May 20th 1918
My dear Father
I hope the postcard I sent about a fortnight ago will reach you in time to explain my unusual long spell of silence.
My plans have been changing about in the most erratic manner since my first leaving my company to take over duties of 2nd in command last month. First I thought I should go to Bagdad for a month’s course in May. Then I was selected to command a special detachment of Lewis guns to go on the recent operations out here. I was led to expect these would start sooner than they did, and weather actually delayed the start a further three days as it turned out. Then the show was prolonged much more than we had anticipated, so that in the end instead of being back with the regiment by the end of April I only rejoined, as it turned out, on the 15th of May. The May course at Bagdad automatically fell through so far as I was concerned.
Two days ago my name went in to attend the June course; however that has now been vetoed as I shall be wanted here, owing to our CO having to take charge temporarily of the brigade while the brigadier goes on leave to India. There is a CO in the brigade who is his senior, but he also is due to go on leave.
I am going to wire to Wilfred to try and get a few days in Bagdad with him as soon as possible if he can get the necessary leave. I don’t think I shall have difficulty in getting there any time before about the middle of June.
The most successful and satisfactory part of the operations so far as my detachment was concerned was the early part, before I sent you that postcard. It is not by any means all joy having such a very scratch sort of detachment. The whole idea was largely an experiment, at any rate for country such as we had to work in; and in consequence there were many points in which organization equipment and establishment of personnel might have been altered greatly to our benefit. I was also unlucky to a certain extent in not being supplied with motor cars in as good condition as they might have been. As the strain to which we were compelled to subject them was pretty severe it was really most important that we should have had the best available. Towards the latter part of the time constant breakdown among the cars made us more and more helpless, and with ground and weather frequently against us we did not have a chance to do much after the capture of Tuz.
However the whole thing was interesting, and becomes pleasant to look back upon as the various worries of the moment fade from memory. Certainly we scored heavily off the Turk on a balance. We were directly responsible for the actual capture of some 100 prisoners, with 4 machine guns, a dozen mules, lots of rifles and other material; and besides we undoubtedly assisted in the rounding up of others by barring one remaining exit at the first entry into Tuz where some hundred or two were taken by other units.
We had not a single man hit nor any car appreciably damaged by enemy fire, though we came in for a bit of shelling once or twice. It was a change to be enough in touch with cavalry to see them at work. Of course when they started going across country we always got hopelessly left behind, though on a decent stretch of road we could run away from them entirely. As there were hardly roads worthy of the name we were rather handicapped.
It was a very great change to be working in country that was considerably hilly and in places decidedly mountainous. The best bit I was in was around the old stone bridge over the Tang Chai, the river which runs out of the mountains past the little town of Tang and into the Adhaim. The river bed near Tang is very wide indeed and would be most difficult to bridge at that point. The ordinary main road crosses by a ford, but the stream was just a bit too deep and strong to be easily used when we arrived there.
The Turk at some time built this big stone bridge several miles upstream, just in the mountains where the channel is narrow and the bed probably rocky under the pebbles. All my detachment was out on the original reconnaissance when this bridge was first reached. The Turks had tried to blow it up, but most of the charges had not gone off so it was quite serviceable. We were left there that night to make sure he did not come back to try and make a better job of it. As we were twenty miles out in front with no sort of communication until we managed next morning to get on by helio we might have had rather a nervy sort of job if we had not been very sure that the Turk was in no mood to molest us; and incidentally very confident too in our own ability to make ourselves peculiarly unpleasant if anybody had molested us.
The mountains there were fine; steep and rocky, and covered with a great variety of flowers many of them very pretty ones. Looking northeast towards Sulaimanijeh one could see big snow-capped peaks rising up, and in between the entire country appeared to be all broken and hilly.
I did not go myself as far as Altun Kepri but one of my officers got quite close there, and apparently it is very hilly or mountainous round there, the town itself being right in a hollow.
Kirlah appears to be easily the biggest town anywhere in that part of the country. There are quite respectable barracks, built so that they would, I should imagine, be fairly cool in hot weather. There are several public buildings, including a workshop that had been pretty well fitted until the departing Turks to start with, and the looting natives subsequently, had done their worst with it.
The place is most dreadfully stricken with famine, and the people are dying of sheer starvation in great numbers. Most of them looked in a terrible state and very weak. The harvest appeared plentiful, and as it is ripening things should soon be better, especially as the Turk is no longer there to seize it all.
I mentioned before I think that we were in process of moving to a new camp, about one good march distant from where we had been for so long. The move was completed in my absence, and I returned to find a very good camp which should be a much better summer quarters than any we ever had last year. We have better ground and much more space here.
We have had a staff of bricklayers hard at work building all sorts of most useful erections with sun baked mud bricks which we can easily turn out by the thousand. During the greater part of last summer we were on the banks of the Tigris, but it was dreadful ground – just a sea of deep dust; and we were crowded for space, and the whole camp rottenly laid out. The river was the one redeeming feature.
On my return last Wednesday I found a great pile of mails waiting for me as I had expected. There were three from you dated Feb 5th and 20th and March 7th; also one from May of Feb 10th, and from Kath of March 6th. As I had received no letters since March 18th you can imagine how glad I was to have all these. Thank you all for congratulations you sent.
I wish the news you had for me might have been more cheerful. I am very sad to hear about Aunt Lottie. It is clear from your letters that there is little hope that I can ever see her again. The only bright spot seems to be that she was not suffering real pain, and I hope that may continue to be the case.
I want to write to her, and yet feel it very difficult to do; she might not even be living to receive the letter after so many months, and in any case I have no means of telling what condition she may be in two months from now.
I must stop now as I have not yet written to Mela.
Best love to everybody at home from
Your affectionate son
Cyril E Sladden