The Battle of Ctesiphon Nov 22 – 25 1915

Yesterday saw the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Ctespihon. Following an extended run of good fortune at Basra, Qurna,Shaiba, Amara, Nasiriyeh and Kut within the space of a year, British forces finally ran out of luck in spectacular fashion. With the occupation of Kut in November 1915 regional British Commander-in-Chief Sir John Nixon ordered Sir Charles Townshend – commander of 6th Indian (Poona) Division – to further advance upon Baghdad.

Townshend argued against further extending the tenuous British supply line – already some 600km from the sea – without first consolidating supply lines from Basra, with specific requests for supplies of extra transport and trench warfare equipment.  Nixon disagreed and instructed Townshend to proceed. In this Nixon was backed with the eager support of the Indian government – who had appointed him in the first place – and, more reluctantly, by the British government in London, whose initial opposition was overcome when the extent of India’s eagerness and confidence became apparent.

ctesiphonThe Turks meanwhile, following further defeat at Kut, had retired to carefully prepared defence positions among the ancient ruins of Ctesiphon.  This formed the Turks’ forward defence of Baghdad, Nixon’s real aim.By the time Nixon gave the order to advance to Townshend the Turks – under Nur-Ud-Din – had constructed two lines of deep trenches either side of the River Tigris, defended by some 18,000 largely experienced troops.

Facing them Townshend brought approximately 11,000 Anglo-Indian troops, a force unlikely to be further boosted save for two Indian divisions promised from the Western Front for the purpose of occupying Baghdad. The reality was that the British government were willing to be convinced of the possibility of a major victory on the Mesopotamian Front.  While the capture of Baghdad had no great strategic value in its own right, it would nevertheless undoubtedly prove of great propaganda value, being one of the four great cities of Islam: a matter of some importance in the light of continuing failure at Gallipoli.

Thus Townshend’s force initiated operations against Nur-Ud-Din on 22 November 1915.  Aware of the impracticality of launching a dual attack on both sides of the river at once – not only due to shortage of men but also on account of poor ground conditions on one side – he decided to concentrate his attack on the east bank. Specifically he chose to repeat his earlier success at Kut-al-Amara and issued orders for night-marching, his aim being to surprise the Turk defenders in a flank attack. Unfortunately many of his force got lost in the dark, thus losing all element of surprise, and the British attack foundered while negotiating the Turkish second-line defences.

Townshend, unlike earlier encounters, was unable to call upon naval support given the Turks’ extensive deployment of mines and artillery. The following day, 23 November, Turkish forces launched a mild counter-attack intended at reclaiming their front-line positions and although it failed Townshend’s casualty rate was increasing at an alarming rate. With no reserves to call upon he ordered a retreat

The Ottoman forces encircled Townshend at Kut and laid siege to Townshend’s forces. The end result was the surrender of Townshend and his ten thousand remaining soldiers, who were all marched into captivity. Four thousand soldiers would die while in captivity. The result was embarrassing for the British and refocused attention on the Middle East.

 

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Sister Kate Luard

Sister Kate Luard is posted to No.6 Casualty Clearing Station

 During the Great War of 1914-1918, Kate Luard served principally on ambulance trains, casualty clearing stations and a field ambulance, but was also posted at times to Stationary and General Hospitals in the base areas.

On 17 October 1915 she is sent up line to take charge of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers in France following four months at a base hospital, No.16 General Hospital. Her second book ‘Unknown Warriors’ commences on this date and in this her letters home are a record of her times in various casualty clearing stations; which included one as Head Sister at No.32 CCS which became one of the most dangerous when the unit was relocated in late July 1917 to serve the push that was to become the Battle of Passchendaele, and where she had a staff of forty nurses and nearly 100 orderlies.

A casualty clearing station was part of the evacuation chain of the wounded from the battle front starting with the regimental aid post just behind the front line, then an advanced dressing station and on to a field ambulance before transfer to a casualty clearing station. CCS’s were normally located near railway lines and waterways so that the wounded could be evacuated easily to the base hospitals. A CCS often had to move at short notice as the front line changed. Although some were located in temporary buildings, many consisted of large areas of tents and marquees and often several were near each other to enable flexibility.

Tented Nurses Quarters

October 18th
The sister has been showing me round and handing over her books and keys of office. The poor lads in their brown blankets and stretchers looked only too familiar. When there is a rush, the theatre Sister and I stay up at night as well. The CO [Commanding Officer], the Padre and myself are the only people allowed to do the censoring. I do it for the Sisters. I shall have to be very careful myself, not to mention names, numbers passing through, regiments, plans, or anything interesting.

Thursday, October 28th
The weather is beyond description vile, and the little cobbled streets are a Slough of Despond and a quagmire. The King has been about here yesterday and today, and was to have held a very sodden and damp Review a mile away, only he had an accident riding and had to be carried away instead: no one knows if it was much or not.

Saturday, October 30th
A boy came in at 6 p.m. with his right arm blown clean off in its sleeve at 2.p.m. He was very collapsed when he came in, but revived a little later. ‘Mustn’t make a fuss about trifles,’ he explained.

Sunday, October 31st
This afternoon we took a lot of lovely flowers to the Cemetery for our graves for All Saints’ Day. It took all afternoon doing them up with Union Jack ribbon, and finding the graves. There are hundreds. It was a swamp of sticky mud, and pouring with rain.

All Saints’ Day 1915, November 1st
A Scotch RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) officer, who was with his Regiment all through, was talking about the early morning of the 14th, after we had tried to take the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the 13th. Our dead and wounded were lying so thick on the ground, that he had to pick his way among them with a box of morphia tabloids, and give them to anyone who was alive: tie up what broken limbs he could with rifles for splints, and leave them there: there were no stretchers.

Wednesday, November 3rd
A lad had to have his leg off this morning for gas gangrene. He says he ‘feels all right’ and hasn’t had to have had any morphia all day. You’d think he’d merely had his boot taken off. Some of them are such infants to be fighting for their country. One has a bullet through his liver and tried to say through his tears ‘there’s some much worse than what I am.’

Friday, December 3rd
Captain D. is a scrap better to-day, able to emerge from bromides, and talk a little. He told me that when they were holding the Hohenzollern trenches in that worst weather, when they stood up waist-high in liquid mud, two of his men slipped under it when they were asleep and their bodies were dug out next day.

Sunday, January 16th
D.F. the boy with the head wound, has been peacefully dying all day; his hand closes less tightly over mine to-day, but his beautiful brown eyes look less inscrutable as he gets further from this crooked world.

The above aunknown warriors coverre extracts from Kate’s second book ‘Unknown Warriors’ republished in 2014 by the History Press.

For more information about Kate Luard and her family see www.kateluard.co.uk

During her time in France she exchanged numerous letters with her family at Birch Rectory near Colchester. The majority of these letters are held in the Luard archives at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford.

Inter-school poetry competition winners!

Essex County Council’s Inter-School Poetry Competition

September this year saw launch of the first ever county-wide Inter-School Poetry Competition, organised by the Cultural Development Team at Essex County Council.

Pupils interested in representing their school were asked to submit a poem relating to the Great War to link in with the council’s First World War project – Now The Last Poppy Has Fallen, funded by a grant of £65,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Thanks to National Lottery players, the project has been be running since September 2013 and includes a touring exhibition, education sessions and two artists (singer/songwriter Georgia Strand and renowned poet Luke Wright) who were commissioned to write new material relating to impact of the war on Essex.

The council received over 35 entries from a number of different primary & secondary schools which were judged by Luke who picked out a winner for each year group along with an overall top three. Each top 10 winner will receive a prize of a £25 book voucher and each school in the top three with also receive a poetry workshop from Luke.

Greensted Junior School, Basildon, who were one of the Top 10 winners, with a Year 5 group entry, even made a short film of their entry, which can be viewed here:

Greensted Junior School on YouTube

Cllr John Spence, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Finance, with responsibility for Heritage, Culture and the Arts, said: “Now the Last Poppy has Fallen focuses on the lives of individuals, families and communities in Essex during the First World War. We were really pleased to be able to involve so many young people in the project and were very impressed by the standard of entries. We were delighted with the response and pleased that so many schools took the time to engage with this competition given their busy schedules.”

Luke himself commented that there were “some lovely, accomplished stuff among the winners, especially the top three”. It is hoped that there will be a celebratory event for schools in the Spring Term where these poems will be showcased.

Winners included:

Other Top 10 winners were:

  • Cherry Tree Primary School – Bethany (Year 3)
  • Greensted Junior School – Group entry: Frankie Curran, Chevy Quirey, Tom Holland, Grace Collins, Ellie Morgan and Blaine Harding (Year 5)
  • Philip Morant School and College – Georgia Lockerbie (Year 11)
  • The Sweyne Park School – Anna Wilson (Year 8) and Lucy Wilkinson (Year 9)
  • Holt Farm Junior School – Elizabeth Ware (Year 4)
  • St Nicholas CofE Primary School – Ronnie (Year 2)

 Poems can be read on our Inter-Schools Poetry Competition Winners page