Fakri, and finally Dawnay's effective destruction of the line south of Maan.
" Lawrence the Train-Wrecker" is one Lowell Thomas caption, under which we are told that Lawrence and his "associates" -- Feisal, Ali, Abdulla and Said -- blew up "twenty-five Turkish trains, tore up fifteen thousand rails and destroyed fifty-seven bridges and culverts." 12 It would perhaps not be impossible to divine whence those statistics derived, but I have not come across any confirmation of them in any of the official records I have seen. I do not myself think that the four Hashemite princes in person ever touched a rail or harmed a passenger car, but Lawrence most certainly handled explosives to destroy lengths of railroad track and to derail trainloads of soldiers and civilians. There is no doubt about it, and he is entitled to all the esteem and deference such bold feats deserve. But readers of the books by Lawrence and his friends -- let alone the enthralled listeners to Mr. Thomas's lecture -- were left with the impression, suggested rather than stated, that it was Lawrence who conceived the idea of sabotaging the railway, and that Lawrence was the chief if not sole saboteur, except for the aid of one or two English officers, such as Major Garland, Hornby, Newcombe and Davenport. Lawrence himself was briefly generous to their destructions, but his personal narrative of his own feats swamped theirs. A reader of his "pompous, professorial" 13 discourse or reverie on the high strategy of the war in the Hejaz might be pardoned, under that cataract of great names and impressive principles of war, for thinking that Lawrence was not only the chief exponent of the Hejaz railway cutting but almost the inventor of this form of attack, thus:
"We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of a vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves till we attacked. The attack might be nominal, directed not against him, but against his stuff; so it would not seek either his strength or his weakness, but his most accessible material. In railway-cutting it would be usually an empty stretch of rail . . . ." 14
Graves evidently assumed Lawrence to be the originator or at any rate prime mover since (with Lawrence's silent consent) he says that Lawrence did not "urge Abdulla to attack Medina, but suggested a series of pin-pricking raids against the railway, offering to set an
example in these himself." 15 True, Graves mentions Major Garland's lessons in dynamiting to Lawrence, and shows us Major Garland hastening off on his camel with detonators, fuses and explosives to blow up the railway. This was in December, 1916, "shortly after which he died," 16 though the official history shows him still actively at work in August, 1917, and Lowell Thomas met him in April, 1918. 17 What is to be noted is that these Lawrence Bureau writers ignore all the attacks on the railway made by the French officers, giving the sole credit to Englishmen, and to Lawrence above all.
The idea of destroying the Hejaz lines and trains went back to the beginning of the uprising. With the first deliveries of arms, sticks of dynamite were sent to Hussein who later returned them, explaining that none of his troops knew how to use dynamite. Major Garland and Capitaine Raho were accordingly sent to give the Arabs training and to show examples. The first recorded raid started out from Wejh on the 12th February (1917); reached Toweira, 120 miles north-west of Medina, on the 20th February, where Major Garland blew up a train, and his Arab assistant a bridge. A few days later, Capitaine Raho (with the forces of Abdulla) also blew up a train, but the Bedouins with him were afraid to attack it and fled. 18 On the 3rd4th March a very successful attack was made by Colonel Newcombe 80 kilometres north of Medain Salih, where he destroyed 2,500 yards of line, 2 to 4 locomotives, and took 15 prisoners. 19 Lawrence was instructed in the use of explosives by Major Garland, and made his first raid from Abdulla's camp under the guidance of Capitaine Raho (whom he patronisingly described as "hard-working and honest") on the 28th March, and the expedition is described at great length in Seven Pillars. 20 What Lawrence omits to tell us is that, from April, 1917, on, the Frenchmen Capitaine Raho and Adjutant Prost made attacks on the line every week; 21 that the French Lieutenant Kernag raided the line on the 14th-I7th May; 22 that the French Lieutenant Zamori blew up a 4-arch bridge on the 22nd June; that these and other French officers "made frequent raids" during the whole of 1917. 23 Among these officers making frequent raids was one attached to Feisal, Adjutant Lamotte, described by Lawrence as Brémond's representative and shown by Lawrence as doing nothing but take a farewell photograph of Lawrence and his Bedouin friends as they set out to "win a new province." 24 Simi-
larly, frequent raids were made by Garland, Hornby, Davenport and Newcombe; until Dawnay turned up in 1918, and did the job thoroughly. We may claim that Lawrence was the most adventurous and wide-ranging of these demolition raiders, but in frankness must admit that what the others lacked was literary skill to write up their achievements, and that, while the Lawrence legend was being built up, their achievements or most of them were either ignored or by implication credited to him. The figures of rail destruction quoted above from Lowell Thomas and credited to Lawrence cannot be verified, but one of the facts recorded about Thomas's lecture is that a film caption told the audience that the other British officers had merely remained at the base, and had not helped Lawrence up country. 25 When Major Young protested, Lawrence said he would have it changed, but it never was. 26 If the constant attacks of others on the railroad line were even mentioned, it was but casually and as unimportant.
The build-up of the taking of Akaba is even more vociferous than that of the Hejaz railroad demolitions, and of course is almost impossible to check, since Lawrence is practically the only witness. But the preliminary drums beat loud. Akaba, Lowell Thomas tells us, was the most important strategic place north of Aden, with a large garrison "far more important" than any yet captured, except those "at Mecca and Jidda." (The Akaba garrison was 300; that of Taif, captured by Abdulla, much over 1,500.) "It was Lawrence's intention to capture Akaba and make it the base for an Arab invasion of Syria! This was a truly ambitious and portentous plan." 27 But, as we have seen, the capture of Akaba had been ordered by the London War Committee as early as July 6th, 1916, and plans for its occupation by an Anglo-French brigade had been frustrated only by King Hussein's suspicions of his allies. Graves beats the tom-tom as loudly as his American predecessor. "There was need for true epic action if Akaba was to be taken," he asserts, "for it was a feat beyond the scope of unheroic twentieth-century soldiering." Well . . . It hadn't been beyond small landing parties of British and French sailors. Akaba, Graves assures us, was "so strongly protected by the hills, elaborately fortified for miles back," that a division of Allied troops could not take it, while "Auda's men" could probably "rush them with the help of neighbouring clans of Howeitat." 28 Lawrence himself gave
out that Akaba was "another Gallipoli" -- three hundred strong! "The port of Akaba," he says, in a chapter heading, "was so naturally strong that it could be taken only by surprise from inland." 29 Yet it had been taken from the sea twice already during that war.
As for the "elaborate fortifications" for "miles back," they never existed.
The force which left Wejh on the 9th May, 1917, was a small one, but included Sharif Nasir of Medina and Nesib el Bekri, a Damascene politician. The party carried four hundred-weight of gold. Just outside Wejh they were joined by Auda. Marching due north, they crossed the Hejaz railway at kilometre 810.5, and blew up some rails with dynamite. By the 2nd June they had got as far north as Nebk, near Kaf, where Auda, who had temporarily left them, rejoined with his tribe of 200 tents. Then, in Lawrence's narrative and table of movements, there is a blur of talk and a hiatus of about two weeks. By the 18th of June, Sharif Nasir had collected about 700 men, 200 of whom were left behind to guard the tribal tents. From the 20th to the 28th of June, they were at Bair, where the Turks had tried hastily to destroy all the wells. One of the wells was found undamaged, and the others reopened. Demolitions were made on the railway, and Turkish staffs of two stations were killed to show the Arabs who had arrived. Lawrence from here rode north-east, and again raided the railroad. The first fighting occurred on the 30th June at Fuweilah, and soon became something more than military necessity demanded. The Turks, coming on undefended Bedouin tents, murdered an old man, six women and seven children. The Howeitat in revenge massacred the whole Turkish garrison. On the 1st July, Sharif Nasir and Auda, with 500 of the toughest of the desert tribesmen, occupied a position at Abu el Lissan on the road from Maan to Akaba. A weak battalion of the recently arrived 178th Turkish Regiment was sent against them and sniped at all day by the Bedouins. After it had wasted its artillery ammunition in futile shelling, this Turkish force was suddenly charged in flank from a hidden valley by Auda and 50 of his horsemen, while the remainder on camels charged frontally downhill, Lawrence among them. He started firing his revolver, shot his own camel through the back of the head, and was thrown heavily. When he recovered from the shock, the action was nearly over, all the Turkish soldiers being massacred except
for about 160, many of whom were wounded. The Bedouins had been rather fortunate in meeting a battalion of young soldiers. 30
As the crow flies, they were now not much more than 50 miles from Akaba, but the way was over rugged mountains and through narrow twisting defiles where, as Sir Hubert Young says, there were ideal rear-guard positions, and one where "a company with two or three machine-guns could have stopped an army corps." 31 After the great distances they had travelled, they still had to press on under that terror of the Arabian summer, so graphically described by Doughty as "a scalding tempest of sun rays, which strikes up again, parching the eyeballs, from the glowing sand." 32 Lawrence, with his blue eyes and fair skin, must have suffered greatly, especially as he had not really recovered from his boils, on which Doughty's reflection that the Arab diet often led to "a leprous disposition of the blood," 33 was very much to the point. Indeed, after two years of being protected in Cairo, without his knowledge, by the hygiene of a modern army, Lawrence was exposed to serious dangers by the food and water he was compelled to live on, and only toughness and resistance of constitution saved him from the collapse from sunstroke which befell Storrs when, just about this time, he made a desert expedition on the Irak side. 34
But they pushed on, and profited greatly both by the element of surprise and their late victory. The small posts of Guweira and Ketheira surrendered, giving 240 prisoners. The garrison of Akaba, 300 strong, had abandoned their forward positions to be out of range of naval guns, and were discovered at Kadra, under siege by the local Bedouins who had joined the winning side after hearing the news of Abu el Lissal. This little force also surrendered, and 58 days after Sharif Nasir and Lawrence had left Wejh, they reached Akaba with 600 prisoners, including 20 officers and a German non-commissioned officer, who was much perplexed at being captured by a revolt of which he had apparently not heard. 35
Their troubles were not yet over, for the food at Akaba is said to have been insufficient. Lawrence determined to make his way at once to Egypt to ask for supplies, and may perhaps have foreseen the advantages of personally bringing the news that Akaba was taken and giving it in his own words. He set out with a small escort on the old Egyptian pilgrim road; and in Seven Pillars Lawrence says that
at 3 p.m. on the 8th July, * 49 hours after leaving Akaba, the party had covered the 257 kilometres to Shatt, on the side of the Canal opposite to Suez. The various stories -- of the obstructionist naval authority, the profane sergeant telephonist, the helpful naval man, the funny joke of refusing to show his pass on the train -- may be passed over without regret; and the fact recorded that on Lawrence's announcing his news, Dufferin was sent off with food and 16,000 pounds. 36 The Arab Bureau made the most of this success of Hogarth's protégé, a success which they attributed entirely to him. It is said that he was recommended for the Victoria Cross. Why? He was, in fact, promoted Major and made a Companion of the Bath, which is a military as well as civilian distinction, limited (at any rate at that time) to 705 military companions. I cannot find any record of what decorations, if any, were given to Sharif Nasir and Auda, but the French War Office, doubtless approached by the right people, suggested to Colonel Brémond that he should recommend Lawrence for the Croix de Guerre, which was eventually presented to him by Captain Pisani, whom Lawrence has contemptuously represented as always on the look out for decorations for himself. 37
It was the capture of Akaba which first brought Lawrence out of the obscurity of the Arab Bureau, and in view of the extensive claims made by himself and his friends, certain questions arise which are worth discussing, even if definite conclusions are hard to reach. Was Lawrence the originator of the "strategy of occupying Akaba?" Was Lawrence the originator of the idea of taking it from inland with the Howeitat? Was Lawrence the commander of the expedition which set out from Wejh with Nasir, and was he "the general" who really planned and directed their operations? Finally, what was Lawrence doing in that blurred-out period between the 3rd and 19th June, and why did he refuse to give any but ambiguous information about that period?
I do not find it anywhere proved that Lawrence, from Cairo in July, 1916, "subtly persuaded" the War Committee in London to include the occupation of Akaba in their orders, any more than he originated the "Alexandretta strategy" and "arranged" for the surrender of Erzerum. Unless evidence is forthcoming, there is no
* So dated in Seven Pillars and in Liddell Hart, but Lawrence's original (suppressed) report says July 9th. So the journey really took 73 hours. Baedeker ( 1912) gives the distance as about 60 camel hours.
proof whatever that he had anything to do with the planning of any of them. The decision of Wingate, Lloyd and Brémond to occupy Akaba 38 has been mentioned already, as also the fact that the earlier plans were frustrated by Hussein's refusal to allow the landing of European troops. The Hashemites were extremely suspicious or their British allies, and were even disagreeably impressed when General Maude captured Baghdad in March, 1917. King Hussein publicly lamented the "loss" of the city, which had been "the cradle of Caliphs and the source of light which had enlightened the world," and Abdulla complained that the English were not keeping to their promises about Arab territories. 39 Feisal, in telegraphing the news of the occupation of Wejh, omitted all mention of the Royal Navy, and said Wejh had been captured by his troops! 40 Therefore, if indeed Lawrence "subtly persuaded" Feisal that Akaba ought to be taken without British aid, he had no difficult task. Whether he had "persuaded" the War Committee in London in July, 1916, is another matter.
I have already mentioned Lawrence's Seven Pillars description of the interview between himself and Brémond, in which Brémond is falsely said to have refused Feisal the mountain 65's and Lawrence sat smiling with spite after having told Brémond that he had known Akaba before the war and that Brémond's scheme (it was agreed on by the other commanders) of attack by a composite brigade was "technically impossible." * This interview is dated by the editor between the 3rd and 18th February, 1917; and in Lawrence's own record he was at Wejh on the 25th January, and again at "Wejh, etc." from the 6th to the 19th February. Now Colonel Brémond's official, contemporary reports show that he had at that time two interviews with Feisal. The first was on the 31st January, 1917, when Lawrence was in Cairo; 41 Brémond saw Feisal on that occasion, not with Lawrence but with Newcombe, who said he knew Akaba well as he had made a topographical survey there. Feisal said there were only 150 police troops in the town, and that he engaged to take it himself. 42 Obviously, Lawrence must have heard about this interview from Feisal and Newcombe after his return from Cairo, and pretended in his book that he had been present. On this (31st January) occasion, there is no note of any discussion of the 65's. That discussion occurred
* After the place had twice been taken, without casualties, by small naval landing parties!
in a private interview between Brémond and Feisal on the 1st April, 1917, when Lawrence was at Abu Markha 43 and therefore could not have been present. Of course Lawrence heard of it afterwards from Feisal, and, in writing his book, telescoped the two interviews into one, and pretended that he had been present. Incidentally, on the 16th February, Brémond, who had left Wejh some time before, was on board the Saint Brieuc off Akaba, which appeared to him at that time entirely deserted. 44 Unless'some contemporary and objective evidence can be found, the presumption is unavoidable that the Lawrence-Brémond interview described in Seven Pillars is wholly fictitious, and based by Lawrence on what he heard from Newcombe and Feisal about the interviews they had with Brémond where these topics undoubtedly were discussed. It should be added that the whole description of Lawrence's alleged interview with Brémond and Feisal, with its highly-coloured story of Brémond's discomfiture, was cut from Revolt in the Desert, so that Brémond never saw it and had therefore no chance to give his denial.
The other questions I have asked are so much entangled one with another that they have to be taken together, and no really definite answer can be given, only a probability suggested. Let us look first at the claims made for Lawrence in the capture of Akaba. If I begin with Lowell Thomas, it is not because I don't know that Lawrence pretended he scarcely knew him, while the Lawrence Bureau abused or ignored him; but, as I shall show clearly later on, Lawrence's immense popularity was created by Lowell Thomas, and it is from him that the whole legend stems, carefully though secretly nurtured by Lawrence himself. I have already quoted Thomas on Lawrence's "ambitious and portentous plan" (which wasn't his plan) to capture Akaba. According to Thomas, the force which set out from Wejh was "headed by Sharif Nasir," but, "as usual, Lawrence went along to advise the Arab commander; he always made it a point to act through one of the native leaders . . . ." 45 If we turn to Graves, we find that Nasir "was the guide," and Lawrence, instead of advising him, "took counsel together" with Auda on how to capture Akaba. 46 In Seven Pillars, Nasir has the ambiguous part of "leader." Sharif Nasir led us; his lucent goodness . . . made him the only leader . . . for forlorn hopes." 47 "Nasir gave the marching signal . . . ." 48 "When Nasir, without my prompting, had halted . . ." 49 "Nasir
and I mustered the Aegyl," i.e. the camel-men. 50 He "led" them and it is not clear whether he was the real commander, or a figurehead for Lawrence and Auda, or the Mecca aristocrat sent along to see them safely through tribes who were at feud with Auda and knew not Lawrence. In Liddell Hart, "it was a small party that Nasir led forth that afternoon." 51 They all agree, however, either by direct statement or by insinuation, that the real commander was Lawrence, and how ably "he handled Feisal's army, in spite of his complete lack of military training and experience." 52
Another person on this expedition rather brushed aside was a political character, Nesib el Bekri, who was there to represent Feisal to the Syrian villagers. 53 Why to the Syrian villagers on an expedition to Akaba, which is far from Syria? In Seven Pillars, Nesib grows overambitious and sets out for Damascus, not for Akaba; while Lawrence "planned to go off" by himself to Syria as soon as Nesib had gone. 54 Then there is a hiatus filled with invectives against the allegedly falsified promises of McMahon to "the Arabs," and the abrupt beginning of a new paragraph: "When I returned, it was June the sixteenth, and Nasir was still labouring, in his tent." 55 What happened during those two weeks to Lawrence? Hints are scattered by his panegyrists, but a great mystery is observed. Why? In this context I must quote again the curious words, written and signed, which Lawrence sent to Graves (you may read them paraphrased in his book 56 ).
"You may make public, if you like, that my reticence upon this northward raid is deliberate, and based on private reasons: and record your opinion that I have found mystification, and perhaps statements deliberately misleading or contradictory, the best way to hide the truth of what really occurred, if anything did occur." 57
Passing lightly over the cynical arrogance of that statement, may we not ask where was the need for "mystification" over this "northward raid" and what was the purpose of hiding the truth? Seven Pillars is an uninhibited book -- little that in any way concerns the author is by him considered uninteresting or to be concealed. Why the exception here? Why, "if anything did occur" on this raid (and it can later be shown that certain things did occur), why, just here, secrecy, hints, mystification?
It seems as if this is the moment to take a look at the Arab view of these transactions. Mr. Antonius devoted several years of research to his book, travelled and enquired in Arabia, knew and had the confidence of Feisal. While he is no more infallible than any other "authority," he undoubtedly gives us the Arab, probably King Feisal's, version. Auda, who is described at some length, is said by Antonius to have "sent a thrill through the camp" on his arrival, and it is added that he and Feisal soon came to an understanding:
" Auda . . . gave Feisal a sweeping promise that, for his part, his only feud now was with the Turks; and in the same breath, he proposed an attack on Akaba which, he boasted, he and his tribesmen could capture unaided." 58
As this proposal was in harmony with Feisal's own plans, he at once agreed, and Auda thereupon arranged to collect his followers (he was sheik of 200 tents of the Howeitat) and to "storm the Turkish posts guarding Akaba." It so happened that just at this time, Feisal was sending off a political mission "to preach insurrection" in Syria; and chose Nesib el Bekri as his political emissary. Feisal's own cousin, Sharif Nasir, was "to lead the expedition as his personal representative." 59
So far no mention of Lawrence, but at this point "Lawrence asked to be allowed to go, offering his services as an emissary to the Arab leaders in Damascus." 60 Thus, according to the Arab account, Lawrence did not plan the Akaba raid, but Auda spontaneously suggested it to Feisal, and Lawrence merely went along on his own suggestion as a volunteer, not to lead the fighting men but to carry Feisal's instructions to Damascus. Antonius then gives an account of Lawrence's movements and the people he met, which corresponds very closely with Lawrence's suppressed report to the Arab Bureau, which was first published by David Garnett in the Letters after Antonius's book appeared. Evidently, Antonius's sources of information were good. In any case there was nothing here that needed concealment when the war was over. Lawrence started out on the 4th June with two men to the Wald Ali country where however he failed to end the feud between the Bishr and the Howeitat. On the 8th June, near Tudmor, he met Sheik Dhami of the Kawakiba Anaizeh, and went with him and 35 men to dynamite a small girder