A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Military Intellignce Section in Cairo 1914, Part III: the Five New Men

In Part I of this three-part post I introduce Gilbert Clayton's British Military Intelligence Section in the Savoy Hotel in Cairo in December 1914, when it was enlarged, and in Part II I explained the confusing chains of command; now it's time to look at the five new men who arrived a century ago, all of whom would leave a name for themselves one way or another: Stewart Newcombe, Leonard Woolley. T.E. Lawrence, Aubrey Herbert, and George Lloyd.

Three of the five (Newcombe, Woolley, and Lawrence) had worked together previously. The other two were young, aristocratic, and members of Parliament.

Captain (at this time) Stewart F. Newcombe was the one professional soldier among the new additions. Serving in the Royal Engineers, he was a veteran of the Second Boer War and had been serving with the Egyptian Army when, in 1913, he  joined with Woolley and Lawrence, both archaeologists, in an "archaeological" survey of the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev border. Officially under the scholarly Palestine Exploration Fund, this was in fact an intelligence mission, mapping the Negev and Sinai for possible Turkish routes between Beersheba or Gaza for n attack on the Suez Canal. After the survey was complete Woolley and Lawrence would compile their report, The Wilderness of Zin, which the War Office wanted before the outbreak of war with Turkey.Newcombe, after this period on Clayton's staff in Cairo, had a very eventful war: service and wounding at Gallipoli, time in France, service as chief of the British Military Mission in the Hijaz during the Arab Revolt, capture by the Turks, escape from a prison camp, marriage to the woman who helped him escape. He remained a lifelong friend of Lawrence's, and was a pallbearer at his funeral. A website devoted to Newcombe's career can be found here.

Newcombe would die in 1956.

Woolley and Lawrence at Carchemish
With Newcombe and Lawrence on the Sinai Survey had been Leonard Woolley, who had previously worked with Lawrence digging the Hittite ruins of Carchemish in Turkish Syria in 1912 prior to their Sinai survey, but the men had first met at Oxford when Lawrence was a student interested in archaeology in the Middle East and Woolley was Assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. The Carchemish dig was under the overall direction of archaeologist David S. Hogarth, who was Keeper of the Ashmolean and almost certainly already involved in intelligence work, as the site at Carchemish was near critical Ottoman lines of communication.. Hogarth would join Clayton's staff in Cairo in mid-1915 as an officer in Naval Intelligence.and later become Director of the Arab Bureau. After World War I, Woolley would gain fame as the excavator of Ur, and in World War II would serve with the allied "Monuments Men" recovering antiquities looted by the Nazis.

If you're wondering if every British archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire before the war was a spy, this limited sample seems to suggest as much.

T.E. Lawrence, of course, though today the best known and most studied of these men, was at the time the least known, he bureau's mapmaker, a newly-commissioned second lieutenant still in his 20s. We'll be hearing a lot more about him.

The other two members of the new group were both Members of Parliament, and both Tories.

Aubrey Herbert, who at one time enjoyed considerable fame, was a younger son of the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon. (His older half-brother became the Fifth Earl, famous as the Lord Carnarvon who funded Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb.) At the end of the Balkan Wars he helped secure Albanian independence and was supposedly offered the throne. When the Great War broke out, despite poor vision that rendered him nearly blind, he bluffed his way into an Army unit and fought in the opening British battle at Mons. Long a Turcophile who spoke Turkish and other languages, he was a natural for the Cairo intelligence job as a specialist on Turkish issues. He would soon be sent off, though, to the Syrian coast, to Gallipoli, to Mesopotamia during the siege of Kut, and all over the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. He is said to be the model for Sandy Arbuthnot in John Buchan's spy novel Greenmantle.Though a Tory, Herbert supported the independence of small states, including Ireland.

The fifth member of the new group was George A. Lloyd, who would be the business and banking expert on the intelligence staff (he was heir to the Stewarts and Lloyds  steelworks), and was also a Tory MP. In the 1920s he would become, as the First Baron Lloyd, the  British High Commissioner in Egypt. Lord Lloyd, as he was by then, wrote the two-volume work Egypt Since Cromer; later he would be Secretary of State for the Colonies and Leader of the House of Lords.

Most of these men will appear again in the coming months.

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