HW Dunlop – A life with more questions than answers

Ever since undertaking the cataloguing of the Old Charterhouse Magazine at the beginning of the year, I’ve been itching to do a story on one of the Brothers, given their astonishing and diverse stories. This has been mentioned in previous newsletters, and it’s my desire to see that this invaluable treasure trove will soon be disseminated to both Charterhouse community and public alike.

Out of the many from these magazines, none has captivated me more than Brother Hugh Wallace Dunlop who was admitted to the Charterhouse in 1937 and died in 1952. His account of surviving a shipwreck during the First World War, whilst brief, is actually gripping (particularly to a First World War buff like me), and thought that there would be further intriguing tales of his time serving in the war.

Imagine my bafflement when his occupation was registered as ‘Orange Grower in California’- a very complete contrast to the life and supposed career of a military man.

Upon further research, Dunlop’s life is as mysterious and almost inconsistent as his career, complete with spy-work, shipwrecks, and orange-farming in the United States. In fact, his whole life as I’ve discovered, only raises more questions than it answers!

The Charterhouse registry book lists his birthdate in 1875, but the first mention of Dunlop that I could find was his US naturalization record, registering as a citizen of Tulare County, California on 16th April 1906. Tulare then (and still to this day) was very well known for its citrus-farming and was a valuable commodity to the state-there was over 27,000 acres of land devoted to cultivating oranges and lemon, and the industry was bringing in $2.5 million of revenue by the 1910s.

So why on earth did Dunlop decided to trade a career of cultivation for a dangerous career involving espionage activities in the Mediterranean during the First World War? It could be that either his prospective career as a citrus farmer had stalled around the time of 1914 and he had to relocate back to the UK to avoid money troubles, or was it a genuine sense of patriotic duty? In any case, 1915 (according the IWM’s Lives of the First World War) finds Dunlop in the Royal Naval Reserve as an ‘Assistant Paymaster (Temporary)’ on HM Yacht Zaida, which had formerly been owned by Lord Rosebery, Prime Minister from 1894-1895, but which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty for war purposes.

Painting of HMY Zaida

Painting of HMY Zaida, c.1900-1916. Imperial War Museum

The role of the Zaida is one of the more mysterious and unknown roles of spying and espionage in WWI. As most sources go, the Zaida was involved in disembarking agents off the coast of Syria, and general surveillance activities, ostensibly against the Ottoman Empire, then in control of that region. There’s evidence to suggest that the Zaida may have supported military operations during the Arab Revolt, and the British Empire’s intention to frame Syria and the Levant into their sphere of influence, hence the reason for covert intelligence on the part of the Zaida.

Moreover, Dunlop’s role as ‘Assistant Paymaster’ is also one of intrigue. I first assumed that as a literal definition, ‘paymaster’ would be equal to a clerk/purser in supplying pay to the sailors. However, while this may be so, the nature of the Zaida’s operations, and the fact that Dunlop was associated with Leonard Wooley, an archaeologist with detailed knowledge of the area, turned Military Intelligence Officer does suggest that this role may be more dubious than thought!

On the 17th August 1916, the Zaida was rocked by a huge explosion of the Gulf of Alexandretta; the ship having struck a minefield off the Syrian coast. Within one minute of the explosion, the Zaida quickly sank, breaking in two, with 13 crew members being killed outright. Dunlop recounted he escaped by breaking through the wardroom skylight and then trying to help free one of the lifeboats. Due to the speed in which the vessel was sinking, Dunlop instead jumped overboard and clung to the debris of the deckhouse roof with 19 surviving crew members. After a tortuous hour under the hot sun, the survivors were rescued by a fishing boat and taken ashore. An arduous 140-mile journey to prison, involving unpaved roads and a ‘never-ending battle against the insect-life of Turkey’ ensued, with the commander of the Zaida dying from the insanitary conditions, and Dunlop and the rest of the survivors incarcerated for the rest of the war. At least five more of the crew died more in captivity.

Newspaper clipping

Newspaper clipping announcing the casualty list of the Zaida; Dunlop’s name is among the prisoners. The Great War (1914-1918) Forum.

As before with his early life, there is scant information regarding Dunlop’s later life; however it is interesting that his occupation in the register is of ‘Citrus Grower in California’. This suggests that, post-war, he tried again his hand at citrus farming only to find no success again, or more likely, he tried to conceal his murky role in the field of espionage from the rest of the Charterhouse, probably due to the Official Secrets Act, thus using his prior career as a reference point.

Illustrated colour poster for Citrus fair

Poster celebrating the 5th Annual Tulare Citrus Fair, December 1910. California State Library

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