EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
THE SIEGE OF KUT-AL-AMARA
Lieut. Heawood's Narrative. With the first week of January came the news of the first failure of the relief force. From what we heard they appear to have fought a sort of general encounter battle at Sheikh Saad, and gained a victory at the expense of heavy casualties. Then they won another fight rather more easily at Orah Ruins, but after pushing on quite close up to Es Sinn, were unable to obtain, or, rather, maintain, a foothold in the Turkish trenches, owing to the fearful weather, and were forced to retire to a position on the Wadi Canal, a little above Orah.
We had seen this wet weather coming on just before the New Year, and though at first there were only a few falls of rain, they were sufficient to make our trenches most unpleasant; but this was only the beginning of a very bad time for us, about which I shall have plenty to say further on. For the relief force the continuance of the rain and the rising of the river meant ruin. Twice more during January they endeavoured to fight their way through to us, but they got little or no nearer, as the following told us :--
"Communique to the Troops. - "The relieving force under General Aylmer has been unsuccessful in its efforts to dislodge the Turks entrenched on the left bank of the river some 14 miles below the position at Es Sinn, where we defeated them in September last, when the Turkish strength was greater than it is now. Our relieving force suffered severe loss, and had very bad weather to contend against;—they are entrenched close to the Turkish position. More reinforcements are on the way up river, and I confidently expect to be relieved some day during the first half of the month of February.
"I desire all ranks to know why I decided to make a stand at Kut during our retirement from Ctesiphon. It was because as long as we hold Kut the Turks cannot get their ships, barges, stores, and munitions past this place to attack Amara, and thus we were holding up the whole of the Turkish advance. It also gives time for our reinforcements to come up river from Basra, and so restore success to our arms; it gives time to our Allies the Russians, who are now over-running Persia, to move towards Baghdad, which a , large force is now doing. I had a personal message from General Baratoff, in command of the Russian Expeditionary Force in Persia, telling me of his admiration of what you men of the 6th Division and troops attached have done in the past few months, and telling me of his own progress on the road from Kermanshah towards Baghdad.
"By standing at Kut I maintain the territory we have won in the past year at the expense of much blood, commencing with your glorious victory at Shaiba, and thus we maintain the campaign as a glorious one, instead of letting disaster pursue its course down to Amara, and perhaps beyond.
"I have ample food for 84 days, and that is not counting the 3,000 animals which can be eaten. When I defended Chitral 20 years ago, we lived well on atta and horseflesh, but, as I repeat above, I expect confidently to be relieved in the first half of the month of February.
"Our duty stands out clear and simple. It is our duty to our Empire, to our beloved King and Country, to stand here and hold up the Turkish advance as we are now doing; and with the help of all, heart and soul, together we will make this defence to be, remembered in history as a glorious one. All in England and India are watching us now, and are proud of the splendid, courage you have shown; and I tell you, let all remember the glorious defence of Plevna, for that is what is in my mind.
"I am absolutely calm and confident as to the result; the Turk, though good behind a trench, is of little value in the attack. They have tried it once, and their loss in one night in their attempt on the Fort was 2,000 alone; they have already had very heavy losses ' from General Aylmer's musketry and guns, and I have no doubt they have had enough.
"I want to tell you all that, when I was ordered to advance on Ctesiphon, I officially demanded an Army Corps, or at least two Divisions, to do the task successfully. Having pointed out the grave danger of attempting to do this with one Division only, I had done my duty. You know the result and whether I was right or not, and your name will go down to history as the heroes of Ctesiphon, for heroes you proved yourselves in the battle. I perhaps by right should not have told you of the above, but I feel I owe it to you all to speak straight and openly, and take you into my confidence, for God knows I felt our heavy losses and the sufferings of my poor, brave wounded, and shall remember it as long as I live; and I may truly say that no general I know of has been more loyally obeyed and served than I have been in command of the Sixth Division.
"These words are long, I am afraid, but I speak straight from the heart, and you will see that I have thrown all officialdom overboard. We will succeed—mark my words—but save your ammunition as if it,were gold. "Charles Townsend, Major-General, "Commanding 6th Division. " Kut-al-Amarah. "26th January 1916.'
All this while the weather was the most disheartening possible— wet, with about one day in three fine, and, of course, when it rained it poured, everything getting flooded with rainwater and buried in mud. The ground was so low that drainage was well-nigh impossible ; the whole place became water-logged at once, and, to make matters worse, the Turks, who were on slightly higher ground, were able to drain a good deal of their surface water down on to us. But the actual rain which fell on our camp was a small matter compared with the river floods, which were shortly to add to our troubles. The Tigris hereabouts rises rapidly at this season, and the water is decidedly higher than the surrounding country. The Arabs combat the floods by building a continuous bund (or bank) along the river's edge, each individual landowner continually watching the water and repairing his portion of the bund; but we ourselves were quite unable to attend to such matters, for the very good reason that during the daytime the Turkish fire prevented all work on the exposed river bank. At one time things got so bad that the people in the north-west section of the defence were flooded out and forced to retire to Middle Line, leaving rather a queer line of defence in that quarter, though it did not really matter just then, as the Turks opposite to them were flooded out also, and the whole country was such a sea of mud and water that it was practically impossible for the enemy to advance over it. Communication trenches, dugouts, and everything else fell in from time to time, and had to be made up again, thus giving us additional labour.
In spite of these various troubles we were neither miserable nor gloomy; in fact, we were in the best of spirits. We were then living in the Fort, and we were never idle, as there was always plenty of digging and repairing to be done, inside and around, both by day and by night. When off duty we managed to amuse ourselves in one way or another, though, perhaps, the amusement was of a very mild form. The walls of our mess dug-out gradually assumed a most artistic appearance at the hands of a Major (of the Signals) who was attached to us. By polishing with a brick a very fine surface could be got to the sandy clay, and on this he achieved grand effects in the mural fresco line—drawings of all sorts, often suggested by advertisements, etc., in old "Graphics," while running right round was a decorative frieze of purely conventional pattern. At one time we had a plague of frogs in the mess, and these interested us a good deal, especially when they attempted to climb up steps in the wall. Then we always had the relief force speculation to fall back upon—on what day and at what hour it would make its appearance, concerning which each of us had his own ideas. As to myself, in my more serious and sedentary moments I read Aristotle, of which I possessed one small, well-thumbed volume; I studied Urdu, with the aid of an old conversational grammar, and found it most useful in my dealings with Indian troops; and, finally, our Acting Adjutant (Mason) gave me lessons in shorthand, in which he was an expert. Occasionally we heard very distant shelling going on down-stream, and wondered what was happening; sometimes we watched the Turkish caravan route, away north; and there was always the excitement of looking out for the daily arrival of our aeroplane from down river, with, perhaps, a message to be dropped for Headquarters, to be marked down as it fell, and retrieved, if possible, sometimes after dark. And each evening came the Fokkers, no less assiduous in their attentions than the Turkish guns. Such was life in those days.
During the first fortnight of February we started in earnest to fight the floods, by making bunds. It was decided that, if the floods became impossibly bad, we should hold in strength only Middle Line and the Fort, with, perhaps, the near sand-dunes (which would, of course, be above flood level). For the present, however, while making Middle Line the principal defence, we were to hold the line from the Fort to Redoubt B in strength, dig a series of trenches in echelon from Redoubt B to a point farther west in Middle Line, and man these during the dark.
Accordingly, Redoubt B, which, with the trenches on either side of it, had been flooded out, was reconstructed, though not on exactly the same site as before; and, as it was to be made a strong point, with its left "in the air," it was ordered to be garrisoned by a company of British Infantry from our Brigade, as well as by some Indian troops. It happened that Q Company was first on the roster for detached duty; so one evening, quite unexpectedly, and at short notice, we were ordered down there, and took over from the Indian regiment then in occupation. There, or in the corresponding position in the line, the Company remained until the end of the siege—a satisfactory arrangement, in that it saved us the trouble of constant moves. As for Redoubt B, it was immediately decided to strengthen it to the uttermost, so as to make it capable of all-round defence in the event of the enemy attacking and breaking through the very weak echelon trenches. From this time, therefore, my narrative deals almost entirely with the doings of Q Company. The remainder of the Regiment (P, R, and S) I may, however, say, occupied the Fort until the end of the siege, and throughout worked continuously and arduously at the defences and at bund-building to resist the floods. With them, in the Fort, were the 103rd Sirmoor Sappers, and, latterly, the 67th Punjabis.
As time went on Redoubt B grew out of comparatively nothing into quite a good work, complete with dug-outs and other modern contrivances. We had then plenty of material (wood, iron, matting, etc.) which we used for all kinds of devices.—For the first week or ten days we were given a working-party of 100 men (from other regiments) every night, and sappers were provided to do the all-round wiring. We, ourselves, of course, worked by day, and as many as could be spared from outpost duty worked by night. My own duties were not light; various authorities came up by day to inspect the place, discuss details, and authorize fresh improvements; and then I had to see that these were carried out. However, for me this period of the siege was certainly the most interesting of any, and the men fully appreciated the construction of a defensive fort of their own, which they themselves were to hold against all comers to the last.
Perhaps luckily, though at the time we thought unluckily, we never had to put the place to the test of an attack. Sniping went on fairly constantly, and we had an excellent observation point, as well as good positions for our snipers and machine-guns, of which we had one at first and another later on. By day the redoubt was more or less isolated, as the fire-trench adjacent on the east was only lightly manned, though farther east the blockhouse and trenches thence to Redoubt. A were always fully manned. By night, however, we were well linked up with the other defences, when the echelon trenches and the Retrenchment were occupied. The weather was comparatively fine now, and I think I may truly say that we almost enjoyed life for the time being.
About the 26th February we discovered that something was on. We received very confidential instructions in detail as to what we were to do in the event of certain further orders being received, and soon afterwards, at midnight one night, a further message arrived. This, though brief enough, looked like business, and was to the effect that in the early morning a company of machine-guns would concentrate in Redoubt B; that later some other troops would come up; and that, when further orders came, I was to take my company to join the Regiment at a certain point, ready to move out. At 6 a.m. a tremendous cannonading could be heard in progress away down-stream. This continued almost without intermission for about a couple of hours, after which it gradually lessened, and then became spasmodic. Excitement and expectation, of course, ran high. We diagnosed the situation from the sounds which we heard; we imagined that the relief force had delivered the assault at 8 a.m., and we calculated the exact time at which we should be called upon to sally out. We waited all day, but, alas! we waited in vain; and at dusk, by way of consolation, we were told that the bombardment had been very successful, and that much movement had been observed and noted ! So we returned to our several positions to wait once more.
About ten days after this, things again began to flutter—very secretly and confidentially. I got more hypothetical orders; and late on the evening of the 8th March I received the message for which I had been waiting. We spent a portion of that night getting ready; before it was light a comparatively small number of an Indian regiment took over the Redoubt, and we joined the remainder of the Battalion, from the Fort, as it reached the main communication trench on our side.
We reached Kut just about daybreak, to find that almost two brigades had been concentrated there, leaving the trenches only lightly manned; and immediately afterwards we heard a heavy cannonade beginning down-stream, but much nearer and in a more southerly direction than on previous occasions. Presently there was a loud explosion in the river quite close to us, caused, we heard afterwards, by the blowing up of a mine, which our people had floated down in hopes of demolishing the Turkish bridge across the Shatt-el-Hai—apparently without success. We spent that day cooped up in an old stable-yard, in a somewhat restless state, occasionally climbing up to the one safe coign of vantage on a wall, from which little could be seen, owing to a very thick mirage. This entertainment was varied by the receipt from time to time of orders, explanatory of what we were going to do if General Aylmer did actually break through, and our manner and order of trying to cross the river. Towards evening the mirage cleared a little when we could see plenty of smoke, and the cannonade became intense again. Our investing Turks also gave us a reminder of their presence by dropping a few shells in Kut, but the result was only one casualty; arid the day finished with the usual message of news, reassuring, but very ambiguous. We interpreted it in the most hopefuls spirit possible, and settled down where we were for the night, glad at any rate to get a night off duty, as it were.
Next day there was a repetition of the cannonade down-stream, but it died away, and left us, if not actually gloomy, at any rate more anxious and pensive as the day dragged on. At nightfall we knew all that we needed to know when we received orders to resume the status quo ante of our trenches, and we were back in position before it was really dark. We found that the Turks had just sent a white flag across, near Redoubt B, with a message; and we heard later that it was to say that surely honour was satisfied by the present length of the siege, and we could honourably surrender. A rather similar message was sent in just about the beginning of the siege, and I believe that both messages were very suitably replied to.
"Communique to the Troops at Kut. "As on a former occasion, I take the troops of all ranks into my confidence again and repeat the two following telegrams received from General Aylmer, from which they will see that our relieving force has again failed to relieve us :--
"'1st Telegram. 8th March. "'Today's operations terminated in a gallant but unsuccessful attempt to storm Dujailah Redoubt. Troops pushed home attack and carried out the operation with great gallantry, but the enemy was able to mass reinforcements which arrived from left bank at Magasis and Shumran, and we were unable to break through. Unless the enemy retires from his present position on the right bank, which does not seem probable, we shall be unable to maintain ourselves in present position, owing to lack of water; and unless the enemy evacuates the Es Sinn position, we shall be obliged to withdraw to our previous position at Wadi.'
'"2nd Telegram. 8th March. "We have been unable to break through to relieve you today, and may have to withdraw to Wadi tomorrow, but hope to make another attack before long and relieve you at an early date. Please wire movements of enemy, who, in any case, suffered most severely, as their repeated counter-attacks have been repulsed with heavy loss.'
"I know you will all be deeply disappointed to hear this news. We have now stood a three-months' siege in a manner which has called upon you the praise of our beloved King and our fellow countrymen in England, Scotland, Ireland, and India, and all this after your brilliant battles of Kut-al-Amarah and, Ctesiphon, and your retirement to Kut, all of which feats of arms are now famous. Since 5th December 1915 you have spent 3 months of cruel uncertainty, and to all men and all people uncertainty is intolerable; as I say, on the top of all this comes the second failure to relieve us. And I ask you also to give a little sympathy to me who have commanded you in these battles referred to, and who, having come to you as a stranger, now love my command with a depth of feeling I have never known in my life before. When I mention myself, I would couple the names of the Generals under me whose names are distinguished in the Army as leaders of men.
"I am speaking to you, as I did before, straight from the heart, and, as I say, ask your sympathy for my feelings, having promised you relief on certain dates on the promise of those ordered to relieve us—not their fault no doubt—do not think that I blame them— they are giving their lives freely and deserve our gratitude and admiration.
"But I want you to help me again as before. I have asked General Aylmer for the next attempt, which must be made before the end of this month, to bring such numbers as will break down all resistance and leave no doubt of the issue. Large reinforcements are reaching him, including an English Division of 17,000 men, the leading Brigade of which must have reached Wadi by now—that is to say, General Aylmer's Headquarters. In order, then, to hold out, I am killing a large number of horses so as to reduce the quantity of grain eaten every day, and I have had to reduce your ration. It is necessary to do this in order to keep our flag flying—I am determined to hold out, and I know you are with me in this, heart and soul. "Charles Townshend, Major-General, "Commanding 6th Division. "Kut-al-Amarah, : 10th March 1916."
"Communique to the Troops. "Message from General Sir Percy Lake, K.C.M.G., C.B., D.S.O., dated 10th March 1916 :--
"I can realize to the full and sympathize most deeply, with the disappointment which both you and your command must feel at our recent failure to relieve you. Rest assured, however, that we shall not abandon the effort, and that for the next attempt the maximum force will be employed.' Kut-al-Amarah, 11th March 1916.
I believe, as a matter of fact, that this attempt was much nearer a success than appears; and, but for a few misfortunes, might have been the most brilliant success imaginable, as the effort in the new quarter took the Turks completely by surprise. Afterwards, in Baghdad, I discussed the fight with Turkish officers, who told me that the whole day was absolute touch and go with them, and that if our people had known exactly how the Turks were situated, nothing could have saved them from a disaster. Had they been driven from their position on the right bank they could retreat only by the bottle-neck of the bridge over the Hai, and by a ferry across the Tigris, both more or less under our artillery fire, and the former the possible objective of the Kut garrison, issuing out to complete the Turkish rout. However, speculations as to what might have happened are of little use, and at the time we knew no details of what had actually taken place. All that we knew was that we had got to settle down again in the full consciousness of the fact that there had been another failure to relieve us. It would be entirely wrong to make out that we were not disappointed; we were bitterly so, for we realized that the failure of so strenuous an attempt meant a very considerable delay before another could be made.
As shadowed in the communique given above, from now onwards rations were largely reduced, and continued to lessen week by week until the end of the siege. In December the food was plentiful and excellent; but with the New Year it became what might be called frugal, without any luxuries whatever, and with only an occasional extra (butter, etc.) served out about twice a week. Early in January we began to eat horses and mules, and this was the only meat for the remainder of the siege. From the middle of January a sort of brown bread had been issued, and the size of the loaf gradually decreased; but the rations could be supplemented to a certain extent by purchasing dahl, chuppatties, and such-like things from the Arab population, but now this was stopped.
Happily, in three or four days' time heavy rain came to divert our thoughts from the outlook. Hitherto the downpour of one night had been sufficient to necessitate a lot of cleaning up and draining to make the trenches habitable. Now, a night's storm was liable to cause a regular flood, which, combined with the river rising, was really serious. I should explain that, although heavy rain caused the river to rise, what affected the rise most was the melting of the snow on the mountains at the head of the Tigris. Thus we never knew what a day would bring forth; we would recover from a rain flood, and be enjoying finer and warmer weather, when suddenly we would notice that as the heat steadily increased so the river steadily rose.
This particular flood of rain was the most serious that we had had since January, and at that time Q Company was in the Fort—on higher ground. It flooded the whole of Redoubt B up to the firing platforms (about 2 feet), so that we were only just able to find more or less dry sleeping places for the men. The echelon trenches were even worse, and could not be occupied by night, and only half the Retrenchment was habitable. But so long as communication was not interrupted (as it was sometimes for an hour or two, owing to the wires getting draggled in the mud), there was no cause for alarm, as the ground was so sloshy that an attack would have been very difficult, as well as very noisy. We spent the better part of two days cleaning up the Redoubt, and a tiresome job it was. We baled out the water with old tins, but the place; was so low-lying that half the water came back again. Then we tried soaking up the water by throwing down earth into it; but that was not a great success, as digging out the saturated earth was very heavy work. At last we borrowed a pump from the sappers, and got on better, though we had to drain the trenches by sections, filling them up every here and there, and then redigging them. But, in the end, we succeeded, which was the main point.
Soon after, the river began to rise visibly, and we had very restless nights, not only from having to watch the approaching flood water, but also from the telephone, which brought agitated messages from Headquarters and from various other parts, both of warning (and of anxious inquiry. A party had to be always at hand to block up a trench wherever an inrush of water seemed imminent. One never knew where it was coming, for it percolated for immense distances through the extraordinarily porous soil, and also through 'rat-holes. The Arabs' method of "bunding" the river banks was far too elaborate for the time and labour at our disposal; they make their bunds of great thickness, and thoroughly rammed with a core of heavy damp mud, besides being well keyed into the earth; but we could not manage all this, and we had to make the best trench bunds we could to meet sudden emergencies.
Several dry but anxious days passed, and then one night we saw the flood coming on at the rate of about a yard an hour. I watched it on and off from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. It advanced quite steadily, and was on far too wide a front to check; so, when it reached our barbed wire, I sent a message to Brigade Headquarters describing our danger of being flooded out, and asking for instructions. I was authorized to evacuate if the worst should happen, but that I would receive a visit from the Field Engineer of the section in a few minutes. We got everything ready for leaving, and put ammunition, bombs, rockets, etc., on the highest possible spots, when the Field Engineer arrived and examined the water with me. Although it was inside our barbed wire, it appeared now to be changing direction, and passing away to lower-lying ground, where there were trenches of another section. We warned the people there of the approaching danger, dammed up some portions of the Redoubt, and thought that we were safe for the present. But the Field Engineer had hardly left us to make his report to General Hoghton when suddenly, at a spot which we had never suspected, in burst a torrent of water, which nothing on earth could stop. It swept away two trench dams almost before we saw it coming, and it was over our ankles immediately. There was nothing for it now but to clear out; so leaving a party to fight the flood by throwing up a barricade at the entrance of the Redoubt where the ground was a trifle higher, I took the company back and established it in Middle Line, in accordance with my original instructions. Then, after explaining matters to the Brigadier, I returned to the Redoubt, where we eventually succeeded in preventing the water from getting any farther.
That night we reoccupied the trenches between Redoubt B and the blockhouse on the east, as well as a part of the Retrenchment. The echelon trenches had been completely destroyed, and, in fact, there remained now unflooded in front of Middle Line, only the Fort, a short length of the Retrenchment, and the River Trenches south of the Fort, all of which had been "bunded" up fairly satisfactorily. But the respite was only temporary, for, before many days, we had a much worse flood, against which we fought furiously, until, on the last night of March, we were forced to abandon all hope of saving any of the advanced trenches.
At midnight, soaked to the skin, we got back to and occupied the sand dunes (between the Fort and Middle Line), and as they were above the flood level, we were able to hold on there, although we had fearful struggles to get the place property entrenched, as the fine, crumbling sand would not stand by itself. Consequently we made mud bricks by day, and revetted the trenches by night, and in the course of time had, I think, quite a satisfactory bit of line, with machine-gun emplacements, barbed wire (" spiders "), etc. Middle Line now became the only real line of defence facing north, everything in front of it having gone, except the Fort and the sand dunes. The importance of hanging on to these two advanced positions was evident, as if the Turks had succeeded in seizing them they would have dominated Middle Line.
The sand dune trenches were Q Company's own little show, no one else being there, and the strength of the company was now about 70 men, with two machine-guns. Our chief fear was that we might be shelled, as decent-sized shells would have levelled our heaps of sand at once; but, fortunately, nothing heavier than a pom-pom ever fired directly at us, and they did us no harm. As far as observation went we had probably the best position in the whole place, being able to see the Turkish camps and ships up-stream at Shumran. We used to obtain a certain amount of amusement by watching them through our telescopes, and twice we had the unbounded satisfaction of seeing sections of them flooded out of their camp trenches. From our position we could see away downstream also, and had some nights of excitement, when the flashes of our artillery could be seen in great strength, and Turkish rockets going up for all they were worth. This was early in April, when the relief force made another unsuccessful attempt to break through, to us, as will be seen from what General Townshend wrote in the following :--
"Communique to the Troops, British and Indian. "The result of the attack of the Relief Force on the Turks entrenched in the Sannaiyat position is that the Relief Force has not yet won its way through, but is entrenched close up to the Turks :—in places some 200 or 300 yards distant. General Gorringe wired me last night he was consolidating his position as close to the enemy's trenches as he can get, with the intention of attacking again. He had had some difficulty with the floods, which he had remedied. I have no other details. However, you will see that I must not run any risk over the date calculated to which our rations would last, namely, 15th April, as you all understand well that digging means delay, though General Gorringe does not say so.
"I am compelled, therefore, to appeal to you all to make a determined effort to eke out our scanty means, so that I can hold out for certain till our comrades arrive, and I know I shall not appeal to you in vain.
"I have, then, to reduce your rations to 5 ounces of meal for all ranks, British and Indian.
"In this way I can hold out till the 21st April, if it becomes necessary ; I do not think it will become necessary, but it is my duty to take all the precautions in my power.
"I am very sorry I can no longer favour the Indian soldiers in the matter of meal, but there is no possibility of doing so now. It must be remembered that there is plenty of horseflesh, which they have been authorized by their religious leaders to eat, and I have to recall with sorrow, by not having taken advantage of this wise and just dispensation, they have weakened my power of resistance by one month.
"In my communique to you on the 26th January I told you that our duty stood out plain and simple; it was to stand here and hold up the Turkish advance on the Tigris, working heart and soul together, and I expressed the hope that we would make this defence to be remembered in history as a glorious one, and I asked you in this connexion to remember the defence of Plevna, which was longer than that of even Ladysmith.
"Well, you have nobly carried out your mission; you have nobly answered the trust and appeal I put to you—the whole British Empire, let me tell you, is ringing now with our Defence of Kut. You will all be proud to say one day, ' I was one of the Garrison of Kut'—and as for Plevna and Ladysmith we have outlasted them also.
Whatever happens now we have all done our duty, as I said in my reports of the defence of this place which have now been telegraphed to Headquarters. I said that it was not possible in dispatches to mention everyone, but I could safely say that every individual in this Force had done his duty to his King and Country. I was absolutely calm and confident, as I told you on the 26th January, of the ultimate result, and I am confident now. I ask you all, comrades of all ranks, British and Indian, to help me now in this food question, as I ask you above.
"General Sir Percy Lake, the Army Commander, wired to me yesterday evening to say 'There can be no doubt that Gorringe can in time force his way through to Kut; in consequence of yesterday's failure, however, it is certainly doubtful if he can reach you by April 15th.'
"This is an answer to a telegram from me yesterday morning to say that as it appeared to me doubtful that General Gorringe would be here by the 15th April, I had reluctantly still further reduced the rations so as to hold on till 21st April.
"I hope the Indian Officers will help me now in my great need in using commonsense talk with the Indian soldier to eat horseflesh as the Arabs of the town are doing. "Charles Townshend, Major-General, "Commanding 6th Division. "Kut-al-Amarah, "11th April 1916."
Things went on much as before; the continuous rain was over, but heavy storms, lasting a few hours, used to swoop down upon us, and we had some miserable nights, since our scanty overhead cover gave little protection from the rain. It was just about this time that General Hoghton, our Brigadier, died quite suddenly of some internal complaint. He was one of the nicest men in the whole force and he never missed a day visiting us in the Redoubt and our position afterwards. It was thought that he had been poisoned by something that he had eaten. Rations were, of course, very short now, and in order to supplement them, parties used to go out in the front at night and cut whatever vegetation appeared wholesome. Possibly he was poisoned by some of this, and a little later on two of our men in the Fort died suddenly—apparently from poisoning—so the Colonel stopped the whole Regiment gathering "green stuff." Colonel Eyans, G.S.O.I., succeeded General Hoghton as Brigadier.
The story of the remainder of the siege is soon told, though the last fortnight was rather a long drawn out record of hopes deferred, and finally crushed. Throughout the week before Easter Sunday desperate attempts were being made downstream by the Relief Force. They broke, at great cost, through the successive Turkish positions; but all in vain, for a tremendous counter attack by the enemy (in which he is known to have lost immense numbers) settled for good and all our chance of being relieved. Hoping against hope, we had dragged on a week longer than had been imagined possible. Aeroplanes dropped food for us every day; but their efforts, much as we admired them, could only prolong the trouble by inches. A few aeroplanes, carrying even as much as 300 lb., as some did, could really help very little in providing food for 16,000 mouths—about the number (including the Arab population) beleaguered in Kut. Besides, they had to fly for "20 miles over Turkish ground, continually being attacked, and at least one of our machines was driven down on the return journey. Bough' estimate of numbers in Kut on the 15th April: British, 2,700 ; Indian troops and followers, 10,500 ; Arab population, 3,000 ;total, 16,200. The total weight of supplies dropped by the aeroplanes, working continuously for ten days, was nearly 16,000 lb., which provided a bare 4oz. ration for four days.
Finally we were told very secretly on the Wednesday evening after Easter that a boat of foodstuffs would try to run the blockade that night, and we were told off to various duties, with a view to distracting the enemy's attentions. Of course, we realized that it was a forlorn hope. We heard the running escort of rifle and artillery fire, and could actually watch it, until it abruptly ceased at a spot about 4 miles to the east, and we were not slow to guess that the worst had happened. This was the " Julnar," which was captured by the Turks at Magasis.
After that it was merely a matter of hours. Negotiations were opened, and General Townshend made the following announcement:--
"Communique to the Troops. "It became clear after General Gorringe's second repulse on the 22nd April at Sannaiyat, of which I was informed by the Army Commander by wire, that the Relief Force could not win its way through in anything like time to relieve us, our limit of resistance as regards food being the 29th April. It is hard to believe that the large forces comprising the Relief Force now could not fight their way to Kut, but there is the fact staring us in the face.
"I was then ordered to open negotiations for the surrender of Kut, in the words of the Army Commander's telegram, 'the onus not lying on yourself. You are in the position of having conducted a gallant and successful defence, and you will be in a position to get better terms than any emissary of ours . . . The Admiral, who has been in consultation with the Army Commander, considers that you, with your prestige, are likely to get the best terms. We can, of course, supply food as you may arrange.'
"Those considerations alone, namely, that I can help my comrades of all ranks to the end, have decided me to overcome my bodily illness and the anguish of mind which I am suffering now, and I have interviewed the Turkish General-in-Chief yesterday, who is full of admiration at 'an heroic defence of 5 months,' as he put it.
"Negotiations are still in progress, but I hope to be able to announce your departure for India on parole, not to serve against the Turks, since the Turkish Commander-in-Chief says he thinks it will be allowed, and has wired to Constantinople to ask for this, and that the ' Julnar,' which is lying with food for us at Magasis, may now be permitted to come to us.
"Whatever has happened, my comrades, you can only be proud of yourselves. We have done our duty to King and Empire—the whole world knows we have done our duty.
"I ask you to stand by me, with your ready and splendid discipline shown throughout, in the next few days for the expedition of all service I demand of you. We may possibly go into camp, I hope, between the Fort and town along the shore, whence we can easily embark. " C. V. F. Townshend, Major-General, " Commanding the Garrison of Kut. " Kut-al-Amarah, "28th April 1916."
"Communique to the Troops. "The following message has been received by Major-General C. V. F. Townshend, C.B., D.S.O., from the Army Commander :--
"The C.-in-C. has desired me to convey to you and your brave and devoted troops his appreciation of the manner in which you together have undergone the suffering and hardships of the siege, which he knows has been due to the high spirit of devotion to duty in which you have met the call of your Sovereign and Empire.
"The C-in-C.'s sentiments are shared by myself, General Gorringe, and all troops of the Tigris Column.
'"We can only express extreme disappointment and regret that our efforts to relieve you should not have been crowned with success.'"
"Copy of a telegram from Captain Nunn, C.M.G., D.S.O., R.N., to Major-General C. V. F. Townshend, C.B.,D.S.O., dated 29th April :- '"We, the Officers and Men of the Royal Navy, who have been associated with the Tigris Corps, and many of us so often worked with you and your gallant troops, desire to express our heartfelt regret at our inability to join hands with you and your comrades in Kut.'"
We spent the night in depositing most of our ammunition in the river, and the next early morning in destroying documents, machine-guns, revolvers, etc., while all the forty or more guns had their muzzles blown away one by one, and the wireless apparatus was destroyed. About midday we piled arms, and placed on the ground such ammunition as we had left, and then marched down to the palm-groves near the town. The Turks came in and took over, and by nightfall we were off duty and under sentries. The officers were then separated from the men and taken to Baghdad, except Seconds-in-Command of Regiments, who remained with their men a little longer. But I cannot speak from personal knowledge of what exactly took place, as on the second day after the surrender I was forced to go to hospital with fever (probably para-typhoid), and while convalescing from that, in Baghdad, I got dysentery. I remained in Baghdad for some months, and then had the good fortune to be exchanged and sent down to Basra with all the other invalid prisoners of war.
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