from 'the War Illustrated' 5th August, 1916
told by the Rank and File. a New Series
'With the Highland Brigade
in Mesopotamia'
by Private John Haig


Fighting in the Middle-East

a coverpage and an inside page from 'the War Illustrated'


We’d been in France wherever the fighting was thickest, right from the start of the war, being sent home from India with the first draft. And we had been in anything that was of any importance - Mons, Ypres, Neuve Chappelle and Festubert. So when they said there was big fighting to do in Arabia, they selected us and we went out there determined to do big things.

Our Luck Started When we Left Malta.

We belonged to a big convoy that was going to Salonika, and when it came to the parting of our was we steamed right through the two lines o ships. They gave us rousing cheers that did us g6od to hear, and then we lost sight of them, and heard nothing more till we got to Alexandria, and then they told us a troopship .had been lost out of the convoy.

We had understood that we were going to land at Alexandria, and were all ready to do so. Our baggage was on the upper deck of the transport, but when we arrived we got orders to proceed to try to relieve General Townshend at Kut.

Port Said was our next port of call, and here we coaled ship. H.M.S. - with several destroyers and monitors was lying here for the defence of the Suez Canal. They, too, cheered us in a chummy fashion as we cleared the Canal and steamed along on our way. At Aden we stayed long enough to fill all our tanks with water ; and at last on Christmas Day we reached the mouth of the Tigris.

Christmas Day in the Old World

We had a glorious Christmas dinner : corned beef, with no potatoes and dried biscuits, washed down with a tot of rum. In the evening just about the time folks at home were pulling crackers and sitting round the nice bright fires telling tall stories and enjoying themselves - we humped all our baggage to a second transport, and started off up the river to Basra.

Here the Scafortis disembarked and proceeded in flat-bottomed barges, while we of the Black Watch went on shore to the old Turkish barracks - what a smell they had to be sure ! Where we stayed till the last day of the year, when our main battalion arrived in still another transport.

Hogmanay - New Year's Day - which is always a Scotch festival, we’ve kept tip in fine style, singing all the songs we could think of as we plugged along the Tigris in flat-bottomed barges. They hadn't given the main battalion a single day's rest ; they'd just chucked 'em from the transport to the barges, and sent 'em along with us up the river.

We landed next morning. at Kurna, where the Garden of Eden is supposed to be, with a “forbidden fruit" tree as old as Adam and Eve. We didn't get any chance of tasting it, for we were bound for Amara, and after a short spell on the shore we pushed on again. When we reached Amara we did some field work on the sand, just to show that we hadn't forgotten the way to attack.

And didn't it rain ! Drops as big as shrapnel bullets fell all around us, and snaked us through and through in less than ten minutes. It was fun seeing us double across that sand, where there wasn't a bit of shelter; and I couldn't help thinking about Neuve Chapelle, where the lead was coming over us every bit as thick as the rain, and the Black Watch advanced through it all as steady as on parade. They didn't mind lead and bullets a bit, but they cursed that rain something shocking !

Back to the barges; up the river in the rain to Allegarbi, where we got out all our gear and prepared to start out the next morning. It was here that I first made the acquaintance of a bed on the sand., It's just about the worst bed you can have. As you lie there, your hip-bone seems to be on concrete, and when you turn over the sand seems to shove out hard ridges, and nearly breaks your back. We got a tot of rum just before we made camp, but there wasn’t a wink of sleep the whole night through for any of us.

Blistering Heat in the Desert

We were glad when morning came, and the sun shot up in a hurry, as it always does out there. And we were in for a grilling, I can tell you. At eight o'clock we got orders to break camp and start off. I've done some marching in my time out in India and France and at home - but never anything like that. It was hot. It seemed as if the sun had made a bet to scorch us up. There were a lot of new chaps with the Black Watch, lads who'd recently joined and they couldn't stick it. Every now and then one would fall out and rest, done right up with the heat. We were fully loaded - packs, rifles, pouches and bandoliers full of ammunition, water bottles and haversacks full, and our blankets on our shoulders. The. very rifle barrels got hot, and if you touched them with your bare hands they. raised a blister, while the water in our bottles was lukewarm.

When we halted at four in the afternoon we were just about all out. We lit fires and made tea, but nobody wanted anything to eat ; a tot of rum was just about as much as we could manage to dispose of. We simply lay down on the sand and pulled our blankets over our faces to keep the flies off, and as soon as the sun went down and it got a bit cool the rain started coming down again in bucketfuls. But we were too fed up and too tired to move ; we simply lay there and soaked through, blankets and all.

Black Watch Goes Forward

At seven we crawled out, broke camp, and started off again, and at ten our advance guard came under the enemy's artillery fire. It seemed really funny to hear the guns in this strange land ; everything seemed at least a thousand years old and if the enemy had been armed with bows and arrows we shouldn't have been a bit surprised.

There's one thing about the Turks, they're good clean fighters. If they see a man down they won't fire at him, and any wounded who come into their hands they'll bind up and leave for the stretcher parties to find.

We were told that the Turks were retiring, that the Seaforths had got 'em on the run; so we halted again and gave the Scaforths a yell of encouragement, though of course they wore too far away to hear us.

Our colonel was well out in front on his horse, and as we lay there in the broiling sun he came back, his charger all in a lather.

"Fall in, Black Watch,” he yelled out.

"You're wanted up there! There's plenty of work to be done this day - and you're just the boys to do it ! "

The cheer we gave then. simply tore the air. We were all anxious to get a slap at the Turk. We didn't need any coaxing, I can tell you. We were going in support of the Seaforth Highlanders,. but we got word that the enemy's right flank was retiring, so we spread out in extended order on the left of the line with a whole flank opposing us. We had no supports behind us, and the fire was deadly, and no mistake.

One young lad, just fresh out from home, got a bullet through the ankle, and yelled shockingly. Our corporal, trying to put some heart into him, pulled his leg, and put a bandage round his knee. But the lad couldn’t see the joke. "Where's the nearest dressing-station ?' he said, and when we pointed it out to him he started off on his own, limping as fast as he could go. Another bullet caught him and he fell down and the corporal who'd been having a joke with him jumped out of the trench and picked him up. He carried him through the rain of bullets and the hell of shell fire to the station and then came back through it all without a scratch, as cool as you please. We gave him a cheer that meant more than a dozen Victoria Crosses to him. .

9th Lancers Scatter Arabs

Just then the Arabs tried to rush round our flank, but the 9th Lancers, a native Indian regiment - met them and gave 'em pepper, red and raw. They beat 'em. back time and time again. It was a glorious sight - the horses crashing against each other, the lances and the swords flashing, and then the white garments of the Arabs streaming out as they flew back on their horses.

I'm only telling the cold truth when I say that the ground was dyed crimson. Shrapnel shells and bullets were making the air black; one shell burst in front of me, and I got a smack with a piece of hard earth that knocked me down. Up I got, and was advancing again when a bullet plugged me in the thigh. I got out my field-dressing and tied it up, and tried to crawl on, but my leg seemed to freeze and was a dead weight. So I took off my pack, and used it as head cover for myself.

I lay there a full two hours, till the firing died down and then using my rifle as a walking-stick, started off back to the dressing-station. I reached it at four in the morning, completely exhausted, and when I got there I found over half the battalion there as well. There was nobody to attend to us, and we had to do what we could for each other. It was pitiful, and we cried like school kids who've lost their mothers. Lads were dying off all round like flies and we said some hard things about the hospital people, I can tell you.

The unwounded troops collected us next morning and packed us in the barges and sent us down river, where we were transferred to the hospital ship Varella. We reached Bombay on January 22nd just seventeen months after we’d left India to go to the Front - and I left for Blighty on April 14th.


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