on board “P 93”
Very many thanks for a letter from you dated July 4th, which arrived quite unexpectedly on 23rd, 2 days ago. We had just got orders to move up river, & were not expecting an English mail at all. So D. Gabb’s going into the I.A. is he? Well, I suppose he knows what he wants to do best. I don’t imagine I shall see him now as they will probably have to stay in India a bit learning the language etc.
I’m writing this on board the river steamer and will try and tell you all about it. We got orders rather unexpectedly to move at 24 hours’ notice – none too long if you have a big camp to strike & pack up and heaps & heaps of stores & baggage etc to pack up & load. However, that’s by the way. These “p boats” as they are commonly called are paddle steamers built & designed for rivers such as this. They are shallow-draft boats, and to each side of them is attached a huge flat barge, which is filled with stores, rations, men, animals, transport carts, guns, in fact anything & everything that requires conveyance up river.
As you may imagine a big paddle steamer with a big barge tied on each side is a very unwieldy craft, & the navigation of this river is none too easy owing to its extraordinary winding course & the speed of the current. The river bed varies a lot too in depth, & we run aground on uncharted sandbanks frequently, but it’s never serious, & a little puffing & jerking on the part of the engines & we are off again.
Well old “P 93” (one of the latest by the way, cabins, dining saloon, electric lights & fans, lots of deck space for officers & men & “very modern improvements”, including a lovely bath room with a full size lie-down splash-all-over-the-place English bath, gorgeous) came alongside our camp at 7 yesterday morning & we commenced loading her up with tents, ammunition, rations and all the hundred and one things that a regiment carts about with it. Every single ounce had to be manhandled and taken & loaded on the ship from the camp, as of course there are no cranes or such luxuries.
It was a piping hot day, one of the hottest we’ve had, & the N.W. wind that had brought such relief the previous day after the heat of the week changed to a S. wind, which was just what we did’nt want, as this brings a damp & sticky atmosphere with it, & is trying enough to sit still in, much more so to do manual labour in, & very strenuous labour at that! However the men tackled the job with their usual good spirits & by 11.30 we were finished and off up the river.
I have told you how winding and tortous the river is, & the country on either side is dead flat, most uninteresting & monotonous. To the East we can just see the dim blue outline of the Pusht-i-Koh hills, on the Persian border, but the other side runs away to the horizon in one bare, flat, featureless plain. Every few miles you come across a small barbed-wire encampment, a few tents & matting huts on the river bank, apparently tenantless except for a sentry with a fixed bayonet in his little shelter. These are the “marching posts”, or camps where troops who are marching, & not going by steamer, rest for the night.
Occasionally you see a bigger encampment & more troops, & there are posts guarding the long line of communications from Basra to Baghdad & beyond. A dreary life this must be for the troops on the line of communications – for they are miles from anywhere, & can only watch the steamers bearing their more fortunate companions up the river to where things happen, or down stream on leave, or on transfer to some base hospital, though perhaps it’s better to garrison an L. of C. post than to be sick & wounded : a choice of evils! Still the L. of C. must be kept intact, & doubtless we shall all get our turn of this uninteresting duty someday.
It has been a hot voyage, as the wind is in the South & it is muggy & sticky. But we are doing it in great comfort, & the old Tigris must indeed marvel at the great change that has come over her traffic in the last year.
We reach Kut tomorrow – I trust I am giving nothing away! – and from there go on by train. I should like to put in a day or two at Kut, to have a look round, though I believe it has altered beyond all recognition since the days of the Siege.
The country we are passing through now as I write, though dull & uninteresting to the eye, is all the same of historic interest. For it was across these dry dusty plains that all the fighting took place in 1916 during the ineffectual effort to relieve the Kut garrison; and again more fighting took place in the winter of 1916-17 all round here, when Kut was re-taken & the way to Baghdad opened. But there is little to indicate that anything ever happened here, at anyrate nothing can be seen from the steamer.
Well, that’s all for the present. I’ll see if I can post this at Kut & then I’ll write again when we reach our destination.
Best love to all
yr loving son
Photo of P-Boats
It’s likely he meant Poshtkue, Western Iran – not to be confused with Pusht-e-Koh, Afghanistan.