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.

Occasional Sidenotes - Melinite & Paris during the war

MELINITE: The French equivalent of lyddite high explosive was called "Melinite". Stewart Newcombe used melinite and guncotton to blow the bridge at Compiegne during the Mons retreat, trampling it into position with his feet after being lowered by ropes inside narrow destruction chambers built into the structure of most French bridges at that time. La Mélinite was also the nickname of the Parisian cancan dancer Jane Avril, the favourite muse of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. (See ’21 December 2011 ‘A young man’s near miss! and 17 September 2011 ‘An Oriental Assembly – Bimbashi Herbert Garland’).

PARIS: During the early weeks of the war Paris lost most of its gaiety and a hush fell upon Montmartre. The first period of mobilisation lasted 21 days during which the town was slowly emptied of its young men, leaving a perceptible thinning on its normally bustling boulevards prompting British war correspondent Philip Gibbs to write: “The life of Paris was being drained of its best blood by this vampire, war.” Under an imposed martial law even cafe terraces were closed, forcing the normally philosophic Parisian inside “like an Englishman” as if he should be ashamed of being seen drinking outside and unable to watch the world go by as he sipped an absinthe from behind his marble-topped table. Indeed, absinthe was banned at a stroke and the cafes had to close their doors by 8pm. No negative news could be broadcast under threat of court martial and even the wounded were forbidden to enter the town lest it should shake the nerve of the city they called "the entrenched camp of Paris". 

Then after Mons came the miracle of the Marne where the German advance was finally halted and a new type of war began to unfold – trench warfare, a bloody stalemate which would last a further four years. Paris breathed a collective sigh of relief, its old vitality gradually restored as the crowds took to the streets and cafes once again. This time, though, there were new faces in the crowd, trench-weary troops from every corner of the French empire mingling with the wounded who were now permitted to enter for treatment at the hands of surgeons who had stood idly by as the war progressed. With the lightly wounded came the one-legged and one-armed men who had already passed through their baptism of fire. Among them were the Tirailleurs Sénégalais, colonial corps of skirmishers, as the noun tirailleurs translates, who were first raised in Senegal but could just as well have come from the Arab and Berber populations of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. These were joined on the boulevards or the gardens of the Tuileries by the colourful crimson uniforms of the Zouaves, nine regiments of North African infantry, or the azure of the light cavalry known as the Chasseurs d'Afrique (the huntsmen of Africa). 

British officers were also given leave to visit the city. Newcombe is known to have passed through just before he returned to London to join Lawrence in the War Office to complete the maps of Sinai and the Wilderness of Zin and to await Turkey’s decision to enter the war on the side of Germany. By then Paris was back on its feet, its spirit restored and its attractions reopened for business. Philip Gibbs wrote that Paris, without ever losing faith or courage, had “found the heart to laugh sometimes, in spite of all its tears.”