Letters Home

Nov 2nd 1946

George Horrobin

Nov 2nd 1946

Hello Mum, Dad & Rosemary,

Surprised? So am I!
Fancy me spending my 21st Birthday in Baghdad. Who'd have thought it!

It was all so sudden. I didn't know till the beginning of the week that there was even a chance of going on leave to here. It was on orders last week that a scheme was being organised for seven days leave - two to be spent at Hillah visiting the remains of the town of Babylon and five at Baghdad.

We - Jock and I found there was a vacancy for the period starting Tuesday and we put our names down.

They were unable to book our seat on the train on the Tuesday tho' so it was Wednesday night before we got away.  So as to arrive at Baghdad on schedule we spent one day only at Hillah.

The train journey was pretty grim owing to the cold. We had a bunk each, but Brrrr! I was shivering half the time.

We arrived at Hillah at about 7 the next morning & after breakfast at the Y.M.C.A. we hired bikes & cycled out to the ruins of Babylon.

It was good to be on a bike again & it wasn't too hot on the road.  Instead of meeting perhaps a few sheep on the road as in Blighty, every now and again we had to nose our way through herds of stupid camels.

You need a lot of imagination to visualise how Babylon was from the ruins.  The German excavators removed a lot of the stuff that they unearthed & took it to the Berlin museum.  It covers a wide area, the ruins.

Back at Shaibah - Nov 7th

Sorry I didn't finish this while I was on leave, but I just couldn't settle down to writing.  I was worn out every evening with all the walking that I did.  I'll carry on now where I left you at Babylon.

--- I didn't come away empty handed of course. I bought with me a piece of Babylon rock - in the shape of a portion of a brick with some uniform characters on it.  I scratched away in the dust for a long time before I unearthed it, but I knew I'd find something if I persevered as there is still a lot of interesting stuff buried there.

In the city was a huge seven-storied tower.  Each story was a different colour & was about 900ft high.  It was called a ZIGGURAT & the tower of BABEL was of like design.  All that remains of that now is a mound of earth surrounded by water which flowed in as the Germans started excavating below the level of the nearby Euphrates.

A lot of the bricks of Babylon were taken away by native builders to be used for building Hillah.

We stayed there longer than we meant so we had to hurry on back.  We took a different way - this time along the banks of the Euphrates.

Oh it was beautiful there, but the foto I took doesn't show it to advantage.  I should have taken my colour film.  There was bags of colour there alright - the blue sky & the green of the palm trees & willows.

Jock & I went out after tiffin of brains on toast.  Yes - brains! Ugh repeat Ugh!  But for politeness I ate ¾ of it.

We had a look thru' the bazaar area of Hillah.  The usual kind of thing - nothing out of the ordinary.  We didn't buy anything.

Hillah is only a small place, but there is a native population of 50,000 & 2 Europeans!  No wonder we got more stares than we are accustomed to.

We had a further look round after dinner under the guidance of "Madame" who is in charge of the Y.M.C.A.  Jock and I saw more when we were on our own in the afternoon.

We soon went to bed that evening for to catch the train for Babylon on the morrow we had to rise at just after five.
We managed to catch it with ease for it was 50 odd minutes late.  We had a comfortable compartment too, with large windows to view the beautiful vistas of Irag. I'll draw one of the views:-
That was it.  Both sides & all the way!
We decided to have a cup of tea at about 9 & made our way along to the restaurant car.  We had a cup of tea & two pieces of toast and marmalade.  It came to 200 fils each!!  4 BOB!

Jock had his quickly & returned to relieve the bloke who was watching our luggage. I was supposed to pay for him, but at that price I just forgot.  Luckily so did the waiter.  4 bob though!

We taxied to the Y.M.C.A. once we arrived at Baghdad & after a cup of tea & a wash,  we went straight out & had a walk up the main street to find the likely shops for shopping for Xmas.

We hadn't walked far when Mr Sampard, who started the Y.M.C.A. over 25 years ago picked us up in one of those long wooden bodied cars.

He took us up some twisting back alley which was thronging with people & donkeys & flash American cars nosing through it all.

The Padre who was with us had to buy some films in a shop up there, so Jock & I waited in the car while the others went with him to the shop.

It was interesting watching everything go by the car.  How much does a bag of cement weigh Dad?  A hundredweight isn't it?  Well I saw natives walking along with two on their backs!  Gosh the things they carry.  One had 3 crates of whisky up on his back.  They work like carthorses & I bet they don't get much money at it.

The food was wizard at the Y.M.C.A. all the time. I've never eaten better away from home.  Five course dinner every day & a four course tiffin.  The waiter bought everything to you & you helped yourself to it.

Mr Sampard gave us a run around town in the afternoon & showed us all the important places.

There are some beautiful mosques in Baghdad & I have bought, as well as taken, a lot of photographs.  We saw the Royal Tombs which was a beautiful 4 domed building, each dome being the roof of a separate room with a tomb in each.  The airport we passed close to and I picked out a couple of Ansons and a few rickety old biplanes - the kind that flaps their wings on take off.  We really saw all of the town that afternoon - except the shops of course.

We had just a day too long in Baghdad I think for we were a bit cheesed with walking up and down the road looking at the same shops for three days.

There was a general strike on the Saturday and we were not allowed in the town at all.

Mr Sampard showed us a really good shop.  I spent over £8 in there in about 4 visits.  I can only tell you of one of the things I bought there.  It is just a piece of papier mache painted.  About a foot by seven inches. But you should see it.  The painting is in relief - parts of it being raised up and a lot of the lines are so fine that no brush could be used.  Instead a cat's whisker was employed. I've got all the gen on who painted it and where. I paid £3 for it.  It would be worth much more than that to a collector of Persian Art.  It is a real treasure and beautiful to look at.  I want it framed eventually, but I don't know whether to bring it home when I come or to send it.

He had some beautiful work done in ivory too.  One depicted the death of Alexander surrounded by hundreds of gaudily clad horsemen. He was offered £100 for this, but he is presenting it to a museum - possibly the British one.  I hope it does go there, then I'll be able to show it to you some time.

He has a good stock of carpets but I didn't think about looking at those till my money was almost all gone.  I spent £16 in all.

Taxis went away with a lot of it for the Y.M.C.A. is a long way from the centre of the town and too far to walk.

Everything is dear there.  We paid frequent visits to one restaurant for a cup of tea and two cakes for 2/-.

I shall write to you more about Baghdad in the next letter. I have to write to Irene and answer the 9 letters from her that were here when I came back this morning.

Thanks for the cards Mum, Dad and Rosemary.  I have them up before me now. I don't really want another watch you know.  This one is going well and I think it is quite good enough.  I'm very attached to it.  Watches are all the time getting cheaper too.  I'll buy some on the way home that will be the gen.

Don't know what I'd like instead either.  But I've already got my present in my BIRO pen.  I can use the £2 that you've sent Mum and Dad and 'spose we leave it at that?  Thank you very much for it.

I didn't do anything special on my Birthday in Baghdad.  Jock and I were going into a night club, but we failed to pluck up courage after watching them thru' the window for about 10 minutes.

I bought a 5/- tin of peaches and eight cream cakes to have a little feed back in the billet, but on stepping out of the taxi at the Y.M.C.A. I dropped the lot!  I rescued 3 cakes and the tin survived and the contents proved luscious.

I hope your rhuematism didn't keep you in bed too long Rosemary.  I haven't had that.

The flowers don't seem to know whether they are coming or going do they?  Primroses in November!  It seemed funny in Baghdad, sweating in a shirt and trousers in November.  It's cooler there than here, too.

Another kitten?!  Persil is a good name for it if it is white.

That fur coat is wearable at last?  How much is it worth now?

Frank trying to get into the army?  He hasn't tried the Air Force yet has he?  All in good time though.

You've read Regency then, Mum?  I'll look out for more of his books. I didn't know he lived in Brighton.

There was something on orders that no bonfires or pyrotechnics were to be fired on Nov 5th anywhere in the camp.  I'll have to get a copy of them.

I'll better finish off now and get on to Irene's letter.

Thanks for your card too Rosemary.  Goodnight then.  My love to you all

George  xx

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