Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq, was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire at the start of the Great War. With oil interests in the region, British troops were first despatched to the region in 1914 to prevent the Turks from interrupting the supply of oil, much of which was used by the Royal Navy. Gradually Mesopotamia, or Mespot, turned into a full-scale war with large numbers of British and Indian Army troops involved. In 1916 there was a major defeat at Kut, but gradually the war turned in Britain’s favour leading to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the region in 1918.
There were trenches and battles in Mespot that saw some of the earliest forms of British desert warfare. Here two soldiers of an Army Service Corps unit have constructed a field stove in a trench system. The goggles they wear were required kit in Mespot where sandy desert winds could reduce visibility very quickly and sand particles blind soldiers very quickly. One author called Mespot ‘The Bastard War‘ and it is clear that conditions were tough here for British troops, up against an often underestimated but formidable enemy like the Ottoman Turks.
Portraits of Indian soldiers are seemingly rare; in decades of collecting WW1 images I have only ever found a few. It could be that having a portrait taken was not part of the culture of soldiers from India or that more likely it was a matter of pay; that they had better things to spend their money on. There could of course be thousands in junk shops across India!
This photograph shows Lance Corporal Venkatasami of the 2nd Queen’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners. This Indian unit fought in France, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine during the Great War and provided Engineer support to Indian formations in these campaigns. Venkatasami survived the war and this photograph was taken in Egypt in February 1919.
He is wearing the typical uniform of Indian troops in these theatres of war; Khaki Drill tunic and shorts, and on his left sleeve are Long Service and Good Conduct stripes indicating twelve years in the Indian Army; not untypical for Indian servicemen of that period.