March 17th 1916
My dearest Mela
I wrote yesterday to Mother. There is a chance of being able to post a little later on today so I will write to you as well. It will be the only chance probably of sending by this particular mail.
If you are at Badsey you will know from my other letter that I left Basra on the 15th, and am now journeying up the Tigris. We are on a river boat brought from Egypt, where it used to carry tourists up the Nile. All the fittings have been knocked off it, and we are reduced to very close quarters. However we have made the best of things, and are by no means uncomfortable. We have our valises to sleep in at night, and they are quite warm and comfortable. Sleeping on a hard floor is entirely a matter of custom, and once you get used to it is no drawback at all. We live chiefly on rations, supplemented by a few extra stores brought with us. The weather has been good, except for a shower the first night, which sent a lot of us in a hurry from the upper deck down below, but didn't really do much harm to those who remained.
It is a very interesting trip. Up as far as Quernah where the rivers join (as a matter of fact most of the Euphrates water uses the channels now) the stream is bounded on either side by the continuous date palm plantations, in every way similar to the banks of the Shat-el-Arab below Basra. After passing Quernah the palms become rare, and are only seen occasionally, close to the towns. The banks are mostly fertile, and have a fair amount of grass, and there is a fair amount of cultivation close to the river. Everywhere as far as the eye can see the ground is dead flat; it is only this morning that we have caught sight of the fringe of the Persian hills in the distance.
There is a thick population, and we are almost constantly in sight of little villages of rush-built villages. Most of the bigger ones have a mud-walled enclosure and a small look-out tower, so I take it they are subject to disturbance by hostile tribes occasionally. The Arabs seem interested in us, and don't show any signs of hostility. Children abound. The small boys are generally naked, or very little clad with a rag over their shoulders. The men often look well in bright-coloured garments. Many are to be seen working, and they give the impression of being fairly industrious as coloured men go. The women cover their heads, but not their faces at all, as is the custom in towns.
There are a lot of cattle, and a fair number of sheep, and poultry abound in every villages. Houses and donkeys are used for riding.
As we proceed I notice a steady increase in the amount of cultivation, and lately we have passed oxen ploughing. Crops of wheat and rice are raised and many other things in small quantities. But trees remain exceedingly rare.
There is a good deal of flooded marsh land about the part we are now in; but I know this is flood time owing to the melting of snows, so probably much of it is temporary flooding. The stream is smaller than I had expected. In some parts about as wide as the Avon at Evesham, but normally about like the Severn at Worcester. Very likely it is deeper. The stream is fairly rapid, and at present the water is always brown with mud; probably as a result of the flood, though I know it always carries a lot of soil down, which is gradually filling up the end of the Persian Gulf. The way the river winds is extraordinary, especially round here. We often double round in our course completely. The master of this boat has no experience of the river, and gets into trouble with the currents sometimes. We got on the bottom going round a bend this morning, and could not get off until a rope had even taken ashore, fixed with a stake, and then wound on the winch to pull us off.
We move pretty slowly against the strong current. Yesterday we passed Ezra's Tomb, which is marked by a mosque with a green dome. It is surrounded by a plantation of palms, and lies right on the river bank.
At intervals we pass small encampments of Indian troops chiefly. Many of these are engaged in building or improving the road which is being made all the way up, following roughly the river course less some of the unnecessary winding. Native labour is largely used for this work, and we often see a large gang at work under supervision. There is also a telegraph line running alongside, which I gather to have been there before the war.
We anchor at night. When possible it is advisable to send a small party ashore to deal with any Arab snipers, who occasionally give trouble I gathered that these fellows take equal joy in sniping either us or the Turks; they are, as somebody put it, "agin the government". So far we have seen nothing of them, and probably they are more conspicuous in theory than in practice.
We see lots of birds about, but there is no ornithologist who can tell us what they are. I expect Major Barker could have told us most of them, he made quite a hobby of it. Last night we heard jackals too, which was new to me; I expect you have often heard them in India.
We hope to reach Amarah soon, where I am proposing if possible to get this posted. I have heard that it has been made a big hospital station. I fancy it is quite a big town, quite one of the largest up the river.
There is no doubt about it that if one has to go to war it is interesting visiting weird out-of-the-way parts of the world in doing so. We can boast of a combination that will probably be fairly unusual; a large number of men we have with us now have served in France too, so their experience has been varied. I suppose after the war the remarkable people will be those who haven't been to France.
I am afraid I shall have to wait a bit for letters again. It is fortunate I have sufficient experiences to write about to make a letter without any to reply to.
Best love, dear, from
Your most affectionate
Cyril E Sladden