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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence, report, 23 May 1917

[Arab Bulletin, 23 May 1917]

Captain T. E. Lawrence, whose report on his journeys to and from Sherif Abdullah's camp, as well as on the two chief raids in which he took part, have appeared separately, sent also an account of his stay in the camp itself. From this we take the following notes:-

Abdullah had a force of about 3,000 men, mostly Ateibah. These Capt. Lawrence thought very inferior as fighting men to the Harb and Juheinah, being unadulterated Bedouins. Their Sheikhs are ignorant men, lacking in influence and character, and they appear to be without interest in the campaign. They also knew nothing of the country they are in. Abdullah himself was leading rather an irresponsible hedonistic existence. His tastes appear to be pronouncedly literary. He takes great interest in the war in Europe and follows the operations on the Somme and the general course of European politics most closely (through Arabic newspapers which he spends most of the day in reading). [Stayed Abdulla's camp March 15 to March 20. 1st boils: 2nd dysentery: 3rd 10 days malaria.] 'I was surprised to find', says Capt. Lawrence, 'that he knew the family relationships of the Royal Houses of Europe and the names and characters of their ministers.' He believes that he could make him­self supreme in Yemen. If he succeeded, 'it would transform the Sherif's state from a loose hegemony of Bedouin tribes into a populous, wealthy and vigorous kingdom of villagers and townspeople'. Capt. Lawrence adds, with justice, that all past movements of importance in Arabia have been the work of the settled peoples, not of the tribes.

Sheikhs Shakir and Dakhilallah el-Gadhi were the two outstanding personalities in the camp. Both are men of action, and the first has an authority hardly inferior to that of the King or his sons. The Ateibah worship him. Dakhilallah is hereditary lawman of the Juheinah and possesses some science, speaking Turkish well. In fact, he was with the Turks up to December last and came down with them to Nakhl Mubarak. He seems to be a man of energy, resolution and persistence.

In regard to railway raids, Capt. Lawrence gives a rough list of those carried out during his stay from March 24 to April 6.

'March  24.   Bueir.             
                  Sixty rails dynamited and telegraph cut. 

"          25.   Abu el-Naam.   
                  Twenty-five rails dynamited, watertower, two
                  station buildings seriously damaged by shell fire,
                  seven box-
wagons and wood store and tents
                  destroyed by fire,
telegraph cut, engine and bogie

"         26.   Istabl Antar.    
                  Fifteen rails dynamited and telegraph cut.

"         29.   Jedahah.         
                  Ten rails dynamited, telegraph cut, five Turks

"         31.    Bueir.              
                  Five rails dynamited, telegraph cut.

April     3.     Hadiyah.          
                  Eleven rails dynamited, telegraph cut.

"         5.     Mudahrij.         
                  200 rails blown up, four-arched bridge destroyed,
                  telegraph cut.

"         6.     "                   
                  Locomotive mined and put out of action

"         6.     Bueir.              
                  Twenty-two rails cut, culvert blown up,
                  telegraph cut.

The Turks lost about thirty-six killed, and we took some seventy prisoners and deserters during the operations.

From April 7 a regular service of dynamiters was begun, from Ain Turaa, working against the Mudahrij-Abu el-Naam section, and from Bueir against the Istabl Antar-Bowat section. Dynamiters have been ordered to blow up not more than five rails per night and do something every night. The result of the first three nights' work was satisfactory, but no later details have reached me.'

In conclusion, Capt. Lawrence pays a tribute to Abdullah's sincerity and earnestness, while he thinks him not a military commander or a man of action in any way. He is too fond of pleasure and, in a sense, evidently too civilized for his present wild work. Capt. Lawrence, however, got him to do a good deal - to pay up the Ateibah (whose allowances were in arrears), to take an interest in his guns and machine - guns, to send out his dynamite parties, and to begin to prepare for a general move towards the railway. The report ends with an optimistic forecast.

'As regards the situation at Medina, I think the great bulk of the troops and practically all stores have been evacuated northward in small parties by rail. The programme for a route-march of the main body to el-Ula has (wisely, I think, for the Turks) been abandoned, and the fall of Medina is now merely a question of when the Arabs like to put an end to the affair. The Turks have little food, but so small a garrison that the question has less importance. No food is going in from the north, so that sooner or later starvation will ensue. Till it does, the Arabs will probably not enter the town, since the Emirs are all anxious to avoid warlike action against the place itself, for religious reasons.'

Source: SD 109-111
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 5 July 2004

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