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At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 10583

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

We used to start long before daylight, when the heavy gloom of early morning swept mountain, sea and sand in an indistinct haze; when the cobwebs hung thick from thorn to thorn like fairy cats'-cradles all dripping and beaded with those heavy dews. The guard would wake us up about 3.30 A.M. We were asleep anywhere, lying about under rocks and in sandy dells, sleeping on our haversacks and water-bottles, and our pith helmets near by. We got an issue of biscuit and jam, or biscuit and bully-beef, to take with us, and each one carried his iron rations in a little bag at his side.

So we set off-a long, straggling, follow-my-leader line of men and stretchers. The officer first, then the stretcher-sergeant-(myself)-and the squads, two men to a stretcher, carrying the stretchers folded up, and last of all a corporal or a "lance-jack" bringing up the rear in case any one should fall out.

Cold, dark, shivery mornings they were; our clothes soaked in dew and our pith helmets reeking wet, with the puggaree all beaded with dew-drops. We toiled up and up the ridges and gullies of the Kislar Dargh and the Kapanja Sirt slowly, like a little column of ants going out to bring in the ant eggs.

Often we had to wait while the Indian transport came down from the hill-track before we could proceed, and we always came upon the Engineers' field-telegraph wires on the ground. I would shout "Wire!" over my shoulder, and the shout "Wire!... Wire!... Wire!" went down the line from squad to squad.

From the old Turkish well I led my stretcher-squads past the gun of the Field Artillery (mounted quite near our hospital tents) along a track which ran past a patch of dry yellow grass and dead thistles-here among the prickly plants and sage-bushes grew a white flower-pure and sweet-scented-something like a flag-a "holy flower" among the dead and scorched-up yellow ochre blades and the khaki and dull grey-greens of thorns. We went along this track, past the dead sniper which Hawk and I had so carefully stalked. Near by, hidden by bushes and rank willow thickets lay a dozen more dead Turks, swollen, fly-blown and stinking in the broiling sun. We hurried on past the Turkish bivouacs-many of the relics had been picked up by the British Tommies since last I saw the place: the tobacco had all gone-many of the shirts and overcoats which had been lying about had disappeared-the place had been thoroughly ransacked. We trudged past the wooden cross of our dead comrade and we were silent.

Indeed, throughout those first three days-Saturday, Sunday and Monday-when the British and Turks grappled to and fro and flung shrapnel at each other incessantly; when the fighting line swayed and bent, sometimes pushing back the Turks, sometimes bending in the British; when the fate of the whole undertaking still hung in the balance; when what became a semi-failure might have been a staggering success: in those days the death-silence fell upon us all.

No one whistled those rag-time tunes; no one tried to make jokes, except the very timid, and they giggled nervously at their own.

No one spoke unless it was quite necessary. Each man you passed asked you the vital question: "Any water?"

For a moment as he asks his eyes glitter with a gleam of hope-when you shake your head he simply trudges on over the rocks and scrub with the same fatigued and sullen dullness which we all suffered.

Often you asked the same question yourself with parched and burning lips.

One after another we came upon the wounded. Here a man dragging a broken leg along with him. Here a man holding his fractured fore-arm and running towards us. Sometimes the pitiful cry, faint and full of agony: "Stretchers! Stretcher-bearers!" away in some densely overgrown defile swept with bullets and shrapnel.

And so at last all my squads had turned back with stretchers loaded with men and pieces of men. I went on alone-a lonely figure wandering about the mountains, looking and listening for the wounded.

I came now upon a party of Engineers at work making a road. They were working with pick-axe and spade-clearing away bush and rocks.

"Any water?" they asked.

I shook my head.

"Any wounded?" I said.

"Some down there, they say," said a red-faced man.

"Damn rotten job that," muttered another, as I went on.

"Better keep well over in the bushes," shouted the red-faced man. "They've got this bit of light-coloured ground marked-you're almost sure ter git plugged."

"Thanks!" I called back, and broke off to my left among the sage and thistle and thorn.

I went now downhill into an overgrown water-course (very much like the one in which I used to sleep and eat away back by the artillery big gun). Here were willows and brambles with ripe blackberries, and wild-rose bushes with scarlet hips. "Just like England!" I thought.

And then, as I crossed the little dry-bed stream and came out upon a sandy spit of rising ground: "Z-z-ipp! Ping!"-just by my left arm. The bullet struck a ledge of white rock with the now familiar metallic "tink!"

I went on moving quickly to get behind a thorn-bush-the only cover near at hand. Here, at any rate, I should be out of sight.



I could hear the report of the rifle. I lay flat on my stomach, g

rovelled my face into the sandy soil and lay like a snake and as still as a tortoise.

I waited for about ten minutes. It seemed an hour, at least, to me. The sniper did not shoot again. In front of my thorn-bush was an open space of pale yellow grass, with no cover at all. I crawled towards the left flank and tried to creep slowly away. I moved like the hands of a clock-so slowly; about an inch at a time, pushing forward like a reptile on my stomach, propelling myself only by digging my toes into the earth. My arms I kept stiff by my side, my head well down.

But the sniper away behind that little pear-tree (which stood at the far end of the open space) had an eagle eye.

"Ping! z-z-pp! ping!"

I lay very still for a long time and then crept slowly back to my thorn-bush.

I tried the right flank, but with the same effect. And now he began shooting through my thorn-bush on the chance of hitting me.

Behind me was a dense undergrowth of thorn, wild-rose bramble, thistle, willow and sage.

I turned about and crawled through this tangle, until at last I came out, scratched and dishevelled and sweating, into the old water-course.

The firing-line was only a few hundred yards away, and the bullets from a Turkish maxim went wailing over my head, dropping far over by the Engineers whom I had passed.

I wanted to find those wounded, and I wanted to get past that open space, and I wanted above all to dodge that sniper. The old scouting instincts of the primitive man came calling me to try my skill against the skill of the Turk. I sat there wiping away blood from the scratches and sweat from my forehead and trying to think of a way through.

I looked at the mountains on my left-the lower ridge of the Kapanja Sirt-and saw how the water-course went up and up and in and out, and I thought if I kept low and crawled round in this ditch I should come out at last close behind the firing-line, and then I could get in touch with the trenches. I could hear the machine-gun of the M-'s rattling and spitting.

I began crawling along the water-course. I had only gone three yards or so, and turned a bend, when I came suddenly upon two wounded men. Both quite young-one merely a boy. He had a bad shrapnel wound through his boot, crushing the toes of his right foot. The other lay groaning upon his back-with a very bad shrapnel wound in his left arm. The arm was broken.

The boy sat up and grinned when he saw me.

"What's up?" asked his pal.

"Red Cross man," says the boy; and then: "Any water?"

"Not a drop, mate," said I. "Been wounded long?"

"Since yesterday evening," says the boy.

"Been here all that time?" I asked. (It was now mid-afternoon.)

"Yes: couldn't get away"-and he pointed to his foot.

"'E carn't move-it's 'is arm. We crawled 'ere."

"I'll be back soon with stretchers and bandages," I said, and went quickly back along the water-course and then past the Engineers.

"Found 'em?" they asked.

"Yes: getting stretchers up now," said I. "Awful stink here! Found any dead?" I asked.

"Yes, there's one or two round here. We buried one over there yesterday: 'e fell ter bits when we moved 'im."

I went on. Soon I was back in the ditch beside the wounded men. I had successfully dodged the sniper by following along the bottom of the bed of the stream. With me I brought two stretcher-squads, and they had a haversack containing, as I thought, splints and bandages. But when I opened it, it had only some field dressings in it and some iodine ampoules.

I soon found that the man's arm was not only septic, but broken and splintered.

"Got a pair of scissors?" I asked.

One man had a pair of nail-scissors, and with this very awkward instrument I proceeded to operate. It was a terrible gash. His sleeve was soaked in blood. I cut it away, and his shirt also.

I broke an iodine phial and poured the yellow chemical into his great gaping wound. Actually his flesh stunk: it was going bad.

"Is it broke?" he asked.

"Be all right in a few minutes; nothing much." I lied to him.

"Not broke then?"

"Bit bent; be all right."

With the nail-scissors I cut great chunks of his arm out, and all this flesh was gangrenous, and mortification was rapidly spreading. My fingers were soaked in blood and iodine.

I cut away a piece of muscle which stunk like bad meat.

"Can you feel that?" I asked.

"Feel what?" he murmured.

"I thought that might hurt. I was cutting your sleeve away, that's all."

I cut out all the bad flesh, almost to the broken bones. I filled up the jagged hole with another iodine ampoule. I plugged the opening with double-cyanide gauze, and put on an antiseptic pad.

"Splints?" I asked.

"Haven't any."

So I used the helve of an entrenching-tool and the stalks of the willow undergrowth.

I set his arm straight and bandaged it tightly and fixed it absolutely immovably. Then we got him on a stretcher, and they carried him three and a half miles to our ambulance tents. But I'm afraid that arm had to come off. I never heard of him again.

The other fellow was cheerful enough, and only set his teeth and drew his breath when I cut off his boot with a jack-knife. Wonderful endurance some of these young fellows have. There's hope for England yet.

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