BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL J. A. T. MILLER, O.B.E.
(Adjutant 14th (King’s) Hussars 1917-20)
The movements of the 14th (King’s) Hussars in India and the Middle East in the First World War were so closely followed by those of the 14th/20th King’s Hussars in the Second World War that we considered a comparative article between the two Regiments might be of interest:
On 4th August 1914, the Regiment was stationed at Mhow, Central India. In November it moved to Meerut, United Provinces, but it was not until October 1915 that the general political situation permitted its being available in Mesopotamia.
In 1915 four squadrons and a machine-gun section were mobilized and a surplus of N.C.O’s and men and horses were left to form the Depot without drawing on other regiments. No man had less than four and a half years’ service, but the officers, many of whom were on the Western Front, were young. Major R. W. Hewitt, who was in command, had but sixteen years. Capt. Ashley Fetherstonhaugh was Adjutant. Strength – 18 officers, 443 other ranks, and 490 horses (walers and country-breds).
The Regiment sailed from Karachi on 8th November 1915, arrived at Basra, reshipped on to barges and disembarked at Kut al Amarah on 20th November. General Townshend’s forces were retiring after the indecisive battle of Ctesiphon had made further advance on Baghdad impossible.
The Regiment marched to join the 6th Cavalry Brigade at Aziziteh. “A” Squadron made their famous skirmish at El Kutunie, and many exciting rear-guard actions were fought, notably the battle of Umm al Tabal. During the withdrawal to Kut the 6th Cavalry Brigade crossed the bridge under shell fire at dawn on 6th December and, brushing aside the Turks marching up to the investment, fought its way down the Tigris to Ali al Gharbi.
Lieut.-Colonel T. E. L. Hill-Whitson re-joined to take command. The advance to relieve Kut began on 3rd January 1916. Three months’ hard fighting took place under terrible conditions of rain and mud.
The redoubtable Turkish positions at Sannatat and Es Sinn held out against every manoeuvre and assault, and General Townshend and his gallant defenders had to surrender in Kut. In the excessive heat of the end of May the 6th Cavalry Brigade, supported by the 3rd Indian Division, attempted the crossing of the River Hai west of Kut. The Regiment made a gallant attempt to capture the Hai bridge, and heading a dismounted attack, Capt. Simon Newburn and Lieut. Guy Deakin were killed.
The hot weather was spent at Arab Village Camp above Sheik Saad. Hotchkiss-gun troops were formed in each squadron and the machine – gun section merged into the Brigade Machine Gun Squadron. The Cavalry Division was formed with the 13th Hussars, “Ragged Brigade” comrades of the 14th in the Peninsular War, in the 7th Cavalry Brigade.
On 13th December 1916, Lieutenant-General Sir F. S. Maude resumed the advance on Baghdad with four infantry divisions and the Cavalry Division. That great leader Brigadier-General P. Holland-Pryor was shortly to take over the 6th Cavalry Brigade. Lieut.-Colonel Hewitt was again in command of the Regiment. There was a well-planned series of preparatory battles. The Regiment suffered perhaps its severest blow in the death of Capt. T. R. Bruce.
On the 23rd February 1917 the Norfolk Regiment and two battalions of the Gurkha Rifles crossed the River Tigris at Shumran, and the Cavalry Division crossed to the left bank. There was a firm fight at Lajj, and Capt. Alec Astley was killed leading “D” Squadron against the entrenched Turkish rear-guard. But nothing could hold the victorious advance, and the Black Watch entered Baghdad, City of the Caliphs, on the morning of 11th March, whilst in the afternoon the Regiment, as advance guard of the Cavalry Division, received the surrender of the famous mosque suburb of Khaziman.
The summer was spent in comparative comfort in spite of grilling heat at Chaldari Camp, north of Baghdad. In September Major-General Sir H. T. Brooking’s 15th Indian Division, supported by the 6th Cavalry Brigade, moved against a Turkish force marching down the Euphrates on Baghdad. Lieut.-Colonel R. W. Hewitt, D.S.O. was in command of the Regiment, whose strength was 26 officers, 445 other ranks, and 557 horses.
In a splendidly combined action, the infantry and cavalry surrounded the Turkish force at Ramadi on 29th September and hardly a man escaped. The Regiment played a great part in this convincing victory, but at the cost of the gallant life of its beloved Commanding Officer and Major Edgar Bridges took over command.
The autumn of 1917 saw the Regiment in hard fighting north of Baghdad, taking part in the battles of Tikrit and the Adhaim River. In January 1918, Bridges’ Column was formed with the Regiment under the command of Lieut.-Colonel E. J. Bridges as the principal unit. The object was to support the advance into Persia of Dunster Force (Major-General Dunsterville, hero of Kipling’s “Stalky & Co.”).
Three months were spent at Qasr-i-Shirin, mostly on reconnaissance and protective duties over hundreds of miles. “A” Squadron (Major J. D. F. Woodhouse and Capt. P. G. Cropper), Senna to Sakiz; “B” Squadron (Capt. M. J. Ambler) and “D” Squadron (Capt. Ashley Fetherstonhaugh), Bijar to Sain Kaleh; and “C” Squadron (Capt. A. V. Pope), Manjil to Enzali and Zinjan to Mianeh.
On 21st June the Regiment marched onwards to cover the road beaten out by countless feet of men and animals since the earliest days of history, and which, a generation later, would be ground down by the mechanised squadrons of the 14th/20th King’s Hussars.
From Paitak to the Tak-i-Girreh Pass, through Karind to Kermanshah, past the Bisitun Rock with its carvings of Darius, and over the Alvan d Range to Hamadan, Bridges’ Column marched north-west to Bijar and on to Takan Tappeh and Sain Kaleh to cover the withdrawal of and rally the armed forces of the Armenians in flight from Lake Urumieh.
Supply and movement in Persia were’ very difficult, and the transport columns consisted of mule carts, Government pack mules, Persian mules, donkeys and camels – truly a travelling circus. The Regiment took part in many fights and skirmishes. “C” Squadron, at Kuf-lan-Kuh, near Mianeh, had a stiff rear-guard action. The armistice with Turkey found the Regiment with Bridges’ Column back at Bijar, and Colonel Bridges ordered the mountain battery to fire a salute of twenty-one guns.