Baptism of Fire 3

The 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment at War November 1914

The SS Medjidieh which transported the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment up to Basra after the Battle of Saniyah.

101 years ago this November the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment went to war but not on the Western Front. They went into a war zone that is often forgotten and not often mentioned. And yet if you turn on your televisoon you will see Iraq all over the news. This shows that conflict in this part of the World is not new. In fact what is going on in Iraq can be linked back to this timeline in many ways but that is not why I am writing this blog.

The 2nd Battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel E.C. Peebles, and they were serving at Belgaum in India and were part of the 18th (Belgaum) Brigade in the 6th (Poona) Division of the Indian Army. The first man to die serving with the Norfolks was a soldier from the 2nd Battalion; this was Private 8117 William Richard Westbrook, who died of tuberculosis on 17 August 1914.

The 2/Norfolks left Belgaum on 6 November on board the transport Elephanta and headed for the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Great Britain initially sent a force to protect the oil refineries at Abadan and to seize control of Mesopotamia, which would allow wider access into the Middle East. This would pitch them against the Ottoman Empire, who were allied with Germany.

Private 8293 Frank Wheeler 2/Norfolks.

Private 8293 Frank
Wheeler 2/Norfolks.

Just prior to sailing, Private 8293 Frank Wheeler wrote to his mother and said,

‘… don’t worry if I am unable to come back and if not you will know I have done my duty as far as I am able for King and Country so tell them all to keep a light heart.’

Frank landed with the rest of the battalion at Saniyah on 15 November 1914. They went into action two days later when the advance came up against opposition at an old fort and the village of Sahil. Here the Norfolks, the 2/Dorsets and the 7/ Rajputs advanced on a Turkish trench, taking the left flank and coming under heavy rifl e and shrapnel fire.

This caused substantial numbers of casualties but eventually the Turkish defenders were driven from the trench and most of those that fl ed were killed by artillery. Although the advance was hampered by a Turkish gun, support was provided by the Royal Navy and part of the front was shaded by palms. Following this, the 2/Norfolks went into a camp 1 mile south of the fort and spent a very uncomfortable night in the cold being sniped at. The next day the troops set about discovering these snipers and B Company found a deserted enemy camp. They assisted in clearing up the area on 19 and 21 November and found fifteen of the 2/Dorsets dead before embarking on the SS Medjidieh,
which was going to Basra.

Frank's letter to his mother.

Letter 2

Frank’s letter to his mother.

Sadly, Frank Wheeler had been seriously wounded in the arms and was evacuated to a field hospital, where he died of his wounds on 18 November. His company commander, Captain Robert Marshall, wrote to Wheeler’s mother on 29 November and said,

‘I am exceedingly sorry to lose such a good lad and popular with his comrades. He was buried on the 18th Nov and Gen Sir Arthur Barrett, Gens Fry and Robinson, the Colonel and officers of the battalion being present.’

Frank Ernest James Wheeler came from Halberton in Devon and was the son of Charles and Florence Wheeler. Frank enlisted at Bury St. Edmunds and now lies in Grave III. B. 7/12. in Basra War Cemetery.

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