Notes by John Barnard
Updated 12 Nov 2020
|James and Trevenen ancestors||James, Coulson and Leah connections||Rosher ancestors and relations||Hindle ancestors and connections||Mackinnon and Fox relations||James relations|
In the notes below I provide a brief outline biography and discussion of aspects of Huck's character, followed by a more expansive exposition of the various stages of his life, which I may be able to extend in future, as time permits further study of the large amount of material available.
Huck spent the early part of his childhood in India, returning to the UK aged 12. He was a sickly child with some type of asthmatic problem, and was not therefore sent away to boarding school but, after preparation by private tutors, he went up to Christ Church College, Oxford, to study English Literature in 1912. His academic career was cut short by the outbreak of World War I, when he immediately joined the army, transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in early 1915. He saw active service, initially as an "observer", and later as a pilot, in France, Egypt, Arabia, and Palestine; after a period as a flying instructor in Essex he returned to combat duty in northern Italy in the final weeks of the war, when he was shot down and wounded. After the war, he stayed on in the newly-formed Royal Air Force, serving again in Egypt, and then in Turkey and in the 1920 suppression of the "Arab Revolt" in newly-mandated Iraq. Between 1921 and 1923 he commanded the Boys' Wing of the RAF Cadet College at Cranwell, and was Wing Adjutant at the RAF base at Calshot, near Southampton. He then undertook a special Arabic language course in London, before returning to Iraq as an RAF Special Service Officer where (apart from home leave in 1926) he remained from 1924 to to 1929.
His health problems returned and after extended periods of sick leave, time in convalescent homes, and an attempted return to duty in Iraq, he was finally invalided out of the RAF in January 1931. He alternated between visiting friends in England and travelling on the continent and to Morocco, initially with his parents, and after his father's death in June 1931, alone. In 1933 and 1934, with the Great Depression in full swing he became involved in setting up and administering support clubs for unemployed men in south London, with assistance from rich and aristocratic friends and relatives and his college at Oxford, and the enthusiastic personal support of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII). After a further bout of illness in 1934, Huck decided to travel again, obtaining berths in 1935 on British and Italian cargo vessels with which he visited various Mediterranean and Black Sea ports including Soviet ones.
After a further period of illness in the latter part of 1935, Huck was invited to complete his convalescence in Egypt and while there he was offered a position as a volunteer civilian liaison officer at RAF headquarters; he remained based in Cairo for almost all the remaining 33 years of his life. His work involved a good deal of travel around the Middle East, allowing him to get to know many of the leading Royal and political figures, though this caused friction with the British Embassy and in 1938 his activities were confined to Egypt. After the outbreak of World War II official unhappiness with his continued unofficial contacts with politicians and Royalty forced his resignation. Shortly afterwards he was knocked down by a car and spent four months in hospital, but he was then offered a job with the British Overseas Airways Corporation, which again gave him the opportunity to travel, in East Africa as well as the Middle East. In 1942 his attempts to "liaise" in the tense relationship between the British Embassy and King Farouk led to another forced resignation, and he moved out to the countryside, setting up a "Services Club" for the benefit of soldiers changing trains at a nearby railway junction on their way to and from the front. He returned to Cairo in 1944, where his elderly mother (who had spent the preceding two years with her younger son Eric in Uganda) came to live with him, but his obsessive interference in political matters caused the Embassy to try to have him expelled from Egypt. This failed, but tensions with the authorities continued even after the end of the War.
In March 1947 Huck and his mother sailed to Australia to join his sister Mollie and her family on their farming estate in Victoria, but in September his mother died there; Huck had been devoted to her, and suffered a complete mental breakdown, requiring hospital treatment in Melbourne. He made a gradual recovery and returned to Egypt in June 1948. The following year he travelled via Italy to spend several months in England - his first visit in nearly 15 years.
Back in Egypt he took up various charitable activities, and maintained his links with political figures, though his relations with the British Embassy seem to have been easier. With political tension rising, he narrowly escaped being killed by rioters on "Black Saturday" in January 1952, prior to the revolution in July that year which deposed the King. In early 1953 he had difficulties in getting his visa renewed, but his expected departure from the country "under protest" was delayed by illness, and with assistance from the British Embassy his visa was renewed in 1954. During a visit to England in the autumn of that year he circulated his views on the situation to sympathetic British political and diplomatic figures, whilst still trying to maintain that he was no longer involved in politics. In late 1955 he fell more seriously ill; his brother flew out to visit him, and he remained in hospital for several months. He was still unfit to travel when the Suez Crisis erupted at the end of October 1956, and he was readmitted to hospital, having a series of operations, including one to remove his gall-bladder, over the succeeding months. He did not leave Egypt again until June 1960, when he made another short visit to England. He made a few more such visits, and trips to other European cities, during the 1960s, whilst remaining based in Cairo.Finally, during the Six Day War in June 1967, the 73-year-old Huck was suddenly arrested, mistreated and expelled by the Egyptian authorities; back in the UK there was a good deal of press coverage and questions in parliament, but despite his campaigning efforts, little official action. He spent the following winter in Florence, and during the next year, though his property was retrieved from Cairo, he was found to be suffering from advanced cancer. He moved to Malta in October 1968, where he died on 2 Feb 1969, his compensation claim with the Egyptian government unresolved.
I am conscious that most of the material available to me on Huck's life is material that he prepared or selected himself - even the letters from other people which he transcribed into his memoirs, or separately, and those originals which he retained, have of course been subject to his own selection and possible editing. There is therefore a danger that some of the material may be somewhat self-serving, and some of his own writings are revealing of a tendency to self-justification. Where they are available I have looked at independent sources (in particular, records at the National Archives, cited herein as TNA), and consulted relatives who remember him. I personally met him only once, I think in the summer of 1967 shortly after his final expulsion from Egypt. I was aged 11 and my mother took my sister and me to meet him at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, where he was staying. I suspect that my sister and I were completely bored by the conversation, and the only thing I remember is that when we left he gave each of us a pound note, which was well above the then going rate for tips from elderly relatives.
His extended family generally regarded him as temperamental and "difficult". When I met his niece Mariana Matthews in Australia in 1991 she recalled a frightening incident shortly after the death of Huck's mother (when Mariana was 14), when he became completely hysterical and jumped out of a car, disappearing off into the bush; this was probably a prelude to his hospitalisation in Melbourne. Another cousin tells a story she heard from my aunt Margaret Harrisson, who was accompanying him on a train journey from Waterloo station, probably on one of his visits to England in the early 1960s. The train had been delayed or cancelled, and Huck (in his late sixties) threw a temper tantrum on the concourse, stamping his feet and saying "it won't do, it won't do". When he was staying with his brother Eric in Devon in 1967-8, Eric's wife Gelma found him quite impossible to deal with, and eventually insisted that he move out - he found a berth with the mother-in-law of Gelma's son (by her previous marriage) Geoff Fox, though he also spent time in a hotel in Tavistock. Part of the trouble may have been that all his life he had been used to having servants at his beck and call, and tended to treat his hostesses in the same way.
My cousin Michael Harrisson, who as a young solicitor retrieved Huck's possessions from Egypt, and escorted him on his final trips to Florence and to Malta, suggests that Huck was a misogynist (and indeed actually frightened of women), citing examples of "louche" comments about, and rudeness to, his cousin Trev James's wife Nini and daughter Astrid (who was Huck's god-daughter). There is little evidence of misogyny in his writings, and his work in the 1950s with the Women's Health Improvement Association in Cairo [HHJ/35/20 p.38] tells against it, as do some complimentary remarks about the capabilities of his cousin Peggy Scott [HHJ/35/21 p. 19]. He did also have several long-standing women friends, who on the basis of concerns they express for him in letters to Eric [HHJ/1] seem to have genuinely cared about him - these included in particular Daphne Grenfell (1901-1969), a niece of the 9th Duke of Marlborough, and Rita, Duchess of Grafton (1911-1970).
When talking about Huck to relatives of both past and present generations, the most frequent item of information offered to me was that he was homosexual. Though there is little explicit discussion of this in his memoirs, it is certainly borne out by the documents I have found, especially in some of his poetry, which reveals strong feelings towards some of his male friends. His photograph albums also contain rather more than their fair share of pictures of muscular young men wearing few if any clothes. There are two places where he more explicitly discusses sexuality. In one of these [HHJ/35/23, pp. 4-5] he notes that "at 18 I was, I thought, already in love with a sweet girl a year my junior, ... War and its outcome put an end for me to any simplicity of romantic entanglement ... This does not imply that I might have led a life of cold-blooded celibacy, but disadvantages, if such there be, I suffer in myself alone". He goes on (rather guardedly) to criticise the taboos surrounding human physical relationships, suggesting that legal safeguards are needed only for those that may result in procreation. In another passage [HHJ/35/20, p. 22] he suggests that the potential for blackmailing homosexuals (making them a security risk) would be eliminated if homosexuality received "treatment on a practical scientific and medical basis, and not a criminal basis at all". Another interesting remark comes in connection with the marriage of his friend Norman Smith to Lady Alexandra Buchanan (daughter of the Earl of Cadogan) in 1951, when he refers to the "hopes aroused for a similar outcome to my similar aspirations" [HHJ/35/20 p. 8]. Huck came from a generation whose members found less need than today's to define themselves as "gay" or "straight", and many of his contemporaries, who led flamboyantly homosexual lives as young men, nonetheless later enjoyed successful marriages. Even in his late fifties, Huck may not have entirely given up on such thoughts, though fantasies of marriage to an Earl's daughter might have appealed to his predilection for aristocratic connections.
From more independent sources, a letter from Huck's friend, the explorer John Hanbury-Tracy [HHJ/35/10 p. 13] teases him about the allures of the Turkish maidens on his Black Sea trip in 1935: "not our Jimmy I think, he leaves the women alone". In a similarly light vein, I remember my uncle Trev James telling a story of when he and his brothers reached an age when they need to be "given the facts of life" and their rather conventional father (Huck's uncle Leo) thought that the boys' older cousin Huck would be the ideal person to instruct them. The brothers were already sufficiently enlightened to realise that Huck might not provide the instruction that their father envisaged, and other cousins have suggested that Huck may even have tried to "make a pass" at at least one of them. This might account for the refusal of Trev's elder brother Hilary to meet Huck during his 1949 visit to England, though that could equally well have been due to political differences - Hilary was a committed pacifist [HHJ/1 29 Jun 1950]. A letter from the Head of Security Intelligence Middle East to Sir Walter Smart at the British Embassy in Cairo in 1944 refers to Huck as being on police files a "sexual pervert" [TNA FO371/41414] and his sister makes an oblique reference to "his special Arab servant Moki" in writing about her passing visit to Egypt in 1951 [Mary Mackinnon, For All that Time Has Held, Privately published, Grafton, NSW (1993), p. 71]. Norman Lang, a young Scottish engineer who worked as a teacher in Cairo in 1965 and befriended Huck, later described him as living "in Old Cairo in an apartment that was filled with grinning boys from dawn till dusk" [HHJ/70, p. 3]. In chapter 18 of his book Lang recalls a dinner party he gave, where Huck told a story about "his friend" who, having been rebuffed by the woman he had fallen in love with, had a sexual relationship with her son, leading the guests to a discussion of moral culpability.
Huck seems to have had some extremely close friendships with fellow RAF officers, at least two of whom are likely to have been his lovers. Flight-Lt Robert Jenkins MBE MC (1896-1922) served with him in Iraq in 1919/1920, and a torn-up pencil letter (probably a draft of one which may or may not have been sent), which I have been able to piece together [HHJ/1 Dec 1920], suggests that there was a rather complicated triangular relationship between Huck, Bobby Jenkins and Flight-Lt Peter ("Pug") Ledger; another (draft) letter to Ledger [HHJ/1 21 Dec 1920] tells him "may you find the friend you deserve". Jenkins was killed in a plane crash in 1922, while working as a flying instructor; his personal papers are at Charterhouse School and might yield more information. Huck's longest-lasting and most significant relationship seems to have been with Wing-Commander Robert Jope-Slade OBE DSC (1896-1941), who was a fellow Special Service Officer in Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s (staying on in the RAF after Huck was invalided out); he was killed in an air-cash in the Persian Gulf in 1941. [Obituaries in The Times 27 May 1941, p. 7 and in the Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 28 (3) 386-387 (1941)]. "Jope" was introduced to Huck's uncle Leo's family, and may have made a (rebuffed) pass at Trev James (who also had an RAF career), though the two remained good friends, and Trev wrote warmly of him in his own memoirs. Several letters from Jope to Huck survive [HHJ/35/2, p. 4; HHJ/1, 8 May 1924, 21 Dec 1930, 7 Apr 1931, 1 Aug 1931, 1 May 1932, 22 Jun 1933] and suggest that he was perhaps more keen to commit to their relationship than Huck was - they are full of phrases like "please write", "I miss you" and conclude by sending "all my love". In a letter to his father after he had returned ill from his final attempt to resume his RAF duties in Iraq in 1929 [HHJ/35/2 p. 6] Huck wrote:
Outside the family there is no one now except Bobby Slade. Between him and myself there does exist an essential friendship in a different category to ordinary friendships - as it was with the other Bobby, Bobby Jenks. Even yet I cannot quite realise that dear old Jenks has really gone away for always. It seems unreal and strange at times to be the survivor of so many very young and very pleasant pals.
Outside the RAF, Huck's circle of friends included several rich and "arty" men, some of them known to have been gay, though whether any of them were Huck's lovers is unknown. These included Graham Baron Ash (1889-1980) who restored Packwood House in Warwickshire, and Norman Lamplugh (1872-1954), who lived at the Old Court House at Hampton Court (designed by Sir Christopher Wren for his own occupation) and who, with his sister Ethel, was a lifelong friend and correspondent. Huck was a regular guest at both these houses in the early 1930s. Another friend, with whom he spent a convalescent holiday in Cyprus in 1936 [HHJ/35/10, HHJ-62], was the aristocratic Alexander Gregory-Hood (1915-1999), then a career soldier, but later a well-known art-dealer and gallery-owner. Various others are briefly mentioned in his memoirs, often only by first name, and appear in photographs and may possibly have represented "flings"; he also made two visits to Taormina in Sicily (one on his way back from his Black Sea voyage in 1935, and one on his way to England in 1949) where there was something of a gay community centred around the villas of the Englishman Robert Kitson (1873-1947) and the American Bobby Pratt-Barlow (1885-1958).
In his later years, Huck befriended young Egyptian men in Cairo, referring to them in a letter to his brother as his "sons", and there is a photo of him giving a dinner party for about a dozen of them. It would be easy to regard them as catamites, though Norman Lang takes a more charitable view:
If there was any harm being done to anyone in that situation I did not see it. He just liked them better than most adults and preferred their company to an empty house. [HHJ/70, p. 163]
This view finds an echo in Huck's own words at the conclusion of his Firm Earth My Comrade memoirs [HHJ/35/22, p.53], where he suggests (writing in 1952) that his companiable links with young Cairenes "will be a further sturdy barrier to any lurking future loneliness."
Possibly, as with his work with the unemployed in the 1930s, he wanted (in a paternalistic way) to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds to get established in life - in a couple of cases he helped them start a small business [HJHJ/1 29 Aug 1954] (providing a parallel with Durrell's Scobie); others he employed as his servants, engendering considerable loyalty from them (one named his own son "James" [HHJ/1 30 Aug 1968]). This loyalty was reciprocated in some of the bequests in his Will [HHJ/40], and in his concern for the fate of his servants after his explulsion from Egypt in 1967.My relatives who knew him say that Huck was an inveterate name-dropper, and the frequent references in his memoirs and letters to aristocrats and members of Royal families (both British and foreign) confirm this [e.g. HHJ/1 16 Nov 1954, 18 Dec 1957]. There is something slightly pathetic about the way his memoirs include full transcripts of what are little more than formal acknowledgements from Private Secretaries of the receipt of Huck's communications to various dignitaries, though he did undoubtedly have real contacts with many important and influential people in the Middle East. His cousin Mike Harrisson and his siblings especially remember Huck's pride in a jewel-encrusted wallet, which he said had been given to him by King Farouk, and which he rather imprudently carried around with him on visits to London in the 1960s. However, a document from a Cairo jeweller [HHJ/1 24 Aug 1954], referring an item that fits that description, notes that it was part of the sale of Farouk's possessions which the revolutionary government organised in 1954, and so Huck may actually have bought it.
Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet of novels, Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958)and Clea (1960), are regarded as classics of postwar English literature, and were shortlisted for the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. They are set primarily in Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s, and it was probably Huck's cousin Trev James who first suggested that Durrell might have used Huck as a model for the subsidiary character of Joshua Scobie. Durrell was Press Attaché at the British Embassy in Cairo during World War II, and would almost certainly have encountered Huck at that time.
Scobie is portrayed a retired naval officer in his late sixties, living in the Arab quarter of Alexandria, and he provides much of the comic relief in the novels. He admits to “peddyrastic Tendencies” having “done quite a bit of scout-mastering with the Hackney troop”, and consequently “had to keep out of England” and settled in Egypt, where he could see “mile upon mile of angelic little black bottoms.” He has a minor role in the Egyptian police, but is later promoted to head of the Secret Service in which capacity he investigates a preposterous and largely imaginary conspiracy involving some of the main characters. He also occasionally comes under an “Influence”, dresses in women’s clothes and goes down to the docks “when the Fleet’s in”. It is on one of these excursions that he is beaten to death by naval ratings, an episode which needs to be covered up as an honourable death in the line of duty. Subsequently he becomes adopted by the local population as a revered saint, “El Scob” and the shrine to him is cared for by Abdul, a young Arab man whom Scobie had earlier helped to start a business (“Never laid a finger on him nor ever could, because I love the man”).
Though there are clearly significant differences between Scobie and Huck, and though another long-term Cairo resident, Joseph Macpherson (1886-1946), has generally been regarded as the model for the character, there are sufficient parallels to suggest that Huck may have inspired Durrell with aspects of Scobie's character (including his sexuality) not provided by Macpherson. A short article of mine, summarising the evidence for this suggestion, has been published in the Newsletter of the International Lawrence Durrell Society [J.M. Barnard, "Harold Hindle James: Another Inspiration Behind Scobie?", The Herald, 45 (NS-5), 8-9 (2020)]
Huck was born on 1 March 1894 at 9 Canynge Road, Clifton in Bristol [HHJ/15/1], and this date also appears on his Oxford University matriculation record. Almost all later documents, including those he prepared himself, his passport, and the inscription on his gravestone [HHJ/12], incorrectly give the year as 1895, though the 1894 birth registration is clearly definitive. The earliest appearance I have so far found of the incorrect date is his Royal Aero Club record card (dated 17 July 1916) [HHJ/56] and it is not clear how the error arose, nor how aware Huck was of it.
Huck's father was a college professor and later a senior educational administrator in British India, but his family (or at least, his children) remained in England for much of the time, though from 1903 to 1906, they all lived in India. Huck had a sister, Mary (known as Mollie), who was five years younger, and a brother Eric (known as Bob), five years younger again, and a description of their life in India is given by Mollie in her memoirs [Mary Hindle Mackinnon, For all that Time has Held, NSW, Australia, 1993. ISBN 0 646 14825 7]. They were cared for by a governess, Miss Hawkins, and by the time he was about ten Huck also had an Indian servant called Jamali who, according to Mollie, he was allowed to kick if displeased!
1906 the family returned on leave to England, and after brief stays in
Wells and Bournemouth, Huck's father went back to India to take up an
appointment as Principal of the prestigious Presidency College in
Calcutta (now one of India's foremost Universities). The rest of
the family spent some time staying with his father's brother Lionel
who was Headmaster of Monmouth Grammar School, and Huck (then aged 12)
had some education there. Around 1908, he was seriously ill, possibly
with some form of tuberculosis, and he remained
"delicate" and asthmatic for
most his teenage years. By this time the children were living with
their aunt in Kent (their mother had rejoined their father in India)
and Huck attended Dulwich College as a day-boy. Later, after a move to
Folkestone, he had a private tutor to prepare him for University
entrance, and in 1912 he went up to his father's old college,
Christ Church, Oxford to read English Literature. He stayed there for
two years, during which he seems to have recovered his health to a
considerable extent, and participated in such sporting activities as
beagling (in which the hounds are followed on foot). His education
was cut short in 1914 by the outbreak of the First World War.
Huck joined the Army immediately after war was declared in August 1914, and was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant on 1 September [HHJ/2]. A summary of his service throughout the war is provided in HHJ/31. After spending the winter at a training camp near Guildford, he was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in March 1915, and posted to France where he served as an Observer in No. 10 Squadron during the preparation for the Battle of Loos. During the winter of 1915/16 he was attached to No. 14 Squadron, stationed in Egypt, returning to Britain to train as a pilot in May 1916. By September he was back in Egypt, stationed on the Suez canal, and providing air support for the Allied advance across the desert to the Turkish stronghold of El Arish in Sinai. In January 1917 he moved to Rabegh in the Hedjaz in what is now Saudi Arabia, where he undertook reconnaissance and bombing sorties in support of the "Arab Revolt" against the Turks, a campaign popularly associated with Lawrence of Arabia; his original handwritten diary from this period survives [HHJ/32/1]. After a short period in Aden, he returned to the Palestine front during the advance to Gaza, providing reconnaissance and photography in preparation for the first attacks on that stronghold in spring 1917 [HHJ/32/2].
In June 1917 Huck developed an unspecified throat problem, and was invalided home; after recovery he commanded an instructional squadron at Rochford in Essex, and in the first part of 1918 at Hornchurch, where it was later noted that "a very large number of young pilots gained their 'wings' ... due to the enthusiasm and great experience of such capable instructors as Captain Harold Hindle James" [C.T. Perfect, Hornchurch During the Great War, Colchester: Benham & Co, 1920, p. 137].
In the late summer Huck returned to combat service as a flight commander in 66 Squadron in northern Italy. The Austrian advance from the Dolomites had been held at the Battle of Piave River in June 1918, and Huck was involved in patrol work and bombing of Austrian positions in preparation for the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, which began on 24 October and led to the chaotic retreat and ultimate surrender of the German and Austrian forces. A few days before the battle, Huck was involved in the destruction of an Austrian balloon, but was wounded and forced to land in "no man's land" on an island in the Piave River. After several hours he was rescued by the Italians, and taken to hospital - the postcard notifying his mother of this is dated 23 October [HHJ/1], and several letters from his parents and aunt Lilian over the next couple of weeks survive [HHJ/1], but unfortunately not his letters to them. In a much later account [HHJ/35/18, p. 5] Huck relates that his commanding officer had initially thought that he had been killed, and had therefore decided that the DSO, for which he had been under consideration, should be awarded to his second-in-command! The exact facts behind this are unclear, but according to a now-defunct (but archived) website on 66 Squadron, Huck's colleague Flight-Lieutenant Harry King Goode (1892-1942) was awarded a DFC for his role in the same action, and a DSO for his overall service in the campaign. Huck did, however, receive the Italian Croce Guerra.
The Royal Flying Corps officially became part of the newly-formed Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, and Huck remained in the service, and was commissioned as Flight-Lieutenant (the equivalent of the Army rank of Captain) on 16 Sep 1919 [HHJ-2], rather than returning to complete his degree at Oxford. (In fact, a special university decree in 1916 allowed men who had completed their "Part 1" examinations, and then been on military service, to be awarded an "ordinary" degree "in absence", and Huck had thus formally graduated on 19 Oct 1916.)
After convalescence in Dorset, he was posted back to Egypt, and a letter to his mother [HHJ/1, 17 Jan 1920] describes his work with a "special instructional flight" there. By July 1920, however, he was on his way to Constantinople, where the Turkish War of Independence following the break-up of the defeated Ottoman Empire was getting going; his service here is described in 26 pages of typewritten memoirs [HHJ/33/1].
Two months later he was transferred to Iraq, where the local population (Shia, Sunni and Kurdish in alliance) were staging an armed revolt against the British rule imposed by the new League of Nations mandate to govern that part of the former Ottoman Empire. Winston Churchill, as War Secretary, had ordered an RAF contingent to the territory, which helped fairly rapidly to suppress the revolt, largely by extensive bombing raids. Huck participated in the latter stages of this, remaining in the country until February 1921, and his involvement is described in 38 pages of typewritten memoirs [HHJ/33/2]. There have been suggestions that chemical weapons were used against the rebels, though there is little evidence to support these claims [R.M. Douglas, "Did Britain use chemical weapons in mandatory Iraq?", Journal of Modern History 2009, 81, 859-887] and Huck's memoirs do not provide any.
He returned home via a short visit to India [HHJ/33/3] and remained in Britain for the next two years, with appointments at the Boys' Wing of the RAF Cadet College at Cranwell [he gives some recollections of this in HHJ/35/20], and as Wing Adjutant at the RAF base at Calshot, near Southampton. He then undertook a special Arabic language course in London, before returning to Iraq where (apart from home leave in 1926) he remained from 1924 to to 1929. He left a substantial record of his time there in the form of a 240-page typescript compiled from diary entries and letters home covering the period 1924-26 [HHJ-17], and a collection of manuscript letters covering 1927-29 [HHJ-34]. As well as providing an interesting historical record of this period of Iraq's history, these memoirs also give several insights into Huck's own personality and attitudes, and the remainder of this section is largely based on them. They have also provided some source material for a recent book on the history of RAF policy during this period [R.D. Newton, The RAF and Tribal Control: Airpower and Irregular Warfare Between the World Wars, University Press of Kansas, 2019].
Huck's language course occupied the first half of 1924, when he lived in bachelor quarters in London, and participated in the "social round"; he describes this as one of the happiest periods of his life to date [HHJ-17-2, p. 8]. In July, he set sail for the Middle East aboard the P&O liner S.S. Naldera, putting ashore in Marseille where he remembered an earlier visit (presumably during the War) when he and "George Paul of the 11th Hussars" had discovered "much that was interesting and more than a little that was queer" [HHJ-17-1, p. 10].
On arrival in Iraq he immediately took three months' "language leave" (August to October 1924), using the time to further improve his Arabic and to visit a number of local Sheiks. He gives his initial impressions of the political sitution, and the role of the British:
Nobody seems quite sure who is really governing, whether King Faisul, the British, the pro-Turk party etc. ... After we had subdued the revolt we were absolute masters ... now no-one is content, abuses are creeping in and all seems very indefinite. ... It seems we should either definitely run the country or definitely leave it. [HHJ-17-3, pp. 31-32]
In November 1924, Huck was posted to the Intelligence Branch at RAF Headquarters in Baghdad, investigating land, river and air routes in and around Iraq, where he was reunited with his old friend Robert Jope-Slade [HHJ-17-8, p. 79]. Though generally bored with an office job, Huck was able to undertake some tours with Jope-Slade, including one to the Kurdish area in the north of Iraq, which included a visit to an ancient Assyrian Christian Monastery near Mosul [HHJ-17-9, pp. 95-97]; Huck does not give enough information to positively identify it, but it was probably the Dair Mar Bihnam (Mar Behnam Monastery), which was destroyed by forces of the self-styled "Islamic State" in 2015.
He remained in Baghdad until June 1925 (by which time Jope-Slade had gone on home leave) and was then posted as Special Service Officer, which gave him many more opportunities for touring in the countryside, and meeting local Arab leaders. For the first six months he was stationed at Ramadi, on the river Euphrates west of Baghdad, transferring to Diwaniyah to the southeast in January 1926, when he moved his entire establishment – including his horse – in a week-long voyage down the Euphrates by boat [HHJ-17-16, pp. 165-166]). In both places he had his own house on the outskirts of town (later acquiring, in addition, a bungalow by the river at Samawah and a pied-à-terre in Dagharah village [HHJ-17-18, p. 201; HHJ-17-19, p. 212]) and a substantial retinue of Iraqi domestic servants; he mentions particularly his "Butler-in-Chief", Georgius, an Assyrian Christian, describing him as a cheery young man despite the hostility he received from many Arabs on account of his religion [HHJ-17-5, p. 48]. Huck clearly engendered considerable personal loyalty from his servants, as they all elected to transfer with him, despite the fact that they were mainly Sunnis and held a low opinion of the Shi'ite population of Diwaniyah, which Huck seems to have shared:
The blatant immorality, and sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Shi'as as a whole is positively humorous when it isn't revolting. At least, that is my present impression, and the one that I eventually gained when on language leave down here a year and a half ago. [HHJ-17-16, p. 173]
He also had an RAF driver, identified only by his surname of Shutes, who had "an amusing Yorkshire accent" [HHJ-17-14, p. 148], and who was hoping to persue a journalistic career when he returned to civilian life. [Shutes may have been the Louis Shutes who married Edna King in Leeds in 1920 [FreeBMD Leeds Sep 1920, 9b 1477] and died aged 66 in 1963 [FreeBMD Kettering Mar 1963, 3b 684], with a son Gerald F. Shutes born in 1924 [FreeBMD Strood Jun 1924, 2a 1175]; he seems in fact to have stayed in the RAF, as Wt. Off. Louis Shutes is noted as being commissioned as Flying Officer during World War II [London Gazette 31 Dec 1943, 6th suppl. 4 Jan 1944, p. 89].] He made a special request (which was granted) to be transferred to Diwaniyah with Huck, and had his own bed-sitting room in Huck's house [HHJ-17-16, p. 174]. However, Huck notes that though they were the "best of friends",
... the only vast difference between us is that he is a fond husband and father, whereas, as you know, even my wildest desire for adventure has not led me into so hazardous a case. [HHJ-17-14, p. 148]
Shutes was evidently a skilled mechanic as well as a driver, and Huck appreciated his "cheerful energy" in improvising repairs to their Ford car while on desert tours, including stopping an oil leak with a chewed-up chapatti, and using butter when supplies of engine oil ran out! [HHJ-17-17, pp. 184 & 186]
There were were relatively few Britons at Ramadi during Huck's time there - just a police officer and the Administrative Inspector, who was Huck's local boss. Initially this was "Major Y.", who had been in post for several years [HHJ-17-12, p. 119], but following his retirement in September 1925 [HHJ-17-14, p. 143] he was replaced by Major W.C.F.A. Wilson (accompanied by his wife), who had moved up from Basrah; Huck describes spending Christmas 1925 with them, and also mentions an RAF Wireless detachment of an NCO and about a dozen men just outside Ramadi [HHJ-17-16, p. 170].
Much of Huck's work involved investigating raids by local nomadic Bedouin tribes on each other. There were two main confederations of tribes in the area, and Huck struck up a particularly close friendship with the paramount sheikh of the Anizah confederation, the strongly pro-British Fahad Beg al Hadhdhal:
He is a charming old man, one of nature's aristocrats, and a most kindly host. But also he has to be an astute and forceful character to manage his unruly subjects, and also keep on good terms with the government. He explained to me that now he is old, he considers himself to be tribal "Prime Minister", and that his eldest son, Mahrut is now the "War Lord". [HHJ-17-12, p. 117]
Huck made several visits to Fahad's encampments, as well as receiving him and his son in Ramadi, and Fahad evidently took personally to Huck, offering him gifts such as a fleece-lined winter cloak "as a little token of personal friendship", which Huck had to declare appropriately, to avoid suggestions of corruption [HHJ-17-14, pp. 144-145]. He also reciprocated with the gift of an engraved cigarette holder [HHJ-17-19, p. 211].
The tribesmen regarded it as their "right" to raid their neighbours and Huck seems to have recognised that it was fairly futile to try to stop them [HHJ-17-12, pp. 124-125]. On his tours of the desert, he frequently encountered raiding parties, though generally seems to have limited himself to ticking them off for frightening "poor innocent [Iraqi] judges from Baghdad" [HHJ-17-13, p. 140]. On one occasion he rescued a shepherd from a party of raiders, forcing them to return the looted sheep, and marching them far enough away to allow the shepherd to make his escape, recognising that his small party could not detain them for long. He noted that
It was an entirely tribal affair, so it was not desirable for me to interfere in too great detail. We much bewildered the whole party by distributing food impartially to both raiders and raided! The food they all ate ravenously, still covered by our revolvers! [HHJ-17-15, pp. 160-161]
The other main confederation of nomadic tribes was the Shammar, who were not popular with the locally settled cultivators, leading to occasional shooting, and Huck describes seeing the spectacular sight of their camel train (twenty miles long, with thousands of animals) after they had been moved on by the police following a dispute. [HHJ-17-17, pp. 175-177]
Huck clearly enjoyed his visits to Bedouin encampments, referring to the almost Royal receptions he received, the really delicious food he was given, and the evenings spent telling stories in the guest tents [HHJ-17-17, p. 190].
There are points of great attractiveness in the Arab customs of hospitality, which go far towards covering the less lovely side of their character. [HHJ-17-17, p. 188]
He describes his anger on a couple of occasions when he witnessed live hares being cruelly tortured during the training of hunting hawks, and demanded that they be put out of their misery; though this led to some tension with his hosts, he says that they appeared to accept the situation with no ill feelings [HHJ-17-17, p. 186]. He also particularly mentions the role of women, which was substantially more prominent among the Syrian-based tribes:
They made no silly paraphenalia of bashfulness, but were candidly interested in the visit of strangers, and most anxious to be helpful and hospitable. Even in the presence of their menfolk they came into the guest tent to help with the fire and coffee making and at one tent where we stayed, when the menfolk were temporarily absent, the ladies quite naturally took the attitude of hostesses, and entertained us till the men arrived! Of course this shocked my own Arab attendants terribly. They looked on in amazement and could talk of nothing else for days! All Bedouin women are far more sensible and decent-minded than the townswomen, but I have never seen any quite so common-sense and unaffected as these. [HHJ-17-17, pp. 187-188]
Huck comments on the much bigger religious barrier between the British and the Shi'as, compared to Bedouins or northern Sunni tribes, despite outward courtesy, and also notes that many of the Shi'ite "holy" men of Najaf and Kerbala are "violently anti-British, and nearly all restlessness is caused by them" [HHJ-17-18, pp. 195-196]. He also comments on some of the apparent contradictions in behaviour and attitude of the Arabs he meets:
A young man ... discussed Shakespeare intelligently, and the prospect of a varsity career - occasionally pausing to spit on the carpet. [HHJ-17-18, p. 198]
One sees strange contrasts in the official and private life of quite high government personages. They have fine and dignified offices, are dressed in the best of taste, and talk well on a wide range of subjects. Yet at home their children are dirty, and their household is run on amazingly squalid lines. [HHJ-17-18, p. 199]
In one letter [HHJ-17-19, pp. 210-211] Huck expands rather more in his opinions of the sheikhs he deals with:
Indeed they are curious customers, these shaikhs here; there is so much that is detestable about them, and yet one does not seem to dislike them as might be expected! To one's face they are charming, and because one is of reasonably important standing, I believe even in an adverse position one might be well-treated, if one found oneself at their mercy – unless, of course, there were any personal dislike, when there would be no mercy! They are aristocrats and autocrats and have some of the virtues as well as the vices of such, and thus are inclined to deal magnaminously with their equals in rank.
As for their social morals - they are at least quite frank about them! They candidly delight in bodily pleasures of any kind whatsoever, and having an exceptional capacity for same they make no pretence of stinting themselves. They candidly love it !!! and like to be companionable and generous withal !!! One just can't judge them by our standards, and one must remember that the thick varnish of civilization that has been daubed over them in the last few years, is only a veneer after all, and quite unreal and foreign to them. They are primitive and violent in their real emotions; and astute intrigue has been essential for generations in mere self-protection.
With particular reference to two sheikhs of the Fatlah tribe, Abdul Wahid al Hajji Sikr and Abadi al Hussein, he says
They are extraordinarily clever men in a way, skilful in all kinds of intrigue. Their favourite hobby is to discover the secret personal failings of official persons – and to get at them through these ! This has stood them in good stead many a time, especially with Arab officials. Most men have a weak point in this country – bribes, wine, love of flattery – and dancing girls (or boys!!) and all such little failings as these the Fatlah shaikhs are skilled in gratifying with the utmost tact and consideration! [HHJ-17-19, pp. 208-209]
By the summer of 1926, when he had been two years in Iraq, he vented his frustration at continual delays to his leave:
It would be nice to be civilised and normal for a bit. There are moments when these people nauseate me. They are so crude, so devious and in some ways so bestial ... And yet, when one is nauseated, one hopes that in a small way one is at least doing a bit for the prestige of our country. Thank goodness, the other two Britishers here are sound and decent fellows, against whom the Arabs can talk no beastly scandal. I don't mind a fellow having his own vices – provided he manages them decently, and does not let the whole of his nation down by parading them before the Arabs – and there are some unfortunate cases of that. [HHJ-17-20, p. 230]
Huck's work when stationed at Dawaniyah also involved the making of "target maps" of the tribal areas, presumably in order to provide the intelligence needed to mount bombing raids against rebellious sheikhs when necessary [HHJ-17-19, p. 213]. He also participated in some "demonstration" fly-overs as warnings:
We were given a formation of three machines to play about with, and it was my task to guide them over the disturbed areas, pointing out the "qasrs" (castles) of each of the chieftains who had been showing a truculent attitude. We flew extremely low, and it it was great fun noting the signs of considerable alarm which were shown in and near the abodes of the worst offenders. [HHJ-17-19, p. 207]
He also notes the civility his RAF uniform engenders from some sheikhs:
... in this district they have a sincere respect it seems for any officer wearing "wings," having been bombed only some eighteen months ago. [HHJ-17-19, p. 212]
Despite these rather casual attitudes to those on the ground, he is not immune to the effects of bombing, and his own role in it during the 1920 revolt:
I have done a lot of bombing in this area myself - always a disagreeable duty to anyone who thinks, and a method of suppression that can be terribly abused, yet sometimes absolutely necessary, as it was at that period when the British were few and the Arabs fanatically hostile. [HHJ-17-6, p. 65]
His attitudes, however, remain conventionally colonial. After an attack on a motor convoy, which kills the French Vice-Consul's wife, he comments:
The tribes concerned will have to be taught a severe lesson - more killing and mutilating I suppose that means; bombs, machine-guns, etc., on their encampments. There must be terrible suffering after these raids on desert tribes, but it is absolutely the only means of authority they seem to understand. [HHJ-17-10, p.103]
He is also not oblivious to other British abuses. In the case of a Bedouin Sheikh suspected of involvement in the disappearance of two RAF officers:
... the wretched fellow appeared to be in a condition of obvious terror ... possibly expecting to be seized and ill-used to extract a statement - a method I am afraid not quite unknown even yet. [HHJ-17-7, p. 75]
There are occasional mentions of issues in the Middle East, including the alleged French maladministration in their mandated territory of Syria - a revolt against their rule took place in 1925 - where he comments
How the Syrians do seem to hate [the French]. Indeed if half [what] they say is true, with some justification. French control is described as utterly destructive to the interests and prosperity of the Syrian people. [HHJ-17-14, p. 152]
There is a queer Syrian rumour that the British are helping the rebels - certainly, I think, incorrect, but rather a pity because after all the French are, as it were, our kith and kin out here, and increased distrust between us seems unsuitable in these alien lands where mutual assistance seems so necessary. [HHJ-17-14, p. 154]
Huck's memoirs are full of references to places that have become well-known as a result of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. During his time in Ramadi in summer 1925 he mentions a visit to "a pleasant little village called Haditha", on an island in the Euphrates river [HHJ-17-12, p. 120]. Between 1977 and 1987 this was the site for the construction of the massive hydroelectric "Haditha Dam", the securing of which became an important military objective both during the 2003 invasion, and in the "Islamic State" insurgency in 2014. In 2005 Haditha was also the site of the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians by US Marines (the "Haditha Massacre"), which resulted in a major investigation by the US authorities, though almost all charges were subsequently dropped. In 1925, however, Huck says:
These island villages, of which I visited several in out-of-the way sections of the river, are rather uniquely attractive. It is curious country in this area of mine! On two sides the endless barren desert, and blazing shadeless sun, but all along the river are little fertile oases, and island villages, full of gardens and trees and fruit, with cool breezes blowing off the water. [HHJ-17-12, p. 121]Whatever vices Huck may have indulged in while in Iraq, he certainly seems to have "managed them decently", though a few comments hint at the homoerotic appeal that the Arab world held for him:
... through the archway comes slowly a young Arab man, tall and finely formed, his single robe of thin white linen girded about his loins for coolness and ease of movement ... he ascends, with friendly eyes, towards me, bearing in his hands the earthen urn of fresh well-water for which I had sent him. [HHJ-17-3, p. 35]
... three or four men, mostly unhampered by clothing ... tall, virile savages they were, most of them, their limbs rippling with a graceful display of well-developed muscle. [HHJ-17-6, pp. 70-71]
One little scene stays notably in my mind - an Arab youth, brown and naked, standing amongst the reeds at the water's edge, making plaintive airy music on reed pipes - a very personification of the spirit of Pan. [HHJ-17-7, p. 74]
His Iraq papers do not reveal whether his relationship with Robert Jope-Slade went beyond the friendship of brother officers, though Jope's comings and goings are quite prominent, and the entire package is dedicated to him with a poem [HHJ-17-1, p. 3]. He notes that in January 1925 they moved into a smaller "more cosy" mess together [HHJ-17-10, p. 101], and adds that
The only thing that made Baghdad tolerable was J.'s companionship [HHJ-17-11, p. 110]
On a short "farewell weekend" cruising with him on the river Tigris in May 1925 (before Jope's home leave), he describes bathing both in the water and in some soft mud ("up to our necks"):
Of course, clothes were used to a minimum degree throughout the trip. In our more dressy moments we wore a pair of shorts, and added a shirt for the fashionable area of Baghdad. [HHJ-17-10, p. 108]
At the end of July 1926, after two years in Iraq, his long-awaited home leave was granted, and he returned to Europe via an overland journey through Syria (visiting the Roman ruins at Palmyra) to Beirut, from whence he took a boat to Cyprus. He returned to Iraq in 1927 for a further two years as a Special Service Officer, again working closely with Robert Jope-Slade. Though references in his other writings suggest that he compiled another volume of memoirs of this period, entitled "Arabian Episode", this appears to have been lost, and all that remains is a collection of handwritten letters to his parents [HHJ-34]. Following this tour of duty he was awarded an OBE [HHJ-11].
The next 23 years or so of Huck's life are described in another substantial volume of typewritten memoirs, consisting of over 500 pages and entitled "Firm Earth My Comrade: Memoirs of a Grounded Airman", for which I have compiled an annotated summary [HHJ/35]; the following paragraphs are largely based on the relevant "episodes" of this.
He began his leave in early 1929 by joining his parents, who were travelling in France, and then moved on to London. He had suffered from a bout of malaria, and was granted an extended period of recuperative leave. This he used to visit his college at Oxford to collect his degree, then rejoining his parents by Lake Garda in Italy en route to resuming his duties in Iraq. He developed a serious cough on the journey, and as soon as he arrived in Baghdad, Jope-Slade arranged for him to be transferred to hospital. The doctors were very concerned about the condition of his lungs, and at one point gave him only a few months to live. This may have been a recurrence of his childhood illness (whatever that was), though the doctors were willing to ascribe it to his long service in the desert, and he was nonetheless promoted to Squadron-Leader. He was repatriated to England in September 1929, and over the next fifteen months he alternated between periods in convalescent homes, visiting relatives, socialising in London, and travelling with his parents in Spain, Portugal and Morocco; he also managed a motor tour of Cornwall with Bobby Jope-Slade. He was finally invalided out of the RAF in January 1931.
Initially he spent some time staying with his Uncle Leo and his family in Sussex, where they had retired (his three sons were now boarding at school at Westminster School, but his twin daughters, including my mother, were still at home), and Huck then joined his parents in Tangier. There his father was taken seriously ill with stomach cancer, and they returned to England, where his father died on 2 June. Huck initially tried returning to live in Tangier, where he socialised with a variety of rich and aristocratic friends, including Lady Lilian Grenfell, a cousin of Winston Churchill's, and her daughters Daphne and Iris, who remained life-long friends. His asthma problems recurred, but disappeared when he returned to England for a family reunion with his much-loved Aunt Lilian (his mother's sister), who was visiting from Australia.
He moved into a flat in Tunbridge Wells with his mother, but by November 1932 was living in London and had become involved in projects to help unemployed men, which were to occupy him for much of the next two years. His work involved acting as "organiser" of support clubs for the unemployed: initially the "Crypt Club" in the crypt of St Mark's Church in Kennington, and later the "Oval-House Club", for which the Surrey County Cricket Club allowed the use of its clubroom at the Oval cricket ground. The "House" part of the name is a reference Huck's college at Oxford, Christ Church, which is known to its members as "The House", and which provided some funding and other assistance [HHJ/42/2]. The club actually lives on to this day as the Ovalhouse Theatre (renamed in 2020 as Brixton House). The whole operation was very much "de haut en bas", and Huck made use of his rich friends and aristocratic connections to provide support; he also obtained the enthusiastic personal encouragement of both the Queen and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), who made several visits, generating plenty of press coverage [HHJ/43] and even a British Paramount newsreel film [HHJ/42/1]. There was an emphasis on athletic activity, with boxing instruction provided by the 1928 Olympic hurdling champion and Conservative MP Lord Burleigh (later Marquess of Exeter) and Christ Church College making their land at Sutton Courtney available for an annual summer camp by the river Thames. Huck's young cousin Trev James, organised a fencing match between club members and Westminster School, where he was a pupil - the school won easily, but what the unemployed men made of the tour they were later given of the school's exclusive and historic buildings is not recorded.
In 1934 Huck had further problems with his health, and handed over responsibility for the unemployment clubs. He stayed with various of his rich and aristocratic friends and acquaintances, during which he came across a number who had become converted to the cause of fascism, including his father's old college friend, the stockbroker Alexander Scrimgeour. He met both Sir Oswald Mosley and William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw") but, despite financial inducements [HHJ/1 29 Jun 1950], refused to be seduced by their politics. Eventually he decided to go abroad again, and in 1935 he spent several months travelling on British and Italian cargo vessels in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea. This allowed him to visit various ports in Greece, Istanbul (Turkey) and the Soviet ports of Odessa and Batum. The Soviet authorities would not permit him to come ashore, and though he managed a brief walk on the quayside at the former, disguised as one of his Italian fellow-sailors, he was closely guarded by two Russian soldiers at the latter [HHJ/9/2]. Despite this experience, he considered trying to obtain a visa for an authorised tour of Russia as a route to return home [HHJ/9/3], but was advised against it and eventually obtained a berth on another Mediterranean cargo vessel, this time stopping in Sicily and Spain. Back in England he wrote a report for the Board of Trade on his observations on the poor conditions of merchant seamen, and corresponded with various ministers and officials in an effort to improve them.HHJ-29]. Early in 1938 his mother came to join him in Cairo, where they lived together congenially for the next two years.
Though he seems to have continued to receive support for his work from senior RAF officers, Huck's semi-official contacts with leading Arab political figures were causing increasing consternation at the British Embassy, and his activities were confined to Egypt [TNA FO371/21865:E6507]. In 1939 his RAF boss, Wing-Commander Charles Spackman, moved to new duties, and Huck finished up reporting to Colonel Walter Cawthorn at Army HQ. With war now broken out again, Huck's continued unofficial meetings with politicians and members of the Egyptian Royal family led to his suspension in early 1940; Air Marshal Sir William Mitchell insisted on his reinstatement, but his position was untenable and he resigned. This led to a long-drawn-out struggle with the British Embassy, and in particular with the Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson (later Lord Killearn).
In September 1940 Huck was knocked down by a British Army car and badly injured: initially he was given only 48 hours to live, but after four months in hospital he recovered, though his wish to return to some sort of active service was frustrated by an RAF Medical Board which declared him permanently unfit. His friend Robert Maxwell, Regional Director of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) (not to be confused with the notorious publisher and fraudster of the same name), offered him a job as his personal assistant at his Cairo office, later creating the post of Administration and Security Officer for him. Huck's memoirs do not make it very clear what his duties in this role were, but it once again gave him the opportunity for extensive travel - not just in the Middle East, but also in East Africa. His mother, now in her late seventies, was getting frailer, and Huck's frequent absences became a problem, so in September 1941 he accompanied her to Uganda, where she spent the next couple of years living with her younger son Eric, who was a District Commissioner there. Meanwhile Huck continued with his unofficial meetings with Kings, Regents, diplomats and leading politicians in Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as in Egypt. Early in 1942 he tried to involve himself as a sort of mediator in the increasingly tense relationship between the British authorities and King Farouk of Egypt, but this was vetoed by the Embassy. Matters came to a head in the "Abdin Incident" on 4 February, when British tanks surrounded the Royal palace and forced the King to dismiss his Prime Minister, a humiliation which had serious long-term consequences for Anglo-Egyptian relations. Huck continued to meet "unofficially" with the King, even immediately before and after Farouk's meeting with Churchill, who visited Cairo in August 1942. This was all too much for the Embassy authorities, who pressurised Robert Maxwell into demanding that Huck terminate his meetings with the King. Huck refused to do so, and resigned from BOAC.
The next month Huck moved out of Cairo, to an estate at Benha where he was offered a house to stay. This was close to a major railway junction, where troops on their way to and from the fighting at El Alamein often had to wait for several hours while changing trains. Huck set up a welfare club for them, where they could relax and have a shower and get a hot meal. Like his earlier work with clubs for unemployed men in London, this effort seems to have been made in the spirit of the gentry offering its benevolence to the lower orders, and Huck's memoirs include a letter from a sergeant-major who compared his role to that of the village squire. When one of his personal servants was taken ill, Huck also began a campaign to improve conditions in the local hospital, recruiting the King's Private Secretary and the Anglican Bishop of Egypt to the cause.
After a year at Benha, in late 1943, it was arranged for Huck's mother to move back to Egypt, and Huck returned to live in Cairo, helping her to celebrate her 80th birthday the following May, when the King placed a car at her disposal for the day. Huck still couldn't resist having meetings with political figures, and reporting on them retrospectively to the Embassy authorities. Doubtless he saw himself as "trying to be helpful", but Brigadier Maunsell (Head of Security Intelligence, Middle East) and Lord Killearn were incensed, and in June 1944 Killearn wrote to the Foreign Office in London asking if Huck could be expelled from the country [TNA FO371/41414]. Though recognising that he was a "tedious busybody", officials in London felt that that there was no real security basis for doing so, and that such an action might lead to awkward questions about their motives; the Embassy therefore withdrew their objections to the renewal of Huck's visa. Tension between Huck and the Embassy continued after the end of the War, as they tried to ensure that he didn't get any employment where he could present himself to his Egyptian contacts as having any sort of official position, and he complained of "victimisation".
An escape was provided by Huck's sister Mollie, who was now living with her husband and children in Australia, and suggested that Huck and their mother should join them there. After farewells to Egyptian friends they set sail in March 1947, arriving at Melbourne some six weeks later and basing themselves at Marida Yallock, the long-established family farming estate of Mollie's husband Donald Mackinnon, in the Western District of Victoria. But Mary James was now 83 and her health was in serious decline, and she died at Marida Yallock on 5 September 1947. Huck was distraught, and suffered a complete mental breakdown, for which he was treated in hospital in Melbourne. During a slow recovery he stayed in clubs and hotels in Sydney and Melbourne, meeting various literary and artistic people, but in June 1948 he returned to Egypt. Conditions there had become difficult, as the country was effectively at war with the newly-formed state of Israel and there were regular air-raids, so the following year he made his first visit to his home country for nearly 15 years.He travelled via Italy, and appears to have spent some time visiting a gay community in Sicily centred on the rich American Bobby Pratt-Barlow. While in England, he met up with his many relatives on both his father's and his mother's side, and renewed contacts with his rich and aristocratic friends; he also visited his old college at Oxford. But he did not neglect his Middle-Eastern connections, meeting various ambassadors, and members of the Iraqi and Egyptian Royal families, and returned to Egypt in November 1949.
Initially he took up various charitable activities, including work with Arab refugees in Gaza, the Church Missionary Society hospital in Cairo and the Women's Health Improvement Association; this is also the point where he began compiling his Firm Earth My Comrade memoirs [HHJ/35]. As political tensions mounted in the country in 1951, he maintained his links with political figures, though his relations with the British Embassy (Lord Killearn having been replaced as Ambassador by Sir Ralph Stephenson) seem to have been easier and he provided some informal liaison between the King, the British Embassy and the Australian legation. (The then Australian Minister for External Affairs, Richard (later Lord) Casey, was a close friend of Huck's brother-in-law Donald Mackinnon, and had previously served as the British Minister Resident in Cairo in Churchill's war cabinet). On 26 January 1952 Huck was a witness to the "Black Saturday" riots in Cairo, and narrowly escaped being killed in the attack on the British ex-patriate Turf Club, of which he was a member [HHJ/18/1]. On 23 July 1952 the "free officers" staged a military coup, the King was forced to abdicate in favour of his baby son, and the Royal family was sent into exile; a year later the country was proclaimed a republic. Despite his connections with the King, Huck initially managed to establish relatively cordial relations with the new military government, and a police guard outside his flat (originally provided by the King following the riots in January) was maintained.
Huck's Firm Earth memoirs [HHJ/35] go only up to this point, but a large collection of letters (both sent and received), covering the remainder of his life [HHJ/1], provide the material on which the remainder of this account is based.
During the first part of 1953, he continued to have meetings with Egyptian officials, and to report on them to the British authorities, but by the summer of that year he was again having problems in getting his visa renewed, and though this time the Embassy at least appeared to be being more helpful in "fighting his case", it seemed to be of no avail, and by the end of October he was resigned to having to leave Egypt "under protest" before the end of the year. However, he became ill and confined to bed, and his departure was delayed until April 1954; by then he was in hospital with shingles, though by June his residency permit had in fact been renewed, for assistance in which he thanked the Ambassador.
In September 1954, his visa position assured, he travelled to England to recuperate from his long period of illness, visiting his brother Eric, who had now retired from the Colonial service to a house in Devon, but otherwise basing himself at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London. Here he wrote an 8-page memorandum on "the present situation in Cairo from an unofficial angle" [HHJ/38], expressing concern about the inexperience of the ruling junta, and the pro-Nazi sympathies of some of its leading members. This he sent to a variety of British political figures from the Foreign Secretary (Anthony Eden) downwards, and later held meetings with sympathetic MPs and members of the House of Lords. One copy was sent to Robin Hankey who, the previous year, had been acting Ambassador in Egypt when Stephenson was ill, but was now the Ambassador to Sweden; Hankey suggested to Huck that, if he really wanted to convince the Egyptians that he was no longer involved in politics, it might be a better idea not circulate his memo too widely, but this appeal fell on deaf ears. Huck returned to Egypt at the end of the year, via a Christmas visit to his friend Robert Maxwell, who was then living in Athens.
Further visa problems in the early part of 1955 were eventually resolved, but in November Huck was taken seriously ill with gall-bladder problems, and had an emergency operation; his brother Eric flew out to Egypt at the end of the month to visit him. He had a further operation in April 1956, and remained in hospital until June, though he was still not fit to travel. In view of the increasing tension between Britain and Egypt following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in July, Eric used his own contacts (he had been up at Christ Church College with Alan Lennox Boyd, then the Colonial Secretary) to enquire about the possibly of an emergency evacuation, but nothing specific was arranged. By mid-October Huck's doctors were clearly recommending against any travel for at least six months, and on the 29th the Suez Crisis erupted with the Israeli invasion of Sinai, followed a week later by the (connived) Anglo-French re-occupation of the Suez canal zone. Huck was readmitted to hospital on 31 October, but it was not until 10 November that he managed to get a telegram to Eric. He came out of hospital in December, when he was able to write up an account of the events from his point of view [HHJ/7] - vitriolic about the American undermining of the British action, but warmly appreciative of the personal kindness of the hospital staff towards him, and of the welcome he received from his landlady when he returned to his pension. In January 1957 he was admitted to the American hospital in Cairo, where he had a further operation to completely remove his gall-bladder, and several more operations over the succeeding months.
With diplomatic relations between Britain and Egypt having been severed, Huck received support from the Swiss Embassy, which assisted with repatriating some of his possessions to England, but he remained in Egypt. Gradually, as the situation re-normalised, he recommenced his correspondence on political matters (both in Egypt and in Iraq, which suffered its own bloody revolution in 1958 [HHJ/41]) but it was not until June 1960 that he again left Egypt for a visit to England. He made a few further visits to England, and to other cities in Europe, during the 1960s, but remained based in Cairo. Norman Lang, a young Scottish engineer who was teaching in Cairo for a year in 1965, befriended him there, and wrote about him in his memoir The Cairo Incident [HHJ/70], in which Huck provided "stalwart" assistance when Lang was arrested by the Egyptian authorities on suspicion of being a spy. Huck was now in his early seventies, living in a flat with his Arab servants, and socialising quietly with other ex-patriate friends.
This quiet retirement was shattered on 6 June 1967, the day after the pre-emptive Israeli strikes against Egyptian airfields that initiated the Six Day War, when political police arrived at Huck's flat at 5.0 am, arrested him in his pyjamas, and took him away for interrogation; he was 73. He was accused of being a supporter of the Royalist regime, and was refused the attention of a doctor, or contact with the British consulate. After collapsing with an attack of angina pectoris he was eventually examined by a doctor, but left to rest on a stained mattress in a cell before being taken the next day, manacled with other European prisoners, in a lorry to Alexandria. His attempt to resist the theft of a small bag of possessions he had managed to keep with him led to his being kicked in the stomach, and the next morning (still in his pyjamas) he was put aboard a German vessel bound for Crete, where a British Embassy official arranged for him to be taken to hospital. After treatment there he travelled to Athens, where he recuperated for a few days with his friend Robert Maxwell before flying on to the UK. The whole incident attracted a considerable amount of coverage in the British press [HHJ/10], and questions in parliament [HHJ/4]. Though he received considerable support from opposition politicians (including his brother's MP, the young Michael Hesletine), and continued to campaign for stronger action, the official position of the government was that further formal protests to the Egyptian government or other action would not be in his own interests. The Foreign Office did make some representations on his behalf, with a view to securing some form of compensation for him from the Egyptians [TNA FCO64/45], and Huck meanwhile travelled to Florence, escorted by his young cousin Michael Harrisson (who had been warned by Trev James that Huck was "queer"), in order to avoid the cold and wet of a British winter.
Returning to the UK in the spring of 1968, he underwent an exploratory operation to determine how far his continued abdominal pain could be attributed to his mis-treatment by the Egyptians. Though the resulting medical report suggested that it could be, and the report was attached to the compensation claim, the examination also showed that he had contracted cancer, which had reached an advanced stage. In October, he moved to Malta, whilst Michael Harrisson (recently qualified as a solicitor) went to Cairo in order to secure the release of his remaining possessions there. With declining health, Huck alternated between the Xara Palace Hotel and the St Catherine of Siena hospital, but it became clear that further treatment would be useless, and by Christmas he recognised that he was "on [his] way out". With further declines and brief rallies through January 1969, Huck's brother Eric cancelled a planned skiing trip in order to travel to Malta, arriving just in time to be at his bedside when he died on 2 February [HHJ/15/3]. Michael Harrisson had also arrived in Malta and assisted with the funeral arrangements, and Huck was laid to rest in the Imtarfa Military Cemetery there [HHJ/12]. The compensation claim from the Egyptians lapsed with his death.
Fifty years later, in March 2019, a great-grandson of Huck's uncle Leo, Lt. Lucas Harrisson RN (then training to be a naval pilot), visited his grave, and reported it to be well-maintained (note that the gravestone shows the incorrect year for his birth).
Huck's Will, dated 12 Sep 1963 [HHJ/40] left the bulk of his estate (valued at £33,690 - equivalent to just under £600,000 in 2020 values) to his brother and sister, but made numerous small bequests to his Egyptian servants and "underprivileged individuals personally known to me in Egypt", the payment of which became something of a nightmare for his Executors. In addition he made a special bequest of a cigarette case to the Duke of Windsor "in grateful remembrance of all his energetic support and encouragement in our former work together for unemployed men". The final page of his Will is a personal testament expressing his disappointment at the political path taken by the "precocious yet basically under-developed peoples of the Middle East, prematurely ... launched into independence" (a sentiment which reflects a similar opinion expressed by Sir John Glubb ("Glubb Pahsa", 1897-1986) in a letter to Huck in 1948 [HHJ/35/10 p. 17]). The bequest of copies of his memoirs to his college at Oxford does not appear to have been complied with at the time, probably because of the incomplete and disorganised form in which they were left; I hope that my own work in bringing some sort of order to them will allow this last wish of his finally to be implemented.
Copyright © John Barnard 2020