Persian gulf

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Persia and Iraq Command was formed soon after World War II started. It was commanded by General ‘Jumbo’ Wilson (nicknamed Jumbo because of his size). The Command was originally given the task of containing German forces if they attempted to advance to the oil-rich areas of these countries. Later, when the threat receded and the Russians were desperately in need of military hardware, priority was given to the lend-lease agreement whereby US military equipment was shipped to Persian Gulf ports, then transported by rail to Teheran where it was handed over to the Russians. Britain — which really meant Indian troops — was responsible for all aspects of security of this vital rail link.

For better coordination among the three nations, my British divisional commander moved our headquarters to Teheran. In those days, the capital was a cosmopolitan city. The young Shah had no real powers of governance but his court functioned with a good deal of pomp. The language spoken among the upper strata was French. The topic of conversation among the ladies was Parisian haute couture. The Persian army had ceremonial duties — the officers in their German-styled uniforms strutted around the Shah-reza Avenue on weekends with their wives or mistresses. The Shah was keen on soccer and also an expert skier.

Our main focus was the three-nation coordination meetings. These would last for hours and since my British general did not have the time, I was deputed to attend on his behalf. My havildar clerk sat by my side taking down the minutes of the meetings. The Russians always had three officers — two fairly senior in rank and the third much junior, who acted as interpreter. No decision was taken unless the junior gave his consent so we suspected that he was a member of their all-powerful intelligence organisation. Every hour or so, the Russians would retire to a room for a vodka break.

For the Americans, it was their first overseas assignment. Not only had they to adjust to eastern conditions but they had their hands full in updating the ancient railway system. Not to be outdone by the Russians during breaks at the meetings, the Yanks would lace their coffee with bourbon. Our team stuck to plain hot tea!

One day, the leader of the American team was replaced by a hefty Black officer whose hometown was in Mississippi. He spoke at a fast pace with a pronounced southern accent. Later, I asked my clerk to show me his note pad. It was blank. When asked, he answered, “I’m sorry Sir, but I did not understand a word he said. I have never heard this language before — he must have come to our world from a different planet!”



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