Correspondence between Sir Syed Maratib Ali and Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck

  • Reference
      GB 133 ALI
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      All items are written in English  unless otherwise stated.
  • Physical Description
      198 items.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

This archive largely comprises correspondence between Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (1884-1981) and Sir Syed Maratib Ali (1883-1961), spanning four decades. Their personal and professional relationship features predominantly. According to ALI/4, the two men had known one another since 1933, when Auchinleck took over command of the Peshawar brigade. Ali appears to have been a major supplier of the Indian Army (see ALI/6). Auchinleck's wide-ranging world travel is discussed in detail and correspondence regarding Qaidabad Carpets Ltd (of which Syed Maratib Ali was a shareholder and chairman) is also prevalent. In addition to personal and business matters, Auchinleck and Syed Maratib Ali discuss political issues such as the Allied Forces' victory, the progress of Pakistan as a newly independent political entity, the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan (1895-1951), Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the Suez Crisis of 1956. Thirty-seven of the items date from the period 1943-7, when Auchinleck was Commander-in-Chief, India.

Administrative / Biographical History

Claude John Eyre Auchinleck was born at Aldershot on 21 June 1884, the son of a Colonel in the Royal Horse Artillery. He was educated at Wellington College (1896-1901) and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, from where he graduated in 1903. He began his military career in April 1904 as a subaltern in the 62nd Punjab Regiment of the Indian Army. Sent with the Regiment to the Middle East at the outbreak of the First World War, he served with distinction against Turkish and Arab forces in Egypt, Aden and Mesopotamia, rising in rank from Captain to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in 1919, and winning both DSO and OBE.

During the 1920s he held a number of staff assignments in India and studied, from 1927, at the newly-formed Imperial Defence College in London. After a brief spell as Commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment in 1929-30, and promotion to full Colonel, he served as an instructor at the Indian Army's Staff College, Quetta, in 1930-33, before resuming active duties as Commander of the Peshawar Brigade, then engaged in mountain warfare against the Mohmands, an Afghan tribe, on the North-West Frontier. Twice mentioned in dispatches, Auchinleck was promoted successively to the ranks of Brigadier and Major-General and, in 1936, was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Army Headquarters, India. The year 1938 saw him progress to become the Commander of the Meerut District and to sit as a member of the Expert (Chatfield) Committee on the Defence of India, a position which he used to press forcefully for the modernization of the Indian Army.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Auchinleck was recalled from the Meerut District to England, to form, train and command 4th Corps in readiness for war in France, and was promoted to Lieutenant-General. Allied operations in Norway, however, were going badly under Major-General Mackesy, and in May 1940 Auchinleck replaced Mackesy as Commander of the Anglo-French land and air forces in the north of the country. His troops held and expanded their position at Narvik, but had to be withdrawn when the rapid German advance through Western Europe necessitated the evacuation of Dunkirk and cut off planned reinforcements for Norway.

In July 1940 Auchinleck was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command, a key role planning coastal defences against the expected German invasion.

In November 1940, when the immediate threat of invasion had receded, Auchinleck was promoted to full General and appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, in succession to General Sir Robert Cassels. He was also knighted. Auchinleck left England for India in January 1941 and soon impressed Churchill by dispatching a force to help put down the rebellion of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in Iraq. After only six months Auchinleck was transferred again, this time to replace General Archibald Wavell as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, in the wake of the failure of the 'Battleaxe' offensive in the Western Desert and the advance of the Axis forces under Field Marshal Rommel. Early gains at Rommel's expense in the 'Crusader' offensive were quickly reversed during the first half of 1942, and Auchinleck's forces suffered a series of defeats, culminating in the loss of Tobruk in June 1942. In the immediate aftermath of this disaster Auchinleck removed Lt.-Gen. Neil Ritchie as Commander of the 8th Army, and assumed direct control himself. He succeeded in stabilizing the defensive line in the First Battle of El Alamein in July. Auchinleck's relations with Churchill had never been easy; the Prime Minister had continually urged the Auk to take early offensive action, while the General rejoined that he required more time to train his units and build up the strength of his armour, and he resented what he regarded as unwarranted political interference in his campaign. Despite halting the Axis advance, Auchinleck was summarily dismissed in August 1942 and replaced as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, by General Alexander, with Lt.-Gen. Bernard Montgomery appointed Commander of the 8th Army. The speed and manner of his removal shocked Auchinleck and his supporters; the sense of injustice was heightened by Montgomery's criticisms of his predecessor. Arguments have continued to rage over whether Auchinleck would have achieved victory in the Western Desert had he remained in command.

Auchinleck was offered a new command in Iran and Iraq, which he refused. He returned to India without a formal position until, in June 1943, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, India, for a second time, in succession to Wavell, who had been promoted to Viceroy. Although Auchinleck was not involved in active military operations, he played a vital role as War Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council and as commander of the main staging-area for operations against the Japanese in Burma. His background and prestige within the Indian Army were immensely useful in mobilizing enormous numbers of troops and supplies for service in both the European and Far East theatres of war. In June 1946 he was nominated Field Marshal in recognition of his wartime service. It was while Auchinleck was Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army that he first met Sir Syed Maratib Ali.

Auchinleck's final period in India was spent in preparing the country's armed forces for the constitutional process of transferring power from Britain, which led to the formation of the independent states of India and Pakistan. He hoped that an independent India would remain united, and he regarded its armed forces as a bulwark against sectarianism. When he saw that partition was inevitable, he worked tirelessly to ensure an orderly and equitable division of personnel, equipment and facilities, despite the worsening political situation and criticism by Indian nationalist leaders of his being biased towards Pakistan. His hopes of completing the task were frustrated when Viscount Mountbatten bowed to pressure from local politicians and brought forward the date of independence to 15 August 1947. In November 1947 Auchinleck's Headquarters as Supreme Commander were closed and he left India before his work was fully done. He refused the offer of a peerage, despairing at the tragic events of Partition.

After a brief sojourn in Italy, Auchinleck retired to London and Beccles. He led an active life in retirement, holding numerous offices and frequently revisiting India. At the end of 1967 he moved to Marrakesh, Morocco, where he died of influenza on 23 March 1981.


Since the material in the two accessions was closely related and there appeared to be no logic to the division, they have been integrated into a single chronological sequence, from 7 July 1937 to 16 May 1961. Material from the second accession can be identified by the suffix letters in the reference codes.

Access Information

The archive is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the John Rylands University Library by Syed Babar Ali in two accessions, in May 1997 and February 1998.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The letters addressed to Sir Syed Maratib Ali had been kept in a file along with copies of the letters Ali sent, amongst the papers of the Ali family of Lahore. The John Rylands University Library was notified of their existence in April 1997 by Sahil Zaheer, Special Assistant to Syed Babar Ali, the son of Syed Maratib Ali, as the Library is the repository of the Auchinleck Papers. The file was delivered to the John Rylands University Library in May 1997. A second file containing further correspondence between Auchinleck and Syed Maratib Ali was received by the John Rylands University Library on 25 February 1998. The contents of this second file can be identified within the listing by the suffixes a-v following the item number.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library also holds the papers of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, ref.: AUC; papers of Major-General Eric Edward Dorman O'Gowan (formerly Dorman Smith), who for a brief period served as Auchinleck's Chief-of-Staff in the Desert Campaign during the summer of 1942, ref.: GOW; and the papers of Robin Ridgway, Private Secretary to Auchinleck in India, covering the years 1939-44; the last are as yet unlisted.