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   Chapter 9 MAROONED ON LEMNOS ISLAND

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6659

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


LEMNOS HARBOUR

Within the outer anchorage

The ancient Argonauts lay to;

Little they dreamt-that dauntless crew-

That here to-day in the sheltered bay

Where the seas are still and blue,

Great battle-ships should froth and

hum, And mighty transport-vessels come

Serenely floating through.

With magic sail the Argonauts

Stood by to go about;

Little they thought-that hero band-

As they made once more for an unknown land

In a world of terror and doubt,

That here in the wake of the magical bough

Should come the all-terrible ironclad now

Serenely floating out.

Written on Mudros Beach: Oct. 7, 1915.

July the twenty-seventh.

The deadly silence...

The tenderfoot on an expedition of this sort naturally expects to find himself plunged into a whirl of noise and tumult.

The crags were colourless and shimmering in the heat. The harbour was calm and greeny-blue. One by one, with our haversacks and water-bottles, belts and rolled overcoats, we went down the companion-way into the waiting surf-boats. Again and again these boats, roped together and tugged by a little launch, went back and forth from the S.S. Canada to the "Turk's Head Pier'-a tiny wooden jetty built by the Engineers.

I asked one of the straw-hatted men of the Naval Division, who was casting off the painter, what the place was like-

"Sand an' flies, and flies an' sand-nothinkelse!" he replied.

No sooner ashore than the green and black flies came pestering and tormenting like a host of wicked jinn. The glare of sunlight on the yellow sand hurt the eyes. The deadly silence of the place was oppressive-especially when you had strung yourself up to concert pitch to face the crash and turmoil of a fearful battle.

The quiet isolation and khaki desolation of jagged peaks and sandy slopes was nerve-breaking.

You could see the thin lines of the wireless station and little groups of white bell-tents dotted here and there.

Robinson Crusoe wasn't in it. Sand and flies and sun; sun and flies and sand.

"Wot 'ave we struck 'ere, Bill?"

"Some d--d desert island, I reckon!"

"A blasted heath..."

"Gordlummy, look at the d--d flies!"

"Curse the -- sun; sweat's trickling down me back."

"And curse all the d--d issue..."

"What the holy son of Moses did we join for?"

We growled and groaned and cursed our luck. The sweat ran down under our pith helmets and soaked in a stream from under our armpits. We trudged to our camping-place along the shore. One or two Greek natives followed us about with melons to sell. Parched and choked with sand, we were only too glad to buy these water-melons for two or three leptas.

The rind was green like a vegetable marrow, but the inside was yellow with pink and crimson pips-the colour of a Mediterranean sunset.

One day ashore on this accursed island and the diarrhoea set in. I never saw men suffer such awful stomach-pains before. The continual eating of melons to allay the blistering thirst helped the disease. Many men slept close to the latrines, too weak to crawl to and fro all night long. The sun blazed, and the flies in thousands of millions swarmed and irritated from early morning till sundown.

At night it was cold. The stars burned white-hot-a calm, fierce glitter.

Hawk and I "kipped down" (slept)

together on a sandy stretch overlooking the bay. We could see the green-and-red electric lights of the hospital ships waiting in the harbour-for us, perhaps...

The "graft" (work) was fearful. All day long we were at it: hauling up our equipment from the beach where it had been dumped ashore. Medical panniers, operating marquee, tents and tent-poles, cook-house dixies, picks and shovels, bully and biscuit boxes and a hundred-and-one articles necessary to the work of the Medical Corps in the field: all this had to be man-handled through the sand up to our camp about a mile away. And the sun blazed, and the flies pestered and stung and buzzed and fought with each other for the drops of sweat streaming down your face. How long should we be here? When were we going into action?... The suspense was brain-racking. The diarrhoea increased: everyone went down with it. Some got the ague shivers and some a touch of dysentery.

We became gloomy and bodily sick. We wanted to get into it-into action...

Anything would be better than this God-forsaken island. Why the dickens did they leave us moping here: working in the blazing heat, and crawling to the latrines in the chilly nights? For goodness' sake, let's get out of it! Let's get to work!... So the days dragged on.

The natives wore baggy trousers and coloured head-bands. They sat all day near our camp selling melons, tomatoes, very cheap and tasteless chocolates, raisins, figs and dates.

We used to go down to swim in the little bay-like semicircle of the harbour. The water was always warm and very salt. Here were tiny shoals of tiny fish. The water was clear and glassy. There were pinky sea-urchins with spikey spines which jabbed your feet. The sandy bed of the bay was all ribbed with ripples.

The island was humming and ticking like a watch with insect-noises: otherwise the deadly silence held. There were red-winged grasshoppers and great green-gray locust-looking crickets which whistled and "cricked" all night.

We had to fetch our water from the water-tank boats, about a mile and a half distant, and haul it up in a water-cart.

Gangs of natives were working under the military authorities. There were Greeks and Greek-Armenians, Turks and Ethiopians, Egyptians and half-breeds of all kinds from Malta and Gib. They were employed in making roads and clearing the ground for huts and camps.

And all the time we had no letters from home. We were actually marooned on Lemnos Island: as literally marooned on a barren desert isle as any buccaneer of the old Spanish galleon days. We went suddenly back to a savage life. We went down to bathe stark naked, with the sunset glowing orange on our sunburnt limbs. Here it was that Hawk proved himself a wonderfully good swimmer. He was lithe and supple and well-made-an extraordinary specimen of virile manhood-and he spent his fiftieth birthday on Lemnos!

One day came the order to pack up and man-handle all our stuff down to the beach ready for re-embarkation. At last we were on the move. We worked with a will now. The great day would soon dawn. Some of us would get "put out of mess," no doubt, but this waiting about to get killed was much worse than plunging into the thick of it.

August the 6th saw us steaming out at night towards the great unknown climax-the New Landing.

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