Part 8

image

The Dying of the Year

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(Tabs of rime and spurs of ice),
Stiffened all where he did glare,
Horses, men, and lice

Visited a forward post,
Left them burning, ear to foot,
Fingers stuck to biting steel,
Toes to frozen boot.

Those who watched with hoary eyes
Saw two figures gleaming there,
Hauptman Kälte, Colonel Cold,
Gaunt, in the grey air
.

Edgell Rickword

Chapter 37

image

On the western front, after a spell of fine autumn weather when the sun shone through the dying days of the Loos offensive, winter set in cold and harsh and early as the troops settled into the monotonous routine of holding the line. After a brief rest the 15th Scottish Division was back in the trenches. This time they were in front of the Hohenzollern redoubt, and it was a bleak initiation for the men of the new drafts.

Even in the best of weather it was not an inspiring spot and wrapped in the dank mist of early winter it was positively eerie. The mist hung above the low plateau of the redoubt and hung in wisps round the unlovely slag-heaps where two battered cranes still sat drunkenly askew on the flat top of Fosse 8. The leaden November skies added to the gloom and the ground between the lines bore miserable witness to the fearsome efforts that had been made to capture it. Among the battered trenches, the splintered stakes that still supported remnants of rusting wire, the dead were lying in rows, just as they had been cut down – as neatly and tidily as if some ghostly sergeant-major had drilled them in their dying as he had once drilled them on the parade-ground. There was no possibility of bringing in the bodies and as they decomposed, the smell of death and decay hung thick about the trenches.

But the dead soldiers were still doing duty of a sort for soldiers creeping close to the enemy lines on listening patrols could lie low among the dead and get away with it. It was not a job for the squeamish.

Pte. C. Stewart.

My first listening party there I’ll never forget. We were out there in No Man’s Land, crawling out among the dead boys, because the idea was that if we lay close to the dead boys you would think we were dead. We spaced ourselves out, so you would be on your own among these corpses and we had to be quiet, no noise, no speaking. After a while, if we couldn’t see or hear anything and it was time to come in, the NCO in charge would crawl round and give your foot a kick. That was the only way he could see if you was one of the Loos dead or one of his listening party. If you responded to his kick he gave you the sign to come into the trench again and if there was no response then he knew it was one of the poor boys killed at Loos.

The officer in charge of the listening party was a very fine chap. We just called him ‘Algy’, because he always wore a monocle. He was a great guy, always for his men and a real good sport when we were out of the trenches. After we got back into our own trench we found that our officer ‘Algy’ was missing and they called for volunteers to go out again into No Man’s Land to get him in. Everyone wanted to go. I wasn’t chosen for the rescue party, but the boys did get ‘Algy’ in and he was very badly wounded. We sent him down the line a bit, and maybe he got the length of the big hospital at Etaples, but I am so sorry to say he died. At least he would get a burial. There was nothing you could do for the boys lying out in front at Loos. They were a terrible sight. We used to talk about it afterwards – and even long afterwards, for the rest of war, we would say that something or somebody was ‘as quiet as the Loos dead’. It was quite an expression with us.

Trpr. W. Clarke.

It was impossible to bury them all. They lay in the trenches where they’d fallen or had been slung and earth had just been put on top of them and when the rain came it washed most of the earth away. You’d go along the trenches and you’d see a boot and puttee sticking out, or an arm or a hand, sometimes faces. Not only would you see, but you’d be walking on them, slipping and sliding. The stench was terrible because of all that rotting flesh. When you think of all the bits and pieces you saw! But if you ever had to write home about a particular mate you’d always say that he got it cleanly and quickly with a bullet and he didn’t know what had happened.

Looking over the top through the periscope we could see old Jerry’s line about fifty yards in front. So I thought, ‘Blimey, that’s within bombing range, isn’t it?’ We kept our eye on him all night – and by the way, we had no wire in front of our trenches, it was all open! – and me being the left-hand man there was no one at the side of me, so I had to traverse through a lot of trenches to make contact with the infantry on our left, and blow me if I didn’t come across the dead Welsh Fusilier again I’d come across weeks before, only there was hardly anything left of him by then. I felt responsible for him, don’t know why, so I popped him in the side of the trench again. That was the last I saw of him.

Pte. F. Bastable.

We went in the trenches ten days at a time – sometimes it was twelve days, but if you was lucky it was ten – a day marching up, three days in the front line, three days in support and three days in reserve, and in that weather you was a right mess when you got out. You’d march back to your billet and when you got back your coat was covered in mud, you couldn’t lift them hardly sometimes because they’d be dragged down in mud, and you’re in mud all the time. Then you had to get these coats cleaned and your rifle cleaned and go on parade next morning. It’s impossible, you know, to get all the mud off your coat in that time and go on parade, and I was really unlucky. I was Mess Orderly and I had other duties to do and I suppose I got my coat clean but I hadn’t cleaned my rifle. It was loaded, and I went on parade with it loaded. Of course when they inspected your rifle you had to have it properly cleaned and you had to open and shut your bolts so that they clicked all together. Well, I went to pull my bolt and it fired out this bullet! It went right past the bloke’s nose next to me – nearly hit him. Well, I got court-martialled for that. I got ten days’ number one field punishment, and it was bleeding cold and the worst time of the year.

I got tied up against this cart-wheel. I never knew they was going to do that. I never knew they done such a thing (they don’t do it now!). It was done under the Military Police and there were a few of us who’d been court-martialled (not for the same thing) and they gave us orders to go to the wagon-lines and told us to bring up the wagons and clean the wheels, because they were covered in mud. Well, the old soldiers might have known what was going to happen, but I didn’t. I thought it was just like fatigues and this was the punishment, cleaning the wheels. But it wasn’t! After we’d cleaned them they tied us one up against each wheel for a couple of hours a day, an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

I wasn’t none too keen! I wasn’t all that eager to do it. I got froze! You had to run round to get warm after that and there was a school there and we used to run round the playground to get our circulation back, because it was bleeding cold. Anyway, I done this ten days and went back up the line again. When I got back (we were in the reserve line at the time) I laid on the firestep of the trench and went off to sleep. Now sometimes if you go off to sleep in the cold you don’t wake up again. They say that sometimes they used to find men dead of a morning, just with lying in the cold. Anyway I went off to sleep and I felt myself, like, sinking, just as though I was sinking down, and I roused myself and woke up. I was covered in snow. It must have been the first snow of winter, in fact we didn’t have much more of it until January time, but when I roused myself and woke up it was all snowing. I shan’t forget that. I shall always remember that. It was bleeding awful.

Snow before Christmas was unusual, but the bone-chilling night frosts that descended on the trenches were bad enough. Years later they said it was the worst winter of the war – but it was the first winter in memory in which tens of thousands of men had been forced to live exposed to the elements with only holes in the ground for shelter. Women at home were so busy knitting that the clack of millions of needles might almost have been heard in France, but they were knitting socks and there was hardly a parcel that did not contain at least one pair. Now, at the urgent request of battalions in France, there were published appeals for other garments – mufflers, mittens, wrist-warmers, woollen helmets, knitted waist-coats, and yet more mufflers. Many months ago someone in the Quarter-master-General’s department had the wit to look ahead to winter and about this time the troops were issued with fur jerkins. They looked extremely odd for they were made from a variety of furs – goatskin, sheepskin, the skins of shaggy ponies and even of piebald cows. They were imported mainly from South America and, since some of the skins had been badly cured, they did not always smell particularly sweet. Wearing these bulky garments fur side out over khaki tunics, with equipment strapped and belted round them, the Tommies closely resembled an army of brigands, but the jerkins were a lifesaver and a bulwark against the Flanders chill.

When the gnawing cold abated, it turned to rain, and in the Ypres salient it rained in torrents. Company Quartermaster-Sergeant Scott McFie was enduring his second winter in the salient and, as he graphically described in a letter to his brother, it was no more pleasant than the first.

My dear Jimmy,

I had a little break in the monotony of life on Sunday night. I still live with the stores in my tents by the side of the farm pond, but the men have been moved about almost every day lately. On Sunday they were at the point of the salient, between the much-contested place where we made our charge and the hill with the numerical name. It is always pretty lively there, the place being almost surrounded by the Germans. Also it is an awfully long way off, a good ten miles at the least, and the tracks, especially the tracks across the fields, were deep in mud with the heavy and continuous traffic after a day of never-ceasing rain. So I put plenty of dubbing on my boots and made up my mind for twenty miles of bad walking in the dark. Fortunately there was a good moon or I don’t see how we could have avoided the big shell craters, now full of water and unpleasantly cold.

We reached the wood just behind the firing line where our men were, and were waiting for the fatigue parties to come and carry away the bags of rations when the Germans suddenly began an attack to regain some of the ground they lost lately. The first thing that happened was that a packhorse bolted without its leader. Then all the carts belonging to other regiments fled home at a gallop. Then a lot of soldiers came running from the direction where the attack was and rushed for positions of greater safety – but I think they were only a digging party and not fighters. All the time there was a fine display of fireworks – not only the ordinary white magnesium rocket, but green and red stars, and even clusters of various colours – signals of course – and the bursting shrapnel of high-explosive shells from both sides, an occasional small mine going off, and the rattle of the machine-guns and rifles made a most deafening noise. Everybody who could took shelter in a communication trench close to us, but as I was the senior left I had to stay with the transport. I took the responsibility of unloading all the things on the ground and sending the carts and horses back. They went off in such a hurry, and the ground was so slippery, that two horses fell and two men were slightly injured.

We do not yet know what was the result of the attack. As soon as things grew quieter we handed over the rations and did our muddy ten miles home.

It is a horrible day – pouring and blowing furiously. My ‘office’ has been trying to go up like a balloon and I have had to sit and watch for loose pegs all day. The groundsheets are covered with mud, little rivers run in at each corner, occasionally a gust of wind gets in and scatters everything. However the other tents are worse, and many have been blowing about the field like autumn leaves in a gale.

I was out last night, first to the town of Ypres with rations, and then to a village about five miles away to attend the funeral of my captain, another officer and two men who had been killed that morning by a shell when out for a walk. I fear he must have been very badly smashed for he was a tall big man and the bundle in a blanket which we buried at night was quite short. Barring the colonel, who is ill, we have no officer with us now of more than a few weeks’ standing.

Many thanks also for the big tin of milk, the chocolate, the candles (very scarce just now!) and the handkerchiefs.

Love to Helen and the boys
Your affectionate brother
R. A. Scott McFie

In the trenches there was danger, there were frequent alarms and there were many casualties but it was difficult to decide what was the worst enemy – the Germans, the weather, or sheer boredom.

Trpr. W. Clarke.

When it was quiet, it was so boring. Awake all night. Stand-to just before dawn, which meant that you got up on the fire platform, ready for old Jerry in case he would make a surprise attack, and then at dawn stand-down, hoping you’d get a mug of tea or something to eat, which as often as not we didn’t get because being so close to the German lines we couldn’t make fires to brew tea. We had to rely on the boys at the back making tea down in the deep quarry and bringing it up. It got very boring during stand-down too if nothing was doing. Funny that, you were bored if there was no danger. Well, there really wasn’t anything to do except read, that is, if you were lucky enough to have something. You could write letters if you felt like it, or sometimes you dozed.

At night there was always the fear of the unknown, the threatening shadows in No Man’s Land, the rustling of the wind, the occasional crack of a twig or some other unidentifiable sound magnified in the darkness. The small night noises heard behind nervous bursts of fire might be the movement of some animal, for the rats were busy at night, or might just be a band of enemy raiders poised to descend. The first night of a Battalion’s stint in the front-line trenches was always the worst. After days of relaxation nerves were on edge and even soldiers with no immediate duties, stretched out on the fire-step or dozing restlessly in funk-holes burrowed into the clammy wall of the trench, slept with one ear cocked in case of danger. It was marginally more comfortable for the officers, but their job was no sinecure.

Lt. R. E. Smith, 7th Bn., Royal Scots Fusiliers, 45 Brig., 15 Div.

We had three officers in the Company at the time, which meant three hours on duty and six off. Ill take the day as starting at 12 midnight, and I’ll suppose that I go on duty at 2 a.m. From 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. you have been making desperate efforts to get to sleep. You are sitting in a dug-out, which our fellows have captured. In it there are a couple of chairs, from goodness knows where, and a kind of table, and there are two compartments leading out of it. In one are the company signallers with all their telephone apparatus and the other is used by the gunners as an artillery observation station and is provided with special observation loop-holes. The whole place leaks like hell and you have to keep your oilskins on all the time, but the main things that strikes you about the place is its smell which is reminiscent of a pantry, a stable loft, a coal cellar and the hold of a ship. However there is a brazier and it is warm. All the light is from a pair of candles, stuck in bottles.

At two o’clock very punctually, the man you are to relieve comes in and kicks you out of a sort of doze, you get up, swear, and put on some extra wraps, your revolver, electric torch, gas-helmet. The other man, who is now wriggling into your late place on the floor, gives you his report which is something of this sort: ‘All quiet. We’ve got a working party repairing the parapet in Bay 6, and another pumping all along the main trench from Bay 5 to Bay 9. One sentry in Bay 4 is complaining of frostbite, but I think he’s skrimshanking. Good luck. It’s a hell of a night.’ You walk out into the trench. The air is refreshing after the dug-out, but it’s beastly cold and there’s a bit of a drizzle.

Your duties are to visit all sentries, generally inspect all work that is being done, and you are responsible for meeting any emergency until some superior person comes along. The men’s job is to do sentry and to go on working-parties, etc. As you come up to the first sentry you ask him, ‘Have you anything to report?’ You get this sort of answer: ‘Nothing much doing, sir, I can hear them working just opposite and I think they have a patrol out on the left.’ Alongside the sentry there are two figures wrapped up in waterproof sheets, sitting on the fire-step which is raised about eighteen inches off the floor of the trench. They are two reliefs for that particular bay or traverse and the three take it in turns, one hour on, two off. Poor devils, they have to sit out there all night and in all kinds of weathers.

The bottom of the trench is on an average six to eight inches deep in slushy chalk the consistency of whipped cream, and in some places it is two and even three feet deep in water. After doing the round you give a look to the working-parties. Some of this is beastly work. The sandbags get water-logged and then freeze, and the bags burst, and a mass of parapet weighing three or four tons topples right over. All the debris has to be cleared, new bags have to be filled, and the broken bit has to be built up again. This is a filthy dirty job and a most tiring one – a sandbag filled with chalk is a jolly good weight. You then give a look to the sap – a trench which runs perpendicularly from our line out towards the enemy – and here one has to be rather more careful. The sap may be going to be used for a listening post, or perhaps as the starting point of a future firing trench. Of the three men in it one is at the end and acting as a sentry, the other two with their rifles and bayonets fixed alongside them are quietly and silently working, the one picking, the other shovelling the chalk up to the side. They have to take care not to throw earth up while a star shell is burning as this would give the show away. By the time this is over, two of the three hours have passed, and you can sit down on the fire-step for ten minutes or so and smoke and talk to one of the sentries. Every now and again there is the purring of a machine-gun and the sing-sing-sing-sing as the bullets fly overhead, generally searching for the transport away back behind. One more round of the sentries completes the time, but just before five when the sky is beginning to grow grey there is suddenly a loud whizz in the air, coming yards away. Then five or six ‘pip-squeaks’ come over together, a pause and then another whizzing but this time louder and slower and a bigger bang, three or four of these and then the ‘pip-squeaks’ come on again. In a quarter of an hour it is over.

At six o’clock there is a general cry of stand-to all along the line, and everyone turns out and stands-to their post as this is the danger hour. But the feature of stand to is the issue of the rum ration. By this time it is light and you can see the men’s faces and clothes and it is really a picture. Everything – faces, hands, clothes – are the same dirty-white colour, and the chalk is lying deep over everything. They have three or four days’ growth of hair on their faces and the only things which are clean are the rifles and ammunition which at all costs must be kept clean of dirt. Of course, the poor beggars are pretty fagged out and show it.

Most battalions were low in numbers. Drafts of reinforcements were arriving in dribs and drabs and there were seldom enough to bring them up to anything like full strength and replace the casualties incurred in the daily routine of holding the line. Even in quiet periods there was an average of five thousand casualties a week. Manpower was still a headache and one of the many matters on which opinion in Government circles was divided. Unlike more militaristic nations which required every young man reaching a certain age to do military service and which could call upon huge reserves of trained men in the event of war, Great Britain had always depended on her standing army of professional soldiers and also relied on willing volunteers to augment it in time of need. Now, after fifteen months of war, with greater casualties than had ever been imagined – and, as the war spread, far wider commitments than had ever been envisaged – it was becoming evident that volunteers could not be relied on indefinitely to fill the ranks. Recruiting had slowed down, enthusiasm had waned, and it was time for drastic measures. Conscription had been under discussion for months but there were some to whom the word ‘conscription’ was anathema. True to his nickname of ‘England’s best recruiting sergeant’, it was Lord Derby who worked out and sponsored a compromise scheme.

The Derby scheme was conscription in all but name, but it retained an element of individual choice that at least paid lip-service to the ideal of a volunteer army. Every man between the ages of nineteen and forty-two was required to register – and it was estimated that there were five million of them. If he was not debarred from military service, either because he was unfit or employed on work of national importance, he then had a choice. He could either enlist immediately in the regiment of his choice, with the possibility of applying for a commission, or he could wait to be called up in his category and sent wherever the Army chose. There would be a six-week period of grace in which men could make up their minds, but the Government gave an unequivocal assurance that married men would not be called upon until all the single men were in the ranks. The call-up would start early in the New Year.

The Territorials had done more than their bit and had lost close to half their strength. Kitchener’s ‘First Hundred Thousand’ had already taken a bad knock. The second hundred thousand, and the third, were trained and ready to go, but a hundred thousand men amounted to barely seven divisions of combatants and support troops and the nation’s commitments were growing so fast that far, far more would be needed if the war was to be won. Now that the autumn battles had drawn to a disappointing close the question of whether it was to be won on the western front or elsewhere was back on the agenda. None of the dilemmas that faced the Government had yet been resolved.

It was the end of October before General Sir Charles Monro arrived to take over command of the British forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula. On instructions from Lord Kitchener his first and most pressing duty was to ‘report fully and frankly on the military situation’, to suggest any means by which the deadlock might be removed, either by attacking with sufficient force to finally trounce the Turks, or by evacuating the troops and cutting their losses. Kitchener, who was personally opposed to evacuation, urged him to submit his report as soon as it was humanly possible and Sir Charles Monro almost immediately set off on a tour of inspection. After long experience of the disciplined organisation on the western front he was astounded by the ramshackle, makeshift conditions on the peninsula, and appalled by the suffering of the troops. Every Divisional Commander he spoke to pooh-poohed the very idea of an offensive and they were unanimous in their opinion that, in their present state of health, the troops were incapable of keeping up a sustained effort for more than twenty-four hours. The Commanders believed that they could hold on to their present positions but only so long as the Turks were short of ammunition. If, as now seemed all too likely, the enemy received heavy supplies of guns and ammunition, they could hold out no promises, except that they would do their best.

At GHQ on the island of Lemnos the staff had drawn up a careful memorandum for the information of the new Commander-in-Chief. A breakthrough could be made, but not before the spring and not without the addition of a staggering four hundred thousand men. They gave it as their opinion that evacuation would be feasible, but only if it were voluntarily carried out very soon. If the Turks were to force them off the peninsula into the sea it would be a sad and costly shambles. Sir Charles Monro came down heavily on the side of immediate evacuation. There was no sane alternative. The day after he telegraphed his views to London the destroyer HMS Louis was blown ashore by strong winds and wrecked at Suvla Bay.

Everyone but Lord Kitchener was agreed that the evacuation should start without delay. He had an ally in Admiral Keyes who was pressing the merits of a new naval scheme to force the Dardanelles, and Kitchener was tempted. Evacuation would be expensive – Monro had hazarded a likely loss of 30 or 40 per cent – and in the present delicate political climate it would also be seen in the Near East as an ignominious climb-down on the part of the British Empire. ‘I absolutely refuse to sign an order for evacuation,’Kitchener telegraphed to Lemnos, ‘which I think would be the greatest disaster and would condemn a large percent age of our men to death or imprisonment.’ Lord Kitchener boldly decided to travel to Gallipoli to see for himself, and the Dardanelles Committee decided that the matter should be left in abeyance until his return.

Travelling fast overland to Marseilles and onwards by destroyer, Kitchener reached Mudros on 9 November. Next day it was blowing hard and the destroyer that carried him across the fifteen miles to the peninsula bucked and ploughed through heavy seas and the lighter that carried him to the shore spun like a cork in the whirling currents.

Once ashore, Kitchener did not take long to make up his mind. Standing with General Birdwood at a post high above Anzac he put his hand on the General’s arm and said, Thank God, Birdie, I came to see this for myself. You were quite right. I had no idea of the difficulties you were up against.’ He was as deeply impressed by the spirit of the men as he was appalled by the conditions. ‘I think you have all done wonders,’ he assured General Birdwood as they shook hands in farewell. Kitchener was now on his way to Greece to review the situation at Salonika, and it was 22 November before he cabled his long-expected report to London and the 24th before he finally set sail for England. Pending the final decision of the Cabinet he had already ordered that preliminary preparations for evacuation should begin. Two days after his departure winter roared down the peninsula and made the final crushing decision for them.

The storm struck with the force of a hurricane and it raged on for three days. The wind howled and hammered, sweeping away piers, dashing small vessels into matchwood, uprooting trees, tearing the flimsy roofs from dug-outs, lashing whirlwinds of stinging sand against the bare limbs of the miserable soldiers still clad in thin khaki drill. And then thunder began to roll, out-thundering any bombardment, lightning flashed, and the heavens opened. It poured in sheets for twenty-four hours. Dug-outs soon flooded, stores were washed away, trenches, gullies, dried-up water-courses, turned to raging torrents so deep that many men were drowned. Hundreds more died of exposure.

Spr. J. Johnston.

Our officer, Captain Newton Phillips, seeing the state of the men, said it was a case of every man for himself and God for us all. Well, I and my pal Dai Morris had previously been employed digging a dug-out for the officer in charge of explosives and cartridges and we knew this might be a good place to take over, so we made for this dug-out which was more than half full of boxes of these bombs. There was about two feet of water in the dug-out but we piled some of the boxes at one end to get above it, then we settled down to sleep. About midnight there was a short lull in the storm and another officer, Buck Adams, came round to inspect if the bombs were all right and he shone a torch into the dug-out and ordered us out of there, so we both decided that we should go down to the beach and walk along the sand which would be better than stamping around in the mud and freezing. On our way we came across a big galvanised tank that had been put up on sandbags to hold paraffin oil supplies. The storm had washed away the sandbags under the tank, the tank had then fallen down and all the oil had run out to sea. We thought the empty tank would be a grand shelter from the storm and would be dry inside and a shelter from the wind and the cold. I started to crawl inside when my head came into contact with hobnailed boots. I shouted to the man to shift up and make room for two more men, but there was no response. Then we realised something was wrong and we found that there were seven men in the tank and they’d all been suffocated with the fumes. They were all dead! We had a real fright at finding this and intended reporting it when we got to our camp. Then we made our way towards our camp and rounding a corner we saw what seemed to be a number of men sitting and sprawling in the mud. We found on getting nearer to them there were twenty-three men all frozen to death. They’d left the front-line trench after being there for thirty-six hours and were making their way to the beach to a boat which was waiting to take them out to a Red Cross boat to give them food and a night’s rest and more food supplies before they returned to the front line again, as supplies could not reach them owing to the floods. They had had a ration of rum before leaving the trench – that was all they had there – and the effects of the rum on their way down to the boat had worn off. They had slumped down where they were and had been frozen to death. You see, when the rain stopped a bitter frost set in, and men who’d been soaking wet the previous day had the clothes frozen to their bodies, and if you took off your overcoats they could be put to stand upright frozen stiff. For a couple of days after the storm died down we were on duty digging graves.

The troops were hardest hit at Suvla Bay, where there was little or no shelter. There was less flooding at Helles where the trenches were mostly on sloping ground, and in the high posts on the peaks at Anzac the Aussies with their underground dug-outs and galleries were a little better off. The trenches were virtually abandoned, but it was fortunate that the Turks were in the same plight. The temperature plunged. On the third night the wind dropped and in the wake of the hard frost it began to snow. Not many of the Anzacs had ever seen snow before.

There was an unofficial armistice in places where the soldiers of both sides had been forced out of the flooded trenches and huddled in groups in the open with no attempt at concealment and no stomach for a fight. But the guns were still firing from batteries miles behind.

Col. G. Beith.

I was in command of fifteen posts and I lost thirteen or fourteen of them in the storm. I was conferring with a sergeant and a corporal and bang, the next thing I knew I was lying in a trench with two corpses on top of me. There were eight or nine inches of icy cold water and mud in the trench and about eight inches of snow on the parapet. I managed to push the corpses off and I crawled into the dug-out. It was about eleven o’clock in the morning and I wasn’t picked up until seven o’clock at night and taken down to the Advanced Dressing Station. All they did was wipe mud off me a bit and send me off to the Casualty Clearing Station on the beach, but the barge that took the wounded out to the hospital ship had been smashed on the rocks during the storm and we had to wait for two days before they could get us off. There were hundreds of us there and it was sheer hell.

I said to a doctor, Is it possible to get a drink of water? I’m dying of thirst.’ He said, I’m afraid we haven’t got a drop.’ I said, ‘Well, does nobody think of scraping that snow off the scrub outside there and melting it?’ So he sent someone off to do that and after a while an orderly came down with about half a pint of snow water. When I saw him I said, ‘Well, well, well, so it’s you, Snodgrass!’ Now this Snodgrass was a man I’d sent down weeks before with a self-inflicted wound. I heard this shot and I rushed out and he was sitting on one of the latrines, and he said, ‘I’ve been wounded in the foot.’ Imagine that, wounded in the foot sitting on the latrine! Well, he showed me and believe it or not the boot wasn’t even undone – it was all laced up, and that fellow’s state of mind was such that he had taken off his boot, shot himself, and put his boot back on again! Well, a chap like that is no good to you at all. However, he’d obviously got off with it, and when I saw him there in the clearing station I said, ‘There you are, Snodgrass, I told you you wouldn’t get off this peninsula until the show was over, but you’re much safer down here.’ He said, I’m all right, sir.’ I said, ‘It’s human nature, old chap, but it’s a terrible thing to go SIW and leave your pals behind. Anything’s better than that, so you stick to your job.’

As a matter of fact that was the thing that was worrying me. I knew that I was very badly wounded, but the strange thing was that it didn’t worry me a scrap. It was leaving my men to do a job that I was there to help them to do – that’s what worried me most somehow.

But the job was almost over and in a very few days after Gordon Beith left the shores of the peninsula the evacuation would begin and the remnants of the men who had struggled so valiantly for eight long months to do their job would be turning their backs on Gallipoli, leaving all its miseries and the graves of many thousand comrades behind them.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.net. Thank you!