Middle East morass: WWI diaries reveal true horror of Britain’s failed Iraq campaign 100 yrs ago

March 1917, British troops entering Baghdad © wikipedia.org
As parliament votes on its latest Middle East war, the diaries of a young army officer detailing the disastrous Mesopotamia campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War are going on display in London.

The young subaltern, named Lieutenant Henry Curtis Gallup, was one of thousands of troops sent to the region to fight the German-allied Ottoman Empire in the hope that the subjugated Arabs would rise up against their masters.

Branded a war in defense of British oil interests, and to liberate the region which is now modern-day Iraq from its rulers, the campaign ended in one of the most disastrous defeats of the conflict.

The diaries are now on display at the National Army Museum in London for the first time.

Gallup’s artillery unit was ordered to advance 250 miles to the town of Kut-Al-Amara, and then 25 miles to their final destination, Baghdad.

The documents detail constant Turkish assaults and terrible conditions, which led the starving soldiers to eat their own horses.

We can only picture to ourselves the heavenly feed the Turks must be having,” Gallup wrote, lamenting his meager daily meals of bread and horse or mule meat.

The campaign also saw early attempts to resupply troops by air, a practice now well-established but at the time deeply inconsistent.

Gallup details planes “dropping sacks of grain, parcels of chocolate, any old thing in fact to enable us to carry on for a few extra days.

But however hard the planes worked it was a mightily small allowance that each person got; the planes of course were greeted by heavy fire from Turkish lines.

By April 29, 1915, the Kut garrison surrendered and 13,000 British and Indian troops were marched into captivity and further hardship.

They endured cramped conditions, fleas and disease – with the latter killing one-third of them.

Dr Peter Johnston, of the National Army Museum, told the Telegraph: “Gallup’s diaries and letters offer a unique glimpse into the battles that are sometimes forgotten but are nevertheless important to British history.

They allow us to understand what it was like to be a victim of war and the perils that came with it as well as the desire for home comforts, like chocolate, that added to the hardships faced by First World War soldiers,” he said.

Gallup survived captivity and returned to England, but his diaries testify to the perils of intervention in an unforgiving region. They are also worthy reading for today’s parliamentarians, modern-day veterans of Middle East conflicts would argue.