Kinahan Cornwallis

For his father, the writer (1839-1917), see Kinahan Cornwallis (writer).

Sir Kinahan Cornwallis GCMG CBE DSO (19 February 1883 3 June 1959) was a British administrator and diplomat best known for being an advisor to King Faisal and for being the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Iraq during the Anglo-Iraqi War.

Early life

Kinahan Cornwallis was born on 19 February 1883 in the United States and was the son of British poet, writer, and world traveler Kinahan Cornwallis. Cornwallis was educated at Haileybury and University College, Oxford, from 1904 to 1906 he was president of the Oxford University Athletic Club.[1] He left university and spent eight years in the Sudan Civil Service.[1]

Director of the Arab Bureau

From 1916 to 1920, Cornwallis was the Director of the Arab Bureau. He had been Deputy Director of the bureau under David Hogarth, a Naval Intelligence officer.

The Arab Bureau was created by the British as a section of the Cairo Intelligence Department during the World War I. The bureau was created on the initiative of Mark Sykes. Its purpose was to improve British decision making with regard to Arab affairs more unified and effective. Other members of the Arab Bureau included George Stewart Symes, Philip Graves, Gertrude Bell, Aubrey Herbert, and T. E. Lawrence.


As the British advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, Cornwallis played a part in the ratification of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1922. The treaty was signed by the members of the Iraqi cabinet in October 1922 and required ratification by an Iraqi 100-member constituent assembly.[2]

On 11 September 1923, Cornwallis asked the British administrative inspectors in all Iraqi provinces (liwa) to telegraph him the names of candidates who they and the Iraqi provincial governors felt would vote for the treaty.[3]

On 8 February 1924, after considering the names, Cornwallis sent each provincial inspector and governor a list of proposed candidates for the 100-member constituent assembly. The treaty was ratified by the assembly on 24 March 1924. A quorum of only 69 out of 100 delegates participated in the meeting. Of the 69, only 37 voted for the treaty; and even these votes came only after the British High Commissioner Sir Percy Cox threatened to dissolve the assembly and issue orders to occupy the assembly building and its surroundings.[3]

In 1940, Cornwallis wrote the Introduction to Gertrude Bell's posthumously published The Arab War.[4] Bell died in 1926. The book was censored by a mark indicating confidential information for General Headquarters from Bell bring composed of dispatches from the secretive "Arab Bulletin." According to his signature, Cornwallis wrote the Introduction while in Petersfield.

Ambassador to Iraq

Main article: Anglo-Iraqi War

On 1 April 1941, pro-German Rashid Ali and a group of supporters staged a coup d'état to depose the government of the pro-British Regent of the Kingdom of Iraq, Prince Abdul Illah. From 2 April, Cornwallis was named as the British Ambassador to Iraq. He had much experience in Mesopotamia having spent twenty years in the country as adviser to former King Faisal I who had died in 1933. Cornwallis, being highly regarded, was sent to Iraq on the understanding that he would be able to hold a more forceful line with the new Iraqi government than had hitherto been the case. Unfortunately the British agent Cornwallis arrived in Iraq too late to prevent the outbreak of war.[5]

On 18 April, as part of Operation Sabine, the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade was landed at Basra without opposition.[6] The brigade included personnel of the Royal Artillery's 3rd Field Regiment;[7] but without their guns,[8] and the headquarters of the 10th Indian Infantry Division landed at Basra;[7] covered by infantry of the King's Own Royal Regiment.[9] Major-General William Fraser, commanding officer of the 10th Indian Infantry Division, assumed control over the land forces based within Iraq, initially known as Sabine Force and ultimately known as Iraqforce.[7] Brigadier Donald Powell commanded the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade. The following day seven aircraft[nb 1] were flown into RAF Habbaniya to bolster the air force there.[10]

Following the landing of the troops on 18 April, Rashid Ali requested that they be moved quickly through the country and that no more should arrive until the previous force had left.[11] Cornwallis referred the issue to London and received the reply that there was no interest in moving the troops out of the country. London wanted to establish the troops within Iraq. Cornwallis was also informed not to inform Rashid Ali who, as he had taken control of the country via a coup d'état, had no right to be informed about British troop movements.[12]

On 29 April, a further three ships landed at Basra and brought ancillary troops.[13] On the same day[10] Ambassador Cornwallis[14] advised that all British women and children should leave Baghdad; 230 civilians were escorted by road to Habbaniya and during the following days were gradually air lifted to RAF Shaibah.[10] A further 350 civilians took refuge in the British Embassy and 150 British civilians in the American Legation.[15]

On 30 April, when Ali was informed that ships containing even more British forces had arrived, he refused permission for these troops to disembark. Rashid Ali also began organising for an armed demonstration at RAF Habbaniya[12] while anticipating German assistance would be forthcoming in the guise of aircraft and airborne troops.[9] Later that day, Iraqi ground forces with artillery took up strong positions on the escarpment above RAF Habbaniya.

Cornwallis signalled the Foreign Office that he regarded the Iraqi actions as an act of war which required an immediate air response. He also informed them that he intended to demand the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces and permission to launch air strikes to restore control. Even if the Iraqi troops overlooking Habbaniya did withdraw it would only postpone aerial attacks.[16] On 1 May, the Cornwallis received a response giving him full authority to take any steps needed to ensure the withdrawal of the Iraqi armed forces.[16] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also sent a personal reply, stating:

"If you have to strike, strike hard. Use all necessary force."[17]

Were contact to break down between the Embassy in Baghdad and the besieged force at Habbaniya, the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice-Marshal H. G. Smart, was given permission to act on his own authority.[16] On 2 May, after several days of warnings and counter-warnings, Smart launched pre-emptive air strikes on the Iraqi forces positioned on the escarpment. AVM Smart also launched air attacks on Iraqi forces throughout the country. From this point, Cornwallis was confined to the British Embassy compound in Baghdad.[18]

The British air strikes were extremely successful and, by the evening of 6 May, the Iraqis abandoned the escarpment above Habbaniya. After the arrival of elements of Habforce, the British ground forces from Habbaniya pressed on to Fallujah and, after its fall, they advanced towards Baghdad. On 29 May, the government of Rashid Ali collapsed and he and his supporters fled to Persia.

On the morning of 31 May, the Mayor of Baghdad and a delegation approached British forces at the Washash Bridge outsdide of Baghdad. With the Mayor was Sir Kinahan Cornwallis. Terms were quickly reached,[19] an armistice was signed,[20] and the monarchy and a pro-British government were put back in place. On 1 June, the Regent returned to Baghdad.[21] On 1 June an armed Iraqi mob began a two-day murder spree against Baghdad's Jews, known as "The Farhud". After two days the Mayor of Baghdad and police loyal to the Iraqi monarchy quelled the violence by imposing a curfew and shot violators on sight. An investigation conducted by the journalist Tony Rocca of the London Sunday Times looked at Cornwallis's conduct, when he refused to act against the riots.[22]

Cornwallis edited the Arab Bulletin (1916–1920). Cornwallis wrote the introduction to The Arab War by Gertrude Bell. Confidential Information for General Headquarters from Gertrude Bell, being Despatches reprinted from the secret Arab Bulletin.

Family life

On 14 October 1911 in London, Cornwallis married Gertrude Dorothy Bowen, daughter of Sir Albert Edward Bowen, 1st +Baronet, and Alice Anita Crowther. They were divorced in 1925.[23] Cornwallis married again in 1937 to Margaret Hilda Mary Clark. He died 3 June 1959 at his home at North Warnborough, Basingstoke, aged 76.

See also


  1. Six Gloster Gladiators fighters and one Vickers Wellington bomber, carrying spare parts.[10]


  1. 1 2 "Sir Kinahan Cornwallis." Times [London, England] 5 June 1959: 17. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.
  2. Bengio, p.16
  3. 1 2 Bengio, p.17
  4. Bell, pp. 3-5,
  5. Lyman, p.18
  6. Lyman, p. 31
  7. 1 2 3 Playfair, p. 179
  8. Mackenzie, p. 92
  9. 1 2 Martin, p. 42
  10. 1 2 3 4 Playfair, p. 182
  11. Playfair, pp. 179 180
  12. 1 2 Playfair, p. 181
  13. Mackenzie, pp. 92 93
  14. Playfair, p. 178
  15. Jackson, p. 149
  16. 1 2 3 Playfair, p. 183
  17. Mackenzie, p. 94
  18. Wavell, p. 3439
  19. Lyman, pp. 84-85
  20. Mackenzie, p.104
  21. Lyman, p. 86
  22. Memories of Eden - Haaretz - Israel News
  23. The Peerage, Person Page - 17605


External links

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