First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton 58 Turkish battleships, British confiscation of, 34 Turkish–German offensive against Suez Canal, 2 U-boat campaign, 129 U-Boats, threat of, 26 United States joins the war, 122, 130 Uris, Leon, The Haj, 6, 216 venereal diseases, 20, 138 Verdi’s Aida, 23 Vickers, 34 Victoria, Queen, 33 Vietnam, 220 Walers, 18 Waltzing Matilda, 81 water restrictions, 5 Waterloo, 2 Wavell, Field Marshall Earl, 7 Weizmann, Dr Chaim, 106 Wentworth, Lady, The Authentic Arabian Horse, 105 Wilson, Jeremy, 9–10, 215–6 Wingate, General Sir Reginald, 64, 76 Woolley, Leonard, 21 World War I, causes of, 22 Young, Hubert, 78 Zaghloul, Sadd, 23 Prologue First light confirmed a scene of horror.
During the night, horses and men had gone down together in hundreds and died in one tangled, bleeding mass.
The ground was thick with the dead and the dying.
Most of the fugitives in the Barada Gorge, the main escape route to Beirut, were Turkish and German soldiers who had refused to surrender and had been machinegunned under orders from High Command.
Sealing all the exits of Damascus was urgent.
The British wanted the Turkish and German military commanders, troops and officials to surrender, not to escape, but many, including Mustafa Kemal, had already raced ahead.
At great speed, leading the remnants of his army, he had galloped out of range.
Narrowly, he had escaped becoming one of the 40,000 prisoners taken in less than a fortnight.
When the Allies had opened fire, the Turks in the front of the column had tried to turn back to the city, but the push of the people behind them was so strong that they 19 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton were shoved forward into the zone of endless bullets pouring down from the cliff above.
After four centuries, the crescent moon and star flag of the sprawling Ottoman Empire, which had fluttered over Damascus since 1516, was soon to be hauled down.
World War I had just entered its fifth year.
The British were about to have a significant victory in the Middle East, a conquest that would give them a dominant role in the area.
Night and day since 19 September 1918, the Allies had relentlessly gone on in pursuit of the Turkish soldiers, whose stirring war cry of ‘Allah! Allah! Allah!’ was all too familiar.
Now thousands were trying to flee before the British army finally seized the fabled city.
Hundreds of dead men, horses and even a flock of dead sheep, lay in between brokendown vehicles, abandoned guns, machinery and disabled transport, blocking the path of the advancing horsemen.
Some unlucky human survivors were heard, feebly calling for water.
Those who were still conscious gazed with eyes that begged for a little mercy; mercy that they knew would not come from the Arabs.
The air was heavy with the nauseating smell of unburied corpses of men and beasts.
At dusk, the prowling jackals would close in to perform their funeral rites.
As the riders made their way through the dead and wounded, they took care that the horses’ iron hooves would not trample and mangle the faces of the fallen.
Corpses were strewn everywhere.
Groans and screams echoed pitifully in the silent dawn.
The animals waited either for rescue, the relief of a quick pistol shot or a bayonet stab.
In the half-light of early morning, a troop of scouts raced back.
For nearly a mile ahead the road was almost impassable.
Progress through the debris was slow – both the riders and their horses were showing signs of exhaustion.
Most of the soldiers – from the Kimberleys, Geraldton, Perth, Kalgoorlie and the back of Broome – felt like old campaigners now.
Thirteen days earlier, they had started at Jaffa (from where the famous orange had taken its name), then swept up the coast of Palestine on what they already referred to as the ‘Great Ride’.
Few mounted troops and horses could have endured such a journey.
Feeding and watering 12,000 horses and their riders as they invaded new territory, let alone the 57,000 troops in the rear, together with the tens of thousands of camels, mules and donkeys, was such a formidable task that both man and beast often went without forage and water.
This was the largest group of cavalry ever used in an advance by the British army, and the largest deployed in modern times.
It was on a par with the cavalry at Waterloo or at Omdurman with the Hussars against the Mahdi’s Black Flags when Winston Churchill charged against the Dervishes.
Although the Australian mounted troops’ mastery of horses set tham apart and they received the admiration and adulation now reserved for pop bands, film stars and footballers, few people are aware of their major role in the fall of Damascus.
It was to be the culmination of a campaign that had started four years earlier in Gallipoli.
Usually, the disastrous nine months of the Gallipoli campaign are seen in isolation, not as part of the ongoing campaign between the British and the Turks in the western Mediterranean, but between 1915 and 1918, battles had endlessly dragged on between two empires: the shrinking Ottoman Empire and the expanding British Empire that 20 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton encircled the globe.
By chance, on the roads to Damascus, two of the main players on the Turkish side were the same commanders as had been at Gallipoli: Mustafa Kemal and Otto Liman von Sanders.
For twelve days, the British Desert Mounted Corps had been pursuing them, from Nablus and Nazareth.
But now on the steep and terrible hills above Damascus the wheel of fortune was turning full circle.
Kemal, despite fighting desperately, was losing.
God, the Koran and the Germans were failing the Turks.
The Germans, too, had overrated the effect of the Sultan announcing a jihad – a holy war.
Strong though the Muslim faith was, it had not proved a unifying force.
The Sherif (Governor of Mecca) and the British – with much help from Lawrence – defused the jihad so effectively that few people now associate the word with World War I.
Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Forces, with headquarters in Cairo, had led the offensive around the Mediterranean coast and, right from the beginning, had defiantly used Muslim soldiers, pitting co-religionists against each other. (This was a separate operation from the British campaign run by the India office in Mesopotamia, which does not fall within the scope of this book.) The four-year operation can be divided into four distinct phases, each one with a different British commander.
The first, in February 1915, the initial Turkish–German offensive against the Suez Canal, was successfully repulsed by General Sir John Maxwell; second, Gallipoli, was where the Turks, under the German general, Otto Liman von Sanders, aided by Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, had defeated General Sir Ian Hamilton’s forces; the third was the slow British advance across the Sinai Peninsula, led by Sir Archibald Murray between 1916 and 1917, which ended in disaster for the British when General Kress von Kressenstein had twice beaten them at Gaza.
General Sir Edmund Allenby led the fourth and final phase.
After breaking through Gaza at the end of 1917, he had captured Jerusalem.
Merged into the last two phases of the Turkish–British conflict was the guerrilla warfare of the Arab Revolt, immortalised in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.
Capturing Damascus had seemed a wild dream when Lawrence, soon to be known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, had first proposed it to the Arabs in 1916.
It was then one of the great cities of the Middle East, more central to the region than Cairo or Baghdad and, as Lawrence later wrote, ‘the climax of our two years’ uncertainty’.
He again stressed its importance in his book’s epilogue: ‘Damascus had not seemed a sheath for my sword when I landed in Arabia; but its capture disclosed the exhaustion of my main springs of action’.
The Australians pummelled the road through the deep Barada Gorge, down the barren, steep hills.
Lawrence, who had been part of the group that had bivouacked in their rough camp on the ridge above the gorge the previous night, was not, as planned, behind them.
With his small stature arrayed in extravagant, flowing robes similar to those of a desert sheikh, complete with Bedouin headdress and dagger, standing beside his huge armoured Rolls Royce, the ‘Blue Mist’, he was more than noticeable.
Below the minimum height for soldiers, Lawrence had not qualified for active service like his two brothers, who had both been killed in France.
He had gone into the army through the 21 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton intelligence department, and for two years had acted as British liaison officer to Prince Feisal and the Arab irregulars.
He was already renowned for his daring guerrilla tactics, especially blowing up trains.
With Prince Feisal, the small Arab regular army and the colourful rag-tag band of Arab irregulars, he had rendezvoused with the Australians at the town of Deraa.
Both groups had been progressing in a northerly direction for over a year, but the last few days had been the first time that the two forces had been in the same area.
Now, having slept briefly beside his car, Lawrence was now nowhere to be seen.
In the distance, the Australian horsemen could see the indistinct outlines of the slender white minarets and the glittering domes of Damascus’s mosques.
They horsemen were still too far away to hear the holy chants of the Muslims in the mosques; still oblivious to the destruction, calls to prayer still rang out.
Under the threat of sniping from the odd survivor in the dense undergrowth on either side of the Barada Gorge, the men of the 10th Light Horse Regiment flung themselves from their horses, and proceeded to clear a path through this shambles.
When they pushed the dead to the side of the road, a quick count revealed 370 Turkish corpses.
Wounded Turks – and they were in their hundreds – were carried to the grassy bank of the river.
Arrangements were made for them to be picked up by ambulances later.
Once the men were past the bodies, the command to ‘Push on!’ was given.
Short of water, short of food and short of sleep, their faces smeared with sweat and dirt, their lips dry and cracked, the Australians rode on.
Engulfed in a thick cloud of dust, they galloped as fast as the steep descent and the stamina of their horses would allow.
The weather was hotter than usual for early autumn.
The river in front was not a mirage.
It was forbidden to drink straight from rivers but, as always, some men filled the crown of their felt hats with water and let their horses drink.
Others also managed to splash their eyes.
But the unofficial halt was short.
Damascus, reputedly the oldest city in the world to be continuously inhabited, had for centuries been a vital nerve centre of the sprawling Ottoman Empire and the key to Syria.
Soon, though, this fabled city was to be taken over by the Allies.
And soon the question would arise – who entered first? Was it the Australians? Was it the Arabs? Had Lawrence descended the hill by another route, met up with some Arabs and got there first? Was there really a sham entry staged by the British to deceive the French? Did the Australians unwittingly undermine the Arabs’ quest for self-government in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire? What was the significance of the order to the Australians not to go into Damascus? As political consequences would follow from the claim of who was first into Damascus, each side, each faction, was passionate about the honour of being the first who entered.
Even war diaries differ in their answers.
Historians have made the debate about who was first in to Damascus a bone of contention.
The chaos and confusion at Damascus of different forces reaching the city at similar and/or overlapping times created a scenario where claims could be staked – and pushed aside by counter-claims.
While some books present the 10th Light Horse as the first past the post, in others Lawrence and the Arabs are not only the winners, but are often depicted as the real victors of the campaign.
The issue of who was first to Damascus went far beyond personal pride. 22 — First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton Chapter Two Arrival in Gallipoli On Friday 23 April, in Mudros Harbour, one of the mightiest seaborne invasions in history was about to commence.
The first of 200 ships were off and moving forward to a tumult of excited and deafening cheers from the surrounding vessels, crammed with soldiers who would soon follow, including a French Division and the 29th British Division.
Even the weather was auspicious.
The wind, which had blown every cloud away, had now dropped, and the sky over this Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean was the brightest of blues.
Ashore it seemed that all the spring flowers had burst into bloom at once.
This was the biggest offensive undertaken by Britain and France in the early stages of the war, and the Australians were to be the first troops going ashore.
Their objective was historic: like the Crusaders before them, they were en route to capture Constantinople, the capital of Turkey and great city of the Islamic world.
Their route was via Gallipoli, just 132 miles away.
The peninsula of Gallipoli guards the three seas of antiquity: the Mediterranean, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, the world’s oldest maritime trade route and a magnet to merchants, pirates, conquerors and statesmen.
Since ancient times, the dramatic headlands and rugged hills of Gallipoli have acted as a barrier between Europe and the Orient, between West and East, a gateway to Constantinople.
This new invasion was rightly considered by many strategists to be fraught with danger.
Two years before World War I had even begun, the Italians had tried to storm Gallipoli but, like many before them, had been repulsed.
This time, nothing had been spared apart from the horses: men, seaplanes, battleships.
At this stage, the majority of the animals landing with the troops were just beasts of burden; the cavalry would come later.
This was not just a simple advance into the heartland of Turkey, the centre of the Ottoman Empire, but a sophisticated diversionary tactic dreamt up by politicians and generals in London.
Opening up a new front in the east would, they believed, shatter the stalemate in France.
According to Churchill, then a 41-year-old aspiring politician, First Lord of the Admiralty and one of the main advocates of the operation, it would also attack Germany through the ‘back door’.
Another advantage was opening up the Black Sea to trade again.
Russia could then ship out her wheat and be supplied with the munitions she so desperately needed.
The Russians, Greeks and Bulgarians also hoped to gain Constantinople, not only for its prized seaways, but because it had great religious significance and was the birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Like Rome, Constantinople is built on seven hills.
Only by occupying ‘the city of the world’s desire’, taken by the Turks in 1453, could Russia be sure that her ships could safely sail from the Black Sea into the Aegean, the Mediterranean and beyond.
Even the anti-Tsarist literary hero, Feodor Dostoevsky, wrote in 1876: ‘It goes without staying that sooner or later Constantinople should be ours’.
No vessel can leave the Black Sea without first sailing through the Bosphorus, straddled by Constantinople.
Having navigated the narrow channel, a ship next has to sail across 39 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton the Sea of Marmara and finally through the thirteen-mile channel of the Dardanelles, which in earlier times was called the Hellespont.
It had been sailed through by Jason and swum across by Leander to visit his beloved Hero, deeds immortalised by many writers and poets.
Chanak and Troy lie on the Dardanelles’ eastern Asiatic side and Gallipoli is on its western European bank.
The nation holding either of these two banks – or both – controls all the shipping from southern Russia, Bulgaria and Rumania, including the rich basin of the Danube, the Crimean ports of Odessa and Sebastopol, and the mouths of four rivers: the Danube, the Dniester, the Dnieper, and the Don.
As the icy expanses of the Baltic were not navigable in winter, these straits were essential for Russian trade.
For a century Britain had been Turkey’s strong ally.
The two countries had fought side by side in the Crimean War against Russia.
This war had given the English language the word ‘jingoism’.
Crowds had gathered in Trafalgar Square in the early 1850s waving not the Union Jack but the Ottoman crescent and star flag singing: We don’t want to fight, But by jingo if we do, We’ve got the ships, We’ve got the men, We’ve got the money too.
We’ve fought the bear before, And if we’re Britons true, The Russians shall not have Constantinople! After the Crimean campaign, Britain maintained links with the Sultans in their palaces.
When Russia attacked the Balkans via the Caucasus in 1877, Queen Victoria herself sent bandages to wounded Turkish soldiers.
But in the same way that the decadent occupant of the throne of the House of Osman, Sultan Abdul Hamid II – Abdul ‘the Damned’ – had many wives and countless concubines in his harem, he also believed he could have more than one ally, even if one was in alliance with his old enemy, Russia.
For thirty years this intriguer played off the European powers against each other.
His successor indulged in similar games.
Many paradoxes resulted from Britain’s closeness to Turkey.
Firstly, she had trained the Turkish navy.
Ever since 1911, seventy-two British naval advisers and staff under RearAdmiral Arthur Limpus had been stationed in Constantinople, helping to modernise the Turkish navy.
As a result, the British navy knew the seas they were about to invade very well indeed.
Two years earlier, when the Italians had tried to take the Gallipoli peninsula, British officers had advised the Turks on how to defend it.
However, as Edwardian attitudes still prevailed, it was considered ungentlemanly for Limpus to fight against the men he had taught to fight or the places he knew so well, so he never fought in the Gallipoli theatre.
Secondly, munitions manufacturer Vickers had been one of the suppliers of the Turkish arsenal, so a large number of the Turkish mines used in the Dardanelles to blow up British ships were made in the north of England.
In 1915 British guns would also be among those used by the Turks against the British on the peninsula.
Thirdly, two superdreadnought battleships were nearing completion in the north of England.
Ordered by Turkey in 1911, they were impounded by the British at the beginning of August 1914.
These mighty vessels had been paid for by coins dropped into collection boxes in villages throughout Turkey.
Britain’s action outraged and embittered the nation.
The decks of the moving ships were overcrowded with raw Anzac troops who had never seen battle.
The voices of over 10,000 patriots seemed to be raised as they sang ‘Australia Will Be There’, a song that became an emotive chant during the war: On land 40 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton or sea, wherever you be, Keep your eye on Germany! For England, Home and Beauty Have no cause to fear! Should auld acquaintance be forgot? No! No! No! No! No! Australia will be there! Australia will be there! When the singing faded, the bands kept playing and the troops kept cheering.
Within a week, they thought, the Union Jack would be high above the domes and minarets of Constantinople.
None of the men knew that the British, French and Russians had four weeks earlier concluded a secret agreement to hand over Constantinople and the nearby Turkish coasts to the Russians.
This agreement, reached in London, completely reversed Britain’s traditional policy of keeping Russia well out of Turkey.
No longer was Britain preserving a barrier against Russian expansion.
But it was war; and Russia was an ally, not an enemy.
Nor did the Australian soldiers know that the Sultan had earlier proclaimed a jihad.
Religion reared its head on both sides.
As the ships neared their destination, men who had not attended a church service for years crowded onto the decks to sing the hymns in the ‘Service Before Battle’ and hear the chaplain pray for victory.
At midnight on 24/25 April, the ships were still moving.
An hour or so passed.
But had they landed on the correct beach? Did a current pull them too far up the coast? Had the landing cove been changed at the last minute? Had secrecy blocked information, so that officers were not sufficiently briefed about the right destination? Under a setting moon, they lowered themselves into the rowing boats, gripping the loose rope ladders that swayed with their weight.
At about 3.30 am, steamboats started towing them the two-and-a-half miles to shore.
Moving in darkness, they glided onto seashores of pebbles, about a mile north of Gaba Tepe, Ariburnu – the ‘Cape of Bees’, a name honouring the wild bumblebees which had made thousands of hives in holes eroded in the cliff-face.
Soon, though, it would be known as Anzac Cove.
As dawn broke, the Australians were the first Allied troops to wade ashore on the beaches of the Gallipoli peninsula.
Spasmodic shell and machine-gun fire whipped up the sand in front of the assault craft.
The Turks were prepared to meet the invaders.
Bullets hit the men, the water, and the shingle of the beach.
Some men jumped out of the boats.
But once they were in the water many were pulled down by the weight of their packs and drowned.
Others in the boats and on the beach hardly dared raise their heads and look up.
Some, defying bullets and shrapnel, ran across the pebbles, stumbling on fallen comrades.
There was no cover.
Men died trying to drag injured mates to a safer position.
Some lay dead in the boats; others, unable to move, lay in agony on the beach.
As the beach became piled with mutilated bodies, some of the injured were stacked onto linked barges.
The sea around the cove was red with blood.
Boats kept bringing more and more men.
By 2 pm, 12,000 Anzacs were ashore – dead, injured and alive.
Fighting went on ceaselessly, even in the dark, for forty-eight hours.
Leaving those who were incapacitated behind, the soldiers fixed bayonets and scrambled up the pathless cliffs, pulling at the dry crumbling earth.
The inhospitable nature of the terrain challenged them.
With their boots and clothes heavy with seawater, the men found much of the going very rough.
Shinning up the deep sandstone chasms and gullies, they soon lost touch with each 41 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton other, but managed to lever and pull themselves up by the tangle of low green scrub and a prickly holly-like bush with spiked leaves, which inflicted nasty scratches.
As the soldiers clambered up, they came across patches of sweet-scented flowers, mostly yellow or mustard-coloured.
The chain of communication collapsed.
Neither messages from the officers on the beach, nor men and supplies, were getting through to the men surging forward over the hills.
Each man high up in the scrub relied on personal endeavour.communication between the command on the ships and beach headquarters was almost as ineffective.
While being peppered with bullets and shrapnel, some of the men managed to edge up to the uppermost ridge, where they caught glimpses of the Narrows, the mile-wide stretch of water immortalised by the English poet, Lord Byron, who had swum across it in 1810.
Next stop was to be Constantinople.
But the Australian troops had to turn back or be killed, for close in the hinterland, riding at the head of his Division (around 12,000 men) towards them, was their nemesis, Mustafa Kemal.
The overall commander of the Turkish troops was Liman von Sanders, who would also often be in the fray, risking death and smelling the stench of the battles.
Liman von Sanders was an unbending, resolute, stout, 64-yearold German general who brought monogrammed silk sheets on campaign and relished the ‘von’ with which the Kaiser had recently ennobled him.
A year earlier he had been sent to Turkey to reorganise the Ottoman army.
Apart from being fastidiously dressed and a cavalry officer, he had little in common with Kemal, then a 34-year-old with steely blue eyes, prominent cheekbones, an elegant nose and light brown hair, who more often than not was smoking a cigarette.
The only son of a clerk at the Salonika Customs House, Kemal, like many well-educated Turks, was fluent in French, with polished manners and dignified deportment.
Stubborn and thin-lipped, and adored by his soldiers, he was to later to be referred to as ‘the saviour of Gallipoli’.
For seven and a half months he took the lead in the northern sector above Anzac Cove.
Other Turkish and German officers also performed exceptionally at Gallipoli, but it was Kemal’s name that was to stand out.
Despite his abilities, Kemal was then only a divisional commander.
There had been reluctance to send him to the front, as many Turks in authority regarded him as a somewhat dangerous person, a leader of the progressives.
The Turkish minister of war, Enver Pasha, who in 1913 had staged a coup d’état that had given him, as war minister, effective power and control in Turkey, was always in two minds towards Kemal.
Aware of Kemal’s brilliance, he felt that one day Kemal might outshine him.
Although ambivalent about the West, Kemal had tried to adopt a few Western ways, even learning the waltz and taking ballroom dancing lessons.
When he was a military attache in Bulgaria and in Constantinople, he had to shake off gossip about excesses of whisky drinking and women.
But whatever his personal failings, once on the battlefield he inspired his troops.
They would follow him to the ends of the Earth.
Fellow officers, though, often found Kemal difficult, as he could not abide criticism. 42 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton Without Kemal’s presence, the Australians might well have reached the far side of the hills and dominated the Narrows.
Then, and only then, would they have cleared the channel of mines and conquered Constantinople.
Kemal galloped here, there and everywhere building up a delaying force.
Collecting the men from his two battalions wherever he found them, he pushed them into any gap.
He kept thrusting them forward in a non-stop attack, wheeling field guns and howitzers into position.
After a few hours, while his men – who, confusingly, also wore khaki uniforms – were briefly resting, Kemal sped ahead towards Chunuk Bair, where he saw another group retreating.
For three hours they had been firing at the Australian soldiers landing on the beach, and they had not a bullet left.
The soldiers pointed at a line of Australians who were quickly advancing and were closer to Kemal than his own troops.
Kemal gave the command to fix bayonets, lie down and keep the Australians at bay while a Turkish officer raced back to fetch the rest of the regiment, and more bullets and shells.
Additional soldiers rushed into action with heavy guns, emptying them on the Anzacs as they tried to surge over the ridge, forcing them to scatter and take cover in the sparse scrub.
Never did Kemal let up in his relentless defence.
He sent two battalions forward to halt the invaders as they crawled and clawed up the steep slopes.
Pushing forward the big howitzers to shell the beach, directing shrapnel and explosives on the incoming boats and men, Kemal stopped the Australian and New Zealand forces.
As more Allied corpses piled up on the shingled beaches, he effectively froze the Australians and New Zealanders into an area close to the shore.
Half of the Australians and New Zealanders who landed during the first couple of days became casualties.
A quarter of the Australians who perished there during the nine months of the campaign died in those ghastly first five days.
In less than forty-eight hours, seven transports arrived at Alexandria, Egypt, carrying 3346 casualties.
John Laffin, in Damn the Dardanelles, puts the figures for the three days 25–28 April as: killed – 2,500 men and 150 officers; wounded – 6,000 men and 250 officers.
He does not, though, stipulate which army – the British as a whole, or the Anzacs in particular.
The Turks, too, suffered terrible casualties.
The first objective of the Australians was to capture the third ridge of the Sari Bair range, a stepping stone towards the Narrows. ‘The Narrows’ became a place that haunted the Australians, always so physically close, yet unreachable.
Kemal knew that whoever held those heights controlled the entire area – and ultimately the Dardanelles.
In his diary, Kemal wrote that the decisive moment of the landing, the instant that he won the battle, was after he gave his famous order: ‘I don’t order you to attack, I order you to die.
In the time it takes us to die, other troops and commanders can come and take our places’.
As Islam is the only religion that has a specific doctrine of fighting for the faith, for martyrdom, many Turkish soldiers were quite willing to die.
In confronting the Christian infidel, Kemal’s soldiers were finding salvation, for the Koran says: ‘The sword is the key to Heaven and Hell’.
The Turks were a ferocious force in defending their homeland. 43 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton When ammunition ran out again, hand-to-hand fighting took its place.
Finally the Anzacs were driven back to the coastal spurs and ridges.
Confusion was rife.
As both sides were camouflaged within the hills, it was difficult for gunners on ships to distinguish between their own men and the Turks.
At such a distance, gunfire could not be sure of hitting foe rather than friend.
So the huge guns at sea were not fully utilised.
While the ships fulfilled their role by delivering every cartridge, ounce of food and supplies, and most of the water to the men, they were woefully inadequate at providing battle protection and support.
Men hit before landing could not be brought ashore, so remained in the boats as they plied back to the fleet bringing more and more troops.
Not even the worst pessimist could have expected the flow of wounded that poured out from Gallipoli.
Some boats – along with dirty, verminous transports, without doctors or stores – went from ship to ship, desperately searching for a place to offload the injured and dead.
For example, Colonel Howse, ADMS 1st Australian Division, said that he was told by one non-commissioned officer (NCO) of one boat that he tried seven transports before getting the wounded taken on.
Many of the vessels moving the wounded were neither staffed nor equipped to take their pitiful cargoes.
On the Hindoo, two medical officers with two surgical panniers cared for 800 casualties, many on the verge of death.
Conditions on the SS Lutzow were worse.
Here one lone veterinary surgeon was expected to care for 600 wounded during the four-day voyage to Egypt.
One medical orderly on another vessel wrote that the boats were so jammed with bodies that as soon as a man died he was tossed as quickly as possible into the sea.
Everywhere men suffered from the filth, the ineffective system of hygiene and lack of either water or someone to bring it to their parched mouths.
On one ship there were between 400 and 500 wounded, with only one bedpan; wounds left untreated for seven days suppurated.
This often caused deaths that would not normally have occurred with such injuries.
Arrangements ashore were equally chaotic.
On Gallipoli, the medical facilities were initially like those encountered by Florence Nightingale in the nearby Crimea sixty years earlier.
Again the wounded were obliged to lie for days under shellfire, until transport could be found to take them.
Only the numbers of the dead solved the problem of overcrowding.
In his diary, the official historian, C.
Bean, wrote about the censorship that stopped the people in Australia knowing what was actually happening to their troops. ‘People in Australia, when fifty casualties were published, seem by the latest reports to have been almost shocked.
We know that by then the list was really 5,000 for this division alone…’ Appalled by hospital services that were strained and inadequate beyond belief, Mabel Brookes (later Dame) echoed the criticism that a great deal of the suffering was due to poor administration.
Her husband, Norman, Australia’s first international tennis star, who had won the Wimbledon championship in 1914, headed the Australian Red Cross in Cairo.
Deeply moved by the uncomplaining heroism of the 17,000 wounded men who arrived in Egypt before the end of May, she recorded their pain in her memoirs, Crowded Galleries.
Men lay in their drying and oozing blood, with no drugs to kill the pain, often without any blankets.
Many were waiting for amputations. ‘On 14 May, Luna Park [a temporary hospital in Heliopolis] with 1,750 patients had four medical officers, 15 sisters 44 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton and 40 orderlies, mostly untrained.
Kerosene tins were used for dressing trays and water was sterilised in dixies.
Mudros took 6,000 cases irrespective of Cairo…the Red Cross in Egypt had not been sufficiently planned nor, indeed, had the whole medical service…’ Another hospital nearer Cairo, called the Atelier, took a thousand, while canvas was thrown over the tennis courts at the Ghezireh Sporting Club to take another 1250, and two Australian hospitals were improvised at Lemnos.
Apart from trying to keep the men alive, bedding, bedpans and other medical necessities had to be improvised and clothes had to be found for the men, most of whom had been separated from their kits.
Pinned down around Anzac Cove, the soldiers were unable to penetrate far inland.
Their maximum achievement was about 1250 metres east of the beach.
So dreadful were the casualties, so bleak the outlook, that the Anzac commander had sent a request to Hamilton on the Queen Elizabeth, on the first night, for permission to evacuate the men.
They were to stay at their posts, ‘dig in’ and ‘dig, dig, dig’.
The troops duly dug in.
Instead of an advance to Constantinople, the troops were stuck in one place.
This new front, which had been created to break the sour stalemate of trench warfare in France, turned into the same thing that had occurred in France – men deadlocked in trenches.
Battle had deteriorated into the same trench-slogging match.
Each man was in a trap, surrounded either by the sea or Turks.
The sole way out was by boat.
In his poignant memoirs Facey described the cat-and-mouse affair: ‘We had to work hard digging new trenches…When daylight came the Turks would see that our line had moved closer.
They would shell hell out of the trench for a day or two…’.
With the combined strength of the British navy, army and new air force, combat developed into continual sniping, interrupted by short bursts of extreme and violent activity.
At Gallipoli, the army did not supply all the necessary ambulances for its wounded.
The Red Cross supplied one, the poet John Masefield another.
When war had broken out, he had volunteered as an orderly at a British Red Cross hospital in France.
Horrified by the inadequacy of medical facilities, Masefield raised enough money in England to purchase a 32-horsepower twin-screw motorboat, two smaller launches and a barge.
He drove the speedboat to Gallipoli himself, taking his small flotilla across the treacherous Bay of Biscay and around Gibraltar into the Mediterranean to reach his destination.
Each night, under cover of darkness, the new ambulances sped across the sixty miles of sea to Gallipoli, to fetch British, French and Anzac wounded from the beaches. 45 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton Chapter Three The Saddlebags and Horses are Left Behind Attempts to progress beyond their slim beachhead and get over the hill to the Narrows on the other side, a hike of less than four miles, were in vain.
Despite heavy losses and little hope of success, the Anzacs sustained a cheerful level of bravery, discipline and comradeship – ‘mateship’.
More men were landed; again their progress was halted and repulsed by Kemal.
He was fast proving his skill as a military strategist.
With such heavy casualties, the British were revising their earlier poor assessment of the Turkish troops.
Replacements were urgently needed, but there was opposition to the Light Horse brigades and New Zealand Mounted Rifles being sent for dismounted service.
Having already vigorously opposed sending them to France, the commander in Egypt was reluctant to lose their vital role in protecting the Suez Canal.
Destroying the hundred-mile long canal was a principal German objective, and ever since the Turkish attempt to close the Suez Canal in February, the British had feared further attacks.
But when the idea of joining the other Australians in Gallipoli was placed before the men of the 10th Light Horse, they volunteered, ‘to a man’.
Anxious to preserve their identity, the Light Horsemen parted sorrowfully from their animals, their bandoliers, their leggings and spurs.
Usually there was a deep bond between each man and his horse.
Many had travelled with their own cherished mounts from farms and stations in Australia, and affection and trust turned horses almost into extensions of their owners.
To ensure that the horses were kept up to standard, 25 per cent of the men were to stay behind to groom and care for them.
On 16 May, 2,250 men and 106 officers from the 2nd Light Horse and the 10th Light Horse boarded a captured German steamer at Suez.
The trip across the Mediterranean was far from pleasant.
According to one man on board, the ship was ‘in a terribly insanitary condition, having already made several hasty trips with very little opportunity of “cleaning up”’.
On the eve of their arrival, the majority of men could not squeeze onto the deck for the usual prayers so they used these precious last minutes to sharpen their bayonets on revolving grindstones on the decks, to the singing of the hymn ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’.
On 21 May, the Turks made a concerted effort to stop further Australians landing.
But as more men were killed, more arrived.
The men of the 10th Light Horse progressed towards the beach under light shrapnel in barges and pinnaces.
For forty-eight hours they stayed in trenches near Plugge’s Plateau.
They then made their way to a place already christened Monash Gully, where their commander was Harry Chauvel, a small, wiry Queenslander who was to play a significant role in all the Light Horse regiments over the next four years.
The grandson of a retired Indian army officer who had settled at Tabulam on the Clarence River, he had earlier proved himself in the Boer War.
With the reserved manner of an English gentleman, Chauvel lacked the laconic laid-back bonhomie that endeared so many — 67 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton the Turkish stronghold at Medina, and disrupt and cut the Hejaz railway – the vital link between Syria and the Holy Cities.
Supplies came on trains all the way from Turkey itself, but the track was not yet continuous through to Constantinople.
Goods still had to be offloaded in a few parts of the mountains, but the railway ran through most of the Taurus Mountains to Aleppo and down to Riyak, where the gauge changed, and goods were trans-shipped into other carriages to Damascus.
In the next two years this railway line would become both a constant target and a military route.
Lawrence was immediately given scope to implement his highly original ideas on guerrilla warfare.
Blowing up the track was a quick way of reducing military activity, as the arrival of supplies, owing to shortages of fuel and rolling stock, was already precarious.
Unlike a conventional war hero, Lawrence was of slight build, with bright blue eyes and a curiously nervous smile, his fair hair parted and brushed to the side and plastered with grease.
His six years living in Arab countries meant that he not only spoke Arabic but also happily sat cross-legged in true Oriental fashion and climbed onto a camel as easily as onto a motorbike.
Lawrence not only gained the confidence of the Arabs, who called him ‘el Aurans’, ‘Laurens Bey’ or the ‘Emir Dynamite’, but also became close to Prince Feisal.
David Howarth, in The Desert King, summarised Lawrence’s role in the Revolt, saying that: ‘With Lawrence’s genius and Britain’s wealth, the revolt went from strength to strength.
Yet it was always hollow; it was always an expression of Lawrence’s will and of British power, and never of any permanent Arab aspiration’.
In contrast to Lawrence, Feisal, who often wore belts full of jewelled pistols and daggers, had been raised in almost suffocating luxury.
But being the third of four sons of an Arab ruling family, when his father eventually died, it was likely that he would be pushed aside into obscurity.
Only the Arab separatist movement gave him a chance of coming to the fore and seizing a kingdom and a throne.
Well educated, he was fluent in both French and Turkish, and felt himself equipped to take on a king’s role.
The Royal Navy again came to the aid of the Arabs in the spring of 1917, when Feisal’s main force moved northwards up the Red Sea coast from Yenbo to Wejh, where it posed a serious threat to Turkish lines of communication.
Soon afterwards, Allied intelligence learned that the Turks were planning an imminent withdrawal from Medina.
While this would be a victory for Hussein, British headquarters in Cairo feared that the Turkish forces there would be transferred to Palestine, where they would help oppose the British advance.
To prevent them leaving Medina, Lawrence developed a new strategy.
He would allow the Hejaz railway to keep working, but only just.
Guerrilla raids would inflict minor damage at remote points, halting railway traffic for a few days at a time.
Withdrawal of Turkish troops from Medina would then be virtually impossible as large numbers of Turkish soldiers and repair workers would need to be deployed along the line to defend it and keep it running.
From then onwards the Turkish force in Medina was impotent – they only survived because they scraped up sparse local produce. 68 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton During the winter of 1916–17, Lawrence and the Arabs slowly progressed in a northerly direction.
They were troubled by both the weakening condition of the camels and snakes.
The valley of the Sirhan appeared to crawl with puff adders, cobras and horned vipers.
Even though they killed about twenty snakes each day, seven men were bitten and three died.
In a month Lawrence began 1400 miles on camel, riding about fifty miles a day.
In July 1917, Lawrence’s star rose after the brilliant taking of Aqaba, the last position on the Red Sea coast held by the Turks.
Here, while starting to show an emotional, almost impassioned dedication to his work, he proved that the method most suited to the Arabs then was guerrilla warfare.
A few weeks later, Feisal moved to Aqaba with his troops and Lawrence commenced co-ordinating movements with the British.
The British continued to send the Arabs massive quantities of guns, bullets, gold and camels, together with bilingual army advisers.
As well as Lawrence, other British officers involved in the campaign included Hubert Young, Pierce Charles Joyce, Malcolm Peake and the future peers Lord (George) Lloyd and Lord Winterton.
They played various roles, from helping with strategy to acting as interpreters and as liaison officers between the British and the Arabs.
In Palestine, as well as riding a camel, Lawrence travelled in an armoured Rolls Royce, which was thought of then as four-wheel drives today – a highquality vehicle for getting through the heavy sands.
He believed that ‘a Rolls in the desert was above rubies’ and ‘cars are magnificent fighting machines…’.
Fascinated by speed, aeroplanes and engines – anything with a motor, a key and a petrol tank – Lawrence later proved himself to be a skilled mechanic.
Once he raced on his motorbike against an aeroplane on an open road.
His rush of excitement came from speed, the thrill of velocity.
He never drank alcohol and only smoked on Christmas Eve, but he seized every excuse to move as fast as he could.
Lawrence was ten when he pieced together the fact that his parents were not married, and that like his brothers Frank, Arnold, Bob and Will, he was illegitimate.
His mother’s real name was Sarah Junner.
A self-educated woman from the working classes who had run off with her employer, Thomas Chapman, after four years in his household as nursery governess, she stayed with her lover for thirty-five years.
Chapman’s income had to stretch to keep up a grand Irish household with a butler, a cook, a wife and four daughters, plus an English household with a mistress, a cook and five boys.
Lawrence’s tall, bearded, quiet ‘ever-loving father’ was a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, an Old Etonian whose real name was Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman, grandson of an Irish baronet, soon to inherit the title.
Less than 300 miles from Oxford was his family mansion, South Hill, near Delvin, in County Westmeath, surrounded by woods, bogs and rolling acres.
His wife Edith, maliciously referred to by locals as ‘the vinegar queen’, lived there with their daughters.
For Lawrence, embracing Arab ways was almost a way of defying his possessive mother.
Always religious and thrifty, she had longed for him to work with the Christian Mission Societies (his brother became a missionary).
Lawrence, like his elder brother, Bob, had in his youth become a Sunday school teacher 69 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton at nearby St Aldate’s in Oxford and later an officer in the Boys’ Brigade.
But in the Middle East, instead of converting people of other faiths, Lawrence’s tolerance allowed him to live amicably with Muslims and aid their cause. 70 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton Chapter Eight ‘Banjo’ Paterson Looks After the Horses While Lawrence was slowly progressing by camel in a northerly direction, thousands of horses were being groomed for desert warfare.
In Europe, however, nearly half a million cavalrymen who had ridden into World War I in France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Britain, Belgium and Serbia had been forced to discard their horses, finding that they were no match for machine-guns, barbed wire and trenches.
German machine-guns had butchered and decimated the horses when they had been brought into the assault at the Somme in 1916, and a year later at Arras with Allenby.
The death of a horse often meant the death of the man riding him.
If a horse failed, the man in the saddle could fall to the ground and be trampled by other horses or dragged along, sometimes clinging onto the stirrups of another rider.
As a soldier on horseback has always been an easier target than a single infantry man on the ground, when firearms had become more deadly, mounted attacks became fewer.
But even though horses were seldom used in combat – the horses at the Battle of Ypres formed the grand closing curtain for their use on the Western Front – most nations continued to maintain cavalry up to the bitter end.
Keeping them on battlefields, even in the twentieth century, was a nightmare of logistics.
Whole baggage trains were taken up with shifting fodder, and often prevented other supplies, such as ammunition and medical stores, from getting through.
During the four and a quarter years of World War I, British horses in Europe alone ate their way through 5.9 million tons of fodder and feed, even though most men in cavalry units had been switched to infantry roles in trench warfare.
The Eastern Front was better for horses in a warfare role.
In August 1914, the Russian army boasted thirty-six cavalry divisions, and over 4000 cavalry charges were mounted in that area, including the shattering of the Austro- Hungarian Seventh Army by Russian cavalry at Gorodenko in April 1915.
Later on, the use of horses by the Cossacks and the Red cavalrymen when fighting against the White Russians in the Russian Civil War was spectacularly successful.
Over the rest of the continent, though, horses were employed mainly for reconnaissance or in rough terrain and places too difficult for motorised vehicles.
But neither the Western nor Eastern Fronts sustained active cavalry on the scale of the Palestine/Syria campaign.
Here the Allies were fighting an enemy with a centuries-old tradition of desert warfare, and success depended on the quality, care and preparation of these animals.
The majority of the horses and mules used over the three years of the Palestine/Syria campaign passed under the control of Australia’s most popular poet, A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson, the author of both Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River.
But few books, either on a military or literary level, acknowledge his role.
Nor do they mention the extraordinary contribution of the Remount Service, which he ran so well.
Paterson’s mastery in the training and care of horses enhanced the performance of the British in the Middle East, yet there is no reference to this important work in Volume VII of The Official History of Australia.
Even Geoffrey Dutton’s Australian Literature, which gives details of Paterson’s six months as a war correspondent in South Africa in 1899, 71 — 129 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton The riders arrived at the imposing Serai, or hall of government, with its wide stone steps guarded by sentinels with muskets.
Between sentinels stood groups of officials and notables looking gloomy and unsmiling, staring into the street, apprehensively waiting to meet the victors.
Olden glanced around to see if any Germans were present.
He was unaware that the Turkish powers had handed control over to the Arabs.
Were the men facing him Syrian Arabs? Were they Prince Feisal’s supporters? Were they from the secret political groups? Clasping a revolver in each hand, Olden, with two other officers, climbed the sweeping stairs flanked by guards and entered a vast, airy, high-ceilinged gaudy salon built to indicate the might and splendour of the Ottoman Empire.
The time was 6 am.
An interpreter was called for.
Olden recounted the conversation in his memoirs.
He enquired: ‘Where is the Governor?’ ‘He waits for you in the Hall above.’ Glances of intelligence and appraisal passed between Olden and the men.
He had no way of knowing that Damascus was no longer an enemy city and, therefore, was not really surrendering.
The most important Turks had fled the previous afternoon and evening, and before they had departed, the Arab, Emir Said al-Jezairi, had been made temporary governor, aided by some of the members of the al-‘Ahd.
Wearing a dark suit and a tarboosh, this small man assumed the dignity of his new position.
Seated in a straight-backed gold and plush chair with carved legs, he leant slightly on the table in front of him.
An exiled patriot, grandson of the Sultan of Algiers, he had decades earlier sought refuge in Syria after setting up the nationalist movement against the French.
The Australians strode across the marbled floor, watched by a large group of men standing in rows, attired in the flowing robes of Eastern officialdom.
Olden stopped and asked Emir Said to join them in the centre of the room.
With grace Emir Said walked across the room, his hands outstretched to greet them, saying in Arabic, ‘In the name of the City of Damascus, I welcome the first of the British Army’. ‘Does the city surrender?’ ‘Yes; there will be no further opposition in the city.’ ‘What, then, is all the firing in the streets?’ An official replied that firing pistols into the air was an Arab form of celebration. ‘It is the civil population welcoming you.’ ‘They [the civil population] may retain their arms for the present, prevent looting by the Arabs, and otherwise maintain order.
As for the shooting in the streets, issue orders that it must cease immediately, as it may be misunderstood.
You will be held responsible for this.’ ‘You need not fear,’ replied the Emir. ‘I will answer for it that the city will be quiet.
We have expected the English here, and are prepared for them.’ Emir Said then began a flowery speech in Arabic, accompanied by applause from the Arabs.
Olden cut him short.
It seemed more prudent to avoid anyone saying too much.
He told him that the British commander-inchief, Allenby, together with Chauvel, would arrive later, adding that the speeches should wait for them.
Accepting assurances that his men would not be molested, he warned that Damascus was surrounded.
Refreshment was then offered by the Arabs but was declined by the Australians.
This was ungracious – indeed it was a gross insult to Eastern sensibilities – but Olden thought it more important to rejoin his men, who were waiting outside in the street.
As soon as he did so, the Australian horsemen continued to make their way through the city.
Their progress assumed the aspect of a triumphal procession, with huge masses of people becoming hysterical in their manifestations of joy.
They clung to the horses’ necks, kissed men’s stirrups, showered confetti and rosewater over them, shouted, 130 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton laughed, cried, sang, clapped hands and fastened flowers in the bridles.
The official diary noted that ‘troops were sprayed from the balconies with champagne, perfumes, rose leaves and confetti’.
Weeping women waved from overhanging balconies.
Hungry horses happily nibbled at sweet cakes, grapes, peaches – and water.
The men swilled it around their parched palates before swallowing, and spilled a few drops over their handkerchiefs to wipe their faces.
Storekeepers bore armfuls of fruit, sweets, cigars and cigarettes.
From the windows of tall buildings, Moslem women, raising their dark veils, shouted what Olden described later as sounding like ‘Meit allo wesahla! ‘Meit allo wesahla! ‘ [a hundred welcomes].
The cry was taken up and carried along the crowd in one continuous chant.
A surprise guest increased their numbers – Captain H B Cross, of the 38th Battalion.
He had been taken prisoner by the Turks on the western bank of the Jordan on 23 September, and along with a captured Australian Flying Corps lieutenant, had been escorted to Damascus.
On the Monday morning he had been packed into a train with hundreds of others for Aleppo, but by nightfall, just when they were on the point of departure, the horizon had been illuminated by a huge explosion.
The Turks came to the conclusion that the earlier train had been captured and blown up.
So the prisoners were hurried off into the town itself and put into ‘a quite decent room for the night’, as Cross later related in a letter. ‘The next morning we were sitting about when one of the escorts who had been in the town came in a state of great excitement saying, “English Cavalry” – a magic word to us.
The other officer and I, realising what had happened, at once bolted out of the door and up the street where, to our great joy, we saw a regiment of the Australian Light Horse [the 10th] riding in with revolvers in hands.
We ran up the street and procuring spare horses, rode off with them through the town and out on the other side for about eight miles…after a meal of bully and biscuits which tasted as good as anything I’ve ever eaten…’ There was no time for the 10th Light Horse to visit the Street called Straight, the Long Bazaar or Darb el Mustakim, mentioned in the Bible, or the Gate of God through which the pilgrims pass, but at least, like Saint Paul, they had been on ‘the road to Damascus’.
Just as Venice and Marseilles are old seaports, Damascus is the ancient port in the desert, its capital.
A centre of commerce and camel caravans, home of the Damask rose, a halting-place between Babylon and Baghdad, Damascus is so out of the ordinary that the previous year Lawrence had written: ‘Damascus is a lodestar [a guiding star] to which Arabs are naturally drawn, and a city that will not easily be convinced that it is subject to any alien race’.
And so it proved to be.
The Australians rode quickly out beyond the city and on the road to Aleppo, continuing their pursuit of Mustafa Kemal.
Meanwhile, as so often when secrecy is paramount, communications were sometimes ambiguous.
Not only were the Australians ignorant of the political nuances determining day-to-day actions, but it seems that Chauvel was ignorant of Lawrence’s full brief of installing Feisal as ruler of Syria. 131 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton Chapter Seventeen Lawrence Arrives in Damascus There was a gap of about an hour between the 10th Light Horse departing from the centre of the city of Damascus and further Allied troops arriving at around 9 am.
Was Damascus going to fall to British or French rule? Was the city to be secure for the Arabs, that is, the Arabs alone, not as puppets of a Western power? Was almost 1,400 years of unbroken Muslim rule about to be broken? Only time would resolve the most acute of the many problems during the entry: the absence of the main player, Feisal, who, with his exhausted troops, was still somewhere between Deraa and Damascus, having being engaged in the merciless battle against the rearguard of the Turkish Fourth Army.
Would the delay hinder Feisal’s position? Who really would rule Damascus? Apart from any political implications, would it not have been better for Muslims to be the first to enter the city that was home to Islam’s fourth-holiest shrine, the Omayyad Mosque, and the tomb of the warrior Saladin? The sun was well up when Lawrence, wearing the dazzling white clothes of a desert sheikh, complete with a curved, ornamental dagger hanging from his waist, arrived in Damascus.
He already knew much of the area well, as he had visited Syria three times over the last ten years.
He had made a daring clandestine incursion there as a spy earlier that year, but had first visited the city in 1908, when he was a student at Oxford doing a backbreaking walking tour in Syria to research Crusader castles for a thesis.
Four years later, having graduated from university, he had visited Syria again while working as a Hittite archaeologist.
No previous visit equalled his arrival on 1 October 1918.
The revelry was such that celebrations had already been going on for two hours.
At about 9 am, an impressive Allied show-of-force procession through the city began.
The 14th Cavalry Brigade were in the lead, followed by the two French regiments (attached to the 4th Australian Light Horse) and parts of the 5th Indian Division, which had just arrived from Deraa.
Despite his importance, Lawrence was in the rear of this convoy.
Although things had not gone to plan, he acted with confidence, waving like a royal from the comfort of an open car as he was driven through the cheering streets of the ancient city.
This position was unexpected.competent though the British-led Allied forces were, nobody understood the intricacies of the political situation in Damascus in the way that Lawrence did.
He would have to act quickly if he was to save Damascus for Feisal, who still had not arrived.
During the next few days, indeed the next few years, Lawrence’s political influence would be enormous.
Much larger than his overall military contribution to the whole Middle East campaign was his pen.
It was through Lawrence that the West learnt that the Arabs – especially Prince Feisal and his father Sherif Hussein – were a force to be reckoned with.
In his writing, Lawrence made no reference to the Australian troops who had preceded him.
He implies, but does not state, that he was part of the historic party that entered the city first. ‘We drove down the straight-banked road through the watered fields, in which the peasants were just beginning their day’s work.
A galloping horseman checked at our head-cloths in the car, with a merry salutation, holding out a bunch of yellow grapes: “Good news: Damascus salutes you”.’ The description went on describing his entry: So 132 First to Damascus Jill, Duchess of Hamilton in the Blue Mist we set off to show ourselves…When we came in there had been some miles of people greeting us: now there were thousands for every hundred then.
Every man, woman and child in this city of a quarter-million souls seemed in the streets, waiting only the spark of our appearance to ignite their spirits.
Damascus went mad with joy… How would the simple fact that the Arabs had not been the first to enter Damascus affect the future of Syria? As stated earlier, the Declaration of Seven, which had been made in Cairo in June that year, had clearly stated that the British would recognise the independence of the Arabs in ‘areas emancipated from Turkish control by the action of the Arabs themselves during the present war…’.
Contrary to Lawrence’s version, later that day Chauvel cabled Allenby to tell him of the progress: THE AUSTRALIAN MOUNTED DIVISION ENTERED THE OUTSKIRTS OF DAMASCUS FROM THE NORTH-WEST LAST NIGHT, AT 6 A.M.
TODAY THE TOWN WAS OCCUPIED BY THE DESERT MOUNTED CORPS AND THE ARAB ARMY.
But Chauvel’s report on ‘the capture of Damascus and the arrangements made for the Civil Administration thereof ’ to the War Office (95/4371) dated 2 October contradicts this.
Chauvel states that the Australians entered Damascus on the ‘evening of September 30th’.
This is one of the differing accounts referred to by Jeremy Wilson in the Prologue, and like the other War Office documents, is now in the Public Records Office in Kew, London.
Assessing the cause of the error is difficult.
Was it that he was disturbed by Lawrence’s exaggerated claims of the Arab irregulars entering the city the night before? Or had he meant that they were on the outskirts of the city? Whatever the reason, this deviation from the truth undermined what really happened, devaluing the authenticity of the Australian entry.
In Damascus, friction between Chauvel and Lawrence was visible.
The manner in which Lawrence overstated his authority heightened the hostility between the two men.
Both of Chauvel’s versions contradict Lawrence.
According to Lawrence, 4000-armed Arab tribesmen of the Arab irregulars had entered the city the preceding night.
Unofficial though their entry was, there does appear to be a grain of truth in this claim.
But it is unlikely that there was anything like such a large number, and they did not go to the Serai or make themselves obvious.
Certainly a number of Ruwalla horsemen arrived in the city to look for Ali Rida al-Rikabi and ask him to form a new government.
This would be confirmed when the Arab army entered the city the next day.
Hunt though they did, they did not find Ali Rida al-Rikabi – he had already slipped out of the city and found General Barrow in his camp.
Chauvel was outraged by the claims.
He believed that as he had placed troops at each exit and entrance to form a cordon around the city to prevent the departure of the Turks, these troops would have seen the horsemen enter and Ali Rida al-Rikabi depart.
But it must be remembered that the soldiers were not all in place until the following morning.
Jeremy Wilson, in the notes at the back of his massive biography of Lawrence, explains that ‘Irritation over this matter helps to explain his bad relationship with Chauvel and his disparaging treatment of the Australians…’.
Lawrence James, in The Golden Warrior (1990), mocked some of the assertions by
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