43RD LIGHT INFANTRY. 1914-1919 Extracted from : A short history of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 1741-1922 for the young soldiers of the Regiment By R.B. Crosse.
Kut al Amara, 1915. Ctesiphon. Defence of Kut al Amara. Khan Baghdadi.
With the entry of Turkey into the war on the side of Germany in the opening days of November, 1914, came the necessity of safeguarding British interests in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf by despatching a force from India. Other reasons for the despatch of this force included the maintenance of British prestige in the East, the protection of the new British oilfields on the Karun River, and the attempt to keep the Arab population out of the war. On November 19th, 1914, the 43rd, as part of the 17th (Abmednagar) Infantry Brigade, 6th (Poona) Division, Indian Expeditionary Force “D,” embarked at Bombay for Mesopotamia, and reached Camp Magil, above Basra, on December 5th, moving to Kurna on the 29th.
On January 20th, 1915, the Regiment took part in a reconnaissance up the Tigris, and sustained 14 casualties, but for the first few months of the year little of interest happened, though the British camps were subjected to constant sniping at the bands of Arabs employed by the Turks, and to shelling by the Turkish guns. Small parties of the 43rd were engaged at various times in punitive expeditions.
On May 31st the Regiment took part in the successful advance north of Kurna, which brought about the capture of Amara on June 2nd; on this occasion advancing to the attack in long canoes called “Ballums,” which were punted across the marshes. The division began to move up the Tigris from Amara on September 2nd, encountering the Turks in a strongly entrenched position, from which, after heavy fighting, they were driven with severe loss on the 28th, in the Battle of Es Sinn, or Kut, that place being then captured. The casualties in the 43rd amounted to 3 officers and nearly 100 other ranks. Resuming the forward march on October 8th, the Regiment was heavily engaged in the Battle of Ctesiphon, on November 22nd, and following days. General Townshend’s Division fought with the greatest valour, capturing the Turkish trenches and several guns, only to be robbed of complete victory by insufficient numbers to meet the heavily reinforced enemy. As it was, over 1,000 prisoners were taken, and with these and the wounded, the withdrawal of the British force was able to be carried out. But the 43rd had suffered severely, 7 officers having been killed, 6 wounded, and the losses in other ranks amounting to about 450. Notwithstanding, the Regiment formed the rearguard for the whole of the way back to Kut-al-Amara, arriving there on December 3rd. The siege which followed, commemorated on the King’s Colour of all battalions of the Regiment, began on December 7th, 1915, when the Turks completed the investment of the place, and lasted until April 29th, 1916, when its gallant but starving defenders were made prisoners of war. On December 24th and 25th the 43rd was heavily engaged in repelling an attack in which the enemy’s casualties were estimated at no less than 700. During the four long months which followed, the garrison withstood with patience and resolution all the rigours of a siege, wondering often if the floods would prove a greater enemy than the Turks, yet hoping always that relief would come at any moment. Time after time they were disappointed, for the Turks, reinforced frequently, beat back every attempt of the relieving force to hew its way through, until finally the 43rd, reduced to 9 officers and some 300 others, (Only ninety of these were alive at the end of the war) and the rest of the division, were starved into surrender.
Meanwhile a new 43rd had been raised in December 1915, as a Provisional Battalion, which on February 15th following joined, at Wadi, a force assembling for the relief of Kut. It took part in the attack on the Dujailah Redoubt on March 8th, and on the Sanna-y-at position on April 5th and 6th, suffering very heavily, and was in action again on the 9th and 22nd.
After the fall of Kut-al-Amara, the new 43rd was employed for a considerable period in the back areas and on the lines of communication. During the winter of 1916-17 it was holding the blockhouse line south-east of Kut-al-Amara, and remained there till after the fall of Baghdad; eventually moving to the Euphrates front in October 1917.
On March 26th and 27th, 1918, the Regiment was again in action, and took part in the Battle of Khan Baghdadi. Here it marched and fought continuously for thirty-six hours, at the end of which the Turkish force surrendered to the advanced guard, and remained in this neighbourhood until after the Armistice with Turkey had been signed.
Demobilization began early in 1919, and in February the cadre moved down to Basra, and sailed from Mesopotamia for home on March 4th.
Arriving at Aldershot on April 12th, the cadre was embodied in what was at first a Provisional Battalion being formed from some twenty different regiments, for service in the North Russian Relief Force. Brought quickly up to strength, this Battalion was ordered to be known as the 1st Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and in May it left for Archangel.
On June 25th it was in action against the Bolsheviks on the River Vaga, in the attack on Ignatofskyia, and later, in September, after further desultory fighting, withdrew to the base and returned home in October, 1919.
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