To retrieve, The First World War through the lens of W. J. Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment, click here The Complete Story
Will Grummett left the village of Imam Abas in Mesopotamia, the Norfolk Regiment’s latest resting spot, for Basra shortly after Christmas of 1919. The war was over and although there was an offer to re-enlist and carry on in the region, he chose to go home. Will set off for the port at Basra and the ship that would retrace his journey through the Persian Gulf, into the Arabian Sea, across the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean, and beyond Gibraltar into the Atlantic, and finally to an English Channel port.
The journey back to England was markedly better than the trip to India had been those two years ago. The ship was probably as crowded, and, just as on the outbound trip, there would be no chance to get ashore. This time, though, the weather would have been mercifully cooler in December, but, most importantly, there would have been no lurking German U-boats in the Atlantic.
I expect Will arrived in England sometime in the latter half of January, 1919. He would have reported to the regimental garrison at Harwich in Essex. His out right release from service or demobilization, was not immediate. The problem was that there were a lot of men to demobilize, and getting them home was a large-scale logistical problem. Canada alone had nearly 270,000 soldiers to bring home with limited shipping. It was also a highly charged situation. Soldiers who had been overseas for years desperately wanted to go home.
The following is from a letter written by Will Grummett in 1923 and published in the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper:
During the Great War, I served with the Imperial Army in Mesopotamia, and toward the close of that campaign, during the latter part of 1918 I was sent up into Persia to aid in the rescue of that part of the Armenian people who had taken refuge at Lake Urmia, in Northern Persia. We were told we had 80,000 Armenians to bring down into Mesopotamia where they could be cared for by the British Forces. From records I kept of the refugees passing through my hands I believe 57000 refugees reached the concentration camp at Baqubah. The rest presumably perished on the way. The total distance traveled was 500 miles. The death rate per day was very heavy on the 60 miles of route over which I had charge.
W.J. Grummett, Toronto Globe and Mail, April 30, 1923.
Pachmari is a hill station in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. “Hill Station”, is a British term used to describe a town situated above the surrounding plain (in this case at 3600 fasl) possessed of a cooler climate than the land below. It was for this reason that the British Army established a sanatorium at Pachmari in the mid 19th century. By the time of the First World War, the sanatorium facility likely remained in use as a hospital, but now it was also home to the School of Musketry.
By October of 1917, Will Grummett had been on the Persian front for just over two months. He’d spent some of that time confined to a segregation camp as part of an effort to defeat an epidemic of diphtheria. He was released in late July and had been engaged from then primarily in training exercises in preparation for the upcoming season of “active campaigning” against the Turkish army.
Since April, both armies had been nearly inactive due to the intense heat. The British Commander, General Maude, noted in a dispatch describing this period that, “…movements could not be undertaken by either side without grave risk of incurring substantial casualties from heat stroke and heat exhaustion,” (Gen. Maude, London Gazette, Jan. 8, 1918). Just before the halt in the fighting, Maude and his army had driven the Turks eastward to the foothills known as the Jebel Hamrin, and south of the Diyala River just beyond the village of Deli Abbas on the north side of the river. (see Map 1 below, Turkish lines are indicated by the brown line). Continue reading “9 – In the Jebel Hamrin”
As the fearfully hot weather began in India that summer of 1917, Will Grummett lay in Belgaum Stationary Hospital, just one of many victims of malaria, among those whom other diseases and battle wounds had felled. Typically, military hospitals were open ward type, with as many and perhaps more than 50 men to a large room and only the occasional folding screen to provide some temporary privacy. For the first few weeks I doubt Will took much notice. Malaria produces alternating periods of high fever and chills accompanied by intense whole body pain, convulsions, vomiting and diarrhea. The fever can be so high and sustained that it causes delirium. The danger was that this may lead to a coma and then, in most cases, death. Continue reading “8 – To the Persian Front”
Mesopotamia means the “land between the rivers”. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers have their source in the mountains to the north in Syria and Iran and grow ever closer as they make their way through this ancient land. They eventually meet, and their waters become the Shat El Arab which empties into the Persian Gulf. Today the area formerly known as Mesopotamia is, for the most part, within Iraq. Continue reading “7- Mesopotamia”
A Fine and noble gesture
As I began the research in support of my effort to tell Will Grummett’s World War One story, I quickly became aware of the importance of little things, details, that made connections that gave the story depth and continuity. Such things as, a military order sheet with a name, a notebook with a place name, a date with a place, a photo with a date, a one line entry in an honour roll, all provided clues and corroboration that resulted in the fixed or known places and times from which the story is told. Without a collection of objects, images and records, any biographical tale would have no ground to stand upon and would dissolve into fictional imaginings. Additions to the collection of this most basic information are like gold.
Since gold is rare, and metaphorical gold even rarer, and the willingness to share it even rarer than that, you can imagine how surprised I was when Dean Loree of Kitchener, Ontario contacted me to say he had Will Grummett’s officer’s travel locker. Dean is a collector of things military and he purchased the locker some years ago at an estate sale. Dean added the locker to his collection because it was a fine example of its kind, and it had a personal connection since the officer’s name, W.J. Grummett, was painted on the lid. Dean likes a good story, and is particularly interested in the stories of those brave souls who are willing to fight for their country. I think he discovered that W.J. Grummett was the former Ontario provincial politician Bill Grummett, but could only speculate on the details of his wartime story until he found our website.
Will Grummett had been with the British Garrison at Quetta for about two months and had passed his second Christmas far from home, when he was ordered – not to join in the fight in Mesopotamia – but to attend the School of Instruction for Young Officers at Ambala, Haryana province in central, northern India early in February of 1917. This insistence on yet more training was part of a larger strategy to ensure the absolute success of a planned second attempt to push the Turkish Army out of Mesopotamia and break Turkish hold on the region.
Following the British defeat at the siege of Kut-Al-Amara in 1916, the British High Command’s review of the conduct of the war in Mesopotamia found significant shortcomings. These included: no suitably modern ports to receive men and material, and poor transportation linkages within the country. These, in turn, lead to shortages of everything for the soldier at the front, including food and water. Incidents of diseases such as cholera were particularly high, as poorly supplied troops were left to search for potable water wherever they could find it.
A week prior to Will Grummett’s receipt of his commission, in July of 1916, the Allied armies began an assault on the Western Front referred to as the Somme Offensive or the Battle of the Somme. What was planned as an all out assault in an effort to end the war became a protracted battle lasting from July to November of 1916. This battle would mark perhaps the lowest point of the war for British soldiers and citizens. To this day the Battle of the Somme ranks as one of the bloodiest of battles in the history of mankind, consuming 1.2 million lives. The final outcome amounted to a few hundred yards advance and was, little more than continued stalemate on the Western Front.
This was the nature of the theatre of war to which I am certain Will Grummett thought he was going: a killing field in which British soldiers and their officers, “had enthusiasm and little else” (Taylor, 1985). Officers in particular were trained to, “expose themselves recklessly – hence officer casualties were often six times greater than those of other ranks.” (Taylor, 1985) By assuming the role of a junior officer and therefore a platoon commander, Will had put himself in the, “most dangerous position in the British Army.” (Hughes-Wilson, 2014). Continue reading “5 – A Passage to India”