OUR line was where the plateau rose and then dropped steeply into deep, narrow fissures. The night was maddening with cold, and the rum ration came as a sheer necessity. All through this brief Tekrit campaign the British troops were without coats or blankets. The Indian troops had transport for theirs. The arrangement was correct in theory, since we came from a chill climate.
None of these later Mesopotamian pushes could be much more than raids. The rivers in this latitude were too shallow and shifting for transport, so we had to be fed and watered by means of Ford cars. It taxed the whole of the army’s resources in Fords for Tekrit, blankets and coats having to give way to rations. Whilst the 7th Division pushed, the other two fronts were practically immobilized. Maude could strike on only one at a time of our three rivers. Ramadie was fought in September ; Tekrit in November ; Kifri in December ; and the same round, of Euphrates, Tigris, and Diyaleh, was followed in 1918.
So we had ten days of what seemed arctic exposure. This night after Daur, Diggins shared a Burberry with me ; natheless the night was one of insane wretchedness. We rejoiced, with more than Vedic joy, to greet the dawn, though the flies swiftly made us long for night again.
On the 3rd we moved slightly forward. My brigade rested, while the 19th went on. The enemy’s lines at Aujeh were taken easily. One wounded Turk was captured. He was set on a horse, and paraded restlessly back and forward, for some mystic reason, during the day. Fowke’s solution was that the authorities hoped the troops would count him many times over, and been heartened by the thought that we had destroyed the Turks’ last force in Mesopotamia. When the Aujeh lines had been taken, our cavalry, supported by the artillery, tried to rush Tekrit and burn the stores. This proved impracticable, so we shelled the dumps at long range. My brigade stood by, and watched from a high plateau the bursts and the great smoke-curtains which went up, as once from burning Sodom. The affair furnished Fowke with some excellent fooling. He would stand on a knoll and gnash his teeth, in Old Testament fashion declaiming, ‘ I will neither wash nor shave till Tekrit has fallen.’ It is unnecessary to say that the vow was kept, and overkept ; and not by Fowke alone. At other times he was plaintive and reproachful. We were shelling TekritTekrit, the Turkish base, where the Turkish hospitals were, and ` the pretty little Turkish nurses.’ ` You chaps don’t think about these things. You’re selfish, and don’t care. I do.’
The desultory fighting of this day was not without casualties. The 19th Brigade lost fifty-six men up to 2 p.m. ; later I heard the figures were fourteen killed and seventy-three wounded. These were not in the taking ‘ of the single line of Aujeh trenches, but came from long-distance shell-fire. The cavalry, too, lost men. The enemy slipped out on our coming, but their guns had the line beautifully registered. In the evening the 28th Brigade covered the cavalry’s return. We had our own work as well. Fourteen shell-ammunition dumps fell into our hands by the enemy’s retreat from Daur. These we collected, and quantities of shell-cases and wood. The Turkish gunners had most elaborate and comfortably-made dugouts, finely timbered. These were dismantled and fired. We marched in, with the hills ablaze about us, and the darkness warm and bright.
The 4th was Sunday. Fritz appeared about 6.30 a.m., and bombed us, coming very low indeed. Mesopotamia being a side-show for us, the enemy usually had at least one machine better than any of ours. This Sabbath Fritz spent in fetching bombs and distributing them. Twice he bombed the Leicestershires in the Turks’ old trenches, but hit no one. So he paid no more attention to the infantry, but looked up the artillery, and the wagon-lines, and the transport. Here he did a deal of damage, and we soon had horses careering madly about the place. Reports came that the Turks were advancing. So, though no one dreamed that they would make a serious attack, we consolidated the last lines of the Daur position against them.
My diary notes : ‘ Rum ration. Flies.’ For such elemental things had existence become memorable.
The day was cheered by news of the Gaza successes, as the previous day had been by that of Beersheba.
Fritz occupied his afternoon and evening in the same disreputable fashion. At nightfall our authorities were debating whether to go on to Tekrit or fall back to Samarra. Diggins, the fire-eater, hoped earnestly for the former course, and laid confident bets that it would be. Our brigadier, when I ran across him, deplored that in April we had stopped at Samarra, though he had urged our going on to Tekrit (or anywhere else where there were Turks).
Orders came. We were to fall back two miles, then sweep westward, and on to Tekrit. Fowke reiterated his engagement not to shave or wash till Tekrit had fallen ; and we burned, with reluctant glee, the excellent wood that Johnny Turk had collected against our coming to Daur. Now in Mesopotamia wood is far, far more precious than rubies. But this wood had to be burned, since we were not coming back. So vast and glorious fires sprang up. And each hero, in his turn lifting a long beam, like a phalarica, hurled it at the blaze. The assembled Trojans cheered, with admiration or derision, according as each shot fell accurately or short. In this wise, then, did Sunday evening pass with the 17th Foot.