Welcome to the Royal Exodus Hunt, pictured in 1934 in the countryside near the River Tigris where horse and hound could be seen around the RAF airfield south-east of what much later came to be known as Baghdad’s Green Zone. It was the pukka thing, complete with elaborate kennels, thoroughbred horses, Indian servants and a Master of Hounds.
We came across it while researching Memories of Eden. It’s rarely remembered today, but Britain created the state of Iraq and ruled it under a mandate until 1932. It treated the country as “India Lite”, with a strong presence of troops from the sub-continent.
Fox-hunting had always been popular in Mesopotamia, so the idea of riding to hounds the English way seemed a natural progression when polo, games of mah-jongg, and shooting trips for duck, snipe, partridge and quail failed to satisfy the colonial lust for recreation and craving for blood sport.
The Exodus Hunt as it was called centred on a pack of hounds belonging to a unit of the Indian Army known as the 110th Transport Company, and gained its name from the Hindustani for the number 110 — “ex sao das”. Members rode both Arab horses and English thoroughbreds. The hounds were an exotic cross-breed collection of saluki Gazelles and fierce Kurdish sheepdogs, donated by local notables and tribal chiefs in exchange for free membership.
In its first season the pack killed a wolf, 17 jackals, three foxes, a cow and an old woman, who actually died of fright. The Master of Hounds went by the nickname “Brassneck”, a monicker earned on a very alcoholic night when he dived into what he thought was a swimming pool only to find it void of water . It was a pit of dry concrete.
Luckily, Brassneck suffered no ill effects, which is more than can be said for Iraq itself.
The hunt kept going until 1955 when it was disbanded.