EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
KUT AL AMARA
Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's Diary October 1st.—The 17th Brigade is now engaged in clearing up the Es Sinn ground, burying dead, collecting arms, etc.—a horrible job. This morning I rode out to look at some of the redoubts and adjacent trenches. The latter were beautifully dug and sited, and at every 50 yards there was a recess in the parados containing large jars of water. The redoubts were provided with dug-outs and wells, and had wire in front and on the flanks, as well as land-mines and three rows of "trous-de-loups." The head-cover was made of cement or concrete, and appeared to be whitewashed, though probably this was the result of the sun-bleaching and cement. The overhead cover consisted of spars, brushwood, and earth—no corrugated iron. The fire-trenches were traversed every 7 paces; the communication trenches, of which there must be many miles, were quite 9 to 10 feet deep, and fitted with sign-posts where necessary.
October 2nd.—Half the Battalion is to march to Kut and camp on the north of the town, while the other half, with headquarters, machine-guns, mule-cart transport, and .one section of guns (under Reynolds), is to cross the bridge to the other bank of the river, and complete the clearing up of the battlefield on that side.
We had great difficulty in crossing the bridge below Kut, which was very rotten even for a Turkish bridge. The medical cart, with its mules, went through, after which all transport was man-handled across. The idea of taking the guns across was given up. After crossing we had an eight-mile march to the position, and the day was very hot; then came further trouble in getting the transport across the maze of communication trenches. At 3.15 p.m. we halted on the river bank and bivouacked, the officers taking up their quarters in an iron barge, which had formed part of the obstruction placed by the Turks in the river.
October 3rd.—The sand-flies last night were awful, and the weather, from extreme cold at night last week, has suddenly turned hot again.
We spent the whole day in clearing up ; but we are rather late, as the looting Arabs appear to have been here before us.
I looked over two of the redoubts, which are stronger even than those on the other bank, with very well-concealed sunk wire, staked pits, and mines. The approach to every redoubt is exposed to a cross-fire from adjacent redoubts, and at 200 yards distance there is absolutely nothing visible. Behind this line of redoubts rose the double line of the high-level canal (dry), like two small ranges of hills, about 100 yards apart. Between the two, and behind the second range or bank, were gun-emplacements—some strongly bricked and cemented—also many dug-outs, and extensive and well-made, regular horse-lines. The trenches were well supplied with water by an aqueduct, fed by a large centrifugal pump and engine far in rear. The redoubts either had wells, or could obtain water from the river by means of communication trenches or covered ways. This position extends into the desert continuously for five miles, being bent slightly back on the west, and with its extreme flank resting on a very strong redoubt (Dujailah), some six miles away, which I did not visit. Each of the redoubts which I saw had accommodation for 30 to 50 rifles and one machine-gun emplacement.
October 4th.—At 7 a.m. we started back, and had great difficulty in getting two old brass muzzle-loading guns (which we had found) over the bridge. But the men managed in the end to haul them over, and at 11 a.m. we reached Kut and got back to the remainder of the Regiment. We hear that we shall soon go on, and that the Turks have made good their retreat to Ctesiphon (Sulman Pak), some 30 miles from Baghdad.
October 5th.—The 18th Brigade, who have gone on, have halted at Aziziyeh,1 about 50 miles from here, and this morning the 16th Brigade and all the artillery started off for the same destination. Some Arabs, who had been caught looting the dead, were tried to-day, and two were sentenced to death. It is thought that, after the fight on the 28th, many of the unfortunate wounded were murdered by Arabs.
October 7th.—No definite orders for vis, though there is an idea that we may leave tomorrow. The flies here are too awful for words ; everything is black with them.
Six guns went out this afternoon and got 20 ½ brace of sand-grouse.
October 8th.—After many orders and counter-orders we started at 7 a.m. We have got very little transport, and such as we have seems to be in an awful muddle.
As we went along we passed several signs of the Turkish retreat: corpses of horses, camels, and of a few men. There were also abandoned wagons, and in one place several field-gun shells, which seemed about 13-lb., and their bases were marked "Karlsruhe,1913."
We marched until noon, very hot, and the dust awful. A dozen men fell out. We heard, soon after reaching our camping-ground on the river bank, that Quartermaster-Sergeant White, 20 convalescent men, the Orderly Room Staff, as well as all the sweepers and bheesties, who were to have travelled up on the "Mejedieh," had been turned off at the last moment and left behind at Kut.
October 9th.—Last night we were told that we had 20 miles to march today, as we were urgently needed at Aziziyeh. Marched from 5.30 a.m. to 9.30 a.m., when we halted, off-loaded, and rested; but the sun is very hot again now. We started again at 1 p.m., and marched till 7.45 p.m.—an awful trek. We were supposed to reach our bivouac at 5 p.m.. but, in trying a short cut, left the road, lost our bearings, and went wandering off into the night, as it seemed forever. We knew that we had to strike the river again, and continually thought that we saw it, only to find time after time that it was a mirage, or, later on, moonlight on a pale patch of sand. The men were very cheery, and marched splendidly until dark, but the last six miles or so was too much for them. Many had to fall out, some of whom did not turn up at all to-night. When, at last, we reached the camping-ground, the ships had not come in, and there was no food until late, when most of the men were too tired to eat. We hear that we have got to push on to Aziziyeh (25 miles) tomorrow as the 16th and 18th Brigades are going to attack next day, and will not wait for us.
October 10th.—The men who fell out yesterday were all in this morning. Several of them were complaining of stiff legs or indigestion, which we discovered later were the first symptons of beri-beri.
We got away at 6 a.m., everyone looking very done up, and my Machine-gun Section short-handed. Marched until 1 p.m.; frightfully hot. We now heard that we were within a mile of the river. This was quite wrong, and meant that we had lost direction again— but anything for water.
We halted by the river for an hour and a half; tea was made for the men, and did them a lot of good; and the animals were watered. We marched again at 2.30 p.m., luckily over good hard desert and decent going; but a good many men fell out, complaining of pains in the stomach and dysentery. At 5.30 p.m., when we were beginning to wonder if we should ever arrive, we saw some carts coming towards us, and found that they had been sent out from Aziziyeh to bring us water, and to pick up men who had to fall out. Each cart had a large canvas chagal, and one was told off to each company, whose men formed up to receive half a cup each.
We were told that two more miles would take us into camp, and the men marched off singing. Soon, however, they began to curse the man who had told them that it was only two miles, for, halting continually, we stumbled along another five miles in the dark.
When at last we did get in, we made inquiries about to-morrow's attack. No one knew anything about it, or had ever heard it mentioned. Evidently the whole story told to us last night was a put-up job to make the men march, which has made us all very sick, as of course the men would have done it without being told that cock-and-bull story.
I got the mules watered, picketed, and fed, then fed myself; and then Wynter, Mellor, and I scratched holes in the dust, covered ourselves with every available coat, and, lying down in a bunch, slept like logs.
October 11th.—We are a filthy looking crowd this morning, everybody caked with dust, and looking sleepy and stiff. There was a sharp attack by Arabs on the camp of the 110th, on the other side of the river, last night, but not one of us heard a sound. The 110th had 10 casualties, and the Arabs carried off a lot of rifles. The latest news is that we are not going on to Baghdad, but are to clear out some Turks (estimated at 3,000, with guns and cavalry) who are at Kutunia, 7 miles or so from here. This is a dreadful place—open scrub desert—a dust-storm all day long—atmosphere like pea-soup—dysentery rife.
October 12th.—General Townshend came round this evening and told us that he wanted us to make ourselves comfortable and get up all our tents and heavy kit, as no forward movement on a large scale will be made until he has been reinforced from France, and that this will take two or three months, during which time we are to stop here. The Turks are reported to have left Kutunia, and gone back to Zeur, about 12 miles.
October 15th.—Having got leave to go down to Basra to see a dentist and to purchase stores for the Regiment, I left on the "Sumana," on which also General Fry and other officers were travelling.
October 20th.—Arrived at Basra at 9 p.m., having transferred into the "Salimi" at Kut on the 17th. About Kurna we found that the country had undergone an extraordinary change. Where we attacked over the floods last May, jowari 12 feet high is now growing luxuriantly, and Norfolk and Tower Hill are quite hidden by the crops.
October 29th.—I remained at Basra until today, staying at the R.E. mess (formerly the Turkish Naval Commandant's quarters), and transacted much business. Twelve months of British occupation have done a great deal for this place. There are new roads everywhere, and the old roads clean; new bridges, new quays, electric light and fans, ice, fewer pariah dogs, and other marks of civilization; while small Arab boys, in postman's uniform, dash about on red bicycles.
Embarked 30 packing-cases of stores and 27 large sacks of sugar on board the "Julnar," and left at 5 p.m.
November 5th.—Arrived at Kut, and saw Mundey, who has flown over Ctesiphon, and who showed me some photographs of the position. It looks the same sort of thing as Es Sinn, but stronger.
November 8th.— Left Kut in the "Mejedieh" at 6 a.m. I had had to transfer everything from the "Julnar," which was a most tedious job. The new monitor "Firefly " passed Kut on its way up-river two days ago.
November 10th.—Reached Aziziyeh last night, and got up to camp this morning. I found that it had been, moved right back from the river, and farther up-stream, behind the village. Colonel Lethbridge has been back with the Regiment for some time.
November 11th.—The 18th Brigade left early for El Kutunia. We are to go shortly.
"SPECIAL 6th DIVISIONAL ORDER." 13th November 1915. "Before commencing our next advance, I wish to summarize the work of the brave soldiers of the 6th Division and troops attached, British and Indian, whom I am so proud to have commanded in now two distinct operations. First let me take the Kurna-Amara operations, wherein the mission given to me by Sir John Nixon was to defeat the Turks in position north of Kurna and occupy Amara, 90 miles north—as formidable a mission, I may say, as any General could possibly desire, without considering the nature of the fighting in a flooded country resembling a vast sea, and where the heat was terrible.
"You made short work of the Kurna action, where I calculated on at least two days' hard fighting; and in the pursuit we conquered some 90 miles of territory for Government, and practically destroyed the force of Turks some 6,000 strong, with 13 guns, in addition to taking by the collar a defensive position, the strength of which might well have cost us terrible loss of life, and where victory might well be considered doubtful.
"Our next operations were the advance on Kut-al-Amarah, in which you followed up the Turks under a fierce sun from Amara, some 170 miles along the Tigris.
"The mission given to me was to defeat the Turks, some 10,000 strong, with 30 guns, entrenched in one of the strongest positions I have ever seen, and of the most modern type, astride of the Tigris, some 7 miles down river of Kut-al-Amarah, and of about 12 miles in extent. You know what my plan of battle was at Kut-al-Amarah. I designed that wide strategic movement, like the cast of a net, round the enemy's extreme left flank and rear, in order to make the victory a most decisive one, and so end the campaign there on that day;. and so it would have happened had not darkness saved the Turks from annihilation. But I would like to tell you that also I was to spare my brave troops from the heavy losses of a frontal attack against such strong defence's, and so I hope I was forgiven the thirst and fatigue suffered by the splendid troops of Generals Hoghton and Delamain that day, and the long inaction under a heavy fire of the calm and steadfast men of the 18th Brigade who, as part of my plan, had to contain and pin the enemy down in front, in order that the turning manoeuvre would be ,a success. I went through no anxiety that day, though it seemed so long, for I knew the worth of the men I was commanding. Nurradin Pasha fared in the battle as most Generals do who seek by extensive fortified lines to supply the want of training and hardihood in his troops. Lines may prevail against undisciplined troops and savages, but never when the assailants are the better soldiers. But Nurradin is apparently not satisfied with his first experiment, and wishes to try it again.
"Such is a brief summing-up of our labours since I have commanded you, and you had earned great distinction before I arrived in this country. I think you will all be able hereafter, when you see home again, to say with pride that you belonged to the force in Mesopotamia, for at last the British public are beginning to understand that this country is the key to India—and not Egypt.
"Finally, our general direction is Baghdad, and our principal objective is the bulk of the enemy's forces in the field and to destroy it, and to do this I ask you now to support me again in another effort, all of us united heart and soul in accordance with the greatest of all the principles of war, viz., that of economy of force. "Charles Townshend, Major-General, "Commanding 6th Division. "Camp Aziziyeh."
November 15th.—We are to leave tomorrow. Final preparations completed in a tearing gale and sand-storm.
November 16th.—When we were all ready to march we were told that we could not go till tomorrow. It appears that the barges carrying oil for the ships are aground forty miles down the river.
November 17th.—After waiting for orders for some hours, we got off at 1 p.m. and marched to El Kutunia, a Turkish advanced post, which had been evacuated before one of our reconnaissances in force. The 18th Brigade are here. We camped for the night on the left bank of the river. There was some sniping to-night.
November 18th.—We crossed the river by pontoon bridge, and went into bivouac on the right bank. To-day is a clay of rest, with leisure to wash and sleep. Tomorrow the 17th Brigade is to march up this bank, and the 18th Brigade up the left bank, to attack the Turks at Zeur, their advanced position; that is to say, if they wait for us, which we hardly expect them to do.
November 19th.—At 8 o'clock last night we were told that a large body of the enemy was working down the right bank from Zeur. We were all turned out, and two battalions were sent out to the front, while the Regiment formed up in reserve on the river bank. The men were allowed to lie down, and, later, to remove their equipment.
At 5 a.m. we were pushed out about two miles to the front, where we proceeded to dig like fun until 2.30 p.m., and were then ordered to knock off for dinners—the men's first meal today. But at 2.50 p.m. Cock (Brigade-Major) galloped up with orders to fall in and march immediately. Dinners had to be left, and by 3.30 the Brigade moved off, which was pretty smart work.
We marched until dark over very bad ground, and then halted, with the Battalion in mass, We thought and hoped that we should stay here for the night, but half an hour later we moved off again in column of route, and inarched until 11.30 p.m. No one seemed to know what was happening or where we were going. It was an intensely dark night; as often as not we were off the road, and crashing about through head-high liquorice bushes. Occasionally, when the moon rose, we caught sight of the river, and once we saw some rockets far away to the north. Everyone was too dead beat to talk, and it was extraordinarily silent. Then, at last, we reached the river and got down on to the shore, along which we trudged through soft sand about a foot deep. We could now see lights ahead of us, so we knew that we were getting near home; and at 11.30 p.m. we arrived at Zeur, from which the 16th and 18th Brigades had driven the enemy, after a cavalry skirmish, this morning. ;
November 20th.—Slept till 6.30 a.m. At 10.30 we moved across the pontoon bridge to the left bank, where camel and donkey transport and A.T. carts were re-distributed. Camels carried the men's blankets, 40 per camel in two rolls; donkeys and cows were loaded with the tools; reserve ammunition in first line carts; rations, "British-warms," and coats in second-line carts. Marched, at 12.30 p.m., to Lajj, 8 miles, where we camped, washed, and had a quiet sleep.
November 2lst.—Everyone looks rested and altogether fitter to-day. Paraded at 10.30 a.m., and marched 1 ½ miles along the Baghdad road. From here we got our first glimpse of Ctesiphon, but we could not see much, except a pale violet shape, apparently floating over the desert—mirage, as usual.
Started again at 3 p.m., and marched until 6, when we halted. Nothing had happened so far, except one or two of those beastly little land-mines had gone off. At 6.30 p.m. we managed to water the beasts safely—probably a last chance.
Marched at 9 p.m., with orders to shove on and dig ourselves in when at 2,000 yards from the enemy's position, opposite the Arch. Our Brigade is to do the holding attack.
11.30p.m.—I am writing this by the light of a brilliant moon. We have halted, and the original order has been changed. We are told to lie down here until dawn; mules and horses to be picketed. I have been trying to make the native syces muffle their pickets with sand-bags, but they seem to prefer to make a row. It is very cold, but everyone is quite cheery.