The First World War:
The capture of Baghdad
Maude’s offensive that began in December 1916 was designed to force the Turkish defences on both sides of the Tigris, including the formidable Sannaiyat trenches which had been built in six lines across the narrow passage from the left bank of the river to the Suwaikiya marshes. Two assaults on the Sannaiyat lines had already failed and Maude’s strategy was now to drive the Turks from their positions on the right bank and cross the Tigris by a bridge of boats upstream of Kut and in the rear of Sannaiyat. This was achieved with some confusion and considerable loss of life between the 22 to 24 February enabling the troops facing Sannaiyat, which included the 53rd Sikhs, finally to storm the lines. By the end of the 24 February the Turks had abandoned their trenches and were in full retreat, harassed by naval gunboats on the river. Kut was reoccupied by the navy without a shot being fired.
During January and early February 1917 we began a series of attacks on enemy positions on the right bank and succeeded in clearing it of all serious resistance. On the left bank, however, the Sanniyat position still held. The weather was unsettled with heavy rain which turned the ground into a quagmire. Several raids were repulsed with heavy losses, and there was an uneasy pause whilst preparations were made for a full scale attack on the whole front line.
Edmund Candler in his book The Long March to Baghdad describes one of these raids. “On the night of the 8th and 9th [February] demonstrations had been made on all fronts to prevent the Turks reinforcing the garrison of Mohammed Abdul Hassan. The enemy’s position on the Hai [on the right banks of the Tigris] was heavily bombarded; the cavalry were dispatched on a raid to Baghailah; while at Sannaiyat four raiding parties entered the Turkish trenches.... the action at Sannaiyat was a singularly bloody and desperate affair. Three of the raiding parties were drawn from the 28th Brigade. The Leicesters, the 53rd Sikhs and the 56th rifles; each battalion supplied two officers and thirty men...all the officers were lost, killed or missing and a large proportion of the rank and file. Whether the loss was made good in the diversion I will not presume to judge.”
Presumably Dudley was not one of the officers in the raiding parties. There is, however, a description of one of these raids which Dudley copied into his field notebook from the Regimental War Diary. “Feb 17th 1st attack Sannayat. Rained night of 16/17 and morning of 17th but cleared in afternoon. The ground was in a terrible condition, nearly a foot deep in sticky mud. Attack commenced in afternoon and Gurkhas and Black Watch reached enemy front line – but rifles jammed owing to the mud – the Turks regularly counter attacked and after Gurkhas had held on until evening they were ordered to retire. About 120 prisoners were sent in – some badly wounded”
On February 22nd, after a heavy bombardment, the advance began, the 53rd Sikhs occupying the Turkish first and second lines to their immediate front with only small casualties. I shall not attempt to describe the operations in detail as, in common with most battalion officers, I saw only a limited part of the main battle. By nightfall on the 23rd we had occupied the Turkish 4th line.
Candler describes the fighting on 22 February: “the 28th Brigade went in on the right under cover of a similar bombardment; they had come in for heavy artillery fire all morning, and the 51st Sikhs lost eighty men in the trenches before the advance. The remainder of the day was spent in digging in and joining up, no easy matter in this undulating, warren-like confusion of pits and mounds. Between 4 and 5pm the battalion was hard pressed, but the Leicesters and two platoons of the 53rd Sikhs came up in support, and with these reinforcements it held its own. By evening we had dug a respectable trench, and at night we put up wire across the new front”.
The scene in no-mans land and the trenches was one of great confusion. Pockets of resistance were being bombed out – the Turkish artillery was still active – and no-man’s land was a mass of twisted barbed wire with the dead lying about in all directions. There was nothing to offend the eye. The bodies covered with a thick coating of sand looked like overturned terra cotta statues – the faces without expression and the attitudes restful. The futility of war did, however, for the first time impress itself on my mind. Here were these Turkish peasants dragged from their farms to take part in a war which could in no way benefit them, knowing indeed nothing of the causes and aims of their leaders, and with no other desire than that of finishing the business and returning home in time for the harvest.
Sporadic fighting went on until the 25th when the 5th and 6th lines were occupied and it was evident that the main battle had been won and that the Turkish forces were in full retreat. It is a favourite military axiom that a break-through should be followed by a vigorous pursuit. This in turn invokes a rapid organising of supply lines to keep pace with the advance, and adequate artillery support to overcome holding tactics by the rear guard.
The 53rd had been constantly engaged from the beginning of the battle, with little rest at night and a great deal of trench digging both night and day. It had, however, a great tradition to maintain, and almost blind with fatigue we pushed on to Shukh Saad [Sheikh Jaad] where we had to halt for a time for the supply lines to be organised. It is difficult to give a picture of the discomforts we suffered during this period. There was little water either for washing or drinking – the lack of whiskey at times threatened to halt the advancement. We were soaked with perspiration during the day and clouds of flies settled on us until our uniforms looked almost black.
Maude was determined that the army should push on to Baghdad before the Turks could be reinforced, but this involved the troops advancing with virtually no supplies, eking out an existence with handfuls of biscuit and tea, if they were lucky. The mules were so hungry they tried to eat each other’s tails. Edmund Candler describes the confusion of the advance and the still greater confusion of the Turkish retreat. “The next morning we found the Turkish dead on the road. There was every sign of panic and rout – bullocks still alive and unyoked entangled in the traces of a trench motor carriage, broken wheels, cast equipment, overturned limbers, hundreds of live shells of various calibres scattered over the country for miles.... Every bend of the road told its tale of confusion and flight. Here a wrecked field post-office with Turkish money orders circling round in the wind; there a brand new Mercedes motor car held up for want of petrol; cart-loads of small arm ammunition. Grenades, a pump, well- drilling apparatus, hats, boots oil drums...”
We had lost a number of BOs [British Officers] during the battle and I now found myself commanding a company with two subalterns to assist me. One of these was A. Cummings who distinguished himself in the 1939 war, earning the VC at Singapore.
One of the most annoying features of the early days following the breakthrough was the constant orders and counter-orders which came through from Brigade, Divisional and Corps headquarters. At one moment we would be ordered to entrench ourselves – hard and irksome work in the heat and dust – and before we had finished a second order to advance a mile or so would be given. This kind of confusion persisted throughout the campaign until we became accustomed to it and developed a philosophic approach – the other ranks expressed this by a number of ribald songs, one of which had the refrain “We won’t be buggered about” and was sung with great gusto.
The words of this soldier’s lyric were:
"We won't, we won't,
We won't be buggered about,
We absolutely bloody refuse
To be buggered about unless we choose
We won't, we won't, We won't be buggered about."
Sanniyat was the first time I had come under heavy fire, but in the heat of battle, the general confusion and rapid action, one lost sight of the hazards – the buzzing rifle bullets, the rattle of machine gun fire and the tramp of exploding shells merely orchestrated the general confusion. There was one phenomenon I always found disconcerting during an advance over open ground – one could see the flash of the Turkish guns followed a second or two later by the explosion of the shells somewhere in our vicinity, and then the sound, like that of an express train, of the shells traveling towards us. There was tendency to duck although we well knew it was far too late.
The main Turkish resistance having now broken, we began the long march on Baghdad. I suppose we averaged about ten to fifteen miles a day, clinging to the river bank and camping each night. Our only maps were signed Lieutenant H. Kitchener and were at least forty years old; they usually consisted of a blank sheet with a single wriggly line representing the river. There were no villages, no trees and no hills. Marsh Arabs lurked on our flanks, ready to cut off any stragglers or take advantage of any unguarded convoy. Now and then a Turkish rearguard would fight a delaying action but invariably decamped over-night. One night we camped in the shadow of the famous Ctesiphon arch and on one morning the army halted for half-an-hour whilst I landed an outsize barbel.
Herbert Kitchener, the future Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, was an officer in the Royal Engineers and an expert in surveying. Between 1874 and 1877 he had conducted a detailed survey of Palestine and it must have been as a by-product of this that the maps of Mesopotamia were produced, though clearly no detailed survey was carried out.
Ctesiphon, twenty-two miles downstream from Baghdad on the left bank of the Tigris, had been the Parthian capital of Mesopotamia and featured a massive ruined arch which had been part of the palace. Ctesiphon had marked the furthest of extent of Townshend’s advance on Baghdad in 1915 before he turned back to Kut. In 1917 the Turks did not attempt to defend it but briefly held a line on the Diyala river until outflanked by Maude’s advance. The initial breakthrough at Sannaiyat and the pursuit of the Turks up the left bank of the Tigris took place between 24 and 28 February. There was then a pause and the final march on Baghdad, described by Dudley, lasted from 5 March to the final capture of the city on 11 March.
As we converged on Baghdad the Turkish resistance stiffened and our advance slowed down. No one on the front line knew what was going on. We scratched about in the sand amidst a hail of bullets digging primitive fox holes. There was a vigorous exchange of artillery fire and an occasional vicious burst of shrapnel. About this time we were issued with ‘tin’ hats – far too hot to wear continuously but supposedly to be worn in action. The very first time I wore mine I was hit with a spent shrapnel bullet which knocked me flat but did no other harm.
Dudley’s copy of the regimental diary describes the final advance on Baghdad. “March 10/11 Rgt sent to support 21st Bde who have orders to advance on Baghdad. Left Bde Hd Qrs about 18.00 hrs and in a blinding dust storm hunted for 21st Bde. Norry the GOC met us about 19.00 hrs and shewed us camping ground. Had dinner in storm and were shelled by enemy without any casualties. Advanced at midnight and without opposition reached Baghdad Railway Station about 11.00”.
Eventually the Turks were outflanked and retired beyond Baghdad which we then occupied without further resistance. General Maude was very concerned that there should be no looting or raping of the civilian population and I was again appointed Assistant Provost Martial with the strictest orders to preserve peace in the bazaars. In the event, however, there was little trouble. The inhabitants were pleased to see us and soon established friendly relations with the troops. My headquarters were in a fine villa on the banks of the river. It had a flat roof on which we sat in the cool of the evening watching the native craft going about their business, whilst the moon rose above groves of palms and the minarets of numerous mosques.
Safely billeted in his villa by the river, Dudley at last had time to write home. The letter, dated 18 March, was written in pencil on pages torn from a notepad.
“My dear Dad,
This is the first opportunity I have had of writing since early in February. You will have seen in the papers that we have at last reached Bagdad but they won’t give you any idea of the strenuous times we have had. My regiment lost six out of seven officers on the first day at Sanniayat. I applied and was allowed to rejoin at once. Since then we have been in three engagements but have not lost very heavily. The march to Bagdad from Sanniayat was about 100 miles over an awful line of desert. On two occasions we marched all night and had to fight the whole of the next day. Fortunately the weather has been splendid, very cold at night but cool in the day time. I have enjoyed myself very much on the whole and would not have missed it for anything. I got off very lightly in the fighting getting one splinter in the knee in one show and a piece of shrapnel in the ankle in another; neither of them in the very least serious. It has been absolutely impossible to write as there no means of posting a letter. I will write much more fully late but in the meantime do not be anxious.
Give my love to all at home Your affectionate son Dudley”
Baghdad had indeed been occupied without any fighting, the Turkish army having withdrawn by train before any British units arrived. But looting there was and one of the first actions of the British authorities was the erection of a gallows from which to hang looters. Meanwhile, the British army commandeered Turkish buildings and revelled in the food available from the well stocked bazaars. The famous picture of British cavalry entering Baghdad, so often reproduced as an image of victory, was in fact staged for the photographers days after the real entry had taken place. The 28th Brigade had not been one of the units to enter Baghdad and Dudley had once again been detached from his regiment for ‘police’ duties in the newly occupied city.
The country around Baghdad is flat and arid although the remains of old irrigation channels suggest that it was once fertile and extensively populated. My duties as APM gave me plenty of leisure and there was endless pleasure in watching life in the bazaars – the constant bargaining, the sudden fierce quarrels – drinking of coffee. Arabs fresh from the desert would be engaged in some kind of intrigue, Armenians were coining money by many nefarious forms of commerce, children their faces often covered in flies, played happily in the garbage – and the usual collection of beggars all combined to complete a picture not uncommon in the East, but most strange to anyone fresh from the West.
Ned Roe of the South Lancashires, who advanced more or less at the same time as Dudley, recorded in his diary that he had been sold two fake bottles of Black and White whiskey by some Armenians to celebrate St Patrick’s Day!
Although the Turks had evacuated Baghdad, they continued to hold positions of some strength north of the city. The rail head of the line feeding Baghdad from the north was at Samarra and during their retreat, the Turks had taken all the locomotives and much of the rolling stock to this city. It was necessary, therefore, to attempt to dislodge them and occupy the railhead.
We were by no means pleased at the prospect of further fighting in the flat country leading to Samarra. The heavy casualties at Sanniyat and during the advance on Baghdad, had weakened our strength and the hot weather was approaching with its high winds and dust storms.
The 53rd had only two regular officers – the Colonel (Grattan) and Major Adams. Amongst the subalterns were Cummings, Scarfe, Blewitt and Culverwell. We had, however, a number of veteran Indian officers, inured to the hard conditions of frontier warfare, and a tower of strength in a crisis. The Indians also fared much better than the B.O.s in that their cooks seemed able to prepare tasty curries from rice and a few handfuls of herbs flavoured with red peppers. We, on the other hand, had a monotonous diet of tinned biscuits and beef washed down with strong tea.
The 28th Brigade consisted of three Indian battalions (51st, 53rd and 56th Sikhs) and one British Battalion, the 2nd Leicestershire. We had been together throughout the campaign and were a happy family, visiting each others messes and sharing the last bottle when whisky supplies ran short. The Indians did not, however, fraternize with the tommies; and it was noticeable that on arriving at camp after a hard days march, the Indians all went down to the river to wash whilst the tommies played football or lounged in their tents.
The Capture of Balad Station
Towards the middle of April our advance along the railway line began and we were constantly under fire from advance guard of the Turkish forces. The first serious engagement was our attack and capture of Beled station. The 53rd were the spearhead of the advance and came under heavy fire from entrenched positions on either side of the railway line. E.J.Thomson, a Presbyterian padre attached to the Leicestershires and known as the ‘pestilential priest’, has written an account of this and other actions up to Samarra in his book ‘Beyond Baghdad with the Leicestershires’.
On 28 March Dudley was able to pencil another brief note home.
“My dear Father, I have only the opportunity of writing a few lines now. I am quite fit again and am in camp many miles beyond Bagdad. I have received no letters from anyone since Feb 10th Give my love to mother and everyone at home. I will write again when I have the opportunity.
Your affectionate son,
Baghdad had been occupied on 11 March and the capture of Balad station occurred on 8 April (Easter Day), so Dudley’s tour of duty as APM had been only about three weeks before he rejoined his regiment. The 53rd Sikhs had taken a prominent part in the final battle to storm the Sannaiyat lines and in the action to capture the station at Balad their role was singled out for mention in the official history of the war.
“ At 5am, on the 8th April (Easter Day), a detachment from General Fane’s column, under command of General Davies, moved forward from Sumaika to occupy Balad station.... The 53rd Sikhs in advanced guard came under hostile gun fire when about 5,000 yards from Balad station, immediately south of which the enemy was holding an extended line of interrupted trenches astride the railway, his right being covered by the Dujail canal, a considerable obstacle full of water which ran roughly parallel to the railway at an average distance from it of three quarters of a mile. On each side of the railway the country was flat and open with a few small irrigation cuts; but half a mile east of the railway and roughly parallel to it lay a strip of broken and undulating ground. After a pause for reconnaissance ... the 53rd advanced on the east of the railway, with a company on the right flank moving along the strip of broken ground.... As the 53rd ... approached the hostile trench line, the whole of the 53rd line was gradually checked by rifle and machine gun fire, the company on the right being faced by a low hill from which the enemy enfiladed the direct advance on the railway station.... The 51st [Sikhs], making skilful use of the broken ground – an advantage to which they were unaccustomed in Mesopotamia – pushed forward with the effective support of our artillery... and with the right company of the 53rd, assaulted and captured the low hill which had hitherto stopped the latter, taking twenty-six prisoners. Taking advantage of this breach in the enemy’s line, the 51st and the right company of the 53rd pushed forward vigorously, with the result that the enemy began a general retirement. The troops on his left got away through the broken ground, but that portion of his line in front of the railway station, being without communication trenches, was generally held by the fire of the 53rd and Leicestershires; so that the 51st and 53rd, pressing round the enemy’s flank and rear, surrounded and captured many of his men. By about 2.30pm Balad station was in our hands”.
So much for the official history where units advance, retire and manoeuvre as on the parade ground. The action as described by E.J.Thompson contains a greater flavour of the confusion of the actual fighting and something of the wasteful chaos of the war. As the brigade advanced along the railway it found that the water in the wells contained ‘natural salts’ with the result that everyone was soon suffering from diarrhoea – a complaint he noted from which Xenophon’s Greeks had suffered in this country in 399 BC. News came that the enemy was holding Balad station but, he laconically comments, “the maps were no use, and distances had to be guessed. ‘The force against us,’ observed the Brigade-Major, ‘is somewhere between a hundred Turks and two guns, and four thousand Turks and thirty-two guns.’ ‘And if it’s the four thousand and thirty-two guns?’ ‘ Then we shall sit tight, and scream for help,’ he answered delightedly.”
The countryside was full of flowers and “the ruffling wind laid its hand on the grasses, and they became emerald waves, a green spray of blade tossing and flashing in the full sunlight”. As the brigade advanced, “every fold and dip was utilised by a scattered and numerous foe, to whom the ragged ground was like a cloak of invisibility. No artillery help could be given. We could only seize the ground’s advantage and make it serve as help to the attack as well as the defence.... The two Sikh regiments, though checked and held from time to time by rifle and machine-gun fire, used the broken ground with extraordinary skill. Their experience on the Afghan frontier had trained them for just such work as this.”
As the Sikh regiments advanced “the 53rd rushed the station itself, capturing eight officers and a hundred and thirty five men, with two machine guns.” The 53rd Sikhs suffered 13 wounded. However, for the rest of the day the Turks continued to shell that station refusing “to recognise that the action was finished”, causing fresh casualties among the captured Turks as well as the British forces.
Dudley’s account of the action is contained in a letter to his father written on 11 April three days after the battle.
“I have been in another fight some fifty miles north of Bagdad. We have been pursuing the Turk who every now and then makes a stand and has to be attacked. This kind of fighting is very interesting because it is so exactly according to the little red book. We advance in artillery formation and then we extend and push on as far as possible in front while other companies go round his flanks. The fighting took place on Easter Sunday and lasted from 7 in the morning to about 3 in the afternoon. The enemy had artillery and machine guns and if his shooting had been better we should have had a bad time as we had to advance over a mile of country flat like a tennis court. I was in command of a company on the left flank; and when the Turk began to retire we caught him in the open with our machine guns at almost 500 yards. It was a grim business. We captured some 200 prisoners and two machine guns. I should love to have an accurate rifle here as there is abundant opportunity of shooting at 1000 yards and the ordinary rifle is not good enough for this. You cannot imagine what a fine life this is Dad. I would not be anywhere else now for a £1000. As we get further northward the country is gradually changing. Here we have low gravel hills instead of sand. Everywhere are the ruins of old cities; Ancient Babylon I think; old tombs, and the remains of ancient irrigation canals. It is getting very hot now, but we are all so fit that this does not make much difference. We have just heard the news that the USA have declared war on Germany. This should hurry up the end.”
By this time Dudley was acquiring some souvenirs of the campaign and among these were sheets of unused printed railway tickets for Beled and Soumique which he says were “found” in the station.
Our next objective was Istabulat – a series of ruins on the right bank of the Tigris which the Turks had turned into a strong defensive position. The attack started soon after dawn, the 53rd advancing on an extended front against heavy artillery and rifle fire. We were frequently brought to a halt whilst Turkish positions were shelled – and would then advance a few hundred yards and again wait on our barrage. Losses were heavy on both sides. I saw the Earl of Suffolk, an artillery officer, killed within a few yards of me.
Colonel Grattan, Major Adams, Scarfe and Blewett were all killed, and by evening Culverwell and myself were the only surviving B.Os. It is almost incredible in retrospect, how little impact these losses made on us at the time. We had lived together for months, sharing all kinds of discomforts and dangers. Our mess was always a cheerful gathering, united in cursing the higher command, the weather, the quality of the rations, but full of high spirits. Now they had, within a few hours, been almost wiped out. Yet in our mess that evening Culverwell and I ate a hearty meal of biscuits and marmalade and then did our best to bring some order amongst our men – filling gaps by temporary promotions and combining companies.
Dudley was given the task of writing to the Blewitt family and letters from the family followed him round on campaign in Egypt until the end of the war.
In spite of these casualties the official history of the war does not give the 53rd Sikhs a major role in the fighting at Istabulat on 21 and 22 April – another battle focussed on one of the stations on the railway. All it says is that at the start of the action they were in reserve. Later in the action “Two companies of the 53rd Sikhs had been sent to the right to reinforce the Leicestershire and 51st Sikhs; and the remaining two 53rd companies, sent to support the 56th, tried unsuccessfully to reach them by moving along the railway line.” This was the toughest battle since the capture of Baghdad and the Turkish defenders had even outnumbered their attackers. The 7th Division which included the 28th Brigade suffered a total of 2,228 casualties.
The 53rd had, in fact, been hotly engaged on the second day of the battle. Thompson records seeing Major Adams being carried in. “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.”
Edmund Candler also records that, “two companies of the 53rd Sikhs who had been in reserve lost their CO, second in command (Adams) Adjutant and Quartermaster. The 56th and 53rd lost heavily, but they and the machine gun company saved what might have been a very critical situation”.
Late that night we were called to a Brigade meeting to hear the plans for the following day. The Brigade was ordered to advance a mile over open country to attack a strongly held entrenched position. We were called the forlorn hope and it was anticipated that our losses would be heavy. I can see now the group of officers listening to the Brigade Major expounding the strategy – tired from a heavy days marching and fighting, unshaven and covered in dust. There was a grim humour in the scene and an acceptance of what looked like decimation for the whole Brigade.
For a few hours we slept soundly and then, shortly before dawn, took up our positions: the country in front was flat and without cover and we could see clearly the Turkish front line trenches. As we advanced, expecting every moment a burst of fire, there was a strange silence, and then to our intense relief it became apparent that the Turks had withdrawn during the night. Advancing rapidly in the face of some heavy artillery fire, we occupied Samarra on April 24th. Our losses during the battle were fairly heavy, the 7th Division reporting 2,000 casualties.
Samarra is a town with a long and chequered history. It was the ancient capital, and here the Roman Emperor Julian died of wounds in AD 363. There are numerous ruins which would well repay excavation. Digging trenches in the vicinity we uncovered a number of specimens of ‘tear’ bottles, earthenware oil lamps and many chards and decorated earthenware pots. I collected some fine specimens but only one, an oil lamp, survived and is still in my possession. There stands to this day among the ruins, the remains of an old tower with an external spiral stairway reminiscent of pictures of the tower of Babylon.
Of Samarra Edmund Candler wrote: “Samarrah has seen the making of much history, and we felt that it would see more, Julian lies buried there. He fell near by, in the retreat from Ctesiphon, and the tomb of the Emperor is visible from the walls of the city, a mound of earth encircled by a ditch, a crumbling memorial of the death of Rome’s Empire in the East. The place is historic, too, in that it has witnessed the end of a spiritual sway on earth. The twelfth Imam disappeared here in some obscure cellar of the town, and will rise again – the Shiahs say - and many look to his advent on the spot.”
The battle at Istabulat was the last major battle of the Mesopotamian campaign and concluded with the capture of sixteen railway engines which had been parked at Samarra station. This had been a dramatic advance from the initial moves in December 1916, with the storming of the Sannaiyat position, the capture of Baghdad and the advance up the railway. Just as the loss of Townshend’s army at Kut had been an unprecedented disaster, so Maude’s defeat of the Turks was the first emphatic victory for British arms in the First World War.
Dudley had been in the forefront of the campaign throughout. He had been only twenty-two at the beginning of the campaign and had celebrated his twenty-third birthday on the day that Samarra was captured. In later life his memories of the campaign, refreshed by reading E.J.Thompson’s account of the actions of the 28th Brigade, give little indication how the experience of warfare had affected his ideas and his personality. There is a marked contrast between Dudley’s rather matter- of-fact memoirs and the colourful and emotional reconstruction of the same campaign in Thompson’s two books Beyond Baghdad with the Leicestershires and his novel These Men Thy Friends.
Thompson was a padre with the 28th Brigade and Dudley knew him well. Thompson mentions Dudley in both books and it is in these passages that one can start to understand how the war had begun to form the young man who had been caught up in it. In India Dudley had been eager for new experience but still young and untried. After the fighting at Sannaiyat and the march on Baghdad, he had found a way of living, and even thriving, amid the hardships of the campaign. Arriving after the fight on the railway for Balad station,Thompson records that “all the great and good” had gathered at the station. “The first I saw was that genial philosopher, Captain Newitt, of the 53rd Sikhs, sitting imperturbable on a fallen wall and smoking the pipe without which he has never been seen. Not Marius amid Carthage ruins was more careless of the desolation around him. With him was Culverwell, adjutant of the same battalion. They hailed me with joyous affection, and we drank the waters and swapped the news.” When did Dudley begin his pipe smoking? There is no sign of any pipe in the early photos taken in England and India, so it was presumably during the Mesopotamian campaign that he took to smoking the pipe without which he was never seen for the rest of his life. There is no doubt that smoking a pipe adds to the philosophical air as the filling, tamping and drawing of the tobacco is a slow process that gives the impression of deep thought and deliberation, during which few words are uttered. It was also during the campaign that Dudley grew the military moustache, so common among officers at the time, and acquired the hairless head that again was so distinctive in all his later photographs. It is indicative of the formation of his personality during this period that at the end of the war he already looked very much as he looked fifty years later when, as a retired professor, he sat down to write his memoir.
In Thomson’s novel, These Men, Thy Friends, Dudley appears as Captain D.A.M.Newall “who had been A.P.M ...; he was now in charge of the rearguard. Newall rejoiced in his menacing initials, and in his A.P.M. days loved to sign some ferocious order with them. They came dramatically at the end, like an expression of the reader’s annoyance, D.A.M.N.” Did Dudley really do this? No example survives but it is in keeping with his character, adding an unorthodox touch to the otherwise efficient performance of official duties – and again it is a sign of growing maturity and confidence.
Captain Newall makes another unexpected appearance. A group of officers are discussing the war in terms that barely hide their scepticism of the official propaganda that they were fed in order to maintain morale. One man comments on the fact that the Turks were using high explosive “like we do”. Fletcher, the central figure of the novel, “was developing a kind of humour, dry like everything else in these latitudes. ‘Our Government ought to report his conduct to the Geneva Convention’ he said. ‘Asiatics have no right to use anything but bows and arrows, or an occasional musket’. ‘That’s what I think,’ said Captain Newall, who was standing by. ‘I’ve never been able to rid myself of the feeling that thiswhole Turco war is something that ought never to have been allowed to develop. It ought to have been treated as a police affair at the outset, and nipped before it grew serious. It’s absurd, to have the whole British Empire being stood up to by the Sick Man of Europe’ “.
Is this a real recorded conversation? Who knows? But again it is in character, picking on some light hearted throw away comment to say what so many people at the time and since have said about the Mesopotamian campaign and then to finish once more on a note of banter.
Writing his memoirs fifty years later Dudley gives little idea of what he thought, let alone felt, about the war. His comment after the storming of the Sannaiyat lines, already quoted, is the only indication. The futility of war did, however, for the first time impress itself on my mind. Here were these Turkish peasants dragged from their farms to take part in a war which could in no way benefit them, knowing indeed nothing of the causes and aims of their leaders, and with no other desire than that of finishing the business and returning home in time for the harvest. This echoes what others have written. Edmund Candler notes that “the Turk was an enemy against whom few of us felt any bitterness of spirit, and, as an accomplice of the Hun, a mere accident in the system we were sworn to destroy”. In the few letters to his father that have survived Dudley seems to treat the war as a great adventure – “I have enjoyed myself very much on the whole and would not have missed it for anything” and “You cannot imagine what a fine life this is Dad I would not be anywhere else now for a £1000.” These are comments written during the height of the campaign which had seen heavy casualties and in which Dudley had been slightly wounded. Perhaps these were comments he knew his father would appreciate – or perhaps these really were the genuine feelings of soldier in the thick of the fighting.
Dudley served in an Indian regiment and lived and fought side by side with Sikh and Pathan soldiers. His photographs of the campaign include many pictures of fine moustachioed Sikhs in their characteristic turbans but it is difficult to get from these images anything of what the war meant for these Indian soldiers. Thompson again has one of the characters in his novel say, “ ‘Doesn’t it simply amaze you, that we have them here scrapping for us? They’re mercenaries, when all’s said and done. It isn’t their empire they’re fighting for; and not one of them had the remotest notion of the sheer bloody hell he was coming to.... They know now that the sahib and the Sirkar aren’t the almighty wise folk they used to think them – haven’t they seen us chuck lives away as if you bought men twelve a penny? Last spring we were asking their blood – and hadn’t even blankets to give in return, or beds when they got cut up. Considering they are mercenaries, I think they’re wonderful. If we’d a brain in our heads, we’d see how perfectly bewildering it is that a lot of Asiatics – chaps whose own country has been blasted out of their hands by our guns – should be fighting and dying for us!’ ”
About this time I was due for some leave, and since the Turkish resistance seemed to have been overcome permanently, I had no trouble in getting away. I returned to India and spent a very pleasant month with Lieutenant Colonel Prissick (C.O. of the 56th Sikhs) and his family at Dalhousie, a pleasant hill station providing plenty of amusement and comfortable quarters. After the heat, dust and squalor of active service, the cool temperate climate in the hill was inexpressibly welcome.
In June 1916 Colonel Richard Gardiner took over the command of the 53rd Sikhs. In a memoir of his father, entitled ‘Dick Piffer’ Douglas Gardiner recorded that “On May 4th 32 men proceeded to India on leave with Lieutenant (Acting Captain) D.M.Newitt ... a tough resourceful soldier of great courage”.
Dalhousie was a hill station in the Himalayas, situated in what is now the Indian province of Himachal Pradesh. Colonel Cuthbert Prissick commanded 8th Indian Infantry Brigade and died at Bannu on 14th July 1922.
On rejoining my battalion, I learned that the whole 7th Division was to be withdrawn from the front line and dispatched to Palestine via Egypt.
Dudley returned from leave 26 July but in his memoir omitted to mention the last battles in which he and the 53rd Sikhs were engaged while in Mesopotamia. After staying relatively inactive in Samarra during the hot season, the 28th Brigade took part in the advance on Daur and Tekrit in October. Thompson takes up the story. “At 9.10 the force met at the place of assembly. The 21st Brigade were to move up the left bank; they are hardly in this picture. On the right bank the 28th Brigade went first, followed by the 19th and 8th Brigades. ... Part of the night I marched with my friends of the 53rd Sikhs, with Newitt and with Heathcote. Every oneanticipated a very hard fight. We were up against a position which was routed to be as strong as Istabulat had been. Before dawn we found ourselves among ghostly bushes, and lay down for one shivering hour. We had marched over seventeen miles, with the usual exhausting checks and halts attendant on night marching, and we were dead beat to the wide. Yet nothing could be finer than the way the men threw weariness away, like a garment, with the first shells, and went into battle.”
Douglas Gardiner describes how “Turks were reported advancing on 22 October but a piquet of six platoons under Newitt held them off. Next day a force of 4000-6000 Turks was observed taking up positions at Hawaislat to the north. 28th Brigade marched to outflank them with the Regiment [53rd Sikhs] as Advance Guard, the Vanguard being B Company, the Pathans, with Newitt in front. Again the sight of this round-faced burly chemical engineer and his ferocious tribesmen seems to have been too much for the enemy who departed before the attack was fully deployed”.
The Turks then withdrew to a position at Daur which they held in strength The plan was for the cavalry to outflank the position and take them in the rear. This plan failed and the position had to be taken by frontal assault. “Soon after 6am the enemy advanced pickets were driven in.... The 56th rifles went first, advancing as if on parade... the ‘Tigers’ came next; then the 51st and 53rd Sikhs. The enemy was fairly caught by surprise.... It was not expected that march and fight would come so swiftly and together.”
The final objective of the campaign was Tekrit where the Turks had a reserve ammunition dump. The 28th Brigade were present at the action but not heavily involved. Thereafter the whole 7th Division was withdrawn from the front, first to Samarra and then down the Tigris to Baghdad where, according to Thompson, “we got our last glimpse of Fritz [the German pilot of the Turkish reconnaissance aircraft]. He was over Baghdad, and was said to have dropped a message, ‘Goodbye, 7th Division’ ”.
Photograph - A Pathan soldier of the regiment
Photograph -Sikh soldiers on inspection parade
It must have been as a result of one these last actions that Dudley was mentioned in a despatch of Sir William Marshall, who had succeeded Maude as commander in chief. However, the official notification is dated 15 April 1918, long after the 53rd Sikhs had left Mesopotamia for Palestine. In his memoir Dudley’s farewell to Mesopotamia is as short and dry as it could be. We embarked at Baghdad on a number of river steamers and proceeded to Basra where we transferred to one of the numerous troopships then anchored in the river.”
The Palestine Campaign
About this time I was appointed adjutant of the battalion and thus had a great deal of administrative work in connection with the embarkation. I was also responsible for writing daily battalion orders and the War Diary. On the death of Colonel Grattan, the command of the battalion was taken over by Colonel R. Gardiner who up to that time had been a staff officer at Corps headquarters.
A copy of the War Diary in Dudley’s handwriting has survived. The first entry is 9 January 1917, long before Dudley says he assumed responsibility for keeping it up. Many of the entries are very brief and there is a gap during his leave in India. The diary becomes more busy once he became Adjutant at the end of November 1917. The regiment left Mesopotamia on the troopship Chakdina on 31 December.
Our voyage to Egypt was eventful, we had propeller trouble in the Persian Gulf and had to put into Muscat to await repairs. Muscat, an old centre of the slave trade, is perhaps one of the most fascinating ports in the Gulf. It is the seat of much smuggling and every species of villainy – the mixed population of every colour from jet black to near white, earn a precarious living by fishing and trading with the interior. Caravans are constantly arriving or leaving for the desert, the travelling bazaars resound with the shouts of traders bargaining for their customers. The smell is overpowering but carries with it, romantic overtones of jasmine and frankincense. Over this mixed and lawless society there presided an old Frenchman; what his exact position was I never learned, but he lived in oriental style in a palatial building and entertained us with great courtesy and lavish hospitality.
This building was the Bait Faransa, a palace which was given to the French government for its consulate in 1896. Today it is the site of the Omani-French Museum. Dudley’s archive contains a set of old photographs of Muscat as it was at the beginning of the century. ***********************************************************
Muscat lies at the foot of steep igneous cliffs which in places reach to the water’s edge. It appears to have been the custom for troops held up in the port to pass the time by painting their regimental badges on the cliff face, and we were no exception. It was a hazardous operation involving lowering men in cradles and moving them about on the cliff face.
Temporary repairs having been made, our ship limped into Aden where it was decided to disembark the troops for a few days and exercise them on the hilly country behind the town. Route marches in intense heat, over the stony inhospitable interior, was a testing experience, particularly for the British troops. The permanent garrison was most hospitable, however, and our evenings passed pleasantly ‘gin crawling’ and dining at various messes. The following morning usually demanded a pick me up in the form of a prairie oyster, consisting of raw egg flavoured with Worcester sauce.
In 1915 the Turkish army under the command of a German general had launched an attack on the Suez Canal. This had failed and the British had then built a railway and water pipe across the desert and by the end of 1916 had cleared the Turks from all their positions in Sinai. In March and April 1917 they launched two attacks on the Turkish line which ran from Gaza to Beersheba. The attacks had been concentrated against Gaza which was heavily fortified, and had failed. A line of entrenchments was then built to face the Turks who were determined to prevent a British invasion of Palestine. This was the situation which faced General Edmund Allenby who took over command of the British forces at the end of June 1917.
Allenby carried out a massive reorganization of the British army and prepared to breach the Turkish defensive line. In November, after giving the Turks the idea that a third attack on Gaza was being planned, he launched his forces against Beersheba on the extreme left of the Turkish line. The break through there enabled him to outflank the whole Turkish position and force them to abandon Gaza and fall back on Jaffa and Jerusalem. Jerusalem was captured by the British on 9 December 1917 without any fighting as both sides had agreed that there should be no siege of the holy city. Whereas Maude had entered Baghdad at the head of his cavalry, Allenby entered Jerusalem with his staff on foot. After the capture of Jerusalem new lines were drawn from Jaffa to the Jordan. Allenby now had to send some of his European divisions to France and the gaps were filled by Indian units transferred from Mesopotamia, among them the 7 Division of which the 53rd Sikhs formed a part.
From Aden we proceeded up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal to Ismalia, where we disembarked and encamped in the desert near the town. Here we stayed for some six weeks re-fitting and training. The climate was relatively mild and it was possible to go for long rides over the desert or to hire a boat and sail on Lake Timsah. In Ismalia there was little of interest – a squalid town with just a few large houses belonging to wealthy Egyptians or officials of the Suez Canal. One had been turned into an officer’s club where an evening could be spent playing cards and losing money at roulette. To pass the time I took a week’s leave to Cairo, staying at the Mena House Hotel at the foot of the great pyramids. In war time there were no tourists and the pyramids and sphinx could be seen in their natural grandeur, unspoiled by the mob of beggars, guides, and donkey boys which usually disfigure the scene. Strolling in the moonlight at the foot of these great and impressive monuments one absorbed a peace and mental detachment which placed in proper perspective the fighting, potential intrigue and treachery which permeated this theatre of war in 1917.
Ismailia, situated on the shores of Lake Timsah was founded in 1863 to be the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company. In 1915 it had been targeted by the only attempt by the Turks to capture the Canal and it subsequently became the strategic centre of the British Army defending Egypt. The Mena House Hotel was originally a hunting lodge of the Khedive Ismail. In 1889 it was opened as a luxury hotel but during the war also served as a hospital. It is still one of Egypt’s grandest hotels as its official publicity makes clear. “Surrounded by 40 acres of verdant green gardens, this palatial hotel is located in the shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo. The royal history of the hotel is reflected in luxurious interiors that are embellished with exquisite antiques, handcrafted furniture, original work of arts ... that are rarely found in luxury hotels. Mena House has played host to kings and emperors, Heads of State and celebrities. ”
In his biography of Allenby, entitled Allenby of Armageddon, Raymond Savage describes the inspection of the newly arrived Indian regiments by the Duke of Connaught on 12 March 1918. “One never-to-be forgotten sight occurred at Moascar when the Duke inspected the 7th Indian Division [of which the 53rd Sikhs formed a part] commanded by Major-General Sir Vere Fane. The date was the anniversary of the march of the division into Baghdad in 1917 and right well was it celebrated both on parade and off. The whole division was drawn up in review order on the burning plain outside Ismailia, and was composed of many fighting regiments with whose names one could conjure. The Leicestershires, the Black Watch and Seaforth Highlanders stood side by side with Punjabis, Sikhs and Gurkhas, and side by side received hard won decorations from the hands of the Duke. But the most thrilling moment came at the end of the review when His Royal Highness stepped forward and, raising his helmet, called for three cheers for the King. Unevenly but surely they came. As far as the eye could see, one by one companies raised helmets on the point of bayonets, until the movement had the appearance of a huge brown ocean comber rolling slowly but unerringly into the far distance, whilst from near and far arose a roar of mighty human voices acclaiming the King, billowing, sweeping, crashing, until it died away in a whisper to be lost in the stillness of the desert.”
Although he doesn’t mention this incident, Dudley must have been present as one of the European officers in his regiment.
From Egypt we entrained in due course for Palestine where our armies had met with a number of set-backs and near disasters, and were then entrenched a short distance north of Gaza. It was another case similar to Mesopotamia early in 1916. Morale was low, transport and equipment was in short supply and the troops were ‘browned off’. Our first halt was Lod (Lydd) where we camped for some days amongst orange groves and then proceeded to occupy an entrenched line a little north of Jaffa. The Turks were in some strength to our front, no man’s land being two or three miles wide. F[ield].M[arshal].Allenby had recently taken over command and was beginning to infuse a better spirit among the troops. He inspected our Division on arrival and expressed in no uncertain terms his displeasure at the rather lax discipline which had been the inevitable consequence of heavy losses made up by half trained recruits in Mesopotamia.
This passage reads oddly after the triumphs of the Beersheba break through and the capture of Jerusalem. Dudley was clearly referring to the situation after the two failed attacks on Gaza, before Allenby took over and re-organised the expeditionary force. By the time the 53rd Sikhs arrived morale was high and confidence in Allenby universal throughout the army. However, at least one modern historian has suggested that the Indian regiments that had been transferred from Mesopotamia were not of the highest quality. “The replacement Indian battalions arrived on such a scattered schedule from February to August that campaign operations were dislocated. Twenty-two of the battalions had seen no service, and one third had had no riflery practice. Of the 22 battalions with service experience in India and Mesopotamia each had forfeited one veteran company to the Western Front. ... The Indian units were almost entirely devoid of signalers, Lewis gunners, hand bombers or experienced transport drivers. The junior officers, both British and Indian were inexperienced and few British officers spoke Hindustani”. (David Bullock, Allenby’s War, London, 1988, pp.113-14).
The regiment camped near the sea shore at Tel el Rekkit which Colonel Gardiner described as “a good camp site on rolling downs, covered at this season with coarse grass and wild flowers. Water is obtained from water- holes dug on the sands at the foot of the cliffs, and within 20 yards of the high tide”.
Under the new management, the rather passive life in trenches was replaced by vigorous night patrols and raids. These were great fun. A party of us some twenty strong would leave our front line at nightfall armed with machine guns, hand grenades and other lethal weapons, and would approach with great caution the enemy front line where we lay in wait for one of his patrols. The nights were warm and the air perfumed with wild thyme and other aromatic herbs. The stars had an unnatural brightness and all was silent. Then through the still air would be heard the shuffle of approaching feet and the vague shadows of a body of the enemy. At the appropriate moment, safety pins would be withdrawn from our grenades and at a given signal they would be lobbed into the approaching party. A breathless moment, a succession of violent explosions and then all hell would be let loose. Very lights would momentarily illuminate a scene of great confusion, there would be a rattle of machine gun fire and artillery would add to the general noise. Meanwhile we would endeavour to capture a few prisoners and with our own wounded would retire with a feeling that a job had been well done. It was all most satisfactory. To this day, when I smell thyme I recall vividly these magic nights.
Some of our raids were on a larger scale and the last one in which I took part (July 27th) included several hundred men and was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage. We followed close behind the barrage and, arriving at our target, rounded up a large number of the enemy before they had time to offer any resistance. In the end the Turks got into a very nervous state and would open fire on hearing the slightest rustle of wind blown grass.
This raid is described in the official history of the war. “A successful raid was carried out on the night of the 27 July by five platoons 53rd Sikhs of the 28th Indian Brigade... against the advanced Turkish trenches on Piffer Ridge, 3 miles east of the shore at El Haram. Two columns entered the enemy’s line at different points and converged, thus preventing the escape of the garrison, which was taken by surprise. Thirty-three prisoners were brought in, the Sikhs having only four casualties. The losses of the Turks from the bombardment were apparently heavy.”
Dudley’s papers include a copy of the plan for the raid and the subsequent report filed by the commander of the 53rd Sikhs, Colonel Gardiner. “At 22.50 the Raiders advanced and at 23.00 our Artillery and MG Barrage opened. The Barrage was very accurate and the Raiders were able to get up to 30 yards from the wire before the Artillery lifted off the front line. At 23.08 the Barrage lifted and the whole Raiding Party charged through the wire, and over the first Trench. As soon as they passed the fire Trench the 2 Platoons on the right under Captain Fulton immediately wheeled to their Right... The three other Platoons under Major Waller & Capt. Newitt after crossing the front trench went straight on for 100 yards and then wheeled to their left and formed up again on a 2 Platoon front facing West.... At 23.17 the advance continued... All objectives were simultaneously charged with the bayonet from the rear. As the charge went in the Turks endeavored to break away to the North. Several were shot or bayoneted and 13 captured, 2 of whom died on the way back.... About 50 Turks were actually shot or bayoneted by the Raiders, 5 of them being shot by the B.Os [British Officers] with their pistols, and a considerable number of other dead were passed.... Our casualties were 1 IOR killed (carried back to camp) and 3 IOR Wounded.”
Photograph - On campaign
Allenby’s second major offensive began on 19 September 1918. Elaborate deceptions had been engineered to disguise the movement of his troops and to hide his strategy which was to break the Turkish line on the coast and to pour large numbers of cavalry through the gap which were to penetrate the rear of the Turkish positions and force the surrender of two of his army corps. This was a manoeuvre frequently attempted in Mesopotamia, but always the Turks had been able to withdraw to another position. In September 1918 Allenby achieved a numerical superiority of between four and five to one and was able to bring off this vast encircling movement with dramatic effect, achieving one of the most decisive victories of the First World War.
The 53rd Sikhs were part of the 7th Division which in turn was part of General Bulfin’s 21st Army Corps. The 21st Corps was given the task of breaking through the Turkish defences north of Jaffa between the railway and the sea. “What happened”, wrote David Bullock, “can only be viewed as a precursor to the modern blitzkrieg. Zero-hour came at 0430 hours in the gloom before dawn. At one gun per fifty yards average the opening 15 minutes of preparatory bombardment was the heaviest of the Palestine- Arabian campaign. Rear Admiral Jackson’s destroyers Druid and Forester joined in offshore and a thousand shells per minute exploded into the Turkish lines, churning the earth into a dust clouded inferno. To the soldiers stumbling out of bivouac the unexpected bombardment followed by the surprise assault of five EEF divisions must have seemed like the crack of doom. As the thick waves of the 21st Corps infantry advanced... the battle quickly assumed the proportions of an overrun attack. In places the infantry had to pause to avoid running into its own barrage... In the first few hours 7,000 Turkish prisoners and 100 guns had fallen into 21st Corps hands.”
Dudley’s account is as follows. Early in September 1918, Allenby began to concentrate troops in the coastal plain preparatory to an attack on the Turkish line and on September 19th the main operation opened. The 28th Brigade were heavily involved and the 53rd had the task of storming the village of Taibiyeh which was strongly held. As we approached, they abandoned their defences and retired to positions in the hills around Samaria. These hills were terraced with stone walls about three feet high and were thickly planted with vines and olive trees. I was given command of three companies (about 500 men) and ordered to drive them out. Hill warfare was very much the forte of frontier force troops and I can recall how our men swarmed up the steep hillside like cats, scrambling over the walls and through the vines and taking advantage of every bit of cover. Before the Turks were ready we were amongst them. Their officers immediately came up to me and surrendered but I had the greatest difficulty in restraining my men, who were wildly excited, from perpetrating a massacre. In fact it was only by threatening to shoot anyone who fired his rifle that I restored order. We took some 300 prisoners and many more fled into the hills and escaped. I have a momento of this fight in the form of a pair of field-glasses which were presented to me by the Turkish officer. I was also awarded the Military Cross for leading the attack. This was the last major action in which I took part during the war.
Dudley recorded what happened in the Regimental Diary written at the time. “Sept 21st From Beit Lid column followed track west of village...to metalled road, thence through Railway bridge... thence eastward along road to Messendieh occupying town and station at 0345 without opposition. At 0430 hrs Rgt was ordered to occupy Samaria Hill...The hill was believed to be unoccupied. I was given command of a Cy and ordered to piquet the Hill. As dawn was breaking I advanced up western slope of hill as quickly as possible. Remaining two platoons under Capt. Jardine following in reserve. Hill was difficult to negociate being steep with frequent terraces & thick olive groves. At summit were remains of Temple of Herod. About half way up the slope heavy MG and rifle fire was opened on us by enemy concealed near summit of hill. We scaled the hill at a run, wheeled to the south & charged through the olive groves. This took the enemy in the flank and before they could reform we were into them with bayonet.
Many were killed and remainder surrendered. Prisoners taken – 11 officers including 2 Battn Comanders; 170 other ranks; 3 heavy machine guns; 5 automatic rifles. Our casualties were nil. Remainder of the Battn then marched round the hill and occupied the town.”
The main Turkish resistance was now broken and we advanced rapidly northwards picking up large numbers of prisoners and vast quantities of stores and equipment. Some of our marches at this time were phenomenal. In one instance we advanced 34 miles over very difficult rocky tracks in 48 hours, and on another occasion we covered 270 miles in 40 days.
An account of this advance was recorded by Private E.C.Powell: “We marched all day, on and on, scorched by the sun, parched with thirst, nearly dead with fatigue and want of sleep, struggling painfully through heavy sand. Camels rolled over, men were fainting, but still we pushed on”. Meanwhile whole Turkish armies surrendered and Allenby was faced with the task of feeding, watering and making provision for 50,000 prisoners, a task for which the army was wholly unprepared. On 26 September Allenby circulated to all units, “I desire to convey to all ranks and all arms of the Force under my command, my admiration and thanks for their great deeds of the past week, and my appreciation of their gallantry and determination, which have resulted in the total destruction of the VIIth and VIIIth Turkish Armies opposed to us. Such a complete victory has seldom been known in all the history of war.” (copies of this circular are contained in Dudley’s archive).
After the break through on the coast and the rout of the Turkish 7th and 8th armies, the 7th Division was directed to advance up the coast as far as Beirut which was reached on 9 October. In all the Division covered 226 miles from the beginning of the advance. During the march on Beirut British engineers leveled the so-called ‘ladder of Tyre’, an ancient mile long series of steps that took a caravan road over the mountains from Haifa to Beirut. The official history of the war records that “General Bulfin... [who] had gone forward to look at the road, was told... that extensive blasting was necessary to make the Ladder fit for wheels... and that there was a risk of the whole shelf slipping into the sea. The chances seemed in favour of a successful outcome, but success could not be guaranteed. ... General Bulfin demanded ‘time for a couple of cigarettes, in which to consider the problem; then ordered the attempt to be made. It was completely successful. The whole length of the cliff road was made practicable for wheeled transport in the course of three days”
The regimental diary that Dudley maintained records “Oct. 5th ... About 4 miles south of Ras el Ain road passage over a range of hills by Ladder of Tyre. This ladder consists in many parts of polished marble stone and a considerable amount of blasting had to be done.” Meanwhile Damascus was captured on 1 October and the campaign finally came to an end when an armistice was signed with Turkey on 31 October 1918.
After the battle of Samaria our Brigade concentrated at Haifa, a picturesque little town overlooking a sheltered bay. During a rest period, many of us visited the grove of cedars of Lebanon, the famous ruins of Baalbek and Damascus. From Haifa we pushed north along the coast, across the Ladder of Tyre, which to my regret we had to level to make a path for the artillery and mule transport, through Tyre and Ledon to Beirut which we reached after five days (October 3rd-8th) continuous marching. It was a memorable trek. As we passed through village after village, the inhabitants came out to welcome us. Fruit and vegetables were plentiful and cheap, the road winding along the coast gave glimpses of deep blue sea on the one hand and orchards and olive groves on the other. On the summit of the low hills were a string of Monasteries inhabited by Maronite monks – a bearded and docile brotherhood offering a frugal hospitality to the passing wayfarer. In one of these I discovered a wonderful Persian rug which I greatly coveted but was unable to persuade the monks to part with.
We stayed at Beirut for a week or so, our headquarters being in a large house on the waterfront. Here I spent some evenings with an old German archaeologist who had made a unique collection of flint instruments, prehistoric earthenware pots and burial urns. Advancing from Beirut, we passed through the large townships of Homs, Hama and Jerablus (Carchemish) to Beryck on the banks of the Euphrates.
At Jerablus we met Leonard Wooley, an archaeologist who had been excavating amongst the Hittite ruins of Carchemish, and showed us his unique collection of cylindrical seals. He later carried out excavations at Ur of the Chaldean [sic] and has written several books describing his finds.
Beryck was a settlement on the banks of the river and, on our arrival, was still administered by Turkish officials who gladly handed over control to our O.C. The 53rd headquarters were located in the palace of the former Turkish Governor, a spacious building, sparely furnished and, as the winter advanced, intensely cold. I was, for a time, put in charge of the administration of a large area inhabited by Armenians, Syrians and including some Turkish settlements.
Some well meaning American philanthropist had put at my disposal a large sum of money for the purpose of financing the Armenians and setting them up in business. This was easier said than done, as they were intent upon organizing a general massacre of the Turks before engaging in any other activity; and I was forced in the end to hold several of their prominent leaders as hostages for their good behaviour.
Berijck was a busy town overlooked by the ruins of a formidable Crusader Castle – still in a fair state of preservation. It was the centre of a number of small industries including rope making, and had an important market for food and other commodities. The Turks had abandoned a number of motor launches on the river which we immediately impounded and thereafter used for fishing excursions and military business. We also organized a pack of hounds for jackal hunting and had many good runs over the rocky countryside.
Birecik is a town on the Euphrates just inside modern Turkey. Dudley’s regimental diary entry for 26 February 1919 reads, “Berijek a dusty little town, narrow bazaar but very picturesque. Run by Ramakan & Mayor (here Effendi) the latter a poisonous scoundrel. Armenian quarter on hill overlooking the town. Has 3 churches all gutted by the Turks. Fine old castle overlooking town & river. Nesting place of sacred ibis.” The official regimental history confirms this impression - “Birijik is a dirty town, a maze of narrow cobbled streets and bazaars sloping up from the left bank of the Euphrates, gently at first and then steeply to the top of the ridge about a mile to the East. Population chiefly Kurds and Turks with a small A rmenian community. ” Colonel Gardiner had been made military governor of a large part of upper Syria and later Dudley was to write that “his firm and wide administration, tempered with great humanity, did much to alleviate the sufferings of the local inhabitants long oppressed by Turkish misrule. He did a remarkable job in settling the district and re- organising its industries.”
On October 31st an armistice with Turkey was declared and the following month Germany surrendered and all hostilities ceased. Dudley remained with his regiment in Syria until May. One of his last diary entries is for 6 May 1919 – “Promulgation of sentences on 6 deserters”. On 11 May 1919 the major commanding the 53rd Sikhs in Jerablus formally endorsed Captain D.M.Newitt MC IARO to proceed to UK for demobilization. The brief memo recorded that he had acted as Company Commander in the preceding two months, that his service had included 12 months as a private and 3 years 10 months as a commissioned officer, and that “there are no Regimental demands outstanding against this officer.” On 12 June Dudley left for Kantara to be demobilized. His private papers for this period include a number of letters congratulating him on his Military Cross – one of them from Lt. General Sir Walter Leslie commanding in Lahore District in India.
I was now anxious to return to England and resume my studies – but there was a long and tiresome interval before demobilization began. At long last I was ordered to proceed to Alexandria and take charge of a mixed bag of troops returning to England. This was a different assignment – discipline was lax, troop arrangements were chaotic and for weeks we were in transit camps awaiting embarkation orders. Finally, to my great relief, we were herded on board a P&O liner bound for Plymouth.
Plymouth is a wonderful harbour for the traveler to return to after several years in arid and tropical countries. The soft damp air, the green hills and the cloud flecked skies – even the rain, were welcome to us.
On landing, we proceeded to a rest camp where we were informed that we should be kept in quarantine for two weeks owing to a suspected case of smallpox. This proved to be the last straw; the troops openly mutinied, they turned a deaf ear to the threats and exhortations of a series of senior officers and, after some delay, they won their case. In due course we entrained for London and I delivered them at the Crystal Palace which was then a demobilization centre. This ended the war as far as I was concerned.