DRIVER EWART GEORGE WILLSTEED
ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY
13TH JUNE 1917 AGE 20
BURIED: ALDERSHOT MILITARY CEMETERY, UK
This "Fallen hero" of the Siege of Kut died in hospital in Aldershot twelve months after the British surrender. This was long before those who had been besieged with him were released from captivity, if indeed they ever were released from captivity as about one third of those taken prisoner died of dysentery, ber-beri, scurvy, malaria and enteritis whilst prisoners of war of the Ottoman Turks. Why wasn't Willsteed with them?
Willsteed served with the 5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery, Royal Field Artillery. His medal card shows that he arrived in Mesopotamia with the battery on 22 March 1915. A plaque in the Freshwater Memorial Hall outlines the battery's war record:
Advance to Amarah, Nasiryieh, Capture of Kut
Ctesiphon and retirement to Kut
Siege of Kut 3-12-15 to 29-4-16
Kut surrendered on the 29 April and almost 12,300 British and Indian soldiers were taken prisoner. However, within three months of the surrender, a few badly injured officers and other ranks were exchanged for similarly incapacitated Turkish soldiers under the terms of the Geneva convention. I've seen the number 345 suggested but I haven't been able to check this.
On 8 July 1916 the Isle of Wight County Press published the following short article:
"Mr and Mrs G Willsteed, Top Barn Farm, Rowbridge, near Carisbrooke, have received letters from their son, Driver E Willsteed, 1/5th Hants (Howitzer) Battery RFA, in hospital in Bombay, after returning from Kut-el-Amara with exchanged prisoners of war, in which he says: "When we surrendered the whole garrison was starved out. It was terrible to see men dying every day for want of food. Our day's ration was 4 oz of bread and a pound of horseflesh, no tea, only water to drink. I stuck it till about three days before we gave in."
Just under a year later the same newspaper published a follow up.
"We regret to announce the death of Dvr EG Willsteed ... Deceased was one of the Island Howitzers who took part in the fighting under Gen, Townshend at Kut, and was taken prisoners by the Turks at the fall of that place. He was afterwards exchanged amongst the sick and wounded and following a severe illness at Basra and India was invalided home to England ... "
Three members of the battery who had also been taken prisoner at Kut attended his funeral in Aldershot. Seventy five members of the battery never returned but died in Turkish captivity.