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SIEGE OF KUT- First-Hand Account by Unknown Officer, 76th Punjabis


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  I have posted this as it is in an out-of-the-way place- "The Forester", the school magazine of Forest School, Snaresbrook, in East London.- the issue for Trinity 1919. I cannot identify the officer as yet but is likely to be an Old Forester. This follows on from an account of the Battle of Ctesiphon, November 1915, by the same writer already posted. The regiment appears to be the 76th Punjabis. Any help identifying the officer would be appreciated.

    With thanks to Archives at Forest School

 

THE SIEGE OF KUT

       I have not written since 13th January, and we are still holding out at Kut, but, thank Heaven! our relief is now close at hand, but it will be a close thing as our rations are down to the lowest possible limit and we have not more than another ten days' or so. I will now bring the narrative of the siege up to date, before saying anything about myself. As I was writing, about the 13th January, our relieving force was attacking the Turks, about five miles above Sheikh Saad, but they were unable to break through on account of the weather. They, therefore, took up a position to await reinforcements, and the Turks also entrenched. This is about a place called Hannah, and in these positions the two forces faced one another, until the Turks were turned out four days ago. On the 14th January, the Turks sprung a mine under the barbed wire opposite the part of the line we occupied. We were in reserve at the time, but went up in relief on the 15th. The mine had luckily mostly blown back, and the Turks had the crater about 50 yards from our trenches. Constantly, there was a lot of shooting, especially at night, to prevent them working, and we worried all the time with bombs from the trench mortar and rifle grenades. We dug a sap out towards them and the sappers started a mine. The weather about this time became very bad with constant rain, and the trenches filthy. On the i8th, before daylight, the surface water which had collected to the depth of about one foot at the back of a redoubt on our left, burst through the back wall of the trench and flooded the trenches to about three feet. Another couple of inches and it would have been in my dug-out, but we got bunds built which stopped the rush of water and it took us all day to bale it out and get the roadway passable. The weather at this time was very cold, down to freezing at nights, and the men suffered a great deal, as they have only the clothes they stand up in and two blankets. In addition, all our water-proof sheets had been abandoned on the retirement, so unless it was really a fine day nothing was dried. All this time the river had been rising and we were having difiiculty in keeping it out of the trenches. On the 21st January, the real flood came. The Turks had not taken proper precautions and the water flooded their trenches and filled them up to the ground level. It then flowed across the 50 to 100 yards which separated us, and we were only just able to get clear of our trenches and return to the second hne before our trenches were filled up to the top. As the front line trenches were 8 to 10 feet deep you can imagine what it was like. The communication trenches and the second or middle line were still about 2 feet deep in water and mud, so it was no fun getting out. Fortunately our bund held the water out of the communication trench long enough to let us get back and build another bund to keep the water out of the middle line. As it was, we only lost one man, who must have been drowned. It was raining all this time and we were wet up to the waist. The rain 8s continued all night and the temperature was just freezing, so we had a very pleasant night. Only the Doctor, and myself, stuck it out. All the other British officers collapsed and had to be sent back. In the morning (22nd), we found one man dead and had sixty more suffering from exposure. Many did not speak for days, and they had their feet and hands badly swollen from the cold. The Doctor was also bad with swollen hands ind feet and was no use for a week. The redeeming feature of the whole thing was that the Turks had to quit first and were badly straffed as they retired. Luckily, we were due for relief on the 22nd, and got back that afternoon to our bivouac in Kut. It was quite impossible for either side to re-occupy their trenches, most of which had fallen in. The Turks were, I think, glad of the opportunity to give up the close attack, which used up more men than they could spare. So, after 21st January, we have had no real close trench fighting, as the Turks have never come on again, but made three lines of trenches and redoubts, 1,500 yards from us, and content themselves with sniping and artillery bombardment. It was also fortunate for us, as the strain of close attack and trench warfare was tremendous, and we could never have stuck it out as long as we have, if it had not been for the flood. Although we still had plenty of digging, etc., we were much safer and the men could have more rest. On the same day as this happened, the relieving force made another attack but failed again, owing to the mud and flood. Rations were now reduced to half, as it was seen that early relief was out of the question. We started the siege on 5th December, with about sixty days' full rations. To-day (9th April), is the 127th day, and as we had practically full rations from 5th December to 21st January, you can realise that we have not been in the lap of luxury as regards food. We continued to do week and week about in the trenches up-to-date, the week in reserve being almost as strenuous as the week in the trenches, if not more so, as the men are constantly on fatigues, clearing the communication trenches, etc., and we often have to go up in reserve for the night. At the end of January, the weather was extremely cold, the lowest temperature being 20 degrees, or 12 degrees of frost. We had the usual sniping and artillery fire all the time, which, although it does not cause many casualties, is annoying. There were also a few scares that the Turks were going- to attack, but nothing came of these. On the 12th Febraury, the first emeny aeroplane made its appearance and started bomb-dropping in the town. This is the most unpleasant form of strafing as it is impossible to tell where the bombs will fall. The aviators were Germans, and are all known as " Fritz." The bombs were unforl^mately ours, having been captured on a barge during the retreat, and were extremely effective. P'ortunately the supply was limited, and the Turkish- made bombs are not very effective and many fail to explode. The next thing we had to take into consideration was that about the end of March, or early in April, the river rises,to a considerable height, and all the marshes fill up. In order to keep Kut dry, the Arabs  had been in the habit of making a big bund among some sand hills, about two to three miles out. As this place is in the hands of the Turks, and they would not oblige us, we had to start making some other arrangements.

  The scheme formulated after much discussion was, to convert our front line of trenches into a breastwork, over which we could fire, and which would be high enough and strong enough to keep out the flood, which might mean anything up to four feet of water on a front of over a mile. We, therefore, were continuously at work on this at nights, and finally got a dam made 20 feet wide at bottom, 4 at top, and 5 high. This has successfully held out the floods we have had so far, but they have only been up to 2 feet ! l y is rather quaint now Kut is practically an island, and between us and the Turks there is at least a mile of water, except in places, so we are quite secure. The Russian occupation of Erzerum and Kermanshah, in the middle of February, of course, has a direct bearing on the operations in this country, as it prevents reinforcements in any number being sent down, but we have as many against us as we want. On February 22nd, we were in readiness to make a sortie, but the relieving force did not move, but only carried out a heavy artillery bombardment. Of all the rotten luck, on 29th February, I got mumps! Lots of the men had them, so I must have caught them from my company. also had them, but not badly. On the ist March, the enemy made nine raids over Kut, dropping over 40 large bombs and many small ones. Killed a few Arabs, and knocked down a few houses close to our dug-outs, but otherwise no damage. They also had a bombardment and fired over 700 shells into the town. Casualties 15 1! On the 8th March, our relieving force made another attempt. By a night march they gained the extreme right of the enemy's position on the right bank, leaving a force to hold the Turk on the left bank. The attack lasted all day, but they were unable to break through. The Turks countered, but were driven back. The next day we attacked again, but the Turks had been reinforced, so we failed to get through. It was impossible for the force to remain where it was and make another attack, as they had no water. We were held in readiness to break out during these two days, but nothing came of it. Rations had to be further reduced, after this failure, and we were on 802s. bread and ilb. of horse or mule. The men very foolishly, and from sheer pigheadedness, have refused to eat horse, which makes the ration question more difficult. They now only get 20 ozs. of barley-meal and |oz. of ghee. To keep off scurvy, we all eat boiled grass, and all sorts of weeds. We have been on horse for nearly two months, but it is not at all bad. It is the lack of sugar, milk, eggs, and jam that we feel most. Of course, we have had no sort of alcohol for nearly two months. Mumps took a very bad turn on the 8th, but fortunately I was quite fit again at the end of a week, and was able to rejoin when the regiment returned from the trenches to reserve. So far I am the only officer who left India with the regiment that has been continuously on duty. Everyone else either killed, wounded, or been sick. went permanently sick very early in December, and has had a bad spell of colitis, and will probably be invalided after the relief. On the 18th, an aeroplane did a really dirty German trick, and dropped a loolb. bomb on the British hospital, killing ii, and wounding 21 patients. The German aviators, I must say, have plenty of nerve. About this time it was very clear and full moon, so they used to come over in the middle of the night and drop bombs. One narrowly missed our mess by about 50 yards, but blew up two loaded ammunition waggons. Turks also about this time were most annoying, bombarding the town at nights. Of course, very little damage, but kept one awake. All through the siege we have had very unsettled weather, and in this country of marsh and mud everything depends on tine weather. Now the river is so high and the floods covering the countryside, it is impossible to manoeuvre, so it is necessary to make frontal attacks. This is bound to be costly as the ground affords no cover. Our relieving force started to push on the 5th, and have up to date captured several lines of the enemy's positions. They now have only one more to do. This is the same position as we took last September, but, of course, much stronger. The forces too are larger, and as the floods are up the frontage is much more narrow. We all hope that by the 12th the Turks will have been driven back and we can get tip supplies of food. All we think about now are the meals we are going to have—we can buy very little in the town, and that at most exorbitant rates—the government ration being only 8ozs. of bread (made of barley) and ijlbs. of horse. The lack of variety and sweet things is the worst part, and there is really very little nourishment in what we get. In addition, we all of us iiave our tummies chronically out of order, and that complaint cannot be got right without a proper diet of milk and eggs. We all look forward most tremendously to getting a mail again. We have been able periodically to send a cable by wireless to the depot saying how we were and asking him to inform our relatives. This would be in my case, but she would be sure to let you know she had heard, so you won't have been entirely without news of me. Rather a fuss seems to be being made about us, and the responsibility for Ctesiphon. Of course, I cannot give an opinion on the latter. Certainly, we have had a pretty bad time in Kut. During December and January, the close trench fighting was very exhausting, and since then the constant fight with the weather and floods, with the lack of food. There is too, the weight on one's mind all the time as to the ultimate result, but whatever happens we will have done our best, and our duty was to hold on to Kut, to save the Nasiriyeh route being again open for a push on Basra, and also to give our reinforcements time to concentrate. If we had left here, nothing would have stopped the Turks this side of Amarah or probably further, to say nothing of the political point of view, and the effect on the Arabs. The attack on the Sanayat position on the 9th was discovered by the enemy before it had time to close. Our men were, therefore, entrenched 200 to 300 yards from the Turks, but as we have the opposite bank of the river it can only be a matter of a few days before the Turks are pushed out. We have no further definite news but the Army Commander, General Lake, telegraphs that relief is certain though possibly not before the 15th inst. Our rations have therefore been cut down to 40Z. bread and i|lbs. of horse or mule. The men have given a lot of trouble about eating horse, but we have got them all to do it now except the Jats, who have never before eaten meat. It wlil now have to be given them as medicine in soup form. Although we are not close up with the Turks here you must not think that we just sit in safety awaiting relief. Our chief enemy now is the river, which has overflowed, so there is constant work on bunds to keep the water out. Meantime, the whole area of our defences is under rifle fire and there is constant sniping going on, with intermittent artillery fire. The Turks fire a great deal, both rifle and guns, into the town and there are constant casualties from bullets and shells. So there is always the risk of getting hit whatever one does, but it is nothmg like as bad now as it was for the first three months. Up to the 31st March we had had the heaviest percentage of casualties in the garrison, although not the •greatest number, but officers have been lucky. Only one British and one Indian officer killed and two B.O.'s. and four I. O.'s wounded, one of each being accidental. April 2lst.—My thirty-second birthday. Never thought I would have to spend it in Kut. But here we are still hanging on, but nearly at the end of our tether. Our relief force pushed up the right bank, holding the Turks on the left at Sanayat, where they were previously checked on the 17th. We captured the position around Beit Aiessa, the House of Jesus, and the same night the Turks made a furious counter attack. The 3rd Indian division was holding the position, and lost about 2,000 killed and wounded. Turks came on in masses led by Germans, and consisted chiefly of 2nd division from Gallipoli and portions of the 35th and 45th, about 10,000, in adchtion to those holding the trenches. They made 12 attacks altogether, pushed some of our people back a bit, and got to within 20 yards in some places. Our main line remained intact.. Turks lost 4,000 killed alone, and at least another 4,000 to 5,000 wounded. Gorringe has been unable to advance further since, as the ground is under water and he has had to make roads and dams. The position gives him command of the water cuts by which the Turks have been flooding the country. His big push must come off in 'the next day or two and on the result hangs our fate. Tomorrow we start eating our reserve and emergency ration, one day of each, but which will last us two each as we still have horse, then we have about one day's short rations dropped by aeroplanes. After that we could last a day or so on meat alone, but that gives out on the 28th. So as soon as the result of the next attack is known, we either are t'elieved, or go for a trip up the river personally conducted by the jolly old Turk ! ! We do not think the latter  is probable although possible, as Gorringe has a complete British division which has not been in action since the 5th, and then only had very slight losses. Also about another division of Indian troops who have not been in action at all for at least four months. So, considering the Turks' losses among their best troops, and our great preponderance of artillery, we think the Turks v/ill take a real imperial knock, and we will be relieved about the 25th. All of us very hungry, 40Z. of bread and practically nothing else but meat, and that not very good, is not very satisfying. For the next four days we get no bread and about 6oz. of biscuits. Men are quite exhausted and are not fit for any work at all. What we all crave for is jam, butter and sugar. Lack of sweet things and sugar is what makes us so weak. A good cigar or Craven mixture would not be bad after the filthy Arab tobacco we have been smoking for the last month or more. So long for the present! It is getting on for our afternoon meal, 2.30, horse soup, hashed horse or mule, tea (no milk in it) and a very small bit of bread. Dinner to-night will be the same without the tea and perhaps a bit of grass cooked like spinach.

   April 25th.—Things not going very well for us lately. On the 21st some ground was gained on the right bank and Turkish counter practically wiped out. On the 22nd a big attack was made on Sanayat, which did not succeed owing to the mud, and only a small bit gained on the right bank. Since then there has been no attack. Last night an attempt was made to run the blockade by a steamer with 200 tons of rations. It got successfully past all Turkish positions, but was stopped and captured about 900 yards from here. We can see her quite distinctly and it is maddening to think of all the good things on board. Of course, we can do nothing, as the men are practically in a state of collapse. So we have to start our last ration, we have 3 days' more all told, plus what aeroplanes can give us. Well, anyhow, this siege has got to end in a few days. We all still believe it will be all right, but you can imagine we are not in the most cheerful spirit.

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 https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.284988/2015.284988.Indian-Army#page/n547/mode/1up

Page 538 Indian Army List January 1916. Page for the 76th Punjabis. Lists four officers who were attached from the IARO . Your other post says "There is a reference to a fellow officer of the IARO"

 

Should you want to look at the editions of the Indian Army List, see 

https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Indian_Army_List_online

 

Cheers

Maureen

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 11.31.45 am.png

Edited by Maureene
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I presume this is his death. Unusual house name; No mention of rank etc.

                       253760475_LaingSvBprobate.JPG.53daea9133c47d7da8254857bb6d0db0.JPG

The National Army Museum holds a number of items related to his service (76th Punjabis and 3/1st Punjab Regt that it became)

 

Charlie

Edited by charlie962
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I understated his awards. This is from 1939 IA List of those in receipt of retired pay:                           Born              Commissioned    Rank              retired

               739518770_LaingSvBIAListJan1939.JPG.600de40298bf162fb3b6a0e74a05c21e.JPG

 

CIE was 1938 Birthday Hons:

  Colonel Stanley van Buren Laing, DSO MC, Indian Army, Commandant, Army School of Physical Training and Inspector of Physical Training, India.

 

charlie      

Edited by charlie962
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Of direct relevance is his ICRC PoW card showing he went into captivity:

 

                         798491671_LaingSvBICRCPoWcard.JPG.e675b672b6704fe7e13fbed838c597a9.JPG

 

Charlie

 

PS Thanks, GUEST,  for posting the original letter transcript.

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    Thanks Maureene for putting up the Indian Army listings, of which I was unaware and may be useful in another sideline.  One of the curiosities of plodding through  the school magazine "The Forester" is that it turned up something quite so vivid and the 2 accounts I copied over on PDF converter (hence the typos). Some Foresters-as with many other second-tier schools-provided officers for many units out east (India not London) -a number of which I had never heard.

Charlie-My pleasure- Glad it may be of some use. It struck me that these 2 accounts were unusually vivid and lengthy compared to most school mag/local paper stuff-and his being a POW explains the anonymity and the publication dates of these items. Just thought they would be unlikely tripped over in any form of research. May be in Laing's papers,as you say-but maybe not.

   I will ask the Forest archivist if she anything else about Laing-but your identiifcation of him fits a few more bits in the jigsaw we call "History".  :wub:

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15 hours ago, charlie962 said:

I suspect school mags could be a source of buried treasure, particularly on 'forgotten fronts'.

There is, or perhaps was, a website called World War 1 School Archives

http://www.worldwar1schoolarchives.org

However, I could not currently access it, so I don't know if its my internet connection, the website  is temporarily unavailable, or whether it no longer exists.

An archived version of the website gives the schools which have digitised magazines on the site, but I don't think the actual online magazines have been archived.

https://web.archive.org/web/20170311060536/http://www.worldwar1schoolarchives.org/

 

Cheers

Maureen

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1 hour ago, Maureene said:

 World War 1 School Archives

Gets a lot of hits from google but none are accessible. Perhaps contact with iwm may elicit something ?

 

                     Worldwar1schoolarchives.JPG.ef3795b036b78338359016b1dca43016.JPG

 

Perhaps a semi-commercial venture that never got off the ground ? Copyright problems or maybe under-resourcing- Look at the Lives of the First World War saga .

 

Charlie

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It looks as if the Red Cross used an alternative spelling of Kastamuni for the place where he was interned.

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3 minutes ago, seaJane said:

Kastamuni f

There are a variety of spellings for any of the towns, camps, battlefields etc. Not always easy to keep track. But Kastamuni was an major camp for officers.

Charlie

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In addition to Kastamuni,  also Kastamouni; Kastamonu; Castamuni; Castamouni, which seems to be the ICRC version;  Castamonu; Castamoni and there are probably more.

 

Cheers

Maureen

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