Untold lives blog

12 posts from October 2014

31 October 2014

Award of Victoria Cross to Khudadad Khan

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the award of the Victoria Cross to the first soldier of the Indian Army.  Born in 1888, in the village of Dab in the Chakwal District of the Punjab, Sepoy Khudadad Khan was a machine gunner in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis. 

  Sepoy Khudadad Khan
Sepoy Khudadad Khan from  The Indian Corps in France ... With portraits, illustrations and maps, etc. John Walter Beresford Merewether and Frederick Edwin Smith (London, 1917).  NocImages Online

The action in which Khudadad was to be awarded the VC took place during the First Battle of Ypres, in which the Allied forces attempted to prevent a German advance to the coast to seize possession of the Channel ports and cut the British supply lines. The 129th Baluchis were part of the Lahore Division, which reached Marseille at the end of September 1914, and were immediately put into the front line near the strategically important town of Ypres. In this opening stage of the First World War, the very static trench warfare which was to characterise the conflict on the Western Front had not yet developed, and the front line was very fluid. Communications were difficult, the terrain was water-logged and offered little natural protection, and small units could easily find themselves surrounded by enemy positions.

  List of military awards including Khudadad Khan's VC
IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2415 Noc

On 31 October 1914, the 129th Baluchis were engaged in heavy fighting around the Belgian village of Hollebeke, in the course of which two machine gun crews of the Regiment were cut off. One of the machine guns was destroyed by a shell, and its crew killed or wounded. A short time later, the British officer Captain Dill was severely wounded. Despite being wounded himself, Khudadad kept working his gun with the other men of his gun detachment until they were rushed by the enemy in overpowering numbers. All were killed except Khudadad, who was left for dead. Amazingly Khudadad survived this attack, and under the cover of darkness was able to crawl back to the safety of the Regiment.

Victoria Cross
Example of Victoria Cross - Foster 4280  Images Online Noc


The other members of Khudadad’s machine gun crew were posthumously honoured. Havildar Ghulam Mahomed was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, while Sepoys Lal Sher, Said Ahmed, Kassib and Lafar Khan were awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medals. Captain Dill was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The 129th Baluchis fought in several battles during the First World War, including at Neuve Chapelle, suffering a devastating 3585 casualties out of the 4447 men who served in the Regiment during the war.

Khudadad was treated for his injuries at one of the Indian hospitals in Brighton. He survived the War, and returned to India. He died in Pakistan in 1971.

John O’Brien
Curator, India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:

The V.C. and D.S.O. A complete record of all those officers, non-commissioned officers and men of His Majesty’s Naval, Military and Air Forces who have been awarded these decorations from the time of their institution, with descriptions of the deeds and services which won the distinctions and with many biographical and other details, edited by the late Sir O'Moore Creagh and E. M. Humphris (London: Standard Art Book Co., 1924)

A Matter of Honour. An account of the Indian Army, its officers and men., by Philip Mason (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974)

The Fourth Battalion, Duke of Connaught's Own, Tenth Baluch Regiment in the Great War, (129th D.C.O. Baluchis), by W S Thatcher (Cambridge: Univ Press, 1932) [Reference: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/4301]

Alphabetical list of recipients of the Victoria Cross during the campaign from August 1914 to 30th April 1920 (War Office, 1920): IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2415

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Lives of the First World War 


29 October 2014

The Waste-Paper Basket of Verse

After our post on the fascination of newspaper notices, we turn to the gems found in the pages of official directories. The Calendar for the Royal Engineering College at Coopers Hill 1902-1903 has copious advertisements for clothing and equipment thought likely to appeal to young engineers embarking on a career in India. It also contains a list of books issued by Harrison and Sons, the publishers of the Calendar. This is a splendid assortment, including

• Bicycle Gymkhana and Musical Rides

• Crecy and Calais from the Public Records

• Dress Worn by Gentlemen at His Majesty’s Court

• The Service for the Consecration of a Church and Altar, according to the Coptic Rite

• Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing for the Labouring Classes

• Peeps at Portugal

• Protoplasm, Physical Law and Life

• The Waste-Paper Basket – a book of humorous verse by H J Jennings.


This last book caught my eye. Favourable reviews were quoted:

“The work is smart, learned in some places, and in almost every instance amusing and laughable” – Dundee Courier

“Mr Jennings is the possessor of a pretty wit” – The Outlook

“Clever fin de siècle poems” – The Citizen

“The contents of ‘The Waste-Paper Basket’ are wonderfully clever, and should make London chuckle and even roar with glee. Whoever is out of sorts should take a dive into it and be healed” – Glasgow Herald

Cover of The Waste-Paper Basket
Cover of The Waste-Paper Basket by H J Jennings

How could I resist looking at this book? Let me share with you the titles and opening lines of a few of the poems in The Waste-Paper Basket. 

Lines to a Boarding House Egg
Thou dubious feature of the morning meal!
Thou hesitating link ‘twixt new and old!
Not always downright bad like those that make
The candidate his nasal organ hold,
Or fragrant asafoetida suggest;
Yet never fresh as taken from the nest;
But hovering round uncertain age, -
Loath to assume too juvenile a look,
Or lag upon the gastronomic stage,
Filling with mirth the grim sardonic cook.

“Sweet Violets”
They talk of the perfume of roses, of jasmine and eau de Cologne,
But where is the perfume, my Onion, that ever surpasses thy own?
Distil me no ottos and extracts if I, with olfactory pride,
Can inhale thy beneficent odour, au naturel, roasted, or fried.

In Praise of Baldness
“Call no man fortunate until he’s dead,”
Or knows, at least, the joy of a bald head.
Luxuriant hair has had its vogue, no doubt,
And been by silly poets raved about;
‘Tis even true, that inexperienced girls
Will sometimes dote on hyacinthine curls;
Indifferent to the brains that cogitate,
They spurn the merits of a shiny pate.

Are you chuckling?  Feeling inclined to roar with glee? Or perhaps a baffled smile?

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

Further reading:

Calendar  -Royal Indian Engineering College, Coopers Hill

H J Jennings, The Waste-Paper Basket (1901)

Henry James Jennings (d.1921) was a newspaper editor and the author of a variety of books ranging from biography to poetry.  See Explore the British Library for his work.


27 October 2014

Newspaper notices- a window into the past

Looking for an ancestor?  Or land sales?  Or would you like to know how people felt 100 years ago? Read the newspapers!  And don’t limit yourself only to the main headings.  Go to the ‘boring’,  the ‘why bother flicking to the end’ and the ‘no one reads it anyway’ part – the notices.  You will probably learn more about the past than from the headlines or editor’s comments. The Tribune published in Lahore gives account of the daily issues the locals were facing.  And they were probably much more important than the latest news from Paris or New York.

The Punjab Mental Hospital wanted to outsource the delivery of milk from 1 April 1926 to 31 March 1927. The required five maunds had to be as fresh as possible, so the cows of the successful applicant had to be kept in accommodation provided on the Hospital premises. It was clearly a buyers’ market, as the Medical Superintendent Captain T. H. Thomas wanted a deposit of 1000 rupees and milk tests to be conducted daily.  He retained the right to reject any applicant without giving a reason.

  Man in turban milking a cow
Add.Or.1427  Images Online      Noc

The Swasthya Sahaya Pharmacy at Alipore was giving away freebies. Anyone interested in Sexual Science by Rai Sahib Dr Dass (sic) could just drop by.  The Huston Brothers went even further and their booklet Life after Death was for those who lost their manhood ‘through follies, abuses and excesses’.  This scientific remedy brought domestic happiness without any drugs or medicines.

Equipped with the booklet a man, now fully assured, could check the matrimonial notices.  A girl from a Khatri family, well-educated and well-versed in household work, was just looking for a suitable husband.  Girls and their families could also find a match in the local paper.  A ‘robust young Saraswat Brahmin’ with a permanent commission in the Indian Army was available. It was not that easy though – an interview was absolutely essential. Want more choice? The Lahore Hindu Marriage Bureau had suitable candidates for a spouse – a fifteen year old daughter of a Rai Sahib; a seventeen year  old daughter of a retired shopkeeper;  a bachelor with an income of 1000 rupees and property of five laks; or a handsome chap who just returned from England.

In April 1926 Godar Mall, a clerk at the Arsenal at Rawalpindi ,changed his name to Gian Parkash.  He wanted to inform his relatives and friends that from now on they should address him this way.

Ghulam Mustfa of Bhera announced that Nazool land will be sold on public auction on 17 February 1926 at the Rest House at Bhera.  

C. H. Rice of the Forman Christian College had an unclaimed bicycle. Want it back?  Show the proper documents!

The most interesting notice I need to quote in full:
The General Public is hereby informed that my son Mahla Ram, since over a year and a half has become a vagabond and do not consider him to be a fit person to live in my house. He has no connection whatever with me and with self-acquired property, etc. Those dealing with him will do so at their own risk and I will in no way be accountable nor will my property be. Mahla Ram will be responsible for his own doings and dealings personally. Signed Buta Ram.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies   Cc-by

Further reading:
The Tribune, January to April 1926, shelfmark SM 13


24 October 2014

Hue and Cry

The Hue and Cry notices in the British Newspaper Archive make fascinating reading.  They sometimes include striking descriptions of the individuals being sought.  I came across one for a Nicholas Makepeace in the Newcastle Courant for 16 April 1785 when doing some family research.


Hue and Cry notice for Nicholas Makepeace NocBritish Newspaper Archive 

Nicholas Makepeace had escaped from constable William Whale near Lee Hall Northumberland on 8 April 1785.  We are not told what had led to his arrest.  This is the description printed in the newspaper:

‘Nicholas Makepeace, a Husbandman, about five feet six or seven inches high, appears to be about twenty years of age, slender made, round shouldered, and stoops in walking, long visaged, dark eyes, has molds on his face, dark short hair, one of his arms, and part of his body, marked by a scald he got when a Child; one of his feet broader and shorter than the other, and can speak the English, Scotch, or Hearse Dialect.  When he made his escape, he had neither hat, coat, or shoes on’.

Anyone able to ‘apprehend and secure’ Nicholas was to give notice to George Johnson of Prudhoe, who would reward them handsomely for their trouble. 

I am hoping that some more evidence will come to light to show whether we can include the intriguing Nicholas in our family tree!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records  Cc-by


22 October 2014

Launch of Qatar Digital Library

A new online portal in English and Arabic providing access to previously undigitised British Library archive materials relating to Persian Gulf history and Arabic science was launched by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership today (22 October).

The new portal, hosted by Qatar National Library, is called Qatar Digital Library. It provides contextual material to help make the best use of the 500,000 digitised pages available. This includes 475,000 pages from the India Office Records and 25,000 pages of Arabic medieval manuscripts.

  Lewis Pelly  to Amir Faysul ibn Torky aul Saood
Letter from Colonel Lewis Pelly, Resident Persian Gulf to Amir Faysul ibn Torky aul Saood [Amir Faisul ibn Turki al Sa'ud], Riyath [Riyadh], 16 January 1865. Mss Eur F126/56     Noc

The modern history and culture of the Gulf and wider region, particularly its connection with Britain, are vividly documented in personal and official archives, photographs, maps and recordings of traditional music held at the British Library. Insights into the history of science in the Arabic-speaking world and Arabic cultural heritage are also held in the depths of the Library.


  Oman and Persian Gulf map
A revised map of Omân and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names, Rev. George Percy Badger, 1871. IOR/X/3210   Noc


The British Library has been working in partnership with the Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Library over the last three years to develop this portal. During the last year, curators have been releasing snippets of the stories contained in the files on numerous posts on the Untold Lives blog.

The launch of Qatar Digital Library will be celebrated with a small event at the British Library, where academics and researchers will reflect on the importance of the new resource as a tool to expand and improve our understanding of the Gulf region.

During the event Dr James Onley, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Exeter University and Editor of Journal of Arabian Studies, will deliver a key note speech and two of the curators, Daniel Lowe and Francis Owtram, will introduce the enhanced catalogue and explain the potential of the resource for teaching.

Onley has stated: “The Qatar Digital Library contains the world’s largest digital collection of historical records on the Gulf Arab states and Iran.  Its launch is a major milestone in the study of these countries.  Now anyone can access the region’s fascinating past from anywhere.  This easy access will enable scholars around the world to discover new things and write new histories that will expand, and ultimately transform, our understanding of the region.”

For live tweets from the event follow us  @BLQatar.

 Valentina Mirabella
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership  



20 October 2014

Missionaries caught up in World War One

World War One had an impact on some surprising people.  The Government of India reacted to the events in Europe by interning and repatriating Austrian and German citizens including missionaries and madams, who were the subject of an earlier story on Untold Lives. 

The expulsion of missionaries had a major impact on organisations like the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission. Removal of the German Jesuits from British India was reported in Ireland and William F. Dennehy, the outraged editor of The Irish Catholic,  even wrote to the India Office defending the priests.

Nathan Adderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala, wrote to the Royal British Minister at Stockholm to suggest sending Swedish ladies to help run eleven stations, 194 outstations, 57 schools with 3,405 pupils, and a medical mission. He recommended Ellen Hakansson, Malin (Amalia) Ribbing and Ingrid Söderberg, but these applications were initially refused on the grounds of a policy of exclusion while the war lasted. The agitation of the Indian National Party in Stockholm and its suspected links to the Germans was another obstacle. It must have been especially difficult for Ingrid Söderberg, who was engaged to Reverend Paul Sandegren, who was already working in Tranquebar.

After numerous interventions by the Swedish authorities and the involvement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, permission was granted to four missionaries to travel to India. By that time the war was over, the danger of German spies and of submarines torpedoing passenger liners was gone, and the Swedes could finally go. Detailed applications with photographs are in the India Office Records.

Ellen Josephina Hokannson Ellen Josephina Hokannson   Noc

Ellen Josephina Hokannson came from Helsingborg, but was born in Malmo in 1881. She had worked in India before, serving at Pudukotah from 1907 to 1914. She wanted to go back there for another seven or eight years. She had good relations with the London Missionary Society, whose members Reverend  Parker and his wife were willing to recommend her.     

  Ingrid Maria Söderberg Ingrid Maria Söderberg  Noc

Ingrid Maria Söderberg was born in Uppsala in 1887. She wanted to work for the Mission of the Church of Sweden at Madura and hoped to marry Paul Sandegren after five years of waiting. Her dream came true when they took their vows at Virudupati on 6 April 1920. In 1955 Ingrid sailed to Bombay on the Chusan travelling with an Indian passport. It was her home.  


        Bertil Gustav Israel SjöstrandBertil Gustav Israel Sjöstrand 

Bertil Gustav Israel Sjöstrand and his wife Rut Hedvig Sjöstrand both came from clergy families. They were a young and eager couple wanting to join Ellen Hokannson at Pudukotah. He was born in Tofteryd and her origins were in Oppeby. 

  Rut Hevig Sjöstrand Rut Hevig Sjöstrand   Noc

Bertil was educated in England at Cliff College Training Home and Mission in 1919. Both he and Rut had difficulties obtaining  visas but eventually, after intervention from the Conference of Missionary Societies and the Wesleyan Home Mission, they got permission to travel to India. They lived at a mission of the Church of Sweden at Kodaikand with their children.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies Cc-by


Furrther reading:

IOR/L/PJ/6/1441 File 2012 Case of seven Swedish missionaries requesting permits to enable them to proceed to Madras, Dec 1915-Jan 1920.

British in India Collection for baptisms, marriages and burials from the India Office Records



16 October 2014

Never a dull moment – the life of a diplomat’s wife

What is it like to be a diplomat’s wife?  The cover of the diaries of Lady Doris ‘Dodo’ Symon provides a ready answer: ‘Never a dull moment.’

Dodo Symon (1899-1987) followed her husband Sir Alexander Symon (1902-1974) in all his diplomatic missions for over thirty years.  They were globe trotters who were able to see much of the world before the advent of mass tourism.  They lived in style in luxury hotels and sumptuous ambassadorial residences with an impressive army of servants.  They moved in high society circles, entertaining royalty, visiting exotic resorts, meeting people of different customs and religions, all in the name of ‘furthering the good relations’ between Britain and the country of their diplomatic mission.

    The Symons on top of the Empire State Building
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F669  Noc

Lucky Dodo enjoyed a wonderful life until an advanced age without experiencing any major personal crisis.  Her diaries spanning  the 1940s to the 1960s read like a long catalogue of entertainment: never a day went by without socialising.  During the 1940s, while the rest of the world broiled in conflicts and tragedies, the Symons escaped the Second World War by being posted to the United States to represent the Government of India.  They lived there and travelled around until the end of the war.  Alexander Symon was then posted to India at the end of the turmoil of Independence.  A few years after the closure of the India Office, he was appointed as the High Commissioner in Pakistan and stayed in Karachi for seven years during which time they visited Afghanistan, Nepal and other neighbouring countries.  Their long diplomatic career did not end there.  Symon was later sent to Nairobi on an economic mission and visited several other African countries.  

As for the wives of diplomats, apart from accompanying their husbands in meeting dignitaries and attending ceremonies, their daily life seemed to be filled with playing with their pet dogs, participating in dog shows, going to horse races, attending concerts, enjoying dinner parties, visiting interesting places, gardening, and shopping.   Every day for them was like Christmas Day, festival after festival, and indeed, “never a dull moment.”  Dodo was particularly talented at organizing events.  Her duty consisted of drafting lists of invitations and preparing menus for lunch, dinner, or cocktail parties, making sure the servants strictly observed the decorum of high society, with the dining room elegantly decorated and flowers suitably arranged.  An energetic woman, Dodo was also a highly efficient journal keeper who made meticulous entries of their daily activities in her cheerful diaries.  She was perhaps her husband’s best secretary. 

The highlight of her husband’s illustrious career was the Queen’s visit to Pakistan in 1961.  This exciting event was recorded in minute detail in her diary accompanied by photographs.  Dodo’s happiness was clearly visible in one of the photographs in which she was shaking hands with the dashing Duke of Edinburgh.     

These diaries, together with 37 reels of 16mm cine films made by Dodo herself, are testimonials of the daily life of an ordinary British diplomat, basking in the carefree optimism of the British post-war period.

Xiao Wei Bond
Former Curator, India Office Private Papers Cc-by

Further reading: India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F669 Papers of Lady Doris Olive Symon (1899-1987)

13 October 2014

Princess Victoria’s cycling adventure

In April 1901, a few months after her father’s accession to the throne as King Edward VII, Princess Victoria was involved in a confrontation at Windsor Great Park.  The Princess was riding her bicycle with Lady Musgrave through the gates to the Long Walk when the elderly lodge keeper shouted at them to stop - cycling was not permitted there.  As the two women did not seem inclined to obey his order, he caught hold of the Princess’s bicycle and she fell heavily onto the roadway. 

  Victorian woman cycling
Illustrated London News 17 August 1901 Images Online

Lodge keeper William Green was a former sergeant in the Coldstream Guards and a Crimean veteran.  He had held his position at Windsor for over 40 years and had been decorated with an award for distinguished conduct by Queen Victoria shortly before her death. When interviewed by the press, Green denied that he had pushed Princess Victoria off her bicycle or had been in anyway rude to her.  The King and his daughters had not often been at Windsor so he had not recognised her.  If he had known who she was he would certainly have let her pass, although he had strict orders not to allow cyclists to use that roadway and had stopped no fewer than 735 last year.  Green said he had apologised to the Princess and had received a ‘very nice’ letter in reply.  Princess Victoria exonerated him from all blame as he was only doing his duty, but did say that he should not have grabbed the handlebars of her bicycle.

According to the press, there were many attempts by cyclists to evade Green’s vigilance at the gate.  One of the few to succeed was a cyclist who rode nearly up to the gates, dismounted, put his machine onto a passing carriage, and remounted again once the vehicle had gone through the gates.

The story had a postscript.  In 1905, William Green had to have a leg amputated. A stranger called at the lodge to ask after him. When Mrs Green asked her name, the caller smiled and said she should tell her husband that the lady pushed off her bicycle had come to see him.  The Princess then went to sit at the old man’s bedside. Other members of the royal family also visited.  William Green died in October 1905 and was buried at Windsor with full military honours. 

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

Further reading:

British Newspaper Archive

Evening Telegraph 17 April 1901

Lancashire Evening Post 17 April 1901

Western Gazette 21 July 1905