Extracts of Spies of Jerusalem
(From Chapter 36. The Charge at Huj.)
Pichler was giving orders about the shell fuzing to his Feldwebel, a giant of
a young Tyrollean who had tried to disguise his youth with the kind of moustache
young children hang on. Each gun to have five shrapnel rounds set to ten
seconds, five to five, and five to zero.
When the NCO had gone off to see about this Weidinger said, Zero settings?
Expecting them to get that close?
Im not taking any chances, replied Pichler. Im
a conventional kind of soldier I suppose. I know those machine-guns behind us
wont let us down. I know they wont jam. I know they have the best
field of fire where they are and will keep those nasty Tommy toothpicks away
from us. But just between you and me and my grandmothers favourite saint
I would feel a whole lot happier if we had some people out in front.
And theres another thing. As you may have noticed, we may be hidden
from them but they are also hidden from us. Theres at least four hundred
metres of dead ground out there behind the spurt which we cant cover over
open sights You must agree its worrying. Im going to have to send
my young gentleman back to where were lying, with a man on a field telephone
to act as spotter. At least he can lie down and pretend hes in bed which
is where he should be if you ask me.
Weidinger nodded. It was true enough. The boy obviously had jaundice. But he
was still convinced that it wasnt going to happen.
Dont forget youve got those mountain guns covering your left
flank, he said. If the Tommies came at you head on theyd have
to face enfilade fire from over there. Theyd be slaughtered.
Yes, said Pichler. I suppose youre right - providing
they can get the range.
At that moment one of the most unearthly sounds either officer had ever heard
floated across the little valley that separated them from the enemy. Others who
were with the guns that day recalled it was like something between an off-key
bugle call and a canines lunar howl. At the same time a large cloud of
dust began to roll towards the mountain, which began booming away at a furious
rate. They were soon accompanied by the rattle of rifle fire, and then the machine-guns
behind Weidinger joined in. At first they fired short bursts and then long ones
as they appeared to get on target. Weidinger estimated the range at just over
one thousand metres, and wondered if they would curb the tendency to shoot high
at that distance.
Theyre charging, said Pichler. Perhaps its the
Weidinger was looking at the dust cloud through his field glasses. It had now
almost reached the Turkish position and he could see the flashing of steel.
No, I dont think so, he said. Not this time.
Then came that strange doubling note again, slightly closer now.
Private Calderwell felt himself go cold.
There goes old Toby tootin his orn, said Mace to no-one
Alright, sarnt-major, said Captain Valintine. Squadron
will advance in half squadrons.
It was almost 1.30pm . Overhead a late flock of cranes flew south on their
winter migration to the Great Rift Valley.
B Squadron of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, four officers and thirty-eight men,
trotted their horses about twenty yards. They were still just below the crest,
only their dust showing. The two remaining troops of the Worcesters about thirty
men under a lieutenant called Edwards, came with them, positioning themselves
slightly in echelon to the right. Valintine was about a length ahead of everybody
else on a grey. He turned in the saddle, his face flushed with excitement,
and said, Its the guns were after lads. Good huntin and
keep spread out! Chaaaarrrrge!
As Valintines sword arm went down and his spurs went in so the pair of
Skoda guns facing them opened fire on the Yeomanry for the first time.
High, said Pichler. Down two degrees.
The brass elevation wheels were turned.
Fire! Thats better.
Weidinger, peering through his Zeiss alongside him, thought he saw at least
three horses go down.
Bloody ignorant these Tommies, growled Pichler. Dont
read their own history books.
But they were not coming in the way Weidinger had always imagined a cavalry
charge, a great glorious mass of men and horseflesh advancing on the enemy
stirrup to stirrup, as the Uhlans had at Mars La Tour. These horsemen were
hardly in formation at all: they seemed to be riding in twos and threes, even
singly, with as much as ten metres between groups in places. They looked more
like Cossacks than regular cavalry, and every few seconds they would vanish
into their own dust.
When the first whizz-bangs from the Austrian battery came at
them, just a little too late to do any harm, Calderwells
reaction had been like most of the other Yeomanry: the sooner
they got past those guns the safer they would be. He raked Villas
sides with his spurs and even began to sue his word like a whip
on her rump. At one point he was almost level with Mace, who
grinned and shouted something that was carried away by the sound
of the next explosion, which seemed directly above them. It was
like the last straight of a derby that had seen no warm up, no
reining in. The best riders and the best horses, who almost invariably
went together, edged into the lead, so that soon Calderwell was
squinting into the dust of at least four mounts immediately ahead.
There was a noise like a hailstorm on an iron-roofed building and for a moment
Calderwell wondered whether their own Hotchkiss teams had come up and were
giving them cover. Then he had to swerve around an animal that was down in
front of him and he for a moment he felt Villa falter and break her stride
as her hooves caught something. There was a scream, whether from a horse or
man he could not tell. The hailstorm continued as the Turkish infantry joined
in with their Mausers. Bloody charge of the light brigade, muttered
Calderwell. Right, you bastards.
Five-second fuzes, Pichler was shouting, his hand
over the mouthpiece of the field telephone. Apart from about
thirty horsemen who had started after the others, the English
were out of sight now. His commands came after the ensign manning
the observation post had registered the distances through his
Goertz range-finder and then reeled them off to the gunner operating
the field telephone. The nearest horses were now at four hundred
and fifty metres.
Cest magnifique mais cest nest pas la guerre, murmured
Weidinger who, like Calderwell, could not get the Crimea out of his head. What
sort of fool sent cavalry to attack a position like this without artillery support?
Another hundred metres and the machine-gunners would really start to cut them
to pieces if they werent already.
Suddenly he scented that somebody else was standing the other side of him from
Pichler. He turned and there was Shemsi, leaning on her rolled parasol and
peering into the dust as if she was at the race track. Whats happening? she
said, flinching every time a gun went off. Where have they all gone?
Theyre just behind that ridge in front of us, that spur, said
Weidinger, trying to conceal his astonishment. For the last few minutes he had
almost forgotten she existed. I think it might be better if you went back
to the lorry. Wheres Major Krag?
Hes trying to help get it started.
Weidinger looked and saw that the driver was still tinkering with the engine
while Krag stood stooped at the front gripping the starting handle with both
They almost got it going a few minutes ago. she said.
I think you ought to forget about trying to start it now, said Weidinger. Please
tell Major Krag there is a possibility that some of these Tommies might break
through. You must take cover until weve dealt with them.
Go under the lorry, said Pichler who had been half listening. And
go now. Theyre three hundred metres away. He started to shout down
the telephone, Youve done a good job. Ill try and get you a
medal for it. Now get out of there. Come on! Come back and keep your heads down
or youll get them blown off by those excellent machine-guns behind us.
The Widow Shemsi lifted her skirts and ran back to the lorry. The machine-gun
They had almost crossed the valley now and were approaching
the slight incline that seemed to conceal the place where the
guns that had been tormenting them lay. A riderless horse, a
chestnut like Villa, came alongside Calderwell. He glanced across
at it and failed to recognise whose it was but saw that the horse
had got caught up in some sort of blueish tubing that was clinging
to its left flank. Then he realised that he was looking at the
animals intestines, which had sprung from some gaping wound
in its side and were now easing themselves a little more into
the daylight with every stride it took. To Calderwells
amazement, despite its impending evisceration, the horse easily
overtook Villa and other laden stable-mates. When they reached
the crest the hailstorm on the roof became noisier, though Calderwell
was concentrating so hard on avoiding falling horses that he
hardly noticed. He glimpsed a dismounted Yeoman pulling his Lee-Enfield
out of his saddle boot, and then he was at the top and his sword
arm went down.
Just point your weapon, the instructor had said. Thumb in the
groove and the speed of your horse will do the rest.
But what do I point at, sergeant? What do I point at when then dust is so thick
I can hardly see to the end of my sword? Then the dust cloud parted and he
saw the guns for the first time. At almost the same moment the machine-gun
Zero fuzes, Pichler was shouting. Zero fuzes.
For Gods sake, wheres that boy?
Here they come now, said Weidinger.
They were following the field telephone line down. The Hungarian gunner they
called Gypsy was in the lead, winding the cable onto the apparatus as he went.
Behind him came the ensign, who had the gunners carbine slung over his
right shoulder and the Goertz range-finder in his left hand. He kept looking
back. They were about four hundred metres from the guns.
Come on, come on, said Pichler.
The first horse appeared. It was riderless, and was almost immediately felled
by a burst of machine-gun fire.
Run, man. Come on, run, pleaded Pichler, though there was absolutely
no chance they could hear him above the din of exploding ordnance. The ensign
would run for half-a-dozen strides then seemed to pause for breath. Another riderless
horse crested the ridge to meet the same fate.
For Gods sake drop that phone, whispered Pichler to himself. I
wont have you court martialled for losing it.
Horsemen were visible now, a man on a grey in the front. Almost as if he had
heard him Gypsy dropped the phone and sprinted towards the guns. Weidinger
estimated the nearest Tommy was about thirty metres away from the ensign. For
a few seconds the sick teenager looked as if he might keep up a sustained sprint
too. But then he stopped again, put the range-finder down, and began to unsling
the carbine. Almost at the same moment the machine-gun fire became suddenly
much reduced, and for the second time that afternoon the gunners heard that
strange double-noted horn.