Two Norfolk Regiment Diarists in Mesopotamia
Our Mesopotamian researcher looks into the people behind the diaries in his recent posts…
Appreciation for her help and guidance is, as always, due to the Curator of the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum.
Recent posts on this site about the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment have taken their inspiration from the diaries of two officers of the Battalion: Major (later Lieutenant Colonel), F.C. Lodge, and Captain (later Major) A.J. Shakeshaft. There are also the often tongue-in-cheek letters of the so-called ‘Unknown Officer’ from the early part of the campaign, whose identity has yet to be established. Norfolk is fortunate in having two such observant and literate diarists, but more so in that their diaries survived the Siege of Kut and the subsequent captivity.
Francis Cecil Lodge was born at Kirkee (Khadki) near Poona (Pune) in the Bombay Presidency of India on 29th November, 1868, and was baptised in All Saints Church in the British cantonment. His father was Lieutenant Frank Lodge of the Royal Horse Artillery, garrisoned at Kirkee.
The young FCL was educated at the Royal Naval School, Deptford, together with other boys sent to the school from India. It was a charitable institution set up in 1832 as a boarding school for the sons of officers of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. In 1844 it moved into new buildings at New Cross (Deptford). The school closed in 1910 and the buildings now form the nucleus of Goldsmiths’ College.
For three years from 1888 he was in the Militia, gazetted Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment on the 26th October of that year. The 1891 census records him lodging at Portsea in the household of a Gunner of the Royal Marine Artillery. On 12 March, 1892, as a Gentlemen Cadet of the Royal Military College, with the rank of Lieutenant, he was again gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Norfolk Regiment.
The Norfolk Regimental Officers Book records his promotions: Lieutenant, 1st January 1895; Captain, 6th June 1990; Adjutant from 28th November 1901 to 27th November 1904; Major, 15th November 1911.
He served in the South African War 1899-1902 and was engaged in operations in the Orange Free State from February to May 1900 including actions at Karee Siding, Vet River and Zand River; operations in the Transvaal in May and June 1900 including actions near Johannesburg and Pretoria; operations in Cape Colony, South of Orange River; and operations in the Transvaal, 30th November 1900 to 3rd May 1902. He was twice mentioned in dispatches: 10th Sept 1901 and 29th Jul 1902, and was awarded the Queens Medal and 3 Clasps, the Kings Medal with two clasps.
On 10th February,1913, whilst stationed with the Norfolks at Belgaum in India, the 44-year-old Major Lodge married the 27-year-old Norah Margaret Bryans at Gooty in the dry hill country of the Madras Presidency, close by the British infantry station at Bellary (Ballari). Margaret, as FCL always referred to his wife in his diary, lived at Bellary. Gooty is a picturesque location for a wedding, renowned for its 7th century hill fort.
In the same year, a fellow officer of the 2nd Norfolks, Major W.E. Cramer Roberts, painted his portrait in watercolour. “C-R”, as his second-in-command, is frequently mentioned in the diary.
Having come from Bombay and made his way up the Tigris by steamer, FCL describes the unexpected manner in which he came to command the Battalion:
17th June, 1915: Arrived at Amara about 10 a.m. De Grey came on board & told me that the C.O. Col: Peebles, had gone down river, sick, So found myself in command.
In his diary, he records his command of the Battalion during 1915-16:
June 17th to July 4th = 19 days
July 31st to Aug. 6th i/c 1/4 Hants
Augst. 15th to Aug 24th in temporary command c.o. Sick
Aug 25th to Apl 29th date of capitulation of Kut in command. Still in command to date July 7th 1916
After being wounded at the Battle of Ctesiphon, he went into captivity at the fall of Kut al Amara.
During the Great War, he was mentioned in dispatches three times on 5th April, 13th July and 19th October 1916. Following repatriation he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel on 7th December, 1918 with seniority to 12th January, 1917, and commanded the 1st Battalion in Ireland from 1919 to 1921, retiring on 16th March of that year. The award of the D.S.O. (Companion of the Distinguished Service Order) appeared in The London Gazette on 17th April, 1916, and he also was made C.M.G. (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George).
However, his lasting military memorial is perhaps the journal which he wrote up in a clear hand from his daily diary and which is now preserved in the archives of the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum. It affords a meticulous account of events along the Tigris in which the 2nd Battalion participated from the date he assumed command. There are also personal entries which make the diary human: the sadness of writing letters to the families of the fallen, the reckoning of the back pay he is owed and, most of all, his pleasure in receiving a letter from his dear wife, Margaret, “M”.
Of Captain H.S. Farebrother, who was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery at the battle of Shaiba and who fifteen months later died of his wounds aged 26, FCL wrote this to his mother:
He seemed to have such a good influence both on the men and on his brother-officers, quite extraordinary in such a young and most popular man. You do not know what a blank his death will make in the Regiment. (NB Harcourt Sutcliffe Farebrother was promoted Captain on 6th November, 1915, but the notification did not appear in The London Gazette until 26th January, 1917, by which time he had died. His gravestone at Stallingborough commemorates him as Lieutenant H. S. Farebrother)
F.C. Lodge himself died at Winchester, 12th June, 1951, aged 82.
Alfred Joseph Shakeshaft was born in Birkenhead on 29th December, 1886. His father was a Provision Merchant. He was baptised, however, across the River Mersey in Liverpool at St. Peter’s Church, which, in 1887, fulfilled the function of Anglican Pro-Cathedral for the city.
Between 1897 and 1902 he attended the Birkenhead Institute, a public day school which opened in 1889 and later became a distinguished grammar school. The fees in 1889 were £3 per term for boys aged over 12, and in 1901, AJS’s father was charged a further £3/6s/6d for additional classes in carpentry and practical chemistry.
The course of instruction included English, Latin, Greek, French, German, and Spanish ‘for those who may desire it’. It was at the Birkenhead Institute that AJS developed an interest in European languages. His French would later be in demand in Mesopotamia. Posted on the walls among the many school-boy maxims was this: One thing mastered is better than a dozen half-done. Perhaps it is no wonder that AJS became not just a popular and much respected soldier, but a diarist of national as well as Norfolk Regiment record.
The Birkenhead Institute had another pupil in 1901, one who was to die on the Western Front on 4th November 1918, just seven days before the armistice. The admissions register has this entry for Shakeshaft, Alfred J.:
and this for a certain, Owen, Wilfred E.S.
This is Wilfred Owen, arguably the greatest poet of the First World War, friend of Siegfried Sassoon, and author of ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. He is the Birkenhead Institute’s most famous old boy. Alfred Shakeshaft must count as a distinguished alumnus, too, one would think.
The Register of 1906 graduates of the Royal Military Academy shows that between the Birkenhead Institute and his year at Sandhurst, AJS attended ‘foreign schools’. Neither the names of the schools nor their location is given, but it was there that he no doubt refined his language skills. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Norfolk Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant on 19th November 1906, shortly before his 20th birthday. The Norfolk Regimental Officers Book records his promotions: Lieutenant, 5th August 1909; Captain, 2nd June 1915; Major, 30th November 1928. Commanded the Depot 1st March 1932 to 3rd April 1935, when he retired. He was mentioned in Despatches, 5th April 1916, and 13th July 1916.
With 2nd Lieutenants Frere, Hall, and Farebrother, who were together at Sandhurst in 1908-09, he sailed from London on 27th January, 1911, bound for Gibraltar and then Belgaum Barracks, India. Of these four young officers, Robert Temple Frere was wounded at the battle of Shaiba, Harcourt Sutcliffe Farebrother, as previously mentioned, died of wounds received at Shaiba, and Humphrey Evans Hall was killed at the battle of Ctesiphon. Only AJS was to endure the siege of Kut and the march into captivity, eventually being repatriated to England.
Of H.E. Hall, Winchester College (www.winchestercollegeatwar.com/archive) informs us:
He was… one of three Wykehamist brothers, another of whom, Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Evans Hall, also of the Norfolk Regiment, fell in April 1917…
He passed through Sandhurst and was gazetted in 1909 to the Second Battalion Norfolk Regiment. He was in India when war broke out, and in November 1914 was ordered with his battalion to Mesopotamia. He was killed at Ctesiphon on November 24th 1915, during the first unsuccessful advance on Baghdad. His name had appeared once in Despatches.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth
AJS married Mary McEwan Clarke in Lewisham, London, in 1919.
He arrived in Mesopotamia with the Battalion, disembarking the ‘Elephanta’ from Bombay on 13th November, 1914. His first diary entry is for the 17th November:
My baptism of fire and eighth anniversary of my commission. We crawled out at about 3.30 and swallowed some hot tea and bully beef.
He has a sense of the absurd, too, as this entry for 7th January, 1915 illustrates:
Our camp has been heavily sniped by Arabs the previous night. The Arabs had approached close in and taken off a latrine flag. We wondered if this would be hung up in the Military Museum in Constantinople.
The diary was typed-up following his repatriation, in extenso from 1st October, 1915 until its end on 26th June, 1916. Thus, it is one of the most important first-hand accounts which Britain has for the Battle of Ctesiphon, the retreat to Kut al Amara, the siege and surrender of Kut, and the march into captivity in Turkey. Moreover, it is as meticulous as that of F.C. Lodge, but more detailed, and perhaps quite consciously written with a view to being a reliable chronicle. If this is so, then it is a further measure of the integrity of the man, that in the face of imminent death he concentrated his thoughts upon making a record for the future.
The focus is always on the 2nd Battalion, its officers and men, but viewed in the broader context of strategical and tactical decisions made by commanders on both sides. Whilst never directly critical, the entries do not hide his exasperation at times, and at other times his anger, particularly at the treatment of his men during the march. The typed manuscript of 134 foolscap pages is in The National Archives at Kew. The repository of the hand-written diaries in not known.
AJS participated in all of the 2nd Battalion’s actions in Mesopotamia and, recording his death on 27th November, 1937, Britannia, the journal of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, included these tributes:
In the Great War 1914-1918, he served with the 2nd Battalion in Mesopotamia, and was in the Capture of Shaiba and the advance on Ctesiphon, and in the defence of Kut-el-Amara. He acted as interpreter to General Townshend in his negotiations with the Turks before the decision to surrender, in April 1916. He was very keen at certain European languages, and a linguist.
The Regimental History owes much valuable data to his diary kept at Kut during the siege; which he was able to retain.
In the defence of Kut many brave Officers and Other Ranks of the regiment lost their lives, and after the capitulation many died on their way to captivity or during captivity, and amongst the survivors many have been called at a very early age, due no doubt, to the trials and hardships they went through.
Whilst commanding the Depot, he took the greatest interest in the other units of the Regiment, and in which he made many friends.
This journal owes much to his efforts and hard work. The formation of the Regimental Museum owes its existence to his keenness, to retain and have a Historical Record of anything to do with the Regiment. The Regiment has suffered a great loss in a very true Officer and friend.