This Day In History

1918 Battle of the Selle. In a carefully-planned attack, rehearsed over 5 days, 5th East Lancashires mount a remarkably successful night assault near Briastre. They move off at 2 a.m., in a heavy downpour which lasted throughout the engagement, to the sound of the Regimental March being played by the battalion band. Met by heavy machine-gun fire and an artillery barrage which causes 50 casualties, they charge through with a yell and are on their final objective well before the 7 a.m. deadline set, taking 300 prisoners in the process. Casualties are 2 officers and 13 men dead, and 6 officers and 109 men wounded. Some 22 German dead were counted on the battalion front. Study of the ground the next day shows that the battalion had gone through no fewer than 6 defensive belts, including a very strongly-held railway embankment, before reaching its final objective. The 300 prisoners were ‘of far better physique and appearance’ than any of the enemy previously encountered, and turn out to be picked troops. They said that they were members of Kaiser Wilhelm’ bodyguard; that they had never before known defeat; and that they had been sent to hold the line at all costs.
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Captain Oswald Austin Reid VC


Oswald Austin Reid VC

Oswald Austin Reid VC

Oswald Austin Reid was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 2nd November 1893, the son of Harry Austin Reed and his wife Alice Gertrude Reid, both pioneer founders of the city. He attended the Diocesan College in Cape Town and St John’s College in Johannesburg before coming to Britain to complete his education at Radley College, Oxfordshire, where he became Senior Prefect and Captain of the Football and Cricket teams. In 1913 he was captain of a Public Schools Eleven that played against the MCC.

On 14th August 1914, just 10 days after the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, he was commissioned into the 4th Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment, as a 2nd Lieutenant. In April 1915 he was wounded while serving on the Western Front. Following recovery, he joined the 1st Battalion of the Kings,  but was wounded again a year later. He was posted to India, and from there to the campaign in Mesopotamia, where he was attached to the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

In March 1917 the British  were approaching Baghdad. Selected to force a crossing of the Diyalah River, the Turks last main line of defence just eight miles from the city, men from the 6th Battalions of the East, South and Loyal North Lancashire Regiments, together with fellow Lancastrians from the 6th Kings Own, were shot down in waves as they tried to ferry pontoons across the stream.

Eventually around 100 men and four officers from the 6th Loyals, led by Oswald Reid, established a tiny bridgehead. But fierce Turkish opposition prevented reinforcement and there began an epic of endurance under fire which bears favourable comparison even with the much more well-known Rorke’s Drift battle.

Instead of Zulu warriors with spears and cow-hide shields, the Lancastrians had to withstand a modern army with 20th Century fire-power. For over 30 hours the little band, at least well positioned for defence in a deep bund in the river bank, fought off attack after attack, often at the point of the bayonet. Their few bombs were expended during the first night, but with great skill and courage they hurled back the ones thrown into their redoubt by the Turks. Each man started the action with 220 rounds of ammunition, but it quickly became clear that unless great caution was used they would be left only with their bayonets.

Finally, on the third night of the siege, the East Lancashire’s at last succeeded in getting across the Diyala River behind them.

When relieved the little force was down to four officers and 35 men, many of them wounded, out of bombs and down to the last of the ammunition. Their senior officer, Oswald Reid, received the Victoria Cross.

He was wounded yet again in March 1917, and in December 1917 he was mentioned in despatches for his part in the capture of Baghdad. By April 1919 he was serving with the Allied force sent to Russia. Oswald Reid, by then an acting Major, later returned to his native South Africa, but he died in October 1920, just six days before his 27th birthday.

He is buried in the Braamfontein Cemetery in Johannesburg.

His Victoria Cross is displayed in the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.