Memoirs & Diaries - France, Egypt, Mesopotamia 1915-1916
Background To the Diary
On 5th November 1914 Britain declared war on Turkey and a few days later the first echelon of an expeditionary force, consisting of the 16th Infantry brigade and two Indian mountain batteries under Brigadier-General Delamain, landed at Fao, a fortified town near the head of the Persian Gulf.
After two stubbornly contested engagements both Fao and Basra were captured. The invasion of Mesopotamia was ostensibly to protect the oil wells at the head of the Persian Gulf. This motive became obscured, however, when, lured by the prospect of capturing the legendary Baghdad, the British commander Gen. Sir John Nixon sent forces under Maj. Gen. Charles Townshend up the Tigris. After overwhelming a Turkish outpost near Qurna in an amphibious assault on May 31 1915, Townshend began to move inland. By September the British had taken Kut-el-Amara. Refusing to stop there, Nixon ordered the reluctant Townshend to continue northward.
Arriving (November) at Ctesiphon, Townshend discovered that the Turks had fortified extensively and had been reinforced to a strength of 18,000 regulars and additional Arabs, with 45 guns. Townshend mustered approximately 10,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 30 guns. He also had, for the first time in that theatre, a squadron of 7 aeroplanes. Townshend attacked Ctesiphon savagely on November 22, but after 4 days of bitter battle, during which more Turkish reinforcements arrived, Townshend withdrew to Kut. Kut was invested by the Turks on December 7.
In Mesopotamia, Townshend's besieged force at Kut-el-Amara vainly waited for help. The British suffered 21,000 casualties in a series of unsuccessful rescue attempts, and with starvation near, Townshend capitulated on April 29, surrendering 2,680 British of the 6th Division. By the time the Armistice was signed in 1918 1306 of these had perished and 449 remained untraced.
Of the 10486 Indians who surrendered, 1290 perished and 1773 were never traced. British and Indians alike left a trail of whitening bones along the awful road from Kut to Baghdad, to Mosul from there to Fion Kara Hissar in Asia Minor, Aleppo and even Constantinople. Never, until the disaster at Singapore in 1941, in the whole history of the British Army, had there been a surrender on the same scale.
This diary was put together by Lt. Edwin Jones who experienced many of the privations of the campaign. It provides a unique glimpse into the everyday life of a junior officer at the time. It is a pity that the diary finishes when it does for Edwin later took part in the drive towards Damascus under General Allenby before being demobbed in 1919.
Having survived all the dangers and privations
of the war in Mesopotamia and Syria Edwin was sent home in a troop ship in
the clothes that he wore in the desert. On the way home he and a
number of others caught pneumonia and died shortly after landing in the UK.
This diary has been compiled by his Great Nephew, who has in his possession
the original diary along with various other memorabilia from the campaign in
the Middle East.
Dr Robert Griffith Jones
December 21st 1915
Good-bye France, you have given me some sleepless nights, and many a hard day's work. I very much regret leaving you for foreign parts, but some day I shall return to you and go over all the ground again; no doubt it will recall many sad recollections.
Boarded the S.S.. "Vita" at Marseilles at 11 a.m., after rushing about and looking after the equipment.
A mail has arrived, but, alas! it is not being served out, but put upon the mail boat "Persia". It was very hard to think that we could not read our letters for the last time on France, and Legge received a parcel from home, and how all our mouths watered to think of eating a cake in "Blighty".
December 22nd 1915
First day's sail and no signs of sea-sickness. Everybody happy with the glorious sunshine, and the sea so calm.
Started on iron rations again which was not welcomed, but still, you must remember it's "War-time". Night arrived and all in darkness and no one allowed on deck. Lifeboats had to be worn, and sleep where you can. Garter and I found a very snug corner, but, oh, how hard the floor was! In spite of it all slept A.1.
December 23rd 1915
Still at sea and all going on splendidly; everybody happy, but of course, food very scarce.
Bombegy, our Indian cook, was very worried owing to the shortage of rations and we all so hungry, almost threatening him that we should cut him up for stew as a last resource. As usual, the "Sanitary Men" are called for duty, and we started 5 a.m. disinfecting the ship and horse lines. It was hard work, but we did it with a smile, a noted thing for "Sanitary Men".
December 24th 1915
At sea, and Malta sighted - oh, what excitement! One would think we hadn't touched land for ages, but I think the real reason was that we could buy some "light' refreshments to celebrate the famous Christmas Day.
A submarine was sighted and rushed for lifebelts, thinking our last hour had come, but it was one of our own, and gave it three cheers.
Laid outside Malta for the night.
December 25th 1915
"A Happy Christmas to all."
Taken into Valetta Harbour 7 a.m., a sight that I shall never forget. The sun was just rising and the lovely rocks standing out, dotted with huge buildings. A quantity of small boats came alongside, and small native boys doing all kinds of tricks in the water.
Most of the officers were ashore by 10 a.m., but we were not allowed.
I have had some very rough meals on active service, but getting bully beef and biscuits on Christmas Day beats all. We all wished to be back in France; the food we were getting was terrible. At 2.30 p.m. I was granted a pass to go ashore with three other men.
We hired a small boat alongside, and he took us ashore, but, of course, we didn't leave him on friendly terms, but of course, Tommies are always generous.
It seemed to be up, up, up, goodness only knows why they built so many steps, but when we got to the top, it was a glorious sight. We raided a shop for picture postcards and other kinds of presents to send home. We made some bargains with fruit, at least, we thought so, but am afraid, after all, we were done. After sight-seeing and our time nearly up (we only had 21/2 hours) we met an English Tommy who insisted on us going back to his station to drink the health of Christmas Day.
And we did so freely. I counted about 150 steps going up, but only about 50 coming down, and Sergeant Ash swore there were, at least, 7 or 8 hundred. Oh, dear, no! It wasn't the whiskey, but "Sun", as you must remember we had been through the greater part of the winter in France.
What a rush to get back to the boat! What with baskets of fruit, &c., and our heads all of a whirl, we managed it safe.
Concert at night, and all our superior officers well away, while poor Tommy had none.
To bed, all disheartened at the hardship of the day.
December 26th 1915
Up in the morning like larks to duty. Sailed out of the harbour 10 a.m., and very calm.
Christmas Day soon forgotten and hoped such a day on iron rations would never return. All going well and everybody happy.
Cards and chess usually took up our spare time, and not having any lights at night, turned down to it very early.
The food still very bad, and we longed for some fresh meat which we hadn't tasted since we embarked.
The mules and horses became troublesome, and many either died, or were killed, and were thrown overboard.
December 27, 28, 29 1915
December 30th 1915
Egypt was sighted and we thought we had got to our destination. Put inside the harbour at Alexandria, and orders were given to prepare for disembarkation. After hanging about for several hours, the whole thing was cancelled, and we had to prepare ourselves for another night.
December 31st 1915
Last day of the old year, and we were very glad as it had been a year of hardship. We had a splendid concert at night, and sang the Old Year out and New Year in, but NO refreshments.
The officers were very happy, and no doubt had done themselves well.
There was a terrible storm at night, and it was bitterly cold. All sorts of rumours were flying about, and some of the Indian Infantry disembarked.
Only officers were allowed ashore, and we were not allowed to buy from small boats.
January 1st 1916
A Happy New Year to Everybody! Somehow, we though it had brought us luck, but when we saw our rations, that confirmed the luck of 1915.
Sea still very rough and waves mountains high. Sailed at 4 p.m., everybody downhearted. Terrible night, and at times it was impossible to see the escort.
The "Persia" only 2 hours behind us, and we expected Christmas mail at Port Said.
All very sea-sick, and wishing we had never left France.
Arrived at Port Said very early in the morning, and heard that the "Persia" had been torpedoed, and our mail "gone West".
That was the first bad news we had received during that part of the voyage.
January 2nd 1916
In Port Said Harbour and not allowed ashore. We coaled and got smothered with black. The natives were all so excited and wanted to make bargains, but am afraid several made very poor ones. The heat was very trying and we had to put on our linen suits.
January 3rd 1916
Left Port Said at 4 a.m. and went through Suez Canal, a wonderful piece of work, and 99 miles long.
Received many hearty cheers from troops on the banks, who were also anxious to know where we were bound for. Of course, we said "Blighty", and they politely informed us we were going the wrong direction. So we said it must be "Mesop", but in our hearts we trusted it was not so.
Our first experience of Arabs and Gipos was funny: to see them walking, carrying huge bundles and large water carriers on their heads, all the time shouting to us. Our side of the canal is covered with huge palms and trees, while on the other, nothing but miles and miles of sand.
Arrived at Port Suez.
What a splendid sight! Mountains all on one side. Small boats came alongside and a rush for fruit and sweets. Orders were received and away we went, bound for Mesopotamia. The heat in the Red Sea was intense, and oh, how we all longed for a good bath.
Rations were still very scarce, and we longed for a good feed.
Concerts were given at night as we went peacefully sailing on.
January 7th 1916
Still going smoothly, and no signs of sea-sickness. At 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. we were in direct line with Mecca, and all Indians on board were allowed to pray on deck.
The water was splendid at night and seemed as though the whole Ocean was alight.
January 17th 1916
Entered the Persian Gulf - a sight never to be forgotten. The boat was only allowed to go very slowly, and we could see all the Palm Groves and native houses - of course, some palaces. We were greeted with many cheers, and even the smallest children raced alongside the River Tigris asking for pennies.
January 20th 1916
Came alongside of quay at Basrah, and oh, what a terrible night! Started to unload all heavy stuff, and managed to get same on shore when a terrible storm started. Poured with rain, and thundering and lightening. Had to go on shore and do duty on guard. Reed was with me, but it was impossible to keep dry or warm.
At 9 p.m. the Sergeant-in-Charge came, and said we were to go back on board, but the difficulty was to get there.
Sergeant went up the rope-ladder first and I followed, but Reed was too frightened to climb, so we had to lower a rope to pull him along. Slept on board.
January 21st 1916
Disembarked and said good-bye to S.S. "Vita" at 10 a.m. We gave three very hearty cheers to the Captain for giving us a safe journey.
The ground was in a terrible state, at least eight inches of mud, and it was most difficult to walk.
After getting our kit all ready the order was given at 12 o'clock to march. None of us were feeling very grand as we had not seen food since 6 a.m. and then only tea and biscuits. Small Indian garries carried the equipment, but we had to carry all our own kits.
At first we had a tremendous hill to climb, so were fairly beaten.
Some Arabs were selling dates and tinned pineapple, which we made a rush for. A halt was given so we sat in the mud to eat.
Owing to the terrible state of the ground, it was most difficult for the transport to get along, and we were delayed until 8 p.m. Marching orders were again given, but we had lost sight of our officers, and some of the convoy, and had no idea where we were to go.
Sergeant Hollyfied and Lawson were missing with several Indians, but we had to go, otherwise we should have been completely cut off. At last we came to some water, and we had to march about two miles with water up to our waists.
Had almost given ourselves up as lost when Issa Khan said he could see the camps, and we arrived at 11 p.m. The officer was in a terrible state about us and had tea provided.
We were put in tents, no sides, and no blankets but we were all so pleased to lie down that we went fast asleep. About 1 a.m. it was freezing hard and our clothes were frozen on us.
Next morning, Sergt. Hollyfied and Lawson turned up at 8 a.m., and had completely lost their way and slept on the road.
We had no rations and had to go and beg tea. Later in the day we were taken to another part of the camp and put in huts which were much more comfortable.
The officer, Lawson and myself went into the town of Basrah, via "dusty lane" Don't know why they called it "dusty lane" - could only find mud, and if you were not careful your boot would have been left behind.
My first sight of an Arab town can hardly express my thoughts, and don't even now if I was disappointed. The Arabs, both women and men are very energetic and work very hard. We called at the bank and drew some money, a thing very much needed, and then proceeded by way of boat to the native bazaar, and bought goods. Things were not so dear so we bought a huge basketful; intended making up for lost time. The coolies take the basket and will carry it for miles for one anna, which is equal to an English penny.
Arrived back at camp at 5 p.m., and oh, how anxious were the boys to hear of what we had seen, but no, said I, a good feed is what I want and let's prepare it at once, and we can talk afterwards. During the whole of our voyage we hadn't received any news from home, so were anxious to find a field post office, and see if any mail awaited us.
Carter was detailed off to find the p.o., but came back and said nothing doing.
Next day we were issued with rifles and had instructions of same by Sergt. Brown of the Manchesters. We were all very sad about this, as it meant we had to go through something.
My word ! We did have a dinner that day. Goat, first fresh meat for a month. Afterwards we settled down for a good night's rest in case we should be called up next day.
January 23rd 1916
Sunday. The day of rest in peace time, but the day of work in the Army.
A wire had arrived at 8 a.m., and we had to embark at once for the lines. Oh dear! How I longed to stay in Basrah and see all the wonderful sights. No transport was allowed, so Legge had to stay behind in charge of same.
Walker and I were sent out as an advance party, to find our way to the river, reaching there at 11 a.m. We stayed on the riverside and made some dinner, the usual stew again made out of bully beef.
We embarked on the small river-boat S.2, and sailed at 6 p.m. Of course, there was no sleeping accommodation, so we slept on the iron deck, too hard for words. The scenery along the River Tigris is wonderful, all palm groves. The Indians provided us with curry which seemed as luxury.
At every bend of the river Arabs ran along selling their goods, but you had to be very smart, otherwise you would lose your money and get no goods.
January 24th 1916
Passed Esrum which caused great excitement. We were now well in the country and could see no huts or houses.
The Arabs ride about on mules and drive the cattle into the river to keep cool; of course, the heat was intense.
January 25th 1916
Getting near Armarah where orders were given to disembark. Several times our boat nearly got stuck on mud-banks.
Reached Armarah at 9:30 p.m., but we couldn't disembark until next morning.
January 26th 1916
You can imagine our excitement early in the morning, lying outside an Eastern town, the sun rising, a Mosque standing very high in the background, and large buildings on the river front on one side and palm groves on the other.
Disembarked at 9:15 a.m., and got all equipment on side. The next question was food, but how were we to get it ? Some went to the bazaar and bought tinned fruit, but Lawson and myself said it must be stew, and stew it was, with dumplings. I do wish I could have taken a snapshot when preparing the meal, but what did it matter - we must have food ? The officer was very busy rushing about to find billets, and you can imagine how pleased we were to be able to stay in a town and see the wonderful sights.
At last the officer came back and told us to prepare for a very short march and carry our kits.
Our billet consisted of a native house with no roof, and rats. We were quite happy and knew we should soon make ourselves comfortable. Next day we changed our billet to a very fine house at the end of the bazaar. This, indeed, was luxury. We made several raids on the bazaar where things were fairly cheap. That day, Ash and I suggested a bath, but how were we to get one ?
We were informed that the Turkish Baths were out of bounds, and that no other baths were in the town.
After a great deal of trouble, we managed to get into a Turkish Bath. No soap was provided, so we soon had a row with the owner, who was an Arab. Of course he couldn't understand English nor we Arabic. At last we decided to have a proper Turkish bath for eight pence, and we were carted away into a cellar. I quite thought my last hour had come. I let Ash go first, and if anything went wrong, I could fly out, but all turned out well, and we thoroughly enjoyed our first bath in the East and walked home, proud of our clean knees.
When we told the boys what had happened, there was great excitement, and they all wanted to go.
The rations we were getting were splendid, and we enjoyed some good meals, eggs especially, as they were so cheap.
Our daily orders were very simple, meeting all the river boats with wounded, and assisting to take them off, and disinfecting the ship.
February 2nd 1916
Had received orders to go up the line, which, of course, was not very cheerful. All my kit got ready, I proceeded to the riverside, with 28 sweepers, Issa Khan, who acted as bodyguard, and a few tools. Embarked on S.S. A.3, 12:30 p.m., the officer arranging about rations. I felt very sick leaving all the others behind and longed for a chum to speak English.
Sailed at 2 p.m., and the boys gave me three hearty cheers, and I needed them, for I felt quite broken-hearted.
One Indian rushed up at the last moment, and handed me a large fish which had just been caught. Santo Ram was chosen for my servant, and to do my cooking, and did all he could to please me.
Trouble started at 4 p.m. when the sweeper-in-charge reported no atta had been issued, and that was their principal meal. We had drawn rations for 10 days, and it was impossible to get any more. The men of the Bengal Ambulance chummed up with me, and, of course, I was very pleased, as they had no end of food. The first night we slept on deck, but Issa Khan, who slept next to me, woke me up at every hour to give me figs. I couldn't understand where he was getting them, but discovered a sack of same, belonging to the Bengal Ambulance, were by his head, and he had cut out a hole in same, and was getting handfuls. I knew it couldn't last for long, otherwise the bag would be empty. Slept well.
Another day on the boat with some lovely sights. The Persian Hills seemed to get nearer and nearer, and then, all at once, they disappeared again.
My chums invited me to dinner that evening, and, of course, it was an Indian one. The cooking was excellent, but, oh, how hot was the curry. Shells were bursting some miles away, and we realised that war was still on.
It was my first experience of warfare in the East - how lovely it all looked with the shells bursting against the Persian Hills.
We arrived at Wadi, but did not embark that evening. Up very early next morning, and discovered a Taube flying over us, but, thank goodness, it did not drop any bombs.
Reported at A.D.M.S. for orders and had to wait several hours, a usual thing in the Army. At last a message came through, and I had orders to proceed up the lines. Not a very cheerful job. Was lucky enough to obtain two Indian garries and crossed the pontoon bridge to Oral, and reported to the 113th Indian Field Ambulance. The major was extremely kind, and gave us all something to eat and drink before going up the lines.
All in readiness to proceed, but, unfortunately, I did not know the way and had no compass.
Sergt. Kelly came on the scene and took me up, which was six miles, and the sun baking.
However, we arrived safe. Reported to another A.D.M.S., who was astounded to find no officer and the remainder of section. Of course, I could see there was a mistake, and tried to explain, but it was useless, and I couldn't even return. He told me to camp there for the night, but they had no tents, so had to sleep in the open. Oh dear, how I wished I was back in France. No lights at night and tents had to be down by 6 a.m.
Next morning I was informed I had to go straight into the trenches with the natives, and do medical duties. I had to wait for a convoy, otherwise it would not be safe - on account of Arabs.
Pouring with rain, the outlook was not at all pleasant.
At 9 a.m. sighted a convoy, and made straight for them, and after following them for several miles, discovered they were not going my direction. However, it was too late to go back, so thought it best to go and chance meeting any Arabs.
Reached Headquarters about 2.30 p.m. and reported. Was told it was impossible to remain there and to go another two miles and report at 112th Indian Field Ambulance. Oh dear, is the journey ever coming to an end ?
Reported at 112th I.F.A., and found they could not provide any tents, and only thing to do was to dig trenches and cover with ground sheets.
Still pouring with rain, but still we had to dig and make our homes.
When all was finished, discovered we had no water and it was quite impossible to get any, unless we marched at least 8 miles, so none of us felt disposed to do so, and went to bed, hungry, cold and wet. Would have given five shillings for a cup of water.
February 7th 1916
Still on my ten days' rations, but they were nearly all gone.
Went and reported at Headquarters and received a terrible shock. A Taube came over and dropped bombs, not having any dug-outs, had to lie out in the open. One of the Indians got wounded, and was taken into a field ambulance.
So far had not had any food since the previous morning, and was beginning to feel very weak.
Returned to 112th I.F.A. and had to go with Colonel Browse and men to the well - eight miles away.
I had one of the best and longest drinks in my life, and didn't realise until then how lovely water was. After receiving instructions as to the men's duties, went on to one of the outposts to see what sanitary arrangements had been made.
Returned to the wells at 4:30 p.m. and after making necessary arrangements about water, started to return home. Of course, orders were not to return unless with a convoy, but one wasn't in sight, and thought it useless to wait, so decided to return. Had no idea how deceiving the country was. Of course, there were no landmarks, or any houses or trees, so went wandering on only to find myself in second lines of trenches. However the officer-in-charge was very good and sent a guide with me. We reached home about 7 p.m., very tired and sick of everything. My servant had made tea and fried some bully, &c., which was most acceptable. Arrangements were made that each day two natives had to fetch water in water bottles - that was all that was allowed for drinking, cooking, and washing, so you can bet there was not much washing done. Each day I had to report at Headquarters for orders, and was kept at it from 5 a.m. until 6 or 7 p.m. This work was carried on for four weeks, each day bringing different duties, but I was not allowed in either first or second line trenches.
March 7th 1916
Orders were given that we were leaving camp at 6 p.m. for an all-night march, and all our kits had to be carried.
One day's rations were issued, which consisted of one tin bully, four biscuits, one bottle water, no tea or cocoa. The water on no account was to be touched unless orders given.
Paraded at 6 p.m. Orders: no leaving ranks, no talking or smoking, if anyone falls out must be left behind, and do the best he could. It was a lovely night, and we were directed by a searchlight from the river.
Nobody knew what was going to happen, or where we were bound for.
10 p.m. first halt, and a much-needed one, especially carrying all kit.
10:15 p.m. : Started again, and marched until 4 a.m., and when halt was given, all fell down and went fast asleep.
5 a.m. I was sent for by the Colonel and gave orders that latrines had to be dug. Arrangements were made and put men on duty.
9 a.m. Orders were given to march and away we went. An aeroplane came over and gave us the order. We marched until 2 p.m., and then made another halt. We were told that was the place for a dressing station, so made all arrangements.
4 p.m. Oh, my God! What's happened ? The noise of guns and rifles is terrible!
The attack had started. The infantry were going on splendidly. Bullets were dropping all around us, but the excitement was too much. At last, the Cavalry came dashing along and we knew that we were advancing.
Orders came that we had to advance, so we packed everything up and dreamt of being in Kut the following day.
10 p.m. Settled down again, but so hungry and thirsty, but wounded were arriving and must be attended to. Working all night attending to wounded until 5 a.m., and then I sat down and fell asleep. Noise of guns began to get worse, and seemed to be getting nearer. We were asking everybody for news and couldn't get any and had no idea of what was happening. Graves had to be dug for the dead - then orders were given to parade at 9 a.m. for a retreat.
It was heart-breaking, so I dashed up a small hill to see if I could see what was really happening. I could see the Turks quite plainly rushing about, and our men retiring as quickly as possible.
Again the Taube came over and dropped bombs all amongst us, but even the wounded didn't realise the danger, and it was impossible to do anything for them.
Everything was ready to retreat and Colonel Sloane came dashing up on his horse, and said I was to be in charge of all waiting cases, and if any man fell out he was to be left.
Still hungry and thirsty, hadn't tasted food for two days, and water bottle empty. My feet ached and were bleeding, but still I had to go on.
Shells were dropping around us, but thank goodness, no one was hurt.
One o'clock: our first halt, and we had only done about 4 miles. Seemed more like 40 miles. The wounded were in an awful state, and were begging for water, but still, we had none. On and on until 7 p.m., and then we reached Orah, a distance of 22 miles. The sights of boats helped us along, otherwise am sure we would never have reached it. On the march, one of our batteries halted and turned round and fired into the enemy, and one of the Infantry Rgts. took up a fresh position, and held the enemy for 12 hours before reinforcements arrived.
On reaching Orah, I was greeted by several medical officers who gave me tea and biscuit.
As the convoy came along, an officer who had received a wound in the leg, but had managed to march all day, looked across to me with hunger written on his face. I rushed across with some tea, but he refused it and asked for bread. I gave the tea to some wounded soldiers and rushed back to camp and got some bread and butter. When I gave it to him, he thanked me ever so much, and said it was the first bit of food for three days.
Our day's work had not finished, but had to attend to the wounded which numbered over 600 and that was only one Field Ambulance.
About one in the morning, I lay down in the open and tried to sleep, but it was useless, and by 5 o'clock my Indian sepoy got up and made me some tea. So far had not had any rations for 3 days, and my stomach was like a lump of lead.
I made enquiries about ration, but could not get any satisfaction.
At 9 o'clock a message came for me from A.D.M.S., and I had to go immediately, a distance of 3 miles. The Colonel thanked me for all the good work I had done and said I must be knocked up, but was sorry that our Field Ambulance must go up again that afternoon.
I must have looked very sad, and had a beard of 4 days' growth. He took pity on me and got me transferred to 113th Indian Field Ambulance.
It was a day of rejoicing, for my luck changed, and I met my good friend, Sergt. Kelly. A tent was given us, and how pleased I was to have a roof over my head.
We started well by having an excellent feed - curry and stewed pears; seemed almost too good to eat - and a most delightful sleep in the afternoon. Tea was served at 6 o'clock, and a good drop of tea, but just as we were enjoying it a shell came over and burst right over our heads. "Mercy, what's that" ? and a dash for helmets when small pieces came through the tent.
The major started rushing about and said "everybody in their tents!" I was ordered to rush across to my men who were at the other end of camp, and found all three tents empty. Two men were sitting round a fire making tea, and didn't care if 30 shells came over. Well, of course, orders must be obeyed, and after some great deal of talking, I got them in the tents when another one burst and a large piece flew right by my head, so near that I felt the draught. I dropped into the tents for a minute, and the Indians wanted me to stay, but I said, "No, if I am to be killed I will with an Englishman." I dashed across to my tent and frightened poor Sergeant Kelly. He said I was as white as a ghost and the wet was pouring off me.
A wireless message was sent to say they were shelling a hospital, and the reply came, "Shift in 24 hours." That, of course, meant more work. However, we slept the night peacefully, and prepared for a new home.
March 11th 1916
Removed to new quarters at Orah. Boiling hot day and very little water. Got attached to new officer, Capt. Kapur, and did the sanitation on water side.
Fixed up 3 large destructions for burning all manure in area. Disinfected malalias in various places as several cases of small-pox had broken out.
March 12th 1916
Taking men out for duty in the morning, and a Taube came over and dropped bombs but no one hurt. Doing duties until March 18th.
March 19th 1916
Orders given at 11 a.m. for going up lines. Everything ready and started at 2 p.m. Word was given that a mail had arrived, so I rushed to a field p.o. to find that 4 letters were waiting me, the first I had received since being up the lines.
Arrived at Camp Suma at 7 p.m., put up tents and made ourselves comfortable for the night.
March 20th 1916
Oh dear, how ill I was feeling and as weak as a kitten.
Went out with Capt. Street to the wells to pick up kits only about one mile from the tents.
Came back and was too ill to go out.
March 21st 1916
Reported myself with dysentery and was inoculated and told to rest. However, the work had to be done, so it was impossible to rest.
March 25th 1916
Orders came along, and I had to go with Capt. Sweet in the trenches to attend to the Connaught Rangers.
March 28th 1916
We marched about 11 miles during the heat of the day, and immediately went on duty. An attack was in progress, so had plenty of wounded to attend to. Our supply of bandages had finished so only had first field dressings.
This went on for 5 days during which time we hardly had any rest, and sleep was almost impossible. Our rations consisted of bully beef, biscuits and water. It was impossible to make tea, as fires were quite out of the question.
March 31st 1916
Returned to 113th I.F.A. and found out I had been reported as missing. Capt. Sweet had no business to claim me, and as he had done so he hadn't reported it.
April 1st 1916
Returned to Camp Suma and decided to have a rest.
Every day we were shelled, but nothing seriously happened.
April 4th 1916
Orders were given to shift and we paraded at 4 p.m. Major Bradley was in charge and led the four field ambulances.
Unfortunately, he lost his way, and went too much to the right, and we were observed by the enemy who intended giving us a very warm time. They sent over about 42 shells (shrapnel), and we had to lie in the open. This lasted about 3 hours, but, fortunately no damage was done to us, but one of our batteries close by fared badly.
At last we started again, and at last got to Thorneo Mullah. Orders were given that no lights or fires, so again we had to go without tea. After placing the transport into position, we settled down for the night, slept with all clothes on and in the open; at 1 o'clock, Major Bradley came along and said all transport must go back at once, otherwise at sun rise the enemy would observe and we should draw fire.
So off we started, pitch dark, and only the stars to guide us.
After going about one hour, one of the garries broke down, and we were stranded on the desert, afraid that the Arabs would attack us.
At last everything in working order, so off we started.
Could not find the place given so decide to put up for the night. Slept on garry and was very tired.
April 5th 1916
4 a.m. What's happening? Terrific fire and the bursting of shells, like the lights of the West End of London, and the smoke like a thick fog. The great bombardment had started, and such a wonderful light. This lasted about 4 hours, and then the Infantry started.
One gun came along and the men begged for water, said they hadn't any for 2 days. They had sent over one thousand shells and were taking up a new position.
6 p.m. Orders came, and we had to return to Thorneo Mullah, and got there about 8 p.m.
We were provided with dug-outs so had a real good sleep.
April 6th 1916
All going well and the attack still on. I had to go into the trenches with Capt. Kapur to attend to 47th Sikhs The work was very hard as such a large number were wounded.
April 7th 1916
At 7 a.m. a shell came over and killed Capt. Kapur who was only 3 yards away. I rushed to him, but it was too late and carried him to the Aid post. Sent word to the Headquarters that he was killed, and to send someone to give me assistance, but it did not arrive for at least 18 hours, during which time I had to do all first aid myself.
April 12th 1916
Returned to Thornea Mullah and very glad, Found that 2 officers and 3 Sub. Asst. Surgeons had been killed, and generally speaking, our ambulance had had a very rough time.
April 13th 1916
Was sent out with Sergt. Underhill to find some dead horses which had been reported. We were about 3 miles from camp when suddenly shells began to drop - discovered the Arabs were attacking. We rushed back to find they were all ready to retire, but fortunately, one of our batteries turned their guns on them, and the 34th Sikhs went out and made them retire.
April 14th 1916
Returned to Sandy Ridge, all with a very downhearted feeling, as our second attempt to relieve Kut had failed.
The heat was now intense, and quite impossible to be out during daytime.
April 15th 1916
At Sandy Ridge and intend making ourselves comfortable. Quite close to the River Tigris, so we could clean all our clothing and have a bath.
Went out with Sergt. Kelly and inspected some of the Old Turkish trenches, also saw a lot of prisoners making incinerators. Called at the Field p.o. only to find no letters for me.
April 17th 1916
Another attack had started, and I was ordered up to the 1st. Aid Post with Capt. Sweet. The shell fire was terrible and we lived in fear. At mid-night we were ordered to return, and very pleased to.
On arriving at field ambulance, they were over-run with wounded, and we had to set to and help.
April 18th 1916
Attack still on and over 600 cases passed through our hands.
Bandages, splints, &c had run out, and we got about 30 Indians working making bandages, and as fast as they were made, so they were used, and in many case men's shirts were torn, and used as bandages. One poor chap was brought in with a shrapnel wound in the foot and 12 bayonet wound in the body. He remained perfectly still whilst being dressed, but begged for water. The Major said No; however, I just managed to give him some when the Officer wasn't looking.
The next few days were very quiet, only a shell dropping occasionally.
April 18th 1916
Cholera has started and we had to erect a separate hospital.
Capt. Wells was in charge and I had to attend to all the water and disinfect all garries.
I was feeling very ill at the time, but it was impossible to give up. Cholera was still getting worse, and we were losing about 80 percent. It was a terrible job, as food stuff was so scarce.
April 28th 1916
The Sanitary sections arrived and I was only too glad and some of them could relieve me.
Walker took over my job at the Cholera Camp and I went on Water duties at Headquarters.
We were heavily shelled and had to retire for the night in dug-outs.
All day we could see large volumes of smoke in the direction of Kut and couldn't understand what it all meant.
Our guns were very busy continually firing.
April 29th 1916
We received the bad news of the fall of Kut and took it very badly. Everybody was walking with head down and not a smile. It was a terrible blow to our General, but he had done all that was possible and if only we could have got the necessary reinforcements we should have been able to relieve Kut. But there's one great thing to consider: If only the Turks had known what few men we had, they could have driven us right back.
Great praise should be given to the Manchesters and Connaught Rangers, who fought like men and suffered every hardship.
For several days our work was of general routine and just attended to wounded and sick cases that were coming in.
The cholera was still very bad and required a great deal of attention.
I had been relieved of the duties by Walker and unfortunately he was not strong enough to carry on and was very soon taken ill. He was transferred to No. 8 Field Ambulance where he received medical treatment.
May 2nd 1916
Headquarters shifted to Abu Ruhman about 2 miles away. I was instructed to attend twice daily, early morn and evening, to inspect the drinking and if necessary medically treat same and do the ordinary sanitation. This was done until May 10th., when I was instructed to attend the 1st. Manchesters in the trenches and do disinfection.
Had to go about six miles, and what with sun and dust it was unbearable.
On the way back next day I came across one of the R.E. lying in the open hopelessly ill. He had been lying there for hours waiting for assistance, and had lost his dispatches and revolver.
Helped him along to 1st. Aid Post and discovered he had cholera.
Returned to 113th. I.F. Ambulance 9:30 p.m.
May 13th and 14th 1916
Did duties at G.H.Q.
May 15th 1916
Received orders to attend with the Medical Officer in the trenches with 47th Sikhs.
May 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th
Did duties at G.H.Q. and trouble began.
May 19th 1916
Attended G.H.Q. with Lieut. Hill and fixed up a special tamboo to destroy flies. Came over very ill, and had to lie down. On the way back to camp, I completely collapsed and was picked up by some Indians and taken to 135th Indian F.A., where I remained for 7 days and treated for dysentery,
Returned to Sanitary Section on May 24th., who had shifted about 7 miles and were within 4 miles of Kut, a position we gained, and retired on March 7th.
May 25th to June 3rd 1916
Did duties at G.H.Q. and also attended to the special sanitation for Gen. Gorrings camp.
May 29th 1916
Col. Sloan sent for me and thanked me for all the work I had done, and promoted me to full corporal on the field.
June 4th 1916
Was still feeling far from well, and could not manage any food. Had got terribly thin, and was suffering. On my way back from G.H.Q. everything seemed to go black, and I don't remember any more until I came to and found myself in a field ambulance , with my officer watching over me.
June 5th 1916
At 3:30 a.m. I was put in an ambulance and carted away, about 17 miles to Sandy Ridge reaching there about 9:30 a.m. Had not had anything to eat or drink, and was simply starving. 2:30 p.m.: At last something coming round, but, oh, it's only milk and very little at that.
I remained in the F.A. until the 11th., where we embarked on the river-boat P.3 for the Base.
On the evening of the 10th. a Taube came over and caused much excitement. Soon afterwards shells came whizzing over, 6 in all, and the last one found its object. It caught the ammunition barges that were lying alongside, and there were some terrible explosions. Could see all manner of things flying in the air, and a great number of men were killed. The heat was now intense, and how I longed to get away for a quiet rest - had just 4 1/2 months in the firing-line, and at it almost day and night.
There were eight of us in a tent, with only one blanket each and no beds. It was wicked under those conditions.
Left at 9 a.m., marked with jaundice , and it was so lovely steaming down the river, although we were packed on the boat, and had to sleep on deck, which is no pleasure at night.
I was quite pleased with the thought of going back to Armarah, where I knew I should get careful attention, hot baths and some good food.
Arrived at Armarah at 530 p.m., and much to my disgust, the doctors would not let me get off, saying I was too ill, and must go to Basrah.
I begged of him to let me go, but he was most determined and said No. I nearly cried as I was much attached to this place.
June 13th 1916
Left very early for Basrah, feeling very depressed.
June 14th 1916
Arrived Basrah at 4:40 a.m., and was admitted to 3A General Hospital. Oh, dear, what a place, and over-run with rats, but to be put into a bed with white sheets was like being in Heaven. It was eleven months since I had been in a bed.
June 15th to 23rd 1916
At No. 3A General Hospital, Basrah, having a good rest and fairly good food.
At 11:30 p.m. on January 23rd. I was carried on S.S. "Karadinace", which is a Turkish transport boat, and remained on deck. We sailed at 12:30 a.m. to the river and lived on milk and biscuits. The heat was terrible, and being so many patients on board it was impossible to get about - in fact, most of the chaps had to go without food.
June 26th 1916
Came alongside Hospital Ship "Devanha" and got transhipped. Oh, what a treat to get into a comfortable bed with nice surroundings. At nine o'clock we were served out with cocoa and bread, the best meal I had received for at least 9 months.
June 27th 1916
All going along very happily, and thoroughly enjoying the trip. The sea was lovely and calm, and we were allowed to be on deck. The heat was intense, but on much boats special accommodation was provided.
June 28th 1916
I was ordered chicken, and my word! didn't I enjoy it. So much so I was ill for the remainder of the day, and strict orders were given that I was to be put on milk and soda. It was a terrible blow to go back on milk as I thought I was mending, being able to eat solid food. However, the doctor thought otherwise, and kept a very keen eye on me.
June 30th 1916
Still at sea and having a good time. On deck every day and sometimes playing cards.
June 30th 1916
Went down below and had dinner, which consisted of rice and custard. After the dinner, had my usual nap, but somehow didn't seem to wake up.
About 7 p.m. I found the Sister, Doctor and orderly round me, putting ice on my chest and head, and suddenly changing to hot water bottles. Gave me quite a fright and found I could move.
The orderly was posted at my side all night and wouldn't allow me to speak. Suddenly I went right off again, and don't remember any more until I found myself lying in No. 17 General Hospital at Bombay. At first I thought I was home in England, but soon realised it wasn't so when I saw the Indian boy rushing about.
The doctor was very kind to me and said I had a most wonderful constitution, to which, of course, I replied, and said it was Welsh air.
I asked him if he had notified my parents to which he replied no, and said I was going to England to tell them myself.
Of course, the very thought of going to England was heavenly, and of course, didn't do me much good.
July 7th 1916
Embarked on S.S. "Devanha" for Blighty, and put in a most comfortable ward on upper deck. Tales flying round that we were bound for England, and everybody most happy.
I was allowed eggs and chicken, but took great care not to eat too much in case I should get ill and put back on milk. The weather was very rough, being monsoon time.
Everything was done for our comfort - having concerts, cards and all sorts of games. The heat was terrible, and it was quite impossible to get about during day-time.
July 14th 1916
Aden sighted with cheers. Small boats came alongside, selling all kinds of goods, feathers, &c. Some more men were put on board, marked for England, so we were quite sure we were going there. Sailed away next morning and still very happy.
We passed the Twelve Apostles at 9 a.m. 15th July.
The heat seemed to get worse, and found it almost impossible to sleep.
There was a good bath-room in our ward, and I made good use of it, on an average of 3 baths a day.
One night I found it quite impossible to sleep and thought of the bath.
At 11 p.m. I went to the bath-room and filled the bath with water and laid in same until I went to sleep. The night orderly came around at 12 o¹clock, and not seeing me in bed, thought perhaps I was in the lavatory. He came again at 2 a.m. Still not finding me in bed, he became worried. He searched all over the place and as the last resource, looked in the bath-room and found me asleep. Luckily, the plug was not water-tight, and there was only about 4 inches of water, otherwise I should have been no more. Of course, he was very angry and said he would report it to the doctor.
July 18th 1916
Arrived at Port Suez and picked up water and stores.
July 19th 1916
A Taube came over and dropped bombs, but no damage done.
Orders were given to disembark as in hospital ships we were allowed to pass through the Suez Canal.
We were put on a Hospital Train on the 20th. and went to Alexandria. It was my first experience of Egypt, and I was most interested in all I saw. A naval officer who was in the same carriage knew all about Egypt and explained various places.
Arrived at Alexandria 4 p.m., and put into a motor and taken to 19 B.G.H., where again every kindness was shown. Was taken at once to a ward and ordered to bed immediately. Luckily, I came across a very comfortable corner where I met a chap who was on the same boat, so we soon got chums.
July 21st 1916
The doctor came round in the morning, and took full particulars of our cases, but I said I wasn't supposed to be in a hospital as I had been marked for England. No notice was taken, and the Sister said I was to remain in the hospital until a ship was sailing.
July 24th 1916
A large car was brought to the Hospital, and I was one of the lucky ones to go out for a ride. It was a treat and was quite pleased to be able to see the sights of Alexandria. The native quarters were all so very strange.
July 26th 1916
I was again picked out for another outing.
A special train was ordered and about 40 of us went to Esbekiah Gardens and were entertained at tea by ladies.
Tea over we went sight-seeing, and not one of our parks in England can touch the wonderful sights.
August 8th, 1916
I was taken before a Medical Board for inspection, and found that I was medically fit and marked for duty. All hope of going to England was cancelled. So felt very downhearted. Was sent to the detail camp at Mustapha and back to the hardships of Army Life, living in tents with no beds and only one blanket. I was still under medical treatment, receiving medicine three times daily.
August 10th 1916
Got a pass and visited Alexandria. The shops, &c. were all so interesting, and the "beer" good. Went to a café, and had a big dinner, like good old times. Had photo taken.
Visited the casino. After many weary hours returned to Camp at midnight, feeling very tired.
Put on duty next day - Goodness! how I wished I was back in Mesop. All day long you are kept at it from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., with only a few minutes rest. Of course, not being very strong it began to tell on me, but I was not anxious to report sick.
August 25th 1916
I was detailed to join another sanitary section at Kantara. A whole day's journey in the train - no money or cigarettes. The most miserable journey ever experienced. Kantara is situated on the side of the Suez Canal, and all covered with sand. Arrived at the section at 4 p.m., feeling very much knocked, having to carry all my kit about 3 miles in the broiling sun.
Soon made myself very comfortable and found that I had got attached to a very good section and quite a nice lot of men. The food was excellent, and you imagine how I enjoyed a good meal, not having had one since I left the hospital, except those taken in a café.
Allenby, Edmund Henry Hynman, First Viscount Allenby of Megiddo (1861-1931)
Born Nottinghamshire, England. Served on Kitchener's staff and in the field in South Africa during the Boer War. Commanded the cavalry division (later cavalry corps) in the BEF, August-November 1914, then V Corps and then Third Army (October 1915).
Replaced Sir Archibald Murray as commander, British Forces in Egypt, (June, 1917). Allenby employed a surprise attack at Beersheba to win the third Battle of Gaza (31 October 1917) and pushed forward to Jerusalem, where the Turks were routed at Junction Station (13-15 November) and the water supplies captured, and entered Jerusalem on 10 December 1917.
Allenby's troops were systematically re-shipped to France, leaving him without reinforcements, causing the failure of his attack on Amman in March and April 1918 - eventually enough troops were made available from Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa, along with the Arab Army, to allow the resumption of offensive operations in July and August 1918.
The Turkish front-line was destroyed at Megiddo (Armageddon) on 19-21 September 1918, and Allenby's forces pursued the Turkish troops and prevented any re-organisation. The capture of Damascus (1 October), Homs (16 October), and Aleppo (25 October) indicate the speed and mobility of his offensive. Further, the complete domination of Palestine and Syria was the major factor in causing Turkey to capitulate on 30 October 1918.
High Commissioner of Egypt (1919-19 25).
Contributed by Dr Robert
Russia mobilised 12 million men during the war; France 8.4 million; Britain 8.9 million; Germany 11 million; Austria-Hungary 7.8 million; Italy 5.6 million; and the USA 4.3 million.
- Did you know?