The 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment
Of all the tragedies that would be learnt after the cessation of hostilities in 1918, it is the experiences of the 2/Norfolks at Kut that comes to mind immediately. Today, 29th April 2016, marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of the Siege of Kut-Al-Amara.
After the failed attack on Ctesiphon in November 1915, Sir Charles Townshend, the commander of the 6th (Poona) Division, led his beleaguered force to Kut-al-Amara to form a line of defence. They occupied the town on 3 December 1915 and by 7 December, Turkish forces arrived and laid siege.
The 2/Norfolks headquarters occupied a building called the Serai and they dug in to await relief. The daily routine would see the men manning trenches, coming under fire from artillery and working on fatigue parties. estimated he had supplies for a month; however, this eventually had to be stretched to five months.
Christmas Eve saw the Turks attack and occupy parts of the town, January 1916 saw floods and terrible conditions and in February the daily rations per man were reduced to three-quarters while the Turks continued to heavily shell the town and attack from the air.
Captain Alfred Joseph Shakeshaft who was serving with C Company in the 2/Norfolks during the siege kept a diary and noted in January 1916,
‘Heavy rain all day. Streets of Kut and trenches ankle deep in mud and water. By night the trenches were almost waist deep in water. No fresh meat, tinned meat issued. Fuel now running very short, doors and window frames issued for wood ration and crude oil used as much as possible for cooking purposes.’
As conditions worsened he noted,
‘Men are frequently seen sitting down resting in the street Sentries have to lean against walls’
By March it was learnt that all relief efforts were suspended and scurvy broke out. Horses were being used for food and many supplies had run out. By April, malnutrition had begun to set in and on 26 April – 146 days after the siege had started – Townshend surrendered the garrison. The Norfolks went into captivity, where many were treated terribly. It was a testament to the battalion that General Hamilton noted of them,
‘In spite of all the trying conditions of the prolonged siege, the discipline, good order, and soldierly bearing of the battalion were maintained to the end.’
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Cecil Lodge, C.O. of the 2/Norfolk’s, was present at the surrender and on 29th April 1916 he wrote;
‘All guns and howitzers were destroyed this morning, also a large percentage of rifles and bayonets. Ammtn, revolvers, field glasses, thrown into the Tigris… Turkish Infantry entered Kut about 12 noon.’
During the siege the 2nd Battalion Norfolk Regiment lost seventy-three men and it is estimated that 310 men went into captivity. In total the surrender of the whole fighting force, numbered over 10,000 men.
The remnants of the 2nd Battlion Norfolk Regiment did survive the siege. The transport section had not been at Kut and joined up with similar detachments from the 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment. They formed a composite battalion, named the Norsets. This was broken up on 21 July 1916, when the battalion was reconstituted by the arrival of new drafts.