Aug 18th 1918
My dear Father
I have accomplished a long and interesting journey since last writing to you. Just as we started I picked up a mail in which were letters from you and Kathleen dated June 13th and 16th respectively. I fully expect that mails in future will be irregular and slow; but I hope they will make a habit of turning up at some time.
I am at present at a large city of very ancient fame whose importance has decreased with time. Although it is still a fairly important place in this country, I cannot at present discover that there is much left of historic remains, but possibly they may exist if one knew where to look out for them. I have seen a certain number of great stones with inscriptions and carving that look as if they might belong to some ancient building. Generally speaking the place is an eastern city of familiar type, with its maze of very narrow insanitary streets. Starvation has for some time been appalling, but recently conditions have been much improved. There are still a fair number of starving poor who lie about the streets to excite ones pity and extract baksheesh; I am told by local English inhabitants that the number of these is less than it appears because suitable cases are sought out and exhibited in the most public streets. Apart from food shortage the place appears to me a marked improvement upon what I have seen of Bagdad or Basrah. The architecture is generally better, the natives having more idea how to make a good house; also a fair amount of building is to be seen actually in progress. Sections of the bazaar have been entirely rebuilt quite recently.
Wood and metal work is generally shoddy and gaudy as is usual in the east. The food shops in the bazaar struck me as remarkably clean, meat, cake, fruit and such things are laid out on tables or metal trays that look well-scrubbed and polished; in this respect the contrast with eastern bazaars I have previously seen was very marked.
On the journey here I passed, and had quite a good view of one of the most famous of all ancient carvings and inscriptions. I think it is correct that it is the one that provided the original key to the translation of the Cuneiform script.
It is carved a hundred or two feet up on the face of a huge cliff which rises almost vertically to a height of some 4000 feet, and stands like a great Gibraltar rock jutting out into a broad level plain. A portion of the face, lying slightly in a crevice, and partially overhung, so that it is protected from weathering almost completely, has been smoothed out into a great tablet several yards high and (I should estimate) 20 yards broad. On this the carving is executed in the middle, with a large area of inscription in three languages, all round. The whole thing shows very little sign of 2500 years wear.
The climate here makes a very delightful change. The sun is fairly hot in the middle of the day, but it is never too hot to get about and do one’s work. Our camp is rather a dusty one unfortunately, and as the wind often becomes fairly strong during the day it is liable to be unpleasant. It is rainless country all through the summer; and I understand that there is little rain or snow as a rule before December. Many streams flowing from the big mountain range, at the foot of which we are camped, supply plenty of water. A spring crop is normally raised here by the help of the rains, and later on a further crop can be secured by using the irrigation, which is extensive and easily controlled on these gentle slopes.
It was in many parts a magnificent ride coming along here. There were two very big passes to climb over, and several smaller ones. The mountainous character of the country provides the maximum of contrast with Mesopotamia. The height of the mountains nearest to us here can be judged from the fact that there is still snow lying in pockets here and there just at the top.
News is pretty scanty here, but we get hold of a wire occasionally. Lately things have been going very well in France; much better than I had thought likely so early in the year. I hope it will turn out that the German has played the last of his good cards, in which case our progress ought to be continuous from now onwards at a steadily improving rate.
For the first time in two years I have seen a little real civilization. There is a very small English and American colony here who are very hospitable to officers who are passing through, and I have had lunch and tea in a very nice and quite English looking house.
I can promise nothing but irregularity in my letters in future. The further I trek the slower they must be, and I have no expectation of being here for long.
Best love to all from
Your affectionate son
Cyril E Sladden