Mystery hunter identified!

For the last couple of months I have been trying to identify a hunter whose remarkable collection of magic lantern slides, illustrating a ground-breaking journey from Kashmir to Siberia, I recently purchased. Two weeks ago I got on a plane to Kashmir in order to try to solve the problem by speaking to people who may know something of the story. And I am delighted to announce that the outcome was positive!

But first, more about my trip to Kashmir. I particularly wanted to speak to the family of the shikari (hunting guide) whose identity I had confirmed, due to his participation in an expedition organised by the Roosevelt brothers, Theodore and Kermit, to Central Asia in search of specimens for various American natural history museums. This shikari, Raheem Lone, I have since found out, was regarded by many as one of the best of his generation, with a wide knowledge of Central Asia and the languages in the region.

I received a wonderful reception in Srinagar from Dr Mohd. Amin Malik and Dr Abdul Qayoom Lone, both descendants of Raheem. Mr Mushtaq Bala, editor of Kashmir Pen, also gave me tremendous support. It was in his magazine that I first read about Raheem Lone and his involvement with the Roosevelt brothers.

From left: Dr Mohd. Amin Malik, myself, Dr Abdul Qayoom Lone and Mr Mushtaq Bala in Srinagar, Kashmir

Dr Malik had in his possession a large file of letters sent to Raheem by grateful clients that he had taken on shooting expeditions into the mountains. They dated from 1896 until the 1920s and included glowing references from the Roosevelts, as well as many others, most of whom were British Army officers. From these I thought I would have a good chance of identifying my hunter.

The day after meeting the relatives, Dr Malik took me to Bandipora, about 50 miles north of Srinagar, where we visited the house that Raheem built to entertain his guests. Although empty at present, it is a wonderful building. Members of the family, including Dr Umar Qayoom Lone, live nearby and Raheem himself is buried in a grave only a short walk away.

Raheem Lone’s house in Bandipora
Dr Malik in the house of his great-grandfather, Raheem Lone

Later we visited the home of Ghulam Ahmed Baht, whose father Ghulam Hassan Baht, was also a famous shikari and close friend of Raheem Lone. More of Ghulam Hassan in a separate article. Ghulam Ahmed is 94 and still remembers Raheem, who died in the 1950s, very clearly.

On my return to England last Saturday I began to examine the letters that I had copied from Dr Malik. Several were from a person who was a good candidate for my hunter. He wrote of having enjoyed his journey to Central Asia with Raheem, which took place in 1912, and also sent him letters from Egypt and elsewhere asking after him. His name was Captain, later Wing Commander, William Ronald Read (1885-1972) of the Royal Flying Corps/RAF.

Read is a World War I flying ace and war hero, awarded the Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and, almost uniquely, the Air Force Cross (three times!). His family home, Gorse Cliff in Shoreham by Sea, was used as a hospital for Sikh soldiers during WW1. Originally a soldier in the Royal Dragoon Guards, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1914 and later fought in France and Palestine and was several times wounded in action. In September 1930 he was appointed to be Commander of RAF Boscombe Down before retiring the following year. Below are some pictures of Read during his RAF days.

Is that one of his hunting trophies he is wearing?
‘Willy’ Read’s pilot’s license, issued in 1913

As you can see, the resemblance with my anonymous hunter is unmistakeable:

Mystery hunter, now identified as Captain W R Read

One final point. In one of his letters to Raheem, Read mentions that the trophy heads he obtained in Central Asia and which are shown in his magic lantern slides, were still with Rowland Ward, who specialised in mounting such trophies. We should also remember that one of the slides mentions his “record Ovis Littledalei 57 1/2 inches”. Having looked at the Rowland Ward records for the period up to 1914, we find the following:

Second on the all-time list, with a length on the front curve of 58″ is W R Read, our man. I guess his trophy was re-measured on his return to the UK. I should add that Read also mentions that Raheem Lone visited his house in Shoreham, so my thought is that the latter completed the journey with Read from Kashmir all the way to Omsk in southern Siberia, afterwards travelling to England, before returning by sea to Kashmir. (Lone also travelled to China with the Roosevelts, but I will tell that story another time).

There is much more to this story, which I will tell over the coming days. But for now, I can announce without any doubt that our mystery hunter is WW1 war hero Captain ‘Willie’ Ronald Read MC, DFC, AFM and bars. What a story!

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