Siege of Kut
We begin in Mesopotamia, where the weather has finally cleared enough to allow the Royal Flying Corps, after a prolonged period on the ground, to get their planes into the air. There’s plenty for them to see, and for General Aylmer, none of it is good. Several miles upstream of his lead elements is a large wadi, a steep valley with a watercourse of some sort at the bottom, that’s often only wet during the rainy seasion (not unlike the many deres on Gallipoli). This wadi is so large that it’s known to the invaders simply as “The Wadi” or “the Canal”. And, aren’t they just in luck, the Wadi is full of water right now.
That’s not all it’s full of. This is where the Ottoman blocking force has fallen back to, to prepared and well-sited defensive positions. A large and impassable salt marsh blocks the left bank of the River Tigris, and the blocking force is concentrated on the right bank. Their trenches are anchored, several miles up the Wadi from the Tigris, on a walled enclosure rather grandly called Chittab Fort. And the fliers also have an updated estimate of the enemy’s strength; they’re now pegging it at about 11,000.
At best, the strength of each force is now even; at worst, the Ottomans now have a slight manpower advantage. Time for thinking caps to be put on.
Robert Palmer spends another day at Sheikh Sa’ad, waiting for orders. After the past few days of marching every which way, the rest is very welcome. Even better, mail from home has been brought up with the rations. Time for some product placement!
Two fine days (though it freezes at night) and rest have restored us. A mail arrived this morning, bringing letters to December 7th. On these cold nights the Little Kitchener is invaluable; so is soup. Of the various brands, Ivelcon is the best. The chocolate is my mainstay on day marches. Also the Diet Tablets are very good. Bivouac Cocoa is also good. The Kaross is invaluable.
We have had absolutely no outside news since January 1st, and get very little even of the operations of our own force. I then went to see Foster who has had to go sick and lives on our supply ship. About 20 per cent. of our men are sick, mostly diarrhœa and sore feet. The former is no doubt due to Tigris water. They don’t carry the chlorinating plant on trek, and men often have to replenish water-bottles during short halts.
Personally I have so far avoided unboiled water. I have my bottle filled with tea before leaving camp, and can make that last me forty-eight hours, and eke it out with soup or cocoa in the Little Kitchener at bivouacs.
Cha-ching! There’s more than a few products being sent to Robert Palmer by his family that I’ve seen advertised by the Daily Telegraph. I used to spend a lot of time poking fun at those adverts. They don’t seem quite so funny now, though.
For the record, a “Little Kitchener” is a portable stove, one of many brands of Tommy cooker. They’re advertised as having been used since the Sudan. Sometimes the name appears with capital letters to emphasise “Kitchener”, sometimes it appears without to emphasise “kitchen”. A kaross is a large, heavy sheepskin cloak/blanket, as modelled by millions on the Western Front; and the Diet Tablets could be any one of a hundred patent medicines.
Day two of the Erzurum Offensive, still confined to probes on the Cakir Baba. And for the most part, it’s still a whole lot of nothing but poking at well-sited defences and getting cut down by machine-guns. For the most part. There is one important exception; there’s been a small breakthrough, apparently insignificant from the defenders’ point of view. However, there are now men in position to attack a mountain shoulder, the Kozican-dag. Take it, and they’ll be in position to break through onto the western Top Yol.
And not a moment too soon. A blizzard is blowing in, and although General Yudenich had hoped for a little more success, the Kozincan-dag position is the most important thing. The attack now breaks off, so as to give the impression to the Ottomans that it was only a distraction, and the blokes settle down to the serious business of trying not to freeze to death.
We were about 10 miles from the town of Durazzo, though it did not look anything like so far, and we could see it plainly at the end of the long line of yellow sands jutting out into the sea. There were several wrecks round there, one of them a Greek steamer, which had hit a floating mine. There were a great many of these floating mines about, and the Austrian submarines were also very active, adding immensely to the difficulty of getting food and supplies, which all had to be brought by sea to the troops.
…I rode into Durazzo with three of the officers to see the sights of the town. The first sight I did see was a real live English sergeant-major walking down the street. I could hardly believe my eyes, it seemed so long since I had seen an Englishman, and I did not know there were any there. I almost fell on his neck in my excitement, and he seemed equally astonished and pleased to see a fellow countrywoman. He took me up at once to the headquarters of the British Adriatic Mission, and fed me on tea and cakes, while we were waiting for [his Colonel] to come in. Afterwards I had lunch with the Colonel and his staff.
It was the first time for so long that I had sat on a chair and eaten my meals off a table with a table-cloth that I had almost forgotten how to do it. I went back late in the afternoon laden with sundry luxuries they had given me in the way of butter, jam, and a tinned plum pudding, and also two loaves of bread which I had bought in the town, as in those days when we got near a shop we always bought a loaf of bread, in the same way that people at home would buy cake.
I feel duty-bound to provide a moment’s humbug and point out that King’s Regulations strictly prohibit officers and NCOs socialising. Maybe it’s because she’s a Serbian corporal? (Please read with heavy amounts of dry sarcasm.)
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