The Arab world

Basra, Iraq A sepoy guarding a gateway, Baghdad, 1917  

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mosse led the 120th Rajputana Rifles during numerous campaigns. His journal entries and letters record his experiences in many places, from Malta to Port Said (Egypt) to Aden (Yemen). His thoughts on the city of Basra are fascinating: he admires the Iraqi scenery and the local women, but is not keen on the food!

Basra is a quaint town of many swells and much dirt … In spite of this the place is certainly picturesque with its palm trees, Venetian shaped river craft, and the mode of dress of the women. Some of the latter are quite pretty and have clean well cut features.

But some of Mosse’s diary entries about Basra are full of complaints. Some simply state ‘Very hot day’, or ‘Very hot’. In a letter to his mum, which he signs ‘Your most affectionate son, Charlie’, Mosse complains about how the only food they have is rice and meat, and how he longs for a fizzy drink!

Food is not good; no soda, fresh milk, eggs, vegetables or fruit. In fact, very little besides rice, meat and bread … Oh! For a long iced drink – and a good English meal in a comfy room off china plates and real chairs!


When the war broke, Britain made Egypt a Protectorate, meaning that it had formal control of the country’s operations.

Initially, it was agreed that Egypt’s railways would be used for the war effort, though it didn’t take long for hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to join in the war effort in the Middle East, while some were sent to France for labour.

Contribution was in the form of the Egyptian Labour Corps, and the Egyptian Camel Transport Corps. The Labour Corps worked on construction of railways and roads, laying tracks that were essential to the cotton trade. The Camel Corps, which consisted of 170,000 camel drivers, would travel the desert, carrying supplies and ambulance equipment, and patrolling the Sinai desert.

Sabit Harun Mohamed

Rank: Nafar (Egyptian Private)
Regiment: Egyptian Labour Corps

Sabit Harun Mohamed is a rare example of an Egyptian soldier buried in Europe. Mohamed was a Nafar (Private), the lowest rank of soldier in the army. He was part of the Egyptian Labour Corps sent to Europe to complete manual labour. Most of these workers in Egypt were from poor families and lived in villages. A recruiting agent would go to hire them, alongside a British officer, and receive a commission. The salary of the Labour Corps was modest.

Mohamed died in September 1917, and is the only Muslim buried in the Adinkerke Military Cemetery in Belgium. The headstone report (which provided details for the tombstone engraving) and the grave registration reports do not specify his age, or further details about him, but they do highlight him as a Muslim. The main writing on his tombstone is in Arabic, and reads: ‘He (Allah) is the forgiving’.

The Maghreb

The French made use of their colonies by bringing soldiers from the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) into the war effort, totaling 280,000. These included 40,000 Moroccans and 70,000 Tunisians serving on the Western front, as well as thousands back home. A staggering 45,000 never made it back home, more than half of them Algerians.