by Brian Airey
I first came across this man whilst doing a one name study on the name CRITCHARD. Finding the newspaper article set me researching the man and the battle itself. Charles was born16 February 1887 (GRO death record). He was 4th child of Charles Robert and Ellen (nee CRITCHARD) WARRE and he lived with his family at 3 Westview Terrace, Exeter until at least 1911 census. Charles, whose date of birth was recorded as 16 February 1888 attended Exeter Episcopal School. He joined GWR in 1905 and when war broke out he joined the Devonshire Regt.
Taunton Courier and Advertiser 21 Feb 1948 page 3 reported:
“Survivor of Kut Has retired Mr CF WARRE, a Railway Driver."
One of the survivors of the notorious Siege of Kut in Mesopotamia in the 1914-18 war Mr Charles Fredk WARRE of Belinda, Cheddon Rd, Taunton has retired this week after 43 years service with the Great Western railway.
Mr WARRE joined the railway in 1905 and ever since he returned from the war in 1919 he has been a locomotive driver. He carried out his duties throughout the last war.
Fortunate to be alive.
In 1914 Mr WARRE joined the Devon Regiment and later became attached to the Royal West Kents. He was taken prisoner by the Turks at Kut, and was fortunate to come out of the siege alive. In fact, he was one of only three survivors out of a group of 40 men. He was a prisoner of war until the end of 1918.
Besides gardening he likes watching "soccer" and is a supporter of Exeter City, being a native of Devon's County town. Last Saturday Mr Warre was among the many thousands of spectators who were disappointed at the non-arrival of Tommy Lawson, England's centre forward who had been due to lead Notts County against Exeter.
Mr WARRE's mother, aged 90, lives in Exeter. Formerly a Miss CRITCHARD she is a native of Norton Fitzwarren.
British and Indian troops, sent to the Persian Gulf in early November 1914 to protect British oil interests at Abadan, made rapid progress inland against weak Turkish resistance. In less than a month, they had occupied the towns of Basra and Kurna, capturing more than 1,000 Turkish prisoners and losing just 65 of their own men.
Despite the unforgiving climate, British forces continued to march steadily up the Tigris River in 1915. By 28 September, under the leadership of General Charles TOWNSEND, they had taken the town of Kut-al-Amara just 120 miles south of Baghdad. Scornful British estimates of Turkish fighting capabilities seemed to be amply borne out by events –witness for example the timorous surrender of 2,000 Turkish soldiers to a tiny British advance force in the garrison town of Amara in June 1915.
The tide turned quickly, however, at the battle of Ctesiphon. Envisioned as a trouble-free prelude to the final march on Baghdad, it was bloody affair, in which Turkish troops withstood heavy casualties to defeat Townsend’s attacking forces. More than half of the 8,500 British and Indian troops who fought at Ctesiphon were killed or wounded. The survivors then endured a dangerous and exhausting retreat at Kut-al-Amara without decent medical or transport facilities.
Bolstered by 30,000 reinforcements, Turkish troops besieged the forces at Kut-al-Amara before the Allied troops could act on the British War Cabinet’s advice to withdraw further down the Tigris. The siege at Kut-al-Amara lasted 147 days, before 11,800 British and Indian troops inside the garrison town finally surrendered on 29 April 1916.
Kut was the first siege in which aircraft dropped supplies: these ranged from money to millstones to keep the garrison's flour mill going (and thus the Indians' supply of chapatis). But the Turks and their German officers were able to send up more and better aircraft, and too few friendly planes could get through to avert starvation. Repeated attempts to supply Kut by river were also repulsed. Desperate to keep his men alive, TOWNSEND suggested - and the government endorsed - a ransom of £2m (about £67m today) for the defenders to go free. The Turks, elated by Gallipoli and able to switch troops from there to Kut, refused.
Conditions during the siege were appalling. In bitterly cold weather and with little medical treatment many soldiers did not survive the winter. Several attempts were made to relieve the besieged town, but they encountered stubborn Turkish resistance and all ended in failure.
Finally, on April 29, when vegetarian Indians were down to seven ounces of grain a day, Kut capitulated. TOWNSEND was given permission to surrender, and obtained promises of humane treatment for his men from the Turks.
The surrender of the army in late April shocked people in Britain, for whom the Mesopotamia campaign had previously been a distant and largely successful venture. KITCHENER rushed to defend the honour of the British and Indian forces at Kut-al-Amara, but it was impossible to avoid the fact that – after the humiliating retreat at Gallipoli – Allied forces had suffered another defeat at the hands of the despised Turks.
Captured British and Indian soldiers were brutally treated on their march to Turkish prisoner of war camps in Anatolia. Of the 11,800 men who left Kut-al-Amara with their captors on 6th May 1916, 4,250 died either on their way to captivity or in the camps that awaited them at their journey’s end.
Kut was recaptured on 24 February 1917. When the war with Turkey ended on October 30th 1918 British forces in Mesopotamia had reached as far north as the oil-rich district of Mosul, which was captured on 3rd November. During the four years of fighting in the region more than 31,000 officers and men from British and Indian armies had died in combat or from disease.
What was Charles’s mental state after such an experience? How did he manage to live so long? What happened to him after the war? More research to be done!
The National Archives
The Taunton Courier