Lunched on flagship with Admiral Gaunt – Dined with Senior and General Sutton. Went on board the Egra after dinner and shook the dust of Mesopotamia finally off my worn-out shoes – no particular gladness or sorrow, but nice to think of meeting Daisie.
Left at 7 a.m., arrived at Kasvin 2 p.m., staying with Goodwin, Bank and Consul, Sir Charles Marling and Col. Napier* – Minister and Military Secretary, Teheran, came to confer with me – very interesting talk. There never was such a terrifying situation – but one is not paid to be terrified. The Caucasus seems already to be in the thick of civil war – and Persia also on the verge. My port of embarkation is in the hands of Persian revolutionaries and my port of arrival in the hands of Russian and Tartar anarchists. Kasvin is a filthy, filthy town, and full of disorderly Russian soldiers. But beautiful fruit gardens all round – I have at last seen a pistachio-tree – after meeting the liquorice bush in Mesopotamia – and some beautiful coloured tile domes in the town.
* I cannot identify any of these men
This map shows the route across the mountains which run between modern-day Iraq and Iran. It’s astonishing to think it took 12 days to do a journey which Google Maps reckons should take just about 9 hours.The map also shows the critical nature of the region – with the Turks, the Russians (the old, white Russians loyal to the Tsar as well as the ‘red’ Communist/Bolshevik Russians), the British and the Germans all desperate to control this piece of land.
Sent touring-cars unloaded to explore – they took 2 hours doing 6 miles and reported deeper snow – it seems hopeless and I must stay here. Meantime the Turks are beginning to hear about us which is the most unfortunate aspect of the delay – a German plane flew over the Serai at 2 p.m. today, I thought he was going to drop bombs, but he flew on. I suppose he was out to reconnoitre and report and we shall get the bombs to-morrow. It is a hopeless situation, but I am an optimist and never without hope – I feel sure that God will guide us through. Tactical problems are so easy to solve, but these are far greater problems. Shall I start to-morrow? If so, how far can I expect to get? How much petrol expended? Will I be held up in the snow, unable to get forward or backward? One has to make a decision and stick to it, so I decide not to move to-morrow. But every day’s delay gives the Germans more time to arrange to thwart us. What an example of how weather affects military problems. I have realized this all my life, but never hoped to have such a bad actual situation. I am in bed with bad cold on chest. The old one I had in Baghdad which would have been cured but for this vile weather.
The oaks here are like the Himalayan Oak, but not evergreen – acorns enormous, 3 inches long, and over an inch in diameter. They make flour out of them. Started at 8 a.m. weather cleared, but much snow on the ground. Snow got deeper and deeper, and we only did about a mile an hour, all pushing and digging – so I gave it up and returned to the old Serai – which seemed quite snug. The country is absolutely full of partridge and there were marks of snow-leopard. Two dead horses in the serai!
Rained all night and sleet, and the roofs leaked and it was not very comfortable and not very good for my beastly cold. I meant to start at 6.30 a.m., but thought it better to give the men a hot meal and start later, so we got off at 8 a.m. It took us 4 hours and a half to do the 4 miles to the top of the [Paitak] pass, pushing the cars up. At the top it snowed – I halted there to let the columns close up and left at 1.15 p.m., no sooner started than down came another heavy snow-storm and the cars got stuck every 100 yards – so I gave up the venture and put in for the night in the old ruined caravanserai of Surkhadise Khan, a Cecil Hotel to us, but really more like a pig-sty.
Crossed into Persia through Kasr-i-Shirin – our posts all along – a beastly day, rain and sleet. Road bad, last cars not in till 5 o’clock. At Pai-tak [modern-day Iran, possibly Par-ye Tak] they had hot bully soup stew and tea waiting for us. Quite Alpine and snow all around, a beautiful land with broad valleys among barren hills, lovely clear trout streams. All towns and villages ruined, burnt and demolished by Turks and Russians, inhabitants very glad to meet people who do not burn, rape, or destroy. All fruit trees cut down, willows and almonds, everything devastated and the people dying of famine. We passed one poor fellow who had just died by the roadside. The children take morsels of bread from your hand like pie dogs it is very depressing. What a vile thing is man. Slept in the ruined houses of Pai Tak village once a fine place. Such a bitter gale blowing, but all well and cheery.
41 cars, first party left Baghdad 7 a.m., Hurrah for the great adventure! 93 miles to Khanikin, arrived 5.30 p.m., road not too bad. We all tucked up for the night in an old ruined Turkish bakery, no doors or windows, we slept on the floor and were very comfy – not many fleas.
Thank goodness, Duncan and Stork arrived. I wonder if anyone will ever realize what a forlorn hope my mission is? I am proud and glad to have it and I think I can accomplish what I am told to, but that thought is based only on my optimism and not at all on calculation. If I were appreciating the situation for another man, I should say “can’t be done”, but I can never say that for myself. I agree with Government that it is worth trying and the loss of a few lives etc., is a trifle compared with what may be gained. I am up against a hostile-neutral, almost anarchical Persia and a possible hostile reception from our own friends, the Russians. The Turks at Kifri are within 50 miles of my road at the start, and one aeroplane, if it spots us, gets the lot as we cannot defend ourselves from the sky. We pass through 600 miles of barren, cold country, between 5000 and 7000 feet, and no supplies, and through Kurds all the time who are the same sort of independent robbers that the Afridis are.
Farewell lunch with Stuart-Wortley – got rid of my Indian servant and took on Pte. Galton of the 1st Oxford and Bucks.