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Overland Mail Baghdad Haifa Pages
 

Letters from British Consulate Damascus to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, London

   

Planning Phase

The British Consul at Damascus apparently was heavily involved in planning and lobbying of the Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa and the transcripts show some interesting and previously unpublished background information.

The transcripts include letter numbers and distribution lists exactly as on the letter to provide complete and full information.

 

(E 4513/4513/65.)

S.C.S.

93/75.P

CONFIDENTIAL

BRITISH CONSULATE

Jerusalem

46.P.

DAMASCUS

Amman

37.P.

April 16, 1923.

Bagdad

44.P.

Cairo

31.P.

Jeddah

22.P

Beirut

66.P.

Aleppo

43.P.

G.H.Q.

35.

B.L.O.B.

436.P

O.T.

4.

Letter addressed to:

His Majesty’s Principal,

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,

London

 

New Trans-desert Postal Service.

 

My Lord,

 

With reference to my visit to Bagdad which has just terminated, I have the honour to report that the question of a regular trans-desert motor service was gone into. Sir D. DOBBS and Sir COX both approved in principle, as the Amman-Bagdad motor-route has proved quite impracticable. King FAISAL also was anxious this service should be established. YASSIN PASHA HASHIMI – the present Minister of public works – also approved.

2. I understand a draft agreement will shortly be drawn up whereby MOHAMMED BASSAM undertakes to carry any mail offered to him between Bagdad and Damascus twice a month during the weeks that the air-mail does not function. I believe £300 monthly was mentioned as contract price. BASSAM who alone could do it – with Bedouin labour – will have the few bad batches of track repaired, stones removed from the dry rocky Wadis on the route etc.

When these repairs have been effected it will be possible to leave Damascus or Bagdad at dawn on one day and arrive at Bagdad or Damascus at sunset on the next, i.e. 36 hours (including one night spent in the desert). The route adopted is practically waterless, so that Bedouin raiders are not likely to be set with except at one single spot where there are some wells. The ordinary nomads will give no trouble and those of IBN HADDHAL – whom I first met about 100 miles s.w. of RAMADI – were extremely friendly and posed for their photographs. Was s sure of the safety of this route that I allowed 4 ladies – who were recommended to me by various persons and who were all eager to be the first European woman to cross the desert by car – to join my party.

3. The possibilities of this route are obvious, and no doubt there will soon be a small but steadily increasing passenger traffic across it. Neither BURI SHALAB nor IBN HADDHAL will create any trouble – both are friends of Bassam – so that I consider this route the quickest, the pleasantest and the safest between here and Bagdad. The journey from Bagdad to Port Said could be reduced to 3 or 4 days in all, and the cost would be such less than the long sea voyage; and less by several days and also less costly than the MOSUL-ALEPPO route. On this later route only Ford cars can be safely used; as on one spot the car, occupants and baggage may have to be lifted by Arabs and carried across the river.

On the new route there are about a dozen dry stony “Wadis” which have to be negotiated with care and at walking pace. These are the only spots where cars could be possibly held up by Bedouins; so that a little caution might by advisable before engaging the car in them.  Over the rest of the route the speed need never drop such below 20 miles an hour, while for several miles at a stretch speeds of 50 miles an hour and more can be maintained. Over one stretch of about 20 miles the car I was in worked up to 68 miles an hour.  Most of the country is so flat and so hard-surfaced (lava alternatively with loam) that tennis courts could be laid out upon without any previous rolling.

4. BASSAM is an Irakian subject. I shall suggest to him that as he will need more cars, he came to an agreement with the (Australian) “NAIRN TRANSPORT CXO.” of Beyrouth. The new trans-desert service would thus be entirely in the hands of British or British-protected persons. The parts which would benefit from any such eventual traffic would be, almost exclusively, Port Said, Alexandria and Haifa. There would be no question of deflecting traffic or passenger traffic from the well established Mediterranean steamship routes, but merely a question of providing a new, quick and relatively cheap connecting link.

5. BASSAM’s Car have already made several journeys both waqys and their trucks and usually clearly visible. Within a year there should be a continuous track which could not be missed. For almost half the distance the air-mail “furrow” is followed. I should personally have no hesitation in crossing by this route another time without any guide at all. A wooden sign-post or two at one or two of the most struggling-shaped Wadis would be enough to make this route quite feasible without guides.

6. BASSAM is indespensible at present – both because only he can obtain Bedouin labour to perfect the route and because it is obviously desirable that „dumps“ of Petrol, etc., be established at intervals along the route. No Bedouin would touch a dump of BASSAM’s.

7. At the same time a comprehensive concession is impracticable, and any private or hired car should and, of course, would be free to use the route – even after Bassam’s repairs.

8. It may at first sight seem somewhat illogical – on view of the few Bedouin met – to state my conviction that the establishment of a regular motor-car service on this route will eventually contribute towards the general pacification of the desert tribes.

(signed), C.E.S. Palmer. Consul


(E 4513/4513/65.)

Jerusalem

46.P

CONFIDENTIAL

BRITISH CONSULATE

Amman

37.P.

DAMASCUS

Bagdad

44.P.

April 27, 1923.

Cairo

31.P.

Beirut

66.P.

Jeddah

22.P

Aleppo

43.P.

G.H.Q.

35.

B.L.O.B.

436.P

O.T.

4.

Letter addressed to:

His Majesty’s Principal

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,

London

More re new Desert Motor-Route.

My Lord,

 

With further reference to my despatch 79/64 P. of April 24. I have the honour to report the Locals and Local French Authorities appear at last to be taking the possibilities of this route very seriously.

 

2. The Conseiller of Public Works informs me that he will shortly make the trip across the Bagdad himself – upon telegraphic orders from Paris –chiefly with a view to eventually establishing “dumps” of Petrol and spare parts along the track.

 

(signed), C.E.S. Palmer., Consul


 

 

(E 5600/4513/65.) 

S.C.S. 93/75.P CONFIDENTIAL BRITISH CONSULATE
Bagdad 67.P.   DAMASCUS, SYRIA
Jerusalem 61.P.  

May 2nd, 1923.

Amman 51    
Cairo 44.P    
Beirut 66.P.    
Aleppo 54.P.  
G.H.Q. 50.    
B.L.O.B. 47.    
D.O.T. O.T.8.

 

Letter addressed to:

His Majesty’s Principal,

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,

London, 8.W.I.

 

Proposed new Motor-Route to Bagdad.

 

My Lord,

 

With further reference to paragraph 4 of my dispatch 72/56.P. of April 16th, I have the honour to Report that BASSAM and Mr. NAIRN had a preliminary conversation at Beirut, and yesterday had a definitive one here in my presence.

A verbal agreement was arrived at, which will be put into writing after Mr. NAIRN’s return from Bagdad – which he will visit in company with the French Conseiller de Travaux Publica, etc., 4 days later; and Cook’s agent at Beirut.

Mr. NAIRN will on his return proceed to London and New York.

 

He is enthusiastic over the possibilities of the new route – as a stop gap till an eventual trans-desert railway is built – and he tells me Colonel HOLMES, Director of the Palestinian Railways, is also interested.

It will be remembered that I suggested that the Palestinian Railways put their own fleet of motor-cars on the Damascus-Benat Yakub-Tiberias route; and Mr. NAIRN declares that he will take eventual Passengers from Bagdad to Haifa and not to Beyrouth.

 

It will thus be clear that most of the traffic will remain in British hands, and Haifa will be the port to benefit thereby.

 

Mr. NAIRN will put new cars on the route; 2 starting from each end the same day each week: so they will meet somewhere in the desert, and aid would always be available for any disabled car. These cars would be properly equipped, special shock absorbers would be used, and English-speaking chauffeurs would be in charge. He believes he can convey passengers from Bagdad to Haifa for about £30 a head (with hand luggage only). From Haifa the connection with Port Said is rapid and even India are obvious. Teheran is about 4 days away by motor car from Bagdad. Cook’s agents have already taken up the matter with Mr. NAIRN, and the American Express Agency, etc., will doubtless follow suit.

Mr. NAIRN believes he can secure contracts for the Egyptian and other local mails; and I propose to give him a letter to Yassin Pasha Hashimi – the present Minister of Communications and Public Works in Irak – who seems to have a voice in  the matter.

I would also be respectfully suggest that Mr. NAIRN be accorded and interview at the Foreign Office and the Department of Trader; and he himself intends to organize a “publicity campaign”.

Of course there is no question of Mr. NAIRN competing with the Air Mail. His service would be purely supplementary.

 

Page 3 of the letter missing...

 

... Scheme should have been initiated and eventually organized by Britishers. The French are thinking of it now, but they are too late.

 

5: The tribes of the Damascus Zone will give no trouble. NURI SHALAN is apparently flattered at being asked to attend the ABU KEMAL Conference, as he sent me 3 days ago an Abbah (Robe of Honour) – which is frequently to given me the “freedom” of his confederation of tribes.

 

6. The French may now start their own mail service from here to Bagdad, but I strongly recommend that they should not be given any contract for Mails from Bagdad, Egypt, Palestine, etc.

The original Idea was not theirs, and they would not be likely to organize it as well as Mr. Nairn will.

 

Should any financial advantage accrue to anyone from carrying mails it would be seem preferable that this accrue to a Britisher; and, should Mr. Nairn be granted these contracts he is ready to agree to a clause stipulating that officials or officers and their families would be conveyed between Bagdad and Haifa at a considerable reduction below the ordinary tariff he would charge tourists or merchants.

 

(signed), C.E.S. Palmer, Consul


 

(E 5802/4513/65.)

S.C.S.

95/77.P

CONFIDENTIAL

BRITISH CONSULATE

Bagdad

67.P.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA

Jerusalem

68.P.

May 4th, 1923.

Amman

52

Cairo

45.P

Beirut

68.P.

Aleppo

55.P.

G.H.Q.

51.

D.O.T.

O.T.9.

 

Letter addressed to:

His Majesty’s Principal,

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,

London, S.W.1.

 

Cook’s is taking up the new Desert Route.

 

My Lord,

 

With further reference to the above subject I have the honour to report that I yesterday received a visit from Cook’s agent who has been telegraphically ordered to proceed to Bagdad and report upon my new routes. He will leave on May 7th. and I have made all necessary arrangements for him.

The Agent has been told to proceed via Palmyra so that the utility of my branch route has already been strikingly demonstrated within a few days.

2. Cook’s are seriously contemplating the erection of a Rest-House or establishment of a camp at some give spot in the desert, so as to ensure all possible comfort on the trip. They also intend to open an agency at Bagdad and have a correspondent at Palmyra: and probably a Hotel there too.

3. I think that I have now written enough to convince Your Lordship that I have got the scheme into working order and I can now more or less drop out if the picture with, however, satisfaction that the whole route and whole organization will be in British hands. The French are too late in the field and the Americans and Italians have only just begun talking about it.

4. The former alternative northern routes were much longer and were always more or less permanently unsafe; and paragraphs 304 and 305 of the Iraq Secret Intelligence Report Nol. 8 of April 15th. – which I have only just received – provide startling confirmation of my own view. The present route is the one selected from 4 that Mohammed Bassam trief himself as the result of our discussions of nearly 2 years ago.

5. All further questions of detail can be arranged between Cook’s Agent, Mr. NAIRN, MOHAMMED BASSAM and myself.

6. It was perhaps a little spectacular to take 4 ladies across the desert by my route; but the success of the trip seems to have galvanized Cook’s and others into motion. For instance, 80 pilgrims for Kerbala applied to Bassam yesterday for means of transport by this route.

7. The regular service should start by October 1st.

8. To avoid any misinterpretation, I should like to restate that sooner or later some direct and safe desert route must have been adopted by someone. As the Amman and the Aleppo routes were both long, unsafe, rough and entail very real hardship. I felt it to my duty to organize this one as British concern and as a temporary link in an “all-red” route to Persia and India. This would be Port SAID, HAIFA, DAMASCUS, BAGDAD, etc.

 (signed), C.E.S. Palmer, Consul


 

From

British Consulate

DAMASCUS

June 14, 1923

 

To

His Majesty

Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,

London, B.W.1.

By Trans-Desert Route.

 

My Lord,

 

With further reference to my projected direct trans-desert route and postal service from Damascus to Bagdad, i have the honour to report that i furnished to Mr. Nairn, of the NAIRN Transport Company, who is seeking a concession, a letter to Yassim Pasha El Hashimi who, as Minister of Communications and Public Works, could alone, under the order of King Faisal and subject to the advice of the High Commissioner, grant any such concession.

2.) I now have the honour to enclose copy of his reply. The reference to "Motor Mail Stamps" is to my suggestion to Yassim Hashimi that such stamps would eagerly bought by collectors, would form a simple method of collecting the extra postage fee, and would perhaps reduce the eventual cost to the Irak Government of running this new service.

 

3.) It will be seem that it would now be almost impossible to drop Haji Bassam from any future arrangements.

 

... unfortunately, the other pages are missing...

 


 

(E 0214/4513/65.)

S.O.S.

172/146.P.

CONFIDENTIAL

BRITISH CONSULATE

D.O.T.

O.T.24.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA

Jerusalem

108.P.

Sept. 27, 1923.

Amman

91

Cairo

72.P.

Beirut

126.P.

Aleppo

98.P.

Bagdad

105.P.

 

Letter addressed to:

His Majesty’s Principal,

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,

London, S.W.1.

 

Bagdad Motor-Mail Route.

 

My Lord,

 

I have the honour to report that since the success of my original reconnaissance was known, over 600 people (including several ladies) have used my route without accident or molestation.

 

2. All the motor-car transport companies have jumped at the schema, and it is now possible to obtain as quotation for the journey from:-

A. NAIRN TRANSPORT Co. at HAIFA, BEYROUT and DAMASCUS.

B. The DODGE Agents at either HAIFA or BEYROUT.

C. The HAIYEK Transportation Agency at DAMASCUS.

D. MOHAMED BASSAM at Damascus.

E. Either the Hotel d’Orient or the Hotel Victoria at DAMASCUS.

3. Prices are naturally being lowered as the results of this healthy compaction. Today two Americans hired a new Ford and joined up with a convoy. On is going on further than Baghdad, the other is returning. This represents 3 single journeys and the price demanded was only 50 Gold Liras – about £47. Of course the Ford will manage to find someone at Bagdad to fill the vacant seat on the return journey. But the price of £47 includes a stop of 2 or 3 days at Bagdad, garage bills etc.

 

4. I expect that next year it will be possible for a party of 4 to hire two Fords here off the ordinary ranks, for a single journey only, for about £12 a head; the drivers taking the risk of securing passengers the return journey.

 

5. I think the French will run their own and the Syrian mails across, and I hear they are thinking of ordering 4 Dodges, each mounting a machine-gun for this purpose. While contributing to the moral security of the route, I fancy that as long as BASSAM remains in partnership with NAIRN and distributes the sums agreed upon the various Sheikhs, the machine-guns will not be called upon.

(signed), C.E.S. Palmer, Consul



Will be continued...., stay tuned...