In August 1914 the 2nd Dorsets were in India. Initially prepared for service in East Africa, their planned destination changed first to Europe then, at short notice, to the Gulf. Turkey’s entering the war threatened supplies of oil from the Shatt-al-Arab at the mouth of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). The extension of a German-financed railway to Baghdad provided another threat to be countered.
Although the Battalion’s landings in the Shatt-al-Arab on 6th November 1914 met little opposition, the Turks, backed by Arab levies, were quick to respond. The Dorsets faced stiff fighting expelling the Turks from Saihan on 15th November and Saihil two days later. In eleven days these actions and the diseases prevalent in the marshy conditions of the region cost the Battalion 25% of its fighting strength. They reached Basra on the 23rd.
After minor engagements, mostly against Arab insurgents, the 2nd Dorsets advanced to Shaiba (ancient Sheba). In February 1915 they were forced to wade knee-deep through the annual flooding of the two rivers. At Shaiba they endured very difficult conditions, including sand storms. Mounting frequent offensive patrols, they fought major actions on 3rd March and 14th April in which the depleted Battalion showed great resilience, earning Shaiba as a new Battle Honour.
Recognising that Kut-al-Amara was key to preventing the Turks encircling British forces on the Tigris, General Townshend’s division (including the 2nd Dorsets) took the town on 28th September 1915. Despite the depleted state of his units, Townshend pushed on towards Baghdad, taking Ctesiphon on 21st November before being forced to withdraw to Kut. He decided to stand and fight here until reinforcements could be sent up-river but, against mounting Turkish resistance, it proved impossible to raise the siege. Kut fell on 28th April 1916. The treatment of captured NCOs and soldiers was substantially worse than that suffered by Japanese prisoners in 1942-45. Only 70 of 350 captured Dorsets survived to the Armistice.
Meanwhile detachments from the 2nd Battalion who had not been at Kut provided a cadre for a composite battalion formed with the similarly depleted 2nd Norfolks. Known, inevitably, as ‘the Norsets’, they went into the line in February 1916 and joined the unsuccessful attempt to relieve their besieged comrades at Kut.
In July the arrival of reinforcements permitted the establishment of the 2nd (Provisional) Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. Having spent the winter of 1916/17 down-river guarding lines of communication, they took part in the final recapture of Kut in December 1916 and the subsequent clearing of the Shatt-al-Hai, but missed the fall of Baghdad in March 1917. On 25th March the 2nd Dorsets distinguished themselves at Jebel Hamrin, suffering 220 casualties out of 500 in action.
At Suez in April 1918, they joined General Allenby’s Palestine campaign, fighting at Brown Hill on 19th September and in the subsequent advance on Nablus, north of Jerusalem. Within a month the Turks had been expelled from Damascus and Aleppo and made peace on 30th October 1918.