THERE is a widespread popular delusion that wars are either won or lost. There is a third alternative: sometimes they are lost in another sense, mislaid, and the war I am about to describe was one of these.
I came across it, or joined in it (I am never quite sure how one terms one’s associations with a war), by design and not by accident; for I was sent to find out where it was, what it was, and why it was.
To put the matter more formally, this was the situation. In March 1919 I was at the headquarters of the British army of occupation at Constantinople. As soon as was feasible this army took over control of all the odd campaigns cast of that city. Thus the Caucasus and its British army of occupation were controlled directly from Constantinople; the ‘North Persian force,’ which had been run from Baghdad, had its lines of communication swung round to the west and was run by us for the remainder of its brief life. The British fleet on the Caspian Sea — strangest of all our exploits by water — was likewise supplied, revictualed, and armed from the west. Finally, there was a kind of Ultima Thule war which was said to exist far away in the deserts of Western Turkestan of which all we knew was that it was run by the Indian Staff and that it was so very much alone and by itself that the lines of communication which joined it up with its base were no less than a thousand miles long. Of this thousand miles the first four hundred from Quetta in India were by rail and the remaining six hundred ran through the scorching deserts of Baluchistan and East Persia and so ultimately over the terrible mountain passes of Khorasan, leading down to the mud plains of Turkestan that extend between the Perso-Afghan frontier northward to Bokhara and Samarkand. Later, when I had met some of the men of our small army engaged in this forgotten war, I found that most of them refused to talk of that dreadful journey from India, so unbearable had it been.
We knew little enough about this lonely force marooned in the mud plains. It had gone there to help the so-called Transcaspian Government, which had in the summer of 1917 established itself as an independent entity with non-Bolshevist, tendencies. The possibility of Turkestan in turmoil was not one which the Indian Government could tolerate with equanimity. To prevent this turmoil spreading to Afghanistan, and to maintain some sort of steady equilibrium north of that troubled land, a force was sent in August 1917 to the two large towns of Western Turkestan, Askhabad and Merv — Merv, the ‘Queen of the World’ of mediaeval Asia.
Here the war began. The enemy was said to be vaguely Bolshevist, our allies Turkomans and the Russian settlers along the Central Asiatic Railway. What the point of dispute was nobody quite knew. What would happen either if we won the little war or if we lost it no one could predict. The whole affair was a complete paradox, a combination of invasion, annexation, demonstration, and occupation.
So I, with three others, was sent from Constantinople to find out what was going to happen, what it was all about, and how exactly our little marooned army could be extricated, to the credit of all concerned, and sent home — for the Armistice was already almost half a year old and nobody was now feeling that the thrills of war were of serious consideration any more.
So on a cold day at the end of March, with snow lightly blowing in the cold northwest wind, we took ship at Therapia on the Bosporus and sped across the uneasy swell of the Black Sea bound eastward for the frosty Caucasus and the heart of Western Asia. Imagine yourself given the prospect of the most legendary East: not the fly-blown East of the Orient and Pacific liners, — Aden, Colombo, Calcutta, Singapore, — but the East where one goes with danger and difficulty, or with privilege and pomp, where no unhallowed tourist has ever set foot, the real East that begins where the Black Sea ends.
Soon the mighty ridge of Caucasus swung into sight, snowy and uncrossable as I had always seen it in my dreams. Batum with its gilded domes and its rows of palm trees, Tiflis and the distant shape of Ararat, we passed swiftly, and reached the grim and sordid town of Baku, where oil is in the soil, the smell of it in the air, and grease on every savage Tatar face.
The Caucasian lands were kept at peace and ruled soberly by British troops. Ever since the Armistice republics had budded, burgeoned, and faded like spring flowers. There were the mountain republic of Daghestan, the republic of Georgia, that of the Tatars, — the Azerbaijan Republic, — republican Armenia, and, in odd holes and corners, a host more, like the tiny Khazar Republic on the Black Sea coast that was swallowed by Georgia overnight, or the minuscule republic of six hundred souls called Kobuletia, which lasted two days only. Self-determination had spread like influenza and flourished like the bay leaf. Nor was there as yet any Bolshevism, only freedom from the imperial Russian bondage.
But the Caucasus was none of our business; we were bound for still more distant lands. And the passage of the Caspian was before us. So at Baku we took ship across this strange lake. In harbor were curious ships flying the British white ensign, temporary units of the distant British navy which they were never likely to see, though British sailors were their crew and British guns their armament, brought overland from the Black Sea.
On a windy night, with a heavy sea, we set out. To my astonishment all lights were dimmed or covered, for fear of submarines, as we were told. We laughed aloud at so comical a situation, for this sea was a lake with no exit but the River Volga. Yet rumor had it that the Bolsheviki — with whom we were at last in touch — held Astrakhan in force and were there assembling a submarine brought in sections by river from the Baltic!
At last on a brilliant morning we saw the low roofs of Krasnovodsk and skirted the ancient mouth of the river Oxus, which a few centuries ago changed its course and now discharges itself into the Sea of Aral instead of into the Caspian.
At the quay our serious task began. The Caucasus was peaceful and settled. But Transcaspia was in a ferment, for Bolshevism was spreading slowly but surely round the arid Caspian shores from Astrakhan and from the far northeast at Tashkend.
To me personally Bolshevism did not seem a deadly enemy, nor our combating of it in these remote regions a burning necessity. But what a chance of seeing some of the forbidden parts of the East, and what humors there would be by the wayside!
Nor was I kept long waiting for my entertainment. First, of all we went to the president’s house at Krasnovodsk, for Krasnovodsk was a republic all on its own, with its own worthless paper money and its own slightly more valuable president (for he had charge of the bullion which was at the back of the paper money). At last we saw the president. He came down the main road of this ramshackle town (rather like what I imagine Klondike to have been) in a cloud of dust with a bodyguard of four mounted Turkomans on ponies. All five were riding at full gallop — ‘to avoid bullets,’ as the president later explained, for he was not at the moment at the height of his popularity with his republican friends.
A brief conversation explained our needs, which were, in brief, a special train of two carriages to go to Merv, six hundred miles east. We had our own guard of a dozen English infantrymen to go with us, in case of minor troubles on the way. The president was delighted. ‘Consider it arranged,’ he told us. ‘Just tell the station master I authorize it,’ he added. ‘And by the way, on your return journey, which you tell me is next week, would you be so very kind as to take me with you to Baku? You see, things are a little difficult here. The Bolsheviki keep sending people over from Astrakhan to assassinate me, and, to tell you the truth, I was not appointed president by what you would call popular election. I merely took over the post from my predecessor.’
He was a very large man and he gave a very large smile. I felt rather sorry for the predecessor. But I felt rather sorry for the president, too. So we agreed to take him back with us, but could not guarantee that that agreement would hold valid with any successor whom we might find in his place on our return. For lives were brief in Transcaspia in those days. But he was supremely satisfied and undertook to do his best to survive until our return. In fact he did, and we took him.
Imperial Bolshevism has long since swallowed this and all the Caucasian and Asiatic republics and made larger units that now form well-organized states in the Soviet Union. But in those days of 1919 it was profoundly interesting to see how the pronouncements of President Wilson in 1918 had led to the mushroom growth of countless hopeful republics, some genuine enough, like Georgia, some wholly bogus, like Krasnovodsk and, as we found later, the republic of Askhabad.
I must confess I liked that president more than any of the many presidents of republics that we met en route. He was physically so splendid a type of the northern Russian. More still, he had all the personal attraction of the habitual homicide. For, as they darkly told us in the town, he had slain with his own hand at least sixteen of the notables in the process of forging his way to presidential eminence. There was nothing of the Chicago gangster about him; he was rather the ‘wide open spaces’ type of the cheap novelette, simple, generous, even sympathetic, and quite definitely firm.
But our time was short, and I felt rather uncertain about the facilities of the Central Asiatic Railway. So off to the station we went and I interviewed the station master, a sombre and untrusting man. Quite clearly this station master was a Bolshevik in sympathy. He looked upon us as the intruders that we were. He made us feel that we were uninvited guests, — which we were also, — and he was quite adamant about the special train. Without any Oriental politeness or circumlocution he told us flatly that he would not procure and could not find, even if he wished, any sort or kind of special train. We told him that we were looking for a mislaid war and hoped to end it, but he was unimpressed. I threatened him with reprisals, but could not for the life of me imagine what they would be. He remained disdainful and unmoved. So I produced my trump card and sent a hurried note to the president. In a few minutes I heard the galloping bodyguard and saw the dust of his approach. The president appeared, bowed and smiled to the station master as if to his oldest friend, and offered him a cigarette. I explained my difficulty with tact and caution. The president turned to the station master and said gently, ‘Just get that train ready.’ ‘It is already under steam in the siding,’ replied the station master suavely. We rose, bade farewell to both dignitaries, and prepared to entrain.
That charming president had, I felt, considerable force of character. What he said went.
So off we started upon a journey that remains in my mind as the most unusual and most interesting that I have ever made. There are many books written by travelers who penetrated these parts before the war, particularly in the eighties of last century when the imperial Russian armies had just subdued with blood and slaughter the marauding and head-hunting Turkomans of those days. The famous General Skobelev had with an iron hand transformed nomad tribes of considerable savagery into sedentary cotton growers, and built small colonial cities along the trade route that soon was transformed into a railway. This region was certainly one of Russia’s most successful imperial enterprises.
But we saw it under conditions which were unique. None of the many books would now be even tolerably accurate. They were, too, written by travelers who were there only with special privileges, who were allowed only to see what was thought good for them, and who were personally conducted by officials or governors. But we saw it stripped of its Russian bureaucracy, freed from its Russian rule, and thrown back for a brief and exciting period on to its own resources. And these resources were peculiar. The Turkomans, magnificently tall, picturesque, and dignified, still retained the elements of Russian civilization and the discipline of Russian rule. Many of them had served in the Great War with the Russian armies in Galicia and Austria and bore the medals of the Russian army. All, in a sense, were pro-Russian, and yet there stirred within them the same germ of self-determination that stirred all around them, although in their case it had not developed to the stage of any specific organization; they still remained a tribal people ready to move and act on a tribal basis. But we found them our friends because all they wanted was peace and quiet and to be left alone, and they were mortally afraid of being exploited and taxed and pillaged by the Bolsheviki in the northeast from Tashkend and near Bokhara.
The other element was the Russian population, colonists in type, who lived mainly on and for the railway. Like all railwaymen, they disliked drastic change which was likely to alter their settled life, and the discipline of a railway system was in their blood. They, too, wanted to be left alone and would have welcomed an independent Transcaspian republic. But, instead, they had to endure a scries of presidents and local republics, each independent of the other, each with a currency which was not current a few miles farther on and a president who changed from week to week.
Our train left Krasnovodsk and set forth optimistically. We skirted the old Oxus estuary and at last came into sight of the bastion ridge of mountains that was the frontier between Persia and Turkestan. To the north and northwest stretched an endless plain of fertile mud washed down from the hills and dotted every few miles with cotton-growing villages. The snow had only just left the plain, for Turkestan has as hard a winter as it has blazing a summer. Everywhere were careful irrigation and apparent prosperity. At every station we found the same scene: Turkomans in their long robes and shaggy sheepskin caps, occasional black-hatted Persians, and Russian railway men. No one seemed curious to see us; no one, in fact, seemed surprised at anything. The Turkomans showed a polite interest, while the Russians were phlegmatically helpful.
The desert over which our train passed was not the desert of the novels or of the films. It was perfectly smooth and had no sand. Beyond the fact that caravans of camels and bushes of camel’s thorn were to be seen on it, it bore no resemblance to the deserts of Egypt. And all the time there loomed in the background the unending ridge of mountains that screened Persia.
One town only of any size did we pass before reaching Askhabad, the capital of the province. This was Kizil Arrat, and here we found the first traces of our forgotten war in the shape of English soldiers on the platform. They were men of the Hampshire regiment, a mere handful stationed at this town (six men in all, I think) to govern it, keep it in order, protect it from external attack and internal sedition. They assured us that in fact these onerous duties were purely nominal, for nothing of any sort at all had happened there for a month and they were all living in complete comfort on the best of terms with their neighbors.
So we passed on and at length came in sight of a lovely oasis of trees with fine houses rising above them. This was the considerable settlement of Askhabad and here the mountain ridge at the back rose up to a greater height and was snow-covered. Behind it was no longer the peaceful land of Persia, but the uncertainties and ambiguities that went under the name of Afghanistan. Here we were met by British staff officers, by Russian officers whose allegiance was to the far-off armies of Denikin, and by Indian troops. Here at last was our forgotten war apparently in full swing.
Askhabad, with its long avenues of planes and poplars, its old-fashioned Russian stucco-fronted houses, its drainage and water system, and its electric light, was a model townlet. Forgetting the war which we had just found, we visited the main square and the market place. In the centre of the square were two muzzle-loading guns which we found were British, dated 1838 and 1849 respectively. As British had never fought Russians in Turkestan, we were driven to assume that they were British guns captured from us by Afghans and captured from Afghans by Russians.
The market was the cleanest and the most interesting which I have ever seen in the East. There were for sale all the nicest things one can imagine: dried peaches from the oases, fish from the Caspian, apples from the ‘Garden of the Hesperides’ in the Caucasus, of enormous size and fabulous redness; joints and heads of wild ibex in the meat shops, skins of Persian lamb, of marmot, fox, and snow leopard, rugs of Bokhara and of the Tekke-Turkomans, and, most popular of all commodities, brand-new bicycles, for bicycling on the mud flats seemed to be the favorite pursuit of the Turkomans. A hospital, government offices, and even a museum added to the amenities.
Over a pleasant dinner we were told the nature and condition of the war which we had been sent to inspect. It was evidently a good war, if any war can be so called. But it was good in the sense that there were hardly any casualties, no front, no trenches, practically no artillery, and certainly no gas, mines, or other horrors. And then there were the entertaining extras, such as a local currency struck by the British general (General Malleson) in charge; the local Republican Committee, who had other sources of income independent of ours, and were nominally our advisers; and, last but not least, our Intelligence Service, which brought information that would have made Edgar Wallace or Phillips Oppenheim envious.
It was, in short, just the sort of war that our regular officers had always longed for, the sort of war that many of them thought the Great War should have been.
But to those of us who had been in France it was hardly a war to be taken seriously. True, it had a certain importance outside itself. It gave us a means of knowing, at least in part, what was fermenting in that vast mysterious region south of the Urals, west of the Pamir, and east of the Volga, that most romantic of all regions, whence so much of barbarism or potential culture has always throughout endless centuries pushed westward and forced its way either into Asia Minor or round the north of the Black Sea into Europe. Here germinated the Huns, the Tatars, the Bulgars, the Sarmatians, and the Scythians, and hence they moved out at intervals westward, either driven by the pressure of Chinese and remoter Eastern tribes or forced to seek new pastures by the periodical desiccation of the land and the decay of vegetation. Here was the very pulse of Asia itself, and we had our hands on it. That and that only justified this strange war and this unwanted expedition. Vaguely, by means of agents, intercepted messages, or deliberate spying, we had learned what was afoot in Astrakhan, in Tashkend, and on the confines of Mongolia and China, at Kashgar in the east and at Balkh, the back door to Afghanistan, on the west. For here we were in the ruins of an empire that had just tottered but not yet completely collapsed, and in such a condition there was much to be found out. Where unity of command has vanished and unity of administration gone, every joint gapes and every rent opens wider in the general fabric. And we could see much of what was inside.
So off we went the next day to see the foremost line of battle. An hour in the train to the eastward and a scamper on desert ponies for another half hour brought us to the last eastward point of the British spearhead, near great Merv itself. At a point about twenty miles east still of Merv was the end of all things, the little railway station of Annenkovo. It was a curious thing to think that from here I could go westward continuously to London in safety and comfort, but that half a mile farther on I could reach London only by walking to Peking! One felt that if the Allied victory had done nothing else it had at least succeeded in producing a certain unity of control over areas hitherto plunged in inextricable confusion.
At length we reached the ‘front.’ For there was, after all, something that could just be called that. But it was only four feet in width — for it consisted of the railway line! On that line we had an armored train, and about a mile farther on, almost on the banks of the Oxus, the Bolsheviki had their armored train. As ours advanced, theirs receded, and vice versa. But of flanks to this ‘front,’ there were no traces, for the railway was well out in the desert and the mountains of Afghanistan were far away to the southeast. To outflank the armored train, one had to make a circuitous route in the desert, and this was virtually impossible owing to lack of water. Consequently both sides lived in, around, and near their armored train and moved with it backward or forward. All the ordinary rules of strategy were forgotten or put aside; the whole thing was a game pure and simple.
Then there was the enemy. A few skirmishes showed that he consisted, strange to say, not of Russians, but of Hungarians and Austrians. Imagine this strange little war, months after the Armistice, where Englishmen from Hampshire, Punjabis, and lancers from Bengal fought side by side against citizens of Vienna and Budapest, on the banks of the remote Oxus in the plains where Alexander of Macedon had passed and founded mighty cities! Nowhere, I think, in the whole area of warfare had there been so odd a paradox, so strange a collocation of forces. I had a long talk with an Austrian officer recently captured. He was delighted with his fate, for his chances of seeing his home had hitherto been but slight. He told me that the Hungarians and Austrians had been made prisoners years before and sent to Siberia. He said that they were asked to serve as mercenaries and were well paid; that none of them had heard of the Armistice, and they had been told that their only hope of returning home was to push the British back to the Caspian and so reach Astrakhan. Probably most of them were resigned to the not unpleasant life of mercenaries in this not very unpleasant war.
With our binoculars we could see the enemy sentinels at the distant station of Ravnino and the steam of the Bolshevist armored train. But there was no sound of war, no shells — not even an occasional bullet. The war was a thing of spasms and surprises. The trains would push each other backward and forward, unable to do any very satisfactory shooting, since most of their guns pointed out at right angles to the railway line. Once a party of Hungarians had succeeded in carrying their water and creeping round the desert by night. A small battle developed and our forces round the railway drove them back again. A small cemetery by the station marked our casualties, surely the loneliest and strangest of all the many war cemeteries, now, I imagine, utterly forgotten and not within the jurisdiction of the War Graves Commission.
This, in brief, was the war we had been sent to find, a comical enough affair in itself, but with serious issues depending on it. It was obvious that the officers of the Indian army who were ‘at the front’ thought it was real war, thrilling, genuine, and epic. Nice youngsters, in command of smart Indian lancers, but none of them had even the vaguest idea what war really was. And the senior officers, too, thought it a very serious war; but the northwest frontier is an inadequate training for the horrors of intensive bombardment, mustard gas, and the Minenwerfer. The officer of the Indian army still retains the boyish enthusiasm for war which has long ago been knocked out of the veterans of Continental European warfare.
Our ‘allies’ were in force at this spear-point front. There were the Russians, a very uncertain quantity. Their officers looked upon us as intruders, even as the station master at Krasnovodsk had done. Everywhere I had received the same impression; nobody really loved us. Not that we were not definitely useful to Russians and Turkomans alike, but both felt that we were interfering in affairs that did not concern us. And no doubt we were, but it was a most profitable intrusion from our point of view and it was of no little interest that it was the first, and perhaps the last, time that British troops had ever fought battles in Central Asia.
Our Turkoman allies were undoubtedly the most picturesque of all the allies that helped us on any front during the war. Their leader was a fine old man called Orad Sirdar who had served with high rank in the imperial Russian army. He wore a Russian uniform, but a Turkoman sheepskin hat, about the size of the ordinary English busby. He carried a sword of formidable type, more like a Persian scimitar than anything else. His personal staff were superb Turkomans who wore the usual Turkoman dress of a long gown (cut like a dressing gown) of silk, and black or pure white sheepskin hats. The general impression of the Turkoman forces was one of efficiency, but we gathered that in action their cavalry, which was their main contingent, was of little value, since, in the charge, it scattered and was not well disciplined enough to re-form quickly. Such had been their behavior at the battle of Dushakh in September 1918, when the Turkoman cavalry had scattered and commenced looting the abandoned Bolshevist supply train, with the result that the Bolsheviki had re-formed and counter-attacked them with some effect.
For the forces on the spot our task was not a cheerful one. We had orders to arrange for the evacuation of the British and Indian troops back by way of the Caucasus and for the general winding up of the enterprise. Our place was to be taken by a new contingent of Russians from the armies of Denikin at Ekaterinodar in South Russia. The reaction of the Russians on the spot was curious. They did n’t want to lose us, but they felt that we ought to go. By the Turkomans our departure was viewed as a disaster. So much so that at Askhabad we were asked to meet a delegation of Turkoman headmen of tribes who wished to know our intentions. The meeting remains in my mind as one of the most interesting and impressive affairs which I encountered during the war. Some eight or nine splendid chieftains appeared, each dressed in the purple or brown silk robes of Turkestan, each with his head uncovered, displaying the clean-shaved poll that Turkomans hide beneath their shaggy hats. All were over six feet in height, with clearcut features and long aquiline faces, exactly like the rare type of Anatolian Turk that one sees from time to time in Turkey, who still preserves the facial characteristics of his desert ancestors from Turkestan.
They announced that if we withdrew our troops they would be at the mercy of either White or Red Russians and that they relished the control of neither. They further said that as soon as we went they would start a tribal move of some 200,000 men southwestward into Persia. In fact they did so, and for some time in the last months of 1919 Turkestan became largely nomadic again. But our commitments would have been too large for our forces if we had remained, and in any case our task of holding the equilibrium and surveying the ground in general had already been more than adequately carried out.
So with plans prepared we started on our return journey. Arrangements were made for all our troops to be sent back via the Caspian and the Caucasus or by way of Baghdad.
One deep regret remained. Away to the northeast was Bokhara, ruled by an Emir of astonishing ingenuity and courage. His state was a kind of non-Bolshevist enclave in Bolshevist territory. He had resisted all attempts of the Bolsheviki to penetrate his domain or to control him in any way. He had even gone so far as to blow up Bolshevist railway lines in various places and to declare openly his alliance with us! But we on our part were helpless to do anything to help him. As token of his esteem and affection for British arms he had sent, on a famous occasion early in 1919, an emissary, who had made an enormous circuit in the desert and reached Merv, whence he had been taken to Askhabad to General Malleson. The emissary reiterated the professions of friendship of his sovereign and produced as proof a package of decorations for the British troops — the ‘Star of the Emir of Bokhara,’ a lovely and resplendent Oriental adornment. Unhappily sanction was never granted for the wearing of these decorations, which was a pity for those who held them, as they outclassed in brilliance any foreign decoration granted in the whole war.
The Emir was our one deep regret. We could not help him and we had to leave him. Later, when the whole anti-Bolshevist force collapsed and the Turkomans dispersed and Bolshevism established itself firmly in Transcaspia, we heard that the Emir held out to the very end, until overwhelming forces captured Bokhara by storm. The Emir escaped before the final fall and went, I believe, to Afghanistan. But his lovely city of Bokhara was looted and its autonomy ceased. Turkestan became virtually an imperial province once again.
Our journey back was as diverting as our arrival. Just as we were about to leave the station of Askhabad and had said our farewells to the British Staff, a strange and swarthy man appeared. He introduced himself as the president of Askhabad! Behind him were two men carrying a heavy box. With the greatest politeness he begged permission to be given a place on our train in order that he might ‘pay a visit to Tiflis.’ There was room enough on our train, but we did not wish to involve ourselves in complications, as our task was a purely military one, with no political issues to consider. Nor did we feel that we were in any way indebted to the president, and above all we distrusted the look of that large wooden box. Later our suspicions of it were found to be justified, for it had held the contents of the republican treasury. So we proffered our sympathy and regret and left the unhappy president behind us. I can see him now lighting a cigarette and gazing despondently after us as the train steamed out, for he knew that his presidential career would be a checkered one if he stayed much longer.
Our journey back to Askhabad was uneventful and we were able to enjoy the loveliness of this remote province. For it was lovely in color and in form. The railway skirted the mountain ridge the whole way along, and to the north the plain lands had a beauty all of their own. Soft fawn-colored earth with vivid green crops and trees at the infrequent settlements, pale turquoise-blue distances, and pale rosecolored skies at evening. It is a land of no sharp outlines or tremendous contrasts. And it has everywhere the imprint of a most ancient world. Here and there along the line — for the railway follows the only route possible along the desert, the only route where water, which comes from the mountains, can be found — were great mounds of prehistoric settlements, links of a great chain that runs east and west across the valleys south of the Caucasus ridge and so across Turkestan to Balkh and the Pamir. One group near Askhabad has been excavated by American archaeologists and the results show affinity with Europe on the one hand and Mesopotamia on the other. The railway here, as in the Caucasus, follows the ancient road, perhaps the most ancient road in the world.
At Krasnovodsk we took ship once more, accompanied by our friend the president, who had managed to survive. But this was our only interference in local politics.
A few months after the evacuation of our troops was completed the whole of Transcaspia fell into Bolshevist hands. White Russians and Turkomans alike were scattered like chaff, and the first steps were taken which ended in the establishment of Turkestan as a semi-autonomous Soviet Socialist state. For Russia its potentialities are great. The mud plains are the finest of cotton-growing areas and the organization of the whole province in material ways is quite excellent. As a colonial province it leaves nothing to be desired, for after the conquest of Skobelev fifty years ago it was made as perfect as an imperial province could be. In export of rugs and carpets alone it contains immense wealth. And for Russia it is of the greatest strategic importance. It forms the background of Afghanistan, the Russian counterpart of our northwest provinces. From Merv runs the only strategic railway that Russia possesses against the Afghan frontier. And it was precisely in these parts that Germany, during the war, spent much time and effort with anti-Allied propaganda, conducted by two able and enterprising agents, Captain Wagner and Dr. Neidermeyer, who in ability, though not in results, were the equal of men like Colonel T. E. Lawrence.
The history I have related is now ancient history. All the chief characters have vanished and the situation is so completely changed that it seems to belong to another age. For Central Asia is the least static of all the regions of the East. But every change there has its counterpart on the southern marches of Afghanistan, and the mighty mountains of that unruly state link up rather than sunder the affairs of the plain lands south and north of them.
But those who curiously read the words ‘Central Asia’ among the list of places recorded upon the war memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London will now know to what a strange forgotten war it bears witness.