Desert war was ‘nobody’s child’ but claimed lives

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A relative sideshow, the First World War campaign in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) was a classic example of ‘mission creep’.

Landing in the port city of Basra, a force sent from India to secure the oil field supplies from Persia (Iran) succumbed to the temptation to push north into the sparsely defended south east extent of the Ottoman Empire.

It was a campaign, which would endure for three years in the inhospitable desert areas of the Tigris- Euphrates river courses, where daytime temperatures reach 50c in summer and yet plummet well below freezing in winter.

It was conducted without clear objectives or direction from either the Indian Army command in Simla or the War Office in London.

Not seen as a priority in London, it was starved of supplies and troops were forced to endure conditions that would sap the energy and fighting capability of any army.

After advancing almost to Baghdad, the troops of General Townshend were turned back at the biblical city of Ctesiphon and bottled up in Kut-al Amara where, in April 1916 after being forced to eat the cats and rats of the town, they surrendered into a brutal captivity at the hands of the Turkish army, spending over two years in the arid wastes of Anatolia.

Their commander and his immediate staff were perhaps the only men who received any reasonable treatment at the hands of their captors.

A relief force struggled to get into Kut before the surrender and it would be a further 11 months before Kut would be retaken.

In December 1916 under a new commander, General Maude, the mixed British and Indian army forces began to force back the Turkish defenders, taking Kut on March 6 and ultimately going on to take Baghdad, but for little strategic gain in the overall war effort.

In the settlement of the eastern war in 1918-20 the creation of Iraq, Syria and Jordan would sow the seeds of conflicts which have continued periodically to this day as tribal and religious differences have cast a shadow over attempts to create any real sense of national identity.

George Reuben Treadwell was a local man who did not live to see the relief of Kut, as he was killed in action just outside the town.

He was the son of a long serving soldier, Reuben Herbert Treadwell, who died at home at 3 Argyle Street, Tynemouth, in 1918, aged 56, three months after being discharged as too old for continued service.

George Treadwell was educated at Armstrong College, Newcastle, and South-Western Polytechnic, Chelsea, London, becoming an expert in physical training.

A Territorial soldier in the Army Service Corps, he was commissioned into the 6th Battalion East Lancs Regiment and had served with them in Gallipoli before being invalided home following appendicitis then re-joining the battalion in Mesopotamia, where he was second in command, before dying leading an assault on a Turkish strongpoint on February 5, 1917.

Biographies of both George and Reuben Treadwell can be found on the project database – www.tynemouthworldwarone.org

The expansion of the project has been agreed by the project management group, which was re-constituted from January 29.

A public meeting is to be held on February 18, at 7pm, in the John Willie Sams Centre, Market Street, Dudley, to invite and engage the communities of the north west of the modern borough of North Tyneside to participate in the task of adding the story all those of the mining communities who gave their lives in the Great War.

Members of the project will be on hand to talk with anyone who wishes learn about what you can get from participation, and join in to help the task of expanding the coverage of the largest community managed First World War commemoration project in the country.

The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project or how to get involved.

The address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.