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   Chapter 27 THE DEPARTURE

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6208

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Now came a period of utter stagnation

It was a deadlock.

We held the bay, the plain of Anafarta, the Salt Lake, the Kislar Dagh and Kapanja Sirt in a horse-shoe.

The Turks held the heights of Sari Bair, Anafarta village, and the hills beyond "Jefferson's Post" in a semicircle enclosing us. Nothing happened. We shelled and they shelled-every day. Snipers sniped and men got killed; but there was no further advance. Things had remained at a standstill since the first week of the landing.

Rumours floated from one unit to another:

"We were going to make a great attack on the 28th"-always a fixed date; "the Italians were landing troops to help the Australians at Anzac"-every possible absurdity was noised abroad.

Hawk was on Chocolate Hill with our advanced dressing station. I was on "C" Beach, Lala Baba, with the remainder of the ambulance. I had lost all my officers by sickness and wounds, and I was now the last of the original N.C.O.'s of "A" Section. Except for the swimming and my own observations of tracks and birds and natural history generally, this was a desperately uninteresting period.

Orders to pack up ready for a move came suddenly. It was now late in September. The wet season was just beginning. The storm-clouds were coming up over the hills in great masses of rolling banks, black and forbidding. It grew colder at night, and a cold wind sprang up during the day.

Every one was bustling about, packing the operating tent and equipment, operating table, instruments, bottles, pans, stretchers, "monkey-boxes," bandages, splints, cooking dixies, bully-beef crates, biscuit tins-everything was being packed up and sorted out ready for moving.

But where? No one knew. We were going to move... soon, very soon, it was rumoured.

Within every mind a small voice asked-"Blighty?" And then came another whiff of rumour: "The Xth Division are going-England perhaps!"

But it was too good to believe. Every one wanted to believe it... each man in his inmost soul hoped it might be true... but it couldn't be England... and yet it might!

One night the Indian Pack-mule Corps came trailing down with their little two-wheeled, two-muled carts and transported all our medical panniers away into the gloom, and they went towards Lala Baba. It was a good sign.

Everything was gone now except our own packs and kit, and we had orders to "stand by" for the command to "Fall in."

We lay about in the sand waiting-and wondering. At last towards the last minutes of midnight we got the orders to "Fall in." The N.C.O.'s called the "Roll," "numbered off" their sections and reported "All present and correct, sir!"

In a long straggling column we marched from our last encampment towards Lala Baba. The night was very dark and the sand gave under our feet. It was hard going, but every man had a gleam of hope, and trudged along heavy-laden with rolled overcoat, haversack and water-bottle and stretcher, but with a light heart.

The advanced party from Chocolate Hill met us at Lala Baba. Here everything was bustle and hurry.

Every unit of the Xth Di

vision was packed up and ready for embarkation. Lighters and tugs puffed and grated by the shore. Horses stamped and snorted; sergeants swore continually; officers nagged and shouted.

Men got mixed up and lost their units, sections lost their way in the great crowd of companies assembled.

Once Hawk loomed out of the darkness and a strong whiff of rum came with him... he disappeared again: "See you later, Sar'nt-lookin' after things-important-practically everythink--"

He was full of drink, and in his hurry to look after "things" (mostly bottles) he lost some of his own kit and my field-glasses. He worked hard at getting the equipment into the lighters, notwithstanding the fact that he was "three-parts canned."

Every now and then he loomed up like some great khaki-clad gorilla, only to fade away again to the secret hiding-place of a bottle.

And so at last we got aboard. It was still a profound secret. No one knew whither we were going, or why we were leaving the desolation of Suvla Bay.

But every one was glad. Anything would be better than this barren waste of sand and flies and dead men.

That was the last we saw of the bay. A sheet of gray water, a moving mob on the slope of Lala Baba, the trailing smoke of the tug, and a pitch-black sky-and Hawk lurching round and swearing at the loss of his bottle and his kit.

An old sea-song was running in my mind:-

"But two men of her crew alive-

What put to sea with seventy-five!"

Only three months ago we had landed 25,000 strong; and now we numbered about 6000. A fearful loss-a smashed Division.

We transferred to a troop-ship standing out in the bay with all possible speed.

Still with the gloom hanging over everything we steamed out and every man was dead tired.

However, I found Hawk, and we decided not to sleep down below with the others, all crowded together and stinking in the dirty interior of the ship.

We took our hammocks up on deck and slung them forward from the handrail near one of the great anchors.

I had a purpose in doing this. I had no intention of going to sleep. By taking note of a certain star which had appeared just to the right of a cross-spar, and by noticing its change of position, I was enabled to guess with some exactitude the course we were laying.

For the first two or three hours the star and the mast kept a perfectly unchangeable position.

I woke up after dozing for some minutes, and taking up my old stand near the companion-way again took my star observation. But this time the star had swept right round and was the other side of the mast. We had changed our course from south-west to north. Just then Hawk came up the companion-way, no doubt from a bottle-hunt down below.

"It's-Salonika!" said he.

"We've turned almost due north in the last quarter of an hour."

"I know it,-been down to the stokers' bunks-it's Salonika-another new landing."

"They keep the Xth for making new landings."

And so to the Graeco-Serbian frontier and a fresh series of adventures, including sickness, life in an Egyptian hospital-and then England.

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