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Letters to, from and relating to:
 Rev Capt Cuthbert Helsham Heath-Caldwell DSC RN

The following is a selection of letters to, from or relating to Cuthbert Helsham Heath-Caldwell.  This is part of a large family archive of letters and I hope to add more letters to this list as time permits.


RA Mess

Rollestone Camp


Thursday Evening, May 13 1914?

My Dear C [Cuthbert Heath-Caldwell]

I always seem to leave my scribble to you till the last moment, in fact, I expect this will be too late to catch the last post.  We finished our practice today with a "brigade day" The . . . was very pleased with the . . . performance on Tuesday & I think the Brigade did pretty well today.  The weather had been bloody, but then we had such a splendid week to begin with that we cannot well complain.  Tomorrow one of the batteries of the 5th brigade are . . . to troop off for the purpose of experimenting as to the observation of fire by aeroplanes - so I think we shall have a fairly slack day.  Lately life has been a bit strenuous.  We start trekking back on Saturday, staying at Trenton on Sunday - as we may not march on a Sunday.  I am writing after dinner.  It is very cosy in here - a good many people playing cards.  The . . . & majors do it for action - we always have a game of poker on.  However I think it is rather a mistake to play every evening as some people do.  Of course it is possible to be a little expensive - though one usually seems to keep about even on the whole.  The first night I was roped in at Aldershot I ended up about 11 shillings down, but have since recovered it!  I & John Tucker mobiked over to Portsmouth last Saturday.  Awfully pretty run then by Salisbury, Romsey, and Botely.  Found a host of cousins there, all rather owlish after prolonged ball dancing.  Under the "Skippency" of Phil Crofton we went for a sail on Spithead on Sunday afternoon.  John Tucker was violently ill which rather cast a gloom on the proceedings, & his bad example had a deteriorating effect on me & I didn't feel very happy coming back.  We had some adventures coming back here at night.  I . . . missed the hindquarters of a horse which was . . . the road near here.  One could not see him till right onto him.  John, according to his account, went slap into the animal - though I am inclined to think the bank, as the horse was not hurt.  Anyhow there was a crash and I hailed a passing car & put him into it & hid the bike behind the hedge where it was recovered by his servant next morning & having cursed the orderly on the horse proceeded without further incident.  Of course the silly ass with a shying horse ought never to have been riding along the road at night.  He could have easily rode along the fields at the side.  John was all right next morning . . . shaken rather & his knee knocked.  I am brigade orderly officer today & my first job is to go around the horses & turn out the guard sometime during the night.  The . . . no pleasant job on a wet night.  It took me an hour last time.

So no more now.

Yours etc

M [Martin Heath-Caldwell]




H. M. S. Dalhousie

11th Oct: 1914

All officers to see

Although I do not think it likely yet it is within the

bounds of possibility that the Forts at Fao may offer

fire on the ship as she passes.

Our policy is not to pick a quarrel with the Turks

in their forts-

All guns are to be ready for action as usual & gun

crews ready to close up at a moments notice but at the

same time no indication is to be given to  observers

on shore that the ship is in readiness to return any


All orders about closing ??? & firing will of course

come from the Fore bridge -

Should the ship be fired on by an irresponsible

soldier who may act without orders. fire will not [underlined twice] be


The Odin has orders to assist us in the event of an

organized attack - As the Dalhousie was requested to leave the

river some days ago it is expected the Turks will be rather pleased to

see the ship leave -

E M. Palmer. Act Comdr.




Oct 19th 1915.



My dear Mother

We have had

another mail after a lapse

of three weeks.

Really even the gulf

mails are more regular

than this.

As you see I have

come up here for a few

days, & am very glad.

I have as it seems


a top hole place.

I didn't intend to play golf,

but as soon as I saw

the course decided to have

a shot at it.

Nuwara Eliya is very empty

just now, consequently


one can go round at

ones leisure without worrying

about keeping other people

back, and without being

watched by experts.

I have been having a few

lessons from the pro,

and have actually found a fellow

her (a politician) whom I

can beat.

This is a very comfortable

little club, though some of

the old birds here seem

to put away a good deal,

and sit for hours lettering

long winded yarns.

I have managed to borrow

a pony for an occasional

ride before breakfast.


We are having a dance on

at Diyalalawa on Friday.

Somehow those sort of shows

don't appeal very much to me

nowadays, but I dare say lots

of people will enjoy it, and

it isn't often that we get

a chance to return hospitality.

You will have seen the

second to honours list for

Mesopotamia. I think we

were all rather lucky to

get anything at all.

After all that sort of thing is


almost entirely luck. I don't

attach a great deal of

importance to those sort of

shows. The great thing to

do is win the war, and

win it quickly, nothing

else matters. Afterwards I

hope we shall hang a

few politicians.

By the time you get this

we shall probably be

back in the happy land.

For another year I suppose.

Now I must really go to


Your very affectionate son





17th Oct. 1915



My dear Father.

Its quite a long time

Since I have had a letter from you.

This is quite a pleasant spot, I

came up here yesterday weak, went

back to Diyalalawa on Wednesday,

and returned here yesterday. We

had quite a nice little dance

at D' lawa on Friday night.

We go back to Colombo on

Tuesday and sail this day weak.

In some ways I shall be quite

glad to get back. We have

had a very good holiday here,

but no one that I have met


here seams to realize the war

at all, and there certainly seams

to be quite a lot of able bodied

men about who might be

usefully employed elsewhere.

I have taken up golf again

since I have been here 

with more success than usual,

though I seem to be just

reaching my usual stage of

getting worse instead of better.

This is a very scrappy letter,

but there is nothing very

much to write about.

Your affectionate son





Thursday 21st Oct 1915

My dear Mother

Here we are again

in Colombo, rather wet and

foggy after Nuwara Eliya.

However the trip has done

us no end of good, and

I feel quite different to

the miserable creature that

arrived here about two

months ago.

We leave on Sunday and


I suppose shall get back

to the garden just about

the time you get this.

I think a zepp must

have bagged our last

mail, at all events we

got none.

In one of your letters

you said something about

Griggs having turned up

with a wife, it shows

he has the courage of

his connections anyhow,

and as there is plenty

of money knocking about,

I should think it is quite

a good thing.

I am afraid it must have

been Raymond's name I saw

in the casualties a few

days ago.

I went out & tried to

play golf this morning

but it was very hot

after a little sleep

now (one goes to bed

very late here as a rule)

I am going to try some



The Balkan situation seems

very curious, apparently

those dirty dagoes the Greeks

have backed out again.

Best love

Your very affectionate son





23rd Oct /15

My dear Mother

Our last day of

Colombo is nearly over. I

am not really sorry to be

going; we have had a jolly

good time here, with a

clear conscience, if we stayed

much longer, we should be


There are some races

this afternoon which I


propose to visit, then dinner

at the Galle Face.

We got our mail after all

this week, only it came

two or three days late.

This morning I went out

and played golf with the

skipper, he is very bad

at it but seems to

enjoy playing.

I see a description of the

battle of Kut al Amara in

this morning's paper, it looks

very much as if we

made rather a mess of

it, and let most of the

Turks get away, but of

course one can never

trust a newspaper account

of anything.

The people who have

been up there all


the summer must be

pretty good wrecks by now.

I have just spent half a

crown on ??? [Mukers?] My


I feel so fit now

that it seems a pity not

to try & keep it up.

We hear of a new C in C in the


I think it is nearly always

a good sign

when one gets

a man whose

name is

not well

known to the


These "so-called"

"thrusters" often turn out


Your very affectionate son






Monday 25th Oct.

My dear Mother.

We are all beginning to

cheer up now, but yesterday was

a very sad day. We left at

10 am. In this Naval life we are

always tearing up ?orts, and 

one gets very sick at always

having to run away just as

one is getting to know nice

people. I am nearly always

late at the post in getting to

know them.

We gave a little dinner at


the Galle Face on Saturday

night, followed by the usual

Saturday evening dance.

The "fairest of her sex" was there,

but it is fortunate perhaps, that

I had only met her just before

going up country, only

about four times altogether.

After three years in a place

like the Gulf, one is apt

to lose one's head during

a short course of civilization

particularly when there is an

indefinite and probably lengthy

period of Gulf to follow.

We are having a good


passage so far, but one can't

help feeling the change between

the Nuwara Eliya golf links

about eight yards of

unsteady deck, or between

a comfortable room at the

Colombo club complete with fans,

and a share in a

very small foggy cabin, with

a temperature approximating to a

Turkish baker.

We are very lucky really, lucky

to have got away and had

such a jolly good time.

Mesopotamia ought to be quite


cool by the time we get there,

and our real troubles won't start

again before April, but I

won't say I dread the thought of

another hot weather up there.

Do you ever see Vera Dalton

that was. If so tell her

that an occasional letter would

be very much appreciated, I can't

write to her as I don't know

the address.

I never seem to get letters

from anyone except you &

Father & Auntie nowadays.

Have you ever read

Major [William Price] Drury's yarn


about the "Guns of Gungapore"

A ship gets lost in the

Sunderbunds and is found

about fifty years later,

a white whiskered and decrepit

old midshipman is in

command by then.

I often feel the same

about us.

Somewhere about 1950 the

home authorities will suddenly

remember that there

was once a ship called

the Espiegle in the Gulf.


The relief expedition will discover

about half a dozen survivors,

old men with one foot in

the grave, still wondering

if "we have got

half way through the commission yet."

Enough of this babble.

from your very affectionate son






30th Oct. /15

My dear Mother.

I expect you will

get three or four letters at the

same time as this one.

We found a mail waiting here,

my letters were dated Sept. 8th

and October 6th respectively.

I am living ashore here now.

One may as well be

comfortable as long as positive.

As you know I don't care

much for Bombay.

It isn't a patch on

Colombo, the famous yacht


club is really nothing more

than a pot-house.

However there is a gymkhana

here where one can get

tennis. It is typical of

Bombay which considers itself

one of the leading towns in

the East, that the

nearest golf course is 10

miles away, and by all

accounts is nothing very

startling when one gets


No wonder that nobody

here seems any use

at their job. To my way


of thinking they have a totally

wrong idea of life, most of

them seem to be live like

alcoholic cabbages.

We are off on Wednesday

morning.  From what

I hear in local gossip, it

appears that we are sitting

down about 40 miles from

Baghdad, and that we

are likely to have a big

scrap within two months.

I don't know of course

whether I shall be in it

but I expect there will

be the H. F's or else


a stern wheeler or something of

that sort going. I don't expect

to get my new craft for some

months yet.

I fancy our fellows who have

been up there the whole

summer are pretty well

played out. I have heard

of one or two cases of

beri beri. (No doubt the

result of the "ice"

"electric fans" & other

comforts which some

humourist got up & talked

about the other day in

the House of Commons).


I see they have whacked out

a few "baubles" to

our unfortunate troops, most

of them of course are well

earned, but there are

some unaccountable omissions.

Two KCB's one of which will

be thoroughly popular.

It's nearly eleven & as I have

had two latish nights I

think its bed time for

Your very affectionate son





Royal Bombay Yacht Club

2nd Nov 1915

My dear Mother.

Mails of Oct 8th arrived

yesterday, including a letter

Father included describing his experiences

of a zeppelin raid.

We leave tomorrow, without any

regrets as far as I am

concerned. I have not met

anyone in Bombay, whom I

ever wish to see again.

Four of us went out to Bandra

the other day. This is the

one and only golf course near

here. We went out the ten

miles in a taxi; quite the

worst course I have ever seen,

all the holes blind, quite a lot


of them only about fifty yards,

and the ground as hard as iron.

There is a gymkhana here where

one can play tennis of a

sort, but it is altogether a

very fifth rate affair after


I had a letter from

a Home Fleet last week.

Apparently popular opinion puts

down the end of the war

somewhere about 1918.

There won't be many of us

left by then!

I have weighed in on

"Ordeal by Battle" seems

quite a good book.

They seem to have a pretty

sad time in the Home Fleet.

I have quite lost any wish

to join it before the end

of the war.

Mesopotamia may not be ideal

but if one can only get

away for 6 weeks or so

every summer, I see know [no]

reason why one shouldn't go

on for years! I have seen

a good many people out of

the gulf already, in fact

I think I am the oldest

inhabitant, bar the Australians

and one or two RI.M. people.

You must expect to

be one or two weeks




without a letter as when we

leave we shall be going away

from the mail.

Your best way of addressing

my letters is c/o S.N.O.

Mesopotamia, as I don't

really know how long I shall

stay in the river, not more

than two or three months I

should think anyway.

love from your very affectionate son





2.0 am 7 Nov. 1915

C jask NW 230°

My dear Father

We have been at sea since

3Wednesday, and so far have had an 

excellent passage.  It is a nice clear

night without a cloud in the sky, and

the sea is in a flat calm, the temperature

is just right, and we have a clear

ocean all round us, no submarines or 

anything like that to worry about, and

I dare say it would take us quite

half an hour to fire a gun.

Under these conditions a middle watch

becomes a pleasure.  I am

thoroughly enjoying this trip, just enough

watch to keep to prevent one getting

bored.  Every evening I come up and

do "Muller" for half an hour, and

skip, (there isn't enough deck to run

round) and that keeps one fairly fit.


It is about 10 pm with you, so I suppose

you are just returning from you daily

exercise..Do you know "Mullers My System"

"half at all bookstores", I should

think it would be not the thing for

your present existence. By this time

tomorrow we shall be back in the

gulf, my third whack of it.  I wonder

how much more there is to come?

We should reach the river about Friday.

I gather that the S.N.O. is a bit

vague about the state of affairs there,

but it is most likely that I shall

go to the Sumana or Shaitan, small

things like the Shukrur in which

I spent a fortnight earlier in the

year. They will be right up in

the thick of it, as they drank very

little water. The old Miner of course

is quite out of it nowadays.

I have been promised one of the

new gunboats, the second four


to be put together, but she is not likely

to be ready much before February or

March. I was very glad to get

clear of Bombay. I suppose there are some

nice people there, but we don't seem

to meet everyone much besides the

yacht club brigade, who spend most of

their time supporting the bar at the

club. We played a little tennis there,

and took part in one expedition to

play golf. We drove out ten miles

in a taxicab, but the results hardly

justified the expenditure. A very bad

course, as hard as bricks, fishing

nets drying all over the place, the

whole pervaded by a strong smell of

decaying fish. I think they must

have got a Bombay duck factory somewhere


We haven't had much news lately, but

I don't suppose we have missed much

The papers seem to be passing through


a very pessimistic wave. I can't think

that things are really as bad as they

make out. I imagine that the

Bulgarian business has been foreseen

by the authorities.

They have just struck four bells so

my middle is half over, the only

drawback to this watch is that one

feels such a worm next day.

I can't help feeling that I have been

remarkably lucky so far. We have


seen a certain amount of war

under favourable conditions; when I

left Mesopotamia I thought I had

had enough to last me for ever.

At the same time it is rather

nice to be getting back and we

are missing a poisonous time in

the Black Sea.

Probably when the bullets begin to fly

I shall change my tune pretty

quickly. Life always seems more

precious when things begin to look


as if one had finished with it.

There are lots of things to look forward

to in this life, but if one gets one's

sailing orders a bit early, a few

years more or less don't really signify.

I think Peter Pan's sentiments are very

sound when he says "To die will be

an awfully big adventure." -------

Enough said. I am afraid this letter

which seems fairly sensible here under

the stars in the Indian Ocean will

be rather out of place in foggy

London town where it will be read.

from your very affectionate son






20 am Wednesday 10th Nov. -1915

My dear Mother,

Another 36 hours and we shall

be back in the river. We have had a

delightful trip up. Though the gulf is

rather fuggy the sea hasn't had time

to cool down after the summer.

This is the last middle watch I shall keep

for some time, I hope to get down

to Ceylon again next year, but it is

an uncertain life, and lots of things

can happen in twelve months.

It is just three years since you saw me

off at Liverpool Street.

Of course it will be very nice to get

home, but you know I have really been

very lucky to be out here. The

Two or three years just about now would

otherwise have been spent watchkeeping in

a big ship or in some equally dull

job. In spite of the climate there is

a certain fascination in the gulf when)


one is to a great extent ones own

master. In another three or four

months I expect we shall be in

Baghdad, and once there I should

think the Turks will find it very

hard to throw us out, though doubtless

they will have a shot at it.

I suppose you are now in London for

the winter, but as I don't know

your address I will carry on writing

to Linley Wood. One advantage in

being away so long is that it will

mean a good long whack of leave at

the end of it, much more

satisfactory than a week here & a

week there. It will be a pleasant

change to know what shore life is

really like.

As a matter of fact the sea isn't

bad under our present conditions.

A small ship, and a Captain

who believes in "live & let live,"

time passes away very pleasantly


I will try and scrabble a short note when

I know for certain where I am going.

If as I expect we go to one of these

small tugs we shall probably spend most

of our time up Kut['s] way, and

mails will be very irregular.

We picked up some Reuters Telegrams last

night according them the

Bulgarians have had a bit of a knock,

one hopes it is true, but [scratched out within] our

news is whacked out with so much

of this ostrich like "optimisum" that one

never knows what to believe.

The fool who built this ship put the

bridge right aft, on the poop, with

the result that the sow gets more

than his share of stokers in the

eyes and hair etc.  She is a funny little

craft and was obsolete long before she

was built. Hand steering gear, hand

capstan and other Nelsonian 


I love these middle watches, almost

the only chance, one has of getting


away from the crowd. I start off

with some ham sandwiches and cocoa

which lasts up to one oclock or

so, then a little work for half

an hour, read a little, wrote a

letter or two (though I haven't many to

write these days) and before we know

where we are eight bells strike and

ones fat headed relied falls up the

ladder. A very different thing to a

middle in a big ship in the North

sea, ????, station keeping, and

I suppose nowadays always standing

by for compulsory bathing.

Now I must write up the

log, and go to bed.

Your very affectionate son







16th Nov. 1915

My dear Mother

I have come back to the old

Miner after all, but it will only be for

a short time, in a matter of a few

weeks I hope to be in something much

better, though I won't say anything about it

until I actually get settled, but if you

go on addressing my letters to the Espiegle

they should reach me nearly as quickly.

Our present job is the "date patrol" between

Fao and Basra, not very strenuous, or

very exciting, I should say that the job

only exists to keep the politicals quiet.

I have been away shooting all today,

walked about fifteen miles, but only saw

about half a dozen partridges and a few

very wild snipe, the bag only consists

of one black partridge and a nondescript

wader of sorts, (however we will eat alright!)

If you had looked at the illustrated war


news of the 6th October, you would have seen

amongst others, a picture of my home

during the Naryarieli affair, the Masoudi ride

horseboats alongside, also my little party

sailing home to the Miner in the dhow.

Labeled as "British sailors in a captured transport"

The photographs were taken by one of our sailors.

I hope I shall remain in the Miner for a

few weeks, as it enables me to keep an

eye on my next home, and also to

pinch stores for her.

Captain Nunn has gone up to Azizya where

our troops are now, to see the

Army Commander & see how things are

going. From all accounts it isn't much

far[ther] up there from a gunboat point of view.

The river is at its lowest, and the banks

are about fifteen feet high, and everyone

spends a lot of time sitting on [scratched out gun]

sand banks, also there is apparently a

dearth of eggs and other luxuries; no place

for me I think.

I am still sleeping on the roof

but it is beginning to get rather chilly

at night and in the early morning.


I find two blankets plus my old blanket coat just about

meet the case. They have dug out a retired

commander as skipper of the Aeat, I fancy he is

a contemporary of Uncle Herbert, and he takes

quite the gloomiest view that I have heard so far.

It is certainly about time people realizes that we

have got to go all out to win; but we do

seem to be backing up a bit, and I think 

the country would do still more, if the politicians

would allow them.

It looks as if some of the latter find it

impossible to get out of their old habit of looking

at everything from the "personal advancement viewpoint."

Unless they get reinforcements and stores down I think

the old Turks must be nearly finished off out

here. In the last battle they fired bags

of nails out of smooth bores, at the launches, although

they had modern guns as well.

I think that we have had a pretty good time

here all things considered; all the people

who have lately come out see to think they

are very lucky, though they may change their

tune a bit after next summer.

My patent lamp which is supposed to keep

alight in a wind is a great success.

It has a little fan inside, worked by


clockwork, & has no chimney. I am sure

it is just the sort of thing that would

delight grandpapas heart.

My other new toy, a primus stove, cannot yet be

classed amongst our successes. I sometimes try

to make coffee with it after lunch, but I

think it requires a lot of practice.

We did get it to go once, but the coffee

immediately boiled over & put it out.

It is just dinner time, also I have

run out of ideas (I suppose letter writing

will be easier when we get back to the

day of a natural death). Much love from

Your very affectionate son






Shatt al Arab

25th Nov. 1915

My dear Mother

Many thanks for socks [and] stockings. With regard

to a snapshot of myself, there should be two or

three fairly recent ones among my photos which I hope

rolled up with the other things I sent home.

If they were missing, would suggest having a lap at

the insurance people about it.

Three snipe before breakfast this morning, quite good

fun, a high wind, and the birds were rather wild.

This evening, the gunner & I went ashore on a

new island. We had a most exciting hour, rather

chilly as the tide was high and we were over

our waists in water, but there were duck flying

over & round us all the time. We only got three,

two of which fell to my gun.  Though I am afraid several more were

hit. The duck is a hardy bird, I fancy he

feels a bit sore for a day or two, but 

soon recovers and lives quite happily with

several ounces of shot in his little body.

When we do bet him he is most excellent

eating, and as I write there comes a very

savoury smell of one who is shortly to make

his appearance for dinner.

By the way I have written to Marian and one

or two other people, & sent the letters to Linley


Wood to be forwarded, as I have forgotten the


Ermyntrude (?) (the detachable motor) sold me a pup the

other day, broke her crankshaft when we were

five miles above Basra and we had to pull

back & against the tide. She is a working

successor to the "brumblejar."

I had a letter from Auntie last mail. It seems a

pity that she reads so many papers, as I am

sure she believes & worries a lot of things

that are not worth it.

What's the use of worrying anyway. Two excellent

catchwords for the present time. "It will all be

the same in a hundred years," and "the moving

finger writes, and having writ, not all thy sighs will

cancel half a line, or all thy tears wash out

a word of it."

Only sighs is the wrong word I know. It was

running in my head when I started to write, & now

I can't remember the correct quotation. My Omar

went home I was fool enough to send

most of my books home, though I have kept

a few, & of course am gradually collecting more.

One I always hang on to is the volume of

Tennyson which you gave me for my birthday

quite a long time ago.

I should like to be able to carry more about;

a good rummage in the D. W. library is not

the least of pleasures. I look forward to

when William & all his works shall have been

finally squashed.


The time seems to pass away very quickly, I have very

little work to do, and sometimes wonder how I shall

like the Navy with a capital N, when I do get back to

it; not over well I fancy. After this sort of thing one

feels one could never willingly go back to the housemaid

business, or the play-acting and make believe that goes on

in peace-time, and even I suppose in war time ins some


I have noticed one thing about most of our fellows

who have come out lately. They never seems to

make much effort to get out on the ship, and get

exercise, in fact they seem rather a dull lot. There are

four or five of them at Abadan, within a mile of

quite a good tennis-court, which they could use

every day if they wanted to. I suppose it is the

result of the Home Fleet. There are generally one or two

on the sick list, and I don't wonder at it. I am

certain they won't last through a hot weather out here, if

they go on like that.

I have just remembered the quotation.

The moving finger writes & having writ, moves on.

Nor all thy piety not thy wit

shall lure it back to cancel half a line

Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

Friday evening, Basra.

I seem to have written a good deal of utter

rot, but I suppose you would rather have that

than nothing. The wind has gone round the

North & the weather has turned rather cold.

I don't know how much will get into our

papers, but it is quite pos[s]ible the Turks will be


claiming a victory about this date. I haven't heard very

much, and for obvious reasons can't repeat the little

I do know. Am afraid our prestige w ll suffer a little

ascertain amount, but apart from that I should think

it would make very little difference in the long run.

Things don't look very bright anywhere, do they? But

the darkest part of the night comes just before


Have just been ashore playing tennis. Not very exciting

but it helps to pass the time.

Nearly all our fellows are up river now, it's rather

dull for those left behind, but I dare say those up

there have had enough excitement to last them for

some considerable time.

The Salsette having spent a day ashore in the Red

Sea, we shall get no English mail this week.

Love from your affectionate son,







11th Dec. 1915.

My dear Mother.

The Salsettes mail with your letter of

Nov 6th from Tile Barn [home of Arthur Helsham-Jones] arrived in a transport, four

days late. We have been running up and down between

here [word scratched out] Abadan doing coolie work, [word scratched out]

taking stores about etc., so I haven't had much of the beach.

I went shooting today but we saw very little,

and only got a snipe, a duck, a plover & a partridge,

the latter we failed to pick up.

We had plenty of fresh air exercise which is the

main thing after all.

I expect to be off up river with a different craft

in about three weeks time. It won't be nearly

as comfortable as the old Miner. If only we

could cut about six feet off of her draught she would

be an ideal old racket to go anywhere in.

At the present moment our old ex-paint drum

stove is going full blast, the most I can hope to

put in the other racket will be an oil stove & I

shall be lucky if I can raise that. They say

it is much colder higher up. Things have been

warm enough up there lately, but a

kind of warmth that most people can dispense

with. Nel Loring was wounded for his fourth

or fifth time. He has gone back to India

in a hospital ship, & I hear expressed an

opinion that he would stay there & not see

(page 44)

or hear another bullet for some time.

I hope the last battle will have been a

lesson to some people & will teach amongst

other things, the limitations of gunboats.

I have no news, or none that the censors

would pass at any rate.

Your affectionate son






18th Dec.

My dear Mother.

Last week the mail brought me no letters, this

week there is no mail at all, so we ought to have

a fairly large one next week.

I suppose the mail service has been upset by the

Balkan affair, as probably the P.T.O's have been pinched for

transport work.

We have done a good deal of running this week.

Up to Kurma on Monday, where I managed to put in

a couple of hours snipe shooting, and the three of

us got about 25 birds. (We should have had more)

Yesterday we went to sea, to the Outer Bar, & now

we are on our way back to Basra.

I really prefer having a certain amount of running

to do. None of the usual places one goes

to here are so attractive that one wants to stay

there, and the time passes quicker and more

pleasantly when we are on the move.

My departure up river looks like being

postponed again, 15th January is the date they give


The gunner & I landed before daylight this morning

& paddled about in mud & water. Rather chilly work

but I managed to shoot a fine fat mallard, now

being cooked for lunch.

You will be fairly safe if you start

addressing my letters to

H.M.S. Greenfly.

Your affectionate son.







Christmas Eve 1915.

My dear Mother.

After a fortnight's interval we have a mail

with two letters from you and one from Father.

I am glad you are pleased about the D.S.C. [Distinguished Service Cross], and

of course I am too. But still these things are largely

a matter of luck, and many people have done far more

to earn them without getting any recognition of that sort.

The old Greenfly is delayed again; it may be another

month or more before she is ready. Whenever I feel

at all impatient, I say to myself that I shall

probably have quite enough of her and the upper river

into the bargain, before I have finished.

Besides in many ways they are disappointing craft.

Meanwhile we run up and down the river taking

mails & stores about, not very exciting work, and at

times it is hard to imagine that one is doing

anything useful. We went out to the bar yesterday,

and shot four duck this morning on the

way up. We shall be spending Christmas here, as

the old boiler has sprung a leak and requires

a day on the sick list.

You needn't feel at all worried about my getting

married, the Colombo affair (if it can be dignified

by the name of the affair) was quite transitory and

entirely one-sided.

The worst of this employment is that one has so

little work to do, I often feel things would go on


just the same if I wasn't here. It will probably

be much the same in the new boat, after the

first fortnight or so, when things have settled down.

So tomorrow is Christmas, I hope you won't think

I [scratched out "have"] am getting cynical when I tell you that I

shall breathe a hearty sigh of relief when it is


Many thanks for the books, Blackwoods has

arrived too, so I will countermand my other

copy. love from your very affectionate son





Ali Gharbi

6th Jan. 1916.

My dear Mother

We have been here a

week, and really as places in

Mesopotamia go it isn't bad.

There is a small party of

cavalry here, but nobody ever

seems to ride.

My usual day runs something

like this. I turn out

shockingly late and after a

hot bath have breakfast

somewhere between nine and ten.

After that wander up and


down the bank for half an hour

for a little fresh air, & if

I feel energetic wander round

and see what the sailors

are doing and give my

valuable opinion on any little

points that may arise.

Then I usually settle down

& try to sketch for a little

then lunch, & after that

go on with my artistic

efforts till about half past

three when I do my

daily walk down to


Ali Gharbi "wood," about three

miles there & back, admire the

view and go home to tea.

After that it gets dark, &

usually we have one or two

soldiers on board till its

time for dinner. If there is

no one to dinner we play

a hand at picquet, then

read, or write until about

half past ten or eleven

when its time for bed.

We have had a lot of rain

lately and the river has

risen about three feet in


the last 48 hours. In between the

showers the weather is perfect with

a nice healthy "bite" in the air

Ali Gharbi is the nearest the

Tigris gets to the Pasht-i-Kuh.

The summits are snow covered,

thus seeing they were a glorious

sight with great clouds

banked up high above them,

lit up by the setting sun.

We had two soldiers dining here

last night. One of them

a Gordon Highlander was quite

interesting. He was wounded

and taken prisoner at Le Calieau


after five months in a German

hospital he was exchanged as

they thought his right arm would

never be any use, but there

they made an error, so after

a winter or two in Gallipoli

he has drifted on to Mesopotamia.

Reuters have been more than

usually uninteresting lately. They are

laying such emphasis on the fact

that we will not have peace,

that I shouldn't be surprised

to wake up any morning

& hear that peace was



It is now 11:30 pm, a clear

moonlight night, have just been

outside, it must be nearly

freezing, expect we shall find

ice on the puddles tomorrow.

But love from your very affectionate son





Ali Gharbi

2nd Feb. 1916.

My dear Mother

Your 53rd letter of the 11th Dec.

arrived a few days ago, and I hope

to get two more very shortly.

Since my last letter we have been to

the Arab village for a short stay, there

were two or three boats up there, and

of course there are camps, and staff

officers and all the other paraphernalia

of an army scattered about.

I was not sorry when various bits

of our engines broke, and we were

sent back here to put them together

again. It seems to me that our

part of the show up there is rather

playing at it. Down here we make


no pretense, but simply go in for our

old role, and belong to the good

old moral effect party, there is always

a horse to ride when I feel like it,

only one camp with its attendant smells

to avoid, and plenty of good open

country, while the sailors get plenty

of football, and I think are fairly

contented. Bayis & two soldiers

spent the afternoon chasing wild geese

from about 2:30 till 6, walking

most of the time, no bag, but

we all got a few shots at

birds three or four hundred yards

up, and on the way back we

all made the usual remarks

about hearing the shot hit the geese


and bounce off again. Tomorrow morning

another ride and so on. If fortune

is kind to me, my relief should

be appointed shortly, as my

application must be home by now.

In tonight's Reuters the Germans say

they have decided to sink our

hospital ships! I can't see that it

will make very much difference to us,

but I suppose it will put the

Yanks in an awkward position, as

it will require some expenditure of

brain-power to hit on a really

convincing reason for keeping out of it.

On the whole I think it is

good news, as it sounds as if

the Germans have lost their heads.


You will have seen the Mesopotamian

Communiques, so you know as much

about this bit of the war as I

do. With best love from you

very affectionate son





3rd December 1916.

H.M.S. Odin,


My dear Mother,

Grayfly is having a few

alterations, which entail pulling my

cabin to bits, with a vast

amount of hammering, so I have

come up here for a few days

rest-cure. My application to be

sent home has gone in and

if approved should get home in

a couple of months, it remains

to be seen whether I get any

more change than I did two

years ago. I can't expect

much leave anyway. The

cold at home with be rather



We are getting mails

anyhow now, I think the

people who sort them at

home must be pretty slack,

I have had no letters for

two mails now.

No news.

Your affectionate son





7th Dec. 1916.

My dear Mother

Have just returned to find

everything finished, so shall go back

to Basra tomorrow. This is the

most successful refit we have had.

The three or four days in Basra

living in a comparatively comfortable

ship has done me a lot of

good as I was feeling a

trifle reedy to start with.

Everyone seems the same, I

think the beginning of the cold


weather shakes one up.

Did I tell you that the

Admirality back stopped our

hard-lying money, not only that

but we have got to refund all

we have had, is for two years

in many cases. I don't mind

so much for myself, but think

it is extremely hard on the

sailors, no one can say that

they are overpaid, and to

have to pay back £20

or will severely strain

their resources, especially

those with families to keep.


I expect we shall be going down to

Basra soon, it is a long way

to go, over 600 miles, and a

beastly place when you get there.

Well I hope the war is nearly

over, but fully expect we

shall have another eighteen

months of it.

Your affectionate son





Basra to


15th Dec.

My dear Mother

We have been rushed off at

short notice, one of the results being

that I have missed the mail.

I suppose we are going up to

Amara on account of the "push"

that commenced yesterday, we have

been told that the operations have

been completely successful so far,

but I am quite ignorant as to

their nature.

I expect we shall go and sit at


Amara for a week or so.

We left our sole

surviving native servant behind in

Basra, which is a nuisance,

but I hope to get him

back. We now have to do

the best we can with one of

the sailors, I have chosen the

biggest fool of the lot, so as

to make as little difference

as possible to the work of

the ship.

Yesterday forenoon I had two

hours snipe shooting, four guns


16 couple of snipe and three duck;

personally I contributed very little to

the bag as I was shooting

worse than usual, which is saying

a good deal.

In the evening I attended at sing song

in the Dalhousie, given by some

soldiers from one of the depôts,

and a very excellent show too.

They have been sending these troupes

all around the country to amuse

the soldiers, a great improvement

on the old days.

People lately from Bombay say India


is just the same as usual, and

that no one realises that there is

a war on.


We have anchored at Kurna

for the night, shall go on up

river early tomorrow. love from

Your very affectionate son






21st. Dec. 1916

My dear Mother

As usual I have to

apologise for any slackness in my writing.

We arrived here on Sunday, and

have been propping up the bank ever

since. Our time has not been

entirely wasted, as we are

getting time to effect various little

improvements. We have built quite

a comfortable little washroom, with

the help of a carpenter, some

timber & canvas. It packs up


in about two minutes if we have

to clear for action, and it adds

immensely to the liveableness of the

ship now that the cold weather

is upon us.

We get very little news from

up-top, except what we see in

Reuters. Anyway the gunboats up

there haven't had anything to do yet.

I gather that we have a

division or more & the cavalry

buzzying round the right bank of

the Tigris [scratched out "and"] beyond Kut,

but I don't know whether


They intend to cross or not, I suppose

it really depends on the relative

strength of ourselves & the Turks,

another point on which I am

completely ignorant. Anyhow [scratched out "the"] our

troops will be fighting under much

better conditions than they ever

have before in this country,

I believe they are getting plenty

of food, now, and they have

started a canteen thus

cutting out the infamous prices

charged by the motley crowd


of Arabs, Turks, Jews, Armenians

and other riff raff that this

delightful land harbours.

I am dining out tonight, for

my sins, but I have an

ulterior object in view,

as I hope it may lead to

a mount in a jackal

hunt in a few days.

love from your very affectionate son






Dec. 26th.

My dear Mother.

On the forenoon of the

24th we were alone here, but about

launch time gunboats began rolling in

from all directions, and there were

four of us here for Christmas which

made things much cheerier.

We have had a combined lunch on board

here, as we are the only boat

which at present possesses a

wardroom, and seven of us got in

quiet [quite] comfortably, and had a

most successful lunch, the various

turns being provided and cooked in


the different boats, not forgotten; a

couple of bottles of champagne,

share of the 10 dozen

thoughtfully provided by the Lord Curzon

for the MEF.

In the evening most of us went

to a very successful dinner given

by the Political officer, with an

excellent band in attendance, at

which a few nurses were present,

it was a little sticky at first

but soon warmed up & became

a most cheerful and successful

evening. In the afternoon the

sailors played football, though it

was rather too much for some


Of them, & towards the end quite

a lot were overcome & had to

stand easy for a bit.

Altogether we have had a most

successful Christmas, with no

tragedies, one is always rather

afraid of some too - Christmasy

sailors getting drowned or

making a nuisance of himself somehow

or other.

I breathe a sigh of relief when

it is all over, & am thankful

that after all it only happens

once a year.

Another boat turned up today, &


now we are all waiting for

orders. I am hoping that we

shall go upstream when we are

restaffed, as a week

is quite enough in any one

place. Ali Gharbi & Sheikh Saud[?]

are neither of them the place one

would choose to visit for long,

but the great thing is to

keep on the move as much

as possible.

We have had three or four

hours rain this evening &

the wardroom stood the

strain very well, no leaks to


speak of. My cabin as usual

wept a bit, but I think

I have defeated all the leaks now.

I expect the soldiers are having

an unpleasant night, unless they

have changed their habits, they

never seem to look ahead very


A mail arrived today & I

received the two letters brought

out by Vane-Tempest. I am

not the only one after them,

as he has let other people

down as well. I think he

is a good fellow really


but possibly a trifle casual.

One wouldn't expect too much

from a volunteer, as they

have not had the benefit of

being brought up in the gun-room.

One of our fellows here has

been fool enough to get engaged

to a hospital nurse, he is

a good fellow & I hope it

will blow over. I am

expecting to see his "pa" out

when he hears, as he is

a retired Admiral of a

very strong (not to say obstinate)

turn of mind.

Best from your very affectionate son





Ali Gharbi


My dear Mother

Another mail at last

and two letters from you of 13th

& 19th November. We arrived here two

or three days ago, and I suppose

may expect to remain for three

weeks at least; for some reason

they always seem to forget the

boat here; at the end of

three weeks or so I shall

probably send a wire or two

& we may get shifted. But it


doesn't make much difference where

we are. I think I like this

better than Amara as it is

quite a small place.

There doesn't seem much to do

we have not succeeded

so far in getting anything to

ride, and although I carried

a gun for two hours

yesterday afternoon the only

living animals I saw were

eight jackals, a few sparrows

& some hawks, nothing

edible or shootable.


Our galley is playing the fool &

we have a rotten cook but

both efforts may be partly traced

to the festive (!) season, which

(thank Heaven) is now over &

we have three hundred and

fifty eight peaceful days ahead of


There is a great change here

since this time last year, when

they were just starting their

famous advance from Ali

Gharbi and the reign of muddle


and general incompetence was at its

zenith. Now all is as peaceful

as can be, no sniping even.

The fact is the wily Arab

knows when he is well off,

money is flowing like water,

he is making several hundred

percent on his sheep & his

cattle, & he isn't such a

fool as to kill the goose

which provides such golden eggs,

he is beginning to realize

that he can't expect to

find such another crowd of


mugs in this world.

Today was celebrated by "regimental

sports," mostly Indians too. We

entered two tug-o-war teams against

some local British details, but they

were double our weight, & pulled

us over the line with a minimum

amount of trouble. I often wish I

had the crew I left in the

Miner at the beginning of the

war, simply streets ahead of

my present push, although I

think even they are quite up

to the average of the gunboat crews.


As we never have anything to do

I suppose it doesn't matter. Please

don't think I am grousing as I

fully realize that one gets tired

of the blood & thunder stunt very

very soon.

We have had a fine day &

the ground has dried up a bit,

so hastily they will carry

on with their push, I speak

in ignorance but I don't think

they have achieved very much

so far. and now to bed.

Love from your very affectionate son





Ali Gharbi.

9th January 1917.

My dear Mother.

We have just got

orders to go down to Amara to go get

the mails; they have been getting

very slack about them lately, with

the result that we have only had

two in the last month.

The river has risen ten foot in

the last three for [or] four days, &

is now within two or three feet

of the top of the bank.

It makes going down stream pleasant


as it gives us an extra three or

four knots, but it makes plodding

up again very wearisome.

We spent the forenoon paddling

about in a swamp two or

three miles away on the

opposite bank, but though there

were a fair number of

ducks and geese there we

couldn't get near them, as

there was no cover.

I am dining in the camp

tonight, for my sins, so am

taking the opportunity of


scribbling a line or two now, I

am not likely to have much

time tomorrow. The weather is

very damp and raw, and I

think I have a slight touch

of fever coming on. love from

Your very affectionate son





Ali Gharbi

18th January 1917.

My dear Father.

The war doesn't look much

like ending, and I am beginning

to wonder whether I shall spend

the remaining years of my life in

command of the Grayfly. If they are

really hard up for officers and men, I

suppose they are quite justified in

keeping us out here for ever.

I hear that they are sending out

some very elderly gentlemen to

some of the new boats, the

sort of people who were sent

to the Baltic fleet in peace time,

to get courtmartialed or drink themselves


to death.

I have another reason for wishing to

get away from this, as our

part of the show is getting too

slack altogether, we never by any

chance have a job nowadays,

and although a quiet life is

very desirable for a time, I don't

think it is very good for one.

Except for three days last week

when we went to Amara for meals,

we have been here for three

weeks. There is a small post

here, but the regiment isn't a

very exciting one, and they never

seem to move outside [of] that

perimeter. We have been out


three or four times after some wild

geese who come and feed near here

and were lucky enough to get one

a few days ago, but No 3 shot

doesn't worry them very much unless

you hit them in the head or

wing. The day before yesterday

we sighted one swimming down

the middle of the river, gave

chase in the dinghy and finally

caught him, when we discovered

that his wings were clipped;

however that made no difference

to his "eating".

Apparently operations have been

going on for some time, but

I didn't think there is very


much result either way, except that

a small party of Turks are

holding up a much larger force of

ours, and money seems to be

spent very freely; in fact they

seem to have jumped from one

extreme to the other, I should think

a great deal of it might as

well be dumped into the sea for

all the use it is.

We have been for our first ride

this evening since we have been

here, & had quite a good

gallop, though my animal seemed

a bit weak in the wind.


I hope to be able to get a horse

regularly now.

This is rather a pessimistic letter

which must cease now as I

have to go out to dinner, nearly always

a very poor way of spending the


Your affectionate son





Sheikh Saad.

23rd Jan. 1917.

My dear Mother.

Your letters of 8th & 28th

November are the last two received.

We drank your health last night

the champagne having arrived intact,

and was much appreciated.

No news of the gramophone yet,

but possibly it may arrive shortly.

We came here yesterday from

Ali Gharbi, much to my sorrow,

as we were having quite a

pleasant time there. On Sunday


morning I rode a regular hairy headed

horse, who commenced by

bucking & pitched me off.

However he only managed to get

me off once, though he made

several further attempts.

You seem very anxious to

send me warm clothes, but I

don't think it is much use

thinking seriously about coming home

until I hear something

about my relief, and so far

there is no news.


The weather continues cool & we had

lots of rain last night, which however

we can now afford to laugh at, very

different from this time last year.

We have just got orders to go on

to the Arab village, I hope we

shall not stay there very long.

love from your very affectionate son





24th January 1917.

Arab Village.

My dear Mother.

Once more we are up

at the front, or rather about four

miles from the nearest Turkish trench,

as close as we are ever likely to get,

but not too far to put an occasional

bullet over their way, on the other

hand we hope it is too far for

them to send bullets our way.

I have had a solitary dinner this

evening, and have rather enjoyed

it. The time is now a quarter

to eleven, and I cam in here

shortly after dinner intending to

write letters, but have been sitting


over a sketch, and indulging in very

pleasant dreams of the past, for

some reason my thoughts have harked

back to that very excellent

fortnight in Switzerland, eight years

ago, it seems a different world now,

I can hear the Lewis guns rattling

away in the trenches, and every

now and then the boom of a gun.

Possibly in another eight years,

I shall be dreaming of this!

It isn't such a bad life in

spite of it all, I think its a

great privilege to have leisure to

dream about anything but the

present. I may be having a

pretty good loaf (in fact I am

there is no doubt about it) but the


great beauty of it is, "my lords"

are to blame, and as along as

they are generous enough to go on

paying me so handsomely, who am

I to go worry about it.

Tomorrow we shall probably fire

a few rounds, also there will

be one or two aeroplane scares,

but master Firtry gives us a

wide berth, as we

now have the means of giving

him a reception by no means

to his taste.

And now I really must go to bed,

I wish you could have as

pleasant a time as I, this

life really suits me.

love from your very affectionate son






2nd Feb.

We have just got orders to go on

up to the front.

I expect it is all over by

now, the pursuit certainly is.

Anyhow its better than staying here.

It will take us about 58 hours

steaming day & night [to] get up

in haste.

Your very affectionate son





6th Feb.

Palmer who has been out

here for some time is just

off.  If he remembers

(which is doubtful) he

will give you this.

I hope to hear about

my relief any


Your affectionate son





Ali Gharbi.

8th Feb. 1917.

My dear Mother.

Your letter of 26th Dec. arrived

this afternoon. I think you had better

stop sending papers when you get this,

as my relief is almost certain to be

on his way out by then.

We had a great hunt with the

Ali Gharbi "howdy" this morning..

We killed almost

immediately, I think he must have

been a cub, as he gave us

practically no run and took very

little interest in the proceedings.


After that we had two quite good

little rabbits, both jacks going to ground

under the noses of the pack.

By that time both horses and hounds

were thoroughly blown, none of

them being in very good condition,

and the last jack gave us a long

run and eventually got away, and

we all came home to breakfast.

The pack consists of a about

half a dozen "slugis [Salukis]," a local type

of greyhound. They are much faster

than the average jackal, but are

not too good at tackling him

when they do catch him.

They are not small dogs of course

but depend entirely on their


eye sight.

The rest of the day has been much

as usual. I spent most of the time

trying to paint a picture. The "gallery"

is steadily increasing, I now have

half a dozen efforts in

watercolours, about three of which would

do to frame and hang up in a

dark corner of my cabin, though of

course they are all dreadfully? amateur.

The great thing is that it provides

a splendid occupation and keeps ones

mind off the war and other

unpleasant subjects, as I expect

I shall have quite enough of

that when I get home.


It does sometimes occur to me that

I am not doing much to

win the war, but after all that's

the fault of the people who keep

us here, a very comforting thought,

we had quite enough in the

early days anyway.

Now I think I will try and do

a little work before going to bed.

love from your very affectionate son





Ali Gharbi

11th Feb.

My dear Mother,

Have just time to scratch off

a short letter, as mail goes tomorrow.

We seem to be a fixture here,

but it is quite one of the best

places on the river from my point

of view. It has been blowing

hard from the SE for the last three

days, and most of the field

fr[??]ked? hunting this morning.

They are not much of a crowd

in the camp here, but three or


four really good fellows quite

make up for the rest being useless.

We had a great run this morning,

it must have been five or six

miles, ending with a kill. The

weak point about the pack is

that they funk tackling a

jack & need a deal of


We have a new kitten.

Polonius is his name & he is

very lively and has a fine

healthy appetite, although we


have only had him for 48 hours he

is quite tame. His mother is a

black cat, and his father a

wild one, & in appearance he

actually takes after his pa.

A lot of hot air in Reuters tonight

about Mesopotamia.

Your very affectionate son


The geese are making a

great noise flying across.

They take jolly good care

not to come this way in



The above letters are up to 17 February 1917.  There are more letters yet to be typed out and I hope to get these up onto the website as time becomes available.

Cuthbert's diary for 1911-1914 can also be viewed on this website.

If you have any information to add to what is listed please contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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