So far, our journey through the life of Captain Hugh Frewen has taken us from America in the gilded age, through the courts of Europe past the Wyoming cattle boom and then Nigeria, followed by the killing fields of Gallipoli and the Western Front.
Now the next stages in our journey take us to Australia via Iraq.
The war had added to Frewen’s restlessness. He had a knack of finding himself in complex historically important situations. He was also what we would call today a whistleblower, one who saw what he perceived to be wrongs and who used his family connections to try to right things.
He was in Northern Nigeria at a critical stage in the formation of the colony of Nigeria. There he had raised concerns about British currency profiteering with his father, leading to the establishment of a committee of inquiry.
At Gallipoli, Frewen had raised his concerns about certain aspects of British leadership with his cousin Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. Now the pattern would repeat itself in Iraq.
Frewen came to Iraq on the staff of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Haldane, the British commander in Mesopotamia. There he found himself almost by accident as Special Services Officer in Mosul following the sudden death of his predecessor. .
Here for a little while did I contrive
To measure wits with Oriental wiles
(my predecessor had been burnt alive).
There is some ambiguity about Frewen’s role in Iraq.
English blue stocking: Gertrude Bell, Babylon, 1909. She regarded Hugh Frewen as naive, inclined to speak tosh. Frewen had a different view.This is the sixth in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen.
Writing much later, Frewen’s autobiographical notes had an understandable tendency to centre on his own role. This contrasts with the views of Gertrude Bell, the English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator and archaeologist who played such a key role in the establishment of the kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan,
Bell met Frewen in passing when he was a member of I Branch. She thought he was naive and inclined to speak tosh, an example of the way that Britain was wasting money in Iraq!
What is clear is that Frewen, like so many British of that generation including Lawrence of Arabia, fell in love with the Arabs and took their side. He also came to support and identify with Iraq’s King Feisal, “a truly regal personage”.
Frewen had a particular dislike for the British High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox. He was “tall, cadaverous, tight-lipped as a Spanish Hidalgo….straight out of the pages of Don Quixote”.
Frewen by-passed Cox, arguing to Feisal that Iraq must establish direct representation in London. This happened, but it meant that Frewen became persona-non-grata, moving yet once more, this time to Australia.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 14 August 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018, here 2019