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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A young man's near miss!

Herbert Garland's "providential escape” 
Workers arriving at the Woolwich Arsenal
The grandson of Major Herbert Garland, Chris Mitchell of New Zealand, sent in this interesting footnote to the life of Stewart Newcombe's colleague in the Hejaz (see my blog on Garland's fascinating life story dated Saturday, September 17, 2011). It seems that Garland very nearly didn't make it to the desert as many years earlier, under very different circumstances, he found himself less than half an hour away from almost certain death. On Thursday 19 June 1903, when aged 20 years old and a student of munitions, he was due to attend a class to learn how to handle lyddite explosive as part of his army training at the Royal Woolwich Arsenal ammunitions factory in South London. Since 1888, Britain had been manufacturing picric acid as a chemical compound for use in Army and Navy shells under the name lyddite, a highly unstable compound when allowed to over-dry. The shell packers at Woolwich had started work that morning at 7am checking the shells in the “danger buildings”, known as the “islands”, situated on Plumstead marshes about 1.5 miles from the main gate of the arsenal and far removed from the main town. These shells had been filled two days previously with liquid lyddite and left to gradually solidify. The men wore special clothing and felt-soled shoes against contaminating the compound which became highly volatile if salt picrates formed near exposed shell casings. At 8:11am Garland’s classroom hut and outlying buildings were completely destroyed by an enormous explosion that killed sixteen men and injured twice as many more. Windows were shattered up to a mile away and the noise could be heard three miles distant. Garland had been due to arrive at 8:30am to witness the manufacturing process and storage requirements. For him it was a very lucky escape.

A contemporary newspaper reported the gruesome details of the disaster and was quick to highlight the dangerous conditions experienced by the Arsenal workers on a daily basis: “The British Government pays from £1 to £1 10/ a week to work in the shell-filling sheds at Woolwich Arsenal. The pay is less than that of London County Council road-sweepers, and to earn it men must face death every minute of their working day.” To further illustrate the point, the newspaper stated, “The real cause of the latest disaster at the arsenal will probably always remain a mystery, for not one of the men implicated lives to tell the tale.” 

The following day a Sheffield newspaper reported that a local man, Herbert Garland, had “a providential escape” and a telegram had been received containing assurances of his safety. 

Lyddite Memorial
The incident was discussed in parliament and reported as far afield as the New York Times. Months later, a pink granite obelisk was erected over the mass grave of the victims in nearby Plumstead Cemetery.

But for those twenty minutes, Garland's future contribution to the war in the east would certainly have been sorely missed. The assault of Gallipoli, the defence of the Suez Canal and his contribution to the British Military Mission to the Hejaz in support of the Arab Revolt would each have been denied Garland's unique talents, as well as the undeniable bravery of a man who knew only too well the devastating effects of the tools of his trade. A further consequence of those missing minutes was pointed out by Garland's grandson who wrote, “If he had been a few minutes early on this particular day our Garland family branch would have ended there!”

My thanks once again go to Chris Mitchell for drawing the news item to my attention.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Newcombe's Colt .455 Revolver

Throughout the desert campaign as head of the British Military Mission to the Hejaz, Stewart Newcombe carried a Colt revolver as his sidearm of choice. It was a hefty gun to carry but before the introduction of lighter metals, power meant size and the Colt New Service .455 Eley was a large, heavy, double-action, swing-out 6 cylinder revolver with real stopping potential. 

Even before Kitchener created his New Army, it became obvious that the Webley and Scott factory in Birmingham would not be able to single-handedly fulfil military requirements for supplies of the standard British service revolver, the Webley .455 Mark V and its 1915 variant the Mark VI. Traditionally, British Officers were required to purchase their own sidearm from a gunsmith, a military outfitter, or from the Government with the former two methods classed as ‘private purchase’; in fact, a number of corps were also issued with pistols as self-defence weapons especially when separated from their main weapon, including the Machine Gun Corps, The Royal Flying Corps, and the Tank Corps. Pistols were successfully used in areas where a rifle would be an unnecessary encumbrance, such as the close confines of trench raiding, patrols or tunnelling. Finding the weapons and ordnance with which to equip the swelling ranks of Kitchener’s Army required the War Office to look beyond domestic and imperial facilities. To meet the demand for pistols – the British military services purchased approximately half a million pistols during the Great War - the War Office turned to the two foremost manufacturers of handguns in the world, Colt and Smith & Wesson of America. Both manufacturers immediately responded with variants of their large frame revolvers chambered to match the British .455 cartridges in general use at that time. 

By 1917, Colt had manufactured upwards of 55,000 .455 New Service revolvers for British and Commonwealth armed forces which upon receipt were then stamped with arrow government acceptance and inspection markings. Between 1914 and 1917, the Army and Navy Cooperative Society sold 1000 Colt revolvers, a quarter of all private purchases.  

Newcombe’s Colt was personalised with his name, rank and regiment engraved on the butt end on either side of the lanyard ring and was carried in a non-Military issue purpose-made leather holster with belt attachments to his own design for use with desert garb.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Recently discovered oil painting of Colonel S.F. Newcombe

By John Mansfield CREALOCK, R.H.A., 1871-1959

S.F.N by John Crealock, 1938
This fabulous oil on canvas portrait of Stewart Newcombe was painted in 1938 by John Mansfield Crealock and is held by the Tank Museum at Bovington, Wareham. It was gifted to the museum in 1988 by Dr G. E. Moloney of the Radcliffe Infirmary where Newcombe was treated prior to his death. Unfortunately, it is not on public display and has languished unseen for many years in the Museum's reserve collection until an image of the painting was recently posted on the BBC's Your Paintings website. Viewing can be arranged by prior application to the curator (see contact details below). The museum is well worth a visit as it holds the finest and most historically significant collection of tanks in the world. From the first tank, Little Willie, to the modern Challenger 2, the Tank Museum’s definitive collection comprises over 250 vehicles and thousands of supporting artefacts from across the globe.

The portrait of Colonel Newcombe is beautifully executed and Crealock has captured the stature of the sitter at the age of sixty years old as he actively worked on the Palestine issue, tackling his own government as it moved towards partition in the region. His hair is grey but there is still a hint of red to his familiar moustache, as well as a touch of humour shown in his eyes.

The artist John Mansfield Crealock was born in Manchester, went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and served in the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in the Boer War. He attained the rank of Captain before resigning at the age of 26 in May 1897 to become an artist. He later studied at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1901-04 and exhibited at the Royal Academy, Goupil Gallery, and New English Arts Club.  

He was living at 24 Beaufort Mansions, Beaufort Street, Chelsea, prior to rejoining his old regiment the Foresters for service in the First World War.  He inherited several journals and sketchbooks from his father and his uncle, both soldier artists, which he donated to their regimental museums. He died in Hove in 1959, 'fortified by the rites of the Holy Church'. 

His father was John North Crealock, Military Assistant to Lord Chelmsford and a war artist at the time of the Battle of Isandlwana ( 22 January 1879), the first major encounter between the British Empire and the Kingdom of Zululand in the Anglo-Zulu War. He is celebrated for his pen-and-ink drawings that were scribbled hastily into a sketch-book propped on the pommel of his saddle. His images depicting the carnage at Isandlwana were the first to reach London and the pages of the daily press, shocking an incredulous Victorian public. Many of these drawings appeared in the Illustrated London News of the time.  He later appeared at the Public Enquiry on Isandhlwana. 

John North's elder brother, Henry Hope Crealock, was also an artist, and had, for a spell, left the army in an abortive and futile effort to earn a living as a painter in Rome.

A visit to the Tank Museum can be easily combined with one to the home of T.E. Lawrence at Clouds Hill. It was on the road between Bovington and Clouds Hill that Lawrence was fatally injured on 13th May 1935 in a motorcycle accident. He died in the Bovington camp hospital six days later. Stewart Newcombe attended the inquest into Lawrence's death at the camp and was a pall bearer at the funeral.

Contact the museum at:

The Tank Museum
Bovington, Dorset, BH20 6JG

Tel: 01929 405096 - Fax: 01929 405360

Website: Email:

The Tank Museum is open daily 10.00 - 17.00

Christmas closure dates: The Tank Museum will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011



2 November 1917
On this day, Colonel Newcombe and a small detachment of camel-mounted raiders were captured during a daring operation behind enemy lines just two days after a successful cavalry charge by 800 men of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade had overrun the unwired Turkish trenches of Beersheba in what was the opening move of the 3rd Battle of Gaza.

Newcombe's plan was simple: to take seventy heavily armed camel-mounted men through the desert in a wide sweeping arc behind enemy lines and to take and hold the Beersheba to Hebron road, cutting communication lines and holding up the retreating army until relieved. If possible, it was also hoped that an accompanying Arab Sheikh would be able to convince friendly Arabs in the hills to join the band of desert warriors. As in all operations, flexibility would be the key. This audacious plan, bearing many of the hallmarks that would later be adopted by the Long Range Desert Group and the SAS during the Second World War, was

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Oriental Assembly – Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert (1880-1923)

Highclere Castle
The recent success and popularity of the ITV television period drama Downton Abbey reminded me that the country house that ‘plays’ the title role has a significant Middle Eastern association, linked forever with Egypt in particular, and by familial connection, with Newcombe and Lawrence. The master servant, upstairs downstairs drama uses the magnificent Highclere Castle in Berkshire for most of its external and internal scenes, with the servants' living areas constructed and filmed at Ealing Studios. Since 1679, Highclere has been the country seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, a branch of the Anglo-Welsh Herbert family. It is currently the home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. 

Set in 1,000 acres of spectacular Berkshire countryside and boasting a park by Capability Brown, Highclere Castle is in the Jacobean style and was redesigned in 1838 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect responsible for rebuilding the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Barry himself classified the style as Anglo-Italian.

Lord Carnarvon
‘Everywhere the glint of gold’
Highclere’s connection with ancient Egypt began through the patronage of the archaeologist Howard Carter by George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert (1866-1923), who as Lord Porchester was known as Porchy Carnarvon. When Porchy, who enjoyed a bit of a gamble, became the 5th Earl of Carnarvon after his father’s death he put some of his money into funding 16 years of excavations near Luxor in the Valley of the Queen’s, the Valley of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and in the Nile Delta near Alexandria. Having decided that it would be the last year of funding excavations in Egypt, Porchy knew he had quite literally struck gold with the gamble of a lifetime when on 22 November 1922, after Carter had broken through to an inner tomb chamber, he asked the anxious question: ‘Can you see anything?’ What Carter had seen had literally struck him dumb with amazement - a room full of “strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold.” After a pause to compose himself, Carter replied, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’ 

The discovery of Tutankhamun's nearly intact tomb received worldwide press coverage and sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt. The Boy King captured the public imagination and exhibits of artefacts from his tomb continue to tour the world. His gold burial mask is not only a key attraction but remains a potent symbol of his status and power.

Highclere now houses a permanent exhibition commemorating this historic event.

Aubrey Herbert
The man who would be King? 
Porchy’s half-brother was the Right Honourable Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert, the second son of Henry Herbert, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, a British cabinet minister and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and his second wife, Elizabeth Howard of Greystoke Castle, Cumberland.

Aubrey Herbert was elected to the House in 1911 as the Conservative Member of Parliament for South Somerset at a time of great changes within British domestic politics but his pre-election travels made foreign affairs a more natural area of interest. He was forever drawn to the Balkans and took up the Albanian cause with vigour while keeping a watchful eye on Turkey where he had been an honorary attaché in Constantinople. His commitment to Albania led to an extraordinary hypothetical proposal when a delegation attending the Balkan Conference in London in May 1913 put to him the question of whether he would accept their throne. Lack of funds and not conviction prevented him for accepting. Seven years later the Albanians would not forget their friend and offered him the throne once more under different circumstances, and yet again he had to refuse for very different reasons. But his legacy to Albania still stands. “No one understood better the internal and external problems of the Albanians,” wrote the writer and editor Desmond MacCarthy. “And if it is asked what Aubrey Herbert most notably achieved during his public career, the first answer is that he contributed more than anyone to bringing into existence the modern independent state of Albania.”

Aubrey goes to war
On 1st September 1914, Aubrey Herbert was shot and wounded as he rode his horse Moonshine at breakneck speed along the edge of a beech tree wood delivering orders to a division of the Coldstream Guards that was holed up in a copse near the village of Rond de la Reine, 25 kilometres south-west of Compiegne, France. Moonshine, a thoroughbred mare racehorse with an impeccable pedigree, had been purchased by Herbert only a few days before in a nearby village for forty pounds. She held up surprisingly well under the fusillade of fire that was sweeping the open field towards the trees and after Herbert was hit her racing spirit carried him onto his regiment where he was treated for a single bullet wound to his stomach. Later that afternoon Herbert became a prisoner of the Germans when they overran the woods where he lay injured on a stretcher.  He was moved to a makeshift hospital which was in turn retaken ten days later by the French, a scene replicated many times in the area during the confusion surrounding the ebb and flow of the retreat. 

Herbert underwent a second operation to extract the fragmented bullet that was still causing him considerable pain. Two days later he left France to transfer to hospital in England. On the way he passed the woods and witnessed the fresh communal grave of one hundred and twenty men. It was the 13th September, exactly a month to the day since Herbert had landed in France. 

That he was in France at all was nothing short of an impertinent deception that could only have been carried out by someone with Herbert’s nerve. His shockingly poor eyesight, a defect since birth and put down to a congenital imperfection blamed on the consanguinity of his parents, would certainly have ruled him out for active service. So how did he come to be there? In a stunt resembling a university prank, Aubrey had brazenly walked into a military tailor and asked to be fitted out in a uniform of an officer of the Irish Guards. Then appropriately kitted out he later simply sidled up to the departing regiment as it marched out of Wellington Barracks at seven in the morning and joined their ranks as they crossed Vauxhall Bridge on their way to Nine Elms train station. Reaching Southampton he lost himself amongst the melee of soldiers as they embarked on a troop ship bound for France. Once on board he was somehow able to bluff his way into the regiment with the rank of Lieutenant as it steamed out of harbour.  In this most extraordinary manner, Herbert was on his way as perhaps the most incongruous member of the British Expeditionary Force. 

By mid September 1914, Herbert had returned to England to convalesce after his adventures in France. Before the end of the year he was to join Newcombe, Woolley and Lawrence in Cairo. In the meantime, he had three months to recuperate at his country estate at Pixton Park and bask in the love and good wishes of family and friends. As one friend wrote, ‘It was thoroughly characteristic of you to be shot and lost but equally characteristic to be found and healed. I would always put my last shilling on your luck in these little things...’ 

Before Herbert’s name was put forward for a role in the new Cairo set-up, he had thoughts of returning to the front, but his poor eyesight was finally exposed and he waited like Lawrence for Turkey to show her hand. 

The Turkish decision to side with Germany was a blow to Aubrey Herbert who had hoped for neutrality. He was eventually ordered to the east because, as he put it, ‘it had been my fortune to have travelled widely, and I had a fairly fluent smattering of several Eastern languages.’ This experience and knowledge would be put to good use in the new Intelligence department that would soon be formed in Cairo. 

Savoy Hotel, Cairo
Herbert travelled out by the slow route via Gibraltar. With him on the ship were Leonard Woolley and George Lloyd. Lloyd was an old friend who had shared the role of honorary attaché in Constantinople. They ran into heavy seas out from England and the ship pitched violently, although not enough to interrupt the chess games the men played to pass the time. While Herbert was studying Arabic his place was taken either by the architect Edwin Lutyens or the painter William Nicholson who had joined their group for the duration of the voyage. At Gibraltar the news that an enemy submarine had passed through into the Mediterranean kept everyone alert. Once they safely reached Cairo on Friday 18 December the men went to their appointed quarters. Herbert chose to take up residence at Shepheards Hotel where he was soon joined by his wife Mary and a few weeks later by his mother, Elizabeth, the Countess of Carnarvon, who left the comfort of Highclere Castle to be with both her sons after the Foreign Office transferred Aubrey’s younger brother, Mervyn, to Cairo. The Countess would arrive just in time to see them depart for Gallipoli. 

In the meantime, Herbert was assigned to the offices of Military Intelligence housed in the Savoy Hotel, positioned on a prominent corner of Midan Soliman Pasha and identified by its distinctive rotunda tower. Even before being taken over by the British Military, the Savoy was decidedly English in character, although Aubrey Herbert likened it to an oriental railway station, with its bustle and jangling bells and running to and fro. 

Herbert and Newcombe
Before long, Herbert became deeply discontented with his position within the office and began manoeuvring for a more fulfilling role. His frustrations arose principally from a clash with Newcombe, rather than from any real discontent with the duties assigned to him. In any case, most of the more mundane tasks, such as amending a large map to show current Turkish troop movements, were in fact undertaken by his batman, Johnny Allen, who went everywhere with him. Herbert’s dislike of Newcombe was class based and he made no attempt to disguise his disdain for the senior officer. He noted down his thoughts in his diary and even shared his views with George Lloyd, who tended to agree. Even Lawrence did not come out of this first round of character assessments too well, although Herbert’s description of him as ‘an odd gnome, half cad – with a touch of genius’, afforded Lawrence with at the very least a blended compliment, as well as providing future biographers with an eminently quotable phrase. Most first impressions in the office were apt to change over time. Not so with those formed of Newcombe by Herbert. 

Amongst this congenial coterie of university-educated amateurs, with their impeccable connections and impressive titles, Newcombe was clearly the odd man out. A professional soldier with years of loyal service, he was now in command of a group of what he might rightly have considered to be elitist dilettantes, albeit most of them holding perfect credentials and with highly relevant experience for the present undertaking. But it must have rankled, on both sides, and although Newcombe seems to have conducted himself in a thoroughly professional manner within the rigid and hierarchical military structure, his patience must have been sorely tested by men like Herbert who after all had donned his military uniform by deceit. With only a short period with the Territorial Army before the war, Herbert was likewise ill-equipped to deal with Newcombe. Unfortunately, these tensions were exposed most vividly during a testing time when the fledgling department was just getting off the ground and at the very moment the Turks were knocking on the door of the canal defences. Relationships were not improved when a memo written by George Lloyd listing Newcombe’s shortcomings landed on Newcombe’s desk by mistake. 

Herbert was moved soon after to field duties and tasked with an intelligence-gathering mission on board the battleship Bacchante that sailed the Eastern Mediterranean coastline watching for Turkish troop movements. After a few weeks, both he and Lloyd would be moved from Egypt to form the nucleus of a new intelligence department that was to serve the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force assembling at the Greek island of Lemnos in preparation for the invasion of Gallipoli. 

Throughout all this, Lawrence remained somehow detached from the squabbling within the office and managed to steer a neutral path between all the personalities. The letters he wrote at the time betray no hint of the problem and he remained loyal in his friendship with Newcombe and unwavering in his admiration for his abilities.

Herbert would go on to have many more adventures during the war, not least in undertaking a secret mission in 1916 with Lawrence to secure the release of the besieged British-Indian garrison at Kut-Al-Amara, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Baghdad, and commanded by General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend.  Khalil Pasha, the military governor of the region, refused the bribe of two million pounds and therefore surrender became the only option for Townshend after about 1,750 of his men had died from wounds or disease during a siege that had lasted 147 days. Some 2,600 British and 9,300 Indian other ranks were rounded up and marched away, most to certain death. In fact, 70% of the British and 50% of the Indian troops died of disease or at the hands of the Ottoman guards during the death marches or in captivity. General Townshend sat out the war in some comfort on a small island in the Sea of Marmara, close to Istanbul, and was knighted whilst in captivity. Newcombe would later meet up with Townshend in Turkey when Newcombe, himself an escaped prisoner-of-war on the run, was secretly negotiating armistice terms with the Ottomans while under cover in Constantinople. 

In 1921, Aubrey and his wife Mary welcomed the Emir Feisal, accompanied by Lawrence, to their home at Pixton Park. In the evening, they all played bridge and chess while Feisal fretted about the future. Four months later he took the throne of Iraq. 

“At the dear journey's end”
Porchy, the Earl of Carnarvon, and his half-brother Aubrey died within a few months of one another in 1923, both from septicaemia. Porchy died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo on the 5 April 1923 after shaving a mosquito bite, leading to wild stories about the ‘mummy’s curse’. Towards the end of his life, Aubrey had become totally blind and his right eye was removed to give his left a better chance. He was given bad advice to the effect that having all his teeth extracted would restore his sight. Some weeks later, perhaps remembering the advice or in answer to a twinge of toothache, he had several teeth extracted. The dental operation resulted in the blood poisoning from which he died on 23 September 1923 aged 43. He is buried in the Herbert memorial chapel at the Church of St. Nicholas in Brushford, Somerset, under a wooden canopy designed by Edwin Lutyens. His sword hangs over the tomb. 

Desmond MacCarthy wrote: “When to distract himself from the sensation of blindness he turned to memories of his early travels, the verses which he wrote are characteristic both of his muse and himself.” In this poem, Aubrey seems to take comfort in his memories and in the inevitable end to a life full of adventure and well spent:

Gold-dusted memories of the Past
Abide like friends, but falter,
Like morning mirages that last,
Yet lasting, later, alter.
Ah, was that mountain quite so high,
and had its flowers that scent?
Could winds be friendly and as shy,
That filled night's starlit tent.
And did it taste so good, that wine,
At the dear journey's end,
Beneath the whispering island pine,
Beside a singing friend?
God knows the answer to these things,
Man is a dreamer, age and youth,
And none forget the sound of wings,
No rainbow's traitor to the truth.
And if these colours were not fair,
As memory paints, still let them stand,
To be as perfect and as rare,
As all the ghosts of that dream land.

There is a fuller portrait of Aubrey Herbert in Desmond MacCarthy's introduction to Herbert's Mons, ANZAC and Kut.

The second series of Downton Abbey premiered in the UK on 18 September 2011, and is due to do so in the U.S. on 8 January 2012. A Christmas special is also planned.

This is the second of an occasional portrait on personalities from the desert campaigns of the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Oriental Assembly - Bimbashi (Major) Herbert Garland

‘In loving memory of Major Herbert Garland OBE MC FCS 1880-1921 lost but found in 2004’ 

Herbert Garland
Behind this simple and enigmatic gravestone inscription lies the compelling and fascinating story of Major Herbert Garland, R.E., O.B.E., Military Cross, F.C.S., a gifted chemist and metallurgist who trained the Sherifian Arab Army in the use of explosives and demolitions during the Arab Revolt.  He had been a captain in the British Army in Cairo, having seen service in Sudan, and before the war he worked in Cairo as superintendant of a government explosives laboratory. Fascinated by the metallurgy of ancient artefacts, he was elected a Fellow of the Chemical Society (now the Royal Society of Chemistry) on 15 May 1913 and was later awarded a £10 grant to research ancient Egyptian alloys. During the first year of the war he invented a grenade and 174,000 were sent for use in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns. Photos in the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London show ‘Garland and Natives experimenting on Garland grenades.’ These short-barreled floor-mounted howitzers were approximately three feet in length and set at an appropriate angle to fire the missile at the enemy. Experiments with this type of weapon were conducted by Garland and native handlers over the safety of the Nile, the resulting splash giving a fairly accurate estimate of distance.

At the beginning of his service in the Hejaz he was promoted from Sergeant to Major (known as ‘Bimbashi’ in the Egyptian Army) and worked alongside Stewart Newcombe and T.E. Lawrence until he retired from the field of operations through illness and exhaustion. His arrival in the Hejaz can be said to be when the active war against the Ottomans in the region truly started.

An Uninsurable Occupation 
It was as an explosives expert that Garland had been sent out to the unforgiving environment of the Hejaz to train irregular troops, preceding both Newcombe and Lawrence in attacking the Hejaz Railway, and it was in this role that Lawrence was to write that Garland's "knowledge of Arabic" enabled him "to teach the art of demolition to unlettered Bedouin in a quick and ready way. His pupils admired a man who was never at a loss", adding: "Incidentally, he taught me how to be familiar with high explosive.” In fact, Garland was to be the first allied rail-breaker to derail a moving troop-train in February 1917 near Toweira Station using a contact detonating device of his own design soon after he and Newcombe had commenced long-range attacks to the interior accompanied by Bedouin forces.

Garland developed what became known as the ‘Garland Mine’, an explosive device which soon became the preferred method for attacking the line as it was virtually impossible to detect when laid properly. Lawrence reported back that he observed eleven men searching for twenty minutes for one he had buried beneath the rails before they eventually gave up. He was equally impressed by the way Garland worked with high explosives and the tools of his trade: "Sappers handled it like a sacrament, but Garland would shove a handful of detonators into his pocket with a string of primers, fuse, and fusees and jump gaily on his camel for a week's ride to the Hejaz railway." This is also Lawrence’s description of working with a Garland mine: “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. The two charges connected with it were so powerful that they would have rooted out seventy yards of track; and I saw visions of suddenly blowing up, not only myself, but my whole force, every moment. To be sure, such a feat would have properly completed the bewilderment of the Turks!”

Diverse observations 
Garland’s observations on Bedu culture during his time in the region provide an interesting alternative to Lawrence’s narrative in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. His comments on slavery, medical matters, camels, Arab clothing, the conduct and behaviour of the Bedu, as well as his own frustrations regarding the conduct and progress of the campaign against the Ottoman Army, contain many light-hearted but perceptive observations designed to inform and entertain a post-war audience. He wrote up his observations and later lectured on the desert campaign and it is these lecture notes that now form the bulk of the Garland Papers held at the IMW, a gift of his last surviving daughter Mena who aged 92 lives in the USA. The notes are full of interest for those interested in the minutiae of the Arab campaign.

Garland, who as a young man had written a short romantic novel set in Guernsey entitled Diverse Affections, included in his lecture notes fascinating information often omitted from official reports, recording items of daily existence in the Hejaz with all its distractions and amusements. Here is Garland on an encounter with a hungry tribesman: “A certain Bedu told me that if I would pay for a sheep, he would eat the whole of it at one sitting. I did not think such a feat was possible until I watched him do it and had to pay one pound for the animal as I had promised. In addition to the sheep he devoured about three lbs of rice which he boiled inside it.” He was equally impressed by the agility of the Bedu and of their hunting prowess, especially in their simple but effective method of catching hares: “An Arab explained to me that a hare, when pursued, runs in circles, and that, after chasing the animal several times circumferentially, the huntsman catches it by darting across the diameter.” 

He also described life in camp at Wejh, the coastal town that had been occupied by Sherifian troops since January 1917. Wejh was strategically and psychologically significant to the future of the campaign, allowing the Arabs, with their British and French allies, to attack almost at will along the line and able to keep the Ottoman troops pinned down in their garrisons, “strung like beads on the long thread of the Hejaz Railway.”  While Emir Feisal was preoccupied with politics, labouring day and night in his counsel tent, the Bedu entertained themselves with boisterous parades and exhibitions of joy-shooting, often for no reason at all or to accompany victory parades. Inevitably there were accidents. One such incident occurred when a group, playful behind the tents occupied by Newcombe and Lawrence, became a little too inquisitive with a dud bomb from one of the seaplanes, a dangerous relic from when the town was first captured. The ensuing explosion sent limbs scattering among the tents whose canvas sides immediately became crimson stained. Those tents that could be washed were exchanged while the rest were destroyed as unfit habitation. Throughout the camp, spread out like a new town, guests were billeted according to status, rank and tribal association at varying distances away from Feisal’s hearth. One day a guest tent went up in flames and almost roasted its inhabitants alive. The crowd went wild and roared heartily with laughter until the fire extinguished itself and the injured could be attended to. 

Joy-shooting could also be extremely hazardous and a mare was seriously wounded by a falling bullet, along with many tents pierced during the hailstorm of metal. Garland was one officer who was appalled by the Arabs love for this sort of exhibition and noted that at the end of a successful raid on the railway the return journey always took less time than going out to the line. As the triumphant Bedouin raiders approached the Sherif’s tent they would set off an erratic feu de joie in which every member of the party would fire off into the air as many rounds of ammunition as he could spare, creating “a joyous and spectacular affair.” The resulting cascade of falling bullets went largely ignored except among many of the accompanying British officers who thought the display was wasteful and dangerous. Garland thought that he should have been provided with a shrapnel helmet while in the camps, “for a bullet fired vertically into the air descends with a very uncomfortable velocity, as I observed personally when one dropped beside me during a Bedouin demonstration.”  

Such were the amusements and diversions in the scattered camp now settled happily in the gulleys and sandy valleys which ran back from the land-locked harbour of Wejh. This low lying valley was edged by a steep coral shelf, below which Feisal had pitched his numerous tents, those for living and receiving visitors, and more for the accommodation of guests, staff and servants. Newcombe and Lawrence had been honoured with a spot on some heights looking down on the plain and where in the evening they benefitted from a refreshing sea breeze. Lawrence also thought he could detect a sea murmur that reminded him of the echo of traffic that can be heard drifting up from a London side-street. Below them were located the Ageyl tribesmen, colourful but fierce warriors who had entered the fight for Wejh half naked so as to not damage their precious clothes. On a more practical level they explained that it was to ensure a clean wound. 

Garland described his own desert attire as a frustrating encumbrance: “Except for a uniform jacket, (which I deemed wise to have with me in case of capture), I had discarded my uniform and was dressed in cotton pantaloons, a long white shirt with expansive, drooping, sleeves, a black mantle, and the Arab head-dress consisting of a shawl, with a head-rope, which fits on the head over the shawl. I wore European boots.” He later expands on his dislike of the Arab garments. “I have said that on this journey I wore a complete outfit of Arab clothing and I may as well add at once that it is impossible to conceive any form of raiment less suitable for the work I had before me. The outer cloak, which has two holes for the arms but no sleeves, is not fitted with fastenings of any kind and so has a most unpleasant way of slipping down one’s back especially when the camel is trotting. The ends of the headshawl, instead of lying in a seemly manner over the shoulders, answer to every little breeze, and have a playful habit of knocking the cigarette out of one’s mouth....” He ends his heartfelt complaint with the claim that: “Many a time during that journey I was reduced almost to sobs by the impeding behaviour of my Arab dress.”

His descriptions of Bedu medical practices and beliefs form a remarkable record of a lost world: “The Bedouin have their own forms of treatment for disease, the chief of which are bloodletting and branding. I saw a sheikh who had burnt huge patches on the soles of his feet as a cure for dysentery.” 

The mood changes 
Future operations against the line would not always be so full of that sense of optimism and confidence that had driven Lawrence to write, “The Arabs had passed from doubt to violent optimism, and were promising exemplary service.” An Intelligence Report written by Garland in mid May 1917 from Abu Markha highlighted the increasing frustration of some officers when working with Bedouin: “I am not sure that the taking of Bedouin parties is a white man’s job. They always leave you in the lurch. When laying my last mine, for instance, the instantaneous fuse accidentally went off in my hands and the whole party ran away and left me with Sherif Abdullah.”

Garland on camel
Over time, rail-raiding was to prove an arduous occupation. Garland was soon suffering from exhaustion and had become dangerously ill with dysentery. His commanding officer described him as ‘entirely broken down’, explaining he was unable to eat food and looked ‘a wreck.’ He was duly relieved of his duties and was pulled out of the theatre of operations for a period of rest in Cairo. Not yet fully recovered, he returned too soon to the field and immediately undertook a one hundred miles camel march in less than two days to deliver an important message. When he reached his destination he was once again in a very exhausted state. His description of camel riding is a delightfully amusing vignette, belying the true rigors of such a journey, as well as a warning to any newcomer to the harsh environment of the Arabian hinterland: ‘The camel’s gallop is not a thing for the novice to experiment with. A galloping camel with its immense stride gets over the ground very quickly, but to the rider it is a sort of cup-and-ball game in which he takes the part of the ball and spends most of the time in mid-air wondering whether he will land in the cup when he comes down.’

Before he retired from the field for good, Garland had successfully passed on sufficient knowledge to his Bedu pupils to give them the freedom to carry out demolitions on the line, and especially the line near Medina, without European assistance. For this outstanding work he was duly awarded the Order of the Nile, Egypt's highest honour. 

“Shortly afterwards he died.” 
Immediately after the armistice Garland was deemed fit enough to be sent to Medina, the last place to be surrendered by the Ottomans, with responsibility for overseeing the surrender of the town to the allies. The garrison’s commander, the redoubtable and stubborn Fakhri Pasha, refused to acknowledge that his advisor Captain Garland was an “Allied commander”, as stipulated in the negotiated terms of the Armistice signed at Mudros, and therefore ignored the order. Should Fakhri Pasha, the last knight of the last Sultan, a General of a Division and guardian of the Sacred Tomb of the Prophet, give his sword to a mere Captain, especially one that apparently held a political post? He held out too long for the sake of personal honour and was eventually lured to his capture by his own faltering subordinates who immediately contacted Garland to formalise the surrender.

Finally in 1919, Garland was appointed Director of the Arab Bureau in Cairo with the task of winding up its affairs long after its more illustrious members had departed. Palestine was now the centre of attention and with Ibn Saud’s Ikhwan warriors threatening the Hejaz from the east, Garland’s task soon became an onerous one. He still had plenty of bite and on 4 June 1919 he fired off a searing report, The Khurma Dispute between King Hussein and Ibn Saud', but you feel he was more at ease in his simultaneous post as Superintendent of the laboratories at the Cairo Citadel Museum.

Garland returned to England in March 1921 and died of an aneurism after only six days in the country, leaving scant records of the circumstances of his death or of his last resting place.

After his death, his wife May fought bureaucracy to have a war pension awarded to her to support her family but the British government invoked obfuscation and a bewildering entanglement of red tape to avoid an obvious and compassionate decision. Colleagues would be enlisted to give their testimonies on Garland’s involvement in the war. Major W.A. Davenport wrote in 1923 that Garland’s death “if not caused by service in the Hedjaz, was certainly precipitated by this.” He added, “Only those who served there can realise the filthy unsanitary conditions we had to live under, the filthy water that had to be drunk, and frequently the Arab food that had to be eaten.” The government merely reiterated that Garland did not die of injuries caused in Arabia. It would take two and a half years before a pension was forthcoming, a fitting result supporting the final endorsement of his colleague Davenport who wrote: “No man worked harder for the success of the operations than Major Garland, and it was only due to dogged pluck that he worked on as long as he did in the Hedjaz.”   

Garland in the Hejaz
There the story would have ended but for the determination of a few surviving relatives and friends scattered around the world, utilising the internet and good old-fashioned detective work to unearth the whereabouts of a long-forgotten hero of a long-forgotten desert war, yet one more remarkable personality eclipsed by Lawrence’s legend. For nearly ninety years Garland had languished in an unmarked grave located near to the eastern wall of the old part of the appropriately named Gravesend Cemetery, 22 miles east of the City of London on the south bank of the Thames estuary. He was 38 when he returned to England from Egypt, seriously ill and with an already weakened heart put under further stain by recurring bouts of dysentery picked up in the desert campaigns. A friend of his daughter Mena found his grave in 2004, a discovery that would eventually unite far-flung family members and friends, and finally bring to public attention this remarkable untold story.  

Stewart Newcombe rode on many rail-breaking operations with Garland and shared many of his frustrations and disappointments. Lawrence was quick to praise Garland’s efforts but saw the weakness that eventually forced his removal from the region: “His health was poor and the climate made him regularly ill. A weak heart troubled him after any strenuous effort or crisis; but he treated these troubles as if they were detonators and persisted until he had derailed the first train and broken the first culvert in Arabia. Shortly afterwards he died.”

My thanks go to Herbert Garland’s grandson, Chris Mitchell, who has actively pursued the remarkable story of his grandfather from his home in New Zealand and sent the results out to the world. He generously paid this tribute to Newcombe in reply to my enquiries: "Stewart Newcombe saw so much more service than Herbert and it is a tribute to his fortitude that he came through relatively intact." 

Lost but found
I am especially grateful to Mena Garland, Herbert’s daughter whose friend was instrumental in helping to discover a long-lost grave, for donating her father's papers to the Imperial War Museum and allowing researchers access to the thoughts and actions of a forgotten hero whose newly erected headstone conveys the poignant epitaph: “LOST BUT FOUND IN 2004”.

This is the first in a series of occasional portraits of personalities from the desert campaigns of the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918.

See also this update on Garland's remarkable story: A young man's near miss