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Auction: 18002 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 384

Three: Corporal J. A. Rayne, Seaforth Highlanders, who was killed in action during the desperate final action at Sannaiyat in the attempt to relieve the siege of Kut Al Amara

1914-15 Star (S-6050 Pte (A.Cpl.) J. A. Rayne, Sea: Highrs); British War and Victory Medals (S-6050 Cpl. J. A. Rayne, Sea. Highrs.), very fine (3)

James Alexander Rayne was the son of James and Mary Rayne of 38 Dorien Road, Raynes Park, London. He first served briefly with the Seaforth Highlanders in France from 7 October 1915, before being transferred to Mesopotamia. The Highlanders were attached to the Indian Division and the men had a history of close cooperation, not least the attack of 10 March 1915 on the village of Neuve Chapelle. In November 1915 it was decided that Indian and Gurkha troops would be sent to the Middle East Campaign to fight against the Turkish army. It was thought that the troops were more used to the heat of the desert than the rain and the mud of the Western Front; the British Battalions would remain attached to the Indian Division when it was sent overseas.

The Seaforth Highlanders were posted to Mesopotamia in December 1915. At about the same time, the 6th (Poona) Division of the Indian Army, under Major-General Charles Townshend had fallen back to the town of Kut, after retreating from Ctesiphon, hotly pursued by the Ottoman forces of Halil Pasha. They had suffered significant losses and numbered around 11,000 men, many of whom were exhausted and suffering in such a hostile climate. Rather than continue the march downriver towards Basra, General Townshend chose to stay and hold the town; contained within a long river meander, Kut offered a good defensive position but was vulnerable to siege due to the vast distance to Basra where supplies could be garnered.

Once it became clear that the Ottomans had enough forces to lay siege to Kut, Townshend ordered his cavalry under Lieutenant-Colonel G. Leachman, D.S.O., to escape south, which it did. He remained in Kut with the infantry, but it wouldn't be long before confusion would exacerbate problems; Townshend wanted to break out and withdraw southwards, but his commander, General Sir John Nixon saw value in tying down the Ottoman troops in a siege. However, when Townshend -inaccurately - reported that only 1 month of food remained, a rescue force was hastily raised, including the Seaforths. It is not clear why such a report was made, indeed contemporary sources state that there was enough food for 4 months, albeit at a reduced level, but the impact of Townshend's report would lead to a series of relief expeditions and three major engagements at the Battle of Sheikh Sa'ad, Battle of Wadi and Battle of Hanna.

Casualties were so high in the initial few months that the 1st Battalion was forced to temporarily amalgamate with the Black Watch on 4 February 1916; British losses at the Battle of Hanna alone amounted to 2700 killed or wounded. An attack on the Dujaila redoubt on 8 March cost a further 4000 casualties, leading to the dismissal of General Aylmer.

On 5 April the British captured Fallahiyeh with heavy losses, and Beit Asia was taken on 17 April; the final effort would be against Sannaiyat and this would prove equally costly, with 1200 casualties taken by British forces.

Rayne was killed in action aged 19 on 24 April 1916 and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial.

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