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War on Other Fronts

The Cossack Cavalry in action on the Eastern Front

Although the majority of British men who fought in the First World War would end up doing so on the Western Front, this was a global conflict where imperial interests and tactical planning would push soldiers into other, equally inhospitable, theatres of war.  In Egypt, the protection of the Suez Canal was imperative to ensure the protection of Britain’s supply route to India and Mesopotamia.  The Egyptian Camel Corps defended the canal from the end of August 1914 and several Turkish attempts to take the waterway were prevented, thanks to the deployment of Indian and Anzac troops as well as the East Lancashire Division eventually formed into the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under the command of General Sir Archibald Murray.

The spotlight fell on Palestine in 1917, where in November of that year, the Desert Column and Eastern Force under General Sir Edmund Allenby finally took Gaza, moving from there to Jerusalem and Jericho.  The final offensive in Palestine took place at the Battle of Megiddo on 19 September 1918, leading to the fall of Damascus and an armistice with Turkey on 31 October.

The protection of British oil interests was at the heart of conflict in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) where the 6th and 12th Indian Divisions fought sickness and dreadful weather conditions as well as a strong Turkish force.  The campaign resulted in 92,500 Allied casualties, many from disease.  Major-General Sir Stanley Maude, in command during 1917 died from cholera in November that year.  Sickness also impeded the efforts of the King’s African Rifles, fighting in German East Africa alongside three Indian brigades.

The Gallipoli campaign, on the western shore of the Dardanelles had begun in April 1915, with the aim to capture Constantinople, relieve the Russians and remove Turkey from the war.  Strongly advocated by Winston Churchill and supported by Lord Kitchener, The Sphere described the campaign as, ‘one of the most daring military operations in history.’  But Allied naval forces had been turned back by enemy minefields, and when troops landed onto narrow beachheads, they faced a fierce Turkish resistance where ‘every yard of ground had to be won at the price of human lives.’  The Sphere noted the, ‘courage of the soldiers who have held doggedly to its apex for eight weary months,’ particularly Australian and New Zealand troops who formed a large proportion of the half a million casualties suffered during the disastrous campaign.  An Allied expedition to Salonika from October 1915 to aid Serbia was equally ineffective.

British soldiers also fought in Italy at the end of 1917 to bolster Italian positions which had been broken by Austro-German forces at Caparetto – this period was captured by The Sphere’s artist Fortunino Matania who travelled back to his homeland to report back for the magazine. The war would also be fought between Austro-German and Russian forces on the Eastern Front which ran through East Prussia, Poland and Galicia, while the ‘White War’ in the high Alps between the Austrians and Italy would claim 650,000 lives.