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87 posts categorized "War"

23 February 2017

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

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“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

 

16 February 2017

Thim Days Is Gone – a colonial memoir

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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?”’

Mss Eur F226_28_0005

‘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).

 

 

24 January 2017

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

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Extracts from letters archived at the British Library, exchanged between the Indian home front and international battlefronts during the Second World War, become textual connectors linking the farthest corners of the Empire and imperial strongholds requiring defence against the Axis alliance.  Such letters map the breadth of a global war and plunge deep into the Indian soldier’s psyche, revealing ruptures in the colonial identity foisted on him.

Food dominates much of these epistolary conversations, with Indian soldiers reflecting on their army rations and diet abroad.  Rumours of a great and devastating famine sweeping India, and particularly Bengal, in 1943 reach them, despite censorship of news and letters.  A Havildar or junior officer, part of the Sappers and Miners unit, writes from the Middle East: “From my personal experience I can tell you that the food we get here is much better than that we soldiers get in India.  But whenever I sit for my meals, a dreadful picture of the appalling Indian food problem passes through my mind leaving a cloudy sediment on the walls of my heart which makes me nauseous and often I leave my meals untouched.”

1294231001

Representation of a family struck by the Bengal Famine of 1942 by Bangladeshi artist Zoinul Abedin. ©British Museum 2012,3027.1

The soldier highlights his solidarity with this imagined community of sufferers through images of his own body, and his reactions are expressed in physiological terms – he visualises the walls of his heart being covered with ‘cloudy sediment’ at the thought of food shortage in India.  In visceral terms, this is how he understands empathy.  The spectre of famine in India hovers, Banquo-like, before him every time he sits down to eat his rations carefully provided by the colonial British government; the projection of food deprivation in his homeland thousands of miles away reaches out and, almost literally, touches his heart, preventing him from eating.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220) A 'Hindoo' kitchen in Syria by Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, A Hindoo Kitchen: RIASC 8th, 10th and 12th Indian Mule Coys, Zghorta, Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220)

Another letter from a Havildar Clerk to relatives in South India relates the helplessness caused by famine to the extraordinary conditions of the wartime marketplace: “I am terribly sorry to learn about the food situation in India and it seems as if there is no salvation for me.  From my earliest days to the present time I have always been in this abyss of misery.  It was with grim determination to see you all free from poverty that I allotted my whole pay of Rs 85/- to you, but cruel Fate is determined to defeat me in all my purposes.  What is the use of money when we are unable to obtain the necessities of life in exchange for it?  The situation would drive even the most level-headed of us to madness and when we think of conditions in India we become crazy as lunatics.”

How can the soldier’s earnings help his family when ordinary people have been priced out of food because of soaring rates of wartime inflation?  The letter reveals both the economic bonds linking the Indian soldier’s participation in an imperial war, and the psychological despair of being unable to rescue loved ones from hardship – as traumatic for the soldier as the heavy fighting he witnesses on the battlefield.


Diya Gupta
PhD researcher at King’s College London

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

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

Find out more in this short film

 

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

 

08 December 2016

Anglo-Italian Competition: The sale of military aircraft to Kabul

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In 1937 the Government of Afghanistan purchased 24 aircraft from Italy.  Provision was made for an Italian Air Mission to be deputed to Kabul for the purpose of assembling and maintaining the aircraft, and for training Afghan personnel.  The Political (External) Department of the India Office maintained a file to keep track of the situation.

This development placed the Italians in direct competition with Britain and caused concern amongst British policy makers.  Hawker Aircraft Limited had recently negotiated the sale of eight Hind aircraft to the Afghan Air Force, and was similarly engaged with supplying its own instructors for the same purpose.

Hawker Hind IWM

Hawker Hind - British official photographer: Imperial War Museum © IWM (ATP 8882B)

British policy favoured the maintenance of a stable, independent, and friendly Afghanistan as the best means of securing its Indian Empire.  Meanwhile, Afghan officials feared being outclassed in the event of war by a larger Iranian Air Force, but lacked the resources and expertise to compete with their neighbour.  British policy makers were therefore in favour of the development of a small but efficient air force in Afghanistan for internal security purposes, being both within Afghan means and no threat to India.  Their strategy for achieving this lay with encouraging the Afghans to develop their air force along the lines of the Royal Air Force using supplies from British sources.

The Afghan authorities had expressed an interest in purchasing British aircraft as far back as 1935.  However, the demands of Britain's own re-armament programme limited the number of aircraft which could be supplied to Afghanistan.  Restrictions over the credit which could be provided to Afghanistan by the Government of India provided a further limitation.  Thus the British were hardly in a position to object when the Afghans turned to the Italians to fulfil their requirements.

The British feared that the Italians would send out an imposing mission to Kabul in view of the larger number of aircraft being supplied, and considered sending out a senior British officer to bolster the British mission.  Such fears turned out to be unfounded, the maximum size of the Italian mission being seven personnel to Hawker’s four.

The result was a scene at Kabul’s aerodrome described as peculiar by William Kerr Fraser-Tytler, Britain's Minister at Kabul.  An Italian delegation was assembling and testing aircraft next to a similarly engaged British contingent, while two German mechanics were busy restoring Junkers aircraft supplied in previous years to serviceable condition.

1938 would however turn the situation entirely to Britain's advantage.  The Italian aircraft sold to the Afghans were powered by engines entirely unsuitable for use at high altitude, and were easily outperformed by Hawker’s Hinds which were much more suited to Afghan conditions.  The Italian supplied aircraft experienced difficulties taking off, and were not able to carry a full load.  As a result, crashes and forced landings were common, and the aircraft became unpopular with Afghan pilots.

Hawker_Hind,_Afghanistan_-_Air_Force_AN0657746

Hawker Hind - Afghanistan Air Force. Image via Wikimedia (copyright Alan D R  Brown)

The Italian Mission was withdrawn in 1939, following the German instructors who had been withdrawn the previous year.  Thus Britain was left as the only nation maintaining an air mission at Kabul during the Second World War.  Fraser-Tytler was entirely happy with developments and claimed in a dispatch dated 10 May 1938 to the Foreign Office that ‘This practical demonstration of British superiority could not have been achieved had we been alone in the field’.

Britain had thus achieved an advantageous position in Afghanistan. However the outbreak of the Second World War, and subsequent restrictions on Britain’s ability to supply aircraft and equipment, meant this position could not be fully capitalised on.

Robert Astin
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 5/48 ‘Afghanistan: Supply of military aircraft to the Afghan Government; Supply of maps etc. to the Afghan Govt.’ IOR/L/PS/12/2001
British Library, Coll 5/53 ‘Afghanistan: Employment of British nationals in various branches of the Afghan air services; Air instructors’ contracts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2006
British Library, Coll 5/53(2) ‘Afghanistan: Employment of British nationals in various branches of Afghan air services; Air instructors’ contracts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2007
British Library, Coll 5/55 ‘Afghanistan: Supply of Aircraft to Afghan Govt: Contract between Air Ministry & Hawker Aircraft Ltd’ IOR/L/PS/12/2009
British Library, Coll 5/55(2) ‘Afghanistan: Supply of aircraft to the Afghan Govt. Supply of spare parts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2010 IOR/L/PS/12/2010
British Library, Coll 5/55(2) ‘‘Afghanistan: Supply of aircraft to the Afghan Govnt. Supply of spare parts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2011
British Library, Coll 5/60(1) ‘Afghanistan: Purchase of aircraft from foreign sources (1) Italy (2) Germany’ IOR/L/PS/12/2020

 

24 November 2016

Journals of Midshipmen during the Second World War

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Some recent cataloguing of India Office Records Marine Department volumes has uncovered a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of junior naval officers on British warships during the Second World War.  The six journals were kept by the young officers as part of their training, and were regularly checked by their supervising officer and the captain of the ship they were assigned to.  The purpose of the journals was to train midshipmen in observation, expression and orderliness, and they were required to record their observations about all matters of interest of importance in the work that was carried out, on their stations, in their fleet, or in their ship, and illustrate them with plans and sketches.

 

L MAR C 915

  L MAR C 915 - 2

IOR/L/MAR/C/915 Journal of  Ian Crawford Davenport, Scapa Flow 1943Noc

 

The journals detail the daily activities and duties of the midshipmen, the most junior rank of officer in the Royal Navy.  They also give descriptions of the working of their respective ships, and the assignments they carried out.  For most of the ships this involved escorting convoys of merchant ships across the dangerous shipping lanes, and protecting them from attacks by German ships and submarines.  HMS Duke of York was on one such mission near Norway bound for North Russia when it became engaged in battle with the German battleship Scharnhorst.  Midshipman Davenport gives a thrilling account in his journal of the naval engagement known as the battle of North Cape between the Scharnhorst and the Allied warships, which led to the sinking of the German warship on 26 December 1943. In his account, Davenport describes the action dinner they ate during the long battle as “very thick lentil soup and very greasy chops” adding that he did not feel very hungry. The Duke of York fired 80 broadsides at Scharnhorst, and Davenport noted the almost continuous ripple of fire down the ship from her guns.

HMS Duke of York at Scapa Flow in 1941

HMS Duke of York at Scapa Flow in 1941 © IWM (A 6682)

 

The journal by Midshipman Coyne gives an account of the service of HMS Glasgow in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. At one point he describes the terrifying attack on the ship by enemy aircraft while it was stationed at Souda Bay, on the coast of Crete on 3 December 1940: “A few seconds later the ship was violently shaken, and long before I had disentangled two aerial wires from my hair, I realised that we had been torpedoed. Upon looking out to starboard to find the enemy I was not a little surprised to see the track of another torpedo approaching, and though during the minute or so that we waited for it to come I hoped it would pass astern, such was not our luck, and the ship was again shaken by the force of the explosion”. 

 

L MAR C 911

IOR/L/MAR/C/911 Journal of Michael Coyne, Liverpool 1940 Noc

 

The Midshipmen were required to produce their journals at the examination for the rank of Lieutenant, and so it was important to make them as impressive as possible. Midshipman Davenport ends his journal on 6 August 1944 with the lines “On arriving in the Gunroom I found the rest of my group sweating away at their journals and turning out sketches in quick time. I think perhaps I had better do the same”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/C Marine Miscellaneous
Journal for the use of Midshipmen: Arthur Geoffrey Terence Dane, HMS Revenge and HMS Buxton, 1940-1941 [IOR/L/MAR/C/910]
Journal for the use of Midshipmen: Michael Coyne, HMS Glasgow, 1940-1942 [IOR/L/MAR/C/911]
Journal for the use of Midshipmen: Alfred George Julian, HMS Repulse, 1941 [IOR/L/MAR/C/912]
Journal for the use of Midshipmen: John Helmdon St Clair Strange, HMS King George V, 1942-1943 [IOR/L/MAR/C/913]
Journal for the use of Midshipmen: Ezekiel Solomon Joshua, HMS Malaya, 1942-1943 [IOR/L/MAR/C/914]
Journal for the use of Midshipmen: Ian Crawford Davenport, HMS Malaya and HMS Duke of York, 1943-1944 [IOR/L/MAR/C/915] 
Battle of North Cape
 

 

11 November 2016

The British Legion’s Fundraising in the Age of Empire

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The British Legion was founded on 15 May 1921 with a mission, in its own words, ‘to care for those who had suffered as a result of service in the Armed Forces during the [First World] war, whether through their own service or through that of a husband, father or son.’  The first Poppy Day was held on this day, ninety-five years ago, on 11 November 1921.

British Legion 1

Detail of the British Legion’s letterhead in use in the 1930s. CC BY NC

Then, as now, poppies were made by war veterans, for sale to the general public in both Britain and across the British Empire (and later, the Commonwealth).  In its formative years, the Legion’s work was solely preoccupied with those that had served in the First World War.  Money raised by the sale of poppies was spent on a variety of programmes, including towards the relief of distress, the provision of employment and housing for ex-servicemen, tuberculosis treatment, pensions, and financial assistance toward the migration of ex-servicemen to Britain’s ‘dominions’.

 

  British Legion 2

Poppy Day supplies order form, 1934. IOR/R/15/2/1558, f 17. CC BY NC

 

A number of files in the India Office Records, held at the British Library and presently being digitised as part of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership, give a flavour of the British Legion’s global reach and fundraising efforts between the First and Second World Wars. The records show how the organisation tapped into Britain’s network of colonial administrators to extend their activities to the furthest flung corners of Britain’s empire, including to the shores of the Persian Gulf. The Legion designated administrators such as the Political Agent at Bahrain as Organisers, who were responsible for coordinating the mail order and sale of poppy merchandising in areas under their jurisdiction.

As an Organiser, the Bahrain Political Agent received regular correspondence from the British Legion throughout the 1930s, enclosing, amongst other things: gramophone records containing a personal appeal by the Legion’s then patron, the Prince of Wales; ‘talkie’ films featuring footage of the Cenotaph and war cemeteries in France; brochures; magazines; and mail order forms for leaflets, poppies, wreaths, badges, posters, and poppy ‘mascots’ for cars and motorcycles. The British Legion also sent forms to administrators requesting details of local towns and villages, and ‘any districts where a Poppy Day is not organised’, so that further British communities might be reached.

 

  IOR_R_15_2_1559_0156-0157
‘Poppy Day World Map’, 1947. IOR/R/15/2/1559, ff 78-79. CC BY NC

 

Correspondence between the British Legion and Britain’s Political Agent at Bahrain reveals that, prior to 1938, poppies were not sold on the islands, the Political Agent explaining that ‘their sale would not be appropriate in the circumstances in Bahrain.’ Collections were, however, raised amongst the islands’ expatriate community, which had grown in size significantly by the late 1930s, thanks to the large numbers of American and Indian employees working for the Bahrain Petroleum Company.

 

 British Legion 3
Haig Fund (British Legion) poppy wreaths for order, 1938. IOR/R/15/2/1558, f 98. CC BY NC

 

The start of the Second World War in 1939 marked the point at which the British Legion began to raise funds for those affected by present, as well as historic conflicts. As its letterheads in the first years of the new war made clear, ‘war increases our responsibilities.’ The ‘time is rapidly approaching’ wrote the Legion’s secretary in March 1940, ‘when the claims from this new category of Ex-Service man will assume serious proportions'.

 British Legion 4
Extract from a British Legion letter, dated December 1939. IOR/R/15/2/1558, f 132. CC BY NC

 

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project

British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 16/48 I Corr. re: Earl Haig’s Appeal Fund (Poppy Day)’ (IOR/R/15/2/1558)
British Library, London, ‘File 16/48 II Correspondence regarding Earl Haig’s appeal fund (poppy day )’ (IOR/R/15/2/1559)
British Library, London, ‘File No 20/7 Ceremonials and Honours. Armistice day’ (IOR/R/15/2/1672)
James Fox “Poppy Politics: Remembrance of Things Present” in Constantine Sandis (ed) Cultural Heritage Ethics: Between Theory and Practice (Cambridge Open Book Publishers, 2014) Google Books

 

 

09 November 2016

Archives seeking refuge

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After the Japanese invasion of Thailand in 1941, just before the Thai Government declared war on Britain and the United States on 25 January 1942, 22 cases containing the archives of the British Legation in Bangkok were removed. A similar thing happened to the 84 boxes containing the archives of the British Embassy in China for the years 1931-1939, which went from Beijing to Nanjing and, in 1941, were also removed for safe custody during the war.

 

Singapore_1942

Japanese troops at Singapore 1942 Wikimedia Commons

 

Confidential documents were said to have been destroyed, and then the boxes containing the two archives were carefully sent to Singapore in 1941. 

IOR L PS 12 716, f 34

IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 34 Noc

But this wasn’t a safe choice. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and the two archives were shipped to India shortly afterwards. The archives remained in Calcutta until the end of the war and, after Indian Independence in 1947, they were sent to the Foreign Office Library in London, in 1948, as part of the process of transferring records to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government.

  IOR L PS 12 716, f 29
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 29 Noc

The file IOR/L/PS/12/716, part of the India Office Records and digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership, contains the correspondence telling the story of these two archives. Arrangements for the shipping and costs of the transport and storage are described in the file.

The exact content of the cases wasn’t known at the time.
There is a letter from the Foreign Office Librarian in 1948, saying that the content of the boxes was unknown to him and, at the purpose of shipping back to Bangkok the files which were less than 20 years old and were therefore considered current, he should have opened the boxes, or shipped the entire archives back to Thailand instead.

  IOR L PS 12 716, f 33
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 33 Noc

We can guess that these archives ended up staying in London. The archives of the HM Legation in Bangkok and of the HM Embassy in China should now be available for public consultation at The National Archives in Kew.

Valentina Mirabella
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Cc-by

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