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.

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