27th April 1917
My dear Betty
I think it has been your turn for a letter for a long time; I finally decided on hearing of your success in your exam that you had earned one. Even so I have been many more days in starting it than I meant to be, but we have had such a restless time lately that it has been impossible to settle down to write.
We have now actually sat in one place for five days, but it has turned very hot and all my energy has vanished. As a matter of fact I am not quite right inside and sudden onset of something approaching real heat makes one notice it more than would be the case if one was perfectly fit. For a week or so it had not been so very hot, nor so bad as a few days earlier on.
We keep on supposing that things must begin to quieten down here soon owing to the heat, but so far there is no sign of it. We have not actually been in any fighting the last ten days, but elsewhere there has been a lot going on, and apparently the longer we go on the worse for the Turk. We keep on getting prisoners and material and gaining ground and inflicting lots of casualties. It is a wonder to me how we manage it with a tremendous long line of communications. I believe that some of the people of Bagdad, full of the sense of the permanent importance of that city, were quite convinced that our occupation would be a very short one, and firmly believed the tales of Germans and Turks about the arrival shortly of huge reinforcements down river. Actually I believe Bagdad is rapidly being organized on a permanent basis. It will take some time to recover from the last few years no doubt, but with good government and trading in full swing it should, as soon as the war is over, rapidly become a very fine place again.
There is no doubt that the experience of a thoroughly fine winter season greatly alters one’s opinion of this country. With the irrigation that can easily be engineered it will have many excellent qualities. Up north of Bagdad where we have been of late there is much more cultivation, and the river is lined with trees and gardens almost continuously. And it is not only date palms that grow as at Basra, but limes, oranges, figs and various other trees besides. Many gardens are most attractive, and with proper development could be much further improved.
I have seen a magnificent big field of young barley and oats mixed alongside the Tigris. In fact one can at last realize that fertile Mesopotamia is a reality and not the myth it appears to be to anybody living in a dreary waste like Sheikh Saad. Then the climate from October to the end of April can be simply magnificent and at worst the rainfall is probably far less than in most parts of India.
From May to September it is undoubtedly exceedingly hot, but not very different according to reports from many of the hill stations in India, and possessing the enormous advantage of cooler nights. With the well-built bungalows, shady gardens and lawns that would soon follow development, not to mention supplies of ice and electric fans etc that would be available in or near any of the bigger towns, the heat would not be so unbearable. Then the Persian Hills should supply a splendid choice of excellent hill stations, comparatively close at hand as distances go in this part of the world.
The flatness of the country is a drawback of course, but it is not so very noticeable when the place is broken everywhere by large palm groves; and much of India takes a lot of beating for flatness, though Mesopotamia wins easily being in many parts not only flat but smooth.
I think it is difficult to judge fairly of climate from an active service point of view. Imagine soldiering for a year in England with no local supplies and very restricted supplies coming along a single bad line of communication!
This letter has been written in several instalments and now I want to finish it in order to seize a chance of posting. It is a hopeless country to write in, with the heat, or too dusty, or the flies or mosquitoes or sandflies give one no peace. At the moment we live in whirlwinds of dust.
Very best love from
Your affectionate brother
Cyril E Sladden