Mesopotamia – 1915/16

The campaign in Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq – was fought primarily between the British and the Ottoman Empires in late 1915 and 1916. The British retreat from the Battle of Ctesiphon had been halted at Kut-al-Amara on 19th November 1915, and so the British troops reinforced the position in order to face the Turks. The pursuing Turkish forces then surrounded the defenders at Kut in an attempt to cut them off from reinforcements and resupply. The siege of Kut was underway.

A detachment of the 1/4th Hampshires under Major Footner, were left to assist in the defence of Kut. The Turkish attacks culminated on Christmas Day in which the defenders, including the Hampshires, were able to repel the Turkish onslaught.  The defenders not only had to deal with attacks at their front, but also had to battle against the rising waters of the Tigris River in their rear which threatened to flood the entire area. Fearing that further direct attacks on the town would be too costly, the Turkish commanders abandoned plans for an assault and chose instead to starve out the defenders.

Rations amongst the British troops were gradually cut, forcing them to supplement their diet  with weeds and grasses, fish from the River Tigris and any wild birds they managed to shoot. However, this did not nearly make up for the shortfall. The siege finally came to an end on 19th April 1916 despite many attempts to relieve the garrison. By this stage the beleaguered defenders were in a terrible state, under-nourished, exhausted and ridden with disease. These men would then have to endure more than two years of Turkish captivity, an ordeal that only a few would survive.

The remainder of the 1/4th Hampshires did not fare much better. On 21st January 1916 they were involved in a disastrous attempt to relieve Kut, losing 13 out of 16 officers and 230 out of 339 other ranks.