Meanwhile, in June, Lawrence had put forward another of his fallacious strategical plans, which in the event came near to wrecking the whole "Arab army". His responsibility if any for the British failures at Es Salt and Amman earlier in the year cannot be assessed. While it was his fallacious reports which had created the impression that the local tribes would assist, the blame for believing them must rest wholly on the General -- if he did believe them. The ordering of two divisions to France in the middle of one of these actions is surely
sufficient excuse for failure. This latest suggestion -- for Lawrence flourished by making ingenious suggestions which seldom if ever had practical results -- was both political and military. It was simply that Hussein should be asked to hand over to Feisal the regular units of Ali and Abdulla, which Lawrence "bravely" and gravely asserts would have raised them to 10,000 men in uniform. Part of these would keep Maan quiet, 1,000 on camels would attack DeraaDamascus and 2,000-3,000 would join Allenby at Jericho. The raid on Deraa would compel the enemy to withdraw one or two divisions, and allow Allenby to advance at least as far as Nablus. Lawrence succeeded in getting letters to Hussein from Feisal, Wingate and Allenby, urging this step, which would undoubtedly have advertised to the Turks the pretended threat to their left. Otherwise the merits of the plan were small. There were, in fact, not anything near 10,000 men available, and a large withdrawal might easily have tempted Fakri to a raid on Mecca. Moreover, the Hashemites always went in suspicion of their Wahabite neighbour, the great Ibn Saud. To top his series of clever failures, Lawrence took the long journey to Jidda -- and again failed: "I had no more success than I expected." 39 Why, then, waste time in going, except to amuse G.H.Q. with imaginary projects?
That the Grand Sharif or Malik had grave faults and overweening ambitions is undeniable, but he was certainly not the silly old ass Lawrence makes him out. The one Englishman who understood and liked Hussein and was liked by him was Sir Ronald Storrs, whose neat appreciation should be compared with Lawrence's clumsy attempts at contempt. With all his faults, absurdities, little tricks and longings to annex all his neighbours, the Sharif was an Arab gentleman, and cannot be brushed off merely as a vain old fool. If Lawrence had been doing his job as political officer, instead of trying to outClausewitz Napoleon -- on paper -- he would never have made the démarche or been snubbed by Hussein on the Jidda-Mecca telephone. Through Lawrence's clever propaganda -- and it was very clever -British interest had been turned almost entirely on to Feisal, who now got all the pick of the money, supplies, recruits, artillery and other aid. Hussein had now nothing more to give the British, and more and more was to become a voice vainly calling for the fulfilment of McMahon's rash promises. Hussein was naturally annoyed by
Lawrence's demands, and suspected -- not unreasonably -- that Feisal, if he ever got to Damascus and established himself there, would do so as the emissary, not of his father, but of England. It was only exasperating a bad situation and courting refusal to ask Hussein to send his troops to Feisal and Allenby. The démarche created a situation where Hussein awaited the first opportunity to express his displeasure and if possible to clip Feisal's ambitions. There is so much affectation of fine feeling in Lawrence and his Bureau that, just for the record, it must be observed that Lawrence strenuously urged Wingate to threaten the Malik with a withdrawal of his subsidy if he did not agree to Lawrence's obviously fatuous plan -- which Wingate, of course, refused to do. When Hussein saw a chance of asserting himself, he took it. A British decoration to Jaafar, in the citation for which Feisal was described as "Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Hashemite Army," brought a denial of this rank to Feisal * in the king's official newspaper, The Qibla. Whereupon Feisal and all the other officers resigned from the Army; but both Young and Brémond pass the affair over lightly, and Young says there was never any real fear that the resignations were serious. 40 Lawrence, who was really responsible for this mess, has given a very dramatic account of it, with the resignation of "our divisional officers and their staffs, with the regimental and battalion commanders" -- in an effective army of 600! 41 Lawrence claims to have solved the situation by a sort of Ems telegram in reverse, cutting out on his own responsibility the last and operative sentences of one of Hussein's telegrams. He ends the more or less imaginary scene with this dialogue:
FEISAL: The telegram has saved all our honour. I mean the honour of nearly all of us.
LAWRENCE (demurely): I cannot understand what you mean.
FEISAL: I offered to serve for this last march under your orders: why was that not enough?
LAWRENCE: Because it would not go with your honour.
FEISAL, (murmuring): You prefer mine always before your own. 42
Obviously, no one is in a position to deny -- or to affirm -- that
* Some accounts say that the officer denounced in the Qibla was not Feisal but Jaafar. It does not seem worth the trouble of verification.
such a dialogue took place and in those words, but did soldiers ever talk to each other like that outside the pages of 19th-century cloak and dagger novels?
Allenby's offensive was being planned for early October, but, in the middle of August, the date was suddenly advanced to the 19th September"a fearful shock" to Joyce and Young, who were feverishly labouring to arrange supply and transport for the raid towards Deraa. The reason for advancing the date was the turn in the tide of events on the Western front and the beginnings of the final German defeat. Allenby had to hurry up if he was to do something decisive before the whole war ended. It was on the 1st September that Franchet d'Espérey began the attack on Bulgaria which knocked it out of the war in a month, a day before Allenby's Australians entered Damascus.
The instructions to the forces under Feisal were to rendezvous at the oasis of Azrak -- about 60 miles from Deraa -- with the idea of surrounding that town and railway junction and cutting their communications. The Sharifian regular "army" was on this occasion made up of 450 Sharifian Camel Corps with 20 Hotchkiss machineguns; Pisani's French battery; two British armoured cars; 4 machineguns with Gurkha crews; and some Egyptian demolition sappers. They were to be joined by Auda and his Howeitat, Talal with his peasant tribe, and a new ally, Nuri es Shalaan -- not to be confused with Nuri Said, a very able officer who had been with Feisal since 1916. Though they were late in starting, they managed to reach El Umtaiye (near Deraa) on the 16th September, within the period set by Allenby. On the 17th, they destroyed 4 miles of railway fine north of Deraa, and captured a redoubt with 200 prisoners. The station of Mezerib was destroyed, and further demolitions carried out during the 18th and 19th. 43 On the 20th, Lawrence returned to the base at Azrak, and there learnt of Allenby's break-through, with the capture to date of 7,000 prisoners and 100 guns. Lawrence flew back to G.H.Q. on the plane which had brought this news, to ask for air protection against the 9 German planes in Deraa which were demoralising the Arab forces by their attacks. He was lent two Bristol fighters, and a Handley-Page bomber -- the size of which, it was thought, would favourably impress Arab opinion. 44 As a result of the intense pressure by the Arab army, "a few hundred troops
(Turkish), including some Germans, hurriedly despatched by rail from Haifa and Damascus, then occupied Deraa and kept the traffic moving." 45 By the 23rd September "the Germans had restored communications between Deraa and Samakh, and also north of Deraa." 46
But already, on the 24th September -- only five days after the launching of the attack -- the pressure of Allenby's rapid cavalry advance was being felt even as far north as Deraa. The 4th Turkish Army, which had not been attacked, began to retreat -- the first contingent of about 300 reaching Maftaq (only about 25 miles south of Deraa) on the night of the 24th, when it was bombed by British planes. Feisal now called up the rather uncertain Bedouins of Nuri es Shalaan, which raised his nominal strength to somewhere about 4,000. The whole force then pressed forward, destroying rails as it went, until it reached Sheik Saad, which is about 15 miles north-west of Deraa. The Bedouins went into action; Talal occupied Ezra; and Auda captured a train with 200 prisoners at Ghazale. On the evening of the 27th September, Deraa was evacuated by the Turco-Germans under the imminent threat of the rapidly advancing 4th Cavalry Division of Allenby's army; the Anaizeh Bedouin got into the town and "spent the night in killing, in burning and looting the station and camps about it." 47
Atrocities were committed on both sides. When Lawrence and the Sharifians reached the village of Tafas, which was the home of their ally, Talal, they found that all the inhabitants had been massacred, including the women and small children. Lawrence says that he particularly noticed a pregnant woman, who had been forced on to a saw-bayonet, 48 luridly elaborated in the Seven Pillars version with sadistic details. 49 Talal thereupon committed suicide by riding straight at the retreating Turks, who "riddled him with machine-gun bullets." The Sharifians and Bedouins found themselves no match for the Germans in the retreating columns of the 4th Turkish Army, and were forced to turn on the Turks, whom, "after a bitter struggle, we wiped out completely. We ordered 'no prisoners' and the men obeyed, except that the reserve company took 250 men (including many German A.S.C.) alive. Later, however, they found "one of our men with a fractured thigh who had been afterwards pinned to the ground by two mortal thrusts of German
bayonets. Then we turned our Hotchkiss on the prisoners and made an end of them." 50
The spectacle of a British officer encouraging a mass slaughter of prisoners is deplorable. With all his talk of Saladin, Lawrence might then have called to mind the humanity of that hero when at Merj' Ayun, he refused to harm any of his Christian prisoners, though Richard I of England had treacherously murdered all the Saracen prisoners before Saladin's eyes. 51 One can at least report that Lord Winterton and Captain Pisani, in the name of their two countries, protested strongly to Nuri, and managed to save a great many prisoners. 52 Lawrence did not associate himself with this protest. How could he when he had approved the slaughter?
Patrols of the 4th British Cavalry Division made contact with the main body of Arabs early in the morning of the 28th September, though late on the night of the 27th, a few mounted Sharifians had ridden into the British bivouacs. At 9.30 that morning, their Commander, General Barrow, met Lawrence, who had delayed in order to shave and to change into clean clothes -- after which he accused Barrow's column of wasting time in watering their horses! -- and at their interview "behaved with histrionic nonchalance." 53 Why? General Barrow had served in France and, as he tells us, knew the obliterating destruction of massed artillery, but he confesses with some horror that he had seen no sight like Deraa that "morning"the whole place indescribably filthy, defiled and littered" with dead, dying and wounded Turks, some crying feebly for water, all who were conscious "gazing with eyes that begged for a little of the mercy it was hopeless for them to ask of the Arabs." 54
While Lawrence thought only of posing -- clean-shaved on his camel among the cavalry 55 -- Barrow was looking with distaste on the spectacle of the Arabs looting a long ambulance train, "tearing off the clothing of the groaning and stricken Turks, regardless of gaping wounds and broken limbs, and cutting their victims' throats." 56 One of General Barrow's staff tells me that in addition, "nameless mutilations" were being inflicted on these helpless wounded. And let me interject that this Deraa atrocity was not an isolated case. On the 28th -- the same day -- the Australians came on the Maan garrison in retreat near Amman. The Turks offered to surrender, but only on condition that they were protected against the atrocities of
Lawrence's friends, the Beni Sakr. The Australian commander accepted their surrender, threatened to shoot the Arabs if they attacked the prisoners, and throughout the night Turks and Australians stood to arms side by side against the Bedouins! When the prisoners marched next day, the Australian commander allowed two battalions of Anatolian Turks to retain their arms and ammunition to protect themselves and the other prisoners from the Arabs. 57
Thus General Barrow was not the only officer to take measures against the Arab methods of making war, and it is absurd to pretend that his angry reaction to the horrors of Deraa was only the petulance of a narrow-minded regular confronted with the superbly irregular military genius of Lawrence. Barrow asked Lawrence to get his Arabs out of Deraa -- "this place is in a hell of a mess." Lawrence retorted that he couldn't, and that anyway the murders, robberies and tortures of Deraa were the Arabs' idea of war. "It's not our idea of war," said Barrow, "and if you can't remove them, I will." Lawrence replied: "If you attempt to do that, I shall take no responsibility for what happens.""That's all right," the General told him, "I'll take the responsibility." Barrow's men brushed the Arabs away without difficulty, and then posted sentries to guard the train of wounded. 58 Naturally, not a word of all this occurs in Lawrence's accounts; on the contrary, he loses no opportunity of sneering at Barrow, and passed statements by Graves which General Barrow describes as either "not in accordance with the facts," or "entirely suppositious." 59 It is only Barrow's word against Lawrence's? Good enough. But, on their records, which do you believe?
No military commander sets out with the primary intention of binding up the enemy's wounds and behaving chivalrously to prisoners -- even if he has read "all the manuals of chivalry." His duty is to fight and to win, but in fighting and winning to spare when possible the vanquished, to bind up the wounds of the fallen. It is the little he can do to mitigate the vast brutality of war. Graves says that Lawrence's most original contribution lay in his theories of modern war -- let us hope not in his practice of war. Barrow and the Australian Colonel Gregory were not modern intellectuals, but "Victorians," with an obsolete code of pity for the fallen. Arab chivalry had no time for such trifling; their own badly wounded men, on the rare occasions when they occurred, were finished off by a revolver shot
in the head, even when they were beautiful camel drivers, while less serious wounds ( Lawrence tells us) were treated by "spraying with piss" * by the youngest boys. 60?
From the time of the junction with the 4th Cavalry Division until the fall of Damascus, the energies of the Sharifians were concentrated on trying to out-race the advancing British and to be the first in Damascus, in order to keep to the letter if not the spirit of the Cairo declaration to the Seven. At all costs the Sharifians must try to get first into Damascus, however few, so as to claim that they had captured the great city, no matter how much they were outnumbered by the British, no matter how overwhelmingly more important the British military achievement compared with the Arabs' insignificant contribution, which in this phase of the battle at its most effective hardly went beyond Auda's night-long slaughter of helpless fugitives when the old man went on killing and plundering till the dawn. 61 Yet even here Lawrence's melodramatic "There passed the 4th Army" 62 is an exaggeration. The British patrols did indeed find "hundreds of dead" in the Jebel Mani, and yet from this supposedly annihilated column must have come the 1,600 prisoners swept up by the Australians on the 2nd October. 63
Two roads led north from Damascus, one towards Homs and the other towards Baalbek and Beirut, through a deep gorge called the Barada. At 8 p.m. on the 30th September, the Australian Mounted Division was in position on the southern edge of this gorge, with the 5th and 4th British Cavalry Divisions coming up rapidly on their right, and the Arabs somewhere "to the north-east." 64 The Australians had been ordered to cross this gorge, ride round the town and cut the Horns road. They found they could not get down the steep side of the gorge in the dusk, and specific orders had been issued to them not to enter the city. 65 A long column of fugitive troops was trying to escape by this gorge, and the Australians turned them back by a machine-gun massacre of the head of the column, which sent the remainder fleeing back into the town. Why were the Australians forbidden to enter Damascus on the evening of the 30th September? Perhaps to avoid plunder of a supposedly friendly town, but more likely for political motives. At all events, the delay seemingly allowed
* If we may trust Richard Burton this repugnant behaviour was contrary to the religious laws of Islam and to the Bedouin treatment of wounds. See the notes to Burton Arabian Nights, Vol. 3. p. 229; and vol. 5, p. 201 (American edition).
a few mounted Sharifians to get into the city -- but they were quite unobserved among the other Bedouins, who for days had been riding about cracking off their rifles in the usual style; and so arose the claim that "the Arabs were the first to enter Damascus." 66
The 3rd Australian Light Horse marched at 5 a.m. on the 1st October, and so were the first disciplined Allied troops to enter Damascus. They were mobbed by "a population gone mad with joy," 67 and had some difficulty in getting through the town to continue the pursuit. At 6.40 a.m., the advance guard of the 4th Australian Light Horse entered, and received the surrender of over 10,000 Turks, including many sick. Colonel Bouchier, their commander, "discovered 1,800 more sick in three other hospitals, in a state of appalling misery and destitution. In some cases those that had died had lain three days on the floors of the wards amidst the living. He then posted guards upon the principal public buildings and the consulates, which remained until the following afternoon when they were relieved by Sharifian troops." 68 Readers of Seven Pillars will recollect Lawrence's description of the hospitals and their plight, and how Chauvel refused to take them over. Even his friend Wavell protests against this, and declares, "Lawrence's story of the events in Damascus after the entry and of his dealings with Chauvel is not the whole truth, and is unjust to Chauvel." 69 It is natural that a man should be concentrated on his own task, but surely a degree of more than usual egotism was required to greet so blankly on the Damascus road the news that Bulgaria had surrendered, thereby cutting the great confederacy in half, with Franchet d'Espérey already within 250 miles of Constantinople. The news, Lawrence says, "came orphaned and as it were insignificant." 70
Lawrence has omitted to give us the hour of his entry into Damascus with Nuri and Major Stirling, and it is not given in Stirling's reminiscences which are rich in laudations. 71 The official history says that Lawrence reached Damascus about 7.30 a.m., on the 1st October; possibly genuinely unaware that the Australians had preceded him. His part, as always, was a political one, and his intention was to make sure that everything was done to push aside Syrian native claims and French ambitions, and to instal Feisal as the British nominee of Arab "independence."
When Lawrence reached the Town Hall, he found that Jemel
Pasha had handed over the government to two Algerians, Mohammed Said and Abd el Kadir, who long before had tricked Lawrence, in spite of Brémond's warnings. In the Moslem world the name of Abd el Kadir, defender of Algeria (this was his grandson), was something like that of Louis Botha to the Boers. Lawrence's report complains that "Ali Riza, the intended governor, was missing." 72 And for a reason. He was that governor of Damascus, secretly a traitor to his salt, whom Lawrence had met with so mysteriously during the Akaba march. It was he, too, who fell over and upset into the dirt Barrow's breakfast table, when he came in and boasted of his treacheries to his Turkish masters. Barrow forgave the loss of his breakfast, but didn't much like the idea of an officer betraying his salt. The more Ali Riza asked to be sent to the Sharifians, the more Barrow suspected he might be a spy. To put him off, the general said the Bedouins would rob him. When at last it seemed safe to release him, and Ali Riza rushed off to Damascus, the Bedouins on the way did in fact strip him of his clothes, money and watch! 73
In Ali Riza's absence, Lawrence appointed as governor Shukri el Ayubi, he says with the support of the Algerians. But was this wholly true? Lawrence has to admit that there was a revolt supported by the Algerians and Damascenes. I have not been able to discover what really happened, so carefully has fact been smothered for political reasons. The contemporary newspapers had the streets of Damascus running with blood, and even Lawrence admits to "five killed and ten wounded." 74 Perhaps most of these were due to Kirkbride's ruthlessness; but he admits that Nuri was firing his machineguns ceaselessly; that he even appealed to Chauvel for help; that the Druses left their booty and fled down side streets; that when Mohammed Said was captured, Lawrence could hardly forbear shooting him. 75 The silence of all English witnesses to this antiFeisal, anti-British, uprising is remarkable. If the truth has been recorded, I have been too ignorant and clumsy to discover it. It is one of the many hushed-up scandals of history. On the 3rd October, Feisal arrived, and then was seen how circumstances alter cases. The reader will remember how the "military situation" in Jerusalem in 1917 wholly forbade General Allenby to implement the British promise to set up a joint Franco-British government in Palestine. Although an attempted military revolution in Damascus had just
been quelled, Allenby at once deputed Feisal as governor. Let me quote an eye-witness, Sir Hubert Young:
" GeneralAllenby told Feisal . . . an Arab military administration would be set up in the whole area east of the Jordan from Akaba to Damascus. The military governors and civil officials throughout this area would be Arabs, and would work under direct orders from Feisal, who would himself be responsible to General Allenby so long as war conditions prevailed. . . . In deference to French claims, a French liaison officer would be appointed." 76
Thus, while the military situation in Jerusalem -- where at that time there had been no outbreak -- still required and continued to require until 1920 the services of a British military governor, who was simply a Foreign Office official in uniform, the situation in Damascus -- where the regular Arab forces had used "continuous barrages of machine-gun fire" 77 to beat down an anti-Feisal revolution -- permitted the immediate appointment of an Arab administration. We must recollect that in the case of Palestine, Mr. Lloyd George, who did not "care a damn for the Jews or their past or their future," felt it would be "an outrage to let the Holy Places pass into the possession or under the protectorate of 'agnostic, atheistic France'." 78
But at the same time Feisal was told that the Arab flag must come down from Beirut, where it had been raised the day before by Shukri and about a hundred horsemen who had ridden in ahead of the British. 79 Now this was a direct provocation to the French, an attempt to jockey them out of an area allotted by treaty -- no doubt a bad treaty, but still a treaty -- and it is fairly obvious that this irresponsible move originated with Lawrence. Until the arrival of Allenby and Feisal on the 3rd October, Lawrence had been virtually what government there was in Damascus -- on which, needless to say, he has received a great many compliments. Nuri and Lawrence had put down the revolt against Feisal; when Ali Riza Pasha failedto turn up as planned (having as already recorded fallen first into the hands of Barrow and then of the Bedouins), Lawrence appointed Shukri to hold his place until he arrived, and on Riza's arrival, Shukri had left for Beirut. On the 7th October, Feisal admitted to the French