Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.
April 1916 was a disastrous month for Norfolk’s 2nd battalion’s in Mesopotamia. Their winter campaign (which included defeat at the battle of Ctesiphon, and their retreat to Kut – Al – Amara) ended with the eventual collapse of Kut and the surrender of the whole fighting force, numbering over 10,000 men.
The events that took place through April and the following months are extremely well documented through the diaries of Lieutenant Colonel F C Lodge, of the 2nd Norfolk’s, who was present at the surrender. These diaries are now kept at the museum.
On 29th April and over the following days, Lodge wrote;
“All guns and howitzers were destroyed this morning, also a large percentage of rifles and bayonets. Ammtn. [ammunition], revolvers, field glasses, thrown into the Tigris… Turkish Infantry entered Kut about 12 noon.”
“Many men fell out owing to feebleness…. The men were so ravenous that they ate some of the Turkish biscuits dry. This caused an outbreak of acute enteritis, due possibly to their interiors being in a weak state and quite unable to assimilate the hard tack. This caused a good many deaths in some of the units.”
For the Norfolk’s, some of whom were were already tired, starving and extremely ill, April marked the beginning of the end. Captivity under the Turks resulted in forced marching, extreme heat, disease, malnutrition and for many, death. Lodge’s diaries, like many other Officers, show a different picture however. It is startling to compare the fate of many Officers with the the fate of their men. On 4th April, Lodge writes;
“We were ordered to embark [by steamer] for BAGHDAD. We were sent up in echelons: the 1st… consisted of 100 British officers, including 4 Generals, 50 native officers with an orderly apiece. Each General was allowed a cook and 2 orderlies; a colonel 2, Lt. Col 2, others 1 each. I as a temporary Lt. Col. Took two – Rogers, and Wigger as a cook… The men were then left with the NCOs.”
Although still in a dire situation, Lodge’s following entries suggest a degree of comfort not shared by men, that improves over time. On 9th, 10th and 13th May he writes;
“arrived at a ramshackle empty hotel called Hotel Babylon., an evil smelling place. More delay whilst rooms were allotted… were taken to a restaurant where we had a meal – the best I’ve had had in months…. Slept fairly well. Our room smelt so much, caused by a cesspool immediately below the window, we moved out and slept on the verandah which was a very large one… Our little party pitched out belonging near a Greek engineer’s house. They were very kind to us, giving us what they could spare – tea, cheese, milk.”
We may never know the extent to which which Lodge and of his fellow Officers were told of the fate of their men. Perhaps they never knew, or were simply naive. His diaries illuminate a great deal about the Officer class during 1916, and spark some real emotion. It is difficult to empathise with Lodge, who still celebrated “PAYDAY”, and received 3 parcels on his birthday, including 2 from Fortnum and Mason. Regardless, the diaries are an invaluable source to the museum and well worth a read.