THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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110 posts categorized "War"

03 October 2018

‘Lads of true spirit’ – recruiting for the East India Company in Ireland

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Before Robert Brooke of the Bengal Army became Governor of St Helena in 1787, he spent time in his native country of Ireland.  He volunteered to recruit soldiers for the East India Company armies, and then devoted his time to establishing a cotton mill at Prosperous in County Kildare. 

  Recruits BM J 6 47Recruits (1780) - image courtesy of British Museum

The legality of Brooke recruiting men in Ireland on behalf of the East India Company was questioned in the House of Commons by Sir Lucius O’Brien in February 1778.  By way of reply Brooke wrote a paper justifying his activities. Brooke stated that the Company’s charter allowed it to raise men for the defence of their settlements abroad.  The war against America had forced the government to increase the bounty offered to recruits for the King’s Army, causing a sharp fall in the numbers of men volunteering to serve the Company in India.  Therefore the Company had turned to Ireland for manpower to defend its interests in India ‘which may hereafter prove to be the richest Jewell in the British Crown’.

Brooke countered arguments that Company recruitment would thin the population of Ireland with reasons for allowing the ‘temporary Emigration of the Natives’.  He claimed that ‘Idle and dissolute Mechanics will find that Employment of which they were deprived at Home… the Kingdom will no longer wear a face of poverty.. and Ireland will be purged of a riotous Peasantry, that often pass their Lives in beggary, and generally conclude them in Jail’.  The Irish would fight for the British Crown rather than join French or Spanish forces.

He also defended his methods – he did not send out recruiting parties; he did not beat a drum or give arms to any man; he did not lure men with false representations or ply them with liquor; and he did not rob masters of their apprentices.  Instead he placed a series of advertisements in the Irish press aimed at attracting young men ‘desirous of pushing their fortunes abroad’. 

  EIC recruitment Ireland 1779Dublin Evening Press 16 December 1779 British Newspaper Archive

Brooke said that many ‘spirited Lads’ had gone to India as soldiers and returned home with ‘ample Fortunes’.  He claimed that war with France and Spain now gave the prospect of speedy success through prize money.  Boys under eighteen had to have their parents’ permission to enlist. The East India Company ships taking the recruits from Dublin were searched for deserters.

The  registers of East India Company recruits embarking for India give a description of those who enlisted in Dublin during Brooke’s campaign.  The vast majority were recorded as being labourers under twenty years of age.  Very young boys joined as drummers: in 1779 John Hewitson aged 11 and Christopher Hewitson aged 12 sailed together for Bengal on the ship Neptune.

Given the very high risk of death from disease or in military action, many of Brooke’s lads would never have made the return journey from India to Ireland.  But perhaps some did find ‘not only a Road to Station and Honour, but to Wealth also’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/H/139 Papers on the recruitment of soldiers for the East India Company in Ireland 1778
IOR/L/MIL/9/90 East India Company embarkation list 1775-1784

 

18 September 2018

‘Pierce your heart’: Letters from Europe and North Africa by Indian prisoners in the Second World War

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Indian prisoner-of-war (PoW) experiences during the Second World War varied sharply, depending on where soldiers were taken captive and who their captor was.  Letters archived at the British Library, documented in military censorship reports, reveal how such experiences are inflected by differences in war fronts, military rank, individual agency – and sheer luck.

Pic 1Men of the 4th Indian Division with a captured German flag at Sidi Omar, North Africa. © IWM (E 6940)

The top priorities for one incarcerated Jemadar are toothpaste and shoes.  Writing to his friend in August 1942, he describes being imprisoned in Libya and then Germany, where has ‘a comfortable time'.  However, ‘we need some other things of daily use such as toothpaste and stockings.  If it is no trouble to you please send me a pair of shoes of No. 9 size’.  The Jemadar also reflects on the emotional charge of receiving letters from home: ‘The whole of that day the memory of India was fresh in our minds'.

Imprisoned in Germany, Sepoy Ajmer Singh, one of the few named soldiers in the censorship reports, writes rather accusingly in July 1943 to Sepoy Jahar Singh in Cairo: ‘I don’t know whether you are getting my mail, but I’ve sent you a lot of letters and had no reply. As prisoners of war we have nothing to take up our minds and we look forward to getting letters, so you must write to me once a month, or better still, once a week'.  Ajmer Singh’s prescriptiveness about epistolary regularity highlights an acute sense of boredom and loneliness.  How is one to pass the time in prison?

Pic 2Soldiers of the 4th Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry 'Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass'.  'Hellfire Pass' was the nickname for the strategically important Halfaya Pass in Egypt, fortified by the Germans and which the British attacked, unsuccessfully, during Operation Battleaxe. © IWM (E 3660)

This significance of emotional connections established by textual exchanges is emphasised by an Indian sepoy in December 1942: ‘We were prisoners of Germany when our British forces reached Benghazi.  Germans left all prisoners and ran away. Now we are quite well and safe.  We suffered a lot for five months and did not receive any letter from home’.  He also reveals the physical and psychological cost of incarceration: ‘Our work was very hard starting at 5 am and finished at 7 pm…We were loading and unloading ammunition and petrol from the ships, for their advance line.  Once we refused to do that kind of work saying that it was against our King and country.  They said that if we disobey their orders, we will be shot down’.

Such terrible conditions of imprisonment continue to be detailed in a letter by a ‘Hindu bearer’ to his mother: ‘Dear mother, I was taken prisoner … in the month of June… I cannot describe how atrociously we prisoners were treated by the Germans.  We were given half a pint of water and one 8oz biscuit.  This was all our daily meal.  We were employed on odd jobs, fatigues from early morning till it was dark.  We were beaten and kicked by the Germans…We have suffered such a lot which, if I write down will pierce your heart’.

It is from such PoWs that Indian revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose started recruitment in Germany in 1941 and Southeast Asia in 1943 for the Azad Hind Fauj, which offered armed resistance to British colonial rule in undivided India.

Diya Gupta
PhD researcher, Department of English, King’s College London
Find out more in this short film

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops -
August 1942-April 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/654
April 1943-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655
November 1943-January 1944, IOR/L/PJ/12/578

‘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 

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

 

11 September 2018

‘Baghdad in British Occupation’: the Story of Overprinted Stamps

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In March 1917, British forces captured the Vilayet [province] of Baghdad and took over the city from the Ottomans. Soon many administrative changes took place in the city, among which was the administration of the civil post office. One particular issue raised during the process was a supply of Ottoman stamps that was found in Baghdad. Before leaving Basra and other towns, the Ottoman forces either removed or burned their stamp supplies; however, they did not manage to do the same in Baghdad. The British forces decided to make use of these spoils of war instead of simply trashing them.

  Image001IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 272

They proposed issuing the stamps with an overprint ‘Baghdad under/in British Occupation’. Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. Ltd of London, the firm that once printed the Ottoman stamps, was asked to provide lists of the stamps and their values before reissuing them.

Seeing that the stamps were of various designs and values, questions were raised about where exactly to place the overprint, and whether to overprint all the stamps or only a selection of them. A certain stamp that caught the attention was a two hundred piastres stamp which bore the portrait of Sultan Beşinci Mehmet Reşat (Muhammad Rashad V, reigned 1909-1918). There were concerns about overprinting his portrait.

Sultan Mehmed VStamp of the Ottoman Empire, 1914- Sultan Mehmed V - Wikimedia Commons

  Image002IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 153

Instructions came from the Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour that the stamp was not essential for revenue purposes and, that it ‘would appear politically desirable to omit it from the series’. It was therefore excluded from the overprinted reissue.

  Image003IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 141

The rest of the stamps were reissued with the overprint on their frames, thereby preserving the image and the writing that appear in the centre of each stamp. Examples of these are as follows:

A green and cream stamp portraying a lighthouse, an Ottoman tuğrâ (tughra) in the left top corner, and the value of 10 paras (1/2 anna) in the three other corners.

  Image004The British Library, Philatelic Collections, The Imperial War Museum's Stamp Collection

 

A blue and white stamp, portraying the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), an Ottoman tuğrâ in the top, and the value of 1 qurush (2.5 ana) in the bottom corners.

Image005The British Library, Philatelic Collections, The Imperial War Museum's Stamp Collection

The collection also included postal stationery, for example:   

A reply postcard with a circular green stamp/watermark portraying the star and crescent emblem of the Ottoman Empire, and the Sultan’s tuğrâ within the star. The phrase ‘Ottoman Postage’ appears on the stamp both in Ottoman Turkish and in French. The stamp’s value is ten paras (1/2 anna).
 
  Image006IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 58Image007

 

A reply postcard with a circular red stamp/watermark, with exactly the same features of the green stamp, and the value of twenty paras (1 anna).

  Image008 Image009IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 60

News of the overprinted stamps soon reached Buckingham Palace and the newly established Imperial/National War Museum. King George V asked for a set of four of each variety for his personal collection.

  Image010IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 271

 

The Museum displayed its acquired set at the Imperial War Exhibition, held at Burlington House in 1918.

  Image011IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 78

Truly, the ‘Baghdad in British Occupation’ overprinted stamps are but a representation of a crucial episode of Baghdad’s history. These stamps tell the story of Baghdad, as control of the city passed from the Ottoman to the British Empire.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/670 File 1323/1917 Pt 1 'Mesopotamia: Postage Stamps'
1918 Imperial War Exhibition
The British Library, Philatelic Collections, The Imperial War Museum's Stamp Collection

 

28 August 2018

Hazards when crossing the Atlantic in the early 19th Century

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Charles Kingsley’s maternal grandfather, Nathan Lucas FLS, owned plantations in Barbados and Demerara.  Lucas left Liverpool in the Barton (Captain George Chalmers) on 4 January 1803.  She had two decks, three masts and displaced 212 tons.

Liverpool c13872-60The Port of Liverpool taken from the opposite side of the River Mersey. Drawn and engraved by William Daniell. G.7043 plate 39 Images Online

On 19 January, off the coast of Spain, he wrote in his journal: ‘At 5am a mountainous sea broke upon the Ship from head to stern, carried away our booms – one of our boats – stowed the other – all our stock washed overboard.  The ship was thrown on her beam ends, & did not right again! … she was entirely unmanageable, & could not wear round – but cut away the Mizen Mast, without any effect … we then cut away the main mast; & thanks to God she righted a little & we got her before the wind – immediately she was pooped, the windows all broken in, & the Cabin a sea of water.  As we had no masts, sails or boats, we did not think proper to put to Lisbon, fearful of being wrecked on a lee shore.  Madeira was out of the question & we kept on to Barbados … Got in a Jury Main Mast, made from the Derrick – we have no more spars, except foretop gallant mast & foretopsail yard – we are busy in making some from planks sawn and nailed together – busily employed in making sails, rope &c’.  The voyage to Barbados lasted 51 days. 

BridgetownBridgetown – engraving by Samuel Cope reproduced in West India Committee Circular Vol.XXVIII no.38, 6 May 1913

England and France were at war when Lucas returned on the Ash (master James Reed).  ‘A convoy for England being appointed, I determined to take the advantage of it, for safety of convoy, not expedition; for who has sufficient patience for the delays of a convoy! I have not, I candidly confess; but it is the lesser of two evils; & a prison would detain longer than a fleet.’  Twenty ships sailed from Barbados on 21 July, and eventually there were 176 ships escorted by HMS Courageous and HMS Venus. Lucas recorded six ships sinking:  “September 17th: We hear that the Betsey of Dublin foundered in the late gale, & all hands lost.  The unexpected & unfortunate War in which we are engaged, by keeping many tender vessels abroad, to wait convoy, instead of getting home as fast as loaden, & of course getting a winter’s passage, has been the cause of all the disasters in the fleet.”  The voyage to Bristol lasted 70 days.

On 18 August 1811 Lucas left Falmouth for Barbados on the Swallow (Captain Morphew). On 4 September they were boarded by the French frigate La Clorinde sailing from Madagascar to France. ‘It was soon rumoured that the Vessel would be given up to us, & the men &c exchanged on Cartel … They were in the greatest distress for provisions & water, though they had removed all from the Prizes they had made, but were now so low, they could not detain us.  Our private property was secured to us, tho’ they took away my Petite Neptune Francais.  Everything else was carried off, stores, rigging, sails, provisions &c … we really thought there were no provisions & water left; but we afterwards found some Pork & Potatoes.” They returned to Falmouth, where Lucas joined ‘the Express, Capt. Bullock, with Mails for the Windward Islands’, arriving in Barbados on 10 November. 

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive 

 

22 August 2018

Emergency Rations in the India Office during the Second World War

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In February 1939, tensions in Europe were running high, and in the offices of British Government departments thoughts were turning to the possibility of war with Germany.  One issue raised was what provisions existed for the staff working in Government buildings in Central London in the event of air raids.  A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains interesting correspondence on the subject.

Essential Staff - TelephonistsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A sub-committee set up to enquire into the matter decided that it was not necessary for large stocks of food to be held by Government Departments, but that the Luncheon Clubs in the various Government offices should arrange to increase their stocks sufficient to provide meals for 50% of their regular customers for a 48 hour period.  The response of the India Office was put in a secret letter of the 15 May 1939 to the Treasury.  This states that the India Office Luncheon Club was a small business run a by a caterer named Miss Lane, who served about 230 lunches a day to staff from the India Office, Foreign Office and Colonial Office.  She had made assurances that she had a stock of supplies sufficient to meet the sub-committee’s requirements, and that she was alive to the necessity for keeping fresh supplies.   

India Office Luncheon ClubIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A year later, in June 1940, the Treasury informed the India Office that this arrangement had been reviewed in light of the new situation, and that Departments would be issued with a number of “Voyage and Landing Rations” by the Army Authorities.  The aim was to provide an emergency ration for essential staff who may have been required to remain at their offices or who were unable to obtain meals in the normal way.  The allotment to the India Office was 100 such rations for one day.  The following order was shortly received from the Army Supply Reserve Depot at Deptford, and carefully stored in the basement: 36lb preserved meat, 75lb M&V (meat and veg) rations, 75lb biscuits (Spratt’s), 6lb tea in tins (Brooke Bond), 14lb sugar (Tate & Lyle), 8lb margarine, 13½lb cheese in tins, 14lb of jam (Tickler), 12½lb chocolate (Cadbury, Fry), plus 20 tommy cookers (a small portable stove issued to British troops).

Ration Voucher (1)IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

Ration Voucher (2) IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

As London and other British cities were battered during the Blitz, the arrangements were adjusted accordingly to provide sleeping accommodation and food in the event that essential staff could not return to their homes. In July 1941, it was decided to store enough rations for three days.  Under the new arrangements the scale of rations for one person for one day was 6ozs preserved meat or 12ozs meat & vegetables, 8ozs biscuits, ½oz tea, 2ozs sugar, 2ozs condensed unsweetened milk, 2ozs cheese, 2ozs jam and 2ozs chocolate.

Daily Scale of RationsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

The rest of the file is mostly taken up with correspondence on the regular return and replacement of expired rations.  However, it also contains a fascinating War Office booklet from 1943 on the use of special ration packs, and a press cutting from the Daily Express on self-heating soup!

   War Office booklet croppedIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc



John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File E/1022 Provision of emergency rations for India Office, 1939-1945 [Reference IOR/L/SG/8/524]

 

26 July 2018

A soldier’s wife in the Crimea

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On a recent visit to the Green Howards Museum in Richmond Yorkshire, I was particularly taken with an article on display from the regimental magazine for 1895.  It was a first-hand account of the Crimean War by a soldier’s wife.  I found a copy in the British Library and it makes fascinating reading.

Crimean War c13775-75'A hot night in the Batteries'. Soldiers loading and firing cannons, during the Crimean War – from William Simpson and E Walker, The Seat of War in the East (London, 1855-1856) Images Online

Margaret Kerwin’s story was published in “Ours” – The Green Howards’ Gazette in 1895.  Margaret was the wife of Private John Kerwin of the 19th Regiment of Foot.  John was born in Carlow Ireland and he had enlisted in the British Army in February 1843 at the age of 20.  His first overseas posting was to North America where he served for nearly three years.

On 28 March 1854 Britain and France declared war on Russia. In April, the soldiers of the 19th Regiment who were stationed at the Tower of London were ordered to the Crimea.  People waved their handkerchiefs and threw oranges at the cheering soldiers as they left the Tower.  Margaret and fourteen other women went with the men on their journey.

Having sailed to Scutari, the regiment moved to Varna and then marched on foot to Devna.  Margaret bought a washing tub and carried it on her head with her cooking equipment inside.  She also carried a water bottle and a haversack with biscuits.  As they marched, men were overcome by the heat, and Margaret was kept busy providing them with drink.  In camp she was given the job of washing the clothes of 101 men, standing in a stream for twelve hours a day for very little payment.

Cholera and ‘black fever’ struck, killing large numbers of men.  Margaret fell seriously ill but her husband John had to leave her to fight in the Battle of Alma.  She was taken to the hospital at Varna where she received word that John had survived with just a slight wound.  Margaret refused to be sent back to England, and when she eventually recovered she was appointed as nurse at the hospital.

When the hospital was disbanded, Margaret sailed to Balaclava where she was reunited with John.  Shortly afterwards, the couple were ordered up to the front.  Margaret had a narrow escape when four shells exploded in her tent as she was on her knees ironing, her pet goat lying beside her.  A dozen shirts she was washing for Mr Beans were riddled with holes.

In November 1854, Margaret saw the Battle of Inkerman from Cathcart’s Hill.  She then had another brush with death when a Russian pistol held by a British sergeant went off unexpectedly and knocked the bonnet off her head.  Margaret was stunned but unharmed.

Having survived the Crimean campaign, John Kerwin went on to serve for seven years in India.  He was discharged from the Army in 1864 on a pension of 1s ½d, suffering from rheumatism.  John and Margaret returned to Carlow and lived to old age.  Her account of her experiences given in the 1890s ends: ‘If I was young to-morrow, I would take the same travels, but I would be a little wiser’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
“Ours” – The Green Howards’ Gazette Vol. III No. 25 (April 1895,) pp. 94-96.
Army discharge papers for Private John Kerwin (or Kirwin) No. 1737 can be accessed through findmypast.

 Green Howards Museum

04 July 2018

James Cook and Benjamin Franklin

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James Cook departed on his last voyage eight days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776).  The official account of that voyage was published on 4 June 1784, less than a month after the final ratification of the Treaty of Paris (12 May 1784), which concluded the American War of Independence.

The coincidence of these two historic events converged in the public sphere on 10 March 1779 with the publication of Benjamin Franklin’s open letter ordering American sea captains, if they happened to encounter him, to treat Cook and his crew ‘with all civility and kindness … as common friends to mankind’.

  Franklin 1 Franklin 1ACopy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779 State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140

The letter received considerable press coverage at the time.  Opinions about it were sharply divided. On 26 May 1779, after summarizing its contents, Lloyd’s Evening Post ends with a quotation from Swift: ‘See, Brothers, how we Apples swim’.  The line, spoken by a ball of ‘horse’s dung’, clearly implies that Franklin’s support for Cook’s voyage is nothing but a vain attempt to share in its glory.

The Whig-leaning Public Advertiser, in contrast, used the letter to voice anti-war sentiments.  On 7 June 1779 a whimsical article imagines Cook being captured by an American ship.  On discovering his identity, the Americans follow Franklin’s orders and present him with ‘Half a hundred Weight of right Virginia Tobacco, three Bags of Rice’, and other produce plundered from ‘a Portugueze Vessel’.  In referencing their highly profitable trading relations and their shared enemy, the ‘Portugueze’, the article stresses the economic and political importance of the relationship between Britain and America.

  Franklin 2
Public Advertiser [London, England], 7 June 1779; Issue 13935

A similar note is struck by the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser’s response to news of Cook’s death, communicated in a letter from Charles Clerke from Kamchatka, a place that in the 18th century was used as a metaphor for distance and coldness:

‘Had we been born in an island in the South-Seas, we should perhaps have called [Cook] an invader, a pirate. …The most striking circumstance surely is, that Captain Clerke should sit down in the Bay of St. Peter and Paul at Kamschatka, and write a letter to Mr. Stephens, at Charing-cross, which, in about half a year, reaches him as safely, as if it had been put into a penny-post-office… This is civilization; nor should we forget the friendly assistance of the Russians, any more than the French order, respecting Captain Cook’.

The greatest achievements of the voyage, the article suggests, were not so much Cook’s discoveries but the co-operation and free lines of communication between potentially warring powers that enabled these discoveries to happen and to be so promptly reported on.

As a counterpoint to the hostilities between Britain, France and America in the Atlantic, therefore, Cook’s voyages in the Pacific were seen, by some at least, as a way of promoting unity between so-called ‘Enlightened’ countries – les états bien policés (well-governed states) – whose destinies were presented as increasingly more entwined by commercial links and shared mœurs or ‘polite manners’.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Copy of pass by Benjamin Franklin, 10 March 1779, State Library New South Wales, Dixson Library, MSQ140
Lloyd's Evening Post (London, England), 26 May- 28 May 1779; Issue 3421
Jonathan Swift, ‘On the words Brother-Protestants, and Fellow-Christians, so familiarly used by the advocates for the Repeal of the Test Act in Ireland,’ [1733] in The Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift, Vol. VII, London: T. Osborne et al., 1766, p. 206
Public Advertiser (London, England), 7 June 1779; Issue 13935
Sophie Forgan, ‘A note on the ‘Afterlife of Kamchatka,’ in Smoking Coasts and Ice-Bound Seas: Cook’s Voyage to the Arctic, Whitby: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, 2008, pp. 33-40
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), 17 January 1780; Issue 3327

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

BL_Cook_737x451-quote

20 June 2018

Seeking Wartime Employment: Bertram Thomas and Frank Smythe

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On 27 August 1939, the explorer Bertram Thomas sent a telegram to John Charles Walton of the India Office, offering his services to the Government of India in the event of war, in the Persian Gulf ‘or wherever my Arab experience may be of use’.

  IOR L PS 12 300 f.72Telegram from Bertram Thomas to John Charles Walton at the India Office, 27 August 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 72). The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item. 

In 1931, Thomas had become the first European to cross the ‘empty quarter’ (the Rub' al Khali desert) of Arabia.  He had also served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during the First World War, and had held offices in the Middle East including that of Financial Adviser to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman.

 
IOR L PS 12 2137 f.308'ARABIA. Route Traverse across the RUB' AL KHALI from DHUFAR TO DOHA by BERTRAM THOMAS 1930-31' map (IOR/L/PS/12/2137, f 308) Noc

After the declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Thomas wrote to the Foreign Office enquiring whether he could be of use to them in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, in case the Government of India could not find a suitable role for him.  He stated ‘I want to serve the country’ and ‘I should feel wretched to be idling when I ought to be helping somewhere’.  He suggested that ‘I might be the sort of man the new Department of Propaganda has a use for, collecting information on the spot, or disseminating it there’.  Herbert Lacy Baggallay of the Foreign Office passed on Thomas’s letter to the Ministry of Information, remarking that Thomas’s ‘knowledge of Arabic and of Arab countries is, of course, very considerable’.

On 30 July 1941 the Ministry of Information offered Thomas the role of Publicity Officer in the Persian Gulf, responsible for the preparation and co-ordination of pro-British and Allied propaganda in the Gulf.  Thomas served in this role until he became first Director of the new Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies, a centre for training British personnel in the Middle East.  He held this post from 1944 to 1948.

Other individuals offered their services to the India Office and the Foreign Office during the Second World War including the mountaineer and author Frank Symthe (Francis Sydney Smythe).  Smythe had led the 1931 expedition which conquered the Himalayan mountain Kamet, the first summit over 25,000 feet (7,620 metres) to be climbed.  He had also taken part in Everest expeditions, including the 1933 expedition which equalled the height record (c 28,000 feet or 8,534 metres) established by Edward Felix Norton in 1924.

Symthe wrote to Walton at the India Office on 23 September 1939 that he was ‘anxious to undertake some work in which any special qualifications I may possess would be of the most use’.  In a further letter of 11 August 1941, he stated that ‘since the German attack on Russia the Indian frontier again becomes important’, and he suggested that he could train a corps of mountain scouts drawn from Gurkhas and Sherpas.
 

IOR L PS 12 300 f.66Letter from Frank Smythe to John Charles Walton of the India Office Political Department, 23 September 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 66) © Frank S. Smyth (Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence)

It appears that Smythe never served on the Indian frontier, but he did spend part of the Second World War training troops in mountain warfare and spent time in the Rockies with the Lovat Scouts.

Susannah Gillard
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Records files which can be viewed on the Qatar Digital Library:
British Library, PZ 5277/1939 'War - Offers of service in the event of -' IOR/L/PS/12/300
British Library, ‘File 28/7 I War: Propaganda: local opinion’ IOR/R/15/2/687
British Library, ‘File 28/7 II War: Propaganda – Local Opinion’ IOR/R/15/2/688
British Library, 'File 1/44 Publicity Officer, Bahrain' IOR/R/15/2/1040
British Library, 'File 4/12 (1.a/52) Publicity Officer, Persian Gulf' IOR/R/15/2/933
British Library, Ext 5050/43 ‘Formation of an Arab Centre in the Middle East for providing selected British officers with knowledge of Arabic, Arab countries and Middle East problems’ IOR/L/PS/12/857

Francis Owtram (2015) Preparation Pays Off: Bertram Thomas and the Crossing of the Empty Quarter
Francis Owtram (2016) Dhofar, Doha and a ‘Road Trip’ to Riyadh: Bertram Thomas’ sojourns in Arabia
John Ure (2008) ‘Thomas, Bertram Sidney (1892–1950)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Harry Calvert, Symthe’s Mountains: The Climbs of F. S. Smythe (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1985).
Arnold Lunn, revised by A. M. Snodgrass (2011) ‘Smythe, Francis Sydney (1900–1949)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.