THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

34 posts categorized "Middle East"

21 November 2017

Arabic or English: the Education of a Future Sultan of Muscat and Oman

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Born 13 August 1910, Sa‘id bin Taymur bin Faysal al-Bu Sa‘idi was six years old when his father Taymur, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman set out the plan for his schooling. The Sultan sent a special request for Muhammad Rashid Rida in Cairo to help find a suitable tutor to come to Muscat and teach little Sa‘id.

IOR_R_15_6_55_f10IOR/R/15/6/55, f 10

British officials in Cairo and Muscat soon raised concerns regarding the Sultan's correspondence with Rashid Rida. Muhammad Rashid Rida was a well-known early twentieth century Syrian Muslim scholar who was based in Egypt. Editor of the religious paper al-Manar, he was well-known to British authorities for his anti-British sentiment. The British Government was therefore totally opposed to the idea of recruiting a tutor through Rashid Rida, who could easily influence the Sultan's only son and heir. Rashid Rida was quickly ruled out as an option.

IOR_R_15_6_55_f18IOR/R/15/6/55, f 18

The British Government raised further concerns related to the expense of bringing a teacher from Egypt, questioning whether the Sultan’s son should have an Egyptian teacher. The Sultan argued that an Egyptian teacher ‘would be more likely to speak and write Arabic, and to be in touch with Arab sentiment than a man from India’. The early twentieth century witnessed the spread of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, which had roots in Egypt and Syria, and the British Government feared the choice of a teacher who might influence the future Sultan with such ideologies. Therefore, they insisted that the choice of the tutor should be controlled by the “Egyptian authorities”. 

IOR_R_15_6_55_f14IOR/R/15/6/55, f 14

Owing to the war, correspondence regarding this issue was delayed until 1920 when the Political Agent at Muscat suggested that Sa‘id be sent to Mayo College at Ajmer in Rajasthan, India, accompanied by someone who knew both Arabic and English.  

IOR_R_15_6_55_f23IOR/R/15/6/55, f 23

Fearing a further delay to the boy’s schooling, the Sultan accepted the suggestion. In February 1922, twelve-year-old Sa‘id started at Mayo College. Ironically, while British officials raised their concerns about the expenses of bringing a teacher from Egypt, they actually paid 3000 Rupees per year in fees at the Mayo College.

  IOR_R_15_6_55_f38IOR/R/15/6/55, f 38

In 1926, the Sultan requested his son’s withdrawal from Mayo College expressing his desire that the boy should be educated in Arabic. The Sultan’s opinion was that, as his son would soon rule over an Arab country, he should learn Arabic at an Arabic school, in an Arab country, preferably Egypt.

IOR_R_15_6_55_f39IOR/R/15/6/55, f 39

British officials seemed to be finally convinced that Sa‘id should be instructed in Arabic, but were still opposed to his education in Egypt.

IOR_R_15_6_55_f41IOR/R/15/6/55, f 41

Suggestions were made to send Sa‘id to the American University of Beirut or the American School at Basra. The Sultan rejected the idea, asserting that he was absolutely not interested in sending his son to a school connected in any way with a mission. This time the Sultan won the battle, and in September 1927 Sa‘id bin Taymur bin Faysal al-Bu Sa‘idi started his studies at the Baghdad Secondary School in Iraq.

IOR_R_15_6_55_f48IOR/R/15/6/55, f 48

Ula Zeir

Content Specialist / Arabic Language

British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading: 

IOR/R/15/6/55 'File XXXIII/12. EDUCATION of SAIYID SAID BIN TAIMUR 1916-1926.'

Mayo College https://mayocollege.com/  

07 November 2017

The Shaikh who lost his Shaikhdom, Khaz’al al-Ka‘bī of Mohammerah

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The Qatar Digital Library has digitized a number of sources concerning the life and times of Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī (1861-1936), the Emir of Mohammerah and chief of the Banu Ka’b tribe.

1

Detail from a 1908 War Office map of Persia and Afghanistan that shows Mohammerah. British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77.

Mohammerah, now named Khorramshahr, is a city located at the confluence of the Karun and Shatt al-Arab Rivers in the Khuzestan region of Iran (formerly known as Arabistan). This area was nominally a part of the Persian Qajar Empire, but for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries it was ruled as a semi-independent Shaikhdom by the Arab al-Ka‘bī family.

2

Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī wearing military uniform and honours bestowed on him by both the British and Persian Governments. Public Domain

Throughout Khaz’al’s reign (1897-1925), he was one of the most important political figures in the Persian Gulf and a prominent supporter of Britain’s presence in the region. Although never formally a part of the British Empire, the Gulf had been effectively incorporated into the British imperial system since the early 19th century. The conclusion of treaties and agreements with the region’s various tribal rulers was one of the central means by which Britain enforced its hegemonic presence, and Khaz’al was no exception to this trend.

3

Shaikh Khaz'al's palace, Qasr al-Failiyah in Mohammerah, 1921. Public Domain.

Indeed, Khaz’al actively fostered close relations with Britain in an attempt to gain their assurance that in the event of the Qajar Empire collapsing or being overthrown, Mohammerah would be formally recognised by Britain as an independent state with him as its ruler.

  4

Mohammerah, May 1917 from Album of tour of the Persian Gulf (Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox) which contains several images of the city in 1917-18.

After oil was discovered by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the forerunner of BP) in Khuzestan in 1908, Britain strengthened its ties to Khaz’al further. In 1910 he was made a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. Khaz’al sought to prove his loyalty to Britain in return and he acted as a key ally throughout the First World War during which – with British military assistance – he suppressed a pro-Ottoman tribal uprising in his domains.

5

Sheikh Khaz'al's yacht docked behind Qasr al-Failiyah, 1925 Public Domain

However, Khaz’al’s efforts to gain formal British recognition of his suzerainty over Mohammerah and achieve independence failed. Unlike the ruling families of the other Shaikhdoms in the Gulf – who remain in power today – ultimately Britain did not guarantee his rule. After the rise to power of Reza Khan (Shah from December 1925 onwards) and the fall of the Qajar dynasty, Khaz’al came under increasing pressure. The centralising and modernising programme of the new government in Tehran could not tolerate Mohammerah’s relative independence.

After leading an unsuccessful uprising, Khaz’al was taken to Tehran by force and detained by Reza Khan in April 1925. He remained in the capital under house arrest until his death in May 1936. After his fall from power, many of Khaz’al’s family members, including his son Abdullah, fled to Kuwait – where the Shaikh owned property – and many of his descendants remain living there until the present day.

6

A young Sheikh Abdullah seated (centre) and his elder brother Sheikh Chassib (third from right) with a number of their retainers, 1908. Public Domain

Those who wish to learn more about this intriguing historical figure and the broader political context in which he lived can do so using a number of India Office Records files about him that have recently been digitized and uploaded on to the Qatar Digital Library by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership as detailed below.

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

@Louis_Allday

 

Primary Documents:

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/2/1747: 'File 29/6 British Relations with Khazal, Sheikh of Khorramshahr'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/20/70: 'A Précis of the Relations of the British Government with the Tribes and Shaikhs of 'Arabistan By Lieutenant A T Wilson, Acting Consul for Arabistan'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/1/388 'File 26/185 V (F 96) Shaikh of Mohammerah'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/18/B468: The Date Gardens in Iraq of the Sheikhs of Koweit [Kuwait] and Mohammerah. Scope of undertakings given by HM Government in 1914

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/1/384: 'File 26/94 (F 26) Mohammerah; Shaikh Khazal's offer re: building of Ahwaz Consulate'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/5/178: 'File 3/8 Affairs of Sh. Khaz`als sons.'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/1/528: 'File 53/75 (D 156) Shaikh Khazal's Claim against Kuwaiti Merchants'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/332: File 240/1913 'Mohammerah - Khoremabad Railway; the Khor Musa agreement'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/18/B301: 'Memorandum on British Commitments (during the War) to the Gulf Chiefs'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/606: File 2902/1916 ‘Treaties and Engagements between the British Government and the Chiefs of the Arabian Coast of the Persian Gulf’

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/144/1: File 1421/1908 Pt 3 'Persia: oil; negotiations between the Shaikh of Mohammerah and the Anglo-Persian Oil Co.'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/132: File 345/1908 Pt 1 'Mohammerah: situation. British assurances to Sheikh.'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/133: File 345/1908 Pt 2 'Mohammerah: situation. Sheikh's dispute with the Vali of Basra. decoration for Sheikh. renewed assurances to Sheikh.'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/18/B380: ‘Memorandum respecting the frontier between Mohammerah and Turkey.’

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/262: File 1247/1912 Pts 1-2 'KOWEIT & MOHAMMERAH ANGLO-TURKISH AGREEMENT'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/262/2: File 1247/1912 Pt 2 'Anglo-Turkish Agreement. Acceptance by Sheikhs of Koweit and Mohammerah.'

British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/5/199: 'File 4/14 Property in Kuwait of Late Shaikh of Muhammarah (Khorramshahr)'

23 May 2017

Milking Oil - the start of the Kuwait Oil Industry

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The Kuwait Investment Authority, the world’s fifth largest sovereign wealth fund, began life with the gift of two tins of condensed milk to the Sheikh of Kuwait in 1936.

Condensed milk

Tin of condensed milk (Wikimedia Commons)


Kuwait’s great prosperity rests on its oil industry, which started with the ceremonial opening of the Kuwait Oil Company’s first well on 30 May 1936. The occasion was captured in a picturesque report probably written by the British Political Agent in Kuwait (Gerald de Gaury).

Kuwait IOR R 15

Map of Kuwait (detail) c 1930, showing Bahra: IOR/R/15/1/621, f 132A

One hundred guests, including the Sheikh, local Notables, and Europeans had been invited by the joint British and US-owned Company to Bahra, the site of the well (known as ‘Bahra 1’).  The opening ceremony fell during the period of warm and strongish winds known as ‘Barih ath-Thuraiyah’, and the day was hot.

At 1.30pm a fleet of cars from Kuwait ‘most of them very fully laden with the Notables and their followers, set out at racing pace into the dust haze’.  ‘Strangely’ says the report, ‘there were no casualties reported’.

Kuwait L PS 12 -A

Extract from Kuwait Intelligence Summary No. 9 of 1936: the opening of the Kuwait Oil Company’s first well. IOR/L/PS/12/3824, f 365

On arrival the Company found that the weather had destroyed its arrangements, as the ‘flapping dust-filled tents were quite unsuitable as places of reception and were abandoned in favour of the garage’.  Speeches were then made by both the Company’s Manager and the Sheikh to ‘a very crowded audience only slightly revived by Sherbet [a cooling juice drink]’.

At 5pm the Sheikh pressed an electric button and ‘had the gratification of setting the rig, the first ever in Kuwait and the third only in all Arabia, to work’.  This was followed by some ‘shy applause’, before the Sheikh examined with attention the machinery both at the rig site and afterwards at the workshops.

The report then gives the following details of the Sheikh’s tour, adding a touch of pathos at the end: ‘Acetylene welding, in particular stirred his interest and he watched, through dark glasses, for some time the cutting of metal by an Indian welder who had already lost one eye through the pursuit of his trade’.

This was followed by the presentation of an unexpected gift: ‘Before leaving the Ruler was shown the Offices and storerooms where the Manager of the Company as a parting gift presented him with 2 tins of Nestle’s milk’.  The Sheikh then expressed very great satisfaction at everything he had seen, and the hope that oil production would not be far behind.  ‘As His Excellency entered his car’, states the report, perhaps somewhat sarcastically, ‘he was informed that the well had already reached a depth of eight feet’.

  Kuwait L PS 12 -BThe Kuwait Oil Company’s parting gift to the Sheikh of Kuwait: two tins of Nestlé’s milk. IOR/L/PS/12/3824, f 366

In the event, Bahra proved not to contain a commercial quantity of oil.  However, a second exploratory well, at Burgan in the southern part of Kuwait, was more encouraging, and a productive area of considerable size had been identified in the area before operations were suspended during the Second World War.

In the 1950s, the Kuwait Government prudently began investing the profits of its burgeoning oil industry in what is now the Kuwait Investment Authority. The fund today has assets in excess of $590 billion.

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

Further reading:
London, British Library, Coll 30/104(2) 'Koweit Oil Concession: Operations of the Koweit Oil Company. (Provision of Motor Vehicles & Spares for Sheik of Koweit)'. IOR/L/PS/12/3824. (A digitised version of this file will appear in the Qatar Digital Library in the course of 2017).
D I Milton, ‘Geology of the Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait’ Geological Survey Professional Paper 560-F, (United States Government Printing Office, Washington 1967) (via Google Books).
Film of the Kuwait oilfield in the late 1940s.

11 April 2017

The Hodeidah Incident: Britain’s ‘indiscriminate’ military action in Yemen

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In the early hours of 12 November 1914 George Richardson, the British Vice-Consul to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah (Al Hudaydah) in Yemen, was awoken by the sound of the town’s Turkish gendarmes forcing their way into his residence.  Fearing assassination, Richardson leapt from his terrace to that of the neighbouring Italian Vice-Consulate, whereupon he awoke his Italian counterpart Gino Cecchi, and pleaded for asylum.  Minutes later, having realised that Richardson had escaped next door, the Turkish gendarmes stormed the Italian Consulate, injuring an Italian guard in the process, and arrested Richardson.

Aden Ma'alla
Postcard showing the wharf at Ma’alla, Aden, Yemen, during the First World War. Source: Museums Victoria Collections . Public Domain.

It took a month for news of the raid and of Richardson’s arrest to reach the newspapers in Britain.  With Italy not yet having entered the war, and the British and French Governments lobbying for Italy to enter on the side the Allies, the British press focused on the ‘outrage’ that the Turkish authorities had inflicted against Italy in raiding one of its consulates, in what became known as the Hodeidah Incident.  On 14 December The Daily Telegraph reported a ‘new and very grave Italo-Turkish incident’, describing the incident as a ‘Turkish outrage at the Italian Consulate’.
 

Hodeidah 1
Copy of a communication sent by the British Ambassador to Italy, Sir Rennell Rodd, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey, 12 December 1914. IOR/L/PS/10/465, f 124.

In press reports, no mention was made of why orders were given by the Turkish to raid the Italian Consulate and arrest and detain the British Consul.  Political and Secret Papers in the India Office Records, now available on the Qatar Digital Library reveal more details.

Reporting on the incident after his eventual release, Richardson wrote that on 4 November a ‘ship of war’ appeared in Hodeidah harbour, flying the Turkish flag.  The warship then swapped its Turkish flag for the White Ensign (the British Naval flag), and dispatched a steam cutter and crew, which proceeded to set fire to a Turkish cargo vessel.  Richardson only later learnt that the vessel in question was HMS Minto, a small ship whose appearance and actions caused great consternation amongst the inhabitants of Hodeidah:

  Hodeidah 2
Extract of a report of the incident at Hodeidah, written by the British Consul, George Richardson, dated 9 February 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/454, ff 62-86.

The Minto’s action led to Richardson’s freedoms being increasingly curtailed by Turkish officials and, fearing ‘an intended massacre of British subjects in the city’, he barricaded himself and his family in the consulate.  The British attack on the Turkish fort at Cheikh Said, 150 miles south of Hodeidah, on 10 November 1914, led to an exodus of the population from Hodeidah, who expected British vessels to visit the port the following morning.  It was amidst this climate of fear and retribution that Turkish officers stormed the British and Italian consulates on the night of 11/12 November.

Richardson had no intimation of the events that unfurled in Hodeidah in early November 1914, writing only that he had received a cypher cable from Constantinople on 3 November, informing him that Britain would declare war on Turkey and that he should make arrangements for his immediate departure.

Hodeidah 3

 Extract of a note written by Arthur Hirtzel of the India Office, 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/454, f 60.

Unbeknownst to him, the Admiralty had ordered HMS Minto to ‘proceed up the Red Sea and destroy Turkish steamers and dhows’ on 2 November, three days before Britain’s formal declaration of war against Turkey.  As one India Office official noted at the time, in the early days of the war, the Admiralty was ‘disposed to be indiscriminate in their action’ in the Red Sea.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project

Further reading:
British Library, London, File 3136/1914 Pt 5 ‘German War. Turkey. Hodeida consuls incident’ (IOR/L/PS/10/465).
Charles Edward Vereker Craufurd, Treasure of Ophir (London: Skeffington & Co, 1929).
“Telegram from Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief, East Indies [Admiral Sir Richard Peirse] and the Senior Naval Officer, Aden [later South Yemen], with orders for HMS Minto to proceed up the Red Sea,...” The Churchill Papers (CHAR 13/39/50), Churchill Archives Centre (Cambridge), Churchill Archive.

 

28 March 2017

Toshakhana - an untold word?

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Sometimes when cataloguing India Office Records we encounter unfamiliar words. Rather than an untold life, today we present an ‘untold word’, which might be known to those of you who have read Indian history.

  Toshakhana

What does Toshakhana mean?

Of Persian or Sanskrit origins, Toshakhana means ‘Treasure-House’, the store where items received as gifts from tribal chiefs, local rulers and princes were deposited. In fact, East India Company and India Office officials were not allowed to accept presents. Such items, often weapons or jewels, were to be valued, deposited in the Company’s toshakhana, and later used for exchange gifts with other rulers.

Several countries still have Toshakhanas. There were Toshakhanas in British India, and there was one in Bahrain.

Toshakhana IOR_R_15_2_1611_0179 IOR/R/15/2/1611, f 89.

An example of file regarding the Bahrain Toshakhana is IOR/R/15/2/1611 ‘Government Property: Bahrain Toshakhana Articles and Returns’, which contains lists of valuables kept in the Bahrain Toshakhana, as well as annual returns detailing the sale proceeds of Toshakhana and Durbar pre-sents for the years 1926-1945.

Items like rifles, watches, cigarette cases, hunting knives, binoculars and telescopes were normally kept for presentation purposes in the Bushire Toshakhana and reused as gifts for local rulers.

Another common practice was the sale of firearms and ammunition from the Toshakhana for training or salute purposes, and the use of the Toshakhana for the temporary storage of firearms be-longing to the Bahrain Agency staff.


Valentina Mirabella
Archive Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

@miravale
@BLQatar

 

21 February 2017

Enclosed Herewith: Specimens of Ore from the Kuria Muria Islands

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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?

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0036

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.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0037

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'.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0045

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.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0028

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.

  

20 December 2016

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

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“I have written to you many times but God alone knows why I don’t get your letters.  You say you write regularly.  Letters mean half meetings and they are a great consolation to us.”
- Written in Urdu by an Indian sepoy from Tunisia on 16 May 1943.

© IWM (E 7180) Indian forces in North Africa during the Second World War
An Indian soldier guards a group of Italian prisoners near El Adem aerodrome, during the pursuit of Axis forces westwards after the relief of Tobruk -Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum © IWM (E 7180)

Two-and-a-half million men from undivided India served the British during the Second World War.  Their experiences are little remembered today, neither in the UK where a Eurocentric memory of the war dominates, nor in South Asia, which privileges nationalist histories of independence from the British Empire.  And yet military censorship reports from the Second World War, archived at the British Library’s India Office Records and containing extracts from Indian soldiers’ letters home, bear witness to this counter-narrative.  What was it like fighting for the British at a time when the struggle for India’s freedom from British rule was at its most incendiary?

   © IWM (E 5330)  An Indian soldier guarding an Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refinery in Persia, 4 September 1941
An Indian soldier guarding an Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refinery in Persia, 4 September 1941 - Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum © IWM (E 5330)

Letters were written in Indian languages – Hindi, Gurmukhi, Urdu, Bengali and Tamil – and often dictated to scribes by Indian sepoys who were illiterate.  They were then translated into English for the censor, who compiled selected quotations from the letters into a report testifying to the spirit or ‘morale’ of the soldiers.  Soldiers’ names have been anonymised in these reports, and so it is virtually impossible to trace the letters to their writers.  All that remains are evocative textual shards – a portal into the soldiers’ emotional world.

The letters forge a material and emotional connection between the home front and the battlefront.  In the sentence, “Letters mean half meetings and they are a great consolation to us” with which this post begins, the unknown Indian sepoy links the letter’s affective impact – its “consolation”, assuaging loneliness, homesickness and longing – to its inherent physicality – “half meetings”.  An intimate moment is captured between the home front and the battlefront, a negotiation between distance and proximity created by the act of letter writing.

Letter writing is foregrounded again in the only love letter among the censorship reports.  Written in Urdu by an Indian Lieutenant – part of the rising Indian officer class making inroads into the Indian Army – the extract is addressed to the soldier’s beloved during the Allied invasion of Italy: “Here I am penning this to you in the middle of one of the biggest nights in the history of this war.  Love, I am sure by the time you receive this letter you will guess correctly as to where I am. … You would feel that the whole world were shaking with an earthquake or probably the sky were falling over you…Yet in the midst of this commotion, I sit here, on my own kit-bag and scribble these few lines to my love for I do not really know when I will get the next opportunity to write to you.”

Here, writing itself becomes an source of solace amidst the frenetic sounds and activity of the war.  It also embodies presence.  With the image of the soldier sitting on his kit bag and scribbling, this wartime love letter becomes a remarkable testament to the forgotten experiences of the Indian soldier, and the articulation of his complex inner life, during the Second World War.


Diya Gupta
PhD researcher, Department of English, King’s College London

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

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

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

Find out more in this short film

 

15 December 2016

Christmas in Bahrain

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In the spring of 1949 the Bahrain Political Agency, in a typically organised fashion, began to make arrangements for the production of its very own Christmas card.  At the Agency’s request, the appropriately titled Christmas Card Manager at Gale and Polden Limited sent to Bahrain two folders containing specimens of Christmas cards that the company had produced for various British embassies, consulates, and colonial protectorates.

After receiving the specimens, the Political Agent, Cornelius Pelly, made a request for 200 Christmas cards, similar in style to a card produced for the British Embassy in Washington DC, which features in one of the specimen folders.

British Embassy Washington Christmas Card Cover

IOR/R/15/2/1626, f 152: front cover of the British Embassy in Washington’s Christmas card Noc

 

British Embassy Washington Christmas Card Greeting
IOR/R/15/2/1626, f 153v: the greeting inside the British Embassy in Washington’s Christmas cardNoc

 

British Embassy Washington Christmas Card Photo

IOR/R/15/2/1626, f 154: the photograph inside the British Embassy in Washington’s Christmas cardNoc

 

Pelly sent a photograph (and its negative) of the Political Agency building, which he asked to be included in the card.  Sadly, as of yet, no surviving copy of the resulting card has been uncovered in the Bahrain Agency files.  However, Gale and Polden did return the photograph and negative, and these have been retained with the correspondence.

Bahrain Political Agency

IOR/R/15/2/1626,  f 124: photograph of the Bahrain Political AgencyNoc

The photograph of the Agency building, whilst being rather unimpressive in comparison with that of the British Embassy in Washington, does show how the building, which today is home to the British Embassy, once looked, in a landscape that has changed beyond recognition, following extensive land reclamation.

Images of the specimen folders, along with those of the Agency photograph and negative, will be made available on the Qatar Digital Library website in 2017.


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

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/2/1626