With the Persian Expedition by Martin Henry Donohoe







(All rights reserved)






No one can be more alive than I am to the fact that of the making of war books there is no end, nor can anyone hear mentally more plainly than I do how, at each fresh appearance of a work dealing with the world tragedy of the past five years, weary reviewers and jaded public alike exclaim, “What? Yet another!” Why, then, have I added this of mine to the already so formidable list?

Well, chiefly because in the beginning of 1918 Fate and the War Office sent me into a field of operations almost unknown and unheeded of the average home-keeping Briton—viz., that of North-West Persia, in the land lying towards the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea; and my experiences there led me into bypaths of the Great War so unusual as to seem well worth describing, quite apart from the military importance of the movements of which they were but a minute part.

However, in the latter aspect, too, I hope my book will serve as a useful footnote to the history of the gigantic struggle now happily ended.

The story of the Persian campaign needed to be told, and I am glad to add my humble quota to the recital. It is the story of a little force operating far {vi}away from the limelight, unknown to the people at home, and seemingly forgotten a great part of the time even by the authorities themselves. It was to this force—commanded by General Dunsterville, and hence known to those who knew it at all as “Dunsterforce”—that I was attached, and it is about it that I have written here. I have tried to make clear what the “Dunsterforce” was, why it was sent out, and how far it succeeded in accomplishing its mission. In order to do this I have been obliged to treat rather fully both of local geography and politics. For here we had no clear-cut campaign in which all the people of one country were in arms against all the people of another country. No! It was a very mixed-up and complicated business, as anyone who troubles to read what I have written will readily see.

Then, again, it was a war waged distinctly off the beaten track. During its progress we came across tribes to whom Great Britain was as some legendary land in another solar sphere—tribes to whom the aeroplane and the automobile were undreamed-of marvels—tribes, finally, whose habitat and modes of life and thought are almost as unknown to the average European as his are to them. For this reason I have devoted some space to descriptions of places and people as I saw them.

A word should perhaps be said as to how and why I happened to be there at all.


War has figured very largely in my life. For the past twenty years, as Special Correspondent of the Daily Chronicle, I have been privileged to be present at most of the world’s great upheavals, both military and political.

From July, 1914, on, for some eighteen months, I followed the fortunes of the Entente armies in the field as a war chronicler, first in Serbia, next in Belgium, and afterwards in Italy and Greece—a poor journalistic Lazarus picking up such crumbs of news as fell from the overladen table of Dives, the Censor. But I was not happy, because I felt I was not doing my “bit” as effectively as I might; so I followed the example of millions of other citizens of the Empire and joined the army. Detailed to the Intelligence Corps, I was sent first to Roumania, then to Russia. Escaping from the “Red Terror” in Petrograd, I finally found myself one day embarking for the remote land of Iran as Special Service Officer with “Dunsterforce”—at which point this chronicle begins.


October, 1919.






A mystery expedition—Tower of London conference—From Flanders mud to Eastern dust—An Imperial forlorn hope—Some fine fighting types—The amphibious purser—In the submarine zone—Our Japanese escort



Afloat in an insect-house—Captain Kettle in command—Overcrowding and small-pox—The s.s. Tower of Babel—A shark scare—Koweit



Arrival at Basra—A city of filth—Transformation by the British—Introducing sport to the natives—The Arabs and the cinema



Visit to the Sheikh of Mohammerah—A Persian banquet



Work of the river flotilla—Thames steamboats on the Tigris—The waterway through the desert—The renaissance of Amarah—The river’s jazz-step course—The old Kut and the new—In Townshend’s old headquarters—Turks’ monument to short-lived triumph




Arabian nights and motor-cars—The old and the new in Bagdad—”Noah’s dinghy”—Bible history illustrated—At a famous tomb-mosque



Jealousy and muddle—The dash for the Caspian—Holding on hundreds of miles from anywhere—A 700-mile raid that failed—The cockpit of the Middle East—Some recent politics in Persia—How our way to the Caspian was barred



Au revoir to Bagdad—The forts on the frontier—Customs house for the dead—A land of desolation and death—A city of the past—An underground mess—Methods of rifle thieves



A city of starving cave-dwellers—An American woman’s mission to the wild—A sect of salamanders—Profiteering among the Persians—A callous nation—Wireless orders to sit tight—Awaiting attack—The “mountain tiger”



Pillage and famine—A land of mud—The Chikar Zabar Pass—Wandering Dervishes—Poor hotel accommodation—A “Hunger Battalion”—A city of the past




In ancient Hamadan—With Dunsterville at last—His precarious position—”Patriots” as profiteers—Victims of famine—Driven to cannibalism—Women kill their children for food—Trial and execution—Famine relief schemes—Deathblow to the Democrats—”Stalky”



Official hindrances—A fresh blow for the Caucasus—The long road to Tabriz—A strategic centre—A Turkish invasion—Rising of Christian tribes—A local Joan of Arc—The British project



A scratch pack for a great adventure—Wagstaff of Persia—Among the Afshars—Guests of the chief—Capture of Zinjan—Peace and profiteering



Armoured car causes consternation—Reconnoitring the road—Flying column sets out—An easy capture at the gates of Tabriz—Tribesmen raid the armoured car—And have a thin time—Turks get the wind up



Training local levies—A city of parasites and rogues—A knave turns philanthropist—Turks getting active—Osborne’s comic opera force—Jelus appeal for help—An aeroplane to the rescue—The democrats impressed—Women worried by aviator’s “shorts”—Skirmishes on the Tabriz road—Reinforcements at last




Treachery of our irregulars—Turkish machine gun in the village—Headquarters under fire—Native levies break and bolt—British force withdrawn—Turks proclaim a Holy War—Cochrane’s demonstration—In search of the missing force—Natives mutiny—A quick cure for “cholera”—A Turkish patrol captured—Meeting with Cochrane—A forced retreat—Our natives desert—A difficult night march—Arrival at Turkmanchai—Turks encircling us—A fresh retirement



We have a chilly reception—Our popularity wanes—Preparation for further retirement—Back to the Kuflan Kuh Pass—Our defensive position—Turks make a frontal attack—Our line overrun—Gallantry of Hants and Worcesters—Pursuit by Turks—Armoured cars save the situation—Prisoners escape from Turks—Persians as fighters



Anti-British activities—Headquarters at Hamadan—Plans to seize ringleaders—Midnight arrests—How the Governor was entrapped



Kuchik Khan bars the road—Turk and Russian movements—Kuchik Khan’s force broken up—Bicherakoff reaches Baku—British armoured car crews in Russian uniforms—Fighting around Baku—Baku abandoned—Captain Crossing charges six-inch guns




Treachery in the town—Jungalis attack Resht—Armoured cars in street-fighting—Baku tires of Bolshevism—British summoned to the rescue—Dunsterville sets out—Position at Baku on arrival—British officers’ advice ignored—Turkish attacks—Pressing through the defences—Baku again evacuated



Guerrilla warfare—Who the Nestorian and other Christian tribes are—Turkish massacres—Russian withdrawal and its effect—British intervention



The last phase—Dunsterforce ceases to exist—The end of Turkish opposition—Off to Bijar—The Kurdish tribes—Raids on Bijar—Moved on by a policeman—Governor and poet



Types of Empire defenders—Local feeling—Dealing with Kurdish raiders—An embarrassing offer of marriage—Prestige by aeroplane—Anniversary of Hossain the Martyr—News of the Armistice—Local waverers come down on our side of the fence—Releasing civil prisoners—Farewell of Bajar—Down country to the sea and home







THE ROAD TO BIRKANDI … frontispiece



















A mystery expedition—Tower of London conference—From Flanders mud to Eastern dust—An Imperial forlorn hope—Some fine fighting types—The amphibious purser—In the submarine zone—Our Japanese escort.


Scarcely had dawn tinged the sky of a February day in 1918 when there crept out of the inner harbour of Taranto a big transport bound for Alexandria. It was laden with British and Dominion troops.

All were for service overseas. There were units for India and Egypt, a contingent of Nursing Sisters for East Africa, and a detachment of Sappers for Aden. The transport stealing noiselessly towards the open sea was the P. and O. liner Malwa, and, as a precaution against submarine attack, she had been so extensively and grotesquely camouflaged by dockyard artists in black and white that some of her own crew coming alongside on a dark night had difficulty in recognizing her.

The Malwa, too, had on board the members of a military expedition, surely one of the most {2}extraordinary that ever crossed the sea to fight the battles of the Empire in distant lands. Our official designation was the “Dunsterville” or “Bagdad Party”; but War Office cynics, and the damsel who sold us our patent filters and Tommy Cookers at the military equipment stores in London, knew us as the “Hush-hush” Brigade. And the “Hush-hush” Brigade we were privileged to remain. This nickname met us in Alexandria, followed us to Cairo and distant Basra, and preceded us to the City of the Caliphs on the shores of the muddy-brown Tigris.

On the eve of the departure from England of the main body for the Italian port of embarkation, a heart-to-heart talk between General Sir William Robertson and the members of the Bagdad Party had taken place at the Tower of London. The veil of official secrecy was drawn ever so little aside, and, allowed a peep behind, we beheld a field of military activity with a distinctly Eastern setting. Men who had been “over the top” in Flanders heard with a joyous throb of expectation that the next time they went into the line would be probably somewhere in Persia or the Caucasus. They were as happy as children at the prospect, finding it a welcome relief from muddy tramps through the low-lying lands of the Western Front, the dull grey skies, the monotony of life in flooded trenches under incessant bombardment, varied only by an occasional rush across No-Man’s Land to get at the Hun throat. We were going from mud to dust, but hurrah! anyway.

On that February morning, as the Malwa slipped past Taranto town and into the roadstead where lay her Japanese destroyer escort, the roll-call of the Bagdad Party showed a strength of 70 officers and 140 N.C.O’s. This was to be the nucleus of a force which we hoped would combat and overthrow Bolshevism, make common cause with Armenians, Georgians, and Tartars, raise and train local levies, and bar with a line of bayonets the further progress of Turk and German by way of the Caspian Sea and Russian Turkestan towards the Gates of India.

With few exceptions our party consisted of Dominion soldiers gathered from the remote corners of the Empire. There were Anzacs and Springboks, Canadians from the far North-West, men who had charged up the deadly shell-swept slopes of Gallipoli, and those who had won through at Vimy Ridge. They were, in fact, a hardened band of adventurous soldiers, fit to go anywhere and do anything, men who had lived on the brink of the pit for three years and had come back from the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

The War Office needed the raw material for a desperate enterprise. It was found by Brigadier-General Byron, himself an able and experienced soldier with a brilliant South African fighting reputation. He went across to Flanders and picked out the cream of the fighting men from the South African contingent and from the magnificent Australian and Canadian Divisions. I do not recall a single officer {4}or N.C.O. who had not won at least one decoration for bravery. We had with us, too, a small party of Russian officers who, fleeing from the Red Terror when their army broke and melted away, remained loyal to the Entente, and volunteered for the Caucasus, where they hoped to prove to the Bolsheviks that the cause of Russian national and military honour was not entirely lost.

Our Russian allies for the Caucasus were mostly young men, enthusiastic and keen soldiers, endowed with the splendid fighting spirit of the old Russian Army such as I knew it in the early spring campaign of 1915 in Bukovina, when it fought with empty rifles and stood up to the encircling Austrians in those terrible February days that preceded and followed the evacuation of Czernowitch.

On the Malwa, I remember, we had with us Captain Bray, an Anglo-Russian who had been a liaison officer in London, and spoke English like an Englishman. Then there was a Colonel who had been earmarked for death when his regiment mutinied and went “Red” at Viborg in Finland. Scantily clad, he had escaped his would-be assassins, fleeing bare-footed into the darkness of the Finnish winter night. After many hairbreadth escapes he had gained Swedish territory and safety.


There was also Captain George Eve, an Anglo-Russian mining engineer, who came from South America to enlist, and who, because of his accent and foreign appearance, had been arrested more than {5}once in the front line in Flanders on suspicion of being a German spy dressed in British uniform.

Colonel Smiles of the Armoured Car Section was another interesting figure. A descendant of Smiles of “Self-Help” fame, he had won the D.S.O. and the Cross of St. George while fighting with the Locker-Lampson unit in Russia.

Where practically every second man had a record of thrilling deeds behind him it is difficult to individualize, but a word must be given to Colonel Warden, D.S.O., of the Canadian Contingent. “Honest John” was the affectionate nickname bestowed upon him by the ship’s company, who found a special fascination in his childlike simplicity of character combined with exceptional soldierly qualities.

Another refreshingly original type was Colonel Donnan, the C.O. of the party. Apart from other things, his physical qualities seemed to mark him out for the important post he occupied. They were calculated to strike terror into any Hun or other heart. A veritable Sandow, his burly thick-set figure, black bristling moustache, and dark piercing eyes were valuable assets for the man whose task was to discipline such a mixed company as ours, and the nurses affected an exaggerated terror of them, well knowing (the minxes!) that they were but the outworks of the fortress behind which was entrenched the Colonel’s kind heart—outworks apt to go down like ninepins when assailed by a woman’s tearful pleadings.

Colonel Donnan is one of the strong, silent Englishmen who have done so much in an unostentatious way to push the interests of the British Empire in the far-off places of the earth. A great Orientalist, he has passed through many Eastern lands in disguise, bringing back precious fruits of his labours in a store of information, both military and political, gathered in his journeyings.

The Malwa boasted an amphibious purser named Milman. For three and a half years, ever since the war began, he had been sailing up and down the seas from London to Rio, and from Bombay to Liverpool, and he knew from personal contact the summer and winter temperature of the Mediterranean Sea better than did any meteorologist from collected data. In fact, he had been torpedoed so many times that he had begun to look upon it as part of the routine of his daily life. He possessed a life-saving suit, his own improved design, which was at once the wonder and admiration of all who inspected it. It was of rubber, in form not unlike a diving dress, with a hood which came over the head of the wearer and was made fast under the chin. In front were two pockets, which always remained ready rationed with a spirit-flask, some sandwiches, and a pack of patience cards. It was the purser’s travelling outfit when he was overboard in the Mediterranean or elsewhere and waiting to be hauled on board a rescue boat.

Occasionally when, in harbour, time hung heavily on his hands, this amphibious purser would clothe {7}himself in his rubber suit, slip over the ship’s side, and go off for an outing. Once in Port Said, while gently floating off on one of these aquatic excursions, he was sighted by the port guardship, and a picket-boat was sent to fish him out under the impression that he was dead. “This bloke is a gonner all right!” said one of the crew, as he reached for him with a boathook. Then the “corpse” sat up and said things. So did the spokesman of the astonished crew when, having recovered from the shock, he found his voice again.

Milman was a cheery optimist. Nothing ever perturbed him. He was a recognized authority on “silver fish” (i.e., torpedoes) and cocktails, was an excellent raconteur, and possessed all the suavity and tact of a finished diplomat. When nervous ladies worried the doctor and cross-examined him as to the habits and hunting methods of Hun submarines, he invariably passed them on to the purser, and always with the happiest results; for, under the spell of Milman’s racy talk, they soon forgot their fears.

The second day out from Taranto brought us well within the submarine danger zone. We changed course repeatedly, for wireless had warned us of the proximity of the dreaded sea pirate. The Tagus, our fellow transport, proved herself a laggard; she was falling behind and keeping station badly, and the Commodore of our Japanese escort was busy hurling remonstrances at her in the Morse code. {8}Our three Japanese destroyers made diligent and efficient scouts. They gambolled over the blue waters of the Mediterranean like so many sheepdogs protecting a moorland flock. Now one or another raced away to starboard, then to port, then circled round and round us, took station amidships, or dropped astern.

Their tactics, perhaps one should say their antics, must have been extremely baffling, even exasperating, to any enemy submarine commander lying low in the hope of bagging the Malwa or the Tagus. Nothing seemed to escape the keen-eyed sailors of the Mikado’s navy. Experience had taught them the value of seagulls as submarine spotters. Endowed with extraordinary instinct and eyes that see far below the surface of the sea, the resting gulls detect a submarine coming up anywhere in their vicinity, take fright, and hurriedly fly away. Whenever the gulls gave the signal—and there were many false alarms—a Japanese destroyer would race to the spot in readiness for Herr Pirate; but he never appeared.

However, the Hun was not always so cautious. There was great rejoicing on board the Malwa when the wireless told us that west of us, in the Malta Channel, Japanese vigilance had been rewarded, transports saved from destruction, and two enemy submarines sent to the bottom. It was all the work of a few minutes. Whether the enemy failed to sight the destroyers, or whether they intended to chance their luck and fight them, is not quite clear. At all {9}events, Submarine No. 1 popped up dead ahead of one destroyer and was promptly rammed and sunk. Submarine No. 2 met with an equally unmistakable end. It had already singled out a transport for attack, when a second Japanese destroyer engaged it at seven hundred yards’ range and blew its hull to pieces.

Nevertheless it was an anxious time for us on the Malwa living in hourly dread of being torpedoed. The Nursing Sisters professed to treat the danger with scorn; they were courageous and cheery souls, and would unhesitatingly have faced death with the equanimity of the bravest man.

Ten in the forenoon and five in the afternoon were the hours of greatest peril, when submarine attacks might be specially expected. Everyone “stood to” at these hours, wearing the regulation lifebelt, and ready to take to the boats if the ship were hit and in danger of sinking. Colonel Donnan, C.O. ship, was a strict disciplinarian. He enhanced the somewhat piratical ferocity of mien with which nature had gifted him by always carrying his service revolver buckled on and ready for any emergency, and the Nursing Sisters professed to be in great trepidation each time at inspection parade when he ran his critical eye over their life-saving equipment. Of course knots sometimes went wrong, and the strings of the life-belt were tied the incorrect way; but volunteers were never lacking to adjust the erring straps and to see that they sat on a pretty pair of {10}shoulders in the manner laid down in Regulations, while the ferociously tender-hearted C.O. smiled approval.

On the fourth day after leaving Taranto the Malwa steamed into Alexandria Harbour. Everyone was in the highest spirits. We had escaped the submarine peril, and the period of nervous tension while waiting in expectancy of a bolt from the deep was happily over. It was a glorious spring day; the warm, radiant sun of Egypt gave us a fitting welcome.

The stay in Alexandria of the Bagdad Party was short. Orders came through from headquarters that we were to proceed to Suez by rail as soon as possible to join a waiting troopship there. That night there were many tender leave-takings in quiet secluded nooks on the upper deck of the Malwa. During our four days’ journey from Taranto the Australians on board had proved themselves to be as deadly effective in love as they are in war. But now had come the parting of the ways, with the pain and bitterness of separation. Perhaps a kindly Fate may reunite some of these sundered ones, but for many that can never be. At least three of those bright, cheery Australian lads sleep in soldiers’ graves beneath the soil of Persia, far from their own South Land and from the girls to whom they plighted their troth that last night in the harbour of Alexandria beneath the starry Egyptian sky.

General Byron, his orderly officer, and myself left the same evening for Cairo en route for Suez. Next {11}day we had time to obtain a fleeting glimpse of the Pyramids, take tea at Shepheards’, and be held to ransom by an energetic British matron who ordered us to “stand and deliver” in the name of some philanthropic institution which had not the remotest connection with the War or any suffering arising out of the War. The General furnished the soft answer that turneth away wrath, and with that, plus a small contribution for supplying wholly unnecessary blankets to the aboriginal inhabitants of some tropical country, we were allowed to retain the remainder of our spare cash and to continue our journey in the Land of Egypt.





Afloat in an insect-house—Captain Kettle in command—Overcrowding and small-pox—The s.s. Tower of Babel—A shark scare—Koweit.


Forty-eight hours after disembarking at Alexandria we were steaming down the Gulf of Suez on board a second transport bound for the Persian Gulf.

It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that between the vessel which brought us across the Mediterranean and the one that was now carrying us towards the portals of the Middle East. The latter was a decrepit steamer, indescribably filthy, which had been running in the China trade for a quarter of a century. Though favoured by the mildest of weather, the old tub groaned in every joint as she thumped her way down the Red Sea towards the Indian Ocean. Long overdue for the scrap-heap, when the war broke out she was turned into a transport, and thenceforth carried cargoes of British troops instead of Chinese coolies. Her decks and upper works were thickly encrusted with dirt, the careful hoarding of years; and a paint-brush had not touched her for generations. Her cabins were so many entomological museums where insect life {13}flourished. In the worm-eaten recesses of the woodwork lurked colonies of parasites gathered from every corner of the globe, fighting for the principle of self-determination of small nations. The bathroom door, held in place by a single rusty hinge, hung at a drunken angle, and the inflow pipe of the bath was choked with rust. At night, as you slept in your bunk, playful mice, by way of establishing friendly relations, would nibble at your big toe, and a whole family of cockroaches would attempt new long-distance-sprinting records up and down the bedclothes.

The Captain of the ship was a sharp-featured ferret-eyed individual who sometimes wore a collar. No one knew his exact nationality, but he bore a tolerable resemblance to Cutcliffe Hyne’s immortal “Captain Kettle.” Indeed, he was said to cultivate this resemblance by every means in his power. He had a pointed, unshaven chin; he wore a much-faded uniform cap tilted over one ear. On the bridge you would see him with hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets and chewing a cigar. As master of a tramp, he had nosed his way into almost every port in both hemispheres. He had traded from China to Peru, and along the Pacific Coast of America. In his wanderings he had acquired a Yankee accent and a varied and picturesque polyglot vocabulary which, when the floodgates of his wrath were opened, he turned with telling effect upon his Lascar crew or his European officers. He was a man of moods and {14}strange oaths, a good seaman with a marked taste for poker and magazine literature of the cheap sensational kind.

Such, then, was our ship, and such its skipper! When we had arrived at Suez, where we embarked, there were several cases of smallpox amongst its Lascar firemen. The Embarkation Officer had feared infection, and had hesitated to send us on board; but he was overruled by a higher authority somewhere in Egypt or England. There was no other transport available, it was said; the units for India and for Persia were urgently needed; and, smallpox or no smallpox, sail we must—and did.

The ship was terribly overcrowded. The Indian troops “pigged it” aft; the British troops were accommodated in the hold; and those of the officers who were unable to find quarters elsewhere unstrapped their camp bed and slept on deck. Fortunately it was the cool season in the Red Sea; the days were warm, but not uncomfortably so; and the nights were sharp and bracing, the head-wind which we carried with us all the way to Aden keeping the thermometer from climbing beyond the normal.

Once clear of Suez everybody settled down to work, a very useful relief to the discomforts of life on an overcrowded transport. Youthful subalterns joining the Indian Army set themselves to study Hindustani grammars and vocabularies with the valiant intention of acquiring colloquial proficiency before they even sighted Bombay. Members of the {15}Bagdad Party, stimulated by this exhibition of industry, tackled Persian and Russian. We had two officers who offered themselves as teachers of the language of Iran—Lieutenant Akhbar, a native-born Persian whose English home was at Manchester, and Captain Cooper of the Dorsets, who had studied Oriental tongues in England, and had been wounded at Gallipoli in a hand-to-hand fight with the Turks.

For Russian also there was no lack of teachers, the Russian officers, Captain Eve, and I taking charge of classes. In my own section, elementary Russian, I had twenty-two N.C.O.’s as eager and willing pupils. The majority were Australians, and, although dismayed at first by the bizarre appearance of the unfamiliar characters, and the seemingly unsurmountable difficulties of what one Anzac aptly described as “this upside-down language,” they put their backs into it with very remarkable results, plodding away at their lessons hour after hour with unwearying zeal. Some had picked up a smattering of “Na Poo” French on the Western Front; a few spoke French fairly well; but the majority knew no foreign language at all; yet the quick alert Australian brain captured the entire Russian alphabet in forty-eight hours after beginning the preliminary assault.

I have sometimes thought since that to the Gods on High our ship must have appeared a sort of floating Tower of Babel, so intent on speaking strange tongues were each and all.

Before we reached the Indian Ocean, one of the {16}ship’s officers disappeared in a mysterious manner. He was missed from the bridge at midnight and, although diligent search was made, no trace of him was ever found, and it had to be assumed that he had jumped or fallen overboard. Our Goanese stewards who were Christians looked upon this incident with the greatest misgivings. Knowing the superstitions of the Lascar crew, they secretly felt that the missing officer had been thrown overboard by some of them to placate a huge shark that had been following the ship for days. The Lascars have a great dread of such company at sea. To their untutored minds this voracious brute following a vessel foretells death to someone on board; so better a sacrificial victim than perhaps one of themselves!

Personally, I do not think for a moment that Lascar superstition was responsible for the disappearance of the missing man, nor that these people are given to the propitiation of the Man-Eaters of the Red Sea. But when, two nights later, one of the Lascars vanished as mysteriously as had the ship’s officer, and this too in calm weather, it looked as if some Evil Spirit had found a place on board. Stewards and crew now became terrified. The former would not venture alone on the deck at night, and the Lascars, sorely puzzled over the fate of their comrade, went about their work in fear and trembling.

This dread of the mysterious and the unseen became contagious and affected others outside the ship’s company. Subalterns who had been sleeping {17}on hammocks slung close to the ship’s rail and whose courage had been proved on many a field, now decided that, shark worship or no shark worship, they would be safer elsewhere, and transferred themselves to the ‘tween decks. Anyhow, the Sea Demon must by this time have been satisfied, for we lost no more of our personnel.

We arrived off Koweit in the Gulf of Persia on March 1st, seventeen days after leaving Suez.

Koweit, or Kuwet, is an important seaport on the Arabian side at the south-west angle of the Persian Gulf, about eighty miles due south of Basra, our port of destination. Kuwet is the diminutive form of Kut, a common term in Irak for a walled village, and the port lies in the south side of a bay twenty miles long and five miles wide. Seen through our glasses it did not seem a prepossessing place, for the bare stony desert stretched away for miles behind the town. Yet only by accident had it escaped greatness. In 1850 General Chesny, who knew these parts by heart, recommended it as the terminus of his proposed Euphrates Valley Railway; and, when the extension of the Anatolian Railway to Bagdad and the Gulf was mooted, Koweit was long regarded as a possible terminus. But the War altered all that, and it is doubtful now if Koweit, which lives by its sea commerce alone, will even achieve the distinction of becoming the terminal point of a branch line of the railway which is destined to link up two continents.

The Turks and Germans have long had their eyes open to the great possibilities of Koweit. The former in 1898 attempted a military occupation, but were warned off by the British, and abandoned their efforts to obtain a foothold in this commercial outpost of the Gulf, while the ruling Sheikh was sagacious enough to be aware of the danger of Turkish absorption, and to avert it by placing his dominions under the protection of Great Britain. The German-subsidized Hamburg-Amerika Line made an eleventh hour attempt to capture the trade of the Gulf, and in the months immediately preceding the War devoted special attention to Koweit and Basra trade, carrying freight at rates which must have meant a heavy financial loss. It was all part of the German Weltpolitik to oust us from these lucrative markets of the Middle East, and to secure for German shipping a monopoly of the Gulf carrying trade. With the German-controlled Bagdad Railway approaching completion, one shudders to realize what would have been our fate economically, if the sea-borne trade of Basra and Koweit had passed under the flag and into the hands of the enterprising Hun.

Basra lies about eighty miles to the north of Koweit. It is here that the Shatt el Arab (literally the river of the Arabs, or, otherwise, the commingled Euphrates and Tigris) empties itself into the Persian Gulf. Vessels with a greater draught than nineteen feet cannot easily negotiate the bar. Our own transport was bound for Bombay, so it was with a feeling {19}of thankfulness that we quitted her for ever and were transferred to a British India liner, the Erinrupy, which since the beginning of the War has been used as a hospital ship. She was spick and span, and the general air of cleanliness was so marked after the filthy tub that had conveyed us from Suez that we trod her decks and ventured into her cabins with an air of apologetic timidity.

It was half a day’s run up river to Basra. Next morning we were speeding along with the swirling brown waters of the Shatt el Arab lapping our counter, the land of Iran on our right, and that of Irak on our left. It grew warmer, and there was a good deal of moisture in the air. The low flat shores, cut up by irrigation canals, were covered by date-palm groves. Dhows and other strange river craft, laden with merchandise, dotted the surface of the brown waters, and the glorious green of the foreshores was a welcome relief to eyes tired of the arid sterility of the Arabian shore. A few miles below Basra we steered a careful course, passing the sunken hulls of two Turkish gunboats which the enemy had submerged in the fairway in the hope of blocking the river channel and preventing the victorious British maritime and war flotillas from reaching Basra. Like most other operations undertaken by the Turks the effort was badly bungled, and the channel was left free to our ships.





Arrival at Basra—A city of filth—Transformation by the British—Introducing sport to the natives—The Arabs and the cinema.


Basra or Busra, the Bastra of Marco Polo, and for ever linked with the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, is one of the most important ports of Asiatic Turkey, and sits on the right bank of the Shatt el Arab a short distance below the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

It is built on low-lying marshy land where the malarial mosquito leads an energetic and healthy life. Basra proper is about a mile from the river, up a narrow and malodorous creek, and when the tide is out the mud of this creek cries out in strange tongues. The natives, however, seem to thrive upon its nauseating vapours. It is at once the source of their water supply and the receptacle for sewerage. In this delectable spot, as indeed throughout Asiatic Turkey and Persia, sanitary science is still unborn, and the streets are the dumping-ground for refuse.

The long, narrow bellem, with its pointed prow, in general appearance not unlike a gondola, is the chief means of communication between the Shatt {21}el Arab and Basra itself. If the tide is low, the Arab in charge poles up or down stream, and when you arrive at your destination you generally pick your way through festering mud to the landing-place.

One’s first feelings are of wonder and bewilderment that the entire population has not long ago been wiped out by disease. Going up and down stream at low tide I have seen Arab women rinsing the salad for the family meal side by side with others dealing with the family washing. Then the bellem boy, thirsty, would lean over the side of the craft, scoop up a handful or two of the water, and drink it. As successors to the dirty and lazy Turk the British in occupation of Basra have set themselves to remedy this state of affairs, but it is uphill work. Manners and customs of centuries are not easily laid aside, and your Asiatic sniffs suspiciously at anything labelled Sanitary Reform, while the very mention of the word Hygiene sounds to him like blasphemy against the abominations with which he loves to surround himself. The Turk never bothered his head whether the inhabitants lived in unhealthy conditions. When an epidemic broke out and carried off a certain proportion of the population, the Turkish Governor would bow his head in meek resignation before the inscrutable will of Allah.

The architecture of Basra is of a distinctly primitive type. The houses are built chiefly of sun-dried bricks, and the roofs are flat, covered with mud laid {22}over rafters of date-wood and surrounded by a low parapet.

Basra had been used as the British base for the advance against the Turks on the Tigris. From here had been rationed the army and the guns that reconquered Kut and opened the difficult road to Bagdad. The magician’s wand of the British soldier-wallah wrought wonders in the place. Malarial swamps were filled in, and hospitals and administrative buildings erected. Wharves equipped with giant cranes sprang into being on the quayside, and, as we were landed, the busy river scene, with fussy tugs towing huge laden barges, and the quayside packed with transports, irresistibly recalled some populous port in the Antipodes or Britain itself, rather than the seaside capital of a vilayet in Asiatic Turkey.

That Basra had a great future in store for it as a shipping centre was early recognized by Major-General Sir George McMunn, who for some time held the post of Inspector-General of Lines of Communications at Basra. He was one of those rare soldiers with a genius for organization and a capacity for bringing to bear upon big problems a wide range of outlook, and he was never hampered by those military trammels which often mar the professional soldier and make a good general an exceedingly bad civil administrator. So General McMunn set to work to give Basra an impetus along the path of commercial progress. He planned a model city {23}which was to include residential and business sites, electric tramways, modern hotels, and public parks. It was a stupendous undertaking, but McMunn accomplished much in the face of great financial difficulties. He endowed Basra with a first-class hotel run by a chef and an hotel staff recruited from London, installed electric light, gave the evil-smelling town a vigorous spring-cleaning, and with stone quarried in Arabia buried beneath stout paving the slimy mud of some of the Basra streets.

Ashar which fronts the Shatt el Arab is really the business centre of Basra. Its bazaars running parallel with Basra Creek are dark, evil-smelling, and over-crowded by human bipeds who swarm about ant fashion, and are born, live, and die in these purlieus.

In the course of an hour during the busy part of the day you can count on meeting representatives of all the races and creeds of Asia in the streets and bazaars of Ashar or lower Basra. Here ebbs and flows the flotsam of the East—Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, Persians, Chaldeans (merchants or traffickers these!), and coolies from India, Burma, and China, with wanderers from the remote khanates of Russian Turkestan, the latter in quaint headdress and wearing sheepskin coats whose vicinity is rather trying to sensitive noses when the thermometer is well above eighty in the shade.

General Byron, with Major Newcombe of the Canadian Contingent, Captain Eve, some other members of our party, and myself were quartered in {24}the old Turkish cavalry barracks, while the remainder went into camp at Makina, two miles out. The Turks, it is true, were gone never to return, but in the honeycombed recesses of the crumbling dust-covered walls of Ashar barracks their troopers had left behind many old friends who, from the very first, displayed an envenomed animosity towards us, and attacked British officers and men with a vigour which the Turkish Army itself had never excelled. Every night raiding parties, defying alike our protective mosquito nets and the poison-gas effect of Keating’s, found their way into our beds; and every morning we would crawl from between the sheets bearing visible marks of these night forays.

It is always said, and generally believed, that the British signalize their occupation of a country by laying down a cricket pitch and building a church. They did all these things and more at Basra. There was a garrison church, a simple building with a special care for the temperature of a Gulf Sunday. There were several sports clubs, and one at Makina, which might be called the suburb of Ashar, had good tennis courts. Beyond, in the desert, was a racecourse where the local Derby and Grand National were run off.

The ordinary native of Iran and of the “Land of the Two Rivers” has not hitherto shown any marked taste for either mild or violent physical exercise. But Basra, I found, was a noted exception to this, and youth of the place were badly bitten by the {25}sports mania. As the doctors would say, “the disease spread with alarming rapidity, and spared neither young nor old.” After a few weeks devoted to picking up points as spectators at “soccer” matches, a native team would secure possession of a rather battered football and start work, “Basra Mixed” trying conclusions with “Ashar Bazaar,” for example. The rules were neither Rugby nor Association, but a local extemporization of both; and the dress was not the classic costume of the British football field, but a medley of all the garbs of Asia. Stately Arabs in long flowing robes, suffering from the prevailing sports fever, would forget their dignity to the extent of running after a football and trying to kick it. Chaldean Christian would mingle in the scrum with Jew and Mussulman. Individual players sometimes received the kick intended for the ball. Off the field this would have led to racial trouble and perhaps bloodshed, but as a rule these slight departures from the strict football code were accepted in the best possible spirit, being regarded no doubt as part of the game itself.

Of course things did not always run so smoothly. Sometimes the ball was entirely lost sight of, and lay lonely and isolated in some corner of the field, while the players would resolve themselves into a sort of Pan-Asian congress on the ethics of games in general. Everyone spoke at once and in his own tongue. On such occasions a passing British soldier would be summoned to assist at the deliberations, {26}and in “Na Poo” Arabic would straighten out the tangle. Then play would be resumed, everybody bowing to the superior wisdom of the soldier sahib, and accepting his decision unquestioningly.

The youth of Basra, more precocious than their elders, converted the streets of Ashar into a playing-ground where tip-cat, bat and ball, marbles, diabolo, and sundry other forms of juvenile recreation found eager devotees at all hours of the day in narrow streets generally crowded with army transport.

The cinema also exercised a great influence on the native mind. Never quite understanding its working, he accepted it all philosophically as part of the travelling outfit of that strange race of infidels from far away who had chased the Turks from the shores of the Arabian Sea, who seemed to be able to make themselves into birds at will, and who rushed over the roadless desert in snorting horseless carriages. Men such as these were capable of anything, and when the first cinema film arrived, the Arabs filled to overflowing the ramshackle building which served as a theatre. In Basra I often went to the cinema, not so much for the show itself as to watch the joy with which that primitive child of nature, the Arab, followed the mishaps and triumphs of the hero through three reels. How they were moved to tears by his sufferings! And how they shouted with joy when the villain of the piece was hoist by his own petard and his career of rascality abruptly and fittingly terminated!

One thing, I found on talking to some of these native onlookers, puzzled their minds exceedingly, and that was the morals and manners of European women as shown on the screen. The Arab is a fervent stickler for the conventionalities, and it was a great shock to his religious scruples to see women promenading in low-necked dresses with uncovered faces, frequenting restaurants with strange men not their husbands, and imbibing strong drink. “The devil must be kept busy in Faringistan raking all these shameless creatures into the bottomless pit!” said one Arab to me, when I asked him what he thought of the cinema. It was useless to seek to explain that cinema scenes did not represent the real life of the Englishman or the American, and that all our women do not earn their living as cinema artists.

In Basra I never saw a Mohammedan woman frequenting a cinema performance. Even had she won over her husband’s consent to such an innovation, public opinion would veto her presence there, and she would not be permitted to look upon this devil’s machine illustrating foreign “wickedness.”





Visit to the Sheikh of Mohammerah—A Persian banquet.


A few miles below Basra, on the Persian shore, at the point where the Karun River joins the Shatt el Arab, are the semi-independent dominions of the Sheikh of Mohammerah. His territory is part and parcel of the moribund Persian Empire, but the Sheikh has long held independent sway, and has ruled his little kingdom with Oriental grandeur and benevolent despotism. He is a firm and convinced friend of the British, and even at the darkest hour of our military fortunes in the Gulf, when it seemed as if we might be driven from the lower Tigris itself, the Sheikh was proof against Turkish intrigue and the corrupting influence of Hun gold.

His Excellency the Khazal Khan, K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E., to give him his full title, like most Persian potentates in the tottering, crumbling Empire of Iran, where the writ of the present “King of Kings” does not run beyond the walls of Teheran, held undisputed sway over his little state, and his authority was enforced by a nondescript army of retainers. But he was a {29}generous host, a firm friend, and an unforgiving enemy.

One week-end while at Basra I was one of a few British officers invited to assist at the elaborate festivities which precede a Persian marriage. The contemplated matrimonial alliance was intended to unite the family of the Sheikh and that of Haji Reis, his Grand Vizier or Prime Minister. In the small party that dropped down the river on one of His Majesty’s gunboats, were the Admiral of the Station, one or two generals, the Political Officer, the liaison officer between the Indian Government and the ruler of Mohammerah, and my friend Akhbar, a Persian from Manchester who had joined up early in the War. As we dropped down stream past the Palace, a salute was fired in our honour by the Sheikh’s artillery-men with a couple of old six-pounders. An antediluvian Persian gunboat dipped her ensign as we steamed past. It was the first time I had seen a warship or indeed any other vessel flying the Persian flag, and I regarded her with interest. Akhbar, who despite his British uniform and his long residence amongst us, remained always an ardent Persian, professed to be very much hurt by some chance observations of mine directed at the river gunboat and the Persian navy in general.

The Palace was a rectangular building, with stuccoed front, standing back from the water and approached by a winding stone staircase. On landing we were received by the chief dignitaries of the {30}place with the Grand Vizier at their head. There was much bowing and salaaming, and it was here that I first made acquaintance with that elaborate code of official and social ceremony which surrounds every act of one’s life in Persia. A guard of honour from the Sheikh’s household troops made a creditable attempt to present arms as we stepped ashore. More soldiers lined the stairway leading to the reception room. They wore a variety of uniforms, and were armed with everything in the way of rifles, from antiquated Sniders to modern Mausers and Lee-Enfields. Like most of the irregulars that we encountered in Persia afterwards, they fairly bristled with bandoliers stuffed full of cartridges. A Persian on the war-path, be he tribal chief or simple armed follower, is generally a walking arsenal. He is full of lethal weapons which nearly always include a rifle of some kind and a short stabbing sword with an inlaid hilt. He often displays a Mauser pistol as well, and usually carries enough ammunition hung round him to equip a decent-sized small-arms factory.

The Sheikh himself received us in the main reception hall, which was covered with rare Persian carpets, any single one of which would be worth a small fortune in London. The Prime Minister and his son, we found, spoke excellent English, and the former, who was wearing the conventional frock coat of the Occident, but no shirt collar, presented each visitor in turn to our Arab host, a man just past {31}middle life with all the stately grace and dignity of his Bedouin forebears. He was dressed in native costume; his manners were easy and full of charm. He had a dark, olive-tinted face, black beard and wonderful lustrous black eyes. A strict adherent of the Shi’ite sect, and an abstainer from strong drink himself, he was, nevertheless, not averse to supplying it to his Western guests. The Grand Vizier during his sojourn in Europe had evidently studied our customs and civilization au fond. Apart from a knowledge of the English language and literature, he had brought back with him a fine and discriminating taste in the matter of aperitifs, knew to a nicety the component parts of a Martini cocktail, and was a profound connoisseur of Scotch whisky. Our party had few dull moments with the Grand Vizier as cicerone, and our admiration for his versatility rose by leaps and bounds.

The dinner was à la fourchette. It is not always so in hospitable Persia where, as a rule, host and guests sit in a circle on the floor and help themselves with the aid of their fingers. Here everything had been arranged in European fashion, and the long table was topped by a rampart of specially prepared dishes with a lavishness that was truly Oriental. It is a Persian custom to supply five times more food than one’s guests can possibly consume. What remains becomes the perquisite of the servants of the household.

According to Persian etiquette a son may not sit {32}down in the presence of his father, so the bridegroom-elect had no place at the board, and his active participation in the banquet was limited to carrying out the duties of chief butler and waiting upon the guests. It was hot and exhausting work, in the intervals of which he liberally helped himself from a black bottle which stood on a table behind the Grand Vizier’s chair. Barefooted servitors passed nimbly along the table, and saw to it that their master’s guests wanted for nothing. A plate was emptied only to be speedily replenished.

We saw nothing of the bride-to-be. She played but a minor part in the evening’s entertainment. Nor were any other women of the household to be seen. At one end of the banqueting hall was a heavily curtained aperture. Occasionally this was furtively drawn aside an inch or two, and a woman’s veiled face would appear for an instant, and as quickly disappear. It was the private view allowed to the bride and her girl friends.

The menu was inordinately long. Dish succeeded dish, and eat we must unless we wished to cause dire offence to our host. He himself, seated at the middle of the table, ate sparingly and drank but water, his air of quiet impassivity giving place to a smile from time to time as he listened to some Persian bon mot or other from one of his neighbours.

The Sheikh excelled as a host. No sooner was the banquet at an end than he told us that a display of {33}fireworks had been arranged in our honour. Seats had been placed for the visitors on the long veranda at the back of the palace and facing the extensive grounds. No Persian feast is held to be complete without a pyrotechnic display of some kind, and that organized for our pleasure would have done credit to the best efforts of Brock or Pain.

There were Catherine-wheels, rockets, and welcoming mottoes in Persian and English which flared up merrily, until the whole grounds were one blaze of light.

The retainers entered fully into the spirit of the affair. Clad in fireproof suits, they were hung round with squibs which were set alight, and then the human Catherine-wheels carried out an astonishing series of somersaults, to the intense delight of the native portion of the audience. An English gunnery instructor, aided by native workmen with material from the Sheikh’s arsenal, had been responsible for the pyrotechnic part of the entertainment.

In the meantime the banqueting hall had been cleared, and presently we were conducted thither, where, to the strains of a Persian orchestra, native dancing boys showed their skill in a series of emotional and highly sensuous gyrations. These youths were of a distinctly effeminate appearance in their long flowing Persian robes, and there was a look of brazen abandon in their more than suggestive evolutions as they whirled round and round on the floor.

To these succeeded a quartette of Armenian girls in bright-hued raiment and low-necked dresses, their bare bosoms covered with cheap jewellery, their hair and costumes studded with glittering sequins, and their ankles encircled by gilt metal bracelets giving them an air of tawdriness and unspeakable vulgarity. Their movements were graceful, with a certain artistic crudeness. To the clash of cymbals, and with a jingling of their sequins and anklets, two would whirl round the dancing hall, until sheer physical exhaustion compelled them to seek a temporary respite on a divan; whereupon they would be succeeded on the floor by the other pair who had been awaiting their turn. This dancing by relays went on until the early hours of the morning, and we began to be alarmed lest it should continue for the duration of the War. Etiquette forbade us to leave, so we did our best and stuck it out to the end. In the tobacco-laden atmosphere, with the temperature distinctly sultry, and the windows hermetically sealed I made a desperate but ineffectual attempt to fight off drowsiness. At last I succumbed and dreamt that I was in the Paradise of Mahomet listening to the music of the houris entertaining some of the newly arrived Faithful.

I woke with a start, for someone had prodded me in the ribs and told me it was time to go, and by a swift transition I found myself back at Mohammerah and our party bidding adieu to our kindly host and his Grand Vizier.

It was too dark to attempt the passage of the river back to Basra, so we crossed over to the house of Mr. Lincoln of the British Consulate on the right bank of the Karun river and spent the remainder of the night under his hospitable roof.





Work of the river flotilla—Thames steamboats on the Tigris—The waterway through the desert—The renaissance of Amarah—The river’s jazz-step course—The old Kut and the new—In Townshend’s old headquarters—Turks’ monument to short-lived triumph.


Our stay at Ashar barracks was of brief duration. A week after landing in Basra we received orders from General Headquarters to proceed to Bagdad immediately, but steamer accommodation was limited, and it was found impossible to embark the whole of our party at once. However, a compromise was effected with the Local Embarkation Officer, and place was found on an up-river steamer for our first contingent, consisting of General Byron, twenty-four other officers (of whom I was one), and forty N.C.O’s.

Our transport was an antiquated paddle steamer, broad of beam, and the whole of her one deck was packed with troops bound for up-river like ourselves. In addition, she towed, moored on either side, two squat barges filled with troops and supplies.

The navigation of the Tigris, even in peace time, {37}when the river is unencumbered, is a hazardous undertaking. Its lower reaches are flat and winding, and when it is in flood the banks are submerged. The stream follows an erratic course, occasionally striking out on an entirely fresh one, and the search for the new channel is often attended with disaster for the daring river mariner. Yet up and down the stream between Kut and Basra British seamen have zigzagged their way by sheer pluck and perseverance, dumping down men and supplies at the advanced base with unfailing regularity. The admirable part played by these river skippers of the Tigris has never been told, and so has never been properly appreciated by their countrymen at home. Day and night they toiled to hurry up the needed reinforcements to the hard-pressed battle line in Mesopotamia, and to feed the army that was driving the Turk from the “Land of the Two Rivers.” Drawn from all parts of the Empire, they worthily represented the pluck, courage, and unyielding tenacity of the British race. Had it not been for the river skippers of the Tigris, shy, unostentatious men, sparing of speech and indifferent to praise, the Mesopotamian Campaign must have ended abortively; Kut could never have been retaken, and the Turks would still have been in Bagdad.

The despatches of victorious generals in Mesopotamia have been full of references to valuable aid and service rendered by units and individuals, but, it seems to me, they have entirely overlooked the {38}great contribution of the men of the Tigris River Flotilla, who have apparently been left without reward or recognition.

In the waterway of the Shatt el Arab itself, and before we entered the Tigris proper, we passed scores of river craft. There were dhows laden to the gunwale with river produce being carried swiftly down by the current towards Basra market. Here was an antiquated sternwheeler with her lashed barges alongside, like an old woman with parcels tucked under her arms, going to the base to load up supplies. And, most wonderful of all, here was a London County Council steamer, the Christopher Wren, which had abandoned the Thames for the Tigris and the carrying of happy trippers from Blackfriars to Kew for the transporting of Mr. Thomas Atkins and his kit part of the long river journey towards Bagdad. Some of the Tommies on our steamer eyed her enviously. Here was a touch of the far-distant homeland under Eastern skies! There was a suspicion of a tear in some sentimental eyes, but the wag of the party scored a laugh when he megaphoned with his hands to the skipper of the Wren, “I’m for Battersea, I am!”

A number of these L.C.C. boats had come out from London under their own steam, making the long voyage to the Gulf and Basra through the Bay of Biscay and across the Mediterranean and Red Seas, buffeted by wind and wave, but without losing any of their personnel or suffering any material {39}damage. It was a triumph of seamanship and British pluck.

The banks of the Tigris, and indeed of the Euphrates, at certain seasons of the year are surely the most desolate places on the habitable earth. The date-palm plantations of the Shatt el Arab are succeeded by a monotonous landscape of dull brown desert stretching away as far as the eye can see. To our right, as we wound and twisted our way up river, we occasionally caught a glimpse of the snow-clad mountains of Persia. Dotted here and there along the banks are Arab villages, which seemed to be a conglomeration of goats, sheep, and dusky-brown naked children, all thrown confusedly into the picture. By way of variation, now and then we swept past a desert oasis, where stood a few stunted palm-trees near which a tribe of nomads had set up their black tents of goat’s-hair and were spending a week-end on the river bank before trekking afresh into the heart of the desert.

Your real Arab nomad is essentially a child of nature. He spends his life in the wilderness and has a rooted objection—nay, it is, in truth, a positive terror—to visiting any town, big or little. He has an undefinable dread of venturing within a walled city, apparently regarding it in much the same way as a wild bird would regard an iron-barred cage. Any restriction of movement is irksome to him. He loves the free life of the desert, with its limitless possibilities, its far-stretching horizon, and its absence {40}of streets and houses. He is of the tribe of Ishmael, destined to wander on and on, ever remote from the haunts of his fellow-man.

The semi-nomad, on the other hand, is less intractable, and does not chafe so much under the yoke of Western civilization. He is frugal, sober, and thrifty. We passed hundreds of his tribe who live on the banks of the Tigris, cultivating a patch of arable land, and using a wooden plough which must have been old-fashioned even in the days of that earliest recorded agriculturist, Cain.

We groped a tedious way along the sinuous Tigris, missing by a foot or two a down-river steamer and its lashed barges, making fair headway against the swirling waters which swept past us with the speed of a millstream. The current carried us from side to side, first bumping one bank, and then cannoning against the opposite one, until it seemed as if the stout lashings of our captive barges must be torn away. Where the river was especially narrow, we would tie up to the bank and give right-of-way to a convoy going down stream. At night, too, we would either tie up or anchor inshore, and at daylight would be off again.

In the bright clear atmosphere it was possible to see objects many miles distant. Ofttimes we would catch sight of a steamer away to our right or left, looking for all the world as if she were making an overland trip and was stuck fast in the middle of the waterless desert. But the seeming mystery was {41}explained by the winding course of the river, which can only be likened to a series of figures of eight.

It took us about thirty hours to reach Amarah, which lies on both banks of the Tigris and, by reason of its position, had become an important coaling-centre on the lower part of the stream. There was an air of bustle and activity about the place, for British organization had descended upon it and rudely awakened it from the sleep of centuries. British military and native police controlled the town, and kept the more mischievous of the unruly Arab elements in order. A swing-bridge had been thrown across the river to carry vehicular traffic. River steamers were moored at the quays, taking in or discharging cargo, and Indian and Arab coolies sweated in the sun as they hurried along with great burdens on their backs.

Our way to camp led through the Bazaar, which may, I think, lay claim to be one of the filthiest and most malodorous in all the “Land of the Two Rivers.” It had rained heavily the previous night, and now the unpaved roadway through the main bazaar was a foot deep in liquid mud. The average native was wholly unconcerned and, while we picked our steps carefully, mentally consigning Amarah and its abominable streets to perdition, barefooted Arab women, wearing anklets of silver, with a pendant through one nostril, and in their finest raiment, would plod contentedly through this mire as if it were a rose-bestrewn path. Tiny mites with no more clothing than a {42}string of beads gave each other mud baths with the joy and enthusiasm of children sporting in the sea at some European watering-place.

Still, if Amarah disgusted us with its muddy streets and evil-smelling bazaars, it had some compensating advantages, amongst them its British Officers’ Club. In a desert of dirt and discomfort this was a veritable oasis, with its excellent cuisine, and smoking and reading rooms provided with the latest three-months-old newspapers and magazines. It stands on the river front, and from its roof-garden a fine panorama opens at one’s feet. In the foreground are the busy river and the crowded quayside, and on the opposite bank the white tents of the British camps blend with the dark green of the date-palms. Still farther beyond, as a background to the picture, is the dun-brown of the desert wastes.

A wet camp is at all times an abomination, and our first night at Amarah was not a pleasant experience. The transit camp is on a sort of peninsula, and a few hours’ rain converted it into a lake of mud. We were housed in huts whose shape recalled a miniature Crystal Palace, and whose semi-circular sides and roof were thatched with palm netting. In the hut which I shared with Major Newcombe and Captain Eve, during the early hours of the morning a heavy shower poured through the roof as if it were a sieve. In the darkness there was a scramble over the muddy floor in quest of waterproof sheets and raincoats with which to set up a second line of defence for {43}our leaky roof. Afterwards we all laughed heartily at the experience, but at the time we were inclined to be wrathful, for an unexpected and unlooked-for shower-bath in bed at 2 a.m., even on active service, may ruffle the mildest of tempers.

From Amarah to Kut we went by river, the journey occupying three days. The military-constructed railway which has since been opened does the journey in ten or twelve hours. Our steamer, No. 95, was a comfortable one of her class for Tigris river travelling. Indeed in this part of the world she would be listed as de luxe, inasmuch as she possessed cabin accommodation and actually had a bathroom. The trip itself was but a slight variation of the monotonous river journey to Amarah. There were the same flat stretches of country now and again relieved by a few palm-trees; the white tents of a British river guard, a link in this long-drawn-out line of communications; or some Arab village with its grouping of dilapidated palm-roofed huts, its barking curs, and its mud-brown naked children. Occasionally down by the banks there was a fringe of green where some native cultivator, aided by the water from an irrigation canal, was rearing a hardy spring crop.

As on its lower reaches, the river pursued a devious path across the face of the country until one grew giddy with attempting to follow its windings. The Tigris is a most impulsive stream; it obeys no will but its own, and is as erratic as any river of its size in the world. However, as Kut is approached on the {44}up journey, it broadens out into noble proportions, swift and deep, and for a few miles behaves rationally, abandoning its geographical jazz-step over the Mesopotamian plains.

Kut—the scene of Townshend’s immortal stand, with his handful of troops diminished daily by famine and disease, holding off to the last a powerful enemy—is situated at the end of a tongue of land at a point where the Tigris, taking a mighty sweep, mingles its waters with those of the Shatt el Hai.

But a new Kut, a British Kut, a town of tents and wooden huts and galvanized iron buildings, has sprung into being three miles below the tottering walls of Turkish Kut, and about two miles from Townshend’s advanced trench line. In British Kut there are rough wooden piers, hastily built, it is true, where the river steamers moor, few attempting the difficult passage from Kut to Bagdad. Kut is also an important railway junction, for the troops bound up river were disembarked here, and stepped from the steamer deck into the waiting troop-trains.

We went up river in a motor launch, General Byron, Major Newcombe, Captain Eve, and myself, to visit Townshend’s famous stronghold. It was with a feeling of emotion that we disembarked at the old stone pier of Kut, and made our way along its broken unpaved streets, past its crumbling wall, to the centre of the town. The route led through the main business centre—it could hardly be called a bazaar—where merchants and money-changers plied {45}their trades, and a blind beggar in rags sat under the lee of a wall, with the sun shining full on his sightless eye-sockets, droning a supplication for alms. The wave of red war had passed and repassed over Kut, leaving it scorched and maimed. Turk and Briton had fought for supremacy round and about it, but that was more than a year ago, and Kut now dozed sleepily in the hot afternoon sun, beginning already to forget the past and, with the calm philosophic indifference of the East, accepting as a predestined part of its daily life the Standard of Britain which had replaced the Crescent of the Turk.

The Arab policemen who guarded its unkempt streets were serving their new masters faithfully, and those we passed, spick and span in spotless khaki and tarbooshes, by their alert and soldierly bearing gave unmistakable evidence of having graduated from the school of that efficient, exacting, and most conscientious of mortals, the British drill instructor.

Presently, guided by a Staff Officer from the base headquarters, we came to the house of the Hero of Kut. It was an unpretentious dwelling, flat-roofed, and built of sun-dried bricks, with nothing much to distinguish it from its hundreds of neighbours. Descending a steep flight of steps, we came to the Serdab or underground apartment common to most Mesopotamian houses, where the occupants hide for shelter during the hottest hours of the blistering summer day. The room was bare of adornment—a few chairs, a divan, and a table covered with official {46}papers—that was all. It was now the home of the local Political Officer, but it had changed little, if any, since its former illustrious occupant walked out of it and up those stone steps—his proud spirit unbroken, his heart heavy, but his courage undimmed—to pass a captive into the hands of the Turks.

None of our party could lay any special claim to be sentimental but, standing there in the narrow underground room with its hallowed associations, where a very gallant British General, the foe without and disease and hunger within—he, too, alas! another victim of high-placed incompetency—planned and schemed during those dark days of the siege to break the throttling grip of the Turk, we felt we were upon holy ground, and every one of us, moved by a common emotion, raised our hands to our caps in salute. It was our tribute of admiration and respect for Townshend and his heroes—for the men who perished so nobly, no less than for their comrades maimed and broken who survived the fall of Kut, many of them, unhappily, only to pass anew through the gate of suffering and to end their lives as prisoners in the hands of a brutal, ungenerous enemy to whom honour and compassion are meaningless terms.

It was not every day that the Turks could boast such a victory as Kut, or that they found themselves with a British General and a starving British force surrendering to their arms. Short-lived as was their triumph, they lost no time in celebrating it by setting up a commemorative monument. This stands on the {47}Tigris’ bank close to British Kut and the landing pier, and is in the form of an obelisk of unhewn stone on a plinth of corresponding material fenced in by an iron railing. A few obsolete cannon, the muzzles facing outwards, are grouped round the base of the monument. An inscription in Turkish records the fall of Kut and the capture of Townshend and his men which, it recounts, was accomplished by the grace of Allah and the prowess of the besieging Turkish Army.

The next stage of our journey from Kut to Bagdad was a short one. A night in a troop-train, and sunrise the following morning saw us being dumped down at Hinaida Camp on the outskirts of the City of the Caliphs.





Arabian nights and motor-cars—The old and the new in Bagdad—”Noah’s dinghy”—Bible history illustrated—At a famous tomb-mosque.


Who has not heard and read of Bagdad, of its former glory and its greatness? I set foot in it for the first time on March 20th, 1918, the day after the arrival of our little party at Hinaida Transit Camp on the left bank of the Tigris.

As I tramped across the dusty Hinaida plain towards the belt of palm groves which veils the city on the east, I had visions of Haroun al Raschid, and fancied myself coming face to face with the wonders of the “Arabian Nights.” It was with something of a shock, then, that on entering the city I encountered khaki-clad figures, and saw Ford vans and motor lorries tearing wildly along the streets. In the main thoroughfare, hard by British Headquarters, a steam roller was travelling backwards and forwards over the freshly metalled roadway, completing the work of an Indian Labour Corps; farther on, a watering cart labelled “Bagdad Municipality” was busily drowning the fine-spun desert dust that {49}had settled thickly on the newly born macadamized street. Here was an Arab café, with low benches on the inclined plane principle like seats in a theatre, where the occupants sipped their Mocha from tiny cups, or inhaled tobacco-smoke through the amber stem of a hubble-bubble, watching the passing show, and betimes discussing the idiosyncrasies of the strange race of unbelievers that has settled itself down in the fair city which once had been the pride of Islam.

Truly a city of contrasts! Cheek by jowl with the Arab café was an eating-house full of British soldiers. The principal street runs parallel with the river and, as one proceeded, it was possible to catch glimpses of pleasant gardens running down to the water’s edge and embowering handsome villas—gardens where pomegranates, figs, oranges, and lemons grew in abundance. The Oriental readily adapts himself to changing circumstances, and unhesitatingly abandons the master of yesterday to follow the new one of to-day. Already traces of the Ottoman dominion were being obliterated. The Turkish language was disappearing from shop signs to be replaced by English or French, with, in some cases, a total disregard of etymology, such choice gems as “Englisch talking lessons,” “Stanley Maude wash company” (this over a laundry), “British tommy shave room,” showing at all events a praiseworthy attempt to wrestle with the niceties of the English language.

Bagdad as I saw it in the first days following my {50}arrival struck me as a place whose remains of faded greatness still clung about it. No one could deny its claim to a certain wild beauty which age, dirt, and decay have not been able wholly to eliminate. The glory of the river scene is unsurpassable.

To see Bagdad at its best one must view it from the balcony of the British Residency (now General Headquarters). Here, as you look down upon the river, the old bridge of boats connecting with the western bank is on your right, and handsome villas where flowers grow in profusion, the residences of former Turkish officials or wealthy citizens, adorn the foreshore.

The river is broad and majestic, and strange craft dot its surface. Here is a Kufa, in itself a link with antiquity, a circular boat of basketware covered with bitumen, sometimes big enough to hold ten men and two or three laden donkeys. Its cross-river course is decidedly eccentric. Propelled by crudely fashioned paddles wielded by sturdy oarsmen, its progress from shore to shore is leisurely and cumbersome as, caught into the eddying current, it twirls slowly, with a rotatory movement, like the dying motion of some giant spinning-top.

The cheerful Thomas Atkins promptly christened the kufa “Noah’s Dinghy,” and lost no time in getting afloat therein. Some of the Australians at Hinaida Camp organized a kufa regatta, the course being across river and back, a distance of about two miles. A waterproof sheet was attached as a sail {51}by one enterprising Anzac, but even that did not help to accelerate very appreciably the snail-like progress of his aquatic tub. Local tradition avers that Sinbad the Sailor came spinning down from Bagdad to Basra in a kufa, when he signed on at the Gulf port for his first ocean voyage. Who knows? Kufas are depicted on some of the old Assyrian monuments.

A close relative surely to the Kufa is the Kellik or Mussik raft of the upper Tigris. Constructed of a square framework of wood buoyed by inflated goat-skins, it is widely utilized as a cargo carrier on these inland waterways. Piled high with hay and a miscellaneous collection of live-stock, it will waddle off down river with a crew of three or four, and half a dozen or so passengers. Sometimes the cargo shifts, or the goat-skin bladders become deflated, and the kellik, down by the nose or stern, grows more unwieldy than ever. A little mishap of this kind never bothers the crew. They steer for some convenient point on the river-bank where the water is shallow, unhitch the defective skins, and inflate them afresh with the unaided power of their own lungs. The cargo righted, and the trim of their cumbersome raft restored, they will push off into midstream and continue their venturesome journey, logging a steady two knots.

But on an upstream trip it is another story. Then the laden or empty kellik has to be towed, and hard work it is to make headway when the river is in {52}flood and racing down to meet its brother, the Euphrates, on their joint way to the Gulf.

Going upstream the kellik keeps as close in shore as possible. Two men in the boat keep her from going aground, while a couple of others yoke themselves to a towline and move along the margin of the stream much like the canal bargees in Holland. But on the Tigris there is no well-defined towing path, and the course resolves itself into a kind of zigzag cross-country obstacle race, and the agility and dexterity with which these muscular native rivermen harnessed to the towline of a heavily laden raft will negotiate sunken ground, canal ditches, tumble-down village walls, and a few other natural hazards on a stretch of Tigris’ river-bank, is extraordinary to behold. The life of a galley slave in Carthage must have been a soft snap indeed compared with that of the dark-skinned toilers who tug at an up-river kellik under the full force of a Mesopotamian sun.

Bagdad as a city takes us back to the horizon rim of the world’s history. There still clings to it an air of musty antiquity and prehistoric dirt which the efforts of its new masters, the British, with pick-and-shovel sanitary science, and other new-fangled inventions of Western civilization, have not entirely eradicated. The beardless invaders from over the seas have sought to scrape clean its ancient bones, to straighten out the kink in its narrow, tortuous, and evil-smelling streets, and to let the light of day and a little wholesome fresh air penetrate into the {53}gloom and dampness of its rabbit-warren of a bazaar. Staid, solemn-looking citizens, with the green turban of Mecca enveloping their venerable heads, whose ancestors probably drifted in here when overland travel was resumed after the Flood, have looked on in pious horror while festering slum areas have been laid low by British pickaxes. These Hadjis, fervent believers in tradition, and uncompromising opponents of innovation, have caressed their beards thoughtfully when confronted with the new order of things, and come to the philosophic conclusion that, as Kipling has it, “Allah created the English mad, the maddest of all mankind.”

Biblical history is no longer vague and shadowy, but takes on a new meaning and an added significance to anyone who explores old Bagdad with eyes to see. As I wandered through its bazaars in quest of antiquities and bargains in bric-à-brac and rare damascened weapons, I often forgot the primary object of my visit while strolling silently about contentedly studying the hastening crowds who elbowed and fought their way along the narrow streets, or watching the complacent shopkeepers who sat cross-legged in their narrow, cell-like shops, haggling over prices with some prospective buyer. It was like throwing Biblical romance and Biblical tragedy on a cinema screen, only that now it lived and was real flesh and blood. Here were the descendants of the Jews of the Captivity—shrewd-looking, sharp-featured merchants, traffickers in gold and silver, {54}dealers in antiquities, a living link between that very remote yesterday and the modern to-day, amassing much wealth in the land of their perpetual exile, carrying on unbrokenly the religion and traditions of Judaism—in dress, manners, customs, and speech as unchanged and unchanging as on the day when the heavy hand of the Babylonian oppressor smote their forbears and they were led away into slavery.

And here, too, now competing in commercial rivalry with the sons of Abraham, are lineal descendants of Assyrians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, and of those other warring races who between them made history in the long ago.

The descendants of the Jews of the Captivity have never wandered far afield, and it would even seem that they have preferred exile to repatriation. Bagdad formed part of Babylonia, and a three hours’ train journey to Hilleh on the Euphrates will land the Bagdad Jew of an archæological turn of mind amidst the ruins of ancient Babylon.

The Jew venerates Bagdad as a sort of lesser Zion. It was long the seat of the Exilarch, and is still the rallying centre of Eastern Judaism. Monuments and tombs of the mighty ones of the Chosen Race are scattered over Lower Mesopotamia. There is the reputed tomb of Ezra on the Shatt el Arab near Korna, that of Ezekiel in the village called Kefil, while the prophet Daniel has a holy well bearing his name at Hilleh near the ruins of Babylon. But the chief place of pious pilgrimage for Bagdad Jews lies {55}in a palm grove an hour’s journey from the city on the Euphrates road. Here is said to be buried Joshua, son of Josedech, a high priest towards the end of the captivity period.

Western Bagdad, on the right bank of the Tigris, always recognizing and rendering a somewhat sullen obedience to the sway of the Turkish Sultan, is separated from Eastern Bagdad by much more than the deep waters of the river. Its inhabitants for the most part are Mohammedans of the Shi’ite sect, as opposed to the orthodox or Sunni creed of the Turks. The Shias may be described as Islamic dissenters, and their cult is the state religion of Persia. Ethnologically and politically they are closer akin to Iran than to Turkey, and their eyes are more frequently turned to Teheran than to Istambul. In Western Bagdad they have their own mosques, their own bazaars, and their own shrines, and lead lives more or less isolated from their Asiatic brethren on the opposite side of the river.

During a visit to the famous Shi’ite mosque and shrine at Kazemain, a suburb of the Western City, I found that the people, while outwardly friendly and polite, were much more fanatical than the average Sunni Mussulman, and were inclined to resent any attempt on the part of a Giaour like myself to see the interior of their mosques and shrines. I had for companions General Byron and Lieutenant Akhbar, the latter a professing Shi’ite. We crossed by the new pontoon swing bridge which now connects the {56}two shores, superseding the old bridge of boats of Turkish days.

The houses are huddled together, and are squat and meanly built, with the low encircling walls and roofed parapets of sun-dried mud so common to Persian villages. The streets are barely wide enough for two pedestrians to pass abreast, and are full of holes or covered with garbage. As for the inhabitants, they were miserably clad, and the few women whom we chanced to encounter in our path hastily stepped aside and, turning from us, made a furtive effort to veil themselves by covering the upper part of their faces with a dirty piece of rag produced from the voluminous folds of a sleeve-pocket.

We did not tarry here very long. Quitting this waterside hamlet we drove three miles to Kazemain itself, passing en route the terminus of the Bagdad-Anatolian Railway, that great link of steel in the chain of German world-expansion the completion of which, under the existing concession, would have been commercially and economically fatal to us in Western Asia.

The tomb-mosque of Kazemain is one of the architectural landmarks of Bagdad. Its twin domes and its four lofty minarets, all overlaid with gold, are visible for miles as the traveller approaches Bagdad from the west. When the rays of the noonday sun strike on these gilded cupolas and graceful tapering columns it enhances their beauty a hundredfold, and throws into bold relief all their harmony and {57}symmetry. It recalled to me vividly, but in a minor degree, some of the wonder and the glory of that other great monument of an Eastern land—the Taj Mahal at Agra. But while the one is secular and commemorative of earthly love, the other has a deeply religious significance, for in the imposing mosque of Kazemain are buried Musa Ibn Ja’far el Kazim and his grandson, Ibn Ali el Jawad, the seventh and ninth of the successors of Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet, and recognized by the Shias as the rightful Caliphs of Islam. As a centre of pilgrimage for Shi’ite Moslems, Kazemain ranks second after Kerbela, the tomb of Hosain the Martyr; and from the point of view of sanctity, Kazemain is considered to take even higher place than either Samarra or Nejef, the other two Shi’ite shrines in the Vilayet of Bagdad.

The customary crowd of beggars, maimed, halt, and blind, whined to us as we alighted before the great gate of Kazemain Mosque. Three or four small boys, who had stolen a free ride by clinging to the back of the automobile while it crawled dead slow through the gloomy, winding streets of the bazaar, now demanded a pishkash (the Persian equivalent of backsheesh). Mollahs, Sayyeds, and other reputed holy men, springing apparently from nowhere, formed a ring around us, deeply interested in our dress, our speech, the colour of our hair, and our beardless faces. More especially was the wondering attention of the crowd concentrated on Akhbar, himself a native Persian, holding the King’s commission and wearing {58}the King’s khaki. “What manner of man is this?” asked the puzzled onlookers. “Is he Infidel or True Believer? for, by the Beard of the Prophet, he speaks our holy tongue as well as we do ourselves!”

Now there intervened an elderly personage in the Abba or flowing robes affected by the better class of Persian, with a green kamarband indicating his claim to lineal descent from the Prophet. The new-comer, whose hair and beard were plentifully dyed with henna—a never-failing sign, I was assured, of virtue and virility—offered to go in search of the Mujtahid or Chief Priest.

He returned presently with that important functionary, who salaamed, but looked at us coldly and suspiciously, I thought. A whispered colloquy now took place between himself and Akhbar. He had no doubt as to the heterodoxy of the General and myself, but, on the other hand, at first he was not convinced of the orthodoxy of Akhbar, this professed Believer clad in Infidel garb. All Akhbar’s impassioned pleading failed to move him. Akhbar himself might enter freely, but as for the two Unbelievers, they must not set foot within the jealously guarded portals of the holy place.

Up to this point the negotiations had been singularly free from anything even remotely connected with coin of the realm. I think it was the Mujtahid himself who, in his most winning manner, hinted that “Blessed is he that giveth,” and that even the dole of an Unbeliever might win merit in the sight {59}of Allah. We gave accordingly, whereupon the Mujtahid, out of the kindness of his heart, and by way of requiting our generosity, said he would enable us to see something of the Shi’ite “holy of holies.” With himself as guide we were led by a circular route to a caravanserai for pilgrims which stood close to the high wall of the mosque. The place was untenanted, but, mounting by a flight of rickety stairs to the flat and somewhat unstable roof, we were able to overlook the interior courtyard of the mosque, to note its gilt façade, and to watch the worshippers performing their ablutions at the fountain in the centre of the courtyard. With this we had to be content.

The Shrine down to recent days had been a sanctuary for criminals fleeing from justice, but the Turkish overlords, it is said, when a fugitive happened to be of sufficient importance, were able by cajolery and bribery to override Sanctuary and secure the man they wanted. In consequence, Kazemain lost its popularity with fugitive law-breakers.

The populace at the termination of our visit gave us a hearty send-off, and the beggars, whose persistence and persuasiveness it was difficult to resist, having relieved us of sundry krans and rupees, called down the blessing of Allah on our heads.

The Sunni Moslems have many imposing places of worship in Bagdad. The Mosque of Marjanieh is noted for its very fine Arabesque work, bearing considerable resemblance to the ornamentations on the {60}Mosque at Cordova, in Spain. There is also the Mosque of Khaseki, which is believed to have been once a Christian Church. Its Roman arch, with square pedestals and its spirally-fluted columns, reveal an architectural school that is not Oriental.

Outside the walls of the Western City is the reputed site of the tomb of Zobeide, the wife of Haroun al Raschid. The eroding hand of Time has dealt heavily with this once splendid mausoleum, but its curiously-shaped pineapple dome is still intact, and survives proudly amongst the ruin and decay of a dead-and-gone civilization. Niebuhr, the German traveller who visited this tomb in the middle of the eighteenth century, says he discovered an inscription setting forth that it was the site of the ancient burying-place of Zobeide, but that about 1488, Ayesha Khanum, wife of a Governor of Bagdad, was also given sepulture there. Doubt is thrown upon the historical accuracy of Niebuhr by many scholars, and there is a legend that Zobeide was buried at Kazemain.





Jealousy and muddle—The dash for the Caspian—Holding on hundreds of miles from anywhere—A 700-mile raid that failed—The cockpit of the Middle East—Some recent politics in Persia—How our way to the Caspian was barred.


Bagdad is not a pleasant place of residence when the Sherki, or south wind, blows, and when at noonday the shade temperature is often 122 degrees Fahr. For Europeans, work is then out of the question, and it is impossible to venture abroad in the scorching air. There is nothing for it but a suit of the thinnest pyjamas and a siesta in the Serdab or underground room which forms part of most Bagdad houses. The local equivalent of a punkah is usually to be found here, and this helps to make life just bearable during the hot season.

At Headquarters and administrative branches there was a welcome cessation of labour from tiffin time until after the great heat of the day. But the late Sir Stanley Maude, when in chief command at Bagdad, demanded a very full day’s work from his staff, and suffered no afternoon siesta. He set the example himself, and on even the hottest days was absent from his desk only during meal hours. Maude, {62}splendid soldier and genial gentleman that he was, boasted of an iron constitution which was impervious alike to Mesopotamian heat and Mesopotamian malaria.

The cool weather had already set in when the Bagdad party took up its abode under canvas at Hinaida. We found already there an earlier contingent which had been gathered together from units serving in Mesopotamia and Salonika. No one knew quite what to do with us, and General Headquarters was seemingly divided in mind as to whether we should be treated as interlopers, and interned for the duration of the War, or left severely alone to work out our own salvation, or damnation, as we might see fit. The latter view carried the day, and our welcome in official quarters was therefore distinctly chilling. The difficulty chiefly arose, it appears, because General Dunsterville, the leader of our expedition, had been given a separate command, and was independent of the General commanding-in-chief in Mesopotamia. Jealousy was created in high quarters. There was a spirited exchange of telegrams with the War Office, in which such phrases as “Quite impossible of realization,” “Opposed to all military precedent,” are said to have figured prominently.

In February, in the middle of the rainy season, and while the snow still lay thick upon the Persian mountain passes, General Dunsterville had collected some motor transports and, taking with him a handful of officers, had made a dash for the Caspian Sea. {63}His intention was to seize and hold Enzeli, the Persian port on the Caspian, in order either to bluff or to beat the Russian Bolsheviks there into submission, and to use it as a base for operations against Baku, which had become a stronghold of German-Turkish-Bolshevik activity.

After untold difficulties, one party crossed the rain-sodden Persian uplands, hewed a road over the snow-covered Assadabad Pass for their Ford cars, and, although severely tried by cold and hunger, succeeded in reaching Hamadan. Leaving a small band of men there to keep the unfriendly Persian population in check, Dunsterville pushed on for Kasvin, and thence to Resht, a few miles from Enzeli, brushing aside the stray bands of armed marauders that sought to bar his progress.

The goal was in sight, but, unsupported, and without supplies, and hundreds of miles from his small party at Hamadan, he found himself unable to hold on. His enemies were numerous and well-armed. Awed at first by the appearance of this handful of British officers who had unconcernedly motored into their midst after a seven-hundred-mile raid across Mesopotamia and Persia, the Bolsheviks and their German-subsidized Persian auxiliaries were for temporizing—nay, they even invited the British General to a conference to discuss the situation; and, in the hope of arriving at the basis of an understanding, Dunsterville accepted the invitation to confer with them.

In the meantime his enemies had not been idle. Their spies were quick to report that no British reinforcements were arriving. Dunsterville’s numerical weakness was apparent, and the drooping spirits of the Bolshevik Council revived. It had been cowed into inaction, but now it grew bold, and its attitude became menacing. The British General was presented with an ultimatum demanding his immediate withdrawal on pain of capture and death.

There was no help for it. Withdraw Dunsterville must, and did. The Ford cars carrying the daring raiders sped away from the Bazaar of Resht and back to Hamadan, and through streets crowded with armed and hostile ruffians ripe for any crime.

This, briefly, was the situation in the early days of March. Dunsterville had leaped and failed. He was back at Hamadan, holding on tenaciously, with a small body of officers and N.C.O.’s, no men, lacking supplies, from which he was separated by hundreds of miles of roadless country made doubly impassable by rain and melting snow, and threatened with extermination by unfriendly tribesmen who, wolf-like, were baying round him, eager yet afraid to strike.


But, one will ask, what were Dunsterville and his force doing in Persia at all? And why had Britain, who had gone to war with Germany because the latter had overrun neutral Belgium, and who had professed so much horror for Germany’s aggression, why had she, of all nations, violated Persian neutrality, {65}invaded Persian territory, and ignored Persian protests? The answer is simply that we entered Persia to defend Persian rights as much as to defend our own cause and the cause of the Allies. The territory of the Shah had been devastated by contending armies of Turks and Russians. It had been swept by fire and sword; and now those twin handmaidens of ruthless war, famine and disease, were abroad in the land of Iran, slaying indiscriminately such of the wretched helpless populace as had escaped the fury and the sword of Turk and Muscovite. Persia, by reason of its geographical boundaries—its frontiers being coterminous with those of Russia and Turkey—had in the early part of the great world struggle become the cockpit of the Middle East. The weak, emasculated Government of the Shah, a mere set of marionettes, hopped about on the political stage of a corrupt capital. It had no will of its own; and, even if it had, the constitutional advisers of the “King of Kings” had no means of enforcing it.

Hating Russia politically, and perhaps not without reason, coquetting with Turkey because of the common religious bond of Islamism, Persia herself very early in the War failed to observe the obligations which neutrality imposed upon her. She aided and abetted the emissaries of the Central Powers. Hun gold was the charm at which her gates flew open to admit Prussian drill-instructors, whose business was to organize and train the wild tribes of the south-west for raids against our vulnerable right {66}flank in Mesopotamia. The “Volunteers of Islam,” a body of fanatical Mollahs with a leavening of Turkish military officers and of bespectacled professors of German Kultur, were recruited round Lake Van in Turkish Armenia. They had for their object the preaching of a holy war in Afghanistan against Britain, and the setting alight of our Indian north-west territory. The “Volunteers of Islam,” moving across the Persian frontier, established their base in Persian Kermanshah preparatory to turning their faces eastward in the long trek to Herat and the scene of their Islamic and anti-British crusade.

They were destined never to behold the mountain passes of their “Promised Land,” for, valour outrunning their discretion, these militants of Islam and Potsdam, while engaged in the final preparations for the journey to Afghanistan, were foolish enough to throw in their lot with a Mesopotamian frontier tribe which was thirsting to distinguish itself in battle against the British. The combat duly took place, and the insolent tribesmen were punished for their foolhardiness. In fact, they found extinction, instead of the looked-for distinction; and many “Volunteers of Islam” were also given sepulture by the vultures, the concessionaires des tombeaux in these parts. As for the survivors, they readily abandoned Kermanshah for the greater security offered by the Armenian highlands.

After the Russian military collapse in the winter of 1917, followed by the Bolshevist triumph and the {67}signing of the shameful treaty of Brest Litovsk, the Germans and their infamous allies, the followers of Lenin and Trotsky, lost no time in making themselves masters of the Caucasus. Tiflis fell, and arrayed itself under the Red Banner of National Shame; Armenians, Georgians, and Tartars, all victims of Turkish misrule, but hating each other more cordially than they collectively hated the Osmanli oppressor, wrangling over their respective claims to independent nationhood, varied by the absorbing passion of slitting each other’s throats, were all too busy to seek to make common cause against the Bolshevik wolf when it appeared before their fold in the guise of a German lamb.

Would that all these nationless peoples of the Caucasus, who with so much vehemence are always pleading their own inalienable right to self-determination, possessed military gifts commensurate with their brilliant, perfervid, never failing oratory! If they could fight only half as well as they can talk, what unrivalled soldiers they would be!

The Bolsheviks and their German masters and paymasters, coming down the railway line from Tiflis, speedily possessed themselves of Baku and its oil wells. Immediately opposite Baku, and on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, is Krasnovodsk, the terminus of the Transcaspian Railway, that important strategic line which links up the khanates of Russian Turkestan, connects, on the one hand, Samarkand with Orenburg and the main reseau of {68}Russian railways, and, on the other, bifurcates and comes to a dead stop—resembling the extended jaws of a pincers—within hailing distance of the Afghan frontier. Once masters of the Caspian littoral and of the Russian gunboats which patrolled its waters, the Bolsheviks and their German allies were free to use the Transcaspian Railway, and to menace India seriously by way of Afghanistan.

At all events, they lost no time in invading Persia from the sea by way of Enzeli. Here they found eager sympathisers and willing auxiliaries in the Persian Democrats, a political party with considerable influence and following in Resht itself and throughout the Persian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran. The Democrats laid claim to represent the intelligentza of North-Eastern Persia. Their profession of political faith was, broadly, “Persia for the Persians,” the abolition of all foreign meddling in Persian affairs, and the ending of the Russian and British spheres of influence. But it was against the British that their virulent hatred and political conspiracies were chiefly directed. While they feared the British, they despised the Russians. As one of the leaders of this “Young Persia Movement” said to me when we had a heart-to-heart talk in Kasvin, “To our sorrow we find that the British are honest and incorruptible, therefore they are dangerous. Should they decide to stay here, we could never hope to turn them out. On the other hand, to our joy we recognize that neither the Russians nor the {69}Turks possess these high moral attributes, consequently there was always the hope that some day we might be able to escort the last of them to the frontier.”

The “Young Persia” representative put his case concisely, fairly, and without any tinge of political jaundice. None better than he realized the impotency of the vacillating Teheran Government to enforce its paper protests against the violation of Persian neutrality. Its only military instrument was a ragged, unpaid, undisciplined rabble, which international courtesy has been wont to designate an Army. The Persian Democrats therefore linked up with the Bolsheviks. But it would be erroneous to assume that their ranks were recruited entirely from disinterested patriots, inspired by the highest altruistic ideals, burning to rid their country of the foreigner—be he Briton, Turk, or Russian—in order that Persia might be free to work out her own political salvation in her own way and without interference from anybody. Some there were in the ranks of the Democrats actuated only by love of country, as they conceived it, who, with noble resolve in their hearts, trod the financially unremunerative path which led to the goal of political glory. There was always plenty of elbow-room and never any overcrowding on this road. The great majority of the Democrats, as I found them, put pul (i.e., money) before patriotism, and for them a Turkish lira, or a twenty-mark piece, had an irresistible attraction.

With the downfall of Russia as a military power, her Army, which had pushed down through Persia in order to effect a junction with the British in Mesopotamia, rapidly retreated, and as rapidly disintegrated, smitten by the deadly plague of Bolshevism. Discipline and organization were at an end; obedience was no longer rendered to Army Chief, corps commander, or regimental officer, but to the soldiers’ own “Red Committee”—usually with a sergeant at its head—which, besides usurping the functions of Generalissimo, became the Supreme War Council of the Army, giving an irrevocable decision upon everything from high strategy to vulgar plundering. Now two Russian generals, named Bicherakoff and Baratof, appeared on the troubled stage of Persian politics. From the debris of an army they had gathered round them the odds and ends of stray Russian regiments, bands of irregulars from Transcaucasia, and Cossacks from the Don and the Terek—stout fighting men of the mercenary type, whose trade was war and whose only asset was their sword.

Both Bicherakoff and Baratof were loyal to the cause of Imperial Russia and her Allies, and refused to bend the knee to Lenin and Trotsky. They were willing to make war on our side as subsidized auxiliaries. In short, these heterogeneous cohorts were for sale; they possessed a certain military value, and the British taxpayer bought them at an inflated price, and also their right, title, and interest, if any, in the abandoned motor lorries, machine-guns, and {71}military stores of all kinds which littered the track of the retreating, disorganized Russian Army. The British military treasure-chest also honoured a proportion of the Russian requisition notes which had been given to the extent of millions of roubles in exchange for Persian local supplies, and which the Persian holders knew full well would never be liquidated by any Bolshevik Government in Petrograd or elsewhere.

Our friends, the Russians, having sold us their supplies for the common cause, made some difficulty about handing them over. The soldiers, it was said, claimed that war material was national property, and objected to its appropriation unless they, representing so many national shareholders, were each paid on a cash basis a proper proportion of the purchase price. This was a deadlock that was never satisfactorily adjusted. Our new Russian allies also offered to sell us the 160 miles of road from Kasvin to Hamadan which had been constructed by a Russian Company, and was being maintained by a system of tolls levied upon goods and passengers. But the price was so formidable that, if we had closed with the bargain, the British Exchequer would have needed the wealth of Golconda to complete the transaction.

Bicherakoff and his volunteers concentrated at Kasvin, at the junction of the roads leading to Resht and the Caspian in the north, to Tabriz in the north-west, to Teheran in the south-east, and to Hamadan {72}and Kermanshah in the south-west. Here they imposed an effective barrier against the flowing tide of Bolshevism coming from the Caspian, and it was hoped that they might be able to keep open the road from Kasvin to Resht and Enzeli.

The distance from Kasvin to Resht is about eighty miles. Half-way, at Manjil, there is a road bridge over the Kizil Uzun River, and the country beyond is covered with thick jungle, which fringes the roadway on both sides.

About the time the Russians were sitting down in Kasvin awaiting developments, there appeared in the jungle country a redoubtable leader named Kuchik Khan, who was destined to exercise considerable influence on the military situation in the region of the Caspian. Kuchik Khan was a Persian of a certain culture and refinement of manner, endowed with courage, personal magnetism, and great force of character. He possessed, moreover, no little knowledge of European political institutions and of the science of government as practised in the West. The personification of militant “Young Persia,” he proclaimed himself an apostle of reform. Preaching the doctrine of Persian Nationalism in the broadest sense, he declared that he was the uncompromising enemy alike of misrule within and interference from without. Recruits, attracted by good pay and the prospects of loot, flocked to his standard from amongst the harassed and overtaxed peasant population, and were soon licked into tolerable military shape by {73}German and Turkish officers. Rifles, machine-guns, ammunition, military equipment, and money were also forthcoming from German sources. His army, which had its own distinctive uniform, grew rapidly, and it was not long before Kuchik Khan found himself strong enough to bid defiance to Teheran and its feeble Government. He set up as a semi-independent ruler, and had his own council of political and military advisers. Kuchik Khan’s tax-gatherers collected and appropriated the Shah’s revenues in Gilan and in part of Mazandaran, and his power became paramount from Manjil to the Caspian Sea. The Jungalis, as his followers were called, under German instruction became proficient in trench warfare. Selecting a good defensive position, they dug themselves in along the Manjil-Resht road, and their advanced outposts held the bridge head at Manjil itself.


Kuchik Khan, as Persians go, was relatively honest, and was possibly inspired by patriotic zeal; but this did not prevent his becoming a pliant and very useful military asset in the hands of the enemies of the Entente Powers. At their behest he bolted and barred the door giving access to the Caspian and for the British, at all events, labelled it, “On ne passe pas!”





Au revoir to Bagdad—The forts on the frontier—Customs house for the dead—A land of desolation and death—A city of the past—An underground mess—Methods of rifle thieves.


It was not until the beginning of April (1918) that the intermittent rainfall practically ceased, and allowed a contingent of the weatherbound Dunsterville party to turn their faces towards Hamadan, where our General and his small force were said to be in dire straits.

The advanced base near Baqubah on the Diala River, north-east of Bagdad, where some of our unit were under canvas, was a quagmire; and the road beyond the Persian frontier was reported to be impassable for man, motor, or animal transport. But four consecutive days of fine weather effected a transformation. The heat of the sun converted the liquid mud of the plains into half-baked clay, and the road itself showed a hard crust upon its surface.

No time was lost in setting out for Persia. The force from the advanced base began its march at daylight on April 5. Baggage and transport were cut down to the lowest possible limits, and General {75}Byron and I moved ahead of the column in a Ford van.

On the first night we reached the headquarters of General Thompson, commanding the 14th Division operating on the Diala. Next morning, the weather still promising fair, we were off betimes, and, in spite of road difficulties, at ten o’clock reached the Motor Transport Depot at Khaniquin, the last town on the Turkish side. After a brief halt to enable us to swop our somewhat war-worn car for a more efficient one, we started again, and, within an hour of pulling up at Khaniquin, had crossed the frontier into Persia.

As we approached the boundary of the crumbling Ottoman Empire at this point, the road wound round a low hill. On an eminence above stood a tumble-down martello tower which once had held a Turkish guard; and on a corresponding height on the other side were the ruins of a Persian fort. From these vantage points the two Asiatic Empires, both now crumbling in decay, had for centuries jealously watched each other, quarrelling over a mile or two of disputed territory with all the vehemence of their Oriental blood.

Near Khaniquin, on the Turkish side, we saw what had once been the Quarantine and Customs Stations. It was here that the corpse caravans, coming from the interior of Persia and bound for Kerbela, one of the holy places of the Shi’ite sect, halted and paid Customs dues. It is the pious wish of every Persian {76}to be buried at Kerbela, near the shrine of Hossain the Martyr. The town is in the Vilayet of Bagdad, and in pre-war days the Turks derived a very handsome revenue from tolls levied on dead Persians who were being transported to their last resting-place beside the waters of the Euphrates. It was a gruesome but lucrative traffic for the living, whether Customs officials or muleteers. These caravans of dead, by reason of the absence of anything approaching proper hygienic precautions, probably also carried with them into Asiatic Turkey a varied assortment of endemic diseases. When Persians whose testamentary dispositions earmarked them for the last pilgrimage to Kerbela died, they were buried for a year. At the end of this period they were exhumed, enveloped in coarse sacking, lashed two by two on the back of a mule, and carried to their new resting-place, accompanied by bands of sorrowing friends and relatives.

We were now well over the frontier, and found ourselves in a land of desolation and death. Our way lay past ruined and deserted villages, many of the inhabitants of which had been blotted out by famine. Beyond a few Persian road guards in British pay, or an occasional native labour corps road-making under the protection of a detachment of Indian Infantry, the country seemed destitute of life. On the other side of the frontier I had heard a good deal as to the appalling economic conditions of Persia, and of the shortage of food; but now, {77}brought face to face with the terrible reality, I understood for the first time its full significance.

Men and women, shrivelled and huddled heaps of stricken humanity, lay dead in the public ways, their stiffened fingers still clutching a bunch of grass plucked from the roadside, or a few roots torn up from the fields with which they had sought to lessen the tortures of death from starvation. At other times a gaunt, haggard figure, bearing some resemblance to a human being, would crawl on all fours across the roadway in front of the approaching car, and with signs rather than speech plead for a crust of bread. Hard indeed would be the heart that could refuse such an appeal! So overboard went our ration supply of army biscuit, bit by bit, on this our first day in the hungry land of the Shah!

At Kasr-i-Shirin, where we made a short halt, we were soon surrounded by a starving multitude asking for food. One poor woman with a baby in her arms begged us to save her child. We gave her half a tin of potted meat and some biscuits, for which she called down the blessing of Allah on our heads. Her maternal solicitude was touching, for, although it was evident that she was suffering from extreme hunger, no food passed her lips until her baby had been supplied.

The western slopes of Kasr-i-Shirin are covered with the remains of a great city. The outline of extensive walls can be traced amidst the debris of masonry. Masses of roughly hewn sandstone strew {78}the ground. Within the ancient enclosure are heaps of tumble-down masonry, all that exists of the houses that formerly stood there. Some little distance away are traceable the ruined outlines of a splendid palace with spacious underground apartments and beautiful archways, once the residence of some Acharmenian or Sasanian monarch. The remains of a rock-hewn aqueduct, with reservoir, troughs, and stone pipes, which brought water to this city of antiquity from a distance of twelve miles, are still to be seen.

From Kasr-i-Shirin onwards there was a gradual descent to the bottom of the Pai Tak Pass. It is three miles to the top of the Pass, and there is a difference in altitude of about fifteen hundred feet. Whatever else they may be, Persians are not roadmakers. Formerly the only way to scale Pai Tak was by following a mule track which wound round the sparsely wooded slopes of the hill. But now British military engineers had done some useful spade work there; an excellent road had been built with easy gradients, and Pai Tak was negotiable for Ford cars, and even for heavily laden Peerless lorries.

The view from the top was superb. On either side of the plateau towered snow-capped mountains. We found in possession, under Colonel Mathews, a British force consisting of the 14th Hants. The Colonel himself was absent; but the officers of the battalion gave us a hearty welcome, and fixed us up with quarters for the night.

The Senjabi tribesmen round about were troublesome, {79}and their leader, Ali Akhbar Khan, incited by German propagandists, seemed bent upon coming into collision with the British. It was bitterly cold at Surkhidizeh on the top of the Pai Tak Pass, and we enjoyed the warmth and comfort of the Hants’ mess quarters.

This was an underground circular apartment, cut out of the earth, into which you descended by a flight of wooden steps. The top was roofed with canvas, tent fashion.

Rifle thieves were active in the camp at Surkhidizeh. Wandering Kurdish tribesmen showed special daring in this form of enterprise. Scarcely a night passed without the Hants’ Camp being raided for arms. British rifles brought enormous prices when sold to the Senjabi and other of the lawless nomads whose happy hunting-ground is the “No Man’s Land” in the neighbourhood of the Turko-Persian frontier. Here a man was socially valued solely by the arms he carried. He might be in rags as far as raiment was concerned, but the possession of a .303 Lee Enfield, or a German Mauser, marked him as a man of some distinction and importance in the country, one who might be expected to do big things, and with whom it was well to be on friendly terms.

The average nomad whom I came across is not renowned for physical courage, and in daylight he will think twice before attacking even a single British soldier; yet these selfsame tribesmen would {80}unhesitatingly raid a British bivouac nightly, and face the possibility of death, in order to pilfer a couple of rifles. Rifle raiding possessed for them a kind of fascination. The raiders often failed and paid the penalty with their lives, but the attempts were never abandoned for long. One method was for a brace of snipers to fire on the sentry and on the guard, so creating a diversion. A couple of their fellows, with their bodies well oiled, naked save for a loin-cloth, and carrying each a long knife, would meanwhile crawl into the camp at a place remote from the point of disturbance, and snatch a rifle or two from beside the sleeping soldiers. If caught, they used their knives, and invariably with fatal effect. Even if detected the raiders usually got away, for in the darkness and confusion it was difficult to fire upon them without incurring the risk of hitting one of your own people.

I was aroused from a sound sleep the first night at Surkhidizeh by the noise of rifle firing, followed by an infernal hullabaloo. Unbuttoning the tent flap, and rushing into the open, I found that the rifle snatchers had been busy again. A native had wriggled through the barbed-wire enclosure and, with the silence of a Red Indian, had entered a tent occupied by men of the Hants battalion. The soldiers slept with the sling of the rifle attached to the waistbelt. Cutting through this without disturbing the owner, the thief had bolted with the weapon.

On leaving, he fell over some of the sleeping {81}occupants, who were aroused and sought to grab him, but in the darkness and confined space of the bell-tent, they missed the thief and grasped each other’s throats. The sentry fired, but failed of his mark. The remainder of the guard and some Indian units also loosed off a few rounds, but without success.

The night favoured the enterprise. It was pitch dark. The raider’s friends, from the cover of some dead ground in the neighbourhood, sniped the camp intermittently for the next hour or two, until everybody grew exasperated, and wished that Persia with its marauding bands, and the whole Middle East Question were sunk in the deep sea.





A city of starving cave-dwellers—An American woman’s mission to the wild—A sect of salamanders—Profiteering among the Persians—A callous nation—Wireless orders to sit tight—Awaiting attack—The “mountain tiger.”


Next day we set out for Kirind, about fifteen miles from Surkhidizeh, where a platoon of the Hants held an advanced post. After passing Sar Mil and its ruined fort, we dipped down into a valley bordered by high hills, where grew dwarf oaks, with a background of mountains whose snow-topped peaks glistened in the warm spring sunshine.

Our way lay over a black cotton-soil plain, and the road looked as if it had recently been furrowed by a giant plough. It was hard going for the Ford cars, and our difficulties were increased when rain presently overtook us. Half an hour’s downpour will convert any Persian road into a morass, and that between Surkhidizeh and Kirind is no exception to the rule. The Fords for once were baffled. The leading car could get no grip on the slippery soil; its front wheels revolved aimlessly, then by a mighty exertion moved forward a few yards, only to come to an abrupt stop, up to its front axle in a slimy {83}mud-hole. We temporarily jettisoned everything, and pulled it out with a tow rope and the united efforts of a dozen friendly natives who were not averse from a little physical labour for a pecuniary reward. There was no getting rid of the glutinous mud. It adhered to one’s boots and clung to one’s garments with a persistency that was irritating and ruinous to the temper. The fifteen miles’ journey occupied four hours, and we were “bogged” seven times before the cars finally got clear and gained the roughly paved causeway which, skirting Kirind village, led to the British military post.


Kirind itself is a straggling and typical group of Persian mud-houses. It clings haphazardly to both sides of a steep, narrow gorge, closed at one end by a perpendicular wall of jagged limestone rock, which rises sheer for a thousand feet. Beneath this frowning rock-barrier nestles a village abominably and indescribably filthy, inhabitated by an elf-like people in whom months of semi-starvation had bred something of the sullen ferocity of a pack of famishing wolves. There was in their eyes the glint of the hunted wild animal. They fled at our approach—men, women, and children—diving into dark, noisome, underground dens which exhaled a horrible effluvium, or else bolting like so many scared wild-cats for some lair high up amongst the limestone ridges. Some of the fugitives whom we rounded up and spoke to compassionately answered with a terrified snarl, as if dreading we should do them injury. Yet it {84}was chiefly the Turk, that zealous propagandist of the tenets of Islam, whose rapacity and cruelty had driven this fellow Moslem race to the borderland of primitive savagery.

Amid all the horror and misery of this desert of human despair we found a Christian angel of pity, isolated, working single-handed, striving to alleviate the terrible lot of the starving people. The angel was an American woman, Miss Cowden, of the Presbyterian Mission. Years before she had given up home, country, and friends in obedience to a higher call, and was devoting her life and her energies to the betterment of the temporal lot of the unhappy, underfed, Persian children. She had learned their language, and moved from village to village alone and unattended, carrying out her great work of charity, and content to live in some dirty hovel. A vocation surely demanding sublime self-abnegation, and calling, I should think, for the highest attributes of faith and courage! I hold no brief for foreign missionaries in general. I know that their proselytizing methods have been the subject of severe criticism in the public press and on the lecture platform. All the more reason, therefore, why I should tell of a work which is being done so unobtrusively, without hope of earthly recompense, and well beyond the range of the most powerful “Big Bertha” of the cinema world.

The Kirindis for the most part belong to the curious religious sect called Aliullahis, about {85}whose beliefs and rites many strange legends circulate.

One of these concerns their immunity from injury by fire, and recalls the “fire walkers” of the Tongan Islands. Aliullahian devotees, it is said, will enter a kind of oven and stay there while fire is heaped around it, making it red-hot. Then, covering their heads with the burning cinders, they cry, “I am cold,” and pass out unhurt. Another ceremony consists in lifting bars of red-hot iron out of the fire with their bare hands, their skin showing no signs of burning.

Their religion seems to be a strange mixture of Mohammedanism and Judaism, with doctrines from various other esoteric faiths grafted on to it. Thus they number amongst their prophets Benjamin, Moses, Elia, David, and Jesus Christ, and they have also a saint of peculiar efficacy in intercession named Ali. Some investigators into their creed maintain that Ali and Daoud (David) are one and the same person; others think that Ali is so high up in the spiritual hierarchy as only to be invoked through Daoud. In any case, their prayer before battle is, “O Daoud, we are going to war. Grant that we overcome our enemy!” They then sacrifice some animal, usually a sheep, which is roasted whole. The High Priest prays over the carcass and distributes the flesh in small portions to those present. Communion in this sacrament appears to inspire the Aliullahian with absolute confidence in the success of any undertaking it precedes.

Another of their beliefs is that of a successive incarnation of the Deity in the greatest of their spiritual guides, seven of whom are clubbed together under the name of “Haft-Tan.”

When in Mohammedan cities, they outwardly conform to the tenets taught by the Prophet of the Crescent, but secretly they continue the practice of their own mystic rites. They bury their dead without prayer (after keeping the unembalmed corpse six days), but turn his head to face Kerbela, as do the Mussulmans.

They are recognizable from their long moustaches, since the Shiahs are not allowed to have hair so long as to pass the upper lip.

Some authorities proclaim them the remnant of the Samaritans who, as related in 2 Kings xvii. 6 and 7, were carried into captivity by Hoshea, King of Assyria; and Rawlinson, in his writings on Persia, speaks of a rock-tomb which they regard as a place of special sanctity. They call it, he says, Dukka-ni-Daoud (David’s shop), because they believe that the Jewish monarch was a smith by trade.

We stayed two nights in Kirind village. Our quarters were a couple of rooms above a stable which sheltered a sundry collection of goats, sheep, two consumptive donkeys and their charvadars, some stray hens, and two or three pariah dogs. Crossing a dirty courtyard, where filth had accumulated for years, we climbed a broken stairway, and were at home. The flat roof of the stable was our promenade; {87}but, since it was full of holes, which were generally concealed by a thin layer of sun-dried mud, great caution was needed to prevent a sudden and undignified descent into the menagerie below. Our rooms opened on to the roof of the stable. We slept on the floor, and, as it was cold, our Persian servant bought some green wood and made a fire in the only fireplace available, which consisted of a small cavity in the mud floor. A hole in the upper roof supplied ventilation, and served the purposes of a chimney.

It was here that the Governor paid an official call upon General Byron. He sent a servant to announce his coming, and presently arrived accompanied by a retinue of unkempt, hungry-looking officials, all wearing the chocolate-coloured sugar-loaf hat peculiar to Persians. The Governor himself was a fat, pompous individual, with a drooping moustache, unshaven face, and no collar. We wondered at first whether the stubble on his chin was due to slothfulness, or was a sign of mourning. We discovered it was the latter, a brother of his having died recently through over-participation in food at some local festivity. To look at the portly form of the Governor made it quite evident that everybody was not going hungry in Kirind. As he sat cross-legged on the floor, his fingers interlaced in front of his breast, and twirling his thumbs, he looked exactly what he was—the personification of hopeless incapacity and lethargy. “What ashes are fallen on my head!” he moaned aloud, by way of expressing sorrow for the {88}death of so many of the villagers from starvation. Yet he himself had done nothing to lessen the ravages of famine in the district, and was content to see the wretched inhabitants die, without moving a finger to help them.

His attitude was typical of officialdom throughout this starving land. The Governor was a landowner, and probably, like others of his class whom I came across later in Kermanshah and Hamadan, had plenty of grain hidden away waiting for the day when the British Commissariat, in order to feed starving Persians, would come and buy it at inflated prices, thus enriching a gang of hoarding, avaricious rascals.

When General Byron spoke of what the British were doing elsewhere in the way of feeding the famine-stricken, the Governor’s eyes brightened, and scenting the possibility of an advantageous commercial deal in cornered wheat, he replied with a fervent “Mash-allah!” (Praise be to God!) The suggestion that thieving local bakers who had been profiteering at the expense of the starving population might be taught a salutary lesson by having their ears nailed to their bakehouse doors, or otherwise dealt with under some equally benign Persian enactment, seemed to find favour in the eyes of the Governor, for he answered, “Inshallah!” (Please God!)

This Governor, who had so suddenly developed a keen interest in the local food problem, was afterwards present at a full-dress parade of Miss Cowden’s {89}starvelings. The recipients of mission charity were of both sexes, and varied from toddlers of three to their elders of ten or twelve years. All they had in the way of clothing was a piece of discoloured rag, or a section of a tattered gunny bag, fastened round the loins. Physical suffering long endured was indelibly stamped on their shrunken features and on their emaciated frames. Each was given a substantial chunk of freshly baked chipattee, or unleavened bread, and they were desired to eat it then and there to prevent its being pilfered from their feeble hands by hungry adult prowlers outside the mission buildings. They made no demur, and ate ravenously. Bread is the staple diet, and generally the only article of food, of the Persian poor; and this daily free distribution must have been the means of preserving the lives of many hundreds of Kirind children. Charity in the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word seems to find no home in the breast of the average Persian; and each day there was a fight between local cupidity, as represented by the Kirind bakers, and foreign generosity as exemplified by the American Mission, which was spending its funds freely in order that these unhappy children of an alien race might have bread and live. Here, as elsewhere during my wanderings through Iran, I was painfully impressed by the appalling callousness and indifference exhibited by the ordinary Persian towards the sufferings of his own people. He would not lift a hand to help a dying man, and dead, would leave {90}him to the tender mercies of the dogs and vultures rather than trouble to give him burial.

One morning, while preparing for a further move eastward towards Kermanshah, a wireless message, transmitted in haste from Surkhidizeh, ordered us to sit tight and await developments and reinforcements. We were warned that the Senjabis were restless, and might any night swoop down on our slenderly-garrisoned post. Ali Akhbar Khan, who was the Pendragon of the Senjabis and various stray allied bands of nomadic robbers in these parts, was said to be watching us from his eyrie up in the snow-capped hills. His martial ardour had been stimulated to the verge of action by German gold and German rifles, and the promise of much loot when our weak force had been duly annihilated. To the careful, calculating Akhbar, and to the wild tribesmen who had flocked to his standard at the very first mention of the word “unlimited loot,” the capture of the Kirind post must have seemed the softest of soft things. To look our way and resist temptation was like flying in the face of Providence. How that dear old bandit’s mouth must have watered in anticipation of securing a fine haul of rifles, ammunition, and transport animals!

All that stood between Akhbar Khan and the realization of his project was a platoon of the 14th Hants under Lieutenant Gow, a Lewis gun, a dozen Persian irregulars of doubtful fighting quality, and a very unformidable barrier of two rows of {91}barbed wire. The camp was on the edge of a narrow plateau facing the road. In the rear, where this latter became merged in the hills, the smooth slope was like a toboggan run, and the alert Senjabis, if they so wished, might have slid from their hill-top sangars down on to the field of battle. But they held aloof; their day was not yet.

We spent an anxious night. Everybody was under arms waiting for the threatened attack. Morning ended our period of suspense and brought the looked-for reinforcements—a squadron of the 14th Hussars under Captain Pope, a couple of guns, an additional platoon of the Hants, as well as the Dunsterville contingent which had originally set out from Baqubah.

The “mountain tiger,” as Ali Akhbar Khan was called in the imaginative and picturesque vocabulary of the district, had hesitated, and missed his chance. The reinforcing party was very much disappointed at Akhbar’s display of irresolution and his reluctance to fight. Some amongst the bolder spirits contemplated calling upon him in his mountain lair. But that was not to be. When the “tiger” did spring later on, and sought to cut up a British column, he received the lesson of his life. But our party was not there to share in the glory of his undoing.





Pillage and famine—A land of mud—The Chikar Zabar Pass—Wandering dervishes—Poor hotel accommodation—A “Hunger Battalion”—A city of the past.


From Kirind to Kermanshah, our next stage, is about sixty miles. For the most part it is dreary, barren country, with a few isolated villages astride the line of march. The whole land had been skinned bare of supplies by Turk and Russian, and it was now in the throes of famine.

There was a good deal of similarity in the methods of these successive invaders. They commandeered unscrupulously and without payment, and what they could not consume or carry off they destroyed. There was no seed wheat, and consequently no crops had been sown. Many tillers of the soil had fled for their lives; those who had remained were dying of hunger in this war-ravaged region. The arable land which is noted for its fertility was forlorn and neglected; no plough had touched its soil since the passing of the war storm, and its abandoned furrows were temporarily tenanted by wandering crows struggling to gain a precarious livelihood. It was desolation and ruin everywhere.

This was the country into which we, too, now, in our turn adventured. Armed robbers roamed from hill to plain and back again, holding up and looting passing caravans, preying upon the miserable inhabitants in the remote villages, and relieving them of anything in the nature of food and live-stock that the greedy maw of Turk and Russian had inadvertently overlooked.

Little wonder that the terrified wayside inhabitants fled pell-mell at the approach of our column! It took some persuasion to assure them that they would not be “bled” afresh, nor put to the sword. Not unnaturally, they had reason to dread the exactions of a third invader, and both effort and time were needed to convince them that our intentions were not hostile, but friendly. When confidence was at last restored, the glad tidings of our exemplary behaviour sped ahead of us from village to village, carried by that mysterious agency which in the East lends wings to any news of import, and in speed rivals wireless telegraphy.

So it was that on our further progress ragged and cringing peasants, all semblance of manhood driven out of them by hunger and oppression, would crawl forth into the light of day from some dark hovel to beg, firstly for their lives, and secondly for a morsel of bread. We granted the one without question, but were not always able to comply with the second demand.

From Kirind our progress was slow. The first day, {94}Sunday, April 14th, we barely covered ten miles, arriving at Khorosabad late in the afternoon, where we bivouacked under the lee of the hills. The road beyond was a kind of hog’s back strewn with limestone boulders which proved too difficult for the laden Ford cars. To add to our troubles the weather broke in the evening, and it rained steadily throughout the night, so that our camping-ground became a swamp. The Hussars’ horses suffered from exposure, while the men themselves were wet through and inclined to be grumpy. In the morning, as the weather showed signs of mending, the march was resumed; but the Ford convoy had to be left behind in charge of an escort to wait until the road became passable.

The infantry units marched through twelve miles of mud to Harunabad, the next stage on the journey. It tried the men’s endurance to the utmost. The road was simply an unmetalled track across the plain; there was no foothold in the saturated soil, and at each step a pound or two of clay adhered to one’s boots, necessitating frequent halts to scrape them clean. The Persian muleteers were more fortunate. They marched barefoot, and their movements were not handicapped by the encumbering dead weight of adhesive earth.


Harunabad does not differ essentially from any other village in South-Western Persia. Dirt and decay have laid their twin grip upon its crooked streets, its tottering mud walls, and ruinous habitations. {95}The inhabitants were as hungry as any other of their class in Persia, and they crowded round the bivouac cookhouses snatching eagerly at any morsel of food that was thrown to them. General Byron, Captain Eve, Lieutenant Akhbar, and I lighted on a couple of rooms in a disused caravanserai, and the local governor, who seemed to bother less about backsheesh than the average of his fellows, procured us some mutton and firewood. Two of his servitors who had brought the supplies were demanding an exorbitant price—the middleman’s profit. The Governor, happening to arrive on the scene while the haggling was proceeding, beat the grasping pair soundly in our presence, and promised them a dose of the bastinado on the morrow. Thoroughly abashed by their drubbing, and terrified by the prospect of a fresh one next day, they fell upon their knees, begging for mercy and forgiveness. The General successfully pleaded on their behalf, and they showed their gratitude by kissing his hands, before taking themselves out of range of the still wrathful eye of the Governor.

The night was cold, with a tinge of frost in the air. We sat round the fire after supper drying our sodden garments and removing the encrustations of Persian mud which had settled thickly upon them. Sleep came to us easily after the fatigues of the day, and it was with a feeling of deep personal resentment that we heard the Hussars’ trumpeter sound the reveille.

Most transport mules are longsuffering animals, but they rebel occasionally. The Persian variety was inclined to be peevish, when it came to early rising and taking afresh upon its sturdy back the burden of the day. Those of our supply convoy, when prodded into activity before sunrise, rarely failed to make their displeasure felt by a vigorous protest lodged at random in some part of a charvadar’s anatomy. On the morning of our departure from Harunabad the mules showed themselves especially intractable. It could hardly have been because of any deep-rooted affection for the locality itself. However, at the cost of much profanity and shouting on the part of the muleteers, during which grave aspersions were cast upon the character of the mules’ ancestors, the rebellious beasts were cowed into submissiveness and our column was soon floundering anew in the mud of the Persian wilderness.

A wind from the north blew across our path and sent the menacing rain-clouds scurrying to the right-about. The sun, too, unveiled its face, as if half-ashamed of its tardiness, and speedily dispelled the curtain of white mist which arose from the sodden earth. The air was keen and invigorating, but tempered by the warm breath of spring. Men and horses and transport mules responded to the gladsome call of Nature in her most beneficent mood. British soldier and Persian charvadar each sang the wild songs of his native land, telling invariably of {97}some fair, beauteous maiden whom the sentimental songster had left behind somewhere in England or Iran. To the ears of one riding on in advance, as I happened to be that day, this flow of song blending with the deep note of the jingling mule-bells made sweetest music.

Four hours’ march brought the head of the column to the top of the Chihar Zabar Pass. The road went sheer down the reverse slope, cutting across an immense plain carpeted with the deepest emerald green. Here wild flowers grew in abundance—crocuses, daffodils, daisies, violets, and a species of indigenous primrose, a woof of rich, glorious colouring in the warp of green. This “Promised Land,” the work of Nature’s own brush, stretched away from my very feet till it mingled with the grey-blue of the distant horizon. What a pleasing contrast to the dreary, desolate lowlands we had so lately traversed! It was a most welcome prospect to eyes tired of looking upon dull, monotonous landscapes. To me it was the fairest sight I had yet seen in the land of Iran.

While I was revelling in the beauty of the scene, there appeared on the summit of the Pass, coming from this valley of enchantment, three men whose dress and appearance excited my curiosity. They were sturdily built, and dressed in black, skirted coats, fastened at the waist by a girdle from which was suspended a sword and satchel. Their beards were no longer than that permitted by the precepts of {98}the Koran. They were without head-covering of any kind, and their long hair fell free and untrammelled on their shoulders. The trio wore shoes of Moroccan leather with pointed, turned-up toes and silver buckles. Each carried a small silver-headed axe at the “slope,” as a cavalry trooper does a sabre.

As they approached, my first feeling was one of alarm, and my hand instinctively sought my revolver holster. Seeing this, the foremost raised his hand in friendly salutation, and greeted me with, “Peace be upon thee, O stranger!” They proved to be wandering dervishes who begged their way from end to end of Persia, and to judge by their raiment and their general well-to-do appearance, it must be a profitable occupation.

These dervishes, amongst the Persians of all classes, have a great reputation for sanctity. The rich help them liberally, and even the very poor will not turn a deaf ear to their request for aid. One of them chattered away like a magpie, recounting adventures which were not always of the kind one is prone to associate with the austerity of a Religious Order. They had come on foot from Meshed in Eastern Persia to Teheran, Hamadan, and Kermanshah, and were now bound for Kerbela and the Shi’ite holy places in the vicinity of Bagdad. The burdens of life sat lightly on their shoulders, and the destroying hand of care had left no traces upon their merry, laughing faces. They were a cheery trio, {99}forgetful of yesterday, unmindful of to-morrow, and living only for to-day.

They were full of a pleasant inquisitiveness, and withal as simple as children. “Were there dervishes across the big water in Faringistan (Europe), and had the man-birds (aviators) come to Bagdad?” they asked. I told them they would see plenty of “man-birds” and “wonder-houses” (cinemas) down yonder in Bagdad, but that an itinerant Persian dervish would be a rara avis amongst our benighted folk, not one, so far as I knew, having yet shed the light of his countenance upon our slow-going old Western world. With a small cash contribution oh my part towards the expenses of their journey, and on theirs the formal invocation of the blessing of Allah upon my head, the dervishes and I exchanged cordial adieux, and parted company on the summit of the Chihar Zabar.

Our next halting-place was at Mahidast, a walled town which stands in the midst of an immense plain seventy miles long by ten broad. It is one of the most fertile tracts in Persia, and grows great crops of wheat and barley for the market of Kermanshah. As for Mahidast itself, it consists of a few dirty streets, unpaved and evil-smelling, and a hundred houses, the greater number of which are in ruins. Its inhabitants are chiefly Kalhur-Kurds, semi-nomads, who migrate in winter with their flocks to the neighbourhood of Khaniquin and Mandali. Mahidast is a great resort of pilgrims on the way {100}to and from Kerbela, and in the main street stands a vast caravanserai built by that industrious architect-ruler, Shah Abbas.

I rode inside the great doorway of Shah Abbas’ hostelry hoping to find quarters here, but my nose was in revolt at once. A stagnant pool covered with green slime, where myriads of mosquitoes and flies were undergoing a course of field training, occupied the centre of the courtyard, and this was flanked by festering heaps of garbage amongst which lean, hungry-looking dogs were fossicking for an evening meal.

Turning in disgust from the loathsome spot, I encountered a farrash (messenger) come from the Naib-ul-Hukumeh, or Deputy Governor, The latter had heard of our arrival, and sent to conduct us to quarters near his own dwelling. Our abode proved to be a smaller caravanserai, its living-rooms adjoining the stables and looking out on a manure heap. The Deputy Governor himself turned up presently, and in the usual flowery Persian speech bade General Byron welcome, and assured him that supplies of forage and fuel would be forthcoming.

He hinted that, as the prowling Kurds of the district were keen horse-fanciers, and not always able to discriminate between the niceties of meum and tuum, it would be advisable to mount a stable guard. For this purpose he sent us eight truculent-looking rascals, fairly bristling with weapons, who watched over our horses while we sought to snatch a few hours’ repose.

Sleep we found to be out of the question. Our sleeping-bags, the latest of their kind from London, had no chance against the incursions of the nimble Mahidast flea, or his bigger parasitical brethren, whom pilgrim caravans had brought from the remote corners of Persia. Emerging angry and unrefreshed from an unequal combat, we quitted Mahidast at an early hour. The major portion of the inhabitants were present to see us off, and incidentally to demand a pishkash for services—chiefly imaginary—rendered us during our sojourn. Akhbar paid off the fuel and forage vendors, and ransomed our horses from the stable guard for a substantial sum in krans. He next gave a considered decision in respect to the claim of the Deputy Governor and his numerous retinue. The former modestly demanded an amount which would have provided him with a comfortable life annuity, pointing out that, as our throats were unsevered and our purses untouched, we could afford to be generous, and reward his protecting zeal. I did not wait for the end of the negotiations, but I heard afterwards that Akhbar, whose temper had been sorely tried, consigned the Deputy Governor to jahannam, and effected a compromise with his insistent retainers for the equivalent of ten shillings.

It is an eighteen-mile march to Kermanshah from Mahidast. The road was harder, and it was easier travelling for the horses and transport animals. There was a good deal of traffic too. We passed numerous caravans, the first being one of tobacco {102}and general merchandise bound for Bagdad. To this a number of pilgrims had attached themselves for safety, and had hired an armed convoy to protect them against plundering Kurds and, in a minor sense, the exactions of the Persian road guards. These latter were supposed to police the route, and had posts along the road. By way of recompense they were allowed to levy baj (toll) upon travellers. But their rapacity was boundless. They were said to stand in with the freebooters of the district, and woe betide the simple traveller or merchant who, journeying without armed retainers, fell into their hands! Him they fleeced unmercifully, and if the victim were inclined to protest against this bare-faced spoliation, he might always be sure of receiving a sound beating in addition.

So much for Persian road guards and their methods! The British sought to remedy these abuses by subsidizing local chiefs to protect a section of road, but the chiefs took the cash and stuck to it, while the guards still dipped deeply into the pockets or into the bales of merchandise of those who came their way. It was considered a lucrative post, that of road guard, and much sought after by gentlemen who hated the attendant risks of ordinary highway robbery, and preferred the easier and surer means of growing rich by levying toll in a quasi-official capacity.

Presently we met a corpse-caravan bound for Kerbela with its lugubrious freight. A contingent of road guards had gathered round like so many {103}human vultures, and there was much haggling between themselves and angry relatives of the defunct as to what a dead Persian ought or ought not to pay to pass free and unhindered over this section of the long and thorny road that led to the holy of holies of the Shi’ite Moslem.

On the banks of a stream by the roadside was a “hunger battalion” resting. Its members, men and boys, were in a state of semi-nudity; their few garments hung in tattered rags about their wasted bodies, and all looked to be in the last stage of physical exhaustion from starvation. For some the end had clearly come. They were incapable of further effort, and lay waiting for a merciful death to cut short their sufferings. Others there were who still clung despairingly to the enfeebled thread of life. They crouched on the ground, gnawing frantically at a handful of roots or coarse herbs with which they sought to assuage the terrible pangs of unsatisfied hunger. A little apart from the main body was a small group crooning a mournful dirge: it was the funeral requiem of a man whom famine had killed. The body was being prepared for burial and, before committal to earth, was being washed in the stream which supplied a near-by village with drinking water.

We divided some food amongst the sorely stricken survivors of the hunger battalion. It was all we could give. They were thankful, and one man said that he and five companions had originally started {104}from Hamadan, where the people were dying by hundreds daily, in the hope of crossing the frontier to Khaniquin or Kizil Robat, at either of which places they might get work and food in the British Labour Corps. Of the six who had set out on this quest he was the sole survivor.

Kermanshah is a very old Persian city, and was known to writers and travellers from the earliest Christian times. It once was a flourishing industrial and commercial centre, but much of its prosperity and glory have been dimmed by a succession of political and economic vicissitudes. The town itself has a certain military importance. It is close to the Turkish frontier, and is equidistant from Bagdad, Ispahan, Teheran, and Tabriz. During the War Turks and Russians occupied it in turn, and the Turks had a consul and a consular guard here until their army was chased out of the province.

Outside the town itself the nomadic and semi-nomadic population consists chiefly of Kurds, and Kurdi is the language of the people as distinct from the merchants. Cereals are extensively grown, but, owing to the lack of communications, the cost of transporting grain to Bagdad or Teheran was triple its local market value, and it was a profitless enterprise. The grain rotted in Kermanshah while people died of hunger in adjoining provinces.

The chief trade route in Western Persia passes through Kermanshah, and it is also an important market for transport mules, which are bred in the {105}district. In pre-war days as many as 200,000 pilgrims passed through Kermanshah each year on their way to and from Kerbela and the other Shi’ite shrines in the Vilayet of Bagdad. The bazaars were well stocked with British and foreign goods, and the local traders were reputed to be wealthy. But the War and the coming of the Turks were fatal to Kermanshah and its commerce; the shops were closed, and the wealthier merchants hid their cash and valuables and sought asylum elsewhere.

Kermanshah suffered much during the Civil War of 1911-12. In July of 1911 it was occupied in the name of the ex-Shah, Muhammad Ali, by a force of irregulars under Salar-ud-Dauleh, the ex-Shah’s brother. In the following February the Government troops reoccupied Kermanshah, and the troops of the dethroned Shah were driven out. But a fortnight later Salar-ud-Dauleh, aided by a large force of Kurds, was back again; the town was plundered, and the Governor appointed by the Constitutionalists had his legs cut off and was burnt alive. For the next few months the redoubtable Salar and his military opponent, Farman Farma, hunted each other in turn up and down Western Persia until the Shah’s rebellion was finally subdued.

I found the streets of the town narrow and tortuous. The Zarrabiha Street and that leading from the Darvaseh Sarab to the Chal Hassan Khan are about the only two possible for carriages. In the Feizabad quarter, which is remote from the bazaars, are the {106}houses of the wealthy classes, with their immense courtyards, high walls, and beautifully kept gardens. By contrast, the houses of the poor look despicably mean, being simply a collection of mud hovels into which the light of day penetrates with difficulty.

The rain overtook us afresh at Kermanshah, and we had to stay there for three days weatherbound. The Hussars and the remainder of the column bivouacked on a hill near the British Consulate. It was far from agreeable. The tents were already soaking wet after the downpour at Khorosabad, and had had no time to dry.

General Byron went to stay with the Kennions. Colonel Kennion was Political Officer and Consul, and his wife, a very charming and energetic lady, who held in her hands most of the threads of the political happenings in Persia, worked hard all day in the office ciphering and deciphering despatches. In the evening she entertained her husband’s guests and graced a hospitable table.

The foreign colony of Kermanshah was not a large one. Besides the Kennions, there were the Russian Consul and his wife, a French Consul, Mr. and Mrs. Stead of the American Presbyterian Mission, and Mr. Hale, local manager of the Imperial Bank of Persia. Hale has travelled widely in Persia, and knew its elusive and nimble-witted people better than most Englishmen. He was an excellent raconteur, and I spent pleasant evenings in his company {107}laughing over stories of adventure which irresistibly called to mind that great exponent of Persian drollery, “Hadji Baba.”

Leaving our horses behind to be brought on by the marching column, General Byron and six officers, including myself, moved by motor convoy from Kermanshah on April 22nd. With luck we hoped to reach Hamadan in two days.

It is twenty-two miles to Bisitun Bridge and the crossing of the Gamasiab, a tributary of the Kara river. The brick bridge over the stream had been destroyed by the retreating Russians. It had not yet been repaired, and we were to be faced with the difficult problem of getting the Ford cars across to the eastern bank of the Gamasiab. The recent rains had done their worst for the road track which led over the great plain of Kermanshah, and the soil had been converted into a kind of pulpy clay which the passage of recent caravans had churned into puddle. The laden cars bravely struggled through it, sinking occasionally to the axles in the treacherous mire. Finally, we crawled out of this bog and struck a patch of hard road which led to the village of Bisitun, where we halted to allow the other bogged cars to join up. Beyond the straggling village of thirty houses or so the great rock of Bisitun rises perpendicularly from the level plain.

Bisitun is famous for the inscriptions and tablets of Darius found here. It lies on the highway from Ecbatana to Babylon, and was thus chosen by various {108}monarchs as a fitting place for the record of their exploits.

It is to British pluck, tenacity, and will-power that the world owes its definite and detailed knowledge of the Darius inscriptions. That “King of Kings,” as he proudly styles himself, saw to it that the written account of his greatness should be at a height corresponding with his fame, and had it placed 300 feet above the ground on the wall of a dizzily perpendicular cliff. To climb this rock near enough to read what Persian workmen chiselled there five hundred years before the Christian era is the dangerous and difficult undertaking accomplished by Rawlinson.

The bas-relief tablets and inscriptions on Bisitun’s famous cliff wall have all but one object—to glorify Darius Hystaspes (“The great King, the King of Kings, King of Persia, King of the Provinces”), and to give the lie to any of his enemies or rivals who dared to proclaim themselves monarchs also. (“This Gaumata the Magian lied: thus did he speak: ‘I am Bardiya; son of Cyrus, I am King!'”)

Grandiloquently the names of the countries over which Darius ruled are set forth. They number twenty-three. A Persian Alexander the Great was this “King of Kings.”


The bas-relief vividly portrays his conquest of the lesser chieftains from whom he wrested their kingdoms. His foot is on the prostrate form of the most formidable of these, Gaumata, while the others are shown tied together by their necks, a sorry company {109}of defeated royalties. Darius is depicted as physically towering above the men of his day, a giant in every way. Over him hovers the Godhead, Auramazdn, or Ormuzd, who, holding a circlet of victory in one hand, with the other points out the mighty monarch as the wearer-designate.

The whole is in a marvellous state of preservation, thanks to the conscientious work of the craftsmen who laboured at it so many thousand years ago. After first smoothing the surface of the rock, they filled in every tiny crevice or crack with lead. Then they chiselled deeply, and with astonishing accuracy, each character, finally coating the whole with a silicious varnish, a protection against climatic ravages which has stood the test imposed upon it while countless generations of mankind have come and gone.

When we reached the Gamasiab, we found the stream in flood, and a six-knot current swirling through the brick arches of the damaged bridge. There was a great gap in the central span, the latter running to a point almost like a Gothic arch. Gangs of workmen were busy repairing it, under Lieutenant Goupil, R.E.

Captain Goldberg, of the Armoured Car Section, had preceded us to Bisitun. Goldberg, who had ripped roads through East African jungle to get within shooting distance of the Hun, claimed that in his service lexicon there was no such word as fail, and that wherever a transport mule could pass in Persia {110}he would take his lighter cars. At Bisitun he was as good as his word. The animals of the transport were ferried across on crudely constructed rafts to which were attached inflated goatskins to give additional buoyancy. They were of the type of the Mussik raft of the Tigris, and the scheme worked successfully. But it was a tricky business when it came to ferrying motor-cars over. Our own Fords were emptied of their contents, and a single car was lashed on a raft which was then man-hauled across a hundred yards of stream to the other bank. Sometimes one of the guide-ropes gave way, and the raft and its burden, caught by the swift current, would go gyrating down stream until it was lassooed by pursuing coolies on a second raft. At other times the wheel-lashings would part in transit, and the raft would “nose dip” at a dangerous angle. Then the Persian labour coolies, with wild shouts and cries, would jump into the water and restore the equilibrium of the water-logged raft by clinging to its stern. All our cars were in this manner safely carried over without serious mishap, and the stores and baggage were brought on coolies’ backs across the wrecked bridge itself. On the eastern bank the Fords were reloaded and the party got under way once more.

We spent the night at Kangavar, a big village at the eastern end of the Bisitun gap, and at the junction of the Hamadan Qum and Daulatabad roads, fifty-five miles from Kermanshah. Kangavar reposes at the foot of a lofty, snow-capped mountain, and is {111}built on a series of natural and artificial mounds which rise corkscrew fashion from the plain. Here are the ruins of a large temple or palace whose history is lost in antiquity. That profound scholar and archæologist, Rawlinson, thinks that Kangavar is the Chavon of Diodorus, where, according to the Sicilian historian, Semiramis built a palace and laid out a paradise. There also existed at Kangavar a celebrated temple of Anaitis, whose lascivious cult was once widespread in this ancient land.

We were hospitably entertained by the representative of the Deputy Governor, who is noted for his pro-British sympathies. The Sheikh, our host, furnished us with quarters within his own residence, a wonderful walled enclosure big enough to hold a battalion, and laid out with beautiful gardens and fountains. In the trees the laqlaqs (storks) nested, and down by the cool splashing fountains a peacock in all the beauty of fully displayed plumage strutted proudly.

We were seven officers to supper, but our host, in accordance with the lavishness required by Persian hospitality, prepared enough food for four times our number. His multitude of retainers looked on while we ate, and what remained of the feast passed to them by right of custom.

It was with considerable misgivings that we heard that the shorter road to Hamadan over the great Asadabad Pass, nearly eight thousand feet high, was closed by snow. We accordingly took the longer {112}and lower road by way of Parisva and Tasbandi which skirts the Alvand mountain range. The cars bogged incessantly in the low, flat country, but going over the Parisva Pass, where the gradients are steep and great boulders strew the route, our progress was also very slow. The cars had to be manhandled, being towed and pushed by peasants collected from the neighbouring fields. There were several “lame ducks” in the convoy, and before evening a number had broken down altogether and had to be temporarily abandoned by the roadside in charge of an armed guard.


Night had already fallen when the leading cars crawled into Hamadan, having taken fourteen hours to cover a journey of about ninety-five miles. Weary and travel-stained, we reported at British Headquarters, and to our joy found that everyone was well, and that the Dunsterville Garrison, overawing the turbulent section of the population, was still in possession of this isolated post in the heart of Persia.





In ancient Hamadan—With Dunsterville at last—His precarious position—”Patriots” as profiteers—Victims of famine—Driven to cannibalism—Women kill their children for food—Trial and execution—Famine relief schemes—Death blow to the Democrats—”Stalky.”


Hamadan stands at a height of six thousand feet at the foot of the Alvand range, which is covered with snow for ten months in the year. In summer, when the tender shoots of the growing corn are pushing above the earth, and the trees are blossom-laden, “every prospect pleases.” The reverse of the medal is presented after a brief acquaintance with Hamadan’s people, and one sadly recalls that “only man is vile.”

It is said that modern Hamadan occupies the site of one of the ancient Ecbatanas of the Greeks, of which there were seven, and that it was the treasure city of the Achæmenian Kings, the place taken and plundered by Alexander the Great when he was “strafing” the Eastern World. However that may be, very few ancient remains have been brought to light. On a hill outside the town are the ruins of a {114}citadel, and a carved stone lion of venerable aspect and crude workmanship crouches by the roadside not far from the British Hospital Compound. This lion may once have adorned the façade of an Achæmenian palace, but he has fallen from royal greatness to plebeian utility; for it is popularly believed that he exercises a protective influence against cholera, smallpox, plague, and kindred ills; and Persian mothers bring their children and seat them on his stone back to obtain immunity from disease. Famine is evidently not included, or so many children would not have succumbed during the hunger days of the spring and early summer of 1918, before that never-failing talisman, the British Commissariat, exorcised the famine fiend.

In Hamadan, too, is buried the celebrated philosopher and physician of Bokhara, Abu ali ibn Sina, better known as Avicenna, the legend of whose fondness for eleventh-century wine and women has come down through all the ages, obscuring whatever reputation he may have possessed as a healer or thinker.

The Jews of Hamadan, and they are numerous, point with pride to the site of the tombs of Esther and Mordecai. It is very uncertain whether either of these personages who figure so prominently in the Book of Esther is buried here. Within an insignificant-looking, weather-worn, stucco-covered shrine in the grip of decay, are two wooden sarcophagi covered with faded paint and bearing gilt inscriptions in Hebrew of verses from the Book of Esther.

The Rabbi in charge, a sallow-faced man with a long white beard, who had seen generations of Gentiles come and go while he kept watch and ward here, assured me that the tomb of this heroine of the Jewish race, who stooped to amatory conquest that her people might live, as well as that of her shrewd relative, the opportunist Mordecai, were of unquestionable authenticity. I will leave it at that.

The arrival of our small party in Hamadan at the beginning of May added a hundred or so additional rifles to the unwelcome and uninvited skeleton force already there. As I related in a previous chapter, General Dunsterville, after falling back from Resht, established himself in Hamadan, his available fighting force being a handful of officers and a baker’s dozen of N.C.O’s. He was in the midst of a more or less hostile population of about 70,000, one-fourth of whom were Turks or of Turkish origin and sympathies, the remainder being Persian, with a small sprinkling of Jews and Armenians.

Yet he sat there unharmed while the Asiatic world wondered. His position was precariousness itself. The full virulence of political animosity was focussed upon him and his dangerously thin khaki line. I am convinced that no Assurance Company, however speculative, would have considered him a “safe life” during those dark and doubtful days, when he was barricaded within the British Compound, alternately waiting for the inglorious but picturesque death so fervently promised him by the local Democrats, or {116}watching for the reinforcements which dribbled fitfully from Bagdad and over Persian plain and mountain.

Hamadan was at once the foyer of Turkish espionage and of Persian intrigue. The moribund association of local Democrats, merchants and grain-growers, had been largely galvanized into anti-British activity by Kuchik Khan, whose army of Jungalis still barred the road from Manjil to the Caspian Sea. The Hamadan Democrats were “pure patriots,” who talked glibly in the local tea-houses of the blessing of political freedom, cursed the British as mischievous, evil-minded interlopers, and called upon Allah to bless their deliberations and rid them of the British oppressor. Incidentally, they would meet in secret conclave and decree a further increase in grain prices, which meant a substantial gain to themselves. Supplies were refused to the British except at very exorbitant rates; the profiteers waxed fat and became more insolent; and the poor of Hamadan were left to die of hunger, victims of Persian cupidity and Persian indifference. Pamphlets, inflammatory in tone, and bearing the imprimatur of the principal democratic club, were distributed broadcast in the streets, and from these the victims of famine had at all events the ante-mortem satisfaction of learning that it was the British who were deliberately starving them to death in order that these beardless intruders might the more easily overrun the whole land of Persia.

If a Persian Democrat be valorous in speech, he is fortunately discreet in deeds. An ukase would go forth from Kuchik Khan that there was to be a truce to temporizing, and that the Dunsterforce must be sent without delay to the Jehannam of Unbelievers. “By Allah, it will be accomplished!” would be the prompt reply. Then the fearless Democrats, always careful never to risk their own skins unduly, would hire some half-starved fedais or irregulars, who for a kran or two would fire a few shots into British Headquarters, or, under cover of dusk and a sand-bank, snipe some solitary officer or soldier of our force. Whereat there would be much rejoicing in democratic circles, and the club would sit up late drinking arak.

Meanwhile the hunger mortality in Hamadan was increasing. Bread, the chief, indeed the only, article of diet of the poor, was at 14 krans a batman (roughly, the equivalent of ten shillings for 7 lbs.), and the wheat combine saw to it that the price increased rather than decreased. On May 6th Mr. McDouell, the British Consul, officially computed that the daily deaths from starvation were two hundred. Hamadan was a city of horrors. The unburied victims of famine—men, women, and children—were lying in the streets and in the fields adjoining British Headquarters. The Kashish or priest of the Shi’ite mosque, who received a fee of about twopence for officiating at the funerals of those buried in forma pauperis, admitted that the daily interment-roll was {118}one hundred and sixty during the first fortnight of May. The hunger-enfeebled survivors became herbivorous, eating the grass in the fields like so many animals. A short course of this diet proved as fatal as the want of bread, for it invariably caused peritonitis and a lingering, agonizing death.

But there was worse to come. The foodless people, driven crazy by their sufferings, now resorted to eating human flesh. Cannibalism was a crime hitherto unknown in Persia, and no punishment exists for it under Persian law. The offenders were chiefly women, and the victims children stolen from the doorsteps of their homes, or snatched up haphazard in the bazaar purlieus. Mothers of young children were afraid to leave them while they went to beg for bread, lest in their absence they should be kidnapped and eaten. I never went into the Bazaar or through the narrow, ill-paved streets without a feeling of sickly horror at the sight of the human misery revealed there. Children who were little better than human skeletons would crowd round to beg for bread or the wherewithal to purchase it, and in parting with a few coppers to them, one could not help shuddering and wondering if they, too, were destined, sooner or later, to find their way into the cooking-pot.

The Persian Governor one day awoke from his habitual lethargy and roused the local police, who set out on the track of the child-eaters. A series of domiciliary visits brought to light fragments of human bones and rags of clothing. They arrested {119}eight women, who confessed that they had kidnapped, killed, and eaten a number of children, pleading that hunger had driven them to these terrible crimes.

On the following day, May 8th, a yet more horrifying case of cannibalism was discovered. Two women, mother and daughter, were caught red-handed. They had killed the daughter’s eight-year-old child, and were cooking the body, when the police interrupted the preparations for this horrible feast. The half-cooked remains were removed in a basket, and an indignant crowd of well-fed Democrats followed the wretched offenders to the police-station, threatening them with death.

Some of the people, who did not share the noble view of the Democrats that the poor should starve rather than that cornered wheat should be released, went to the telegraph office with the intention of informing the weak and incapable Teheran Government of the true state of affairs.

But the Democrats would have none of that; it might upset their carefully laid schemes for enrichment at the expense of the flesh and blood of their fellows. There was no telling what effect a telegraphed protest might have upon the supineness of the Shah’s Cabinet Ministers. Those administrative sluggards might be goaded into some action bordering on interference with the policy of the Hamadan Democrats, which Heaven forbid! So Democrat emissaries picketed the Persian telegraph office, and pitched into the street any of their adversaries who {120}questioned their right to impose an arbitrary censorship. Thus was made manifest the “benign rule” of the “friends of Persia” in all its callous disregard for the first principles of humanity.

On the following day there was the sequel to the case of child murder by mother and daughter, when these two unfortunates paid the cruel penalty imposed by Persian law for killing one’s own offspring—that of being stoned to death. The “execution” took place in front of the Hamadan telegraph office. The condemned women, already on the borderland of death from hunger, were staked down in two shallow pits near where heavy stones were plentiful. Then the police, reinforced by a willing mob, armed themselves with heavy boulders and pounded the flickering life out of their emaciated frames, silencing for ever their unavailing cries for pity and mercy. It was a revolting spectacle, and although their crime was an abominable one, no one not a Persian could repress a feeling of compassion for the wretched creatures who, made desperate by hunger, had become so dead to all human instinct as to kill and be prepared to eat their own flesh and blood.

Other women were apprehended and executed for child murder. It was reported that there was plenty of wheat stored in private houses, and it was urged that severe measures should be taken against the hoarders. The men were still eating their evening meal of grass, flavoured with a little salt. One of the favourite trysting-places of the Democrat {121}stalwarts was the football-ground near the Hospital Compound. Nearly every afternoon in fine weather, when the ground was not being used for play, they sat there cross-legged—in their brown and black loose-fitting robes, resembling so many clucking hens on a roost—discussing and planning the overthrow of the British, while hundreds of their own people lay dying around them of starvation.

In Hamadan, to add to our other difficulties, we were greatly troubled with professional mendicants, whose ages varied from six to sixty, and whose energy and begging zeal were unbounded. In time we got to know them, chiefly, I think, because of their physical fitness. They were always in the pink of condition, sound in wind and limb, and could run a mile in pursuit of a likely dole without turning a hair, while their vigorous lung power would have done credit to a “cheap jack” auctioneer.

I always did, and always shall, admire the wonderful patience and clemency exercised by Dunsterville when faced with the Democratic organization, which aimed at nothing short of wiping out both himself and his force in Hamadan, if not by a tour de force, then by starvation. They were always inciting the populace to rise and finish us. But hungry men have little stomach for blood-letting, and although those in Hamadan found it difficult enough to exist owing to the food shortage, they were in no hurry to abridge their unhappy days by flinging themselves on British bayonets.

The Hun or the Turk would have ended this intolerable situation long ago by decorating Hamadan lamp-posts with the dangling bodies of local Democrats; but Dunsterville was forbidden to embark upon any strong measures. Our own Minister in Teheran, Sir Charles Marling, kept warning us that we were neutrality-breakers, and wondering whether the Persian Government, even by the exercise of all his (the Minister’s) diplomatic skill, could ever be induced to forgive us. Sir Charles, who has since been transferred to some other sphere of usefulness, was always quick to grasp and expound the Persian official point of view. I often wonder if he ever busied himself with attempting to understand that of the British concerning the occupation of Hamadan and Kasvin.

One of the contributory causes of the Hamadan famine was the insane behaviour of the Russian Army when in occupation of the town and district. They destroyed the growing crops of wheat and barley, and wantonly wasted the grain they were unable to consume or carry off. The Hamadan harvest is not ripe for gathering until about the first week in July, so the British, in May, were faced with the problem of feeding a starving population for some sixty days. It was not incumbent upon them to do so, but both pity and policy coincided in indicating the necessity for combating the evil of food shortage that was so rapidly thinning out the population.

With the approval of the British Government a {123}scheme of famine relief was inaugurated by General Dunsterville. Labour gangs were formed, and under the supervision of our officers the starving multitude was set to work road-making. In about the first week three thousand offered themselves for employment, and were enrolled. Nominally, only the able-bodied were supposed to be eligible, but judging by the human wrecks that one saw in the Labour Corps few of this category existed in Hamadan. The road-makers, at the beginning, were paid four krans per diem (a kran is, at war-exchange, the equivalent of a franc), and it was stipulated that they should provide themselves with a spade or mattock and a basket in which to carry away the loosened earth. A number, it is true, did present themselves armed with the narrow-bladed bilm or spade of the Persian agricultural labourer, but there were hundreds who heroically tackled the job equipped with nothing more efficacious than wooden rice-spoons. Still, no one kicked at this, and the rice-spoon wielders did their “bit,” or attempted to do it to the best of their enfeebled ability. Our object was rather to be content with some colourable imitation of a quid pro quo for cash disbursements, than to exact a stiff day’s labour from people wholly incapable of performing it.

In our blissful ignorance of Persian psychology, we fondly imagined at first that the equivalent of £400 a day paid out in wages to roadmakers would sensibly alleviate the prevailing distress. But we {124}did not reckon upon Persian avarice, selfishness, and untrustworthiness of character. The price of bread, somewhat to our surprise, did not fall. In fact it became dearer than ever. The bakers saw to that. Money was beginning to circulate more freely; the very poor were no longer empty-fisted; so up went the price of bread with a bound! In short, it was found that the more we distributed in famine relief the lower fell the purchasing power of the kran. Another thing, too, that militated against the successful working of the “all cash” scheme of assistance was that it did not to any extent ameliorate the pitiable lot of the women and children. The men did not always bother to buy bread for their starving dependents, preferring to dissipate their earnings in a nightly carouse in an opium den—the local equivalent to a British gin palace.

An unpleasant element of “graft” was also brought to light. No Persian for very long can keep his itching fingers from other people’s money. The native foremen of the road gangs were not an exception to the rule, and for a brief period they made a lucrative income by trafficking in labour tickets. First they issued spurious ones to their friends and relatives, none of whom had done a stroke of work; they even sought, somewhat clumsily to be sure, to counterfeit the official stamp which each ticket bore on its face. They rubbed some Indian ink on the reverse side of a two-kran piece, and with this stamped the forged tickets, adding a few pencil strokes à la {125}fantasie by way of giving a finishing touch of verisimilitude.

As the tickets entitled the bearers to draw four krans when presented nightly at the pay office, the thieving foremen were in a fair way to becoming rich by the time the fraud was discovered. The same individuals were also in the habit of coercing their hapless underlings into selling their tickets for a kran or two. These were then resold to a middleman, who cashed them at their full face value. But a liberal application of the bastinado worked wonders, and speedily rendered such dishonest practices highly unpopular.

Still, it was felt that some radical alteration was necessary if we were to get full value for, and the Hamadan poor full benefit from, the money that was being expended on their behalf. General Byron, a level-headed practical soldier, and very wise in worldly knowledge, who at this time was second in command to General Dunsterville, now took over control of famine relief work. He decided upon an alteration of the existing system of doles in favour of one consisting of a free distribution in food supplemented by payment in cash of two krans instead of four. Bread alone was deemed to be insufficient, and it was felt that the starving people who toiled daily road-making required some more nourishing food. After overcoming many difficulties, official as well as unofficial, and silencing the usual group of objectors who vowed that it could not be done, the {126}General opened soup kitchens at several centres, and fed as many as 2,000 hungry people per day.

The recipients were delighted and grateful. But it was now that the local Democrats, who throughout had stood aloof from the movement for succouring their starving brethren, reached their high-level of political strategy. It was not at all to their liking that the detested British interloper was filling the empty stomachs of the people gratis. In such circumstances they could not be expected to revolt and join hands with the Democrats, and besides, if this free distribution of food were not stopped, it would be a bad day for the wheat-trust and inflated grain prices. So they set to work and issued broadcast handbills warning the poor against partaking of British soup, on the ground that it was heavily flavoured with poison. It was part of another “deep-laid plot,” they said, to kill off all the Hamadani whom the ravages of famine had so far overlooked.

The average Persian peasant is an ignorant and gullible individual as a rule, but this time the Democrats overshot the mark and their assertions were too much even for Persian credulity. The hungry people came and ate. The second and succeeding days they came in thousands. Barricades and armed soldiers were required to prevent their storming the distribution centres and carrying off all the available supply. And, to the dismay and horror of all good Democrats, not a single one died from poisoning. This was the deathblow to the prestige of the Democratic {127}movement. It lost its grip on the people. There is nothing a Persian, or indeed any Oriental, hates so much as being made to look ridiculous; and the Democrats became the target for quip and jest in the bazaars of Hamadan, until in rage they plucked their beards and tore their garments, exclaiming, in accents of sorrow and humiliation, “Alas, what ashes have fallen on our heads to-day!”

But they rallied in their last ditch, and made an eleventh-hour attempt to avert the consequences of the moral defeat which had overtaken them. Kuchik Khan, the “Robin Hood” of the Caspian Marches, yielding to democratic pleadings, and in the hope possibly of discrediting British famine relief work, sent fifteen mule-loads of rice to Hamadan to be sold for the benefit of the poor. But Kuchik’s agents had seized the rice without payment from growers living in his “protected area,” so he was able to play the merry game of robbing the Persian Peter in order to comfort the Persian Paul.

The artifice was too thin. Hamadan was not deluded. The British were de facto masters of the situation. They had conquered the people of Hamadan not by the sword and halter of the Turk who had preceded them, but by a modern adaptation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

By a ruse de guerre the grain owners were induced to disgorge some of their hoarded stocks. Telegrams purposely written en clair which passed between Bagdad and Hamadan made it appear that large {128}supplies of wheat were being forwarded from Mesopotamia, whereupon the local Hamadan hoarders rushed into the market and sold readily at daily diminishing rates, until something like normal prices were reached once more. And so the bottom fell out of the wheat ring.

Private foreign effort closely co-operated with the military in the distribution of food and the relief of the famine-stricken. Dr. Funk and Mr. Allen of the American Presbyterian Mission, Mr. McMurray of the Imperial Bank of Persia, and Mr. Edwards, local manager of the Persian Carpet Factory, amongst them spent considerable sums of money and devoted a great deal of time to this work of charity.

Mr. McMurray is a man possessing much business acumen and financial ability, and as expert adviser to the British in occupation at Hamadan he was able to render very great services to his country. Too modest to seek reward or recompense of any kind, he nevertheless had an honour thrust upon him. It was a minor class of a minor decoration which a grateful Government in England somewhat grudgingly, it seems, bestowed upon him in generous recognition of his zealous labour in the common cause of Empire. So now, should he attend a public function at home, and the question of precedence arise, he will probably find himself ranking next after some lady typist from the War Office, who can write shorthand and spell with tolerable accuracy. To be {129}an unofficial Briton working for Britain abroad is a very serious handicap for the Briton concerned. The Government of the Empire sees to that. I have never been able to discover exactly why it is, but the handicap holds good all the way from Tokio to Teheran, and from Salonika to Archangel. Should you desire to acquire merit, and you happen to be the possessor of a name that betokens pure British ancestry, hide it, and let it be inferred that the cradle of your race is somewhere in Palestine or the Middle East. Then your path is easy. The India Office will pat you on the back, and the British Foreign Office will ecstatically fold you to its bosom.

McMurray’s bungalow was the chief trysting-place for the British officers in Hamadan. It stands within the great walled enclosure or compound where many members of the British and American colonies had made their homes. It was a city within a city, fringed with trees and pleasant pathways, and bordered by flower-beds. Mrs. McMurray was always “at home” to her compatriots from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. While she fed starving Persians, she also gave luncheons and dinners to British officers. Rarely were there fewer than six of the latter billeted under her hospitable roof. The eaglets of the R.A.F., and especially the fledglings still without their second wing, found her an admirable foster-mother, who counselled them in health and nursed them in illness, and was always a sympathetic amanuensis when {130}fevered brows and unsteady hands attempted to grapple with the problem of inditing a “line or two” for home to catch the outgoing mail.

Dunsterville, as he was popularly called, was a frequent visitor at the bungalow. The original of Kipling’s “Stalky,” he rode easily and without straining on the anchor of his reputation. He is keen-witted, with an illimitable fund of dry, racy humour, and no drawing-room was ever dull when the General was having his fling. As a retailer of bon mots the G.O.C. had no compeer in Hamadan. His shafts were never envenomed, and his victims laughed as heartily as anybody else, as, for instance, once when rations were running low and cannibalism was in vogue among the poor of the city, Dunsterville, turning to a very youthful A.D.C. whose cheeks were the colour of a ripe apple, said in his droll way, “I shall never starve, my lad, while you are about!”

One of his obiter dicta was that every British officer in Persia should be compelled to pass a qualifying examination in “Hadji Baba”—the Oriental Gil Blas—for he would then know more about the Persians, their manners and customs, than could be acquired by months of travel and unaided observation.

“Stalky” had no fear of personal danger. He was an optimist who always saw a diamond-studded lining to the blackest of clouds. It is related of him {131}that at his fateful interview with the Bolsheviks on the occasion of his raid on Resht he told the “Red Committee” so many amusing stories in their own mother-tongue that they quite forgot the principal business of the evening, which was to sentence him (Dunsterville) to death.





Official hindrances—A fresh blow for the Caucasus—The long road to Tabriz—A strategic centre—A Turkish invasion—Rising of Christian tribes—A local Joan of Arc—The British project.


By the middle of May Dunsterville began to feel his feet. Reinforcements were trickling in, officers and N.C.O’s., but no fighting men, and always in the petits paquets so beloved by the parsimonious-minded officials who sat at General Headquarters down in Bagdad.

Dunsterville’s own position was not an enviable one. His path was beset by difficulties of every description, and, much against his wish, he found himself engaged in a kind of triangular duel with British officialdom at home and abroad. First the Minister in Teheran, and apparently also the Foreign Office, were wringing their hands in despair, asking what he was doing in Persia at all, and urging him to “move on” towards the Caucasus. Next there was Bagdad, who, deeply incensed that Dunsterville had an independent command, and was in direct communication with the War Office, never lost a chance of putting a retarding spoke in his wheel, {133}even going to the extent of telegraphing up the line that no member of “Dunsterforce” was to be furnished with supplies from the military canteens. Then, finally, there was the War Office, who had sent him to Persia in the first instance because it was the most direct route to the centre of Bolshevik activities in the Caucasus. For some time they continued to support him against the pretensions of Bagdad, but ultimately they yielded, and Dunsterville and his force became subordinate to the Bagdad command. Of course, there were, in addition, the malcontents amongst the Persians, notably the Democrats and their Turkish-German sympathizers, who had more than a passing interest in all this bickering and wrangling. They, too, were anxious that a British force should not sit down indefinitely in Persia.

At last it was determined to do something and to strike a fresh blow for the Caucasus; but the initiative no longer rested with Dunsterville. It had passed to Bagdad. New difficulties arose immediately. How were the Caucasus to be reached—by the Caspian Sea and thence by steamer to Baku? Or overland from northwards, through the province of Azarbaijan to Tabriz and railhead?

The direct route to the Caspian from Hamadan was not possible, because Kuchik Khan and his Jungalis still held the Manjil-Resht section of the road, and Dunsterville unaided was not then strong enough to turn them out. True, there were the Russian auxiliaries under Bicherakoff, but these valued allies {134}were making ready for an offensive in their own leisurely fashion, and were not to be “speeded up” by any known methods of British hustling.

From Hamadan to Tabriz by way of Zinjan is about three hundred miles. The route for the most part lies over difficult and mountainous country, where supplies are scarce or hard to procure. The wild and scattered tribesmen are not noted for extreme friendliness. Zinjan itself is 115 miles from Hamadan in a northerly direction. The next important stage on the road to Tabriz is Mianeh, eighty-five miles north-west of Zinjan. From Mianeh, Tabriz itself is distant about one hundred miles.

Tabriz, the ancient Tauris, and capital of the province of Azarbeijan, is the largest city in the Persian Empire, and the most important commercial centre in all Iran. It is the residence of the Valiahd, or heir-apparent to the Persian throne. It occupies much the same position in north-western Persia as does Meshed in the north-eastern part of the country. Marco Polo visited it during his long overland trek to far Cathay, and found it a fair city, full of busy merchants and wealthy citizens.

But for the British, seeking to arrive within fighting distance of the Turks, Germans, and Russian Bolsheviks overrunning the Caucasus, Tabriz had its own special military importance. It was a point of great strategic value. Julfa, on the Russian-Persian frontier, and ninety miles from Tabriz, is the terminus of the Trans-Caucasian Railway which runs to Tiflis, {135}the Caucasian capital and main British objective. Tiflis is 320 miles from Tabriz. The railway from the former city continues west to Poti and Batum, the shipping ports on the Black Sea, and east (also from Tiflis Junction) to Baku and its oilfields on the Caspian Sea.

From Julfa, connecting with the Trans-Caucasian Railway, a Russian company had built a branch line to Tabriz, and an extension to Sharaf Khane on the eastern shore of Lake Urumia. On the lake itself was a fleet of Russian-owned steamers, which maintained communication between the railhead at Sharaf Khane and Urumia city, famous as the legendary birthplace of Zoroaster, which is on the western shore of the lake, and about twenty-five miles from Sharaf Khane.

When the Russian Army, stricken by the deadly plague of Bolshevism, retreated northwards towards Tiflis, they accommodatingly left behind at Sharaf Khane, for the use of the first comer, their fleet of lake steamers, hundreds of guns of heavy and medium calibre, dumps of shells and small-arms ammunition, thousands of serviceable rifles, and quantities of other military stores.

The Turkish frontier line, passing about forty-five miles west of Urumia, continues due north to its junction with the territorial boundaries of Russia and Persia on the perpetual snow-clad summit of the Greater Mount Ararat. The region round Lake Van having been cleared of potential enemies—the {136}Russians had retired, and the Armenians were put to the sword—the Turks, swinging eastward, lost no time in crossing the frontier and violating Persian territory. They pleaded military exigencies for the step they had taken, and turned a very deaf and unsympathetic ear to the mere paper remonstrances of the Persian Government. But in the invaded territory they met with severe and unexpected opposition, not from their own Islamic kindred, but from hated and despised Infidels of the Christian sect.

Urumia is the centre of a thickly populated Christian district, and the headquarters of French, Armenian, American, Russian, and British religious missions to the Nestorian Christians. These latter, with few exceptions, inhabit the plains and lowlands; but in the bleak, almost inaccessible mountain regions, live and thrive some brave and warlike tribes who are also Nestorian Christians, and who are generically known as Jelus. They had suffered much from religious persecution at the hands of Kurd, Persian, and Turk, and over and over again in their mountain eyries, with rifles in their hands, they had put up a brave fight against the Moslem oppressor in defence of hearth and home and the temples of their faith.

Nestorians and Jelus once more made common cause against the common Turkish enemy. Already warned by the fate of the hapless Armenians, they were under no delusion as to what would befall them should the Osmanli triumph—it meant extermination, root and branch.

Badly equipped and badly armed, but heroically led, the combined Jelu Army took the field under Agre Petros, generalissimo, and Mar Shimon, the Nestorian Patriarch. With the latter went his sister, Surma Khanin, who fought in the ranks of the Christian army, and whose lion-like bravery and devotion under enemy fire speedily led to her being known as the Nestorian Jeanne d’Arc.

A force of Turkish regulars belonging to the 6th Division, plundering and burning as it went, on May 17th was surprised by the Jelus on the River Barandoz, south of Urumia, and cut to pieces, the victors capturing the guns and greater part of the supplies. Thus came to naught the Turkish plan for the taking of Urumia by means of a combined attack from the south and from Salmas in the north! The captured artillery and supplies gave the Jelus a new lease of military life, and they were able for some time afterwards to keep the Turk at bay. Everyone realized that, without military help from the British, the Urumia Christians must be overwhelmed by the Turks sooner or later.

This, then, was briefly the situation towards the middle of May. The Turk, battered and bruised after his encounter with the Jelus, was pulling himself together for another and more carefully prepared spring. He hung around Khoi, whence he threatened Urumia on the western shore of the lake, and Sharaf Khane and its rich booty of Russian guns and military stores on the eastern shore.

While the Turk was probably inwardly debating whether he should not bring matters to a climax by descending on Tabriz to possess himself of the Persian end of the Trans-Caucasian Railway and the Russian military stores at Sharaf Khane all at one swoop, some official folk in remote Bagdad and remoter London were discussing between themselves with great earnestness and energy whether it would not be possible and practicable to forestall him by marching a column from Hamadan to occupy Tabriz, seize the railhead, establish a base for operations against Tiflis and the Caucasus generally, and stretch out a helping hand to the sorely pressed Nestorian-Jelu Army on the other side of Lake Urumia.


The British Minister in Teheran got wind of the project and jumped upon it heavily. The Persians would not like it; it would offend their susceptibilities; they were almost certain to be annoyed, and diplomatic complications, etc., etc., were sure to follow. It is a little way British Ministers sometimes have. They become over-zealous and over-cautious, ever dreading a hair-breadth departure from the narrow limits of the conventional protocol. There followed a good deal of official wobbling and indecision. First the “Ayes” had it, then the “Noes,” and meanwhile much precious time was wasted. Ultimately, some strong man somewhere—it is rumoured that he lives down Whitehall way—got a firm grip of the problem, and flung his weight into the scale on the side of the “Ayes”; and the {139}”Noes,” including the far-seeing Minister, were routed.

The word “go” was given in Hamadan, and then began the great Olympian race—the goal Tabriz, with Turk and Briton pitted one against the other.





A scratch pack for a great adventure—Wagstaff of Persia—Among the Afshars—Guests of the chief—Capture of Zinjan—Peace and profiteering.


On May 21st a small British column left Hamadan for the north-west of Persia. It was anything but a formidable fighting force as far as numerical strength was concerned. It comprised fifteen British officers, one French officer, and about thirty-five British N.C.O’s. The whole party was armed with rifles and some also carried swords, infantry or cavalry pattern, which had been dug out of the Ordnance Store at the last moment.

Even as our equipment was varied, so was there certainly something distinctly Quixotic about our saddlery and our chargers. Of the latter, some were a fresh issue by the Remount Department, and ranged from heavy limber horses to light ‘Walers. Then there were Persian “Rosinantes,” bare-boned and razor-backed. The humble Persian mule and humbler donkey were also impressed into the service of carrying some British officer or sergeant forward on the great adventure.

For adventure it certainly was. Our orders were {141}to march on Zinjan, where a few hundred Turks were said to be holding a post, defeat or disperse them, raise and train Persian levies, and, with these auxiliaries to aid us in the fighting line, push on to Tabriz, and, if possible, dispose of any Turks who might be inclined to dispute our entry into the capital of Azarbaijan. We had a Lewis gun, but no artillery. We had a medical officer, but scant medical and surgical stores; no ambulance or stretchers, but a couple of dhoolies, to each of which a mule was harnessed fore and aft. Baggage and supplies were cut down to a minimum, for the column, if such it could be termed, was to be self-supporting, and to live on the country, not always an easy task in the starving land of Persia.

This British forlorn hope was led by Major Wagstaff of the Indian Army, an officer who had spent years in Persia attached to the South Persia Rifles, and had an intimate knowledge of the Persian as a fighter and as an intriguer. Wagstaff spoke the language of the country with great fluency, and knew all the tribes from Fars to Azarbaijan with the intimacy of an ethnological connoisseur. I remember that he held the Persian in high esteem, believed him to be courageous to a certain extent, honest according to his lights, and altogether possessing the makings of a soldier. But then Wagstaff was born an optimist!

Our route lay due north from Hamadan to Zinjan, where it was intended that we should cut in on the {142}main Tabriz road that runs from Teheran by way of Kasvin. The Turks, too, had been active in this district lately. Small reconnoitring parties of them were said to have made their way down through Azarbaijan to the neighbourhood of Mianeh and Zinjan, in quest of supplies and military information. In a sense they were operating on favourable ground, for a large proportion of the inhabitants of Azarbaijan are of Turkish origin. They belong to the same race as the Turks on the north side of the Araxes (Russian-Persian frontier) who occupy the valley from Julfa to Erivan, and with whom those in Azarbaijan have blood ties.

The Afshari is one of the powerful Turkish tribes known as Kizil Bashis, which settled in Persia in the seventeenth century, and at the present day more than a quarter of the descendants of the Afshari live in Azarbaijan. It was to smash the growing power of these newcomers from across the Persian border that Shah Abbas organized the tribesmen in north-eastern Azarbaijan, who were known as Shahsavans—”Shah loving.” But their loyalty did not last long. They soon turned their arms against their royal master, and joined the Russians in the campaign of 1826, forming an enduring alliance with their tribal enemies, whom they ultimately absorbed into their bosom. The Shahsavans are a turbulent crew, well aware of their strength and fighting value, and have from time to time terrorized the Persian Government. In 1912 they revolted in the vicinity {143}of Ardabil, and it took a combined Persian-Russian force of five thousand men and a four months’ campaign to suppress them.

After six days’ march we were in the country of the Afshar tribe, one of the five main branches of Shahsavans, which is credited with being able to put a thousand mounted and armed men in the field. The chief of the Afshars, Jahan, Shah Jahan, we found sojourning in one of his villages called Karasf. A day’s march from this village we were met by a messenger from the Amir Afshar, as he is generally called, who invited us to make a detour and break our journey at Karasf.

It was at the close of a hot, dusty afternoon that we reached the Amir’s abode, very tired after a long march. The Amir’s headman bade us welcome, and announced that we were to be the guests of his master during our stay. The customary sacrificial offering of sheep was made in our honour, and our horses were led away by native mihtaran or syces. As for ourselves, we were installed in a spacious caravanserai with a retinue of servants to wait upon us. The Amir Afshar proved an admirable host, and supplies were forthcoming in abundance from the many villages in his domains.

Ascertaining that several members of the party were poorly mounted, he sent us six horses, the very best of his blood stock. The Amir lives in semi-regal style, and, as paramount chief of the Afshar tribe, is lord of his people and the arbiter of the lives {144}and fortunes of about five thousand tribal families, who render him unswerving, unquestioning obedience. Here was ancient feudalism in the heart of the twentieth-century Persian Empire! Although owing a nominal allegiance to the “King of Kings” in Teheran, the Amir apparently did not bother his head very much about party intrigues or the trend of national politics at the Court of the Shah. He did his own intriguing, and did it exceptionally well. A man of extraordinary ability and political shrewdness, he first coquetted with the Turks and then with the British, adroitly playing one off against the other in the great game of politics. Too careful to commit himself irrevocably to one side or the other while the Great World War was still undecided, this Oriental Vicar of Bray nevertheless contrived to maintain a cordial and unbroken friendship with both Turk and Briton. If a Turkish emissary, backing up his persuasive pleadings with a bag of gold, besought him to put an end to neutrality and to place his resources and his small army of irregulars at the service of his blood relatives, the Amir always accepted the gold cheerfully, and fervently wished success to the Turkish arms. Then the British, not to be outdone by the Turk, would ask, as a guarantee of his good faith, for fifty or a hundred armed levies from amongst his tribesmen. The Amir invariably agreed in principle, but he would point out that no self-respecting Afshari could fight at his best unless equipped with a British rifle. The latest pattern {145}army rifle would be forthcoming to the number required, but then a border foray would always be staged about the same time, and the wily Amir would plead, and with some show of reason, that he needed every sowar he had to prevent his territory being overrun by his powerful and unscrupulous tribal neighbours. Still, for all that, during the darkest of the famine days, he kept the British commissariat well supplied with grain, and that, too, at a reasonable price.

Our host was usually “at home” to distinguished visitors from four to five a.m. He sent to say that the state of his health forbade his receiving us at the more conventional hour of noon. The Amir, I learned afterwards, was a confirmed opium-eater, his daily dose of the drug being far in excess of the quantity consumed by our own candid de Quincey. He was an old man, verging on eighty, but although his physical health was indifferent, his mental energies were unimpaired. He rarely ventured abroad, and spent his days and nights in the privacy of his apartment, abandoning himself to the full enjoyment of his enthralling passion of opium-eating. At daylight he was usually recovering from his latest dose of the drug. Then he would partake of a little food, see callers, read his letters, and depart for dreamland again, carried thither on the wings of the insidious and baneful poppy extract.

One morning at dawn the members of the Wagstaff Mission paid a ceremonial call on the Amir. {146}Fortunately we were accustomed to early rising. We were conducted to his presence with considerable ceremony, and found him reclining on the floor of a large apartment covered with rare Persian rugs. There was little else in the way of furniture in the place. I saw before me an old man with shrivelled, sunken features, piercing black eyes, and a grey beard growing on a face the colour of yellow parchment. A long, thin, bony hand was held out for us to shake in turn, the Amir excusing himself from rising on account of physical weakness. He bade us welcome in a quavering, piping voice.

Whatever else may have been his infirmities, it soon became clear that he had a remarkably alert brain. The most recent phases of the European War, the varying fortunes of the participants engaged therein, the latest tit-bit of scandal from Teheran, and the pretensions of the Turks to territorial occupation of Azarbaijan and possible aggrandizement at the expense of Persia, all these topics drew from the aged but mentally virile potentate pungent and sagacious criticism. He talked high strategy with all the assurance of a Field-Marshal, and gleefully told how he had politically out-manoeuvred the wily, calculating Turk in a recent little affaire à deux. While he spoke he ran his hand idly through a pile of correspondence, read and unread, opened and unopened, which littered the floor beside him. Letter-filing has evidently not reached any high standard at Karasf.

I think we all fell under the spell of our host’s well-informed mind and his world-wide interests, and when he asked if there had been any Cabinet changes recently in London, and whether Lloyd George was still Chief Minister of our King, we felt that the march of contemporary events, rapid indeed as they can be sometimes, had failed to outstrip the keen alertness of the overlord of Karasf.

On May 29th, having previously exchanged adieux with our kindly host, we set out from Karasf. The weather was now oppressively hot, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to march during the noon-day heat. We accordingly moved off earlier, and usually contrived to take the road about sunrise daily, halted at noon for an hour or so, and then on again, finishing the day’s march early in the afternoon in the welcome shade of some garden on the outskirts of a village and close to a good water-supply.

A day’s trek from Karasf took us beyond the confines of the Amir’s territory. Couriers whom he had despatched in advance of us warned his local headmen of our coming, and we lacked nothing in the way of supplies. We crossed rough, broken country, wound over mountain passes, and down into pleasant valleys beyond. Our advent, it was clear, caused much excitement in the countryside, but the people, while they sometimes held aloof, were never unfriendly. We were passing through a country less {148}ravaged by starvation than the region close to Hamadan. Food was more plentiful, and the “hunger battalion,” with its suffering members, was not to be seen in the Persian North-West.

We were also gradually losing touch with Persian as a spoken language. It was being supplanted by Turki, the dialect of Turkish-Persian spoken by the peasant classes in the province of Azarbaijan. As we rode north we were sensible of this linguistic change. First the peasants we met in the village spoke Persian and understood Turki; farther north Persian was understood, but not spoken with any fluency; until, north and north-west of Zinjan, Turki entirely ousts the native Persian, the latter as a spoken language in many cases being quite unknown to the villagers.

So far we had seen nothing of any hostile Turks. A body of their cavalry and a few infantry were reported to be at Zinjan, but the villagers told us they had not come farther south, or anywhere in the neighbourhood of our own line of march. A few robber bands occasionally quitted their mountain lairs and descended into the plain, taking us for some peaceful merchant caravan, probably unarmed, and therefore an easy prey for these wild freebooters of the hills. But, on reconnoitring closer and discovering their mistake, they did not tarry, and turning about, went off into the hills as fast as their wiry ponies could carry them.

On the afternoon of May 30th we arrived within ten miles of Zinjan, and camped on a bare and desolate sand tract close to the main road. A Persian tea-house, with its walls crumbling to ruins, stood by the wayside. Tea there was none, and the occupier had disappeared, leaving his establishment to the care of the wild dogs and prowling hill robbers that nightly infested it. It was empty now, and abominably filthy, so I sat outside under the lee of the tea-house wall which afforded a little protection from the scorching heat, holding a very tired horse, and waiting for the sun to take himself from off the hot plain in order that we might seek both rest and refreshment.

At daylight on May 31st we broke camp early and moved cautiously forward in the hope of surprising the Turkish force in Zinjan, leaving the baggage and stores behind under a guard. Our total striking force was thirty all told, half of which was under Major Wagstaff and the remainder under Captain Osborne, 2nd King Edward’s Horse.

Zinjan is a town of 24,000 inhabitants, shut in by high hills on the east and west, between which lies an immense plain traversed by the Zinjaneh Rud. On both banks of this river are beautiful gardens enclosed by walls of baked brick. If the Turks meant to make a stand here, they had found an admirable defensive position, and one from which it would take a couple of battalions to dislodge them. Osborne’s party worked round to the west and north {150}in order to threaten the retreat of the enemy, while Wagstaff and his small band, including myself, halted under cover of a garden wall to the south of the town.

Some Persian Charvadars coming out of the town volunteered the information that the Turks holding Zinjan, whose numbers were variously estimated at from two to three hundred, were already in flight, and galloping away northwards as hard as they could go. The news of our approach must have reached them early. No doubt our numerical strength had been magnified tenfold by the imaginative native spy who had carried the intelligence of our advance.

This information decided Wagstaff. In a moment we had flung ourselves into the saddles and, with a wild British cheer that shook sleepy folk out of their beds, we dashed across the stone bridge spanning the river and so into Zinjan. We rode first for the bazaars, hoping to round up in that quarter some stray Turks who had overstayed their leave when the town was being evacuated. But we found none.

If our sudden arrival failed to surprise the Turks, it certainly alarmed the inhabitants of Zinjan. Panic seized them. In the bazaars the women and children fled at our approach, and the shopkeepers, trembling in every limb, made frantic efforts to bolt and bar their premises. Finding that the new-comers neither robbed nor maltreated anyone, the bazaar lost its {151}attack of “nerves,” and recovered its habitual calm. Business instincts got the better of physical fear. Shutters came down with a run, and as a slight token of local appreciation, and in honour of our coming, all bazaar prices were immediately, and by universal consent, increased one hundred per cent.





Armoured car causes consternation—Reconnoitring the road—Flying column sets out—An easy capture at the gates of Tabriz—Tribesmen raid the armoured car—And have a thin time—Turks get the wind up.


Zinjan having thus passed into our hands without the firing of a shot, the Wagstaff column established its headquarters in a garden villa a mile north of the town, near the junction of the road to Mianeh. The Indo-European Telegraph Company had an office in Zinjan, and we were speedily in communication with Kasvin, eighty miles to the south-east.

Osborne’s small party soon turned up, having failed to round up any Turks. Indeed, the latter bolted from Zinjan with amazing celerity, so much so that their commandant, Major Ghalib Bey, left behind some of his papers and personal effects.

During our march on Zinjan, Dunsterville headquarters had moved up from Hamadan to Kasvin in order the more effectively to co-operate with Bicherakoff and his Russian volunteers in the impending operations against Kuchik Khan and his Jungalis, who were holding the Manjil-Resht road.

A few hours after we had taken peaceable possession {153}of Zinjan, Lieutenant Pierpont, with a light armoured car mounting a machine-gun and a Ford convoy bringing supplies for our force, arrived from Kasvin. The car, as it lumbered through the narrow bazaar streets, scraping its way round sharp corners where there was scarcely room to swing a cat, visibly impressed the susceptible native mind, and damped the pro-Turkish enthusiasm of the militant local Democrats. Its presence exercised a salutary moral influence, and although there were mutterings of discontent at our unceremonious seizure of the town, the stodgy barrel of the machine-gun peeping from the turret of the armoured car was in itself sufficient to overawe all the anti-British hotheads of Zinjan.

On the morning following our arrival in Zinjan Major Wagstaff sent me off with the armoured car to reconnoitre the road towards Mianeh. I had with me Lieutenant Pierpont, who was in charge of the car and its crew of three, and Lieutenant Poidebard of the French Army, who was attached to our column. In addition to the car there were a couple of Ford vans carrying spare petrol and stores for the journey. Official road reports in our possession covering the section of the route between Zinjan and Mianeh were indefinite and even conflicting. The road ahead was in places reputed to be “good for wheeled transport,” but whether it was passable for an armoured car was highly problematical.

Our first day’s journey was devoid of thrill. We forded the shallow waters of the Zinjan Rud and one {154}of its tributary streams, towed the car in places with the two Fords as tugs, and at others built a plank bridge to carry it over deep mud holes.

At the village of Nik Be, or Nikhbeg, which is about thirty miles from our starting-point, the inhabitants fled in terror at the sight of the strange iron-clad monster moving down the village high street. The very dogs took fright and set out for some remote part of Azerbaijan with their tails between their legs. Even the usually placid transport donkey was not proof against the prevailing infection of fear, and kicking his load free, he betook himself elsewhere. The general impression appeared to be that the Evil One himself had dropped in for a morning call. In five minutes from our entry into the village not a human face was to be seen, and a silence as of death itself reigned everywhere. Presently we dug out some of the terrified villagers from various subterranean hiding-places and prevailed upon them to inspect the “monster” at close range. Finding it now stood the test well, and that it behaved in a rational way, they grew bolder, and patted its khaki-painted sides affectionately, as one would stroke a dog of dubious friendliness.

On the succeeding day, by dint of a good deal of spade work, we reached Jamalabad, about fifteen miles from Mianeh, where the road approaches the Baleshkent Pass. The ascent to the pass from the Jamalabad side is about three miles from the village, and the road mounts abruptly at a very sharp angle. {155}On the reverse slope it zigzags down the side of a gorge which made one giddy to look at. It required the united efforts of fifty sturdy villagers from Jamalabad to push the car to the top of the pass, but, even if we could have negotiated the descent in safety, it was doubtful if we should ever have been able to climb back by the precipitous corkscrew ascent.

To be caught by the Turks at the bottom of the Pass unsupported would mean disaster for the expedition, so very reluctantly we turned the armoured car’s head for Zinjan. We learned that there were Turks in Mianeh, but none of those who had quitted Zinjan in such haste before the advance of the Wagstaff column had come along the Jamalabad road.

Pierpont, who was in charge of the car, was a mild-mannered youth, but of a very warlike disposition, and was much disappointed that we had not had a brush with his old enemy, the Turk. Down Mesopotamia way he once charged an infantry position and engaged in “close action” by laying his armoured car alongside a front-line trench, where he speedily closed the account of its defenders with machine-gun fire.

Another swift stroke now placed us in possession of Mianeh and brought us eighty miles nearer Tabriz.

Captain Osborne, taking with him a small detachment from Wagstaff’s force, as well as a contingent of hastily recruited Persian irregulars, was despatched from Zinjan over the recently reconnoitred {156}route. He had a convoy of Ford vans, took with him the armoured car under Lieutenant Pierpont, and pushed forward rapidly, negotiating the difficult Baleshkent and the still more difficult Kuflan Kuh Passes. The Kuflan Kuh at its highest point is 5,750 feet, and the ascent on the south side and descent on the north side are very difficult for ordinary wheeled transport. This is especially so on the south slope, which, in a series of short, sharp gradients rises 2,000 feet in two miles.

By the aid of a good deal of native labour the armoured car was safely taken over the formidable Kuflan Kuh, and duly made its appearance in Mianeh. The Turks were reported to have had a small post here, but when Osborne’s party entered Mianeh the enemy had already withdrawn towards the north-west.

The premises of the Indo-European Telegraph Company, which had a stout wall and a compound, were selected as British headquarters. Leaving a part of his slender command here to hold the place until Wagstaff and his main body could come up, Osborne with the armoured-car patrol and a few British N.C.O’s pushed along the Tabriz road, crossed the Shibley Pass twenty miles south-east of Tabriz, and reconnoitred up to the gates of the city itself. It was a hazardous and daring undertaking, but it would have succeeded, and we could easily have won the race to Tabriz and so checkmated the less enterprising Turks, had a few companies of {157}British troops been available to hurry to the support of Osborne. But one cannot very well expect the equivalent of a sergeant’s guard to perform the work of a battalion, and to hold a city of 200,000 inhabitants whose attitude was doubtful from the point of view of friendship. So Osborne had to fall back slowly towards Mianeh.

The armoured car had by this time used up all the spare tyres and inner tubes, and, when the retirement over the Shibley Pass began, it was going on bare rims. Its mobility was impaired, and, while it could still fight, it certainly could not run, and its tyreless progress over the mud and boulders which pass for a road in Azerbaijan was slow and painful.

The limping car looked an easy prey to Turk or prowling robber hordes. So thought a band of two hundred Shahsavan tribesmen, as they rode down from the hills one morning on one of their periodical forays. They had watched the car from afar, and noted its limping gait and its helplessness.

In that corner of upper Azerbaijan, from the Tabriz road east to Ardabil and the Caspian Sea, and north towards the Russian frontier, there roam free and unhampered a score or so of sub-tribes of the Shahsavan Clan, wild and lawless rascals for the most part, but not wanting in courage or in that rude chivalry common to the Asiatic hillmen. The Shahsavani handle a rifle skilfully. Pillaging is for them both a livelihood and a distraction. They are the recognized tax-gatherers of the Tabriz road, and {158}will rob a fat caravan, or disarm and strip the Shah’s Cossacks, with equal impunity.

And now the tribesmen got their lesson. The car stood on the roadside while Lieutenant Pierpont and his men were preparing breakfast. Approaching to within eight hundred yards, the raiders opened out, and charged to the accompaniment of wild yells. Then the machine-gun in the turret of the immobile car spoke up in reply. It sprayed the charging horsemen with lead; they broke and fled; but, reforming, came on anew. The gun spat more leaden hail, and this time the tribesmen had had enough; they fled in disorder, and ever afterwards gave a very wide berth to all such devilish contrivances as armoured cars and machine-guns.

The Turks now grew seriously alarmed at our temerity in threatening to snatch Tabriz from their impending grasp. It was the door to the Caucasus and to one of the Turkish main theatres of military operations. It was a prize worth having, and for the Turks the possession of the capital of Azerbaijan was of scarcely less vital importance than it was for the British themselves. Kuchik Khan had already effectively barred the gate to Resht and shut us off from the Caspian on the east; now the Turk was completing the “bottling-up” process, for he was closing the door of Tabriz in our face and getting in the way of our reaching Tiflis in the north.


During the first week in June the Turks bestirred themselves and began their campaign of close and {159}active co-operation with Kuchik Khan. Turkish troops hurriedly moved on Tabriz from the neighbourhood of Khoi and the direction of Julfa. Ali Elizan Pasha, who designated himself “Commander of the Ottoman Army in the province of Azerbaijan,” issued a flamboyant proclamation addressed to his dear Persian brethren and co-religionists asking them to rally to his standard and to make common cause with his Army of Liberation which was pledged to free Persia from the thraldom of the Infidel. So the Turks moved in, and were welcomed by the Persian officials and by the Valiahd or heir-presumptive with manifestations of joy, and the Entente consuls and citizens of the Entente countries moved out as fast as slow-moving Persian transport could carry them.

Once in Tabriz, the Turks did not let the grass grow under their feet. They were bent on giving us a Roland for our Oliver. They assiduously cultivated the good graces of the local Persian Democrats, actively identified themselves with the Ittahad-i-Islam, or Pan-Islamic movement, and set about the recruiting and training of local levies with which to harry us in Azerbaijan. The Turks also formally notified the Teheran Government that it was their intention to extend their occupation to the Persian capital, so as to complete the spiritual and political resurrection of the Shah’s Empire.

Mahmud Mukhtar Pasha, a Turkish military leader of some renown, entered Tabriz on June 15th, gave {160}his blessing to the Pan-Islamic propagandist movement, and promised the militants amongst the Democrats that there would soon be no British left in Azerbaijan or elsewhere in Persia to trouble the peace of mind of those patriots. The good work was furthered by such zealous Democrats and Turkophiles as Hadji Bilouri, Mirza Ismael Noberi, and the Sheikh Mehamet Biabari, who contrived to combine piety with politics for a cash consideration.

The Turks, while lavish with oratory, were niggardly with money. In short, they were bad paymasters, happily for the British; otherwise the latter would not have been in Azerbaijan as long as they were. They enrolled fedais or native levies, but forgot to pay them, whereupon the levies deserted and took service with the British down Mianeh way, arguing, logically enough, if crudely, that Turkish promises would not buy bread, and that the money of the Infidel was better than none at all.

The Turks, too, by their rapacity early estranged popular feeling. They commandeered right and left without payment, and in the bazaar, at the point of the pistol, they compelled merchants and money-changers to accept their depreciated paper currency at an inflated rate of exchange as against Persian krans.





Training local levies—A city of parasites and rogues—A knave turns philanthropist—Turks getting active—Osborne’s comic opera force—Jelus appeal for help—An aeroplane to the rescue—The Democrats impressed—Women worried by aviator’s “shorts”—Skirmishes on the Tabriz road—Reinforcements at last.


When the Wagstaff Mission finally reached Mianeh from Zinjan it began to collect grain supplies, by purchase, and set to work to raise and train irregulars. Although the Persian hates drill and discipline, there was no dearth of recruits for the local army. The pay was good, about £2 a month with rations and uniform, which meant affluence to the average Persian villager, who was usually too poor to buy enough bread to keep himself alive.

Mianeh, which is rightfully credited with being the most unhealthy spot in North-Western Persia, has a population of about 7,000. It is the chosen home of a poisonous bug (Argas Persicus) whose bite produces severe fever and occasionally death. There is also a set of parasites, human this time, whose sting is very deadly in a financial sense. They are the Merchants’ and Grain-Growers’ Guilds, {162}and they were always attempting to dip deep and dishonestly into the British treasure chest. It would be doing this delectable spot no injustice to say that, in proportion to its population, it can boast a greater percentage of unchained rogues than any other town in the whole province of Azerbaijan.

One of these knaves turned “philanthropist” once. He begged the Mission to start relief works to help the starving poor of Mianeh, and offered to supply the British with spades for excavation work at cost price. The spades were paid for and the relief work started—and about a week later it was accidentally discovered that the “philanthropist” was collecting two krans a day as spade hire from the dole of the starving peasants! On another occasion he induced a too-confiding officer to sanction the payment of a sum of money for rendering less malodorous the streets of this pestiferous town. The money was drawn, and then its recipient discovered that the people were partial to noxious vapours, and had conscientious objections to any interfering and misguided foreigner meddling with their pet manure heap. So nothing was done, but the money disappeared. Such is morality as practised in this corner of the Shah’s dominions!

The Telegraph Compound which, during our occupation of Mianeh, served as Wagstaff’s headquarters, stood on the brink of a knoll overlooking the main street leading to the Bazaar Quarter. On the face of a corresponding eminence opposite, and divided {163}by a bend of the road, was the local Potter’s Field, where friendless peasants and penniless wanderers from afar who had paid the great debt of Nature within the inhospitable walls of Mianeh were interred (when the lazy townsfolk found time to give them sepulture) in a hastily dug and shallow grave. In the meantime the defunct ones were wont to be dumped down on a rude bier and left there, sometimes for a whole day, under the fierce rays of a mid-June sun. Mianeh was as uncomfortable for the dead as it was unhealthy for the living. Truly, few Persians seem to possess any olfactory sensitiveness. They would pass the Potter’s Field hourly, showing no concern at the repulsiveness that must have assailed their eyes and noses.

News filtered down the road from Tabriz that the Turks there were displaying great activity. They were daily being reinforced, and made no secret of their intention to attempt, when sufficiently strong, the task of chasing the British from Azerbaijan. They established posts on the Tabriz road southwards as far as Haji Agha, about sixty miles from Mianeh.

The answer to all these Turkish preparations for breaking our slender hold upon Azerbaijan was for Wagstaff urgently to ask for reinforcements and especially mountain guns. In the meantime he sent Osborne back up the Tabriz road, with all the fighting men that could be spared, to watch the enemy and to attempt to prevent his breaking farther south. {164}Osborne’s chief reliance was placed on the few British N.C.O.’s who accompanied him. Beyond these, all he had to stem any Turkish advance was about half a squadron of newly enrolled irregular horse and a couple of platoons of native levies who had been taught the rudiments of musketry and elementary drill.

Their appearance, at all events, was very warlike, not to say terror-inspiring, and, like some of the wild tribes of Polynesia, they relied chiefly on the effectiveness of their make-up when on the “war-path” to bring about the discomfiture of their enemies. The Sowars were unusually awe-inspiring, hung about as each was with two or three bandoliers studded with cartridges. Each carried a rifle, a sword of antique design, and a short stabbing blade.

The Naib, or Lieutenant, who commanded them, was equally formidable from the point of view of arms and equipment. He had a Tulwar shaped like a reaping-hook, and a Mauser pistol, the butt of which was inlaid with silver.

The tactics of the Sowar levies were something in the nature of a compromise between a “Wild West” show and opéra bouffe. They would gallop at full speed up a steep hill, brandishing their rifles over their heads and yelling fiercely the while. It was always a fine spectacular display with a dash of Earl’s Court realism thrown in. The rifles of the Sowars had a habit of going off indiscriminately during these moments of tense excitement when they {165}were riding down an imaginary and fleeing enemy, and the British officers who watched their antics found it expedient in the interests of a whole skin to remain at a respectful distance from the manoeuvring, or—should one say, performing?—Sowars.

Swagger and braggadocio were the principal fighting stock-in-trade of the levies and their Persian officers. They were always clamouring to be led without delay against the Turks in order that we might have an opportunity of witnessing what deeds of valour they would perform under enemy fire. The time did come, and our brave auxiliaries found themselves in the front line with a Turkish battalion about to pay them a morning call—and we realized more fully than ever that the hundred-years-old dictum of that incomparable humorist, Hadji Baba, still held good, “O Allah, Allah, if there were no dying in the case, how the Persians would fight!”

The Turks having outstripped us in the race to Tabriz, a belated attempt was made early in July to get in touch with the sorely pressed Jelus in Urumia and stretch out to them a succouring hand. They had sent us a despairing appeal for help. Their ammunition was running out; their available supplies were nearly exhausted; and they were on the verge of a military collapse. The Turks threatening Urumia had offered terms if the Jelus laid down their arms, but, fearing treachery if they accepted, the War Council of the Jelus refused the enemy offer, advising unabated resistance, and urging that an {166}attempt should be made by the whole army to break out towards the south and march in the direction of Bijar and Hamadan, in order that they might find safety behind the British lines.

Lieutenant Pennington, a youthful Afrikander airman who was noted for his coolness and daring, was despatched from Kasvin on July 7th. He was to fly to Urumia carrying a written assurance of speedy British aid for the beleaguered garrison there. Pennington made a rapid non-stop flight to Mianeh, covering the distance from Kasvin in a little over two hours. He spent a day at Mianeh, where he carried out a series of useful demonstrations intended to impress the local Democrats. They had never seen an aeroplane before, and were rather vague as to its offensive potentialities. Moreover, they had been inclined to be scornful of our want of military strength so glaringly revealed at Mianeh. But now, at all events, the Democrats were duly impressed by Pennington and his machine. They argued that, if one aeroplane could come from Kasvin in a couple of hours, so could a whole flotilla, and armed with death-dealing bombs. Not altogether ignorant of the doctrine of consequences, the Democrats realized the value of oratorical discretion; so for a while they put a curb on their poisonously anti-British tongues.

Meanwhile Pennington continued his aerial journey to Turkish-menaced Urumia, the city by the lake shore, where a Christian army was sheltering and wondering anxiously whether it was succour or the {167}sword that awaited it. Within two hours of leaving Mianeh, the intrepid airman was crossing over Lake Urumia heading for the western shore. He dropped low on approaching the city itself, and his unexpected appearance brought consternation to the inhabitants. Aeroplanes were unknown in those parts. They felt that this visitor from the clouds could hardly be a friend; therefore he was presumably a foe. Reasoning thus, the Jelus lost no time in blazing away a portion of their already slender stock of ammunition in the hope of bringing him down. The aviator had many narrow escapes, and so had his machine. He landed with a few bullet holes through his clothing, but his aeroplane, happily, had not been “hulled,” or he would have been immobilized at Urumia.

As he alighted, the Jelus rushed up to finish him off, for they were not noted for being over-merciful to Turks falling into their hands. But seeing that he was English, they embraced him as a preliminary, and then carried him shoulder-high into the city. He was the hero of the hour. The people were delirious with joy, and women crowded round and insisted on kissing the much-embarrassed aviator. As the weather was very hot, Pennington was wearing the regulation khaki shorts. One Nestorian woman, after gazing compassionately at the airman’s bare, sunburnt legs, and noting the brevity of his nether garment, shook her head sadly and said she had not realized till then that the British, too, were feeling the effects of the War and were suffering from a {168}shortage of clothing material. There was a whispered consultation with some sister-Nestorians, and a committee was formed to remedy the shortcomings of Pennington’s kit. The women ripped loose their own skirts and, arming themselves with needles and cotton, pleaded to be allowed to fashion complete trousers for the aviator, or at least to be permitted to elongate by a yard or so the pair of unmentionables he was wearing. The youth blushed furiously, and was at great pains to explain that there was still khaki in England, and that it was convenience, and not any scarcity of material, that had caused the ends of his trousers to shrink well above his knees.

Pennington flew back from Urumia, and it was arranged that the Jelus with their women and children were to march south by way of Ushnu and Sain Kaleh to meet a British relieving force moving up from Hamadan and Bijar.

Early in August Osborne had several brushes with the Turks on the Tabriz road. The enemy flooded our lines with spies, chiefly Persians from Tabriz, and pushed reconnoitring patrols as far south as Haji Agha, forty miles from Tabriz. In these road skirmishes our Persian levies behaved with their characteristic unsteadiness. Once they were fired upon by hidden infantry at seven hundred yards, they forgot their promised display of valour, their courage oozed out at their boots, and they promptly bolted. An aerial reconnaissance revealed detachments of cavalry, artillery, and infantry marching {169}south along the Tabriz road, but Headquarters in Bagdad refused to attach any importance to this concentration, and for the moment were deaf to Wagstaff’s reiterated demand for reinforcements, and especially for a mountain gun or two.

Captain Osborne and his party now dug themselves in at Tikmadash, about fifty miles from Mianeh and a corresponding distance from Tabriz, and fixed his headquarters in a serai close to the village which commanded the Tabriz road. There was a supporting British post at Karachaman not far from the main Tabriz road and fourteen miles to the south-east.

Wagstaff’s repeated pleadings with “high authority” at last began to bear fruit. It was a generally accepted military axiom out in Mesopotamia and Persia that, if you were insistent enough in your demands for an extra platoon or two, with a gun or an aeroplane thrown in, you were either given the goods, or dubbed a “flannel-footed fool” and relegated to the cold shades of official oblivion. It was generally the latter. When Wagstaff, therefore, heard that he had been given a whole squadron of 14th Hussars, a platoon of the 14th Hants, and a platoon of Ghurkas, as well as a section of a howitzer battery and a couple of mountain guns, his habitual soldierly calm deserted him, and he almost wept for joy on the neck of his adjutant, debonair “Bobby” Roberts of the 4th Devons.

“C” squadron of the 14th Hussars had made a {170}forced march from Kasvin. Its ranks had been thinned by fever, and it barely mustered eighty sabres when it rode over the Kuflan Kuh Pass to Mianeh. It had but two officers, Lieutenants Jones and Sweeney, fit for service. But there was no respite. Fever-racked troopers and leg-weary horses, after a night’s halt at Mianeh, started on a fifty-mile march to Tikmadash, where a handful of British were holding up a Turkish force already numbering nearly a thousand and growing daily. The tired infantry who had “legged it” all the way from Kasvin were also pushed north in the wake of the cavalry.





Treachery of our irregulars—Turkish machine-gun in the village—Headquarters under fire—Native levies break and bolt—British force withdrawn—Turks proclaim a Holy War—Cochrane’s demonstration—In search of the missing force—Natives mutiny—A quick cure for “cholera”—A Turkish patrol captured—Meeting with Cochrane—A forced retreat—Our natives desert—A difficult night march—Arrival at Turkmanchai—Turks encircling us—A fresh retirement.


The Turks came against Osborne at Tikmadash on September 5th. For days previously they had been carefully preparing for the attack.

Overnight they sent into the village, unperceived by the British, an infantry detachment which fraternized with the inhabitants and also with a small party of our irregulars who were on observation duty there. The treacherous irregulars said nothing of the presence of the Turks in their midst, and made common cause with them at once. Towards midnight the Turks smuggled in a machine-gun, which they subsequently mounted on the flat roof of the dwelling of a Persian official. At daylight the Turks, from cover of the village itself, opened a violent machine-gun fire on the headquarters of Osborne, which were in a serai a short distance on {172}the Mianeh side of Tikmadash village. All the officers, some eight or ten in number, lived here. There were two doors to the serai on two different sides of the building. Both these exits were sprayed with machine-gun fire. There was nothing for it but to open the door and run the gauntlet. It was like coming within the vortex of a hail-storm, yet, surprising to relate, few were hit.

Beyond the weak units of the 14th Hussars, the Hants, and the Ghurkas, Osborne had nothing to depend upon in this critical hour save levies recruited in Mianeh and elsewhere who, in spite of their boastings, were always fire-shy. They took up a position this morning at Tikmadash, but it was clear from the beginning that their hearts were not in the business.

After firing some shrapnel into the position, the Turks stormed it with two thousand infantry. The shell fire had already stampeded the Persians, but their British officers, Captains Heathcote, Amory, and Trott of the Devons, and Hooper of the Royal West Kents, by dint of persuasion and threats, temporarily stopped the disorderly flight, and induced the wavering men to follow them back into the line. But a few more shells from the Turkish gun, which burst with telling accuracy, finished the resistance of the levies. Osborne had no artillery, the mountain battery section from Mianeh not having yet arrived.

This time the portion of the line held by the levies {173}doubled up like a piece of paper. Panic seized them, and they fled with all the swiftness of hunted animals, throwing away their rifles as they ran. The Hants, Ghurkas, and Hussars were now all that was left to cover the retirement. The Turks were working round both flanks and, had the British hung on, the whole force would have been surrounded and killed or captured. Some of the British soldiers were so incensed at the cowardice of the Persians that they turned their rifles against the fugitives and shot them in their tracks.

When a retirement was seen to be inevitable, the charvadars were ordered to load up the stores and medical supplies at the serai. In the midst of their preparations the levies broke and fled. This decided the charvadars, who showed themselves to be as arrant cowards as the rest of their race. Cutting away the lashings securing the loads on the transport mules, they jumped on the animals’ backs and galloped panic-stricken to the rear.

Captain John, of the Indian Medical Service, who had worked like a Trojan attending to the wounded under fire, now collected three or four British N.C.O’s. and sought to rally the runaway charvadars, or at least to recapture some of the transport mules. As well might Dame Partington have tried to mop back the waves of the Atlantic. John, however, did succeed in moving the British wounded, but all the officers’ kits, medical supplies, and ammunition fell into the hands of the enemy.

The sadly diminished and battered British force withdrew to Karachaman, preceded by the fleeing native levies, who magnified the extent of our reverse, and as they ran spread panic amongst the villages on our line of retreat.

Eight days before the Turks hit us at Tikmadash, news had filtered through to Mianeh that the enemy was becoming active in Eastern Azerbaijan. Raiding parties of Turkish cavalry had penetrated to Sarab, eighty miles east of Tabriz, and stray bands of tribal levies who had taken service under the Turkish flag were reported farther east towards Ardabil and the Caspian littoral. They distributed proclamations broadcast announcing a Jehad or Holy War against the British, and calling upon the people to rally to the banner of the Ittahad-i-Islam, or Pan-Islamic movement, and so make an end of the Infidel occupation of Persia. The hapless villagers themselves had little choice in the matter; compulsion was drastically applied, and a village that showed hesitation, or evinced any apathy in embracing the tenets of the political-cum-religious and Turkish-controlled Ittahad-i-Islam, was laid waste, its inhabitants maltreated, or sometimes put to the sword.

The Turks further showed their contempt for Persian authority by seizing the telegraph office at Sarab and kicking out the detachment of Persian Cossacks who held the place in the name of the Shah and did police duty in the district. These Cossacks, in common with the rest of their brigade, were under {175}the command of a Russian officer. He evidently harboured some extraordinary view as to his duty towards the Shah’s Government, for he accepted with meek submissiveness the imperative orders of the Turks to take himself and his command out of Eastern Azerbaijan without any unnecessary delay. The Persian Cossacks, the “paid protectors of the poor,” to give them one of their official designations, rarely “protected” anybody unless as a financial investment, and their brutality and greed for illicit gain caused them to be as much dreaded by the Persian peasant and bazaar shopkeeper as were those brutal, plundering ruffians, the Turkish Bashi-bazouks whom the senior partner in the Pan-Islamic firm had let loose in upper Azerbaijan.

To counteract enemy activity round Sarab and Ardabil a small mounted force was despatched from our post at Karachaman under Captain Basil Cochrane of the 13th Hussars. Cochrane had with him about forty British enlisted Sowars of Khalkhal Shahsavans. Moving across the mountains, he boldly rode into Sarab. The Turks, assuming his to be but the advance guard of a large British force, scattered at his approach. The Governor and the townsfolk welcomed him effusively, and promised him military support. But Persian promises are not always redeemable, as we had already found to our cost. Turkish cavalry were advancing afresh and threatening his rear, so Cochrane, who was fifty miles as the crow flies from the nearest British post, {176}had to let go his hold on Sarab, and retire towards the south. Then a veil of silence enshrouded his movements; and at Mianeh headquarters it was feared that he had been cut off and killed with his whole party.

I had just come back from a long trek, and had stretched my weary self out on a camp bed and gone fast to sleep, booted and spurred, when someone shook me vigorously. I awoke and found it was Wagstaff, chief of the Mission, with orders for me to take out a mounted party and go in search of Cochrane. I mustered the available Sowars of the station, about fifty in all. They were recruited from the Shahsavan tribesmen, and we had had hitherto no reason to suspect their fidelity. But immediately they divined that trouble was brewing and that they might get a “dusting” from the Turk, they decided that Mianeh was a healthier place than Sarab, and mutinied to a man. Neither threats nor persuasion could move them. Having, so to speak, thrown in their hands, they dismounted from their shaggy, fleet-footed hill ponies, and stood sullenly with folded arms, refusing obedience to all orders.

Leaving Wagstaff to deal with the mutinous Sowars, I collected about a dozen of my own Persian police, and with these and two British N.C.O’s., Sergeants Calthorpe, R.F.A., and Saunders of the 13th Hussars, set off on my mission.

We marched the greater part of the night, and early next day reached Turkmanchai on the Tabriz {177}road, twenty-five miles north-west of Mianeh. Here I impressed ten Sowars of ours who, feigning illness and suffering from “fire-shyness,” had stolen out of the trenches at Tikmadash. Our route from Turkmanchai lay nearly due north towards the foothills of the lofty Bazgush Range and the country of the Khalkhal sub-tribe of Shahsavans. We bivouacked for the night in the prosperous village called Benik Suma, which stands in the middle of an arboreal-cloistered dale watered by a shallow but swift-running mountain stream. Supplies were plentiful, and the hand of famine had not touched this secluded Persian hamlet, which nestled so cosily beneath the glorious foliage of oak and chestnut.

When the march was resumed in the morning, it was found that four of the “malingerers” from Turkmanchai had deserted overnight. My little command did not seem at all easy in its mind at the prospect of having a brush with the enemy, and every hour that brought us nearer to the hill country an increasing number of Sowars reported sick and begged to be allowed to fall out.

At first I was puzzled by the spread of this sudden malady, for the symptoms were identical in each case—severe abdominal pains; but presently the mystery was explained. I encountered on the road a Persian Cossack who had ridden in from the Sarab district, and had come across the mountains that lay ahead of us. He volunteered the information that in a village about twenty miles distant he had {178}seen a Turkish cavalry patrol. Our Sowars on hearing this looked very glum, and four of them at once complained of violent illness. They rolled on the ground in pretended agony, artfully simulating an acute cholera seizure. This time, and without much difficulty, I diagnosed the disease as being that of pure funk, or what is commonly known in military parlance as “cold feet.” While sympathizing with the sufferers, I gravely told them that I had instructions to shoot off-hand any of my command who became cholera-stricken, and to burn their bodies in order to prevent the disease spreading. The result was little short of magical. The “severe pains” disappeared, and the patients made such a wonderful recovery that within half an hour they were able to mount their horses and turn their faces towards Sarab once more. And the “epidemic” did not reappear.

We entered the mouth of the gloomy Chachagli Pass in the Bazgush Range. Horsemen afar off had hovered on our flanks and reconnoitred us carefully, but the distance was too great to tell whether they were enemy irregulars or simply roving Shahsavans in search of plunder, who would impartially despoil, provided the chances were equal, Briton, Turk, or Persian.

The Chachagli Pass, a trifle over 8,000 feet, must surely be the most difficult to negotiate in the whole of the Middle East. The road or track from the southern entrance of the Pass follows a narrow {179}valley shut in by a high gorge. A huge mass of limestone rock, parting company with some parent outcrop several thousand feet above our heads, has fallen bodily into the shallow stream which rushes down the Pass, damming up its waters momentarily. The stream is angry, but not baffled, at this clumsy effort to bar its path. Gathering volume and strength, and mounting on the back of the impeding boulder, it dives off its smooth surface with all the energy and vim of a miniature Niagara, and goes on its way humming a merry note of rejoicing.

After traversing the stream repeatedly, the road tilts its nose in the air and mounts sharply. With just enough room for sober-going mules to pass in single file, it skirts the brink of a precipice until the top is reached. The rocks radiated a torrid heat that September morning, and the sun struck across our upward path. It was difficult climbing, for there is not in all the Chachagli Pass enough tree shade to screen a mountain goat.

On the north side of the summit the road descends just as abruptly; the track is narrow and rugged, and it requires careful going to avoid toppling over the unramped side and down into the rock-studded bed of the stream.

It was nearing sunset on the evening of September 2nd, and my small force was preparing to bivouac for the night, when two Sowars who had been foraging in a village to the west came galloping with news of the enemy. They had learned that a party of {180}Turkish irregulars had halted in a hamlet three miles away.

We moved in the direction indicated and found the information was correct. The enemy horsemen, believing themselves secure, had neglected to mount a guard. They had off-saddled and were sleeping peacefully in the shade of a mud-walled compound when we burst into the place and surprised them. They were ten in all. Rudely disturbed in their siesta, they surrendered without firing a shot. The prisoners comprised two Turkish N.C.O’s., six Sowars, and two agents of the Ittahad-i-Islam. They had evidently been “billposting” and recruiting, for their saddlebags contained letters addressed to Turkish sympathizers in the district and also the red armlets worn as a distinguishing badge by the newly enrolled fedais who undertook to fight under the crescent-flag of the Osmanli.

My own Sowars were greatly elated over this minor success. Their spirits rose accordingly, and they now professed to regard the fighting Turk with disdain, and to be prepared to match themselves single-handed against a whole troop of the enemy.

But it was all mere bombast. The prisoners were sent down to Mianeh with an escort of six of these “valorous” levies. On the way they, though, of course, unarmed, overpowered the guard, took the arms and horses, and escaped.

At daylight next morning, September 3rd, the march northwards was resumed. Our advanced {181}guard was fired upon by some armed horsemen, who retired. Following them up, we found that they were some of Cochrane’s scouts who had mistaken us for Turks. Cochrane himself I came across two hours later. With his little force he had retreated without loss from Sarab, and had taken up a snug defensive position on the brow of a wooded eminence, where he placidly awaited whatever fate might send him first—the attacking Turk, or the succouring British.

The tribesmen were friendly towards us, and, attracted by the prospect of good pay, were offering themselves freely as recruits. Making due allowance for the fighting instability of our levies, we felt we were strong enough to hold on, and if the worst came to the worst, and we were outnumbered, capable of putting up a running fight with the enemy.

But the end bordered on the dramatic, and came with an abruptness that neither of us had foreseen. As related in a previous chapter, Osborne was heavily attacked at Tikmadash on the morning of September 5th, and the news of his retreat and the advance of the Turks along the Tabriz road did not reach Cochrane and myself until 2 a.m. on the morning of the 6th. It was a ticklish situation. Go forward we could not, and our only way back was over the gloomy fastness of the Chachagli Pass. The Turks, we knew, were advancing rapidly, and we mentally saw them already astride our one line of retreat and ourselves trapped at the south exit of the Pass.

There was no time to be lost. So, destroying our surplus stores, and with grim faces, we set off in the darkness of the night. Our levies surmised that something had gone wrong with the British, and fear gripped their hearts. They deserted wholesale and without waiting to bid us adieu. There was a picket of fifteen Persians and a British sergeant in a village a mile to our front. The sergeant alone reported back. His command had “hopped it” when they realized that danger threatened. Five miles behind us on the crest of the ridge there was an observation post of thirty irregulars with a Naib or native lieutenant and two British N.C.O’s. The Naib had the previous evening vaunted his personal prowess, and assured Cochrane and myself that no Turks would pass that way except over his lifeless body. But when we reached his post in the blackness of the night, we discovered that the gallant Naib had fled none knew whither, and taken all his men with him. We never saw him again. The two N.C.O’s. had mounted guard alternately, and we found them cursing Persian irregulars and Persian perfidy with a degree of vigour and a candour that did adequate justice to their own private view of the situation.

Cochrane is an Afrikander born, and as resourceful and plucky a soldier as ever donned khaki. Used to night marching on the veldt, he led the advanced guard of our party through the intricate, labyrinthian windings of the Chachagli Pass where a single false step meant death. It was nerve-straining work, this {183}night march in the darkness, with men, horses, and transport mules following each other in blind procession and groping for a foothold on the narrow causeway. That mysterious dread of the unseen and the unknown, ever present on such occasions as these, clutched with a tenfold force the timorous hearts of the native levies who had survived the earlier stampede at the beginning of the retreat. Their teeth chattered, and their trembling fingers were always inadvertently pressing triggers of loaded rifles, which kept popping off and heightening the nerve tension.

We got clear of the Pass shortly after daylight. Fortunately the Turks were not there to intercept our march. With the passing of the long night vigil, and the coming of the dawn, gloom was dispelled; life assumed a rosier tint, and the levies recovered some of their lost spirits and waning courage. Once free of the imprisoning hills, and out on the broad plateau that dipped southwards to intersect the Tabriz road, we headed straight for Turkmanchai. Once we rode into a village as fifty well-mounted horsemen, disturbed like a covey of frightened birds, bolted out at the other end. We found that they were Shahsavan robbers, who looked upon our party as potential enemies. Turkish cavalry in extended order were visible on the skyline as we gained the shelter of Turkmanchai.

We reached this spot in the nick of time. Osborne’s force had been compelled to evacuate Karachaman, {184}the position occupied after Tikmadash, and his sorely pressed command was now trickling into Turkmanchai with the Turks at their heels. Turkmanchai village is at the base of a steep hill. At its summit the road from Tabriz squeezes through a narrow-necked pass. Here the Hants and the Ghurkas took up a position in order to arrest the Turkish advance. A section of a mountain battery had arrived overnight. The Turkish cavalry appeared in column of route, out of rifle fire as yet, and blissfully ignorant of our possession of artillery. The cavalry made an admirable target. Two well-directed shells burst in the midst of the astonished horsemen. Their surprise was complete, and wheeling they opened out and galloped wildly for cover. The impromptu salvo of artillery set them thinking, and they did not trouble us again that day.

To hold Turkmanchai was impossible. We had stopped the Turks in front, but they were working round our flanks, and it was only a question of hours when we should be isolated and cut off from Mianeh. We were outnumbered by fully ten to one, and the flanking parties of cavalry which the enemy threw out were alone larger than the British combined force of regulars and irregulars.

A fresh retirement was decided upon, and on the morning of September 7th we evacuated Turkmanchai. The wounded and the sick were removed in transport carts, and two hours after midnight the head of the column moved slowly off in the darkness. {185}I was in charge of the advanced guard, and found myself in command of a varied assortment of Persian irregulars, some of whom had “distinguished” themselves at Tikmadash and Karachaman and had been “rounded up” by British troops during the retreat. They were a motley crew, and what infinitesimal amount of pluck they ever possessed had long ago evaporated. In the advanced guard it was difficult to restrain their impetuosity. They dashed off at top speed as if they were riding a fifty-mile Derby race to Mianeh. But their one impelling motive was to place as many miles as possible of dusty road between themselves and the oncoming Turks before daylight.

By dint of threats of summary punishment they were brought to heel and ultimately held in leash. Silence it was impossible to impose, short of some form of gagging, and they chattered like a cageful of monkeys, utterly heedless of the danger of betraying our presence to the enemy. Then, too, their superheated imagination saw Turks growing on every bush. “Osmani anja!” “Osmani anja!” (The Turks are there!) they would cry, indicating some village donkey or goat taking a hillside stroll. Fortunately for us, the Turks showed themselves to be singularly lacking in energy, and were not keen on risking a night attack in unknown country, or they might have ambushed the advanced guard half a dozen times before it got clear of the danger zone. With our Persian “braves” to rely upon, there {186}would surely have been a “regrettable incident” to record officially.

The Turks waited for daylight, and then they attacked the main body and the rearguard, but were beaten off, and the column extricating itself reached Mianeh in safety.





We have a chilly reception—Our popularity wanes—Preparation for further retirement—Back to the Kuflan Kuh Pass—Our defensive position—Turks make a frontal attack—Our line overrun—Gallantry of Hants and Worcesters—Pursuit by Turks—Armoured cars save the situation—Prisoners escape from Turks—Persians as fighters.


Mianeh, pampered, spoon-fed Mianeh, which had grown fat on British bread and comparatively wealthy on British money, gave the retreating column a chilly reception.

The bazaar looked at us askance, and the Democrats spat meaningly in our direction and muttered a malediction upon our heads. There was joy in the eyes of the people which they took no pains to conceal.

The news of the Turkish success, much magnified in passing from mouth to mouth and village to village, had preceded our arrival, and the barometer of bazaar sentiment, always a sure gauge of Persian public opinion, had veered round to “stormy.”

And “stormy” it was to be. It was felt that the sands of the British glass had run out. The attitude of the people underwent a sudden change {188}from cringing supplication to one of thinly veiled hostility. Fawning officials, who had battened upon our liberality and profited by our largesse, now fell over themselves in their efforts to sponge the slate clean and write upon it a Persian improvised version of the “Hymn of Hate.” They threw the full weight of their mean souls into the job. In the bazaar they buzzed about like so many poisonous gadflies, and in order to curry favour with their new masters-to-be they incited the people to anti-British demonstrations, and beat and imprisoned humble folk whose friendship for our nation was disinterested and had not been offered on the local commercial basis of so many krans per pound. With one exception, all the district notables—who had always been reiterating their professions of friendship, and to whom we had paid large sums as subsidies for faithless, turn-tail levies, or as purchase price for grain—went over to the enemy. Our Mianeh police, my own command, or those of them who were Persians, followed the general example and ran off to join the Turks.

There was one notable exception. Four Kurds who belonged to the police and who could not be intimidated or cajoled, stood firm and refused to be carried off by the wave of desertion, and they remained to guard the Mission premises.

After Turkmanchai we did not tarry long in Mianeh. Preparations were at once made for a further retirement. The Turks were coming on {189}slowly and methodically, and apparently in no immediate hurry to hustle us out of Mianeh. The long and, in a sense, rapid marches of the previous five days during hot weather had told upon the Turkish infantry, and now the advancing enemy had cried a halt in order that his tired troops might enjoy a brief repose.

Our next defensive position was the Kuflan Kuh or Qaplan Kuh (the panthers’ hill) Pass, which lies five miles south-east of Mianeh. The main range of the Kuflan Kuh runs roughly from east to west, and the Tabriz-Zinjan road passes over its crest at a height of about five thousand feet. At the end of the Mianeh plain, and some two miles from the village itself, there is a solid brick bridge over the Karangu River. Once the river is crossed, coming from Mianeh, the rise begins gradually, and the foothills of the Pass are met with a mile or so from the river bank. The ascent from the northern or Mianeh end is very difficult, and the road mounts between two perpendicular walls of rock. The gradient is steep, and the outer edge of the roadway was wholly unprotected until a British labour corps took the job on hand and interposed a coping-stone barrier between the exposed side of the road and the abyss below. The same workers also plugged up some of the gaping holes in the roadway which had existed from time immemorial.

On Sunday, September 8th, the whole of Major Wagstaff’s force bade farewell without regret to {190}Mianeh, marched across the Karangu, and placed the formidable barrier of the Kuflan Kuh between itself and the advancing enemy. Wagstaff established his headquarters in a ruined caravanserai near the stone bridge which spans the Kizil Uzun River at the southern entrance to the Pass. All the stores of wheat and barley which had been accumulating in Mianeh were destroyed before evacuation, and the rearguard crossed the Karangu without molestation either from the Turks or from their new allies, the Mianehites, who were hourly showing themselves more hostile to the retiring British.


Headquarters at Kasvin now began to be alarmed at the uninterrupted southward advance of the Turks, for, if Zinjan fell, Kasvin might be expected to follow, and our line of communications from Hamadan towards the Caspian would be cut. General Dunsterville himself was away in Baku, fighting Bolsheviks and Turks. Some weeks earlier, with the help of Bicherakoff and his Russians, he had rooted out Kuchik Khan from his jungle fastness, and opened the road from Manjil to Resht and the Caspian Sea.

Wagstaff was accordingly ordered to hold the Kuflan Kuh at all costs, but what he was to hold it with was not quite clear, inasmuch as his total dependable fighting strength of Hants, Ghurkas, and 14th Hussars did not exceed 250 bayonets and 50 sabres, the few remaining levies being a negligible quantity. He had been given a machine-gun detachment, a {191}mountain battery section, two field guns, and a howitzer. His main position was on a line of low hills extending for about three miles below the northern face of the Pass, and commanding the approaches from the Mianeh plain and the brick bridge across the Karangu. The guns were on the reverse or southern slope of the Pass, whence by indirect fire they could make it unpleasant for an enemy crossing the Karangu bridge or fording the shallow river itself.

A platoon of the Worcesters arrived to reinforce our attenuated line, and Colonel Matthews of the 14th Hants took over command on the 9th. The Turks had now occupied Mianeh in force, and during the ensuing two days were busy preparing for an offensive movement. They pushed a considerable body of infantry down to the cultivated fields bordering the north bank of the Karangu. Here, amongst the boundary ditches, topped with low bushes, they found a certain amount of ready-made cover, and they subjected our advanced posts on the right to a harassing fire. These were held by levies with a stiffening of British officers and British N.C.O’s. The Persians, as usual, became “jumpy” whenever Turkish bullets hummed in their immediate vicinity, and as they were utterly lacking in elementary fire-control they were a source of vexatious perplexity to their British officers and sergeants. One officer, in despair at their utter unreliability under fire, pleadingly suggested that they might be withdrawn {192}altogether, and himself left with two British sergeants to hold the post.

Even after making due allowance for the complete worthlessness of our Persian auxiliaries, we hesitated to believe that the Turks would commit themselves to a frontal attack on the Kuflan Kuh. Given a sufficiency of reliable troops, it would have been an admirably strong defensive position, and any enemy who came “butting” against it with lowered head would have found the experiment a costly one.

But the Turks had seemingly gauged the measure of our strength and our weakness more accurately than we had ourselves, for, eschewing anything in the nature of new-fangled turning movements, they came at us in the good old-fashioned way, and by the most direct route.

The attack was delivered after breakfast on September 12th, and on the part of the enemy there was no sign of hurry or confusion. Two thousand infantry, highly trained and admirably handled, belonging to one of their crack Caucasian divisions, crossed the river in extended order and flung themselves against our line. The shock of contact was first felt on the right, where the Persians were in position. These latter promptly broke and fled in utter disorder, all attempts to rally them proving futile. Our line was now in the air, so to speak, with the Persians scuttling like rabbits up towards the entrance to the Pass. It was short and bloody work.

The Hants and the Ghurkas had now to bear the brunt of the attack. The Turks, reinforced, came on in surging waves and flowed over their trenches. Both units made a gallant but ineffectual fight, and were forced back up the Pass, suffering considerable losses. The enemy followed up his advantage and stormed the Pass itself. A last stand was made at the summit to cover the retreat of the guns. Here Hants and Turks fought hand to hand with bayonet and clubbed rifle, until the sadly diminished remnant of this brave battalion, after losing their gallant sergeant-major, were literally pushed over the crest and down the reverse slope. But they had stood their ground long enough to save the guns from capture.

The Worcesters, who had been in reserve on the southern slope, now came doubling into action to the assistance of the hard-pressed Hants. Taking shelter behind the boulders which are plentiful on both sides of the roadway, they covered the retirement, driving the Turkish snipers off the summit of the Pass and arresting any immediate pursuit on the part of the enemy.

The caravanserai at the Kizil Uzun Bridge, where Colonel Matthews had his headquarters, being now untenable, he withdrew with his remaining force across the Baleshkent Pass to Jamalabad on the road to Zinjan. As for the runaway levies, some of them did not halt until they had placed a good twenty miles between themselves and the scene of the Kuflan Kuh fighting.

The Turks pursued us to Jamalabad, but it was the last kick. Their offensive spent itself here, thanks to a new factor which had entered into the game. This was the armoured car sections, light and heavy, under Colonel Crawford and Lieutenant-Colonel Smiles, which, when our position was indeed precarious, had been rushed up from Kasvin and Zinjan in support of our retiring column. The Turks got a bad peppering at Jamalabad, and a few miles farther south at Sarcham where the cars were in action. The enemy had no liking for this sort of fighting, and troubled us no more. They withdrew from Jamalabad and, in anticipation of a counter-offensive on our part, proceeded to fortify themselves on the Kuflan Kuh.

A week after the fight at the Kuflan Kuh two men of the Hants who had been captured by the Turks arrived in our lines, clothed in nothing save a handkerchief apiece. While their captors were squabbling amongst themselves as to the distribution of the worldly possessions of the prisoners, the latter had slipped away unperceived and gained Jamalabad. There they were waylaid by Persian thieves, badly beaten, stripped of their clothing, and left for dead on the roadside. Still, they were a plucky pair, for, recovering, they set out afresh, and, completing a fifty-mile tramp in the blazing sun without food or raiment, rejoined their unit.

The Crawford armoured cars and the Matthews column slowly fell back on Zinjan, and there {195}ended the military activities of the Tabriz expedition.

My strictures on the fighting value of the Persian may appear unduly severe. I fully realize that one had no right to expect very much from a mass of raw, undisciplined material. The men were hastily recruited, and their training, necessarily circumscribed by the exigencies of time, could not have been anything but perfunctory and imperfect in the circumstances. But I am tilting rather at the theory prevalent in certain quarters at the inception of the Tabriz Expedition that one had only to send British officers into the highways and byways of Azerbaijan and that they would find there “ready-made” soldiers endowed with a fine fighting spirit, hardly inferior in quality to our own superb infantry, men who would stand up to trained and efficient soldiers like the Turks. Having once got the half-trained levies into the trenches, their British officers were expected to hold them by sheer force of will-power, and to hypnotize them into taking aim at an enemy without shutting both eyes. Now the bubble of Persian fighting efficiency has been pricked, and we have a more just appreciation of the virtues and shortcomings of the Persians as a unit in a modern army.





Anti-British activities—Headquarters at Hamadan—Plans to seize ringleaders—Midnight arrests—How the Governor was entrapped.


Back in Hamadan, the fierce political enmity of the Democrats, which had been quiet for some time, broke into fresh activity after the removal of Dunsterville headquarters to Kasvin at the end of May.

General Byron, who was in charge at Hamadan, speedily discovered through his Intelligence Officers that the local Democrats were bent on making things merry for the British, if they possibly could. Previous rebuffs had taught the Democrats the value of silence and a more complete method of organization. Their defects in these directions were now to some extent remedied. Turkish gold, too, was forthcoming, and the Democrats of Hamadan became a secret political organization—a sort of Persian Mafia or Camorra—which was hatching a political conspiracy against the British. It was the Ittahad-i-Islam again at work. This organization, while outwardly making common cause with the Islamic malcontents of Hamadan and elsewhere, was in secret working strenuously for Turkey and the Turkish cause, and the Democrats {197}who were caught in its net were but a means to that end.

One thing, however, soon became clear—that a vast network of Turkish espionage, with ramifications through Persia, had its headquarters in Hamadan. For many weeks the organization was allowed to have free rein in the carrying out of its “holy work.”

Its propaganda mills worked long and late; its agents came and went; Turkish emissaries slipped into Hamadan and out again without any difficulty, and the leaders of the Hamadan movement, which aimed at our overthrow by a tour de force, must have often chuckled to themselves at our apparent simplicity and at the ease with which we had been outmatched by Oriental cunning.

While feigning blindness, the British were very watchful indeed. It was like the story of the faithful retainer of the Samurai noble in feudal Japan who set out to avenge his lord’s death. His enemies were powerful and vigilant, but in the end his carefully simulated indifference threw them completely off their guard, and he triumphed. So it was in Hamadan, where sharp wits were pitted against sharp wits. In time the chiefs of the inner ring of the Hamadan combination grew careless. Little by little, their secret signs and passwords, their working programme, their membership roll, and even full details of the Turkish system of espionage in Persia generally, passed into our hands. There was little more to wait for. It was time to strike.

But a fresh difficulty immediately presented itself. The plotters, in co-operation with Kuchik Khan, had fixed the date for an armed revolt against British occupation; and what afterwards happened in Egypt, was, in June of 1918, deliberately and carefully planned to take place in Hamadan. There were practically no troops in the town at the time, and the torch of revolt once lighted and the work of our extermination begun, ten or twelve officers with a couple of dozen of N.C.O’s. of Dunsterforce could not for long have resisted the determined onslaught of a fanatical and arrack-incited population of 70,000.

To arrest the leaders openly in daylight would assuredly have precipitated a disaster, and led to bloodshed, and probably to our own undoing. The inner council of the conspiracy consisted of fifteen members, and included the Persian Governor and a number of local notables.

Secrecy and surprise were essential; so the plan hit upon was a night descent simultaneously on the whole band, an officer and two N.C.O’s. being detailed for each arrest.

The procedure in the following case may be taken as typical of the others: In the early hours of the morning a Persian batman in the employ of a British officer was directed to deliver a sealed envelope marked “From O.C. Hamadan” at the house of one of the plotters. The messenger, hammering at the door, aroused the sleepy watchman within, and told him {199}that he had an important letter to deliver from the British General. “Come back in the morning,” would reply the watchman, “my master is in bed and asleep.” The messenger, duly coached, would reply, “That is impossible. Open the door. The letter, I know, is important, for I have been given ten krans to deliver it safely.” The watchman, while wary and inclined to be suspicious of belated callers, was also avaricious, and was not going to let slip any chance of netting a few krans. As had been anticipated, his greed overcame his caution. He opened the door in order to claim his share of the late letter delivery fee. As soon as he did so, a couple of stalwart British sergeants, springing out of the darkness, seized, bound, and gagged him. Once within the high-walled courtyard of the house, the rest was easy. It was but a few steps to the sleeping apartments, and the proscribed conspirator as a rule woke up to find the chilly muzzle of a British service revolver pressing against his temple. He was gagged to prevent his raising an alarm; his hands were bound; and, thus helpless, he was carried off and dumped into a covered motor lorry, where an armed guard saw that he came to no harm.

But the Persian Governor himself was the most difficult of the whole band to surprise and arrest. His residence was in a big walled serai at the extreme end of Hamadan, and, in accordance with Persian custom, and by reason of his official position, he lived surrounded by a guard of about fifty men. To {200}deal with him tact and finesse were necessarily called into play.

The task of securing the Governor quietly and without unnecessary fuss fell to the lot of a Colonel who had learned something of native ways in Rhodesia and East Africa. He was an Irishman possessing a glib tongue, a knowledge of Persian, and all the suavity of his race. He also had the advantage of being known to the Governor and his entourage. So, when he knocked at the door of the Governor’s residence at an hour long after midnight, the watchman admitted him without hesitation. The guard turned out and eyed the intruder suspiciously, but, finding it was the sartip sahib (Colonel) from the British Mission who was making inquiries about the state of the Governor’s health, they yawned sleepily and betook themselves to the shelter of their blankets, vowing inwardly that the eccentricities of this strange race called English who paid ceremonious visits in the middle of the night were beyond the comprehension of any Oriental mind.

“There has come wonderful news from Teheran, and the Governor must be told at once,” said the visitor, flourishing a big envelope with many red seals attached thereto.

“Good,” replied the janitor deferentially, “the Governor is enjoying sweet repose, but if it is the wish of the Colonel Sahib, I will take him the paper.”

“Alas, that it should be so!” interposed the caller gravely, “but into his own hands alone am I permitted {201}to deliver this precious letter. Go, faithful one! Summon your illustrious master, the protector of the poor, and the friend of the oppressed! I will remain on guard by the open door, and none shall enter in your absence.”

The ruse succeeded. The servitor departed on his errand, and in a few minutes returned with the Governor clad in a dressing-gown and slippers. He greeted the Colonel, who handed him the envelope which contained a blank sheet of paper. It was dark on the threshold where the Governor stood tearing open the missive, so the Colonel proffered the aid of his electric torch. Presently the Governor, divining that something was amiss, looked up with a start, and found himself covered with a revolver. “Come with me,” said the officer tersely, “and, above all, do not resist or attempt to summon help!” The trapped official obeyed with docility, and followed his captor to a waiting automobile, into which he was bundled and placed in charge of a British guard. Two sentries at the guardroom door kept the Persian guard within in subjection while the Governor’s papers were being seized. These latter proved to the hilt his complicity in the plot that was being hatched to destroy British lives in Hamadan. The deposed official—accompanied by copies of the incriminating documents—was sent as a present to the Teheran Cabinet, with a polite request for an explanation of the gross treachery of their unfaithful servant.

The coup had succeeded without the firing of a shot, and the back of the conspiracy was broken, for it was left impotent and leaderless. Before sunrise all the captives, with the exception of the Governor, were on their way to Bagdad and an internment camp.

An amusing sidelight on the affair was the attitude of the Persian police in Hamadan. Hearing of the arrests, they assumed the worst. They bolted, taking refuge in the neighbouring cornfields, where they remained a whole day under the impression that they were the sole survivors of a “general massacre” of inhabitants carried out by the British.





Kuchik Khan bars the road—Turk and Russian movements—Kuchik Khan’s force broken up—Bicherakoff reaches Baku—British armoured car crews in Russian uniforms—Fighting around Baku—Baku abandoned—Captain Crossing charges six-inch guns.


In a previous chapter I pointed out that Kuchik Khan was in military possession of the Manjil-Resht road, and that the Russians under Bicherakoff were concentrating at Kasvin preparatory to trying conclusions with this amiable bandit—the cat’s-paw of Turkish-German intrigue—who was barring Bicherakoff’s route to the Caspian and to Russia.

At the end of May, in order to bring about a more effectual co-operation between his own force and that of the Russian commander, General Dunsterville transferred his headquarters from Hamadan to Kasvin.

The original purpose of the Dunsterville Mission, it will be recollected, was to fight Bolshevism by the organizing of Armenians and Georgians and, if possible, Tartars, in the Southern Caucasus. This had now become difficult of realization, owing to {204}the series of bewildering and kaleidoscopic changes in Transcaucasia which had profoundly affected the entire political and military situation. For example, the virus of Bolshevism had infected the Russian troops in Baku; the Germans had landed at Batum and, by making peace with the Georgians, were placed in possession of Tiflis. The Turks had arranged a peace pact with the Armenians which left their armies free to invade north-west Persia, prosecute a vigorous campaign against the Nestorians of Urumia, and, finally, overrun the Caucasus as a preliminary to co-operating with the Germans in their contemplated advance on Baku. Now the Bolshevik leaders in Baku refused to recognize the right of either of the rival belligerent groups—the Central Powers or the Entente—to spoil the flavour of their military hotch-potch in any way. It suited the blasé Russian palate, and that should be sufficient. The Bolsheviks, at all events, were consistent to the extent that, while they opposed the advance of the Germans and Turks towards Baku, they more than once resolutely refused to accept the proposed aid of British troops to help them in overcoming the forces of the Central Powers.


Negotiations with Kuchik Khan had ended abortively. The leader of the Jungalis was quite prepared to permit Russian troops to withdraw from Persia if they wished, and to pass through his “occupied territory” to their port of embarkation on the Caspian. But British, “No!” They had no business {205}in Persia at all, he argued, and if they were desirous of going to Russia, they would have to find some other road.

The haughty tone of this communication angered the Russian General, and he sent Kuchik Khan an ultimatum, calling upon him to evacuate the Manjil position with all his followers, or be prepared to take the consequences. As Kuchik ignored this, a combined Russian-British force was sent against him on June 12th. Two of the British armoured cars which the year previously had formed part of the Locker-Lampson unit in Russia proper, were present at the attack. After a brief bombardment, a white flag was hoisted on the Manjil bridge position, and two German officers issued from the trenches to parley. They offered, on behalf of Kuchik Khan, to come to terms with the Russians and allow them to pass, provided a similar concession was not demanded by the British. Bicherakoff’s reply was to dismiss the impudent parliamentaires, and to intimate that Kuchik Khan and his whole force could have fifteen minutes in which to lay down their arms and surrender. Nothing happened, so at the end of the stipulated period the advance was ordered, and the Russians and British stormed the enemy trenches and speedily disposed of the Jungalis holding them. Kuchik and a portion of his army, with his two German military advisers, escaped for the time; but, after another drubbing had been administered to him, the crestfallen Jungali leader was glad to make {206}peace, dismiss his German staff officers and drill instructors and release McLaren and Oakshott, two Englishmen, who had spent months in captivity.

The road to Resht and Enzeli was open at last, and Bicherakoff moved to the Caspian without delay and set about embarking his command for Baku. As a leader, Bicherakoff was popular amongst his men; and in the Caucasus he enjoyed deserved prestige as a soldier. He was pro-Russian—that is to say, anti-Bolshevik; and it was felt that his own personal influence, no less than the presence of his troops at Baku, would serve as a powerful antidote to Bolshevik activity in Southern Caucasia.

Bicherakoff’s contingent embarked at Enzeli on July 3rd. A British armoured car battery accompanied the Russians, and, in order not to ruffle unduly the susceptibilities of the Bolsheviks, British officers and men wore Russian uniforms. But these they discarded on landing at Baku. Bicherakoff, who made a favourable impression locally and was well received by the inhabitants of the great oil centre, lost no time in seeking out and engaging the Turks, who were menacing Baku from two sides. A good deal of heavy fighting went on during the middle of July, and the British armoured cars rendered signal services, being engaged almost daily in close-quarter fighting with the Turks, enfilading their infantry and breaking up their threatened attacks, and, on another occasion, repulsing a cavalry charge with heavy loss to the enemy.

Bicherakoff, however, soon found that the local troops were not to be relied on, even when they professed their readiness to fight under his flag and against the Turks. On July 29th the Turks, who seemed bent on getting possession of Baku at any cost, succeeded in capturing Adji-Kabul station, a short distance south-west of Baku. Using this as a pivot, they swung northwards in order to complete the envelopment of Baku.

The Russian commander now became anxious for his own safety. Realizing his powerlessness to carry on an effective offensive, and fearing lest he should be shut up in Baku when the Turkish encircling movement became complete, he hurriedly abandoned the town, and with his British armoured car auxiliaries went off north by rail towards Derbend and Petrovsk, to operate against the Bolsheviks and Dageshani Tartars who were terrorizing the country bordering on the Caspian.

In the attack on Petrovsk, the armoured car unit led under the command of Captain Crossing. Their fire threw the Bolshevik troops into confusion, and, when the latter broke, the cars pursued them through the town, capturing several hundred of their number. A battery of six-inch guns which had subjected the attacking force to an annoying fire was with extraordinary temerity engaged by the armoured cars and put out of action by the simple, but dare-devil expedient of dashing up within range and shooting all the gunners. This splendid and heroic deed won {208}for Captain Crossing—”the super-brave Crossing,” as Bicherakoff designated him—the Cross of St. George, and the Order of St. Vladimir for Lieutenant Wallace; nor in the distribution of awards for gallantry were the men who accompanied the two officers in the armoured car charge against the guns forgotten by the grateful Russian commander.





Treachery in the town—Jungalis attack Resht—Armoured cars in street-fighting—Baku tires of Bolshevism—British summoned to the rescue—Dunsterville sets out—Position at Baku on arrival—British officers’ advice ignored—Turkish attacks—Pressing through the defences—Baku again evacuated.


We were soon to discover that we had not cut the claws of the Jungali tiger, and that he was yet capable of giving us serious trouble.

There had been a good deal of unrest amongst the disbanded followers of Kuchik Khan. Men had gone back to their villages to brood over their reverse of fortune. The hotheads amongst them were not at all satisfied at the easy way in which they had been beaten out of their entrenchments on the Manjil road. Various pretexts were put forward with a view of explaining away the sharp reverse they suffered on that occasion. Further, there was a recrudescence of propaganda activity amongst them, carried on by Turkish agents and sympathizers who came and went in the jungle country on the shores of the Caspian.

Bicherakoff and his Russians had gone off to Baku, and a small force of British alone was holding {210}Resht. Admirable for the Jungalis’ plan, thought their leaders! This time they would be able to settle their account with the British without any intervening Russian mixing himself up in the business.

Early on July 20th a large force of Jungalis made a surprise attack on Resht. Aided by armed partisans within who, once the attack developed, brought hitherto concealed rifles into play from window and roof-top, the enemy achieved a distinct measure of success. The street fighting was desperate and severe. The attacking force fought with great bravery, determination, and skill. They dug themselves in, and threw up barricades the better to aid them to hold ground they had won.

But, although the greater part of Resht passed into their hands, following their first impetuous dash, the Jungalis were never able to make themselves masters of the south-western section of the town which was held by British troops. They knocked their heads against this in vain. It was left to the armoured cars, moreover, once more to demonstrate their great value in street fighting. The heavy cars of the Brigade and the 6th Light Armoured-Motor Battery were rushed into action, and although the streets had been dug up by the enemy in order to impair the mobility of the Brigade, the latter made short work of the Jungalis, driving them from point to point, and from street to street, until the town was once more in our possession. The enemy found themselves at a complete disadvantage {211}when facing armour-plated fighting machines. The moral effect of these alone, apart from their fire efficiency, proved disastrous to Jungali nerves, and spread panic and disorganization in the ranks of the foe. Profiting by the bitter example of treachery that the Jungali attack had furnished, the British this time were less lenient when it came to imposing terms upon the beaten enemy.

Towards the end of July signs of dissension showed themselves amongst the Bolshevik militants who controlled the political and military destinies of Baku, a matter of which I wrote in the previous chapter. The Turks were without the gates. Bicherakoff had gone north, and the Bolshevik military machine had helplessly broken down. It could neither organize any scheme of defence, nor evolve any offensive plan for relieving the city from the gradually tightening grip of the Turk. The people of Baku found that mediocrity and mendacity were but poor and unsatisfactory weapons with which to attempt to arrest the march of a modern army, and these were about all the Bolsheviks possessed in their mental arsenal. Above the chaos and welter of discordant opinion arose the murmurings of a discontented, fear-stricken people. They had suffered much from Bolshevik oppression and from Bolshevik ineptitude, and clamoured for a new set of dramatis personæ and the recasting of the principal roles in the Baku tragedy. So these political farceurs, the Bolsheviks, were figuratively hissed off the boards, and disappeared {212}down the stage trap-door to an oblivion which, alas! was but temporary. They were baffled, but not beaten.

Their places were taken by men holding saner and less violent political views. One of the first official acts of the new Baku Government was to summon the British to their aid.

It was the chance for which Dunsterville had lived and waited, and he lost no time in grasping it. At Enzeli he embarked a mixed force of about two thousand, made up of unattached Imperial and Dominion officers of the original Dunsterforce, a battalion or so of the North Staffords, a detachment of Hants, howitzer and field gun sections, two armoured cars, two sections of the motor machine-gun company, and other sundry units and details which had been commandeered from Resht for the move upon Baku.

The advanced guard disembarked at the Caspian oil port on August 5th, and the remainder speedily followed.

The position in Baku was not one to inspire confidence. There were Bolshevik troops in the town who did not attempt to conceal their displeasure at the arrival of the British. The “Red Committee,” too, was gathering fresh strength and planning the overthrow of its successors in office—the Government that had invited Dunsterville to Baku. Muddle and confusion prevailed everywhere. Jealousy, distrust, and bickering were rife amongst the heterogeneous, {213}ill-disciplined mass of Russians and Armenians which passed for an army in Baku. It was computed that there were about 20,000 Russians of various political hues, ranging from bright Bolshevik red to sober Imperial grey, in and around the town, while the number of Armenian auxiliaries was estimated at 5,000. Yet the brunt of the fighting had to be borne by the British infantry, chiefly the North Staffords, for it was rarely that over 5,000 of our more than doubtful allies could be rounded up to assist in holding the far-flung defensive line of Baku.

Despite the stiffening of British troops in the front line, the moral encouragement of British officers, and the active material support of British artillery and British armoured cars, it was found impossible to infuse any real or lasting enthusiasm into the Baku army. It had its own ethics of fighting and stuck to them. War, it was felt, was a job not to be taken too seriously, and must never be allowed to interfere with one’s customary distractions, nor with one’s business or social engagements. Russians and Armenians would leave a “back to-morrow” message, and casually stroll out of the front-line trenches, whenever they felt in the mood, to go off to attend some political meeting in Baku, or seek refreshment and questionable enjoyment at some of the local cafés.

The position of the unattached British officers was a difficult one in Baku. They were there in an {214}advisory capacity chiefly, but their counsel and presence were alike resented by all parties, political and military. Suggestions for a more efficient co-operation between infantry and artillery, for the filling up of dangerous gaps in the line, the better siting of trenches, or the establishing of observation posts and the employment of “spotters,” were usually received in silence and with a disdainful shrug of the shoulders.

While striving to beat off the Turk outside, the British, too, had to sit on the head of the rabid Bolshevik within, and prevent his regaining his feet and running amuck once more.

The economic situation was also serious. Food supplies were lamentably short, and the available stock was running low. A super-commercial instinct had been developed, and gross profiteering was widely practised. It was true that the pre-war standard value of the paper rouble had suffered a heavy depreciation, but this hardly justified the exorbitant tariff of some of the Baku restaurants. It was no uncommon thing for them to exact five roubles for the bread eaten at meals, and about seventy roubles for the very indifferent meal itself.

Colonel Keyworth, R.H.A., was appointed to the command of the troops in the Baku area. His heavy duties confined him a good deal to the port itself, and he was unable to see very much of the defensive perimeter; but he had excellent coadjutors in Colonel Matthews of the Hants, and in Colonel {215}Stokes of the Intelligence Department, an officer who had been for many years British Military Attaché in Teheran. Then, too, there was Lieutenant-Colonel Warden, a blunt, straight-spoken Canadian, and a very keen and efficient infantry soldier whose permanent telegraphic address in Flanders had been “Vimy Ridge.” Warden was generally an optimist, but the Baku problem was responsible for his passing sleepless, unhappy nights; and finally he gave up attempting to instil martial ardour into the non-receptive mind of the Baku soldier. In his own racy speech, redolent, of his native prairie, he summed up his efforts in this direction as being as futile as trying to flog a dead horse back to life.

I am not so much concerned with describing the military operations in detail as I am with laying stress upon the many difficulties that beset the path of the British during their first and short-lived occupation of Baku. The wonder is that, instead of giving in after a few days, they were able to cling to the position for weeks.

On August 26th, the Turks, who had been preparing for days, delivered a heavy attack against the Griazni-Vulkan sector. Their advance took place under cover of destructive artillery fire which caused many casualties. The section of the line where the Turks struck first was held by about one hundred and fifty of the North Staffords, supported by four machine-guns of the Armoured Car Brigade. Despite severe losses, the Turks, being reinforced, pressed {216}home the attack, and the auxiliary troops on the right flank were flung back and forced to retire. At this point two of the machine-guns failed to hear the order to retreat, and fought the Turks until their crew were surrounded and cut off. The other machine-gun section, under Lieutenant Titterington, stuck it to the last, and when they withdrew the Turks were already firing upon them from the rear. But the surviving members of the gun crews managed to “shoot” their way through the ranks of the foe.

The enemy, who had suffered very heavily in the attack of the 26th, resumed the offensive on the 31st, when he bit another slice out of the thinly held line and captured the position known as Vinigradi Hill. After this the Turk advanced from success to success, slowly driving back the garrison on the inner defensive line.


His crowning victory was the storming of the Voltchi Vorota sector on the morning of September 14th. An Arab officer who deserted two days previously furnished full particulars of the impending attack, but his information was regarded with suspicion. It proved, however, to be absolutely correct, for the enemy made a feigned attack on the neighbouring Baladjari sector and delivered his main blow against Voltchi Vorota. He got home at once, driving out the Russian troops, who retreated in some confusion. An armoured car, however, intervened between the retiring troops and the oncoming enemy, and, although heavily shelled by the Turkish batteries, {217}it manoeuvred adroitly, paralyzing the advance by its deadly fire and allowing the broken Russians time to reform with a leavening of British bayonets. The Turks later in the day converted the feigned into a real attack, and broke through at Baladjari.

This series of reverses contracted the daily shrinking perimeter still more. It was now clear to Dunsterville that his troubled occupancy of Baku had come to an end, and orders were issued for an immediate evacuation. The Bolsheviks had got the upper hand again. Their attitude was doubtful and, in the first instance, they had objected to the troops being withdrawn, threatening to use the Caspian fleet of gunboats to fire on the laden transports should the latter attempt to sail. It was not exactly altruism, nor the promptings of a generous nature, that led them to do this. On the contrary, it was rather a tender regard for their own cowardly skins. Should the victorious enemy storm the town the British would serve as a useful chopping-block upon which the Turks might expend their fury; and, if the worst came to the worst, and there was no other way out of a disagreeable dilemma, grace and favour might be won from the Osmanli by uniting with him in administering the coup de grâce to the trapped and betrayed remnant of Dunsterville’s Army of Occupation.

Although the town lay defenceless and at their mercy, the Turks—victims probably of their periodical inertia—did not follow up their advantage. The {218}Bolsheviks hesitated to strike, and, after the motor-cars, stores, and transport had been destroyed, the evacuation was successfully carried out under the menacing guns of the Caspian Fleet.

Captain Suttor, an Australian officer, and two sergeants, were overlooked in the hurry of embarkation. But they escaped and, boarding a steamer full of Bolshevik fugitives, induced the Captain to land them at Krasnovodsk on the eastern shore of the Caspian and the terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway. Suttor knew that a British military post had been established there. Of this the Bolsheviks were ignorant, and their fury and amazement were great when they found themselves marched off as prisoners.


The day after the British evacuation of Baku the Turks entered, and for two days the town was given over to pillage, many of the Armenian irregulars being killed in cold blood by the enemy.





Guerrilla warfare—Who the Nestorian and other Christian tribes are—Turkish massacres—Russian withdrawal and its effect—British intervention.


The Nestorians, Jelus, and other racially connected Christian groups who, in the region around Lake Urumia, had been carrying on a guerrilla warfare against the Turks, at the beginning of July were reduced to very sore straits indeed by losses in the field, disease, and famine.

As already related in a previous chapter, Lieutenant Pennington, a British aviator, flew into Urumia in the first week in July, carrying General Dunsterville’s assurance of speedy help. The leaders of these Christian peoples, in full accord with the British, decided that after evacuating Urumia an attempt should be made to break through to the south in the direction of Sain Kaleh and Bijar, in order to get in touch with the British relieving column which was marching north from Hamadan bringing ammunition and food supplies.

For the better understanding of this narrative, some explanation is due to the reader as to who and {220}what are the Nestorians and their kindred Christian clans who were now about to run the gauntlet of the Turkish Army operating in the Lake Urumia district.

The Nestorians are the followers of the Patriarch of Constantinople who was condemned for heresy in the year A.D. 431. They inhabit Kurdistan and north-western Persia, are also known as Assyrians, and are indeed often loosely referred to as Syrians. They live in that portion of the country which the Bible has familiarized to us as Assyria, and are confusedly termed Syrians, not because they come from Syria proper on the Mediterranean littoral, with its cities of Antioch, Aleppo, and Damascus, but rather because their rubric and sacred writings are in ancient Syriac, while the language of the people themselves is modern Syriac.

Hundreds of years ago the seat of the Nestorian or Assyrian Patriarchate was near Ctesiphon on the Tigris, a short distance below Bagdad. But the Turkish conquerors persecuted the Christians, the Patriarch was forced to flee, and finally took refuge at Qudshanis, in the highlands of Kurdistan. The present spiritual head of the Assyrians, who is ecclesiastically designated Mar Shimun, is said to be the one hundred and thirty-eighth Catholicos, or Patriarch, of the Nestorian Church.

At the outbreak of the European War there were three distinguishable main groups of Assyrian Christians. One inhabited the Upper Tigris Valley beyond {221}Mesul and the hilly country towards Lake Van; a second was to be found on the Salmas-Urumia plateau and in the mountainous country bordering on the Persian-Turkish frontier; the third group lived on the Turkish side of the frontier between Lake Van and Urumia. Roughly they may be classified as Highlanders and Lowlanders, with various tribal subdivisions, of which one of the better known is the Jelu group.

Urumia itself is the scene of considerable foreign missionary activity, and is the headquarters of the Anglican, American, French, and Russian religious missions to the Assyrian Christians. Each had its own well-defined sphere of influence, and worked in the broadest spirit of Christian tolerance. When war burst upon this unhappy land, anything in the nature of sectarian rivalry and proselytizing zeal vanished, to give place to a united effort to aid and materially comfort the victims of Turkish fury.

The retreat of the Russians from Urumia, at the beginning of January, 1915, left some thousands of Urumia Christians who were unable to accompany them at the mercy of the Turks and their savage auxiliaries, the Kurds; and the usual massacre followed. The Christians, though poorly armed, defended themselves as best they could, and the survivors were driven to seek sanctuary in the American Mission Compound. Those who surrendered and gave up their arms to the Turks were put to death without mercy. At the beginning of May, 1915, the {222}army of Halil Bey, operating in North-Western Persia, was routed by the Russians, who reoccupied Urumia. But the beaten Turks in their retreat westwards killed every Christian tribesman they could find. A second Russian evacuation of Urumia in August, 1915, led to a fresh exodus of the able-bodied Assyrian fighting men, and to another massacre of those who remained behind.

From then until 1918 they had endured all the horrors and vicissitudes of war, with its fluctuations of victory and defeat. The Christian army had put up a brave fight against the Turks after the final Russian withdrawal from North-Western Persia. Now, hemmed in and suffering from hunger, they were about to attempt a third exodus, this time towards the South into the British lines.

During the last week in July the Christian army—probably about 10,000 fighting men, but with its ranks swelled to 30,000 by women and children refugees—withdrew from Urumia and marched southwards. The Turks gave pursuit and much harried their rearguard, which they subjected to artillery fire, inflicting severe losses. Ultimately the retreat under Turkish pressure degenerated into a rout, during which the mass of fugitives was severely cut up. In the course of the panic which prevailed, the Nestorian Army lost its artillery and its remaining supplies, while many of the women and children were abandoned in the general sauve qui pent, and fell into the hands of the enemy.

The Turks reoccupied Urumia on August 1st, and vented their displeasure upon the defenceless people in the customary Turkish way. The aged were killed, and young girls were carried off and subjected to a fate worse than death.

Mgr. Sontag, the head of the French Lazarist Mission, a saintly man who was revered even by the local Moslems amongst whom he had lived for many years, was one of those who fell victims to the blind fury of the Turkish soldiery when they found themselves once more masters of Urumia.

At Sain Kaleh and Takan Teppeh, to the north-west of Bijar, the British were able to intervene between pursuers and pursued. The Nestorians, a sadly diminished band, were drafted back to Bijar and thence south to Hamadan. Harbouring vindictive feelings against Moslems in general as a result of the atrocities perpetuated upon them by the Turks, it is not perhaps surprising that they in their turn made an onslaught upon the inhabitants of the Persian villages encountered en route, and left them in much the same condition as the man who, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among thieves.

Mar Shimun, the spiritual head, and Agha Petros, the recognized military leader, accompanied the Nestorians from Urumia. The survivors of the exodus were put in a concentration camp at Hamadan with their women and children. The able-bodied and healthy amongst the men were subsequently drafted out and sent to Bakuba near Bagdad, where {224}an attempt was made by the British to organize and train them into fighting units. They received good pay and rations, but proved very difficult material to handle. Their wild, free lives had apparently unfitted them for a régime of discipline and ordered restraint. A large contingent refused to sign attestation papers lest they should be sent to fight overseas. It was useless attempting to reassure them on this point, and to tell them that all the military service they were expected to render in return for British pay and British rations was that of defending their own country against the common enemy, the Turk. It may be that their physical sufferings had demoralized them, but the irregulars of Agha Petros were incapable of attaining an ordinary degree of military efficiency as judged by British standards. They were a perpetual source of embarrassment to the British officers entrusted with their training. The experiment proved a failure, and at last, on the Turks suing for an armistice, the men of Agha Petros’ command were disbanded and sent back to their own country.





The last phase—Dunsterforce ceases to exist—The end of Turkish opposition—Off to Bijar—The Kurdish tribes—Raids on Bijar—Moved on by a policeman—Governor and poet.


It was in South-Western Kurdistan that I saw the last phase of the war between the Turks and ourselves.

At the end of September, Dunsterforce had ceased to exist, at any rate under that name. Dunsterville himself had gone down to Bagdad to discuss the whole Caucasian and North Persian situation with General Headquarters, and the officers of Dunsterforce had either gone back to their units in France, Salonika, and Egypt, or had been absorbed by the North Persian force which was concentrating under General Thompson at Enzeli for a fresh smack at the Turk in Baku.

After his capture of the oilfields’ port, the enemy seemed to have reached the last stages of physical exhaustion, and to be incapable of further effort. His push through from Tabriz towards Zinjan and Kasvin had been finally arrested, and he had been driven back to his entrenchments on the Kuflan Kuh Pass, where he was well content to sit down to {226}a peaceful, inoffensive life, smoke his hubble-bubble, nurse his blistered feet lacerated by long marches on unfriendly Persian roads, and, in general, by his exemplary behaviour earn “good conduct” marks from the inhabitants of the zone of occupation.

But in the country to the west of Mianeh and south of Lake Urumia the enemy was still inclined to spasmodic activity. It was in this region that he had harried the Nestorian Army as it was fighting its way to the south and to safety. At the beginning of October, 1918, the Turks held Sauj Bulagh, the local capital of the Kurds of Azerbaijan, Sakiz, Sain Kaleh, and Takan Teppeh, all of which were in more or less precarious touch with Kowanduz on the western slopes of the Kurdistan Range, and thence with the main and sole surviving Turkish Mesopotamian Army which was clinging tenaciously to Mosul. Their occupation of these several strategic points on the Persian side of the frontier enabled the Turks to threaten the British post at Bijar, on the confines of South-Western Kurdistan, and in a sense to menace the British occupation of Hamadan.


But Allenby’s smashing blow at the Turk in Palestine had its repercussion in the remote highlands of Persia and in the remoter region of the Caspian Sea. Its effect was instantaneous. It broke the Turkish grip on Baku and appreciably loosened his hold on Azerbaijan. He withdrew from Mianeh and made ready to evacuate Tabriz and retire into his own territory in an eleventh-hour effort to {227}buttress up his remaining Asiatic provinces which, one after the other, were tottering beneath the sledgehammer blows of the British.

Early in October the wheel of fate and the illness of a brother officer led to my being transferred from Caspian Headquarters to Bijar, as Assistant Political Officer and Intelligence Officer. I looked it up on the map and started. It was a long and interesting zigzag trek across Persia, first south-west to Hamadan, then north-west to Bijar and the wild country of the Kurdish tribes.

Few Europeans can lay claim to any intimate knowledge of Kurdistan and its predatory but fascinating people. It is distinctly remote from the beaten tourist track. Russian and German travellers and scholars have nibbled at the ethnological and philological problems which it presents, and, much more recently, our own Major Soane in his remarkable book, “Through Kurdistan in Disguise,” draws aside the veil a little, and we are able to take a peep at Kurdish life and manners naturally portrayed.

Kurdistan cannot be said to possess either natural or political boundaries, for it embraces both Persian and Turkish territory, and in it live people who are not racially Kurds. Broadly speaking, it may be said to stretch from Turkish Armenia on the north to the Luristan Mountains on the south, and the Turkish-Persian frontier cuts it into two longitudinal sections. Persian Kurdistan, then, is bounded by Azerbaijan on the north, the Turkish frontier on the {228}west, Kermanshah on the south, and Khamseh and Hamadan on the east. Its old administrative capital is Sinneh.

Its geographical outline is one of bold and rugged mountains which in winter are covered deep in snow. Narrow valleys run far into the flank of the towering hills, and it is here, taking advantage of these natural barriers, that the villages cluster and the inhabitants attempt to keep warm during the long, bitter, and often fireless, winter months.

A nonsense rhymester who evidently knew something of the proclivities of the Kurds once scored a palpable bull’s-eye on the target of truth when he wrote:

“The hippo’s a dull but honest old bird;
I wish I could say the same of the Kurd.”

The Kurds themselves have more traducers than friends outside their own country. As the great majority of them are Sunni Moslems, it has been pointed out, and with a certain element of truth, that the root of the Persian-Kurdish Question is the religious hatred between Sunni and Shi’ah, just as the root of the Turkish problem is the undying hatred between Moslems and Christians. Kurmanji, the main Kurdish language, has been incorrectly described as a corrupt dialect of Persian, whereas it is really a distinct philological entity, tracing an unbroken descent from the ancient Medic or Avestic tongue of Iran.

I had a good deal to do officially with several of {229}the principal Kurdish tribes, such as the Mukhri, Mandumi, and Galbaghi, while I was stationed at Bijar, and I cannot agree with the generally accepted estimate of their character as “a lazy, good-for-nothing set of thieves.” They are admittedly fierce and intractable, of noted predatory habits, and ready to prey with equal impartiality upon Persian or Christian neighbour. On the other hand, I found that they were neither cruel nor treacherous; they are never lacking in courage, and possess a rude, but well-defined sense of hospitality and chivalry.

Unarmed, save for a riding-crop, and accompanied only by a few Sowars, I have gone into their villages in search of raiders—not always a pleasant task amongst Asiatic hill tribes—and the inhabitants would be amiability itself. Here one saw the happier side of these wild, free people who, revelling in the unrestrained life and the health-giving ozone of their native mountains, find the trammelling yoke of modern civilization about as irksome and fearful an infliction as a bit and saddle are to an unbroken colt.

What I liked about the Kurds was their habit—the common inheritance of most free men—of looking their interlocutor straight in the face. Their women, many possessing great physical beauty, and glorious creatures all, would crowd round to do the honours to those visiting their village. Amongst the Kurds the women are allowed a great deal of freedom. They shoot and ride like so many Amazons. It is true they are the hewers of wood and the drawers of {230}water in the village or community, but, save for lacking parliamentary enfranchisement, they do not seem to have many grievances against the masculine portion of the Kurdish world. They always go unveiled, are not a bit “man-shy,” and, unlike their Moslem sisters in Turkey and Persia, do not consider themselves spiritually defiled when their faces are gazed upon by some Infidel whom chance has thrown across their path.

From this I do not wish it to be inferred that the Kurdish women are immodest in conduct, or of what might be described as “flighty morals.” Far from it.

These self-same tribesmen who received us so hospitably in their villages, and gave us entertainment of their best—treating us in friendly fashion according to their laws, because we had come trusting to their honour in the guise of friends and without hostile intent—would, when they took the “war path” and raided a British post, put up a spirited fight, fully bent on killing or being killed.

Persian Kurds are largely pastoral and nomadic. There are the sedentary tribes who are the tillers of the soil and never move very far away from home. The nomads, on the other hand, roam with their flocks and herds and womenfolk from winter to summer quarters and vice versa, and it is during these periodical migrations that the inherited predatory instincts of the Kurds are given free rein. Many are the armed forays made on a peaceful {231}Persian neighbour’s stock. Often there is resistance, and occasionally an attempt at reprisals; so a respectably-sized Persian-Kurdish hill-war may have had as its origin the theft of half a dozen goats by Kurdish robbers. Stray bands of brigands who had made life more than usually interesting for some Persian village or other, if pursuit became too vigorous and they were threatened with capture, were always able to escape the consequences of their depredations by slipping over the frontier and seeking bast (sanctuary) in Turkish territory.

Whether the Kurds are, or are not, the descendants of those first-class fighting men of long ago who opposed the retreat of the Ten Thousand through the bleak mountain passes of Kurdistan, they undeniably are imbued with a certain pride of ancestry which manifests itself in various little ways. No pure nomadic Kurd will ever engage in manual labour, which he looks upon as a disgrace, and a job fit only for helots, nor will he become a Charvadar (muleteer).

The Kurd undoubtedly possesses an unenviable reputation for lawlessness amongst the more law-abiding Persians and Turks of this wild and turbulent frontier land. He is handicapped, perhaps, to this extent, that, being an alien to the Turk in language, and to the Persian in religion, he is looked upon as a pariah, and the hand of both is ever raised against him. Being resentful and overbearing, if not arrogant, in manner, and knowing no legal code beyond that which a rifle imposes, he seeks to enforce his {232}own arbitrary ready-made justice, to call it by that name. So the merry game goes on, and up amongst the snows of Kurdistan Persian and Kurd and Turk kill each other on the slightest pretext, and often for no ascertainable cause.

The Kurd is always well armed, and usually well mounted—often at the expense of some lowland Persian villager. He invariably affects the national costume, which is an abbreviated coat and enormous baggy trousers, with a capacious Kamarband of coloured silk in which he carries pipe, knife, and odds and ends.

Ten armed Kurds riding into Bijar, a town of 10,000 inhabitants, would start a panic in the Bazaar. Shutters would go up and shopkeepers would vanish as if by magic, while the small force of Persian police in the place, who were usually suffering from the combined effects of malnutrition and arrears of pay, would discreetly go to cover, and not be seen again until the visitors had departed. Usually a British military policeman, armed with a stout stick, would be sent to handle the delicate situation, to see that there was no looting, and that the King’s peace was preserved inviolate by these quarrel-seeking, pilfering rascals from beyond the hills.

Bijar itself, unhappily for the peace of mind and pocket of its shopkeeper-citizens and wealthy agriculturists, is unhealthily near the “Bad Man’s Land” of the nomad Kurds. It is built in a cup-shaped {233}hollow surrounded by barren peaks, and its altitude (5,200 feet) gives it a rigorous winter climate. The enclosed gardens which usually lend a touch of picturesque embellishment even to the meanest and dirtiest of Persian towns are lacking at Bijar. It grows wheat and corn in abundance on the long, wide plateau which stretches unbrokenly for miles between the bare, rugged hills. The arable land is so fertile, and its acreage so abundant, that but one-third is cultivated yearly. The average wheat yield is enormous, yet the people are always hovering on the border-line of starvation, the result of mismanagement, misappropriation, and all the other evils which may be grouped together under the head of Persian official maladministration.

When the British marched into Bijar in the summer of 1918 anarchy and disorder were paramount. The Persian Government is supposed to keep a garrison here, but the oldest inhabitants had never seen it. If it did exist, it was carefully hidden away and not allowed to meddle in such troublesome affairs as Kurdish forays. The Turks during their occupancy looted Bijar very thoroughly, and roving Kurds, too, when short of supplies—and that was often—never forgot to extend their unwelcome patronage to the local bazaars, on the principle of “Blessed is he that taketh, for he shall not want.”

The Governor was a local resident, and his office an unpaid one as far as the Persian treasury was concerned; but his power was great and his rule {234}arbitrary, and the post brought him considerable emoluments. He was a timid and vacillating but well-meaning individual, who always trembled at the knees when brought face to face with the unusual. The mere brandishing of a loaded pistol anywhere in his immediate vicinity would throw him into a paroxysm of terror. He spoke halting French, and was afflicted with the prevailing Persian mania for verse-writing. Still, he never allowed his literary pursuits to clash with or nullify his keen commercial instincts; and he grew daily in affluence.

But even a Persian peasant has his limits of endurance when he finds himself being ground to fine powder in the mill of oppression and corruption. Those of the Bijar district were no exception. After having been systematically looted all round, by Turk, Kurd, and dishonest local officials, they rose in revolt when a demand was made upon them for the payment of the Government Maliat, or grain tribute. They followed up an emphatic refusal by threatening to duck the Governor and his coadjutor, the Tax-collector, in the local horsepond. The latter fled the town, while as for the terrified Governor, he promptly shut himself up, seeking bast (sanctuary) with an ill-armed following within the sacred precincts of his serai. From the roof, one of his retinue, using his hands for a megaphone, sent out an urgent S.O.S. call to the British, with the result that a compromise was effected; the Governor was rescued from his undignified plight, and the angry peasants {235}were appeased by his promise that the collection of the unpopular tax would rest in abeyance until Teheran gave its decision on the subject.

Our job in sitting down in Bijar was to hold the place against the Turks and prevent their coming back, to instil a little wholesome respect for law and order into the minds of the plunder-loving Kurds, and to stop them from eating up the smaller and unprotected Persian fry. To keep the Turk at bay and hold the Kurd in awe, we had approximately a couple of squadrons of the 14th Hussars, under Colonel Bridges, a detachment of the Gloucesters in charge of Captain Stephenson, machine-gun and mountain battery sections, and a couple of hundred of Persian levies who were commanded by Captain Williams, an Australian officer. Colonel Bridges was in command of the whole force. The total certainly did not err on the side of numerical superiority.

The day after I reached Bijar the Governor arrived to pay an official call. After the usual formalities as laid down by Persian etiquette for ceremonies of this kind had been safely negotiated, he begged my acceptance of a manuscript copy of his poems, and incidentally hinted that, as the district was in the throes of famine, he would have no objection to collaborating in the purchasing of wheat with British money in order to alleviate the prevailing distress.





Types of Empire defenders—Local feeling—Dealing with Kurdish raiders—An embarrassing offer of marriage—Prestige by aeroplane—Anniversary of Hossain the Martyr—News of the Armistice—Local waverers come down on our side of the fence—Releasing civil prisoners—Farewell of Bijar—Down country to the sea and home.


I have often wondered if the British who stayed at home, through force of circumstances rather than any reluctance to participate in the Great War, can have had any conception of the varying types of men who helped to uphold British interests in this remote and little-known corner of the Asiatic Continent. Here, then, are a few of them taken at random!

There was Hooper, an Australian Captain, who in civil life was a farmer on a rock-girt island off the Tasmanian coast, and had been through more than one big push in France. Williams, also an Australian officer, was a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Adelaide. He commanded Persian levies, made a hobby of dialects, and was always eager to try his growing wisdom teeth on such abstruse problems as “How the camel got his hump,” or, “Why Jonah gave the whale indigestion.” But he was a good {237}lad, was this youthful pedant, a fearless soldier, and an untiring worker who, in a few months, gained a surprising knowledge of colloquial Persian. Then there was Seddon, a Government land surveyor from New Zealand, who also had looked on Red War in Flanders. In cold weather, of all times, he was always shedding surplus garments, until there was a positive danger of his arriving at the stage of the “altogether.” Seddon was fiercely intractable on the subject of hygiene as applied to clothing, and would hear of no compromise where his cherished principles were concerned. It was said that he was wont to lie awake at night planning new curtailments in his winter kit. Still, there must have been some wisdom in his methods, for, although thinly clad during the early winter months, he was always in perfect health, and escaped the pulmonary maladies which proved fatal to so many others who looked askance at him and his hygienic, minimum-clothing theory.

We had Gordon Wilson who came from the Argentine to enlist at the outbreak of the War and attempted to leap the age-limit barrier. His ardour was somewhat damped on being refused by the Home Authorities. But, nothing daunted, he went to France, joined the Foreign Legion, and saw a good deal of fighting. He was afterwards transferred to a British Field Battery and given a commission, and lost no time in winning the M.C.

In the 14th Hussars was a lieutenant named Voigt, {238}an Afrikander born, who had gone through the South African campaign. One day, riding with Voigt and his troop of Hussars in a “punitive” expedition against raiding Kurds, I asked him casually—and quite forgetful of the momentous past—with whom he had served in South Africa. He replied with the flicker of a smile on his broad, sun-tanned face, “I was with Louis Botha’s commando.” And such is the material out of which has been woven our thrilling island story!

Up to the moment of the Turkish collapse, towards the end of October, many of the notables of Bijar were inclined to be dubious concerning our possibility of success. These cautious individuals shaped their conduct accordingly. They “hedged” very carefully, to use a sporting phrase, and, in order to avoid all risks, backed both sides. One wealthy Persian resident whom I particularly remember was lavish of lip-service. He would call round to the Mission Headquarters at least twice a week to assure us of his ever-enduring devotion, and of his hopes of success for British arms. About the same time he would be sending off a courier to the Turkish commander in our front telling him that he was his devoted servitor and that it would be a blessed day for all True Believers when the Infidel British were driven out of Persian Kurdistan. So much for Persian duplicity. Our “friend” was a confirmed “pulophile,” which is an impromptu Perso-Greek expression for “money-lover,” and, while awaiting {239}our military downfall, he had no conscientious objections to seeking to rob us right and left in wheat transactions.

On the whole the various Kurdish chiefs kept their peace pact with the British, and for a time strove hard to walk in the path of honesty and to cease from annexing their neighbours’ flocks and herds. But occasionally temptation proved too strong to be resisted, and there would come a recrudescence of pillaging and violence. The Mandumis and the Galbaghis were the chief offenders. Their subtle imagination was never at a loss for a plausible pretext to condone their lawlessness. Once, when Mandumi tribesmen attacked a British post at an outlying village called Nadari, a certain Mustafa Khan, the chief of the guilty raiders, sent a very apologetic letter pleading for forgiveness, and pointing out that the regrettable occurrence arose through a “misunderstanding” on the part of his tribesmen who possessed an inordinate love of well-conditioned sheep. Times were hard, and if the poor Kurds were not to be allowed to replenish their larders by the time-honoured method of pilfering, then, in the name of Allah, he asked, what was to become of them? This curious and essentially Kurdish plea of “extenuating circumstances” was backed up by a letter from the tribal Mujtahid, or priest, who wrote that he was a simple man of God saying his prayers regularly and knowing little of secular affairs. His tribesmen had evidently been maligned by their {240}enemies—”May the Evil One pluck their beards!” He had always exhorted his people to remain friendly with the British, and would continue to do so.

On this occasion Mustafa Khan escaped with a fine and a reprimand, but he was obviously looking for trouble, and it soon overtook him. He became very insolent. Some of his men stopped and robbed the British native courier, and the Chief sent a message that he would soon come and raid Bijar itself. There was nothing to do except to teach Mustafa Khan a much-needed lesson. However, before the salutary drubbing could be administered, Mustafa and his men, throwing discretion to the winds, and forgetful of their oft-repeated promises to be of good behaviour, got completely out of hand, cleaned out several Persian villages, and indulged in a veritable orgy of lawlessness.

Then Mustafa, with consummate skill, having no case of his own, set about abusing the other side. He blamed the hapless villagers, and accused them of having killed two of his Sowars who had gone into the Persian village to “purchase” corn. The villagers in question, he remarked, were liars, and the sons of the Father of Lies—”May perdition be their lot!” But this time his defence of provocation was found to be unjustifiable; a richly deserved punishment was meted out to him, and for long afterwards he led an exemplary life.

Nabi Khan was another Kurdish freebooter who gave considerable trouble before he was finally {241}subdued and made to see the error of his ways. From the point of view of stature and general physique he was one of the finest looking men I have ever seen. He stood a good 6 feet 4 inches in his socks, belying the prevailing idea that the Kurds are of small stature. In an evil moment for himself, he threw in his lot with the Turks, and for a brief period made things right merry for the British. He fought like an enraged tiger in defence of his village stronghold, but was put to flight after suffering severe loss. He thought the thing out for a couple of weeks, and then, like the old sportsman that he was, came in and surrendered, saying that he had lost, and was ready to pay the full price. It is easy to be generous to a chivalrous foe, and Nabi had been all that, so he found that he had not thrown himself upon our mercy in vain.

I well remember the morning that Nabi surrendered. His name and his fame had preceded him to Bijar, and, as he strode down the Bazaar with a belt full of lethal weapons, his very appearance inspired terror in the breasts of the pusillanimous Persian traders, and they bolted for cover like so many scared animals. In addition to his stature, Nabi was a man of handsome appearance. He had a bold, open countenance, and was brief and blunt of speech. Brushing past the startled Persian janitor, whom he disdained to notice, he made a dramatic entry into the Political Office at Bijar. Flinging his weapons on the table, he exclaimed, “I have been {242}foolish; aye, misguided by evil counsellors; I have lost, and am here to pay the price. Do with me what you will. But you may tell your Shah that I regret the past and am willing to make amends.” Peace was arranged with Nabi Khan, and the pact he kept very faithfully, becoming one of our most ardent partisans in the difficult country and amongst the turbulent folk over whom he held sway. He policed his district, and did it very thoroughly, proving a veritable terror to evildoers; and he suppressed Turkish propaganda with a vigour that demonstrated his real earnestness in the British cause.

After the manner of his kind, as a further evidence of his good faith, and in order to set a time-enduring seal upon his treaty of friendship, he was anxious to negotiate a Kurdish-British matrimonial alliance. After a good deal of preliminary verbal manoeuvring, he definitely broached the project, and suggested the giving in marriage of his daughter, a very comely damsel, to the Political Officer. The latter was completely taken aback and, not being a Moslem, had visions of all sorts of unpleasant legal complications should he ever set foot in England with a supplementary wife. However, he faced the trying situation with commendable fortitude, and cast about for a means whereby he might be enabled to retreat with honour, and without offending Kurdish susceptibilities. Nabi was tactfully informed that, while the offer was much appreciated, the acceptance {243}of a Kurdish bride would entail no end of complications for at least one of the parties concerned, as an unsympathetic British law had long set its face against bigamy. In fact, isolated enthusiasts in khaki who, as a relief from the tedium of trench life, had sought to popularize plural marriages in England had been rewarded by a term of imprisonment. This was news indeed for the benevolent-minded Nabi, but he did not insist further, and the incident terminated happily.

The Kurds are in many respects as simple as European children of tender age. They had heard much about the wonderful flying machines of Faringistan, and, never having seen an aeroplane, were inclined to be sceptical, and to treat reputed aerial adventures as so many “travellers’ tales.” A Kurdish chief came to call on me one day seeking enlightenment. He had seen automobiles, and admitted that they puzzled his primitive brain. “Why,” he asked honestly enough, “is the horse put inside the box, and why does this strange creature prefer petrol to barley by way of food?” It took a long time to knock into his head some primitive notion of motor traction. Then he inquired, “Is it true that in Faringistan, as currently reported, men make themselves into birds and soar in the air like eagles?” The reply, as they say in Parliament, was in the affirmative, but the Kurdish seeker for knowledge remained frankly incredulous. A few days after the conversation, a youthful Scottish aviator, who was {244}familiarly known as “Little Willie McKay,” arrived by air from Hamadan in order to give Bijar and the Kurdistan hill-folk a taste of his quality. It was a day of days, and inaugurated a new era in the local Mohammedan calendar, for it marked the flight of the terror-stricken Faithful towards a place of safety away from the aerial monster that, appearing from out of a clear sunlight sky, swooped down on the town. The youthful McKay was a noted aerial stunt artist, and he executed an extensive and varied programme for the edification of those of the astonished onlookers who had steeled their courage to the point of sticking it out. The houses are flat-roofed, and here the spectators assembled to watch the show. As the aviator nose-dived occasionally, it was amusing to see the celerity with which they dropped flat on their faces, fearing lest they should be caught by the talons of the “man-bird” and carried off heaven knew where. Later on, at the local aerodrome, the people came, timidly enough at first, to peep at the monster; but they did their sightseeing cautiously from a respectful distance, and it was only necessary for the engine to throb once or twice fretfully, and for the propeller to revolve, to bring about an instantaneous stampede. Thenceforth no one ever doubted that the British were miracle workers, and had at their disposal an unlimited supply of magic to assist in the overthrowing of their enemies.

The Moharran, or anniversary of the death of {245}Hossain the Martyr, is an occasion for the display of great religious fervour by the Shi’ite Moslems. It fell on October 17th, and the Bijar Bazaar was closed and the houses draped in mourning. It is perhaps the only day in the year when the average Persian looks in deadly earnest, and when his fanaticism is aroused to such a pitch as to make him at all dangerous to persons of other creeds. There was a procession through the streets, and the chief incidents of the martyrdom were re-enacted by a devoted band of Shias. The “body” of the Sainted One was carried on a bier and, in order that the finishing touch of realism should not be lacking, the covering of the bier was plentifully bedaubed with blood, while the head of the “corpse” was enveloped in gory bandages. The mise en scène was completed by the addition of a local troupe representing Hossain’s wives and adherents who, according to legend, were also put to death by the hated rival sect, the Sunnis. The followers in the procession, in a burst of religious frenzy, gashed their faces or bodies with swords or knives, and, with blood streaming from the self-inflicted wounds, were not exactly a pleasant spectacle to look upon. A Persian youth employed at the British Headquarters was one of those who achieved religious merit and local distinction on the occasion. Having volunteered for the role of follower, he had his head cut open by a local barber, and off he went to join in the quasi-religious ceremony. In the afternoon he was back at his job {246}with his poor damaged head swathed in bandages and feeling very proud indeed of his exploit.

Bijar was very excited by the intelligence that arrived on November 1st. We received an official notification that an armistice had been concluded with Turkey, at the request of the latter Power, and that hostilities were to cease at once. The Governor made an official call to offer his felicitations, and to congratulate the British on their triumph over another of their enemies. He dissimulated his real feelings with great artfulness, for while openly professing joy at our victory he was sorrowing in secret that a Moslem Power should have been overthrown by an Infidel. Still, he made the best of it, and candidly told some of his intimates who were inclined to be tearful because their religious pride had been wounded by the success of our arms, that the British, after all, had shown more real humanity and compassion in dealing with the oppressed Persians than ever had their coreligionists, the Turks.

The Governor having set the example in offering his congratulations, all the local notables were quick to follow, and they told us what, curiously enough? we had never realized before—that throughout the long-drawn-out War they had always ardently wished for the complete triumph of the British. We accepted their assurances, although finding it difficult to reconcile them with many of their actions when our military fortunes were not of the brightest.

An official communication was sent off by messenger {247}to the Turkish commander, informing him of the armistice, and inquiring if he were prepared to abide by its conditions and order a cessation of hostilities on his side. But the enemy had evidently had the news as soon as we had, and decided to end the war then and there. When our messenger reached the Turkish position, it was only to find the place abandoned, the commander and every man having gone, leaving no address. The messenger trekked after them for a day, but their haste was so great that he was unable even to come up with their rearguard, so he returned to Bijar with the letter undelivered. And that was the last we heard of the Turk in the region of Southern Kurdistan.

Everybody in Bijar was now our sincere friend and well-wisher. The Bazaar was beflagged in honour of our victory. Ours was the winning side, of that there could be no doubt. The Governor was more assiduous than ever in his professions of undying devotion, and he was always planning fresh schemes for manifesting his goodwill and friendship. He even hit upon the expedient of declaring an amnesty for Persians incarcerated in the local gaol. At his urgent solicitation, I visited the prison to decide upon the offenders who were to benefit by this generosity. It was a filthy, evil-smelling hole. Lying upon a stone floor were about a dozen offenders, all huddled together and chained like so many wild beasts. There was a Jew who had been arrested for debt. He wore round his neck a heavy iron collar {248}like the joug of the Scottish pillory. He speedily divined my mission, and was clamorously insistent that he should be the first to be set free. Chained to him were two Persians, one of whom had been arrested for manslaughter and the other for petty larceny.

In this foetid den, and near the trio already mentioned, was a young Persian girl of attractive appearance—an unregenerate Magdalene, as it turned out, who had been put in chains for a breach of the somewhat elastic Persian law governing public morality. She alone made no protestation of innocence and no appeal for release. Perhaps that was why I suggested she should be the first to have her fetters struck off and be set free. She seemed dumbfounded at first, but on realizing that liberty awaited her, she burst into tears, and showed her gratitude by kissing my hand. It seemed a pity to leave the other poor wretches, however guilty they might have been, to rot in this terrible dungeon; so I availed myself to the full of the privilege of the amnesty and asked that all should be liberated, including the loquacious Jew debtor. This was done, and the poor, dazed creatures walked out of the prison doors and once more breathed the purer air of freedom.

With the granting of the armistice to Austria came the welcome orders for the British force to evacuate Bijar and retire to Hamadan. On news of Austria’s defection from the side of her German ally becoming known, the Governor arrived to offer fresh felicitations. {249}But a shadow clouded his beaming self-satisfied countenance when he learned that the British were to withdraw immediately. He became greatly perturbed at the news, for he feared the ever-present menace of Kurdish incursions, and trembled for the safety of Bijar and the wealth of its Bazaar. “What will become of us all?” he asked in despair. “When the British go, the Kurds will come, and then——” He made a significant gesture across his throat.

The Governor returned next day with a deputation of the inhabitants to ask that a British garrison might be left behind to carry out the duty which really devolved upon the Persian Government, that of protecting its subjects against acts of lawlessness. He pleaded hard and earnestly. They would find fuel, food, and quarters free for the soldiers who were to remain. First he suggested twenty, then a dozen, and finally he said, “Take pity on us, and send a message by the lightning-flash (wireless) to the British King asking him to permit three of his soldiers to remain here to protect the people. Then the Kurds will never bother us at all.” It was certainly a tribute to our worth and fighting value. Gently but firmly the Governor had to be led to understand that it was impossible. The soldiers had homes and wives in far-off Faringistan across the Black Water; their duty was done, and home they must go.

The deputation set off with bowed heads and {250}sorrowing hearts. It was kismet, and the decree of Destiny could not be set aside.

The wealthier inhabitants, however, made every effort to save themselves and their worldly possessions. All available transport was bought up at enhanced prices, and an exodus from Bijar preceded the British evacuation.

On November 7th Colonel Bridges and his column bade farewell to Bijar. The inhabitants, or at least those of them who were too poor to take flight, turned out en masse to speed the parting troops. They had got to know and to admire the splendid British soldier who is always a gentleman, who had fought the battle of the Persian people against Kurdish brigand and Turkish regular, and whose ofttimes scanty ration he was always ready to share with any roadside starveling who crossed his path. The Governor and a numerous retinue rode for two miles with the head of the column. On a bare plateau, exposed to a keen, biting wind, and under a lowering sky, the last farewells were cordially exchanged. The Governor told us that the British had left behind an ineffaceable record for justice and generosity. I think it was sincerely meant and devoid of any exaggeration.


It took seven days to reach Hamadan. The snow overtook us on the second day out, and the bitter Kurdistan winter set in with extreme severity. The Indian transport camels, unaccustomed to extreme cold, and not possessing the thick fur coating of their {251}Afghan brother, died in numbers, and the Indian Charvadars followed their example.

From Hamadan there was the long trek down-country and over the snow-clad Asadabad Pass. But the weather grew milder and brighter as we steadily dropped down from the high altitudes, neared the warmer plains of Mesopotamia, and left Persia behind us. At last came the day when our long overland journey was to end, and Xenophon’s war-worn soldiers never cried more exultingly “Thalatta!” “Thalatta!” at the sight of the sea, than we did on reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf.





I am giving the following account of the work of the Armoured Car Brigade with General Dunsterville’s Mission, not only because the Brigade deserves fuller mention than I have been able to give elsewhere in this book, but because some description of their operations will give a better idea of the difficulties of transport, stores, etc., with which the whole force had to deal. For my facts in this instance I have been allowed access to an official report by the men who actually did the work.

The Brigade, commanded by Colonel J. D. Crawford, was organized in squadrons of eight cars each. In addition it had a mobile hospital of fifty beds, and the usual supply column.

The Brigade had originally been known as the Locker-Lampson Armoured Car Unit, and its work in Russia in the earlier stages of the war is one of the most stirring stories of the whole campaign. For its present work, it began to mobilize in England during the latter months of 1917. The personnel was obtained by the transfer from the R.N.A.S. of officers and men who had been serving in the Armoured Car Unit in Russia.

Owing to the internal conditions of Russia, the personnel arrived in small parties at long intervals, the last party leaving Russia as late as March, 1918. The unit was made up to strength by the enlistment of personnel from motor and other munition works in England. The cars and material were all to be provided from England, and the necessary orders for their manufacture were issued without delay. The armoured cars were of Austin make, and mounted two machine-guns in twin turrets.

A demand for the early presence of some cars with the Mission necessitated the despatch of an advanced party, the last draft of which landed in May, 1918.

This party consisted of 21 officers, 450 other ranks, with 8 armoured cars, 24 lorries, 30 touring cars, 44 Ford box vans, 32 motor-cycles, and other stores and equipment.

That it was impossible to concentrate and fully equip the unit in England before despatch overseas was unavoidable, but unfortunate from the point of view of organization. The delay in the despatch of the remainder of the unit was a further misfortune. The absence of many of the specialist personnel and much of the essential equipment increased the difficulties with which the Brigade was faced. Some of the personnel and considerable equipment never reached the Brigade until it was withdrawn from Persia.

Of the personnel that did arrive nearly 40 per cent. had only joined the Army in January, 1918, were {254}devoid of all training, and had often no mechanical knowledge.

By May 15th the advanced party, together with such cars and personnel as arrived later, were concentrated at Hinaidi, and preparations for the move into Persia were rapidly pushed forward.

On May 14th a start was made to establish petrol dumps at Tak-i-Garra, Kermanshah, and Hamadan, and by May 15th these were sufficiently stocked to permit of the move of “A” Squadron, which left Hinaidi on May 17th. In connection with the establishment of these dumps it is worthy of note that the Brigade Peerless lorries were the first heavy lorries to cross the Pai Tak and Asadabad Passes, in spite of expert opinion that the road was impassable for heavy lorries.

It will be simpler to follow the actual operations of the Brigade if each series of operations, although concurrent, are dealt with separately:

1. Operations against the Jungalis.

2. Operations with General Bicherakoff’s Force in the Caucasus.

3. Operations at Baku.

4. Operations at Zinjan.



“A” Squadron arrived at Hamadan on June 7th. At this time General Bicherakoff’s troops were concentrating at Manjil. The Jungalis under Kuchik {255}Khan were prepared to permit the Russian forces to continue their withdrawal to Russia, but were opposed to the passage of any British troops through their territory to Enzeli, a port on the Caspian. General Bicherakoff refused to sever his connection with the British, and prepared to attack the Jungalis who were entrenched covering Manjil Bridge. He applied to General Dunsterville for such assistance as he could give.

Orders were received by the Brigade on June 8th for all cars to proceed to Kasvin, to take part in these operations. The cars were much in need of overhaul after their long trip from Bagdad, and the work of getting them ready for the road was pushed forward as fast as possible, cars as they became ready being sent forward. One battery left Hamadan on June 9th, and the whole squadron was on the road by June 13th.

At this point the Rubberine tyres with which the cars were fitted gave considerable trouble, and failed to stand the wear necessitated by running over metalled roads. The average mileage per tyre worked out at 60 instead of 500 miles, and spares were soon used up. To obtain further supplies from railhead 400 miles distant necessitated a delay of at least ten days. By stripping some cars it was possible to maintain the others on the road, but by June 27th only two cars were mobile.

As regards the failure of Rubberines, it must be remembered that these tyres are solely intended for {256}work in action, and not for long-distance running. However, pneumatic tyres had not been sent from England, and efforts to supply the deficiency by local purchase failed. Some tyres were purchased, but it was not possible to get the necessary fittings to enable Warland rims to be efficiently converted to take the pneumatics.

As soon as the abnormal expenditure of Rubberines was experienced, arrangements were made to maintain a sufficient supply, and the cars were not off the road again on this account, although they consumed in one month 75 per cent. of the estimated year’s supply. Considering that a single Rubberine tyre weighs 200 pounds, the strain imposed on the transport of the Brigade in maintaining a sufficient supply was considerable.

From June 13th to July 20th the cars were mainly employed on convoy duties, and for defensive purposes at Resht and Manjil.

On June 28th one armoured car was in action along the Kasmar road, supporting infantry who were attempting the rescue of an A.S.C. officer who had been captured by the Jungalis. Captain J. Macky was wounded in this engagement.

On July 20th the Jungalis made a determined attack on Resht, which they occupied. They, however, failed to drive back the British troops camped on the south-west outskirts of the town. Both the armoured cars of the Brigade and those of the 6th L.A.M. Battery took a prominent part in the fighting, {257}and later in the relief of isolated parties cut off in the town. The street fighting was heavy and difficult. Trenches were dug across the road and barricades erected, but the armoured cars thoroughly proved their suitability for street fighting. Their moral effect materially assisted in clearing the enemy out of the town a few days later. Captain G. N. Gawler was wounded during the fighting.

On July 28th, to relieve the pressure at Resht, and to make troops available to assist in the defence of Baku, the Brigade offered to organize a motor machine-gun company from the personnel of “B” and “C” Squadrons then training at Hamadan, awaiting the arrival of their cars from England. The offer was accepted, and the company, consisting of sixteen machine-guns (with crews), left Hamadan on July 30th. The machine-guns and ammunition were carried in sixteen Ford vans, and the personnel in the Brigade Peerless lorries. It was decided that half the company should remain at Resht until the situation there improved, the other half proceeding to Enzeli to be in readiness to embark for Baku should the situation there permit.


General Bicherakoff.s troops embarked at Enzeli on July 3rd. No. 2 Battery, “A” Squadron, was ordered to accompany them. In order to avoid {258}possible trouble with the Bolsheviks, they wore Russian uniform, but later were ordered to discard it. The force landed at Aliyat, south of Baku, on July 4th, and proceeded by rail to Kurdamir, which was reached at midnight, July 7-8th. The cars were immediately detrained, and by 4 a.m. two cars were in action on the Russian right, near Kara Sakal, and remained in action all day against the Turkish advanced troops.

Two reconnaissances were successfully carried out in this area under cover of darkness, during the night, July 8-9th, and the Turkish outposts engaged. A reconnaissance at dawn, 3.40 a.m., on July 9th, met with heavy machine-gun and rifle fire.

The Turks attacked the village of Kara Sakal at 5 a.m. Their advance was greatly hampered by fire from the cars which covered throughout the day the withdrawal of the Russian troops in this sector to Kurdamir. On two occasions, the Turks having deployed in the proximity to the road, the cars ran right up into the opposing lines of infantry, which they enfiladed, forcing the Turks to withdraw.

On July 10th the Russians, after a reconnaissance by the armoured cars, attacked, but failed to reach their objective. An enemy counter-attack was repulsed by the armoured cars, which eventually covered the withdrawal of the infantry to Karrar. A determined attack on the rearguard by enemy cavalry was repulsed by one armoured car, with heavy loss to the enemy.

The battery withdrew to Sagiri on the llth, and was employed continuously in reconnaissance from July 12th to 18th.

Owing to the defection of the troops protecting General Bicherakoff’s right, he was compelled to retire to Ballajari, which was reached without incident on July 23rd. The armoured cars formed a portion of the rearguard and carried out one reconnaissance at Kara Su, without, however, meeting any enemy troops.

On July 26th one armoured car was ordered to carry out a reconnaissance along Shemaka-Baku road. This car failed to return. A force sent out to look for it found two bodies, which were identified as the driver of a Ford touring car, and a batman, both of whom were travelling in Captain Hull’s touring car. Unofficial reports have been received that a British officer and four men were prisoners at Elizabetpol. No details as to what actually happened are available.

On July 29th the Turks took Adji-Kabul Station, to the south-west of Baku, and began an encircling movement to the north. General Bicherakoff, not wishing to be shut up in Baku, withdrew northwards. The armoured cars acted as rearguard, Kirdalana being reached at 6.30 p.m. From hereon the armoured cars travelled by rail to Hatcmas, which was reached on August 10th. Although the force was continually harassed by Tartars, the armoured cars took no part in the fighting.

On August 11th the cars were sent forward by rail to Kudat, to operate against the Tartars. The country being impassable for armoured cars, they returned to Hatcmas.

On August 12th a general advance was made on Derbend, but the cars still travelled by rail. The Bolsheviks retired from Derbend after desultory fighting, and the town was occupied on August 15th at 9.20 a.m.

The train on which the armoured cars were travelling was smashed in a collision south of Derbend, and the armoured car personnel were responsible for the rescue of many men, under conditions calling for gallantry and endurance. Two N.C.O’s. received the M.S.M. for their gallant behaviour on this occasion.

The armoured cars were not in action again until the attack on Petrovsk on September 3rd. The armoured cars preceded the infantry at 4.30 p.m., and, driving in the Bolshevik troops, engaged a battery of 6-inch guns at close range, driving the gunners off the guns and capturing them. They pursued the Bolshevik troops through the town, driving some 600 of them into the hands of the Cossacks, who had got round to the north of the town.

One armoured car was now immobile, owing to back-axle trouble, and was out of action until September 20th, when necessary spare parts were received from Baku.

The cars remained at Petrovsk till September 10th for overhaul, every facility and excellent workshops being placed at their disposal by General Bicherakoff.

On September llth the cars were sent to Temi-Khan Shuna, thirty miles south of Petrovsk, to co-operate in operations being carried out at that place against a mixed force of 600 Turks and 1,500 Dageshani Tartars. The operations fell through owing to an armistice being arranged on the 12th. The cars remained at Temi-Khan Shuna to maintain order until the 19th.

On September 18th three Russian armoured cars, which had been under the orders of the Brigade at Baku, and had proceeded to Petrovsk when the evacuation took place, were attached to No. 2 Battery.

On September 27th two armoured cars (one D.A.C. Brigade and one Russian) were ordered to embark to join Colonel Sleseneff at Briansk. The cars were disembarked at Starri Terechnaya by 11 a.m. on the 30th, and left for Alexandrisk, which was reached at 6 p.m. the same evening, moving to Marinova on October 2nd. Here touch was gained with General Alexieff by aeroplane.

The advance was continued, Seri Brakovka being reached on the 3rd.

The cars moved to Breedeekin on October 12th, reporting to the headquarters of the force (General Mestoulov), on the outskirts of Kislyar, at 8.30 a.m. on {262}the 13th. An attack on Kislyar was ordered for the 14th. One armoured car was ordered to precede the infantry attack, and clear the enemy trenches at 12 noon, after a preliminary bombardment. The car was driven forward until the wheels rested on the parapet, and the trenches were enfiladed, and the Bolshevik infantry fled. The car, whilst returning to bring forward the Russian infantry, was hit by a direct shell, which killed three of the crew and wounded Captain Crossing and the driver. At this point the Russian infantry panicked, and, failing to restore order, a general withdrawal was ordered to Breedeekin.

The personnel of the British armoured car was withdrawn to Petrovsk, which was reached on September 18th.

On October 26th No. 2 Battery, which had served with General Bicherakoff since July 3rd, was ordered to return to Enzeli to rejoin the Brigade.

During the whole period, Captain Barratt, R.A.M.C., was mainly responsible for the medical work with General Bicherakoff’s force, and received the 4th Class of the Order of St. Vladimir for his work.

Captain Crossing, D.S.C., who had commanded this battery, received the St. George’s Cross for gallantry, and also the 4th Class of the Order of St. Vladimir.

Lieutenant E. W. Wallace also received the 4th Class of the Order of St Vladimir, and several St. George’s Crosses were awarded to the men.


At the end of July the new Government in Baku asked for British assistance. One section of No. 1 Battery (two cars) and two sections of the motor machine-gun company embarked at Enzeli, arriving at Baku August 5th. The remaining section of No. 1 Battery and two sections of the machine-gun company were withdrawn from Resht on August 6th, embarking the same evening for Baku, which was reached on August 7th.

Owing to the presence of Bolshevik troops in the town, the armoured cars and machine-gun company did not proceed to the line. There were constant threats that the Bolsheviks intended to attempt to turn out the new Government by a coup de main. The armoured cars “stood to” every night, whilst machine-guns were located in various buildings commanding the streets leading to the quarter of the town in which the British troops were billeted.

In order to stiffen and encourage the local forces, British troops were sent into the line on August 9th. One section of the motor machine-gun company took up positions at Voltchi Vorota on the left of the line, co-operating with detachments of the Staffords. Efforts were also made to organize the Russian machine-guns in this section of the line, with some success. (The organization of the Russian machine-guns was later handed over to Major Vandenberg.)

On the same date two armoured cars and one and {264}a half sections of the motor machine-gun company were sent to Zabrat, to take part in operations being carried out against Mashtagi. These two cars were constantly in action, handling very severely about 100 Turks who were found sitting and lying about behind a hedge.

The machine-guns took up positions in the Armenian lines. These machine-guns were taken forward, and then covered the advance of the Armenians. No serious attack on Mashtagi was, however, at any time made by the local forces.

One incident in this area is worth recording. At the request of Headquarters a Brigade Vauxhall Staff car was lent for the purpose of taking Tartar delegates to the front line, from whence it was intended that the delegates should make their way behind the Turkish lines and arrange terms with the local Tartars. Through some error, the car, also containing in addition to the delegates two sergeants of the Brigade, was sent on through the lines and captured by the Turks. Sergeant Miks was captured on this occasion. Russian born, he was a local linguist, and had gone through some remarkable adventures, whilst keeping under observation the movements of the Bolsheviks in Baku.

On August 14th one section of guns took up a position in the line at the foot of Griazni Vulkan, to the north-east of Baladjari Station. The next few days were fully occupied in the construction of machine-gun emplacements. Two armoured cars {265}and a half-section of the motor machine-gun company were retained in Baku in reserve to maintain order in the town. On August 24th one of these armoured cars proceeded to Griazni Vulkan, where it remained in support of the line.

On August 26th the Turkish attack, the imminence of which was evident from the daily reconnaissance reports, materialized against Griazni Vulkan. The advance took place under cover of heavy and destructive artillery fire, which caused considerable casualties. The line at the point of the attack was held by 150 Staffords and four machine-guns of the Brigade motor machine-gun company. The attack was three times brought to a halt, the machine-guns doing great execution. One gun’s crew withdrew their gun from its emplacement, which had overhead cover, and remounted it on top in order to obtain a greater field of fire. Enemy reinforcements coming up about 2 p.m. caused the troops on the right flank to fall back. The two machine-guns in this area, however, remained at their posts, and were last seen still firing, although completely surrounded.

The remainder of the infantry were forced to withdraw, but this order did not reach the remaining two guns, which only left their positions when they found small parties of enemy in rear of them. Fifty per cent. of the crews became casualties whilst withdrawing. Lieutenant Titterington, who was in charge, was compelled to use his revolver.

The armoured car in this sector, which, owing to {266}the impossible nature of the ground, had not previously been able to come into action, now covered the withdrawal of the remnants. These were reorganized by Major Ruston, a new line formed, and a further withdrawal carried out in good order to a line some 2,000 yards to the east. Fresh gun crews were immediately organized from batmen and other employed men of the Brigade, and sent forward to man the two guns that were left.

On August 27th the section of the machine-gun company was withdrawn from Voltchi Vorota, and received orders to report to the O.C. 39th Brigade, who took over charge of the Baladjari Sector on the evening of August 26th. The new line ran from Baladjari to Vinagradi. Two guns were placed in position at Baladjari and two on Vinagradi Hill.

The Turks had suffered so heavily on the 26th that they waited till the 31st before resuming their attack. During the interval reorganization was carried out, and, owing to heavy casualties, crews were only available for two sections of machine-guns and three armoured cars. One armoured car was immobile owing to magneto trouble, and did not come again into action whilst at Baku. The Turks attacked Vinagradi Hill on August 31st, and, as the flanks of the infantry were too exposed to permit of sustained resistance, they withdrew shortly after the attack developed. Orders again did not reach the two machine-guns in this sector, who maintained their position single-handed for an hour and a half, {267}inflicting considerable casualties before they were forced to withdraw, owing to enemy fire, from the rear. They took up a fresh position on the railway-line east of Baladjari.

During the whole of the period of fighting two armoured cars and six machine-guns (reduced to four after August 26th) remained inactive in the Mashtagi area.

The capture of Dighiya on September 1st endangered the security of the force in front of Mashtagi, which accordingly withdrew. The armoured cars and machine-guns took up a position about 1,000 yards south of Balakhani.

The Turkish success made the evacuation of Baku advisable, and orders were issued for evacuation to take place in the evening. These were later cancelled owing to the attitude of the local authorities and Caspian Fleet, and orders issued for a last stand to be made on the inner defensive line.

The next few days were spent in building the necessary defences.

On September 1st the Russian armoured car section, consisting of two heavy cars mounting 3-pounders, and two light cars with maxims, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel the Marquis Albrizzi, were placed under the orders of the Brigade. They were mainly employed supporting attacks against Tartar villages on the right flank, which never materialized.

Between September 1st and 13th a general {268}concentration of the Turks was noticed south-west of Baladjari. On the evening of the 12th an Arab officer deserter gave full details of the expected Turkish attack, which was to take place during the early hours of the morning on the 14th against the Voltchi Vorota Sector, a feint being made to hold the troops at Baladjari. The attack developed as stated at 6 a.m. on the 14th. The feint attack in front of Baladjari was heavily handled by our machine-guns and rapidly brought to a standstill. The main attack, however, against the local troops, progressed satisfactorily.

The two armoured cars from Baladjari were withdrawn to the Seliansky Barracks at the north-west corner of the town at 9 a.m. Their departure opened up the left flank of the position at Baladjari. This, together with the danger of being cut off by the main attack, forced the Baladjari detachment to withdraw at 1.30 p.m. They were covered by the machine-guns, which retired successfully, the last gun only leaving when the Turks were within 100 yards of their position, three members of the crew being wounded during the withdrawal. They took up a fresh position on the top of a ridge some 600 yards to the rear.

At 8 a.m. one armoured car was ordered out along the Voltchi Vorota road. It here engaged the enemy single-handed for two and a half hours, and though shelled intensively, managed to escape destruction by continuously moving in a figure of {269}eight in the very small space available for manoeuvre. This checking of the main attack allowed the Russian forces to be re-formed in rear and stiffened up with British troops. The remaining two armoured cars from Baladjari were ordered into action along the Baladjari road, with orders to prevent the troops withdrawing from Baladjari from being cut off. They were in action in this area the whole day, running up among the Turkish troops and inflicting very heavy casualties, destroying three enemy machine-guns and dispersing in panic some Turkish cavalry which were massing for the attack.

At 11 a.m. the machine-gun section from the Balakhani road was withdrawn, and remained in reserve throughout the afternoon near Seliansky Barracks.

At 5 p.m. orders for the evacuation of Baku were received, the armoured cars being disposed as follows, to cover the withdrawal of the infantry:

1 car on the Dighiyar road.
1 ” ” ” Baladjari road.
1 ” ” ” Voltchi Vorota road.

The withdrawal commenced at 8 p.m. and was carried out without incident, the last car arriving at the embarkation point at 10 p.m.

Owing to the still doubtful attitude of the local authorities and Caspian Fleet, it was considered inadvisable to delay whilst the armoured cars were embarked, and orders were issued for their destruction, as well as for the destruction of the motor {270}transport which had accompanied the Brigade, and which had done most useful work in rationing the Brigade and other British troops in the line. The following cars were consequently destroyed:

4 Austin armoureds.
6 Vauxhall tenders.
3 Ford touring cars.
2 Ford ambulances.
18 Ford vans.
1 Ford van (belonging to Wireless Section).

Kazian was reached on September 16th.

During the fighting leading to the evacuation the Russians’ cars under the Marquis Albrizzi rendered valuable assistance, and covered the withdrawal of the local troops in the early morning of the 15th, and were eventually evacuated with General Bicherakoff’s detachment to Petrovsk, where they were attached to No. 2 Battery of the Brigade.



During the fighting at Baku a considerable concentration of troops at Tabriz enabled the Turks to advance towards Zinjan, driving our outposts at Mianeh across the Kufian Kuh.

Eight more armoured cars from England arrived at Hamadan on September 1st. In spite of the fact that the majority of the personnel for these cars had been taken to form the machine-gun company, the balance of personnel was rapidly organized and “E” Squadron formed. The cars needed considerable {271}attention mechanically, and this was rapidly carried out, cars as they were fit for the road being despatched to Zinjan.

The serious threat to the main communications to Enzeli by this Turkish advance necessitated the consideration of a general withdrawal to Hamadan on September llth. In spite of mechanical difficulties, the Brigade offered to get the whole squadron to Zinjan immediately, and, further, to organize from batmen and cooks sufficient crews to man four machine-guns, the whole being carried in a Peerless lorry. This squadron and machine-gun section were concentrated at Zinjan by September 16th, and their addition to the small force justified a stand being made north of that place, and the orders for the evacuation being held in abeyance. Reconnaissances, in which one section 6th L.A.M. Battery played a considerable part, were pushed out as far as Jamalabad, where Turkish cavalry were engaged.

“E” Squadron had considerable trouble from back axles giving. The presence of armoured cars undoubtedly checked the advance of the Turkish troops beyond Jamalabad.

An additional twelve armoured cars left Bagdad on August 19th, arriving at Hamadan on September 1st. These cars also needed overhauling, and in view of the back-axle trouble experienced by “E” Squadron it was considered desirable to take down all back axles and thoroughly overhaul them. In the meantime the personnel of “D” Squadron was collected, {272}organized, and trained. This squadron was stationed at Hamadan, for fear of any possible advance of Turkish troops from Urumia via Bijar.

A road reconnaissance towards Bijar was carried out by two armoured cars on October 3rd. These reported that the road was impassable, and the country unsuitable for armoured cars some sixty miles north of Hamadan.

On the formation of Norperforce on September 14th, it was pointed out that Persia did not offer opportunity for the employment of a large number of armoured cars, whilst there was great difficulty in obtaining the requisite petrol to keep the Brigade mobile. It was considered that the armoured-car work could be carried out by eight cars, especially as the approach of winter would make movement impossible. Much of the work would be in the nature of patrol work, and previous experience had shown that this was very expensive in Rubberine tyres. The pneumatic tyres for the cars had not up till that date arrived from England.

Accordingly, on October 2nd the withdrawal to Mesopotamia commenced.

There are one or two features of interest as regards the rationing worthy of record.

Owing to the heat and the rapidity with which fresh meat went bad, considerable difficulty was experienced in rationing convoys, which might be absent several days from main rationing bases. No tinned meat was available, and after several experiments {273}a successful method of dry-salting and sun-drying mutton was found. Meat thus treated proved very palatable when soaked and cooked, and kept even in the hottest weather for several weeks.

Jam was made from fruit purchased locally, and stored in earthenware jars, a jam ration being issued to the men the whole time they were in Persia. Crushed wheat proved excellent for porridge.

This excellent result was mainly due to the initiative and hard work of the Brigade Quartermaster, Captain Lefroy and his staff.

To sum up, the Brigade, in addition to entirely supporting its own personnel in rations, munitions, and stores of all kinds, afforded very considerable assistance in transport to Dunsterforce. It maintained all armoured cars which had arrived from England, working over 1,000 miles from railhead, and had all available personnel in the fighting-line as a machine-gun company at Baku, some 800 miles from railhead. The whole time it was solely dependent on its own efforts.

The work was entirely due to the magnificent body of officers and men forming the unit, who have worked throughout unsparingly in whatever duty they have been called upon to perform. The gallantry shown by the men of the machine-gun company in the fight of August 26th, when they stayed with their guns to the last, is enhanced by the fact that practically all these men had under eight months’ service in the Army.






Afshar tribesmen, 142, 143

Agre Petros, 137

Akhbar, Lieutenant, 15, 29, 55, 67, 58, 101

Alexandria, 10

Ali Akhbar Khan, 79, 90

Aliullahis, 84-86

Ali Elizan Pasha, 159

Allen, Mr., 128

Alvand Mountains, 112

Amarah, 41-43

American Presbyterian Mission, 84, 89, 106, 128

Amory, Captain, 172

Ardabil, 175

Armoured cars, 109, 194, 205, 206, 207, 210, 252 et seq.

Ashar, 23

Assadabad Pass, 63, 111

Azarbaijan, 133, 157, 163


Bagdad, 47-60

Baku, 63, 67, 135, 190, 206, 207, 208, 212, 226

Baleshkent Pass, 154, 193

Baqubah, 74

Baratof, General, 70

Basra, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 29

Batum, 135

Benik Suma, 177

Bicherakoff, General, 70, 71, 133, 203, 208

Bijar, 227, 232, 246

Bisitun, 107

Bolshevik activities, 63, 64, 66, 67, 71, 72, 134, 135, 204, 211

Bray, Captain, 4

Bridges, Colonel, 250

Byron, Brigadier-General, 3, 10, 23, 36, 55, 75, 87, 100, 196


Cachagli Pass, 178, 179, 182, 183

Calthorpe, Sergeant, 176

Cannibalism, 118, 119

Caspian Sea, 62, 63, 68, 71

Caucasus, 67

Chesney, General, 17

Chihar Zabar Pass, 97

Cinema, native interest in, 26

Cochrane, Captain Basil, 175, 182

Cooper, Captain, 15

Cowden, Miss, 84

Crawford, Colonel, 194

Crossing, Captain, 207


Derhend, 207

Dervishes, 98

Diala River, 74

Donnan, Colonel, 5, 6, 9

Dunsterville Force, 2, 60 et seq., 74, 112, 133, 198, 212, 225

Dunsterville, General, 62, 63, 64, 74, 115, 123, 130, 133, 190, 203, 212, 225


Edwards, Mr., 128

Enzeli, 63, 68, 206

Eve, Captain George, 4, 15, 23, 42


Famine, scenes and relief work, 77, 88, 89, 103, 117 et seq.

Football, native enthusiasm for, 24, 25

Funk, Dr., 128


Gamasiab, 107

German activities, 63, 65, 66, 73, 204

Gilan, 68

Goldberg, Captain, 109

Goupil, Lieutenant, 109

Gow, Lieutenant, 90


Haji Agha, 163

Hale, Mr., 106

Hamadan, 63, 71, 112 et seq., 140, 196

Hampshire Regiment, 78, 82, 90, 169, 172, 184, 190, 194

Harunabad, 94

Heathcote, Captain, 172

Hinaida camp, 47

Hooper, Captain, 172, 236

Hussars (14th), 91, 94, 169, 172, 190


Jamalabad, 154, 193

Japanese naval escort, 3, 8, 9

Jelus, 136, 137, 165, 219

John, Captain, 173

Jones, Lieutenant, 170

Julfa, 134

Jungalis, 73, 116, 204, 205, 209, 254


Kalhur Kurds, 99

Kangavar, 110

Kara River, 107

Karachaman, 174, 183

Karangu River, 189

Karasf, 143, 147

Kasr-i-Shirin, 77

Kasvin, 63, 71, 72, 190

Kazemain, 56, 57

Kellik (native raft), 51

Kennion, Colonel, 106

Kerbela, 75

Kermanshah, 66, 72, 90, 92, 104

Keyworth, Colonel, 214

Khaniquin, 75, 99, 104

Khaseki, mosque of, 60

Khazal Khan, 28

Khorsabad, 94

Kirind, 82, 83

Kizil Robat, 105

Kizil Uzun River, 72, 190

Koweit, 17, 18

Krasnovodsk, 67

Kuchik Khan, 72, 73, 116, 127, 133, 158, 198, 203, 208

Kufa (native boat), 50, 51

Kuflan Kuh Pass, 156, 189

Kurdistan, 225

Kurds, 100, 228, 239

Kut, 37, 44, 45


L.C.C. Steamers on the Tigris, 38

Lincoln, Mr., 35


McDouell, Mr., 117

McKay, “Willie,” 244

McMunn, Major-General Sir George, 22

McMurray, Mr. and Mrs., 128, 129

Mahidast, 99, 101

Makina, 24

Malwa (P. and O. Liner), 1, 3

Mandali, 99

Manjil, 72

Marjanieh mosque, 59

Marling, Sir Charles, 122

Marriage ceremonies (Persian), 29 et seq.

Mar Shimon, 137

Matthews, Colonel, 78, 191, 214

Maude, Sir Stanley, 61

Mazandaran, 68

Mianeh, 155, 156, 161, 186, 187, 188

Milman, the “amphibious purser”, 6, 7

Mohammerah, Sheikh of, 28

Mussick (native raft), 51

Mustafa Khan, 239


Nabi Khan, 240

Nadari, 239

Nestorians, 136, 219

Newcombe, Major, 23, 42

Niebuhr, 60

Nikhbeg, 154


Orenburg, 67

Osborne, Captain, 149, 155, 156, 163, 167, 171


Pai Tak Pass, 77

Parisva, 112

Pennington, Lieutenant, 166

Persians at cinema, 26

Persians at football, 25

Persian marriage ceremony, 29 et seq.

Persian native levies, 172, 173, 180, 182, 185, 191, 195

Petrovsk, 207

Pierpoint, Lieutenant, 153, 155, 158

Poidebard, Lieutenant, 153

Pope, Captain, 91

Poti, 135

Presbyterian Mission, American, 84, 89, 106, 128


Resht, 63, 68, 71, 206, 209

Rifle thieves, 79, 80

Roberts, Captain, 169

Robertson, General Sir William, 2

Russia, effect of fall of, on Persian affairs, 70, 135

Russian movements, 63 (see also Bicherakoff, General)


Samarkand, 67

Sarab, 174, 175

Sarcham, 194

Saunders, Sergeant, 176

Seddon, Lieutenant, 237

Senjabi tribesmen, 78, 90

Shahsavan tribesmen, 157

Sharaf Khane, 135

Shatt el Arab, 18, 19, 20

Shibley Pass, 156

Shi’ite sect, 55, 75

Smiles, Colonel, 5, 194

Soane, Major, 227

Staffordshire (North) Regiment, 213, 215

Stead, Mr. and Mrs., 106

Stokes, Colonel, 215

Surkhidizeh, 79

Surma Khanin, 137

Suttor, Captain, 218

Sweeney, Lieutenant, 170


Tabriz, 71, 134, 139, 141, 156, 159, 163

Taranto, 1, 3

Tasbandi, 112

Teheran, 71

Thompson, General, 75, 225

Tiflis, 67, 134

Tigris, River, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40

Tigris River flotilla, 37, 38

Tikmadash, 169, 171

Titterington, Lieutenant, 216

Townshend, General, 44-47

Trott, Captain, 172

Turkmanchai, 176, 183, 184

Turkish activities, 137, 138, 142, 158, 163


Urumia, 135, 168


Van, Lake, 66, 135

Voigt, Lieutenant, 237

“Volunteers of Islam,” 66


Wagstaff, Major, 141, 150, 153, 161, 169, 176, 189

Wallace, Lieutenant, 208

Warden, Colonel, 5, 215

Williams, Captain, 236

Wilson, Gordon, 237

Worcestershire Regiment, 191