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Official History of the New Zealand Engineers During the Great War 1914-1919.

Wireless Troop — Chapter XVIII. — N.Z. Wireless Troop in Mesopotamia — and Persia.

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Wireless Troop.

page 298 page 299

Chapter XVIII.
N.Z. Wireless Troop in Mesopotamia
and Persia

The Wireless Troop, although only a small unit of which very little was heard during the War, carried out some valuable work.

After being formed in New Zealand, it left on the transport "Willochra" on the 4th March, 1916, and proceeded to Colombo, disembarking there on the 26th. At this port the European population and the garrison treated our men so well, showing them the chief places of interest on the beautiful island, that they were loath to leave.

Colombo was soon left behind and the tracks of some of the 5th Reinforcement Engineers were followed to Madras. Here the heat was terrific in comparison with our own home climate, and the men, being dressed in heavy khaki uniforms, felt it severely and were pleased when evening approached with a few hours' coolness. The white population of Madras repeated the hospitality shown by those at Colombo and the men of the Troop enjoyed a few more days of sight-seeing.

Then followed a miserable train journey, in third-class carriages, usually used by the natives, to Bombay. Only two meals per day were supplied and the efforts of the men to purchase extra food at the various stations en route were unsuccessful.

Bombay was reached on the 2nd April and, when new equipment was obtained, several days of sight-seeing were once more indulged in and customs and life in the East were studied. Then a move was made by boat to Basra, which was reached on the 16th, and the Troop camped at Makina Masus where, with only one wireless set available, a certain amount of instruction was given.

On the 9th May one section left for Mudelil and nineteen days later another proceeded to Ali Gharbi. The remaining sections were incomplete through illness, which incapacitated several men.

The Australian Squadron arrived at Magil on the 4th July and the New Zealand Wireless sections amalgamated with it, thus forming what was known as "C" Wireless Troop of the page 300Anzac Squadron, under the command of Major Sutherland, who shortly afterwards died. Lieut. W. R. H. Clarke, who had commanded the Troop since leaving New Zealand, also died at Magil Basra in July. This left the New Zealand Troop without an officer and several promotions took place "In the Field" in consequence. The ranks were also rapidly decreasing in numbers through fever and dysentery and in October only 20 men remained. It was therefore a great relief when 24 men arrived as reinforcements at the end of the month.

The Wireless sections were immediately reorganised, but within one month half the new men became ill and were sent to hospital. Matters were somewhat improved when the next reinforcements arrived on 16th December, and the Troop ranks were filled.

Just before this a British concentration had taken place up the Tigris River about twelve miles from Kut. The policy was to attack the Turks on a big scale and force their retreat to Baghdad. The assault took place on the 13th December and under General Maude's command, our troops won a victory. One force, under General Marshall, secured the waterway by advancing to Hai, and cut the enemy's communications in other directions.

General Cobbe's force was not so fortunate, for it was stubbornly resisted by the Turks who fought desperately for two months, after which all the ground between Kut and Baghdad was won and the key positions for the future offensive were secured.

Through a series of feint attacks by our troops the enemy's defence was kept centred near the Kut peninsula. Troops then quietly moved into position during the night of 22nd-23rd February, 1917, and the main attack was launched at daylight. Infantry crossed the river in pontoons and completely surprised the enemy, of whom 300 were captured. Severe fighting followed, but the Turks were too hard pressed, and Kut was once more captured by the British. Eleven months had passed since General Townshend's gallant force was compelled, through starvation, to capitulate. The re-capture of the town was a serious blow to the enemy and in addition many prisoners were taken by our troops. The Turks had been caught in a well-set trap and they lost 2000 men in extricating their main force.

Baghdad was reached on the 10th March and captured on the following day. The Wireless Troop, which had been attached to the Cavalry Division, was amongst the first batch page 301of troops to enter the city. By the 24th, the whole railway from Baghdad northwards was secured after some brisk fighting.

In July, a section of the Wireless Troop accompanied a force to Hindia on the Euphrates River. Another proceeded to Belid Ruz on the mountain side of Baghdad, where it took part in the fight for the Jebel Hamrin mountains. It then moved to Bakubah on the Diala River, remaining there until November, but joined in the battles afterwards at Kizil Robat Kifri and Jebel Hamrin. Later another return was made to Bakubah.

During September the British decided to improve their positions in the vicinity of the Euphrates. The first aim was Ramadie, which was captured at the second attempt on the 29th. Over 3000 prisoners and the Turkish Army Commander were captured during this battle. Fighting then continued north-east of Baghdad, where the enemy was driven across the Diala River towards Kifri, also along the Tigris River from Tekrit, where the enemy was decisively beaten on the 5th November, 1917.

The most important operations in Mesopotamia being finished, the Wireless Troop moved to Persia where a decided change awaited it. In the former country, the heat had been as much as 126 degrees in the shade, but during the first night out from Baghdad a storm was encountered, and at midnight four feet of water was in the camp.

After three days' trek, a portion of the Troop reached Kasr-i-Shrin, an old Persian town with interesting historical buildings. Then moves took place to Surkhadiza, Khanakin, Kerind, Hamadin and Kermanshah. Kermanshah is a fairly large town with beautiful trees and gardens. Its situation is at the head of a very fertile valley and the surrounding country is rich and excellent for wheat crops, etc. On account of the Russians and Turks stealing everything of use or value, the populace was suffering through starvation. Filth abounded also, and the sights were both pitiful and hideous. It was a common occurrence to see people dying in the streets and others eating raw donkey meat or anything they could secure.

Another section of the Troop had served with the Cavalry Brigade during the severe but successful fighting at Hit and Arsa.

In June, orders were received for the Wireless Troop to proceed to France, so the scattered sections immediately concentrated at Baghdad, where the men were equipped ready to page 302leave the country. It was struck off the strength of the Anzac Squadron on the 25th June and departed for Basra on the 4th July.

After about ten days it embarked for Bombay, where it awaited the arrival of the New Zealand Transport "Royal George" which carried it to Suez. By rail it proceeded to Alexandria and by H.M. Transport Indarra to Taranto in Italy. Nine days and nights of a train journey, via Ancona, Genoa, the Eiviera, Marseilles, Lyons and Paris to Rouen followed, and thence by road it reached Abbeville. Leave to England was granted and on return to France all the members were taken on the strength of the New Zealand Divisional Signal Company, and the Wireless Troop ceased to exist.

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