Shergat Rest Camp, Mesopotamia
April 21, 1920
Gayyarah oil wells are down on the banks of the Tigris, and when we rose from the river valley to the highlands again we found the road much better. The Indian drivers hit up a speed which was surprising for a lot of Fords, and we ate up the distance quickly. At 6:30 P.M. we drew up before the tents of this rest camp again. It is full of people, and the sergeant in immediate charge of the tents had only one left. Luckily it is a large one, with just room for all five of our beds. We have just been in to eat an abominable breakfast in the mess, after a worse dinner there last night. The arrangements here are not good as far as food is concerned. The water is taken from wells and as the region is full of gypsum or some similar calcium rock, all the well water is bitter and nauseating. The tea is frightful, — you feel as if you were bolting a disgusting dose of Epsom salts. All the vegetables have the same nauseating bitter, Epson salt taste, for they are cooked in the same water. If you want a drink, you must call for a bottle of soda water. The only meat is bully beef, and the bread is heavy, soggy stuff. Imagine our feelings when we are told this morning that there is no prospect of a train. The food has already knocked out Luckenbill’s inside, which is triple copper plated and double riveted; — as for mine, it is still holding on!
So I have sent a letter down the line a mile or so to the station master’s tent. I have framed it in the most approved military official tone, and signed it with all available titles calculated to impress a British official, and if this communication results in no transportation for us today, I shall go up to the Colonel’s tent and ask for transport out to Assur again, for we saw it only hurriedly a week ago yesterday, as chronicled already in this long screed. And what is better, we shall make up a lunch out of our available stores and picnic out there for the rest of the day, thus avoiding one of the horrible meals at the Rest Camp mess. Meantime I have set up the type-writer on my camp bed with results as visible above, and Shelton has gone off down the line with my letter to the station-master.
In spite of the extraordinary interest of this trip I find myself very weary of this vagabond life, which I have now been leading for over eight months, and I force myself to write and send home this chronicle of our journey, with the feeling that you must finally find it very tedious and tiresome. But at any rate, it serves to let you know how we get on, and as I have no such continuous narrative in my technical notes, it may also serve later as a journal of the trip. So I will push on with it, as best I can. I cannot begin to give you a complete journal by a great deal, for that would be beyond my time and strength to give, and as well as beyond yours to read. I want when I can, to give you a further account of our day in Mosul with the old Vicar-General, an account which I was unable to finish above.
This delay in our return to Baghdad is again cutting out my home letters, for there must be a number there waiting at the consul’s office. Shelton has just come in from the station master’s office and reports no prospect of a train today. Ludlow Bull, whom I sent up to the colonel’s tent to ask for a car to Assur, returns and reports no car available, and moreover, if it were we should be obliged to take along three riflemen! For the break in the railway, it is now learned, was made by the Arabs who undermined the line. The Arabs are out and shooting into the camp next below us, — so we have given up the proposed outing to Assur, and we shall face another awful lunch at the mess. It is reported that the break in the line will be repaired by 4 o’clock tomorrow morning, so that we shall probably get a train down to Baghdad tomorrow afternoon. There are plenty of troops and we have no anxiety; the camp is surrounded by a high barbed wire entanglement, and patrols in addition to the usual sentries, were on duty around the camp all night last night. I really think in view of the usual Arab marksmanship, that I would rather face their rifles than a dinner at the rest camp mess! Now I am going to put up my moustiquaire (for our tent is next to the mess dining room and we are overrun with flies), and get little rest. Eighty miles of skidding and rain and a night on a camp bed, leave one pretty tired.
For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute!
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