‘Things fall apart’

Since George Calderon’s death at noon in the Third Battle of Krithia on 4 June 1915 the timeline of this blog has frayed almost to nothingness. I understand the disorientation and even irritation of some followers who have emailed me. They want ‘finality’, or at least some certainty, about Kittie’s attempts to discover the truth, but I’m afraid that is precisely what you are not going to get for the remainder of this blog.

Followers may remember that a distinguished biographer told me how lucky I was that George ‘disappeared in the smoke of battle’ because that gave me a good ending to my biography, as opposed to slow decline, years of dementia, etc. But that’s not a ‘good ending’, it’s a lie! For Kittie there was never ‘closure’. That was the ending.

For the next thirteen days we have no positive evidence whatsoever about what Kittie did, indeed where she was, or what feedback she got from Hedley and Bell. Percy Lubbock’s first letter to her from Alexandria was dated 27 June 1915, but it will not appear in this blog until eight days later as the blog is tied to Kittie’s timeline, not Percy’s. (Eight days is probably the average time it took mail to get from Egypt to an address in Britain.) There are no more letters from Gertrude Bell in Kittie’s file until 14 July, although that does not mean to say Bell never wrote. How long did Kittie stay at Hoe Benham? We don’t know.

But there is one negative that is tantamount to a positive fact. There are no more copies of telegrams from the War Office in George’s War Office file until 12 July, so we can be pretty sure Kittie did not receive any more from that quarter until then.

Of course, it is ghastly. We know George died eighteen days ago, Kittie didn’t. It prompts us to ask, how on earth could this blatant error about him being ‘wounded’ come about?

On the one hand, it might seem easy enough. George was ‘seen to fall’, says a witness statement signed 13 July 1915, and finding him ‘missing’ a day or two after the attack George’s KOSB comrades put the best construction on it — that he ‘fell wounded’ (in Percy Lubbock’s Sketch from Memory this became ‘severely wounded’). As all accounts agree, the wounded were tirelessly stretchered away from the battle front all day. The Official History even mentions it specially: ‘The task of getting the large number of wounded down to the beach was particularly arduous, and high praise is due to the stretcher-bearers and regimental doctors, who were working all through the afternoon and the following night and day.’ One can understand, therefore, that once comrades in the 1st KOSB had convinced themselves George was wounded, they could assume he was on a hospital ship at Imbros, Lemnos, or on his way to Alexandria.

On the other hand, they must have known that with the Turks counterattacking in the late afternoon of 4 June the corpses of those killed on the open ground before the first Turkish trench was taken had been ‘piled up on each side of the new communication trench to the captured position’ (Official History). The overwhelming chance, if the KOSB officers had thought about it, was that the ‘missing’ George was amongst the dead. Two officers were convinced he had been killed ‘outright’. Although the corpses had been in the baking sun for three days, it is still a mystery why no attempt to identify them, for instance through identity discs, seems to have been made when they were removed on 6th or 7th June by the newly arrived 1/5th KOSB. The reason the corpse of George’s company commander, Captain Grogan, was identified is probably that it lay actually in the Turkish trench taken.

Frankly, it is inexcusable that Kittie was told George was ‘wounded’. He was ‘missing’. Everyone on the spot agreed about that, and they should never have jumped to the conclusion that he had been stretchered away. But such is war.

Next entry: Commemoration (to be continued 1)

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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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