First and Brief Period of Independence (1919)

1919 - Tiflis - Georgia - MSS Letter & Photos

British Army in Republic of Georgia

Date: 1919

Tiflis [Tbilisi], 13-16 April 1919. Manuscript signed letter and three original photographs of a Scottish officer who served with the Royal Field Artillery in the then briefly independent Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus region, shortly after the collapse of the Russian Empire. Letter: 3 pages, folio, the first leaf being War Office stationery blind stamped with the Royal coat of arms. Three leafs written recto only, two of which measure approximately 20 x 32 cm, the other slightly larger. Photographs: 3 sepia views on thick photographic paper, one military portrait measuring 5 x 8 cm, and two snapshot scenes measuring approximately 13,5 x 8,5 cm. A rare firsthand account of British operations in the short-lived Democratic Republic of Georgia, a state which existed for less than three years before being invaded by Soviet Russia in 1921. The present correspondence and photographs are those of a Scottish officer who served with the Royal Field Artillery in the then independent Democratic Republic of Georgia, immediately after the Georgian-Armenian War of December of 1918 and shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Identified only as J.D., the officer was from Glasgow, and posted to the 'Deputy Director General Transportation Office' at Tiflis. The British Army had established its headquarters for the Royal Field Artillery at Tbilisi only 3 months prior to this correspondence, in January 1919, this force being part of the 27th Division of the Army. Only months later, on 7 September 1919, Divisional headquarters would be moved to Batum, and just few days after the move, 24 September 1919, the 27th Division was disbanded at Batum, the divisional commander and general staff departing for Constantinople. This force was withdrawn from Batum altogether by the 14th July, 1920. Georgia was under British protection from 1918-1920. Any items from its brief period of independence and surviving Russian annexation by the Bolshevik regime in 1921 are scarce today. Officer J.D. left his Scotland home on 9 February 1919 for army duty in the Caucasus region, only two months after the Georgian-Armenian War of December 1918. He stayed one week at a military tent camp in Salonika, where five months earlier the 27th Division captured the Roche Noire Salient. Here experiences gale force winds causing some destruction to the camp. From Greece he was sent to Constantinople, which he finds particularly attractive, and then to Batoum [Batumi - the second largest city of Georgia] where he spent two days. From Batumi, two days by rail through the Caucasus Mountains brought him to Tiflis. Working at the Transportation Office, he remarks on the frequent movement of British troops and the uncertainty of his own future posts. He also imparts his impressions of Tiflis and Batumi, and some local customs. The photographs were most likely taken on the steamship voyage on the Black Sea from Istanbul to Batumi, early April 1919, which is described in the accompanying letter. A total of five men are seen in the photographs, including officer J.D. himself. Ringing true to this, in his letter, he explains that only had five passengers including the captain were on board the vessel for this passage. Additionally, a partial view of a notice board mounted on the ship's deck addresses 'Troops' and thus reveals that this was a military steamship. Again corresponding to his letter, British troops were forbidden from using local transportation for fear of contracting the fatal typhus disease, as such relied strictly on their own means of conveyance. The letter, which begins on 13 April 1919, was written at the Deputy Director General Transportation Office at Tiflis, part of the Headquarters that had recently been established, shortly after its author arrived there by rail from Batumi. It provides a rare firsthand account of British operations in Georgia during its first yet short-lived status as an independent Democratic Republic following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and before being invaded by Soviet Russia in 1921. [Georgia would not regain full autonomy until 1991]. Between tasks, J.D. writes over four days, with dates in the left margins. The letter describes, among other things, the officer's voyage from Istanbul to Batumi, which was contemporary to a pivotal strategy meeting held in Batum on 2-3 April 1919, between Brigadier General John Samuel Jocelyn Percy (1871-1952) who was Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Black Sea, and the leader of forces in the Caucasus General George Francis Milne (1866-1948). [The Georgian-Armenian War had transpired only four months earlier. It was a short border dispute fought in December 1918 between the newly-independent Democratic Republic of Georgia and the First Republic of Armenia. The conflict centered on parts of Georgian provinces populated mostly by Armenians, and ended because of British intervention. As a result of the conference between Percy and Milne, on 6 April it was decided that the military governorship over the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic would be ceded to the Armenian government. As such, British troops were withdrawn from the region, and on 6 June the change became official. Together, Britain, the United States, France, and Italy decided to appoint American national Edmund L. Daily as Governor-General for the region, which was approved by the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The brief period of independence in Caucasia was unsettled, as the three principle states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, attempted to establish boundaries and their own governments. For some 5 weeks they were united as the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, which also included parts of Eastern Turkey.] Excerpts from the letter: "Now, a little account of my journey from Galsgow to Tiflis..." "Constantinople is a place never to be forgotten, the lovely Bosphorus, mosques, palaces... all males with red fez, married ladies veil over face excepting eyes... ten days... out each day lounging about bazaars - over bridge to Stamboul..." "...on board steamer for Batoum ... beautiful villas, palaces etc etc on each side ... on board for five nights. Only five passengers including Capt. Humble. Tramp steamer - no accommodation." "Batum 2 days like other Eastern towns, some nice streets but majority otherwise." " Tiflis after another two days and one night in train, splendid mountain scenery on way - Caucasus Mts (all snow-capped)..." "Tiflis has two main streets, boulevard style, trees all along... Two sets of tramways (electric ones), open sides no two deckers... not allowed to travel on them, nor vehicle of any description, only our own military motor cars - reason given - vermin - afterwards typhus - funerals." "Passed three funerals today... Head of procession seven or eight singing hymns, then the priests, dressed in most gorgeous cloaks or vestments... the deceased could be seen... mourning coach very ornamental, all white paint. Two of the funerals (better class) had brass bands playing...each case face shown to public view..." "...Things are very unsettled, there I cannot say more... Might be in Persia shortly. Don't know exactly. Strange doing just now - moving men every day." End Excerpts. The Democratic Republic of Georgia existed from May 1918 to February 1921 and was the first modern establishment of a Republic of Georgia. Tbilisi, or Tiflis, is the capital and the largest city of Georgia. Between 1801 and 1917, then being under the rule of the former Russian Empire, Tbilisi was the seat of the Imperial Viceroy, governing both Southern and Northern Caucasus. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the city served as a location of the Transcaucasus interim government which established, in the spring of 1918, the short-lived independent Transcaucasian Federation with the capital in Tbilisi. At this time, Tbilisi had roughly the same number of Armenians as Georgians, with Russians being the third largest ethnic group. It was here, in the former Caucasus Vice royal Palace, where the independence of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were declared on 26 to 28 May 1918. After this, Tbilisi functioned as the capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia until 25 February 1921. From 1918 to 1919 the city was also consecutively home to a German and British military headquarters. In September 1918, Field Marshal George Francis Milne became responsible for the military administration of a vast area around the Black Sea at a time of considerable internal disorder following the Russian Revolution and the start of the Turkish War of Independence. Small British forces had twice occupied Baku on the Caspian, while an entire British division had occupied Batum on the Black Sea, supervising German and Turkish withdrawal. British (including Indian and some Arab) troops were in Persia (partly to protect the oilfields at Abadan) and larger British forces were also deployed in Mesopotamia and Syria. In December 1918, Royal Army troops of the 27th Division embarked for operations on the Black Sea, reaching Constantinople on the 19th and arriving at Tiflis in January 1919, setting up divisional headquarters there. Milne toured the Caucasus in early 1919 and assessed that British withdrawal "would probably lead to anarchy." By May, 1919, detachments had arrived at Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, including the following cities: Baku, Krasnovodsk (in Trans-Caspia), Petrovsk, Shusha, Julfa, Erivan, Kars, Tiflis, Batum, and Gagri. In spite of Milne's prediction, on 15 August 1919, the withdrawal of British troops from Trans-Caucasia began. At the end of the month the British withdrew from Baku (the small British naval presence was also withdrawn from the Caspian Sea), leaving only 3 battalions at Batum. Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, wanted a British presence in the region, however, Milne was granted permission to withdraw if more prudent. On 7 September, a new Divisional Headquarters opened at Batum. On the 14th and 15th September, the 81st and 82nd Brigades were disbanded. The division was disbanded on 24 September 1919, and the divisional commander and the general staff left for Constantinople, after handing over to the military governor of Batum (Brigadier-General W. J. N. Cooke-Collis, comanding the 80th Infantry Brigade). On 4 March 1920, Cooke-Collis was appointed to command the Inter-Allied Force at Batum. After a British garrison at Enzeli (on the Persian Caspian coast) was taken prisoner by Bolshevik forces on 19 May 1920, Lloyd George finally insisted on a withdrawal from Batum early in June 1920. The force was withdrawn from Batum by the 14th July, 1920. The 27th Division was disbanded on 24 September 1919 at Batum. Financial retrenchment forced a British withdrawal from Persia in the spring of 1921.

Recent reinforcements to verso of letters at folds, otherwise in very good condition.


Offered by Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts