Failing Gracefully

Drip Rifle at Bandiana 2007

The Drip Rifle

In modern computer programming we speak of a “graceful failure” or a “graceful exit”.  It refers to a piece of coding which recognises a failure in a routine and closes the routine down with an error log that signposts a data quality analyst where to look for the problem.

Back in December 1915 the allied forces faced a different kind of an exit challenge.  Winston Churchill’s idea of knocking the Ottoman Empire, the sick man of Europe, out of the war with a knockout punch failed.  After 11 months of move and counter-move the allies acknowledged that the Turks were equal to the task of defending their homeland.

It was a campaign that illustrated how one bad step can follow another bad step embedding you deeper and deeper into an entirely unintended situation.  The plan was to force a fleet up the Bosphorus to Istanbul and force the surrender of Turkey under the Big Guns of the combined British and French fleets.

The actions of a single Turkish mine laying ship blocked the entry of the fleet.  When the navy sent in minesweepers they were shelled by Turkish shore batteries.  So the Navy needed to send in ground troops to clean out the shore batteries.  The Turks opposed the landings and the Dardenelles campaign descended into a hellhole of trench warfare.  Up close and personal trench warfare, with only the narrowest strip of no-mans land between the front lines.

When the Allies decided to evacuate lance corporal W.C. Scurry presented them with a piece of genius.  Scurry had arrived in Gallipoli only one month prior with the Australian Imperial Force.  He rigged up a delayed firing system using two mess tins and a bit of string.

The top tin was filled with water, the bottom empty and suspended from the top one.  A hole was pierced in the top tin and the water dripped slowly out, falling into the bottom tin.  When the bottom tin became heavy enough to pull the top tin down both tins fell and pulled the trigger string, firing the rifle.

By using different size tins, different hole positions, different size holes and different amounts of water it was possible to set up multiple different timings.

On the 20th of December, 2015, as the Newfoundland rear guard of the evacuating forces silently departed from the trenches they triggered the mechanisms on dozens of these rigs.  As long as the rifles kept firing the Turks believed the allies were still there.  The evacuation of 80,000 men was achieved with only a half dozen casualties.

Gallipoli was an unqualified failure, but one with a graceful exit.

 

 

After Court Martial; by Francis Ledwidge

My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.

The Present is a dream I see
of horror and loud sufferings,
at dawn a bird will waken me
unto my place among the kings.

And though men called me a vile name,
and all my dream companions gone,
’tis I the soldier bears the shame,
not I the king of Babylon.

Happy Birthday Rupert Brooke

Rupert_Brooke

Described by none other than W.B. Yeats as “the handsomest man in England” Brooke is the quintessential war poet.  A product of Rugby school and Cambridge University, a confused bisexual, steamy good looks, went skinny dipping with Virginia Wolfe, associated with the Bloomsbury set of poets.  He had a nervous breakdown in 1912 and toured the world as part of his recovery process.  He may have fathered a child with a Tahitian woman along the way.

When the first world war began Brookes poems “The dead” and “The Soldier” captured the mood of the nation and brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty.  He was commissioned as a naval officer and sailed for Gallipoli.  He died of an infected mosquito bite before the fleet reached Turkey.  He is buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.

Here is a funnier and less heroic poem from the pen of someone who is way too godlike for his own good.

A Channel Passage; by Rupert Brooke

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing — YOU!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice — heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.

Farewell to June

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland

May 2011 visit by Queen Elizabeth acknowledged at last Irelands WW1 legacy

As June 2017 draws to a close in broken showers and typical Irish summer weather I give you a poem about closing and June from the Poet of the Blackbirds.  By rights Ledwidge is a war poet, but it became unfashionable in post revolutionary Ireland to admit to a career in the British Military.  It took 100 years before the Irish nation could honour those Irish who responded to the call of John Redmond and spilled their blood on Flanders fields.

In a neat stroke of marketing Francis Ledwidge was cast as a poet of field and stream, of nature and songbirds.  His Lament for the Irish patriot Thomas MacDonagh was given pride of place while his poems from the French and Turkish trenches in which he fought were swept under the carpet.  Sadly even Poetry is not immune from politics.

June: by Francis Ledwidge

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
and plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
and let the window down. The butterfly
floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
above her widespread wares, the while she tells
the farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
the water from the spider-peopled wells.
The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
and bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
while siren-like the pollen-stained bees
drone in the clover depths.  And up the height
the cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade.
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
that snares your little ear, for June is short
and we must joy in it and dance and sing,
and from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
the wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
will soon blow down the road all roses go.