SECOND LIEUTENANT GEORGE MITCHELL AND THE RELIEF OF KUT
The story of my Dad’s cousin George Mitchell of the Indian Army who was killed in action on 1 February 1917, just a few weeks after his 20th birthday, ‘at relief of Kut’ is worth the telling as it throws light on a lesser-known battlefield of World War One, namely the advance into Iraq by an Anglo-Indian army in Spring of 1917.
The old town of Kut in eastern Iraq was located within a sharp ‘U’ bend of the Tigris River, some 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, 100 miles northwest of Amarah and 200 miles northwest of Basra.
George Mitchell, born 6 January 1897 at the Rectory, Drumsnat Parish, County Monaghan was the first-born son of Reverend Robert James Mitchell and Anne Glendinning. George, who entered Campbell College, Belfast in April 1908, was a member of the Officer Training Corps (OTC) where he rose to the rank of Platoon Sergeant. On leaving school in April 1915, after coming ‘second in the Indian Army List at the entrance examination,’ George received his officer training with the Indian Army at the Staff College at Quetta [in present-day Pakistan].
In November 1915, George Mitchell, aged 18, was attached as 2nd Lieutenant to 45th Rattray’s Sikhs and reported for duty at the regimental camp at Dera Ismail Khan in the Indus valley in the North-West frontier region of British India [in present-day Pakistan].
On 22 January 1916, the 45th Sikhs were ordered “to mobilize for Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’ (Mesopotamia)” and in December 1916 a reinforced Anglo-Indian army began a cautious advance in the face of fierce Turkish opposition. Orders for further assault towards Kut, to be delivered by the 45th Sikhs and 36th Sikhs, were issued at 5.45pm on 31 January 1917.
“The morning [of 1 February 1917] broke very misty, but cleared into a gloriously fine day, so much so that about 11 a.m. Kut stood out very clearly and the inhabitants could be plainly seen sitting on the roofs of the houses watching the events on the plain on which we were operating.”
“The 45th under the command of Lieutenant- Colonel H. B. Rattray D.S.O. (strength: 8 British Officers, 17 Indian Officers, and 562 Other Ranks) advanced to the attack at 12.10 p.m. on a frontage of 260 yards, under cover of a terrific artillery bombardment, with their right [flank] on the River Hai, and the 36th Sikhs on their left.” They advanced in eight lines of double platoons at 50 yards distance and “as the Regiment went over, they shook out into perfect lines at once, and moved forward as steadily as if on an ordinary parade.”
“The last four waves, ‘B’ and ‘A’ Companies suffered considerably from the machine gun fire that enfiladed the 36th Sikhs on our left, whilst they were crossing the ground between Mathews’ and Gunning Trenches. They pressed on, however, to the ‘Bank’. Second Lieutenant G Mitchell, ‘A’ Company, was killed whilst crossing ‘No man’s land.’ At this period the fighting was all hand-to-hand, and the Turkish counter-attacks began to come down the flanks of both lines of trenches.”
George Mitchell is buried in Amara War Cemetery, which contains 4,621 burials of World War One, in Plot 21, Row K, Grave number 13. Furthermore, a plaque commemorating George Mitchell can still be seen today in Central Hall at Campbell College.