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This page contains extracts from the diary of Captain A.J. Shakeshaft of the 2nd Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. They cover the period 15 May to 25 June 1915. Following the departure of the first batch of POWs had left Baghdad, after their march from Kut, General Melliss and a few other British Officers who had been sick left Baghdad for Asia Minor. Captain Shakeshaft was one of the officers in this party. He survived the war and returned to the UK.
The extracts from the diary recount the appalling conditions in which British and Indian soldiers were kept after the fall of the Kut Garrison on 30 April 1916. Following Kut's surrender, many of the Arab inhabitants of the town were hanged for aiding the British garrison.
The extracts themselves are taken from Appendix XXIX of the official history "The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-1918" (Volume 2), which was originally published in 1924.
(Baghdad). Colonel Chitty and I went to see the Turkish Major Amin Bey. We found him most charming and really eager to help us ...
... More parties of officers came up from Shurnran ... The troops soon began to arrive, a dreadful spectacle ... to see British troops in rags, many barefooted, starved and sick wending their way under brutal Arab guards through an Eastern bazaar ... From men in hospital I heard many stories of the horrors of the march from Shuraran ... General Melliss kept me quite busy writing letters on the subject to those in authority; they were of course never answered
The Turkish Minister of War, Enver Pasha, came to Baghdad during our stay. I did not see him. He inspected some of the men near the station and ordered that they should be given a ration of tea. They received it for two or three days, then ' finish,' as our guards say ...
The General (Melliss) was now quite well again and was asking to take the road and reach his final destination. He informed Major Amin Bey and arrangements were accordingly made ...
On this day, so far as 1 can remember, we left Baghdad
... At about 11 a.m. reached the Arab town of Tikrit, a miserable place, standing on high undulating ground. We met a number of unfortunate British and Indian soldiers who were standing at the door of a miserable yard, where they were herded together. They looked ghastly. They were sick left behind by one of the columns ... After unloading our kits we went round to see the men. They were in a miserable plight, many suffering from dysentery. Others were fairly fit, but had no boots for marching. There were about 80 British and Indian. They received only a ration of wheat. The Arabs used to bring milk and eggs to sell and asked exorbitant prices; consequently they would soon have no money and would die of starvation and neglect. There were no guards over them and they were completely abandoned. Sometimes, when a sick man would crawl out of the hovel they lived in, Arabs would throw stones and chase him back into the yard. I will spare the reader any description of the dark, filthy hovel where they slept ... General Melliss was very much upset at what he had seen and sent for the commandant, an Arab captain. He was hopeless and nothing could be got out of him. I wrote a long letter for the General to Halil Pasha exposing the case, but I doubt if it was ever sent. We spent the evening with the men. Baines (a medical officer) did his best for the sick and we gave them some clothes and the General left some gold with them ...
... While we were looking at the excavations (at Sharqat), an assistant surgeon came and asked us to go to the serai at once. We found a large number of men lying in some outhouses in a most pitiful condition. Most of them were slowly dying of dysentery and neglect ... General Melliss left some gold and all the cigarettes he had. As I was leaving a room, behind the General, a man called me and said: "May God bless your General, sir, for he has brightened the last hours of a dying man." It was the same story everywhere; Turkish neglect and absolute indifference to the sufferings of our helpless men ...
... arrived Mosul ...
I went round the barracks and hospital with the General. There were only a few convalescents in the barracks, except British and Indian officers. The food for the men appeared good ... but they did not get enough of it. Most of them looked half starved and very ill. The place was in a filthy condition and Words Would fail to express the sanitary arrangements ... Went to the hospital. There were about 80 men there under Captain Spackman. All the men were very well looked after, every man had a bed and were all in clean rooms. The Turkish P.M.O seemed to do his best to assist and promised the General to let Spacknian have some more beds, as a number of men in barracks were looking very ill. In the evening a number of British and Indian troops left, on route for Ras al Ain. Before they went the General insisted that Baines should inspect them and he sent a number back to hospital.
(Left Mosul on route for Ras al Ain) ... We started off about 4.30 a.m. Early in the morning We passed a German machine gun section, admirably turned out: all the section was mounted ... At about 9 a.m. We arrived on the banks of a stream, Where the water was fairly good. We halted at the stream and a British soldier came and told us that there Were about half a dozen of his comrades in a room at the post, two of whom were dangerously ill. We went in and found six British soldiers in a fearfully emaciated condition lying in a filthy stable. Of course, the Turks had done nothing for them. One of the men said: "We are like rats in a trap and they are just slowly killing us." They said that the German machine gun section had been most kind to them. The officers had given them money; the men had given them part of their rations. The General gave some gold to the senior of the party and Baines did what he could for the worst cases, two men who were very near death. We saw the senior Turkish official in charge of the post, a warrant officer. He was quite useless and could do nothing ...
... As soon as we arrived at Ras al Ain ... The General asked to see the commandant ... The commandant was a colonel. When we entered, he was reclining on a divan smoking a hookah. He at once got up, addressed us in good French and offered cigarettes and coffee. The General told me to tell him all we had seen on the way from Baghdad and to ask him to wire to Ralil Pasha to have carts sent for our unfortunate men dying by the wayside. He refused, as he was not in Halil's command. The General then told him to wire to Aleppo. Another evasive reply ...
We reached Aleppo (by train from Ras al Ain) about 9 a.m. After lunch we drove up to the barracks to interview the Turkish commander ... Presently Shefket Pasha entered ... The General then exposed the lamentable state of our men on the road and offered to pay for a telegram to Baghdad to ask them to send carts and pick up all the isolated parties. Shefket Pasha would not hear of this and wrote out a telegram himself and promised to send it. He also said he would do his utmost to better the condition of our men ...
Arrived at Islahiya ... a German warrant officer came and told me that there were a number of British troops suffering from dysentery in some Arab tents near by. The German had been to see them several times, but the Turks had warned him off and said that the men had cholera - a lie. He said that they were being starved to death. The General sent Baines to investigate this case and Halim (Turkish interpreter with General Melliss's party) and self went to interview the commandant. The assistant surgeon came up from the prisoners and bore out what the German had told me. I then went with the General to the commandant to expose the case and ask him to have a telegram sent to Aleppo. He agreed to everything and said he would send a wire, but I doubt it ... The General sent me off to thank the German warrant officer; I found him in the rest house for German and Austro-Hungarian troops. He promised to do what he could for our men ...
We came to a spring and lying around it were three British soldiers ... All were horribly emaciated and in a dreadful state. They told us that they had been left behind by a column that had passed about two days ago, as they could not march. They had nothing to eat from the Turks, but a German wireless section, that we had met, had given them some food. We took these men on our carts to bring along with us.
On arriving at Hassan Begli I saw a German warrant officer talking to 24 British soldiers. He told me that they had been left here the night before by the party going out, as they were too ill to travel. He had seen the commandant several times and begged him to put them under shelter (they were lying by the road side) and to give them shelter and food; but each time the commandant gave an evasive reply and nothing was done. The General sent for the commandant and told him exactly what he thought of his behaviour. We now had 27 men on our hands. The commandant at once sent them into a large shed and sent down some rice and meat already cooked. The General sent me into the village to buy bread and eggs, which, thanks to the German, I got at very low prices. We brought these to the men and issued them out. The General told me to invite the German to breakfast. He was glad to come, as he had not met Europeans for so long. We had another interview with the commandant. The General told him that he must send on these 27 men by carts. He said he had no carts. The German said this was a lie. Finally, the commandant said our carts would go at 5 p.m. and at 6 p.m. the men should go with a convoy. But that did not suit the General, who said he would not stir till the men had been moved. The commandant then agreed to send them by carts and at about 5 p.m. we saw the men safely off ...
We arrived at ... There we found the men we had sent on in carts the night before sitting down enjoying hot coffee, the gift of some Austrian soldiers. One of our men told me that this was the first hot drink he had had since he had been a prisoner.
I went with the General to interview the German commandant (Major Schon). He was very amiable, sent for coffee for us and listened with great sympathy to my story of our suffering men. He told me that there were a large number of British and Indians here; at present they were under the Turks, but he hoped to take them over soon for railway work; then their conditions would improve ...