I have written to Top such details of the Kut battle as I could gather from eye-witness: but I don’t think it forms a reliable account, and you will probably find the official version rather different, when it comes out. Anyway it appears to be beyond doubt now that we mean to push on to Baghdad, in spite of your Beatus possidens. It was only lack of water and the exhaustion of the troops which prevented a much larger haul this time: and now they are concentrating against the next position, 90 miles further north. We hear again on good authority that 8,000 reinforcements are coming out. They will certainly be needed if we are to hold Baghdad. It seems to me a very rash adventure: especially as Bulgaria’s intervention may enable the Turks to send an Army Corps down to Baghdad, in which case we should certainly have to retire.
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All Saints, 1915.
Your letters have been so splendidly regular that I’m afraid a gap of three weeks may mean you’ve been ill: but I can’t be surprised at anyone at home breaking down under the constant strain of nearness and frequent news. Mesopotamia and a bi-weekly Reuter are certainly efficient sedatives; and the most harrowing crisis of the Russian armies is only rescued from the commonplace by its unintelligibility. Even the heart-breaking casualties, reaching us five weeks old, have nothing like the stab they have in England.
Life here requires a Jane Austen to record it. Our interests are focussed on the most ridiculous subjects. Recently they took an ecclesiastical turn, which I think should be reported to you. The station was left “spiritually” in charge of a Y.M.C.A. deacon for a fortnight: and discussion waxed hot in the Mess as to what a Deacon was. The prevailing opinion was that he “was in the Church,” but not “consecrated”; so far Lay instinct was sound, if a little vague. Then our Scotch Quartermaster laid it down that a Deacon was as good as a Parson in that he could wear a surplice, but inferior to a parson in that he couldn’t marry you. But the crux which had most practical interest for us was whether he could bury us. It was finally decided that he could: but fortunately in actual fact his functions were confined to organising a football tournament and exhibiting a cinema film.
He was succeeded by a priest from the notorious diocese of Bombay: who proceeded to shift the table which does duty for altar to the E. side of the R.A.T.A. room and furnish the neighbourhood of it into a faint resemblance to a Church. But what has roused most speculation is the “green thing he wears over his surplice for the early service and takes off before Parade service.” I suggested that it was a precaution against these chilly mornings.
Gibbon has more to say about these parts than I thought: and I find he alludes to them off and on right down to 1453, so if you haven’t been able to find a suitable book, I can carry on with that philosopher’s epitome.