Battle of Verdun
It’s yet another good day for the Russians. Is there anything that can stop them? Possibly the snow on the Kandil-dag. The Ottoman defenders of Tafet Fort are rallying for a stand. However, the Russians up in the mountains are now on three sides of the undermanned, undergunned fort, and they’ve got plenty of strength left to push again tomorrow.
The Tank Supply Committee
In London, the situation regarding tanks is developing quickly. For one things, Colonel Swinton’s managed to get the first production run upped from Haig’s 40 to his own preferred figure of 100. For another, Swinton, Albert Stern, and Tennyson d’Eyncourt have just pulled off what I can only describe as a hit-and-run on David Lloyd-George. The War Office issued the order early yesterday morning (Saturday), and the terrible trio immediately raced round to see the Minister of Munitions. They have no intention of letting their project get strangled by bureaucracy now.
Lloyd-George later likened the experience of being bearded by Stern and d’Eyncourt, literally minutes before he was due to leave London for his country house, to having had a pistol pointed at his head. They don’t have an actual weapon, mind. What they do have is a complete charter, requiring only Lloyd-George’s signature, for the formation of a Tank Supply Committee. It will be an executive body attached to the Ministry of Munitions and reporting directly to the Minister. It will have a free hand to talk to anyone it sees fit, manage its own budget, and employ contractors. It will be responsible for sourcing the War Office’s first 100 tanks and it will also have a large R&D budget.
With no option if he wants to get out of the city any time soon, the Minister signs his approval, and fortunately the trio’s backup plan (during all this, Swinton is outside, waiting to puncture the tyres of Lloyd-George’s car) is not required. By the afternoon, the committee has handed out contracts to build the first 100 tanks and their engines. It’s such a thoroughly un-British way of doing things, I’m almost surprised that they weren’t arrested as obvious German spies. More soon.
There’s plenty of fallout from yesterday’s failure at Salaita Hill. There’s a large bucket of cacky circling over the heads of anyone above the rank of Major, labelled “THE BLAME” in big letters. Somehow General Malleson is going to avoid it tipping directly on his head, and instead the lion’s share will fall on General Beves instead as his battalion commanders line up with by-no-means unjustified criticisms.
There’s also going to be considerable splatter coming for General Tighe, who hasn’t yet seen fit to report the result of the battle to the War Office. Putting it off won’t make it any less unpleasant, squire! Just be grateful that you’re not anywhere you can be called in for an interview without coffee with higher authority.
Meanwhile, E.S. Thompson and friends are still getting bad news.
Early in the morning hear 3 big explosions. Thought they were our artillery firing again. When we got up we heard that the Germans had blown up our [railway] line and some of our water tanks at railhead. Heard that Hans Gosch died early this morning and went to his funeral at 12.30 which was very sad. Jock Young and Ben Thompson never turned up, so we fear the worst.
In the afternoon we marched back to Mbuyuni owing to lack of water at Serengeti. Felt very tired when we arrived here. We arrived first, then the 6th, then the 5th. The band played the 5th in as though they were the conquerors of the world. We had no band to play us in…
Discovered the Morels in a new and delightful house terraced on the hill at the back of the town, with a wonderful look down on to the great churches. I was recognized by Isabelle, who opened the door to me, and Madame gradually put the pieces of me together, like a kind of jig-saw in her memory. I stayed to tea. It was all very good, this revisiting, and they were glad to see me.
I did not see Monsieur. But one rarely did.
The implication, of course, is that Monsieur is in the Army somewhere.
The Sunny Subaltern has been unofficially told his date of sailing; like a good little OPSEC-aware boy he censors it, but it’s within the next ten days or so.
Five of us went for a long horseback ride this afternoon, the first horse I’ve been on since I left the farm, and a rough-gaited bird it was. She had a sort of self-starting six-cylinder action in her rear elevation and bumped along. I bumped along with her greatly to the detriment, I fear, of certain portions of my anatomy, and I fear also I’m going to be rather stiff in the morning, as I certainly can class my middle parts as being sore right now.
However, I enjoyed myself thoroughly for two or three hours, and laughed myself sick at one of the boys who doesn’t ride very well, who had the wildest horse in the bunch and who certainly had a really rough time; for as soon as we started for home she refused to do anything but go, and of course all the rest of them also insisted, and when his bird heard the others behind, she legged it faster and faster.
Nothing quite like a good arse joke, is there? And there’s nothing like a mother who appreciates a good arse joke, either. He tries another comic anecdote about going to a barber for a shave, which falls completely flat, and fortunately something then interrupts his train of thought.
I’ve just paused a minute to listen to the mess gramophone blare out “The Veteran’s Song.” A glorious baritone sang it and as he came to the lines, “Thank God when the young lads falter we still have the brave old boys”, I just wondered if, when the crucial moment came, I would falter. Of course, I can’t falter, there are no more old boys left and so we young lads must do our best. And oh, dear, while I know it s not in your heart I feel sure that you wouldn’t want me to falter, and, somehow, on the eve of our departure we all have sobered down a bit.
At first at the news everyone was gleeful, but we are quieter now. Things have assumed their right aspect. We all realize that it isn’t a picnic we’re setting out for and so we’ve adjusted our outlook and toned down our gaiety. Not noticeably, perhaps, to an outsider, but every now and then you’ll find one or two sitting quietly and a wistful look in their eye. There isn’t the laugh and the jest that for months has been usual, and so we go away over to France.
And hundreds of thousands, and millions of others around the world, never came home again.