were getting under way. Two things alone are vastly significant of the post-war achievement: the land under cultivation increased by fifty per cent, and the population rose from two to three and a half millions." 4
On different lines an equally good case could be made for the British in Irak. But the active political minorities did not want order and prosperity for their countries, they wanted power for themselves. Emancipated slaves do not value freedom; they crave dominion over slaves of their own.
It was through something more than a coincidence that this Middle Eastern imbroglio was the direct cause of the fall of Lloyd George's Government, the destruction of the Liberal Party, and his exclusion from power for the rest of his life. After the Russian Government published the Sykes-Picot agreement, a region C in Anatolia, including Smyrna, had been hastily and tentatively allotted to Italy, and in the chaos of the Conference eventually fell to the Oxonian's friend, Hellas. The reconstituted Turkish Government wanted to throw the Greeks out, and the French Government -- still furious over the "biffing out of Syria" policy -- came to a secret agreement with the Turks which made easy the expulsion of the Hellenes; and that was the end of Mr. George. It was a signal triumph for the policy of the Arab Bureau. In the light of these facts, Lawrence's public propaganda and his confidential reports to the Government must be read. If in his first report he had described the Middle East as "our Monroe area" in the hope doubtless of provoking an anti-French declaration, he trimmed when he discovered that a majority of the British Cabinet was disinclined to go to war with France about it. Lawrence then invented a new slogan: "My own ambition is that the Arabs should be our first brown dominion, and not our last brown colony." 5 Clever propaganda, but had it any basis in reality? In fact it was a smart absurdity. Moreover, Lawrence's confidential advice to the Foreign Office contained such wild wishful thinking as this:
"Above all things in our interest a conflict between French and Arabs is to be prevented. If the Arabs came off badly, first clash, the affair might fizzle out, but they hold the initiative, and a preliminary success would unite all Moslem Syria against the
French in arms. Such action will probably force us back to the Baghdad and Jerusalem lines as a measure of security . . ." 6
The event disproved this broad hint that kicking out Feisal would have such serious repercussions. In the same spirit, Lawrence tried to disparage Ibn Saud, who, as some officials in Irak were constantly and unsuccessfully trying to explain, through and against the propaganda of the Cairo Arab Bureau, was the real warrior leader of the desert Arabs through his control of the Wahabi movement. Which Lawrence countered thus:
"A Wahabi-like Moslem edition of Bolshevism is possible, and would harm us almost as much in Mesopotamia as in Persia." 7
There was a paragraph in one of these memoranda which must have caused Lord Curzon to raise his eyebrows.
"I think Feisal will accept these terms, if I explain them to him. He has the Zionist proposals behind him, though I suggest that H.M.G. * remain ignorant of them!" 8
How did Lawrence reconcile these confidential promptings of Realpolitik with his public pose as the heroic and self-sacrificing defender of "Arab freedom"? In the post-war chaos it seems to have been unnecessary, and of course very few were aware that the hero who so indignantly denounced the British Government for failing to keep its word to the Arabs had previously supplied confidential, though not very reliable, information to enable that Government to exploit the situation to its own advantage. in 1919, Lawrence was little known outside the small circle of specialists in Arabian affairs, though Mr. Lowell Thomas tells me Lawrence, on account of his Arab costume, did receive some publicity in American reports on the Peace Conference. In 1919 the Secretary of State for War was Mr. Winston Churchill, and somebody -- he does not say who -- called his attention to Lawrence, saying he was a "wonderful young man" whose exploits were "an epic." The then Secretary of State for War goes on to confess that up till that moment he had been "only dimly conscious of the part played in Allenby's campaigns by the Arab revolt in the desert."
The result of his investigations was that Lawrence was asked to
His Majesty's Government.
lunch, and Mr. Churchill heard the story of Lawrence's returning his decorations to King George V. Mr. Churchill instantly rebuked this action as "monstrous," which was exactly what Lawrence wanted, for it enabled him to assert that the Arabs had been sacrificed to the demands of France in Syria, and their betrayal would be a dark stain on our history. 9 Apparently in studying the papers, Mr. Churchill did not stop to enquire just how it was that Lawrence's friend Feisal, a younger son of the Sharif-King of Mecca, always was identical with "the Arabs."
Nobody will be surprised to learn that there are at least two versions of this story of the returned decorations -- the King's and the Bureau's. According to Lawrence, he made his statement to the King, not at the public investiture but at a private audience. The King at the private audience asked for "souvenirs," and Lawrence sent him a rifle captured from the Essex Regiment at the Dardanelles, given by Enver Pasha to Feisal, and by Feisal to Lawrence. 10 He said, moreover, that he had told the King his part in the Arab revolt was "dishonourable to himself and to his country and government," that "by orders" (of whom?) he had "fed the Arabs with false hopes." He went on to say: "I explained that I was probably going to fight them by fair means or foul, till they had conceded to the Arabs what in my opinion was a proper settlement of their claims." 11 This is taken from Lawrence's own statement to Graves, and what can the words about going to fight "them" mean, if not his "country and government" in the preceding sentence?
It so happened that the King ordered Lord Wigram to make a note immediately of what had happened.
From this we learn that the King's recollection of the incident -dictated at the time, and not remembered afterwards as was Lawrence's version -- was not quite the same. The King heard refuse the decorations because of promises made to Feisal (who had authorised promises to Feisal?), adding that, since these promises had not been kept, Lawrence might find himself "fighting against the British." 12 This statement was issued by King George's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham. But we can bring other evidence to disprove Lawrence's version. In 1931 the Duke of Windsor (then Prince of Wales) told Mr. Ralph H. Isham that Lawrence's action had "definitely caused the King embarrassment" because the refusal was not at the private
audience, but "at the moment of presentation" -- which lack of consideration for his father so much angered the prince that he refused ever to meet Lawrence. 13 Yet Lawrence denied to Liddell Hart that he had said he would "fight the British" and Professor Lawrence brushes aside the evidence of the King and the prince, and asserts: "In reality, it was in the preceding private audience with the King that he asked to be excused," and that Lawrence said he would have to fight the French, not the British. 14 We have Lawrence's own admission to Graves that he said he would fight the British; and is it credible that the King could have been mistaken as to the words spoken on the occasion of so rare a discourtesy? 15
And was the return of the decorations genuine, a real renunciation and cancellation of the honours, or was it one more case of Lawrence's claiming the credit for an action he had not really performed? If he officially and completely denuded himself of his honours, how did it happen that when Winston Churchill sent him in 1921 to negotiate a treaty with Hussein, the patent began thus:
"Our most trusty and well-beloved Thomas Edward Lawrence Esquire, Lieutenant-Colonel in Our Army, Companion of Our Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Companion of Our Distinguished Service Order . . . " 16
If Lawrence had effectively resigned his honours, why were they cited in this patent? If he had not resigned them, why did he and his friends claim for him the réclame of having done so?
At the suggestion of the editor of The Times, Geoffrey Dawson, Lawrence was elected Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford -- some say in February, but it was November, 1919. This was rather an honour than a living, for, although the fellowship was valid for seven years, the stipend began with a miserable £200 a year for three years, thereafter dropping to a token £50 a year. According to Sir Charles Oman (who, in spite of Lawrence's denigration, had in fact voted for his young colleague), All Souls was "a sort of week-end club" for well-known Oxonians of large private means or high salaries residing in London. 17 The purpose of this lavish award from Oxford was to enable Lawrence "to write a book about the Middle East." For, in the midst of his political interests, he had by no means lost sight of his literary and artistic ambitions. He still
continued to talk of setting up a printing press, and of his intention of writing a "titanic book" about his experiences.
Indeed, at this time, Lawrence's literary ambitions led him at least to talk about writing yet another book. Readers of Seven Pillars will remember his remarks about Um Keis, the site of that Gadara which Meleager described as "Attic," because of the cultured Hellenized society which frequented the place in the Ist century B.C. Lawrence felt it was enshrined with memories of Menippus and of Meleager (whom, however, he considered "immoral"), and he seems to have made the common mistake of identifying that Gadara with the "Gadara" of the swine in the New Testament, since he says that, if he had destroyed the bridge there (which he didn't do), the deed would "enrol me in the Gadarene school." 18 Melcager and Menippus did not rush violently down a steep place into the sea, and the miracle of the possessed swine did not happen at Um Keis. But there is no doubt that Lawrence talked about writing a book to be called Background of Christ, and we can well believe that his indolence recoiled from the tremendous task of research involved -- if only because the Hellenizing writers named by Lawrence were dead long before Jesus was born, and their influence on the Prophet of Nazareth didn't exist. Are we supposed to take seriously the following anecdote or was it put out as one more example of funny leg-pulling?
" Lawrence was talking to the Regius Professor of Divinity about the influence of the Syrian Greek philosophers on early Christianity, and especially of the importance of the University of Gadara close to the Lake of Galilee. He mentioned that St. James had quoted one of the Gadarene philosophers (I think Mnasalces) in his Epistle. He went on to speak of Meleager and the other Syrian-Greek contributors to the Greek Anthology, and of their poems in Syrian of which he intended to publish an English translation and which were as good as (or better than) their poems in Greek." 19
Well, there wasn't a university at Gadara -- it was a summer resort of the cultured wealthy -- and Mnasalces lived in the 3rd-4th century B.C. and had nothing to do with Gadara, and was certainly not quoted in the epistle attributed to St. James. What is meant by "their poems in Syrian"? If Syriac is meant, it is a blunder, for the oldest known
Syriac inscription is dated A.D. 77 -- long after the death of the poets and philosophers in question -- and, anyway, Syriac literature is almost wholly Christian. If it means Araman, where are the texts? in the Ist century B.C. in Syria, Araman (or Aramaic) was the language of the conquered, and the likelihood of its being used by the cultured Hellenizers of Gadara as a literary language is about as probable as that Walter Pater would write an essay on Signorelli in the dialect of Dorsetshire. Menippus was a Cynic, and his lost works, like the lost prose of Meleager, were said to "overflow with laughter." Philodemus was an Epicurean, whose treatises turned up in the Herculanean papyri. How they can be said in any way to have influenced Jesus or early Christianity baffles conjecture. If Lawrence's remarks have been correctly reported, he was either trying to pull the leg of a very ignorant professor or displaying a very spurious erudition.
Lawrence seemingly spent much of the year 1919 in London or abroad. He was in Paris when he heard that his father had died of influenza and pneumonia at Oxford on the 8th April, 1919, 20 and Lawrence at once flew to England. It is said that he stayed only a few hours, and then returned at once to Paris where he embarked on one of a flight of fifty Handley-Page planes which were being flown from England to Cairo. A friend of Lawrence's, Captain T. Henderson, was in command of one of squadrons, and relates that he was rung up by an unnamed Peace Conference official, and, in spite of his protests, told that he must take a staff officer who wanted to go quickly to Egypt. The inadequate official reason given for the exceptional privilege of this flight was that the officer -who turned out to be Lawrence -- merely wanted to collect his kit, while Lawrence himself gave out that he wished to collect certain papers he required for the writing of his war book. 21 Unfortunately -- or as will appear later, perhaps fortunately for Lawrence -- there was something wrong with these planes, which crashed all over France and Italy; and so many delays and accidents happened that even the leading planes took three months to fly from Northern France to Egypt. Lawrence's plane crashed near Rome, both pilots being killed, while he was badly injured, breaking ribs and his collar-bone and suffering slight concussion, the only one of the
The lecture was called "With Allenby in Palestine" but the publicity centred on Lawrence. Bottom left is an artist's impression of the scene [Reproduced by permission of the Sphere]
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numerous plane accidents he claimed to have suffered for which there is any outside evidence.
David Garnett long ago pointed out that this story of collecting kit and papers was obviously "not the whole story," 22 but he refrained from printing whatever it was he had learned. If we turn to Lord Wavell's reminiscences, we discover that in the spring of 1919 he was on Allenby's staff in Egypt, and was shown by his chief a Foreign Office telegram saying that Lawrence had been "lost" from the Peace Conference, that "the fiddle-stringed French were persuaded that he was on his way to Damascus to aid Feisal in a revolt against them, and that Lawrence was" on no account to be allowed to proceed to Syria." 23 But did even this telegram reveal the whole story? After all, Feisal was still in Paris when Lawrence's plane crashed, and he did not return to Damascus until May, while the Foreign Office would hardly have considered Lawrence "lost" if the telegram had been sent after the crash, seeing that Lawrence had been visited by Sir Rennell Rodd, the British Ambassador in Rome, and taken into the Embassy to be nursed. And though Lawrence and his political friends were as anti-French as ever, this would not seem to be the moment for Feisal to start an anti-French fight since real efforts were being made to come to an agreement. As early as the 8th March, 1919, Lord Milner had written:
". . . although I am aware that I have almost every other Government authority, military and diplomatic, against me, I am totally opposed to the idea of trying to diddle the French out of Syria." * 24
And Milner had gone on to suggest an interview between Feisal and Clemenceau. Late in February, Allenby had even said to M. Picot in Damascus that he wanted Feisal back in Syria, at least for a time, counting upon his authority "to check the movement towards xenophobia and panarabism." 25
Looking unhopefully through the tedious and verbose documents relating to the 1919 Conference, I was interested to come on a passage which seems to explain this movement of Lawrence's in the most unlikely place -- the minutes of the daily meetings of the Commis-
* The cool cynicism of British officials implied by Milner's remark is more than equalled by Lloyd George's in printing it in a book where he uses all his lawyer's skill in arguing that there was no British intrigue against the French in Syria!
sioners Plenipotentiary of the United States. On Thursday, March 20th, 1919, there were present Mr. Lansing, Mr. White, General Bliss, etc., and the following is recorded:
"(5) Memorandum No. 168 was read in which General Churchill submitted a proposal that Captain William Yale accept an invitation tendered to him by Colonel Lawrence to accompany the British Forces on an expedition which they are planning for the month of May against the tribes of the Nejd." 26
Deciding that they had been sent to Paris, not to make war but to make peace, the American Commissioners refused permission. But the document is surely suggestive. The "tribes of the Nejd" were, of course, Ibn Saud's Wahabis; and though there were no British forces to attack them, there did exist the British-trained, Britishequipped troops of Abdulla, who precisely at this time was being urged by Hussein to make yet another attempt to seize and hold the disputed border oasis of Khurma. Four previous attempts had been made and had been beaten off by the inhabitants; and Ibn Saud had warned that he would deal severely with another attack. Hussein had been demanding that the British Government should allot him the place. If not, he was going to take it.
The scene now shifts to the Foreign Office in mid-March, where, under the presidency of Lord Curzon, was collected "an imposing array of generals, admirals, Under Secretaries of State," with Hubert Young as secretary. The discreet pages of Sir Hubert will be searched in vain for any mention of this meeting, but a detailed account has fortunately been left by St. John Philby, the only person present who had any first-hand knowledge of Ibn Saud and his formidable Wahabis. Lord Curzon summed up the situation in his inimitable way:
"The position is that we have promised both parties to settle this dispute between them. Hussein is now pressing for a settlement as he is entitled to do. The arguments on both sides have been fully considered, and Mr. Philby has stated the case for Ibn Saud as ably as Ibn Saud could have wished. There is indeed room for differences of opinion on the merits of the case, but the matter is pressing and it is a question rather of policy than of the merits of the case. Now in all these Arabian problems our policy is a Hussein policy, and
we need not argue the grounds on which it is based. But it is something more than a question of policy. It is a matter of expediency also. We must be satisfied that our man, if we decide in his favour as we would like to do, will win if it comes to a fight. Otherwise the consequences may be very serious indeed." 27
The numerous military experts present were all quite sure that the Hejaz forces would win, and Philby's prediction that, in spite of the threat to stop his subsidy, Ibn Saud would instantly march on Khurma, was dismissed. Hussein, being given the word from London, then entrusted the attack to Abdulla, who has left in his memoirs a rather confused account of what happened. But surely this Hashemite attack on Nejd must be the expedition to which Lawrence referred in his request to the Americans? And, whether he was secretly ordered to join Abdulla or whether he went off on his own responsibility, this plan for the Hejaz forces to take Khurma was surely the reason for his attempt to fly to Egypt in April? If the plane had not crashed, Lawrence would have had plenty of time to get to Abdulla long before the end of May. But for the plane-crash, Lawrence might have perished and would certainly have lost his military reputation in the disaster which overtook Abdulla's forces at a place called Turaba, before they ever reached Khurma. On the night of the 25th-26th May, the Wahabi forces swept into the village with a fury and ferocity which give some idea of the horror of the original Arab attacks on the civilised world. Abdulla and his staff just managed to escape on horseback, but "the rest of his army was annihilated," 28 and the Wahabis left the bodies of the slain unburied, a fearful insult among Moslems. Among those massacred was the French officer, Raho, who for some reason had been left in the Hejaz. Practically all the 60-70 Sharifian regular officers were slain, and it is said that only about a hundred of Abdulla's army escaped. 29 According to Brémond, Abdulla also lost 12 guns, 20 machine-guns, 400 horses and mules, and 1,500 camels. 30 Now, this humiliating miscalculation of the British Government was indisputably based on wrong advice tendered by Lawrence and the Arab Bureau, who absurdly over-estimated the military value of the Hejaz forces, and under-estimated that of Ibn Saud and the Wahabis. One would suppose that so startling a demonstration of Lawrence's incompetence as an adviser would lead to some self-questioning on his part and some
diminution of his occult influence. Not at all. When Philby was sent out by Curzon (unnecessarily as it proved) to try to stop Ibn Saud's falsely reported march on Mecca, he and Lawrence met at Allenby's table, and Lawrence continued to back his Hashemites -- "Lady Allenby used to get positively nervous at the vigorous arguments bandied across her on the respective merits of the Arabian protagonists." 31 And at that time -- June, 1919 -- Lawrence was within a few weeks of being carried to world-wide fame by one of the most successful advertising stunts in this century of uninhibited propaganda.
UP TILL the late summer of 1919, Lawrence was hardly known to the British public, if at all. He did not appear in Who's Who until the edition for 1920. As we have seen, even the 1919 Secretary of State for War had never heard of him. On the other hand, he was certainly becoming known in official and political circles, and his voice -- which was to a great extent the voice of the Arab Bureau -- had received undue respect and attention. He had been heard by the Eastern Committee of the Cabinet (which was afterwards replaced by the Interdepartmental Conference on Middle Eastern Affairs), 1 but then so was Philby; and Young of course was present as secretary at all meetings. It was certainly an honour for a young man, but far from unique. More exceptional was the fact that he had been allowed to appear in Arab dress before a meeting of the Council of Ten at Paris; and this, as already noted, did give him a little publicity, as a few of the American correspondents wrote about him. 2 He had also met or was meeting many influential people in London, and evidently he had friends who were pushing him sedulously -- recollect that so important a figure in modern English history as Mr. Churchill was told that he ought to meet Lawrence whose exploits were 'an epic'. 3 Gertrude Bell at that time was then much better known than Lawrence, and her letters refer more than once to the newspaper space given her. Yet within a few months of August, 1919, Lawrence's name was known to millions, an immense popular reputation had been created for him as "the uncrowned King of Arabia," a " Prince of Mecca," and the pre-eminent British war hero of 1914-18.
The story of how this vast renown was created is of crucial import-
ance in the life-story of Lawrence, and it has even some historical interest as showing how heroes were made in the first quarter of the 20th century. Lawrence has been called a king-maker, and with some show of reason, since Feisal and even Abdulla to some extent might be said to owe their thrones to his propaganda, but the man who made the king-maker and gave him his popular influence was Lowell Thomas. Strangely enough, the part played by Mr. Lowell Thomas in the creation of the Lawrence of Arabia legend has been almost entirely overlooked by his biographers. Thus, Graves and David Garnett pass over the four years' world publicity of the ChaseThomas film-lecture with a few condescending lines; and in his 482 pages on Lawrence, 4 Liddell Hart does not even mention the Americans' names. The Lawrence Bureau attitude, strongly encouraged by Lawrence himself after he had fully profited by the lecture, was to be rather shocked and annoyed about it as a distressingly vulgar episode which could not be avoided and for which Lawrence was not in the least responsible, so that it was decorous and gentlemanly to snub Lowell Thomas. But, as I shall show, it was Lawrence who invited Chase and Thomas to come to Akaba and who persuaded Allenby to let them come; Lawrence was fully cognisant all along of their intentions, and collaborated in the production of the film, the lecture and the Thomas book. The Thomas lecture and the innumerable newspaper reports resulting from it created the Lawrence of Arabia legend by putting into public circulation many of the episodes, stories and anecdotes we have been investigating. Lowell Thomas made Lawrence front-page news for life, and, even when Thomas was not responsible for circulating the stories which Lawrence had been putting out since he was a lad, it was easy enough for Lawrence's friends and flatterers to get a wide reception for them once the notoriety was secured.