May 9th/17 Wednesday Amara.
I wrote you a hurried scrawl on Saturday – in bed I think- hoping to catch the mail in time to tell you of our move up here, but whether the special messenger I despatched arrived in time or not I cannot say. Anyhow we were ordered to move up here at very short notice, 24 hours, and some of us have already arrived as you see, & the rest of the regiment is arriving in bits later on.
We embarked on a river steamer at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning & the trip upstream was most awfully pleasant. We went about 40 miles upstream to a place called KURNAH where the Tigris & Euphrates join. All the way up on either side were date palms with occasional glimpses of desert & marsh through the gaps in the various palm groves. It was beautifully cool and there was a nice breeze all the time.
We reached Kurnah at 2 o’clock where we got off the boat and waited till 9 o’clock when we came on here by train. Kurnah of course is the traditional site of the Garden of Eden, and I fancy all the authorities of any importance have come to the conclusion that it was there or thereabouts that Adam & Eve were domiciled. Certainly to the weary traveller from the desert Kurnah must indeed seem a garden, for there are numerous palm groves there, & pomegranate trees, & a kind of willow growing along the river bank, and the whole place all round is green with marsh and reed-beds which makes things very restful for the eyes after the glare of the sun in the desert.
The Euphrates is a nice clean blue-water river, while the Tigris comes down in a very strong current of horribly muddy water, completely overwhelming the poor little Euphrates and discolouring the rest of the river on its way to the sea. The whole scene was most awfully pretty in the evening light as I saw it and a worthy setting for the Biblical romance.
As you may imagine, Eve’s tree is still shown to the traveller, or at anyrate a tree that satisfies his curiosity sufficiently to say he has seen the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. That it is not an apple, nor anything like it, matters not; it is enough to have seen it, & to imagine that the translators of the bible could get no nearer than “apple” to the particular fruit mentioned in Genesis. In any case, I picked some leaves off it, (I am told this is quite the thing to do!) & am sending them along herewith; they are at least interesting, even if they cannot claim to be genuine. You can at anyrate shew them to your more credulous friends as the real thing, & leave the sceptics to draw their own conclusions. All I can guarantee is that they do come from the tree that rightly or wrongly is known as Eve’s.
We strolled around Kurnah, meeting various people, & then I went & had dinner with a railway man who runs the railway there. After dinner we all climbed into open trucks & started off for this spot at about 9 p.m. It was awfully cold in the train, open trucks an’ all, & at 4 a.m. next morning when we got up I had to put on your Shetland woolly to keep warm! Fancy Mespot on the 6th of May, & Shetland woollies! Not the usual kit you acquaint with this country at this time of year; it’s a fact all the same, & you see your little gift has already come in useful. However it was hot enough in the daytime, it’s just the nights & early mornings that can be so cold here.
We had some breakfast by the side of the line, there are no stations of course yet, as the line has only just been finished, & marched out to camp here. We have quite a nice camp on the banks of the Tigris, & this is a very pretty place & such a pleasant change after Basrah. I have no notion how long we shall be here, perhaps a month, perhaps two or more, or we may be here for only a week or so; I am rather inclined to think it will be longer, more like a month or so. Anyhow it’s a step in the right direction.
This place is very much like Basrah, & I fancy is typical of all towns in the country. Very pretty surroundings, it couldn’t be otherwise with a great broad river & palm-lined banks, but the town is rather dirty & squalid, with the usual narrow bazaars, which are fascinating in their own peculiar way. The river-scene is just as busy a one as at Basrah & innumerable boats & craft of every kind are constantly moving up & down, from monitors flying the white ensign & fresh from the fighting up Baghdad way down to a frail cockleshell of a canoe which some picturesque arab laboriously paddles across the stream, dodging motor boats & steam launches & battling doggedly against the swift current.
Amongst other things, Amarah is noted for a special kind of silver work, on which they engrave pictures of the river front, boats & scenes from Arab life. They make coffee pots with fascinating long spouts, napkin rings, buttons & all sorts of jewellery and I must try & get you some as it’s most awfully nice work, though I believe the men who make it are few while the demand is enormous.
I have met several pals here, & in particular one Lloyd whom I knew in India some years ago. He was a schoolmaster in Allahabad & joined up for the war, & now is doing A.D.C. to the General commanding the Tigris defences, with whom (thanks to Lloyd) I have been lunching today. It is hot here in the day & just “tops the century” in our tents at midday; but this is only to be expected & is nothing to worry about; we shall have it much worse than that later on. For the present we have no complaints however.
There is a club here, & of course a pretty big permanent garrison, being one of the big places on the lines of communcation. Hospitals & store depôts of all kinds abound, & so in some respects it resembles a station in peace time. Hence they have tennis & golf here, & I expect boating parties & picnics, to which the river particularly lends itself.
I am very fit & well; the C.O. is still away & is I hear going to India, but I think I told you this last week. The mail goes out tomorrow, but I am writing this today to ensure catching it. I don’t know when the next mail reaches us here, but I expect in a day or so. I am seriously thinking of studying Arabic while out here; one feels so handicapped not being able to speak to the inhabitants, even to swear at them, though possibly this can be done equally effectively in English. Tea time so will close down.
Best love to all
ever your loving son
Silverware towards bottom of page