1918 – September 9

The enemy have a map of the town and are, of course, accurately informed of my movements. They know I have tea on board the Kruger at 4.30 p.m. And they have a spy observer here to direct their fire. On Saturday at tea-time they began to fire and one could note the careful observation, first shot near the cathedral, next more towards me, and so, one by one till they got one straight between the masts that fell in the sea a few yards away without exploding, then the observer signalled all correct and we got 2 rounds battery fire straight on to the Kruger. But you don’t hit what you aim at, you hit the things near – so two steamers on the next wharves were hit and all started steaming out into the bay. But the Kruger, the cause of all the trouble, remained fast, and the firing ceased, as they are not too well off for ammunition.

I have Captain Noel with me here, a fine fellow. He has been 6 months in prison with Kuchik Khan, where he was in chains and flogged and was released after I had made peace with Kuchik – he seems none the worse for his troubles. I took him out to the front to see the position at Binagardi, and on the way back I found my H.Q. in the Hotel d’Europe heavily being shelled. I couldn’t pull up the car and take cover in front of the fleeing populace, so we just had to head straight into the storm – it was unpleasant with bricks and mortar flying around, and the most terrific bangs, but I was very much watched, so had to sit up and look as if I like it.

As I reached the Hotel, the firing was over – one shell had burst in Wither’s bed-room next my Q. Office – destroyed the room and hit no one. Two burst in the road and smashed all the windows and a balcony, one set a house on fire alongside, but the fire-brigade were out in no time, in very good order and soon got the fire under control. Artillery fire is terrifying, but in a town its effect is very small unless it is the big shells that no one in this country possesses.

Thank goodness and thank God for many mercies. Bicherakov’s first detachment arrived to-day from Petrovsk* and things, for the moment, look very good indeed. London and Baghdad keep on telling me to leave Baku at once and I finally and firmly refuse – so how it will all end I do not know. I have sent the strongest telegrams that have ever been sent, but they contain nothing but what is true and right and what can be substantiated. Both Baghdad and London have been criminal in their outlook on the strategy, and even now they do not seem to realize that the capture of Baku by the Turks is a far bigger thing for them than the capture of Baghdad by us, was for us. In the evening I had to attend an anniversary dinner for the battle of the Marne, given by the Belgian Consul, who is an Armenian. The guests were some 12 prominent Armenians, Col. Chardigny and one French officer, one Russian, and the Armenian priest in full and very picturesque robes. The table was quite a wonderful sight and the guests more so. There were many speeches – too many – and I got away after two hours on a genuine plea of work.

* I can find two Petrovsks, one in central Russia near Moscow and one to the south-east of Moscow on the border with Kazakhstan. I presume it is the latter, but await further confirmation.

1918 – August 25

Arrived 3 p.m. I was to have tad tea with Kuchik Khan at Resht, but he cannot arrange before Wednesday [28th August] and I cannot wait so long – so I must again return without accomplishing this important work. Enzeli is looking very nice and clean. Bray is very ill and I sent him to hospital and taken on Lieutenant Grosvald of the Russian Army in his place – a good fellow, but not a patch on Bray. 

1918 – June 25

I am off to-morrow to Enzeli in the Caspian where I shall see Bicherakov and eat caviare. With the last convoy I sent down the road, Captain Dunsford of the Hants was killed and 6 wounded, but I hope they’ll be quieter now. I have twice sent aeroplanes to bomb K.K’s Headquarters and that may help to cool his ardour. The town is quieter and I have issued counter proclamations.

1918 – June 12

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.

1918 – June 1

Arrived Kasvin with 22 Cars, 14 hours run, 140 miles, no incidents. Very nice house here, but hotter than Hamadan, still it is a beautiful place with Gardens and nightingales and it is nice to have a couple of blankets at night.

My troops are getting all over the place, as I have so many different situations to deal with. I have sent Wagstaff with 80 officers and men towards Tabriz to worry the Turks and raise the Shahsavan tribes – he can’t get into Tabriz because the Turks are already there and I have no troops to drive them out with. I have another party of 60 gone to Bijar to raise the Kurds and raid the Turks. I have 20 of the Hants here, 1 Squadron of the 14th Hussars and 2 armoured cars: at Hamadan 140 miles away I have another 100 Hants, 4 Armoured Cars. At Kermanshah, 140 miles further away I have 8 armoured cars and 1000 infantry, travelling in 500 Ford cars as a mobile column, and I have 3 aeroplanes.

All this to run 350 miles of road – keep the Turks out of Azerbaijan, help Bicherakov to knock Kuchik Khan’s revolutionary army off the Enzeli road and try to save Baku from the Germans. I am trying to run Bijar, 180 miles west of this, Hamadan 140 S.W. Tabriz, 300 miles N.W. Enzeli-Baku, 400 miles N. and Teheran 100 miles East. The Russian Officers that I take as refugees are a great source of trouble to me, as I cannot find employment for most of them and they cost Government a great deal of money. General Baratov, who commanded the 1st. Caucasian Corps, I sent down to Baghdad, but they are sending him back, also General Lastochkin. Colonel Baron Meden and wife go to Baghdad in a day or two, also Colonel Masoyedov – and I have 25 others here, younger officers, whom I can employ though they are not really of much use.

I am now planning to march to Enzeli with Bicherakov’s 1000 Cossacks and 1 Squadron 14th Hussars – to capture the Menzil Bridge, Resht, and Enzeli and get over to Baku. I do not know if Kuchik Khan means to fight. I sent Colonel Stokes down two days ago with a flag of truce to see Kuchik Khan to tell him that I do not want to fight him, but I will have the road clear, and I will have the prisoners released and he can do what he likes about it. He will have to fight. I am anxiously awaiting Stokes’ return.

1918 – May 28

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.

1918 – April 8

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!