there are enough men to make it worth holding a parade for roll call. There are about 60 men of C Company left. All the platoon commanders are absent from their regular places. The other three companies are barely in a better way. Among the missing from C Company’s parade position is David Pole. However, in his case, this because all but six of the Battalion’s officers have been killed or wounded. Someone has checked the Army List, and passed on the news that he is now acting Lieutenant-Colonel Pole.

After the parade, Private Fellows catches up with him for the first time since before they went into battle. And he hands over the message he’s been carrying all this time, the message that didn’t quite reach Pole before he went over the top.

“The C.O. wishes the attack to be carried out with bayonets in the true Northumbrian fashion.”

I said to him again, “I’m very sorry, sir, I did try to find you.” It was some moments before he looked up and spoke. “It doesn’t matter, sonny, now.”

I never forgot his words, nor the tears that were coursing down his face.

Artois & Champagne

General Petain declines to attack at Second Champagne, and is rewarded by a surprise visit from General Joffre with a “please explain”. Petain subsequently issues a terse and irritable order that his army’s offensive is to continue tomorrow.

Meanwhile, at Third Artois, something odd happens. In the confusion of the night so lovingly described by Louis Barthas (more from him in a moment), the Germans have for reasons known only to themselves decided to retreat up Vimy Ridge. With a fine disregard for the opinions of his superiors, General d’Urbal orders a general offensive, which chases the Germans all the way up the ridge. By nightfall they’ve captured the crest. War, it’s a funny old game. A couple of days ago Joffre and Foch were firmly agreed that Vimy Ridge should be let alone, and now it’s in French hands.

Louis Barthas

Somewhere at the arse end of that offensive we find Louis Barthas. Most of his squad’s day is spent amusing themselves by making friends with the first German prisoners to have been captured (or, more accurately, tripped over) by them. Alas, come the evening they’re ordered forward once more.

Had there been hand-to-hand combat here? Had wounded and dying men dragged themselves to this spot? Whatever had happened, there were numerous bodies of Frenchmen and Germans, whom death had surprised in every conceivable pose: lying, kneeling, crouched down; the boyau was narrow, and we were forced to step on corpses. What a horror that was!

As the men try to process it they’re met by a German counter-attack spewing grenades everywhere, and beat a hasty and panicked retreat in the pitch dark.

After ten minutes, I arrived at the entrance to the boyau. At this point the trench was quite wide, like a sunken road. Our cowardly captain, Cros-Mayrevieille, was there. “It’s shameful, what happened out there,” he cried, “Get back out into the trench.” But nobody budged. If Captain Cros-Mayrevieille had put himself in front of us, we all would have followed him.

You can accuse BEF junior officers of many things, but in the main, you can’t accuse them of failing to lead the attacks that they order.

At this moment, Agussol, an epileptic who for some time had shown signs of mental weakness but whom we had kept with us all the same, lost his mind. Hearing that we were being ordered back into the trench where we had had such a frightful time, he advanced on the captain and swung an empty musette bag at him, by the straps, smacking him in the face and knocking his spectacles off. Then he charged off into the trench, shouting and singing the verses of a battle song:

“The air is pure, the road is wide/The bugler sounds the charge . . .”

He disappeared into the falling night, and then all was silent. The next day we found his body, riddled with bullets, along the trench.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Loos
Battle of Champagne (Second Champagne)
Battle of Artois (Third Artois)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

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.)

Third Artois | 4 Sep 1915

Iron Hindenburg

On the home front, the Vienna-conceived fundraising exercise of building giant wooden nail figures to raise money for war widows is rapidly spreading to Germany. Today, Berlin opens its “Iron Hindenburg” for the public to hammer nails into. Similar statues are going up across the nation, from Aachen to Zwickau. Some municipalities are following Berlin’s lead and raising statues of von Hindenburg, or the Kaiser. A variety of symbols, either national (like the Iron Cross) or local (such as an element of the local nobility’s heraldic arms) in nature, are also proving popular.

On opening day in Berlin, 20,000 citizens take their turn at hammering a nail into a war hero. By the end of the war, the figure will have doubled in weight. There’s certainly no danger of war-weariness here, yet.

Third Artois

After considerable haggling about ways and means between Generals d’Urbal, Foch, and Joffre, a plan has finally been finalised for the Third Battle of Artois. The plan calls for a modest advance, and I can best describe it as a triple-headed envelopment. The French 10th Army is to launch a double-headed envelopment of Arras. The main force of the assault will again be on Vimy Ridge, taking Souchez and then driving towards Givenchy and Vimy village on the far side of the ridge.

If this goes well, they’ll have advanced to the far north-east side of Arras. Once the Germans begin rushing reinforcements to Vimy Ridge, there’ll then be an attack south of Arras, and they can encircle the city to liberate it with a minimum of house-to-house fighting; ideally the Germans will retreat rather than trying to fight and can be pursued, hopefully over open ground. At the same time, the left wing of the attack on Vimy Ridge will then be south-east of Lens. And that’s where the BEF and the Battle of Loos comes in; they’ll have pushed past Loos to threaten Lens from the north-east. Germans retreat, Entente troops pursue them across the flat Douai Plain, and they’ll have proved that it’s possible to break out of the trench deadlock.

Kenneth Best

Completely ignorant of any possibility of French deliverance, Kenneth Best is not having a good day on Gallipoli.

A day of funerals. I started with a 10th Manchester, a grand little lad of 18, sniped while out digging. Buried him on Gully Beach. Went up to get second inoculation against cholera. Then hearing that the Birdcage had been blown up by Turks, I went up Gully. One 9th Manchester was being brought down. He had been buried from noon to following morning, yet still alive and cheery. Three Engineers brought down dead. Buried another 9th Manchester behind trenches. Still at least two missing.

One other dead soldier we could see over parapet by means of periscope, but could not of course fetch him in. A pity we did not tell our men first. We could hear the pick-pick of Turks mining for some time, but left it too late. I was in the Birdcage the day before – at the time of the explosion, too. We are now very short of men. Every man is a prisoner, tied to his post. Those a few yards away hardly knew what happened, though of course they heard the explosion. Some men had limbs broken by falling debris.

Met Hassall of Moravian College against whom I played footer, now an officer of the 10th Manchester. Got back to bury another man of the 9th. Had lunch at Battalion HQ. Steak, rabbit, and pineapple macaroni. Excellent repast.

Meanwhile, in those same trenches, the blokes are finding it impossible to eat the regulation up-the-line meal of army biscuits and jam. In the interval between opening the jam-tin and getting it onto the biscuit, the jam is thorougly besieged and plundered by flies, to the point where there can be more fly than jam on a biscuit. It’s a wonder that there’s any men fit for duty at all, it really is.

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Armenian Genocide

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