Robert W. Ford
Robert Webster Ford (born 27 March 1923 in Burton-on-Trent) was a radio operator and British diplomat who worked in Tibet in the late 1940s. He was one of the few Westerners to be appointed by the Government of Tibet at the time of independent Tibet, before the Chinese invasion of 1950. He spent five years in Tibet, and declared he "had the opportunity to witness and experience at first hand the reality of Tibetan independence."
Robert Ford was a radio technician of the Royal Air Force during World War II and worked in England and in India. In 1945, he joined the British Mission in Lhasa as a radio officer and had an audience with the 14-year-old 14th Dalai Lama in Lhasa. The same year he was transferred to Gangtok, Sikkim, where he worked on British India relations with Tibet. When India became independent in 1947, Robert Ford returned to Lhasa and was appointed by the Government of Tibet, becoming the first foreigner to be given an official rank in the country.
Following one-year in Lhasa, he was requested to go to Chamdo, capital of eastern Tibet (Kham), to establish a radio link between Lhasa and Chamdo, which he managed successfully. In 1949 Ford and three wireless operator students left for the city. They helped the Governor General of Kham, Lhalu Tsewang Dorje, improve defence in Chamdo and the surrounding area. In addition, a direct link was established for the first time between Lhasa and Chamdo. Early in 1950, Lhalu requested Ford shorten the training of the wireless operator students. At that time, new arrival of arms and instructors arrived and training in the use of Bren guns. Robert Ford wrote that "the Tibetan Army began to look a little less like something out of the Middle Ages."
He was arrested in 1950 by the invading Chinese army, along with the Governor General of Kham, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, and other Tibetan officials. The People's Republic of China accused him of espionage, spreading anti-communist propaganda and causing the death of Geda Lama. He spent nearly 5 years in jail, in constant fear of being executed, and was subjected to interrogation and thought reform. Only in 1954 was he allowed to send a letter to his parents. At the end of 1954 his trial was held and he was sentenced to ten years jail. He was eventually released and expelled in 1955.
In 1957, he published the book Captured in Tibet about his experience. The book was reissued in 1990 with a preface by the Dalai Lama and an epilogue by the author entitled "The Occupation".
In 1956 he was appointed at the British Diplomatic Service and served in the Foreign Office in London, Vietnam, Indonesia, United States, Morocco, Angola, Sweden, France and finally as Consul-General in Geneva. He retired in 1987 and was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire. On April 13, 2013, Ford was given the Tibet's Light of Truth Award by the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in Fribourg, Switzerland.
- Wind Between the Worlds [original title of Captured in Tibet], David McKay Company, Inc., 1957.
- Captured in Tibet [2nd edition], Oxford University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-19-581570-X
- Tibet Rouge, Capturé par l’armée chinoise au Kham [edition in French], Olizane, 1999 ISBN 2-88086-241-8