‘Stellenbosched’

For those who know only of Stellenbosch’s fine wines or distinguished university, I should explain that after the Second Boer War the British Army turned it into a verb meaning to park someone military in a job where their incompetence can do no harm.

Today, 27 October 1914, at about noon, ‘Sir John French visited I Corps headquarters at Hooge Château, and decided to place the 7th Division under Sir Douglas Haig; the 3rd Cavalry Division had already been taken out of the IV Corps [on 25 October] and attached to the Cavalry Corps, and there was no object in retaining a corps staff to administer one division’ (Official History of the War, 1925).

Now there was no IV Corps. The unspoken consequence was that its commanding officer, General Rawlinson, had no job. French had taken personal offence, it seems, at Rawlinson telling him the truth by telegraph about the state of the 7th Division (see my post of yesterday), and bore him at least two other big grudges. Rawlinson had insisted he needed an 8th Division to carry on fighting with IV Corps at the front of the salient, so now he and his staff were sent home to organise one.

George Calderon, too, was relegated. In an eleven-page letter that he wrote Kittie on 28th, he explained that today Kavanagh ‘divided his staff into two messes: A. Himself, ADC and people with red bands on their caps, B. those without red on their caps, myself, Supply Officer, and Requisition Officer’. B was two miles further behind the lines than A. Similarly, when George tried moving forward with the Blues, he was ‘turned away’ by the new captain of his old squadron. He had to ‘stump up to A twice or three times a day’, but otherwise ‘I have to fill up the day by inventing jobs for myself’.  Presumably he had no horse because it was still too painful for him to ride.

He turned his attention to a sniper who was firing at targets from nearby woods but had not yet hit anyone.

Got an officer from a quite irrelevant infantry regiment [2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshires] that happened to be up the road to send a party under a non. com. to round him up. I went with them as Interpreter — with a gun. We beat down the wood, I and 4 men on the left, the rest […] on the right. After half an hour I and the men looked out through a thicket and saw a man with a gun behind a tree, 200 yards away, across the open, in a farm enclosure. We peeped through glasses and couldn’t for the life of us tell if he was German or English. There were others with him chopping or digging. Having no military command, I could take no responsibility; devil of a row unless we had been quite successful. Tried to get in touch with main body of reconnaissance other side of the wood. Found they had gone home. They reported it was ‘some of our men shooting rabbits’. All bunkum. But there was nothing to be done but follow them. I knew from the moment we started that the non. com. meant to do nothing; but it was poor generalship of him to go off without calling his party together. Altogether a poor turnout.

It is a marvellous feature this sniping. Our men suspect the Flemings, nobody in our army trusts them an inch. It is pretty certain that they act as spies. Several have been arrested. 3 just here today; two found hiding under sacks in a loft, a third going off with a notebook full of notes. But no doubt some of them are Germans. Extraordinary courage. Right inside our lines, right among us pip pipping all day from woods and farms.

George had found a job.  If he could not fight at the front, he was going to fight behind it. This was possibly as dangerous. In some people’s eyes, leading a personal campaign to capture or kill invisible snipers must have made him a liability…

It is important to realise that the Allies’ armies were actually under orders to advance. Their infantry tried to, but made little progress. The British Cavalry Corps remained on the defensive, their forward lines in trenches. ‘Some half-hearted attacks made by the enemy were repulsed’, writes the Official History of 27-28 October. No-one on the Allied side knew that it was the lull before the fiercest and most concerted German onslaught yet.

Next entry: 28 October 1914

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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