2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment who died on 10 April 1916
John William Fenwick was the son of Edward Fenwick, a plasterer’s labourer born in 1869 at Gibraltar Steps, Lincoln and his wife Timna Fenwick (nee Heawood) born in 1868 at Pingle Street, Leicester. Timna was the daughter of Thomas and Timna Heawood of Leicester.
William was born in 1892 in Leicester and had five brothers: George, born 1890 in Leicester, Thomas, born 1895 in Glenfield. The younger boys Bertie born 1899, Arthur born 1903 and Frank born 1906, were all born in Oadby.
In March 1901 the family home was at Glen Road, Oadby. By April 1911 the family, including their widowed paternal grand-father John Fenwick, a general farm labourer born 1846 in Enderby, were living just south of Oadby village in a cottage variously described as being at Glen Gorse, Gorse Lane or Stretton Lane off Glen Road. The 1911 census describes William as living “in service” as a farm labourer at Twyford, Melton Mowbray. He is also known to have worked for Mr Welch a brewer in Oadby. His father Edward was by this time a bricklayer, possibly working on the many new houses being built at Oadby Top.
Glen Road Oadby in 1919. Local Oadby folklore suggests that Edwin Fenwick built the family cottage by stealing three bricks a day from work!
On 24 May 1911 William enlisted in the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He transferred to the 2nd Battalion on 5 January 1913 and was posted to Ranhiket on the North West Frontier. Whilst in India he was hospitalized suffering from malaria on two occasions: 15 September 1913 and 25 May 1914.
Ranhiket on the North West Frontier, India
At the outbreak of the Great War the 2nd Battalion was stationed at Ranikhet. It was shipped from India to France as part of the Garhwal Brigade of the Indian Corps. On the 12 October 1914 the Indian Corps landed at Marseilles to an enthusiastic welcome from the locals.
The 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment and their Indian comrades took part in the assault on the German positions at Neuve Chapelle between 10 and 12 March 1915. The Garhwal Brigade’s Indian battalions were held up by uncut wire however the 2nd Leicesters led an attack and succeeded in forcing a way through – overwhelming the Germans holding the trenches covering the village and woods.
On 20 March 1015 the Leicester Chronicle carried the following report,
William was admitted to Wrest Hospital Ampthill Bedfordshire on 13 March 1915 with bullet wounds to the left shoulder and back.
Wrest Hospital, Ampthill Bedfordshire
After recovery from his wounds William was returned to active duty in France where he saw action at the Battle of Loos.
In November 1915 the 2nd Leicesters were transferred to the 28th Brigade which along with the 51st and 53rd Sikh Regiments and 56th Punjabi Rifles formed part of the Tigris Corps or Kut Relief Force. This was a hastily assembled force whose mission was to relieve Major-General Townsend’s 9,000 strong force currently besieged by Turkish, Arab and German troops at Kut al Amara on the River Tigris in Mesopotamia (now modern day Iraq).
The Tigris Corps left Marseilles for Alexandria on SS Clan MacGillivray on 10 November 1915. From Port Suez they sailed on to Basra.
The Brigade landed at Basra on 6 December 1915 from where travelled up the Tigris towards Kut.
Because of the lack of roads the only way to reach Kut was to progress up the River Tigris in the flat- bottomed river steamer The Medijihet.
Map showing the progress of the troops up the River Tigris from Basra towards Kut-al-Amara and the position of the main battles, including Sannaiyat where William was mortally wounded.
The locations which the troops passed on their journey up river would have been familiar to many men from the Bible and the Quran. Pt W Elliot recorded in his diary 10 December 1915: “Anchored at Qurna, reported site of the Garden of Eden for evidence we shown (sic) the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The 2nd night we moved by Ezra’s tomb. Passed through Amara the largest town between Basra and Baghdad. Above Amara the country becomes even more barren and desolate. Not a single tree between Amara and Ali-Gharbi”.
Qurna in 1915, reputedly the location of the Garden of Eden showing river boats of troops moving up the River Tigris
Ezra’s Tomb on the banks of the Tigris
If it had once been considered so this area was no longer the Garden of Eden. Conditions for the men were truly appalling. Heat, flies and a lack of potable water meant that cholera and dysentery took a very heavy toll on the troops. Indeed disease was a significant factor affecting the welfare and fighting capacity of the men. The Corps was ill equipped. The terrain was flat and barren with no roads and as it was only passable by river steamer the troops were soon separated from their field ambulances and medical supplies. Conditions for the injured and dying were truly appalling with insufficient medical staff and supplies to treat the wounded.
Journeying up the River Tigris, the 28th Brigade saw significant action at the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad, the Battle of The Wadi and the assault on the Dujaila Redoubt. On 6 April the exhausted 28th Brigade made the long march from reserve positions to engage Turkish troops at Sannayiat. They were delayed by flash floods and roads clogged with troops returning from earlier actions at the battle front. As they approached the Turkish lines at 5.30am they were silhouetted against the dawn sky and charged into an enfilade of machine gun and artillery fire. They advanced in broad daylight upon entrenched positions without artillery support over an open plain. A total of 1100 men in the 28th Brigade fell in the attack .The 2nd Leicesters lost over 300 officers and other ranks in the first half hour.
A further assault on Sannayiat was carried out on the morning of the 7 April and the Brigade suffered many casualties. On the 9 April there was a further unsuccessful attack. The men were exhausted, lacked reinforcements and rations, and had been exposed to exceptional climatic (bad weather resulted in flash floods) and physical obstacles. During one of these attacks Private William Fenwick was mortally wounded. He died of wounds on 10 April 1916.
The relief effort of Kut came to an end with unsuccessful assaults on the Turkish positions at Sannayiat.
In the course of almost four months fighting, the Tigris Army Corps lost over 23000 officers and men. The men at Kut were starved into submission. Major General Townsend the commanding officer and 13,000 British and Indian soldiers and civilian support were taken into captivity.
William is remembered with Honour at Amara War Cemetery, Iraq
and on the Oadby War Memorial and the memorial tablet in Oadby Baptist Church
On 10 April 1917 the Leicester Mercury published the following,
FENWICK – In loving memory of Pte. J. W. Fenwick, 2nd Leicester Regiment, died April 10th at Persian Gulf, the dearly loved son of Mr. And Mrs. Fenwick, of Stretton Lane, Oadby. Only a private soldier, only a mother’s son. Who marched away so bravely. His head so proudly held. His footsteps never faltered. His courage never failed. He fought and died for Britain. In the honour of his race. – From his loving Mother and Father and Brothers, and Aunt Annie.
Richardson, M. Fighting Tigers Epic Actions of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment (Barnsley, 2002)
Wylly, H.C. History of the 1st & 2nd Battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War. (Aldershot, 1928)