THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

27 November 2018

A policeman's lot in Bahrain - not a happy one

Bahrain’s first British Inspector of Police resigned from his post after only three months, and was then accused of racial prejudice towards Arabs.

By 1945 hundreds of oil workers – European and American - had flooded into Bahrain, and the local Bahrain State Police could not cope.  The British Government’s solution was to second a contingent of serving British Police Officers to work in the country.  Advertisements were placed, and applications came in from members of Constabularies across Britain.

Colonial Police starBritish Colonial Police style five pointed star considered for use in Bahrain IOR/L/PS/12/3951A, f 483 (detail) .

Unusually for the era, the positions involved working directly for an independent Arab government.  Candidates at Sergeant and Police Constable level were therefore asked by India Office interviewers whether they had any ‘colour prejudice’.  Perhaps unwisely, two admitted to having ‘some prejudice’ - one man stating that he didn’t like saluting Arab officers.  Both were dismissed from the process.  However, there is no evidence that the same question was put to candidates at Inspector level.
Some of the successful applicants were helped by having language skills acquired in the course of wartime military service in the Middle East.

The most important appointment was that of Inspector, who was to command the detachment.  The choice fell eventually on Charles Henry Crowe, who was based at Tower Bridge Police Station, London.  Crowe had experience of plain clothes work in the detection of betting and gaming offences, and had received a number of commendations.

Uniforms and equipment having been selected and paid for by the India Office, the detachment (one Inspector, one Sergeant, and six Constables) arrived in Bahrain in August 1945 – the hottest part of the year.

Inspector Crowe’s resignation letterInspector Crowe’s resignation letter: IOR/L/PS/12/3951A, f 9 (detail)

Three months later, Crowe resigned.  His resignation letter lists a number of grievances: a promised refrigerator failed to materialise; he had often been kept waiting by the Arab Superintendent, Sheikh Khalifah, for up to fifteen minutes, sometimes standing, while the Sheikh conversed in Arabic with visitors; the same official appropriated a car intended for the Inspector; the accommodation was not up to scratch; and the uniforms were inadequate: by November, the detachment were still wearing pith helmets in the evenings, which was ‘a source of amusement to Europeans’.  Crowe was also critical of Charles Belgrave, the Sheikh of Bahrain’s British-born Adviser, who was in overall charge of the country’s police.

Inspector Crowe’s resignation letter (conclusion)Inspector Crowe’s resignation letter (conclusion): IOR/L/PS/12/3951A, f 9v (detail)

Belgrave responded by claiming that Crowe had been entirely unsuitable for the post.  He had not liked the cut of the uniform with which he was provided, had objected strongly to shaking hands with ‘natives’ (Arab Police Officers), and had been overly conscious of his rank and social position.  Without authority, he had paid a visit to the brothel area, and lectured a number of ladies of the town through an interpreter, which ‘caused a considerable commotion’ next day, and had been ‘associating with various undesirable members of the community’.  For all these reasons, the decision was taken to dismiss him from his post, and Crowe only resigned after being tipped off by friends at the Cable & Wireless office that a telegram had come ordering his dismissal.

Letter from Charles BelgraveLetter from Charles Belgrave, Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, concerning Inspector Crowe’s resignation: IOR/L/PS/12/3951B, f 30 (detail)
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Letter from Charles Belgrave 2Letter from Charles Belgrave, Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, concerning Inspector Crowe’s resignation (conclusion): IOR/L/PS/12/3951B, f 34 (detail)
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Belgrave’s lengthy response probably had more to do with avoiding criticism from London over his role in the affair, but clearly the post-war oil-era Gulf wasn’t for everyone.

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

Further reading:
London, British Library, Coll 30/210(2) 'Bahrein Oil: Employment of U.S.Provost Personnel for Control of American labour.' IOR/L/PS/12/3951A
London, British Library, Coll 30/210(2/1) 'Bahrain: appointments to Bahrain State Police'  IOR/L/PS/12/3951B
Digitised versions of both these files are published in the Qatar Digital Library.