Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe was already a legend in the deserts of Arabia before he was joined in Cairo during the early months of the First World War by a group of extraordinary specialists in Middle Eastern affairs. One member of this group was T.E. Lawrence who went on to achieve worldwide fame. Colonel Newcombe's story, like those of other unsung figures in the Anglo-Arabian panoply, has been eclipsed by the legend of ´Lawrence of Arabia´, and has languished in the dusty recesses of regimental records, government files or in the elliptical words of Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. However, S.F. Newcombe´s untold story is there to be told. IN THE SHADOW OF THE CRESCENT is a story of extraordinary exploits and courage, coupled with Newcombe's own legendary and inexhaustible supply of energy and of remarkable adventures under the very noses of the Ottoman authorities – full of danger, intrigue and perhaps more surprisingly, of romance during Newcombe's captivity in Turkey.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Christmas Message

What young boy would not want a Christmas letter like this from Lawrence of Arabia? The following is the opening part of a charming letter from Lawrence to his godson Stewart Lawrence Newcombe, the son of S.F.N and Elizabeth. Stewart was variously known as James or Jimmy by the family but also addressed by Lawrence as My Lord Duke, Monster, Horror and Object. This letter was written on 20th December 1934, when Jimmy was 14 years old and Lawrence was only a few months away from leaving the R.A.F, and the fatal bike crash that killed him:
"Dear James, (alias Stewart a word I only cry out when about to be sick - alias Monster, plus or minus other things)
Dear James, as I said before Ahem
Dear James
Third time lucky. We're off. Merry Christmas. No, I don't really mean that. I follow the Golden Rule. May you have a quiet Christmas with nothing abnormal to eat. Avoid gluttony, above all. Remember your figure, and the figures your parents ought to have. If you observe them over-eating clear your throat gently, to attract attention, and say 'A bit high, this bird?' that will put them off it. If they bring in plum puddings and things, remark in a blasé accent ...the normal speech, I mean, of Eton ...'Isn't it jolly, papa, to keep up these old customs? It's like Dickens, isn't it, I mean, what?' That will throw a chill over the whole meal-time - I mean orgy. You owe a duty to your family at Christmas..."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interesting amendment

The obituary of Baroness Elles (Diana Newcombe) that appeared in the Daily Telegraph (29 October 2009) stated that as a girl she never met her father's friend T. E. Lawrence because "when he visited she was kept in the nursery, since 'Lawrence didn't like little girls'." The online version was hastily amended following intervention from a family member and the sentence deleted. According to Baroness Elles' unfinished memoir of her father it appears that the truth was quite different and that she did in fact meet Lawrence on several occasions. The last of these, for instance, was in 1935 when at the age of 13 she took him to the Science Museum in London and made plans to visit him at Clouds Hill, Lawrence's Dorset cottage. She expressed regret that she was never able to make the agreed visit, as Lawrence died shortly afterwards in a motorcycle crash.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ashmolean Museum re-opens

T.E. Lawrence's Arab robes have gone back on display at the refurbished Ashmolean Museum in Oxford after a major rebuild had partially closed the building for some years. The robes had languished in a back room close to some administration offices, kept out of sight for many years to the public and only revealed by private request. For me, this was a special treat on my rare visits to the town. The visitor was taken by a curator to areas not open to the public and then left in front of a glass display cabinet while, if I remember correctly, electric shutters were drawn slowly back to reveal the robes draped on a small mannequin. That one moment of theatre made the visit, and the robes, extra special. Now the museum will be able to display the robes in climate-controlled conditions without fear of damage. The Times reported the textile curator, Ruth Barnes, as saying: “You can just make out the gold and silver threading. Just imagine the light on that in the sunshine. It would have looked fantastic to the people he was trying to win over.”

Arab robe worn by Lawrence,
Stewart Newcombe also wore Arab robes while in the field, as did other members of the British Military Mission to the Hejaz to varying degrees. His were invariably stained and dirty from his prodigious efforts to destroy the Hejaz Railway. Most photos of Newcombe in the desert show a good few inches of sock disappearing into a pair of scruffy suede army brogues, as he was obviously unable to obtain robes for his height. Lawrence, who was given a set of robes by Sherif Feisal, wore his so that he could move easily among the tribes as a representative of Feisal and to allay suspicion. As he wrote: 'Because of my khaki they took me for a Turk-trained officer who had deserted to them, and were profuse in good-humoured but ghastly suggestions of how they should treat me.' Lawrence always tried to wear the best for political motives, both local and international. A fine example of these will be on display from the 7th November when the museum re-opens its doors.

For further information and to plan a visit go to

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baroness Elles (1921-2009)

Baroness Elles, Diana Louie Elles, died on October 17, 2009, aged 88. She was the daughter of Colonel Newcombe and as a Conservative politician she spoke from the opposition front bench on foreign affairs and served as a Member of the European Parliament for Thames Valley for ten years from 1979. A dedicated opponent of discrimination, she campaigned hard for enhanced rights and opportunities for women. She was a working peer for nearly four decades. After the death of her brother, Stewart Lawrence Newcombe, she was an important link to the Newcombe family history.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Welcome to the first blog on my forthcoming biography of Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe, R.E., D.S.O, entitled In the Shadow of the Crescent. In the coming weeks and months I will add to this blog items of interest relating to the progress of the book and to any significant research discoveries.