False rumours of looting in Iran

A Christian missionary with Reading connections wrote to report on how the war had affected her in Persia (Iran). Persia was theoretically neutral, but there was a certain amount of military activity.


Here at Ispahan practically all our property is intact. We received rumour after rumour of damage and looting, but most of it has proved false. All our personal property is safe, except things stored in the boys’ school. The Persians under German command commandeered the school as barracks, and have done a good deal of superficial damage. Except for this and the Russian Red Cross having occupied our women’s hospital and Dr Stuart’s house, everything is locked up and sealed as we left it.

Reading St. John parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

“A rotten job”

More news about the impact of the war in British India and also independent Iran comes from the missionary sponsored by St John’s Church, Reading.


Miss Biggs left Amritsar on April 2nd and according to the newspapers the British party reached Ispahan [now Isfahan, Iran] on May 16th and received a great ovation and welcome from the Russians and the populace. It was a very plucky thing for Miss Biggs and Miss Stuart to return so soon to Ispahan, and it was with considerable anxiety that their friends watched their return. However, their safe arrival has justified their confidence and although no other Persian Missionaries are returning to Persia from the Punjab at present, yet events in Persia seem to be going against the Germans and Turks and before long we hope the whole country will once again be open to Missionary work…

I must not close without referring to what is after all my main work now. At the beginning of April I became Acting Chaplain once again for Amritsar. I enjoy this work very much though the hot weather is not a time when a padre’s heart may be rejoiced by large congregations. Instead of getting the soldiers to Church for the Parade Service we arrange Services in the Barracks and the Fort, and early on Sunday mornings there is a good turn-out of men in shirt sleeves, who take a hearty share in the short Services.

I have the greatest admiration for the present garrison troops in India. They are on a rotten job; they would all like to be at the Front; instead they have to put up with a monotonous life which is at times made well nigh intolerable by the heat. In Amritsar a detachment of the 23rd Batt[alion] of the Rifle Brigade is stationed at present. They are all old men, most of them with sons at the Front; some of them over 50 and a few over 60 years of age. When the men come back from war, I hope the garrison troops of India will march side by side with the men from the Front, for many of them have suffered and some have died.

Reading St John parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Killed in action on the Persian Expeditionary Force

A Warfield man was killed in the Middle East, where Britain was fighting the Ottoman Empire.

We regret to announce the death of William Woodwards (Wilts Regt.) killed in action on the Persian Expeditionary Force, and tender our sincere sympathy with his parents and family.

Warfield section of Winkfield District magazine, May 1916 (D/P151/28A/5)

Missionaries told ‘not a hair on your head shall be injured!’

The impact of the war in the Middle East was explained to Reading people when a missionary sponsored by St John’s Church wrote home with details. The city he calls Yezd is usually known as Yazd.


Following upon the occupation of Ispahan [now Isfahan], the old capital of Persia, by the Russian forces on March 12th the British Minister at Teheran has consented to the return of C.M.S.

Missionaries to the city. Dr. Emmeline Stuart and Miss J. Biggs have proceeded thither from India and Dr. D.W. Carr, the Acting Secretary of the Mission, is on his way there from England. A telegram from Teheran on April 28th stated that the staff of the Society from Yezd, who had retired within the Russian sphere of influence, would be leaving for their station on May 2nd. Dr. White wrote from Teheran on March 9th:

That the people of Yezd need us very badly and are prepared to give us a great welcome we have heard from various sources. Only last week, among numerous letters from Yezd was one from a large landowner, in which he said how very badly the people needed their hospital and doctor. He went on to say, ‘If you will only come back I will guarantee your safety; in fact, not a hair on your head shall be injured!’ Another Yezd grandee who has been living in Teheran and has just been appointed to a high office in Yezd came to see me before he left and pressed me to go back with him, and said, ‘As soon as I arrive in Yezd I shall begin an agitation to bring you all back again.’

Reading St. John parish magazine, June 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Intelligence is being exploited more now

A former War Office/Intelligence colleague wrote to Ralph with more behind-the-scenes gossip after the complete reorganisation of British Intelligence.

February 11
War Office

My dear Glyn

Just got your letter dated 2nd Jan, but I think you wrote it 2nd Feb probably! Sorry I missed you in my travels to the Near East with Lord K. They told me you had been “chased away” from Medforce! Your “position finder” system has been used to great advantage not only for fixed WT Stds, but for other “floating aerial bodies”. You will I am sure be glad to hear it has been of such use – only keep to yourself the fact that it has been so useful. Gen Callwell arrived back February 7th from Russia & is now in France – probably going back to Russia in a week or two, he was as you say the most charming of chiefs to serve under, & I miss him very much. He & Wyman were both decorated with “Stanislav’s [instant?] swords” – there is now a real liaison business between the CIGS and Chantilly – Sidney Clive and [Birthie?] de Sauvigny go backwards & forwards every 10 days & there is always one of them here & one at Chantilly working with us so that we each know now what the other is doing. It works well.

Gillman came in to see me today. You would hardly know your way about here now – there have been so many changes. MI2C is very much changed and is a very busy spot with even a lady clerk as assistant to Mr Baker. Cox from GHQ is the 2nd Grade [illegible]. [Fryam?] – Joyce (from British [Arucan?]) – Crichton who was in your regiment – and a youth coming over from France to join the subsection. We have shipped old man Perry off to Salonica. I could not do with his squeaky boots any longer and we thought he would like a change! He is delighted to go. Then I have a section now on the 2nd floor under Steel – which includes Persia, Afghanistan, India, Senussi etc – and the Balkans live in the room next to Thorp & are under him.

Amery is really the head of the Balkan sub-section and Skeff-Smyth works with Steel. It is of course good for the Germans to know that we are going to march up to Vienna through the Balkans! You forgot this in criticizing the “ops” – ! I am having “German forces in the field” sent to Tyrrell & a “Boche” order of battle. Colin Mackenzie has just left here to take charge of a Division again & Bird is DSO. Maurice as you know is DMO & Macdonogh DMC. We still have lots of work but the intelligence part of the show is I hope being exploited a little more than before. Best of luck & kindest regards from my wife.

Yrs ever
Bazil Brierly

Letter from Bazil Brierly to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/6)

We should have a soldier, a sailor and George Curzon to run the country

Walter Erskine, Earl of Mar and Kellie, was Colonel of the Sutherland Highlanders. His wife Violet (1868-1938) wrote to Ralph Glyn with her views on Gallipoli, and the political situation at home. She was not impressed by the appointment of Queen Mary’s brother Adolphus, Duke of Teck, to a senior army role.

44 Grosvenor Square
Monday 10th Feb [1916]

Ralph dear

I loved getting a letter from you, & I have been a long time answering it, as I was laid low at Alloa for three weeks in January with Flu…

We are here till the first days of March. I wonder if you will be home before that? If so, I would so like to see you.

Yes, that evacuation of Gallipoli must have been too wonderful, & one was relieved to know that that Army was safely away from that crassly stupid Expedition. I have seen Eddy Dudly, who is all right again, & I hear Scatters [Wilson] may be getting a [illegible] leave, as he has a bad foot.

London is depressed & gloomy, & the PM looks as if he hadn’t a care in the world!! I would like to sweep them all away, & have a soldier (which?? Robertson I suppose) or sailor (Jellicoe) & a civilian – George Curzon I think, as a Triumvirate to see this war through. The latter is strong in mind & action. Great administrative abilities, keeping India, Persia & Mesopotamia like his pocket, which none of the other 22 do, & a grasp of detail in every subject, & a glutton of work. Perhaps you may not agree.

Dolly Teck’s appointment is “pour rire”. We are evidently not at war!!

Am going to tea at Buc. Pal. this evening…

Rumour has it that the German Fleet is coming out. Let us pray for a successful issue for us – as there must always be a great deal of luck at sea!…

[Her son] Jock is on Lord Erroll’s Staff. Lowland 65th Div. at Bridge of Allan, which is nice for us…

I envy you being in Egypt. I don’t believe there will be much doing there after all….

Arthur Paget goes off to Russia almost at once to present Czar with Field Marshal’s Baton! Pity you are not here to go with him again!

Yours ever
Violet M.

Letter from Violet, Countess of Mar and Kellie (1868-1938) to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C21)

A geographical error

Lady Mary Glyn wrote to her son Ralph with her comments on the news. The Appam was a British civilian ship transporting some wounded soldiers and German prisoners of war, as well as civilians, from West Africa. Sir Edward Merewether (1858-1938) was the British Governor of Sierra Leone, and was also onboard. The ship was captured by a German vessel, and taken to neutral America.

My own darling Scrappits…

It is Monday Jan 31 [1916] …

I have been seeing people all day – no time to write or read – even the account of the Paris Zeppelin raid. Poor Sir Edward & Lady Merewether of Malta [dogs?] lost in this Appam tragedy. It is too sad. And Lady Wake’s brother Beau St Aubyn in the Persia – doing a good turn to Johnny Ward whose place it was to go. There seems to be little hope of his having been saved, though the man standing next to him at the time of the explosion was picked up. So the whole round world is full of tragedy – but the assurance is that the Germans cannot hold out much longer. Lettice has heard that there is most certain information as to the economic conditions being desperate & quotes Bishop Bury of N Europe….

Poor Mackenzie, stationmaster – has his son home desperately ill – consumption of the throat. He has not been to the front but serving with Kitchener’s Army & it has been too rough a life….

We began the evening with a Zeppelin excitement, One reported at Bourne – & then at Ryde near Thorney, & Peterborough was warned. Now, 11 pm , I hear the Zeppelin dropped a bomb at Stamford and one other place, & we shall hear more tomorrow, & I only hope it will not come back upon its track to right this way. I am conscious of most inadequate precautions! & worry myself to think how we could protect the children [Meg’s little Anne and Richard, who were visiting]. “The safest place is just where they are”, says T’Arch [possibly the Archbishop] & counsels no move to any quarters other than where they are, as we have no cellars.

Anti-conscription conspirators should be shot!

The Bishop of Peterborough wrote to his son Ralph Glyn with a rather unChristian attitude regarding opponents of conscription.

Jan. 11 [1916]
The Palace

My darling Ralph

So all our good letters to you went down in the Persia [on 30 December 1915] – well, better things than these were lost – & I am only thankful that you were not in it. And now you are at Cairo & comparatively comfy, & I am longing to know all about you & your next move. Public things are better – & the Government are beginning to do what they should have done ten months ago – to get together men for our armies.

There will be some resistance to the compulsion – & I only hope it will be met with readiness & pluck, & the conspirators shot.

John is getting on, but he has a Board next week. I cannot think they will pass him – & indeed he has a lot to do for his teeth & that will take time. His back is nearly healed up.

Take care of your dear self, & do not eat too many of “the flesh-pots of Egypt” to which you told Meg in your telegram you were glad you had returned!!

Your loving father
E C Peterborough

Letter from E C Glyn to his son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/3)

Death of the “Spirit of Ecstasy”

Sydney Spencer of Cookham was transferred to a new regiment, while in Bisham, Florence Vansittart Neale heard of a tragic attack on a civilian liner. The SS Persia was the first civilian vessel to be torpedoed without warning by an enemy submarine on 31 December 1915. 343 noncombatants were drowned, including Eleanor Thornton (1880-1915), the model for the Spirit of Ecstasy, the statuette which is on every Rolls Royce.

Sydney Spencer
Jan 3rd

By order 10. London Gazette. Following London Gazette of Ded 31st 1915 2/Lt H E Loughton & S Spencer transferred from 12R Warwick Regiment to Norfolk Regiment. They are taken on strength etc Jan 1st 1916.

Battalion order 15. appointments. 2/Lt Spencer is appointed in command A company until Lieut Jermyn returns from leave.

Florence Vansittart Neale
3 Jan 1916

“Persia” P & O Liner blown up near [Crete], over 100 drowned – no troops.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12) and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The postman is going to Persia

Florence Vansittart Neale was still keeping busy working with the local ed Cross. Sydney Spencer was too busy now that he was training in the army to write much in his diary. But he occasionally found the time to write a few words. He was the perfect choice to run his battalion’s library.

Florence Vansittart Neale
22 November 1915

Went to meeting re Red X at Christine’s… Settled to keep money to go to meeting at Maidenhead. I to Park Place [for] a final “quilt” party…

Geoffrey (the postman) starting for Persia [now Iran]. Seems little more hope for Servia [sic].

Sydney Spencer
Nov 22nd [1915]

Battalion order 4. Library formed at 19 Northgate Street under 2nd Lt H E Loughton & S Spencer.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8); Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)

The sticking point: more thoughts from Sydney Spencer

Sydney Spencer’s plans were still undecided.

Friday 14th of August
Yesterday morning I had a letter from Dr Pope in reply to the one which I sent him on Tuesday. I will copy it here as it explains itself.

Aug 12th
Dear Mr Spencer
I think you are asking quite rightly. I have placed your application in the hands of Capt. Ballein, Headquarters OU OTC [Oxford University Officer Training Corps], Alfred Street, Oxford, & he has taken charge of it. I took the letter to him myself so that I know it is with the right person.
God bless & keep you
R H Pope

Last night I had a letter from Captain Ballein mentioned in the above as follows.

Oxford Univerisity Officers Training Corps
9 Alfred Street
Dear Sir
Dr Pope has handed me your letter. I am afraid that we cannot help you to find work, as we are engaged solely in appointing officers for commission, & you have unfortunately had no military experience. Perhaps you might be of use in a military hospital. There is a large hospital being formed here in Oxford in the Examination School.
Yours truly
F Ballein
For the Adjutant

So now I can do nothing but wait. I can write to the Examination Schools & let them have my name as being willing to do any work that is wanted, so I shall do that & then just await events. Willie Thompson (of Clouskeagh Castle Co Dublin) wrote me that he will not be able to get to Persia now that this war is on. England has come to the sticking point in a most wonderful way & all are getting that quiet noble fortitude that is necessary under these circumstances. Conservative & Liberal join in united praise of our government & its actions & its preparations, & we may all be thankful that England goes into this terrible war with clean hands.

I am writing this over at Sweethayes [at Littlewick Green] & mother is here to tea. Ella has promised to give me some lessons on “first aid”, so when I come over here I shall be able to get just a little knowledge of the subject.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)