1915 JUNE - JULY EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
Boat attack on the Bahran position.
From Lieut. J. J. Powell's Diary. June 1st.—Reported to Headquarters at 4.30 a.m., and was dispatched at once to discover if the 119th were going round the north of Gun Hill to the position of assembly north-west of the hill. I found them in considerable difficulties, as the channel was not deep enough for those cumbrous M.G. rafts. The Brigade Commander now turned up, and sent me off to bring our Regiment that way also. Eventually I brought the Regiment along, but in the meanwhile Morland had found a better channel more to the west, through which all the boats were passed.
In yesterday's operations the armoured boats were absolutely nowhere, so we were ordered to remove all armour (except that on the M.G. rafts), and leave it on Tower and Gun Hills.
The bombardment of Bahran commenced at 5 a.m. The 5-inch, 4.7-inch, and 4-inch guns seemed to be doing good work, and frequently the whole position was hidden in clouds of smoke and dust But there was no response either from Bahran or from Mazeeblah.
The attack was to be made on the west of the enemy's position. As we gradually approached through very dense and tall reeds, we saw no signs of the enemy until 7 a.m., when one of our aeroplanes appeared flying north-east, and then circled back south-west. As it passed! north-east of Bahran we heard very heavy rifle fire, which we afterwards discovered was directed by the Turks on the aeroplane, though at the time .we thought that the Arabs had turned on the Turks and were firing into them. It appears that before 7 a.m. the aeroplane reported the enemy's position evacuated, but for some reason the message did not reach the guns until 8.15, so for upwards of an hour they had been firing at nothing !
At 8.45 a.m. we landed on the west side of Bahran, and Davenport, with a platoon of Q Company, pushed straight on to the north end of the island, in the hopes of catching some of the enemy ; but. unfortunately, they all got away. We found four empty emplacements, and wheel tracks down to the marsh; the limbers had not been removed.
At 9.15 a message came from Divisional Headquarters to say that our aeroplane reported that the whole Turkish position (including Mazeeblah, Rotah, and Sakricha) was evacuated, and at 10 a.m. the gunboats, followed by transports conveying the 16th Brigade, came up.
At 2 p.m., after mine-sweeping had been carried out, the gunboats pushed on ; and by 3 p.m., the river obstruction having been removed, the gunboats passed it, and were going hard up river.
During that afternoon the 16th Brigade disembarked on Bahran, and the 17th Brigade embarked (the Regiment on "P. 2"). The heat and glare on this island, without a suspicion of shade, was almost incredible. The enemy's trenches formed two distinct positions, and were very well sited. A letter was found written by a German (named Muller), in charge of the mine arrangements at Bahran, to another German (named Gottlieb) at Tower Hill. The writer ordered Gottlieb to get plenty of stores from Kurnah(?), and also wrote : "I do not know when they will retire, but probably next week." "They" must have referred to the Turks. Gottlieb was probably the white man shot by Corporal Purseglove running or swimming in the marsh from Norfolk Hill.
The system of mines was most complete and extensive mines being laid in the river and the marshes, and arranged to be electrically fired by means of hundreds of yards of f-inch cable leading from observation posts at Bahran, Gun Hill, and Tower Hill. A switch-board and cells were discovered and put out of action by Powell. None of these mines were fired by the enemy, but we exploded five near Tower Hill by rifle fire, and it is said that about 20 more have been recovered from the river.
The gun captured on Tower Hill was used in the bombardment of Bahran, by Gilpin (R.F.A.), and some of his battery, who had been trained previously with captured Turkish guns, at Basra.
Lieut Birch-Reynardson's Diary. June 2nd.—Started at 5 a.m. on "P. 2" for Ezra's Tomb. Passed Mazeeblah at 1.30 p.m.; the Turkish camp abandoned—also four limbers. In sight of Ezra's Tomb at 1.45. The river so far has been very winding. "Pear Drop Bend" is very nearly a complete circle. At 2.30 arrived at Ezra's Tomb, and 2.45 we were ordered to tranship everything from "P. 2" to the barges alongside. These were then slipped, and at 3.30 p.m. R and S Companies went ashore. Powell discovered that the Turks had left this place in such a hurry that they forgot to destroy the telegraph line, and he got into communication with Basra almost at once.
We have heard what the gunboats did after leaving Bahran yesterday afternoon. They pushed on hard, and just below Ezra's Tomb came up with the retreating Turks, who cast off the mahelas which they had in tow, after being shelled. Besides casualties inflicted by shellfire and through drowning, 500 prisoners, 4 guns, 7 iron barges, several mahelas, many mines and bombs, much material, and a quantity of stores were captured. (During the day the Turks lost 74 killed, 216 prisoners, and 3 field-guns.—ed.)
The gunboats then pursued vigorously in the moonlight, in spite of considerable danger from mines; the enemy's large gunboat "Marmaris," after being shelled, was set on fire and abandoned by the Turks, while the armed launch "Bulbul" was sunk. The "Mosul," a large passenger boat, hoisted the white flag after being struck by one shell, and, with its stores, was captured intact and in working order. The only boats to get away were the Commander's motor launch, and the "Evirirude" (our stolen motor-boat), with some Germans on board, for whom a reward of a thousand rupees has been offered.
At present our Headquarters and R and S Companies are billeted in the caravanserai built round the Tomb, and the 17th Brigade Headquarters are just outside. The 22nd Punjabis are also on this side of the river (in camp), while the 103rd and 119th are camped on the opposite side. We hear that Kearsley had to go sick with a touch of the sun, after burying poor Brooke at the foot of Norfolk Hill.
June 3rd.—A half-ruined, two-storied caravanserai of yellow brick, 200 yards square, encloses the Tomb proper. A forecourt, of the ordinary local flat brick, supported by massive pillars, leads to the shrine, which is in excellent repair.
It is about 20 feet square, and its walls are decorated with white, blue, and yellow arabesques, while the floor is composed of slabs of beautifully coloured marble, with small blocks of black marble inlaid at the angles. In the centre of the room is the actual tomb, but all that can be seen is a wooden ark (15 X 15 X 10), covered in green velvet, with corner posts, surmounted by large silver knobs. The exterior of the shrine is in poor repair, except the central dome which is still beautiful. For three-fourths of its height it is built of yellow, blue, green, and red tiles, set in a pattern. The remainder— the top—of the dome is composed of perfect glazed tiles, every one slightly different in shade, from lilac, through every shade of blue, green, and deep purple. In the sun the effect is blue; in the shadows deep sea-green; and this evening, in the sunset, it shone like gold.
The 16th Brigade, from Bahran, passed up river this afternoon, so we have been left behind again. We are doing nothing much here, which, I think, makes us feel the heat all the more. Still, I suppose that everyone wants a rest.
June 4th.—The captured mahelas are being searched; one is full of mines and explosives. This morning I went up to have a look at the proceedings; there were stacks of rifles of every kind, and piles of ammunition, besides huge cooking-pots (some 5 ft. or more in diameter), sacks of coffee, grain, yakdans for mule transport, samovars, etc. The heat is really bad, and the men are going sick one after another-—mostly fever and some heat-stroke.
hear today that 30 officers and nearly 2,000 men surrendered to General
Townshend at Amara. The General's force consisted of the "Shaitan,"
"Sumana," and "Comet," with their, crews—perhaps 30 in
all. But now matters are safe enough, as the 16th Brigade have arrived there.
Our total captures now amount to 80 officers and upwards of 2,500 men.At 3 p.m. the " Blosse Lynch" came in, and we got orders to embark at 5 p.m.; S Company to remain behind and come up with the 22nd Punjabis, while we take up a Company of the latter, to be dropped as a guard over the stranded aeroplane.
Left Ezra's Tomb (Azair) at 7 p.m., and at 11 p.m. dropped the Company of the 22nd at the aeroplane place, and tied up alongside for the night at the Devil's Elbow.
June 6th.—A dreadful night in a crowded ship, with mosquitoes and heat.
Started again at 5 a.m., and reached Kalat Salih (Qalat Salih) at 9 a.m. The place is about the size of Kurna, but much cleaner "and smarter in appearance. Thank goodness the 119th are to provide the garrison here, and not ourselves, as we had been told.
Steamed on again all day through flat country, but real land, instead of interminable marshes. Even the Mesopotamian imitation of green grass looked lovely. On the banks were to be seen cattle, sheep, and a good many rather poor-looking ponies. The inhabitants (mostly of the marsh Arab variety) crowded to the banks to watch us, while the men and boys jumped in and swam for the bread and biscuits which the soldiers threw for them. We ran aground several times, as the steering was made difficult by reason of the number of bellums which we are towing; and we shed bellums as we went.
At 6 p.m. we had our first sight of hills away to the east, and wonderfully beautiful they looked to us who had seen nothing but the dead flat for the past seven months.
We reached Amara at 8.30 p.m., and remained on board for the night.
June 7th.—This morning we had our first view of Amara from the boat Situated on the left (east) bank of the river, there is a front of about half a mile in length of very good brick houses, generally with great wooden projecting windows, and about the centre a yellow and blue minaret, with a considerable lean on it. On the right bank are many walled date-gardens, and a few rather nice-looking houses. The river is crossed at the upper end of the town by a very rickety Turkish bridge of boats.
We took all day disembarking men and stores. Our billets are at the back of the town on a canal, flowing out of the Tigris, and itself a considerable river in appearance. We had to trans-ship, by platoons, on to the "Sumana" (stern-wheeler), go up stream, and then down this canal, until we were opposite our billets, where we were landed. My platoon, the last to go, did not land until about 4 p.m.
The billets are in two granaries, one for the men, and the other for the officers. There are large courtyards, with lean-to roofs, supported on pillars, running round all four sides, with a large unroofed area in the middle. Under the roofed portions tons of barley and millet are stored at present, so there is little room for us, and practically no air. However, there is a considerable amount of flat roof —enough for the whole battalion to sleep out on.
Colonel Gamble took over command of our Brigade from Colonel Climo.
June 11th.—The heat here in the middle of the day is terrific today 119° in the shade. But I do not think that it is as damp as it was lower down the river. If it is true that we are to remain here until September it is a poor look-out.
The story that General Townshend with Sir Percy Cox (Political) and Captain Nunn (senior Naval Officer) and 30 men took this place is perfectly true. The whole thing seems to have been done by sheer bluff, General Townshend telling the Turks that he had more gunboats and all his force just round the bend of the river. It appears that the Turks were beginning to smell a rat, and that the 16th Brigade turned up only just in time.
June 13th.—We are doing an hour's parade in the morning and another in the evening; no other work. Rumour says that we are going on to Baghdad. At present there are supposed to be only 2 Turkish and 2 Arab battalions, with 12 guns, in front of us; but there may be other forces on the Euphrates.
Some of General Gorringe's Advanced Guard arrived today. It is a good deal owing to his march from Ahwaz, which threatened the retreat of the Turks (by their left flank), that the enemy evacuated his positions near Kurna in such a' hurry. The Turkish troops opposed to General Gorringe, under Daghastani, have eluded capture by dispersing into the marshes, though the advanced parties walked into Amara, not knowing that we were here, and were captured.
From Lieut. J. J. Powell's Diary. June 14th.—One of the aeroplanes made a reconnaissance to Kut, and found about 3,000 men entrenched there. The 7th Hariana Lancers arrived, being the first part of the column from Ahwaz. General Townshend has gone sick with fever. News from Basra that Carter has been invalided to India. Both Henley and Kearsley are in Basra, doing well. Several of the Staff here have already gone sick.
June 15th.—The 7th Lancers came over to our side of the Jahalah Canal this morning. They are only 250 strong, with three of their own British officers, the others having gone to France at the beginning of the war. The aeroplanes flew down to Basra, as they are wanted for reconnaissance work at Nasiriyeh. They wished to do it from here, but were not allowed to. General Townshend has gone on three weeks' leave to Basra, and probably to India.
June 17th.—The 67th Punjabis have gone down to Basra to join their brigade. The "Salimi" arrived with officers who have been sent out from home for attachment. The Dorsets get 9; Norfolk 3 ; and we have 3.
June 18th.—The West Kents, 90th Punjabis, and 82nd Battery, R.F.A., arrived in the morning, having marched up from Ahwaz. General Gorringe sent them on, under Colonel Dunlop, from Khafa-jiyeh. All our heavy kits and ponies have come up from Kurna.
June 19th.—The West Kents went down to Basra, and the 90th Punjabis leave tomorrow. Nearly half the 103rd are sick with fever.
June 2lst.—A reconnaissance is to go up tomorrow to Ali-al-Gharbi, to dismantle the telegraph office, and bring in any Turks found there. The party goes up in "T. 2," escorted by H.M.S "Comet."
June 22nd.—Heard that all the Marsh Arabs near Kurna have come in, paid their fines, and handed in their rifles, so operations against them have ceased. General Gorringe is reported to have made a successful raid on the tribe who treacherously murdered Anderson, 33rd L.C., at Braikeh. Davenport and Kearsley arrived back from Basra. They tell us that the gun in the marshes at Rumlah has been found.
June 23rd —The D.D.M.S. Force, who arrived here yesterday, inspected the Regiment this morning, and said that we are the fittest battalion in the country. The l/4th Hants are, we hear, full of sickness, and have had to send a great many men back to India.
June 24th.—The Turks at Nasiriyeh are reported to be falling back to Kut, where they are entrenching hard. They have already blocked the river by anchoring barges full of bricks in the fairway. The reconnaissance to Ali-al-Gharbi returned, having failed to get there on account of the wind.
June 25th.—About 50 Turkish officials who were taken here are being sent down to Basra, as they will not keep their parole. Some of them have already escaped. News of trouble at Nejef between the Turks and the Mullahs, because the latter will not join the army. The Turks have desecrated some of the shrines and mosques. Nothing fresh from Nasiriyeh, except that Ajaimi is supposed to have removed himself into the desert.
June 26th.—Orders issued today for the 22nd Punjabis, 2 guns 82 Battery R.F.A., half company Sappers and Miners, and 1 troop 7th Lancers, to go up the river to Kumait, where they are to encamp, with a view to the forward move to Kut-el-Amara, as soon as the Turks from Shaiba, Nasiriyeh, and elsewhere have collected there.
June 27th.—Rode out in the morning with Duke, of the Signal Company, to look at the telegraph line between this place and the Bithaira Canal, as this will have to be put into a good state of repair for the detachment at Kumait. We found about two miles of it completely wrecked, and the poles removed, no doubt used as firewood. A good stretch of the desert is still under water, but it is drying up fast. We had to take a cavalry escort with us, as the attitude of the local tribes is still uncertain. General Delamain, who is commanding here now, went up with Colonel B. Johnson (22nd Punjabis) to reconnoitre the place. "P. 5," which took them up, stuck on a sandbank, so they returned in the "Lewis Pelly," now used as the Political Officer's launch.
From Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's Diary. June 29th.—Simpson, Price and 50 men, also Courtis with the machine-gun section, go up tomorrow to Ali-al-Gharbi on a reconnaissance. We know that there are some Turks there. They go in "T. 2," escorted by the "Shaitan."
July 1st.—The 119th arrived here this morning from Kalat Salih, having been relieved by the 20th Punjabis.
July 2nd.—The reconnaissance found Ali-al-Gharbi unoccupied, except for half a dozen officials, who were brought down. They had been previously warned by Leachman (Political) to clear out, but they evidently prefer being prisoners. We are apparently going on to Kut, as they say that the heavy batteries and howitzers are coming up. If it were not for the heat it would be all right.
July 6th.—The Flying Column (which includes our Brigade) paraded on the other side of Jahalah Canal at 7 a.m. There was some difficulty with the wheeled transport at the bridge; otherwise all went well.
July 7th.—It seems that operations are a bit sticky at Nasiriyeh, but it is difficult to get any authentic news. The Haquiqua (Hokeika) Channel has been forced after six days' fighting and 80 casualties, but we have taken 80 Turks and two guns. Gilpin (R.F.A.) has died of wounds; he was such a good fellow, and had done very well out here. To-day we hear that we have occupied Suk-es-Sheyukh (Market of the Sheikhs), but are still held off from Nasiriyeh by a strong position and plenty of Turks.
July 9th.—Brigade Parade. We did not get back until after 8 a.m., and the heat was very bad.
July 11th.—The Turks are said to be reinforcing Nasiriyeh from Kut, by way of the Shatt-el-Hai. We are to move up river to make a diversion shortly. The Turks are in position at Fillaifillah, between this place and Ali-al-Gharbi, and today 200 Dorsets and two 4.7-inch guns have gone up to deal with them.
July 12th.—We now hear that the Turks at Fillaifillah, instead of numbering only 200 with two guns, are in force, and in a very strong position in a loop of the river. We are all to go up and have a dig at them, but if the map of the position is correct, it may be a difficult job to clear them out.
July 15th.—Ordered to be ready to embark at 4.30 p.m.; all kits, stores, etc., put on board, but departure postponed until 4 a.m. tomorrow. Davenport and Q Company slept on board.
July 16th.—At 3 a.m. orders received to stand fast, and shortly afterwards we were told that we were not going. The Norfolks embarked, and, with the guns, went off at 9 a.m. to Nasiriyeh, where apparently more troops are wanted.
July 24th.—News about Nasiriyeh at last. A wire to say that General Gorringe had taken the Turks' advanced positions on both, banks of the Euphrates, capturing one gun, 2 machine-guns, and 300 prisoners. Later came the news that the job had been done, all the Turkish guns captured, and Nasiriyeh occupied.
July 27th.—General Gamble (our Brigadier) has gone on two months' sick leave, and St. John (Brigade-Major) has gone to join his regiment. Consequently, the 16th Brigade will probably move up instead of our Brigade, which is now under the temporary command of Colonel Browne (103rd), until the arrival of General Hoghton, who has been appointed to the command. Mundey has been promoted Captain. Davenport, Courtis, and Powell were also in the same Gazette, as Captains. The 16th Brigade and guns embarked for up river.
July 31st.—I had the two machine-guns out, and tested them. One absolutely struck work, and the other continually failed. It appears that they were issued in 1902 and 1903, and are worn out.
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