28 October 1914

George wrote his long letter to Kittie today at supper time. There had been two developments during the day that directly led to attaining his object of becoming combatant, but he left them until the end of his letter.

During the morning he reported to Brigade HQ, then walked on a further hundred yards to a field dressing station run by Surgeon-Major Pares of the Blues. He asked Pares for a ‘second opinion’ of his medical condition and Pares evidently examined him.

We could hear a fellow sniping 3 or 400 yards away between us and the British trenches. As I stood at the door, pip came a bullet on the ground, 5 feet away from where I had just been sitting 5 seconds before. I was very indignant. As I was helping two men to carry in some bully-beef a minute later, pip-whiz came two more bullets about us. Feeling very strongly about it, I applied to the same Infantry Regt as the day before, which happened to have moved forward up the road, and again got them to send out a party.

The language is interesting. Are ‘very indignant’ and ‘feeling very strongly about it’ just Edwardian meiosis, or was Calderon hellbent on courting danger?

He went off with eleven members of the Royal Warwickshires under a young subaltern, surrounding the area where they thought the sniper was and examining ‘all the cover on the way and all the empty farmhouses’. When George and others got to the back of the sniper’s position they came on trenches occupied by the Blues. Colonel Gordon Wilson told them he was ‘sure the sniper was in the house we had just ransacked’ and it was agreed to set fire to the house to flush the sniper out. Unfortunately, the smoke ‘drew the enemy’s shrapnel’ (the Germans were only 700 yards away):

They got the range exactly.  I and the two men with me took cover lying on our bellies behind a silo-mound. Shrapnel shells make a loud whining noise, a husky mew on a falling note; then bang, and a shower like hail. The yellow leaves and the green showered down in the garden. Thinking the man had had time to be smoked out and was not there, after 3 shrapnels we bolted behind the burning house, and so, at very good hundred yards pace, across the fields at the back and round to Col. Wilson.

The rest of the party had already left for base, so George and his men did the same, ‘at a pretty good pace, as the shrapnel was sweeping the fields between us and home’. When they were within 200 yards of it,

will you believe it? that same d—-d sniper sent 3 bullets, pip-fizz-whip after us, just as we were getting back after searching for him for two hours or more. Where on earth he can have been hidden all the time, it is impossible to conceive. But he was there, and I could hear him still there this afternoon when I went to report myself to the Brigadier. And yesterday’s sniper is still in the woods near here.

Now he divulged his ‘new plan’ to Kittie. Pares had told him that he was not ‘gouty’ at all, he had ‘an enlarged prostatic gland (and varicose at that) from riding’; so ‘there is nothing wrong with me but the riding’!  He had therefore applied to the Royal Warwickshires to be ‘taken on as their Interpreter’, for ‘I can walk like the devil (and it really was a masterpiece the way I handled that Brigade of two this morning)’. He does not mention consulting the Blues about this plan. ‘The desolation up on the firing line is dreadful’, he tells Kittie, yet she should ‘never feel anxious about anything in the world’…

The most important military events on the Belgian front today were:

1) At three in the afternoon Haig received an intercepted German radio message containing an order to attack the following morning at 5.30.  This was a postponement of the massive new German offensive originally planned for the 28th, which the Allies had not remotely suspected.

2) At high water this evening Belgian engineers succeeded in opening the old Furnes lock at Nieuport, which let the sea in between the Yser and the embankment of the Dixmude-Nieuport railway.  Over the next four days an area 18-21 miles long, 1.75-2.5 miles across, and 3-4 feet deep, was flooded, threatening to cut off the Germans’ rear.  They withdrew to the east bank.

Next entry: 29 October 1914: ‘toothache in the ankle’

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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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