A Tale of Life, Death and Armageddon
Let me set the scene. It is 1918, the last year of World War One, and TP has been appointed to military intelligence - having been wounded the previous December in the fighting outside Jerusalem. It is a job carrying vast responsibilities, some official, some unofficial - and one of his unofficial responsibilities, a self-chosen one, is to keep Abdul Baha alive...
By February TP was D.O.E.T.A. (Director of Occupied Enemy Territory Administration) based in Cairo. ‘You have no conception of what that phrase means and what gigantic issues it involves,’ he wrote to David Russell. (7.2.18) Nowadays we would expect such issues to involve Moslems and Jews, but back in 1918, TP hoped another faith, Bahai, might be the key. This, however, could depend on keeping Abdul Baha alive, as TP wrote to Sir Mark Sykes (M.P. and negotiator of the famous Sykes-Picot agreement):
On returning from Cairo and the hills round Jerusalem, having received the close attention of a Sniper in a fig tree; I ran across my friend Mohi-el-Dine Sabri. He was anxious to send you his greeting and friendly remembrances and I promised to oblige. The Turkish Line will probably run through Haifa shortly. The Bahai leader and his family are in imminent danger and at the moment, of course, we are powerless. His position and prestige is not understood among the Authorities here. It is not even realised that he controls a remarkable religious movement, wholly devoid of political and military associations; which can number many millions of adherents throughout the Near and Middle East. Jews, Moslems of various sects, Christians, Parsis, Hindoos, Kurds unite under the Bahai banner of Spiritual Fellowship. May not these people contribute much, later, to the harmonising of Sectarian and Oriental Religious feuds? Is it too much to ask the Authorities at home to request the Authorities here to afford Abdul Baha every protection and consideration?
(Letter from TP to Sir Mark Sykes M.P., 24.12.17, in File 23353/W/44: Foreign Office 371 3396)
TP, of course, did not rely on just one line of communication. He alerted other contacts who duly spread the word, but when he got into his new job as D.O.E.T.A. he found the danger acute. Part of his work involved intelligence gathering – from reconnaissance flights, captured enemy soldiers, intercepted wireless broadcasts and the like – and he did not relish the intelligence he gathered:
Early in March 1918 information reached me from our own espionage service that the Turkish Commander-in-Chief, whose headquarters was then between Haifa and Beirut, had stated his definite intention to take the lives of Abdul Baha and those around him should the Turkish Army be compelled to evacuate Haifa and retreat north.
(Writing On The Ground, 1968, p.152)
This gave TP a problem. How could he prevent murders taking place in a city 70 or so miles north of the British lines? His answer was to use an unconventional weapon:
General Allenby is always referred to in the Arabic Press as ‘Al Naby’ (Prophet) this being the nearest possible Arabic translation of ‘Allenby’. Among the Moslem population in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere [such] coincidences have aroused considerable comment, for the Eastern mind is always on the alert to unravel any signs and symbols that seem to possess either religious or historic significance.
(Letter from TP to Hannen Swaffer, 31.12.17)
Could one prophet, then, be used to rescue another? Could ‘Al Naby’ be prompted to make the appropriate threats on behalf of Abdul Baha? Such threats might have the right effect, but TP would need to achieve some better string-pulling than last time. He conveyed some blunt appeals to such titled ladies back home as Lady Paget and Lady Blomfield, and they in turn got to work on titled men (that’s how it was in 1918). The titled men, Lords Plymouth, Balfour and Lamington, made sure the problem was presented to Cabinet (Lloyd George, Milner, Lord Curzon and Balfour himself) and as a result instructions were cabled direct to Allenby, who thereupon issued orders for the protection of Abdul Baha.
Direct protection had to wait several months, though, because General Ludendorff mounted a huge offensive on the Western Front, and many of Allenby’s soldiers were diverted to France. Fresh forces arrived from India (including, usefully for that terrain, cavalry) but Allenby wanted his experienced soldiers back. He didn’t get them.
What he did get were planes – Bristol Fighters, Martinsydes, a few Nieuports and a single Handley Page bomber – and these were the machines which carried out the most alarming part of Allenby’s Blitzkrieg.
From the 19th to the 21st of September, two Turkish armies, the 8th (under Mustapha Kemal) and the 7th (under Djevad Pasha) were virtually destroyed by very low bombing and machine gun attacks – their trucks, limbers, wagons and guns ending up as tangled masses of metal.
And thus began the dominance of air power in warfare.
The most evocative aspect of this new type of warfare is the place where it occurred: Megiddo, or, to give it the more famous variant, Armageddon. Armageddon is some way north of Jerusalem, roughly between Nazareth and Caesarea, and if there is anything in prophecies linked to its name, perhaps that something is a warning about getting blasted from the sky.
An upshot of this particular Armageddon was that two days later British and Indian forces took Haifa, and outriders from the Mysore Lancers were immediately despatched to guard Abdul Baha’s house. And thus TP’s protection efforts were fulfilled.
The whole episode was summed up by the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the British Isles writing many years later in 1969:
The place of Major Tudor Pole in the annals of the Baha’i faith will rest chiefly on the part he played during 1918 as an integral part of the circumstances whereby Abdul Baha’s life was spared.
At the time he was almost certainly the only British Army officer who knew the place that Abdul Baha occupied in the hearts of the Baha’is. When, therefore, he learned as an intelligence officer from reliable sources that Jamal Pasha, Commander of the Turkish Army then undergoing severe defeat in the Western Desert, had threatened to crucify Abdul Baha and his family on Mt. Carmel if the Turks were forced to withdraw from Haifa, he promptly did all in his power to bring the danger to the knowledge of influential friends in London and through them to the Foreign Office and the Cabinet. General Allenby was expressly instructed by cable to extend every protection and consideration to Abdul Baha, his family and friends when the British marched on Haifa.
(The Messenger of Chalice Well, number 10, 1969)
There are other tales concerning Abdul Baha in The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole, but stories of life, death and Armageddon are of obvious interest, so this is the one I selected. If you wish to know more about the book a link can be found in the left column of this blog.
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(a) The Salamander Stone (by my most excellent and trusty pal, Mrs Me) from one of these outlets:
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(b) The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole (by Mrs Me’s most excellent and trusty pal, Me):
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