To Ernest Altounyan (1890-1962)

Scope and Content

Letters sent to Ernest Altounyan (1890-1962).

Administrative / Biographical History

Ernest Haik Riddall Altounyan was born at Aleppo in 1890 to Dr A A Altounyan, an Armenian, founder of the hospital of his name in Aleppo, and his Northern-Irish wife. He was educated at Rugby, went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, of which he was an exhibitioner, and then to the Middlesex Hospital. The greater part of his surgical career was spent in the hospital at Aleppo, where he returned at the end of the First World War, having served in the RAMC and won the Military Cross in France for gallantry in action. He was a close friend of T E Lawrence, whom he met before the war when Lawrence was an archaeologist at Carchemish on the Euphrates; he wrote the poetic lament ‘Ornament of Honour’ on learning of Lawrence's death. During the Second World War he rejoined the RAMC and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His official role of medical officer was an effective cover for activities as an expert adviser on Middle Eastern affairs. In 1941 he was attached to the Arab Legion under General Sir John Glubb and took an active part in the emergence of Syria as an independent state; the first president of Syria placed great reliance on his advice. After the Suez campaign (1958), when Syria severed diplomatic relations with Great Britain, Altounyan lost all his possessions in Syria, which, including the hospital, were seized without compensation and, after a life of comparative affluence, he was reduced to poverty. In 1916 he married Dora Collingwood, daughter of W. G. Collingwood. They had four daughters and one son. Their children were purportedly the inspiration for the Walker family in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. He died at Lanehead, Coniston, where he retired on leaving Syria, on 13 March 1962 at the age of 72.