In the early part of 1917 one of the tasks of the British troops was to clear the enemy from the important bends in the River Tigris in the progress towards Baghdad. Such an operation was mounted at Shumran Bend, which was about five miles north of Kut-el-Amara, when a boat bridge was constructed at a point where the Tigris, already swollen by flood water, was approximately 350yds wide.
The operation was very well prepared, and on 22 February the Division (14th) sent out the orders for a crossing to be made on the Tigris at the Shumran Bend at daybreak on the 23rd.
The main crossing was led by Maj George Campbell Wheeler of the 2nd Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army, when he took his D Coy across the River Tigris with Lts .Russell, Alington and Kerr, together with the regimental bombers and ammunition
Out of the initial group of thirteen boats ten reached the opposite bank and three drifted downstream out of control. Once Wheeler's boat landed the men were met with bomb and rifle fire from enemy trenches. The first enemy trench, which was only 15yds from the water, was quickly rushed and bombed to the left and right of the attackers. With the assistance of more regimental bombers then joining Wheeler, the front trenches were gradually cleared.
Kerr was wounded during the crossing and Alington shot dead on arrival at the first trench, but Lewis guns were sent off to cover the right and left flanks. One of the Lewis guns became jammed and this allowed an enemy counter-attack of 30 or 40 men against Wheeler's party in the centre of the landing force. However, Wheeler and Russell together with three Gurkhas charged the approaching enemy with bombs and bayonets and dealt with most of them. It was at this point that Wheeler, 'who was leading a charmed life', was fired on at close quarters, but his assailant missed; another Turkish soldier then threw his rifle at the officer, which badly injured his scalp leaving a 6-inch wound across his head. Despite this setback Wheeler scrambled to his feet and with four Gurkhas broke up a bombing party of 40 men and killed one man who was in the act of bayoneting Lt Russell in the shoulder. Wheeler kept the landing going, rallying as many men as possible and sending one party to the left to guard the flank among some ruins. With his small force he managed to occupy a trench nearly 200yds inland at a position named Liquorice Stack.
Wheeler was awarded the VC for his leadership and gallantry, which was published in the London Gazette of 8 June 1917, and Lt Russell received the DSO.
George Campbell Wheeler, Major, 2/9th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army. For most conspicuous bravery and determination. This officer, together with one Gurkha officer and eight men, crossed a river and immediately rushed the enemy's trench under heavy bombing, rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire. Having obtained a footing on the river bank, he was almost immediately afterwards counter-attacked by a strong enemy party with bombers. Major Campbell Wheeler at once led a charge with another officer and three men, receiving a severe bayonet wound in the head, but managed, in spite of this, to disperse the enemy. This bold action on his part undoubtedly saved the situation. In spite of his wound, he continued to consolidate his position.
The above is reproduced by kind permission of Gerald Gliddon and taken from his forthcoming new book which is a new edition of VCs of the First World War: The Sideshows (to be published in August 2014).
Wheeler was born on 7 April 1880 and joined the Indian Army on 20 January 1900 as a second lieutenant.
On 23 February 1917 at Shumran on the River Tigris, Mesopotamia, Major Wheeler, together with one Gurkha officer and eight men crossed the river and rushed the enemy's trench in the face of very heavy fire. Having obtained a footing on the far bank, he was almost immediately counter-attacked by the enemy with a party of bombers. Major Wheeler at once led a charge, receiving in the process a severe bayonet wound in the head. In spite of this, however, he managed to disperse the enemy and consolidate his position.
After being awarded the VC he subsequently commanded the 1st Battalion of the 9th Gurkha Rifles after the war. Wheeler died in Barton-on-Sea in 1939.