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THE TIGRIS FRONT

A few days after reaching Baghdad I left for Samarra, which was at that time the Tigris front. I was attached to the Royal Engineers, and my immediate commander was Major Morin, D.S.O., an able officer with an enviable record in France and Mesopotamia. The advance army of the Tigris was the Third Indian Army Corps, under the command of General Cobbe, a possessor of the coveted, and invariably merited, Victoria Cross. The Engineers were efficiently commanded by General Swiney. The seventy miles of railroad from Baghdad to Samarra were built by the Germans, being the only Mesopotamian portion of the much-talked-of Berlin-to-Baghdad Railway, completed before the war. It was admirably constructed, with an excellent road-bed, heavy rails and steel cross-ties made by Krupp. In their retreat the Turks had been too hurried to accomplish much in the way of destruction other than burning down a few stations and blowing up the water-towers. The rolling-stock had been left largely intact. There were no passenger-coaches, and you travelled either by flat or box car. Every one followed the Indian custom of carrying with them their bedding-rolls, and leather-covered wash-basin containing their washing-kit, as well as one of the comfortable rhoorkhee chairs. In consequence, although for travel by boat or train nothing was provided, there was no discomfort entailed. The trains were fitted out with anti-aircraft guns, for the Turkish aeroplanes occasionally tried to “lay eggs,” a by no means easy affair with a moving train as a target. Whatever the reason was, and I never succeeded in discovering it, the trains invariably left Baghdad in the wee small hours, and as the station was on the right bank across the river from the main town, and the boat bridges were cut during the night, we used generally, when returning to the front, to spend the first part of the night sleeping on the station platform. Generals or exalted staff officers could usually succeed in having a car assigned to them, and hauled up from the yard in time for them to go straight to bed in it. Frequently their trip was postponed, and an omniscient sergeant-major would indicate the car to the judiciously friendly, who could then enjoy a solid night’s sleep. The run took anywhere from eight to twelve hours; but when sitting among the grain-bags on an open car, or comfortably ensconced in a chair in a “covered goods,” with Vingt Ans Âpres, the time passed pleasantly enough in spite of the withering heat.

While still a good number of miles away from Samarra we would catch sight of the sun glinting on the golden dome of the mosque, built over the cleft where the twelfth Imam, the Imam Mahdi, is supposed to have disappeared, and from which he is one day to reappear to establish the true faith upon earth. Many Arabs have appeared claiming to be the Mahdi, and caused trouble in a greater or less degree according to the extent of their following. The most troublous one in our day was the man who besieged Kharthoum and captured General “Chinese” Gordon and his men. Twenty-five years later, when I passed through the Sudan, there were scarcely any men of middle age left, for they had been wiped out almost to a man under the fearful rule of the Mahdi, a rule which might have served as prototype to the Germans in Belgium.

Samarra is very ancient, and has passed through periods of great depression and equally great expansion. It was here in A.D. 363 that the Roman Emperor Julian died from wounds received in the defeat of his forces at Ctesiphon. The golden age lasted about forty years, beginning in 836, when the Caliph Hutasim transferred his capital thither from Baghdad. During that time the city extended for twenty-one miles along the river-bank, with glorious palaces, the ruins of some of which still stand. The present-day town has sadly shrunk from its former grandeur, but still has an impressive look with its great walls and massive gateways. The houses nearest the walls are in ruins or uninhabited; but in peacetime the great reputation that the climate of Samarra possesses for salubrity draws to it many Baghdad families who come to pass the summer months. A good percentage of the inhabitants are Persians, for the eleventh and twelfth Shiah Imams are buried on the site of the largest mosque. The two main sects of Moslems are the Sunnis and the Shiahs; the former regard the three caliphs who followed Mohammed as his legitimate successors, whereas the latter hold them to be usurpers, and believe that his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, husband of Fatimah, together with their sons Husein and Hasan, are the prophet’s true inheritors. Ali was assassinated near Nejef, which city is sacred to his memory, and his son Husein was killed at Kerbela; so these two cities are the greatest of the Shiah shrines. The Turks belong almost without exception to the Sunni sect, whereas the Persians and a large percentage of the Arabs inhabiting Mesopotamia are Shiahs.

The country around Samarra is not unlike in character the southern part of Arizona and northern Sonora. There are the same barren hills and the same glaring heat. The soil is not sand, but a fine dust which permeates everything, even the steel uniform-cases which I had always regarded as proof against all conditions. The parching effect was so great that it was not only necessary to keep all leather objects thoroughly oiled but the covers of my books cracked and curled up until I hit upon the plan of greasing them well also. In the alluvial lowlands trench-digging was a simple affair, but along the hills we found a pebbly conglomerate that gave much trouble.

Opinion was divided as to whether the Turk would attempt to advance down the Tigris. Things had gone badly with our forces in Palestine at the first battle of Gaza; but here we had an exceedingly strong position, and the consensus of opinion seemed to be that the enemy would think twice before he stormed it. Their base was at Tekrit, almost thirty miles away. However, about ten miles distant stood a small village called Daur, which the Turks held in considerable force. Between Daur and Samarra there was nothing but desert, with gazelles and jackals the only permanent inhabitants. Into this no man’s land both sides sent patrols, who met in occasional skirmishes. For reconnaissance work we used light-armored motor-cars, known throughout the army as Lam cars, a name formed by the initial letters of their titles. These cars were Rolls-Royces, and with their armor-plate weighed between three and three-quarters and four tons. They were proof against the ordinary bullet but not against the armor-piercing. When I came out to Mesopotamia I intended to lay my plans for a transfer to the cavalry, but after I had seen the cars at work I changed about and asked to be seconded to that branch of the service.

A short while after my arrival our aeroplanes brought in word that the Turks were massing at Daur, and General Cobbe decided that when they launched forth he would go and meet them. Accordingly, we all moved out one night, expecting to give “Abdul,” as the Tommies called him, a surprise. Whether it was that we started too early and their aeroplanes saw us, or whether they were only making a feint, we never found out; but at all events the enemy fell back, and save for some advance-guard skirmishing and a few prisoners, we drew a blank. We were not prepared to attack the Daur position, and so returned to Samarra to await developments.

Meanwhile I busied myself searching for an Arab servant. Seven or eight years previous, when with my father in Africa, I had learned Swahili, and although I had forgotten a great deal of it, still I found it a help in taking up Arabic. Most of the officers had either British or Indian servants; in the former case they were known as batmen, and in the latter as bearers; but I decided to follow suit with the minority and get an Arab, and therefore learn Arabic instead of Hindustanee, for the former would be of vastly more general use. The town commandant, Captain Grieve of the Black Watch, after many attempts at length produced a native who seemed, at any rate, more promising than the others that offered themselves. Yusuf was a sturdy, rather surly-looking youth of about eighteen. Evidently not a pure Arab, he claimed various admixtures as the fancy took him, the general preference being Kurd. I always felt that there was almost certainly a good percentage of Turk. His father had been a non-commissioned officer in the Turkish army, and at first I was loath to take him along on advances and attacks, for he would have been shown little mercy had he fallen into enemy hands. He was, however, insistent on asking to go with me, and I never saw him show any concern under fire. He spoke, in varying degrees of fluency, Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish, and was of great use to me for that reason. He became by degrees a very faithful and trustworthy follower, his great weakness being that he was a one-man’s man, and although he would do anything for me, he was of little general use in an officers’ mess.

I had two horses, one a black mare that I called Soda, which means black in Arabic, and the other a hard-headed bay gelding that was game to go all day, totally unaffected by shell-fire, but exceedingly stubborn about choosing the direction in which he went. After numerous changes I came across an excellent syce to look after them. He was a wild, unkempt figure, with a long black beard a dervish by profession, and certainly gave no one any reason to believe that he was more than half-witted. Indeed, almost all dervishes are in a greater or less degree insane; it is probably due to that that they have become dervishes, for the native regards the insane as under the protection of God. Dervishes go around practically naked, usually wearing only a few skins flung over the shoulder, and carrying a large begging-bowl. In addition they carry a long, sharp, iron bodkin, with a wooden ball at the end, having very much the appearance of a fool’s bauble. They lead an easy life. When they take a fancy to a house, they settle down near the gate, and the owner has to support them as long as the whim takes them to stay there. To use force against a dervish would be looked upon as an exceedingly unpropitious affair to the true believer. Then, too, I have little doubt but that they are capable of making good use of their steel bodkins. Why my dervish wished to give up his easy-going profession and take over the charge of my horses I never fully determined, but it must have been because he really loved horses and found that as a dervish pure and simple he had very little to do with them. When he arrived he was dressed in a very ancient gunny-sack, and it was not without much regret at the desecration that I provided him with an outfit of the regulation khaki.

My duties took me on long rides about the country. Here, and throughout Mesopotamia, the great antiquity of this “cradle of the world” kept ever impressing itself upon one, consciously or subconsciously. Everywhere were ruins; occasionally a wall still reared itself clear of the all-enveloping dust, but generally all that remained were great mounds, where the desert had crept in and claimed its own, covering palace, house, and market, temple, synagogue, mosque, or church with its everlasting mantle. Often the streets could still be traced, but oftener not. The weight of ages was ever present as one rode among the ruins of these once busy, prosperous cities, now long dead and buried, how long no one knew, for frequently their very names were forgotten. Babylon, Ur of the Chaldees, Istabulat, Nineveh, and many more great cities of history are now nothing but names given to desert mounds.

Close by Samarra stands a strange corkscrew tower, known by the natives as the Malwiyah. It is about a hundred and sixty feet high, built of brick, with a path of varying width winding up around the outside. No one knew its purpose, and estimates of its antiquity varied by several thousand years. One fairly well-substantiated story told that it had been the custom to kill prisoners by hurling them off its top. We found it exceedingly useful as an observation-post. In the same manner we used Julian’s tomb, a great mound rising up in the desert some five or six miles up-stream of the town. The legend is that when the Roman Emperor died of his wounds his soldiers, impressing the natives, built this as a mausoleum; but there is no ground whatever for this belief, for it would have been physically impossible for a harassed or retreating army to have performed a task of such magnitude. The natives call it “The Granary,” and claim that that was its original use. Before the war the Germans had started in excavating, and discovered shafts leading deep down, and on top the foundations of a palace. Around its foot may be traced roadways and circular plots, and especially when seen from an aeroplane it looks as if there had at one time been an elaborate system of gardens.

We were continually getting false rumors about the movements of the Turks. We had believed that it would be impossible for them to execute a flank movement, at any rate in sufficient strength to be a serious menace, for from all the reports we could get, the wells were few and far between. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of excitement and some concern when one afternoon our aeroplanes came in with the report that they had seen a body of Turks that they estimated at from six to eight thousand marching round our right flank. The plane was sent straight back with instructions to verify most carefully the statement, and be sure that it was really men they had seen. They returned at dark with no alteration of their original report. As can well be imagined, that night was a crowded one for us, and the feeling ran high when next morning the enemy turned out to be several enormous herds of sheep.

As part consequence of this we were ordered to make a thorough water reconnaissance, with a view of ascertaining how large a force could be watered on a march around our flank. I went off in an armored car with Captain Marshall of the Intelligence Service. Marshall had spent many years in Mesopotamia shipping liquorice to the American Tobacco Company, and he was known and trusted by the Arabs all along the Tigris from Kurna to Mosul. He spoke the language most fluently, but with an accent that left no doubt of his Caledonian home. We had with us a couple of old sheiks, and it was their first ride in an automobile. It was easy to see that one of them was having difficulty in maintaining his dignity, but I was not quite sure of the reason until we stopped a moment and he fairly flew out of the car. It didn’t seem possible that a man able to ride ninety miles at a stretch on a camel, could be made ill by the motion of an automobile. However, such was the case, and we had great difficulty in getting him back into the car. We discovered far more wells than we had been led to believe existed, but not enough to make a flank attack a very serious menace.

The mirage played all sorts of tricks, and the balloon observers grew to be very cautious in their assertions. In the early days of the campaign, at the battle of Shaiba Bund, a friendly mirage saved the British forces from what would have proved a very serious defeat. Suleiman Askari was commanding the Turkish forces, and things were faring badly with the British, when of a sudden to their amazement they found that the Turks were in full retreat. Their commanders had caught sight of the mirage of what was merely an ambulance and supply train, but it was so magnified that they believed it to be a very large body of reinforcements. The report ran that when Suleiman was told of his mistake, his chagrin was so great that he committed suicide.

It was at length decided to advance on the Turkish forces at Daur. General Brooking had just made a most successful attack on the Euphrates front, capturing the town of Ramadie, with almost five thousand prisoners. It was believed to be the intention of the army commander to try to relieve the pressure against General Allenby’s forces in Palestine by attacking the enemy on all three of their Mesopotamian fronts. Accordingly, we were ordered to march out after sunset one night, prepared to attack the enemy position at daybreak. During a short halt by the last rays of the setting sun I caught sight of a number of Mohammedan soldiers prostrating themselves toward Mecca in their evening prayers, while their Christian or pagan comrades looked stolidly on. It was late October, and although the days were still very hot and oppressive, the nights were almost bitterly cold. A night-march is always a disagreeable business. The head of the column checks and halts, and those in the rear have no idea whether it is an involuntary stop for a few minutes, or whether they are to halt for an hour or more, owing to some complication of orders. So we stood shivering, and longed for a smoke, but of course that was strictly forbidden, for the cigarettes of an army would form a very good indication of its whereabouts on a dark night. All night we marched and halted, and started on again; the dust choked us, and the hours seemed interminable, until at last at two in the morning word was passed along that we could have an hour’s sleep. The greater part of the year in Mesopotamia the regulation army dress consisted of a tunic and “shorts.” These are long trousers cut off just above the knee, and the wearer may either use wrap puttees, or leather leggings, or golf stockings. They are a great help in the heat, as may easily be understood, and they allow, of course, much freer knee action, particularly when your clothes are wet. The reverse side of the medal reads that when you try to sleep without a blanket on a cold night, you find that your knees are uncomfortably exposed. Still we were, most of us, so drunk with sleep that it would have taken more than that to keep us awake. At three we resumed our march, and attacked just at dawn. The enemy had abandoned the first-line positions, and we met with but little resistance in the second. Our cavalry, which was concentrated at several points in nullahs (dry river-beds), suffered at the hands of the hostile aircraft. The Turk had evidently determined to fall back to Tekrit without putting up a serious defense. They certainly could have given us a much worse time than they did, for they had dug in well and scientifically. Among the prisoners we took there were some that proved to be very worth while. These Turkish officers were, as a whole a good lot well dressed and well educated. Many spoke French. There is an excellent gunnery school at Constantinople, and one of the officers we captured had been a senior instructor there for many years. We had with us among our intelligence officers a Captain Bettelheim, born in Constantinople of Belgian parentage. He had served with the Turks against the Italians and with the British against the Boers. This gunnery officer turned out to be an old comrade of his in the Italian War. Many of the officers we got knew him, for he had been chief of police in Constantinople. Apparently none of them bore him the slightest ill-will when they found him serving against them.

Among the supplies we captured at Daur were a lot of our own rifles and ammunition that the Arabs had stolen and sold to the Turks. It was impossible to entirely stop this, guard our dumps as best we could. On dark nights they would creep right into camp, and it was never safe to have the hospital barges tie up to the banks for the night on their way down the river. On many occasions the Arabs crawled aboard and finished off the wounded. There was only one thing to be said for the Arab, and that was that he played no favorite, but attacked, as a rule, whichever side came handier. We were told, and I believe it to be true, that during the fighting at Sunnaiyat the Turks sent over to know if we would agree to a three days’ truce, during which time we should join forces against the Arabs, who were watching on the flank to pick off stragglers or ration convoys.

That night we bivouacked at Daur, and were unmolested except for the enemy aircraft that came over and “laid eggs.” Next morning we advanced on Tekrit. Our orders were to make a feint, and if we found that the Turk meant to stay and fight it out seriously, we were to fall back. Some gazelles got into the no man’s land between us and the Turk, and in the midst of the firing ran gracefully up the line, stopping every now and then to stare about in amazement. Later on in the Argonne forest in France we had the same thing happen with some wild boars. The enemy seemed in no way inclined to evacuate Tekrit, so in accordance with instructions we returned to our previous night’s encampment at Daur. On the way back we passed an old “arabana,” a Turkish coupe, standing abandoned in the desert, with a couple of dead horses by it. It may have been used by some Turkish general in the retreat of two days before. It was the sort of coupe one associates entirely with well-kept parks and crowded city streets, and the incongruity of its lonely isolation amid the sand-dunes caused an amused ripple of comment.

Our instructions were to march back to Samarra early next morning, but shortly before midnight orders came through from General Maude for us to advance again upon Tekrit and take it. Next day we halted and took stock in view of the new orders. The cavalry again suffered at the hands of the Turkish aircraft. I went to corps headquarters in the afternoon, and a crowd of “red tabs,” as the staff-officers were called, were seated around a little table having the inevitable tea. A number of the generals had come in to discuss the plan of attack for the following day. Suddenly a Turk aeroplane made its appearance, flying quite low, and dropping bombs at regular intervals. It dropped two, and then a third on a little hill in a straight line from the staff conclave. It looked as if the next would be a direct hit, and the staff did the only wise thing, and took cover as flat on the ground as nature would allow; but the Hun’s spacing was bad, and the next bomb fell some little way beyond. I remember our glee at what we regarded as a capital joke on the staff. The line-officer’s humor becomes a trifle robust where the “gilded staff” is concerned, notwithstanding the fact that most staff-officers have seen active and distinguished service in the line.

Our anti-aircraft guns “Archies” we called them were mounted on trucks, and on account of their weight had some difficulty getting up. I shall not soon forget our delight when they lumbered into view, for although I never happened personally to see an aeroplane brought down by an “Archie,” there was no doubt about it but that they did not bomb us with the same equanimity when our anti-aircrafts were at hand.

That night we marched out on Tekrit, and as dawn was breaking were ready to attack. As the mist cleared, an alarming but ludicrous sight met our eyes. On the extreme right some caterpillar tractors hauling our “heavies” were advancing straight on Tekrit, as if they had taken themselves for tanks. They were not long in discovering their mistake, and amid a mixed salvo they clumsily turned and made off at their best pace, which was not more than three miles an hour. Luckily, they soon got under some excellent defilade, but not until they had suffered heavily.

Our artillery did some good work, but while we were waiting to attack we suffered rather heavily. We had to advance over a wide stretch of open country to reach the Turkish first lines. By nightfall the second line of trenches was practically all in our hands. Meanwhile the cavalry had circled way around the flank up-stream of Tekrit to cut the enemy off if he attempted to retreat. The town is on the right bank of the Tigris, and we had a small force that had come up from Samarra on the left bank, for we had no means of ferrying troops across. Our casualties during the day had amounted to about two thousand. The Seaforths had suffered heavily, but no more so than some of the native regiments. In Mesopotamia there were many changes in the standing of the Indian battalions. The Maharattas, for instance, had never previously been regarded as anything at all unusual, but they have now a very distinguished record to take pride in. The general feeling was that the Gurkhas did not quite live up to their reputation. But the Indian troops as a whole did so exceedingly well that there is little purpose in making comparisons amongst them. At this time, so I was informed, the Expeditionary Force, counting all branches, totalled about a million, and a very large percentage of this came from India. We drew our supplies from India and Australia, and it is interesting to note that we preferred the Australian canned beef and mutton (bully beef and bully mutton, as it was called) to the American.

At dusk the fighting died down, and we were told to hold on and go over at daybreak. As I was making my way back to headquarters a general pounced upon me and told me to get quickly into a car and go as rapidly as possible to Daur to bring up a motor ration-convoy with fodder for the cavalry horses and food for the riders. A Ford car happened to pass by, and he stopped it and shoved me in, with some last hurried injunction. It was quite fifteen miles back, and the country was so cut up by nullahs or ravines that in most places it was inadvisable to leave the road, which was, of course, jammed with a double stream of transport of every description. When we were three or four miles from Daur a tire blew out. The driver had used his last spare, so there was nothing to do but keep going on the rim. The car was of the delivery-wagon type “pill-boxes” were what they were known as and while we were stopped taking stock I happened to catch sight of a good-sized bedding-roll behind. “Some one’s out of luck,” said I to the driver; “whose roll is it?” “The corps commander’s, sir,” was his reply. After exhausting my limited vocabulary, I realized that it was far too late to stop another motor and send this one back, so I just kept going. Across the bed of one more ravine, the sand up to the hubs, and we were in the Daur camp. I managed to rank some one out of a spare tire and started back again. My driver proved unable to drive at night, at all events at a pace that would put us anywhere before dawn, so I was forced to take the wheel. By the time I had the convoy properly located I was rather despondent of the corps commander’s temper, even should I eventually reach him that night, which seemed a remote chance, for the best any one could do was give me the rough location on a map. Still, taking my luminous compass, I set out to steer a cross-country course. I ran into five or six small groups of ambulances filled with wounded, trying to find their way to Daur, and completely lost. Most had given up some were unknowingly headed back for Tekrit. I could do no more than give them the right direction, which I knew they had no chance of holding. Of course I could have no headlights, and the ditches were many, but in some miraculous way, more through good luck than good management, I did find corps headquarters, and what was better still, the general’s reprimand took the form of bread and ham and a stiff peg of whiskey the first food I had had since before daylight.

During the night the Turks evacuated the town. Their forces were certainly mobile. They could cover the most surprising distances, and live on almost nothing. We marched in and occupied. White flags were flying from all the houses, which were not nearly so much damaged from the bombardment as one would have supposed. This was invariably the case; indeed, it is surprising to see how much shelling a town can undergo without noticeable effect. It takes a long time to level a town in the way it has been done in northern France. In this region the banks of the river average about one hundred and fifty feet in height, and Tekrit is built at the junction of two ravines. No two streets are on the same level; sometimes the roofs of the houses on a lower level serve as the streets for the houses above. Many of the booths in the bazaar were open and transacting business when we arrived, an excellent proof of how firmly the Arabs believed in British fair dealing. Our men bought cigarettes, matches, and vegetables. Yusuf had lived here three or four years, so I despatched him to get chickens and eggs for the mess. I ran into Marshall, who was on his way to dine with the mayor, who had turned out to be an old friend of his. He asked me to join him, and we climbed up to a very comfortable house, built around a large courtyard. It was the best meal we had either of us had in days great pilaus of rice, excellent chicken, and fresh unleavened bread. This bread looks like a very large and thin griddle-cake. The Arab uses it as a plate. Eating with your hands is at first rather difficult. Before falling to, a ewer is brought around to you, and you are supplied with soap a servant pours water from the ewer over your hands, and then gives you a towel. After eating, the same process is gone through with. There are certain formalities that must be regarded one of them being that you must not eat or drink with your left hand.

In Tekrit we did not find as much in the way of supplies and ammunition as we had hoped. The Turk had destroyed the greater part of his store. We did find great quantities of wood, and in that barren, treeless country it was worth a lot. Most of the inhabitants of Tekrit are raftsmen by profession. Their rafts have been made in the same manner since before the days of Xerxes and Darius. Inflated goatskins are used as a basis for a platform of poles, cut in the up-stream forests. On these, starting from Diarbekr or Mosul, they float down all their goods. When they reach Tekrit they leave the poles there, and start up-stream on foot, carrying their deflated goatskins. The Turks used this method a great deal bringing down their supplies. In pre-war days the rafts, keleks as they are called, would often come straight through to Baghdad, but many were always broken up at Tekrit, for there is a desert route running across to Hit on the Euphrates, and the supplies from up-river were taken across this in camel caravans.

The aerodrome lay six or seven miles above the town, and I was anxious to see it and the comfortable billets the Germans had built themselves. I found a friend whose duties required motor transportation, and we set off in his car. A dust-storm was raging, and we had some difficulty in finding our way through the network of trenches. Once outside, the storm became worse, and we could only see a few yards in front of us. We got completely lost, and after nearly running over the edge of the bluff, gave up the attempt, and slowly worked our way back.

When we started off on the advance I was reading Xenophon’s Anabasis. On the day when we were ordered to march on Tekrit a captain of the Royal Flying Corps, an ex-master at Eton, was in the mess, and when I told him that I was nearly out of reading matter, he said that next time he came over he would drop me Plutarch’s Lives. I asked him to drop it at corps headquarters, and that a friend of mine there would see that I got it. The next day in the heat of the fighting a plane came over low, signalling that it was dropping a message. As the streamer fell close by, there was a rush to pick it up and learn how the attack was progressing. Fortunately, I was far away when the packet was opened and found to contain the book that the pilot had promised to drop for me.

After we had been occupying the town for a few days, orders came through to prepare to fall back on Samarra. The line of communication was so long that it was impossible to maintain us, except at too great a cost to the transportation facilities possessed by the Expeditionary Forces. Eight or ten months later, when we had more rails in hand, a line was laid to Tekrit, which had been abandoned by the Turks under the threat of our advance to Kirkuk, in the Persian hills. It was difficult to explain to the men, particularly to the Indians, the necessity for falling back. All they could understand was that we had taken the town at no small cost, and now we were about to give it up.

For several days I was busy helping to prepare rafts to take down the timber and such other captured supplies as were worth removing. The river was low, leaving a broad stretch of beach below the town, and to this we brought down the poles. Several camels had died near the water, probably from the results of our shelling, and the hot weather soon made them very unpleasant companions. The first day was bad enough; the second was worse. The natives were not in the least affected. They brought their washing and worked among them they came down and drew their drinking-water from the river, either beside the camels or down-stream of them, with complete indifference. It is true this water percolates drop by drop through large, porous clay pots before it is drunk, but even so, it would have seemed that they would have preferred its coming from up-stream of the derelict “ships of the desert.” On the third day, to their mild surprise, we managed with infinite difficulty to tow the camels out through the shallow water into the main stream.

We finally got our rafts built, over eighty in number, and arranged for enough Arab pilots to take care of half of them. On the remainder we put Indian sepoys. They made quite a fleet when we finally got them all started down-stream. Two were broken up in the rapids near Daur, the rest reached Samarra in safety on the second day.

We had a pleasant camp on the bluffs below Tekrit high-enough above the plain to be free of the ordinary dust-storms, and the prospect of returning to Samarra was scarcely more pleasant to us than to the men. Five days after we had taken the town, we turned our backs on it and marched slowly back to rail-head.