The award of a Victoria
Cross, two Bars to the Military Cross, two Military Crosses, a Bar to the
Distinguished Conduct Medal, two Distinguished Conduct Medals, five Military
Medals, two Indian Orders of Merit and two Indian Distinguished Service Medals
When the Great
War ended the former German and Turkish empires were controlled by the
victorious allies as decided by the League of Nations.
The League awarded Britain
the mandate to control Mesopotamia (now named Iraq) until such time as the
country was capable of becoming an independent state. British rule was unpopular with the
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and Sunni and Shia
clerics joined together to encourage resistance to the British. An insurrection, known as the Arab Rebellion,
broke out in the summer of 1920. The aim
of the insurgents was to remove British control and replace it with an Arab
had to send large numbers of troops from India to deal with the insurrection.
British administration in Mesopotamia Turkish rule
over its Empire had been characterised by corruption, slack administration and
harsh discipline. This administration
had been run by Turks for the benefit of Turks, and as the Turkish forces withdrew
northwards their administrators went with them.
To deal with this lack of government Britain
tried to quickly establish an administrative system based on its procedures in India. But these Indian procedures had not been
imposed overnight, and it had taken decades during which several minor
campaigns had to be fought before the British administration was finally
established on the sub-continent.
young British army officers were appointed to be Political Officers and
dispersed around the country. The
Political Department then constantly argued for detachments of troops to be
located near the Political Officers, leading to a dissipation of military
force. Meanwhile the Arabs watched this
and resented the change of administrative methods, but above all else they
resented the fact that they were still under foreign domination. Not all Mesopotamians were anti-British as
some of the ethnic minorities needed British protection, and some Arabs saw that
it was in their interests not to be associated with the insurrection. However the bulk of the Arab population near
the religious centres supported the dissidents
The Great War
had ended in Mesopotamia with the signing of an armistice on 31st October 1918,
and the surrender of the remnants of the Turkish 6th Army at Mosul. However the country actually remained a
theatre of warfare until a peace treaty was ratified in 1924. Britain
had de-mobilised and run-down its forces in Mesopotamia
and was totally unprepared when conflict started. The Arabs, encouraged by Turkish and Syrian
intriguers, organised themselves and formed bands of armed horsemen that could
move extremely quickly and fight very brutally and ferociously.
In May a train
was ambushed by insurgents near Shergat, the terminus of the rail line running
north from Baghdad,
and armed Arabs searched the train for non-Muslim soldiers whom they wished to
pull out and kill. Many Muslim sepoys
protected their Sikh comrades by splashing them with blood and saying that the
Sikhs were dead, or by lying over them on the train floor.
On 4th June 1920 the people in Tel Afar, 30 miles
(48 kilometres) west of Mosul,
rose up against the British-officered local Arab levies and killed the levy
commander, the Assistant Political Officer and other locally employed British
personnel. A section of two British
armoured cars from the 14th Light Armoured Motor Battery (LAMB), Machine Gun
Corps, was sent to Tel Afar to provide fire support. Despite receiving warnings of danger from an
aircraft overhead that dropped messages, the cars were surrounded in the narrow
streets of the town and the nine men of their crews were killed.
survivor from the two armoured cars was the local servant of the section
commander. Nobody really knew what had
happened but it appeared that the section commander drove into Tel Afar
possibly trying to rescue two British personnel who were firing on the
insurgents from the roof of the political bungalow. But the cars were trapped in a narrow lane
and enemy fire from the rooftops above killed the crews. An enemy grenade then killed the men on the
political bungalow roof. The Assistant
Political Officer had initially been captured but he escaped only to be
overtaken and killed two miles (3.2 kilometres) west of the town.
column of 1,000 men composed of cavalry, artillery and infantry was then
sent. The column skirmished with around
1,200 Arab horsemen before it entered Tel Afar and applied heavy punitive
measures on the townsfolk. Punitive
measures included destroying selected buildings, burning down entire villages,
seizing weapons, crops and livestock, hanging known killers and levying fines.
followed by the siege of a British detachment at Rumeitha on the rail line
between Basra and Baghdad.
A strong British relief column containing six infantry battalions with
supporting arms, including two sections of the 17th Machine Gun
Battalion, Machine Gun Corps, had to fight fiercely to lift the siege. As the insurgents withdrew from Rumeitha they
were bombed heavily by the RAF and punished with effective machine gun
fire. The British defenders of the town
lost 145 men killed, wounded or missing before they were relieved.
A situation now
developed in the Kifl – Kufa area on the Euphrates
River south of Baghdad.
A 30-inch (0.76 metre) guage railway line ran from Hillah to Kifl and on
23 July Kifl station was attacked by insurgents and the railway staff were held
captive. The local Political Officer
requested a show of force in the area and the British commander at Hillah sent
a small column.
known as the Manchester Column, contained:
35th Scinde Horse – 2 squadrons. 39th Battery Royal Field Artillery - 2 sections. 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment – 3 companies. 1/32nd Sikh Pioneers – 1 company. 24th Combined Field Ambulance – 1 section.
commander was Brevet-Lieutenant Colonel R.N. Hardcastle DSO, The Manchester
Regiment. The column burdened itself
unnecessarily with 150 transport carts carrying tentage, stores for messes and
personal kits, but despite the high summer temperature no extra water above the
normal scale was carried.
Hillah Lieutenant Colonel Hardcastle had been led to believe that he was the
advance guard of a larger force that would follow his column, and he was
instructed: “If opposed by large hostile forces, you will avoid becoming so
involved as to necessitate reinforcements, and should occasion arise you will
fall back on the position you now occupy.”
On the second
day of the march, the 24th July, the column reached the Rustumiya Canal at 1235 hours. The heat was causing problems and 60% of the
Manchester Regiment soldiers were so exhausted that the Medical Officer
recommended a 24-hour rest period. A
cavalry troop reconnoitred towards Kifl whilst the troops made camp. The camp site was tactically sound with earth
banks bordering three sides. An observation
post was placed on a line of mounds that ran outside the west side of the
At 1745 hours
when trench-digging on the open north side of the camp had just begun, the
cavalry troop returned to report that 10,000 insurgents were advancing from
Kifl. A few minutes later the figure of
insurgents was decreased to 500 or so, but in fact around 3,000 were
approaching the camp. As the enemy came
in sight the artillery was ordered to engage them, but the artillery signallers
were elsewhere tapping the telegraph line to Hillah and some time elapsed
before the guns opened fire.
advanced at some points up to 150 yards (137 metres) from the camp and fire was
exchanged. The two Political Officers
with the column now approached Lieutenant Colonel Hardcastle and advised him
that if the column remained where it was then all the Arabs between the camp
site and Hillah would join the insurrection the next day, whilst others would
attack and capture Hillah. Lieutenant
Colonel Hardcastle called for all the company, battery and squadron commanders. He did not present them with a set of orders but
instead he held a Council of War, where everyone could comment on the
situation. The Political Officers urged
an immediate retreat, and this was agreed, orders being issued 30 minutes
later. The Arab enemy watched and
One company of
the Manchesters acted as advanced guard whilst the other two companies marched
on the flanks. The mass of transport
followed the first company, then came the guns escorted by the Sikh Pioneers,
and finally the two squadrons of Scinde Horse acted as rearguard. The column headed towards Hilla, and what
happened on the march is best told through the gallantry citations that were
At 2040 hours
the retreat started. Very soon the
transport stampeded, charging through the Manchesters and splitting them up
into small groups. Out of the darkness
swarmed mounted Arabs who cut down many transport animals and their
drivers. Chaos ensued, some men ran but
some stood and fought. One of the heroes
was Captain George Stuart Henderson DSO, MC & Bar, 2nd Bn
Manchester Regiment. The citation for
his posthumously awarded Victoria Cross read:
Shortly after the company under his command was
ordered to retire near Hillah, Mesopotamia, a
large party of Arabs opened fire from the flanks causing the company to split
up and waver. He at once led a charge
which drove the enemy off. He led two
further bayonet charges, during the second of which he fell wounded but
struggled on until he was wounded again.
‘I’m done now. Don’t let them
beat you!’ he said to an NCO. He died
Battery’s guns now came into action at close
quarters and one 18-pounder gun was lost in a canal. Captain R.R. Copeland DSO MC was seen
fighting a lone hand-to-hand action at the rear of a lorry until his revolver
ammunition was expended and he was cut down.
Lieutenant Bernard Lorenzo de Robeck MC earned a Bar to his Military
the withdrawal of a column to Hillah the rearguard was cut off by Arabs. He
repeatedly brought his guns into action, and by judicious control of fire drove
off the enemy, and thus enabled the column to advance unmolested. He set a
magnificent example of courage and initiative.
Lieutenant Neufville Crosse MC, Royal
Field Artillery, was also awarded a Bar to his Military Cross:
a rearguard action at night, when the infantry and cavalry were cut off from
the rest of the column by Arabs, he repeatedly brought his section into action
and drove off the enemy, who were attacking in superior numbers. When five of
his men were wounded he acted as one of the detachment, and thus enabled the
gun to remain in action. Throughout the operations he showed the greatest
U.A.V. Deering DCM of the Battery gained a Bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal:
a withdrawal at night, he handled his gun with great courage, the enemy being
only fifty yards away. Though wounded he superintended the withdrawal of his
gun, three of the six horses of his team being killed, and then walked all the
way in, so that other wounded might ride.
E.H. Hinxman of the Battery gained a
Distinguished Conduct Medal:
During a rearguard action at night, his sub-section
was sent up to the front. Although under close rifle fire he succeeded in
getting his gun into action, and it was due to his courage and determination
that this gun was able to support the column.
Above: Tel Afar where two LAMB crews were killed.
18535 Naik Kaka
Khan was responsible for a team of horses for one of the ammunition
wagons. He was posthumously awarded an
Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class:
When the gun of his sub-section had limbered up and
was about to move off to follow the column, this Naik, as coverer of one of the
ammunition wagon teams, took his team up to get the waggon away from the
position which was under heavy fire. He,
the three team drivers and all six horses of the team were killed in attempting
to do this. He set a magnificent example
of devotion to duty to all ranks.
acts by some officers and by the firepower of the guns and the charges of the
cavalry a measure of order was restored.
The Commander-in-Chief later wrote:
‘The officers of the 39th Battery and those of the cavalry behaved like heroes and
it is thanks to their fine example and the discipline of those under their
command that a complete disaster was averted.’
like this containing the situation Non Commissioned Officers could perform
their necessary duties. 6669 Sergeant J.
Willis, 2nd Bn The Manchester Regiment earned a Distinguished
a rearguard action at night he organised ammunition carrying parties, which he
led under heavy fire. On one occasion a small party covering the right flank
ran short of ammunition. In spite of the enemy being only thirty yards away,
and the ground being swept with bullets, he and two men twice took up
ammunition and a Lewis gun. He inspired all by his courage.
79540 Corporal (Lance Sergeant) R.
Fairhurst, 2nd Bn The Manchester Regiment earned a Military Medal:
was greatly due to this non-commissioned officer that a regimental section of the
transport column did not break away when charged by a stampede of cavalry and
other horses. He rode up and down the line under heavy fire, urging the drivers
to keep their places, and brought back several animals which broke away. He was
knocked off his horse by the stampede, but remounted and continued to carry out
his duties in a very gallant manner, successfully bringing in the majority of
8904 Privates W. Boyd and 6195 E. Peverley, 2nd Bn The Manchester Regiment,
were awarded Military Medals with similar citations:
a party of men was endeavouring to cover the right flank of the column in order
to enable the transport to retire, they were heavily attacked by the enemy, who
got as close as thirty yards. The party ran short of ammunition, and had a
Lewis gun out of action. This man went with an N.C.O. on two occasions and
brought up a Lewis gun, ammunition and magazines over ground swept with
bullets, displaying great coolness and courage. His action enabled the position
to be maintained long enough for the transport to get through.
Meanwhile the two cavalry squadrons under
the command of Major H.E. Connop were fighting fiercely in their rearguard
action. Lieutenant James Hay Graham
Knox, attached to 35th Scinde Horse, won a Military Cross:
commanded a squadron which was acting as rearguard to a column withdrawing at
night, and, by his skilful dispositions, kept the enemy in check. Whilst
leading his men he was wounded, but quickly rallied the squadron and repeatedly
charged the enemy, thus enabling the rearguard to fall back.
2nd Lieutenant William Eric
Dixon Robinson, 35th Scinde Horse, also gained a Military Cross:
skilful handling of his Vickers gun and by judicious control of fire, he
prevented a very determined attempt to break through the line. His courage and
initiative were a splendid example to his squadron. It was mainly due to his bold leadership and
coolness in action that the enemy were driven back.
Ressaidar Dur Khan, 35th
Scinde Horse, was awarded an Indian Order of Merit, 1st Class:
a rear guard action at night he led his troop with ability and courage. When both squadron officers were wounded he
took command and led three successive charges against the enemy. His bravery and initiative throughout the operations
were most marked.
18353 Jemadar Muhammad Niaz, 35th
Scinde Horse, and 24126 Driver Surej Bhan, 39th Battery Royal Field
Artillery attached to 35th Scinde Horse, were both awarded Indian
Distinguished Service Medals for gallantry displayed during the night.
Due to the disorder generally prevailing
on the battlefield a portion of the Manchesters lost its way in the darkness
and fell into the hands of the Arabs.
Some were killed immediately whilst others were taken prisoner, to be
later killed or released depending on the whims of their captors. But the main body carried on retreating in an
organised manner. Some Private soldiers
accepted the challenges of command and responsibility during that dark and
dangerous night. 90041 Private D.
Collins and 89375 Private F. Cooper, both 2nd Bn The Manchester
Regiment, were awarded Military Medals with the same citation:
two men showed great bravery and devotion to duty. Under heavy fire from three
sides, they continued to load their mules and carry guns and ammunition to
their Company. Private Cooper's mule was
eventually killed, and he joined a party of transport men who were protecting
and defending the right flank of the transport in their retirement.
But the Arab insurgents could not resist
the thought of the loot waiting in the abandoned transport carts and waggons,
and the discarded rifles lying on the ground, and they now concentrated their
efforts on acquiring as much booty as they could carry away. This allowed the battered survivors of the
Manchester Column to withdraw the last nine miles (14.5 kilometres) into Hillah
without serious interference. The gun in
the canal was recovered by the insurgents.
The breech-block had been removed but an Arab blacksmith forged a rough
replacement and the gun was later used to sink the British vessel Firefly on the Euphrates River.
The immediate British casualty count was
20 men killed, 60 men wounded and 318 missing.
Only 79 British and 81 Indian missing soldiers were later released by
the Arabs (and some of these had been captured previously), so the count of men
dead was in fact over 180. The 1/32nd
Sikh Pioneers lost 30 men killed; being non-Muslim they stood little chance of
survival if captured. The Manchester
Regiment lost 3 officers and 131 NCOs and men killed; it is believed that
around 100 prisoners from the Manchester Regiment were taken to Najaf and
The insurgents had won a great
victory. The British, through ignorance
of the land, its inhabitants and the effects of the climate, paid the price for
breaking many rules of warfare that had been learned the hard way on the Indian
North West Frontier.
Fierce fighting continued in Mesopotamia until the insurgency began to run out of
steam towards the end of the year.
British reinforcements arrived from India allowing harsh punitive
measures to be applied against dissident tribes. The last action took place in February
1921. After a very shaky start Britain had finally enforced its authority over the
Mesopotamian tribes living near the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.
to the General Service Medal A clasp titled IRAQ
was issued to the General Service Medal (1918 – 1962) to those present on the
strength of an establishment within the Boundaries of Iraq, between 1st
July and 17th
To cover certain previous actions
entitlement to the clasp included those who served at Ramadi, or north of a
line east and west through Ramadi, between 10th December 1919 and 13th June 1920. This included the Tel Afar incident.
the British Army commanders in the recent invasion of Iraq appeared unfamiliar with the
1920 campaign. If those commanders had
disseminated the lessons of that campaign to their subordinates, then perhaps
more understanding of the situation would have been apparent, resulting in less
British body bags being transported to the rear and in less suffering being
inflicted on the local population. Such
a study would have been a fitting tribute to the British soldiers and their
adversaries who fought and died in the country in 1920.