The Rest-Camp

It is not inappropriate, I think, to quote here General Sir Ian Hamilton’s Order of the Day. Naturally we were very proud of it, and it gives an authoritative idea of what we had passed through.


General Headquarters, 9th May 1915.

Sir Ian Hamilton wishes the troops of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to be informed that in all his past experiences, which include the hard struggles of the Russo- Japanese campaign, he has never seen more devoted gallantry displayed than this which has characterised their efforts during the past three days. He has informed Lord Kitchener by cable of the bravery and endurance displayed by all ranks here, and has asked that the necessary reinforcements be forthwith despatched. Meanwhile the remainder of the

East Lancashire Division is disembarking, and will henceforth be available to help us to make good and improve upon the positions we have so hardly won.



Deputy Adjutant- General, M.E.F’

It was still very early when we arrived at the rest-camp, but already the cooks were plying industriously their savoury art, and even before I bathed, I breakfasted. Oh! It was good to sit alone and eat clean food, smoking hot, well cooked, and to eat it at leisure. To crown all, they found me a tin of ‘Aberdeen haddies’. It was such a change getting a peaceful meal that I could scarcely believe it was I.

When I had eaten, I washed. When I had washed, I slept.

It was nine that same morning when they woke me, saying that the battalion was in sight. I went to watch it coming, and the men as they came in. I was very much struck with their faces. Those who had been boys when we sailed into the Aegean were men now, adolescence scorched and destroyed in the heat of war, their young mouths set and stern from the strain of having gone through hell. Some of them I hardly recognised – and I had known them well, seen them daily. Their very being seemed changed utterly, their souls new forged, their faces for ever seared.

On the whole, these ours – were physically smaller men than the magnificent men of the Regular battalions of the division ; but they were stout of heart – for ever hurt by what they had seen, by what they had borne, but game to the backbone. I could not tell a hundredth part of what those Gallipoli days had already been. I would not if I could. Oh! the British race is not decadent yet. The ‘flannelled fool’s’ a hero. And the men more immediately of the people are whelped of lions, and should beget lion whelps. Britain has no need to be ashamed of her sons yet. There’ll be no repetition of history by the falling of our Empire as the Empire of the Romans fell. That stood proved to the blood-drenched hilt when a raw little army of contemptible amateurs did what that army did, when a regiment of amateur soldiers (with perhaps a dozen exceptions, certainly not more) – mainly youngsters, students, clerks,

Tradesmen- after six months’ training fought as they fought, died as they died, went down into the inferno at Gallipoli, faced death with a smile, and accepted it too, not for themselves, not for gain as gain is counted, but to uphold British freedom. We may often muddle things a bit. But isn’t it better to muddle through than to make a big white-and-gold dash, boast of God Himself as our ally, ride over Europe rough- shod, and fall at the last ditch?

Our Tommies nicknamed that rest- camp ‘The Baths’.  And certainly we all bathed. We could not have needed to do so worse than we did. There was a small stream near by. The men made a dam in it. And soon a regiment could be seen naked and unashamed. We officers had few luxuries at the Dardanelles. Valises we had not yet seen, and goodness knows where they were now. However, you soon get used to having only a pack. Some of us had not even that. I had a change of underclothing in mine, so I soon felt like a new being. The clothes I took off I handled gingerly, and laid them carefully, well spread out, in the sunshine which was supposed to drive away vermin. I took off my boots with trepidation, vastly exercised lest I should never get them on again, but have to finish the campaign in my bare feet.

It was rather funny passing up the line, seeing men, in every conceivable sort of get- up or in none, having a good old ‘hunt’.

Barring those who attended to the few duties that had to be done, I think that everyone slept the clock round. And some slept before they ate and washed. When the regiment was marched in and dismissed, many a man fell on his face as he stood, and slept as he fell; worn out quite, and soothed, by the relaxation of torturing strain, to instant slumber, as peaceful as a baby’s. So far as we possibly could, we let such sleepers lie undisturbed. We were ‘ kind to ane anither’ in Gallipoli rest-camp. Unfortunately my duties permitted me no such luxury, at least at the moment ; for the usual confounded returns had to be sent to headquarters with peace-time promptness. Red tape is never needlessly loosened on active service. And I am convinced that this is as it should be. Red tape is a much-misabused article. It binds. It supports. Any number of important things would slip and slide about, get misplaced and lost, if the discipline of red tape were loosened. All praise to red tape,say I for one. But while I must praise and revere it, still I hate it. Like Mr Kipling’s Atkins, I am no plaster saint, and after this war is over, I hope, if I am still here, never to see or hear the words ‘For information and necessary action’ and if I chance to go over the Big Top, my last prayer on earth and my first petition beyond the Styx’lll be : ‘Don’t make me an adjutant in heaven, or – somewhere else’.

Our C.O. was no disbeliever in red tape and such any more than I am, and he decided the next day that discipline would have to be remaintained rigorously. There is nothing else that so tunes and tones the men. It may not be his favourite tipple, but it ‘s Tommy’s tonic, every time.

The following day the C.O., Captain M’Lagan, ordered church services. There had been none since we landed, and this seemed a fitting time for those of us left – not quite half of us now – to return thanks.

Our padre, who had joined us in Egypt, came from Dunedin, New Zealand. It was a pleasant coincidence that that far-off town, named after Scotland’s capital, should have sent an Edinburgh regiment its padre. He was a topping chap. I suspect he ‘d rather have been a combatant. He was always strolling up to the firing-line and lounging about there as if he liked the smoky smell and the warm breeze of the place. And wandering in the open in Gallipoli was no sanatorium stunt. We didn’t run to communication-trenches in those days. But he was every inch a priest, and many anguished wounded, many a passing soul, must have hailed him, ‘Oh, comfortable Friar’ He was a ‘brick’.

Where to have the services was a question. Not even here (or in any place in Gallipoli that I know) could you gather a body of men together without their being almost instantly shelled. At last we selected a spot, neither too far nor too near, under the frail shelter of a few trees, and there we held two services, sending half the battalion at a time. Most of the men were Presbyterians, and these two principal services were theirs. The Roman Catholics went a little later to Mass in the French lines. The Church of England members  joined an English regiment’s service the next Sunday, but i think most of them had already gone to the alfresco ‘kirk’.  Men rarely shun church or chapel at the front.

We never held another service in the daylight. It was too risky. The few others that we held were at night. It was very impressive, listening to the old hymns sung at dark, in the Turkish open, stars for far-off candles just pricking the black of night with their promise of light to come, and their twinkled reminder that ‘over the stars there is rest’. It was heart-felt singing that we throated to the Aegean night, prayers sung to Heaven, soldiers’ thoughts of home, with whiffs of a neighbouring field of scent-heavy, Eastern night-fowers for incense. It was a grave and a tender service. It made one quiet, and it made one thoughtful.

In the morning I decided to manoeuvre myself a day off, and to meander down to dear old Beach W to see how things had progressed there. Some excuse had to be made. I foraged about in the store cupboard of my head, and found two quite creditable excuses. I had thirty-four golden sovereigns tied up in a dirty handkerchief. It seemed to be getting near my turn to get knocked out, and if I were, my bits of gold might fall into the coffers of the Turk. Clearly it seemed my duty to get that soiled handkerchief into the keeping of our field cashier, and he was somewhere on the beach. Evidently several men of our unit were wandering about the beach, through no fault of their own, not engaged in prescribed activities, and I had just had a peculiarly nasty chit about it from headquarters. It seemed imperative that I should investigate personally and promptly. 

I got permission, and trotted down to the beach. I hardly recognised the place. It was incredibly changed. It looked as if we had been there for years. If Jack’s a handy man, Tommy’s a wonderful housemaid. And, by Jove! we British may be muddlers, but we ‘re great organisers. Everthing was going like clockwork now on Beach W ; and when I had seen it last, not quite ten days before, it was a quagmire of tangle, an inferno of disorder, that would have overtaxed the pen of Dante.

I found the field cashier dug into a hole in the cliff – the rummiest bank you ever saw. He was delighted to get the sovereigns. The financial greed of your working patriot is almost indecent ; there is no selfish personal greed that compares with it. He gave me a  receipt, which I sent to Alexandria the next day. So one small hoard was safe from the foe.

I took a look round for any of my men, and I found several. They all seemed to be working, and each said he was doing what he had been ordered to do. So off I went to see the camp commandant who had recently come to boss the beach. I found his ‘quarters’ and in them I unearthed another of my men, working away on a typewriter and looking confoundedly pleased with himself. In the midst of war he and his spick – and – span instrument made a charming picture of peace. I said nothing, but kept him and his alphabet-organ for use as a quid pro quo. The commandant arrived on the scene, and I told him that I was getting strafed for some of my men being on the beach when they should be in the firing-line. I had discovered a number of them, I told him, sunning themselves in cushy jobs, for which they apparently had been commandeered by various ‘brass hats’. He was mildly and discreetly sympathetic, and promised to go into the matter. But the tone in which he promised lacked the sterling ring of enthusiasm. So I played my quid pro quo, and remarked incidentally that he had one of my most useful men working as his clerk. That did it. I got my men, and left him the typing expert, who, after all, was pretty seedy. He was a nice chap, and he was perfectly brave, but I guess he was quite comfy where he was.

It is wonderful how a man falls into his niche if he wishes to strongly, even in the peremptory stress and the curtailed fields of active service. I had an orderly in Scotland who always turned up to do orderly duty notwithstanding that the orderlies were frequently changed, so that none of them should be skimped of his due of training and drill. I got tired of this chap’s persistent and unquenchable orderlyhood, and sent him back to his company. Two days later I ran across him – he was assisting with the musketry stores. I had him pushed out of that. Four days later I was inspecting the cookhouses, and I discovered that my friend was now a cook. That conquered me. Any man that would rather wear a bib and apron and flourish a long-handled spoon than work a gun or wield a sword ought, in my disgusted opinion, to be allowed to do so. And his company commander said that he was no use at drill, ‘So

I made him a cook’. 

‘Can he cook ‘ I asked.

‘He can cook better than he can drill,’ was the C.O.’s acidulated reply. So as a cook he went to the front (no, not the company commander).

In the afternoon the guns on the Asiatic side played a brisk tattoo on Beach W, as they always did at short intervals. It was annoying, but this time their slaughter was scarcely worth the cost of their shells. They killed just one mule.

Towards evening the cooks’ wagons started off with rations, and I got a lift back to the rest-camp. My day on W Beach had been a pleasant break.

W Beach a pleasant break! That is eloquent If any one had told me! Well, well!

‘we know what we are’ some of us, ‘but we know not what we may be’ any of us.

Our rest-camp wasn’t the picnic we had anticipated. It was more camp than rest. We had several casualties there. Think of being shot at all the time and hit occasionally while doing a rest-cure in a nursing-home! It was the long-range bullets of the Turk that made our camp restless and a poor place of repose. And they are nasty things, long-range bullets. They get into all sorts of odd places in a man. And once inside human flesh, they turn the veriest nomads, and journey about mysteriously in your odd corners all on their own. They won’t come out, if they can help it. They are the devil and all to find, and the wounded man gets terribly knocked about before they are located. There were no easy-chairs in that rest-camp, and no eider-downs, and it lacked elegance. But it was sweeter than the firing-line.

You were never free from something while you were in the peninsula, no matter where you were – on the earth or in it, on the sea or in it, or in the air. If it wasn’t bullets, it was shells. If it wasn’t shells, it was colic. If it wasn’t fever, it was chill ; and often it was both. And the fleas we had always with us.

But it is wonderful what you can put up with, when you have to.

A pink paper fluttered in at about eight o’clock that evening, saying that we were to be inspected the next morning by Major-General Sir Hunter Weston, the G.O.C.. the 29th Division. We hurried to bed, to get as much sleep as we could that we might seem fresh and brisk when our general came. Rough men, some rough from birth, all roughened and shabby from war, stained and tattered from battle, we were as elated and as anxious as a bevy of boys and girls going to their first dance, because our general was coming. Pathetic? Yes, I think it was pathetic, and I likewise think it was fine.

At dawn the next day the first rain I had seen since I left England came down. It was no ‘gentle rain from heaven’. It pelted us as the Turks never had. It was so vicious, So relentless. It bombarded and soaked us. It spoilt the whole show. But the general said a lot of nice things, as the water dripped off his hat on to his nose.

The rain went as suddenly as it came. A scorching sun came out and cooked the ground dry in a few hours. And that very afternoon we started sending working-parties off to make roads. We needed the roads, but that was only our minor reason for attempting to make them. It was vitally important to keep the men occupied, and they could do no drill without being potted at and hit.

The Church of England padre came to us the next day. He held a Communion Service.

I shall never forget it. For I am an Episcopalian, and was there. The scene was passing strange. In a small field under the half-shelter of a little copse, a hundred khaki figures were silently kneeling. The priest, wearing his surplice, stood at an altar made of two boxes- one had held cheese, the other had held soap. They were covered with our flag. There was a cross on the altar – a cross of wild flowers. And in the grassy nave poppies and nodding plumy grasses grew. The Aegean Sea smiled and watched us. It was scarcely a mile away, and as blue as the Virgin ‘s own robes. And near by, on that old sea, the Greek islands, many of which are mentioned in the Bible, looked like jewelled caskets of green.

The general commanding the brigade was there with his staff. Almost it might have been an open-air service at home during one of our trainings in peace-time. But the faces of the men belied that. They were wonderful faces, with the indescribable look of those who have journeyed far and seen much, and in their eyes was that grave, far-away look that tells both of mental strain and of vision, both of pain and of endurance.

After the short service the priest passed to each of the silent figures, giving us the bread and the wine. We ate and we drank ; then we covered our faces in prayer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *