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).

9 April 1917

Back at Abu Markha, Lawrence found himself disappointed by
Abdullah’s lazy and self-indulgent nature. So when a letter arrived from Feisal, recalling him to Wejh, he made preparations to leave.

“… there were now two parties on the railway, with reliefs enough to do a demolition of some sort every day or so. Much less interference than this would suffice to wreck the working of trains, and by making the maintenance of the Turkish garrison at Medina just a shade less difficult than its evacuation would serve the interests of British and Arab alike. So I judged my work in Wadi Ais sufficiently done, and well done.

“I longed to get north again quit of this relaxing camp.”

He left for Wejh the next day.

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

5 April 1917

Following the half-failure of the raid at Abu el-Naam, Lawrence rode out with a second raiding party to make another attack on the railway. Kilometre 1,121 from Damascus was chosen at random to lay a mine. But when the morning train arrived, carrying women and children towards Syria, it passed over the charges without explosion.

“As artist I was furious; as commander deeply relieved: women and children were not proper spoil.”

It was not until after dusk that the raiders could return to the line to investigate why the mine had failed.

“The Juheina were as interested in that as I. Along they came in a swarm and clustered over the metals during the search. They brought my heart into my throat, for it took me an hour to find just where the mine was hidden. Laying a Garland mine was shaky work, but scrabbling in pitch darkness up and down a hundred yards of railway, feeling for a hair-trigger buried in the ballast, seemed, at the time, an almost uninsurable occupation …

“At last I found it, and ascertained by touch that the lock had sunk one-sixteenth of an inch, due to bad setting by myself or because the ground had subsided after the rain. I firmed it into its place. Then, to
explain ourselves plausibly to the enemy, we began blowing up things to the north of the mine … All was done at speed, for we feared lest Turks come after us: and when our explosive work was finished we ran back like hares to our camels, mounted them, and trotted without interruption down the windy valley once more to the plain of Hamdh.”

The next morning would bring the distant sound of a great explosion and then news that a train had indeed detonated the mine. The raiders returned to Abdullah’s camp.

Events of 5 April 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).

30 March 1917

The bombardment of Abu el-Naam began in the morning. As
artillery shelled the station, a locomotive parked in the siding got up steam and puffed off towards Medina.

“We watched her hungrily as she approached our mine, and when she was on it there came a soft cloud of dust and a report and she stood still … while the drivers got out, and jacked up the front wheels and tinkered at them, we waited and waited in vain for the machine-gun to open fire. Later we learned that the gunners, afraid of their loneliness, had packed up and marched to join us when we began shooting. Half an hour after, the repaired engine went away towards Jebel Antar, going at a foot pace and clanking loudly; but going none the less …

“Meanwhile the wood, tents and trucks in the station were burning, and the smoke was too thick for us to shoot, so we broke off the action. We had taken thirty prisoners, a mare, two camels and some more sheep; and had killed and wounded seventy of the garrison, at a cost to ourselves of one man slightly hurt. Traffic was held up for three days of repair and
investigation. So we did not wholly fail.”

Events of 30 March 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).

29 March 1917

On the morning of 26 March – at the same time as Sir Archibald Murray was mounting his first (failed) attack on Gaza – Lawrence was at last sufficiently recovered to set out on his first raid against the railway. With a reconnaissance party of about 30 Arabs, he
departed Abdullah’s camp for the station at Abu el-Naam.

Lawrence found around 300 Turks at the station. So when Sherif Shakir arrived with 300 reinforcements – too few to attack the station – a hurried change of plan was forced. Instead, the Arabs set out to mine the railway line to the north and south.

“I dismounted and fingered its thrilling rails for the first time during the war. Then, in an hour’s busy work, we laid the mine, which was a trigger action to fire into twenty pounds of blasting gelatine when the weight of the locomotive overhead deflected the metals. Afterwards we posted the machine-gunners in a little bush-screened watercourse, four hundred yards from and fully commanding the spot where we hoped the train would be derailed. They were to hide there; while we went on to cut the telegraph.”

Events of 29 March 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).

22 March 1917

Reaching Abdullah’s camp at Abu Markha in Wadi Ais on 15 March, Lawrence delivered letters from Feisal explaining the situation in Medina and pressing the urgent need to block the railway; then succumbed to the bout of dysentery and malaria that had begun during his journey from Wejh. Lying incapacitated for days, he began to think out a new strategy for the Arab campaign.

“I had now been eight days lying in this remote tent … The fever passed: my dysentery ceased; and with restored strength the present again
became actual to me … So I hurried into line my shadowy principles, to have them once precise before my power to evoke them faded.

“It seemed to me proven that our rebellion had an unassailable base, guarded not only from attack, but from the fear of attack. It had a sophisticated alien enemy, disposed as an army of occupation in an area greater than could be dominated effectively from fortified posts. It had a friendly population, of which some two in the hundred were active, and the rest quietly sympathetic to the point of not betraying the movements of the minority. The active rebels had the virtues of secrecy and self-control, and the qualities of speed, endurance and independence of arteries of supply. They had technical equipment enough to paralyse the enemy’s communications … Final victory seemed certain, if the war lasted long enough for us to work it out.”

Events of 22 March 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).

“I should have written before but have been ill. However things are quite alright now …

“Please see Sidi Feisul for me and tell him I have not been able to do my job here because I have been ill. I hope to go down to the railway tomorrow for a preliminary reconnaissance and after that will be able to say what can be done, but in any case I will stay here a bit as it is most important that the Turks should not be able to concentrate much of their Medina force at El-Ula against him, and I am afraid if I do not stay here not much will be done.

“Please beg him not to remain in Wejh unless it is absolutely necessary. The effect both on Arabs and Turks of knowing him to be near the line would be very great…”

(Letter to an unnamed British officer written on 22 March 1917,
reproduced from Lawrence of Arabia: The Selected Letters edited by Malcolm Brown.)

13 March 1917

One of the Ageyl was lying dead with a bullet through his temple. The remaining Ageyl blamed Hamed the Moor. Hamed confessed.

“Then rose up the horror which would make civilized man shun justice like a plague if he had not the needy to serve him as hangmen for wages. There were other Moroccans in our army; and to let the Ageyl kill one in feud meant reprisals by which our unity would have been endangered. It must be a formal execution, and at last, desperately, I told Hamed that he must die for punishment, and laid the burden of his killing on myself.
Perhaps they would count me not qualified for feud. At least no revenge could lie against my followers; for I was a stranger and kinless.”

It would take three shots for Lawrence to carry out the execution.

“I called the Ageyl, who buried him in the gully where he was. Afterwards the wakeful night dragged over me, till, hours before dawn, I had the men up and made them load, in my longing to be set free of Wadi Kitan. They had to lift me into the saddle.”

Events of 13 March 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom
(1926).