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   Chapter 26 THE BUSH-FIRES

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6436

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


There are some things you never forget...

That little Welshman, for instance, lying on a ledge of rock above our Brigade Headquarters with a great gaping shrapnel wound in his abdomen imploring the Medical Officer in the Gaelic tongue to "put him out," and how he died, with a morphia tablet in his mouth, singing at the top of his high-pitched voice-

"When the midnight chu-chu leaves for Alabam!

I'll be right there!

I've got my fare...

All aboard!

All aboard!

All aboard for Alla-Bam!

... Midnight... chu-chu... chu-chu..."

And so, slowly his soul steamed out of the wrecked station of his body and left for "Alabam!"

One evening, the 25th of August, bush-fires broke out on the right of Chocolate Hill.

The shells from the Turks set light to the dried sage, and thistle and thorn, and soon the whole place was blazing. It was a fearful sight. Many wounded tried to crawl away, dragging their broken arms and legs out of the burning bushes and were cremated alive.

It was impossible to rescue them. Boxes of ammunition caught fire and exploded with terrific noise in thick bunches of murky smoke. A bombing section tried to throw off their equipment before the explosives burst, but many were blown to pieces by their own bombs. Puffs of white smoke rose up in little clouds and floated slowly across the Salt Lake.

The flames ran along the ridges in long lapping lines with a canopy of blue and gray smoke. We could hear the crackle of the burning thickets, and the sharp "bang!" of bullets. The sand round Suvla Bay hid thousands of bullets and ammunition pouches, some flung away by wounded men, some belonging to the dead. As the bush-fires licked from the lower slopes of the Sari Bair towards Chocolate Hill this lost ammunition exploded, and it sounded like erratic rifle-fire. The fires glowed and spluttered all night, and went on smoking in the morning. I had to go up to Chocolate Hill about some sand-bags for our hospital dug-outs next day, and on the way up I noticed a human pelvis and a chunk of charred human vertebrae under a scorched and charcoaled thorn-bush.

Hawk and I kept a very good look-out every day. We noted the arrival of reinforcements, and the putting up of new telegraph lines; we spotted incoming transports, and the departure of our battle-ships in the bay.

In fact, between us, we worked a very complete "Intelligence Department" of our own. We made a rough chart showing the main lines of communications, and the position of snipers and wells, telegraph wires to the artillery, and the main observation posts and listening saps.

"It's just as well," said I, "to know as much as we can how things are going, and to keep account of details-it's safer, and might be very useful."

"Very true," said Hawk; "'ave you noticed 'ow that little cruiser comes in every morning at the same time, and goes out again in the late afternoon? Also, two brigades of Territorials came in last night and went round by the beach early this morning towards Lala Baba; I see the footprints when I went down for a wash."

The colonel had camped us on the edge of the Salt Lake on this side of an incline which led up to a flat plateau. Into this inc

line we had made our dug-outs, and he was now planning the digging out of a square-shaped place which would hold all our stretchers on which the sick and wounded lay, and would be protected from the Turkish shell-fire by being dug into the solid sandstone.

I was looking about for sand-tracks and shells, and I noticed that the grass had grown much more luxuriously at one level than it did lower down. This grass was last year's and was now yellow and dead and rustling like paper flowers.

"This," said I to Hawk, "was last year's water-mark in the rainy season."

"That's gospel," said Hawk; "and what would you make out o' that observation?"

He smiled his queer whimsical smile.

"Why, I guess we shall be swamped out of this camp in a month's time."

"Yes; practically the 'ole of this, up to this level, will be under water."

"Then what's the good of starting to dig a big permanent hospital here when--?"

"Yours not to reason why," said Hawk; "it's a way they have in the army; but I'm not bothering."

Each section dug in shifts day after day until the men were worn out with digging.

Then the long, flat rain-clouds appeared one morning over the distant range of mountains.

"You see them," said Hawk, lighting a "woodbine," and pointing across the Salt Lake; "that's the first sign of the wet season coming up."

Sure enough in a few days the colonel had orders to shift his ambulance to "C" Beach, near Lala Baba, as our present position was unfavourable for the construction of a permanent field hospital, owing to the rise of water in the wet season.

Soon after this, Hawk was moved to the advanced dressing station on Chocolate Hill, and I had to remain with my section near the Salt Lake. Thus we were separated.

"It's to break up our click, too thick together, we bin noticing too much, we know the workin' o' things too well, must break up the combine, dangerous to 'ave people about 'oo spot things and keep their jaws tight. Git rid o' Hawk-see th' ideeah? Very clever, ain't it? Practically we're the only two 'oo do feel which way the wind blows, an' that's inconvenient sometimes."

I asked Hawk while he was on Chocolate Hill to note down in his head the various snipers' posts, and the general positions of the British and Turkish trenches.

There came a time when I wanted to send him a note. But it was a dangerous thing to send notes about. They might fall into the hands of some sniper and give away information.

Therefore I got a bar of yellow soap from our stores, cut it in two, bored out a small hole in one half, wrapped up my note, put it inside the soap, clapped the two halves together, stuck them together by wetting it, and completely concealed the cut by rubbing it with water.

I then asked one of the A.S.C. drivers who was going up with the ambulance wagon in the morning to give the piece of soap to Hawk.

"He hasn't got any soap," I explained, "and he asked me to send him a bit. Tell him it's from me, and that I hope he'll find it all right-it's the best we have!"

Hawk got the soap, guessed there was a reason for sending it, broke it open and found the note. So a simple boy-scout trick came in useful on active service.

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