The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia, April 1916.

The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia

Summary for April 1916

This quarter’s summary from our Mesopotamian correspondent concludes the reports on the siege of Kut al Amara. The diaries of  F.C. Lodge and A.J. Shakeshaft of the 2nd Battalion provide the chronology of events (see the posts of March 23rd and April 1st 2016).

It is such an important quarter that the posts have been split into three and will be published on three consecutive days leading up to the 100th Anniversary of end of the siege.

The diary entries are supplemented by short extracts from The Secrets of a Kuttite by E. O. Mousley, Royal Field Artillery – online at: Edward O. Mousley was born in 1886 at Opotiki, New Zealand (hence the ‘O’ in his name), and studied law at Victoria College, Wellington and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After the war he went on to write two novels and books on aspects of international law. However, his best known work is his most personal; The Secrets of a Kuttite is notable for its humane insights and guarded humour during the most trying of circumstances.

Thanks, as always, are due to the Curator of the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, whose knowledge, help and advice are invaluable.

April 1st, 1916

A very heavy thunderstorm broke out about midnight, all trenches & dug outs flooded. Bullock, when going round guards, fell and broke his thigh. [He had been wounded in the same thigh by a sniper’s bullet in February.]  Drew Rs 50 from F.T.O.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

April 2nd, 1916

Paid mess bill for March by Cheque Rs 30 and cash Rs 10.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

We tried some green weed or other the Sepoys gathered on the maidan. Boiled and eaten with a little salad oil that Tudway fished out from heaven knows where, it seemed quite palatable.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

April 3rd, 1916

120th day of siege. To-day we beat the siege of Ladysmith which was 119 days. Two heavy guns seen going down from Shamran to Es-Sinn. Heavy thunder and hailstorm in afternoon.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

April 4th, 1916

Read and Richardson had a very narrow shave. They sleep in the orderly room [in the serai], a shell came through the wall just above Read’s head, he was brought out unconscious. Luckily the debris from the wall saved him, being buried beneath it. Richardson was badly bruised and was taken to hospital. I had only just left the room.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Usual evening hate at 4 – 5.30. Effect of the siege now becoming apparent on men. Men are seen sitting down resting in streets. Sentries have to lean against walls. A little atta can still be bought from Arabs in the town. Our aeroplanes dropped us some bags of rupees and later gold liras. Bombardment at night.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 5th, 1916

River risen 31” in 36 hours. 6.30 p.m. Heavy bombardment downstream. Troops stood to arms. Communication that General Gorringe’s forces (13th Div) had taken the first 5 lines of the Hannah position on the left bank. 5” guns shelled Magasis Ferry [Turkish] at night. Range 10,500 yards.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 6th, 1916

River still rising. Heavy gunfire downstream. General Gorringe appears to be attacking on right bank…   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

The Advance of General Gorringe's Force Towards Beleaguered Kut (Viewed as if from the air and looking towards Kut from General Gorringe's position) The Sphere: April 15th, 1916

The Advance of General Gorringe’s Force Towards Beleaguered Kut
(Viewed as if from the air and looking towards Kut from General Gorringe’s position)
The Sphere: April 15th, 1916

Map_Beleaguered Kut_2

The Recent Operations Along the River Tigris towards Kut The Sphere: April 15th, 1916

April 7th, 1916

Plenty of firing downstream. “D Coy” to aeroplane ground. The river reached its highest point today & we were in great danger of being flooded out altogether, however by dint of strenuous work and constant patrolling it was kept within bounds.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Communiqué issued in the evening to the effect that all was going well and “Advance continues!” which gave rise to the opinion that we should be relieved in about 2 days. The relief force was preparing to take Sannaiyat Position. So far they have made 8 miles.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

The men, poor fellows, are keenly on edge for news. There are many merely remaining alive to hear that Kut is saved. They all know the end is now in sight and the coma of the past months is over. We are like restless bees in swarming time.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

Between April 1st and April 5th total sick in hospital fell from 1360 to 1305. On March 10th there were 1492.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 8th, 1916

Woolpress is a complete island. In fact a part of it had to be abandoned yesterday, and last night the Sumana brought a large part of its garrison back. As a last resort one regiment will remain there to hold the Woolpress buildings only.

The whole country is a series of huge lakes with tiny green patches between. The enemy has had to abandon his lines around Woolpress. In front of our first line tiny waves on this tiny ocean lap against our preserving bunds. In fact, Kut is an island!   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

“C” Coy returned from Woolpress.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

River falling. Serious gunfire downstream. I spent quite a long time on the roof of the Brigade Headquarters watching the bombardment, a very fine sight at night. One saw the following signals from the Turkish Lines:-

One red light        =    Enemy are advancing,

One green light    =    More ammunition wanted,

One white light    =    Reinforcements wanted.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 9th, 1916

Shells, expletives, and suspense fell into Kut in unusual quantities. We are sitting on the edge of a volcano.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

Terrific fire downstream continues. Relief force attacked Sannaiyat at dawn and failed in the attack. The men were up to their waists in water.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 10th, 1916

On 10th April I published the following Communiqué to the troops under my command:

        The result of the attack of the Relief Force on the Turks entrenched in the Sannaiyat position is that the Relief Force has not yet won its way through, but is entrenched close up to the Turks, in places some two to three hundred yards distant. General Gorringe wired me last night that he was consolidating his position as close to the enemy’s trenches as he can get, with the intention of attacking again. He had some difficulty with the flood, which he had remedied.

 I have no other details. However, you will see that I must not run any risk over the date calculated to which our rations would last – namely 15th April. As you will understand well, digging means delay, though General Gorringe does not say so.

I am compelled therefore to appeal to you all to make a determined effort to eke out our scanty means so that I can hold out for certain till our comrades arrive, and I know I shall not appeal to you in vain.

 I have then to reduce our rations to five ounces of meal for all ranks, British and Indian.

In this way I can hold out till 21st April, if it becomes necessary, and it is my duty to take all precautions in my power.

I am very sorry that I can no longer favour the Indian soldiers in the matter of meal, but there is no possibility of doing so now. It must be remembered that there is plenty of horse-flesh which they have been authorised by their religious leaders to eat…

The result of the above appeal to the troops was that on the very next day 5,135 Indians, including followers, were eating horse-flesh. …

Anyone who has done service with Indian troops needs no description of my difficulties in interfering with their prejudices and religious feelings in the matter of food, and above all in such a question as horse-meat, so abhorrent to them. However, I determined, as the occasion was one of life or death, to make a further determined effort to compel them to eat horse flesh.   C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

Rations reduced to 5 oz. meal for British and Indians. 12 oz. horse for Indians, 1¾ lbs. for British. In this manner one hoped to carry on till April 21st. Shelling of town last night.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 11th, 1916

Our aeroplanes dropped some dates and chocolates: they were handed over to the hospitals. Men frequently fainted and fell down through weakness. Thunderstorm at night.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 12th, 1916

General Hoghton, commanding, 17th Brigade, died yesterday of malignant jaundice and was buried to-day. The Battalion furnished a guard under Peacocke.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Copy of report, dated 12th April, 1916, from the A.D.M.S. [Assistant Director Medical Services] to me:-

        The Indian troops and followers are now in a state of semi-starvation. The reduction in the grain ration to five ounces per man, which has of necessity been commenced, will, during the course of the ensuing week or ten days, reduce them to a state of great debility and emaciation… In expressing this opinion I would lay stress on the fact that the quantity of grain mentioned forms their entire ration.

         I consider that the universal use of horse-flesh by Indians would materially keep down the death and sickness rates…

On 12th April I accordingly published the following communiqué to the Indian ranks of my force:-

        …with special reference to the attached note of the A.D.M.S., in which he emphasises the vital importance of every Indian of the force at once eating horse-flesh for the preservation of his strength and even life during the next few days – I again issue an appeal to every man of you to stand by your King, your rulers*, and the Government that protects you, by taking heed of the warning of the A.D.M.S. …

        As General Officer Commanding this force I wish it to be clearly understood that I shall replace all non-meat eaters, who become too feeble to do their duty efficiently as officers or non-commissioned officers, by other men who eat meat and remain strong.

        In the case of all officers and men who fail in their duty to the State, I shall cause a list of their names to be prepared, and lay those names before the Government of India for such action as Government may think fit.   

The threat to promote others… had a good effect, for by nightfall 7,054 Indians (soldiers and followers) were eating horse-flesh. Some still refused. Two days later 9,329 Indians were eating horse meat.    C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

*A considerable number of Indian soldiers had enlisted from the independent states of India

April 13th, 1916

Heard that the relief force had taken another position on the left bank. Number of Indians eating meat rose to 9500. Intermittent shell fire during the day.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

This morning I was visited by some of my old section at the battery, and talked a time to the men, and I gave them some Arab tobacco. I find they have thought a good deal about things in general, and one was induced, to the amusement of the others, to give us what he considered a “bird’s hye view” of our immediate future, which certainly didn’t seem too bright. He saw Kut, a tiny spot under famine and fire, completely surrounded by hordes of the enemy, beyond them the menacing waters and fatal floods, beyond the floods the God-forsaken country of murderous Arabs,—and beyond that great and stretching continents of desert reaching thousands of miles away and ending in those strangely silent and unknown shores or losing themselves in the heart of Asia.

But fortune has smiled on us quite a deal, too. We found the grain stores at Woolpress, and the Flying Corps rigged up the mill-crusher discovered lying there. Then a large store of oil for the river steamers was utilized for fuel and lighting for all duty, and the Sappers and Flying Corps artificers made our bombs out of various charges for the howitzers and 4·7’s. The aeroplanes brought us the detonators. Then the subsidence of the floods brought up the grass with which we bribed the animals to exist a little longer, while we ate their grain—and them.

The ammunition has lasted wonderfully well. We have over half of the original lot still in hand.

In truth, when one thinks how the Fighting Sixth fought its way across Mesopotamia, battling with fire and floods, thirst and heat, right up to the gate of Baghdad, and then was let down by want of supports, one has to extract thankfulness from the thought that Chance left it to the same division, alone and unreinforced, to stem the result of the turned tide. This it has done from December 1st at Um-al-Tabul until now, April 13th, a temporal avenue through sickness and death.

One is informed that if Kut had not been held, the position of the Turks would have been consolidated, and the tactical and strategical usefulness of its position with the enemy. These are the most cheerful thoughts possible in the garrison when one feels extra weary and sick.

It is not too much to say that almost no one has any misgiving as to the future. In this tiny horse-shoe panorama on the Tigris, where the destiny of Kut has pursued its dramatic evolution for the last four and a half months, the garrison awaits the ultimate development of the drama with a feeling merely of wide curiosity. Will the last scene be Tragedy, or will the people be allowed to leave the theatre feeling “comfortable,” that it all came right in the end?

Alas! whatever the play is, it cannot be Comedy. And when one remembers the large-hearted general [Hoghton] who has gone, and whom some few medical comforts in time might have saved, one is made aware of the stern conditions of victory! …

Outside in the street, beneath my window, a decrepit Arab beggar, in a deep passionate voice, asks for alms for the love of Allah and Mahomet. It is often the first sound I hear in the morning. Later in the day the Arab children make their appearance in groups, begging and wailing piteously. Once the babes in their mothers’ arms used to cry the whole day long, but the unfortunates are probably long since gone. The Arab population has been dying by the hundreds, and they look dreadfully shrunken and gaunt. A few escaped, but were shot by the Turks. They have had everything possible done for them.

It is the hour of the muezzin, the most peaceful of the day, for at that ancient call of prayer even the wailing and begging ceases. From the mosque near by, whose open doorway faces Mecca, I hear the high thrilling notes quivering and trembling with all the passion of the East, the high-pitched semi-tone cadences sailing afar out and cutting ever greater ripples on the bosom of the still night air like growing circles from a stone dropped into a placid pool. It is truly wonderful this immemorial custom of calling the Followers of Mahomet. The volume of sound echoing from the minaret is thrown by the muezzin further and further. With extraordinary power his voice rises and falls, describing circles, arcs, and strangely winding parabolas out of the still silences of evening. It is but an appeal. He calls the world to prayer. It is more potent than the appeal of bells. In the muezzin the Mussulman hears the voice of Allah.

Now the muezzin is finished, and everything is so very still. I wonder if they are praying for the relief—as hard as their fellow religionists in the rest of Turkey are praying for the fall—of Kut. The odds, I fear, are against us.    E. O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

The Minaret of a Kut Mosque Damaged by Shellfire Photographed after the British recapture of Kut in 1917

The Minaret of a Kut Mosque Damaged by Shellfire
Photographed after the British recapture of Kut in 1917

April 14th, 1916

Anniversary of the battle of Shaiba, where poor old Bell was mortally wounded.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Francis de Beauvoir Bell Died of Wounds, 24th April, 1915 Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Francis de Beauvoir Bell
Died of Wounds, 24th April, 1915
Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

April 15th, 1916

Rain in the morning. Scurvy is decreasing as Indians take to horseflesh. Six of our aeroplanes dropped 35 sacks of supplies. The seaplanes dropped theirs in the river. Loaf reduced to 4 oz. Meat 1lb., British, 9 oz., Indians.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Between 15 and 22 April, various attacks were launched…, including on Sannaiyat, the relief of Kut being the objective. Each division pressed forward their attacks and took very heavy casualties without much success as the Turks were in a strong defensive position and managed to hold on to their post. There was some success but nothing substantial.

The casualties in these attacks were very heavy. On 17-18 April they amounted to 1600 all ranks…

On 22 April, the 7th Division had 1263 casualties and the 19th Brigade 942 out of an effective strength of 2165.    Amarinder Singh, Honour and Fidelity, 2015

April 16th, 1916

Fourteen planes came up and dropped food.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Heard that the relieving force had rushed the enemy’s picquets on the right bank taking 40 prisoners. A number of local Arabs were allowed to leave Kut at their own risk and went out by way of the fort under a white flag.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

The following prices at auction of a dead officer’s kit in Kut are instructive reading:-

        A box of 100 cigarettes fetched 100 rupees; a small pair of inferior binoculars, 250; Arab tobacco, 48 rupees a pound – it is worth perhaps two shillings.

        I paid 30 rupees for an ordinary three shilling tin of kerosene oil. Chickens are 10 rupees each.    C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

Cigarettes were another worry. Men can survive without women, without food, comfort and medicine, but [during the First World War] not without a smoke. Fortunately anything that burns will smoke, so the men of Kut began to smoke tea-leaves and ginger root – though some maintained that lime tree leaves, which they called Brick Kiln Virginia, were better – and, coughing like consumptives, resigned themselves to a life of tedium.    Russell Braddon, The Siege, 1969

April 17th, 1916

Very heavy bombardment downstream began at 6.45 am till 9 am. I weighed myself 9st.7lb. Flag of truce came down to our 1st line by boat.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

River rose 1” above record, but bunds held. Terrific gunfire downstream at night. Hear that another position had been taken on right and 100 prisoners captured. A flag of truce came in to-day from the Colonel Commanding 45th [Turkish] Division, to say that if any more Arabs left they would be shot.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 18th, 1916

Result of yesterday’s bombardment – General D’Urban Keary’s 3rd (Lahore) Divn captured the strong Turkish position at BEIT AIESSA on the right bank, taking 2 guns, 5 machine guns, & 180 prisoners with 8 officers.

Heavy firing rifle & guns downstream all last night, which only ceased at 4 am this morning. It appears that the T’s after losing the position mentioned above made desperate efforts to recapture it. They delivered no less than 12 counter attacks during the night. Two of our brigades had to fire ground*, but the 3rd Brigade held on. Reported T’s lost 4000 killed & wounded.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

* massed artillery fire to deny or hamper the enemy’s passage through an area.

To-day we heard that about 7 p.m. last night the Turks violently counter-attacked and kept them up all night. They attacked 12 times and at position E got within 20 yards of our line. The attacks were repulsed. Turks lost heavily so did we and one of our Brigades had to fall back 200 yards. Turkish dead estimated at 4000 including German officers. 1500 dead counted in front of one of our brigades. Probably grossly exaggerated. We heard later that our losses were 2000. It was reported that the 13th Division was moving forward to attack the Turkish left at Chahelah. Our aeroplanes drop sacks of flour daily now.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Arabs continue to wait around the butchery for horse bladders on which to float downstream. They are shot at by the Turks, who want them to stay on here and eat our food, or else they are killed by hostile Arabs. Every night they go down, and a little later one hears their cries from the darkness.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

The aeroplanes suffered from engine trouble on 17th April, and it was too stormy for them to bring us food on the 18th; the stormy weather, the rain, the floods, and the mud, all in turn assisted the Turk to keep Kut in his clutch.    C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

April 19th, 1916

Communiqué issued that “floods rather than the enemy have delayed General Gorringe during the last few days”. Number of men die[d] suddenly from gastro-enteritis.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

In the morning I received a wire from Head Quarters:

“In the event of relief in time proving impracticable and should the attempt to run supplies to you fail, Army Commander is prepared to sanction the proposal… that Sumana shall try to run the blockade, taking as many officers and other ranks as possible whose services are most of use to the State.

Army Commander, however, makes one exception, that he considers you yourself bound to remain behind in command of the garrison… It is obvious that should so much as a whisper of this project get about it would have the worst possible effect on the Indian troops.

As stated above, the project is not to be put into effect except in the last extremity, and then only on receipt of a direct order from the Army Commander.”    C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

April 20th, 1916

Planes dropped food.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Fearful north wind sprung up and played havoc with the bunds.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 21st, 1916

Good Friday. … Cable from M “Congratulations D.S.O.”   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Nothing doing to-day. Message came up from relief force to say that relief is certain, so is Christmas, we have been told it so often. Heavy gunfire downstream. Last issue of bread (4 oz. loaf) to-day. Tomorrow and next day we are to eat the reserve ration and then subsist on food from above*.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

* ‘Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from Heaven for you;’ Exodus,16:4

April 22nd, 1916

Started on our ½ day reserve rations. 6 oz biscuits and horse. Genl. Gorringe’s effort to break through the SANNAIYAT position failed, owing to mud and machine gun fire. This news did not reach us until the evening of the 23rd.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Our aeroplanes dropped 5 bags of supplies into the river. Firing at Sannaiyat where Gorringe is making his last efforts to relieve us. Occasional bombardment at night at “K[ut]”.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 23rd, 1916

Easter Day. Restrictions on the amount of gun ammunition to be expended daily, rescinded, consequently the T’s gun postns. got a good peppering.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Easter Sunday. Gorringe failed to take Sannaiyat Position. A flag of truce came in to protest against Arabs leaving Kut. Numbers have been going off a night on rafts to the right bank. The little chapel was full at 8 a.m. this morning. Our aeroplanes dropped 45 bags = 2159 lbs food. Not much for 13,000 starving souls. They also dropped 1000 gold liras.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 24th, 1916

To-night an attempt was made to rush the “Julnar” through with 200 tons of food. She was to land them in the vicinity of the fort. Our Battalion was ordered to furnish a fatigue party for unloading, these men were given extra rations. Everything was ready from dusk. About 10.30 p.m. heavy rifle and gun fire was heard downstream near Magasis. The “Julnar” never appeared and parties were dismissed at 4 a.m. Our aeroplanes brought 2000lbs.of food today.

Aeroplane rations supplied from to-day as follows:-

  British Indian
Flour   3 oz. Atta     3 oz.
Sugar   1 oz. Dhall   1 oz.
Choc.   1½ oz. ——-   ½ oz.
Salt      1/8 oz. Salt      1/8 oz.
Total 4 5/8 oz. & 1 lb. Horse. 4 5/8 oz. & 9 oz. Horse.

For 1oz. ration for the whole garrison 867 lbs. were required.  Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

The 'Julnar', laden with supplies, setting out to run the gauntlet to Kut

The ‘Julnar’, laden with supplies, setting out to run the gauntlet to Kut

Stripped of woodwork and fitted with protective plating, the Julnar was commissioned to carry 270 tons of stores in a last attempt to resupply Kut. She had a volunteer crew of 15, with Lieutenant H.O.C. Firman, R.N. in command, and Lieutenant-Commander C. Cowley, R.N.V.R. second in command.

All artillery and machine gun fire that could be brought to bear covered the departure from Fallahiya at 20.00. It was a dark night dark and overcast with no moon. They soon came under continuous and heavy rifle fire, and as they reached Es Sinn, ten miles short of Kut, Turkish artillery opened up. Two miles on, Lt. Firman was killed and Lt.-Cdr. Cowley was wounded, but he took command. Four miles below Kut, the ‘Julnar’ was stopped around midnight by a steel hawser stretched across the river and drifted on to the river bank, and could not get off.

Lt.-Cdr. Cowley surrendered, and the remainder of the crew including five wounded were taken prisoner. Cowley was soon separated from his men and reported shot trying to escape, but was probably executed. He had been master of the local Lynch Bros steamer ‘Mejidieh’ with great knowledge of the River Tigris and was considered an Ottoman citizen by the Turks. Lt. Humphrey Osbaldeston Brooke Firman, posthumously, and Lt.-Cdr. Charles Henry Cowley, later executed, were awarded the Victoria Cross. (With thanks to :

Entry in The London Gazette, 2 February 1917

Entry in The London Gazette, 2 February 1917


Lieutenant H.O.B. Firman, R.N., and Lieutenant-Commander H.C. Cowley R.N.V.R.

Lieutenant H.O.B. Firman, R.N., and Lieutenant-Commander H.C. Cowley R.N.V.R.

April 25th, 1916

At dawn I went on our roof and saw the ill-fated “Julnar” at Magasis. She had got so far and had been pulled up by two cables across the river. She smashed the first, but the second proved too much for her. Her two naval officers were killed, Capt. Cowley of the “Mejidieh” wounded and murdered later. The 8 of the crew were taken prisoner. Our 5” guns did their best to hit the “Julnar” so the Turks moved her downstream.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 26th, 1916

Nothing much doing. Our agony rapidly drawing to a close now. A communiqué was issued telling us that the C.-in-C. India appreciated the conduct of Gorringe’s and our force. So much for words.

In the morning General Townshend sent for me and gave me a letter to translate into French to Khalil Pasha, offering to open negotiations for surrender. The letter was sent out under a white flag and a Turkish Major came in with a reply. When I was having dinner a message came from Divisional Headquarters for me to report to General Townshend at once and accompany him to Magasis to meet Khalil Pasha. But when I reached the General’s house he introduced me to a Turkish major and told me that he had decided to postpone his visit till to-morrow, but I was to accompany the Turkish officer to the fort. The Major was a very pleasant man, very young and spoke excellent French, he gave me a box of cigarettes and presented more to various officers we met on the way. After a weary walk we arrived at the fort and I handed over my Major to Stockley who accompanied him into the Turkish trenches. As I turned to wend my weary way homeward I met Major Cox, who asked me to have a drink and imagine my surprise when he gave me a whisky and soda. When Khalil received General Townshend’s letter he ordered all firing to stop, evidently order did not reach K[ut].   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 27th, 1916

Early this morning I awaited General Townshend at the motor boat moorings to accompany him to Shumran. … We took our seats in the boat and went upstream past the desolate river front, where people were looking out as if unable to understand what the unusual silence meant. It was perfectly wonderful to be in the open again and not hear the cracking of musketry and the burst of shell. As we passed our own first line we saw an L boat approaching us. We met somewhere near the Turkish

1st line. There were about half a dozen Turkish officers on board who stood up and saluted. We all went on board and Khalil Pasha came forward and shook hands with General Townshend, and then with all of us. After which we returned to the motor boat while General Townshend and Khalil Pasha remained talking in the stern of the L Boat. Khalil Pasha is a smart looking man of medium height, about 36 years of age, plainly dressed in a dark uniform and one small gold medal on his left breast. A staff officer got into the motor boat and gave us cigarettes. About 20 minutes later General Townshend left Khalil and we returned to Kut. Khalil had demanded unconditional surrender but when certain proposals were made to him he said he would communicate with Enver Pasha. I spent the rest of the day at Divisional Headquarters and wrote letter in French for the General. We began destroying the surplus ammunition and gear of all kinds. “K” fired during the night.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

April 28th, 1916

The 6th Divsn. & 30 Bde. entered Kut on the 3rd December after their retreat from CTESIPHON. On the morning of the 6th the Cavalry Bde. & S. Battery R.H.A., with a large amount of transport, crossed the river and left for the south.

Siege began 6th Dec: 1915 and ended on 29th April 1916.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

A warm sunny day, everything peaceful, it seemed like a different world after the past few months. …we were soon going upstream to the Turkish lines. People were crowding on the river front, enjoying the fresh air. We went on past our own lines and then past the Turkish front line where we went ashore. An officer was awaiting us there and after salutes and handshaking he invited us to sit down and a meal was prepared. Can you imagine what it meant to semi-starving men to see a basket of beautiful white rolls, tea, jam and most tempting of all sugar. We were not long in making short work of all they put in front of us. … I took my servant, Private Powley, with me and the Turkish officer sent him and the crew of the boat food. We then smoked cigarettes and shortly after a Turkish officer rode up with two troopers. He told us we were to ride with him to His Excellency’s Camp. We mounted and rode about two miles, how delightful it was to be on a horse again after being shut up so long. We passed a number of troops on the march, tough looking fellows they were and thorough soldiers in spite of their ragged clothing. … We passed the pontoon bridge at Shumran Camp and rode alongside a fine river steamer the “Busra” as far as I can remember. We dismounted and went on board where we were met by a very smart looking A.D.C. who wore aiguilettes and was well turned out. He conducted us on deck and to a railed off portion in the stern, where Khalil Pasha sat at a table on which there were some maps. There were a number of staff officers with him. He at once rose and came forward to meet us, saluted and shook hands. He then invited us to sit down and coffee, lemonade, biscuits and cigarettes were produced for us. Morland then gave His Excellency, General Townshend’s letter. After reading it he gave it to an officer who returned later with the reply written out which H.E. signed and handed over to Morland. One of the A.D.C.s was then called up and took our photograph. … H.E. presented a box of 100 cigarettes to Morland and myself. … We all partook of an excellent lunch and by this time rejoined our motorboat into which we transshipped and set off downstream for Kut. On arrival at Kut the Arabs were fearfully excited to see the Turkish officers and set up wild yells of delight. The latter treated the demonstrations with contempt. We went to Divisional Headquarters and reported to General Townshend and I was told to take the Turkish officers back. We embarked on the motor boat and started off downstream, as they wished to be left at Magasis. On the bank opposite the fort there was a gruesome sight, many dead bodies lay swollen on the shore, the unfortunate Arabs who had tried to escape from Kut. Shortly after passing the fort the engines broke down and we were forced to go down by the force of the current. There was a small jetty built at Magasis at which we disembarked and were asked to wait in a tent till the Turks sent a motor boat to tow us home. We were regaled with coffee, biscuits and sour milk, a national Turkish drink. Near the tents were the “Julnar’s” stores laid out for inspection and several Turkish officers were checking them. On leaving Magasis they sent us about a dozen tins of jam, meat, etc., which were very welcome. The Turkish motor boat towed us home and we reported at Divisional Headquarters about 6 p.m. … I went to sleep that night, very tired but feeling less hungry than I had for a long time.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Although he spoke in enthusiastic terms of the defence, which, he said, was heroic… Khalil, instructed by Enver Pacha, insisted on unconditional surrender. He knew the state of my troops. He knew I had no food left. He knew that the men were dying, and that disease and scurvy were rife. Before any food was allowed in Kut we must march out into camp…

After much negotiation all conditions were refused by Enver Pacha*. My own personal liberty was offered on condition that I did not destroy my guns and material. Such conditions, of course, were impossible to accept.    C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

* General Townshend in a communiqué to the troops had written: Negotiations are still in progress, but I hope to announce your departure for India on parole not to serve against the Turks, since the Turkish Commander-in-Chief says he thinks it will be allowed, and has wired to Constantinople to ask for this…

General Townhend's Communiqué to The Troops, 28th April, 1916 Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

General Townhend’s Communiqué to The Troops, 28th April, 1916
Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Whatever our end, there is no denying the great fighting qualities of the Sixth Poona Division. More than its glorious career, its stupendous efforts in vain to overtake the tragic destiny decreed by the gods for the mistake of others, must make it famous in arms.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

April 29th, 1916 : 146th & Last Day of Siege

All guns and howitzers in Kut were destroyed this morning, also a large percentage of rifles and bayonets. Ammitn., revolvers, field glasses, thrown into the Tigris. All equipment burnt or destroyed. Turkish infantry entered Kut about 12 noon.  A certain amount of looting going on. The Turkish officers did their best to stop this.

Regt. marched out at 4.30 pm. Embarked 11.30 p.m on “Basra”?   Diary of F.C. Lodge

I rose at 5 a.m. and wrote two letters in French for General Townshend. At 4 a.m. orders were issued to destroy all the guns and ammunition. At 7 a.m. I accompanied Major Gilchrist and Morland on board the launch which had been converted to oil fuel by [Captain S. C.] Winfield Smith [R.F.C.]. We went by launch instead of motor boat in the hopes of being able to bring back some food for the starving troops. As we went downstream we heard loud explosions in Kut, the last of our guns and saw huge clouds of smoke from the numerous fires where gear of all sorts was being burnt. We disembarked at Magasis where horses where awaiting us to ride over to Khalil Pasha’s Camp. After a quarter of an hour’s ride we arrived there and were shown into a large tent. H.E. soon appeared, was very polite and pleasant as ever and produced coffee for us. It was arranged that a Turkish regiment of infantry should march into the town at 12 noon. He sent for the C.O. of this regiment, Colonel Nazim Bey, a tall hardfaced looking man, who wore glasses and introduced us to him. Gilchrist tried hard to come to some arrangement about sending in food from the “Julnar’s” supply but in vain. All he could get was that the garrison would get food on arrival at Shumran Camp. The evacuation of the troops was to begin as soon as possible. Khalil agreed to send boats down from Shumran to Kut for this purpose. All officers to hand over their swords except General Townshend. …

On arriving back in Kut I was ordered to go out towards the fort and meet Colonel Nazim Bey and show him the way into the town. It was far from pleasant walking about the place now. I had no arms, my revolver had been destroyed, and the streets were thronged with shouting Arabs waving the Turkish flag. At about 12.30 I met Colonel Nazim Bey and his Adjutant, the 43rd regiment was following some distance behind. The veneer of politeness had now gone and he was the grim conqueror. …

At the top of No.1 Avenue we halted to await the Regiment, I should say some 2000 men, bearing in the midst a huge Turkish flag. They were a hard looking crowd, mostly in rags. The Colonel detailed off a party to hoist the Turkish flag at the Serai and other parties to guard the exits from the town. …he told me to take him to Divisional Headquarters. We went past rows of burning wagons of the artillery column, which did not improve his temper. Finally we reached Headquarters where he met General Delamain. After a short conversation I was told to take the Colonel round the town to relieve all guards. We started off and relieved several when at the end of No. 6 Avenue he saw the first Turkish ship arrive. …

In the Officers’ Hospital lay General Melliss, Richardson, Bullock and Portsmouth [of 2/Norfolk]. I heard later that a soldier entered the Officers’ Hospital and stole a pair of General Melliss’ boots, upon which the General went to General Townshend and obtained an officers’ guard. … I then returned to Brigade Headquarters but found the house empty so I wended my way to the shore where I found General Hamilton, Captain Johnston and Morrel sitting on their boxes on the river front, waiting to have them examined prior to going on board. I talked nicely to the officer who was acting as “douanier” and he allowed us all to go on board without searching. He asked me to come back and talk to him about the Battle of Ctesiphon, so as soon as all our kit was on board I went on shore and sat down beside him on a box and exchanged notes. … Finally everyone got on board the “Basra” and we waited till 4 p.m. before leaving Kut. The G.O.C., Staff 18th Brigade and the whole of the 30th Brigade were on board. During the voyage up stream I wandered over the ship and had an interview with the Turkish doctor who talked French, Spanish and German. He gave me some bread and a glass of water and was most anxious to take charge of my money and watch, so I thought it advisable to leave him and return to our mess on deck.

As the “Basra” left Kut I saw our Battalion march onto the river front and sit down to await a boat. We arrived at Shumran in the dark. I have no idea what time it would be. I got a fill of oil for the General’s lamp from the Captain. My lamp, a new one, had been taken from my servant by Turkish soldiers as he was carrying my kit to the boat. We disembarked at Shumran in the midst of the most awful chaos imaginable. No one knew where we had to go, after a lot of trouble I found a Turkish officer who talked a few words of French. When I asked him what ground we had to take up he simply pointed into the blue and said, “Cent mètres par lá, cent mètres par lá”. We got the kit on shore as soon as possible… I was very glad when the ship was cleared and I was able to sit down for  I was dead tired and had had nothing to eat all day except a biscuit and a cup of tea at 5 a.m. We had a good meal of tinned meat, which we had kept as a last reserve in our mess, some tea and a few biscuits. Everything was in the most frightful confusion, but it was hopeless to try and straighten things out in the dark as the Turkish officer could give no assistance and whichever side one turned one met a sentry with a fixed bayonet who stopped you. So regiments bivouacked down for the night all mixed up on the banks of the Tigris. This brings me to the conclusion of the siege, our subsequent life at Shumran belongs to our captivity and will be described … later.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

British Capitulation at Kut-El-Amara, April 29th, 1916. Chromolithograph, anonymous Turkish artist, c1918 © National Army Museum : NAM 1960-09-35-2

British Capitulation at Kut-El-Amara, April 29th, 1916.
Chromolithograph, anonymous Turkish artist, c1918
© National Army Museum : NAM 1960-09-35-2

There lies no dishonour for a commander and his troops, when they have done their duty according to military laws, if the enemy imposes the hardest conditions upon them. They are not the masters to fix and determine those conditions. In our case at Kut we had resisted for just on five months, and we were compelled to surrender not by the enemy but by famine.    C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

Turkish-German Postcard Marking the British Surrender at Kut Beside the portait of the Turkish Sultan Mehmed V, an ally of Kaiser Wilhelm II, together with the German and Turkish flags, is an inscription in German, Fur Erborung von Kut-el-Amara am 29, April 1916, which in English reads, For the Conquest of Kut al Amara on 29th April 1916.

Turkish-German Postcard Marking the British Surrender at Kut
Beside the portrait of the Turkish Sultan Mehmed V, an ally of Kaiser Wilhelm II, together with the German and Turkish flags, is an inscription in German, Fur Erborung von Kut-el-Amara am 29, April 1916, which in English reads, For the Conquest of Kut al Amara on 29th April 1916.

Of the Norfolk battalion General Hamilton, commanding the brigade in which they served, says: ‘In spite of all the trying conditions of the prolonged siege, the discipline, good order, and the soldierly bearing of the battalion were maintained to the end. The daily guard mounting in the street at the entrance to the Serai was in itself a soul-stirring revelation of the unquenchable spirit of the Norfolk Regiment. Though worn to shadows of their former selves with starvation, constant duty, and frequent sickness, though their clothing was grimed and ragged, the men were still ready under arms, their drill punctiliously correct.’ F. Loraine Petre, The History of the Norfolk Regiment Vol. II

Norfolk Road, Kut (date unknown) © Imperial War Museum : IWM ART 2359

Norfolk Road, Kut (date unknown)
© Imperial War Museum : IWM ART 2359

This is the longest post (split into three) about the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia on this site so far, justified by the exceptional nature of the siege, and the availability of the diaries of F.C. Lodge and A.J. Shakeshaft, which deserve to be quoted at length and for the first time, in extenso, on the Internet.


The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia, March 1916.

The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia

Summary for February 1916

This quarter’s summary from our Mesopotamian correspondent concludes the reports on the siege of Kut al Amara. The diaries of  F.C. Lodge and A.J. Shakeshaft of the 2nd Battalion provide the chronology of events (see the posts of March 23rd and April 1st 2016).

It is such an important quarter that the posts have been split into three and will be published on three consecutive days leading up to the 100th Anniversary of end of the siege.

The diary entries are supplemented by short extracts from The Secrets of a Kuttite by E. O. Mousley, Royal Field Artillery – online at: Edward O. Mousley was born in 1886 at Opotiki, New Zealand (hence the ‘O’ in his name), and studied law at Victoria College, Wellington and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After the war he went on to write two novels and books on aspects of international law. However, his best known work is his most personal; The Secrets of a Kuttite is notable for its humane insights and guarded humour during the most trying of circumstances.

Thanks, as always, are due to the Curator of the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, whose knowledge, help and advice are invaluable.

March 1st, 1916

Heavy shelling from all sides from 4 p.m. till 6.15 p.m. Three Turkish (German Morans) aeroplanes dropped 40 bombs [F.C. Lodge records 32 bombs during repeated trips], one 100 lb bomb fell on house near O[fficers’]. Hospital, did not explode.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 2nd, 1916

Shakeshaft took over duties of Staff Capt. 18th Bde. Read now my adjutant. Several bombs dropped on Kut. Twins born Francis Robert & Frances Cecilia.  Diary of F.C. Lodge

From this point Captain Shakeshaft’s diary takes a broader view of the conditions within the besieged garrison, and of the repeated but unsuccessful attempts to lift the siege.

The whole night long wild howlings and dismal wailing of the Arabs for their dead and wounded continued and kept me awake. Now and then some other Arab extra full of despair would let out a yell like a steam-whistle that rose high above the universal hubbub. The Jews here cry in a different key altogether, a wobbly vibrato long sustained, much less sweet but not wholly unlike the tangi of the Maoris in New Zealand. A Jewish funeral is a sad little affair. Dressed in long black robes and carrying lights in little tins they escort the dead to a grave way out on the maidan. They walk with bowed heads in twos, a tiny column and a sort of acolyte person following the body. They perform their ceremonies by night so as to avoid drawing fire upon themselves.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

March 3rd, 1916

Guns heard from Aylmer’s column. [He has an identical entries for the 4th and 5th, too.]  Diary of F.C. Lodge

I spent a good night in my new quarters, a rather dirty house in the centre of the town. From now on all my mornings were employed in visiting guards and wandering about the town on odd jobs. Fairly quiet day. Great efforts made to induce Indians to eat horse flesh.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 4th, 1916

Scurvy broke out among the native troops. Gunfire heard downstream. Horses rations:- 6lbs. barley, 2lbs. bran, 1 lb. grass, 1 palm tree per week per battery.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 5th, 1916

…a major of the Fourth Field Ambulance … pronounced me bad enough with muscular rheumatism to have to go into hospital. I entered a ward too terrible for words, next bed to a most sad and awful apparition of a poor fellow who had been very ill. It was a long skin-covered skeleton with skinless ears, eyes protruding so far that one wondered how they stuck up at all, teeth on edge, legs thinner than a pick handle, and two arms like gloved broom-sticks catching frantically at various parts of his apparel where creatures of the amoebic world fled before those awful eyes. Add to this the insane chattering, punctuated with a periodical sharp crack as louse after louse was exploded between the creature’s two thumbs, and you have the picture entitled, “A Hospital Shikar*.” Altogether it was a sight utterly terrible. … I discovered later that malaria and dysentery had rendered him temporarily insane. He had been in hospital for the whole of the siege, but was now slowly recovering.  E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

* A shikar is a hunt or a hunted creature

March 6th, 1916

Some cylinders were observed being unloaded from a boat at Shumran. This gave rise to a gas scare. Respirators issued to troops in the front line. Heavy gunfire heard downstream. Project E to be brought into operation.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

 March 7th, 1916

We are to be ready to move at 4.45 am tomorrow. This is preparatory to putting Scheme E into execution.

Capt. Stace R.E. [Royal Engineers] went over to WOOLPRESS village to fix up a floating mine to be used against the enemy’s bridge down the SHAT-EL-HAI river. Charge 150 lbs of dynamite. Diary of F.C. Lodge

The engineers attempted to float a mine down the Hai on the night of the 6th-7th March, with the object of blowing up the enemy’s bridge. But it was a failure, for it stuck at the mouth of the river on a sand-spit and blew up with an appalling explosion during the night.  C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

According to this project [Project E] two brigades under General Melliss and Colonel Evans were to cross the river by a flying bridge near the 7th Rajputs billets and attack the rear of the Turks in conjunction with the force downstream [General Aylmer’s force] which was to attack the Dujailah Redoubt. The garrison of Woolpress (110th & 120th) to make a demonstration on the right bank. The town to be held by the 18th Brigade, less 2/Norfolks. I spent most of the afternoon taking round parties of convalescents to show them the posts they were to occupy when most of the fit troops were engaged in the field.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

…the Turks were evidently aware of Aylmer’s project, as they were strengthening the Essinn position and connecting the Hai and the Dujailah Redoubt with a chain of entrenchments and redoubts.   C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

March 8th, 1916: the Battle of Dujaila

Marched off at 4.45 am. to aeroplane field where B Coy is. Here we remained all day, being shelled rather heavily and losing 5 men wounded [Shakeshaft records that 6 men were wounded]. We were awaiting the approach of the relieving column, when we are to embark on rafts, flybridge & so gain the other bank, to co-operate with Genl. Aylmer’s troops. We could see with our glasses, masses of Turks moving about the Essinn ridge & hear heavy gun fire. I also thought I saw our Cavalry miles away towards the T’s bridge over the Shat-el Hai. Nothing happened, but we remained in readiness & full of excitement.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Sketch Map of General Aylmer's Attempt on Dujailah, March 8th, 1916 E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

Sketch Map of General Aylmer’s Attempt on Dujailah, March 8th, 1916
E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

March 9th, 1916

Aylmer made a night march and entrenched opposite Dujailah Redoubt and then bombarded it. This gave Turks time to reinforce threatened point. Attack made and failed. Another attack at 4 p.m. failed. Aylmer wired – unless Turks retired in night he must fall back through lack of water. Turks later said delay saved them. Stood to arms at 5 a.m. Less fire downstream, received orders to return to billets in the afternoon. B Company remained at aeroplane yard.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Returned to the Serai at 12 noon, all very depressed as Aylmer’s attack must have failed.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

The rank and file of the garrison… have altered the name of the relieving general to Faylmer.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

Had General Kemball’s flying column attacked at dawn on the 8th, on their arrival at the Dujaila Redoubt, the Turks would have been taken unawares and badly beaten. The redoubt was practically empty. Only sufficient Arab troops were there to guard the Fort. Most of the Turkish troops having been withdrawn at the time to defend Baghdad against the threatened advance of the Russian Army.

Kemball telegraphed the Headquarters of General Aylmer and his Chief of Staff, General Gorringe, but the advice he received was to await the planned British bombardment before commencing an assault on the redoubt. Due to the delay, the Turkish forces were given time to rush up reinforcements from Magasis and Shumran, and when Kemball’s troops attacked in the dawn light they ran into heavy fire from a now fully-manned redoubt, and they were slaughtered.

However, the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission, 1917, concluded: On the whole we do not see sufficient reasons for imputing blame to the Corps Headquarters for the action they took.’

March 10th, 1916

Communique issued to troops on General Aylmer’s failure to relieve Kut. Turkish officer came from Khalil Pasha to announce result of fighting downstream and to suggest surrender.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Townshend’s communiqué to the troops began with the text of two telegrams from General Aylmer confirming that he had been unable to break through the Turkish lines and that we would probably have to withdraw to Wadi. It continued:

I know you will all be deeply disappointed to hear this news. We have now stood a three months’ siege in a manner which has called upon you the praise of our beloved King and our fellow-countrymen in England, Ireland, Scotland and India, and all this too after your brilliant battles of Kut-al-Amara and Ctesiphon, and your retirement to Kut, all of which feats of arms are now famous.

…I ask you to give a little sympathy to me, who have commanded you in these battles referred to; and who, having come to the Division as a stranger, now love my command with a depth of feeling I have never known in my life before.   C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

In my answer to Khalil Pacha, I wrote that… I saw much chance or relief, and I should not consider the subject of surrender.   C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

However, in his report to General Headquarters on the defence of Kut up to 10th March, Townshend recognized that after three months of siege, and with the Tigris moving into flood, swollen with meltwater from the snows of the Caucasus mountains, just one more attempt to relieve Kut was realistic. He rejected surrender, but reflected on the possibility of an honourable evacuation. But, negotiating terms depended upon his ability to hold out, and that would be determined primarily by his food supply.

March 11th, 1916

My regimental birthday – 24 yrs. Heard of Genl. A’s failure to break through. The sickening part was he nearly did get through.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Rather wet. Quiet day. 417 horses killed to save grain. 71 more fed by Stevenson on grass. 800 mules kept going on mule flesh till grass available. 25 horses required daily for food. This meant 400 horses and 500 mules must be left on March 11th.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Rations have been still further cut down. We get bread and meat, nothing else, and of the former merely four ounces per diem. The garrison is in a bad way. Men go staggering about, resting every now and then up against a wall. I hear that the number succumbing in the trenches is daily increasing. As for the native hospital, the sight is too appalling for words. Skin-covered skeletons crawl about or turn over to receive their nourishment, but nothing else, not even shell fire, engages their attention.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

March 12th, 1916

Trenches and dug outs flooded by a thunderstorm. A white flag came towards Kut, the bearer carried a letter which we afterwards learnt contained the proposal from the Turkish Commander that we should surrender. Genl. Townshend sent a suitable reply, to put it crudely “I told them to go to blazes.”   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Last night we felt what we believed to be an earthquake, but which proved to be the sappers trying to dynamite fish in the river, which experiment was completely unproductive.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

March 13th, 1916

More rain. River higher.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

March 14th, 1916

Uneventful day, nothing to report. General Aylmer superseded by Gorringe. 5 Mohammedans deserted.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Captain Fenton Aylmer VC, 1891 ©Imperial War Museum Q80466 Lieutenant General Sir Fenton Aylmer VC KCB, 1920's ©National Portrait Gallery

Captain Fenton Aylmer VC, 1891 ©Imperial War Museum Q80466
Lieutenant General Sir Fenton Aylmer VC KCB, 1920’s ©National Portrait Gallery

Aylmer had fought the Battle of Wadi on 13th January, and two major attempts to relieve Kut at the Battle on Hannah on 21st January and the Battle of Dujaila on 8th March; but facing appalling weather conditions, with raw troops, and unable to match Turkish reinforcements, he had been unable to break through.

It is certain that the failure to rescue his fellow-officers and their men at Kut broke General Aylmer’s heart. He had won the V.C. for a very gallant feat at Fort Nilt and honours in all the battles he had fought, and the Turks to this day have sung his praises, recounting that he was the most famous general in the British Army and none they feared and admired more. But he was broken by the task he had been set. The War Office’s decision that his conduct of the operations of the relieving forces had been “unfortunate” he felt bitterly, and when his services were suspended he joined the procession of generals “who went home on sick leave.” Writing to General Townshend, from the camp at Wadi, he says: “I have had a harder time than most people realize. It all looks very easy when you sit in an armchair at the W.O. Give my best wishes to Melliss, Delamain and Hamilton. Good-bye and God bless you all.” These are but short extracts from the manly letter from a fine soldier, who did his best, but was amongst those who came in for all the blame for being unable to accomplish an impossible task.   Dorina L. Neave, Remembering Kut, 1937

(Reference to Captain Aylmer’s exploit at the Nilt Fort is made in the 29 December 2015 posting on this site.  He was also with General Low’s column which was sent to relieve the siege of Chitral in 1895, where Townshend was one of the officers. As a Royal Engineer, not only did he construct bridges over the turbulent rivers of the North West Frontier that made possible the column’s advance north from Peshawar, but on one notable occasion he had himself lowered from a bridge in a basket to save the life of a soldier being swept along after his raft had overturned.)

March 15th, 1916

River rose 2′ 8”. Water kept out of trenches. Sheet of water about 800 yards and 8 inches deep in front of our first line.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 16th, 1916

River rising, but bunds held.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

It is a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and the only blur on the silvery brightness is the muddied Tigris winding like a yellow ribbon over this flat desert land. …

It was a fine sunset. Away over the muddy plain the Western skies were dragon-red, and clouds stirred by the evening breeze sailed in and out of the luminous belt which reflected a soft pink on the face of the rising moon climbing over the Eastern horizon.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

On 16th March I received a telegram from G.H.Q., dated 14th March, 1916:-

“Please tell Townshend not to make terms with Turks until he hears from me. Acknowledge.”

To this I sent the following reply on the same date.

“Kindly inform Chief India that there was never the slightest intention of any negotiation with the Turks unless there was any doubt in the mind of the Army Commander about relieving me…”   C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

General Townshend : The Man in Mesopotamia Cover page of 'The Graphic', April 8, 1916

General Townshend : The Man in Mesopotamia
Cover page of ‘The Graphic’, April 8, 1916

March 17th, 1916

River going down a bit.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 18th, 1916

A bombardment began at 5.30 pm. Enemy’s planes dropped bombs, one fell into our Serai, also into the British Genl. Hospital, this bomb did a considerable amount of damage, killed and wounded some of our poor already sick and wounded, 31. [Shakeshaft records 28 wounded and 4 killed]

2 Enemy’s naval 8” guns reported to be in position. Bread ration reduced to 8 oz per day.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

River fell considerably during the day.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 19th, 1916

The 5” guns which had their position just outside the Serai moved to another place – thank goodness, as they attracted the enemy’s fire, and we got most of it. News reached us that Genl. Aylmer had handed over to Genl. Gorringe.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Lieutenant-General George Gorringe ©Imperial War Museum Q70423

Lieutenant-General George Gorringe
©Imperial War Museum Q70423

Gorringe, who was promoted Lieutenant-General on assuming command of the Tigris Corps, was nicknamed, Bloody Orange, on account of his rude and unpleasant personality, in contrast with the chivalrous and ever-courteous, Aylmer.

H.M.S. “Samana” hit twice by shells.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Rheumatics bad again. They remind me I had lived in feet of water in my earthy dug-out during the floods, even my bed sopping wet. However, in the heat of the day the aching is less intense. More serious are the increasing cases of enteritis everywhere in Kut. I believe this is essentially a siege malady. The symptoms are violent pains in the intestines and a wish to vomit. It is, I hear, due to bad and insufficient nourishment.  

Another shell got the Sumana through the funnel and bridge, killing one of her crew. Tudway’s cabin was completely wrecked. Tudway is a deserving, hard-working subaltern, the only R.N. representative in Kut. He always takes it as a personal insult if his gunboat is hit. She is the apple of his eye. H.M.S. Sumana, an improvised gunboat, is of the greatest importance, as she keeps us in touch with Woolpress, our tiny stronghold on the other bank, which prevents the Turks from coming right down to the river-bank and thus making our waterfront unendurable. She takes across a barge with provisions and reliefs, and makes three or four trips a week. This the Turks know full well, and do their best to send her under during the day. However, she is fairly well protected with maheilas and rafts, though by no means completely. It is a difficult problem to know how to protect her, and engages all Tudway’s thoughts.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

(NB Sub-Lieutenant Lionel Charles Paul Tudway, R.N. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the citation reads: Sub-Lieutenant Tudway was in command of the armed launch “Sumana,” and showed remarkable ability and coolness in manoeuvring his vessel under heavy fire on the night of the 28th September [1915], and on several other occasions under fire.)

During operations on the Tigris the Army was ably supported by the Royal Navy under the command of Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Wilfred Nunn, D.S.O. Many of the vessels were paddle steamers used for passengers and freight between Baghdad and Basra, but by adding iron plates for protection they became improvised troop carriers. With the addition of guns, searchlights in the bows, sandbags to protect the bridge, and improvised lookout stations, these shallow draught vessels could be employed used to tow maheilas crowded with infantry, ammunition and supplies.

River Fighting on the Tigris: How the Armed Steamers Support the Fighting Columns Drawn by D. MacPherson : 'The Sphere', May 20, 1916

River Fighting on the Tigris: How the Armed Steamers Support the Fighting Columns
Drawn by D. MacPherson : ‘The Sphere’, May 20, 1916

March 20th, 1916

Night bombing by enemy’s aeroplanes began, very unpleasant.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

March 21st  – 22nd, 1916

Turkish aeroplane dropped bombs night 21/22 about 12.30 a.m.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 23rd, 1916

Aerial observation for our 5” guns, with excellent results on enemy’s naval guns – both put out of action, this was jolly lucky as they fired a heavy shell with high explosive which would have rendered Kut untenable. Arab rumours that Turks intended to attack tonight. All ready, but nothing happened.  Diary of F.C. Lodge

Bombardment 3 a.m. till 7 a.m. Estimated that 2000 shells were put into Kut these last two days. Our casualties believed 2 killed, 15 wounded.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 24th, 1916

3 p.m. River higher than last flood level. Extra vigilance. Men to sleep fully equipped with magazines charged and orders to stand to arms at 4.45 am. instead of the usual 5.15 am. This was probably due to an Arab rumour that Turks would attack tonight.

Last issue of from S.&T.* of pine apple, vinegar, limejuice, sardines and sauce.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

* India Supply and Transport Corps

March 25th, 1916

Turkish guns opened at 6 a.m., ceased at 7 a.m. Heavy gunfire downstream. River rose 3′ 5” in 24 hours (6 p.m.) Redoubt flooded out.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

“Hate” during the night.  Diary of F.C. Lodge

March 26th, 1916

River reached a level 2 feet higher than the highest January flood, and 6 inches above what the Arabs had told us would be the maximum high flood level. Fort now practically isolated.  Diary of F.C. Lodge

Quiet day. End of starling season.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

March 27th, 1916

Enemy’s aeroplane dropped 5 bombs on the Town this morning. Bread ration reduced by 2 oz. Now 8 oz. per day. River gone down a little. Our aeroplane dropped a millstone. [The local millstones for grinding grain had worn out despite being repeatedly recut by masons of the Dorsets.]   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

The day’s bulletin is that the Churches in England are praying for us. How we hope they pray hard.

The water of the floods is now all over the maidan around our old first line, in fact in front of our present first line is a great lake some feet deep, and possibly eight feet above the dry base of our trench.

Over the river all round Woolpress and beyond, and also reaching southward, are shining sheets of water with ever-diminishing green patches between. During the last flood of a few days back the water percolated into Woolpress, which, of course, is on the bank of the river, and wrought great havoc in the trenches and among the men there. It must be an awfully lonely and desolated existence over there at Woolpress, a siege within a siege.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

March 28th, 1916

Sent cable “All well.”  Diary of F.C. Lodge

Opinion unanimous that a fortnight to-day will see us en route for Amarah or Mosul*. We are to know nothing about next attempt until General Gorringe’s aeroplanes fly over to observe for guns. Quiet day. 560 cases of scurvy in hospital, all Indians and increasing owing to not eating meat.    Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

*i.e. either evacuated or marching into captivity

March 29th, 1916

GoC Divn. [Townshend] sent for me and showed me some of the letters (private) he had received from The Viceroy, Lord Landsdown[e], Rippinton [Repington] Times Correspondent, Lord Curzon. Hot day 81°.  Diary of F.C. Lodge

The Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, who was later criticized for his part in the campaign by the Mesopotamia Commission, was replaced as Viceroy by Lord Chelmsford on 4th April. Lord Landsdowne was a controversial former Viceroy (1884-94). Lieutenant-Colonel Charles à Court Repington had a distinguished military career, but following an affair with a married woman he resigned his commission and became a military correspondent for The Times. Lord Curzon was Viceroy from 1899, and is remembered for promoting British interests in the Gulf and trade with Persia. He fell out with the Commander-in-Chief, India, Lord Kitchener, and was replaced in 1905.

Frederick Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford, was an uncle of Wilfred Thesiger, whose account of his time spent in the Iraqi marshes around Basra, The Marsh Arabs, 1964, is perhaps the most influential first-hand account that we have of life in the marshes before they were partially drained by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Wilfred Thesiger visited his uncle in India during the latter’s time as Viceroy. (The Life of My Choice, 1987)

March 30th, 1916

Parcels dropped by our seaplanes, they generally manage to do so into the river or on enemy’s side.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

“Samana” put out of action by enemy’s gunfire. Seaplane dropped mails into river.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Postal Cover (1996) commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the Air Transport Operation during the Siege of Kut al Amara

Postal Cover (1996) commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the Air Transport Operation during the Siege of Kut al Amara

In August 1915 the Royal Flying Corps had been built up to squadron strength in Mesopotamia. Planes of 30 Squadron began dropping supplies into Kut in February 1916, including critical spares for radios and launches, not to mention the 70 lb millstone which was dropped by parachute on 27th March. This was the commencement of an air supply operation by the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) that sought to beat the Turkish blockade. The aeroplanes available for the work were four BE2c’s of the RFC, one Henri Farman F.27, one Voisin, and three Short Sunbeam seaplanes of the RNAS detachment. The bulk of the food was carried by the land aeroplanes – mainly by the BE2c’s – as the seaplanes suffered from extensive engine troubles and were restricted in their ability to take-off from water and climb in high temperatures.

The aeroplanes were based at Ora 23½ miles from Kut. Because of Turkish small arms fire they had to drop their supplies from 5,000 feet over a marked spot just north of the town. The total number of sorties during the siege was 140, and the flying hours 190. The weight of supplies dropped was 19,000 lbs of which the Kut garrison acknowledged receipt of 16,800 lbs.

We miss very much communication with the outside world. The generals get a few letters and papers by aeroplane, but no one else.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

March 31st, 1916

Thunderstorm at 10 p.m. … Temperature Maximum 80 degrees, Minimum 54 degrees. During the month the weather got very much warmer, consequently flies and evil smells abound in the town.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Native rations, except for meal, have ceased altogether. This may induce them to eat horse. There is nothing against it now as they have the full permission of the Chief Mullahs of India.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

The Chief of Staff India cabled Basra advising, ‘Please inform Townshend that he can quote the Immam Jumma Musjid Delhi saying there is no objection to Mussulmans eating horse-flesh in stress of war, providing it is [properly killed by throat  cutting]. Leading Pandit Delhi says there is no objection to Hindus eating horse-flesh. …’

Townshend duly and hopefully quoted the Imam and the leading Pandit: but still his sepoys refused to eat horse-flesh.

The names of those who ate horse-flesh would be betrayed to their villages by those who had not weakened. No girl would marry such a man. No family would welcome back such a son. No father would give his daughter in marriage to the son of such a man. No daughter of such a man would be acceptable in marriage to the son of any other. … It was not damnation they feared – it was being unable to marry off their daughters because they had transgressed without coercion. Every day, therefore, more and more of them reported sick with scurvy.   Russell Braddon, The Siege, 1969

Army Surgeons in one of the Kut hospitals © Imperial War Museum : IWM Q92665

Army Surgeons in one of the Kut hospitals
© Imperial War Museum : IWM Q92665


Part three of this quarterly update, covering March 1916, will be continued in the next post.

“We see plenty of the “sword” in hospital; let us dally a while in our leisure hours with the pen”.

Extracts from the Norfolk War Hospital Magazine 1916

St Andrew’s Hospital in Thorpe, Norwich, opened in April 1814 as the Norfolk County Asylum.  During the First World War the hospital was used by the military authorities as a War Hospital.  It opened on 26th May 1915, with three patients.  The first Norfolk War Hospital Magazine was published in April 1916.

“Who conceived the idea of a hospital magazine; do they suffer from cacoethes scribendi?”

This quote, along with the quote in the title, form part of a humourous foreword for the first edition which sold for the princely sum of 6d a copy.

Photo 1 cropped

A page from the first edition of the Norfolk War Hospital Magazine, published April 1916. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: SAH 340. 

In its first edition an article gives some background information to the hospital’s origins. “Today the Norfolk War Hospital celebrates its first birthday, but we are a mushroom growth compared to the building in which we are housed.  The Main celebrated its centenary last year”.

Each edition consists of a series of articles written by its residents interspersed with plenty of hospital humour.  The first edition was well received and the editors received plenty of mixed feedback; it was too long, too short, too frivolous, too solemn, there should be more illustrations.  “To all and sundry we would reply, “Well send us the sort of thing you consider ought to be in”.  Remember that readers and contributors are to a great extent one and the same in our case”.

There were common themes running through each edition starting with an editorial comment.  The Editor’s comments were often linked to the great efforts to keep the magazine running for the benefit of the patients. There would be regular pleas for contributions:

 “Staff and patients at all auxiliary hospitals in Norfolk are invited to contribute and subscribe”.

Marketing the magazine was also important.  In October the price reduced to 4d to attract more sales and it was available to buy in several city stores including Jarrolds, Garlands, Pilch’s and Goose & Sons.


Snippets from the Magazine in 1916

Cultural Events

The magazine reported on a range of cultural events for both residents and staff.

A ward in the hospital Annexe was converted into a theatre where the Annexe Theatrical Company opened its doors on 26th January 1916.  Its first play, ‘Tables Turned’, was a comedy about the role of women in a hundred years’ time.  The reviewer commented on “Suzanne’s cool, deliberate oration whilst she rolled her pastry”.  Multi-tasking at its best perhaps.

Ward concerts were arranged for those who could not leave their beds and there was also a hospital orchestra.

Children from the local area would also visit the hospital to entertain the patients.  Children from Thorpe Hamlet School had entertained the patients with singing, dancing and scenes from Shakespeare and Mrs Barwell’s dance. School pupils were regular visitors.


Factual Articles

Informative articles were also a feature of the magazine.  These included an account in May of a raid in Flanders, a report on a total eclipse in June and the recommencement of the Zeppelin raids over Norfolk in August.

A lengthy article in August set out the merits of a life in Canada rather than England.  The author is not given but we may presume he is Canadian – judging more by the extent of his knowledge than his obvious bias!  “Canadian people are more friendly and more willing to assist you . . . I say Canada for any young man if he is willing and wanting to get on in farming or in business”.  The climate and range of sporting activities is also extolled finishing with a warning, however, not to get lost due to its vast size.

In the November edition Lance Corporal T Dixon writes on his mixed feelings at being discharged from active service after spending a year in hospital.  “I don’t say that I want to go back, but there is something, I don’t know what it is, that calls a man.”

Keep Smiling

Each edition would have its ample share of morale-boosting jokes, riddles and cartoons about life in general and hospital life in particular.

August edition:

Corpulent Individual: “But you can’t give me any reason why I should not enlist”. 

Spouse: “Well, I should miss you dear, but the Germans couldn’t!”

December edition:  Rules for Ward K:

“If you cannot reach the bell, ring the towel.

In case of fire, break the window and see the fire escape”.

Sporting Events

Twenty five years previously the former rubbish heap had been turned into a sports field by the patients.  “This field is now one of the finest in Norfolk, and is very much appreciated both by the soldier patients and the medical officers”. (May edition)

A range of sporting events took place and the hospital staff took part in good spirit.  The nurses’ cricket skills were favourably commented upon.

Nurse Baly, not out 53, showed excellent cricket, and Nurse Wright bowled well and took ten wickets”.

Some of their games were against teams from outside of the hospital.  By November the football XI had played seven matches with two wins, two draws and three losses.  One of their losses was against the Northern Signal Company who also brought their band with them.


Many patients, whiling away their time, put pen to paper in poetic fashion.

A poem in the June edition by Private G Waddingham on joining up then being injured finishes with:

“So here I am today my friends,

Alive and doing well,

With the good treatment I have had

In Norfolk War Hospital.

So I thank you doctors one and all

And all the nurses too,

And if we meet no more on earth

I’ll meet you in the Zoo”.

Alphabetical and acrostic poems were popular.

Below is an extract from “A Wounded Australian’s Alphabet” written by W J Smith, 20th Australians, which appeared in the August edition:

“B is for bomb, which laid me low,

Also for bed which I find myself now.

Q is for questions that visitors ask.

Some are too silly, but some hit the mark.

Z is for zeal, with which everyone works,

To relieve all our pains and cure all our hurts”.

Things We Want to Know

Most editions finished with the section “Things We Want to Know”.  While mainly humourous some were clearly an opportunity to get certain things off their chests in an anonymous way.  For example:

  • “Whether the wrath of ward sisters (and others) is really appeased by primrose roots”.
  • “Who bit the end off a thermometer and nurse has to pay 1s in Ward – for a new one?”
  • “What became of the asparagus on the night of June 15th?”
  • “Who is the staff nurse who is afraid to visit the shelter patients after dark, and why?”
  • “Who was primo loco responsible for the use of the word ”Porridge” as a synonym for that mysterious concoction served for breakfast on the morning of the 6th instant”.

Christmas 1916

As 1916 drew to a close a variety of entertainments were planned for the patients.  These were reported on in the first edition for 1917.  These included a pantomime by Mrs Barwell and her dance-school girls, concerts on Christmas day, a procession of pipers on Boxing Day and a concert party, brought over by the Royal Naval Air Station. There were Father Christmases and Pierrots around the tree in the Great Hall and patients “fished” for presents which were put in a “fish pond” by the tree to ensure everyone received something.

No doubt as the year drew to an end there was a communal wish for the war to do likewise.  However that was not to be and the hospital magazine continued to cheer and inform its patients for the following year. Details of the 1917 edition are to follow.


Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger

The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia, February 1916.

The 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia

Summary for February 1916

This quarter’s summary from our Mesopotamian correspondent concludes the reports on the siege of Kut al Amara. The diaries of  F.C. Lodge and A.J. Shakeshaft of the 2nd Battalion provide the chronology of events (see the posts of March 23rd and April 1st 2016).

It is such an important quarter that the posts have been split into three and will be published on three consecutive days leading up to the 100th Anniversary of end of the siege.

The diary entries are supplemented by short extracts from The Secrets of a Kuttite by E. O. Mousley, Royal Field Artillery – online at: Edward O. Mousley was born in 1886 at Opotiki, New Zealand (hence the ‘O’ in his name), and studied law at Victoria College, Wellington and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After the war he went on to write two novels and books on aspects of international law. However, his best known work is his most personal; The Secrets of a Kuttite is notable for its humane insights and guarded humour during the most trying of circumstances.

Thanks, as always, are due to the Curator of the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, whose knowledge, help and advice are invaluable.


February 1st, 1916

Flour being scarce, our bread ration now made of 2/3 flour 1/3 alta (coarse flour).   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Aeroplane dropped newspapers for the C.O.C. [General Townshend]. 11 degrees of frost registered. Only usual sniping.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 2nd, 1916

Osmond, our doctor, and I walked into Kut [from the fort]. … Crude oil cooking inaugurated to save wood. This is burnt in open tin troughs and works well. The only drawback being that the cooks and any onlookers are covered with greasy black grime which ruins ones clothes.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 3rd, 1916

Quiet.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Nothing unusual to report.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 4th, 1916

Aeroplane dropped parcel addressed O/C 2.Norfolk [Major Lodge]. It contained 39 packets of cigarettes from Orton, these I gave to the men.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Last camel eaten. A little shelling during the night, sniping as usual.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 5th, 1916

G.O.C. sent for me re dropped parcel, so I had to trudge into Kut. Luckily I was able to say that I knew nothing about the parcel until it arrived, otherwise I was in for a slating. Found 1 doz vermouth in my room at Serai, belonging to 33rd Cavalry: this I took to the mess, and a great treat it was.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Firewood gave out, fuel oil issued in lieu.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Under the G.O.C. Division’s instructions, I issued the following:-

   “Kut, February 5th, 1916. It has unfortunately become necessary to employ horse-flesh in the rations, and the following remarks are published with a view to remove any prejudices that may exist against it as an article of food.

   “The horse is a clean animal, and essentially a vegetable feeder. It will not eat unclean meat nor drink impure water. Its flesh is wholesome, digestible and practically in every respect as nutritious as that of any animal. … In the absence of flesh food, troops will run down, be more susceptible to disease, especially to scurvy and beriberi.   Account of the Medical Arrangements, etc., During the Siege of Kut-al-Amara. By Colonel P. Hehir, C.B., M.D., I.M.S., Appendix III of the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission,1917

February 6th, 1916

Rain, usual sniping. A few bombs thrown at the east bastion at night. Tinned milk now very scarce and almost unprocurable. We heard from downstream that the Turks had been reinforced by one division, bringing them up to about 30,000.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Reinforcements for General Aylmer's Tigris Corps being transported by River Steamer (Illustrated War News, February 9th, 1916)

Reinforcements for General Aylmer’s Tigris Corps being transported by River Steamer (Illustrated War News, February 9th, 1916)

February 7th, 1916

Oil fuel used for first time in the fort.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 8th, 1916

Heavy firing heard downstream. Usual sniping. Brown bread issued, 1/3 flour, 1/3 Atta, 1/3 barley meal, very good. Starling season commenced. Shot in trees, made excellent eating.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 9th, 1916

Dull, grey, windy morning. Communique issued to the troops stated that a British Division (13th* – New Army) was leaving Egypt on the 10th instant for Basra.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

* The 13th was one of the newly raised ‘Kitchener’s Army’ divisions, which had suffered severely at Gallipoli. Townshend notes that no date was given for their arrival in Mesopotamia.

February 10th, 1916

My wedding day. Very wet, dug outs wet…   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 11th, 1916

Still wet.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Companies engaged in clearing trenches of water. Also outside fort in communication trenches. No milk, sugar or butter obtainable. Some jam could still be purchased at Rupees five per tin from Arabs.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 12th, 1916

Left fort about 2.40 pm. Arrived Serai 4 pm. Relived by 67th Punjabis.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

In fact, it was the 76th Punjabi Regiment, which went into a long captivity following the capitulation and suffered appalling privations. The 67th Punjabis went to Mesopotamia later and were present at the retaking of Kut and the capture of Baghdad in 1917.

…we returned to Kut. B Company was billeted in the aeroplane yard. The rest of the Battalion at the Serai.

9.30 a.m. [on the 13th] Enemy aeroplane flew over the town at a height of about 3000 feet and dropped three 30 lb bombs for the first time. Bombs were some of our own, captured at Azizieh. Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 13th, 1916

In 9.15 am. “Fritz” the Turks airman paid his first visit to Kut and dropped 4 bombs. This visit came as a complete surprise as hitherto the Turks had had no aeroplanes.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

A German monoplane came over the town and dropped five bombs in the morning and ten more in the evening on the two trips he made. Several of them fell close to my Headquarters [and near the brick kilns, potting at the 5” guns].   Diary of C.V.F. Townshend

The Brick Kilns at Kut Honeycombed with Dug outs, Gun pits and Trenches E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

The Brick Kilns at Kut
Honeycombed with Dug outs, Gun pits and Trenches
E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

This morning I awoke feeling abominably seedy with sharp pains across the small of my back, awful head and wretchedly feverish. Devereaux and I are suffering from dysentery, as, in one form or another, are many others. This complaint in its mildest form is diarrhoea which becomes colitis, which becomes dysentery, which turns sometimes to cholera. The doctors shake their heads and say “Diet.” They might as well recommend a sea trip.   Captain E.O. Mousley, R.F.A, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

February 14th, 1916

Plenty of shelling during the night. Aeroplane dropped bombs at dusk. Rations. Meat 8 oz  Jam 2 oz  Bread 12 oz  Cheese or dates 2 oz   Diary of F.C. Lodge

One of our aeroplanes came up and dropped a parcel of 100 Rupee notes [with which to pay the troops] into the enemy’s lines. 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Town shelled and aeroplane dropped several bombs. 9.30 p.m. enemy shelled again. Received message from the King. 1st issue of Mule flesh.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

The message to General Townshend from the King-Emperor read: “I, together with all your fellow-countrymen, continue to follow with admiration the gallant fighting of the troops under your command against great odds. Every possible effort is being made to support your splendid resistance.” Townshend communicated the message by Special Order to all ranks.

February 15th, 1916

Cable from M. “All flourishing.” [‘M’ is his wife, Nora Margaret] Heavy bombardment began about 5.30 pm. Bullock wounded in hand and thigh whilst out working at 3rd line with fatigue party.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Town shelled about 9 p.m. Aeroplanes bombed us again. Harvey fixed up a 13 pdr [13 pounder], as an anti-aircraft gun. 4 maxims mounted on roof of 18th Brigade Headquarters.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

…we are absolutely outgunned by the enemy and there is no doubt of it. Our 5-inch guns are utterly out of date and their rate of fire painfully slow, the enemy’s 12-centimetre guns getting off rounds three times as quickly. So slow are our heavy guns here – about one round in ten minutes – that I generally see no use in firing them. … They are only fit for the scrap heap.   Diary of C.V.F. Townshend

February 16th, 1916

Wet. Hostile aeroplane dropped bombs on Kut. Heavy firing going on down river.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

“Reuters” to-day for the first time referred to the siege of Kut. [Also, that the War Office in London had taken over command of the campaign from the Government of India.]  Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 17th, 1916

Hear that ERZEROUM had fallen to the Russians.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

Ancient Turkish mortar on right bank fired two enormous cannon balls (200 lbs).   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

On 17th February I received the following wireless message via Basra, from General Baratoff [the Russian commander at Erzeroum]: “General Townshend. Je suis heureux de partager avec vaillant corps d’armée Anglaise à Mésopotamie la joie de la prise de Erzroum par notre  armée.”   C.V.F. Townshend, My Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1919

February 18th, 1916

We heard to-day that it had not been known at home that Kut was besieged till the 16th of this month. Very quiet day.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 19th, 1916

Cabled to M. Happy returns second, all well. “Flatulent Fanny”, the T’s 13½” mortar, fired. More bombs from planes. General Hamilton our brigadier wounded while on the roof of his house by a stray bullet. Colonel U.W. Evans R.E. took over temporary command.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 20th, 1916

Shakeshaft and I walked out to the fort to see Colonel Brown. Two enemy’s aeroplanes came over about the time and dropped 10 bombs.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

The anti-aeroplane gun ready to-day, fired 3 rounds. We call the aviator “Fritz”.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 21st, 1916

Quiet day. Gunfire heard downstream.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

A Rare Quiet, Sunny Day in a Kut Trench Some of the officers kept their dogs during the early phase of the siege: General Townshend's dog was named, 'Spot'. Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

A Rare Quiet, Sunny Day in a Kut Trench
Some of the officers kept their dogs during the early phase of the siege: General Townshend’s dog was named, ‘Spot’.
Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

February 22nd , 1916

Stood to arms ready to sortie from Kut. General Aylmer attacked with gunfire only. Nothing happened.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

This entry relates to General Aylmer’s operation against the Turkish position at Hannah.

Heavy gun-fire about 7 the eastward. We could clearly see the shells bursting over Hannah, and the smoke, although the distance must be twenty miles. Apparently much confusion was caused in the enemy’s main camp behind the Hannah position; but they did not retreat. As is the Turkish custom when defending earthworks, they held on like grim death, their officers, revolver in hand, behind them, shooting if any man tries to get up and go.  Aylmer wired to me that a certain amount of movement from east to west could be seen at Hannah. But nothing more came of this.  Diary of C.V.F. Townshend

February 23rd, 1916

Quiet.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 24th, 1916

Quiet day. Aeroplane dropped some newspapers and gramophone needles.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

We are to remain in a state of diminishing expectancy and increasing disappointment. We acknowledge the difficulties that beset our friends downstream, nor do we forget one division there has been previously decimated in France, and has many recruits. The fighting is against the pick of Turkish troops entrenched behind seas of mud.   Captain E.O. Mousley, R.F.A, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

February 25th, 1916

Drew Rs 50 from Field Treasure Chest Officer.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 26th, 1916

Four of Aylmer’s aeroplanes dropped bombs on Shumran Camp [Turkish]. We watched result from Serai roof.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Last night I dreamed that Alphonse (Townshend) was communicating with Aylmer by megaphone, all Kut excepting I being asleep.  E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922  

General Townshend was known to some officers of the 6th Division as ‘Alphonse’ owing to his admiration for all things French, and perhaps because of his marriage to the daughter of a French Count. To the Norfolks and to the other ranks of the Division he was always ‘Our Charlie’. Some of the sources describe the Norfolks as Townshend’s favourites, presumably because Townshend’s family was from Raynham Hall, and perhaps because the 2nd Norfolks were garrisoned at the Serai, partially under cover.

…and Longfellow. That simple poet’s lines in “Sand of the Desert in an Hour Glass”* seem to have added to themselves additional appeal since the siege.

“Or caravans that from Bassorah’s gate
With Westward steps depart;
Or Mecca’s pilgrims confident of Fate,
And resolute in heart!”

That is the old Basra downstream: I must, if possible, visit the ruins of Babylon some sixty odd miles from here and forty directly west of Azizie. Also I would like to see Istamboul as they call it: and if Aylmer doesn’t hurry up I possibly shall.   E.O. Mousley, The Secrets of a Kuttite, 1922

* Longfellow’s poem may be found here:

February 27th, 1916

Quiet day.   Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

February 28th, 1916

KERMANSHAH taken by the Russians. This news came in a message to Genl. Townshend from Genl. Baratoff Commanding the Russian forces in Persia.   Diary of F.C. Lodge

February 29th, 1916

Rain came down in torrents. Streets knee deep in mud and water.

During the month the Battalion had been employed on garrison duties, guards and picquets in the town, on fatigues on the third line of defence and in constructing the cemetery wall and defences. Snipers did good work on the river front. The health and spirits of the men were good.Diary of A.J. Shakeshaft

Part two of this quarterly update, covering March 1916, will be continued in the next post.

Gresham’s at War – school launches WW1 commemorative website

Gresham’s School is delighted to announce the launch of a newly created website to the Old Greshamians (former pupils) and staff that fought and died in World War One.
The research for the website was carried out by a group of Gresham’s School sixth form pupils and is a continuation of the excellent work of former Deputy Head, Sue Smart, who first published her poignant book on the fallen, ‘When Heroes Die’, in 2001. The book has been reprinted as part of the Centenary commemorations and a sample chapter is available to read on the website
The website, which will continue to be populated during the Centenary period, has enabled the School to publish much of its extensive World War One archive material including original school registers, copies of school magazine, ‘The Gresham’ and details of each of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  The site is interactive with a blog section where users can make comments and share their own stories and archive material.
More than 500 Old Greshamians fought for their country, leaving a lasting impact on the School and the surrounding community.  It is hoped that the website will become a lasting tribute and a valuable resource for family history researchers, historians and school children.
The School was awarded £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) ‘First World War: then and now’ programme to create the website as part of its commemorations for the Centenary of the Great War.  The HLF’s programme has been set up to support projects that make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities.  Funding was also made available for the project by the Old Greshamian Club.
For more information about Gresham’s history please contact the School Archivist Liz Larby at or visit the Old Greshamian Club website

Liz Larby

School Archivist


Images from the Archive


Fundraising appeal for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted on (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)