Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Rarely seen WWI diaries reveal agony of ignominious British defeat Moving account chronicling agonies suffered by British troops during six-month WWI siege of Kut-al-Amara published in full for first time

12:01AM GMT 02 Dec 2015

It was one of the British Army’s worst defeats of the First World War, with starving troops forced to eat their own horses and thousands more killed during an ill-fated rescue attempt.

What had begun as a mission to safeguard oil and liberate Iraq from the Turks ended in ignominy, with hundreds of British and Indian soldiers dying in captivity.

Now a movingly detailed account has been published chronicling the agonies suffered by the men during the six-month siege of Kut-al-Amara and the imprisonment that followed.

Close to a century after it was first written, the personal account of Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup's gruelling mission is being published in full for the first time by the National Army Museum.

Chronicling an ill-fated episode of Britain’s early military involvement in the Middle East – where it was then confronting the might of the Ottoman Empire – the account foreshadows more recent conflicts involving UK forces in the region.

"I can’t tell you how beastly it is to make your breakfast off a plate of indifferent horse or mule."

Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup

Lieut. Gallop was one of thousands of British troops sent to Mesopotamia – now modern day Iraq – following Turkey's entry into the war in 1914.

Britain was desperate to protect its oil supplies in the region and the Army’s high command was confident it could rally the Arab peoples subjugated by the Ottomans to fight alongside its troops.

Members of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery in 1915Members of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery in 1915 Photo: PA/ National Army Museum

Gallup's unit, the Hampshire Howziter Battery, Royal Field Artillery, was ordered to advance some 250 miles to the town of Kut-al-Amara and on to Baghdad just 25 miles away.

By November 1915 the 10,000 strong British force had made good headway.

Extracts dated from September 17 to December 3, 1915 from the personal diaries and letters of Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup, which are to be published for the first timeExtracts dated from September 17 to December 3, 1915 from the personal diaries and letters of Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup, which are to be published for the first time Photo: PA/ National Army Museum

But the men's’ triumph was short lived, as they quickly found themselves outnumbered and under intense pressure from relentless Turkish onslaughts.

Gallup's diary entries detail how the continuous Turkish offensives, and the appalling conditions endured by his comrades, eventually wore down the exhausted British forces.

By December 1915 food supplies were desperately low and the prospect of starvation was looming – forcing the soldiers to begin eating their horses.

The camp of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery at Makina Masus near Basra in 1915The camp of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery at Makina Masus near Basra in 1915 Photo: PA/ National Army Museum

Attempts to relieve the beleaguered troops ended in disaster, with two Indian divisions dispatched by the British halted by the enemy, with more than 23,000 Indian losses.

The situation inside the besieged town became more desperate when a shipload of stores sent after dark was captured by the Turks.

"Gallup's diaries and letters offer a unique glimpse into the battles that are sometimes forgotten."

Dr Peter Johnston, National Army Museum

Gallup describes how "we can only picture to ourselves the heavenly feed the Turks must be having".

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He also explains how planes were frantically "dropping sacks of grain, parcels of chocolate, any old thing in fact to enable us to carry on for a few extra days".

Gallup continues: "But however hard the planes worked it was a mightily small allowance that each person got; the planes of course were greeted by heavy fire from Turkish lines."

He goes on to describe in vivid detail how the men, desperate for food, were forced to eat horse flesh and fat to stay alive.

Extracts dated December 3, 1915 to March 10, 1917, from the personal diaries and letters of Lieutenant Henry Curtis GallupExtracts dated December 3, 1915 to March 10, 1917, from the personal diaries and letters of Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup Photo: PA/ National Army Museum

Gallup’s diary entries for March 27 and April 20 read: "I can’t tell you how beastly it is to make your breakfast off a plate of indifferent horse or mule: no tea and dinner, instead roast or minced horse and the balance of your piece of bread, and for pudding a very small “Kabob” made of flour and fried in horse fat.”

Gallup adds: “I simply long for a piece of chocolate or a tinned apple pudding … It is extraordinary how the idea of food absolutely obsesses one when you can’t get any.”

Howitzers being loaded onto a raft in 1915Howitzers being loaded onto a raft in 1915 Photo: PA/ National Army Museum

On April 29 – with the Kut garrison starving, sickness rife, and no prospect for relief – senior officers surrendered to their Turkish counterparts.

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Around 13,000 men, including Gallup, were marched into captivity, where they faced "fleas", "dirty water" and "cramped conditions”.

A third of the British prisoners died from disease, malnutrition and cruel treatment by the Turks.

Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup, 1915Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup, 1915 Photo: PA/ National Army Museum

Like so many of those at Kut, Gallup had volunteering for service at the outbreak of war, before being commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Gallup, who was born in Bloomsbury, London, before moving to Wiltshire with his parents, a wealthy American businessman and his English wife, survived captivity and was repatriated at the end of the war.

He went to marry and have five children, rising to the rank of Major before dying in November 1942, at the age of 68, in Brentor, in west Devon.

Gallup’s diaries and letters are being published by the National Army Museum's commemorative online portal, First World War in Focus, as part of its Soldiers' Stories series.

Dr Peter Johnston, from the museum, said: "Gallup's diaries and letters offer a unique glimpse into the battles that are sometimes forgotten but are nevertheless important to British history.

"They allow us to understand what it was like to be a victim of war and the perils that came with it as well as the desire for home comforts, like chocolate, that added to the hardships faced by First World War soldiers."

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