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!

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