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Viscount 802

Images of the British Army in Mesopotamia, 1918-1919

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Viscount 802

IMAGES OF A BRITISH ARMY UNIT IN MESOPOTAMIA, probably 1918-1919.

This is my first, and almost certainly my final thread on GWF as the period is well outside my normal field (which is post WWII aviation and history of Liverpool Airport). I do have a problem in that as a new poster I cannot contact the Section Mod by PM to confirm that immediate post Armistice British Army photos are permitted and welcome. Why I am I here then?

What I have to offer is a collection of around 35 b&w and faded sepia 3 x 2” photos given to me along with a number of WWII shots of downed Luftwaffe aircraft in North Africa. I’ve had them hidden away since the mid-1970s since being given them by our school groundsman, Gill Heyes who knew I was interested in aviation and would give the photos a good home. Indeed for many years I had them stored away as WWII photos, as Gill had served in North Africa. I met him again 10 years or so ago, by then dementia was setting in and he denied having even seen the photos before, but I still looked after the prints, hidden away in the bottom of a drawer!

In the past few years with PC technology, as I started to scan, digitise and restore aviation prints held in various envelopes, I looked more closely at these prints and discovered one had a date that looked like 1912 (actually more likely 1919). Poking around Wikipedia confirmed 1918-1920 as a likely time span and Mesopotamia as the location. Finding I had 90+ year old photos came as a considerable shock! I placed some of the best shots on an aviation forum which I administrate, and on another more international one, along with the question ‘where can I share my find with knowledgeable people who would most appreciate seeing previously unpublished shots of the British Army in the Middle East?’ While several members suggested I donate to the IWM, I want to share, not hide away in a vault – which has led me here, as a clearly active forum, (nearly) covering the period. I do hope that the effort has been worthwhile, as clearly many photos of men and equipment pass through these pages.

Indeed I am hopeful that ‘resident experts’ can pick out little details that I cannot spot and tell everyone more about the men, machines and places shown. I find the photos a fascinating ‘time capsule’ record, clearly a gun crew, with their transport out on manoeuvres in desert mountain terrain, with a couple on flooded lowlands too. Although a few are clearly ‘tourist’ photos, I’ll post every photo in the collection, although some are faded to almost nothing, along with the very few captions.

I have no idea who took these photos, how they got to be in Liverpool, nor any idea in what sequence these shots were first taken, or if this was one exercise or a combination of several runs out of base. Clues as to the unit, others may well be able to pick out, I’ll draw attention to the obvious ones. I’ll start with some of the best quality b&ws and try and group similar themes together, quality varies greatly. Quite a few of the photos featuring groups of men have multiple prints in the collection, as though they were to be passed around. I’ll caption were I have information to add; otherwise I’ll let the images tell their own story. I will number each image to aid identification should anyone have information to point out.

I’ve scanned on a Canoscan 9000F; cropped (but always left the whole of the original picture), adjusted contrast, cleaned/retouched to some extent and sharpened using ‘Picasa’, resized, then uploaded and downloaded via Photobucket. It will take me a little while to load all 37 images over a couple of posts, so would appreciate restraint in making comment until I have finished. Thanks. Brian Jones, Liverpool UK, Dec 2013.

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Viscount 802

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1. A bit of an odd-one-out in the collection, but the only image where I have some expertise. This is an Avro 504K H2277, built by A.V.Roe & Co Ltd at Manchester in 1918. Would be a classic 'in theatre' shot if it were not for the elbow!

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2.

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3. Clearly the camera and tripod have not been moved, just the soldiers and a crate between these two images. The U.S. built Holt 15 ton engine features in many shots in the collection. Number 'E upright arrow 35' features regularly. From Wikipedia I find that over 200 of these monsters were delivered to Europe before November 1918, clearly it was not long before they were replacing horse teams elsewhere in the Empire.

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4.

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5.

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Viscount 802

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6. A slightly more formal pose. The shell named 'Peace Term No.1' has me wondering. Was this soon after the October 1918 armistice, or a message to future enemies, or perhaps even a trophy from a competition? Alternatively, it could read 'Peace Team No.1'. This line of thinking does reinforce that these photos are from a period of peace in Mesopotamia between late 1918 and 1920. While a little difficult to make out the shape, does the shell match the Howitzer?

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7. While there is no real evidence, as this is the only image of an individual, I fancy that this pipe smoker could well be the photographer.

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8. If so it could be that the empty car is his transport as he photographs the gun team 'on the road'.

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9.

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10. The Holt 15 ton (if my interpretation from Wikipedia is correct) is the star of many of these photographs.

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Viscount 802

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11.

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12. This Holt 15 ton is numbered 'E upright arrow 35' and features a number of times. There is also a 'W' on the front wheel and maybe an 'H' or a design with that shape on the front of the canopy.

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13. Two photos that don't quite fit the pattern are two in rather wet conditions. This is one of only two shots with a title: 'Turk Prisoners', which would presumably date it to shortly before or after the October 1918 armistice.

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14, In rather similar wet conditions, the rescue (note the chains leading off to the right) of a stranded truck.

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15. The back is not very helpfully inscribed 'This is a railway station'. Samarra certainly provides a location in modern Iraq! Is it where the unit was based and departing from in the next two photos, was it where the unit were going to by train, is it just a random shot? This photo has a date up the side, looks like 1912, but 1919 fits better.

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Viscount 802

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16. On back is written: 'This is us loading up on the train'. These two shots could be the unit going out on exercise, as many shots show very different terrain to the ones already posted.

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17.

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18. The next ten shots or so feature the unit moving around mountainous terrain, the opportunities for interesting photographs was clearly not lost on our camera owner! This particular shot is helpfully captioned: 'This is our camp at Alimasjid', however as a place name does not feature in my Atlas!

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19. Note there are two Holts descending this hillside, one higher up the hair-pin road than the one in the foreground.

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20.

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Viscount 802

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21.

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22.

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23. A holt followed by 3 trucks.

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24.

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25.

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Viscount 802

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26. Clearly moving around such terrain was not without hazard!

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27. The only clues as to a unit identity are on these two photos. It appears to be '692 CG (letters unclear), MT ASC' - does this make any sense?

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28. On the back is written 'This is our camp inside the walls', but no location provided.

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29. The final 10 images to be displayed are what I am terming 'tourist' photos as the images are somewhat 'non military'.

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30. A shame the subject is not in sharper focus as I would like to see more detail of this horse drawn carriage/tram.

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Viscount 802

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36.

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37. This final shot is the only one to feature a 'local'.

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I have been amazed how a relatively simple free to use photo processing programme (Picasa) on my PC can bring faded, sepia photos back to life. This is photo No.7 before processing - certainly one of the weaker images in the collection, but wow what a difference the posted image is to this faded almost to nothing sepia original.

Hope you enjoy this photographic 'time capsule' as much as I have sharing it with you. Hope I have not broken too many forum rules in the process. I'll be interested in what others can add to my brief captions.

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ianjonesncl

Fantastic

My paternal grandfather served in Mesopotamia so these rare shots provide an interesting view of what the area was like. Some excellent gunner photographs as well

Ian

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Steven Broomfield

Reference post 5, the only Ali Masjid I know of is in Afghanistan: it was a fort, taken by the british at the start of the 2nd Afghan War, en route to Kabul. It is a Battle Honour (unique for a British cavalry regiment) of the King's Royal Hussars, inherited from the 10th Royal Hussars (PWO), 1878.

If these pictures are in Mespot, I can't really imagine it's one and the same place.

Brilliant photos, though - thanks very much for posting them.

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jay dubaya

Wonderful images Brian many thanks for sharing them. There appears to be several ASC companies pictured and as you say the only clear markings are on the truck - I would suggest 692 Coy MT ASC who did indeed serve in Mespotamia as Base MT Workshop - Heavy Repair Shop. A war diary is available from the NA under WO 95/5390 - not available online as yet. Nice shots of what appears to be a 60 pounder of a heavy battery of the RGA with its ASC ammunition column. I'll look through the list of such companies later

Jon

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ororkep

Not a 60pdr but a 6in How, so Siege Battery.

Rgds

Paul

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RobL

These are absolutely wonderful, thank you

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jay dubaya

Not a 60pdr but a 6in How, so Siege Battery.

Rgds

Paul

Thanks for clarifying that Paul, looking at the images again I can't see why I said a 60 pounder... ho hum could be time for an eye test

Jon

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Griffner

These pictures are fascinating - thanks for sharing.

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James A Pratt III

Interesting pics. It usually rains in that part of the world in the winter and spring. The terrain in some pics does look like northern Iraq or the NWFP areas. The book "The NegectedWar/the Bastad War? the First Iraq War by A. J> Barker has a map that show the location of the Samarra RR station. I would say that moving tracked and motor vehicals by train long distances was fairly common during WW I and to a lesser extent during WW II. Hence the picture of these vehicals on a train.

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MartH

Wonderful photos that's for sharing.

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bushfighter

Thanks very much Brian for all your efforts.

The RAF MUseum in London might be interested in the plane photo.

Harry

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centurion

Careful Wiki can mislead the Holts were in service in France,Italy,Palestine etc etc before 1918

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kevinrowlinson

Just in case anyone in the future picks up on this thread I will suggest the likely Siege Batteries that may be depicted. The photos, to me, can be split into two parts. Those of an ASC MT Coy possibly making it's way to Basra, via Samarra, and those photos while in India and going up to the North West Frontier, with at least one stop at Ali Masjid. At least in India it was 692 MT Coy and the diary would probably show which Sge Bty it is.

The likely batteries to me are;

159th Siege Battery (788 MT Coy ASC)

246th Siege Battery (901 MT Coy ASC)

257th Siege Battery (902 MT Coy ASC)

269th Siege Battery (903 MT Coy ASC)

395th Siege Battery (1028 MT Coy ASC)

The link to the photo of a plane held by the IWM is not only the same but has the number 2278. They may have been in the same squadron, 24, and if a war diary exists should show its movements in India.

Kevin

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centurion

Just in case anyone in the future picks up on this thread I will suggest the likely Siege Batteries that may be depicted. The photos, to me, can be split into two parts. Those of an ASC MT Coy possibly making it's way to Basra, via Samarra, and those photos while in India and going up to the North West Frontier, with at least one stop at Ali Masjid. At least in India it was 692 MT Coy and the diary would probably show which Sge Bty it is.

The likely batteries to me are;

159th Siege Battery (788 MT Coy ASC)

246th Siege Battery (901 MT Coy ASC)

257th Siege Battery (902 MT Coy ASC)

269th Siege Battery (903 MT Coy ASC)

395th Siege Battery (1028 MT Coy ASC)

The link to the photo of a plane held by the IWM is not only the same but has the number 2278. They may have been in the same squadron, 24, and if a war diary exists should show its movements in India.

Kevin

I would agree some of those photos show typical Indian scenes not Middle East but AFAIK the Holts were not used in India but were in Mespot - so we have two locations, I may have a handle on the horse drawn tram - Indian but I'll need to do some looking up.

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kevinrowlinson

Quote, "but AFAIK the Holts were not used in India but were in Mespot"

If I have the chronology right then I personally have no problem in believing they were in India. 694 MT Coy left Bombay July 1917 and arrived Basra 1st August 1917. If they then had or got Holts then why shouldn't 694 Coy and 692 Coy travel back to India with them. By India I include the NWF as they would have had to get there from the coast. Those photos that I believe to be the NWF are 2 to 6 and 18 to 27 and taken late 1918 or early 1919. The dairy for 692 Coy would soon tell us and everything else without evidence is speculation.

Kevin

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centurion

Quote, "but AFAIK the Holts were not used in India but were in Mespot"

If I have the chronology right then I personally have no problem in believing they were in India. 694 MT Coy left Bombay July 1917 and arrived Basra 1st August 1917. If they then had or got Holts then why shouldn't 694 Coy and 692 Coy travel back to India with them. By India I include the NWF as they would have had to get there from the coast. Those photos that I believe to be the NWF are 2 to 6 and 18 to 27 and taken late 1918 or early 1919. The dairy for 692 Coy would soon tell us and everything else without evidence is speculation.

Kevin

Possible but there is no evidence of Holts being used in India at this time

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