The 23rd April, being the anniversary of the deaths of both Cervantes and Shakespeare, is a good excuse for a handful of literary references. As might be expected, Cervantes is represented by Don Quixote, in adjectival form mostly; many strategies, tactics, and even campaigns have over time attracted the description; here are a few:
The dispatch of the Dunsterville Force to Baku was condemned in certain quarters as a quixotic adventure.
The Long Road to Baghdad (1919), Edmund Candler
Turkey’s attempt to destroy the Suez Canal is described as a ‘quixotic venture’
With the R.A.M.C. in Egypt (1918), “Serjeant-Major, R.A.M.C.” (Tickner Edwards)
He [the enemy] offered up his best regiment, the Staffordshire, to certain death, sending it forward to meet the Turks and to provide the opening scene in the melancholy drama which, under the title of the ‘ glorious retirement from Gallipoli ‘ was to make its Don Quixote progress though the journalistic forest of the Entente press.
This last is a A German staff officer’s account of the withdrawal from the Helles, appearing in The Dardanelles by Major-General Sir C. E. Callwell (1919), and is fairly quixotic writing in itself.
Equally interesting are African connections to the knight of the mournful complexion:
In A Doctor’s Diary in Damaraland [Namibia] (1917) Dr H F B Walker writes
On the way home we called at the farm of an Italian living in rather a poor way. At first he was not inclined to be very communicative. He was under the impression that things were going very badly with the Allies in Europe, and that we were about to be bundled out of German West. The Germans had told him that London was in flames, Calais and Warsaw taken, and that England, Russia, and France, were kaput, a word we hear frequently on German lips, and equivalent to utterly destroyed plus damned. We assured him that none of these things were so, and then he came down on our side of the fence without reserve. ” The Germans call us Italians ‘dirty pigs’ now,” he said, spitting on the ground with great emphasis, “and will crush us under foot like beetles; but we will show them!” and he destroyed several imaginary Germans in a very quixotic manner.
While Georges Lafond, in Covered with Mud and Glory, [orig Ma Mitrailleuse] (1918) writes:
A big devil of a Moroccan colonel, with a Don Quixotic face under an extraordinary headpiece, invites us to his P. C. (post of command), where the Boche has left useful bits of installation. A black hole is two steps away from us. We go down into the ground, over abrupt descents, and there we are protected from the ” marmites ” in a dark corridor lit by candles stuck into the mouths of German gas masks.
The quixotic style of the editors of the Wipers Times under its later title of The B.E.F. Times offered this on 22nd January 1918
H C Owen’s Salonica and After (1919) has a rich passage about the locally produced newspaper, the Balkan News, of which he wrote:
Started in November, 1915, the B.N. was the first daily newspaper to come into being purely for the needs of an army, and the cry of “Bawkanoos,” which was first heard in the camps immediately outside the city, spread, as the troops advanced, to the furthest confines of Macedonia.
Quite a number of anecdotes, true and otherwise, cluster round the B.N. One of the true ones is that of the Bulgar who left a note for one of our outposts on the Struma, saying that as he possessed the words for “Boris the Bulgar” published in the B.N. be awfully glad if he could have the music. ” Boris the Bulgar” was a parody on the famous “Gilbert the Filbert,” and the refrain of it was
“Good gracious, how spacious
And deep are the cuts
Of Boris the Bulgar,
The Knifer of Knuts.”
I believe it was decided that the request should not be granted. Another Bulgar used to leave a penny every night somewhere near Big Tree Well, in the region of Butkova Lake, and quite often he got his B.N. in exchange. No doubt every such copy did more than its fair share of propaganda.
And this sketch of the work of The Balkan News would not be complete if we did not mention a great personality who was closely identified with it. I refer to that grandiose individual known to all in the Balkans as His Macedonian Highness, The Comitadji [partisan]. H.M.H. The Comitadji was a sort of blend of Falstaff, Cyrano de Bergerac, Ally Sloper and Mr. Horatio Bottomley, adapted to Balkan conditions.
It will easily be seen that here are all the makings of a Great Man.—He was a being of imposing presence ; he drank deep too deep; he was, according to his own was, according a great Bulgar Slayer; he had, naturally, a plurality of wives; and was a master of rounded, rolling periods. In royal, or semi-royal, state, he moved up and down the British area of Macedonia in his powerful Ford motor-car, which was universally known as the J.R.L., or Junior Road Louse. Another Great Man of long ago, Don Quixote, was brought into being to tilt at the false romanticism which existed in Cervantes’ time. H.M.H. was perhaps partly called into being by the great outpouring of decorations and orders which was one of the symptoms of the Great War. As so many others were being given, H.M.H. The Comitadji instituted his own orders. The best known of these was the Order of the Boiled Owl, and after a time it became a very prized decoration indeed.
Quite a lot to digest there: Don Quixote, Falstaff, Ally Sloper (of whom much more, much later), Cyrano de Bergerac, and Boris the Bulgar. Exit stage left.