25 May 1915

In a blue harbour surrounded by green rock-broken hills in a place I may not name.

9 a.m.

                                                                                R.M.S. “ORSOVA”

May 25th

My dearest little Mrs P., What letters, long descriptive letters, we were going to write all this morning, all of us; for a small steamer was to come at sundown and fetch us away to a seat of war which it is unlawful to mention. (The veil of secrecy has descended suddenly, with a thump; I may name nothing, describe nothing, criticise nothing.) But while I was dressing at leisure for breakfast (after morning exercise and bath) the little lugger suddenly turned up alongside and invited us to embark. So here I am sitting under a bridge-stairway on the floor, on a sort of little South Coast pleasure steamer; and in a few hours we shall see and hear much that is interesting. We haven’t started yet.

This usually empty harbour is full of many things. What a time for lonely shepherds and shepherdesses to remember in after years! Last night, a warm scented air, South Seasy, a bright moon and stars, dark forms of ships, two only gaily garlanded with green lamps and a bright red cross of light in the midst, like a regatta. And all around these lonely soft hills like the Kyles of Bute. In the daytime 2 or 3 bumboats with dark sad men selling chestnuts and oranges.

For a day or two we have been passing among countless islands of famous names. […]

Yesterday, in the evening the ship was darkened. As I sat sewing alone in the drawing room, one or two [officers] came in and one played [the piano]. Then the lights were switched off at eight .30; others flocked in, and in complete darkness, with the red glow of a cigar or two, we all sang in lusty union ‘Little Grey Home in the West’ and ‘Somewhere a Voice Is Calling’. Afterwards there was a little dark group about the harmonium in the gallery over the dining saloon and Frank’s pupil Griffith was playing ‘When my Caravan Has Rested’ and that sort of thing, very prettily. I was resting in my cabin then.

You see there’s a lot to be done. I’ve taken out the flannel lining from my tunic; we’ve all put our stars off our sleeves onto our shoulders and abolished the braid. I’ve converted a mess-tin cover into a case for the Colonel’s field-glasses. Everybody’s been sewing; what one of the youths called a ‘Dorking Society’ on deck.

So the scene changes. We Ox. and Bucks. are undivided; but my cabin companion has gone before. We still don’t know to what regiments we are to belong; but not to our own, in any case.

The sea’s a peacock green and makes the shore look yellow.

Little P. enfolds Mrs P. and departs for the seat of war.

P.

George is writing from Mudros, the harbour of the Greek island of Lemnos, technically sixty miles from Helles. ‘South Seasy’ refers to his visit to Tahiti in 1906. ‘Frank’ is Frank Hornby, a schoolmaster married to a relation of Kittie’s. ‘A Dorking Society’ is a malapropism for ‘Dorcas Society’, a church group dedicated to making clothing for the poor. ‘We Ox. and Bucks.’ were the six officers including George who had come from the 9th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at Gosport.

The German submarine U-21 reached Helles today and sank the old battleship Triumph off Anzac Cove, whilst the British submarine E-11 sank a large freighter, the Stamboul, in Constantinople harbour.

Next entry: 26 May 1915

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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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