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British Intelligence reports on the Peninsula, hitherto inaccessible with no copy recorded in OCLC

(Banks, Donald). Field notes on Sa’udi Arabia 1935. Confidential. Promulgated for the information and guidance of all concerned. By Command of the Air Council.

London, Air Ministry, August 1936.

8vo (255 x 160 mm). 173, (1) pp. With 18 large, folded maps, plans and panoramic views in colour (measuring up to 750 x 780 mm), 2 plates showing Arab soldiers, and the map of Peninsula (775 x 915 mm) in the rear pocket. Sewn between original printed boards, as issued.

Classified as a secret document at the time of issue, never reprinted and still almost unobtainable, the present field notes remain the most important single source of geographical, historical, sociological, statistical and historical material on Saudi Arabia, gathered immediately after the formation of the Kingdom from 1932 onwards. While also covering Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and the other territories "open towards an undefined Sa'udi frontier" and ruled by "six independent Shaiks of the eastern coast of Arabia" (p. 50f.), the present volume was compiled with the main intention of providing British agents and policymakers in the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf and London with a handbook to the "countries previously known as the Hejaz, Nejd, and Asir, and now included, with some outlying districts of the peninsula, in Ibn Saud's dominion" (p. 2). With only a few hundred copies printed, the circulation was strictly limited to authorized personnel within British government departments and agencies. All authorized holders of a copy of the Field Notes needed to register separately and were "warned that unauthorized retention or destruction of this document is an offence against the Official Secrets acts" (title-page). Our copy is stamped No. 586 and was handed out at the residence of the British political agent for the Persian Gulf, with an autograph note by the recipient to the inner front board: "Received at Bushire under C.G.S. Receipt form No. 40278/M.0.3. Bks. dated 21/6/37".

This is the first successful attempt to provide a detailed mapping of the region: apart from the vast general map we find large separate maps of air and sea routes, the tribal areas, administrative divisions, charts showing communication lines, the physical geography, magnetic variations, principal watering posts, frontier posts and garrisons together with plans and even panoramic views of the major cities and settlements including Jedda, Mecca, Medina, and Riyadh. Indeed, the volume contains a sheer mass of factual information which no serious researcher can afford to be without. A historical brief of the last two decades of battles, conquests and treaties is followed by detailed reports on the government system and the population of the Peninsula, including descriptions of the various races and their differing attitudes towards Europeans, their tribal element, education, diet, and religion (notably, the editor is highly sympathetic towards Wahhabism, defending it against being viewed as a sect and stating that, "properly speaking, [it] represents the purity" of Islam, as revealed by the Prophet). Physical and political geography are discussed in detail, as are climate and meteorology, flora and fauna. The last chapter is entirely devoted to the armed forces of the Kingdom, with numerous statistical tables and detailed insights into their organization, subsections and ongoing affairs.

Of the utmost rarity: no copy recorded in OCLC (only listing separately three of the maps, all held by Oxford); not traceable at auction or in the trade of the last decades. A perfect copy, well preserved and complete with the five appendices, glossary, route reports 1-4 and all maps and charts as called for. A unique source for the early history and geography of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring sheikhdoms, compiled and secretly distributed before the profound effects of the oil industry began to be apparent. Due to the rarity of the present original the information contained has remained basically inaccessible until now, not even having been made available in reprint form as were most of the early records of the region such as Lorimer, Aitchison and others.

Not in Macro.