19th September 2017 Mesopotamia during WW1 – Terry Hare-Walker

On Tuesday September 19th, the Society welcomed Mr. Terry Hare-Walker who gave a presentation on Mesopotamia during WW1. Terry’s main interest is philately of India and as it happened the campaigns in Mesopotamia were all managed from India with Indian soldiers and British officers.

In 1913 oil was becoming increasingly important for the British Navy as ships were transferring from coal to oil propulsion and with the uncertainty of world politics it was imperative that Britain gained access and control over the supply of oil. (It is amazing how history repeats itself) This was especially important within the oil fields of Mesopotamia as this area was still part of the Ottoman Empire and they were leaning towards supporting Germany in the run up to the Great War.

Terry’s display was made up of a large amount of correspondence between Major Walter Gilchrist and his wife who he wrote to virtually every week. As a result Terry was able to retell the story of how the 6th Division proceeded throughout the war. All correspondence had to go to India to be censored before onward despatch to the UK and would often take in excess of a month.The first stamps used were a George V Indian issue overprinted IEF which stood for India Expeditionary Force and these were used for a large part of this campaign.

The initial success of the campaign convinced the officers that they should proceed to Baghdad but by the time they were close to Baghdad the Turkish forces had regrouped and with the Indian supply lines very stretched they had no choice but to retreat to Kut. Unbeknown to the Indian forces the Turks had also closed off the Tigris south of Kut so there was no further retreat.

In the second half of Terry’s display we were taken through the siege of Kut which lasted a good while with all postal communication closed off so all correspondence had to go by Telegraph. As it turned out 23,000 men lost their lives whilst trying to relieve Kut which eventually had to surrender to the Turks. A £2m ransom was offered to the Turks for the release of the Indian forces but this was declined due to the propaganda that could be achieved by parading British Officers through cities such as Constantinople. Eventually Baghdad was captured in 1917 and when the next stamps were issued they used the current Turkish issue overprinted with “Iraq British Occupation”. At the end of the war the area known as Mesopotamia was renamed Iraq which is largely the country we know today.

Major Gilchrist returned to his wife in England at the end of the war unlike most of the officers who sadly lost their lives.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday October 3rd at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre when presentation will be “Parachutes – a Thematic display” by Barry Stagg. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or contact John Davies on 01295 255831.