British Defeat Turks at Nasiriya

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 194th installment in the series. 

July 24, 1915: British Defeat Turks at Nasiriya 

The first half of 1915 gave Britain an unbroken string of successes in Mesopotamia as General Charles Townshend’s small force advanced up the Tigris River, including easy victories at Shaiba and Qurna, followed by the bloodless conquest of Amara  seeming to confirm the Brits’ complacent belief that the campaign against the Turks would be another colonial walkover culminating, after modest effort, in the fall of Baghdad. This belief would prove disastrously mistaken, but the continued success of “Townshend’s Regatta,” as the small amphibious fleet of riverboats was known, in July 1915 only fed British ambitions. 

Late July brought another triumph at Nasiriya on the Euphrates River, which the British commander-in-chief in Mesopotamia, Sir John Nixon, wanted to consolidate control of what is now southern Iraq. After mounting an amphibious attack amidst seasonal floods and incredible heat on June 27, over the following week the Anglo-Indian 30th Brigade under George Gorringe succeeded in slowly clearing enemy defensive positions along the riverbanks south of Nasiriya. However Gorringe’s progress in subsequent weeks was slowed by attacks from hostile native tribes, while illness and heat stroke depleted his already-small force. 

After almost a month of gradual advances, on July 24, 1915, Gorringe’s force of about 5,000 British and Indian troops mounted a final attack on the Turkish positions just outside Nasiriya, combining infantry attacks with bombardment by artillery on land and gunboats on the river. The multi-pronged attack quickly penetrated the enemy defenses and the Turks retreated upstream to Kut – fated to be the scene of one of the worst British defeats of the war. 

But for now the fall of Nasiriya, at a cost of 500 British casualties versus 2,500 Turks (not counting losses from illness and heat; top, Turkish prisoners after Nasiriya), seemed to bring the British another step closer to Baghdad. Colonel W.C. Spackman recalled the hypnotic effect exerted by the famous city among officers and rank-and-file soldiers alike after Nasiriya (above, Baghdad in 1913):

Baghdad! At about this time the name of this romantic city began to be mentioned in the camps with particular anticipation. After all we had advanced with very little difficulty more than halfway up the Tigris to this almost legendary city… We had the greatest confidence in ourselves and in our leader, General Townshend, and we anticipated making a triumphal entry into Baghdad, marching through the famous bazaars to general acclamation and hearing the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the four corners of the towering slender minarets. We could have hardly foreseen that the gamble would end in total failure and that our only entry would be as defiant prisoners of war six months later. 

German Diplomats Protest Armenian Genocide 

To the north the Armenian Genocide that began in April 1915 continued to gain momentum, with mass deportations – which were often euphemisms for massacres – spreading across Anatolia and northern Syria and Iraq, even as the Russian offensive in the Caucasus region (the alleged security reason for the expulsions) ran out of steam. While officials at the highest levels of the German government had encouraged the Committee of Union and Progress or “Young Turks” who ruled the Ottoman Empire to carry out the genocide, lower level German diplomats and officials who weren’t privy to this policy kept sending a steady stream of reports protesting the Turks’ barbarous treatment of fellow Christians, and asking why Berlin did nothing to rein in its ally. 

On July 7, 1915, the German ambassador to Constantinople, Baron von Wangenheim (who was aware that Germany supported the Turkish extermination campaign; below, left) noted that expulsions and relocations were spreading to areas not directly threatened by the Russian advance, adding: “This situation, and the way in which the relocation is being carried out shows that the government is indeed pursuing its purpose of eradicating the Armenian race from the Turkish empire.” In a letter written two days later, Wangenheim passed along a report from the German consul in Aleppo, Walter Rössler, who in turn conveyed the eyewitness testimony of a German officer on returning from Mosul:

About a week ago, Kurds massacred Armenians in Tell Ermen and a neighbouring Armenian village. The large churches have been destroyed. Mr. von Mikusch personally saw 200 bodies. The militia and gendarmes have at least tolerated the massacre and have probably taken part in it. Replacements (released prisoners) including their officer have spoken happily of massacres between Nisibin and Tell Ermen and have completely plundered an Armenian village, the inhabitants of which were massacred. In Djarabulus, corpses, often bound together, drifted down the Euphrates River. 

On July 27, 1915, Rössler wrote directly to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg in Berlin, protesting that:

… the Turkish government has gone much further than the scope of justified defence measures in an effort to counteract actual and possible subversive Armenian activities, but instead, by extending their decrees… to include women and children, are consciously aiming to achieve the downfall of the largest possible proportions of the Armenian people by using methods borrowed from antiquity, but which are unworthy of a government that wishes to remain in alliance with Germany. 

Rössler also enclosed an account dated July 24 by a German citizen who quoted a Turkish official as saying, “This time we have done our job on the Armenians in a way we have desired for a long time; out of every ten, we have not left nine alive.” 

Wikimedia Commons [1,2]

In a letter to Wangenheim dated July 28, 1915, another German diplomat stationed in Erzurum, vice-consul Max Erwin Scheubner-Richter (who later died participating in the 1923 Nazi beer hall putsch; above, right), noted that the genocide was clearly the result of a deliberate, coordinated campaign by central government officials, who’d sidelined the moderate civilian governor of Erzurum because he objected to their extreme measures:

It appears to me that the Vali, Tahsim Bey, who has a more humane attitude regarding the handling of the Armenian question than the others appear to have, is powerless against this sharp course. The supporters of the latter will, by the way, openly admit that the final goal of their actions against the Armenians is their total annihilation in Turkey. After the war we will not have “any more Armenians in Turkey,” are the exact words of an eminent person. 

However he added: “The Turkish people themselves are by no means in agreement with this solution to the Armenian question…” Indeed, in another letter written August 4, 1915, Scheubner-Richter recounted a conversation with a Turkish landowner who criticized the CUP's genocidal policy and asked him about Germany’s role in allegedly instigating it: 

One of those persons who questioned me, a very respected and influential Bey, added that although Armenian massacres had taken place formerly, they were generally restricted to battles amongst the men, but that now, against the instructions in the Koran, thousands of innocent women and children were being murdered. This was not being done by enraged mobs, but systematically and by the order of the government, “the Committee,” as he added with emphasis. 

Of course, awareness of the genocide was hardly confined to German diplomats. Lewis Einstein, an American diplomat in Constantinople, confided in his diary on August 4, 1915: 

The persecution of Armenians is assuming unprecedented proportions, and it is carried out with nauseating thoroughness. The Armenian Patriarch told the Austrian Ambassador that at one village, after children under ten had been distributed among the Moslem population, all above that age were thrown in the river. As some knew how to swim, the soldiers were ordered to fire upon them till they were exterminated.

Serbian Government Relocates to Niš (Again) 

The “secret treaty” (really just an informal pact at this point) by which Bulgaria agreed to join German and Austria-Hungary in an attack on Serbia wasn’t really much of a secret, as everyone knew there was a bidding war for Bulgaria’s loyalty between the Central Powers and the Allies in the first half of 1915 – and it soon became clear that the Central Powers had won. Among other hints, the Bulgarian government ordered pre-mobilization measures, scraping together weapons, ammunition and other supplies, while newspapers whipped up anti-Serbian sentiment, and guerrilla activity by Bulgarian irregulars, or comitadjes, picked up along the Serbian border. 

For its part Serbia was still exhausted from the Balkan Wars, and by mid-1915 was weaker than ever, thanks to a horrifying typhus epidemic that ended up killing 200,000 people, or around 4% of the Serbian prewar population of 4.5 million, by the end of the war. Geographically isolated in the Balkan Peninsula, it could only receive supplies from France and Britain along a single railroad running north from the Greek port of Salonika – a tenuous lifeline, at best, following Greece’s repeated refusals to help Serbia in January and February 1915. 

Well aware that the small nation faced an invasion with overwhelming force in the next few months, on July 25, 1915 the Serbian parliament relocated from Belgrade to the southern Serbian city of Niš – a routine exercise by now, as the government had already evacuated to Niš once before, in July 1914. While Belgrade was in a vulnerable spot right across the border from Austria-Hungary, moving the capital to Niš would give the government some breathing room and time to react once the invasion began; Niš was also closer to the vital rail link with Salonika, the only possible route for reinforcements to arrive from the Western Allies. For their part the French and British were already planning to occupy Salonika – in violation of Greek neutrality, and with or without Greek consent – in order to open direct communications with their beleaguered Balkan ally.

See the previous installment or all entries.

10 Dramatic Downton Abbey Fan Theories

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Despite its exhaustively polished veneer, Downton Abbey was always a soap opera. Julian Fellowes's historical drama about a family of aristocrats and their many servants could never resist a good shocker, and it deployed plenty of them over the course of six seasons. The valet was suspected of murder (twice). One of the Crawley sisters got knocked up by her older married boyfriend, who promptly went missing. And another sister’s first sexual encounter ended in death. Considering all this, it should come as no surprise that fans have developed similarly wacky theories about the show. These fan theories include secret parentage, undercover spies, and, of course, poison.

Brush up on the best of them before the Downton Abbey movie hits theaters—just in case the whole miscarriage curse comes up.

1. Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s father.

This theory all comes down to eyes. As you may recall from science class, certain genes are dominant and others are recessive. This is perhaps most easily understood through eye color, where brown eye color, a dominant gene, is expressed as BB and blue eye color, a recessive gene, is expressed as bb. A parent with brown eyes might carry the recessive blue eye gene (i.e. Bb), but if you plot out genetic probabilities on a basic Punnett square, two blue-eyed parents with double bbs have seemingly no shot at producing a Bb baby. Now, what does any of this have to do with Downton Abbey? Both Lord and Lady Grantham have blue eyes, but their eldest daughter, Mary, has brown eyes. This has led some fans to speculate that Lady Mary is actually the daughter of Carson, the family’s beloved butler who has always acted as as sort of second father to Mary. As debunkers have noted, two blue-eyed people can have a brown-eyed child, because recessive genes aren’t that simple. But isn’t it wild to think of Carson and Cora having an affair?

2. Thomas Barrow poisoned Kemal Pamuk.

One of the soapiest subplots of Downton Abbey's first season involved “poor Mr. Pamuk,” the dashing Turkish diplomat who makes a fateful visit to the Abbey. After enjoying a day of fox hunting and an evening of sparkling conversation, Kemal Pamuk drops dead ... right in Lady Mary’s bed. The cause, it is later revealed, was a heart attack, but many viewers suspected something more sinister. Earlier in the episode, the Crawleys’ closeted footman, Thomas Barrow, made a pass at Pamuk, which the diplomat rejected quite forcefully—so much so that he threatened to get Thomas fired. That placed the footman in a tricky situation, but it was nothing a little poison couldn't fix, and that’s exactly why some fans believe Thomas slipped something into Mr. Pamuk’s dinner.

3. Lady Grantham’s miscarriage started a curse.

In the Season 1 finale, tragedy strikes. The newly pregnant Lady Grantham slips on a bar of soap, falling onto the bathroom tiles and inducing a miscarriage. It’s a sad moment, but it’s also, Reddit claims, the source of the house’s future misfortune. According to this theory, the miscarriage kicks off a curse of deadly pregnancies: Lady Sybil dies in childbirth; Matthew Crawley dies in a car accident soon after the birth of his son; and when the maid Ethel Parks becomes pregnant with Major Bryant’s child, he dies, too.

4. Mr. Bates is actually a bad guy.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Downton Abbey invests a lot of time and effort in convincing us that John Bates, Lord Grantham's trusty, is a great guy—despite his checkered past and multiple murder allegations. But what if everyone’s assumptions about Bates are exactly right? Some Redditors believe Bates is just a remorseless serial killer, pointing to his intense hatred of his first wife and “creepy vibes” as evidence. Anna had better watch out.

5. Michael Gregson is a spy.

Lady Edith’s boss and lover Michael Gregson is the publisher of a London magazine, The Sketch. Thanks to his job, he knows tons of important people, travels all over the world, and speaks multiple languages. He eventually disappears inside Germany in season 4, and later dispatches to the Crawley family imply that he was a victim of Adolf Hitler’s “thugs.” (The show timeline places Gregson in Munich right around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.) Or at least, that’s the official story. Another one suggests that Gregson was a British spy gathering intel on the insurgent Nazis—and he might not have died at all. His superiors simply needed to feed Edith a lie that would discourage her from poking around, so they made up a cover story that someone who follows the news would believe.

6. Lady Rosamund Painswick is Lady Edith’s mother.

When Lady Edith becomes pregnant with Michael Gregson’s child, she finds a strong support system in her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick. Upon learning Edith’s secret, Rosamund travels to Downton Abbey to help her niece through her pregnancy, and suggests adoption options as the due date draws near. Some fans have interpreted this empathy as a clue that Rosamund, not Lady Grantham, is Edith’s true mother. It could also explain why Edith looks (and behaves) so different from her sisters. Or it could just be a sign that Rosamund cares about her niece.

7. Lady Mary’s “operation” was IVF.

In season 3, Lady Mary claims to have undergone a “small operation” that will help her start a family with Matthew. It’s maddeningly unclear what this operation entails, but one wild guess is that she had an early version of IVF. The complete crackpot theory is that this was a cover for Matthew’s infertility, which the doctors wouldn’t disclose to him, presumably to preserve his 1920s masculinity.

8. Lady Mary’s son George becomes a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Lady Mary’s son George is only five years old in the series finale of Downton Abbey. But that means he would theoretically be 18 in the fall of 1939, which is exactly when World War II broke out in Europe. He would almost certainly enlist, as show creator Julian Fellowes himself has suggested. But Decider has more specifically theorized that George would join the Royal Air Force (RAF), “with a desire to rebel against his emotionally distant mother and find purpose in a greater cause.” Sounds like George would be taking part in some dangerous missions, putting the entire family’s future at risk.

9. Public tours keep the estate alive.

The Crawleys spend much of Downton Abbey fretting about the future management of their estate—partially because Lord Grantham is kind of bad at it. But Lady Mary has taken over when the series ends, and Fellowes believes she’d find savvy ways to keep her family’s home in their hands. “She would probably have opened the house to the public in the 1960s, as so many of them did,” Fellowes told Deadline. “And she’d have retreated to a wing, and maybe only occupied the whole house during the winters. My own belief is that the Crawleys would still be there.”

10. The Dowager Countess keeps Denker and Spratt around for the drama.

Gladys Denker is a maid to the Dowager Countess. Septimus Spratt is her butler. These two do not like each other, and they’re quite public about it. Denker and Spratt’s unprofessional squabbles would’ve gotten plenty of other servants fired, but fans believe the Dowager Countess keeps them employed for her own amusement.

You Can Rent This Wizard of Oz-Themed Cottage in North Carolina

Airbnb
Airbnb

This year marks the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, the classic 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book. In addition to watching the film, you can opt for a more immersive way to celebrate the occasion. As Travel + Leisure reports, a cottage in West Jefferson, North Carolina offered on Airbnb is perfect for any traveling Oz fan—and it’s only $35 a night.

The studio cottage is considered a glamping destination and is slim on amenities—it has a breakfast nook, porch, sofa bed, and a Porta John—but the Oz-themed details more than make up for the lack of luxurious perks.

A pair of stockinged feet are visible under the home, hinting at a witch’s untimely demise; a character mural of Dorothy and her three escorts, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, appears on the side of the cabin; inside, various other decorations pay homage to Baum's books, including a pair of ruby slippers and a few stuffed Totos.

A cottage with a 'Wizard of Oz' theme in West Jefferson, North Carolina is pictured
Airbnb

If you go, you’ll have to act quickly. The cottage is open only in the spring, summer, and fall, as it has no heat.

The Airbnb listing has a perfect score across 16 reviews. You can book it here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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