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The Iranian Napoleon
Journey to internment

April 24, 2001
The Iranian

C Skrine (later Sir), a British Civil Servant of the Indian Office, was assigned to accompany Reza Shah into exile after his abdication in 1941.  Skrine spend two tours in Iran as the British Consul in Mashhad during the Second World War and then later as Consul General in Tehran. Below is the complete Chapter Six from his book -- World War in Iran-- about Reza Shah's internment by the British. In characteristically English style he understates the plans of his government.  The real aim of his mission was to intern the ex-Shah. The narrative starts with a summary of the occupation of Iran by the Allies and events leading up to Reza Shah's abdication, before describing his encounter with the "Napoleon of modern Iran" who became "a broken man, a prisoner of his memories." -- Amir Rostam Beglie-Beigie

THE events and diplomatic exchanges which led to the occupation in August 1941 of key areas in Western and Northern Iran by British and Russian forces respectively have passed into history, but the East Persian story I have to tell has not.  In order, therefore, to put it in its proper perspective, and also to lead up to the strange mission I have just referred to, I propose to preface my narrative with a review of the drama which unfolded on the wider and far more important West Persian stage.  Of necessity, as I was unconnected with the events in question, I rely on the first-hand accounts and historical researches of others. (1)

In 1928, when I was Consul in Zabol (Sistan), the extra-territorial jurisdiction of foreign consuls in Persia which had been moribund for years was formally abolished.  This reform and other measures by which Reza Shah Pahlevi fostered a national spirit in his people loosened one after the other the ties which had for decades linked Persian and British interests in the Middle East.  The surrender by the British-owned and managed Imperial Bank of Persia of its functions as a State Bank, the closing of the Royal Navy's coaling stations on Basidu and Henjam Islands in the Gulf, the absorption of the Indo-European Telegraph land line into the Persian system, the transfer of the Imperial Airways route to India from the Persian to the Arab side of the Gulf, the revision in Persia's favour of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's concession-all these and other changes resulted in a progressive weakening of British influence and prestige.  But the Shah was not tough only with Britain.

The Soviet Union, which had been the first to surrender its claim to a special position in the new Iran, found its remaining interests being gradually whittled away.  In 1937 the Kremlin cut its losses and closed the thousand-mile Russo-Persian land frontier on both sides of the Caspian, as well as all the Russian consulates; only the big Embassy behind its towering walls continued to function, though (above the counter at any rate) on a reduced scale.  Britain's reactions were different.  With a forbearance characteristic of the appeasement policies of the period, she turned her other cheek to the smiter.  Our Legation at Tehran and most of the consular posts carried on as if nothing had happened, an attitude which instead of appeasing the Shah only made him more angry.  Why could not the British follow the example of their Russian rivals and remove their consulates?

But there was nothing he could do about it without putting Persia in the wrong diplomatically.  What did happen was that the British consulates and communities in the provinces were systematically boycotted.  The completeness of the 'Great Boycott' varied, I believe, from province to province according to the degree of Anglophobia, real or assumed, shown by the higher officials.  It will probably never be known whether the rather childish idea of sending the British to Coventry was Reza Shah's own (no such instructions were ever admitted officially) or whether it was a spontaneous reaction of those of his ministers and others in authority who felt as he did about the special position that Britain had gained for herself in their country.  At Meshed, except for the Ostandar (Governor General) and his staff on formal occasions no Persian, official or unofficial, openly visited the British Consulate-General or received anyone from it at his house.  It was as much as a lesser functionary's job was worth to be seen hobnobbing with a Briton.  At official receptions the British guests were entertained in a separate room.  Local domestic staff became almost unobtainable.

Meanwhile at Tehran the agents of resurgent Germany saw their opportunity.  Hitler, looking to the Gulf and India, cashed in on the eclipse of the Reich's two great rivals and on the Shah's urge to modernise his kingdom.  As Sir Reader Bullard, who was British Minister and afterwards Ambassador during the whole of the war, tells us

Reza Shah set up, in foreign trade, currency and clearing restrictions which did not suit British methods, but which fitted in very well with those of the Hitler regime.  Moreover in production Persia and Germany were complementary, one having raw materials and some foodstuffs to export, the other manufactured goods.  In this way the Germans secured a commercial hold which they turned into a political asset.  They obtained a very large share of the business resulting from the Shah's desire to industrialise his country.  They built factories, sent Germans to show Persians how to run them, and then provided Germans to give training to young Persians in technical schools. (2)

Small wonder if in June 1941, when Hitler hurled the Wehrmacht against Persia's dreaded 'Northern Neighbour', she became a happy hunting ground for Axis agents acting under cover of industrial and commercial enterprise.  For years the Persians had basked in the sun of German favour, selling their products at flattering prices to their new friends, and buying Germany's subsidised exports cheap.  It must surely have occurred to some of them that once Hitler had attained the objects of this rare generosity he would be in a position to put the process in reverse with catastrophic effect upon their country's economy.  But the risk had to be faced, a German victory was certain, and it was important to be riding on the right band-wagon when the time came.  The number of Germans resident in Persia, reported in May 1940 to be about seven hundred, was estimated by the Commander-in-Chief in India on 29th July 1941 at between two and three thousand persons, many of them active fifth-columnists.  In addition there were 'tourists' everywhere, four thousand of them according to The Times correspondent, armed with short-term visas and continually being replaced from Germany via Turkey. 

Of particular significance was the fact that many of the German advisers and technicians were in key positions on the Trans-Iranian Railway, in the postal service, in car firms and road transport services, and in war industries such as the Skoda small-arms factory near Tehran.  Two technicians at the Tehran radio station, Franz Mayr and Bertold Schaltze, were known to be key men in the German secret service. others included a doctor at Kermanshah, the Director of the Technical College at Kerman, and a lecturer at the Karaj Agricultural Institute. This state of affairs could not be tolerated by Britain and her Russian ally, already reeling under the German blows.  It recalled the infiltration tactics which only a few weeks before had culminated in the pro-Axis revolt of Rashid Ali in Iraq.  At an interview with the Persian Prime Minister on 1st July Sir Reader Bullard asked for the expulsion of four-fifths of the Germans and gave chapter and verse for their activities. 

The response of the Persian Government to this dimarche was totally inadequate.  During the next four weeks they sent a few Germans away here and there and put the British and Russian envoys off with arguments about the necessity of strict neutrality.  Considering the nature and scale of the fifth-column and other activities organised by, or in collusion with, the German Legation, that neutrality had already been violated several times over.  Finally, on 7th August, the British and Soviet Ministers presented a joint Note from their Governments summarising their complaints and asking for the expulsion of all but a few indispensable Germans, who must be kept under strict surveillance and their movements restricted.  The Persian reply to this Note in effect pooh-poohed the fears of the Allies and made no promise to send away any more Germans than the few already expelled. (3)

Efforts by Sir Reader to obtain an audience of the Shah having failed, the Allied Governments concluded that he and his ministers had no intention of compromising themselves with Hitler by seriously interfering with the activities of his agents, accredited or unaccredited, and they took the matter into their own hands.  At dawn on 25th August 1941 British and Russian forces simultaneously invaded Persia, the former from the west and south-west, the latter from the north.  British and Indian troops of the 10th Indian Division from Baghdad under Major-General (now Field-Marshal Viscount) Slim crossed the frontier at Qasr-i-Shirin which they captured on the first day with the Naft-i-Shah oilfield to the south of it; on the second day they outmanoeuvred a strong Persian force on the Pai Tak pass, and on the fourth, when the Persians received orders from the Shah to cease fire, they entered Kermanshah.  Resistance to this thrust was half-hearted.  Only on the Zibiri ridge was there any serious fighting, when Persian artillery and light machine-guns gave a good account of themselves and inflicted casualties on British infantry and Gurkhas.

Simultaneously, three hundred miles to the south-west, the 8th Indian Division from Basra under Major-General C. 0. Harvey had captured Abadan and its refinery, the port of Khurramshahr, the naval barracks and the few small warships anchored to it, the key fortress of Qasr-i-Shaikh, and the oil port of Bandar-i-Shahpur where several Axis merchantmen were sheltering.  This force met a more spirited opposition than had Major-General Slim's.  In and around the Refinery there was some difficult street fighting, and at Qasr-i-Shaikh the defenders fought bravely against Sikhs and Lancers, inflicting casualties and themselves losing 38 dead, 4 wounded and 6 prisoners in trench fighting.  The capture of the naval barracks and ships, too, was not effected without loss by Baluchi infantry, one of whose British officers was killed.  On the Persian side the commander, Admiral Bayendor, lost his life.  His death was much regretted on our side as well as on his own, for he was known to be well disposed to the Western Allies, though completely loyal to his own King.  He was buried with full military honours the next day.  In all the two British forces lost 20 killed and 50 wounded, British and Indian, in the three and a half days' operations.

Meanwhile the Russians in the north had been performing with gusto their part in the concerted operations.  A strong mechanised column from Tiflis crossed the frontier at julfa, passed through Tabriz and drove down the Tehran road to Mianeh and Zenjan, while another from Baku came down the western coast of the Caspian to Pahlevi and Resht.  Converging on Qazvin they occupied that town and stood poised for an advance on the capital, only ninety miles to the east.  The British and Russian commanders met in friendly conclave at Qazvin (4) on 31st August, and their reconnaissance detachments also made contact at Sehneh, forty miles east of Kermanshah.  Simultaneously, three other Red Army columns east of the Caspian crossed the frontier at Gurgan, Bajgiran and Sarakhs respectively.  This three-pronged incursion into Khorasan did not come into the news at all and is believed to have been planned by Moscow without the knowledge, or at any rate without the approval, of the British Government.

The Red Army's invasion of the northern provinces, in sharp contrast to that of the British-Indian columns in the west and south-west, was virtually unopposed by the Persian army.  Why this was so will be seen when we come to the story of the Russian occupation of Meshed.  The contrast was significant of the difference between the average Persian's idea of the British Empire and his feelings about the 'Northern Neighbour.  All accounts agree that neither the retreating soldiery nor the civil population affected by the British invasion showed either resentment or more than short-lived fear.  General Slirn's strategy was indeed both skilful and humane; in the words of a correspondent who accompanied the expedition:

... the British commander preferred, without undue risk to the troops, to gain objectives by maneuvering the Iranian forces out of position with a minimum of casualties on both sides and of damage to property, rather than by smashing them with a weight of metal.

At Kermanshah, in the crowds which watched the eight-mile long procession of vehicles,

some persons waved and appeared pleased to see them, and some looked gloomy and unfriendly, but the majority indicated no emotions.

To a Times correspondent one of the unmoved ones explained, "Oh well, you've been here before.  Iranians know that you English are gentlemen." It must be remembered of course, that to men who have nothing to lose any change may be for the better, and it is a fact that the invaders were shocked by the grinding poverty of the peasantry, even by Indian standards.  Another observer wrote:

The grain and sugar monopolies, oppressive taxation and other exactions have reduced the population of these fertile lands to a state of semi-starvation.  The distribution of a sack of potatoes by our troops at one village through which they passed caused a desperate and pathetic scramble.

Yet the same correspondent reported a day or two later that large stocks of grain had been found by the advancing troops and that the local scarcities were "evidently due to faulty distribution".  This was putting it mildly, as I was to find in the eastern provinces six months later.

Many Persians thought at the time, and some still think, that our complaints about the German fifth column were just British hypocrisy and an excuse for seizing the Trans-Iranian Railway in order to send supplies to Russia.  Why could we not have come clean with the Shah and made it worth his while to cooperate?  His Majesty the present Shah in his recently-published memoir expresses this view. (5)

Everybody would now agree with me [he says] that if the Allies had not needed a supply route, they would probably not have invaded Iran in the Second World War.

Secret despatches and telegrams between Middle Eastern Command, the Government of India and His Majesty's Government quoted in the Official History of the Indian Armed Forces during World War II do not support this hypothesis.  They make it clear that the possibility of eventually sending supplies to Russia through Persia, though an important consideration, was a secondary one for the Allies; more urgent at the time was the need, firstly, to protect the oilfields of Persia and Iraq, and secondly, to secure our lines of communication in case it became necessary to oppose in Western Persia a German drive towards the Gulf either through Turkey or across the Caucasus.  His Majesty suspects, however, that the Allies intended all along to 'eliminate' his father, and deliberately concealed their real object from him.  They were less interested, he thinks, in reaching a settlement than in finding a pretext for invasion.  If the Allies had been more candid with his father and had offered him an honourable alliance before instead of after invading the country, Reza Shah would either have accepted their terms or, much more probably, would have stepped aside so that his son could do so.

With all due deference to the royal author, this reading of the situation during the last fateful weeks before the Occupation does not take into the account the facts as they must have presented themselves to Reza Shah and his ministers.  How many Persians believed then that Russia would withstand the might of the Wehrmacht, or that Britain, once Russia was eliminated, would have the slightest chance of escaping defeat?  One has only to put oneself in the Persian Government's place to realise that it would have seemed to them little short of madness to surrender to the Allies, without firing a shot, control of their railways, docks and road-system for the purpose of helping Russia to repel the German onslaught; a fortiori, a military alliance was unthinkable.  The most that Britain and Russia could hope for was that the Shah and his ministers could be persuaded to restore Persia's battered neutrality by putting a stop once and for all to the German infiltration and intrigues.  As even that proved impossible, the only alternative was to use overwhelming force.  Then, if the Germans had beaten Russia to her knees and threatened Persia with vengeance, her rulers could have justly pleaded that they had done their best but had to yield to force majeure.

In any case, it is probably true that even before the tide of German infiltration reached its flood, the years had caught up with Reza Pahlevi and he had lost his grip.  He became less and less accessible and no longer took the vigorous personal part in the conduct of affairs which had been the secret of his success as an almost absolute monarch.  Sir Reader Bullard and his Soviet colleague, Smirnov, at last had audience of him when they were summoned to the Palace after presenting Notes from their Governments explaining the necessity for the invasion.  "The Shah looked old and rather feeble," wrote the British Minister in his report on the interview.  "We both gained the impression that he was taken aback by the invasion, because he had supposed that everything was going nicely, and we saw clearly that he had not been kept fully informed by his Ministers.  We spent much time in giving him information about the German menace in Iran and much of it seemed new to him." (6)

There is reason to believe, however, that the defeat of his army shocked him out of his uncharacteristic lethargy, and that he resumed control to a certain extent during the weeks which followed.  It is difficult to explain otherwise the delays and prevarications which obstructed the Allies in their efforts to rid Persia of the German incubus.  The terms of the armistice were that specific areas were to be temporarily occupied; that all Germans should be evacuated; and that facilities should be given for the despatch of supplies to Russia.  In return the Allies promised economic assistance, including the continuance of the oil royalties; they guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of Persia; and they undertook to withdraw their troops as soon as the military situation permitted.

These terms were lenient enough, and the Allies did all they could, by sparing Tehran for a whole fortnight the indignity of military occupation, to secure their willing acceptance by the Shah and his new Prime Minister, the reputedly friendly Muhammad Ali Furughi.  But the Persians stalled time after time and the negotiations dragged on inconclusively.  The German Minister and his large staff stayed on, redoubling their intrigues and protecting in the compound of their summer legation hundreds of the Germans whose expulsion was being demanded.  A week after Persian resistance ended The Times diplomatic correspondent reported that Germans were still "dashing about in high-powered cars, hanging out the swastika, cutting a figure in Persian homes, insulting British passers-by, and spreading anti-Ally rumours".  One of these was to the effect that the German Minister was keeping up the morale of his community by telling them that the Anglo-Russo-Persian negotiations were likely to drag on until the German army was ready to intervene.  No doubt he assured the Persians at the same time that Allied hesitation to occupy the capital was due to shortage of men and munitions, or just plain funk, or both.

But the sands were running out.  Questions prompted by The Times reports began to be asked in London.  On gth September in the House of Commons the Prime Minister spoke of "events in Iran, or Persia as I prefer to call it", and promised to take all necessary further measures to obtain the surrender of all Germans and Italians and the expulsion of the enemy legations.  Next day, at Tehran, a final and peremptory Note was handed to the Persian Government.  M. Furughi and his colleagues showed goodwill.  It was announced that all German nationals were being handed over to the British for internment except fifty or more notorious agents whom the Russians were taking into custody. But somehow nothing got done, and to make matters worse the Tehran daily Ettela'at, published in Persian and French, appeared on 11th September with a leader definitely unfriendly to the Allies. 

Meanwhile, however, a change had come over the political scene. What had been whispered was now said openly, that nothing but the Shah's wrath restrained those of his ministers who agreed to the Allied terms and tried to implement them.  He was known to have thrown the War Minister into prison after striking him with the flat of his sword for questioning the wisdom of his policy.  Constitutional agitation, suppressed for twenty years, raised its head; in the Majlis there was talk of an all-party deputation waiting on the Shah and urging on him the necessity of cooperating with the Allies lest worse should befall.

It was not constitutional agitation, however, that decided Reza Shah Pahlevi to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, aged twenty-one.  Nor did either of the Allied Governments concemed call upon him to vacate the throne.  Sir Reader Bullard is definite on this point.

What decided him to abdicate [says Sir Reader] was a movement of Russian troops from Qazvin, some ninety miles from Tehran, towards the capital.  This advance was carried out under an agreement whereby British and Russian troops were to occupy the suburbs of Tehran in order to hasten the promised expulsion of the Axis representatives from Tehran and the arrest and surrender to the Allies of the German residents in Tehran.  The moment the Shah heard of the Russian advance he wrote out his abdication and left for the south, where he was given a passage on a British steamer. (7)

The steamer on which the Shah embarked at Bandar Abbas was the Bandra, 4000 tons, and she sailed for Bombay on 27th September 1941. (8)

Meanwhile Whitehall and Delhi had been in anxious conclave as to what to do with the self-exiled monarch and his party, which consisted of no less than eleven members of his family and eight of his household.  He evidently proposed to stay a considerable time in India, for he had remitted a large sum to an Indian bank for the purpose.  But the Government of India put their foot down firmly on the idea. 

Things were going badly for the Empire on land and sea; nationalist Muslim agitation was at its height; there would almost certainly be riotous demonstrations if the king of the largest and most ancient Muhammadan state in the world, whom (in Muslim eyes) we had deposed and exiled by force of arms, were to appear in Bombay, Calcutta or any other big city.  India apart, the risk could not be run of an enemy Government welcoming the Shah as a Heaven-sent focus of intrigue for the rest of the war.  A comfortable refuge must be found for him, but where?  The problems of transport were formidable and time was very short.  There must have been sighs of relief in the highest quarters when the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Bede Clifford, came to the rescue with an offer of suitable accommodation on that delectable island and promised to make the party comfortable.

But a Persian-speaking escort of sufficient rank to be acceptable to the royal party would be needed to meet them before they reached Bombay, to break it to them that they could not land, and to keep their ship at a safe distance until they could be transferred to a larger liner for the voyage to Mauritius.  This delicate duty was assigned by the Viceroy to me; and as I happened to be free of official responsibilities at the time it was decided also that I should sail with the Shah to Mauritius and help the Governor for the first few weeks as adviser, liaison officer and interpreter.  For it was well known that Reza Shah Pahlevi spoke no language but his own, and though it was probable that one or more of the party spoke English, the presence of a trustworthy interpreter of British nationality was considered essential.

Two friends and colleagues briefed me for this unusual assignment, the Foreign Secretary, Olaf Caroe (9) and his Deputy Secretary, Hugh Weightman (10) They impressed on me the extreme importance of secrecy as to the Shah's whereabouts until he was safely on the high seas between Bombay and Mauritius.  To put the news-hawks off the scent, a rumour had been allowed to leak out that he was travelling overland via Zahedan and Quetta.  No one, not even the captain, was to be allowed on shore from the Bandra at Bombay, and no one but a representative of the Bank which held the Shah's funds was to be permitted access to the ship.  A Henderson liner, the Burma, 11,000 tons, was being made available for the voyage to Mauritius.

And so it was that early on 1st October 1941 I boarded the Bandra six miles out to sea from Bombay and showed my credentials to the Captain, who presented me to the ex-Shah and left me with him.  I will draw a veil over the mauvais quart d'heure which followed, and merely say that it was not more distressing than I had expected.  His Majesty Reza Shah Pahlevi, as to me he still was, gave the impression of a mighty man of war broken by defeat.  After the initial shock he bore himself with great dignity and fortitude.  The young people not unnaturally took the catastrophic collapse of their youthful hopes and plans less philosophically; later, reassured as to the British Government's intentions regarding the conditions of their internment on Mauritius, they followed their august father's example and resigned themselves to the inevitable.  Their chief concern now became the purchase of their requirements for the island, and this I was able to arrange for them with the aid of an English tailor and a young Mauritian lady whom, in defiance of the Foreign Secretary's instructions, I took on board with me.  The joys of shopping (even by proxy) were a welcome distraction to the ladies and children during the halt at Bombay, and the excitement of examining and trying on their purchases helped notably on the voyage to Mauritius.

The ex-Shah did not appreciate the hospitality so unceremoniously thrust upon him by the agents of a foreign Power.  He sent through me telegrams of protest to the Viceroy, to the British Prime Minister, and to his son at Tehran, and up to the last minute he waited hopefully for favourable replies.  But the war had reached an exceedingly critical stage, and the War Cabinet did not change their minds at the eleventh hour.  It was a bad moment for us all when the Bandra was brought into harbour on the morning of 6th October and we were trans-shipped to the Burma.  We sailed almost immediately afterwards.  I could hardly face my charges; I was particularly sorry for the old Shah, whose feelings as he watched Bombay recede into the shimmering distance must have plumbed the very depths of despair.  It may have been worse for him even than the farewell to his native land at Bandar Abbas.  Then, he had been going into honourable retirement with a whole company of sons and daughters, whose pleasure in the famous places they were going to see would be his consolation.  Now, even that dream had faded and he was being carried with them, as it seemed to him, into ignominious captivity at the end of the world.

The voyage of 2,300 miles from latitude 19 degrees N. to latitude 20 degrees S. took ten days and was uneventful.  We were protected unobtrusively from afar by the Royal Navy, for the Burma was just as likely as any other British ship to be the target of an enemy torpedo.  Every morning at the Shah's request I sat for an hour or so with him.  Part of the time he sat in state in the main saloon conversing with one or more of his sons, who always stood respectfully with hands folded throughout the audience.  His favourite theme with me was the events which led up to his abdication and the mistake the British made in not taking him into their confidence beforehand - very much the same line as that taken, as mentioned above, by his son, the present Shah, in Mission for my Country.  It was during these talks that I appreciated the Viceroy's wisdom in selecting as the ex-Shah's escort one who had had no connexion whatever with recent events in Persia.  I could truthfully disclaim all knowledge of the answers to his awkward questions.  I was a mere escort, a personal emissary of the Viceroy, selected for my knowledge (such as it was) of the language and my high rank in the civil service.  The old king was obviously sceptical, but he respected what he no doubt regarded as my diplomatic reticence, and he treated me with courteous dignity throughout our intercourse in the Burma and afterwards on the island.

At last we anchored off Port Louis, chief town and port of Mauritius.  The Governor, Sir Bede Clifford, K.C.M.G., came on board in full uniform to welcome the Shah and inform him of the arrangements made for his stay on the island.  A three-storeyed country house at Moka in the best residential neighbourhood, with a fine garden and a smaller villa in the grounds, had been vacated at short notice by its public-spirited owner and prepared for the accommodation of the party.  After the interview Sir Bede went ashore, and in the afternoon the ship was brought in and docked.  When we disembarked, a double company of local Territorials stood at attention on the quay as a guard of honour.  It was a surprise to me as well as to the Shah, and I did not quite know how he would take it.  At the foot of the gangway he stood in his grey suit and Homburg hat, seemingly in doubt what to do about the guard.  One could imagine the thoughts that must be passing through his mind, of past guards of honour mounted by his own beloved army, and of himself in the full panoply of war inspecting them as their commander and king; of Ankara, where at the zenith of his power he was received with full honours by the great Ataturk, on the only occasion on which he had ever visited a foreign country.  At last he beckoned to the eldest of his sons, and after a brief colloquy walked with dignified step past the guard followed by the five hatless Princes.  Though he gave nothing away-he glanced indeed somewhat disparagingly, I thought, at the troops-he acknowledged the Commandant's salute with an affable nod and I could see that he was not unappreciative of the compliment paid him.

There was more to come.  When the procession of cars arrived at the Moka house, there from its highest roof-top floated proudly the green, white and red flag of Iran, complete with Lion and Sun at its centre.  It had been made for the occasion by ladies of the colony working overtime under the direction of Lady Clifford.  These gestures of welcome, and the admirable arrangements made by their Excellencies for the Shah and his family, were all the more appreciated by them because, in spite of all my assurances, they had feared up to the last moment that they would be put behind barbed wire on Mauritius.

Five weeks later I left the Napoleon of modern Iran upon his fairer St. Helena.  By an unfortunate chance we had arrived towards the end of the eight months' season of the cool south-east Trades, which soon began to weaken and give way to the sultry 'Malagasy' wind that blows from Madagascar and equatorial Africa.  Everything possible was done for the comfort of the Shah and his family; a third villa was made available for their accommodation; the best doctors on the island were placed in medical charge of them; the most expensive French-style caterers attended to their inner needs.  Learned tutors were engaged for the younger boys, for one of their father's chief anxieties had been the break in their education caused by the internment.

The party had their own cars, three big American saloons from Tehran and a British sports two-seater I had bought for the eldest Princess and her husband at Bombay, and the island's many beauty-spots of sea and mountain were within easy reach.  But Reza Shah's health had seriously deteriorated since his abdication.  He was a broken man, a prisoner of his memories, and even if the season had been more propitious the island would have held no charms for him.  He asked to be moved from Mauritius to a more suitable locality, and in the spring of 1942 he and most of the family took up their residence at Johannesburg, the dry continental climate of which markedly resembles that of the Persian plateau.  The ex-Shah died there two years later at the age of sixty-six.

Reza Shah Pahlevi, posthumously entitled 'The Great' in the annals of his country was indeed if not the greatest, at any rate one of the strongest and ablest men Iran has produced in all the two and a half millenniums of her history.  But for his fatal miscalculation as to the strength and ultimate aims of Hitler's Germany he might have gone down to history as another and even more successful Ataturk.  Though the last act of his life's drama was a sad anticlimax, nothing can detract from the debt Iran owes him for releasing her national genius from the medieval bondage of the Qajar Shahs and setting her footsteps irrevocably upon the paths of modern progress.

The late Prince Ali Reza Pahlevi told me on board the Burma that one of the countries his father had looked forward to visiting on his way from India to Chile, his intended destination, was Japan.  The Shah himself said to me more than once, and to Sir Bede Clifford too, that he would not have embarked on the Bandra if he had known that he was going to be interned on Mauritius.  I have often wondered what would have happened if he had refused to leave Persia or, alternatively, if the British Cabinet had not decided to restrict his movements after he left Bandar Abbas.  In the latter case he might well have been enjoying the hospitality of the Japanese Government when, ten weeks later, the bombs of Pearl Harbour rocked the planet.


(1) Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in World War II; The Times, 25th July to 18th October 1941 passim; G. Lenczowski, Russia and the West in Iran (Cornell University Press 1949); Britain and the Middle East (Hutchinson 1951), by Sir Reader Bullard, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., C.I.E.; Field-Marshal Viscount Slim, K.G., G.C.B., Unofficial History (Cassell 1960). To top

(2) Britain and the Middle East, pp. 125-6. An illuminating account of the activities of Mayr and some of the other German agents during 1941 will be found in Daybreak in Iran (Staples Press, 1954), English edition of a book by one of them, Schulze-Holthus. To top

(3) The Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War, volume entitled Campaign in Western Asia, PP. 300-10, gives a detailed account of these diplomatic exchanges based on the archives of the Imperial Government of India.  For an authoritative account of the military operations which followed the reader is referred to chs.  XXXVII to XL of the same volume.  See also Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, Unofficial History, ch.  IX. To top

(4) Slim, Op.  Cit., Pp. 221 ff. To top

(5) Mission for my Country, pp. 68-73. To top

(6) Official History of the Indian Arrned Forces, 10c. cit., P. 310 To top

(7) Britain and the Middle East, p. 134.  See also Official History of the Indian Armed Forces, 10c. cit., P. 3 5 4, where it is recorded that the Shah abdicated on 16th September when the Russian forces began to march from Qazvin towards the capital.  The majority of the Axis diplomatic representatives left two days later. To top

(8) The account which follows is condensed from an article by the author entitled Assignment to Mauritius in Blackwood's Magaxine, February 1954. To top

(9) Now Sir Olaf Caroe, K.C.S.I., C.I.E. To top

(10) The late Sir Hugh Weightman, K.C.I.E. To top

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for Amir Rostam Beglie-Beigie


Repeating mistakes
Britain, Iran & the 1919 Treaty
By A. R. Begli Beigie

Reza Shah: The self-made king
With a little help from the British
By Cyrus Ghani

Mehraban brother, Napoleon
Early Franco-Iranian relations
By Iradj Amini

Curzon's last laugh
There's good reason for part of our anti-British 'paranoia'
By Manoutchehr M. Eskandari-Qajar

By the pale-green stone
I blinked at a portrait in a gold frame: a saluting monarch in white
By Cyrus Kadivar

Requiem in Cairo
Marking the 20th anniversary of the Shah's death
Written by Cyrus Kadivar
Photographs by Claude Stemmelin


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