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   Chapter 13 THE ADVENTURE OF THE WHITE PACK-MULE

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 7158

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


That night was dark, with no stars. I didn't know what part of Gallipoli we were in, and the maps issued were useless.

The first cases had been picked up close to the firing-line, and were mostly gun-shot wounds, and now-late in the evening-all my squads having worked four miles to the beach, I was trying to get my own direction back to the ambulance.

The Turks seldom fired at night, so that it was only the occasional shot of a British rifle, or the sudden "pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!" of a machine-gun which told me the direction of the firing-line.

I trudged on and on in the dark, stumbling over rocks and slithering down steep crags, tearing my way through thorns and brambles, and sometimes rustling among high dry grass.

Queer scents, pepperminty and sage-like smells, came in whiffs. It was cold. I must have gone several miles along the Kapanja Sirt when I came to a halt and once more tried to get my bearings. I peered at the gloomy sky, but there was no star. I listened for the lap-lap of water on the beach of Suvla Bay, but I must have been too far up the ridges to hear anything. There was dead silence. When I moved a little green lizard scutted over a white rock and vanished among the dead scrub.

I was past feeling hungry, although I had eaten one army biscuit in the early morning and had had nothing since.

It was extraordinarily lonely. You may imagine how queer it was, for here was I, trying to get back to my ambulance headquarters at night on the first day of landing-and I was hopelessly lost. It was impossible to tell where the firing-line began. I reckoned I was outside the British outposts and not far from the Turkish lines. Once, as I went blundering along over some rocks, a dark figure bolted out of a bush and ran away up the ridge in a panic.

"Halt!" I shouted, trying to make believe I was a British armed sentry. But the figure ran on, and I began to stride after it. This led me up and up the ridge over very broken ground. Whoever it was (it was probably a Turkish sniper, for there were many out night-scouting) I lost sight and sound of him.

I went climbing steadily up till at last I found myself looking into darkness. I got down on my hands and knees and peered over the edge of a ridge of rock. I could see a tiny beam of light away down, and this beam grew and grew as it slowly moved up and up till it became a great triangular ray. It swept slowly along the top of what I now saw was a steep precipice sloping sheer down into blackness below. One step further and I should have gone hurtling into the sea. For, although I did not then know it, this was the topmost ridge of the Kapanja Sirt.

The great searchlight came nearer and nearer, and I slid backwards and lay on my stomach looking over. The nearer it came the lower I moved, so as to get well off the skyline when the beam reached me. It may have been a Turkish searchlight. It swept slowly, slowly, till at last it was turned off and everything was deadly black.

I started off again in another direction, keeping my back to the ridge, as I reckoned that to be a Turkish searchlight, and, therefore, our own lines would be somewhere down the ridge. Here, high up, I could just see a grey streak, which I took to be the bay.

I tried to make for this streak. I scrambled down a very steep stratum of the mountain-side and landed at last in a little patch of dead grass and tall dried-up thistles.

By this time, having come down from my high position on the Sirt, I could no longer see the bay; but I judged the direction as best I could,

and without waiting I tramped on.

I began to wonder how long I had been trudging about, and I put it at about two hours.

"Halt!-who are you?" called a voice down below.

"Friend! stretcher-bearer!" I shouted.

"Come here-this way!" answered the voice.

I went down to a clump of bushes, and a man with a rifle slung over his shoulder stepped forward, and we both glared at each other for a second.

"Do yer know where the 45th Company is?"

"No idea," said I.

"Any water?"

"Not a drop left."

"We're trying to get back to the firing-line but we're all lost-there's eight of us."

"I'm trying to get to the 32nd Field Ambulance-d'you know the way?"

"Yes; go right ahead there," he pointed, "and keep well down off the hills-you'll see the beach when you've gone for a mile or so-"

"How far is it?"

"'Bout four miles;" and then, "Got a match?"

"Yes-but it's dangerous to light up."

"Must 'ave a smoke-nothink to eat or drink."

"Well, here you are; light up inside my helmet."

He did; this hid the lighted match from any sniper's eye. The other seven men came crawling out of the bushes to light up their "woodbines" and fag-ends.

"Well, I'm off," said I, and once more went forward in the direction pointed out by the corporal and his lost squad.

"So long, mate-good luck!" he shouted.

"Same to you!" I called back.

And now came sleep upon me. Even as I walked an awful weariness fell upon every limb. My legs became heavy and slow. That short rest had stiffened me, and my eyelids closed as I trudged on. I lifted them with an effort and dragged one foot after the other. I knew I must get back to my unit, and that here it was very dangerous. I wanted to lie down on the dead grass and sleep and sleep and sleep. I urged my muscles to swing my legs-for I knew if once I sat down to rest I should never keep awake.

It was while I was thus trying to jerk my sleepy nerves on to action that I came upon a zigzagged trench. It was fully six feet deep and about a yard wide. It was of course an old Turkish defence running crosswise along the great backbone of the Sirt. I knew now that I was nearing the bay, for most of these trenches overlooked the beach.

There was a white object about ten yards from me. What it was I could not tell, and a quiver of fear ran through me and threw off the awful sleepiness of fatigue.

Was it a Turkish sniper's shirt? Or was it a piece of white cloth, or a sheet of paper? In the gloom of night I could not discover.

However, I determined to go steady, and I crept up to a dark thorn-bush and stood still. It did not move. Still standing against the dark bush to hide the fact that I was unarmed, I shouted-

"Halt! who are you?" in as gruff and threatening a tone as I could command.

Silence. It did not move. I ran forward along the trench and there found a white pack-mule all loaded up with baggage; I could make out the queerly worked trappings, with brass-coins on the fringed bridle and coloured fly-tassels over the eyes. It was stone dead and stiff. Its eyes glared at me-a glassy glare full of fear. The Turkish pack-mule had been bringing up material to the Turks in the trench when it had been killed-and now the deep sides of the trench were holding it upright.

I trudged away towards the beach and lay down to sleep at last among the other men of the ambulance, who were lying scattered about behind tufts of bush or against ledges of rock.

When weighed down with sleep any bed will serve.

And this was the end of our first day's work on the field.

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