Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 54
Publication Date: 1917
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There is nothing to suggest that you are approaching the gateway of the Garden of Eden when you reach the top of the Persian Gulf, unless the sun be that Flaming Sword which turns every way to keep the way of the Tree of Life. Of cherubim we could see no signs. We lay motionless awaiting orders by wireless. Of the country before us we knew next to nothing. We did not grasp that the great river at whose mouth we lay was called the Shatt-el-Arab and not the Tigris; and I do not think that a single one of us possessed a copy of the "Arabian Nights." Few of us knew anything about the gun-running troubles in the Persian Gulf of recent years, and of the exploits of the Royal Indian Marine.
The approach to the Shatt-el-Arab is remarkably featureless. After the stark fissured coast hills of Persia and the strip of red Arabian coast that marks Kuweit, the mouth of the river appeared as a yellow line on the horizon intersected by the distant sails of fishing boats. At the bar where the sand has silted, a few steamers were lying. A steam yacht flying the White Ensign, with a pennant that trailed almost down to her decks, showing the length of service she had seen, passed us and dropped her anchor a mile to the south. The silence was only broken by the clacking of the fans in the saloon. One gazed listlessly west wards at the quivering haze that veiled Kuweit. There was a rumour that the ship's launch was going there with a party of nurses and a sharp voice sounded: "Nobody allowed on shore without a helmet." But it was too hot to move. At length a fishing boat emerged from the haze and slowly approached, rowed by four Arabs. It drew alongside, a spot of vivid colour against the dark sea. In it were half a dozen big fish. The Arabs began to harangue the occupants of the lower deck. We watched them curiously, perhaps wondering if they had poisoned the fish. The Tommies stared at them in silence. They were the first inhabitants of the country that we had seen.
The business of transhipping at the bar is a burden to all concerned. A steamer of shallower draught came alongside, and the derricks started to grind and clatter, and the big crates swung up from one hold and plunged down into the other for hour after hour. A squall arose and the ships had to part company and we lay for two days tossing and rolling in a dun-coloured atmosphere. Then once more we joined up, and the unloading continued of the four hundred tons of equipment, which had already been dumped on shore at Alexandria. It is a costly business bringing out a hospital to these parts. About midday we weighed anchor on the new ship, and crept up the channel over the bar. There were no gas buoys to mark its course, and Fao, which lies near the mouth of the river, had no lighthouse, so night traffic was presumably impossible.
The sudden sight of the belts of palm trees, the occasional square mud dwellings, and the steamy, hot-house look of the banks came as a surprise. Those of us who had been to the Dardanelles had half expected that this end of Turkey would be much like the other—broken country and sandy scrub, with hills. But here is only a broad swift river, a strip of vivid green verdure, and beyond the immense plain stretching to the horizon. In the stream was a small tug bearing the letters A.P.O.C. At Abadan we saw the big circular tanks of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company where the oil from Ahwaz, which travels through miles of piping, is refined. Above Abadan, which is just a cluster of circular tanks, slender chimneys and square houses on the arid plain, with a mass of barges lining the numerous wharfs, we passed Mohammerah. On the opposite bank—the west bank is called the right bank—you can see the Turkish trenches where they opposed our first advance among the palms at the battle of Sahil on November 16th, 1914, with a force of five thousand men and twelve guns. The ground is intersected with narrow creeks cut for irrigation purposes; and the trenches form little crescent-shaped depressions almost hidden by the reeds and grasses. From the ship it looks a lush green country here, for there are rice fields dotted about and the river broadens out and surrounds an emerald island. Our 4,000 ton vessel swept up-stream at a speed of ten knots, with a great wash spreading behind her, and her funnels towering high above the palms. Our destination was reached at six in the evening, about sixty miles from the mouth of the river, and the whole way up the scene had been practically unvarying—river and plain, and countless palms. We had passed the vessels sunk by the Turks to bar the progress of the original expedition. Masts and a funnel are visible, standing clear of the main channel.