Te- El- Bellum
Sunday 9 June 1918
Bellum, Bellus, Bellum, Bellae, Belloribus! – I forget – it’s such a long time since I left home – but still you’ll understand & forgive. I think I told you that at our recent camp – in the spring we had so many odd jobs & little jobs & all sorts of jobs that the place was named by some geneass [genuis] Tel-El-Fatigue: well now of course we have the most pleasant & loving recollection of it, seeing that we have ‘slipped a mile’ & come back to the summer & dust & – well what do you make of the above ’eddin’ [heading]?
Still here – I am feeling goodo – plenty of flies for company – also the Prime Minister – at least it’s William (Lonsdale – with emphasis) Hughes – commonly known as Bill or ‘Bawley’ – the latter on account of a bit of a parting in his hair, same as Mr Brooker’s: shame isn’t it when he has such a dinkum name. I started out to tell you that he was asleep at my side & snoring gently when all of a sudden the Corporal called ‘Hughes! Hughes!’ & I dug him in the ribs with t’other end of this pencil – & now he has gone to report to the Sergeant Major for a fatigue. I’m still carrying on as you see, in the shade of the ‘hump’ but it probably will be my turn directly so it’s no good being sorry for poor William Lonsdale.
Bang – there’s a big Jack Johnson [German 15-cm artillery shell] planted somewhere close by, playing for us of course – & he just talked. He is taking things quite steadily this morning, only barks once on every 5 or 10 minutes – but judging from his bark there will be a bit of bite by the time he reaches his kennel at t’other end.
It’s about 9 or 10am – so you’ll be just about having tea now: how about some? Think I’ll have a bit of sop & some milk to drink. Bang – there she goes again, so it must be rather disturbing for our friend John – over the way – sitting in his bivvie writing to his beautiful Fatima back in Constantinople or Stambaul as they call it – don’t they? Jing! There go two more – that’s ‘itneen  backsheesh’ – probably making up some shortage in his iron rations. Not mad this morning am I? They say all soldiers become affected sooner or later – no doubt some cases are worse than others. Did it ever strike you that we may get accustomed to this Bedouin existence (they say that the first seven years are the worst) & then we will be quite content to cook our meals, eat ’em, sleep up big, get letters & write a few, less & lesser as the days go by & so at last just take the war as a permanent institution, lose the desire to return home & carry on here for ever & ever amen.
Good thing you are not a ‘medical’ or I could see you shaking your head ’ere this & muttering as you read ‘First Symptoms’! Still all the time I’m writing & you’re reading the war is going on – it’s nearer to a finish already – you see to pass the time is the main thing – not to fight – cos the war must be set to end some day! No I haven’t had a drop this morning Doctor – only naturally a bit of skew-whiff in the top storey that’s all.
I have nothing to write about me lad: we certainly could have put in the time better than riding all night for 2 nights following, but we caught up a few hours last night so are set again. Oh – one very pleasant & important thing happened yesterday: I was ‘on the pump’ so stayed down after the horses had watered – tied Jinny to a tree & had a bonzar bath & washed off all the dust & two days travel-stains & felt much refreshed thereby.
I found the singlet I was wearing had split well up the back, so donned my new glorious white one (a colour it will never again assume in this mortal life my dear) & the patriotic red white & blue decorated socks (Hazel’s) which came in the parcel, as I mentioned probably last week to Ruth. I had a letter the other day from Les Williams: he was still at the 14th AGH & spoke as if Herb Groves had also written to me: they are both OK & liable to leave there at anytime. Les wrote on 1st June & said that he had sent our cable over to Port Said for despatch that morning, having added Herb’s & his own names to the list of Johnny Walkers, so no doubt you’ll have had the message before now.
I told Father didn’t I, that Arch Blue is now a Lance Corporal? Think I’ve told you all about this part of the world – re the war. I s’pose we’re still winning – dunno – but as I said be4 that’s not the point – the main thing is that the war is still going on! I was going to mention that the tree to which Jinny was hanging yesterday – was one of many which grow here – & in fact all about the Valley of the J[ordan]. They are very thorny – or at least the thorns are long & strong & sharp: if you get one in the hand it stings a treat, & I collate [? ] they might be poisonous if left in. These are reckoned to be identical in kind to the thorns used for the crown of Christ – I don’t know whether they were then brought up from this locality or not – for the occasion. I have not seen any similar trees or bushes growing near Jeroos.
Now let’s have a ‘shuf’ at your last letter & I’ve seen if anything there requires an answer. First though – I’m reading a book of OW Holmes called Elsie Venner, not a bad yarn so far & I came across a very fitting remark about this country – or hereabouts. The writer was talking just at the time about a twisted conscience – one twisted by over-work – or over-goodness originally, a good & humble one you see – but somehow or other it gets strained etc & so on. Perhaps you’ll be interested enough in the subject to think about it. I guess the above is a fact. Mr Holmes says: ‘Conscience itself required a conscience, or nothing can be more unscrupulous. It told Saul that he did well in persecuting the Christians. It has goaded multitudes of various creeds to endless self-torture. The cities of India are full of cripples it has made. The hillsides (this is the one) of Syria are riddled with holes, where miserable hermits, whose lives it has palsied, live(d) & die(d) like the vermin they harbor(ed)’ – these brackets are mine & so on. In the book it makes a good school teacher – doing more than her share already – require of herself still to do all this & to even load herself with further duties – which if persisted in for long enough of course means a stoppage or breakage in the machinery. This sad end is averted – in the book – but in your own case well one never knows! But it’s a warning for you my lad perhaps!
This projected sea voyage will be the saving of you – whatho – won’t there be some fun when we are both ‘in the East’ – & just over there from each other! Won’t take long to get a letter back & forth between Indians here: tho it’s taking Hal a dickens of a time to write to me this time. Does Margaret now occupy all his leisure I wonder?
So I s’pose you’ll see some of these ‘riddled hillsides’ & their occupants. It’s a fact they live away up in the face of the mountains – just dinkum dugouts – & how they manage to reach some them at all beats me. The tracks are that steep & narrow to the best of them – it would not do for them to get on the booze for surely at 2 o’clock in the morning they would side step & whack! hit the bottom of the gorge 50 or 100 or more feet below. Some of these hillside residences are quite dinkum monasteries I believe – well appointed no doubt with candles, wax figures & hard forms & floors. There are some such, half way up the Mount of Temptation, beside a big stone built monastery which encloses the whole top of the hill like the Mosque of Omar encloses the top of Mount Moriah. Of course there are others who live in the hills just half tamed human cave dwellers, some are shepherds & mind their goats as they clamber about the rocks picking for grass while standing almost on their noses: the n-gs also plant a bit of wheat etc & so they live.
There’s a bonz little spring on the Hebron road – near Tel-El-Fatigue – a hole is cut in the rock face about 4 feet up – & hollowed out perhaps to the extent of nearly 2 cubic yards – although the opening or tank door is only a foot square. The water as cool & clear as water can be – runs out from a crack in the rear or inside rock wall of this little tank & into the basin shape cut in the stone at the bottom – this holds only a few gallons – & then the water trickles out & down to a donkey trough which has been built outside – & on down the hill & away.
I reckon when Moses struck the rock he must have had the luck to strike one of these springs which up till then had not been able to get out – & when he gave it a good whack the rock cracked & out hopped the ‘quiess moiya’. I was on the 3.15am fatigue the day after I wrote to Ruth – (telling her about it) & on the way back to camp I hopped off at this bonny little tank & had a drink while Jinny helped herself to the Bedouin’s donkey trough just below – but I really got off to inspect the thing, I had seen it plenty of times when riding past but had never explored it. They are very interesting to me – these stupid little things you come across. I wonder who got it to work & cut that square hole in the front & hollowed out the rock inside so that there always would be enough water for a wandering caravan & their animals without waiting.
Also inside growing out from the crack in the walls & leaning towards the little door & the sunlight were some little bushes of lovely green maidenhair fern: ask Ruth how their seed ever was placed in there to grow? She – being somewhat of a naturalist – might write an essay on the life of one particular bush of these, same as she once held forth on the travels of a dew drop – which I read at a miscellaneous evening of the TW [Two Wells] History & Debating Society & which evoked much surprise & praise from the ’edds – an’ bein’ arst oo writ it, I telled e’em me sister as lives to Kilkenny – where the cats grow wild – & so the matter endeth: what a gabble gobble gabble I’ve got on this morning – perhaps it’s the influence of Sunday evening thoughts from home – no cheek intended – you can’t help the wanderings of a sojer’s mind however kind your frequent thoughts may be.
Bit of a sing tonight tonight – right – here’s the crowd from Fins: Sal & Ruth on the bikes – Sal on mine of course. Did you ever get that letter of mine telling you to get the tyres etc fixed up so as Lic could ride it? & charge to my account – as the Bank Cheque Book order forms say.
Think it’s finish church or sing-song here today – although we are not doing much just now as you may judge by this letter. I’ve not stopped since I started it: a most unheard of thing for me. Two letters of yours – one written while staying at H[enley] Beach with Donie & [illegible] good old sea & fun. When you see Charlie & Flo & Jimmie – & I dunno the other little nip’s name – Lewis is it? – please tell them Good Day & I don’t forget then altogether – & I would write to them – only I don’t: same with Olive & Maude & lots of others. You told me about Punch Steward & his pipe – the pipe of peace I s’pose. Your second letter – April 10th (on which day Jacko had a flutter out here) written in the evening of your [illegible]. You did well with cash results, but I guess it meant lots of work & tired out workers. I wonder how the maypoles went at the Adelaide Oval the Saturday following? No doubt I’ll hear by next mail.
No – I’ve not had any parcels from this Mrs English Carter – by the way I told Ruth about getting my clothes & biscuits parcels – velly good & all & all – this mention just in case Ruth’s doesn’t arrive. Certainly I’ll call & see Miss Norman – with great pleasure & many thanks when I go to England. It will be the day when I have a medal to show her though! I haven’t even got Faith Hollidge that German helmet yet! I have a Gott mit uns [God with us] buckle which I captured with a lot of burning Jacko dumped stuff at Ludd [Lod] last November.
Must ring off – it’s nearly dinner time for us & you must go & have a tune on the goanna – so hip hip.
Love to ye all