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.

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