Beer soldier taken prisoner after siege
Posted by - 4 years ago
General Charles Townshend, pictured above, commanded the British force which occupied southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) to defend the oilfields there from attacks by the Turks. His force (very much against Townshend’s advice) was then ordered to move north and capture Baghdad.
Townshend’s force won the battle of Ctesiphon, about 20 miles from Baghdad, but suffered such severe casualties that he was forced to retreat back down the River Tigris to the town of Kut, which was then besieged by the Turks. Around 1,750 British and Indian soldiers died in Kut during the siege, and three British attempts to relieve the city were beaten back, suffering 23,000 casualties. Eventually, on 29th April 1916, after 147 days of siege, and with the garrison’s food almost exhausted, Townshend surrendered. The surrender of 2,600 British troops and over 9,000 Indians is regarded by some as possibly the greatest humiliation ever inflicted upon the British Army.
The Turks marched some of the captured British and Indian troops hundreds of miles into captivity elsewhere in Mesopotamia, but most had to march all the way to Turkey. On the way, 1,700 of the British troops and 1,300 of the Indians died of exhaustion, dysentery and other diseases.
It was almost two years before the family of Stanley Westlake
of Myrtle Cottage, Beer, received any detailed news from him, as the Pulmans Weekly News reported on 19th February 1918:
Letter from a KUT prisoner
The friends of Stanley Westlake, who was taken prisoner by the Turks at Kut, will be glad to know that his mother has received a letter from him, dated October 2nd, 1917, in which he writes stating that he is quite well, and adds:
"Do not worry anytime if you do not hear from me as we are out of the way of everybody and everything, so it is a job to get letters away. I have not been able to write for weeks, and it has been a great worry to me, because I know you like to get a few lines. We have been working on the railway, but now I've got another job, which is much better. I have not had a line from anybody for weeks now, but I know you have all that. I received five parcels (all one mail) last week, and one was a clothing parcel, which I wanted very badly, and they were all from the Mayoress of Exeter. I wish you would write and thank her for them. We are only allowed to write one letter a week, and I have not been able to do that lately. I can't help thinking of home, but don't think I am downhearted, as I am not. I have still got the old motto 'Keep Smiling'. It looks like having another Christmas here. We never get any news, but we hope what news there is good news".
Sgt Tom Westlake (Stanley's brother) has been awarded the Belgian Medal (Croix de Guerre) for his gallant services in Belgium.