Rough & Ready Diplomacy

Coming back to the beach, after having parted from Lindsay, I met my pal the skipper, who, at my request, had regaled him on salmon and rum the night before. He was exulting over a Turkish rifle he carried, which he said he had begged from an ordnance officer, that it might hang, a trophy and an inspiration, in the wardroom of H.M.S. – .

‘You ‘re a lovely liar,’ I told him. ‘I know the wardroom it is going to decorate – somewhere in Brixton’. He solemnly winked and went on. He was a great fellow. When war was declared he was first officer on one of the big transport liners, but immediately volunteered to go anywhere and do anything, and the nearer the firing-line the better.

A little farther on I ran across Colonel Patterson, an old Guardsman who had equipped, at his own expense, a corps from Palestine, to carry water. They did excellent and merciful work all through the campaign, and one or two got mentioned. The colonel gave me a whisky, I remember. A very sensible chap; didn’t believe in water only. Nor do I.

Some captious reader may wonder what my works-party was doing all this time. Oh, that was all right! I had left it in charge of a very efficient subaltern. I always believe in making other people work, if possible. It does them good. And it does me good. I got down to my little lot just in time to catch our small boat, and off we went to our ship.

The next three days we were still unloading, and every one of us worked as we had never worked before. On Saturday I reported to the flagship that my party would be ready to be taken off on Sunday morning, and got a reply that this would be done at eight o’clock.

At ten o’clock on Saturday night a midshipman came on board to see the master. I have seen a good many weary men and boys since I last saw the moon rise over Melrose, but I believe that little middy was the most exhausted creature I ‘ve seen yet. He went on through sheer pluck, but his body was done. I think he could have slept at the mouth of a Turkish cannon. I gave him food, for he was hungry and thirsty; but even so, I had to keep talking to him, as, if I stopped but an instant, his head went on to his plate and he was fast asleep. He had been at it, without rest, since early on the 25th. It was the 31st now. War is no respecter of children.

When I had seen the midshipman off, the cabin-boy told me that the master wanted to see me. I went to his cabin, and, to my utter surprise, he said that he had orders to sail for Mudros at daybreak.

‘But what about my little lot, skipper? I  don’t get off till eight’ I exclaimed.

‘Don’t know anything about you’ was the disconcerting reply. ‘Orders are orders, and I sail at day break’. 

‘Now, look here, skipper’ I cried hotly – I was desperate – ‘chuck your damned official tone and talk sense. I am not going with you’. 

‘Well, get off my boat’.

‘How the devil can I get off your boat ?’

‘I don ‘t know. Jump off’ 

Here was a kettle of fish!  I had orders to rejoin my battalion, and somehow or other I was going to rejoin. I thought hard. 

Then i said, ‘Look here, old man ‘ (I was on the tactful lay now), ‘will you lend me a boat, and I‘ll go right to G.H.Q boat ? Where it is I don ‘t know, but I ‘ll have a thorough good try to find it’

‘Oh, all right’  the master conceded ‘you can have a boat. But mind you’re back by daybreak, or off I go, and your blooming Tommies ‘ll go with me for all I can see’.

That was a pretty prospect too! However, assuming a cheer I had not, I said gaily, ‘Right-o, old man’ and rushed off and about to gather up my good old crew, by no manner of means forgetting my marine.

It was particularly quick work, but we did it. We didn’t stop to parade or to polish up much brass. We didn’t even stand upon the order of our going. We just went for all we were worth, every man-jack Tommy of us. Off we started, and after getting more bad language than you’d hear in a lifetime in decent Scotland flung at me by skippers of a few trawlers and other boats that we appeared likely to ram or capsize – skippers who in turn took great pleasure in trying to swamp me or cut my (borrowed) gig  in two; after going in twenty wrong directions and taking twice twenty wrong turns, and kicking up more dust generally than is usually found on the nice clean sea, we arrived at General Headquarters.

I left my crew to ship oars, or dress ship, or dance up and down on the bubbly deep, as they saw fit, and scrambled up the gangway. At its top a stalwart sentry demanded my business. ‘Sentry go’ is Tommy’s one opportunity to treat his officer with hauteur. He rarely neglects it.

I had no idea whom to ask for, so I demanded to see Lieutenant Maule, one of our own subalterns, who was in charge of our detail of the escort of G.H.Q. I gave him a quick précis of my dilemma. Maule whistled, and then took me down to a naval officer who seemed to be a secretary. He was surrounded by pens and ink, and was flanked on every side by official books. I informed him who I  was, repeated in more detail the story I had told Maule, and begged that I might be taken off before the ship sailed, instead of, as now planned, several hours after she sailed.

I was listened to, and then I was asked to take a seat and wait.

I waited. I had to. That was the reason I did the only reason. It seemed an unconscionable while, but really before long a staff officer came in. For the third time of asking I repeated my tale. The staff officer listened, again without comment, and then he beckoned. I followed him up and down sundry stairs, through various corridors. He paused at a cabin door and told me to ‘go in’.  I did, and discovered a famous general at ease in his bunk, in the most beautiful pair of pyjamas I had ever seen.

For the fourth time I told my story. I was rather in a funk by this time, but that general was a brick (they usually are), and soon put me at my ease. He was amused, but he was not unsympathetic. After all, a general isn’t usually very fierce in his bed and pyjamas ; at least, one would imagine not. And I dare say I looked by this time as if I well might weep were spoken to too harshly.

He told the staff officer to rout out A.P.N.T.O. (pronounced ‘apinto’) from his bed, and tell him to take immediate action, as every man was needed in the peninsula, and none could be spared to cruise about Mudros Bay. I was escorted back to the secretarial-looking office, and the staff officer went to get the Assistant Principal Naval Transport Officer ‘apinto’.  See?

It was now the wee, sma’ hours of the morning, and I was getting a bit fed-up. It looked Íike no bed for me that night – which the proper spirit might think quite a good joke and I began to have visions of the good ship ‘Tramp’ and her adamant skipper steaming away with my men, leaving me and my crew stranded on G.H.Q. boat, and to see any joke in that required a broader sense of humour than mine.

Just as I was reaching that tired point when overtaxed anxiety dwindles into weak ‘don’t care’ a gentleman appeared in a dressing gown and spectacles. It was quite a smart dressing gown, but dull and uninteresting after the general’s pyjamas.. I suspect the new arrival had a few other things on beside the two I  have catalogued, but that was all I could see. He asked a little drowsily what all my story was about. I kept my temper (I jolly well had to!), and for the fifth time told my plight from the curt Alpha of the skipper’s ultimatum to the horrible Omega of my unit about to be shipped back to Mudros, or some other unknown and more remote place – and they all captainless, poor things! I flatter myself pitched the tale rather well this time. I was getting easy in my lines, and even threw in a gesture or two. I am thinking of doing it as an after-the-war recitation at At Homes and garden fêtes.

The staff officer sauntered in while I was reciting to gown and specs, and kindly chipped in most effectively. He knew it almost as well as I did by this time – and so he ought he ‘d heard it often enough – and he had a larger flow of phrases ; and then, too, he had had the general’s orders.

Well, I did my best. But at first I thought it was all up with me. Persons hauled out of their beds are not as a rule uncommonly tractable, and the one in question looked glum. But after a bit of an argument Apinto decided to write me an order to the master of my ship to delay his sailing until an hour or so after sunrise, that I might be able to get myself and my men off, and up to Gallipoli, where we were wanted.

I have a strong suspicion that H.M. Navy wished to grab my men (unquestionably the pick of our contemptible little army) for a ship’s working-party. But I have never been able to prove it, and at the time I did not mention it. I pocketed my precious document, thanked everybody, especially that trump of a staff officer, and bolted for my row-boat.

My crew had been waiting the whole time, tossing about in the little gig. I thought then that they deserved to be mentioned, and I think so still.

Off we went, and ultimately we got once more alongside our floating palace. I took an exquisite delight in waking the skipper telling him the news.  I hadn’t enjoyed any thing so much since I was four and got my thing so much since I was four and got my first breeks. But he returned good for evil, and opened a bottle. He was a good chap, was Captain King; one of the best.

We were all glad to go. Waiting about in wartime is desperately trying, but I think every one of us was sincerely sorry to leave the S.S.Melville and Captain King. I often wonder whether she is still afloat. If she is, and I can find her, I intend to board her once more and wring hands all round. Our weeks on her were the most enjoyable of all our time in the East. We all said so. She was no P. and 0., but a jolly cosy home, not soon to be forgotten.

The C.O.’s Story

The next day (it was April 29th) I was again running stores to the beach, and having a little time to spare in the afternoon, I went up to the hospitaÌ tents. They always seem to call one. I came across one of my own men, who told me that the C.O. was in a small bell-tent close by, and I immediately found it and him. He was lying on a stretcher, looking rather limp and very much bandaged, but wonderfully cheery as cheerful as I had ever seen him. Yet he had just been through hell, and had come out of it not unscathed. It seemed to ease him to talk, and to do him no harm, and I was keenly glad to listen.

First of all, he gave me half-a-dozen urgent instructions, and when I had assured him that they should be carried out scrupulously, he plunged into his story.

‘The battalion’ he said, ‘was in reserve at first, but was ordered to take up ammunition to the firing-line. We were soon in the firing line – right in it – and we stayed there. We had evidently got well forward, and Sergeant Allsop (the mess sergeant) was with me when suddenly a sniper appeared behind a bush, one of those damned, dusty, prickly, Eastern things, not a dozen yards away. I wasn’t quick enough, but he was. His first bullet smashed the bolt of my rifle.’ [The reader may think it strange that a commanding officer should be carrying a rifle, but all officers in the early days carried rifles and were dressed like the men, except that cloth rank-badges were on their shoulders].

‘His second one got Sergeant Allsop through the stomach, and his third got me through the arm. I fancy I must have slightly wounded him, for he went off Poor Sergeant Allsop was moaning badly, and I got my pack off somehow or other (though my pinked arm had begun to hurt damnably), and made him as comfortable as I could ~ it wasn’t very, I know. I thought he was unconscious, but I left him my water-bottle, on the chance that it would come in handy to him later. It was practically dark by this time, and I started to make for the sea, or what I thought was the direction of the sea. The close fighting was done for that day, and I was less than no use where I was. I pushed along as best I could, into holes, over fallen men, through scrub and dirt. Presently I came to a road, and turning into it, came slap-bang on a bunch of wounded Turks sitting on the bank at the side. I suspect they were well peppered, for they made no attempt to take me prisoner, or anything else, and they were four or five to one. I hauled up and had a look at them. They looked back. Then I began a parley. ‘Where sea?’ I said to one of them. ‘Officer! Backsheesh! Christian? ” he demanded. ‘Yes’ I told him.  He smiled. ‘Christian, no backsheesh, no tell’. He would ‘t help me or take my bribe. And he might have taken the money and sent me in the wrong direction. By Jove!

‘Well, I went on. I thought I was going right, and in about ten minutes i walked myself almost into a Turkish patrol, who promptly started to head me off. I turned and ran like blazes ; haven’t run so for years not since I was at school. Fortunately I fell flop into a hole deep enough to hide me. I ricked my ankle, I think, but that was all right, for when I’d pulled about a bushel of scrub and brushwood over me I was covered up well. The Turks had a bit of a hunt. I heard them walking about, and one chap pushed a stick or something inside my camouflage and just grazed the tip of my nose. But that was quite all right too, for they didn’t locate me, and in that nice, uncomfortable hole I spent the night. In the morning I was so stiff I could hardly stand up to pull myself out. But necessity ‘s a fine lubricant, the very finest, and I did crawl out. I crawled out with great caution, and then I had a look round. I didn’t do that rashly either. I made no needless display over anything, no attempt to cut a dash not a bit. There seemed to be no one about. I could see where to go now, and I went, as quickly and as quietly and as unobtrusively as I could. I had been going straight for the enemy the evening before – good job for me I didn’t reach my destination

‘Well, I was hoofing along, feeling a bit faint and done up, when, ‘whizz’ a bullet flew past. Another ‘whizz’ nearer this time. The next one seemed close to my head, So I flopped down as nearly as I could the way they do it at Drury Lane, and turned over on my back and pretended to be dead. I’ve always heard that a sniper does not come up to view his bag. Certainly this one did not, if he saw me. I lay there just about four hours. By that time I was desperate, and my legs both went to sleep (you can bet I didn’t), and said – talked in their sleep, you know – that if they didn’t walk soon, they would never again be able to walk at all. So we walked. But I hadn’t gone twenty yards when i saw a figure that looked beautifully like a Tommy. The figure saw me at the same moment, and up went his rifle. So down I flopped again, and managed to raise my hand and wave my handkerchief. The figure came and had a look at me. To my great joy, it was one of the Essex, our old shipmates. I don ‘t remember much more till I found myself on the beach here and in good hands’. 

That ended the C.O.’s story, but not his talk. He had thought of twenty more directions to give me, and then I had to get a man to take down a lot of notes. I believe the  C.O. dictated for half-an-hour. He wasn’t a pretty object to look at, and you saw at a glance that he ‘d been through brimstone and the heat, but his cheer and his vitality were extraordinary.

While our commander was still dictating Captain Lindsay came in, and we three had a good old regimental pow-wow. But when we thought the C.O. really ought to talk no more, Lindsay and I said, ‘Cheer-o, sir’ and ‘See you later, sir’. I walked a little way back with Lindsay along the cliff, and then, as I had to get back to my own ‘odd jobs’.  I said how much I hoped to be beside him in a day or two, and we exchanged a careless, friendly good-night. He went off, whistling Annie Laurie. 

I never saw him again. I walked back to my job. He walked on to his death.

Carrying On

We spent the next morning running horses and ammunition ashore. The gunner officer, with the D.A.C. officer, left for the beach, leaving me O.C. troops. A naval officer arrived to take charge of the ship during the unloading, and though we were being shelled fairly heavily, every one was too busy to think much about it. On active service the finest cure for being nervy is work. We heard about noon that our half-battalion had landed on Sunday evening, and had suffered very few casualties. Not an officer had been hit.

On the 28th I was on the beach all day long, hard at it. Fighting, actual personal encounter or contribution to battle, is but one part of soldiering. The tangible brief ‘fight’ is the concentration of months of indescribably arduous and intricate preparation and transport, which is quite another part of soldiering. Things are thought out at home, munitions are made, stores gathered and packed, men trained and equipped. The simply enormous transport work is accomplished, no matter at what cost, over what distance. The awful goal of the imminent carnage reached, literally ten thousand indispensable, nerve-racking, back-breaking tasks confront and fatigue the soldier, who must work his hard way through them to his hour of supreme trial. The athlete pitted to run a race, the artist about to create a great rôle, paint a picture, achieve a masterpiece, the statesman selected to guide a realm, trains for it, feeds for it, rests for it. The soldier about to plunge into the cauldron of hell that is called ‘battle’, with death or torture its probable end, digs a trench that he knows may be his own grave, shoulders crates of jam, carries unmanageable burdens of wire and lead, harries distraught animals, washes clothes, runs here and there on sore, blistering feet, refreshes his nerves and his eyes on festering heaps of wounded and dead, and sleeps, if he sleep, within sound of the guns that menace him as they slaughter the comrades that shared his breakfast – and – and then goes ‘over the top’ in his turn.

We had by this time made considerable advance both inroad on the peninsula and in preparation of all sorts. What we had gained, how far we had penetrated in this deadly, warded place, I knew as yet but scantily and in disjointed scraps. News filtered through, of course, but I had little leisure to listen. But of what the men in my immediate charge were doing, and the splendid spirit in which they sweated on at a job as uninteresting as it was gigantic, and as perilous as any actual battle could be, I saw and knew all. Back and forth they waded all day long, from the beach to the small boats, from the boats to the shore, unloading, carrying, stacking up, sorting munitions, food, water, stores of every sort ; shells and bullets falling thick, fast, constantly. It was one rain of death. Not a box reached the sand without being a target to the Turk. All day long the men worked and carried and waded, walking over the dying and the dead, when they had to. Have you ever walked over dead men, still warm and quivering?

It was an Olympian game, and like gods the men played it. War’s awful housewifery is a service for heroes!

About four in the afternoon I had a spare hour, and felt entitled to use it as I chose. The wounded were beginning to come down, and I thought I’d see if i could find any of our fellows. 

The organisation already started was extraordinarily perfect, and proved that the initial staff work had been thought out most carefully. The great difference between the Western front and Gallipoli may not have struck the reader. On the Western front there were all the troops in lines of communication; in Gallipoli the fighting troops had to take on this work and fight at the same time. I need say no more. Nothing seemed to have been forgotten, and in all the apparent mêlée and confusion of war, under all but insuperable difficulties, and under quite insuperable disadvantages, everything was working with surprising smoothness. Certainly the RA.M.C. and hospital arrangements could not have been better under the circumstances. That under such conditions they were half so good was nothing short of a miracle. Hospital marquees had been put up; an ordnance depot had been marked out ; already salvage was being collected ; and the A.S.C. was in full working order.

Whatever critics may say after the war -and of course they’ll say wonderful much – it is difficult to believe that they will find anything to urge against our powers of organisation, or the devotion and the ability with which every detail of the enormous work was carried out and perfected. We are indeed an extraordinary nation. We take time, but we get there.

Eventually we do get there, in spite of any and every opposition that can be brought to bear against us. And when the British War Council in London came to the conclusion that we must evacuate Gallipoli for strategic reasons, we left it in our own way and at our own time. Our evacuation was not a tactical reverse. We had never lost a gun or a trench during the whole of the campaign. We had never once attacked without gaining something somewhere. The evacuation was a withdrawal, a retreat even, if you like, but an exploit as creditable to our arms as most victories have been, and in some ways more surprising in its brilliant success than even our landing and occupancy. These are military facts. At the same time I am fully conscious of the sentimental side of the question, and that many of the 29th Division were glad Sir Ian Hamilton, personally, was saved the pain of yielding ground where he believed he could make it good. But in any case our landing at Gallipoli, our staying at Gallipoli while we chose, made history ; may I not even say that they made British history greater? So wonderful was the sight of what our men did, and of what they endured, that we who saw must always a little pity those who were not there and could not see. We landed. We stayed. We did what the Germans had said was impossible. Not only the German press and the German people clamoured it, but the German experts of military science. It could not be done. Precisely. But we did it.

I got in the line of their coming, and watched the stretcher cases one by one. It is a piteous spectacle, the sight of strong men, in fullest health and great fettle but an hour ago, living, but broken and prostrate, helpless, The first of our and perhaps trembling. regiment I found was one of the machine-gun section. He tried to tell me about the advance. He had been in the thick of it, and though he could scarcely control his lips, his eyes gleamed with enthusiasm, the unquenchable enthusiasm of the true soldier. He was quite cheery, but thought we had lost a good few officers and a number of men. Beyond that I would not let him go on, for he looked as if he should husband all his strength. As I turned away I almost knocked against our pioneer sergeant. He was unconscious, and looked more like death than any living man I had then seen. (I’ve seen several others since). I’m glad to say that he recovered, and was afterwards on home service. The recoveries of war are even more wonderful, I think, than its carnage, its courage, or its sacrifices.

The wounded were coming down fast now, and after a few grim minutes I cleared out of the way. I didn’t feel very cheery.

I started off on a voyage of discovery along the cliff that rose abruptly behind our narrow sand-strip of beach. Before I had gone far I saw coming towards me a figure that I seemed to recognise. It turned out to be Captain Lindsay, and I was as glad to see him as if we d been foster-brothers parted for years. It is extraordinary how your heart leaps at the sight of a familiar face at the front, when things are a bit thick, and your own people scattered. It has been said that nowhere else can a man feel more desperately lonely than he can on the Euston Road, and ít is a graphic putting of a grim truth. But, believe me, there are a few places you sometimes come upon even lonelier than the Euston Road. One is in the thick of crowded battle. Sometimes you find yourself at one when you are alone in some unfamiliar byway of the enemy’s country. I bombarded Lindsay with questions, and he told me his news, some of it none too good. The C.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson, and the senior major, Major M’Donald, were wounded. The adjutant, Captain W. D. Hepburn, had been killed, and so had the regimental sergeant-major, R.S.M. F. Bailey ; and several of our subalterns were knocked out, some for the time being, others for all time. Lindsay was pretty thoroughly done up, so I took him down to a pal of mine on one of the trawlers that by luck was just at the beach then, and the skipper produced tinned salmon, biscuits galore, and rum. I had to hurry back now and get on with my job, but I left Lindsay in good hands, tucking in vigorously. Heaven knows what or when he had eaten before! He was feeding as if it had been at some remote period, and little enough at that.

I am often asked if we had enough to eat at the Dardanelles. We had. The commissariat was ample, and the arrangements were excellent. I fancy soldiers talk (and write) afterwards about food, more than they think at the time. My own experience is that on active service you are too busy and far too absorbed to know that you are hungry until you are very hungry indeed, and that is prevented for you as often as possible. The first few days in Gallipoli our menu was limited, chiefly, to biscuits, but there was sufficient. And even biscuits alone make a very satisfactory dinner when you are hungry enough and busy enough.

After our first day on the inhospitable peninsula, with the exception of a few lean patches, we had quite a variety of good food, and always enough of it, though not always time to eat. And this is more than noteworthy, more than praise-worthy, for the commissariat difficulties could not be appreciated by anyone who had not actually witnessed them. It would be futile and fatuous to attempt to enumerate or describe them, either the difficulties of selection, transport, and distribution, or those of cooking and serving. Every biscuit had been brought from Great Britain, every drop of water from Egypt. Every crumb, every sup, every utensil had been loaded, unloaded, reloaded, carried and hauled, packed, unpacked, repacked,  and again and again. But nothing was lost, almost nothing was wasted. We earned our dinner in Gallipoli, but we had it, and hot for the most part. There were occasions when we trod on our own dead, and, just a little less gingerly, perhaps, on dead foes, as we stumbled, bleeding and worn, to our food, but, except in the very thick of actual battle, we had it three times a day, wholesome and abundant. And we needed it. And the men needed their rum, and thank Providence and a sane people they had! No better soldier was ever recruited than Corporal Rum. He is the best of good familiar creatures, when he’s well used, and a fine fighter and a great stayer. Not once, but twenty times, in Gallipoli, when I saw the fight he put up, and the comfort he brought in the barrel on his back, I wished that a few of the weird prohibitionist individuals might have been there. I’d have bet them, guineas to gooseberries, that inside a day they d prefer rum-and- water or a Johnny Walker and soda to a tin cup of chalky, half-warm, muddy water. 

We are said to feed our soldiers better than any other nation does. I believe, and am glad to believe, it is true, and even a little less than true; for has it not been decreed by great authority that the Ox that treadeth out the corn shaÍl not be muzzled? The field our armies tread is a hard field ; the hideous harvest they tramp out saps the strength of men and of heroes, and that strength must be fed, and well fed. Tommy is a great trencherman, and well for us that he is, and that we do him so well.

On the 28th we had been on the peninsula a scant three days. It seemed but an hour. It seemed years.

The men had done wonders. And the subalterns, boys most of them, had worked like madmen and giants. Some had come fresh from public school, some from country parsonage homes, some from counting-house and office. They had played bridge and golf  yesterday ; several were credited with the prettiest taste in ties ; one boasted that he could order as good a feed as Newnham-Davis himself; at least three knew where the stage door of the Gaiety stood but how they worked, how they fought, how they obeyed, how they waited! The saints of their islands must have been proud of them, Andrew, David, and Patrick, and George and his Dragon ; and, by Britain and the Old Flag, we were proud of them too!

The soldier boys and the men!  I think every officer there, as he looks back at those never-to-be-forgotten days and nights in Gallipoli, will be glad and eager to give pride of place to the men and the youngsters. God knows I am!

The Landing at V Beach

I set off in a pinnace towing two ammunition lighters, and headed for the River Clyde, an old collier that had been turned into a sort of ferry-boat for troops, to carry them from troopship to shore. Great open spaces had been cut in her side at her between-decks, and lower down platforms and runs had been built that men might rush from her quickly when landing under accurate fire. Encased machine-guns stood on her forecastle that she might, when desirable, give the Turks fire for fire. She had now been beached, purposely, as near shore as had been found practicable. From her to the shore ran a rough bridge of boats, lighters, and miscellaneous small craft across which the men had to crawl and slide to the shore. This bridge had been built at a terrible cost, with a disregard of death as glorious as anything in the history of war. When the River Clyde was beached twenty-five launches packed with men slipped ahead of her, and the men in them – knowing perfectly the nature and the extent of their danger – began to make the required bridge, getting small boats into position and securely moored, working from the River Clyde to the beach. Soon after she grounded, the Turks opened fire on the heroic little bridge of boats, finished half-way or more to the shore, bombarding it from the ruined castle of Sedd-el-Bahr, from the higher town, and from the splendidly fortified and magnificently manned and munitioned hill that stretched across the bay, aiming at a target that even poor marksmen could not have missed and these were good marksmen. 

The waiting troops on the big ship were more protected, for the River Clyde was fortified too, and had many contrivances of defence, but the little boats were naked and helpless. The Turks are computed to have sent from five to twelve thousand shots a minute into that devoted band of men. Not one man flinched. But most of them died. As a boatload perished, men rushed down the gangway of the Clyde and carried on. A man who lived ten minutes under that Turkish fire seemed to have a charmed life. Most dropped within four minutes. But before they dropped they worked – ah, how they worked while they yet lived. Each did his small vital bit ; and when he lurched bleeding into his sea-grave, a comrade, newly come, snatched up his job until he too died, to be succeeded by yet another British soldier.

The men waiting on the collier, silent for the most part, but some swearing, fought among themselves to be the next to go. The toll was hideous, but the object for which the men died was fulfilled. The bridge was completed, and the Turks could not prevent it. A Turkish officer, our prisoner later, swore by Allah that it was the finest thing he ever saw, and ten times braver than he would have credited any man.  

It was over this blood-cemented bridge that Lieutenant-Colonel Doughty-Wylie had led his men, to storm, through indescribable difficulties, the ruins of Sedd-el-Bahr. And it was over it that I now went, as cautiously as possible, leaving my pinnace beside the River Clyde, and scrambling as best I could from boat to boat. The moon had risen by this time, and the beastly evidences of the relentless conflict were thick about; you could not fail to see them clearly, and they looked all the ghastlier in the theatrical limelight of the moon. The heroism of the troops who built that bridge of boats, in daylight, under tremendous, hellish fire, must have been superlative. It beggars all words, and I will attempt none. But we thought of them, and our  thoughts were eloquent. For we found it no small thing to pick our way, at our own pace, the Turks temporarily inactive, over those swaying, bobbing craft. To go over them in full marching order must have been a difficult feat in itself, let alone building the way as they went, doing it under shot and shell raining down at the rate of ten thousand shots a minute.

On reaching the beach, I clambered over the lighters to see where the ammunition was to be dumped first, and began to slip and slide all over the place. I bent down to examine the wood on which I was skidding, and I saw – well, it wasn’t water that was making me slide about It was something thicker than water.

On the shore I found a very tired-looking assistant-beachmaster. He seemed ‘all in’, but he directed me alertly enough where to go and what to do. Nothing in all my brief but vigorous soldiering has impressed me more than the miraculous way in which men who look completely finished can and do go on, not only doggedly (that one expects, of course, until they drop), but vigorously and alertly. I remarked to the assistant -beachmaster, ‘You seem to have had a pretty thick time’.  He answered not a word. He only looked at me. It was enough. i shall remember that look while I live. There were words, and more than words, in his eyes. They seemed to say, ‘I’d far rather suffer the tortures of the damned than go through that again’.  I turned and went away quietly, rather sheepishly, I suspect, back over the lighters to my pinnace to give the necessary orders, thinking hard the while. One does a good deal of vivid thinking in one’s first days of actual warfare. As time goes on one’s senses get blunted for the time being ; but it all comes back sharply enough afterwards. It is Providence, I take it, that steps in and does the temporary blunting; otherwise mortal men could not carry on.

Beautiful prints made from vintage illustrations and artworks

Commanding the pinnace was a midshipman of His Majesty’s Navy, a ‘snotty’. I  think these boys – you can call them nothing else are the bravest of all Britain’s brave. Certainly they are second to none. Among all the branches of our services that I have worked with, I have never seen quite their match. Yet for the most part they are downy-faced lads. soft-skinned, warm from home and mothering. An Eton school captain told me once that he could always pick out the ‘mother’s boys’ from any footer team, because they always gave and took the hardest kicks. And his remark often came back to me at Gallipoli. This particular boy had been at it for over seventy-two hours without a moments rest. Impossible? Of Course it was, but he had done it. ‘In the lexicon of youth’, you know; and the Dardanelles campaign was an endless chain of impossibilities done – and done well. He had done it, and there was no look of ‘all in’ in his face. Merry as a cricket, he took charge of me at once. It is no exaggeration to say that he mothered me. Each time the Turks woke up a bit, he coaxed or commanded me to take cover behind the netting of sandbags which served the pinnace for earthworks, but never once would he take cover himself. It never occurred to him to do so, and when it was suggested he only laughed, and went on working and whistling. He was greatly annoyed because one of his pals had had the luck to got pinked, just a scratch somewhere – wrist, think – and could brag he had been wounded. ‘Lucky beggar!’

I admit being a trifle excited at having at last put my foot on the enemy’s soil, and any number of things, no immediate part of ‘my job,’ escaped me. After  finishing giving instructions for unloading, I noticed for the first time a continual spattering in the water beside me, not many feet away, and it dawned on me that it was bullets, a rain of bullets from the machine-guns and the rifles of the enemy on the cliff above. I was safe enough in the pinnace at the moment, for we were under the lee of the River Clyde, and the bullets were going over us. But they made an uncanny sound, and again I did a little thinking. It was all right enough on the pinnace, but our work there would be over presently, and it was all very wrong indeed going across the lighters to the beach. However, I was favoured with beginner’s luck, and had no one hit.

Tommy is a wonderful creature! When we were on the beach my chief difficulty was to get the men to hurry up with the job, as every one of them desired to have a look round. They are full of curiosity ; far more curious than children, but very like children. New places drive them crazy, if they are not allowed to investigate. I had to tell them repeatedly that the war was waiting, but the Turks were not, before I could get them really to knuckle down. Not once but fifty times have I seen Tommy down arms, go up to, and gaze curiously at, a comrade whom any one from a distance of twenty yards could see had made the supreme sacrifice,’ then turn round, come slowly back, and in a surprised tone of voice say to a pal, ‘Say, mate, that un ‘s gone West’. Then the mate would give over his work, go and have a long look, come slowly back, and say, ‘So he has, Bill’. Esprit de corps! Tommy ‘s esprit de corps.

Soon after we had reached the beach I lost a man for quite a time. When at last he reappeared I ‘strafed’ him roundly, but his reply was too much for me. He replied, ‘I’m sorry, sir ; but I just wanted to see what was going on at the top of the bank’.  And I had thought him killed! 

About three o ‘clock (still A.M.) a French regiment began to disembark just beside us. They were wonderfully quiet, almost noiseless. But they looked to me – not a little like fully dressed Christmas-trees. They seemed to have every conceivable object slung and tied on their backs.

It was not much after four when I got back to the ship, feeling quite pleased with myself.

I had done my first bit.

The Start of the Great Adventure

We left sharp on time, and at last our ‘Great Adventure’ began, as the day of April 25th dawned. Cape Helles is the southernmost point of Gallipoli peninsula, and it was there and in its vicinity that we of the 29th Division and the men of the Royal Naval Division were to land. The three principal landings were to be made at Cape Helles itself – at Beach V, Beach W, and Beach X. Other landings were to be accomplished at Beaches S and Y and near Gaba Tepe.

The 5th Royal Scots were originally intended to land at V Beach in support of the Dublins, Munsters, and Hampshires. Owing to the attack here being held up, however, the ‘ Royals’ were diverted to Beach W – the ‘Lancashire landing’, as it came to be called – which lay between V and X. Personally I doubt if there was much to choose among the three. None of them was a health-resort or a garden of roses. W was a narrow patch of sand between a diminutive bay and cliffs and strong entrenchments. The Turks had it well watched and warded; machine-guns, barbed wire, and mines defended the cliff and the bay.

After sailing for about an hour and a half we heard a faint boom, and then another. Excitement began to permeate the troops, and even the ship’s company officers (with whom callous calm was an ambition and an obsession) began to show an active interest in things in general, and in the sounds from Gallipoli in particular. Officers young and old began to come on deck quickly, and breakfast was forgotten.

I must have been standing by the side of the bridge watching, listening, thinking, for some time, when Captain John Wilson, my second in command, hailed me. John is a thorough Scotsman. He did not refer to the reverberant action, but remarked, ‘Weel, Mure, I think we micht hae a wee bit bite. It may be some time afore we get anither, and an empty stummic’s no guid for ony mon’. I agreed, and we went down off the bridge and had a ‘rare guid tuck in’.

The booming became more intense and more rapid, and as we returned to the deck we saw a flash. And now flash followed flash, quick upon each other’s heels, and thick as woes in Elsinore.

The end of the peninsula came in sight, gray, uninviting, fringed with a mighty fleet- battleships, transports, and craft of every conceivable kind. As we steamed slowly to our allotted anchorage, well in to the shore, the sight was worth all the fatigue, all the work, all the peril and the misery that came after.

We anchored close to a huge cruiser, and as she belched her broadsides at the Turk our little boat trembled and shook from bow to stern. We were too close, and at dusk had to move a bit farther out. When we had done so, the little craft actually seemed grateful!

But that was after I had spent a wonderful hour on the bridge, and watched the battle. I had a good telescope, its loan one one of the captain’s hundred kindnesses. I saw splendidly.

The fleet was bombarding the Asiatic side, where the French were drawing Turkish fire by making a feint of landing. On that side there was a long cliff with the usual row of Eastern houses on the top. It was extraordinary to see a house crumple and topple down. The Russian battleship, with its five funnels, christened by Tommy the ‘Packet of Woodbines’ did great execution. One felt like cheering every time a house crashed down or a fire started. What looked to be a cottage was built on a small promontory jutting out from the edge of the cliff. For hours the little building defied the gunners, and seemed almost to mock the best marksmanship in Europe, so long did it stand unscathed. At last a shell landed right into it, and down it came at the first touch, exactly like a castle of playing-cards, such as you and I used to build- years ago. The whole ship cheered vociferously.  I am afraid the officers had had a ‘wee bit gamble’ on that poor little house; but, we being Scots, nobody made a book. Its end was unmistakable. When it had toppled to its doom, we turned our attention to graver matters of battle. Krithia, well to our north, was ablaze, and Achi Baba, just beyond, was getting a generous share of the ‘heavies’.

We could not tell how the day was going. Indescribable noise we could hear, indescribable flame and confusion we could see, indescribable carnage we could infer, but we could not piece together or interpret the awful confusion of detail. There was a green field to the left on the top of the cliff, and we could see men rushing across it, then coming back, then advancing again, as if a stiff fight were going on. Towards Sedd-el-Bahr there seemed to be no progress, and we, watching and waiting, began to feel nervous, and imagined that all was not well.

Wilson suddenly turned to me and said, ‘There are the stretcher cases going aboard the hospital-ship. Some poor devils have got it in the neck already’. Of course, a great many had  – we knew that – but this was seeing it.

We little guessed what was happening on the beaches. A pinnace dashed past us and we yelled to the officer. He shook his head,and that finished us.  Anxiety turned into absolute, craven dumps. and that finished us. I suddenly realised that I was very hungry. I looked at my watch. It was very much tea-time, and lunch had been quite forgotten. We made dejectedly for the modest cabin, which the captain’s partiality and our good manners termed ‘the saloon’. There we ate and drank, almost in silence. But, in spite of our long fast, a very little satisfied us, and we filed back on deck as dejectedly as we had filed down.

It was evident by this time that a landing had been effected, though not so successful a landing as had been anticipated. But we had begun. We were doing something – the rattle of musketry told that. It became more pronounced as the evening wore on, sharper, quicker, more distraught, as if thousands of death-dice were being tossed feverishly by the nervous hands of a multitude of desperate gamblers.

I don’t think many slept that night, and sharp at dawn every man of us was up and astir to see – if he could – what was happening. It was then that we got our baptism of fire, and broke together the red communion bread of imminent, deadly peril, as a shell from the Asiatic side squelched into the water near us, and in an instant another, so close that it almost touched us. Scores of them had rocketed over us for the last half-hour, but until then none had come or seemed very near. It is remarkable how soon, in actual battle, one grows to take little or no account of the missiles that scurry over one, no matter how deadly one knows them to be – we learned that war lesson almost at once, in less than an hour; but never can one get inured or indifferent to the grim, reverberating reminder of a great shell bursting close at hand.

An hour later, thralled and breathless, I was watching the first big infantry charge I had ever seen. It was a glorious and a terrible sight, and I felt as it looked – fearful and exultant.

The infantry pushed and tore through the village of Sedd-el-Bahr up to the fort belching fire and death from the cliff The blood danced in our veins, as beyond. we leaned and looked, our souls fighting with those men struggling in the thick of the carnage. Their bayonets flashed in the dancing eastern sunlight, and as the men rattled on, bleeding, dying, yet persisting, conquering, the glittering sheen they threw before them and about them scintillated like a sea of liquid, burnished steel, more alive than the molten sunlight it mocked and outshone, throwing great swathes of terrible searchlight for yards in front of our straining, suffering infantry,and for yards on either side of them.  It was a field of the cloth of living silver. And we could hear the men shouting, ‘Go on, lads; go on, you devils! Give them hell!’ and cries much more vitriolic, less episcopal. ‘Go on, lads’ – nothing very Homeric in that! Ah! wait and hear hear it from a thousand British throats when the day runs red and the fight rises and falls in awful sheets and sweeps of torture and slaughter, necks knotted, backs strained, eyes and hearts bursting, breasts heaving and panting, wounds unheeded, death mocked and defied.

The fort was taken. We saw our men stagger and sway with fatigue and the recoil of mighty work done and accomplished. Then they recovered, threw off their brief relaxation (it had been but an instant), shook themselves into position, and re-formed. It was the second of our Gallipoli victories, but the cost was bitter and dear, as the victories of war must almost always be. Lieutenant-Colonel Doughty-Wylie of the General Staff had gone ashore to direct operations. He had to lead the assault, and leading, he fell, just when the fort was as good as taken. And for a monument to a man and a soldier the fort was given his name.

In the afternoon we received a signal that ammunition was needed, and presently a pinnace came along with a lighter in tow. Then there was turmoil. Every officer itched and clamoured to go. But O.C. troops was on board, and he went himself, and took my second in command with him. I silently consigned them both to a place which, after all, was probably cool and comfortable compared with the spot where they landed.

They both came back safely towards sunset, and we gathered about them like schoolboys round a toffee-box. But they wouldn’t talk. I believe they couldn’t. Wilson said that ‘it  was indescribable’, and that was every word that I could get out of him.

About 1 A.M. next morning still more ammunition was wanted, and my chance had come.

Mudros Bay

As we came on deck the next morning a wonderful sight met the eye. Our ship was one of the farthest out, and on our looking up-harbour towards Lemnos, a veritable forest of masts could be seen. Slightly on our starboard side the stately H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth (or ‘Lizzie’, as she was familiarly called) rode at anchor, for the time being not belching forth her deadly missiles of destruction. Ahead of us was H.M.T.S. Southland, a large liner. Ahead again, developing into a huge fan-like shape, were craft of all descriptions – battleships, cruisers, T.B.D.’s, mine-sweepers, liners, tramps, colliers, paddle-steamers, down to a felucca slipping along in the breeze, its owner watching with Greek cunning his chance of selling the fruit piled up in the bow. The selling the fruit piled up in the bow. only blot in the landscape – or, rather, the heavens – was a German plane at a high altitude, evidently out for reconnaissance work.

Here on their transports were the 29th Division, ready for the fray; and though much has been said of this famous division, the reader will, I hope, pardon my digressing for a page or two in order to pay tribute in passing to its soldierly qualities.

The division was composed of troops of the same standing and calibre as the original British Expeditionary Force, with the exception of the divisional Signal Company, the Argyll and Bute Mountain Battery, and the 5th Battalion, the Royal Scots. These were Territorials.

The Royal Scots, as we have seen, had had the privilege of coming out from the Old Country on H.M.T.S. Caledonia (a Clan liner, commanded by Captain Blaikie, who was taken prisoner later when his ship was torpedoed) along with the 1st Essex. The 1st Essex were magnificent men, tall, well built, and trained to the moment. We looked like pigmies in comparison, and rumour had it that the Territorials would probably be used as hewers of wood and haulers of water. It was a natural assumption on the part of men who had been on duty abroad for years, and most of whom, officers included, had never seen a Territorial. But still it was consoling to us Territorials to think that both the water and the wood were necessary to enable our Regulars to fight. The greatest compliment I was ever paid was a month later when their adjutant (Captain Wood, since killed) came up to me one day, shook hands, and said, ‘Mure, I should be damned proud to lead your men anywhere’. I felt indeed proud myself.

On the peninsula we fought practically the whole time side by side with our shipmates, and soon got to know one another after our natural Scottish shyness had worn off. On also the head-board the Caledonia was quarters staff of the 88th Brigade, in which brigade we were. General Napier and the brigade major were killed when landing from the River Clyde, the staff captain escaping (Captain Sinclair Thomson, 1st Essex, later general staff officer, 1st grade). They were charming and courteous, and though rather overawed when addressed by a ‘brass hat’ you were soon put at your ease. During the war it has been my good fortune, perhaps more than most Territorial officers, to work with Regular officers of the old school, and I can only say that I have always met with the greatest courtesy and kindness, together with an unfailing desire to help an amateur in acquiring the necessary knowledge in the art of war which only comes by experience.

The present day Socialist, or whatever he calls himself, may decry the army, but if a battalion, band at its head, marched past his home, I am certain he would get up from his fireside and watch it passing. The law of order and discipline cannot be got over, just as the law of supply and demand is inexorable. It is a well-known fact that the Australians were, at the beginning, slack in saluting (I mean no disparagement to our friends from the Antipodes, as discipline is not instilled into a being in a day or a month), but a 29th Division officer was always saluted by them – not, perhaps, from the routine of drill, but from respect for their fighting, qualities. And this, I venture to say, was a high compliment from these grim, determined, fearless soldiers. It was a sort of Masonic hall-mark given by them to a division whose conduct they had witnessed and approved.

All that the ‘29th’ did and endured in Gallipoli may never be told. What it lost is numbered and recorded, and its part from the beginning to the end of the war, if ever chronicled, will be found second to none. 

One might write much more, but to return to our story.

A week ‘s hard training had now to be gone in for – training in descending and ascending rope ladders dangling over the ship’s side into lighters. This was no easy matter in full marching order, but it had also its humorous side. To me it wasn’t particularly funny, because the rifles of the men were in my charge, and though you can fish a man out of the water, a rifle is not so obliging as to give you the chance. We had gunners also on board who did not participate in this form of amusement, but they were not to be done out of their share, which consisted usually in throwing the manure over the side where the ladder was. Even the cooks had to have their look in with the slops.

It is said that we Britons are not facile, that we learn with difficulty, and adapt ourselves to new conditions and circumstances badly. Well, it is not true of British soldiers ; nothing could be less true.

After a few days my secret orders came, telling me what to do after we had unloaded, and where to go. Excitement began to run high. The air commenced to tingle, and though you couldn’t see it, you could feel that a great commotion was going on in the inner harbour.

On April 24, about five o’clock, the cruisers, their decks crowded with troops, started to pass us. One cruiser, I noticed, was packed with Australian troops, a magnificent body of Men. Mudros harbour may not have looked like Sydney harbour, but it had elements of wide space and active emergency, probably more welcome to them and more appropriate than the Bakerloo tube, a Clapham side-street, or the purlieus of Tottenham Court Road. They appeared splendid they were splendid and with the ships’ bands playing, they were radiant with high spirits and enthusiasm. It must not be thought that they took the enterprise lightly. Every man there realised its momentousness and its terrible tragedy.

They were young gladiators, stripped for one of the biggest fights the world has yet seen. They were exultant because they were brave, and because they were proud of their cause, not because they were for one moment foolhardy. They knew their danger, and they mocked at it. They knew their peril, and they jeered at it. They knew the odds against them, and they didn’t give a damn. We cheered them with a will, and they cheered back mightily. It was to be the first battle of a young people, giants girded and exultant. I don’t know how it made them feel, but their eyes were primed and their faces glowing. It made me feel that at last we were going to do something, and that Melbourne, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hobart were all Homeland – ours – and that they and we were closest of kin, ‘Jock Tamson s bairns’, every mother’s son of us.

Then our ship came. Not the tramp I was on, but the liner carrying my battalion. Ah, how we cheered them! That evening we ourselves received sailing orders for 6 A.M. the next morning.

A Little Nearer

In Egypt the 5th Royal Scots trained for nine days, and then left in three portions for the next stage.

In war – time the British soldier is well shepherded. All that can be done for his comfort and convenience is done, and done cordially. The officer must fend for himself a dozen times a day, which is all as it should be. I had very much to fend for myself when I reached the quay the day we left Alexandria. Finding our particular boat (her identification disc was not conspicuous) was rather a hunt-the-thimble sort of business in the crowded harbour mêlée. But at last I found it.

Seeing no signs of life on deck, I left my men ‘at ease, on the quay, and boarded (or bearded) the vessel alone. Roaming the deck, I discovered an individual in shirt-sleeves looking down upon me from a dark and perilous perch. Àt least, it appeared perilous to me. I inquired for the master (I believe that is the correct term for the skipper of such craft, but I usually said ‘captain’ – it came more naturally). He of the shirt-sleeves said that he was the master, and added, ‘Come along up the ladder’. I went up the ladder. Before my foot was off the top rung the master threw at my head, ‘Will you have a whisky-and -soda? ‘ From that moment I called the coatless one a gentleman. And so, indeed, he proved – a real treasure of the deep. There are many such afloat under the Union- Jack, and some of them in queer-looking boats.

Captain King was a charming chap. He made light of all war’s troubles, and of its perils nothing at all. Like most sailors, he had an unshakable faith in premonitions and in foresigns. He knew that he was predestined to die at home, on his bed, in the most orderly and orthodox manner. And this was quite a comfort, as there were rumours, and more than rumours, of enemy submarines in near waters.

While I drank my whisky the master stood and shook his head at me. ‘Have another! Oh yes, but do, for you ‘ve no business here – so drink to it. You ‘ve no right to arrive so soon. I’ve had no instructions to take you on, or about you at all’.  I produced my instructions,’ and, seeing that we were otherwise houseless and homeless, he consented to accept them in lieu of his own, and the men were allowed on board. That skipper was one of the very best. The steward was also a good sort, and almost before the last man was up and over the gang-plank, he had an excellent meal served out for them – piping hot, well cooked, abundant, and clean. It wasn’t a liner, this second ship of ours, but it was a most ‘comfy boat’, more home-like than I could have believed that a boat could be, and we settled down, grateful and glad.

In the morning an ammunition column of R.F.A. arrived, and I divided my detachment into fatigue-parties to help in loading. Forage and stores began to arrive also, and we were more than comfortably busy.

Next day the divisional ammunition column commander came with a few of his men and no end of munitions. My detachment consisted of about one hundred men of ‘all sorts’ – artists, students, clerks, tradesmen, skilled business men, &c., from Scotland. It was splendid to see how, without exception, they adapted themselves to these hard and bustling circumstances. Nothing seemed too stiff or` too dirty.

The derricks were the stumbling block in the proceedings. But I had a lance-corporal who had been a marine, and, as ‘Ubique’ is the marines’ motto, he took charge of derrick fatigues with a will and a rush. Under him the men played with that heavy ammunition – the heavier it was, the harder they played. They used to fling shell ammunition about in a way that would, I should think, have given a munition-factory foreman cerebrospinal meningitis. Yet nothing happened. The ‘stores’ they treated with more respect. If I remember rightly, one box of biscuits slipped to a salt and watery grave in the harbour. But not a drop of the rum ration was spilled or mislaid ; the very greatest care was taken of the rum ration. Our transport and officers’ chargers had come, so far, from England in other boats than I ours.

They linked up,with us now. As I  stood leaning on the rail, watching the loading and taking long last looks at Egypt, who should come walking down the quay but my own dainty dancer – the brute – led by his groom! I refused to recognise or claim the beast, but told the groom to let me know when the horrid quadruped was going to be slung on board. I wished to stand by and jeer at him. On my first day in the glory of O.C. Company, he had made me the laughing-stock of a regiment. I would curse him and gibe at him before the tombs of all the Ptolemies, in the very presence of the Sphinx, witnessed by as much of the British Army as was assembled together there on the Alexandrian quay. I did think of bribing the derrick Tommy to drop him hard, but it didn’t seem quite sporting to treat him so, for was not he, as well as I, faring forth, perhaps to die : and in the same great cause, for the same Greater Britain? As a matter of fact he came aboard gracefully, and got safely into his stall in the hold.

It was great fun watching the mules being shipped. You might have thought some had lived their lives in slings. Others had a rooted aversion to them. The saying as stubborn as a mule is a true saying. But I was convinced that some of these were proud, rather than stubborn. Some held up their head and looked truly martial. Some cocked an ear and held their head sideways, for all the world like a terrier pup. Some were jaunty ; some wept aloud. Some waved a humorous leg and some an angry one.  Some took it stoically, some all in good part, some in the worst possible spirit and taste. They lacked esprit de corps, those army mules en route to Gallipoli. They had no uniform standard of conduct or of carriage.

It was a ’top-hole’ voyage. We were a merry mess of eight officers, four of whom were Regulars. The O.C. troops was a gunner. The adjutant, Lieutenant W. D. Hislop, a clever artist, was one of my subalterns. Though our boat was a ‘tramp’ (I apologise to the captain, if ever he reads this and recognises his ship), personally I enjoyed the voyage much better than I had that on the liner. The men also were very much more comfortable. They had sports every day and singsongs every night, and were as jolly and contented a lot as you could wish to see.

On the forenoon we were sailing a mail arrived. Home letters! This was just the one thing needed to enhance our already very high spirits. I know how eagerly letters from the front are coveted and read and kept at home. But I think that home letters are even more to us at the front. How much they are their writers can scarcely suspect. There is no telling it. 

Just before we cast off, one of my men came to me, anxious and hurried, with a War Office letter requesting him to report at Nigg, Rossshire, Scotland, he having been given a commission. The letter had just missed him before his going overseas, and had been chasing him ever since. There was little time to think it over and decide what should be done. I suppose, technically, he ought to have left us then and there, and found his way back to Scotland. But he begged to stay with the company, now so near the fighting line, I agreed, and promised to lay the little tangle before the C.O. when we linked up again with the regiment. I fancied the C.O. would attach him as an officer, pending Whitehall instructions as to his disposal. And to take him with us seemed the sane, as well as the kind, thing to do, as, should he go back to Scotland, by the time he got there he almost certainly would find that his regiment was in some other and far-distant theatre of war, and would have to spend the rest of the war chasing it about the globe – chasing always, but never quite catching up. ‘I came out to see this show, and I want to see it first at any rate’, he pleaded, far keener to get into the fight than to take up his commission. Before instructions about him reached us he was wounded and sent back to hospital at Alexandria. Through an error he was reported in the casualty list as killed, and read of his own death in papers sent to Egypt to him from home. A number of soldiers do that. When this one was well again he came back to the peninsula as an officer, and there, alas fell gallantly leading his men.

We sailed in the early forenoon, escorted (as we were all the way) by T.B.D.’s, for submarines were all about us on the voyage. A second transport started at the same time with another of our detachments. This was a much faster boat than ours, and soon left us behind and out of sight. But the race is not always to the swift, especially in war, and we reached Gallipoli before she did! For two days the men had a nice, lazy time. With the exception of just enough physical exercise to keep them in training, we gave them no work, as they had been working more than hard for some time now. The better the soldier, the wiser and the more necessary it is to let (or, if need be, make) him rest now and then. Like every other fine instrument, he loses his edge and his power if not laid on a shelf to rest from time to time. All that our men had to do now most of the time was to watch the gunners at stables and exercising their horses. It is wonderful how you can exercise a horse on board ship, and well worth seeing. Watching it one day, I thought of my own animal, and, relenting, went down to the hold to see it. I took a pocketful of lump-sugar with me. But it would have none of me, nor a lump of my offering. A pretty, friendly mare in the next stall got the benefit of my dancer’s evil temper. I know that beast hated me. I never saw it again – nor wished to.

Our third day out, at one in the morning, of all unkind hours, I was rudely waked by a voice shouting through a megaphone, ‘What ship is this?: I immediately pictured a fleet of enemy submarines, and thought grimly of all the ammunition in the hold, and what a rotten end it might be to our Mediterranean errand. I climbed out of my berth and took a look through my port-hole. I saw one of our own destroyers. It was a comforting sight. It lay very close to us – so close that seemed as if I might almost touch it. I heard the commander give an order to change our course several degrees, and then I curled again to complete my interrupted repose. was very sleepy – one usually is at sea – and at that ungodly hour was not particularly interested to know why we were changing our course.

We had an event on board ship the next morning, an addition to the strength of the ship’s company arriving in the shape of a foal. The mother lived all right, but the little raw recruit stayed but a day. It was a pretty beastie, and every one of us was sorry when it died.

A little later, when we had almost reached our destination – Mudros Bay, as we all knew now (though to quite a few of us that didn’t mean as much as it might have done) – we spied a ship on the horizon. She turned out to be the faster transport, which, with one of our detachments aboard, had left Alexandria when we did. We beat her by a short head going into the bay, much to our delight. We Cheered. There are no greater children than British soldiers on active service – between the volleys – except British soldiers afloat. The changing of our course to avoid submarines had saved us a great many miles. Our old craft sailed into Mudros Bay as slowly and as leisurely as she had sailed away from Egypt. But still we cheered and cheered and cheered, officers as well as men. We were all boys together on many of those taut, grim, early days.

We dropped anchor in the outer harbour.

At Sea

Arriving at a dock in a troop-train at 1 A.M. on a beastly night in March is not conducive to good’ temper. But the experience had its points, and to most of us the novelty more than made up for all its little disagreeablenesses. But I still think (as I have thought for years) that the calendar would be greatly improved if we were to leave the month of March out of it. It’s an unmannerly month.

Our boat was a liner. I have not often gone down to the sea in ships. Hitherto my  sole experience of boats had been in crossing to or from Ireland, a brief but most justly, celebrated form of sea-voyage, a voyage of which invariably spent the first half fearing I was going to die, and the last half fearing I was not. Naturally, to me, who had known only the little packets of the Irish Channel, this sea-going liner seemed huge.

Leaving my second in command to look after the company, I went on board to see where my men should go. The big boat was cold – clammy cold – and the big boat was dark ; and its interior seemed an endless network of low, narrow passages, all crossing and recrossing each other repeatedly, and all leading nowhere. I should say that 99 per cent. of that boat’s crew were asleep, and 1 per cent. nowhere in particular. When I came to think of it calmly, the crew were in their proper place at that hour in the morning, especially as we were not expected to come on board until six. But at the time it struck me as inhospitable, and I felt alone and neglected.

At long last I unearthed – or should I say ‘undecked’? – a quartermaster, a comfortable creature who listened to me kindly, and then said that if I ‘d get my men, in single file, to a certain spot (I don’t remember what he called it – ships will never be my strong point), hammocks would be issued in precisely ten minutes. I said that I would do so. He kept his word, and I kept mine. Companies may have been moved more prettily, but few, I think, more quickly, than I moved mine, in the dark on that nasty March night, from slushy dock to slippery deck.

I Ieft my senior subaltern to superintend the actual issuing of the hammocks, and went myself to find out, if I could, what quarters had been allotted to my men. I descended, almost without mishap, sundry flights of perpendicular and spiral stairs, and again penetrated the various catacombs below.

The liner was, of course, now fitted up as a troop-ship. The five decks where cargo would be in normal times were full of long, narrow tables and forms ; and from the roofs hung a battalion of big screwed-in hooks on which hammocks were to be fastened close in taut bundles by day, and to dangle soporifically at night.

The ship suddenly became a straining, struggling, man-and-hammock-infested scrum. I had never seen anything at all like it before. I have since. But I do not care how infrequently I repeat the experience.

The entire battalion had now detrained, and other company officers were in evidence with their men behind them. Officers and men came on board.  That quartermaster was perfectly impartial. He issued hammocks to all comers alike, and, as far as possible, to all at once. The great ship’s highways and byways became a seething tangle of hammock-bearing men, all going in different directions, and doing it vigorously.

A game now commenced which might be called ‘Shove and Push’. The rules of the game. were very elastic. If two men going upstairs with hammocks met two men going downstairs with hammocks, what was the rule : I don’t know what the rule was, but the result depended upon which of the groups of two suddenly became a group of four, or, in military parlance, whose ‘supports’ arrived first.  During the warmer phases of the game some of the hammocks were half in their assignees’ arms, half on the floor or stairs. This added variety to the play, and gave it spicy handicap, but it was detrimental to the hammocks. One company commander at least discovered this to his cost at the end of the voyage.

I eventually found where my men were to go, but another company had mistaken their pitch, and had to evacuate first. That was quite in order, because the referee of the game had got lost, and therefore the game could not stop. Well, there is one bit of sound advice I can offer: if ever you play this game at two in the morning, never lose your temper. It is fatal.

The game gradually ceased by dint of attrition, and I discovered that I had half my company right up in the bows or forecastle. The other haÌf were practically next door (that ‘s not a nautical expression, but it will have to do). I had had no luck in the game – though lots of fun. If you had been in that forecastle our third day out, you would have enjoyed yourself, subject to being a sailor. I am not. A number of the men were not.

Having discovered my company’s quarters, and herded the men into them, it struck me that I had been working hard, and without ‘supports’. I had my men settled. But where were my subalterns ? None was to be seen. I threaded the passages . I climbed the ladders. At last I discovered two of my aides – but no sign of the other two. They were not with my second in command. So I made tracks for the official quarters. These were easy to find, and on going along the corridor I saw that the name of each officer, clearly written, had been tacked on the door of the cabin he was to occupy. That quartermaster deserves to be ‘mentioned’. 

I discovered my own cabin, and then went in search of those of my subalterns. I found one with the names of the two boys I was hunting on its door. Well, probably I’d find them sometime, and in the meantime I might as well see how they were quartered, and if everything was nice and pretty for them – flowers on the dressing-table and plenty of logs on the fire. I went in. That was my moment of greatest astonishment. The cabin was occupied. Its owners were in bed, fast asleep.

Then there was trouble! It was three in the morning. My temper had been severely taxed for hours. I am quite sure those boys had never dressed so quickly before in their lives.

I went to bed. Next morning they both apologised humbly. Having had a splendid bath and an excellent breakfast, and feeling human once more, I reminded them of a certain ‘para’,  in the Manual and closed the incident.

Poor boys! One has made ‘the supreme sacrifice’, and the other is out of the service, wounded in action too severely to fight again.

The next day we spent in settling down and the other regiment who were shipping with us came on board. They had one-half of the ship, and we the other. That night at dinner some one said suddenly, ‘We re off!’  and so we were. Our momentous voyage had begun.

At ten every morning we had ‘Ship’s Rounds’, a very earnest function. The captain, an absolute monarch, the two commanding officers, the adjutants, the sergeant-majors, the captain of the day, and various smaller fry went round and inspected the whole ship,barring the engine -room. It was a very minute inspection, and usually the adjutants collected a wonderful fund of information, which later on they dished up to various responsible persons, sometimes as a savoury, sometimes not.

I went round very minutely myself our first morning, going to the forecastle and inspecting my own men’s quarters before the general inspection. Ihad ten messes right in the bows, three decks down ; and I couldn’t go any farther  ‘for ‘ard’ unless I went out with the anchor.

There was a sergeant who did nothing else but look after the company’s quarters. I picked him out for the job more by chance than anything else. It was a lucky leap in the dark. He was never once ‘sick’.  Why he wasn’t and how he wasn’t I don’t know, for the scenes he must have witnessed beggar description.

The third day out was our test of good or bad sailorship. After Rounds we usually had ‘Physical Exercise.’ This soon after a big breakfast, at sea at least, is not always conducive to comfort. Now, in the army seasickness is not a disease, nor yet an illness. And unless you are ill you must go on parade. Fortunately for me, my mind triumphed over my body, but it was a near thing. Not always was every one else as lucky ; but then the men soon got their sea-legs, and ere long one started to enjoy himself. The other regiment had just come from India (viâ the Bay of Biscay), and were hardened.

Our third or fourth day out one of my men was found asleep while on sentry duty beside the water-tank. This was a very serious crime. He had to be brought before the C.O. for punishment. I ordered the company sergeant- major to have the prisoner at Orderly-Room in plenty of time. Having every confidence in my C.S.M., I myself ‘rolled up’ (the ship was rolling too) at the last moment. To my horror, there was neither sergeant-major, escort, nor prisoner present. I got hold of two of my men and sent them to hunt for the delinquents. They were not to be found. Orderly-Room time had passed. I went in, hardly able to keep my feet, but lurching as little as I could, and faced the adjutant. He cursed roundly, and I could say nothing, as I was the officer responsible. At that moment the sergeant-major staggered in – violently seasick. The escort and the prisoner had succumbed to the same malady, infected perhaps by the sight and other signs of his torture, and had disappeared. They were found half-an-hour later in a horrible plight. I had to put my sergeant-major under arrest. I was ordered to do so. This was his first default in over twenty years of service, and the next day he was admonished. I think he felt it. I know I did. I felt it bitterly, and felt that I was to blame. Officially there is no such thing as seasickness in the British forces. Assuredly discipline must be maintained –  and should be. But the red-tape that takes no account of seasickness, one of the acutest discomforts the human body can know, seems to need cutting.

Our first stop was at Malta. Few of my men had been abroad before ; their interest was immense, and their comments were vastly original.

We left the next morning. No one knew where we were going. But every one thought he did, and I certainly heard a hundred or more places proclaimed in confidence as our destination. About two days out from Malta, Alexandria became hot favourite in the betting.

The voyage through the Mediterranean was delightful. We got to know well the officers of the other regiment aboard. I had wondered just how Regulars would regard us. These officers were charming. Most of them had had many years’ experience, and without exception they seemed eager to bestow (but never to impose) any advice and information they could on an amateur like myself. I shall always remember one thing that one of them, Major Summat, 1st Essex, said to me: ‘My boy, you are a soldier now, and are going into the real thing’. I have remembered that sentence on more occasions than one.

It soon became an open secret that it was Alexandria that we were making for, and on April 2, 1915, we arrived there.