Sqdn. Ldr. Harold Hindle James, OBE, CG (1894-1969)

Biographical Notes by John Barnard
Updated 24 Apr 2017 [in progress]

Harold Hindle James, known as Huck to his family, was the eldest son of my grandfather's eldest brother Henry Rosher James (1862-1931) and his wife Mary Edith Hindle (1864-1948). In later years he seems to have double-barrelled his middle and surnames to become "Hindle-James", though I have seen no evidence that this was ever made "official". A large collection of his personal papers came to light in 2010, and along with other family material and documents at the National Archives, form the basis of these notes.

The most common piece of information I have been given by relatives I have asked about Huck is that he was homosexual, and this is certainly borne out by some of the documents I have found. The nature of his relationships are not entirely clear, but it seems that he had an especially strong friendship with a fellow RAF officer called Robert Jope-Slade, who as a Wing-Commander was killed in an air-cash in the Persian Gulf in 1941. [Obituary in Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 28 (3) 386-387 (1941)]

Early Life

Most documentation I have, including his last passport (issued in 1967) [HHJ-15] and the inscription on his gravestone [HHJ-12], give his date of birth as 1 March 1895. However the index of the civil register of births shows an entry for him in the second quarter of 1894, in Gloucestershire [FreeBMD Barton R., Jun 1994, 6a, 48]; this discrepancy is still to be resolved. He spent much of his early childhood in India, where his father was a senior educational administrator. He 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!

In 1906 the family returned on leave to England, and after brief stays in Tunbridge 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), and the rest of the family spent some time staying with his father's brother Lionel, who was Headmaster of Monmouth Grammar School, and Huck probably received some education there. Around 1908, Huck was seriously ill, 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 around 1912 he went up to his father's old college, Christ Church, Oxford. He stayed there for two years, but his education was cut short in 1914 by the outbreak of the First World War.

First World War Service

Huck as 2nd Lieutenant, Somerset Light InfantryHuck initially joined the army and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry [HHJ-2], later transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, and eventually being commissioned as a Flight-Lieutenant in the newly-formed Royal Air Force [HHJ-2]. He served in a variey of places, most notably Egypt [HHJ-3] and as second-in command of an air force detachment stationed at Rabegh (Rabigh) in the Hejaz region of modern Saudi Arabia [HHJ-29, p. 13], where he would have been assisting the 1916-18 "Arab Revolt" against the Ottoman Empire, a campaign popularly associated with Lawrence of Arabia. A diary he kept during this period appears to have been lost, though it seems that he had little or no direct contact with Lawrence himself; he later notes only that he "saw him once in the Hejaz" [HHJ-17-20, p. 226]. Towards the end of the war he was stationed with 66 Squadron in Italy, and was awarded the Italian Croce Guerra (GC).

Iraq Service 1920 and 1924-1926

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the war, the newly-formed League of Nations awarded the Mandate to govern Iraq to Great Britain in April 1920, essentially implementing the originally secret Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Sensing that this was European imperialism by another name, the local population (Shia, Sunni and Kurdish in alliance) soon staged an armed revolt against British rule. Winston Churchill, as War Secretary, ordered two RAF Squadrons to the territory, which helped fairly rapidly to suppress the revolt, largely by extensive bombing raids; suggestions that chemical weapons were used have little evidence to support them, and Huck's surviving papers do not provide any. He was part of the RAF contingent in 1920, and there are references in his later writings to a diary which he kept during this period, but it has also not so far come to light. Following the revolt, the British effectively installed a puppet King, Faisal I (who had recently been deposed as King of Syria by the French, when they took up their Mandate to govern that territory).

Huck returned to Iraq in the summer of 1924 as an RAF Intelligence Officer, and left a substantial record of his time there in the form of a 240-page typescript compiled from diary entries and letters home [HHJ-17]. As well as providing an interesting historical record of this period of Iraq's history, it also gives several insights into Huck's own personality and attitudes. Though the names of Arabs he meets are given in full, most British officials are identified only by rank and initial, though I have been able to discover the full names of some of them.

Huck spent the first half of 1924 on an intensive Arabic language course, living in bachelor quarters in London, and participating in the "social round"; he describes it 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 P. of the 11th Hussars" had discovered "much that was interesting and more than a little that was queer" [HHJ-17-1, p. 10] – whether he intended the double meaning of the word "queer" is a matter of speculation.

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--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 - occasionaly 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 truculant 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 the following year, though any letters or diaries from this period seem to have disappeared. He retired from the RAF in 1931 and was awarded an OBE for his Iraq service [HHJ-11].

Retirement from Active Service

During the 1930s Huck did a considerable amount of travelling, including visits to Turkey, the Spanish Sahara, Russia [HHJ-9] and Saudi Arabia [HHJ-29] but by the end of the decade he seems to have settled in Egypt, where he spent most of the rest of his life. [To be expanded]


Huck and his mother in Egypt, 1944Huck was certainly in Egypt throughout the Second World War, accompanied by his widowed mother, and early in the war he attempted to join the Intelligence services, but was rebuffed. He became rather an irritation to the British authorities through his persistent interference in Egyptian political matters, and at one point the British Ambassador actually tried to have him expelled from the country. After the war he spent some time staying with his sister in Australia, where he had something of a mental breakdown following their mother's death in 1948. He then returned to Egypt and despite his close contacts with the King, who was a personal friend, he managed to stay on after the revolution, witnessing some of the Cairo riots that preceded it [HHJ-18-1]. He was even resident in the country throughout the Suez Crisis of 1956 [HHJ-1HHJ-7].

His motives in remaining in Egypt are open for discussion. Like many Britons of (real or imagined) delicate health, he certainly preferred the climate, and it would be easy, especially given his support for local orphanages, to assume that the Arab world was able to provide a convenient supply of catamites; on a passing visit in 1951 his sister obliquely mentions "his special Arab servant Moki" [Mary Mackinnon, op. cit., p. 71]. A more charitable view is taken by Norman Lang who, as a young Scottish engineer working as a teacher in Cairo in 1965, befriended Huck and was helped by him when he got into trouble with the Egyptian authorities:

He lived in Old Cairo in an apartment that was filled with grinning boys from dawn till dusk ... 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. [Norman Lang, The Cairo Incident, Sunbury Press, 2011, pp. 3 & 163]

In 1967, during the Six Day War, Huck was himself arrested and unceremonially expelled as a "British spy" (he was by then aged 73!). He spent much of the following year back in the UK trying to kick up a fuss about his mistreatment, achieving quite a lot of press coverage [HHJ-10], the generation of a substantial file of correspondence at the National Archives, and the exasperation of most of his relatives, but little else. However, by this time he had contracted cancer, which had reached an advanced stage, and he died in Malta on 2 Feb 1969 [HHJ-15], and was buried there [HHJ-12]. [To be expanded and completed]