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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

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

 

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

 

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)

 

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