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The Leicestershires beyond Baghdad   By: (1886-1946)

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Author of 'Mesopotamian Verses,' 'Ennerdale Bridge' 'Waltham Thickets,' Etc.

London The Epworth Press J. Alfred Sharp First Edition, December, 1919

To my brother, FRANK D. THOMPSON, Second Lieutenant Civil Service Rifles, attached King's Royal Rifles; killed in action, near Ypres, Jan. 13, 1917.

Our soldier youth thrice loved, whose laughing face In battle's front can danger meet with eyes No fear could e'er surprise; Nor stain of self in their gay love leave trace, His nature like his name, Frank, and his eager spirit pure as flame.

Waltham Thickets.


The Mesopotamian War was a side show, so distant from Europe that even the tragedy of Kut and the slaughter which failed to save our troops and prestige were felt chiefly in retrospect, when the majority of the men who suffered so vainly had gone into the silence of death or of captivity. When Maude's offensive carried our arms again into Kut, and beyond, to Baghdad, interest revived; but of the hard fighting which followed, which made Baghdad secure, nothing has been made known, or next to nothing. The men in Mesopotamia did not feel that this was unnatural. We felt, none more so, that it was the European War which mattered; indeed, our lot often seemed the harder by reason of its little apparent importance. Yet, after all, Baghdad was the first substantial victory which no subsequent reverse swept away; and it came when the need of victory, for very prestige's sake, was very great.

Mr. Candler has written, bitterly enough, of the way the Censorship impeded him in his work as official 'Eye witness.' His was a thankless task; as he well knows, few of us, though we were all his friends, have not groused at his reports of our operations. No unit groused more on this head than my own division. We usually had a campaign and a bank of the Tigris to ourselves. 'Eye witness' rightly chose to be with the other divisions across the river. Inevitably the 7th Meerut Division got the meagrest show in such meagre dispatches as the Censors allowed him to send home. The 2nd Leicestershires, an old and proud battalion, with the greatest of reputations on the field of action, remained unknown to the Press and public. Our other two British battalions, the 1st Seaforths and the 2nd Black Watch, could be referred to even the Censors allowed this as 'Highlanders'; and those who were interested knew that the reference lay between these two regiments and the Highland Light Infantry. But who was going to connect the rare reference to 'Midlanders' with the Leicestershires?

In May, 1917, the 7th Division tried to put together, for the Press, a connected account of their campaigning since Maude's offensive began. After various people, well qualified to do the work, had refused, it was devolved on me, on the simple grounds that a padre, as is well known, has only one day of work a week. The notion fell through. The authorities declined flatly to allow any reference to units by name, and no one took any more interest in a task so useless and soulless. But I had collected so much information from different units that I determined some day to try to put the story together. I have now selected two campaigns, those for railhead and for Tekrit, and made a straightforward narrative. From a multitude of such narratives the historian will build up his work hereafter.

An article by General Wauchope appeared in Blackwood's , 'The Battle that won Samarrah.' This article not only stressed the fact that the Black Watch were first in Baghdad and Samarra an accident; they were the freshest unit on each occasion, while other units were exhausted from fighting just finished but dismissed the second day of 'the battle that won Samarra' with one long paragraph, from which the reader could get no other meaning except the one that this day also was won by the same units as did the fighting of the 21st... Continue reading book >>

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