Correspondence on the siege of Kut al-Amara, 1916

April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)



March 17, 2014

Dear Mr Ghosh,

Earlier today I came across your ‘On to Baghdad’ page on the net.  

Ten years ago I wrote and published a book called No Thankful Village that included the first hand accounts of three officers I had previously interviewed. It includes the following spoken by Lt Geoffrey Bishop of the 1st/4th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, concerning March 9th, 1916:

“The day after the nearly successful attempt to relieve Kut, which Arthur has told you about, the Turks sent in a flag of truce and I was told to go out and meet this chap. I suppose I was sent because I was last at school and probably spoke French better than anyone else. The fellow was riding with an orderly and had a letter from Khalil Pasha, who was the Turkish C in C. I also had an orderly and sent him in with the message and told the Turkish chap to return the next day, but he insisted on waiting.

“Our lines were then anything from 500 to 600 yards apart and I was out there in the middle with him for a couple of hours. Nice chap – a captain. He was Kahlil’s A.D.C., or one of his junior staff officers. We spoke in French and he gave me a packet of cigarettes which I hadn’t had for some time. We talked about the war and the Germans – and he didn’t go a lot on the Germans. He said his uncle had a villa on the Bosphorus and he’d like me to go and stay there after the war – that sort of thing. They were good soldiers, good fighters. Not unpleasant really.

“We had quite an interesting conversation with the result that the following day, when I’d finished my report, I was seen by my Brigadier and sent in to Townshend to tell him about it.



House in which Gen Townshend was taken prisoner, Kut (Capt. C.H.Weaver

House in which Gen Townshend was taken prisoner, Kut (Capt. C.H.Weaver


That’s his house in the picture, incidentally. I spent about an hour with him, but that was the only time I saw him. Then he sent this chap a message telling him to stuff it.”








I do have more, including a detailed account by Lt Arthur Coombs (also of the SLI) who took part in the second attempt to relieve Kut, and Lt Leslie Pollard, Indian Army, who, in February 1917. . . left Basra, at the bottom of the Persian Gulf, and went up the Tigris as far as Kut. When we got there we lined up with the 3rd Lahore Division on one side of us and the 7th Meeruts on the other. As I was free from duties I was able to get my horse and rode out to a ridge where I sat and watched the troops moving about over the river. Watched the Turks disappearing from round the town and the Indian troops – Ghurkas I think they were – going in to re-occupy the place. A happier outcome to what happened when Arthur Coombs and his lot were there.

I understand that the Indian Army’s Corp of Signals still holds its annual reunions in the Pollard Arena, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, named for Leslie Pollard, later a Brigadier.

I hope this is of some interest. If it is – and you give me a bit of time – I’ll happily send the rest of the material (two or three pages) that I have relating to the Kut story.


Chris Howell





March 17, 2014

Dear Chris

Thank you very much indeed for this. The information is fascinating. Please do send me the rest of your material – I would be glad to post it on my blog. I am sure it will be of interest to many.

By the way would you mind if I posted your letter as well?

Thanks again and all best

Amitav Ghosh



March 18


Dear Mr Ghosh,

I’m honoured by your interest in No Thankful Village and would of course be delighted for you to include my original letter on your blog.

According to Arthur Mee, who created the Children’s Encyclopaedia and the Children’s Newspaper, there were in Britain, at the end of the First World War, only 32 Thankful Villages (his phrase) to which all the men who had fought came home alive (though in what condition was irrelevant).  Remarkably a quarter of those villages were in Somerset, though there was no Thankful Village in the area of Somerset that I have written about.

My book is an account of the effects that the war had on that part of the County that is centered on Midsomer Norton. I had previously compiled a series of books about Somerset and, in doing so, had amassed material about the war as told to me by men who had taken part, as well as by those men, women and children who remained on the home front.

I then spent 22 years building on their accounts and eventually interviewed about 100 former servicemen who had served in many regiments and corps, but mainly with the Somersets and the Coldstream Guards.  I also included contemporary newspaper reports; trench diaries; military histories, letters and so on. One of the strands I followed was that of the local territorial Battalion, the 1st/4th Somerset Light Infantry which was, early on, dispatched to India.

In my earlier email I mentioned that I’d be pleased to forward you more about this force; two or three pages, I think I said – well it turns out that it’s rather more than that.  I’ll probably send what I have in three batches, the first of which is attached above.

I’m also taking the liberty of sending a flier with some of the reviews the book received.    Because I was also the publisher it seemed a good idea to print on the cover an early review that I’d received privately from Ian Hislop, who at the time  wrote for the Sunday Telegraph. I actually though it was a canny move – but it had the opposite effect.  All the national newspapers (with the exception of The Observer) took Hislop’s comment on the cover to mean that the book was a second edition – and did not review it.  Fortunately for me, The Observer did, giving it 22 column inches.

No Thankful Village is now all but out of print, and as I have no more than 50 copies left it will no longer be available from Amazon or similar outlets. Instead, I’m letting a local shop have all that remain. If you would be good enough to let me have a forwarding address I’d be very happy to send you a copy with my compliments. (I’ve included page 173 for your amusement – the actual village of Wellow, where Sgt. Pritchard was a railway porter, had at that time a population of about 400.)

Please forgive this ramble – it’s a hurried attempt to put a few things in context.

Most sincerely,

Chris Howell




March 19

Dear Chris Howell

Thanks very much for your emails. I will certainly post our entire correspondence on the site. Unfortunately I can’t post text in jpg format so I will not be able to include the attachments.

I’d be glad to have a copy of ‘No Thankful Village’ – I did look it up on Amazon and saw that it was not available. I’m traveling a lot these days so it might be best to send it to me c/o my UK publisher.

As a student at Oxford, 35 years ago, I hitchhiked through Somerset and had a wonderful time. It was shocking to read about the terrible floods.

Best wishes





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