Town quite quiet. My policy has succeeded well so far. Two aeroplanes were to have arrived yesterday, but failed to come.
The aeroplane arrived all right yesterday and gave a good show that impressed the people. To-day the democrats have engineered a run on the Bank – if it goes broke we’re done. Meantime Baghdad will not get troops on the move and things are very serious indeed. To-day I hope to get in a few men of the Hants and there are about 100 of the Cossacks still here if there is a row, but I want a squadron of cavalry and a couple of guns. The Germans and Turks are drilling the Kurds in the mountains close by, with the intention of swooping down on the towns, and I cannot stop them, and the famine is awful. It all makes me feel very, very old. But God is with us always. The news from France is bad, still retiring. Only from Baghdad the good news that we have captured 3000 Turks on the Euphrates.
These are terrible times, indeed, with all the awful anxiety here – not for myself, but for my work and my responsibilities – we get the very worst war news. The big battle on the French front has begun [the first battles on the Somme] and we are being pushed steadily backwards – please God we are preparing a counter-blow somewhere else, but from our point of view in Persia the news comes at the very worst time. Famine relief too, has broken down, it is impossible to control the poor starving wretches, and officers giving out tickets are mobbed – and order cannot be kept so it has to stop. The strong fight for the tickets and resell them to others. A dull gloomy day with sleet and wind, and no aeroplane arrived.
I have issued a proclamation in the town in Persian warning the people that the agitation against the British is only got up by the politicians, that we do all we can to help the people, and our wheat purchases are not local so do not affect the famine.
Cold better but still a worm. Weather fine, but snow not melted. I intend to start at 4 a.m. to-morrow while the snow is frozen. The German plane that flew over yesterday was downed soon afterwards by one of ours, so his information about us never reached and we were saved a bombing.
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.
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.
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.