EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
For several decades British interests in the Persian Gulf and in Mesopotamia had far outweighed those of any other nation. Trade was practically monopolized by British merchants; a British line of river steamers plied regularly between Basra and Baghdad; and the Turkish authorities not only welcomed British trade, with the export and import duties which resulted from it, but were also on the best of terms with the British Political Agents. The question of a Baghdad railway route to India had been considered by the British and Indian Governments throughout a great number of years, but in the end the Germans stepped in and secured the rights for the construction of the line. This may be said to have been the beginning of German influence in Turkey, and of the dream of an all-German route from Berlin to the Persian Gulf.
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 dispatching a force from India. And there were other reasons for the dispatch of this force, the principal of which were 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.
The force detailed to proceed to the Persian Gulf for the above purposes was known as the Indian Expeditionary Force "D," commanded by Lieut.-General Sir A. Barrett, and consisted of the 6th Division of the Indian Army as follows :--
17th (Ahmednagar) Brigade.(Brigadier-General Dobbie.) 1st Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 22nd Punjabis, 103rd Mahrattas, (Joined the Brigade at Magil, in place of the 130th Baluchis, taken out of the Brigade at Bombay). 119th Infantry (Mooltan).
On the 3rd November the 16th (Poona) Brigade, which had been sent in the previous month to Bahrein Island (Persian Gulf) to await events, reached the mouth of the Shatt-el-Arab, and on the 6th, after a bombardment by the gunboats, captured the fort at Fao, the whole brigade landing on the Turkish bank on the following day, and occupying the oil refining works at Abadan Island, the terminus of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's pipe-line from Ahwaz (Persia). On the 8th a reconnaissance was pushed up the Shatt-el-Arab, and on the 10th the 16th Brigade landed at Saniyeh, with a view to encamping. The Turks attacked, but were driven off.
On November 14th General Barrett and the 18th Brigade arrived, when it was decided to attack the Turks at Sahil and Zain. This was carried out on the 17th, the two Brigades, assisted by the "Odin" and "Espiegle," driving out the enemy, and occupying Sahil. On the night of the 21st a party was sent by land and another party by river to Basra, which was now known to have been evacuated by the Turks and in danger of being looted by Arabs. Both parties arrived at Basra on the following morning, and secured the town, which was occupied by the remainder of the two Brigades on the 23rd November, when the Union Jack was hoisted.
On the 27th the 17th (Ahmednagar) Brigade arrived in the Shatt-el-Arab, and went into camp at Magil (above Basra) on the 5th December. In the meanwhile information had been received that Kurna (Qurnah), at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates, supposed to be the site of the Garden of Eden, was occupied by 3,500 Turks and 1,000 Arabs, with 12 guns, and General Barrett decided to attack as soon as possible. Two Indian regiments, with 2 field guns, were dispatched on the 3rd December, to reconnoitre Kurna, and to clear the enemy from the left bank of the Tigris. This was accomplished, and the force established itself in camp, There Major-General Fry joined it, with a column, on the 6th. A further reconnaissance of the enemy's position was carried out, when it was found that he had some 1,200 men and 6 guns entrenched at Muzaira'ah (Mazera), and 800 men and 4 guns at Kurna.
On the 7th December Muzaira'ah was attacked and captured, the enemy losing some 200 killed and 300 wounded, and being driven from the field.
On the 8th Kurna was attacked by the 18th Brigade, a battalion of the 16th Brigade, and some field guns, assisted by a bridging-party of sappers, and, by the Royal Naval flotilla from the river. All went well, and on the following day the enemy surrendered, when Kurna was occupied by our troops.
From this date until the end of the year there were occasional rumours of Turks assembling to the north of Kurna, but no further operations took place.
The following extracts from private diaries kept by officers of the 43rd are of considerable interest, as showing the life led by the Regiment during the opening phases of the Campaign.
On the introduction of the Four-Company system, the Companies of the 1st Battalion were lettered P, Q, R, S, in order to obviate confusion.
EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARY OF LIEUT. H. BIRCH-REYNARDSON :--
August 1st.—Rumours of Mobilization.
August 3rd.—Heard that the German Consul has left Bombay. We are supposed to be going to Egypt if we go anywhere.
August 5th.—Bombay Political wired that all officers are to be recalled from leave, as England has declared war on Germany.
August 11th.—Hear that the 3rd (Lahore) Division has sailed. The Poona Brigade of the 6th Division has mobilized, without horses, and with British servants provided by the 14th Hussars. We have a party of interned Germans here (Ahmednagar) now. They are treated very well, and the bazaars are not closed to them; in fact, we seem to be almost apologetic to them.
September 2nd.—News that the 6th (Poona) Division has been changed from "B" Force to "A" Force, which means East Africa. The Germans interned here are very uppish, and we very gentle.
September 8th.—About 6 p.m. wire received that our Brigade is to mobilize.
September 9th.—Medical Inspections. Boots nailed.
September 11th.—Packing of kits, etc.
September 14th.—Inspection of new great-coat carrier on C.O.'s Parade.
September 15th.—Bayonets sharpened.
September 26th.—Heard from Morland, who is attached to the H.-Q. Staff of 6th (Poona) Division, that we are for Egypt after all.
October l4th.—Our first battalion drill by night.
October 15th.—A rumour that all British troops, except those of the 1st Division, are to leave India.
October 31st.—Orders by wire to hold ourselves in readiness to embark at short notice.
November 2nd.—We are to be ready to move on Thursday (5th instant).
Hear that Turkey has come in, so our chances of going to Europe look poor.
November 3rd.—Hard at work packing up.
November 4th.—No further news of our departure tomorrow
November 6th.—Settling down again and carrying on.
The latest rumour is that we shall probably go to Akaba or Basra.
November l4th.—After different daily rumours as to the date of our departure, we now have definite orders to entrain for Bombay on Tuesday next, 17th instant, sleeping at the station on Monday night. The l/4th Dorsets (T.F.), our relief, are to arrive here from England at 1 a.m. tomorrow.
November 15th.—Fresh orders that we will not leave till Wednesday.
November 17th.—Went for a route march in the morning. At 11 a.m. received a feverish order that we were to march out this very afternoon at 4 o'clock; hence a fearful rush. Having reached the station at 5.30 p.m., we were told to lie down in a field and wait. The field turned out to be the cantonment refuse ground ! Something happened to our train (possibly another regiment took it); so we did not get off until 4 a.m. next day.
November 18th.—Train left at 5 a.m.; arrived at Poona at 11.10 a.m., had a poor breakfast, and on again. Lunched at Kalyan at 4 p.m., but the men got very little. We arrived at Bombay at 7 p.m., four hours behind time. Spent the night at the station.
November 19th.—Marched from Victoria Sidings to Alexandra Dock, and embarked on B.I.M.S. "Tongwa" at about 9 a.m.
November 20th.—Sailed at 6.35 a.m. Ship rather crowded.
November 2lst.—At sea. Cooler.
November 23rd.—Off Bunder Abbas in the evening.
November 25th.—Passed Bushire at 1-p.m,
November 26th.—Woke up to find ships all round us. The ships that brought the 33rd Light Cavalry and 119th Infantry arrived at about 7.30 a.m. Hear that we are to go on to Mohammerah, and thence march to Basra. The Turks have gone to Baghdad, and the Arabs are friendly, which means no fighting for some time, and everyone wants to know why we have come here.
November 27th.—Steamed off at 5.30 a.m., and reached Fao at about 9. Country perfectly flat, with a dense belt of date palms on either bank of the river, which is winding and has many creeks; After Fao, we passed the end of the Anglo-Persian pipe line— Abadan, the depot. The river full of transports. At 12.30 p.m. we stopped about 10 miles below Mohammerah. Many ships directly above and below us. No news at all, and nobody knows anything. The ship with the 33rd Light Cavalry on board had a collision, is badly holed, and has been beached. Sixteen men are said to have been drowned in landing from a lighter. Very cold.
November 28th.—Heavy gale all the morning. Heard a few details of the fight here (Zain). The Turks lost some 2,000 and 6 guns, while our casualties were 400 odd, of which 140 belonged to the Dorsets. Our people fought from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then pursued by night, capturing Basra next day.
News this evening that our gunboats have reached the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates (Kurna).
No orders, but the idea is that we shall stay here for 4 or 5 days, as the Turks have blocked the Shatt-el-Arab by sinking a Hamburg-Amerika liner and other vessels in the stream.
December 1st.—Still no orders. General Dobbie arrived in the afternoon, and we hope that this means a move.
December 3rd.—The Colonel and three others went ashore to look at the battlefield. Ordered to be ready to start at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Heard that we are to go into camp 5 miles above Basra.
December 4th.—Started at 3 p.m., and anchored just below Basra at 6 p.m. River scenery quite pretty, and houses very picturesque. It is cold, but there is no wind, and there seems to be less current.
December 5th.—Arrived at Camp Magil at about 10 a.m., and began disembarking about 12. The Regiment was sent ashore by companies in a launch and lighter, and went into camp in a clearing among the palms. This was the proposed terminus of the Baghdad Railway, and a rail depot. We hear that, near Mohammerah, the Arabs turned against the Turks, and later were just starting to sack Basra when our gunboats turned up. Report that the Turks got a doing yesterday. Reinforcements leave tomorrow.
December 6th.—Busy unloading ship and clearing ground. Pitched tents in the morning, and now we have quite a good camp. In the evening there arrived a river boat which had been in action the day before yesterday at Kurna. It mounted two field guns on the top deck, and a gunner told me that they had done good-work against the Turks, smashing their guns and clearing their trenches. The Turks have retired to a fort, which is to be attacked tomorrow, and the boat is now taking a battery of mountain guns on board,
December 7th.—Most of the day spent in unloading stores, wood; mules, etc..
General Barrett (commanding the 6th Division) came round the camp in the morning.
December 8th.—Morning spent on fatigues and road-making. In the afternoon we buried the Naval officers and sailors who had been killed at Kurna on the 4th. We are told that the Turks are pretty well boxed up at Kurna, so no one can see much of a job left for us.
December 9th.—Alterations made in our outpost positions, the line being taken farther forward. At lunch-time we saw a wire saying that the Turks under Subhi Bey, late Vali of Basra, surrendered unconditionally at Kurna to General Fry this morning. This looks like the end of the show for us, as a big fight had been expected here.
December 10th.—Outpost duty, improving communications, etc. The "Tongwa" is to take 2,000 Turkish prisoners to Rangoon.
December 12th.—Some of us went to Basra by river in a bellum. The native town is fascinating, and the whole place most interesting. The bazaars are all roofed in, the effect being a mass of subdued colours.
December 13th.—Parade Service at 11 a.m. In the afternoon had a ride into the desert; much mud as well as sand.
December 14th.—Company drill in the desert in the morning. In the afternoon tried fishing from a boat (spinning with a very home-made spoon), but without success. No news of any kind.
December 21st.—A cold drizzling rain nearly all day; We are hoping for a move forward. A quantity of mule transport has gone up to-day.
December 22nd.—Route march in the morning. In the afternoon by river to Basra.
December 24th.—Battalion drill and route march. Went to Basra to try to get hams for the men's Christmas dinners, but found the S. and T people not very enthusiastic. Had tea with the Dorsets, and heard more about the fight at Zain. There seems to have been very little reconnoitring.
December 28th.—Brooke was sent with a party up the Euphrates, to search a suspected village, and brought back 20 rifles—mostly Martinis.
December 29th.—We were roused at 5.30 this morning, and told that we were to be off by 8 a.m. "Field Service Kit without tents" —an order which surprised us considerably. Embarked on the "Blosse Lynch" at 8.30, and got off at 9.30. Arrived at Kurna about 5 p.m., when we heard all sorts of rumours. Opinions seem to be divided about the enemy—whether Turks or Arabs. At 9 p.m. we were told that a night attack was expected, and we were sent to man the rather sketchy trenches of the perimeter. Very cold night, but nothing happened.
December 30th.—At 11 a.m. we were told that we were to move, at 1 p.m., by land, four miles north, to protect a bridging party of sappers. It appears that the Turks in force (numbers not definitely ascertained) have taken up a position some 8 miles north of us, and have some guns. At 12.15 we were told that we were not going to-day, and were to unload our kit, ammunition, etc., from the boat, which had been got ready. The G.O.C. says that we shall probably now make one job of this, and start from here at 5 a.m. tomorrow.
December 31st.—Roused at 4 a.m. Having got all the men up, and the kit packed, we were suddenly told to lie down again, as the show was postponed. It appears that the counter-order was given out last night, but never reached us. From what we can hear, no one seems to be very clear as to the numbers or whereabouts of the enemy, or how to reach his supposed position.