Such a day of talk. Haji Saad-es-Sultaneh, whom I like very much and who talks French, called on me – then General Baratov with a lot of questions, some so very simple. I offer to send him down to Baghdad, as he cannot return to the Caucasus. He says, “Could I get command of a Division?” I said “I’m afraid quite impossible.” Then he asked: “Supposing Great Britain declares war on Russia?” I replied, “Well, you’ll be a prisoner, and I’m sure very happy in our hands.” The weather alternates between snowstorms and warm sunshine – so does the political situation. At the present moment I am in the sunshine. Last night there were rumours of trouble in the city – this morning I was asked to stop the Governor issuing arms to the rabble to attack the English – now Kuchik Khan says he wants to make peace with the English, the Governor says he is our very best friend – and I also hear there is a chance of my getting through to Tiflis – so the sun shines indeed for the moment.
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.
An amusing morning examining the German prisoner Eric Wiener and his Turkish guide. He says he hates the Turk because he believes it was he who gave his disguise away when he was travelling as a woman. His only request was for some decent bread, but I told him that we had all been eating Turkish chuppaties for 2 months and could get nothing else. He was evidently bearing important despatches but had destroyed them. What horrible times we live in, I live in such appalling contrasts and it is only by contrast that we can realize. This famine is perfectly awful. I have just walked through the town and I gave alms to the extent of my purse, perhaps about 40 krans, 2 krans to each beggar, but there were thousands of them and I suppose they must all die. In the bright sunshine in the middle of the road lay a little boy of about 6, quite dead, with his face buried in the mud: the others seem quite callous. And then from all this misery I come home to a beautiful house and sit in a luxurious drawing-room after a good tea and listen to the most beautiful violin music played by a Russian Officer (Ostrovsky), and my German prisoner tells me he wants to get back to his wife – and it all seems so wicked and senseless. I believe the famine here could be put right with a million pounds, and what is that in a war that costs us 7 million a day? I have asked the War Office to give me £20,000 a month for road-making and that will help a little.
Fine weather. The Governor and the Karguzar [possibly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs agent] returned my call. We had a very interesting talk. The Governor said: “as you are the most democratic people why on earth are you against the democrats here?” which was true. We are backing, as usual, the wrong horse. I wish I could persuade the Government to tackle famine relief and support the democrats – I have cabled this to London.
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.
No rain yet and heat awful. Locusts passed over to-day – what a happy land! War, intrigue, sedition, heat, dust, flies, scorpions, snakes, wasps, hornets, mosquitos, sandflies, drought, famine, cholera, and plague – just a normal list of life’s little inconveniences in India. The hornets have big nests in the verandah and the wasps are everywhere.