March 16th 1916
My dear Mother
It is quite your turn for a letter I think. As long as I know you are probably able to hear most of my news from Mela I don’t find it quite so much to put in home letters.
In the latest news I have had, through Mela's and May’s letters, you have had to nurse a chill carefully, but seem to have thrown it off very successfully, and were well on the way to mend. I am now in hopes that the next letters will tell me you continued that good progress. I always want to think of everybody at home as being well, especially when I am so much cut off from you. So look after yourself well. I am glad you and Mela can look after each other as occasion requires.
You ought to get either before or with this letter the hasty postcard that I dispatched yesterday from Basra just before leaving. We didn’t expect to be kept long in camp there, but of course could not tell when we should leave till orders came.
Basra is a thoroughly eastern town in every was showing little sign of western habits except for those that have followed the military influx. Its chief characteristic is perhaps the water which runs all about in irrigation channels. Boats are commonly used for purposes of communication, and in wet weather are much the best way of getting about because of the very slippery sort of mud that the fine alluvial soil forms.
The town possesses the usual amenities that one hopes to find at a military base. Most necessities can be obtained; some Bombay firms have set up a branch, and several native ones have been quick to make use of their chance. There is even an English club of sorts, though it is not a very great institution. One can cable from there, and the charges for a week-end cable (being quarter rate) are very reasonable, under 7d a word.
As is the case all the way up the Shat el Arab, both banks of the stream are covered with date palm plantations extending half a mile or upwards in width, and for quite a long distance up some of the bigger creeks. The ground everywhere is absolutely flat, just a few feet above water level. I believe the melting of snow at the river sources will very soon have a large part of the land flooded. A complete network of ditches are cut for irrigation. There are practically no trees except the date palms, which however are very abundant. Grass doesn’t grow very much round about. The whole river side is pretty thickly populated. The inhabitants live chiefly either in well built mud huts, or in little shanties built of plaited reeds. The mud is very like clay and serves better than most mud for building. In the towns however I have seen both stone and brick. The latter was chiefly used in Ascha, the real port of Basra which lies a mile or so from the river bank up a large creek.
The weather was not trying during the few days we were there, though I can well believe it becomes so later on when it is hot, the heat being very damp. I fancy it is much more bearable up the river where it is drier. We have had one rainy evening which was unpleasant while it lasted. The ground, especially when trodden down scarcely absorbs the water at all, so that it lies in puddles, having no slope to make it drain off, and a very thin layer of greasy mud forms on the hard under surface making it almost impossible to walk. My tent consisted very largely of puddles that one night; however we kept ourselves and belongings practically dry and next morning everything started to dry quickly.
On the other hand it very soon gets warm when the sun comes out, and marching is hot work. The nights are still fairly chilly by contrast.
I saw Harold Allsebrooke a few days ago. He seemed a bit annoyed because they had been ‘grousing’ in his letters from home that he wasn’t writing regularly. He said he had written quite regularly every week. Apparently I had caught a mail at Lemnos in January that he had missed hence the trouble! I remarked that they would HAVE to get used to the habits of army mails. Rather bad luck for Harold, after a month without letters to get nothing better than a strafing.
Please give May my best thanks for her long letter, which was full of the sort of thing I like to hear about. As it turned out I was justified in keeping quiet about such hopes as I entertained of getting a step up. Your outside information was all too previous. There is no harm at all really in your knowing about it, but I have an instinctive objection to publishing abroad any hopes I may entertain while there is still a chance of their not coming off. The circumstances in my case are rather odd, but odd circumstances are always a possibility to be reckoned with at this job.
Supposing I had got promotion and if and when I had obtained Mela’s agreement to my proposal, I should have wanted you to know that it was our idea to get married if I got the chance. So really you only made discoveries a little sooner by force of circumstances. You may take it anyhow that if the necessary conditions should be fulfilled later on (I see no prospect at present of either) you may look forward to a wedding. For the present that is how matters stand, and they are pretty vague at that.
I don’t want you to feel that I am unduly secretive about our affairs, but I think you will see it was hardly time for me to start talking too loud. I like to have matters a little more settled.
We are having an interesting trip up river, but I am reserving details of that for Mela's letter.
Best love to all from
Your affectionate son
Cyril E Sladden