***Diary of an Old Contemptible

Old Contemptible

Diary of an Old Contemptible : From Mons to Baghdad 1914-1919 Private Edward Roe, East Lancashire Regiment Edward Roe

7041678 Pte Edward Roe, East Lancashire Regiment

Roe, Edward. Diary of an Old Contemptible : From Mons to Baghdad 1914-1919 Private Edward Roe, East Lancashire Regiment.

Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

MA Questions for which I am looking for some answers:

QQ 1: How tactically and operationally effective was the BEF in August to December 1914?

QQ 2: What were the principal factors that maintained the morale of British troops on active service on the Western Front and Middle East?

Training, fitness levels and fit for purpose.

Questions in relation to Lewes in the Great War. Over two weeks in 1914, in the Sussex County Town of Lewes, when ‘invaded’ by 10,000 recruits, the pattern of behaviour and response to the war, for the duration of the war, was established.


This diary is a rare example of a private soldier’s account of the fighting in France in the early years of the war, of Gallipoli, and finally the campaign in Mesopotamia.

For the purposes of these essay choices it offers a few insights and tidbits ‘from the ground’ for the first months of the war – did the infantry sense any value, purpose or effectiveness in the tactics of their commanders or the operational direction of their chief(s)?

And what sense do we have this a man’s courage might have broken and if so at what stage?

The suicides and self-harming in Mesopotamia attest to how harsh that theatre was. Pte Edward Roe

He came to enlist for the cavalry and was duped into the infantry.

Six months hard training

During this time the military authorities sought to educate the recruit, in addition to making him into a soldier.

The 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment moved to France as part of 11 Brigade of the 4th Division of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment. 11th Brigade of the 4th Division of the BEF.

Action at St-Sauveur

September 1914

The crossing of the Marne

East Lancashire was transferred to Armentières

October 1914, Ploegstreet Armentieres

Christmas 1914

December 1924, Christmas Truce

April 1915 the 1/ East Lancashire is moved to Ypres

Mid-May 1915 Edward is wounded in the arm

May 1915, wounded and returned to England. How received, dealt with and processed.

*confidence that if wounded it would be dealt with expeditiously from the line, to clearing station, hospital and even hone.

Early December 1915.

December 1915, Gallipoli.

*Part of a firing squad, philosophical about it – the lad had absconded more than once.

January 1916 the battalion was posted to Egypt

January 1916, Egypt

February 1916, Mesopotamia. Introduction of the Lewis gun.

*The ability to accommodate or embrace change.

January 1916. Roe writes about the Lewis gun being introduced and many of the ‘old sweats’ being dubious about its value, and aerial combats he observed, with justifiable criticism of our aircraft. Pte Edward Roe

1916 he was fit enough

November 1916, Hai

January 1917 Towards Baghdad

Finally Baghdad is reached in March 1917

March 1917 Reaches Baghdad

June 1917, India

April 1918 Mesopotamia – influenza

Roe re-enlisted at Dover on 29 October 1919 as a private in the South Lancashires

Finally discharged on 12 April 1933 having completed a total of 27 years and 205 days service with the colours.

The idea of promotion was scorned by the ordinary ‘professional long service’ soldier and to seek promotion was to lose caste and numerous friends.  -KL276 Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Roe writes that he was ‘always content to plod along and leave the leading and responsibility to somebody else’- Location 281

This remarkable narrative gift was well recognized by his peers and he was known as

The ‘Battalion diarist’ as well as being in great demand as a ‘letter writer’ for the men to their families and sweethearts.

These diaries were deposited at the Regimental Depot, Fulwood Barracks, Preston, after his death.

Author’s Preface

Daily Telegraph and were eagerly devoured, by me at least.

Mobilization (March – August 1914)

‘On the Reserve’ in Ireland

Wynberg, South Africa. Wynberg might be called a suburb of Cape Town, as it was roughly seven miles from the city.

The Call up

The early morning post [5 August] brought my mobilization

5th August regulars got their mobilisation papers.

One or two asked me, did I think I would be killed? The only answer I could give was that I did not know, quite a number will be killed for certain.

What would people say to a stranger?

How I was ‘taking it’. Would I break down and cry?

I was quite cheerful.

The country people’s conceptions of the German soldier are based on the German bands that used to travel around Ireland up to 1913.

QQ What were the perceptions of the Germans to Lewesians? An engineer, butchers and waiters.

QQ How were recruits treated in Lewes? For the most part, with open arms.

I am called into the house and conducted to the parlour. I was requested to ‘eat that breakfast.

This kind of lavish generosity repeated or exceptional?

I entrain at 2.00 or 3.00 pm.

Sent off with tobacco, whisky, ham sandwiches and prayers. generosity of people from home.

(Three years with the Colours and nine on the reserve)

The 1st Battalion

When we came to hedges [we were] not to make for ‘sheep and cattle gaps,’ or machine gun fire would mow us down; we would have to force our way through the hedges and not bunch together.

He assured us that when we got there we would find it was no joke. That we were up against one of the greatest military powers the world had yet seen.

Honesty pays dividends.

‘The Harrow Flappers’

The one on the right hand page. In any case, the least we can do is to drop them a line.

Value of a pen pal

The Retreat From Mons (22–31 August 1914)

By train to Le Cateau

Battalion falls in at 2.00 pm for a lecture by the Brigadier.

Importance of education, and information.

Lecture to the troops. Part dressing down, part encouragement – KL 683


Music a comfort

‘Tipperary’ was struck up on mouth organs made in Germany.

By train to Le Cateau > Location 690

They go through the motions of curling an enormous moustache in line with their eyes, then they draw the index finger of the right hand across their throats and from ear to ear.

Encouraging to have the support of the locals.

As twilight approaches six aeroplanes fly in from the direction of the battle and land in a field some distance to the rear of the station.

Aeroplanes present – the latest tools surely welcoming. Encouraging or disconcerting to have the latest inventions being deployed.

Our first experience of war as we march along the dusty Belgian road in search of billets. Spent the night in a large farm on the outskirts of a large village. Every nook and corner is crammed with troops and transport.

As the transport moves along the road the inhabitants offer us tobacco, beer, rum and fruit. KL721

Local support. French offer food and drink. Conscious of being an army of potential saviour. Location 742

The English went to the Boer war in review order; 24 the mausers soon made an alteration in the dress.

Simple lessons learnt in the Boer War: averse to Frontal attack, use of artillery in support, value of local topography,

Is impossible to identify one Regiment from another as all cap badges, numerals or titles have been given away as souvenirs,

Adds to the confusion

Seeing refugees as much as spur on – this could happen at home.

I hope I will never witness such heart-rending sights again. The English people should thank God that they made France their battlefield.  KL786

Making France the battlefield rather than England. After the invasion scares of 1910/11 there must have been a sense that this level of destruction could befall England if Germany was not defeated. Location 796

The Frenchman smiled and said, ‘Souvenir Angleterre’, and I held up the three rounds and replied, ‘Souvenir a-la-Francez.’ My French was rather sickly.

Camaraderie with French.

North-East France and Belgium

Map of 1914 retreat.

See six aeroplanes on 24 August as the Royal Flying Corps [RFC] operated from Le Cateau on 24 –25 August. There were sixty-three operational aircraft in four squadrons. The squadrons were a mixture of machines, all used for reconnaissance. They performed a very valuable job in enabling the British Expeditionary Force to escape the trap set by the German armies. General Sir John French was to say, in a despatch on 7 September, ‘they [i.e. the aircraft of the RFC] have furnished me with the most complete and accurate information which has been of incalculable value in the conduct of operations.’

Value of Reconnaissance planes proven.

III: Action at St Sauveur (1–5 September 1914)

He advised us to force a way through the houses.

French engineers, aided by the civilian population, are throwing up defensive works with feverish haste, and mounting guns. We ask ourselves the question, are we going to keep on retiring forever?

Note – The Retreat Continues

Witnessing this a British soldier must surely reflect that this could be England’s fate?

The Brigadier (Hunter-Weston) is a pest.

If you cannot give us encouragement for Christ’s sake don’t bully us, we’re had enough.’

Encouragement required from senior officers like Hunter-Weston.

Humour in the face of adversity.

Our Adjutant, Lieutenant Belchier, wears a comical appearance. He attempted a much needed shave four days ago, but only succeeded in shaving one side of his face when he had to ‘pack up’, as the much dreaded Uhlans were only supposed to be half an hour in the rear. He has not had time since to finish the operation, with the result that there is a ten days growth on one side of his face and a four days growth on the other.

Had it not been for their generosity we would have to perform many a long march hungry and thirsty.

A grateful local population, saviours not aliens. Fellow Catholics too.

Someone with a keen sense of humour spread the ‘yarn’ that we were going to take over the defence of Paris. He could not have perused the evolution of tactics or strategy, whoever he was, although tactics and strategy differ a hell of a lot. Yet a commander, to ensure success, has to combine both. In the field we can manoeuvre, in the first we are stationary objects. Metz and Paris were two glaring examples of French strategy in 1870. We are told that German tactics forced Bayerne [Bazaine] into Metz in 1870. Let us hope that ‘Jacky French’ wont be ‘gulled’ into slipping into Paris in 1914.

Strategy and tactics : strategy learnt from history and experience, in this case the value or otherwise of holding your ground or remaining manoeuvrable : Metz in 1870, Paris in 1914; the timing of when to dig in (literally) having retreated so far.

The literature most favoured by ninety per cent of the Tommies is Buffalo Bill’s wild-west yarns, penny novels and famous crimes. Lewes 1914.

Opportunities to escape through, amongst other things, reading.

Relaxation as important for morale.

‘After reaching the high ground at Néry the battalion took up a position, and the Rifle Brigade retired through the battalion. The Brigade then retired slowly across the open country in artillery formation for some twelve miles south. During this retirement the battalion formed the infantry of the rear-guard behind a screen of the 4th Cavalry Brigade and Divisional cyclists.’ (Ibid, p. 40)

IV: Crossing the Marne (6–9 September 1914)

Advance to the Marne [6 September] On the morning of the third day French orders a ‘general advance’.

6th September 1914

Devastation in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre

One poor fellow, Private Roak, got hit in the left side as he dashed past a door. The bullet exploded his ammunition, blew his left side away, and set his clothing on fire.

Never saw such wanton destruction, which served no useful military purpose.

Moral sapping wanton destruction KL1299

Brigadier General Hunter-Weston is running about like a madman in his shirtsleeves, giving advice and encouragement and finding targets for our artillery.

Moral boosting Hunter-Weston

‘Never send a man where you would not go yourself’ is his maxim.

‘played up hell’ with the sergeant for not utilizing all the mattresses

The Passage of the Aisne (10 September – 9 October 1914)

11 September: At 5.00 am next morning we resume the advance.

11 Sept 1914 : Advance in the rain

12 September: We resume the advance next morning at dawn.

*12th Sept 1914 : despite deprivations able to feel positive as moving and moving forward.

The air of depression has worn away and although we are wet through, cold and hungry, everyone is in the best of spirits. Have we not got them on the run at last? KL1455

*Safety and confidence in numbers – 3 men, not 1.

NCO [Non-commissioned officer] and two men form a listening post –three inspires confidence. You are the eyes and ears of the Company or Battalion in the Field > KL1455

Three men inspires confidence.

If you are not on duty at night, you are down on the plain burying dead horses and gunners or else on RE fatigue [a work party for the Royal Engineers] in the village of Venizel.

Kept busy : a choice of several evils. burying men and horses. Depressing work.

Getting the best of Jerry > ‘Fieldcraft’ > KL1477

Change their gun positions leaving dummy guns and men in the abandoned

String up empty sardine tins that would reflect in the sun like a helio and attrack hostile fire. 

Having a laugh at Jerry’s expense

Inniskillings give a Demonstration > Location 1497

This oscillation caused an orgy of inspections.

Field Punishment

‘What had I to say?’ Well I could not say much unless I gave the Corporal away, and he is a full Sergeant now.

Deserved punishment, but why the animosity between Battalions?

VI: Ploegsteert Wood (10 October – 24 December 1914)

Counter-attack at Le Gheer > Location 1691

What a spectacle; British soldiers carrying German wounded out of the Convent at the risk of their lives in order to save them from their own artillery fire. The Convent is on fire. German wounded first, British last.

*Acts that would reinforce the sense that you are on the right side.

Counter-attack at Le Gheer > Location 1703

The troops against whom we were engaged were recognized as the 104th and 118th Regiments of Saxon Infantry. Why did we go to war with only two Maxims to each Battalion? Why, the Germans seem to have dozens of them. I’m sure they have five to our one at the very least.

Depressing to feel the enemy are better equipped.

Trench Life in the Mud > KL1718

The wants of nature (latrines and urinals did not exist) for the first week were relieved in empty ‘bully beef’ and jam tins and thrown over the top, fore and aft. Later, when the ‘Jerries’ released their pressure we found time to dig slots running back from the trench, which served for ‘lousing’ ourselves and other purposes.

Taking a piss and latrines

An air of humour and sulkiness pervaded the muddy waterlogged trenches.

Shared deprivation

Ration parties parade every night.

They have to go back almost a mile over shell and machine gun swept roads. One third of the party invariably get ‘seen off’ each night.

Desperate measures :Depressing if carried on for too long.

Water and wood is obtained at the risk of our lives. Empty rum jars serve as receptacles for holding water.

We take our bolts out of our rifles and urinate on them, as we have no rifle oil.> Location 1761

The Maxim on our right and the one on our left get going; they bring converging fire to bear on the advancing German lines. The lines wither and melt under the storm of well-directed fire.

Jerry’ makes a Big Attack

Captain Clayhills DSO, my Company Commander, got killed, 12 as did Captain Coventry and God knows how many more. By degrees we are losing all our old and experienced officers.

Our nerves are on edge, but nothing happens. This goes on for half an hour.

When rest is anything but.

Piggery Farm > Location 1828

Between inspections and digging reserve trenches by day and digging for four hours each night in the firing line and ‘standing to’ if there was a sudden burst of firing at 1.00 or 2.00 am in the morning and from 4.30 to 5.30 am every morning, the four days rest was a farce. KL1881

Ration Parties > Location 1881

The Brigadier, Hunter-Weston, is a constant visitor and is a source of worry to his staff as he always hangs about the most dangerous points.

Cavalry and Infantry charges are a thing of the past, unless you have an overwhelming preponderance of artillery. Mud, barbed wire, magazine rifles and machine guns have shorn cavalry and bayonet charges of all their glamour and glory.

[17/ 18 November] The Hampshires relieved us on the twelfth night of our tour of duty in the trenches.> KL1892

We have not had our boots off for months. If we risk taking them off, our feet swell and we cannot get them into our boots again.

Poor conditions, lack of relief and ill health

Our casualties were few for the first fortnight owing to the fact that we could use our communication trenches.

Ablutions and personal hygiene

We have a bath and change of washing every fourteen days in Nieppe.> Location 1938

Making Corduroys > Location 1944

There are miles and miles of those corduroy roads laid in ‘Plugstreet’ wood. If there are no corduroys to be made, we are stretching fathoms and fathoms of barbed wire around trestles.

On 20 November the weather broke in earnest;

A low point. I felt an infinitive longing to be out of it, out of this useless slaughter, misery and tragedy. I feel that way that I would sign peace on almost any terms. KL1994

Battalion and company headquarters get all the strawberry and blackcurrant jam, platoon sergeants and their hangers on all the raspberry, and the privates all the plum and apple. KL2003

The Somersets and a battalion of the Rifle Brigade who are going to take a line of German trenches in front of Le Gheer wood.

Is there a God? > Location 2015

‘Two days were spent digging trenches on Hill 63.’ (Regt Hist., p. 30)

The daily ration scale per man was:

1 ¼ lb bread or 1lb biscuit

Fresh meat 1 ¼ lb or tinned meat (bully beef) 1lb

4oz jam

4oz bacon

3oz cheese

3oz sugar

8oz tea

½ oz salt

½ gill of rum (about a tablespoonful and a half)

and, when possible, ½ lb of fresh vegetables.

Now and then tobacco was supplied at 2oz per man.


‘An attack on the (German) salient (north of Le Gheer) was carried out on 19 December by the 1/ Somerset Light Infantry, covered by the machine-gun and rifle fire of the battalion from the trenches north of Le Gheer. The attack was a partial success only, owing to the impassability of the ground and lack of adequate artillery support … . For some time the available allowance for field-guns was limited to from four to six rounds per gun per day.’ (Regt. Hist., p. 34)

VII: Christmas 1914 and Life in ‘Plugstreet’ (24 December 1914 – 26 April 1915)

Euphemisms for being killed

Old Jim gets ‘seen off’ just after 11.00 pm by a stray bullet.

Escape through a song, a laugh, a scam or entertainment.

‘Home Sweet Home’ on a mouth organ, away down the trench on my right.

> Location 2162

Another fellow starts ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ on my left. They join in chorus –the mockery of it all.

The song of choice.

Us sick with the foetid atmosphere of decaying bodies.

An Unofficial Truce > Location 2199

We could stand upright and smoke; draw water and rations in security. Would it not be splendid if it was always like this? But then no one would be getting killed and the war would last for ever.

A Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift box. It is a well got up affair and contains a pipe, tobacco and cigarettes.> Location 2221

Corporal ‘Bag-‘ em-all’ got bagged tonight.

They tell us that when you are hit you never feel it owing to excitement.

He got shot clean through the heart next day by a German sniper. Poor old Jock –never again will the ‘Alpine Echoes’ resound from your cornet.

Having a laugh

Frostbite  KL2238

In another three or four days he will report sick. He makes certain that he will get to Blighty.

London’s were not aware that they were consuming eggs and chips fried in East Lancs anti-frostbite fat.

They wanted a photo, of course, of their wife to be. The wily ladies in ‘Blighty’ would send out a photo that was taken twenty years previously. ‘Oh! What a peach.’

Lonely Soldiers > Location 2314

Quite a number of officers and men get shot through sheer carelessness.

Selection as a Bomber I have been selected to go on a bombing course.

I took an interest in the Hales or stick bomb [and] I was second to the officer, Mr Penny I believe, in the final throwing test. > Location 2325

I unconsciously increased my chances of ‘going West’ by about forty per cent.

I saw ‘Red’ Ned and ‘Black’ Tom withdrawing packs of stationary from their packs. I was not immediately requested to write a couple of letters each for them, but I knew it was coming.

I gave the sign of the Three Pigeons estaminet a wide berth as I knew from experience what was going on in there. The proprietress was an aristocratic looking old dame, but had the business acumen to employ four notoriously good-looking refugees to act as barmaids. They were dressed in the shortest of short skirts.

As it was their first experience in the firing line, they were very anxious to have a ‘pop’ at the Germans and would blaze away at the German trenches all day, wasting ammunition, if we let them. They were distributed amongst the old hands for tuition. I was unlucky as my Lincoln was a love-lorn swain.

Learning through proximity to old sweats.

He would not take advice.

I had a sort of ‘sure to be hit’ feeling.

When billeted in Nieppe, ‘Pasha’ Lindsay, Riley and I used to get permission to attend 7.00 am Mass every morning. 23 April. ‘Diary of an Old Contemptible : From Mons to Baghdad 1914-1919 Private Edward Roe, East Lancashire Regiment’ Edward Roe

24 April: The CO holds a battalion parade in a field in the rear of the village.

‘Bag-‘ em-all’ was an extremely unpopular non-commissioned officer.

VIII: 2nd Battle of Ypres (26 April – 17 May 1915)

Mouth organs that were made in Germany.

The shell swept streets were blocked with wrecked transport, dead horses, dispatch riders, motor bikes and dead men here and there and what an awful smell. It defies description.

We were issued out, some days ago, with a pad attached to an elastic band. We were told to wet the pad if ever the Germans attempt to gas us. If we have no water in our bottles we must urinate on the cotton wool pad as the pad must be wet.

Mr Knight, my new platoon officer, is sticking it well considering it is his baptism of fire, and so is Mr Metcalfe, another young officer who has just joined my company.

Junior officers new into the line who stick at it.

I volunteer to take the officers’ and what is left of the sections’ water bottles to the rear and get them filled.

Keeping busy

The Listening Post I am warned for listening post.


No one appreciates the value of water until one cannot obtain it. The men crawl out and drink the stagnant and polluted water in the moat. It is against orders but men must drink something, and pure water is unobtainable. KL2781

All we can do is huddle down in the trench and await on the pleasure of a high explosive to transfer us to the Flying Corps.

‘Watch the left! Watch the left! Ah, that infernal left.’ Mr Metcalfe’s brain has given way; he has gone mad and has to be tied on a stretcher at the breastwork in [the] rear, not a very inspiring sight when an officer goes ‘potty’ before his men.

My description is only flashes of memory. No man can fight and describe with accuracy what happened.

On May 17 the doctor came into my ward and pinned a white label on my tunic. It means a trip to England. I am overjoyed –I’m sure I could leap over a five-barred gate. At 4.00 pm in the afternoon I leave (per) hospital train for Le Havre. The line ran parallel to the beautiful River Seine for a short distance. It was crowded with barges and pleasure craft. I have heard glowing accounts about private hospitals, I pray God it will be my luck to get sent to one. Embark on hospital ship and had a calm crossing.

Accounts of how the wounded are treated must have been reassuring.> Location 2934

In February 1915 command of the Brigade passed from Major-General A. Hunter-Weston to Brigadier-General J. Hasler (late Buffs) who was killed by a shell on 27 February 1915. He was succeeded by Brigadier-General C.B. Prowse.

ROTD Hunter-Weston. The COs getting it too.

The apparent shortage of artillery shells on the front produced a

‘Shell Scandal’ in the British newspapers against Asquith’s Liberal Government. It resulted in the formation of a coalition government on 25 May 1915 and led to the formation in late 1915 of a Ministry of Munitions under David Lloyd George.

IX: Blighty (18 May – 25 October 1915)> Location 3075

If a man is not already suffering from shell shock, well he jolly well soon will be.

On October 24 I am warned to proceed with a draft for Gallipoli at 9.00 am on 25th.

Facing it all again after absence, whether through leave, training or hospitalisation

No man who has been through the horrors of war likes to face it again, if only he tells the truth. The misery, mud, lice, starvation, out in all the elements: the brains, guts, legs and arms, the disemboweled bodies of your comrades –it’s ghastly.

X: Gallipoli (25 October – 18 December 1915)

I was deeply touched at seeing so much beauty in distress, and remarked to ‘Horatius’, ‘Is it not a pitiful sight?’

XI: Lemnos, Egypt and the Gulf (19 December 1915 – 4 April 1916)


I have known instances in our own Army where, owing to excessive bullying, men lost initiative, spirit and soul (if they had got one?), and didn’t care whether they lived or died.

March 1916: Battalion engaged in digging a model of the Um-el-Hannah [Hanna] position, which was photographed by aeroplane. We are going to attack this position. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Brigade rendezvous at 2.00 am and march on markers at 2.30 am. Men are warned that they must not fall out under any circumstances during the ‘stunt’ as the country swarms with hostile Arabs.

Gopal Singh of the Sikhs, a commercialized sepoy who makes chapattis, or pancakes, nightly.

Mosquito net as millions of mosquitoes and sand flies (both armour piercing) give us their undivided attention.

The Divisional Commander [General Maude] gave the Battalion a lecture at 2.00 pm on the forthcoming attack. He explained to us that all that was necessary was a bayonet rush, a mighty British cheer, and we were through to starving.

Townshend in Kut.

Rousing speech, but this bayonet work has a too much elan instead of the necessary preliminary artillery.

XII: The Attacks on Hanna and Sannaiyat (5 – 9 April 1916)

A copy of the Tigris Army Corps’ Orders of the Day:

They have witnessed the failure of two determined attacks to break through to their assistance but they still implicitly rely on their comrades of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force to do all that is humanely possible for their relief.

Life preferable over death

Everyone wears an air of cheerfulness (assumed). We might as well. Bad as this world is, and particularly ‘Messpot’, yet not one of us would like to ‘kick the bucket’.> Location 3974

Cheerful in Mesopotamia. Helpful to have a cheery disposition and an optimistic outlet despite adversity.

On meeting with no opposition our officers lost their heads and, instead of obeying orders

By remaining for the stipulated twenty minutes in the captured Turkish trenches, flourished their revolvers and yelled, ‘Come on boys, we’ve got them on the run. We won’t stop until we get to Kut.’

When I got knee deep and pretty secure I had a ‘blow’. The majority of the men by this time were suffering from thirst and, in spite of all warnings, were dashing in one’s and two’s to a salt marsh [Suwaikiya] 200 yards on our right rear.

For want of water

Night Attack on the Fallahiya Redoubts  KL4062

April 1016/ ‘Lancashire Lads, you have driven the enemy out of almost 5 miles of entrenched positions since dawn with the bayonet. You are going to attack again with the bayonet –no man will charge magazines.’ He dilated on some episodes in the Peninsular Campaign. I had a faint recollection of Sir John Moore’s retreat to Corunna, Waterloo and other notable achievements in which our gallant forbears of the East Lancs won renown. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Calling upon the reputation of the Regiment.

Each other for Turks and commenced to lob bombs at each other.

No matter how well planned night attacks may be, yet a certain amount of confusion prevails.

6 –7 April: Burying dead and collecting rifles, bombs and equipment, which were scattered all over the scene of attack.

As there are not enough officers to go around, senior NCOs act as Platoon Commanders.

Attack at Sannaiyat KL4121

Sketch map and comments of the Turkish position at Sannaiyat, 8 April 1916

A light hearted venture indeed, undertaken without the slightest consideration for the defensive power of machine guns, backed up by a well entrenched and stubborn enemy who well knows that Townshend cannot hold out much longer. They hold the key to Kut, and by holding that key the reward is the capitulation of Kut, the capture of General Townshend and the gallant defenders, and a severe blow to British prestige in the Middle East.

The value of Kut is surely considered to be great so the Turks are motivated to hold on. Not good when troops can see for themselves the foolishness of the proposed action. But the Turks a foreign occupying force as much as the Brits. KL4146

The night was bitterly cold as we get both extremes in ‘Messpot’ at this time of the year, extreme heat by day and cold by night. We shivered and shook in our KD shorts and tunics. The mosquitoes were with us of course. The Turks, as far as the ear could detect, were abnormally sound sleepers.

6 April 1916: We kept our opinions to ourselves, as it would not be playing the game to dishearten the youngsters who formed seventy per cent of the Battalion. KL4146  Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Knowing what to say, or not before an attack. Looking after new recruits.

We advanced about 700 yards and still the Turks give no signs, when suddenly on the Brigade left centre and on the Brigade’s right, two officers commenced to roar at the top of their voices, ‘Steady in the centre’, ‘Close in to your right’ and so on.

XIII: Down the Line to Basra (10 April – 25 June 1916)

Casualty Evacuation  KL4391

A General paid us a visit today. Some say it was Maude; 1 others swear it is Gorringe.

General ‘whoever-he-was’ exhorted us to get well quick, come back and get our own back on the Turks, and told us that yesterday’s ‘scrap’ was similar to a game of hockey or football in as much as one side had to lose. He also asked us did we hear the order given to retire? We told him we all heard the order given. He commented, ‘Well it’s damned mysterious’.

We all assumed that he was the man that was responsible for the SURPRISE attack, unique in its audacity and silly in its conception.

14 –16 April: Still in Orah.

16 April 1916: The wounded are starved and neglected, and the blankets are alive with black lice, a species quite new to me. The slightly wounded remove the dressings of the more seriously wounded, pick the lice off the edges of the bandages, and re-dress them. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Shocking lack of care. Poor tactics repeated not looked on well.

The Major i/ c [in charge] clearing came around today and told us that he quite understood the conditions, but he could get no medical supplies or comforts and all that he could do for us was to get us down river as soon as possible to Amara or Basrah, where we could obtain a bed at least and proper medical treatment.

This is unavoidable as the edges of the dressings are strongly held by vermin.

Steam up at 7.00 am. Appalling conditions prevailed on the steamer and barges. Men who are badly wounded are in some cases suffering from dysentery.

Sanitary arrangements are non-existent.

> Location 4434

sides of which are encrusted with excreta.

dressed since we came aboard with the result that they are turning putrid.

Cholera and Isolation Camp  KL4464

The climatic conditions are infinitely worse than in France.

Will the public ever realise how the campaign is conducted here, or the appalling losses those little sideshows.

Neither recognition nor glory.

29 –31 May: Heat unbearable, millions of flies and billions of mosquitoes make life a living hell both day and night.

Could the advancing force be supplied with rations, a good supply of ammunition, fodder for the animals, ordnance

Light Duties in Basra  KL4570

Stores and a host of other items?

To assist in preserving law and order a force of Arab police are being formed.

Notorious-looking lot of scallywags and cut-throats. Well, all Arabs are alike and somebody has got to be a policeman.

U-boats are sinking our mercantile marine is causing us some alarm for if the U-boat campaign succeeds we will lose the war.

15 –17 June: The death rate has been very high for the past three days, the latest arrivals from home being the victims, and no wonder, as they disregard all instructions laid down for them for the benefit of their health. I have had to chase 100 men who were bathing in a creek at 12 noon. Results: twenty or thirty in the heat stoke station by 6.00 pm in the evening and five or six are dead by morning.

Discipline. June 1916: Criminal disregard of the rules laid down and lectures given for the health and welfare of the soldier are responsible for thirty per cent of the deaths here. I have had to chase 100 men who were bathing in a creek at 12 noon. Results: twenty or thirty in the heat stoke station by 6.00 pm in the evening and five or six are dead by morning. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

The remaining one hundred and four made all sorts of petty excuses and complaints to the MO. The majority played on lack of dentures –yes –dentures, which were in their kit bags. Shell shock is prevalent amongst men who have never heard a shot fired and who don’t intend to if they can possibly avoid it.

(History of the War: Mesopotamia, Vol 2, pp. 457–459)

XIV: Life behind the Line (26 June – 29 November 1916)

Lecture by RSM Carrington on ‘How to keep fit’.

No one is allowed out of their tents from 10.00 am until 5.00 pm on account of the heat.

17 July: Everybody seems dull and low-spirited.

Coping with problems as they arise. 17 July 1916.  The slightest exertion causes a man to sweat until what clothes he has on are saturated. The bread ration (when we get it) has got to be wrapped up in a wet towel to keep it moist; otherwise you might as well try to eat a lump of granite when teatime arrives. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Those men are not to blame as they are called up, rushed through a couple of months training, lack discipline, can’t load their rifles properly or hit a target at 100 yards.

Poor reinforcements: can’t load a rifle, or hit a target and lack discipline.

Quite a lot of firing by sentries takes place every night. Bullets are flying in all directions and no one feels safe.

30 September: Battalion drill and kit inspection.

As a punishment for losing seven rifles the Battalion have to sleep on the square in front of the Officer’s Mess (tent).

Midnight the officers emerge from the mess tent in a jocular mood (to draw it mild) and try to enact the role of Arab

I came across a few professional ‘scroungers’ who seemed to be brought into this world to fight for their country’s causes at Mudros, Basrah and Amara.

2 October: Last night one of our sentries was fatally stabbed in the back by an Arab. His rifle and ammunition were stolen.

Depressing to have this kind of behaviour from the local population.

Gifts from Bengal 19 October: Another consignment of gifts arrived from the ladies of Bengal today (Lady Carmichael’s organization).

Support from home important.

Is the only way in which the problem could be solved and it obviates grousing.

23 October: Regimental Boxing Tournament from 7.00 to 11.00 pm –a good night’s sport.

24 –25 October: Battalion Sports. KL5017

Beer Issue 26 October: Battalion cross

Major Bull of the Nagpur Rifles, our second in command and PRI [President of Regimental Institutes].

Scheme. Without a doubt he wined and dined with some PRIs of the old Regular Army at some point in his past career, as every case contains forty-eight bottles and only cost 36 rupees.

I enquired in my tent who did ‘not’ drink beer. Four ‘youngsters’ informed me they were ‘stonewall’ teetotallers.

27 October: Divisional training, attacking flagged enemies, is a most provoking and exasperating method of training.

28 –31 October 1916: [We hold training] attacks on the model San-i-Yat position before breakfast daily. Rifle and emergency ration inspections after breakfast, swimming or bathing parade at 5.00 pm every evening, followed by night attack [training]. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Training using a model. Intensity of training. All a bit public school?

I had to assist in carrying six such cases for over 1000 yards to the 1st aid post. I did not consider Captain McClelland played ‘cricket’ that day.

5 November: Division parade at 7.30 pm General Maude pinned the VC [Victoria Cross]

If he had to address his constituency without notes I’m afraid he would not gain many votes; he has not the oratorical gift.

Need for leaders who could rally their troops.

So we all had to ‘fire’ another bomb through Mick Quinn telling the truth an’ shaming the Devil.

He is President of a welfare fund for the soldiers.

XV: ‘The Offensive Resumes’ (30 Nov. 1916 – 17 Feb. 1917)

Life has been a mild form of torture in this camp. Rest is rare and I have heard men remark, ‘I envy the inmates of Dartmoor and Princetown’.

Sloping and presenting arms are necessary for ceremonial purposes in peacetime but are out of place in the field. All are anxious to get in action again, as this incessant drill and bullying breaks the men’s spirit and tends to quench what sparks of enthusiasm that remains.

Nobody worries about our rations or how they are cooked, or has a look around at breakfast and dinner. One does get fed up with those incessant ‘bully’ and watery mutton stews that taste and smell like well boiled Billygoat. Tom Tickler’s Plum and Apple Jam is forever on the menu. We are almost convinced the raspberries, strawberries,

The Lewis Gun KL5322

The Lewis gun, or automatic rifle. 

24 December: My Company [‘ D’] retires to the transport lines before dawn for the purpose of having a bath and general clean up. Return to trenches under cover of darkness.

They can only get up half rations –so they tell us –but the deficiencies are never made good.

Not good to be living and working under such conditions and reduced to a half ration.

The Astrologer’s Star:  KL5404

Truthfully state that we are half starved and overworked. We dare not smoke owing to hunger and weakness and we know the results of making complaints.

11 January 1917: Company out for a day’s rest. Those so called rests are amusing affairs, as a rest means nothing less than a series of inspections which last from the time you reach the transport lines until you fall in to march back to the trenches. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Sapping forward

‘Perhaps you’re frightened to take responsibility or lead a section?’ he remarked. ‘Well, if you put it in that light sir,’ I replied, ‘you can “lob” me in for it right away.’

Lance Corporal

I have had no slept for the past four days and nights as stretcher-bearers were up to their necks in it.

17 January: Turkish monitor

Delivers the mail. No casualties.

Attack on the Hai 25 January:

The business end of the job.

27 January 1917: Enemies’ positions heavily shelled all day by our artillery. More shells have been expended since 15 December 1916, than rounds of .303 inch ball. A lot of ground has been gained and many lives saved thanks to plenty of artillery support. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.KL5527

Recognition that artillery support is required.

The 14th are a mixed Division, as British and Indian units are brigaded together. It is a common belief amongst us that the Mohammedan soldiers do not like to fight against their co-religionists, the Turks.

My platoon officer, Mr Parkinson, 33 got hit in the stomach by a stray bullet as we were watching the attack.

An officer and a gentleman.

January 1917. Messpot. Platoon Officer, Mr Parkinson, before he would sit down in his dugout to eat his own miserable breakfast he would ensure that every man in his platoon had drawn his rations and was satisfied with them –such as they were. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Leading by example

He was strict but just and reminded me of the old type of Regimental officer.

As a rule the good are snatched away and the bad left with us.

We have twenty guns to the enemies’ one and are full of confidence.

Some of the digging party lost their heads, their own lives and their comrades’ lives as well.

We suffered heavily, losing forty men killed and wounded, thanks to some idiot or idiots who imagined that they saw Turks walking

A couple of nervous or cowardly men can stampede a whole company on a delicate night operation of such a nature.

Our medical officer, Captain Maclellan [Macallan], would insist on assuming the role of spectator.

Two weak willed men who were unable to stand the strain shot themselves through the hearts of their left hands this morning.

When the European officers of this battalion got shot down in the open, the Dogras had not the initiative to press home the attack.

Major H.S. Bull was in fact wounded.

Second-Lieutenant Oswald Wright Parkinson was one of two officers from India who joined the battalion with a new draft on 1 August 1916 at Sheik Saad. Killed in action 1 February 1917. Commemorated on the Basra Memorial.

XVI: Advance to Baghdad (18 February–10 March 1917)

March 1917. Two men of the South Lancashires were shot at dawn this morning. ‘WOAS [Whilst on Active Service] sleeping on their posts in face of the enemy’. Reflects on it, but also on the cause and remedy. Impossibility of sleep and the use of a bayonet under the chin. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

The arduous duties of sentry have got to be performed in addition to fatigue; time for sleep there is none.

There is no such thing as two [hours] on and four off, or regular system of reliefs, and in consequence men find it a physical impossibility when on sentry to keep thoroughly alert; yet there are no extenuating circumstances.

22 February: Ceremonial drill at 9.00 am. At 10.20 am we fall in for a lecture on ‘Kindness to the Arabs.’

Why he did not use it I do not know. Fed up with life, I suppose.

What has gone wrong with our aerial observers? For the past two days I have not seen one of our planes.

March 1917. The absence of aeroplanes for Reconnaissance is noted, so there value was appreciated and therefore desired and the presence of planes a positive thing. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

The same NCO was afterwards awarded the Military Medal for his good work on 25 February. The people who knew the true

Our acting Colonel, Major Davey of the Gloucesters,

COs earning respect through their behaviour.

Get those poor fellows who are lying about badly wounded away first, then attend to me.’ I soliloquised, ‘You’re a devil in some respects, but I will always doff my turban to you after that’.

Our first line transport got lost in the blue, so there are neither rations nor blankets.

Depressing to learn this – when food, materials and post doesn’t get through.

2 March: Our monitors and cavalry had a tussle with the Turks yesterday.

Since 23 February we have captured 5,000 prisoners, 25 field guns and nineteen machine guns.

Battalion halts at 6.00 pm and bivouacs for the night.

30 Man and beast suffered on the days march.

Everyone’s feet are in an awful condition; soles, toes and heels blood raw.

Feet : here as on the Western Front. Basic hygiene, care and health, with the means and opportunity.

At 4.00 pm in a blinding sandstorm we arrive at Cestiphon and bivouac under the shadow of the ancient arch. The arch is the only part of the palace of the Chosroes that has withstood the ravages of time and is the only monument of its kind erected to the memory of man in Mesopotamia.  KL6231

Privates Burton and Downing were the only soldiers in the whole war to be actually shot for sleeping on sentry. Instead of standing up on the fire-step they were found sitting down asleep together in the bottom of the trench. This was taken as a deliberate decision to go to sleep.

XVII: Operations above Baghdad (11 March – 1 May 1917)

13 March 1917: Resting, we have been issued out with Ghee and Chapatti meal this morning in lieu of biscuit rations.Indian rations not appreciate. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

Indian rations not appreciated – although con the Western Front enormous effort had been made to cater for different tastes and religions.

Minarets. I was profoundly disgusted and disappointed with Baghdad and the dreams and romancing of my schoolboy days I left on the heaps of garbage and filth which ‘decorated’ the city’s streets.

Expectations dashed non of the romance read on childhood books.

To Celebrate St Patrick’s Day

17 March: [It is] St Patrick’s Day, a holiday. I manoeuvred

24 March 1917: Brigade moves to the river’s bank and bivouac in a grove of date palms. Oranges and dates are plentiful and cheap.

25 March: Divine service parade. After parade the Divisional Commander ‘soft soaped’ us by complimenting us on our great achievement and warned us not to be under the delusion that because Baghdad

Bullshit not like compared to candour and honesty.

I noticed some of the 39 Brigade dead lying about. No effort had been made to bury them. They are left for the vultures and jackals. KL6533

Only NCOs and men who have been with the Battalion since its arrival in the country are eligible.

Hope for and expectation of leave once it is finally offered.

Russians have had another big victory. We are getting used to those big victories and take them with a pinch of salt.

On 2 April the Turks evacuate Sharaban and retreat across the Diyala River.

British establish contact with the Russians at Quizil Rubat [Qizil Ribat].

The Battalion go waterless.  KL6559

We are plagued for the past two days by an immense swarm of locusts.

Have witnessed in Mesopotamia our airmen have always been driven to earth by faster and superior machines.

Never good where a demonstration of superiority is put on display.

March 1917: Field Post Office Mails are very infrequent or late and I am not surprised owing to the system that prevails at the base post office, Basrah. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

A Babu dozed at the doorway

April: Sandstorm raging all day.

15 April: Sunday.

Sandstorm again. Six hungry and fed-up Turks came into our lines.

We are officially informed that the Turkish losses yesterday were: captured, 27 officers, 1,217 other ranks, one gun, 6 machine guns with ammunition and much booty. I noticed some of their gun mules yesterday had our Government brand and numbers on their hooves. Not a bad haul.  KL6833

This information given to the troops is most likely about General Baratoff’s advanced troops having reached the vicinity of Qasr-i-Shirin.> Location 6835

We now know the troops were right to be sceptical about the report.

XVIII: Months of Rest (2 May – 18 June 1917)

June 1917: Groves of date palms meet the eye and break the monotony of the flat never ending desert. Fruit is plentiful and cheap. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition. KL7142. 

I suppose we will have an orgy of inoculations, vaccinations, medical and dental inspections now that we are in a standing camp.

Policeman had to be detached for duty on the hawkers’ stall to ensure that all fruit purchases were washed in chlorinated water.

Sandstorms and Winds 17 May: At 2.00 pm the sky became darkened. On looking toward the North West we saw a dark wall advancing. At 2.30 pm the sandstorm was upon us. The sun became obscured and a blanket of darkness descended on the camp.

The floods occur in April and May.

March, April and May are the best months for military operations. [There is] little rain and fairly reasonable temperature

The awful heat of June, July and August which render military operations impossible.

A ‘Dear John’ 29 May: Mail up. I got a letter from Noreen. It was posted nine months ago; a rather affectionate epistle. Pte Edward Roe, 2005. Kindle edition.

‘barbed wire adornments’

All are ‘Hells Belling’ it now. It is more pleasing to the ear to hear that simple ejaculation uttered than a sentence containing the full quota of luminous adjectives such as D’s, B’s, F’s and H’s.

For instance, we have apple stew for dinner today and date stew for breakfast tomorrow. Cook Sergeant Doman is a wizard.

2 –3 June: Nothing doing.

Fighting is over until September, when the cold season starts.  Location 7263

One Month’s Leave 7 June: Hurrah!

They vary in size and hold from two to twenty men and are as old as the days of Assyria and Babylon.

XIX: India (18 June 1917 – March 1918)

You’ve got gastritis or some other ailment brought on by your excesses, and we have got to make you whole and well again.’ I was glad to get out of that medical tent

Was it any wonder that young fellows released from the graveyards of Helles, Anzac and Suvla, in their hours of leave on pass and with money to spend in novel Eastern surroundings, should satisfy curiosity and fall victims to the hordes of cosmopolitan vampires infesting the city and its underworld?

Bangalore Garrison Bangalore is a very nice station.

It might be called salubrious, [with] plenty of enjoyment and plenty of football, cricket and hockey in season.

Return to Mesopotamia (18 April 1918 – 6 March 1919)

A Small Draft 19 April 1918: I form one of a small draft of reinforcements for Mesopotamia.

The soil is alluvial. If it remains in British hands or control the British taxpayer will be well repaid.

Blithely unaware that Mesopotamia was all about oil for the navy and motorisation.

No case in my Regiment proved fatal as the dry warm weather favoured us. I hope the Turks have got their share as well.

Turkey Surrenders 31 October [1 November]

Drink up, lads. Hostilities ceased at 12 noon today with the Turks.

The event was celebrated at night by a display of fireworks (Very lights and rockets) and a beer issue.

8 November: When the war ends, as it must do soon, the miners are expecting to get away first. Therefore a great many who have never seen a coal mine in their lives now profess to be miners.

25 December: Xmas Day [with] Divine service parade at 8.00 am.

After the parade Colonel McCormack made a speech which suited the occasion. He reminded us of the hardships of past Christmases and hoped that the next Xmas would find us all in our own homes enjoying peace and prosperity. Each NCO and man was allowed three bottles of beer with their dinner, which was all that could be desired under the circumstances.

Farmers and miners will be the first men to get away as their work is of national importance.

The demobilisation scheme is causing a lot of discontent. It is not working smoothly and again men who have done least clamour loudest to get away.

XXI: Going Home (7 March 1919 – 7 May 1919)

Demobilization 6 May: Parade at 4.00 am for demobilization. Form single file and give your home address at one office.

You are allowed to retain your tin hat as a souvenir, or in case you might forget that you took part in the Great War.


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