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93 posts categorized "World War One"

16 August 2023

T.E. Lawrence and the Hashemite dynasty: from the Hejaz in Arabia to Clouds Hill, Dorset

Born on 16 August 1888, Thomas Edward Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) was instrumental in formulating a strategy of guerilla warfare against the Ottoman military forces in the Hejaz during the First World War.

Cover of report Summary of the Hejaz RevoltIOR/L/PS/18/B287, f 75 'Summary of the Hejaz Revolt'

Better known aspects of his life might therefore include orchestrating the attacks against the Hejaz railway.

Plan of the 'Damascus-Mekka Railway'IOR/W/L/PS/10/12 (ii) 'Damascus-Mekka Railway'

T.E. Lawrence and the Hashemites
Lawrence had been sent from the Arab Bureau, Cairo, to the Hejaz region of western Arabia.  Here he linked up with Faisal, the second son of Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca.  Hussein was the head of the Hashemite dynasty who was encouraged by Britain to launch a revolt against the Ottoman Empire.  In return the Hashemite dynasty expected the creation of an independent Arab Kingdom as discussed in the Hussein-McMahon letters, 1915-16.  The map below indicates the areas to be ruled by the Hashemite dynasty: Hussein and his sons Abdullah and Faisal.

Map indicating the areas to be ruled by the Hashemite dynastyMss Eur F112/276, f 104

Lawrence helped to foment this revolt which started in June 1916 undertaking intelligence work including producing maps of the Hejaz.

Plan of Womat  ArabiaWomat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917. Photograph: Francis Owtram

In regards to the maps of north-west Arabia the Arab Bulletin reported that he had produced new information about Wadi Sirhan including the preponderance of poisonous snakes and that ‘all existing maps leave much to be desired’ although ‘Miss Bell’s was good … but too slight.’

Paragraph on maps of north-west Arabia in the Arab BulletinIOR/L/PS/10/568, f 9v

Faisal and Lawrence: onwards from Aqaba to Damascus

Photograph of Aqaba from the seaIOR/L/PS/12/2160B, f 50 1 'AKABA (Transjordan)' (this photograph created in 1937)

Faisal and Lawrence successfully took Aqaba with a surprise attack from land and sought to establish Faisal in Damascus.  However, France evicted him following the Sykes-Picot agreement secretly signed by Britain and France which undercut the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.  In compensation Faisal was installed by Britain as King of Iraq; that monarchy was overthrown in 1958.  For strategic reasons Britain chose not to intervene when Ibn Saud conquered the Kingdom of Hejaz in 1925 but the dynasty lives on in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

From Arabia to Dorset
It is possibly lesser known that disillusioned with the post-war peace settlement, Lawrence sought anonymity and signed up under an alias to the Tank Regiment in Dorset.

Photograph of Clouds Hill DorsetClouds Hill, Dorset Photograph: Francis Owtram

He renovated a dilapidated cottage at Clouds Hill.  It was here that he wrote his autobiographical account of his involvement in the 1916-18 ‘Arab Revolt’, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Painting of Faisal in the Music Room at Clouds HillPainting of Faisal in the Music Room at Clouds Hill. Photograph: Francis Owtram

He was later to spend time in Afghanistan but thereafter returned to rural Dorset indulging his love for speed on his Brough Superior motorbike.  On 19 May 1935 he came round a bend and to avoid two boys on bicycles skidded off the road.  He died a few days later and was buried in the cemetery of St Nicholas Church, Moreton.

Grave of T.E. Lawrence  cemetery of St Nicholas Church  MoretonGrave of T.E. Lawrence, cemetery of St Nicholas Church, Moreton. Photograph: Francis Owtram

Lawrence, who in his quest for adventure had travelled the world from Aqaba to Afghanistan, found his final resting place under the Dorset clouds.

Francis Owtram
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading
James Barr, Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18 (Bloomsbury, 2006)
Rodney Legg, Lawrence of Dorset: From Arabia to Clouds Hill (Dorset Publishing Company, 2005)


03 August 2023

Reginald Bult and Operation ZO

Nunhead is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries.  It may not have the famous residents of Highgate or Kensal Green, but in among the graves and tombs of local worthies lies that of a sailor who took part in one of the most daring naval raids of World War One.

Reginald Bult’s grave  Nunhead cemeteryReginald Bult’s grave, Nunhead cemetery, © Sarndra Lees, New Zealand, 2015.

Reginald Bult was born in Bermondsey in 1896 and grew up in Peckham, the seventh of nine children of Henry, a railway weighbridge clerk, and Jane.  He worked as a Post Office telegraph messenger and a lift attendant before joining the Royal Navy on his eighteenth birthday, just two months before the start of hostilities.  Within a year he had advanced to Able Seaman and in April 1918 he took part in Operation ZO.  The brainchild of Vice Admiral (later Admiral of the Fleet) Roger Keyes, the plan was to sink obsolete cruisers simultaneously in the harbours at Zeebrugge and Ostend thus preventing German U-boats entering the North Sea from their pens at Bruges.

The operation began on the eve of St George’s Day with Keyes’s signal ‘St George for England’ (to which Capt. Carpenter, commanding HMS Vindictive, replied, ‘May we give the dragon’s tail a damn good twist’).  Reginald was onboard HMS Iris II (a requisitioned Mersey ferry) whose task was to create a diversion by landing Royal Marines and sailors on the mole at Zeebrugge to destroy German guns and cause as much damage as possible.  Iris came under intense fire and most of the raiding party was killed before they even got off the ship.

Reginald Bult’s name in the register of participants in Operation ZOReginald Bult’s name in the register of participants in Operation ZO, Add MS 82500 C.

The operation was only a partial success.  Neither blockship at Ostend obstructed the harbour , and while all three were sunk at Zeebrugge, they were not in the right positions.  The harbour was only out of action for a couple of days.  The Germans simply dredged new channels, allowing naval movements at high tide.

The cost was huge.  Of the 1780 men who took part something like 227 died and 400 were wounded.  Exact figures are difficult to determine as there is no consistency of approach in whether to include the missing among the dead and whether to combine casualties from both sites.  Whichever source one uses, the ratio of casualties to participants was around 1:3. 

Sadly, Reginald is numbered among the dead, dying of his wounds in Dover Military Hospital, his Royal Navy service record marked, poignantly, ‘DD’ – discharged dead.  He was mentioned in dispatches and he was included in the ballot for a Victoria Cross to be awarded to the non-officer ranks in action at the mole – the warrant for the VC allows recipients to be chosen in this way where a body of men is deemed equally brave.

Reginald Bult’s service record
Reginald Bult’s service record, The National Archives ADM 188/691/22432, © Crown copyright, 1908, licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Reginald Bult’s mention in dispatches  London Gazette  19 July 1918Reginald Bult’s mention in dispatches, London Gazette, 19 July 1918, Add MS 82503, © Crown copyright, 1918, licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Reginald was not chosen. Instead it was fellow Bermondsian Albert McKenzie who was selected, one of eight VCs awarded for the operation.  McKenzie, only nineteen at the time of Operation ZO, was severely wounded in the action.  He recovered but did not live to see peace, succumbing to the 1918 flu pandemic just eight days before the armistice.  He is commemorated with a statue on Tower Bridge Road, a stone’s throw from where he was born, and is buried just a mile from Reginald, in Camberwell Old Cemetery.

Michael St John-Mcalister
Manuscripts Catalogue and Process Manager

Further reading
The Keyes Papers, Add MS 82499-82507
E. C. Coleman, No Pyrrhic Victories: The 1918 Raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend, A Radical Reappraisal (Stroud, 2014)
Christopher Sandford, Zeebrugge: The Greatest Raid of All (Oxford, 2018)
Philip Warner, The Zeebrugge Raid (Barnsley, 2008)


24 July 2023

Lord Curzon’s letter from Lausanne

24 July 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace with Turkey commonly referred to as the Treaty of Lausanne which ended the war between the Allies and Turkey [now known officially as Türkiye/the Republic of Türkiye]. It was the final Treaty of the First World War.

Front cover of Treaty of Lausanne 1923Front cover of the Treaty of Lausanne 1923 Mss Eur F112/280/2

One of the issues on the table at the Lausanne conference was the question of Mosul – whether the city and its province should become part of the new Republic of Turkey or the British mandate of Iraq.

Extract from document headed 'The Question of Mosul'‘The Question of Mosul’ Mss Eur F112/294, f 237

Mosul had been occupied by the British at the end of the war. The head of the British delegation was the Foreign Secretary and former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon.  He was adamant about the importance of retaining Mosul; the final decision to change the British Navy’s fuel from coal to oil was taken during the war.

Paragraph on the importance of controlling oil field development in MosulThe importance of controlling the development of the Mosul oil field Mss Eur F 112/294, f 10

Curzon resisted Turkish attempts to settle the matter at the Lausanne conference.  He wrote from the Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha, the leader of the Turkish delegation, that Mosul ‘is under a Mandate administered by Great Britain, which I have had the honour to inform you repeatedly that I am not in a position to surrender’.

Letter from Curzon at Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha  the leader of the Turkish delegation January 1923 - 1 Letter from Curzon at Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha  the leader of the Turkish delegation January 1923 - 2Letter from Curzon at Hotel Beau Rivage to General Mustafa İsmet İnönü Pasha, the leader of the Turkish delegation, Mss Eur F112/295, f 13

Instead, the question of Mosul was pushed onto to the League of Nations whose committee ruled that Mosul should be part of the new British-controlled mandate of Iraq.  In 1926, the ‘Brussels Line’ was drawn as the boundary of Iraq, and Iraq agreed to pay Turkey 10 per cent royalties on Mosul’s oil resources for 25 years.

Map of the Mosul areaMap of the Mosul area IOR/L/PS/20/C204, f 34 ‘Map No. 3’

Curzon’s instinct turned out to be prescient as oil in vast quantities was discovered in Kirkuk in 1927.

The Hotel Beau Rivage still welcomes international guests to the shores of Lake Geneva today.

Francis Owtram
Gulf History Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen, The Middle East in the First World War (Hurst, 2014)
Jonathan Conlin and Ozan Ozavci (eds) They All Made Peace – What is Peace? The 1923 Lausanne Treaty and the New Imperial Order, (Ginko, 2023)
The Lausanne Project – the New Middle East, 1922-23
Francis Owtram, ‘Oil, the Kurds and the Drive for Independence: An Ace in the Hole or a Joker in the Pack’, in A. Danilovich (ed) Iraqi Kurdistan in Middle East Politics (Routledge, 2016)


18 July 2023

A soldiers’ guide to Bangalore

In 1917 the Army Young Men’s Christian Association in Bangalore, India, published a guide to the town for British soldiers.

Front cover of A Soldiers' Guide to BangaloreFront cover of A Soldiers' Guide to Bangalore

Henry Venn Cobb, the Resident of Mysore, wrote a foreword to the book, welcoming all ranks of His Majesty’s Forces quartered in Bangalore.  He said that they would be living amongst friends and well-wishers in as good a climate that India could give.  Bangalore was the stepping stone to what all the soldiers wanted – a speedy transfer to the far-flung battle lines.

The Lal Bagh garden at Bangalore, looking towards the glass houseThe Lal Bagh garden at Bangalore, looking towards the glass house

The guide opens with general information about Bangalore – the government, population, climate, electricity supply, manufactures and agriculture – followed by an historical overview.  It describes some places of interest both in Bangalore and nearby –
• Cubbon Park – over 100 acres in size and beautifully laid out, with a bandstand for regular concerts.
• The Museum with collections of carvings, birds, insects, fishes, shells, and geological specimens.
• The Old City and the Fort.
• Tata Silk Farm, given to the Salvation Army around 1911.
• Lal Bagh, a pleasure garden with a rare and valuable collection of tropical plants, a menagerie, and a glasshouse for exhibitions.
• Maharajah’s Palace, designed on the model of Windsor Castle.
• Bull Temple with a huge bull carved out of rock and dedicated to the god Siva.
• Ulsoor Temple, an example of pyramidical architecture.
• Military Dairy Farm run by the British Government to supply produce to its forces.
• Tata Institute for scientific study and research.
• Mysore Government Experimental Farm.
• Cauvery Falls.
• Kolar Gold Fields.
• Mysore City.
• Nandidroog, a fortified hill providing wonderful views.
• Seringapatam, an old town with a fortress.
• Sivaganga, a sacred hill.

There are sections on missionary work in and around Bangalore, and on the Y.M.C.A.

Soldiers visiting Bangalore on furlough could stay at the Church of England Institute or the Wesleyan Soldiers’ Home.  Details are provided of all the churches in Bangalore with times of services – Church of England, Church of Scotland, Wesleyan, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic.

Health hints are given to the soldiers –
• Inoculation for enteric and malaria.
• Getting at least seven hours’ sleep, eight if possible.
• Taking a sponge bath every morning if nothing better is possible.
• Eating only foods known to be good and properly cooked.
• Drinking water only when the source is known to be pure, or after it has been boiled.
• Not drinking or eating too much of anything.
• Taking some form of vigorous exercise – football, hockey, cricket, fives, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, boxing, wrestling.
• Forming ‘high ideals of sex relation’ - medical science has proved that sexual intercourse is not necessary for the preservation of virility.
Soldiers should remember the folks at home; think clean thoughts; eat clean foods; and drink clean drinks.

There are explanations for a short list of Indian words.

Explanations for a short list of words

Explanations for a short list of words

The Guide ends with recommendations for reliable merchants and business houses in Bangalore whose advertisements had paid for the publication of the booklet.  The goods and services offered include furniture, stationery and books, Indian curios, clothing, footwear, jewellery, tools, cinema, car and cycle hire, medicines, toiletries, and confectionery.

Merchants' advertisements - curios, pharmaceuticals and cyclesMerchants' advertisements - curios, pharmaceuticals and cycles


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Army Y.M.C.A., A Soldiers' Guide to Bangalore (1917) British Library General Reference Collection 10056.de.13.


14 March 2023

From Chester to Mesopotamia: Thomas Crawford of the Royal Welch Fusiliers

When sixteen-year-old Thomas John Crawford joined the Second Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers in August 1906 he was escaping a turbulent home life.  His parents Clara (née Jones) and Alfred were married on 8 July 1888 in Chester, and daughter Annie arrived later that year.  Thomas was born in Chester in 1890, younger brother William in Liverpool in 1894.  By this point, the marriage was at breaking point, and Alfred deserted his wife and children, leaving Clara to apply for poor relief.

Report of Alfred Crawford's court case from Chester Chronicle 13 August 1898

Report of Alfred Crawford's court case, British Newspaper Archive Chester Chronicle 13 August 1898

In 1897, after dodging the law, Alfred appeared at Chester Petty Sessions and was sentenced to two months in jail.  The Justices were outraged at ‘one of the worst cases ever brought before them’ - Crawford earned a decent salary of around £2 per week as a compositor while his wife was claiming poor relief.  However the prison sentence was not enough to persuade Crawford to support his family, and he was sentenced to three months’ hard labour in August 1898.  By 1901 he had moved to Wales, and spent the period from 1911 to his death in 1925 as a ‘single’ man living in a boarding house in Warrington.  Clara moved on with her life, ‘marrying’ Samuel Griffiths in 1901 and starting another family.  As an abandoned wife she must have felt morally, if not legally, justified in marrying again.

Photo of Quetta cantonment early 1890s Photograph of Quetta cantonment early 1890s - British Library IOR/L/MIL/7/6553

Thomas Crawford headed overseas, arriving in Shwebo, Burma, in early 1908.  On 31 December 1910, he left Rangoon for Karachi, en route for Quetta, Balochistan.  The Royal Welch took part in the series of events connected with the visit of George V and Queen Mary in that year, including the Coronation Durbar.  The Regimental Records of the Royal Welch state: ‘The Battalion is doing well and is very efficient… Men are clean, healthy and cheerful. There is a tremendous esprit de corps… I consider the Battalion has improved much during its stay in Quetta’.  Thomas’s service record shows a charge against him for neglect of duty, insubordination, and being absent from parade in November 1911, so perhaps Quetta did not improve him personally!  Despite this blemish, he is described as ‘Honest, sober and thoroughly reliable’.

Thomas Crawford 's regimental defaulter sheetDefaulter sheet from the service record of Thomas John Crawford, UK British Army World War I Service Records 1914-1920, The National Archives WO 363

Thomas returned from India in March 1913, transferring to the Army Reserve.  He married his cousin Elsie Maud Jones in July 1914, but Thomas, like many of the Royal Welch reservists, re-enlisted in early August 1914.  He was immediately sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, serving there for two periods during 1914 and mid-1915, before being shot in the thigh and returning home to recuperate.

October 1915 saw Thomas leave for the Mesopotamia campaign, and by February 1916 he was in Basra.  A report describes the conditions: ‘The whole theatre of operations is as flat as a billiard table. It is impossible to locate one’s position except by compass bearing and pacing.  This induces in the individual a sense of isolation and an impotent feeling of being lost.  The mirage also distorts and confuses all objects…Man in these surroundings feels like an ant on a skating rink… Under the effect of rain or flood the country is turned into a bog of particularly tenacious mud’.  Thomas went missing in action on 9 April 1916 - his body could not be found.  His death was formally certified at Basra on 28 August 1917.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
Reports of Alfred Crawford’s desertion of his wife and family can be found in the Chester Chronicle, 25 December 1897, 18 June 1898 and 13 August 1898, available at the British Newspaper Archive, also via www.findmypast.co.uk.
Regimental Records of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, late the 23rd Foot. Compiled by A. D. L. Cary ... & Stouppe McCance, 4 vols. (London: Royal United Service Institution, 1921-29) - quote from p.326.
IOR/L/MIL/7/6553: Defensive works in Quetta: plans and photographs 1888-1891.
New Horizons Volume 2 Number 1 2008 Cadet Gregory E. Lippiatt ‘No More Quetta Manners: The Social Evolution of the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Western Front’.
IOR/l/MIL/15/72/1: Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917, Part I Report (Calcutta; Government of India Press, 1925) - quote from p.66.
1911 Census records the 300 men of the Second Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers at the Roberts Barracks, Quetta.  Available via www.findmypast.co.uk and www.ancestry.co.uk. 


19 January 2023

Celebrating the Lunar New Year on the front lines in World War One

On 11 February 1918 workers from the Chinese Labour Corps based on the front lines in France took a day off from their work and celebrated the Lunar New Year.

The Chinese Labour Corps had been created in 1916 and comprised of over 100,000 men recruited from China to provide support to the British Army during World War One.  They were brought to the front lines of the War in France and Belgium to help with work including building tanks, digging trenches and burying the dead.  Labour Corps workers signed employment contracts for three years and most returned to China after the war.

The Illustrated War News ran several features looking at life on the front lines for members of the Chinese Labour Corps in January and March 1918, and on 6 March 1918 it featured their New Year celebrations in a double page spread.

 Chinese Labour Corps workers in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918Chinese Labour Corps workers in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918 - The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4519 Vol.8 pp.18-19

The feature showed Chinese Labour Corps workers based in camps and cantonments across various neighbourhoods in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918.  The celebrations included entertainments and amusements similar to those they would have taken part in back in China and ranged from jugglers and stilt-walkers to shows and processions.

The celebrations were organised by each neighbourhood with every camp within it staging a different entertainment or show to provide an opportunity for the workers to be able to visit the other camps, enjoy all the festivities and see everyone.

Members of the Chinese Communities in Britain were also able to get involved in supporting the Labour Corp workers celebrations by making financial donations to the Chinese Legation in London for the purchase of gifts to be sent to those on the front lines.

Chinese Legation in London packing crates of New Year’s gifts to be sent to the workers in France and BelgiumChinese Legation in London packing crates of New Year’s gifts to be sent to the workers in France and Belgium - The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4518 Vol.7 p.39

Another image featured in The Illustrated War News on 2 January 1918 showed several gentlemen from the Chinese Legation in London packing crates full of the New Year’s gifts that had been purchased to be sent to the workers in France and Belgium.

The Lunar New Year celebration images from The Illustrated War News March 1918 are included In the British Library’s Chinese and British exhibition, which is now open until 23 April 2023.  The exhibition features the invaluable contributions which Chinese Labour Corps workers made to the British war effort, with images and objects including trench art items made by individual members of the Chinese Labour Corps.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4518 Vol.7 p.39
The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4519 Vol.8 pp.18-19


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 


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