Tanzania | Ceyhan | 2 Apr 1916


On the eve of General van Deventer’s departure on the long journey to Kondoa Irangi, General Smuts’s morale remains high. It’s so high, in fact, that he’s even now writing to the War Office with a spectacularly over-confident request. He wants to know, once the fighting is finished, what measures he should take to administer German East Africa once he conquers it. There is an important rider on this, mind you. He does at least concede that “the conquest with my present forces is going to be a most formidable undertaking”. We shall see.

Someone else, of somewhat lower station, is writing home. This is a Captain A.J. Molloy of the 5th South Africans. He’s making several observations from a little closer to ground level. The first and fifth are particularly interesting.

1. We have a lot to learn in the way of bush fighting from our black enemies. In spite of all talk to the contrary, we have found them an enemy to be fully reckoned with. He is resourceful, brave, and well trained for this kind of fighting. I have heard he is a bad shot, but the casualties prove the opposite.
2. The Germans can teach us something in the arts of concealment and defence.
3. This campaign has been an eye-opener to our German South-West Africa warriors. They have seen more here in one day than occurred in the whole South-West campaign.
4. India can produce soldiers worthy of the name, who have maintained the best traditions of the British Army.
5. The King’s African Rifles, a native regiment, have proved themselves to be excellent soldiers, and deserve every praise.
6. With trained troops, we would not have suffered half the casualties we did.

This chap apparently doesn’t need any sarcasm from the Baluchis to know what’s what. Meanwhile, E.S. Thompson spends all day alternating between his bed and the latrine.

Germans on the Somme

I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but we might just have a Situation here. One Lieutenant Cassel of the 99th Reserve Regiment has an observation. “Day and night we heard trains roll across the valley of the Ancre, and speculated what they were transporting.” Don’t worry, mate. I’m sure it’s just a really big shipment of tea urns. You know how much the English like their tea. More to come on the reactions of German intelligence.

Grigoris Balakian

It’s an easy day’s march for Grigoris Balakian, as they make for a district capital which he calls “Garzbazar” and which I’m unable to identify on a modern map. (If you want to spend five minutes with Google Maps, it’s probably somewhere just to the north of Ceyhan and Osmaniye.) At any rate, he records crossing the River Ceyhan and heading into town. Where the governor orders them to leave, immediately. They ask at least to buy food.

The Jandarma considered this plea as defiance of the government. About ten of them rushed upon us with whips and clubs. When the clubs broke, they kicked our people with the heels and spurs of their boots. … They ran after those lagging behind and beat them mercilessly. They were the most spent and elderly, who fell to the ground under the blows. I rushed over to pick up an emaciated seventy-year-old. The Jandarma landed a severe blow on my shoulder as the governor yelled from the distance “Hit the infidel priest!”

The caravan staggers on and just before nightfall arrives in a small village where the people are friendly to them, and less so to the government.

“How do you expect these irreligious, ungodly people who don’t have pity on their own nation to have pity on you? The towns and villages were emptied, and the few remaining males are being taken to the front to be done away with. Yes, they finished you off, but we too got finished off. Let the Germans come and be masters of the country!”

Nice to see that the Young Turks’ effort to turn the early modern Ottoman state into a 20th century Turkish nation is going well.

The Sunny Subaltern

Shirker no more. The Sunny Subaltern continues describing the experience of taking rations up the line. And I was just getting into a nice routine of poking fun at him, too.

We go through one of the most famous ruined cities of Belgium each night, which they shell continuously, and also all along the way. We leave at dusk, go sixteen miles there and back, returning between twelve p.m. and two a.m.

A message has just come to say that the roads are being shelled more than ever to-night and we must proceed with twenty yards’ interval between limbers, that is to minimize the danger of the whole transport being blown up. Troops must be fed. No excuses go if rations don’t come. If one way fails you must have another, and your brain amid the rumble of wheels and the rattle and shriek of shells, is always figuring a way out if one limber gets blown up.

He’s got plenty more to come on this theme. It’s all got a bit serious. The famous ruined city is of course Ypres, which is now well and truly the Wipers of legend. And the road is the Menin Road, which the Germans have been overlooking for the last sixteen months. At one time, the road had, like many other major roads in Flanders, a carefully-regimented double line of poplar trees on either side. The German artillery could not have had any better range-markers if they’d installed them themselves. More and more of the poplars are now nothing more than mangled stumps.

Edward Mousley

With nothing better to do, Edward Mousley writes an extensive description of his three-officer mess in the middle of the Siege of Kut, which I’ve had to cut right down.

We tried some green weed or other the Sepoys gathered on the maidan. Boiled and eaten with a little salad oil that Tudway fished out from heaven knows where, it seemed quite palatable. After all, as he says, all we want is something of a gluey nature to keep our souls stuck on to us.

A delightful little mess is ours. There is none cheerier in Kut. Picture a long bare wooden table, the other end piled up with war diaries, books, papers, pipes, and empty bottles, revolvers and field-glasses, we three at this end. Tudway is much senior to me, but insists that I preside. So I have the camp armchair, and he the other, which has very short legs so that he often seems to be talking under the table. It has also paralysis in the right arm, so that it is necessary to be very careful in leaning that way.

Now and then, usually once a night, Tudway forgets, or perhaps he likes doing it, for he simply bowls over sideways, and by dint of repeated practice can now do so while clutching at the bread or joint en route. Sometimes he does it in the middle of a sentence, which he nevertheless completes leisurely on the floor as becomes an imperturbable sailor. Square-Peg opposite has a high wooden chair, and is getting up a pose for the Woolsack, which I understand he will one day adorn.

The Woolsack, don’t laugh, is a massive wool-stuffed cushion that the Lord Chancellor sits on when he is chairing a debate in the House of Lords. (In the 21st century this job is now done by a Lord Speaker.) The idea, back in the 14th century, was that the Lord Chancellor should be constantly reminded how important wool was to the English economy. From this we can infer that Square-Peg’s seat is very probably a stool with no back, like the Woolsack.

As for the idea of his becoming Lord Chancellor? It’s not entirely far-fetched: five future Lord Chancellors had some form of service in this war, although all did so only briefly, and I think most served as staff officers. However, first he needs to get out of Kut…

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge continues having his horizons expanded by the Army. He spends most of his day on the drill square being lectured in a loud voice by his platoon sergeant. Come evening, the platoon is stuffed into a large hut, issued several tins of cleaning product and elbow grease, and left to get on with it.

There are three gas-brackets with two jets on each in Hut 1. If, however, they were fixed for the purpose of lighting up the interior, the army-plumber for once has fully realized the aim of all army gas-fittings. The sickly yellow tongues flickered, and at intervals of three seconds they almost went out altogether. Reading was out of the question; polishing buttons, cleaning boots and studying “Tommish as she is spoke” filled up the time.

The language last night made the rafters squirm. But I became thoroughly acquainted with the respective merits of “Bluebell”, “Brasso,” “Soldier’s Friend,” and “Silvo,” and I enjoyed the grousers’ running commentary during the polishing process and their stories about the pyrotechnical display of set verbiage on the part of sergeant on parade.

This morning, the six of us gawky raw recruits had to appear before the Regimental doctor, who, of course, passed us all as “fit”. This regiment goes in for intensive training. Within eight to ten weeks after his arrival here, the recruit leaves for France, a trained soldier.

“English As She Is Spoke” is the name of a legendarily terrible Portugese-to-English phrase book published in 1883, the “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” of the 19th century. Mark Twain was a big fan of it.

Clifford Wells

Clifford Wells, the idiot son of a Montreal millionaire, is still in camp and still quarantined for measles. His camp is at Folkestone, which is about 60 miles up the coast (and closer to France) than Maximilian Mugge’s billet at Newhaven. Incidentally, I am going to laugh like an absolute drain if Mugge makes it to France before Wells does. Anyway. Wells has just received a large care package from home, and his bullshitting batman John Ridd has left him. His replacement is one Private Towse.

He is an Englishman by birth, who, when war broke out, was a florist in Winnipeg. I believe he was doing very well, and had a large business. He enlisted and came overseas with the First Contingent. He was badly wounded at [the Battle of Festubert], and is still very lame. He would like to get his discharge now that he is not fit for active service any more, but does not seem likely to get it, as he is fit for light duties (such as officers’ servant), and so can take the place which would otherwise be occupied by an able-bodied man.

He is really too intelligent a person to spend his time cleaning belts and shoes, etc., but does all his work perfectly.

I have no hope of getting to France for some time yet. The Pats have plenty of officers at present, and there are several in camp who are senior to me, and so will be sent over before me. This prolonged sojourn in a reserve battalion is the one thing about getting a commission which I do not like. I should have been in the trenches by now if I had not been promoted. The first draft from the Fourth University Company has already been in action.

The race is on, folks. Who’s going to get to France first? Mugge or Wells? Place your bets now!

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun

Further Reading

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