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Biography of Abdullah Ben Ayad
This article has no connection with Malvern
Our research into the Victorian
McCulloch Collection of
Modern Art led us to a sketch by the Scottish painter
James Coutts Michie
of Mrs Alexander McCulloch. The Scottish index of marriages identifies her
as Lesley Maude Cecil Wright, the daughter of an industrialist.
The England and Wales index of marriages records that
Lesley married second, at a registry office in London, in 1938, Prince
Abdullah Ben Ayad of Tunis (1875 - 1946). We were interested to find out a
bit more about the couple and on this page we relate their tale, as far as
we can piece it together.
Actually we haven't found out much about Ben-Ayad, so
please do tell us if you can expand on his story or have a photo of him.
One newspaper report we found about Ben Ayad, or another
member of his family, relating to
Syria, was written by journalist and author Harry James Greenwall (1886 -
1966), and we can tell you a little about him; British Ambassador Sir Nevile
Henderson who was named in the article is also mentioned briefly.
Lesley Cecil Wright
Abdullah Ben Ayad
Harry James Greenwall
Lesley Maude Cecil Wright was born in 1888 at Solihull on
the outskirts of Birmingham. She was the daughter of industrialist Alfred
Cecil Wright (1858 - 1920) and Scottish born Elsie Allan (1859 - 1931).
She married Alexander McCulloch in 1907, by whom she had
three children Joan, Peggy and George. By the end of WWI the couple appear to have separated and on
2nd July 1938 the Dundee Evening Telegraph reported:
Prince Abdullah Ben Ayad of Tunis 63 year-old son
of Mahmoud Ben Ayad, Emir of Tunis, was married at London register office
today to Mrs Lesley Maude McCulloch, sister of Wing-Commander
Wright, MP for the Erdington Division of Birmingham, and daughter of the
late Mr Alfred Cecil Wright.
So what is known of her second husband?
From the marriage announcement it would appear Prince
Abdullah Ben Ayad was born about 1875, possibly in Tunis, and that his
father was Mahmoud, Emir of Tunis.
The next mention we have found of the couple is a
newspaper report of their arrival in Montreal, Canada in 1940, where they
lived during the Second World War. To quote:
Montreal Gazette, August 2nd 1940
British Guests Begin New Life as Liner Docks (cont from
One of the most interesting of the passengers was Prince
Abdullah Ben Ayad. His father had been a great leader in Tunis and his
family tree is a long and notable one. The Prince dresses in European
clothes at all times. He limps only slightly on his artificial right leg, a
momento of the last war.
ITALY WON'T GET TUNIS
In an interview he declared that Italy would not take
Tunis. He believed that he could be an influence in North Africa by
broadcasting to the people there, urging them to stand alongside the
democracies. This broadcast had been suggested he said by General de Gaulle
lead of the loyal French in London. His wife is the sister of Wing Commander
Wright, a British Member of Parliament.
Click to read Wikidedia article about the Tunisian Campaign
Ben Ayad had lost his right leg while fighting for the French at Gallipoli in
It seems Lesley and Abdullah continued to live in Montreal, where they
The Times reported on Thursday Nov 21st 1946:
Prince Ben Ayad
of Tunis, uncle of King Farouk of Egypt, died at Montreal on Sunday 17th at
the age of 71, reports Reuter. Prince Ben Ayad who went to Canada in 1940,
was a candidate for the throne of Syria in 1928, when political circles in
Paris were considering the transformation of this former French mandate into
a monarchy. He based his claim on his Muslim religion and his French
citizenship. He married in 1938 Miss Lesley Cecil Wright of Edgbaston,
Birmingham, a sister of Group Captain J A Cecil Wright, formerly
Conservative MP for the Erdington division of Birmingham.
The suggestion that Ben Ayad may have been a candidate
for the throne of Syria was interesting and it caused us to look at the history
of that country and the French Mandate of days gone by (see further down).
Another newspaper report written in 1929 by
Harry James Greenwall
throws some light on 'goings on in' Syria. To quote:
National Library of New Zealand
Dunstan Times 11th March
1929, page 7
(By: H J Greenwall)
I understand that, subject to the agreement
of the Mandate Commission of the League of Nations, the Constitution of
Syria may shortly be changed, and the French mandated territory of Syria,
like the neighbouring British mandated
territories of Palestine and Iraq, will become a monarchy. The French
Government has found no lack of candidates for the Syrian throne; few were
called, but many came. One of the most persistent and insistent candidates
was Abbas Hilmi, the ex Khedive of Egypt, who has a house in Paris. The
ex-Khedive, who is hardly popular with either the British or the French
Government never had the slightest chance of being nominated King of Syria,
and he faded into the background.
I believe the final choice will fall on
Prince Adil Ben Ayad, whose candidature is now being much discussed in
influential circles in Paris. The prince is a descendant of the Omneyad
Caliphs, and one of his direct ancestors was King Murcia, in Spain in 1145.
Gold coins struck by him in the French national collection are inscribed,
"Emir Abdullah Ben Ayad, Commander of the Faithful." After the Mohammedan
exodus from Spain, his ancestors held sovereign power in Tripoli until the
advent of the Caramanli dynasty.
The Ben Ayads then became rulers of the
island of Jerbe, off the coast of Aripoli, but when the island became under
Tunisian rule the Ben Ayads settled in that country. Mahammed Ben Ayad was
sent to Paris as Envoy Extraordinary, and his son, the grandfather of Prince
Adil settled in France. Prince Adil on his mother's side, is a direct
descendant of Mohammed Ali, the founder of the present Egyptian Dynasty.
Princess Hayal Ibrahim of Egypt, is a niece of King Faud. Prince Adil's
strongest claims to the throne of Syria are based on the fact that he is a
Mussulman prince and at the same time a French citizen. He lives in Passym
where he took two flats and converted them into a miniature Eastern palace,
full of treasures from the East.
I called on the king-presumptive, and found
him to be a man of 45 who talks fluent English and who is fully conversant
with British problems in the Near East. Prince Adil lived for 25 years in
Egypt, where he was in constant contact with the British authorities. I
understand that Prince Adil is now considered an 'official' claimant, and
that his claims have been brought unofficially to the knowledge of
Neville Henderson, councillor of the British Embassy here.
The prince and
princess have four children, two boys and two girls; the oldest is a boy
aged seven. Prince Adil will make his first 'official' speech next month at
a lunch to be given by the Franco-Syrian Club.
A similar report appeared in a Jewish newspaper:
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 25th 1929
Separation of the Christian majorities in Beirut and the Lebanons from
the Moslem majorities of Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Alexandretta, is being
urged by unofficial French sources here, who say that the Moslem state, with
its capital at Damascus, should be a constitutional monarchy under a Moslem
prince, while the Lebanons should continue a republic with a Christian
Candidates for the Damascus throne are not lacking. The latest is
the Prince Adil Ben Ayad who, it is claimed, is held in such respect in the
Moslem world, that all parties would accept him. A “Frenchman,” he is
descended from the ancient Arab line of the Ommyades. An ancestor of his was
ambassador-extraordinary from the Bey of Tunis to Louis Phillippe. His
grandfather was naturalized as a Frenchman under Napoleon III, obtaining in
recognition for the services rendered France, the medal of Grand Officer of
the Legion of Honor. His mother, Princess Roukie Fazil of Egypt, is the
direct descendant of the great Mehmed Ali of Egypt. His wife is the niece of
King Fuad of Egypt.
The Prince Adil Ben Ayad, who lives in Passy, in a
sumptuous apartment, where marvelous treasures from the Orient are to be
found side by side with pictures of famous masters, when asked why he
aspired to the Syrian throne, had said that his Syrian friends think he is
the only one fit to reign over Syria, where “monarchy is absolutely
'This unhappy country, which during so many years was so
badly treated by the Turks, suffered cruelly during the War,' the prince who
would be king is reported to have said. 'It needs peace and tranquillity to
heal the wounds and restore its wealth. Only a monarchy can give the Syrians
this calm and tranquillity.'
'France has done much for Syria. She must
fulfill her mandate and then a treaty should be made between the two
countries. Agitators for self-governing institutions are inciting Syrians
against France and encouraging rebellion. If one day my ambitions are
realized, I shall use every effort to make them love generous France, to
which I am proud to belong.'
'Aims which lead to progress in Syria will find
in me a firm supporter. I want to bring happiness and justice to these
people,' the prince said.
The last two reports refer to Prince Adil Ben Ayad who
seems to be about seven year younger than Abdullah, so possibly both men had
put their names forward as candidates. We wondered if they were related or
journalists confused one man with the other.
Mandate after the First Great War gave France control over Syria and
Lebanon and it would seem they wanted to emplace a puppet government, but
that never happened. The people wanted independance, and that was granted
See list of presidents
That area of the world had been fought over for hundreds of years
and has continued to be unstable. Further unrest started in 2011 leading to
a bloody civil war between President Assad's government and anti government
factions which is still going on. An account can be found on
Abdul Ben-Ayad was buried at Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal, Quebec on 21th Nov 1946
and his wife Princess Lesley Ben Ayad was also buried there on 2nd
Click to go to listing on Find a Grave
So you will see we really don't know much about Ben Ayad except that he
fought at Gallipoli in WWI, married in later life and retired to Canada
where he died in 1946. But exactly who were his parents; was his father
really a great leader in Tunis; was he related in any way to King Fuad of
Egypt; and did he have a career as a young man, or just live off inherited
wealth? Do please tell us if you know.
Here is a bit more about people mentioned above.
Author and Journalist HJ Greenwall was born Henry James Greenwall in
Highbury, London, in 1886 and died on the Spanish Island of Majorca in 1966.
His obituary was published in the Times on Friday, Feb 25th 1966.
Mr Harry Greenwall
Mr Henry J Greenwall author and journalist – died in
Majorca on Monday at the age of 79. Greenwall – whose first two names were
after the author – was educated in Hanover and Paris, where he later became
a reporter on Northcliffe's Continental Daily Mail. It was also his base as
foreign correspondent for the Daily Express during the First World War.
After the end of the Second World War he was briefly a
correspondent for the Times in Lisbon. Among his books was a controversial
Northcliffe, subtitled Napolean of Fleet Street, published in
1957. He also wrote 'They were murdered in France', which included murder of
the Drummonds. His style was, as one critic described it, 'jerky, gossipy,
Note: Sir Jack Cecil Drummond FRS and his family were murdered in 1952 while
on holiday in France
HJ Greenwall's Family
Harry was the son of Jewish tailor and outfitter Jacob
Greenlaw who had a shop in the Strand. Jacob was born in Poland in 1840 when
the country was under the control of Russia. Jacob first appears in the
English records in 1862 when he marries Julia Hart, by whom he has a son
Joseph. The London Gazette records he became bankrupt in 1878, and Julia
died in 1883, the same year Jacob became a naturalised British citizen.
In 1885 Jacob married second Fanny Maud Benjamin (1860 -
1930) who was born in Quebec, the daughter of banker Michael Benjamin and
Adelaide Lyons. Jacob died a year later in 1886 aged only 46 years, the same
year Harry was born.
Harry's mother married second in 1889 Diamond Merchant
David Rodrigues, by whom she had a daughter and three sons.
Sir Nevile Merick Henderson (1882 - 1942), who is briefly mentioned
above, was a British diplomat and you will find a lengthy article about him
on Wikipedia. He was British Ambassador in Berlin from 1937 to the outbreak
of war in 1939; an interesting period of history when Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain sought to avoid war with Germany.
- National Probate Calendar
- England and Wales Census
- GRO Index of Marriages
- Montreal Gazette, August 2nd 1940
- Dunstan Times, 11th March 1929
- Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 25th 1929
- Find a Grave
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