24 May 1917

Just before noon, on the fifth day of their crossing of El Houl, one of the Arabs was found to be missing, his riderless camel led by one of the Howeitat. Surly and ill-natured, Gasim was unpopular with the other Arabs, and …

“… they did not greatly care …

“I looked weakly at my trudging men, and wondered for a moment if I could change with one, sending him back on my camel to the rescue. My shirking the duty would be understood, because I was a foreigner: but that was precisely the plea I did not dare set up, while I yet presumed to help these Arabs in their own revolt …

“So, without saying anything, I turned my unwilling camel round, and forced her, grunting and moaning for her camel friends, back past the long line of men, and past the baggage into the emptiness behind. My temper was very unheroic, for I was furious with my other servants, with my own play-acting as a Beduin, and most of all with Gasim … It seemed absurd that I should peril my weight in the Arab adventure for a single worthless man.”

Lawrence found Gasim, “nearly blinded and silly”, an hour and a half later. On the way back, they were met by Auda.

“Auda pointed to the wretched hunched-up figure and denounced me, ‘For that thing, not worth a camel’s price . . .’ I interrupted him with ‘Not worth a half-crown, Auda’, and he, delighted in his simple mind, rode near Gasim, and struck him sharply, trying to make him repeat, like a parrot, his price.”

That night, after five days crossing El Houl, the Arabs arrived in Wadi Sirhan. But another of their party was missing – a slave. Months later, Lawrence would learn that his dried-up body had been found, next to his camel, far out in the wilderness, having succumbed to heat and thirst.

Events of 24 May 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

20 May 1917

With Sherif Sharraf’s eventual arrival at Abu Raga came the welcome news that there was water to be found ahead on their march at Wadi Diraa. Having met with Sharraf, Lawrence’s party started out again on 17 May, reaching Wadi Diraa two days later. Here, they rested and watered in anticipation of the next stage of their march – across El Houl, a barren plain of abominable desolation.

On the evening of 19 May, they crossed the Hejaz railway, fixing charges to its rails and pulling out the telegraph wires. Ahead of them the next morning lay El Houl.

“We, ourselves, felt tiny in it, and our urgent progress across its immensity was a stillness or immobility of futile effort. The only sounds were the hollow echoes, like the shutting down of pavements over vaulted places, of rotten stone slab on stone slab when they tilted under our camels’ feet; and the low but piercing rustle of the sand, as it crept slowly westward before the hot wind along the worn sandstone, under the harder overhanging caps which gave each reef its eroded, rind-like shape.

“It was a breathless wind, with the furnace taste sometimes known in Egypt when a khamsin came; and, as the day went on and the sun rose in the sky it grew stronger, more filled with the dust of the Nefudh, the great sand desert of Northern Arabia, close by us over there, but invisible through the haze. By noon it blew a half-gale, so dry that our shrivelled lips cracked open, and the skin of our faces chapped; while our eyelids, gone granular, seemed to creep back and bare our shrinking eyes. The Arabs drew their head-clothes tightly across their noses, and pulled the brow-folds forward like vizors with only a narrow, loose-flapping slit
of vision.

“At this stifling price they kept their flesh unbroken, for they feared the sand particles which would wear open the chaps into a painful wound: but, for my own part, I always rather liked a khamsin, since its torment seemed to fight against mankind with ordered conscious malevolence, and it was pleasant to outface it so directly, challenging its strength, and conquering its extremity. There was pleasure also in the salt sweat-drops which ran singly down the long hair over my forehead, and dripped like ice-water on my cheek. At first, I played at catching them in my mouth; but, as we rode further into the desert and the hours passed, the wind
became stronger, thicker in dust, more terrible in heat. All semblance of friendly contest passed. My camel’s pace became sufficient increase to the irritation of the
choking waves, whose dryness broke my skin and made my throat so painful that for three days afterwards I could eat little of our stodgy bread. When evening at last came to us I was content that my burned face still felt the other and milder air of darkness.”

Events of 20 May 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

15 May 1917

At Abu Raga, Lawrence’s party remained for three days while awaiting the arrival of Sherif Sharraf from the railway.

“Our morning passed with Auda talking of the march in front, while Nasir with forefinger and thumb flicked sputtering matches from the box across his tent at us. In the midst of our merriment two bent figures, with pain in their eyes, but crooked smiles upon their lips, hobbled up and saluted. These were Daud the hasty and his love-fellow, Farraj; a beautiful, soft-framed, girlish creature, with innocent, smooth face and swimming eyes. They said they were for my service. I had no need of them; and
objected that after their beating they could not ride. They replied they had now come bare-backed. I said I was a simple man who disliked servants about him. Daud turned away, defeated and angry; but Farraj pleaded that we must have men, and they would follow me for compan
y and out of gratitude. While the harder Daud revolted, he went over to Nasir and knelt in appeal, all the woman of him evident in his longing. At the end, on Nasir’s advice, I took them both, mainly because they looked so young and clean.”

Events of 15 May 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

14 May 1917

“The weight is bearing me down now … pain and agony today.”

On 13 May, Lawrence – beset again with fever and boils – confided some of his misery to his pocket diary.

The following day, rest was taken in Wadi Jazil, a gorge full of tamarisk sprouting from a deep sandy bed. Next to a pool of brackish water, camp was made. Here, at Abu Ragu, for the next few days, they awaited the arrival of Sherif Sharraf, who was away raiding the railway.

Possibly it was this afternoon when Lawrence first met the servant boys named Daud and Farraj in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Ali and
Othman in reality). Lawrence was resting …

“when a youthful voice made me see an anxious Ageyli, a stranger, Daud, squatting by me. He appealed for my compassion. His friend Farraj had burned their tent in a frolic, and Saad, captain of Sharraf’s Ageyl was
going to beat him in punishment. At my intercession he would be
released. Saad happened, just then, to visit me, and I put it to him, while Daud sat watching us …

“Saad’s reply was not comforting. The pair were always in trouble, and of late so outrageous in their tricks that Sharraf, the severe, had ordered an example to be made of them. All he could do for my sake was to let Daud share the ordained sentence. Daud leaped at the chance, kissed my hand and Saad’s and ran off up the valley; while Saad, laughing, told me stories of the famous pair. They were an instance of the eastern boy and boy
affection which the segregation of women made inevitable. Such friendships often led to manly loves of a depth and force beyond our flesh-steeped conceit. When innocent they were hot and unashamed. If sexuality entered, they passed into a give and take, unspiritual relation, like marriage.”

Events of 14 May 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

9 May 1917

With Feisal’s good wishes sounding after them, Lawrence and a small band of 45 Arabs rode away from Wejh in the glare of the mid-afternoon sun.

“The desert route to Akaba was so long and so difficult that we could take neither guns nor machine-guns, nor stores nor regular soldiers …

“Sherif Nasir led us: his lucent goodness, which provoked answering devotion even from the depraved, made him the only leader (and a benediction) for forlorn hopes …

“Auda and his kinsmen were with us; also Nesib el Bekri, the politic Damascene, to represent Feisal to the villagers of Syria …

“Feisal made up a purse of twenty thousand pounds in gold — all he could afford and more than we asked for — to pay the wages of the new men we hoped to enrol, and to make such advances as should stimulate the Howeitat to swiftness.

“This inconvenient load of four hundredweight of gold we shared out
between us, against the chance of accident upon the road. Sheikh Yusuf, now back in charge of supply, gave us each a half-bag of flour … and Nasir took enough on baggage camels to distribute a further fourteen pounds per man when we had marched the first fortnight, and had eaten room for it in our bags.

“We had a little spare ammunition and some spare rifles as presents; and loaded six camels with light packs of blasting gelatine for rails or trains or bridges in the north. Nasir, a great Emir in his own place, also carried a good tent in which to receive visitors, and a camel load of rice for their
entertainment.”

They seemed a small party to win a new province, mused Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The march to Akaba had begun.

Events of 9 May 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

7 May 1917

On May 6, a new recovery crew, led by Capt Henderson, drove out
in a Crossley tender and Model-T Ford car to salvage the wreck of Capt Stent’s aeroplane that had crashed on May 1. Unable to cope with the sandy terrain, the Model-T Ford car would have to be towed for much of the way, before being abandoned early on the second day. Shortly after, an aeroplane landed near the party, and Lawrence flew back with the pilot to Wejh. Later in the day, his pocket diary recorded a meeting in Wejh with Sir Mark Sykes, who had been in the Hejaz to speak to Sherif Hussein and Feisal.

It would take the recovery party another three days to find the wrecked aeroplane and tow it back to Wejh, returning on 10 May.

In an account of this trip written many years later, Henderson gave an interesting insight into working alongside Lawrence in the desert.

“He always looked upon these jobs as a sort of picnic and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. He was a most economical companion, needing very little water for his personal requirements; no matter how badly we prepared our food, he relished it. In the Wadi Hamdh, when the progress of our car was reduced to about one mile per hour on account of thick thorn bushes and large boulders, and in a very unpleasantly hot temperature – we measured it once, 131o in shade – his temper remained imperturbable as ever. He had a marvellous reserve of energy and seemed to show little sign of tiredness after a hard day’s trekking which included digging out the car from soft sand.”

(Memoir of Capt T. Henderson in T. E. Lawrence By His Friends edited by A. W. Lawrence.)

5 May 1917

In the first few days after leaving Wejh, progress for the car reconnaissance crew proved to be slow. In his field notebook, Lawrence recorded the Crossley tender becoming stuck time after time (“seven times in 20 yards” at one point) due to the sandy terrain and thick brushwood impeding their way (hamdh bushes, hence the name Wadi Hamdh).

The crew were kept busy mending punctures. Then, late in the evening of the fourth day, the crown wheel on the back axle broke all its teeth, bringing the car to a halt while the crew carried out repairs late into the night.

Throughout the journey, supplies of food and water, as well as spare motor parts, were delivered morning and evening by Captains Henderson and Stent of C Flight, 14 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, in their BE2cs. But on the morning of May 1, Stent crashed into a tump on landing, and was forced to stay overnight with the crew and the still disabled Crossley tender. The next morning, Henderson landed, breaking the tail-piece on his plane.

After the tail-piece was mended, Stent flew Henderson’s plane back to Wejh, leaving behind Henderson with the crew, before returning the next morning with replacement parts for the Crossley tender. The tender was then repaired and driven on to locate the plane that had come down on April 26. Meanwhile, Henderson flew back to Wejh, taking Lawrence with him.

Once a replacement engine had been fitted, the BE2c plane that had been stranded on April 26 was flown back to Wejh by Stent on May 4, followed the next day by the Crossley tender.

But the car adventure was not yet over for Lawrence. Captain Stent’s plane, which had crash-landed on May 1, was still waiting to be salved …

(Events taken from Lawrence’s field notebook, British Library, Add MS 45915.)

27 April 1917

A meeting  to discuss the forthcoming attack on the railway at El Ula took Feisal and Auda away from Wejh for a week. Meanwhile, two BE2c aeroplanes from C Flight of 14 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps took off from Wejh to make an aerial reconnaissance of El Ula.

When one of them failed to return, a third BE2c piloted by Captain Thomas Henderson, of C Flight, took off on April 26 to search for the missing plane.

After the plane was located in Wadi Hamdh, where it had been forced to land due to engine trouble, a recovery crew drove out from Wejh in a Crossley tender on April 27 with replacement parts for the aeroplane. Among them was Lawrence.

The events which followed over the next two weeks would be
recalled by Lawrence as a “certain car adventure” in future years.

(Letter to B. E. Leeson written on 13 April 1934, reproduced from The Letters of T. E. Lawrence edited by David Garnett.)

Though not mentioned in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, entries in Lawrence’s pocket diary and notebook, along with Captain Henderson’s logbook, enable this adventure to be traced.

15-20 April 1917

In the days following his return to Wejh, Lawrence set out to Major Joyce – now the senior British officer in Wejh – his new theories about the strategy of irregular warfare formulating during his days in Abdullah’s camp.

“We could develop a highly mobile, highly equipped striking force of the smallest size, and use it successively at distributed points of the Turkish line, to make them strengthen their posts beyond the defensive minimum of twenty men …

“We must not take Medina. The Turk was harmless there. In prison in Egypt he would cost us food and guards. We wanted him to stay at Medina, and every other distant place, in the largest numbers. Our ideal was to keep his railway just working, but only just, with the maximum of loss and discomfort … but he was welcome to the Hejaz Railway, and the Trans-Jordan railway, and the Palestine and Syrian railways for the duration of the war, so long as he gave us the other nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of the Arab world.”

By now, however, preparations were advanced for a major offensive against the railway at El Ula and Medain Saleh to force the surrender of Medina.

“Neither my general reasoning … nor my particular objections had much weight.”

With his fellow British officers engaged in planning the forthcoming offensive on the railway at El Ula, Lawrence was left to pursue the idea of advancing on Akaba from inland. Auda’s presence in Wejh meant the attack could now be discussed in detail.

“I was working out with Auda abu Tayi a march to the Howeitat in their spring pastures of the Syrian desert. From them we might raise a mobile camel force, and rush Akaba from the eastward without guns or
machine-guns …

“Our march would be an extreme example of a turning movement, since it involved a desert journey of six hundred miles to capture a trench within gunfire of our ships: but there was no practicable alternative … Auda thought all things possible with dynamite and money, and that the smaller clans about Akaba would join us.”

Events of 15-20 April 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).

14 April 1917

Arriving back at Wejh in the afternoon, Lawrence learned of the
arrival of a newcomer at the camp.

“I shouted, ‘Auda abu Tayi’, and at that moment the tent-flap was drawn back, before a deep voice which boomed salutations to Our Lord, the Commander of the Faithful. There entered a tall, strong figure, with a haggard face, passionate and tragic. This was Auda, and after him followed Mohammed, his son, a child in looks, and only eleven years old in truth.”

Auda, chief of the Eastern Howeitat, had come to Wejh to discuss the feasibility of attacking Akaba from inland.

“… and after a moment I knew, from the force and directness of the man, that we would attain our end. He had come down to us like a knight-
errant, chafing at our delay in Wejh, anxious only to be acquiring merit for Arab freedom in his own lands. If his performance was one-half his desire, we should be prosperous and fortunate. The weight was off all minds
before we went to supper.”

Events of 14 April 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).