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“The Glorious City” was the official name on all the Turkish documents of this city on the Tigris River, about 350 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. As one approaches Baghdad a mass of green palm trees rises out of the treeless plain, and glittering above these are the wonderful golden globes of the mosque tombs.

But this is a case where distance lends enchantment; as one comes nearer the city, the glories vanish. The houses of the town are crude buildings of brick, mostly from ancient ruins, and of adobe. The streets are so narrow at times that one beast of burden fills the entire space from wall to wall, and the sanitary conditions, although improving, still leave much to be desired.

In fact, it’s shit.

How many people live in Baghdad no one knows, and estimates vary from 10,000 to 400,000. Of this population about one fourth are Jews, descendants of those who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar; one-tenth are Christians, and the rest are Mohammedans.

Straddling the Tigris at the point where that river and the Euphrates most nearly approach, the city has long commanded a large part of the traffic between India, Persia, and Europe.

The chief exports to Europe are wood, human hair, stale dates, wheat, horses, offal, dung, and oriental fabrics, whilst the imports are iron and copper, sugar and coffee. To control this trade, and to pave the way for political aggressions, Germany in 1902 obtained from the Turkish government the right to build a railway to Baghdad. The Krauts immediately began their infamous Berlin-Baghdad railway, which was completed to a point about 400 miles north of Baghdad when World War I broke out, which they lost big time.

The line had already swallowed up ₤10,000,000, and over 70,000 men were busily engaged in building it. The two main difficulties, however, had not been entirely overcome, for the Taurus and Amanus mountains had yet to be pierced. This led to two important breaks in the route, which were therefore connected by roads specially constructed for the purpose. By working with almost superhuman energy a three-mile tunnel through the one and a six-mile tunnel through the other were completed during hostilities.

At Aleppo, where it joined the Syrian and Palestine railways, locomotive works and extensive repair shops had been erected, hospitals built for those who were ill or injured, and temporary dwellings put up for the workers engaged on that section of the line. One of the principal objects of this great steel highway was to obtain raw material for Germany from the Near East, and as the southern terminus was to be at the head of the Persian Gulf, from India and the Far East also. The Taurus mountains, which are in south-west Armenia, were particularly rich in copper, whilst cotton, wool, and other useful commodities from Mesopotamia and Kurdistan would be specially valuable.

During World War I it was stated by a German publicist that the Baghdad railway was “in the nature of a political life-insurance policy for Germany”, and he added that the line would supplement the other railways at Aleppo “in throwing troops in the direction of Egypt”. Thus the project had a definite military as well as commercial value, for if Britain lost Egypt she also lost “the lordship over the Suez Canal, and her connecting link with India and Asia, perhaps also her possessions in East Africa”.

With the occupation of Baghdad by the British on 11 March 1917, the dream of German domination of the East ended. With the British capture of the city also ended the Turkish dominion, under which the country had suffered for centuries, and under which the glories of Baghdad had largely departed.

Founded in A.D.762, Baghdad with its population of 2,000,000 was then the largest city in the world. Under the rule of the Arabs it was pre-eminent in literature, in art, and in science. Those were the days of the splendid court of Harun-al-Raschid, the caliph who was contemporary with Charlemagne. The Paris and London of that time were but miserable villages compared with Baghdad.

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During the First World War many a British soldier announced proudly when he left home that he was “on his way to Berlin”, and most of them were anxious to march through the streets of that German capital with their victorious Allies before they returned to civil life. This wish was destined to be ungratified, for Berlin lies far beyond the zone of occupied territory which was formally made over to the armies of the Allies by the Armistice of 11 November 1918.

Situated on the River Spree in the former kingdom of Prussia, about 85 miles from the western frontier of Poland and the same distance from the Baltic Sea at Stettin, Berlin is admirably located for the political centre of the country.

Its accessibility is greatly increased by the great network of railways which converge upon it. This railway communication with all parts of Europe aided in making Berlin one of the greatest industrial and commercial cities on the Continent, whilst in wealth and population it ranked third in Europe, immediately after London and Paris.

In it were great factories for the making of woollen cloth, dyes, furniture, gas chambers for exterminating Jews, and steam engines, which employed more than one-half the working population.

In spite of its age – for it was probably founded in the 13th century – Berlin is a very modern city. In 1871, when the German Empire was formed, Berlin had a population of 826,000; by 1914 it had grown to a city of nearly 4,000,000 inhabitants, including suburbs – one of the most amazing growths in history.

The appearance of the city is modern, with its wide avenues and imposing buildings. Its most famous street is Unter den Linden – so called from its long rows of lime or linden trees, which lead from the former imperial palace, with its 600 rooms, to the Brandenburg Gate, the only one remaining of the numerous gates of the old Prussian city.

With Prussian thoroughness the rulers of Berlin saw to it that the people should hold in grateful remembrance those who have contributed to the growth of the city and the Prussian state. Her streets and parks, therefore, are dotted with pretentious statues erected to the memory of rulers and generals.

Although the statues of war leaders predominate, those erected to Rauch, Hegel, Schiller, and Jahn show that the leaders in peaceful pursuits have not been entirely forgotten.

Like other German cities, Berlin was impoverished during the First World War by the blockade which cut off its trade, and it suffered severely from the riots which followed the revolution of 1919.

Notre Dame Cathedral Antwerp

The city of Antwerp, the metropolis of Belgium and one of the greatest seaports of Europe, has long played an important role in history because of its situation and its commercial importance. Located 50 miles from the open sea, on the right bank of the Scheldt River, which is here 2,200 feet wide, Antwerp possesses one of the finest harbours of the world, through which passes a huge volume of imports and exports. Besides its commerce Antwerp is important for its diamond-cutting, sugar-refining, brewing and distilling, and its manufacture of textiles.

Its commanding position was attained only after a long and troubled career. The city was founded some time in the 8th century and is said by some scholars to have acquired its name – Hand-werpen (“hand-throwing”) – from the gruesome practice of one of its robber chieftains who cut off the hands of his prisoners and threw them into the Scheldt. By the middle of the 16th century Antwerp had become one of the most prosperous cities in Europe and the world’s chief money-market, but in 1576 it was pillaged and burned for three days during the “Spanish Fury” because it had taken part in the revolt from Spain, which then ruled the Netherlands. The city was ruined and its inhabitants scattered.

Not until the days of Napoleon did it start again on the upward road, when it fell into the hands of France. Napoleon began the improvement of its harbour to make Antwerp a rival to London and a “revolver held at the heart of England”. With this impetus Antwerp continued to grow even after the downfall of Napoleon’s empire in 1814. Its commerce received another setback in 1830 when Belgium separated from Holland, for the latter country controlled both banks of the lower Scheldt and imposed heavy tolls on all vessels ascending or descending the river. This obstacle was not removed until 1863.

Antwerp suffered another heavy blow at the opening of the First World War in 1914. Although its fortifications had been strengthened after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, so that it was considered the strongest fortified city in Europe, it took the Germans only ten days to drive out the Belgian army. On October 8th, 1914, they occupied the town, which they had long coveted because of its strategic location, and did not give it up until their withdrawal from Belgium in 1918.

In spite of these disasters there still stand in Antwerp some of the old buildings. The most famous is the cathedral of Notre Dame, which was begun in 1352 and completed in 1616. With its lofty tower it is the most conspicuous building in the city, and in it are three of Rubens’ great paintings, The Descent from the Cross, The Elevation of the Cross, and The Assumption. Other important buildings are the richly decorated town-hall, built in the 16th century, and the gallery containing a priceless collection of Rubens’ and Van Dyck’s paintings. Boulevards mark the site of the old walls.

Not far from the cathedral stands the shop and home of Christophe Plantin, “the king of printers”. Setting up the establishment in 1549, the business was continued after his death by his descendants until 1867 – over three centuries. Not only did he work with all the strength of an active brain and an amazing physical energy, but the founder of a business that was destined to become the finest printing house in the world persuaded all his family to labour for him. His wife, five daughters and two sons-in-law toiled often enough from early morn until long after dewy eve. One of the most famous works produced by the Plantin Press was a Bible in several languages that filled eight volumes. The types, presses and other apparatus of this old 16th century printer are preserved as precious relics of a master craftsman. Population of Antwerp about 300,000.

Aachen Cathedral

It was the year 1000 after Christ, and the people of Europe, according to old stories, were daily expecting the end of the world. Otto III, the young and flighty ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, had come to Aachen, the old German capital 44 miles west of the Rhine, and announced that he was going to open the sacred tomb of Charlemagne. This lay under a marble slab beneath the dome of the chapel built by that great emperor himself, with marble columns and other materials taken from the classical structures of Rome, Ravenna, and other Italian cities.

When the royal sepulchre was opened the torch’s flickering light disclosed a strange sight. The body of the great emperor, clothed in white, was seated on a huge marble chair. One of the hands held a sceptre and on the head was the imperial crown. The spirit of the man who 200 years before had founded an empire greater than the world had seen since the days of the Roman Caesars seemed to survive in death. Before the commanding dignity of that huge figure the young emperor quailed. The torch fell from his grasp and he rushed out of the tomb, ordering the stone to be replaced. Two years later Otto III was buried in that same chapel.

One hundred and sixty years later the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa again opened the tomb. The marble throne, crown, and sceptre of Charlemagne were taken to add dignity and strength to Frederick’s imperial projects, and the bones of Charlemagne were placed in a shrine north of the chapel. Every seven years they are exhibited to visitors. After Barbarossa, 31 emperors and kings were crowned in the marble chair that had once been the throne of the first great mediaeval monarch.

The chapel and tomb of Charlemagne, now the central part of the cathedral of Aachen, are the heart of the city even to this day. Aachen is believed to have been the great emperor’s birthplace, but it owes its historic fame to Charlemagne’s fondness for its hot sulphur springs, which led him to make it his favourite place of residence. These unfailing springs still make Aachen a famous resort, where visitors seek health from the warm waters in which the mighty rulers of the Franks splashed and swam nearly twelve centuries ago.

Near by Charlemagne built his palace and held his court. Here were gathered the great scholars of the day, teaching in the Palace School, and the gay life of the court went forward as merrily as it does now in the modern hotels which have replaced the ancient buildings.

Two important treaties were concluded at meetings or congresses held in Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle as it is named in French. The first, signed in 1668, ended a war begun by Louis XIV of France to enforce certain rights claimed in behalf of his wife in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium). The other, in 1748, ended the struggle known as the War of the Austrian Succession.

Aachen became a part of the kingdom of Prussia in 1815. To-day it is an important manufacturing centre, because of the coal fields that lie near at hand. Its chief trade is in cloth and silk, leather, glass buttons, soap, timber, and wine. It is one of the chief railway centres on the German border, and it was from here that the German attack on Belgium was launched in 1914 at the beginning of World War I.

Dead Man’s Dump by Isaac Rosenberg (killed in action 1 April 1918)

The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman,
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now.

Earth has waited for them,
All the time of their growth
Fretting for their decay:
Now she has them at last!
In the strength of their strength
Suspended – stopped and held.

What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
Earth! have they gone into you!
Somewhere they must have gone,
And flung on your hard back
Is their soul’s sack
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
Who hurled them out? Who hurled?

None saw their spirits’ shadow shake the grass,
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
When the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth.

What of us who, flung on the shrieking pyre,
Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
Immortal seeming ever?
Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
A fear may choke in our veins
And the startled blood may stop.

The air is loud with death,
The dark air spurts with fire,
The explosions ceaseless are.
Timelessly now, some minutes past,
Those dead strode time with vigorous life,
Till the shrapnel called ‘An end!’
But not to all. In bleeding pangs
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

Maniac Earth! howling and flying, your bowel
Seared by the jagged fire, the iron love,
The impetuous storm of savage love.
Dark Earth! dark Heavens! swinging in chemic smoke,
What dead are born when you kiss each soundless soul
With lightning and thunder from your mined heart,
Which man’s self dug, and his blind fingers loosed?

A man’s brains splattered on
A stretcher-bearer’s face;
His shook shoulders slipped their load,
But when they bent to look again
The drowning soul was sunk too deep
For human tenderness.

They left this dead with the older dead,
Stretched at the cross roads.

Burnt black by strange decay
Their sinister faces lie,
The lid over each eye,
The grass and coloured clay
More motion have than they,
Joined to the great sunk silences.

Here is one not long dead;
His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
And the choked soul stretched weak hands
To reach the living word the far wheels said,
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
Swift for the end to break
Or the wheels to break,
Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.

Will they come? Will they ever come?
Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
The quivering-bellied mules,
And the rushing wheels all mixed
With his tortured upturned sight.
So we crashed round the bend,
We heard his weak scream,
We heard his very last sound,
And our wheels grazed his dead face.

Patrols went out each night to repair wire, and watch out for enemy activity. On the night of 31 March Rosenberg was detailed for one of these patrols. They crept out into the uncertain darkness, feeling their way across the cratered and treacherous ground. Whether they came across an unexploded shell, or whether an alert German sniper spotted them, they did not return. Rosenberg’s body was never found. It was 1 April, and another attack was expected; his remaining comrades had other worries. The adjutant noted in the regimental diary that the weather, at least, showed signs of clearing.

(Jean Liddiard, Isaac Rosenberg: The Half Used Life, final paragraph)

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)

Behind the name Ivor Gurney lies the tragic story of a composer and poet whose life seemed full of promise, but who ended his days in a lunatic asylum. His work was influenced by two contrasting landscapes – the beautiful countryside of his native Gloucestershire, and the desolate terrain of the Western Front during the First World War. He was wounded at the battle of Arras (the poet Edward Thomas did not survive the same battle) and later in 1917 he was gassed and returned to “Blighty”. Although when he died in 1937 he was just beginning to be acknowledged as one of England’s finest song composers, it is only in recent years that his stature as a war poet has been fully appreciated. He was certified insane in 1922, and after running away from Barnwood House, an asylum near Gloucester, he was committed to the City of London Mental Hospital in Dartford, Kent, where he remained until his death from bilateral pulmonary tuberculosis, on 26 December 1937. His body was removed to Gloucester, and in the bleak unlovely churchyard at Twigworth, towards sunset on the last day of the year, he was buried.

In 1932, Helen Thomas, widow of the poet, went with Marion Scott to visit Gurney at Dartford (Gurney loved Edward Thomas’s work and set at least eighteen of his poems to music). In 1960 she recalled the visit for the Royal College of Music’s magazine:

We arrived at the asylum which looked like – as indeed it was – a prison. A warder let us in after unlocking a door, and doors were opened and locked behind us as we were ushered into the building. We were walking along a bare corridor when we were met by a tall gaunt dishevelled man clad in pyjamas and dressing gown, to whom Miss Scott introduced me. He gazed with an intense stare into my face and took me silently by the hand. Then I gave him the flowers which he took with the same deeply moving intensity and silence. He then said, “You are Helen, Edward’s wife and Edward is dead.” I said, “Yes, let us talk of him.” So we went into a little cell-like bedroom where the only furniture was a bed and a chair. The window was barred and the walls were bare and drab. He put the flowers on the bed for there was no vessel to put them in; there was nothing in the room that could in any way be used to damage with – no pottery or jars whose broken edge could be used as a weapon. He remarked on my pretty hat, for it was summer and I had purposely put on my prettiest clothes. I remember that although his talk was generally quite sane and lucid, he said, “It was wireless that killed Edward.” This idea of the danger of wireless and his fear of it constantly occurred in his talk. “They are getting at me through wireless.” Before we left he took us into a large room in which was a piano and on this he played to us and the tragic circle of men who sat on hard benches against the walls of the room. They gave no sign that they heard the music. The room was quite bare and there wasn’t one beautiful thing for the patients to look at.

Ivor Gurney longed more than anything else to go back to his beloved Gloucestershire, but this was not allowed for fear he should try to take his own life. I said, “But surely it would be more humane to let him go there even if it meant no more than one hour of happiness before he killed himself.” But the authorities could not look at it in that way.

The next time I went with Miss Scott I took with me Edward’s own well-used Ordnance Survey maps of Gloucestershire, where he had often walked. This proved to have been a sort of inspiration, for Ivor Gurney at once spread them out on his bed and he and I spent the whole time I was there tracing with our fingers the lanes and byeways and villages of which he knew every step and over which Edward had walked. He spent that hour re-visiting his beloved home, spotting a village or a track, a hill or a wood and seeing it all in his mind’s eye. He trod, in a way that we who were sane could not emulate, the lanes and fields he loved, his guide being his finger tracing the way on the map. It was deeply moving, and I knew that I had hit on an idea that gave him more pleasure than anything else I could have thought of.

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F. B. Wheeler)

Bounded on three sides by the caravan routes of the Sahara Desert, Tripoli, the Italian colony in North Africa, receives from the north the moisture of the Mediterranean, which washes its one thousand miles of shore line.

For centuries Tripoli owed its prosperity to the caravan routes, which converged here from the Sahara Desert. The most important of these were the routes to Timbuktu in the south-west, to Lake Chad in the south, and to the Darfur region of the Egyptian Sudan. Today the trade in ivory, gold, ostrich feathers, rubber, etc., which formerly flowed across these routes, has mostly been diverted to Egypt on the east and Algeria and Tunis on the west.

After a war with Turkey in 1911-12, Italy gained possession of this great territory and gave it the ancient Greek name of Libya. During the World War of 1914-18 it was overrun by Arabs, Turks, and Germans, and, after the Turks and Germans gave way, the fierce wanderers of the desert continued to defy the Italian government until the armistice of April 1919, preventing Italy from organizing the civilization and development of her newly acquired “empire of sand”.

Before the dawn of history this region was the seat of a flourishing culture. All that is left of this early civilization is a number of great stone monuments – cells cut from the living rock, circles of rough columns, altars, pyramid mounds, etc.

The earliest rulers of western Tripoli in historical times seem to have been the Carthaginians, whose capital was situated towards the west, on the coast of what is today the French colony of Tunis. In the 7th century B.C. the Greeks founded the city of Cyrene on the north-eastern coast of Libya, and the region called Cyrenaica became one of the great centres of Greek culture. Here the sage Aristippus founded the great Cyrenaic school of philosophy, which held that pleasure, tempered by prudence, was the chief goal of life.

Cyrenaica passed under Egyptian rule in the 4th century B.C., and later became part of Roman Africa. It was for a time a flourishing seat of the early Christian religion. The name today is retained for the eastern province of Tripoli, and the village of Grenna stands on the old site of Cyrene.

In the 5th century A.D. Tripoli and Cyrenaica were conquered by the Vandals, and two centuries later the whole country was overrun by the Arabs. In 1510 the city of Tripoli, in the north-west, was captured by Ferdinand the Catholic, and from 1530 to 1551 it was occupied by the Knights of St. John. Then the Turks took possession.

Tripoli soon became the stronghold of pirates, and many were the expeditions organized by European nations against these lawless shores. In 1835 Turkey took a firmer grip on the country, but revolts continued until the clash with Italy put an end to the Sultan’s rule.

Tripoli, or Tripolitania, as the whole region is sometimes called, has four zones. The first, along the coast, is covered with palm, olive, lemon, and other fruit trees. The second, formed by the highlands of Gebel and Tarhuna, produces cereals, dates, and figs. The Tarhuna district is particularly rich in esparto grass, used in making fine quality paper. The third zone consists chiefly of oases and is rich in palms. The fourth zone consists of the Fezzan and the western Libyan desert. In the whole colony there is not a single large river.

The richer areas of Tripoli are inhabited chiefly by Arabs, who have driven the descendants of the original Berber tribes into the mountainous districts, where they tend their flocks and herds in comparative independence. Along the coast are many Jews, in whose hands is a large part of the country’s trade. The fierce Tuaregs, the pirates of the desert, control the barren reaches of the Fezzan. In the larger seaport towns, Tripoli, Bengazi, etc., are colonies of Greeks, Turks, Maltese, largely engaged in the sponge fisheries.

Tripoli, or Libya, is often described as a shithole, but the people are good-natured, if lazy, and hemp, or cannabis, is freely available, as are young boys uncontaminated by HIV.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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