Tanks for the Somme
The story of tanks on the Somme takes a considerable lurch to the left today. Regardless of what Colonel Swinton told General Haig about delivery dates a while ago, he’s now been to consult with fellow Tank Supply Committee member Lieutenant Stern. Stern has given him an uncompromising message for Haig, which is now percolating through the military structure. There will be no tanks ready in June. There will be no tanks ready for the first day on the Somme, either.
His current estimated delivery date is 150 tanks (and no word on crews) by the start of August. In a couple of months that’s going to slip again, to 50 tanks by the start of August and 100 more in September. It’s not all bad news, mind you. The Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd-George, has written to Paul Painleve, the French Minister for Inventions, to open official communications between both countries’ research efforts. Just your year and a bit after they started, but better late than never.
Louis Barthas is off on the march again. The recent spell of bad weather is now at an end, and the hot weather is causing plenty of men to fall out. This has drawn the attention of Captain Cros-Mayrevielle, and when they arrive at Conde-en-Barrois…
Our Kronprinz didn’t calm down. Heat, fatigue, sickness, age, all those were negligible to him. To succumb, at the limit of your endurance, was to be a bad soldier, to display bad spirits. Except to drop dead, a soldier shouldn’t quit the ranks, like a convict forming a link in a chain gang. Hardly had we unloaded our packs in the big threshing barn where our whole company was billeted when, by order of [Cros], a thorough roll call was carried out in each squad.
Those who were missing, which meant those whom fatigue had forced to fall out en route, had to be called to medical inspection by the sergeant on duty, as soon as they staggered into camp. Those who weren’t deemed to be sick had to be hauled off, without delay, to the jail which our battalion’s capitaine-adjutant-flichad set up next to the police station.
If our old medical officer Torres had been on duty, there’d be as many in prison as there were laggards. But we had at this time a good and decent doctor who excused everyone, thereby canceling out the petty meanness.
In France, “les flics” are the cops.
On our arrival at Luxeuil we were met by Captain Thenault, the French commander of the American Escadrille–officially known as No. 124, by the way–and motored to the aviation field in one of the staff cars assigned to us. I enjoyed that ride. Lolling back against the soft leather cushions, I recalled how in my apprenticeship days at Pau I had had to walk six miles for my laundry.
The equipment awaiting us at the field was even more impressive than our automobile. Everything was brand new, from the fifteen Fiat trucks to the office, magazine, and rest tents. And the men attached to the escadrille! At first sight they seemed to outnumber the Nicaraguan army–mechanicians, chauffeurs, armourers, motorcyclists, telephonists, wireless operators, Red Cross stretcher bearers, clerks! Afterward I learned they totalled seventy-odd, and that all of them were glad to be connected with the American Escadrille.
In their hangars stood our trim little Nieuports.
He’s hugely gilding a very small lily when he speaks of arriving to find Bebe planes cramming the aircraft hangars. In fact there are none right now. It will take until early May for Nieuport to make a delivery. They were all Bebes, but due to a general shortage of engines, three of them are horribly underpowered. Even better, they come with plenty of spare parts, but most of the parts were manufactured for a Nieuport 10. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, over in BEF-land, Malcolm White is in close reserve.
Our Mess is in a room with a large fireplace and one arm-chair. The four subalterns, we occupy a dug-out constructed out of the remains of a ruined house; most snug, and the beds are grand. I am writing this in shirt-sleeves outside that dug-out. My platoon are billeted in the cellars of the ruined Gendarmerie. In fact, this village is pretty well knocked about; but nothing can spoil the beauty and exhilaration of this Spring day. It must have been a happy place at the Easter of 1914.
Just a touch of delicate grey on the trees, and swallows gliding in and out of the ruins. I wonder what they thought of their village the first time they returned since the War. So far, the horrors of war for me have been chiefly the wetness, coldness, and mud of the trenches. The Bosches are over 1,000 yards away from the 800 yards of front held by our Company, and the shelling has not been very serious.
He’s also writing to Evelyn Southwell.
Le temps a laisse son manteau.
Much love from
All together now: d’awwwwwwwwww. It’s a line from an Old French poem by Charles d’Orleans, about the coming of spring.
Speaking of the newly-minted Captain Southwell; he’s lost none of his enthusiasm for taking his company on route marches.
It was to be eight miles, and I found a way that made what I calculated to be 13,600 yards, and perfectly glorious. The route is on my 1/40,000 map at the top, and mainly remarkable for that fact that it had a most glorious halt, right on a hill overlooking village after village of this beautiful plain. Also it was on high ground nearly all the way, and the men thoroughly enjoyed it, I think, though it was quite hot (after my liking this): I gave them twenty minutes’ halt at that place, which pleased them, I think. We want lots more of this hot weather to sweat the damp and rheumatism out of our old bones.
I for one would love to know whether the men in fact enjoyed being marched all over half of Flanders and the Pas-de-Calais. If anyone knows of any personal accounts from the other ranks of the 9th Rifle Brigade, sing out!
Maximilian Mugge continues adjusting to life in a “home service only” company.
How to dodge work and yet be happy! is the motto of the 8th Company.
I have become a “marker” at the rifle range, which is about two miles from our camp. Get up at five, dress, wash and make up “cot.” Then fetch breakfast, since the others do not have theirs before 7.30, and at seven about twelve of us set out for our day’s work. It’s quite a lovely walk in the morning, I enjoy it. At first I was not allowed to handle the targets, of which there are eight; see-saw affairs. Armed with a paste brush and bands of tiny squares of green, gray and brown paper, I had to paste up the bullet-holes in the targets. Stickier than jam!
Or I was told to watch the sand bank above us, thus helping the signaller in reading results. For a solid three hours I had to crane my neck to find out which of the five shots in each “detail” missed the target altogether. Soon, however, I shall reach the responsible dignity of an actual signaller and the twistings of my disk will bring joy to the firing parties.
We were merrily sandboying about when a “sub” came along with a party from Newhaven Hill. They brought huge hurdles made of gorse, about three yards square each, which were to be put on the sandbank behind the targets, and we, the range party, were to help. So four of us went off to fetch “them bloody ‘urdles.”
It was a very hot afternoon and the hurdles were three-quarters of a mile away. Everywhere we met weary parties of four resting with their gorsy burden, for there were a lot of dips and dells in the ground. Hurdle and hurdle party could lie down and the smokers soothed their ruffled tempers without being copped by the NCO or “orficers.” We managed two hurdles though, and if there were lead-swingers anywhere they were not in our party. We didn’t dodge work. We loved it. Of course we did.
Now that sounds distinctly sarcastic, Private Mugge. You mind how you go now. These old crocks are clearly a Bad Influence on you.
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