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08 December 2016

Anglo-Italian Competition: The sale of military aircraft to Kabul

In 1937 the Government of Afghanistan purchased 24 aircraft from Italy.  Provision was made for an Italian Air Mission to be deputed to Kabul for the purpose of assembling and maintaining the aircraft, and for training Afghan personnel.  The Political (External) Department of the India Office maintained a file to keep track of the situation.

This development placed the Italians in direct competition with Britain and caused concern amongst British policy makers.  Hawker Aircraft Limited had recently negotiated the sale of eight Hind aircraft to the Afghan Air Force, and was similarly engaged with supplying its own instructors for the same purpose.

Hawker Hind IWM

Hawker Hind - British official photographer: Imperial War Museum © IWM (ATP 8882B)

British policy favoured the maintenance of a stable, independent, and friendly Afghanistan as the best means of securing its Indian Empire.  Meanwhile, Afghan officials feared being outclassed in the event of war by a larger Iranian Air Force, but lacked the resources and expertise to compete with their neighbour.  British policy makers were therefore in favour of the development of a small but efficient air force in Afghanistan for internal security purposes, being both within Afghan means and no threat to India.  Their strategy for achieving this lay with encouraging the Afghans to develop their air force along the lines of the Royal Air Force using supplies from British sources.

The Afghan authorities had expressed an interest in purchasing British aircraft as far back as 1935.  However, the demands of Britain's own re-armament programme limited the number of aircraft which could be supplied to Afghanistan.  Restrictions over the credit which could be provided to Afghanistan by the Government of India provided a further limitation.  Thus the British were hardly in a position to object when the Afghans turned to the Italians to fulfil their requirements.

The British feared that the Italians would send out an imposing mission to Kabul in view of the larger number of aircraft being supplied, and considered sending out a senior British officer to bolster the British mission.  Such fears turned out to be unfounded, the maximum size of the Italian mission being seven personnel to Hawker’s four.

The result was a scene at Kabul’s aerodrome described as peculiar by William Kerr Fraser-Tytler, Britain's Minister at Kabul.  An Italian delegation was assembling and testing aircraft next to a similarly engaged British contingent, while two German mechanics were busy restoring Junkers aircraft supplied in previous years to serviceable condition.

1938 would however turn the situation entirely to Britain's advantage.  The Italian aircraft sold to the Afghans were powered by engines entirely unsuitable for use at high altitude, and were easily outperformed by Hawker’s Hinds which were much more suited to Afghan conditions.  The Italian supplied aircraft experienced difficulties taking off, and were not able to carry a full load.  As a result, crashes and forced landings were common, and the aircraft became unpopular with Afghan pilots.

Hawker_Hind,_Afghanistan_-_Air_Force_AN0657746

Hawker Hind - Afghanistan Air Force. Image via Wikimedia (copyright Alan D R  Brown)

The Italian Mission was withdrawn in 1939, following the German instructors who had been withdrawn the previous year.  Thus Britain was left as the only nation maintaining an air mission at Kabul during the Second World War.  Fraser-Tytler was entirely happy with developments and claimed in a dispatch dated 10 May 1938 to the Foreign Office that ‘This practical demonstration of British superiority could not have been achieved had we been alone in the field’.

Britain had thus achieved an advantageous position in Afghanistan. However the outbreak of the Second World War, and subsequent restrictions on Britain’s ability to supply aircraft and equipment, meant this position could not be fully capitalised on.

Robert Astin
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 5/48 ‘Afghanistan: Supply of military aircraft to the Afghan Government; Supply of maps etc. to the Afghan Govt.’ IOR/L/PS/12/2001
British Library, Coll 5/53 ‘Afghanistan: Employment of British nationals in various branches of the Afghan air services; Air instructors’ contracts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2006
British Library, Coll 5/53(2) ‘Afghanistan: Employment of British nationals in various branches of Afghan air services; Air instructors’ contracts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2007
British Library, Coll 5/55 ‘Afghanistan: Supply of Aircraft to Afghan Govt: Contract between Air Ministry & Hawker Aircraft Ltd’ IOR/L/PS/12/2009
British Library, Coll 5/55(2) ‘Afghanistan: Supply of aircraft to the Afghan Govt. Supply of spare parts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2010 IOR/L/PS/12/2010
British Library, Coll 5/55(2) ‘‘Afghanistan: Supply of aircraft to the Afghan Govnt. Supply of spare parts’ IOR/L/PS/12/2011
British Library, Coll 5/60(1) ‘Afghanistan: Purchase of aircraft from foreign sources (1) Italy (2) Germany’ IOR/L/PS/12/2020

 

06 December 2016

Pageantry, Parade and Presents in Persia

In February 1809, a delegation from the British Government and the East India Company presented the Shah of Persia with a letter proposing an alliance between the two powers. This alliance was intended to thwart French attempts to use Persia to threaten Britain’s Indian Empire, as well as offer Persia military assistance against the Russians in the Caucasus.

Fath Ali Shah

Nigaristan Palace mural showing Fath Ali Shah enthroned with his sons - British Library Add.Or.1239 BL flickr

The envoy, Harford Jones, arranged for a display of strength in the form of a procession consisting of troops and members of his staff to impress the Persians. With this procession came a train of gifts, even the letter Jones was tasked to deliver was richly appointed. The records of the East India Company contain a list of these gifts, including firearms produced by the famous gunsmiths Manton.

The records also contain a set of receipts for some of the gifts, including a bill from Nunn and Barber Haberdashers of London for three letter bags: “…A very elegant white satin bag embroidered in gold extremely rich with gold cords of four tassels…”. This, along with two other bags cost the princely sum of £32.12s, the equivalent of over £1,000 today.

As well as these lavish letter bags, Mr Sydon Williams was paid £7.17s.6d for a “drawing of flowers… envelope… and trim”. There is also a bill for “Turkey boxes with velvet” and “cedar boxes” costing £9.0s.6d, presumably to carry everything else.

These gifts were intended to impress the Persian Shah and his court, demonstrating that the military strength shown in the parade to the palace was supported by the cash to back any promises made to the Persians, should they side with Britain.

Peter Good
PhD student University of Essex/British Library  

Further reading:
India Office Records - Persia Factory Records IOR/G/29/37; IOR/G/29/32 f.530
Sir Harford Jones Brydges, An Account of the Transactions of His Majesty's Mission to the Court of Persia, in the years 1807-11 ... To which is appended a brief history of the Wahauby (1834)

 

01 December 2016

Victorian Vaudeville – Tripping the Light Fantastic

Come with me into the world of Victorian Vaudeville.  Let me tell you the story of a poor London girl who achieved her dream of becoming a successful dancer, and then died.

   Makepeace Eugenie 2

Eugenie Makepeace – publicity shot taken in New York July 1899 and sent to her brother George in London (Family collection)

Our dancer Eugenie Makepeace was born in Pimlico in June 1882, the daughter of waiter Joseph and his French wife Marie.  Joseph died suddenly on 1 January 1887, leaving Marie to support their six children aged between seven years and six weeks.  She secured places for four of them in institutions for destitute children.  George and Harry went as boarders at Fortescue House in Twickenham, one of the National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children, later known as the Shaftesbury Homes.  In May 1888 Eugenie and her elder sister Berthe entered the Westminster workhouse school situated in Ashford Middlesex.  Juliette, the eldest child, appears to have stayed with Marie, but baby William went to live with a family in Islington.  However Marie found work as a dressmaker and gradually succeeded in gathering her family back together in Marylebone. 

Eugenie seems to have gained a place at a John Tiller dancing school.  Tiller trained working class girls in Manchester and London to appear in musical stage productions.  Eugenie became a member of Tiller’s La Blanche Troupe and at the start of 1899 was touring the UK with Milton Bodes’ pantomime Robinson CrusoeThe Era newspaper published reviews of performances before enthusiastic audiences in different venues  - Oxford, Oldham, Wigan, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: ‘Mr John Tiller’s La Blanche Troupe of lady dancers trip on the light fantastic to the delight of everybody’.

   Robinson Crusoe 1899The Era 21 January 1899 British Newspaper Archive


In March 1899 Eugenie sailed to the United States to perform as a member of the ensemble in Man in the Moon which ran at the New York Theatre from April until November.  She made a second trip to the USA in 1901 with the Pony Ballet, a group of eight young girls who performed synchronized dance routines full of high kicks.  Eugenie’s fellow dancers were Lizzie Hawman, Carrie Poltz, Maggie Taylor, Ada Robertson, Seppie McNeil, Eva Marlow, and Beatrice Liddell.  Their punishing training routine made them strong and flexible, as much gymnasts as dancers: ‘they are all marvels of strength, endurance, grace and agility’ (San Francisco Call, 20 April 1902).

 

Makepeace Eugenie 1
 Photograph of Eugenie Makepeace taken in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in February 1899 when she was performing with La Blanche Troupe in Robinson Crusoe (Family collection)


The girls decided to part company with impresario George Lederer and began to arrange their own engagements.  While they were performing at Forest Park Highlands in St Louis, Eugenie and Carrie contracted typhoid fever.  The troupe had to move on to Milwaukee and Eugenie died there on 28 July 1902 aged only 20.  Happily, Carrie survived and continued her dancing career.


  EUGENIE POEM 1 001 (2)

Eugenie’s funeral card (Family collection)

 The Pony Ballet's next engagement was in Chicago. The local Actors’ Relief Association there helped the girls to raise enough money to ship Eugenie’s body home for burial in St Marylebone Cemetery. The funeral card describing her as ‘A much beloved Daughter and our darling Sister’ carried a poem in her memory by ‘M.M’, presumably her mother Marie. 

‘The seas are crossed, the journey is done.’

EUGENIE POEM 1 001

Poem on Eugenie’s funeral card  (Family collection)


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. The Era 14 January 1899, 21 January 1899 and 18 February 1899
San Francisco Call 20 April 1902
Milwaukee Journal 5 August 1902
New York Clipper 16 August 1902

Visit our free exhibition on Victorian entertainments There Will Be Fun  - at the British Library until 12 March 2017