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   Chapter 16 THE ADVENTURE OF THE LOST SQUADS

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 4629

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Things became jumbled.

The continual working up to the firing-line and the awful labour of carrying heavy men back to our dressing station: it went on. We got used to being always tired, and having only an hour or two of sleep. It was log-heavy, dreamless sleep... sheer nothingness. Just as tired when you were wakened in the early hours by a sleepy, grumbling guard. And then going round finding the men and wakening them up and getting them on parade. Every day the same... late into the night.

Then came the disappearance of a certain section of our ambulance and the loss of an officer.

This particular young lieutenant was left on Lemnos sick. He really was very sick indeed. He recovered to some extent of the fever, and joined us one day at Suvla. This was in the Old Dry Water-course period, when Hawk and I lived in the bush-grown ditch.

Officers, N.C.O.'s, and men were tired out with overwork. This young officer came up to the Kapanja Sirt to take over the next spell of duty.

I remember him now, pale and sickly, with the fever still hanging on him, and dark, sunken eyes. He spoke in a dull, lifeless way.

"Do you think you'll be all right?" asked the adjutant.

"Yes, I think so," he answered.

"Well, just stick here and send down the wounded as you find them. Don't go any farther along; it's too dangerous up there-you understand?"

"All right, sir."

It was only a stroke of luck that I didn't stay with him and his stretcher-squads.

"You'd better come down with me, sergeant," says the adjutant.

Next day the news spread in that mysterious way which has always puzzled me. It spread as news does spread in the wild and desolate regions of the earth.

"... lost... all the lot..."

"Who is?"

"Up there... Lieutenant S-- and the squads..."

"How-joo-know?"

"Just heard-that wounded fellow over there on the stretcher... they went out early this morning, and they've gone-no sign, never came back at all-"

"'E warn't fit ter take charge... 'e was ill, you could see."

"Nice thing ter do. The old man'll go ravin' mad."

"It was a ravin' mad thing to put the poor feller in charge... "

"Don't criticise yer officers," said some wit, quoting the Army Regulations.

The adjutant and a string of squads turned out, and we went back again to th

e spot where we had left the young officer the evening before.

The cook and an orderly man remained, and we heard from them the details of the mystery.

Early that morning they had formed up, and gone off under Lieutenant S-- along the mule track overlooking the Gulf of Saros. That was all. There was still hope, of course... but there wasn't a sign of them to be seen. The machine-gun section had seen them pass right along. Some officers had warned them not to go up, but they went and they never came back.

There were rumours that one of the N.C.O.'s of the party, a sergeant, had been seen lying on some rocks.

"Just riddled with bullets-riddled!"

The hours dragged on. I begged of the adjutant to let me go off along the ridge on my own to see if I could find any trace.

"It's too dangerous," he said. "If I thought there was half a chance I'd go with you, but we don't want to lose any more."

Those ten or twelve men went out of our lives completely. Days passed. There was no news. It was queer. It was queer when I called the roll next day-

"Briggs!"-"Sar'nt!"

"Boots!"-"Sarn't!"

"Cudworth!"-"Here, Sar'nt!"

"Dean!"-"Sar'nt!"

"Desmond!"-"Sar'nt!"

"D--."

I couldn't remember not to call his name out. It seemed queer that he was missing. It seemed quite hopeless now. Three or four days dragged on. Everything continued as usual. We went up past the place where we had left them, and there was no news, no sign. They just vanished. No one saw them again, and except for the "riddled" rumour of the poor old sergeant the whole thing was a blank.

We supposed that the young officer, coming fresh to the place, did not know where the British lines ended and the Turks' began, and he marched his squads into that bit of No Man's Land beyond the machine-gun near "Jefferson's Post," and was either shot or taken prisoner.

It made the men heavy and sad-minded.

"Poor old Mellor-'e warn't a bad sort, was he!"

"Ah!-an' Bell, Sergeant Bell... riddled they say... some one seen 'm-artillery or some one!"

It hung over them like a cloud. The men talked of nothing else.

"Somebody's blundered," said one.

"It's a pity any'ow."

"It's a disgrace to the ambulance-losin' men like that."

And, also, it made the men nervous and unreliable. It was a shock.

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