EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
From the Diary of Lieut. J. J. Powell (regimental signalling officer).
March 1st.—General Davison and Staff, with the 90th Punjabis, went down to Basra. The 119th relieved the 90th at Fort Snipe with half a battalion.
March 3rd.—Rumours that there has been some heavy fighting at Shaiba. H.M.S. "Miner," with an armed pinnace, went up the Euphrates to take soundings in Lake Hamar.
March 4th.— The Observation Tower which the sappers are erecting is very nearly finished. It will be 100 feet high.
March 7th.—The 119th received sudden orders to embark on the ''Blosse Lynch" and proceed to Basra. Fort Snipe was taken over by a double company of the 103rd. We had letters today giving particulars of the fighting at Ahwaz. It appears that our people had gone out 800 strong to make a reconnaissance, when suddenly some 5,000 Arabs appeared from behind some hills and surrounded the force, who had to cut their way through In the process we lost one 18-pr gun and limber, and half a mountain gun. Our casualties were heavy—10 British officers killed and wounded. Three of the Rajputs were cut off, and afterwards their bodies were found terribly mutilated. We can get no details of the fight at Shaiba, but only the cavalry seem to have been engaged
March 8th.—Went up the Observation Tower in the afternoon; from the top I could see the Turkish gunboat "Marmaris" near Mazeeblah village, a large camp close by, and another camp east of the clump of trees at Rotah. The official report of the fighting at Ahwaz and at Shaiba has been received. At the former place the enemy's casualties are supposed to have amounted to 1,400 killed and wounded, while at Shaiba the cavalry retired in front of 1,500 Arabs and drew them on to the Dorsets, who were entrenched ready for them.
March 9th.—Fort Snipe was evacuated by the 103rd. In the afternoon three of us rode over to Mazera, and found that No. 3. Redoubt had been completely washed away.
Lieut. Birch-Reynardson’s Diary March 11th.—About 10.30 last night there were two tremendous explosions, which sounded as if our cow-guns had opened fire.
No one knew what had happened, but this morning it-was discovered that the Turks had floated down two mines, hoping to bag the "Odin" or smash the pontoon bridge. They hit the bank instead. This is a new departure. We hear definitely that our stolen motor-boat is in the Turkish camp at Rotah. However, the shooting season is over, so it does not matter. Murphy returned from the Base Depot, Basra.
So far the 6th Division, with its Divisional Troops, and the 12th Brigade, have been running the Mesopotamian Campaign practically alone. I will repeat the composition of the Division :--
Divisional troops. 10th Brigade R.F.A. 23rd and 30th Mountain Batteries. 33rd Cavalry. 34th Divisional Signal Company. 17th and 22nd Field Companies R.E. 48th Pioneers. 6th Divisional Ammunition Column. Three Field Ambulances.
Other forces in the country. 86th and 104th Heavy Batteries, R.G.A. 12th Brigade. Royal Naval Flotilla, consisting of various gunboats and other armed vessels.
The following shows the distribution of the Division:
At Shaiba.-- 16th Brigade, less 20th Punjabis, plus 119th Infantry 18th Brigade, less 7th Rajputs. 10th Brigade, R.F.A. (63rd, 76th, and 82nd Batteries). 30th Mountain Battery. 17th and 22nd Field Companies R.E. Two Field Ambulances.
At Basra. 20th Punjabis. 1 Section 104th Heavy Battery, R.G.A. 86th Heavy Battery, R.G.A.
At Kurna. 17th Brigade, less 119th Infantry. 1 Section 104th Heavy Battery, R.G.A. No. 1 Field Ambulance.
The 34th Divisional Signalling Company at Shaiba, Basra, and Kurna, at which places also are distributed the units of the 12th Brigade, which arrived at Basra on 31st January, under the command of Brigadier-General Davison, viz. :-- 2nd Royal West Kent Regiment 90th Punjabis. 4th Rajputs. 44th Mewaras.
March 12th.—We hear that another brigade—the 33rd (under General Gorringe), consisting of the l/4th Hants (T.F.), 11th Rajputs, 66th and 67th Punjabis, as well as a Hants howitzer battery (TF.), river boats mounting 4 or 5 guns, and hydroplanes, are coming immediately, so things are looking up.
March 13th.—Sniping began again last night, mainly at the "Odin," but about four whistlers came over my tent. Only the 22nd are now holding Mazera, which is almost completely flooded. All our beautiful redoubts deep under water, and our work wasted.
March 14th.—More sniping and two mines last night; windy, cloudy, and very dark night, with some rain in the early morning. We hear that yet another brigade (the 30th) is coming, which will nearly make us up to two divisions. It is commanded by General Melliss. V.C., and consists of the 24th Punjabis, 76th Punjabis, 126th Baluchis, and 2/7th Gurkhas.
March 18th.—Report says that further activities on the part of the Turks are expected both at Shaiba and Ahwaz. General Davison has taken over command at Ahwaz from General Robinson (sick).
March 19th.—The Turks started gun-fire on the camp at 3 a.m., but 700 yards short was the best they could do. The " Odin" went up this morning and fired on them for some time with her 4-inch guns, but with unknown results.
March 24th.—The latest news is that General Sir J. Nixon is coming out to command the force, which will shortly amount to an Army Corps. General Gorringe is to have the other Division (the 12th). The Turks are supposed to be assembling in great force at Baghdad, and are sending down some 9.2-inch guns for our amusement. They are also said to have 80 German officers. A soaking wet night. Two large pumps have been erected in Kurna to pump the water out of camp and so attempt to keep the place dry.
March 27th.—This afternoon our 4-inch guns were busy shelling the Turkish position.
March 28th.—Bathed in Kiln Creek before breakfast. H.M.S. "Odin" shelled Gun Hill, and managed to locate the enemy's guns.
March 29th.—Today we had an awful sandstorm and strong south wind with an atmosphere like a London fog. The Arabs say that rain is coming.
March 30th.—The Arabs were right. The storm broke with a vengeance at 10 last night. I never saw such heavy rain or such lightning. We were on outpost, but luckily most of the men were under shelter. The camp was much flooded this morning. They say that Sheikh Ajaimi is chucking the Turks and coming over to us—for as long as it suits him, I expect.
March 31st.—General Barrett arrived last night and looked round the defences this morning—I suppose a sort of refresher before he hands over to Sir John Nixon. Kearsley got back with his trench mortars, in which he has been taking a course at Basra. They are replacing the pontoons in the bridge by mahelas and bellums, as the pontoons may be required elsewhere.
April 1st.—The floods are now deep enough to take the boats. I spent yesterday and today in punting over them; splendid exercise, and a good place to practise the men as they cannot get drowned
April 3rd.—At about 9 a.m. the enemy opened fire on the "Espiegle," as she lay below Fort Snipe, and scored two hits, but fortunately not doing much damage. Our 4-inch guns replied, but as far as we know did not knock out any of their guns.
April 4th.—The Intelligence report that we killed 1 German and 14 Turks yesterday. General Gorringe has taken over command at Ahwaz, and General Davison is I.G. Communications.-
April 5th.—We got the 5-inch guns into position at noon today and started being frightful at 2 p.m., continuing all the afternoon. We all went out to watch the show, but were rather disappointed with the shooting. Perhaps we expected too much.
April 6th.—A few rounds from our 5-inch guns this morning persuaded the Turks to open fire on Fort Snipe. They shot very straight, but too high, and no damage was done. We replied, and the duel continued until dark. General Lean relieves General Davison as Brigade Commander, 12th Brigade.
April 7th.—An awful day of wind, rain, and hail as big as shrapnel. The Sappers report that the Turks are putting a 6-in. gun into position at Bahran. This is supposed to be official. Also that they have an aeroplane—which I do not believe. However, 10 per cent, of all working parties have now to be armed, and the Staff has issued full instructions in the art of shooting aeroplanes.
April 11th (Sunday).—We had a parade service to-day at 10, but it was hardly finished when their guns and ours opened fire. As I write our guns are crashing away, and I am afraid that if it goes on much longer my hut will be shaken down. They are shooting from Gun Hill and Tower Hill, and I can hear the whistle of their shells fairly close.
April 12th.—They kept on firing last night until 9.30, and for the last half-hour were plastering Fort Winsloe and the north face of the camp. They were bursting about 200 yards behind us while we were at dinner. I asked Yelloo, my bearer, if he was afraid; he said that he was, but that he would give Sahib his dinner and then go and hide, which I thought rather noble of him! This morning they and we were hard at it at daylight, and kept it up until 7.30 a.m. Two thousand Arabs have come down by the marshes opposite the west face, and are now among the trees across the creek. As I write (7.45 a.m.) we can hear the usual sing-song performance going on, but Courtis has just got on to them with his machine-gun as they cross the Euphrates, which ought to damp their ardour a bit'! There is a rumour that the bridge has been blown up by a mine; there certainly was a big explosion.
9 a.m.—Guns started again. It is true about the bridge; the middle has been blown clean out. Desultory rifle fire from the Arabs among the trees across the creek; one gentleman with a Mauser is very persistent. There is a great prayer-meeting and sing-song now being performed by the Arabs on the south side of the Euphrates. We can see them all marching round and round a green flag. Then they all jump together and let off a scream—most entertaining !
10.30 a.m.—The "Odin" has just gone up the Euphrates, and is shooting up the creek at Tower Hill; later she turned all her guns on to the Arabs in the marshes beyond the west face.
At about 2 p.m. the Arabs cleared out of the villages here, and came punting across the open marsh past the west face at about 1,200 yards range. Our machine-guns and 4-inch guns (with shrapnel) got right into them. There was a lull most of the afternoon, until about 4 p.m., when more Arabs came out, and caught it in the same way—rather beastly. This time the Turkish guns were distinctly seen to shell the Arabs after we had ceased firing. We are all out again tonight, as we expect an attack.
April 13th.—They never came. In the last day and a half the Turks are supposed to have fired about a thousand shells at us, and up to the present they have wounded two men. Yesterday, from 3 a.m. until dark, we heard the sound of guns, evidently from Shaiba, and today they are still firing. This must be a big all-round show, and ought to have some definite effect. At 5.30 p.m. the Turks opened fire on us, and began putting shells right into camp. Three fell very near the mess, and the cow had a lucky escape. They stopped at 6.30 p.m., having wasted over 60 shells. A quiet night.
April 14th.—Good news from Shaiba. They say that we and Mazera are to be attacked by the Beni-Lam. At 5 p.m. the Turks opened an accurate fire into camp, directed, as usual, at the Observation Tower, which was hit, but no damage done. Alexander (R.G.A.) had an extraordinary escape, a shell passing between his legs and through the flooring of the platform.
April 15th.—A very hot day. We hear that the enemy has mounted a gun of some kind on One Tree Hill, though why we ever let him get there no one knows. A wire has come to say that we have had a great success at Shaiba, but no details. The Beni-Lam are again billed to appear tonight.
April 17th.—This evening Q Company got orders to leave early tomorrow morning, on the "Malamir," for some unknown destination.
April 18th.—Q Company left at 3.30 a.m.; Startin has gone with them; also a double company of the 103rd. They have gone to Gumat Ali to take part in the blockade of the Euphrates, and pursuit of the enemy from Shaiba. Orders came from Divisional Headquarters today for 200 men per regiment to be trained to pole and paddle. I have four boats, so it looks a likely job. I have some horrible poisoned bites on my legs. The Assistant Surgeon calls them "Baghdad boils." General Townshend has been appointed to command the 6th Division.
From Lieut. J. J. Powell's Diary.
April 20th.—Heard the first official news about the Shaiba fight. The Turks numbered about 15,000, including 3,000 Khurdish cavalry, who did nothing all day except sit on the flank, which was a lucky thing for us, as we only had the one cavalry brigade to use against them. No sign of the Turkish first line trenches could be seen until we were within almost a hundred yards of them. They were on the reverse slope of a rise, and this accounted for our heavy casualties. The battle was an absolute toss up, for all our men were in the firing line, and we could make no impression. Orders for a retirement were actually issued, when the day was saved by the 16th Brigade getting up and charging. This was too much for the Turks, and they began to give ground at once. The Arabs, realizing what was happening, turned on their former friends, and pursued and harassed them all the way back to Nakhaila, and beyond. Our casualties were 1,276 of all ranks, being particularly heavy in officers. Both the Dorsets and Norfolks suffered very severely. Kendall, our late Band-Sergeant, was amongst those killed in the Dorsets. The enemy's casualties amounted to about 2,500, including 750 prisoners, and we captured two mountain guns, and much gun and small-arm ammunition. The blockade on the Euphrates is to be pushed on as far as possible, and get to Nasiriyeh, if they can. Major-General Kemball (General Staff), who is up here with Colonel Douglas (A.Q.M.G.) on a tour of inspection, visited Fort Snipe and Mazera. Our guns opened fire, to try to draw the enemy's fire, but without success. We hear that two motor-cars have been found burnt at Nakhaila; also that a reward has been offered for information about the enemy's guns.
April 21st.—H.M.S. "Clio" arrived last evening to take part in the Euphrates blockade, having come from the Suez Canal, where she was during the attack on the Canal. This morning she proceeded to Chubaish, just above which a creek from the new cut of the Euphrates joins the old. The remainder of the blockade are now in the new Euphrates, close to the Hamar Lake. The Sheikh of Medina (on the Euphrates) reports that all the neighbouring Arabs have gone off to collect what rifles and loot they can from the battlefield of Barjisiyah Wood, close to Shaiba.
From Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's diary.
April 23rd.—We hear that our blockading troops are on the big lake up the Euphrates.
April 24th.—The whole camp a swamp, but a fine day, In the afternoon General Townshend arrived, to take command of the 6th Division, as General Barrett has gone away sick. General Nixon is now commanding the whole force.
April 27th.—Q Company returned last night from the blockade. They seem to have had a most amusing time, though they say that they accomplished nothing. The Arabs report that the Turks were almost wiped out at Barjisiyah—casualties at least 6,000, and they worried them all the way back. They did not stop at Suk-es-Sheyukh, or at Nakhaila. S Company went off in the "Malamir" to Hamar Lake.
April 28th.—Last night at 10.30 the howitzers (l/5th Hants) arrived, and were disembarked with great secrecy at Port Lanyon, on the south face, thence being taken to Fort Fraser, on the northwest corner, so that the Arabs in Kurna should not see them.
April 30th.—The howitzers have been taken up to Nahairat, a ruined village between the north face and Fort Snipe. We saw the mines which the "Lewis Pelly" had picked up; they measured 2 feet long, 18 inches high, and 6 inches broad, and weighed 75 Ib., of which 45 Ib. was dynamite.
From Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's Diary.
May 2nd.--Spent a loathsome night, with 20 men of my platoon, on the top of an Arab house in Nahairat, full of fleas and mosquitoes. We were doing escort to the howitzers. S Company returned last night from the Euphrates blockade, and-reported nothing doing up there. We hear that a cavalry reconnaissance at Braikeh (Karun River) was suddenly attacked by Arabs while watering horses. Three British officers were killed.
May 4th.—At 3 p.m. orders arrived that Brooke, Kearsley, and I were to embark on the "Odin" and "Espiegle" at 7.30 p.m. Kearsley and I each with 25 rifles, 300 rounds per man, and rations for two days. On arriving at the quay at 7 p.m., we found that the orders had been changed, and that Kearsley and I were to go on the "Salimi" tonight, while Brooke goes on the "Espiegle" tomorrow morning, as Military Adviser. Found on board Ackerman (R.F.A.), in command of one 18-pr.; Aitkin (R.E.) with a demolition party; and Forbes (4th Hants) with 25 men and machine-guns
May 5th.—Started coaling at 4.30 a.m., and got away at 7.30. Operation Orders told us that the idea was that we were to cooperate with the Sheikh of Medina (Euphrates) in punishing the Sheikh of Haffa, who looted the Shaiba convoys. We started off in the following order: H.M.S. "Odin," H.M.S. "Espiegle"; the "Salimi," with 50 of the 43rd, details, and one 18-pr.; the "Sumana," with 25 of the 22nd Punjabis, two 3-prs., and the Intelligence; and the "Massoudieh," with 25 men of the 22nd Punjabis. We steamed up the Euphrates for about two hours, until, on rounding a bend, we came in sight of Medina, where we found the Sheikh and his army of about 1,500 cut-throats waiting for us. They were in mashoofs (boats), and many of them carried banners of green and red, with the Star and Crescent on most of them. We came to anchor, and the Sheikh went on board the "Espiegle" for a pow wow, which took some time. At length he gave the order for a move, and with much yelling and waving banners, they started off up Haffa Creek, to surround the village. We stayed where we were until about 10 a.m., when I got order to transfer my men to the "Sumana." Brooke also came on board, and we started off up the Haffa Creek. The channel is about 25 yards wide, and 5 ½ feet deep, and much overgrown with weeds. Two miles up we came to the village and found that our Sheikh, instead of surrounding it as directed, was sitting in front of it, holding the usual sort of prayer-meeting.
A messenger was at once sent to the Sheikh of Haffa, ordering him to come in on pain of his village being destroyed. A wait of an hour and a half ensued, during which time we had a good opportunity of inspecting our allies. They were for the most part armed with Martinis, some of which were highly decorated with silver and turquoise; others had swords and daggers with beautiful hilts of ivory and turquoise. They wore few clothes, but what they had were of rather brighter colour than usual, and this, together with the many silk banners on their silver-topped poles, combined to make a very picturesque scene.
In the course of time our messenger returned with the information that the enemy was "in the air," i.e., had gone.
Crosthwaite (Political) told the Sheikh to go on and burn the village. They started off with a great sing-song, but returned almost immediately, reporting that the enemy was in a village a little farther on. This they were ordered to attack, while we went some 300 yards further up the creek, to support them if necessary.
They went off at a great pace in their mashoofs, looking, with their bright colours and flags, like a flight of butterflies among the palms. Almost immediately they opened fire, standing up in their boats, and shooting as they dodged about among the trees. Most of the fire seemed to be directed at the sky. A running fight continued for about half an hour, and then the two villages began to burn, and dense columns of smoke rose into the air.
After some time the Sheikh and his army returned, reporting the enemy in full flight, and much loot taken. His own casualties were only 3 wounded, as far as he knew, and these he brought on board to be looked after. He was a fine-looking old man, very plainly dressed, and very much the Sahib; he struck me as being much less talkative than most of the Arabs about here. He shook hands all round, and was presented by Crosthwaite with a present of tinned fish, a jar of pickles, and a jar of chutnee, with which he seemed very pleased.
We soon left the creek, passing many of the Sheikh's army on their way down, their boats laden with loot, mostly grain and cattle.
We had orders to transfer to the "Odin," but after we had got the men into boats and half-way across, we were told to return to the "Sumana," whence we were transferred to the "Salimi," and we were back in camp at 6 p.m.
May 7th.—At 6 p.m. I got orders to have 8 crews ready by 6.30 tomorrow morning. Scout's dress; 100 rounds per man. We are to have a show against the Arabs of another Beni Manspur village who have been misbehaving themselves.
May 8th.—Paraded at 6.30 a.m., and assembled at Fort Peebles (S.W. angle), 8 crews.of ours, 8 of the 22nd Punjabis, and 8 of the 103rd L.I. At about 7.30 the "Salimi" appeared with the Colonel, Headquarters, and S Company on board. We made our 24 boats fast to three tow ropes astern, each regiment to a rope, and at 8 a.m. we started up the Euphrates. Half an hour later we arrived off a village on the south bank, and cast off the boats, in two of which Courtis mounted his machine-guns.
My orders were to go straight into the village, and, if not held up, right through to the other side. If fired on, I was to halt and return the fire, letting the "Espiegle" and "Odin" know the enemy's position, when they would open fire. I had definite orders not to fire until we were fired on by the enemy.
I moved ahead in my mashoof, with Turner poling, and Jackson down in the bows with his rifle ready. At about 30 yards behind came four boats, followed at 200 yards by the remaining boats. Almost at once I had the good luck to strike a channel leading to the village, which, as usual, was situated in a flooded palm-grove, with open marshes behind.
On suddenly coming round a bend in the channel, I found the village full of people in a state of great excitement. Several of the men were armed, and got as far as putting up their rifles and covering us; so I shouted back to the boats behind to cover all the armed Arabs. As soon as the latter saw that we meant business, and that I was not alone, many threw down their guns, and others made off, wading or swimming. I could not stop them, as I had strict orders not to fire first.
We got through the village as quickly as possible, and coming out on the marshes on the far side, found a whole line of mahelas (dhows)—14 or 15 I should say—drawn up by the edge of the village. I posted four boats over these, to prevent their escape; but we could not guard all the smaller mashoofs, many of which got away into the marshes, and were too fast to be caught.
One mahela tried to get away, but was stopped at once by a "group" from the machine-guns. I now learned that, after I had started for the village, the order against opening fire had been cancelled, but could not be passed up to us in front. It appears that before we started the Sheikh of the village had promised to come in and hand over his rifles; but as he did not do so, the order about firing was changed.
From Lieut. J. J. Powell's Diary.
May 9th.—Davenport, with 30 men, went off on H.M.S. "Shu-shan" on a reconnaissance, to find out how far boats could be taken up the El Huir Creek. When they had gone about 6 miles up, they were attacked by Arabs in the reeds. Lieut.-Commander Cookson was severely wounded while trying to turn the ship round. He had his wound dressed, and then returned to his post. Davenport took command of all the guns, and kept up a heavy fire until they were out of range. He kept shifting his guns from side to side, and from one deck to another.
General Townshend and Brigadier-General Smith (R.A.) arrived up in the evening, to watch the howitzers registering ranges tomorrow.
May 10th.—The howitzers commenced firing at 8 a.m., registering ranges to Norfolk Hill, Tower Hill, and One Tree Hill, and made very good shooting. General Townshend went up the Observation Tower, to look at the ground to the north, with a view to attack.
He proposes to make a frontal attack straight across the marsh to Bahran, which appears to be the main position.
May 11th. — The Euphrates blockading ships have orders to return to Chubaish, under Lilly, R.N. We hear that our advance from Ahwaz has been postponed, because the Turks are now beginning to retire, as they are unable to do much damage to the pipe-line.
May 12th. — Paddler No. 3 (commonly known as "P. 3") arrived in the afternoon, with the 119th and Brigade Signal Section from Shaiba. There are seven of these paddle-boats which have just arrived from Burma, where they were used as coolie boats on the Irrawaddy and Salwein Rivers. They have been taken over and manned by the Royal Indian Marine. All the Captains came up to-day on the "P. 3" to see the river, and find the way to Kurna They looked splendid, walking up and down in the bows, with their telescopes under their arms, as though they were on the bridge of a warship.
Wynter returned from his post as Censor at Basra. Generals Nixon, Kemball, Townshend, and Delamain arrived in the evening on a tour of inspection. Sir Percy Cox (Chief Political Officer) came up at night in his own launch.
May 13th. — General Nixon inspected us and the 103rd in the morning, and told the officers that he intends to have the majority of the 6th Division up here for the advance to Amara, but that our Brigade will be given the post of honour. He said that if he could not do it with us, he could not do it at all! He was confident of success.
May 14th. — Very hot now; thermometer always over 100°, which is very trying in such a damp place as this. Vaccinated this morning with half the Regiment. Since the arrival of the 119th, our outposts on the perimeter have been reduced, but we have to find a piquet in Nahairat village for the protection of the howitzers.
May 15th. — Getting, hotter every day, and now we have no breeze. The ships on the Euphrates blockade are finding very little to do, and their numbers are being reduced. They saw a Thornycroft boat on Hamar Lake yesterday, but it fled as soon as H.M.S. "Shaitan" opened fire on her. Great preparations are being made for our advance ; the men are all being trained in paddling and poling bellums .
May 17th. — All parades have now to be over by 9 a.m., so as to keep the men out of the sun during the middle of the day. There was heavy firing last night against Fort Snipe; all the bullets fell in Nahairat, and one of our men on outpost there was seriously wounded. This evening Morland gave a bellum demonstration for the benefit of the G.O.C. and commanding officers, and showed the best way of advancing at close range when under fire. He turned all the men out of the boat, and made them push it through the reeds broadside on. At 6.30 p.m. our heavy guns opened fire on Tower Hill, and the howitzers took it up later. This so enraged the Turks that they opened fire too, and kept it going until 8 p.m., giving us a few rounds also during the night.
May 18th.—H.M.S. "Clio," at daybreak, shelled Gun Hill from Kiln Creek, and then Tower Hill from Fort Fry, but without getting any reply from the Turks.
May 19th.—Our spies report that the enemy has put two guns on the El Huir Creek to stop our getting up that way. Took the signallers out in the marsh to try a new helio-stand. It is 6 feet long, but only just allows the helio to clear the reeds.
From Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's Diary.
May 20th.—Rumour has it that the Turks mean to evacuate Rotah, which, it is said, will become uninhabitable in another fortnight, so our bellum expedition may not come off.
May 23rd.—Colonel Climo, 24th Punjabis, took over temporary command of the 17th Brigade. General Townshend and Staff have arrived.
May 24th.—I took over 12 boats which arrived last night, also two machine-gun rafts. The latter consist each of two bellums, some three feet apart, and kept side by side by having spars fixed across. On the top is a platform, protected by ¼ inch steel plates in the form of a V, the angle of the V pointing forward for the machine-gun to fire over, while the wings of the V provide cover for the gun numbers. These rafts are, of course, somewhat conspicuous ; but, though heavy and consequently slow, are considered a success, so much so that a mountain-battery is to be similarly mounted.
I took out R Company for a practice this evening. Matters were somewhat confused at first:, but once out on the open marsh things went better.
Thirty-two more boats were taken over this evening. Very busy.
May 25th.—Another 32 boats arrived. We have been trying a method of armouring them with steel shields, but it makes them too heavy for moving through the reeds.
Q, S, and P Companies out at practice in the morning, and did not do badly. Handed over 3 boats to Duke (Cheshire Regiment) for the Signal Section, and the armoured boat to the 119th.
The 30th Mountain Battery, Wireless Section, and Army Signal Company arrived today.
May 26th.—The boat practice is getting on well; the show is fixed for the 30th; 32 more boats arrived, and have been sent straight to be armoured, which is being done by the Sappers and Miners, north of Fort Fraser. The armoured boats are now to be joined together by pairs, and each regiment is to have 12 of these armoured horrors. Personally, I think they are no good.
The 22nd Company Sappers and Miners and the 117th Mahrattas arrived.
I spent the evening in my mashoof trying to find channels for boats and armoured boats. The former draw 10 inches, the latter at least 18 inches (allowing for the guns). Any move in the dark will be very difficult.
May 27th.—All the armoured boats completed and handed over by 1 p.m. Q Company and half P are to deal with these. According to local intelligence reports the enemy's force now consists of 3 battalions of Infantry, 1 of Gendarmerie, and an unknown quantity of Arabs, as well as 10 guns (with 1,600 rounds per gun), and 7 to 10 Germans employed in making and laying mines. Their commander, described as a drunken and unpopular officer, is said to have arrived at Rotah from Basra via the Suwaib River, i.e., through our lines! A Turk was captured today dressed as a woman. After he was shut up, he tried to escape by pulling down the wall round the door of his prison.
May 28th.— The rehearsal this evening (in full view of the Turks !) went off well, except for the armoured boats, which are far too unwieldy. We concentrated at 2,600 yards from Norfolk Hill, on to which the enemy flocked to watch us, but, happily, to do nothing else. Probably this is the first occasion on which a dress rehearsal for an attack has taken place in view of the enemy. The boats formed up in two lines : 43rd and 103rd in the front line, and half the 119th in the second line. The remainder of the 119th were posted on the left flank, and a half-company 43rd was detailed as escort to the Mountain Battery, echeloned on the right flank. The front line of each unit consisted of its armoured bellums, with the M.G. rafts on the outer flank, the remainder of the unit forming its own support. The whole of this performance took some considerable time, as the armoured bellums and M.G. rafts found great difficulty in getting through the reeds.
We hear that the 16th Brigade, on their ships, will follow us up the river, and go through us as soon as we reach Sakricha, and as soon as the obstruction in the river at Rotah has been cleared away. General Townshend hopes to arrive at Amara at the same time as the Turks. The Brigade Staff and the Regiment are to have the "P. 2" for baggage, rations, and stores.
May 29th.—Busy all day with final arrangements for the "Regatta," as the Basra people call our coming show. Served out with all equipment, caulking materials, red lead, canvas, nails, and wooden pegs, to plug bullet holes in the boats. Also shovels, picks, sandbags, baling tins, and tins to hold drinking water. Each man will have his waterproof sheet, rifle, and equipment ammunition in his boat.
Various ships arrived this morning, bringing the Norfolks, Dorsets, 48th Pioneers, and 104th Rifles, with the Staff of the 16th Brigade. The "Blosse Lynch" is fitted with wireless, ready for the advance to Amara. The whole front was lined with barges and boats of every description, loading up with baggage, and the stream was full of R.N. ships. To add to the gaiety, the day was hotter than ever; on some of the ships the thermometer registered 114° in the shade, and the humidity bulb 98. In the evening the two 4.7 guns, moored alongside H.M.S. "Miner," opened fire, from the end of Kiln Creek, on Gun Hill, and drew the enemy's fire, but without damage. At night there was a little firing at Fort Snipe, where one man was hit.
May 30th.—H.M.S. "Lawrence" registered ranges in the morning on Gun Hill from the bottom of Kiln Creek. Later, orders were given out. We start from here at 5 a.m., so as to be at the rendezvous at 5.30; the advance to commence at 5.45. The 43rd attack Norfolk Hill and then'Tower Hill, while the 103rd attack Gun Hill. The 22nd Punjabis remain on the other side of the river; attack One Tree Hill; and then help our advance by fire directed on Norfolk and Tower Hills. All positions to be bombarded from 5.30 a.m. onwards. H.M.S "Comet" to go up the Suwaib River and bombard the sand-dunes, while H.M.S. "Shushan" goes up the El Huir Creek, with some of the Sheikh of Medina's men, to engage the gun near the village of Adar. As soon as we have captured Tower Hill the fleet, preceded by H.M.S. "Shaitan" and H.M.S. "Sumana" 'sweeping for mines, will come up, to be ready for the bombardment of Bahran.
I had hoped that all preparations would have been finished, and that we should have an easy day; but no such luck. What with orders, a pow-wow, and a thousand and one last fixings, I did not get through until 7.15 p.m. All equipment and kits were packed up and on board " P. 2" by 5 p.m. Ivey goes in charge, and sends out rations to us from, the ship. Each regiment has 72 heliums, not to mention 8 with the ship.
Most of the men are sleeping down by the creek—all amongst the mosquitoes. I, with Jackson and Turner, in the mashoof, start off to-morrow at 4.30 a.m. to flag the course, with red and white flags. Then I am to report to Colonel Climo (in command of the 17th Brigade), as Orderly Officer, the wire-cutting job being off. An awful lot of men are down with fever, which means continually chopping and changing the crews.
THE ADVANCE ON AMARA. Boat attacks by the 17th brigade.-
May 31st.—Had the flags out at 4.45 a.m. Just as it was growing light, at 5 a.m., the bombardment started. The Brigade rendezvoused west of Nahairat village at 5.30 a.m., and at 5.45 we moved off, heading straight for Norfolk Hill. Rifle fire from the other bank—evidently the 22nd Punjabis attacking One Tree Hill—was heard at 6 a.m.
At 6.15 an aeroplane appeared over Sherish, and at 6.30 the Regiment came under fire from Norfolk Hill, but the enemy's guns made bad shooting. At 7 a.m. the enemy, still on Norfolk Hill, opened a heavy rifle fire. Our machine-gun section (now having three guns) was well up on the Regimental left flank, and going strong. The mountain guns were also in action.
At 7.10 R Company was ordered to pass through the armoured bellums, and assault the hill, as the armour plating was impeding progress by catching in the reeds. When within 200 yards of the hill poor Brooke was hit just above the heart, and died within five minutes. R Company immediately dashed forward and carried the hill, taking only a few unwounded prisoners, the majority of the defenders (about 100) being either killed or wounded. A German, who tried to escape from the hill as soon as we got on to it, was shot as he swam away. Colonel Climo and I landed at about this time. Kearsley, with his platoon, was left on Norfolk Hill, to hold it and clear it,up. The remainder of the Regiment formed up and pushed on. The guns were turned on to Tower Hill, with the result that the enemy offered little resistance, and soon hoisted the white flag. At 8 a.m. the hill was in our hands; Henley and a few men wounded. We captured here a gun complete, and much gun and rifle ammunition, as well as about 80 prisoners. The gun-team had been wiped out by a lucky shot from the " Odin." '
“Odin" and "Lawrence" were armed with four guns each; "Espiegle" and "Clio" with six guns; on the horse-boats there were three 4.7-inch guns. Other guns assisting in the advance were K.G.A. eight, K.F.A. ten, Mountain Battery (on bellum): six.—ed.
At this time I was away, opposite Gun Hill, taking messages. The 103rd and 119th captured Gun Hill at 11 a.m. The enemy put up a poor show, and hoisted up the white flag as soon as we got really close. One hundred and thirty prisoners, including two officers (mulazim and yusbashi, i.e., subaltern and captain), two guns, minus their breech-blocks (one afterwards recovered), a considerable quantity of shells, cordite charges, rifles, and ammunition, a large telescope, and several hundred yards of -inch insulated cable.
After this, as the heat was so bad, and the next position (Bahran) some way off, we knocked off for the day at 12.30 p.m. Had an excellent lunch with Colonel Climo, and was then sent across the river with a message to the 22nd Punjabis, who had captured One Tree Hill at 6.30 a.m. I was nearly had twice by shells from Bahran, but luckily the ground was marshy, and they only kicked up mud. Got back to the Regiment on Tower Hill at a little after 4 p.m., had some tea and bread, and then a bathe, with Morland, in water as hot as a hot bath. Just as I was changing and thinking about dinner, Headquarters sent for me, and I was ordered to take a message to the 119th, but was not told exactly where I should find them. We pushed off in the dark about 7,30 p.m., and had a bad trip, constantly running aground, and having to get out and push the mashoof. We landed on islands three times, but at last the fourth island proved to be the right one, and I found Major Darley. I also found that the signal message saying that they were to expect us had never arrived, so that if his sentries had been alert, we ought to have been shot. The return journey was not so bad, as there was something of a moon, and we could see the Headquarter signal lamps going ; but it was 11pm. before We got in, and I was almost dead beat. The troops are bivouacking for the night: on Tower Hill, 43rd and 22nd Punjabis (who have come across the river); on Gun Hill, 103rd; at Alloa, 119th; and Brigade H.Q. on Mine Hill.
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