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23 Jan 2024
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John Elton Fortescue Gueritz
(8 May 1911 – 24 Oct 1975)

My father Walter felt closer to his cousin John Gueritz than to any other member of his family. They were of nearly the same age, and background, and perhaps had endured the same travails of being an eldest child in an era not renowned for close and supportive parenting. Be that as it may, after John's funeral, my father wrote in the book of tribute afterwards that they twa had paddled in the brook, as permissibly anglicised except that, as he later cheerfully admitted, he had inadvertently written piddled instead of paddled. It generally comes to the same thing, of course, where small boys are concerned.

They also shared a familial male tendency towards wretched health, known generically as dwaibly Findlay syndrome, which precluded them from achieving all that might otherwise have been possible in life.

Nevertheless, John's career record is remarkable by any standards. I have had to reconstruct it as best I can from references in his younger brother Edward's profile in Wikipedia, followed by assiduous googling, and there is undoubtedly much that I have missed.

He first emerges as a young Captain in the prewar British Indian Army, and there is a reference1 to the very favourable impression that he made when successfully applying to join the Indian Political Service (IPS), a preserve of those thoroughly experienced in all the political and religious nuances of the areas concerned. Indeed it was as early as 1936 that he became a member of the Royal Central Asian Society, whilst still a mere subaltern in the Royal Garhwal Rifles.

It's interesting to note that both his sisters married officers in the British Indian Army, so that this was obviously felt from all points of view to be a thoroughly good institution to be involved in!

I imagine that that he continued to serve in the British Indian Army throughout the Second World War, and he certainly rose to the rank of Lieut Colonel. And along the way, he evidently acquired a detailed knowledge of much of Persia2, and those parts of Afghanistan and Tibet bordering on Northern India3.

After the war he lived in Baghdad, Iraq, for several years, and then joined the office of the British Council in Tehran, Iran, for a further number of years. I think that at this period he became acquainted with Bill Kaulback, later to become my uncle-in-law! He subsequently returned to England and became Secretary of the St. John Ambulance Association in the UK. In this position he became an authority on matters of first aid and co-authored two popular manuals on this subject, as referenced below.

He was also for many years the Hon Sec and Membership Secretary of the British Institute of Persian Studies, and regularly reviewed new books in the Institute's journal.

It wasn't until the mid 1950's that I first encountered the Gueritz family, when they stayed for a fortnight near Grannie Waddell's house just outside Chichester, where I had been deposited for a year or so. Numerous glorious days together on the beach at West Wittering ensued, at least for us children. And after my parents moved to London we frequently visited the Gueritzes' happy household in Richmond, where my skills at lighting (outdoor) fires and cooking sausages on twigs were honed to perfection. And these visits became even more frequent as my father's marital situation ruptured; I am quite sure that John (and Mary) Gueritz played a major part in keeping him on an even keel.

And quite remarkably, it was also through the Gueritzes that my father met Jane Hoste, and very sensibly asked her to become the new Mrs Waddell! Fortunately she agreed, and a new era dawned. But after John's death and my father's incapacitation, the lines of communication seemed to fall into disrepair, and I really have little or no idea as to how our very nice Richmond Gueritz second cousins have fared.

1: Christian Tripoli, Edge of Empire: The British Political Officer & Tribal Administrator on the North-West Frontier 1877-1947, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2011
2: Internationally renamed as Iran in 1935, by request of the Shah. Another thing I have just learned from Google is that, rather startlingly, Iran means 'Land of the Aryans', and that 'Persia' is still in quite common usage amongst the Iranians themselves.
3: Pakistan was a creation of the Partition brokered by Mountbatten in 1947, a new Muslim state alongside Persia and Afghanistan. Gueritz seems already to have become very knowledgeable about Muslim culture and traditions by this time.


J E F Gueritz: Social Problems in Teheran, Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, vol 38, issue 4, pp 233-244, 1951

J E F Gueritz: Review of Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer, Himalayan Journal, vol 18, pp 185-186, 1954

J E F Gueritz: "Preventing Food Poisoning, Higher Standards of Hygiene", Letters to the Editor, The Times (London). Friday, 24 June 1954. Issue 51831, col A, p. 1

J E F Gueritz: Review of The Jewel in the Lotus; Recollections of an Indian Political by B J Gould, Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, vol 44, p 246, 1957

J E F Gueritz: Dirty Food, British Medical Journal, vol 1(5128), p 1046, 18 Apr 1959

J E F Gueritz: Teenage Morals, The Lancet, vol 277, issue 7191, p1404, 24 Jun 1961

J E F Gueritz, Daniel Strachan, F H D Pritchard: New Methods of Resuscitation, British Medical Journal, vol 1(5331), p 683-684, 9 Mar 1963

The Penguin Book of First Aid, A C White Knox   J E F Gueritz, Penguin Handbooks, 1961

The Penguin Handbook of First Aid and Home Nursing, A C White Knox   J E F Gueritz, Penguin Handbooks, 1961

As a nice example of his style and insight, and as an early harbinger of the threat to Tibet from China echoed on this website's Home page, please read this reproduction of a book-review referenced above.

SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET. By Heinrich Harrer. Rupert Hart-Davis. 1953. Pp. 288. Illustrated. 16s

This is a delightful and illuminating book, in which the author has been well served by his translator. Much of it reads like a fairy story, since the evolution from a fugitive, begging his way to Lhasa, to the confidant of the Dalai Lama seems almost impossible without the assistance of a fairy godmother.

Harrer and others escaped from their internment camp in Dehra Dun at their third attempt in April 1944 and at last, accompanied only by Peter Aufschnaiter, he reached Lhasa in January 1946. The first half of the book tells of their flight across the frontier and their journey to Lhasa, while the second half is an account of life in that city and of how they became valued members of Tibetan society.

The sufferings which they underwent and the subterfuges which they practised to avoid being returned to India, show both Harrer and Aufschnaiter to have been outstanding both physically and mentally. They were clearly helped by being mountain men themselves and by having a very obvious sympathy for the Tibetans. The most outstanding feature of their wanderings was their crossing of the Changthang in winter, as Harrer says, 'days full of hardship and unceasing struggle against cold, hunger, and danger'. Penniless as they were, they suffered the continual risk of death at the hands of the bandits who infest that region. It is improbable that any European has travelled the route they took and none certainly in such circumstances.

However, all was forgotten at the sight of the golden pinnacles of the Patala and they bluffed their way into Lhasa, where they were made surprisingly welcome and treated with extreme generosity. When at length the Cabinet decided that they could remain, they had become one of the sights of Lhasa and in return were able to make themselves fully acquainted not only with the customs and habits of the inhabitants but also with many of the great in the land. Once granted asylum, they were not slow to prove their usefulness and, while Aufschnaiter was commissioned to build an irrigation canal, Harrer designed a garden and fountain for his host, Tsarong, Master of the Mint. From this they progressed to being fully recognized as employees of the Tibetian Government and Harrer's tasks were varied and interesting, including the construction of a cinema for the personal use of the Dalai Lama.

Most interesting of all was the friendship they had with the parents and brother of the Dalai Lama, from wrhich arose the most unusual and delightful relationship between the Dalai Lama and Harrer. It was much more than that which would exist between pupil and teacher and, of course, gave Harrer an insight into things Tibetan probably unequalled by any other European. He did and saw things normally forbidden and held a privileged position, all the more remarkable in that he apparently did not arouse the jealousy of anyone. His picture of the young ruler is touching and striking. The Dalai Lama is clearly an outstanding young man with great ability and a charming personality.

The closing chapters deal with the sad period of the threat from Communist China and Tibet's final eclipse. Harrer naturally feels sore at the way in which the Tibetans' pathetic calls for help were ignored by U.N.O. Even if physical aid were impossible, surely sympathy and recognition of the tragic events which were taking place could have been shown and the naked aggression condemned in terms which left no doubt of world opinion.

The book has two shortcomings. One is the lack of a really good map, which is essential for tracing the wanderings from Dehra Dun to Lhasa. The sketch provided is not sufficient. The other is an index, which would add greatly to the value of this work.

Whether the reader is well acquainted with Tibet or not, I am sure that he will enjoy this book, since in addition to being an adventure story, it is also an account of an interesting and charming people from an unusual point of view. We should congratulate the author on his work and condole with him on the sad end to an enterprise which had possibilities far greater than anyone could realize. What a privilege it was to be offered the chance of educating a ruler in the ways of the West and of satisfying his craving for knowledge and assistance.

J. E. F. Gueritz