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AlasdairW

South Persian Rifles

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AlasdairW

Looking through my Great uncle Capt Alfred Will's passport I noticed he travelled to Persia via Sweden and Russia, it seems a strange route to take, l assume he may have been travelling with Swedish Gendarmerie, would that be a likely reason, Surely there would be plenty of empire troops taking the longer scenic route at that time?received_332085840887127.jpeg.e99a1511a35568c9de485fc9adf9777a.jpeg

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IainAlexander

By September 1916, the Russians had extended their 5 foot gauge mainline railway system as far as Tabriz in Northern Persia and earlier that year a company of Cossacks had actually ridden less than 200 miles from the Russian Army in Persia to meet up with British troops in Mesopotamia although there was no continuous line of defences. The two forces were really quite close.

 

Can I suggest two possible reasons for the route your Great Uncle took. First, was there any great urgency attached to his journey? Rail travel through Sweden and Russia to Tabriz then land travel to South Persia down the Karun River would have been much quicker than a sea journey through the Mediterranean, around Arabia then into the Shatt al Arab. Alternatively, it may have been 'intelligence gathering' to test the feasibility of the route for the British and also to observe what the Russian Army was doing in the Caucasus as three narrow gauge military railways ran from the Russian main railway line to support their troops operating near Erzurum, near Lake Van and near Lake Urmia.

 

I believe there were hostilities between the Russian Army and the Persian Gendarmerie throughout the war so active Russian support for Swedish gendarmes is less likely

 

IainAlexander   

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AlasdairW

Thanks Iain, 

Yes both suggestions would fit, the urgency certainly makes sense with the expansion of the Persian Operations around that time, that's still quite a land journey really and I assume during the start of the revolution in Russia.

 

I had a quick look at the stamps on the passport again but couldn't work out the dates or ports that were recorded in it other than Haranda, Sweden and the aliens office Aberdeen.

 

Alasdair

Edited by AlasdairW

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IainAlexander

Alasdair,

 

If you have not already found it, I suggest you go to a document in the Qatar Digital Library - the link is https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100040757104.0x000015

 

The document - REPORTS ON MINOR OPERATIONS IN SOUTH PERSIA UNDER Brigadier-General Sir P. M. Sykes - is a scan of an India Office record and it mentions your Great Uncle on Scan 20 of the 194 in that document. I've not looked more deeply as I was searching for a much later document about the Persian oilindustry

 

Iain Logie

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AlasdairW

Iain,

Yes, I had found it a while back, spent some time reading through it all.

 

Thanks 

Alasdair

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RobertBr

During the previous two hundred years Russia was seen as a major threat to British India. By 1900 they had slowly moved to incorporate many of the Khanates in the Caucasus. Both Russia and Britain had vied for influence in Persia and Afghanistan; not to mention the British disaster in Aghanistan (1842). Adventurers, often Indian Army Officers "on leave", on their way out or back, would travel to map the then little known areas to gain intelligence eg the mountain passes to the north ofIndia. Many became members of the Royal Geogrphical Society where their information was published.

 

One  route taken in the latter years was via St Petersberg to the Caspian, mostly by train, and then South via Terheran or Kabul or East on the new Russian railway towards Bokhara.

 

An officer in the early 1900s may well have been aware of such adventurers and willingly take such a route, or perhaps he was so ordered.

 

Ref: "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk and "Under Every Leaf" by William Beaver.

 

Bob

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Gunga Din

Capt Will of the South Persian Rifles is mentioned by name on pages 309-11 and pages 313-17 (including his death) in "Operations in Persia 1914-1919" by Gen F J Moberly which is the Official History (financed by the Govt of India) that was originally suppressed.  Of the 500 original copies first printed in 1929, 300 were destroyed, 150 were marked Secret and sent to the Govt of India, leaving just 50 copies marked 'confidential' distributed within the War Office. The introduction of the declassified 1987 Edition is by Dr G M Bayliss. 

 

It it is a fine history. 

 

Gunga Din.

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Maureene
IainAlexander

Alasdair

 

Yesterday, I visited the National Railway Museum at York and had the opportunity to read an account of a British officer who travelled through Russia to Persia about the same time as your great uncle.

 

The officer was Lawson Billinton, who had been chief locomotive engineer with the London, Brighton and South Coast railway. Lawson was called up in March 1917 and although he had no previous military training he was appointed as a temporary Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Engineers and seconded to a British Military Mission in Russia.

 

Lawson travelled to the British Embassy in St Petersburg via Haparanda in Sweden then over the Russian (now Finnish) border to Tornio to get a train to St Petersburg, which was then Russia’s capital. This is also the same route that Lenin took in April 1917 when he returned to Russia, so it is almost certainly the route your relative took. Lawson’s mission then took him to Romania but in October 1917 he was told to proceed to the Caucasus via Rostov and got as far as Tabriz in Northern Persia.

 

Based upon Lawson’s journey and his attempts to return to St Petersburg, the most likely route your great uncle took was ST PETERSBURG – MOSCOW – KHARKOV – ROSTOV - PETROVSK – BAKU – TIBILISI (TIFLIS) then down the Trans-Caucasus Railway to DZULFA and into Persia to TABRIZ. A less-likely alternative route is ROSTOV – NOVOROSSIYSK by rail then by ship to BATUM or POTI then onto the Trans-Caucasus Railway to get to TIBILISI and TABRIZ.

 

If you are checking the stamps in the passport, bear in mind that I’ve given you modern place-names; 1917 names may be different. Also bear in mind that this was the period of the Kerensky government in Russia when the Caucasian provinces made a bid for independence so you may have Azeri, Armenian and/or Georgian stamps in the passport and possibly in those languages.

 

Why your great uncle was sent to Persia by that route is less clear and Lawson Billinton’s account is also noticeably (possibly deliberately) vague on exact dates and on his activities but the article on Britain’s Azerbaijani Policy in 1917-18 – see http://www.visions.az/en/news/151/cf8230fa/ - probably gives some clues. Lawson’s own account clearly describes the chaos that then gripped Russia and destroyed the Russian Army’s ability to fight, leaving British interests in Mesopotamia and Persia very vulnerable. Up-to-date, first hand accounts would have been invaluable to British policy makers, which may explain why these officers were sent there.

 

For those interested, Lawson’s Military Service account is contained within Chapter 5 of his biography – ‘Lawson Billinton: A Career Cut Short’ by Klaus Marx. He eventually got back to Britain via Siberia and Vladivostock in June 1918 and was then given unpaid leave by the Army to return to the LBSCR but was called up again on 16 November 1918 (a week after the Armistice) and sent back to Romania in another Military Mission, he was de-mobilised in August 1919 and later awarded a CBE.

 

Another publication covering the  Caucasus theatre but set in the 1918-20 period is “The Transcaucasus Railway and the Royal Engineers’ by RAD Hennessey; which also describes the military railways built or operated by the Russians 1915-17 to support their Caucasus Army.

 

I hope that information helps

 

IainAlexander

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