Settling up with my Russian friends and handing over – A last bathe in the Caspian.
The Port here is quiet, but although we have arrested and sent to Baghdad the Bolshevik leaders, we cannot yet get real control of the port and the shipping, as I have very few troops and cannot show force. In fact, the Bolsheviks or the Jangalis or both together might attack me at any time and knock me out. One has to take big risks but I must send all I can to Baku and keep only the minimum here.
I have had bad diarrhoea for some time and on the road down I felt as if I were going to die – I determined to eat nothing, but at the Nagober toll-gate I had to accept hospitality and I was hungry, so I gave in and drank tea and coffee and ate cheese and omelette. After that I nearly died again and gave up worrying, so when we got to the Resht toll-gate and I was again tempted, I ate everything I wanted. Bray suggested a Russian cure, vodka with pepper in it, so I drank three pepper vodkas which were very consoling! and from that moment to this I have been as fit as a fiddle – it was, I suppose, too much for the microbes.
When one arrives in a new town, one is deluged with interviews that tire one to death. Yesterday I had M. Hunin, head of customs. Khachikov and Senizavin, controlling the Caspian fleet, Gendre, the Social Revolutionary, Dr. Araratiantz, head of the Armenian National Council, Mr. Ogamiantz, Soc. Rev. Alkhari – Bicherakov’s man; great schemes are propounded, but each is playing for his own hand. To-day I have already had heaps of time-wasters, mostly Russian and British refugees trying to get a job – (that is, money) out of me. Baku still holds up and I hope Bob will pull through, but my reinforcements are small and time flies.
[I cannot identify the location of Nagober but I believe it to be somewhere in Iran]
Rather tired and weary after diarrhoea. We have lost several men from cholera and a good deal of typhus and sandfly fever. The flies are awful. Days are hot but nights quite cool.
The number of situations I have to deal with is enormous. The Jilus and Armenians at Urmieh have long been entirely surrounded by the Turks, but have bravely held out so far. Yesterday I managed to get an aeroplane through to them. The aviator, Pennington, was received with an ovation, could not move for half an hour, people kissing his hands and knees.
As a result, I hope to open up the road to Urmieh from Hamadan and have asked the Jilus to fight their way down to Sain Kale [location unidentifiable] to meet us. This is a new situation. Then, in case the Turks get Baku I am sending a party over to Krasnovodsk to see what can be done on the East shore of the Caspian and in Turkestan [Turkmenistan].
Then I still have the defence of Baku on my hands, and am anxious having had no news of Bicherakov for some days.
Then there is the Turkish invasion situation via Tabriz doing pretty well. The Turks hold Tabriz with 2000 men and I am bluffing them with about 20 and 1 armoured car. Then there are the Persian Levies and the Irregulars which are not a great success. They want pay, but don’t want to fight.
Then there is the internal political situation. At Teheran there is a revolution going on, not very dangerous so far. In the town here all is quiet, but all Persian officials are pro-Turk.
Then there is the Jangali situation, which is doing well so far. We are bombing them by aeroplane again to-morrow. My hands and head are very full. Then I am worried a lot by the question of liquidation of the Russian debts, contracts with the Russian road Company, interviews with Russian revolutionaries and schemes to help indigent Russian officers.
Everything is all right so far, but I am always skating on precious thin ice. The Governor called on me yesterday, and to-day the Karguzar [foreign agent, see March 7]. My 2 aeroplanes arrived all right from Baghdad, but have only enough petrol for one flight during the Menzil battle to-morrow. One armoured car got smashed up coming over the Sultan-Bulak Pass; and one Russian lorry came to grief – several men injured, but no one killed. The climate here is delightful, but rather a beastly wind. Nights are cold and blankets are welcome – The nightingale sings and there are roses in the garden, but I am very lonely.
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.
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!
O Babel, Babel! An Armenian doctor (member of Baku Committee) came to see me, I took him down to the office. On the road I met a Turkish naval officer coming to surrender. I went into the office and found Lt. Sokolov of the Russian Navy waiting to see me, also Lt. Poidebard of the French Army [most likely to be this man]. In the hall was waiting a Persian Gendarme officer we are going to use as a spy – and also a Greek merchant, who came with information which he gave through the medium of Hindustani, our only common language.
At last we got a mail with Daisie’s letters up to March 21st. Poor Daisie! what a terrible time she has been having – Living with the Starrs and Dr. Starr murdered at night by Pathans, poor fellow. He was stabbed in 5 places by men and lasted till the afternoon, when he died.
* Dunsterville was a renowned polyglot, speaking English, French, German, Russian, various Indian languages (such as Pushtu and Hindustani) and Arabic. It was his multilingualism which was a key reason why he was chosen for this mission.
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.