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The Resht Review (Turkish Armistice Celebration 1918) - report by Cyril Sladden, November 1st 1938

1st November 1938
Text of Letter

The Resht Review (Turkish Armistice Celebration) - 9th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment at Resht

Ever since the evacuation of Baku in September, and particularly for the last ten days, the air, and the bazaar at Resht, had been full of rumours.  The Turks were advancing from Tabriz, and would soon destroy the remaining British Force in North Persia.  Were not the British digging trenches round their camp, and would anyone in their senses dig trenches unless they were on the point of being attacked?  The British said that they had destroyed the Turkish army on the Tigris, and had captured Aleppo.  If that were true, why even the Turks still in Tabriz, and why even the British digging trenches and clearing the foreground round their camp?  So the inability of the local lazy Persians to understand the elementary military precautions of the small British garrison fostered the belief that the Turks were winning, and that the British were lying as to the real state of affairs.

Late on the evening of the 30th October, a char line message arrived from Baghdad that the Turks had asked for, and been granted, an armistice, and that hostilities would cease from 8 am the following morning.

The officer commanding at Resht, the Political Officer (who combined the duties of British Consul, Political Officer and Bank Manager with a skill which drew unqualified admiration from the mere soldiers), and the Mess President joined in solemn conclave to discuss how the good news should be impressed on the doubting Thomases of Resht.  The Political Officer suggested a firework display, the soldier a review of the troops, the Mess President a dinner.  The meeting unanimously decided for all three.

The programme having been settled, the organisers were faced with the equally momentous problem of carrying it out.  The garrison were camped outside the town in accordance with an agreement made with Kuchik Khan, the West Jangali leader, by which, on condition that he did not prevent our using the road to the Caspian, we agreed not to send armed parties into the town of Resht.  It consisted of about 200 men of the Worcestershire Regiment, who had left Mesopotamia early in the summer, trekked across Persia to the Caspian, lost their kits in the evacuation of Baku and now, six hundred miles from their base at Baghdad, were a distinctly ragged army.  The men were told what was afoot, entered into the spirit of the thing, and rose to the occasion.  The majesty of Britain, and the personal pride of the British soldier, demanded a smart turn-out but the men individually were in rags.  To meet the difficulty all kit was put in a common stock and eventually, after sorting, washing and pressing, 150 men turned out in helmets, drill and shorts, for all the world as if they had stepped straight from the shop of a fashionable West End tailor.  Five solid hours were spent in rehearsing the next day’s programme, and by nightfall the infantry were ready for the morrow.

No review would be complete without cavalry, and the nearest British cavalry were about 200 miles away.  However the Transport Officer guaranteed to produce if not cavalry, at any rate Mounted Infantry.  Officers’ chargers, cooker horses, baksheesh ponies were all pressed into the service, and by evening a troop, twenty strong, with harness polished an complete, and the grooms up, was ready to lead the march the next day.  The [drabbis?] did a strenuous day’s work, washing their clothes preparatory to lining the road to keep the crowd back.

The fifty odd men were detailed to remain behind, and guard the camp.  In the event of attack, a strange force of half-naked men, clad in rags and old blankets, would have been seen holding the fort against all-comers.

Meanwhile the Political Officer was busy in the town.  A message was sent to Kuchik Khan, inviting him to join the guests of honour at the parade.  He however refused the invitation, as he had taken a vow not to enter the town of Resht, or have his hair cut, as long as foreign trooper were on Persian soil.  However he promised to send a representative and, best of all, his private brass band. The French and Russian Consuls accepted, and the refugee Greek Consul from Baku, and a Belgian carpet-bigger on his way to Teheran, were roped in to represent other allied nations.  Invitations were also sent to the leading local Persian signatories of both the Shahs’ and Kuchik Khan’s, parties.  The bank press was got to work, and soon the bazaar was placarded with an announcement that, to celebrate the submission of Turkey, a review of a portion of the British Garrison would be held in the Maidan the following morning, at which the principal allied and local signatories would  be present.  This would be followed by a firework display in the evening.

The great day broke cloudless.  Long before the hour, the square was packed with the native population.  At the saluting point were collected the four British officers who could be spared from the procession, the allied Consuls, the Persian Governor, KK’s representative, the Colonel of the Persian Cossack Police (an immense man wearing a magnificent Prussian Blue military overcoat) and several of the leading ladies of Resht.  The problem of the British Political Officer’s dress was a matter of serious difficulty.  His normal costume as Consul for state occasions, was a top hat and frock coat; but in the spring, when he was a prisoner with the Jangalis, his kit had been looted, and all he now had was the top hat.  However, an overcoat was found; so, dressed in the silk hat and overcoat, he gallantly carried off the situation in spite of the heat.

The Drahbis policing the enclosure gave an Imperial touch to the proceedings.

Presently the columns marched in from the Main Street at one corner of the square.  First came the Mounted Infantry.  The well-fed and well-groomed horses stood out in comparison with the sorry nags of the local police.  Next came KK’s band.  It consisted of about twenty performers, and the big drum was beaten by an enormous negro who towered head and shoulders above the other performers.  Last came the infantry, as fine a body of men as one could wish to see, and spotlessly turned out.  Headed by the band, they marched round the square, and finally were drawn up in line facing the saluting point.  A display of “handling of arms” was followed by the Persian National Anthem.  Then, after a Feu-de-joke, the proceedings terminated with the British National Anthem.  The troops then marched back to camp, while the band remained to play the national anthems of the allies, and other patriotic airs.

After the review, the distinguished visitors partook of light refreshments in The Europe Hotel.  The local supply of wines in Resht had long since run out, but the Mess President had brought up a large selection from Baghdad on the second line transport, which fortunately never went to Baku.  So the tables groaned with gin, vermouth, sherry, claret, hock, port and whisky, with plates of salmon, caviar and luscious grapes and melons.  Toasts were proposed and drunk to every native represented, speeches made in every tongue.  The Persian Governor of the town drank a “no-heeler” to every toast, and was eventually overcome with emotion and the forbidden fruit.  Messrs Phipsons’ work for the Empire on that day, was worthy of his worldwide reputation.  On the departure of the guests, the band finished off the fragments.

The major part of the military representatives passed the afternoon in sleep, preparing for the official banquet in the evening.  This was given by the Political Officer, and to it were invited the French and Russia Consuls, the Persian Town Governor, KK’s representative, a prince of the royal blood of Persia who happened to be in Resht; and the principal officers of the British garrison, as they were described in the local press.  The band played patriotic airs in the compound, while in the square a great firework display was held for the benefit of the town population.  Carriages at midnight ended the day.

A prehistoric cinematography with still more prehistoric films was discovered in the town.  The next day, the show was engaged for the entertainment of the troops.  What did it matter that the films began or ended in the middle of the story?  What did it matter if the machine stopped for quarter of an hour every now and then, until the operator tied it together again?  What did it matter that the explanations were in Russian and Persian?  Were not they “movies” just the same, and had we not won the war?

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