Private Thomas Knight
Territorial Number 2953
TF 266241
1st/6th Battalion Devonshire Regiment, ‘C’ Company, 13th (Western) Division, 36th Infantry Brigade

Died 08.03.16  aged 32
(missing, assumed dead)

      Thomas Knight was born 1883, the son of John Knight an agricultural labourer from Iddesleigh who had married Louisa Brook of Winkleigh.  Although born in Broadwoodkelly (Nethercott) Thomas had a strong link with Winkleigh; his mother Louisa was born into a Winkleigh family.  Thus it would not have been strange for him when his parents came to live in Penson Cottage near Hollocombe sometime between 1893 and 1896, where in the 1901 census Thomas is recorded living at home and working as a farm labourer.  Thomas was twice married.  In March 1902 at only 19 years old he married Ellen Lee.  Nine years older than Thomas, her family came from North Tawton and we know from the 1901 census records that Ellen was working in North Tawton as a general servant to a seed merchant.  Thomas and Ellen set up home together in Hatherleigh, their first son James, was born about 1903 in Hatherleigh.  A second son, Thomas Henry was born on 2nd February 1905 in Winkleigh.  But now very sadly tragedy had struck: Ellen died in 1905, almost certainly in childbirth, and Thomas was left a widower with two children to care for, two year old James and the new baby.  He was certainly helped out in this very difficult situation by his parents, John and Louisa, who in the 1911 census were recorded as living in Winkleigh at East Coulson with Thomas’ grandfather, John Knight, and four of their children, Louisa (22), Alice (18), Beatrice (15) and Henry (10), besides caring for their grandson, little Tom Knight now aged 6.

      More happily to report, Thomas married again in 1910 to Emily Ellacott, born to a Hatherleigh family about 1884 and now 26 years old, about the same age as Thomas.  Their first son, George, was born in 1911.  A second child, Harold was born around 1914, but by this time the family had apparently moved, according to the 1911 census, to Pattyland, at Broadwoodkelly.  Thus, on the outbreak of war in August 1914, it is likely that Thomas and Emily’s family consisted of his wife Emily, James aged 11, Thomas (Tom) aged 9 (probably still with his grandparents), George aged 3 and the new-born Harold.  Thomas was to leave them all to be posted first to India and then eventually to be killed in Mesopotamia in March 1916.  There is a story that was passed on to us by Monica Cowell of Hollacombe, who also very kindly donated the photo of Thomas Knight to theae pages, that as Thomas Knight was leaving home to go to India following his embarkation leave, and while waiting for the train at Eggesford station to take him to Barnstaple, he gave his little son Tom a 2/6d piece, and said to him : ‘I might never see you again, my boy.’

      Thomas Knight’s original army number, 2953, shows us that he had enlisted in the Territorial Army, the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, based in Barnstaple.  However, in the casualty lists of the Devonshire Regiment, listed in Colonel Atkinson’s monumental history of the Regiment in the First World War, Private Thomas Knight is recorded as having enlisted in Barnstaple, but with ‘Exeter’ recorded as well in brackets.  This might mean that he had not served as a Territorial before the war but on the outbreak of hostilities have rushed to join in the first few days’ enthusiastic response.  Preferring to join many of his friends who were already in the 6th Devons rather than enlist in a New Army battalion, or thinking perhaps that at the time the Territorials were (for a while at least) needed only for Home Defence, he must have also been aware that many of his Winkleigh pals were hoping that they could get to France as soon as possible alongside the Regulars.  If he had indeed rushed to Exeter then he could have chosen there to enlist in the 6th Devons (provided the limited places were still available) in which case his name would have been passed on to the Battalion depot at Barnstaple.  Thomas’s name is not recorded in the Chumleigh Deanery Magazine’s early record of those who left to enlist or serve in the opening weeks of the war, but this might have been because the family, living in Broadwoodkelly, did not attend the Winkleigh Church.

      Further evidence that immediately on the outbreak of war the Territorial battalions, including the 6th Devons, were rapidly expanded, can be found in the pages of Col. Atkinson.  Actually in camp on Woodbury Down as war broke out, the Battalion numbered 22 officers and about 700 men, but within two months, when the 6th embarked for India on October 9th, numbers of recruits had increased to bring the battalion up to 28 officers and 803 men, and this in spite of many in the 6th who were either in no condition to leave England, or did not wish to volunteer to go overseas and who had to be ‘replaced’ by new recruits.  Thomas Knight’s army number, 2953, certainly confirms a later arrival.  Private Frederick William Davey, for example who also served together with his brothers in the 6th Devons, and who had been a pre-war territorial, had a much lower number, 1868.  Similarly, Frank Turner, another 6th Devon man who had also served pre-war, had the number 1757. Privates Stapleton and Vanstone, also pre-war members of the 6th, had similarly low numbers.

      Presumably then, Thomas Knight arrived for his basic training with the battalion encamped on Salisbury Plain, to which the 6th had moved on 9th August.  It very soon became apparent that in spite of the fact that the Battalion could be classed as no more than only very partially trained, they were going to be asked to volunteer for overseas service.  This was certainly not what the Territorials had been enlisted for, having been repeatedly assured they would only be required for home-service.  In fact, the vast majority were eager to go and if they had not been given the opportunity many would undoubtedly transferred to the regular of New Army battalions, thus ruining a fine and established Territorial battalion.  By mid-August the change had been made, and the vast majority of the 6th stepped forward to volunteer to a man, though quite a number failed to pass the required medical tests.  Those who did not, or could not, volunteer returned to Barnstaple to form a second line nucleus, the 2nd/6th Devons.  On September 15th the 6th were told they were going to France, but to their huge disappointment the order was cancelled: together with the 4th and 5th Territorial Battalions they were instead destined for India, to ‘replace’ the 2nd regular Battalion, on their way back to land in France.  They were ‘consoled’ by a special telegram from the King which stated that in taking on this duty the 6th Battalion was ‘helping him and the kingdom as much as if they had gone straight to the front’.  The King himself inspected the Wessex Division on 28th September, following an earlier inspection by Lord Kitchener.  The whole Division then was sent on embarkation leave before embarking at Southampton on 9th October, the 6th Battalion on the troop-ship ‘Galeka’, one of ten transports in the convoy, escorted by two British cruisers as far as Gibraltar.  The French navy then took over for the next stage of the journey to Suez where the Division was detained for some days owing to the outbreak of war with Turkey (see the special topic on this subject attached to this account).  Passing Aden, and learning of the sinking of the German cruiser ‘Emden’, the ‘Galeka’ and the ‘Nevasav (transporting the 4th and 5th Devons) then made their way unescorted to Karachi.  On disembarking, the 6th Devons made their way to Lahore, where they stayed until December 17th 1915 when orders were received to mobilize for Mesopotamia.

      The whole journey out must have been a hugely exciting adventure for the battalion, some compensation in fact for their change of posting.  A series of exciting adventures and experiences, albeit in exhausting conditions now awaited these Winkleigh men whose lives hitherto had been confined to a tiny area around the Winkleigh district and for whom, in the old days, a visit even to Exeter or a summer day’s outing to Ilfracome or Wollacombe would have seemed a real treat.  Many indeed had joined the Territorial in order to secure a paid two-week summer ‘holiday’ with plenty of sport on Woodbury Down, but here was the astonishing world of India with its colour, heat, smells and sights suddenly in their grasp.  All this was to change, of course, when the reality of service in an Indian summer and an exhausting training schedule became apparent, but at the start at least many would have found their war hugely enjoyable.

      The 6th Battalion of the Devons was one of the finest Territorial battalions in the British army, proven beyond doubt by their year of service in India.  Together with the 4th and 5th Battalions, their role was to act as ‘Internal Security’ troops, at a time of unrest when the situation in India was becoming more dangerous for the occupying colonial power.  At the same time, rigorous training programmes had to bring these as yet only half-trained troops up to the level of those serving in the regular army.  Officers, N.C.O.s and men were sent on a variety of courses - signalling courses at Kasauli, machine-gun courses at Kota Gheri and musketry courses at Rawal Pindi.  Everyone trained to take the so-called ‘Kitchener Test’ in March 1915 - devised originally for the New Army battalions, a thorough examination of fitness in all branches of field-service.  In particular, the 6th Battalion had to find two companies to garrison Amritsar and a further detachment to garrison the Lahore Fort.  The remainder of the Battalion were stationed in the so-called ‘Lahore Cantonment’, renamed from its original name ‘Milan Mir Barracks’ because of its reputation for malaria.  On March 1st 1915 the Battalion was inspected by Sir John Nixon, G.O.C. Northern Army (later to take command of the British operations in Mesopotamia) who complimented the Battalion on its physique and discipline, after which, in very hot weather the Battalion proceeded to take the Kitchener Test.  Among other things this included a forced march of 15 miles in full equipment, followed immediately by a mock-attack using live ammunition.  Not a man fell out, and the 6th Battalion’s results headed the list of all the Territorial battalions in the Punjab.

      The Punjab was in a state of continuous unrest around Lahore and Amritsar: in March 1915 a rising was imminent at Rawal Pindi, but was contained in time.  However, up to 500 men had to be kept back at any one time from moving up into the hills, an otherwise normal procedure in India to avoid the summer heat, meaning a great trial for those that had to endure an exhausting and boring life in Lahore.  The war-diary makes references not only to Lahore as a ‘hot-bed of sedition’ but also to the ever-present dangers of heat-stroke, malaria and dysentery.  The 6th Battalion held together well, health remained good and only 12 cases of venereal disease were reported.  The great hope was for active service, best of all for service in France.  As a result, when 29 men were called for in May to volunteer to join the Dorsets (with the rumour that they were on their way back to Europe) practically the whole battalion stepped forward.  Two Winkleigh men, in fact, were selected, Privates Frederick William Davey and Frank Turner, but it was not to France but to Mesopotamia that they were sent, destined to die in horrible circumstances as prisoners of the Turks after enduring the siege of Kut (see attached account).  Private Thomas Knight was not selected to go.  Instead he was eventually to be killed in one of the final attempts to raise the siege and recue his old friends.

      At the end of a very trying year, in December 1915, the Viceroy himself visited Lahore for the celebration of the Indian Officers’ Durbar, the 6th Battalion providing a splendid Guard of Honour: Colonel Radcliffe was congratulated on the finest performance ever witnessed by the Viceroy, and with this commendation ringing in their ears, the Battalion was warned off on December 17th for transfer to Mesopotamia.  With just time to celebrate an early Christmas, (the Battalion was actually relieved by the 1st/5th Devons on Christmas Day), the Battalion moved down to Karachi and embarked for Basra on 30th. Little did those eager, fit and well-trained men realise the hell that awaited them.  It is a sad reflection on the attitude of Kitchener to service in India and Mesopotamia, regarded then as a ‘sideshow’, and in spite of the King’s encouraging telegram to the Battalion before their departure, that the 1915 Star Medal (for all those who had volunteered and saw service in France, Belgium and Gallipoli 1914-1915) was not awarded either to those who served in India or who had already seen action in Mesopotamia.  The war-diary reports that when this decision was announced to the battalion, there was great disappointment and protests were made to re-consider the situation, but to no avail.

      The Battalion was extremely under-equipped for any kind of operational service, and what was available had to be packed in a great hurry.  Almost all basic necessities for military operations were lacking - great-coats, water-proof capes, field-dressings, binoculars and so on, and the expectation was that all this equipment would be issued in Basra.  It was not to be.  On Christmas Day 722 men were on strength.  127 of these had to be left behind sick or suffering from bad teeth - the result of an unusually hot summer in ‘The Plains’.  Eventually, including drafts from 1st/4th and 1st/5th battalions, 32 officers and 642 other ranks embarked on the transport ‘Elephanta’, together with the entire Headquarters of 36th Brigade (the Devons and three Indian Punjabi battalions under Brigadier General Christian).  Basra was reached on January 3rd, in the expectation that river transport awaited them to travel up the Tigris to Kurna and then on to Amara and the forward base at Sheik Saad.  Instead, chaos and mismanagement were soon apparent.  First, there was a seven day delay as the men sweated in their cramped camp conditions, before it was announced that no river transport was available and the Battalion would have to march all the way, a distance of 220 miles.  On 10th January the long forced march up country began.

      In order to appreciate why the 36th Brigade was posted to Basra in the first place, additional information available in the Related Topic ‘Kut-el-Amara’ which outlines the situation in early January 1916.  Reaching Qurna where there had been heavy fighting on 4th-8th December, the battalion continued through Amara and Sheik-Saad (see maps attached to this page), eventually reaching Orah on the left-bank of the Tigris some 30 miles from Kut.  The war-diary tells us that all the discomforts and difficulties experienced on the march were ‘cheerfully borne by the men of 6th Devons, because they hoped to be able to relieve their comrades at Kut’.

      Quite what those difficulties were is best recorded by quoting from Atkinson’s ‘Devonshire Regiment in the Great War’ P. 118-119.

    The only transport available was native boats called mahailas, on which rations were carried.  These were dependent on the wind, and often, when the day’s march was over, the battalion found itself without rations, owing to the wind having dropped and left the mahailas far behind and unable to make any headway against the current.  Mules had to go back for the rations, but it was usually midnight before the men got their food.  This was the greater hardship because, while the nights were bitterly cold with sharp frosts, the river was in flood and well over the banks.  The troops had often to wade through the water waist-deep, to encamp on soaking ground and wrap themselves in sodden blankets, for when it stopped raining the mules, who carried the blankets, often indulged in a roll in the water.  The marching was most difficult, the mud being tenacious enough to draw the soles off the men’s boots.  It was a strenuous and uncomfortable experience and the marvel was that the sick rate was no higher; while the men’s cheerfulness was astonishing, they were always singing and joking and, as one officer writes, ‘the deeper the water, the more they would joke and quack like ducks’.

      Atkinson could have added that during the march the men were put on half-rations (a tin of bully-beef and two biscuits a day) with an occasional tin of Australian jam.  For water, they drank from the filthy and polluted water of the Tigris, with no prospect of boiling or purification.  It is not surprising that by the time the Battalion reached Orah, many were sick, mainly with dysentery and pneumonia.  There was no way of making a fire and the men slept in the open mud all night.  Furthermore, the battalion was still dressed in thin Indian drill uniform (see attached photos of the march) although the weather was now bitterly cold and wet - apparently the military authorities in India, under General Nixon, had decided that Mesopotamia was a ‘hot’ country.  We even know from Col. Olerton’s little pamphlet on the Dujailah battle, which he published in 1948, of the songs they sang, ‘The Farmer’s Boy’, ‘One Man went to mow’, or ‘Widdicombe Fair’, led by Sgt George, a magnificent Barritone, who together with the mouth-organ section played the men into ‘camp’ each night with the Regimental march ‘We lived and loved together’, better known as ‘Over the Swedes and Turnips’.  The march continued in this way for four weeks, reaching Qurna on 14th January (the traditional site of the Garden of Eden now with its alleyways renamed ‘Rib Road’, ‘Eve’s Walk’, ‘Serpent’s Alley’ etc.) up to Sheikh Saad by 5th February, an advanced base of several thousand troops under canvas.  This was the site where the 7th Division had dislodged the Turks on January 7th with 4000 resulting casualties, many of whom were simply left to die in the mud, their bodies now swollen and naked, butchered, stripped and mutilated by the Arabs.  The Devons saw it all.  They saw, too, the results of the battles of the Wadi,13th January, and El Hannah (by El Orah) on 21st January.  Both were equally ghastly.  Battles were being fought without any medical assistance for the wounded: boatloads of injured, sick and dying men were going down the Tigris huddled on bare decks, without covering or shelter from the sleet and rain, with few doctors, no lint, bandages, gauze dressings or splints.  Unchanged field dressings would be up to 8 days old, maggots in the wounds, the men covered in sores, many with gangrene, utterly filthy, cold, hungry and desperately thirsty.  The Government of India was totally responsible for the chaos, a few days’ voyage away, where supplies abounded.

      The advance having been checked at Umm el Hannah on January 21st, the front line troops were in trenches astride the Tigris, just below the el Hannah position, sapping up towards the Turkish trenches on the left bank.  On the right bank further advance was impossible, protected as it was by the Suwaicha Marsh.  The battalion finally reached the advanced positions at Orah, on the left bank of the Tigris about 30 miles from Kut, on February 6th, where they joined the few remnants of the 3rd (Lahore) Division and the 7th (Meerut) Division under the command of General Aylmer, making a total force of some 23,000 fighting men.  From February 8th to March 6th the war-diary reported that the battalion took its share in the trenches and outpost work, engaged also in road-making, wood-cutting and other fatigues, finally moving into the front trenches at Senna, which they found flooded in a foot of water, and occasionally harassed by hostile aeroplanes.  The battle in which Knight was to lose his life was now about to begin.  At 6.0 pm on March 7th, 36 officers and 814 other ranks paraded in battle order, each man carrying two days’ rations and 150 rounds of ammunition, prepared to attack the Es Sinn position and the Dujailah Redoubt following a night march of 15 miles across the desert.

      The attached map shows the layout of the battle.  The Es Sinn position and the Dujailah Redoubt blocked the last barriers on the right bank of the Tigris to the relief of Kut, but the Turks felt sure that these positions were safe and could never be attacked.  The plan therefore depended on achieving complete surprise.  A successful night march would enable the troops to be in position as dawn was breaking to launch the attack, break through, mop up the last resistance from the rear and compel the Turks to abandon their positions on the left bank, thus opening the road to Kut, which in the opening stage of the battle could be clearly seen by the Devons through the haze, a mere 15 miles away.  The plan was brilliant and original, and astonishingly for the army of those days, with nothing more than the compass and inaccurate maps to guide them, the night march was achieved with almost total success.

      The war-diary of the 6th Battalion (see the attached transcript) is of course an invaluable source for knowing what happened next, with the whole operation described also in Atkinson’s history and the Col. Oerton pamphlet (see the complete paphlet on the right) that was kindly given to us from the Barnstable archive, including photos of the Devons on their march up from Basra to Orah.  Over 20,000 men comprising 3rd Division and the 28th, 35th and 36th Brigades of the 7th Division, set off on the 10 mile night march, with transport, guns and ambulance carts, in total silence and undetected by Turkish patrols or sentries, avoiding too the Arabs who would have raised the alarm.  Moving 4 miles forward from the Senneh trench lines, the columns assembled at ‘The Pools of Siloam’ by 8.00 pm, and waited there for complete darkness before moving a further 7 miles to reach their allotted positions for the attack.  Commanded overall by General Aylmer, the force had been divided into three columns, the 7th Division Brigades under General Kemball forming the 36th Brigade in ‘A’ with the 9th and 37th Brigades in ‘B’, and the 3rd Division column ‘C’ under General Keary.  The whole infantry force was supported by a cavalry brigade, which as it turned out proved totally useless in the battle, missing a great opportunity to harass the arrival of Turkish reinforcements. Separating, ‘A’ and ‘B’ made for the Dujailah Depression south of the redoubt, ‘C’ for a point between the Dujaila Redoubt and the Sinn Aftar Redoubt to the north of it, (see the attached map of the Dujailah battle area).

      A surprise attack was now vital for success, in spite of the tiring night march of 12 hours with limited water and rations, the men weighed down with heavy packs and extra ammunition.  The Turkish trenches lay virtually empty for the taking, soldiers standing on the parapet shaking out their blankets and eating breakfast, oblivious of what was happening.  The three Brigades had arrived about one and a half hours behind schedule, but there was nothing to stop the 3rd Division moving forward and taking the Redoubts and trenches virtually without loss.  The 36th Brigade, in fact, was actually in the rear of the Turks, as was the cavalry brigade.  This is not what Generals Kemball and Keary had expected and General Aylmer, himself in the front area with the 3rd Division, was unwilling to change the plan which provided for artillery support before the attack.  While the men waited and fumed at the delay, Kemball’s guns leisurely proceeded to register at 7 a.m.: the Turks were warned, surprise was gone, Turkish reinforcements were rushed up and the battle in fact was already lost before it began. Patrols, including one British Major dressed as an Arab, had virtually entered the Turkish trenches and reports were sent to Aylmer that the opening was clear.  However, Keary’s 3rd Division had been ordered to wait for Kemball’s Brigades to attack, so here too all chance of taking the Redoubts was lost.  The troops were forced to lie idly by for most of the day before being launched in suicidal attacks on positions that by then were strongly defended by Turks entirely hidden from view.

      At 0715 hrs the 36th Brigade, including the Devons, began the attack on trenches at the shrine Imam Ali Mansur, (as marked on the map).  In spite of enfilade fire from the Sinn trenches, the objective was gained by 11.30 hrs.  Meanwhile, the 37th and the 9th Brigades waited impatiently while the opportunity of occupying empty trenches slipped away.  At 1330 hrs the Devons were then recalled to assist the attack on the Redoubt.  Advancing across ground without a vestige of cover, the Battalion was swept by a devastating rifle and machine-gun fire from the Redoubt, and the slaughter was unbelievable.  Thomas Knight was in C Company.  B and D Companies were in the front line on their arrival, C and A in close support.  In spite of the impossibility of any further progress, and indeed being ordered not to do so, the war diary reports that a suicidal attempt to make a final attack was made by 4 officers and 20 or 30 men in the front line, a hopelessly brave effort to inspire the remaining troops to renew the attack.  Those involved were definitely from the front-line Companies, Captain Stranger (B) being killed and Captain Bazely (D) wounded.  If Thomas Knight was still alive by then, it is most unlikely he would have been involved.  The only possible clue to his time of death is that in the hour or so waiting in the darkness for the stretchers to arrive for carrying the wounded, the battalion was ordered to disperse in order to avoid some of the undirected fire including grenades that were falling among them.  Certainly it was at this time that the Medical Officer was missing assumed killed, and others may have met the same fate.  ‘Missing’ does indicate that death was caused by explosion rather than by a bullet.

      General Keary’s 3rd Division waited until the late afternoon when they were finally ordered forward to be mown down in useless waves of suicide attacks.  No ground had been taken as night fell on a scene of utter devastation.  The 6th had dug in as best they could.  Now was the chance to collect the wounded and attempt to bury the dead.  Officers and men were totally exhausted: they had marched all night and fought through a day of torrid heat, and after 36 hours their water-bottles were empty.  Neither rations nor water was available, and now the Battalion toiled for a second night searching for and carrying their wounded as far back as possible, under constant sniping of rifles, machine-guns and rifle-grenades.  Orders were received to retire before 1.30 a.m. but nothing could be done before 2.15 a.m. when stretchers were procured for the removal of their casualties.  Reaching an assembly point 1,200 yards in the rear, the Battalion was then ordered to escort a convoy of sick and wounded back to camp some 18 or 19 miles across the desert.  The sufferings of the wounded were atrocious, jolted across the desert in springless army-transport carts drawn by mules, tortured beyond endurance, often with heads and limbs forced through the iron slats on which they lay.  Many were dead before camp was reached.

      In two days, General Aylmer’s Corps had lost 3,476 officers and men in a battle that should have been won in the first two hours of daylight.  The consequences of the delays were profound.  The last opportunity to save the garrison in Kut had been thrown away, with the result that the surrender was now inevitable and with it the loss of the entire garrison taken into captivity.  Three of our Winkleigh men perished as a direct result of the tragedy of Dujaila - Thomas Knight had been reported as ‘missing’ in the battle, and Frederick William Davey and Frank Turner, who while still in India had been posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Dorsets and who were at the time both holed up in Kut, ending their days as prisoners of the Turks.

      As the exhausted men struggled back to camp, the full extent of the tragedy became apparent.  24 officers and 550 men of the 6th Battalion had taken part in the attack, including 8 officers and just under 300 men who had joined the battalion from England only two days before, many of whom had recovered from wounds incurred in the 8th and 9th Devons at Loos in September 1915.  8 officers had been killed and 8 wounded, with the Medical Officer reported missing during the night 8th/9th.  22 men had been killed, 141 wounded and 22 were missing.  The proportion of the dead to the wounded is significant: the Turks were firing along the ground from their concealed trenches, so that casualties occurred more in leg than chest injuries.  Having done what they could to decently bury their dead, the Battalion was able to pay their last tribute to them when they returned to the Dujailah Redoubt later in mid-May after Kut had fallen on April 29th.  The people of North Devon also paid their tributes then and continue to do so whenever the 8thMarch, ‘Dujailah Day’, is remembered by the now amalgamated Devonshire and Dorsetshire Regimental Association.  At the time of course the failure of the battle was covered up in newspaper reports that stressed instead ‘the glorious achievements of the heroic Devons’ who won ‘immortal glory’ on the day, thus offering some comfort to grieving widows, parents and sweethearts, who had very little idea of the sufferings endured by the battalion, and certainly no idea whatever of the appalling blunders made by the Generals who recklessly and stupidly threw away so many men’s lives.  Attached to this page is the account of the battle in the ‘Western Morning News’ which gives a good flavour of how the war was reported, even by one who was an eye-witness of those events, and who must have known a great deal more than the censor allowed him to despatch.

      Anxiously awaiting news in Winkleigh, the family had received very little news apart from what was being reported in the newspapers.  Mail services to or from Mesopotamia were very infrequent, and virtually non-existent at the front line.  We have no idea when it would have been reported that Thomas Knight was ‘missing in action’.  If any hopes remained that this meant that he had been taken prisoner or was missing in hospital, these were soon dispelled.  No trace was found of his remains in mid-May when the Dujailah defences were re-occupied, following their abandonment by the Turks.

      Thomas Knight is commemorated on the Basra War Memorial, which commemorates more than 40,500 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the operations in Mesopotamia from the Autumn of 1914 to the end of August 1921 and whose graves are not known.  Photographs of the Memorial are attached to this page.  Until 1997 the Basra Memorial was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, about 8 kilometres north of Basra.  Because of the sensitivity of the site, the Memorial was moved by a presidential decree of Saddam Hussein.  The move involved a considerable amount of manpower, transport costs and engineering on the part of the Iraqis, and the Memorial was re-erected in its entirety.  The Basra Memorial is now located 32 kilometres along the road to Nasiriyah, in the middle of what was a major battleground during the first Gulf War.  Because of the impossibility of visiting the site, the Commonwealth War Graves has made alternative arrangements for the commemoration of both the war-graves and the memorial to the missing in Mesopotamia.  A two volume Roll of Honour listing all casualties buried and commemorated in Iraq has been produced.  These volumes are on display at the Commission’s Head Office in Maidenhead and are available for the public to view.

      As a final thought, we can quote the last paragraph in Col. Oerton’s pamphlet ‘Dujailah Days’.

When I think of my friends and comrades sleeping by the banks of the Tigris from Basra to Dujailah, I feel the fullest meaning of the words ‘greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend’.  There are acres sacred to North Devon in Mesopotamia, hallowed acres to which our thoughts turn with pride as well as sorrow on ‘Dujailah Day’.  Those who lie there, died as they had lived, true to their Regimental motto ‘Ever Faithful’.  On them it can be said, in the words inscribed below their names on our memorial and Roll of Honour in the Guild Hall, Barnstaple - ‘Their name liveth for evermore’.

15 Febuary 2012


Click on an image for a larger picture

Eastern Advance to Kut

Western Advance to Kut

Dujailah Redoubt

by Col. G B OERTON

PDF 460k

Article in the Newspaper

Medal Record

Basra Commonwealth Memorial
prior to its removal into the desert

Basra Memorial

Basra Memorial

Thomas Knight Family Tree