THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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65 posts categorized "World War One"

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

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How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Hobbs Oil 1Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Hobbs Oil 2Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Hobbs Oil 3Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Hobbs Oil 4Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

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A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267

 

09 May 2018

Nature and War: Where Poppies Blow

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One of our manuscripts is currently enjoying a much-needed change of scene in the Lake District, on display as part of the Wordsworth House and Garden's Where Poppies Blow exhibition.

Add MS 44990 consists of 62 manuscript poems by Edward Thomas, and is featured in the exhibition displaying his poem Adlestrop.

Add_ms_44990_f011rAdd MS 44990, f 11r

Where Poppies Blow explores the themes of nature, the First World War, and the British soldier. Whilst nature was always present in Thomas' work, the latter two themes would become central following his enrollment with the Artists' Rifles in July 1915. Thomas was killed on 9 April 1917 at the battle of Arras.

IWM_SoldierMagpieTommy with pet magpie. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Curated by historian, farmer and author John Lewis-Stempel, Where Poppies Blow also features original artworks by John and Paul Nash, items collected by soldiers during the war, and panel excerpts from Dave McKean's graphic novel Black Dog: the Dreams of Paul Nash.

JohnLewisStempelJohn Lewis-Stempel outside Wordsworth House. Photograph by Zoe Gilbert, National Trust.

The exhibition is open now until Sunday 8 July. 

 

12 April 2018

Alexander Charles Stewart, classicist and army cyclist

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Untold Lives has been remembering the six members of the library departments of the British Museum who died during the First World War.  Today we are telling the story of Captain Alexander Charles Stewart of the Army Cyclist Corps, who was killed in action near the French town of Bailleul on 12 April 1918.

  IWM Cyclist CompanyRecruiting poster for Cyclist Company © IWM (Art.IWM PST 4893)

Alexander Charles Stewart was born in 1886, the only son of William and Helen Stewart of Turriff in Aberdeenshire.  He studied at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, leaving in 1903 as Dux.  He then studied at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a MA in Classics in 1907.  After further study in Paris, Stewart worked as a classics master at Nicholson Institute, Stornoway.  In May 1910, he was appointed a 2nd Class Assistant at the British Museum.

On the outbreak of war, Stewart enlisted as a Private in the London Scottish, the 14th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment.  At some point he transferred to the Inns of Court OTC and was eventually gazetted into the Army Cyclist Corps.  Stewart went to the front in April 1916, joining at first the 61st Division Cyclist Company, which later that year merged with two other divisional cyclist companies to form the IX Corps Cyclist Battalion.

IWM London CyclistsPoster for the London Cyclists © IWM (Art.IWM PST 0873)

Volunteer cyclist units began to emerge in the decades leading up to the First World War.  Cyclist companies were initially established overseas at divisional level, although these were later grouped into battalions at corps level.  Their main intended role was reconnaissance, although they were also often involved in traffic control or signals work.

By the middle of 1917, Lieutenant (later Captain) Stewart was commanding No. 1 Company of the IX Corps Cyclist Battalion.  The battalion spent most of that year in the Ypres Salient.  In February 1918 they moved to the Oise region to survey roads.  They were still there when the German Spring Offensive broke on the 21 March.  Hastily recalled from leave on the 26 March, Captain Stewart rejoined his company when they were helping to defend the River Ancre crossings near Buire.

Shortly after that, the IX Corps Cyclist Battalion moved back north.  They became caught up in Operation Georgette, the German offensive in Flanders that opened on  9 April.  For the first few days of the offensive, the battalion was based at Méteren, just west of Bailleul, mainly tasked with reconnaissance and unit liaison in the area east of the key railhead of Hazebrouck.  Captain Stewart's No. 1 Company was based throughout on the railway line between Bailleul and Outtersteene.

The battalion war diary does not provide any specific details of his death; several days after the event, he was reported wounded and missing on 12 April 1918, somewhere south of Méteren.  It wasn't until the end of the year that Captain Stewart was officially reported killed in action.

Captain Stewart is buried in Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension near Bailleul.  In addition to the British Librarians’ memorial at the British Library, his name also appears on the town war memorial at Turriff, the memorials at George Watson’s College and the University of Edinburgh, and the British Museum’s memorials at Bloomsbury and Kensington.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
Chris Baker, The Battle for Flanders: German Defeat on the Lys, 1918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2013).
John Minto Robinson, ed., The war book of Turriff and twelve miles round 1914-1919 (Turriff: Turriff and District Ex-Service Men's Association, 1926), pp. 7, 110.
University of Edinburgh, Roll of honour 1914-1919 (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1921), p. 97, plate lxxvii.
WO 95/845/2, XI Corps Cyclist Battalion War Diary, June 1916 - August 1919, The National Archives, Kew.

 

11 April 2018

‘With our backs to the wall …’ - Sir Douglas Haig’s Special Order 1918

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During the First World War, the German Spring Offensives of March 1918 brought to an end three long years of attritional, trench-based warfare on the Western Front.  With little prospect of success on the Somme, the German generals switched their attention to Flanders.  Operation Georgette opened on 9 April 1918, aiming to drive the British and their allies back to the Channel Ports.  The opening offensive successfully targeted an under-strength Portuguese division in the front line near Neuve Chapelle.  Further attacks the following day resulted in the capture of Armentières and Messines.

Douglas-Haig-1st-Earl-HaigDouglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, by Walter Stoneman c. 1916 NPG Ax39017 © National Portrait Gallery, London   NPG CC By

For the British, the situation was now critical.  The Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig, who remains a controversial figure, believed that the British and their allies needed to hold their ground while the French manoeuvred to come to their support.  On 11 April 1918, Haig issued a Special Order of the Day addressed to all ranks of the British Army in France and Flanders.  The order concluded with the now well-known exhortation:
‘There is no other course open to us but to fight it out.  Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement.  With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.  The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment’.

A search of the British Newspaper Archive shows that the message was published in many UK newspapers on 13 April, usually printed verbatim and with very little in the way of commentary.  The headlines attached to it usually highlight what has come to be seen as the key phrase.

Haig's words 1918Western Daily Press 13 April 1918 British Newspaper Archive

Not everyone serving in the line was enthusiastic.  For example, Second Lieutenant Huntly Gordon of A Battery, 112th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, was at the time based near Méteren.  Gordon recalls that the Special Order arrived on 12 April via a runner and was received largely in silence:
‘I got the general idea; but somehow this modern version of the “little touch of Harry in the night” did not inspire me; in fact the rhetoric made me critical.  There was not the remotest contact between us and the Olympian figures at GHQ; there never had been.  How did he know how A/112 were placed?  It was almost two days since this circular had been signed and a good many walls had been given up during that time.  Against which particular walls must our backs now be placed?’

Haig later gave the manuscript of the Special Order to his private secretary, Sir Philip Sassoon (a cousin of the war poet).  After Sassoon’s death in 1939, it was bequeathed to the British Museum and it now forms part of the manuscript collections of the British Library (Add MS 45416).

There is one major difference between the holograph and the version eventually circulated to the Army.  The printed version omitted a final sentence, reading ‘Be of good cheer. The British Empire must win in the end’.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
Chris Baker, The Battle for Flanders: German defeat on the Lys, 1918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2011).
Huntly Gordon, The unreturning army: a field gunner in Flanders, 1917-18 (London: Doubleday, 2013).
Peter Stansky, Sassoon: the worlds of Philip and Sybil (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003).
David Stevenson, With our backs to the wall: victory and defeat in 1918 (Cambridge, Mass.:  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.  2011).
Laura Walker, Haig and British generalship during the war. British Library World War One website

 

23 March 2018

With the Hampshire Pioneers in the Kaiserschlacht

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This blog has been following the six members of the Library Departments of the British Museum who died during the First World War.  The last-but-one casualty was 11351 Sergeant John Frederick Nash, M.M., of "B" Company, 11th (Pioneer) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, who was killed in action on 23 March 1918, aged 24.  He was a casualty of the German Spring Offensive (also known as the Kaiserschlacht, or Kaiser’s Battle), which had commenced on 21 March.

  IWM Q 8702 Battle of St. QuentinBattle of St. Quentin. British walking wounded leaving a RAMC casualty clearing station near Bapaume which was captured the next day, 23 March 1918  © IWM (Q 8702)

John Frederick Nash was born at Cwmbran in Monmouthshire in 1893, and baptised at the Church of All Saints Shrewsbury on 22 February 1894.  By the time of the 1901 census, the family had moved to Stockport and had taken the family name of Turner.  John F. Turner had been joined by two younger sisters, Delia and Emily. His father was working as a solicitor's clerk.

The name change is difficult to explain.   John Frederick Nash’s parents had married at the Church of St Peter, Blaenavon on 25 December 1892. The marriage register entry clearly gives their names as John William Dominack Nash and Emily Beatrice Davies. Curiously, however, a marriage notice published in the Wellington Journal of 7 January 1893 provides some alternative names: John William Dominack Nash Turner and Emily Beatrice Davies Howells.

Turner Howells marriageWellington Journal  7 January 1893

According to the London Gazette of 2 June 1908, John Frederick Turner Nash was appointed a Boy Attendant at the British Museum in May 1908, working in the Department of Manuscripts.  The 1911 Census records that John Frederick Nash was living in Tufnell Park with the family of his uncle, Alfred Edward Nash, who also worked at the British Museum.

Nash enlisted in September 1914.  He was shortly afterwards posted to the 11th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment.  During the First World War, the 11th Hampshires were the pioneer battalion in the 16th (Irish) Division.  While pioneer battalions were trained to fight as infantry - and often did - their main role within a division was to support a myriad of engineering tasks, including the construction and repair of defences and transport links.

The 11th Hampshires fought in the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  Sergeant Nash was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.  A document attached to the war diary of the 11th Hampshires suggests that the medal was awarded for actions undertaken by the battalion during the capture of Ginchy during the Battle of Guillemont in September 1916.

On 21 March 1918, the 16th Division were based in the area around Villers-Faucon, east of Péronne, where they had spent several months working on the construction of new defensive positions. The division was very badly hit by the opening stages of the Kaiserschlacht.   At the end of the day, a new line was formed based on Ste. Emilie, which was held with the support of the divisional reserves including the 11th Hampshires.  The following day, the pioneers covered the withdrawal of what was left of the division before falling back towards Péronne.   It is not recorded exactly where Sergeant Nash fell on 23 March 1918, but he is buried in Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
WO 95/1966/2, 11th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 16 November 1916, p. 11142 – award of Military Medal to Sergeant Nash.
Martin Middlebrook, The Kaiser’s Battle: 21 March 1918: The first day of the German Spring Offensive (London: Penguin, 1983).
K. W. Mitchenson, Battleground Europe: Epéhy (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1998).

 

16 January 2018

Indian Army Peace Contingent’s visit to Britain 1919

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On 19 July 1919, there was a large Victory Parade through the streets of London to mark the end of the First World War. Around 15,000 troops led by the Allied commanders marched to the cheers of thousands of spectators. Bands played in London’s parks, and a memorial to those killed and wounded was unveiled in Whitehall.  The Indian Army had been invited to send a representative contingent to take part in the parade, but problems with shipping and an outbreak of influenza, prevented the contingent from arriving in time. Instead, it was decided that the Indian contingent would have its own Victory March through London as an acknowledgement of the vital role the Indian Armed Forces had played during the War.

Indian Contingent 1919 © IWM (Q 14954)Indian Contingent (Sikhs) passing along the Mall © IWM (Q 14954)

The India Office Records has a number of files on the arrangements for the Peace Contingent’s visit to England, which make fascinating reading. The Contingent consisted of a British detachment of 11 officers and 270 men, an Indian Army detachment of 27 British officers, 465 Indian officers and 985 Indian other ranks, and 34 Imperial Service troops of the Indian Native States. The Contingent arrived in the camp at Hampton Court on 26 July. 

Camp Orders  IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

Camp Passes IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

The procession on 2 August started at Waterloo Station, continued across Westminster Bridge, along Whitehall, and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The King inspected the Contingent on the East lawn of the Palace, and presented some awards, including the Victoria Cross to Naik Karanbahadur Rana of the 2nd/3rd Gurkha Rifles. The King then gave a speech thanking the men for their service during the War, which was repeated in Urdu by General Sir Frederick Campbell. The troops were then given tea before returning to their camp.

Diary of Tours IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873Noc

After the King’s inspection the British troops were demobilised, but the Indian troops stayed for several weeks camped at Hampton Court. The troops were entertained with outdoor games and sports and in the evenings lectures were given, and a cinema was established by the Young Men’s Christian Association. Groups of officers and men were taken on day trips to London and other parts of Britain. These trips included a bombing display by the Royal Air Force, the steel works of Vickers Ltd in Sheffield, the shipyards of John Brown and the Fairfield Engineering Works on the Clyde and Portsmouth Dockyard. In London trips were organised to the Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, Kew Gardens, St Paul's Cathedral, and also to some schools. There were also regular shopping trips to the West End.

Bombing Display IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

 

London Bus Guide for 1919 IOR L MIL 7 5873London Bus Guide 1919 IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

The Peace Contingent left for India in the middle of September 1919, and the India Office marked the occasion by issuing a souvenir book, beautifully illustrated by the artist W Luker Jnr. 

Souvenir Book IOR L MIL 17 5 2420NocIOR/L/MIL/17/5/2420

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Our Indian Army. A record of the Peace Contingent's visit to England, 1919 (India Office, 1919): IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2420
India Office Military Department files on the Peace Contingent’s visit: IOR/L/MIL/7/5872-5876

 

25 December 2017

A Tommy’s Christmas Day letter 1917

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On Christmas Day 1917 Sergeant Frederick William Spires was serving in the Machine Gun Corps in France.  He wrote a touching letter to the Derby Daily Telegraph, thanking the people of his home town for gifts sent to the soldiers.

‘Through the medium of your paper I should like to thank the Mayor and residents of Derby in the name of all the Derby boys out here now for the little present and good wishes that arrived here yesterday.  Such acts of kindness and thoughtfulness at this season help to take away that dull, lonely feeling that we are all apt to have, for if ever “Tommy” thinks of home it is at Christmas.  This is my fourth in France, so I know that “Christmas feeling” only too well.  The present and good wishes seem to draw Derby a little nearer to us, for we know that we are not forgotten, even in the midst of war-time household worries.  May our efforts really and indeed result in lasting peace, and goodwill, and may it be soon for the sake of the anxious ones at home.  I am sure all Derby Tommies will join me in wishing the old, old Christmas season wish, and that the Mayor and residents will have a brighter New Year.’

Spires 1Derby Daily Telegraph 31 December 1917

In December 1918, Sergeant Spires wrote another letter to the newspaper from his station at Grantham in Lincolnshire.

‘Through the medium of your paper, I should like, in the name of all “Tommies” of St. Chad’s parish, to thank the parishioners for the small cash present and the kind thoughts and thanks for past sacrifices in the great war.  I’m sure we appreciated all the kindly thoughts. It is pleasant to know that we always stand in the memories of our fellow parishioners, although we have been so long absent.  Our greatest satisfaction lies in the knowledge that what we have done during the past four years and the hardships we have endured have not been in vain, and the war has come to the satisfactory end that we all fought for.  I, for one (as well as my own brothers), do not regret my four years in France and Belgium.  I think our only regret is that so many of our old chums from boyhood  have been killed in the great fight for right, and are not here to see the result of so great a sacrifice.  May the peace be a lasting peace, and that we shall know no more war.  I sincerely hope that in all homes there will be joyful reunions for the Christmas season, and absent ones will return, though such is not my own luck for this my fifth Christmas. – Again thanking St. Chad’s parishioners, and wishing them a right merry Christmas and the brightest of New Years.’ 

Spires 2Derby Daily Telegraph 14 December 1918

The outbreak of World War II shattered Frederick Spires’ wish for lasting peace.  He re-enlisted and served as a warrant officer in the Sherwood Foresters.  Sadly Frederick died in Derbyshire Royal Infirmary on 9 October 1943 aged 54.  He was buried in the churchyard at Findern and his grave is marked by a military memorial.

Spires 3Grave of Frederick William Spires at Findern Church, Derbyshire

 Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Derby Daily Telegraph via British Newspaper Archive or findmypast