A collection of four scrapbooks, three photo albums, and associated photographs and ephemera belonging to U.S. Diplomat William Burdett of Macon, Georgia. A World War II veteran and young Foreign Service officer, Burdett was first thrust onto the international stage during the Arab-Israeli War in May, 1948 after U.S. Consul General Thomas C. Wasson was killed by a sniper in Jerusalem. Burdett, who had arrived only 10 days earlier to serve as Wasson’s Vice Consul, was named Acting Consul General and the U.S. member of the United Nations Security Council Truce Mission. A seasoned Middle East diplomat, Burdett was posted to Iran and Sudan in the early 1950s, and he played an important role as a U.S. envoy during the Suez Crisis leading up to the Second Arab-Israeli War in 1956.
Among the material dating from Burdett’s diplomatic tenure in Jerusalem (1948-50) are one large scrapbook and photograph album that document the circumstances surrounding the death of Wasson amid the heavy fighting between Arabs and Jews for control of the Old City, and Burdett’s efforts to effect cease-fire agreements from June-November, 1948. Burdett worked closely with the U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte (who was assassinated on September 17, 1948 by members of the paramilitary Zionist group Lehi), and with both Israeli Colonel Moshe Dayan and Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah el Tel of the Arab Legion.
The scrapbook includes diplomatic cables, a manuscript diary (April 15 – May 20, 1948), wire reports, complete and near-complete issues of the Palestine Post, and a broadside of the May 16, 1948 front page: “State of Israel is Born.” There is also an autograph letter from Abdullah el Tel to Burdett, and some Israeli documents and ephemera in Hebrew. The photo album contains over 130 photographs, most taken in Jerusalem in 1948-49, and including Wadi Ara, Haifa, and Jordan. Included are images of Burdett with senior American Consul officials, Count Bernadotte, and other U.N. diplomates, and with both Arab and Israeli delegations at cease fire negotiations in the summer and fall of 1948, and also at the 1949 armistice negotiations. In several photographs Moshe Dayan and Abdullah el Tel appear prominently.
An excerpt from Burdett’s journal on May 14th gives a vivid sense of the tense conditions in Jerusalem:
“Firing in city started in morning. Big GB [?] tanks … in front of C[onsulate] firing up & down alley. Everyone had to be out … & arrangements made for lunch at Julien’s Hotel. Nick invited me to lunch with him in Ger. Colony. We took Jeff & 3 Navy men to Julien first. Reached corner & let Jeff out to look around. He strode out & looked around calmly. Someone started firing at us. Jeff ran for it & 2 of the Navy followers. The 3rd dove back in car. Nick threw car in reverse & we fled … Bullets struck wall where Jeff was standing & spattered around car. No one hurt … saw Haganah men in barbed wire on their bellies firing toward Old City. Someone opened on us & could see bullets hitting wire & pavement. Nick again reversed & we really scooted back. What luck. Went down to Jewish section & had good lunch at Eden Hotel … .”
Consul General Thomas Wasson was shot on May 22nd after attending a Truce Commission meeting held at the French Consulate. Burdett describes what happened in an urgent cable (present) to the U.S. Secretary of State:
"As he crossed Wauchope Street to alley along west side ConGen he was hit by sniper’s bullet presumed to have come from direction junction Julians Way and Wauchope St. Identity of sniper cannot be established … According to doctors report 30 caliber rifle bullet entered right upper arm, passed through chest and exited at level left second costal cartilage … Is now out of shock and resting quietly … .” Wasson died the next day.
After the arrival of the new Consul General John J. McDonald in 1948, Burdett remained in charge of the Consul office through the end of December, 1949, and was transferred to Tabriz, Iran in 1950. The second photo album documents Burdett’s diplomatic activities and associated travels throughout Azerbaijan and Iran in 1950-52, and also throughout Sudan in 1952, when Burdett was appointed to a diplomatic post in Khartoum. In addition to images of U.S. diplomats and staff, the album contains numerous images of local villages and native peoples, including Kurds, throughout Azerbaijan, Iran, and Sudan. The third photo album contains about 275 images of Burdett’s personal travels throughout Europe and the United States from 1948-57, and also in Israel, Jordan, and Syria.
Burdett’s other three scrapbooks document his diplomatic activities as U.S. envoy during the 1956 Suez Crisis (he played an important role in developing the American plan for international control of the Suez Canal, which Nasser nationalized in July), and his involvement on the controversial 1957 Richard’s Mission: a tour undertaken by Roving Ambassador James P. Richards to 12 Middle Eastern countries to implement the Eisenhower Doctrine of resistance to Soviet aggression in the Middle East. The scrapbooks contain newspaper and magazine clippings, black & white photographs, and miscellaneous documents and ephemera relating to the itinerary of the Richard’s Mission.
Included among the loose files are over 75 photographs from Burdett’s first foreign service post at Guayaquil, Ecuador (1942-43); 25 additional large format photographs from the Richard’s Mission (1957); three notebook journals kept by Burdett during a 1967 trip to the Soviet Union; an envelope of photographs and ephemera from when Burdett was Minister Counsellor to Turkey (1967-70); and seven large format photographs from Burdett’s final post as Ambassador to Malawi, shown with President Banda and other senior Malawi government officials (1970-73).
Both the scrapbooks and photo albums are overall near fine: most of the photographs have manuscript captions by Burdett on the back and are neatly mounted with corner mounts in the three albums or kept loose in files.
An historically important archive containing several unique documents and photographs relating to American diplomacy during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and to Burdett’s other diplomatic activities in the Middle East and Africa. A detailed finding aid is available.