What comfort in the nice house of the Mc.Murrays – such a sleep and such a rest – The vile weather continues and it snows again. I hear Barttelot had to abandon his cars and ride from Kermanshah, likewise Offley Shore – it is a marvel how I have brought these 40 cars over this 1000 miles of bad road and 7 snow passes without losing one. Now we are permanently blocked with heavy snow on the passes each side of us.
Sent many cables home, but no reply yet. As what I have suggested amounts to a change of policy in Persia, I suppose they have had to have a Cabinet Meeting* about it and that will cause the delay. They want me to go by the Tabriz road** – how little they understand the situation. I should have to be taken prisoner or shot the first day, or take a force big enough to fight. The people we are out to help seem a worthless lot and cannot pull together. The Armenians and Georgians hate each other and the Tartar hates them both. I shall never cease to marvel at our escape from Enzeli – I expect they are now cursing their foolishness in letting us go. Each was trying to get the other to fire the first shot and neither dared, but the Red Guards who arrived from Baku just as I left, would doubtless have done it, and they had us cold. If I had stayed another 24 hours it would have been all up. Thanks be to God! The situation all round is bad, but here, at least, we can put up a fight – I have implored Baghdad and London to send troops, but they take no notice.
* The involvement of the British Government’s Cabinet Office gives some indication as to the significance of this mission.
** The map below shows the location of Tabriz (I couldn’t get it to stop saying Pars Hotel) to demonstrate the alternative route that the War Office in Baghdad wished Dunsterville to take.
This map shows the route Dunsterville took in retreating back across the mountains between modern-day Iraq and Iran.
Click to view a larger version.
Left Aveh 6.30 a.m. Arrived Hamadan 7.30 p.m. The pass was deep in snow for 6 miles, but the Northward moving Russians had had to cut through it so we were not blocked, but it took 6 hours to do 6 miles!
Left Kasvin at 8 a.m. There is always so much firing in Kasvin that it is like a battle going on, but I suppose they aim in the air as no one ever seems to get hit. A fine day for a change and the road in good order. We arrived at the dirty little house at Aveh at 2 p.m. and found it half occupied by Cossacks and in an appalling state of filth. Just this side of Nahavend we found a beautiful spring from which we filled our bottles.
Had a long talk with the Cossacks on the road. Talking of the disorder in the Russian Army even before the war, one of them said “If you indent for sugar they send you ammunition and if you ask for ammunition they bring you sugar” – I asked about their felt boots, had they a pair each – no, only one between 20. Why? Oh, there were a lot of them for issue, but instead of issuing them the Commandant sold them to the Persians.
The hot sulphur springs at Abi Garm were interesting, the bath was very hot, much hotter than I would have like to have got into. I am frightfully disappointed at having to go back like this, but I am convinced that very few men could have extricated the party from the ridiculous position they were in and I am glad to be here without losing a car or a man – 40 cars are a great anxiety and after 1000 miles one cannot expect too much from them.
Heavy snow storm last night, finer to-day. Unable to leave owing to repairs to cars.
Glad we got over the Pass yesterday, we woke to find it had been slowing all night and we left in a heavy snowstorm – but only 24 miles to go and got into Kasvin at 12 noon to the Goodwin’s house. All sorts of uneasy rumours here – the situation is a ticklish one and there is a strong anti-British agitation. On our entry into Kasvin we were greeted with a volley which made me prick up my ears, but it was only Bolsheviks joy firing.
Tried to leave at 6 a.m., but it was a day of disasters – no sooner started than we had a delay of 2 hours for repairs, then later 3¼ hours, got over the pass all right, failed to reach Kasvin, but put up for the night in a decent isolated serai half-way between Kuin and Buvnak – not at all bad and not quite in ruins.
Left Enzeli 5.30 a.m., glad to get away, rather anxious work. Arrived Mezgil 5.30 p.m., weather fair – Many of Kuchik Khan’s soldiers looking very fierce on the road but no one fired at us and we fired at no one – the Russians as they march down the road, are fond of loosing off their rifles at nothing and this keeps one rather on the qui vive.
Always raining here – a beastly place. I asked to meet the Committee again at 11 a.m., and found them again very pleasant though they had a big armed guard to frighten me and I thought they might try to take us prisoners, but they did not. I informed them that I quite took their point of view, that I agreed to return at once and begged them to help me with petrol etc, which they agreed to do. I have an army of 40 Chauffeurs and 1 armoured car, and am not prepared to take on 4000 Russians, so there’s nothing to argue about and I do see their point of view very clearly. I foresaw all this from the very start – the mission was two months too late and could only end in failure.
Revolutionary Committee Meeting, Soldiers and Sailors all very pleasant and “comrady” and well behaved. Each questioned me in turn and tried to get me to reveal secrets and to contradict myself – I hope I got through all right. I insisted that my mission was not political and not anti-Bolshevik, and that they must let me go to Tiflis. They said they would take every possible step to prevent my getting there – the Caucasus being against the Bolsheviks and they could not permit us to pass through – and if we left here we would be caught by the Bolsheviks at Baku. They possess the telegraph and everything. They put sentries on all the ships to prevent my leaving and they have a gun-boat ready to sink us if we try – our house is guarded night and day and the situation is absurd – the mission has ended and there is nothing to do but to get out of it with all speed.
To explain the context – having reached as far as this, on a journey north to Tblisi (Georgia) or Baku (Azerbaijan), Dunsterville is now faced with the prospect of arrest or other detention, attack by the Iranian (Persian) revolutionaries, or retreat. At the same time, he is aware that any retreat will be looked on badly by the War Office. It is worth reading more about the situation here.