Saturday, February 01, 2020

GUEST POST With Valour and Distinction: The 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment in the First World War

Nigel Atter introduces his new book on the campaigns of the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment between 1914 and 1918.

When people consider the First World War they may think about the losses on the first day of the battle of the Somme or the atrocious conditions at Passchendaele. Few, I believe, would turn their attention to Mesopotamia, now modern day Iraq.

And yet thousands of men fought against the Ottomans in the blistering heat, plagued by flies and disease. My new book With Distinction and Valour: The actions of the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment 1914-1918 details the military operations on the Western Front, Mesopotamia and also Palestine.

There are many striking features in this volume. Notwithstanding the high quality maps and superb photographs (many never published before), there’s the  bravery of men such as Private William Buckingham who won a Victoria Cross at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.

What is also of note is the high standard of education the officers received before joining the regiment, many of them attended Eton and other public schools. Their particular loss was a costly sacrifice for the nation that was so difficult to replace.

The conditions in Mesopotamia were truly horrendous, on a biblical scale. Not only did the troops have to contend with a skilled, fierce, battle-hardened and determined enemy the forces of nature were also against them.

The bitter winds and torrential rain turned the battlefield into a torturous quagmire, yet the blistering heat: flies, mosquitos and sandflies tormented undernourished men with inadequate access to clean water or medical treatment.

On the Basra Memorial (just one of many) are etched 40,604 names of fallen men who have no known grave.  These figures dwarf the numbers on the famous Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing in Belgium.

Things improved once the 2nd Leicesters arrived in Palestine during the summer of 1918. The formidable Turkish soldier there had been undermined by poor strategic decisions, lack of discipline and decent food.

The gallant Leicesters played their part in the advance to victory in the Middle East. This volume also documents the lives of a good number of officers and men, the single incidence of a shot at dawn, and there is a roll of honour.

You can follow Nigel Atter on Twitter. DM him to buy a signed, discounted copy of With Valour and Distinction. 

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