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, October 22, 2015

Lawrence Symposium - Update on Speakers

The T.E. Lawrence Society have now published a provisional list of guest speakers for their 14th T.E. Lawrence Society Symposium to be held at St. John's College, Oxford, on 23-25 September 2016.

A special programme of lectures will mark the centenary of the start of the Arab Revolt: The planned line-up of speakers is as follows:

John Alexander - Lawrence as a Proponent of Air Power 
Professor Ali Allawi - Feisal and the Arab Revolt 
Philip Walker - Army Colleagues of Lawrence in the Arab Revolt 
Marilyn Holehouse - Lawrence's Family 
Dr. Neil Faulkner - Archaeology of the Arab Revolt 
John Johnson-Allen - T.E. Lawrence and the Red Sea Patrol 
Dr. David Murphy - Colonel Joyce and Lawrence 
Kerry Webber - Colonel Newcombe and Lawrence 
Roger Holehouse - Diplomatic Background to the Arab Revolt 
Professor Paul Nicholson - Images of Egypt Project

Accommodation for the two day event will be in the rooms of the historic Oxford college. A splendid formal dinner will be held in the Great Hall on the Saturday. To reserve your place - non-members welcome - contact Harriet Coates on

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Lawrence Symposium, St. John's College, Oxford, 23-25 September 2016

Next year the T.E. Lawrence Society holds its 14th Society Symposium at St. John's College, Oxford. It is also the centenary anniversary for the Arab Revolt. In recognition of the role played by Stewart Newcombe in the campaign I have been invited as a guest speaker to discuss the fascinating relationship between Lawrence and Newcombe before, during and after the Revolt. 

Also speaking will be Professor Ali Alawi, from Iraq, to talk about King Feisal and the Fall of the Ottoman Empire. His recent book on Feisal is the first complete biography of the man and the monarch who was a central player in the Revolt and the development of the Middle East after the war. 

Philip Walker will share his research on the Service and Intelligence Colleagues of Lawrence with many new insights into the Arab Revolt. A past speaker at the 2012 Symposium, Philip has recently written a book on those officers who slipped below the radar of historians, and whose role in helping safeguard and shape the Arab Revolt deserves to be celebrated as its centenary year in 2016 approaches.

Another speaker, Dr. David Murphy, also a speaker from past symposia, will present Colonel Joyce and Lawrence

John Alexander, from the RAF, will speak on T.E. Lawrence as a Proponent of Air Power.

Dr. Neil Faulkner from the Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP) military archaeological programme, which ended last year, will share the exciting discoveries and conclusions reached from many years' work on this project. 

With a few names still to be confirmed and announced it looks set to be a very interesting couple of days, with many new insights and research discoveries about Lawrence and his wartime activities and relationships. 

Members and non-members alike can attend the Symposium. If you wish to book a place contact the Society from their website at 

Friday, June 5, 2015

T.E. Lawrence and the Hejaz Postage Stamps 1916-1917

One piastre Hejaz stamp
Ronald Storrs, Oriental Secretary to the Arab Bureau, explained the thinking behind the simple but highly effective and visible means of proclaiming the independence of the Hejaz from the Ottoman Empire in 1916 in his memoir Orientations (1937):

“Shortly after the Arab Revolution we found that its success was being denied or blanketed by Enemy Press (which was of course quoted by neutrals), and we decided that the best proof that it had taken place would be provided by an issue of Hejaz postage stamps, which would carry the Arab propaganda, self-paying and incontrovertible, to the four corners of the earth.”
(Storrs, Ronald, Orientations, 1937)

Storrs, an aesthete with exquisite good taste, took Lawrence off to the Arab Museum in Cairo to collect suitable motifs “in order that the design in wording, spirit and ornament, might be as far as possible representative and reminiscent of a purely Arab source of inspiration. Pictures and views were avoided, for these never formed part of Arab decoration, and are foreign to its art; so also was European lettering.”

In this, their first joint endeavour, Lawrence and Storrs found agreement in the creative direction of the project and thereafter Lawrence was given a free hand in completing the design and production of the stamps to this format. The result was a series of arabesque designs taken from a number of sources which were worked up by two Cairo designers, Agami Effendi Ali and Mustafa Effendi Gozlan, and were soon put into production at the Survey of Egypt’s printing department located at Giza, some two miles from the Savoy Hotel in which G.H.Q. was housed. From the outset, Storrs was happy to let Lawrence – whom he called his ‘super cerebral companion’ - take over the running of the production, planning every detail from the design concept to print. As Storrs said:

"It was quickly apparent that Lawrence already possessed or had immediately assimilated a complete working technique of philatelic and three-color reproduction, so that he was able to supervise the issue from start to finish." 

In fact, Lawrence had long experience of liaising with government printers with his work on map reproduction at the War Office in London and for Military Intelligence in Cairo so he was perfectly suited to the task. He even had his own ideas, long held it seems, on what constituted good philatelic design and production. ‘It’s rather amusing,’ he wrote to his brother, Arnie, ‘because one has long had ideas as to what a stamp should look like, and now one can put them roughly into practice...I’m going to have flavoured gum on the back, so that one may lick without unpleasantness.’ This became a running joke and although it was never put into action he used to like to tell an apocryphal story that the Arabs enjoyed the flavours so much – strawberry essence for the red, pineapple for the green - that they would lick the gum clean away so that the stamps fell off the envelopes in the post and then postage could be charged double to make a very good profit for the Revolt. 

The 1 piastre stamp in blue (shown above) depicts as a central motif the phrase ‘Makkah al-Mukarramah’ (Mecca the Blessed, or the Honoured), a phrase that is used whenever Mecca is mentioned, and above are the words ‘Hejaz Post’ in a lozenge which is mirrored below showing the price as ‘1 piastre’. The date of 1334 in two side panels corresponds to the launch of the Arab Revolt according to the Arabic calendar which differed slightly to the Ottoman one. The design elements were taken from an ancient prayer niche in the al-Amri mosque at Qus in Upper Egypt. Lawrence was particularly pleased with the design of this stamp as he said it was pure Arabic in style while the quarter-piastre in green (shown below) was Egyptian and showed the carved door panels of the al-Salih Tala'i mosque on Shari’ Qasabet Radwan in Cairo. He thought the half-piastre in red looked Chinese although its central design was taken from a page of a Holy Quran in the 14th Century mosque of Sultan Al-Malik Az-Zahir Sayf ad-Din Barquq on Shari' al-Nahhasin in Cairo.

More postage stamps followed (6 in total) plus a set of three tax stamps but by then Lawrence had changed from being ‘Lawrence of Carchemish, of Cairo - of any place for a little while - and became permanently Lawrence of Arabia,’ as Storrs so accurately described the transformation.

Quarter-piastre Hejaz stamp

Lawrence’s connection to the Hejaz stamps issue of 1916-1917 was acknowledged by  Mr. (later Sir) Ernest Dowson, Surveyor-General of Egypt, in a coded reference in the introduction to a booklet entitled A Short Note on the Design and Issue of Postage Stamps Prepared by the Survey of Egypt for His Highness Husein Emir & Sherif of Mecca & King of the Hejaz

‘It is desired to take this opportunity to express the obligation due to all those who gave assistance or counsel, in particular to El Emir ‘Awrunis of the Northern Armies of His Highness the King of the Hejaz, at whose suggestion the work was undertaken, and to whose critical acumen the success met with must largely be ascribed.’   

Sunday, May 24, 2015

30 Brechin Place

Newcombe's place of residence after retirement

Newcombe and retirement

On his retirement from the army in 1932 Stewart Newcombe and his wife, Elsie, moved to London and took up residence at 30 Brechin Place, South Kensington, an imposing four-storied terraced townhouse with additional attic rooms and basement. He soon settled into his new life away from the regiment and found time to renew his connections with old friends and colleagues at society meetings and clubs. At 53-years old he took on a civilian job, perhaps the first and only in his life, with Turner and Newall, a company specialising in asbestos products. His continuing interest in developing sustainable heat and energy for domestic housing made T&N a perfect vehicle for expanding his theories and would help in formulating some of his untried ideas on the subject of heat retention within the home.  The asbestos industry would later became mired in litigation and controversy but at the time was thought of as no more dangerous than many other industries such as coalmining or in the manufacture of steel. Lawrence took advantage of Newcombe’s connection to order some of their products to modernise his Dorset cottage, Clouds Hill,  but even he was aware of the inherent dangers of asbestos and referred to it as that ‘beastly stuff’.    

Lawrence – Final RAF duties

As Lawrence’s time in the RAF wound down he was worked hard – or more likely worked himself hard – right up until the end. For a couple of weeks he had been overseeing the assembly of a new batch of 100 h.p. power engines destined for RAF target boats at Henry Meadows Ltd, in Wolverhampton, but could be found at any number of locations that needed his presence. After residing briefly as Henry Meadows’ guest at Windermere House, he informed Newcombe that he had been forced to take up a bug infested accommodation as Wolverhampton seemed pretty full.
Windermere House

Lawrence was deeply unimpressed by Wolverhampton calling it ‘squalid’ and a ‘cess-pit’, adding that it had ‘the worse mannered local press of my experience!’ Coming from a press-hounded man like Lawrence it must have been particularly bad, so much so that he claims to have punched an editor in the mouth. He said that it had been the first time he had done so in his life; it would not be the last.

A lull in the manufacture at Meadows’ Fallings Park factory meant more meetings with the Air Council in London or back to Southampton for further fine-tuning at Scott-Paine’s power boat yard. “Since Wolverhampton,” he wrote, “I have been to London, Nottingham and Oxford; London; Plymouth; and London again.” At some point during this time, perhaps on 16 February when Lawrence’s meeting with the Secretary of the Air Ministry, Sir Christopher Bullock, was cancelled, he spent a day with the Newcombes at Brechin Place in London. A few weeks later Liddell Hart sent Newcombe an inscribed copy of his biography ‘T.E. Lawrence’ In Arabia and After and received the following letter describing the meeting:

2 March 1934
Dear Liddell Hart, It was extraordinarily kind of you to send me the book and also to insert a very flattering inscription. Naturally it has given my wife and me very great pleasure and very many thanks. T.E. was here about three weeks ago from 10 am till 6: as bright as ever.

Yours very sincerely
Stewart F. Newcombe

A rare moment of quietude

It must have been a rare treat for Lawrence to spend a whole day with Newcombe and Elsie instead of his usual nomadic existence in lodgings with snatched meals and working day and night on double shifts, ‘oiled up to the teeth,’ as he put it, ‘fed up to the teeth: and very unpopular.’ 

30 Brechin Place, now painted red

Today the Brechin Place house is painted in a cardinal red finish - too jarring for my tastes - one of only two in a typical street of London brick facades. When I last visited Kensington the house still seemed to reverberate with conversations both serious and jocular that took place within its walls eighty years ago between two old desert warriors and a brave woman that helped one of them escape under the very noses of his Turkish captors!

I would like to thank John Meadows for placing the history of his grandfather's factory online at Henry Meadows Ltd.

Monday, May 18, 2015

ON THIS DAY - 19 May 1935

T.E. LAWRENCE (16 August 1888 - 19 May 1935)

And how beguile you? Death has no repose
Warmer and deeper than the Orient sand
Which hides the beauty and bright faith of those
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
When the great markets by the sea shut fast
All that calm Sunday that go
es on and on:
When even lovers find their peace at last,
And Earth is but a star, that once had shone.


Eighty years ago today the archaeologist, soldier and writer, Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, died following a motorcycle accident on a quiet Dorset lane close to his cottage, Clouds Hill.

Brough SS100 "George V" RK 4907


T.E. Lawrence took his discharge from the R.A.F. on Monday 25 February 1935 in front of his Commanding Officer, Pilot-Officer J.F. Manning, who later became Air Commodore Manning. During the day, Lawrence wrote to Trenchard’s successor, the then current Air Chief Marshall, Sir Edward Ellington, giving his thanks for the forbearance he had shown in allowing him to complete his twelve year service. It was of course unusual for a humble airman to contact his Chief in this way and the moment was not lost on Lawrence:

‘Not many airmen, fortunately, write to their Chief of Staff upon discharge,’ he wrote, adding, ‘I’ve been at home in the ranks, and well and happy...So if you still keep that old file about me, will you please close it with this note which says how sadly I am going? The R.A.F. has been much more than my profession’. 

The next morning, Manning and a few colleagues, military and civilian, gathered at Bridlington harbour-side to see Lawrence off. He was wearing his familiar civvies of sports jacket and flannel trousers which were held in place at the ankles by bicycle clips. He had knotted a checked scarf at his neck and had tucked the ends into the front of his jacket. It was a crisp sunny Tuesday and he had a plan to cycle south to his old R.A.F. college at Cranwell and then onto Bourne in Lincolnshire to meet Frederick Manning, an Australian author Lawrence admired. Cambridge was also on his route where he could visit an old friend, Sydney Cockerell, Curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum, and where his brother Arnie lived with his wife Mary with their eight year old daughter, Jane. And then to Dorset and his cottage, Clouds Hill. It would be a long journey over a few days and he was keen to be on his way, partly to start eating up the distance, but mostly to face the dreaded moment that would severe him from the service that had been his home and refuge for the past twelve years. 

Unbeknown to him he was heading for a conflict with press reporters and photographers keen to discover his future intentions. His hoped-for sanctuary was about to be shattered. 

When he eventually reached Clouds Hill, he found the place besieged by the ‘press hounds’, as he called them. He immediately escaped to London and found lodgings in Waterloo, South London, under the not-very original name of T.E. Smith. After writing to Churchill to call in a favour he enlisted the help of Esmond Harmsworth, Chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors Association, to help persuade the press people to leave him alone. ‘If they agree to that,’ he wrote to Winstone, ‘the free-lancers find no market for their activities.’ 

Clouds Hill - An earthly paradise

It took a couple of weeks before his plea to be left alone was actioned but by the evening of 26 March he was back at Clouds Hill, now peaceful and deserted except for his solitary neighbour, Pat Knowles. This is where his books were, twelve hundred of them, each read at least once and worth reading again, and a gramophone to play music on. At last, perhaps this could be his refuge, a sanctuary from fame. 

The finishing touches to the refurbishment of his cottage kept him almost totally absorbed in its planning and execution over the coming weeks but he admitted to friends that he still needed time to heal the physical and emotional exhaustion he felt after his demanding role in the RAF, the wrench of its termination and his recent confrontations with the press. With those latter troubles now successfully dealt with following his approach to Churchill and Harmsworth he replied to Lady Astor on 8 May turning down an invitation to Cliveden during which she believed the reorganisation of the national Defence Forces would be offered to him by influential fellow guests that included Lionel Curtis and Stanley Baldwin: 

‘No wild mares would not at present take me away from Clouds Hill,’ he wrote. ‘It is an earthly paradise and I am staying here till I feel qualified for it. Also there’s something broken in the works as I told you: my will I think.’ 

He continued to write to his wide circle of correspondents, a mixture of bleak resignation regarding his situation and upbeat delight in his surroundings and in those simple tasks that went towards creating his own idiosyncratic home – a one man home he called it. Projects for the future were stored away until leisure time allowed them to be given the attention they deserved. Not that Lawrence did not feel slightly adrift in his new found circumstances, as this letter to the artist Eric Kennington illustrates:  

‘You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That's the feeling.’

(TEL to Eric Kennington, 6 May 1935)  

13 MAY 1935
Then just as abruptly as retirement had interrupted a life once so full of action, and without sufficient time to enjoy his new-found leisure, he was thrown over the handlebars of his powerful Brough motorcycle on Monday 13 May whilst trying to avoid two errand boys on bicycles who were approaching him out of a dip in the road close to his cottage. Lawrence lingered in that place between life and death for six days before finally surrendering his fragile hold on life and he died on Sunday 19 May 1935, one last ‘Sunday that goes on and on,’ as his friend the poet James Elroy Flecker had written. He had experienced true leisure for less than twelve weeks.

Lawrence's friend Sir Ronald Storrs, one-time Oriental Secretary in Cairo and Military Governor of Jerusalem, was with him on the 21 May when they prepared him for his burial. His eloquent description of those final moments is worth recounting: 

‘I stood beside him lying swathed in fleecy wool; stayed until the plain oak coffin was screwed down. There was nothing else in the mortuary chamber but a little altar behind his head with some lilies of the valley and red roses. I had come prepared to be greatly shocked by what I saw, but his injuries had been at the back of his head, and beyond some scarring and discoloration over the left eye, his countenance was not marred. His nose was sharper and delicately curved, and his chin less square... Nothing of his hair, nor of his hands was showing; only a powerful cowled mask, dark-stained ivory alive against the dead chemical sterility of the wrappings. It was somehow unreal to be watching beside him in these cerements, so strangely resembling the aba, the kuffiya and the aqál of an Arab Chief, as he lay in his last littlest room, very grave and strong and noble... As we carried the coffin into and out of the little church the clicking Kodaks and the whirring reels extracted from the dead body their last “personal” publicity.’  

(P. 531 Orientations, Storrs) 

Lawrence wrote a long letter to Robert Graves (28.6.27) in which he corrected passages of Graves’ draft biography of Lawrence and offered information to help the fledgling writer complete the project. In it he stated his love for his Brough motorbike, the aptly named Boanerges, or ‘Sons of Thunder’, which he described as ‘the jolliest things on wheels’. In doing so he provided his own epitaph, explaining his craving for speed and boasting of not harming anyone else in its pursuit:  

‘Put in a good word for Boanerges, my Brough bike,’ he wrote. ‘I had five of them in four years, and rode 100,000 miles on them, making only two insurance claims (for superficial damage to machine after skids), and hurting nobody. The greatest pleasure of my recent life has been speed on the road. The bike would do 100 m.p.h. but I'm not a racing man. It was my satisfaction to purr along gently between 60 and 70 m.p.h. and drink in the air and the general view. I lose detail at even moderate speeds, but gain comprehension. When I used to cross Salisbury Plain at 50 or so, I'd feel the earth moulding herself under me. It was me piling up this hill, hollowing this valley, stretching out this level place: almost the earth came alive, heaving and tossing on each side like a sea. That's a thing the slow coach will never feel. It is the reward of Speed. I could write for hours on the lustfulness of moving swiftly.’ 

It was a fitting epitaph that aptly described the instrument and the manner of his passing.   

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand. 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

“Dig, dig, dig until you are safe.”

In November 1914, Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, proposed an audacious scheme to force the Dardanelles Straits, a strategic waterway that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara - a narrow gateway to Constantinople, the Bosphorus, the Black Sea and Russia. The Straits had been closed to shipping by the Ottomans when they entered the war on the side of the Central Powers on 31 October. With the overland supply routes to Russia also closed it was thought that a naval assault on the Straits using obsolete battleships unfit for service against the German High Seas Fleet with support from a small occupying force could open the way to Russian ports, cut the Ottoman Empire in two and bring Greece and Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Allies. Critically, faulty intelligence on Turkish troop strength in the region set the scene for a military debacle that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded on both sides during the bitter and bloody eight month campaign and prolonged the war in the east for another three years.

By May 1915 a combined French and British land assault force with support from colonial troops gathered from all over the Empire was in full operational mode. However, military planning proved totally inadequate and the campaign became bogged down in a largely underground war against a determined and highly motivated enemy. But the legacy of its aftermath is a different story and one worth telling on this day - the centenary of the first landings.

General Sir Ian Hamilton, senior commanding officer for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during the Gallipoli Campaign, wrote the following perceptive comment in the introduction of his Gallipoli Diary: “There is nothing certain about war except that one side won't win.” Hamilton, when necessary, could also be moved to lyrical prose. After watching the landing of his troops at Anzac Cove from HMS Queen Elizabeth, he wrote:

“The landing was in full swing; shrapnel was bursting over the water; the patter of musketry; the machines guns spluttered. They are not charging up into this Sari Bair range for money or compulsion. They fight for love – all the way from the Southern Cross for love of the old country and of liberty.”

Then he retired to bed. A few hours later, the enormity of the task revealed itself to his officers and they woke him at midnight with the recommendation of immediate evacuation. His reply, based on recently received intelligence showing Australian submarine activity far north of the Dardenelles Straits, reflected the optimism of the moment: 'You have got through the difficult business, now you must dig, dig, dig until you are safe.' A 'Yes' from Hamilton and the legend of ANZAC would have been stillborn. 

Sacrifice - Anzac Memorial, Sydney
Such was the massive collective effort undertaken by the Anzac troops at Gallipoli that the phrase ‘the Anzac spirit’, as popularised by C.E.W. Bean, the official correspondent for the Australia Imperial Forces who was to later write the official history of the Australians in the war, came to encapsulate a concept that not only entered the annals of war but took root in the psyche of a young nation striving to find its own voice and “national character”. Future generations can decide if this spirit was responsible for ridding the twin countries of Australia and New Zealand of a sense of colonial inferiority that arose from their predicament as dominion dependencies. That this character should be found in the actions of men fighting on the battlefields of a foreign land, far from home and facing impending defeat while loyally serving the British Empire would not be lost on those ‘embedded’ Australian journalists who reported on the campaign.

The first to highlight this emerging spirit, however, was not an Australian but the British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, a fact that would give added potency to the unashamedly heroic words he used to describe the actions which were soon published throughout Australia:

“There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and the storming of the heights,’ he wrote, ‘and, above all, holding on while the reinforcements were landing. These raw colonial troops, in these desperate hours, proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle.”

This is what the folks back home wanted to hear, a positive and, most importantly, an impartial indication that their men had done them proud. Ashmead-Bartlett provided further confirmation: "General Birdwood told the writer that he couldn't sufficiently praise the courage, endurance and the soldierly qualities of the Colonials...They were happy because they had been tried for the first time and not found wanting."

But very soon Ashmead-Bartlett’s reports would become highly critical of the way the campaign was being run and no-one could be in any doubt as to where his main criticism was directed: "Confusion reigned supreme,” he wrote. “No-one seemed to know where the headquarters of the different brigades and divisions were to be found. The troops were hunting for water, the staffs were hunting for their troops, and the Turkish snipers were hunting for their prey."

Reporting under the ‘general regulations issued by the British War Office for the guidance of press correspondents in the field’ became an increasing frustrating exercise for all correspondents and none more so than Ashmead-Bartlett whose reports were thereafter heavily censored. He was naturally outraged and wrote: “I thought there were limits to human stupidity but now I know there are none. The censorship has now passed beyond all reason.” The reports on the unfolding disaster became to resemble “chicken out of which a thick nutritious broth has been extracted.” In an extraordinary break from this restrictive protocol, he voiced his concerns in a private letter sent directly to Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, after he had been requested by “officers of all ranks to go home and personally disclose the truth.”

Unable to leave, he instead set out in detail the true state of affairs as he saw them and enlisted the help of fellow journalist, the Australian Keith Murdoch, to carry the letter to London. He described the campaign to Asquith as: “the most ghastly and costly fiasco in our history since the Battle of Bannockburn.” He kept his main criticism for the Staff: “The muddles and mismanagement beat anything that has ever occurred in our Military History. The fundamental evil at the present moment is the absolute lack of confidence in all ranks in the Headquarters Staff.” Towards the end of his damning letter he declares solemnly: “You may think I am too pessimistic but my views are shared by the large majority of the army.”

Although the letter was confiscated by British authorities en route after Murdoch was arrested by Military Police in Marseilles, the full horror of the situation would soon be exposed, as later confirmed by Bean when he wrote that although Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter ‘put the state of things in rather a crude light,’ he had to agree it was ‘a brilliantly written letter – rather overstating the case as Bartlett always does, but a great deal of it was unanswerable and badly needs understanding.’ Ashmead-Bartlett was promptly expelled from the region for breaching the censorship regulations and so returned to London to give his opinion to the Sunday Times in the form of an interview, a necessary approach to circumvent censorship rules.

But it was Ashmead-Bartlett’s early reports on the prodigious efforts of the Anzac troops that had the most impact on establishing the legend of Anzac. Charles Bean later paid fulsome tribute to his British counter-part when he wrote: 'the tradition of the Anzac landing is probably more influenced by that first story than by all the other accounts that have since been written'. It was Bean’s batman and later assistant, Private Arthur W. Bazley, who observed: ‘Bartlett’s dispatch was a brilliant one, despite a number of inaccuracies, and its publication in Australia led, I believe, to an immediate increase in the number of volunteers offering for the A.I.F.’

In summing up the essence of the ‘Anzac spirit’, it was Bean, the so-called teller of truths, who encapsulated in words the spirit behind the legend in his publication Anzac to Amiens: ‘Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valor in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.’

It was that word ‘comradeship’ that best summed up the feeling, and one that endures to this day in the vocabulary of a new generation, in the concept of mateship, something that is still hotly debated in Australia but is generally referred to as a “concept of everybody pulling together in common adversity." The term ‘Mate’ has also entered the Australian lexicon, along with ‘larrikin’, its more irreverent cousin who rightly mocks authority; but both names sum up the unique character of a nation that was still finding its feet in the white hot years of the early twentieth century, a blistering cauldron for any emerging state seeking its own cultural identity and coming to terms with its own history. Modern-day Australian critics would say that the ‘myth’ of Anzac too readily ignores its aboriginal population, brushes aside its convict inheritance as well as its post-war immigration policy, one that Newcombe was later to play a part in. New Zealand could rightly complain that the deaths of their young men, about a quarter of the 8500 who had landed on the peninsula, is often overshadowed in the wider discussion of the campaign and by the enormous contribution in men and materiel by its larger neighbour.

But the truth is the unshakeable legends created in that foreign land remain strong to this day and the memories of the men of Gallipoli are remembered at the annual Anzac Day remembrance commemorations held in both countries on 25 April, the anniversary of the day when the Anzacs first landed at what became known as Anzac Cove and established a tenuous foothold on the treacherous slopes above the narrow beach.

It would be a further five months before Stewart Newcombe arrived on the peninsula to take command of the 4th Field Company of the 2nd Australian Divisional Engineers, tasked with the digging and reinforcing of existing trenches and tunnels that became of paramount importance in a landscape that afforded little or no natural protection to the Anzacs. As well as the necessity of digging in for protection, supply and communication the tunnels were used to advance underground towards the Turkish lines where explosives could be detonated from a relatively safe distance when close contact was made with their Turkish counterparts, who invariably responded with the same tactics. As the campaign progressed, longer and deeper tunnels were built, the Anzac tunnel with a flat ceiling and the Ottoman with a curved one. Anyone with mining experience from their civilian days was a natural choice for this type of work. But it was not a job for the faint-hearted. To hear the muffled tap, tap, tapping of the enemy abruptly stop might mean that the tunnel was being prepared with explosives prior to detonation. Many miners were killed or buried in this way. For the frontline soldier, however, it was like sitting on a volcano; at any time the ground could heave up under you and swallow you into the bowels of a deep crater and oblivion.

But by December 1915 the situation on Gallipoli had become untenable and General Sir Charles Monro, who had taken over command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, ordered its evacuation following discussions with Kitchener. Ironically, it proved to be the most successful operation of the whole campaign. General Hamilton, who had written
“There is nothing certain about war except that one side won't win,” was proved correct in that assessment. The Allies lost the campaign in the Dardanelles but went on to defeat the Ottomans in the Hejaz, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Hamilton's military career ended at Gallipoli and he never commanded again. Winston Churchill was demoted and eventually resigned from the Cabinet in November 1915 when he took himself off to fight on the Western Front in command of an infantry battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. 

In a recent history of Gallipoli, the author Les Carlyon describes how in those final silent moments during the December evacuation an Australian soldier looked towards the makeshift cemetery of fallen comrades and solemnly remarked: "I hope they won't hear us marching back to the beach." Anzac Day is when the grateful nations of Australia and New Zealand can be proud of its past and pay tribute to its wounded and fallen heroes, especially those left on the slopes of that far-off peninsula.

Today marks one hundred years since those first dawn landings took place. In Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, commemorations are underway each reflecting a shared sense of grief, loss, and gratitude for an endeavour out of which were formed three proud nations. They are united on this day by the words of the father of modern-day Turkey and himself the successful commander of Ottoman forces during the Dardanelles campaign:

“Whatever views we of the present or future generations of Turks may hold in regard to the rights or wrong of the world war, we shall never feel less respect for the men of Anzac and their deeds when battling against our armies … They were nearer to achieving the seemingly impossible than anyone on the other side yet realises.”

NOTE: You can visit the Anzac Memorial online by clicking this link.

PHOTO CAPTION: The photo above is of a sculpture entitled Sacrifice taken by Kerry Webber at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney, Australia. It is the central motif of the memorial's design. Symbolising the spirit of courage, endurance and sacrifice, it depicts the body of a young soldier lying over a shield and sword. He is supported by three female figures and an infant, representing 'his best beloved' - mother, sister, wife and child. The child also represents future generations.

SEE ALSO: My article entitled: The ANZACS set sail