At last the first shot is fired. Bicherakov’s detachment with the 14th Hussars and 2 armoured cars of mine attacked and captured the Menzil Bridge and the Kuchik Khan bubble is burst. I first sent over 2 aeroplanes with orders not to fire or bomb as I did not want to begin. They were heavily fired at. Then 2 German officers came to parley, but Bicherakov told them simply to clear all their men out of the way. In the town here we have seized the telegraph office and and put in censors and stopped all cipher work, we arrested 6 Persians and 1 Greek in league with Kuchik Khan. Now all the rest of the town are down on their knees and begging not to be arrested. They are mean-spirited. The Government might well have said “what right have you to arrest Persian subjects when you are not at war with Persia? What right have you to seize telegraph office etc?” I have only about 50 men here and there must be at least 2000 armed Persians in the town.
Left 9 a.m. for Teheran, arrived 5 p.m. A very ugly, barren, road, parallel to the Elburz Mountains – capable of wonderful fertility if irrigation were not just left to chance.
Our entry into Teheran caused some interest – the sign of the new régime – the first glimpse of a British General in uniform. The crowd had a good chance of admiring us as we were help up for a long time by the police asking all sorts of questions at the barrier. Then through a dusty and rather squalid city and thence into the Legation Garden – one of the beautiful gardens in the world – as near as possible a Paradise on earth. They have an Austrian gardener! Chenar trees, lawns, fountains and ponds with water lilies, roses, etc. – not only very beautiful, but such a contrast to the nasty surroundings.
Teheran is heavenly, but is an abode of devils. Lady Marling ill in bed, Sir Charles is really an invalid. Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch has been living with them for a year – a sort of refugee, 25 years of age, nice looking, but soft and no use to the dynasty. Also met General and Mrs. Polovtsev. Both very young, and she very pretty – the usual Russian worldlings and probably a bad lot. (Barttelot was afterwards killed by the Consul, Mc.Laren, for making love to his wife *) Barttelot I was glad to see (Mil. attaché); also Stokes my G.S.O.; I. Scott, the first Secretary; Havard Consul; Etter, Russian Member; Lecomte, French (Eulenburg scandals!); Caldwell, American Col.; Staroselsky, commanding the Persian Cossacks.
I was tired to death during my stay in Teheran, because there was never quiet one moment. Ride with Barttelot before breakfast, then interviews without ceasing till dinner time, then the other sort of dinner party interview with each of the invités, and bed at 1.0. I like French ladies because they curtsey to me when they are introduced and they make me feel Viceregal! A wonderful cuisine with an Italian chef – everything done in quite the nicest way.
I think Teheran is a nasty place. A nightingale sings outside my bedroom at night and there is an atmosphere of lilies and languor and love in the air, which, with no proper outlet, leads people to be rather nasty. The place is full of Russian Officers who drink and gamble for huge sums at the Imperial Club with Persian noblemen and any bounder with money to be squeezed.
I was glad to leave Teheran on Friday 17. Left Kasvin on Saturday 18th, and arrived at home by Hamadan at 7 p.m. same day. I was very tired and brought with me a collection of prisoners – Austrian, German and others. I had to share my car with the Hungarian officer prisoner’s wife and baby – she had to pull up the car at every mile and be sick. And a very pretty officer’s wife, Sokolov, en route Baghdad. It was a dreadful arrival with one lady sick and one in hysterics and no one to meet us and no arrangements made. I ran them both into Mrs. Funks drawing-room (hard on a missionary lady) while I ran round to arrange things. I was dog tired, but had to go to a concert that had been especially postponed for me. It was quite hot in Teheran and here it is just a warm spring – we want half warm clothes and half summer clothes.
4th party arrived at 11 a.m. 50 officers, 150 N.C.Os, Australians, New-Zealanders, Canadians, South Africans – a fine lot, but tough, commanded by Daisie’s brother, Bob Keyworth.
* I cannot ascertain to what this comment pertains!
Yesterday I sent a party to clear the snow off the Asadabad Pass and they found a caravan just being plundered and captured the robber band complete! A Russian lorry, en route Kasvin, was attacked on the road near Manian [possibly here, but unlikely?), 8 killed. I am sending Nizam-es-Sultan, the Governor of this town off to Teheran to-morrow to see the Government and put some new ideas before them – after having, in many interviews, shown him the meshes of German intrigue I hope it will be of use, and I have promised to prevent anyone else bagging the vacant Governorship during his absence. We have learnt to love each other so much that he insisted on giving me two smacking kisses on departure!
4 more Russians murdered on the road by Aveh and I am anxious about the party I am sending to Kasvin. It is always Alice in Wonderland. I sent Bicherakov’s fierce Cossacks down to take the Menzil Bridge from the Jangalis, which should have meant awful blood-shed, instead of which I hear the Cossacks and the Jangalis are sitting side by side alongside of the bridge are quite friendly with each other! One minute I have to implore Bicherakov not to kill too many and the next minute I have to urge him on to kill at least some of them.
What a Babel. I talk English to my orderly in the middle of my Persian lesson, I receive a letter from the Governor which I have to answer in French and a Russian soldier calls in the middle to complain of a loss of money – and two days ago I was talking German to a German prisoner. I read last night a letter in Gurmukhi from Sunder Singh, a Subadar in the 36th Sikhs, and I spoke Pushtu yesterday to the one and only Afghan in Hamadan, and Hindustani to two Indian deserters! Left the Mc.Murrays’ comfortable house and moved over to mine, where I live with Col. Duncan and Capt. Topham, my A.D.C. If one allowed oneself to be worried by these fearful plots and rumours, one would get no sleep. The Democrats in the town are plotting to shoot me and also to down us by a sudden attack. The Kurds, close by, are being stirred up by the Turks to wipe out the English at Hamadan and Kermanshah, and Kuchik Khan with the Germans and the Baku Tartars, threatens to destroy us all – Col. Bicherakov’s Cossacks, whom I sent to Kasvin, are the only thing between us and disaster, and I cannot get Baghdad to wake up. I intercepted a letter yesterday from a big man in Teheran to Kuchik Khan, full of treachery and implicating even the Prime Minister!
An amusing morning examining the German prisoner Eric Wiener and his Turkish guide. He says he hates the Turk because he believes it was he who gave his disguise away when he was travelling as a woman. His only request was for some decent bread, but I told him that we had all been eating Turkish chuppaties for 2 months and could get nothing else. He was evidently bearing important despatches but had destroyed them. What horrible times we live in, I live in such appalling contrasts and it is only by contrast that we can realize. This famine is perfectly awful. I have just walked through the town and I gave alms to the extent of my purse, perhaps about 40 krans, 2 krans to each beggar, but there were thousands of them and I suppose they must all die. In the bright sunshine in the middle of the road lay a little boy of about 6, quite dead, with his face buried in the mud: the others seem quite callous. And then from all this misery I come home to a beautiful house and sit in a luxurious drawing-room after a good tea and listen to the most beautiful violin music played by a Russian Officer (Ostrovsky), and my German prisoner tells me he wants to get back to his wife – and it all seems so wicked and senseless. I believe the famine here could be put right with a million pounds, and what is that in a war that costs us 7 million a day? I have asked the War Office to give me £20,000 a month for road-making and that will help a little.
General Baratov returned my call and spoke for 3 hours without taking breath re the Russian evacuation, Russian financial requirements and Russian tactical considerations. I do much listening and the time is not yet for me to talk. The road ahead is reported dangerous and every animate and inanimate thing is out to stop me, but if you face the obstacles they disappear as a rule. Turkish, German and Austrian agents, all over the place, and hostile Bolshevik soldiers several thousand, blocking the road between here and Enzeli – it is lively.
Cold better but still a worm. Weather fine, but snow not melted. I intend to start at 4 a.m. to-morrow while the snow is frozen. The German plane that flew over yesterday was downed soon afterwards by one of ours, so his information about us never reached and we were saved a bombing.