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   Chapter 20 “JHILL-O! JOHNNIE!”

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6723

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"A" BEACH

SUVLA BAY

There's a lot of senseless "doing"

And a fearful lot of work;

There are gangs of men with "gangers,"

To see they do not shirk.

There's the usual waste of power

In the usual Western way,

There's a tangle in the transport,

And a blockage every day.

The sergeants do the swearing,

The corporals "carry on";

The private cusses openly,

And hopes he'll soon be gone.

One evening the colonel sent me from our dug-out near the Salt Lake to "A" Beach to make a report on the water supply which was pumped ashore from the tank-boats. I trudged along the sandy shore. At one spot I remember the carcase of a mule washed up by the tide, the flesh rotted and sodden, and here and there a yellow rib bursting through the skin. Its head floated in the water and nodded to and fro with a most uncanny motion with every ripple of the bay.

The wet season was coming on, and the chill winds went through my khaki drill uniform. The sky was overcast, and the bay, generally a kaleidoscope of Eastern blues and greens, was dull and grey.

At "A" Beach I examined the pipes and tanks of the water-supply system and had a chat with the Australians who were in charge. I drew a small plan, showing how the water was pumped from the tanks afloat to the standing tank ashore, and suggested the probable cause of the sand and dirt of which the C.O. complained.

This done I found our own ambulance water-cart just ready to return to our camp with its nightly supply. Evening was giving place to darkness, and soon the misty hills and the bay were enveloped in starless gloom.

The traffic about "A" Beach was always congested. It reminded you of the Bank and the Mansion House crush far away in London town.

Here were clanking water-carts, dozens of them waiting in their turn, stamping mules and snorting horses; here were motor-transport wagons with "W.D." in white on their grey sides; ambulance wagons jolting slowly back to their respective units, sometimes full of wounded, sometimes empty. Here all was bustle and noise. Sergeants shouting and corporals cursing; transport-officers giving directions; a party of New Zealand sharp-shooters in scout hats and leggings laughing and yarning; a patrol of the R.E.'s Telegraph Section coming in after repairing the wires along the beach; or a new batch of men, just arrived, falling in with new-looking kit-bags.

It was through this throng of seething khaki and transport traffic that our water-cart jostled and pushed.

Often we had to pull up to let the Indian Pack-mule Corps pass, and it was at one of these halts that I happened to come close to one of these dusky soldiers waiting calmly by the side of his mules.

I wished I had some knowledge of Hindustani, and began to think over any words he might recognise.

"You ever hear of Rabindranarth Tagore, Johnnie?" I asked him. The name of the great writer came to mind.

He shook his head. "No, sergeant," he answered.

"Buddha, Johnnie?" His face gleamed and he showed his great white teeth.

"No, Buddie."

"Mahomet, Johnnie?"

"Yes-me, Mahommedie," he said proudly.

"Gunga, Johnnie?" I asked, remembering the name of the sacred river Ganges from Kipling's "Kim."

"No Gunga, sa'b-Mahommedie, me."

"You go Benares, Johnnie?"

"No Benares."

"Mecca?"

"Mokka, yes; afterwar

ds me go Mokka."

"After the war you going to Mokka, Johnnie?"

"Yes; Indee, France-here-Indee back again-then Mokka."

"You been to France, Johnnie?"

"Yes, sa'b."

"You know Kashmir, Johnnie?"

"Kashmir my house," he replied.

"You live in Kashmir?"

"Yes; you go Indee, sergeant?"

"No, I've never been."

"No go Indee?"

"Not yet."

"Indee very good-English very good-Turk, finish!"

With a sudden jerk and a rattle of chains our water-cart mules pulled out on the trail again and the ghostly figure with its well-folded turban and gleaming white teeth was left behind.

A beautifully calm race, the Hindus. They did wonderful work at Suvla Bay. Up and down, up and down, hour after hour they worked steadily on; taking up biscuits, bully-beef and ammunition to the firing-line, and returning for more and still more. Day and night these splendidly built Easterns kept up the supply.

I remember one man who had had his left leg blown off by shrapnel sitting on a rock smoking a cigarette and great tears rolling down his cheeks. But he said no word. Not a groan or a cry of pain.

They ate little, and said little. But they were always extraordinarily polite and courteous to each other. They never neglected their prayers, even under heavy shell fire.

Once, when we were moving from the Salt Lake to "C" Beach, Lala Baba, the Indians moved all our equipment in their little two-wheeled carts.

They were much amused and interested in our sergeant clerk, who stood 6 feet 8 inches. They were joking and pointing to him in a little bunch.

Going up to them, I pointed up to the sky, and then to the Sergeant, saying: "Himalayas, Johnnie!"

They roared with laughter, and ever afterwards called him "Himalayas."

THE INDIAN TRANSPORT TRAIN

(Across the bed of the Salt Lake every night from the

Supply Depot at Kangaroo Beach to the firing-line beyond

Chocolate Hill, September 1915.)

(footnote: "Jhill-o!"-Hindustani for "Gee-up"; used by the

drivers of the Indian Pack-mule Corps.)

The Indian whallahs go up to the hills-

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

They pass by the spot where the gun-cotton kills;

They shiver and huddle-they feel the night chills-

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

With creaking and jingle of harness and pack-

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

Where the moonlight is white and the shadows are black,

They are climbing the winding and rocky mule-track-

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

By the blessing of Allah he's more than one wife;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

He's forbidden the wine which encourages strife,

But you don't like the look of his dangerous knife;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

The picturesque whallah is dusky and spare;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

A turban he wears with magnificent air,

But he chucks down his pack when it's time for his prayer;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

When his moment arrives he'll be dropped in a hole;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

'Tis Kismet, he says, and beyond his control;

But the dear little houris will comfort his soul;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

The Indian whallahs go up to the hills;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

They pass by the spot where the gun-cotton kills;

But those who come down carry something that chills;

"Jhill-o! Johnnie, Jhill-o!"

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