“… two horsemen came cantering across from the left to greet Feisal. I knew the first one, dirty old blear-eyed Mohammed Ali el Beidawi, Emir of the Juheina: but the second looked strange. When he came nearer I saw he was in khaki uniform, with a cloak to cover it and a silk head-cloth and head-rope, much awry. He looked up, and there was Newcombe’s red and peeling face, with straining eyes and vehement mouth, a strong, humorous grin between the jaws. He had arrived at Um Lejj this morning, and hearing we were only just off, had seized Sheikh Yu-suf’s fastest horse and galloped after us.
“I offered him my spare camel and an introduction to Feisal, whom he greeted like an old school-friend; and at once they plunged into the midst of things, suggesting, debating, planning at lightning speed. Newcombe’s initial velocity was enormous, and the freshness of the day and the life and happiness of the Army gave inspiration to the march and brought the future bubbling out of us without pain.”
Events of 18 January 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
As Feisal’s army neared Umm Lejj – the halfway point to Wejh – Lawrence got word that Newcombe would meet him there in the next few days, and sailed north from Yenbo in the ship Suva.
A few days later, when Feisal’s army left Umm Lejj on the next stage of its march to Wejh, Newcombe had still not arrived, and Lawrence decided to accompany the Arabs.
A short way into the march, Newcombe caught up with the army on horseback. It seemed that Lawrence’s temporary role as liaison officer to Feisal was about to end.
“Everyone burst out singing a full-throated song in honour of Emir Feisal and his family. The march became rather splendid and barbaric. First rode Feisal in white, then Sharraf at his right in red head-cloth and henna-dyed tunic and cloak, myself on his left in white and scarlet,
behind us three banners of faded crimson silk with gilt spikes, behind them the drummers playing a march, and behind them again the wild mass of twelve hundred bouncing camels of the bodyguard, packed as closely as they could move, the men in every variety of coloured clothes and the camels nearly as brilliant in their trappings. We filled the valley to its banks with our flashing stream.”
Events of 4 January 1917 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven
Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
On 4 January, Feisal’s army began its advance on Wejh. Lawrence joined the army for the first leg, before turning back to ride the 22 miles to Yenbo in the late afternoon. There, he would liaise with the Navy to have supplies shipped north to the Arabs, while waiting the arrival of Colonel Stewart Newcombe to take over his liaison role.
“The situation is so interesting that I think I will fail to come back. I want to rub off my British habits & go off with Feisul for a bit. Amusing job, and all new country. When I have someone to take over here from me I’ll go off.”
T. E. Lawrence to Major Kinahan Cornwallis (Lawrence of Arabia, The Selected Letters, edited by Malcolm Brown, published by Little Books, 2005).
Lawrence’s return to Yenbo in mid-December came as a new crisis arose.
Though aerial reconnaissance had confirmed the Turks’ retreat from Yenbo, fears now arose that they might be moving towards Rabegh. Hoping to trap them in a pincer movement in the hills, Feisal took his army inland, while wiring his brother Ali to advance out of Rabegh. But Ali’s troops took fright and retreated, forcing Feisal to fall back again on Nakhl Mubarak.
On 27 December, Lawrence and Feisal met Colonel Wilson on the deck of the Dufferin, moored at Yenbo, to discuss new plans.
Sights were beginning to move 200 miles north, to a new position that would give Feisal easier access to the Hejaz Railway, while hopefully drawing Turkish attention away from Rabegh … Wejh.
A month earlier, Lawrence had resisted taking on the temporary role of liaison officer to Feisal. His letter written this day to Major Cornwallis of the Arab Bureau shows that now he seemed to be enjoying himself in the Hejaz.
“There was one alarm about eleven o’clock. Our outposts had met the
enemy only three miles outside the town. Garland, with a crier, went through the few streets, and called the garrison. They tumbled straight out and went to their places in dead silence without a shot or a loose shout. The seamen on the minaret sent warning to the ships, whose combined searchlights began slowly to traverse the plain in complex intersections, drawing pencils of wheeling light across the flats which the attacking force must cross …
“Afterwards, old Dakhil Allah told me he had guided the Turks down to rush Yenbo in the dark that they might stamp out Feisal’s army once for all; but their hearts had failed them at the silence and the blaze of lighted ships from end to end of the harbour, with the eerie beams of the searchlights revealing the bleakness of the glacis they would have to cross. So they turned back: and that night, I believe, the Turks lost their war. Personally, I was on the Suva, to be undisturbed, and sleeping splendidly at last; so I was grateful to Dakhil Allah for the prudence which he preached the Turks, as though we might perhaps have won a glorious victory, I was ready to give much more for just that eight hours’ unbroken rest.”
Events of 11 December 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
As darkness closed in, Yenbo awaited the anticipated Turkish attack. Lawrence was destined to miss the night’s action, however, having boarded the ship Suva in the afternoon bound for meetings in Jiddah and Rabegh.
“The artillery was arriving every minute; for Boyle, as usual far better than his word, had concentrated five ships on us in less than twenty-four hours. He put the monitor M.31, whose shallow draught fitted her for the job, in the end of the south-eastern creek of the harbour, whence she could rake the probable direction of a Turkish advance with her six-inch guns … The larger ships were moored to fire over the town at longer range, or to rake the other flank from the northern harbour. The searchlights of Dufferin and M.31 crossed on the plain beyond the town …
“… to reassure [the Arabs] fully they needed some sort of rampart to
defend, mediaeval fashion: it was no good digging trenches, partly
because the ground was coral rock, and, besides, they had no experience of trenches and might not have manned them confidently. So we took the crumbling, salt-riddled wall of the place, doubled it with a second, packed earth between the two, and raised them till our sixteenth-century bastions were rifle-proof at least, and probably proof against the Turkish mountain guns. Outside the bastions we put barbed wire, festooned
between cisterns on the rain catchments beyond the walls. We dug in
machine-gun nests in the best angles, and manned them with Feisal’s
Events of 5 to 10 December 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
Back in Yenbo, Lawrence watched as first Zeid and then Feisal’s army retreated into the town. With the Turks advancing, the
defence of Yenbo became a priority.
Lawrence liaised with Captain Boyle of the Red Sea Patrol to
provide Naval support, while the task of erecting defences was led by the explosives expert Major Garland, who had been in the Hejaz to provide training to the Arabs.
“Nearly everyone sat up that night,” wrote Lawrence, as the Turks drew near on the 11th.
“Suddenly Feisal asked me if I would wear Arab clothes like his own while in the camp. I should find it better for my own part, since it was a comfortable dress in which to live Arab-fashion as we must do. Besides, the tribesmen would then understand how to take me. The only wearers of khaki in their experience had been Turkish officers, before whom they took up an instinctive defence. If I wore Meccan clothes, they would behave to me as though I were really one of the leaders; and I might slip in and out of Feisal’s tent without making a sensation which he had to explain away each time to strangers. I agreed at once, very gladly; for army uniform was abominable when camel-riding or when sitting about on the ground; and the Arab things, which I had learned to manage before the war, were cleaner and more decent in the desert … I felt that I had better get back to Yenbo, to think seriously about our amphibious defence of this port, the Navy having promised its every help. We settled that I should consult Zeid, and act with him as seemed best. Feisal gave me a magnificent bay camel for the trip back.”
Events of 4 December 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
Lawrence’s days and nights in camp with Feisal’s army at Nakhl Mubarak would bring only three hours’ sleep amid all the “constant alarms and excitements”. But it was also during this encounter that Feisal suggested he adopt Arab dress, a move that in later years would help seal his fame as the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia”.
“As we got near [to Nakhl Mubarak] we saw through the palm-trees flame, and the flame-lit smoke of many fires, while the hollow ground re-echoed with the roaring of thousands of excited camels, and volleying of shots or shoutings in the darkness of lost men, who sought through the crowd to rejoin their friends. As we had heard in Yenbo that the Nakhl were deserted, this tumult meant something strange, perhaps hostile …
“We ploughed our way through this din, and in an island of calm at the very centre of the valley bed found Sherif Feisal … he explained to me what unexpected things had happened in the last twenty-four hours on the battle front. The Turks had slipped round the head of the Arab barrier forces in Wadi Safra by a side road in the hills, and had cut their retreat. The Harb, in a panic, had melted into the ravines on each side, and
escaped through them in parties of twos and threes, anxious for their threatened families … Then [Zeid] escaped himself; but his force melted into a loose mob of fugitives riding wildly through the night towards Yenbo. Thereby the road to Yenbo was laid open to the Turks, and Feisal had rushed down here only an hour before our arrival, with five thousand men, to protect his base until something properly defensive could be
Events of 2 December 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
By the time Lawrence arrived back in Yenbo, things in the Hejaz had changed. Feisal had moved his army to Wadi Yenbo in preparation to attack the railway, while Zeid was moving inland from Rabegh to take up a supporting position in Wadi Safra. Ali was stationed in Rabegh, while Abdullah was still blockading Medina.
When Lawrence rode out from Yenbo to meet Feisal, he was surprised to encounter his army near the date plantations at Nakhl Mubarak. The story told by Feisal of the collapse of Zeid’s men, followed by his own retreat on Nakhl Mubarak, proved to be the start of a week of crisis, as Yenbo suddenly found itself laid vulnerable to the Turks.
“As my experience of Arab feeling in the Harb country had given
me strong opinions on the Rabegh question (indeed, most of my opinions were strong), I wrote for General Clayton, to whose Arab Bureau I was now formally transferred, a violent memorandum on the whole subject. Clayton was pleased with my view that the tribes might defend Rabegh for months if lent advice and guns, but that they would certainly scatter to their tents again as soon as they heard of the landing of foreigners in force. Further, that the intervention-plans were technically unsound, for a brigade would be quite insufficient to defend the position, to forbid the neighbouring water-supplies to the Turks, and to block their road towards Mecca. I accused [France’s] Colonel Bremond of having motives of his own, not military, nor taking account of Arab interests and of the importance of the revolt to us; and quoted his words and acts in Hejaz as
evidence against him. They gave just plausible colour to my charge.”
Events of 17 November 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
Now transferred to the Arab Bureau in Cairo, Lawrence wrote a memorandum opposing the landing of Allied troops at Rabegh – the so-called “Rabegh question” – causing consternation to Wingate and others who had argued in support of intervention.
In the next few days, however, he would learn that there were new ideas for him. Much against his wishes, Lawrence found that he was to sent back to Yenbo in the temporary position of a liaison officer. “So I had to go; leaving to others the Arab Bulletin I had founded, the maps I wished to draw, and the file of the war-changes of the Turkish Army, all fascinating activities in which my training helped me; to take up a role for which I felt no inclination,” he wrote. The date of his return was set for November 25.
“In Jidda was the Euryalus, with Admiral Wemyss, bound for Port Sudan that [he] might visit Sir Reginald Wingate at Khartum. Sir Reginald, as
Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, had been put in command of the British
military side of the Arab adventure in place of Sir Henry McMahon, who continued to direct its politics; and it was necessary for me to see him, to impart my impressions to him. So I begged the Admiral for a passage over sea, and a place in his train to Khartum …
“Khartum felt cool after Arabia, and nerved me to show Sir Reginald Wingate my long reports written in those days of waiting at Yenbo. I urged that the situation seemed full of promise. The main need was skilled assistance; and the campaign should go prosperously if some regular British officers, professionally competent and speaking Arabic, were attached to the Arab leaders as technical advisers, to keep us in proper touch. Wingate was glad to hear a hopeful view. The Arab Revolt had been his dream for years.”
Events of 4-11 November 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
After leaving Feisal’s camp, Lawrence had ridden on to Yenbo, where he wrote a series of reports on the situation he had found in the
Hejaz. On 1 November, Lawrence sailed on to Jiddah, then changed ships bound for Port Sudan and Khartoum. There he spent his time in discussions with Sir Reginald Wingate, who had been chosen to replace Sir Henry McMahon as the British High Commission in Cairo.
On Lawrence’s return to Cairo, he would find that his long-
hoped-for transfer to the Arab Bureau had at last been approved.
“I felt at first glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek — the leader who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory. Feisal looked very tall and pillar-like, very slender, in his long white silk robes and his brown head-cloth bound with a brilliant scarlet and gold cord. His eyelids were dropped; and his black beard and colourless face were like a mask against the strange, still watchfulness of his body. His hands were crossed in front of him on his dagger.
“I greeted him. He made way for me into the room, and sat down on his carpet near the door. As my eyes grew accustomed to the shade, they saw that the little room held many silent figures, looking at me or at Feisal steadily. He remained staring down at his hands, which were twisting slowly about his dagger. At last he inquired softly how I had found the journey. I spoke of the heat, and he asked how long from Rabegh, commenting that I had ridden fast for the season.
” ‘And do you like our place here in Wadi Safra?’
” ‘Well; but it is far from Damascus.’ “
Events of 23 October 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).
At Wadi Safra, Lawrence met the fourth of Sherif Hussein’s sons, and his quest to find a prophet to lead the Arab Revolt was over.