The Letters of Sir Fulque Agnew of Lochnaw Bt - Section B

Section B covers the chaos of Partition and follows Agnew to Pakistan where his health broke down. He was unable to find the job he sought, but work for voluntary agencies brought him into contact with Gandhi. In 1948 he and his wife settled in South Africa, whence they were deported in 1959 for anti-apartheid activities.

SECTION B

WITNESS TO THE PARTITION

 

PARTITION AND CHAOS

PAKISTAN AND THE END OF THE ROAD

EPILOGUE

 

 

 

III: PARTITION AND CHAOS

 

A gap of almost three weeks follows in the surviving correspondence. When Agnew wrote on 24 September from Delhi, he referred to at least one letter that was obviously lost: as a result, a few allusions are mysterious. His skills as a letter-writer were severely tested at this time, as he sought to convey a measured account of the mass killing that followed the Partition with the need to reassure his wife that he was safe and still on track to pursue his personal aims.

 

"... it is still uncertain whether mail will be collected or sent. Many pillar boxes I have tried are chock-a-block and have probably overflowed into the street. Very few if any staff have returned to work and hardly anybody will consent to drive or pass through the city further than a few streets distance from their home. I am still marooned in Old Delhi in that frightful little hotel. Frightful because all the Muslim servants - and most servants are Muslims - have fled into refugee camps for safety. Also no food is procurable. I have had no bread, butter, chappaties, potatoes, rice, meat or eggs since my arrival in Delhi.... Most telephones are out of action, there are no buses or taxis at all, a very few tongas and these will only do very short trips for fabulous payment. ... No vehicle will go to the station, no trains are leaving except refugee trains which more often than not are attacked and only Government chartered aircraft fly away.... Despite all this the parts of Delhi in which I move are quiet as Princes Street [Edinburgh] on a Sunday morning. It is simply that all services have ceased and not many un-gutted or un-looted shops stand to serve. Further all Muslims have fled into refugee camps and it was the Muslims who were butchers, drivers, mechanics, artisans, cooks, servants so that their withdrawal causes considerable upset.... I shudder to think how the refugees are living. In the Old Fort alone, which does not cover more ground than Edinburgh Castle Rock - one lakh (= 100,000) Muslim refugees are seeking shelter and refuge."k

 

Among the refugees were his hosts of a few weeks earlier, Shafi Sahib and Professor Qereshi. Agnew was relieved to learn that at least they had survived. He was anxious to reassure his wife that Europeans were in no danger, but there was no denying that the situation across much of northern India was very grim.

 

"Be re-assured of this. There is no danger for any Westerner. Curiously enough respect for the Westerner is higher than it has been before. Westerners are known to be neutral and are trusted by both communities. Members of both communities are turning to the Westerners with their troubles and for commissions which frequently involve carrying messages to personal friends of the opposite community. I have been asked and have done many services for strangers who have stopped me in the streets and wherever they have led me I have met with appreciation and thanks for my disinterested good office. All the same it is a dreadful time and state to live through. An elderly lady who came from Lahore by one of the last trains to reach Delhi told me that her three (Muslim) travelling companions were dragged from their beds and beaten to death in her carriage. I experienced much the same horror when I saw the mob discover the hiding place of these two poor blind beggars and butcher them under the eyes of the military guard which was supposed to be giving protection on the station."k

 

Even if he were not worried about his physical safety, Agnew was finding his financial position increasingly uncomfortable, as he recalled a few months later.

 

"My situation was an extremely awkward one. I had only about 400 rupees left. It was clearly impossible for me to remove elsewhere either in India or Pakistan perhaps for months. Prices were soaring to fantastic heights. I was compelled to pay 40 rupees for a tonga to my hotel about one and a half miles from the station. My poky little hotel began by charging 25 rupees a day provided neither service nor sufficient food to subsist upon. For breakfast tea only; for lunch and dinner curried greens. I felt I was indeed living through a state of siege."r

 

Agnew was "moving heaven and earth to get on to a plane for Karachi". His hopes were focused on making contact with Sir Patrick Spens, Chief Commissioner in India for the St John's Ambulance Brigade Overseas.21 Unfortunately, Spens lived some distance from the city centre, and it was difficult to get in touch. Agnew was able to commute between Old and New Delhi thanks to the help of "a fairly important official" who had been allocated a car. The breakdown in communications added to Agnew's general despondency. The next letter in the series was written from more comfortable accommodation in New Delhi on 12 October. In the interval, others had gone astray.

 

"Inland postal services are badly disrupted and probably four-fifths of the mail is going astray and lost. Every day the postman brings me stacks of letters which have nothing to do with me. Some have been addressed to the French Ambassador, the Ministry of Pensions, to persons in Karachi, Bombay & Goa. When I have called in the postman he has replied they are not Indian names, I am not Indian therefore he leaves them with me - postmaster-sahib told him to do so. There must be almost a hundred which no-one will accept or send on. I don't know how many letters you have had? I have sent you 5 or perhaps 6, from Delhi but some times the P.O. has been closed and I have had to risk a box which was already overflowing: generally the clerk has thrown my letter on a vast litter covering the floor; only once was the registration counter open so perhaps that will have reached you. Air-post from abroad is working better ..."l

 

Agnew had at least managed to make contact with Sir Patrick Spens, and through him had encountered Horace Alexander, a prominent Quaker whom he already knew from his time with the Friends' Service Unit. (On 13 November, Agnew was to write, with obvious pride: "The best established and most respected relief organisation - as might be expected - is the Friends' Service Unit (Quakers) whose members arrived from Britain and the United States soon after the troubles began.") Alexander was "extremely interested in India where he has spent most of the last 20 years and is a great personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi".22 Agnew felt he knew the two men well enough "to put my cards on the table and to stress and to insist that I had to put a job before everything else".

 

"Sir Patrick Spens has been appealed to by the Government to set up an organisation to deal with millions of refugees for whom nothing had been prepared. Sir P. was pressing H.A. to accept responsibility under Indian and Pakistan Governments and to call in anyone he knew of to fill key posts. Both urged me to come in at least to help make a start. ... By doing so I should be accredited by Indian and Pakistan Governments and have an official position although unpaid. I should be moving among important personages in both Dominions, would meet and become known to all the people most likely to be able to help me all of whom were now fully taken up with the refugee problem, otherwise I should remain without position, likely to be marooned in Delhi for a long time, be unable to travel with communications completely disrupted and movement only possible with top priority. Moreover I would not be able to reach anybody of note since all such are now most of the time away attending to urgent problems arising from this frightful holocaust. ...To leave Delhi or to travel anywhere I wanted to go is out of the question and [will] probably remain so for a long time to come - weeks at least if not months. Further all those to whom or from whom I need introductions or expect help would have been quite unattainable since every reliable and responsible person is moving thither and hither in Government transport attending to this vast problem."l

 

The morning after this discussion, Horace Alexander took Agnew to meet Mahatma Gandhi. The description that follows is one of the most interesting in the collection, not least because it portrays a Gandhi very different from the resigned pacifist of popular legend. At first sight, Agnew's account of a visiting Englishman, Alexander, trying to dissuade the Mahatma from supporting a war against Pakistan seems so unexpected that some misunderstanding might be suspected. In fact, Gandhi had uttered similar sentiments at a prayer meeting on 26 September, talking of the likelihood that India would be forced into war. "We should not take the offensive. But we must be ready to fight, because when war comes it does not come after giving a warning." Luckily, in the view of Mountbatten's entourage, the damage that might be caused by such an apparently inflammatory comment was minimised by Gandhi's habitual refusal to direct his comments to a microphone. The prayer meeting had been broadcast live over All India Radio, but listeners complained that they often caught only one word in five of his addresses.23 All the same, we may suspect that Gandhi perhaps took advantage of the appearance of a titled visitor to play up his combative sentiments, in the hope that they would be relayed to the British and might contribute to pressure on Pakistan to stop the killings. Whatever Gandhi's motives, the account of the meeting is remarkable.

 

"We went before eight as H.A. said during breakfast was the best time to catch him alone. The Mahatma was having his bath. Soon he was supported in, wearing his loin cloth. When the Mahatma saw Horace he called to be led to him, smacked him playfully and pretended to be most angry that Horace had not come to see him since several days. Gandhi sat on his mat; Horace and I on the floor and all three of us exchanged friendly banter for the next few minutes. Then Gandhi's breakfast was brought in - a bowl of vegetables and a glass of hot milk which little by little was mixed into the bowl for him. I suggested I ought to leave. "High time indeed", replied the Mahatma, "if you abide by strict English custom. But if you don't mind seeing an old man eat you can stay". I am glad I did because he ordered excellent breakfasts for H.A. and me with the first toast and butter I had tasted for weeks. Then Gandhi began to talk seriously. I was surprised and disappointed to find that he was almost as biased and partisan as anybody else. He lectured me that it had been criminal of Jinnah and the Pakistan Government to assume power when they were incapable of positive authority (maintaining law and order) but only a negative authority (stirring up strife). I asked whether, with feeling as it was, an Indian Government would have been capable of "positive authority", had there been no partition? "At the time, perhaps not", replied Gandhi, "but subsequent events have shown clearly the iniquities of Pakistan and the right and justice of India. Pakistan started the trouble. India has and is doing her best to re-establish order, Pakistan to make more trouble and bloodshed". He went on to deplore the abduction of women, a sin which only Muslims could commit. He waxed more and more angry and began to talk about war with Pakistan. Then Horace cut in and began a terrific argument against war or talk of war. Horace continued to plead a doctrine of peace while several of Gandhi's followers entered to argue in favour of a "just" war. Then Nehru arrived and the conversation changed."l

 

Gandhi's warlike mood did not last long.

 

"The following morning Horace and I spent another hour with Gandhi. He was in a much more reasonable frame of mind and appeased H.A. by adding many qualifications to the point of view he had expressed the day before. He then turned to discuss the situation dispassionately and showed clearness of understanding and great sympathy and sorrow for all."l

 

Agnew added a further note on his contacts with the Mahatma the following March when he had returned to Delhi from Pakistan, two months after Gandhi's murder.

 

"I have just finished reading Gandhi's autobiography. I liked the frank descriptions of his youthful escapades. How he surreptitiously ate meat and of awful dreams which followed. How he visited a brothel and was saved from sin by his bashfulness which he felt for shame. I find I miss the Mahatma quite a lot. Last time I was in Delhi I saw a great deal of him and formed the habit of dropping in before he began his breakfast through which I sat on the edge of his mat so that we usually had half-an-hour alone together. He had a very pleasant way which made me feel quite at home and his mild humorous thrusts used to draw my confidence as though among my own family. He quite soon began to call me Fulque although I never presumed more than to address him as Gandhiji. I also remember the delicious tray of tea, toast and butter which he called for for me [sic] on my first visit when Delhi was in a state of siege and I had tasted nothing but curried vegetables for a week or more."u

 

Agnew had more practical reasons for gratitude: Gandhi opened the way for him to make himself useful. He would undertake a mission to Bahawalpur, a Princely State that adjoined the Punjab, where he would link up with the local British official, "an Englishman called Moon". This was Penderel Moon, whose bleak and measured account, Divide and Quit, is one of the great books to come out of the crisis of the Partition. Arrangements for the mission brought Agnew into contact (despite some difficulty in pinning him down) with V.P Menon, who was in charge of the new government's strategy for dealing with the Princes. But even with Gandhi's backing, Agnew was destined for yet another disappointment.

 

"Gandhi suggested I go as an accredited representative of the Indian Government to Bahawalpur State to report back upon the situation and to try to arrange for the evacuation of Hindus. Tens of thousands of Hindus were marooned in pockets and in imminent danger of being set upon and murdered. No Indian would be accepted or trusted as an intermediary but I might be. I agreed. Gandhi told me to fix everything up with V.P. Menon, but warned me that Menon was overwhelmed with work and a most difficult man to catch and nail down. Gandhi gave me a permit which gave me entry into any Government office or Minister's room and told me to go ahead. H.A. pointed out that we could not hope to overtake Menon without transport or to do any sort of job without a better place to live in than a room with 5 others in the Imperial Hotel. Gandhi promised us both. Before noon H.A. had been given a magnificent Morris and me a Ford V.8 and both of us provided with permits for unlimited petrol. Next day P[ublic] W[orks] D[epartment] placed No.24 Akbar Road at our  disposal. This is the largest, most luxurious and beautifully furnished town house I have ever lived in. It belongs to a wealthy Muslim, who was in the Government but is now fled to his estate in Bahawalpur for safety. The Indian Government has taken responsibility for the house and put us in to take care of it. All the servants who are the very best go with the house. They are Muslims who dare to remain because since the Government has assumed responsibility it has stationed an armed guard in the grounds, the members of which are useful to us for other services. H.A. and I are now sharing unheard of luxury with others whom he has gathered into this work. Gandhi was right. Menon is a difficult man to catch. Nearly every time I overtook him was in some Minister or other's room just as a conference was about to begin. I heard he ate only one meal a day so took to nailing him down while he was at dinner, and always enjoyed his very fine whisky. Eventually everything was fixed up. I was given my credentials and a fund for expenses. By agreement I was to co-operate with the Dewan, an Englishman called Moon. Since Bahawalpur was completely cut off a private 'plane was to fly me there. I arrived at the air-port at crack of dawn to learn that everything had been cancelled. When I caught up with Menon again he said latest news showed the situation in Bahawalpur to be so critical that arrival of any representative from India might be mininterpreted and precipitate a massacre of all Hindus. A few days later Bahawalpur joined with Pakistan."l

 

Despite the last-minute hitch, Agnew was encouraged in his hopes of finding useful employment. At last he had established contacts with the new masters of India.

 

"Any day some other mission or thing of that kind may suddenly be offered. Meanwhile I am seeing Gandhi most days, Nehru pretty often, keeping tag on Menon; also organising services and welfare in two refugee camps in Delhi, each with about 80,000 Muslims; as well as arranging for the dispatch of Indian personnel, equipment and stores to the Punjab. H.A. flew to Lahore and was away several days during which I attended Lady Mountbatten's conferences in his stead.24 At one of these some points were brought up which suggested that not a few widely published camps and arrangements for hordes of refugees were in fact non-existent. Lady M. asked me to make a tour of inspection of the Punjab and to report back to her directly. I am to start as soon a 'plane can be found, arrangements for transport in the frontier region can be made, and other representatives from India and Pakistan who are in the field can be contacted so that as many of us as possible can meet and exchange notes."

 

It seems that this scheme, like the Bahawalpur mission, did not come to fruition. Agnew learned of another possibility from an army officer, "Major Short, who holds some advisory post in the Indian Government". Short took a liking to Agnew, whom he claimed as distant connection by marriage.25 Although ambivalent in his attitude to dynastic ties, Agnew appreciated his interest.

 

"Yesterday Short told me he knew for certain that a job managing a large estate in Pakistan was soon going to be open and advertised. An Englishman was wanted. He did not know the people concerned nor could help but he suggested it might be difficult to find anyone at short notice at a time like this and advised me to beat the gun and to write proposing myself."l

 

It is clear from the next surviving letter, dated 3 November, that Agnew had set his heart on the prospect of the job he had heard about from Major Short. The 30,000 acre estate in the Punjab belonged to a wealthy Sikh family who had fled the property. Agnew opened negotiations and found the owners not only anxious to employ him but grateful to him for agreeing to secure their property. The salary and conditions seemed generous, and the prospect had made the Delhi-bound Agnew appreciate "that I am a countryman, that in the country I know the round and feel part of the scene". Once again, disappointment followed. The West Punjab government "absolutely refused" to allow the estate to remain in the hands of an absentee landlord. To Agnew, it was "an example of 'legalised' loot and expropriation of minorities' property that has aggravated the holocaust". None the less, even though the sub-continent remained in "a primitive state of utter disorganisation", he was sure that need to make use of convenient foreigners to run relief agencies would not last much longer. So far as permanent employment was concerned, "my hopes lie in Pakistan".

 

"But it would be no help to me to be posted to Pakistan as an accredited representative of the Indian Government, because I should be received with suspicion and coldness. Other means to get to Pakistan to stay are not easy. There is no communication open between the two dominions, not even by boat from Bombay to Karachi. I am thinking and feeling my way to be invited by the Pakistan Government to start and administer a new department of Searcher Service for missing people, probably in Lahore, under the Pakistan Red Crescent. Lady Mountbatten and General Bucher (C[ommander] in C[hief] in India) are impressed with the idea from a humanitarian point of view and are working under cover for an invitation to be extended to me.26 Were I to establish myself in Pakistan and able to find sufficient time to seek out people like Fabina Jinnah (the power behind the Governor), Khuro and others to whom I have introductions I might land anything. So far in this racket and on this side I have never had a moment free nor nailed anybody down who was not in a huddle bordering on distraction.... During the last few weeks I have gained immense importance and prestige but am wearied unto death with Ministers and meetings, their concern with policies and matters rather than people and things, and with the hurly-burly of busy offices, official cars and chartered aeroplanes."m

 

Agnew had ended his last letter with the admission that "I am growing more morose and forlorn each day". By the time he next wrote, dated 13 November, he was feeling more cheerful. True, he had been evicted from his palatial quarters on Akbar Road and downgraded to a more modest accommodation at 6 Aurangzeb Road, "an hotel which has been commandeered for Government officials". He had been enjoying the Hindu Festival of Diwali, which seemed to presage a return to some form of normality, when a welcome package of family letters had finally caught up with him. "I had just come out to look at the thousand little wick lamps which had been lighted on the roof and ledges of our house when the divine gift was brought to me."  None the less, he was "fed up with the honorary work for Governments which I find wearing and yet physically inactive". More positively, the long hoped-for opening in Pakistan at last seemed to be materialising.

 

"An invitation has come to me from Liaqat Ali Khan, now Prime Minister. Moreover by much good diplomacy and wizardry both Dominions have given consent, accord and goodwill that at the same time I be an accredited representative of the Indian Red Cross. My job is said to be to direct a searcher service in W[est] Punjab and to maintain liaison between Red Cross Services in East and West Punjab. I don't doubt that I may be swept into something quite different such as Inspector of Refugee Camps. ... The Pakistan High Commissioner has indicated that a 'plane may be available to be sent for me on Saturday or Sunday. It must be a special plane because I have insisted on taking all my kit with me. ... For the first few days I expect to stay with Sir Francis Mudie in Government House. His niece, Miss Macqueen is the First Lady and one to be cultivated for future favours."n

 

 

IV: PAKISTAN AND THE END OF THE ROAD

 

At last, Agnew's luck seemed to be changing.  He certainly believed so himself. "Sometimes before in my life pig-headed obstinacy has carried me to the end of a seemingly impossible course." Somehow or other, he managed to make "a leisurely roundabout trip" from Delhi to Lahore, only to encounter his last and most devastating setback. In mid-November, he was "as fit as a jungle fowl". Weeks of silence followed. Then, on 22 December 1947, he reported "a stab in the back from vile diabetes".

 

"People told me I looked ill and should see a doctor. But where and how? The European doctors have all gone. The few good Indian doctors have high executive posts and see no patients. Such Indian doctors as practise must be sought and visited in the bazaars and then qualifications are of the slightest. At Lucknow I had dysentry (very slightly) and was sent from Government House to the best doctor. A messenger conducted me and I found him occupying part of a stall in the bazaar, seated at a table full of instruments in front of him and surrounded by reeking humanity squatting on the floor and in the street. His roving touts laid hold of me, explained what a great doctor he was - that he even gave injections - and that he did not take money but cured for love. He gave me some powder wrapped in an ear of a dirty vernacular newspaper picked from the floor. He charged nothing for his services but extremely handsomely for the powder which at arm's length I tipped down the drain. It was too filthy to risk. I had mentioned my accursed diabetes and was assured it could be cured if after dark I picked 11 tai leaves, ground them for 11 minutes while the sun was rising and then drank them down in water. It was a certain cure because [it was] mentioned in the Vedas while insulin was only a makeshift. Confidence was not instilled and I do know that such doctors as are left in Lahore City today are less competent by far."o

 

It was suggested that a qualified doctor might still be found at the Medical Mission College in Ludhiana, but Ludhiana was one hundred miles away. In any case, it was on the Indian side of the boundary line and "it is not easy to pass the iron curtain and no inquiring communication across it is possible". Luckily a group of British doctors had just arrived at the request of the Pakistan government. They were billeted at Forman College, a missionary establishment in Lahore. Two of them examined Agnew, evidently just in time. "They told me what I thought was 'flu had probably been sand-fly fever. That the fever likely had hastened a condition upon which I must have been verging for some time and that at that very moment I was on the edge of diabetic coma." Reflecting on a stern warning that "I must learn never to take liberties with diabetes", Agnew was taken to the house of Dr Manry, "a charming American who is professor of philosophy at Forman College" and placed under round-the-clock care. "I went straight to bed and being comatose slept most of the time for a week. Every three or four hours I was woken for something to eat and to have more insulin pumped into me."  When the recommended regime switched to a diet of hot drinks served every two hours night and day, Dr Manry's household could no longer cope. Arrangements were made to transfer the patient to a local hospital.

 

"Six months ago this was rated on Western standards as an up-to-date hospital with a full and competent staff. Today it is on the eve of closing down. Very occasionally a doctor visits, expresses complete ignorance why one is here and any instruction he gives it is impossible to have it carried out. I have only seen two nurses, both very low caste, otherwise of course they would not touch the sick, therefore dull and ignorant and anything they tell or ask is quite unheeded by the rest of the staff, who despise them, however menial. It is well-nigh impossible to get any menial job done since the Hindu sweepers have been driven to leave and Muslims will not demean themselves. You would not believe the difficulty I have everyday to procure a vessel for a sample and to have it taken to the doctor. For a week my only food were cups of sweetened skimmed buffalo milk every two or three hours day and night. ... Then I went onto a more substantial diet and since, the food has been excellent, beautifully cooked and served. I am pretty sure a cook and bearer were hired especially for me and I don't doubt that their wages will be added to my bill. However my expenses are being paid and let us hope the extras will be included."o

 

The letters were less frequent now. As he had written on 22 December, "during the last weeks I have simply not realised time". Three weeks passed before his next letter, dated 14 January 1948. He confessed that he had written several letters but had destroyed them because their mood had been so grim. In any case, none of the hospital staff could be persuaded to take a letter to the post. He concluded that both patients and nurses were illiterate "and that is why the defensive smile when I showed a letter". The good news was that after six weeks in bed, he was about to leave hospital, his diabetes stabilised and an accompanying attack of jaundice cured. Later, as he became increasingly worried about his financial position, the hospital sent him a bill for almost £70.

 

"But my sojourn has been a nightmare. It is incredible how primitive, crude and bad all things were in this den for the sick. So fantastically bad that I am already prepared to chortle in retrospect and look forward to heartily laughing together over the crudities - not least the drawing of blood from a vein in my arm which was a weekly affair. The last occasion was the worst of all. Two youths (technicians) with grimy clothes and filthy hands breezed in and said they were to take blood from me. From a fusty cake pan they selected an enormous syringe with a 3 finger grip plunger. My arm was laid across the knees of one while the other rubbed to fill the veins with blood. Then a huge needle was pushed in. It was obviously bent over at the end almost like a fish-hook and hurt like the deuce. It was twisted and turned and pushed while I writhed. Nothing daunted they made a second essay, wound and twisted the instrument until the needle was up to the hilt. Still no blood came. One demanded of me whether I were "holding my blood". A third try was equally unsuccessful. The other suggested the syringe was at fault. The syringe was torn off, the needle left in my arm and covered with a none too clean rag, while they went off in search of another syringe. I was left like that for nearly a quarter of an hour. The new syringe didn't fit the needle. A fourth attempt was more successful and two test-tubes of blood were removed. I thought it impossible to feel more peevish and disgruntled until next day when two other youths arrived to take more blood. They explained that yesterday's sample had gone bad "owing to the weather" (sic). Later I learned that the first pair of nincompoops had forgotten, perhaps never learned - to add citric acid which must be done to keep blood. ... The saving grace was the food which in latter days was excellent."p

 

In fact, food had become a serious issue. Agnew had taken a liking to Indian cooking, but the doctors had warned him that the concentrated fat content made the local diet a "diabetic's poison". Worse still, "there is no insulin available in Pakistan". However, four days after penning his horrific account of hospital conditions, Agnew was back under Dr Manry's hospitable roof, recuperating "after the long drawn nightmare of the frightful hospital". He luxuriated in the cool January weather. "All the goodness of the day is in the sun. Mornings and evenings are very cold and only tolerable before a blazing fire. The nights are bitter and I snug beneath 3 blankets and a quilt." Manry was "extraordinarily good company", who had first engaged in relief work in Poland at the end of the First World War. "He seems to speak every language". Although a theologian and philosopher, he enjoyed field sports, which clearly boosted him in Agnew's approval. He also travelled a lot, so that the convalescent would be left "to play host to the many visitors who come to the house". The health crisis resolved, Agnew could resume his search for employment. Here, too, the omens were promising.

 

"Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan must have learned somehow or other that I had just come here out of hospital for he sent a kind message by a secretary and invited me to accompany him next time he leaves to spend a weekend at Karachi and to stay in his house by the sea. He urged that the sea-air would do me good. (The Pakistanis speak of the Karachi air as the best in the world.) I am glad my name has not been forgotten and shall invite spies to keep me appraised when he expects to go, because I feel that a week-end in close company with the Prime Minister may be turned into the greatest opportunity I shall ever have. You may recall that I met and paid my respects to him first before he held any office."q

 

The invitation from Liaqat Ali Khan proved to be the last of the false dawns in Agnew's quest for a role in the new Dominions. Four days after returning to Dr Manry's house, he began to feel unwell again. At first the symptoms pointed to a bout of influenza, but this was followed by five days of high fever. "Then I discovered that I was covered with a rash." A refugee hospital had been established in the grounds of Forman College, and a European doctor diagnosed smallpox. Worse still, "the period of incubation proved that I had been infected at the hospital I recently left. Isn't that just too damnable a business!" In pungent language, Agnew blamed poor hygiene practices. The women who had delivered his daily ration of sweetened milk "always managed it so as to have ends of their dirty veils and soiled head coverings and even fouler fingers inside the cup well immersed in the milk which often showed black traces of this unpleasant contact".  Of course there was no way of knowing precisely how he had caught the disease. Even the Europeans seemed to take the matter very much in their stride: "I was agreeably surprised that this being India no one showed the least concern". A Colonel of the Indian Medical Service with whom he had been sharing a bedroom "remained put and refused to consider moving elsewhere". It was not until 21 February 1948, when he had escaped from over three weeks of "dreary isolation" that Agnew described his second experience of hospitalisation. In fact, his first hurdle had been to find a hospital that would take a civilian patient.

 

"Finally Sir Francis Mudie, the Governor, was approached and in response to his request the Military Hospital agreed to allow me to occupy a disused isolation block provided I brought with me two bearers who must perform all services for me. Two youths were found in the market place and as "Bearers" accompanied me into isolation.

If my first hospital were a solitary cell my second was a cage in the jungle. This cage was a disused block about 400 yards beyond the uttermost building of the hospital. It consisted of a row of 6 rooms surrounded by a verandah enclosed by wire netting from floor to roof. Rooms and verandah were of concrete in advanced stage of disintegration. One room had been opened and prepared for me. It was furnished with one bed, one chair, one small table and one mat. It was bleak beyond words and large chips kept falling from the cracked concrete. Exposed wires formed the circuit for one light that had been fixed up. There were no other lights in the building. At one end of the block, forming a fourth wall of the verandah, were a bathroom and lavatory in almost complete tumble-down state. This block had been disused for a long time and when the water was turned on all the pipes jetted into the room and poured streams on the floor. Fairly frequent exertions by a Sweeper availed little if any to abate the flood. Whenever I visited bathroom or W.C. I had to roll up my pyjamas and wade through icy insalubrious waters. Not only did the cistern and pipe of the W.C. spurt water but the pan was broken and gushed forth on to the floor when the plug was pulled. Night visits, illumined with matches, were an ordeal. Of course hot water was not laid on and I had to make do with a basin-full brought from the kitchen each morning. A doctor visited me on arrival and most days after. On arrival I was asked what was the matter with me. I answered small-pox. The doctor said that regulations forbade the admission of small-pox cases therefore I must be entered as chicken-pox. Was that alright with me? I smiled that the old army game is still carried on in the new free Pakistan. When asked if there were anything more I would like, I requested that a nurse might give me my injection. I was reminded of the shortage of nurses and told there were only 2 in the hospital who took duty by turn from 10 to 12 in the morning and 4 to 6 in the afternoon. I requested that urine tests might be made and was answered that unfortunately there were no facilities. (Even a G.P. in Britain can do this in his waiting room). I realised if I had been ill I could have expected little in the way of care or attention. Fortunately I was not ill - only "Unclean". In small-pox after appearance of the rash the patient feels fine and dandy!

My so-called "Bearers", two young lads, were very willing and attentive but of course quite untrained and unused to nicer manners of the "Sahib-log". Some of their habits in which I found them out were so disgustingly gus-wus [disgusting] that I was quite sickened. And of course I never found them out in any habit until after several days of practice. The day I left I discovered that they had carried an old bath, placed it behind a nearby wall, poured in a few inches of water (where from I inquired not), and using earth excavated with their feet in place of soap had washed all my dishes for three-and-half weeks by immersion in this one lot of sludge as it became at once. If it be given me to survive this second ordeal we shall have an inexhaustable repertoire of bygone sufferings to laugh at together for the rest of our happy days.

At first I feared that my food would be cold after being carried quarter of a mile. But the quantities were so enormous that the mass did not cool. The Pakistan Military certainly believe in quantity above quality. Actually the food was quite good and well enough cooked. But it was not daintily served, there was little variety. Never any fruit and scarcely any vegetables both of which I craved, and it always floated in grease which Mohammedans love more than I. Breakfast: A pot of the blackest tea, a massive plate of porridge and 3 eggs. Lunch: A Bowl of greasy soup; leg, breast and two wings of fowl; trifle and cream. Tea: A pot of the very blackest; bread and butter and a hot heavy cake fresh from the oven. Dinner: Soup; 3 slabs of steak or 4 huge mutton chops; jelly and cream. This was never varied and was heavy fare for an idler. I could never finish half the meat nor persuade my bearers to bring less. It quite distressed me to see this waste when thousands are dying from starvation daily and it is common knowledge that the present slaughter of stock in Pakistan - (largely bought from refugees in exchange for a portion of grain not worth a song) - will soon be followed by a meat famine."r

 

Medical staff at Forman College had been able to contact Lady Agnew with the news of her husband's illness, and to reassure her that he was recovering. Agnew himself was "most dreadfully distressed" at the thought of his wife learning at second-hand that he had contracted smallpox, "a disease I have learned to hold in great awe". He hastened to assure her that the infection had left no permanent mark. Perhaps surprisingly, her letters were reaching him despite the "hopeless disorganisation of the whole postal department of Pakistan".

 

"I hear it has lost 60 per cent of its staff. Every post office one enters is piled ceiling high with unsorted letters. Be it remembered several million people have gone and left no address behind. But the service is now again quite reliable in so far as letters and parcels are delivered without failure but not always without delay. Anybody awaiting a registered letter or parcel seeks out the post-master and insists on an immediate search."r

 

It was by now abundantly clear that there was no alternative but to abandon this "last and great opportunity to find an end to which all my past experience could count as means and be of use to me and to the kind of post I had envisaged". If nothing else, it was unthinkable to risk the health of his family.

 

"My own experience of sickness has been convincing evidence of the entire lack of many medical services and of the deplorable shortcoming of even those that do still exist in 'freed' India and Pakistan. ... Nobody escapes one or possibly more bouts of dysentery every hot weather. If at the first sign of any diarrhoea a laboratory test can be made at the local hospital nothing is to be feared. If it is bacillary it can be cured at home in a few days with sulphur drugs. If amoebic and taken in hand at once ten days of treatment with penicillin in some local hospital kills the bug - which otherwise continues to infest and to cause trouble for years and years. But left to uncertainty and empirical methods anything may develop. Prompt measures are as essential in cases of suspected bite of mad dog (which may not seem more than a graze from an apparently playful animal), cholera and many fevers which may be nothing or anything. Prompt measures were available during the days of India's servitude but have simply ceased as public services today. ... Even the import of drugs has been curtailed by law and many specifics (including insulin) have been prohibited and new prohibitions are being added from day to day. The few Indian doctors of slightest qualification have disappeared into the security and kudos of departmental offices. The collapse and change have been so sudden and complete as to astonish many old and sympathetic Western residents. I admit that the question of adequacy of medical service was an aspect of life in India that I had never considered."r

 

In a lengthy and thoughtful analysis, he reviewed the reasons for the failure of his mission. He refused to accept that his hopes had been unfounded from the start, and continued to believe that he had simply arrived too late. "Europeans are everywhere in India regarded as above party and community and once installed their positions are never questioned." It had been his misfortune to be overtaken by events.

 

"Then the putting forward of the date of transfer of power caused a period of complete inertia in India during which no action of any kind was taken nor, of course, any appointments made. Many Government Offices actually closed pending decision about the division of competence between the Dominions that were to come into being. ... At that time Pakistan did not yet exist and I was advised that I must bide until the New Dominion was born and weaned before awaiting a position since even organisation and administration had not yet been fully decided upon. ...

It soon became evident to me that there were no prospects to be awaited in India. I can mention only a few of the reasons:

1) India has a far larger pool of trained personnel than Pakistan.

2) India is much more rabidly "Nationalist" than Pakistan and determined even at some cost to dispense with foreign aid.

3) India is very much divided politically - far more so than Pakistan. There are many considerable and very vociferous factions, nationalist, communal and internationalist, who demand liquidation of foreign dominion and of "Imperialism". The "Moderates" represented by Nehru and his crush are continually assailed as "Reactionaries" in league with foreign Powers. Following the communal troubles the position of Nehru and his supporters has grown extremely precarious. Elements among the Hindus, more so Sikhs, are demanding communal bases for the Indian State. From the other flank Socialists and their kin demand unity of the working classes, elimination of communalism, religion, foreign influence and present leaders.

4) Nehru and his Government are doing their utmost to divert discontent towards a scapegoat - that fabulous beast beloved of all politicians. Every speech tirades against the hidden enemies of the people, the real reactionaries who machinated the communal troubles as dastardly means to undermine the Government. The real reactionaries are said to be largely "Churchillian" Britishers who have taken service with Pakistan. Pakistan which invited them is decried as the arch-villain and hyper-reactionary of the piece. So far this blast has enabled Nehru to divert a good deal of the discontent from himself. But obviously it makes it well-nigh impossible for the present Indian Government to install any more foreigners which would be to offer a boomerang to their opponents. And as I have written Nehru's position is extremely precarious.

Aside from these things the greater part of the budget, available personnel and energy have been diverted to the problems of relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation occasioned by the holocaust which has uprooted millions of people."r

 

For a time, Agnew had hoped "to find an opening ... within the frame-work of the Relief Set-Up" as a step to a permanent job.

 

"But I soon learned that despite the preponderance of the Ministry of Refugees the whole set-up had at once developed into a cock-pit for contending factions and that the whole machine was jammed and kept at a standstill by jealousies which extend throughout the entire body. It is never allowed that anything be done to alleviate the lot of the wretched refugees. When the Central Government initiates a scheme the Provincial Governments at once take steps to prevent its operation lest credit accrue to the Central Government. When Provincial Governments attempt action the Central Government withdraws funds, denies transport facilities and initiates other steps to prevent action coming into effect so as to ensure that the Provincial Governments gain no prestige. Provincial Governments meet with even greater obstruction from local officials who are determined that no credit shall be allowed elsewhere than to themselves.

Along with these jealousies a state of complete anarchy has supervened. Nowhere in Northern India does Government writ or rule run. The only law heeded is that wielded by minor public officials - the district collector or area police sergeant. A considerable number of foreigners has been invited and made welcome to assist chiefly in gathering information which has often been quite lacking and in making reports. Generally [these are] such foreigners whose names could be used to advantage. All are treated with great deference, applauded for their public spirited concern for India, allowed to expend as much as they will on travel and maintenance and well feted at receptions. Their names are bandied in the press. But this is all. In the beginning when all was chaos and foreigners [were] the first to enter the breach[,] free scope was given them and they acted with promptitude to initiate measures which stayed the collapse and gave a lead to [the] Indian and Pakistan Governments which had stood by as though stunned and incapable to know what to do. Then the Indian and Pakistan Governments followed the lead they had been shown and took over direction. Almost at once jealousies entered and since then foreigners have not been expected nor allowed to enter the lists and by their insistence on action to lend aid to one or other of the jealously contending parties whose prime motive is to prevent any success or prestige to rivals."r

 

At first, Pakistan had seemed a more welcoming environment. While staying at Government House in Lahore, Agnew was "thrown quite a lot into the company of Mr. Jinnah who along with his family were fellow guests". He also had a long session with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaqat Ali Khan. The more privileged the access, so it seemed, the greater the disappointment.

 

"As opposed to India Pakistan has always proclaimed that foreigners who can offer useful service will be welcome and encouraged. This, it is maintained, is in accord with the best traditions of Islam for in the days of Islamic glory their Courts and Offices were open to all. ...

Both Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan indicated clearly and thereby confirmed what I had gathered from other sources. Namely that, despite their nominal authority, even Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan were in fact powerless to be of use to me. Although lip service continues to be paid them and their pronouncements of policy are applauded their writ in fact does not run. A strange state of anarchy (to which I have already referred) prevails against which they are powerless. ... I have heard of many authenticated cases, even vis-à-vis Westerners, where necessary permits have been granted by Central and Provincial Government Authorities, confirmed down through all the subordinate departments and then have been disavowed and refused by the local collector or policeman."r

 

For a time, Agnew had been hopeful about an opening in Sind, but the acrimonious aftermath to the State's incorporation in Pakistan had put an end to this prospect. "Sind has expressed dissatisfaction that so few Sindhians were appointed to Ministerial posts and has been overtly obstructive to the Central Government."  Overall, ordinary life in both Pakistan and India had almost disintegrated. Agnew cited a few examples.

 

"a) Prices have soared and do not appear likely to drop. At present potatoes cost two shillings a pound; butter nine shillings a pound; watery milk one shilling a pint. b) There are now grave shortages and many common commodities are often unobtainable. Food-stuffs and clothing material are expected shortly to become very scarce. c) Prohibition of imports and sales are being introduced more and more. d) Accommodation has become extremely difficult. Houses are not to be had for a premium. In Bombay 50,000 applications have been received for 200 houses to be erected shortly. e) A servant problem has developed. In many districts where troubles have occurred servants of certain categories are not to be found. And in this land no servant - not even an old and trusted personal bearer or family ayah - will so much as consider the lightest task which lies outside his or her sphere.

When I arrived in India I should have considered myself well provided for with a salary of 1,000 rupees a month. Today I should consider that I needed at least 2,000 rupees a month and that provision of a house were absolutely essential. And there are very few houses available for provision. Destruction and damage to property have been enormous. Moreover to make matters worse the creation of [the] Pakistan Government and of new Provincial Governments has led to the commandeering of almost every decent house in or near any city as residences or offices for officials. The vast scale of communal troubles has had much the same effect on India and Pakistan as the "Blitzkrieg". Within six months there has been as much and as widespread destruction and upheaval as would have been caused by a war of the first magnitude fought to the last man and the last ditch and lost in a lightning campaign. Naturally the spirit and attitude of the country has suffered great change too."r

 

On 29 February, he reported that he was still marooned in Lahore.

 

" I am finding it extremely difficult to get to Delhi. No trains are running. Very few people seem to be motoring - far less than a few months ago. Other means there are none. I had hoped to travel by a special train which had been promised to take European children returning to private schools in hill stations in India but Pakistan Railways has called this off for fear that it will be derailed and engine and coaches will not be returned. Suspicion, fear, hatred spell relations between the two dominions. ... Should another chartered 'plane be sent to bring back refugees I have been promised that I may go down in that with baggage and all."s

 

When he next wrote, on 7 March, he offered glimpses of bizarre aspects of life in a country that was still in crisis. A Pakistani host had insisted on entertaining him to a four-course meal at the Volga, "a famous restaurant in Lahore which was started by a Russian and has maintained a reputation for superb food".

 

"I chose with care and forethought but did not forestall being overwhelmed with the fare. A very rich soup into which was poured a jug of thick cream at the moment of serving. Luscious fish simmered in "ghi" and garnished with spices and all manner of sauces; "Wiener schnitzel" capped with butter and "ghi" and surrounded by pommes sautes and creamy vegetables. A massive savoury almost floating in oils and scented fats. Even the coffee supported a piled head of whipped cream. Each course was so enormous that it had to be served twice because more than half could not be got onto the plate."t

 

An exotic gourmet restaurant was not the only oddity he had observed.

 

"Indians and Pakistanis are at one in attributing unusually bad weather to the atomic bombs which were let off last summer. Since so little is known about the effects of atomic bombs their guess may be as good as any. But the myth has got abroad that explosion of atomic bombs is a cause of conception and additions to families of soldiers returning from service are explained as due to the atomic bombs!"t

 

For the last time, the possibility of a job was dangled before his eyes. The intermediary was a British officer, Colonel Small, a former comrade-in-arms of one of Agnew's cousins. The prospect alone was enough to persuade him of its futility.

 

"Ironically Small is in a position to offer me a definite job in Bahawalpur State. It would entail living with the Raja, working directly under His Highness and naming one's own salary. But it would be of no use to me to accept. The job will not last more than three months and the constitutional position is such that I could not be retained in any capacity. It would only prolong separation and at the end I should find it more difficult to return to Delhi. Small admits he would not take the job even at an astronomical salary. He knows the Raja. His Highness would expect one to pander to his whims during the day and often want to sit up all night. He would tell one to leave one's job undone and to attend to him to whom alone one is answerable."t

 

Even if his career plans were at a dead-end, Agnew was busy with relief work. He had even crossed the border into India, an excursion which events quickly proved was best undertaken by Europeans. When problems arose, it was characteristic that Agnew laconically reported how he had "intimidated authority".

 

"In the meantime, I am undertaking all manner of odd jobs connected with refugees and relief. Such as arranging for receipt and storage of supplies; providing goods wagons and seeing that they are loaded, sealed and sent off where need is most urgent and taking the untold measures that are necessary to prevent purloining by officials who use the relief set-up to carpet luxuriously their own floors. To get the goods to people for whom they are intended is a battle against almost impossible odds. Inefficiency and corruption have been combined into an Art almost beyond power of appreciation by puny western imagination....

On Tuesday Small drove one Major Niaz and me to Amritsar.27 Niaz is now on the Pakistan Refugee Commission and had business with his opposite number in Amritsar. In our company he considered he would be safe. Before the partition Niaz was a large landowner in East Punjab and very well known. He was soon recognised by several old friends - well-to-do upper class Hindus and Sikhs who naturally have no part in communal strife which they deplore - and they immediately surrounded him, embraced him and expressed delight at the meeting. A police sergeant and two constables were attracted to the scene, recognised Niaz, arrested him and drove him away in a car. Small and I followed, entered the police station and intimidated authority to let him go. But Niaz refused. He said he had been wrongly arrested, despite his diplomatic privilege and when he failed to return that evening every remaining Hindu in Pakistan would be arrested and their property confiscated. Nothing could be better. The officer in charge appealed to us, squirmed, tried to embrace, apologised and begged Niaz to go. Niaz was adamant. He had been wrongly arrested and his release must be appropriate and correctly carried through. He got his way. He insisted he be brought before the court, that the court  pronounce his  arrest  wrongful,  that disciplinary action be taken against the police, that an apology be inserted in the press, and that he be properly accommodated and guarded in Amritsar until the apology appeared in the press and then be provided with an officer escort to the frontier. (I pity the next Muslim who is caught over the frontier and found to be without influential friends)."t

 

While Niaz proudly savoured his martyrdom, Agnew and Small found overnight accommodation in a former British officers' mess which had been allocated to the Pakistan liaison force in Amritsar.

 

"The majesty of the King, the wisdom of Churchill and the greatness of the British military tradition were frequently brought into conversation. Everything that was said and done would have been anathema among a gathering of Indians - as opposed to Pakistanis. Next morning Small and I followed Niaz's triumphal escorted cavalcade to the frontier where he was transferred into our vehicle and crowed his success and contempt for India during the rest of the journey."t

 

Somehow, by 21 March 1948, Agnew had managed to return to New Delhi. Within a week he had secured Nehru's influence - Nehru, it appeared, was in charge after all - to waive formalities and help him to secure a passage from Bombay to Durban, where the family could reunite and build a new life. It was typically single-minded that Agnew's preparation for this next phase of his life included a request for a copy of a book on bird-watching in South Africa. He had, however, been inoculated against yellow-fever. "I had to go to the Indian National Laboratories and suffer the risk and indignity of being fifth person injected with same uncleaned needle. A large syringe is filled in the morning and used on all comers until it is emptied. ... However these are steps in the right direction." He was fortunate, too, in being able to return to 6 Aurangzeb Road, a hostel run by an American Quaker couple, who generously shared the lavish food parcels they received from home.

 

"Hotels in India are extortionary institutions which give practically nothing in return. Their charges are exorbitant. They refuse to depart for one minute from their time table or one iota from their bills of fare. Servants swarm pressing unwanted services but cannot and will not do anything that is desired of them or asked for. Ask a servant to empty a waste paper basket, he replies that is the work of the room bearer. Ask to have a letter posted, be told that a postal peon must be hired. All hotels advertise morning and afternoon tea. But neither can be brought by hotel servants or fetched by guests. Your private bearer must perform the service. A bearer can be hired but his keep must be paid for at fantastic rates. Fortunately I have managed to avoid Indian hotels. The hostels give more service because many "officials" are transient, must keep queer hours and cannot be expected to bring bearers. Most of the residents in my hostel are members of the staff of the British High Commissioner. The B.H.C. is a gigantic institution. Everything left over from the 200-year British Raj has been given to them to wind up. One man was telling me that he took over the files from a suite of offices and when he came back to look at them he found they dated back to soon after the Mutiny..."u

 

As if he had not suffered enough, Agnew had endured one final ordeal.

 

"I had to visit a dentist. I was put on to Dr. ***, an Indian, who seems to me to be first rate. An American from the U.S. Information Service told me not even in New York had he ever seen such luxurious appointments or modern equipment as at Dr. ***'s. Nor have I. The first day he cleaned my teeth and all went well. But I had a molar which had frequently been stopped [filled] and was so cracked that all stoppings had fallen out and only a few jags of tooth remained. Stephenson in Edinburgh, had killed the nerve, patched it up and hoped I might keep it for another year or two.28 *** would have liked to repeat the process but an x-ray showed infection and had said it must come out. As the tooth was so cracked it would break in the pulling and have to be dug out. Therefore it would be necessary to call an anaesthetist to keep me under for a long time.

Next morning I returned for the ordeal. The anaesthetist was a Sikh doctor who insisted on giving me a thorough medical examination so as to know my condition and how much gas to give. My confidence rose. He made me undo my trousers, loosen my sandals and take off my wrist watch in case of constrictions. Most pernickety, I thought. He then strapped my legs and arms just as a precaution. Masks were jammed against my nose and mouth. I couldn't breathe at all. I felt I was suffocating and my neck swelling. I struggled until I was free and tore off the masks. He found there was no oxygen in the cylinder. The best he could suggest was that he lift the masks from time to time to give me oxygen from the air. As I didn't go under he held the masks more and more tighter against my nose and mouth. Again I began to suffocate and struggled free. Then he found there was no gas in the cylinder. Dr. *** had a half bottle of ethyl chloride. The Sikh placed a gauze over my mouth and set to sousing it with ethyl chloride. He was far too hasty and threw so much on that it poured down my face and burned badly. Again I struggled free. He calmed me and proceeded more cautiously. I noticed the ethyl chloride was nearly finished and gurgled my disapproval. *** then said to pour the rest (of the ethyl chloride) in one douche and to put me out quickly. He went on that he had some ether for cleaning instruments which could be used to keep me under. He sent his assistant to fetch the ether. The job was done and I came to after all was over. But I still have a badly bruised jaw, lacerated lips and the lower part of my face badly burned from the ethyl chloride."u

 

As in Pakistan, Agnew volunteered for relief work and found that his experience enabled him to impose some order upon chaos. He was able to obtain the use of a car and secure an order for petrol to run it.

 

"I find myself faced with a chaotic situation which looks as if it cannot be resolved. Vast quantities of stores have been sent from America. But no records have been made of dispatch from America, how sent, arrival in India or further consignment. Odd notices of accumulating demurrage charges, references in letters to stores which were found lying in out of the way places and taken from relief workers who were desperate for everything, the report of the appearance of a milk canteen on a road, such are the only clues which I must follow and hope to be able to build into complete records. This voluntary work will give me regular occupation. It will help my impatience and also get urgently needed supplies to those most unfortunate people for whom they are intended. ...Visiting widely scattered offices and railway goods yards entails never less than 40 miles driving a day. The car is a boon to me and will enable me to get out and around a bit. But it is not altogether a pleasure. It is a saloon and heats up like an oven after a few minutes driving in the sun. I daren't leave it standing out of the shade otherwise it would become a furnace and often I have to walk a mile back after parking under a tree. But the old grey gift-horse will give me lots of opportunity for fun and outings in the evenings."u

 

On 28 April, he was able to report a minor triumph.

 

"I have unearthed 54 tons of supplies which have been lying in different places in India and over-looked. These include 5 tons of dried milk, which has long been a crying need and 7,000 yards of thick worsted cloth which could have saved thousands of deaths from cold had it been available during the winter. I am now wrangling with Government departments for exemption from customs duty for the half which is lying at Bombay docks. Another headache is to find where to send the stuff. There are few voluntary workers left to distribute. No one wishes to accept thick worsteds at this season. Anything that falls into the clutches of Government agencies will certainly quickly be diverted to the black market and converted into gain for unworthy officials."v

 

It was at least a positive note upon which to leave. On 20 May 1948, thirteen months after his arrival, he sailed from Bombay, for Durban in South Africa.

 

V: EPILOGUE

 

Just as he had planned in 1946 to build a new life in an India that would achieve orderly freedom, so in May 1948 Agnew would have been hoping to settle in an agreeable South Africa under the paternal regime of J.C. Smuts. Once again, unpalatable events took a hand: while he was on the high seas, a general election installed in power the Nationalists and their crazy blueprint of apartheid. The economic and political instability engendered by the advent of the government of Dr Malan exacerbated the problems of attempting to embark upon small-scale farming in an unfamiliar environment. In 1951, Lady Agnew spotted an advertisement for the post of Registrar at Fort Hare, the university college that specialised in providing higher education to Africans. No doubt discouraged by his Indian disappointments, Agnew was reluctant to apply. His wife persuaded him to try, and the interest aroused by Agnew's application outweighed his lack of experience of the academic world. Fort Hare had strong links with the Church of Scotland. The baronetcy no doubt helped, despite its bearer's reluctance to use his title, and the friendship with Gandhi impressed, for liberals recalled Gandhi's early struggles against racial discrimination as a lawyer in South Africa. In short, he got the job.

Fort Hare offered Swanzie Agnew the opportunity to resume her academic career as a lecturer in Geography. She collaborated with a colleague, Norman Pollock, on a book that appeared in 1963 as An Historical Geography of South Africa.  For the Agnews, the nineteen-fifties were active years, but unfortunately they were not quiet times. As the premier higher education institution for Africans, Fort Hare was a key target for the apartheid government, which sought to capture control of the college and downgrade its status within a framework of "Bantu education".  The crisis came in 1959, with large-scale dismissals and, in effect, the deportation of Fulque and Swanzie Agnew.

Perversely, apartheid was such a gigantic absurdity that public opinion overseas was slow to grasp the depth of its bleak injustice to the country's Black majority.  For most British people, South Africa was a wartime ally that played the two great sporting games of rugby and cricket. It took the persecution of a tenth baronet to galvanise the media into recognising that something was insanely wrong in a great Commonwealth country. Cambridge University awarded Agnew an honorary degree in recognition of his stand against apartheid. More to the point, it rescued his career by appointing him to a senior administrative post, even though he was within a very few years of reaching his retirement in 1965.

It was in fact in that year that Swanzie Agnew accepted an invitation to become the foundation Professor of Geography at the newly established University of Malawi.  For both husband and wife, the return to Africa and the decade that followed represented an important period of fulfilment in their lives. For Agnew, the new University offered the opportunity to serve in a postcolonial country that he had unsuccessfully sought thirty years previously in India and Pakistan. They were no doubt fortunate to live in Malawi in the early years of independence, before the dictatorial qualities of Dr Banda were fully revealed. Both husband and wife loved the beauty of the landscape. Despite his increasing years, Agnew threw himself into strenuous walking tours that combined geographical study with sheer outdoor adventure. It was on one of these expeditions, in 1975, that he was felled by a heart attack. He died, at the age of 74, on 9 July 1975.

Soon afterwards, Swanzie Agnew settled in Edinburgh, where she died on 28 September 2000. Before leaving Malawi, Lady Agnew had arranged to have a headstone placed over her husband's grave. On it was inscribed a quotation from Rabindranath Tagore: "Give me strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees to insolent might."

 

 

 

ENDNOTES: THE LETTERS

 

 

a.       11 May 1947, from Landour, Mussourie, United Provinces.

b.      18 May 1947, from Landour.

c.       15 June 1947, from Landour, Mussourie, UP.

d.      22 June 1947, same.

e.       29 June 1947, same.

f.        6 July 1947, same.

g.       20 July 1947, from Mussourie.

h.       10 August 1947, from Agra.

i.         17-23 August 1947, from Aligahr, 17 August,

posted Allahabad, 23 August.

j.        4 September 1947, from Lucknow.

k.      24 September 1947, from New Delhi.

l.         12 October 1947, from 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi.

m.     3 November 1947, from 6 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi.

n.       13 November 1947, same.

o.      22 December 1947, from Lahore,

dated "Monday before Christmas".

p.      14 January 1948, from c/o Dr J.C. Manry,

Forman Christian College, Lahore, Pakistan.

q.      18 January 1948, same.

r.        21 February 1948, same (typed).

s.       29 February 1948, from Lahore.

t.        7 March 1948, same.

u.       28 March 1948, from 6 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi.

v.       28 April 1948, same.

 

 

The collection also includes letters from 6 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi, dated 21 March and 18 April 1948. These relate to personal matters and travel plans and have not been quoted.

 

 

ENDNOTES: REFERENCES

 

1.      Biographical information from Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw Bt and the late Swanzie, Lady Agnew. An obituary of Sir Fulque Agnew appeared in The Times on 10 September 1975. Short quotations from the letters cited in editorial passages are not separately footnoted.

 

2.      Swanzie Erskine was born in the Transvaal in 1916. She graduated with First Class Honours in the MA in Geography at Edinburgh University in 1937, and married Fulque Agnew later that year. She was co-author of The Historical Geography of South Africa, published in 1963. From 1965 to 1976 she was Professor of Geography at the University of Malawi. Her unusual first name was derived from a Dutch word meaning "little swan". She died in Edinburgh on 28 September 2000.

 

3.      Information from Peter Freshwater, Edinburgh University Library, and see the obituary notice to Agnew in University of Edinburgh Journal, 27 (1975-76), p. 237.

 

4.      For general accounts of the Transfer of Power in India, see Percival Spear, The Oxford History of Modern India 1740-1947 (Oxford, 1965), pp. 353-389; B.N. Pandey, The Break-up of British India (London, 1969); E.W.R. Lumby, The Transfer of Power in India 1945-7 (London, 1954); R.J.  Moore, Escape from Empire: The Attlee Government and the Indian Problem (Oxford, 1983); Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour in Power 1945-1951 (Oxford, 1984), pp. 218-230. The atmosphere of the time is caught in two more popular works, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight (London, 1975) and Michael Edwardes, The Last Years of British India (London, 1963).

 

5.      Penderel Moon, Divide and Quit (London 1961), p. 20. For Jinnah's role, see R.J. Moore, "Jinnah and the Pakistan Demand" in Mushiral Hasan, ed., India's Partition: Process, Strategy and Mobilization (Delhi, 1993), pp. 159-195.

 

6.      Amin-ul Mulk Sir Mirza Ismail, born in Bangalore in 1883, belonged to an earlier generation of Indian officials. He was Prime Minister of Jaipur from 1942 to 1946 and of Hyderabad in 1947-48. He opposed Partition and refused to join the Muslim League. Ismail died in 1959. 

Godfrey Barrass was one of Agnew's oldest friends. The two men had served in the Army together. Barrass took a post in Hyderabad in 1946, a development that led Agnew to think of pursuing a career in India. Barrass later lived in Canada.

 

7.      Alan Campbell-Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten (London, 1951), p. 62. V.P. Menon discussed the new Indian government's problems with Hyderabad in his The Integration of the Indian States (London, 1956), pp. 314-389.

 

8.      The account of the voyage is taken from a lengthy typed letter which Agnew began in Bombay on 27 April 1947 and posted on 1 May. On 11 May he reported that he was "most distressed" to learn "that it is most unlikely that either of the two long letters I wrote and posted from Bombay will ever reach you". He had not been warned "that in India one must always insist on the stamps being cancelled in front of one and then the service is as reliable as anywhere in the world". If this precaution was neglected, unfranked stamps were removed and the letter destroyed. Whatever the explanation, it seems that a second letter from Bombay never reached its destination.

 

9.      The "Oxford Group" was founded in the nineteen-twenties by an American, Frank Buchman. It had no connection with Oxford University and in 1938 adopted the formal title of Moral Rearmament. Its combination of religion and anti-Communism made many critics uneasy. Agnew's comment reflects this attitude.

 

10.  Christine and Robert Weston, an English couple, have not been separately identified. Agnew admired Robert Weston both as a field naturalist and as an excellent shot. He was encouraged by the fact that the Westons had come to India "on spec" and found jobs at Delhi University. However, they are not among the academic staff listed in the Universities of the British Empire Yearbook for 1947 and cannot be traced in its successor volumes, the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook.

 

11.  Mohammed Ali Jinnah was born in Karachi in 1876 although he spent much of his life practising law in Bombay. In 1913 he left the Indian National Congress to begin a political career as spokesman for India's Muslims. An aloof and inflexible figure, Jinnah was largely responsible for the creation of Pakistan through his intransigent attitude to negotiation. His stature was reflected in the title "Quaid-i-Azam" (Great Leader). He became first governor-general of Pakistan but died in 1948. Agnew subscribed to the widespread belief that he was influenced by his wife, Fabina Jinnah.

Liaqat Ali Khan was a British-educated lawyer, born in 1895, who had joined the Muslim League in 1923. He became Pakistan's first Prime Minister in 1947, but was assassinated in 1951. It is worthy of note that he encouraged Agnew in his quest for employment.

 

12.  Hamid Ali and his wife Begum Hamid Ali have not been identified.

Sir Khawaza Muhammed Shafi was born near Lahore in 1869. He was educated at the Forman Christian College where Agnew was to spend his convalescence in 1948. Shafi later read for the Bar in England. During his time in London, he joined a debating society called the Paddington Parliament and served in its Unionist [Conservative] "cabinet". A supporter of Western education, he regarded India as an integral part of the British Empire. Agnew learnt in September 1947 that he had fled to a refugee camp during the Delhi pogroms.

 

13.  Colonel Henry Power has not been separately identified.

 

14.  Anwar Iqbal Qereshi was born in 1910, and educated at London University, Trinity College Dublin and Princeton. He was the author of Islam and The Theory of Interest. Professor Qereshi represented Pakistan in the technical but highly important negotiations with the British over the allocation of sterling balances, the credit India had accumulated with the Bank of England under wartime currency restrictions. He became Deputy Minister of the Interior and for refugees. His involvement in the story confirms that Agnew was taken seriously by the new leaders.

 

15.  Mohammed Amin Khuro was born in 1901. His political career began in 1923 with a campaign, ultimately successful, to detach Sind from the Bombay Presidency. He was Development Minister for Sind when Agnew first met him, but in August 1947 became Chief Minister. He soon quarrelled with Liaqat Ali Khan and was dismissed from office in 1948. Tensions between Sind and the central government of Pakistan were a factor in Agnew's decision to abandon his search for employment. Khuro served later terms as Chief Minister of Sind in the nineteen-fifties.

Abdur Rab Khan Nishtar was one of the Muslim League representatives at the 1946 Simla Conference. He served in the Interim Government of 1946-47 and was later Governor of West Punjab.

 

16.  Dr Tara Chand, the Vice-Chancellor of Allahabad University, was a graduate of Oxford, at which University he had also completed a doctorate. Agnew's reference to him as "Chancellor" indicates that the future Registrar of Fort Hare University College was at that time unfamiliar with academic terminology.

 

17.  Mohammed Habib was Professor in the Department of History and Political Science. He was a graduate of Oxford and a Muslim member of the Congress Party. Born in 1895, he listed his chief recreation as detective fiction. He was obviously serious in his encouragement to Agnew. He died in 1971.

 

18.  The westernised Professor Sharif held the Chair of Philosophy. The Vice-Chancellor was Nawah Mohammed Ismail Khan. Both Khan and Sherif were graduates of Cambridge University, but the experience had evidently affected them in different ways.

 

19.  The Mughul Emperor Akbar had died in 1605. His purpose-built capital at Fatehpur Sikri was quickly abandoned when the water supply was found to be inadequate, leaving the model city as a perfectly preserved museum piece. Agnew's almost casual references to Akbar in family letters confirm the extent to which the British regarded their "Raj" in India as a continuation of an earlier imperial tradition. This attitude excused British rule but had complicated adjustment to Indian nationalism.

 

20.   Niswar Ahmal Sherwani was Minister of Agriculture in the UP (United Provinces, later Uttar Pradesh). A Congress veteran, he had served a prison sentence in the nineteen-twenties for his participation in the Non Co-operation campaign. Later he became an entrepreneur in the sugar industry. It says something for Agnew's powers of presentation that he was able to impress Sherwani with his relatively slight qualifications in rural development. Sherwani remained in office until 1951 and died in 1956.

 

21.  Sir Patrick Spens was Chief Justice of India from 1943 to 1947. From 1945 to 1948 he also served as Chief Commissioner in India of St John's Brigade Overseas. From 1950 to 1959 he was Conservative MP for South Kensington.

 

22.  Horace G. Alexander was a prominent English Quaker who ran the Friends' Service Unit in India. References to "Horace" in Gandhi's correspondence confirm the affection the Mahatma felt for him. In March 1947, Alexander and Gandhi had discussed a plan for a worldwide day of prayer for peace.

 

23.   Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (known as the "Mahatma" or "great soul") was born in 1869. He had studied law in London and, despite his adoption of Indian dress and custom, was at ease dealing with the British. He spent two decades of his early life resisting racial oppression in South Africa, an association that the Agnew family believed contributed to Fulque Agnew's subsequent appointment as Registrar of Fort Hare University College. Gandhi's comments on the possibility of war with Pakistan were delivered at a prayer meeting on the evening of Friday 26 September 1947, and Agnew's first meeting probably took place the following morning. For the alarm caused by his remarks in Mountbatten's entourage, see Campbell-Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, pp. 206-7. As so often with Gandhi's utterances, the actual words spoken were less clear-cut: the text is given in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 89 (New Delhi, 1983), pp. 245-247. For Gandhi at this period, Judith M. Brown, see Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope (New Haven, 1989), ch. 10. I am grateful to Dr Crispin Bates of the University of Edinburgh for his comments on Gandhi. It may be argued that the notion that the Mahatma had an absolute commitment to non-violence was a Western construction, derived from the need to make him into a saint. In 1920 he had written "when there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence". J. Nehru, An Autobiography (London, 1942 ed.), p. 83, and see generally chapter 12.  Gandhi was murdered on 30 January 1948, while Agnew was marooned in an isolation hospital in Lahore.

Jawaharlal Nehru was born in 1889. A graduate of Cambridge, he became first Prime Minister of India in 1947 and died in 1964.

V.P. Menon was in charge of the Congress government's policy towards the States.

 

24.  There are few references in the surviving letters to the Mountbattens. It seems that the social eminence that opened so many doors to Agnew left him indifferent to notables from his own country. Lord Louis Mountbatten, first Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was a cousin of King George VI and Supreme Allied Commander in South-East Asia from 1943 to 1945. He was appointed Viceroy in 1947 and charged with winding up British rule in India, a task which he concluded could only be achieved by devolving power to two successor states. There is a grim historical irony in the fact that the man who presided over the tragedy of Partition in India was murdered in 1979 by terrorists who objected to the division of Ireland. Edwina, Countess Mountbatten, played a prominent role in co-ordinating relief work. She died in 1960.

 

25.  Probably Major J. McL. Short, an authority on the Punjab and an enthusiastic supporter of the Sikhs. The connection by marriage, obscure to Agnew, has not been established.

 

26.  General Sir Roy Bucher was born in 1895. He had served on the sub-continent for thirty years. In 1948-49 he was commander-in-chief of the Army of India, an example of the transitional role played by individual British officials that had inspired Agnew in his quest.

Sir Francis Mudie was born in 1890. He was Governor of West Punjab from 1947 to 1949. His niece, Miss MacQueen, was his official hostess.

 

27.  Major Niaz has not been separately identified. Like Dr J.C. Manry of Forman College, he seems sufficiently described in the text.

 

28.  Norman Stevenson was a long-serving dentist with a practice in Alva Place, Edinburgh.

 

Copyright © 2017 Ged Martin. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.