This July, our Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps sale will feature an important group of original documents illuminating a key chapter in the history of the modern Middle East, after the Great War and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.
The collection contains unpublished reports of reconnaissance missions among the Arab peoples of Iraq and the north Arabian Desert undertaken by British soldier Major A. L. Holt (1896-1971), a decorated former Royal Engineers officer enlisted to survey landing grounds for the Cairo to Baghdad air route proposed by Winston Churchill as colonial secretary at the March 1921 Cairo conference.
Churchill had first drawn up plans for an imperial air network as early as 1919 when secretary of state for air, and saw it as a vital element of Britain’s post-war Middle Eastern policy. Holt conducted his surveying work by the innovative means of a convoy of Ford motorcars, and he is seen today as a pioneer of mechanised exploration in the region.
Memories of the promises made by the British and T. E. Lawrence during the Arab Revolt were evidently still fresh among the people Holt encountered. His reports show that he and his party were nevertheless able to move with relative freedom through desert areas which as recently as 1920 had been in open revolt, and their diplomatic overtures to local leaders were warmly received, though internecine fighting and raiding remained part of everyday life. Soon after Holt accompanied the great explorer Harry St John Bridger ‘Abdullah’ Philby on an expedition to Wadi Sirhan in the northern Arabian Peninsula, and was later employed by Iraq Railways and the Turkish Petroleum Company.
Despite the strategic importance of his exploits and the respect he commanded among his contemporaries, Holt appears to have had little interest in the self-promotion which motivated Lawrence or Philby. In one recent study he is mentioned in a roll-call of ‘important, though sometimes forgotten’ Arabian explorers (Andrew Goudie, Great Desert Explorers, 2016, p. 15), while his published output is limited to a handful of journal articles. This collection of documents represents a substantial expansion of his corpus, and captures a fascinating moment in the history of the modern Middle East for which primary source material is rare.
Lyon & Turnbull’s dedicated team of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps specialists have established an international reputation for their auctions, selling both through our UK auction house, and via live online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on books and manuscripts, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to the successful sale of fine antiquarian books, modern first editions, folios, autographed letters and important archives.
DOMINIC SOMERVILLE-BROWN | RARE BOOKS & MANUSCRIPTS
0131 557 8844
SIMON VICKERS | HEAD OF DEPARTMENT
0131 557 8844