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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
The Battle of Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 August to 14 September 1918, The Diary of General Lionel Dunsterville Topic: BatzO - Baku
The Battle of Baku
Azerbaijan, 26 August - 14 September 1918
The Diary of General Lionel Dunsterville
Lionel Charles Dunsterville
The following is a transcription from the diary of Lionel Charles Dunsterville which describes the Battle of Baku from his personal perspective.
Looks as if I might still have a chance of saving Baku from Turks and Germans. The Bolshevik power has been thrown out and I am going to try and get across the Caspian at last. I have frequent interviews with the Bolshevik leaders and the Social Revolutionaries. The former came to lunch - the latter are more amenable.
Things are very critical in Baku and we may be too late - I had two of the Bolshevik leaders to lunch, Cheliapin and Lazarev - not very interesting people. It was amusing to see how they eat not only their food but their principles. It was quite an entente party.
Baku is on the verge of falling, but we may be able to save it - I have sent Bob on and leave myself to-day for Enzeli. Arrived Menzil, the little post-house there very uncomfortable with Baku and Resht refugees.
Passed through Resht and had lunch there at the tollgate and talked with Matthews and Moir who have done very well. We recently bombed by aeroplane all the Gilan towns and I do not think they will attack again. Resht is much damaged, but town seems quiet and no shots were fired at my convoy. The country was more beautiful than ever, the wonderful 20 miles of forest and the green rice-fields below. Arrived Enzeli 6 p.m., staying in the fisheries same old house. We have just arrested the leaders of the Russian Revolutionary Committee and I think all will go well. 6 months ago Cheliapin was on the verge of arresting me and I had to flee in haste - to-day he is on his way to Baghdad and the Revolutionary Committee exists no more while I hold Enzeli. Bob is in the Baku and the news from there is not so bad - we may be able to hold out.
The Port here is quiet, but although we have arrested and sent to Baghdad the Bolshevik leaders, we cannot yet get real control of the port and the shipping, as I have very few troops and cannot show force. In fact, the Bolsheviks or the Jangalis or both together might attack me at any time and knock me out. One has to take big risks but I must send all I can to Baku and keep only the minimum here.
I have had bad diarrhoea for some time and on the road down I felt as if I were going to die - I determined to eat nothing, but at the Nagober toll-gate I had to accept hospitality and I was hungry, so I gave in and drank tea and coffee and ate cheese and omelette. After that I nearly died again and gave up worrying, so when we got to the Resht toll-gate and I was again tempted, I ate everything I wanted. Bray suggested a Russian cure, vodka with pepper in it, so I drank three pepper vodkas which were very consoling! and from that moment to this I have been as fit as a fiddle - it was, I suppose, too much for the microbes.
When one arrives in a new town, one is deluged with interviews that tire one to death. Yesterday I had M. Hunin, head of customs. Khachikov and Senizavin, controlling the Caspian fleet, Gendre, the Social Revolutionary, Dr. Araratiantz, head of the Armenian National Council, Mr. Ogamiantz, Soc. Rev. Alkhari - Bicherakov's man; great schemes are propounded, but each is playing for his own hand. To-day I have already had heaps of time-wasters, mostly Russian and British refugees trying to get a job - (that is, money) out of me. Baku still holds up and I hope Bob will pull through, but my reinforcements are small and time flies.
Very hot. We bathe in the Sea every morning at 6.30 a.m. I interview people all day long. Complications increase frightfully. Delays are terrible, no convoy ever arrives when expected and Baku just hangs on a thread - all the cars break down and everything seems against me. In addition to all the Persian strings, I have Baku, now Krasnovodsk begs for troops, and Lenkoran, and Bicherakov at Derbend, and the Russian colony at Meshed-i-sar and the Jangalis threaten to attack here, and everyone is against us - but God is with us. My temperament is a calm one or I should go mad. Baku and all the others being to think I am leaving them in the lurch. I am left in the lurch myself by Baghdad and by the motor-cars. And I run all this with one half size Brigade - it's worse bluff than any game of poker!
I moved myself and Headquarters on board the S/S President Kruger, where I shall remain, I expect, for some time. It is cooler on board, I will rig up a wireless set, and I can then move at a moment's notice anywhere up and down the Caspian. My sailor, Commodore Norris, is extemporising a fleet - so far we have not taken any ships, but we possess a 4 in gun arrived yesterday and 3 more are coming and we have naval personnel about 160. The Officers on board and the crew seem a very decent lot. We took down the Revolutionary Red flag and hoisted the old Russian flag.
Now the time has come to cross the Caspian Sea we get on to stormy weather and we shall all be very sick. The mail boat was unable to leave last night and we sail to-night.
Arrived Baku. We lived through the roughness all right and did not miss a meal. Day was cool and just a nice strong breeze.
Yesterday and to-day I visited the whole front line, about 10 miles long, South on Sea to North where right flank is open, enabling Turks to get round and make trouble in our rear in East of peninsula. Armenian citizen soldiers very slack, no discipline and no organisation, holding the line with a stiffening of the North Staffords on both flanks. We are gradually putting British Commandants into the Armenian Battalions, and we have our officers also with their Batteries. My car ran along the front for a while within 3000 yards of the Turkish guns, quite in the open, and they never fired a round at us, so I suppose they are pretty short of ammunition. Our line is terribly weak on the right, and that the Turks do not take the town shows they have very poor spirit. Their batteries are only 6000 yards from the town and harbour and they could shell us any minute if they wanted to. The oil-fields are very interesting. Baku is a very fine town with splendid business houses, but the surroundings are hideous and barren, and the tall chimney stacks of the oil-works are dreadful to look at.
I have interviewed the 5 Dictators who rule the town, at an official reception - also the 10 members of the Armenian National Council, also the C-in-C, Gen Dokuchaieu and his staff, and had to have the latter to dinner last night.
I attended the Russian Church Service yesterday and I'm afraid the people looked more at me than at the holy images. To-day I was cinematographed, so my features go down in history.
To-night I sail for Derbend. The situation here is critical from a military point of view, but good from a political. But changes come rapidly and the present Government may be thrown out any minute. Bicherakov is doing splendidly and I feel I deserve credit for the one thing that I have trusted him throughout against everyone's opinion. The War Office cable me not to trust him, the Baghdad people do the same, all Russians do the same. Had I not fought against their views the fat would, indeed, have been in the fire. Bicherakov has been magnificently successful so far, and all my success has been due to him. I am teaching the people here to understand him. The Chief of Staff Avitisov, hates him, however, we have sent the Chief of Staff off on sick leave and things will be better. Bob does very well in command here and the scheme is one of those rare ones where an artillery man is the best man. Got wireless on board and sailed at 9 p.m. for Derbend, weather fine. We heard Alexiev had taken Astrakhan which was good news, now we hear not A. but anarchist sailors from the Baltic which is bad news. I am always being cinematographed and to-day I was filmed while addressing some refugees on board a ship going to Krasnovodsk. Baku is terribly weak and I hope it will not fall during my absence.
4.30 p.m. we have just fought the first naval battle of the Caspian, and not very nobly. Never got to Derbend at all. Just off Derbend a suspicious looking vessel, probably Bolshevik, signalled to us to come alongside. The Captain asked me for orders - I said is she any sort of ship with authority to make such a demand. He said, No, it is the Usbeg, long since in Bolshevik hands - whereupon I said "full steam ahead!" On this the steamer opened fire with some small gun, probably a 3 inch, fired some 4 or 5 shots for a period of a quarter of an hour all round us, and close, but no hits and we being able to steam faster, got away. Changed course and now steam back to Baku to insist on mounting guns on all ships - otherwise we shall get done in some day by one of these pirates.
Fierce North Gale, but we weren't quite sick, got into Baku at 3 p.m., awful dust storm. Bob came on board to report all well. I begin my 35th year of service. I don't fancy I ever meant to stay as long as that, but it has been 35 years of happiness and the last 21 with doubled happiness. The Turks shelled the town at night, but did not do much harm. We want to arm some of these merchant-men, but cannot get the revolutionary Government to agree to it - they fear we might use our new fleet to down them. It has suddenly turned quite cold and I suppose the real hot summer is over. We get not butter or milk or fats of any kind - I don't miss them at all but doctors seem to think they are necessary.
There were one or two people killed by the shelling last night and there was a most uncalled for panic. Left at 8 p.m. for Enzeli. Weather fine.
Arrived 3 p.m. I was to have tad tea with Kuchik Khan at Resht, but he cannot arrange before Wednesday and I cannot wait so long - so I must again return without accomplishing this important work. Enzeli is looking very nice and clean. Bray is very ill and I sent him to hospital and taken on Lieutenant Grosvald of the Russian Army in his place - a good fellow, but not a patch on Bray.
Sailed 8 p.m. for Baku, fine and calm. Brought over a lot of Naval personnel and some 4 inch and 12 pounder Naval guns which I hope to get permission to mount on Merchant ships. Water melons bought in Enzeli for two roubles sell in Baku now for 20 roubles, in India the price is 1 anna.
Arrived in Baku 3.30 p.m. Bob came on board to report. I am sorry that during my absence the Turks have made a successful attack on our very weak right and have captured the Mud volcano - our losses being 3 officers and 70 men of the N. Staffords killed, and 11 officers and 35 men wounded. The attack was a very determined one and had Baku troops been there I'm afraid Baku would have been taken. The odds were 4 to one and we had no artillery support and the Armenian infantry sent to support refused to go.
As it is, the risk of the town being taken is so great that I dare not keep this Diary by me any more, so I have decided to send it by post to Mc.Murray at Hamadan.
Pencilled note: "The book was sent and I had to keep further records in a separate notebook.
"End of War Diary B, Begin C."
Well Baku still holds out though truly it is just a prolonged miracle - there is no order or discipline in the town, the 5 Dictators Yermakov, Lemlin, Verluntz and 2 others are as weak as water, they are all young, about 25 to 30 and I do not believe in councils without grey-beards. There is no order, discipline or organisation among the troops. They retire whenever the enemy attack, and my troops are annihilated owing to failure of support. I told some Armenian troops to occupy a position already prepared and they entrenched because the enemy were about to attack it. They refused to go, because the enemy were about to attack it. Alice in Wonderland again. Yesterday a regiment was ordered to the front. They held a meeting to decide whether to go or not. The votes were 30% for and 70% against. The 30% were real stout fellows, and opened fire on the 70% to punish them or compel them to go. The bullets whizzed near one of our armoured cars who telephone to the Commander: "If they don't stop I shall open fire on the lot of them." The Commander replied "Please do!"
The town is shelled a good deal by day and night, but the inhabitants are getting accustomed to it and the small shell do very little harm except making a big bang and the sickly swains and their haughty little girls continue their nightly promenade undisturbed. My steamer on the wharf is the point most aimed at, but it is at the very end of their extreme range and the shells fall short in the town and mostly in cemeteries when the old dead are killed once more. Once shell destroyed a ship's boat just behind the stern - a very good shot. I did not like the risk of the big ammunition dump on the wharf just outside my porthole, so I wrote an urgent note for its removal. While writing, there was a bang, and a shell exploded absolutely in the middle of it, smashing open a case of shells and wounding slightly 2 sentries and nothing more. The Commander in Chief, General Dokuchaev, is a good fellow, not strong, and in a most difficult position. His Chief of the Staff Avelisov (Armenian) is weak, ill, and useless. I have asked them to kick him out and put in Stokes instead. The next Staff Officer, Van der Fless is not bright. The Minister of War, Bogratuni, Armenian, has just had his leg amputated. He is clever but not a forceful character. To-day the Turks captured Diga without much difficulty, though Diga was a strong point as had promised to put up a stout defence. They go from success to success and God only knows why they do not walk straight into the town. They must be quite rotten, and if only I had troops for a counter-attack I could destroy the whole lot of them. Unless they have the bad luck to come against a detachment of my brave 900 (Warwicks, Worcesters, Nr. Staffords, Gloucesters) they just come through without casualties. In vain I point out the harmlessness of artillery-fire except when it is used in the intensity if the French front which the Turks can never do. Casualties from Artillery are so far almost nil. The question is how to save the wretched population from the impending massacre - all these women and children (some 80,000 of them, I suppose) all promenading every evening on the boulevards by the electric light and quite unconscious that in any hour's time they may be having their throats slit by the Turks. So I called a meeting in the Hotel d'Europe, of the Dictators, the Fleet, the Army, and the Armenian National Council and I exploded on them the following bomb:-
"It is time to come to some final decision regarding the fate of Baku. Surmises and hopes must be placed on one side and only facts considered. The facts are as follows:- My troops alone fight, they are only 900 and no more reinforcements are coming. The Turks are in every attack victorious and can enter the town whenever they have the pluck to come straight in. The town troops go from bad to worse - I was present at a War Council last night when the General's plans were overridden by a common sailor. Plans of that sort are valueless - I was present this morning at the front when Binagardi Hill was taken. At the moment when a small counter-attack could have retaken the Hill. I found the entire citizen army loafing back into Baku with their hands in their pockets and their backs to the enemy. I then again visited the C-in-C. and discussed his future plans. I have since thought the matter quietly over and my final advice to you is this: Why study the map and discuss the value of positions when you know from experience that your troops, when ordered to attack, invariably retire? That being the case, why needlessly prolong the agony and risk the lives of all your noncombatants? I will no longer throw away in vain the lives of my brave soldiers. I am about to withdraw my troops entirely and leave Baku to its fate - I will go to Krasnovodsk and start a fresh and more useful movement in Turkestan. I will hold on till to-morrow to give you a chance of negotiations. Send at once a flag of truce to surrender the town to the enemy and suggest the following terms (but strengthen your line first with every available man) If you will give us 48 hours to remove all our women and children and our forces from Baku we will surrender the town to you intact. If you refuse we will fight to the bitter end. Your losses will be heavy and we shall destroy all the electric power stations and the irreplaceable machinery that pumps the oil to Batoum and which is the only thing that makes the town worth capturing - you want the oil for the railways and for the Black Sea fleet - and you will be foiled in that attempt and your efforts will have been in vain."
There was a great hubbub and excitement among the members. Each knew that what I said was true, yet none had dared, up to now, to put it in words. The town has been twice saved by a miracle sent direct from God. On July 26th and August 5th. We cannot expect a third miracle. After a little talk in which rather bitter remarks were thrown at my head, I left them to talk among themselves and went off to see the C-in-C., then I returned and begged them to stop their silly talk - how they love talking - and to act. I then went to see the War Minister who agreed with me. They talked till 8.30 p.m., and then agreed to my decision and promised to act. But they went on talking all night and eventually changed their silly minds. The Navy finally said: "We object to this cowardly plan. We control the situation. You must never yield. If a single ship tries to have the harbour we will sink her and then we shall turn our guns on to you on shore." All very well for the brave Navy to say this when being on the water, their own safety is quite secured. So we continue the defence. I am glad, because every day we hold out is of great value to the Allies - I only fear for the civil population in the dreadful sauve-qui-peut which I foresee. Help from outside seems impossible. Will God really give us a third miracle? I have taken up my quarters ashore now, in the Hotel d'Europe, because they might think my remaining on board ship a sign of cowardice.
A lull - these stupid Turks - why don't they take the town? I suppose it is just because they fear the destruction of that machinery which would render their victory barren.
Shelling the town quite heavily last night. The French Colonel Chardigny is very jumpy. I am not naturally brave in the least. But I pray for the courage I have not got, and that is the sort of prayer which meets with an immediate answer, and I am as calm as if I were at Bishopsteignton. I never can believe in the answer to prayer for material things, the other prayers are always answered. Six well aimed shells fired at me personally on Binagardi Hill the other day while I was examining the enemy's position, left me quite unmoved and the thought of any danger was quite absent from my mind. There being no other firing but these 6 shots one could hear the approach of each shell quite clearly and all one thought of was what a harmless sounding noise it was for an instrument that was on the point of exploding and tearing people to pieces.
We still hold the town, I don't know how, one can only believe in God's miracles, the time is not yet, but it may be any minute. These Baku troops are terrible. Last night at sunset my Inspecting officer visited the line and found at the most dangerous point and a probably point of attack, no one, when there should have been 1500 men and 2 machine guns. In another place where there should have been a whole Armenian battalion there were 75 men. Water melons cost 20 roubles, a bottle of natural mineral water 4 roubles. 1 egg 2½ roubles - a small meal 50 roubles, just one plate meat, one plate of pudding, and so on. My day is spent in interviewing and squabbling with different people. I have had two serious rows with the 5 Dictators, who represent the Government, but we love each other now. They, poor fellows, have no real power which is in the hands of the Committees and their position is very difficult indeed.
Rather heavier shelling last night. Bray was robbed of everything, including gold cigarette case and 6000 roubles, the thief had to pass through my room in and out, and never touched a thing of mine - I am perpetually surrounded with miracles, and God is very good - but when I say that, I feel "smug" as if I were deserving of special protection and Bray were not.
The enemy made no attack? Why? still more miracles -
The enemy have a map of the town and are, of course, accurately informed of my movements. They know I have tea on board the Kruger at 4.30 p.m. And they have a spy observer here to direct their fire. On Saturday at tea-time they began to fire and one could note the careful observation, first shot near the cathedral, next more towards me, and so, one by one till they got one straight between the masts that fell in the sea a few yards away without exploding, then the observer signalled all correct and we got 2 rounds battery fire straight on to the Kruger. But you don't hit what you aim at, you hit the things near - so two steamers on the next wharves were hit and all started steaming out into the bay. But the Kruger, the cause of all the trouble, remained fast, and the firing ceased, as they are not too well off for ammunition. I have Captain Noel with me here, a fine fellow. He has been 6 months in prison with Kuchik Khan, where he was in chains and flogged and was released after I had made peace with Kuchik - he seems none the worse for his troubles. I took him out to the front to see the position at Binagardi, and on the way back I found my H.Q. in the Hotel d'Europe heavily being shelled. I couldn't pull up the car and take cover in front of the fleeing populace, so we just had to head straight into the storm - it was unpleasant with bricks and mortar flying around, and the most terrific bangs, but I was very much watched, so had to sit up and look as if I like it. As I reached the Hotel, the firing was over - one shell had burst in Wither's bed-room next my Q. Office - destroyed the room and hit no one. Two burst in the road and smashed all the windows and a balcony, one set a house on fire alongside, but the fire-brigade were out in no time, in very good order and soon got the fire under control. Artillery fire is terrifying, but in a town its effect is very small unless it is the big shells that no one in this country possesses. Thank goodness and thank God for many mercies. Bicherakov's first detachment arrived to-day from Petrovsk and things, for the moment, look very good indeed. London and Baghdad keep on telling me to leave Baku at once and I finally and firmly refuse - so how it will all end I do not know. I have sent the strongest telegrams that have ever been sent, but they contain nothing but what is true and right and what can be substantiated. Both Baghdad and London have been criminal in their outlook on the strategy, and even now they do not seem to realize that the capture of Baku by the Turks is a far bigger thing for them than the capture of Baghdad by us, was for us. In the evening I had to attend an anniversary dinner for the battle of the Marne, given by the Belgian Consul, who is an Armenian. The guests were some 12 prominent Armenians, Col. Chardigny and one French officer, one Russian, and the Armenian priest in full and very picturesque robes. The table was quite a wonderful sight and the guests more so. There were many speeches - too many - and I got away after two hours on a genuine plea of work.
Days are very busy. To-day I saw Lt. Maurice of the French Army about certain secret matters connected with the oil-fields, then Captain Noel about some mills that want shuttles from England to increase supply, we to purchase increased supply and exchange for grain in ports where cash is not accepted - we get back to barter in these days, also about Noel's plans for the N. Caucasus where Pike has been killed and I propose Noel takes his place. Then Mr. Clarke Head of the Food Control about food supplies for population here, 300,000. Then Gendre, the Social Revolutionary about his plots, then Araratiantz, the Armenian about Armenian Army Reform, then Chardigny, about wiring present situation to Paris - then Ragozin about his plans, Albizzi about the Russian armed cars. In the evening 5 p.m. a Georgian Prince re Tartar affairs and hopes. Then a Committee meeting at the War Minister, Bogratuni, reorganization. Then Captain Colmanautz, re the situation in Erivan, Major Conrans en route to Bicherakov with instructions, Colonel Rawlinson re destruction of Bridges.
A woman was shot by her lover on the next wharf at lunch time and her screams were dreadful - it was regarded as an ordinary occurrence. These wicked Armenians never cease their Mahomedan atrocities. Last night they raided a Tartar house and when Russian soldiers went to restore order, the Captain's son was shot and the ship is in mourning to-day - No shelling yesterday. A nasty lull. After many interviews I met, in the evening, for the first time, a representative of the Daghestani-Mahomedans, who put the Daghestani point of view very clearly before me. We have restored order in the Arsenal and have the ammunition supply well in hand. Machine guns and Artillery also - the present supply can be made to last 6 months.
I am always on the move on Sundays. Here we are, on the Kruger, steaming back to Enzeli with the remnant of the brave 39th Brigade. At last the crisis, so long waited for, has come and gone, and God has been good to us. The final assault of the Turks began at 4 a.m. yesterday, by 11 a.m. they were holding the heights above the town and soon after were driving in our right. Our troops, the Staffords, Warwicks and Worcesters, fought magnificently and their 800 rifles coupled with our artillery and the local artillery under our control - about 40 guns - bore the whole brunt of the battle against, perhaps, 7000 Turks - the armoured cars too, did splendid work. At 4 p.m. I learnt that the Baku troops were, as usual, retiring, instead of fighting, and leaving my troops exposed. Bicherakov's men and his artillery did splendidly - the Armenians were no use. I, accordingly, sent Bray with a note to the Dictators informing them that now the situation was definitely lost, I proposed to take my troops on board as soon as it was dark and sail for Enzeli. He found the Dictators in a state of bewilderment and they practically said "Do what you please."
At 10 p.m. we were just ready to sail, when 2 Dictators came on board, Lemlin and Sadovsky, with orders for me to send my troops back to their positions and not to sail till I got their permission. I decided to risk it with lights out, so ordered each ship to move off independently for Enzeli and if pulled up by superior force (a gun-boat for instance) yield and parley. So far, I do not know the fate of the others. At 1 p.m. I was on the bridge with the Captain, the Commodore and Hoskyn - we tried to creep by the guardship, but she twigged us and gave three whistles to stop, we answered 3 whistles which meant assent; and then went full speed ahead. She was at anchor so unable to chase, but she opened fire as long as we were in range and effected nothing. Brave sailors! Three pompom shot came over the bridge and the man at the wheel dropped the wheel and ran like a hare. The Captain an A1 fellow, took the wheel and we carried on. And here we are in this beautiful scenery, moving merrily with a light breeze over a rippling sea as if there were never any wars in the world. In the meantime Persia has tumbled to pieces - Urmieh has fallen, the Turks are advancing in Hamadan and Kasvin, and goodness knows what lies ahead of us - chased from pillar to post. I sent a very strong wire to Baghdad and the War Office, pointing out that their policy was a bad one, but even then I could have got through if they had not run even their "bad" policy badly. They object to my impertinent criticisms, and state they would remove me from my command if they could do so, but they cannot. My conduct will be gone into later - so I suppose I shall be tried by Court Martial.
Both yesterday and the day before they shelled my H.Q. offices in the Hotel d'Europe very heavily, and very well, one high explosive burst in the room next the hall where we were all standing, blew everything to smithereens and killed no one.
I think the intention of the Baku Government was, after we had done all the fighting for them, to use us as one of their pawns for securing good conditions: "we will surrender to you British General Staff, etc etc." It would have been a great asset to them. While the fight was in progress I visited Gen. Dokuchaev, Russian C.-in-C. at intervals throughout the day. He was driven mad by allowing himself to be worried by all sorts of nonentities and spent most of his time answering telephone calls - good fellow, but useless. I found Vosskresensky, whom I regard as quite a worthless youth - actually holding him by the lappels of his coat and shaking him, and I had to interfere and V. out of the way.
I was very anxious indeed about the other boats' adventures and thanked God very deeply when I found all in the harbour except the little Armenian with which Col. Rawlinson had left loaded up with ammunition from the Arsenal.
Providence throughout guided us. The wharf from which I had originally planned the evacuation, was, I now see, quite unsuitable, under shell-fire, and in full observation of the town, who would have mobbed my soldiers. I was driven by circumstances to the new wharf which was on the edge of town and extraordinarily suitable for the purpose.
A wire telling me to return to Baghdad. I am not offended. I have done excellent work under trying conditions, and produced very good results out of nothing in spite of apathy and misunderstanding of War Office and Baghdad. But after my telegrams they had no course but to relieve me and to try me, I suppose by Court Martial. Thank God Rawlinson and his little steamer arrived all well after having run a heavy gauntlet of fire. Armenian refugees a great problem.
Settling up with my Russian friends and handing over - A last bathe in the Caspian.
Left with Hoskyn and Bray to Kasvin.
At Kasvin handing over to General Thomson.
To Hamadan. Such pleasure to be back again in the hospitable house of the Mc.Murrays.
Out to Abi Shini to see the Urmieh refugees.
Padre O'Connor. Holy Communion in the Mc.Murray's Drawing-room - just ourselves, then off for Kermanshah. A very sad parting with this homely home and these good people of incredible kindness and hospitality. Very hot and dusty - car at last broke down 30 miles out of Kermanshah, but luckily just opposite the camp of the 48th Pioneers where we stayed the night very comfortably.
Kermanshah - stopping with Weir the Political - My Russian A.D.C. is very ill again, I hope I shall not have to leave him behind, as it would be very hard to do without him.
To Tak-i-giri G.H.Q. Camp at the top of the Paitak Pass. Met General Gilman the Chief of the Staff and General Beach, Chief of the Intelligence - they were not very communicative, but we talked on other topics - our splendid advance up to Acre in Palestine. I do not at all tremble for my fate, but I hate these sort of quarrels - I have insulted both the War Office and Baghdad, and my action has been right throughout - I have been quite misjudged and if I insisted on an inquiry others in high places would get into trouble and not me - but I loathe these things. The only thing that matters is one's own conscience and my conscience entirely congratulates me.
Arrived H.Q. 14th Division at Mirjaneh and stayed with General Frazer. Met Nicholson, 37th Dopas and George Gunning, 21st Cav. also Maclachlan, 40th Pathans commanding a Brigade - such a nice atmosphere to be back once more among real soldiers.
To Baghdad - thank God for the last of the Motor-cars for a bit after that 600 mile drive on a vile road. The Jilu refugees - poor things - blocked the road everywhere and I feel half responsible for them though it was not my fault that Government would not take up my Urmieh scheme. Billeted in No. 2 Mess - Stuart Wortley. Dined with the C.-in-C.
The Battle of Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 August to 14 September 1918, Captain S.G. Savige, Stalkys Forlorn Hope Topic: BatzO - Baku
The Battle of Baku
Azerbaijan, 26 August - 14 September 1918
Captain S.G. Savige, Stalky’s Forlorn Hope
Stanley George Savige
Lieutenant General Sir Stanley George Savige, KBE, CB, DSO, MC, ED (26 June 1890 – 15 May 1954), was an Australian Army soldier and officer who served in World War I and World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant general. During 1918 he served with Dunsterforce and wrote of his adventures in a book called Stalky’s Forlorn Hope which is reproduced below.
Chapter 1 - Stalky.
Assembled in a courtyard, surrounded by high mud walls, were gathered some sixty British officers and N.C.O's drawn up in a hollow square awaiting the arrival of their chief, whose name was so familiar, but who had as yet not been seen by any of the group. Down in the valley lay Hamadan, one of the chief cities of Persia, and from the slope of the hill where these men were assembled, a commanding view of the city could be obtained, and of the whole valley which at that time of the year is cloaked with beautiful grass and wild flowers.
The sun by now was extremely hot, and standing at attention tried the spirits of most. There was a cry from the orderly at the gate, and immediately the officer in command called the party to attention, for General Dunsterville, the original "Stalky" of Kipling's famous novel, walked on to the parade ground, and as he passed to the front, all eyes were fixed upon him, the man of their hopes. He glanced round the ranks, and then in a quiet, but commanding voice said, "I think it would be better if we sat under the shade of one of these trees." Leading the way he selected one giving the most shade, sat down and gathered the company round about him.
"Well, men," he commenced, "I suppose you want to know why you are here; but to begin with, I might as well tell you the truth, and that is the good Shah has just informed me that I must leave Persia with my force immediately. This I do not propose to do, and I have notified his Majesty accordingly, and in addition, told him that I find this country most agreeable to my health and also to my officers and men. I take it that you will find it the same, and anticipated that such would be your opinion when I replied for myself and on your behalf. I might say that I also added that, if he desired that we should go, the only thing left for him to do was simply to come and put us out. I admit that there are less than a hundred of us here even now, but we have an old Russian armoured car, together with a driver, a few machine guns, one or two Ford cars, and each of you have a rifle with a few hundred rounds of ammunition. On the other hand, there is such a thing in existence as a Persian army. Still we are of the right stuff, even though we hail from the four corners of the earth.
"Now, about your job! I want you to be prepared for anything that you may be called upon to do. I want the sergeants to do, if necessary, privates' jobs, and the officers, lance corporals’. The job is big, but you all have big hearts and I feel sure will overcome every obstacle. Some, I hope, will go to the Caucasus; others will have to remain behind in Persia. I went to Enzeli myself before the roads were blocked by the snows, and had rather a pleasant trip, even though my friends, the Bolsheviks, did not like me at first. I had no sooner arrived in that fine town when the local committee ordered me to present myself at once to their presence. I hardly felt disposed to answer this summons, so rested.
Some little time later, they came round to my house in a body, and demanded that I should come forward at once, asking by what right I was in Russia. Seeing that their attitude was an ugly one, I suggested that it would be much nicer if we all came inside and discussed the question while sitting in easy chairs. Having got them all seated and puffing away at Russian cigarettes, which I provided, we got to business. "'I am here,' I said, 'as head of a British Mission to see conditions for myself and help you, if possible, where able,' and then proceeded to applaud the results of the Revolution. This pleased my guests immensely, who at once considered that I was second only to themselves and, after more friendly exchanges, they left thinking that I was a very fine fellow indeed. I deemed it time to leave as soon as possible, seeing that I only had a few men with me, and that fortune cannot be played with too long.
So while they went out the front door and down the main street, I packed my gear and cleared out by the back entrance as it were, and, after a certain amount of bargaining, got clear of those regions. Eventually I found myself back here once more with a mere handful of men, and decided to wait until you chaps came along. "This is the first party from the other fronts, and more are on their way, so I purpose to commence work immediately and push on with the job, knowing that I can rely on your hearty co-operation in whatever we undertake. I therefore wish you good luck in the ventures ahead and in all that we undertake."
That was enough for us. We knew that we had a man of rare quality and stern determination to lead us, and whatever he would ask of us would be more than attempted.
Chapter 2 –The Genesis
January, 1918, found the war dragging on much the same as during the last three and a half years with a credit balance in favour, if anything, of Brother Boche. The Russians had advanced and retired, pushed forward again in places to be again bumped back. The French had stopped the rush at Verdun, and the British, together with their French Allies, had been pounding the Germans on the Somme, pushing him back to the famous Hindenburg line and again bumped him up north, driving him back to the Passchendaele Ridge, but still there was no sign of any weakening in the enemy's line. The world was then flabbergasted by the Russian Revolution and that nation's withdrawal as a fighting force.
Those in high places saw the great danger of India after this debacle, when the roads leading from Persia and the Caucasus to India were left open to the Brother Boche and his Ally, the gentle Turk; and probably a general survey of operations in the near east is advisable at this stage to understand the objects of the Dunsterville force sent to Northern Persia and the Caucasus.
As soon as possible after war had been declared by Great Britain on the Central Powers, the first Mesopotamian Division was sent out from India. After severe fighting and long marches under the glare of the Mesopotamian sun, General Townshend, hampered by the lack of adequate supplies, and the enormous length of his lines of communication, eventually reached Ctesiphon. After defeating the Turks there, he was compelled to fall back on Kut-el-Amara, and after putting up the well-known heroic fight, he was surrounded by the enemy and forced to capitulate.
No sooner had this force ceased to exist as a fighting unit in the field than another, much stronger and better equipped, replaced it. Although they failed in the earlier stages to relieve Townshend, they eventually carried Baghdad and the foothills beyond. During this fighting, the Russians under the Grand Duke Nicholas, had steadily pushed ahead, driving the Turks out of Armenia and holding a line from Trebizond to Kirmanshah. When the British troops established their line beyond the Dialia River, touch was maintained with the Russians by mounted patrols. Thus the roads leading from the Caucasus and Turkey to India were denied to the enemy.
The Palestine force had steadily pushed ahead until a line had been established along the Jordan Valley, whence it will be seen that the Turk was more or less hemmed in. When the Russians pulled out, a glance at .the map of the Near East will show that the three main roads running from Turkey to India were left unguarded. Bearing in mind that at this time the Persians and Afghans were allied by religion to the Turk and never over friendly towards the British, a great danger, therefore, menaced British rule in India.
If, since the Mutiny, Great Britain was ever in danger of losing India, it was at this time, as hundreds of Turkish-German envoys could be poured into these countries bordering on Northern India, and, with supplies of German gold, could easily create a rising amongst the wild Northern tribes.
Luckily for Great Britain, these regions are one mass of mountains, and so we were. sure of at least six months' delay, owing to the passes becoming snow-bound during the winter months. If we worked quickly, a force could be got up through Mesopotamia to the Persian foothills on the frontier at about the time when the snow began to clear, giving us an equal chance with the Turks in the race through Persia to gain dominion there.
One of Germany's pet plans was to gain control of the Near East, so that, in the event of war, she would be close enough to India to create sufficient trouble to make our position extremely uncomfortable in our great dominion out East. Years before the war, the Kaiser and his followers saw this. and the be-laurelled trip of the Kaiser throughout the Near East is well remembered by all. The outcome was his precious Berlin-Baghdad railway scheme, which was intended to run from Berlin through Constantinople, along the Tigris Valley to Baghdad, thence across the Euphrates Valley to the head of the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Winston Churchill must be given immense credit for his far-sighted policy at this time, in that he bought up, on behalf of Great Britain, the oil fields at the head of the Persian Gulf. This was the first spoke in the German wheel of fortune out East, since Great Britain, holding the land near Basra and the Persian Gulf, prevented the German line from passing that important city and finding for its terminus the still waters of the Tigris River as it enters the Persian Gulf. This, however, did not daunt the Hun who swung the line from the Tigris River down south to Koweit Harbour.
With the capture of Baghdad, the progress of this line was severely hampered, and for a time his dream of creating trouble in India was at a standstill. But with the open roads of Persia, the great project was once more revived, and the opportunity of creating a diversion in India, which would mean the withdrawal of British troops from France, at a time when every man was required, was an opportunity that the Boche would not let slip, And so the spring of 1918 would see the great race between Great Britain and Germany, one in the endeavour to block the roads, the other in attempting to get through to Afghanistan in order to carry out his cherished plan.
It should be remembered that, at this stage of the war, few men could be spared from the other theatres of war by Great Britain, and that our only way into Persia was by Mesopotamia. Seeing that the Western Frontier of Persia is barred by great barriers of mountains, the idea of getting an army through was impracticable. Even though a force might be marched through these mountains into the heart of Persia, it would be impossible to maintain them in the field as all supplies would have to come, first by river to Baghdad, then on to the Persian border, and from there onwards all food, ammunition and guns would have to be packed through on mules and camels. Thus the idea of getting a force there was well nigh impossible, and the hope of maintaining them in the field was altogether out of the question.
The danger to India was seen at the very outset by those in authority in the War Office, and, as the Russian army collapsed and melted away, so British agents bought up all their guns, rifles, ammunition and war-like stores, concentrating them in various places throughout the Caucasus.
At this time little was known of the fighting qualities of the Armenians and the kindred Christian tribes throughout the Caucasus, or of the fidelity of the Russians and Cossacks of Southern Russia to the Allied cause.
On this gamble all hopes were centred, and approximately one hundred and twenty officers and two hundred and fifty sergeants were to be sent forward through Persia to the Caucasus with orders to raise an army to. be equipped with the Russian material which had been bought by our agents. Knowing nothing of this great project, Divisional Commanders in France, Salonika, Palestine and Mesopotamia received instructions to nominate certain men whose qualities as leaders of men, and whose adaptability to war, under the most adverse circumstances had been proved.
Early in January some twenty Australian officers were gathered at Corps Headquarters in response to their volunteering to undertake a desperate venture which would probably cost them their lives. They were ushered into a large room of the old Chateau where Corps Headquarters was situated, and there General Byron of South Africa, who had been sent out by the War Office, put the same question to them; namely,
"Gentlemen, are you prepared to undertake a desperate venture which. will probably cost you your lives, but, if successful, will mean everything at this stage of the war to the British Empire?" Naturally the first question asked by each was,
"Well, what's the job?" which elicited the reply, "I am sorry, but I cannot tell you."
"Well, where is the job?" which again was answered in the same manner.
After so many years of war, on Gallipoli and in France, especially through the fighting of the Somme and Flanders, nothing could possibly be worse than that of the past, so nineteen of us accepted the proposition and were told to go to our units and there await further orders.
On January 12th, each of us received our marching orders with instructions to report at once to A.I.F. Headquarters, London. There were three of us from the 2nd Australian Division: Lieut. Turner, M.C., 27th Battalion, Lieut. Hitchcock, D.C.M., 6th Machine Gun Company, and myself, and on informing General Smythe, V.C., who commanded our Division, that we had to leave next morning, he at once ordered a car to be placed at our disposal. In the early hours of January 12th, we three left Flanders for one of the Channel ports.
The day was indeed in keeping with our stay of two years in France. The snow lay on the ground about one foot thick and to add to the discomfort of this, combined with the slush on the road, snow fell without ceasing during the four hours' journey to Boulogne, and it was indeed a weary, frozen, mud-bespattered trio that reported at Horseferry Road at 4 p.m. on that day. We were then told to go home and report at 10 a.m. next morning at the Tower of London.
In due course we all assembled at the Tower, and there had to undergo the strictest of strict medical examinations. It was indeed gratifying to know that after so much war, one could pass without a blemish. Later in the afternoon, we dismissed for the day with orders to report at 10 a.m. next morning. This we did, and received lists of clothing to buy which included a tropical outfit together with an arctic, such as fur coats, caps, mittens, and boots. We were instructed to buy not only this, but sufficient to last for at least two years? What hope had we of even guessing where we were bound for, when given orders to buy outfits of such complete contrast, together with a supply of medicine, all of which had to last us for two years? Seeing that we were not prophets or seers, we simply read through the list, looked at each other and said, "Well, how about a spot?" and then booked seats for the theatre that night, determined at all events to make the most of the few days we were likely to have in London.
After accumulating all this gear (which cost about £80; the Government allowance was somewhere near £25, the remainder coming from our own pockets), we were told to parade to be reviewed by Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. This in due course we did, and we were drawn up according to Dominions, Imperials in front, behind which in order were the Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, and South Africans. While waiting, about a dozen Russian officers marched on to the parade ground, whose presence created a busy five minutes in laying odds as to what part of Russia we were bound for.
Shortly afterwards, General Sir William Robertson walked on to the parade ground, and, after passing throughout the ranks, drew us up in a hollow square facing the steps leading to the Barracks, from the top of which he addressed us. After saying many nice things, he concluded by saying, "Gentlemen, I am indeed pleased to see you, for I recognise that before me I see gathered from the Imperial Army and the troops of the various Dominions, the cream of the British Army, and in whatever you undertake, I wish you good luck and God speed."
We were then given leave until the 28th, with instructions to leave our addresses with the officials at the Tower. On reporting once more, we were assembled in a large room of the barracks and behind closed doors, a Colonel from the War Office unfolded to us the proposed plan of operations, which did not leave much wanting in the way of adventure. The next day, January 29th, we were ordered to have our bag and baggage at the station ready to leave England.
Chapter 3 - Eastward Bound.
At 11.30 a.m., on January 29th, 1918, we were all assembled on Victoria Station, and, after a busy half hour loading the baggage on to the train, we moved out with the good wishes of those who came to see us off, which not only included friends and relatives, but representatives from the War Office and the various Dominion Headquarters.
Southampton was reached in due course, and at 7.3o p.m. all were aboard, and the boat lifted anchor and moved out of the harbour for France. We disembarked at Cherbourg at 6 a.m. next morning, and immediately went into camp, and there for the first time came in contact one with the other. One looks back on those few days when each found the true value of the other fellow, and it was with high spirits that we all settled down, determined to do the best, one towards the other. Of all the mingling of men that this world has seen there was never a finer gathering of real men than the party one was privileged to belong. There one rubbed shoulders with a Canadian from out West, the South African from the lone veldts, and the New Zealander from good old Pig Island, and I suppose they thought as much of the Australians as the Australians thought of them.
Orders were received to entrain on the afternoon of the 31st, and after much hard work in loading heavy boxes and baggage, we set off for Taranto. The weather in Northern France was at this time of the year extremely cold but as we journeyed further south, we experienced more congenial days. After every couple of days, we would be taken off the train and put into a rest camp for twenty-four hours. This indeed was a we/come change from being crowded four together in about a fifth-class railway carriage in which we attempted to live, eat and sleep. The opportunity of a hot bath and the purchase of tin food was not missed on arrival at one of these camps.
By stages we went further south through Marseilles, Nice, across Northern Italy, until we eventually reached Taranto, and after waiting a couple of days, the outfit embarked on the "Malwa" on the 11th February. The three days' trip across the Mediterranean was delightful and, to while away the time, Russian classes were commenced, bridge parties gathered, and together with the company of some forty nurses, life was worth living.
Should anyone want to grow out of their hats in a remarkably short space of time, there is one little hobby I should advise them to take up, and that is learning Russian. Still, knowing that this language would be of immense value to us, we put up with the headache--the result of those few hours' study each day.
On February 16th, we disembarked and entrained at Alexandria, where we left at nightfall, arriving at Suez about 6 a.m, next morning. For me a strange coincidence occurred here. We got off the train and marched down to the quay, and there saw at a distance the ship on which we had to embark. There was something strangely familiar about the old tub that at once attracted my attention. She was no other than the old "Nile," the boat that saved the 24th Battalion from the submarine on the way to Gallipoli, when the "Southland" was torpedoed. At that time the whole 6th Brigade were bound for the Peninsula, the 24th Battalion being in the leading boat, the "Nile", with the 21st Battalion on the "Southland" a few miles in the rear.
Suddenly the old tub put on full speed ahead and continued until well into the night, during which time she circled round one of the small islands three times. The reason of this was unknown at first, but on arrival at Lemnos the skipper informed us that he had sighted the submarine and, in order to baffle the enemy, had adopted these tactics. The "Southland," not being so fast, had unfortunately stopped the tin fish. The heroic conduct of the men on board that vessel is known to all. With these thoughts, and the knowledge that she had saved us in my first venture, I took it to be a good omen that she should be the vessel that would carry me on my last and greatest venture.
On February 17th, we up-anchored and moved out from the land of Sun, Sand, and Sorrow, and after an uneventful voyage, in which we only stopped once (at a place called Henjan in order to coal), we eventually reached the head of the Persian Gulf, and there remained outside the bar. We waited until a smaller steamer, the "Erin Pura," came alongside, to which boat we transferred, awaiting the favourable turn of the tide in order to cross the bar over which we had to pass to reach the Shat-el-Arab. This was accomplished safely during the night, and at daybreak we all turned out to get a view of the magnificent river of Mesopotamia.
For miles it is about a mile and a half across, and as we moved slowly up the stream, place after place of interest came into view. The banks are lined with date palms which grow in great abundance. Numerous vessels of every description moved either up or down the river -- transports of troops, cargo vessels with Army Service Stores, and the hospital ship, laden with the sick and wounded. Hugging the banks were huge Arab dhows, laden with the merchandise of the country, being towed by natives who hauled these primitive barques with great ropes attached either round the head or to the waist.
Now and then a smaller canoe, propelled by poles, would be passed. All of this was indeed a restful change to the eye after being a couple of weeks at sea. About noon we arrived at a point where the Mahamarah joined the great stream, and it was here that the Turks, in their endeavour to frustrate the British in their earlier operations, sank two steamers. The attempt to block the stream failed since, as the boats sank, the force of the water swung them round out of the main channel and beyond the necessity of a little extra caution on the part of the pilot, this did no damage. Eventually we reached Bazra, where we were to disembark. After a great deal of hurry and bustle all stores and personal kit were got ashore, and small parties were told off to the various camps.
Chapter 4 - The Land of the Arab
Mesopotamia, the land of the "Arabian Nights Entertainment" which we had read so much about, the place of so many visions, was here stretching for hundreds of miles before us. When one is camped under canvas at that time of the year, a great many of its charms pass away. It rained continuously for three or four days. The land, being baked and dry, and the roads pounded to dust by the thousands of wagons that passed over them during the summer months, were naturally turned into quagmires after a few days' steady rain. The tents, which had been pitched in the open plain where inadequate arrangements for drainage had been made during the summer months, were soon about three or four inches deep in mud and water, but on active service, comfort and .contentment are generally found after the scraping away of such trifles. Drains were dug and sleeping places banked up to such a pitch of perfection that the heavens could do their worst without any fear of the tents being swamped out.
Near by was an Officers' Club, which never did such a booming trade in all its history as when the members of this "Hush-hush" party, as we were called, sojourned nearby. If ever a piano required attention it was after this party left as, night after night until well on into the early hours of morning, its soul was worked out of it by some pianist who reckoned he knew all about the make-up of such instruments in the production of sufficient noise to enable some other fellow who reckoned he knew all about singing to inflict pain and punishment upon the hearers. Anyhow it was all a change, and meant good fellowship, and that means everything.
The days, however, were not passed in such an easy manner, as at once swords were issued, and all had to turn to learn the uses and misuses of that very excellent weapon. It can be said that at that time most of us knew as much about a sword as a sword knew about us. Anyhow, after pointing and parrying, right, left, high and low, and enduring hours of trying to work with painful wrists, we learnt a good deal. Russian classes were continued and, as a relief to the sore-wrist business, the work that developed very thick heads was substituted.
The news of our arrival soon spread and every General within fifty miles signified his intention of coming along to see us. This meant that everybody had to turn out, spick and span, on the parade ground to be reviewed by the All-Highest, when many very nice things were said to each of us, but the unspoken desire of all was that there were fewer Generals on earth to "butt in" upon our time which was so urgently needed for training for the great work ahead. Now and then we were allowed an afternoon off in order to see the sights of the city, and each of us took the advantage of going to the Bazra, one of the chief cities of Mesopotamia, and destined, I believe, to be one of the biggest in that land on account of its suitability as a port. Miles of wharves and shipping facilities have been erected in order to land stores at this place which served as the Base Depot.
Here one sees the Arab in his native land. In build he is about medium height, dark complexioned, with clear piercing eyes, set in an intelligent face. His dress is strikingly picturesque, consisting of flowing white robes, with a head dress composed of a cloth fastened to the head with bands of fancy cord. The town itself is typically eastern. One walks along its narrow, winding streets which are roofed from one side to the other, and, here and there, holes are pierced, throwing a dim light on to the goods and chattels exposed for sale.
The streets themselves are hardly wider than a footpath, yet strings of mules, horse-drawn carriages and horsemen move rapidly along, the drivers and riders clearing a passage by shouting at the top of their voices. As in all eastern cities the shops are small and crammed with tawdry ware. Here one sees cheap Manchester goods and cheapjack Birmingham ware exhibited in great profusion. The women in most cases are heavily veiled, but, like other parts of the world, with the advent of Western civilisation, the superstition of the East is being thrown off, and gradually the women are doing away with their face coverings.
Among the most interesting sights of the city are the canals. Hundreds of years ago these were cut out from the main river and were run far inland in order to irrigate the surrounding country, and to be used also as a means of bringing to the city, goods from elsewhere, and sending out the products of the country. These canals teem with small native boats, propelled by poles, one man, working from the boat's nose, pushes the pole into the muddy bottom and walks along the narrow gunwale facing the stern, for three parts of the boat's length. The native in the rear, poles from the stern and is responsible for the steering of this twelve-foot narrow canoe.
Owing to the cramped, crowded condition of the stream, it has become an art in which only the native, reared from childhood to his job, is the only proficient handler of such craft. Though a thousand years behind the times in customs and conditions, here and there a flash of Western civilisation gleams forth, and of all the surprises of an Eastern city, a cinema show provides the best. Standing a little way back from one of the main streets there stood a big hall on which was placarded the usual picture show advertisements.
Not having seen such a show for months, we decided to have a look. The main part of the hall was filled with rough, unfinished forms, the better ones having a pole or two rigged tip as a back. A balcony ran around three sides, the back one, being bigger and fitted with seats made from the boards of packing cases, was considered to be the best, and the portion which the European population patronised. The show itself suited our tastes admirably, as one could smoke throughout the performance and order coffee at frequent intervals. At the conclusion of each picture, the audience cheered itself to a standstill, particularly when one, depicting British troops in training, was preceded by throwing on to the screen a portrait of King George.
He was immediately recognised, and a more enthusiastic reception could not be given by any John Bull audience. Our time was more than fully occupied during our few weeks' stay here, though our souls chafed to be up and doing. Drill and preparation, no matter how irksome, has its place and is essential as a beginning to any great enterprise. Knowing from past experience that such preparatory work was necessary, each vied with the other to "do or burst."
Chapter 5 - Upstream to Baghdad
Orders were issued on March 8th, for the first party to move on to Amara, a large town on the Tigris, midway between Bazra and Baghdad, and next day this detachment moved out. Those of us who remained behind cursed our luck at being amongst, as we termed them, "the unfortunates," but our turn came on the 17th, when we boarded one of the river paddle-boats, not unlike those used for pleasure trips in various parts of the world.
After an immense amount of energy and perspiration had been expended on yelling to the Arabs, placing aboard our personal kit and stores, we were ready to move. Lashed to either side of the steamer was a big barge, on one of which was placed all the baggage. The N.C.O's found accommodation in the other, while the officers occupied the steamer.
No such luxuries as beds were aboard, each person having so many feet of deck space allotted, and in this he slept, worked and had his being. The saloon (spare the name) was a partitioned-off, roofed-in portion of the deck on which there were a couple of tables and some chairs. If lucky or early one was present at the first seating, if not, then it was a case of waiting your turn. Such was our home to be for about two weeks, and, though the deck space prevented us from carrying on with sword exercises, there was room enough to continue the Russian classes.
The winding nature of the river provided an ever-changing view of scenery, though the banks themselves were lined with the inevitable Mesopotamian date palm.
Next day we entered the Tigris proper, leaving the Euphrates on our left. What old scenes and recollections of Sunday School days these ancient rivers bring back to one's mind, the conquest of Palestine by Cyrus and the deportation of the Jews to the banks of the noble Euphrates. As one looked across the wide waters and winding turns, the cries of the Jews in the days of that bondage seemed to be echoed by the swirl of the passing waters. Thoughts pass through the brain in rapid succession, and one wonders if it was here that Ezra or his fellow-patriots thought out the scheme of re-building Jerusalem.
Next day we pass this grand old man's tomb, revered by Christian and Mohammedan alike. It stands on the right bank of the Tigris and from a mile off it can be seen flashing forth its blue shimmer of light from between the ring of palms that surround it. The dome and as much of the structure as can be seen over the high square mud walls is covered with blue porcelain tiles and is in a wonderful state of preservation, no doubt due to the fact that Ezra is reckoned among the great men of the Mohammedan religion which solicits the caring eye and hand of the Arab.
Day after day we followed the winding course of the stream along the wide stretches of water and through the Narrows, so called on account of the nearness of the banks through which the rushing waters swirl like a mountain torrent. Occasionally we pulled into one of the banks in order to give the engines a spell.
Sports were organised, and from the Colonel to the youngest sergeant all competed in the various events. Though our worthy Colonel was elderly, he at all events provided a certain amount of amusement when stripped for the fray. Coatless, hatless, and with collar and leggings thrown aside, he looked the personification of determination. After a couple of hours of such strenuous pastime we were glad to be aboard again and once more on the move.
A few hours were spent at Amara, renowned for its copper and brass workers. The secret of this craft is handed down from father to son, generation after generation, and though Japan places tons of such work on the market, it bears no comparison with the work of the Amara Arab.
A few days later we reached Kut-el-Amara, the town of Townshend's last stand. The village itself crowns a small knoll on the left bank, and can be seen from miles off. The river takes a big bend here, and in one sense proves an excellent barricade, though if crossed and the ground held, it becomes a trap to the beleaguered.
We went ashore at this place for a few hours and rambled over the battlefield and through the British and Turkish trenches. The Turks, to commemorate for all time their victory, commenced building a giant obelisk on a big rock foundation, and at each of the four corners was placed a captured British gun. Unfortunately for themselves, they were not granted sufficient time to complete their emblem of triumph, as the relieving force under General Maude soon turned our gloom into sunshine and re-captured Kut.
A few days later Ctesiphon was reached or rather, the ruins of that ancient capital where Townsend defeated the Turks before falling back to Kut. Only the ruins of the King's Palace stands, and the huge arch towers up to a height of some 200 feet, with a breadth of approximately 150 feet. Its magnitude creates a great impression as, though so big, it is composed almost entirely of small baked bricks girded together with huge slabs of timber. Like the great Pyramid, its present occupants are the sparrow and his kind - once the abode of the mighty, now the resting place of the humble.
Chapter 6 - The City of the Caliphs
During the morning of 28th March, we pushed slowly up stream, passing through most uninteresting country as there is nothing on the banks of the river to break the monotony of the great stretches of dull desert landscape. However, as the day wore on we passed here and there small clumps of palms, until we reached the fringe of those trees lining the banks leading to Baghdad. Afar off, one could see the domes and minarets of the city, rising above the forest of date palms. About four miles south of Baghdad we pulled into the bank and were there met by the first party, who had already arrived at the place and erected tents.
Naturally, our first excursion was to Baghdad, the city of Sinbad the Sailor and his exploits. The roads leading to this ancient palm-encircled capital are dusty and tiring to the sightseer, but where the motor car runs, so does the soldier's luck, and ours was well in within five hundred yards of the camp, being in the shape of a lurching, bumping motor lorry which conveyed us without mishap to the city.
One is struck by the cosmopolitan population of the city: Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Chaldeans, and Persians throng the bazaars. Though the Arab predominates in numbers, the Jew, as elsewhere, is master of the wealth. One enters into New Street, a fine wide street running through the city, constructed by the Turks ostensibly in commemoration of the fall of Kut, but really as a means of easy transport. Houses and shops were not spared by the Turkish Commander who drove the thoroughfare from one end of the city to the other. The rage of the inhabitants was intense, but its utility was very soon appreciated and the popular resentment abated.
Like Bazra, the bazaars are covered in, but in this city there is a far greater supply of goods, necessitating bigger places of business. The quaintness of Baghdad is that if one wants brass it is sought in the brass bazaar, if boots or cotton goods, then to the section of the bazaar in which these goods are sold. A place for everything and everything in its place seems to be the idea carried out. Everywhere is noise. The fair price is never asked; it is always about 100 per cent. higher than expected, and the satisfaction to both buyer and seller in their heated bargaining transactions is very evident.
The dresses of the women are much more gaudy than those seen elsewhere in Mesopotamia. One of the sights of the country is to walk along New Street about an hour before sunset and see the hundreds of Jewesses taking the air. Here one sees dresses, or, to be more correct, loose gowns made of silk, vying with the rainbow for richness of colour. The great ambition of the Jewess is to possess a black lace veil, some of which are wonderfully fine in texture, to cover the face. At first they took great care to hide their faces from the eye of man, but in October of the same year this custom was beginning to die out. The signs of the times were that the women were beginning to realise that the face of woman was good for the eye of man.
On the river front is a very pretty garden, and here on Sunday afternoons the Indian Regimental band rendered selections, drawing crowds of admirers of music, to say nothing of the Jewesses themselves. These beautiful gardens of Baghdad, the rich colours of the women's dresses, the light tussore suits of the men, tipped with a red fez, are sights to be remembered. The river is the main waterway or highway of traffic, and here are seen boats of every make and shape - the huge hospital paddle-steamers, paddle-transports, motor launches, dhows, canoes and rowing boats, but strangest of all is a round structure, made of goats' skin stretched over a bamboo foundation, capable of holding ten or twelve people. How this is propelled by paddle and directed, without any steering gear, across such a wide and swift river as the Tigris, gives plenty of food for thought.
There are many places of interest in the city, such as the old Turkish barracks covering acres of ground, the blue-domed mosques and the high minarets of the various buildings of the city. There seems to have been no plan adopted in the laying out of the streets. It seems rather as if the first builders ran up their houses alongside the particular track that they took across the desert. The houses themselves are built much like those we see in the pictures of the time of Queen Elizabeth. All are two-storied [sic], with the upper storey jutting out four or five feet further than the lower one, and it would be an easy matter in many places to shake hands with the person in the building across the road. Sanitation is unknown, and to see the city proper one has to endure the vilest smells imaginable and be chased by myriads of flies.
One thing must not be overlooked, and that is the so-called Dancing Theatre. One enters the big hall and procures a seat well forward, in front of the raised stage, in the place where the orchestra in a modern theatre would be seated. After making oneself as comfortable as possible, having lit a cigarette to counteract the other perfumes of the hall, one sits and waits for the opening show. The babble and gestures of the audience provide plenty of entertainment to while away the waiting minutes. Then the musicians enter, and the weirdest of noises and wails is created by drums of all makes, strange string instruments and cracked voices.
Then enter the dancing girls, each taking a seat on the platform which is so arranged as to form a semicircle. The first performer is a child of ten years of age, who wriggled her body into all sorts of contortions, keeping time by beating first one foot, then the other, on the heavy boarded platform, the ankles being encircled with brass bangles, a most terrific din is created. The place is stifling and the perspiration streams in small rivulets down the face and arms of the dancer. The clothes are thick and corsets are not worn. The first dancer was followed by the others in order of age, the first dancer being about ten and the last being about sixty years of age.
Life in camp was more than strenuous. Our time was filled in by sword exercises, machine-gun courses, pack-animal work, riding classes, and the continuance of Russian and Persian, the latter being added to our list of studies as it appeared that a certain number of us would have to remain behind in Persia, while the main party went on to the Caucasus.
Chapter 7 - Off to the Unknown
0n 17th April, orders were issued to a certain number of us to push on with the first party under Colonel Keyworth, D.S.O., of the Salonica Forces. We were organised into sections, and the one in which I found myself was in charge of Captain Kay, M.C., of the Imperial Army. The other officers of that group were Captain Hooper, M.C., Captain Scott-Olsen, M.C., of the Australian Forces, Captain Fisher, M.C., of the Canadian Forces, and Captain Carpenter, who hailed from China.
About 9 p.m. next day, we entrained at Baghdad. and at about 2 a.m. next morning, were transferred to open goods wagons. As it rained continuously during the whole of that night, we had rather a miserable trip to Ruz, which was at that time the advanced rail head. We left the train at about 8 a.m., and ran up our tents on the open plain at the foot of the foothills of Persia. We scouted out for firewood in order to cook a little food. As there were no trees in the vicinity, a great deal of strategy was required by a couple of officers who paid a visit to the A.S.C. stores. They engaged the officer in charge in such vivid conversation as enabled a couple of men to get round the back and collar several packing cases. It was by these means that we kept up a sufficient supply of fuel to produce a drink of warm tea three times a day. The rain continued without ceasing for three or four days which put a stop to all our training, but developed our engineering skill to such an extent that any canal or drainage system would not be too big for any of us to take on, and the drains dug around our tents were really works of art.
On April 22nd, orders were issued to the effect that we were to push on to the Persian border by Ford cars, and next day we started off over that rocky stretch of country leading to Kasr-i-sherin, the Persian city just over the border. This place is built near the ruins of a city of ancient days. Considering their age the ruins of this place are in excellent state of preservation, the two outstanding features being the castles, one of which covers about two acres of ground. Though the top portion is a heap of ruins, the stables which are built below are almost as good as the day they were erected. This speaks volumes for the durability of the stone which abounds throughout Persia.
The other castle is much smaller, but most of its walls and arches remain intact, and one wonders what excavation amongst these masses of ruins would reveal. Some day the antiquarian will come with his pick and shovel and find relics of that ancient civilisation which swayed the East, having its origin and home in the old kingdom of Persia.
The surrounding country is of a rolling nature, rising to very steep mountains in the distance. Through the gorges run two swift rivers, one to the south-east, the other to the south-west. and just beyond the old city they are separated by only a few hundred yards. The fertile brains of these ancients devised a scheme for creating a huge lake just outside the city walls. For miles the remains of a tremendously strong and high wall encircles the lower foothills into which were gathered the waters of the rivers, with the hill tops forming little islands here and there. In imagination one can see this beautiful, island-studded, inland sea crowded with the boats of the nobility and the wide walls thronged with gay pedestrians. All this has passed, conquests have shattered the walls, freed the waters and destroyed the city. All that remains are the heaps of masonry.
We camped here for six days, passing the time by playing football and organising shooting expeditions amongst the hills and along the two rivers. One never-to-be-forgotten day was April 25th, which was ushered into being by bright sunshine. A little after noon heavy black clouds swept over the mountain tops and rolled down into the valleys, and we had a downpour of the greatest violence. The hailstones were as big as marbles and the wind blew in hurricane force. Tents were blown down and the few that remained standing were flooded out, despite the fact that the usual tent trenches had been well excavated. For two or three days each of us had a very busy time in drying, cleaning, and repairing the damage of that hour's storm.
On the 29th we received orders to push off into the Unknown. Letters were written and many, before going to sleep that night, thought of the dangers of the last few years and wondered what the future had in store. Next morning we were roused out at dawn, and after a hurried breakfast, tents were pulled down and all the gear packed. By the time this was done, the muleteers had all their mules lined up in the open and, after endless upsetting of loads and the chasing of stray beasts, these two hundred and fifty animals were eventually loaded up, and were ready for the track. About eight of us were detailed to form the advance guard, with instructions to push on to a town about twenty-two miles up amongst the hills, keeping in touch with the main body the whole time. That tramp amongst those rocky slopes knocked the best man out, and it was a very tired party that crawled under canvas that night.
Next morning we were out again at 4 a.m. and, after about an hour's hard work in sorting the animals into groups and loading up, we set off to Seripul, a town at the foot of the pass some eighteen miles distant. The road wound over the hills and through the long valleys, with the mountains in places rising like veritable walls. While trudging along through these passes the heat was unbearable, since not a breath of air relieved the close atmosphere. One had an opportunity of studying the Persian in his native land, and for filth, laziness and lying, they have no equal in the world. The dress of the middle class along those mountain tracks is generally composed of a thick felt shawl, a sort of coat with two holes let in for the arms, and numerous others for ventilation.
They wear loose trousers and canvas shoes with the soles composed of cord or straight pieces of cloth tightly bound together. Amongst the poorer class a well-dressed person is he who has over his body an ordinary sack with openings for the arms and head. The women in these districts are dressed much the same as the men, with the exception that they generally have in addition some yards of black cloth which is robed about their bodies. From all appearances the clothes are never removed, and as needles and cotton are unknown, the rents are generally tied up with a piece of string, and after years of wear are knotted to such an extent that it would be impossible for any of them to disrobe without the aid of a pair of scissors.
The road we traversed that day was much better than the track of the previous one as it ran for a long distance through a well-grassed and watered valley. Our luck was in finding a very clear stream near the camp, and, after pitching our tents, we all made off for a swim.
Chapter 8 - Through the Mountains
Next morning we had to face one of the greatest passes of Persia, the Pia-tak Pass, the gateway of south-western Persia. This day was extremely trying as the heat seemed to concentrate in the deep valley along which we marched, and one could not wish for a worse stretch of country. The mountain ahead was a veritable wall, and up it side we zig-zagged until we eventually reached the top. On the left, cliffs towered up to the very heavens and, on the right, deep gorges yawned. We pitched camp on the plateau and, after resting for an hour or two, were refreshed sufficiently to gaze at the wondrous beauties of unconquered nature. For miles the ranges extended, broker with tumbled and jagged peaks and perpendicular cliffs. The wind and rain of centuries had twisted and carved them into wonderful shapes, and to stand on that plateau and gaze for miles across the country was a most wonderful and inspiring sight.
Next day, as usual, we were up at dawn and, without much waste of time, for we were becoming more practised in the use of our transport animals. we were soon ready for the road. After getting over the great barrier, the road extended along through a more or less open valley, and it was here for the first time that we saw the wild flowers of Persia in all their beauty. Along the valley and up the slopes they grew in great profusion of colour and variety. One could, without any difficulty gather twenty varieties of the most beautiful flowers in any patch of twenty square yards.
The music and jangle of the bells tied round the mules' necks was something never to be forgotten. We had, as stated, about two hundred and fifty of these sure-footed beasts loaded to the eyebrows. Each muleteer had his own group of about twenty beasts, which was generally led by one of the oldest mules, or a Persian pony, and to this one's neck was attached a bell of a different tone. At each halt the whole of this mob would wander off the road and graze on the lower slopes of the mountains, and during the ten minutes rest would become a hopeless mass of bumping, laden beasts. At first we reckoned that we had a very small chance of finding the particular animal which carried our kit on arrival at the camp. This, however, did not disturb the muleteers, each of whom hung on to his leader, and when word was given to move off once more, they would simply lead the way on to the road and move on, the others finding their place by following the sound of the bell. The way in which these animals are trained to fall into place by sound is indeed creditable to the Persian muleteer.
At intervals we would pass through what was considered to be dangerous country, and some of the party would be ordered to scale the heights overlooking the various passes in order to prevent the tribesmen from ambushing the party as it wended its way through the narrow gorge. At this time we had reliable information to the effect that certain tribesmen were extremely hostile. It would be an easy matter for them, if they held these heights as we passed through, to shoot the leading mules and those at the end of the column, producing such confusion that it would be impossible for the few troops to take up any sort of opposition. The party would be soon wiped out, and it can be readily seen that it was of the utmost importance that these heights should be secured, before any of the main party attempted to get through.
From dawn until late in the afternoon we would be swinging along the road, some of us climbing the heights which towered almost perpendicularly from the road, and then arrive at a camping place at any time between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., without having anything to eat since starting off that morning. These camping grounds would be generally selected in an open space near a spring, and the camp itself would be laid out four square, and each of the four groups were responsible for protecting their corner frontages. At night fall, any high prominence overlooking the camp would be picketted and, with the sentries placed round the camp, we were more or less secure.
At one stage, we picked up a telegraph line repairing outfit, who were waiting to be escorted through some particularly dangerous country. At 4 a.m. next morning, we set off across a wide open flat and, as it had rained continuously for a couple of days, we sank at each step into a couple of inches of pure clay. My particular group was that day detailed as rear guard, whose duty it was to remain behind the last of the teams. The horses pulled and strained in their traces through about eight or ten miles of this country, when at midday we rested at the foot of the hills over which we had to cross that night.
By that time the animals were in a state of utter exhaustion and, in order to get the wagons over the rocky slopes, each of us had to turn to and lend a hand at man-handling. them over the steepest pinches. To make matters infinitely worse, it began to rain about four o'clock, and as the road turned to the left one got the full blast of the bitter evening wind. While the sun shone brilliantly the heat was terrific, yet when it began to rain up amongst those heights the reverse of climatic conditions would be experienced. Away ahead along the road lay a heap of mud structures, similar to ant hills, which we knew to be the village beyond which we were to camp that night. Two or three of these Army Transport carts soon out-distanced the others, and, on reaching the more level road, these were sent on ahead while we waited for the others to come up.
The evening shadows darkened and the wind became more bitter, so we at once sought shelter, finding a haven in a nullah which ran across the road. One of the lads had some tea in his haversack, and before long a fire was made with grass, and the billy filled from a stream running near by. As we sat and drank the warm beverage, two men from a nomad tribe encamped on the hillside, put in an appearance, and, with voice and gesture, we made them understand that we wanted some eggs. Hardly had they returned with these when some old men and women came down, displaying for sale both fowls and eggs. We bought up the latter, but discarded the former.
The remainder of the party was still some two miles in rear, so a couple of us decided to view at close range this tribal camp. We set off and within fifty yards of these rough shelters were surrounded by a crowd of the usual howling camp dogs, and naked curious children. The camp was composed of about twenty-four huge, black, tarry canvas shelters, filled not only with men, women and children, but goats, sheep, dogs and fowls, with a floor about two inches deep in mud and filth. The men and women greeted us with black looks and scowls, as if our presence polluted the sanctity of the village. Five minutes sufficed for a view of the nomad village type, and one carried the odours of that place in his nostrils for many days.
On reaching the road we saw that the other transports were only a few hundred yards behind. After another hour's pulling and swearing, we reached camp and drew our rations, which in a remarkably short space of time were eaten without the aid of knives, forks or table-napkins, but with. I am sure, more relish than one would enjoy a dinner in any fashionable restaurant. No bed was more acceptable than the one we had that night.
Although it is admitted that stones are somewhat rough and hard as a palliasse, an exhausted man, hardened by such tramps as we had done, would find rest anywhere, especially after having covered eighteen miles through clay flats and over steep ridges with the added exertion of the pulling and pushing of laden telegraph wagons. That day we were kept going from about 4 a.m. until somewhere near 7 p.m., with nothing to eat between breakfast and supper except a hard army biscuit and the eggs we managed to buy.
Before retiring that night, we bought more eggs, which were boiled hard for next day's lunch, and, although it was another march of sixteen miles, the road was much better as it led over harder ground. We were all much fresher on reaching camp that night than the previous day. No doubt it was due to the fact that our spirits were buoyed up with the knowledge that Kirmanshah was to-morrow's goal. Kirmanshah conjured up the first sight of a real Persian city, and the, next morning, 9th. May, found us going strongly on the good road that led to it. A ridge lay ahead and with swinging strides the little column surmounted the top. It halted for about ten minutes, drinking in the view of the minaretted and domed city, surrounded with a wealth of green trees and shrubs so restful to the eye after so many days' tramp through a treeless and rocky country, with nothing to relieve the monotony of the cliffs and broken, bare mountains.
Leading to the city were ploughed fields, and others with wheat and rice crops, two or three feet high. Beyond the city ran an immense barrier of snow-capped mountains which seemed to be the strong arm of protection almost encircling the city itself. After the rest, the column moved ahead with renewed vigour and, on gaining the edge of the city, swung round to the outskirts and pitched camp on a knoll which commanded the whole place. Near by was a camp of a section of Australian Wireless people, who, with the usual insistence of the race, soon made themselves known, and it was with great pleasure that Australian singled out Australian, and after the usual, "Where do you come from, cobber?" soon settled down to debate the merits of "our 'arbour," or the well laid-out and beautifully-gardened Melbourne, then on to the Cup winners.
Chapter 9 - Kirmanshah
The most excellent orders yet issued on the march were received that night, wherein was contained the glad instructions that we were to rest for three days. These days were devoted to sight-seeing, and the report of a famine were soon turned to a melancholy fact. On going to the city, knots of starving inhabitants were seen scattered across the valley actually eating grass, and every step in the city brought one face to face with a living skeleton. Those strong enough begged or watched their opportunity to steal. Those too weak to stand, lay dying in the streets. The dead were passed at frequent intervals. Mothers, with maternal instinct, clung to their dying, and in many cases, dead children; children crowded round the dead body of a parent, while many were so weak that a touch would fell them to the ground, from which they could not rise without assistance.
The bazaars, even in spite of so much poverty and death, were alive with merchants, producers and buyers, bartering and selling. Here one missed the haggling of the bargain hunter and avaricious merchant of other Eastern cities, and it was soon seen that the Persian merchant preferred the quieter methods of business from the strenuous bargaining of Baghdad. In most cases the merchant sat, cross-legged, in his little rabbit-hutch of a shop, and awaited the pleasure of a customer, either displaying for sale soft-goods in the shape of bright materials with the brand "Made in Manchester" stamped on the outside, or such groceries as tea, rice, sugar, dried fruits and native tobacco. Here and there was a brass worker banging away at his wares, or a hatter making those strange, black felt "beehive" hats of the Persian.
The most interesting worker was the baker, who, covered in flour, was hard at work kneading dough, while his huge round oven was heating. Taking a piece of dough in his hands, he soon moulded it into the desired shape, first by pressing it out flat, and then extending its dimensions by throwing it from the palm of one hand to the other. When a number of these had been shaped, the hot coals were scraped out of the oven and the dough placed inside to bake, after which they were exhibited for sale like so many hams hanging on hooks, or rags on a clothes line.
The market square was fringed with the usual rabbit-hutch shops. The centre was filled with donkeys and camels, around which farm produce was displayed for sale in the shape of mars (sour milk), dirty white-coloured butter and cheese containing enough cholera germs to kill half the city's population. The most pathetic of all were the women endeavouring to sell their tawdry ornaments and odd house furnishings in order to procure sufficient money to ward off the evils of the famine for a few more weeks. Others had done this before and their fate was known. Bit by bit, the householder's fillings and furnishings go; a little more food is procured; then, when the last is sold, the only food is the grass of the fields. Certainly a life not too full of roses.
Sickened by the appalling sights of the famine-stricken city, though refreshed after three days' rest, we moved onward once more, this time with Hamadad as our goal. The valley ahead was the widest yet seen, being some ten to twelve miles across, covered with a beautiful carpet of green grass and crops, relieved at intervals by clumps of trees showing the position of a village. Fertile though the country appeared. All crops during the last two or three seasons had failed and the hopes of the inhabitants were centred on those green fields of corn and rice. Would they mature? Or would they, when the dry season set in, frizzle and dry as those of previous years?
Up to this period we had been living chiefly on Government rations, such as bully beef, biscuits and cheese, jam, tea and sugar, varied by the eggs and dried fruits bought on the road. From now on we were to live on the country, and in order to do this, officers were allowed one pound and the sergeants ten shillings a day. The officers and sergeants formed themselves into little groups for feeding purposes, and got hold of native servants to do the odd slushy work. On our departure from Baghdad the officers were allowed one batman to every three officers. As these lads had recently been discharged from hospital and were awaiting their draft at the concentration camp, their powers of endurance were most limited. Early on the march, it was seen that these boys had to be helped to a greater extent than they could help, and were given a lift on the odd mules over the rougher stages of the march.
To lessen their burden, most of us procured a native servant, and not only were they useful for the odd jobs, but of immense value in buying, as well as an aid to learn the language. The necessary precaution of fumigating these urchins was taken, and after they were scrubbed and clothed in odd bits of uniform and singlets, they presented quite a respectable appearance, while they themselves were in the seventh heaven of delight and the envy of the other kids of the country Their authority, as being servants of the "sahibs" would break down any barrier and procure food that we ourselves could not get.
Their powers of endurance were marvellous. We men would be exhausted after the daily march of from fifteen to twenty-five miles, yet these youths would reach camp as fresh as paint and immediately set to lighting a fire or drawing water in the preparation of the evening meal. Their honesty at the age of ten to fourteen was about equal to that of white youngsters of the same age, and if anything was taken, it was generally some fancy article that caught their curious eye.
Chapter 10 - Modern Persian Hosts and Ancient Persian Glory
The first stage out from Kirmanshah was over a first-class road that led through the wide valley, bounded on either side with the never-ending rocky barrier of mountains. Looking across from the road to these ridges the distance appeared to be only five or six miles, whereas in reality it was nearer fifteen. The clear light of Persian springtime is most deceptive, and objects which are twelve and fifteen miles distant appear to be quite near.
Early next morning, the column was swinging along in splendid style, averaging three miles an hour, which is excellent going, seeing that the pace was regulated by that of the mules, and that only fifty minutes in each hour was devoted to actual marching the remaining ten being spent in resting. Presently a cloud of dust appeared in the distance, and within a couple of hours its cause was manifested in the shape of a long convoy of mules and camels. As we approached, its composition was clearly seen to be a body of troops with their baggage animals.
I happened to be in charge of six men who formed the advance guard, with our main body about three quarters of a mile in the rear. One man was sent back to inform our commanding officer of the fact that Persian troops were ahead. So far we had not seen any of the Shah's army, but knew that it was trained by Swedish officers, the outcome of an agreement between England and Russia when arriving at an understanding concerning the position of each in Persia. At that time we were quite ignorant of the Shah's displeasure with our movements within his borders.
It was soon apparent that this force was composed of at least two battalions and, if they cared to be nasty, we six individuals would have a most unpleasant time. Even the fifty odd, back along the road, would not appear to have much chance. The position was nicely put by a young Canadian sergeant who said, "Say, Sir, I guess we'll have about as much chance as a snowflake in hell if these here guys cut up." Well, we had to chance that, and as we closed on one another the whole outfit could be sized up as nothing but a rabble. Ahead of them were a string of about twenty camels, with huge box-like contrivances slung on either side, one balancing the other and on closer investigation, revealed their occupants to be richly dressed but veiled women, holding frightened youngsters, the wives and families of the officers. Such a thing as an advance guard was apparently not considered necessary but, judging from the number of colours carried and the blare of trumpets, military glory was reckoned rather by picturesque display than fighting utility.
The commanding officer, ablaze with gold tassels and coloured trimmings, rode ahead, surrounded by his staff. A little in the rear came the first batch of standard bearers, carrying the national colours of Persia wrought in gold braid on white satin. Behind these marched the drummers and trumpeters, creating an inferno by banging the drums and blaring the trumpets without time or reason. If they contemplated trouble the only manner in which to meet it was by bluff, so, ordering my men to march strictly to attention with arms at the correct slope, we stepped out briskly. Within the distance laid down in "Infantry Training," I bellowed out "Eyes Left," and the boys swung their heads towards the required direction like clockwork.
The old Persian Commander was so thunderstruck at being greeted by such a salute that he bowed and saluted like the movements of a jumping-jack. Each officer was greeted similarly, much to their edification, and, if their first thoughts were evilly disposed towards us, it was certain that they were well in our favour before we reached the end of the column.
Later we heard that the force was moved from another town south of Kirmanshah, with orders to stop the advance of the "miserable" British force that was marching through Persia, and what might have been an uncomfortable experience for us, was turned into an amusing episode by playing on the vanity of the Eastern mind. That night we pitched camp under the shadow of a giant precipice which, forming the side of a section of the mountain spur, reared its craggy head some 400 feet into the heavens.
At the base gushed forth the purest of pure water from about a dozen springs, bubbling and swirling until they intermingled and formed a wide stream, which ran through the grassy flats of the valley. Nearby was heaped the ruins of an ancient capital of Darius. Heaps of jagged stones, broken masonry and smashed columns were the only relics of the one time centre of ancient civilization and glory. The hand of the conqueror had been heavy and in no place was one stone left standing upon the other. Devastation had been complete; yet the glory of the king of that capital would live for ever, for the busy and cunning hands of these citizens had left records of that city's military power in carving, in ancient letterings, that people's history for a considerable distance upon the face of the cliff.
After the evening meal, I sat on a piece of broken column, filled my pipe and was soon lost in thought, picturing the old city in its days of Power. Here there were scattered dozens of broken columns. I wondered if this was the site of the King's Palace or his Audience Chamber. What stories could those old stones tell, if only gifted with speech! Stories of great councils where the brain and wit of the councillors conceived and worked out some brilliant military expedition! Was it there, along the terraced stream, that the mighty walked and chatted light-heartedly with their women folk?
I wondered if yonder heap of debris were the remains of another palace where brave men danced with the dazzling beauties of that age. I supposed that open square was were the king reviewed his troops with critical eye and besought them to greater deeds and extolled the splendour of his dominions. Yet tonight all was silent. The stars peeped out, first one, and then in pairs and groups until the heavens were a mass of glistening pin-pricks of silver. The cliff stood silhouetted in all its grandeur, unconquered by man, symbolic of Nature's stability and triumph over the passing history of mankind. Though demolished, how mighty was this city, symbolic of ancient Persian power over the Persia of to-day!
This morning, about fifteen hundred of the Shah's troops allowed sixty Britishers to pass them by without the slightest attempt to molest them. What would that ancient king, who founded this city have done to a force of sixteen hundred and sixty aliens who dared to pass into his realms in contravention of his royal decree to the contrary? Surely degeneration has sapped the vitals of the once all-powerful Persia.
Chapter 11 - Kurds and Nomads
Early next morning the party was roused out and, after cooking a hurried breakfast and loading the mules within a remarkably short space of time, we, were on the road once more. Away ahead, a cloud of dust denoted the existence of a party of nomads moving slowly along the road. These people, as I have already described, live in their encampments on the hillside and graze their flocks on the rich pastures of the valley, which, when depleted, are deserted in favour of the next valley ahead. Moving day, to these people, is a Red Letter one, for all and sundry dismantle the shelters, roll up the bag and baggage, and collect the flocks.
This group was moving slowly along, and this is the Kurd's golden opportunity. Like the vultures of the mountains he sweeps down in a body of twenty or thirty strong on the inoffensive wanderers and, before the alarm is properly given, half the flock is cut off and driven up a by-valley. Then develops a general stampede of the nomads who, in their flight to safety, leave their all to the tender mercy of the Kurds, who, racing backwards and forwards on magnificent horses, add to the pandemonium by firing their rifles and looking the part of the dreaded desperado.
So, on that sunny morning, ahead of our little column, this group of nomads move slowly on, grazing their flocks on the roadside. Suddenly wild yells and the noise of discharged firearms rent the air, and in a twinkling, about fifty gaily-dressed, well-mounted Kurds dashed out from the cover of the mountains. The women and children shrieked and ran aimlessly off the road, while their gallant protectors, the men folk, squeezed themselves into the smallest places imaginable between the rocks on the mountain side or small nullahs that ran across the road.
Such an opportunity for a friendly scrap was not to be missed, especially in view of the fact that we had not had a fight for many months, so. the order was passed to the advance guard to get busy and move ahead, while a group of the main body moved on to replace them, and another detachment of about half a dozen sergeants under an officer were ordered to move along under cover of the banks of a neighbouring stream. On seeing our approach, the Kurds wheeled their horses, halted, then endeavoured to frighten our fellows by firing a few shots at long range which were immediately replied to.
Seeing we were in earnest most of the Kurds galloped back to the shelter of the mountains, while a few of the more daring spirits among them dismounted at a turn of the road and waited to see us pass, apparently in the friendliest of terms even though we had spoiled their morning's work. We very soon caught up to the nomads, who had collected their stock and were once again moving slowly on. A few of our men were ordered to remain with them to protect them from further trouble, and no men had the blessings of Allah called down upon their heads more persistently than those men of ours.
The outfit was most amusing, for besides a flock of sheep all branded with red ochre, they had with them about a half-a-dozen cattle on whose backs were lashed the poles and canvas of their shelters. To the others were tied young lambs and small children, while here and there the quiet old ewe had tied to her back one or two pairs of fowls. The men themselves rode the small jack donkeys standing about three feet high, and to see a few of these wild, whiskered nomads astride such an insignificant mount, with their feet dragging along the road, was ludicrous in the extreme. The women, as is customary in the East, trudged along in the rear, and those not carrying infants tied to their backs were laden with the various pots and, paraphernalia of the camp.
The next two days were without incident. The road was fairly good and the valley wide and straight. Away ahead the outlines of the great barrier of mountains, over which we had to cross in order to reach Hamadan, stood clearly out. Food so far was plentiful in the shape of chupatties, mutton, eggs, honey and dried fruits. On May 17th, we faced the great pass through which the Russians had constructed a most excellent road, though in many places from the offside one had an excellent chance of rolling hundreds of feet down the steep slopes.
Of all our marches, up to the present, this for all concerned was the most severe. That day we tramped eighteen miles and ascended 8,ooo feet above sea level to where the snow still lay in great drifts in the mountain crevasses, and it was indeed a weary party that pitched camp that evening and cooked their meal. Nevertheless all were cheerful, as tomorrow would bring us to Hamadan where we would see our leader, General Dunsterville.
Chapter 12 - Hamadan
Next day, after a seventeen-mile tramp, we reached the outskirts of the city where we were met by guides sent out by the General, and they led us to our camping ground situated in the European quarter of the city. After we had pitched camp on a vacant allotment surrounded by trees, we stretched out on our beds to rest. A little later, all the officers were invited to lunch with those already stationed there, and to sit at a table eating chicken, salad, bread and tea was more than fully appreciated. In the afternoon we all assembled to be addressed by old "Stalky" as Dunsterville was termed. 1918-08. Portrait of Major General L. C. Dunsterville, British Officer of the Indian Regular Army, leader of the Dunsterforce expedition which included forty members of the AIF.
He is seated in a Ford car with a Russian officer and members of his staff (not seen) .
The main purpose of Dunsterforce was to reorganise resistance in Mesopotamia and Persia to German penetration of Asia during the period 1918 to 1919.
We stayed at Hamadan until 26th May and three days of rest were most acceptable to all. Breakfast at 8 a.m. was indeed a welcome change from the usual 3.30 a.m. breakfast of the past few weeks. Naturally we were bent on seeing the city, with the result that early next morning most of us were nosing about the bazaar. The devastating famine was as much in evidence here as at Kirmanshah.
Hamadan is a much better city in many ways than Kirmanshah. Here one comes in contact with more Jews, Armenians, and Chaldeans, who, being better business men have more up-to-date shops with a more lavish display of goods, while the Jewish quarter was more European in style than any yet seen out East. One derived a great deal of comfort from the fact that there was also a European quarter, situated on a beautiful rise overlooking the city, with the impassable barrier of mountains rising in the rear which served as a background to the settlement. Here were the houses of the American missionaries, the Manager of the imperial Bank of Persia, the manager of a carpet factory and others.
Each was constructed on European lines and surrounded by a large allotment of ground which in every case was well cultivated and planted with fruit trees. Dr and Mrs. Funk, of the American Missionary Society, were extremely kind to us. Small tea parties and picnics were arranged, and one can never forget the kindness of these people, especially some months later when so many were sick. Dr. Funk's private library was thrown open to all, and to choose a book and sit down in a comfortable room, reading and smoking did much to help many along the road to recovery. No trouble was too much for these kind-hearted folk, anything that was thought to be of help or pleasure to us was done, and Mrs. Funk admirably carried out the part of Mother to both officers and sergeants. Should their eyes ever scan these pages may it remind them that the writer remembers with pleasure and gratitude all they did for him while so ill after the awful months of July and August spent in endeavouring to save the refugees from Urmiah.
One never-to-be-forgotten day was Empire Day. Sports were organised, which consisted of tugs-of-war and foot races, such as 120 yards and 440 yards and one mile races. Then Dominion representatives grouped themselves into teams and competed in the Relay race and Tug-of-war, which were won by the New Zealand team, with the Australians as runners-up. All the European, Armenian and Jewish inhabitants turned up in great strength to witness what Hamadan had never beheld before - the British soldier at play. Officers and men mingled together, and took their places on the rope for the tug-of-war, full of the spirit of "pride of race," straining every nerve and sinew in the endeavour to nail their colours to the top of the mast.
When New Zealand won, long and loud were the lusty cheers that greeted the victors, given whole-heartedly by the comrades from the other quarters of the globe. This cheering of the victors by the vanquished was beyond the understanding of the Eastern folk and was witnessed with wide-eyed amazement. One does not hesitate to say, "Thank God for such a spirit!" because it is that spirit of fair play and unstinted acknowledgment of the better team who have won their laurels in a fair game, which goes so far to make the Britisher the noble and independent fellow he is.
Once more, hats off to the clean, fair game! The staff, during this time, were by no means idle. A big job lay ahead, and to carry it out to its proper extent much had to be done. The small force was isolated and hemmed in by the mountain barriers, inhabited by lawless bandits and cut-throat Kurds, which made up the country whose Government had given us orders to quit. Roads had to be constructed in order to maintain communication with the Mesopotamian Force and be the means of hurrying up relieving troops if we got into difficulties. A Police Force was necessary to maintain law and order in the country administered by the Force. Maps of the occupied country had to be compiled, as none were available beyond those issued which were in most cases newspaper reproductions, such as the map showing the "Near East Fronts."
Irregulars were necessary to form a garrison to hold the occupied places and repel Turkish raiders. In order to do all this, officers and sergeants were detailed to undertake the various duties. Road gangs were easily procurable since recruits, both men and women, presented themselves in hundreds. Here was work which brought a remuneration in the shape of food and money, and thousands owed their lives to the fact that the British force was able to give them work.Captain Steward, Imperial army and Captain Richard Henry Hooper, MC, originally 58th Battalion, both Dunsterforce men, watch native women working on the road construction at Hamadan.
An officer was told off as Chief Engineer, whose duty was to survey the roads and raise the necessary labour. Others took charge of the gangs and saw that as much work as possible was done by the labourers. Owing to their awful condition it was necessarily slow, as a fully matured man was unable to do as much as an average British boy of six. Patience and perseverance were rewarded, for in a very short space of time metalled roads appeared here, there and everywhere.
It was at this time that General Dunsterville showed the humane side of his manliness for, at the commencement of this work, he issued orders that, in view of the weak state of the labourers, every officer and sergeant in charge of labourers was to use his judgment, that only as much work was to be done by the worker as could be reasonably expected, and on no account were natives to be harshly treated by those in charge. Patience must be exercised until the workers had regained some degree of strength from the food to be issued.
Odd officers and sergeants were told off to establish soup kitchens and prepare the food for the workers which was issued at the end of each day's work.
Chapter 13 - A Day with the Roadmaker
8 a.m. "Hurry up! You don't need a coat. Yes, it's chilly yet, but within two hours the sun will simply be a blaze of heat, so hurry along!" That huddled line of men and women are the labourers, and those peculiar wicker baskets are what the stones are carried in from the slopes there to the road. That tall chap there is the officer in charge; he is giving instructions to his two sergeants. They will control this crowd of 300 odd.
The people are a bit lean to be sure. They have just finished their breakfast of grass. Yes, grass. Don't look so horror-stricken. We'll see them have the same for lunch at midday. They've commenced now; see, they are off to collect the stones. Slowfully and painfully these living skeletons drag one foot after the other, and in about a quarter of an hour return to the job with a basket of stones which were gathered within two hundred yards of the road. Slowly this is tipped out, then the "dressers" place one after the other in position by hand, inch by inch, yard by yard.
"Slow! Yes, it is, but look at the other gangs along the track. Do you notice they are only separated by a few hundred yards? Well! That is continued for miles, so in time a road will grow and appear complete all at once like the waving of a magician's rod." "Come along and see the next crowd."
12 o'clock. "Now come along and see them feed. Yes, they are off to grass like cattle. See that little bunch over there, come and watch them closely. This woman, for instance. Oh! the awful look in her face! Why man she is simply a walking skeleton! The skin is drawn over the skull and face bones, and those eyes have sunk right back into her head. See, she pulls the grass up by the roots, knocks the earth off and eats away as if she had never seen food before. Why does she search and examine the grass so? Why, I declare, she is evidently looking for a special brand. Come away, it's too bad. Let us go along to the kitchens! Here is the sergeant in charge. How are things, sergeant?" "Good, sir. The old contractor has just brought along a couple of sheep and dried peas and greens. The kitchen hands (Persians) are just killing and dressing the sheep."
We go out and look on. When the sun is hot, these valleys are worse than India. We stay an hour or so. The meat is cut into small hunks and thrown into the copper, together with the dried peas and greens, and all soon gives off a savoury odour. "Let us go to the Engineer's office, and then come back and watch the feeding." We find him hard at work, drafting sketches, ordering timber for alterations to the billets and offices, engaging men, etc. "We won't interrupt this chap, he is going full steam ahead. So let us go back to the soup kitchen."
"See! Here they come. My word! They're getting a wriggle on this time. Yes, no doubt, for who wouldn't when it means food to one who is starving." "What's wrong with their stomach? Oh, that's due to living chiefly on grass. You see the human being has a spleen like a cow, and when it is subjected to grass for a means of sustenance, the spleen is affected and causes that horrible swelling." One sergeant hurries to the end of the race and holds them in check, while another clears the front and keeps the opening in the wall clear. "Righto, Bill, let 'em come," yells the sergeant in charge of the kitchen, and one after the other they pass along and hold out their brass vessels for a scoop of the stew. Then hands ply freely, and, before the other end is reached, all is vanished, and only the licking of pots and hands remain. To ensure them getting a "fair go," you notice the flank sergeant watches the queue pretty closely, and if one dares to turn and rob the one behind, or rushes ahead to the one in front, he feels the full weight of that stick.
"But what is this crowd of unfortunate women and children on the side? Oh, they are waiting for the overflow. When the workers have had their share, each of these groups go through the "race" and get just half that issued to the workers until all is finished. Yes, we do save a few. Thousands owe their lives to the British for what is supplied as you have seen. They ought to be thankful, you say! Well, the people you have seen today are, but there is a big party in this country who have got hold of the European word "democrat," which they call themselves. These are the better class and they overthrew the previous Shah. They are chiefly tradesmen or the "upper" class. They don't appreciate our work, but rather are out against us, for their pet theory is to allow this "scum" (for so they class the people you have seen to-day) die off, and have) a new Persia arise from amongst the survivors Horrible, you say. Well, yes, but I venture to say that, if you pick out any hundred you like from amongst the workers on this job, you will discover in them every known disease. Perhaps from that point of view it might be better, but we won't discuss that, so let us get back to camp."
There is no "eyewash" about the conditions of Persia as described in that little pen-picture. Incredible as it may appear, the people were so reduced by famine that grass became the principal food of thousands. Later, on the trip from Zenjan to Bijah, havoc of a more devastating nature had swept the countryside clean of inhabitants. Whole villages were without inhabitants, all of whom had died, due to the result of the famine.
Its causes were apparent. Two or three years had been devoid of crops. First the Turk, then the Russians had swept the country bare of what it nourished. To make matters worse, the Government, represented 'by the Shah and thieving ministers, had cornered all the grain. The products of the South, untouched by war and free from famine, were controlled by the royal ring with special care that only a limited quantity at a time was released to the public in order to maintain the high prices. Thus, when one is conversant with the conditions of that time - famine and the devastating work of war, capped by the avarice of the Shah and politicians one feels but little doubt as to the ultimate outcome.
Chapter 14 - The Highway To Kasvin
May 26th saw a party of thirty-five upon the road once more, with orders to push on to Kasvin, a large town near the Caspian Sea. A troop of cavalry had already been sent ahead to clear the road if necessity arose, and it was also hoped that, if events worked smoothly, our party would be able to push ahead to Baku as the representatives of the first British force in that arena. Major Starnes, D.S.O., of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was in command. He stood about 5ft. 7in. and though thin, he was all sinew and muscle, and the square jaw set off a lean but determined face. One always felt safe with Starnes as he never minced matters and, if the opportunity arose, the enemy would never be able to complain of his want of enterprise. As he himself always said, "I'm not much to look at, but I'm always there when the whips crack."
The party was subdivided into two groups. Nos. 1 and 2 - No. 1 being the Imperial men and No. 2 the Dominion troops, and I was fortunate enough to be given command of the latter. Camels and mules were brought along to convey our baggage, and this was our first experience of the camel. They were brought along in groups of four to six, the leading rope of one tied on to the harness of the one in front, the leader being led by a Persian. Groups were given their required number by a quartermaster, Captain R. Hooper, M.C., of King Island, and one by one they were brought to their knees, despite the disapproval on their part demonstrated by prolonged fits of bellowing. Like our first experience of loading mules, the camel loading was not of the best, and throughout that day more than one group of three or four men cursed the humped-backed camel in their endeavours to reload the baggage that had fallen off.
The information given on leaving Hamadan was that water would be found sixteen miles along the road where it was proposed to camp. The heat, as the season advanced, was becoming more intense, and after three winters in France, one's blood had thickened, and all naturally felt the climate considerably. The road ahead had been constructed by the Russians and was extremely good, though the metal played up with the boots and feet.
After skirting the city, the straight road ahead led to the mountains and to the sixteen-mile water point. This was reached at about 4 p.m. when, much to the disappointment of all, it was soon discovered that the water had dried up. As there was no Moses with the rod amongst us, the only thing left to do was to push on until water could be found. Over the ridge marched that small, tired and hard-swearing column in search of water and a place to camp. Captain Hooper, who, being mounted, pushed ahead to reconnoitre, after awhile sent word by the interpreter that he had found a stream near a village six miles ahead. The sigh of "Thank God for that!" ran through the groups, and a spurt was put on to get there before nightfall.
Just before dusk we were led off the road by Captain Hooper to a camping ground on the upstream side of the village. Tents soon took shape and almost immediately food was distributed by the quartermaster. On May 31st we arrived at a roadside village called Abba Garm, the native name for boiling water. The preceding days were much of a muchness, the road being good and, though the country was stated to be in a dangerous condition, we arrived without mishap. The reports of Russian parties being massacred were verified, as at intervals we passed overturned Russian motor transports denoting where some luckless party had come into conflict with the tribesmen and had been murdered on the wayside. Yet, whether it was the fear of the British name or that exaggerated reports had been spread, we were spared to pass through this hostile stretch of country without mishap.
Before the war, the Russians, as it is known, had virtually the entire control of Northern Persia which was regarded as their sphere, according to an agreement between the British and Russian Governments. In order to develop trade, the Russians had opened up the country by constructing first-class roads, and at various intervals had erected blockhouses or posts, where a small Russian detachment was stationed. The real object of these posts was to collect toll from the passing caravans in order to pay for the construction and repair of the roads.
Abba Garin, the place of boiling water, was a village on the roadside near one of these Russian posts, and here is seen one of the oddities of Nature. The town itself is straggling, the houses being built entirely of mud bricks, the villagers grazing their flocks on the rich pasture lands of the valley, through which flowed a beautiful creek. The road beyond the village rose over a spur which jutted out to the bank of the stream, and stood out as clearly as the Sphinx on the Egyptian desert. Rising from this rock was a cloud of steam, and it was here that we were told the boiling springs gushed forth amid numerous icy cold springs. After pitching camp and receiving our issue of rations, small parties wended their way down to take the opportunity of bathing in the hot sulphur waters.
Turning off from the road, a track led to the rocky spur and, sure enough, we passed numerous icy cold springs. On reaching the end, we saw gushing from the rocks the boiling sulphur waters. Beside one of these cold icy springs, within three feet bubbled the water from a boiling spring. It was an easy matter to place the right hand in the cold water of one and the left in the boiling spring alongside. At the end of this large rock, the Russians had built a small stone hut over the largest of the boiling springs, and inside had excavated a huge bath in the solid stone. At one corner, the boiling water gushed forth, and, on filling this bath, overflowed and tumbled down in a small waterfall into the cold waters of the stream that flowed alongside. Not much time was wasted in throwing off the few clothes we wore on the march, and there for an hour we revelled in the beautiful hot waters of this bath of Nature.
Chapter 15 - Kasvin
0n June 3rd we arrived at a small village just outside Kasvin and there pitched camp, awaiting orders as to our future movements. Feeling somewhat leg-weary after so much continuous marching we were quite content to spend the next day as Sunday, making it a day of complete rest, but on the following day most of the party were bargain hunting in the bazaar. Kasvin being comparatively close to the Caspian Sea was more European in appearance than any of the Southern cities. Here there are many fine Russian shops and hotels. One street is really fine, having an avenue of trees planted for about a mile through the city, a splendid shelter being afforded by these overlapping trees, the branches of those on one side of the road intermingling with those of the other.
After exploring this portion of the city for a considerable time we decided to lunch at one of the hotels. The food set before us was of the best, being soup, poultry, mutton, vegetables and sweets. To sit on a chair, drawn up to a table, covered with a white cloth, with table-napkins thrown in, was indeed a welcome change from the camp meal!
After lunch we made for the bazaars which appeared to be stocked to overflowing with all classes of goods, especially Persian cigarettes. These are much like Virginians in appearance, but far removed in taste. What weed they are made from is a mystery. Still, when one is "on his uppers" for a smoke, anything pertaining to the shape or colour of a cigarette will do. So large supplies were bought and, when next we moved, many a camel carried a bulkier load in the shape of a couple of months' supply of cigarettes. Other purchases were made in the shape of tea, sugar, curry, and dried fruits, to act as a standby in the event of any scarcity of food on the track, which we hoped would lead to the Caspian Sea.
Next day our hopes of reaching the Caucasus were dashed to the ground as we received information that a chief, named Kuchik Khan, was in the pay of the enemy. As he had 5,000 troops at his disposal this barred the way to the Caspian. Seeing our force was about thirty strong, our chances of moving forward were somewhat meagre.
Chapter 16 - Pioneering
A glance at the general situation at this stage is necessary in order to understand the value of our future movements. General Dunsterville had established his headquarters at Hamadan, as the most central place, and our force held the main Baghdad - Caspian Road from Baghdad to Kasvin, a position most favourable for our enterprise, since, by holding this highway we also controlled the roads which lead from Turkey to India. Posts were being established at intervals, and the road gangs were hard at work in constructing new roads and reconstructing those out of repair. In order to secure our position is was essential to push out posts along the roads leading from the North, the reason being to hold the Turks in the passes through which these roads ran and, if any raids were attempted, to delay them sufficiently to enable the General to reinforce any portion of the line before the enemy reached the main highway.
With this move in mind, a group of about our own strength was sent from Hamadan to Zenjan, another from Kirmanshah to Senna, while we were ordered to march to Bijah, via Zengan, picking up a Wireless Section at the latter place. The other parties were to be equipped with wireless also, in order to keep in touch with headquarters and with each other. Kasvin was to be held by two troops of cavalry, another one having moved in to reinforce the first troop, and another party, similar to our own, was also on its way.
On June 6th, we were on the move once more, feeling rather "fed-up" at the thought of being barred the honour of pushing on to Baku, but this feeling was counteracted by the fact that we had to undertake the most venturesome task of any of the parties in pushing across the unknown and unmapped country between Zengan and Bijah. Before leaving Kasvin we were assembled and any man who did not relish the trip was given the chance to remain behind and join the next party that was moving up. Even though the chances of the march ahead, through enemy controlled country was full of dangers, not one man demurred, and once again we were all volunteers on a perilous undertaking.
That night we encamped near an old Caravanserai, one of the havens of refuge to the convoys on the great highways of Persia. Built four-square, it covered about a quarter of an acre while the outer walls, standing some twenty feet high, were composed entirely of mud bricks. At each wall was built a gate of burnt bricks, through which the convoys entered. Inside were dozens of small rooms, erected close to the walls. Here the muleteers store their goods and find rest for themselves. The open courtyard was paved and even in winter it was comparatively dry for the animals. On one corner was erected the inevitable Persian teashop, where the passer-by halts to obtain a glass of the beverage of the country, and swops [sic] yarns by the hour with those assembled therein.
These places are most popular, as they provide protection for the passing caravan, from the raiding Kurds and tribesmen, who would soon make short work of animals and goods if the muleteers were so foolish as to camp overnight in the open. That night we met the party moving up to Kasvin and, as they pitched camp nearby, it seemed like old times once more. Many a pleasant hour was spent in yarning over past work and guessing at future operations.
Next morning we moved on once more, saying goodbye to the other fellows. Swinging off to the Zenjan Road, we were once more alone in our undertaking. The country through which we passed for the first few days was well cultivated and rich in vineyards. The hills, being more open, gave larger grazing grounds for the stock and richer soil for the husbandman. Here one had most excellent opportunities of examining the wonderful, though primitive, methods of irrigation. The system has survived for centuries, and was imported to Northern India by the Great Moguls.
Springs are located in the distant hills and then, from the low flats, holes are sunk some twenty yards apart in a line to the subterranean spring. These are then linked up by driving a tunnel from one to the other, during which operation levels are considered. When the spring is tapped, the waters flow along these subterranean courses to the village flats, There the holes are sunk shallower and shallower until the water is brought to the surface. Then open canals are cut out, following the line of the contours overlooking the cultivated plots. From the main canal smaller ones are cut, which run through the plots. By these the water is directed in sufficient quantities to irrigate the crops regulated by banking up the junction with mud, when sufficient has flowed through.
Chapter 17 - An Awkward Predicament
A few days later we were pushing along in the usual style, with the advance guard well ahead, and the main body, with the mules and camels, moving steadily in compact formation. The advance guard, at this stage, could not see more than half a mile of the road ahead, the remainder of the track being obscured from view by a ridge over which it ran. The men were in the best of spirits, and taking things very easily during the cooler hours of the march. This quietness was turned into a scene of inward, if not outward excitement, for suddenly over the ridge galloped a band of well-armed horsemen. On seeing our approach, they immediately halted and, after scanning our outfit for a few minutes, wheeled and galloped back along the road over which they had come.
Such a thing as halting could not be entertained by us until that ridge had been occupied by the advance party, who pushed off as hard as they could go to gain that position. As the remainder of us came up, we saw ahead of us a column of mules and camels, preceded by armed troops with fixed bayonets. Again there was no chance of our retirement for, with our long strings of mules and camels, it would be the height of foolishness to show our backs to this force ahead of us. After passing the word for our detachment to be prepared for eventualities and strengthening the advance guard, we moved on once more, determined to put on a bold front and accept whatever was coming our way.
The show ahead of us, though much stronger, was apparently every bit as much disturbed as we ourselves were. On the approach of the mounted men, who were doubtless the advance guard, the Commander rode up to them and, after much gesticulating, one or two mounted orderlies were sent riding back along the column giving instructions to groups here and there. We marched steadily on and, within five hundred yards of this force, we were met by the commanding officer who, in a very excited manner, began plying us right and left with such questions as, "Who are you?" "Where do you come from?" and "Where are you going?" The answers were apparently to his satisfaction and, after much bowing and scraping and shaking of hands, we moved on once more, the Commander himself insisting upon accompanying us to the other end of his column.
As we moved along we had a good opportunity of sizing the show up and seeing what was tied to the backs of the mules and camels. These animals were strung together in groups of about fifteen to twenty, and were burdened with chests, containing rifles and boxes of ammunition. Every here and there marched a small group of armed Persians, each carrying a rifle with fixed bayonet. On passing us, they gripped the butts of their rifles tighter, showing on their faces their own apprehension, for doubtless they expected to be rushed and butchered at any moment by our party. Now and then a Russian officer was passed and the usual military compliments exchanged. The native troops, on seeing that their own Russian officers were cordially received by us, cordially returned our salutes and were to some extent relieved of their anxiety. The column was so long that it took about half an hour to pass from the advance guard to the rear guard.
We afterwards heard it was a convoy of Russian rifles and ammunition, purchased from the Russians by the Shah, on the way from Tabriz to Teheran. On passing the end of that column and arriving at a hill which overlooked the whole of the road for miles, we halted. We felt much freer than when we ascended the first ridge and came in full view of this unknown party.
Chapter 18 - The City Of Zenjan
A few days later, without further mishap, we arrived at Zenjan, the capital of one of the northern provinces. Within a couple of miles of this city we were met by a British officer, who had been sent out by the commanding officer of the small party sent from Hamadan to hold this city. After a rest of an hour, during which time we ate a couple of chapatties and three or four eggs for our lunch, and smoked a couple of the vile Persian cigarettes, we moved on once more and were guided to our camping ground, situated on the slopes of a hill overlooking the city itself. We were all unanimous in voting that this party knew a camping ground, for the one selected for us was situated in an orchard through which ran a beautiful stream of fresh water.
After unloading the animals we soon erected our tents under the shade of the large fruit trees, and there rested for the remainder of the day. As we were to be here for a few days, before undertaking the march to Bijah across unknown country, we determined to put in the time in buying as much provisions in the shape of dried fruits, tea, sugar and flour, as could conveniently be carried. During the last few days of the march, some little difficulty had been experienced in obtaining sufficient rations. From reports to hand, the trip of one hundred and twenty miles which lay ahead of us, was to be made through a country stricken bare by famine and war. As no risks could be taken, the precaution of having at least quarter rations was necessary before we undertook the journey.
Early next morning small groups of the party were distributed through Zenjan in their endeavour to buy the required rations. It was at this time that Captain Hooper, our worthy quartermaster, displayed so much foresight in buying up a large supply of the necessary provisions. The trades-people of the town were soon found to be anything but well disposed towards us, and their attitude was seen to be that of passive resistance. It must be remembered that this portion of Persia is very close to the Turkish border, and the language spoken is more Turkish than Persian in character. Doubtless their sympathies would be with the Turks rather than with the Britishers. Not much difficulty was experienced in buying the stuff, but the shopkeepers themselves showed no interest in trying to conduct business with us. Nothing could be bought beyond that which was outwardly displayed in the small shops of the bazaar, and more often than not the merchant had to be asked two or three times the price of his goods.
In nearly every case, the first question met with no response, as he invariably pretended not to hear. It was while in camp here that a brother officer and myself had a remarkable experience. After having enjoyed our evening meal, we decided to fill our pipes and go for a little stroll across the open paddocks beyond the orchard. As the camp was a good mile from the city, little danger was entertained by either of us, so we decided to go out without taking the usual precaution of strapping our revolvers to our sides, and as the evening was mild, we also left our tunics behind. As we strolled aimlessly across the fields, engaged in pleasant conversation and enjoying the pleasure of a quiet pipe after the evening meal, we were quite unaware of any lurking dangers until a couple of straggling Turks rose from out of the nullah about twenty yards ahead.
Which party was the most surprised it is hard to say, but I can give you my word that neither my pal nor myself felt too happy. As in other cases, we decided to take the bull by the horns and hurry matters to a climax by rushing our pair of Turks before they had an opportunity to recover from their surprise. In a twinkling we were up to them and by signs ordered them to put their hands up. This they did without demur, and after satisfying ourselves that they were without revolvers or knives, we walked them across to the camp, feeling quite proud of being the possessors of the first captured Turks.
We took them along to our commanding officer, and after he had handed them to the interpreter, we discovered that they were Turkish deserters who had recently come down from the northern districts. They also informed us that there were many more of their comrades wandering about the country in search of the British troops, whom they heard were moving up their way, hoping to be able to surrender themselves and escape the hard work and starvation rations of their own forces. This was good news to us, knowing that we had to undertake a dangerous march through country where Turks were stationed, and we felt more happy at knowing that the opposing forces were in this demoralised condition.
Next morning we received information that there were more Turks lurking about the city, so a few of us decided on capturing these birds, but this time we made sure of having our revolvers, and a good supply of ammunition. We spent a couple of hours in exploring the bazaars without success, but were rewarded as we were about to leave the city when we ran into about twenty-five grey-coated Turks. It was soon apparent that they were not as eager to surrender as their comrades whom we captured the night before, for, on seeing us, they scattered in all directions, and we were only able to collar three of this bunch. As we stood guarding these while others of our party chased the remainder through narrow alleys, the citizens of the town gathered round about in great force, and we were subjected to their black scowls and howling threats for some five to ten minutes until the remainder of our fellows came back.
The sight of their co-religionists being captured by the hated infidel British incensed the crowd to the height of their wrath, and many attempts were made to release our prisoners. However, we kept the threatening mob at a safe distance by drawing our revolvers, and managed to get our prisoners safely out of the town.
This city, as in others of Persia, had its large percentage of starving inhabitants, and on hearing of the Turks being taken prisoner by us, and of their good treatment, many of the inhabitants determined to present themselves to our camp in the guise of Turkish deserters. For the remaining few days the busiest man in our outfit was the unfortunate interpreter, who was kept fully engaged in trying to sort out the Persian from the Turk, for the former came along and swore by Allah and the Prophet that he was a Turkish soldier in Persian disguise who had tramped miles to surrender himself to the British. One can hardly blame the deceit of these people when one knew that hundreds were dying from starvation alone.
Not only were we pestered by these pretenders, but had crowds of women hanging around the camp, squatting on the outskirts like crows on a rail waiting either for a stray morsel or for a job of work at washing clothes. Most of us availed ourselves of the opportunity of hiring their services, not that we had neglected this job, but the opportunity of having someone else to do it for us was much more acceptable than doing our own. So for a few days the good ladies were kept rather busy, and an amusing hour was spent in watching them at work.
They gathered their share of work in bundles and then made a bee line for the stream, and were soon busy with a large round tray and a piece of soap, or to be more correct, fat. The articles were first well soaked in the stream, and then soaped on the tray. A large stone was then rolled to the edge of the water and a shirt or singlet well soaped, rolled into a knot, and placed on top of the stone. A smaller one was then secured and the unfortunate piece of clothing subjected to a vigorous pounding for a few minutes. It was then soaked again and re-soaped, then again another dose of pulverisation.
While the ladies are thus employed they have but little chance of keeping the covering hood over their faces, and it is here that one has an opportunity of ascertaining their beauty. The younger women, as a rule, have pleasant, though plump faces. The dark eyes and long eyelashes doubtless being a great asset to any claim of beauty, but as they advance in years, they coarsen and are by no means attractive.
Chapter 19 - A Perilous Journey
June 14th was the day upon which we were due to leave Zenjan with orders to push across to Bijah, the capital of a neighbouring province. No maps were available and nothing was known of any roads or tracks leading across the mountains to our destination, but Hadja Baba, our muleteer, swore by Allah and all the prophets that the road was as well known to him and his men as the sacred Koran itself, so we left the task of providing guides to his gentle care.
To make our path smoother, we hired the services of a well-known citizen of Zenjan who professed friendship to the British, to act as political agent in conjunction with Major Chaldecott, the British political officer attached to our party as Intelligence officer. Fresh mules and camels were brought along, as our late muleteers, on learning that we were to push on to a hostile country, gave us the slip. The chance of bumping into a strong force of Turks did not appeal to their fancy so they cleared out under cover of darkness without collecting the balance of their wages, but being Easterners, this apparently did not trouble them in the least, for their attitude was - "Is it not better to leave a little money and praise Allah in the orthodox fashion than for our bodies to provide a repast for the vultures of the mountains? What is money? Surely Allah is good and will protect the faithful."
Fortunately we were able to obtain other mules and camels which came along to the camp at the appointed hour, and after a lot of trouble with fresh animals, we eventually loaded up. Of all the obstreperous beasts of burden the camel takes the bun, especially when he has only been handled by natives. Whether it is that we smell differently from the native or the native in his filth provides the only known perfume to the camel's nostrils, it is hard to say, but it was noticeable that, on every occasion that we took over new beasts, we had a very bad time for at least three or four days in trying to load them.
It took one all his time to keep clear of some of these vicious animals. So it will be seen that, after loading up fresh animals with their attendant troubles, the party were not in the best of tempers when they got on the high road leading out from Zenjan. A few alterations had been made in the command of our group, as the O.C., Major Starnes, D.S.O., had received orders to sketch a map of the country through which we were to pass. This meant that the whole of his time, together with the assistance of his Adjutant, would be devoted to this work, and I was lucky enough to be given command of the party as we moved across the unknown. My duties were to see that the column was on the road at the earliest possible moment after dawn, that the advance guard was well placed ahead of the column, and the rear guard in readiness to fall in behind. Besides this, the mules had to be got out in their respective groups, with the required number of men told off as convoy escort.
Before we left Zenjan we took over a section of the Wireless Corps in order to maintain communications with the other posts. On arrival at camp each night this wireless apparatus was erected, and we informed our comrades of the neighbouring posts that so far we were all right. The second day out we swung off what, with the greater stretch of imagination, might be called the main road, and travelled across country, picking up caravan tracks here and there. We were soon faced with the fact that the country was destitute of any means of providing food, for, of all the villages we passed during this march, it was a rare thing to discover one inhabitant. The nature of the country became rougher, though the view one obtained from the ridges was beyond description.
On gaining these heights one could obtain a view of from twenty to twenty-five miles of country that seemed to have been the playground of some evil genii, who had pulled great handfuls from the earth and tossed them holus-bolus in all directions, forming mountains of most fantastic formation. Not a tree could be seen, but on the lower foothills there was a plentiful supply of grass which appeared to be the background for thousands of wild flowers, growing in great profusion and vying with the rainbow for richness of colour.
Water was becoming scarcer and scarcer, for the small streams, fed with the melting snows, had long since disappeared with the advance of summer. The track zig-zagged in and out between the hundreds of small mountains, sometimes taking us down to the depths of a great valley, then over the top of an almost impassable ridge. The constant jostling and foot-propping of the mules over these rough tracks loosened the surcingles which strap the loads on the animals' backs, and before going many miles our baggage would be tumbling off in all directions. No richer flow of dinkum language could be heard elsewhere than was given expression to by the fed-up little groups in trying to re-load the gear. The muleteers we had at this stage were not the most intelligent that one could wish for, and instead of lending a hand would invariably sneak off, pretending not to see the load that had fallen off.
One of the most sterling sergeants of the party, Sergeant Murphy of Western Australia, was placed in charge of the convoy because of the large experience he had had in peaceful days, trekking with camels across the great stretches, of North- Western Australia. Murphy was one of these easy-going fellows that would take a lot to put out, but on one occasion while crossing a difficult nullah, when load after load fell off as the camels attempted to climb the steep further bank after coming down an incline, tried his temper to the utmost. He stood on the further bank and there shouted directions to the muleteers as they negotiated the bad pinch. By this time most of them had felt the weight of his boot, but one hulking Persian deigned it beneath his dignity as a cameleer to take directions from a British soldier, and tried to climb up the bank according to his own way of thinking. The result was obvious before the attempt was made, and hardly before his camels had got half way up when the first stumbled and fell back on to those behind. The result was an awful mix-up of overturned loads, and a general stampede of the free camels took place.
Nothing daunted, the native in charge, who had caused the whole trouble, adopted the usual tactics of trying to sneak away, but the watchful eye of Murphy was too quick to allow this, so collaring the fellow by the scruff of the neck, he hauled him out and told him to get busy in trying to extricate the unfortunate camels. This he did, but while Murphy was directing those coming on, he again sneaked off, but had not gone more than twenty yards when he was pounced on. He wore the national hat of Persia, which is shaped like a large beehive and stands about eighteen inches high, being made of hard, black felt.
This appealed to Murphy's eye, and after shaking the life out of him, he gave the hat a tremendous bang, forcing it down over his head to the shoulders, then wheeling him about, kicked him yard by yard back to his team. There our worthy native put in some five minutes endeavouring, with the assistance of a fellow countryman, to extricate his head, from his hat. We all voted that this guy's neck was at least two inches longer after so much tugging at the obstinate head gear.
The third day was over much easier country, as the track followed the course of a fairly wide river, but though it ran through flatter country, and this meant easier walking, it proved itself to be rather a formidable obstacle, when we had to ford it. In order to do this the mules and camels came in very to ford it. In order to do this the mules and camels came in very handy, and one after the other we scrambled on to their backs and made the crossing safely, though one or two less fortunate pals were not able to sit on top of the lurching unwieldy mounts and took a sixer into the stream below. Though most uncomfortable to themselves, their plight at least provided great amusement to those who managed to cross without mishap.
The next day’s journey led over the roughest country we had yet crossed, the track zig-zagged over spur after spur and, after doing some eighteen miles, we were faced with about a three thousand feet climb. After so much experience with our mules and camels we had discovered that the loads fall off more frequently during the first couple of stages of the march than later on when the animals seemed to be more their normal size. After gorging all night on the rich grasses of the valley, they came in the morning shaped more like balloons set on four pegs than the animals they were supposed to be and when once on the roads lessen in size, which means the loosening of surcingles and tumbling down of the loads. After sizing up the obstacle before us, we decided it would be far better for all concerned to climb that three thousand feet with the animals in their present state than when blown out, as they would surely be in the morning.
Tired and dusty as we were, we set off after a spell of half an hour, and spent about two hours in toiling up to the top of the rise. Our efforts were rewarded, in that the top of the hill was perfectly flat, forming a great tableland, and not far from the camp site a spring bubbled up from between the rocks. Water was becoming scarcer every day, and Nature, not satisfied with inflicting this upon us, went a good deal further in filling the streams with alkali which provides the fiercest thirst imaginable. If one wishes to go in for training for some function a month ahead where unlimited thirst is essential, then I would recommend a trip to the hills of North-west Persia and partake of the water of the streams thereof.
At this time we had our first sample of sickness, as several of the fellows were down with dysentery. Fortunately, on leaving Kasvin, we had attached to us an assistant-surgeon who proved to be a veritable godsend from this time onwards. The country, being deserted of inhabitants, was naturally without food. Our worthy quartermaster was at his wits' end, trying to buy up an odd sheep here and there, which very often meant him riding to some village miles off the beaten track. Owing to his foresight before leaving Zenjan, we had at least a fair supply of rice, flour, dried fruits, tea and sugar, and during this five days' trek, we would generally boil a little rice for breakfast, another lot for supper, and would consider ourselves very lucky if we were able to have meat for the evening meal. For lunch, we generally had a big drink of water and would then tighten the belt and consider that we had a fair meal.
This was all bad enough, but fortunately we were in the best of spirits and, when not always feeling satisfied in the inner man, would pass it off with a joke. So far we had gleaned no intelligence of the whereabouts of the Turks, but on the fourth day we arrived at a village on the banks of a fairly wide stream, and there were told that a Turkish convoy with ammunition, for Kuchik Khan had camped there only a few days previously, and had somehow managed to pass us without being detected. The knowledge of this by no means improved our tempers, as such a chance of bagging a catch of this description was hard to let pass.
Anyhow, Fortune did not favour us, and, even had we wished, there was no hope of catching them in the rough country over which we had passed, where they would be sheltered by so many valleys running in between the hills. Disappointed at letting the Turks pass through our fingers, but encouraged by the fact that there was only one more day's march to complete, we set off on the final stage for Bijah, and within an hour arrived at the high road leading to that city. We had travelled by this time a good one hundred miles during the five days, the whole of which time was done on short rations across roadless regions. Our only guide was a prismatic compass which, useful as it might be, is not the easiest thing to travel on through country of that description.
Fortunately we struck this main road only twenty miles north of the city, and later in the afternoon we arrived on the outskirts of the town itself, pitched camp near an outlying orchard, and prepared ourselves for a tremendous meal, for the quartermaster had obtained a good supply of mutton and rice. The people of Bijah, from the Governor down to the meanest inhabitant, were at a loss to account for our appearance in their domains. They certainly knew that a British force was around about Hamadan about a hundred miles further south, but how on earth this party of some thirty men arrived at the town from the north was a puzzle beyond their solution.
The camp had no sooner taken shape when the Governor and his wise men rode along and, after a deal of salaaming, were persuaded to dismount and have a cup of tea with the Commanding Officer. Any illusions which they might have had as to our poisoning them were soon dispelled when our worthy agent put in an appearance and made himself known as one of the reputable citizens of Zenjan, producing his credentials to prove the fact.
While this pow-wowing was going on, the wireless people were erecting their apparatus, and were soon flashing forth the message that we had arrived at our destination without mishap. Overlooking the camp was a high spur of mountains which commanded a full view of the city and the roads leading thereto, and after a short reconnaissance [sic], a piquet was posted upon this height. Thus on June i8th we arrived at our destination, after having marched a distance of about six hundred miles, through a country in parts practically, and in most parts, absolutely unknown. After leaving Kasvin no maps were available, and we had to trust our guides to lead us through a semi-and in parts wholly-hostile country in which there were known to be Turkish outposts.
Up to Kasvin we did not have a man who understood even the rudiments of medicine and, even after that, the man attached was only an assistant-surgeon. Certainly we carried our own medicines, but it is hard to guess correctly what ails one, or again what medicines to take. The gods were indeed kind as we were all comparatively well on reaching Bijah and only two or three had dropped out at Hamadan.
Chapter 20 -The Lone Outpost
At last we were in the field of our operations and in touch with the surrounding posts and headquarters at Hamadan with wireless. In order to understand exactly the whole sphere of operations and our own little efforts in regard to the whole, it is as well at this stage again to review the general situation.
At Hamadan, General Dunsterville had established his headquarters with posts here and there to the Mesopotamian force, and up as far as Kasvin. Thus the whole road, from this important town back as far as Baghdad, was in the hands of the British and, so long as we held this stretch of country, the Turks and Germans were blocked in any attempt they might make in sending convoys of ammunition or money to the dissatisfied tribes of the North-west frontier of India. In order to hold this road, it was necessary to throw out posts to the north-west, holding those which led down from Turkey to India at the most suitable places. We had established a post at Miana, a town north of Zenjan, which held the main eastern road. Ours, at Bijah, commanded the centre while another post had been thrown out from Kirmanshah to a town called Senna which commanded the western of the three roads. Thus, if the Turk moved down either of these approaches, Hamadan would be immediately notified by wireless, and the group established at the particular place would take up their position in such a manner as to be able to keep back any force, though they themselves were few in number.
To do this, great judgment had to be displayed in selecting the most commanding position where a small force could keep at bay a larger and better equipped force. This would give General Dunsterville time to move any reserve of troops or native levies to the threatened point. Thus we were able with these small posts and our wireless sections to hold the whole country, without the employment of large bodies of men.
The first thing, essential to obtain a footing in any of these posts in outlying districts was to secure the goodwill of the Governor of the Province. Early next day the C.O., with the Intelligence Officer and native agent, paid a call on our worthy Governor of Bijah, while we had a look over the town. At first we were ill-received by the inhabitants, who had had their full share of war and its attendant miseries. The Turks had been there and the Russians had driven them out, to be themselves dislodged by the Turks a little later, but the town eventually was occupied by the Russians, who held it up to the time of the Revolution. Both the Turk and the Russian had done their best to destroy or carry off all the moveable goods and the household furniture of the inhabitants, so it can be readily imagined that a fresh batch of troops of a strange nationality would not be made welcome.
The bazaars in many places had been burnt out, and the unfortunate tradesmen were still endeavouring to make some sort of a living by selling small quantities of the produce of the country. The better class of people had been entirely ruined by the war, their houses in nearly every case being destroyed by either the Turk or the Russian. To add to the miseries wrought by war, thousands of the inhabitants had died from the effects of that dread disease, cholera, or from starvation due to the famine, and on our arrival, hundreds of the survivors were on the verge of starvation.
In order to hold the place, a knowledge of the surrounding country was essential, not only for our own use, but for our Commander back at Hamadan, so after a couple of days' rest, many of us were told off to make road surveys and maps of the surrounding country. It was known that a road led back to Hamadan, but as to what condition it was in no one knew. As it was most important that this should be ascertained, in order to send up troops if necessary, a party was detailed to make a thorough reconnaissance of the road between Bijah and Hamadan. A Canadian officer, Captain Fisher, M.C., with a couple of N.C.O's were told off for this job, and Hamadan was accordingly notified.
It was known that the surrounding tribesmen were anything but friendly and though this dash through to Hamadan was a very precarious undertaking, the chance of being scuppered by the wild tribesmen did not daunt these men. They started off a few days later and rode, with only one halt, over the hundred miles stretch of road. It was welcome news to the remainder of us when our wireless station picked up the message that they had arrived safely at Hamadan.
In these reconnaissances [sic] it was not sufficient to mark down on paper the direction of the roads, but it was also essential to take note of any position that might adapt itself as a defensive position for our own use, or offensive for the use of the enemy. It was also necessary to note the quantity of grain and produce under cultivation, for the simple reason that we never knew at what time we might be cut off from our comrades further south at Hamadan and, should we remain here for the winter, it was certain that no convoys could be brought to the town owing to the snow-bound nature of the roads through the passes. So day after day small groups would be detailed to ride out through the neighbouring country in order to ascertain this information.
Chapter 21 - A Narrow Escape
As at Zenjan, the women of the city flocked to the camp in search of washing, and to see these poor creatures waiting all day in the hope of being able to earn a few coins was most pitiful. One morning I went out in search of someone to do my washing and came across a little girl of about twelve or thirteen years of age who, seeing that there was an opportunity of earning something, came along offering to do the job. I gave her the clothes and made her understand to bring them along after they were finished, which she did.
Being struck by the cleanliness of the child, for the few clothes she wore were spick and span, her face and hands clean and her hair combed, a strange contrast indeed to the condition of most of the ladies who hung round the camp. I took her to the interpreter and got him to ask her where she came from and what she was doing, and why it was necessary that she was in search of work. She immediately burst into tears and informed us that the day before she had walked in from a village seventeen miles away as the last of her family had died of cholera. She assured us that she had no relatives or friends in the world and, on hearing that there were British soldiers in the neighbourhood, she decided to come down hoping that she might be able to earn some money to buy sufficient food for herself. Feeling sure that her story was true, I decided at all events to do a little for one, who, without assistance, would die in the course of a few weeks.
I asked the interpreter if it was possible to get her into some Persian's home and by the payment of a little money obtain for her a home and food. He assured me that this could be done, so after telling, him to get busy, I told the child to wait near by for a little while. Later on, the interpreter came back and informed me he was able to place her in a home, and after interviewing the lord and master paid him something in advance to take her in at once. Everything went well for a few days and I was consoling myself with the fact that she was being well cared for, when she came to the camp, and I discovered that the good people in whose charge she was, were making a good thing out of the money I was giving them and starving her into the bargain. Feeling very much annoyed at this, I took the interpreter along to this household, and by threatening all sorts of calamities to these people, obtained from them the promise that the offence would not be repeated.
I then took to the youngster into the bazaar in order to buy her a pair of shoes as she was barefooted, and as the lady of the house promised to make her some clothes if I produced the material, I resolved to purchase some cheap cloth as well. Going from one merchant to another in the bazaar I eventually procured both boots and material, and also a few bright coloured beads which took the eye of my little lady. Being absolutely unaware of doing any wrong, I was quite naturally not displeased at the Persians as they edged closer and sized me up while completing the purchase. Feeling quite pleased with the efforts of the last couple of hours, and the little girl in high spirits at the thought of new dresses, boots and bright bead necklaces, we wended our way out once more.
Suddenly a howling mob came tearing along the bazaar in full chase as I thought of some robber or murderer. At the head of them came the Commissioner of Police, a tall fellow in the gaudiest of Russian uniforms, full of his own importance. Standing to one side to allow him to pass, I was quite surprised when he drew alongside and the whole mob surrounded us, and then the worthy Commissioner commenced talking in Persian as fast as he could let his tongue go, accompanied by the working of his arms and legs like a jack-in-the-box being operated by very fast strings. Not making head or tail out of the whole business. I made him understand that I would go with him to the Police Station and then we would send for the interpreter.
This we did, and shortly afterwards the interpreter put in an appearance, and after a lot of parleying, informed me that I had committed a breach of one of their laws which was considered to be of the utmost importance, both from a religious and civil standpoint, in that I had taken a woman of the Mahommedan [sic] faith through the bazaar of her own city in broad daylight and purchased for her clothing and ornaments! Their idea of a woman very much appealed to my sense of humour, as I could hardly class a child of some twelve years of age as being a full-grown woman of the world. This I asked the interpreter to inform the worthy Commissioner of Police. His reply was that I could consider myself the most fortunate of men as he, while walking down the bazaar, had come across the mob who had gathered themselves together in order to scupper me, but he had persuaded them to lead him to the infidel in order that he might inflict just punishment for such a crime.
I thanked him very much for his kind interference and for the fact that he had probably saved my life, but pointed out at the same time that I understood the rudiments of his religion and ours of the Western nations were much of a sameness, in that it was our duty to do what good that lay in our power. He agreed with this and assured me that he realised that my intentions were anything but what they supposed them to be, and he would thus notify the people who remained outside to hear the verdict of his decision.
I then asked him if I could send the youngster home to the people where I had arranged that she should stay. He said this was absolutely impossible, but that he as chief commissioner would take her under his care. This was all that I wanted, and I again thanked him for his courtesy, and asked him if he would give the child the goods I had purchased for her. He informed me this was impossible, as even though he could realise the spirit of the gift, yet he could not make the people believe that it was right for a lady of the Mahommedan [sic] faith to accept a gift from an infidel, but promised me if I gave him the goods he would distribute them to needy cases. So, there being no other option, things were left at that.
I saw this child on several occasions during our stay at Bijah, and ascertained that the Commissioner had not even attempted to do anything for her. Knowing it was quite useless attempting to do more myself than giving her the washing and pay her a great deal above the average wage. I had to let the affair stand at that. How she got on after we left is better not thought of. Doubtless she would share the fate of thousands of others, and after exhausting every method of obtaining food, would eventually have to go out and live on grass for a few weeks until she would die. Such was the case with thousands that we ourselves saw, so worrying about her fate as compared with that of others would be like trying to fill the ocean by throwing a glass of water overboard from a steamer.
Chapter 22 - The Daily Task
Soon after our arrival we were working in dead earnest, my particular job being road reconnaissance and map making. The road that led south to Hamadan had been hurriedly examined by Captain Fisher and his men on their risky trip, but it was essential that we should compile a more accurate and thorough map of the road for a distance of at least twenty miles from Bijah. Up till now we were without horses, but still retained our mules, the camels having been dispensed with. The mule was then employed as a mount, and having fixed rope-stirrups to the huge straw-stuffed pack-saddles, proved to be most useful, especially when crossing the rough, loose, stoney [sic] hillsides.
The map-making party usually consisted of an officer and a couple of sergeants who would move out early in the morning and return to camp late in the afternoon. The work was rather slow, as one was forced to dismount when taking a "shot" with the compass while the roads, being all turns and twists, the dismounting and mounting was pretty continuous. After much patient work, a fairly comprehensive map of the surrounding country was completed. The state of the roads and number of men required for repairing work was noted, together with a tabulated statement of the product of the country, such as stock and grain under cultivation. Creeks and rivers were marked down, offensive and defensive positions selected and noted for future use. A rough census of the inhabitants of the outlying villages was also taken and outlined in the general report.
While this work was progressing the others were working at their various tasks. One officer, assisted by a sergeant, was told off for famine relief work. A soup kitchen was established and a native buyer appointed, who purchased the required number of sheep and the quantity of greens to make a substantial stew. The members of the most deserving families were then issued with tickets by the Chief Commissioner of Police. On presenting these, they would be served with a basin of stew. Altogether about seven hundred persons received one full meal daily, free of charge, and thus we were able to save about a thousand of the inhabitants from starvation. The men were enlisted in the road gangs and set to work on road making, for which they received both food and money.
On our arrival, the Kurds had been carrying out a series of raids upon the towns of the district, and in order to prevent this, and maintain law and order in the city itself and outlying districts, a police force was raised. This took up the time of an officer and two sergeants who enlisted and drilled the men. The candidates eligible were those of good repute, who owned a rifle and had a supply of fifty rounds of ammunition. Altogether about fifty were chosen who were given white arm-bands, with D.P. (District Police) in black cloth sewn on them. The people, not knowing what characters these were, treated the members of the force with respect and fear. When they were knocked into some sort of shape, they were told off to patrol the bazaars and guard our quarters, thus releasing the sergeants for other more important duties.
By this time we had sized the Persians up as being useless material for troops, and as it was most essential that we should raise a force of sufficient strength to maintain our positions in these outback posts, to be prepared to move North towards the Caucasus, more suitable material had to be sought for our army. As the Kurds were always scrapping for loot, we turned our attention to this source of supply. The Sirdar, who rules these tribesmen, resided in Bijah but unfortunately he and the Governor, being a Persian, were not by any means friendly. The Kurd looks upon the Persian as a degenerate race, lacking the stamina of manhood, while the Persian looks upon the Kurds as an illiterate and lawless crowd who live by plunder alone.
As to which was the better type of the two we very soon decided. Negotiations were commenced with the Sirdar to enrol a force under our flag, but the Governor, at the time of our arrival, who was at his wits' end as to how he should cope with the raids of the Kurds on his villages, and was expecting a raid in force upon his capital itself, applied for our assistance in putting down this lawlessness and terror. We were anxious to protect the citizens, but at the same time were desirous of raising a Kurdish force for operations further North. So, in order to assist the people and still keep the Kurds on our side, a great deal of tact was necessary. All credit is due to Major Starnes and Major Chaildecott for their tactful negotiations with both parties. Lawlessness was suppressed within the city and protection afforded to, the near villages by the policing of these areas by our District Police, relief to the starving inhabitants being afforded by our famine work.
Chapter 23 – We go into Billets
We spent about a fortnight under canvas in the camp near the orchard on the outskirts of the city. By this time we felt pretty sure that conditions were much safer, and that our grip upon the Governor and the head men of the city was secure enough to warrant our taking over a house in the city, thus living in more comfort than the camp could afford. At this time of the year, with the advance of summer, the roads becoming dry, the dust accumulating in the valleys, meant that when the slightest winds blew the dust would be whirled throughout the camp and life made anything but pleasing. One morning I received orders from the C.O. to look round the city and obtain, if possible, a house on the further side of the city, in order that we could obtain water for cooking purposes before it flowed through any of the houses.
So in company with a sergeant I set off on the job. We spent about an hour or so riding around the outskirts, and decided to have a look at a house which we thought would suit our requirements. All the better class of houses in any Persian city are surrounded by high mud walls, the only entrance being through the heavy doors which are always locked.. After knocking for some time at the gate of this particular courtyard we were greeted by the voice of a woman from within, who inquired our business. We did our best to explain, but this apparently only added to her fright, for she rushed back to the house, screaming at the top of her voice. After a lot of yabbering, she brought her worthy master to interrogate us.
He asked for explanations. We tried to tell him that we were seeking a house and wished to negotiate with him for the rental of this particular place. Doubtless this man had previous experience of other strangers requisitioning what they required, and thinking, if he refused us admittance, he would be treated in the same manner by us as the Russian and Turkish officers had treated the inhabitants during their, occupation of the city. So with much fear and trembling he unbolted the gate and invited us inside, and after shouting commands to his woman folk to make themselves scarce, he commenced showing us round the building.
After making a thorough survey of the place, he invited us to have tea, and to all appearances was on the verge of a nervous collapse, but, after drinking tea and sharing our cigarettes, he was apparently satisfied that the English fellows were not so bad after all. We then hastened back to camp and made our report to Major Starnes, but in the meantime the Sirdar had offered us the use of one of his houses near the one we had inspected. This was much larger and more adaptable to our use on account of its higher walls round the courtyard, which overlooked the open spaces on that side of the city, also commanded the Governor's residence-a point not to be despised in the event of his treachery. Next day the C.O. and a few officers inspected the place and resolved that this should be our home during our stay in Bijah, although it required a great deal of work before it would become habitable.
Captain Scott-Olsen, an Australian officer, was told to collect the required number of workmen and the necessary material, and within a fortnight had cleared all the refuse from the yard and buildings, blocked up the holes in the roof and walls, white, washed the place throughout and made it ready for our occupation. On the 1st July we shifted from the camp to our new quarters and after a bath felt much more comfortable in the spacious rooms than in the cramped 40-Pounder tents of the camp. The house itself contained seventeen rooms, nine of which were on the ground floor, and eight above, with a large Persian bathroom built on one wing. Close to the mud walls of the courtyard were erected spacious stables. A smaller building at the back was converted into a cook house, and in another building within the yard we built an oven to bake our bread.
One of the fellows, a Scottish sergeant, was a baker in more peaceful times, and he superintended the erection of the oven, and after many experiments made some sour dough which was to take the place of yeast. The Quartermaster during this time was buying up large supplies of wheat, and had made arrangements with a native miller to grind the grain into a coarse flour. The wheat was brought in from the outlying districts on mules and donkeys and placed in one of the store rooms of our new home. Several women were employed in cleaning the grain.
The Persian has no scruples about how he produces his goods, such a thing as a "Pure Foods Act" being unheard of. A common practice was to mix six to eight pounds of small stones with the wheat in order to add to its weight, for all goods are sold according to weight, not quantity. Thus when a large stock of grain is purchased, the dealer obtains a certain amount of payment for pebbles. The good ladies would commence work about 7 o'clock in the morning, bringing with them their trays, and, after sifting the grain, would then gather it into the trays and by deft movements throw it into the air, allowing the breeze to blow away the dust and chaff. They would then wash the grain, re-bag it ready for the, miller, who a few days later would return with a couple of bags of rough flour in which the bran and pollard still remained. Although it turned out brownish bread, it was nevertheless wholesome, and much more acceptable than the vile chupatties of the East.
We then hired the services of a cook, and after going through a dozen applicants, engaged a native who claimed to have been at one time in the Shah's household, but before starting, this chap laid before us his demands, which not only included cooking utensils, etc.. but a supply of clothing to make him respectable enough to be a worthy cook of the English Sahibs.
Chapter 24 - We Give A Dinner
Negotiations were still proceeding with the Governor of the Province and the Sirdar who controlled the Kurds, who were the leaders of distinct parties, opposed one to the other. In order to overcome this bad feeling that existed between the two factions we resolved to give a dinner, to which the leading men of both would be invited. The Sirdar lived in a house near by, and the Governor's residence was close at hand. After the invitations had been sent out, the Sirdar came along and promised to help us in placing the dishes of the country on the table. This offer we gladly accepted, for, except for Major Chaildecott, most of us were quite ignorant of the customs of the better class of natives.
The fashion is to commence dinner about 10 o'clock in the evening and feast, with intervals between until about 4 a.m. the following morning. On the night appointed all came dressed in their best to partake of our hospitality and to listen to our speeches, and make their various responses. The Sirdar informed us that, on account of Englishmen eating from tables, he thought the guests would prefer to adopt our custom instead of squatting on the floor as was their usual custom. We had a large table and two forms in our mess which was laden with the good things, and that evening, many of the leading notables put in five or six hours in the uncomfortable position of sitting on a form and eating from a table. Nevertheless they deemed it an honour and thought it an opportunity to show Britishers that they were as much at home with our customs as with their own.
Everything went on smoothly until about 1 a.m., when Major Chaildecott, who spoke the Persian tongue fluently, delivered a speech in which he outlined our policy, informing them that we were always prepared to pay for anything we required, also mentioning the wages we were prepared to pay the men who would form the police force and the small army that we contemplated raising. He asked for their co-operation and pointed out that if this was given, the result would be the prevention of the Kurdish raids, the opening up of roads, the uplifting of trade and commerce in the surrounding district due to the safety which we would secure for the inhabitants.
The Governor was the first to respond and he was most emphatic in his statements that he would help us to the best of his ability, because he saw that we would protect the whole country and that the result of such a policy would be a revival of trade throughout the land. He assured us that all grievances between him and the Sirdar, so far as he was concerned, would be forgotten in their efforts to work together for the common good of the people. The Sirdar was next to respond and in eloquent language stated that nothing would give him more pleasure than to throw in his lot with us and work side by side "with his brother the Governor." The Commissioner of the Police, the Director of the telegraph service, Director of the postal service, and others spoke in the same strain, and apparently the efforts of the evening were full of good promises for our future work.
The Persian, particularly the better class, have appetites second only to the lion, and from all appearances have but one meal a day, which is partaken in the evening, when at least six hours are devoted to eating. After the speeches they had apparently recovered from their exertions of the first attack on the food and were ready for more. The table by this time was becoming empty; further supplies were ordered, but we were informed by the Sirdar that the stock was almost exhausted. In order to keep things going, a Canadian officer, remembering that he had received a supply of Virginian cigarettes in the last mail, suggested that these might be produced. His suggestion was readily carried out, though he bitterly regretted the move next morning, for our worthy visitors appeared to relish the cigarettes beyond anything else that could be offered, and smoked one after the other at such a furious rate that before long his priceless stock had gone in smoke.
We afterwards discovered that the Sirdar was not so ready to help us in procuring the food for the feast as he was willing to take advantage of an opportunity to give his opponents a rebuff and purposely cut out many articles on the menu in order to carry out his designs. A few days later, we also noticed that each party was arranging little meetings on their own. The Governor, who paid frequent visits to us, was always keen on telling us to beware of the Sirdar, and the Sirdar's spies, noting that the Governor was continually visiting us, informed their master who made a point of stealing round a few minutes after the Governor's departure and, in a very confidential manner, would tell us to beware of the Governor and his gang.
Each of them, in running down the other, would point out the advantages of throwing the other fellow over and accepting their own services in preference. Knowing what money will do in Persia, we determined to get at the bottom of the two parties, who, when brought together in our presence would be as sweet as honey to each other, yet would go without sleep in order to meet us during the small hours of the morning in their zeal to point out the traitorous nature of the other side.
Eventually we got hold of the Director of the Telegraphs, who was on the Governor's side, and gave him a good present of money, one of the Sirdar's followers being treated in a similar manner. The Governor's man would visit us during the early hours of certain days of the week and then lay before us copies of the telegrams he had received, and the originals of those despatched during the day, and place before us his report of the doings at the Governor's secret meetings. The Sirdar's man for his part would lay before us his reports of the Sirdar's secret doings. We soon saw that both parties were out to obtain all the money they could get, and were quite willing to turn traitors to our cause if better offers were forthcoming.
We were still striving to get the Sirdar on our side to raise forces from the wild tribesmen whom he controlled, and he told us he thought a certain sum sufficient to induce them to join our colours. A few days: later he stated that it would have to be doubled, and proposed that the C.O. and Major Chaildecott should pay a visit to the high priest, who lived in a village some miles away. This was done and the priest informed us if he received a present he could induce the tribesmen to join our cause. After testing the promises of both the Governor and the Sirdar, we soon realised that they would join us, but when face to face with the Turks would probably massacre the officers and men who led them, and join their fellow-religionists.
Therefore, we determined to work more or less on our own and raise a police force in the city, and strengthen and extend our powers by establishing posts in the village throughout the district.
Chapter 25 - The Outstations
Captain Kay, of the Imperial Army, with the assistance of two sergeants, knocked into shape some fifty police for duty in and around the city. After about four or five weeks of patient work he infused some sort of discipline and knowledge into the better class of men whom he had gathered into his force. Captain Wilson, who went by the nickname of "Diddler," was despatched to an outlying village, and, with the help of a New Zealand sergeant, commenced work in trying to raise a smaller force. Wilson was a man who had spent a number of years in Central Africa and was at that time about fifty years of age and, though a mere handful to look at, had the heart of a lion. On the outbreak of war, he had been given three years' leave of absence from Central Africa in order to re-establish his health but, being an old soldier, decided to spend the time in fighting the Hun rather than in taking things easy in England.
During the years he had spent in Africa he had suffered from every known form of fever, and had once been attacked by "black water fever." After many attempts to join the Army he was eventually accepted for service and fought for some time with our forces in Palestine, distinguishing himself to such an extent to be chosen for this expedition. After negotiating with the Governor of the place (for every village in Persia sports a Governor), he obtained the use of a house for himself, which was large enough to accomodate [sic] the twenty-five police that he hoped to raise. After more negotiations, he obtained the required number of men, and both he and the sergeant were working long hours each day, in knocking their little army into some sort of shape. They were given white arm bands with the black letters "D.P." sewn on, and obtained the same respect and fear from the inhabitants of the village as the police of Bijah received from the citizens of the capital.
The Kurds had gone further afield to carry out their raids and so far had not molested any of the villages near the city. Having carried all the stock and goods from the bazaars of the towns and villages further away, they resolved upon coming back to their favourite hunting ground of Bijah and the surrounding district. They obtained information that there were only two British soldiers in this outstation and knowing full well the worthlessness of the Persians as fighters they decided upon attacking this village, the object no doubt being to see how far the British would go in stopping their maraudings. A note was sent by the Kurdish chief to the Governor of this village, notifying him that at a certain time on a certain day he would raid the place.
The Governor immediately rushed to Wilson's quarters and for about five minutes nothing could be got out of him on account of his nervous excitement. After being calmed, he informed Wilson of the contents of the letter. Wilson asked him if he thought the Kurds were in earnest and really intended attacking the village. The Governor stated that he had no doubt whatever of the genuineness of the note, and that they fully intended to attack as they had stated. Wilson then asked him what he proposed doing. The Governor replied “I cannot do anything. I am helpless, but I rely upon you to protect me and the people of the village." Wilson then asked him if he thought the district police would fight.
The Governor stated that in his opinion they would fight if led by their British leader. So Wilson comforted him with the fact that he would lead them against the Kurds and give them more than they were looking for, if they attempted any of their raiding in his little domain. That night Wilson rode into Bijah and informed the C.O. of the events that were likely to happen out his way, and asked if Bijah could spare any reinforcements to aid him in his little fight. Major Starnes at that time had all his small forces employed on various jobs and if anybody was taken away, it would mean the easing up of the work in one particular direction and the hampering of the others in their various tasks, as each part of the work dovetailed into the other.
One sergeant was all that could be spared at this time, and he was handed over to "Diddler" to reinforce the remainder of his white army - which consisted of one other sergeant! Wilson stated that he was entirely satisfied with this addition to his force and was quite confident that he would give the Kurds a little bit of "hurry up." So after the sergeant had collected his gear and saddled his horse, they started for their sphere of operations. The eventful morning arrived and the entire village was perched upon the flat roofs of their houses on the look out for the expected Kurds. A little before the stated hour of their attack, they were seen riding along through the valley towards the village. "Diddler" had all his men ready for the attack and, on sighting the enemy, got them into the most favourable positions, where he might intercept and attack them to the greatest advantage.
The Kurds came riding along and when within range were greeted with a volley from the district police. They immediately scattered and closed in on the village from the heights. “Diddler” advanced his troops, and the main body of the Kurds commenced to retire with our forces on their heels. Now and then the Kurds would put up a stand and open fire from a long range, but as our fellows advanced they galloped back to other positions.
As the fight progressed, one by one our worthy police bolted, taking advantage of any broken country to scurry away out of danger. After fighting. for six or eight hours, and chasing the Kurds some twenty miles, "Diddler" discovered that the only forces he commanded were the two sergeants and about four native police, one of whom was killed. The only loss on the Kurdish side that he was sure of was a magnificent white Arab charger, ridden by their leader. The men themselves, as far as he could see, were without any serious casualties owing to the fact that they took care to keep a good distance between themselves and "Diddler." Feeling sure that he chastised the Kurds to the fullest extent and had given them a lesson, which would prevent any recurrence of raiding on their part, he decided to come back to the village. On arrival there he discovered that the Kurd was the shrewdest of all fighters, and the force that had first attacked him, though the larger, was merely a decoy to trick his men further away from the village, while the smaller force swung round through one of the outer valleys and during his absence had carried off all the stock.
The Governor, with a crowd of his followers rode along to break the news to Wilson, who was in high spirits, believing that he had defeated the Kurds and wondering how he would word his report to emphasise the fact that he had pushed the enemy well back into Kurdistan. Next morning the Governor received a communication from the Kurds, being nothing more than a bill, stating the amount claimed for their leader's horse, which was killed in action! This was brought round to Wilson, who asked the Governor what he intended doing about the matter, and was informed that the villagers would pay the amount.
Wilson remonstrated with him and told him that instead of paying for the dead nag he ought to go out with his men and kill all their bally horses. This the Governor could not understand. He explained that such a debt was a debt of honor, and that it was the unwritten law to pay for any animals killed in action on either side, and, before Allah, it must be done.
Rave as he would, Wilson could not alter the old man's decision, and sure enough the money was collected and despatched to the Kurds. Wilson wanted to know how much would be paid to the widow of the man who was killed in the fight? He was informed that such was war, there being no payments in the event of a man being killed or wounded! Later on, arrangements were made through Major Starnes to buy this good woman a little plot of ground and sufficient stock to ensure her a livelihood in the future.
Even though nothing came in the way of help from the village chiefs, we showed the people that the British looked after those who proved faithful to their cause. Evidently the Kurds had received their lesson, though their cunning had proved too much for us in this our first fight. From that day no other attempt to raid any of the villages or towns occupied by us was made until just before we left some months later, when we prepared ourselves for any ruses and gave the Kurds such a bad time that it had the effect of stopping their little game.
Chapter 26 - Trade Flourishes
Before leaving England, we had taken from London drafts for the money we required for our operations in Persia and the Caucasus, to be drawn on the Imperial Bank of Persia. At that time we had no conception of the dreadful ravages of the famine, nor did we know of the immense amount of work required in making new roads and repairing the older ones. Before very long it could be plainly seen that our resources would soon come to an end if something was not done to replenish our supply. To raise funds, we decided upon a blockade system, charging a small duty on all goods that were imported to and exported from any of the cities that we held.
Captain O'Brien, an Australian, was detailed at Hamadan by General Dunsterville to act as Blockade Officer. He selected for his headquarters a caravanserai near a large vacant allotment, admirably suited for a loading and inspecting place, where all goods would be checked. Examining posts, manned with Persian recruits, under British officers and N.C.O's were established at intervals along the main roads. The Imperial Bank of Persia was asked to assist in representing the Persians. Records were kept of all goods received and forwarded, one copy being sent to Headquarters and another to the Bank. Posts had already been established throughout the most dangerous parts of the country in order to protect the lines of communication. Then the roads were repaired and made safe, and the merchants eager and willing to conduct business.
Permits were issued by the various posts permitting the merchant to export his goods. One copy was kept by the officer or N.C.O. in charge, while the other was forwarded by despatch rider to the destination of the convoy, generally reaching there long before the goods arrived, where they were checked by the Commander of the post or by the British Consul residing in the town. It was not necessary that the merchant should be known at the Bank, but, before a permit was issued, some merchant, whose name appeared on the Bank's books, signed as a guarantor of the goods. This was done to prevent any leakage to the enemy.
During our occupation, trade increased by leaps and bounds, the second month showing an increase of fifty per cent. over the first. There was only one case where the merchant endeavoured to trick us. Besides collecting the small duty, we inserted in the agreement a clause which gave us the right to purchase a tenth part of any convoy at cost price. Thus we were in a position to keep down prices in the purchase of our own goods. Owing to the great revival of trade, prices immediately dropped, and the poorer inhabitants had a chance of buying the necessaries of life at a reasonable price.
In replenishing our treasury, we were enabled to relieve the distress of the Persians themselves by reducing the prices and helping the merchant in his endeavours to build up his business which had been so badly hit during the war. At no other time in their memory of trading had they had such good roads over which to bring their caravans, or did they know at any time in the past what it was to travel through the country without the fear of being raided. The whole populace were loud in their cries in our favor. I have mentioned before that one particular class, the democrats, were not at all keen on our methods, and were riled because we provided the starving poor with free food.
Now that relief was being extended, owing to the effects of our blockade system, these democrats, generally the leading citizens of the place who obtained their appointment from the Government at Teheran, actively worked against us, both in an open and in an underhand manner whenever they got an opportunity. They commenced a crusade amongst themselves, hoping to extend it to the lower classes, by stating that we were simply there endeavouring to get in the thin edge of the wedge in order that we might take over the country as a province of the British Empire.
The most notorious leaders against us were put under arrest and, in some cases, sent back to Mesopotamia as prisoners of war, with a view of giving a lesson and warning to the other members of their fraternity. This had the desired effect, and little trouble was experienced in the future. In conclusion, it might be worth while quoting the opinion of the merchants themselves as stated by their representative in a report, who said: "Our merchants are very keen on getting their consignments of goods from Baghdad before the winter months, and now that we know the road is safe, we can go straight ahead with our consignments. Before the British came here we lost heavily from the brigands looting our convoys on the route, but, thanks to the British methods, this is now a thing of the past."
As soon as the road from Baghdad was constructed and improved, General Dunsterville brought up a Ghurkii Battalion, who, assisted by two armoured cars, completely defeated the Mhutchik Khan forces, who blocked the road between Kasvin and the Caspian. The Ghurkis never had such a day in all their lives. The cars drove the tribesmen from out of the towns into the open where the Ghurkis quickly got to work with their long knives. Khutchik Khan was captured and brought to Dunsterville, who saw in him a possible ally if properly approached. Inviting him to his quarters, they lunched together. Before the meal was completed, Kutchik was much impressed with General Dunsterville, and the latter, when he had obtained the confidence of Khutchik, said: "Now look here, Khutchik, don't you think that we would make better friends than enemies?" Khutchik agreed, with the result that he was, appointed Chief Supply Officer in the District.
From then onwards, Khutchik was the most loyal of all our allies and owing to his position was of great service in obtaining supplies for the troops and horses. This is but another example of Dunsterville's farsightedness. Had he sent Khutchik Khan back to India as a prisoner of war, little would have been gained, but, by winning him to our side, much was accomplished in that supplies were at hand for the force about to embark for Baku.
Chapter 27 - A Murmur from the North
For some time past Headquarters had an idea that there was a large body of Assyrians and Armenians cut off somewhere up north, who were still fighting the Turks. Later on this was confirmed, and we were told that a large body of Assyrians were hemmed in round the city of Urmiah on the edge of the lake of the same name. A great number of Armenians from the vicinity of Lake Van, together with the Christian mountaineers from the surrounding countries, had fallen back, and with the Assyrians had been fighting the Turks round Urmiah for the last six months. On receipt of this news, General Dunsterville got an aeroplane up from Baghdad to Miana, a post north of Zenjan, the most northern post held by our forces. After overhauling the machine and obtaining a plentiful supply of oil, the airman flew across to Urmiah with "Stalky's" message to these people.
The plane encircled the city in search of a favourable landing ground, and on deciding on a spot, descended. The people, not having seen one of our machines before, mistook it for an enemy plane, and immediately opened up a heavy rifle fire. On seeing the plane descending, they thought that they had captured their first Turkish plane. The airman, on reaching ground, alighted from his machine, and was immediately surrounded by Armenian and Assyrian troops. He asked if anyone spoke English and there being one present who could, he told these people that he was not an enemy, but a friend sent to ascertain their position and requirements. He was then taken to the house of the Commander-in-chief, Agha Petros, who spoke English fluently. Our man then handed over his despatches wherein the General stated to what extent he was prepared to help, and requiring from the Chief the number and disposition of his troops and exactly what were his requirements.
The news of his arrival soon spread, and for a couple of days all the bigger people rushed him with invitations to the various entertainments held in his honor. In these countries the British soldier wears the lightest of clothing, his trousers being replaced by "shorts," which showed bare knees and much of the leg. The people, not having seen a man wearing trousers with legs only about six inches long, thought that the poor fellow was in a frightful plight and had completely run out of all his clothing and was endeavouring to make both ends meet by cutting off the ragged ends of his trousers. The day before he was to leave a deputation of the women folk called on the Commander-in-Chief and craved permission to present to the hero a pair of trousers as a mark of their appreciation for his gallant flight, which brought them the glad tidings that the British would help. It took a great deal of persuasion before they could be made to believe that his shorts were the full regulation size, according to that laid down for the uniform of British troops in tropical countries. After soothing these good ladies' feelings and thanking them for their kind considerations, he received the Commander-in-Chief's reply, examined his machine, and once more took to the air, flying direct to Hamadan, where he placed the reports in the hands of General Dunsterville.
Chapter 28 - New Arrivals
The General's offer of officers and N.C.O's, together with a supply of machine guns, ammunition and money being accepted by the Christians, machinery to carry out the job was at once got moving, and gradually new arrivals put in their appearance at Bijah, the first being Major Moore and Captain Reid, both of the General Staff at Baghdad. They had been touring throughout the north of Persia for the last six months, gathering what information they could in order to help our forces in that far off field. Major Moore spoke several languages fluently, one of which was Persian. Knowing too, the manners and customs of the country he was able to gather a vast amount of information. Captain Reid had, in pre-war days, spent a number of years with the Assyrians, having been sent out their as the political adviser on a missionary staff. When the move forward was contemplated, he was ordered to Bijah in order to take over the political side of the work.
Major Moore, thinking it would be an opportunity of gaining more knowledge among the hostile tribes of North-West Persia, took advantage of the chance to continue his labours under the protection of our escort. Two troops of cavalry were then ordered to move forward to Bijah and in due course they put in an appearance, camping in the open paddocks near our billet. Supplies of grain for the horses were at once gathered, and very shortly all was in readiness for the move forward.. The nature of the expedition was kept an entire secret, not one of us knowing exactly what was in the wind, nor what was the strength of the party that would move ahead. Later on I got an inkling that I would be in charge of this expedition on account of being second in command of our post. As we were on the main road that leads to Lake Urmiah it was considered probable that the party would be from our post. This was realised, for on the 17th July the following order was given me with instructions that more would be issued later on. Capt. S. G. Savige, M.C. You will be in charge of the party detailed hereunder proceeding with Major Moore. Capt. S. G. Savige, M.C., 24th Battalion, A.I.F. L. Crawley-Boevey, Yorkshire Regiment R. L. Kay, M.C., 12th Cheshires E. G. Scott-Olsen, 55th Battalion, A.I.F. R. K. Nichol, M.C., Wellington Regiment, N.Z.E.F D. Wilson, 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers11/971 Sgt. L. Barrell, M.M., Wellington Regiment, N.Z.E.F 12/3449 F. Brophy, Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F 33/58 H.G.Tollan, Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F 1764 B. F. Murphy, D.C.M., 28th Battalion, A.I.F. 5446 A. G. France, 6th Lancers C2685i J. Abrahams, R.W. Kents 26824 W. G. Beevis, 2/ Norfolk Regiment 265279 A. H. N. Todman, 1/9 Middlesex 75341 R. Casey, 29th Canadian Bn. 64214:1 W. T. Brophy, 75th Canadian Battalion 26,5159 A. W. H. Place, 1/9 Middlesex 225091 D. Cameron, 10th Lovat Scouts Btn. (Cameron High.) 417 C. T. Wallace, 38th Battalion, A.I.F. 165665 Pte. H. C. Southgate, R.E. Sigs. (Batman Capt. Scott-Olsen) 30500 B. N. Lake, 4th S.W.B. (Batman Capt. Savige) 31118 A. Smithson, 2nd Norfolks (Batman Capt. Kay) 2. Instructions as to time of departure, transport, etc. will be notified later. 3. You will draw from the Q.M. sufficient ammunition to make up to 200 (two hundred) rounds per N.C.O. and O/R. J. Seddon, Capt. A/Adit. Included in above: 34906 Sgt. A. Nimmo, Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F 2C6 H. G. Smith, 40th Battalion, A.I.F.
J. Seddon, Capt. A/Adjt.
The order itself appeared to be most meagre, and naturally I wanted fuller particulars as to where we had to go, and what we were expected to do, but was again told that special instructions had been received from Hamadan that no details were to be given until well out on the march. On the evening before departing, I was asked to check over the boxes containing £45,000 in Persian silver, 12 Lewis machine guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition, for which I gave receipts. Each officer was given a horse which cost about £40, in reality only worth £8 in any civilised country. The N.C.O's were to ride mules which were still retained on the hire system, which were to be handed over to the Cavalry for return to Bijah on our joining forces and proceeding further north with the Christians.
Chapter 29 - Northward Bound
We were timed to leave Bijah at five o'clock on the morning of July 19th and at the first streak of dawn, the compound presented a sight of great activity. Gear was being collected and tied into bundles, the money in the boxes carried to the gateway, together with the cases containing the machine guns and ammunition. Horses and mules were being saddled and fed while others were assembled and loaded with our baggage, money, guns and ammunition. After a busy couple of hours everything was in readiness to move. After many handshakes and best wishes from those remaining, the column swung out on to the roadway. Only one troop of cavalry was to proceed with us, and these troops at once took over the protection of the column by throwing out an advance guard, placing a baggage guard and leaving a rear guard to follow on.
This was about the longest column we had yet seen, as it required one animal to every two boxes of ammunition and money, and others required to carry the grain, baggage and rations for the cavalry and ourselves. The first few miles out was fairly easy country but at midday we were once again in the heart of the mountains where the track which led north was hardly distinguishable from the hundreds of other caravan tracks that branched off in every direction. Having a good guide, not much difficulty was experienced in keeping on the right track which led up and down over almost impassable ridges, dropping in one place into a valley through which a wide and swift stream flowed, luckily for us was fordable. A fair amount of difficulty was experienced in negotiating the stream, on account of the rocky nature of its bottom, and on gaining the further bank we halted for an hour, during which time we partook of our midday meal.
That night we camped on a plateau on the top of a small hill, overlooking the village of Ponja, ruled by a chief whom we had met on the roads some hours before. This was considered to be a hostile locality, but fortunately the chieftain was extremely friendly to us, on account of our assistant-surgeon looking after him when he damaged his country during which time he had acted as McLean's guide. Mac was a typical Canadian, and besides teaching this young hopeful a few words such as roads, creek, house, horse, etc., had added to his vocabulary some choice Canadian swear words. The youth, being quite proud of the fact that he understood English, would rattle off a string of words, both fair and foul, much to our amusement. He was quite emphatic on the point hand a few weeks before. He assured us that no danger would befall any of our party while passing through his territory. Nevertheless the usual precautions were taken, as we had learnt by this time that a Persian's word goes for naught.
We set off shortly after dawn next morning and on passing another village a young Persian, the son of the priest with whom we were negotiating for troops, joined the column and informed us that his greatest friend was Capt. McLean, a member of our hundred thousand rounds of ammunition to carry on for the time being. Our contract was to reach a town named Sain Kala, while his was to break through the Turkish forces south of the Lake and join us at the same town on a certain date Bijah party, who had ridden into a portion of his father's that he was a friend of the great English and offered to ride with us that day, in case any robber bands attacked the column, which he could overcome on account of being the son of the High Priest. This proffered help we accepted, as we did not want to get into any fights and waste our ammunition unnecessarily. That night we camped on the high ground overlooking the village of Kizil -Bulahk, and on that evening the objects of the expedition were unfolded to me.
Agha Petros, the Leader of the people whom we were going to help, had accepted General Dunsterville's offer to send a few officers and N.C.O's to organise, train and lead his army, a political officer to help him in his government, together with £45,000, twelve machine guns, and one. The cavalry were to escort my party to Sain Kala and, after our junction with the other forces, their orders were to return to Bijah. Our duty on arrival at Urmiah was to organise immediately this irregular army and endeavour, if possible, to keep the southern road open in order that we could be reinforced later on. Such a proposition for adventure was altogether to our liking, and the others on being told of the proposition were full of spirits at the prospects ahead.
Realising that at last we were on a big job, and seeing that the irregular forces were fifteen thousand strong, all of whom were armed and that also they had a few field pieces and some armed boats on the Lake, the hope of doing big things ran high.
Captain Reid and I immediately set to work in drafting plans for our first dispositions. An officer and a couple of sergeants were to hold a town on the western road at a point where others joined it before running through the passes. By doing this it was hoped that they, with one hundred Assyrians and Armenians, could fortify these passes to such an extent that they would be able to hold up any enemy reinforcements from Turkey.
The junction of several other roads with the main highway to Tabriz on the east was to be held in a similar fashion. The town of Suj-Bulalik on the main road itself was to be held as an intermediate post where Captain Kingscote, our Intelligence Officer, was to be installed in order to be in touch with the flank posts, the city of Urmiah, and our headquarters at Bijah. This town was the central place from which the telegraph lines ran out and was specially adapted, under the circumstances, for its proposed use. Captain Scott-Olsen, an Australian, was to move ahead and, being a sea-faring man, was to take over the fleet on the Lake. Captain Kay and Captain D. Wilson, Imperial Officers, were to move forward and assist me in Urmiah while Captain Crawley-Bovey and Captain Nicol were to take charge, the former of the Western post, the latter of the Eastern.
The next town of importance was Takan-Tepe, which is the best laid out town in North-West Persia. Some Governor of the past had evidently visited Europe, and being impressed with the beauty of avenues of trees placed along the road, had beautified his town by planting along the roads leading thereto, avenues of poplars. We were timed to be in Sain Kala on the 23rd, and as this town was about fifty miles from Takan-Tepe, the journey of the next couple of days had to be by forced marches. The first was to San jud, a distance of twenty-eight miles over extremely rough country, and on July 23rd we arrived at Sain Kala, our destination.
Chapter 30 - Disappointment
On arrival at our rendezvous there was no sign of the people whom we were to meet, even although we were a day late. It was decided to wait a few days in the hope that they might come along. As in other places, the first thing necessary was the bribing of the telegraph operator, who, on receipt of a gift of money, was instructed to bring along to us, each day, copies of all the telegrams received and the originals of those sent by him. Thus we soon ascertained that nothing was known of our movements, nor had any word been mentioned of a move on the part of our friends from the north. The people of the town were extremely hostile, and in many instances closed up their places of business in the bazaars. In order to obtain supplies of grain and food, the threat of commandeering our requirements was necessary before we could buy anything at all. Seeing that we were quite in earnest in what we said, the inhabitants considered it was much more profitable to bring. along the goods we ordered, and obtain the prices they themselves would fix, rather than have their goods commandeered and be paid the prevalent prices of the more southern cities.
The Governor paid us a visit early next morning and assured us of his friendship and hospitality, but on going through the telegrams that night we discovered that he had informed the Turks that there was a force of about seven hundred British troops, whereas there were not more than one hundred at the outside. In reporting, the Governor was prone to the usual exaggerations of his countrymen and, posing as a strong man able to keep in hand such a big force, exaggerated his report by six hundred per cent.
The Turkish Commander's reply, couched in the usual glowing and fantastic language of the East, was to the effect that if the Governor would keep an eye on us for a few days, he would advance with his gallant troops, and show the world how the troops of Allah could smash the infidel troops of England.
On the 25th there was still, no sign, nor any word of the movements of the Assyrians and Armenians. As the grain for the horses was running short and there was little chance of replenishing our stock, the Colonel in charge of the cavalry, being the senior officer, decided to return to Bijah on the following day. Such a decision was keenly disappointing to those of us who were to move forward to Lake Urmiah, and after consulting one another, we put up a proposal that we would supply a patrol who would volunteer to push ahead and obtain some news of the people whom we were to meet. The hostility of the country and its lack of supplies was considered to be sufficient reason for knocking out this proposition. We showed both the Colonel and the Major that the idea could be carried out by travelling along the banks of the stream, which passed Sain Kala and flowed into the Lake, and by travelling all night with the stream as a guide there would be little risk of being caught, and as for supplies, we had the men who were prepared to do the job, if need be, on dry rice and water.
This was considered to be impracticable and, being soldiers, we had to obey orders, and leave next day with hearts full of disappointment, and trek back again over the road to Bijah. Although foiled for the time we reckoned there must be some way out of the difficulty. In the upward journey as we passed through Takan Tepe, we noticed that the people, who belonged to a particular tribe named the Afsharis, were the finest stamp of men we had yet seen in Persia.
Major Chaildecott, the Intelligence Officer, of Bijah, had joined the party at this place, cutting across to the town after doing an out-back job amongst the hills. From there he rode on with us to Sain Kala as a passenger in order to see the start of our show and gauge with what success we commenced the job. The idea of still being able to reach the Christians had not by any means left us, and after consulting with the commander of the party, we ascertained that he was quite willing for us to remain at Takan Tepe, in order to establish a post, with the hope that we would raise a force strong enough to work through to Urmiah should the Assyrians and Armenians fail in their breakthrough. I obtained from Major Chaildecott orders in the name of the commanding officer of Bijah to carry out our project. The Colonel in command of the cavalry allowed portion of his command to remain behind with us in order to protect us, until such time as we raised a force strong enough for our own safety, while he with his staff, together with Major Moore, Major Chaildecott and Captain Reid rode back to Bijah.
Chapter 31 - Levy Raising
We immediately set to work in our endeavour to raise the force necessary to carry out our cherished plan. The first thing necessary was to obtain the goodwill of the Governor. After making our camp as comfortable as possible for a long stay, I set out to interview "his Highness the Governor." After spending so many months together in a far-off land and being such a small party, a deep friendship existed between the officers and men, a friendship, which people living the humdrum life of the cities of civilised lands, have no conception of. Under our conditions, friendship was full of thoughts of how one could best help the other.
Little gifts in the shape of a few eggs, choice dried fruits, and odds and ends, were constantly being bestowed upon one. When an arduous job had to be done, one after another would come forward, stating that he was better fitted in health to do it than the other chap. Such little things have a wealth of meaning under such circumstances. All the best in a fellow comes to the top, and one sees the true value of a man shorn of all the conventionalities of civilisation. In paying a state visit, in the orthodox fashion of the East, it was necessary that I, as leader, should ride ahead, with two officers a certain distance behind, in rear of whom were four sergeants, fully armed, who brought up the rear of my escort. To keep a straight face under these circumstances was an extremely hard job.
On arrival at the Governor's house we drew rein and waited until the attendants had rushed to our horses' heads and would not think of dismounting until one stood by and held the stirrup to allow one to dismount in royal fashion. We officers would then look very severe, and give a few short orders to our N.C.O's, who would double all over the place on imaginary errands as if we instilled the fear of the devil into their hearts at the very suggestion of opening our mouths. It must be said that they carried out their part of the job in a most thorough though amusing manner.
After inquiring as to each other's health, we were asked to be seated in the Governor's audience chamber. This particular one was a gaily-coloured tent lined and floored with some beautiful carpets. After getting through the preliminaries, tea would be ordered and served in small glasses about three inches high and two inches in diameter at the top and bottom, narrowing in to about one inch and a half in the centre. Sugar is always served in small lumps, and after a piece has been chosen it is placed in the mouth and the tea sweetened by sucking it through the sugar. When the tea is served it is necessary that, out of courtesy, it should be offered to the host. He then insists that it is yours. For a couple of minutes this offering and re-offering goes on, until you consider that it is time for you to give in and accept the tea with a great show of reluctance.
Later on other drinks are produced, such as sour milk, (and as every animal, including camels, donkeys, sheep and cows, are milked it is not considered to be first favourite), sherbet, a sweet sticky sort of concoction, and arak, the only alcoholic beverage. I have met men in my time, who were very fond of their glass of stimulants, but never yet met a man who acquired the taste for arak. In color it is like water; in taste it resembles methylated spirits with a burn that catches one's breath. It is made, so I am informed, from the sap of date palm or peppermint plants and owing to its strength it does not require much to make one very inebriated.
After a night's sleep one feels quite sober, though suffering from a bad head, but after partaking of a drink of tea or water one is as tight as on the night before, the effects being felt even on the third day. The action of this vile drink evidently causes some sort of fermentation within, and re-acts once more on the approach of any liquid. The old saying "once bitten, twice shy," is fully carried out as regards this particular concoction.
Other drinks were fruit juice concoctions in which rose petals were strewn as a flavouring, and many the time, in order to dodge arak, we have drunk a large basin of sour milk, assuring our host that we relished it beyond any other known drink, and dodging the rose petals would wade through this vile muck with great gusto. We always made a point of staying until such time as our worthy host would be forced to cry out for his food and invite us to his repast. The object was to test the man by seeing whether he was willing or not to give us his salt.
Such meals are always served on the carpet, and, after marking out a square with chupatties, the meat dishes would then be brought along, in nearly every case flavoured with cinnamon, or various fruits. When it was time to commence operations we would turn to the Governor and tell him how we Englishmen enjoyed Persian food, but in a careful way would point out to him that we always liked more salt with our meals than they usually put in their dishes, at the same time working our hands round close to the butt of our revolvers. If he gave us more salt, we knew that he was bound by his religion to protect us, but, if he contemplated any treachery he would try and side-step our little bait.
Seeing that we were sometimes in an upstairs room, in a high house situated in the centre of an enormous courtyard, it might be necessary to get the first shot in if we hoped to get out. So far as our party were concerned we received the salt and thus knew that, as far as the Governor was concerned, we were quite safe.
On the word "Go," a piece of chupatties would be torn off and with both hands we would dive into the dish that took our fancy for the moment. Eating seems to be an accomplishment with the Persians and the amount they can stow away in such a short time is a mystery to a Britisher. The harder one goes and the quicker one eats, the better you please your host, who would be extremely displeased if you did not belch to show him that you were eating as much as possible. At the conclusion of the meal belch would follow belch to show him that we had enjoyed his hospitality. After this we would take our departure and in the hearing of the Governor would bully our N.C.O's who would jump about in all directions. On arrival at our own camp we would hardly be able to stand for laughing at the absurdity of such tactics.
A return visit is always made by the Governor or his representative, so next afternoon we were busily engaged in preparing for the reception. Small glasses and saucers were purchased. One of the lads who was looking after our cooking was brought along to rehearse the whole show. Another officer and myself sat on the ground and went through the preliminaries necessary before receiving tea, and the pre-arranged signal of the acceptance of the drink was to be a wink from me. Later on in the cool of the evening, the Governor's brother, the Sirdar, came along followed by the retinue as escort. Hadji Baba, our worthy muleteer and loyal follower, loaned us his tent for the reception.
The Sirdar was invited in and, after the usual exchange of compliments, tea was mentioned, and on his acceptance our worthy Lake was called. This lad was about as gentle as an elephant in all his movements, but one of the best in a campaign. He came in, balancing two of those small glasses on miniature saucers held in trembling hands, with his eyes glued on me, and the usual offering and re-offering was gone through. On the Sirdar's friendly accepting I threw Lake an enormous wink. He then shoved out one of the drinks for the Sirdar, and, in his hurry, tipped the whole lot of scalding tea over the soft white hands of our worthy guest. Under my breath I damned Lake up hill and down dale, but, to the Sirdar was full of apologies, and he, on his part, full of assurances that he understood it was quite an accident.
I felt sure he cursed the carelessness of the worthy Lake, but he appeared to be rather a decent fellow and showed no animosity. Knowing that he would not accept our camp meals, we had no qualms about offering him portion of our board which he declined and shortly afterwards left. This visiting and re-visiting we knew must continue until the Governor obtained from his spies the reason of our stay in his town. To make matters worse, business is the last thing to enter the Persian's mind; it was necessary we proceeded gently or the whole work would be doomed to failure.
In order to get on as quickly as possible we were out to help his spies in collecting information, and it was here that our worthy Hadji was of such valuable assistance. Hadji was a man of about forty-five or fifty years of age, with a stomach which showed that he partook of and enjoyed the good things of life. Though in reality there was no need for him to come with this convoy, yet on account of his taking a liking to us, he came along on all our trips, thinking he could be of some assistance on the road, and he was useful on more than one occasion. His little stunt would generally be to go along to the village teashop where the old cronies congregated and spent hours over a glass of tea. He would there inform all and sundry of the reason of our being there, that we were trying to raise troops, stating also how well we would pay, feed and treat our levies. He assured them that we were the very essence of generosity and the personification of all the noble traits of English character.
This would soon be repeated to the Governor, and he, on a special visit, in a casual sort of fashion, would ask if it was true that the nature of our business was to raise troops. We would inform him that this was correct, and the matter for the time being would drop. But next visit more would come out, and within a couple of days we were lucky enough to get him to give us about a dozen guides to visit the outlying villages to collect material for our force.
Chapter 32 - New Developments
Work was now in full swing, the officers and N.C.O's being detailed for levee raising, while others were hard at work compiling a map of the surrounding country, others again were selecting defensive positions in such localities where a small party could hold up a much larger force. About five miles north of Takan Tepe, the country is of a most broken nature. After climbing the lower foothills, the ground slopes down to a great valley through which runs a wide river, passable only by one stone bridge. This was considered to be the key of the whole position for, to the right, the river ran through precipitous hills through which no force could manoeuvre nor conduct its convoy. The left flank was quite secure, in that the river ran through a deep gorge and broken country. The forward slopes, rising on the other side from the river, were extremely steep, though strangely open for this part of Persia.
By holding the various hillocks on either side with a series of disconnected posts and a few machine guns, it would be quite possible to hold up a vastly superior force. Sergeant Place, of the Imperial Force, being handy at map work, was told off to draw a complete map of this position, a copy of which was sent to our headquarters at Bijah for their information. The other work was continuing smoothly, and there was no doubt that we were welcome in this part of Persia, probably on account of the Kurds ceasing their raiding expeditions in the near vicinity. The protection afforded by our party was deeply appreciated by the inhabitants.
This goodwill was amply verified in a conversation I had with a Khan. Over a glass of tea he said that he heard the English were in the district and were endeavouring to raise troops, so he thought he would come in and get the full strength of it. On being informed of our requirements, he readily promised to raise fifty horsemen on his own account, and bring them across to us. He asked me if we intended occupying this district permanently.
I informed him that the British had no desire to interfere with the Persians but, owing to difficulties of the war, it was necessary for us to encounter the Turks in Persia in order to prevent them from overrunning the country and striking at India. This information apparently did not tend to cheer him, as he replied, "Oh, we have had enough of our shopkeeper king and his profiteering ministry and the country would welcome the advent of British rule. We know if the Englishman says he will do a thing, he will do it, but if he says 'I will not do it' all the money in the world will not break his word, for the Englishman speaks the truth."
This statement in itself may not appear to be of great moment to the casual reader, but it is a striking illustration of British prestige in the East, built pp by the good faith of great Englishmen from the time of Clive. No doubt, the story Edwin Pottinger at Herat in the "thirties" when he stood alone and proved to the natives that the Englishman is a true and generous soul, when all thought of present comfort and gain is forgotten when the common weal of the people is at stake. On the other hand the Germans had agents scattered throughout Northern Persia, even during the time of our being there, who paved their way with gold, and adopting the costume of the country and pretending to be followers of Mohammed, yet they failed miserably. What a contrast their methods were to ours! We professed to be British soldiers, wore the uniform of our country, professing to have no other religion than Christianity, none the less the predominant thought that swayed the people was that the word of the Englishman is true. On each and every occasion we won through and the Germans failed.
On August 1st we were told by a native who had ridden down from the north that he had heard that the Assyrians and Armenians were fighting the Turks in a great battle south of Lake Urmiah. We pretended to be quite ignorant of the existence of any such people, but knew that this was the first move on the part of our friends. On visiting the Governor, he told me the same news and, being confirmed by him, I immediately sent back for Captain Reid in the hope of reaching him before his arrival at Bijah. Luckily they were taking things easy and a despatch rider caught them up. Captain Reid, with Major Moore, set off immediately on the return trip to Takan-Tepe. On the night of 2nd September, we received the first message in writing from the Christians in which it was stated that they had fought a great battle, had defeated and broken through the Turks and were at present on their way to meet us.
At dawn next morning the whole camp was dismantled, gear was packed and the whole party, in high spirits in the knowledge that the show had not fallen through, were on the road once more. That day we travelled until late in the afternoon. On arrival at a stream we pitched our camp, with the idea of moving forward with the first streak of dawn. The tents had hardly been erected when away ahead, through the long valley, a cloud of dust could be seen, which grew in proportion as it neared us. Within a mile or so of our tented camp, a group of horsemen rode ahead, one of whom carried a large red banner with a white cross worked on its face.
On reaching the rise over our camp they dismounted and scanned us for some little time through their field glasses. We signalled to them that we were friends, and although not apparently sure, they rode towards the camp. Their fears were soon set at rest when we shouted to them that we were the English. One galloped back to the main party, while the others rode into camp. As some of them could speak English they expressed their delight at joining us in no half-hearted manner.
Shortly after this their leader, Agha Petros, rode into the camp, and there we awaited the arrival of his forces. Of all the sights that one was privileged to see, these horsemen winding along the valley was one never to be forgotten. They came along in an orderly, soldierly fashion, split up into groups of about equal size to our own troop of cavalry. Ahead of each group rode the leader, and behind him, came his standard bearer, who carried a large red flag across which was worked a white cross, the flag of Agha Petros, the Commander-in-Chief, being the gaudiest of all. It was made of silk, fringed with gold with the usual white cross in the centre, over which was worked the Assyrian words, "Trust God and Follow the Cross!'
The horsemen, on nearing the camp, swung off alternately to the right and left, and in a remarkably short space of time had picketed their horses and were preparing their evening meal. All the chiefs were summoned to attend a conference at our camp, which continued until the early hours of the morning, and re-assembled again after an interval of three or four hours, during which time we discussed the whole situation and worked out our plans for future operations.
Chapter 33 - Agha Petros
The strong man of the Christian forces was their leader Agha Petros, (Putros)) a man with a wonderful career, though from hearsay he was what was termed a "bit of a doer." While in Canada and England but as the story is only hearsay, it is hardly fair to the man to relate it here.
This much we know to be a fact - in years gone by he was the Turkish representative in the districts in the vicinity of Lake Urmiah. While things were peaceful he honestly served his Turkish masters, but on the outbreak of war, when his people, on account of their being Christians, were hard pressed, he threw in his lot with the Russians, and was appointed commander of the forces in the Russian service. After the revolution he was forced to retire to Lake Urmiah, and for the past eight months had been fighting the Turks.
He was elected as leader by both the Assyrian and Armenian communities, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Christian forces, led them in person in their endeavour to break through to our forces. Never trained as a soldier, he proved to be a genius in war, while his people were, as we say, "up against it,” he was able to lead them on many victorious fields. The greatest of all his exploits was the one in which he broke through to us. After carefully mapping out his route and drafting his plans, he decided that he would move south in three columns, each separated by some miles of rough country. On encountering the Turkish force his troops were swung into line, each column gaining touch with the flanks of the others. It was then decided to take up the best position available, and delay the battle to allow a strong mounted force to sweep down through the hills to a town called Suldaz, the Turkish headquarters.
It was then decided to attack during the night, and force the enemy to fall back on his base, and into the hands of the mounted force. The whole plan worked without a hitch. The column moving without mishap, got into touch with the Turks and formed a line, and in the dead of night, the whole line moved forward to the accompaniment of intense rifle fire and shouts of victory. The Turks were bewildered at this unexpected attack at such an unexpected time.
Their stand was feeble and they were forced to retire in a disordered state to Suldaz, to find waiting for them a mounted force in such positions that the Turks were completely annihilated. Without any loss of time Agha Petros rode on with his victorious troops to effect a junction with our party, and on reaching us had but little food and no money. Food, in sufficient quantities for their requirements we did not have, but handed over enough money to buy sufficient for them on the march back to Urmiah.
In order to impress the Governor and inhabitants of Sain Kala, Agha Petros asked if the British Cavalry might ride ahead of his forces through that particular town, knowing full well that the news of the British and Christians fighting together would be soon spread throughout the country. Luckily for the whole show, as after events will prove, this was agreed to.
Chapter 34 - The First Of The Refugees
After settling all preliminaries at the conference which continued until about 10 a.m., we moved forward once again, with the Christian cavalry acting as escort to the convoy. The Armenians and Assyrians were delighted with the fact that help had at last come to them, and the British jubilant in the knowledge that they were going forward to a big task which required big hearts and steady nerves, but confident nevertheless in the ultimate success of our cause.
Thus, we rode on and, towards dusk, negotiated the last of the hills on our side of Sain Kala, then swung off the road to the poplar groves and orchards near the river where we had decided to camp. I happened to be riding with Major Moore and Captain Reid at the head of the column. On arrival at the camping ground we saw a crowd of people dressed differently from those we had seen in the town before. Amongst them were a number of women clothed in bright print dresses, without face coverings-an unheard of thing in Mohammedan lands. We were at a loss to explain their existence in that part of the country. Shortly afterwards Agha Petros rode up. On seeing these people his face blanched. For a moment or two he was unable to speak. Then turning in his saddle, he said, "My God! Here are my people! What calamity has happened during my absence?"
On questioning he was told that the Turkish commander had attacked the outposts and had broken through to the city, which meant that they had to fly for their lives, and beyond this, nothing further could be ascertained.
Chapter 35 - The Moving Multitude Of Refugees
Seeing that nothing could be done that night, as it was quite apparent that the people were coming down in large numbers, we decided to camp in the large valley of the river to the south and west of Sain Kala, and then after receiving more particulars of what was happening up north, decide on the plan on the morrow. At dawn next morning, it was seen that there were thousands in the valley, and along the road they were still streaming in thousands more. In order to subdue their panic Agha Petros, Captain Reid and myself rode out some miles along the road over which they were coming.
Terror and despair was deeply written on their faces. Agha Petros was greeted as their father, and we, being in British uniform, as their deliverers. It was an extremely hard job to make a headway through the crowds that constantly surrounded us, calling down the blessings of God on our heads. After all our inquiries as to the reason of their evacuation and what was happening further north, nothing could be gained from the people, who apparently did not know why they were here, beyond the fact that the Turks had attacked them and they had immediately fled.
The men under Agha Petros, on ascertaining the state of affairs, scattered on the first night, each man rushing back to endeavour to look after his family or personal belongings. The idea of united co-operation apparently did not appeal to their martial instincts. On the morning after our arrival, on endeavouring to raise a force, we soon discovered this fact, and not knowing fully the state of affairs, it was impossible to use the cavalry on what might be a wild goose chase ' when they would be infinitely more useful in protecting the people on their arrival at Sain Kala. That night the whole thing was cleared up, when an Assyrian doctor rode in and told us the whole story of the evacuation.
It appeared that there were fifty or so Russians who had remained behind after the Russian evacuation. These were chiefly officers and men who knew that if they returned to Russia with its new government, they would have a very short shrift. The Armenians had been driven back to Lake Urmiah from Lake Van and thousands of Christians had flocked into the town from the surrounding mountains. Thus three classes, the Russians, Armenenians and mountaineers, not having any interest in Urmiah, had conspired together.
They sent forward mounted messengers with orders to ride back when it was ascertained that Agha Petros and his forces, who were chiefly Assyrians, had broken through the Turkish army and opened up the road that led to the British. This news was sent back to the conspirators, who immediately took steps to evacuate the town.
Dr. Shed, the American Missionary, had been left behind to conduct affairs in the absence of Agha Petros. He noticed that the Armenians were evacuating their line north of the city. When questioned as to the reason of their strange behaviour, they stated they were simply moving from their camp to a more healthy position. This did not seem at all feasible to Dr. Shed, who told them that he thought they were lying and that their intentions were to desert the Assyrians.
They assured him that this was not the case, and after his asking them if they contemplated such an act, to remain for at least four days, he rode back to the city, on their giving him their promises. They apparently waited till nightfall and then continued their march southwards, with both the Russians and mountaineers. The Turks very soon received intelligence of the fact that the northern portion ofi Ahe line, held by the Armenians, was unoccupied, and, together with the Kurds, moved down on the city.
Small parties of Assyrians moved out to intercept them and delay their advance until the inhabitants had sufficient time to load their wagons with supplies of food for the journey together with what valuables they had. Dr. Shed and some of the missionaries led these isolated parties and held up the Turks until most of the people were clear of the city. Dr. Shed with his wife followed on with the people, Dr. Shed himself forming a rearguard to protect the column while other missionaries remained to look after the wounded Turkish prisoners and the Christians unable to get away. Of about 100,000 inhabitants about 70,000 got clear of the city and were on the road before the Turks captured the place, and the fate of the others who were unable to get clear we never heard.
Their only hope lay in what success the missionaries might have in preventing a massacre. The Assyrian doctor also informed us that large bodies of Turkish troops and Kurdish irregulars were raiding the column murdering the people and carrying off young girls to their harems, together with what loot they could lay their hands on. On receipt of this information my party volunteered to go out and act as a rearguard, while the cavalry remained behind to protect the people as they swarmed into the valley.
We put our proposals to Agha Petros, which were as follows: I would take out with me two officers, six sergeants, three Lewis machine guns and sufficient food for six days. He was to collect and hand over to me one hundred men under the command of one of his chiefs, a man who was on the spot. On the assurance that he would have the men ready at dawn, we returned to our camp in order to select the best horses to ride, and the strongest and fastest mules to carry our ammunition, food and blankets.
Chapter 36 - The Rearguard Moves Out
Long before dawn on the morning of August 5th, the camp was astir preparing breakfast, loading up provisions and gear on the mules, and feeding and saddling the horses prior to moving out. The two officers and six sergeants I selected for this enterprise were Captain E. G. Scott-Olsen, 55th Battalion, A.I.F.; Captain R. K. Nicol, M.C., Wellington Regiment, N.Z.E.F; Sergeant B. F. Murphy, D.C.M., 28th Battalion, A.I.F.; Sergeant W. T. Brophy, 75th Canadian Battalion; Sergeant R. C. Casey, 29th Canadian Battalion; Sergeant A. Nimmo, Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F; Sergeant A. W. H. Place, 1/9 Middlesex Regiment; and Sergeant D. Cameron, 10th Lovat Scouts Battalion (Cameron Highlanders).
About half an hour after dawn we moved out of camp to Agha Petros' headquarters, in order to pick up the chief with his band of irregulars, but on arrival there we were informed that they would join the party along the road on the further side of the town. We, however, secured one of Agha Petros' followers, who was to act as interpreter, and another as guide to the mules, who were to follow on behind. We then moved out on to the high road, along which the people were still streaming on to Sain Kala. The first village we reached was a picture of chaos, owing to the streets being so narrow, and the crowd of refugees so great that progress was almost impossible. All the places of business in the town were closed and the Persian people, having escaped to the top storeys of their buildings, were looking out of the windows, fearful of their own lives, for the Armenians and the Assyrians were carrying out a systematic raid on the bazaars and streets.
Seeing that this would lead to more trouble, we endeavoured to put a stop to the thieving on the part of the refugees. While we were doing this the Governor of the Village, who heard of our presence in the place, came along and, in a great state of excitement, related to us the ill-treatment meted out to his people by the refugees. We obtained from him a messenger to return to the camp with a message stating the situation and asking for some of the cavalry to be sent out along the road to act as police and protect the Persians and their property. This calmed his fears and, on returning to his house, we rode on once more.
As we got out into the more open spaces of the valley, the road could be seen for some miles ahead. The people were streaming along in thousands, and hailed us on our approach as their deliverers. The men would shout in tones of great joy, "The English! The English!" and fired their rifles in the air and shouted loud hurrahs. The unfortunate women folk were so overcome at the sight of the first party of British that they wept aloud. Striking their breasts they would call, down upon us the blessings of God and rush across and kiss our hands and boots in very joy at the sight of their first deliverance from the cruel raids of the Turks.
We had ridden some eight miles, and there were still no signs of our promised escort, though the chief assured us every time we inquired that they would be along presently. Feeling rather apprehensive, we asked him to make some specific endeavour to obtain the men, as the information we were receiving from the people was to the effect that the Turks were close upon their heels. They also informed us that Doctor Shed was behind the last of the refugees and, with a small party, was endeavouring to protect them along the march.
We knew that the main body of Turks, to the south of the lake, had a force of two hundred and fifty Turks and an irregular force of two hundred and fifty Kurds at a town called Miandab to the north of our road, who had not been engaged in the fight between the Christians and Turks, when the former broke through to us. Thus we were particularly anxious to get behind the people, before this strong force received news of their plight, and came down in force upon the unfortunate column. Seeing that there was no likelihood of obtaining the promised hundred men, owing to the fact that the whole force had disbanded on seeing the people coming down, we resolved to push on without any loss of time and do what we could with whatever forces Doctor Shed commanded in his endeavour to form the rearguard.
The havoc wrought by the raiders on the column was becoming more evident the further we travelled, as time and time again one of us dismounted in order to bind up the wounds of some unfortunate woman, who was struggling along as best she could. Another thing was most noticeable, and that was the destruction of property and crops in the towns along the route, caused by the Armenians and the Assyrians. We passed villages in which there was not a single living Persian, but lying in the streets were the bodies of the murdered inhabitants. Houses and household utensils were wantonly destroyed, and the crops, which had been harvested and stacked on the outskirts, were all set afire by the Christians, in retaliation for what they had endured at the hands of the Turks. It was hard for the Persian villages to be thus treated, simply because they happened to be Mohammedans.
One very soon saw that the Mohammedan is not the only fanatic in the world, for the acts of these Christians were the outcome of pure fanaticism. Bad as the conduct of these Christians was one has to bear in mind their awful treatment at the hands of the Turks and Germans during the war. Still two wrongs do not make a right, and later on we had to adopt very strict measures to put a stop to this destruction.
About four o'clock, after riding somewhere near thirty miles, we were informed that Doctor Shed, with his wife, was only a mile further on, and very shortly we reached a little group of vehicles in one of which was Mrs. Shed and some of the workers of the American mission station of Urmiah. What a relief the sight of us was to these good women, is left to the reader's imagination. They had been five days on the road endeavouring to encourage the people and urge them forward, while Mrs. Shed's husband was putting up a gallant fight with a few followers about half a mile further back. After shaking hands and telling her that she would reach our camps before twelve o'clock next day we pushed on to where Doctor Shed and his party were.
He had with him twenty-four men who he had persuaded to form his rear guard. On reaching them they were resting on top of a ridge on the lookout for the next rush on the part of the raiders. He told us that he had been fighting continuously for the last five days in his endeavour to save the people. We asked him how it was that so few of the Christians rallied around him, as it appeared to us that, if he had a strong force, the raiders could no doubt be kept at a safe distance. He answered with a shrug of his shoulders, saying, "What can one do, seeing that self-preservation seems to be the motto of most of the men." We had seen this on the road, as in nearly every instance the men rode their horses, carrying at least one rifle over their shoulders, with a plentiful supply of ammunition around their waists, while the unfortunate women folk tramped on as best they could. Every endeavour on our part to get the men to return with us to the rear of the column met with no response on their part.
We informed Doctor Shed that we would take over his command, if he would push on to our camp in order to assist the people as they came in. Agha Petros particularly requested this, knowing that the Doctor's influence over the people was greater than that of any other man. Before leaving he told us that the last skirmish he was engaged in was near a village about six miles back. These raiders were chiefly groups of wandering Kurds, or small bands of Turks, who would rush in on the column and, after a sharp fight, would carry off as much loot as they could pack on their horses, and the prettier girls whom, no doubt, they would sell to the lords of the Turkish harems.
From this rise we could see that the country further ahead was much more broken than that we had passed, so decided to push on and get in contact with some of the raiders. By hiding our forces in the rough country and opening fire with our machine guns, we might lead them to believe that a strong force of British troops were now protecting the people, hoping that we would impress them that the raiding would immediately cease. About a mile further on we passed through a village, wrecked by the refugees, without seeing a single inhabitant, beyond the bodies of those who had been butchered in the streets.
We noticed that this place was situated on a hill that overlooked the country on all sides, and nearby there was a spring bubbling forth clean water. About six miles further on we came to another village, round about which were tethered horses This village was situated in a narrow valley, and to the right was a gap in the hills, forming a semi-circular valley, which joined the main one some four miles further ahead. We halted here in order to form some plan of action and decided that, if we attacked these people in this place, without protecting our flank by sending a force round to the right, the chances were that if we drove them out they would probably get in contact with a stronger force which could easily sweep round this dangerous valley, command the positions in the rear and thus surround us.
In order to overcome this, Captain Nicol, with two sergeants and twelve of our refugees with one machine gun, were ordered to ride round to the right and prevent any encircling movement on the part of the enemy. With Captain Scott-Olsen, four sergeants, and the twelve refugees, we rode on to this force in the village. Two men were sent ahead to act as a screen and draw the enemy's fire, while the remainder of us followed under cover some distance behind. We had not gone very far when the enemy opened fire on our two men riding ahead. The remainder of us, with a machine gun on either flank at once extended on the outskirts of a poplar grove on our side of the village, and immediately opened fire on the enemy who mounted and galloped out of the place as fast as their horse could go.
About a mile further on the road wound over a ridge along which the enemy had ridden. The ridge on the right rose to a height of some four or five hundred feet. A couple of Assyrians were told off to climb the most commanding height and there keep a look-out for any movements on the part of the enemy. Two sergeants with a Lewis gun, together with four Armenians, were ordered to ride along to the ridge ahead and endeavour to obtain any information concerning the people we had driven out of the place. The remainder of us halted until reports were obtained from our scouts. About ten minutes later the machine gun could be heard firing from the ridge along the road, so in a twinkling we rode out to their assistance with the other gun. On reaching this rise we could obtain a view of a couple of miles along the flats ahead, and saw about a hundred tribesmen, racing backwards and forwards, keeping up a steady fire on our chaps holding the ridge, who were answering them with their machine gun and rifles.
The other gun was promptly got into action and, after bowling a few of the tribesmen over, the remainder of them scurried across country over the ridge to the left of the road. It only wanted about an hour before darkness would overtake us. Seeing that the position we held was covered by ridges on either side of the road, over which we could easily be attacked and surrounded, we decided to fall back on the village, overlooking the country, some six miles further back, and there camp for the night. We sent word to Captain Nicol and his party, informing him of our movements, in order that he would make his way back to the village, where we arrived about ten p.m. A large house on the outskirts was selected for our camp, where the stream flowed quite close to its high mud walls. The place evidently belonged to one of the richer inhabitants and, luckily for us, had a large store of fodder for horses stored in one of the out dwellings within the courtyard, into which there was only one entrance which could easily be guarded by one sentry enabling the remainder of the party to get at least a few hours' sleep.
Chapter 37 - Against Big Odds
We waited for a little while in order to see if there were any signs of the mules carrying our blankets and food, each man pulling his belt in an extra hole in the attempt to satisfy the gnawing of the inner man, for since dawn we had not partaken of any food but a piece of chupattie at about eleven o'clock. One of the men set out to make inquiries concerning the mules, returned a little later with the report that they were not in sight.
Nothing daunted, a couple of the fellows went out and picked up a stray sheep, which was soon despatched with the aid of a bayonet. A strip of skin was ripped off from the fleshiest portion of the animal and pieces of flesh about two inches square were then sliced off. Bits of wire were then brought to bear in the operation, acting as skewers for the meat, which was soon grilling over a large fire we had alight in the centre of the courtyard. On the meal being cooked, it was quickly devoured and washed down with the clear water of the spring. One by one the lads rolled themselves into their coats and huddled together on beds of straw under the cover of a roof.
We officers were not by any means easy in our minds, for one great danger was ever present before us at this particular stage. Away to the north lay the town of Miandab, with the Turkish chief and his five hundred followers, and the query in Our minds was "Has that beggar got any news? If so, what action is he adopting?" The hope was that he would keep clear of our tracks until we got the last of the refugees down to the cavalry at Sain Kala. A sentry was posted, and soon the remainder of us were peacefully slumbering after an exhausting day.
At about 2 a.m. the tinkle of the mule bells could be heard on the road outside, and all were awakened by the muleteers, and the guide in their endeavours to lead the mules through the narrow doorway, and unload their burdens in the courtyard. After a little while all the gear had been sorted out, and a few of us commenced cooking a little rice and boiling the billy in order to brew tea. This was successfully accomplished and, feeling much better after this rough but much appreciated meal, we soon sought our couches of straw once more, under cover of the much desired blankets, as the cold, during the earlier hours of the morning, is acute in that country, even in the summer time.
Before the first streak of dawn had flashed across the grey skies some of us were astir, in order to place a sentry on the top of the flat roof, with instructions to keep a sharp look-out over the surrounding country. One by one the others sat up, and, after stretching and much yawning, crawled out of the blankets and were soon busy in rebuilding the fire to cook a little breakfast. Our spirits were high in the knowledge that we had defeated the enemy the night before and at the good supply of mutton, rice and tea, with the rosy outlook of a good breakfast, unhindered by any surprises on the part of our foes.
The fires were burning brightly and the breakfast well on its way, when the sergeant on the look-out called out for us to come up on the roof and have a look at what was going on. Seizing the glasses, I saw coming over the hills, and from the direction we had driven the raiders of the night before, a party of about one hundred and fifty horsemen. As we watched we saw them dismount in a valley, and halt there, for what reason we did not at that time know. Thinking that these were the demoralised tribesmen, whom we had hustled with our machine guns, little attention was paid to them beyond giving orders to the sergeant to keep a sharp eye on their movements. We concentrated our attention on our morning meal for which we were feeling more than ready.
Again the sentry called to come and have a look, and by the tone of his voice we gathered that something must be doing on the hills out yonder. It did not take long to realise that something indeed was doing, for parties of men were seen, riding over the hills, on both sides of the valley to our rear. The Turkish commander was on our tracks! If we wished to extricate ourselves from the village immediate action was imperative. Looking at the breakfast which would be ready in five minutes, one felt like staying to have his fill before clearing out, but casting a glance over the other houses to the high road that led to Sain Kala, one saw the refugees putting the last touches to their wagons, and in an instant we made up our minds breakfast must be abandoned and positions sought for the guns on the flanks of the village if we hoped to save the moving multitude on the road ahead.
The swearing on the part of the lads was terrific at the thought of "Boot and Saddle" once more and hopping into a scrap without a meal, but the danger of the situation was realised by all who accompanied the swearing with rapid movements in saddling their mounts and in seeing that the guns were working smoothly.
Two sergeants, with four refugees, were detailed to load up the gear, one Lewis gun being left with the sergeant on the post, which was placed under cover, on the sloping roof. A few of us took one gun to the right flank of the village, and the others took the remaining one to the other flank, in order to hold the enemy back until the mules had got clear. I happened to be with the gun on the right flank and had with me a Canadian sergeant, named Brophy, and the native chief whom Agha Petros had sent out with us.
We crept through the poplar grove and took up our position behind a low mud wall near the edge of the wood. There we waited until the enemy on our side came within killing range, though at this time they were well over a mile distant. The chief was frantic in his efforts to get us to open fire immediately, believing in the doctrine of his country, that moral effect, that is, a jolly good fright, is the best way in which to open a battle. We pointed out to him that according to our rules of warfare, the best way to frighten any enemy is to kill as many as possible at the outset, and then trust to the demoralising stunt. With this idea we waited until this particular party of about two hundred strong had reached the outskirts of the poplar grove some six hundred yards away.
We guessed that they had but little information as to our exact whereabouts and that they would be very wary in any of their movements beyond, or close to the village where we had camped during the night. On arrival at the poplars they dismounted and congregated in small groups, lit up their cigarettes and prepared to enjoy a quiet smoke while their scouts were obtaining information as to our exact whereabouts.
Young Brophy said, "I guess sir, it's about time to give them a little bit of hurry up," and he stood by with another loaded magazine, ready to slip on the gun immediately the one in position had run out. Laying the sights on to the thickest group in the centre of the crowd, I pressed the trigger until the whole magazine had been expended. In a twinkling young Brophy replaced the empty one with another fully loaded drum, which burst into the now panic-stricken enemy. Men and horses were rolling and kicking on the ground amongst the others, and those of the enemy who were fortunate enough to be holding their horses, quickly mounted and galloped back to the protection of the hills.
We kept up our fire until they got out of range, and hearing the other gun, on the opposite flank, rat-tat-ting for dear life, we knew that our fellows were making things busy in that quarter. On the retreat of our foes we pulled back to the rear of this town and there took up positions on the high ground which covered to greater advantage the open country, and would thus be in a position to cover the withdrawal of the mules. Sergeant Murphy was then sent back to lend a hand in loading, with instructions to urge them to get clear of the place with the least possible delay, for it meant they would be cut to pieces if caught in the narrow, winding streets of the village.
As we watched, we heard the machine gun within the village open up with short rapid bursts. Hardly daring to think of what was happening in that quarter, we waited with nerves strained to the utmost pitch for the first signs of their coming out. Most of the enemy were galloping round on the hills on either flank evidently with the idea of cutting off our retreat. So our guns were sighted to extreme range, and we poured a stream of bullets amongst the leading horsemen, who we forced to fall back to the higher ground.
Eventually the leading mules got out of the village, yet the gun continued firing in the streets further back. Our position was about seven hundred yards away and from there we saw that things were anything but pleasant with the lads as they endeavoured to get the animals clear of the streets. We stood by in order to give them a hand, but devoted most of our energies in preventing the horsemen riding down from the hills on our flanks, and thus cutting us off completely.
We knew each other's work thoroughly by this time and were confident that if anybody was able to get our convoy clear it was the sergeants who had been left behind to carry out the job. We trusted to their ability in extricating themselves in this delicate job, though we watched their movements carefully in order to assist should the necessity arise.
As the leading mules raced across the open, we heard the wild yells of the tribesmen close on their heels, and when the last got clear, we saw Murphy gallop out with the gun on his saddle, casting anxious eyes behind. He raced to a rise some two hundred yards clear of the village, keeping his horse under cover, dismounted and crept up the slope, placing his gun in position to obtain a good field of fire. This was hardly completed when some hundred horsemen dashed into the open to be knocked back with the deadly fire that Murphy opened up with his machine gun. The survivors immediately galloped back to the protection of the mud walls of the village, but in a few minutes repeated the performance, with the same results. Captain Nicol, who was in charge of the gun on the left, had moved forward on foot, evidently with the idea of giving the boys with the mules a hand.
The enemy, seeing that by shooting the mules it would considerably hamper our immediate movements, shot down one after another. The loads had to be abandoned, as it was quite impossible under such a fire to unload them and carry off the gear, the most valuable of which were two boxes of ammunition. On the boys gaining our sheltered position under cover of nullahs, it was seen that Nicol was still out in the danger zone, and before he had time to gain cover, he was hit, and fell without a move. Murphy, who was nearest Nicol's horse, ordered one of the lads to gallop out and bring him in, while he kept the enemy back with the fire of his machine gun.
The lad had not traversed fifty yards, when down crashed his horse, though in some miraculous way, not a bullet touched the rider, who luckily was near cover, under which he crawled back once more. Murphy then turned to another lad and asked him to take his own horse and attempt Nicol's rescue. The lad made a rush for it, but again the horse was brought to the ground, while the rider again escaped.
By this time Murphy had run out of his supply of ammunition for his machine gun, and was forced to double back to where we were in order to replenish his stock. We looked round for some of the twenty-four Armenians and Assyrians, who were carrying the loaded magazines for the guns, to find that at least half of them had pulled back along the road to a place of more safety. Nicol could be still seen lying out in front in the same position as when he had fallen. One of the lads made another attempt to get him out by making a detour along a narrow creek bed to the left flank, but before riding very far, it was seen that the enemy held such a position as to block any movement. So, with great reluctance, we abandoned any further attempts to rescue Nicol because it was seen that in all probability the would-be rescuers would be shot down one after the other in their futile attempts.
Feeling sure that he was beyond help, we decided to preserve the lives of the remainder to the last minute, in order to hold up the enemy's advance.
Chapter 38 - A Terrible Eight Hours
The noise of the continuous firing had spread panic through the ranks of the refugees who, in a great number of instances, were abandoning their wagons in their haste to flee from danger. We immediately despatched a message to the commander of the cavalry, informing him of our predicament, urging him to send all available reinforcements at once, and telling him that we intended to hold the enemy in the open, by falling back from one place to another, until he had time to bring his troops up. We endeavoured to collect our native allies, who were carrying panniers containing the loaded magazines for our machine guns, but found them to be missing. As the Turks and Kurds pressed our front and extended further along round our flanks, we decided to gallop back to the next position, which was done under fire from three sides.
Again and again this was repeated, until we got on the heels of the refugees who were moving through the valley, in two columns about seven or eight hundreds yards apart. Seeing that our small forces, which at this time consisted of only eight Europeans, one Armenian and one Assyrian, were unable to protect both columns, we decided on working along the column on our left. We knew that, so long as we continued fighting, the Turkish Commander would concentrate his efforts on wiping us out, before turning the energies of his men on looting the unfortunate people. Thus from position to position we retired, pulling out on each occasion before they had completely surrounded us.
At one stage we were, in dire straits, for the next position was at least one thousand yards behind, and in order to reach it, we had to gallop over a stretch of country devoid of any cover. Seeing the well-nigh hopeless position, and fearing that the guns would be lost we realised that something nearer madness than sanity had to be done immediately. With the Armenian chief we bailed up twelve to fourteen men at the points of our rifles, and offered them the choice of riding forward in a charge, or being shot there and then.
They chose the former, so we rode forward at full gallop, firing our rifles in the air and yelling at the top of our voices, hoping that the confusion we wrought amongst the people would mislead the Turks, and make them think that, instead of fourteen people charging them, there were about three times the number. This little bit of bluff had the desired effect of halting the oncoming Turks and Kurds, who galloped back to the ridge some few hundred yards to their rear. As we were falling back we saw hundreds of men amongst the refugees who, in every case, were armed, many with two rifles and supplies of ammunition in two or three belts round their waists, but, despite all our endeavours to induce them to join our ranks to stop the enemy's rush, we met with no response, and in many cases after a blank refusal, the worthy Christian drove his spurs into his mount and galloped along the road towards safety, leaving his women folk to the tender mercies of the Mohammedans or our ability to protect them.
Those that rode forward in the charge made themselves scarce at the first opportunity, leaving us once more to our own resources. Still hoping that the cavalry would be up, we continued our running fight. The refugees, particularly the women, were in the last degrees of panic, which meant that we had to take our lives in our hands, and at times ride back, single-handed, amongst the people in order to show them the colour of our khaki uniforms. This appeared to be the only thing to quell the panic, for so long as a Britisher stayed with them or rode through their ranks, their fears, for the time being, would be dispelled and a little order maintained in extricating their wagons containing their feed and earthly goods.
The preservation of these was of the most vital importance, as we knew full well that it would be many days before their supplies could be replenished. After fighting for over seven hours we heard a welcome English shout from a ridge behind. Looking round we saw about a dozen cavalrymen lining the heights. We got back to them in a state of collapse and utter exhaustion, due to the continuous fighting and hard riding of so many hours, without food or drink. Before' leaving the village in the morning we did not even have time enough to fill our water bottles, let alone eat, and the heat of the sun smote us most cruelly in the deep valley.
In command of the section was a sergeant who told us that he happened to be on police duty along the road, when he intercepted the message carried to Major Moore. Without loss of time he collected his men and rode out to our assistance, and never were men more welcome. These men were all British Regulars, thoroughly disciplined in the use of their rifles, and it was a good sight to see the way in which the sergeant directed their fire first to one flank, then the other, and then to the immediate front, with great success.
Hearing the increased fire from our side, the enemy halted and came on more warily. Under cover of the cavalrymen's fire, we managed to get about ten minutes rest, before falling back to the next position. After that, touch was lost between us, owing to the fact that the people were dispersed, through panic, across the whole of the valley. It was with the utmost difficulty that we managed to get into such positions so as to be able to fire on the enemy with something like effect. We still continued to use our rifles, though the machine guns were out of action owing to our ammunition being exhausted.
Throughout the fight we were forced not only to carry our machine guns but also our supply of ammunition. With rifles slung and a machine gun on the right shoulder, with four magazines in the left hand, we guided our horses in the mad gallop from position to position, fired at each time from the front and both flanks yet, strange as it may appear, we did not sustain a casualty and only three horses were lost. Fortunately for us, stray animals were passed at times, which were utilised in the cases where the men lost their mounts. Murphy, on giving up his horse in the attempt to rescue Captain Nicol, yielded the only apparent chance he had of saving his own life, but here at the very beginning, our luck was in, for one of the stray animals was caught by another sergeant.
Though it only had a halter as its equipment, Murphy rode it bareback, guiding it with the one rope and carrying a Lewis gun during the eight hours of the fight. It seems an impossible task, but such men as Murphy have grit enough to overcome any obstacles. Within six miles of our camp one of Agha Petros' men rode out at the head of about fifty mounted troops. The enemy on seeing these reinforcements did not wait to continue any more fighting, but galloped back, helter-skelter to the shelter of the hills overlooking the valley. At this stage we were just about at our last gasp, and separated one from the other, with not more than half-a-dozen rounds apiece, riding horses that stumbled along in a state of utter exhaustion.
As to what had happened to the cavalry, we were at a loss to understand. I still had with me young Brophy, who, throughout the day, was always nipping up when danger seemed to be most prevalent and he, on more than one occasion, saved my life. The pair of us rode, or rather clung to our saddles, towards the camp, and within a quarter of a mile we met the cavalry moving out under the command of a lieutenant, who informed me that Major Moore had ordered him out to our assistance. We told him it was rather late in the day to think of helping us, but pointed out to him the direction which the Turks had taken in their retirement. We suggested that he might hurry them along with his fresh men and much fresher horses than the enemy were riding. He accepted this advice while we rode back to the camp.
Chapter 39 - An Uneasy Night
Fording the river, we climbed to the small plateau on which our camp was pitched, and were there met by our comrades of the party, who, judging by the long hand-shakes and the glisten in their eyes, were more than pleased to see us again. Reports as to our plight during the early hours of the morning had reached camp some five hours earlier. For some reason the cavalry was withheld. Hence the delay. A meal was soon ready in the shape of boiled mutton, tea and the eternal rice, but, owing to the parched condition of our throats, most of us were unable to eat, but drank to our heart's content, even though it was a source of danger to our stomach.
Dr. Shed was extremely busy handling the mass of refugees, hurrying a group here and a family there in his endeavour to get them on to the main road that led to safety. It was hoped to be able to send them on in groups of eight hundred or a thousand strong, under the charge of two or three British soldiers. The proximity of the enemy and our knowledge of the existence of a deep gorge about twelve miles to the rear, formed by a river running through the mountains, the tops of the ridges on either side being only a matter of four or five hundred yards apart, forced us to hurry matters. It was our endeavour to get the people clear of this dangerous piece of country before the enemy or wild tribesmen had time to seize the heights. It would be an easy matter to ambush the column in this dark defile, which would prove a veritable death trap to thousands of unfortunate refugees.
Throughout that afternoon Dr. Shed and Agha Petros, together with some of our officers and men, strained every nerve in order to get the refugees, numbering approximately 70,000, on the road which led through this pass. The confusion was chaotic. Mothers sought their children, brothers hunted for sisters, while the husbands loaded their animals and wagons with the meagre store of flour and grain, which had to last them for several days.
By nightfall, as our camp was in the open, it was deemed advisable to fall back in the direction of some hills about a mile to the rear and there camp under cover for the night. Tents were struck and the baggage was soon loaded on the mules. Dr. Shed, who had been complaining of feeling ill during the afternoon, moved ahead with his wife in their wagon, in order to reach the camp before night had set in, but unfortunately missed the turning in the road that led to the camping ground. After a couple of hours work the tents were pitched, sentries posted, and the evening meal was ready, and by this time we began to feel uneasy at the doctor's long absence. Two sergeants were sent out to search for him and his wife. About midnight one rode back to the camp with the news that they had found the doctor who was very ill.
The medico attached to the cavalry got up at once and rode out to attend to the Doctor. Unfortunately, on his arrival he saw that it was too late to render any assistance, as the missionary's life was fast ebbing out, as he was in the deadly grip of cholera. After doing what good he could, he waited there with Mrs. Shed for the end, which came quickly. Then next morning, with the assistance of the two sergeants, he dug a shallow grave and left the mortal remains of this great missionary in the wild hills of Northern Persia.
The loss of Dr. Shed at this stage is almost inconceivable. He was the man who had inspired the Christians during their long weary months of siege warfare. It was he who conceived the idea to work hand in hand with the British forces operating in Northern Persia, in the hope that relief would come to the people whom he so dearly loved. Though beset with traitors and defeated by men whose only ambition was self preservation, he still carried on. When forced to evacuate the city, he, by the force of his strong personality, gathered round about him a few brave men in his endeavour to form a rear guard to protect the people from the raiding tribesmen.
It was chiefly due to his efforts that the people were moving once more' giving us a big chance of saving a large number of them. Such is war. Even when one expects to find things working smoothly after a trying and difficult period, something generally intervenes that dashes one's hopes to the ground. Like the Persian, let us call it "Kismet."
Beyond a few shots fired across the valley, the night passed without any further disturbance, but with the first streak of dawn came the attack on our position. The sentries had been carefully posted the night before and, with the aid of their machine guns, drove back the raiding bands that rode across the valley, who, being subjected to the machine gun fire, galloped back to the shelter of the hills beyond Sain Kala.
Chapter 40 - We Shake Off The Turks
Though we felt sure that Nicol had lost his life the day before, there was still the hope that, finding himself badly wounded, he had feigned death until nightfall, when he would creep to the shelter of the river in the valley. Even though he was dead, the idea of leaving him in the open to the Kurds was abhorred. The Major agreed to send a section of cavalry, guided by Captain Scott-Olsen, in order to bring him in. After breakfast this party moved out, but, on reaching the heights over which the enemy had fled, were attacked by a force of great superiority and forced to abandon the project. Major Moore was unable to carry on, owing to an acute attack of malaria, with the result that I found myself once more in command at an extremely critical period.
A large band of the enemy was bearing down upon us from another direction, which necessitated the changing of our dispositions to meet this threatened attack. We decided that it was imperative to hold on to this position until at least midday, in order to give the refugees a fair start, and also to enable us to get our convoy of mules and camels well ahead on the road before we retired. At this stage not one single soldier of the refugees remained with us. Agha Petros himself had failed in his attempts the night before to rally a force around his standard, but had ridden on to Takan Tepe, three marches further on, in order to raise if possible at least fifty followers, who would wait for us at that place.
Nothing developed for a couple of hours and, seeing that our position was well posted with machine guns, and particularly strong, it was decided to attempt some sort of a ruse in order to deceive the enemy to draw him on and inflict heavy casualties. The order was passed along the line of detached posts that, at a certain time, everybody was to rise and make the pretence of dismantling the guns in full view of the enemy, who had not come closer than about 1300 yards. At the appointed hour this was done and with great show the lads apparently dismantling the guns strolled down over the top of the hills, again to crawl back to the crest where look-out men were posted to watch for any movements on the part of the enemy.
Even this did not induce them to come any nearer, so, after waiting for a couple of hours, we decided to fall back, knowing that the convoy and people were at least four miles further ahead. The cavalry were then ordered to ride ahead to protect our own valuable convoy of money, machine guns and ammunition, while we of the Dunsterforce Party were to follow on behind as a rear-guard party.
At this time sickness was beginning to make itself felt in the party, and on moving, we found it necessary to lash a couple of our boys to their mounts to prevent them from falling off. On reaching the highway the first sign of the horrors of the march were seen. The refugees, in their wild flight had made it a race of the survival of the fittest and along that road we came across small parties of old men, weak and wounded women, deserted infants and crippled children at frequent intervals. The heat of the sun was simply cruel and water was only found at stages from ten to twenty miles apart.
These unfortunates had been without water for about fifteen hours and, as we neared them, pitifully called for something to drink. We dismounted, and placed two or three women or children upon our horses, abandoning hundreds to their fate. Cruel as this was it was absolutely essential, as our idea was to save the greatest number of lives possible. Knowing that the first help was at Bijah, six marches off, it would have been absolute folly for a mere handful of us to remain behind in the attempt te save a few.
These, through their weaknesses, would surely succumb before reaching that haven of safety. So, with heavy hearts and big lumps in our throats, we were forced to turn a deaf ear to the pleadings of these poor unfortunates, who called upon us to save them. To have drawn our revolvers and shot them would have been humane, knowing full well how cruelly they would be treated by the foe behind, but to shoot the old, the cripples and the infants in cold blood was a little beyond any Britisher. Thus, with aching hearts, we were forced to leave them to their fate.
After toiling throughout that day we eventually got the people and convoy clear of the dreaded pass and on to the open country further ahead, selecting for ourselves a camping ground on a commanding position overlooking the rough country.
Chapter 41 - Days Of Trial
Next morning it was seen that the horses were absolutely incapable of going further without rest, and the pangs of fever were gripping us, one and all. It was decided to spend that day in camp and move off during the cooler hours of the late afternoon. A party was told off to ride across to a neighbouring village in order to procure food for ourselves and grain for the horses. It met with a nasty reception at the hands of the inhabitants, who opened up a lively fire on these few men. After a lot of trouble, we were successful in getting a small supply of our requirements. The Russians, who had with them four mountain guns, failed to give us any assistance, and on the first attack on our position at Sain Kala, hurried on as quickly as their jaded beasts could move, offering as their excuse their duty in protecting some half-a-dozen Russian women who were with them.
Mrs. Shed still remained with us and one can never forget the fortitude of that brave woman, who only a few hours before had buried her husband and was now alone, with three servants, in the hostile crags of Northern Persia.
As soon as it was cool enough we were on the move once more, enduring hardship, as on the previous day. Ahead of us lay a large village in the centre of a fertile, cultivated country which we hoped to reach that night and replenish our diminished stock of provisions. On our arrival at about midnight, we discovered the place to be a shambles and a heap of ruins. On the arrival of the refugees, the people were butchered, their houses burnt and the crops destroyed. There was nothing for it but to move again next morning in the hope of reaching Takan Tepe, whose population was big enough to put down any barbarous acts on the part of the refugees. So once more we were on the road, leading our horses, which carried some of the people whom we had rescued.
About a mile out we came across a group of young girls in great distress, gathered round the dead body of their father. We endeavoured to persuade them to move on, but they refused to leave the body of their parent to the vultures by day and the jackals by night. After promising to bury their father, we ultimately persuaded them to climb on top of the loads on the mules and move on to safety.
About six miles from Takan Tepe we came to the wide river. Here were halted hundreds of the refugees who were bathing their swollen feet and watering their buffaloes. We decided to wait here until they were on the move once again. After an hour's wait we moved on, reaching Takan Tepe about six o'clock, finding to our joy that the place was unmolested.
On our meeting the refugees some time before, Major Starnes had despatched Captain MacLean, with a couple of sergeants from Bijah to take up the work of levy raising commenced by us. Before leaving Sain Kala we sent an urgent message to Starnes, asking him to send a few of the cavalry to that place in order to buy grain to be distributed on our arrival. It was due to the effort of these fellows that the people of Takan Tepe owed the safety of their lives and property.
Next day the people continued their march to safety while the exhausted and sick were concentrated in a camp under the shade of the trees which grew about the village. Odd officers and sergeants were sent to the outlying villages in order to protect the inhabitants on the one hand, and the refugees on the other. Where khaki was, there safety dwelt for both parties. One or two cases of murder were reported and, where the offender was caught, he was handed over to Agha Petros, who had gathered round about him about fifty followers, chiefly relatives.
He lost no time in trying the culprit who was generally hanged on a tree on the roadside, as a warning to prospective offenders. The second day in Takan Tepe a messenger rode in from Captain Wilson who was on duty at one of the villages with the following message:
Doorbash, 18/8/18. To O.C. Troops, Takan Tepe.
From information to hand there has been a raid on the village of ARABSHAH, about nine miles from here or eighteen miles in an from Takan Tepe. So far the main body of refugees have not been attacked, but are certain to be after the tribesmen finish with the villages.
These Kurds are foraging for horses and grain, I am led to believe, for the use of the Turkish troops. The two villages I am at present looking after are quiet, and no looting is taking place. I have one Armenian under arrest for murder and looting. Will I shoot him or send him to you for disposal?"
D. WILSON, Captain, 2nd Royal Fusiliers.
Something had to be done to protect the people from this new danger. A note to this effect was scribbled to Wilson, telling him at the same time to forward the offender to our camp and hand him over to Agha Petros.
Next day he adorned the landscape, as a sign of warning to any others of his kind. The cavalry were out on patrol duty amongst the hills round Takan Tepe, so we at once approached Agha Petros who promised to come out with his fifty men, while I was detailed to command, assisted by six sergeant and two Lewis guns, with orders to disperse these four hundred tribesmen. In about an hour's time we were ready to move. Agha Petros, after a lot of delay, brought his men out on to the roadway in pairs, the white flag, on which was written above the red cross the words "Trust the Lord and Follow the Cross" at the head of his command.
The standard bearer led the way with the party following, throwing up a huge column of dust, that completely hid from view the rear files, making it hard for an enemy to discern whether there were fifty or five hundred horsemen behind that silk flag. On riding some twenty miles, we saw on the hill slopes, some four miles to our left, a group of about four hundred horsemen who immediately galloped to the top of the hills overlooking the road. As it was now getting late and darkness would soon be upon us, we deemed it advisable to try and bluff the enemy rather than endeavour to engage them in a conflict amongst those rough hills, where the chances were that we would lose ourselves at the approach of darkness, which would be upon us before we developed the battle.
So riding off through a valley to the right of the road, under cover of the dust cloud that we raised, we were soon hidden from their view, to reappear again in groups along the crest's top in such a manner as to make them believe that we were a very strong force.
We watched the people passing on the road between us and our foes, until darkness set in. Gathering heaps of dry grass, we lit small fires along the top of the crest, as if we were preparing our evening meal. Our followers were told to sing and pass from one fire to the other, knowing that sound travels for miles in those valleys and hills during the silent hours of darkness. After keeping this up for a couple of hours, the fires were allowed to die out, we then mounted our horses and rode back to camp. This little bit of bluff worked. No other raid was attempted on the column by the tribesmen along that part of the road, they no doubt believing that a strong force was now protecting the column.
We had to march a distance of nearly twenty miles without water and, on reaching the road on our homeward track, the cries of the people were most heart rending. Most of them, on leaving Takan Tepe, filled small jars and even cups with water, but this stock had been exhausted during that twenty miles' tramp, or spilt in the dark on the rough road. The physical endurance of these unfortunates was remarkable. Day and night they tramped on, resting only when they dropped from sheer exhaustion. On recovering sufficient strength, after a couple of hours' sleep, the crowd would trudge on once more.
We reached camp about 2 a.m., tired, cold and hungry, as we had had nothing to eat since breakfast the preceding day. Fires were soon lit, and while water was being boiled for the tea, some stew that had been left over from the evening meal in the camp was warmed up and literally devoured, so great was our hunger after the strenuous exertions of the day.
Chapter 42 - Saving The Helpless
As soon as possible after our arrival at Takan Tepe, we set to work in buying up all the available mules, corn and flour in the district, with the object of bringing the helpless and most exhausted refugees to Bijah. We had urged Major Starnes to buy up all the grain and flour that could be secured in Bijah, and also to send for doctors from Hamadan to treat the sick we hoped to bring down on the mules and camels.
The first camping ground of the refugees was littered with filth and refuse, and thus became a deadly menace at that time of the year in a cholera stricken country. So early next morning accordingly, we moved camp to the banks of a fresh stream that ran near the house of the Governor, with whom we were negotiating for the animals and grain. Sickness was showing itself among all ranks. Captain Kingscote was stricken down with pleurisy the first day out from Sain Kala, and by the time he reached Takan Tepe, he was in a state of collapse. His life was hanging in the balance for several days, but, thanks to the skilful energy of the cavalry's doctor, he regained sufficient strength to undertake later on the three, days' trip to Bijah, on a stretcher slung between two horses.
For days, odd stragglers in a starving condition again, and in nearly every case were stripped of their clothing. These people we fed and drafted to the concentration camp to be carried to Biiah, One morning two unfortunate girls, stripped of almost every shred of clothing-one with a bullet wound through her shoulder, the other wounded in the back-dragged their way into our camp and, after hanging back for some time, due to their modesty, were at last forced to come forward to seek food.
A couple of shirts were procured which served as some sort of covering in the shape of dress. The one who was wounded through the shoulder had been struck with a soft-nosed bullet, which made an opening about two inches across, at the point where it went out. Being without medical attention for five or six days, the wound was in a dreadful condition, as the flies had got to it. When she first came to us there were maggots of about half an inch long inside the wound. One hardly knew what to do. Remembering that I had some Condy's Crystals in my medicine chest, we mixed a solution of this stuff and poured it through the wounds, which kept them clean and killed the vermin.
For bandages we relied on the tails of our shirts. Our fame as doctors soon spread, and regularly every morning a crowd of women and children hung about our tents for medical treatment. Not being able to speak their language. and unacquainted with Medicine, we hardly knew what on earth to do with these folk. Practising the old stunts of the regimental doctor, we got them to put out their tongues, felt their pulses, turned down their eyelids, looked wise, and gave them one or two rhubarb pills, according to their size. Whether it was that the stunt or the pills worked, it is extremely difficult protecting the people, as the first two days' march led through an extremely hostile country.
At least half of our own party were ill, some having to be tied on to their horses, while the remainder of us were suffering from fever and in a state of more or less exhaustion. Captain Kay took over twenty of Agha Petros' men and formed the rear guard; with two other sergeants and the remainder of the irregulars, I formed the advance guard. The rest of the fit officers and N.C.O's looked after our convoy of money, machine guns and ammunition, and the refugees. Mrs. Shed also accompanied us, attending to the needs and requirements of the sick people. The cavalry were to remain behind at Takan Tepe, in order to prevent the advance of the Turks and Kurds from the direction of Sain Kala.
As we moved out we soon saw that more of our fellows would have to remain behind with the refugees in the column. These we had mounted in twos and threes according to the carrying capacity of the animals, but soon noticed that if a strict eye was not kept on them at least a third would never see camp or safety at the end of each day's trek, for the simple reason that the strongest person would - when not seen - throw the weaker ones off the animals in order to have a more comfortable ride.
Thus we had to detach men from other important duties, to the task of looking after the helpless and weaker of the people and prevent the selfishness on the part of the stronger, or, in plainer words, to put a stop to the murder of a section of Christians at the hands of their fellow countrymen. The first day's trek was about twenty-two miles to a place called Kizal-Bulahk, the native name for a spring. On arrival at camp the worst cases of sickness were attended to and those who were wounded had their wounds re-dressed. Amongst the people was a preacher from the American Mission Station whose wife was very ill, but the family decided taking her with us when we moved out.
Next morning, after a great amount of trouble, we were ready for the road, to find, unfortunately, that the preacher's wife was slowly dying, the exertions of the previous day proving too much for her weak and delicate constitution. Captain Kay and two sergeants remained behind with her and the husband on our moving once more. They rejoined the party, about an hour later, with the news that she had died.
That day's journey was extremely hard and trying, leading as it did through a desolate and broken country. Hundreds of bodies of the refugees in a state of decomposition were passed, particularly at the springs and small streams along the route. In every case these bodies had been stripped by the wild tribesmen who came down from the hills at night in search of plunder.
The exertions of the road began to tell terribly on the members of our own party, and on arrival at Bijah three days after leaving Takan Tepe, we were in a complete and utterly exhausted condition. The members of our Bijah party did all they could for us. Food was ready and rooms prepared for our reception, yet within twenty-four hours of arrival every man but one collapsed. The doctors had arrived from Hamadan and were hard at work in the two hospitals established for the refugees. It was soon seen that another one would have to be got ready for the treatment of the members of my party. The month's continuous toil, every day of which was spent in the saddle - very often sixteen to eighteen hours at a stretch - lack of food, drinking water polluted with the bodies of those who had died, together with hard fighting, had proved too much for the human frame. The last two days on the road I, for one, have little recollection of, beyond the fact that I hung to the saddle and endeavoured to direct the work of the advance guard.
Chapter 43 - The Last Of The Refugees
After a week in the hands of the doctors I recovered sufficient strength once again to resume my duties. One of the first things I did was to seek the two wounded girls whom I had taken care of at Takan Tepe and on the track, finding them in one of the refugee hospitals. On opening the gate of the courtyard one of them saw me and both, rushing to the gate, with strange words and anxious looks, seemed to be sizing up my condition, stroking my face and making me understand that my cheeks were very hollow. As to their joy on seeing me still in the land of the living, there was little question of it, as it took me a good hour to get out of the place once more, owing to their sympathetic tenderness.
My job was to take over the concentration camp of the refugees into which they were drafted after discharge from the hospital. The place selected for this purpose was a poplar grove in the banks of a clear, swiftly-running stream. The scarcity of grain and flour for the couple of thousand people we were still looking after necessitated the strictest rationing. By this time we had quite sufficient experience of their gentle ways not even to trust a sick girl's rations to the tender care of a loving brother who would, without any compunction, eat at least half of it before delivery. To obviate this, each person was given a ticket which, on presentation, entitled the bearer to his or her share of rations.
A large stockade was built, leading to which was erected a sort of run so that the people would travel a distance of about twenty yards in which they would receive their food, passing on to the stockade in which they were kept until the last person had received his respective share. The reason for doing this was that we very soon discovered that, even with tickets, we could not keep a proper check on the food, or guarantee that every person received his share. Some of the stronger members of the refugees very often would steal the ticket from some of the older and weaker ones, simply to double their own stock of provisions.
Owing to the huge consumption of food by this big crowd of people, and the limited quantity available in the district, it was imperative that those able to walk should be pushed on to Hamadan. In the first place the people were told of this, and those fit to move were asked to leave the town as soon as possible for the sake of those who were still too weak to walk. This appeal met with no response. An example of the selfishness of the Armenians and the Assyrians was brought to light on the very day of our appeal. Two able-bodied Armenians went to our paymaster and asked him to take over their money, amounting to nearly two thousand pounds, and give them a draft, payable by the paymaster at Hamadan. On hearing this I asked these people when they intended to get a move on, and to cease drawing the rations so urgently required for others.
They apparently did not see the force of my argument, and one, who spoke English fluently, turned to me with a smile and in the oiliest manner imaginable assured me he was without the means of moving on. When asked what he intended doing, he replied, "Oh well, sir, we can do nothing until you provide us with camels or mules to undertake the journey!"
I then asked him if he would like a motor car and, without seeing the irony of my question, he said, "That would do splendidly! People always say that the English are the best people on earth, and this kind of offer on your part, sir, proves them to be no idle words." By this time I had had enough of these people, and quietly informed him that if he, with his family and whole outfit were not on the road before dawn next morning, I would cut off their supply of rations. He said, "Surely you are joking, sir, for are not the English Christians like we ourselves are? And by forcing me to walk you would be imitating the Turks."
In as few words as possible I told him that I knew all about his little transaction with our paymaster and if he walked or starved on the track, it would be no concern of mine. I should not be troubled in the slightest as, in my opinion, a man who had as much money as he had and malingered on British generosity at the cost of his poorer countrymen, deserved to die the most horrible death imaginable. If I saw him or his friend on my next visit to the camp, I would have much pleasure in kicking them both out. Next morning he was still there, and came up to me, as large as life, inquiring after my health. I assured him that I was just strong enough to kick him every step of the fifty yards that led to the road, and quickly proved the statement by performing the act. If ever a man got a full dose of kicking, this fellow got his, with a margin to spare!
The example I made of this particular sample of Near East Christianity worked wonders with the others. Very quickly all those who could walk, loaded their mules or oxen with three days' rations and set out on the road that led to Hamadan. A large number of mules and camels had been hired, on which we sent numbers of these people on. The people at headquarters, on being informed of the lack of supplies in the district of Bijah, promptly sent up convoys of food and, on the homeward journey, carried our refugees.
The havoc wrought by the Christians along the route which we had taken was simply devastating and, there being so few of us, we had no chance of disarming the men. Hamadan was informed of their playful tricks and advised to disarm them before they reached that city. A detachment with a couple of machine guns occupied a pass a few miles north of Hamadan and, as the refugees came down, disarmed them one and all, much to their indignation, before leading them to the camping ground prepared for them on the outskirts of the city.
Chapter 44 - The Hand Of Sickness
Gradually the refugees were being passed from the camp to the road, and then in batches to Hamadan. Work was still being zealously carried on in gathering supplies, and from aeroplane reconnaissance it was ascertained that the Turks were concentrating about Sain Kala, evidently with the view of attacking Bijah. By this time the roads leading from Baghdad were in a good state and seeing the uselessness of trying to raise troops in Persia, it was soon agreed that if we wished to hold the country, British troops would have to be sent up, which resulted in a force being concentrated in Hamadan for immediate use in Persia.
In view of the great danger of Bijah, two companies of British troops were despatched to hold the town, and some little time after the arrival of the refugees, these troops were got into motion, arriving towards the end of August. At the time of their arrival a large number of our fellows were down with sickness, some of whom had died. On the 26th August I was once again stricken down with fever and after another spell in the hospital, was discharged for duty. On taking up the reins I discovered that my heart was severely affected, and easily caught a local disease by the name of "berri-berri." a swelling of the ankles and knees. On being examined by the doctors I was ordered to be removed to Hamadan.
I was due to leave on the 26th August and at six a.m. I crawled into the front seat of a Ford van, running a temperature of 102 degrees, with over one hundred miles' ride in view. One does not wish to dwell on the memories of such a journey. The road was terrible, being nothing more than a caravan route, and along this bumpy highway we moved, reaching Hamadan at about 6 p.m., three parts of which journey I have very little recollection of, being delirious at the time of reaching the Hamadan hospital.
Dr. Funk, the American missionary stationed at Hamadan, had handed over the use of his hospital to our force. On arrival at this place kind hands lifted me from the van and placed me on a bed in a tent within the hospital grounds. I was ordered to remain on my back for about eight days, after which I was allowed to walk as far as the missionary's house within the same grounds. The doctor's house and library were thrown open for our use, and Mrs. Funk acted as matron-in-chief to those in the convalescent stage. One can never forget the kindness of these people during those days. Nothing was too much trouble, as long as it would mean pleasure or bring contentment to the invalid.
The library itself was a large, airy room, lined with book cases filled with all manners of reading. Sitting in an easy chair, smoking real cigarettes and reading an interesting book, interrupted only by the arrival of morning and afternoon tea, helped more than one sufferer along the road to recovery. Many of the fellows were so far gone by the time they reached this haven of refuge that, despite all the skill and attention of Dr. Funk and the British Medical Officers they succumbed to sickness or disease. During my stay there I don't think one night passed without at least three patients dying.
The food available for the invalids was only that which was procured locally. A bakery had been established, and there being no time to clean the wheat properly, the flour was full of grit, which, owing to our weak condition, afflicted the invalids terribly. After getting off milk diet, one was forced to eat this gritty discoloured bread and mutton stews. The Turks, seeing that very little could be gained by striking at Bijah, turned their attention to Zengan on the eastern road where very soon the garrison was engaged in heavy fighting.
As every man who was able to fight was wanted in this district, the colonel in command at Hamadan visited the hospital daily, to see if there were any of us fit to take the saddle. I was asked if I would go up and take charge of certain operations in that area, but on going for a walk to see how strong I really was, I fainted when I had walked but a bare five hundred yards, which was sufficient proof to show that I was of no use for any further service in Persia. Owing to the altitude, some six thousand feet above sea level, I discovered that my heart was daily becoming worse instead of better, so I asked permission to undertake the trip to Baghdad where proper medical attention could be procured.
Owing to the tremendous distance and terrible conditions for any sick person on the road, there was much reluctance on the part of the doctors to grant this request. Eventually they acceded, and on the 14th September I once more boarded a Ford machine and took the road that led to Baghdad. We left Hamadan about seven o'clock that morning and continued running, with only sufficient stops to cool the engine, until nightfall, by which time I was again running a high temperature. Being in the open wilds, I was forced to look after myself, but fortunately, not feeling inclined to eat, was not compelled to light a fire in order to cook my own meal.
That night the wind blew at hurricane rate, and being camped at the entrance of a pass, we got the full force of the elements, which did not tend to make one feel fresher on moving shortly after dawn next morning. We continued the run throughout the day, still passing groups of refugees streaming towards the plains of Mesopotamia, and reached Kirmanshah, where a hospital was established. A little before dark I was put into bed, remaining there for several days, until I gained sufficient strength to move on once more. The next stage was one of two days, the first of which brought us through the Pia Tak Pass, where we rested in a camp until morning, arriving the next night at Kezel Robahk.
Resting there for one day, I arrived at the clearing station at Rtiz late that afternoon in a state of complete exhaustion. After receiving decent medical attention and Christian food for the first time, I was able to proceed by train to Baghdad on the third night, arriving at that splendidly equipped Military Hospital about seven a.m. on the morning of the 28th September and was there treated for some weeks. Then I passed on through the hospitals of Amara and Batounamah, after which I was placed on a hospital ship and brought to Bombay, being finally discharged about the middle of December.
Chapter 45 - The Rush To Baku
While we were arranging preliminaries at Bijah prior to moving up towards Lake Urmiah, General Dunsterville was concentrating his force at the seaport town of Enzeli, on the south-eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. During the time we were fighting about Sain Kala endeavouring to draw the Turks from the Caucasus down on our party, Dunsterville embarked with his troops. Without molestation, he landed at Baku, but owing to the evacuation of the refugees from Urmiah, we failed to draw the large numbers of the enemy anticipated to that area, and Dunsterville found himself forced to dig in a few miles outside the city, and there for some weeks put up a gallant fight with his small force.
One of the first things that he did on arrival at Baku was to call together a conference of the Armenian and other leaders, where he asked for their co-operation in driving the Turks inland. They assured him that they would help to the utmost of their abilities, and commenced gathering a force of their fellow countrymen. It was also hoped that a general in command of a Russian force would be able to effect a junction with our troops in the near future.
The Armenians and Russians gathered their forces, and a portion of line was allotted to them, with patrols established well ahead by members of the famous Locker-Lamson armoured car force, which was now attached to the Dunsterforce party. The Turks attacked in overwhelming numbers at frequent intervals, and were defeated on every occasion by the Britishers in the trenches. The anticipated help on the part of the Armenians soon resolved itself into a delusion for, early in the fighting, it was seen that these worthy allies of ours would desert their trenches on every occasion when the Turks attacked.
General Dunsterville pointed out to their leaders this lack of co-operation, also the fact that he was receiving heavy casualties among his own forces without the remotest hope of obtaining reinforcements, and in very plain language, told them that if they refused to fight, he would be compelled to evacuate the town. This met with the audacious reply that if he attempted to leave the place the inhabitants would open fire on him and his gallant band, as they considered he was there to protect them.
After urging upon them the necessity of their co-operation in fighting the Turks and meeting with a refusal on every occasion, Dunsterville decided in favour of withdrawing his forces, who were becoming fearfully reduced through the continuous heavy fighting. Taking advantage of a favourable night, he skilfully withdrew his troops and guns in the very face of the enemy, embarking the men on one vessel, and the guns and ammunition on another. Fortunately, the skipper in command of the boat carrying the troops was loyal to the British, but the master of the other vessel on which the guns were placed had to be forced to follow the leading boat by an officer with the persuasion of a revolver.
On passing the fort near the town, the sentries caught sight of the moving vessels and signalled to stop immediately. Dunsterville replied that he would anchor a few hundred yards out and there wait until the morning, but this did not satisfy "Our Allies," who instantly opened fire upon the two vessels. Thanks to their erratic aim they altogether missed the boat containing the troops, though they landed a few light shells in the other vessel which was carrying the guns, without causing much damage. Steam was increased, and before very long both boats were well out of range, eventually reaching Enzeli once more, after an entirely fruitless campaign in the Caucasus.
Had the Armenians and townspeople in any way helped this force, there is little doubt that the town would have been held, but owing to their faithlessness, evacuation was a necessity, and a few days after our force left, the Turks entered Baku, celebrating their victory by putting to death some thousands of the inhabitants.
Operations now came more or less to a standstill, and seeing that it was utterly futile with such a limited force at our disposal (the brigade which fought at Baku, being reduced to about a battalion's strength), to again attempt any operations in the Caucasus, our attention was directed to the holding of 'the highway from Baghdad to the Caspian, thus blocking the roads to India to the German and Turkish propagandists.
In reviewing the whole operations, with its two phases first that of holding these highways, secondly that of entering the Caucasus and raising a force to re-establish the old Russian line, it can be said that we failed in the latter, but succeeded in the former task, for we successfully raced the Turks for possession of the Baghdad-Caspian Road and effectually established outposts to the north at points along those roads leading southwards to India.
We opened up the country by constructing roads, over which it is possible to drive motor cars and lorries, put down raiding on the part of the wild tribesmen and Kurds, thus making the country safe for the merchant in importing goods and exporting the products of the country, which increased trade by at least one hundred per cent., besides saving the lives of thousands of the inhabitants during the worst months of the famine.
Of the seventy thousand refugees that left Urmiah, we were successful in saving about 60,000 to 65,000, conveying them in stages to the fertile flats of the Diala River, north of Baghdad, by providing trains of mules and camels for those too weak to walk, and supplying food for them during their long journey to this place of safety.
A huge tented settlement was erected for their reception with an enormous supply of army rations for their maintenance. A fully equipped Military Hospital was sent forward from Baghdad in order to attend the wants and requirements of the sick on their arrival. A glance at the map will show the extensive stretch of country over which we operated. One has to bear in mind that we were in an unfriendly country, overrun by our enemies and German agents. A fearful famine devastated the land and to accomplish the job the force known as "Dunsterforce" was only about three hundred and fifty strong, assisted by one squadron of cavalry.
Chapter 46 - Stalkys Farewell
On the cessation of hostilities, the survivors of Dunsterforce were recalled to Baghdad. A force of Indian troops replaced them in Persia, until the results of peace were finally cleared up. During October General Dunsterville bade farewell to those who had been the members of his force, by issuing the following Order of the Day:
To The British Officers And Non-Commissioned Officers Of Dunsterforce.
It is with great regret that I sever my connection with the gallant members of the force I have commanded under very peculiar circumstances for the past nine months. The original destination, of course, was the Southern Caucasus, but, owing to various causes, that destination was never reached. The force remained in Persia until August, 1918, when a portion reached Baku and took part in operations there, which came to an end with the evacuation of September 14th, 1918. The remainder of the force was employed in various parts of Persia and Kurdistan, where they had the honour of being the first British troops to operate in these regions.
The work carried out by the members of the force was varied from valuable administrative tasks to daring achievements in the battlefield, and all have striven to do their utmost, even in spheres of work for which they were never prepared and they would never have chosen for themselves. Officers and N.C.O's have been called upon to superintend famine relief work, to assist in road construction, to police towns, to drill and instruct levies and Armenian troops, and to lend a ready hand in many tasks that were not, in themselves, congenial.
Apart from any military results achieved, the members of the force have had the proud privilege of showing the various races in the lands through which they passed, the pattern of the finest army of present times. The effect of their demeanour and their behaviour has been such as to enhance the reputation of the British race in the eyes of all with whom they had dealings.
Mirza Kuchik Khan, the leader of the Gilinas, with whom we fought at Resht in July, has stated that he fears the British more than any other European race because their methods are such as to call forth the admiration even of their enemies. Against other foes he can rely upon stirring up some desire for vengeance or retaliation, but against the British he fails to rouse any feeling at all.
I am prouder of my command of the gallant officers and N.C.O's of Dunsterforce than of any other command I have ever held, or am likely to hold. Brought together from every corner of the Empire, all have vied with one another to show the absolute unity of our national aspirations, and our determination to win in this great war of the representatives of freedom against the powers of autocracy and militarism.
I wish each individual member of Dunsterforce everything good in the future and happy memories of this far away theatre of the great war.
To General Dunsterville, the soldier and the man, we say "Goodbye and Good Luck," and never will we forget those days that gave us the pleasure of. following your gallant leadership.
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