World War 1914 - 1918 A Pictured History Part 28

DINNER IS SERVED Men of the Queen’s Royal Regiment are enjoying, in what comfort they can, the mid­day meal in the front line near Arras. That their dinner may at any moment be violently disturbed, is shown by the careful watch kept by one of their number anger at home. Townsend deserves credit for what he did, and the com­mission appointed to inquire into the disaster, said in its rep o rt:— Notwithstanding the deficiencies of medical equipment and transport, all the wounded w r ere evacuated and all the prisoners were taken to Kut. This was a remarkable military achievement, carried out during a hazardous retreat against overwhelming odds Great credit is due to the medical officers for their devoted work in thus evacuating their wounded, but many of those so moved suffered terribly, as the two prepared steamers could only accommodate a small proportion of them. The sting of this passage lies in the opening words. It is perfectly true that the wounded were evacuated, and General Nixon, who at the time was ill, telegraphed to the secretary for India on December 7 :“Wounded satisfac­torily disposed of. General condition of wounded very satisfactory. Medical arrangements under circumstances of great difficulty worked splendidly.” But the other side of the picture is seen elsewhere in the report of the commission, which states that there was a complete breakdown in medical arrangements, and that no effort was made to remedy the lack of equipment and transport that had been patent from the opening weeks of the campaign. For this the authorities in India must bear the chief responsibility. Frequent requests for such articles as mosquito nets and spine-pads and for supplies of anti-toxin were made and ignored, and the medical arrangements at the battle 766 of Ctesiphon were still those of a frontier force. The report goes 011: We are reluctant to describe the details of the condition in which many of the wounded arrived at Basra, on account of their sickening horror. Kut-al-Am ara has been described by Townshend’s senior medical officer as “the most insanitary place the British had occupied in Mesopotamia.” Here Townshend’s forces stood at bay, and here,by December 7, they were com­pletely invested by the Turks. A t K u t the Tigris takes one of its innumerable bends in the shape of the letter U. Upon the peninsula thus formed, of about a mile in width and less than tlncc- quarters of a mile in depth, Townshend occupied an entrenched position, the village— it scarcely deserves the desig­nation of a town— lying at the most southerly end. The Shatt al Hai, a tributary joining the Tigris and the Euphrates, debouched from the former at the south-western corner of the peninsula. On the right bank of the river was the village of Yakasub, known to the British troops as Woolpress village, the only position outside the peninsula which Townshend attempted perman­ently to hoid. Before the retreat from Ctesiphon it had never been intended to use K u fort more than an advanced base, and 011 the arrival of Townshend’s force the peninsula w-as inadequately prepared for defence, let alone to withstand a siege. Across the northern end, closing the loop of the river, was a barrier consisting of a mud-walled fort at the eastern end and four blockhouses connected by a barbed wire fence. Behind this first line Townshend constructed two further entrenched lines. All the seriously sick and badly wounded were evacuated, and most of the cavalry were sent back to Ali Gharbi of the flotilla only the Sumana, four launches, two motor­boats and six barges were retained. General Nixon, with his staff, had already retired to Basra. Six thousand ALARM SIGNAL When respirators had been perfected, gas attacks lost much inefficacy, if enough warning was given. Hence the importance of this member of the Royal Garrison Artillery, ready to heat the irong at the first signor report of the approaching cloud
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