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Letter from British Liaison Officer, Beyrout to French Army of the Levant, Beyrout





30th September, 1923


Letter addressed to:

French Army of the Levant

Beyrout, Syria

30th September 1923






I have the honour to refer to Mr. Consul PALMER's despatch No. S.O.S.172/146.P of the 27th instant, addressed to His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, copy of which you kindly allowed me to peruse.


2. In the interests of future travellers over the above route it is thought that some of Mr. PALMER'S statements are inclined to be not only misleading, but might, if taken too literally, land travellers in extremely awkward predicaments.


3. In the first paragraph of Mr. PALMER'S letter it is noticed he makes the statement that over 600 people have used "his" route without accident or molestation. That statement is not quite accurate in two respects: firstly, the number, 600, would appear to be much exaggerated. Being in very close touch with travellers over this route in order to obtain useful data for the purpose of bringing my report of last May up to date; I have kept a fairly accurate watch over movements on the route, and I should say that not more than 250  persons at a maximum (including guides, drivers and mechanics)  have travelled by motor-car over this route since April 1st. 1923. Secondly, it is very far from accurate to say that even 250 persons have travelled over the route without accident. During two days in August alone the following casualties were observed.


(a) Between FELUJA and RAMADI, a new ITALIA car, belonging to the HAYAK TRANSPORTATION Co. broke down so badly that the car had to be abandoned, and its passengers proceeded on foot to RAMADI. The next day this car had been stripped bar of all fittings by the BEDUIN, as it has been left with no one to guard it.


(b) Some 50 miles to the west of RAMADI a REO car was lying with a broken axle, which its driver (a native) was trying to repair. The passengers were in a very alarmed condition at the prospect of being stranded out in the desert. This car had set out from BAGDAD alone having no mechanic on board, nor having made any arrangements for help, if necessary, from a convoy leaving BAGDAD subsequent to its departure.


(c) Quite close to RUTBAH three native driven FORD cars were stranded with 20 native passengers, having run out of petrol when only have way across desert: The 20 passengers were panic-stricken to the thought of dying of hunger in the desert. As far as thirst was concerend they were safe, as they were near RUTBAH WELL. NAIRN's convoy that passed by that day could spare no petrol as they could not take any risk of running short themselves.


(d) Near JEBEL TENF, another native driven REO car was in distress, it also having run out of petrol and still 150 miles to go to DAMASCUS: Its passengers were reassured when told that its owner's garage at DAMASCUS or BEYROUT would be notified of its plight and told to send out petrol as soon as possible.

(e) Two more native-driven Fords had run short of Petrol just east of DUMAIR, and drivers and passengers had to walk in to DUMAIR and wait there, while one f the drivers travelled to DAMASCUS by camel in order to obtain petrol.


From the above it will be seen that several accidents have occurred on this desert route, some of which might have turned out very seriously for the passengers, had not NAIRN's convoy happened to pass by and subsequently report their difficulties to the various garages and DAMASCUS, who, it is to be hoped, sent out the necessary help.


4. It is on account of these accidents that the Air Marshall Commanding in IRAK, recently suggested t the High Commissioner at BAGDAD that some arrangements should be come to between the IRAK and SYRIAN Governments, with a view to regulating and controlling this desert-route traffic, as the Air Marshall very naturally foresaw that sooner or later he would probably be called upon to send out aeroplanes to rescue motoring-parties in distress. Some of the lines on which the Air Marshall suggested control, were that single-cars should not be allowed to attempt the journey; that before convoys left BAGDAD or DAMASCUS, the vehicles should be inspected officially by experts in order to make certain that sufficient petrol, water, oil, food, etc., was being carried to cover all risks in the desert, and so on.


5. In Paragraph 2 of Mr. PALMER's letter  he gives a lists of firms and individuals from whom quotations for the journey may be obtained. From my own experience after four crossings of the route, and from that of numerous Britishers

whom I have questioned on the crossing, I should certainly by most chary about recommending either the DODGE AGENCY or the HAYAK TRANSPORTATION COMPANY to any intending European or American traveller. I know personally of one car from HAYEK that took 30 days to get from BEYROUT to BAGDAD, having had one breakdown after another en route, and having incidentally had its passengers robbed by Bedouins near the EUPHRATES. I saw the car as it crept back to ALEPPO with two broken springs, a broken wheel, and one of its gears stripped in the gear-box.


6. I hold no personal interest in the NAIRN TRANSPORT CORPORATION, beyond the fact that it is an entirely British concern, and that i know from experience how they owe their successful running on this desert route solely and entirely to most carefully thought-out organisation of their convoys. One cannot too strongly impress on the Department of Trade, and on intending travellers the absolute bounden necessity for organisation in this service. The casualties mentioned in paragraph 3 above, are merely due to the fact that most native owners and drivers never will or never can organise their affairs in such a way as to ensure success before they start out. I need hardly remind Mr. PALMER of his own rather startling experience when being transported by a native driven car belonging to MOHAMMED BASSAM and his partner. Had it not been for the organisation thought out beforehand by Messrs. NAIRN in conjunction with myself, I fear the car that Mr. PALMER travelled in might still by lying out in the desert.


7. No doubt the prices asked at present for the journey will be reduced to a certain extent, as soon as properly organised competition begins t make itself felt on the route, but at present I would personally rather pay £30 to travel in a properly organised convoy, knowing that, as far as human beings can make certain of anything, one is sure t get t Bagdad quickly and safely, than pay £18 to any native garage or free lance now in business in SYRIA, and run the risk of spending days out in the desert, even if one got t the other end at all. In paragraph 4 of his letter, Mr. PALMAR would appear for foresee intending travellers hiring Ford cars or other vehicles off the ordinary cab ranks for the journey across the desert. One cannot protest to emphatically against such foolhardiness being eve suggested, and it is to be hoped that the Department of Trade will certainly not recommend such procedure to any enquirers.


8. While in no way wishing to detract from the importance of the new route, and the development of its immense possibilities, I cannot help thinking that the British or Foreign public should not be allowed to imagine thst travelling on this route is as simple an undertaking as travelling from BEYROUT to DAMASCUS, or BEYROUT to HAIFA. The Desert-Route is still very far from being a normal public highway.


9. It is rumoured that a French Company is going to start a properly organised service across the desert, but if, as Mr. PALMER says, they are going to arm their cars with Machine-guns, I fancy the IRAK authorities will have something to say, should their cars attempt to run over IRAK territory.


10. With the object of pushing forward as much as possible the development of the DAMASCUS-BAGDAD Desert Motor Route, Major HOLT, R.E, (attached to the IRAK Railways) has consented to take several accurate observations on the sector DUMAIR-RUTBAH. He left DAMASCUS by car on the 26th ins. en route for BAGDAD, taking with him a theodolite which i had obtained on loan for the purpose of enabling him to make a rough survey of the route from DAMASCUS to where it joins the Royal Air Force furrow, which route was previously survey and mapped by Major HOLT. If this officer is successful in obtaining the observations he hopes to obtain we shall then be able to have an accurate map of the complete desert crossing form ADRA to RAMADI. The use of such map to cross-desert transportation companies and their passengers is too obvious to require emphasising.


11. It is suggested that the gist of this letter might be communicated to Mr. PALMER, and to anyone else that you may consider advisable, in order to prevent future accidents to travellers crossing the desert to and from IRAK.



(Sgd) D. McCALLUM, Major

British Liaison Officer