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.

El-Khatun

Bell

Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence

Born on this day, July 14th in 1868 Gertrude Bell is one of the most remarkable women in history. Writer, traveller, mountaineer, archeologist, historian, journalist, red-cross worker and most importantly she was a highly insightful political analyst.

Bell also translated the Persian poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, better known as Hafez in her book “Poems from the Divan if Hafiz” (1892).

She was a witness to and reporter of the Armenian Holocaust when the Ottomans committed a genocide wiping out 1.5 million Armenians.  She saw Armenian women traded in the marketplaces by the Turks and Kurds as groups of the men, boys and old aged were dragged off and murdered in the desert.

Bell is one of the very few representatives of the colonial powers who is remembered with any fondness in the middle east.  She was instrumental in the establishment of the boundaries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Her intimate knowledge of tribal groupings, loyalties and alliances paved the way for the division of the middle east.

Bell had a unique advantage over the French and British men involved in the process.  As a woman she had access to women.  Her Arabic title : al-Khatun is derived from Imperial Ottoman Harem politics and refers to a court lady who is highly politically astute.  A lady who works for the benefit of the state and who has the ear of the Sultan.  She was the Sheherazade to King Faisal in the creation of Iraq.

Mark Sykes (of the Sykes-Pichot Agreement) was said to have hated Bell.  She was also unpopular with the Zionists because she opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Arabic lands.  She wrote of the Balfour declaration;  “It’s like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can`t stretch out your hand to prevent them“.

This is enough for me. (Poems from the Divan of Hafiz: Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell)

VI

A flower-tinted cheek, the flowery close
of the fair earth, these are enough for me.
Enough that in the meadow wanes and grows
the shadow of a graceful cypress-tree.
I am no lover of hypocirisy;
of all the treasures that the earth can boast,
a brimming cup of wine I prize the most.

This is enough for me !

To them that here renowned for virtue live,
a heavenly palace is the meet reward;
to me, the drunkard and the beggar, give
the temple of the grape with red wine stored!
Beside a river seat thee on the sward;
it floweth past, so flows thy life away,
so sweetly, swiftly, fleets our little day.

Swift, but enough for me !

Look upon all the gold in the world’s mart,
on all the tears the world hath shed in vain;
shall they not satisfy thy craving heart?
I have enough of loss, enough of gain;
I have my Love, what more can I obtain?
Mine is the joy of her companionship
whose healing lip is laid upon my lip.

This is enough for me !

Tonight’s the night

Guillotine

Tonight’s the night.  Theresa May faces a no confidence motion in her leadership.  The UK parliament faces the vote on the Brexit deal.  The five years since David Cameron first promised the Brexit referendum come to a head tonight.

Westminster is imploding under the weight of imperialst bombast.  Clowns to the left of her, Jokers to the right, Theresa May is stuck in a limbo not of her own making.

I thinks she has done a wonderful job with a terrible hand of cards.  She leads a party split between Hard Line Brexiteers, disillusioned remainers and confused Euroskeptics.  She is reliant on the Lunatic fringe that is the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to prop up the Conservative majority in parliament.

Her opposition is lead by the very confusing Jeremy Corbyn who seems to stand against the interests of his core vote by supporting the Brexit.  But he wants to undermine any realistic deal of a Brexit that is workable for the British Economy because in addition to supporting Brexit he has to oppose Theresa May.

May herself started from a position of “Remain”.  Yet she is the only Tory who seems capable of delivering any sensible exit strategy.

To say that the entire omnishambles is like a scene out of the Office being led by David Brent would be an insult to David Brent.  His managerial capabilities are head and shoulders above anything exhibited in Westmister in the last few years.

It is on days like this we should remember the great words of Winston Churchill:

We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in Felixstowe, we shall fight in the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confusion and growing strikes in the air,
we shall destroy our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight each other on the beaches,
we shall fight each other on the stairs and landing,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;
we shall fall asunder, and if, which I firmly believe may be the case,
this island or a large part of it were penniless and starving,
then the European Union beyond the seas, assisted and guarded by the British Fleet,
would carry in supplies and famine relief, and with all its power and might,
step forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old farts who voted to leave.

 

 

300 men and 3

Oath

Oath of the Horatii, ancestors of Horatius Cocles.

In the Irish song “A nation once again” is a reference to 300 men and 3 men, two legendary acts of bravery.  The 300 are the Spartans at Thermopylae who gave their lives to slow the Persian advance into Greece.

The 3 are less famous, Publius Horatius Cocles, Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius Aquillnus, the three Romans who held the Tibur bridge against the army of Clusium in 509BC, giving the Roman Army time to demolish the crossing and save the city.

Horatius himself was a decendent of the Horatii, Roman Triplets who fought a 3 on 3 combat against three Alban triplets to save the carnage of a full scale battle.

XXVII

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,

There is a lot of debate, and has been since ancient times, about the verity of the tale.  Historical records suggest that the Etruscan King of Clusium defeated Rome in the battle.  The heroic defence of the bridge may have been a PR exercise to whitewash a defeat.

LXX

When the goodman mends his armour,
And trims his helmet’s plume;
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

The Heroic tale of Horatius regained popularity in the Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington, Lord Macauley, published in 1842.  Today happens to be the birthday of Macauley!

Two years after publication Horatius was reflected in “A Nation Once Again” written by Thomas Davis.

Winston Churchill wrote that that while he stagnated in the lowest form at Harrow  he gained a prize open to the whole school by reciting the whole twelve hundred lines of the Macauley poem.  It is long, so I am not pasting in in here, but if you want to read it here is a link:  http://www.englishverse.com/poems/horatius