87th Bg., 29th Div., M.E.F.
Dearest Mrs P., Nothing in my letters need make you anxious, for you’d know if I was a casualty thro’ the W.O., before any letter had time to alarm you, same as we see the big brown clouds of smoke and dust flying long before we hear the bang of explosion. Such clouds! and right in the Turkish lines. There’s a shaking bang behind, to one side, then an irregular quiet whizzing away over the landscape, and while you’re listening to it you are suddenly aware that a cloud the size of the Hotel Cecil is drifting across the slopes in the distance followed by bang two. We are free from shells since I wrote last; though a couple went just a little way over us this morning. Of course they go most for the artillery. They ended the day in the quiet evening sunshine yesterday, with a shower of 12 screaming things, in about 4 seconds, into a greatly favoured nullah not very far from us. A sergeant has a beautiful shrapnel shell here from Sunday; fresh, bright, and undamaged. It had gone off and scattered its bullets; but he found its fuse or pointed cap and screwed it on again. We read the range in Turkish numbers on the fuse and know where it came from. The ear grows accustomed to the various sounds. Here as I write in the Mess dugout (there are new officers joined who stand in a shell-inviting way about our usual oak tree) I hear our own guns and the little angry whew of Turkish anti-airman shells bursting in the sky, about one of our airmen. These fellows cruise about for 2 or 3 hrs at a time, persistently dodging those little pretty white clouds. I am after my lunch, between two naps. We hear that the Turks may attack tonight but expect nothing much for ourselves; there are two or three lines between us and them. But we shall go to bed in our boots. I got up at 5.30, my regular hour; m.g. from 7-8. Then with my platoon, inspecting rifles, getting a list of the lousy etc. A remedy recommended is to take a Turkish cartridge, sprinkle the powder along the seam of the trousers and ignite. I have, however, neither lice nor Turkish cartridges. 10.30-12.15, more m.g. 12.30 lunch.
At Sunday’s shelling the Padre ended with dignity, before we dispersed, with a proper benediction. Many shells fell near our transport horses and mares. One of them foaled that morning early, and the little colt was brought back after the cannonade very happy and trustful; no doubt supposing it was our usual way of going on. Its mother was slightly wounded.
There are horrible centipedes here, as fat as my fountain-pen and 6 to 8 inches long; they get into dark places, under bedding, in boots etc. There is a sweet smell from a sort of verbena that grows in quantities on this heath. It was not a corncrake that I meant, but a nightjar. The classical beauty of the landscape towards the blue Dardanelles is greatly heightened by the white pillars of a lost aqueduct.
Among other duties we have to censor our men’s letters. They were some months in Rugby and half the letters are to various Jessies and Bessies in Rugby. One writes: ‘I have written 4 times to Mary and she has not answered. I will give her socks [i.e. hit her] if God spares me to return.’ Last night I instructed a few of my men in bomb throwing. I do not know how far they recognise us new officers. One of my men, being asked, in my presence, whose platoon it was, said ‘Sergeant Smith’s’.
Besides the daily paper ‘The Peninsula Press’ there is an irregular comic paper printed at HQR called ‘The Dardanelles Driveller’. I have not managed to see a copy yet.
Two shells have just gone overhead for the beach; neither of them exploded.
The enemy have no planes at all. There are many things we hear, of which I make no mention, for we are censors of our own letters; but I have no doubt you hear of them all in the newspapers. This regiment (and all this brigade and division) has played a very gallant part out here, and it is a great honour to be attached to them. The Brigade is all Borderers: the K.O.S.B.’s, the Border Regt and the S. Wales Borderers. General Doran, our cross-looking but rather noble old shipmate, commands the brigade in front of us, Tresidder’s and Ratcliff’s. We pride ourselves that we are held in reserve to deliver the smashing and decisive blow.
It is a consolation to think that if I sleep in my boots, there can be no centipedes in them in the morning. I have not smoked since Lemnos, and I’ve been sleepy all the time. Tea is arriving. Goodbye, dear little Mrs P. In spite of all precautions we receive no letters at all. I wish we did. Goodbye to Glengarries; the men have just got their topies back. Yr dear little P.
I’ve got one man in my platoon who wears the kilt, a tall fair beautiful man from the Highlands, the rest in breeches.
This is the first time the above letter has been published in its entirety. The version that appears in Percy Lubbock’s George Calderon: A Sketch from Memory, p. 189-90, is severely edited.
The Hotel Cecil was a grand hotel built by the Thames in the 1890s. The word ‘nullah’, meaning a natural watercourse with steepish sides, was a military term from the Raj; George is most likely referring to Krithia Nullah. George had a phobia of moths, centipedes, spiders etc. For ‘not a corncrake’ see my post of 27 May. ‘There are many things we hear’ probably refers to the criticisms back home of Churchill, Kitchener and the management of the whole Gallipoli campaign. Brigadier-General W. Doran had come over with George and the others from Britain on the Orsova and taken command of the 88th Brigade ahead of them, on the front line. Tresidder and Ratcliff were in the Royal Scots regiment.
‘I’ve been sleepy all the time’: see my post of 9 May.
* * *
On this day, Kittie left Hampstead to stay at Foxwold and Emmetts again until 10 June.
Today Hunter-Weston issued special instructions explaining to VIII Corps senior officers the scheme of the forthcoming battle. ‘The assaulting troops were to be divided into two waves. The first wave, with a strength of five men to every four yards of front, would capture the enemy’s front line […]. As soon as the front line had been captured, the second wave, strength one man per yard, was to leapfrog over the first wave, and capture the second objective, 400-500 yards ahead’ (Official History). Immediately after this, Royal Engineers were to strengthen the captured lines and dig communication trenches back from them to the previous British line.
No date had yet been announced for the attack.
Next entry: Commemoration