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.
This map shows the final route through the mountains from Hamadan (Hamedan) to Enzeli (Bandar-e Anzali), a port town on the Caspian Sea. From here, Dunsterville intended to continue his journey north to Tiflis (Tiblisi, Georgia) and Baku (Azerbaijan) by ship.
The diary mentions trees and flowers on the final route from Mendzil (Manjil) to Enzeli – you can see on the map the crescent of green and how flat the land is at Enzeli. This must have been somewhat of a relief after the arduous journey through the mountains and snow – in motorised vehicles which were probably not, at that point, able to cope with plummeting temperatures.
You can click for a larger version.
To Enzeli. We stayed half an hour at Resht to see the consul there. He says the situation is very bad. After all this horrible snow and hills and no trees, we ran 50 miles through the most lovely country, beech forests, chestnut, cyclamen, primrose, scented violets, snowdrops, and strawberries in quantities – a lovely country. Towards the Caspian it gets flat and boggy, and one passes through rice-fields. Enzeli is a port with a huge fishing industry – very interesting freezing works. The town is entirely Bolshevik and they have a very good and orderly organization – but we were prisoners from the moment of our arrival. The Revolutionary Committee sent me a message desiring my presence at 8 p.m. at their meeting. I was dining at that hour with Mme. Hunin, the wife of the Belgian Customs Officer, so I took no notice of it which was the wrong thing to do. At 9 o’clock the President and one Member bearded the lion in his den and turned up at the house insisting on seeing me. I sat in a room with them and they proceeded to cross-examine me as to the meaning of this armed British party suddenly descending on them, my destination, my aims etc. I answered briefly and agreed to meet the full Committee at 11 to-morrow.
Through a terrible 60 mile defile, worse than the Khyber and over a long snow Pass, road good, reached Mendzil where we put up at a house calling itself a hotel. Met many Bolshevik soldiers and had long talks with them, but there’s not really much the matter with them after all, but lack of discipline which leads to disorder and murder.
Left at 7 a.m., arrived at Kasvin 2 p.m., staying with Goodwin, Bank and Consul, Sir Charles Marling and Col. Napier* – Minister and Military Secretary, Teheran, came to confer with me – very interesting talk. There never was such a terrifying situation – but one is not paid to be terrified. The Caucasus seems already to be in the thick of civil war – and Persia also on the verge. My port of embarkation is in the hands of Persian revolutionaries and my port of arrival in the hands of Russian and Tartar anarchists. Kasvin is a filthy, filthy town, and full of disorderly Russian soldiers. But beautiful fruit gardens all round – I have at last seen a pistachio-tree – after meeting the liquorice bush in Mesopotamia – and some beautiful coloured tile domes in the town.
* I cannot identify any of these men