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 Post subject: Red Seas- Hellespont 7
PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2016 7:10 am 
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Short one this time, introducing some of the junior personnel I propose to follow through this mess- there were supposed to be a couple of turks and a German advisor in there as well, but next chapter.



There were times when the Royal Navy derived a perverse advantage from being so late to derive a proper staff system, and thus was one of them. Peacetime had corroded the initiative, to an extent that the large and expanding number of small ships would slowly reverse given time; a staff system now would have enshrined the mentality of peacetime, just as the Army's staff was enshrining the mindset of the commercial clerks and shop stewards being used to fill it's ranks.

There were soldiers, old regulars, who could stand up to the enemy, but not to the barrage of paper from headquarters- our enemies, the Germans before and the Staff behind. The Navy could easily have had an equally jobsworth- filled equivalent, made worse in both cases by that they genuinely thought they were doing the right thing.

As it was, an Admiral, especially one of whom no-one expected anything of the sort, could get away with turning the clock back a century and a bit before the Staff caught on.

On the lower scale, as the great men of the expedition backed and filled around one another, trying to prove their greatness not least to themselves, and the pieces on their chessboards glided into place ready for the great game to begin, the actual ordinary human individuals the pieces were made up of had no idea what was going on, as usual.


With a few heavily string pulled exceptions, the Navy had not been graced with or wanted the surge of volunteers that had swelled the Army's ranks, some of whom were being rounded up now. The Australians were almost impossible to keep happy, so the Navy had largely given up trying. Their army was more or less brand new, too, with few of the old regimental ties that for instance the Canadians had.

They had started numbering from one, for heaven's sake; no regimental traditions at all. Well, that was one of the reasons they were here. Wherever 'here' turned out to be today- they were getting fed up. Sergeant Alex Howorth was one of the most annoyed, but in his short service so far he had picked up some idea of just how much the Army, any army, ran on paper, confusion and bull.

Come to think of it there was a fair amount of that hanging about them all above Private, instant officers and sergeants in a completely raw army, everyone of them looking at the man set in authority over them and asking why you and not me? What have you got that I don't? It was a hungry corps, nervous and eager.

Which could prove to be all to the good, if that was what helped and what won battles, but at home Howorth had had a neighbour who had moved to Australia fairly recently. After taking his discharge in South Africa, in 1903. Old Phil Cadwardine had been a twenty year man, a sergeant who had had to work a damned sight harder for his stripes than Alex had had to for his, and a lot to say for those who had the ears to listen.


Alex had listened, and what he had heard made him damnably uncomfortable now. It can't be done the way it used to in the old red days, the boer had shown the Army that, and they had German sympathy, german weapons, and probably German advisers and observers watching and learning and telling their own armies what to do.

Everyone had to be a skirmisher now, whether the army liked the idea or not- had to hide aggressively, if that made sense, stalk the enemy, use ground better than they did or they would kill you rather than you killing them; modern weapons had killed heavy infantry tactics stone dead, as they would anybody who tried. Raw enthusiasm could get you killed as sure as stale ideas.

An Australian Army, new born, without baggage, might turn out to be good at that, could have a better chance than men still pining for the old red coat. If it could start off on the right foot, which- look at the men in charge; look upon them and despair. They were a decade out of date, had missed the British army's internal arguments and come away with heads full of half digested official policy that was itself a combination of expedient compromises between logic and tradition, skewed by personal politics they didn't understand.

There were two ways they could get this wrong, and Howorth was grimly certain that they would manage both by turns; they could assume that, as Australians, they could do things that the old country was too decrepit, run down, effete to manage any more, or they could assume- probably after suffering from headlong rashness, war was obviously a trade where on the job training came at a very high price- that the Brits knew what they were doing, and take on board their way of doing things, just as it was becoming fatally obsolescent.

Howorth did not think he was a coward, but he wasn't that good an actor, either, and pessimism no matter how well reasoned does not go down well among a group who are also scared stiff and trying not to admit it. Being a sergeant, his job was to spread discipline and bull, but he had the uncomfortable feeling that his platoon could see straight through it. He would be glad when they got there, wherever there was exactly, and at least they would no longer be confused about how bad it was going to be.


Lieutenant Charles Bellamy RN, known to most of his friends as Sam after the famous sea thief- who if he was descended from as he had at one mess party claimed, it was certainly on the wrong side of the blanket, old ranting Sam Bellamy having been, well, a pirate- certainly looked the part. Worse, he acted the part as well. Which had led him to volunteer for hazardous duty as a way of getting out of juniority and servitude in the wardroom of HMS Thunderer.

Which made him a considerably bigger fool than his ancestor, in all probability; doing something as daft as volunteering without knowing what he was getting into. Minesweeping was a fitting fate for someone who didn't look before he leapt. The closer they got to the moment when it would have to be done with live, enemy mines, the more he thought about what it would feel like to be blown up.

Did the lunatic he claimed to be descended from take the renegade's path because he had no fear? Or was it that he was more afraid of having done nothing, having been no more than an idle gentleman with nothing to show for his life, no fame and glory, nothing to show that he had ever been?

Plunder and rapine, on the other hand, well the taste for such things was supposed to be beaten out of one at Dartmouth; not that anyone watching British sailors on the loose ashore could be brought to believe it. Much more likely that being stationed in the far back end of beyond would do so out of sheer necessity, which was another good reason to be in the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, sweeping. An occupation, or what the ancients would have called a doom, in which a man had every chance of leaving nothing to show that he had ever been. Before the war, the Admiralty had reckoned on a minesweeper being able to pick a rough average of five mines before getting unlucky, with a likely loss of half the crew. The actual odds, with all modern innovations, had turned out somewhat better than that- but not by much.

Essentially, their lordships had believed that in time of war, they would have enough requisitioned fishing boats and enough willing fools to be able to afford the losses involved. So here stood Charles Bellamy, descendant of crime, willing fool, feeling like a charlie in every sense of the term. Old Sam would be laughing at me now, he thought.


Worse, he was responsible, as regular RN, for a four boat flotilla; his the lead, his second boat commanded by one lieutenant RNR, Simon Hornby-Barclay, who had left the service at the earliest possible opportunity some twenty years ago and who had not been pleased to find his name still on the lists, third and fourth converted puffers by sublieutenants RNVR who could only tell port from starboard on a good day, and sometimes not even then.

at least H-B had been slightly further than round the Isle of Wight; Ronald Eldersby looked as if he would be in difficulty in a bathtub, and was certainly not of the sort who would have been allowed to join the navy in peacetime. On the other hand he could see further than the end of his own cabin, which made him less of a problem than John bloody Kipling. What sort of parent thinks they are doing their child a service by trying to get them killed? Except there was the rub, he undoubtedly did.

What sort of minesweeping did they expect the half- blind son of a poet to do? Look for them with a white stick? He might have a good ear, but that meant nothing- the staff were trying to gadgeteer the Fessenden underwater telephone into being able to do something in that line, but to date mines did not, actually, answer when they were called. And certainly could not be defused by iambic pentameter.

It would be an odd sort of world in which they were, really. A mediaeval sort of world, full of gods and monsters- well, they were intending to storm the straits of Troy. The place was not short of poets, or admirals to act the part of god on earth. Although their thunderbolts came in official message forms, and were usually much more deadly to their own side.

It might just, conceivably, be worse. Callaghan- His Excellency the Supreme Lord of the Ocean George, etc, and a junior officer really should not get into such habits even in his own head- had been a follower of Beresford, which meant nothing good for the new branches, or for the lower end of the rank table anyway; Salt-Horse Charlie Beresford would have been happy two hundred years ago, when flag officers were allowed to order delinquent sailors beaten to death.

Callaghan himself was supposed to be much more of a gentleman than the hard- handed Beresford, or the maniacal Fisher or cold, unfriendly Jellicoe for that matter, but that boded almost equally ill for the modern technical services like minesweeping- did he have enough of a sense of what was and was not possible to give sensible orders? Unlikely.

Where else was there to be? Well, the naval air service detachment based on the Belgian coast had been inventing away, and had apparently branched out from armoured cars to armoured tractors over the winter. How much minesweeping would he have to survive to have a chance of working his ticket to the naval aviation mechanised gun cavalry? It couldn't be much more dangerous, or much less sensible.


Whereas Hamish McDiarmuid, Lieutenant, British Indian Army, D company first battalion Third (Queen Alexandra's Own) Gurkha Rifles, was thinking in terms of the exact opposite- how he could get sent to do something more dangerous. With the rest of the company, of course. It was hard to work with gurkhas and not like them- part of that was the selection process, of course, the army tended to pick men who would get on well with the Nepalese hill folk, and they were usually right;

absent the element of predestination, though, he found the little hill people to be endless fun. It took a while to understand, for instance, how much they played up to their reputation as primitive headhunting psychotics, but as a highlander that was nothing out of the ordinary to him- it was as good an explanation as any for why so many of his kinfolk had headed south, the surge of satisfaction an otherwise ordinary fellow gets when he realizes other people regard him as dangerous.

The brute economics of the situation were more or less the same for him and the Gurkhas, too, but there was no sense rubbing it in, that was merely the accidents of the situation, not the character of it. Speaking of characters, his platoon- he was still trying to reconstruct in his head the conversation that had somehow ended in his trying to translate the Iliad into Nepali.

And considering what was now seeming to be a prank war between them and the Australians they were sharing a small Aegean island with, he was severely worried about what they might be getting up to without his eye on them. He trusted their sense of humour- up to a point. To the second round of retaliations, anyway. It was the Australians he was worried about.

They had- well, it was the issue of race again. Nobody but a complete blithering idiot- most of the socialists then- expected anyone not to be on their own side, or to be impartial. Hobbes was right, up to a point. But it was the intelligent consideration of civilization that moderated the rawness of nature- and who was he trying to kid? The Australians obviously had a terrible relationship with their own black people and as a result were proving uneasy companions now.

The Gurkhas had proved themselves- and for that matter the British had proved themselves to the Nepalese- on the field of battle, and as much of a temptation as it was to set about the Australians in the same manner, he doubted they had much of a sense of humour. He hoped there was going to be a wooden sheep of Troy involved in the plan somewhere, and no burning towers. He wasn't looking forward to translating that bit.


First batallion weren't supposed to be here at all; they had been meant to go to France with the rest of the Indian Expeditionary Force, but there had been a paper screwup, they had been delayed, then redirected to this, whatever it was going to be. They had been told very roughly what they were going to be doing, conducting beach assaults, but then told it had all changed, but not to what.

Second battalion were in France now, and from what word had been passed and what had been read between the lines, not enjoying it at all. Very little opportunity for field soldiering, all siege work. That was the war office for you though; ideal- in all probability unbeatable- mountain troops, and the best thing they can think to do with them is send them to a flat swamp.

At least first of the third were likely to be facing a job that was more to their talents; skirmishing in hills. Plus whatever else they could persuade the army to let them do- as enthusiastic and endlessly curious as they were, they would make good...anything, really, as long as the job involved courage and violence.

At the moment, he had the uneasy feeling that he was in exactly the wrong place; in his corner of the company office tent, with a Greek grammar he had had to ask his family to send him, in the normal course of things an officer of Indian troops having other things to worry about. Which was the issue.

It had been obvious from the attitude of the Australian rank and file that they had no intention of being good comrades, and he felt now that explaining to his platoon why he thought this was, that when they had colonized Australia they had met no people already there whose prowess had compelled their respect, and that they would take no-one's word and would have to be shown, had been arming a hand-bomb.

Well, admit it Hamish lad, he told himself, didn't you want to see those bumptious posers taken down a peg? Although it may have been unwise, and mainly it is that I hope they don't go off and do anything daft without me. I'm their officer, I should be getting into trouble with them so at least I know what the Colonel will want to crucify me for in the morning. Damn Achilles for the moment, they're up to something, I can smell it on the wind. Better go and join in.


It seemed that his timing was right; get close to the Australian bivouac lines, and there was a distinct absence of sentries-hopefully nothing permanent had happened to them; it was dark, and late, and overcast, and under normal circumstances there would have been nothing to see, but having worked with them for years, it was just possible to spot little Nepalese shadows in the night.

I must get myself into Nepal one of these years and find out what they practice stalking on, because it must be a challenge and then some. Of course they probably start young and work up on incautious Western visitors. Are the Australians good enough to spot them? Doesn't look like it so far. Ah, there are sentries, and I can almost hear them- they know something's up, can smell it, can feel it in the air, but can't see it or hear it.

I can always distract them, if it comes to that. Better than most, noticing something at all, better than I was expecting; but wait, what's this? Officer of the guard? Arguing it out with the sergeant? pulling rank- and being talked back to, at least the shouting gives my lads cover, but it also alerts the dozy. Even if most of them are turning out to watch. Well, we can wait, we're not on a schedule.

Interesting, though- better from the enlisted and worse from the officers than I think we were expecting. Let the fuss die down, let the time pass- more than half the trick was not knowing how to move silently and unseen, but when, when to let time go and when to seize it. Wait not for them to get complacent, but just the downslope of the far side of jumpy- in a state where the alert might easily see what wasn't there, and the rest might shout them down for it. Let them see ghosts.


It was an interesting morning. There was a small platoon durbar before the fuss began, just to get the story straight. There were a great many straight faces to begin with, which commendably kept their composure when their officer walked in leading a goat. 'Some of the Australians were more switched on than I was expecting. They almost realized you were there.'

They took in the fact of the goat. One of the riflemen muttered 'We should have thought of that.'

'So what did you think of?' McDiarmuid asked. 'Oh and you can't eat him until after we see if they are willing to apologise in a decent soldierly manner or not. We can, however, pretend to.'

'When they come to get their regimental mascot back,' One of the oldest of the Gurkhas, Naik Kulbir Gurung asked, holding out his hand, 'How will we know who they are?' He had a set of tabs each with a crown and two pips.

_________________
"Wisdom distilled from events which were unforeseeable should find expression not in criticisms of those who did their duty to the best of their ability, but in the taking of wise precautions for the future."-Sir John Jellicoe


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2016 8:39 am 
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The last time I had anything to do with Gurkhas (Sennybridge, 200something) they snuck into our harbour area at night and stole the company ammunition reserve. This instalment had me sniggering :D

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2016 9:09 am 
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What was the ratio on the Falklands ? One (1) Gurkha guard per hundred Argentine prisoners ? And that considered over-kill...

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