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 7, 2012

In memoriam A.J.D


A clan elder passed away today (Thursday 6 December 2012) and although he would not have wanted to take up space on pages devoted to Stewart Newcombe's life he is remembered here because he had a keen interest and wide knowledge in all things connected to Newcombe and T.E. Lawrence. 

A.J.D worked in the Middle East for much of his life and had travelled over much of the same ground as Lawrence. He knew Arabia, the Arabs and a lot about most things and passed on his wisdom and experience to his girls, all of whom he was intensely proud. He was deeply supportive of this project, always insightful in his comments and liked nothing better than to probe the depths of my ignorance which only spurred me on to find the answers to impress him. 

He lived a life that can be best described by relating it to something that Lawrence had once said about the weather. During a break in their archaeological work at Carchemish, a Hittite city located on what is today the border between Turkey and Syria, Lawrence and C.L. Woolley were invited to join Newcombe’s surveying teams to explore the Wilderness of Zin region in today’s Southern Israel. This is how Lawrence described the differences he found in the temperature: “The Dead Sea is hot, the Red Sea is hot: this oasis is cool, and Carchemish is snowbound. Don’t you envy us our alternate frizzle and freeze?” 

The maverick spirit that was A.J.D also lived a life of "frizzle and freeze" - in more ways than one. From the deserts of Arabia to his final resting place in the home he built himself out of wood in the wilds of Alaska, he lived life to the extreme. He was equally at home in the boardrooms of major petroleum companies or at the helm of his own fishing trawlers off the west coast of Scotland as he was in hunting and fishing in the place he called the last paradise on earth.

This poem by Robert Louis Stevenson could have been written for him: 

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the Hunter home from the hill.

The night he died the temperature had been as low as -22 C with a slight flurry of snow drifting through the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to settle on the peaks of the Talkeetna Mountains overlooking Hatchers Pass. At the end, inside the place he could finally call home - with its Persian carpets, Arabic coffee pots and mementos from his Middle Eastern journeys - he was surrounded by the warmth and love from his family and a few friends – rather more ‘frizzle’ than ‘freeze’ you could say.