March 23rd 1916
My own dearest Mela
I hope my last letter got posted all right at Amarah. I gave it to an officer on the boat who disembarked there. Subsequently I went ashore myself there for a short time, and wished I had hung on to it and made sure by posting it myself. However as he had a good many entrusted to him I expect he posted them quickly if only to get rid of them.
We reached Amarah in the evening, and having to stop there for a little while we were not ready to move before dark, so lay there till early morning. It was pretty similar to other towns in this part of the world, not very large, and not such a bad sort of place. The river is bridged by a movable bridge of boats there. The town is full of hospitals, and it was reported that it had proved very healthy and palatines progressed there very well. No doubt in the hot weather it is a different matter.
It was distinctly surprising to find that the river got very much wider as we came further up, with an increasingly tortuous course. The water was very high and exceedingly muddy, and the current fast. Apparently the water level was falling rapidly the last day or two. We had a fairly heavy thunderstorm on Sunday night, our last night on board. The shelter was poor, especially in a wind, so we got a bit moist in our valises for the most part.
During all the latter part of the trip we had a good view of the Persian Hills, which are plainly visible where we are now. They still have a little snow on the highest parts, and I see from the map that there is a peak 9,500 feet high not so very far off which I imagine to be one that we can see. There is quite a long ridge over 8,000 feet. In this clear air the distance doesn't look half of what it must actually be.
Apart from the Persian Hills, the country is dead flat everywhere, and tall objects appear and disappear in the distance very much as at sea, except for the addition of a little mirage which is not at present so very pronounced.
We are encamped at present close to the river and are not a long way from the Turkish positions. We are not subjected to trench warfare, but are having conditions resembling those of the South African war. Between us and the Turks lies a wide expanse of open ground where our outposts are constantly catching sight of one another, and almost daily having little scraps, of which we can see very little owing to the flatness of the country. When the Turks get too interested we send parties out to drive them away, and actually as I write this afternoon there is firing a mile or two away; but with the best of imagination I cannot, even with glasses, catch a glimpse of the hostile cavalry who are probably the cause of it all.
The actual ground we are on has been cultivated quite recently, but at present is only grass covered. It was a great pleasure to get back to some quite luxuriant green grass again such as I had not seen since leaving England last summer - except in some of the gardens at Alexandria, which is rather different.
As we are situated here it is of course always possible for the Turks if they feel so disposed to come and attack us. The Turks however in my experience have never shown any remarkable fondness for attack, so I expect they will be contented with keeping us as closely under observation as is possible with their cavalry and an occasional aeroplane. We had one of the latter over yesterday, but he seemed very nervous, and kept high and some distance away. I hope they will not be in any way pleased with what they see of us.
If we stray far from camp we have always to be ready to look after ourselves, which adds some zest to training. Besides the Turk there is always our mutual enemy the Arab, who delights in molesting either of us if he can do so safely to himself. He is a nasty person who just loves looting, but likes it best when accompanied with murder and mutilation. I am told that on several occasions a truce has been arranged with the Turks for collection of wounded on both sides after an action to avoid letting the Arabs in. I don't know if this is correct, but it sounds reasonable.
At present while the weather is not yet hot, the flies still few in number, and the dust no trouble, this is quite a pleasant place. Later on I suppose it is simply scorching hot and pretty nasty. However we don't suppose we have been brought here o view the country, or make observations on the climate, and we anticipate some more strenuous work some time or other. I couldn't tell you when if I knew, which I do not. Probably there is only one thing certain, that we shall not be given a lot of warning beforehand when the time does come.
We started the process of leaving belongings behind when we left Basra, where I have stored my tin box full of winter clothing and various oddments. As transportation in this district is necessarily limited, I quite anticipate having to move very light indeed later on. At present the nights are chilly, and the dew very heavy indeed, so one needs a bit of covering. Neither can one rely yet upon the weather remaining dry, though I think the rain must be practically done with now; and to get wet in drill uniform is perfectly beastly. So I don't want to be reduced to carrying no kit whatsoever as happened during the big show in August.
I don't know yet how good or bad the mails are up this way, but I am in hopes that more letters may reach us in a day or two. The service from Bombay to Basra is irregular from all accounts, so that it is not possible to calculate at all how often or when to anticipate getting mails. There is a regular service of steamers to Basra, but they don't always catch the English mails, and sometimes the transports are used to carry mails. It is ten days now since I last heard from you, so I am beginning to want letters again very badly. I am glad to think that at least mails ought to be regular now, even though slow.
There is not a lot of news to give. We have enough to do, and not a lot of spare time what with the necessary duties of self-defence required, in addition to putting in as much training as possible. It is getting us fit again after much time spent cooped up on board ship. I am as well as ever and hope to keep so.
I still do not know whether I am being paid by the Indian or the British Government; I suppose we shall hear some day what has been decided.
If you are at home, give my love to everybody, as much as you can spare at least of what is chiefly yours.
Your own most affectionate
Cyril E Sladden