Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

03 May 2016

Accommodation for 5000? Indian Expeditionary Force D at Bahrain 1914

On 18 October 1914 a British officer named Lieutenant Fitzpatrick arrived at Bahrain bearing a letter marked ‘very secret’  for the Bahrain Political Agent, Captain Terence Keyes. The letter was from Keyes’ superior, Political Resident Lieutenant-Colonel Knox, and informed him that 5,000 Indian troops would be arriving in Bahrain in less than a week's time.


  IOR R 15 2 1820, f 3Noc

Sketch of camp, 1 mile south of Manama (Bahrain Island), IOR/R/15/2/1820, f 3. The key lists divisions that were part of Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’. 

Keyes and Fitzpatrick had just five days to select a site on Bahrain’s main island, capable of supporting a camp for 5,000 men. The two men quickly set about identifying disembarkation points in the town for the troops and livestock, routes through the town’s narrow streets to possible camping grounds, water supplies and sanitation.

On the morning of 22 October, the Ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifah was informed of the plans. The Shaikh’s response, Keyes later wrote to the Resident, was ‘extremely satisfactory’. Shaikh Isa did, however, raise one point: the camp site selected, close to his own fort, would prove awkward in the following June, when his ‘own people’ had arranged to encamp in the very same place.


  IOR R 15 2 1820, f 14Noc
Extract of a sketch map indicating disembarkation points and route through the town to camp sites. IOR/R/15/2/1820, f 14.


Shaikh Isa’s comment alludes to the fact that the Indian troops bound for Bahrain – troops that comprised part of the Indian Expeditionary Force D, and that would go on to fight against the Turkish Army in the First World War’s Eastern theatre in Mesopotamia – were not working to any fixed timetable. Their stay in Bahrain was to be open-ended, entirely dependent on events in the war.

Unsurprisingly, the arrival of the transport ships and other military vessels off the Bahrain coast on 23 October 1914 was met with excitement and unease in the streets of Manama. Even though the vessels could hardly be seen from the harbour and wharves of the town – the convoy being moored more than three miles out because of the islands’ shallow coastal waters – there was much nervousness about their presence.

In spite of the support of Bahrain’s rulers and the most prominent Arab merchants in the town, Keyes wrote that ‘several deputations of Arabs endeavoured to work the Shaikh up against the landing of the troops'. They might have been encouraged by Herr Harling, Bahrain agent for the German company Robert Wonckhaus & Company. Harling, so Keyes claimed, was stirring up anti-British feeling amongst Bahrain’s Persian inhabitants, and conniving with ‘some minor member’ of the Al Khalifah ruling family. On 28 October Keyes had Harling arrested, with orders for his internment for the duration of the war.


  IOR L PS 11 86, P 4923 -1914.Noc

Extract of a letter sent by the Political Agent at Bahrain, Captain Terence Keys, to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 4 November 1914, describing the German Herr Harling’s activities at Bahrain. IOR/L/PS/11/86, P 4923/1914.


Meanwhile, the ladies of the American Mission were sent out on a charm offensive to allay the fears of the female inhabitants of Manama. In spite of all efforts though, Keyes had to concede that there was a growing sense of uneasiness and objection to the anticipated presence of the troops, in spite of all his efforts to dispel any concerns. Rumours abounding (reported by Harling in a letter sent to the German Consul at Bushire) that a further 15,000 troops were on their way to join the 5,000 already arrived at Bahrain doubtless did little to help matters.


  IOR L PS 11 86, P 4923 -1914 2Noc

Extract of a letter sent by the Political Agent at Bahrain, Captain Terence Keys, to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 4 November 1914. IOR/L/PS/11/86, P 4923/1914.


Ultimately, the 5,000 troops that anchored off the coast of Bahrain did not set foot in Bahrain. They remained on their vessels until 2 November, when they sailed to the Shatt-al-Arab, in response to Turkish hostilities against the Russian fleet in the Black Sea.

  IOR L PS 11 86, P 4923 -1914 3Noc

Extract of a translation of a letter written by Herr Harling to the Imperial German Consulate in Bushire, 24 October 1914. IOR/L/PS/11/86, P 4923/1914.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership  Cc-by

Further reading:

‘Campsites in Bahrain’ IOR/R/15/2/1820

‘Bahrain: arrival of Expeditionary Force D; state of feeling on the island; intrigues of Messrs Wonckhaus, and his deportation’ IOR/L/PS/11/86, P 4923/1914.

‘Correspondence of Wonckhaus agent at Bahrein’ IOR/L/PS/11/91, P 1203/1915.

‘File 8/16 Bahrain Intelligence Reports’ IOR/R/15/2/314

‘Naval Staff monographs (historical) vol 4 no 15 - Naval operations in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf’ IOR/L/MIL/17/15/73

‘Report by Brigadier W. S. Delamain, C.B., D.S.O., on the operations of the Indian Expeditionary Force "D" up to 14th November 1914' IOR/L/MIL/17/15/88

‘Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917: Part I – Report’ IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/1

Paul Knight, The British Army in Mesopotamia 1914-1918 (London: McFarland & Company, 2013)


28 April 2016

The Anglo-Burmese Handbook

A working knowledge of local languages was a skill which the East India Company valued in its army officers. Cadets newly arrived in India were often taught Hindustani, and officers were encouraged to learn new languages, especially if required for their postings and assignments.

Developing and promoting resources for the study and learning of these local languages was therefore an important objective of the East India Company. Officers with an interest in such languages were encouraged to develop vocabularies, grammars and other such aids for use by colleagues and successors to their position.


Dedication to East India Company Court of Directors by Dormer Augustus Chase of a copy of his Anglo-Burmese Handbook

One such individual was Dormer Augustus Chase (1823-1860), who was stationed in Burma from 1847 until his death in 1860. Chase was born in November 1823, the son of John Woodford Chase, a Captain in the British Army, and his wife Louisa Anne Millicent, née Thomas.

He was nominated as a Cadet in the East India Company Army in 1840, joining his regiment, the 46th Bengal Native Infantry, in India in March 1842. He first arrived in Burma in 1847 as part of the Talain Corps, before joining the Arakan local battalion. In 1852 he obtained a civil commission as the Assistant Commissioner in Martaban, a position he held until his return to England on leave in 1856-1857. Chase returned to Burma following his leave, where he was promoted to Captain and served as the Acting Commissioner at Pegu.

Dormer Augustus Chase is today best remembered for his works on the Burmese Language. His most successful work was the Anglo-Burmese Hand-Book, or a guide to a practical knowledge of the Burmese language which was published by the American Mission Press in Burma in 1852.

Title page of Anglo-Burmese Hand-Book T 6855  Noc

Chase’s immediate superiors were so impressed with the handbook that they convinced the Government of India to subscribe to 100 copies, 50 of which were then presented to the Commissioner at Pegu for use by officers posted to Burma. The book went on to have fourteen editions, and was revised in 1890 by Frank Dennison Phinney (1857-1922), the then superintendent of the American Mission Press.

The Anglo-Burmese Hand-Book was not the only language guide that Chase produced. The British Library also holds copies of two manuscripts produced by Chase, but never published. The first is a classified vocabulary of Burmese roots, which was completed by Chase in 1857 whilst in Pegu.


Title-page of Classified vocabulary of Burmese roots Mss Eur B35 Noc

The second is a Siamese or Thai grammar, this work is undated but appears to have also been completed by Chase in about 1857.

Cover of Siamese or Thai grammar Mss Eur F163 Noc

Dormer Augustus Chase died at sea off the coast of Akyab, Burma in April 1860, and therefore didn’t get to appreciate the value that his handbook had to army officers stationed in Burma for well over 35 years.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:
T 6855 - The Anglo-Burmese Handbook, Dormer Augustus Chase, 1852.
Mss Eur B35 - A classified vocabulary of Burmese Roots by Dormer Augustus Chase, 1857.
Mss Eur F163 - A Siamese or Thai grammar, by Dormer Augustus Chase c. 1857.
IOR/L/MIL/9/198/198-202 - Chase, Dormer Augustus, Cadet Papers, 1840-1841.
IOR/L/PS/6/465, Coll. 47/3 - Correspondence with Government of India regarding Captain Dormer Augustus Chase’s ‘Anglo-Burmese Handbook’ and the decision to subscribe for 100 copies, Aug 1857-Apr1859.


25 April 2016

The officer and the Anzac

Today is Anzac Day. On 25 April 1915 Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli. Many lives were lost in the eight-month campaign. Since 1916 a day of commemoration has been held on 25 April to recognise the sacrifices of Australian and New Zealand servicemen and servicewomen.

During the First World War my great aunt Annie Procter worked at the Australian High Commission in London. Some months ago we discovered her autograph book in the loft at my parents’ home.  One of the contributions was this cartoon drawn by K A Tunks on 20 June 1916.  An army officer is addressing an Anzac: ‘Why don’t you salute? Can’t you see I’m an Officer?’  The relaxed Anzac replies: ‘Gee! You’re lucky. I’m only a bally Private’.

ANZACThe Officer and the Anzac


Keith Aubrey Tunks was born in Parramatta, New South Wales.  He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 8 February 1915 at the age of 19.  In April 1915 Private Tunks left Australia for Gallipoli with the 1st Field Ambulance. He was wounded at Gallipoli and fell seriously ill with dysentery after the Lone Pine engagement. In August 1915 he was evacuated to England, contracting malaria on the way. On his discharge from a hospital in Wandsworth, he was sent to Monte Video Camp at Weymouth in Dorset. This camp was established for soldiers of the Commonwealth Military Forces who had been invalided to England from the Dardanelles with either sickness or wounds and who were almost fit for return to duty.  As he had been dangerously ill, Tunks was posted to the accounts section of the Australian Military Office at 130 Horseferry Road, London. This was how he crossed paths with Annie Procter, a 21-year-old Civil Service stenographer, and drew a picture in her autograph book.

  Annie Procter 358Annie Procter - family photograph

Tunks ended the war as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army Pay Corps. His eye-witness accounts of his experiences were published throughout the war in Parramatta’s local newspaper The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. He arrived home in July 1920 to be met by the Parramatta Welcome Home Committee followed by a special reception at his sister’s house:
‘Lieut. Keith Tunks, of Parramatta, one of the last left in England, was the honored guest at a welcome home held on July 7 at the residence of his sister, Mrs. C. Woods, of May's Hill. The decorations were festive and specially the table, which was arranged artistically with the Lieut.'s staff colors. Toasts were given in honor of the King and the forces, and reference was made to the valuable services Lieut. Tunks had rendered to his country and the Empire both in the field and later in the more intricate establishment of the Australian Headquarters Staff, where work was always plentiful and fatiguing; and the least service we could render him was to welcome him heartily and sincerely’ (The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate,17 July 1920).


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Discovering Anzacs – service record for Keith Aubrey Tunks
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate via Trove
Fighting Australasia: a souvenir record of the imperishable story of the Australasian forces in the Great War
Europeana 1914-1918