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45 posts categorized "Middle East"

13 December 2018

The Red Sea to India non-stop: Amelia Earhart, Southern Arabia, and British Obstructionism

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On 15 June 1937, Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed at Karachi airport in their specially modified Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane.  They had been flying for over thirteen hours and travelled more than 1800 miles from Assab, in Eritrea.  By doing so they’d completed the first ever non-stop flight from the Red Sea to India, as Karachi was a part of then.

Amelia_Earhart_standing_under_nose_of_her_Lockheed_Model_10-E_Electra _smallAmelia Earhart standing under the nose of her Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane via Wikipedia

Earhart had flown from Assab that morning and had used Aden as a checkpoint along the way.  Permission had also been given to land at the British enclave should it be necessary.  From Aden, however, the Americans were restricted to flying a course along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.  This restriction has often been attributed to Saudi refusal to grant permission to fly over its territory, but the region in question was not, and still is not, part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The flight would have passed over the Hadhramaut, at the time under a loose British protectorate, and the territories of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, where British influence and control was strong.  In December of the previous year, the United States Embassy in London had written to the Foreign Office giving details of Earhart’s plans for a round-the-world flight and requesting permission to fly through and land in British territories along the way.  The matter was passed on to the Government of India, who agreed to the flight, with certain restrictions, but envisaged complications with the stretch along the South Arabian coast.

IOR_L_PS_12_1981_0592

IOR_L_PS_12_1981_0594 Extracts from a letter from the US Ambassador to London to the British Foreign Secretary, IOR/L/PS/12/1981, ff. 296-297

Civil aviation was in its infancy at the time and the British had been developing an air route along the Arab side of the Persian Gulf from Baghdad.  For various strategic and pragmatic reasons the British had gone to some lengths to establish control over the air space in the region, securing agreements with the Arab Sheikhs that gave them a good deal of authority over the management of air traffic.

IOR_L_PS_12_2054_0271Map showing some of the Royal Air Force routes from the United Kingdom to Far East Asia, via the Arabian Peninsula and India, IOR/L/PS/12/2054, f. 134

The Sheikhs of Bahrain and Sharjah had agreed to delegate to the British the authority to refuse private aviators permission to fly through or land within their territories.  The British had so far failed to obtain the same from the Sultan of Muscat.  Earhart’s requested flight was seen as an opportunity to gain this further degree of control in the region.

The attempts of the Political Agent in Muscat, Major Ralph Watts, to secure the Sultan’s agreement to delegate such authority to the British were unsuccessful, however, and instead efforts were made by the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf and the Government of India to try to dissuade the Americans from looking to fly through or land in the Sultan’s territories.  They were told that there was little hope of obtaining permission from the Sultan and the country in question was described as “desolate, inaccessible and entirely unsuitable for any emergency landings”.  Those that did land risked death or injury at the hands of “wild tribesmen”.

T 11308_0015Al-Hawtah, capital of the district of Lahej, part of the “desolate” and “inaccessible” country the British warned of, part of 'An Account of the British Settlement of Aden in Arabia, compiled by Captain F.M. Hunter

It was this obstructionism from the British, rather than Saudi refusal, which compelled Earhart to follow a line just off the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, rather than over land.  An obstructionism given in response to the Sultan of Muscat’s refusal to relinquish yet more power to the British.

John Hayhurst
Content Specialist, Gulf History – BL/Qatar Foundation Partnership

27 November 2018

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

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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)
The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

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)
The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

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.

 

 

18 October 2018

Propaganda Portraits of Muslim Rulers during WW2

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The Ministry of Information was the British Government department responsible for publicity and propaganda during the Second World War. On 22 August 1940, Arthur John Arberry at the Ministry of Information wrote to Roland Tennyson Peel at the India Office, enclosing colour portraits of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), and the Shaikh of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah, erroneously referred to as the Shaikh of Kuwait in the letter).

Arberry wrote that the Ministry’s Far Eastern Section had ordered a large quantity of these portraits for distribution in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and that a caption would be added ‘indicating that these Muslim rulers support Britain in the present war’, in an attempt to foster support for the Allies amongst the predominantly Muslim population. He went on to request Peel’s advice ‘as to whether these portraits could appropriately be used for distribution on a large scale in the Middle East, especially in Hadhramaut and the Persian Gulf’, as propaganda.

This letter and the portraits, below, are included in the file IOR/L/PS/12/3942, which has been digitised and will soon be available to view on the Qatar Digital Library

Iorlps123942f19

Letter from Arthur John Arberry of the Ministry of Information, to Roland Tennyson Peel of the India Office, 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 19. 

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

EmirAbdullahPortrait of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), c 22 Aug 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 21.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

SultanMuscat&OmanPortrait of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), c. 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 22.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

  HakimBahrain
Portrait of the Hakim of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah), c. 22 August 1940 . Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 23.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

Arberry was sent a reply from John Percival Gibson of the India Office, advising him that ‘we think it undesirable to make any use for publicity purposes of the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait, chiefly for the reason given in Peel’s letter to Rushbrook Williams of the 23rd January [1940]’. The letter referred to is not included in this file, however a draft copy of it can be found in file IOR/L/PS/12/2995, f 9. In this letter, Peel informs Laurence Frederic Rushbrook Williams of the Ministry of Information that ‘the Sultan of Muscat has asked that steps might be taken to prevent publicity being given…to Muscat. Apparently the Sultan is apprehensive that such publicity might draw unwanted attention to his country in German & Italian quarters’, and ‘We have promised to respect his wishes’. 

In Gibson’s reply to Arberry, he also stated that provided the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait was omitted, he did not think there would be any objection to distribution of the other portraits in the Middle East generally, but that this was more a matter for the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office. However, he added that ‘I doubt it would be worth the expense to make any distribution in the Persian Gulf, where the attitude of the Sheikhs is well enough known’.

Arberry further consulted the India Office about whether it would be politically acceptable to include a portrait of the Shaikh of Kuwait (Shaikh Aḥmad al-Jābir Āl Ṣabāḥ), to which Peel responded that there was no objection.

Before the portraits were finally approved, Sir Hassan Suhrawardy, Adviser to the Secretary of State for India, was asked for his opinion on them. Suhrawardy approved the green border of the portraits, but thought that it should be an olive shade instead. He also advised the Ministry of Information that the star and crescent symbol should be omitted from the border, for the reasons stated in the letter below.

Iorlps123942_f11

Copy of a letter from Sir Hassan Suhrawardy to E J Embleton, Studio Manger at the Ministry of Information, 5 November 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 11.

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

 

Susannah Gillard,

Content Specialist, Archivist

British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading

British Library, Coll 30/202 ‘Persian Gulf. Photographs of Notabilities (Sheikhs &c) (used for propaganda purposes)’ IOR/L/PS/12/3942

British Library, Coll 20/35 'Sultan of Muscat's desire to avoid wireless and press publicity during wartime' IOR/L/PS/12/2995

16 August 2018

Photographs of Dhofar Province

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An India Office Records file that was recently catalogued by the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme contains a number of photographs showing the biodiversity of what is now the Dhofar Governorate, in the Sultanate of Oman.


In 1947, Brian Hartley, Director of Agriculture in the Aden Protectorate, was invited by the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd, to visit Dhofar, in order to carry out a survey of the conditions there, and in particular to provide advice on the growing of sugar cane in the region. Hartley’s resulting report, 'A Preliminary Survey of the Land Resources of the Dhufar Province, Sultanate of Muscat and Oman', which was completed in March 1948, covers water supplies, crop production (specifically sugar cane), hill cultivation, animal husbandry, irrigation and livestock improvement, mountain farming, and fisheries. A selection of photographs from Hartley’s visit, which appear in the file at the end of the report, can be seen below, along with Hartley’s original captions.

IOR_R_15_6_282_f_56_2IOR/R/15/6/282, f 56 2: Photograph of Dahaq, 1948 Noc

 

IOR_R_15_6_282_f_57_1IOR/R/15/6/282, f 57 1: Photograph of sugar cane, Rizat Irrigation System Noc

 

IOR_R_15_6_282_f_58_2IOR/R/15/6/282, f 58 2: Photograph of a palm grove, Salalah Noc

 

IOR_R_15_6_282_f_59_1IOR/R/15/6/282, f 59 1: Photograph of the Northern Watershed of Al Qutun Noc

 

IOR_R_15_6_282_f_60_1IOR/R/15/6/282, f 60 1: Photograph of a herd of Cattle on the Qutun Uplands Noc


The remaining photographs, together with Hartley’s report, will be made available on the Qatar Digital Library website later this year.

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
'File 8/90 II ECONOMIC, Agricultural & INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT IN MUSCAT TERRITORY', IOR/R/15/6/282

 

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.

 

08 June 2018

Destitute Indian Women in 1930s Damascus

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In February 1935, the British Consul in Damascus, Gilbert Mackereth, wrote to his superiors at the Foreign Office in London with a dilemma.  Since 1926, the Consulate had been responsible for making cash payments to a number of destitute British Indian subjects living in Syria, but nine years later, the funds allocated for this purpose by the British Government of India were beginning to run out, and Mackereth was unsure how he ought to proceed.

Image 1The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Damas." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860-1929.

The Indian community in Syria at this time was concentrated in Beit Sawa, a village in Ghouta, an important agricultural region east of Damascus.  This area had suffered extensive damage during France’s suppression of the Syrian national uprising (1925-27) which included the use of aerial bombardment and the burning of villages.  As a result, many of the ancient irrigation canals in Ghouta – upon which it depended for its prosperity – had been diverted or destroyed beyond repair.  No compensation was paid to the area’s inhabitants and this led some of the Indian community resident there to leave for Palestine and Iraq.  According to Mackereth, those who had been unable to leave and remained living in the area, did so 'on the borderline of misery' and therefore were in no position to 'help their even more unfortunate sisters who receive alms from the Indian Government'.

Image 2List of British Indian Subjects receiving relief as compiled by the British Consulate, Damascus, 27 April 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

At this time, the payments were being made to only five surviving women, all of whom were reported to be absolutely destitute and 'either aged or crippled'.  This led Mackereth to argue that it would 'be a hardship amounting to almost cruelty' if the 'meagre alms they enjoy from the India treasury' were stopped.  He proposed that either the payments should continue to be made or that the women and their minor children be repatriated to India where they could be 'cared for under the poor laws of that country'.

Image 3Correspondence from the British Consulate, Damascus to the Government of India, 16 July 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

By July 1935, one of the five women, Hamdieh Ghulam, had died and Mackereth had established that the families of the four remaining women had 'left India so long ago that they have no knowledge of their next of kin or of their home addresses'.  This prompted the Government of India to eventually decide that it would be better to leave the women 'in Damascus, where they must have made contacts, than to repatriate them to India where they appear to have no relatives or friends and in the absence of any Poor Law administration would starve'.  However, it was not prepared to extend any financial assistance to the women’s children, whom it argued 'should be regarded as Syrians and not Indians'.  It was eventually agreed that the remaining four women would be paid the amount of 200 piastres a month for the remainder of their lives, an amount that constituted 'barely the subsistence level'.  Once this administrative quandary had been solved, the correspondence regarding these women dries up and hence the fate of them and their children after this point is unknown.

All of the letters referenced in this post are contained in the India Office Records file IOR/L/PS/12/2141 that is held at the British Library.  The file has now been digitized and is available on the Qatar Digital Library.

Louis Allday
Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

 

09 April 2018

Bahrain is not in Ruritania: Colonel Prior and the ‘Royal’ Sheikh

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When the Ruler of Bahrain began to adopt a distinctly regal style in 1940, Britain’s senior official in the Gulf moved quickly to nip the development in the bud.

On 7 February 1940 Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah announced in an official decree, or alan, that he had decided to institute a new honour, the Order of the Khalifah.  The order was to have three classes: Star, Decoration, and Medal, and the Sheikh stated that the decree was issued ‘By our royal pleasure’.

Bahrain 1Alan issued by the Sheikh of Bahrain concerning the Order of the Khalifah, 7 February 1940. IOR/R/15/2/644, f 5  Noc


Three days later, the Political Agent in Bahrain, Hugh Weightman, reported ‘this rather silly idea’ to his boss, Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Prior, the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf.  Prior was incensed.  He had complained to Weightman the previous November, following his last visit to the Sheikh, that he had been placed between two sofas, with the result that he found himself about a foot lower than the Sheikh.  He insisted then to Weightman that two seats of equal size should be arranged in future ‘as conversation between different planes is difficult’. 

He had also seen a picture in Weightman’s office of the Sheikh sitting ‘on a sort of Woolworth throne’, while the Political Officer, Cole, ‘sat somewhere down by his coat tails in an ordinary chair’. He hoped that no Political Officer would ever put himself in such a ridiculous position again.

Bahrain 2Colonel Prior writes to the Political Agent in Bahrain about the Sheikh of Bahrain’s ‘Woolworth throne’. IOR/L/PS/12/3927, f 25 (detail) Noc

Prior suspected that the Sheikh’s regal pretensions came from Charles Belgrave, his British-born Adviser, and he told Weightman that the Sheikh needed to be reminded that ‘Bahrain is not in Ruritania’.

 The India Office in London was also concerned to ensure that there should only be one ‘fount of honour’ in the British Empire, and as such an Indian ruler had recently been refused permission to institute an order of his own.  However, they recognised that the Sheikh of Bahrain enjoyed a rather more independent position.

Nevertheless, Prior was in no doubt that the Sheikh’s regal tendencies should be suppressed, and he went to Bahrain in March 1940 to interview both Belgrave and the Sheikh.

Bahrain 3Colonel Prior administers a stern lecture to Charles Belgrave, the Sheikh of Bahrain’s Adviser. IOR/L/PS/12/3927, f 22 (detail) Noc

He first carpeted Belgrave, informing him that the British ‘did not retain him in his position for his administrative experience or executive ability, but on account of his political gumption, and that he had failed us lamentably on this occasion’.  He then sent for the Sheikh, raised the issue of the ‘odd alan’, and, reading it out, asked who the king referred to was.  Prior continues: ‘The Shaikh giggled rather feebly at this and said that people wrote these titles on the letters sent him and that as for the order, people liked these things’.

Prior then told the Sheikh that orders of chivalry were for great states and that people would laugh at Bahrain for instituting one.  When the Sheikh mentioned that Egypt and Iraq had them, Prior pointed out that Egypt was fourteen times bigger than Bahrain.  The Sheikh then ‘relapsed into a sepia cloud of patriotic protestations’

Bahrain 4Colonel Prior administers a stern lecture to the Sheikh. IOR/L/PS/12/3927, f 23 (detail) Noc

Prior’s recommendation to the India Office was that only the third class, or Medal, should be allowed to remain, and that the Sheikh’s decree should be allowed to die a natural death.


Bahrain achieved independence from Britain in 1971.  In 2002, the country’s Emir, also named Hamad bin Isa, and now at a safe distance from any risk of being ticked off by the British, declared himself King of Bahrain.

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

Further reading:
London, British Library 'File 26/2 Bahrain Government Honours ("Order of the Al Khalifah")' IOR/R/15/2/644
London, British Library Coll 30/190 'Bahrein: Qn. of the institution of a Bahrein "Order".' IOR/L/PS/12/3927. (A digitised version of this file will appear in the Qatar Digital Library in the course of 2018).

 

08 March 2018

Colonel Jacob’s ill-fated mission and imprisonment

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After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Imam Yahya became ruler of independent northern Yemen, following the Turkish withdrawal in 1918. In August 1919, Colonel Harold Fenton Jacob set off from Aden in command of a British Mission to negotiate with the Imam at Sana’a. The Imam had been aligned with the Turkish during the War, whilst the British had supported his arch-rival, Sayyid Idris. However, Jacob failed to reach the Imam at Sana’a. Instead, Jacob and his Mission were stopped at Bajil, and held virtual prisoners for more than three months by Shaikhs of the Quhra tribe of Tihamah.

News of Jacob’s ill-fated mission was reported by the British Political Resident at Aden in monthly News Letters to the British High Commissioner at Cairo, copies of which are included in the India Office file P 3300/1916 Pt 3 'Aden News-Letters: 1919-20' (IOR/L/PS/10/611/1).

The Political Resident at Aden, C H E Lees, reported on 4 September 1919 that Jacob had sent a telegraph on 27 August stating that he was ‘temporarily held up by the Quhra Shaikhs’. Lees reflected that ‘nearly all the tribes in the Shafiet Tehama are anti-Imam and they are under the impression that our chief aim is to advance the cause of the Imam to their own detriment’, hence the Quhra Shaikhs wanted to prevent British negotiations with the Imam from taking place. Lees reported that anxiety about the safety of the Mission was lessened by efforts of the Imam to secure their release, the Imam’s representative the ex-Vali Mahmud Nadim arriving in Bajil, and ‘the general sanguine tone of Colonel Jacob’s telegrams’.

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IOR_L_PS_10_611_1131
Extract from Aden News Letter dated 9 October 1919, IOR/L/PS/10/611/1

However, on 9 October 1919, the Political Resident at Aden conceded that negotiations for the release of the Mission had made no progress. He grew suspicious of the intentions of Mahmud Nadim, and by 12th November he had come to the conclusion that ‘Everything appears to point to the Wali [Vali], with or without the knowledge of the Imam is uncertain, having engineered the detention of Colonel’s Jacob’s Mission’.

The Mission was finally released on 12th December 1919. This followed two British aeroplane flights over Bajil, which the Political Resident at Aden reported had ‘had an excellent effect and brought before the recalcitrant Shaikhs the fact that they and their villages are within reach of bombing raids’. It also followed the arrival in Bajil of a deputation from Sayyid Idris, demanding the release of the Mission on pain of assault on Bajil by the Idrisi force.

The historian R J Gavin asserts that ‘British impotence in the face of tribal hostility’ during Jacob’s imprisonment ‘amply demonstrated the dangers of a more ambitious policy in the Yemen’. The British reverted to the wartime policy of securing only what was strategically necessary and easy to defend in the Yemen. The British also continued their support of Sayyid Idris, and relations between the British and Imam Yahya deteriorated. Meanwhile, Jacob ‘returned utterly discredited in the sharper eyes of the men in Whitehall’ following the failure of his Mission.

Susannah Gillard

Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:

British Library, File 3300/1916 Pt 3 'Aden News-Letters: 1919-20' IOR/L/PS/10/611/1

J. Gavin, Aden Under British Rule, 1839-1967 (London: C. Hurst & Company, 1975)