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Should there be a Maidstone memorial for the Royal West Kent soldiers who fell in Mesopotamia in the First World War?

Former Maidstone Grammar School pupil Les Broad needs help.

He is concerned that while the battles of the Western Front during the First World War are well remembered, the British Army's travails in what was then called Mesopotamia (broadly modern-day Iraq) are often overlooked.

This is a disappointment to Mr Broad, who hails from Maidstone, but now lives in St Asaph in Denbighshire, Wales, and whose grandfather died in the campaign while serving with the Royal West Kent's - Maidstone's own regiment.

Les Broad: "They should be remembered."
Les Broad: "They should be remembered."

He said: "There must be many others in Maidstone who had relatives serving there, and I wonder if they would lend me their support."

Mr Broad, an author, wants to see a memorial specifically to those who died in Mesopotamia erected somewhere in Maidstone.

He has written to MP Helen Grant about the issue and been told that she would be prepared to get behind the idea if he could demonstrate that there was a strong desire for one in the community.

He said: "I am in touch with the descendants of other Royal West Kent soldiers - from Cramlington in Northumberland to Rotorua in New Zealand. It seems that folk with roots in Maidstone are like the Scots - you find them everywhere! However, what is really needed is people in Maidstone to help carry the campaign through."

The Mesopotamia campaign saw Britain and its Allies, including a large number of Indian Empire troops, fight the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

The conflict was every bit as brutal as that of the Western Front, with disease adding to the toll of casualties.

The British North Gate War Cemetery in Baghdad contains the graves of a number of Royal West Kent soldiers, including L/Cpl Cook. Picture: Peter Francis
The British North Gate War Cemetery in Baghdad contains the graves of a number of Royal West Kent soldiers, including L/Cpl Cook. Picture: Peter Francis

The number of Allied troops, including contingents from New Zealand and Australia, who were recorded as killed, wounded, missing or who succumbed to disease is estimated at more than 250,000, while Turkish losses are thought to have reached 325,000.

Mr Broad’s own grandfather died during the conflict.

Charles Cook lived in Nelson Place, off Queens Road, Maidstone. He worked at the Fremlin Brewery. He was in the 2nd Battalion and was part of the Allied forces trapped in the besieged city of Kut.

After the British and Turks had fought themselves to a standstill at the battle of Ctesiphon, the British began a strategic withdrawal, deciding to make a stand at Kut-al-Amara, which could be easily fortified. Unfortunately, it could not be easily re-supplied.

The Turks besieged the city on December 7, 1915. The British made several attempts to relieve the besieged garrison, but were beaten back.

The troops inside Kut also made three attempts to break out, but were unsuccessful.

Short of food and ammunition, and with cholera running through the troops, the British were forced to surrender on April 29, 1916, and so 13,164 Allied troops became prisoners of war.

Mr Cook was among them.

Mr Broad said: “After that, the details of what happened to my grandfather become quite murky.

“On May 4, all the officers were moved out of Kut by river steamer to Baghdad, other ranks remaining until May 6, when the infamous, but sadly forgotten ‘death march’ northwards began.

“On that march, in appalling heat, British prisoners were given no water and only the most meagre amounts of food.

“Many never reached their journey’s end.”

The official version is that Lance Corporal Cook died of wounds in a hospital in Baghdad on May 10, 1916. He was 35.

He is buried in North Gate Cemetery in Baghdad.

The Kent Messenger carried a report of Lance Corporal Charles Cook's death in 1916
The Kent Messenger carried a report of Lance Corporal Charles Cook's death in 1916

Anyone who has an ancestor that served with the Royal West Kents in Mesopotamia in 1915/16 and would support the campaign for a memorial is asked to email Mr Broad on les_broad@yahoo.co.uk

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