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: 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.
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
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
April 14th, 1916
Anniversary of the battle of Shaiba, where poor old Bell was mortally wounded. Diary of F.C. Lodge
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:-
|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
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 Naval-History.net : www.naval-history.net/WW1Battle1408Mesopotamia.htm)
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…
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
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
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
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.