General Robertson is now making his play for high office. A paper written by himself (and, uncredited, his subordinate and friend General Frederick Maurice) is now being circulated in London. Its subject is “The Conduct of the War”; its conclusion is that Germany is the main enemy and priority must be given to winning the war on the Western Front. He’ll soon be there in person to make the rounds of the great and the good as wrangling over the future organisation of the British war effort continues apace. Perhaps now is not such a good time for Lord Kitchener to be out of the country.
This is not just Wully trying to advance himself, mind you. He’s also pushing his own firm belief that the Western Front must have priority over all other fronts. That’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate the value of, for instance, safeguarding Britain’s oil supplies in Mesopotamia. He just thinks it should have a minimal priority and should be restrained from stupid adventures like, say, marching on Baghdad for no readily apparent reason.
The British War Committee continues to escape from Herbert Asquith’s original concept of a small, svelte body able to deliberate quickly and take proper decisions. In theory it has five members (Asquith, Lord Kitchener, Sir Edward Grey, David Lloyd-George, Arthur Balfour) and Colonel Hankey as secretary. Now Reginald McKenna, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has wheedled his way onto the committee; and Colonel Hankey is finding it so hard to keep up with the pace and breadth of meetings that he’s started bringing assistants with him; often Colonel Swinton of landships fame, sometimes another man called Dally Jones. Even with Kitchener away in the Dardanelles, that’s still five permanent members and two secretaries. And that’s not the end.
With the clock rapidly winding down until the start of Fourth Isonzo, it’s as well to take a moment to quickly point out that there is harsh but intermittent fighting going on in areas not considered part of the Isonzo front. In the Dolomite mountains to the west, for instance, there’s plenty of heavy, bitter fighting between small groups of mountain soldiers. For a few hours the Italians manage to get themselves to the summit of the Col di Lana, prompting a depressingly familiar response; they can’t get any reinforcements or supplies as their opponents heavily shell their old positions, and then the inevitable counter-attack retakes the col for Austria-Hungary. Just another day at the war.
Speaking of which, Bernard Adams is still up the line.
Imagine a cold November night, with a ground fog. What bliss to be roused from a snug dugout at midnight, and patrol the line for four hours. It is deathly quiet. Has the war stopped? I stand up on the fire-step beside the sentry and try to see through the fog. “Pip-pip-pip-pip-pip”, goes a machine-gun. So, the war’s still on. “Cold?” I ask a sentry.
“Only me feet, sir.”
“Why don’t you stamp your feet, then?” This being equivalent to an order, Tommy stamps feebly a few times until made to do so energetically. Unless you make him stamp, he will not stamp. He would infinitely prefer to let his feet get cold as ice. Of course, when you have gone into the next bay, he immediately stops. Still, that is Tommy.
This is not the dim rupert’s bullshit that it might seem like at first glance. If Tommy lets his feet go numb, he’s at serious risk of quickly developing frostbite or trench foot (depending on how wet it is).
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(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)