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Authors: Peter Englund

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The only thing to have upset Pollard was the news that his older brother had been killed at the end of the summer. At that point—out of concern for his mother, who only has one child left now—he considered applying for a less exposed posting. But he soon dismissed the idea and decided instead to avenge his sibling from that day on: “Rather would I do my utmost to kill as many [Germans] as possible.” He celebrated Christmas at a French château behind the lines, where he was once again instructing soldiers in where, how and when to use hand grenades. He has been given a new nickname—Bombo.

Today he is writing to his mother:

Dearest Mater,
I hear you have not been very well. I hope you are all right again now. The post is absolutely up the stick, probably owing to Christmas. I have received the footer clothes and the uniform and Perk’s cake; all very acceptable. I am at present at the school as I told you and intended to remain here, but really, mater, internal inspiration tells me I must go back up the line when the battalion go. I don’t suppose that will be until nearly the end of January so don’t start worrying, but I feel it’s up to me to go with them. I have sent in my resignation but may be retained until the end of the course. Anyhow, you might wash out addressing me to the school and continue addressing me to the battalion. I am very sorry, mater, but I know you will understand.
I have had some splendid riding lately. Yesterday afternoon I rode into a town about seven miles away. Coming back we had a three mile gallop without a check. Rather splendid! There were two rows of trees by the side of the road with soft earth between them.
Well cheerioh!

Two weeks later the battalion marches back to the front and Pollard is with them. Is there some sort of death wish in this? Probably not. He is carrying a new mascot in his pocket—a small china doll with a lilac ribbon round its waist and an angelic expression painted on its face. It is a gift from the sister of Mary, the woman who turned down his marriage proposal so firmly.
Pollard has christened the doll Billiken and he always carries it with him from now on.

Cheroots were popular at the time, particularly among white men in tropical countries, since smoking them was thought to provide some degree of protection against a number of tropical diseases. (A Burmese cheroot usually contained rather light tobacco.) It might perhaps be worth mentioning that the cigarette made something of a breakthrough during the years of the First World War. Both the previously dominant cigar and the cigarette, as well as the intermediate cheroot, had an obvious advantage over the pipe in that they allowed the user to have both hands free.

Sniping was often encouraged, or even demanded, by those in command as a way of sustaining tension on the front, where calm conditions could lead to a spontaneous outbreak of peaceful restraint or—worse—out-and-out fraternisation between friend and foe.

Just a few weeks earlier over 400,000 men had no weapons of their own.

Although at this stage, no one had any accurate idea of overall losses, not least because the Russian army was notoriously bad at keeping reliable statistics about its casualties. This defect was inherited by the Red Army.

Those in the know were aware that the Allied powers—Great Britain, France, Italy and Russia—had decided to introduce synchronised attacks and advances in 1916. The idea was to make it more difficult for the Central Powers to use the transport advantages of their geographical position to move reserves easily to areas under threat.

The prohibition applied to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I have been unable to ascertain the reasoning behind it.

He also realised—or feared—that he would be stopped if he tried to go west or to Constantinople.

Dubbed Goltz Pasha by the Turks.

One of Halil’s first actions as new commander was to order a regrouping of the Turkish forces that were aiming to prevent the British relief force reaching the men besieged in Kut. The regrouping was notably ill conceived and left one flank of the Turkish line exposed, a weakness the British recognised and immediately mounted an attack to exploit. The result was the Battle of Hanna on 13 January, which would probably have been won by the British had it not been for faulty reconnaissance. Halil’s manoeuvre eventually proved successful: the honour for the victory at Kut al-Amara fell to him and to immortalise the fact he added Kut to his name. He survived until 1957 as the “Hero of Kut,” a celebrated, if not necessarily deserving, Turkish military hero.

And at Kut, although he never lived to see it. He died two months later, a fortnight before the siege there was broken, officially carried off by typhus, although there were a number of rumours, never substantiated, that he was poisoned by Turkish officers.

A German army corps needed only 457 wagons for its transport in 1871 whereas in 1914 it needed no fewer than 1,168—an increase of over 250 per cent. All these extra wagons had to be pulled by horses, and the extra horses needed fodder, which also needed to be transported. Weight for weight, a horse eats ten times as much as a man, which in turn demands more wagons and more horses to pull them, and so on. A contemporary headcount suggests that there was one horse for every three men. About eight million horses died in the war, which means that the horse population suffered proportionately greater losses than the human one.

Chlorodyne, primarily intended for the treatment of cholera, was invented by a British army doctor in India and was much copied by competitors. It was very popular at the time, though the concoction was highly addictive and could even lead to death if taken in immoderate doses. It was eventually discontinued in its original composition—to the great sorrow of its many enthusiasts. Chlorodyne offers a good example of how the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were one of the most liberal periods in history where drug abuse was concerned; those involved would not, of course, have thought of it in that way.

She puts the word in quotation marks in her diary.

It is not particularly surprising that Persia was drawn into the war. Even before 1914 this weak and unstable state had been a playground for Russian and British imperialists, who had in practice divided the country into spheres of interest. The outbreak of war made the whole situation even worse. After just a few months British troops occupied an important centre for oil production on the Persian coast and the Germans countered with a vigorous propaganda campaign and an intensification of espionage activities. When the Persian gendarmerie, trained and led by Swedish officers, placed itself under German control in November 1915, Russian troops immediately invaded the country.

Until September 1915, when he was dismissed as a result of various court intrigues, Grand Duke Nicolai Nicolaevich—an unusually tall man—was the head of Stavka, the supreme command of the Russian army. Following his dismissal, the position was taken over by Tsar Nicholas II, a military dilettante. The Grand Duke was then transferred to the Caucasus front, where, thanks to the good planning of his subordinates, which he was happy to go along with, and to his own ability to summon reinforcements, the Russians were now fighting a successful campaign against the Turks.

A number of people have been trying to gain Macnaughtan’s support for the Armenian refugees who are currently pouring into this part of the Caucasus. There is much talk of last year’s massacres and, having spoken personally to a number of eyewitnesses and survivors, she is in no doubt about the scale and brutality of the events. But she has a distaste for the Armenians—“an odious set of people”—and prefers to work with the Russian army at the front.

Cattaro was the Italian name—it is now called Kotor and is in Montenegro. Fiume was the Italian name of what is now Rijeka in Croatia. It is worth mentioning that Fiume, formally speaking, was Hungarian territory, not Austrian, and had been a semi-autonomous
corpus separatum
since the eighteenth century. Bosna Brod is now Bosanski Brod in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The crowds at the station are partly a result of one of the peculiarities and weaknesses at the heart of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. Different parts of the empire had their own railway systems, in terms of both rolling stock and tariffs. Both goods and passengers had to be transferred when moving from one railway system to another. In the case of Bosna Brod, the village made its living out of the fact that the gauge of the track in Bosnia was different from the gauge in Austria.

Members of the armed forces could write home postage-free using field postcards, and their correspondents could reply without payment as long as they used the special stamps or postcards attached to them. Light parcels could also be sent free of charge.

The main pretext was the need to knock out the radio station at Douala, which had a powerful short-wave transmitter that could be used to coordinate the small German naval units that were scattered across the ocean at this point. Ultimately, of course, it was all about improving their own colonial position.

Just two months earlier the remaining German population had moved into the Spanish enclave of Rio Muni, where they were interned. And on this very day, 4 March 1916, Cameroon was officially divided up between the French and British after Mora, the last German outpost, surrendered, having been guaranteed favourable terms.

“Dear Fatherland, be quite calm / The fleet is asleep in harbour.” The lines are a play on the refrain of “Die Wacht am Rhein.”

There can be no doubt as to how risky
’s activities were: only four days earlier, on 29 February 1916, another of these merchant raiders—SMS
—was sunk in the North Sea. The British had their own equivalent, the so-called Q-Ships, small vessels with carefully concealed armament, which were designed to ambush German U-boats.

Her two companions.

This consists mainly of troops from South Africa, which after some hesitation decided to side with the British Empire. (As usual, it is the thought of future territorial gains which persuaded yet another nation to choose sides in the conflict. The war in Africa, just as in the Middle East, is little more than a continuation of the imperialist competition for territory that the great European powers indulged in during the middle of the nineteenth century.) Many of the soldiers now marching side by side with the British are old Boer fighters who a decade earlier had been bitter foes of the British. The commander-in-chief of the whole operation is also an old Boer commander, the legendary Jan Smuts. War creates many strange alliances.

In the course of the operation the main column lost 5,000 of its 7,000 mules.

The British blockade had the paradoxical effect of forcing Germany to tighten its control of resources and to put the economy on a war footing that was much more efficient than Britain’s for a considerable time.

Such cases existed in all the warring countries, as did the policy of isolation—for the most part, voluntarily—in closed nursing homes. In France, 9,900 men with destroyed faces formed a special veterans’ association after the war.

Lieutenant Commander Charles Henry Cowley, who was executed immediately afterwards by his captors. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

See Monday, 30 August 1915,
this page

“Quando si leva che intorno si mira—tutto smarrito della grande angoscia,” from Dante’s
, Canto XXIV. As has been mentioned (
this page
), Monelli always carried his volume of Dante.

Monelli continues (and personal experience permits the present author to vouch for the truth of the statement): “The press correspondent who visits the trenches does not know this [war]; the officer from the general staff who pops up to ensure that he gets a medal by being with us does not know this [war]. Once they are hungry or tired or think they have done their job, they take out their watch and say, ‘It’s late. I have to go now.’ ”

Garbari da Pèrgine, the officer who volunteered to lead the rearguard. Monelli felt confident that “our rear is safe for [da Pèrgine] is defending it: he asked for that dangerous task because, he said, he knew the positions well.”

Of the 330 infantry regiments in the French army, 259 at some stage served at Verdun.

The road was later christened La Voie Sacrée (Sacred Road) by Maurice Barrès, one of France’s best-known nationalist politicians and wordsmiths, and it perhaps caught on, suggests the author Ian Ousby, because it seems “to evoke the thought of
Via Dolorosa
, ‘the road of suffering,’ and thus compares the suffering and sacrifice of the soldiers at Verdun with Christ’s progress to crucifixion on Golgotha.”

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