Now they have reformed at a point, only twenty miles from ——, their present base. We shall go for them there no doubt, and push them back once more. But what does it all lead to? Imagine peace restored. What will Turkey be like? She will be bankrupt, chaotic, totally incapable of keeping order among these murderous Bedouins. The country would be a second Persia under her. Persia is intolerable enough for the Europeans who trade there at present: but the plight of this country might easily be worse. We are bound to control the bit from Basra to the sea to protect existing interests. The whole future of that area—as of all Mesopotamia—depends on a scientific scheme of drainage and irrigation. At present half the country is marsh and half desert. Why? Because under Turkish rule the river is never dredged, the banks are never repaired, stray Arabs can cut haphazard canals and leave them to form marshes, and so on. Now an irrigation and drainage scheme is vitally necessary, but (1) it involves a large outlay; (2) to be effective it must start a long way up-stream; (3) there must be security for the good government not only of the area included in the scheme, but of the whole course of the river above it. These Asiatic rivers are tricky things: they run for hundreds of miles through alluvial plains which are as flat as your hand. Here at Amarah, 200 miles from the mouth of the Tigris, we are only 28ft. above sea-level. Consequently the river’s course is very easily altered. Look at Stanford’s map of this region and see how the Euphrates has lost itself between Nasiriyah and Basra—“old channel,” “new channel,” creeks, marshes, lakes, flood-areas and so on; the place is a nightmare. That kind of thing is liable to happen anywhere if the river is neglected. So that our schemes for Lower Mesopotamia might be spoilt by the indolence of those in possession higher up the river: let alone the security of the trade-routes which would be at the mercy of wild Arabs if Turkey collapses.
All this inclines me more and more to believe that we shall be forced, sooner or later, to occupy the whole Mesopotamian plain as far as Mosul or to whatever point is the southern limit of Russian control. At first I favoured a “neutral zone” from Mosul to Kut, and I shouldn’t be surprised if that plan still finds favour at home. But frankly I see no prospect of a strong enough Government to make the neutral zone workable; on the contrary everything points to the absorption of the Persian neutral zone by either us or Russia, probably us.
I am still a Captain, but no longer a Coy. Commander. A large draft from India has arrived, 11 officers and 319 men from 1/4th and 2/4th, invalids returned. I am now second in command of a Coy. of respectable size.
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October 10, 1915.
TO HIS FATHER.