Arnold Wilson

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For the British politician and solicitor, see Arnold Muir Wilson.
Sir Arnold Wilson
Sir Arnold Wilson.jpg
Born (1884-07-18)18 July 1884
Died 31 May 1940(1940-05-31) (aged 55)
Eringhem, France
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
 British Indian Army
 Royal Air Force
Rank Lieutenant Colonel, Pilot Officer
Unit 32nd Sikh Pioneers, No. 37 Squadron RAF
Battles/wars World War II
Awards DSO

Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson KCIE CSI CMG DSO (18 July 1884 – 31 May 1940) was the British civil commissioner in Baghdad in 1918–1920. Wilson became publicly known for his role as the colonial administrator of Mesopotamia (Iraq) during and after the First World War. His high-handedness arguably[citation needed] led to an Iraqi revolt in 1920. He was replaced by Sir Percy Cox. Wilson was the third Member of Parliament (MP) to be killed in World War II when serving as aircrew at the advanced age of 55.

Early life and career[edit]

Wilson was born in 1884 and educated in England at Clifton College, where his father James Maurice Wilson was a headmaster. His younger brother was the tenor Sir Steuart Wilson. He began his military career as an army officer in 1903, having been awarded the King's Medal and sword of honour at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He then served as an officer of the British army in India. In 1904, he went to Iran as a Lieutenant to lead a group of Bengal Lancers to guard the British consulate in Ahvaz and to protect the work of the D’Arcy Oil Company, which had obtained a sixty-year oil concession in Iran and was pursuing oil exploration in partnership with the Burma Oil Company. Wilson was an officer in the 32nd Sikh Pioneers, a regiment of the Indian Army and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1907, Wilson was transferred to the Indian Political Department and sent to the Persian Gulf, where he served as a political officer, soldier and senior administrator. In 1920, he joined the Anglo-Persian Oil Company as resident director in the Persian Gulf. He worked for the company until 1932. Wilson oversaw the discovery of the first oil site in the Middle East, Masjid-i-Suleiman in 1908.

World War I and afterwards[edit]

In 1915, as the British were moving troops from India into Mesopotamia through the Persian Gulf and Basra, Wilson was designated as the assistant, and then deputy, to Sir Percy Cox, the British Political Officer for the region. Based in Baghdad, he then became the acting Civil Commissioner for Mesopotamia.

During his tenure in Mesopotamia, Wilson worked to improve the country's administration according to the principles he learned in India. In Wilson’s views, the priority was to reconstruct and stabilize the country, by establishing an efficient government and administration as well as a fair treatment and political representation of the various ethnic and religious communities (i.e., in the case of Iraq: Arabs, Kurds, Persians, of religions such as Islam Shiite and Sunni, Christianity and Judaism). In doing so, he was nicknamed "The Despot of Mess-Pot". However, after the end of World War I, he found himself progressively opposed to other British officials, who believed that Arab countries should be granted independence under British supervision.

In 1919, during the Paris Peace Conference, which followed World War I, he was among the few who successfully recommended adopting the Arab name Iraq, as it had been known for more than 1400 years by the whole Muslim and Arab world ever since the Arabs went to it, instead of the Greek name Mesopotamia which was only still being used by Westerners. This name change was intended to cover the planned northern expansion of the newly created country under British Mandate to include the oil rich Mosul region of Kurdistan, in addition to the Mesopotamian provinces of Baghdad and Basra.

In April 1920, at the Conference of San Remo, the League of Nations agreed to the British mandate over Iraq. In the spring and summer of 1920, various riots erupted across central and southern Iraq. These riots were often violently repressed by Wilson's administration. The total number of Iraqi casualties of these riots was estimated at 10,000 people.

In the summer of 1920, Wilson proposed a compromise, suggesting that Feisal, the former King of Syria, be offered the Iraqi throne. This proposal was intended to obtain support from the Iraqi population as well as by the British officials who favored a controlled Arab independence. It was eventually accepted by the British Government and by Feisal, but Wilson would not be there to participate in its implementation. The British government decided not to follow Wilson's views, and instead grant independence to Iraq. The British government removed Wilson from his position in Iraq, and knighted him. Deeply disappointed by the turn of events, he left the public service and joined APOC as manager of their Middle Eastern operations.

World War II[edit]

In 1933, he was elected in a by-election as MP for Hitchin. Before World War II, his outspoken views evoked a lot of criticism. The New Statesman described him as "an admirer of Hitler and an unscrupulous propagandist for Mussolini and Hitler". George Orwell called him a Fascist, although he also praised his courage and patriotism.

However, in October 1939 after the outbreak of the war, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, serving as a pilot officer (air gunner) in 37 Squadron of RAF Bomber Command. He stated that "I have no desire to shelter myself and live in safety behind the ramparts of the bodies of millions of our young men."[1] Still an MP, he was killed in northern France, near Dunkirk, on 31 May 1940 when his bomber aircraft, Wellington L7791[2] crashed. He is buried at Eringhem churchyard, half-way between Dunkirk and Saint-Omer.[3] [4]

His book, The Persian Gulf, was published in 1928. His book, S.W. Persia: Letters and Diary of a Young Political Officer 1907–1914, was published posthumously in 1941.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blue Blood in Flanders". Time Magazine. 17 June 1940. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  2. ^ Record for L7791 on
  3. ^ CWGC entry
  4. ^ Falconer, Jonathon (1998). The Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7509-1819-5. 
  • Kingmakers: the Invention of the Modern Middle East, by Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, New York, London: W.W. Norton, 2008
  • Late Victorian: the life of Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson, by John Marlowe.
  • A Periplus of the Persian Gulf by Arnold Talbot Wilson.
  • S. W Persia: Letters and Diary of a Young Political Officer 1907–1914 by Arnold Talbot Wilson.
  • A Peace To End All PeaceThe Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 1989.
  • Sowing the WindThe Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East by John Keay, W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 2003.
  • Paris 1919Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan, Random House, New York, 2003.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Viscount Knebworth
Member of Parliament for Hitchin
Succeeded by
Seymour Berry