DAY was welcome, for it brought movement, though movement harassed by cold and then by heat and ever-increasing clouds of flies. We snatched our mugs of tea, our bread and bacon. At 3:30 we moved off. We marched behind the wall, then crossed the Dujail, and pushed towards the left flank of the enemy’s position. Vast clouds of white dust shut us close from any knowledge as we climbed up a narrow pass. Fortunately the light was hardly even dim yet.
We dropped into a plain, and saw the Hero’s Way by which the others had gone. Dead Gurkhas and Highlanders lay everywhere. I have always felt that the sight of a dead Highlander touches even deeper springs of pathos than the sight of any other corpse. Analysed, the feeling comes to this, I think : in his kilt he seems so obviously a peasant, lying murdered on the breast of the Universal Mother.
So we marvelled as we saw the way and the way’s pricemarvelled that any could have survived to that stiff, towering redoubt, with its moat of trenches and the trenches ringing its sides ; and marvelled most of all that any should have scaled its top, though for a moment only. These trenches held abundant dead, Turks and our own. On the reverse slope I came on rows of the enemy, huddled on their knees, their hands lifted to shield their heads from the shrapnel which had killed them. Below ran Dujail in its steep ditch ; inland the plateau rose, against which the 19th Brigade had surged.
For once the Turk’s retreat had been precipitate. That master of rearguard warfare had meant to stand here, to save railhead and all its rolling-stock. His dead were more than ours ; and all our way was strewn with debris. Candles and cones of sugar were in plenty, ammunition, blanketsfor Johnny had not been cold, as we hadbivvies, clothes, slippers. I carried an ammunition-box a few miles, thinking it would make a good letter-case.
The enemy had gone. Before passing to tell of this new day’s battle I quote, from Hasted’s account, a description of Istabulat lines :
The Turks intended to spend the summer there ; they did not contemplate an attack before the hot weather set in. Three well-concealed lines of trenches had been prepared, on small hills and amongst deep nullas, with the water-supply of the Dujail running through the centre. Advanced redoubts and strong points made the defences formidable.
The brigade formed up about 6:30 a.m., the 53rd Sikhs coming in from picket on the extreme right. We passed the 56th Brigade, R.F. A . , whose officers eagerly came with us a short distance, telling us of the previous day. We halted for breakfast. Verbal orders came from Division. They were just ‘ Push on vigorously.’ With it was coupled an assurance that there was nothing against us, that the enemy was fleeing, thoroughly demoralized.
We moved on. From across the Tigris guns boomed steadily. Distant glimpses of river showed shoals, islands, spaces green with cultivation. An enemy plane, reconnoitring, was shot down, and pilot and observer killed. This incident had an important influence on the battle which followed. Even at this stage of the campaign, we fought in Mesopotamia, both sides, with the most exiguous number of planes. The Turks having lost their best machine and pilot, our old friend Fritz, feared to risk another. Hence, when the mounds of the ancient city of Istabulat lay across our front, the hostile observation was from the ground in front and from our left flank only. And we were enabled to pass through a depression, whilst his fire went overhead, and so into the mounds.
We passed a 5.9 disabled by a direct hit and nearly buried. The bare country was cracked with nullas, some of them deep. Then we opened into artillery formation, and entered utter desert. In front were innumerable mounds, a dead town of long ago. We went warily, with that quiet expectation, almost the hardest of all experiences to endure, of the first shell’s coming. The official message was that the enemy was incapable of serious opposition. But of this the rank and file knew nothing had they known, old experience would have made them sceptical. Fowke’s view, that all would prove to be for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds and arrangements, was the reigning philosophy. An adapted edition of Schopenhauer would have sold well in the mess (or anywhere in Mesopotamia). Novelists speak of the hero being conscious that eyes, in the forest or in his room at night (as may be), are watching, watching. This knowledge governs the feeling of ‘ going in artillery formation,’ with the added knowledge that, though in broad sun, you cannot hope to see your foe, who is certain to spring on you, and merely waits till you are well under fire.
The bolt fell. About 9 a.m. a double report was heard ; then the Cherub sent back word, ‘ Four enemy snipers retiring.’ By 9:30 firing was heavy. The Cherub was wounded, and his two scouts killed. The enemy was invisible, and mirage made ranging impossible. The ground four hundred yards away was a fairyland that danced and glimmered. When a target was perceived, of Turks racing back, the orders for fire were changed quickly, from ‘ Three hundred yards ‘ to ‘ fourteen hundred yards.’ Very vainly. This mirage continued throughout the fight. Ahead was what we called the ‘ Second Median Wall,’ a crumbled wall some twenty feet high, which ran across the front of the mounds. To its extreme left, our right, and in front of this wall, was the Turkish police-post of Istabulat, by which the battle was presently to be raging.
In those mounds the enemy had excellent cover. Our leading company followed the scouts, and took possession of the ruins. The Tigers ‘ were arranged in four lines, according to companies, with less than three hundred yards between the lines. Dropping bullets fell fast, especially in the rear lines. About 10 a.m. two shells burst about a hundred yards in front of Wilson and myself. Then Hell opened all her mouths and spat at us. The battalion lay down and waited. Twelve – pounder pipsqueaks ‘ came in abundance, with a sprinkling of heavier stuff. Many soldiers prefer the latter. You can hear a 5.9 coming, and it gives you time to collect yourself, and thus perhaps escape giving others the trouble to collect what is left of you. I remember once hearing General Peebles say that in his long experience of many wars he had known only three men absolutely devoid of fear, Smith and Brown andJones ‘ (mentioning a notorious and most-admired fire-eating brigadier, a little man in whom bursting shells produced every symptom of intoxication except inability to get about). Then he added, I’m not sure about Jones.’
It is interesting to notice the different ways in which nervousness shows. I remember one man in whom was never observed the slightest emotion amid the terriblest happenings, till one day some one noticed that whenever he went forward he turned up his jacket-collar, as if to shelter from that fiery rain. Myself, I hate the beginning of conflict, and am eager to push well into it and under the shell-barrage. As there is said to be a cool core in the heart of flame, so there is a certain cool centre for the spirit where horror is radiating out to a wide circumference. In the depths one must surrender one’s efforts and trust to elemental powers and agonies, but in the shallows all the calls are on the transitory being’ whose flesh and blood are pitted against machinery. How can the nerves and trembling thought bear up ? Yet they have borne up, even in men quick with sense and imagination. I felt restless as we lay on the flat desert listening to the bullets singing by or to a nosecap’s leisured search for a victim, dipping and twisting to left and right till at last it thudded down. If one must lie still, then company gives a feeling of security. Fate may have, doubtless has, a special down on you, but even Fate is unlikely to blow you to bits if the act involves blowing to bits several of her more favoured sons. So I remember with amusement my vague vexation with the curiosity that always made my companion get up and stroll about when under fire, peering round. Though he went scarcely five yards, it seemed like desertion.
We watched our guns run up to the ‘ Pimple,’ a recently built-up mound slightly ahead of us, lately used as a Turkish 0. Pip, now accruing to us for the same purpose. The infantry assumed that these wagons and limbers moving a hundred yards to our right would draw all the enemy’s fire, in which case we, helpless on the flat, would be shelled out of this existence. But this did not happen ; why, I cannot guess, unless I have correctly traced the reason for that bad observation so marked in the Turkish gunning all through this day. We were in the slightest possible depression, with a scarcely perceptible lift on our left and a steady rise before. Shells plunged incessantly down our left, and went whistling far beyond us. But comparatively few burst among us ; and the shrapnel burst far too high to do damage.
Our batteries were in position at the Pimple.’ We rose, marched through a tornado of noise, right-turned, and went across the muzzle of our own guns, also in full blast. In front I saw lines of Leicester-shires scaling the slope and melting into the mounds.
My diary notes : Men’s delight to see river.’ We came suddenly upon Brother Tigris, basking in beautiful sunlight, becalmed in bays beneath lofty bluffs. In this dreadful land water meant everything ; we had had experiences of thirst, not to be effaced in a lifetime. Away from the river men grew uneasy. The river meant abundance to drink, and bathing ; everywhere else water was bad, or the supply precarious. We had been away from the river since that night opposite Sindiyeh. So not the crashing shells, the ‘ pipsqueaks ‘ ripping the air like dried paper, nor the bullets pinging by, prevented men from greeting so dear a sight. Standing on the beach of imminent strife, in act to plunge, men cried, The Tigress, the Tigress ! ‘ Instantly a scene flashed back to memory from the book so often near to thought in these days : how Xenophon, weary and anxious with the restlessness and depression of his much-tried troops, heard a clamour from those who had reached a hill-crest, and, riding swiftly up to take measures against the expected peril, found them shouting Thalatta, Thalatta: Seafaring folk, the most of them, they had caught, far below, their first glimpse of the Euxine, truly a hospitable water to them, since it could bear them home.
Wilson dressed his first wounded in sheltered, broken ground, high above the river. The peaceful beauty of the place is with me still. Above the blue, unruffled pools green flycatchers darted, and rollers spread metallic wings. The left bank lay low and very lovely with flowers and fields. I will answer you,’ said Sir Walter Raleigh, asked his opinion of a glass of wine, given as he went to execution, as the man did who was going to Tyburn.
” This is a good drink, if a man might but tarry by it.” ‘ Wilson left me here with Dobson ; but almost immediately he sent back asking us to rejoin him. Our few cases, all walking ones, remained in this shelter till such time as they could fall back, and Dobson and I crossed into the mounds.
It was nearly eleven o’clock. Our leading company had advanced by rushes to a distance of a hundred and fifty yards beyond the Second Median Wall. They were within three hundred yards of the main enemy trenches. Battalion Head Quarters was at the wall, the 56th Rifles were to the left, the two Sikh regiments a quarter of a mile to the rear. Machine-gun sections were at the wall, supporting the forward regiments. The 56th Brigade, R.F.A., had moved up, and were firing close behind Wilson’s new aid-post. Presently two more companies of Leicestershires were sent beyond the wall, the third in response to a message that the front line had suffered heavily and were short of ammunition. Before the final assault, then, the Leicestershires’ line, from the east inland, was D, A, B, these three companies in this order.
But I am anticipating.
Wilson’s A.P. was in a dwarf amphitheatre, and was filling up fast. Bullets were zipping over from left and front. The enemy position rested on river and railway, a half-dug position which some six thousand men were frantically completing when we caught them. Away beyond Tigris glittered the golden dome of Samarra mosque ; Samarra town and Samarra station, like Baghdad town and station, are on opposite banks of the river. The station was railhead for this finished lower line of eighty miles, and in it were the engines and rolling-stock which had been steadily withdrawn before our advance. Beyond the mounds the ground dropped and stretched, level but broken, swept by machine-gun and rifle, torn with shell and shrapnel, away to Al-Ajik, against Samarra town. Here the Turk resisted savagely. He was rangingon the wall, which was an extremely unhealthy spot, particularly in its gaps, and he enfiladed the mounds from the railway. We flung our fifteen hundred bayonets and our maniple of cavalry at the position. The one British regiment, the Leicestershires, went in three hundred and thirty strong, and lost a hundred and twenty-eight men.
Dropping bullets took toll even before we left the mounds. As I came up to join Wilson a man was carried past. It was Major Adams, acting secondin-command of the 53rd Sikhs. He had gone ahead of his battalion to the wall, where a bullet struck him in the forehead. He died within fifteen minutes, and was unconscious as he went past me. No man in the brigade was more beloved. He was always first to offer hospitality. It was he who met our mess when they first reached Sumaikchah and invited them to come to his own for lunch. I never saw him but with a smile of infinite kindliness on his face, and I saw him very often.
Face swift to welcome, kindling eyes whose light Saw all as friends, we shall not meet again !
Here in the aid-post sat the Cherub, struck at last, a flesh-wound in his thigh with many others. Next to him was Charles Copeman, unwounded, waiting to go forward with his bombers. Presently came Warren, bright and jaunty as a bird, and carrying his left arm. I’m all right,’ said Montag, got a cushy one here.’ On his heels came G.A. ; his face was that of a man fresh from the Beatific Vision. Much later, when I had managed to get transport to push him away, I asked him, ‘ Got your stick, G.A. ? ‘ This was a stout stave on which he had carved, patiently and skilfully, his name, H. T. Grant-Anderson,’ and a fierce and able-looking tiger at the top, then his regiment, then curving round it the names of the actions in which it had supported him : Sannaiyat, iron Bridge, Mushaidie, Beled Station; while down the line now he was to add Istabulat-Samarra. This famed work of art he flaunted triumphantly as he climbed into the ambulance.
But with these, and before some of them, came very heavy news. By that fatal wall and on the bullet-swept space before it died many of our bravest. Hall, M.C., aged nineteen, who looked like Kipling’s Afridi :
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest ;
Hall fell, facing the finish of our journey and those bright domes of Samarra, already gilded from the sloping sun. His death was merciful, a bullet through the heart ; and sorrow came, not to him, but to those who loved him.’
The theory was strongly held in the Leicester-shires that the only way was to advance steadily. This weakened the enemy’s morale, and, further, he had no chance to pick out his ranges accurately. To this theory and practice of theirs they put down the fact that, though in the forefront of all their battles, their losses were often so much slighter than those of units that had acted more cautiously. I quote again from Hasted’s brilliant lecture on the battle :
There was no hesitation about the advance. Rushes were never more than twenty yards, more often ten to fifteen yards, as hard as one could go, and as flat as one could lie, at the end of it. The theory, ‘ the best way of supporting a neighbouring unit is to advance,’ was explained at once. The attention of the enemy’s rifles and machine-guns was naturally directed to the platoon or section advancing, even when they had completed their rush. Directly one saw a party getting slated, one took advantage of it to advance oneself, in turn drawing fire, but taking care to finish the rush before being properly ranged on. One seldom halted long enough to open covering-fire, and besides, there was nothing to fire at. Despite the very short halt, it is no exaggeration to say that I have seen men go to sleep between the rushes.
Shell-bursts provided excellent cover to advance behind. Individuals, such as runners, adopted a zigzag course with success ; we lost very few. Platoons and companies got mixed, but it was not difficult to retell off. Perhaps control was easier owing to very little rifle-fire from our side and the majority of enemy shells landing on the supports. There was no question of men taking insufficient cover ; they melted into the sand after five minutes with an entrenching tool, and during the actual advance they instinctively took advantage of every depression. Officers had no wish to stand up and direct ; signallers lay fiat with telephones. Stretcher-bearers did not attempt to work in front of the wall. Lewis-gunners suffered ; they carried gun and ammunition on the march (there were no mules), and the men were tired ; their rushes were not so fast as the platoon advances.
To G.A., lying waiting, before he was hit, came up his sergeant and said, That’s Mr. Hall over there, sir. I can see him lying dead.’ But G. A. had thoughts which pressed out even grief for his dead friend.
I shall find time, Cassius, I shall find time.’ Shakespeare might have added these men to those Time stood still withal. For over four hours they lay, within three hundred yards of their invisible foe, under the sleet of bullets. McInerney told me afterwards that it was the heaviest rifle-fire he had known, except the Wadi.’ The Wadi was the one which made the deepest impression of horror, of all those dreadful and useless slaughters in AvImer’s and Gorringe’s attempt to relieve Kutmade this impression, that is, so far as (to paraphrase Macaulay) there is a more or less in extreme horror. And McInerney had seen the 1915 fighting in Flanders. Fortunately the enemy kept most of his shells for farther back. We got plenty in the ruins. But by far the greatest number went far back, where he supposed our reinforcements were coming up. All afternoon we worked in the aid-post under a roof of shells, screaming in both directions, from the enemy and from our own guns. In front the enemy watched the ground so closely that G.A. got his wound by the accident of raising his elbow. But now, as it drew towards noon, there was a clatter as of old iron behind him, and Service, the machine-gunner, rushed up and erected his tripod and lethal toy. No man was more popular than Service in normal times. But to-day he and all his tribe stirred the bitter enmity that Ian Hay tells us the trench-mortar people aroused in France. Go away, Service,’ his friends entreated. But Service stayed, a fact which precipitated G.A.’s next short rush forward.
On the left the three Indian battalions did a holding attack, pushing out from the wall. They lost heavily. The 53rd Sikhs lost their Colonel (Grattan), their second-in-command (Adams), their adjutant (Blewitt), their quartermaster (Scarth), all killed or died of wounds. The last-named, a very gallant and lovable boy, died in my own aid-post, which he reached after nightfall. On the right Graham, of the machine-gunners, won the V.C. For this battle he was attached to the 56th Rifles. In the advance from the mounds and the heavy fighting on the left all his men became casualties. His gun was knocked out, and he was wounded. McKay, his second-in-command, was hit in the throat, and died. Graham then went back for his other gun. This also was knocked out. Meantime he had collected two more wounds. Compelled to retire, he disabled his second gun completely ; then he carried on with the Lewis-gun, though very short of ammunition, till a fourth wound put him out of action. Single-handed he held up a strong counterattack from the Turks massing on our left. Had these got round, the Leicestershires would have been cut off. It is satisfactory to be able to say that he survived, with no worse hurt than a scar across his face.
Before noon Wilson asked me to take charge of the aid-post. Dobson remained with me ; Wilson and Whitehead went up to the wall and established a new A.P. With me were left many stretcher-cases. In the confused character of the ground my place quickly developed into an independent aid-post, and,
in addition to receiving a stream of walking cases, methodically passed down by Wilson, had some hundred and thirty wounded, including Turks, who had no other treatment than such as Dobson and I knew how to give. I had never bandaged a man before, but my hands grew red to the elbow. Dobson worked grandly. As far as possible I left our own men to him, and dressed wounded Turks, of whom seventy were sent in late in the afternoon. This was on the fiat experimentum in corpore viii principle, as my fingers were unskilled, and yet the work was very great.
About noon a gun was heard on the left bank of the river. Shrapnel burst ‘ unpleasantly close,’ says Hasted, ‘ to our front line. More followed, and, after bracketing, seemed to centre about two hundred and fifty yards in front of us. We then realized that General Marshall’s Column had joined in, supporting us with enfilade gunfire ; we were unable to see their target, and could see nothing of the enemy trenches. We could make out single occasional shivering figures moving laterally in the mirage. One Turk was seen throwing up earth, standing up now and then to put up his hands to us. We tried him at ranges of three hundred to twelve hundred yards, but did not even frighten him ; observation was absurdly difficult. Firing slackened down, but on the left, out of sight in a depression, we could hear the 56th engaged.’
As Halted remarks, it seems incredible that our men lay from 11 a.m. till 3.30 p.m. within three hundred yards of the enemy’s trenches. Yet such is the fact.
At 4 p.m. we put down a concentrated bombardment of twenty minutes. The Leicestershires, a forlorn and depleted hope, moved swiftly up to within assaulting distance, C Company in reserve behind the right. _The 51st Sikhs supported the attack. The 56th Rifles put clown the heaviest fire they could, of rifles and all the efficient machine-guns with the Brigade. At 4.20 the guns lifted one hundred yards, and the Leicestershires rushed in. Hasted, watchful behind with C Company, pushed up rapidly to assist the front line. A long line of Turks rose from the ground. All these, and the enemy’s second line also, were taken prisoners. Dug-outs were cleared, and many officers were taken, where lofty cliffs overhang the Tigris. These prisoners were sent back with ridiculously weak escorts. They were dazed, their spirits broken. G.A., wounded and falling back in search of the aid-post, came on a large body, wandering sheep without a shepherd. These he annexed, and his orderly led them he himself, using the famous stick as a crook, coaxed them forward. Prisoners came, ten and twenty in charge of one man. When night had fallen, they sat round us and curiously watched us. Altogether the ‘ Tigers ‘hardly two hundred strong by nowtook over eight hundred prisoners. Many of these escaped by reason of the poverty of escort.
But I will not speak of prisoners now. Whilst our scanty stock of ammunition was being fired at the Turks, retiring rapidly, the Leicestershires were pushing far out of reach of telephone communication. ‘ Limited objectives were not known .in the open fighting.” To Captain Diggins fell an amazing success. Suddenly there were flashes almost in his face. ‘ Guns,’ he shouted, and rushed forward. On and on he rushed, till he reached the enemy’s guns, he and three of the men of A Company, which he commanded. These guns were in nullas by the river-bank. Their crews were sitting round them. Diggins beckoned to them to surrender, which they did. He was so blown with running that he felt sick and faint. Nevertheless he recovered, and rose to the occasion. To us, away in the aid-posts, came epic stories of Digguens,’ with the ease and magnificence of Sir Francis Drake receiving an admiral’s sword, shaking hands with the battery commander. He is a singularly great man in action, is Fred Diggins. In all, from several positions, Diggins took seven fourteen-pounders and two 5.9’s. They were badly hit, some of them. The horses were in a wretched condition, none of them unwounded. Several were shot by us almost immediately. Diggins sent his prisoners back, battery commanders and all, in charge of Corporal Williamson and one private. On his way back, after delivering up his prisoners, Williamson was killed.
Very soon on Diggins’s arrival his subalterns, Thorpe and McInerney, joined him. He sent them racing back across the perilous mile which now lay between them and the wall. Thorpe went to Lieutenant-Colonel Knatchbull, and McInerney to Creagh, the second-in-command this day. All did their best to get reinforcements. The two other brigades, however badly hit the previous day, were now close up. The 19th Brigade, becoming aware of the situation, eagerly put their services at our disposal. After the action the official explanation of the loss of the guns was that the Leicestershires got out of hand and went too far ; so I was told in the colloquial language which I have set down. A nearer explanation is that they went because of over-confidence somewhere back. Night was falling, and the guns already gone, when reinforcements from the 19th Brigade came past my aid-post and asked me the direction. Had the guns been kept, I verily believe at least one V.C. would have come our way, for Diggins, and M.C.’s for his lieutenants. As it was, Diggins got an M.C. and Thorpe a ` mention.’ Nothing came to McInerney, who was one of the many soldiers who went through years of battle, always doing their duty superbly, but emerging ribbonless at the end. Six months later, at Tekrit, these guns took a heavy toll from our infantry. Now, after all effort, scarcely fifty men could be got up to them.
In these exalted moments of victory glorious almost beyond belief Sergeant-Major Whatsize fell, twenty yards from the enemy’s line. In his last minutes he was happy, as a child is happy.
The handful at the guns waited. A large barrel of water had been put there for the Turkish gunners. This was drained to the last drop. The guns were curiously examined. ` Besides the intricate mechanism and beautifully finished gear, there were some German sextants and range-finders, compasses like those on a ship’s binnacle, and other instruments on a lavish scale,’ says Hasted. But this inspection was cut short, for now came the counter-attack. The Turks began to shell the captured gun-position. Then, from the railway-embankment, nearly a mile to the Leicestershires’ left front, several lines of Turks emerged, in extended formation, a distance of fifty yards between each line. At least two thousand were . heading for the fifty Leicestershires holding the guns. It was like a crowd at a football-match,’ a spectator told me. Diggins sent word to Lowther, commanding B Company, a little to his left rear, The Turks are counter-attacking.’ Lowther replied that he was falling back. Diggins and Hasted fell back in conformity. Hasted was asking his men how many rounds of ammunition they had left. None had more than five rounds, so perforce we ceased fire. The 51st Sikhs, with the exception of Subandar Aryan Singh and two sepoys, had not appeared. The Leicestershires damaged the guns as they might for half a dozen fevered, not to say crowded, minutes of glorious life. Hasted, who was one of those who enjoyed this destruction, complains that they did not know much about what to do ; they burred the breech-block threads and smashed the sights with pickaxes. The Mills bombs put in the bores did not explode satisfactorily. Then they fell back. One of the sergeants was hit in the chest, Sergeant Tivey, a Canadian ; he was put on one of the Turkish garrons and led along.
From the attention he received from the enemy’s guns, they must have thought him a Field-Marshal.’ The Turks, for all their force, crept up timidly. After securing the guns, they raced to Tekrit, thirty miles away. But they sent a large body in pursuit of the retreating Tigers.’
The Leicestershires fell back rapidly, the enemy pressing hard. The 51st Sikhs were found, hidden by the hollows of the ground ; they had been a buttress to the left flank of that handful of adventurous infantry in their forward sweep into the heart of the Turkish position. It was now that Graham and the 56th Rifles checked the counterattack, which threatened to drive a wedge between the Leicestershires and the river. The whole front was now connected up, and, in face of an attacking army, British and Indians dug themselves in. The 51st sent along some ammunition. The sun was setting, and in the falling light the last scene of this hard-fought day took place. Turkish officers could be seen beating their men with the flat of their swords. The enemy came, rushing and halting. The sun, being behind them, threw a clear field of observation before them ; but over them it flung a glamour and dimness, in which they moved, a shadow-army, silhouettes that made a difficult mark. And our men were down to their last rounds of ammunition. Our guns opened again, but too late, and did not find their target. But the Leicestershires’ bombers, sixty men in all, were thrown forward, bringing ammunition which saved the day. Thirty of the sixty fell in that rush. The Turks were now within two hundred and fifty yards ; but here they wavered. For half an hour they kept up a heavy rifle-fire. Then, at six o’clock, the 19th Brigade poured in, and the thin lines filled up with Gurkhas, Punjabis, and Seaforths. Moreover, the new-comers had abundance of ammunition. Darkness fell, and our line pushed forward. For over two hours we could hear the Turks man-handling their guns away. But there were strong covering-parties, and our patrols were driven back with loss. Our guns put down a spasmodic and ineffectual fire. Then all became quiet. All along the enemy’s line of retreat and far up the river were flares and bonfires. Away in Samarra buildings were in flames, and down the Tigris floated two burning barges, of which more hereafter.
I cannot speak as they deserve of the gallant work of the Indian regiments. The severity of their losses is eloquent testimony. Boomer ‘ Barrett came down the field, shot through the face, cheerfully announcing his good luck : I’ve got a soft one, right through the cheek.’ I have spoken of the 53rd Sikhs. They lost their four senior officers, killed. But every regiment had brave leaders to mourn. One thinks with grief and admiration of that commander, a noble and greatly beloved man, whom a bullet struck down, so that he died without recovering consciousness several days later. Though the body’s tasks were finished, his mind worked on the fact that his men had been temporarily checked, and he kept up the cry,
What will they say in England ? The fell back ; failed them.’ Even so, when duty has become life’s ruling atmosphere, One stern tyrannic thought which makes All other thoughts its slave, it matters little that the body should fail. The mind labours yet, fulfilling its unconscious allegiance.
He went, unterrified, Into the Gulf of Death.
In my aid-post we carried on, secure beneath our canopy of racing shells. The slope gave cover against over ‘ bullets, except when it was necessary to walk about. Early in the afternoon, during a lull, a doctor appeared and asked if it was safe to bring up his ambulances. I told him ‘ Yes ‘ ; there were dropping bullets, but very little shellfire. He replied that he would come immediately. But the supply of shells greatly quickened, and he did not appear again till near darkness, when he brought two motor ambulances, taking five sitting and four lying cases in each. He promised to return, but did not. Apart from these eighteen, only the walking wounded got away, pushing back into our noisy and perilous hinterland.
About four o’clock the Turks, in reply to our intense bombardment, put a brief but terrific fire on the mounds, blowing up men on every side. I decided to clear out to where, round the corner, an old wall gave upright shelter. As our first exodus swung round, a huddled, hobbling mass, two ‘ coal-boxes ‘ burst in quick succession, each closer than the last shell before it. I shouted
Duck ! ‘ We ducked, then made a few yards and ducked for the second time. A perfect sleet of wind and steel seemed to pass overhead. But no one was hit, and we were round the corner, where, I fear, I dropped the Cherub with considerable emphasis on his gammy leg. But indeed we were very lucky. Shells burst on every side of the aid-post–on right and left, but not on us. This was one of the rare occasions when I have felt confidence. Dobson and I were far too busied to worry. Also it seemed hard to believe that a shell would be allowed to fall on that shattered, helpless suffering. I saw, without seeing, things that are burnt into memory. We had no morphia, nothing but bandages. There was a man hit in the head, who just flopped up and down, seemingly invertebrate as an eel, calling out terribly for an hour till he died. Another man, also hit in the head–but he recovered, and I afterwards met him in Bombaykept muttering, ‘ Oh those guns ! They go through my head ! ‘
A large body of prisoners was massed in the hollow beside us. When these marched off, some seventy wounded were sent to me, under the impression that the place was a regular aid-post. They were horribly smashed. General Thomson’s Brigade (14th Division) had enfiladed them with artillery fire from the other bank, with dreadful effect. He got into their reserves, their retreat, their hospitals, and broke them up. In one place his fire caught a body of Turks massing for a counterattack, beneath big bluffs by the water, and heaped the sand with dead and maimed. These men came with their gaping wounds and snapped limbs. Private Clifton, a friend of mine, brought bucket after bucket of water from the river. They drank almost savagely. My inexpert fingers hurt cruelly as I bandaged them, and they winced and cried. But the next minute they would stroke my hand, to show they understood good intentions. They had a great belief in the superiority of our civilizationat any rate in its medical aspect. They insisted, those who had been bandaged by the Turkish aid-posts, in tearing off their bandages perfectly good ones, but smaller than ours-and on having new bandages from me. Just when the 5.9’s blew us round the corner, Waller, adjutant of the 56th Brigade, R.F.A., came up and asked if I could send any one to look at some men just hit by the tornado. Mester Dobson was as busied as a man could be, his inevitable pipe in his mouth, so I went with Waller. One man was breathing, his head broken behind ; the others were dead. Beside one of the corpses was a red mass. I saw, noting the fact automatically and without the least squeamishness, that it was his brains. We carried the living man in.
In the darkness Dobson came and said. ` There’s a wounded officer just come in. I’ve given him a drink and dressed him.’ A minute later he said, ‘ That officer’s dead, sir.’ I went across, and found it was Scarth, of the 53rd. No braver spirit went out in this day of storm and sorrow than this very gallant boy. He was aged nineteen.
Night fell, and slowly o’er the blood-bought mile They brought a broken body, frail but brave ; A boy who carried into death the smile With which he thanked for water that we gave. Steadfast among the steadfast, those who kept The narrow pass whereby the Leicesters swept, Amid the mounded sands of ancient pride He sleeps where Grattan fell and Adams died.
I know his father, and the Himalayan oaks and pines amid which he grew to manhood. Men looking on Scarth loved him. The freshness of his mountain home and his free, happy life clung to him to this end, amid the tumults and terrors of our desert battle.
The son of Hyrtacus, whom Ide Sent, with his quiver at his side, From hunting beasts in forest-brake, To follow in AEneas’ wake.’
At dusk Wilson came. He had been toiling away, exposed and close up to the fighters, as alwaysthere never was a braver regimental medical officerand he now asked me to be responsible for getting his wounded away, whilst he searched the battlefield. So all his cases were evacuated into my place. At the same time many chits reached me, addressed to the O.C. Clearing-Station. As there was no such person, I opened these. The regimental aid-posts were pressing to be cleared. My own place had men from seven different regiments, British and Indian, as well as Turks, and Wilson was sending more along. So I found McLeod, and we ‘phoned down to the field ambulances. These were congested from yesterday’s battle and to-day’s walking cases, and replied that nothing could be done till dawn. But we were so insistent that about midnight bullock-carts turned up, and I got fifty wounded away. The cahars,’ 2 in their zeal to remove all kit belonging to the wounded, carried off my water-bottle, haversack, rations, and communion-kit. But before this I had been down to the Tigris in the darkness, and drunk like a wounded wolf.
To return to the battle as it died away. The Forward Observing Officer with the Leicestershires sent word back that fourteen guns (instead of nine) had been taken. The news was exultantly forwarded to Corps H.Q. When the case proved to be nine only, and those nine lost again, the message was allowed to stand, the authorities hoping against hope that the guns would walk back into our possession. And Fortune was very good to them. Those guns, indeed, came not back ; but, as darkness fell, two burning barges, as already mentioned, floated down the river. One was exploding, like a magazine on fire. This contained ammunition. The other barge, when pulled to shore, was found to contain fourteen field-guns, the number specified to Corps—old guns, but serviceable. Johnny, despairing of getting these away, had set fire to the barge to sink them. So the original message stood, and our loss could be glossed over. And the wastefulness of sinking quite good guns was avoided.
The night was sleepless, bitterly cold. Dobson and I kept a watch for Arabs. I sat beside a dead man, and shared his oil-sheet. A few more wounded came in after midnight, among them Sergeant Tivey. All night long wounded Turks crawled the battlefields and cried in the cold. But I heard none of them, for there were groans much nearer. Our unwounded prisoners were crowded into a nulla. Among them was the Turkish Artillery Brigade Commander, who knew some English and kept insisting on a hearing from time to time. But all he ever said was, ‘ Yes, gentlemen, you have got my guns, but, what is far worse, you have got me.’ Had we cared, we might have cheered him with the information that we had not got his guns, but only himself. Yet, considering the relative value, in his eyes, of himself and these, such information would hardly have consoled him.
In this battle occurred a case of a man being ‘ fey.’ An officer gave his kit and money to his batman, for distribution to his platoon, the previous night. As he went into action a friend exchanged greetings. He replied, ‘ Yes, but I’m afraid I’m not coming back to-day.’ No one saw him fall, but he was found dead in the mounds, with several wounds.
The east was reddening when I saw Haughton, Staff-Captain of the 19th Brigade, on the hillock above the aid-post. This Brigade H.Q. were my best friends in the division. I begged a mug of tea from him, so we went along together. if ound General Peebles and Brigade-Major Thornhill, and they gave me an excellent breakfast.
The 28th Brigade moved on, following the 21st Brigade, who occupied Samarra. But the wounded remained. Shortly after dawn the medical folk, in fulfilment of their promise, sent up an ordinary motor-car and took away two sitting cases. Nothing else happened. Time passed, and the heat was getting up. So I wandered back some miles, and found hospital-tents. Here was Father Bernard Farrell, the Roman Catholic padre, slaving, as he had done all night. I saw ‘Westlake, and Sowter, who was dying. ‘ It’s been a great fight, padre,’ said Sowter, a great fight. I’m getting better.’ No loss was felt more severely than that of this quiet, able man. He had seen much fighting in. France, and in this, his first action with us, he impressed every one with his coolness and efficiency. He had walked across to Lowther, his company commander, to draw his attention to a new and threatening movement of the enemy. Then, as he stopped to bandage a wounded sergeant, a bullet pierced his stomach. The same bullet, leaving his body, went through both legs of Sergeant Lang, the one bullet making six holes. Sowter had been with us one week. I never knew any one whose influence went so deep in so brief a time.
Our seven-days’ guest, he came and went his ways, Walking the darkness garlanded with praise ! Our seven-days’ guest, Yet love that this man gained Others have scarce in three-score years attained.
The hospital-tents were congested with wounded, and the responsible officer declined to take any more. They had no more stretchers, all being used as beds, and no more space. Fortunately an order came from Division that they must immediately remove some wounded Turks. I said,
I have some wounded Turks.’ Yes, but I’m afraid those aren’t the Turks meant.’ Well,’ I replied, I’ve been up all night, and I’m very footsore. You might at least give me a lift back.’ This was conceded, and I returned in the first of five motor-ambulances. The corporal-in-charge had no idea where he was to find the wounded Turks, so I swept him into my place. This I cleared of every one but a few horribly wounded prisoners, and sent on a note to the M.O. of the 51st Sikhs.
The previous day two wounded Turks, a machine-gun officer and a Red Crescent orderly, had arrived in the aid-post. The latter helped nobly with the wounded, so I had a note sent down with them, that they had earned good treatment. The officer had a friend from the same military college in Stamboul, which friend had a ghastly shell-wound in his back. What happened, I think, was this. When his friend was knocked out, the unwounded officerthey were both boys, well under twenty brought up a medical orderly. All three were then overwhelmed by our rush, and in the confusion the unwounded men kept with the other, to see that he got treatment when opportunity came. So they slipped into my aid-post, where they stopped all night, making no offer to escape. I sent a message to Brigade, but their reply, a verbal one which did not reach me till next evening, was that they had better stay where they were. The unwounded officer’s silent anxiety for his friend was most touching, and I pushed the latter away with the midnight convoy. Next morning I sent both officer and orderly to the nearest prisoners’ camp ; but the sergeant-in-charge returned them, with word that he took only wounded prisoners. So I had to keep them. Weir, the staff-captain, joined me, and we talked to the officer in French while we waited for the divisional second line to come up. We were puzzled as to why the Turks left a position so strong as Istabulat before being actually driven out. The officer’s reply was, ‘ Because of the tiar’ (aeroplane). I cannot follow this, unless, misunderstanding us, he was referring to this second day’s fight and the aeroplane brought down at the beginning. Perhaps, being afraid to send up any other ‘planes, they were deceived as to our number. He insisted that we had had three divisions in action, and was mortified when we told him the truth.
The sun was getting very hot, and, since no more ambulances came, we were troubled for the few pitifully smashed Turks who still remained. We got covers of sorts for them, though we could not prevent the flies from festooning their wounds. ‘ It’s up to us to do our best,’ said Weir. We shouldn’t care for it if our wounded were left by them.’ In the afternoon ambulances began to arrive, and I evacuated these few and saw the evacuation of the Indian regimental A.P.’s commence. My dead were buried, and their graves effaced, so far as possible, against prowling Buddus. The second line arrived, so my prisoners and I set out on our tired trudge to Samarra. I told the Turks of our Somme successes (as we then took them to be) and our more recent March victories in Flanders, pointing out the big improvement. In the beginning we had little artillery, but now we have much.’ Beaucoup,’ he repeated, with conviction. In every way one spared a brave enemy’s feelings. Last year they had won ; now
it was our turn. That is so,’ said he. This thought comforted him, and the memory of their great triumphs before Kut in early 1916. Did he not wear a medal for those days ? Pour le mierite,’ the orderly proudly told me. I begged scraps of biscuits from men on the march, and we shared them. I expressed regret for this march on empty stomachs. C’est toujours la marche,’ said the officer, shrugging his shoulders. Truly, it must have been ; a nightmare of rapid movement and sleeplessness even for us who pursued–hammer and chase ever since Maude broke up the Turkish lines before Kut.
As we marched I found that the Indians took us for three prisoners and not two, I being a German officer. But when J. Y. cantered up and hailed me, a laugh ran down the column, with the words Padre Sahib.’ At Samarra the first person we ran into was General Peebles, to whom I handed over my prisoners, with a request that they should be fed. Haughton promised to see to this. Then a pleasant thing happened. The Turkish officer stepped quickly up to me, saluted, and held out his hand. I saluted back, and we shook hands. They were good fellows, both officer and orderly, and carried themselves like free men.
It was now 5 p.m. I joined the Tigers.’ Fowke and Lowther had each killed a snake after laying their blankets down. They gave me good greeting. I fed and washed, then slept abundantly.
For the two Istabulat battles the official return of captures was : Twenty officers and six hundred and sixty-seven men, one 5.9, fourteen Krupp field-guns, two machine-guns, twelve hundred and forty rifles, a quantity of hand-grenades, two hundred rounds of gun-ammunition, five hundred and forty thousand rounds of rifle-ammunition, four limbers, sixteen engines, two hundred and forty trucks, one crane, spare wheels and other stores, two munition barges. Samarra Station was dismantled, but the engines and trucks were there. Up to the last the Turk had meant to keep the railhead, so the engines were only partly disabled, boilers having been removed from some and other parts from others. By putting parts of engines together we got a sufficiency of usable engines. Within a fortnight we had trains running.
For the battle of the 22nd both Diggins and Lowther got M.C.’s. If it was the former’s élan which carried our wave into the enemy’s guns, the latter’s judgement played a great part in extricating us without disaster. Hasted, the alert and watchful, had already been gazetted after the fall of Baghdad as D.S.O. He left us shortly after, returning to his own regiment, the Durham Light Infantry, in India. In Rawal Pindi he delivered a lecture on the action in which he had played so brilliant a part.
It would be interesting to know if Hasted has ever had an enemy. His personal charm is almost greater than any man has a right to have, especially when the Gods have already made that man an able soldier and administrator. But it is an unfair world.
These awards were announced in a Gazette nearly a year later. To Sowter, had he lived, would have fallen a third M.C. Fowke, as well as Thorpe, got a ‘ mention,’ of which he was utterly unaware, being away sick, till I ran into him in Kantara in 1918, about eleven o’clock at night. I roused him from sleep for a chat. When I told him of his’ mention,’ he considered that I was making a very successful attempt to be humorous, and laughed himself to sleep again. At intervals till dawn I heard him still laughing in his dreams at a notion so ridiculous.
I hope that some other will tell of the deeds of the Indian regiments. Even more I hope that some one will tell, as I cannot, of the gallant and costly charge which our cavalry made on the Turkish trenches to our left, a charge which staggered the enemy as he swung round to cut off the Leicestershires. The 32nd Lancers lost, among others, their Colonel (Griffiths) and their Adjutant (Captain Hunter), killed.
These two days’ fighting at Istabulat and for Samarra cost us about two thousand four hundred casualties. The 28th Brigade, on the 22nd, lost four hundred and forty-six men. The enemy’s losses, including prisoners, must have been at least three thousand.
My one note for April 24 is ‘ Flies.’ It was high summer, and in the terrible and waxing heats we lay for over a month longer, with no tents, and with no shelter save our blanket-bivvies. We were the more wretched in that we occupied an old enemy camp, and were entered into full possession of its legacy of filth and flies. On the first Sunday my morning service was swathed in dust, one swirling misery, and I was sore tempted to preach, foreseeing the days to come, on These are but the beginning of sorrows.’