Still an invalid, but very glad this came on now instead of on the journey – I am simply straining to be off – this delay is terrible, but I am sure it is good. When I start on Sunday [27th January 1918] it will be a good start, and a good start is half the battle. I have had to wait also for Duncan who was my Brigade Major in Peshawar and now comes as A.Q.M.G. – he will be invaluable. Another reason for delay has been the kaleidoscopic changes in the situation as each item of information comes in. I have to get my party through 600 miles of Persian territory on a bad road with few supplies, which means thinking out food and petrol schemes far ahead and measures for protection against Kurds, Germans and Turks.
My task is as difficult for one man as any Napoleon ever undertook. I am as strong as Napoleon in my confidence in myself, but unlike him, I have my strength only in God, who I feel and know directs and guides me as He has every day of my life – I have never felt more certain of any of the material facts of life than I do of this spiritual fact – and yet I am far from being what Christians would call a “good” man, I am full of “bad” and I know it. Also quite unlike Napoleon, I find it impossible to place myself on a pedestal, this was a great asset to him – in fact, it made him. To me the all important fact is my own paltriness and the only cheer I get is that I may be less paltry than some others – without being pharisaical, I dislike putting my religious thoughts into words. It is where words quite fail one, and what one writes is not exactly what one feels. Any such writing regarding oneself, looks so pharisaical and priggish. 9 p.m. Just getting into bed, my first experience of air-craft bombs – enemy aeroplanes bombing like mad all over the place which seems very vulnerable in the bright moon-light. Anti-aircraft guns firing, but no search-light – a very chance aim. One has far less sense of danger than when the simple rifle shot whizzes through camp at night on the frontier – being hit by a bomber seems so very much like winning the Derby Sweep which one never wins.
Been in bed a couple of days with real bad influenza – seem to be reviving to-day. Daisie telegraphs frequently and longs for news from me, but my brain is full of men and horses, guns, rifles, equipment, ammunition, supplies, petrol, motor-cars, aeroplanes, clothing, cold, snow, marches, languages, tribes, politics, information and rumours, spies, pro and anti, finance, routes, tactics, strategy, geography, history.
Owing to the secrecy of my arrangements, I am called the Commander of the “Hush, Hush Army”. I blossomed into a Major-General yesterday – as it was obviously foreseen Daisie had made the holes for the new resplendent stars. After fixing up all plans to start, I get a wire to say that Enzeli, my destination on the Caspian Sea, has been seized by some horrid fellows called Jangalis (a very suggestive name) who are intensely anti-British and are in the pay of Germans. It will have to be plot and counter-plot.
These long journeys are full of dramatic change. I am just waiting to jump off into darkness and eternity for a space, with a fair hope of emerging on the far side, and here I have a pantomime with string band and as I stand on the verandah at night, the romantic Tigris flowing as it has flowed for many thousand years, and the moon-light on the water, and everything good the world holds except Daisie to share the beauty and romance of it – but women have no romance!
Arrived Baghdad 8 a.m., breakfast with Sir P. Cox. Staying with the Commander-in-Chief, Sir William Marshall, met Stuart Wortley, Q.M.G. (possibly this man?) and several other old friends. I have a tough job in front of me – it is difficult to get through Persia with things as they are, and arriving at Tiflis safely, there may still be great obstacles to overcome. This is a beautiful house on the banks of the Tigris, and it is romantic to hear the waters of the ancient river lapping on the bank below my window.
In the forward journey there is the risk of traps by tribesmen, or German and Turkish plots. In Tiflis, German paid assassins or truculent politicians. But God is with us always and I thank him for an intensely happy life with my beloved wife, even if it terminates at 53.
Tiflis = Tblisi, capital of Georgia
Dined with Col. Gordon Brown commanding al Amara. Met Sir Percy Cox – started in train 9 p.m., a rather sleepless night with jolts and bumps.
Started at 7.30 a.m. with Grant on board, Captain Dunning as my A.D.C., arrived Kut el Amara 6 p.m.
NOTE: more excellent reading about the situation in (modern-day) Iraq and Turkey can be found here, with particular reference to Kut el Amara, which was witness to a disgraceful defeat of the British by the Ottomans. (For Dunsterville’s views on that defeat, see his entry of 1 May, 1916.)
More explorations in this wonderful new Basra with a six mile river frontage, camps, docks, ship-building, if I tried to describe my impressions I should fill this book. I have been waiting for Sir Hamilton Grant, Indian Foreign Secretary, to arrive, as he is to go up in the steamer with me. He arrived to-day. Slept on board the steamer where I have a magnificent cabin, as large as my private office in Peshawar and can open all my boxes and study maps etc. The magnitude of this enterprise does not weigh on me, but it is a big thing. Steaming up river all day in this wonderful land of Chaldaea, Babylon, Nineveh and Abraham – fallen Empires all around are represented by mud heaps. The Turk has treated the country vilely, under us it will again blossom into the Garden of Eden, the Arabs and Jews are white men like us, of the race of Shem. Basra people are quaint and children often wear just the ordinary European woman’s kit, a little out of date. They seem enormously happy and one gets only smiles instead of the sulky looks of India. The children salute, shout “hurrah!” and “good evening”.
NOTE: it is well worth reading up about Turkey’s role in World War One, to give a bit of background as to why Dunsterville was posted to this area, and to his antipathy towards ‘the Turk’. Here is an excellent article.