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: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41213. 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
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
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
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 a.m.to 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: www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=119
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.