Untold lives blog

87 posts categorized "World War One"

18 October 2022

Agreement with Mina Ayah

An intriguing document was recently catalogued as part of the India Office Private Papers, and is now available to view in the Asian and African Studies reading room.  This is a signed agreement between a British family in India and an Indian nanny or ayah.

Signed agreement with Mina Ayah of 15 Free School Street, Calcutta, to travel to England in the service of Mrs G F Greenhill on the SS Bengal, 9 March 1896Signed agreement with Mina Ayah of 15 Free School Street, Calcutta, to travel to England in the service of Mrs G F Greenhill on the SS Bengal, 9 March 1896 - Mss Eur F754/2/1  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Previous posts on this blog have highlighted the vulnerability of ayahs travelling to Britain in the employ of British families and the danger of being left stranded in London.  A written signed agreement, which specified payment, allowances and provision for a return passage, gave a measure of protection.

The agreement reads as follows:

I, Mina Ayah of 15 Free School Street City of Calcutta, do hereby agree to proceed in the P&O. S. S. “Bengal” leaving on or about April 14th 1896 in the service of Mrs G F Greenhill receiving for my services on the voyage R100 & for warm clothes R25 the half of which viz R62.8 I have received in Calcutta; the remainder to be paid on arrival in London in English money.  Also £10.0.0. for my return passage unless Mrs Greenhill finds me a lady to return with.

The agreement was signed by Mina with her mark, and is witnessed and dated 9 March 1896.

Unfortunately, little is known about Mina.  Mrs G F Greenhill was Georgiana Catherine Greenhill (née Watson), the wife of George Fowler Greenhill, a tea planter in Darjeeling and Calcutta.  They had two children: Thomas Watson (born 1892) and Elsie Winifred (born 1891).  Greenhill was also a partner in the business Cook & Co. based at 182 Dhurrumtollah Street, Calcutta; Thacker’s Indian Directory lists them as veterinary surgeons, livery and commission stable keepers, coachbuilders and auctioneers.  The 1903 Directory also lists Greenhill as the Secretary of Sungma Tea Association Ltd, Darjeeling.

The family’s journey by sea to London was noted in the Madras Weekly Mail on 23 April 1896, which recorded that Mr G F Greenhill travelled on the SS Bengal from Calcutta to Colombo, and that Mrs G F Greenhill, children and ayah all travelled from Calcutta to London.  Presumably, George was visiting Colombo on business, while the rest of the family travelled back to Britain.

Georgiana died of cholera in Calcutta in 1908, her husband died in London in 1910.  Sadly, Thomas, a Lieutenant in the 4th Dragoon Guards (Royal Irish), was killed in action during the First World War.  He died on 11 February 1916, aged 23 years old, and was buried in the Vermelles British Cemetery in France.  Elsie died in 1955.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Signed agreement with Mina Ayah of 15 Free School Street, Calcutta, to travel to England in the service of Mrs G F Greenhill on the SS Bengal, 9 March 1896, shelfmark Mss Eur F754/2/1.

Thacker's Indian Directory

The British Newspaper Archive: Madras Weekly Mail, 23 April 1896.

Burial register entry for Georgiana Catherine Greenhill, shelfmark IOR/N/1/349 page 134; and the will of George Fowler Greenhill, shelfmark IOR/L/AG/34/29/155 page 78; both can be viewed online Find My Past.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

26 May 2022

Monsieur Roux, the would-be Consul of Baghdad

By the summer of 1917, the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force had been in Mesopotamia for three years.  It had fought the armies of the Ottoman Empire and occupied territory stretching from Basra to Baghdad.  British officials had every reason to feel triumphant.  But then they met an opponent they could not defeat -– a French diplomat determined to be Consul of Baghdad.

A French Consulate for Baghdad
On 20 July 1917, the British authorities in occupied Baghdad were warned that a ‘Mons. Roux’ was en route to Mesopotamia, intending to establish a French Consulate.  The British authorities were bewildered.  They had not been informed about this new Consulate, and were worried that it might complicate efforts to impose imperial control in Mesopotamia.

The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force July 1917The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281, f. 90r.

It was too late to prevent Roux reaching Bombay; the Foreign Office ordered that Roux be kept there while they decided on a response.

A captured Turkish steamer ship at BasraA captured Turkish steamer ship at Basra. Roux’s arrival in the busy port meant diplomatic complications for the British occupation. © IWM Q 25326 (htt

From Bombay to Basra
The British did not reckon with the determination of Monsieur Roux.  On 4 August, an embarrassed telegram from Bombay reached Baghdad. Roux had requested that the Government of Bombay let him leave for Basra.  The Government refused, stating that he would have to wait until they received permission from Basra.  Roux- clearly well-versed in the arts of diplomacy- ‘expressed extreme astonishment’ at this delay, and warned of ‘diplomatic complications’ if he was hindered.  Bombay allowed Roux to sail for Basra.  Shortly after his ship had left, a telegram belatedly arrived confirming that under no circumstances was the Frenchman to be allowed to leave.  Monsieur Roux was one step closer to Baghdad - and had left a gaggle of humiliated British administrators in his wake.

Telegram from Bombay reporting that Monsieur Roux has left for BasraBombay reports that Monsieur Roux has left for Basra, against the wishes of Basra’s British authorities in the occupied port city. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282, f. 128r. 

Diplomatic Privileges
By 16 August, Roux had arrived in Basra and was causing more issues for the British.  Roux expected permission to use a locked diplomatic bag and a telegram cipher. However, his British hosts were reluctant to allow him to keep his communications secret.  On 28 September, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff telegrammed that the French Ambassador had complained about an ‘unfriendly and suspicious attitude towards Consul Roux, which may create bad impression in France’.

Telegram reporting that the ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General StaffThe ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General Staff. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284, f. 487r

The Chief ordered that this be investigated and that Roux, as ‘official agent of French Government’, be permitted to send cipher telegrams.  The threat of political consequences allowed the Frenchman to get his way again.

The Belgian Consulate at Basra 1917The Belgian Consulate at Basra, 1917. Roux is likely to have occupied similar quarters during his stay in the city. © IWM Q 25679 

Consul Roux 
Roux’s status remained unsettled for over a year. By October 1918, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf had changed his approach, suggesting that Roux should come to Baghdad ‘where he… can be more efficiently influenced and controlled’.  Roux himself was now more interested in events beyond Baghdad.  The oil-rich northern region of Mosul was at the time claimed by both the British and the French.  The commander of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, Sir William Marshall, recalled in his memoirs that Roux spent November 1918 requesting permission to go to Mosul.  Marshall refused to allow the visit, suspecting that Roux planned to improve French influence in the region by handing out money.

The story of Monsieur Roux illustrates the smaller-scale realities of imperial rivalry.  The presence of a Consul allowed France to exert authority in a territory the British were determined to control.  Roux thus became a cause for concern, and relatively inconsequential incidents of interpersonal tension became part of a broader struggle for post-war imperial supremacy.

Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
India Office Records – Military Department files: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3283; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3309
Mesopotamia campaign - National Army Museum 

 

22 February 2022

‘A mishap to German aviators’ in Mesopotamia: a tale of engine failure and a small Persian dog

In 1917, four German aviators and their dog faced the dangers of unreliable machinery and merciless desert heat in Mesopotamia.

World War I saw the first large-scale use of aerial warfare.  Aeroplanes proved particularly valuable in the deserts of Mesopotamia, where the Ottoman Empire and its German allies faced off against the invading British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force.  British and German pilots were crucial to war on this front, flying over vast stretches of desert to observe enemy troop movements.  A single mechanical failure could send a mission spiralling towards disaster.

Map of Mesopotamia 1916Map of Mesopotamia, 1916. 'Map 3. Mesopotamia' [‎365] (1/1)  Qatar Digital Library 

One such incident is recorded in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force and gives an insight into the early problems of military aviation as it adapted to new environments.

On 7 July 1917, two German two-seater planes set out southwards from Tikrit.  The four aviators were tasked with flying over British positions near Baghdad and gathering information.  The mission went mostly to plan; both planes made it to their rest stop at Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and stayed there until 9 July.

Extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917

Extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

Disaster struck on their return journey, ‘about halfway across the 50 odd miles of desert they had to pass over’.  One plane ‘suffered a serious breakdown’ and was forced to land.  The other plane landed to try and help.  The stricken craft could not be repaired, and so the Germans burnt it to avoid it falling into British hands.  It now seemed as though two of the pilots had no way to escape the desert.

Photograph of a Rumpler C.III  a German reconnaissance planePhotograph of a Rumpler C.III, a typical German reconnaissance plane.  Image from the Ray Wagner Collection, courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum

These aviators were nothing if not creative, however.  They loaded the surviving plane with all their belongings, a salvaged machine gun, ‘and a small Persian dog which habitually accompanied all important reconnaissance’.  Two pilots took their seats in the plane, while the other two ‘sat on each wing where they held on as best they could’.  Four men, three machine guns, and a small dog managed to fly in this manner for around 25 minutes.  But the extra weight prevented the plane from climbing high enough to cool its engine.  The Germans landed once again, resolving to wait until the evening brought colder temperatures.

Second extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917Second extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

They may have quickly regretted this decision.  The Germans spent a torturous day in the desert, exposed to the sun and forced to drink near-boiling water from the engine’s radiator.  As the sun finally set, the exhausted men drove their plane across the sands rather than attempting to fly.  Roughly fifteen miles from Samarra, this plane’s engine also failed.  The Germans burnt it and continued on foot.

The trials of the day proved too much for two of the men, who ‘collapsed and had to be abandoned’.  The surviving pair reached British lines at dawn on 10 July.  The British sent patrols to search for the two men left behind but found no sign of the pilots.  The two survivors were now prisoners of war.

Not all of the plane’s passengers suffered such a grim fate.  The ‘small Persian dog’ survived the desert trek, and found itself switching its wartime allegiance.  It was given to some British troops ‘with whom it is no doubt a popular pet’.

Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot  France  1915Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot, France, 1915. 


Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282  - available via the Qatar Digital Library
Mesopotamia campaign
Aerial warfare during World War One 

11 January 2022

The Spy Who Came in from the Circus: Haji Ali Germani

In 1915, a man was arrested near the Iranian port of Bandar Lengeh by levies in the pay of the British Consulate, accused of inciting the local population against British interests.  He was ‘fair, though now very sunburned’, with ‘fair hair and grey eyes’, spoke German, English, Farsi, and Arabic, and went by the name of Haji Ali Germani.

The arrest took place against a tumultuous backdrop.  To weaken Britain in Europe during the First World War, Germany and its allies were striking at the British imperial system in Asia.  German, Austrian, and Ottoman agents, along with Indian revolutionaries, were spreading across Iran, approaching Afghanistan and causing panic among the British occupying India.  The arrested Haji Ali was believed to be working with German agents, most prominently the feared Wilhelm Wassmuss, ‘the German Lawrence’, to weaken British influence over southern Iran, and thus the Persian Gulf and route to India.

Haji Ali told his captors that his mother was a German circus performer and his father a ‘Moor’ (North African).  He himself had started out as an acrobat, before joining the firm of Robert Wönckhaus, a former Zanzibar slave trader who had moved into business in the Gulf.

Letter about Haji Ali from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire 25 September 1915Letter from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire [Bushehr], 25 September 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490 f 138r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Haji Ali was already known, and distrusted, by British authorities.  He had been involved in Wönckhaus’s concession to mine red oxide on Abu Musa island, which hawkish British officers perceived as a threatening German intrusion into the jealously-guarded Gulf and quickly had shut down.

After his arrest Haji Ali was deported to India.  On reaching Bombay [Mumbai] in October 1915, he was sent into internment in Jutogh in the Himalayan foothills.  He was escorted on the long journey north by one Sub-Inspector Schiff, an Arabic speaker in Bombay’s colonial police, who coaxed information from him about Indian revolutionaries with the Germans in Iran.  After ‘a large glass of brandy (neat) and several glasses of beer at Delhi station’, Haji Ali revealed that German agents were planning to ship arms to Indian revolutionaries from Shanghai, taking advantage of relaxed checks on ships coming to India from the east.  After sobering up, he was ‘very much exercised at having said so much and bound Sub-Inspector Schiff to secrecy by all the oaths in the Arabic vocabulary’.

Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay 14 October 1915Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay, 14 October 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 39vPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Schiff judged that Haji Ali was not a ‘true [German] patriot’, and could be led to make further ‘revelations of interest’.  Thus, no sooner did Haji Ali reach Jutogh than he was sent back to Bombay for further interrogation.  There, he revealed the location of the keys to Wönckhaus’s safes, buried near Lengeh, among other fragments of information.

We hear little more of him.  In 1916, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Thayetmyo, Burma.  After the war he seems to have returned to Iran – a 1922 file mentions him back in Lengeh, working in Customs.

Extract from Persian Gulf Residency News Summary July 1922Persian Gulf Residency News Summary, July 1922. IOR/L/PS/10/977 f 143v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear if Haji Ali really was actively involved in German wartime conspiracies, or simply a bystander.  Either way, he was a colourful bit-player in a tempestuous period in Iran.

Despite declaring itself neutral in the war, Iran became a battleground for rival powers, was occupied by British, Russian, and Ottoman troops, and was wracked by shortages, inflation, and famine, causing immense suffering among ordinary Iranians.  Theirs are among the truly untold lives of the First World War.

William Monk
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, File 3443/1914 Pt 3 'German War: Afghanistan and Persia; German agents; British troops in East Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/474
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation', IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 1749/1921 ‘Persian Gulf:- Residency news summaries 1921-25’ [‎143v] (301/494), IOR/L/PS/10/977
British Library, 'File 14/115 VIII B 15 Abu Musa. Red oxide concession.', IOR/R/15/1/260
Abrahamian, Ervand.  A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Staley, Eugene. ‘Business and Politics in the Persian Gulf: The Story of the Wönckhaus Firm.’ Political Science Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 1933, pp. 367–385.

 

14 September 2021

Memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton

One of the most pleasing aspects of private paper collections is the small items of ephemera they often contain.  One example of this in the India Office Private Papers is a folder of memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton (1888-1932), Royal Field Artillery, and Supply and Transport Corps, India and Mesopotamia.

Examples of memorabilia belonging to Captain James Cecil Thornton - tickets from Makinah Gymkhana Club and Baghdad Officers' ClubExamples of memorabilia belonging to Captain James Cecil Thornton - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office Records also holds his Indian Army service file which gives some information on Captain Thornton.  Born in London on 22 August 1888, his nationality is listed as Scottish.  His father was George Thornton, residing in Eltham, Kent.  James Thornton joined the Royal Field Artillery in 1912 as a Second Lieutenant.  He clearly excelled in the role as he rose to be appointed a Captain in 1916.  In June 1917 he travelled to India, and in April 1918 was attached to the Supply & Transport Corps in Mesopotamia.  In January 1919, Thornton married Muriel Augusta Florence Hardwick, and they had a daughter, Rosemary Muriel Augusta, born at St George’s Ditchling, East Sussex on 2 November 1919.  The service record also notes Thornton’s language skills.  In February 1918, he passed the examination taken in Baghdad in colloquial Arabic.  He also had conversational Urdu and good colloquial French.

Front page of Indian Army Army service record for James Cecil Thornton Indian Army Army service record for James Cecil Thornton - British Library IOR/L/MIL/14/30321 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The folder of memorabilia shows the social life of an army officer.  It contains books of tickets for various clubs: Baghdad Officers’ Club, Makinah Gymkhana Club, and the Busreh Club.  There is also a programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917, and a programme for the R.F.A. Brigade Horse Show on 16 February 1918 at Samarrah.

Programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917Programme of sports held by the 4th Brigade of the R.F.A. on 30 September 1917 - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The folder also gives a glimpse into the tasks he performed as part of his duties.  There are two permits ‘to send goods up country’, dated Baghdad 26 October 1917.  The goods listed on the permits were a packet of Baghdad-made clothing articles, a bag of indigo, and 1 bale containing 61 packets of silk and other Baghdad-made articles.  There is also a statement showing the average rates paid for various articles including rice, wheat, barley, ghee, dates, millet, maize, lentils, firewood, sesame and onions.

Permit to send goods up countryPermit to send goods up country  - British Library Mss Eur D791 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Thornton left military service in 1922.  He returned to England to pursue a career as a solicitor in Brighton, where he was also responsible for organising the Horse Show for the ‘Greater Brighton’ celebrations in 1928.  In 1929, he suffered severe injuries in a tragic accident when he fell from his bedroom window.  The local newspaper reported that he was known to walk in his sleep.  He died in 1932.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Memorabilia of Captain James Cecil Thornton (1888-1932), Royal Field Artillery, and Supply and Transport Corps, India and Mesopotamia 1917-1922, British Library shelfmark Mss Eur D791.
Army service record for James Cecil Thornton, 1912-1922, British Library shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/14/30321.
Mid Sussex Times, 22 October 1929 and 29 November 1932, online in the British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast).

 

13 May 2021

Racism in the India Office Arab Reports

Content Warning: The following post contains discussion of colonial history and racist descriptions and depictions that may cause distress.

This blog post provides examples of racist attitudes documented in one of the India Office’s Political and Secret Department files.  The examples illustrate how these attitudes formed part of intelligence gathering by the British in the Middle East during World War One, and how they fed into discussions and decision making.  British policy in the Middle East was formulated and implemented by the same people gathering intelligence, producing these reports and commenting on them.  To understand this history, it is important to acknowledge the variety of motives and attitudes held by the people involved, including attitudes of racial superiority.


In February 1916 the Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty sent a report to the India Office Political and Secret Department detailing the military and political situation in Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Western Desert, Syria and Sinai.  This was the first of 27 reports, initially called Arabian Report then the Arab Report, ending in January 1917.

In June 1916 an uprising began in Mecca, led by Sharif Hussein and backed by the British.  The revolt succeeded in ejecting the Ottomans from Mecca.  But the subsequent loss of momentum left the British unsure whether they should continue to support Hussein with troops.  The situation was complicated by pacts with the French contradicting promises made to Hussein, and by the need to win the war.

The opening section of the first Arabian Report focused on the attitude and activities of the Sharif of Mecca, particularly ‘his present aim [of reconciling] all the Arab powers in Arabia by persuading them to abandon all side issues, and assist him in hunting the Turks from the country’.  The other sections dealt with the war, specifically transport, troop movements, armoury, and the outcome of battles or skirmishes.

The reports rely on a mixture of official and unofficial accounts, and rumour.  There is a general anxiety regarding the veracity, and thus usefulness, of the information presented.  The authors balance this ambiguity with personal judgements about the reliability of a source or accuracy of material.  From June 1916, the reports are accompanied by an ‘Appreciation’ by Sir Mark Sykes, highlighting sections and adding his own thoughts.  Senior members of the Political and Secret Department wrote their comments in ‘Minutes’ attached to each report.

These comments and observations provide evidence of the attitudes and racial prejudices of the writers.  For example, the Arabia Report XVII contains a statement on Sayed Idrisi.  After noting an unconfirmed rumour that Idrisi has ‘made peace with the Turkish Governor of Yemen’, the author remarks that, although ‘this is improbable… it must not be forgotten that Idrisi is an Arab’.  The implication is that he cannot be trusted to keep faith with the British.

Section of a report on ‘Idrisi’ contained in Arabia Report XVIISection of a report on ‘Idrisi’ contained in Arabia Report XVII IOR/L/PS/10/5876, folio 345r [Crown Copyright]

A similar sentiment appears in Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXA.  Referring to the ‘hostility of the Arabs at Rabej’, Sykes is dismissive of the event and describes the participants as ‘probably…wild, suspicious and excited’, noting that ‘The incident is an excellent example of the difficulties with which we shall have to contend in dealing with what a well-known writer described as a “fox-hearted elfin people”.’.

Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXASir Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXA IOR/L/PS/10/586, folio 246v [Crown Copyright]


Similar examples of racial derision are scattered through Sykes’ ‘Appreciations’ and the reports.  Friction between Idrisi and the Sharif of Mecca is ascribed in part by Sykes to ‘difficulties which…Arab racial peculiarities have laid in their path’.

Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arab Report IVSir Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arab Report IV IOR/L/PS/10/586, folio 209r [Crown Copyright]

Sykes’ racist implication that Arabs are predisposed to arguments and divisions is repeated elsewhere, by Sykes and others.  The author of the first Arabian Report notes his belief that ‘The Arab is essentially unstable’.

Section of report on ‘Asir’ from Arabian Report XVIIISection of report on ‘Asir’ from Arabian Report XVIII IOR/L/PS/10/586, folio 455r [Crown Copyright]

While discussing the representation of different peoples in the press, Sykes presents his own opinion that ‘The aboriginal inhabitant of the Mesopotamian swamps is equally truly a wild, treacherous, lawless savage, while the mixed riparian tribes of Irak are congenital Anarchists for geographical and historical reasons’.

Extract from Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXVII

Sir Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXVII IOR/L/PS/10/586, folio 4r [Crown Copyright]

Snippet from Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXVII Sir Mark Sykes’ ‘Appreciation’ of Arabian Report XXVII IOR/L/PS/10/586, folio 4v [Crown Copyright]

Together with the official reports, the racial prejudices held by the authors of these accompanying documents helped shape British policy in the Middle East.

Lynda Barraclough
Head of Curatorial Operations, BL Qatar Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/586 Arab Reports
James Barr, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East (London, Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Priya Satia, Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East (OUP, 2008)

Details on the British Library’s Anti-Racism Project can be found here:
Towards and Action Plan on Anti-Racism
Living Knowledge Blog, 10 March 2021

 

04 April 2021

E. G. G. Hunt

Last Easter we brought you the story of the Bunny Family of Berkshire.  This year we have E. G. G. Hunt who came to my attention when I was looking through The Navy List for 1939.

Navy List 1939 - entry for E G G Hunt in the ship IndusEntry for E. G. G. Hunt in The Navy List February 1939

Eric George Guilding Hunt had a long and distinguished naval career.  He was born in Littleborough, Lancashire, on 22 June 1899, the son of George Wingfield Hunt, a Church of England clergyman, and his wife Ethel née Scholfield.   In 1915 Hunt joined HMS Conway, a naval training ship stationed on the Mersey near Liverpool.  From 1917 to 1919 he was on active service in the Royal Naval Reserve for the duration of the war as a Temporary Midshipman.

After the First World War, Hunt became an officer in the Royal Indian Marine, which later became the Royal Indian Navy.  He rose to the rank of Commander and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in a coastal operation in the Red Sea when in charge of HMIS Indus in 1941.

HMIS Indus IWM
HMIS Indus in Akyab harbour, Burma. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum ADNO 9148 

The Hunt family had other connections to India, to the sea, and to the Church.  George Wingfield Hunt was born in Akyab, Burma (now Sittwe).  His father Thomas Wingfield Hunt was a mariner in India and then a Salt Superintendent.  His mother Mary Anne was the daughter of Lansdown Guilding, an Anglican priest in the West Indies.  Lansdown Guilding was a naturalist who wrote many scholarly papers, becoming a Fellow of the Linnean Society.  In 1825 he published An account of the Botanic Garden in the island of St Vincent, from its first establishment to the present time. 

Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the bottom of the central walkThe Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the bottom of the central walk  - from Lansdown Guilding, An account of the Botanic Garden in the island of St Vincent (Glasgow, 1825) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the superintendent's houseThe Botanic Garden in St Vincent from the superintendent's house  - from Lansdown Guilding, An account of the Botanic Garden in the island of St Vincent (Glasgow, 1825)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

India, the sea, and the Church were also prominent in the family of E. G. G. Hunt’s wife Marjorie.  She was born in Coonoor, Madras, in 1902  where her father Thomas Henry Herbert Hand was an officer in the Royal Indian Marine.  Thomas was a well-known marine painter in watercolour, signing his work T. H. H. Hand.  His father was Captain Henry Hand of the Royal Navy, and Henry’s father was an Anglican priest.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives, ADM 340/72/14 Record of service in Royal Navy for Eric George Guilding Hunt 1917-1919.
British Library, IOR/L/MIL/16/5/52, 238, 240, 248 Record of service in Royal Indian Marine/Navy for Eric George Guilding Hunt 1919-1946.
Supplement to London Gazette 4 September 1945 - Award of Distinguished Service Cross to Eric George Guilding Hunt.
British Library, IOR/L/MIL/16/3/155-56, 162-64 : IOR/L/MIL/16/8/110, 186 IOR/L/MIL/16/9/75 1890-1921 – records of service for Thomas Henry Herbert Hand in the Royal Indian Marine/Navy 1890-1921.

 

22 December 2020

Soldier’s life saved by Princess Mary's Christmas gift

In February 1915 Private Michael Brabston of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was fighting at Givenchy.  In his breast pocket was the metal cigarette box he had received from Princess Mary's Gift Fund at Christmas.  A German bullet was on target to hit Brabston’s heart but it struck the box and he survived.

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Box 1914 now in Imperial War MuseumPrincess Mary's Gift Fund box containing a packet of tobacco and carton of cigarettes, 1914. Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum
© IWM EPH 9380 

A few days later, Brabston was wounded above his left eye and he was sent to Edenbridge Hospital in Kent for treatment.  The matron forwarded the box and the bullet to Princess Mary.  A reply was received from Windsor Castle that the Princess was delighted that one of her boxes had saved a soldier’s life.  The box had been shown to the King and Queen who hoped that Private Brabston would soon recover from his wounds.

Brabston was awarded the Military Medal for his service in France.  On 17 August 1916, he was discharged from the British Army  as being no longer physically fit for war service.  He received a pension of 24 shillings per week.

Returning to his home in Clonmel Ireland, Brabston worked as a labourer before enlisting in the Irish National Army on 26 June 1922.  In May 1923, the Army was rounding-up Irish nationalists.  Sergeant Brabston was with a party of soldiers outside a dance hall at Goatenbridge when a young man approached him, hands in his pockets and whistling.  The two men exchanged greetings.  When the young man casually walked back the way he had come, Brabston became suspicious and followed him.  The man suddenly whipped out a revolver, shot Brabston in the chest at short range, and escaped into the woods.  Brabston died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

Michael Brabston’s mother Mary was awarded a gratuity of £100, paid in 20 monthly instalments of £5.  In 1927 an application for further payment was made on her behalf.  She had relied on her son to help support the family as he used to give her all his British Army pension plus money from his wages.  The claim stated that Mary was getting old, her nerves had been shattered by the sudden death of her son, she lacked nourishing food, she suffered from rheumatism, and she was incapable of earning a living.  The authorities ruled that nothing more could be paid as she had not been totally dependent upon Michael.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leicester Daily Post 28 June 1915; Dublin Evening Telegraph 8 & 9 May 1923
World War I medal card for Michael Brabston available from The National Archives UK
Documents relating to Michael Brabston’s service in the Irish Army are available from Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives 

 

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