February 25th 1918

Lieut. Pat Duff (RFA) was collared by GC (Mr Vassall) to write back from Mesopotamia – and he has now obliged. He describes his progress up the Tigris from Busra to Kut before marching on to Bagdad.

8/2/18 “Busra is a place of of quite impressive size with very good looking houses and offices facing the river. The river itself is about 500 yards broad there, and ocean-going steamers go right up against the wharves. There was such a multitude of different craft lying in the stream that I was rather reminded of the Isis by the barges at Eights Week!

At a palace called Kurnah (where the old bed of the Euphrates meets the Tigris) I was shown the Tree of Good and Evil: it was near Temptation Square!

Another object of Biblical interest was Ezra’s tomb, somewhat further up the Tigris: can’t quite make out why he should have come back this way to die because, when last heard of, he was leading an expedition from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem…

I travelled most of the way up to Kut by river. At Kut I got hitched on to an echelon of about 600 horses and mules with transport, and had to march it to Baghdad. Was about 15 days doing this, as we got stuck in the mud owing to rains and all movement was impossible…

Baghdad, although the guide books would say it ‘presents no special features,’ was worth a guinea a minute to me, because of the miscellaneous crowd that inhabit it…

The bazaars are like an endless series of transformation scenes at Drury Lane: it was in such a place as the coppersmith’s quarter where Aladdin must have got his lamps, and, although I didn’t recognise Ali Barba, I could see the Forty Thieves wherever I liked to look.

From the river, Baghdad looks very handsome: the buildings facing the river on the left bank are good, and there are two boat bridges over the river.

The boats on the river rather fascinated me: some are like gondolas, others like wherries on the Norfolk Broads. But there is no wood in this country, and consequently a lot of river transport is done by coracles made of wickerwork and hides and bitumen. (Incidentally, Herodotus in his book on Mesopotamia says, ‘after the city of Babylon itself, what struck me most was the coracles’! ┬áIt is interesting to see them functioning to this day.”

Pat ends his letter by saying, “If any enterprising young Dragon would be a pioneer or a ‘builder of empire,’ he need look no further than Mesopotamia for a country that will pay a thousandfold all the labour that is put into it.

I hope you are all flourishing, and often am thinking of ‘the School House afar on the banks of the Cher.'”

February 12th 1917

Capt. Rupert Lee (Worcesters) was a most welcome visitor and the boys much enjoyed the exhibition of conjuring he gave. He had learnt his tricks from a native in India.

Rupert gave us some excellent photographs, looted from the German Consulate (!) and has written an article for the next edition of our magazine on his time in Mesopotamia, of which this is a part:

“An extraordinary affair occurred in our Mess in Busra just before I left; we all had native servants and it was customary to put the most reliable in charge of the whole; this man incurred the lasting hatred of one of the other servants (of another religion) through accusing him of the theft of a tin of stewed fruit.

So one day, when the butler went out to the town to see some of his friends, this other man came to me and asked to be allowed out. On my giving him permission, he proceeded to steal a bottle of whisky: and fortified by it, took one of our revolvers and sallied forth intent on the slaughter of his enemy.

He explained to me afterwards that a natural delicacy forbade him carrying out this business in our quarters, where he could have met him any day.

We captured him after all his ammunition (about 20 rounds) was expended and he was locked up. His subsequent examination was really very amusing, if one could forget the tragic side; he explained the whole thing in detail, regretting that these men were killed, but of course that was their fault for getting in the way.

What he was really most sorry about was that he failed to kill the butler and made a petition that he might be allowed to do so before being hanged.

I tried to get a plea of insanity brought forward, but the man himself would not hear of it and from his behaviour after the event it would never have gone through.

Things like this brought before us very vividly the fact that we were living on the edge of a precipice.”

The Minaret at Busra