James Owen of Penrhos

and his descendants

Loss of a brother

Britain relied heavily on oil from the Gulf and once Turkey declared itself allied to Germany Britain determined to protect its interests by occupying the oilfields and pipeline near Basra. British troops landed in Basra in 1914 and advanced up the rivers towards Baghdad. Initially, they encountered little resistance and General Charles Townshend advanced as far as Ctesiphon. However, the Turks then brought in regular army units and the Allied forces – British and Indian troops – were forced to retreat to Kut-al-Amara (or Kut, now called Al-Kut) (map) where from 7 December 1915, tired and diseased, they found themselves besieged. Almost 10,000 fighting men were bottled up in the town under the command of Townshend. Both sides had suffered great loss of life during the siege by the time they were reinforced, mainly by troops released from Gallipoli, including 13th Division. The British troops had been fairly hastily convened and this attempt to hold Kut cost the lives of 23,000 men though the Turks also lost at least 10,000 men.

Gethin and Gurth Morgan-Owen arrived in Mesopotamia with 13th Division at the beginning of March 1916 by which time the siege at Kut-al-Amara had already lasted three months. After several failed attempts to relieve Kut, it was decided to try a major frontal assault using the newly arrived 13th Division, the 3rd (Lahore) Division and 7th (Meereut) Division. The latter two Divisions had already suffered some 14,000 casualties since their arrival on the Tigris front, and their morale was very low. {see p. 9.45 - 9.47 for an account of the progress of 13th Division over the next month}.

13th Division HQ moved forward behind the advancing troops during the fighting at Hannah on 5 April 1916 and learned of their early success from the loud cheering. The Division was then involved in the heavy fighting at Fallahiyeh (map) and the next day was required to support 7th Division. Gethin might have been involved in reconnoitring the scene of the battle the day before the attack at Sannaiyat (9 April) in which his brother Gurth was killed – the reconnoitring party included the Brigade Major of 40th Brigade and GSO 13th Division. It is understood that Gethin and Gurth met that evening and had dinner together. The next day Gurth was killed. Gethin helped to bury him that evening and placed a cross of thick tin on his grave.