In a lonely part of Baghdad in a poor part of town, stands a cemetery to the British Empire’s war dead.
Most of the headstones date to the Mesopotamian Campaign of World War One, a grueling trek across the desert fighting a stubborn Ottoman foe. While the Turks were a danger, disease and heat exhaustion took even more lives. On 20 July 1917, for example, the temperature in Baghdad was 123º F (50.6ºC).
The cemetery is poorly maintained. While there is a guard, plastic bags and wrappers from the nearby road blow amidst the headstones and at night it’s a popular place for sneaking a drink. Broken beer and whiskey bottles are scattered in the less visible corners of the cemetery.
Despite this, it’s still a moving place, where one can read the names of those who served.
These two pals from the South Lancashire Regiment died on the same day.
The highest-ranking soldier to die in the Mesopotamian campaign was Lt.-Gen. Sir Stanley Maude, who succumbed to cholera on 18 November 1917 after drinking tainted milk.
Many of the troops in the campaign came from India. This is a monument to the Sikh and Hindu soldiers who gave their lives. There’s a similar one for Muslim troops.
In a remarkable display of good sportsmanship, there’s even a monument to the Turkish troops who died fighting the British army.
Some burials are for later conflicts, especially the numerous revolts against the British Mandate in Iraq, which lasted until 1932.
This camel driver in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps died in 1943.
There’s water available at the front gate, cooled by the traditional method of keeping it in the shade in a clay jar. This works remarkably well, but not wanting to go the way of General Maude I stuck to my warm bottled water!
Sean McLachlan has written numerous books for Osprey and is the author of the novel A Fine Likeness, set in the American Civil War. You can read more about his travels in Iraq in the online series Destination: Iraq.