22 October 1916

“Quite close to the north bank of the Masturah, we found the well … As we watched, two riders, trotting light and fast on thoroughbred camels, drew towards us from the north. Both were young. One was dressed in rich Cashmere robes and heavy silk embroidered head-cloth. The other was plainer, in white cotton, with a red cotton head-dress. They halted beside the well; and the more splendid one slipped gracefully to the ground without kneeling his camel, and threw his halter to his companion, saying, carelessly, ‘Water them while I go over there and rest’. Then he strolled across and sat down under our wall, after glancing at us with
affected unconcern. He offered a cigarette, just rolled and licked, saying, ‘Your presence is from Syria?’ I parried politely, suggesting that he was from Mecca, to which he likewise made no direct reply. We spoke a little of the war and of the leanness of the Masruh she-camels.

“Meanwhile the other rider stood by, vacantly holding the halters, waiting perhaps for the Harb to finish watering their herd before taking his turn. The young lord cried, ‘What is it, Mustafa? Water them at once’. The
servant came up to say dismally, ‘They will not let me’. ‘God’s mercy!’ shouted his master furiously, as he scrambled to his feet and hit the
unfortunate Mustafa three or four sharp blows about the head and
shoulders with his riding-stick. ‘Go and ask them.’ Mustafa looked hurt, astonished, and angry as though he would hit back, but thought better of it, and ran to the well.

The Harb, shocked, in pity made a place for him, and let his two camels drink from their water-trough. They whispered, ‘Who is he?’ and Mustapha said, ‘Our Lord’s cousin from Mecca’. At once they ran and untied a bundle from one of their saddles, and spread from it before the two riding camels fodder of the green leaves and buds of the thorn trees. They were used to gather this by striking the low bushes with a heavy staff, till the broken tips of the branches rained down on a cloth stretched over the ground beneath.

The young Sherif watched them contentedly. When his camel had fed, he climbed slowly and without apparent effort up its neck into the saddle, where he settled himself leisurely, and took an unctuous farewell of us, asking God to requite the Arabs bountifully. They wished him a good journey; and he started southward, while Abdul

20 October 1916

“[Ali] prepared for me his own splendid riding-camel, saddled with his own saddle, and hung with luxurious housings and cushions of Nejd leather-work pieced and inlaid in various colours, with plaited fringes and nets embroidered with metal tissues. As a trustworthy man he chose out Tafas el Raashid, a Hawazim Harb tribesman, with his son, to guide me to Feisal’s camp …

“To Ali himself I took a great fancy … He was bookish, learned in law and religion, and pious almost to fanaticism. He was too conscious of his high heritage to be ambitious; and his nature was too clean to see or suspect interested motives in those about him. Consequently he was much the prey of any constant companion, and too sensitive to advice for a great leader, though his purity of intention and conduct gained him the love of those who came into direct contact with him. If Feisal should turn out to be no prophet, the revolt would make shift well enough with Ali for its head …

“Zeid was a shy, white, beardless lad of perhaps nineteen, calm and
flippant, no zealot for the revolt … Zeid, of course, was even less than
Abdulla the born leader of my quest. Yet I liked him, and could see that he would be a decided man when he had found himself.”

Events of 20 October 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

Having sailed on to Rabegh, Lawrence’s next meetings were with Ali and Zeid, Sherif Hussein’s eldest and youngest sons. Convinced that he had not yet found the leader with the necessary fire that he was looking for, the next day Lawrence would set off by camel to meet the only son he had not yet encountered … Feisal.

16 October 1916

“The Sherif’s rebellion had been unsatisfactory for the last few months … and my suspicion was that its lack was leadership: not intellect, nor judgement, nor political wisdom, but the flame of enthusiasm, that would set the desert on fire. My visit was mainly to find the yet unknown master-spirit of the affair, and measure his capacity to carry the revolt to the goal I had conceived for it. As our conversation continued, I became more and more sure that Abdulla was too balanced, too cool, too humorous to be a prophet: especially the armed prophet who, if history be true, succeeded in revolutions. His value would come perhaps in the peace after success. During the physical struggle, when singleness of eye and magnetism, devotion and self-sacrifice were needed, Abdulla would be a tool too complex for a simple purpose, though he could not be ignored, even now.”

Events of 16 October 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

Newly arrived in Jidda, Lawrence began to meet and assemble the cast of characters who would fight alongside him over the next two years as part of the Arab Revolt. First was Abdullah, Sherif Hussein’s second son.

13 October 1916

“Waiting off Suez was the Lama, a small converted liner; and in her we left immediately.”

Events of 13 October 1916 as recounted by T. E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926).

The previous day, as the Oriental Secretary Ronald Storrs had set off for the Hejaz in the company of Lieutenant T. E. Lawrence, he had recorded in his diary: “On the train from Cairo little Lawrence my
supercerebral companion.”

This was Lawrence’s first visit to the Hejaz.

In future years, when writing his Memoirs, Storrs would admit that Lawrence’s “enduring world-fame makes it difficult to replace him now in his original perspective, and I must confess, almost with shame, that my sentiments in applying for him were mainly gratitude for his assistance in the Hejaz stamp issue and in other matters, the high value I attached to his judgment on any question, and his admirable company.”

Yet it was this journey to the Hejaz, Storrs noted, that would end with his companion becoming known permanently to the world as Lawrence of Arabia.

10 October 1916

“Here is a story for Arnie. Storrs, of the British Residency, went down to Jidda lately with the Holy Carpet. When there he wanted to talk to the Sherif. So he went to the telephone, and rang up No. i. Mecca, and began. In a few minutes he heard other voices on the line, so he told the Sherif that someone was trying to overhear their conversation. Sherif, very
angry, rang up the Exchange, and ordered all telephones in the Hejaz
to be cut off for half an hour. After which things went splendidly. The Sherif has a sense of humour, and is doing well. His weakness is in military operations.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

This would be Lawrence’s last letter home for a month. Within 48 hours, he would find himself leaving Cairo with Oriental Secretary Ronald Storrs on an intelligence mission to the Hejaz. If the Sherif was weak in military operations, help was about to arrive.

24 September 1916

“The affairs of the Sherif are looking better, with the fall of Taif. He has captured there all the civil and military officials of the Mecca province, for they all used to spend the summer there, on the hill-tops in the gardens. If I leave G.H.Q. Egypt, which I have hinted several times lately, it will be to join the Arab Bureau, which is doing all the work of the Sherif’s revolt …”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

The capture of Taif in late September was a boost to morale after
a stuttering start to the Arab campaign. In Cairo, there was
disappointment for Lawrence when inter-departmental antagonism threw his transfer to the Arab Bureau into doubt. “I took to stratagems,” he later wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom of his attempt to
become “quite intolerable” to Intelligence GHQ in Ismailia in the hope they would let him go. There was not much longer to wait.

22 July 1916

“Arnie will be glad to hear I am printing stamps for the Sherif of Mecca. I’ll send him some when they come out. Of course they are only a provisional issue. It’s rather amusing, because one has long had ideas as to what a stamp should look like, and now one can put them roughly into practice. The worst is they can only be little designs, not engraved, so that the finer detail is not possible. I’m going to have flavoured gum on the back, so that one may lick without unpleasantness.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Lawrence spent part of the summer of 1916 wandering around Cairo in search of Islamic motifs to use in a secret propaganda
exercise. The idea was to print a set of postage stamps as a way of spreading news of the Arab revolt. He was said to have personally supervised the production of the first three stamps which went into issue at the end of September 1916 (and was still telling the story about the flavoured gum nearly 20 years later: strawberry essence on the red stamps and pineapple juice on the green stamps).

The source of the designs was said to be: one piastre stamp (blue): from a prayer niche in El Amri Mosque, Qus, Upper Egypt; half-piastre stamp (red): from a Koran in El Sultan Barquq Mosque, Cairo; quarter-piastre stamp (green): from carvings on the door of El Salih Talayi Mosque, Cairo.

Hejaz Stamps

Early June 1916

The events of early June as recounted in a letter to his family written on July 1, 1916

“The Reuter telegram on the revolt of the Sherif of Mecca I hope interested you. It has taken a year and a half to do, but now is going very well. It is so good to have helped a bit in making a new nation – and I hate the Turks so much that to see their own people turning on them is very grateful. I hope the movement increases, as it promises to do. You will understand how impossible it is for me to tell you what the work we do really consists of, for it is all this sort of thing. This revolt, if it succeeds, will be the biggest thing in the Near East since 1550 …

“I feel written out, for now I have two newspapers (both secret!) to edit, for the information of Governors and Governments, and besides heaps of writing to do:- and it is enough.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Lawrence returned to Cairo from Mesopotamia at the end of May.

On June 5, an attack on the Ottoman garrison at Medina by Ali and Feisal, two sons of Sherif Hussein, signalled the start of the Arab
Revolt. Five days later, on June 10, Sherif Hussein himself publicly proclaimed the Revolt in Mecca. On the same day, another son,
Abdullah, attacked Taif. Forces also attacked Jidda and other ports along the Red Sea coast.

On June 6, Lawrence produced the first edition of a new intelligence periodical for the Arab Bureau in Cairo. It would become known as the Arab Bulletin.

29 April 1916

Events of 29 April as recounted in a letter to his family written on May 18, 1916

“We are at sea, somewhere off Aden, I suppose, so before it gets too late I am going to tell you something of what I saw in Mesopotamia …

“I only stayed three days in Basra, as the G.O.C. and all his staff were up at the front. The people at the base gave me some biscuits, ten loaves, ten tins of jam, ten tins of beef, and put me on board a little paddle steamer that had been a ferry on the Irrawaddy …

“At the front I found Headquarters living in a steamer with good awnings and a saloon! I stayed with them for about three weeks, while Kut fell … Colonel Beach, one of the Mesopotamian Staff, Aubrey Herbert (who was with us in Cairo) and myself were sent up to see the Turkish Commander in Chief, and arrange the release, if possible, of Townshend’s wounded. From our front trenches we waved a white flag vigorously: then we scrambled out, and walked about half-way across the 500 yards of deep meadow-grass between our lines and the Turkish trenches. Turkish officers came out to meet us, and we explained what we wanted. They were tired of shooting, so kept us sitting there with our flag as a temporary truce, while they told Halil Pasha we were coming – and eventually in the early afternoon we were taken blind-folded through their lines and about ten miles Westward till within four miles of Kut to his Headquarters … He spoke French to us, and was very polite, but of course the cards were all in his hands, and we could not get much out of him. However he let about 1,000 wounded go without any condition but the release of as many Turks – which was all we could hope for.

“We spent the night in his camp, and they gave us a most excellent dinner in Turkish style – which was a novelty to Colonel Beach, but pleased Aubrey and myself. Next morning we looked at Kut in the distance, and then came back blindfolded as before … After that there was nothing for us to do, so the Headquarters ship turned round, and came down again to Basra. We got there about the 8th and I spent four or five days settling up things and then came away.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

After withstanding nearly five months under siege at Kut, on the River Tigris in Mesopotamia, General Charles Townshend surrendered to the Turkish commander Khalil Pasha on April 29, 1916.

Lawrence, with Aubrey Herbert and Colonel Beach, offered Khalil Pasha first one million pounds, then two million pounds, for the release of the besieged garrison, which was refused.

Nearly 12,000 British and Indian troops who had survived the siege were taken into captivity. More than 4,000 would die while in the hands of the Ottomans.

20 March 1916

“I am going away, for a month or 6 weeks, to consult with some people and suggest certain things. Is this vague enough? I hope to meet Miss Bell shortly, since we are much on the same tack. Letters will not be forwarded to me, as I am to be so little away. You must expect a break in my letters of at least three weeks, and possibly longer.”

T. E. Lawrence to his family (The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, edited by M. R. Lawrence, published by Blackwell, 1954).

Towards the end of March, Lawrence found himself sailing away from Cairo carrying a letter of introduction to Sir Percy Cox, the chief political officer in Mesopotamia. “I send these few lines to
introduce Captain Lawrence,” wrote Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Cairo. “He is one of the best of our very able intelligence staff here and has a thorough knowledge of the Arab question in all its bearings. I feel sure that you will find him of great use.”

Lawrence’s mission was twofold: first, to seek the co-operation of
local Arabs in an uprising against the Turks in Mesopotamia. His
second undertaking lay in the events unfolding at Kut, on the River Tigris roughly halfway between Basra and Baghdad. Since early
December 1915, 17,000 Allied troops under the command of
General Charles Townshend had been besieged in the town. With serious shortages of food and no chance of relief, Townshend was considering surrender to the Turks. At the heart of Lawrence’s
secret mission was a £1,000,000 bribe to the Turks which Lord Kitchener hoped would bring about Townshend’s relief.

© The T.E. Lawrence Society 2017