AT SUVLA BAY
Being The Notes And Sketches Of Scenes, Characters
And Adventures Of The Dardanelles Campaign
By John Hargrave
("White Fox" of "The Scout ")
While Serving With The 32nd Field Ambulance, X Division, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, During The Great War
We played at Ali Baba, On a green linoleum floor; Now we camp near Lala Baba, By the blue Aegean shore.
We sailed the good ship Argus, Behind the studio door; Now we try to play at "Heroes" By the blue Aegean shore.
We played at lonely Crusoe, In a pink print pinafore; Now we live like lonely Crusoe, By the blue Aegean shore.
We used to call for "Mummy," In nursery days of yore; And still we dream of Mother, By the blue Aegean shore.
While you are having holidays, With hikes and camps galore; We are patching sick and wounded, By the blue Aegean shore.
Salt Lake Dug-out, September 12th, 1915. (Under shell-fire.)
Sirt—summit. Dargh—mountain. Bair or bahir—spur. Burnu—cape. Dere—valley or stream. Tepe—hill. Geul—lake. Chesheme—spring. Kuyu—well. Kuchuk—small. Tekke—Moslem shrine. Ova—plain. Liman—bay or harbour. Skala—landing-place. Biyuk—great.
I. IN WHICH MY KING AND COUNTRY NEED ME
II. A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY
V. I HEAR OF HAWK
VI. ON THE MOVE
VII. MEDITERRANEAN NIGHTS
VIII. THE CITY OF WONDERFUL COLOUR
IX. MAROONED ON LEMNOS ISLAND
X. THE NEW LANDING
XI. THE KAPANJA SIRT
XII. THE SNIPER-HUNT
XIII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE WHITE PACK-MULE
XIV. THE SNIPER OF PEAR-TREE GULLY
XV. KANGAROO BEACH
XVI. THE ADVENTURE OF THE LOST SQUADS
XVII. "OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND!"
XVIII. TWO MEN RETURN
XIX. THE RETREAT
XX. "JHILL-O! JOHNNIE!"
XXI. SILVER BAY
XXII. DUG-OUT YARNS
XXIII. THE WISDOM OF FATHER S——
XXIV. THE SHARP-SHOOTERS
XXV. A SCOUT AT SULVA BAY
XXVI. THE BUSH-FIRES
XXVII. THE DEPARTUR
XXVIII. LOOKING BACK
AT SUVLA BAY
CHAPTER I. IN WHICH MY KING AND COUNTRY NEED ME
I left the office of The Scout, 28 Maiden Lane, W.C., on September 8th, 1914, took leave of the editor and the staff, said farewell to my little camp in the beech-woods of Buckinghamshire and to my woodcraft scouts, bade good-bye to my father, and went off to enlist in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
I made my way to the Marylebone recruiting office, and after waiting about for hours, I went at last upstairs and "stripped out" with a lot of other men for the medical examination.
The smell of human sweat was overpowering in the little ante-room. Some of the men had hearts and anchors and ships and dancing-girls tattooed in blue on their chests and arms. Some were skinny and others too fat. Very few looked fit. I remarked upon the shyness they suffered in walking about naked.
"Did yer pass?"
"No, 'e spotted it," said the dejected rejected.
"Got through, Alf?"
"No: eyesight ain't good enough."
So it went on for half-an-hour.
Then came my turn.
"Ha!" said the little doctor, "this is the sort we want," and he rubbed his gold-rimmed glasses on his handkerchief. "Chest, thirty-four—thirty-seven," said the doctor, tapping with his tape-measure, "How did yer do that?"
"What, sir?" said I, gasping, for I was trying to blow my chest out, or burst.
"Had breathing exercises?"
"No, sir—I'm a scout."
"Ha!" said he, and noticed my knees were brown with sunburn because I always wore shorts.
I passed the eyesight test, and they took my name down, and my address, occupation and age.
"Ever bin in the army before?"
"Ever bin in prison?"
"What's yer religion?"
"Nothing at all."
"Ah, but you've got to 'ave one in the army."
"Yes, you must. Wot's it to be—C. of E.?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Church of England. Most of 'em do."
Awful thoughts of church parade flashed through my mind.
"Right you are—Quaker!" said I.
"Quaker! Is that a religion?" he asked doubtfully.
I watched him write it down.
"Right, that'll do. Report at Munster Road recruiting station, Fulham, to-morrow."
We were all dressed by this time. After a lot more waiting about outside in a yard, a sergeant came and took about eight of us into a room where there was a table and some papers and an officer in khaki.
I spotted a Bible on the table. We had to stand in a row while he read a long list of regulations in which we were made to promise to obey all orders of officers and non-commissioned officers of His Majesty's Service. After that, he told us he would swear us in. We had to hold up the right hand above the head, and say, all together: "Swhelpmegod!"
I immediately realised that I had taken an oath, which was not in accordance with my regimental religion!
No sooner were we let out than I began to feel the ever-tightening tangle of red tape.
What the dickens had I enlisted for? I asked myself. I had lost all my old-time freedom: I could no longer go on in my old camping and sketching life. I was now a soldier—a "tommy"—a "private." I loathed the army. What a fool I was!
The next day I reported at Fulham. More hours of waiting. I discovered an old postman who had also enlisted in the R.A.M.C., and as he "knew the ropes" I stuck to him like a leech. In the afternoon an old recruiting sergeant with a husky voice fell us in, and we marched, a mob of civilians, through the London streets to the railway station. Although this was quite a short distance, the sergeant fell us out near a public-house, and he and a lot more disappeared inside.
What a motley crowd we were: clerks in bowler hats; "knuts" in brown suits, brown ties, brown shoes, and a horse-shoe tie-pin; tramp-like looking men in rags and tatters and smelling of dirt and beer and rank twist.
Old soldiers trying to "chuck a chest"; lanky lads from the country gaping at the houses, shops and people.
Rough, broad-speaking, broad-shouldered men from the Lancashire cotton-mills; shop assistants with polished boots, and some even with kid gloves and a silver-banded cane. Here and there was a farm-hand in corduroys and hob-nailed, cowdung-spattered boots, puffing at a broken old clay pipe, and speaking in the "Darset" dialect. At the station they had to have another "wet" in the refreshment room, and by the time the train was due to start a good many were "canned up."
Boozy voices yelled out—
"'S long way... Tipper-airy..."
"Good-bye, Bill... 'ave... 'nother swig?"
"Don't ferget ter write, Bill..."
"Aw-right, Liz... Good-bye, Albert..."
We were locked in the carriage. There was much shouting and laughing.... And so to Aldershot.
CHAPTER II. A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY
Aldershot was a seething swarm of civilians who had enlisted. Every class and every type was to be seen. We found out the R.A.M.C. depot and reported. A man sat at an old soapbox with a lot of papers, and we had to file past him. This was in the middle of a field with row upon row of bell-tents.
"Name?" he snapped.
I told him.
"Right!—Quaker Oats!—Section 'E,' over there."
But my old postman knew better, and, having found out where "Section E" was camped, we went off up the town to look for lodging for the night, knowing that in such a crowd of civilians we could not be missed.
At last we found a pokey little house where the woman agreed to let us stay the night and get some breakfast next day.
That night was fearful. We had to sleep in a double bed, and it was full of fleas. The moonlight shone through the window. The shadow of a barrack-room chimney-pot slid slowly across my face as the hours dragged on.
We got up about 5.30 A.M., so as to get down to the parade-ground in time for the "fall in."
We washed in a tiny scullery sink downstairs. There was a Pears' Annual print of an old fisherman telling a story to a little girl stuck over the mantelpiece.
We had eggs and bread-and-butter and tea for breakfast, and I think the woman only charged us three shillings all told.
Once down at the parade-ground we looked about for "Section E" and found their lines in the hundreds of rows of bell-tents.
Life for the next few days was indeed "hand to mouth." We had to go on a tent-pitching fatigue under a sergeant who kept up a continual flow of astoundingly profane oaths.
Food came down our lines but seldom. When it did come you had to fetch it in a huge "dixie" and grope with your hands at the bits of gristle and bone which floated in a lot of greasy water. Some one bought a box of sardines in the next tent.
"Goin' ter share 'em round?" said a hungry voice.
"Nah blooming fear I ain't—wot yer tike me for—eh?"
Every one was starving. I had managed to fish a lump of bone with a scrag of tough meat on it from the lukewarm slosh in our "dixie." But some one who was very hungry and very big came along and snatched it away before I could get my teeth in it.
We had continually to "fall in" in long rows and answer our names. This was "roll-call," and roll-call went on morning, noon, and night. Even when your own particular roll-call was not being called you could hear some other corporal or sergeant shouting—
"Jones F.—Wiggins, T.—Simons, G.— Harrison, I...." and so on all day long.
There were no ground-sheets to the tents. We squatted in the mud, and we had one blanket each, which was simply crawling.
We were indeed in a far worse condition than many savages. Then came the rain. We huddled into the tents. There were twenty-two in mine, and, as a bell-tent is full up with eighteen, you may imagine how thick the atmosphere became. One old man would smoke his clay-pipe with choking twist tobacco. Most of the others smoked rank and often damp "woodbines." The language was thick with grumbling and much swearing. At first it was not so bad. But some one touched the side of the tent and the rain began to dribble through. Then we found a tiny stream of wet slowly trickling along underneath the tent-walls towards the tent-pole, and by night time we were lying and sitting in a pool of mud.
About a week later when the sergeant-major told us on parade that we were "going to Tipperary" we all laughed, and no one believed it.
But the next day they marched us down to the Government siding and locked us all in a train, which took us right away to Fishguard.
Some of the men got some bread-and-cheese before starting, but I, in company with a good many others, did not.
The boat was waiting when they bundled us out on the quay.
It was a cattle-boat and very small and very smelly. There were no cabins or accommodation of any sort: only the cattle-stalls down below. Six hundred of us got aboard. Out of the six hundred, five hundred were sick. It was a very rough crossing, and we were all starving and shivering. I had nothing but what I stood up in—shirt, shorts, and cowboy-hat, and my old haversack, which contained soap, towel and razor, and also a sketch-book and a small colour-box.
The Irish sea-winds whistled up my shorts—but I preferred the icy wind to the stinking cattle-stalls and insect-infested straw below. We were packed in like sardines. Men were retching and groaning, cussing and growling. At last I found a coil of rope. It was a huge coil with a hole in the centre—something like a large bird's nest. I got into this hole and curled up like a dormouse. Here I did not feel the cold so much, and lying down I didn't feel sick. The moon glittered on the great gray billows. The cattle-boat heaved up and slid down the mountains. She pitched and rolled and slithered sideways down the wave-slopes. And so to Waterford.
From Waterford by train to Tipperary. It was early morning. The first thing I noticed was that the grass in Ireland was very green and that the fields were very small.
We had had no food for twenty-seven hours. I found a very hard crust of bread in my haversack, and eat it while the others were asleep in the carriage.
CHAPTER III. SNARED
"Off with his head," said the Queen.—Alice in Wonderland.
"Charge against 31963— Failing to drink some oniony tea; Ha! Ha! What! What! I can have you SHOT! D'you realise that I can have you lashed To a wheel and smashed? What? Rot! Yes—SHOT! D'you realise this? Right—turn! DISMISS!"
Lemnos: October 1915.
Born and bred in a studio, and brought up among the cloud-swept mountains of Westmorland, amid the purple heather and the sunset in the peat-moss puddles, barrack-life soon became like penal servitude. I was like a caged wild animal. I knew now why the tigers and leopards pace up and down, up and down, behind their bars at the Zoo.
We only stayed a week in the great, gray, prison-like barracks at Tipperary. We looked about for the "sweetest girl" of the song—but the "colleens" were disappointing. My heart was not "right there." We moved to Limerick; and in Limerick we stopped for seven solid months.
For seven months we did the same old squad-drill every day, at the same time, on the same old square, until at last we all began to be unbearably "fed up." The sections became slack at drill because they were over-drilled and sickened by the awful monotony of it all.
During those seven dreary months, in that dismal slum-grown town, we learnt all the tricks of barrack-life. We knew how to "come the old soldier"; we knew how and when to "wangle out" of doing this or that fatigue; we practised the ancient art of "going sick" when we knew a long route march was coming off next day.
We knew how to "square" the guard if we came in late, and the others learnt how to dodge church parade.
"'E never goes to church parade."
"No; 'e was a fly one—'e was."
"Put 'isself down as Quaker."
"Lummy—that's me next time I 'list—Quaker Oats!"
By this time I had been promoted to the rank of corporal.
Next to the regimental sergeant-major, I had the loudest drill voice on the square, and shouting at squad-drill and stretcher-drill was about the only thing I ever did well in the army—except that, having been a scout, I was able to instruct the signalling squad.
Route marches and field-days were a relief from the drill square. For five months we got no issue of khaki. Many of the men were through at the knees, and tattered at the elbows. Some were buttonless and patched. I had to put a patch in my shorts. Our civilian boots were wearing out—some were right through. Heels came off when they "right turned," others had their soles flapping as they marched.
My "batman," who cleaned my boots and swept out the bunk, had his trousers held together with a huge safety-pin. The people called us "Kitchener's Rag-time Army." We became so torn, and worn, and ragged, that it was impossible to go out in the town. Being the only one in scout rig-out I drew much attention.
"'Ere 'e comes, Moik-ell!"
"Kitchener's cowboy! Isn't he lovely!"
"Come an' see Path-rick—Kitchener's cowboy!—by-the-holy-sufferin'-jazus!"
I found an old curio-shop down near the docks, and here I used to rummage among the gilded Siamese idols, and the painted African gods and drums. I discovered some odd parts of A Thousand-and-One Arabian Nights, which I bought for a penny or two, and took back to my barrack-room to read. By this means I forgot the gray square, and the gray line of the barracks outside, and the bare boards and yellow-washed walls within.
I used to practise "slipping" the guard at the guard-room gate. This form of amusement became quite exciting, and I was never caught at it.
Next I got a very old and worn copy of the Koran.
By this time I was a full-blown sergeant. I made a mistake in walking into the sergeants' mess with the Koran under my arm. It was difficult to explain what sort of book it was. One day the regimental sergeant-major said—
"You know, Hargrave, I can't make you out."
"No;—you're not a soldier, you never will be—you act the part pretty well. But you don't take things seriously enough."
We were often out on the Clare Mountains for field-days with the stretcher-squads. Coming back one day, I spotted two herons wading among some yellow-ochre sedges in a swampy field. I determined there and then to come back and stalk them. The following Saturday I set out with a fellow we called "Cherry Blossom," because he never cleaned his boots. I took a pair of field-glasses, and "Cherry" had a bag of pastries, which we bought on the way. We stalked those herons for hours and hours. We crept through the reeds, hid behind trees, and crawled into bushes, but the herons were better scouts. We only got about fifty yards up to one. For all that, it was like my old scout life—and we had had a break from the gray walls and the everlasting saluting of officers.
There were rumours of war, and that's all we knew of it. There were fresh rumours each day. We were going to Egypt. We were to be sent to the East Coast for "home defence." That offended our martial ardour. When were we going out? Should we ever get out? Had we got to do squad drill for "duration"? Had Kitchener forgotten the Xth Division?
Now and then a batch of men were put into khaki which arrived at the quartermaster's stores in driblets. Some had greeny puttees and sandy slacks, a "civvy" coat and a khaki cap. Others were rigged out in "Kitchener's workhouse blue," with little forage caps on one side. The sprinkling of khaki and khaki-browns and greens increased every time we came on parade: until one day the whole of the three field ambulances were fitted out.
The drill went on like clockwork. It was as if some curse had fallen upon us. The officers were "fed up" you could see.
And now, just a word as to army methods. Immediately opposite the barracks was a cloth factory, which was turning out khaki uniforms for the Government every day.
For five months we went about in civilian clothes. We were a disgrace as we marched along. Yet because no order had been given to that factory to supply us with uniforms, we had to wait till the uniforms had been shipped to England, and then sent back to Ireland for us to wear!
The spark of patriotism which was in each man when he enlisted was dead. We detested the army, we hated the routine, we were sickened and dulled and crushed by drill.
The old habit of being always on the alert for anything picturesque saved me from idiotcy. Whenever opportunity offered, or whenever I could take French leave, I went off with sketchbook and pencil, and forgot for a time the horror of barrack-room life, with its unending flow of filthy language, and its barren desolation of yellow-washed walls and broken windows.
And then we moved to Dublin.
CHAPTER IV. CHARACTERS
It may be very amusing to read about "Kipps" and those commonplace people whom Mr. H.G. Wells describes so cleverly, but to have to live with them in barracks is far from pleasant.
There were shop-assistants, dental mechanics, city clerks, office boys, medical students, and a whole mass of very ordinary, very uninteresting people. There was a fair sprinkling of mining engineers and miners, and these men were more interesting and of a far stronger mental and physical development. They were huge, full-chested, strong-armed men who swore and drank heavily, but were honest and straight.
There were characters here from the docks and from the merchant service, some of whom had surely been created for W.W. Jacobs. One in particular—Joe Smith, a sailor-man (an engine-greaser, I think)—was full of queer yarns and seafaring talk. He was a little man with beady eyes and a huge curled moustache. He walked about quickly, with the seamen's lurch, as I have noticed most seagoing men of the merchant service do.
This man "came up" in bell-bottomed trousers and a pea jacket. He was fond of telling a yarn about a vessel which was carrying a snake in a crate from the West Indies. This snake got into the boiler when they were cleaning out the engine-room.
"The capt'in ses to me, 'Joe.' I ses, 'Yes-sir.' 'Joe,' says 'e, 'wot's to be done?'
"'Why,' ses I, 'thing is ter git this 'ere snake out ag'in!'
"'Jistso,' says the capt'in; 'but 'oo' ter do it?'—'E always left everythink ter me—and I ses, 'Why, sir, it's thiswise, if sobe all the others are afeared, I ain't, or my name's Double Dutch.'
"'Very good, melad,' ses the capt'in, 'I relies on you, Joe.'—'E always did—and would you believe it, I upped an' 'ooked that there great rattlesnake out of the boiler with an old hum-brella!"
There was a clerk who stood six-foot eight who was something of a "knut." He told me that at home he belonged to a "Lit'ry Society," and I asked him what books they had and which he liked.
"Books?" he asked. "'Ow d'yow mean?"
"You said a Literary Society, didn't you?"
"Oh yes, we 'ave got books. But, you know, we go down there and 'ave a concert, or read the papers, and 'ave a social, perhaps, you know; sometimes ask the girls round to afternoon tea."
I had a barrack-room full of these people to look after. Most of them got drunk. Once a young medical student tried to knife me with a Chinese jack-knife which his uncle, a missionary, had given him. He had "downed" too much whisky. Just as boys do at school, so these men formed into cliques, and "hung together" in twos and threes.
Some of them, like the "lit'ry society" clerk, had never seen much of life or people; had lived in a little suburban villa and pretended to be "City men." Others had knocked about all over the world. These were mostly seafaring men. Savage was such a one. He was one of the buccaneer type, strong and sunburnt, with tattooed arms. Often he sang an old sea-song, which always ended, "Forty-five fadom, and a clear sandy bottom!" He knew most of the sea chanties of the old days, one of which went something in this way—
"Heave away Rio! Heave away Rio! So fare thee well, my sweet pretty maid! Heave away Rio! Heave away Rio! For there's plenty of gold—so we've been told— On the banks of the Sacrament—o!"
An old Irish apple-woman used to come into the barracks, and sit by the side of the parade ground with two baskets of apples and a box of chocolate.
She did a roaring trade when we were dismissed from drill.
We always addressed her as "Mother." She looked so witch-like that one day I asked—
"Can you tell a fortune, Mother?"
"Lord-love-ye, no! Wad ye have the Cuss o' Jazus upon us all? Ye shud see the priest, sor."
"And can he?"
"No, Son! All witch-craftin' is forbid in the Book by the Holy Mother o' Gord, so they do be tellin' me."
"Can no one in all Ireland read a fortune now, Mother?"
"Ach, Son, 'tis died out, sure. Only in the old out-an'-away parts 'tis done; but 'tis terrible wicked!"
She was a good bit of colour. I have her still in my pocket-book. Her black shawl with her apples will always remind me of early barrack-days at Limerick if I live to be ninety.
CHAPTER V. I HEAR OF HAWK
Seldom are we lucky enough to meet in real life a character so strong and vivid, so full of subtle characteristics, that his appearance in a novel would make the author's name. Such a character was Hawk.
When you consider, you find that many an author of note has made a lasting reputation by evolving some such character; and in most cases this character has been "founded on fact." For example, Stevenson's "Long John Silver," Kipling's "Kim," and Rider Haggard's "Alan Quatermain."
Had Kipling met Hawk he would have worked him into a book of Indian soldier life; for Hawk was full of jungle adventures and stories of the Indian Survey Department and the Khyber Pass; while his descriptions of Kashmir and Secunderabad, with its fakirs and jugglers, monkey temples and sacred bulls, were superb.
On the other hand, Haggard would have placed him "somewhere in Africa," a strong, hard man trekking across the African veldt he knew so well; for Hawk had been in the Boer War.
Little did I realise when I met him on the barrack-square at Limerick how fate would throw us together upon the scorching sands and rocky ridges of Gallipoli, nor could either of us foresee the hairbreadth escapes and queer corners in which we found ourselves at Suvla Bay and on the Serbian frontier.
I spotted him in the crowd as the only man on parade with a strong, clear-cut face. I noted his drooping moustache, and especially his keen grey eyes, which glittered and looked through and through. Somewhere, I told myself, there was good blood at the back of beyond on his line of descent. I was right, for, as he told me later, when I had come to know him as a trusty friend, he came from a Norseman stock. The jaw was too square and heavy, but the high-built chiselled nose and the deep-set clear grey eyes were a "throw-back" on the old Viking trail. Although dressed in ragged civilian clothes he looked a huge, full-grown, muscular man; active and well developed, with the arms of a miner and the chest of a gorilla. On one arm I remember he had a heart with a dagger through it tattooed in blue and red.
I heard of him first as one to be shunned and feared. For it was said that "when in drink" he would pick up the barrack-room fender with one hand and hurl it across the room. I was told that he was a master of the art of swearing—that he could pour forth a continual flow of oaths for a full five minutes without repeating one single "cuss."
My interest was immediately aroused. I smelt adventure, and I was on the adventure trail. Hawk was not in my barrack-room, and therefore I knew but little of him while in the old country. I heard that he had been galloper-dispatch-rider to Lord Kitchener in South Africa, and I tried to get him to talk about it. As an "artist's model," for a canvas to be called "The Buccaneer," Hawk was perfect. I never saw a man so splendidly developed.
And Hawk was fifty years old! You would take him for thirty-nine or so.
But "drink and the devil had done for the rest"—Hawk himself acknowledged it. His vices were the vices of a strong man, and when he was drunk he was "the very devil."
He was "the old soldier," and knew all the ins and outs of army life. I quickly became entangled in the interest of unravelling his complex nature. On the one hand he was said to be a desperado and double-dyed liar. On the other hand, if he respected you, he would always tell you the naked truth, and would never "let you down." He knew drink was his ruin, but he could not and would not stop it. Yet his advice to me was always good. Indeed, although he had the reputation of a bold, bad blackguard, he never led any one else on the "wrong trail," and his advice to young soldiers in the barrack-rooms was wonderfully clear and useful.
If he respected you, you could trust your life with him. If he didn't, you could "look up" for trouble. He was honest and "square"—if he liked you—but he could make things disappear by "sleight of hand" in a manner worthy of a West End conjurer.
He was a miner, and had a sound knowledge of mining and practical geology which many a science-master might have been proud of. He had the eyes of a trained observer, and I afterwards discovered he was a crack shot.
Some months later, when the A.S.C. ambulance drivers were exercising their horses, he showed himself a good rough-rider, and I recalled his "galloper" days. And again at Lemnos and Suvla he was a splendid swimmer. He was an all-round man. Unlike the other men in barracks—the shop assistants and clerks—Hawk never missed noticing small things, and it was this which first drew my attention to him.
I remember one night hearing a woman's voice wailing a queer Hindoo chant. It came from the barrack-room door. Afterwards I discovered it was Hawk sitting on his trestle bed cross-legged, with a bit of sacking and ashes on his head imitating the death-wail of an Indian woman for her dead husband.
Hawk knew all the rites and ceremonies of the various Hindoo castes, and could act the part of a fakir or a bazaar-wullah with wonderful realism.
By turns Hawk was a heavy drinker and a clear-brained man of action, calm in danger.
In those early days of my "military career" I looked upon him only as an author looks upon an interesting character.
Months afterwards, on the death-swept peninsula, Hawk and I became fast friends. The "bad man" of the ambulance became the most useful, most faithful, in my section. We went everywhere together—like "Horace and Holly" of Rider Haggard fame: he the great, strong man, and I the young artist scout.
If Hawk was out of camp, you could bet I was also—and vice-versa.
Of Hawk more anon.
CHAPTER VI. ON THE MOVE
We moved to Dublin after seven months of drill and medical lectures in barracks at Limerick.
After about a fortnight in the Portobello Barracks we crossed to England and pitched our camp at Basingstoke. Here we had two or three months' divisional training. The whole of the Xth Division—about 25,000 men—used to turn out for long route-marches.
We were out in all weathers. We took no tents, and "slept out." This was nothing to me, as I had done it on my own when scouting hundreds of times. It amused me to hear the men grumbling about the hard ground, and to see them rubbing their hips when they got up. It was a hard training. Still we didn't seem to be going out, and once again, the novelty of a new place having worn off, we became unspeakably "fed up."
Here at Basingstoke we were inspected by the King, and later by Lord Kitchener.
Then came the issue of pith helmets and khaki drill uniforms, and the Red Cross brassards on the left arm.
Rumour ran riot. We were going to India; we were going to East Africa... some one even mentioned Japan! There was a new rumour each day.
Then one day, at brief notice, we were quietly entrained at Basingstoke and taken down to the docks at Devonport before anyone had wind of the matter.
All our ambulance wagons, and field medical equipment in wickerwork panniers, went with us, and it would astonish a civilian to see the amount of stores and Red Cross materials with which a field ambulance moves. And so, after much waiting about, aboard the Canada.
CHAPTER VII. MEDITERRANEAN NIGHTS
Intricate and vivid detail leave a more startling imprint on the memory-film than the main purport of any great adventure, whether it be a polar expedition, a new discovery, or such a stupendous undertaking as that in which we were now involved.
The fact of our departure had been carefully kept quiet, and our destination was unknown. It might have been a secret expedition in search of buried treasure. Yet, in spite of all precaution, we might be torpedoed at any moment and go down with all hands, or strike a mine and be blown up. We knew that victory or defeat were hanging in the balance, and perhaps the destiny of nations. But while the magnitude of the venture has left no impression—I cannot recall that we ever spoke about it—commonplace details remain.
The pitch bubbling in the seams under a Mediterranean sun; the queer iridescent shapes of glowing, greenish phosphorus in the nighttime sea; the butter melting into yellow oil on the plate on the saloon table; the sickly smell of steam and grease and oil from the engine-room; the machine gun fixed at the stern with its waterproof hood; the increasing brilliance of the stars, and the rapid descent of evening upon the splendid colour-prism of a Mediterranean sunset—these, and thousands of other intimate commonplaces, are inlaid for ever in my mind.
We went about in our shirts and drill "slacks," and the scorching boards of the deck blistered our naked feet. In a few days we became sun-tanned. Each one of us had a sunburnt V-shaped triangle on the chest where we left our shirts open.
The voyage was uneventful. The food was poor. There was very little fresh water to drink. It was July. The heat was fatiguing, and the sun-glare blinding.
The coast of Algeria on our right looked bare and terribly forsaken. It had an awfulness about it—a mystery look; it looked like a "juju" country, with its sandy spit running like a narrow ribbon to the blue sea, and its hazy, craggy mountains quivering in the noonday heat.
Hawk and I were in the habit of coming up from our bunks in the evening. We used to lean over the handrail and watch the wonder of a Mediterranean sunset transform in schemes of peacock-blue and beetle-green, down and down, through emerald, pale gold and lemon yellow, and so to the horizon of the inland sea, in bands of deep chrome and orange, scarlet, mauve and purple.
Hawk was the only man I discovered in all those hundreds of apparently commonplace souls who could really appreciate and never tire of watching and discussing these things.
I had often heard of the blue of the Mediterranean. But I must confess that I rather thought it had been exaggerated by authors, artists and poets as a fruitful and beautiful source of inspiration.
I never saw such blues before: electric-blue and deep, seething navy blue, flecked with foam and silver spray; calm lapis-lazuli blue; a sort of greeny, mummy-case blue; flashing, silk-shot blue, like a kingfisher's feathers. Sometimes the sea was as calm as a mill-pond, and you could see down and down and down.
There is a certain milky look in the waters of the Mediterranean which I never saw anywhere else. What it is I do not know, but it hangs in the water like a cloud. Once there was a shoal of porpoises playing round us, and they curled and dived and flopped in the warm blue seas.
At night Hawk and I stood for hours watching first one constellation "light up," and then another, till the whole purple-velvet of the Mediterranean night sky was pinholed with the old familiar star-designs.
It struck me as most extraordinary, and almost uncanny, to see the same old stars we knew in England, still above us, so many hundred miles from home.
Phosphorescent fragments went floating along beneath us like bits of broken moonlight.
In watching and talking of these things, I quickly perceived in Hawk a man who not only noticed small detail and took a real interest in Nature, but one who had a sound, natural philosophy and a good idea of the reasonable and scientific explanation of things which so many people either ignore or look upon as "atheistic."
We did not yet know whither we were sailing. We knew we were part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and that was all.
One day we put in at Malta.
Here the fruit-boats, all painted green and red and white and blue, came rowing out to meet us. The Maltese who manned them stood upto row their oars-and rowed the right way forwards, instead of facing the wrong way, as we do in England. They were selling tomatoes and pears, apples, chocolate, cigars, cigarettes, Turkish delight, and lace.
Continually they cried their goods—
One man recognised us as the Irish Division, and shouted—
"Irish! Irish! My father Irish—from Dundee!"
Here were diving-boys in their own tiny boats, diving for pennies. They were wonderfully lithe and graceful, with sun-tanned limbs and dripping black hair.
Here, too, was a huge old man, who was also diving for pennies and tins of bully-beef. He was fat and sun-browned, and his muscles and chest were well developed.
"Me dive for bully-beef!" he shouted. "Me dive for bully-beef!"
Never once did he fail to retrieve these tins when they were chucked overboard.
The tomatoes were very large and ripe, and the tobacco and cigarettes exceedingly cheap and good. Most of the men got a stock.
The next day we put to sea again.
It was a real voyage of adventure, for here we were, on an unknown course, sailing under sealed orders, no one knew whither, nor did we know what would be the climax to this great enterprise.
Would any of us ever return across those blue-green waters?... Or would our bones lie, a few days hence, bleaching on the yellow sands? ... Mystery and adventure sailed with us—and each day the heat increased. The sun blazed from a brazen sky, the shadow of the halyards and the great ventilators were clear-cut black silhouettes upon the baking decks.
The decks were crammed with that same khaki crowd of civilians who had cursed and sworn and drilled and growled for ten long months in the Old Country. You imagine what desperate adventurers they had suddenly become. Some had never been out of Ireland, others had been as far as Portsmouth, and taken a return voyage to the Isle of Wight. And each day we zigzagged across the blue seas towards some unknown Fate... death, perhaps... victory or failure—who could tell?
Until one day a thin, yellowish-white streak appeared upon the sea-line; little groups of palms huddled together, and here and there a white dome or a needle-minaret. And so we warped into harbour, through the boom and past the lightships, to join the crowd of transports and battle cruisers lying off this muddled city—the city of wonderful colour, Alexandria.
CHAPTER VIII. THE CITY OF WONDERFUL COLOUR: ALEXANDRIA
Scarlet-orange; Beetle-green, Flashing like a magic screen. Silken garment, 'Broidered hood; Richly woven gown; Flashing like a pantomime, In and out Aladdin's town.
Fretted lattice; Dancing girl; Drooping lash and ebon curl. Silver tassel; Scented room; Almond "glad"-eye-look. Queersome figures prowling round, From some kiddies' picture-book.
Graeco-Serbian Frontier, J. H., October 1915.
The coal-yards and dingy quays looked gray and chill. Here were gray-painted Government sheds, with white numbers on the sliding doors, dull gray trucks, and dirty sidings.
A couple of Egyptian native police in khaki drill, brown belts, side-arms, red fezes, and carrying canes, both smoking cigarettes, swaggered up and down in front of an arc-light.
There were dump-yards and gray tin offices, rusty cranes, and a gray floating quay. Gangs of Egyptian beggars in ragged clothes and a flock of little brown children continually dodged the native police as we sailed slowly through the docks. They were the only touch of colour in a muddle of Government buildings, stores, and transport ships.
We were all crowding to the handrail looking overboard. The Egyptian sunset had just vanished and the deep blue of an Eastern night held the docks in a haze of gloom.
The pipe band of the Inniskillings was playing "The Wearin' o' the Green" in that mournful, gurgling chant which we came to know so well.
One of the little Egyptian beggar-girls was dancing to it on the floating quay down below us by the flicker of the arc-lamp. She was a tiny mite, with a shock of black hair and brown face and arms. She wore a pink dress with some brass buttons hung round her neck. She danced with all the supple gracefulness of the out-door tribes of the desert, never out of step, always true and rhythmic in every motion of arms and body.
When the pipes on board trailed away with a hiss of wind and a choking, gurgling noise into silence the little dancing girl began to sing in a deep, musical voice—the voice of one who has lived out-of-doors in tents—
"Itta long way—Tipple-airy! —Long way to go! —Long way—Tipple-airy! Sweetie girl I know!..."
She sang in broken English, and danced to the tune, which she knew perfectly.
The khaki crowd aboard whistled and cheered and laughed. Some one threw a penny. The whole gang of beggars scrambled after it, and there ensued a scrimmage with much shouting and swearing in Arabic.
We could see the city lit up beyond the dull gray docks.
Next morning we went for a route march through Alexandria. We marched through the dockyards. Gangs of native workmen in native costume-coloured robes and bare feet, turbans and red fezes—were working on the transports, unloading box after box of bully-beef and biscuit and piling them in huge "dumps" on the quays. Rusty chains clanked, steam cranes rattled and puffed out whiffs of white steam.
But they did not hustle or hurry. They worked under the direction of English sergeants and officers, loading and unloading.
At last we got outside the zone of awful ugliness which follows the British wherever they go. The docks were left behind and the change was sudden and startling.
It was like putting down a novel by Arnold Bennett and taking up the Koran.
I did not trouble to keep in step or "cover off." My eyes were trying to take in the splendid Eastern scenes. Here were figures which had come right out of the Arabian Nights.
Was that not Haroun Al Raschid, Commander of the Faithful, disguised as a water-carrier, with a goatskin bottle slung over his shoulder, and great yellow baggy trousers and a striped cummerbund?
Here were veiled women and old men squatting under their open bazaar fronts, with coloured mats and blinds strung across the narrow streets. Fruit sellers surrounded by melons, and beans, tomatoes and figs and dates—a jumble of colour, orange, scarlet, green, and gold. Pitchers and jars and woven carpets; queer Eastern scents; shuttered windows and flat roofs, mules and here and there a loaded camel, two Jews in black robes, a band of wild-looking desert wanderers in white with hoods and veils.
Egyptian women carrying little brown babies; who would believe there could be such figures, such colour and picturesque compositions?
It was a short march, but we saw much.
So this was the land of Egypt. It was good. What a pity we could see so little of it...
There were very smartly dressed French women with faces powdered and painted and scented. Old men with hollow eyes and yellow parchment skins all creased and wrinkled squatted on the cobble-stones, smoking hubble-bubbles and long ivory-stemmed pipes.
Arab boys selling oranges ran about the streets. The heat was stifling—the shadows purple-black, the sunlight glared golden-white on the buildings and towers and minarets.
Here were curio-shops with queer oriental carvings and alabaster figures.
It was like a chapter of my Thousand-and-One Nights come true, and I remembered the gray barracks at Limerick and the incessant drill.
At last we marched back through the docks and aboard the Canada. Next morning we were sailing far away upon a blue sea. Just a glimpse of the city of wonderful colour and we were once more creeping closer and closer to the mystery of our unknown venture.
Many of us would never pass that way again—and each one wondered sometimes if he would be claimed by that Mechanical Death which none of us fully realised.
Only a few short hours—a day or two longer—and we should be plunged into battle. A bullet for one, shrapnel for another, dysentery for a third, a bayonet or death from weakness and starvation.
The great game of luck was gathering faster and faster. We loafed about on deck and wondered where we were going and what it would be like... our minds were thinking of the immediate future. Each one tried to make out he didn't care, but each one was thinking upon the same subject—his luck, fate, kismet. How many would return to old England—should I be one; or would the Eastern sunshine blaze down upon my decomposing body on some barren sandy shore?
We passed many of the Greek Islands—some came up pink and mauve out of the sea, others were green with vineyards; once or twice a little triangular-sailed boat bobbed along the coast.
The uncertainty was a strain, and we felt utterly cut off, until at last we sighted a sandy streak, and later a line of volcanic-looking peaks—the Isle of Lemnos.
CHAPTER IX. MAROONED ON LEMNOS ISLAND
Within the outer anchorage The ancient Argonauts lay to; Little they dreamt—that dauntless crew— That here to-day in the sheltered bay Where the seas are still and blue, Great battle-ships should froth and hum, And mighty transport-vessels come Serenely floating through.
With magic sail the Argonauts Stood by to go about; Little they thought—that hero band— As they made once more for an unknown land In a world of terror and doubt, That here in the wake of the magical bough Should come the all-terrible ironclad now Serenely floating out.
Written on Mudros Beach: Oct. 7, 1915.
July the twenty-seventh.
The deadly silence...
The tenderfoot on an expedition of this sort naturally expects to find himself plunged into a whirl of noise and tumult.
The crags were colourless and shimmering in the heat. The harbour was calm and greeny-blue. One by one, with our haversacks and water-bottles, belts and rolled overcoats, we went down the companion-way into the waiting surf-boats. Again and again these boats, roped together and tugged by a little launch, went back and forth from the S.S. Canada to the "Turk's Head Pier"-a tiny wooden jetty built by the Engineers.
I asked one of the straw-hatted men of the Naval Division, who was casting off the painter, what the place was like—
"Sand an' flies, and flies an' sand—nothinkelse!" he replied.
No sooner ashore than the green and black flies came pestering and tormenting like a host of wicked jinn. The glare of sunlight on the yellow sand hurt the eyes. The deadly silence of the place was oppressive—especially when you had strung yourself up to concert pitch to face the crash and turmoil of a fearful battle.
The quiet isolation and khaki desolation of jagged peaks and sandy slopes was nerve-breaking.
You could see the thin lines of the wireless station and little groups of white bell-tents dotted here and there.
Robinson Crusoe wasn't in it. Sand and flies and sun; sun and flies and sand.
"Wot 'ave we struck 'ere, Bill?"
"Some d—-d desert island, I reckon!"
"A blasted heath..."
"Gordlummy, look at the d—-d flies!"
"Curse the —— sun; sweat's trickling down me back."
"And curse all the d—-d issue..."
"What the holy son of Moses did we join for?"
We growled and groaned and cursed our luck. The sweat ran down under our pith helmets and soaked in a stream from under our armpits. We trudged to our camping-place along the shore. One or two Greek natives followed us about with melons to sell. Parched and choked with sand, we were only too glad to buy these water-melons for two or three leptas.
The rind was green like a vegetable marrow, but the inside was yellow with pink and crimson pips—the colour of a Mediterranean sunset.
One day ashore on this accursed island and the diarrhoea set in. I never saw men suffer such awful stomach-pains before. The continual eating of melons to allay the blistering thirst helped the disease. Many men slept close to the latrines, too weak to crawl to and fro all night long. The sun blazed, and the flies in thousands of millions swarmed and irritated from early morning till sundown.
At night it was cold. The stars burned white-hot—a calm, fierce glitter.
Hawk and I "kipped down" (slept) together on a sandy stretch overlooking the bay. We could see the green-and-red electric lights of the hospital ships waiting in the harbour—for us, perhaps...
The "graft" (work) was fearful. All day long we were at it: hauling up our equipment from the beach where it had been dumped ashore. Medical panniers, operating marquee, tents and tent-poles, cook-house dixies, picks and shovels, bully and biscuit boxes and a hundred-and-one articles necessary to the work of the Medical Corps in the field: all this had to be man-handled through the sand up to our camp about a mile away. And the sun blazed, and the flies pestered and stung and buzzed and fought with each other for the drops of sweat streaming down your face. How long should we be here? When were we going into action?... The suspense was brain-racking. The diarrhoea increased: everyone went down with it. Some got the ague shivers and some a touch of dysentery.
We became gloomy and bodily sick. We wanted to get into it—into action...
Anything would be better than this God-forsaken island. Why the dickens did they leave us moping here: working in the blazing heat, and crawling to the latrines in the chilly nights? For goodness' sake, let's get out of it! Let's get to work!... So the days dragged on.
The natives wore baggy trousers and coloured head-bands. They sat all day near our camp selling melons, tomatoes, very cheap and tasteless chocolates, raisins, figs and dates.
We used to go down to swim in the little bay-like semicircle of the harbour. The water was always warm and very salt. Here were tiny shoals of tiny fish. The water was clear and glassy. There were pinky sea-urchins with spikey spines which jabbed your feet. The sandy bed of the bay was all ribbed with ripples.
The island was humming and ticking like a watch with insect-noises: otherwise the deadly silence held. There were red-winged grasshoppers and great green-gray locust-looking crickets which whistled and "cricked" all night.
We had to fetch our water from the water-tank boats, about a mile and a half distant, and haul it up in a water-cart.
Gangs of natives were working under the military authorities. There were Greeks and Greek-Armenians, Turks and Ethiopians, Egyptians and half-breeds of all kinds from Malta and Gib. They were employed in making roads and clearing the ground for huts and camps.
And all the time we had no letters from home. We were actually marooned on Lemnos Island: as literally marooned on a barren desert isle as any buccaneer of the old Spanish galleon days. We went suddenly back to a savage life. We went down to bathe stark naked, with the sunset glowing orange on our sunburnt limbs. Here it was that Hawk proved himself a wonderfully good swimmer. He was lithe and supple and well-made—an extraordinary specimen of virile manhood—and he spent his fiftieth birthday on Lemnos!
One day came the order to pack up and man-handle all our stuff down to the beach ready for re-embarkation. At last we were on the move. We worked with a will now. The great day would soon dawn. Some of us would get "put out of mess," no doubt, but this waiting about to get killed was much worse than plunging into the thick of it.
August the 6th saw us steaming out at night towards the great unknown climax—the New Landing.
CHAPTER X. THE NEW LANDING
A pale pink sunrise burst across the eastern sky as our transport came steaming into the bay. The haze of early morning dusk still held, blurring the mainland and water in misty outlines.
Hawk and I had slept upon the deck. Now we got up and stretched our cramped limbs. Slowly we warped through the quiet seas.
You must understand that we knew not where we were. We had never heard of Suvla Bay—we didn't know what part of the Peninsula we had reached. The mystery of the adventure made it all the more exciting. It was to be "a new landing by the Xth Division"—that was all we knew.
Some of us had slept, and some had lain awake all night. Rapidly the pink sunrise swept behind the rugged mountains to the left, and was reflected in wobbling ripples in the bay.
We joined the host of battleships, monitors, and troopships standing out, and "stood by."
We could hear the rattle of machine-guns in the distant gloom beyond the streak of sandy shore. The decks were crowded with that same khaki crowd. We all stood eagerly watching and listening. The death-silence had come upon us. No one spoke. No one whistled.
We could see the lighters and small boats towing troops ashore. We saw the men scramble out, only to be blown to pieces by land mines as they waded to the beach. On the Lala Baba side we watched platoons and companies form up and march along in fours, all in step, as if they were on parade.
"In fours!" I exclaimed to Hawk, who was peering through my field-glasses.
"Sheer murder," said Hawk.
No sooner had he spoken than a high explosive from the Turkish positions on the Sari Bair range came screaming over the Salt Lake: "Z-z-z-e-e-e-o-o-o-p—Crash!"
They lay there like a little group of dead beetles, and the wounded were crawling away like ants into the dead yellow grass and the sage bushes to die. A whole platoon was smashed.
It was not yet daylight. We could see the flicker of rifle-fire, and the crackle sounded first on one part of the bay, and then another. Among the dark rocks and bushes it looked as if people were striking thousands of matches.
Mechanical Death went steadily on. Four Turkish batteries on the Kislar Dargh were blown up one after the other by our battleships. We watched the thick rolling smoke of the explosions, and saw bits of wheels, and the arms and legs of gunners blown up in little black fragments against that pearl-pink sunrise.
The noise of Mechanical Battle went surging from one side of the bay to the other—it swept round suddenly with an angry rattle of maxims and the hard echoing crackle of rifle-fire.
Now and then our battle-ships crashed forth, and their shells went hurtling and screaming over the mountains to burst with a muffled roar somewhere out of sight.
Mechanical Death moved back and forth. It whistled and screamed and crashed. It spat fire, and unfolded puffs of grey and white and black smoke. It flashed tongues of livid flame, like some devilish ant-eater lapping up its insects... and the insects were the sons of men.
Mechanical Death, as we saw him at work, was hard and metallic, steel-studded and shrapnel-toothed. Now and then he bristled with bayonets, and they glittered here and there in tiny groups, and charged up the rocks and through the bushes.
The noise increased. Mechanical Death worked first on our side, and then with the Turks. He led forward a squad, and the next instant mowed them down with a hail of lead. He galloped up a battery, unlimbered—and before the first shell could be rammed home Mechanical Death blew the whole lot up with a high explosive from a Turkish battery in the hills.
And so it went on hour after hour. Crackle, rattle and roar; scream, whistle and crash. We stood there on the deck watching men get killed. Now and then a shell came wailing and moaning across the bay, and dropped into the water with a great column of spray glittering in the early morning sunshine. A German Taube buzzed overhead; the hum-hum-hum of the engine was very loud. She dropped several bombs, but none of them did much damage. The little yellow-skinned observation balloon floated above one of our battleships like a penny toy. The Turks had several shots at it, but missed it every time.
The incessant noise of battle grew more distant as our troops on shore advanced. It broke out like a bush-fire, and spread from one section to another. Mechanical Death pressed forward across the Salt Lake. It stormed the heights of the Kapanja Sirt on the one side, and took Lala Baba on the other. Puffs of smoke hung on the hills, and the shore was all wreathed in the smoke of rifle and machine-gun fire. A deadly conflict this—for one Turk on the hills was worth ten British down below on the Salt Lake.
There was no glory. Here was Death, sure enough—Mechanical Death run amok—but where was the glory?
Here was organised murder—but it was steel-cold! There was no hand-to-hand glory. A mine dispersed you before you had set foot on dry land; or a high explosive removed your stomach, and left you a mangled heap of human flesh, instead of a medically certified, healthy human being.
Mechanical Death wavered and fluctuated—but it kept going. If it slackened its murderous fire at one side of the bay, it was only to burst forth afresh upon the other.
We wondered how it was that we were still alive, when so many lay dead. Some were killed on the decks of the transports by shrapnel.
Our monitors crept close to the sandy shore, and poured out a deadly brood of Death.
The crack and crash was deafening, and it literally shook the air... it quivered like a jelly after each shot.
The fighting got more and more inland, and the rattle and crackle fainter and farther away. But we still watched, fascinated.
The little groups of men lay in exactly the same positions on the beach. That platoon by the side of Lala Baba lay in a black bunch—stone dead. We could see our artillery teams galloping along like a team of performing fleas, taking up new positions behind Lala Baba. So this is war? Well, it's pretty awful! Wholesale murder... what's it all for? Wonder how long we shall last alive before Mechanical Death blows our brains out, or a leg off...
Queer thing, war! Didn't think it was quite like this! So mechanical and senseless.
And now came the time for us to land. A lighter came alongside, with a little red-bearded man in command—
"Remind you of any one?" I said to Hawk.
He was exactly like Cutcliffe Hyne's famous "Kettle," except that he smoked a pipe. We huddled into the lighter, and hauled our stores down below. Some of us were "green about the gills," and some were trying to pretend we didn't care.
We watched the boat which landed just before us strike a mine and be blown to pieces. Encouraging sight... At last we reached the tiny cove, and the lighter let down a sort of tail-board on the sand.
CHAPTER XI. THE KAPANJA SIRT
One had his stomach blown out, and the other his chest blown in. The two bodies lay upon the sand as we stepped down.
The metallic rattle of the firing-line sounded far away. We man-handled all our medical equipment and stores from the hold of the lighter to the beach.
We had orders to "fall in" the stretcher-bearers, and work in open formation to the firing-line.
The Kapanja Sirt runs right along one side of Suvla Bay. It is one wing of that horse-shoe formation of rugged mountains which hems in the Anafarta Ova and the Salt Lake.
Our searching zone for wounded lay along this ridge, which rises like the vertebrae of some great antediluvian reptile—dropping sheer down on the Gulf of Saros side, and, in varying slopes, to the plains and the Salt Lake on the other.
Here again small things left a vivid impression—the crack of a rifle from the top of the ridge, and a party of British climbing up the rocks and scrub in search of the hidden Turk.
The smell of human blood soaking its way into the sand from those two "stiffies" on the beach. The sullen silence, except for the distant crackle and the occasional moan of a shell. The rain which came pelting down in great cold blobs, splashing and soaking our thin drill clothes till we were wet to the skin and shivering with cold.
We were all thinking: "Who will be the first to get plugged?" We moved slowly along the ridge, searching every bush and rock for signs of wounded men.
We wondered what the first case would be—and which squad would come across it.
I worked up and down the line of squads trying to keep them in touch with each other. We were carrying stretchers, haversacks, iron rations, medical haversacks, medical water-bottles, our own private water-bottles (filled on Lemnos Island), and three "monkey-boxes" or field medical companions.
Those we had left on the beach were busy putting up the operating marquee and other tents, and the cooks in getting a fire going and making tea.
The stretcher-squads worked slowly forward. We passed an old Turkish well with a stone-flagged front and a stone trough. Later on we came upon the trenches and bivouacs of a Turkish sniping headquarters. There were all kinds of articles lying about which had evidently belonged to Turkish officers: tobacco in a heap on the ground near a bent willow and thorn bivouac; part of a field telephone with the wires running towards the upper ridges of Sirt; the remains of some dried fish and an earthenware jar or "chattie" which had held some kind of wine; a few very hard biscuits, and a mass of brand-new clothing, striped shirts and white shirts, grey military overcoats, yellow leather shoes with pointed toes, a red fez, a great padded body-belt with tapes to tie it, a pair of boots, and some richly coloured handkerchiefs and waistbands all striped and worked and fringed.
It was near here that our first man was killed later in the day. He was looking into one of these bivouacs, and was about to crawl out when a bullet went through his brain. It was a sniper's shot. We buried him in an old Turkish trench close by, and put a cross made of a wooden bully-beef crate over him.
The sun now blazed upon us, and our rain-soaked clothes were steaming in the heat. The open fan-like formation in which we moved was not a success. We lost the officers, and continually got out of touch with each other.
At last we reached the zone of spent bullets. "Z-z-z-z-e-e-e-e-e-pp!—zing!" "S-s-s-ippp!"
"That one was jist by me left ear!" said Sergeant Joe Smith, although as a matter of fact it was yards above his head. Here, among a hail of moaning spent shots, our officers called a halt, made us fall in, in close formation, and we retired—what for I do not know.
We went back as far as the old Turkish well. Here Hawk had something to say.
"Our place is advancing," said he, "not retiring because of a few spent bullets. There's men there dying for want of medical attention—bleeding to death."
The next time we went forward that day was in Indian file, each stretcher-squad following the one in front.
A parson came with us. I marched just behind the adjutant, and the parson walked with me. He was a big man and a fair age. We went past the well and the bivouacs. I could see he was very nervous.
"Do you think we are out of danger here?" he asked.
"I think so, sir" (we were three miles from the firing-line). A few paces further on—
"I wonder how far the firing-line is?"
"Couldn't say, sir."
A yard or so, and then—
"D'you suppose the British are advancing?"
"I hope so." And after a minute or two—
"I wonder if there are any Turks near here...?"
I made no answer, and marvelled greatly that the "man of God" should not be better prepared to meet "his Maker," of Whom in civil life he had talked so much.
It was just then that I spotted it—a little black figure, motionless, away beyond the bushes on the right.
CHAPTER XII. THE SNIPER-HUNT
He lay flat under a huge rock. I left the stretcher-squads, and, crawling behind a bush, looked through the glasses. It certainly was a Turk, and his position was one of hiding. He kept perfectly motionless on his stomach and his rifle lay by his side.
I sent a message to pass the word up to the leading squads for Hawk. Quickly he came down to me and took the glasses. He had wonderful sight. After looking for a few seconds he agreed that it looked like a Turkish sniper lying in wait.
"Let's go and see, anyway," said I.
Hawk led the way down into the thorn-bushes and dried-up plants. I followed close at his heels. We crouched as we went and kept well under cover. Hawk took a semicircular route, which I could see would ultimately bring us out by the side of the rock under which the sniper hid.
Now we caught a glimpse of the little dark figure—then we plunged deeper into the rank willow-growth and bore round to the right.
Hawk unslung the great jack-knife which hung round his waist and silently opened the gleaming blade. I did the same.
"I'll surprise him; you can leave it to me to get in a good slash," said Hawk, and I saw the great muscles of his miner's arms tighten. "But if he gets one in on me," he whispered, "be ready with your knife at the back of his neck."
A few steps farther brought us suddenly upon the rock and the sniper. Hawk was immediately in front of me, and his arm was held back ready for a mighty blow. He stood perfectly still looking at the rock, and I watched his muscles relax.
"See it?" he said.
There was the Turk—a great heat-swollen figure stinking in the sunshine. As I moved forward a swarm of green and black flies, which had been feeding on his face and crawling up his nostrils, went up in a humming, buzzing cloud.
A bit of wood lying near had looked like his rifle from a distance; and now we saw that, instead of lying on his stomach, he was lying on his back, and looked as if he had been killed by shrapnel.
"Putrid stink," said I; "come on—let's clear out."
And so our sniper-hunt led to nothing but a dead Turk stewing in the glaring sunshine. We rejoined the squads. No one had missed us. This first day was destined to be one of many adventures.
CHAPTER XIII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE WHITE PACK-MULE
That night was dark, with no stars. I didn't know what part of Gallipoli we were in, and the maps issued were useless.
The first cases had been picked up close to the firing-line, and were mostly gun-shot wounds, and now—late in the evening—all my squads having worked four miles to the beach, I was trying to get my own direction back to the ambulance.
The Turks seldom fired at night, so that it was only the occasional shot of a British rifle, or the sudden "pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!" of a machine-gun which told me the direction of the firing-line.
I trudged on and on in the dark, stumbling over rocks and slithering down steep crags, tearing my way through thorns and brambles, and sometimes rustling among high dry grass.
Queer scents, pepperminty and sage-like smells, came in whiffs. It was cold. I must have gone several miles along the Kapanja Sirt when I came to a halt and once more tried to get my bearings. I peered at the gloomy sky, but there was no star. I listened for the lap-lap of water on the beach of Suvla Bay, but I must have been too far up the ridges to hear anything. There was dead silence. When I moved a little green lizard scutted over a white rock and vanished among the dead scrub.
I was past feeling hungry, although I had eaten one army biscuit in the early morning and had had nothing since.
It was extraordinarily lonely. You may imagine how queer it was, for here was I, trying to get back to my ambulance headquarters at night on the first day of landing—and I was hopelessly lost. It was impossible to tell where the firing-line began. I reckoned I was outside the British outposts and not far from the Turkish lines. Once, as I went blundering along over some rocks, a dark figure bolted out of a bush and ran away up the ridge in a panic.
"Halt!" I shouted, trying to make believe I was a British armed sentry. But the figure ran on, and I began to stride after it. This led me up and up the ridge over very broken ground. Whoever it was (it was probably a Turkish sniper, for there were many out night-scouting) I lost sight and sound of him.
I went climbing steadily up till at last I found myself looking into darkness. I got down on my hands and knees and peered over the edge of a ridge of rock. I could see a tiny beam of light away down, and this beam grew and grew as it slowly moved up and up till it became a great triangular ray. It swept slowly along the top of what I now saw was a steep precipice sloping sheer down into blackness below. One step further and I should have gone hurtling into the sea. For, although I did not then know it, this was the topmost ridge of the Kapanja Sirt.
The great searchlight came nearer and nearer, and I slid backwards and lay on my stomach looking over. The nearer it came the lower I moved, so as to get well off the skyline when the beam reached me. It may have been a Turkish searchlight. It swept slowly, slowly, till at last it was turned off and everything was deadly black.
I started off again in another direction, keeping my back to the ridge, as I reckoned that to be a Turkish searchlight, and, therefore, our own lines would be somewhere down the ridge. Here, high up, I could just see a grey streak, which I took to be the bay.
I tried to make for this streak. I scrambled down a very steep stratum of the mountain-side and landed at last in a little patch of dead grass and tall dried-up thistles.
By this time, having come down from my high position on the Sirt, I could no longer see the bay; but I judged the direction as best I could, and without waiting I tramped on.
I began to wonder how long I had been trudging about, and I put it at about two hours.
"Halt!—who are you?" called a voice down below.
"Friend! stretcher-bearer!" I shouted.
"Come here—this way!" answered the voice.
I went down to a clump of bushes, and a man with a rifle slung over his shoulder stepped forward, and we both glared at each other for a second.
"Do yer know where the 45th Company is?"
"No idea," said I.
"Not a drop left."
"We're trying to get back to the firing-line but we're all lost—there's eight of us."
"I'm trying to get to the 32nd Field Ambulance—d'you know the way?"
"Yes; go right ahead there," he pointed, "and keep well down off the hills—you'll see the beach when you've gone for a mile or so—"
"How far is it?"
"'Bout four miles;" and then, "Got a match?"
"Yes—but it's dangerous to light up."
"Must 'ave a smoke—nothink to eat or drink."
"Well, here you are; light up inside my helmet."
He did; this hid the lighted match from any sniper's eye. The other seven men came crawling out of the bushes to light up their "woodbines" and fag-ends.
"Well, I'm off," said I, and once more went forward in the direction pointed out by the corporal and his lost squad.
"So long, mate—good luck!" he shouted.
"Same to you!" I called back.
And now came sleep upon me. Even as I walked an awful weariness fell upon every limb. My legs became heavy and slow. That short rest had stiffened me, and my eyelids closed as I trudged on. I lifted them with an effort and dragged one foot after the other. I knew I must get back to my unit, and that here it was very dangerous. I wanted to lie down on the dead grass and sleep and sleep and sleep. I urged my muscles to swing my legs—for I knew if once I sat down to rest I should never keep awake.
It was while I was thus trying to jerk my sleepy nerves on to action that I came upon a zigzagged trench. It was fully six feet deep and about a yard wide. It was of course an old Turkish defence running crosswise along the great backbone of the Sirt. I knew now that I was nearing the bay, for most of these trenches overlooked the beach.
There was a white object about ten yards from me. What it was I could not tell, and a quiver of fear ran through me and threw off the awful sleepiness of fatigue.
Was it a Turkish sniper's shirt? Or was it a piece of white cloth, or a sheet of paper? In the gloom of night I could not discover.
However, I determined to go steady, and I crept up to a dark thorn-bush and stood still. It did not move. Still standing against the dark bush to hide the fact that I was unarmed, I shouted—
"Halt! who are you?" in as gruff and threatening a tone as I could command.
Silence. It did not move. I ran forward along the trench and there found a white pack-mule all loaded up with baggage; I could make out the queerly worked trappings, with brass-coins on the fringed bridle and coloured fly-tassels over the eyes. It was stone dead and stiff. Its eyes glared at me—a glassy glare full of fear. The Turkish pack-mule had been bringing up material to the Turks in the trench when it had been killed—and now the deep sides of the trench were holding it upright.
I trudged away towards the beach and lay down to sleep at last among the other men of the ambulance, who were lying scattered about behind tufts of bush or against ledges of rock.
When weighed down with sleep any bed will serve.
And this was the end of our first day's work on the field.
CHAPTER XIV. THE SNIPER OF THE PEAR-TREE GULLY
We used to start long before daylight, when the heavy gloom of early morning swept mountain, sea and sand in an indistinct haze; when the cobwebs hung thick from thorn to thorn like fairy cats'-cradles all dripping and beaded with those heavy dews. The guard would wake us up about 3.30 A.M. We were asleep anywhere, lying about under rocks and in sandy dells, sleeping on our haversacks and water-bottles, and our pith helmets near by. We got an issue of biscuit and jam, or biscuit and bully-beef, to take with us, and each one carried his iron rations in a little bag at his side.
So we set off—a long, straggling, follow-my-leader line of men and stretchers. The officer first, then the stretcher-sergeant—(myself)—and the squads, two men to a stretcher, carrying the stretchers folded up, and last of all a corporal or a "lance-jack" bringing up the rear in case any one should fall out.
Cold, dark, shivery mornings they were; our clothes soaked in dew and our pith helmets reeking wet, with the puggaree all beaded with dew-drops. We toiled up and up the ridges and gullies of the Kislar Dargh and the Kapanja Sirt slowly, like a little column of ants going out to bring in the ant eggs.
Often we had to wait while the Indian transport came down from the hill-track before we could proceed, and we always came upon the Engineers' field-telegraph wires on the ground. I would shout "Wire!" over my shoulder, and the shout "Wire!... Wire!... Wire!" went down the line from squad to squad.
From the old Turkish well I led my stretcher-squads past the gun of the Field Artillery (mounted quite near our hospital tents) along a track which ran past a patch of dry yellow grass and dead thistles—here among the prickly plants and sage-bushes grew a white flower—pure and sweet-scented—something like a flag—a "holy flower" among the dead and scorched-up yellow ochre blades and the khaki and dull grey-greens of thorns. We went along this track, past the dead sniper which Hawk and I had so carefully stalked. Near by, hidden by bushes and rank willow thickets lay a dozen more dead Turks, swollen, fly-blown and stinking in the broiling sun. We hurried on past the Turkish bivouacs—many of the relics had been picked up by the British Tommies since last I saw the place: the tobacco had all gone—many of the shirts and overcoats which had been lying about had disappeared—the place had been thoroughly ransacked. We trudged past the wooden cross of our dead comrade and we were silent.
Indeed, throughout those first three days—Saturday, Sunday and Monday—when the British and Turks grappled to and fro and flung shrapnel at each other incessantly; when the fighting line swayed and bent, sometimes pushing back the Turks, sometimes bending in the British; when the fate of the whole undertaking still hung in the balance; when what became a semi-failure might have been a staggering success: in those days the death-silence fell upon us all.
No one whistled those rag-time tunes; no one tried to make jokes, except the very timid, and they giggled nervously at their own.
No one spoke unless it was quite necessary. Each man you passed asked you the vital question: "Any water?"
For a moment as he asks his eyes glitter with a gleam of hope—when you shake your head he simply trudges on over the rocks and scrub with the same fatigued and sullen dullness which we all suffered.
Often you asked the same question yourself with parched and burning lips.
One after another we came upon the wounded. Here a man dragging a broken leg along with him. Here a man holding his fractured fore-arm and running towards us. Sometimes the pitiful cry, faint and full of agony: "Stretchers! Stretcher-bearers!" away in some densely overgrown defile swept with bullets and shrapnel.
And so at last all my squads had turned back with stretchers loaded with men and pieces of men. I went on alone—a lonely figure wandering about the mountains, looking and listening for the wounded.
I came now upon a party of Engineers at work making a road. They were working with pick-axe and spade—clearing away bush and rocks.
"Any water?" they asked.
I shook my head.
"Any wounded?" I said.
"Some down there, they say," said a red-faced man.
"Damn rotten job that," muttered another, as I went on.
"Better keep well over in the bushes," shouted the red-faced man. "They've got this bit of light-coloured ground marked—you're almost sure ter git plugged."
"Thanks!" I called back, and broke off to my left among the sage and thistle and thorn.
I went now downhill into an overgrown water-course (very much like the one in which I used to sleep and eat away back by the artillery big gun). Here were willows and brambles with ripe blackberries, and wild-rose bushes with scarlet hips. "Just like England!" I thought.
And then, as I crossed the little dry-bed stream and came out upon a sandy spit of rising ground: "Z-z-ipp! Ping!"—just by my left arm. The bullet struck a ledge of white rock with the now familiar metallic "tink!"
I went on moving quickly to get behind a thorn-bush—the only cover near at hand. Here, at any rate, I should be out of sight.
I could hear the report of the rifle. I lay flat on my stomach, grovelled my face into the sandy soil and lay like a snake and as still as a tortoise.
I waited for about ten minutes. It seemed an hour, at least, to me. The sniper did not shoot again. In front of my thorn-bush was an open space of pale yellow grass, with no cover at all. I crawled towards the left flank and tried to creep slowly away. I moved like the hands of a clock—so slowly; about an inch at a time, pushing forward like a reptile on my stomach, propelling myself only by digging my toes into the earth. My arms I kept stiff by my side, my head well down.
But the sniper away behind that little pear-tree (which stood at the far end of the open space) had an eagle eye.
"Ping! z-z-pp! ping!"
I lay very still for a long time and then crept slowly back to my thorn-bush.
I tried the right flank, but with the same effect. And now he began shooting through my thorn-bush on the chance of hitting me.
Behind me was a dense undergrowth of thorn, wild-rose bramble, thistle, willow and sage.
I turned about and crawled through this tangle, until at last I came out, scratched and dishevelled and sweating, into the old water-course.
The firing-line was only a few hundred yards away, and the bullets from a Turkish maxim went wailing over my head, dropping far over by the Engineers whom I had passed.
I wanted to find those wounded, and I wanted to get past that open space, and I wanted above all to dodge that sniper. The old scouting instincts of the primitive man came calling me to try my skill against the skill of the Turk. I sat there wiping away blood from the scratches and sweat from my forehead and trying to think of a way through.
I looked at the mountains on my left—the lower ridge of the Kapanja Sirt—and saw how the water-course went up and up and in and out, and I thought if I kept low and crawled round in this ditch I should come out at last close behind the firing-line, and then I could get in touch with the trenches. I could hear the machine-gun of the M—'s rattling and spitting.
I began crawling along the water-course. I had only gone three yards or so, and turned a bend, when I came suddenly upon two wounded men. Both quite young—one merely a boy. He had a bad shrapnel wound through his boot, crushing the toes of his right foot. The other lay groaning upon his back—with a very bad shrapnel wound in his left arm. The arm was broken.
The boy sat up and grinned when he saw me.
"What's up?" asked his pal.
"Red Cross man," says the boy; and then: "Any water?"
"Not a drop, mate," said I. "Been wounded long?"
"Since yesterday evening," says the boy.
"Been here all that time?" I asked. (It was now mid-afternoon.)
"Yes: couldn't get away"—and he pointed to his foot.
"'E carn't move—it's 'is arm. We crawled 'ere."
"I'll be back soon with stretchers and bandages," I said, and went quickly back along the water-course and then past the Engineers.
"Found 'em?" they asked.
"Yes: getting stretchers up now," said I. "Awful stink here! Found any dead?" I asked.
"Yes, there's one or two round here. We buried one over there yesterday: 'e fell ter bits when we moved 'im."
I went on. Soon I was back in the ditch beside the wounded men. I had successfully dodged the sniper by following along the bottom of the bed of the stream. With me I brought two stretcher-squads, and they had a haversack containing, as I thought, splints and bandages. But when I opened it, it had only some field dressings in it and some iodine ampoules.
I soon found that the man's arm was not only septic, but broken and splintered.
"Got a pair of scissors?" I asked.
One man had a pair of nail-scissors, and with this very awkward instrument I proceeded to operate. It was a terrible gash. His sleeve was soaked in blood. I cut it away, and his shirt also.
I broke an iodine phial and poured the yellow chemical into his great gaping wound. Actually his flesh stunk: it was going bad.
"Is it broke?" he asked.
"Be all right in a few minutes; nothing much." I lied to him.
"Not broke then?"
"Bit bent; be all right."
With the nail-scissors I cut great chunks of his arm out, and all this flesh was gangrenous, and mortification was rapidly spreading. My fingers were soaked in blood and iodine.
I cut away a piece of muscle which stunk like bad meat.
"Can you feel that?" I asked.
"Feel what?" he murmured.
"I thought that might hurt. I was cutting your sleeve away, that's all."
I cut out all the bad flesh, almost to the broken bones. I filled up the jagged hole with another iodine ampoule. I plugged the opening with double-cyanide gauze, and put on an antiseptic pad.
"Splints?" I asked.
So I used the helve of an entrenching-tool and the stalks of the willow undergrowth.
I set his arm straight and bandaged it tightly and fixed it absolutely immovably. Then we got him on a stretcher, and they carried him three and a half miles to our ambulance tents. But I'm afraid that arm had to come off. I never heard of him again.
The other fellow was cheerful enough, and only set his teeth and drew his breath when I cut off his boot with a jack-knife. Wonderful endurance some of these young fellows have. There's hope for England yet.
CHAPTER XV. KANGAROO BEACH
The native only needs a drum, On which to thump his dusky thumb—
But WE—the Royal Engineers, Must needs have carts and pontoon-piers; Hundreds of miles of copper-wire, Fitted on poles to make it higher. Hundreds of sappers lay it down, And stick the poles up like a town. By a wonderful system of dashes and dots, Safe from the Turkish sniper's shots— We have, as you see, a marvellous trick, Of sending messages double-quick. You can't deny it's a great erection, Done by the 3rd Field Telegraph Section; But somewhere— THERE'S A DISCONNECTION!
The native merely thumps his drum, He thumps it boldly, thus—"Tum! Tum!"
J. H. (Sailing for Salonika.)
Kangaroo Beach was where the Australian bridge-building section had their stores and dug-outs.
It was one muddle and confusion of water-tanks, pier-planks, pontoons, huge piles of bully-beef, biscuit and jam boxes. Here we came each evening with the water-cart to get our supply of water, and here the water-carts of every unit came down each evening and stood in a row and waited their turn. The water was pumped from the water-tank boats to the tank on shore.
The water-tank boats brought it from Alexandria. It was filthy water, full of dirt, and very brackish to taste. Also it was warm. During the two months at Suvla Bay I never tasted a drop of cold water—it was always sickly lukewarm, sun-stewed.
All day long high explosives used to sing and burst—sometimes killing and wounding men, sometimes blowing up the bully-beef and biscuits, sometimes falling with a hiss and a column of white spray into the sea. It was here that the field-telegraph of the Royal Engineers became a tangled spider's web of wires and cross wires. They added wires and branch wires every day, and stuck them up on thin poles. Here you could see the Engineers in shirt and shorts trying to find a disconnection, or carrying a huge reel of wire. Wooden shanties sprang up where dug-outs had been a day or so before. Piers began to crawl out into the bay, adding a leg and trestle and pontoon every hour. Near Kangaroo Beach was the camp of the Indians, and here you could see the dusky ones praying on prayer mats and cooking rice and "chupatties" (sort of oatcake-pancakes).
Here they were laying a light rail from the beach up with trucks for carrying shells and parts of big guns.
Here was the field post-office with sacks and sacks of letters and parcels. Some of the parcels were burst and unaddressed; a pair of socks or a mouldy home-made cake squashed in a cardboard box—sometimes nothing but the brown paper, card box and string, an empty shell—the contents having disappeared. What happened to all the parcels which never got to the Dardanelles no one knows, but those which did arrive were rifled and lost and stolen. Parcels containing cigarettes had a way of not getting delivered, and cakes and sweets often fell out mysteriously on the way from England.
CHAPTER XVI. THE ADVENTURE OF THE LOST SQUADS
Things became jumbled.
The continual working up to the firing-line and the awful labour of carrying heavy men back to our dressing station: it went on. We got used to being always tired, and having only an hour or two of sleep. It was log-heavy, dreamless sleep... sheer nothingness. Just as tired when you were wakened in the early hours by a sleepy, grumbling guard. And then going round finding the men and wakening them up and getting them on parade. Every day the same... late into the night.
Then came the disappearance of a certain section of our ambulance and the loss of an officer.
This particular young lieutenant was left on Lemnos sick. He really was very sick indeed. He recovered to some extent of the fever, and joined us one day at Suvla. This was in the Old Dry Water-course period, when Hawk and I lived in the bush-grown ditch.