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   Chapter 17 “OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND!”

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 7210

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It may be that I have never grown up properly. I'm a very poor hand at pretending I'm a "grown man."

Impressions of small queer things still stamp themselves with a clear kodak-click on my mind-an ivory-white mule's skull lying in the sand with green beetles running through the eye-holes... anything-trivial, childlike details.

I remember reading an article in a magazine which stated that under fire, and more especially in a charge, a man moves in a whirl of excitement which blots out all the small realities around him, all the "local colour." He remembers nothing but a wild, mad rush, or the tense intensity of the danger he is in.

It is not so. The greater the danger and the more exciting the position the more intensely does the mind receive the imprint of tiny commonplace objects.

Memories of Egypt and the Mediterranean are far more a jumble of general effects of colour, sound and smell.

The closer we crept to the shores of Suvla Bay, and the deathbed of the Salt Lake, the more exact and vivid are the impressions; the one is like an impressionist sketch-blobs and dabs and great sloshy washes; but the memories of Pear-tree Gully, of the Kapanja Sirt, and Chocolate Hill are drawn in with a fine mapping pen and Indian ink-like a Rackham fairy-book illustration-every blade of dead grass, every ripple of blue, every pink pebble; and towards the firing-line I could draw it now, every inch of the way up the hills with every stone and jagged rock in the right place.

Before sailing from England I had bought a little colour-box, one good sable brush, and a few H.B. pencils-these and a sketch-book which my father gave me I carried everywhere in my haversack. The pocket-book was specially made with paper which would take pencil, colour, crayon, ink or charcoal. I was always on the look out for sketches and notes. The cover bore the strange device-

JOHN HARGRAVE,

R.A.M.C.

32ND FIELD AMBULANCE.

printed in gilt which gradually wore off as time went on. Inside on the fly-leaf I had written-

"IF FOUND, please return to

Sgt. J. HARGRAVE, 32819, R.A.M.C.

32nd Field Ambulance,

X Division, Med. Exp. Force."

And on the opposite page I wrote-

"IN CASE OF DEATH please post as soon as possible to

GORDON HARGRAVE,

Cinderbarrow Cottage,

Levens,

Westmorland."

I remember printing the word "DEATH," and wondering if the book would some day lie with my own dead body "somewhere in the Dardanelles." Printing that word in England before we started made the whole thing seem very real. Somehow up to then I hadn't realised that I might get killed quite easily. I hadn't troubled to think about it.

We moved our camp from "A" Beach farther along towards the Salt Lake. We moved several times. Always Hawk and I "hung together." Once he was very ill in the old dried-up water-course which wriggled down from the Kislar Dargh. He ate nothing for three days. I never saw anything like it before. He was as weak as a rat, and I know he came very near "pegging out." He felt it himself. I was sitting on the ground near by.

"I may not pull through this, old fellow," says Hawk, with just a tear-glint under one eyelid. He lay under a shelf of rock, safe from shrapnel.

"Come now, Fred," says I, "you're not going to snuff it yet."

"Weak as a rat-can't eat nothink, PRACtically... nothink; but see here, John,"-he seldom called me John-"if I do slip off the map, an' I feel PRACtically done for this time-if I SHOULD-you see that ration-bag"-he pointed to a little white bag bulging and tied up and knotted.

"Yes?"

"It's g

ot some little things in it-for the kiddies at home-a little teapot I found up by the Turkish bivouac over there, and one or two more relics-I want 'em to have 'em-will you take care of it and send it home for me if you get out of this alive?"

Of course I promised to do this, but tried to cheer him up, and assured him he would soon pull round.

In a few days he threw off the fever and was about again.

Hawk and I had lived for some weeks in this overgrown water-course. It was a natural trench, and at one place Hawk had made a dug-out. He picked and shovelled right into the hard, sandy rock until there was quite a good-sized little cave about eight feet long and five deep.

The same sickness got me. It came over me quite suddenly. I was fearfully tired. Every limb ached, and, like all the others, I began to develop what I call the "stretcher-stoop." I just lay down in the ditch with a blanket and went to sleep. Hawk sat over me and brought me bovril, which we had "pinched" on Lemnos Island.

I felt absolutely dying, and I really wondered whether I should have enough strength to throw the sickness off as Hawk had. I gave him just the same sort of instructions about my notes and sketches as he had given me about his little ration-bag.

"Get 'em back to England if you can," I said; "you're the man I'd soonest trust here."

If Hawk hadn't looked after me and made me eat, I don't believe I should have lived. I used to lie there looking at the wild-rose tangles and the red hips; there were brambles, too, with poor, dried-up blackberries. It reminded me of England. Little green lizards scuttled about, and great black centipedes crawled under my blanket. The sun was blazing at mid-day. Hawk used to rig me up an awning over the ditch with willow-stems and a waterproof ground-sheet.

Somehow you always thought yourself back to England. No matter what train of thought you went upon, it always worked its way by one thread or another to England. Mine did, anyway.

It was better to be up with the stretcher-squads in the firing line than lying there sick, and thinking those long, long thoughts.

This is how I would think-

"What a waste of life; what a waste... Christianity this; all part of civilisation; what's it all for? Queer thing this civilised Christianity... very queer. So this really IS war; see now: how does it feel? not much different to usual... But why? It's getting awfully sickening... plenty of excitement, too-plenty... too much, in fact; very easy to get killed any time here; plenty of men getting killed every minute over there; but it isn't really very exciting... not like I thought war was in England... England? Long way off, England; thousands of miles; they don't know I'm sick in England; wonder what they'd think to see me now; not a bad place, England, green trees and green grass... much better place than I thought it was; wonder how long this will hang on... I'd like to get back after it's finished here; I expect it's all going on just the same in England; people going about to offices in London; women dressing themselves up and shopping; and all that... This is a d--place, this beastly peninsula-no green anywhere... just yellow sand and grey rocks and sage-coloured bushes, dead grass-even the thistles are all bleached and dead and rustling in the breeze like paper flowers...

"And we WANTED to get out here... Just eating our hearts out to get into it all, to get to work-and now... we're all sick of it... it's rotten, absolutely rotten; everything. It's a rotten war. Wonder what they are doing now at home..."

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