This page provides some more information about my Great-Uncle Private William Wilby, who is one of the Earsham service personnel commemorated on the Earsham War Memorial.
A Great-great Uncle, Arthur Stratford, was born in Tring, Hertfordshire, before moving to Wealstone, Middlesex. Aftering enlisting at Hounslow, Middlesex, he joined the 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks LI). Arthur Stratford arrived in France on 14 August 1914. He was then transferred to the 5th Battalion before being killed in action on 17 October 1915.
Having no known grave, Arthur Stratford is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
My Grandfather Harry Stratford fought with the 6th Battalion The Bedfordshire Regiment during the Third Battle of Ypres, before transferring to the Army Service Corps (later the Royal Army Service Corps), where he was taught to drive; a skill that proved extremely useful in the period after the First World War.
William Wilby, known in his family as Billy, was born in Earsham in October 1894; one of 12 children of George and Jane Wilby. He attended the village school until the age of 12 when he left to start work in a bakers shop in Bungay. Contrary to his Mother’s wishes, when he became 16 in 1910, Billy enlisted in the British Army, as a regular soldier. He was placed into E Company, 2nd Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, which at this time was stationed at Norwich’s Britannia Barracks.
His second posting was to Ireland where he was stationed in Belfast. During February 1911, he came home on 3 week’s leave. This was the last time his family ever saw him. The 1911 Census (conducted on 2 April 1911) records Private William Wilby at Britannia Barracks, Norwich. He sailed for India aboard the Motor Vessel Plassey. He was stationed at Belgaum south of Bombay in what is now Karnataka State.
FROM INDIA TO MESOPOTAMIA
To protect the British owned oil fields in Persia and to stop Turkish domination of the Middle East an Indian Expeditionary Force was sent to the Persian Gulf. As part of this Force the Norfolk Regiment left Belgaum for Bombay under the command of Lieu-Colonel E C Peebles and boarded HM Transport Elephanta on 6 November1914. The 2nd Norfolks arrived at Seniyeh in the Persian Gulf on 15 November 1914 and joined the 18th Brigade, which consisted of the 7th Rajput’s, 110th Mahratta Light Infantry and 120th Rajputana Infantry.
Private Wilby took part in all the following battles.
|20/11/14||16th Brigade attack Basra the Turks evacuate after short battle.|
|Dec 14||An attack is mounted on Kurna causing the Turks to surrender.|
|Feb 15||Norfolks are withdrawn to Basra to defend it against a Turkish and Arab counter attack.|
|12/02/15||Turks attack British troops under the command of Major General Mellis. The Norfolks lost 7 offices and 243 men killed.|
|June 15||Norfolks re-join main Brigade for the advance on Amara, Turks are defeated and the town captured.|
|July 15||Brigade capture Nasaryieh and advance towards Kut-el-Amara. Kut is attacked and after 3 days of fighting the town is captured. The Norfolks continue to follow the Turks towards Ctesiphon.|
|Nov 15||The major advance on Baghdad begins.|
|22/11/15||Battle of Ctesiphon British force of 11000 defeat a Turkish force of over 18000. Battle ends with a bayonet charge across open ground. Norfolks suffer 6 officers killed 27 men killed, 225 wounded and 2 missing.|
|24/11/15||The Brigade under the command of General Townshend suffering losses and sickness has to withdraw to Kut. The Norfolks form the rear guard as the Brigade withdraws. The 44 miles to Kut is covered in 36 hours. The 2nd Norfolks now comprise half their effective fighting strength.|
The following letter was written, in pencil, by Private Wilby to one his sisters. It is believed to have been the last letter that he wrote. It was written sometime during the initial advance towards Kut-el-Amara.
Aug 10th 1915
My Dear Sister,
Just a few lines in answer to your letter which of course I was very pleased to receive and hear that you are getting on very well at Norwich. What nice company Bertha must be for you as you can show her about Norwich; as you must be quite an experienced guide by this time. I am sorry that I could not answer your letter and write to you more often, but I have not had the convenience but I will try more in future. We had a fight but the enemy got their usual beating and our casualties were very few again I am glad to say. The weather is still rather warm, but the cold weather will soon be coming on again and that will be a good thing when it does. I have had a nice letter from home and all seems fine there. I am glad to say that all the Earsham chaps here are going well and strong still, so I will conclude with the best of love. I remain your ever loving brother,
The Battle mentioned in the letter may have been the capture of Nasaryieh
THE BRIGADE ARRIVES AT KUT
On 5 December 1915, The Brigade arrives at Kut. The Turks are reinforced in great numbers and surround the town. They positions on the other side of the river and cut the garrison off from help from outside.
The following table shows the strength of the Kut garrison at the start of the siege.
|British Other Ranks||2276|
|Indian Other Ranks||6941|
The order of battle of the force under Major-General Townshend, besieged in Kut al Amara is shown below.
HEADQUARTERS 6TH DIVISION
G.S.O. (1) Lieutenant-Colonel U.W. Evans, RE.
A.Q.M.G. Lieutenant-Colonel W.W. Chitty.
16th infantry Brigade:
2nd Dorsetshire Regiment commanded by Major G.M. Herbert
66th Punjabis (Lieutenant-Colonel A. Moore), 104th Rifles (Captain C.M S. Manners) and 117th Mahrattas (Major Mc V. Crichton) under the command of Major-General W. S Delamain.
17th Infantry Brigade:
1st Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Lieutenant-Colonel E.A.E. Lethbridge), 22nd Punjabis (Capt A.O. Sutherland), 103rd Mahrattas (Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Brown) and 119th Infantry (Captain F.I.O Brickman) under the command of Brigadier-General F.A. Hoghton.
18th Infantry Brigade:
2nd Norfolk Regiment (Major F.C. Lodge), 7th Rajputs (Lieutenant-Colonel H.O. Parr), 110th Mahrattas (Major H.C. Hill) and 120th Infantry (Major P.F. Pocock) under the command of Brigadier-General W. G. Hamilton.
30th Infantry Brigade:
Half battalion 2nd Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (Major J.W. Nelson), One company 1/4th Hampshire Regiment (Major F.L. Footner), 24th Punjabis (Lieutenant-Colonel H.A.V. Cummins), 76th Punjabis (Captain E. Milford), 2/7th Gurkhas (Lieutenant-Colonel W.B. Powell) and Half battalion 67th Punjabis (Major C.E.S. Cox) under the command of Major-General Sir C. Melliss.
48th Pioneers (Colonel A.J.N. Harward).
One squadron, 23rd Cavalry (Captain C.H.K. Kirkwood).
One squadron, 7th Lancers (Lieutenant F.T. Drake-Brockman).
Bridging Train (Captain E.W.C. Sandes), 17th Company, Sappers and Miners (Lieutenant K.B.S. Crawford), 22nd Company, Sappers and Miners (Lieutenant A.B. Matthews), Sirmur Company, Imperial Service Sappers (Captain C.E. Colbeck) and Engineer Field Park (Captain H.W. Tomlinson) under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel F.A. Wilson.
All artillery units were under the overall command of Brigadier-General G.B. Smith.
RFA 63rd Battery (Major H. Broke Smith), 76th Battery (Major O.S. Lloyd) and 82nd Battery (Major E. Corbould Warren) under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H.N. St. J. Maule.
Other Artillery Units:
1/5th Hants Howitzer Battery (Major H.G. Thomson).
86th Heavy Battery, RGA (Lieutenant-Colonel M.H. Courtenay).
One section, 104th Heavy Battery, RGA (Major W.C.R Farmar).
Volunteer Artillery Battery (Major A.J. Anderson).
One spare 18-pounder gun.
6th Divisional Ammunition Column (Captain E.T. Martin).
Two 13-pounder guns of “S” Battery, RHA.
Maxim Battery (six machine guns) (Captain C.H. Stockiey).
Detachment, Army Signal Company (Major F. Booth).
34th Divisional Signal Company (Captain H.S. Cardew).
One brigade section, 12th Divisional Signal Company.
Wireless section (two wagon and one pack set).
A few details, Royal Flying Corps (Captain S.C. Winfield-Smith).
Supply and Transport personnel, including details of the Jaipur Transport Corps and of the 13th, 21st, 26th and 30th Mule Corps (Lieutenant-Colonel A.S.R. Annesley).
No. 32 Field Post Office.
Rev. H. Spooner (Church of England).
Rev. Father T. Mullen (Roman Catholic).
Rev. A.Y. Wright (Wesleyan).
All Medical Units were under the overall command of Colonel P. Hehir, Indian Medical Service.
No. 2 Field Ambulance.
No. 4 Field Ambulance.
No. 9 Indian General Hospital.
No. 106 Field Ambulance.
No. 157 Indian Stationary Hospital.
Half No. 3A British General Hospital Officers’ Hospital.
One section, Veterinary Field Hospital (Captain H. Stephenson).
HMS Sumana (Lieutenant L.C.P. Tudway, RN): gunboat, one 12-pounder and two 3-pounder guns. Of these guns, the 12-pounder and one of the 3-pounder guns were mounted ashore in March 1916.
Four steam launches. Of these launches, 3 were sunk on the 9-10 December 1915.
Two motor launches.
Four 4.7-inch guns in horse-boats (Lieutenant M.A.B. Johnston, RGA)
One 12-pounder gun intended for HMS. Firefly. This gun was mounted ashore in January 1916.
THE SIEGE OF KUT
During the siege of Kut which lasted for 5 months, aircraft were first used to try and drop supplies to the garrison. The aircraft could not carry enough supplies some were shot down and the attempt ended in failure. The Turks used aircraft more successfully in bombing the town, many troops having been wounded were then killed in hospital by an air raid. Several attempts were made to break out across the river on floating bridges, but as the river was in flood at this time of the year the attempts failed. Radio contact with the outside world was kept up until the end.
Towards the end of the siege the daily ration for British troops was reduced to ten ounces of bread and one pound of horse or mule flesh. Indian troops who refused to eat flesh were dying of scurvy at the rate of 10 to 20 a day. In all 1746 people died during the siege from wounds or disease.
On 29 April 1916 Kut surrendered to the Turks. After agreeing terms, Townshend marched his troops out into captivity, and certain death for most of them. Most of the Arabs left in Kut were hanged by the Turks for helping the British.
Thus began the forced march from what is now Iraq into Turkey to prison camps. This forced march being a foretaste of similar marches in the Second World War, such as the forced march of American and Pilipino POWs on Bataan in 1942.
During May 1916, 2000 British Troops, including the Norfolks, started the march some were still in Khaki some were almost naked. The first day they walked 15 miles without food or water. Behind the column were many dead or dying, those who dropped out were killed by the Arab guards. They were first taken to a temporary camp at Shumran about 80 miles from Kut.
The Kurdish guards had stolen the troops food rations and even their water bottles and boots. The British officers were separated at Shumran and were taken up river by steamer leaving their men to walk and die. Wounded officers were then repatriated to India. From Kut to Baghdad is 100 miles, marching 12-15 miles a day lying at night on the open ground. They were herded like sheep by mounted guards with sticks and whips.
The route of the death march was through what is now Iraq into Turkey, a distance of over 400 miles: Aziziya, Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul, Nisibin, Ras alAin, Mamourra and Aran
The American Ambassadors at Constantinople (Messrs. Morgenthau and Elkus) saw the results of the march and protested, but to no avail. Other diplomatic efforts during the siege, such as the payment of ransom to the Turkish Government, failed. It seems that the Turkish Government wished to impress its Central Power partners.
261 Norfolks were captured at Kut of whom only 78 ever returned to Norfolk, a rate of loss of 70%.; 7 out of every 10 Norfolks died during their captivity of maltreatment and disease.
A Norfolk newspaper of the time records the capture of Kut:
NORFOLKS CAPTURED AT KUT
Official lists of men of the Norfolk Regiment reported from the base as believed to have been taken prisoner at Kut-el-Amara include the names of Gunner D Ingram 26010 (Beccles), Sergt. M Harmer 4210 (Beccles), Sergt. H Strowger 3514 (Bungay), Private P Ellis 8532 (Bungay), Private C Leverington 7388 (Bungay), Private W Wilby 8363 (Bungay).
The camp to which Billy was sent was unknown until the announcement of his death at Yarbachi.
The fate of the prisoners mentioned in the above newspaper article is shown below:
|Sgt. Norman Harmer||2nd Norfolks||21/02/17||43||Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery|
|L/Sgt Hubert Strowger||2nd Norfolks||31/12/16||–||Basra Memorial|
|Gnr Dick Charles Louis Ingram||86th Heavy Bty, RGA||30/09/16||–||Basra Memorial|
|Pte William Wilby||2nd Norfolks||30/09/16||22||Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery|
It is assumed that Privates Ellis and Leverington survived their ordeal and returned home.
The following newspaper report appeared after letters were received from prisoners.
THE 2nd NORFOLKS PRISONERS OF WAR
To the Editor:
May I correct one statement in the very interesting letter re 2nd Norfolk Regiment prisoners published in your paper to-day. The writer says that because Quartermaster-Sergeant Niblock had written from Affion Kara Hissar, probably the whole regiment are there. There are only 22 of the men at Affion Kara Hissar. This I have in a letter from an officer in that camp last week. As a matter of fact the men are scattered all over Asia Minor. So far we know the addresses of between 80 to 90 of them. These are at Bilemedix, Airan, Yarbachi Bagdadbaull, Yosgad, Castamouni, Tamara, Affion Kara Hissar and Brussa. By far the biggest number of these are at Yarbachi.
Frances W. Burton
Secretary, Norfolk Regiment Prisoners of War Help Organisation.
After being informed that Billy was missing presumed dead, the Wilby family had the following card printed.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
THE BELOVED SON OF GEORGE AND JANE WILBY
WHO DIED SEPTEMBER 1916
AT YARBACHI, TURKEY
AGED 22 YEARS
We never thought when we said goodbye
You were going to that foreign land to die
But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow
None but loving hearts can know.
From his loving Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters
Billy was buried in the camp. It has subsequently been discovered that Private Wilby died on 30 September 1916 from dysentery, brought on by the conditions in the camp. He was buried in Yarbish Cemetery.
After the War all the graves from Yarbish and other cemeteries were exhumed and consolidated to form CWGC Cemeteries; where the cemeteries and graves could be properly maintained. The CWGC records that Private Wilby is buried in Baghdad North Gate Cemetery Plot 21, Row I, Grave number 45.
His mother received £60 in back pay, a pension of 5 shillings a week for life.
For his service during World War One, Private Wilby was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal with MID oakleaf. These medals, a memorial plaque and a mentioned-in-despatches certificate were sent to his Mother.
The MID Certificate text is shown below.
THE WAR OF 1914-1918
NORFOLK REGIMENT No.8363 Pte. W WILBY was mentioned in a despatch from Lieutenant General Sir Percy H N Lake K.C.B K.C.M.G. dated 24 August 1916. For gallant and distinguished services in the field.
I have it in command from the King to record His Majesty’s high appreciation of the services rendered.
Winston S Churchill
Secretary of State for War
Whitehall S W
1 March 1919
Located within London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral is a memorial which reads:
5 December 1915 to 29 April 1916
To the memory of
5746 of the garrison who died in the siege
or afterwards in captivity.
Erected by their surviving comrades