John Arnall – Missing in the Rif

Ann Procter wrote in about a distant relative who died during the Rif Wars

My great great uncle John Arnall was a Rif supporter living for many years in Tangiers
with his wife, and closely associated with Abd el Krim. He accompanied a Riffian delegation from
Morocco to London on two occasions, trying unsuccessfully to drum up British support as he felt
they were being unfairly treated by the Spanish and French.

To cut a long story short, family rumour has it that he met his death in March 1924 at the hands
of the Spanish, and his body lies in an unmarked grave in Tangiers.

My daughter and I have spent a long time searching archives at the National Archive Centre at
Kew, London. There are copious notes on letters between John Arnall and several foreign office
departments, but that is all – we can find nothing at all about his death. He served a 3 month
prison sentence for making anti-French statements in 1916, stood for Parliament in the General
Election of 1918 and was quite a thorn in the side to many people!

There are no personal details or pictures about him anywhere – have you a clue where we can look
next, as it all seems to have been hushed up from the British point-of-view – he has just been
airbrushed away poor chap!

I couldn’t help, but if you know something about John Arnall then please get in contact.

Jamil Sherif wrote in to say (26 June 2009)…

I have come across records in the India Office Library in London which refer to John Arnall’s
Riff work, and which state that he died on April 12th, 1924 in Tangier.

Gerry Kavanagh wrote in to say (30 May 2017):

The photograph was taken in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, in May 1901. At that time John Arnall, who was born in Cornwall and was a photographer by profession, was a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He was, from an earlier time, also a member of the Finsbury Park branch of the British Socialist Party, where he first came in contact with James Connolly. He took the photographs of Connolly that were used on Connolly’s first speaking tour of the U.S.A.

The group photograph was reprinted in the Irish Times in 1956 to commemorate the execution of James Connolly on May 12th 1916. William O’Brien, who is seated two from Connolly’s left, was a leading figure in the Irish Trade Union Movement. The reference “survivors” refers to those who fought in the Easter Rising, in 1916 and lived to tell the tale.

I hope this is of use to you.

John Arnall is front left on the photo.

1901 Group of members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party - John Arnall is front left
1901 Group of members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party

15 thoughts on “John Arnall – Missing in the Rif”

  1. He is actually buried in Wandsworth Cemetery with his father George, see here: with details of death date which differ from above by a month
    Quite a lot written on him in German!!
    1. Franzosen, Briten und Deutsche im Rifkrieg 1921-1926: Spekulanten … – Translate this page
    Dirk Sasse – 2006 – ‎Morocco

  2. Yes, thank you, Nick, though the detail you provide is not quite correct. John Arnall is in fact buried in the churchyard of the Protestant Church in Tangier, which grave I saw and photographed in 2001, on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Anoual, in which the Rif led by Abd el Krim eliminated an entire Spanish Army. Family legend says John was very helpful to the Riffi, whose delegation, including Abd el Krim himself, stayed in his house in Dempster Road, London SW, during their failed attempt to involve the British Government of the day in the organisation of peace talks. John’s grave, incidentally, is without headstone but I was guided to it by the detailed plan of burial plots kept by the Church authorities there and their delightfully helpful sexton.

  3. I am also interested in any information about John Arnall, as he was my grandfather. He was, I believe, christened Cyril John Arnall. Any information that anyone can give me will be most appreciated.

    Anne Procter, please contact me, as I would love to renew our acquaintance.

    • Hello, Marc. I hadn’t looked at this site in years and so have only just seen this post from you. Cyril John was in fact John’s son. Somewhere I have a photo of young Cyril in his British Army uniform. If I am right, he died in Nigeria where he was working for the colonial Forestry Department. He was hit by a lightning strike, my father (so Cyril’s cousin) told me. I once saw an English language newspaper entry in Tangier, recording Cyril passing through the town and stopping off to visit his parents, John and Gertrude. They also had a daughter who died in Tangier and is buried near John himself.

      • Paul, thank you so very much. I am trying to build up a dossier on my father’s family and you have helped a lot. Once again, many thanks.

  4. I came through information about that name across three books: one in German (the one stated above”Germans, British and French involvement during the Rif War” author Dirk Sasse.
    Abd El Krim written by the contemporary Spanish historian, Maria Rosa Madariaga.
    and from Rifian accounts, there is book published in Arabic by Abdelhamid Raïs, which was initially a collection of documentations from his father Mohamed Raïs (the nephew of Abd El Krim) who interviewed during the sixties and seventies Rifian veterans and eye witnesses.

    For further information don’t hesitate to mail me

  5. I have a photograph of John Arnall, taken with members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, in May 1901. A Cornish man, he was also a member of the BSP and a photographer by profession. He reputedly took the photographs of Connolly that were used on his inaugural speaking tour of America in 1902. Send me your email address and I’ll send you the image.

  6. I’ve made two unsuccessful attempts at sending the photograph; can you forward me another email address and I’ll try a further time. I also sent a copy to Mohand.

  7. Further to the photograph of John Arnall taken while he was in Dublin in 1901 that I sent, it appears his wife made money after his death by manufacturing “Moroccan Arnall Dolls”. Some are still for sale on EBAY.

  8. In my research on Southwark Park in London I have references to a John Arnall giving ten open air lectures there on behalf of the Social Democratic Federation between 21 September 1890 and 12 March 1892. The lectures were notified in the SDF paper Justice, which is available on the British Library Online Newspaper Archive.

    Hope this is useful to you.


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