Lt. G K Lewis - 1st Bn The Highland Light Infantry     


Graham Knight LEWIS

Born:   7th.July 1896

Parents: F.K. Lewis & C.N. Lewis, nee Hole

Died:   01.11.1918 Mesopotamia from war wounds.


Graham was the second child and born at 4 Brookfield Villas, Cheltenham Road, Parish of St.Andrews, Montpelier, Bristol County Borough and was no doubt christened at that church. His birth was registered at the Barton Regis 'Hundred' which is the area to the north of the original Bristol City Walls, with at the time of his registration the City boundary having been extended into Gloucestershire (70 acres of the 'hundred' being within the City and 440 acres without) - the writer cannot therefore be sure where the actual registration took place.

In about 1904 the family moved to 'The Shrubbery' (now 697 Southmead Road) Filton, Gloucestershire where three more siblings were born; two brothers and one sister. In 1910, the  family moved to 'St.Elmo', 80 Chesterfield Road, St.Andrews, Bristol where two further sisters were born. 

His primary education is unknown, although it could well have started at Sefton Park School and continued there even after the family moved outside the City, as his father commuted daily to the city leaving his pony and trap at a livery stable in Picton Street. It is however known that his secondary education was at Fairfield Grammar School, Montpelier, Bristol.

Upon leaving school he obtained a position in the head office of Fry's Chocolates, Union Street, Bristol. 

Photographs: Looking up Union Street with Fry's Head Office on the right-hand corner - site now occupied by the Odeon Cinema. Looking down Union Street with F.K.Lewis & Co. on the corner behind the policeman and Fry's office building visible on the left-hand side at the bottom of the hill.

Fry's of course was a huge chocolate producer and in 1847 invented the chocolate bar. The factory was behind the Union Street offices backing onto Fairfax Street.

He was 18 years of age and working at Fry's when the first world war commenced and there's a story that he was given a white feather by an office girl; a wicked practice during a period of volunteers being called for prior to the introduction of conscription. However he had already applied to enlist as an officer and in order to do so attended Bristol University where he was coached by a professor friend of his father enabling him to matriculate and thereby attend The Mon's Officer Cadet Training Unit at Aldershot.

The writer has often wondered why Graham should have joined The Highland Light Infantry, a Scottish Regt., when less than two miles from 80 Chesterfield Road there then existed the Horfield barracks of the Gloucester Regt. Herewith is the an extract from the military researcher in reply to that question:

"I get asked this question so many times. Especially in war time and especially in WW1 where the daily losses were huge 5 to 10 thousand at one point, just imagine losing 50,000 to 70,000 soldiers in one week. The Army Council had to allot new recruits to regiments and battalions that were below strength, this meant men from Cornwall going into the Durham Light Infantry etc. In peacetime again this still happened, in my early service life, I lived in Bristol in 1959 and was put in the DLI, it was not until later I was transferred to the SCLI".

After training at Mon's, passing out and then joining his regiment with further training one can elicit from correspondence and a studio photograph taken in Bristol with his elder brother that he would have had embarkation leave. In subsequent letters he stated his regrets at not spending more time with his family during this period.

There is a family story that when coming home late evening/early hours he would  always visit his mother's bedroom, reach over the bed and kiss her cheek to let her know he'd returned. In doing so, due to the height of the bed, he always banged his shins on the bedstead causing the frame to shudder.  On the night of 1st. November 1918 his mother was disturbed by a movement of the bed with nobody else in the room apart from a sleeping husband whom she awoke and informed that something had happened to Graham. A telegram arrived several days later confirming his death on that precise date.

Lieut Graham Knight Lewis

His first taste of service life would have been at The Mons Officer Cadet Training Unit which was Aldershot's most famous training unit right up to the National Service era. During its existence over 50 000 officers passed out from it. When it closed all soldiers to become officers went to Sandhurst. Thereafter he would have known Maryhill Barracks Glasgow, the depot of the HLI.

After kitting out and initial training he was assigned to the 1st Battalion  HLI.

August 1914 : in Ambala, India. Part of the Sirhind Brigade, the 3rd (Lahore) Division.  Moved to France via Egypt, landing at Marseilles 1 December 1914 (some weeks after the other Brigades of  the Division). Moved to Mesopotamia December 1915.  January 1917 left the Division and moved to the Tigris Defences. September 1917 : attached to 51st Brigade, 17th Indian Division in Mesopotamia, where it then remained.

This battalion operated as part of the 17th Indian Division which was formed in 1917 from units of the British Indian Army for service in the Mesopotamia Campaign during the Great War. The division was involved in the Action at Fat-ha Gorge on the Little Zab between October 23 - 26 1918 and the Battle of Sharqat, October 28 - 30 1918. At the end of the Great War it was part of the occupation force in Iraq until it was disbanded up in 1928.

Landing in France and Gallipoli. All troops landing in France went straight into further training in trench warfare before moving up to the line and getting used to the trench rota system. This consisted of 4 days in the front  line, 4 days in the rear and 4 days in reserve (just behind the front line), in fact the rear positions could be just as dangerous as the front due to heavy constant shelling.

A sector of  the front would be allocated to an army corps usually comprising three divisions. Of these two divisions would occupy adjacent sections of the front and the third would be in rest to the rear. This breakdown of duty would continue down through the army structure, so that within each front-line division, typically comprising three regiments, two brigades would occupy the front and the third would be in reserve. Within each front-line brigade, typically comprising four battalions, two battalions would occupy the front with two in reserve. And so on for companies and platoons. The lower down the structure this division of duty proceeded, the more frequently the units would rotate from front-line duty to support or reserve.

During the day, snipers and artillery observers in balloons made movement perilous, so the trenches were mostly quiet. Consequently, the trenches were busiest at night, when cover of darkness allowed the movement of troops and supplies, the maintenance and expansion of the barbed wire and trench system, and reconnaissance of the enemy's defences. Sentries in listening posts out in no man's land would try to detect enemy patrols and working parties or indications that an attack was being prepared.

Advancing troops were not allowed to stop and care for wounded soldiers. All men carried an emergency field-dressing and if possible attempted to treat their own wounds.  The wounded soldier then had to wait until the stretcher bearers arrived. Once the injured soldier had been picked up by the stretcher-bearers, he would be taken to the Regimental Aid Post that was usually based in the reserve  trenches. The Regimental Medical Officer and his assistants cleaned the wounds, applied dressings, and gave injections. The injured man was then taken to the Advanced Dressing Station. Wounds were again treated and sometimes emergency amputations took place. The wounded soldier was then moved to the Casualty Clearing Station where surgery, if needed, was carried out.

Some of the problems of this war handled by the RAMC:


This odious type of warfare was first used at 3 `o` clock in the afternoon of 22nd April 1915 when chlorine gas was released by the Germans in the Ypres sector. There was no defence for this and 402 officers and 11,778 other ranks of the 27th Division alone had been admitted to the field ambulances by 30th of that month. The immediate remedy was to urinate onto a handkerchief and hold it over the nose and mouth. Paris was scoured for ladies face-veiling and the medical services of the 1st and 2nd Armies, assisted by the women of the locality in which they were billeted, made up emergency masks using the veiling to wrap pads of horsehair and cotton waste soaked in Hyposulphate of soda, and 98 thousand of these were sent into the front line. A solution of 10lbs of water, 10lbs of Hyposulphate, 2.5lbs of soda and 1lb of glycerine was placed in buckets in the trenches to renew the effectiveness of the pads. This, then, was the first British military respirator.

The gas first used was Chlorine, which led to a slow death by asphyxiation.  Mustard gas, first used in 1917, delayed any effect for up to 12 hours, and then began to rot the body from both within and without and a very painful death took from four to five weeks. Lachrimatory gasses caused blindness. Gas hung around in sunken roads for weeks, and it was possible to be overcome merely by removing a patient’s clothing, so it was not only during an attack that one could become gassed.

Trench Foot.

Boots and Putees were intended to keep small stones, etc., from causing problems whilst walking, but when standing for hours on end in a trench that is over ones ankles in water, the skin takes on the effect that one sees when keeping the hands emerged in the washing up bowl. This eventually causes the skin to break down and fall away thus exposing the muscles underneath.

Gas Gangrene.

This was caused by any one of four bacillus that entered either directly into wounds, or was implanted by fragments of shell that burst after burying themselves into the ground. Flanders was a very wet country due to the water table being so near the surface; consequently prior to the war the farmers had plenty of water drainage ditches. These, however, were destroyed by the constant shelling, and the result was water everywhere and the ground was infiltrated with bacillus that entered the wounds of the casualties, or into the skin of trench foot.  Difficult to treat, it even re-entered a wound after amputation.


The effect of "no heart for the fight" was recorded as far back as  480 BC and was, indeed, known to the Pharaohs. In Napoleonic times it was called "The Wind of the Ball" and did not really manifest itself into  the British Army until the Great War. It was extremely difficult to separate the shirkers and malingerers from those with genuine neurosis and, despite the  efforts of medical officers on the spot, the higher eschelon castigated it as cowardice which, processed through the system, produced dire results. It is interesting to note that the officers were allowed to be diagnosed with neuresthenia whilst the other ranks received rough justice. There were, however, specialist hospitals put aside to treat the ever-increasing condition, followed by long periods of convalescence. The French recognised the condition from the outset, but their treatment was often worse than the cause of the effect in the first place.


These creatures carried trench fever, relapsing fever, and typhus. They laid their eggs in the seams of clothing, and in the tails of the men’s shirts, in fact where it was warm and where the clothing was not frequently changed. The men  normally cleansed their clothing by passing the seams over a candle flame, but they forgot that they also hatched out in the body hair, thus the clothing was re-infected. Serious cases of fever were treated in the specialist Stationary Hospitals, and the men usually returned to their units. The infestations were however continuous and created a virtual war on their own.

Killed in the fighting area.

The varying nature of men's deaths in the front line and the specific conditions at the time of their death meant that their ultimate fates differed widely. For example:

Some men would have been identifiable, and probably buried close to the front line. This would have included, for example, men killed by a sniper or shell explosion whilst holding a trench or on a road behind the lines; men dug out of a collapsed mine, trench, sap or dug-out; and men dying of wounds having begun their evacuation, but whilst still in the Battalion or Brigade area. These men would be identified by comrades, NCOs or officers.

Some men would have been less identifiable, and probably buried in cemeteries or burial plots still quite close to the firing line. This might typically have included those men who had attacked and been killed or died of their wounds, but whose bodies could not be brought in because the place they were lying was under fire.  Eventually when the fighting moved away, their bodies would be buried if possible. In this category too would be men who died in a successful advance, whose bodies would be cleared by other units than their own. Identification would be through pay books, tags, and other physical means by men who did not  know the individuals.

Some men would be unidentifiable, if the damage to them was such that they ceased to exist as a body. Fragments of men, once found, would be buried if possible. Many men were simply not found, although post-war battlefield clearance reduced the total of missing. Many thousands of small burial plots were created on or very close behind the battlefields. They were often damaged by shellfire, and in 1918 many were over-run first by the advancing enemy and later by the Allies pushing eastwards again. Plots were destroyed as the ground was shelled, and the locations of many graves that had been registered and known about were made  uncertain.

I regret if  the above was upsetting but I do limit the details to suit the enquiry, however I do include this to depict the nature of war and conditions at that time.

Coming back to Lieut. G K Lewis

He actually  landed in Mesopotamia on 2nd Dec 1916.  He was killed at The Battle of  Sharqat  This was the final action between the British and the Ottomans  during the Mesopotamian Campaign in World War I. It took place near the end of  October 1918. Anticipating a Turkish armistice following the defeat of the  Ottomans in Palestine, British Premier David Lloyd George ordered Sir William  Marshall, Commander-in-Chief on the Mesopotamian front, to remove any residual  Ottoman presence from that theatre by twin advances up the Euphrates and Tigris  rivers, and capture the oil fields near Mosul on the Tigris. There was a lack  of available transport, after a large amount had been supplied to Dunsterforce  for its advance across Persia, so Marshall persuaded the government to limit  the advance to the Tigris Front only.

An Anglo-Indian force comprising of the 17th Indian Division and 18th Indian  Division and the 7th and 11th Cavalry Brigades led by Sir Alexander Cobbe, left  Baghdad on October 23 1918. In just 39 hours they covered 120 kilometres (77 miles) to the Little Zab River, where the Ottoman 6th Army, led by Ismail Hakki  Bey was awaiting them.

But, seeing his army's rear threatened, Hakki Bey withdrew another 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the north to Sharqat, where Cobbe attacked him on October 29, sending the 11th Cavalry Bde to pin the Turkish front while the 17th Infantry Div came up to support them. The 17th were delayed in arriving, and the cavalry were shelled by Turkish guns overnight. In the morning the 13th  Hussars charged the hill where the guns were, and made a dismounted charge up it with fixed bayonets. They took the guns, and when the 17th Div arrived and advanced on the Turkish positions, the Turks surrendered all along the line.  The Turkish commander on the Tigris Front, Ismail Hakki Bey, was captured. The 18th Div advanced on Mosul, 50 miles further north, and were 12 miles short of  the town when the armistice was declared.

On November 14, 1918, Mosul was peacefully occupied by the 7th and 11th Indian  cavalry brigades, after the British forces ignored the request of the Turkish Commander-in-chief, Ali Ishan, to withdraw to the positions they had held at  the armistice.

Like Gallipoli, conditions in Mesopotamia defy description. Extremes of temperature (120 degrees F was common); arid desert and regular flooding; flies, mosquitoes and other vermin: all led to appalling levels of sickness and death through disease. Under these incredible conditions, units fell short of officers and men, and all too often the reinforcements were half-trained and ill-equipped.  Medical arrangements were quite shocking, with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching any kind of hospital.

Photograph taken in Mesopotamia of G K LEWIS wearing campaign uniform.

Medals he was  awarded:

British War Medal

The British War Medal 1914-1920, authorised in 1919, was  awarded to eligible service personnel and civilians alike. Qualification for the award varied slightly according to service. The basic requirement for army personnel and civilians was that they either entered a theatre of war, or rendered approved service overseas between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. Service in Russia in 1919 and 1920 also qualified.



Victory Medal

The Victory Medal 1914-1919 was also authorised in 1919 and was awarded to all eligible personnel who served on the establishment of a unit  in WW1. The medals had the soldiers name and number engraved on the rim.

These commemorative medals were presented to the next-of-kin of the men and women who died in action in the Great War (1914-18). The medal was commonly known as the 'Dead Man's Penny'. The medal was made of brass and measured approximately four and a half inches in diameter.  

Most of the medals were manufactured at Woolwich arsenal (London). In addition to this plaque or medal, families of the bereaved would also have received an illuminated scroll in full colour and a printed letter from Buckingham Palace bearing the signature of the King.


In Memory of

Lieutenant G K Lewis

1st Bn Highland Light Infantry

who died on

1st November 1918

Remembered with Honour

    Bagdad (North Gate) War Cemetery


 Commemorated in perpetuity by

     the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

    [Grave/Memorial Reference V.C.2]

Further Reading:

N.B.  Graham wasn't involved in the Siege of Kut, but would have been involved in the Second Battle of Kut, the Fall of Baghdad and the Battle of Sharqat. It was during the later, final battle of the campaign, that he was fatally wounded. 

Recommended Viewing:

The Great War series by the BBC part 24 which provides an accurate insight into the horrific campaign against the Turks in Mesopotamia.


Medal Card - G.K.Lewis

This card is held by the Ministry of Defence/Public Records Office and such cards  are one of the few existing records of service for soldiers and sailors who served in WW1 as most were destroyed during the WW2 London blitz.  Interestingly it shows that he entered Mesopotamia on 2nd. December 1916 at the age of twenty.  The card also records the correct name and address for his mother which confirms the relevant military research.

Souvenir from Kut

This was posted home by Graham following the Fall (re-taking) of Kut. It is an imitation Ghurka kukri with the blade made from a flatten brass shell case and the handle from a Turkish rifle round. The wording stamped into the blade reads ''Amara, Mesopotamia 1916 -17, Fall of Kut, 27 Feb 1917''. Originally one of a pair, this souvenir is now the in possession of R.B.K.Lewis.

Graham's Photographic Portrait

Set in a beautiful oval hardwood frame with matching oval mount surrounding the photograph and the Dead Man's Penny beneath, it was bequeathed by his mother to J.W.Jenkins and is now in the possession of E.W.Gooding. The photograph would have been taken in a studio prior to Graham's departure overseas and shows him in officers uniform of the Highland Light Infantry.  The 'Penny' is of a dissimilar design to that shown in the military history, but nevertheless that is what it is.  


While serving in Mesopotamia Graham frequently corresponded with his family. E.W.Gooding is in possession of letters sent to his elder brother F.C.K.Lewis. Sadly the most recent letter from Graham was written only a short while before his   death.

Postage Stamps from Mesopotamia

G.H.Lewis was a keen stamp collector and Graham sent him a complete set of Mesopotamian postage stamps. The stamp collection, including the Mesopotamian set, was bequeathed to and is in possession of R.B.K.Lewis.

Graham's Bible

Following his death in Mesopotamia his bible, together with other personal possessions, would have been returned to England and despatched to his parents. It is now in the possession of R.B.K.Lewis.

The following is written on the first inside page;

G.K.Lewis 2nd.Lt.


80 Chesterfield Road

St. Andrews

Bristol England


The Times, London 17th. March 2009

France Honours Veteran,  112.

Henry Allingham (born same year as Graham), Britain's oldest surviving First World War veteran, appointed Officer of the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest order, at The French Embassy yesterday.

R.K.L  8th April 2009