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History of the World: The Berkshire Yeomanry rum jar
By Graham McKechnie
BBC Berkshire reporter

Gallipoli
Reading's Fred Potts won a Victoria Cross at Gallipoli

It looks like a very ordinary piece of crockery - the sort of thing you might find when you are digging your garden.

In many ways it is just that - ordinary - one of hundreds of thousands.

It is of no financial value but it represents and important small chapter in the history of Berkshire.

I found this fragment of a British Army rum jar on the slopes of a hill called Karakol Dagh, on the edge of Suvla Bay on the Turkish peninsular we call Gallipoli.

I climbed the hill at dawn with military historian Jon Cooksey as we recorded a documentary about Reading's Victoria Cross winner, Fred Potts.

Potts was serving with the Berkshire Yeomanry in the First World War, part of the 2nd Mounted Division. They landed at Suvla Bay on 18 August 1915 and for two days they camped on the slopes of Karakol Dagh. We have letters written home from the soldiers, describing how they dug shelters, lit fires and despite incoming Turkish shells, made themselves as comfortable as they could. The photographs we have of the Berkshire Yeomanry camped at this place shows how little it has changed.

As we climbed the hill we started to see pieces of crockery lying around. At first we both decided it was just rubbish discarded more recently, such was the remarkably good condition of the fragments. But as we climbed higher more and larger pieces could be seen. This particular fragment has the initials "S.R.D." clearly marked on it, removing any doubt that these broken pieces of crockery were indeed from the "Service Rum Dilute" jars which the British Army carried with them.

Broken rum jar.
A broken rum jar brought home the reality of war to Graham McKechnie.

As a historian you are taught to deal in cold facts, but when you have in your hand a tangible link with the men you have been researching, the story becomes more personal. You start to wonder about the story of this one rum jar. Who were the men who drank from it? Factory workers, farmers, teachers, amateur footballers and scholars - the yeomanry were a disparate group of men. What were they feeling as they sat in this distant and alien land, knowing that they would head into battle in the coming days? There were more than five thousand casualties at the Battle of Scimitar Hill, so what became of the men who shared this rum jar?

There were other, more macabre, things to find on Karakol Dagh and the battlefield. Shell fragments, gun clips, shrapnel - all indicators of the horror which occurred, but somehow it was the simple rum jar which was the most poignant reminder.

That the slopes of this hill are still littered with the remnants of the British Army at camp also shows how few people visit this distant battlefield. The graves of the Berkshire men who fell at Scimitar Hill, though well kept by Commonwealth War Graves, are also largely forgotten and they deserve to be remembered better.




SEE ALSO
Call for memorial to Fred Potts
09 Nov 09 |  History

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