I don’t quite know how the mails run here but I think I’m catching something if I write today.
We have more or less settled down now in our new camp. The weather is supposed to get cooler this month & it is certainly much drier up here, a hot burning wind most days which parches the skin and makes you very thirsty. The dust is pretty bad here, but that is only to be expected in a big camp.
Certainly the nights now are delightful, & the early mornings might even be called cold, though of course there is not yet that nip in the air that is the infallible sign of the end of the hot weather. But the days are shorter, and the mornings last cooler longer and it does’nt stoke up quite so early in the day. Of course we may yet get another hot spell, & I believe there is a week or ten days of the “date ripener”, a hot moist time that is due about now, but on the whole we may fairly claim to have broken the back of the hot weather.
We lead a strenuous life here, putting finishing touches to our training. It is indeed pleasant to join up with our brigade at last and to get to know our fellow soldiers. I told you I had met the Queens, but no one else in particular. I met Spens the adjutant & he remembered us all very well from the old Camberley-Frimley days. Was it his sister, red haired, who married Harry Harris? (what’s he doing, by the way, & where’s Charley Anderson all this time? pardon the interruption!) I did’nt like to ask him, though we had a good old talk about most other people.
The fruit here is lovely. Huge luscious water-melons, grapes, & sweet limes, also dates of course, of which I ate my first fresh one a few days ago, quite nice & they are very sustaining I believe, and of course are the chief article of diet of the local arab. I believe you get oranges & apples too but I have’nt seen any yet; we have arrived just a wee bit late for the best fruit, but we get excellent stuff still all the same.
I have of course visited the City of the Caliphs and am much pleased with it. I had heard so many fellows say they were disappointed in it that I was prepared to be so myself, though I determined to judge for myself. But I am by no means disappointed, in fact I think it’s a good spot. After all, it depends on what you expect, & naturally those who thought to see a London or Paris were disappointed.
It is a typical eastern town, mud built & brick built, with one big main street, & the usual small winding smelly arab bazaars, roofed-in to keep the sun off (and the smell in!) and lined with the usual rows & rows of tiny little cupboard-like shops. The one big street was made by the Turks by the simple expedient of cutting a wide path right through the middle of the city, irrespective of any private houses or anything that barred the way. As a consequence this wide street is bounded on both sides by mutilated houses. Here you can see half a living room or bed room, with furniture still in it; & further on a whole house cut neatly in half right down the middle, showing the arrangement of rooms & staircases perfectly!
Christian Churches, Jewish Synagogues & Mohamedan mosques – for it is a most cosmopolitan place – all suffered in the same way, hewn down altogether if they were in the line of the street, or cut in half or a piece shaved off to satisfy the Turkish street maker. It is a most curious sight, the ends of all these buildings left rough & unrepaired, as if some giant had taken two long cuts with a huge knife through the centre of the city and lifted out the debris with a spoon & so left the clear street as it now is. The Turks called it Khalil Pasha street, after the victor of Kut; but it is now called New street. As an improvement it is a decided success but it was a most ruthless method to adopt.
The best part of the town is I think the river front. The backs of all the houses are towards the river, & each house has a small garden overlooking the river. The houses on the front are easily the best & most imposing and the view from the river – some 300 yards wide here & crossed by a pontoon bridge – is most fascinating. Narrow sinister little stepped alleyways lead down to the water’s edge between each house, most suggestive of crime & murder in the dark days of the Caliphs! The finest building is the British consulate, a fine big house that stands by itself & dwarfs the surrounding houses completely.
The bazaars as I say are just like those at Amara & Basra, possibly a trifle more crowded & with a more mixed crowd too. One seems to meet representatives of every conceivable race. The shops have a good number of things for sale, but I fancy there is nothing much of any value now, as there was a good deal of disorder & looting between the time of the Turks’ evacuation & our entry into the town last March. I believe good silks are still to be found, but carpets are positive great auk’s eggs – there are’nt any! At least not for the common herd, though I have no doubt a prolonged & laborious search might reveal some, or a visit to the bazaar with someone in authority. I shall buy one or two odds & ends of no value just to bring home & add to the Delaford collection-
I went across the river & saw the railway station, the famous terminus of Germany’s eastern aims. There was nothing much to see, a few burnt out trucks, a lot of scrap iron, a cluster of railway buildings inside which there appeared to be a lot of work going on, judging by the noise of clanging & hammering that issued from them.
We breakfasted at the Hotel Maude, (by the way I’ve never got my socks yet, & I simply dare’nt go & ask for them!) & came back to camp in a bellum, a very pleasant row down stream for 2 miles or so. The bellums here are nice sensible boats, like seaside rowing-boats, & they row them along just like those men in blue jerseys at the sea, only dressed in arab kit of course. They use that short deep-water stroke. So much safer & more comfortable than the cockle shells of Basrah & Amarah!
So on the whole we have fairly settled down now, & right glad we are to be here at last. The change will do us all good, officers & men alike, the double change of pace & life – for there are many more fellows to meet here – being most acceptable.
We have’nt had a mail since leaving Amara, & that’s just about right, as one is due here in 2 days’ time & that’ll be just a fortnight. D.B. is still in India & will not I fancy come out again as he is not passed fit for service, & is only fit for duty in India. Then his time in command is up in November, so it’s very unlikely he’ll be sent out again. So I suppose I shall keep it for a bit longer yet, & very glad I shall be too. I want to take the rgt: into a show & see how we all get on, so I hope they don’t send anyone out to take it from me, though I have always told you I expect it any time.
I went to a local revue here the other day, acted by some sappers who are in camp next us. One Gaskell took me, he was a friend of Ben’s & mine in Lansdowne. The review was’nt very good, but served to pass an evening away.
Fearful fighting in France is’nt there, & we don’t seem to be making much progress, though I have no doubt we are killing thousands of Boches, & I’m afraid our losses must be heavy. The Italians seem to be doing wonders but I’m afraid the Russians are a complete wash out. However I suppose there is still just the off chance of a complete collapse of Germany & Austria – especially the latter – this year though to the casual observer it seems as if we must be prepared to see another winter out.
Must end up
Best love to all
yr loving son
New Street Baghdad, 1917
Great Auk’s eggs
Map of Mespot (large file)