‘Don’t worry Mr Wood, nothing has ever happened in Basra’ said the Iraqi Major General in charge of the port when I paid a courtesy call on him after my arrival. Recalling Sinbad the sailor and the arrival of the Anglo Indian Expeditionary Force to throw out the Turks in 1914, I took this advice with a pinch of salt and was justified in June 1966 when Iraq in company with all other Arab nations broke off diplomatic relations with us sparking student riots against our consulate, the breaking of many windows and our departure.
Before that the unexpected had happened in Beirut where the Americans arrived dramatically to quell a civil war in 1956 to relieve a non-existent threat to a temporary garrison of the staff of our Embassy there waiting to defend the place against a non-existent mob. This account of a few Foreign Office postings in the Middle East may show what life was like for a junior diplomat in 50s and 60s.
The dig at Nimrud in 1956 under the inspired leadership of Max Mallowan and his wife Agatha Christie is also recalled from the social point of view and is a reminder of the glories of the ancient past many of which have been destroyed by the recent depravations of the fanatics. It should be added that Agatha’s contribution is not generally recognised in archaeological publications but her management of the administration of the dig from weekly baths to the sewing on of buttons, from proper coffee to decent arak and even typing of other people’s less inspired writings were phenomenal. There are also photographs taken by the author of this dig and one on the cover of the canebrake at Khosr.