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4th November 1915

I thought I might try a different sort of approach to this episode as it happens to be one I wrote myself. Here are some of the leads I followed to get the script to where it wound up - not all of them, of course, but some I thought might be interesting. SPOILERS in abundance.

 

To kick off with, if you happen to be listening on the iPlayer, you'll hear our friendly continuity announcer say that we are joining the signallers of the Lahore Division. The sharp-eared amongst you will know this isn't quite right - these signallers were attached to the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade in Gallipoli and when that was reorganised, these blokes were sent to Mespot. The Lahore are still in France.

 

The idea that the British used paddle steamers on the Tigris (and the Euphrates) was just too good to miss, but I had to make up the 'Babylon' because I couldn't find any ships logs for the fleet. It resembles all the descriptions of her sister ships.

 

The Royal Navy used to use all sorts of quotations - Shakespeare, poetry etc, but the main one was the Bible. Perversely they used to provide the chapter and verse to see how quick other ships were at interpreting the messages. This wasn't a combat thing of course. I put it in to create an idea of the hours and hours you have to spend on watch and what bored minds will come up with. Similarly, when Sidney says "Sun's out, nice rush awning, a paddle-steamer pleasure cruise" he's expressing something I've observed in the forces. They do nothing, then they do more nothing, because they know that when they do have to do something, there'll be no let-up til it's done. So get your rest in while you can.

 

We had to cut a reference (short of time as always) to the vision of the Arab irregular cavalry that "seem to shimmer as the sun hits the wings of the flies that cloud upon them." It's a shame I wrote this episode nearly a year ago as I can't now remember where I read that idea and adopted it.

 

I read that they grow liquorice in this part of the Tigris. As someone who probably gave liquorice no more thought apart from its use in a Sherbet Dab (do they even still exist?), this triggered one of those old memories you have for a detail that may one day be useful. And that was the extraordinary idea that because of the noise, steam engines used smells to alert the crew to faults, in this case aniseed, the smell of liquorice. I saw it in the National Railway Museum in York one day and never forgot it.

 

I found one of these incredible boats with an aeroplane engine on it in lists of British naval craft as above: it was called the 'Aerial' or 'Ariel'. Once again, no log, so I made up the 'Tempest'.  

 

Pack wireless sets in Mespot were given a letter code, and they went up to 'V'. No register of which set was where on this day, so I made up wireless set 'W'.

 

The order passed - that they should get going smartish to repel an attack (big spoiler here) - is absolutely true, but relates to a different unit on a different day, or days. If I'm going to accuse the British Army of sending its men on an extremely hazardous mission with a clock ticking just to 'ginger them up' I want it to be absolutely straight.

 

The incident happened to 17 Brigade from the 8th October 1915 and you can read about it in their War Diary at The National Archives, their regimental history by Captain Neville and the book by "Mesopotamia 1914-1915" by Henry Birch-Reynardson. The idea that they kept cutting across the loops in the river to gain time, and then got lost, not once but three days on the trot, seemed both incredible, but also a frightening indicator of how tractless the place was. They nearly lost hundreds of men, “However, when on our arrival we asked if we should be in time for the attack, we were told that there was no idea of attacking at present: it was gathered that the story had been by way of encouraging us on our long march!”

 

A few quick ones – the Japanese as out allies being asked for military support; boggles the mind of anyone brought up on World War 2 history like myself.

 

Having human ears as trophies sounds like the Vietnam war, but you can find it referred to in WW1 (actually a necklace of German teeth) in A SUBALTERN’S WAR by Charles Edmonds.

 

Their supplies really were substandard. We had to cut "Force 'D' ammunition boxes are marked 'Made in USA. For Practice Only' " for time.

 

The Morse up the telegraph pole was once again recorded by my brother, but we had to speed it to get it to inker speeds. Also, you really can't cut German wire with English wirecutters and you really will get a nasty shock off a line if someone is sending Morse down it.

 

We had to cut a bit of a line for time after Indira said "The Babylon sits with its bows firmly on the banks of hard baked mud". It went onto reproduce a wonderful quote I found about the atmosphere of Mespot: "But in the spring the river floods: mud everywhere, two feet deep, for hundreds of square miles. So much mud, they say the air is composed of mud refined into a gas."

 

I'll try to come back to this but on this occasion the clock has beaten me.