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Mesopotamia 1914-15: Extracts from a Regimental Officer’s Diary—With the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during the First World War

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Mesopotamia 1914-15: Extracts from a Regimental Officer’s Diary—With the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during the First World War
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Author(s): H. Birch Reynardson
Date Published: 04/2019
Page Count: 292
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-809-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-808-2

A superb account of the Great War in the Middle East

Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) was the scene of much bitter fighting during the First World War between the forces of the Ottoman Turkish Empire and the troops of the British Empire. Although, the Middle Eastern theatre of the war is regarded as a ‘side-show’ to the greater conflict in Europe the fighting, nevertheless, claimed approaching 600,000 casualties on both sides. The principal consideration in the region was, as it is today, oil and the challenges to fighting in the areas bordered by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers included outbreaks of virulent disease and the logistic issues created by operating in a terrain of both swamps and deserts. This book, written by an officer of the 1st Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and based on his personal experiences, has been long out of print and has made been possible in this Leonaur edition by the permission and cooperation of the author’s family. This is a particularly well written book which takes the reader into the realities of campaigning with the British infantry in Mesopotamia up to the hard-fought stalemate which was the Battle of Ctesiphon, during which almost 50% of the battalion became casualties including the author who was seriously wounded. Birch Reynardson complemented his text with sketch maps and with his own excellent photographs. These (with additional photographs, maps and other material) have been enhanced and enlarged for this edition. This book is highly regarded in bibliographies of the Mesopotamian Campaign and indeed, no library on the subject can be said to be complete without it.

Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

We were still hard at work with the spade improving the perimeter of the camp, and, if any were at first inclined to take matters fairly easily, a few nights’ experience was guaranteed to change their frame of mind. The sniping had grown to be rather more than a nuisance. What at first had been the casual “popping off” of half-a-dozen rifles in the direction of camp had gradually increased in volume and accuracy until there was an almost nightly demonstration. The Arabs engaged in these enterprises had a curious mode of procedure, which was decidedly entertaining to their spectators but must have been costly to themselves. Regularly every evening at about 4.30—half an hour or so before sunset—straggling bands could be seen collecting on the edge of the marshes north-west of camp. When a crowd was assembled it would start drifting towards us, halting every now and then and working itself up into a state of apparent frenzy, shouting, stamping, and dancing, retreating a few hundred yards and then advancing again.
At this stage there was never any shooting; generally, after the hoisting of many banners, green and white and black, the assembled crowd would gradually disperse and disappear into the rising mists towards the marshes; but almost invariably after these “Salvation Army meetings,” as they were christened, there would follow a night of furious sniping. Consequently, it was considered advisable to break up these meetings, and one evening these religious enthusiasts received an unpleasant surprise from the attentions of a section of field guns. The shrapnel cannot have failed to do great execution among them, but on no occasion was there ever a “pick-up” the next morning—their dead and wounded were all removed without exception.
After a few fine days the weather had broken again, and then followed a period of pelting rain and icy cold winds. Fortunately, on 3rd January, a boat arrived with our tents, and getting them pitched made a considerable difference to our comfort, though the first appearance of the tents proved a great attraction to the snipers.
That evening a particularly buzzing swarm had been dissipated by the guns, and we counted on our first comfortable night under canvas. We were sitting in the newly pitched mess-tent, feeling rather pleased with life, when there suddenly came a shout from outside, “Lights out everywhere!” We tumbled out through the darkness as best we could, and floundering through ditches and pools and trenches sought our allotted places: once there, what was the scare about? A pitch-dark night, blusters of wind and rain, but not a shot broke the stillness; then on the wind came a sound weird and uncanny—the rising and falling chant of hundreds of voices. Gradually the sound came nearer, and we heard it swelling into a roar, “Allah Illahi! Allah Illahi!” beginning suddenly out of the black silence, ending as suddenly in silence.
Boom! from the other side of camp; and high over the desert burst a star-shell, drooping gracefully and dazzlingly to earth. Then with a roar and rattle the silence was snapped—for there in the glaring light, banners and all, stood and crouched and slunk the ranks of our visitors. It was sharp and very short: their heavy Martini bullets droned through the air, varied by the occasional fizz of a Mauser; thudding on to a tent here, and there smacking into a parapet. But the Arab at his best moments is the worst shot on earth and prefers to point his gun to heaven; now, on a dark night, facing magazine fire, his efforts were ineffectual. The moon bursting through a rift in the racing clouds finished the business, and after a few more departing shots, silence reigned once more. We retired to bed, cursing the “warm welcome” of the local inhabitant, but thankful that “three rounds rapid” could so signally defeat him.
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