Turning back from these opinions to the more difficult search for fact, we get from Sir Ernest Dowson some idea of what Lawrence's duties were during his approximately two years in Cairo. These duties, according to Dowson, were various, but chiefly those of a liaison officer in the over-complicated organisations set up during the war. Lawrence was the link between the Survey of Egypt on one side, and on the other Military Intelligence and (after February, 1916) the Arab Bureau. The dealings of the Royal Navy and Mediterranean Expeditionary Force with the Survey also passed mainly through Lawrence, because such a course was convenient. With time a widespread organisation was created to collect material for maps and other records, and this usually came through Lawrence to be co-ordinated and made use of under his direction. There were also demands for facsimiles and special reproductions, among them the much-advertised set of stamps for Sharif Hussein of the Hejaz. Similarly, Lawrence was the link between G.H.Q. and the Egyptian Government Printing Press. Throughout his period of service in Cairo, Lawrence visited the Survey at least two or three times a week and often several times a day. Dowson adds that no one ever complained about Lawrence, and
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"Lawrence usually dressed in robes of spotless white"
praises his resourcefulness and his ability to turn his mind to any work, his enthusiasm and his capacity to get his own way1 when his own way seemed vital to him. Furthermore, Lawrence possessed a rare and valuable quality -- his presence had a stimulating effect on the men in the offices and workshops, so that when they were working very long hours there was a noticeable heightening of morale after his visits. 54
This testimony is not only creditable, it is even credible. Obviously Lawrence must have carried out his Cairo duties competently or he would not have been allowed to keep his post -- greatly as incompetence, particularly in the higher ranks, appears to have been condoned in that war area; but hundreds of other officers performed duties of equal or greater importance without being celebrated as supermen. Not much information about his work in Cairo can be found in Lawrence's contemporary letters, partly no doubt because of war-time censorship (though he completely ignored this in writing to Hogarth) and partly because, as I must again remind the reader, existing letters have been suppressed. Evidently, at first it was all clerical work, for in January, 1915, he mentioned that he was tied to an office-desk all day putting together scraps of information and preparing geographies from details carried in the memory. 55 In early February, he claims he has been in his office from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. writing all day. 56 He is said to have collaborated with Philip Graves in producing an official handbook on the Turkish Army. 57 In July he supplements the office information by saying that he also lives in trains, interviews Turkish prisoners, and supplies information, but chiefly works at map-drawing and geography. 58 Evidently in April, 1915, he still had no intention of taking any active part in the fighting, since he wrote to Hogarth that he had no training as a field officer, and thought it would be "bad form" to go fighting up to Constantinople. 59 By "field officer" Lawrence probably meant a regimental officer in the field, though why he thought fighting up to Constantinople should be "bad form" is a baffling query.
Something must be said in elaboration of Lawrence's remark about interrogating prisoners. Early in February, 1915, Turkish forces made an unsuccessful attack on the Suez Canal. Most of these belonged to the Turkish 25th Division, which had been recruited from the Damascus area, and obviously some at least of the men must have come from
villages which Lawrence and Dahoum had visted. If the questioner could speak some words in the local dialect and could show a knowledge of local people (as in some cases Lawrence could), the chances of obtaining information from ignorant, homesick men were probably increased. And in the case of these prisoners of the 25th Turkish Division, Lawrence was peculiarly fitted for the task of questioning them. 60 But was he able to converse with the Turkish-speaking soldiers in their own language? An anecdote told by Dowson implies that Lawrence had some knowledge of Turkish, 61 and the like is implied by his working on the Turkish order of battle with Philip Graves, who of course knew the language very well. It was claimed that they knew all there was to know about the Turkish Army. 62 Perhaps so, but one hesitates over some of Lawrence's more sensationally lurid statements about the Turkish Army; for instance that nearly half among some of the groups of prisoners who were examined proved to have venereal disease which they had acquired from their officers. 63 Towards the end of the war, the state of the Turkish rank and file in Syria and Palestine was pitiful indeed, but if they were so degraded at the beginning of the war, their four years' successful resistance does not seem very creditable to the troops attacking them.
By this time it is probably unnecessary to inform the reader that the story of Lawrence's activities in Cairo was not originally put out with much sobriety and care for fact, but in a series of stories and unproved claims which betray the familiar sources of the Lawrence of Arabia legends. There is, for instance, the story of the two generals who, in Lowell Thomas' version, spent hours in the map department "poring over inaccurate charts" and would after forming their plans invite suggestions from "the insignificant subaltern" who "not infrequently" replied: "While there are many excellent points in your plan, it is not feasible except at the expense of great loss of time in building roads for transport of supplies and artillery, and at needless expense of lives in maintaining lines of communication through the territory of hostile native tribes." 64 There is no doubt that Lowell Thomas had a pleasing knack of brisking up Lawrence's anecdotes, but while he must be praised for the form he cannot, as usual, be blamed by the Lawrence Bureau for the matter. Shorn of its more picturesque absurdities (the generals humbly going to the map department instead of having the "charts" brought to them is
specially pleasing), the same tale with modifications reappears in the Lawrence-approved Graves' book. Here the wretched generals are treated pretty roughly, and deservedly humbled. Lawrence interrupts them as they discuss a reported movement of Turkish troops with a sharp crack of the whip: "Nonsense; they can't make the distance in twice the time you give them. The roads are bad and there's no local transport. Besides, their commanding officer is a very lazy fellow." 65 Is it surprising that Liddell Hart reflects exultantly that if Conan Doyle had been born a generation later "he would have found in Lawrence an apt model from which to create Sherlock Holmes?" 66 You know my methods, Allenby; apply them.
The likeness to Sherlock Holmes becomes even more striking when we come to consider the prisoner of war stories. Liddell Hart assures us that Lawrence's success in obtaining information was "uncanny." Lawrence modestly explained it away as elementary: "I always knew their districts; and asked about my friends in them. Then they told me everything." 67 But were all the prisoners captured by the British from the 25th Turkish Division and all the 25th Division friends of Lawrence's friends? Obviously not, and we have the testimony of Graves to prove it. "An ugly-looking ruffian" (writes Graves) arrested as a spy, said he was a Syrian -- though why that should be an alibi escapes me. Lawrence, "overcoming his usual aversion to looking a man in the face," said: "'He's lying; look at his little pig eyes! The man's an Egyptian of the pedlar class." Whereupon Lawrence"spoke sharply in the pedlar's dialect'" (suppose you screeve or go cheap jack?) and the man "admitted who he was." Again an unnamed colleague of Lawrence's showed him a "finelooking Arab" as "one of the real Bedouin." But Lawrence said: "No! He's not got the Bedouin walk or style. He's a Syrian Arab farmer living under the protection of the Beni Sakhr tribe.""And so it proved," 68 says Graves. Positively, Holmes, this is black magic.
David Garnett says Lawrence spent his time in Cairo and was the centre of great preparations for the most incompetent military operations. 69
We now come to the History of How Lawrence Planned the Alexandretta Landing, and the History of How Lawrence Arranged the Surrender of Erzerum. Though later in time, the surrender of Erzerum may be taken' first. When Liddell Hart asked Lawrence
how he came to receive instructions to accompany Aubrey Herbert to Kut, Lawrence replied:
"I had put the Grand Duke Nicholas in touch with certain disaffected Arab officers in Erzerum. Did it through the War Office and our military attaché in Russia. So the War Office thought I could do the same thing over Mespot. . . ." 70 * 71
This is made more definite by Graves: "As a matter of fact, the capture of Erzerum had been 'arranged' -- Colonel Buchan's novel Greenmantle has more than a flavour of truth. . . ." 72 And Liddell Hart brings the two together: "In the spring of 1916 he had a longrange hand in a more important matter, the 'capture' of Erzerum by the Russian Caucasus Army after a curiously half-hearted defence. . . ." And Buchan Greenmantle is cited with the sage warning that "fiction has often a basis in fact."72 And in the "Lives" of T. E. Lawrence, fact would seem to have an uncommonly large escort of fiction.
I take the following facts from the narrative of Mr. M. Philips Price , the Manchester Guardian war correspondent in Russia during that war. The Russian Caucasian Army had been reinforced to make 175,000 men, while the Turks had withdrawn two divisions and three batteries of artillery to defend Baghdad; they had failed to return the heavy guns used in the defeat of the British on Gallipoli, and had allowed many officers to go on leave. The Russian offensive approached Erzerum so rapidly that the field commander, General Eudenitch, asked the Grand Duke Nicholas to be allowed to work out a plan for the capture of Erzerum with General Przjevalsky, who for many years had been military attaché in Erzerum, and knew the forts and surroundings well. The Russians advanced through snowdrifts and over ice without regular food supplies, and the 4th Russian Caucasian Division on the 12-13th February had to cross a pass 10,000 feet high and lost 2,000 front-line soldiers by frost-bite. A wireless message from Abdulla Kerim Pasha, commander of the 3rd Turkish Army, to Enver Pasha was intercepted: "the condition of the 3rd Army is serious; reinforcements must be sent at once or Erzerum cannot be held." The Russian commander did not wait for the 4th Division, and, seeing Turkish reinforcements on the way, attacked at once, and, after very bitter fighting, captured Erzerum. 74 Nothing
* In Seven Pillars this claim is reduced to "reasons not unconnected with the fall of Erzerum."
whatever is said of the surrender being "arranged," but Price does mention that the Arab and Syrian troops were unfitted for such a strenuous winter campaign.
The reader will remember that Lawrence claimed that his "arrangement" for the surrender was sent through the British military attaché, but does not mention his name. This is very strange, because in 1916 the British military attaché on the Caucasus front was A. P. Wavell, afterwards Lord Wavell, later a personal friend of Lawrence's. Wavell Encyclopdia article on the Campaign in the Caucasus, strange to say, does not even mention Lawrence and knows nothing whatever about an "arranged surrender." What he does say is this: "The Russian capture of Erzerum was one of the finest feats of arms of the whole war. . . . Its capture on February 16th, was mainly the result of a turning movement from the north, the 2nd Turkestan Corps, under Przjevalski, the ablest of its Russian corps commanders on the Caucasus front, who had an intimate knowledge of Erzerum, where he had spent fifteen years as military attaché." 75
If the fall of Erzerum was due to Lawrence's intervention, why did his friend, Lord Wavell, not mention the fact in his authoritative account of the battle? Above all, since Wavell was the British military attaché through whom Lawrence claimed that he "put the Grand Duke Nicholas in touch with certain disaffected Arab officers in Erzerum"? Is it conceivable that such a soldier as Wavell would describe an "arranged" surrender "as one of the finest feats of arms of the whole war"? On the other side, we have only the unsupported statements of persons with no first-hand knowledge of the event, and their vague reference to a novel by John Buchan. If any real evidence of the truth of Lawrence's tale exists, it has not yet been produced.
The Alexandretta or Gulf of Iskanderun landing is a rather more complicated story, but worth trying to unravel, since it is one of the many cases in which Lawrence claimed -- directly and through his friends -- to have initiated a policy or strategic plan which was not his, while the confident, not to say brow-beating, assertion of his priority was accepted by the world as true and went to build up the Lawrence of Arabia legend. Let me begin by reminding the reader of Lawrence's (already quoted) letter in which, he exults at knowing War Office secrets so that they "can't sack me," and also the lofty manner in which he confidently handed out as his own the (erroneous)
political prognostics which he must have picked up from dons, since at the time he wrote he was not even in the Army and could have had no confidential knowledge of what "England" or "we" were going to do. In other words, Lawrence picked up secrets, nor did he have any scruples about giving out as his own what he picked up from others. In addition, there is the fact of his Francophobia, a hatred and an envy so irrational, so irresponsible and so unscrupulous that it is fair to say his attitude towards Syria was determined more by hatred of France than by devotion to the "Arabs" -- a convenient propaganda word which grouped many disharmonious and even mutually hostile tribes and peoples. This Francophobia seems strange in one who claimed to have spent three years reading French and Provençal medieval literature, whose early letters show so much interest in contemporary French writing, and who translated a French book after the war. The difficulty is partly but not completely resolved by Woolley, who says that, after a long stay in the Lebanon (possibly the three weeks with Dahoum, "walking about in Arab dress" in Jebail), Lawrence "felt a profound jealousy of the part" which the French "played or wished to play in Syria," and adds that long before the Sykes-Picot agreement Lawrence "was an enemy of France in the Levant, and that sentiment was the key to many of his later acts." 76 Lawrence was not the only British officer with such feelings. Fashoda, with Lord Salisbury's ultimatum threatening France with war, was then only sixteen years in the past, and the feelings prompting that action still remained -- the French were to be kept out of the Eastern Mediterranean. More specifically, the violently anti-France letters from Lawrence I am about to quote were written to D. G. Hogarth, and received without protest from him, and Hogarth became the Director of the Arab Bureau with all its avowed and concealed influences on British policy.
The Gulf of Iskanderun or Alexandretta Bay is at the top of Syria, where the coast-line turns sharply to the west along the shores of Cilicia. The first reference to it in Lawrence's letters is a request to Hogarth for "a print of any photos of Beilan you have," 77 made on the 15th January, 1915. Beilan was 8,000 a small town of between 7,0008,000 inhabitants, 10 miles from Alexandretta, and near "the Syrian gate" the mountain pass to inland Syria. It is a reasonable inference that Lawrence had been told to collect information for a map sheet of the district, but had then not grasped the significance of the order. On
the 18th March, Lawrence wrote Hogarth an uncensored private letter excited in expression and highly indiscreet in contents, since over a month before the landing at Gallipoli (25th April), it contains the words: "the Australians and New Zealanders, and some Indians are going to the Dardanelles, with the French, and Ian Hamilton's army." 78 No wonder the Turks were ready on Gallipoli when such indiscretions occurred! Evidently' Lawrence was now in possession of highly important secrets, and clearly a most untrustworthy person to have them, for the letter is filled with confidential military information. In this letter he puts to Hogarth, as a new idea of his own, the plan for a landing near Alexandretta, and violently urges Hogarth to try to impose this plan upon the War Office and the Foreign Office. The Turks, he says, "have only 50,000 disaffected troops in Syria," but "we" have conceded Syria to France, which however must not be allowed to hold Alexandretta, since "in the hands of France it will prove a sure base for naval attacks on Egypt," and "if Russia has Alexandretta, it's all up with us in the Near East," and, since the French will "probably be under Russia's finger" in the future, Lawrence deems it "absolutely necessary that we hold Alexandretta." After mentioning eminent persons who favour this scheme, Lawrence proposes that someone should "suggest to Winston that there is a petrol spring on the beach . . . huge iron deposits . . . coal." With 10,000 men, he adds, the British in Alexandretta would be impregnable. Six words, concerning high officials, are cut from this letter. 79
These promptings -- with additions which will be considered later -- were continued in other private letters to Hogarth, the last dated 26th April, which seems to indicate that Lawrence did not then know the landing bad just been made at Gallipoli. But, in letters to another correspondent, he shows that he had not abandoned hope of the Alexandretta enterprise. The question is, was Lawrence the author of this strategic plan? He certainly made the claim, and in writing: "I am unrepentant about the Alexandretta scheme which was, from beginning to end, my invention, put forward necessarily through my chiefs (I was a 2nd Lieutenant of 3 months seniority!). Actually K. accepted it, and ordered it, for the Australian and N.Z. forces: and then was met by a French ultimatum." 80 As Lawrence was commissioned on 26th October, 1914, three months bring us to January, 1915, when "the chiefs" through whom Lawrence "necessarily
put forward" his strategic plan were Dowson, Lt.-Col. Clayton and eventually Lieutenant-General Sir J. Maxwell. And we find, in fact, the following words in a telegram from Maxwell to Kitchener:
"If any diversion is contemplated, I think the easiest, safest, and most fruitful results would be one at Alexandretta. There . . . we strike a vital blow at the railways and also hit German interests very hard . . . Alexandretta would not want a very large force. All other places -- Rafah, Jaffa, Acre, Beirut -- are too far from the Turkish lines of communication." 81
This looks like a striking piece of evidence in Lawrence's favour, but unfortunately for his claim that the plan was his invention "from beginning to end," the telegram was sent off from Cairo on the 4th December, 1914, i.e., five days before Lawrence even left London for Cairo. In any case, the idea was not a new one even in December, 1914. Maxwell and Kitchener had "more than once discussed the project before the War." 82 The plan of a landing at Alexandretta was frequently discussed. It came up again in October, 1915, when the evacuation of Gallipoli began to look inevitable, and Kitchener came out to the Mediterranean on a tour of inspection. Maxwell's idea of a "not very large force" was more than the 10,000 named by Lawrence; it was 100,000. The Royal Navy objected that another 400 miles of sea communications would be opened for them to protect, and that anyway there were not enough lighters and small craft if Gallipoli was to continue. And finally the French intervened. 83 It is possible that Lawrence's unproven stories that he had met Kitchener in 1913 and 1914 may have been brought forward after Kitchener's death to bolster the claim (put out by Lawrence) that Lawrence had "warned Kitchener" about Alexandretta before the war. It is significant that Liddell Hart does not advance this claim for Lawrence. He says that Kitchener "mooted the idea of a landing near Alexandretta, but needed a large force, and that, from August on and again three weeks after the opening of war with Turkey (i.e., mid-November, 1914), the whole question of defending Egypt by an attack on the Dardanelles was raised, not by Lawrence, but by a much more likely person -- Winston Churchill. 84
This enquiry may be rounded out by the interesting fact that Sharif Hussein after the war claimed that the Alexandretta landing was his
plan and "he had never understood why his advice was neglected." 85
These letters to Hogarth in 1915 have been extravagantly praised as showing Lawrence's great political realism and that "he had already planned the campaign which he was to carry to a victorious conclusion three years later." 86 The latter remark begs the question as to who really defeated the Turks in 1918. At the date he wrote these letters, he was, of course, as an intelligence officer, in possession of secret information about Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Mesopotamia, and did not scruple to reveal it in his private letters to Hogarth. It seems likely that he interviewed some of the British spies or knew them, since in April ( 1915) he sent to England a medieval dagger pommel which had recently been bought in Jerusalem, 87 and which could only have been bought by some such agency.
At that time the Hejaz had not rebelled, though Lawrence a little prematurely announced, in March, 1915, that the "Sharif had almost declared himself" -- fourteen months before the event. (The complicated intrigue between Sharif Hussein and the British had in fact been under way for some time at that date.) But a week later, Lawrence is more interested in Idrissi, the ruler of Asir, who "if anything like as good as we hope," Lawrence thought could "rush right up to Damascus, and biff the French out of all hope of Syria." 88 Now, under Clayton's suasion, Idrissi had performed a useful service in November, 1914, by declaring against the Turks and thus cutting their communications with Yemen -- an action which helped to save the incompetent British force in Aden. But it was wildly overoptimistic to think that Idrissi's forces, even supposing they could move through the Hejaz in the Sharif's name, 89 were capable of such an achievement as capturing Syria; and, in fact Idrissi did nothing more active in the war than to "contain one weak Turkish division." 90 What this letter shows only too clearly is the disastrous rivalry between the British in India and the British in Egypt, as well as the personal Francophobia of Lawrence himself. It is hard to see the political realism of preparing for a renaissance of the Turk when he has lost Constantinople" (which "he" hasn't yet lost), or, with the defeats at Gaza, Gallipoli and Kut still ahead, to reflect ( 20th April, 1915), "Poor old Turkey is only hanging together. People always talk of the splendid show she has made lately, but it really is too pitiful for words. Everything about her is very, very sick. . . ." 91 Well, with
considerable aid from the Russians and some from the French, the British Government expended 750,000,000 pounds, passed well over a million troops in all through that war area, and took four years to defeat this "very, very sick" Turkey. The "political realism" of Lawrence's remark is not very apparent. Of course, the idea of incorporating the aid of the discontented Arabs in the war against Turkey was to some extent carried out (there was never any rising or mutiny of Arab troops), but then the idea had been formulated and negotiations begun before Lawrence ever reached Cairo. Certainly, his criticisms of the slowness and incompetence and lack of initiative in the British Middle Eastern forces were only too bitterly true. It is perhaps worth noting that when a French Mission was sent from Paris to the Hejaz in August, 1916, Philippe Berthelot's last words to the chief officer were: "The greatest service you could do us would be to get some action out of the British in the East." 92