Wednesday 24 May 2017

Joseph Newell - Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry

Joseph Newell (Private No. 9534) - 1st Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry - 17th Brigade - 6th (Poona) Division

Joseph Newell was an Eton Wick man; having been born in the village on October 12th 1892, he attended the Infant School in Sheepcote Road until at the age of seven years he went to Eton Porny.

He left school three months before his 14th birthday to go to work. The family home was No. 1, Hope Cottages, Common Road, and his grandparents lived in the next house, No. 3, Hope Cottages. These were undoubtedly some of the oldest houses in the village, with No. 1 having been built in around 1725 and others added a few years later. The house was continually occupied by members of the family for another 60 years.

Joseph was the third son in this Common Road family of Newells, a family with no apparent relationship to other village families of that name.

The brother, Jack, after returning from the Great War, set up his home in Hope Cottages, married a widow with two children, and established himself in Eton Wick as the last of the village's blacksmiths. Jack's own daughter married in W.W.II. and as Mrs Dowson lived on at the same house until her own death approximately 40 years later.

Joseph joined the regular service battalion the 1st Oxford & Bucks L.I. when he enlisted in Slough. He may not have been a peacetime soldier, but certainly he was serving early in the war.

Overseas war service came quickly, and on November 27th 1914 they arrived in Mesopotamia (Iraq). As Turkish forces were thought to be threatening the oil supply through Basra in 1915 plans were prepared to pre-empt the threat by sending troops north to attack Baghdad. The long advance was troubled by mosquitoes, flies, sickness, and always the Turkish army. The marshes and river were well fortified and the enemy was difficult to dislodge.

En route to Baghdad was the town of Kut el Amara, and on September 27th 1915 General Houghton dispatched troops, including the 1st Oxford & Bucks L.I., to capture the town. A three and a half hour battle ensued against the encircled enemy. The attack was completely successful despite the utter exhaustion of the British and Kut el Amara was captured on September 30th. The troops pushed on toward Baghdad, but the force was not strong enough and in the shallow draught waters, adequate supplies were not forthcoming. For the next few weeks further success was very limited. Eventually, they withdrew to Kut where they became besieged and hopelessly underfed. After 147 days siege Kut el Amara surrendered to the Turks on April 29th 1916. The Turks also defeated the relieving force three times.

The Turkish command accepted the surrender in April with great courtesy and admiration for the stubborn defenders. Unfortunately their administration and care of the prisoners in their charge was not equal to their outward expressions of courtesy. Of the 10,000 Indian and British P.O.Ws over 6,000 died in captivity.

Joseph Newell was first reported as "wounded in action" while serving in Persia, December 19th 1915. This would have been during the second week of the siege of Kut by the Turks. Nothing more is heard about Joseph until The Windsor & Eton Express report nearly two years later, on September 23rd 1917:

Newell, Joseph the 3rd son of Mr & Mrs G. Newell of 1, Hope Cottages, Eton Wick was first reported taken prisoner of war at "Kut" now reported dead.

In June the following year the same paper reported:

Newell, Joseph of 1, Hope Cottages, Eton Wick, last reported dead, is now officially reported as having died in Turkey as a P.O.W. between April 19th 1916 and May 24th 1917 The cause of death unknown.

Basra War Memorial Plan - CWGC

This could not have been very satisfactory for Joe's family. He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq on wall panel number 23 to 63. The Memorial commemorates all the soldiers lost in the Mesopotamia campaign of 1914-18 who are without known graves. It records 7,000 U.K. and 33,000 Indian troops.

Joseph is also commemorated on the Eton Wick Memorial and on the tablets attached to the Eton Church Memorial Gates. He is believed to have been unmarried and 24 years old.

This is an extract from Their Names Shall Be Carved in Stone  
and published here with grateful thanks to the author Frank Bond.

Private Newell is not recorded on the Lives of the First World War website at this time.

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