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The EK1

Aden and Yemen in 1914

When Turkey entered the Great War as a German ally in early November 1914 Britain was faced with defending two frontiers against Turkish aggression, one in Egypt and the other in Aden and its hinterland.  The Turks had invaded Yemen in 1872 and they garrisoned the capital Sanaa and the coastal ports with an army corps of unknown strength.  A joint Boundary Commission in 1904 (See HERE) had established a border between Yemen and the Protectorate that Britain had established in the Aden hinterland and Turkish troops also garrisoned tactical points near this border.

Aden was a strategically important coaling port and harbour for the British Empire as it lay on the shipping route between the Antipodes and Europe, and it was near the entrance to the Red Sea that led to the Suez Canal.  However the administration of Aden by Britain was marked by confusion and complication, and it was left to the Government of India to administer the territory through a Political Resident who usually was the military commander in Aden.  The Aden garrison consisted of one British and one Indian infantry battalion and the Aden Troop, which was a cavalry squadron of both horse and camel-mounted sowars, manned by volunteers from Indian cavalry regiments.  The hot harsh climate and rugged terrain in Aden’s hinterland presented strong challenges to both European and Indian soldiers.

As troops were needed for France the British battalion in Aden had been sent to Europe and initially a mixed force was hurriedly assembled and sent from India to replace it.  Later the 23rd Sikh Pioneers who had been earmarked for service in Egypt were re-assigned to be part of the Aden Garrison, arriving there on 9th November.

The attack on Sheikh Said

The first confrontation with the Turks occurred near the island of Perim lying 145 kilometres west of Aden in the Straits of Bab El Mandib at the mouth of the Red Sea.  Volcanic and waterless Perim Island, 13 square kilometres in area and a part of Aden territory, housed an important lighthouse, a coaling station and a small garrison of around 50 Indian soldiers.  The African coast lay 18 kilometres away but the Yemen mainland opposite the island lay only 2.5 kilometres distant.  On a knoll opposite Perim, at a location named Sheikh Said, the Turks had constructed Fort Turba which commanded both Perim Island and the straits of Bab El Mandib.  Strong gun positions had been built using granite and concrete; these housed two Krupp’s guns with a range of around 20 kilometres, and two more light but more mobile field guns.  Good ammunition magazines, stores and barracks had also been constructed and a Turkish garrison of around 500 men was deployed in and around the fort.  More field guns in well camouflaged positions were positioned in the area behind the fort.  A few small fishing villages in the area were inhabited by Yemeni civilians.

During the first week of November the officer commanding Perim garrison alerted Aden about a new camp that the Turks were building six kilometres from Sheikh Said.  The Indian Army was obviously anxious to keep open the shipping lane that was being used to reinforce France and Egypt and Delhi authorised a 24-hour operation against Sheikh Said by troops on their way to Egypt.  This decision to make a pre-emptive attack appears to have been one known only to military commanders in India and Aden, politicians being left out of the picture until afterwards.  This secrecy undoubtedly prevented questions or obstruction from above.

Left: Arab Chief in Aden

On 3rd November the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General H.V. Cox had sailed from Karachi for Egypt in a convoy and it was decided to use this brigade to attack Sheikh Said.  Four battalions were in the brigade, 14th (King George’s Own) Ferozepore Sikhs, 69th Punjabis, 89th Punjabis, and 1st Battalion of the 6th Gurkhas.  For the attack the Gurkhas were to be left on board their ship and the 23rd Sikh Pioneers were to join the brigade at Aden; the Pioneers were needed because of their demolition skills.  A plan was made at Aden by the General Staff Officer there, Major C.R. Bradshaw, 9th Gurkha Rifles.  When the convoy reached Aden he joined Brigadier Cox’s headquarters with maps, appreciations and a draft plan.  Lieutenant Colonel H.F. Jacob, the acting Political Resident, had requested to Delhi that a Political Officer accompany Major Bradshaw so that the tribes at Sheikh Said could be assured of Britain’s friendly intentions towards them, but no reply came to the request and Bradshaw went alone.

Brigadier Cox and Captain H. Blackett, Royal Navy, captain of the supporting cruiser HMS Duke of Edinburgh, agreed a combined-operations plan to arrive off Sheikh Said at 0100 hours, make a covert landing in darkness, and then attack Fort Turba at dawn under the supporting fire of the cruiser’s six 240mm (9.2-inch) and ten 152mm (6-inch) guns.  Meanwhile the remainder of the convoy would anchor off Aden for 24 hours.

In the event when the brigade in their transports and the cruiser arrived off Sheikh Said in the early hours of 10th November they encountered rough seas.  The cruiser’s picket boat made a reconnaissance and returned, the Beach Master reporting that the sea was too rough to make a landing and that the picket boat had been observed and had attracted Turkish rifle fire.  The plan was changed to one where the cruiser shelled Fort Turba at dawn and then took the convoy to the western side of Sheikh Said where a daylight landing would be made supported by naval gunfire.  The disadvantages of this new plan were that the line of Turkish retreat could not be cut off from the west, and fringes of rocks along the shore meant that the transports had to anchor well out to sea.

Above: Camel transport Aden

The new plan was put into effect and went well until the troops started disembarking when it was found that the transports’ gangways were not suitable for laden soldiers entering small boats.  Many sepoys had never seen the sea before this voyage and took some time to adjust to the landing boats that were being towed towards the shore.  The landing boats from the transports were found to be leaking and often rudderless and were quickly replaced by naval boats.  The tug boats were crewed by civilians from Perim Island and Aden and these crews were unhappy at receiving heavy Turkish shrapnel fire.  Strong winds also hampered the landings.

By 1100 hours landings had been made but only the 89th Punjabis and a double-company and the machine guns of the 69th Punjabis were ashore and digging-in to secure the beach-head.  Realising the shortage of time remaining for the operation Brigadier Cox ordered these troops to attack towards Fort Turba whilst the remaining troops from his brigade were brought from the transports.  The Punjabis fought slowly forward over ground providing little cover whilst the Turks engaged them with machine gun and rifle fire and shrapnel from field guns.  During this fighting a machine gunner of the 69th Punjabis, No. 765 Naik Labh Singh, displayed gallantry whilst providing covering fire from exposed positions and he later received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  The naval gunfire was effective in encouraging the Turks to withdraw, and the Punjabis continued their advance throughout the night with the aim of being at Fort Turba by 0600 hours 11th November.

After dusk the cruiser sailed eastwards and at dawn provided covering fire whilst Fort Turba was taken without a fight.  The naval lyddite shells had caused extensive damage to the fort and its gun positions but had not detonated the Turkish ammunition magazines.  Whilst the two Punjabi battalions re-embarked the 14th (King George’s Own) Ferozepore Sikhs (1) occupied positions to cover the 23rd Sikh Pioneers.  The Pioneers, assisted by a naval demolition party, successfully destroyed the 2 Krupp guns, 4 field guns, 1 brass cannon, about 10,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, gun emplacements and large quantities of artillery shells and cordite.  The 3,000 men that had been landed were all back on board by 1730 hours; the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade re-joined its convoy and sailed for Egypt whilst the 23rd Sikh Pioneers sailed back to Aden.  Six dead Turks and a few wounded had been found on the battlefield and two wounded prisoners had been taken; the Turks had removed their other casualties when they withdrew.  Brigadier Cox’s force had lost 5 men killed or died of wounds and around a dozen wounded during a very successful combined operation.  But due credit must be given to the Royal Navy who provided the seamanship skills and firepower that ensured success.

On 29th May 1915 No. 1 Company of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers under Captain H.S. Hutchison was garrisoning Perim Island.  That night a sepoy shot dead in their beds the two senior Indian officers in the battalion, Subedar Major Balwant Singh and Subedar Paritam Singh.  No. 3886 Havildar Uttama Singh (2) closed with the murderer, No. 4510 Sepoy Basakha Singh, and although fired at, arrested him.  Basakha Singh was tried, found guilty, and hanged in Aden Special Prison on 7th June.

The Turks reoccupied Sheikh Said and they attacked Perim Island on 13th June firing around 300 shells from a 4.1-inch gun and two lighter guns.  The lighthouse was hit several times but not badly damaged.  The following night at 0100 hours the enemy launched dhows full of soldiers in an attempted landing on the island.  Most of the dhows were discouraged by effective defensive fire but some Turkish troops landed successfully.  However after being illuminated by a British star shell the Turks rapidly withdrew.

The disastrous attempt to defend Lahej

In early 1915 the Aden garrison was increased with the Territorial 4th Battalion, South Wales Borderers (Brecknockshire Battalion) arriving from Britain as a replacement for the departed Regular Army battalion.  However the Brecknocks were not fully trained and needed to acclimatize to Aden’s unrelenting severely hot weather. The Indian battalions in theatre were the 23rd Sikh Pioneers, the 109th Infantry and half of the 126th Baluchistan Infantry, but the Sikh Pioneers and the Baluchis were sending reinforcement drafts to battalions in France whilst the 109th Infantry and some of the Sikh Pioneers were manning outposts such as Perim and also Kamaran Island off the Yemen Red Sea coast.  On the political front the new garrison commander and Political Resident, Major-General D.L.B. Shaw, made a treaty with a tribal leader outside Aden and supplied him with money, rifles and ammunition.  The pro-British Sultan of Lahej, north of Aden port, was presented with four field guns and a British officer was seconded to teach gunnery to the Sultan’s soldiers.  General Shaw hoped that these arrangements would provide him with security outside Aden town.  The Aden Troop patrolled to the north of Lahej.
Above: 15-pounder Camel Battery Aden

Meanwhile the Turks were preparing to advance with 2,000 men and 6 guns on Lahej, and they received the co-operation of the Adeni tribes whose land they would cross.  The Turkish advance was made in late June when the power of the sun was approaching its strongest, but General Shaw had to despatch a Moveable Column to defend Lahej.  This column concentrated at the oasis of Sheikh Othman, just north of Aden port, on 3rd July and contained:

·         15-pounder Camel Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (6 guns).

·         10-pounder Mountain Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (4 guns packed on camels).

·         Elements of the 23rd (Fortress) Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners.

·         A Wing (half a battalion) of Brecknocks.

·         A company of 23rd Sikh Pioneers with two .450-inch machine guns and two .303-inch machine guns.

·         A Wing of the 109th Infantry with two .450-inch machine guns and two .303-inch machine guns.

·         Two companies of 126th Baluchistan Infantry.

The column departed at 0300 hours the following day and as the sun rose higher in the sky cases of dehydration and heat-stroke began to occur in the column.  The fitter elements marched on whilst undisciplined chaos set in amongst the rest of the column.  Meanwhile a flying advanced guard of machine gunners in cars had set out ahead of the marching men, arriving in Lahej at 0800 hours.  By 1030 hours the first 100 of the 109th Infantry under their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel H.C. Wooldridge, and the Sappers & Miners under Captain C.F. Stoehr, Royal Engineers, had marched the 45 kilometres into Lahej; the remainder of the battalion and company trickled in by 1730 hours.  Colonel Wooldridge briefly rested the men and commenced planning a defence.

The company of 23rd Pioneers arrived at Lahej at 1330 hours; the Pioneers’ commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel H.F.A. Pearson, was the commander of the Moveable Column and his Adjutant, Captain F.C. Squires was the Column Staff Officer.  Colonel Pearson took over command of the British force from Colonel Wooldridge.  The camel-packed mountain battery arrived at Lahej in good order but the 15-pounder guns being hauled by camels were stuck in the sand on the track.  Fitter men of the Baluchis and the Brecknocks also trickled in.  To the rear on the track from Sheikh Othman the logistical side of the operation had collapsed as the Adeni camel drivers carrying water, ammunition and supplies abandoned their tasks and retired with their camels (3).  Not all the allocated medical units were in place on the line of march and men were dying of heat-stroke.

In Lahej, which was the size of a village, Colonel Pearson organised a defence based on the north-west edge as the Turks attacked.  To the rear were two gardens where the British and Indian troops respectively had rested after their march.  Three awards of the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, were later made for gallantry displayed during the Lahej fighting:

 No. 2007 Havildar Shah Nawaz, 109th Infantry: For gallantry on the 4th and 5th July 1915 while in charge of a machine gun section.  It was mainly owing to his exertion that the guns were got up to Lahej.  He handled his men well throughout the action and showed much discretion in checking one or two rushes.

No. 3979 Lance Naik Gil Baz, 126 Baluchistan Infantry: This non-commissioned officer, while wounded, was of the greatest assistance in steadying the men during the action on the 4th and 5th July 1915.

The third award was made in 1920 after the recipient had escaped from captivity (4).  Sepoy Sohan Singh, 1st Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 4th July 1915 when he carried messages between his machine gun section and the officer commanding the unit.  Sepoy Sohan Singh also showed the greatest pluck and determination when he escaped from captivity.  He made his way through 350 miles (560 kilometres) of strange country and after undergoing many privations due to lack of food and water and a bad climate, rejoined the British forces.

The British held their line during the hours of daylight mainly due to effective use of the mountain guns, one of the Sultan’s guns, and the machine guns.  However after dusk the enemy fired huts that illuminated the British positions and the Turks and their local Arab allies started to turn both British flanks.  Colonel Pearson had to withdraw to the garden area 550 metres to his rear, abandoning two of the mountain guns which were first disabled.  Close quarter fighting took place in the village main street in which Captain Squires was mortally wounded; men of the Sappers & Miners were prominent in the fighting at this time and Captain Stoehr was very active with his revolver.  Meanwhile the Sultan of Lahej’s artillerymen had fled but his remaining loyal riflemen cheerfully fired from rooftops at anyone who moved.  Unfortunately the Sultan himself was shot by a British bullet, a case of mistaken identity, whilst he observed the battle from a balcony of his palace. The British fought and held the garden line until 0300 hours 5th July, when the Turks withdrew after suffering around 250 casualties.  The British wounded were then evacuated on all the available camels.

At dawn Colonel Pearson made an appreciation of his situation and decided that without ammunition and supplies he must withdraw to Sheikh Othman; this was achieved but the .450 machine guns had to be disabled and abandoned because of the lack of pack animals.  The Turks did not immediately follow-up the British withdrawal.  At Sheikh Othman General Shaw decided that his troops were not in a fit state to defend the oasis, which was the main water supply for Aden, and a further withdrawal was made to the Khor Maksar line at the outskirts of the port.  Local inhabitants gleefully looted Sheikh Othman and the Turks occupied it, cutting off Aden’s water supply; British prestige was at its lowest point and in Aden drinking water had to be produced from condensers on ships in the harbour.  British casualties on the Lahej operation were: Captain Squires died of wounds, 6 British and 6 Indian soldiers killed or missing, 5 British and 10 Indian soldiers wounded and 35 men dead from heatstroke, most of them from the Brecknocks. 

The arrival of the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade

Swift action was called for and on 8th July half of the 108th Infantry arrived in Aden as reinforcements, and the 4th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), another Territorial unit, relieved the Brecknocks.  The most important development was the arrival in Aden of a new commander and an infantry brigade from Egypt; Major General Sir George Younghusband replaced General Shaw, bringing with him the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade and two British Territorial batteries, the Berkshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery and ‘B’ Battery, Honourable Artillery Company.  The battalions in the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade were: the 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force), the 56th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force) and the 62nd Punjabis; the Brigade disembarked at Aden on 20th July and marched to bivouac at Khor Maksar.

General Younghusband quickly appreciated that Sheikh Othman had to be held by the British but that there would never be sufficient troops to occupy other locations in the hinterland, therefore an ‘aggressive defence’ had to be practised from Aden.  This meant that a Flying Column was to be on standby as a quick-reaction force and a Moveable Column was to be quickly formed when a short expedition was mounted against a Turkish post.  The basic factor that underlay all tactical planning was that columns had to carry sufficient water with them for both the outward and return journeys, and this factor limited the distance that operations could be mounted from Aden.

Right: Honourable Artillery Company guns at Sheikh Othman

At 0300 hours on 21st July the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade, with the Aden Troop in support, marched the six kilometres to Sheikh Othman under the temporary command of Lieutenant Colonel A.M.S. Elsmie, 56th Punjabi Rifles.  The 53rd Sikhs were on the left, the 56th Rifles on the right, the 51st Sikhs marched in support and the 62nd Punjabis were in reserve at Khor Maksar.  The sepoys approached Sheikh Othman at dawn and firing broke out from enemy troops shooting from houses and over walls.  However surprise had been achieved and the Brigade maintained momentum, attacking the Turkish positions.  An enemy counter-attack was mounted onto the British left but was beaten back, and brisk fighting developed in the oasis during which Lieutenants V.W.K. Mackinnon and G.C. Southern, both of the 53rd Sikhs, were killed along with 3 sepoys, 22 other sepoys were wounded.  The Turks did not defend Sheikh Othman for long before withdrawing towards Lahej, harassed by the Aden Troop.  The Brigade then occupied the oasis, supported by an artillery battery.

Subedar Molar Singh, 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force), was awarded an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class: On the 21st July 1915 this officer led a platoon in action with great coolness and conspicuous gallantry and gave an excellent example to his men at a time when they had several casualties in the space of a few minutes.

The action at Fiyush and the reconnaissance of Waht

The water supply from Sheikh Othman to Aden was restored within 24 hours of the oasis being captured, and the policy of ‘aggressive defence’ was implemented.  An attack by a small column was mounted against Fiyush, a Turkish post on the eastern camel track to Lahej.  The column consisted of the Aden Troop, two guns of the Berkshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, two guns of the Honourable Artillery Company, Royal Horse Artillery and the 56th Punjabi Rifles.  On 25th August the 56th Rifles attacked the village frontally whilst the cavalry rode around to the Turkish rear where 16 Arab irregulars, 7 rifles and 8 camels were captured.  In the village the 56th Rifles had lost 5 sepoys dead and 3 wounded, but enemy casualties were estimated at 12 dead and 20 wounded.

On 28th August Aden Troop was out again with the 53rd Sikhs under Lieutenant Colonel C.H. Davies DSO.  The mission was to reconnoitre Waht under cover of darkness.  As the cavalry rode to the rear of the village, greatly impeded by flooded fields, stone walls and steep banks, a commotion was seen and heard in the village.  A couple of villagers advised that 2,000 enemy troops, 100 horsemen and 14 guns with 200 mules had just arrived from Lahej.  A mounted orderly rode to alert Colonel Davies but he was already in contact with the enemy.  As the new day dawned Colonel Davies realised the overwhelming strength of the Turks, and made a fighting withdrawal.

Three men of the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, for gallantry displayed at Waht.  The joint citation for No 3543 Naik Bahadur Shah and No. 3218 Sepoy Allah Khan read: For conspicuous gallantry on the 28th August 1915 during operations in the vicinity of Aden.  After three other signallers had been shot down these men, in spite of a heavy fire directed at them, succeeded in correctly transmitting a message to their commanding officer.

During the fighting a subaltern, Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to 53rd Sikhs, was severely wounded.  Jemadar Faiz Talab, 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) rescued the subaltern, receiving the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class: For conspicuous gallantry in operations in the vicinity of Aden on the 28th August 1915.  When 2nd Lieutenant P.F. Durand was wounded, Jemadar Faiz Talab carried him on his shoulders across an open field under a heavy fire to a place of safety.  By his devotion he undoubtedly saved 2nd Lieutenant Durand’s life. (5)

Colonel Davies withdrew his battalion to Sheikh Othman, struggling in deep sand and excessive heat.  The camel-mounted sowars of the Aden Troop provided security against the enemy horsemen and several wounded and exhausted Sikhs were brought in on the camels.  Enemy losses were not known but one sowar was wounded whilst the Sikhs suffered 2 sepoys killed, 2 officers and 18 sepoys wounded and 2 sepoys missing.  Missing men were rarely seen again.

This was the last action before the 28th Brigade (Frontier Force), less the 56th Punjabi Rifles, left Aden on 7th September to return to Egypt.  Major General J.M. Stewart took over command of the British forces in Aden.  Colonel Elsmie and his 56th Punjabi Rifles remained in Aden until mid-October when the battalion returned to Egypt.  A newly arrived unit, the Malay States Guides (see Here), then took over the role performed by the 56th Punjabi Rifles.

The attack on Waht

A much bigger column attacked Waht on 28th August.  The British forces were:

·         Aden Troop.

·         Hampshire Battery (4 horse-drawn 5-inch howitzers).

·         15-pounder Camel Battery (6 guns).

·         10-pounder Camel-packed Mountain Battery (2 guns).

·         5th Company, 1st Sappers & Miners.

·         One section, 23rd Fortress Company, Sappers & Miners.

·         Royal Navy Machine Gun Section.

·         One Wing of the 1st Battalion, 4th Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

·         One Wing 23rd Sikh Pioneers.

·         109th Infantry.

·         56th Punjabi Rifles.

·         62nd Punjabis.

The Turkish forces at Waht consisted of 700 Turks, 1,000 Arab irregulars and 8 guns.  Hostilities commenced at dawn on 25th September when the Aden Troop on the British right came into contact with a Turkish picquet; the subsequent firing alerted the enemy force.  The well-acclimatised 62nd Punjabis under Lieutenant Colonel E.W. Grimshaw led the initial attacks, seizing some small villages.  The 23rd Sikh Pioneers were then deployed to the British right to secure Sharj village that had been taken by the Punjabis.  Colonel Grimshaw pushed on, entering the south of Waht village as Turkish reinforcements from Lahej entered from the north, but as the Punjabis pushed the Turkish defenders back the enemy reinforcements fell back as well, forming a line in thick scrub 1200 metres north of Waht.  Turkish officers were seen urging their men forward but British shrapnel dissuaded any forward movement.

A stalemate developed as the well-handled Turkish artillery, always in superior numbers, prevented any further British advance.  Having occupied Waht for a couple of hours Colonel Elsmie withdrew to Sheikh Othman.  No. 437 Havildar Bishen Singh, 62nd Punjabis, was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal: (He) led the attack on Sharj Village, and was of great assistance in leading and urging on the men of his section throughout the day.

This attack had failed to kill many Turks and reading between the lines of after-action reports and regimental histories it is apparent that once again the effects of the climate were under-estimated by the planners, as 11 British soldiers and one sepoy died of heatstroke.  It is probable that many of the men in this large column were incapacitated on the battlefield by dehydration and heat exhaustion.  Other British casualties were one British soldier who died of wounds, and one officer, 3 British and 13 sepoys who survived wounds.  

The arrival of the 26th (King George’s Own) Light Cavalry, Indian Army

On 19th September 1915 the 26th (King George’s Own) Light Cavalry arrived in Aden where it was to stay until 1922; during those seven years the regimental war diary recorded 239 actions against the Turks and their irregular Arab allies.  This was a four-squadron Class Squadron Regiment with a squadron each of Madras and Dekhani Mussalmans, Punjabi Mussalmans, Rajputana Rajputs, and Jats.  The commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Arnold and his 2nd in Command was Lieutenant Colonel R. de L. Faunce.  The arrival of this regiment relieved the strain on the Aden Troop which had less than 90 sowars on strength yet had been performing the tasks of a regiment since the Turkish advance on Lahej.

The 26th Light Cavalry wasted no time in getting out on patrols and missions such as the arresting of enemy agents known to be in outlying villages.  On 7th October ‘D’ Squadron under Captain J.A. Collum deployed on an operation with the 15-pounder Camel Battery.  ‘D’ Squadron used darkness to covertly occupy a concealed position 1,000 metres north-east of As Sela Village where enemy irregular troops were known to be based. At dawn the Camel Battery shelled As Sela resulting in around 40 of the enemy retreating towards Al Darb Village on the track to Lahej.  The enemy group was mostly mounted on camels and fled to the north-west.  Captain Collum ordered the troop commanded by 2nd Lieutenant R.A. O’Connor to pursue at the gallop and attack.  Collum brought up his other three troops as quickly as he could.

When the enemy group was about 2.5 kilometres south of Al Darb Connor’s troop caught up with them and charged straight in with the lance, killing or wounding around 20 of the enemy.  The other three troops were only 200 metres behind but the surviving enemy moved into thick brush and engaged the cavalry with rifle fire, supported by a strong concealed picquet.  Captain Collum ordered dismounted fire action until the enemy from As Sela withdrew with their casualties; the enemy picquet remained in place.  The squadron then advanced on foot in extended order and under fire to recover the body of an Indian officer who had been killed in the fighting.  This was accomplished and as it was not in Collum’s orders to attack fixed positions he withdrew his squadron.

The dead officer, Jemadar Muhammad Khan, 26th (King George’s Own) Light Cavalry, was awarded a posthumous Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry and courage in a skirmish near As-sela in the vicinity of Aden on the 7th October 1915.  He showed great dash and gallantry in leading an attack on the enemy and he himself attacked a group of Arabs armed with rifles.  He killed three and wounded another but was shot by the fifth.

Until the end of 1915 General Stewart did not order any large operations with a Moveable Column, but low-level patrolling and skirmishing continued aggressively.  Neither side was strong enough to eject the other, but both sides wanted to skirmish, and needed to do so in order to retain the support of their respective groups of allied local tribes.

  Turkish spies in Aden

In his book 40 Years a Soldier General Younghusband describes the apprehension of a Turkish spy in Aden port.  The man was a leading Arab merchant who regularly corresponded with Said Pasha, the Turkish commander in Lahej.  The letters containing information were entrusted to local camel drivers who went into the hinterland to bring supplies back into Aden; doubtless these camel drivers then passed the letters on to others who would deliver them to Lahej.  One night a camel driver with a letter noticed that at the postern gate exit from Aden town everyone was being carefully searched.

Slipping away from the camel train for a few minutes the driver found a British red letter box and deposited the letter there.  The following day after the letter box had been opened the contents were taken to the Postal Censor, Colonel Cleveland.  The letter to Said Pasha was opened and found to contain an accurate plan of Aden showing all the defences and gun positions.  Exact ranges were marked in red ink between all the important points in Aden and landmarks on the mainland.  The signed letter also mentioned the fact that the writer was owed 100 rupees for his last letter, and he asked for another 100 rupees for the information he was sending now.  After being found guilty by court martial the writer was executed by firing squad in front of a group of the leading citizens of Aden.

In a similar vein the war diary of the Aden Troop mentions that local Arab and Somali deserters from the British force who were later captured whilst in the service of the Turks, were also court martialled and shot when found guilty.  

(1) A sepoy from the 14th (KGO) Sikhs, fed up with the problems of cooking on board using coke, chopped the Turkish flagpole down in the fort to take back to his transport.  He discarded the Turkish flag which he saw no use for but the flag was recovered and later was displayed in the battalion Officers’ Mess.
(2) Later Uttama Singh received the Indian Meritorious Service Medal and was promoted to Jemadar.
(3) Whenever it was tactically possible experienced battalions would march in hot regions with an escorted water supply at the head of the column; this discouraged men from dropping out further back in the column.
(4)  The 1st Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers later fought in Palestine and Sohan Singh was probably taken prisoner there.
(5) Jemadar Faiz Talab later also received the French Croix De Guerre.


·         Anonymous article. Combined Naval and Military Operations Against Sheikh Seyd, Southern Arabia. (The Naval Review online: ).

·         Betham, Lieutenant Colonel Sir G. and Geary, Major H.V.R. The Golden Galley. The Story of the Second Punjab Regiment 1761-1947. (Oxford University Press 1956).

·         Chhina, Rana. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal. (InvictaIndia 2001).

·         Condon, Brigadier W.E.H. The Frontier Force Regiment. (Gale & Polden Aldershot 1962).

·         Condon, Brigadier W.E.H. The Frontier Force Rifles. (Naval & Military Press reprint).

·         Connelly, Mark. The British Campaign in Aden, 1914-1918. (Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies 2005).

·         Duckers, Peter. Reward of Valour. The Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918. (Jade Publishing Ltd Oldham 1999).

·         Farndale, General Sir M. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The Forgotten Fronts and the Home Base, 1914-18. (The Royal Artillery Institution 1988).

·         Hayward, J.B. & Son, Medal Specialists (re-publishers). Honours and Awards Indian Army, 1914-1921. (Originally published in 1931 as Roll of Honour Indian Army, 1914-1921).

·         Lucas, Sir Charles. The Empire at War. (Oxford University Press 1921).

·         Lord, Cliff and Birtles, David. The Armed Forces of Aden 1839-1967. (Helion & Company

·         MacMunn, Lieut. General Sir George. The History of the Sikh Pioneers. 23rd, 32nd, 34th. (Sampson Low, Marston & Co Ltd, London 1936).

·         MacMunn, Lieutenant General Sir George and Falls, Captain Cyril (compilers).  Official History. Military Operations Egypt & Palestine from the Outbreak of War with Germany to June 1917. (Battery Press Nashville reprint 1996).

·         Maxwell, R.M. Jimmie Stewart – Frontiersman. The Edited Memoirs of Major General Sir J.M. Stewart KCB, CMG. (Pentland Press 1992).

·         McKenzie, F.A. The Defence of India (article) in The Great War edited by H.W. Wilson, Volume 7, Chapter 128 (available on Internet Archive).

·         Nath, Ashok. Izzat. Historical Records and Iconography of Indian Cavalry Regiments, 1750-2007. (Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, United Services Institute, Delhi 2009).

·         Pickering, Peter (website). Perim Island. The Last Colonial Outpost.

·         Qureshi, Major Mohammed Ibrahim. The First Punjabis. History of The First Punjab Regiment 1759-1956. (Gale & Polden Aldershot 1958).

·         Sandes, Lieutenant Colonel E.W.C. The Indian Sappers and Miners. (Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham 1948).

·         Younghusband, Major General Sir G. Forty Years a Soldier. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York 1923).

·         War Diaries: 23rd Sikh Pioneers (WO 95/5438); 109th Infantry (WO 95/5438); 26th Light Cavalry (WO 95/5437); Aden Troop; various medical units (WO 95 5439).

·         Despatches from Commander-in-Chief India in the London Gazette.