Today there is great focus on the start of the Battle of the Somme one hundred years ago. But troops were fighting and dying elsewhere in the world as well.
100 years ago this month my great-uncle died. Obviously I never knew him (or his brother-in-law, my grandfather) but they both served in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. My grandfather was in the 2nd Battalion and during WW1 served with the British Expeditionary Force before being seconded to the Royal Flying Corps as it was being set up. My great-uncle, Company Quartermaster Serjeant Thomas Voller served in the 1st Battalion having joined up when he was 14, probably as a bugler. He was born in Oxford and served in South Africa, India and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). His sister Emma Voller married my grandfather Arthur Warnock in 1904.
At the outbreak of the First World War his battalion was based at Ahmednagar in India under the command of the 17th Indian Brigade of the 6th (Poona) Division, Indian Army. In November 1914 when Turkey entered the war (on the side of the Germans) the battalion was moved to Mesopotamia to protect British interests there and in the Persian Gulf. In 1915 they moved up the River Tigris eventually capturing Kut-el-Amara in September. Kut is between Basra and Bagdad – about 120 miles south east of Bagdad and 200 miles from Basra.
They continued the forward march and engaged the Turks at Ctesiphon about 15 miles from Bagdad. After initial successes they were forced to withdraw because their supply lines were too long. They reached Kut-al-Amara in December 1915. They were then besieged by the Turks and all attempts by relieving forces were beaten back. Finally with the Battalion reduced to 9 officers and 300 others they surrendered at the end of April 1916 after four months’ siege.
Immediately after the surrender the officers were separated from the men. The men were subjected by the Turks to a forced march of over 800 miles and were continually harassed by the Arabs. This ‘death march’ was one of the little known atrocities of the First World War – the convention on the treatment of prisoners of war was totally disregarded by the Turks and hired Arab guards. Of the 253 men that started only 76 survived.
Thomas Voller was one of those who didn’t make it – he died on 31 July 1916 aged 34 and is commemorated in the Basra War Cemetery. He had served in the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry for twenty years and had received a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal as well as the Queen’s South Africa Medal for service during the Boer War. He was posthumously awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (which were often known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred). After the war a next of kin Memorial Plaque (also known as the Dead Man’s Penny) was issued to his family.