Captain James Harris was commissioned into the 1/4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. In the First World War he served initially in India before being sent with the Battalion to Mesopotamia in March 1915 but was taken prisoner by the Turks after the fall of Kut al Amara in April 1916.
Allied soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Turks were not well treated at all; they were forced to undertake hard physical work, primarily building the railway across Turkey. They were regularly starved and beaten and at least 65% of them died while in captivity.
The officers tended to be slightly better treated, but conditions for them were not good either. One such officer was Captain JH Harris. He was forced to march across the country, eventually ending up in a Prisoner of War camp at Yozgad in Anatolia. In August 1918, after a series of failed escape attempts, he and seven others made a successful break-out.
Guided by a map they had acquired and which had been printed in 1875 and a home-made ‘sun compass’ they navigated their way across Turkey on foot 450 miles and eventually stole a small boat which they sailed to the north coast of Cyprus. The items illustrated were all carried by Captain Harris as he made his way across Turkey to freedom. The pot itself is a metal ‘native’ cooking vessel which it is believed they must have acquired on the way. The pot contains the equipment, some of which Capt Harris made himself that he used during his escape. The full account of the escape from captivity has been recorded in a book entitled ‘450 miles to Freedom’ was written about the escape by two of the officers – Captains MAB Johnston and KD Yeardsley.
They eventually returned to England, were individually received by the King and arranged a celebratory dinner in London on what turned out to be Armistice Day – 11th November 1918.