WHAT’S THE STORY?
ONE hundred years ago tomorrow, a British general issued the at-the-time famous Proclamation of Baghdad, which is still seen as the perfect way to announce a victory.
The city had been captured from the occupying Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire by the British Army, using mainly troops from India, just a few days previously. That was the high point of the Mesopotamian Campaign, the “forgotten” theatre of the First World War.
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The British commander Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude proclaimed to the citizens of Baghdad: “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.”
He went on: “It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance, that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad city was one of the wonders of the world …
“It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals.”
WHO WAS MAUDE?
JUDGING by the proclamation, he was a very shrewd individual who knew just how to charm and flatter the people of Mesopotamia, as modern Iraq was then known, while asserting Britain’s rights over territories that had vast oil reserves.
Maude came from an army family and had graduated from Eton and Sandhurst to become a career officer. He was decorated for his heroism during the Boer War and was wounded in France in 1914 before being sent to Gallipoli where he conducted a remarkable tactical retreat.
Maude was then sent to take over the less-than-successful British forces in Mesopotamia in 1916 after the disastrous defeat at the Siege of Kut.
He proved to be an inspirational leader, reorganising the whole campaign and leading the so-called Samarrah Offensive which led to the Turks of the Ottoman Empire retreating en masse. Sadly, he died of cholera in November, 1917.
MESOPOTAMIAN CAMPAIGN? NEVER HEARD OF IT
A LOT of that is to do with the fact that TE Lawrence’s heroics in Arabia overshadowed Mesopotamia’s war.
Britain also suffered serious setbacks and defeats during the campaign which began when the Ottoman Empire joined the German side.
In 1915, the Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire combined with local tribes to resist British occupation of the southern oil port of Basra and the land around the Persian Gulf.
The First World War was well under way by then, and the horrors of the Western Front came to dominate all thoughts about the war, and still do.
In Mesopotamia, the Turks put up incredibly tough resistance, so much so that after a series of initial successes, the British Army had to retreat to the town of Kut.
After a 147-day siege during which several attempts to relieve the garrison failed, General Charles Townshend surrendered. More than 9000 soldiers were marched off to captivity,the majority of whom died.
Townshend’s surrender has been called by some the most abject capitulation of the war.
Maude then arrived, rebuilt the British forces around the 13th Western Division and began the task of driving the Turks back through a series of battles that lasted after his death and well into 1918.
The “butcher’s bill” for the campaign was horrendous.
The British Army lost 11,012 troops killed in action and a further 3,985 later dying of their wounds.
An astonishing 12,678 died of sicknesses such as cholera, and 13,492 were listed as missing and/or prisoners.
In addition to the 9000 men taken prisoner at Kut, another 51,836 were wounded. The Ottoman losses are estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 killed and wounded.
OF course. The Black Watch, Seaforths and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders all fought in the campaign, and Victoria Crosses were won by at least five Scots.
WHAT WAS THE AFTERMATH?
BRITISH and American need for oil came to dictate all policies in the region. Maude’s wise words were forgotten, and the long-term result is the chaos that we now call Iraq.