Days are very busy. To-day I saw Lt. Maurice of the French Army about certain secret matters connected with the oil-fields, then Captain Noel about some mills that want shuttles from England to increase supply, we to purchase increased supply and exchange for grain in ports where cash is not accepted – we get back to barter in these days, also about Noel’s plans for the N. Caucasus where Pike has been killed and I propose Noel takes his place. Then Mr. Clarke Head of the Food Control about food supplies for population here, 300,000. Then Gendre the Social Revolutionary about his plots, then Araratiantz the Armenian about Armenian Army Reform, then Chardigny about wiring present situation to Paris – then Ragozin about his plans, Albizzi about the Russian armed cars. In the evening 5 p.m. a Georgian Prince re Tartar affairs and hopes. Then a Committee meeting at the War Minister, Bogratuni, reorganization. Then Captain Colmanautz, re the situation in Erivan, Major Conrans en route to Bicherakov with instructions, Colonel Rawlinson re destruction of bridges.
Returned from Enzeli. The down journey was quite uneventful and the country looked very different to what it did in the winter. No shots were fired either out or on the return journey, though several battles took place on the road in between while.
Stayed the night at Menzil – next day passed through Resht and down to Enzeli. It was nice to see the sea again – lived in the same quarters as before. Next day sea-bathing on nice sandy beach and the Caspian was delightful. Long final interview with General Bicherakov and final settlement of plans in South and North Caucasus. Then long interview with Cheliapin the leader of the Revolutionary Committee who wanted to arrest me in Feb., and was responsible for my not reaching Baku – he is very stupid and not more amenable now than he was then. One can deal with anything except blank ignorance. Finally he said: “I cannot continue to talk with one who subjects himself to the domination of a King and a Crown!” Left Enzeli same afternoon, arrived Resht for dinner. Stayed next day interviewing new Governor, Sirdar-i-Kul*, pro-Turk and pro-German, but now pro-me (temporarily), arranged a great function for rehoisting of British flag. All consuls present – troops armoured cars, Persian official. I made speech, flag hoisted. Persian police marched past and saluted flag. Persian Commandant made apology.
Good fight at Iman-Zadeh-Hashem, on the road outside the town – Gurkhas captured and burnt a village and killed many of the enemy. Two officers took two Polish women out for a drive in motor-car – silly asses. Drove straight into the enemy. One officer 2 women killed, car captured. One officer escaped and now to be tried by Court-Martial.
* I cannot find anything out about this person but Sirdar-i-Kul means ‘chief or commander of all’, so it is likely to be an honorific rather than an actual name.
The War Office wire absolutely forbidding me to go to the Caucasus at the present time, so the Germans will get the Baku oil, the Krasnovodsk cotton, the Astrakhan wheat and the Caspian Sea. It is very hard and disappointing. I am to look after Persia only. I suppose Percy Sykes‘ troubles in Southern Persia make them anxious, then Kuchik Khan at Resht, the Turks in Tabriz, the hopelessness of the civil war in Baku and the financial cost – they cannot produce the money. I wired estimated minimum cost 5 million sterling a month.
* for information about the significance of the Krasnovodsk cotton, the Astrakhan wheat and the Baku oil-fields, see here.
Such a day of talk. Haji Saad-es-Sultaneh, whom I like very much and who talks French, called on me – then General Baratov with a lot of questions, some so very simple. I offer to send him down to Baghdad, as he cannot return to the Caucasus. He says, “Could I get command of a Division?” I said “I’m afraid quite impossible.” Then he asked: “Supposing Great Britain declares war on Russia?” I replied, “Well, you’ll be a prisoner, and I’m sure very happy in our hands.” The weather alternates between snowstorms and warm sunshine – so does the political situation. At the present moment I am in the sunshine. Last night there were rumours of trouble in the city – this morning I was asked to stop the Governor issuing arms to the rabble to attack the English – now Kuchik Khan says he wants to make peace with the English, the Governor says he is our very best friend – and I also hear there is a chance of my getting through to Tiflis – so the sun shines indeed for the moment.
Fine day, but March winds and everything looking just like an English spring. At last an important cable from Home facing facts and altering everything. I am now no longer on a Mission to the Caucasus. They recognise, as I suggested, that Persia must be held first. So I am no longer independent. I am under Baghdad, and they are told to shove troops up here as soon as they can, and as far as I am concerned, the sooner the better. But Baghdad are very sticky and take a long time to get a move on – I asked for armoured cars a month ago, and now they “contemplate” sending them. Until the troops arrive things are dangerous as the population are naturally in a ferment and that is the time for the political agitator to get to work. I wanted to see the Persian Governor but he was too ill to see anyone which simply means that he is quite well, but “lying up”.
No cables from Home. General Baratov came to see me with General Lastochkin – a long interview about 3 hours. The Caucasus Government have ordered him to return to the Caucasus and the other officers, a ridiculous order in view of the fact that the Bolsheviks hold Enzeli and informed me that they had condemned Baratov to death – I must get all these superfluous officers back to Baghdad, but a certain number I can employ to man the 3 guns and work the wireless. There are 9 barrels of petrol we passed, lying on the Pass 60 miles from here and I meant to save them at once, but it always snows and I cannot risk the cars getting snowed up.
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.