The 1916 war diary of 2nd Lieut. Dick Willis Fleming
April 1916 archives
Not much doing today except stables and exercise etc. Bathed about midday. In the evening we had a great football match, the left section v. the right. I was playing for the left section and we won by one goal to nil after a very exciting tussle.
Church parade at nine o'clock, stables at 10am. I had a lovely bathe at midday.
This afternoon Franklyn and I went out for a ride, and took revolvers in the hope of getting a shot at something. He fired at two old hoodies on the ground but missed. We went through a lot of scrub and marshy ground, saw a few snipe and kingfishers, also some shrikes and redstarts and countless wagtails - which are very common here and very tame. We saw some very funny bird - I've noticed them before flying just above the water down the canal - they are black and white, about the size of a woodpecker and have got a long beak. They hover in the air over the water like hawks. I hoped we might see a jackal, but they say they are more common further down.
An enormous liner of sorts has just gone down the canal, with the decks very brilliantly lighted up.
I have just heard a zep. has been brought down during the last raid in England. It is great news.
Orderly dog today. Rode out to the guns this morning and was there most of the morning. Had our usual bathe at midday.
The major got back from Cairo this afternoon and had thoroughly enjoyed it, climbing the pyramids etc.
We had a tremendous blaze this evening. There is a fairly large wooden canteen shed here run by several natives, and apparently they'd been charging exorbitant prices for very moderate stuff. Anyhow, some of the men fired it this evening, and by jove it did burn, stores and all!
Very early - again - and I had all the work and everything finished by eleven o'clock, before it got really hot. Bathed at midday and thoroughly enjoyed it.
A mail came in after lunch, but I heard nothing from home. I heard from Cecil Ellis; he is still a fixture in India and seems to think they will be there for some time.
Bathed again about three. The divisional band came and played again this evening. There seems to be some excitement about the burning of that canteen last night. The native says he had 150 [pounds] in cash there, so somebody has done well. I don't think any of our men are responsible - probably the brigade next to us.
We bathed before breakfast this morning. Kit inspections etc. took up the morning, we also had an officers' "pow wow" with the colonel about various things. A flock of about thirty pelicans flew over camp this morning, but quite high up.
We had to ride over to another general "pow wow" this afternoon by the G.O.C. divisional artillery. The authorities are very annoyed at the gutting of that canteen the other night and as a result the three artillery brigades this side of the canal (ourselves, the 1/3rd and 1/4th) have got CB until further notice, so not much chance of leave until they find out the culprits.
Away again early this morning to the guns; I got back and had a lovely bathe about midday. Rode out the other side of the canal after lunch with Elliott and finished getting ammunition into the wagons and limbers as we are going to shoot tomorrow. We have got to take up our position and do everything exactly as we shall if the Turks attack. I got the teams hooked in about dusk and took the guns to the position the brigade is going to hold. I got back over the canal to the camp soon after eight, ravenously hungry. Franklyn down with a bad go of fever tonight, but I expect he will shake it off in a day or two.
I do wish we were going to let fly at the old Turks tomorrow, but I don't believe they will even try and attack the aeroplane. People tell us there is a strongish Turkish post about forty miles away; our flying men pop over and say good morning to them periodically, and drop a bomb or two.
Up at half past three this morning, watered and fed the horses, breakfasted, and were away by six. The Essex battery shot first, then the West Riding, and we were to shoot third - but the West Riding didn't finish till one o'clock so we had to put our shoot off. I expect we'll get it in a day or two though. After the shoot, there was a "pow wow" with about six Generals present including General Horne, our army corps commander (1st Army Corps).
I got back to camp and bathed about 3:30. The divisional bands played tonight for an hour or so. We've had a very busy day on the whole and I've been orderly dog into the bargain.
Elliott, Franklyn, and I were away at six this morning to the Forward Observing Station. The 1/3rd Lowland Brigade were firing today at about 3000 yds, our observing trench was about 200 yards from the targets. We were up there till nearly one o'clock. Got back to camp and bathed about 3:30 pm. On the way back from bathing we saw a great grey shrike sitting on a bush; we looked and found the nest with one nearly fledged bird.
Quite a chapter of accidents today. To start with a biggish steamer somehow or other got broadside or across the canal and went aground, stopping all the traffic for a good time. Then an aeroplance came to grief, but I don't think anyone was killed. And lastly an old steam roller that had been making a road along the side of the bank, fell on its side in the water.
Since mess tonight we've been arguing and haggling over gunnery, distributions, contestations, angles of sight, etc. till all our heads are in a whirl.
Elliott, Badcock, and I went and had a bathe before breakfast. Voluntary Service at 9:30. We bathed again about midday.
Away early this morning to the guns. General Parker came and watched us practicing in cooperation with the aircraft. We had to wait over an hour before we could get back across the pontoon, as a large caravan of camels of all sizes and colours had to come across before us and they took it very leisurely, in single file.
C.B. is over now, till another canteen gets gutted, so leave can start again. Kenning went to Cairo tonight for three days.
Bathed about half past three. After tea, Powell, Badcock and I and about ten beefy men from the column went to try and dig out a fox earth which Powell had found in a sandhill close to the camp. There wasn't much doubt about there being cubs there, you could see the scrabbles in the sand all round where they'd been playing. We made three big cuttings and got down about seven feet and then it got too dark to go on. We've smoothed the sand down quite flat all round so shall see if anything comes out during the night. An Egyptian fox would make a very good battery mascot.
Mosquitoes rather active again, the major got badly bitten last night, so I shall have a net over me tonight. The frogs are making an awful din tonight, the Sweet Water Canal is full of them.
Orderly dog today. Elliott and I went over with the teams and fetched the guns over the side of the canal near the camp. Bathed about eleven o'clock. We went and had a look at the fox earth which we dug at last night. This morning we could see where the old dog fox had come round outside and opened up one of the holes and there were a lot of pad marks but it was impossible to tell whether the vixen had brought the cubs out or not, so we smoothed the sand down again tonight and shall see if there are any fresh marks in the morning.
Powell and Franklyn went into Port Said today and Powell met Gen. Horne there, who is sailing for France tonight. He told him that two divisions are leaving the canal for France. The next one to go will be the 11th which is waiting till they see how things are going in Mesopotamia; and the Australians are coming out to hold this frontier which our division is responsible for at present, so then we shall go to France.
Three transports of Russians went down the canal yesterday from Vladivostok, and are on their way to Salonika.
Quite a heavy storm of rain just as we finished bathing this morning, it lasted about a quarter of an hour. The divisional band played this evening and we were told to dance when they played "Destiny".
Gun drill from 6:15 to 7:30 this morning. Stables after breakfast, then a bathe.
We went round to see if the foxes had been to that earth again, but they hadn't, so I expect they must have moved the cubs out the night before last.
Garside lectured to us and the 1/2nd Lowland Brigade this afternoon on horse management. The flies have been an awful nuisance today, Gen. Horne told Powell yesterday that in about a month's time the heat, flies, and mosquitoes make it practically impossible for a white man to live here, so I hope we're in France by then.
Tremendous excitement: a mail came in tonight, and most of us had a double batch of letters which we ought to have got last time, but which we thought had gone. Down in the Sussex came along too; I suppose they salved them.
I believe we are in for a pretty bad sand storm tonight as the wind is steadily rising.
The wind died down again last night and we had one or two rain storms. Out early this morning with the guns. I have put Kitty on the sick list for a few days to be physicked so shall have to ride anything I can get hold of for the next day or two.
I bathed about eleven, it was quite rough for the canal today, as the wind was rising again. Just as we were getting out of the water the first signs of an approaching sandstorm began, and it was a very painful business as the sand, driven by the wind, stung like anything. We got back to our tents just about in time, as by twelve o'clcok the sand began to fly properly. Driven by a strong wind, it got in everywhere, even through the canvas of the tents. Several tents succumbed and many others were only just tightened up in time. Food, clothes, blankets, and everything are nothing now but sand heaps. The storm went on all this afternoon and it wasn't long before nearly all of the cook houses of the brigade, which are just native rush netting fastened to poles, were flattened out. One tree was blown down near the horse lines but luckily did no damage.
One thing is the horses were sheltered from the storm a bit by the row of trees along the side of the Sweet Water Canal; it's the only cover there is.
The major, to cheer us up, has been telling us that these storms very often last three weeks! And if that's the case, as our eyes, ears, and mouths are already full of sand, in three week's time some of us, like the horses, will be down with sand colic!
The storm eventually stopped just before seven o'clock this evening, and about time too. I only hope we shan't have a repetition, as I am not particularly keen to see another.
It's still blowing pretty hard this morning, but no sand on the move, thank goodness. I was orderly dog today, and took the exercise at 6 am. Nothing else of importance doing all day. Badcock went for three days leave last night and Kenning returned midday today. We had a small thunderstorm in the middle of the day, but nothing to speak of.
Kitty is going on alright, but I shan't ride her till Monday. I hope after this she will put on some flesh, but it takes the horses some time to get used to the change of food here. For instance, we get no hay, barley instead of oats, and "tibin" and "berseen" which I don't suppose any of them have had before. Their coats are beginning to come through well now, though many of them are still very odd sandy colours.
Elliott went out at 4:30 this morning and caught us a very nice grey mullet in the canal, just over a pound and a half. He went out again this evening and got a bass, about three quarters of a pound, and a fairly large crab. We ate the fish for mess tonight and they were very good.
The crab has been cooked, but we're still a bit suspicious of him.
The usual Saturday morning inspection. Bathed at midday. After lunch I went for a ride with Franklyn; we went for about five miles along the Sweet Water Canal. We saw any amount of chameleons, both small and large, and varying in colour according to the background they were on. We brought one big deadwood coloured one back in a holster and put him on a green palm branch in Franklyn's tent, and tonight he has turned quite a bright green. Some of the bushes growing in the water were thick with locusts. We saw any amount of kites; Franklyn shot at several with his revolver but with no success. We saw several flocks of very pretty birds indeed, I don't know what they were, they flew very like a woodpecker and much the same size and shape. As far as we could see they had dark yellow backs, some blue under the wings, and lovely green breasts.
On the way back we suddenly saw a very weird animal about fifty yards ahead of us, about the size and build of an otter, but a shaggy coat and it moved very like a stoat. We galloped after it and it disappeared into some thick rushes. We got off and beat about but could find no sign of it, when we suddenly saw it about two hundred yards away. We again gave chase but it got into some very thick undergrowth. If we'd only had a terrier or two, I believe we should have got up to him. Powell tells us he saw some of them in the Cairo zoo but can't remember their name.
After tea I went out and helped Elliott try and catch some fish in the canal, but we had no luck. The major has eaten the crab that was caught yesterday and so far there has been no ill effects. In fact he said it was so good, that Elliott has rigged up a very ingenious crab trap made with an old sack, some wire, and old horse shows for weights (and luck!), and baited with old meat.
He swam out and sank it in the canal with a line running in to the shore. We've just been out to see what luck we've had, and found the line caught round a rock or something, and we couldn't pull it in. So Elliott swam out to free it (pretty cold at 9:30 at night out here). We got it, but no luck. We've set it again and hope for something in the morning.
Bathed before breakfast; no luck with crab trap. Stables at 9:30. Bathed again at midday, and again at 4:30. It's been very hot today, and the flies are a plague. We brought a chameleon into the mess at lunch and had him on the table. He caught any amount of flies, shot out a very long tongue and very rarely missed, often getting two flies at a shot; but he was a great sportsman, and never tried for the flies near him, always preferring the long shots. The longest shot we saw him make was when the fly was - without exaggeration - a foot from his nose. It was very funny to watch his eyes, they were both rarely looking in the same direction; as a rule, one looking to his front and the other cocked back looking astern.
A perfectly gorgeous sunset tonight. Elliott left this evening for three days leave at Cairo. During mess tonight the major suddenly spotted a scorpion running across the floor of the tent, and as I was sitting with my back to it and nothing on my legs but a pair of canvas shoes I got out of the way pretty quickly, till he was safely squashed. They are horrible looking things, like a small black lobster, only the tail is more dangerous than their claws.
I slept without a mosquitoes net last night and got horribly bitten, so shall put it up tonight, although I generally tear it down in my sleep before the night's out.
I hear tonight that an Austrian engineer officer has been captured near Katia and that a Bosche aeroplane has been flying over there. I wonder if they are meditating an attack?
Gun drill from six till 7:30 this morning, then stables etc. Bathed about midday, the water was lovely. It's been very hot today, 90 degrees in the shade, but they say we shall get up to 110 degrees in the shade later.
Badcock came back from Cairo this afternoon.
Gun drill from five till six this evening. We bathed again at 7:15 this evening, there was a very bright moon and the water was as warm as toast.
We hear one of our advance posts of Australian Light Horse at Sinai, east of Ishmailia, has scuppered about sixty Turks and taken a lot of stores.
The Egyptian Mail says that the sandstorm we had on Thursday was the worst there has been for sixty years!
Battery gun drill from six till eight this morning. Franklyn and I were doing F.O.O. work and registering targets on a zone the other side of the canal. Bathed at midday.
Took Kitty out for an hour's hack this evening, she was very gay. The divisional bands played this evening.
It's not been quite so hot today as yesterday, and there has been a nice breeze. A mail came in this afternoon and I had lots of news from home.
Orderly dog today. Gun drill six to eight, skeleton work just with the b---, but no guns on wagons.
Franklyn and I have got a few days leave, so we started for Cairo by the 7:30 train from Kantara this evening. Had dinner in the train. The Cairo line leaves the canal at Ishmailia. We arrived in Cairo at midnight and have taken a room at Shepheard's Hotel.
Woke up at about 8! It felt very funny to be in between sheets again. We've gone properly bust and taken a room with a private bathroom attached. So this morning I revelled in the first hot bath since I left England. There were several kites making a lot of screeching in the tree outside our bedroom window; also several hoodies as tame as anything.
After breakfast we took a gharri and drove to the British H.Q. Savoy Hotel, where all officers coming to Cairo have to report. I tried to see Gen. Malcolm there but they told me he had left for England. I got some money from the National Bank of Egypt and then went to the Empire Nurses' Club to see if I could find Tara; who wasn't in, so I left a note.
Then we took a guide, and went to see the coronation mosque; it is a modern one, about sixty years old, a wonderful sight, the most lovely decorations: domes, marble, wood carving and inlaid work, chiefly ivory and silver in cedar wood. We had to wear funny sort of shoes over our boots while we were in there. Then we went to see an ancient mosque, the Sultan Hassan, not nearly so gaudy, but still awfully fine architecture. We went up one of the minarets (250ft high) where we had a most gorgeous view all over Cairo; you could see the Pyramids, the Nile, the citadel and countless domes and minarets of mosques. The guide told me there were 400 mosques in Cairo. The number of kites is extraordinary, as common as sparrows in an English town. The reason why there are so many is because they are strictly protected as being very nearly the only system of drainage there is in some parts of Cairo.
Then we drove down some low Arab quarters till we came to the Arab bazaars: narrow passages with high houses up each side, but the whole effect wonderful as it is just a blaze of colour. You could see the natives doing inlaid work, working brass, bronze, and silver. In fact, it wouldn't be difficult to spend a fortune there; some of the silk Kimonos and things hand worked by the ladies of the harems were perfectly lovely, but the smell and heat were against staying there long.
During lunch at Shepheard's I suddenly became aware of Hodges at a table close to us. He didn't recognise me till I spoke to him; it must be four years since I saw him.
After lunch we took a gharri and went to the Museum. The only interesting things to us ignoramuses were the mummies. We saw the one of Ramses III who is thought to be Pharaoh the --- horribly blackened and shrunken skin, but the hair and teeth and finger nails still preserved, wonderful embalming.
After the Museum we drove over the Nile to the Zoo, a very ordinary and rather mangy collection of animals but the flowers and the trees in the gardens were lovely. We had tea there and then drove back to the hotel for dinner. Very nice having a band playing during dinner.
After that we went to the Kursaal where there was a revue called "All In Khaki", quite an amusing show though all the cast was composed of blacks, Japs, and French. The performances went on till midnight.
We left the hotel at nine and took a motor to Giza; there we got onto camels and took a guide on a donkey and rode up to the Pyramids. We climbed the Pyramid of Giza, well worth doing, as the view from the top looking over the Nile valley is lovely. It wasn't difficult as far as the climbing went, but very hard work as it is 450 ft high. When you are climbing it doesn't seem to slope out as you'd expect, but looks absolutely sheer. Then we rode round the Sphinx and after that rode out to the pyramids and tombs of Sakkara which are nine miles away over the desert. It was really quite comfortable on the camels, and the motion not at all bad, but a bit jolty when we trotted. We passed a large herd of grazing camels, with several foals with them, though there wasn't a lot to graze on.
When we got to Sakkara we went down into the Temple of Teti, and underground vaults with a lot of Egyptian carving on the walls. Then we went down into the tomb of the Sacred Bull, very large underground tunnels and chambers. You have to take candles down. There were a good many enormous polished and carved coffins of granite. The sides were about a foot thick, the mummies had been taken out of them and are in the Cairo museum. Then we went into the Pyramid of Unas; you had to crawl down an underground passage about four feet high which branched into various chambers with the walls covered with carvings of quaint Egyptian figures. The most interesting of the Sakkara pyramids is the Pyramid of the Steps, though you can't climb it; it is six thousand years old.
After that we stopped for a bit to eat our sandwiches and then rode to Memphis and saw a Sphinx which was only discovered three years ago; also a statue of Remises. To get to Memphis we left the desert and came down into the Nile valley. Very pretty indeed and well cultivated. We went through one or two native villages, but we always did this at a smart trot as the stinks were perfectly awful, no drains of any description at all I should think.
After Memphis we rode out to Badrachine and there left our camels and got into a train for Cairo. We did fifteen miles on the camels altogether.
It took us about an hour in the train from Badrachine to Cairo, very pretty all through the Nile valley. After dinner we got hold of a guide and drove through the very lowest parts of the Arab town. The streets, or rather passages, were just wide enough for our gharri to go through. It was a wonderful but quite indescribable sight seeing these Arab natives absolutely at home, and I wasn't sorry when we'd got through. After that we persuaded our guide to take us to see the natives smoking hashish, which is the same as opium. This habit is I believe forbidden and there are very heavy punishments, but it will be pretty hard to stop I should think. As they only do it in secret our guide had to pick up an Arab who knew a den where they were smoking. We went into it, the guide going in first to explain we were only coming to see it. You saw a lot of natives lying about, mostly half asleep and others sucking at great long pipes. They were very keen for us to try it, but as there was only a sort of big pipe of peace which was passed around from mouth to mouth we weren't having any, and also I believe it makes a white man dead drunk at once or feel so energetic he wants to go and fight someone. So we politely declined. They showed us the raw hashish, which is very like a peppercorn and you put two or three in a pipe of tobacco, and smoke.
I had a very slack day today sitting about in the hotel gardens. We walked to the Ezbekiah Gardens which are very pretty. I went to tea with Tara at the Empire Nurses Club and afterwards walked round the town a bit with her. We had dinner out in the hotel gardens tonight, it was lovely and cool, there was a military band playing in one part of the gardens and a string band in another. A rather odd dance afterwards, but we didn't know anyone to dance with.
Leave up today, much too soon in some ways, but just as well in others as Cairo is not exactly a cheap place to stay in. I left Cairo by the eleven o'clock train and arrived at Kantara at three. It was a very pretty journey through well cultivated country. We had our own horses meet us at Kantara.
We hadn't been in camp for more than half an hour before an order came in that the brigade was to stand to, as the Turks were reported to be attacking Hill 70, which is about six and a half miles away. About two hours later an order came in to saddle and harness up and go over to the east bank of the canal, and to my great disgust I've been ordered to stay behind tonight, issued with ammunition, and told to guard the camp stores and all the horses and men of the brigade that are left behind. So I've been flying round mounting guards and picquets and at present don't know whether I am standing on my head or my heels.
Kenning has just come back with the report that our outposts at Katia are cut off and the enemy have captured a whole brigade of our cavalry. He seems to think that I shall have to come on to them with all that's left tomorrow.
Not much sleep tonight I don't expect.
Up early, Powell and Kenning rode over this morning. The batteries had just been bivouacking on the east bank of the canal. About five thousand New Zealand and Australian Cavalry have been pouring through on their way to Katia. The latest report we've got is that Katia is completely burnt and the Turks have annihilated two squadrons of the Worcester Yeomanry, and the Gloucester and Warwickshire Yeomanry who were also at Katia have been badly cut up. Wounded men pouring in most of the morning and several lots of Turkish prisoners. Our casualties up to this morning were reckoned at 300 and 7 dead, and 430 wounded Turks have been found (at Duedar, a post held by the 7th Royal Scots) between us and Katia.
I was busy all day striking the camp and sending it over to the East Bank.
I heard this afternoon that our battery has been asked to push on to Road End, which is the place where the engineers have got to with the road to Katia. I wonder if they will come into action at all; I do hope I can get on to them tomorrow.
Hundreds of colonial troops have been coming in here all day. I had a bathe at midday and busy striking tents and loading wagons for the rest of the day.
Hard at work clearing up all day, a very trying job when one is longing to be up with the battery the whole time. I bathed about midday. Went over to the east bank this evening having left a small party to guard the stuff we've not been able to move yet.
When I got the other side I found the battery was coming in tonight as the Turks have retreated. The battery got in about seven. They had taken up a position on Hill 70 but hadn't had a chance of coming into action, so I didn't miss much. The major was going to have sent for me to join them tonight, if there had been any need for them to stay out.
There is a strong force of Anzacs out near Hill 70 now, but they report to us no sign of the Turk, and think he has retired well satisfied with his raid - and so he ought to be as he has burnt the camp at Katia, and the Worcester Yeomanry have only 1 officer and 54 men left out of the whole regiment. Gloucestershire have lost a squadron and a half, and the Warwick Yeomanry have about 10 causalities. One German Officer was shot with the Turks, who I believe only had about 100 casualties.
We've got the camp this side nearly straight now and shall settle down. All our battery messed with headquarters tonight.
I went over to our old camp this morning and saw to the rest of the stuff coming over. We got back and bathed about midday. A very hot wind all the morning and the heat strikes up off the sand very fiercely. A lecture this afternoon by the G.O.C. divisional artillery. A mail came in this afternoon - I had lots of news.
Things were quiet here again now the Turks have retreated right back across the desert, probably to Beersheba where they are thought to have come from, or possibly El Arish. The Anzacs occupied Katia, or rather what is left of it. This afternoon thousands of camels have been going out there all day with stores and ammunition. Our casualties in the last day or two have been over six hundred, and the Turks very considerably less. It is certainly one up for them, and their attack was without question wonderfully organised and carried out, as they must have come over more than 100 miles of desert.
I expect there is sure to be questions asked as to why we had yeomanry regiments out at Katia unsupported by guns or infantry. They told us we were to go there once but then said water was too scarce. Anyhow, if we had been there we should certainly have been scuppered, as the Turks completely surrounded the place at night and attached in the early morning.
Not a wildly exciting day; I was busy all the morning and afternoon with two beams and G.S. wagons, and I got the list of our supplies over to our own men's camp. We had a bathe at midday and rigged up a high dive with some old barrels, about eleven feet high.
Jeans rode over to see the remnant of the Worcester Yeomanry today, they have only got 1 officer and 36 men left out of the whole regiment. They say they were completely surprised and outnumbered; the officer's report from divisional headquarters tonight says that the Turks were about four thousand strong, inclusive of one thousand Germans. They had a good many guns and four Fokker aeroplanes with them. I shouldn't be surprised if this stops us going to France for some time, if not indefinitely.
Gun drill from six till eight. I had an early lunch and went off with seven wagons to fetch over all the woodwork from the ammunition dugout at our old camp.
A large quantity of tinned food has been stolen from a Field Force Canteen near our line, so all the tents had to be searched tonight. Pretty certain to be one of the Scotch regiments I should think.
Nothing doing today apart except the ordinary routine of stables etc. It will get pretty monotonous if the Turks don't give us some more excitement soon. I had a topping bathe at midday. A fairly stiff breeze been following all day.
A very quiet day. I had a lovely bathe about twelve o'clock. A topping mail came in this afternoon, which kept me busy for a long time. This evening about five of us got hold of a dilapidated old rowing boat and had a row on the canal. It ended in a rag and we all got rather wet.
News came in this evening that General Townshend has had to surrender at Kut-al-Amara in Mesopotamia. I'm afraid it's bound to have a very bad effect on morale.