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, June 1, 2017

Forthcoming lecture - 'Lawrence of Arabia and the Revolt in the Desert' - University of Southampton - Saturday 1 July 2017

The Lifelong Learning programme run by the University of Southampton will be holding a study day entitled: Lawrence of Arabia and the Revolt in the Desert on Saturday 1 July 2017.

I have been asked to present a paper entitled: 'A Yahoo Life' - T.E. Lawrence and the British Military Mission in the Hejaz.

The following description of the event is from the University's website where you can find details of the programme and an application form for places.

To mark the centenary of Sharif Hussein’s forces seizing the Ottoman port of Aqaba on 6 July 1917, this Great War study day focuses upon the Arab revolt against Turkish rule, and the role of archaeologist turned soldier, T.E. Lawrence. The ‘revolt in the desert’ is placed in the context of French and British intervention in the Middle East, notably the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration; the consequences of which still resonate throughout the region known then as the Levant.

Recreated in spectacular style by David Lean in the epic Lawrence of Arabia, the capture of Aqaba opened supply lines from Egypt to Allied forces operating further north in Transjordan and Greater Palestine. This effectively ended any lingering threat of a Turkish attack on the Suez Canal. By examining General Allenby’s successful offensive east of Suez in 1917-18, we can assess the military significance of Lawrence’s contribution – to what extent does the legend match reality?

Before convincing Prince Feisal and other tribal chieftains to rise up Lawrence’s involvement in the Middle East was primarily as a scholar, prompting consideration of how pre-war archaeology disguised great power interest in the crumbling Ottoman empire.

Examining Lawrence before and after the First World War offers an additional perspective on continuing conflict in the Middle East and his close connection with Southampton Water. In the 1920s and 1930s, a very public retreat from fame saw the writer of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom assume a fresh identity not once but twice, as a ranker in the Army and then the Royal Air Force. Extended service in the RAF led to a final posting in Hythe, where Lawrence worked on the British Powerboat Company’s latest rescue launches; weekends were spent at Cloud’s Hill, his Dorset cottage, or socialising in London with the likes of Churchill or Shaw. Since his death in 1935 popular interest in Lawrence and the revolt in the desert has never waned; fuelled by fresh revelations about his private life, and an urgent need to comprehend the creation myth upon which Saudi Arabia’s unbending monarchy claims its legitimacy.

This study day recognises our continuing fascination with ‘El Laurens’, and his place in the violent and crisis-ridden history of the Middle East over the past one hundred years.

Professor Adrian Smith, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Southampton
- Welcome/introduction: the Solent, childhood home and workplace of T.E. Lawrence

Dr Christopher Prior, Lecturer in 20th Century History, University of Southampton
- "Immortality I cannot judge": Lawrence, the Middle East and the British Empire in the early twentieth century.

Professor Tim Champion, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology
- 'Archaeologists and great power rivalry in the Middle East prior to the First world War

Anthony Sattin, travel writer, broadcaster, and author of Young Lawrence: a Portrait of the Legend as a Young Man (2014)
- From Carchemish to Cairo: the making of Major Lawrence

Kerry Webber, writer, photographer and designer, currently writing the biography of Colonel Stewart Newcombe
- "A Yahoo Life": T.E. Lawrence and the British Military Mission to the Hejaz

Professor Adrian Smith
- The post war Lawrence: Aircraftman Shaw and the British Power Boat Company

Dr Mark Levene, Reader in History, Southampton University, and author of The Crises of Genocide Volumes I and II
- Conclusion: Thinking beyond Lawrence - the British, their role in Ottoman dissolution and the long-term consequences for the modern 'Middle East'

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

All things Lawrentian

On the track bed of the Hejaz Railway, Wadi Rumm, Jordan

Yesterday was a sad day for members of the Lawrence fellowship with an announcement for the T.E. Lawrence Society that Lawrence's authorised biographer, Jeremy Wilson, had passed away. 

I last saw Jeremy talking to Professor Ali Alawi at the Society’s symposium held at St. John's College, Oxford, last September and failed to find an opportunity to talk to him, so busy was he meeting old friends and colleagues. But I have happy memories of working with him on the committee of the Society many years ago under the chairmanship of Philip Kerrigan when Jeremy had been co-opted back onto the committee, this time as website coordinator, but of course he was much more than that. Minutes of our meetings are peppered with comments regarding assistance from Jeremy on items outside of his role: "Jeremy offered assistance with this, should Pat need it", "Jeremy advised that there was probably an example of her [Sarah Lawrence] handwriting in the Bodleian Library", "Jeremy stated...", "Jeremy circulated copies...", "Jeremy suggested...", and so on. 

Even Lawrence had to step back from the leadership of the Arab Revolt lest his presence hinder their development and soon the Society was left to find its feet and direction in a new millennium. And a good job they have made of it too, if the last well-attended symposium is anything to go by. The breadth of knowledge in the speakers and the enthusiasm for facts presented in a scholarly and professional way was an encouraging sign for the future of the Society and in Lawrence studies in general. 

Over sixty years ago Richard Aldington wrote a highly contentious biography of Lawrence whose subtitle was A Biographical Enquiry. Its publication was accompanied by marketing material that asked the question: ‘Is this the end of a legend?’

Jeremy and his wife Nicole have made an enormous contribution to furthering the knowledge and appreciation of the man behind the legend, a man who continues to fascinate and intrigue us and whose words and actions are just as relevant today as they were one hundred years ago when that legend was born. This is in no small part to Jeremy's guidance, wisdom and influence on all things Lawrentian. 

Vale, Jeremy.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy's website:

Monday, April 17, 2017

JEREMY WILSON (1944 - 2 April 2017)

It was with sadness that I read today of Jeremy's passing in a message sent out by the committee of the T.E. Lawrence Society following an announcement in the Daily Telegraph:

We very much regret to inform you that Jeremy Wilson, the Authorised Biographer of T. E. Lawrence, has died following a period of illness.

Jeremy was widely regarded and respected as the leading scholar and authority on Lawrence. Together with his wife Nicole, he established Castle Hill Press which has published fine-print editions of many of Lawrence's manuscripts and letters.

Jeremy was a former Chairman of the T. E. Lawrence Society and a major instigator and influence on the Society's activities, notably the Journal and the biennial Symposia.

The Society will be represented at his funeral in Oxford next week. We intend to publish a tribute to Jeremy in a commemorative edition of the Newsletter. We would welcome contributions which may be sent to us at

The T. E. Lawrence Society Committee