Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Voice From Gallipoli: Part II

The most memorable account I can think of about the BMH Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, is Roald’s Dahl’s in Going Solo. Dahl is best known for having written Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but long before Charlie, Roald Dahl was a pilot in the RAF during World War Two (he was also a secret agent, afterwards, but this doesn’t matter at the present); he crashed his Gloster Gladiator in the desert and his face was reconstructed in Alexandria. I’m going to guess that very little had changed since 1915, when allied soldiers were being sent there from Gallipoli.
Yale Commencement program,1911
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great (no big surprises, there) and is probably best known for its extensive Library. But the Library wasn’t just a library; it wasn’t like your local stopping place for the latest Harry Potter movie…no, this library had all the ancient texts of literature, science, medicine…and was, in fact, only one piece of the Musaeum, a great institution of learning dedicated to the Muses of Greek mythology (‘museum’, anyone?). The Musaeum was like a University long before there were Universities; all the greats came to study there. The place hosted (among others) Euclid, father of geometry, Archimedes, father of engineering, Herophilus, the founder of the scientific method…but most importantly for our purposes, Erasistratus, the man who, in the 3rd century, founded the Academy of Medicine, one of the oldest medical schools ever reordered.
Archimedes' 'eureka!' moment, when he discovered how
to determine the volume of an irregularly shaped object.
eg: a crown
He once said that if he had a lever long enough,
he could move the World.
Galen, one of the very greatest medical researchers of all time, studied there, but unfortunately, the fire that destroyed the Library, also destroyed the medical school. Time wiped away the Musaeum, yet the learning and knowledge that went on there were not completely lost; today our understanding of the world- of physics, engineering, chemistry, mathematics and medicine- is firmly built upon the stones these thinkers carved out of the rock.
The Tower of Hercules in Spain is an ancient Roman lighthouse
built along the same lines as the Pharos of Alexandria
Alexandria is such a strategic locations with its two big harbors, it’s hardly surprising that it played an important role in both World Wars. It served as a British command center, and for thousands of injured soldiers, it was an oasis in the desert, a place where they returned from the front line, little knowing that the methods used to treat their injuries were based on the hard won knowledge of thinkers who had stood on the same ground a thousand years before.
It was from Alexandria that the second letter from Martin was sent. I wonder if he knew the history of the place. Of the Pharos, the giant lighthouse that had once lighted the way of a thousand ships. And of the Musaeum, which shaped the world that came after.
I will stop talking now and let you read Martin’s letter. Please bear in mind that he describes some injuries, so if you are squeamish, proceed with caution. Like the last, original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.
No 19 General Hospital
31st Aug
Dear (great-grandmother’s name),
I wonder if you ever got my little note written from the hills.
Well if you did this is the sequel. I have been one of the lucky ones and still am to be writing this note, but they got me alright. No I in the left thigh and No 2 a little later on, broke my left arm.
Then I went down.
This was on the 10th and I am down splendidly. Blood poisoning all gone, & beginning to sit up and take a little nourishment. 
I hope to be able to go home in about a fortnight. And shan't I just be glad to see the old place again.
A year's soldiering is pretty strenuous!
But fellows are really fighting splendidly, especially the Australians & New Zealanders.
Some of the positions are like going up the side of a house, and directly one shows an eyelid you get shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire simply poured at you. If I come through this show and I ever see a man shooting a rabbit again, I'll kill him. I could tell you quite a lot of interesting things but the censor forbids. The Turkish snipers are the very devil, I caught one up a tree in a sort of green cage. His face was painted green and his rifle and clothes. Truly a hoary old villain, and stacks of a-mution. Their fellows pick off a lot of our men, they are very daring and cleverly conceal themselves.
Egyptian stamp, 1914
You will see form the lists, that my regiment had a bad time, 23 out of 26 officers gone. It's awful to lose you pals like this, & I am afraid in my present state I get awfully depressed.
But we didn't half make some ground! The Turk (?) on the whole is quite a gentleman in his fighting. His German master has taught him some of them some of his dirty tricks.
A captain pal of mine who was hit close to where I was laying wounded, was hit in the thigh by either an expanding or explosive bullet.
It simply blew the whole of his thigh out. He died in about half an hour of loss of blood, and I couldn't move to help him. A corporal in my own lo(?) was hit in the stomach by a similar bullet, with the same result. There are tact's that happened to come under my notice. We ought to do the same, but somehow we simply don't!
I know you are with us in spirit, so you will be glad to know we shall be through the narrows soon. It's costly but it's going to be done.
I am going to stop now I am getting tired. I hope you can read my scrawl, but writing is not quite so easy as usual just now. Kind thoughts to you and regards to family.
Yours very sincerely,

I apologize profusely for my absence all this time. I have not been at all well these past six months; sometimes it is a struggle to even get up in the morning, and trying to write a blog post with my foggy brain is pretty much impossible. I hope you will continue to stick with me, anyway.