When Jock caught up with me he said, ‘Well wasn’t that fun, just like old times but next time let me be the bait in the trap, we can’t afford to lose you.’ ‘That’s awfully considerate of you Jock,’ I said gratefully. ‘Not at all’ he grinned, ‘After it is you that’s paying for our little soiree.’ ‘I suppose you have a valid point there, but thanks all the same.’
The day following the incident with the brigands was totally uneventful, so much so that we longed for something to happen. That little spell of action had enlivened us.
That night while we were waiting for the food to cook over our open fire, I perused the maps that my Father had given me. According to my reckoning we were about three days steady travelling away from Karlstadt.
I could not help but wonder what would greet us, would we be greeted with suspicion and open hostility, or would we be given the cordial welcome that all visitors expect. The following day dawned, a beautiful sunny day, a day full of promise.
Despite our earlier misgivings, Jock and I were both enjoying the Carpathians, both for the scenery and the solitude. We could travel for days without seeing a single soul. For us it took a little getting used too.
(C) Damian Grange 2019
To all my friends and followers please note this will be my last post until Friday the 5th of October as I am taking a short break…. Thank you.
I took it upon myself to stand the first watch, but I was almost exhausted, so at the last moment, Henrik changed places with me, and did me the kindness of standing the first watch whilst I caught up on my sleep.
I dozed off almost immediately, and when I awoke cursed myself for not relieving Henrik sooner. As it happened it did not matter, when I arrived to relieve my friend he was already dead, with a black mamba slithering away from him.
I killed the snake with my hunting knife. A snake of this kind would only kill if surprised, my immediate thought was Nathan. He thought that I was standing guard, he would hurl a snake at me rather than tackle me face to face.
I owed Henrik a life, and I knew whose it would be and before too long, the odds were now in their favour. I wanted to rush headlong in to camp and call Nathan out, but although Maartens was spineless he might not hesitate to shoot me in the back especially where a fortune in diamonds was concerned he had not the sense to realise that with me out of the way he too was expendable, why settle for 50 / 50 when you can have it all.
I went in to the camp and woke them both and explained what had happened, they both expressed regret, but they were both poor actors I dug a hole and buried Henrik and said a few words over him, it was the least I could do for my old comrade in arms. But I silently vowed that his death would be avenged.
The next question was fielded by the Matron, ‘You made a statement that we will be treating any and all casualties, do’s this also include the enemy, should they end up at our door?’ As I stated, ‘We will treat all wounded of whatever race, colour or religion, friend or enemy we are there to save lives, not play politics.’
‘Have we received direct orders regarding the treatment of enemy wounded?’ asked one of my Doctors. ‘We are bound by our Hippocratic oaths to treat all sick and wounded and I would imagine that the enemy’s medical staff would do the same, do’s that in some part answer your question?’
‘As I keep trying to stress to you, until we do actually arrive in the battle zone I have no inclination of what we might actually find there, all that I can do is to try to prepare you for the worst possible scenario and pray that this not what we find.’ I stated honestly.
‘What makes you think that the conditions will be so hellish?’ queried one of the Nursing Sisters. ‘Since the cessation of the last hostilities, all the Major Powers have been expanding their arsenals, with bigger more powerful weapons, weapons that in the past we have only dreamed of, and these include flying machines that may attack us from out of the sky, we have no comprehension of what our troops may be facing or the wounds that they may receive. This coming war may be Armageddon!’
Captain Albert Ball V.C – British Ace 1896 / 1917 Pt. 6
Ball then took leave in England, his feats in France had won considerable publicity. He was the first British ace to become a household name, and discovered that his fame was such that he could not walk down the streets of Nottingham without being stopped and congratulated. Prior to this the British Government had suppressed the names of its aces in contrast to the policies of the French and Germans who unashamedly used them for propaganda purposes, but the losses of the Battle of the Somme, which had commenced in July made it politic to publicise our successes in the air. Ball’s achievements had a profound impact on budding flyer Mick Mannock, who later became Britain’s top-scoring ace and also a Victoria Cross recipient.
Upon his return to No.60 Squadron in France, Ball scored morning and evening victories on the 15th of September flying two different Nieuports, on the evening mission he armed his aircraft with eight Le Prieur rockets, fitted to the outer wing struts and designed to fire electronically. He intended to use them on an observation balloon. As it happened he spotted a formation of three Roland CII’s and broke their formation by salvoing his rockets at them, then downed one of the aircraft with machine – gun fire. After this exploit he settled in to an improved aircraft Nieuport 17 A.213. he had it rigged to fly tail – heavy to facilitate his changing of ammunition drums in the machine-gun, and had a holster built in to the cockpit for the Colt automatic pistol that he habitually carried. Three times during September he scored triple victories in a day, ending the month with his total score standing at 31 making him Britain’s top – scoring ace. By this time he had told his Commanding Officer that he had to have a rest and that he was taking unnecessary risks because of his nerves. On the 3rd of October he was sent on leave, en route to a posting at Home Establishment in England.
I delegated the selection of the Nursing Sisters to my newly promoted Matron. I had briefed her fully on what I required from them, The rest I would leave to her experience.
Once the Sisters were selected, they in turn would choose the Nurse’s who would be working under them. In this fashion I hoped somehow to forge a strong team.
When the selection process was almost completed, I hosted a meeting of my senior staff, that included Doctors, Matron and Nursing Sisters.
I explained as best I could how I expected the hospital to be run. I did not wish to set myself up as a martinet, but no matter what the circumstance’s I would insist that the patient’s treatment and welfare came first above all other precedents. I then threw the meeting open for questions as I am sure there would be many.
One of the surgeons opened the questions, ‘With respect, Major, have you any practical experience of running a Field Hospital of this kind?’ ‘I would like to think so, I was a resident at Concentration Camp No.1 at Bloemfontien in the Boer conflict. I was also Doctor in residence at the Whitechapel Infirmary for a number of years. But, with regards to your question, the honest answer is no! until we arrive in France or wherever and set up shop we have no idea what we shall be facing and I would be a liar to say otherwise. ‘Thank you for your honesty Sir, replied the Doctor.
They were both grinning thinking that I had walked in to their trap, little knowing that they had stumbled headlong in to mine. Because I had every intention of exacting my revenge out there on the veldt. Four would be leaving, but only two would be returning or at least the way I had planned it.
The following day, we set off at daybreak, Maartens and Nathan taking turns to drive the wagon and Henrik and myself blazing the trail on horseback. This way I could always keep a little way in front of them and possibly locate the source of the diamonds without their knowledge.
The only disadvantage with this course of action, was that whilst they were together they would also be plotting on how to get their own hands on the diamonds and their source, but it was a chance I had to take.
I had every intention of disposing of the two of them, but for the moment I pretended to have no idea of their intentions toward myself and Henrik, but I was aware that they were also biding their time, until we were deeper in to the veldt.
When we stopped to make camp for the night, around the campfire it was all good natured camaraderie, but I don’t think I was fooled, anymore than I was fooling them. It was all pretence, we all knew how high the stakes were.
It was at night that I was my most cautious, we were for the most part apart during the day. If they planned to make a move on me, it would happen during the night of that I was certain.
I experienced little difficulty in selecting my Doctors, unlike the Boer conflict there was no shortage of volunteers. I suspect in some part due to the fact that we are now a Corps within the Army Establishment with equivalent ranks and pay structures.
I selected five Doctors, three of them young surgeons, all hospital trained so used to a variety of tasks in their chosen field. The situation we were to be placed in, I felt it better to be a jack of all trades than a master of one. Once the hospital was up and running who knew what would arrive on a daily basis to test our skills.
The other two were just journeymen Doctors, who I felt with the aid of the nursing staff could cope with the walking wounded and less crucial cases.
The Matron I chose surprised a few people, she came to me as a senior sister, but I was so impressed by her attitude when I interviewed her that I offered her the Matron’s post. She was very flattered that I was prepared to place my trust in her, but reluctant to accept the post because of her age, she was in her late thirties.
But once I had explained that one of the reasons why I had selected her was because of her age, she accepted but still I felt, somewhat reluctantly. I wanted a young team around me, I needed the energy and the willingness to try new things. I had no time for people who might falter come the first problem.
Captain Albert Ball V.C. – British Ace 1896 / 1917 Pt.5
Ball then requested a few days off, but to his dismay, He was temporarily re-assigned to aerial reconnaissance duty with No. 8 Squadron. Where he flew B.E.2’s from the 18th of July until the 14th of August. During this posting Ball undertook an unusual mission, he flew a French espionage agent across enemy lines. Dodging an attack by three German fighters, as well as anti-aircraft fire, he landed in a deserted field, only to find that the agent refused to get out of the aircraft. While he was on reconnaissance duties with No.8 Squadron, The London Gazette announced he had been awarded the Military Cross, “For conspicuous skill and gallantry on many occasions” particularly for one occasion when he attacked six enemy aircraft in one flight.” Throughout his career this was not unusual, Ball generally attacked on sight of the enemy, regardless of the odds. He professed no hatred for his opponents, writing to his parents he stated,” I only scrap because it is my duty …. nothing makes me feel more rotten than to see them go down, but you see it is either them or me, so I must do my duty best to make it a case of them.”
Ball’s 20th birthday was marked by his promotion to temporary captain and his return to No.11 Squadron. He destroyed three Roland C.II’s in one sortie on the 22nd of August 1916, the first RFC pilot to do so. He ended the day by fighting 14 German aircraft some 15 miles behind their lines. With his aircraft badly damaged and out of fuel he struggled back to Allied lines to land. He transferred with a cadre of No.11 Squadron to No. 60 Sqn. on the 23rd of August 1916. His new commanding officer gave Ball free rein to fly solo missions, and assigned him his own personal aircraft and maintenance crew. One of the squadron mechanics painted up a non-standard red propeller boss; A201 became the first of Ball’s aircraft to be fitted with this boss. He found that it helped his fellow squadron members to identify his aircraft and in doing so confirm his combat claims. By the end of the month he had increased his victory tally to 17 enemy aircraft.
The next two weeks where a whirl of activity, Both to get the surgery re-organised using just James and the two girls. With the amount of men that would soon be enlisting to fight in the forthcoming war they should be able to cope adequately.
James was unhappy because he would have liked to serve with me, but as I explained to him as best I could, his services would still be needed albeit on the home front.
Colonel Goodhew had given me complete autonomy with regard s to selecting the staff that I required for my field hospital. Therefore I was spending most of my time closeted in my office perusing the applications of other Doctors, Matrons and Nursing Sisters.
It was not an easy task I was looking for people who could think on their feet and respond to any emergency, no matter what it entailed. we were venturing in to a conflict where new and powerful weapons would be in use, including possible chemical weapons.
The people that I select have to be prepared for anything that the enemy may throw at them, in terms of the amount of wounded and the horrendous wounds they may have received. If at all possible, it would be useful to have one or two multi-lingual members of staff for we will treat all casualties, regardless of race, colour or religion.
We halted, in the early evening whilst it was still light, I erected the tent while Jock collected wood for the fire. We fed and watered the horses, then began to cook ourselves a meal.
It bought back some fond memories of when we were on campaign and had to rough it. We laughed over shared memories, we could afford too, we were survivors, some other’s weren’t so lucky.
We had an uneventful night and the following day after we had breakfasted and saddled the horses and reloaded the pack – horse, We struck camp and continued on our way. Up till now, we were both enjoying our trek through the Carpathians, neither of us had ridden horses on a regular basis. We were Infantrymen and as such relied on our feet, marching from place to place, it was quite a luxury to be carried there, we both felt quite spoilt.
We continued on like this until the fifth day. On that day we fell foul of some brigands, or rather they fell foul of us. We had both spotted the three men trailing us and the obsolete muskets they carried. At the next fork in the road Jock peeled off so that he could get behind them.
I, sensing some kind of confrontation carried my rifle cradled in my arms with my finger on the trigger, we had been in these sort of situations before in our military service, I guessed there would be more of them ahead of me.