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, 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.