ANZAC Day, Tehran

April 25, a day Australians and New Zealanders know as ANZAC Day, is commemorated annually around the world by people of those two small nations. It commemorates the events of 1915, when Australian and New Zealand soldiers, fighting under the British Flag, were landed in Turkey at a place called Gallipoli to attack the Ottomans. The landing was a significant defeat for the British-led forces, but is viewed by Australians and New Zealanders as something of a baptism by fire for the two then very small nations. Australia lost more than 8700 troops in the engagement, and New Zealand more than 2700.

Today ANZAC Day has come to be understood as an opportunity to give thanks to and remember those who have perished, and equally those who have survived, while fighting in wars for Australia and New Zealand since their nationhood.

As you would know from the earlier posting in this blog, ‘Remains of War’, Australians and New Zealanders during the first world war fought in the Mesopotamian theatre of operations, and specifically in the context of Iran, in what was then the Northern Persian theatre. To briefly recap the earlier article, many highly decorated Australians and New Zealanders were recruited from other theatres in Europe and the Middle East, to form the first ever special forces group, ‘Dunsterforce’ (named after the force’s leader, Lord Dunsterville). This force of around 1000 troops operated in the areas of modern Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. It was a small force but strongly armed with a high ratio of machine gun units, afforded extraordinary levels of motorised transport to traverse the vast distances they were expected to cover, and with highly trained communications experts.


Lord Dunsterville(far left) and staff of Dunsterforce (Source: Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of WWI: The Campaign in Armenia)

Surprisingly, they were not so much directly engaged by the German and Ottoman enemies, but perhaps are best understood as contributing greatly to the allied victory in WW1 by drawing massive and inordinate numbers of enemy troops away from other theatres, becoming indirectly responsible in many ways for the eventual defeat of the Ottomans, and thus to defeating the Germans. It is an interesting angle to this story, made more poignant on ANZAC Day, that this little-heard-of Dunsterforce – many of whom also fought in Gallipoli some three years earlier – contributed greatly to achieving the strategic objective of the Gallipoli campaign: knocking the Ottomans out of the war. It happened that this force of 1000 was so perturbing for the Ottomans who, in particular, desperately needed the oil and cotton routes to the east that the ports of Baku and Enzeli brought, that in 1918 they diverted a massive 40,000 troops from other operations to oust Dunsterforce.

North Staffords - Dunsterforce marching for Baku

Dunsterforce (in this case, soldiers of the North Staffordshire Regiment’s 7th (Service) Battalion, which coincidentally also landed in Gallipoli and was evacuated, saw service in Egypt, and then Northern Persia, and many of whom ended up lying in Tehran War Cemetery) marching on the road to Baku (Source: Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of WWI: The Campaign in Armenia)

Sadly, and unfittingly for hardened war heroes from other campaigns, a large number of Dunsterforce members perished from disease, and many not long before the war’s end. Based in the strategic high ground of Hamadan (the ancient city of Ecbatana) in western Iran, the Australians and New Zealanders buried in Tehran perished from the likes of cholera and malaria while in base. Buried initially in Hamadan, their graves were moved to Tehran much later as part of a larger process of aggregating Commonwealth War Graves from around the region.

And so, in the dawn twilight (ANZAC services are held at dawn, marking the timing of the initial landing at Gallipoli) of 25 April, 2014, the New Zealand Ambassador, H.E. Mr Eamonn O’Shaughnessy, hosted a service in the Tehran War Cemetery, located at the southern edge of the British residential compound at Gholhak in north Tehran.


Tehran War Cemetery, Gholhak, Tehran, Iran

A small – around 30 – invitation-only and poppy-wearing crowd gathered in the beautifully-kept cemetery for the ANZAC Day service that included wreath-laying by the Ambassadors of New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, and France, a recital of the ever-haunting Last Post, and the equally reviving Reveille. The ceremony included a tribute and reading by the Ambassador of Turkey of the famously magnanimous – and always heart-warming – words of the first Prime Minister of Turkey (and former Ottoman soldier) Mustafa Kemal Ataturk:

“Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.”

The sun was well over the red-brick wall by the end of the ceremony and while the parrots, which seemed almost to assemble purposely around the cemetery, squawked in the trees of the British compound, attendees roamed through the war graves, looking at the quite remarkable collection of soldiers, mostly from Britain but also including troops from India, South Africa, Russia, and Poland.

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The graves of the three Australian diggers, Tehran War Cemetery

For those interested, the programme for the ceremony can be downloaded here, with thanks to the Embassy of New Zealand in Tehran for the file: ANZAC Day Programme


The memorial at Tehran War Cemetery. From L to R: the author (Mr Brian Iselin); New Zealand’s Ambassador to Iran HE Mr Eamonn O’Shaughnessy; Australia’s Ambassador to Iran, HE Mr Paul Foley.

The ceremony was followed by a breakfast at the Residence of the New Zealand Ambassador in Niavaran, north Tehran, featuring a really fine spread of hot and cold foods including fine Australian Angus Beef sausages brought in by the New Zealand Embassy’s Number Two, Mr Ben Steele, from the Australian and New Zealand butcher in nearby Dubai.

There are only a few Australians and New Zealanders living in Iran these days, but it seemed like the vast majority were in attendance, including a UN (Kiwi) staffer who traveled down from the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad.

The commemoration was small but, for remembering those who are fallen and buried in far-away lands, poignant for those gathered. The breakfast set in the gardens of the Residence was convivial and beautifully conceived.

And what ANZAC commemoration would be complete without the famous ANZAC biscuits? On this occasion exceptional quality hand-made by the wife of New Zealand’s Ambassador, Ms Sameera Mazhar.


ANZAC Biscuits in the morning sun, made by the wife of the New Zealand Ambassador.

The five ANZACs who lie in their graves in Iran, mostly unvisited and seldom remembered, must have been warmed by the thoughtfulness of those who made this ANZAC Dawn Service in Iran something to remember.





Myth-busting Continued: the Australian Flag Debate

The Top Myths in Australia’s ‘Flag Change Debate’

Today I heard that New Zealand has announced a referendum on whether or not to change the national flag, which makes me think about the debate, or lack of, about whether to change the Australian flag.

Let me start by declaring my own interest in the outcome. As a believer in plebiscite, I can happily support the current flag, or something else; whatever the majority of Australians want. However, what I PREFER is a flag that accurately represents the nation. I would like to see the flag changed, as I don’t believe the current one demonstrates sufficiently an autonomous Australia.

What I can’t stand, and thus the cause of this article, is those with a view who lie to coalesce others behind their view. There are so many who would seek, indeed have sought, to polarise a debate that really should not be, that makes me want to dispel a few of the leading myths; they are barriers of ignorance to decent debate.

blue ensign

The current Australian flag, or blue ensign

The myths are numerous, and largely propagated by the opponents of change, but include assertions that changing the flag means becoming a Republic, that thousands of Australians died ‘ for the flag’, and that our flag is widely, universally recognisable already.

The leading myth that seems to do the rounds is that thousands of Australians have died under, fighting for, the current flag since 1901.

Hereafter, some of the facts about the Australian flag, and addressing some of the myths associated with the national flag.

1)      Changing the flag means becoming a Republic and severing ties with the British Monarchy.

This is such a simple myth to discount; I find it extraordinary some people still believe it.

The flag debate, and the Republic debate, are two separate issues. Although they are often conflated.

Changing the flag does not necessarily mean becoming a Republic, as we saw in the case of Canada. Likewise, becoming a Republic does not of itself mean a change of the flag, as we saw in the case of Fiji.

The two are distinct debates, although both are about change in national identify, and one can be addressed without necessarily addressing the other.

2)      Changing the flag turns our back on the sacrifice of so many soldiers who died fighting for the flag.

If you examine this statement, it contains two assumptions:

a)      That Australian soldiers fight for the flag

b)      That the current Australian flag is the flag soldiers have fought and died for since Federation.

Both are erroneous, and give rise to the myth.

The current Australian flag, otherwise called the blue ensign, only became the national flag in 1954. Soldiers, who fought for Australia up to and including the Korean War, did not fight for, or under, the Australian flag as we now know it.

Prior to 1954, the use of the blue ensign as the national flag was strongly and actively discouraged. It was, if you examine the history of the blue ensign, designed as a result of a flag competition at the time of Federation, and rejected by, in particular, the military establishment. The Department of Defence was the greatest opponent of the blue ensign being adopted nationally (they thought it too ‘marine’). The blue ensign as we know and use it today did not become some glorious and romantic flag of the people, but rather served until 1954 as an instrument of Government.

In the early part of the century Australian soldiers mostly departed and returned under the Union Jack. In addition, often juxtaposed with the Union Jack, the Australian red and blue ensigns were, from 1901, used as banners or shipping flags.

And so, generations of Australians did NOT die for the Australian flag or even under it. The current flag was NOT the Australian flag during World War 1 or World War 2, or even the Korean War. The flag most often used in the context, WW1 and WW2, was the Australian Red Ensign, a naval flag that was broadly favoured for military use.

And of course in Korea, Australians fought under (for?) the UN, and the Red Ensign was still Australia’s official flag for another year past the end of that war.

red ensign

The Red Ensign

The second assumption underwriting this leading myth is that members of the armed services in Australia in the past century have ‘fought and died for the flag’.

Australian soldiers – my Dad among them, and others who fought and died during Australia’s wars, surely fought and died for our country? It is a subtle, but important, difference if it is to be used as the leading argument against change. You would likely have to poll a lot of soldiers and their families/descendants to find out why people fought in our wars. But I suspect ‘the flag’ is not the answer.

And prior to 1954, if one maintains that solders are unable to distinguish between a flag and a nation, and therefore do fight and die for a flag rather than a people or polity, then they fought and died for the red ensign, not our current national flag.

If you want numbers: as to how many have given their lives under what flag, then of the more than 102,000 Australian soldiers who have died since Federation, approximately 668 – around two thirds of 1% – have died under the blue ensign. The remainder, 1901-1954, died under (if not specifically ‘for’) the red  ensign. It is accurate to say that the Australian red ensign is therefore 99% MORE representative of those Australians who have died fighting for Australia than any other flag.

Further, if you speak specifically about navy, as an arm in itself, they fought under (if not for) the British White Ensign from 1911, when they were formed, until as late as 1967.

The evidence of the red ensign being the Australian flag until 1954 is overwhelming. By contrast, the blue ensign was rarely seen, its use being restricted to government buildings and schools.

Towards World War II, the Australian red ensign became popular, although the Union Jack usually flew alone or in a senior position to the red ensign. In WW1, the red ensign and Union Jack flew alongside each other in, for example, recruiting posters and the like.

The former head of the Returned and Services League in Australia, Bruce Ruxton, paid $25,000 for the flag kept by the prisoners of Changi. It is an Australian red ensign.

Sir Douglas Mawson’s flag in his time capsule in Antarctica is an Australian red ensign.

Flags carried by Australian soldiers of both world wars were Australian red ensigns.

The flags flying at the Australian War Memorial are overwhelmingly Australian red ensigns.

When Queen Elizabeth II came to Australia in 1954, she was welcomed by millions of Australians mostly waving Union Jacks and, that’s right, Australian red ensigns. And it was only during this visit that she proclaimed the current Australian flag, for the first time making the blue ensign the preferred colour.

As an interesting aside, the Prime Minister who brought in the change to the flag, Robert Menzies, in 1953 made the blue ensign the national design and removed the red ensign. He did so:

a)      without any recourse to the Australian people; and

b)      solely because, suffering communist paranoia, he wanted the ‘red’ removed.

One wonders if Menzies had gone to  a referendum, at a time when the argument was perhaps more valid that many Australians HAD fought and died under the red ensign, whether a change would have been agreed.

As a further interesting aside, if Liberal is your political colour, then you should note that the Liberal Party was not formed in 1945 under any Australian flag, it was formed under the Union Jack.

3)      The current flag is universally recognised as the Australian flag.

Perhaps the current flag is indeed ‘universally’ recognised as Australian…. as long as you poll only within Australia (and perhaps New Zealand).

Without a wide-ranging global poll to find out its real universality, it is impossible to say either way.

However, as an expatriate Australian having lived and worked in more than 45 countries, I can assure fellow Australians that the Australian flag is NOT widely recognised as Australian, and largely because it is not distinctive.

It can be, and often is, confused with flags of New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, a wide range of yacht clubs a, a few fire stations from what this poster suggests, and of course the states of Australia. Even the Boxing Kangaroo flag is more widely understood as symbolising Australia.

confused flags

As a demonstration of this, you might sit an Australian down with the wide range of national and other flags that are similar, and ask them to pick, for example, Samoa or Fiji, from the pile.

In 1985, Bob Hawke (then Prime Minister of Australia) was greeted famously in Ottawa with the New Zealand flag. The fact is, the current Australian flag is not at all distinctively Australian to the rest of the world, and this cannot be used as a valid argument against change. Many people, even those who are pretty good with flags, get the Australian flag confused for others, especially New Zealand.

It is notable that few if any get the Canadian flag wrong. And the debate in Canada before the change was similarly heated, similarly divisive, and racked with polarising hyperbole propagating pretty much the same myths as in Australia.

If you want universally recognisable, and distinctive, the current design is certainly not it.

There are many possible, distinctive, and nationally representative flags out there. In the same way change can come to national anthems (as Australia’s did in 1977), and to sporting colours (as Australia’s did in 1984), so too flags can change without rejecting the sacrifice of others, without changing the political system, and without turning our backs on a strong and universally-recognised design.

alternative aust flags

Let us debate about the Australian flag, whether change is desirable to reflect a very changed country and context.

But let’s leave out the polarising myths and emotive hyperbole.


UPDATE 1: Presumably in reply to the NZ Prime Minister’s announcement of a referendum, on 12 March 2014, the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said changing the flag was “not an issue that actually draws much attention in Australia”.

“There’s no great demand to change it and many Australians have fought and died under that flag, sadly,” she said.

“We have competed in Olympic Games under that flag and there’s a sense of pride in it.”

So, there’s the view of the current government. Let’s, in the meantime, watch how the progressive kiwis go!

Remains of War in Tehran – World War 1

For millennia at the crossroads of empires, kingdoms, battles, and epochs, what we now know as Iran but has long been known as Persia, has seen its fair share of war. There are so many remains of war in Iran, it is not possible in a single article to cover them all. But with my Australian heritage, one reminder of a war fought long ago in Persia stands out; in the middle of north Tehran there is a Commonwealth War Grave. And Australian soldiers lay there.


Seeing there was a Commonwealth War Cemetery in Tehran led to asking the obvious question about who might possibly be lying there. So this blog posting is about my search to find out who was buried in Tehran, and how they came to be there. This opened up into a somewhat longer journey through military exploits in Persia – and the fascinating geo-strategic position of Persia – during the First World War. And on this journey (as is presumably the case when combing through old war graves anywhere) fascinating stories, and tales of derring-do and larger-than-life characters emerge.


To provide some backdrop, over recent centuries, what we now know as Iran but was called Persia at the start of the 20th century, was at the heart of British imperial competition with, for example, Russia, and trade battles over access to strategic resources, including oil and cotton. Remember that oil and cotton were the stuff of armies, and essential to empires. And with the onset of First World War (WW1) in Europe, Germany and the Ottomans became the enemies of Britain, France, and Russia. German and Ottoman influence and intentions in the Caucasus and Persia came to be somewhat alarming for Britain and its allies. Persia was something to be protected along with Caucasian mates such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, and to be used as a strategic bulwark by the allied forces against the massive Ottoman forces.

So let’s take a bit of a journey, inspired by finding an isolated Commonwealth War Cemetery in north Tehran, through some interesting (hopefully!) facts and snippets that emerge from asking the question of how Australian soldiers came to be buried in Tehran.

The Tehran War Cemetery is attached to the northern Tehran British compound at a place called Golhak (also transliterated as Qolhak). The Tehran War Cemetery is situated at the southern end of the British Embassy residential compound at Golhak (, which is approximately 13 kilometres from central Tehran. It is located at No. 34 Dolat Street Shari’ati Avenue, Tehran.

This cemetery was built in 1962, and contains 412 Commonwealth burials of WW1, 13 of which are unidentified, commemorated in this site. There are 152 Commonwealth burials of WW2 commemorated here. In addition there are also 14 non-world war burials and 25 Foreign National burials.


Since November 2011, when the British diplomatic compounds in Iran were overrun by protestors, the compounds including the war cemetery, have remained locked up. All official sites listing the cemetery indicate visitors are welcome and can book their visit through the British Embassy but, of course, this is not possible anymore. And so, the poor diggers of several wars remain, for the moment, unvisited, and largely unremembered.

The following nationalities are represented amongst those interred here:
3 x Australians (all WW1)
2 x New Zealand (both WW1)
1 x Canadian (WW2)
83 x Indian (from both WW1 and WW2, as well as between

The Tehran War Cemetery was the result of a number of war cemeteries in the region being concentrated. All 1914-1918 burials in Tehran War Cemetery have been concentrated from the following cemeteries:

• AKHBARABAD PROTESTANT CEMETERY (later known as Tehran Military Cemetery)
• CHASHMEH-i-ZULIAK ANGLO PERSIAN OILFIELDS CEMETERY (later known as Masjid-I-sulaiman Cemetery)


One of these previous war graves is of particular note for this posting; Hamadan. Also written Hamedan (and some of you might have even heard it called Ecbatana from your ancient history class!), it is one of the 31 provinces of Iran and one of the oldest cities in the world. Lying about 360km southwest of Tehran, it contains roughly half a million people, and the city was the scene of heavy fighting in WW1, between Russian and Turko-German forces. It was occupied by both armies, and finally by the British, before it was returned to control of the Iranian government at the end of the war in 1918. It is this period of control of Hamadan by the British that concerns the war cemetery in Tehran in particular.

Of all the stories that might emerge from a war cemetery, few are as remarkable as those stories that come from the gravestones of Tehran. In particular, WW1, Persia, Russia, Rudyard Kipling, Germans  (and don’t forget the Austrians!), genuine war heroes, Ottomans, and beleaguered allied forces combine to make an unbeatable story that ends in Tehran’s war graves. Despite almost nobody knowing that Australians, and allied forces, fought widely across what was then called Mesopotamia, some fascinating military operations of WW1 by often small, but battle-hardened, forces took place in northern Persia and the Caucasus.

The reasons these battles took place are many. But after the collapse of the Russian Army in the Caucasus (mainly because of the troops being withdrawn to fight in the revolution), the entire Caucasus and Central Asia was ripe to be picked by the Ottomans, and on top of that German influence was growing quickly.

The British hatched a plan to protect their oil and cotton interests in Persia, halt the turning of Persia from neutral to enemy, to protect the then-loyal Afghanistan from also turning into an enemy, and protect the northern corridor to India. As an aside, one source reveals that India was even more worth protecting for Britain at that time, as it was their training ground for a massive 67 (!!) new infantry battalions to serve in Europe. So, with the importance of securing Persia clearly on the strategic agenda, but with no massive numbers of troops to spare, the plan that emerged was a cordon around Mesopotamia, which included north Persia and the Caucasus. And the cordon would by necessity have to be only managed by the allied forces, but rather comprise local forces, homegrown resistance, and local leadership, all whipped into shape by a small but lethal number of allied troops. The key to this operation was the formation of a special group called ‘Dunsterforce’.


Dunsterforce was an allied force mission set up by the Russian-speaking British Major-General Dunsterville in 1918. The purpose of his force was to organise the forces of the Transcaucasian Federal Republic (comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) to enable them to withstand a Turkish attack. Since the war in Europe at this time was going very poorly for the allies, and Germany started to look ascendant, no massive forces could be spared from Europe. So the plan for a small but lethal force demanded a surgical selection of veterans from Europe. The members of this new force were hand-picked; the British War Office ordering regiments fighting in France, Belgium, and the Middle East to each pick four of their most decorated and seasoned soldiers to be sent on a secret mission. None of them knew anything of the destination – they were camped near the Tower of London and mostly kept in the dark during the unit’s formation – although one source recalls them being called the ‘Baghdad Party’. If any regiment chose not to lose the best of their best, and sent volunteer’s profiles up to the War Office which were not seriously good soldiers, they were rejected outright. This top-secret recruitment resulted in the first such example of elite soldiers being pulled together to create a new unit.

According to several sources, and as an aside, Dunsterville was the original of “Stalky” in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Stalky & Co’. He had pursued a patriotic and adventurous career in the East (India and China in particular). He was widely traveled, and a fine linguist with a keen friendship for the Russians. The call to create Dunsterforce had come to him when serving on the north-west frontier of India.

Dunsterville’s resources were a big bucket of cash, an armoured car brigade, about 750 military transport vehicles, a small group of staff officers, another small group of Russian officers (remnants of the by-then-defunct Russian Caucasus Army), and around 200 officers and 200 non-commissioned officers hand-selected chiefly from Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African units. This focus on the ‘new world’ soldiers is not a complete surprise when one considers the secret recruitment drive to create Dunsterforce was spearheaded by a highly-regarded veteran of the Boer war, one Colonel Byron. One presumes in that theatre of war he witnessed something which influenced his choices.

Totaling around 1000 men, Dunsterforce was intended to be especially effective in operations because of this unprecedented focus on the quality of its members; veterans decorated for great gallantry in the field in operations across Europe and in other parts of Mesopotamia. It also had a strong focus on technical skills, wireless operators for example from Australia and New Zealand, which served it perfectly in such a vast area of operations. For all intents and purposes, this was the world’s first Special Forces unit, tasked with a strategic mission, long before Special Forces were invented.

Now, for a little further background, remember the geopolitics of the time such that Germany and the Ottomans were allied, and both wanted the Caucasus, in particular the key ports of Baku and Enkeli (now called Bandar-e Anzali, an Iranian port on the Caspian Sea). It should be noted that even allies can be competitors when it comes to access to strategic resources. Several sources opine that competition between Germany and the Ottomans was the reason they both advanced so slowly towards Persia, a result of strategic uncertainty about each other’s motives. While these axis powers moved slowly east, Britain needed to protect its oil and cotton sources in Persia, as well as its allies in Afghanistan and India. Cotton and oil at the time were two of the most important strategic resources for both munitions and transportation. Germany was also actively increasing its influence in otherwise neutral Persia and arming – and fomenting – anti-British rebels in Afghanistan.

As you will also recall, about this time, as if the regional situation was not yet complex enough, the Russian Revolution had just happened and, as the major allied force in Persia, this became a major strategic concern for the British. Britain quickly realised it would have to replace the Russian forces in north Persia as they withdrew to fight at home. The important Caspian Sea ports for both oil and cotton supply lines were in great jeopardy. By the end of 1917, Britain established in their collective military minds the need to secure the route from Mesopotamia to Enzeli. They would do this not by deploying entire armies into the region, but rather by seeking to stiffen transcaucasian resistance to the Turks and Germans.

The plan was to send this small force to Tbilisi, through Baku, from Baghdad via Persia. And so Dunsterville set off with initially a small force and, just as the German forces marched into Tbilisi, Dunsterforce was in camp in Hamadan, a strategic high ground (a heady 1850m above sea level!) on the route from Baghdad to Enzeli.

So the initial plans for Dunsterforce were made redundant when German forces took Tbilisi. With Baku clearly under threat of Ottoman attack, Dunsterforce marched north to Enzeli where, reinforced by about 1000 more British Infantry, it occupied Baku to prevent the port and oil-fields from falling under Turkish control.

The Turks took Baku, with massively superior numbers (often said to be the single greatest strategic impact of Dunsterforce, some 14,000 Ottoman troops were diverted from Palestine to take Baku, significantly relieving pressure in the Middle Eastern theatre for the allies), Dunsterforce was forced to evacuate Baku and return to Hamadan. This was as good as the end of their war. It was here that the force took major blows from disease, suffering losses from cholera, malaria, and dysentery. What was left of Dunsterforce later went to Baku as an occupying force after the cessation of hostilities.

I could go on. A very, very interesting time, and a little known set of stories.

For those of you not asleep, and wanting to read more, for fabulous accounts of the exploits of the quite remarkable Dunsterforce, start here:

And for an also solid coverage of Australians serving right across ‘Mesopotamia’ in WW1, see

About the Aussies who lie there

The Memorial in the Tehran War Cemetery is in the form of six free standing memorial walls and commemorates casualties of the Indian, United Kingdom, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand Forces who lost their lives during the campaigns in Persia.

From the CWGC records, the following three Australian diggers lie in Tehran:

  • ALLEN, CECIL FREDERICK, Sergeant, Service Number 7675, Died 05/08/1918, Age 25, Australian Engineers, Australian IV. D. 13.
  • DAVIS, W, Sergeant, Service Number 1180, Died 07/07/1918, Australian Infantry, A.I.F. Australian IV. D. 10.
  • OLSON, CHARLES, Sergeant, Service Number 1427, Died 06/09/1918, Australian Infantry, A.I.F. Australian IV. E. 4.

Sergeant Allen served in the 1st Australian and New Zealand Wireless Signal Squadron. As mentioned earlier, the wireless operators from Australia and New Zealand were the communications backbone of the Dunsterforce operations. Sgt Allen was the son of Frederick Thomas and Millie Annette Allen, of “Chatham,” Bardwell Rd., Mosman, New South Wales. Born at Sydney.

At the time of his death, Sergeant Charles Olson was serving in the 29th Battalion of the AIF, and was the son of John and Hannah Olson, of 26 Donald St., Footscray, Victoria, Australia. A member of Dunsterforce, he died of malaria at Hamadan Military Hospital, was initially interred in Hamadan War Cemetery, later transferred to Tehran.

Sadly, the CWGC records have no family information for Sergeant Davis. His service records indicate that he was – like most of those hand-picked to serve in Dunsterforce – quite the hero. At the time of his death he was serving in the 7th Battalion, AIF, and in his service he was awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Military Medal (MM). For those who don’t know, the DCM is a particularly high award for bravery, and the MM similarly just one rung down the bravery ladder. Checking into his military records a bit further, one finds the citation (the reason) for his being awarded the DCM:

“For conspicuous gallantry during operations,. Both by day and by night, he went out fearlessly over the parapet, searching for and bringing in the wounded under heavy fire.”

According to sources, he was awarded the DCM for heroic actions saving wounded in battle at Pozieres (the Battle of Pozières was a particularly bloody two-week struggle for the French village of Pozières and the ridge on which it stands, during the middle stages of the 1916 Battle of the Somme), the MM for similarly heroic actions at Passchaendale (another especially bloody battle in the ridges around Ypres, in modern-day Belgium, where Australian forces are honoured for digging tunnels under the German lines and setting off such a massive explosion the rift in the ground became a permanent feature of the land). Our war hero, however, died of cholera in Hamadan. Also a member of Dunsterforce, he was initially buried at the Hamadan Military Cemetery, and then to a final resting place in Tehran.

For a more or less complete list of the Australians who served in Dunsterforce, including mention of two of our three soldiers buried in Tehran, see here:

And the journey ends there for now. I hope you found it interesting to see what on earth could have happened for Aussies to be lying in war graves in modern Tehran.

UPDATE 1: About the Kiwis Who Lie There

For my New Zealand readership, please note the details of the two Kiwis who lie in Tehran War Cemetery, and some family information if any of you know them. I cannot say for sure there were Dunsterforce, but given the dates of death, and that one of them was a Military Cross recipient in keeping with the elite recruitment for Dunsterforce , it seems quite likely.

Rank: Sergeant. Service No: 12/303
Date of Death: 04/10/1918
Regiment/Service: Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 2nd Bn.
Grave Reference: IV. B. 15.
Additional Information: Son of Mr. and Mrs. D. Blyth, of 369, Wilsons Rd., Opawa, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rank: Captain
Service No: 6/718
Date of Death: 19/10/1918
Age: 28
Regiment/Service:Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F.1st Bn.
Awards: M C
Grave Reference: III. E. 8.
Additional Information: Son of John and Josephine Rutherford, of Wartle, Hamilton East, New Zealand. Born at Masterton, Wairarapa, New Zealand. A mining engineer.