My Family History
Leonard Ball - the Soldier
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Dad sees action in Mesopotamia
After recovering from the various ailments that afflicted him in the winter of 1917-18, Dad was marked fit and on 1st March 1918 was sent on draft to join the regiment, but not before he purchased a copy of the English language Baghdad Times newspaper, dated Saturday, 2nd March 1918.
To join his regiment, Dad was taken via Dhibban to Madhij and from there on foot to Ramardi, where he was promoted (temporarily!) to Lance Corporal.
Because the remainder of his diary has not survived, it is at this point (March 1918) that we lose track of Dad's individual movements. However, according to the Regimental Chronicle, the 1st Battalion of the Oxfords were pushing northwestwards towards Hit, along the valley of the river Euphrates, with the eventual aim of advancing as far as Aleppo in Turkey. It was in March 1918, nine months after his arrival in Mesopotamia, that Dad first saw active service.
We now take up the story as it is recorded in the Oxfords' Regimental Chronicle:
March 1st-8th.At Uqbah, training, road-making, etc. Air reconnaissance reported that Turks have evacuated Hit and the Broad Wadi position, and retired to Sahilya and Baghdadi.
March 8th.At 10 p.m. the 50th Brigade moved towards Hit.
March 9th.At 2 a.m. halted 4 miles south of Hit, and at 7.30 a.m. the column advanced to Hit, preceded by the Herts Yeomanry and 10th Lancers, with the 90th Punjabis on the left bank. Halted at 10 a.m. 500 yards south of Hit Town, and no enemy being encountered, moved on and bivouacked on the river bank one mile north of Hit at noon. Enemy was reported to have retired 20 miles to Baghdadi.
March 11th.Moved to Sahilya and bivouacked.
March 12th-24th.The Battalion remained at Sahilya, carrying out reconnaissance and other duties. The enemy is reported to have left Baghdadi and moved north.
March 25th.At 9 p.m. the column moved off up the Aleppo Road towards Khan Baghdadi in bright moonlight.
March 26th.At 1 a.m. halted three miles from Khan Baghdadi to reconnoitre enemy's forward position, consisting of a line of short trenches across the road 1½ miles S.E. of Khan Baghdadi. These trenches had been reported lightly held, it was thought by only a cavalry piquet. 'A' Company (Captain Price's) of the Regiment, one company of the 6th Jats, and one company of the 24th Punjabis extended across the road, and advanced with orders to rush the piquet and so clear a way for the column to advance towards what was supposed to be the enemy's main position, 2½ miles farther on.
At 2.30 a.m. the three companies came under heavy rifle, M.G., and field-gun fire, and shortly afterwards the column, as it was moving south from the road, was shelled.
It now being known that the enemy was holding his forward position, our three companies were ordered to rejoin the column (3.30 a.m.). 'A' Company had actually captured part of the enemy trenches, and had taken prisoners. The casualties were 2 men killed and 4 wounded.
The column then deployed south of the road, and waited for daylight, while at 6 a.m. the batteries registered on the enemy's forward position, etc.
At 10.30 a.m. the 50th Brigade advanced on a three-battalion front, with the 42nd Brigade on its right, the Regiment in support. The enemy retired to its main position.
At 12.30 p.m. our infantry reached a position some 2,000 yards from the enemy's trenches, and waited for the artillery to come up and register.
At 5.30 p.m. the 50th Brigade advanced, the Regiment in the centre, 21st Punjabis on the right, and 6th Jats on the left, with 97th Infantry in support. The 42nd Brigade advanced level on their right. An effective artillery and M.G. barrage was put down; and at 6 p.m. the enemy's position was occupied, 800 prisoners with machine-guns and three field guns were captured, and at 8 p.m. the Battalion re-formed. Casualties:Lieut S.J. GRIFFIN and 2 men killed, 5 men wounded.
March 27th.At 2.30 a.m. the Battalion moved down to the Aleppo Road on the river bank, and at 6 a.m. the Brigade moved forward towards the Wadi Hauran (6 miles W. of Khan Baghdadi). Here the 11th Cavalry Brigade had blocked the road, and 3,000 of the enemy, attempting to retire from Khan Baghdadi, surrendered, together with 6 guns, 25 M.G.'s, and much transport and material.
The total captures during the Khan Baghdadi operations were officially reported to be: Officers - Turkish 212, German 2; other ranks - Turkish 5,024, German 16; guns 14; machine guns 47; upwards of £3,000 in gold and notes; millions of rounds of ammunition; and an immense quantity of transport and stores.
British casualties amounted to 159 of all ranks.
Dad saw further action on 11th May and again on 23rd June 1918.
On the first occasion, 'B' and 'D' Companies came under fire from Turkish cavalry while advancing along the Aleppo Road. Two men were slightly injured.
On the second occasion, his company was involved in a raid on enemy cavalry north of Wadi Brooking. There were no injuries, and one Turkish officer and sixteen men were captured.
Many years after the war, Dad recalled an action where his company was advancing in an exposed position on a hillside, under fire from Turkish snipers. He remembered being unable to take cover or do anything to protect himself from the enemy fire. He claimed this incident was the beginning of a fear of heights which plagued him for the rest of his life. We shall never know which (if any) of the above actions was the one to which he was referring.
The Final Months of the War
From July 1918, until the Armistice in November, Dad's regiment was camped at Sahilya, and occupied with strengthening its defensive positions, carrying out training, and at one stage, practising night firing with Lewis guns.
At the end of August, the effective strength of the Battalion was 17 officers and 807 other ranks. Among the officers was Captain A. Price whom Dad mentions on the handwritten record of his army pay.
In October 1918, the Battalion moved from Sahilya to Hit. However, by this time Dad, for unknown reasons, had left Mesopotamia and he records in his handwritten notes that on 6th October 1918 he disembarked from the Erinjuera at Bombay.
On the 1st November, Dad's Regiment, still in Mesopotamia, received information of the signing of the Turkish Armistice. The following two days were observed as holidays to celebrate the defeat of the Turks.
Then at 11.30 p.m. on 11th November 1918, news was received of the signing of the Armistice with Germany. The following day, at 5 p.m., there was a parade of all troops in the Hit area. A 31-gun salute was fired, the National Anthem was sung, and there was much cheering!! The war to end all wars was over!!
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