07 June 2015

Friends Send Me ... camel things (2)

A First World War buff, I am also a longtime admirer of contemporaneous Gertrude Bell, the fearless desert adventurer and tribal negotiator, turned British intelligence officer and kingmaker. With expertise in antiquities and architecture, she located countless ancient sites for archaeologists to uncover; she founded the great Baghdad Museum. The Gertrude Bell Archive at Newcastle University Library includes thousands of priceless photographs of her explorations, nomadic encounters, and historical artifacts. Many of those same subjects have disappeared or are in great danger of destruction as we speak.
Iraq (Mesopotamia) 1914; photo by Gertrude Bell

Why mention Gertrude? In the nature of Friends Send Me ... camel things, imagine my delight when Mike shared his grandfather's story with me. It is a story of military perseverance in the same time period and unforgiving climate. The First World War was fought not only in Europe. British Forces were in the Middle East alongside Arab allies to drive the Ottoman Empire out of the storied Euphrates lands called Mesopotamia. We have to remember that one hundred years ago there was no Iraq, Iran, Israel, or another half-dozen Middle Eastern countries we hear about today. 

Arthur James Knowles, Mike's grandfather, served in that theatre with the 1/4 Hampshire Regiment from March 1915 to the end of November 1919. Arthur's service records are gone, destroyed with so many others during the bombings of the Second World War. But using the published regimental history, Mike could reconstruct the actions of Arthur's unit.[1] The Brits encountered unfamiliar terrain and the inevitable battles but were unprepared for the climate's deleterious health consequences.
[quote] The climate and moist heat of Mesopotamia were having a detrimental effect on the battalion. By June 1915, 180 were sick in the hospital and six had already died. Only 16 officers and 300 men were available.[2]

And that was just a few months after arrival!

During his service, Arthur took numerous photographs that did survive, although not in good shape, with Mike doing his best at restoration. What unique treasures! These two photos are of Sudanese allies. Camels were the natural choice for cavalry. 
Mike wrote about Arthur in the newsletter of the Ottawa Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society (see footnote). Clearly Arthur survived the Great War and I'm more than pleased to add that he came to Canada to settle in 1921.

Ancestor envy!

[1] C.T. Atkinson, The Royal Hampshire Regiment, Volume Two 1914-1918, Glasgow: Robert Maclehose & Company Limited, 1952
[2] Mike More, "The 1/4th Hampshires in Mesopotamia," The Ottawa Genealogist, Vol. 47, No. 4, October – December 2014.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

No comments: