One hundred years ago we were in the middle of WW1. My grandparents generation spoke of WW1 almost as if it were in the present. This is no longer recent history and nobody is left alive to recount the horrors from personal experience. I heard of a great uncle who died on the fields of WW1 but whose body had never been recovered(?) I began a quest to discover more. My uncle fought in Mesopotamia. ( My grandfather, who was also in The Hampshire Regiment had fought in India. My father had mentioned his father talking about punkah wallahs, the Indian guys who would operate the ceiling fans by hand. His father had obviously spoken of them fondly. A bright spot in a terrible war. My brother has his diary from that period. )The last WW1 Survivor is believed to have been Florence Green(a nurse who died in 2012.)
The conversation (about punkah wallahs)had come about because of a very politically incorrect show called, ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ which would be condemned nowadays but which was actually the British poking fun at themselves. (Something we do a lot.) The punkah wallah was often the wisest person on the show.
Source:Concerning Reality https://youtube.com/c/ConcerningReality
I knew the date of my uncle ‘s death and his regiment and so I started my research from there. I found the war diaries of a member of his regiment(who had also died that day) and was able to glean from this and various newspapers accounts, much of the events from that fateful period in January 1916.
The weather conditions had been horrendous. (There had been continuous torrential rain for days – the muddy conditions the soldiers had experienced, were a nightmare.) thus there had been open slaughter. The soldiers had frequently been unable either to retrieve bodies or to help the injured, for some time. Many injured had died awaiting help, Hence it is probably unsurprising that my uncle had remained missing along with copious others.
British soldiers wading through the floods in Mesopotamia.
The tragic events in Mesopotamia are described here through recorded interviews with the army veterans who participated.
In October of 1916, the official account written by Sir Percy Lake ended with the following statement:
I cannot sufficiently express my admiration for the courage and dogged determination of the force engaged. For days they bivouacked in driving rain on soaked and sodden ground. Three times they were called upon to advance over a perfectly flat country, deep in mud, and absolutely devoid of cover, against well-constructed and well planned trenches, manned by a brave and stubborn enemy approximately their equal in numbers. They showed a spirit of endurance and self-sacrifice of which their country may well be proud.
I am in the process of identifying others in his regiment who died that same day and putting together their stories also. I have done my best to ensure each one of them is remembered and have attached my discoveries about the brave battle they fought.
It was to become one of Britain’s most humiliating defeats. The suffering that was endured is almost unimaginable. My uncle and others like him fought and died thousands of miles away from home. I hope that in some small way, to have helped honour their sacrifice..
Television interviews with WW1 veterans can be found here
If you wish to learn more about the battle in which my uncle and his regiment took part, please feel free to use the contact form to request the information