A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January 1916: Murray Takes Command in Egypt; Arab Bureau Formed

In January 1916, following the withdrawal of British and Allied forces from Gallipoli, the British reshuffled the command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the military force in Egypt. At the same time, the intelligence structure in Cairo was reorganized with the creation of the famous Arab Bureau. This post will deal with the command change; a later post will address the Arab Bureau. You may want to review my posts of a little over a year ago on the British Intelligence Section in Cairo and the complicated chain of command, as well as the new men assigned there.

With the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force's sole remaining front was at Salonika in Greece. Overall command returned to Cairo, with General Sir Archibald Murray taking over command from Sir Charles Monro in early January. Murray would continue to be responsible for the logistics of the Salonika front, but a French general took over operational command. The residual British force that had remained in Egypt was left, for the moment, under the command of Sir John Maxwell, but it was responsible only for the Senussi campaign; in March the Force in Egypt would be merged with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to form the new Egyptian Expeditionary Force under Murray's command; in April Maxwell would be sent to Ireland to deal with the Easter Rising.

Murray trading card
"Archie" Murray arrived in Egypt after a stint as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, but like each CIGS who served under Lord Kitchener's War Office, he was soon replaced. A veteran of the Zulu and Second Boer Wars, he began the Great War as Chief of Staff to Sir John French on the Western Front. Well hear a lot about Murray over the coming year.

Murray does not fare well in David Lean's 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, which portrays him (via actor Donald Wolfit) as irascible, skeptical of the prospects of the Arab Revolt, and contemptuous of Lawrence. In reality he backed the Revolt after being persuaded, and he and Lawrence got along. But the film has probably formed most people's view of the period. Murray was not greatly successful and after two failures to take Gaza he would be replaced by Edmund Allenby,

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