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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. This document has unusual spelling that has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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THE INCOMPARABLE 29TH AND THE "RIVER CLYDE"
BY GEORGE DAVIDSON, M.A., M.D. MAJOR, R.A.M.C.
ABERDEEN JAMES GORDON BISSET 85 BROAD STREET
Dedicated TO THE STRETCHER-BEARERS OF THE 89TH FIELD AMBULANCE IN WARM ADMIRATION OF THEIR CONSTANT ZEAL AND PLUCK AND IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE MANY EXCITING TIMES WE HAD TOGETHER
I had not the slightest intention of ever publishing these notes in book form while jotting them down for the sole purpose of giving my wife some connected idea of how we at the Front were spending our time. I found, to my surprise, that keeping a diary was a great pleasure, and I rarely missed the opportunity of taking notes at odd times—and often in odd places.
Several of my friends read the parts as I sent them home, and it is on the valued advice of one in particular that I now offer these scraps to the public. I make practically no change on the original, but in a few places, for the sake of sequence, or more fulness, I have made additions. These are always in brackets.
Some of the remarks in the original might safely be published fifty years hence, but at present the war is too recent for these to see the light of print.
GEORGE DAVIDSON, R.A.M.C.
TORPHINS, ABERDEENSHIRE, June, 1919.
March 16th, 1915.—After serving for five months as a lieutenant in what was at first known as the 1st Highland Field Ambulance, and afterwards, as the 89th Field Ambulance, I left Coventry, our last station, to do my little bit in the great European War, our destination being unknown. We had heard well-founded rumours that we were going to the Dardanelles, or somewhere in the Levant, and our being deprived of our horses and receiving mules instead, and helmets (presumably cork) being ordered for the officers, all pointed to our being sent to a warmer climate than France or Belgium, where the war is raging on the west side of the great drama.
Leaving Coventry at 1.50 p.m. we reached Avonmouth about 5, to find that our boat was not in. The men were put up in a cold, draughty shed for the night, where they had little sleep, while the officers took train to Bristol, nine miles off, where we dined excellently at the Royal Hotel, but, there being no vacant rooms, we went to the St. Vincent's Rocks Hotel, overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the great gorge of the Avon.
March 17th.—Returned to Avonmouth and wandered about inspecting the huge transports lying in the docks, and H.M.S. "Cornwall," just returned for repairs from the fight at Falkland Islands. She had received three shell holes in her hull, one under the water line, and a large number of perforations in one of her funnels.
We then got on board our boat, the "Marquette," of the Red Star Line, built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow, of over 8000 tons, and said to be a good sailer. We lunched with the captain, a Scotchman of course, hailing from Montrose. At 5.30 we got the men on board, and all spent the night in our new quarters.
March 18th.—After getting numerous details on board during last night and to-day, amounting to about 1300 men, 60 officers, about 700 horses and mules; besides 20 tons of explosives and 50 tons of barbed wire, and wagons by the hundred, we set sail at 10 p.m. under sealed orders. No lights were allowed owing to the danger from submarines which had been busy within the last few days in the Bristol Channel and about the Scilly Islands. As escort we had two torpedo-boat destroyers, one on each side and slightly ahead. These left us after twelve hours, when we were in less danger, and 100 miles west of the usual course, sailing W.S.W. into the Atlantic.
March 19th.—Beautiful day with slight breeze, but biting cold at first; ship pitching and rolling moderately, a few officers a little sick early, and about 80 per cent of the men, the latter suffering badly from the close atmosphere in their deck, in which their hammocks are slung as close as sardines in a tin and all port holes closed. The electric light had been shut off so that no one might be able to show a light.
Dr. K——, the ship's ancient doctor, is a curious customer, full of stories and quaint remarks. Captain Findlay is very communicative but will not reveal any private orders. He is directed to steer for the Mediterranean by a certain course. About 5 p.m. to-day he altered his course from W.S.W. to S. At 5 an order was issued to have the iron shutters put over the port holes, otherwise no lights to be allowed.
Very little shipping has been seen to-day, although several ships of a small size have passed at a long distance on our port side. One of the reasons for choosing this course was to avoid ships that might carry a wireless installation and signal our movements to the enemy.
The captain, when swearing at the head steward about some forgetfulness, gave what he considered proof of the superiority of the memory of the lower animals over the human in a little story. He had carried Barnum and Bailey's menagerie once from America and occasionally fed a young elephant, Ruth by name, after President Cleveland's daughter, she taking apples from his pocket. After three years he came across her again, and calling her by name, she came up and put her trunk into the same pocket as of old. On the trip over he carried 1200 animals, only two dying, one being the giraffe which fell down a hatchway and broke his neck in two places—somehow a very fitting death for a giraffe.
Saw several porpoises playing and jumping beside the boat. A wireless message to the captain tells of the appearance of a German submarine at Dover last night.
Towards 6.30 two very large steamers crossed our bows, coming out of the west, while we went slowly to avoid them. One carried no lights and was probably carrying troops from Canada.
Had an amusing talk on the boat deck with the old doctor. He was telling us about three padres who left our boat just before we started, preferring to go by another as they did not like travelling with so many animals. There being no parson for the coming Sundays they requested him to hold the services, but he replied that there was no use asking him, he could not pray worth a damn. He explained that a ship rang eight bells at 12, four at 8, and one for each half-hour after these, as one bell at 4.30, two at 5, three at 5.30, and so on.
Beautiful night, stars clear, and sea very smooth for the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay, where we now are. The equinoctial gales usually begin on March 20 (to-morrow), so the captain says. We have averaged 12-1/2 knots since we left Avonmouth. A small bucketfull of water is taken from the sea every two hours, and its temperature taken to see if we are near ice.
March 20th.—Weather to-day typical of the Bay of Biscay, half a gale all day, and blowing furiously at 7 o'clock, bottles, glasses, etc., flying off the dinner-table. Sea-sickness very rife, almost every one suffering more or less. Saw only two passing ships to-day. The captain prophesies warmer weather to-morrow if the wind remains in the east as at present. It will then be off the land, we being opposite Finisterre about 8 a.m. to-morrow.
The orders to the captain are to remain sixty miles off land while skirting Spain and Portugal. By wireless we hear the Allies still gain ground in Flanders, and of a railway collision in Lancashire.
March 21st.—Sunday.—Good news by wireless of the progress of the war. Wind changed to S.E., showery in the morning, and pleasantly warm. Church parade at 10. "Old Hundred" by the congregation, led by Serg. Gibb, the Lord's Prayer by Serg. Gaskin—as much of it as he could remember—a chapter of Matthew by Capt. Stephen followed by some words of advice, when the attempts of the audience to look solemn were all in vain—then off to the deck with "The Innocents Abroad".
During the day the weather has been very variable, occasionally very heavy rain showers, but very mild; strong gale all day right in our teeth which must retard our progress. At dinner—7 p.m.—the captain said we were not quite opposite Lisbon, but nearly. With a few exceptions all have found their sea legs.
March 22nd.—Being Orderly Officer I was up at 6.45 and inspected our unit's breakfast at 7.15, expecting a repetition of the grousing about their food which has gone on since we came on board, but to-day all are satisfied for the first time. They began with porridge which looked palatable, though sloppy for a Scotchman's taste, and was said to be without salt, which would certainly be the case were the cook an Englishman. Then each had a cup of coffee which looked fair enough and smelt good to a hungry man like myself, with two thick slices of bread with salt butter and jam. I feel as fit as a fiddle, and believe the equinoctial gales at their worst would be none too much for me. The feeling that I am to sink to the bottom of the ocean when the boat pitches has entirely gone.
Stephen and I are wondering what our folks at home are doing, and if they are always looking for letters from us by the next post. If so they will be disappointed for many days yet. A good many of our horses are sick, and two died yesterday and were thrown overboard. The poor brutes have very cramped quarters.
The sea was fairly rough during daylight and the ship rolled so badly that at lunch and dinner "fiddles" had to be put along the tables to keep the dishes in their places. In the evening the wind fell to a very gentle, balmy breeze, when a number of us spent some time on the boat deck watching the phosphorescence of the jelly fish, which we saw in many hundreds.
March 23rd.—Got up early and on going on deck at 7.30 found we were making straight for the sun. Most glorious morning, sun bright, sea, except for the eternal swell, perfectly calm. We had changed our course and were heading 8 degrees S. of E., making for the Straits of Gibraltar. At 8 the captain, wishing to be sure of his longitude, began bawling out to some unseen person, "Mark 23, 22; mark 23, 19, add another 1; mark 23, 25". He explained that he took the reading three times then struck an average.
In time land hove in sight, faint at first, but gradually the rocky coast of Spain, north of Cape Trafalgar, became distinct, then this cape itself came out of the mist as white as snow—so white that the purser said he believed it actually was snow. Then higher hills beyond appeared with others of a similar nature on the African coast. All looked forbidding and barren. Swallows were flitting about, and would have meant summer at home, but I fancy they are here all winter. The heat of the sun was intense, and I observed that his altitude seemed as high as I was accustomed to see him in midsummer.
The captain soon pointed out "The Rock," and after passing the white town of Tarifa on the Spanish main it got clearer and clearer, but to our disgust our boat kept towards the south side of the Straits, and all were disappointed we were not to have a chance to post letters here as we expected. Tangier in the outer part of the Straits was invisible from mist. The Rock was not quite as impressive as I expected, nor could I with certainty make out more than one gun position, although I saw several black spots where guns may have frowned at us.
A gunboat came after us and made us turn about in a circle till she was satisfied of our identity, the ship's number being invisible through the mist to those on shore. Ceuta with its snow-white houses lay on the south coast almost opposite Gibraltar. Some large buildings could be plainly seen, and between the town and the sea, on the north-east side the fortified hill held by the Spaniards since they lost Gibraltar.
Later I found we sailed directly east, our next halt being as yet unknown. All roll has entirely departed from our ship, which almost seems unnatural after the tossing we have had. What struck me most to-day was the rocky nature of both sides of the Straits—we might have been among the rugged mountains of Ross-shire. Apes Head seemed to be made of rugged and split masses of limestone. The rocks with their bright colours were a great relief to our eyes which had rested on nothing but water for five days.
March 24th.—A quiet uneventful day; colder than yesterday in the Atlantic. I find that all along we have sailed with only two lights showing, both faint, one on either end of the bridge, red to port and green to starboard. In the last twenty-four hours we covered 286 miles, and going east fast, the clock being now advanced twenty-three minutes daily. We left Avonmouth with 1500 tons of coal on board, and we use sixty-five tons daily. We carry a poultry yard and get fresh eggs for breakfast, one some one had to-day was so fresh that according to the date written on it it was laid to-morrow (25/3/15). We have a lot of Irishmen on board which explains this Irishism. We had a concert in the evening, got up by Col. O'Hagan, the O.C. the West Lancashire Field Ambulance, when we had many amusing songs and tales. The sea was as smooth as a duck-pond all day. Towards night the wind rose, strong enough to cause a big pitch had we been still in the Atlantic, but here it is hardly noticeable. The south-east corner of Spain was seen in the morning and a peep of Africa got in the afternoon.
March 25th.—Just returned from the engine room, having made up to the chief engineer, who took me over the machinery and stokehole. The three cylinders develop 4500 horse-power. The largest is 96 inches in diameter.
All day we have been in sight of the African coast, the Atlas Mountains making one continuous range. They reminded me strongly of Ross-shire, the whole outline being rough and rugged. Mount Atlas, which we did not see, is 14,740 feet high. About 9 a.m. we were said to be near the town of Algiers. Great snowfields were visible on most of the highest mountains. These were very picturesque with the sun shining on the snow. We have seen little shipping, one large oil boat passed west. All are taking the lack of news philosophically, nothing, as far as I can make out, being heard to-day. Code messages from battleships speaking to each other are received but are unreadable.
Helmets were issued to the officers to-day, but the wind is too cold to make these necessary.
As Sanitary Officer for the day I had to go over the whole of the horse decks with the Military Officer of the ship, Lt.-Col. Hingston, R.E. The alleys between the horse lines, all of which had to be traversed, must be nearly half a mile in length, all the heads of the horses projecting in double lines into the narrow passages, which makes tramping along these dark ways anything but pleasant. The close stench is very sickening, and I was glad when our journey came to an end. We have lost four horses so far. The mules are hardier and have stood the voyage well. They are besides accustomed to the sea, all having come lately from the Argentine.
March 26th.—An ideal day and the sun delightfully warm. We had the African coast in sight the whole time till early afternoon. Passed Cape Blanco, which in the distance might have been part of Deeside, hills with stretches of verdure which looked like forest with brown spaces between which were probably sand.
Helmets were issued to the men to-day. These with their broad brims look very serviceable against the sun. One man coming on a friend who had just donned his, yelled: "Hello, man, come oot o' that till I see yer feet".
At the present speed we should reach Malta at 6 a.m. to-morrow where surely we'll be able to post letters, but they have a long way to go to reach home. At 5 o'clock we were opposite Pantellaria, an Italian penal settlement, and about 140 miles from Malta. On the north coast of the island the settlement is visible, big white houses at different levels on its rocky face. There are very steep rocks on the east side rising straight out of the sea.
March 27th.—My first peep at the East—although it is perhaps not the East proper. I rose at 5.30 to find Malta right ahead, and Valetta only a mile or two distant. The sight was gorgeous, the rocky land all tints of yellow, and the houses of divers colours, flat-roofed, domed, and altogether Oriental.
Two warships, which turned out to be the "Prince of Wales" and the "Paris," were steaming rapidly from the north-east, and we were ordered to lie to till they entered the harbour, then to follow. The scene on entering this harbour baffles description, with its cliffs, forts, and frowning guns and numerous warships. There were signs of war preparations everywhere. The entrance to the harbour was guarded by booms, only a small opening being left where they were folded back. A short way inside came another row of booms. Then came a French warship on our port side, coaling at its hardest, from which came shouts to our decks crowded with troops of "where are you going"? The reply had to be "We don't know". Immediately to starboard we had another French ship which turned out to be the largest in the harbour. All her crew and band were drawn up on deck, and the latter struck up "God save the King". We at once stood at attention, all in silence, but when the strains ended every man hurrahed at the pitch of his voice. The band then gave us "It's a long way to Tipperary".
On going a little farther we were moored to a buoy in the middle of the waterway, with all sorts of shipping round us, mostly French warships, there being at least a dozen of that nationality, the only British men-of-war being the two we saw enter. The transparency and greenness of the water are remarkable. The whole harbour is dotted over with "bum boats" which are said to be peculiar to Malta, and have high boards at their stem and stern, and are worked by one or two men standing upright. Most sell fruits and odds and ends to those on board, while others convey passengers to and from the land. The houses about the harbour are largely forts or connected with the army and navy. They rise tier upon tier to the top of the surrounding rocks which may be about 150 feet high.
After lunch permission was given to the officers and N.C.O.'s to go ashore. There was great excitement of course, and all asked for leave forthwith. Being "Officer of the day," whose duties applied to the whole ship, I decided not to remind the C.O.—Col. Hingston—of this, but our C.O. mentioning at lunch that I need not look for leave I could not sneak off as I had intended, and was to be permitted only if I found a substitute, which, of course, I failed to do. Every one has gone to stretch his legs on land except the "Captain of the day" and myself. Still I hope to get a short turn ashore before we sail at 6 p.m. which is announced as the hour of our departure—and our destination? we wish we knew.
8.30 p.m.—Fiddes very kindly returned early to relieve me and I spent two very enjoyable hours in Valetta, wandering about its narrow and stair-like streets. There were goats everywhere, many being milked on the doorsteps as I passed. I bought some pieces of Maltese lace, which is pretty much of one pattern, generally a Maltese cross surrounded by flowers. The inhabitants are plainly of Italian descent, but if you ask if that is their nationality, they always deny it and say they are Maltese. The shops are totally different from anything I have ever seen, and except in the best streets, have no windows, merely a huge, gaping doorway. The weather was very close and many of the inhabitants and the children generally, were bare legged and well bronzed. The women's dress was very peculiar, all being in jet black with a strange lopsided head-dress. The edge has a stiff hoop and projects well in front of the face.
The plants were all tropical—palms, cacti of many sorts, and masses of a deep purple flower that covered large expanses of wall. All trees were in full leaf, but they would be mostly evergreen. Worthy looking padres in their shovel hats were plentiful, also monks in dark brown cloaks, rope girdles and sandal shoon, and usually bareheaded, although a few wore a tiny cap, little bigger than the top of an egg, which it resembled in shape.
I was much interested on discovering the reason why all the women in Malta wear black, which seems to be commenced about the age of eleven or twelve. Napoleon and his army had exercised great liberties with their sex during a visit, and in consequence it was decreed by the Pope that all women in Malta should go into mourning for the period of a hundred years. This time is up but they seem to know that their mode of dress is very becoming, and it looks as if the decree was to hold good for all time.
It is impossible to go round the stair-like streets, which abound in Malta, with a milk cart, hence you find all over the town a man or boy with about half a dozen goats, shouting something or other, when the women appear at their doors with jugs into which the men milk the quantity required, as they sit on the doorstep. This is all very quaint and picturesque, especially when combined with the bright clothing of the men and children, the bright projecting upper windows, and the altogether foreign and tropical appearance of the whole town and island.
All the officers thoroughly enjoyed what was a new experience to most of us, all returning to the boat laden with parcels, and being unusually lively at dinner, and the wine flowing more freely than usual among a body of men who rarely drink anything but water—and very flat and unpleasant water it is too.
We left Malta at 6 p.m. en route for Alexandria, as I am told by the captain, who says it is no longer a secret. This is evidently to be the place of concentration of the 29th Division. Another transport, the "Kingstonia," left half an hour before us, amidst great cheering from the warships and us. We too had a right royal send-off from all the warships we passed, their decks being packed with cheering multitudes, and our French friends of the morning played the National Anthem again in the usual silence. We half expected it this time, but its coming so unexpectedly in the morning made it most impressive. Eleven powerful searchlights were playing at the entrance of this important harbour—a harbour which must be one of Britain's greatest assets. When thrown on us even a mile off the light was absolutely dazzling.
March 28th.—Churning all day through a sea of ultra-marine hue, with a brilliant sun overhead and a fair breeze behind. We are now a long way east of the longitude of Greenwich, the clock at noon yesterday being seventy minutes before G.M.T. This means a daily loss of sleep and consequently much swearing. At one time in the Atlantic we were between fifty and sixty minutes behind G.M.T.
There was a great fuss last night over the supposed discovery of six cases of measles in our unit. This morning a Medical Board sat and pronounced all the cases to be merely erythematous rashes following vaccination four days ago, and consequently the quarantine instituted last night has been relaxed, but only in a modified form, so as to let the guilty party down gently. As a result of all this unnecessary fuss the two field ambulances on board were nearly split into two camps.
March 29th.—Another quiet day and a calm sea.
Three interpreters joined our boat at Malta, they leaving home two days after us by a P. & O. boat. These men have a thorough knowledge of Turkish, Greek, and French.
The heat of the sun has been intense to-day, and a number of us were glad to don our helmets. These are not altogether a success, they are too heavy.
We had a short lecture on "Turkey" by one of the interpreters, when he spoke about the roads, which seem to be few, woods still fewer, water supply and some other points likely to be of practical interest to us shortly. Rains usually cease in the end of March, and, except for an occasional shower, the heat of summer lasts till the middle of September, the temperature being just under 100 deg. F.
March 30th.—Lying in the harbour of Alexandria, where we arrived about 3 p.m. The day has been perfect, the temperature moderate till we came near land when the sun simply scorched us. At sea there is always a breeze, but as we now lie at anchor in the middle of the harbour the air is absolutely still and oppressive. We seemed to describe the letter "S" as we approached from the sea, this course being likely due to sand bars. To one who has never been in the East before the sight of this town with its huge commercial buildings, its great palm trees which are visible not far from the water's edge, and a harbour full of great liners, and looking big enough to hold all the shipping of the world, is a great education. Three ships have entered since we came in, one being the "Kingstonia," one of our divisional transports, another full of French troops. We were, of course, surrounded by boats trying to do a little honest trade with us, but our men were strictly forbidden to purchase anything from them owing to the risk of infection.
These boats were manned principally by Arabs in their peculiar dresses of brilliant hue and many wore the fez. All were burned as dark as an old penny. Owing to our being supposed to have had measles on board, although it was proved to every one's satisfaction that there was no reason for this suspicion, we had to enter with the yellow flag flying at the foremast. We had visits from official boats, one with the police flag, very likely expecting to hear that we had cholera or smallpox among us. At any rate the objectionable flag was soon hauled down and we half expected to get permission to land, but so far no orders have come from shore.
The deep blue of the Mediterranean has been left behind for a time, which may be very short, and certainly cannot be long, and we now float on the light green waters of the Nile. The bugle has just sounded "the officer's mess," a sound that is welcome to me; the heat has not yet taken away my appetite.
March 31st.—We were towed to the wharfside at 3 p.m. Then the unloading of our great sea monster began, men trooped on shore, followed by the horses which, unused to daylight in the miserable dens they had just left, looked terrified and floundered down the gangways. It took hours for this procession of animals to end, the exit from Noah's ark must have been a poor show in comparison.
Our men set off for their camp at Mex, three miles away, about 6 p.m., I being left with a fatigue party of twenty-seven men to finish the packing of our stores on railway trucks, and see them despatched in time to arrive at Mex before the men, so that on their arrival they could set to and pitch their tents on the piece of land allotted to them, and which is said to be composed of equal parts of sand and lice! I feel that I have scored in having one night's relief from this plague—but we are in the land of plagues, the home of the Pharaohs.
About 8 p.m. I set off on a visit to Alexandria, and from the docks passed up a street lined on both sides with our animals tied to picket ropes for the night, and at the top of the street came on a grove of many acres of towering palm trees. After a mile or a mile and a half, seeing no newspaper shops, nor anything resembling a British shop, I asked an Egyptian where a "journal" was to be had. We could not understand each other, even signs were of no use, so I tried again and the next man understood me, and directed my black Soudanese friend, who had attached himself to me as my guide, where to go, but from the deviations he took into narrow and remarkably gay by-streets, he plainly thought that this newspaper hunt was a ruse for seeing Alexandria by night. All this was very interesting all the same. I rubbed shoulders with many an Egyptian "nut" who made no pretence about his errand to this questionable part of the town. The many streets I passed through, and I must have penetrated about three miles into the town, seemed very familiar to me, they were so very like pictures one sees of this part. The cafes were crowded with Egyptian revellers, and occasionally I saw groups of our Tommies enjoying a drink among them. The former were all in their brilliant robes, and as they stood or squatted about, smoking their long pipes, they formed a most interesting picture. Their big pipes even blocked the pavement at times, the men squatted on their haunches with their pipes a couple of feet in front and a passer-by had to be careful not to upset and smash them. A fine picture was made by two old fellows squatting on a rug in the open window of a small shop, smoking and drinking coffee, and looking as if they could curse to fourteen generations any customer bold enough to disturb them in their innocent enjoyment of doing nothing. One of our officers who knows this town and its inhabitants, says if you curse a man he will only laugh in your face, but when you begin cursing to all eternity his brothers and sisters, father and mother, he begins to wax wroth, and by the time you reach the tenth to the fourteenth generation he dances about with fury and gnashes his teeth.
April 1st.—Up early and breakfast at 6.30. By this time the engines were rattling and new ropes creaking, while stores of all kind were being landed. Some acres of quay and side streets were covered with these, the horses and mules having been mostly landed yesterday. Then began the scramble for wagon poles, crossbars, etc., any unit finding itself short just seized the first it came across. We lost odds and ends and followed the recognised custom, known as "skirmishing," and in the end were only short of our full complement by a crossbar and a bicycle. I had a very busy day up to 3 o'clock when we started for Mex camp. We marched out, reaching this at 4.45 after a very warm tramp, tempered by a gentle breeze off the Mediterranean. The country through which we passed was barren in the extreme, honey-combed all the way from quarrying the soil, which is full of salt and soda with a white chalky base. There are everywhere deep holes full of salt water with salt-loving plants about them, practically the only vegetation to be seen; between these there is a mass of hummocks, and pinnacles, with occasional sheep that look like goats, feeding on I do not know what, unless it be a tuft-headed small grass which is found sparsely on the higher grounds. In front of our tents are larger mounds on which four camels are nibbling at this grass, these being kept by some Bedouins for giving milk. Seeing some dark-skinned rascals having a ride on them I went up to them and was offered a mount for a penny; then the urchin, who had an early training in fleecing, thought he might double his charge and held up two fingers to designate the amount and marched off his camel till I consented. The brute nearly broke first my neck and then my back, but I greatly enjoyed my short ride.
Immediately after this an Inniskilling Fusilier raced Thomson and myself over these terrible salt pits to the sea edge where an unconscious man was lying, having been dragged out of the water after disappearing like a stone, although said to be a strong swimmer.
April 2nd.—A day of great heat, were it not for an occasional air from the Mediterranean. The whole of our camp is covered with ordinary soft sea-sand, and it gets very hot and very glaring. Immediately behind the more or less level ground on which the 29th Field Ambulance is encamped the pure white, chalky higher ground commences, peopled by camels, goats, and sheep. The last two are so much alike it is difficult to say which of the families they belong to.
About 6 p.m. I set out for Alexandria with four of our officers. After a little shopping and haircutting we had an excellent dinner at the Grand Restaurant du Nil, all considering some fried mullet to be the finest fish we had ever tasted. With a fairly liberal supply of wine the dinner for the five of us cost only about 17s. Then to the Moulin Rouge, which I should say is the counterpart of its better-known namesake in Paris. The newness of the whole show made it amusing.
April 3rd.—Apparently it never rains here after summer has commenced. I have been studying the ornithology of these bare chalk mounds, and find the birds are practically the same as our commonest ones at home—swallows, stonechats—which have been very busy to-day—our two water wagtails, and the wretched little sparrow. I thought the flamingo was to be found along the coast but have never seen a specimen on this inhospitable shore. I have also seen a bird not unlike a thrush, and a few small things apparently of the linnet family. Creepy animals are only too plentiful, the most objectionable at present is the common housefly which is a perfect plague. They are everywhere and are specially fond of the rope suspending my lantern. Unfortunately the place that is second favourite is one's nose. Locusts are said to be in greater abundance in Lower Egypt than was ever known before. Here I have seen but a few dozen, and at first I took them for small dragonflies. They have the same beautiful wings, but their style of flight is quite different, the locust alighting every few yards to have a look at you. Ants, great and small, are everywhere in the morning, but when the sand gets too hot most of them disappear. One big ant has a huge head, a fairly broad tail piece and small body. Lizards are very common on the chalk mounds, and yesterday I watched four huge specimens basking in the sun half-way down an old lime kiln.
April 4th.—Easter Sunday. We had a service suitable for the day from a Presbyterian Chaplain on the hillside, when there were 700 to 800 present from different units. During the sermon we all lay on the sand, while overhead a lark carolled forth in notes more mild than are uttered by our British lark, but the habits of the two are similar, but ours soars highest.
We have improved our field mess, stores having been got privately among us. By this means we had a very good one o'clock dinner, followed by a snooze by some of us, while others slept straight on till tea-time. I set out alone for a walk into a part I had not visited before, namely, along the seashore west of Mex Camp, to Dakeilah village. I passed an old fort with three very old cast-iron guns of 9-inch bore, lying uselessly on their sides, one labelled "loaded—dangerous". Beyond that the sand is a great depth, and the natives seemed to have it divided into allotments, each piece dug into a deep, wide trench from 6 to 12 feet deep, and along the bottom they have a row of tomatoes. These grow luxuriantly, apparently in pure sand, but there is probably a liberal supply of manure below. Figs, dates, and grapes seem to be the chief fruits grown.
I passed in a corner shaded by tall palm trees a large well which formed a perfect picture—children frisked about, while women drew water, and all about were their big water jars. Just beyond that my walk took me through a native cemetery, all the tombs exactly alike, a big base about five feet long and nearly three high, and a five foot column on each end. These were the more recent ones, the old graves were merely rough hillocks of stones and clay, as the modern ones will be some day.
I was much astonished to-day at the large number of botanical specimens I came across. For such a sterile part it is most remarkable. I should say 200 species could be picked up in a forenoon's walk.
On returning we all had a talk with a very intelligent Arab boy of about twelve summers, and got a number of words and a few phrases from him. All the native children are very pretty, they have good features, splendid eyes and teeth, and look as sharp as needles. If you dare speak to one it at once gives him an opening to demand backsheesh. I omitted to mention that the only Moslem minaret I have seen so far was in Dakeilah. These may be plentiful in Alexandria, but I have never been there in daylight.
The following are some of the words taught us by the young Arab, but I found it impossible to find a satisfactory spelling for most of them:—
Gatusheira Thank you. Daphtar A book. Chaima A tent. Muphta A key. Sigara A cigar. Salama lecho Good morning. Dasoyak Good-bye. Homar A donkey. Asioa Yes. La No.
The following Arabic words and phrases are from a piece of paper I picked up in Cox's Bank, Alexandria:—
1. Wahed. 6. Setta. 11. Hidashar. 2. Etneen. 7. Saba'a. 12. Etnashar. 3. Talata. 8. Tamanya. 13. Talatashar. 4. Arba'a. 9. Tessa. 20. Ashrin. 5. Khamsa. 10. Ashara. 100. Miya.
Naharak said Good morning. Sa'a kam What time. Sa'a waked One o'clock. Maragsh Arabi I don't speak Arabic. Kam tamanu What does it cost?
April 5th.—This has been a day of exceptional heat, and curiously is the religious day of the Moslems called Shem-el-nessim, which in Arabic means "breathing the cool breeze". To-day all their shops are shut, and the whole day is spent in the country. What is celebrated is the first of the hot simoon winds which last fifty days, and apparently the day for their commencement is most accurately gauged. We were all only too glad to carry out the written instructions we received some days ago, to keep under cover and try to sleep from noon to three o'clock, and if you cannot sleep yourself you must keep quiet and allow others to sleep. No bugle calls are allowed between these hours. All round us there has been haze through which the sun could not penetrate, but if he had the result would have been truly terrible. The dust has also been worse than usual and everything in my tent is grey. This is another of the plagues of Egypt. However, if rumour is true, we will soon depart from here for more active service.
After dark to-night we went out in search of men supposed to be wounded, six of our bearers acting as these and starting fifteen minutes before the stretcher bearers. The night was very dark and the pure white ground looked absolutely even, and some narrow escapes were made, several finding just in time that they were on the edge of a precipice. We had planned a few signals, but the principal lesson we were taught was that these were too few in number, and owing to this whole stretcher squads got lost.
We are still finding and having visits from new animals. To-day I had a dragon fly brought to me. I find I had seen several of these before but had mistaken them for locusts. The latter have much heavier bodies, but very similar wings. We have just had a visit from a huge beetle which we heard battering the tent, then it gradually got nearer, next hitting the tent pole and falling on the small table on which my candle flickers, the glare of which had attracted him. Kellas caught a moth and kept it for me. It was nothing much to look at, but it is the very first I have seen here. He also describes another moth he saw to-day as fluttering in front of a flower without alighting on it, but hovering and thrusting its proboscis into a long-tubed flower. I once saw a similar moth at Torphins (this had been the Humming bird moth which I have seen hundreds of since then).
When different units get together in a camp the amount of thieving, technically called skirmishing, is beyond belief to anyone unaccustomed to camp life. At present we have two mules that do not belong to us. One wandered into our camp and a man who claimed it as belonging to his unit was told he had to prove his statement before he would be allowed to remove it, which he failed to do. To-day another was brought in tied to the tail-board of a wagon. It was seen wandering near the road between this and Alexandria, and the men in the wagon commandeered him at once, and here he will remain. I am a fairly good skirmisher myself, and when a wagon pole, for which I was responsible when unloading at the docks, did not turn up, I had two in its place in no time. We afterwards found that neither of them would fit any of our wagons. The cook has been handicapped in his work by having no table, but to-day he has one about 12 feet long which he tells me he got "over the road" last night when it was dark. Agassiz, our transport officer, requests us to look out for a picket rope; he would like it two inches thick and about 100 feet long. Rather a big order but should not be beyond our combined efforts.
April 6th.—Two Infantry Brigades, our Ambulance (89th) and the West Lancashire Ambulance (87th) were inspected by General Sir Ian Hamilton. Like ourselves he is an Aberdonian, being a member of the Hamilton family of Skene House. We had a very dusty day, all returning to camp quite grey.
In the afternoon I visited Alexandria with Stephen and Thomson and had tea at the Hotel Majestic in the Square of Mahomet Ali, the finest part of the town, then we flattened our noses against shop windows and bought a few odds and ends for home. The shops along the street to the left of the Bourse (Rue Sheref Pasha) were good and interesting, especially one that sold only Egyptian goods—Tawa's—where we made most of our purchases.
Then I chanced to come across Fiddes and Morris driving down this street when they hailed me and announced that they had just come from the Excelsior Hotel, the headquarters of the 29th Division, with the news that our bearers had to set off for the front before morning, and that I was one of the three officers who were to accompany them. We finished our shopping, and I went to Cook's office and wrote two post cards, then drove out to Mex, we all meeting round the mess table to hear the latest orders.
April 7th.—Hung about all day in expectation of the promise from H.Q. that they would 'phone to us when it was decided at what hour we were to start. No message came during the day, then after 9 p.m. an officer came in from our Brigade H.Q., saying they were wondering at the boat "why the devil we were not on board". After a little 'phoning we discovered we had been overlooked, and we were ordered to march at once as our boat was to sail at 7 a.m. to-morrow. It was now past 10 p.m. and the men had to be roused from their tents and the mules yoked. We fell in, 124 men and 3 officers, and amidst loud cheers and handshakes we set off and reached the docks about 1.30. We were only allowed light equipment, the men their kitbags, waterbottles, haversacks, and coats rolled in bandolier fashion (i.e. full marching order) while the officers were supposed not to exceed the regulation 35 lbs. of baggage. Most of our equipment we left to come on with the tent subdivision and transport which are expected to sail on the 10th, in our old ship the "Marquette". Thus ended the first four miles of our journey, on this the last stage, while to-morrow we sail north, presumably for Gallipoli, but some say Smyrna, to join in what will be a most bloody affair—so we have been warned by Lord Kitchener who, in an address to our Infantry Battalions, has said that the work before us will be hard in the extreme, and that he had reserved our Infantry as the finest Battalions in the Army for this arduous job, and told them that they must be prepared to face great hardships and great sacrifices. In the 86th Brigade, to which our Ambulance is attached, we have four veteran Battalions, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and the 1st Munster Fusiliers. This Brigade was described by Sir Ian Hamilton as the flower of the British Army. All have served nine or ten years in India and all have smelt powder.
April 8th.—At 10.45 a.m. the Cunard liner, the "Ausonia" (better known at present as B4) cast off, and with the help of two tugs we were soon out on the open sea. She had sailed from Avonmouth on March 16, the night on which we were booked to sail, and in the Bristol Channel some suspicious craft suddenly appeared. She at once altered her course and the two attendant torpedo boats gave chase to what was taken to be a German submarine. We had been told that the reason for our not sailing on the same date was that our boat was not in, but our captain afterwards told us he had been lying to for a whole week, but the presence of this submarine was the real reason.
The forces for the present expedition against Turkey have concentrated in Alexandria, and are at present over 100,000 strong, mostly British but also largely French. To-day the pioneers of this huge force have set sail, and as far as I can gather our boat was the second to go out. We are doing 14 knots and in two or three days should reach our journey's end. The day is beautiful and the Mediterranean its deepest blue.
I have been having a talk with the captain of the "Ausonia". He has only 64 tons of water on board, while he should have had ten times that amount. There are no pipes laid to the docks and the whole of the shipping has to depend on six water lighters which carry 60 tons each. At present these are totally unable to supply the huge number of transports in Alexandria. The half of these are flying two flags beside each other to denote a shortage of water. In both the ground is red, the upper with red diagonal stripes while the lower has a yellow cross.
I find the cooking on the Cunard line very superior to what it was on the Red Star. Here it is as good as in a first-class hotel.
April 9th.—At 10 a.m. we were opposite rocky land to port. Some say this is the island of Rhodes, others Abydos, but not having a map of the southern part of the Archipelago I am unable to give an opinion. About 11.30 we had land to starboard which a naval man assured me "was Rhodes right enough". He pointed to a camel-backed hill and said, "If there is a lighthouse opposite the middle of that, then I have no doubt about it". It was there sure enough when examined through a field glass.
A short time after leaving Alexandria I found by the compass we were steering 20 deg. to 25 deg. W. of N. while all this forenoon we have gone due N. I have been out on the deck watching an engineer unit preparing posts for barbed wire. At present they have poles 12 feet long; both ends are being pointed and a pencil mark is drawn round the middle of the pole. They can thus quickly make two pointed posts by means of a saw, but they expect to find the long poles useful before that happens. They will lash their shovels and other tools to these, and two men can carry them on their shoulders.
After lunch I had a conversation with my new friend, the captain of the "Ausonia". He tells me the island on our port side was neither Rhodes nor Abydos. The most interesting piece of news I got out of him was that our destination was Lemnos, but that he expected that it was merely as a rendezvous for the whole force, and was only 48 miles from Sedd-el-Bahr, on the south point of Gallipoli. His view is that we will land a short way north of that. He is against its being so far north as the Gulf of Saros and the narrow neck of land there. He thinks the preparations against our landing there would be too complete by now. He is in distress over his shortage of water as none is to be had in the small islands. This shortage of water got me into trouble with the O.C. the troops on board at general parade this morning. Many of the men had not shaved for two days, and some looked untidy and unwashed, but all put this down to their being denied water to slake their thirst, which must come before washing and shaving but the order was "see that it does not happen again". I advised one particularly hirsute chap to lower his shaving brush into the sea to-morrow at the end of a string.
It is a remarkable thing, noted and spoken about by us all, how seldom the thought of home enters our minds. I merely note this as a curious fact. There is no excitement about the "bloody errand"—as some one called it this morning—we are on, so that that is not the cause. Perhaps it is just as well for us that we have worried so little. There is far too much pity lavished on us when we go forth to war.
The officers are in a state of wild excitement to-night. Wishing to have a game of baccarat some of them asked Whyte and myself to join them, which we did willingly, feeling that it was possibly our last night in civilisation. I did not understand the game but ended 7s. to the good.
April 10th.—Reached Lemnos about noon. We passed numerous islands in the Archipelago, many small, and none showed signs of life except for an occasional lighthouse, but all the larger ones are inhabited, and grow currants, figs, and grapes in abundance.
Lemnos has a huge roadstead, open to the south, and at present protected at the two southern points by big guns and searchlights. A long arm forming the inner harbour extends to the right, and here a large number of ships is lying, eight battleships being among the number. We and another transport are anchored in the middle of the roadstead, awaiting the arrival of the other members of the expedition. It is said that over 100,000 will arrive from Egypt. The greatest warship afloat, and one that figured largely in the bombardment of the Dardanelles two months ago, the "Queen Elizabeth," lies a short way off on our starboard. The whole is shut in by steep hills, rough and rugged, some of which must be over 1000 feet high. The land between these and the water looks well cultivated, the brilliant green of young crops being a relief to our eyes after our long voyage. We have seen nothing but sea, rocks, chalk and sand since March 18. I see no chance of getting ashore, but nothing would delight me more than a scramble to the top of the highest peak away to the west.
I was asking a Royal Naval Officer on board if our occupying Lemnos involved any breach of neutrality, belonging, as it does, to Greece. Although Greek, it has been leased by Turkey for years, and we have in reality seized it from the latter.
In the afternoon we entered the inner harbour and cast anchor in the middle of a number of transports. This inner harbour is more or less circular and is about three miles long and two wide.
April 11th.—Several transports have arrived since we entered yesterday. When I looked through my port-hole at 6 o'clock this morning the surrounding country looked very fresh, and free from all haze, and the bright green of the crops and grass on the hill-sides would have done credit to old Ireland.
After lunch I met Lt.-Col. Rooth of the Dublins, who gave me some authentic information concerning the proposed military landing on Gallipoli. The covering party for the whole expedition is to be our 86th Brigade. The Munsters are in the S.S.T. "Caledonia," (B ii) lying alongside our ship. The Lancashires are there also. All these, along with our stretcher bearers, land together from cutters, and the date fixed is in all probability Wednesday, April 14, or the following day at latest. A very warm reception from the enemy on shore is expected, as I gather from the way the Dublin officers talk. It is also said that we will have to make a dash for it under the cover of night.
Practically due north from where we lie we can see the top of a snow-clad mountain which must be several thousand feet in height. Is this in Imbros? (Samothrace.)
A German Taube was seen over us to-day flying very high. Two hydroplanes went up from our fleet and scouted round us for several miles for over an hour. Some say another was seen very early in the morning.
April 12th.—Orders were issued yesterday that we were to practice disembarking to-day in preparation for the landing on Gallipoli. The different units had to line up in the stations allotted to them, ours luckily being on the saloon deck where we will get use of the accommodation ladder instead of the rope ladder as first proposed. Except for our rations, which had not been issued, we had on our full marching order loads—revolver, water-bottle, ammunition, haversack, field glasses, map case, Burberry and ground sheet. When we land we will have about 5 lbs. of rations in addition.
Several of the officers on our ship visited the "Queen Elizabeth" yesterday and returned with very alarming reports, this boat having many times taken part in bombarding the Dardanelles Forts has a good idea of what awaits us. They say the whole of Gallipoli swarms with Turks, and the whole coast is covered with trenches and barbed wire entanglements 6 feet high. They talk as if it meant absolute annihilation of our small covering force of about 5000. The whole remainder of the Expeditionary Force, I presume, will lie out at sea till the coast is clear—should we succeed in clearing it, but it is very evident every man I have spoken to has practically no hope of ever returning. They expect our landing cutters to be well peppered with shot and shell, and in our practice to-day we had to appear with the straps of all our equipment outside our shoulder straps, and the ends of our belts free, ready to whip open and get rid of it at a moment's notice. I noticed that all our officers were unusually quiet and serious last night, while they discussed the situation no doubt. I went to bed at my usual hour and slept like a top.
The "Queen Elizabeth" went round to the Dardanelles to-day with the C.O.'s of the regiments which are to take part in the covering operations, looking for suitable places to disembark. We saw her return to harbour about 6 p.m., and we hear she was fired on.
Whyte, Morris, and I anxiously watched a four-masted transport enter the harbour this evening thinking it was possibly the "Marquette," but it proved to be A5, so that we have no chance of hearing from home before to-morrow. We want our mail before we set off again, as the next time will be for a long and indefinite period. All the transports are named "B," "A," or "C"—British, Australian, or Colonial. Ours the "Ausonia" is B4—no fewer than ninety transports lay in the harbour of Alexandria ready to carry our troops to Lemnos.
April 13th.—I have just returned from a trip ashore, the O.C. the troops granting me leave on request to do so with twenty-four of our men. We had three-quarters of an hour on land and had time to climb to the top of a small hill. What struck me most on the more level ground was the amount and stickiness of the mud, which was almost equal to our horse lines at Bedford. Every spot was covered with flowers, mostly of the vetch family. The corn crops were absolutely choked with a large, spiked, dark purple vetch, with a sprinkling of the common poppy (Papaver Dubium), and the ordinary charlock of the corn fields at home, and another species of this same family. I found two mallows, two or three thistles, one with a head like our Melancholy thistle, but the commonest was one with white lines on the leaf. There were numerous other flowers, so numerous that I thought this explained why so much of the honey used in Britain came from Greece and these islands. At the top of the hill we met a few shepherds tending sheep and cattle, many of the sheep wearing bells which kept up a constant tinkling. The men were very picturesque in their moccasin shoes, sheepskin waistcoats and heavy coats with hoods. On the way from shore with fourteen men at the six oars it was very nearly too much for us to reach our boat, the wind having risen suddenly. It must have taken us an hour to row about half a mile.
Orders have come to us to-day about our landing. We are warned to keep our equipment dry as we will be waist-deep in water on leaving the tow boats. Rumour had it yesterday that Thursday night had been definitely fixed, but this afternoon it is said that the landing is likely to take place to-morrow. The thought of this, in spite of the warm reception promised, does not frighten one in the very least: I can honestly say that it never once entered my head when on shore to-day. When it comes to the pinch one can face the inevitable with perfect coolness.
The following I have copied from the directory of the 29th Division, there being two alterations since it was published:—
86th Infantry Brigade.
Commander Brig.-General S.W. Hare. Brig.-Major Capt. T.H.C. Frankland, R. Dub. Fus. Staff. Capt. Capt. H.M. Farmer, Lanc. Fus. 2 Royal Fus. Lt.-Col. H.C.B. Newenham. Adjt. T.D. Shafto. 1 Lanc. Fus. Lt.-Col. H.V.S. Ormond. Adjt. Capt. C. Bromley. 1 Munster Fus. Lt.-Col. H.E. Tizard. Adjt. Capt. H.S. Wilson. 1 W. Fus. Lt.-Col. Rooth. Adjt. Major C.T.W. Grimshaw, D.S.O.
The commander of the Division is General Hunter-Weston, R.E.
The great harbour of Lemnos is gradually filling; we had about thirty troopships in the inner harbour, and before lunch seven were lying in the outer. It was a magnificent sight from the top of the hill I have mentioned.
April 14th.—Wednesday. Had a very slow day on board, feeling that I was badly in need of some hard physical exercise. No attack to be made to-day, that is evident, and I doubt if we are ready for it to-morrow. Orders are out for the usual drill to-morrow which now always consists of boating, landing, and climbing rope ladders swinging about in mid-air.
After dinner I had a long talk with one of the ship's officers who had been in the navy for years, and is now attached to this boat to look after things naval. "The charge ashore" of the covering party he considers a vast mistake, and his idea is that the authorities have just discovered this too, and are reconsidering its advisability. A few machine-guns could wipe us all out before we get ashore. We are to be covered by the navy, but what is the use of big guns against individuals planted everywhere in trenches. However it is not for us "to reason why". My informant had been talking yesterday to the Brigade Major, and on asking him if we were still going to Gallipoli he said, "Oh, I think so".
April 15th.—Prepared this morning to go ashore with full equipment and lifebelt, but in the end no boat was available for the R.A.M.C. Just after breakfast I met a naval man on the stair leading down to the saloon, looking for the O.C. the troops, Col. Rooth, and he sent him a message through me, introducing himself as the commander of our covering ship. Looking over the rail I found H.M.S. "Cornwallis" painted on his steam-launch.
6.15 p.m. Just returned from a five mile sail in a rowing boat, Morris and I being determined to find the "Marquette" if she was among the ships out in the offing, being anxious to get our letters, but she was not there. We sorrowfully wheeled about and returned, encircling the "Queen Elizabeth" with her eight 15-inch guns, then along to examine the German ship "Acane Herksman," which struck one of their own mines off Smyrna. A huge hole 7 or 8 feet wide had been blown in her bow which must have flooded her in a minute or so, but I forget how she was kept afloat. She was brought round here as a prize with her stern heavily loaded with sandbags which tilted her bow completely out of the water.
Our row was a most enjoyable one, and the men rowed with a will, all expecting to get their home mail. The country round the bay was very beautiful with its green cultivated fields near the water, and complete circle of rugged hills, and the distant snowclad mountains away to the far North. All returned hungry, and while enjoying a cup of tea at a table of Engineer officers, we heard what is evidently the latest proposal about the invasion of Gallipoli. Instead of landing us from troopships we all go on battleships, which seems to us to be an improvement. We are also likely to land at three if not four different points at the same time. This new plan will likely take a few more days to develop, so that we may expect a few days' grace yet. We have very exact maps of Gallipoli on a large scale, with full accounts of all the possible landing places and the interior, with soundings round the whole peninsula, the nature and the amount of water to be expected at various points, etc.
April 16th.—Beautiful day; nothing stirring, even no fresh rumours afloat. Had a long sail to-day again with Whyte and twenty-five men in search of the "Marquette". Believing that the "Marquette's" new name was "B. 8," I boarded "B. 9," which has been here for a day or two, hoping the captain might be able to tell me something of her movements, but he thinks she has not left Alexandria. This is a terrible disappointment to us all, and as her load is mainly horse-flesh it is likely true. Horses would suffer badly lying in the harbour where the ventilation would be very bad and would mean death to many of them. I think I omitted to state that we lost nineteen horses between Avonmouth and Alexandria, this high death-rate being due to the want of proper ventilation.
Whyte and I next went over a Hospital ship, the "Soudan"—which we saw in Malta, but was lying here on our arrival. She has four lady nurses, two of whom we saw. One can hardly imagine petticoats out here. We both agreed that the sight of them did us a lot of good.
April 17th.—Had breakfast at six, paraded at seven and stood on deck till 10.45 waiting our turn to cross to a collier that is to be used in the Gallipoli attack. The intention is to run her ashore at full speed, ploughing into the sands, when her load of 2000 men are to get overboard as best they can on to floating gangways. By a long circuitous route we all got into our places, and were packed close on the various decks which have had large square openings cut through the iron plates of the sides of the ship, and from these and the upper deck we have to decamp as quickly as possible.
But there is now a rumour that the 89th Ambulance may not have the honour of participating in this dash. Whyte and I are greatly upset by this rumour which we hope to goodness is nothing but a mistake on Morris's part.
Went out in the afternoon looking for the "Marquette," but she has not yet arrived. With some officers of the West Riding Engineers, Whyte and I visited the "Queen Elizabeth," the most powerful ship afloat, and went over her lower front turret, climbing by an iron ladder to the top, lowering ourselves through a manhole and clattering down on the floor behind the breeches of the guns. The muzzles of these guns look enormous, but I was completely thunderstruck when I saw the two great breeches side by side. They reminded me of two big engine boilers. They must be about 6 feet in diameter and are probably not less. The officer who took us round had a breech block swung back, and we were allowed to examine everything freely.
April 18th.—Started once more on the hunt for the "Marquette" (now B. 13) and found her at last out in the offing waiting for medical leave and orders to enter the harbour. Until she was medically examined we were not allowed on board, and had to yell to our friends on the upper deck and had a large mail bag lowered for the Ambulance. My letters had been looked out by Stephen, and these were lowered in his helmet at the end of a 2-inch rope.
We enjoyed the sail over an absolutely smooth sea, and being Sunday we could hear and see that service was being conducted on several warships and troopers. That warlike tune "Onward! Christian Soldiers" was well played by a band on an Australian troopship, all singers and non-singers on our boat joining in. "Queen Elizabeth" is familiarly and affectionately known as "Lizzie" by all and sundry.
April 19th.—To-day is warmer than we have felt it since we left Mex. I have been observing all along how few birds are to be seen here. I saw a few small ones the day I was on shore, but I have never seen any of these flying over the bay or about the ships. The harbour gets very filthy, and highly "smelly". All refuse is dumped overboard, and pipes are continually discharging their filth from openings at various levels all round each ship. Food of all kinds, especially whole loaves and buns float about everywhere, enough to feed thousands of gulls, if they would only come along and scavenge. To-day I counted over thirty gulls in one flock, but I would not have believed before that there were so many about the whole bay.
We had a call in the afternoon from our friends of the "Marquette" with another mail bag. I had one letter and an Aberdeen "Evening Express". Whyte and I returned with them and all had a very jovial dinner together. The latest news from H.Q. on the Cunarder "Andania" is that we are not to lose our post of honour after all. It was after nine when we started for our own ship and had a pleasant and noisy trip. We were challenged by "Lizzie" under whose stern we passed, with "boat ahoy," and we had to explain who we were. Not one of the ships is showing any light.
Our "Marquette" friends told us of a narrow escape they had had. On their way from Alexandria they were immediately preceded by the "Manitou" (B. 12), which had three torpedoes fired at her by a Turkish torpedo boat, but at such close range that the torpedoes as they dived into the sea from the deck, went so deep that they passed under the ship. The "Manitou" is a sister ship of the "Marquette". Making sure that their end had come there was a panic, and as a boat was being lowered past the upper deck so many crowded on board that the davits broke and the whole mass crashed down on another boat already in the water, killing about forty.
April 20th.—In the afternoon I visited the village of Mudros on the south side of the harbour. There are several camps near this, and I first visited the French Foreign Legion where there were troops from many parts—Zouaves, Turcos, etc. I walked through the village which was very interesting. The money-making Greek is taking advantage of there being so many men about, and almost every house contains something for sale, with numerous newly erected wooden shops near the French quarters. Alcohol is cheap, a bottle of wine costing sevenpence. There were fig trees in every garden, and dried figs for sale, strung on string, which looked dry and filthy. Honey was much in evidence, this part of the world producing enormous quantities of this. The principal article of merchandise was Turkish delight. When examining various articles at a stall, I chanced to open a box of this and said "Turkish Delight!" "No, no, no," said the man, "Graeke Delight!" The name "Turkish" will not do at present.
An old fellow, clean shaved except for an enormous moustache, took us over his windmill, and it was strange to see the great wooden wheels and wooden teeth all dry and creaking, no oil being used.
The wind had risen and it cost us an hour and a half's hard pulling to cover less than a mile. A big gathering of men at the stern of our ship watched our perplexity and began to sing "Pull for the shore, sailor," which was replied to by volleys of oaths and threats of vengeance. By this time my hands were badly blistered, and we had smashed an oar so that our tempers were none of the best.
April 21st.—Marching orders were received this morning. They run as follows: "The object is to capture and dominate Kilid Bahr. The Royal Naval Division is to make a feint attack on Bulair. The Australians are to land at Kapa Teke. The 29th Division is to land at Helles Burnu. The French are to land at Kum Kale on the Asiatic side.
"The 29th Division are to attack Kilid Bahr:—
"A. A force to land at Eski Hissarlik.
"B. A force west of Krithia.
"C. A force on the rest of the south of the peninsula.
"1. The first line of defence to be '114, '138, '141.
"2. The second through the "e" of Old Castle to join hands with Y. Beach.
"3. From Eski Hissarlik to East of Krithia to '472.
"4. To capture Achi Baba and line running south of it.
"5. To occupy a line running East of Achi Baba to the sea; and west of it to sea by 472.
"The covering force is the 86th Brigade, the South Wales Borderers, 1st King's Own Scottish Borderers, 2nd Hampshires less two companies, Plymouth Royal Naval Division, West Riding Engineers, 1st Section Royal London Engineers, and a tent-subdivision of the 87th Field Ambulance, and a part of a tent-subdivision of the 88th Field Ambulance, and three bearer-subdivisions of the 89th Field Ambulance.
"A hot meal is to be taken before leaving the ship.
"There will be a signal station at W. Beach, Divisional Head-quarters on the 'Euryalus'.
"No water to be drunk till tested owing to the risk of its being poisoned."
So ran the orders from our G.O.C. in C.—General Sir IAN HAMILTON.
On going on deck before breakfast I found everything had been arranged for our departure this afternoon at four o'clock, and since then all has been hurry and bustle. But from early morning till about 3 p.m. it rained and the wind blew, and the whole world was in haze, and as it had been arranged that Gallipoli was to be well bombarded by our ships to-day before the army attempted a landing all had to be postponed for another twenty-four hours.
April 22nd.—To-day we gave the men their Iodine ampules for use with their first field dressings, and distributed General Hunter-Weston's address congratulating our Brigade on the honour done us on receiving the chief post of danger in the coming attack, which will likely be at daybreak on Saturday, April 24. Before the Turkish trenches can be reached by our men it is expected that they will have to get through a wire entanglement 25 feet wide and 6 feet high. According to the present plans we are to be preceded by the Royal Munster Fusiliers.
There is great activity in Lemnos Harbour this morning, especially among the torpedo boats which have been flitting about at their hardest. No boats have been allowed to leave our ship for two days, the order being that this can only be done if to save life. Water, which we were much in need of, was brought on board last night, and we are ready to start off—and have been since yesterday at 4 p.m. the appointed hour. But it would be contrary to all my experience if we got away at the fixed time.
Fiddes arrived from the "Marquette" at lunch time and brought my service cap, helmets having been recalled a week ago.
Lord Kitchener sent us the other day an account of the fighting at Busorah, preparing us for what was before us. The Turks had fought desperately, were well trained, and well led, and could only be turned out of their trenches at the point of the bayonet.
General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Force, sends us his address:—
"FORCE ORDER (SPECIAL), "GENERAL HEAD-QUARTERS, "April 21, 1915.
"Soldiers of France and of the King!
"Before us lies an adventure unprecedented in modern war. Together with our comrades of the fleet we are about to force a landing upon an open beach in face of positions which have been vaunted by our enemies as impregnable. The landing will be made good, by the help of God and the Navy, the positions will be stormed, and the war brought one step nearer to a glorious close.
"'Remember,' said Lord Kitchener, when bidding adieu to your commander, 'Remember, once you set foot on the Gallipoli Peninsula, you must fight the thing through to a finish'.
"The whole world will be watching our progress. Let us prove ourselves worthy of the great feat of arms entrusted to us.
"(Signed) IAN HAMILTON, General."
April 23rd.—Spent most of the forenoon on the "Caledonia" (B. iii), which is lashed to our port side. Agassiz and Thomson arrived there yesterday with nineteen men, forming one tent-subdivision, and go with us.
A different atmosphere pervades our ship to-day, a feeling of strain and anxiety is more or less on every mind, not that it would be apparent to an outsider except in a case or two. Bad news has leaked in all the time from the navy and our airmen, all the time this getting worse, such as the account that Gallipoli swarms with well-armed Turks, wire entanglements of great breadth and height everywhere, and, of course, trenches. We have plans of their trenches and gun emplacements, but these can only be roughly correct. Then yesterday the airmen made another reconnaissance, and they say they have found a great increase of guns. We may be outnumbered ten or twelve to one, and our having to face their well-defended positions in open boats is not altogether comforting, and naturally all feel a bit anxious. General Hare, our Brigadier, spoke to me on the "Caledonia," and I thought he looked worried, and is thinner than when I saw him last at Coventry. Col. Rooth of the Dublins does not look over happy. He came down to lunch, had a look at the table, and went up to deck with a cigarette, and at the present moment he stands near where I am writing with both hands in his pockets, peering straight down the side of the ship into the waters. Those of us with less responsibility are certainly less troubled; all are prepared for great sacrifices, and every one is ready to play his part in what will certainly be a great tragedy.
The particular part of the coast on which I land with the 89th Field Ambulance is a short way west of Sedd-el-Bahr, landing in the collier "River Clyde," on which there will be a force of 2100. I have already spoken about this boat. From what is going on I will be surprised if we do not leave Lemnos to-night.
8.30 p.m. Off! We set sail from Lemnos at 4.57, two boats of the A. class going out before us, but these two anchored outside while we led straight on. On coming on deck after dinner we found three warships on our starboard side, said to be the "Swiftsure," "Dublin," and "Euryalus," all in line, no lights on them or us. Our port-holes are covered first with cardboard and the iron shutters are down over it. The sharer of my cabin (Lt. G.A. Balfour, a relative of the statesman) and I wonder if we should sleep on deck, the atmosphere here will be uncomfortably close. The evening as we started was perfect, warm and absolutely calm. Now the moon looks watery and has a big halo, and wind is prophesied by the ship's officers. We drag three large barges alongside which prevent our going at much speed, and it is expected that we will reach Tenedos about 3 a.m.
April 24th.—Saturday. Reached Tenedos and cast anchor at 9.30 a.m. We had been delayed by the wind rising and the waves dashed over our lighters till they were nearly swamped. On our east we have the coast of Asia with several high hills near the coast.
All the transports—not many yet arrived but B. s. i., ii., and iii. form a little group—torpedo boats and destroyers, mine-sweepers, tugs and other small fry lie in a bay, and as if for defence, and no doubt that is their purpose, eight big battleships are drawn up in line facing the open sea. The famous "Horse of Troy," the "River Clyde," lies near, and the thought of spending the coming night on her lowest deck is not attractive. She is painted khaki on one side I see, but only in patches, the idea evidently is to make her resemble a sandstone rock—all very ingenious no doubt, but she will make a good target in spite of her paint.
I said yesterday that all the officers looked anxious, but in the evening all were their old selves exactly, and baccarat went on as usual among the younger officers who sang all their usual songs and yelled and laughed till midnight. I was in bed by ten and slept even better than usual, and it was with an effort I got up at 8 o'clock. The fact that I was in a new part and in the midst of a big fleet did not even seem to interest me very much. Nor does the thought of to-morrow disturb any one, and, as far as I can judge, it is not very often in one's mind.
We lie on the north side of Tenedos, near the foot of Mount St. Elias. Several of us were guessing the height of this hill, and none put it at over 250 feet although its actual height is 625 feet.
At 3 p.m. came a naval message ordering us all to be ready for transfer to our respective boats at 3.45—all hurry and bustle. I have loaded up and am at present guarding a pile of coats, water-bottles, etc., belonging to our men who have hurried off to the galley to get their last meal for the day. The sea has been rough all day but is now calmer, and there is every prospect of fine weather for to-morrow's murderous work. Away to the east the Asiatic coast is beautifully lit up by the setting sun, also the yellow rocks that stretch to Kum Kale on the south of the entrance to the Dardanelles, while the hills on Gallipoli are visible but in haze. From my present post I look over the Plain of Troy to the high mountains beyond. To-morrow it is to be Troy Field and the wooden horse of Troy all over again.
10.30 p.m.—Arrived on coal boat at 6.30. Place in stern fitted up for officers' supper; two lime barrels and a few rough boards form table: whisky: tinned meat: biscuits: 2200 of us on board: all happy and fit. We start in two hours: only 12 or 13 miles to go: then anchor 1-1/2 miles from land and wait for daylight and bombardment; then at proper moment rush in: said that coast is to be battered with 150,000 shells. Supper finished some time ago and am writing this in the mess I have just mentioned. Some sleeping or pretending; others smoking; I doing latter and sitting on board after trying to snooze with head on a big box and less high one in small of back; but too uncomfortable for anything, so whipped out my "bookie" and scribbled; light bad, only an oily lamp with glass smoked black, and nearly 20 feet distant. Queer scene altogether.
April 25th.—Sunday is just ten minutes old, and the ship's screw has started—we are off!
Later.—Still Sunday the 25th—5.15 p.m.
Hell with the lid off! Yes, I know what hell is, nor do I believe anyone in the world knows better. To-day I have seen shells plunging through the ship's hold in which I was, carrying off heads and legs, but my pulse has not once given an extra beat. "My word, sir," said a tar coming up to me, "you have a nerve." Tars have no lack of nerve as I have seen to-day, and I felt vastly proud of the compliment. Three of our Generals are reported on the casualty list, and Col. Smith-Carrington shot through the head on the bridge of our ship.
The bombardment commenced at 4.50 a.m. and was expected to carry on for an hour or a little over, but after twelve hours of the most terrific cannonade ever experienced in this world it has not yet come to an end. Now at 5.30 an occasional shot comes from a battleship. The constant roar has made my head ache, and I am dead tired, having worked hard all day, and I must give an account of this another day.
April 26th.—The battle of Sedd-el-Bahr still rages, and with a fury but little less than yesterday. Yesterday was a very hard day, after attending wounded almost continuously up to 8.30 p.m. I volunteered to go ashore to see the wounded on the beach. The dead and dying were here in hundreds. Before I got back to the ship at 4 this morning I had a very hot time of it, and cannot understand why I am not a dead man. We were told yesterday that a counter-attack was to be made and that the Turks intended to blow the ship to pieces with cannon, which they were to bring up in the night. When the attack did come I gave up all hopes of anything but slaughter, as the men we had on land were insufficient in number to meet a large force.
About fifty men were leaving the ship when this started, and at the sound of the firing all fell flat on their faces, and if any one dared to move he was at once fired at. Some one on a barge next the small boat in which I had taken shelter asked if he could crawl into our boat, but I dared him or anyone else to move as such movement would only draw fire on every one of us. Not a man stirred, but lay on his face from midnight to 4 o'clock. It was not till the end of the attack that I learned these men had an officer with them. As I lay in the boat I shouted to them that an assault on us was likely, and ordered them to load and fix bayonets, and to see that all had plenty of ammunition. Extra bandoliers of cartridges were passed up from the rear, each pushing these along with a clatter. All this with the red cross on my arm! And with loaded revolver in hand I was prepared to die game.
The wounds I saw yesterday were in every part of the body, and most were severe, and the death-rate in proportion to wounded will be very high, many having four or five wounds.
Snipers are giving an extraordinary amount of trouble, the ground yielding itself to numerous hiding places overlooking our beach, about the rocks on our left as well as the immense old fort. The end of the fort nearest us is now but a jumble of huge stones and is an excellent place for snipers. A number of jackdaws and three huge storks had their dwelling here and have now to live pretty much in the heavens, circling over their old home in an excited condition.
It is now but 11.30 a.m. and I have been having a rest preparatory to the advance we are to make this afternoon. I have not had a wink of sleep since the 24th.
We join up with the French this afternoon. How the guns still thunder! The "Queen Elizabeth" with her 15-inch guns thundering over our heads as we rushed in past her at close quarters seemed to make our boat of 6600 tons sink some way in the water at every broadside. I was surprised to find that the heavy gunfire gave me no trouble, although like most of the others I began with cotton wool in my ears, but half an hour of this was enough, it interfered with sounds it was necessary to hear.
Here I am writing in the midst of one of the greatest battles in history. Any bombardment this world has ever known was a mere bagatelle to this.
To-day we had a naval funeral of General Napier and Colonel Smith-Carrington. The former was killed on a barge attached to us, and the other on the bridge. No one is to be present but the Catholic padre. A number of men are to be buried at the same time. The orders I received stated that all bodies had to be got rid of before we advanced. A pinnace from a warship was signalled for and all were taken out to sea.
Our advance from the shore began to-day about noon, our men lining out along the sands and the banks above, and gradually getting forward by short rushes. Barbed wire had also to be cut. But the advance through the village was the most difficult, as the remains of houses and garden walls contained snipers. I almost shiver to look back on a mad thing I did to-day—mad because it was done out of mere curiosity. I was asked to go to "Old Fort" beyond the village, near the outermost capture for to-day to see Colonel Doughty-Wylie and Major Grimshaw who were reported badly wounded. Both were dead, and as I was about to return I was next asked if I would go to a garden at the top of the village to see some wounded men. Afterwards I went right through the village alone, with only my revolver in my hand, and from the houses sniping was still going on. I had been assured that it was supposed to be safe. I peered into a number of wrecked houses—every house had been blown to bits—and I had not long returned when sniping commenced from a prominent corner house I had just passed. The only living things I saw in the village were two cats and a dog. I was very sorry for a cat that had cuddled close to the face of a dead Turk in the street, one leg embracing the top of his head. I went up to stroke and sympathise with it for the loss of what I took to be its master, when I found that the upper part of the man's head had been blown away, and the cat was enjoying a meal of human brains. The dog followed till I came upon three Dublin Fusiliers, who wished to shoot it straight away when I pleaded for it, but one of them had a shot at it when my back was turned and the poor brute went off howling. I had done my best, when going along the fosse of the "Old Fort," to save a badly wounded Turk from three of another battalion who were standing over him and discussing the advisability of putting an end to him, but I am afraid my interference was in vain here also.