The already-ridiculous rainfall continues with even greater intensity, and now the writing’s on the wall for the battle. Any hope of an Italian breakthrough has been built on coordinated, targeted pushes, but now they’re falling apart piecemeal as individual components of the attacks are postponed due to the rain and general exhaustion. I hope that quoting the Austro-Hungarian official history isn’t becoming a cliche, but, um:
The only ground the Italians gained permanently as a result of their attempts to break through at Gorizia in the third Isonzo battle was a part of the foremost trenches of our position on the western slopes of Heights #184 and #240; this had no effect on the tactical situation of either side.
How on earth can I possibly improve on that assessment of the situation? This evening, General Cadorna orders the battle suspended. Tomorrow we’ll check in on the fallout. Today, we’ll just make note of an observation from a newly-recruited junior Italian officer, making his way to the front for the first time with a reinforcement-draft. “Where are the trenches?” he asks, and is met by an ominous silence. “We’ve got some holes…” someone eventually offers.
The King may appoint whoever he chooses as Prime Minister, but Alexandros Zaimis is really on a hiding to nothing here. Former prime minister Venizelos still commands a majority in the Greek parliament, and today he uses this majority to force a vote of no confidence in Zaimis’s government, which Zaimis unsurprisingly loses. Constantine I will now have to find another Prime Minister, and he’s dead set against Venizelos. More soon.
Lord Kitchener is working overtime to save his great Gallipoli campaign as he prepares to go to see the situation for himself. It’s a pretty bizarre day. With General Monro having left GHQ for Egypt, General Birdwood is once again in temporary command. Kitchener promptly telegraphs Birdwood with details of a scheme to combine Admiral Keyes’s push on the Dardanelles with fresh troop landings up at Bulair. He also tells Birdwood that if he agrees, Kitchener will transfer Monro to Salonika and put Birdwood in overall command on Gallipoli.
This is rather an underhanded move from Kitchener. He knows that Birdwood alone among the corps commanders is opposed to abandoning Gallipoli, and had played a big part in pushing for the Battle of Sari Bair. He finishes with the thought “I absolutely refuse to sign order for evacuation, which I think would be greatest disaster”. Birdwood signals back, at some length, telling Kitchener (very politely) to get stuffed. By the time it arrives, Kitchener’s already met with Keyes again, and found that Keyes doesn’t like the Bulair idea at all.
By the end of the day, Kitchener is on his way to Paris (he’s using his journey as an excuse to also drop in on the French for some strategic discussions), having now signalled to Birdwood words to the effect of “LOL J/K, start drawing up a plan for evacuation please”. So we’ve got that settled, right?
The Serbian government is on the move in earnest, quitting Nis for Raska. The invaders seize Uzice. It’s now looking like the only thing that can stop them conquering the whole of Serbia is some kind of catastrophic logistical breakdown. And now the French advance towards Skopje is coming under heavier and heavier attack by Bulgarian forces, and General Sarrail will soon be obliged to order a halt to deal with this opposition. At some point, these attacks will become serious enough to warrant calling them the “Battle of Krivolak”.
I finally found I could go to Monastir, or, to call it by its Serbian name, Bitol. Accordingly, I, with four other nurses and a doctor whose acquaintance I had made on the boat, who also found themselves unable to reach their original destinations, left for Bitol.
The journey will take several days, and it’s not entirely clear how they went. On foot? By horse? Hitching a lift on a French ration truck? She doesn’t say.
The War Committee is already beginning to get out of control, and it’s only existed for about 48 hours. The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, has realised after the first meeting that perhaps a secretary would be a good idea; Colonel Hankey is quickly tapped for the role. In very short order, David Lloyd-George (Minister of Munitions) and Sir Edward Grey (Foreign Secretary) will have sweet-talked their own way onto the committee to join Kitchener and Balfour. The svelte, decisive three-man body has now risen to five members plus the secretary, which had been Asquith’s original upper limit when he introduced the concept. (The sole piece of good news is that Hankey and Asquith are both intent that the Committee should meet daily if possible, and as often as possible when not.) More soon.
Fortunately for my need to fill space in this blog, Louis Barthas’s attempt at self-asphyxiation is rudely interrupted after a few short hours.
Around midnight, someone roughly shook me awake by the shoulders. “Let me die in peace,” I cried out.
“Are you crazy?” said the captain’s orderly. “Here, read this paper.” And by the light of an electric lamp I read that the captain was demanding that I give an account of the work accomplished so far. On a scrap of paper I wrote that the men were at work on such and such a trench. I knew that the orderly was a good comrade and wouldn’t betray me.
At daybreak, the rationers left for La Targette where the field kitchens arrived to distribute coffee, hooch, and breakfast. The staircase emptied out, and the men shook themselves awake in the trench, the rain having finally ceased. The men knew that I had refused to make them work at night, in the rain. With scoops and shovels they went to work with a burst of energy and enthusiasm.
This just in: giving a shit about people makes you popular. Coo, slap me vitals, and other unconvincing expressions of disbelief.
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