1936 - 1937 Mission Diary

The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.

August 31st, Monday, Lhasa.

see photographs below

This was the first perfectly clear sunny morning we have had, with not a cloud in the sky at sunrise, a perfect morning for photographing the imposing and beautiful south face of the Potala. By midday it had clouded over, but cleared again in the evening after a thunderstorm.

The following visitors called today:

(i) Magchi Changra (Rank of Depon). Commander-in-Chief (Lay C.-in-C.).

(ii) Kusho Dapma Tsedon (late Monk guide)

(iii) Kusho Kapshopa, Accountant General, and brother.

(iv) Gulam Maidin Mahommad.

(v) Asatulla Mahommad

(vi) Ta-Lama. The Oracle.

(vii) Kusho Datang

(viii) The Nepalese Representative

Neame had a very interesting and frank conversation with the lay C.-in-C. Details are given in an appendix to the Diary

The Ta-Lama, or official oracle, was a man of affairs, although he is supposed to be able to go into a trance and give forth oracular advice and prophecies. He does not usually call on Political Officers.

We are nearly at the end of the visitors, and it will be quite a relief when the last has called.


The ‘lay’ or civilian Commander-in-Chief who called on the Mission on 31st August gave the following information. He was appointed a Depon (General) at the age of 48, having held only civil appointments previously. Two years ago at the age of 56 he was appointed C.--in-C., and he frankly bemoaned the fact that he had no experience and although he realized many reforms were required and many things required doing in the army, he did not know how to begin.

Neame had a long interview with him in which the C-in-C talked very frankly and freely, and disclosed what he thought were the principal weaknesses in the Tibetan military situation. First and foremost he complained that the army officers are continually being transferred to civil jobs, and ignorant and inexperienced civilians appointed to military commands. This is especially the case in times of peace, when Officers even if left with the troops are burdened with many civil tasks, and the troops, instead of being allowed to train, are generally employed on civil works and coolie tasks. His second big complaint was that practice in target firing is practically never allowed for guns, machine guns, lewis guns or rifles. In consequence, when the troops go into action they are entirely useless at firing their weapons, and squander ammunition to no purpose.

At the present moment when there is a peaceful lull in Kham (Eastern Tibet) a large portion of the regular troops (9 regiments, about 5000 men) are on indefinite leave at their homes, presumably to save the expense of feeding them.

The numbers and condition of weapons is roughly as follows. There are four British mountain guns in Kham, three of which were carried off by a rebel Tibetan but have since been recovered. The C-in-C was doubtful of the condition of these three. We may therefore take it that there is one good mountain gun in Kham.

There are 6 good Lewis guns in Kham one with each of 6 regiments. There are some 5000 good 303 rifles (for MK VII ammunition), in the hands of regulars. The militia there have a proportion of old 303 rifles (MK VI ammunition), and the remainder a very mixed lot of foreign or ancient Tibetan guns.

There are 6 mountain guns in Lhasa, but two are condemned as useless, two are deficient of some parts and rather dangerous to fire! Two are in good order. These are 6 M. Gs. at Lhasa of which only four are in good order. These are being used to train 300 machine gunners who when trained will be sent to Kham to those regiments on whose fidelity or staunchness the Government can rely (apparently only about half of the regular regiments are trustworthy).

There are two good Lewis guns in Lhasa. The bodyguard has 500 modern rifles and about 4,000 new rifles are in stores.

One grave trouble is that the troops little care of their weapons and seldom clean them.

The Tibetans at one time tried to manufacture 303 MK VII ammunition in their arsenal and although outwardly and exact copy, the C-in-C. said it was unsafe to fire, had burst rifles and blown men’s eyes out. So they have given up trying to make it.

After the Dalai Lama's death all military training and activity had lapsed. They are now making some attempt to resuscitate the army.

These are the facts as given by the C.-in-C.

Neame's impressions of the condition the Tibetan army from the information so far obtained from this and other sources are as follows.

It is clearly apparent that the Tibetans as a nation are absolutely unmilitary, all their thoughts and energies are devoted to their religious life. The Tibetan Government have absolutely no idea of military organization, administration or training. The military authorities even if they had the knowledge, have no power to apply it. The troops are untrained, unreliable, and unpopular with the country. The Tibetan Official hierarchy are quite indiscriminately pitch-forked into civil military jobs regardless of their qualifications. No regular soldier of experience can rise beyond the rank of Rupon, a lower grade of commissioned officer.

In fact, it is justifiable to say that, except for the fact that they possess a certain number of modern weapons, which few of them know how to use, the army has advanced but little from its condition in 1904 when the British Mission advanced to Lhasa without any difficulty as regards military resistance although opposed at times by as many 15,000 Tibetan troops. The British Mission never had more than 3 battalion infantry, supported by 1 or 2 mountain guns, in action at a time - in fact about 2,000 men and 1 or 2 guns.

Author: Philip Neame [see handwritten annotations in Diary by Hugh Richardson in MS. Or. Richardson 2, Bodleian Libary, Department of Oriental Collections, University of Oxford]

Page Reference: Pt IV p.8

previous (30th August) entry next (1st September) entry