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   Chapter 21 SILVER BAY

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 5477

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


On the edge of the Salt Lake, by the blue Aegean shore, Hawk and I dug a little underground home into the sandy hillock upon which our ambulance was now encamped.

"I'm going deep into this," said Hawk-he was a very skilful miner, and he knew his work.

"None of your dead heroes for me," he said; "I don't hold with 'em-we'll make it PRACtically shell-proof." We did. Each day we burrowed into the soft sandy layers, he swinging the pick, and I filling up sand-bags. At last we made a sort of cave, a snug little Peter Pan home, sand-bagged all round and safe from shells when you crawled in.

I often thought what a fine thing Stevenson would have written from the local colour of the bay.

Its changing colours were intense and wonderful. In the early morning the waves were a rich royal blue, with splashing lines of white breakers rolling in and in upon the pale grey sand, and the sea-birds skimming and wheeling overhead.

At mid-day it was colourless, glaring, steel-flashing, with the sunlight blazing and everything shimmering in the heat haze.

In the early afternoon, when Hawk and I used to go down to the shore and strip naked like savages, and plunge into the warm water, the bay had changed to pale blue with green ripples, and the outline of Imbros Island, on the horizon, was a long jagged strip of mauve.

Later, when the sunset sky turned lemon-yellow, orange, and deep crimson, the bay went into peacock blues and purples, with here and there a current of bottle-glass green, and Imbros Island stood clear cut against the sunset-colour a violet-black silhouette.

Queer creatures crept across the sands and into the old Turkish snipers' trenches; long black centipedes, sand-birds-very much resembling our martin, but with something of the canary in their colour. Horned beetles, baby tortoises, mice, and green-grey lizards all left their tiny footprints on the shore.

"If this silver sand was only in England a man could make his fortune," said Hawk. ("We wept like anything to see-!")

I never saw such white sand before. One had to misquote: "Come unto these SILVER sands." It glittered white in a great horse-shoe round the bay, and the bed of the Salt Lake (which is really an overflow from the sea) was a barren patch of this silver-sand, with here and there a dead mule or a sniper's body lying out, a little black blot, the haunt of vultures.

I made some careful drawings of the sand-tracks of the bay; noting down tracks being a habit with the scout.

In these things Hawk was always interested, and often a great help; for, in spite of his fifty years and his buccaneerish-habits, he was at heart a boy-a boy-scout, in fact, and a fine tracker.

One of the most picturesque sigh

ts I ever saw was an Indian officer mounted on a white Arab horse with a long flowing mane, and a tail which swept in a splendid curve and trailed in the sands. The Hindu wore a khaki turban, with a long end floating behind. He sat his horse bolt upright, and rode in the proper military style.

The Arab steed pranced, and arched its great neck. With the blue of the bay as a background it made a magnificent picture, worthy of the Thousand-and-One Nights.

Day by day we improved our dug-out, going deeper into the solid rock, and putting up an awning in front made of two army blankets, with a wooden cross-beam roped to an old rusty bayonet driven into the sand.

We lived a truly Robinson Crusoe life, with the addition of Turkish high-explosives, and bully-beef-and-biscuit stew.

Our dug-out was back to the firing-line, and at night we looked out upon the bay. We lay in our blankets watching the white moonlight on the waves, and the black shadows of our ambulance wagons on the silver sand.

It was in this dug-out that Hawk used to cook the most wonderful dishes on a Primus stove.

The language was thick and terrible when that stove refused to work, and Hawk would squat there cursing and cleaning it, and sticking bits of wire down the gas-tube.

He cooked chocolate-pudding, and rice-and-milk, and arrowroot-blancmange, stewed prunes, fried bread in bacon fat, and many other tasty morsels.

"The proof of a good cook," said Hawk, "is whether he can make a meal worth eating out of PRACtically nothink"-and he could.

There were very few wounds now to attend to in the hospital dug-out. Mostly we got men with sandfly-fever and dysentery; men with scabies and lice; men utterly and unspeakably exhausted, with hollow, black-rimmed eyes, cracked lips and foot-sores; men who limped across the sandy bed, dragging their rifles and equipment in their hands; men who were desperately hungry, whose eyes held the glint of sniper-madness; men whose bodies were wasting away, the skin taut and dry like a drum, with every rib showing like the beams of a wreck, or the rafters of an old roof.

Always we were in the midst of pain and misery, hunger and death. We do not get much of the rush and glory of battle in the "Linseed Lancers." We deal with the wreckage thrown up by the tide of battle, and wreckage is always a sad sight-human wreckage most of all.

But the bay was always full of interest for me, with its ever-changing colour, and the imprint of the ripples in the gleaming silver-sand.

And the silver moonlight silvers the silver-sand, while the skeletons of the Xth sink deeper and deeper, to be rediscovered perhaps at some future geological period, and recognised as a type of primitive man.

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