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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Before Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers on 29 October 1914 and four weeks before Newcombe and Lawrence were ordered to Cairo in support of the Allied move to protect Egypt and the Suez Canal, a massive mobilisation of Colonial troops was already underway, a great gathering of troops and materiel from every corner of the Empire. 

During those early months of the war in the Middle Eastern theatre, Egypt was flooded with colonial soldiers who had readily answered the call to arms. They gathered in makeshift transit camps en route to the bloody stalemate that was unfolding on the Western Front or to be dispatched locally to guard the Suez Canal and its approaches. Many more would be sent off to train in three large camps around Cairo to await their turn on the beaches and slopes of Gallipoli. The largest contingent was the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who for shorthand became better known by their initials. The new word this acronym formed was so obvious that the full stops were omitted and ANZAC entered the military lexicon and into the annals of war. 

Kangaroo mascot at Mena Camp

On the other side of the world the small but strategically important port town of Albany, Western Australia, had been chosen to host the largest assembly of men and materiel the country had ever witnessed. Its natural harbour, home to a thriving whaling industry, was the most obvious starting point for such an endeavour. Riding at anchor for five clear days out in the Southern Ocean in the protected waters of King George Sound and in Princess Royal Harbour, sat thirty-eight ships of the fleet waiting to embark upon a journey across the world and into history. The thirty-thousand troops and seven-thousand five-hundred horses had been gathered from across the young nation, full of optimism and pride in their massive undertaking on behalf of the ‘old country’. The federation of six Australian colonies was only fourteen years old but they came to help their mates ‘fight the Hun in Europe’. 
Ships bunkering in Princess Royal Harbour

For weeks the troops had been assembling in their thousands on ships that came in ones and twos and threes, till at last all the fleet was gathered. The lucky ones were those on ships close to the wharves as they were able to carry on with short route-marches on shore to keep active, the envy of those placed farther out in the Sound. On Sunday, 1 November 1914, as a grey dawn rose over the town, the long wait was finally over. Andrew Barton Paterson, who went by the pseudonym ‘Banjo’ after the name of his favourite horse and who was already one of Australia’s most celebrated poets and balladist, was aboard the Euripides and recorded the moment for The Sydney Morning Herald:

‘The only sign of life is the column of smoke pouring from each funnel, and this alone it is that tells us that Australia’s greatest maritime adventure is about to put out to sea. Each ship seems to stand out double her natural size, every spar and rope showing clearly outlined against a rosy sky.’ 

All eyes were turned to the flagship of the fleet waiting for a signal. At 6.25am, as a red sun rose behind Breaksea Island creating a sharp silhouette of its convict-built lighthouse, two escort ships, Sydney and Minotaur, silently weighed anchor and moved out past Breaksea and Michaelmas Islands. Thirty minutes later these ‘two grim, gliding leviathans, going majestically out to sea to take their places as guardians of the fleet’ were followed by the ships carrying the First Australian Division. As they passed the New Zealand ships waiting their turn to depart they were saluted with the old Maori war cry of "Ake, Ake, Ake, Kia Kaha!" - Forever! And ever! Be strong!
Albany, Western Australia
Then division by division, in a carefully orchestrated procession, set sail into the eye of the sun with all transports clear of the harbour by 8:53am. As each ship left the security of the Sound the volunteers watched as the townsfolk of Albany lined the shores, with many climbing the peaks of Mount Clarence and Strawberry Hill to bid farewell to the brave young men embarking on their long journey to the battlefields of Europe or the Middle East. The Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli was where the legend of ANZAC was born out of the horrors of a war that was to be on a scale never before imagined. Their adventure was to turn the federation of colonies into a proud and respected nation. For so many of the men, the beautiful soft green hills surrounding the bay of Albany would be their last sight of Australia. 


Centenary memorials have been taking place in Albany this November. You can now visit the new $10.6 million National Anzac Centre located within the Albany Heritage Park, which includes the Princess Royal Fortress, the Desert Mounted Corp Memorial, Padre White Lookout, and the Avenue of Honour. The Centre was officially opened on 1 November 2014 by both Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.  The Centre is a show-piece for the Anzac Centenary and will provide a unique opportunity for people to experience an emotional connection with the men and women who were involved in the First World War, understanding the sacrifice that they, their friends and families, made on behalf of their nation and its allied nations. The Centre is also accessible via the internet and highlights the significant role Albany played in the creation of the Anzac Spirit.

Visit The National Anzac Centre in Albany or online.

National Anzac Centre, Albany

For more details on Albany’s Anzac role visit Anzac Albany