^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page




Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

Directory Listings





Parish Records




War Memorials


by Mark Bale


My Grandfather's younger sister (Beatrice Mary) was married to William Albert Lee (1892 - 1966) who was born in North Tawton.


Throughout his time in modern-day Iraq, then known as Mesopotamia, William Lee kept a diary which was published in April 1917 by Alfred T. Gregory, Mayor of Tiverton and father of William's officer, Lieutenant Stephen Barnes Gregory.

William joined the 2/4th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment which was formed at Exeter in September 1914. The Battalion sailed for India 12 December 1914. It was attached to the Southern Brigade, 9th (Secunderabad) Division and was stationed at Wellington Barracks, Madras.

The FOREWORD to the Diary states:

"In July 1915,  Private William Lee volunteered for service in Mesopotamia and was chosen as one of a draft of 40 who went to the Persian Gulf under the command of Lieutenant Gregory. They were attached to the Royal West Kent regiment with whom they went up the Euphrates river to Nasireh, and thence, in October 1915, up the Tigris to reinforce General Townshend's gallant little army then advancing on Baghdad, They passed through Kut-el-Amara November 23-24 and proceeded up the Tigris, only to meet General Townshend's force coming back. They helped to cover the retreat, and then with General Townshend's main force entrenched at Kut, confidently expected to  be relieved later on."



The dates on William's medal card confirm that he arrived in Mesopotamia on 12 August 1915. The 2nd Battalion Queen's Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment began the war in Multan, India. They arrived in Basra 6 February 1915 and were attached to 12th Indian Brigade. According to the Regimental History, on 9 November 1915,  "B" & "D" Coy 2nd Bn "Queen's Own" were detached at Nasirya under Major Nelson, two attached officers (Lieutenant Burns of the 5th Buffs and Lieutenant Gregory of the 4th Devons) and 322 Ordinary Ranks.
  William Lee's Medal Card


They reached Kut on the 17th and were sent to reinforce 6th Division - "B" Coy marched and "D" Coy went by boat. They met the 6th Division retreating on 22nd November and were attached to Sir Charles Melliss's 30th Brigade (2/7th Gurkhas and 76th Punjabis) in which there was no British Battalion. On 30th November, the 30th Brigade helped to extract the 6th Division from a Turkish attack and led the withdrawal to Kut-el-Amara where they arrived on 3 December 1915.


The Diary starts in Kut on 4 December 1915, through to surrender on 29 April 1916. It is fascinating but rather frustrating as it doesn't make clear when or how William was wounded or what happened after the surrender. The Foreword states that "Private Lee was wounded early in the siege, and was in hospital until the surrender." From the remarks made up until 14 December 1915 about the "heavy attacks", and then the switch to mentioning what happened to the hospital, I think he was wounded on or before 16 December 1915.


At the end of the siege, on 29 April1916, William remarks that "Numbers of the Turks came into the hospital looking for something of value". The Introduction to the Diary states that "When the Turks took possession, he secreted the Diary and so got it away with him to Basra, and thence to India and home.... he is now in England having made a good recovery from his wound." In the Royal West Kent Regimental History we read that "Many of the wounded and a certain number of sick had the good fortune to be among those exchanged against Turkish prisoners in British hands."


At the end of the siege, 8000* British and Indian troops surrendered. The prisoners included 300 of the Royal West Kent Regiment. "The detachment's losses had been 22 killed or died of wounds, one died of disease and 54 wounded."

*No finite number has ever been agreed for the number of troops surrendered to the Turks at Kut.


From a newspaper cutting - possible date June 1916.

"Private W. A. Lee, 2/4th Devons, who has been wounded in Mesopotamia and has been at home since his discharge from hospital is, we fear, incapacitated from further active service."


Of the 40 2/4th Devons who volunteered under Lieutenant Gregory, at Leat, six died during the Siege or in captivity, including Corporal Arthur Pierce (North Tawton) who died 29 March 1916; Lance Corporal William Newberry (24 January 1916); Private Harold Gregory (1 May 1916); Private Francis Holman (31 May 1916) Private John Perham (1 May 1916 and Private Leonard Green (23 June 1916). The fate of the rest is unknown.


Of the 226 Royal West Kents (including men of 2/4th Devons) who passed into captivity, only 69 survived the long march to Turkey. Of those who survived the forced march, many more perished in the Turkish prison camps from starvation, disease or overwork. Of the officers,  only Lieutenant Gregory succumbed to illness; Captain Clarke escaped with others, made his way to the coast and escaped to Cyprus, for which he was awarded the Military Cross.




The text on this page is the copyright property of Mark Bale


^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page