THE SCARCITY of Lawrence's personal letters during the war period leaves us with little knowledge of his private life during the years at Cairo which in retrospect he described as "glorious." By April of 1915, the group of men who had gone to Cairo with Lawrence had broken up. Lloyd and Herbert had gone with the Gallipoli expeditionary force, and Woolley was at Port Said. Newcombe remained in Cairo for some time before returning to France; but unluckily has cut short his memories of Lawrence at the moment of leaving London in December, 1914. The fullest and pleasantest glimpse we have of Lawrence at this time is in the memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs, unfortunately not contemporary notes, or at best notes re-written after Lowell Thomas and the outbreak of hagiography.
It seems safe to say that Lawrence's complaint to Hogarth that he was working fourteen hours a day represented only a very temporary rush. He found plenty of time to read -- always Greek or Latin books -- in Storrs's flat, and he also borrowed books. Lawrence is said to have liked listening to Storrs as he improvised on the piano, and never tired of walking the bazaars or visiting mosques. He went round the Arab Museum with Storrs looking for "motifs" which might be used for the issue of Hejaz stamps Storrs planned to advertise the Sharif's rebellion. He was also more and more interested in learning from Storrs all he could of Arabia, his knowledge of which, so Storrs says, did not at that time extend beyond the Suez canal. This last remark is not true, but Storrs was probably thinking of Arabia proper, since at that time Lawrence's knowledge was limited to Syria, Palestine, Sinai, the fringe of the Syrian desert and the country a little beyond the Euphrates. Lawrence had wanted to visit the little-known and
vast "real" desert areas, and had failed to do so because of lack of means and opportunity, though from laziness he had neglected the German invitation to ride farther East. There was a moment during the war when, riding with Auda, Lawrence caught a distant glimpse of the sand-dunes of the Great Nefud, remembered how Palgrave, the Blunts and Gertrude Bell had been there, and said he was disappointed that Auda refused to enter it. Clearly, these talks with Storrs aroused for the first time Lawrence's interest in the Hejaz; and Storrs consequently sent him all the information that came in about the tribes and topography of the area. As we shall see, it was Storrs, and not Lawrence or Hogarth, who really originated the idea of provoking and exploiting a Hashemite rebellion against the Turkish government. 1
Storrs recollects that Lawrence was below average height, slight but strongly built, with a high forehead, yellow hair, and straight nose. 2 A confidential French report of mid-1917 may be compared: "Aged 27" -- in fact, then 29 -- "short and slight, determined cleanshaved jaw, very high forehead, light hair always ruffled, very blue eyes lit up by intensity of thought, he makes a strong impression of energy and intelligence." 3 Gertrude Bell, who came out to Cairo in November, 1915, mentions Lawrence (and describes him as "exceedingly intelligent"), who with Hogarth had met her and brought her to the hotel where they were staying. 4 This over-development of the intellect at the expense of more vital impulses -- as if indeed he were an exemplar of that over-conscious mind and purely mechanistic will denounced by his great namesake, D. H. Lawrence -- certainly accounts for that coldness of feeling as well as for the falsity, the "pose" of his attitude to life. His response to the news that his brother Frank had been killed (in May, 1915) is typical:
" Frank's death was as you say a shock, because it was so unexpected. I don't think one can regret it overmuch, because it is a very good way to take, after all." 5
There is a nonchalance -- perhaps an affected nonchalance, one never knows with Lawrence -- about that, which is repelling. The same word "shock" but this time "a great shock," was the response to the death of his brother, Will, but, as that is all that is quoted from the letter (the rest being omitted), there may have been some real grief and humanity expressed. His epitaph on Hogarth (whose death he said
hit him very hard): "Also much of his goodness lay in himself; and has gone into death with him. That makes it feel wasteful," 6 is as trite in thought as it is sententiously studied in expression. And the almost blind mechanistic will to power, which wills merely to assert itself and not for any real purpose and so when gratified leads to nothing but emptiness and a taste of ashes -- that will to power and its results, Lawrence's nemesis in life, are perfectly exemplified in one of these Cairo letters:
"Our particular job goes well. We all pulled together hard for a month to twist 'them' from what we thought was a wrong line they were taking -- and we seem to have succeeded completely: so that we to-day have got all we want for the moment, and therefore feel absolutely bored." 7
Meanwhile, as Lawrence in Cairo under Storrs's guidance was learning all he could about the Hejaz with his special ability to pick up a subject rapidly, an attempt must be made to put before the reader at least the elements of this complex Arabian situation. Perhaps one reason why the public has preferred to listen to romantic tales of "Arabian Knights" instead of looking for the facts, is that the romance might be enjoyed without effort while the facts are so complex and minute, not to say tedious, that all but enthusiasts are apt to grow discouraged. What discourages rather than surprises an enquirer is to find that a situation so complicated was met by a series of organisations so cumbersome, so unco-ordinated, so leisurely and so smug. The adoption of what is euphemistically called "a forward policy" in the Middle East does not seem to have resulted in much tangible gain, while it is unnecessary to dwell on the losses, humiliations and hostilities which have resulted.
What is Arabia? Is it the million square miles of mostly desert land of the peninsula, or does it include the more fertile and settled areas such as modern Irak, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, with their diverse populations and religious sects? It is scarcely possible to speak of an "Arab race" when the ethnologists report three racial groups in Arabia proper alone. There were differences also between the settled and the nomad populations, and between rival sects. At the time of the 1914-1918 war the whole area still formed part of the Turkish empire, divided into vilayets and sanjaks, with Turkish
garrisons at certain points, though the more distant and wilder tribes were more or less independent, except for rare punitive raids. The nomad tribes lived chiefly as Gertrude Bell says, "by stealing each other's washing, which is misleading, as they washed their clothes but once a year -- but what she means is that the camels, sheep, goats stolen on tribal raids from Tribe B by Tribe A were stolen back again at the first opportunity. War was a ritual of robbery with violence. "The Bedouins," says the Sieur Joinville in the 13th century, "live out of doors in tents with their wives and children. . . . They wrap their heads in towels dont laides gens et hisdeuses sont regarder." And speaking of their plundering the camp of their nominal rulers, "the Saracens," he explains that "the use and custom of the Bedouins is always to fall upon the weaker side." Tenacious holders of old customs, the Bedouins whether of Arabia or Africa had not changed at all in that respect between the 13th and the 20th centuries.In the main Arabian area were at least ten "states" or chieftains' spheres of influence with no fixed frontiers, yet roughly defined areas, expanding or contracting whenever a "strong man" arose or fell, a situation something between that of the Merovingian kings of France and that of the American Indians, with the succession usually decided by assassination. Starting inland from the head of the Persian Gulf were, as stated by a contemporary authority:
1. The Muntafik, ruled by Ibn Sadun, who were pro-Turk and in the pay of the Germans.
2. Kuwait, ruled by Ibn Saba, paid by the British Government in India.
3. Bahrein, ruled by Ibn Kalifa, in the pay of India.
4. Oman, a heretic people, ruled by Ibn Said and paid by India.
5. Hadramaut, ruled by Ibn Auda, in the pay of India.
6. Yemen, ruled by a holy man (a "poisonous blighter," according to Lawrence), the Iman, Ibn Mohammed Hamid, in the pay of the Turks.
7. Asir, ruled by the immensely corpulent half-negro Ibn Ali el Idrissi, in the pay of the British in Egypt.
8. The Shammar tribes of the Nefud, ruled by Ibn Rashid. Their capital at Hail was occupied by a Turkish garrison, and they
were very useful to the Turks in supplying Medina and the posts on the Hejaz railway.
Nejd, with its capital at Riadh, ruled by the great leader of the Wahabis (extreme puritans), Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the lately deceased king of Saudi Arabia. He received (for little more than his neutrality during the war) a subsidy said to have been £160,000 a year.
The Hejaz, area of the holy cities Mecca and Medina, with ports on the Red Sea at Jidda, Rabegh, Al Wejh, Yenbo. It had a population of about 600,000, about three-quarters of them Bedouins, and lived on the pilgrimage trade, a certain amount of camel breeding and Turkish subsidies. The ruler, the Emir Hussein Ibn Ali of the Hashemites, entitled to be called "Sharif" or "Sherif" as a relative of the prophet, lived up till 1909 for nearly thirty years in forced residence at Constantinople, never certain that his next day might not be the last. He had four sons, Ali, Abdulla, Feisal and Said.
Add to this the medley of mutually incompatible populations in Syria, the Jewish problem in Palestine, and Mesopotamia -- and who will disagree with the proposition that, in taking on the main responsibility for this area, the British Government wasted a great deal of money and men to buy itself many vexatious troubles which have not yet ended? It was wonderful while they could pose as condescending patrons of "the Arab cause" (with Lawrence as the national hero) and "a national home for the Jews" (with Balfour as fatuous sponsor) * -- Israel and the Arab League are the results. Many were the miscalculations, though perhaps the most serious was the minimising or misinterpreting of the wave of Oriental nationalisms which began with this century, under the menace of which we now exist. The effect of the Japanese victory over the Russians in 1904-5 can hardly be exaggerated. Lawrence's friend, Gertrude Bell, has recorded how in Lebanon the fanatical Moslems on hearing of the Japanese victories would come and shake their fists at the Christians, saying: "The Christians are suffering defeat! See now, we too will shortly drive you
* "Fatuous" because he should have known that "national home" would be interpreted to mean "national state."
out and seize your goods." 8 They call Lawrence a Crusader -- but on whose side? Not on ours. Was it not a series of blunders to inflame these crude nationalisms for the sake of a little negligible military aid, to take over from the Turks the position of the power to be expelled, and to intrigue against the French instead of agreeing on a common policy?It is anticipating, but, with this thumb-nail sketch of the complex situation in mind, this seems the moment to relate the remarkable series of British authorities who were supposed to deal with the situation in the Hejaz in its momentous military task of containing a few weak Turkish divisions:
The High Commissioner for Egypt (Sir Henry McMahon, succeeded in late 1916 by the Sirdar, Sir Reginald Wingate), advised by the Oriental Secretary (Sir) Ronald Storrs, and (later) the Arab Bureau, decided political relations with the Hejaz. Under the Foreign Office. In Cairo.
Supply and war material were controlled by the C.-in-C. the Egyptian Expeditionary Force -- General Maxwell, succeeded. by General Murray, succeeded by General Allenby. Under the War Office. In Cairo, then Ismailia.
The few troops sent to the Hejaz were controlled by the Sirdar, governor of the Sudan, Sir F. R. Wingate, succeeded in late 1916 by Sir Lee Stack, murdered after the war by Egyptian nationalists. Under the War Office. In Khartoum.
The Royal Navy, in this area commanded by Admiral Wemyss, who was under the orders of Delhi but was usually at Ismailia.
Delhi was running a war of its own in Mesopotamia.
From time to time superior but distant authorities in London issued orders and counter-orders or expressed hopes. More vexatiously, under the divers stresses of war, hopes of oil, and idealism, they authorised statements and promises hard to reconcile with a secret treaty (Sykes-Picot) of which the authorities in Egypt knew nothing definite until its English author arrived in Cairo asking boisterously: "What do you think of my treaty?" 9
Leaving this imposing muddle to the amazement of future historians, let us turn back to the relations between the Hejaz and Great
SAME PICTURE -- DIFFERENT CAPTION Above: "Lawrence, Hogarth and Alan Dawnay at Cairo" as reproduced in The Letters of T. E. Lawrence.
Right: the same photograph as it appeared in Lowell Thomas book With Lawrence in Arabia but with the caption "Colonel Lawrence conferring with one of his advisers at the Arab Bureau in Cairo." Hogarth was, in fact, the Director of the Arab Bureau in Cairo and thus Lawrence's chief. In civilian life he was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and had encouraged T. E. Lawrence's undergraduate leanings towards archaeology.
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Britain. Even before the war, in April 1914, to be precise, the Hashemites had made approaches to the British in Egypt. Sharif Abdulla, Hussein's second son (the recently murdered king of Transjordania), visited Cairo, and asked to speak to one of Lord Kitchener's staff. After much pleasant literary and historical conversation (for Abdulla was a man of great charm and highly cultured), he came to the point -- would England give his father a dozen machine-guns? Asked why, he said "for defence" against the Turks -- "defence," in modern politics, being a mystic and diplomatic word meaning much the same as "offence." Sir Ronald Storrs, the British representative, replied immediately that no arms could be supplied for use against a friendly power. 10
Even before the war with Turkey, and still more after it was declared, there needed no messenger from Jove to point out the dangers of Turkish capture or destruction of the Suez Canal, or, after the alliance with Germany, the danger of German mines in the Red Sea. (Submarines were also feared, but seem rather unlikely at that time.) The advantages of securing an alliance with Sharif Hussein were actually rather political than military, and, in fact, his greatest service to England was performed in November, 1914, when he refused to endorse the Turkish proclamation of a Holy War. Now, it is probable that the conversation between Abdulla and Storrs in April, 1914, was known only to them and to Kitchener. At any rate, after the outbreak of the war with Germany, nothing was done about the Hejaz, and when Storrs sent in a memorandum suggesting that consultation with Mecca might result in an alliance, he was ignored. He then wrote a private letter to Kitchener in England, which brought telegraphic response on the 24th September, instructing Storrs to send a secret messenger from Kitchener to Abdulla to ask if Abdulla and his father would fight for or against England in a Turkish war. 11
The messenger, who was not Lawrence in disguise but a native, brought back the reply that, if assistance were given, Abdulla and his father would not help the Turks. On the 31st October, 1914, Kitchener cabled the following ambiguous words: "If Arab nation" (where was it?) "assist England in this war, England will guarantee that no tervention takes place in Arabia "(meaning what?)" and will give Arabs every assistance against external foreign aggression." That seems to promise more than its sender was able to perform. In any
case, the report from Mecca on the 10th December was that, although the Sharif was friendly he must await a pretext for breaking with the Turks. 12
Unless Kitchener ran down to Oxford or a little later to the maproom in Whitehall to consult the young archaeologist, it is impossible to agree with those who assert that "Lawrence planned the Arab revolt." All these preliminaries, which led to the rebellion, occurred before Lawrence ever reached Cairo, as did Hussein's refusal to endorse the Holy War. In other words, the rebellion of Sharif Hussein against the Turkish government would certainly have occurred if Lawrence had never existed. Obviously the prime mover on the British side in these tortuous manoeuvres was Storrs. It was he who reminded Kitchener, immediately after the outbreak of war, of Abdulla's overtures, and he who directed most of the secret negotiations. In the autumn of 1916, Abdulla told Storrs plainly: "It was your letter and your messages which began this thing with us; and you know it from the beginning, and before the beginning." 13 The main value of Storrs and Lawrence to each other was the natural sympathy of two sthetes surrounded by a hostile crowd of officers interested only in their physical comforts. 14 Storrs, with his unique knowledge of the Hejaz intrigues, often told Lawrence things about them just to see his reactions. 15 It seems most improbable that Storrs had any idea then that Lawrence might take a practical part in a rebellion which was not yet begun, but Lawrence did succeed in impressing Storrs with his skill as a technician, teaching him how to use the Playfair Cipher, discoursing on the three-colour process, and generally demonstrating his "amazing knowledge." Yet, at the same time, Storrs speaks of him patronisingly as "little Lawrence, my supercerebral companion." 16
Meanwhile, the slow, devious negotiations had been going on with Hussein, who, in July, 1915, began to disclose inordinate ambitions. As the price of his "revolt," he required the gift of "an area bounded on the north by latitude 37 from Mersina to Persia; on the west by the Red Sea and the Mediterranean; on the south and east by the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the frontier of Persia." 17 In fact, he demanded all Arabic-speaking South-west Asia with the exception of Aden not to mention the numerous non-Arabic-speaking minorities. 18 These are the demands for "Arab independence" sent to Hussein by the Arab secret societies of Damascus through
Feisal in May, 1915. 19 But when Hussein asked for "Arab independence," did he not really mean the establishment of his own rule and dynasty over this area, irrespective of all other possessors and claimants? McMahon replied, expressing gratification" at the Sharif's declaration that British and Arab aims were identical " -- a daring statement -- but prudently added that "discussion of boundaries in detail was premature." 20 But by October, 1915, the realisation began to penetrate that the attack on Gallipoli had failed, which would release Turkish troops for an attack on the Suez Canal; and the High Commissioner changed ground. On the 24th October, 1915, McMahon wrote the Sharif the astonishing news that his extravagant claim was accepted, with certain exceptions, notably "the districts of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo." Reference was made "to existing treaties with Arab chiefs," and the claims of France were specifically safeguarded. 21 Lloyd George, from whom I derive these facts, for some reason forgot to mention that he hoped to annex most of Mesopotamia, or, as it was officially worded, "the Turkish Vilayets of Basra and Baghdad would probably be subjected to British control." 22 This premature allotment of as yet unconquered territories cannot have greatly pleased Sharif Hussein or his sons, since he particularly wanted Syria (in which he included Palestine) and what is now called Irak, while Abdulla wanted then to be king of Irak, and Feisal of "Magna Syria," as it might be called.
In May, 1916, came the secret Sykes-Picot agreement which shared out the territories of the (still as yet unconquered) Turks among the powers of the Entente. Russia was to have the Dardanelles, Constantinople and a large area round Erzerum and Trebizond; England was to have the Vilayets of Basra and Baghdad and "control" a large "Arab State B" appended; France was to have Cilicia, a large part of upper Mesopotamia and the coastal regions of Syria (including Alexandretta), down nearly to Acre, with Mosul included in a large "Arab State A" under French control; Italy (and not Greece) was to have Smyrna, some of southern Anatolia and a "sphere of influence" marked "C." Palestine was to have a condominium of England, France and Russia. The concessions to the Italians were added later because the original agreement was concluded without their knowledge, which made them very angry. Nothing was allotted to Serbia, Montenegro or Belgium. Hussein knew nothing of this agree-
ment until the Bolsheviks discovered a copy of the agreement in the archives of the previous government and most unsportingly made it public.
It is impossible to deny that all this shows a lack of co-ordination. Perhaps with a view to cleaning up the chaos on the Eastern scene, an "Arab Bureau" was set up in February, 1916, for "the study and development of British policy in Arab affairs and the collection of information." There is a splendid vagueness about this which conceals the real objects of the Arab Bureau in much the same way as the declared military policy in the Middle East concealed ambitions which are revealed in the Sykes-Picot agreement. * The foundation of the Arab Bureau dates from the return to Cairo from London of Hogarth, who became its Director under the supervision of Clayton, but, as he also became Chief Political Officer to the Palestine Force towards the end of 1917, presumably Hogarth thereafter was in control at Cairo. Lawrence was one of those who found jobs in this Bureau, which did not however include Newcombe and Woolley, who were at the front, nor Gertrude Bell who, after giving them the benefit of her knowledge of desert tribes, had moved on to Baghdad by way of India. Some doggerel lines by Hogarth give us the Arab Bureau officers' names -Clayton, Symes, Cornwallis, Dawnay, Mackintosh, Fielding, Macindoe, Wordie and:
" Lawrence licentiate to dream and to dare And Yours Very Faithfully, bon tout faire." 24
Unless the word "dare" was introduced merely for the sake of the rhyme, its use would indicate 1917 or late 1916 as the date of composition, since up till then Lawrence had not "dared" anything in particular. Part at least of his work for the Arab Bureau was connected with the publication of The Arab Bulletin, which was printed in Cairo from 6th June, 1916, to 6th December, 1918, and is claimed by Lawrence to have been originally suggested by him. 25 Only a few copies of each number were printed for circulation among officials, and all were considered and marked "Strictly Secret." Most of Lawrence's contributions have been published.
* ". . . to occupy the head of the Persian Gulf, thus guarding the oilfields, protecting the many Arab allies of Great Britain in those regions, and preventing the enemy from establishing naval bases on the flank of the British communications with India; the second was to keep open these same communications by the Red Sea and the Suez Canal." 23 Much the same in the Official War History but they unaccountably forgot the oilfields.
Not long after, the withdrawal from Gallipoli marked the collapse of the attempt on the Dardanelles, another and peculiarly humiliating disaster occurred on the Persian Gulf front, where the incompetent General Townshend contrived to get his army besieged in Kut-el-Amara, while all efforts to relieve him failed. By April, 1916, Townshend was faced with unconditional surrender, and, in a desperate effort to save his men from the horrors of Turkish prisoner-of-war camps, he persuaded the Cabinet to authorise him to offer a payment of a million gold pounds (raised to two millions) and the surrender of his forty guns on condition that "his force should be allowed to go free on parole." 26 The professional officers disliked the suggestion as dishonourable, and Sir Percy Cox ( Chief Political Officer in Irak) felt so strongly disapproving that he " explicitly disassociated himself from the negotiations on such a basis," and they were "in consequence entrusted to others." 27 Those chosen were Aubrey Herbert, M.P., Colonel Beach, and Captain T. E. Lawrence. The choice of Aubrey Herbert was a natural one. His position as Member of Parliament gave him authority and made him a natural emissary of the Cabinet; he was a Turkophile, spoke Turkish well, had many friends in Constantinople and is said to have been personally acquainted with the Turkish commander, Khalil Pasha. Colonel Beach was an officer in the Mesopotamia Army. But the reasons for choosing Lawrence are not clear. He was a virulent Turkophobe, and if his pre-war antics in and about Jerablus had been known to the Turkish Commander, they would not have been a recommendation. Lawrence's version of the reasons for his selection are as follows. Since he had "arranged" for the surrender of Erzerum (for which statement no proof has yet been produced while all the printed evidence is wholly against it), "the War office thought I could do the same thing over Mespot, and accordingfsly wired out to Clayton." 28 Both Hart and Graves repeat this tale and Hart adds that Lawrence wished to find out whether the Arab tribes on the Turkish lines of communication could be induced to revolt. 29 The idea, we are told, was that this revolt would "cut off the Turks" and eventually force them to surrender, while beleaguered Kut was supplied by eight airplanes. In view of the ancient Bedouin tradition of always abandoning the losing side, the moment for securing Bedouin aid seems ill-chosen. Nor are we told what British authority in Basra Lawrence approached with this suggestion, only that "he