Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Corporal Ware at Sanniyat - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1916

I don't think it would be possible to encapsulate the Second World War in one image. There were so many actions, in so many places, involving so many servicemen and women and civilians, that it would be impossible.

For the First World War it is easier. Except for the very start and the very end of the war the tactics were almost the same on all fronts; for the vast majority of the combatants of WW1 they endured trench warfare. By showing a photograph of a line of soldiers leaving a trench with bayonets fixed you immediately epitomize the Great War.

For Britain the Western Front dominated our war and come November, and the run up to remembrance, it will be an image of steel-helmeted Tommies in France or Flanders between 1916 and 1918 which will invariably be used. Even the research society in Britain which researches the whole of the First World War calls itself the Western Front Association.

Some may use the disparaging term 'sideshow' for the other campaigns Britain was involved between 1914 and 1919 (when the First World War officially ended). In terms of the British effort the 'Other Theatres' were completely overshadowed by the huge numbers of men in France and Belgium. Away from the Western Front though the fighting was just as fierce, the conditions just as terrible and the chances of dying were just as high. To focus on the Western Front, and the Western Front alone, when representing the First World War does our allies and the men who fought on the other fronts a great injustice.

Apart from the thousands of Scots in the Royal Navy, during the First World war tens of thousands more served in many campaigns away from the Western Front. For example the 52nd (Lowland) Division which was a territorial unit filled with men from across the Borders and Lowlands of Scotland served in the Middle East between 1915 and early 1918.

Here is a quick list of the other campaigns where Scotsmen would have served in the First World War: (Note there were many Scots in South African units which served in Africa)


  • East Africa 1914

  • West Africa 1914 (where the first British officer to be killed in the war, Captain George Thompson of the Royal Scots died in the attack on German held Togoland)

  • South-West Africa 1914-1918

  • Egypt & Arabia 1915-1917

  • Gallipoli (Turkey) 1915

  • Salonika (Greece) 1916-1918

  • Bulgaria 1918

  • Ireland 1916

  • Mesopotamia (Iraq) 1915-1921

  • Palestine 1917-1918

  • Syria 1918

  • Italy 1917-1918 (a front where Italy lost as many men as England during the war)

  • Persia 1918

  • North and South Russia 1918-1920

  • Afghanistan 1919.

Two of the Scottish units which served in Mesopotamia in the First World War were the 2nd Battalion Black Watch and 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. In an attack on Ottoman positions on the Tigris in early 1916 the two battalions suffered so many casualties they were amalgamated as the Highland Battalion until reinforcements could reach them.

At the time British and Indian troops in 'Mespot' were trying to relieve the British troops in Kut-al-Amara (now Al-Kut in Iraq). They were following the Tigris because that was the only way they could move their supplies. At Sina`iyat (or Sanniyat) the Ottoman Army had prepared very strong defensive positions in front of flat open ground. The only way to try and capture Sanniyat was in the open in a frontal attack.

On this day ninety five years ago the Highland Battalion charged across the desert under heavy machine-gun fire. They took many casualties, and during the day a professional soldier from Dorset who had enlisted in the Seaforths in 1911 showed exceptional courage.

For his actions on this day ninety five years ago Corporal Sidney Ware was awarded the Victoria Cross. Here is his citation:

For most conspicuous bravery at Sanniyat, Mesopotamia, on 6th April 1916.

An order was given to withdraw to the cover of a communications trench. Corporal Ware, whose cool gallantry had been very marked during the advance, was one of the few men remaining unwounded. He picked up a wounded man and carried him some 200 yards to cover and then returned for others, moving to and fro under very heavy fire for more than two hours, until he had brought in all his wounded and was completely exhausted.”

Corporal Ware did not live long enough to know he had been given the highest award for gallantry, he was severely wounded four days later and died in hospital on 16th April 1916.

So when you see an image of the trenches remember also Corporal Ware V.C's bravery in the desert of Iraq; and all the Scots and men in Scottish regiments who fought in deserts and swamps, on mountains and in forests, in the blazing heat and the freezing cold. The First World War was their war too.

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