Private Alfred Tarrant, aged 21, of the 1/4th Hampshire (T.F.) Battalion, Regimental Number 200342 1, was killed in action on the 21st January 1916, at the Hanna Defile in Iraq.
Alfred was born in Wroughton, Wiltshire on the 16th September 1894 to Frederick and Eliza Tarrant. He was baptised on the 25th November of that year. Alfred was the youngest child of five, all of whom were born in Wroughton. Eliza, his mother was originally from Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, but had moved to Wroughton, with her family. Her father was a coach body builder.
In 1901 the family was living at 15, Mill Bank House, The Pitchens, Highworth, Wiltshire. Highworth is six miles north-east of Swindon, located on a hill overlooking the Upper Thames Valley. There have been people living there for 4,000 years and the town is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The origins and layout of the town, as Frederick knew it, were Medieval. In 1206 Highworth was granted a charter to hold a weekly market. It was a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War.
Frederick was a tailor, working for himself from the family home. Along with his wife Eliza, there were four children at home, all of whom were schoolchildren, Anne (11), Mary (10), Edward (8), and Alfred (6). The eldest son, Francis, who was 14, was not with the family when the data on this census was recorded. He was living with his widowed maternal grandmother in Swindon and working as a coach builder. Unfortunately as the census record has been over-written it is not possible to read everything that is written for Francis. By 1911 he was back with the family in Highworth and was still working as a coach body maker. The family were living in a house with eight main rooms. Mary (20) was described as an educational student which perhaps means that she was training to teach. Edward was an apprentice carpenter working for a builder and Alfred was still at school. By the time that Alfred had decided to train as a teacher, the pupil-teacher system was no longer the most usual route into the profession. Alfred would have been required to obtain a high standard in his own secondary education before he would be accepted into any of the routes into training.
Alfred had begun his formal education at the local elementary school, the Boys’ School, Wroughton. He then continued at the Secondary School, Swindon before returning to Wroughton to work as a student teacher at his former elementary school. He took the Preliminary Examination for the Certificate in 1912 in preparation for admission to a training college.
Alfred was a student at Winchester Diocesan Training College from 1913. Even though the students had a busy timetable, there were still many opportunities for sport and social activities. Alfred made his mark as a promising soccer player. In October 1913, when Alfred was a Junior, he was playing in the second XI and was reported to be ‘the best of forwards’. He represented the College in a match against Hartley University College, and the report on the match stated:
Windust put across a perfect centre for Tarrant to open our score.
In March 1914 he was described as having made a characteristic individual dash, and in another football notes section his ability was noted:
A Tarrant, who is very fast indeed, obtained his place at inside left, and proved a valuable addition to the team. His shooting was splendid, and he gained 15 goals during the season. It was also found that he was equally good at inside right, where his speed could be used to better advantage, and altogether he was a splendid player.
Alfred was also mentioned in June 1914 for winning the ¼ mile race at Sports Day as well as coming second in the 100 yards and third in the hurdles.
Students had twice yearly examinations at college, at Christmas and at midsummer. In his first exams Alfred achieved an average mark of 59.9%.
During his time at Winchester Training College, Alfred, as with most of his peers, enlisted in the Territorial Force at College that was part of the Hampshire Regiment. When war broke out and Alfred decided to join the war effort, it was understandable that he would chose to remain with the Regiment that he was familiar with and where many of his friends had also chosen to enlist.
They had been on a training camp on Salisbury Plain in the summer of 1914 and many of the 4th Battalion were immediately mobilised. Alfred, according to College records, was one of those students who were mobilised on 5th August 1914. Some of his contemporaries continued their studies at Bede College in Durham. Perhaps Alfred intended to finish his training after the war ended, but sadly he never had that opportunity. We know from his Medal Card that he first entered a theatre of war, in his case Mesopotamia, on 25th October 1915.
The 2/4th Hampshire Regiment first went to Quetta in India 2. Once there some of the Battalion volunteered for active service in the Persian Gulf. In the College magazine there is a report of the ‘send-off’ those men received. They were inspected by General Hardie on Monday 11th October 1915:
They were paraded in full marching order, and they looked without exaggeration a fine body of men in the pink of condition and well fit for active service. The General looked at every man individually, and made a few cheerful remarks to several on his round of inspection.
Alumni from Winchester training College in Mesopotamia. Alfred Tarrant seated; standing from left to right Oakley, Rose, Warne and Walter. Hampshire Record Office.
Alfred would have disembarked at Basra with the intention that the newly landed men would be used as reinforcements for the Expeditionary Force. By the end of the following month the Expeditionary Force had their first major setback when they were forced to retreat from Ctesiphon, having been unable to defeat the Turks there, and returned to Kut-al-Amara. On the 7th December 1915 the Expeditionary Force were besieged at Kut and the role that Alfred had expected to fulfil now changed to one of a rescue mission instead. The remaining companies of the 1/4th Hants (‘A’ Company was besieged at Kut) formed part of the 35th Infantry Brigade. The first attempt to relieve Kut began in January 1916.
The Relief Force was always going to struggle at this time of year when wet weather conditions, combined with marshy terrain along the route they needed to advance, would make a campaign very problematical. At first they succeeded in pushing the Turks back towards Kut. Allied reconnaissance information was poor and despite all evidence to the contrary, they continually underestimated both the strength and ability of the forces they were fighting against. Logistical support, including medical arrangements, was insufficient. The Relief Force was under pressure to advance towards Kut regardless of any doubts as to their readiness, as they had been misinformed about the quantity of supplies available in Kut for the units under siege there.
The Turkish army was engaged at Shaikh Saad in early January 1916. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The Turkish force withdrew but the Relief Force was too tired by the exertions of the battle, and perhaps also too undermanned to pursue the enemy. They next encountered the Turks at The Wadi. Once again there were heavy losses on both sides without a decisive victory. The Turks withdrew once more and then the weather came to their assistance. Heavy rain made moving across the landscape increasingly difficult and it was impossible to use aerial reconnaissance. Evacuating the wounded became more difficult and crossing the ever widening Tigris was an issue that would be difficult to resolve.
The Turks had retreated to their positions at Umm-el-Hannah where they were able to strengthen their defences. The Allies were faced with attacking strong positions with no option apart from a frontal attack as they were hemmed in by the river on one side and flooded marshland on the other. A bombardment prior to the attack had little effect on the barbed wire protecting Turkish positions. Some groups did get close to the enemy trenches, a group of sixty which included four from the 1/4th Hants got within 150 yards of the frontline Turkish trenches but there were not enough of them to defend their newly acquired position when the Turks counter-attacked. Communication, the weather and visibility were poor. The 1/4th Hants were one of the hardest hit Regiments on 21st January 1916. They had begun the day with 16 Officers and 339 other ranks and by the end of the day the casualty figures were 13 and 275 respectively. A month later the Principal at Winchester Training College received a letter from Captain Goddard, who was a member of staff at the college before the war.
My dear Principal
I am very sorry to give you ill news of the fate of our two Companies at Sheik Saad 3, near Kut-el-Amara, on January 21st. The Hampshires seem to have suffered almost the worst. The Turkish Infantry are much better shots than the German, and we hear from all sides that nothing like it was ever seen in Flanders. The Colonel and Adjutant were killed. All Officers and NCOs being down, a remnant of our fellows reached the trenches. At this point Tarrant and Warne were killed, and Oakley, R Smith, Giddins, and G Hurst wounded. Purkis and HW Rose are missing, probably losing their way in the darkness…That is all the news , which I’m sure you will think is quite ill enough.
We have an eye witness account of Alfred’s death, as reported in the diaries of V. S. Manley, a friend from Winchester Training College. The entry begins with a short account of an event, prior to Alfred and some of his fellow Wintonians leaving Quetta:
Friday 15th Sept 1916 – During last October  a party of we Wintonians sat down to a ceremonial tea in the café Jehangir, and subsequently visited a Cinema in the native theatre in the bazaar. The occasion celebrated a farewell to those who a few days afterwards volunteered and were accepted for active service in Mesopotamia.
On Jan 21st 1916 in a battle fought at Umm-el-Henna [sic], during the heroic attempt to relieve Kut, several of these gallant comrades of 1913 were struck down. Very few men of the 4th Hants4 came out of the scrap unscathed. In particular, my friend Alf Tarrant was struck with shrapnel after being well all day. He remarked after a shell had exploded overhead, “That one’s got me,” but no one at the time realised he was seriously wounded, but afterwards, when the order was given to retire, he did not move, and a mate thereupon examining him found him stone dead. Dear Alf, he was a cheery, sporting little chap to whom, as a fellow Wiltshireman, I was deeply attached. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! In the official casualty list he was reported ‘missing’, but I then received this eye-witness account from a reliable N.C.O. who was near him during the action.
Alfred had named his father as his next of kin and his soldier’s effects record shows that his father was in receipt of £5 2s 8d.
He is commemorated at Basra and in Wroughton.
Researcher and Author: Dee Sayers
Tarrant’s Student Register. Hampshire Record Office
- There are two regimental numbers given for Alfred Tarrant, 200342 and, for 2/4th Hants, 2195. He was originally in the 2/4th Hants but was transferred to the 1/4th Hants when he joined the Relief Force.
- Quetta is now part of Pakistan
- We now know this information relates to the battle at the Hanna Defile rather that Shaikh Saad.
- V. S. Manley refers to the 4th Hants in his diary to indicate that these were the men of the 4th Hants Winchester Training College Territorial Force. On arrival at Quetta they became the 2/4th and once on active service in Mesopotamia the 1/4th.
Alwyn Ladell photography. (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alwyn_ladell/sets/72157665876163520/ [Accessed 2018].
Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk [Accessed 2018].
Ball, D. and Ball, M. (2018). Wroughton Memorial photograph.
Crowley, P. (2016). Kut 1916: the forgotten British disaster in Iraq. Stroud: The History Press.
Vickers, J. University of Winchester Chapel Memorial Rail image.
Wikimedia (2009). File:Tower of Highworth Church – geograph.org.uk – 1344618.jpg [online] Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower_of_Highworth_Church_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1344618.jpg [Accessed 2018].
Wikipedia (2018). Highworth. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highworth [Accessed 2018].
The William Leach Collection (Various). Records of RSM W.F. Leach including the records of Mrs. E. Bowker [documents, notebooks, photographs and artefacts] The Royal Hampshire Regimental Museum, Winchester.
|University of Winchester Archive – Hampshire Record Office|
|47M91W/||P2/4||The Wintonian 1899-1900|
|47M91W/||P2/5||The Wintonian 1901-1902|
|47M91W/||P2/6||The Wintonian 1903-1904|
|47M91W/||P2/7||The Wintonian 1904-1906|
|47M91W/||P2/8||The Wintonian 1905-1907|
|47M91W/||P2/10||The Wintonian 1908-1910|
|47M91W/||P2/11||The Wintonian 1910-1914|
|47M91W/||P2/12||The Wintonian 1920-1925|
|47M91W/||D1/2||The Student Register|
|47M91W/||S5//5/10||Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia|
|47M91W/||Q3/6||A Khaki Diary|
|47M91W/||B1/2||Reports of Training College 1913-1914|
|47M91W/||Q1/5||Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949|
|47M91W/||R2/5||History of the Volunteers Company 1910|
|47M91W/||L1/2||College Rules 1920|
|Hampshire Record Office archive|
|71M88W/6||List of Prisoners at Kut|
|55M81W/PJ1||Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903|
|All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.|