Edward Cheape Griffiths (1881-1916)
Private 25020 9th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment
For centuries before the Great War, Mesopotamia had been part of the Ottoman Empire. Lying along its eastern border was Persia, generally friendly to the British. The Arab Sheiks of nearby Kuwait and Muhammerah also supported Britain; the Arab tribes of coastal Mesopotamia often changed sides. Germany had for many years before the war assiduously developed the Ottoman Empire as an ally, which it saw as an important part of the Drang nach Osten (“Thrust towards the East”: Germany wanted new lands, new markets). The Ottoman army was led by German ‘advisors’. Although the campaign began principally to secure oil supplies for the Royal Navy, victory over the Ottoman Empire became believed by some – notably David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill – to be a less costly way towards defeat of Germany than the painful battering at the Western Front. Pushed by Germany – which also tried to encourage a Jihad (Muslim Holy War) against the British – the Ottoman forces proved to be a deadly and difficult foe.
Edward Griffiths had at first a privileged upbringing. His father Henry was a gentleman – Henry’s extended family of 24, which included a Justice of the Peace, a rector and a barrister, lived in Prestbury in Gloucestershire, with nine servants. Henry married farmer’s daughter Annie Oakley in 1877 – the Oakley family were the witnesses. Edward was born in 1881 in Greenwich, the reason for the location is unknown. His middle name Cheape was an old Griffiths family name
Henry Griffiths died in Cheltenham at the age of 26, when Edward was two years old. Annie married wheelwright and former innkeeper William James Goodman (described as an ‘Esquire’), who had three children, in 1888. The new family moved to Birmingham, living in Deritend and then at 137 Bowyer Road, Saltley. Edward attended Camp Hill Boys’ School, which he represented at cricket.
Edward then worked as a clerk in the cycle industry, living at home with his mother and stepfather – the home after 1911 being 101, Witton Road in Sparkbrook.
Edward joined the 9th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, and was posted to Mesopotamia. According to a 1920 book*:
Conditions in Mesopotamia defy description. Extremes of temperature (120 degrees Fahrenheit was common); arid desert and regular flooding; flies, mosquitoes and other vermin: all led to appalling levels of sickness and death through disease. Under these conditions, units fell short of officers and men, and all too often the reinforcements were half-trained and ill-equipped. Medical arrangements were quite shocking, with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching any kind of hospital. These factors, plus of course the unexpectedly determined Turkish resistance, contributed to high casualty rates.
11000 killed in action
4000 died of wounds
13000 died of sickness
13500 missing and prisoners
“Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire” (London: HMSO, 1920).
(At any one time a quarter of the allied forces in Mesopotamia were incapacitated through malaria.)
Edward Griffiths died of wounds on 22nd December 1916. He is buried in Amara War Cemetery in Iraq. The family received a pension of 8s a week. His mother Annie received £7 6s 4d from Edward’s effects. Later, his mother having died, Edward’s stepsister Ada was granted a War Gratuity of £4 10s.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission currently has great difficulty in maintaining war graves in Iraq.