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
Such an appalling lunch with the Russian officers – General Baratov made a long speech and I replied in a short one, thinking it was all over. But he made 11 more. He toasted us, the British Army, our wives and families, our regiments, the Baghdad Army, the capture of Baghdad, the Union of the Churches, General Maude, General Marshall and many others, 1.30 to 5.30. My brain was rotted with platitudes, and my interior disturbed with endless food and drink. I was very cautious with the latter, but just sipped some very poor and sour Persian wine. Then Gen. Baratov and I kissed each other, and we were free at last – a whole day wasted – Weather fine – Terrible reports of enemies barring my way down the road. Turks, Germans, Austrians and the Jangali tribe. Well, well – we must just trust in God and see for ourselves. What chaos – the world is a large lunatic asylum – when and how will it all end?
More snow and more snow. It is awful. Had long talks with Shore, Goldsmith, Mc.Murray, Barttelot, Rowlandson etc. re this doubly, doubly complicated situation in North Persia and in the Caucasus – it is enough to make one’s brain reel and thoughts continued all night and destroyed sleep. Shore looks utterly nervy and broken down, Rowlandson also. Called on Russian General Baratov.
A day of disasters. Got up 3.30 a.m., breakfast 4.30, left at 5.30. Splendid day, Lt. Georgiev of the Cossacks comes with us as a guide. Difficulties began at once. It was dark when we started and one of the cars dropped into a ditch and broke something which delayed us for 1½ hours – when every moment was precious. Reached the Kangavar Pass 5,600 feet (snow) about 12 noon. We had to get out and push every single car over the Pass one by one – it took us 3 hours. Reached Kangavar 4 p.m. Here the kind Russians had a hot meal waiting for us, which took us an hour to eat, but I did not grudge the delay, as I thought with a hot meal inside us we could take whatever chances might lie before us. Left Kangavar 5 p.m., darkness soon came on, the road was often no road, and there were risks of cars losing their way, however, we eventually reached Asadabad and got cars and all tucked in about 9 p.m. Some Russian chupattie, some cheese and rum and a very welcome bed. The drivers are splendid Englishmen and grouse about nothing – they were on the go from 3 a.m to 10 p.m., 19 hours, and were quite cheery. Ready to start to-morrow at 7, get over the big Pass 7,600 feet and hope to reach Hamadan about 11 a.m. There will be lots to do there.
Breakfast 5.30, left 6.30, arrived Kermanshah 1 p.m. The Russians sent 2 Kuban Cossacks to show us the way. Billeted in a beautiful Persian house, with Persian carpets etc., very pretty garden with 2 fountains, jasmine, roses etc., not out, of course. Met Col. Kennion, the Political here, Capt. Greenwood, his assistant, Mr. Redmond, civil political, Mr. Hale, Manager of the Imperial Bank of Persia – all interesting people. Had lunch and dinner with the Kennions, she is a charming woman and acts as his secretary. Kermanshah is the first large Persian town we have seen, population 50,000 and it is not much knocked about though the Turks burnt a few houses before they left. The Kennions were very kind and actually produced a bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion. Met also Colonel Bicherakov, commanding the few loyal Cossacks who have not deserted, about 300. He is a Caucasian, a good fellow and badly wounded.
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.