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THE KUT ARMY.

IN THE HANDS OF THE TUHKB

APPALLING SUFFERINGS. »

< 'TEE OFFICIAL NARRATIVE

In <ill tho war's records of the mal-

' treatment of prisoners, for which ouv ! * enemies have earned an evil fame, there is.no more tragic chapter than , '"that recounting tho sufferings of th'o j soldiers, British and Indian, eapturcd jt'■ *l?y tho-Turks at Kut-el-Amara. The ;official report just presented to Parlia- '• mcnt tells a terrible and a pitiful story, t' which will go fur to make an end of tho f tradition that tho Turk is and honourable foe. » The document deals with Turkey s treatment of British prisoners goner- * ally, so fur as information is available, ■ 'for it" was not until December, .1917, t that any inspection of camps was allowed. Some effort was made to make -provision for the officers, although there Wore notable exceptions. Wo read, ' -for-example, of British, naval feflicers undergone (in the name of "re- * prists") most barbarous punishment in ii>Constantinople prison, by being confined for many weeks underground, without sight of day, in solitudo ana Bsvore' privation. For tho rank-and-■viile no consideration whatever was Jsliown,-and their lot under the best -tconditions was far from enviable. Of this utter callousness on the part of the -Turkish authorities the men of Kut were the supreme victims. Wenk- ■ enetl by privation and sickness, they "were robbed, stripped and flogged, antl \ driven on tho march like boasts until ' dropped from exhaustiou and died, •sometimes u lingering death, unnoticed ( and uncarod-for by their captors. 11l , 'the march northward from Bagdad, in j the torrid heat, of those sick and starv- % ' 'ing men, their ranks ever thinning as • _ 'they staggered on under tho lash of „" their guards, the limits of human suffering were reached, and the horror of ■"•it will never be forgotten .by those who road their story. It is matched only 'by the subseouent march of the sur- • viring remnant over tho Taurus Mountains, where met: wore forced forward ;b.v gendarmes with the butt-ends of > ■ 1 "their rifles, till of sheer inanition many .dropped and died. It was—in tlie words ■\ 'of an Austrian officer who witnessed it like a scene from Dante's Inferno. Of. .the*, 'total of 1U,053 officers and jmen,- British and Indian. believed to . 'have been taken prisoners by the Turks 'from the. beginning of the war, 3290 'have been. reported dead, while 222--rcroain un traced. "We must believo," 6a ys tho report, "that they, too, have almost all perished unnamed, how or i*'liere we cannot tell in any single case. They all belonged to the force which surrendered at Kut, and it is therefore certain that they passed living into Turkish hands, but not ohe word ~wasj>ver after heard of any of them." Within a very short time of tjio entry ; the> Turkish forces into Kut they ■ were busily thieving, assisted by the Arabs of the town. The kits of both - officers and' meu were systematically 'nfl<x], especially for boots and water■hottles Stray looters made their jway into the hospitals and seized what attracted theni among the property of .. the sick. Some of their officers made unsuccessful attempts to stop them, others were as bad as the men. One .held up the officers of a British unjt "Vitb a revolver and collected their ■watches and money; many others were 'seen carrying British swords and field glassr*. The officers of the 11.A.M.C. » ;_and Indian Medical Service liad their rases of surgical instruments taken from them and their stores plundered. This went on till nightfall, when the disarmed prisoners had to organise a " Juard for tlieir own protection as best the,- misht.

WHOLESALE ROBBERY OF THE TROOPS. During the night and the following day tho .greater part of the British force, officers and men, was marched about eight miles up the river to Shamrnan, where .they were to encamp until they could be seint on to Bagdad. They found no proper rations for thorn whatever at Shamran, only a bar©'piece of the desert, ringed by Turkish sentries. Hero for a week the men lay about, unsheltered in sun and rain. For two days no rations were issued by the Turks; there was nothing to eat but somo date.vand black bread which the Arab soldiers peddled among the /men in exchange for boots and clothing, thus bringing their destitution a stage further;' the Turks also pliod a traffic in their dry and stony ration-biscuits, quite indigestible faro for half-starved men, and probably one of tho main causes of the large number of deaths from gastro-enteritis and dysentery which occurred at Shamran. "early 300 of the men were dead within a week from the surrender. The Turkish medical department gave no help at all; in fact, they took from our own medical staff their most important drugs. .Such help a,5 tho British officers themselves could give was hampered and largely rejected. On May 6th, when the column of prisoners was to be set out on tho 10 mile march to Bagdad, these officers learnt to their consternation that they were to be separated from their men; by this time they well understood what the consequences would he. They did what they could by urging upon the Turkish commandant the men's exhausted condition., by stipulating that they should not be required to cover more than eight miles a day, and by set-tins aside the large number who were ■unfit to make the journey at all except by boat. Thi>> number was much reduced bv the Turkish doctors, but- the limit of the day's march was expressly agreed to. Thus.the officers had to leave the men with whom they had shared tlie long hardships of the siege, and for all it was "a deeply trying moment. It was arranged that the officers* and tho absolutely unlit should be sent to Bagdad by river, and on the 9th and 11th May they embarked ,in two heavily laden boats. * Everyone was gradually relieved of more and more of his possessions. The river journey was long and crowded, particularly for one of the boats, which was stranded for several days through shortage of fuel. But the worst of it was the evidence, at certain intervals, of the manner in which tho men were faring on their march. At Baghalio 700 or 800 who had fallen out through illness were found awaiting the arrival of the boat. Not more than half of them could be stowed on board, and then it was impossible for any but the very worst cases to lie down. There were many deaths before Bagdad was reached. Tho sick who remained at Baghalie were brought by a later boat with others who had dronned at different stages of the march. STRIPPED AND SCOI'KGED. -For one day the Turkish commander kept his promise about tue length of the day's march. Ou the second the men were made to march eighteen miles and afterwards twelve to ntteen nnles daily, lying at night on tho open ground. They were nerded like sheep by mounted Arab, troopers, who freeiv uled sticks and whips to Hog forward the stragglers. Food was very short, the heat was intense, the clouds of dust perpetual, and a great number of tho men had now neither boots nor waterbotties. Their escort stripped them stiil further; by the time of their arrival at Bagdad most of the Arab guard were dressed iin odds and ends of British uniforms, stolen during the inarch. One day—the fourth of the marchhad absolutely to be given over to rest ; this was at Azissie, where some 300 gick, British and Indian, were left behind in a sort of cowshed, densely crowded and filthily verminous, to follow iater 1 by river. "The rest struggled on, many I or them now half naked: all so neat I the limit of exhaustion that , there weie

dally deaths by the roadside. So, after nine days' v march, the column arrived ab Bagdad on May loth, and were inarched for three • or four hours through crowded streets before being taken to the place where they were 1 to encamp. . _ Meanwhile, the first boat-load ot omcers had already reached the city, and had likewise been exhibited' to • the crowd, which received them'in dead and undemonstrative silence. They were then lodged for a few days in- the Turkish cavalry barracks before continuing their journey northward. It wag pronos-ed-to the authorities that acertain number of the British medical staff should remain iu Bagdad for work among' the sick prisoners; and this plan was most fortunately agreed to. Eleven so remained. All the other officers were fit for the journey were despatched to Mosul, and thence by Ras-el-Ain and Aleppo into Asia Minor. The retention of eleven British medical officers meant the relief of much suffering and the savin" of many lives; but it spite of all that could be done the rate of mortality among the sick prisoners was still verv high. Dysentery aud gastro-en-tcri t i.s—a disease closely resembling cholera —were still the principal scourges; but there was also a-certain proportion of wounded men needing surgical treatment. In such cases even the I best of the Turkish doctors were fully I capable of using unclenned instruments ' and verminous bandages, so that our officers had to take matters entirely in their own hands, down to the simplest dressing of wounds and the most elemental demands of hvgiene. The British st-iff were 'magnificently helped hj some French sisters of chanty and the American Consul. Mr Brissell, who gave constant and invaluable help. ; HORRORS OF THE MARCH. ' There remains to be toad what had happened to the main mass of the prisoners, those wno had been judged capable of the journey up • country aud across the Syrian desert to Asia Minor. Week alter week, through June and Julv, parties of them liau lett Bagdad, ' crowded into the railway trucks winch j were to take them as tar as bamaria, I the railhead (as it then was) some seventy miles up the river. Irom there j tbev would go atoot. Their state ot preparation tor a march of 500 miles, ; the health and strength and equipment i which they possessed lor withstanding • one of the fiercest summers of the globe, ! can be pictured from what has been described already. The truth lias only very gradually become known, and in all its details it will never be known, tor those w " 0 could tell the worst are long ago dead. But it is certain that this desert journev rests upon those responsible for it ! as a crime of the kind which wo cad historic, so long and terrible was the torture it meant for thousands ol helpless men. If it is urged that Turkish powers of organisation and forethought were utterly incapable ol handling such a problem as the transport of these prisoners, the plea i? sound enough as an explanation; as an excuse it is nothing. There was nc one in the higher Turkish command who could be ignorant that to send the men out on such a journey and in such conditions was to coudemr half of them to certain death. It was bv the purest accident that , the British doctors in Bagdad receivet j the first confirmation of their fears I It so hardened that a small party oi officers, delayed by illness, were senl ; north after the first batches of mer j had departed. These officers followed | the same track, and presently an ur i gent message from one of them reachec Bagdad, addressed to the Turkisi Commander-in-Chief, pressing for i hospital establishment and one of th< British staff to be sent at once t< Samara. Hospital and staff were im mediately ready, though it took tin Turkish authorities five, days to pro vide the necessary pass for leaving tin city. At Samara were then eollecte< the hundreds of sick who had fallei out of the march during its firs stages. They were ricked up from th< roadside where they lay in the miseriei a! drsenterj. just as they chanced l<

drop, disregarded and deserted. All { possible care was given thenvat bu-j ■ mdra, but many were beyond help. | But it was only those who failed on the first part of the march who cou d < he brought to Samara; the mam body pabscd on and out of reach. I he track was still followed by tho same group of officers, and tho sights thov saw. at villages and fhalting-places all along tho road, hardly bear telling. There were r*»' ties ot " nien lvin S haustcd under any shelter they could find, in all stages of dysentery and starvation; some dying, somo dead; half-clothed, without boots, having sold everything they could to buy a little milk. Only here and there had an attendant of some kind been lolt to look after them; generally there was no one but the Arab villagers, who mercilessly robbed them, or the undcr-officer of the local police-post, who stared indifforently and protested that lie had no authority to give help. The dead lay unburied. plundered, and stripped of their last clothing. All across the desert, at one place or another, these sights were repeated; starving and dyinn- men, in tens and twenties, lay >n any scrap of shade or mud-hovel that might be allowed them and waited their end. Some had to wait. lonp.. Ma«y weeks later, at a. desert village auout three days' journey from Aleppo. there was found a group of six British soldiers and abouti a dozen Indians, who for three months had lain on the bare ground of a mudwalled enclosure, subsisting solely on a few scraps thrown to them Arabs or passing caravans. The Englishmen hadl been fourteen; eight had, died; and of the survivors only one was still able to crawl two or three hundred yards to a, place where there was water. It hegins to be evident how it came about' thai of the who surrendered at Kut more than 3C00.. British and Indian, have never been heard of at all. A SCENE FROM THE INFERNO. When the thinned ranks of theso prisoners arrived within sight of the Mediterranean. on the western side of the Amanus Mountains, their journey was over for the time, but it was only a new stage of suffering that began for them. Though so many had been lost on the way, the survivors were still numerous enough to form a valuable army of labourers. The construction of tno Bagdad railway was in the hands of a Ger- ' man company, to .which the prisoneis, between two and three thousand of them, were now consigned. They were, of course. absolutely incapable of work ' of any kind. Nevertheless, they were distributed among various working 1 camps of the neighbourhood, and were somehow driven to their task. In the Bilemedik region in the north side of the Taurus Mountains, the few hundred British prisoners who had been taken at the Dardanelles the summer before ; were already, it seems, employed on the : railwav. Their case was apparently : tolerable, but it was a very different, • matter for the exhausted remnant of 1 1 the Ivut prisoners. These naturally broke down at once, and were soon're--1 cognised by their. employers as useless. I \lreadv the hosoitals at the vaiious I places 'were full of them, and the rate II of mortality was very high i Th e y Tvere accordingly ordered to «ent- to camns in the interior ot Asia - Minor and earlv in September an hiI stalment of a thousand British prisoners . were thither despatched. They were r placed in railwav trucks that went as :• fa- as the break in the lme at the i Taurus Mountains, and over this steep and difficult range they bad then to - march on foot. It was a journey cf 1 several davs before the northward conl ti'iuation of the railway could bo re-.-.ch- ■ ed at Bozanti. These men were actually > cent off without food tor the journey, ) and no provision was made tor them at - anv point of the road. It was, perhaps, » a 'worse experience than thai which a - few weeks before had seemed the limit > of possible suffering. The men were 1 forced forward by gendarmes with the ! butt-ends of their rifles, till o sheer inanition many had droppad and died. A , f-ow managed take refuge m certain : German and Austrian military camps ,n ) tho Taurus; bu± the main body was

somehow beaten and. driven- across the rho'uhtnin. range. It was like one thing only—a scene from Dante s inferno, the word was that of an Austrian oflicer who witnessed ■ it. Happilv the sick and exhausted stragglers wero not now beyond the roach or help. Through the exertions or tno American Consul at Mersina all the sick that could bo collected were brought to the hospitals of Adana. and in particular to an American college at Tarsus. For the majority it was too late: it is said that of several hundreds who were the first to reach these two places, less than half survived.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19190118.2.96

Bibliographic details

Press, Press, Volume LV, Issue 16424, 18 January 1919

Word Count
2,832

THE KUT ARMY. Press, Volume LV, Issue 16424, 18 January 1919

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