By a strange quirk of fate two men commemorated on the Ringmer War Memorial are buried in Baghdad. One of these is Allan Parsons. He was born in Gosport, Hampshire around 1890. His parents, John and Angelina Parsons moved to Ringmer and lived along the Uckfield Road.
Allan was in the Royal Field Artillery having enlisted at Hounslow, Middlesex. He was a Gunner with the number 73429 and he served in the 82nd Battery as part of the X Artillery Brigade. This in turn was attached to the 6th (Poona) Division of the Indian Army as part of Force ‘D’. That was the name for the Expedition of, initially, two brigades of the Indian Army sent at British behest to invade Mesopotamia. Each brigade consisted of one British and three Indian battalions all under the leadership of British officers. The area was of importance to Britain as it contained the vital Shatt-al-Arab, the name given to the united streams of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowing into the Persian Gulf below Basra. This area was the source of much of the oil used by Britain and the Government had a controlling interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which produced it.
The invasion force landed on 5th November 1914 almost unopposed and the strategic town of Basra was occupied with ease as the Turks fled. It was the success of this operation that led the Government to believe further advances into the heart of Mesopotamia would be a walkover. They ignored the inhospitable disease ridden terrain and the total inadequacy of the logistic and transportation services available to Force ‘D’. Unfortunately their apparent continued success in seizing territory belied an increasingly precarious position. The Turkish Army was a formidable power to be reckoned with and totally underrated by the General in overall charge of the 2nd Indian Army Corps - Sir John Nixon. Baghdad was the prize coveted by the British Government and Nixon belittled his subordinate commander’s caution and agreed to attempt its capture without further reinforcements. Nixon considered that the Allied attacks on the Dardanelles and the Russian action in Armenia would split the enemy forces and allow his meagre column an easy victory. It was despatched on a mission of conquest under Major-General C.V. Townshend. Nixon evidently had not heard of Cromwell’s famous remark, ‘No man goes so far as he who knows not whither he is going.’
On the way to Baghdad, inside a large loop of the River Tigris, lay the Arab town of Kut-al-Amara. The obvious way to carry supplies was by river yet few boats were available and so movement was slow. Supplies were stored in the town and the Corps pressed on. About sixteen miles from the Magic City, at a town called Ctesiphon some 20,000 well armed and determined Turks were waiting. In the forthcoming battle 4,500 of our men became casualties. The medical resources were woefully inadequate and the exhausted survivors were dying from exposure out in the desert. Townshend, who had lost 40% of his entire force, including half the white officers, decided the only course left open to him was to retreat. He proposed to make a stand in Kut-al-Amara and wait for a relief column to come to his aid. The date was December 3rd 1915.
Food stocks were considered barely adequate for a siege of two months and yet proper preparations for a possible long wait were disregarded in anticipation of a quick rescue. Three bungled and costly attempts to relieve the besieged troops were made in January but the rescuers from the 7th (Meerut) Division could not breach the Turkish lines. The local population of Kut remained and consumed the dwindling food supplies at a prodigious rate. Strict rationing was not introduced in that two months, at the end of which time it was realised that relief would not be imminent. The annual floods now greatly hampered a break through and hindered the muster of sufficient troops to force the Turkish lines. On 9th March around 20,000 troops of the recently formed Tigris Corps made another attempt. It failed, largely through the inept leadership of Major General Kemball and the unwillingness of Townshend to venture out of his enclave to assist. The cost of this debacle was another 3,474 casualties. No further large-scale attempt was to be made. The Turks could afford to wait for the inevitable and did not invade the town.
By April rations inside Kut were down to starvation levels and the Indian soldiers were in a particular plight, as they would not eat horseflesh on religious grounds. An attempt to secure terms of repatriation on parole not to take up arms again, failed. This was despite a ‘bribe’ of £2,000,000, which the Turks despised. They demanded unconditional surrender and on 29th April after a siege of 143 days Townshend complied after destroying all possible military equipment. About 3,000 British and 6,000 Indian troops were taken prisoner and most died in captivity from gross ill treatment, starvation and disease. Among them was Allan Parsons who is recorded as dying of sickness on 29th August 1916 at the age of 26. He would have been buried close to the prison camp at Anatolia where he died. After the Armistice his body was exhumed with many others and re-interred at Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery. It seems Gunner Parsons finally achieved his goal and reached the Magic City of Baghdad but surely not in the way he expected. He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War & Victory Medals.