This began the epoch of Lawrence's splendour as an Anglo-Semitic: chieftain, and perhaps a few lines should be devoted to this topic.
His private bodyguard, if it had ever really been dismissed, was at once re-formed on a larger scale, consisting of twenty to forty youths between 16 and 25, dressed in the beautiful coloured garments worn by the Bedouins and Aegyl, delicate pastel shades which in 1941 inspired the British tommies to nickname the Bedouin Desert Patrol "Glubb's Girls." 2 His headman, Abdulla abu Saleh, was "a
great swell," wearing a "flowered cassock, light-blue Zouave jacket with black braid, and aba of soft sheep's wool." Saleh had long corkscrew curls shining with hair oil, and his red and white saddle trappings hung almost to the ground. 3 The bodyguard were quite aware of their reflected importance, and apt to be insolent to the other British officer. 4 What they were paid is nowhere stated, but "gold was nothing accounted of in the days of Lawrence." 5 In those days every tribesman had sovereigns knotted into his clothes, the coast towns were glutted with English gold (as Lawrence himself reported) and the rupee was down to 10-12 to the pound. 6 Brémond saw a Bedouin give a sovereign for a box of matches, and haughtily refuse change.
Lawrence himself had a set of the finest camels available, and his bodyguard were mounted on the best camels that money could buy. His own clothes were most beautiful and expensive. His over-shirt and loose trousers were of pure white silk. On his shoulders he wore a cloak of the softest wool embroidered with gold or silver threads. The souks of Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Najaf and even Hail were "ransacked for the finest and most costly products of Arab workmanship" for his adornment. His head-dress was caught up with a head-rope of plum-coloured silk threads bound at intervals with pure gold. Such a head-dress alone cost 50 golden sovereigns, of which 45 were melted down to make the ornaments and five more were paid for the workmanship to Lawrence's Cairo specialist in such work. In addition Lawrence wore a gold belt, in front of which was the curved golden dagger presented to him by Hussein. 7 King Hussein and Feisal undoubtedly were privileged to melt down some of the war-subsidy sovereigns received from the British tax-payer or captured from the enemy * to honour their uncrowned rival, but where did the gold of Lawrence's head-dress come from? He himself explained wearily that he "put all his pay into the show," but British officers were then paid in paper, not in gold.
The mention of this much-publicised gold dagger (which Lawrence afterwards sold in order to repair his cottage) brings up a problem. It is perhaps hardly necessary to say that I am not referring to the legend that the presentation of this dagger symbolised his elevation to the
* The dagger is said to have been made from "150 captured Turkish sovereigns", but the main source of the Hashemites' gold obviously was the lavish British subsidies. Where were "the Turkish sovereigns" captured? And by whom?
dignity of "Sharif." Since "Sharif" is applied only to a descendant of the Prophet this could hardly have been the case. The question is -- did Lawrence go to Mecca to order it? It would seem so from a letter to H. R. Hedley, in which Lawrence gives a vague description of Mecca, and says it is "not really so difficult to go there if they know you." He then explains that the fanaticism of some Moslems would be offended by the visit of a non-Moslem and adds coyly: "So if anyone asks me if I've been there, I have to say 'no' in public; but in private you can guess about it! It mustn't get into the papers. . . ." 8 That letter was written in 1920. In 1927 another letter speaks of the dagger and says, "it was made in Mecca, in the third little turning to the left off the main bazaar, by an old Nedji goldsmith whose name I fancy was Gasein." 9 And again, in a letter to Wavell in 1923, he says: "Yes, I've promised not to admit the Mecca jest. I did it because I wanted to choose my own gold dagger, and it was not serious for me. Hussein will never forgive it me." 10 If we go by Lawrence's calendar of his movements, this Mecca visit could only have happened just after the occupation of Akaba when Lawrence went to Jidda, and had an interview with Hussein. The chronology in his main narrative is as usual vague, but the calendar fixes his stay in Jidda from the 22nd July to 1st August -- ten days, certainly long enough both to see the king and to carry out this not very tactful whim.
About this time -- early in 1918 -- the Sharifian forces in Arabia Petra were taken out of the political control of the Arab Bureau and came under a staff unit of Allenby's headquarters, established in Cairo, and called for some reason "Hedgehog." This was made up of Colonel Alan Dawnay, Captain Barlow, Major Wordie and Captain Bennett. They were officially charged with "Hejaz operations," and set up in Cairo presumably to keep in touch with the Arab Bureau. Even more numerous were the officers with Feisal's small regular army, which now had a double importance. While the Bedouins with whom Lawrence acted were politically essential to Feisal who could not have existed without them, "they could not be depended upon to co-operate in any attack on a fortified place," and were generally useless even in attacks on the railway unless they had artillery support. 11 Trained troops were essential, and this of course fitted in perfectly with political plans for the future of Feisal's Syrian kingdom. Even including non-combatants and numerous camp followers, this
"army" never exceeded 3,000, and 600 was about its real fighting strength. Colonel Joyce commanded the British units, which were made up of 5 armoured cars under Captain Gilman; a flight of airplanes under Captain Siddons; 2 ten-pounder guns on Talbot cars under Lieutenant Brodie; 20 Indian machine gunners under Jemadar Hassan Khan; a company of the Egyptian Camel Corps under Bimbashi Peake; Transport Corps; Labour Corps (both Egyptian); and personnel for the radio station at Akaba. The mountain 65's, about which Lawrence fabricated such dark legends of Brémond's imaginary "intrigues," had been despatched from France in October 1917, and at last reached Akaba in February, 1918. These, along with 4 machine-guns and 10 automatic rifles, were manned by Algerian gunners under Captain Pisani. The "Arab Regular Army" under Jaafar Pasha was made up theoretically of a brigade of infantry, a battalion each of Camel Corps and mule-mounted infantry, with "about 8 guns." Joyce was chief military adviser to Feisal, and had Major Maynard as second-in-command; Captain Hornby, R.E., demolition expert; Major Marshall and Captain Ramsay, medical officers; and, at the Akaba base, Major Scott, Captain Goslett and Lieutenant Wood. 12 It will be seen that Lawrence was one of a considerable group of officers, though he passed himself into legend as the only important one when he happened to meet two American reporters, and, being a civilian, permitted himself to be exploited as the professional soldiers could not and would not. His functions were still mainly political, but of course he was also chief liaison officer, sat in on military discussions, accompanied military expeditions or went off on his own with his "guard" and the Bedouins. " Joyce and Maynard worked out and supervised all these independent affairs, most of which were suggested or inspired by Lawrence," says Yourig. 13 Young had been told by Lawrence that he had been brought from India at Lawrence's suggestion to take Lawrence's place "in case anything happened" to him; on which Young comments sarcastically that there "was never any need or question of his being replaced, for, even if a second Lawrence could miraculously have been found, he would not have been needed." 14
The only expedition commanded by Feisal in person (after his early reverses between Medina and the coast) was the attack on Mudowwara in January, 1918, which Lawrence referred to as a great
expedition which ended unprofitably. 15 Thereafter, Feisal wisely sat back, preparing himself for his hoped-for role of Syrian monarch. Later in the spring, no greater success attended the plan that Lawrence should link up the local Bedouins with Allenby after the British had captured Amman, and that the regular Arab forces should occupy Maan. Colonel Dawnay had come up from Cairo to supervise the Arab movements. According to Brémond, 16 that "superior officer," ColonelDawnay, never thought the Arabs could take Maan, and, as Lawrence heard that the British had failed also at Amman, there was nothing they could do but retire. There was, however, one possible operation and that was the complete and final destruction of the Hejaz railway between Maan and Medina. In spite of Lawrence's sneers that the British were "dense" about Medina, but that he could not be expected to teach them to be more imaginative, 17 the decision had been made that the line must be destroyed, and Dawnay had been sent to see that it was done. Now there may have been cogency in Lawrence's argument that the best policy was to attack the MaanMedina section of the Hejaz railway, and leave it just but only just functioning. But, as the authors of Military Operations point out: "That in 1917 they ever consciously acted on this principle is improbable; at least it is not put forward in any contemporary appreciation." 18 Precisely so. You will find no mention of it in Lawrence's Arab Bureau reports -- it is merely one of the many ex-post-facto discoveries put out after the war in Seven Pillars.
At the time when Allenby ordered Colonel Dawnay to make a permanent break in the line, he believed he would soon have reinforcements sufficient to launch an attack towards Damascus and even Aleppo. Possibly, if he had known that there was to be the great German victory of March, 1918, in France, with the panic withdrawal of his British divisions, he might not have been so insistent on the railway destruction.
Obviously, Allenby could not advance on Deraa and Damascus and leave to 13,000 Turks the opportunity to concentrate and raid his communications. Dawnay carried out his instructions thoroughly. Stations near Maan were attacked, and about 300 prisoners taken. Then, after the failure at Maan, Dawnay turned his column south, and succeeded in destroying "the whole line from Mudowwara up to Maan," with seven stations, though he failed again to take
Mudowwara. The railway material stored in Medina was at last (April, 1918) used up and that long section of line "remained a ruin for the rest of the war" and for years afterwards. 19
The period between Dawnay's destruction of the railway and the opening of Allenby's final offensive covers the months from early April, 1918, until late September, during which time not very much happened except for re-organisation and planning. According to Lawrence's table of movements, he was (as already noted) either at Cairo or G.H.Q., or travelling during the period 27th April-21st May and between 10th June-28th July. Thus over ten weeks of the summer were occupied in conferences or rest periods. Some of these journeyings were made by ship, some across country and some by plane. After the war, Lawrence solemnly assured Captain Hart that he had flown "2,000 hours" during the war, with "seven write-off crashes," which had broken his "collar-bone, wrist and several ribs," and left him with "a rib sticking into lung -- so one lung useless and bleeds in heavy exercise." 20. Now Lawrence was certainly badly smashed up in his Handley-Page accident near Rome in 1919, but what and where the other six crashes were is as difficult to discover as the sixty wounds he talked about. 2,000 operational hours are a lot of flying. Even in those distant days of slow 100-miles-an-hour planes, 2,000 hours would mean about 200,000 air miles and no less than 4 hours a day every day for 500 days. Now, it is certain that Lawrence went out on reconnaissance plane flights even in the Yenbo days, and was often in the air afterwards, either on trips to Cairo or G.H.Q., but is it possible that he flew so much? He himself dates his active service from 1st January, 1917, until the 7th October, 1918, when he reached Cairo on his way back to England. That makes 645 days, from which -- if he is to fly 2,000 hours -- we must conclude that he was in the air every day except 145 for 4 hours, although his record shows 180 days spent at Cairo, Alexandria and G.H.Q., and on board ship. And what about all the days spent in dashing over the desert on "racing camels" at "100 miles a day?" We seem here to be entering that realm of arithmetical romance which included the reading of 50,000 books from the Oxford Union Library.
Lawrence has told with dramatic emphasis how he more or less tricked Allenby into giving him 2,000 camels with which he promised firmly he would put a thousand men into Deraa whenever Allenby
wanted. 21 -- which he never did, for it was not until the night of the 27th September, when Deraa had been evacuated by all but a small rear-guard and a hospital train of wounded, that the Anaizeh tribesmen -- not the Sharifians -- broke first into the town. 2,000 camels were a princely gift, and Feisal and the other Arab leaders were understandably delighted -- with 700 extra camels they had been able to operate 70 miles ahead of their base, with 2,000 they could pace the British to Damascus and even Aleppo, if the advance reached that far. The political motive is obvious. The one person who was unhappy about this was Young, who was being deprived of the British officers and Egyptian personnel who had looked after the original 700, and so had to find somehow "wild camel-men from Mecca" to take charge of the whole number. Nor did Young approve Lawrence's plan of "putting a thousand men into Deraa" by mounting 1,000 Arab "regulars" on 500 camels and making a sudden dash across the 300 miles to Deraa. Lawrence's "plan" not only omitted all supplies, but forgot the artillery without which the place could not possibly have been taken. 22 Young suggests, with the anguished irony of the man who has to deal with logistics, that Lawrence thought he could take 1,000 regulars to Deraa and back "with their supplies and ammunition tied on with bits of string, and a roll of apricot paste . . . snugly stowed in each of the thousand haversacks." 23 Of course, the whole "plan" was nothing but talk, and never came to anything.
Yet, before the end of March, Allenby must have realised that the German break-through in France meant the postponement of his offensive. By the end of April, he heard from Sir Henry Wilson that the British casualties in France since March 21st had amounted to 225,000; and he had sent off 60,000 of his best troops as reinforcements. Though he received his Indian reinforcements, his whole army had to be reorganised. Inevitably there was a period of waiting and of comparative inaction which affected Feisal's forces as well as the army. Perhaps the most important developments of the period of waiting were political. The propaganda sent out by Feisal and Lawrence had all along maintained that the cause of "Arab freedom" and of Hussein was identical with that of British arms with which they urged active collaboration. This was undoubtedly forthcoming, subject to the fact that the Bedouins were always liable to switch
sides if they thought the fortunes of war were going against their temporary allies, though it must be admitted that the Shammar remained faithful to the Turks and Germans up till the end war. Even Feisal was not immune from these customs. During the early summer of 1918, there were times when the Germans looked like winning in France, and Feisal was perfectly well aware that the victor on that front would be the victor everywhere. Curiously enough, he waited until the second half of August, when German defeat was assured, before offering to betray the English and take his army to the assistance of the Turkish 4th Army, provided he received "certain assurances from the Turkish government about the formation of the Arab State." 24 Feisal even gave away the essential knowledge, which he must have got from Lawrence, that "the English were preparing a big attack on the coastal sector." 25 Fortunately for the British, the Turks doubted Feisal's good faith, and let the matter drift, 26 while Feisal himself must soon have realised his mistake. Lawrence has given his version of these negotiations, explaining that the Arabs must have some means of seeking agreement with Turkey, adding that his own fear was that England would make a separate peace and thus leave them in the lurch! 27
Arising out of this "Arab propaganda" is the ever-present problem of the alleged false promises to the Arabs which Lawrence made such tremendous play with after the war. It seems hopeless to try to get the facts, through sheer lack of evidence. Hubert Young, who was with Felsal's forces from early in 1918, and afterwards in the Middle Eastern Section of the Foreign Office, says it will never be known whether Lawrence was in fact let down by the British government or whether he promised the Arabs more than he should, adding that he would certainly have exceeded his instructions had he thought "true British interests" demanded it. 28 If he did make such promises, "the Arabs" were fools to believe him, for he certainly had nothing to show that he was authorised by Government to make pledges on its behalf. One might turn Young's phrase and say that, if he thought "Arab interests" were being served, Lawrence would probably not have hesitated to create and exploit a fictitious situation. As I have shown, he had not hesitated to gratify his anti-French and personal spite by writing a violent memorandum against Colonel Brémond, which he knew to be exaggerated and untrue. 29
There was, however, during June of 1918, a genuine declaration of British intentions and promises which is another instance of the carelessness with which sweeping commitments were made under pressure of war needs, without foresight and without precision of language. Storrs has half-apologised for the McMahon correspondence by telling us that it was put into Arabic by his "little Persian agent, Ruhi," who was "a fair though not a profound Arabist," and checked by Storrs "often under high pressure." 30 That hardly seems a safe or satisfactory method of conducting international negotiations containing far-reaching pledges. This 1918 document was read once by a member of the Arab Bureau (name not given) to a delegation of "seven Arab leaders domiciled in Egypt." 31 This declaration said, among other things, that "His Majesty's Government recognise the complete and sovereign independence of the Arabs inhabiting . . . territories liberated from Turkish rule by the action of the Arabs themselves." 32
That is an English translation of the Arabic version, but the original English version was seen by Sir Hubert Young at the Foreign Office, on which he remarks that "it at once became clear to me why the Arabs had made such superhuman efforts to win their race with the British cavalry into Deraa, Damascus and Aleppo," and "I understood, too, for the first time why I had so often been asked, after the fall of Damascus, who had really taken the city? Was it the British Army, or was it our Lord Feisal?" 33 Now, Lawrence of course knew about that document, for, in talking to Captain Hart, he referred to the "Cairo promise" that "the Arabs shall keep what they take." 34 In other words, the real object of Lawrence and the Arab army during the final offensive was not to furnish any real military assistance but to rush headlong for evacuated towns and get there first, after the resistance of the enemy had been broken by British troops. Lawrence gave away the political and not military action of the "Arab army" when he told Graves: "What mattered to me was getting the government of Damascus." 35 Hence the violent propaganda for priority of entry (especially into Damascus) which so much puzzled General Barrow, who looked at the operations purely from a soldier's point of view.
There has been printed a political survey by Lawrence (which never appeared in The Arab Bulletin), written on Arab Bureau paper, certainly in 1918, and probably in June, as a comment on and answer
to this delegation of seven Arabs in Egypt, since they might interfere with his own policy of an Arabia split up into Sharifian kingdoms under English hegemony. According to Lawrence's paper, only the Sharifians had the right to this leadership, because they had conquered a country of 100,000 miles with their own hands! while these others would much prefer to see Syria conquered at the expense of English blood, and so forth, in sophistries too obvious to need refutation. The Sharif, he says, is the one factor in British hands which will enable the British to check "the new fanatical revival in central Arabia," meaning of course, Ibn Saud, who was far indeed from ever being held in check by poor old Hussein. So much for Lawrence's political prophecy. He also asserts in this memorandum that the Germans and "the financial interests that back the Mediterranean-Mesopotamian railway schemes" are trying to raise an Arab party against the Sharif, "because the Sharif is irrecoverably ours" -- an interesting admission. They want to prevent the British from making themselves "founders' kin" to the "federated Arab states" which he considers "inevitable." But his last sentence is really the operative one:
"The success or failure of the Sharifian invasion of Syria -- a new operation and a new movement -- is going to affect the other phase of European rivalry in the Levant, by determining whose candidate is going to gain control of the trade routes and commercial centres of Western Asia." 36
Surely that disposes of Lawrence's claim that he was a consciencestricken martyr to remorse because he had obeyed orders from some unspecified authority and had deceived "the Arabs"? England was to support the Sharif and in Syria his "more plastic son, Feisal" 37 in order to gain control of trade routes and commercial centres. To pose as an outraged martyr for "Arab freedom," with that cynical programme set down in his own hand in June, 1918, was impudent even for Lawrence. The wholly political object of tacking the "Sharifian army" on to the British advance in September, 1918 must now be abundantly clear to any reader.
If there was one person who had no particular illusions about the military value of the Arabs, it was, as Lawrence frankly admits, Allenby. He took no account of them as tactical units, and counted on them -- as the Bruce on his camp followers at Bannockburn -- only
as a phantom force which might frighten the enemy. Again, as Lawrence records, Allenby's chief of staff repeatedly stated -- so often and so pointedly that Lawrence got annoyed -- that all G.H.Q. wanted or expected of him and his Arabs was "three men and a boy with pistols" outside Deraa on a given date. And that was about an G.H.Q. got. As everybody knows, what the General wished to do was to deceive the enemy into thinking that he intended to attack on his right when he intended to attack on his left. All sorts of extraordinary and ingenious devices for so deceiving the Turks were thought up, as zero day drew nearer; and they may be read of in the official history. Any chance of Fakri bringing his men out of Medina had been wiped out by Colonel Dawnay's demolitions, but to create the impression of acute concern for his right flank, Allenby, in August, 1918, sent Major Buxton and two companies of the Camel Brigade to destroy Mudowwara station and garrison, and to blow the main bridge at Amman. The first succeeded, the second failed. Lawrence did not accompany the Mudowwara raid, but went with them on the northern expedition until they were spotted by a Turkish plane outside Amman, and had to retire without accomplishing anything.
The small regular army in Feisal's area was made up of trained soldiers captured from the Turkish army. They had done well during Dawnay's demolition raids, capturing railway stations and over 300 prisoners, at a cost of 250 casualties, though they had failed to take Maan. This was between the 11th and 19th of April; but they were not very successful during June and July. Thus, Nuri Bey, one of their best officers, with 800 Sharifians and 1,000 Bedouins, 4 guns and 10 machine-guns, helped by English planes and armoured cars, was repulsed from Jerdun by the Turks who had only 400 men, 3 guns and 6 machine-guns. 38