A PERSONAL account of a Royal Navy captain’s experiences during the First World War has been told for the first time by a Shipston author.
Written by David Gunn, of Sheep Street, Sailor in the Desert tells the littleknown story of his father Phillip Gunn who was an able seaman in the Royal Navy who fought the Turks up the River Tigris in 1915.
He wrote the book using his father’s unpublished memoirs and conversations he had with him over many years. Unlike many First World War books, it features colour pictures painted by his father.
His father became an artist after having fought through both world wars and in the 1970s he painted 34 oils depicting life aboard ship during the Campaign in Mesopotamia – now Iraq.
They are part of the British National Art Collection.
Mr Gunn feels the book is “unique”.
“It’s a story that nobody’s ever heard before,” he said.
“It’s of interest with the centenary of the start of the First World War coming up.
"There’s been an awful lot about the trenches in France and the fighting against the Germans, but this is a completely unrecorded episode of the war. It’s unusual.”
His father Phillip joined the Navy at 16 as a Boy Seaman and rose through the ranks to became a Captain of the Royal Navy.
The book starts just before the outbreak of the First World War, where he was serving on HMS Clio, a naval sloop fitted with four-inch guns and sails, stationed in China.
He was tasked with hunting the soon-to-be-famous German cruiser Emden, but failed to prevent her escape.
They were next in action defending the Suez Canal against an attempted Turkish invasion, before joining the expedition to invade Turkish-held Mesopotamia.
When the River Tigris became too shallow for HMS Clio, Phillip took over a Calcutta River Police launch, towing improvised gunboats to bombard the enemy in close support of the advancing land forces, whose assaults on enemy positions he witnessed.
Though he repeatedly came under fire, it was malaria which struck him down during the Battle of Ctesiphon and he was fortunate to survive the journey back downriver.
He returned home as as a hero after his efforts and was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal.
“All his boat’s crew were killed,” said Mr Gunn, a former Royal Navy lieu-tenant commander and television presenter now in his 70s. “The fact he got malaria saved his life.”
One of the stories in the book tells of the first ship his father was stationed on, which had no refrigeration.
“They had to take flocks of sheep and cattle on board,” said David.
“There’s a painting of a row of four cattle being led away and being butchered. Although he hated to see the animals suffer like that, it was better than the alternative when they ran out of fresh meat.
“They had to go over to the salt pork in barrels. In many instances it may have been out with the previous ship so it may have been there for years.”
Sailor in the Desert, The Adventures of Phillip Gunn: DSM, RN in the Mesopotamia Campaign 1915, costs £19.99 and is available to buy from Pen and Sword or from Amazon.
Visit penand- sword.co.uk. for details.