Friday, 1 May 2009

Another war...

As British forces withdraw from Iraq, I was reminded of a newspaper cutting I dug up a few years ago whilst researching the history of the East Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington during the Great War, which uncovered a forgotten piece of family history. Although my father knew that two of his older brothers had served in the army during the War, neither of them spoke about it. Other sources showed that one of them had remained in the UK, working on the east coast anti-aircraft defences, but his brother Herbert travelled further afield...

Bridlington Free Press, 6 Dec 1918


Bridlington Man's Varied War

  H. Cooper, son of Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, Queen-street, who has been over two years in Mesopotamia, writes home an interesting letter concerning his experiences and the countries through which he has passed, including South Africa and India. In March, 1917, he describes the blowing up of a limber full of ammunition, by which 28 men and twnety mules were killed and wounded. He escaped practically unhurt, but comrades in front of him and at his side were killed. "We tried to get into the Mosque at Cpestiption [Ctesiphon], but were stopped, as they allow no one but a Mahommedan in. It was a lovely place. There are some ruins here thousands of years old." He was present at the British occupation of Bagdad, and writes: "We reached the city about 10.30 a.m., only a few hours after the Turks had flown, and found the streets filled with people, some serious, others cheering. These were dark-complexioned Jews and Arabs and fair Armenians, and the latter were the most pleased to see us." He likens the Bagdad Gate to the Bayle Gate. "I was talking to several of them and they were glad to see us." The writer gave interesting sketches of the fighting with the Turks, and of the air-fights, and states that he had an attack of fever. On one occasion


of the camp, one hundred miles north of Baghdad and five men were wounded and a number of mules killed: "I was one who helped to bury the mules. They take a big hole, as if put in a shallow one, the jackals used to scratch them up." Without the bathing in the rivers and pools life under the harsh conditions would appear to have been impossible. "Food also improved, and we got meat instead of bully, and three-quarter ration of bread issued. We improved our health over here, being able to buy eggs and fruit of all kinds off the Arabs, and we all got fatter again!" In July the heat was terrific, and there was much sickness. Soon afterwards the young soldier was taken seriously ill, and with a temperature at 105, he lost consciousness, and was unconscious for some days. He had to be sent down the river to Baghdad, where the old Turkish barracks were converted into an hospital, and ultimately to Bombay. Since then he had been in the van of the marching and fighting and had come through to victory fit and happy. At the end of his interesting diary in 1917 he said: "I have a lot to be thankful for, and I can look to the future with confidence. May the end of next year's diary be written somewhere nearer home!" Probably it has been.

Herbert's military records show that he joined up on 29 Nov 1915, at which time he was 27 years and 7 months old. Reflecting his peacetime trade, he joined the Army Service Corps at a saddler - number TS-10037 - and arrived at the Corps' base at Woolwich two days later. On 24 Oct 1916 he sailed for the Mesopotamian front, where he remain until 26 Aug 1917, when he was evacuated to India for medical reasons, as stated above. He eventually returned to the UK on 28 Dec 1918, seven weeks after the Armistice.

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