There has been much discussion here recently about the (sometimes good, sometimes awful) paintings of C. R. W. Nevinson. By chance, the book I’m currently reading has a photograph of his father, Henry Nevinson, the distinguished war correspondent.
Here he is with Horace Grant and Philip Gibbs and two unknown Serbians, getting ready to report on the Balkan War of 1912.
The book is Adventures of War: With Cross and Crescent, by Philip Gibbs and Bernard Grant. Gibbs was reporting the war for the Daily Graphic, and Bernard Grant was a photographer for the Daily Mirror. Gibbs was with the Serbians and Bulgarians, and Grant was with the Turks, so the book reports both sides of the struggle, and is something of a marvel of instant history; its publication date is proudly stated as December 19th, 1912, just a month after the last calamities recorded in the book. The war itself did not actually end until well into 1913.
The Balkan Wars are now rarely remembered outside the territories affected, but they were of immense historical importance, since they meant the ejection of Turkey from eastern Europe, and the end of the last vestiges of the Ottoman Empire.
I’ll write a fuller report of the book later, and describe some of the horrors that Grant saw among the defeated Turks. For now I shall just quote some of Gibbs’s reflections after Turks had fled a battle in panic:
[A]s I write I have before me one little object picked up on the battlefield which seems to reveal one reason for that orgy of fear. It is one of the wooden bullets found in thousands at Kumanova, as they were flung away by Turkish soldiers. This story has been denied by those who have a powerful interest in denying it. But the evidence is too strong for denial, and my wooden bullet bears silent and terrible witness of the guilt by which fraudulent contractors and bribed officials betrayed the lives of man and the fate of an Empire. Eye witnesses report also that the bayonets and swords which lay strewn in thousands on the way from Kumanova to Uskub were all blunt, so that they were useless in the hands of men faced by Servians with weapons sharp to kill. perhaps the wild retreat of those Turks was not due to mere cowardice, but to the knowledge that they were betrayed by their own government, incorrigible in corruption.
A thought strikes me: Did this sort of report from the earlier war lead to an underestimation of the Turks in the Great War, and maybe to an overestimation of the chances of success at Gallipoli?