Nothing much now happened for a time. Ali tried to advance, and then fled, which caused Feisal to fall back again in a bad temper. On the 2nd January, 1917, Lawrence went out with about thirty men and shot at some Turkish tents at dawn. Then Colonel Wilson came up to insist on the expedition to Wejh, even going to the extent of giving his personal guarantee that the Navy would hold Rabegh. King Hussein was persuaded to send Feisal a positive order to make the advance, and it was agreed that Abdulla should move to Wadi Ais, about a hundred kilometres north of Medina. Meanwhile, before starting, Lawrence contrived to have a quarrel with Colonel Brémond at Rabegh. He also quarrelled with Major Vickery, one of the regular officers who, like Newcombe, had been sent out as military advisers. 40
In the course of a dramatic description of his row with Brémond, Lawrence asserts that Brémond assured him" on his honour as a staff officer, that for Feisal to leave Yenbo and go to Wejh was military suicide." 41 According to Lawrence's vague chronology, this interview took place "a few days" after the night of panic at Yenbo, say, within ten days after the 13th December. Yet it was on the next day, 14th December, that Brémond had his conference with Wingate and Lloyd, had agreed that Wejh must be occupied, and, since regular troops were not forthcoming, had agreed to confer with Wilson at Rabegh as to the best that could be done "with the means at our disposal." 42 As
Wilson thereupon immediately came to Yenbo to urge Feisal to move, it must have been in agreement with Brémond.
Further, in one of his diatribes, Lawrence makes the accusation: "Brémond had some excellent Schneider sixty-fives at Suez, with Algerian gunners, but he regarded them principally as his lever to move allied troops into Arabia. . . . In the end, happily, Brémond over-reached himself, after keeping the batteries idle for a year at Suez. Major Cousse, his successor, ordered them down to us, and by their help we entered Damascus." 43
Let me invite the reader's attention to the following official telegram:
"Ier Bureau. E. No. 15.458 19.11.16. Commandant en Chef Guerre. The two batteries of 65 for the Sharif have priority e. Propose immediately three mountain batteries of 80.
The two batteries of 65s were not at Suez, and were not used by Brémond "as a lever" to introduce European troops into the Hejaz. They were refused by Paris, and were not sent out until October 1917, after repeated telegrams from Brémond asking for them specifically for Feisal. 45 The guns at Suez were 80's.
The long description of the march on Wejh is one of the admired set pieces of Seven Pillars, containing, as it does, the splendid rhetorical passage of the march to Owais. The "Everybody burst out singing" is a tribute to Siegfried Sassoon, and the "bouncing camels" to Doughty, but it is worth noting that the passage" The march became rather splendid and barbaric . . ." occurs first in The Arab Bulletin report, from which Lawrence transferred it with a few verbal alterations to his book. 46 Shorn of picturesque literary descriptions, the plan was that Feisal and Lawrence -- joined on the way by Newcombe -- and 10,000 tribesmen would reach Wejh at dawn on the 23rd January, * at the same time that Hardinge landed 400 Arabs supported by a landing party of 200 seamen and the guns of the ships. The Turkish garrison was estimated at about 800, but must have been fewer, since about 500 Turkish camelry bolted. Why then these 10,000 men with Feisal and Lawrence, when 1,000 would have been ample?" Feisal was anxious to prove to the tribes on his route the
One account says, 24th, but 23rd is undoubtedly right
popularity and power of his father's cause." 47 Somebody else to whom Lawrence's criticism of Brémond applied, namely, the crime of having his own motives which were not military. 48
Nor indeed did the military motive of straining every fibre to keep one's word and to be exactly on time at the rendezvous seem to have had much weight with the "splendid and barbaric" forces of Feisal and Lawrence. In fact, it looks as if they never had any intention of keeping a rendezvous where once more the main action, and credit for the action, would be demonstrably due to the Royal Navy and not to "the Arabs"; which, for "motives not military" did not suit Lawrence and his schemes. At all events on Lawrence's own showing, "his army" lingered on the way in a very casual manner. On the 19th they were "so comfortable in the tents at Semna that they delayed their start until the early afternoon"; 49 "next day we rode easily"; and on the 21st they "slept late . . . to brace ourselves for the necessary hours of" talk. 50 When, on the 22nd, they were "already two days behind our promise to the Navy," it was Newcombe who rode on ahead, allegedly to see "if the naval attack could not be delayed until the 25th." 51 If Lawrence didn't know it was then too late, he ought to have known; and the excuse that, while the roads were too muddy, the "army" was at the same time short of water is a curious one.
The true story of the capture of Wejh is such a strange mixture of farce and squalid horror that it is worth a brief notice, especially since the narrative by Major Bray gives us a glimpse of Arab fighting from one who was indeed a passionate advocate of " Arab independence," but in his narrative tried to record facts rather than to show off his literary and typographical genius in a "titanic" book. Vickery and Bray were the two British army officers who accompanied the 400 Bedouins when Hardinge, exact to the rendezvous, arrived off Wejh at dawn on the appointed day, only to find no Feisal and no Lawrence and no supporting tribesmen! What should the naval party do? They were anxious that the garrison should not escape, and to that extent reinorce Fakri in Medina; and so decided to attack without the help of their main land force.
The 400 Arabs, landed at a cove about two miles from Wejh, provided the two regular officers with some shocks. The first was that 200 tribesmen took cover under a cliff and refused to fight.
About 100 of the remainder made direct for the town, in spite of casualties from Turkish rifle fire, and rushed for the nearest house:
"Havig entered it and slain all whom they found there, they proceeded to loot it. Later, I saw the result. In the street, before its entrance, lay three dead Arabs, and a pool of congealed blood covered the grey flat stone. . . . The interior was in a state of indescribable confusion. Everything was smashed, even the legs of the chairs. The whole place was littered knee deep in kapok. Mattresses, pillows and cushions had been torn to shreds in the frantic search for the gold the Bedouins hoped might be concealed within." 52
Another group of about 70 went off on their own out of Bray's sight, and "there were no Turks remaining by the evening in this area." 53 Meanwhile, as the main body of looters "proceeded to reduce the place by attrition, going from house to house, eating their way into the bowels of the town," the remaining 30 with Bray and a young sheik, named Salim, engaged the enemy defence which was, "luckily for us, extremely badly organised." Attack and defence were conducted by bobbing up and down in a sort of mutual sniping. Bray then made his way to the beach, with the idea of getting supporting fire from the ship's guns, and came on Vickery signalling with a heliograph -- only to find that the range of the ship's guns was ineffective. Suddenly they noticed a body of men marching towards them, and thought they were Turks; but they turned out to be a landing party of 200 British seamen, coming up as to "a most enjoyable picnic," marching "in serried ranks," with their machine guns "conspicuously carried on stretchers about fifty yards to the flank," but without flank-guards or scouts. After a certain amount of discussion, the naval party "grudgingly" consented to take a little cover, to send out scouts and to place machine guns. As nothing much more had happened by night-fall, Bray tried to make some sort of outpost line, while the Navy in cheerful innocence bivouacked in no-man's land. Next morning a shell from Fox hit the mosque, where a small group of fanatics had been holding out and preventing the others from surrendering. "A huge gaping hole was blown in the wall, and fifteen very bewildered and dusty and begrimed men staggered out without their weapons, in token of surrender. Strangely
enough, none had been killed . . . ." 54 And that is how Wejh was captured by the Arabs."
When Lawrence came to discuss all this in his book, he made no apologies for the military misdemeanour of being two days late for a fight --" this desertion," as Bray hotly calls it. On the contrary, he belittles the taking of the town on the grounds that 19 Bedouins killed were too many casualties, for, as Graves points out, the Arabs were not like most conscripts used to being treated as cannon-fodder. 55 Lawrence thought the garrison should have been starved into surrender or that it didn't matter if they escaped to reinforce Medina. Also, by this time, the reckless destruction had added to the difficulties of the situation. But why were he and Feisal not there in time to prevent all this? In any case, it is clear that most of the casualties to the attackers occurred among the 100 who went straight ahead on their own (out of all control from Vickery and Bray) merely to loot the town --" here and there a black heap on the plains "marked their line of advance. Moreover, it is doubtful that much damage was done to the town by the naval guns, for their shells glanced off the hard rock and burst far inland. 56 The real damage to the town and all the murdering of the inhabitants had been wholly the work of the Bedouins, whose intense greed for booty Doughty had long before described. 57 It is unfair to blame the two British officers for not preventing the massacre, destruction and pillage, which Lawrence himself never prevented or indeed attempted to prevent. Lawrence tries to palliate the sack by saying that the inhabitants of Wejh had been warned to leave, but remained because they were mostly proTurkish Egyptians, a good reason for murdering them.
It seems clear from the evidence that, at this stage, Lawrence had not succeeded in getting any real power over Feisal into his hands, and was chiefly working to assert himself against possible rivals. The positive documentary evidence shows that the idea of occupying Wejh was not his, although Graves asserts: " Lawrence had decided that the next thing to be done was to attack Wejh, a big port. . . ."; 58 He was not called in to any of the important consultations at this period; he was doing his best to discredit personal enemies, such as Vickery and Brémond; and he did not take Wejh. His part in the events which had taken place during the eight weeks since he landed may have been more than the evidence shows, but hardly seems to
warrant Liddell Hart's favourable comparison of Lawrence with Napoleon Bonaparte and his career. Liddell Hart suggests that the march on Wejh and its consequences are comparable with the conquests of the Army of Italy in 1796, when "a young man of twentysix had subtly persuaded the Directory to adopt an audacious plan which likewise began with a flank march along the coast." Observe the insinuation that it was Lawrence who planned the march on Wejh. Liddell Hart then points out that Napoleon and Lawrence were both born on the 15th August; that Napoleon was made a general of Division on the 16th November -- the very day that Lawrence landed at Jidda; that on the 27th March, Napoleon took command of the Army of Italy and Lawrence blew up some rails of the Hejaz railway; and that on the 10th May, Napoleon stormed the bridge at Lodi and Lawrence started on the Akaba expedition! But, Liddell Hart warns, the comparison must not be taken too far, Napoleon never achieved wisdom and was ruled by ambition, an unreality which brought him down! 59
There is one more claim which falls into the period just after the capture of Wejh, and is perhaps worth brief notice. It is made by Lawrence -- and others naturally have repeated it -- that in January, 1917, or thereabouts, "Sir Archibald Murray realised with a sudden shock that more Turkish troops were fighting the Arabs than were fighting him . . ." 60 This is elsewhere supported by handsome statistics, claiming that at this time the numbers of the tribesmen enrolled were 70,000 with 28,000 rifles; that 6,000 Turkish prisoners had been taken by them, and that the Arab forces had "locked up" 14,000 Turks in Medina, 5,000 at Tebuk and had caused the garrison at Maan to be raised to over 7,000 -- making in all 26,000. 61
The number of prisoners seems about right. At the end of September, they were already over 5,000, "of whom a number of Arab or Syrian blood volunteered for service against the Turks." 62 There cannot have been many trained soldiers available in the Hejaz itself, since, dating from the German reorganisation of 1908, no men had been called up in the Hejaz by the Turkish Government. So that the numbers of the Sharifians are delusive, consisting at this date of untrained men and Bedouins who absconded as soon as they were laden with loot. (The French Captain Raho, who was with Abdulla on the 13th January, 1917, when they captured Eshref Bey and his
column with £20,000, reported that after the pillage upwards of 5,000 Bedouins deserted. 63 Lawrence does not even mention this French officer's presence, nor such a fact as that Raho led the decisive cavalry charge of Abdulla's men.) Thus the numbers even of these irregular troops were always fluctuating. The French official war history, under date January, gives Abdulla (with Captain Raho) 10,000; Feisal (with Colonel Newcombe and Captain Lawrence) 5,000; and Ali (with Lt. Lalou) 4,500; making about 20,000. But Feisal had 10,000 at Wejh. 64 English estimates ran the total up as high as 50,000. 65
Antonius gets his figures of the Turks presumably from Wavell and the British Official War History, adding 1,000 to their 13,000 for Medina, and ignoring the fact that the 7,000 at Maan are distinctly given for the period "towards the end of the year," 1917. But, even if reduced 20,000 for January, 1917, his estimates are higher either than the French or Murray's figures. The Turkish Hejaz expeditionary force (that is, the troops in and near Medina), plus 800 "railway troops," and a regiment of camelry, is given by the French in November, 1916, as 13,300. 66 On the 11th January, 1917, Colonel Wilson estimated Turkish reserves, including Maan, at 13,000. 67 In July, 1917, total from Maan to Medina, 13,555. 68 As Fakri surrendered over 8000 with Medina in January, 1919, and had suffered 1,000 casualties from influenza, and must have had others, it looks as if he had at least 10,000 in early 1917. But, strangely enough, the one person who suffered no shock and who evidently did not think that more Turks were fighting the Arabs than were fighting him was General Murray. Under date 13th December, 1916, he cabled the War Office: "Enemy can now bring 25,000 against me; in a month's time, 40,000; if he abandons Hejaz, another 12,000. Any further additions must come from Europe, Mesopotamia or Caucasus." 69 If Murray counted the Turks at Maan as being on his front (as he probably did), then the estimate of 13,000 more or less for the Hejaz seems about right. A general who had 25,000 on his front and who expected in a few weeks to have 40,000 as against 13,000, or even 20,000 in the Hejaz, can hardly be said to have "realised with a shock" that more Turks were fighting the Arabs than were fighting him.
THE CONTINUED holding of Medina by the Turks is said to have been an error from the military point of view -- they should have withdrawn their troops to a more active front and have given the town up. It was retained from motives of prestige, both religious and political; and this decision can hardly be attacked by those who retained the Ypres salient at so heavy a cost merely to show that they hadn't lost all Belgium. Obviously, the Egyptian command were afraid these troops might suddenly descend on their front, and there in fact were one or two alarms to that effect, while the Germans continually urged the step. But, if the suggestion is permitted, there were good reasons other than those of religion and prestige for holding the place. When Lawrence counted up the number of Turks "fighting" the Arabs, he forgot to mention that most of them would have been there anyhow as they had been all along as garrison troops, linking up, however tenuously, with their forces in the Yemen, and threatening Aden. He forgot also to point out that much of the effort of the Arab forces -- say, 20,000 to 25,000 tribesmen, plus the little regular army of 600, gradually built up under Jaafar -- that this effort was diverted to hanging round the outskirts of Medina and to attacks on that part of the Damascus-Medina railway which was of least importance strategically, namely, the section Maan-Tebuk-Medain SalihMedina, because the main line of supply to the Turkish troops facing the real menace of the British Army was not by that section but by way of Deraa and the Yarmuk Valley, and to a much smaller extent by way of Amman and desert convoy. Moreover, while the containing of Medina thus entangled the forces of the Arab revolt, it also prevented the movement from spreading, not only among the pro-Turkish
Shammar of Ibn Rashid but among the tribes near Damascus which Feisal and Lawrence tried in vain to bring over to contribute something more effective than words.
Except for a few raids, which didn't all succeed in doing anything, the Turkish holding of Medina for over two years pinned the Arab action chiefly to the least important part of the Damascus-Media railway, until Allenby's great break-through in September, 1918, provided them with sitting targets which nobody could miss, and the chance to race hysterically into towns which they claimed to have captured after the British had done the real fighting.
The occupation of Wejh -- 150 miles away -- can hardly have had much effect on the decisions of the Medina commander. When Lawrence lay sick with boils and diarrhoa in Abdulla's camp ( March, 1917), and indulged in that pretentious strategic reverie he has described at such length, his theory that Medina should not be taken actually played into the hands of the Turks -- though the whole debate seems rather superfluous in face of the fact that the Arabs couldn't take Medina. The much-opposed Anglo-French brigade would have been needed for that. The real importance of occupying Wejh was that it provided a base for raids on the Hejaz railway.
But what are the facts about this Hejaz railway which plays so great a part in the legends of the "Arab Revolt," and which gave Lawrence such voluptuous satisfaction when, on the 28th March, 1917, he actually touched the metal of the rails for the first time? 1 It was part of a system of rail communication, with a base just opposite Constantinople, which was so long and so awkward that the surprising thing is that it worked at all. From Haidar Pasha on the Bosphorus to Rayak in Syria (about 900 miles) there ran a standard gauge railway, broken by unfinished tunnels through the Taurus and Amanus mountains, so that at these two breaks (20 and 5 miles respectively) everything had to come off the railway and go by road. Although the tunnels were pierced for narrow-gauge lines in 1917, the first through train was not run until September, 1918. As far as the junction of Muslimie, just north of Aleppo, this single line served the Mesopotamian, Palestine and Hejaz fronts, and if the Arabs could have put that key-point (Muslimie) out of commission by sabotage, that would have been of real importance; needless to say they never, with all their secret societies, did the slightest
damage there. From Rayak (north of Damascus) on, the railways were all 1.05 metres (3 feet 6 inches) except for the Jaffa-Jerusalem section, which was 1 metre. The rail distance from Damascus to Medina is 850 miles. At Deraa, the railway supplying Palestine branched off, and again real destruction there would have been important. South of Deraa, demolition of the line only concerned the Hejaz or such limited supplies as went overland to Palestine from Amman. 2
This 850 miles of one-track, narrow-gauge railway from Damascus to Medina had been completed in 1906. The intention of the Turkish Government had been to carry it on the 250-odd miles to Mecca, but the Bedouin tribes (who lived by exploiting and robbing the camel caravans of pilgrims or by being paid blackmail not to rob them) rebelled. When Kazim Pasha, the President of the Railroad Commission, went out to inspect the proposed Medina-Mecca route, the Bedouins attacked and killed about a hundred of his escort, and sent him flying for his life back to Medina. One result of this abortive effort to continue the Hejaz railroad from Medina to Mecca is briefly mentioned (but insufficiently stressed) by the Official History and ignored by Lawrence. There had been stored in Medina, and still existed there in good condition in 1916, materials for the construction of 100 kilometres of rail. 3 Obviously, this greatly simplified Fakri Pasha's task of repairing the line, especially since even in peace time the Turks had been accustomed as a matter of routine to constant repair of Bedouin sabotage to the track. It will be noted that Brémond (though not, I think, the British) reports at Medina a Turkish railway repair battalion of 800, men skilled presumably at their job, so that until the spring of 1918 the much-vaunted demolition raids were rather a nuisance to the Turks than a serious menace. It was but a war-time intensification of a constant peace-time nuisance. Even when the great reserve of rail material at Medina was used up in April, 1918, 4 the Medina garrison was still fed and supplied by caravans, which had little difficulty in bribing their way through the Bedouin tribes supposed to be stopping them. 5 There are extant photographs of German officers in uniform entertained as honoured guests by the tribesmen of the Shammar. 6 And they, of course, were Ibn Rashid's followers, who controlled the northern approaches to Medina. In any case the rail communication with Medina, tenuous as it was, remained
uncut until Colonel Dawnay was sent to do the job properly in April, 1918:
"At a cost of 250 casualties, Medina was now definitely cut off from the north, for the great reserves of rails were at last used up. The line between Maan and Mudauwara remained a ruin for the rest of the war and is a ruin to-day." 7
The rolling stock, the destruction of which has been celebrated with such gorgeous rhetoric, was in fact pathetically meagre. At the outbreak of the rebellion, the Hejaz railroad possessed only 30-50 effective locomotives. There were only 180 passenger cars, fewer than 1,300 freight cars and about 40 mobile water tanks. Trains were short, ranging from 13 to 20 cars, and each train had to bring with it four additional water tanks for the supply of stations and block-house guards. The greatest danger to the continued running of the line was the scarcity of fuel. The engines ran on wood, either brought down from the north or cut from desert acacia trees. 8 At a later date, Fakri was so hard pressed for fuel that he began tearing down the houses of Medina in order to burn the woodwork in the engines. This, then, was the railway which managed to survive so many attacks and thereby assisted Medina to hold out for the entire war. 9
The Medina debate occupied the attention of both sides. On the Allied side, Wingate, Lloyd and Brémond had agreed (as we saw) that the capture of Medina was undesirable politically (i.e. because they thought it would stimulate Pan-Arabism), and Lawrence either was not told or chose to ignore this joint Anglo-French decision, attributing it entirely to Brémond's alleged unworthy motives. Lawrence's reasons are quaint and not very realistic: "We must not take Medina. The Turk was harmless there. In prison in Egypt he would cost us food and guards." 10 The absurdity about the prisoners has been often noted, and is not to be reconciled with Lawrence's loud praise that "Feisal offered a reward of a pound a head for prisoners, and had many carried in to him unhurt." 11 On the other side of the war fence, Liman von Sanders disagreed with the Turks about the advantage of holding Medina, and thought the garrison troops would be more useful if withdrawn -- hence the scare at British Headquarters, Wilson's efforts to force Ali and Abdulla to attack