A remarkable man’s view of three military disasters
This book is comprised of the journals of an intelligence officer of the British Army written in often difficult circumstances as the events he experienced unfolded around him. Readers will note that while the focus of this book concentrates on notable events within the Great War, they also happen to be some of the worst military failures for the allies. Inviting himself into the war on the Western Front as an interpreter, he experienced the irresistible human wave of the German advance as it rolled back the outnumbered BEF from Mons. His journal was compiled from brief notes during the retreat and from memory whilst in hospital following a wound, capture, brief imprisonment and escape. The second journal concerns the disastrous Dardanelle’s adventure—written ‘in idle hours between times of furious action.’ The author was able to view the events in which he was involved with clear insight and objectivity. At one point he wryly reports an outraged officer complaining that the Turks were walking about the Gallipoli Peninsula, ‘as if they owned the place!’ The third journal was written in Mesopotamia on a Fly-boat upon the River Tigris as Kut fell. The accounts within Herbert’s book are of undoubted and vital interest as source material of the First World War. Herbert was an interesting character. He was half brother to Lord Carnarvon of Tutankhamen fame, he was pivotal in the cause of Albanian independence and was offered its throne on two occasions and he was intimate with several of the notable figures of his time including T. E Lawrence, Belloc, Buchan, Mark Sykes and others. A talented Orientalist and linguist—he spoke 8 languages fluently—he was also a serving member of the British Parliament throughout the war whilst also fulfilling his military duties. Perhaps most significantly Herbert achieved all this whist under the handicap of being practically blind, an affliction he had suffered from birth. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.
The Ghurkhas fought very well two nights ago, they said here. They used up all their ammunition and what Turkish rifles they could get and then they fought with kukries. At one place an unfortunate mistake happened. We mistook the Indians for Turks, and we bombarded each other.<br>
We went back almost deafened by our own guns, B. reluctant to leave. I expected a heavy Turkish return bombardment every minute, which would have been unpleasant without any cover, but beyond the ticking of a machine gun nothing happened. Found General Maude having tea. His casualties have been heavy—nineteen officers killed and wounded in the last ten days, simply trench work, no attacks. He said it was putting a very heavy strain on the new army.<br>
The more I see of this foul country, the more convinced I am that we are a seafaring people, lured to disaster by this river. The River Tigris has been a disaster and a delusion to us. These lines are untenable without two railways, one across to Nasriyah and the other up to Baghdad. At the present moment, we can be cut off if the river falls or if they manage to put in guns anywhere down the river and sink a couple of our boats, or even one, in the narrows, and so block the channel. We have got no policy. We came here and we saw the Tigris and we said: “This is as good as the sea, and up we will go,” and now it will dry up and we shall get left.<br>
Lawrence arrived at Wadi on Wednesday. Had some talk with him; I am very glad to see him. Got a letter from John Kennaway yesterday—he is down at Sheikh Saad—asking me to go there. I can get no news about Bobby Palmer. Am afraid there is no doubt; he must be killed; am very sad for his people.<br><br>
<i>Easter Sunday, April 23rd, 1916. H.M.S. Greenfly.</i> a curious morning, with the whole of Pushti Kuh standing blue and clear. The last two foreigners who visited that place were given the choice of embracing Islam or of being pushed over the precipice. They chose the precipice.<br>
Yesterday morning we attacked. The 19th Brigade, the Black Watch, the 20th and the 28th. We took two trenches, but were driven back to our own. I was sent post-haste to H.Q. for news. There was a great sand-storm and men and artillery going through it like phantoms. Overhead it was lurid. One could hardly breathe for the sand. High columns of it rushed across the desert. The repulse looks as if the end’s very close. I came back to the admiral and was sent back again. This time they said there was a truce, and if the admiral would give permission, I was to go to the front at once. I came back and found the admiral and went on shore. I got a horse and rode up to the front as fast as I could, passing many dead and wounded. I went to General Younghusband and asked if I could be of any use to him. He said the truce was ending. The Turks had pushed out white flags, which was decent of them. We had done the same. A staff officer came in to say that the Turks were taking our kit, and he wanted to fire on them. I was anxious we should not do so without giving warning.<br>
We discussed the possibility of the Turks letting Townshend and his men come out with the honours of war, to be on parole till peace. I said that I could see no quid pro quo, and even if one existed, we, here, could not use it, because of our ignorance of the Russian situation. . . . The general said that the water had narrowed our front to 300 yards across which to attack. The Turkish trenches were half full of water and many of our men fell and got their rifles filled with mud. The Turks attacked again at once. He said there were not many troops who would do that when a brigade like the 19th had been through them. There’s very little left of the 19th; beautiful men they were. I have talked to a lot of them these last days. I rode back on a horse that was always falling down. In the morning I crossed the river with the admiral and rode up to the front with Beach. There was shelling going on, but nothing came near. The river was gorgeous in the sunset. Overhead the sand-grouse flew. We talked about the future. . . . It seems to me that if we have got to retreat 130 miles it’s less bad for prestige to do it in one go. The politicals’ point of view is that you should not retreat at all, but that, of course, has got to depend on military considerations. The soldiers’ point of view is that you should not do your retreat in one go, because you do not kill so many of the enemy as if you fall back from one position to another; but then, I suppose, that cuts both ways. None of these soldiers have had any decorations since the beginning of the war. One of them said to me it made them unhappy, because they felt that they hadn’t done their duty. It’s an infernal shame. I asked the man who had said this if he had any leave. He said: “Not much! I should have lost my job.” That would have been quite a pleasure to a lot of men. . . .<br>
Lawrence has gone and got fever; Nunn also has it. The atmosphere makes shooting difficult. Yesterday the Turks shot quite a lot at a mirage, splashing their bullets about in the Suwekki marsh. We often do the same. Curiously enough, I believe that we won the battle of Shaiba by virtue of a mirage. We saw a lot of Turks marching up against our position, and fired at them; these Turks were phantoms of men miles away; but it happened to be the only road by which they could bring up ammunition, and our firing prevented that. Tonight the Julnar goes up the river on her journey. She has less speed than they thought.