From Part Three of "OIL IN THEIR BLOOD, The Story of Our Addiction": Basra in 1915
Until the coming of oil and war, Basra was a sleepy station on the Shatt al Arab, the canals in the flood plain where the Tigris-Euphrates estuary meets the Persian Gulf. Trading freighters came and went on unpredictable schedules from a one-room shipping office. Outbound goods, mail and passengers waited a day, or two, to go west through Suez to Europe or east to the Raj depending on what ship came along.
In 1914-15, the British turned Basra into a bustling military port. Hastily constructed wood docks debarked an army of invasion to guard, with profound seriousness of purpose, freshly drilled Persian oil refined at Abadan for His Majesty's fleet. Basra Station's single small mud stucco building became a village of one and two story slat wood and mud stucco houses and offices lining the canals of the estuary. Beyond the village, on the dry, dusty plain, the British Expeditionary Forces and the Indian Expeditionary Forces under British command set up a massive tent city and planned its upriver assault on Baghdad.
At Basra, the freighter's Captain ordered his crew to rid themselves of Burden and the expedition cargo before unloading anything else. Therefore, a short time after they moored to the creaking wood docks, Sam was standing with the Colonel in the beating heat of an Iraqi late spring morning amid their crates and trunks, awaiting their military escort. The frantic bustle of military and commercial loading and unloading went on all around them. Inland, beyond the small array of one and two story slat wood and white mud buildings, Sam saw endless rows of military tents around a dusty, wide field on which countless rows of British troops drilled. Impatiently, Burden muttered curses on desert heat and dark-skinned people.
An officious young man with wide brown eyes in precise British military uniform and ribbons marched up to them and snapped out a sharp salute, grinning brightly, an intelligent gleam in his dark eyes. "Girgis Hanifa," he exclaimed over the commotion. "Liaison Staff Sergeant. IEF. You are Colonel Burden?"
"Bloody hell, you dimwit," Burden spit back, indifferently returning the salute. "Now you and every brown-skinned informant on the docks know." Burden's small black eyes glanced around. Sam followed Burden's suspicious gaze and saw troops and navy men everywhere busy with cargo, none taking any notice of Girgis or Burden.
Girgis's smiling eyes narrowed and his brightness faded. He indicated three enlisted men, all British Indians like him. They stood beside an ox cart. "Can we transport your belongings now, SIR?" He snapped another sharp salute.
Burden pivoted toward the rows of buildings. "Of course. And quit saluting. I'm not going to return a bloody salute every time I answer a question, you sod." Girgis dropped his salute hesitantly, turned to the other men and set them loading Burden's cargo onto the oxcart.
"Take all of it directly to our quarters," Burden ordered. "Now, where will I find the post's commanding officer?"
"The big white house at the end of the docks, SIR!" Girgis grinned, pointing with one hand and reflexively saluting with the other. Burden followed the indication, saw the house, nodded, noticed the salute, raised his eyebrows in disgust, pivoted without returning the salute and strode away. Girgis hesitantly dropped the salute, looking questioningly at Sam.
Sam smiled and nodded. "Don't worry about it, Sergeant," Sam said quietly and turned to follow after Burden. Then, having a second thought, he turned back. "He would've cursed you for insubordination if you hadn't saluted," he said quietly. He read gratitude in Girgis's expression, then turned away again. Girgis noticed Sam clenching and unclenching his fists as he followed Burden's duck-like strides toward the military headquarters in the white house.
From Part Three of "OIL IN THEIR BLOOD, The Story of Our Addiction":
Romania in 1916North of the Danube, just north of Bucharest, the rolling plains of the Dambovita-Prohava River basin rise slowly upward and north toward the Carpathian Mountains. In the autumn of 1916, the Romanian army marched across the Dambovita-Prohava River basin plains and up through the snowy alpine forest passes of the Carpathians to take back Transylvania from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Since the Middle Ages, since before there was a Romania or an Austro-Hungarian Empire, the people of these regions had warred over control of Transylvania. In the mid- and late 1400s, a great hero named Vlad the Son of the Dragon, or Vlad Dracula in the local language, led the people of present-day Romanian provinces Moldavia and Wallachia in seizing Transylvania and driving out Turks and western invaders. His brutal tactics won him renown as Vlad the Impaler.
Throughout the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s, Transylvania was a battleground for Hapsburgs, Turks and local Romanian powers. In 1848, the Austro-Hungarian Magyars took control. In 1862, Moldavian and Wallachian boyars, the provincial gentry, formed the country of Romania, which again hungered to take back Transylvania. World War I provided that opportunity.
Romanian leaders presumed, when they declared war on the Central Powers at the end of August, 1916, that Germany was too occupied on the western front to reinforce the Austro-Hungarians. But when Romania's initial thrusts into Transylvania pushed Germany's allies back, the German High Command reacted immediately. Mackensen led a German-Bulgarian-Turkish force up the Danube Valley from west to east and Falkenhayn led a German and Austro-Hungarian force through the Carpathian passes. Massing, they drove the Romanians back into the Dambovita-Prohava River basin where the Romanians hoped to defend their capital city, Bucharest, their fertile corn-growing lands and, most importantly, Europe's biggest oil-producing region. When Russian armies could not reinforce them, the Romanians prepared to retreat eastward.
"You want to WHAT!?!?"
Norton Griffiths, Sam, Bibesco, Dmitri, Tanasescu and Finch stood in the offices of British-owned Romanian Consolidated Oil Company in Targoviste facing general manager W.P. Huntington-Guthrie, a short, stout man whose face became brighter and brighter red, whose pale blue eyes bulged more and more and whose thin, short blond hair quivered more as they watched. "Blow UP the place!?!?"
"Have you heard the battlefield reports, Mr. Huntington-Guthrie?"
"But blow UP the place?"
"We carry ample gelignite charges."
"But the costs!"
"I hold plenary powers granted by Mr. McKenna, Chancellor of the Exchequer," Norton Griffiths replied. "The British Government undertakes to pay the full cost of restoration when the war is over."
"Restoration!?! Restoration!?!" sputtered Huntington-Guthrie. "Do you even know what you're talking about?" He pointed out the window across from his desk. "Bloody HELL, man. That's what you'll be restoring. We refine over three hundred fifty tons of oil a DAY. It's fourteen acres. I've got eighteen thousand tons of oil out there right now."
"Good," Norton Griffiths interrupted. While Huntington-Guthrie continued staring out the window and reciting to himself the inventory of Romanian Consolidated, Norton Griffiths huddled with the others. Sam, Dmitri, Tanasescu and Finch nodded and left the office. The Colonel and the Count turned back to the general manager. They watched him watch as, outside the window, Norton Griffiths' officers began detailing Tanasescu's soldiers.
Huntington-Guthrie went on, his voice fading. "Six stills. Ephlegmators, preheaters, a refining and rectifying plant, an electric light installation." He turned to the Colonel and the Count. "AN ELECTRIC LIGHT INSTALLATION!" He shook his head and went on. "A one hundred twenty horsepower boiler plant! Workshops, stores!" He looked up at them, saw the determination in their faces, stopped talking and walked to a microphone on a desk nearby. Again looking out the window, he raised it to his mouth and clicked it on. "Attention! Attention! Representatives of the Romanian and Allied governments are on the premises. Render all assistance. Repeat: Render all assistance." He clicked the microphone off, dropped it to the desk and looked up at them. "Just supposing you have a way to effectively destroy this operation, do you have any idea how many more just like it, and bigger, there are in Romania?"
Norton Griffiths smiled. "Want to help"
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