Fighting in the Fertile Crescent
the Mesopotamian campaign in a British newsmagazine
I had known F------through years of hunting and sports in India, but never until the night that our old British-India coaster lay off the Shat-el-Arab bar waiting for the turn of the tide to run up to Bassorah, did I hear him speak of the things that were really next his heart. Then it was that I was vouchsafed transient vision of the outer strands of the previsionary web England was weaving beyond the marches of India against events to come. I will give his story, as nearly as I can remember, in his own words.
For the best part of the last five years [said he], I have been coming to Arabia and Mesopotamia on "language study." In all of that time I have not been back to England, and I am almost a stranger to the officers of my own regiment. I talk like an Arab, I am beginning to think like an Arab, and, what with sunlight and dirt that have gone so deep under my epidermis that they will never come out, I shall soon look like an Arab. Perhaps in timeyou'd never believe the appeal of the Koran till you've bowed toward Mecca, with a Bedouin on either side of you, morning and evening, for six months at a stretchI shall pray like an Arab. I have had smallpox, dysentery, which has become practically chronic,and a dozen varieties of fevers and skin diseases, and I'm mottled from head to foot with "Aleppo button" scars, two of which have never healed. I've been alone so much that I talk to myself even in Calcutta and Simla. The Persians in this region distrust me, the Russians and Germans hate me, and the Turks are perfectly frank in saying that they will send me on "the long pilgrimage" if ever a fair chance offers.
All that my Government does is to allow my pay to go on and to provide me with a passport that will land me at Koweit, Bassorah, or Bagdad. If I get into trouble they will notcannot, in factdo as much for me as they would for a spindle-legged Hindu coolie. And all this on the chance that, some time before I am retired for old age or invalided from the Indian army, the Great White Bear will try to come down to the Persian Gulf to slake his age-long thirst. In this contingency, of course, there is no denying the fact that I shall be very much in demand, especially if operations are carried on in my own " sphere," that of North-Eastern Arabia and Southern Mesopotamia, up to a line drawn from Bagdad to Hitt.
Afoot, or by horse or camel, I have traversed almost every square mile of this region. There is not a bazaar from Kerbela to Koweit in which, disguised, I cannot mingle unsuspected in the throng, or, in case of need, call upon friends who will do anything, from giving me a cigarette or a handful of dates to risking their lives to save my own. I also know every one of the greater, as well as most of the lesser, Bedouin sheikhs whose peoples roam the deserts between Bassorah and Damascus; and with one of the most powerful of thesehis camels are over 100,000 in number and his sheep and goats three times thatI have gone through the "blood brotherhood" ceremony. The blood of our arms has actually mingled, and each is pledged to stop at no act to serve the other. My friends, I need hardly say, are all Arabs, Chaldeans, Syrians, Jews, or people of one of the other subject races of this region; to the Turk, courteous as he is to me socially in Bagdad and Bassorah, my name is anathema. A week hence, for instance, I shall exchange Oriental amenities with the Vali of Bagdad in his garden on the banks of the Tigris. He will toast me in scented coffee and drink to the success of my visit; and all the while a double guard of police will be watching the gates to prevent my getting away to the desert and my Arab friends. Personally, I know it would pain him if I were to be shot in the dark for neglecting to answer a sentry's challenge; but officially he is dead keen for it, and there is no doubt that it would do him a lot of good in Stamboul, where he is not in very high favour at present.
The whole thing, when all is said and done, resolves itself down to about this: If a war involving operations in this "sphere" comes within the next twenty years, I,and a couple of other chaps who are doing the same sort of work,provided I do not lose my life, or my health, or the best of my faculties in the interim, will probably break all records outside of a Central American revolution for quick promotion. I should probably be a brigadier-general at forty, with ten or a dozen letters after my name. But if, as is likely, there is no war, I shall probably continue these little jaunts into the desert until my health gives out, when, at best, I shall be invalided home and retired on the half-pay of a captain or a major.
So, you see, my future depends entirely upon whether or not some of our neighbours, or would-be neighbours, see fit to "start something" in this little neck of Central Asia within the next decade or two. And now that Russia is in the Entente, and we are acting so entirely in concert with her in Persia, I'm very much afraid that it's going to be a case of the "hope deferred which maketh the heart sick."
The following day we caught the river steamer at Bassorah, and four days later arrived at Bagdad, F------ putting up at the grim brown fort which housed the British Consulate, post office, and telegraph station. I saw him on and off for a week, usually at tiffins or dinners given for him by some of his British friends. At other times he was not to be found. " F------Sahib gone to bazaar," his Pathan bearer invariably answered my inquiries; and F------ himself volunteered no more than that he was spending a good deal of time " renewing old acquaintances." Then, at the end of about ten days, without a good-bye to anybody, so far as I could learn, he dropped from sight.
"F------is off again to his Arabs," said his friends.
"I am much relieved," the Consul whispered to me. "They hung on him like leeches this time, but F got away by togging up as an Armenian arabana driver when they were expecting him as an Arab. The Armenian came here, F------stained his face, got into the chap's clothes, and actually drove the arabana, with a load of passengers, to Kerbela. The Turks nabbed the real driver when they caught him going out on foot, but got little out of him, and I don't think they know yet exactly what happened. F------is far into the desert by this time."
This was in 1912, and at that time no oneleast of all F------, who had the most to gain by such an eventappeared to dream that the blood-drenched plains of Babylonia and Assyria were likely to echo ere many years to the tramp of hostile armies. The broad scope of Germany's activities, extending far beyond the mere construction of the Bagdad Railway, was evident to every one; but, this notwithstanding, the general impression seemed to be that the whip-hand in this region was Russia's. This feeling was aptly expressed by an old Turkish officer with whom I discussed Near Eastern politics at Mosul. "The Germans may build railroads," he said, punctuating his measured speech with puffs from a gurgling hookah; "and the British may build ships, and the Turks may build dams and canals,"referring to the reclamation work at Hindia on the Euphrates,"but in the end the Great White Bear will come down to the Persian Gulf and have his drink of warm water."
That the Germans had ambitious plans for controlling the commerce of the incalculably rich Tigro-Euphrates Valley no one doubted, or even that the Kaiser aimed at some sort of political control. But that German influence should prevail over that of Britain and Russia in Constantinople, to the extent of aligning the Porte on the side of the Kaiser against the Triple Entente, was not dreamed of in Mesopotamia, even by the Turks themselves. The price to the Entente, however, of alienating Italy from the Triple Alliance by acquiescing in that Power's conquest of Tripoli, was the irretrievable loss of Turkey's friendship; and with the succession of Enver Pasha to the War Ministry at the end of the first Balkan conflict, there is no doubt that the Porte stood absolutely committed to action with Germany. After the outbreak of the present war, Turkey's participation on the side of the Central Powers was only a matter of the Kaiser's nod. Enver Pasha, educated in Berlin and always actively anti- Russian, had spent nearly two years in preparation for the struggle which the Germans had doubtless assured him was inevitable; and the making ready for a fight to the death at the Dardanelles was not allowed to interfere with a general stiffening of the Eastern defences. This, briefly, was the way in which it came about that Britain is facing Turkey instead of the long-prepared-against Russia in the Mesopotamian "theatre." But I will let my friend F------, to whom it was given to help set and stage the opening scenes of the play, tell something of what happened up to the moment of his tragic exit.
Late in the fall of 1914, a hastily scribbled card reached me in California.;'Things looming large at last," it read. "Am off for the 'P.G.' to-morrow with big work in prospect. Will write when I can get anything of interest passed." The card was post- marked Karachi, and dated but a few days previous to Turkey's official entry into the war. I took it, therefore, that the Indian Government had discounted this action, and that at the moment the Turks opened hostilities by bombarding the Russian coast, F- -----, doubtless with considerable forces, was on the way to his "sphere."
The promised letter was long delayed, and when it came bore the post-mark Bassorah, not in the pothook Turkish characters, but in plain English letters, while the blue two-and-a-half anna stamp of India appeared in the corner formerly sacred to the narrow, pink, half-gummed one-piastre sticker which you had often to affix with a pin to keep it from falling off. Thus ran the letter:
"I am writing you this from the one-time home port of 'Sinbad the Sailor,' which, I am rejoiced to say, has been under our flag for some days. The Turks had considerable forces of seasoned troops here,doubtless you remember how much of the old town was taken up by barracks,but, evidently because they did not expect us so soon, or in such force, had done little in the way of outpost defence. This, coupled with the facts that our naval strength was overwhelming and the river very ineffectively mined, made what might have been an operation of tremendous difficulty comparatively easy. The guns of our cruisers outranged those of the old forts at the mouth of the Shat-el-Arab, and, with sweepers working ahead of them, the light-draught gunboats peppered so hotly those dense palm groves which fringe the river banks that we had little difficulty in fighting our way through that without great loss.
"Co-operating with the advance up the river our main force was landed above Koweit and marched across the open desert to attack Bassorah on the west, threatening the rear of the Turkish positions on the left bank. Here the Turk could have made us no end of trouble had he been in sufficient force, for the lowlands were partly inundated and a defence of the practicable routes could have been made very effective.
"It was the weakness of the opposition here that first led us to hope that Bassorah was not going to be strongly defended. Although the advance resolved itself into little more than a series of outpost actions, the period was an anxious one for usand especially for methat it put to the acid test the result of our war, not only in forecasting the capricious and variable overflow, but also in conciliating the no less capricious and variable Arabs of a region notionally subject to Turkey. I can only tell you now that things turned out, and are continuing to turn out, even better than we had any reason to hope they would. There was no suggestion of a menace to our exposed left flank from the hordes of curious but in no wise hostile Arabs who showed themselves all along the way, and the censor will probably not allow me to tell you that our transport and commissariat, if nothing more, will probably be much helped by active assistance from this source. [Here several sentences, doubtless telling something more of the attitude of the Arabs, were obscured by the censor's brush.] So you will see that the Turk is reaping the harvest he deserves from his sowing of harshness and duplicity among the Bedouins, and that the time and efforts of us 'language students' who have worked this sphere will not have been spent in vain.
"The Turks have undoubtedly been quite sound in deciding not to make a stand at Bassorah. With the sea approaches in our hands, and with the city entirely encompassed by desert and marsh, the holding of it for any time would have hinged upon command of either the Tigris or the Euphrates all the way to the rich agricultural region to the west of Bagdad. As the cutting of this line by us was only a matter of time, the city would have been isolated and forced to withstand a siege which could only have ended in the capture of whatever forces were locked up there. As it is, the most of these forces are now at liberty to dispute our advance, through a very difficult country, to Mesopotamia and Bagdad. Here it seems certain we shall have all the fighting we care for.
"I have not mentioned the fact that I have received my captaincy and am assigned to the general staff. In an ordinary campaign the latter circumstance would mean a lot of dreary consultations at headquarters, and no action. Here, Allah be praised, the case is quite different, R------, K------ (the two chaps who have also worked this sphere), and I are always called in, if we chance to be on hand, when the maps are! unrolled; but most of the time the whole lot of us are off on something else. R------ has been through the Turkish lines twice, once spending three days in Kurna, their advanced base, and I have been off on a week's journey to receive renewed assurances of the friendship of my Bedouin 'blood-brother.' It is going to be a jolly amusing game."
Another letter came from F------ a month later, this being in answer to one I had rushed off on receiving the card announcing his departure for the Persian Gulf:
"You ask what we are driving at here, by which I suppose you mean, 'What is our plan of campaign?' This, obviously, is a question I can answer only in the most general way. Our principal purpose in the present campaign will be the occupation of southern and central Mesopotamia up to and including the cities of Bagdad and Kerbela, a region roughly corresponding to what might be called ancient Babylonia proper. Our objective in this is twofold. First, to gain control of all the irrigatedand hence highly productiveportion of the Tigro-Euphrates Valley, and, second, to establish ourselves strongly upon the flank of Persia in the event that that country should show a disposition to make common cause with our enemy.
"There is little doubt that the advance to Bagdad will be a fight all the way. The most difficult country will be that between here and about fifty miles north of where the Tigris and Euphrates come together. Most of this area is marshy all the year, and practically all of it will be under water from the spring floods by the time we are ready to get into it. An endless network of 'canals' and backwater channels makes it practically impossible to advance on foot even across much of the overflow country, and one of the main reasons for our long halt in Bassorah has been the training of our men in the use of the various native craft which will have to figure in our transport. Luckily, the Turks will be under the same handicap as ourselves in this region, and our superior artillery and organisation are sure to give us the ' edge.' The real fighting is going to come when we emerge upon the level alluvial plains of Central Mesopotamia. Here the enemy will have the Bagdad railway at his back, and, without doubt, a pretty complete little system of German-made light railways to keep him in munitions and food.
"It may be that it will take us to the end of jnic to attain our first goal. Then, if a decision in Europe has not been reached in the meantime, our next general advance would be up the Tigris to Samara, Tekrit, and Mosul, and up the Euphrates to Hitt and Deyr; this advance would place in our hands an upland grain-growing region of considerable productivity. Still another campaign would have to be launched to occupy the country up to a line fiom Aleppo to Mardin or Diarbekir; but Russia should reach this region from the Caucasus before we can get there from the south. Upon the guns and munitions which the Germans are able to send through to Bagdad will depend the character of the stand that the Turk is going to make in Babylonia.
"But what a game it is going to be, this fight for the old Garden of Eden,with the high-banked canals and the crumbling walls of Babylon and Hitt serving for trenches and forts, and the khans which sheltered Ali Baba and Haroun-al-Raschid as outposts! Why, the ' G.C.C and I have even discussed how we are going to use that isolated old temple of Birs Nimrud which some call the Tower of Babel'when the time comes!
Our transport for the new campaign will probably be the most remarkable thing of the kind ever assembled. The fact that the country into which we are advancing will be largely under water will compel us to become practically amphibious. On land we are using camels, horses, mules, and donkeys, while on the water the services of everything, from the native balems, gufas, and kalcks to shallow-draught gunboats and river-steamers, will be in demand. The old Bagdad side-wheelers have all been converted into gunboats, but even their slight draught of five or six feet is too great for all but the main river-channels. One of these, by the way, went into action the other day with an armour improvised from mats of dried dates. Of course the Turkish shrapnel made an awful mess of it, and, I am sorry to say, also of the chaps behind it.
"The direction of the training of our men in the use of the native watercraft has been one of my recent duties. The balem is a gondola-like sort of boat which has long been used for passenger transport on the canals and rivers of this region. It may be rowed, sculled, or paddled, and since it is of fairly stable equilibrium, the men are not long in mastering it. The gufa, however, is quite another matter. It is a slightly flattened ball of woven reeds covered with pitch, having a hole from five to ten feet across at the top to receive passengers and freight. It is propelled by paddling, now on one side, now on the other, and two or three old hands can make very fair progress with it. A novice, however, can do little more than make the thing spin on its own axis. Moreover, he invariably renders himself still more helpless by laughing at his own uselessness; and although some of the more serious-minded Sepoys have made considerable progress in handling the gufa, I am afraid we shall never be able to make Thomas Atkins, or his equally frivolous comrade-in-arms, the Ghurka, take it as other than a perpetual joke.
"A score of miles to the north of here, a few days ago, a dozen dismounted troopers, in lieu of anything better to hand, tried to cross a broad back channel of the Shat-el- Arab in a gufa, in order to dislodge some troublesome Turkish snipers. Their best efforts, however, served only to send the contrary craft bobbing down their own bank, the finest kind of a mark for the enemy's sharpshooters. The latter (I have this on the word of the sergeant whose misplaced enthusiasm was responsible for the trouble), evidently highly amused, held their fire until after the marines, as they have since been dubbed by their comrades, had kicked a hole in the bottom of the guja and been compelled to take to the water. The few scattering shots fired even then were apparently sent only with the intent of shooing several belligerent Tommies back to their own side, for the only casualty reported was the drowning of a man who, in the language of one of his surviving comrades, caught 'is bloomin' spur in the bally goofy an' got 'eld under water.
"Which incident reminds me to say a word for our old friend, the Turk, as a sporting fighter. Of course, we knew all the time that he was a first-class offensive fighter and a superlative defensive one; but, because for years we have known him under such characterisations as 'The Terrible," and 'The Unspeakable,' we had come to expect from him a programme of 'frightfulness' quite in keeping with that of his allies of the Occident. That nothing of this character has been in evidence is one of the most refreshing surprises of the campaign. I can only set down here one of a number of instances in point which have fallen under my observation.
"You doubtless read in the papers that the Turks made an attempt in some force to recover Bassorah a few weeks ago, going by boats to Nasire, on the Euphrates, and marching from there around the inundation area to approach this point from the west. Fortunately, one of our friends sent us word of what was afoot, and we were able to prepare a proper reception at Shaiba. It was after we had beaten them back at this point, and while they were fighting rearguard actions in a most cleverly conducted retreat, that the incident I have in mind occurred. I was out with, though not in command of, a troop of cavalry which was pressing the pursuit a considerable distance ahead of our main force. About eleven o'clock in the morning we found our way blocked by a small detachment of the enemy which had been left to make a stand at an isolated khan, one of those walled desert halting-places of the caravanserai order,really more of a fort than a tavern.
"There was no use in trying to dislodge the Turks until the guns came up, but, unluckily, about a dozen chaps, out of touch with their officer, attempted to rush the gate ' on their own.' The enemy coolly let them come on to about a hundred yards from the khan, and then, unmasking a machine-gun, dropped them all in a space not fifty feet square. A rifle volley brought down the three or four reckless spirits who, in spite of wounds, staggered to their feet and lurched ahead. Taking advantage of the cover afforded by a pair of old canal banks, we managed to get up within about three hundred yards of the khan gate without exposing ourselves dangerously, there to wait for our field guns and to be ready to make it lively for our Turkish friends in case they tried to evacuate in the meantime.
"For a while we thought that, mercifully, no life remained in any of the still, sprawling brown figures in front of the khan; but presently, with his face covered with the dirt a sniper's bullet had thrown on it as he put his head up for a look, a man crawled back to report to Major S------ that he had seen a hand feebly raised as though trying to attract our attention. Verifying the truth of the statement at the risk of his big new shikar helmet, S------ promptly called for volunteers to try to bring the wounded man in. 'It's a slim chance,' he said, 'but this noonday sun would kill an unwounded man lying on his face for an hour out there. We've got to make the attempt.'
"Passing down the line, S------ picked the four spryest and wiriest looking of the sprawling row of grimy Tommies, each of whom had raised an appealing hand as the word for volunteers passed along. 'Make the best of the cover of that strip of date- palms, and bring in the man he's the one nearest usthe same way,' he ordered just about as he would have sent them out on patrol. 'We'll give the Turks what diversion we can in the meantime.'
"Then we began peppering the ports of the old khan in a blind and large sort of way that had little effect, as a consequence of the fact that the machine-gun fire which came in reply made it impossible to put our heads up to aim. Enough of a diversion was created, however, to allow the volunteers to make their way, apparently unobserved, to the farther end of the palm clump. But a hail of bullets met them as they left cover, and the last of them dropped while he was still a dozen yards from the object of his rush. The three first to fall lay still, shot dead, as we learned later,but the last one, in spite of a punctured femur, presently pulled himself together and began to crawl forward. It was not until this moment, I am certain, that the Turks fully comprehended what we were driving at; for now, although they continued to keep us under cover with sweeping jets from their machine-gun, not another shot was directed at the man on the ground. Nor was there any attempt to check his painful progress as he dragged the man he had been sent after back to the palm grove. Nor yet, finest of all, did the Turks try to wing a single one of another brave four, who, disdaining the cover of the palm trunks, dashed out to relieve their comrade of his burden.
"Encouraged by the forbearance of the enemy, we were about to send out a squad under a white flag to see if any more of the wounded were alive, when dust clouds on the southern horizon warned the Turkish leader that our field-guns were coming up; and, with his task of delaying the pursuit well fulfilled, he made ready to retire by sweeping our cover with a fresh fusillade. The only gate of the khan, opening to the south, was completely covered from our position; but the resourceful Turk coolly breached the northern wall with a flake or two of gun-cotton, and, the first thing we knew, the whole troopmachine-gun and all went scurrying off across the desert/ For two or three minutes they were fair marks for us, and, as they sent several Parthian volleys themselves, there was no military reason why we should not have tried to bring down a few of them. As a matter of fact, we did send a few perfunctory volleys; but if its shooting on that occasion was any criterion of the marksmanship of S------'s troop, Allah have mercy on it when it comes to real grips with the Turk! Not one of the fugitives dropped from his saddle, and I don't think one of them was hit. If we had done for even a man of them, imagine what our feelings would have been when, on taking possession of the khan, we found, hung carefully in a thick-walled crypt well beyond all danger from our rifle fire, three goatskins of clear, cold water, while scrawled on the wall, in both French and Turkish, was the direction, ' For the Wounded.' As we had been out of water for hours ourselves, and as a few cups sufficed for the two or three wounded who had survived the withering sun heat, you may surmise that our hostility toward the ' unspeakable Turk' was not materially increased by this latter incident.
"The chap who was rescued at so great a cost died a few hours later, but rather from exposure to the sun than from his wound, which was slight. The man who brought him in is well on the road to recovery and, I trust, a V.C."
the Mesopotamian campaign in a British newsmagazine
My next, and what proved to be my last, letter from F------reached me in London:
"Our general advance has begun, and we have attained our first important objective in the occupation of the 'Garden of Eden.' Not the greater 'Garden of Eden,' which name Sir William Willcocks applies to all of Mesopotamia south of Hitt and Samara, but the traditional site of the Garden at the meeting of the Tigris and Euphrates. This was surely one of the strangest engagements in history. The country was under water for miles around, and the Turks had fortified and elected to make their stand on the only dry ground in the whole region, a series of low riseshardly to be called hills in the rear of Kurna. Fortunately, their available artillery was not powerful. We had prepared for the assault by emplacing batteries of heavy howitzers at every point sufficiently solid to support them, while lighter guns were mounted on the river- steamers and on barges.
"After a heavy shelling of the Turkish positions our troops, in everything from balems and gufas to kaleks and gunboats, were rowed, paddled, poled, and steamed forward to the limit of the draught of their respective craft. Then over they went into the water, and the assault commenced. Luckily the Turkish guns had been pretty well put out of action by our howitzers, else that half-mile or more through mud and water would have been a very costly business for us. As it was, some barges and kaleks with machine-guns on them were brought up close to the enemies' lines, and, the fire of these and the gunboats having made the Turkish positions practically untenable, the troops had to do little more than go and round up a very sizeable bunch of prisoners who had been cut off by a swift flanking movement of a column of Sepoys. Some of our men, in their eagerness, went overboard into deep water, and, as a consequence, had to chuck their accoutrements and swim for it. A number of them, in fact, lost more than their arms; and a bevy whom I saw later helping to shepherd some Turkish prisoners aboard a gunboat had little to differentiate them, sartorially, from Father Adam in the earliest days of this same 'Garden of Eden.'
"I had a rather interesting job a few days ago. This was to lead a small picked force across country and destroy a bridge of boats which the Turks were endeavouring to maintain across the Tigris at the Tomb of Ezra, for the use of any stragglers who might still be drifting back from the south.
'You recall the Bible story of this famous structure. The Prophet Ezra, faring about this region in his old age, feeling the hand of Death upon him, directed his followers to bind his body to a camel, drive the animal into the desert, and where it finally lay down to rest, there to make the holy man's burial-place. The camel headed straight for the nearest reach of the Tigris, and there the brilliantly-tiled tomb which was reared above the Prophet's remains stands to this day, a mecca for Jews and Mohammedans alike.
"I didn't make a very brilliant success of my job with the bridge of boats. We got into a marsh in the darkness and waded about in it until too late to make the night stirprise I had counted upon at Ezra's Tomb. We did get there at dawn, however, and, principally because the Turks must have thought we had strong support coming up, managed to induce the latter to evacuate his very good position about the Tomb and retire to the east bank of the river. We established ourselves in one of the Tomb gardens, but could go no farther for the moment on account of the brisk and accurate fire of the enemy from the other side.
"Most of the day I lay on my back in a bed of petunias under the garden wall, and gorged myself on the ripe pomegranates which the Turkish bullets cut down from the trees above. But about mid-afternoon they knocked a couple of bee-hives off the wall into the very midst of us, and, as we were wearing ' shorts,' with nothing to protect the leg from calf to knee, the sequel was a very unpleasant one. So dead sure were those bees that our inoffensive little party was responsible for upsetting their homes that they divided themselves into just as many bands' as we were men, and started, impartially and systematically, to sting us to death. My men were out of hand in an instant, and I really believe that, had not a modern miracle been wrought, another minute would have seen the whole pack of us, careless of such trifles as Turkish rifle and machine-gun fire, wallowing in the fifty-yard-distant Tigris.
"The miracle was performed by a little pink-cheeked, bare-footed angel of a Jewess, evidently the 'shepherd of the bees.' Unconcernedly tripping out among the writhing ' casualties,' oblivious alike to the threat of Turkish bullets and the roaring masses of bees, she set up the punctured hives in a safe place under the wall, and then began to beat sharply with a stick upon an old bronze gong which was suspended from her neck by a thong. Instantly the bees stopped stinging, and inside of five minutes the last of them was settling back with a contented buzz into its hive. I could have kissed the stubby brown toes of the pink-cheeked little angel of mercy. And here again let me record to the credit of the Turks that, although her head and shoulders must have been visible to them above the low wall, they made no attempt to stop with a bullet the work which, had they only known it, was all that prevented the whole lot of us from falling into their hands.
"Every man of us was, of course, in beastly shape from the stings. My own agony from this source was infinitely worse than that from a bullet which ploughed up my scalp when we cut the bridge of boats after darkness had fallen; in fact, if the truth were known, I think the desperate pain all of the boys were in had a good deal to do with the absolute recklessness they displayed when the time came for us to try to fulfil our mission. I heard one chap tell another he was afraid that he wasn't going to get shot, and the whole bunch acted as if they felt the same way. Luckily, the Turks had no searchlight, and it is probable their own fire helped not a little in breaking up the bridge. At any rate, it went off down the yellow Tigris in a score of sections, and weor what was left of uswith it. A half-dozen impetuous Turks who, in their eagerness to get at close quarters, had come out to welcome us half-way, were also carried along when the bridge broke up. After that it was a case of sauve qui peut for all of us, and I'm sorry to say that only about a third of the force I started out with has, so far, straggled back to Kurna."
I was still chuckling over F------'s account of his experience with the bees when, opening the latest issue of the Sphere the following afternoon, I saw his familiar face smiling back at me from the corner of one of the first pages. "Been getting mentioned in dispatches," I said to myself; and then the title of the page, on which appeared a score of other portraits, met my eye: "Dead on the Field of Honour; Officers Killed in Action." There were no particulars, not even a date; nor was anything further to be learned behind the tape-bound portals of Whitehall. To the officers of F------'s regiment, now fighting in Flanders, some few details were ultimately vouchsafed; and from one of these, whom I encountered a few days ago, during his leave in London, I learned all that I have so far been able to gather concerning the death of my friend.
"F------'s work in cutting the bridge of boats across the Tigris he said, "is spoken of as one of the most daring things of the Mesopotamian campaign. Undoubtedly he deserved a V.C. for it, and it is just possible one may be awarded posthumously. He was slightly wounded there, but must have been out on duty again within a very few days. According to the account we have received, he was off on some special detail when he came upon a number of imbeciles of the transport trying to ferry several camels and machine-guns across a back channel of the Euphrates on a kalek, a sort of raft consisting of a light platform resting on inflated sheepskins. One of the camels had kicked a hole in the platform and was rapidly demolishing the supporting skins, when F------, fearing the loss of the guns, swam off to try and set things right. In endeavouring to extricate the camel, he ducked under the kalek, where, it seems likely, his wounded head was struck by one of the brute's sharp hoofs, and he let go his grip and sank before any one could get hold of him. Glorious death, wasn't it, for a man who had led the life F------ had, and who, for that particular region, was the most nearly indispensable man with the expedition?"
Two months have gone by since F------'s last letter was written, and the Mesopotamian campaign has been prosecuted along the general lines he forecasted at the outset. Nasire and Amara have fallen, and the early winter will see the armies drawn up for the final fight for Bagdad, probably upon that same Plain of Shinar where the scarlet desert flowers still keep alive the old belief that Never blows so red The rose as where some buried Caesar bled.
For destiny has decreed that once more the might of two rival races shall lock in death-grips for the possession of that age-old prize, the Garden of Eden. Eve was put without the gates when she tasted of the Forbidden Fruit, and right on down through the ages the same un-deviating penalty has been inflicted upon the Babylonian, Mede, Assyrian, and other empires that gorged themselves upon the Forbidden Fruit of Corruption. Brave foeman that he is, the Turk, cloyed with the same Forbidden Fruit, has long been marked for the inexorable justice of the ages, and every precedent of tradition, history, and strategy points to the conclusion that the closing hour of his stewardship of the Garden of Eden is about to strike.
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