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The Leicestershires beyond Baghdad
by Edward John Thompson
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Transcriber's note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document.



THE LEICESTERSHIRES BEYOND BAGHDAD

by

EDWARD J. THOMPSON, M.C.

Author of 'Mesopotamian Verses,' 'Ennerdale Bridge' 'Waltham Thickets,' Etc.



London The Epworth Press J. Alfred Sharp First Edition, December, 1919



To my brother, FRANK D. THOMPSON, Second-Lieutenant Civil Service Rifles, attached King's Royal Rifles; killed in action, near Ypres, Jan. 13, 1917.

Our soldier youth thrice-loved, whose laughing face In battle's front can danger meet with eyes No fear could e'er surprise; Nor stain of self in their gay love leave trace, His nature like his name, Frank, and his eager spirit pure as flame.

Waltham Thickets.



PREFACE

The Mesopotamian War was a side-show, so distant from Europe that even the tragedy of Kut and the slaughter which failed to save our troops and prestige were felt chiefly in retrospect, when the majority of the men who suffered so vainly had gone into the silence of death or of captivity. When Maude's offensive carried our arms again into Kut, and beyond, to Baghdad, interest revived; but of the hard fighting which followed, which made Baghdad secure, nothing has been made known, or next to nothing. The men in Mesopotamia did not feel that this was unnatural. We felt, none more so, that it was the European War which mattered; indeed, our lot often seemed the harder by reason of its little apparent importance. Yet, after all, Baghdad was the first substantial victory which no subsequent reverse swept away; and it came when the need of victory, for very prestige's sake, was very great.

Mr. Candler has written, bitterly enough, of the way the Censorship impeded him in his work as official 'Eye-witness.' His was a thankless task; as he well knows, few of us, though we were all his friends, have not groused at his reports of our operations. No unit groused more on this head than my own division. We usually had a campaign and a bank of the Tigris to ourselves. 'Eye-witness' rightly chose to be with the other divisions across the river. Inevitably the 7th Meerut Division got the meagrest show in such meagre dispatches as the Censors allowed him to send home. The 2nd Leicestershires, an old and proud battalion, with the greatest of reputations on the field of action, remained unknown to the Press and public. Our other two British battalions, the 1st Seaforths and the 2nd Black Watch, could be referred to—even the Censors allowed this—as 'Highlanders'; and those who were interested knew that the reference lay between these two regiments and the Highland Light Infantry. But who was going to connect the rare reference to 'Midlanders' with the Leicestershires?

In May, 1917, the 7th Division tried to put together, for the Press, a connected account of their campaigning since Maude's offensive began. After various people, well qualified to do the work, had refused, it was devolved on me, on the simple grounds that a padre, as is well known, has only one day of work a week. The notion fell through. The authorities declined flatly to allow any reference to units by name, and no one took any more interest in a task so useless and soulless. But I had collected so much information from different units that I determined some day to try to put the story together. I have now selected two campaigns, those for railhead and for Tekrit, and made a straightforward narrative. From a multitude of such narratives the historian will build up his work hereafter.

An article by General Wauchope appeared in Blackwood's, 'The Battle that won Samarrah.' This article not only stressed the fact that the Black Watch were first in Baghdad and Samarra—an accident; they were the freshest unit on each occasion, while other units were exhausted from fighting just finished—but dismissed the second day of 'the battle that won Samarra' with one long paragraph, from which the reader could get no other meaning except the one that this day also was won by the same units as did the fighting of the 21st. This was a handling of fact which appealed neither to the Black Watch, whose achievements need no aid of embellishment from imagination, nor to the Leicestershires, who were made to appear spectators through the savage fighting of two days. If the reader turns to the chapter in this book entitled 'The Battle for Samarra,' he will learn what actually happened on April 22, 1917. The only other reference in print, that I know of, to the fighting for Samarra is the chapter in Mr. Candler's book. This, he tells us, was largely taken over by him from a journalist who visited our battlefields during the lull of summer. He showed the account to officers of my division, myself among them, and they added a few notes. But the chapter remained bare and comparatively uninteresting beside the accounts of actions which Mr. Candler had witnessed.

For this book, then, my materials have been: First, my own experience of events quorum ego pars minima. Next, my own note-books, carefully kept over a long period in Mesopotamia and Palestine, a period from which these two campaigns of Samarra and Tekrit have been selected. Thirdly, I saw regimental war-diaries and talked with brigade and regimental officers. Most of all, from the Leicestershires I gained information. It is rarely any use to question men about an action; even if they speak freely, they say little which is of value on the printed page. One may live with a regimental mess for months, running into years, as I did with the Leicestershires' subalterns, and hear little that is illuminating, till some electric spark may start a fire of living reminiscence. But from many of my comrades, at one time and another, I have picked up a fact. I am especially indebted to Captain J.O.C. Hasted, D.S.O., for permission to use his lecture on the Samarra battle. I could have used this lecture still more with great gain; but I did not wish to impair its interest in itself, as it should be published. From Captain F.J. Diggins, M.C., I gained a first-hand account of the capture of the Turkish guns. And Major Kenneth Mason, M.C., helped me with information in the Tekrit fighting. My brother, Lieutenant A.R. Thompson, drew the maps.

In conclusion, though the Mesopotamian War was of minor importance beside the fighting in Western Europe, for the chronicler it has its own advantages. If our fighting was on a smaller scale, we saw it more clearly. The 7th Division, as I have said, usually had a campaign, with its battles, to themselves. We were not a fractional part of an eruption along many hundreds of miles; we were our own little volcano. And it was the opinion of many of us that on no front was there such comradeship; yet many had come from France, and two divisions afterwards saw service on the Palestine front. Nor can any front have had so many grim jokes as those with which we kept ourselves sane through the long-drawn failure before Kut and the dragging months which followed.



CONTENTS

CHAP. PAGE

INTRODUCTION 15

I. BELED 21

II. HARBE 48

III. THE FIRST BATTLE OF ISTABULAT 59

IV. THE BATTLE FOR SAMARRA 70

V. SUMMER AND WAITING 104

VI. HUWESLET; OR, 'THE BATTLE OF JUBER ISLAND' 120

VII. DAUR 124

VIII. AUJEH 131

IX. TEKRIT 135

X. DOWN TO BUSRA 145



INTRODUCTION

On November 6, 1914, Brigadier-General Delamaine captured Fao forts, and the Mesopotamian War began in the smallest possible way, the proverbial 'corporal's guard' breaking into an empire.

The next twelve months saw a great deal of fighting, unorthodox in every way, carried through in appalling weathers and with the most inadequate forces.

In the three days' battle at Shaiba, in April, defeat was hardly escaped.

In April and May General Gorringe conducted the Ahwaz operations, near the Persian border, with varying success, and threatened Amara, on the Tigris, midway between Busra and Baghdad.

In May Townshend began his advance up-country. By June 3 he had taken Q'urna, where Tigris and Euphrates mingle; presently his miscellaneous marine and a handful of men took Amara, in what was known as 'Townshend's Regatta.' Seventeen guns and nearly two thousand prisoners were taken at Amara.

In the heats of July, incredible as it sounds, Gorringe was fighting on the Euphrates, by Nasiriyeh, taking twenty-one guns and over a thousand prisoners.

On September 28 Townshend won his last victory at Kut-el-Amara, taking fourteen guns and eleven hundred prisoners. Every one knows what followed: how Ctesiphon was fought in November, with four thousand five hundred and sixty-seven casualties, and how his force raced back to Kut. On December 7 Kut was invested by the Turks. Townshend's stand here saved the lower country to us.

Relief forces disembarked at Ali Gharbi, between Amara and Kut, and some of the bitterest fighting the world has seen began. Sheikh Saad (January 6 to 8) was a costly victory. A gleam of hope came with the Russian offensive in Northern Asia Minor. On January 13, at the Wadi, six miles beyond Sheikh Saad and less than thirty miles from Kut, the Turks held us up, but slipped away in the night.

All advancing was over flat ground devoid of even scrub-cover, through a region the most desolate in the world. Above Amara there is a place called 'Lone-Tree Village,' which has a small tree ten feet high. Except for a handful of draggled palms at Sheikh Saad, this tree is the only one till Kut is reached, on a river frontage of sixty miles.

On January 20 the British suffered a heavy repulse at Umm-el-Hanna, five miles beyond the Wadi. For nearly seven weeks our troops sat down in the swamps, and died of disease. The rains were abnormal.

On March 8 a long flank march up the right bank of the Tigris took the enemy by surprise, and reached Dujaileh, less than ten miles from Kut. Time was wasted in an orthodox but unnecessary bombardment. The Turks swarmed back into the redoubt, and we were bloodily thrust back, and returned to our lines before Hanna, with heavy losses in men and transport. After that very few cherished any hope of saving Kut.

April was a month of terrible fighting, frontal attacks on a very brave and exultant enemy. The 13th Division, from Gallipoli, took the Hanna trenches, which were practically deserted, on April 5. The day went well for us. In the afternoon Abu Roman lines on the right bank, and in the evening those of Felahiyeh on the left bank, were carried by storm. But next day the first of the five battles of Sannaiyat was fought. We were repulsed.

The Turk's procedure was easy. He shot us down as we advanced over flat country. We dug ourselves in four hundred yards away (say). Then we sapped up to within storming distance, and attacked again, to find that the lines were thinly held, with a machine-gun or two, but that another position awaited us beyond, at the end of a long level sweep of desert.

On April 9 came the second battle of Sannaiyat. The time has not come to speak frankly of this day; but our men lay in heaps. So from the 16th to the 18th we tried frontal attacks on the other bank, the right again. This was the battle of Beit Aiessa. We did so well that the enemy had to counter-attack, which he did in the most determined manner, forcing us back. It cost him at least three thousand dead; but by this day's work he made sure of Kut and its garrison. Our one hope now was in the Russians. But their offensive halted; and we fought, on the 22nd, the third of the Sannaiyat battles. On the 29th, after a siege of one hundred and forty-three days, Kut surrendered, and with it the biggest British force ever taken by any enemy.

A summer inexpressibly harassing and depressed followed; but towards the end of 1916 affairs were reorganized, and at last a general was found. On the night of December 13 we crossed the Shat-el-Hai, and Maude's attack on Kut began. Ten weeks of fighting, very little interrupted by the weather, followed. It was stern work, hand-to-hand and trench-to-trench, as in France. By the end of the third week in February Kut was doomed. The Turk had made the mistake of leaving small, unsupported groups of men in angles and corners of the Tigris. Maude destroyed these, and between the 22nd and the 25th launched his final attacks simultaneously on both banks. A badly managed attack on Sannaiyat had failed on the 17th; but now, on the 22nd, the lines were stormed. Fighting continued here, and the river was crossed and bridged behind the Turks, above Kut, at Shumran. The Sannaiyat garrison fled precipitately, and the 7th Indian Division occupied successively the Nakhailat and Suwada lines with no opposition worth mentioning. Kut fell automatically, the monitors steaming in and taking possession. The infantry had no time to bother about it. Kut had become a symbol only.

So the infantry swung by Kut and on to Baghdad. The cavalry and gunboats hunted the enemy northward, till he made a stand on the Diyaleh, a large stream entering the Tigris a few miles below Baghdad. Very heavy fighting and losses had come to the 13th Division, and the 7th Division would be the first to acknowledge that the honour of first entering Baghdad, for whatever it was worth, should have fallen to them. But, in spite of desperate attempts to cross, they were held on the Diyaleh. The 7th Division therefore bridged the river lower down, and after two days of battle in a sandstorm, blind with thirst—for the men had one water-bottle only for the two days—captured Baghdad railway-station, and threw pickets across the river into Baghdad town. This was on March 11. The 13th and 14th Divisions then crossed the Diyaleh, and were in Baghdad almost as soon as any one from the 7th Division. The 7th and 3rd Indian Divisions passed by Baghdad on opposite sides, as they had passed by Kut, and engaged the enemy's rearguards at Mushaidiyeh and in the Jebel Hamrin. They then concentrated again towards Baghdad.

This book deals first with the April campaign as it affected the right bank of the Tigris. Between Baghdad and Samarra was a stretch of eighty miles of railroad, the only completed portion, south of Mosul, of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. If we could capture this the Turk would have to supply his troops from Mosul by the treacherous and shallow Tigris. The Samarra fighting, these railhead battles, was the last organized campaign which the Turk fought. Our First Corps, consisting of two Indian divisions, the 3rd and the 7th, operated against railhead; while the Third Corps, consisting of the 13th Division, the only all-British division in Mesopotamia, and the 14th Indian Division, fought their way up the left bank.

After Samarra fell the Turk could do nothing but collect small bodies of troops, which we attacked in detail, usually with success, and throughout 1918, after Tekrit, always attacked with complete success (as we did at Ramadie in September, 1917, destroying the whole force). Ramadie, on the Euphrates, and Tekrit, on the Tigris, were the first of the campaigns of this last phase of the Mesopotamian War, campaigns that were glorified raids. At the time of Tekrit, General Allenby settled for the Turk, once for all, the choice between Palestine and Mesopotamia.

Our Tekrit campaign was a sympathetic attack, concurrent with Allenby's great Gaza offensive. This campaign is the theme of the second portion of this book.



I

BELED

Red of gladiolus glimmering through the wheat— Red flower of Valour springing at our feet!

Dark-flowered hyacinth mingling with the red— Dark flower of Patience on the way we tread!

Scarlet of poppy waving o'er the grass— Honour's bright flags along the road we pass!

Thorns that torment, and grassy spikes that fret, Thistles that all the fiery way beset!

These shall be theirs, when Duty's day is sped; They shall lie down, the living and the dead.

1. THE WAY TO BELED

Baghdad fell on March 11, 1917. The soldier's joy was deepened by the belief that here his warfare was accomplished, his marching finished. Even when we went by the city, and fought battles on either bank, the 7th Indian Division at Mushaidiyeh (March 14) and the 3rd Indian, most disastrously, in the foothills of the Jebel Hamrin (March 25), this comfort was not destroyed. These two hard actions were but the sweeping away of ants' nests from before a house; our position now secured, we should fall back, and rest in Baghdad. The Turk might try to turn us out; but that was a very different affair, and it would be months before he could even dream of an offensive.

So in April the 7th Division had withdrawn to Baghdad, all except the 28th Brigade, who were at Babi, a dozen miles up-stream. At Babi it was not yet desert—there was grass and wheat; but the garden-belt and trees had finished.

On the 3rd came official news that Tennant, of the R.F.C., had landed among the Cossacks, and been tumultuously welcomed; presently we heard that the Russians and ourselves had joined hands. This was towards the Persian border, on the left bank of the Tigris, where the 13th and 14th Divisions were operating. That force and ours, the 7th, were now to advance together on Samarra; a new campaign was beginning, in which we took the right bank.

A Mobile Column was formed, under Brigadier-General Davies, as the spearhead of the 7th Division's thrust. It consisted of the 28th Infantry Brigade (2nd Leicestershires, 51st and 53rd Sikhs, 56th Rifles, and 136th Machine-Gun Company), the 9th Brigade, R.F.A. (less one battery), one section of the 524th Battery, R.F.A., a Light-Armoured Motor-Battery, the 32nd Lancers (less two squadrons), and a half-company of Sappers and Miners; an ammunition column and ambulances.

Fritz—the enemy's airman—inspected us before we started. Then the Leicestershires, by twelve and eight miles, marched in two days to a point opposite Sindiyeh, on the Tigris. The Indian battalions cut across country to Sumaikchah, which lies inland.

That day and night by Sindiyeh! 'Infandum jubes renovare dolorem.' The day was one of burning discomfort, spent in cracks and nullas, under blanket bivouacs. We had tramped, from dawn, through eight miles of 'chivvy-dusters,' and our camp was now among them. These are a grass which crams the clothes and feet with maddening needles; once in they seemed there 'for duration.' The soldier out East knows them for his worst foe on a march. Lest we should be obsessed with these, we were infested with sandflies and mosquitoes. But large black ants were the principal line in vermin. At dinner they swarmed over us. Man after man dropped his plate and leapt into a dervish-dance, frenziedly slapping his nose and ears. We tried to eat standing; even so, we were festooned. Little Westlake, the 'Cherub,' abandoned all hope of nourishment, and crept wretchedly into a clothes-pile. There was no sleep that night.

The river ran beneath lofty bluffs; on the left bank was a far-stretching view of low, rich country, with palms and canals. Fritz visited us, and a monitor favoured us with some comically bad shooting. And after sundown came a moon, benignant, calm, in a cloudless heaven, looking down on men miserable with small vexations, which haply saved them from facing too much the deeper griefs which accompanied them.

Next morning, Good Friday, we joined the rest of the column at Sumaikchah. The Cherub with his scouts went ahead to find a road. All the field was jumping with grasshoppers, on which storks were feeding. Scattered bushes looked in the mirage like enemy patrols. We were escorted by Fritz, whose kindly interest in our movements never flagged. We started late, at 6.50 a.m., and without breakfast, the distance being under-estimated. A zigzagging course made the journey into over ten miles, in dreadful heat; we were marching till past noon. When Sumaikchah came in sight, men fell out, exhausted, in bunches and groups.



Though we were unmolested, the countryside was full of eyes. Shortly afterwards an artillery officer, bringing up remounts, sent a Scots sergeant ahead to Sumaikchah, with a strong escort, to bring back rations. The party was fired on by Buddus. The sergeant's report attained some fame; deservedly, so I give it here:

'We were fired on, sirrr.'

'Did you fire back?'

'No, sirrr. I thocht it would have enrrraged them. But I'd have ye know, sirrr, that it's hairrrdly safe to be aboot.'

We came, says Xenophon, to 'a large and thickly populated city named Sittake.' His troops encamped 'near a large and beautiful park, which was thick with all sorts of trees, at a distance of fifteen stades from the river.'[1] This description still holds true of Sumaikchah. The ancient irrigation channels are dry, and the town has shrunken; but it remains a large garden-village. Here were melons and oranges, fowls and turkeys, exorbitantly priced, of course; possibly Xenophon's troops got their goods more cheaply in the year 399 B.C.

Sumaikchah is an oasis with eighty wells. The water was full of salts. It was bad as water; it was execrable as tea. Many of the wells on the Baghdad-Samarra Railway have these natural salts. Every one who left Sumaikchah next morning was suffering from diarrhoea. Here again one remembers the Anabasis and the troublesome experience which the notes I read at school ascribed to poisonous honey gathered from the flowers of rhododendron ponticum.

Our brief stay here was unlike anything we had known, except in our racing glimpse of the flowery approaches to Kut. The village had palms and rose bushes. A coarse hyacinth, found already at Mushaidiyeh, now seeding, grew along the railway and in the wheat. We camped amid green corn; round us were storksbills, very many, and a white orchis, slight and easily hidden, the same orchis that I found afterwards in Palestine and in the Hollow Vale of Syria. A small poppy and a bright thistle set their flares of crimson and gold in the green; sowthistle and myosote freaked it with blue; a tall gladiolus, also to be found later by the Aujeh and on Carmel, made pink clusters. Thus did flowers overlay the fretting spikes of our road, and adorn and hide 'the coming bulk of Death.'

Through Saturday we rested. Fritz came, of course; and there was a little harmless sniping.

The knowledge filtered in that fighting was again at hand. It was accepted without comment, with the soldier's well-known fatalism, the child of faith and despair. 'Every man thinks,' said one to me, 'I don't care who he is. But we believe it's all right till our number's up. Take M——, for instance. When he was left out at Sannaiyat we all envied him; we thought we were for it. But we went through Sannaiyat; and M—— was the first of us to be killed at Mushaidiyeh, his very first action, where we had hardly any casualties.'

In the evening the rest of the division came up to take our place. Sunday, by old prescription, was the 7th Division's battle-day; next Sunday being Easter, it was not to be supposed that so fair an occasion would be passed over. Accordingly, when I put in my services, I was told that the brigade would march before dawn, and that some scrapping was anticipated. The Turks were holding Beled Station, half a dozen miles away in a straight line. Their main force was at Harbe, four miles farther. The maps were no use, and distances had to be guessed. 'The force against us,' observed the Brigade-Major, 'is somewhere between a hundred Turks and two guns, and four thousand Turks and thirty-two guns.' 'And if it's the four thousand and thirty-two guns?' 'Then we shall sit tight, and scream for help,' he answered delightedly.

2. THE ACTION FOR BELED

Davies's Column were away before breakfast. In the dim light we moved through wet fields of some kind of globe-seeded plant, abundantly variegated with gladiolus and hyacinth. Every one was suffering from our course of Sumaikchah waters, and progress was slow. Splashing through the marshes, we came to undulating upland, long, steady slopes, pebble-strewn and with pockets of grass and poppies. The morning winds made these uplands exceedingly beautiful. Colonel Knatchbull said, the week he died, that what he most remembered from Beled were the flowers through which we marched to battle. As we approached them, the ruffling wind laid its hand on the grasses, and they became emerald waves, a green spray of blades tossing and flashing in the full sunlight. As we passed, the same wind bowed them before it, and they were a shining, silken cloth. The poppies were a larger sort than those in the wheatfields, and of a very glorious crimson. In among the grasses was yellow coltsfoot; among the pebbles were sowthistle, mignonette, pink bindweed, and great patches of storksbill. Many noted the beauty of these flowers, a scene so un-Mesopotamian in its brightness. We were tasting of the joy and life of springtide in happier latitudes, a wine long praetermitted to our lips; and among us were those who would not drink of this wine again till they drank it new in their Father's Kingdom. After Beled we saw no more flowers.

With the first line was my friend Private W——. As we pushed forward he looked up, as his custom was, for a 'message.' Perchance, with so many fears and hopes stirring, there was some buzzing along the heavenly wires; but the only word he could get was this one, 'Because.' He puzzled upon it, till the whole flashed on his brain—'Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee.' Thenceforward he went his ways content; neither can any man have gathered greater pleasure from the beauty of the morning and those unwonted flowers than this Plymouth Brother, a gardener by profession, and, as I found in later days, amid the rich deep meadows of the Holy Land, a passionate lover of all wild plants.

The left flank was guarded by one section of machine-gunners and one section of the 32nd Lancers. Next to them moved the Leicestershires. Some time after 8 a.m. rifle-fire on our left told us that the Cherub's scouts were in touch with enemy patrols. About 9.30 the first shell came, our advanced guard being some five thousand yards from Beled Station.

There were frequent halts, while our few cavalry reconnoitred. Then we passed into a deep broad nulla between two ancient earth-walls. All this terrain had been a network of canals and cultivation. Shrapnel was bursting in our front. We filed out, at the left, on to a plain. Half a mile ahead was the nearer curve of a hilly ground. The main range ran in a Carpathian-like sweep across our front, from west to east; turned, and went across our front again. Beyond this was Beled Station, lying at the point of a wide fork of hills, the left prong a good mile away, but the right bending almost up to it. From the forking to the station was a broken plain of two thousand yards. This plain had to be overcome, with such assistance as the hills gave. The hills were pretty uniform in height, and nowhere above thirty feet. The railway cut directly through the main range, giving the enemy a field of fire for his machine-guns. The range, with its double fold across our front, gave the artillery cover, and enabled us to conceal the smallness of our force; and on both sides of the station it broke into a wilderness of little knobs and hollows, by which we might creep up.

The shrapnel was uncomfortably close as we crossed to the first sweep of hilly ground. But it was bursting high, and no casualties occurred. We halted behind the hills, and the artillery left their wagons, taking their guns into position where the range curved north-westerly. Here two four-gun batteries put up a slow and not heavy bombardment on the station. We waited and watched the shrapnel bursting five hundred yards to our right. About noon the Leicestershires were ordered to support the 53rd and 51st Sikhs in an attack on the station. (The 56th Rifles were in reserve throughout the action.) D Company was to move on the left of the railway as a flank-guard, and went forward under Captain Creagh.

I must now speak of Second-Lieutenant Fowke, our tallest subaltern. In place of the orthodox shade of khaki he wore a reddish-brown shooting-jacket, which shimmered like bright silk if there was any sun. Nevertheless he was the only Leicestershire subaltern who went through all our battles unwounded. Of his cheerfulness and courage, his wit, and the love with which his colleagues and his men regarded him, the reader will learn. Fowke was detached with his platoon to act on our extreme left in co-operation with our handful of Indian cavalry. The operation was an undesirable one, to advance into a maze of tiny hills, held by an enemy of unknown strength; and as Fowke moved off I remembered the Sieur de Joinville's Memoirs and a passage mentioned between us the previous day. So, as I wished him good luck, I said, 'Be of good cheer, seneschal, for we shall yet talk over this day in the ladies' bowers.' Once upon a time Fowke had read for Holy Orders, a fact which contributed not a little to the astonishment and delight with which he was regarded. He smiled gravely in answer to me, and moved on. But after the scrap he told me that he wished just then that he had continued in his first vocation and become a padre.

Behind D Company moved Charles Copeman, O.C. bombers, and a section of machine-gunners under Lieutenant Service. The rest of the machine-gunners followed up along the railway.

We who remained crossed the ridge and advanced in artillery formation up the right side of the railway. The Sikhs slipped away into the hills to our right.

Readers of Quentin Durward will remember the two hangmen of Louis XI, the one tall, lean, and solemn; the other short, fat, and jolly. Wilson, the Leicestershires' doctor, had two most excellent assistants who occupied much the same positions. But Sergeant Whitehead, who was short, went his sombre way with a gravity that never weakened into a smile; while Dobson, an ex-miner, aged forty-seven, who had deceived the recruiting people most shamelessly and enlisted as under thirty, took life jovially and generally humorously. He was never without his pipe. He enjoyed a large medical practice in the regiment, unofficial and unpaid, and he held strong opinions, observing frequently that he 'didn't hold with' a thing. I remember well the annoyance of Wilson's successor on hearing that Dobson 'didn't hold with' inoculation, which just then was occupying most of the medical officer's time. Another thing that Dobson 'didn't hold with' was the modern notion that some diseases were infectious. Because of his years and medical knowledge, this kindly, never-wearied old hero was always known by the regiment as 'Mester Dobson.' I shall follow their example, and so call him henceforth.

I also was of Wilson's entourage, and went with him accordingly. Before we crossed the first ridge we picked up a man prostrate with heat-stroke; we left him under a culvert, in charge of John, Wilson's Indian orderly.

Meanwhile D Company found the hills on our left strongly held. Every slope was sown with shallow trenches, earth-scars which held six or seven Turks, and snipers caused us casualties. Lieutenant-Colonel Knatchbull, learning this, on his own initiative swung round B and C Companies across the railway to support D. Wilson now came upon his first casualty, a signaller hit in the spine. We bandaged him, and left him in a shallow nulla, sheltered from the bullets flying over. He died next day.

B and C Companies, crossing the railway, pushed up a long narrow nulla to the hills where D were engaged. Service's machine-guns put up a covering fire.

The attack had now developed along two distinct lines, and on the railway itself we had no troops. The enemy presently put down a barrage of shrapnel all the right length of the line, where he had seen our men cross, of which barrage every shell during two hours was wasted. As Wilson dropped down the embankment on our left side of the railway, we found machine-gunners sheltering in a quarry, awaiting orders. 'It's unhealthy over there,' said their O.C., Lieutenant Sanderson. 'The Turks have a machine-gun on it.' However, there was a lull as we crossed to the nulla, and only a very few bullets went by. In the nulla Wilson set up his aid-post, sticking a second flag above the railway, for the solitary company that was supporting the Sikhs' attack. Wounded began to come in, the first cases being not bad ones. 'Give you five rupees for that wound, sergeant,' said Mester Dobson. 'You can't have it for seventy-five,' said Sergeant Hayes, as he limped off in search of the ambulances, smiling happily. Perhaps nothing will stir the unborn generations to greater pity than this knowledge, that for youth in our generation wounds and bodily hurt were a luxury.

But cases soon came in of men badly hit, in much pain. With them was borne a dead man, Sergeant Lawrence, D.C.M., a quiet and much-liked man. My Plymouth Brother friend came also, and sat aside, saying he could wait, as a stretcher-case was following him. As the doctor saw to that broken body, my friend rested his wounded leg, and we had some talk. The long marches, the nights of little sleep, and the unsheltered days of heat and toil and wearied waiting for evening had tired him out. 'I want rest,' he said, 'and I think the Lord knows it, and has sent rest along.' All our men were brave and cheerful, but no more cheerful hero limped off through the bullets than my calm and gentle friend.

Wilson went out for a few minutes to see a man in the second line, hit in the groin. When he returned we had some cruelly broken cases in, and that nulla saw a deal of pain, and grew stale with the smell of blood. A fair number of bullets flew over, and there was the occasional swish of a machine-gun. Mules were killed far back in the second line, and men hit. But the nulla was safe. The misguided Turk shelled and machine-gunned the empty space beyond the railway.

Colonel Knatchbull came in and assured Wilson that the nulla was the best and most central place for the aid-post. He searched the front with his glasses. Then he said, 'Marner's dead.'

The Leicestershires' attack was held up in the hills. They asked for support, but none was available. They were told to advance as far as they could, and then hold their line till help could come. The hills were thick with excellent positions. Every fold and dip was utilized by a scattered and numerous foe, to whom the ragged ground was like a cloak of invisibility. No artillery help could be given. We could only seize the ground's advantage and make it serve as help to the attack as well as to the defence. It was here that Marner fell. C Company was sheltering in an ancient canal. Seeing a man fall, Captain Hasted called out, 'Keep your heads down.' Almost at that moment Marner looked over, having spotted a sniper who was vexing us, and fell dead at Grant-Anderson's feet. Though in falling he brushed against Hasted, the latter could not pause to see who it was; nor did he know till he cried out, a minute later, that Marner was to move round the flank of the position immediately before them. Some two hundred yards farther on Second-Lieutenant Otter was struck by a bullet which went through both left arm and body, a bad but not fatal wound. But a gracious thought came to the Turkish gunners. Seeing us without artillery support from our own guns, they put two rounds of shrapnel over, the only shells on these ridges during the fight. These burst directly on the Turkish snipers, who did not wait for the hint to be repeated, but went. The Leicestershires topped the last ridge, and were on the plain before the station. Fowke and Service remained to guard the left flank, while Hasted went forward with the bayonet to clear the hills to the left. Fowke, watching benevolently the evolutions of certain horsemen on his left, received a message from our cavalry, 'Those are Arabs on your left, and are hostile to you.'

And now it would have meant a bloody advance for A and B Companies against those trenches in the open. But the Turks, held by the Leicestershires' strong steady attack, had given insufficient attention to the movement threatening their left. The two Sikh regiments, though checked and held from time to time by rifle and machine-gun fire, used the broken ground with extraordinary skill. Their experience on the Afghan frontier had trained them for just such work as this. Rising ground was used as positions for covering fire, and every knoll and hummock became a shoulder to lift the force along. Their supporting battery had located the enemy's gun-positions, and kept down his fire. One gun-team bolted, and the crew were seen getting the gun away by hand and losing in the effort. The Sikhs rushed a low hill, which had long checked them, and its garrison of one officer and twenty-five men surrendered. This attack was led by the well-known 'Boomer' Barrett, colonel of the 51st. He slapped the nearest prisoner on the back and bellowed 'Shabash.'[2] The enemy's resistance crumbled rapidly. A breach had been made in his defence, and the Sikhs poured through. They made two thousand yards, and did a swift left-turn. The enemy on their right slipped off, but the Turks in the trenches covering the station had left things too late. The 51st drove the foe before them to the north of the station, and the 53rd rushed the station itself, capturing eight officers and a hundred and thirty-five men, with two machine-guns. This was about 3 p.m.

Wilson now left his aid-post, and we came up the line. All the way the Turk was shelling the railway, but, by that fortunate defect of observation conspicuous throughout, shelling our right exclusively, for not a shell came on the left. We passed the enemy's trenches and rifle-pits, which scarred some six or seven hundred yards of space before the station; there were rifles leaning against the walls, with bayonets fixed.

The station had excellent water, a great attraction after the filthy wells of Sumaikchah. No one heeded that the Turk was dropping shells two thousand yards our side of the station. 'He always does that. It's a sort of rearguard business. It's the ammunition he can't get away. He'll be moving his guns quickly enough when we get ours on to them.' But, as the official report afterwards observed, with just annoyance at the enemy's refusal to recognize that the action was finished: 'During the whole of the afternoon and till dusk the enemy continued to shell the captured position with surprising intensity, considering what had been heard of his shortage in gun-ammunition.' What happened, in fuller detail, was this.

Beled Station was like the gate of Heaven. With the exception of the Leicestershires, still in the field, all the great and good were gathered there. The first I saw was that genial philosopher, Captain Newitt, of the 53rd Sikhs, sitting imperturbable on a fallen wall and smoking the pipe without which he has never been seen. Not Marius amid Carthage ruins was more careless of the desolation around him. With him was Culverwell, adjutant of the same battalion. They hailed me with joyous affection, and we drank the waters and swapped the news. General Davies came up and asked, 'Have the Leicesters taken any prisoners?' I told him 'No.' He seemed disappointed; then added, 'We've taken over two hundred prisoners, including nine officers and three machine-guns. What were your casualties?' 'About twenty, sir,' I said. 'The 53rd have had thirteen men wounded,' said the Brigade-Major. 'Fifty will cover the casualties for the whole brigade. It's been a most successful action.'

Marner's loss was greatly felt. 'I hear you've lost a good officer,' said the Brigadier; and the Brigade-Major added, 'He was the brigade's great stand-by for maps and drawings. I don't know how we can replace him.'

Then for a moment we fell to jape and jesting; foolishly, for the Gods are always listening, and the Desert-Gods have long ears. 'You're last from school,' said Brigade-Major McLeod. 'You know Napier's message—"Peccavi, I have Sind." Give me a wire for Corps, "I have B-led."' '"Sanguinevi,"' I said, 'if such a verb exists. Let's call it very late Latin.'

As we spoke, the enemy shortened his range; a shell skimmed the roof, and burst at the embankment bottom, directly under two Sikhs who were cooking. It hurled one man into the air and the other to one side. A great dust went up. Before most people realized what had happened, Wilson and Stones were carrying the men up the bank. This was an extremely brave deed, for a second shell was certain, and, as a matter of fact, a second and a third came just as they had reached our wall. Stones, like many medical officers, was a missionary; he had come from West Africa. He had one of the noblest faces I ever saw; a very gentle and courteous man, fearless and with eager eyes. He served with the 56th Rifles.

One of the stricken men was a mass of bleeding ribbons, the top of his head blown off. A cloth was drawn over his face; he was dead. The other had his left leg torn off below the knee, his right heel blown away, and wounds in his head and stomach. He died that evening. Now he lay with scarcely a moan, while Sikhs gathered round and gave such consolation as was possible, an austere, brave group.



The Turkish gunners now concentrated on the station and its approaches. Our cavalry rode through the Leicestershires' lines as those warriors moved up to an advanced line of defence. They brought a wounded prisoner. The enemy instantly shrapnelled them, and they scattered, the prisoner, for all his broken leg, keeping his seat excellently and riding surprisingly fast. Luck had been with the battalion this day, and it now remained with them. Many had rifles hit. Fowke, who was a magnet for bullets, had his right shoulder's star flattened. But there were no casualties. The enemy, growing vindictive, chased small bodies of even three or four with shrapnel. He continued to pelt the station, throwing at least two hundred rounds on it in two hours. Mules and horses were hit, and many men. Isolated men, holding horses in the open, had a bad time. Several shells landed on the roof, and had there been against us the huge guns of other fronts the station would have gone up in dust. When I saw it again, a month later, I realized what a rough house that tiny spot had experienced. Unexploded shells were still in the walls, and on the inner wall of the side that had sheltered me I counted over twenty direct hits. Fortunately the 5.9's were not in action this day, and every station on the Baghdad-Samarra line has been built as a fortress, massively. By incredible luck no shell came through the doorless openings and rooms behind us; they struck the inner wall and roof. But the water-station behind us gave very poor shelter to the men there. Shells burst on the railway, and sent a sheet of smoke and rubble before them. Two of our guns came up to the hills that had covered the Sikhs' advance, but fired very few shells, failing to find a target. The enemy saw their flashes, and fired back without effect. Then Fritz came and hovered above our huddled crowd with low, deliberate circles. We took it for granted he would bomb us, or, at kindest, spot for his guns. But he just hung over us, and then went to look for our batteries.

Before this McLeod offered me a cup of tea. We drank it in a tin shed a few yards south of the station. I wanted the tea horribly, but felt it was 'hairrdly safe to be aboot.' This feeling was shared, for when the staff-captain and signalling-officer joined us, the latter asked, 'Isn't this spot a bit unhealthy, sir?' 'Oh, no,' said McLeod. 'It's quite safe from splinters, and it's no use bothering about a direct hit.' As I had seen high explosive burst pretty well all round, and both windows were smashed of every inch of glass, I could not quite share this confidence that the hut was splinter-proof. But I required that tea. It was very good tea. Had it been shaving water, it would have gone cold at once. But being tea which I wished to drink quickly, it remained at boiling-point and declined to be mollified with milk. However, no more H.E.[3] came our way, only shrapnel.

McLeod said we had had at least two thousand Turks against us and at least twelve guns. During the action the enemy reinforced the position from his main one at Harbe. He must have had other casualties in addition to our prisoners. Our left wing, when they occupied the hills, saw four or five hundred Turks 'skirr away' in one body, and the machine-gunners found a target. Raiding-parties of Arabs hung on our flanks throughout the day, and increased the force against us, at any rate numerically.

The day had been cloudy and comparatively cool, and an exquisite evening crowned it. With dusk I left the station, where wounded Turks were groaning and shells bursting, and sought the hills. The shrapnel was dying down, and, once off the plain, all was quiet. The scene here was one of great loveliness. The Dujail, a narrow canal from the Tigris, ran swiftly with water of delightful coldness and sweetness. The canal was fringed with flowers, poppies, marguerites, and campions; the innumerable folds and hollows were emerald-green. C Company were holding the extreme left of our picket-line. Here I found Hasted, Hall, Fisher, and Charles Copeman. We held a dry, very deep irrigation-canal, running at right angles to the Dujail. There were no shells, and we could listen composedly to the last of the shrapnel away on the right. The full moon presently flooded the hills with enchantment. But our night was broken by Arab raids. Twice these robbers of the dead and wounded tried to rush us. The first party probably escaped in the bushes, but the second suffered casualties. In the evening Arabs had raided our aid-post, wounding the attendant, who escaped with difficulty. Fortunately there was none but dead there; these they stripped, cutting off one man's finger for the ring on it. All night long they prowled the battlefield and dug up our buried dead. For which, retribution came next day.

Fisher and I scraped a hole in our canal, and tried to sleep. But a cold wind sneaked about the nulla, and the hours dragged past with extreme discomfort. No one had blanket or overcoat, and most were in shorts. At dawn we had ten minutes' notice to rejoin the rest of the regiment behind the station. In that ten minutes I had opportunity to admire the soldier-man's resourcefulness. One of the picket, thrusting his hand deep into one of the countless holes in our canal-wall, found two tiny eggs. Raising fat in some fashion—probably a candle-end—he had fried eggs for breakfast before we moved. The eggs were presumed to be grouse-eggs. More likely they were bee-eater's, or may have been snake's or lizard's. These canals are haunted by huge monitors, and there must be tortoises in the Dujail. However, eggs were found, and eggs were eaten.

On picket the men's talk was interesting to hear. They were regardless of the discomfort they had known so long; and when his turn came to watch, every man was eager to lend his waterproof sheet to Fisher and me, who had only our thin khaki. Marner's death had gone deep. 'I hear Mr. Marner's dead,' said a voice. 'I'm sorry to hear that,' said another; 'he was a nice feller.' 'He was a good feller an' a',' said a third. 'He was more like a brother to me than an officer,' his platoon-sergeant told me. These were brief tributes to an able and conscientious man, but they sufficed. At Sumaikchah our bivvies had been side by side, where the green was most glowing, and we had rejoiced together in that light and colour.

Beled Station was a small action, scarcely bigger than those dignified in the Boer War with the name of battles. Our casualties were little over a hundred for the whole day, and more than half of these were incurred in the station itself. The Leicestershires lost twenty, three killed among them; several of the wounded died later. But the action attained considerable fame locally as a model of a successful little battle. Our losses were miraculously slight. But for the very great skill with which the two separate attacks were organized, and the constant alertness which exploited every one of the ground's endless irregularities, our losses must have been many times heavier. The advance was conducted with caution and the utmost economy of life; but the moment a breach was effected or an opportunity offered, then there was a lightning blow and a swift push forward. Thus the enemy in the station were trapped before they realized that their retreat was threatened. The careless trooping together at the station was the one regrettable thing, and it cost us dear. The water of Beled Station was like the water brought to David from Bethlehem.

For the action itself, a small force advanced steadily throughout the day, with unreliable maps, over ten miles of broken country, which was admirably furnished with posts of defence, which posts they seized and turned into advantages for attack. They captured a strong position and over two hundred prisoners, three machine-guns, and some hundreds of rifles with less than half the casualties their numerically superior foe sustained. Since a small battle is an epitome of a large one, and far easier to see in detail, even this lengthy account may have justification. The Army Commander's opinion was shown not alone by his congratulatory message, but by the immediate honours awarded. To the Leicestershires fell one Military Cross[4] and four Military Medals, one of the latter going to Sergeant Batten, Marner's platoon-sergeant. The water-tank leans against the station no longer, and they have repaired the crumbled walls. But the cracks and fissures in the great fort lift eloquent witness to the way both armies desired it, and the quiet, beautiful hills carry their scars also.

The rushing brook, the silken grass and pride Of poppies burning red where Marner died, Unchanged! and in the station still, as then, The water that was bought with blood of men.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Anabasis, Book ii., H.G. Dakyns' translation. The identification of Sumaikchah and Sittake is due to Major Kenneth Mason, R.E., M.C.

[2] 'Well done' (Hindustani).

[3] High explosive.

[4] Westlake's. See next chapter.



II

HARBE

Behold, as may unworthiness define, A little touch of Harry in the night.

King Henry V.

If I thought Hell was worse than Mesopotamia, I'd be a good man.—Sayings of Fowke.

Next morning was one of leisure. The 19th Brigade took up our line, and we bivouacked before the station. We fed and washed and slept. The enemy put a few shells on to the 19th Brigade, doing no damage, and when that Brigade pushed on to Harbe he fell back on his strong lines at Istabulat, another four miles. The 19th Brigade, with only one or two men wounded, seized Harbe and twenty-four railway-trucks, which were of great assistance presently, when the mules drew them along the track with ammunition for the assault on Istabulat.

In the afternoon the 28th Brigade followed to Harbe. The heat was considerable, but the journey was short. Beyond the river plunging shells told us that our troops were pushing up both banks of the Tigris simultaneously.

The 21st Brigade took over Beled. With them remained the Cherub, wielding for one day the flaming sword of retribution. Arabs had desecrated our graves as they always did, and had stripped our dead. The Cherub put the bodies back and dug several dummy graves. In these last he put Mills bombs; removing the pin, he held each bomb down as the earth was delicately piled over. The deed called for great nerve; he could feel the bomb quick to jump under his finger's pressure. Arabs watched impudently, sniping his party from a few hundred yards away. Neither did they let him get more than a quarter of a mile away, when he had finished, before they flocked down. The Cherub made his way to the station, and watched, as a boy watches a bird-trap. The Arabs fell to scooping out the soil badger-fashion with their hands. There was an explosion, and the earth shot up in a fountain of clods. The robbers ran, but returned immediately and carried off two of their number, casualties. Then they remained to dig. Colonel Leslie, commanding the 21st Brigade, had watched from Beled Station with enthusiasm, and he now turned a machine-gun on them. The Cherub, returning to the scene of his labours, found that the Arabs had dug two feet deeper than his original grave, breaking up the stiff ground with their fingers. To these desperate people a piece of cloth seemed cheap at the cost of two dead or wounded.

From first to last nothing moved deeper anger than their constant exhumation of our dead, and murder, for robbery's sake, of the wounded or isolated. Major Harley, A.P.M. of Baghdad in later days, learnt to admire the ability of the Arabs, whose brief Golden Age, when Abbasids ruled, so far outshone contemporary Europe. When he pressed them on their ghoul-like ways, they replied, 'You British are so foolish. You bury the dead with the clothes. The dead do not need clothes, and we do.' The logic of this does not carry far. To them, as Mussulmans, graves were sacrosanct to a unique degree; a suspicion of disrespect on our part would rouse the whole of Islam to flaming wrath. They were criminals, by their own ethos, when they desecrated our dead. Moreover, they murdered whenever they could, in the cruellest and beastliest fashion. The marvel is, our actions of reprisal were so rare. Apart from this of the Cherub's, only two came within my personal knowledge. Of these two cases, one I and nearly the whole division considered savage and unjustifiable, which was also the official view. It was the act of a very young subaltern, mistakenly interpreting an order. In the other case an Arab was caught red-handed, lurking in a ditch on our line of march, with one of their loaded knobkerries for any straggler. I do not know what happened, but have no doubt that he was shot.

It cannot be said that they acted for patriotic motives, as the Spanish guerrillas against Napoleon's troops. I remember an article[5] by Sir William Willcocks dealing with his experiences before the war, in which he tells how he and a friend went ashore from a steamer on the Tigris. An Arab calmly dropped on one knee and took aim at the Englishmen, as if the latter were gazelles or partridges. He missed, and they followed him into his village, where they asked him why he had fired. The man answered that he did it in self-defence, for the others had fired first. 'That,' said the Englishmen, 'is impossible, for you see we are unarmed.' Hearing this, the village rushed on them and robbed them of their valuables. Yet one of them was an official high in Government service.

The other side of the shield, as it affected Brother Buddu, was shown next day at Harbe. At dawn three men and four women were found in the middle of the 19th Brigade's camp, outside General Peebles' tent, wailing. The women said their husbands had been bayoneted and mutilated by Turks a fortnight before, and buried here. This story proved true. The women dug up and bore off the decomposing fragments for decent burial.

The Buddu was an alien in his own land, loathed and oppressed by the Turk. In his turn he robbed and slew as chance offered. He pursued the chase for the pelt, and went after human life as our more civilized race go after buck.

About this time the Bishop of Nagpur was on his second visit from India. His see was usually mispronounced as Nankipoo. He was following us up to consecrate the graves of our battlefields. Great delight was given by the thought that Westlake's still unexploded bombs would receive consecration also for any retributive work that awaited them. And we brooded over the suggestion that the good Bishop might find, even in Mesopotamia, Elijah's way to heaven, fiery-chariot-wise.

Our new camp was amid mounds and ruins. We found green coins, pottery fragments, and shells with very lovely mother-of-pearl. The Dujail ran near by, and made a green streak through an arid waste. The whole landscape seemed one dust-heap, sand and rubbish. But by the brook were poppies, marguerites, delicate pink campions, wheat and barley growing as weeds of former cultivation, and thickets of blue-flowered liquorice. There were many thorns, especially a squat shrub with white papery globes. A large and particularly fleshy broom-rape, recently flowering, festered unpleasantly everywhere.

April was well on, and the sun gained power daily. The camp had a thousand discomforts. We lay under bivvies formed of a blanket, supported on a rifle and held down uncertainly by stones. Blinding dust-storms careered over the desert. These djinns, with their whirling sand-robes, would swoop down and whisk the poor shelters away. If the courts above take note of blasphemy under such provocation, the Recording Angel's office was hard worked these days. One would be reading a letter, already wretched enough with heat and flies, and suddenly you would be fighting for breath and sight in a maelstrom of dirt, indescribably filthy dirt, whilst your papers flew up twenty feet and your rifle hit you cruelly over the head. As a Marian martyr observed to an enthusiast who thrust a blazing furze-bush into his face, 'Friend, have I not harm enough? What need of that?' One storm at Harbe blew all night, having made day intolerable and meals out of the question. As Fowke curled himself miserably under his blanket for the night, I heard him deliver himself of the opinion quoted at the head of this chapter.

Flies may be taken for granted. They swarm in these vile relics of old habitation. Moreover, there had been a Turkish camp at hand. But snakes and scorpions were found also almost hourly. The snakes were small asps; the scorpions were small also, but sufficiently painful. My batman was consumed with curiosity as to what a scorpion was like; he had 'heard tell of them' in Gallipoli. The listening Gods took account of his desire, and he was mildly stung the day we left.

We spent the best part of a fortnight at Harbe. Morning and evening were enlivened by regular hates. So we had to dig trenches. But there were more memorable happenings at Harbe than the discomforts. Hebden returned with stores of sorts from Baghdad. Two new subalterns, Sowter and Keely, came. On Tuesday Hall's M.C. for Sannaiyat was announced. We celebrated this with grateful hymn far into night. Thursday brought the Cherub's M.C., another very popular honour, and we sang again, and the mules from their mess sang a chorus back, as before.

When as at dusk our Mess carouse, With catches strong and brave, The mules their tuneful hearts arouse, And answer stave for stave. 'Dumb nature' breaks in festive noise, Remembering in this East The mystic bond which knits the joys Of righteous man and beast.

Then pass the flowing bowl about— Our stores have come to-day— And let the youngest captain shout, And let the asses bray. The thorny trudge awhile forget, And foeman's waiting host! To-morrow bomb and bayonet— To-night we keep the toast!

These light-hearted evenings seemed, even then, sacramental. We were waiting while the Third Corps and the cavalry cleared the other bank of the Tigris, level with us. On the 19th the river was bridged at Sinijah, which made close touch between the two corps possible and passage of men and guns. About the same time the cavalry captured twelve hundred and fifty Turks on the Shat-el-Adhaim. Our wait was necessary. But we knew the enemy was terribly entrenched less than six miles away, and that our sternest fight since Sannaiyat was preparing. 'This will be a full-dress affair, with the corps artillery,' I was told. Some of my comrades were under twenty; others, like Fowke and Grant-Anderson, were men of ripe age and experience in many lands. But all had aged in spirit. Hall, though his years were only nineteen, had grown since Sannaiyat into a man, responsibility touching his old gaiety with power. So we waited on this beach of conflict.

One evening stands out by its beauty and unconscious greatness. It happened thus. Remember how young many were, and it is small wonder if depression came at times. After the trying trench warfare before Kut had come the rush to Baghdad, a period of strain and tremendous effort. We had been fighting and marching continuously for many weeks, with every discomfort and over a cursed monotonous plain, without even the palliation of fairly regular mails. When men have been 'going over the top' repeatedly, emerging always with comrades gone, the nerves give way. We longed to be at that Istabulat position. Yet here we had to wait while Cailley's Column fought level with us, and day by day those sullen lines were strengthening. We had barely six thousand men to throw at them. So one night talk became discontented, and some one wished some reinforcement could be with us from the immense armies which our papers bragged were being trained at home. Then another—G.A. or Fowke—replied:

Oh that we now had here But one ten thousand of those men in England That do no work to-day!

Swiftly that immortal scene, of the English spirit facing great odds invincibly, followed, passage racing after passage.

God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more!

It was an electric spark. I never heard poetry, or literature at all, mentioned save this once. But all were eager and speaking, for all had read Henry V. When the lines were reached,

Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart,

laughter cleansed every spirit present of fear, and the shadow of fear, misgiving. Nothing less grimly humorous than the notion of such an offer being made now, or of the alleged consequences of such an offer, in the instant streaming away of all His Majesty's Forces in Mesopotamia, could have made so complete a purgation. Comedy took upon herself the office of Tragedy. When voices could rise above the laughter, they went on:

His passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse.

'Movement-orders down the line and ration-indents,' was the emendation.

We would not die in that man's company That fears his fellowship to die with us.

And Fowke's voice towered to an ecstasy of sarcasm as he assured his unbelieving hearers that

Gentlemen in England, now abed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.

As a Turkish attack was considered possible, every morning we stood-to for that 'witching hour,' immediately before dawn, which is usually selected for 'hopping the parapet.' The brigades reconnoitred, and exchanged shots with enemy pickets. Fritz came, of course. Then the 19th Brigade went on, and took up a position two miles in front behind the Median Wall, of which more hereafter. The battle preparations went busily forward.

Our camp was strewn with pebbles, an old shingle-beach, for we were on the ancient edges of the sea, before the river had built up Iraq.[6] The stones at Beled had been the first signs that we were off the alluvial plain. South of Baghdad it was reported that a reward of L100 would be paid (by whom I never heard) to the finder of any sort of stone. And now, after our long sojourn in stoneless lands, these pebbles were a temptation, and there was a deal of surreptitious chucking-about. One watched with secret glee while a smitten colleague pretended to be otherwise occupied, but nevertheless kept cunning eyes searching for the offender. I enjoyed myself best, for I lay and watched the daily parade of the troops before breakfast, and could inquire genially, 'Have you had a good stand-to?' Fowke asked the wastes in a soaring falsetto, 'Why do the heathen rage?' And he was returned question for question, with 'Why do you keep laughing at me with those big, blue eyes?' Then the camp would rock with song as we fell to shaving and, after, breakfast.

The superstitions which old experience had justified waxed strong as the days went by. When McInerney marked out a quoits-court and Charles Copeman dug a mess—these officers found their amusement in singular ways, and would have been hurt had any one attempted to usurp their self-appointed duties—and when I put in services for Sunday, the 22nd, it was recognized that we should march, and fight on the Sabbath. Not more anxiously did the legionary listen for tales of supernatural fires in the corn and of statues sweating blood than the regiments asked each other, 'Have you dug a mess yet? Has the padre put in services?' Two of us went down with colitis—possibly the Sumaikchah waters were not even yet done with—and Fowke, as they left us, profaned Royal Harry's words:

He which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart.

For all this, Shakespeare had a share in the storming of Istabulat, as will be seen; as the ghost of Bishop Adhemar, who had died at Antioch, was said to have gone before Godfrey of Boulogne's scaling-ladder when the Crusaders took Jerusalem. ('Thank God!' said they. 'He was not frustrate of his vows.')

On Friday rain came, and Charles Copeman, who had, as already indicated, a passion for digging—caught, perchance, in boyhood from his father's sexton—dug a funk-hole from the enemy shell-fire. McInerney helped him. Now this was not an ordinary funk-hole. It was a very splendid and elaborate hole, and no one was allowed to come near, lest he cause its perfection to crumble away. So, to dry ourselves after the rain, we all dug, and the Desert-Gods laughed in their bitter little minds as they saw. Among the rest, Sowter and I dug a hole, dug deeply, widely, with much laughter and joyfulness. And to us, as the afternoon wore towards evening, came the C.O., and, after watching us for a few minutes, told us that we marched in an hour.

FOOTNOTES:

[5] 'Two and a Half Years in Mesopotamia,' Blackwood's Magazine March, 1916.

[6] South Mesopotamia; north is Jezireh.



III

THE FIRST BATTLE OF ISTABULAT

These men, the steadfast among spears, dying, won for themselves a crown of glory that fadeth not away.—Greek Anthology.

In the quiet light we crossed the railway, and moved up to the Median Wall, in all a march of perhaps a mile and a half. This wall was old in Xenophon's time[7]; and along its northern side his army moved, watching, and watched by, the troops of Tissaphernes, moving parallel on the other side. He speaks of it as twenty feet in breadth and one hundred feet in height. Once it was the border between Assyria and Babylonia, and must have stretched to the Euphrates. Even now it runs from the Tigris far into the desert. It has crumbled to one-third of the height given by Xenophon. The semblance of a wall no longer, it is a mighty flank of earth, covering tiers of bricks. It effectually hid our movements as we crossed the plain before it. The Turk was shrapnelling the wall and its approaches, endeavouring to reply to some howitzers. These last we left on our right. As I happened to be the nearest officer, the major came up and asked me that the Leicestershires should move more to the left, in case any of his guns had a premature.

We fell silently into our places behind the wall. The artillery behind us were favoured with a certain amount of zizyph-scrub; but the wall furnished no cover but itself. Fowke, who at all times indulged in a great deal of gloomy prognostication, known as 'Fowke-lore,' and received with delight, but not quite implicit belief, foretold that on the morrow our cavalry—it was a point of principle with the infantry to assume that the cavalry, as well as all Higher Commands, were capable of every stupidity and of nothing but stupidity—would cut up B Company, his own, who had a certain unattractive duty assigned to them on the extreme left. He also told us that the Median Wall would be shelled to blazes, which seemed pretty probable.

The clearest figure in my memory for this hurried, stealthy evening is J.Y. Copeman, cousin of Charles. 'J.Y.'—for he never carried any graver appellation than mere initials—once a rising lawyer in Vancouver, was now our quartermaster. The gayest and most debonair figure in the division, known and popular everywhere, he was also an incredibly efficient quartermaster. Possibly the same qualities make for success in law and quartermastering. His gaiety was the mask for a most unsleeping energy and very great ability. He was once dubbed, by a person more alliterative than observant, 'a frail, flitting figure with a fly-flap.' Yet he had taken over Brodie's job, at Sannaiyat, when that experienced 'quarter' had wakened suddenly to find that an aeroplane bomb had wounded him. Within a year of this event I was privileged to be present at an argument between our D.A.D.O.S. and our D.A.D.S. & T.,[8] as to whether Copeman or Jock Reid, of the Seaforths, was the greater quartermaster. Where two such authorities failed to come to a decision, I must stand aside, especially as both J.Y. and Reid are my friends. With his ability J.Y. had an indomitable resolve, which made him refuse to go sick. He carried on through months of constant ill-health; sometimes he was borne on one of his own ration-carts, too unwell to walk or ride. He fed alone, but had a familiar, in the shape of a ridiculously clever and most selfish cat. And it is J.Y. whom I remember on this eve of Istabulat—J.Y. marshalling his carts swiftly and silently up to the wall when darkness had fallen, and J.Y. next morning scurrying them away before dawn.

A Company went on picket, B and C patrolled before our lines, D lay behind the wall. Fires were kept low. J.Y. got our blankets up to us, and we had some sleep.

Next day, the 21st, all kit was packed and on the carts by 4 a.m. Breakfast was at 3.30; hot tea and a slice of bacon. The second line fell back. Then we clung to the wall, and waited; all but Fowke. That warrior moved off to the left with part of B Company, all carrying spades. Their task was to come out of the shelter of the wall as soon as the action began, and to work their spades frantically, sending up such dust-clouds that the bemused Turk might suppose a new Army Corps advancing to attack his right, and take steps accordingly. The brown-coated figure took a sombre farewell of me, reminding us that, though his crowd were going to be cut up by our own cavalry, the rest of us would be shelled into annihilation when Johnny opened on the famous wall. 'He's bound to have the exact range, for it's such a landmark. Besides, he's got German archaeologists with him, who've dug here for years and years; they know every brick. And he's been practising on it for weeks. You saw how he had it last night when we came up.'

The two actions which it is customary to call the two Battles of Istabulat were fought in positions some miles apart. The title of Istabulat, or of Dujail River, may fitly be reserved for the first action. The action of the 22nd may then be known as that of Istabulat Mounds. The Istabulat fight was one in which my own Brigade were spectators, except for isolated and piece-meal action. We were in reserve; and the 8th Brigade, of the 3rd Division, were in support, in line with us, and behind the Median Wall. The enemy were trying a new bowler, Shefket Pasha being in command, vice Kazim Karabekir Bey, who had resigned from command of their Eighteenth Corps just before Baghdad fell. We should not have supposed that this made any difference, even had we known.

The Istabulat battle has been described in print,[9] though inadequately and, in one important respect, most unfairly. That unfairness I shall correct in the next chapter. But for this first action I do not propose to do more than give an outline of the work of the two Brigades engaged, and an account of our own part in reserve.

The enemy's position was of immense strength. Old mounds made an upraised plateau, through which the Dujail Canal ran swiftly between steep and lofty banks. The 19th and 21st Brigades attacked in converging columns, the first thrusting right in, the second coming with an arm sweep round. Thus, both frontal and flank attacks were provided. The enemy's position was so strong, his redoubts so lofty, and the whole formidable terrain had been so entrenched and wired round that I do not believe we hoped to do more than eat our way into a part of his line. The operation was magnificent bluff. His morale was calculated to be now so low that he was likely to evacuate the position if we bit deeply into it. If this view is correct, General Maude was taking a heavy risk. But he not only always made all preparation possible before he struck, but on occasion did not hesitate to strike where the odds should have been against success, but the prize of success was great, and the morale of the troops against him weakened by repeated blows. In the Jebel Hamrin his calculation failed. But at Istabulat it succeeded. But, had the Turk been as he was in Sannaiyat days, two months back, we should have had a week of dreadful fighting instead of one bloody day. Holding Istabulat heights was a force estimated at seven thousand four hundred infantry and five hundred sabres, with thirty-two guns. This force, in its perfect position, we attacked with two weak brigades.

The carts had scuttled away; J.Y. and his cat had stalked off through the dimness. We were shivering behind the wall. At 5 a.m. the bombardment opened. From five to seven we brought every gun to bear on the enemy. Istabulat, like the last of Sannaiyat's five battles, was an artillery battle, in the sense that the infantry, less strongly and splendidly supported, would have been helpless. 'I'll never say a word against the gunners again after to-day and Sannaiyat,' said a wounded Seaforths' officer to me in the evening. The field-guns were well up from the start, and the 'hows' soon advanced. When the action began, the latter were half-a-mile behind us at the wall. It was an impressive sight, the smoke rushing out with each discharge, and then swaying back with the gun's recoil. But the guns were rarely stationary long, and we soon had the unwonted experience of finding ourselves well behind our own artillery. Finally, in places our batteries were firing at almost point-blank range; the enemy was simply blasted out of his trenches.

Fowke's dust-up drew a few shells; and the Turk strengthened his right to meet this new threat. But presently Fritz came over, very low and very impudent. He reported that it was only Fowke, and sheered off with a contempt quite visible from the ground. He was so low that we fired at him with rifles, vainly; then he went, and was swooping down on the Seaforths' attack and machine-gunning it.

The 19th Brigade got their first objectives with very few casualties. But then the enemy poured a murderous fire on to them from every sort of weapon. The 21st Brigade all but accomplished their impossible task. At a critical point a terrible misfortune occurred. The 9th Bhopals—who were playfully and better known as the 9th 'Bo-Peeps'—crossed in front of a strong machine-gun position instead of outflanking it. The Turks held their fire till the regiment was close up. The latter lost two hundred men in three minutes; and a large body of Turks, who were wavering on the edge of surrender, fell back instead. The Bhopals never recovered from this disaster. The skeleton of a battalion which survived the fight was sent down the line, and its place taken by the 1st Guides from India.

Two other battalions of the 21st Brigade, the 2nd Black Watch and the 1/8th Gurkhas, crossed a plain bare of cover. They crossed at terrible cost, and scaled the all but sheer walls of the Turkish left. But it was too much; and a counter-attack swept the survivors off, and took two officers and several men prisoners. Evening found our forces held, though the whole enemy front line was ours and our teeth were fixed deeply into the position. The Black Watch had lost all four company commanders, killed.

It is not possible to convey to paper the heroism and agony of this day. Mackenzie, of the Seaforths, who won the D.S.O. two months previously at Sannaiyat for valour which in any previous war would have won the V.C., was shot dead as he was offering his water-bottle to a wounded Turk. Irvine, of the 9th Bhopals, was wounded, and lay out all day; two wounded Turks looked after him, surrendering when we ultimately came up. The Gurkhas and Bhopals took two hundred and thirty prisoners. A Black Watch private captured nine Turks and brought them in, himself supporting the last of the file, who was wounded. A machine-gunner, isolated when his comrades were killed or driven back, although wounded, worked his gun till we advanced again.

The artillery, as was inevitable from the role they filled, suffered. Major the Earl of Suffolk, commanding B/56th Battery, was killed by shrapnel through the heart. He was a popular, unassuming man. Lieutenant Stewart, of the same battery, was wounded. Colonel Cotter, commanding the 56th Brigade, R.F.A., was hit in the forehead. Lieutenant Hart's wrist was shot through. The 14th Battery had two hundred 5.9's burst round them; yet they brought up their team, one by one, and got the guns away, losing men, but no animals.

Meanwhile from the Median Wall the 'Tigers'[10] watched the fight. One could not help being reminded of the grand-stand at a football match. Sitting on the further side and below the crest, the officers watched the Indians pushing over the plain steadily through heavy shelling. We saw dreadful pounding away on our left, where 5.9's plunged and burst among the trenches the Seaforths were holding. Yet even a battle grows monotonous; so in the afternoon we went down to the trenches before the wall to rest, so far as heat and flies would permit. In that period of slackness a number of men swarmed up the wall. Instead of sitting where we had done, they sat on the crest, against the sky-line. Hitherto the shrapnel had not come nearer than a ridge four hundred yards away, which had been often and well peppered. But now came the hateful whistle, and the ridge was swept from end to end with both H.E. and shrapnel. In our trenches we were spattered with pebbles. Thorpe, next to me, got a piece of H.E. in his coat. But we escaped a direct hit. One shell passing overhead skimmed the ridge and burst on the other side, scattering Colonel Knatchbull's kit and smashing his fishing-rod. It killed a groom and wounded three other men, and wounded three horses so badly that they all had to be killed. It is always men on duty, holding horses or otherwise unable to escape, who pay for the curiosity of the idle.

Firing continued very heavy till dusk. In the evening I buried the man killed by the shell, and then went back to find the clearing-station. Part of a padre's recognized function is to cull and purvey news. And I had many friends engaged. A couple of miles back I found the 7th British Field Ambulance, to which my own chief, A.E. Knott, was attached. The sight here was far more nerve-racking than a battlefield. It was an open human shambles, with miserable men lying about, some waiting on tables to be operated on. Knott was about to help in amputating a leg. In the few words I had with him I learnt that Suffolk was killed. I think I am right when I say that he was the only man killed among our 7th Division gunners. (We had other artillery with us, and they lost heavily.) It seemed strangely mediaeval, as from the days of Agincourt or Creci, that Death, scarring so many, but forbearing to exact their uttermost, should strike down so great a name and one that is written on so many pages of our history. I knew well how many would mourn the man. I asked Knott the question of questions, 'What are our casualties?' These, one knew, must be heavy; but I was appalled by his reply, 'Sixteen hundred to one o'clock.'

I left the wretched scene and went back. Part of the way McLeod, of the Seaforths, his right arm in a sling, wandered with me, talking dazedly of the day and its fortunes. I found an officer with whom I had travelled on a river-boat not long before, when his mind held the presentiment of death in his first action. He, like McLeod, went out from Istabulat with the card, 'G.S.[11] wound, right arm.' So much for presentiment in some cases. A different case occurred next day.

I found my mess sitting down to dinner. 'Montag' Warren, our P.M.C., had excellently acquired dates and white mulberries, which last made a stew, poorly tasting, but a change from long monotony. A clamour greeted me. 'Where've you been, padre? What's the news?' I told them we had got on well. Then some one asked, 'But what did you hear about our casualties?' Minds were tense, for every one knew that next day our brigade must take up the attack, and for a whole day we had seen Hell in full eruption on our right. I told them other things I had learnt—told them anything that might brush aside the awkward question. But they demanded to know. Neither do I see how I could have avoided telling. So at last I said, 'Well, what I was told was sixteen hundred.'

Silence fell. To some, sixteen hundred may seem a butcher's bill so trifling that brave men—and these were men superlatively brave, officers of the 17th Foot, and some of them had seen more pitched battles than years, had known Ypres and Loos and Neuve Chapelle, Gallipoli and Sheikh Saad—would not concede it a momentary blanching of the cheek. But these sixteen hundred casualties were out of barely four thousand men engaged, including gunners. In that minute each man communed with his own spirit,

Voyaging through strange fields of thought alone.

The reader will be weary of Henry V. Nevertheless Shakespeare came to the aid of us, his countrymen, again as gallant old Fowke quoted from the heart and brain of England:

He which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart.... We would not die in that man's company, That fears his fellowship to die with us.

So laughter ended a terrible day. Next day our tiny band was the spearhead of a handful of fifteen hundred bayonets, who caught the Turk in his fastnesses, wrested guns and prisoners from him, and slew and broke his forces so that they recoiled for thirty miles.

There was no rest. Through the darkness J.Y. flitted to and fro, and here and there a spectral blaze flickered furtively. We had neither blankets nor greatcoats, for fear of shell-fire made it impossible to bring the carts up. The night was infernal with cold; sand-flies rose in myriads from the ground; we shivered and itched in our shorts. Old aches and pains found me out, rheumatism and troubles of a tropical climate. I lay between two men, both of whom had seen their last sunset; one was Sergeant-Major Whatsize. Infinitely far off seemed peace and the time, as Grant-Anderson expressed it,

When the Gurkhas cease from gurkhing, and the Sikhs are sick no more.

At midnight came a roar, then a crashing. It was Johnny blowing up Istabulat Station. At three o'clock we were aroused.

FOOTNOTES:

[7] Anabasis, Book ii.

[8] The Divisional Heads of Ordnance and Supply and Transport.

[9] 'The Battle that Won Samarrah,' by Brigadier-General A.G. Wauchope, C.M.G., D.S.O.; Blackwood's, April, 1918.

[10] The Leicestershires' badge is a tiger, commemorating service in India a century ago.

[11] Gun-shot.



IV

THE BATTLE FOR SAMARRA

Salute the sacred dead, Who went and who return not.

J.R. LOWELL.

Day was welcome, for it brought movement, though movement harassed by cold and then by heat and ever-increasing clouds of flies. We snatched our mugs of tea, our bread and bacon. At 3.30 we moved off. We marched behind the wall, then crossed the Dujail, and pushed towards the left flank of the enemy's position. Vast clouds of white dust shut us close from any knowledge as we climbed up a narrow pass. Fortunately the light was hardly even dim yet.

We dropped into a plain, and saw the Hero's Way by which the others had gone. Dead Gurkhas and Highlanders lay everywhere. I have always felt that the sight of a dead Highlander touches even deeper springs of pathos than the sight of any other corpse. Analysed, the feeling comes to this, I think: in his kilt he seems so obviously a peasant, lying murdered on the breast of the Universal Mother.

So we marvelled as we saw the way and the way's price—marvelled that any could have survived to that stiff, towering redoubt, with its moat of trenches and the trenches ringing its sides; and marvelled most of all that any should have scaled its top, though for a moment only. These trenches held abundant dead, Turks and our own. On the reverse slope I came on rows of the enemy, huddled on their knees, their hands lifted to shield their heads from the shrapnel which had killed them. Below ran Dujail in its steep ditch; inland the plateau rose, against which the 19th Brigade had surged.

For once the Turk's retreat had been precipitate. That master of rearguard warfare had meant to stand here, to save railhead and all its rolling-stock. His dead were more than ours; and all our way was strewn with debris. Candles and cones of sugar were in plenty, ammunition, blankets—for Johnny had not been cold, as we had—bivvies, clothes, slippers. I carried an ammunition-box a few miles, thinking it would make a good letter-case.

The enemy had gone. Before passing to tell of this new day's battle I quote, from Hasted's[12] account, a description of Istabulat lines:

The Turks intended to spend the summer there; they did not contemplate an attack before the hot weather set in. Three well-concealed lines of trenches had been prepared, on small hills and amongst deep nullas, with the water-supply of the Dujail running through the centre. Advanced redoubts and strong points made the defences formidable.

The brigade formed up about 6.30 a.m., the 53rd Sikhs coming in from picket on the extreme right. We passed the 56th Brigade, R.F.A., whose officers eagerly came with us a short distance, telling us of the previous day. We halted for breakfast.



Verbal orders came from Division. They were just 'Push on vigorously.' With it was coupled an assurance that there was nothing against us, that the enemy was fleeing, thoroughly demoralized.

We moved on. From across the Tigris guns boomed steadily. Distant glimpses of river showed shoals, islands, spaces green with cultivation. An enemy plane, reconnoitring, was shot down, and pilot and observer killed. This incident had an important influence on the battle which followed. Even at this stage of the campaign, we fought in Mesopotamia, both sides, with the most exiguous number of planes. The Turks having lost their best machine and pilot, our old friend Fritz, feared to risk another. Hence, when the mounds of the ancient city of Istabulat lay across our front, the hostile observation was from the ground in front and from our left flank only. And we were enabled to pass through a depression, whilst his fire went overhead, and so into the mounds.

We passed a 5.9 disabled by a direct hit and nearly buried. The bare country was cracked with nullas, some of them deep. Then we opened into artillery formation, and entered utter desert. In front were innumerable mounds, a dead town of long ago. We went warily, with that quiet expectation, almost the hardest of all experiences to endure, of the first shell's coming. The official message was that the enemy was incapable of serious opposition. But of this the rank and file knew nothing; had they known, old experience would have made them sceptical. Fowke's view, that all would prove to be for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds and arrangements, was the reigning philosophy. An adapted edition of Schopenhauer would have sold well in the mess (or anywhere in Mesopotamia). Novelists speak of the hero being conscious that eyes, in the forest or in his room at night (as may be), are watching, watching. This knowledge governs the feeling of 'going in artillery formation,' with the added knowledge that, though in broad sun, you cannot hope to see your foe, who is certain to spring on you, and merely waits till you are well under fire.

The bolt fell. About 9 a.m. a double report was heard; then the Cherub sent back word, 'Four enemy snipers retiring.' By 9.30 firing was heavy. The Cherub was wounded, and his two scouts killed. The enemy was invisible, and mirage made ranging impossible. The ground four hundred yards away was a fairyland that danced and glimmered. When a target was perceived, of Turks racing back, the orders for fire were changed quickly, from 'Three hundred yards' to 'fourteen hundred yards.' Very vainly. This mirage continued throughout the fight. Ahead was what we called the 'Second Median Wall,' a crumbled wall some twenty feet high, which ran across the front of the mounds. To its extreme left, our right, and in front of this wall, was the Turkish police-post of Istabulat, by which the battle was presently to be raging.

In those mounds the enemy had excellent cover. Our leading company followed the scouts, and took possession of the ruins. The 'Tigers' were arranged in four lines, according to companies, with less than three hundred yards between the lines. Dropping bullets fell fast, especially in the rear lines. About 10 a.m. two shells burst about a hundred yards in front of Wilson and myself. Then Hell opened all her mouths and spat at us. The battalion lay down and waited. Twelve-pounder 'pipsqueaks' came in abundance, with a sprinkling of heavier stuff. Many soldiers prefer the latter. You can hear a 5.9 coming, and it gives you time to collect yourself, and thus perhaps escape giving others the trouble to collect what is left of you. I remember once hearing General Peebles say that in his long experience of many wars he had known only three men absolutely devoid of fear, 'Smith and Brown and—Jones' (mentioning a notorious and most-admired fire-eating brigadier, a little man in whom bursting shells produced every symptom of intoxication except inability to get about). Then he added, 'I'm not sure about Jones.'

It is interesting to notice the different ways in which nervousness shows. I remember one man in whom was never observed the slightest emotion amid the terriblest happenings, till one day some one noticed that whenever he went forward he turned up his jacket-collar, as if to shelter from that fiery rain. Myself, I hate the beginning of conflict, and am eager to push well into it and under the shell-barrage. As there is said to be a cool core in the heart of flame, so there is a certain cool centre for the spirit where horror is radiating out to a wide circumference. In the depths one must surrender one's efforts and trust to elemental powers and agonies, but in the shallows all the calls are on the 'transitory being' whose flesh and blood are pitted against machinery. How can the nerves and trembling thought bear up? Yet they have borne up, even in men quick with sense and imagination. I felt restless as we lay on the flat desert listening to the bullets singing by or to a nosecap's leisured search for a victim, dipping and twisting to left and right till at last it thudded down. If one must lie still, then company gives a feeling of security. Fate may have, doubtless has, a special down on you, but even Fate is unlikely to blow you to bits if the act involves blowing to bits several of her more favoured sons. So I remember with amusement my vague vexation with the curiosity that always made my companion get up and stroll about when under fire, peering round. Though he went scarcely five yards, it seemed like desertion.

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