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   Chapter 18 TWO MEN RETURN

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 5406

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I shall never forget those two little figures coming into camp.

They were both trembling like aspen leaves. One had ginger hair, and a crop of ginger beard bristled on his chin. Their eyes were hollow and sunken, and glittered and roamed unmeaningly with the glare of insanity. They glanced with a horrible suspicion at their pals, and knew them not. The one with the ginger stubble muttered to himself. Their clothes were torn with brambles, and prickles from thorn-bushes still clung round their puttees. A pitiful sight. They tottered along, keeping close together and avoiding the others. An awful tiredness weighed upon them; they dragged themselves along. Their lips were cracked and swollen and dry. They had lost their helmets, and the sun had scorched and peeled the back of their necks. Their hair was matted and full of sand. But the fear which looked out of those glinting eyes was terrible to behold.

We gave them "Oxo," and the medical officer came and looked at them. They came down to our dried-up water-course and tried to sleep; but they were past sleep. They kept dozing off and waking up with a start and muttering-

"... All gone... killed... where? where? No, no... No!.. . don't move... (mumble-mumble)... keep still... idiot! you'll get shot... can you see them? Eh? where?... he's dying, dying... stop the bleeding, man! He's dying... we're all dying... no water... drink..."

I've seen men, healthy, strong, hard-faced Irishmen, blown to shreds. I've helped to clear up the mess. I've trod on dead men's chests in the sand, and the ribs have bent in and the putrid gases of decay have burst through with a whhh-h-ff-f.

But I'd rather have to deal with the dead and dying than a case of "sniper-madness."

I was just recovering from that attack of fever and dysentery, and these two were lying beside me; the one mumbling and the other panting in a fitful sleep.

When they were questioned they could give very little information.

"Where's Lieutenant S--?"

"... Gone... they're all gone..."

"How far did you go with him?"

No answer.

"Where are the others?"

"... Gone... they're all gone..."

"Are they killed?"

"... Gone."

"Are any of the others alive?"

"We got away... they're lost... dead, I think."

"Did you come straight back-it's a week since you were lost?"

"It's days and days and long nights... couldn't move; couldn't move an inch, and poor old George dying under a rock... no cover; and they shot at us if we moved... we waved the stretchers when we found we'd got too far... too far we got... too far... much too far; shot at us..."

"What about the sergeant?"

"We got cut off... cut off... we tried to crawl a

way at night by rolling over and over down the hill, and creeping round bushes... always creeping an' crawling... but it took us two days and two nights to get away... crawling, creeping and crawling... an' they kep' firing at us..."

"No food... we chewed grass... sucked dead grass to get some spittle... an' sometimes we tried to eat grass to fill up a bit.. . no food... no water..."

They were complete wrecks. They couldn't keep their limbs still. They trembled and shook as they lay there.

Their ribs were standing out like skeletons, and their stomachs had sunken in. They were black with sunburn, and filthily dirty.

Gradually they got better. The glare of insanity became less obvious, but a certain haunted look never left them. They were broken men. Months afterwards they mumbled to themselves in the night-time.

Nolan, one of the seafaring men of my section who was with the lost squads, also returned, but he had not suffered so badly, or at any rate he had been able to stand the strain better.

It was about this time that we began to realise that the new landing had been a failure. It was becoming a stale-mate. It was like a clock with its hands stuck. The whole thing went ticking on every day, but there was no progress-nothing gained. And while we waited there the Turks brought up heavy guns and fresh troops on the hills. They consolidated their positions in a great semicircle all round us-and we just held the bay and the Salt Lake and the Kapanja Sirt.

So all this seemed sheer waste. Thousands of lives wasted-thousands of armless and legless cripples sent back-for nothing. The troops soon realised that it was now hopeless. You can't "kid" a great body of men for long. It became utterly sickening-the inactivity-the waiting-for nothing. And every day we lost men. Men were killed by snipers as they went up to the trenches. The Turkish snipers killed them when they went down to the wells for water.

The whole thing had lost impetus. It came to a standstill. It kept on "marking time," and nothing appeared to move it.

In the first three days of the landing it wanted but one thing to have marched us right through to Constantinople-it wanted, dash!

It didn't want a careful, thoughtful man in command-it wanted dash and bluff. It could have been done in those early days. The landing WAS a success-a brilliant, blinding success-but it stuck at the very moment when it should have rushed forward. It was no one's fault if you understand. It was sheer luck. It just didn't "come off"-and only just. But a man with dash, a devil-may-care sort of leader, could have cut right across on Sunday, August the 8th, and brought off a staggering victory.

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