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Sapper Doran Robson Dean  

B 19 Nov 1896 British Columbia, Canada

HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE
EVIL TO HIM WHO EVIL THINKS

Dean, a marine engineer, Joined the Royal Engineers on 17th January 1917 at Vancouver at the age of 21.

He was a Sapper in the I.W.T. (Inland Water Transport) Royal Engineers working as a Motor Mechanic on an oil jetty at the oil depot at Khora Creek Basrah, Mesopotamia.

He was discharged 27.8.1919 & was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

He spent his years in the war mostly in Mesopotamia but with spells in India for leave on Vasna whilst he was in hospital with Malaria.


HMHS VASNA

HMHS Vasna was built by Alex, Stephen & Sons, Glasgow for the British India Steam Navigation Co. Her gross tonnage was 5,767 with engines that were twin screw, two triple expansion, 4, 700 IHP producing 16.03 Knots in trials, her service speed was 12.5 knots. She was designed to carry 29 First Class Passengers, 27 Second Class Passengers, 1, 605 Deck Passengers and 129 Crew.  She was taken over in 1917 while being built and completed as a hospital ship with 613 beds and 125 medical staff. In 1919 she was released back to British India Steam Navigation Co and used on their Bombay to Basra route until September 1939 when she was again taken over.

He was due to be demobilized in April 1919 but it was delayed.  In 1919 British colonial rulers were grappling with rising unrest from their Indian subjects and as a result Special Battalions were formed in India in April & May 1919 from troops prevented from returning home for demobilization.  This included men returning from Mesoptoamia & each boatload formed a new Special Battalion.  

Churchill's comments to the House of Commons on 3rd June: "I am informed that during the month of April reports from India indicated a certain discontent owing to retarded demobilisation, and in consequence it was arranged to continue demobilisation through the hot weather. It was, however, temporarily suspended later, owing to trouble on the North-West Frontier. I am informed that the Commander-in-Chief in India reports that soldiers awaiting embarkation for the United Kingdom at Karachi and Deolali depots were invited by him to volunteer to remain in India, in view of the situation in that country, and that all at Deolali, including details from Mesopotamia, have unconditionally volunteered. He had, however, not received reports from Karachi. He adds that as soon as the situation admits, men will be released and dispatched homewards as shipping becomes available.”

It seems that Doran was caught up in this as you will see from the details of his embarkation & disembarkation from the HT Elephanta shown below.

HT Elephanta was a RIMS (Royal Indian Marine Ship) ship
It was a minesweeper, ex steamer & operating in the Indian ocean in 1917-19
(“HT” - ships hired by the government with private contractors are titled HT – Hired Transports/Troopships)
34 special Battalion was also known as the Elephanta Battalion



Doran’s military papers show the following:

24.4.1919  HT Elephanta embarked for Bombay
30.4.1919 Disembarked from HT Elephanta at Bombay
3.5.1919 Transferred to 34 Special battalion on Elephanta
8.5.1919 Transferred to Northbrook battalion at Bangalore from Elephanta
4.6.1919 Bangalore to Deolali then 2 Bombay en route to UK
12.6.1919 Embarked on Elephanta at Bombay & struck off strength of 34 special battalion
12.7.1919 - 27.8.1919 Home

An interesting piece of information regarding Deolali:  There was a barracks and a military hospital at Deolali.  Time expired men were held at Deolali whilst waiting for a troop ship home.  The hospital was also the last leg in the evacuation of men in India whose nerves had given way and the nervous tic of the patients gave rise to the expression “doolally tap”.

In the book “Pick up your Parrots & Monkeys – The Life of a Boy Soldier in India” by William Pennington there is the following description of Doollali.

“Deolali, a hill resort a hundred miles or so from Bombay [en route to Meerut] was the first stage. It was an agreeable place to serve, and well known throughout the British Army in India as the place to acquire the 'Deolali Tap' - that is, to go stark, raving mad, crazy, berserk, demented or simply 'puggled' [drunk], faked or otherwise. It was the dream and design of many a soldier to get there, as it was often the prelude to being diagnosed as 'mental, and thus becoming eligible to catch the next boat home."


British Forces in Mesopotamia [Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force/India Expeditionary Force “D”]

Britain relied heavily on oil to keep its dominant navy at sea. It determined very quickly on, at the outbreak of the war with Germany, to protect its interests by occupying the oilfields and pipeline near Basrah. It then pushed out a force to seize the river junction at Qurna. The forces fighting in Mesopotamia was principally one of the Indian Army with only one solely British formation, the 13th (Western) Division, who had arrived from Gallipoli via Egypt in February 1916.

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. These factors, plus of course the unexpectedly determined Turkish resistance, contributed to high casualty rates.

At the outbreak of war Basrah was known, at least at high tide, as “The Venice of the East.” The countryside, for about two miles on either side of the river, was intersected by creeks and smaller canals leading off of them, through which the six-foot tide flowed in and out twice a day. The canals watered the date gardens and provided the primary avenues of transportation. There were few good roads and most local travel was by bellum, the gondola-like passenger craft, poled or rowed by two boatmen. Larger sailing craft, known as mahalas, carried heavier freight and smaller high-prowed canoes, called meshhufs, were paddled by Marsh Arab women selling eggs and dairy products.

KHORA CREEK, BASRAH, MESOPOTAMIA