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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Boy in the Mask - a suitable Lock Down read!

Being locked down in a small Spanish town due to the Coronavirus pandemic with restricted movement outside of the home gives me the opportunity to read a book that I have only briefly delved into when looking for a specific item relevant to my own research. Now it's time to start at the beginning of the aptly named The Boy in the Mask. This is Dick Benson-Gyles' look into the 'hidden world of Lawrence of Arabia', from his Anglo-Irish heritage, his enduring fame as a leader of a Bedouin army, through to his quest for obscurity as a humble aircraftman; a book that author and television producer, the late Malcolm Brown, described as both moving and enlightened. In his Foreword, Brown wrote: "Dick Benson-Gyles has achieved something rather remarkable." 

So a good choice as today it is St. Patrick's Day. Time to explore Lawrence's Irish connections. Sláinte! 

Fresh light on a reluctant hero

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

'Beyond Arabia' - in the Journal of the T.E. Lawrence Society

The Journal of the T.E. Lawrence Society has recently published my article entitled 'S.F. Newcombe and T.E. Lawrence: Beyond Arabia', looking at the distinguished and eventful career of Stewart Newcombe. 

Journal Vol. 29, No. 1
Journal Editor, Ian Heritage, writes in the Notes on the Articles: 'Newcombe is already well known to us through his association with Lawrence. It was Newcombe who led the clandestine mission, on the eve of the First World War, to survey and map the 'Wilderness of Zin', a hitherto uncharted area of southern Palestine and then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Lawrence and Leonard Woolley provided cover for the mission by undertaking an archaeological survey of the region. Lawrence later worked alongside Newcombe during the subsequent conflict, firstly in Cairo in military intelligence and then blowing up sections of the Hejaz Railway. However, as with many other personalities associated with Lawrence, the rest of Newcombe's career has been eclipsed by this famous association.'

The Journal was set up in 1991 as a serious research publication and forms one of the prime resources for anyone seriously interested in Lawrence.

All contributions are reviewed by an editorial committee. Editorial policy is to publish articles relating to all aspects of Lawrence’s life, including some based on papers presented at the Society’s meetings, as well as material from obscure published or unpublished sources.

A limited number of back-issues are available for purchase by non-members from the Society's website

The T. E. Lawrence Society (Registered Charity No. 297940) was born at the Red Lion Hotel, in Wareham, Dorset, on 29 June 1985, in the presence of around 30 founder members. Its foundation coincided with the 50th anniversary of the death of T.E. Lawrence.

The Society is a non-profit organisation registered under British law as an educational charity. By the terms of its Constitution, the Society exists:

‘to advance the education of the public in the life and works of T. E. Lawrence and to promote research (and to publish the useful results thereof) into his life and works’.

The most important gathering organised by the Society in the UK is the Symposium, held every two years. The Society also maintains a research collection which is kept at Wareham Library in Dorset. It can be consulted by arrangement with the library by any member of the public.
For enquiries or to join the Society, you can contact them here

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Endangered archaeology

After all the years I've spent researching the life of Stewart Newcombe he remains a fascinating and absorbing character, still able to surprise and still surprisingly relevant. Recently, one of his many diverse interests overlapped with a contemporary research project run by three leading British universities which has at its core the protection of endangered archaeological sites across a study area of 7000 kilometers and in more than twenty countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. 

The EAMENA Project, a five-year Arcadia Foundation funded project (2015-2020), was set up to record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes which are under threat across the Middle East and North Africa. The project is based in the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham. The archaeological heritage of the region, which is of international significance for all periods, is under increasing threat from massive and sustained population explosion, agricultural development, urban expansion, warfare, and looting.

The project uses aerial photography and satellite imagery to map unrecorded and endangered archaeological sites, to a uniform standard, and evaluates and monitors their condition. The information provided will assist with the effective protection of these sites by the relevant authorities. The use of satellite and aerial imagery is especially important for those countries where access on the ground is currently either impossible or severely restricted (e.g. Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen). 

Michael Fradley, an archaeologist at Oxford University who manages the project, contacted me seeking information on Newcombe who was an important early advocate for the use of aerial photography for photogrammetric mapping. After the end of the war Newcombe remained very vocal about the potential of the technique. In 1920 he pushed for an experimental air survey by the Royal Air Force of the Nile flood region from the old Aswan Dam to the Cairo Barrage for water management purposes but for other projects he came up against significant opposition, not least an unwillingness among the Corps of Royal Engineers to move beyond their traditional ground survey methods.

Newcombe at his Oxford house. Courtesy of Joseph Berton

Fradley, during a visit to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, wrote to ask: "Just out of interest, do you know which house Newcombe lived in on the Woodstock Road in Oxford. I find myself trying to guess every time I get the bus in to work." 

Today: The site of Newcombe's former home
It is easy to see why Fradley missed it. The house at number 300 has been long gone, demolished to make way for a rather unremarkable estate of flats, which by a strange twist of irony is just a few streets away from the EAMENA Project's office. Woodstock Road is a major road running through the leafy suburb of North Oxford but the clue is obvious as Newcombe was credited when they built the current development and a prominent sign was placed at the entrance. It is doubtful if the residents of Newcombe Court are aware of the connection. 

Newcombe's air survey of the Nile in September 1920 produced 1200 glass plates of overlapping photographs but only a section of one plate was used in his 1921 paper  'Contouring by the Stereoscope on air photos' (RE Journal Vol. XXXIV July-Dec 1921). It is not known if this photographic archive exists. "If the full series of 1200 photographs survives and could be located," Fradley reflects, "it could be of major value to archaeologists to identify and document sites destroyed or eroded by the modern occupation of the Nile valley, which has increased significantly in intensity over the past 100 years." 

Contoured hills east of Cairo

Newcombe's paper won him the Royal Engineers’ prestigious Montgomerie Prize in recognition of his contribution to exploration and surveying and he continues to achieve recognition in academic journals over one hundred years later. There is a natural evolution from when a plate camera was first strapped to the wings of a wood and canvas aeroplane to the use of equipment like drones or satellites. Newcombe’s reputation was built on surveying by horse, camel or by foot across inhospitable lands often in the most appalling of conditions. At heart he was an adventurer and loved nothing better than to ride off to see what was over the next hill. But without doubt the technique of mapping the world by aeroplane and camera had begun to expose much more of its unknown and unknowable parts, more than could ever be achieved by land surveying. 

For many years Newcombe enjoyed the connectivity to the environment, and more importantly to its inhabitants, yet at the same time he recognised the need to explore ways to break free from the rigours and difficulties of those journeys and to see the world from new and exciting perspectives through the utilisation of emerging technologies that he helped develop and promote. As such he was clearly a man of his time who lived to enjoy the best of both worlds.  

For more information about the work of EAMENA, go to

Monday, May 13, 2019

A ten shot discovery

Maynard Owen Williams paid a second and equally memorable visit to the ancient Hittite site at Carchemish (see my previous article dated 02 May 2019) on the day when the excavators struck a rich find.

As the excavations progressed and 3000-year-old Hittite remains began to reveal themselves the great game of rewarding the fellows by allowing them to announce new discoveries by firing off their pistol was abandoned and a more ritualised format was devised. The site headman, Hamoudi, his title in this role being the chawish, was given the prerogative to fire his revolver as a signal to the archaeologists and the far-flung teams to down picks and join in with the celebrations, but first he had to judge the quality of the find - one shot for a fair-sized fragment of basalt rising to seven or eight for a complete slab with figures and inscriptions, and so on. In time, the men were vying with each other for the most cartridges expended for their discoveries and would complain to Hamoudi: “Oh, but six shots, ya chawish, six shots: was it not five for the chariot yonder? And here there are three sons of Adam; by God, they deserve two rounds apiece.” This practice acted as baksheesh to the finder, valued just as much as any monetary reward that was added to their wages, and encouraged the men to aspire to the honour of being able to say, “That is the stone of Yasin Hussein for which he had eight shots.” In this way, the find not only benefited the finder, but also his immediate team which typically comprised four men – a pick-man, a shoveller and two basket-men. They were each paid a proportionate bonus. To many believers it also paid homage to the stone and to the good fortune that put it in their path.

One day in October 1913 the excavators struck a rich find. Working beyond the King’s Gate the men found a return buttress that was only 6 inches away from the limit of their excavations the previous season. This new direction led them to discover enormous decorative slabs of basalt and white limestone depicting drums and trumpets heralding a seated goddess followed by 15 servants carrying percussion instruments and mirrors. Then more slabs showing men carrying gazelles on their shoulders until a break which revealed a door flanked by huge panels of Hittite inscriptions. Lawrence called it a great find, “the greatest we have ever made.”

If patience was the archaeologist’s most important virtue then theirs had paid off. Campbell Thompson recalled how week after week of digging would reveal nothing; “a weary and indefinite time of waiting” he called it. And then... “on a sudden the most glorious treasures will be revealed, tasking your time from dawn to sunset.” Having been drawn into the seductive world of the archaeologist, Maynard Williams had returned in time to bear witness to this momentous occasion. “I was at Carchemish on the day the greatest Hittite find ever unearthed was revealed to the eye of man for the first time in three thousand years. I have never had a more exciting time in my life.”

It was hoped that their patience and efforts might reveal something of real significance – perhaps a find as rewarding as a Hittite version of the Rosetta Stone from which they could decipher the lost language of the Hittites. Williams describes the moment the find was revealed to the team: 

"When the enthusiastic labourers had carefully uncovered the precious dolerite slab, and the overseer, bending over it like some near-sighted Silas Marner caressing his gold, had discovered that it bore the longest Hittite inscription ever found, ten shots from a big Colt revolver, fired as a baksheesh to the stone, echoed and re-echoed across the Euphrates, and workmen and directors knew that a big find had been made. Pandemonium was let loose. Labourers came running from all directions to share the joy of discovery. I also shared in that joy. I shouted congratulations to Khalil, the giant pickman. “Praise be to God!” I cried. He grinned so I could see all his teeth, and answered, “God’s blessing return to you!”   

The find was important but it was not the key to the language they were hoping for. The answer to this particular mystery would come just two years later in 1915 when a Czech Orientalist and cryptographer named Bedřich (Frederich) Hrozný was conscripted into the Austrian Army as a clerk and in the midst of war found he had plenty of time to study a set of tablets he had the foresight to copy in Istanbul before war commenced. Recognising the single Babylonian sign for bread set him on the path of unlocking the ancient riddle. With knowledge, perseverance and a few lucky assumptions he was able to decipher just one sentence, but it was enough. It read: “Now you will eat bread and drink water.”

It was not until 1919 that Woolley was able to return to their old site on the banks of the Euphrates which was now in an area of post-Ottoman Syria controlled by French forces. Despite enquiries to Frederic Kenyon, the Director of the British Museum, Lawrence found it impossible to return to his old life. In fact, his immense fame would prohibit him from ever being able to continue with his archaeological career in a post-Versailles world riddled with a suspicion of king-makers. “Woe’s me,” he once wrote, “I suppose I’ll never dig anything again.”

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Carchemish - A Kurdish Glee Club with college trimmings

Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys during the years 1896-1907 before studying history at Jesus College, Oxford, where in 1910 he gained a First Class Honours degree largely based on an outstanding thesis on Crusader castles which had involved a lengthy walking tour in Palestine and Syria. He then joined the British Museum’s excavations of the ancient Hittite capital at Carchemish on the River Euphrates under the direction of D.G. Hogarth who would become his mentor and of whom he once said, ‘I owe every good job ... I've ever had in my life.’

The digging season of 1911 was the first to be carried out at the site for thirty-years. Having set up the digs in March, Hogarth handed over to Reginald Campbell Thompson, previously an assistant in the Egyptian and Assyrian Department of the British Museum, who ran the site with Lawrence as his assistant until July of 1911. The field campaigns of years two, three and four were under the directorship of C. Leonard Woolley, an experienced archaeologist who became best known after the war for his work at the ancient Sumerian city of Ur in present day Iraq. Looking back from beyond the war years, Lawrence remembered the time spent digging at Carchemish as a golden age, with a young Syrian Arab assistant named Dahoum as his almost constant companion. “We were there for four years,” he recalled, “and it was the best life I ever lived.” 

Lawrence and Woolley with Dahoum seated to the far right next to Hamoudi

Throughout the four years that the site was excavated before war interrupted diggings Carchemish attracted attention from scholars and serious travellers from Europe and America. Among them were engineers, archaeologists, soldiers and diplomats, all requiring hospitality and usually a tour of the site, prompting Lawrence to describe them as worse than fleas. One such flea was a young missionary teacher from the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University of Beirut), Maynard Owen Williams, who arrived in 1913 and wrote an account of the British Museum’s excavations where Lawrence makes one of his earliest appearances in print in the popular and widely-read newspaper, the New York Sun (21 September 1913). Williams, a 25-year-old graduate of Kalamazoo College, Michigan, was a keen observer and recorder in both the written word and as an early pioneer of travel photography. For the next fifty years he would make a significant contribution to the National Geographic Magazine as its first foreign correspondent. 

His coverage provides a picturesque and unique insight into the lifestyle of the archaeologists at Carchemish. “‘Both Woolley and Lawrence are disappointing archaeologists,” he wrote. “I expected to find grey-haired old men with spectacles and a scholarly stoop.” Williams, writing in the year prior to the Zin survey, described Lawrence as: “...apparently in his early twenties, a clean-cut blond with peaches and cream complexion which the dry heat of the Euphrates Valley seemed powerless to spoil. He wore a wide-brimmed Panama, a soft white shirt open at the throat, and Oxford blazer bearing the Magdalene College emblem on the pocket, short white flannel ‘knickers’, partly obscured by Scotch decoration hanging from the belt, which did not, however, obscure his bare knees, below which he wore heavy grey hose and red Arab slippers.” 

Williams continued with his theme of mock denigration: “Woolley is hopeless as an archaeologist.  He is young and friendly and as companionable as a college chum.  Surely not the stuff of which archaeologists are made.” The author, though, was only teasing his readers and had not been fooled by the perceived ‘romance’ of the trade. “But I fancy,” he wrote, having already guessed the truth, “that these two young men are competent to hold down the Carchemish 'digs' for a while at least; for better than their years of excavating and their skill in using French, German, ancient and modern Greek, Turkish and Arabic, is their remarkable knowledge of men. I cannot give a correct estimate of their worth as archaeologists, but I do say that they know more about handling Orientals than any man I have met during my two years in Syria.” It was a pertinent observation and the key to why Lawrence would later be so successful in waging unconventional warfare in the deserts of southern Arabia with an irregular native force. 
Carchemish (Karkemis) with part of the workforce
Williams then went on to describe a memorable evening spent with the archaeologists as their guest at what he called ‘A Kurdish Glee Club with college trimmings’. He had walked for miles through a pitch black night as a thunderstorm raged, one of those severe weather fronts that from time to time swept across the valley of the Euphrates lighting up the landscape with electrically charged flashes and filling the warm night air with booming cracks of thunder. One such illumination showed Williams that he was standing on the very precipice of a test shaft some 20 feet deep that the archaeologists had sunk a short distance from the house. He was hugely relieved when Hamoudi, the site foreman, answered his hammered arrival and ushered him into the excavators’ cosy residence. He was heartily welcomed by the occupants of the house who in a show of international solidarity graciously accepted this young American in his college football sweater, emblazoned with a big orange K. Sartorially, he had stiff competition that night as Lawrence was sporting a white Magdalen blazer trimmed with red and Woolley one of bright green, trimmed with white. “It was,” Williams wrote, “if one overlooked the Kurdish musicians huddled at the far end of the room, a most ‘collegey’ looking group. The air was thick with smoke from Hogarth's pipe and Woolley’s cigar, and the wind outside could whistle chilling tunes without detracting from the cosiness of the low room and its dark, rich hangings.” 
Carchemish Expedition house interior

Williams had seen much on his travels to inspire him to write or photograph but the scene he was about to witness was unlike no other. Even before the music started the hushed room was charged with an electric atmosphere that complemented the atrocious conditions outside the shuttered windows where a wind was howling around the house like a fury. A grizzled Kurd sat quietly awaiting his turn to sing with his shepherd's pipe across his lap. In his deep-set eyes there was a far-away look. The Kurd seated beside him was a true man of the desert who Williams describes as “swarthy of skin and clear of eyes, his thin lips compressed to a narrow line, his sun scarf draped gracefully around his head and neck.” The musical instruments that the men carried were of particular interest to Williams. He had even seen one of them illustrated on a three-thousand year-old Hittite carving. When the first man began to pluck at his instrument it was with the skill of a hundred generations animating his fingers. “Certainly it was no modern music that came from the mandolin-like affair with the long neck and the small body,” recalled Williams. “It was a spirit of the ancient days returned to play for the men who had rediscovered the site of the brilliant Hittite capital.” 

What happened next is best described by Williams himself: 

“Hogarth rapped the ashes from his pipe and threw his leg over the arm of the easy chair. Lawrence, the blond Oxonian, curled down into the throne-like seat, in which his white suit stood out from the soft-toned background of a Persian rug. Woolley motioned the musicians to begin. The accompaniment seemed to be the echo of the winds that swept across the Euphrates and moaned as they passed on across the city of ruins. But it was something different when the old singer blew a few notes on his pipe. The windy wastes were now inhabited. The spirit of man animated the scene with the sad, shrill cry of a creature in pain... The figures of the room were blotted out. This was no concert music, designed for bright lights and well-dressed audiences. A soul was stirring in that flute, an out-of-door spirit communing with its God across vast distances, but with a sense of sympathetic nearness. He began to sing. I started at the first note. It was a protest against the wrongs of the Angel of Death, a plea for mercy at the hands of a determined despot. Each note was wrung from the heart of a despondent soul, fearing, pleading, crying out for a relief that would never come... The eyes of the singer were fixed; the cords of his throat were visible under his swarthy skin. The veins of his forehead stood out under his dark kaffiyeh, and with each line he seemed to swallow, to choke back a sob that was springing to his lips.  For some time I could not turn my head. I had forgotten the others. I could not understand the words of the singer, but the music wrenched my heart.  I turned to Woolley and asked what the man was singing. It was the lament of a Kurdish woman whose husband, Said Ahmed, the greatest of warriors, had been brought home dead. I understood the sorrow of the song, its harrowing complaint against an unkind Fate. 

Then, in an instant, the music changed. The notes were the same; the rhythm was unaltered. The singer was as still as if he were carved out of rock, but the soul-stirring complaint of the bereaved wife at the death of her loved one was changing to the cunning, low, tense song of a Jael at the side of Sisera. Revenge was taking place of despair. Hatred was blotting out womanly love. The funeral chant was fast becoming a battle-song, in which the hatred of a race was stirring murder in the hearts of her hearers. This woman, after kneeling by the side of her husband's dead body, had raised herself to a proud height, and with outflung arms like Davidson's “France” was praying that his tribe would avenge her husband's death. A Fury, with ghastly face and disordered hair, was hurling Death back upon itself, was already sucking sweetness from the thought of pillage and bloodshed. A note of victory crept into the awful chant. Then Deborah's song of conquest and thankfulness burst forth - cruel, menacing, exultant. In a moment it was over. Only the shrill sound of the pipes remained. The woman, having seen her tribe depart on its mission of revenge, was once more at the side of her loved one, whose cold lips would not respond to her long, passionate kiss." 

Other than Lawrence's own letters home to his family, I think there is no better contemporary description of a day in the lives of the Carchemish team in their expedition house. It was certainly an evening that Williams would not forget. Some twenty years later and after Lawrence had achieved worldwide fame he made a point of writing to remind Lawrence of the occasion and the fond memories it still held for him. It was 1932 and Williams had long been a key National Geographic contributor. In his letter to Lawrence he asked if he would like to write an article, "one that would lend itself to photographic illustration and related to geography or some other non-political phase of your life and travels". Unfortunately, nothing came of his enquiry and Lawrence continued with his boat development work for the Royal Air Force until his retirement on 25 February 1935 and subsequent death in a motorcycle accident less than three months later.  

"Be sure my kindest regards, linked with happy memories, are yours," Williams wrote. Those last poignant words written to the 'clean-cut blond' of Carchemish recall a simpler time when desert winds swept across the city of ruins like a Kurdish lament carrying the dreams of two young men beyond Arabia to a world as yet undiscovered. 

The life and work of Maynard Owen Williams needs further exposure than this brief article can provide. Be sure to check out his work which can be found on the web and in the archives of the National Geographic Society and the Kalamazoo College. As a pioneer of travel photography he was more than just a self-described "camera-coolie and a roughneck". Having travelled by his own estimate 25,000 miles per year for more than a quarter of a century his efforts produced more than 2,250 self-illustrated pages in the Society's prestigious magazine. His secret to staying out of danger in some of the most dangerous of situations was in meticulous advance planning. As he put it: "Helter-skelter adventure and work of solid scientific worth do not go together as a rule." 

Thursday, September 21, 2017


THE INTER-ALLIED GAMES - 22 June to 6 July 1919

The recent announcement that Paris had been awarded the 2024 XXXIII Olympiad brought to mind an unusual event that took place in the shadow of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

While the details of peace were being discussed the victors devised what they considered a useful diversion for the millions of troops on the Eastern and Western fronts waiting for demobilisation and a return to a home and family that many had not seen for several months. For Dominion and Imperial forces, the long periods of separation had been much longer as ‘home’ leave was virtually impossible. Repatriation took time and indeed many troops would not see their homeland until 1922. To keep the troops occupied and to replace fighting as the stimulus for a united effort an Inter-Allied Games – otherwise known as the Military “Olympics” – were set up with the very best intentions. The Games were described by the Official History as “important in themselves because of their magnitude, unparalleled in the annals of sport by reason of the circumstances under which they were held.” It went on to say: “ These Games signalized to a vast number of soldiers of the various Armies of the Allies the end of the Great War and the beginning, in this unique love feast of divers races and nationalities, of a greater and more hopeful peace than the world had yet known.”

Feisal, Lawrence and Nuri Said
Many countries would participate for reasons of celebration or in continuation of friendly relations created under wartime conditions. In other cases countries such as Romania and Czechoslovakia, whose very existence was still in political doubt, saw the games as a further opportunity to raise their visibility on a world stage.

The idea of a ‘unique love feast’ of sport was first conceived by Elwood Brown less than two months after the end of hostilities. Brown was a leading advocate of a so-called ‘Muscular’ form of Christianity which he promoted throughout South-East Asia under the auspices of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). His approach was especially successful in the Philippines where as Director of Athletics he proposed and implemented the Far-Eastern Olympic Games from 1913 onwards. His concept of an Inter-Allied Games was quickly taken up by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) who convinced France and the International Olympic Committee to agree to the Games being placed under sole US control without interference. The Americans took their role very seriously and constructed a dedicated stadium east of Paris close to the Bois de Vincennes where the 1900 Olympics had taken place. It was named the Stade Pershing after the Commander of the AEF, General John J. Pershing who had been an acquaintance of Brown from the Philippines. The two men became the driving force behind the competition.

Feisal, fighting for the very existence of some form of Arab nationhood, must have been more than a little bemused to receive a letter of invitation from Pershing himself and may well have sought Lawrence’s advice on a matter he would not have anticipated but which might present wider political implications in the future. This was one more opportunity to reinforce an Arab presence on the world stage and the decision to attend was not taken lightly. His response was both cordial and humble. 

Paris, 20 March, 1919.

My dear General:
I am deeply sensible of the honour you paid the troops under my command in inviting us to take part in the Inter-Allied Athletic Meeting to be held shortly in Paris. It will give us the greatest pleasure to participate. I have sent General Nuri Pacha Said of my staff to Damascus to choose such team as we can supply, and will send you details of our entry as soon as possible.

I have the honour to be, sir
Yours very faithfully,

The only problem now for Feisal was who to pick to represent the budding nation of Arabs? With Nuri tasked with finding suitable representatives of the Hejaz contingent it quickly became apparent that with American and French supremacy in numbers perhaps a more symbolic involvement should be sought. Britain, for the same reasons, had declined full participation and contented itself to an advisory role and in sending a golf team and rowing crews.

Twenty-nine letters of invitation were sent and eighteen allied nations and territories accepted. The Games were well attended throughout commencing with the inauguration of the Pershing Stadium which attracted more than 90,000 spectators, although urgent business meant that President Wilson and M. Clemenceau were unable to attend. With 76 events across a dozen sports it was an ambitious programme not dissimilar to that of the 1916 Berlin Olympics which had been cancelled due to war.

Stade Pershing under construction
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, had initially locked horns over Brown’s plans to hold the Games which he perceived as an intrusion into Olympic affairs. Fortunately, they came to a mutual understanding based on a shared vision for stimulating sport and its ideals at a truly world level. Perhaps on no other occasion had there been a more poignant time for games and where the spirit of the Baron’s creed was felt more strongly: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Nuri returned to France with fifteen contestants, although only three of them were pitted in open competition. Of the rest, eight took part in a performance of Arabian Sword dancing while four riders were chosen from among the best in the two camel-mounted regiments in the Hejaz Regular Army for a demonstration of camel-racing. These were meant to represent the type of competition most popular in Arabia and were well received. Horse riding is normally a particularly well represented event across most competing nations but many were prevented by the post-war difficulty of finding the necessary mounts and of transporting them to Paris. The Hejaz team was able to put up three riders but could only muster one horse, a little gray Arabian named Masoud. This mount, however, caused the greatest sensation during a long-distance race when its rider, Captain Fowzi, came from the back of the field and passed opponent after opponent finally finishing in seventh place. The next part of the competition consisted of jumps which the untrained Masoud was unable to complete and was therefore eliminated from the contest although it finished out the ride with much acclaim for its gallant efforts against a stronger field. 

A Tug-of-war
If the British contingent was largely absent the Official History of the Games was fulsome in its explanation, recording: ‘wherever the sport world foregathers, the Englishman is a welcome competitor and one whose chances of winning must be minutely calculated by his adversaries. Old England, however, if absent in the flesh, was present in the spirit, and indeed in the blood, for Australia, Canada and New Zealand played an important part in the competitions. The Dominions gave a good account of themselves, too?’

Among the more unusual events was hand-grenade throwing, which took place in the knowledge that most of the contestants had been practising for at least four years. However, first place with a new world record was surprisingly taken by an American army chaplain, Fred Thompson, with a toss of 245 feet, 11 inches, who although not a regular soldier was an accomplished collegiate athlete before the war. The irony of including a Tug-of-War competition in a town where so many new nations were fighting for recognition was perhaps lost on the organisers. As predicted, America and France swept the board with the most points gained from the largest pool of competitors. 

The Games were deemed a great success, not least in strengthening combatant morale and in bringing together men that had been bound “by strong ties of sympathy in the common ideals for which they were fighting”. Elwood Brown’s vision was to “lay the foundations for those enduring friendships which can come only from personal contact and which, in this case, were of such fundamental importance to the future welfare of the world.” It was a noble cause but the real work of forging a new world order had just concluded not on the playing fields but in the halls of Versailles and as Clemenceau complained: “It was much easier to make war than peace.” 

Feisal, Lawrence and the Arab delegation, having taken every opportunity to promote the need to break the Arab movement out of the confines of the Hejaz in the name of the King were under no illusion as to the difficulties that lay ahead.