First World War Poetry Digital Archive

http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/

Palestine Nov24-30 1917

I am still keeping fit and well except for a few septics but that is very common out here. This country is far before Egypt and I can tell you I was very pleased when we got off the desert. Our last day in the desert was a “teaser”, it blew a terrific sandstorm and as we were wanted at a certain place we had to go through with it and get there at all costs. You could not see the sun at all, your eyes got swollen up, and your mouth and nose full of sand. I got lost about six times and it was pure guesswork to find the track, I will never forget that run but Alls well that ends well and I am in the Promised Land at last. It was a big relief to get out of the desert and see some green stuff again.

As you will have read by the papers, things have been moving very rapidly here so I am seeing a good bit of the country. It is the most fertile country I have come across and should be a wonderful place when things get straightened out a bit. Of course under Johnny Turks rule no shape had been made at developing the country and the natives (Arabs and Bedouins) are still using the same types of implement that was used 1000 years ago. The cattle are very like our own at home and nicer looking beasts than the Egyptian ox which was more like a buffalo than a cow.

There are a great number of dogs roving about , pariah dogs they are called and they kick up an awful row at night, I tried to get at one with my rifle but they are as fly as jailers.

There are plenty of birds just now, and I have seen the swallow, wagtail peewit and lark. The peewit surprised me when I heard him calling, I had a look for him and there he was, the very same as he is at home. The lark is a little bigger and does not rise so straight up or sing as much as ours does.
We have a kind of hawk or kite and he is a great “moocher” always on the lookout for dead carcases and he is having the time of his life just now as the country is dotted all over with horses, mules and camels and they do whiff some. It is a fine big bird about 30” across the wings. A modern battlefield is not a very nice place to go over but it is surprising how one gets used to the sights.

I have got a pair of Turkish bayonets and if I have any luck I will bring them home, I also have plenty of Johnny’s money, both notes and coin but it is useless to spend as the country is bankrupt. The purse that it was in had been made in England and I have got it too. Some of the captured officers could speak English and there was a French man amongst them. He said he was forced to fight but one of our Jocks said “That’s aw reet for a crack”.
There is no love lost between the Scot and the Turk, Jock is very bitter against them they have not forgotten Gallipoli, and they are having their own back now with a vengeance.

The roads are very fine in some places and we came over a road that the Romans had made, it was paved with flat stones and is yet in fairly good condition. I was out one day on a job with my lorry and had to get to a certain place with “iron rations” at all costs, and as there was just a track called a road I had a stiff job but got there.

The Australian officer that took my stuff off asked what kind of a road I found. I answered “No bad”, then he says “It is not a bad road if you keep off the road ! And then he added, “it’s a good job you are Scotch”. It is a very rough life but healthy, and I am picking up again after being stuck in Egypt as the climate is ideal here. There a lot of waddys or dried up river beds and they take some getting over as the banks just drop straight down not sloping down as you would imagine. Of course Johnny destroyed all the bridges so the banks have to be cut to a steep slope to enable the lorry to take it. It as a sight to see a convoy going over, every lorry disappearing from view and then going up the other side like a Tank.

There are a lot of villages around here and they do stink. They look all right at a distance its when you get up to them, whew!! There is always a prickly pear hedge round about, and inside that there is a wall made of mud with openings just like “lunkie holes” that you see in the dykes at home for the sheep to come through. The roofs are thatched with a coarse grass called doura and then covered with mud. No effort is made at sanitation so you can guess what the place is like.

I paid a visit to one of the wells and a well in one of these villages is a great meeting place like what a cross in a town at home is. The well is fully 100 feet deep and built right down to the bottom. My tackle was a coil of Johnny’s telegraph coil and a four gall Petrol tin. A modern outfit to draw water from a well in the Holy Land ! I was sweating before I got it to the top but it was worth it. The edges of the well were built of marble, all grooved with the ropes that had been used by the Arabs and the Bedouins. The women all squat round with their pitchers and the men draw the water and fill them. Next day a party of Royal Engineers arrived and in about a couple of hours had a motor pump going to the villagers great astonishment.

The fighting is always fierce round a well or waddy that has water, as was the case with the famous waddy Ghuzzi in front of ________ . When you seize the water, the other side has to retreat.
Oranges are very plentiful just now and I eat about 1 doz per day. Of course we are in the orange country and I was close to a town noted for them. There is no need to worry about the Turks in the meantime, I am still on the lorry which is our home.

I have enclosed a Turkish note as a souvenir. One Turkish officer told me that England had three parts of the world on her side and God also so what could they do. One of our Jocks said to him “Ye thocht we were bate did you ? Man he says, “Ah wore the soles of ma buits chasing ye trying to stick ma bayonet through ye” Then he says, “ I hae a guid mind tae dae it noo, anyway turn oot yer pooches”, and Johnny had to do it. The Jocks cant stick them at any price and if they had their way would shoot the whole lot.

Ploughing is started here but scratching is more like it as they only go about 4 inches deep. The plough has only one handle and can lifted by hand.

I have taken six days to write this as I could only add bits when I have time and I hope it reaches you all right. We are very busy as you will understand and I am enjoying myself up the line

                            Jack
Author Tait, Jack
Title Letter sent from Palestine
Item Date November 1917
Creation place Palestine
Copyright The Great War Archive, University of Oxford / Primary Contributor
Digital repository The Great War Archive, University of Oxford
Reference URL http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/item/5706