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MORTIMER, Captain Roger Francis (1909-1991). 3rd Bn. Coldstream Guards [Photograph album]. Palestine: 1938-1939.

Outstanding photographs of Palestine taken during the height of the Arab Rebellion.

237 photographs, the majority 115 x 80 mm., mounted in an album and neatly captioned in ink manuscript (first photograph in album with adhesion, some leaves with light spotting, but the vast majority of the images clean), oblong 4to (365 x 368 mm.). Contemporary blue half leather (extremities rubbed, spine worn and defective at foot, front inner hinge coming loose).
Provenance:
by direct descent to the compiler's son, Charles Mortimer.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS, MANY OF WHICH ARE IN LARGER FORMAT THAN USUAL. In the winter of 1937, Mortimer - then 28 years old - sailed with the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards to Alexandria, Egypt, where he was stationed until spring 1938. The Guards then started their Palestine tour in the spring of 1938 with operations against Arab terrorists in Jericho, Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramleh.

The album starts with images of the Guards' embarking at Alexandria and landing at Haifa, before moving onto Sarafan Camp. The battalion is then deployed in Jerusalem, with images of a sniper's nest, rounding up Arab prisoners, and troops dining outside Damascus Gate. Particularly interesting is a shot captioned 'Women Searchers arrive', and another of a patrol inside the Old City at curfew looking on as two women stroll in the street.

Mortimer's captions are pithy; one leaf is dedicated to Gaza, with an image captioned: 'Making friends with the local Headmaster (who was subsequently sent to prison)'. Another image of a corpse is captioned: 'One of our informers is unlucky', while a portrait is entitled: 'Marcus, Chief Spy at the Fast Hotel'.

Other arresting images include 3 of a 'mine sweeper' used on the railways to detect trackside bombs and defend trains, discovery of an arms cache at Hebron, prisoner interrogations, a checkpoint at Mt Scopus and 2 photographs of a supply air drop.

The regiment is also seen relaxing, with photographs of the 'Ramleh Vale Hounds' and a rugby match against the Ramleh Police.

The album concludes with 77 images that seem to show the British in Slovenia after the end of the Second World War.

Roger Mortimer was born in 1909, and educated at Eton and Sandhurst. In 1930 he was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards. After his tour of Palestine, he returned to Europe, where he and his platoon fought a desperate rear-guard action at Dunkirk in 1940. Almost all of his men were killed or wounded, while Mortimer, knocked unconscious, was taken prisoner, and held in German prisoner of war camps for the remainder of World War Two. After the war, he rejoined his regiment, and was posted to Slovenia and northern Italy. Later in civilian life became the racing correspondent for The Sunday Times, for whom he wrote for over 25 years, until retiring in 1974. He wrote The History of the Derby Stakes, among other books on horse racing.

He is probably most famous for a series of letters that he wrote to his son, Charlie Mortimer, the consignor of the present lot, which were published under the title Dear Lupin in 2011. Frederic Raphael, in an article for the Wall Street Journal (On notable correspondence by eminent men, 16 November 2012), described the letter-writing skills of Roger Mortimer alongside those of four other men, including Byron and Cicero; The Sunday Times accorded Dear Lupin as their ‘humour book of the year 2012’ and listed it in their ‘100 books to love’.

The consignor has given us permission to quote several letters that Roger wrote home during his time in Palestine. These dramatically illuminate the images in the album:

Alexandria Spring 1938
Dear Pop
I have just returned from a short trip to Jericho where we were dispatched to restore order and re-establish the police who have been turned out by the rebels over the last three months.
We had another of those bloody night drives – a convoy a mile long, leaving billets at 2.45am and getting to Jericho at 9am. I thoroughly enjoyed it; you go down a twisting precipitous road with the hills rising sharply up on either side. The whole 25 miles can have changed very little since Biblical times and the only signs of modern civilisation were the ashes of burnt out Jew lorries, driven up without escort from the Dead Sea Potash Company and meeting with the inevitable fate on what must be the world’s best road for ambushes.
Bethany is a charming place, without any of the unfortunate traces of tourist-catching vulgarity that mars so many places in Jerusalem.
After 20 miles or so downhill, we reached the Dead Sea, with Jericho in the distance. It’s a very small town, appallingly hot and stuffy in summer and full of mosquitoes – with plenty of trees and banana groves. The inhabitants are mainly of Sudanese extraction but periodically the place gets over run by the gangs who come down from the hills and raise hell.
We met with very little opposition but a few natives were shot trying to break the cordon. British HQ was established at the Jordan Hotel, kept by a club footed Greek whose trade had been ruined by lack of tourists and non paying gangsters. I enjoyed my stay there as I had my first night in a bed since we left Alexandria. The bugs were rather more annoying than usual and all had to swallow quinine every day to avoid malaria.
One afternoon there, an old Arab rode into our HQ on his donkey and asked if we could spare him some iodine for a couple of scratches. On examination, we found six bullet holes right through him, all stinking and gangrenous; apparently the poor old boy had been shot up about two days before by an aeroplane which also polished off about fifty of his goats.
God knows how long we shall be out here – I should imagine about another six months. I don’t mind living in mild discomfort but it’s rather boring, never getting out of uniform, having no books to read, and never seeing anyone at all except soldiers.
The more I see of the Palestine Police, the more I realise how incredibly idle and undisciplined they are. They cause us endless trouble by letting all their rifles get stolen, spreading secret information and getting pissed and shooting up harmless people.
The more I see of the Army on semi active service, the more hopelessly inefficient they seem to be; thank God there wasn’t a war! Some of the British regiments out here are absolute jokes, like the Ws who have lost five trucks, several Lewis guns, shot up their own patrols and run like Hell whenever they meet an armed guard of more than one. Then there are the KO who who are nothing more than an armed gang themselves and the RS who are absolute savages. The Buffs and Black Watch, though, are first class as are the 11th Hussars.
Best love, Roger


Ramleh 1938
I rather enjoyed Jerusalem, firstly because it was mildly exciting, secondly because the Old City is a most intriguing place, partly fascinating and beautiful, partly squalid and repellent. Some of the Arab hovels I went into were deep in excreta, with human beings, goats, donkeys and chickens all squatting silently and miserably in one room; once or twice I’ve had to light my pipe to avoid being sick. On the other hand, some of the convents and hospices are beautifully clean, very attractive indeed and run by the most delightful people. I lived in a very high building on the edge of the city wall and at five in the morning, with the sun rising beyond it, it was a very beautiful sight, especially as there was complete quiet owing to the curfew. Most of the city has altered but little since Our Lord’s time; Pontius Pilate’s house can still be seen.
I am at billets in Ramleh at present and would be very comfortable if the electric light hadn’t been cut off and if either the bath or the lavatory worked. There is a lovely view across the plain to the hills which seem to change colour every hour of the day.
I caught a big Chameleon here and kept it for a day or two. They are very tame and settle down in no time. I let this one go when I went off to Jaffa for four days work. It’s rather dull when one’s not working here as you can’t leave camp at all or you are likely to get kidnapped or shot.


Jerusalem 1938
Life continues its uneventful round out here; I haven’t been outside the city traffic checks for nine weeks and my work load doesn’t seem to get any less. We’re all waiting anxiously for the Government policy to be outlined and that may give us some idea of the duration of our visit here. As we were originally prepared for a two month visit, I only brought very few clothes here and I am attending social functions among the Jerusalem elite in grey flannel trousers with a patched seat and a coat that was donned with pride for the first occasion in my Sandhurst days.
Forty Arabs were blown up just down the road last week by Jews who had placed a bomb in the Arab market, skilfully concealed in a basket of carrots. One unfortunate gentleman was squatting on the basket when the bomb blew up and was completely disintegrated except for his legs which were paraded up and down the street all that day by his female relatives, accompanied by piercing and incessant lamentations. The same night, an infernal machine, which would have almost destroyed Jerusalem, which was discovered on a roof by a British policeman who luckily heard the machine ticking. Most of the Arab assassinations are now done by boys under fourteen who are handed the weapon and shown the quarry by a terrorist.
I’m glad I’m not in England, there seems to be so much squabbling, wind and national hysteria about. It may be dull here but we don’t worry much about Europe and there are worse conditions to be in than mine – a nice, dull peaceful groove.
Manoeuvres in Egypt have been very severe this year – very strenuous and in dreadful weather. The new mechanised brigade – pride of the Near East Forces –returned to it’s base in sad ignominy on the train, all the mechanism having been rendered useless by two days in a sandstorm!
I hope to take four days leave to Egypt next month or in May, which I feel am now entitled to.


Jerusalem Summer 1938
The conference has provided no solution to this squabble over here, so I suppose we’re stuck here T.F.O. (till further orders). We’re all beginning to get rather browned off as we’re given no clue as to our future except the knowledge that there’s no leave going this year. However, an ugly world crisis seems to be brewing up so there’s a chance we may get shoved off to Egypt to keep the Italians quiet. What a truly bloody world it is at present and not the remotest sign of any improvements in the future. And to think I’m doing it all for about the same wages as my grandmother gives her second or third gardener.
Quite a lot of murders outside the hotel this week, one of which was seen by Guardsman Newash who pursued and captured the assassin. The popular method now is to hand the gun to a boy of about ten or eleven, who actually does the dirty deed, knowing full well that his youth precludes him from the gallows,
The flowers out here are lovely and the hill country has been miraculously transformed into a vast rock garden. At one place I saw about two acres of the most magnificent Lupins I’ve ever seen, and even the Jerusalem suburbs are less nauseatingly hideous than usual.
I have employed a tutor for the evening hours
(Basil Madjoucoff [his photograph appears in the album captioned 'The invaluable Basil']) and learn Arabic from him with almost humiliating difficulty. I think I’m beginning to improve and can now occasionally startle some particularly annoying yokel with some acid remarks in his native tongue.
Some regiments have been having trouble with the officers and I’m rather glad to hear the Buffs, who I think are rather priggish, are having to court-martial one of their officers. He was in command of a platoon post on the railways and unfortunately his sex urge was stronger than his sense of duty. Tiring of the boredom of isolation, he used to sneak off at night and bed down with some alluring Rachel in a Jewish colony. Unfortunately he used to make his journey in the wireless lorry so that when his post was attacked in his absence, no SOS could be sent to HQ and a disaster was only just averted. An RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) Major is also durance vile (restraining order) for calling the CO of the 5th Fusiliers an old bastard to his face! Well I hope this finds you less browned off than it leaves me.


Jerusalem (Christmas 1938)
The situation here remains static; even if we get back to Egypt, the European situation rules out any hope of leave to the UK. These bloody dictators never let up on one for a second; they have almost entirely ruined soldiering as a pleasurable profession and in spite of rumours, I do not believe their power shows any sign of being on the wane.
Very busy here lately; only one night in bed out of the last ten, owing to these windy generals being scared stiff of being thought inactive, ‘lacking in drive’ or ‘not a live wire’ is the usual terms used. Consequently we are shoved out at midnight every day to go and inflict moderate hardship on some perfectly peaceful village.
We did however have a good raid on Hebron; it was two days of hell, very cold, very arduous and well carried out. With the help of informers we picked out several hundred terrorists, having rounded up and questioned 800 men in 36 hours. Then, if you please, the bloody staff, having urged us on, makes us release all but a hundred as ‘they hadn’t expected so many and don’t know quite what to do with them’. The big bunch of cloth-headed saps! No wonder we all get browned off.
We’ve moved after nine weeks in the open to real comfort of a bed, carpet, electric light and other kindred amenities that I was beginning to forget are more than welcome. Well a Merry Christmas to you all, and a peaceful new year.


Please note that this lot is the property of a private collector.

Please note this lot is the property of a private individual.
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