John William HALLAM
Rank: Private
Number: 34609
Date of Death: 25 March 1917
Age: 35 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Basra Memorial, Iraq

John almost certainly spent all his life in the High Lane and Stockport areas until he enlisted into the army at Manchester, probably in early 1916. His parents were George and Mary and it's known, from the Census, that he had an older sister and younger brother - Eliza and Samuel. He worked as a labourer.

The British campaign in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) had very mixed fortunes. Troops had landed at Basra in the autumn of 1914 to secure the oilfields. Encouraged by early successes, they pressed northwards until defeat in late 1915 saw them retreat to Kut-al-Amara where they were besieged for months before being forced to surrender to the Turkish army. Fortunes turned round through 1916 and the British were, once again, able to press forward. The campaign had now become more one of extending the influence of the Empire in the region than anything to do with the wider aspects of the War.

On 11 March 1917, Baghdad fell to the British but the Turkish army still had strong forces to the north of the city. They were entrenched in positions on a low range of hills known as Jebel Hamrin, with the Diala River on their right and their front protected by the Ruz Canal.

The plan was that the British 9th Brigade would work round from the east, capturing the Jebel Hamrin and forcing the enemy back to the river, where the 8th Brigade, which included the Manchesters, would attack from the front. However, the Regimental History notes "The two British Brigades were scarcely strong enough for the task demanded of them and success could only have resulted from a surprise attack, which was impossible."

During the early morning of 24 March, the 8th Brigade made a feint attack intended to distract the Turks, allowing the 9th Brigade to move in from the right. This was partially successful and, by daybreak on the 25th, the men of the 9th had established a foothold on the ridge and were able to start to advance towards the crest. It quickly became clear that the enemy was much stronger than anticipated and that the attack could not be continued. John and his comrades had been held in reserve but were now brought forward to cover the withdrawal. They fought a steady rearguard action but the retreating British had 3 miles of open countryside to cross and suffered many casualties from enemy shellfire.

During the two days, the Battalion lost 29 men known to have died or who were posted as missing and a further 77 wounded. John's body was never recovered and identified.

John's story has previously been researched for the book "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff

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