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Obituaries: Angus Hume

The Times

Angus Hume
February 21, 1914 – August 28, 2005
Soldier who worked on wartime food procurement and, later, famine relief in Bengal, Pakistan and Bangladesh

ANGUS HUME had an unlikely wartime career for an infantry officer, chiefly concerned with procurement of grain from Levantine cereal barons whose eyes were focused on profit rather than feeding the needy. Later he turned to famine relief in Bengal and civil administration in East Pakistan, compiling throughout an archive of black and white photographs demonstrating a fine perception of the use of light and the hardships of social deprivation. He was already 25 when called up by his Territorial Army searchlight battery on the outbreak of war, but was soon sent for officer training. Commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry in 1941, he went to Syria the following year as a representative of 9th Army — a deliberately overstated title for a force comprising only two British and two Indian Divisions deployed to discourage any German advance through the Caucasus to the Middle East. (It later became the Persia and Iraq Force.)

An acting captain, Hume was based at Hamah in northern Syria, working with the cereals procurement agency and answerable to Major-General Sir Edward Spears, head of the British Mission to Syria and the Lebanon — later Minister Resident. Hume negotiated grain contracts in an area comprising 500 villages with local customs dating from the Ottoman era for the collection, storage and disposal of produce. Only by gradually winning the confidence of local mukhtars, and convincing them that they were receiving fair payment, was he able to ensure the quotas required to provide for the armies in the Middle East, as well as for the local population. He thereby released precious shipping capacity for more urgent demands.

Hume was a lieutenant-colonel when abruptly dispatched to Bengal to work for the Grain Collection Scheme during the great famine of 1946, which cost many thousands of lives. He left the Army in 1947 but was to spend the next 27 years in the service of Pakistan and then Bangladesh.

From 1951 to 1953 he was employed by the Government of Pakistan as the deputy commissioner in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the belt of tribal regions to the east of the Ganges delta. When the rajah of the Chakma tribe, Rajah Nalinaksha Roy, died unexpectedly in 1951, Hume was instrumental in returning his body from Chittagong to the Chakma capital at Rangamati, and was responsible for installing his successor, Rajah Tridiv Roy, in 1952.

The following year Hume married Rajkumari (Princess) Amiti Roy, daughter of the late rajah, and he later resigned his post in protest at the opposition of the Dhaka Government to the new rajah exercising justice in his local court. He was appointed OBE for his services in East Pakistan in 1954.

At the time of the Pakistan civil war, which led to the separation of West and East Pakistan in 1971, the latter becoming Bangladesh, Hume was working for the Pakistan Tea Association. He happened to be visiting Rangamati as the army of West Pakistan neared the town.

At the request of the local traders and representatives of the hill people, he accompanied their delegation to ask that the town should not be shelled or fought over. This concession was achieved but Hume’s humanitarian action eventually led to him being declared persona non grata by Dhaka. Even so, the Hume Cup football trophy — instituted while he was deputy commissioner — is still competed for today.

At first, Hume declined to leave the country to which he had become deeply attached. Moreover, his marriage to Rajkumari Amiti had been dissolved in 1963 and his new wife, Rajkumari Moitri Roy, had a small daughter, but his position became untenable after his arrest in 1973. He left and, through his experience of the Middle East and knowledge of Arabic, was able to secure an appointment in the Sultanate of Oman. He remained there until his final return to England in 1979.

John Angus Hume was the fourth child of Captain Robert Hume, a master mariner of the White Star Line, who had been Chief Officer of the hospital ship SS Britannic when she was sunk in the Mediterranean during the First World War. He was born in Southampton and educated at King Edward VI School there. He was studying land survey until the outbreak of war.

He contributed to Guy Mountfort’s book Vanishing Jungle, about the wildlife of East and West Pakistan, published in the 1960s. A selection of his photographs formed the basis of an exhibition at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in 2004.

His second wife survives him, with two sons of his first marriage and the daughter of his second.

Angus Hume, OBE, soldier and administrator, was born on February 21, 1914. He died on August 28, 2005, aged 91.

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