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1917: Letter from the front line in Baghdad

Sir Frederick Stanley Maude leads the Indian Army into Baghdad in 1917.

Mr WE Mitchell, relieving officer, of Cuckfield has received the following newsy letter from his son, Corporal E Mitchell R. E. We have just received an accumulated mail of some weeks, and I have received altogether nine letters and a parcel of 13th January.

But maybe some help with the history needed - the story so far:

The fall of Baghdad (11 March 1917) occurred during the Mesopotamia Campaign, fought between the forces of the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

After the surrender of the Kut garrison on 29 April 1916, the British Army in Mesopotamia underwent a major overhaul. A new commander, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, was given the job of restoring Britain's military reputation.

General Maude spent the rest of 1916 rebuilding his army. Most of his troops were recruited in India and then sent by sea to Basra. While these troops were being trained, British military engineers [that’s young Mitchell’s assignment] built a field railway from the coast up to Basra and beyond. General Maude also obtained a small force of armed river boats and river supply ships.

The British launched their new campaign on 13 December 1916. The British had some 50,000 well-trained and well-equipped troops: mostly British India troops of the Indian Expeditionary Force D together with the 13th (Western) Division of the British Army forming the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force. The Indian divisions of the Indian III Corps (also called the Tigris Corps) included British Army units. The Ottoman forces were smaller, perhaps around 25,000 strong under the overall command of General Khalil Pasha. The British finally captured Baghdad on 11 March 1917. There were no setbacks for the British on this campaign. General Maude proceeded cautiously, advancing on both sides of the Tigris River. He earned his nickname Systematic Joe. … Back to the story …

The letters are dated anything from January onwards. It is fine to get mails again, and I daresay they will come regularly now that things have settled down. The parcel arrived in good condition, and was very welcome, especially the cigarettes. We have had no issue for a long time, and were unable to get any.

I really do not remember when I wrote last, so I think I had a better start when we arrived at Baghdad. I managed to get a pass into the city with some more fellows. We were very disappointed with the place. The streets were narrow and dirty, and there was nothing at all in the bazaars. But since then things have changed tremendously. The bazaars are open and full of stuff - Heaven only knows where they get it from!

Restaurants have sprung up where you can get quite a decent feed, and I even managed to get an ice in one place. The people crowd the streets, and the women wear most gaudy apparel. There is a very large number of Jews and Aremenians in the city, and I think most of the business is done by them … It does seem nice now to settle down and not have to saddle up and move off before the sun is up. What was rotten, too, was in the daytime. The sun was very hot and there was no shade to get into. We were also still wearing our winter clothing. Our tent is situated in a palm grove, close to the river. The trees make a nice shade …

I have had to go out on another stunt at an hour's notice, and did not get back until last night (4th May). We were going for a fortnight, but after four days we had used up all our wire, so had to return. We have had some big floods lately through the Arabs cutting the ‘bunds’ on the Euphrates. They also captured a colonel of an Indian regiment and killed him

… The heat is 110 in the shade as I write. It is getting too much for the flies, and they are gradually dying off. A canteen has been opened at Baghdad, so we can now get a few extras. I am trying to learn Hindustani, as I have been put in charge of a horse line, and all the drivers are Indians … Feel a bit tired this morning (16th May). Had a 50 mile ride yesterday in the desert repairing a wire.

Sussex Express 20 July 1917.

With a little help from Wikipedia

NOTE: Corporal Edward McGeorge Mitchell, 24 Signal Company Royal Engineers sent the letter from to his father, Mr WE Mitchell, of Annandale, Cuckfield who was a churchwarden and loca postmaster.

Another letter from his son '1915: Cheery letter to Cuckfield from the front line':

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details



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