Suffolk soldier's letters paint picture of chaos during daring mission in Soviet Central Asia

Officers of the 28th Light Cavalry (including Uloth on the right of second row) at Meshed, 1918
Officers of the 28th Light Cavalry (including Captain Gerald Uloth on the right of second row) at Meshed, 1918

One hundred years ago, in September 1918, Captain Gerald Uloth and his regiment arrived in Transcaspia in Central Asia to reinforce a British mission tasked with resisting enemy influence in the area. Letters and memoirs held at the National Army Museum shed light on this largely unknown episode during the First World War.

Uloth entered the Royal Military College Sandhurst in 1911 and upon graduating joined the Indian Army, attracted to the force after seeing Indian cavalry units parading at King George V's coronation celebrations. In December 1912, he boarded ship for Bombay as a second lieutenant in the Indian Army and was later posted to the 28th Light Cavalry.

In June 1915, the 28th were posted to Persia, travelling through the deserts of Baluchistan to help form a cordon along its eastern border against German and Turkish agents who were intent on encouraging anti-British unrest in Afghanistan and on the North West Frontier of India. Gerald saw much action in these areas, carrying out patrols and engaging in skirmishes against rebellious tribesmen.

Following the revolution in Russia, and the country's subsequent withdrawal from the war, Gerald's regiment moved north with the British Military Mission to Transcaspia in September 1918. It was tasked with bolstering British interests and resisting Bolshevik, German and Turkish influence in the region.

Gerald's mastery of Russian, Persian and various Indian dialects was of huge advantage to this mission, but he found himself fighting alongside a range of anti-Bolsheviks in a chaotic situation:

'They are a hopeless crew. The ex-officers won't lower themselves to work hand in hand with the decent class workmen, and these latter fear the officers wish to set up the old regime. In addition, the country is full of free-lancers and adventurers, so it is impossible to raise a satisfactory side against the Bolsheviks... The only stable power in the country are the Turcomen, but they are cruel, and savage, and have little in common with the Russians.'

Trains played a vital role in the fighting in Transcaspia as there were few roads in this desert region. Troops were dependent on trains for movement, supplies and water. Uloth 'lived and traveled in every conceivable form of vehicle, armoured trains, engines, cattle trucks, saloon carriages and hospital trains'. He described a typical armoured train:

'No. 1 Armoured train is well built, having been armoured with steel plates at the railway workshops at Kizil Arvat. To prevent the vital portions of the train being blown up by land mines, two flat trucks loaded with pig iron and ballast approximating the weight of an engine are coupled in front. The next vehicle is a flat truck mounting a howitzer, on which is fixed a most ingenious device for taking the recoil, and for preventing the trail of the gun from being driven through the bottom of the truck on discharge...'

The political goals of the military mission were not always clear. Periods of fighting were often followed by inactivity as the British government dithered between greater involvement in Transcaspia or withdrawal. Eventually, it settled on the latter.

Gerald noted in one of his letters:

'It has always been my fate to take part in obscure and strange expeditions, but this really defeats everything. I am overwhelmed by it all.'

First World War in Focus Captain Gerald Uloth

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact Claire Blackshaw at cblackshaw@nam.ac.uk or 020 7881 2433.

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About Gerald Uloth

Gerald Uloth (1893-1973) was born at St Johns Wood in London on 27 December 1893. He was the son of a Frenchman, Herman Wilmot Uloth, and his English wife, Susan Harriet Spall. His father was a general manager with the P&O Shipping Company, and Gerald spent his earliest years in Bombay, before travelling to England in 1897.

Following his education, he joined the Indian Army and went on to serve in Baluchistan, Persia and Transcaspia with the 28th Light Cavalry. He then took part in the Third Afghan War (1919) and the operations to suppress the tribal revolt in Waziristan (1919-20).

On 6 October 1922, while on leave in England, Gerald married Barbara Maude Crickmay at St Mary's Church, Reigate. The couple returned to India, but ill health forced Uloth to retire from the service in 1931 with the rank of major, having received the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Indian General Service Medal.

After a year working as the manager of a pipe factory in Spain, he returned to England along with his wife and two sons, Peter and Anthony, settling in Kent where he farmed chickens. In 1939, he was living at 'Burnt House', Cranbrook, Kent. 

The following year he was recalled to the Indian Army. He worked as a military adviser to the Indian State Forces until 1942, when he was discharged as medically unfit. On returning home, Gerald served as a commander of his local Home Guard unit, head air-raid warden and chairman of his parish council. 

A keen yachtsman, after the Second World War he moved with his wife to Woodbridge on the River Debden in Suffolk, settling at 'Red Maltings', Kingston Road. He died there on 17 February 1973.

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