Extracts (1st one very characteristic!)
Feb 15th 1917
There is no rest at all at this job. We have been having a series of moves, each preceded as a rule by a little scrapping. Sometimes the Turk has stayed to be turned out; sometimes he has left the place vacant. But in either case the preparations and the precautions are the same and involve the same amount of trouble. After the move comes the digging, at high pressure at first of course, involving often the best part of a night (or all of it). To make oneself reasonably safe and secure, some convenience really takes about a week of steady hard work.
For a space of 2 or 3 days in a new place one simply rubs along somehow. And 2 or 3 days is all we have ever been allowed to stop: the latest indications point to our being just as insecure even here where we thought we were really likely to be left in peace for a time.
It is very sickening work going from place to place, never settling anywhere, and always handing over to somebody else the results of one’s strenuous labours. Somehow we seem to have landed in front, and have kept on pushing out ½ a mile or so at a time, just because we were the people on the spot and knew the ground. After establishing ourselves on ahead we were of course equally the people on the spot for the next push.
Our present location – could we only rest here a bit – is pleasant enough. We are on the river again as the result of our much pushing, at the furthest point upstream which we hold. To be near a river is to be near water, and that is always a great benefit, even though snipers on the other side limit one’s means and opportunity of getting at it.
It has been a most extraordinary experience of open fighting. We have been disposed over wide stretches of country in manners that would make the hair of any tactical theorist stand on end. For some time I was in a position at the point of a sharp angle like this \, and could not have told anybody where exactly was my front.
Only by experience have we been able to discover whether it was necessary to keep our heads well down or whether one could stroll about in small groups on the surface unconcernedly. We have persistently been getting off the map in spite of the best efforts of the aircraft and the GH2 lithograph section to keep pace with us, which has made things the more difficult.
Certainly for the last 2 months this has been a very restless bit of country. Almost daily there is something doing somewhere and we are getting so used to the noise of attacks within a few miles that we take comparatively small notice of them. Of course we get told just before when and where they are to take place, and generally a few hours afterwards whether or not they were successful – generally they have been, but not always at the first attempt.
There have been two such this morning, a lesser and greater, both of which are well reported of. We have got the enemy enclosed in a 3rd river bend from which one supposes we shall proceed to clear him out as in the two previous cases. The little town of Kut with its surrounding trees, which I first saw through the mist on the morning of Dec 14th will be receding into the distance if we go much further in our present direction. The whole position out here is a very queer one indeed. I should like to know whether anybody at home knows enough about it to give anything like a clear description of it. Of course we have to guess like anybody else at what designs lie ahead for any period beyond the immediate future. Meanwhile I constantly congratulate myself upon not being a Turk; it must be a horrible existence!
[Later] During an interval for lunch we have had news of a further attack again successful, a lot of Turks surrendering, so apparently my last remark is justified!
Yesterday 2 of our old officers Snowdon (who was in my company) and Hutton, both away since April rejoined. As the CO (now acting Lt-Col Gibbon) wanted my services to help with work at headquarters I have handed over C Company to Snowdon and just started the job of second-in-command.
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At present my letter goes badly. I have been left at Headquarters to deal with what business arises – which is little - while the CO has gone forward to superintend a further advance which we have been ordered to make. Only small parties have been engaged, but I get rotten news of bad luck with our officers. I don’t think we have suffered much in other ranks. I cannot get a lot of news at present, but I suppose there will be lots of work and trouble before we get established again.
It really is getting pretty tiring, 2nd, 5th, 9th, 12th, 15th so far this month has seen the same sort of performance, and we have all been under actual or possible fire since Dec 14th.
[Later again]. Great headings in the papers will announce the events that have happened today close here. We have just been told of 2000 prisoners taken, and more being brought in. It seems as if the bend has been cleared today and the Enemy cannot slip away in the darkness as they have contrived to do before. Such good news is most cheering. We (in my regiment) have got to the objective we were sent to, and as far as I can make out another regiment will take over and hold it, leaving us where we are, which is a great blessing.
Never have I known such a stroke of bad luck as we had yesterday in officers’ casualties. Three have been killed, and amongst the men the total remaining losses were two men wounded. Busby (the fellow the New Zealand Sladdens knew well) was killed by a bullet in the face. Our Doctor Captain Martin hearing he was hit, went out contrary to orders and got a bullet through his head across the forehead, from which he died at the field ambulance some time this morning. He was a splendid regimental doctor, and all the men are very distressed at losing him, and the officers certainly not less so.
The third case was Jones, who joined me with Harrington at the end of Dec, and now both are killed in this short space of time. Jones was watching the affair through his glasses, steadying his elbow on Company Sgt-Major Wayte’s shoulder, when a stray bullet hit him in the neck, severing the artery, so that he died at once. He was such a nice fellow, so keen and interested in everything, and always cheerful and had the makings of a good officer.
Three hits, like that, all fatal, seem the high water mark of sheer ill luck.
Feb 17th (This page is covered in mud and stained pink MBC)
The mess on this page is a little indication of our last trouble. Very suddenly at tea time yesterday, we had a terrific storm, with long continued hail, such as I have never seen before. It was the size of average shrapnel bullets, and fell for a long time. Altogether I suppose it rained heavily for ¾ of an hour or so. I was in the big dug out which serves as orderly room or mess, where we kept pretty dry. I emerged to find water in the trench, being over a foot deep, had covered my barricade in front of my dug out. My valise was on the verge of floating, and a good deal of my property was in or under water. We started bailing it, and were getting things better when somebody far off must have cut a passage and drained a flood of water into a trench which connects with ours. The water rose to two feet or more at a rush, flooding practically everybody out. I had got my stuff chiefly stacked on the top of a mound by that time luckily. Lots of my things got saturated; some not beyond repair, a few are spoiled. I regret to report that two little diaries which came from you by the last mail are deficient; one I found lying a hopeless wreck in the liquid mud and decided was past reclaiming. Luckily the little calendar that I asked for was safe in my pocket. Thank you very much for all of them.
This was the worst flooding out I have had since the Suvla one but nothing like so much water fell, and conditions in every respect other than the extreme flatness of the country and lack of a moon at night, were vastly better.
Today we have had 3 telegrams about the attack on Sannai-yat; I hope to hear soon that we have got into their trenches and are established there. I have no doubt whatever that we shall do so somehow and sometime, though the Turk takes a lot of moving.