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, October 30, 2009

Ashmolean Museum re-opens

T.E. Lawrence's Arab robes have gone back on display at the refurbished Ashmolean Museum in Oxford after a major rebuild had partially closed the building for some years. The robes had languished in a back room close to some administration offices, kept out of sight for many years to the public and only revealed by private request. For me, this was a special treat on my rare visits to the town. The visitor was taken by a curator to areas not open to the public and then left in front of a glass display cabinet while, if I remember correctly, electric shutters were drawn slowly back to reveal the robes draped on a small mannequin. That one moment of theatre made the visit, and the robes, extra special. Now the museum will be able to display the robes in climate-controlled conditions without fear of damage. The Times reported the textile curator, Ruth Barnes, as saying: “You can just make out the gold and silver threading. Just imagine the light on that in the sunshine. It would have looked fantastic to the people he was trying to win over.”

Arab robe worn by Lawrence,
Stewart Newcombe also wore Arab robes while in the field, as did other members of the British Military Mission to the Hejaz to varying degrees. His were invariably stained and dirty from his prodigious efforts to destroy the Hejaz Railway. Most photos of Newcombe in the desert show a good few inches of sock disappearing into a pair of scruffy suede army brogues, as he was obviously unable to obtain robes for his height. Lawrence, who was given a set of robes by Sherif Feisal, wore his so that he could move easily among the tribes as a representative of Feisal and to allay suspicion. As he wrote: 'Because of my khaki they took me for a Turk-trained officer who had deserted to them, and were profuse in good-humoured but ghastly suggestions of how they should treat me.' Lawrence always tried to wear the best for political motives, both local and international. A fine example of these will be on display from the 7th November when the museum re-opens its doors.

For further information and to plan a visit go to

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baroness Elles (1921-2009)

Baroness Elles, Diana Louie Elles, died on October 17, 2009, aged 88. She was the daughter of Colonel Newcombe and as a Conservative politician she spoke from the opposition front bench on foreign affairs and served as a Member of the European Parliament for Thames Valley for ten years from 1979. A dedicated opponent of discrimination, she campaigned hard for enhanced rights and opportunities for women. She was a working peer for nearly four decades. After the death of her brother, Stewart Lawrence Newcombe, she was an important link to the Newcombe family history.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Welcome to the first blog on my forthcoming biography of Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe, R.E., D.S.O, entitled In the Shadow of the Crescent. In the coming weeks and months I will add to this blog items of interest relating to the progress of the book and to any significant research discoveries.