Chapter VII: The Silent Killer
Varna, Bulgaria, June 26th, 1854
Russell was fed up. He must have been walking around for the best part of an hour and could not yet see the slightest glimpse of what he was looking for. He decided to stop off at one of the Turkish corner cafés. True enough they were dirty affairs, for the most part. The coffee was mostly awful stuff, far too strong, and always full of men smoking their pots of strange liquid that somehow turned into tobacco. As such, he would attempt to keep the visit to a minimum, get a small mouthful of something and let his legs recover. He could survive long enough for that, he reasoned to himself; he had seen many a more dingy place elsewhere, and in somewhere like London or Dublin, nor Turkey. He ordered piece of odd, sweet bread, tasting somewhat like that Jewish bread he had had to taste while reporting in London. It was bearable, and would probably give him the power enough to find the correct location. As he sat down, he sprawled his limbs out for a moment, before recoiling back upright at the thought that he might look un-gentlemanly.
His mind veered from the murmurs of the Turks and Bulgars who sat watching him. He thought about what he had experienced so far in this expedition; the places he had seen, the people he had met. After leaving Malta, which though being a lovely island was failing to interest him anymore, they moved to the first place the Turks had in mind for the Allied armies; Gallipoli. That small town was a strategically logical place to put the force of around eighty-thousand Allied troops. It was situated on the European side of the Dardanelles, the channel through which all ships wanting to go between the Black and Mediterranean seas would have to pass, which was the intention, as far as could be seen, of the Russians. True, Constantinople did the same job, but at Gallipoli, the already thin strip of sea that was the Dardanelles turned west and then north again, creating a strait no more than half a mile wide. From their position, the British and French artillery could close the straits off to the Russians and make Constantinople a useless asset. And if the Russians attempted to attack the Allies, the thinness of the Gallipoli peninsular would render Russian numerical superiority another ineffectual advantage. However, strategy did not prove to be the main concern of the Allied staff. Gallipoli was far too small to support such a large force, and supplies began to run short as the Merchant Marine could not deliver enough necessaries on the pathetic wharf. It was here that the Allies met their first, and to be longest running enemy; Cholera. For the French, things were not so bad. They had quickly taken over the whole town and left the British to camp outside it and suffer from bad water supplies. To stop the strain on the already small British numbers, and the serious disagreements Raglan and St. Arnaud were having about the French being in the town, the Turks agreed to find a new hosting place.
Constantinople itself was tried, but other problems were faced, along with the continuation of the Cholera outbreak. The Scutari Barracks, on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, proved too small to house the troops, and the bustle of the city lead many soldiers to misuse their time to visit the city’s more unsuitable parts. Added to that, there was a large British and French naval presence in the city; there was simply not enough space to go around.
What was needed was a place that allowed for easy logistics, so a ready made port, enough space to camp a large army, and somewhere that would deter the Russians from moving on Constantinople was what they were looking for. That was the place Russell now found himself in; Varna. This large fishing port on the Bulgarian coast had seen a lot of change in the short time the Allied armies had been there. It had been a tiresome period, though. Over a month had passed. The French had spent their stay very well, though. They had, like at Gallipoli, quickly taken over the town and made it their own, leaving the British to, once again, take to the fields around the town, mainly near the small Bulgar village of Devno. Field marshal Raglan was, of course, located in the town, but the French held dominion over the suspiciously quiet Bulgarians. For the British, this once more meant that Cholera had crept into the camps, and there had been over one-hundred cases several of which had been fatal. It could, he was sure, only get worse over time.
The three attempts at housing the Allied armies. 1) Gallipoli. 2) Scutari. 3) Varna. All were plaugued by Cholera outbreaks.
As he looked out from the Café, he was only reminded of both the French organisational superiority, and the task at hand. He took a bite of his bread before leaping up from his seat and striding confidently out into the street. As soon as he came to the road, however, he stopped. It was a disgrace. The French had put up well named road signs everywhere. If a Frenchman caught Cholera, which was rampant among the fleet, they could find the hospital very easily by going to the street named ‘Rue de l’Hopital’ and when post was needed sending, a sign saying ‘Rue des Postes Français’ would eagerly point the way. If you needed to find Marshal St. Arnaud, every Soldat would know the way; some would even guide you to the exact location. But look for the British Quarter-master General and he is no where to be seen. It was this problem that Russell was suffering now. He could not find, for the life of him, Field Marshal Raglan. It was not often that Russell would want to find him, but when he did, he couldn’t!
It was a bad showing for the future, he thought. Not only did the French have more troops to administer, but they were doing it better. Of course, some British officers proved themselves up to the organisational task. The Royal Engineers, for example, had done marvellous work improving the Wharves in Varna, though it seemed to be benefitting the French more than the British. All Russell could do was hope that the British commanders would take some advice from the French. He looked at the street signs one more time, noting he was on the intersection between the ‘Rue de l’Hopital’ and the ‘Rue Yussuf’, sighed heavily, and walked off down the ‘Rue Yussuf’ , not knowing if it would lead to Raglan’s headquarters. He would have to keep trying…