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23 February 2017

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

“Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe.”
- Letter in Malayalam by an Indian sepoy, August 1943, Central Mediterranean Forces.

Through letters exchanged between the home front and international battlefronts, Indian soldiers in the Second World War reveal themselves to be part of a mobile world. Military enlistment and its consequent legitimacy for travel open the door to foreign countries, and new ways of seeing. While the letters themselves become agents of communication between remote villages spread across India and theatres of war thousands of miles away, they also foreground soldiers as itinerant spectators, engaging in colonial encounters in new lands.  Travel becomes an affective experience, and Europe, viewed through eastern eyes, the site of intercultural exchange.

 © IWM NA 9418 Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943Italy - Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943 © IWM (NA 9418)

A sepoy in the Central Mediterranean Forces, part of the Allied forces in Italy, writes: “As a reward for all our previous sufferings, Almighty brought us here to Sicily. We are supplied with British Troop rations. Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe. Wherever you go, you will find groves of date palms and innumerable vineyards. The civilians are very sympathetic and kind hearted… The climate is very good, because it is an island in the Mediterranean Sea.… An Indian soldier is respected both for his fighting qualities and morale. The people here display no colour prejudice. The coloured are better loved than the white. Sanitation in Sicily is excellent. In our camps we enjoy radio music and cinema almost everyday. On the whole this is one of the happiest and most beautiful countries I have ever seen”.

   IWM E6547 Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941
Cyprus - Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941 © IWM (E 6547)

The verdant Italian landscape serves as a harmonious backdrop for amiable cross-cultural understanding that, nonetheless, indicates the presence of systemic inequalities during the war experience – in Indian soldiers’ rations contrasted to British troops, for instance. The extract also highlights the complexity of wartime hierarchies – being a colonial soldier on the victorious side destabilises racial structures to the extent that “the coloured” liberators become “better loved than the white.” And the rather idiosyncratic mention of Sicilian sanitation perhaps indicates its novelty to this soldier.

An Indian captain in the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps is similarly rapturous: “I am sitting under an olive tree and so many trees of almonds are standing near by. No sooner there is a slight wind than all the ripe almonds fall down on the ground. Vineyards are hanging everywhere. Birds are chirping and orchards are found all over the area round about us. Vegetables are in abundance and fruits are more than I can put in black and white. This is the first time in my life that my breakfast consists of almonds and grapes only… Our relations with the local inhabitants are cordial and they are very social”.  Here, the use of the present tense lends immediacy to this description of an Italian paradise’s mellow fruitfulness. Most significantly, both letters emphasise the restorative, albeit exoticised, potential of the natural world in a foreign land, seen through war-weary Indian eyes.

Diya Gupta
Third-year PhD researcher at King’s College London
Find out more in this short film 

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

 

21 February 2017

Enclosed Herewith: Specimens of Ore from the Kuria Muria Islands

Recently the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme discovered an unusual enclosure in some India Office correspondence:  four small specimens of ore, contained in a little pouch.  Where were these specimens from and how did they become part of the India Office Records?

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IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 17: pouch containing four specimens of ore Noc

The specimens were given to Lieutenant-Colonel William Rupert Hay, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, by some inhabitants of Al Hallaniyah during Hay’s visit to the island on 7 April 1947.  Al Hallaniyah is the largest of the Kuria Muria Islands, a group of five islands located in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Oman.  The islands were presented as a gift to Britain by the Sultan of Muscat in 1854, and they became the responsibility of the Government of Bombay in British India.  They were highly valued for their guano deposits, which were exhausted by 1860, following a brief but intensive period of extraction. The islands became part of the British Aden Colony, but for administrative purposes were placed under the control of the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf.

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IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 17a: four specimens of ore from Al Hallaniyah Noc

Although the islands were long regarded by the British as being of little strategic or commercial interest, their status and administration became a topic of discussion between the India Office and the Colonial Office during the 1930s.  This was mainly in relation to Aden’s separation from British India, but also because of the establishment of a strategic air route from Aden to Muscat.

The reasons behind Hay’s visit to the islands in 1947 are not entirely clear, but he appeared to take a personal as well as a professional interest in the islands.  Following his visit he submitted a short article to The Geographical Journal (the journal of the Royal Geographical Society), which was published later that year.  Hay was also curious about the properties of the specimens that he had received at Al Hallaniyah.  A few days after his trip, in a letter to Eion Pelly Donaldson at the India Office in London, Hay wrote: ‘I forward herewith the specimens of ore handed to me on Hallaniyah Island.  If there is no objection I should be grateful if you could kindly have them analysed and let me know the result'.

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IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 21: letter from the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf to the India OfficeNoc

The specimens were duly sent to the Geological Survey and Museum (now part of the Natural History Museum) in South Kensington. After an initial inspection the specimens were identified as being crystals of iron pyrites, and were deemed not to be of commercial value.  Donaldson informed Hay of the results and added ‘[w]e will keep the specimens here for the time being, unless you want them returned’.  Presumably Hay did not express any interest in retaining the specimens, which have remained with the correspondence ever since.

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IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 13: letter from the India Office to the Political Resident in the Persian GulfNoc

Images of the specimens will be made available on the Qatar Digital Library website later this year.


David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
Coll 6/39 'Kuria Muria Islands: Administration and Status of', IOR/L/PS/12/2106
John Gordon Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, ’Omān and Central Arabia, 2 vols (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, India, 1908), II, pp. 1043-1045.
William Rupert Hay, ‘The Kuria Muria Islands’, The Geographical Journal, 109 (1947) No. 4/6 (April-June 1947), 279-281.

  

16 February 2017

Thim Days Is Gone – a colonial memoir

Patrick Tandy was a soldier and colonial administrator who wrote a memoir about his time in India and the Persian Gulf. The memoir has an arresting title: ‘Thim Days Is Gone’.

Tandy, an Irishman, was no lover of colonial ‘snobbery and pomposity’, as he explains in a preface: ‘The late Christabel, Lady Ampthill of blessed memory, answered the door-bell of her Castle of Dungorra in Connemara to find the coal-man on her door step. He said “Where do you want the coal, missus?” She drew herself up and replied “Kindly address me as your ladyship!” His answer was “Thim days is gone missus, where do you want the coal?”’

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‘Thim Days Is Gone’ by Patrick Tandy. Mss Eur F 222/28, f 3.

Tandy had a career spanning the Royal Artillery, the North-West Frontier Province of India, and colonial administration in the Persian Gulf, where he was Political Officer, Trucial Coast, and later Political Agent, Kuwait. The memoir spans the years 1932-48, and was written in the 1980s.

We learn from Tandy’s colourful account, among other things, that the Urdu spoken by upwards of 90% of the British officers in India was in fact a language ‘almost unintelligible to the untutored Indian’, and Urdu-speaking recruits had to be taught by their fellow soldiers the ‘Sahib’s Urdu’ in order to understand their own officers (folio 6).

Amorous exploits include the ‘attractive blonde daughter’ of his boss, the Chief Commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, ‘whose marriage was going through a difficult period, and who had flown to the shelter of her mother’s wing. One could hardly have asked for more’ (folio 34).

Then there was the Maharajah who always wore gloves to shake hands with Europeans ‘in order to avoid defilement’ (folio 33).

Service during the Second World War with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the borders of Iran and Russia brought him into contact with a local official who had removed a cache of arms and ammunition from behind the walls of his house. He had then disguised the repair to the wall by hanging up a sanitary instrument, ‘more, one imagines, for convenience than ornamentation’. The same official also made home-brew vodka, which exploded when lit by a match (folio 86).

Attempts to organise Russian deserters for guerrilla operations foundered on the fact that if captured the deserters faced execution by their own side, by the Germans, or by anyone else.

Tandy’s transfer to Sharjah in the Trucial Coast involved a stopover at Bahrain, where he tells the story of an unnamed VIP, an apartment for off-duty air hostesses, and a two-way mirror (folio 96).

Much follows about social customs, local rulers, and the advent of the oil industry.

On folio 103 the Sheikh of Sharjah (a diabetic) is saved by an insulin injection from a Jewish doctor, and on folio 115 the Sheikh of Kuwait fortunately takes the right glass at a Royal Navy reception (all the others had gin in).

Tandy finally left Kuwait (and the Gulf) in 1948, when he handed over to ‘a young man from The Foreign Office who had no Arabic’, leaving him with the feeling that ‘an era had come to an end’.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Mss Eur F 226/28 'THIM DAYS IS GONE'
Biographical notes on Maurice Patrick O'Connor Tandy (1912-1986) can be found in Paul John Rich, Creating the Arabian Gulf: The British Raj and the Invasions of the Gulf (Lexington Books, 2009)
Diana Quick, A Tug on the Thread: From the British Raj to the British Stage. A Family Memoir (Virago Press, 2009).