Extracts from Cyril’s letters
In my letter a few days ago I was able to acknowledge two letters. A third dated February 14th turned up an hour or so later having been mislaid. Now today the next mail has come bringing your letter of the 27th and postcard of next day. So I have lots to answer.
Meanwhile there is just this news that I am once again a Captain and back with my old company; also that the prospect of leave to England is nil. But the news is excellent and leads one to hope that the happy day of perpetual leave is not so far away …..
You ask whether I know Musson of the RE. I do, in fact he had dinner with us one evening not long ago. He has just got the Military Cross for work at the crossing of the Dialah river I think it was (NB Musson is Matron’s nephew – MBC). There was a whole batch of Serbian and Russian orders distributed recently for work in the attempt to relieve Kut; Colonel Faviell got a Serbian one. Most COs were given one.
When I think of you poor people at home being rationed and subjected to all sorts of restrictions and economies I feel quite ashamed of the way we do ourselves out here – when the mess stores can be procured. We live like fighting cocks for a time, and even when we drop to rations we don’t do badly. Still there is one point in which I will compete with anybody and that is the antiquity of my clothes which are crumbling to bits. However it doesn’t matter, and if my reserve supply doesn’t turn up some day (it was last deposited on a ‘dump’ at Twin Canals near Sheikh Saad in November) I can order things up from Basra, or purchase from Ordnance when they have got anything useful which happens occasionally.
The immense satisfaction which you share with the English public generally at the “capture of Kut” reads funnily to us. We got so used to looking at in another light and nobody ever talked about the “capture of Kut” at all. The operation we thought and talked of was the crossing of the river, whether, when, where and how it would be done, and should we utterly destroy and capture all the Turks when it was done. Actually there were probably scarcely any Turks in Kut itself latterly; it wasn’t a place to hold from their point of view. Besides we had passed the place, and left it as a distant little patch of trees in the East when the critical time of the crossing came. And then the moment the crossing was done it was a case of “to be or not to be” for Baghdad that interested all of us on the spot.
It is getting hot by degrees but not seriously so at present; not much above 100 at any time yet I should think, and the nights are still quite cool. Flies are getting rather numerous and mosquitoes are very bad at nights; we get bitten all over. There are thousands of weird insects that swarm to any lamp, and cover one’s plate and fill one’s mug at dinner.
That is the sum total of our trials at present. I am very fit and such heat as we have had so far has not felt in any way unpleasant.
I owe all the girls a letter, and must start I think with one to Betty by way of sending congratulations.
Since my last letter to you I have had another long one of yours posted March 7th, and also have written to Betty, and one very much overdue to Mr Lowndes. We have actually been in this spot just a week this evening, having quite a lazy time. This has been a piece of luck because fighting has been going on, but we just avoided getting into it, and now from the latest news it appears that the Turks have been pushed right up the Adhaim River to the hills, and we have stopped following them up at last.
We are in one of the best bits of this country I have been in, not near a river but there are big irrigation channels that water the place, and there are lots of trees in all directions, and most of the open plain is green with a plentiful growth of shrub.
The weather is most erratic, but on the average is manifestly cooler than it is down Kut direction at this time of year. We have had some awfully hot days, but then it turned cloudy one day, and very windy another, since which we have had very cool nights and two perfectly delightful days – like English summer weather.
To have got into May without any real onset of heat is a very good start. There is absolutely no leave being given to England for anybody. The first batch for India has already started though, and I believe it is intended to give as many leaves to India as possible. I only wish shipping restrictions and submarines would leave me free to wire for you to meet me there, then it would be a very different sort of interest which I should have in the prospect …..
I expect mails will be all we shall live for for a long time to come, that is provided the Turk does not begin to feel pugnacious and cause disturbance.
I do hope we have a series of big successes in France this summer; we seem to be hammering away steadily at present, and one hopes it is all the slow and necessary spade work of the kind that engaged us so long down at Kut, and that it will produce great and speedy results when the time comes.
We are going to settle down for the summer somewhere close to where we are now; we shall go to a more suitable piece of ground in a few days I expect. I wish such good progress may be made everywhere else, while we are sitting down here through the heat that the war may be won before it gets cool again. I feel we can justifiably sit and look on a bit after our strenuous and successful campaign.
I had a nice long letter from Mrs Frizelle two days ago, which I answered yesterday. She had been having a bad time moving backwards and forwards between Lahore and Pindi to keep pace with her husband’s various orders. She had seen my name as wounded and wanted to know all about it, so I had to write back a description of the city of Baghdad.
I am afraid I have missed a mail and you will be wondering why. It happened this way. One is never safe, and on the 8th, almost simultaneously with the arrival of the mail with your letter of the 14th March, we got orders to pack up and move out “into the blue”. We started the same evening, a small column of various arms. We understood that nothing very fierce was expected of us, the move being designed to keep the Turks watching us while something happened elsewhere. It is all over now and whether our efforts served any purpose or not, I do not know; at any rate there cannot be much harm now in saying that about it.
The situation here at present is that the Turks seem content to spare their own nerves and ours by stopping where we pushed them to, and leaving a big space of no man’s land between us now that we have withdrawn to our selected and defensive line.
There is enough of this intervening space to enable one to fit in some very respectable marches – hot weather ones – without getting into conflict. At the same time there is the possibility that that one might, under such circumstances, when rather far from available support, be regarded as a tempting bait, so that one is kept busy looking after oneself in case. We were out just over a week and got back the day before yesterday.
On the last day before we started our march back we had a mild excitement. Two armoured cars were out patrolling, and one got into trouble about 3 miles away, and fairly near any enemy picquet. The other remained to help it, and a force was sent out to recover them to which I was flank guard. Meanwhile the garrison of this picquet post seem to have come out to make an easy capture as they thought, but they had failed to realize that a car which cannot move still has a machine gun. Anyhow by some means the cars killed four and captured all the rest, total amounting to about 30. We had one of our armoured car people killed, but the balance was well in our favour. The relieving force recovered the cars with all their provisions with surprising ease, and marched back with nothing worse to grumble at than two or 3 hours out in the heat of the day.
During our trip, arrangements were made one day to send off a mail. I took that opportunity to write to Father as I had not written to him for a long time. Some of the next mail was here on our return but lots of people got nothing, including me, so I don’t think it can have all arrived. Possibly by March 20th you were imagining me in hospital, and so addressing to Cox’s.
I suppose Wilfred is on his way to India by now, or there; but probably not yet there if he gets sent round by the Cape. He will probably be sent to Quetta to work up his Hindustani. I wonder what regiment he will get into. I do wish you were coming out with him …..
It is much cooler here to my mind than Poona a year ago; there is nearly always a breeze except at dusk, and the nights keep very pleasantly cool. It was simply glorious at 5 am this morning. Yesterday we had a sudden and violent dust storm. One could see it rolling up, a great mountainous bank of brown cloud. I packed my kit up ready to meet it. It rolled over like a sudden London fog, making it half dark, and promptly blew my little tent down, so I sat on the wreckage of it and my kit until it had passed. It soon got lighter but for an hour one could not see a 100 yards. The dust must have been very fine as it did not feel very unpleasant or smother things much.
Yesterday my base kit – deposited 5 months ago at Twin Canals – was brought along. I have also been buying a pig in a poke. A number of carpets, the property of a hostile trading concern, were exported to be on sale at divisional headquarters. They had been valued by an expert. Anticipating more applicants than carpets they fixed up a lottery and sent along and asked for names. We could not find out any details re prices etc, however I put my name down and drew one for Rs 22 – one of the most expensive that was going. It turns out to be quite large. It is long and narrow, 4 feet by 12 at a guess, and therefore rather an awkward shape for most rooms and on that account I should not have chosen it had I been able to have any choice. However I quite like the pattern and we shall have to select a home to fit the carpet!
I hope I shall be able to get all this accumulation of carpets safely to India, if I get leave it will be easy enough.