EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
EXTRACTS FROM LIEUT. BIRCH-REYNARDSON'S DIARY.
Camp Tigris (kurna).
January 1st, 1915.—Late last night it was settled to send only the Regiment, the 103rd, the 7th Rajputs, and some guns and sappers on the reconnaissance, under General Dobbie. My company, having been on outposts last night, was left in as camp guard with the 18th Brigade, who, however, were to move out if wanted. The force marched out at 6.30 a.m. At about 9 we heard a few rifle shots. At noon the news came through that they had found the Turkish force in position, and the "Espiegle" and Blosse Lynch," with one 18-pr., went up the river. Later, the Norfolks and 7th Rajputs marched out. No more news until 6 p.m., when we heard that the force was returning. They were back in camp by 7 p.m., having done nothing and never fired a shot. So we only missed a very dull day
January 2nd.—Digging most of the day. From yesterday's reconnaissance it appears that the Turks, about 1,500 to 2,000 strong, with 6 to 10 guns, are in a good position on both banks of the river 7 miles up From this bank their position cannot be dealt with without pontoons, owing to a broad and deep creek. Unfortunately we have no pontoons.
It rained hard last night, and the weather this morning was wet and cold and beastly, but the tents have arrived from Magil, and are being pitched. Up to today we have been in bivouac.
January 3rd.—Nothing doing at all, except improving our position. Our people are making extensive field-works below us at Kurna, to hold, rumour says, a Brigade. I hope that this is not true. On outpost last night, when it rained continuously, but the sun came out this morning and we got things dry.
January 4th.—More digging today. We have now got quite a good fortified camp. There is talk, of another reconnaissance in the near future. At present we are constantly subjected to sniping at night by Arabs in the pay of the Turks, but no harm is being done.
January 5th.—We played the Norfolks (officers) at football today, and beat them by 3 to 1, after a very good game. General Bobbie and Staff (including Stapleton) left for Magil. I think that something is really up, as the river is full of boats, mostly with steel plate protections on.
January 6th.—Last night we had to turn out at about 2 a.m., as the sniping became rather too much of a good thing. A party of Arabs came down the river bank just opposite our tents, and let fly like fun; luckily, they shot very high.
The day has been full of mild excitement. About 5 p.m. a large number of Arabs, with flags, were seen about 2 miles north-west of the camp, A section of guns was run out at once, and about 20 rounds were fired at them, when they appeared to disperse. However, at about 8 p.m., just as we were finishing dinner, there was a burst of fire from the other end of the camp, and someone shouted, "Put those lights out, Oxford." Accordingly we "doused the glim," and left our dinner unfinished. The Regiment stood to arms at once, but all was quiet for about an hour, except for distant shots in the marshes west of the camp. At about 9 the enemy came on again from the north, this time nearer, and they were chanting what sounded like "Allah Illahi" over and over again and quite regularly —rather an uncanny proceeding! They were firing pretty heavily, and we could hear the bullets against the palm trees, and sometimes against the tents. It was pitch dark, but presently the guns opened with star shell, which threw a little light on the scene. The Norfolks and 7th Rajputs opened rapid fire. We ourselves did not get a look-in, as we were on the south face of the perimeter. Firing continued until 10.30 p.m., when the moon rose, and the Arabs went home to bed. So did we.
January 7th.—Afraid of our ponies being hit by snipers, so spent the morning digging cover for them. At 5 p.m. a section of guns at the north end of the camp, and the "Medjidieh" (with one gun), started shelling the Arabs. At 8 p.m. we heard that the Arabs were collected in force, about to attack. We all turned out, but nothing happened.
January 8th.—The "Medjidieh" again went up the river, and spent the morning shelling an Arab camp. It appears that yesterday a patrol of the 120th nearly got caught, and lost 15 rifles in swimming a creek.
January 9th.—Only a very few shots last night. Today very cold, with awful wind and rain. The camp almost under water.
The Arabs collected again at the same place, to get another shelling. At 9 p.m. received orders to move camp across the river at 8 a.m. tomorrow. Searchlights were working at Kurna tonight for the first time.
January 10th.—Roused at 5 a.m. The Regiment ^packed up, was on parade at 8, and on board the "Blosse Lynch" by 9; reached the other side (left bank) of the river at 10 am., and then had a hard day's work moving kits, tents, stores, etc., two miles east across the desert to a camping ground just north of the trees outside Mazera village. On the way we passed several Turkish trenches, used by the enemy when we attacked Kurna. The pariah dogs had dug up most of the corpses.
January 11th.—Luckily there was no sniping last night. Spent all the morning unloading more stores on the river bank. General Barrett visited us. This is a dreadful camp, full of flies off the corpses; and now, just as we have got things ship-shape, they say that we may have to move again, as we are visible to the Turks at Halla.
January 12th.—Yes, we have moved, about half a mile south, into a filthy garden, formerly occupied by the Turks. A dead horse, several skulls, and some live shells were among the "curios" found on the ground on which we had to bivouac. Spent the day in clearing up all the rubbish and in digging trenches.
January 13th.—Working parties on redoubts 4 and 5, being constructed to the north of the camp. These are all part of the Kurna position, which is to be astride the river, as the Aleppo Army Corps is supposed to be coming here to oust us.
January l4th.—No sniping last night, and I got my first sleep in bed for four nights—very pleasant. This morning all marksmen and first-class shots in the Regiment were paraded, under Foljambe, to go out and shoot pariah dogs. I went out with a shotgun and "destructor " bullets. It is a beastly job, but very necessary. We got about 35.
January 15th.—Sniped rather heavily last night, and we had to turn out. I do not think that this will be a bad camp when we have got it cleaned up, as it is in a belt of palm trees, and there are the remains of a vegetable garden, with peas, beans, lettuces, and tomatoes, also figs and a few apricots.
January 16th.—Sniped again last night. Very cold and unpleasant. No. 3 Redoubt turned on its new searchlight.
January 17th.—More sniping last night, but we are getting used to it now. In the morning my company was digging at No. 4 redoubt. We now have five self-contained redoubts in a semicircle some way in advance of the general perimeter of the camp. The left flank of the position is on the Tigris, and the right runs down towards the Shatt-el-Arab, but there is still rather a wide gap between the right redoubt and the river bank. Wire entanglements have been completed in most parts, and searchlights and landmines established in front of one redoubt.
January 18th.- During dinner this evening we were warned by the Intelligence that 1,000 Turks were moving by boat down the Suwaib River, to the east of the camp, but they never materialized.
January 19th.—While working this morning, news began to trickle round that we are going to have a show tomorrow. General Barrett arrived. The Colonel saw all officers before lunch, and explained what is going to happen. P and Q Companies advanced guard, with the 33rd L.C. (less two squadrons). The remainder of us in first line, with the 103rd on our left, and the 22nd and 119th in second line; Norfolks, general reserve; two companies 7th Rajputs rear-guard; two batteries of artillery (less one section); and 1 battery of mountain guns. The Navy will co-operate.'
January 20th.—Breakfast at 4 a.m., and paraded north-east of camp at 4.45. After some waiting, moved off at 5.15. The advanced guard came under rifle fire at 6.45 a.m , and we deployed from platoons into file. We soon reached the sand-hills, from which we were intended to drive the enemy; but he had already retired before the advanced guard, and was firing from a position which he had taken up in a marsh lying between the sand-hills and his main position. At 7.30 a.m. our guns (about 150 yards to the left of us) came into action, and the 22nd moved into the gap between us and the 103rd, who had been directed farther to the left—towards the river. At 7.55 a.m. the Turkish guns began to reply, at first with common shell, and then with shrapnel. They appeared to have almost the exact range of our guns, but, luckily, all their shells burst high and a bit beyond, so very little damage was done. They then switched on to us, but we also were lucky, especially as we were lying in the open desert. At 9 a.m. we advanced over the sand-hills and into the marsh beyond, and as we crossed the latter, which was in places knee-deep and very hard going, we came under enfilade fire from the opposite bank of the Tigris.
We then formed a firing-line about a thousand yards from their camp, which was on the far side of the Rotah canal; but they were difficult to see, and I do not think that our fire was very effective. At 11.30 a.m., when all seemed to be going quite well, and we could see a lot of Arabs streaming away from their position, we were ordered to retire. At this time only one of the enemy's guns was still firing, and that very intermittently; the sloop "Espiegle" and the "Medjidieh," supporting us from the river with gun fire, had set on fire the village of Rotah, and Halla, another village, had been blown up. Everyone was much disappointed at not being allowed to go on and finish the job. We marched back to camp, arriving at 2.15 p.m. The Regiment was complimented by the G.O.C. The total casualties in the force were 9 killed and 55 wounded, of which the Regiment had 14 wounded.
January 22nd.—We hear from two prisoners that the enemy lost about 400 and that their force (Turks and Arabs) was between 3,000 and 4,000. Askari Bey, the Commander, is supposed to have been wounded by shrapnel. The local Arabs appear to regard the withdrawal of our reconnaissance as equivalent to a defeat, and their attitude towards us has undergone a noticeable change. The Jehad is growing more popular.
January 23rd-25th.—Nothing of interest. A good deal of rain and the whole place a sea of mud.
January 28th.—The heavy guns (24-lb "cow-guns") were brought in today. They look very fine with their teams of 16 grey and white oxen, but the guns themselves are very old
January 29th.— the Colonel sent for all officers and told us that the Turks were expected to attack tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock, but that doubtless this was a mistake on the part of the Intelligence, who probably meant 10 o'clock this very night. Whittall and I, with No. 10 Platoon, were sent forthwith to reinforce the 3A trenches, and, as we had no time to see about taking bedding, we spent a very cold night.
January 30th.—At 1.20 a.m. we were awakened by the sounds of heavy firing from our rear, and as we had no parados to our trenches, this was distinctly a nuisance. We stood to arms, but it was all over by 2 a.m. At daylight we picked up 5 killed and 8 wounded Turks (including an officer) between No. 1 Redoubt and the eastern face of the perimeter The casualties on our side were 8 wounded, and 3 horses and 1 camel killed. Among the wounded was Major Farmer, commanding the heavy guns, who had only arrived a few hours before. The cavalry went out to see what they could find, but started a bit late. They succeeded, however, in killing 6 and wounding several, with a loss to themselves of 1 Jemadar killed and 3 men wounded. The wounded Turkish officer says that he arrived at Rotah (Ratta) from Mosul three days ago, that his force numbered 200, and that they were only engaged on a regular reconnaissance which they made every ten days. This is probably all untrue. Most of the wounded Turks were armed with hand-grenades.
January 31st.—In the evening there were more "alarms and excursions." Another night attack supposed to be coming off Two companies of the Norfolks and the 20th were brought over from Kurna to reinforce us, so we went out to the trenches with loins girded. However, we only got the ordinary Arab snipers at about 3 a.m., whereat we all turned out and stood to arms, got very cold, and then went to bed again.
February 1st.—It is getting quite hot now in the middle of the day, though still cold at night. About every sixth nigbt one's turn comes to sleep out with one's platoon in either No. 3 Redoubt, held by a whole company, or in the 3A trenches, which are garrisoned by one platoon. Then once or often twice a week one has to sleep in the trenches of the perimeter. So really there are two sets of outposts, and as a rule only one company spends the night in tents.
February 2nd.—Heard tonight that 1,000 Turks are expected to attack, so the whole force was on outpost.
February 3rd.—Last night's alarm was false. My platoon's first night in tents for six nights.
February 5th.—About 4.30 p.m. large numbers of Arabs with flags appeared on the other side of the river, beyond Camp Tigris. The "Espiegle" and the Kurna guns shelled them, and the "Miner" went up river and got into them with 3-prs and machine-guns. They say that they laid a lot of them out.
February 6th.—We went into No. 3 Redoubt at 1 p.m., paraded at 3, and the Viceroy inspected us at 4 p.m.
February 8th.—Some sniping last night. The 119th bagged one Arab and wounded another. Whenever there is sniping, we hear shots from a very large-bore rifle (I should think about .500). No one has seen the Arab who uses it, but the men have christened him "Blunderbuss Bill."
February 9th.—The West Kent Regiment has arrived. Our men are being trained to use the native boats (bellums). Morland is to command the Bellum Brigade and I the Regimental boats. This is a new departure and should be interesting, but what the boats are to be used for we do not know yet—possibly for "strafing" marsh Arabs.
February 11th.—Very wet and cold. On fatigue in the morning, filling in old Turkish trenches, which they think are used at night by snipers. Unearthed a lot of very dead Arabs—a beastly job. We had an alarm tonight, an attack thought to be imminent, so we all slept in the trenches. This morning Courtis stuck a pig measuring 35 ½ inches and scaling 280 lb, when dressed.
February 12th.—Not even a sniper put in an appearance last night. The Tigris is rising rapidly.
February 14th.—Hard at work with the bellums morning and afternoon. We had to use shovels, as there were no paddles. Each company has one boat, with a crew of eight men. Some of the men from the neighbourhood of the Thames are all right, but it will take a lot of patience and practice to make anything of the others.
February 15th.—No excitements. I think everyone is getting very slack and stale. This inaction is very bad for us all. It rained hard all night.
From the Diary of Lieut. J. J. Powell (regimental signalling! officer).
February 16th.—"S" Battery R.H.A. and 16th Cavalry are reported to have arrived at Basra, and are to remain there for the present. All shipping on the river is being collected at Basra ready for an advance up the Karun River, as some days ago the Turks cut the oil-pipe line between Ahwaz and Abadan. The water everywhere is rising very quickly; Fort Snipe, on the opposite bank, above Kurna, will soon be under water, so it is to be rebuilt about 300 yards inland.
February 17th.—Half the Norfolks left Kurna at 10 a.m., after 12 hours' notice, for Ahwaz, with orders to trans-ship at Basra, as all vessels are wanted here for moving troops, owing to the sudden rise of water. During last night the river bank was broken through at twenty-two places hereabouts, and the water among the trees rose nine inches, completely isolating No. 4 Redoubt, which has, consequently, to be abandoned. The road to Gunner Pier was also broken. This afternoon we had all available men on fatigue, building a bund in hopes of stopping the water, but it seems impossible to build it fast enough.
The Sheikh of Mohammerah (at the mouth of the Karun) is experiencing great difficulty in calling up his men, on account of: the Jehad which the Turks have preached against us, and which it is thought may spread to Persia and Afghanistan. The force at Ahwaz now consists of 1 platoon of the Dorsets, the 7th Rajputs, half the 44th Merwaras, 1 double-company 4th Rajputs, 1 section R.F.A., and 1 squadron cavalry, the whole under General Robinson.
The 16th Cavalry has been ordered from Basra to Shaiba, but as the floods between the two places are three feet deep, they cannot go at present.
February 18th.—The water last night rose half an inch, but even that means a considerable spread over the country; there is now, in front of the sand-dunes, a strip of dry ground only 700 yards wide, and the water is still flowing in from the Tigris and the Suwaib. The Regiment continues to build bunds to check the water. The 76th Battery ordered to proceed to Basra, and the Ammunition Column is to follow.
February 19th.—A small reconnoitring party of Turks came down in the night. One of their officers was wounded and captured. The West Kents and 90th Punjabis ordered to cross over to Kurna, to take the place of the Norfolks and another battalion, ordered to proceed to Basra.
February 20th —The water is spreading fast. The 76th Battery left here today. A column moving from Shaiba to Basra was attacked by Muntafik Arabs, under Ajaimi. A Proclamation, declaring the. British, policy, has been issued to the whole of the Basra Villayet. Rumours that we have been attacked at Ahwaz.
February 2lst.—104th Heavy Battery ordered to proceed to Gumat Ali (6 miles above Basra); 90th Punjabis to garrison Fort Snipe; 18th Brigade remain at Basra; 16th Brigade have gone to attack Ajaimi; 119th are moving camp to the trees in front of our perimeter, as the water is coming into their old camp.
February 22nd.—The Hospitals and Mule Corps are moving their camps, owing to the floods. The pontoons for a bridge across the Tigris between Kurna and Mazera have arrived. There is to be a cut in the middle (135 feet) to allow shipping to pass. Bunds are being built along all the redoubts and round the camp to check the water.
February 23rd.—Two Persians surrendered to our cavalry patrol; they say that the Turkish camp at Rotah is nearly flooded out. Apparently the Jehad is not proving a success; nearly all the tribes, including the Bakhtiaris near Shuster, have come in and joined the Sheikh of Mohammerah
February 24th.—The Turks are believed to be collecting near Nasariyeh (Euphrates) for an advance on Basra. They have brought some steamers down the Shatt-el-Hai from Kut-el-Amara, but it is reported that they are short of coal. Another rumour says that Army Corps from Konia and Mosul are collecting at Kut. The 33rd Cavalry, less 1 troop, leave tomorrow for Basra.
February 25th.—The water has come into East trenches and right up to the face of No. 3 Redoubt, and was only kept out of the redoubt by a bund being built across the front.
February 26th.—The floods are coming into the camp. The 63rd Battery leaves for Basra to-morrow, the 12th Brigade to go there also; while the 17th Brigade looks after Kurna and Mazera. P and Q Companies, under Hyde, go over to Kurna tomorrow.
February 27th.—Went over to Kurna with Hyde to look at the site of the camp; there is not much room, as the ground is intersected by irrigation ditches worse than at Magil, there being only just room for a tent between each two ditches. We walked over by the bridge, which is at last finished. I laid out wire to the forts which we hold, viz., Forts Peebles and Fraser. The two companies came over in the morning, having to man-handle all the carts across the bridge. Half the West Kents went down to Basra.
February 28th.—The remainder of the Regiment crossed to Kurna. We hold half the perimeter at night with a company and a half, and the 103rd will hold the remainder when they come over. The 22nd Punjabis are to remain at Mazera, building themselves an enclosed work on the site of their camp. The remainder of the West Kents went down to Basra.