Homeward Bound – The Armistice
( Originally Published 1923 )
The cargo of the Armenian — Kasvin — Journey to Baghdad — The order of the day — Journey to Bussrah — To Suez — To Taranto — Paris on Armistice Day — Fourth Army Headquarters — London
THE day after our arrival I received an invitation to dine with the Chief on his ship the Kruger – a sad farewell dinner, as he was leaving next morning for Baghdad.
To give an idea of the state of our commissariat, the main items of the menu were one bottle of pre-war vodka and one pot of jam, both of which had constituted his 'reserve' during his many wanderings, and which he desired should be enjoyed by his friends before he left -- as, indeed, they were.
Everyone was remarkably kind to me, and I remember well the pride with which I received a copy of the dispatch which was then sent to G.H.Q. to the effect that the saving of the material was entirely due to the 'enterprise and daring of Colonel Rawlinson', which copy I retained as a treasured memento till it was eventually taken from me by the Turks in 1920.
On the evening of the Chief's departure, Major-General Thompson arrived to take over the command, and the Hush-Hush Army (officially known as Dunsterforce) thereupon ceased to exist, the division in future being known as the North Persian Force, with headquarters at this time at Kasvin to which place I made my way as soon as I had finished handing over the material we had brought away from Baku. The General turned up in a few days and told me to get on at once to Baghdad, but that he did not think there would be any job for me just then in Mesopotamia. The most valuable information he gave me was that a ship was leaving the mouth of the Euphrates for Suez on October 13th. It was then the 4th, leaving me nine days to do the 1,200 miles which lay between Kasvin and the mouth of the river. This no one thought it possible I could do, except myself; who so well knew the capabilities of my light car over that rough country.
I left at daybreak on the 5th, with most satisfactory results, reaching Baghdad eventually before 1 p.m. on the 9th a great drive of over 600 miles from the Caspian in four and a half days and from Kasvin to Baghdad, in three days, which, under the existing conditions, wanted a great deal of doing, at the end of a campaign. On arriving at Baghdad I reported at General Headquarters, asking that if there was no post for me in the advance of our troops, which was then taking place, I might be allowed to try to catch the ship leaving Bussrah on the 13th, and so get back to France, where the 'band was still playing!'
I was told the matter would be gone into, and, quarters having been assigned to me, I got off there as soon as possible for a much-needed rest, which prolonged itself until the next morning.
The first news in the morning was a message from the Commander-in-Chief to lunch with him at his house, and the next a copy of the 'Order of the Day' of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, as below:
GENERAL HEADQUARTERS, MESOPOTAMIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE.
ORDER OF THE DAY, No. 121, OCTOBER 10th, 1918.
In pursuance of the authority delegated to me by His Imperial Majesty, the King-Emperor, I make the following award for gallantry and distinguished conduct in the field:
To be Companion of the Distinguished Service Order: TEMP. LIEUT. COLONEL ALFRED RAWLINSON, C.M.G., R.G.A., for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
With an escort of four men he brought away a steamer, loaded with munitions, from a port under fire, and in spite of the opposition of the captain and crew, who refused to navigate her. Although fired on heavily from a guardship which hit the steamer several times, he, by his personal energy and resource, succeeded in making the crew work, and eventually conducted the steamer safely to another port. Thus by his enterprise and determination the valuable cargo, which would otherwise have fallen into the hands of the enemy, was saved.
(Signed) W. H. MARSHALL (GENERAL), Commander-in-Chief.
I need hardly say that this last took my breath away, as I was expecting nothing of the kind. However, I was, and shall always be, very proud of this most unexpected honour.
The Chief was, as always, very kind, and also anxious for details of our little 'stunt' in Baku, which I gave him to the best of my ability. He told me he had nothing for me at the moment, and agreeing that my best plan was to get back to France as quickly as possible, he had given the orders necessary to enable me to leave by train that night. He also told me, to my great delight, that my recommendation of my two best men had been considered, and that an 'immediate award' of the Military Medal had been made to them, and that I could inform them they were at liberty to 'put them up' (i.e. wear them) at once.
After doing my best to thank the Chief for all his kindness (which I am afraid I did very badly, being rather weak and finding an astonishing difficulty in speaking), I got back to my quarters and found my tough and faithful driver, Morris. I was able, to my great delight, to tell him to go out and get himself a new set of ribbons and a fourth one to put in front of his 'Mons', and I there and then wrote the order for them to be supplied to him. We then went and handed over what was left of our faithful car to the Army Service Corps Depot, and catching the night train that evening, travelled in an excellent cattle-truck, and reached Kut at daylight next morning, October 11th, and Bussrah on the morning of the 13th.
Having lunched with the I.G.C. and cabled home, we went down the last seventy miles of river beyond Bussrah on a light steamer, and, boarding the big transport soon after nightfall, we sailed for Suez before midnight, having done well over I,000 miles in nine days, including all stops — very good travelling indeed in those parts at that time.
We were bound for Taranto, and on approaching the port got orders to man the ship for a general salute to the Italian Flag, on entering the harbour, in honour of the armistice concluded between Italy and Austria whilst we had been at sea. This excellent news made me more than ever anxious to get on, as I was terribly afraid I might even yet be too late to be 'in at the death' on the French front.
I caught the train de luxe that night, and, stopping only a few hours at Rome, reached Paris in fifty-six hours. Having already wired from Rome to Fourth Army Headquarters to ask that a car might be sent to pick me up in Paris, on arrival at the hotel it was waiting there, and I learned that the Army Headquarters were then in a train at Le Cateau. So I had some breakfast, and then got into a really luxurious bed to enjoy a couple of hours' sleep before starting the long drive which would land me at the front once more. After having been asleep only a few minutes, I heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire. I opened my eyes and took in where I was, and thought I must be dreaming; but as the firing continued, I thought I'd better see what was up, and went out into the passage in my pyjamas. There I found all the world gone mad. And from the windows, roofs, and every. where in the streets, every man, woman and child was cheering; many were weeping, but all were yelling 'L'Armistice!' Every available gun of every kind was being fired as fast as it could be loaded; every belfry was rocking as its bells were being rung as never before; and the sirens and hooters of every factory were screeching continuously.
I at once gave up any idea of reaching Army Headquarters that day, and went back to bed and had a good rest, sallying out in the late afternoon to have a look at Paris on Armistice Day. Indeed, it proved a sight worth seeing, and also one to ponder over. I was in London when the news of the Relief of Ladysmith arrived, and well remember the absolutely spontaneous joy which burst out everywhere on that occasion. I also witnessed the hectic scenes which took place all over the town on Mafeking night, which to me appeared to embody quite a different spirit.
Here in Paris, however, on that great historic day things did not, except superficially, in the least resemble either of the above occasions. Of course, the young and rowdy element was much the same in all three cases, but at any rate in Paris, and probably all over France and in England also, on this historic occasion there was a much deeper sentiment to be read on all sides, and tears were as much in evidence as laughter, even on faces which had long been strangers to such weakness. Amongst the hundreds to whom I spoke that day I could see the little twitchings of the muscles and note the little catch in the speech which told of feelings far deeper than any that could be expressed by mere exhibitions of joy and gaiety. The whole atmosphere, in fact, could best be described as filled with a deep and sincere feeling of relief and a thankfulness far too deep to be expressed by outward signs, but which found its true reflection in the reverent masses who were to be seen kneeling in every church throughout the day and night. All this was most instructive to those who, like myself; looked rather to the attitude of these mute yet speaking crowds of reverent churchgoers, than to the thoughtless gaiety of the pleasure-seekers, to give a true indication of the deeper feelings of the French nation.
Next morning I started by car for Fourth Army Headquarters, by the old familiar road I had followed in the 1914 retreat from Mons through Noyon, Ham, and St. Quentin, to Le Cateau, where the Army Headquarters at that moment was, in a train captured from the Germans during the last advance. It was a truly remarkable coincidence that I should rejoin in 1918 at exactly the same spot, Le Gateau, where I joined the General Headquarters of the Expeditionary Force on August 20th, 1914, just over four years previously, having in the meanwhile travelled half over the world and served on six different fronts.
Adventures In The Near East:
Eastward Bound To The Tigris
Mesopotamia, The Land Of The Rivers
Persia: The Road And The Famine
The Caspian Sea - Advance To, Relief Of, And Siege Of Baku
Evacuation - The Steamer Armenian
Homeward Bound – The Armistice
Intelligence In Transcaucasia (february To August, 1919.)
East Again - Salonika, Constant, And Batoum
The Caucasus - After The Armistice
Eastern Anatolia - Trebizond And Erzeroum
Read More Articles About: Adventures In The Near East