February 25th 1918

Lieut. Pat Duff (RFA) was collared by GC (Mr Vassall) to write back from Mesopotamia – and he has now obliged. He describes his progress up the Tigris from Busra to Kut before marching on to Bagdad.

8/2/18 “Busra is a place of of quite impressive size with very good looking houses and offices facing the river. The river itself is about 500 yards broad there, and ocean-going steamers go right up against the wharves. There was such a multitude of different craft lying in the stream that I was rather reminded of the Isis by the barges at Eights Week!

At a palace called Kurnah (where the old bed of the Euphrates meets the Tigris) I was shown the Tree of Good and Evil: it was near Temptation Square!

Another object of Biblical interest was Ezra’s tomb, somewhat further up the Tigris: can’t quite make out why he should have come back this way to die because, when last heard of, he was leading an expedition from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem…

I travelled most of the way up to Kut by river. At Kut I got hitched on to an echelon of about 600 horses and mules with transport, and had to march it to Baghdad. Was about 15 days doing this, as we got stuck in the mud owing to rains and all movement was impossible…

Baghdad, although the guide books would say it ‘presents no special features,’ was worth a guinea a minute to me, because of the miscellaneous crowd that inhabit it…

The bazaars are like an endless series of transformation scenes at Drury Lane: it was in such a place as the coppersmith’s quarter where Aladdin must have got his lamps, and, although I didn’t recognise Ali Barba, I could see the Forty Thieves wherever I liked to look.

From the river, Baghdad looks very handsome: the buildings facing the river on the left bank are good, and there are two boat bridges over the river.

The boats on the river rather fascinated me: some are like gondolas, others like wherries on the Norfolk Broads. But there is no wood in this country, and consequently a lot of river transport is done by coracles made of wickerwork and hides and bitumen. (Incidentally, Herodotus in his book on Mesopotamia says, ‘after the city of Babylon itself, what struck me most was the coracles’!  It is interesting to see them functioning to this day.”

Pat ends his letter by saying, “If any enterprising young Dragon would be a pioneer or a ‘builder of empire,’ he need look no further than Mesopotamia for a country that will pay a thousandfold all the labour that is put into it.

I hope you are all flourishing, and often am thinking of ‘the School House afar on the banks of the Cher.'”

March 1st 1916

It has been delightful to receive a visit from Lieut. Patrick Duff (RFA) on his safe return from the Gallipoli campaign. He is kindly allowing us to publish extracts from the diary he kept at the time.

The entries below cover the events from December 30th until January 9th, when he was evacuated.

Any starred space has been censored to meet the requirements of paragraph 453, King’s Regulations.

Lieut. Pat Duff

30/12/15. “I think there is very little doubt that we are going. I write this in the middle of a large expenditure of ammunition on what seems a useless target, just, I take it, to get rid of the stuff…

It is quite exciting and I have no sentimental objection to leaving Gallipoli, as the show is obviously a failure, and we shall see another war in a new country…

31/12/15. Ordered to remove two guns today; spent busy morning packing heavier kit and arranging about despatch of my two guns…

At W Beach delivered two guns, two G.S. wagons and four gharries with men’s kit and some of my own on lighters, and saw them safely off. Rather tired and sleepy as we are having pretty hard days and nights. Write this at 3 a.m. smoking a cigar instead of going to bed, feel absolutely dead tired in the mornings, but the coldness of the night keeps one going for the night work.

1/1/16. We rode into W Beach to learn how to blow up guns in case we had to abandon them..

W_Beach_Helles_Gallipoli 2

Preparation for evacuation. W Beach – January 1916

Thank God we don’t evacuate every day of our lives; it is tiring, as one pulls about guns and heavy stuff in addition to getting no sleep.

General ******* sent us a wire this morning wishing us a ‘Happy and victorious New Year.’ A farcical epithet at a moment when we are in the act of sneaking away from a place we’ve held for eight months and in a deadly funk every minute that the Turk will spot it and jump on us. Took teams out at 11 p.m. and got to Clapham Junction in Krithia nullah about 12.30, having had to wait on Artillery Road owing to block of traffic. Was at W Beach at about 2 a.m., where I soon got rid of the guns. Back to bed about 3.30.

2/1/16. Am staying up for the purpose of seeing wagons loaded with oats, hay and our kit (We are all packed up, leaving out only shaving things and flea bags).

The ravine presents already the appearance of the abomination of evacuation standing where it ought not. All dug-outs have been left as they stood, but it is perceptible that the Peninsula is emptying.

3/1/16. We have now one gun, 58 men and all the horses. Probably I shall leave tomorrow night with our last gun…

4/1/16. 9.45 p.m. The wind is rising. We have got one gun and about 50 rounds of ammunition; if the wind continues we can’t get away. It is beginning to howl like the devil outside. I wonder –

5/1/16. The beach is in a state of disorder; I noticed that last night they had embarked nothing as there was a long train of 18 pounders waiting to go off…. All the ordnance tents were turned inside out, piles of stuff lying about in confusion… There was every kind of thing there if one could only have carried it away. Rather pathetic. Everything is going to be piled up on the edge of the cliff and to be blown to blazes by the Navy the morning after we leave….

Tonight the wind has gone, so that we may be able to get away. The storms here generally last at least three days, so it is nothing short of providential.

6/1/16. Rode out on my little horse with the gun about 8, and thought how I should follow the dim roads of Gallipoli by night no more. Some of the more recent arrivals hail the departure with delight; but we who have been here since the very beginning find it hard to leave the place. One knows it more intimately than any spot on earth, having moved about on it at all hours of the night, and dug ourselves into it in every direction.

Frightful crush on the beach. I managed to get a move on and presently brought my gun to the pier. Shells were dropping on the other side of the beach, but nothing close to us. The horses were unhooked and sent away; my saddle was taken off my little horse and put on the limber and off he went in the dark…. Got out to a ship and had the gun and limber on it by about 5 a.m., and so now I write this sitting on the floor of a cabin, feeling the wiggle of the screw and beginning to realise that, for the time being, I have saved my soul alive.

7/1/16. I have left nothing in Helles, only my little horse, which will be shot. I told ***** to take off a shoe for me.

Started back to Helles about 5… I worked in the hold until about 4 a.m. getting stuff on board; but got some sleep in the night. Yesterday I felt quite sick with sleepiness. Still calm, perhaps we shall be able to get some horses off yet.

8/1/16. Everyone thinks this is ‘Z’ night, when everyone comes off. Wish I were on shore.

About 4 a.m. the Chief woke me and said, ‘the bonfires are lit.’ I went on deck; on W beach about eight great fires were burning and the blaze lighted up the whole place. *********

****** suddenly a terrific explosion came ******* throwing up the earth in the shape of a huge fan about 100 feet into the air. Shortly after came another awful burst, hiding the whole beach behind the falling debris and smoke. Flaming splinters seemed to be flying about everywhere, some falling in the sea.

There was another fire on V beach, and I could see the huge wall of the castle of Sedd-ul-bahr in the glare (reminded me rather of Virgil’s description of the fall of Troy when the forms of the malignant gods loomed out above the smoking walls). Just around the corner from W beach another heap ************* was ablaze, and there was a fire on Gully beach. For an hour or more I stood watching the flames; the Turks were at first firing shrapnel into the middle of the beach, thinking they had set fire to something and that they would catch those who were putting it out. About 5 a.m. they seemed to realise we were gone, as they started shelling out to sea among the ships.

About 5.30 we began to move slowly away and the fires grew smaller in the distance. So we left W beach, looking likes the gates of hell, as it was when we first came there….

This is the end of the Expedition which was to have opened the Dardanelles, filled up Russia with supplies, and as we fondly hoped, advanced in rear of the Austro-Germans along the Danube. How far the frightful waste of men and materials will affect England’s fortunes one can’t tell, and just now it is hard to take a dispassionate view; but, results apart, I cannot think there is any enterprise comparable to this, except the Athenian Expedition to Sicily, which started with the same high hopes and ended…****************”

October 4th 1915

We can now reveal that Noel Sergent is part of the 51e Batterie, 10e Artillerie, E.N.E. Secteur 194, Armee d’Orient and not far from where Pat Duff is stationed. Recently Noel was inspected by Sir Ian Hamilton, the Commander in Chief of our forces in Gallipoli:

Noel Sergent

Sous-Lieut JNB Sergent

“Sir Ian Hamilton came round the guns and spoke to me and said he had played golf at Valescure (Saint-Raphael, in France) and that the links were very bad, and then, just as he was going off, he turned round and asked me how long I thought the war was going to last. I wasn’t going to make an idiot of myself by making a wild guess, so I said we have had so many surprises that I couldn’t possibly tell. So he told me that in his opinion the war would last about another year, and that the Germans weren’t counting on having to go through another winter campaign, and that next spring something decisive would happen, and that decisive something would come from this side.

Pat Duff came and saw me the other day; he is very thin owing to a touch of dysentery, so I gave him the pomegranate skin which had just reached me. He brought me over papers – Sphere, Tatler etc and I was delighted to see him.

27/9/15. Yesterday I had the pleasantest morning I have had yet. I returned Pat Duff’s visit and, after about half-hour’s tramp, I came to a farm where I found some of my R.E. friends, who had been here but had moved up. I gave them some lemons I had brought in my pocket and then went Duff-wards.

I went up this ravine (from Gully Beach) for about ten minutes and came to a notice-board: 460 Battery Winter Quarters. I asked for Duff and was shown to the top of Gurkha Bluff. There I found him in his dug-out. He is so situated as to be able to see Imbros and Samothrace and the sea through the ravine; lucky devil! … The gun is a quite nice 4.2. I photoed it with Duff and friend standing by.”                         

 

June 10th 1915

Whilst many Old Dragons have been enduring the terrors of the trench warfare in France and Belgium, Lieut. Pat Duff, serving with the RFA in the Gallipoli campaign, has found some time for recreation and the occasional acquisition of luxuries; but even then there are reminders that the war is not far away.

Gallipoli Peninsula

The Gallipoli Peninsula

22/5/15 “I went and bathed on a beach facing Imbros and Samothrace, in beautiful clear water. On the cliff-edges were little wooden crosses signifying where men of the landing party had fallen at the first assault. It seems a funny thing to be bathing and enjoying oneself in the midst of all this, but one just takes things as they come and when one can enjoy oneself, one does.

27/5/15. I am with the Battery and living in the Eagle’s Nest, as we call it; incidentally not a bad name, as I saw a Sikh a bit further up the ravine feeding a young eagle, which he must have found here. The Sikhs are good to see in the mornings combing their long black hair; in this setting it puts one in mind of the Spartans before Thermopulae.

Had rather fun the other day; I had gone down to the beach and saw that the ship I came from Alexandria in was here. I managed to get on board and secure a bottle of fizz and a bottle of whisky.. Fizz was Heidsieck, and only 6/- a bottle because duty-free – you can have best brands of fizz at that price. Seemed funny to have it out here.

2/6/15. I had some plum pudding the other day which G’s people had sent; also the waiter at Buol’s had sent him a slab of turtle soup. This slab was watered down to make soup for all of us, and consequently tasted as if it was water that a turtle had had a bath in.

6/6/15. We have some long days now and again, getting up at 4 a.m. and going to bed about 1 a.m. occasionally; but sleeping practically out of doors makes what sleep one has go further…

The time one feels it most is about 2 p.m., when there is no shade of any kind; in the trenches the sun simply beats down on one and one’s clothes get full of sand; I got covered with sand and earth yesterday by a shell and it got all inside my riding breeches, annoying me very much.

The great comfort is having the sea so handy; by means of the communication trench we can go from the guns to the edge of a cliff and so down to the great and wide sea also without showing ourselves on the sky-line.”

 

May 27th 1915

Attempts to break through at Gallipoli continue, where Pat Duff is currently with the RFA. Part of his job is to join the infantry in their trenches to identify suitable targets for the artillery. This, strangely, includes the Turks’ tea-time.

22/5/15. “I was in the observing station yesterday evening with G. We peered through our glasses for ages and could see nothing, until at last little puffs of smoke came out of one of the Turkish trenches, signifying that the Ottoman was making his tea.

This was more than we could stand, so we telephoned down to the Battery, ‘Action,’ and gave various angles and elevations with the result that the Turkish trench was heavily shelled, causing, as we hoped, AAD (which being interpreted means ‘Alarm And Despondency.’)

It is rumoured that the above condition prevails in the English Press regarding this expedition; not surprised.”

May 18th 1915

Pat Duff (another of our 1911 Oxford Hockey Blues – see May 4th picture) is now a 2nd Lieutenant in the RFA with our forces in Gallipoli. He has some amusing stories to tell about our French allies.

9/5/15 “There have been some strenuous night attacks, and stray people dashing into one’s lines at night give alarming views of what is going on. The Frenchman gets rattled at times. One dashed into my lines two nights ago (being nearly shot by my guard).

I shouted ‘Francais, venez ici.’ He was a little man with a huge rifle and bayonet, and looked as if he were supporting a lamp-post. I asked what was happening, and where were his comrades.

He gesticulated and danced about saying ‘on crie, sauve qui peut. Rien ne va plus; les Turcs do this, that, and the other and I am a most miserable soldier.’

So I replied, ‘Courage, comrade; revanche, Marseillaise, Paris attaque, grande attaque.’

Upon which he took heart and returned whence he came, leaving me, however, a bit disconcerted, as that was the only news of the situation I had, and the shrapnel was very frequent and rifle fire seemed to be getting nearer. However, Frenchmen always get hold of the wrong end of the stick, so I decided to wait for confirmation, which of course didn’t come…

Great fun talking to the French tommies, and hearing how as the Corporal was about to bayonet a Turk, another Turk was just about to knife the Corporal when Alphonse and Pierre appeared behind the last-named Turk. As they go to kill him, a sniper appears in the rear.

‘But I am here, and tire mon fusil and lui make brûler la tête, which flees into two piece’ – whereat he waves his arms like a windmill.

15/5/15. There was rather fun the other day, though I didn’t see it. A hare got up and all the English, of course, leapt to their feet with fearful yells. Presently a French General came to complain of this behaviour: ‘à la guerre, comme à la guerre, et à la chasse come à la chasse!’  He explained that his enfants think it is the Turks who arrive when they hear the row. 

I must honestly say that I think this is going to be a long affair, but I hope to return some day.”

May 4th 1915

A number of Old Dragons are involved in the battle that has been going on in the Ypres area since April 22nd. Donald Innes enlisted immediately at the start of the war as a despatch rider in the Motor Cycle Corps:

Donald Innes

Sgt. D. Innes

May 1st 1915. “On one of my rides I came across Treffry Thompson OD at Hazebrouk; he seemed very fit. Since Ypres is at present the centre of interest, perhaps a short account of it would not be amiss… 

One’s first view of the Cathedral reminds one of Magdalen tower; and the cloisters attached are very like those there also. The town has been smashed up more or less in zones, just short of and just beyond the Cathedral: where the shells fell short or overshot it. I was there the night before the attack on Hill 60, and then the Cloth Hall did not seem so very badly damaged, but of course I don’t know what this other bombardment has done.

The inhabitants seem to take things very philosophically, and one got a limited but quite excellent dinner there in a more or less patched up café. Where the shops are absolutely smashed, the owners sell their goods in the street outside.

With regard to the actual fighting, one sees very little of it and it is just a matter of chance if one happens to be there at the time, the trenches acting as a kind of touch-line inside which we play; so I will leave the description of that to ODs who are in the thick of it. 

I saw a little of Neuve Chapelle, and for an infantry man a modern attack can only be described as ‘Hell let loose.’ I thanked God I was a Despatch Rider. Our troubles are rather neatly put by one of the D.Rs in what he called the D.R’s prayer:-

From holes, shells, and motor ‘bus

Good Lord deliver us.”

 * * * * * * *

Donald Innes was one of the five Old Dragons to win Oxford hockey blues in 1911. All five of them are now in the Army.

1911 Hockey Blues

Standing: Donald Innes (Sgt. Motor Cycle Corps) and Patrick Duff (2nd Lieut. RFA in Gallipoli)

Sitting: John Brooks (2nd Lieut. Indian Army), Sholto Marcon (2nd Lieut. OBLI), Ronnie Poulton (Lieut. Royal Berks).