Posted by: Dr Churchill | September 5, 2019

A Man’s Dream is the Jewel of his Life…

This simple quote bellow, is from the writings of a great man, who was a close friend and associate of my grandfather Winston Churchill and helped realize Churchill’s dream of a free, unified and independent Arabia, as he endeavored to liberate and unite the disparate and often warring Bedouin tribes of Arabia — from the hated, barbaric, tyrannical & oppressive rule, of their Turkish overlords.

This simple yet rather complex dream, not only led to the independence of all the Peoples of the Middle East, but it has also led to the creation of Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, but most importantly to the creation of the Bedouin kingdom of Saudi Arabia and their coming into being an independent, self determined and assertive nation, with free will and their own form of government as the Bedouin people saw fit…

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But the quote written further bellow, is not about a dream of the author T E Lawrence, but rather about the “dream” of his friend and his leader, his boss and my grandparent Sir Winston Churchill.

Because this very quote describes one of the boldest dreams of my grandfather Sir Winston Churchill — a dream that was fully realized through the actions of his friend Thomas Lawrence, and it is to that dream that we owe today — the very existence of Saudi Arabia and it’s alliance with the Western world as it is today the cornerstone of our Middle Eastern alliance…

So here it goes:

“All men dream but not in the same way, those who dream at night wake up the next day and realize that everything was vanity, but those who dream of day are dangerous men because they can act in their dreams with open eyes and they can make dreams come to Life…”
–T. E. Lawrence

It is important to note that T. E. Lawrence (Thomas Edward Lawrence) CB, DSO, was a British secret service subordinate of Winston Churchill, and is the point man, who lead and executed many of Churchill’s daring dreams, and secret missions, especially those in the Arabian peninsula and in Palestine. T E Lawrence was always daring the impossible and he stirred men to follow him in all of his brave pursuits in war and peace. He was particularly adept in the Arabic language and customs and thus he opened the way for the Arab tribes to embrace him and follow him into war against their oppressive and tyrannical barbaric Turks of the Ottoman empire.

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Indeed, it was the singular strength of the relationship and the deep unalloyed cooperation between my grandfather Sir Winston Churchill and the young officer T E Lawrence, that shaped the whole of the Middle East as we know it today…

Notably, T E Lawrence is also the famed author of the pivotal book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” that to this day is a primer on the Arabian Revolution against the tyranny of the Turks. Seven Pillars of Wisdom is the autobiographical account of the experiences of British soldier T. E. Lawrence, while serving as a liaison officer with rebel forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks of 1916 to 1918.

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By that stage in time, T E Lawrence had embraced Islam, he favored the serenity of the desert, and he lived the Peace of that native born faith, as much as his own. He was a great warrior, a true leader of men, a well researched historian, an archaeologist of note, a terrible army officer, an unusual diplomat, a great friend of my grandfather, and an avid motorcycle rider like yours truly.

T E Lawrence earned lasting fame and immense recognition for his leadership role in uniting the Arab tribes and leading them into revolt and then leading the unruly Bedouin   tribal warriors into the impossible crossing of the desert, that led to the capture of of the important port city of Aqaba, during the Sinai and Palestine First World War military campaigns, and especially during his leading his tribal army into the fierce Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire’s vastly superior, well armed, trained and numerically superior armies of combatants with severe military training — during the First World War when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia first came into view…

Of course today, T E Lawrence remains one of the most iconic figures of the early 20th century, because his life has been the subject of at least three major Hollywood films, several lesser movies for TV, and amongst them all there is at least one film that is today considered a masterpiece.

Along the way there have been written over 70 biographies, several theatrical plays and innumerable articles, monographs, and dissertations.

Part of the enduring fascination with T E Lawrence, maybe has to do with the sheer improbability of Lawrence’s tale, of an unassuming young Briton who found himself the champion of a downtrodden people, thrust into events that changed the course of history. Added to this is the poignancy of his journey, so masterfully rendered in David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, of a man trapped by divided loyalties, torn between serving the empire whose uniform he almost never wore in the field, and being true to his Bedouin brothers, fighting heroically, and dying alongside him. It is this struggle that raises the Lawrence saga to the level of Shakespearean theatrical tale, as it ultimately ended in an unlikely and unexpected scenario, for all concerned, such as Lawrence, the Arabs, and Britain, in the slow uncoiling of history, and for the Middle Eastern regions, as well as for the Western world at large who was helped to win the next World War — due to the large Oil reserves the previous world war had uncovered.

Still loosely cloaked about the figure of T.E. Lawrence there still lingers the ghost and the wistful specter of “what might have been” if only he had been listened to more attentively by the powers that followed his command in the 1930s and during the Second World War and beyond, even to this day and age of destruction and war.

Indeed, further proof of his lasting influence in diplomacy, war, and strategy, is that his wartime memoir, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” has been translated into more than one hundred languages, and it remains in print nearly a full century after its first publication in 1922.

Indeed even the British Foreign Office requires T E Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom as required reading, for all the young diplomatic officers, included in the major study reading recommendations lists…

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In the views of the established English authority T E Lawrence was a rebel, more aligned with the interests of the Arabs than with the special interests of the English, and that is in my mind, and in my humble opinion, what contributed to his immense success, and to the blind following by the Bedouin Arabic tribes under his command, so much so that they were able to cross the impassable dessert on camels and attack the port of Aqaba and successfully capture it since the numerically superior Turks never expected an attack from the interior of this vast desert called the empty quarter of Sahara desert.

Yet, this impetuous young army officer who came to be known as Lawrence of Arabia, accomplished the impossible and much more since he “personally” with his Arabs, blew up 79 bridges along the Hejaz railway, thus effectively destroying this feat of train engineering for ever more. His rag tag army was actually becoming so adept at that explosive task, that they had perfected a technique of leaving a bridge seemingly safe, while “scientifically shattered” & fully ruined but still standing, so that the oncoming Turkish locomotive could not see that the bridge was in shambles, and often the Turkish trains full of soldiers, war-materiel, armor and armaments, would fall into that deadly trap with all of their precious cargo.

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Notably, the Hejaz railway was the main link of the Ottoman Turk army in Saudi Arabia, and it was basically a narrow-gauge railway that ran from Damascus to Medina, all through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, with a branch line to Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea, and as such it’s importance was vital for the Ottoman’s occupation of the Arab lands. One of the great civil-engineering projects of the early 20th century, the Hejaz Railway was a belated attempt by the Ottoman sultan of Constantinople to propel his empire into modernity and knit together his far-flung realm, with German engineering and funds for the development of the oil rich regions, in order to fuel the modern wars of Europe and elsewhere across the world where oil burning fleets of naval vessels sailed, fought and conquered. And that is how my grandfather Winston Churchill “sold” his amazing dream of the liberation of the Arabian peninsula through the vastly expensive British campaigns in the region to a reluctant parliament and Prime Minister. That was all done from his post as the First Lord of the Admiralty, where he recognized that if the British fleet was to maintain it’s global Supremacy — it had to replace it’s coal burning steam boilers with the far more efficient oil burning ones.

And thus upon Winston Churchill’s dream of a fast fleet — Saudi Arabia was born…

And this idea taking fruition, was right in the midst of the fiercely bloody and deadly war in Europe and all over the world that we have come to know as the First World War.

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Because back in those days, the Germans with their allies, the Turks, led by the Sultan of Ottomans, had completed the rail line from the Turkish capital of Constantinople all the way to the titular heart of Arabia, into the holly places of Mecca and Medina. By 1914, this impressive feat of engineering was finished, and thus it was possible to travel from the Ottoman capital of Constantinople all the way to the Arabian city of Medina, 1,800 miles distant, without ever touching the ground. It was a miraculous feat of engineering and it would have been a great achievement for the Turks. Instead, the Hejaz Railway fell victim to Churchill’s ambitions to shorten the First World War with the help of his die-hard ally T E Lawrence, who for nearly two years, led the commandos of the British demolition teams, working with their Arab rebel allies, constantly attacking its bridges, culverts, and isolated train depots, quite rightly perceiving this railroad as the Achilles’ heel of the Ottoman empire, since it offered the only supply line linking its isolated garrisons to the Turkish heartland and the Capital of the Ottoman empire.

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And the world noticed, because although by then T E Lawrence “had gone completely native Arabian” and he was seen as being more of an Arab leader than an English officer by his own superiors — yet the British authorities recognized his talents, and forgave his impetuosity, because as General Edmund Allenby, chief British commander in the Middle East during World War I, noted.

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General Allenby went on to say that, T E Lawrence was the first and the best at his work, with complete disregard for his own life and his personal safety, and yet with total love and devotion to the Arabic people — as proven by the many life threatening wounds he received, leading always from the front during his Arabian war campaigns, where he always rode first into battle:

“There is no other man I know, who could have achieved what Lawrence did” is what General Allenby had to say on Lawrence’s defense when he was going to be brought up on charges leading to military tribunal, for his numerous insubordinations and rebellious behaviors…

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Lastly it was Winston Churchill who put it best, when he famously said, that Lawrence fought like a desert lion, a creature so fierce and deadly, that men even feared to whisper his name…

Yet  we ought to step back and look at the relationship between the two great men because few long friendships ever shaped history as much as the bond between Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence. In Great Contemporaries, Churchill reminded his readers that Lawrence “flew best and easiest in the hurricane.”

Of course the same might be said of Churchill and that is why he recognized that quality in Lawrence, since both were men of genius, littered with paradoxes, both had an unyielding sense of justice, and both were products of the prime era of the British Empire’s apogee…

Churchill admired Lawrence as a sort of English born Napoleon and undoubtedly saw traces of himself in Lawrence’s behavior and leadership skills, because both men were early enthusiasts of air power, and both enjoyed not only making history, but writing the historical account as well.

This helps explain the nature of what might appear to have been an unlikely friendship, especially after their first meetings in Paris during the 1919 Peace Conference.

The two were both attending a luncheon when Churchill was told a story about Lawrence refusing honours to be bestowed upon him by King George V. Churchill’s impression was that Lawrence, wishing to make a political statement, declined the honours during an official public ceremony. Churchill was outraged and quickly rebuked Lawrence, calling his actions “most wrong.”

Only later did Churchill learn that Lawrence had refused the “honors” in a private reception with the King in order to demonstrate that “the honor of Great Britain was at stake in the faithful treatment of the Arabs and that their betrayal to the Syrian demands of France would be an indelible blot on our history.”

Indeed, after the dust settled in the blistering yet cool exchanges between the two men — Lawrence’s cool demeanor and “good humor” regarding the incident, stood out in Winston Churchill’s mind as a great asset to have him on his side…

Because by 1919 it had become apparent that Britain’s antiquated and chaotic system of colonial governance (split between the Colonial Office, Foreign Office, and India Office) was not capable of creating a coherent Middle East policy. The most glaring example of deficiency resulted from three important promises made during the First World War, each of which proposed seemingly different arrangements for the post-war Middle East:  1) The Hussein-McMahon pledges made in 1915 and 1916 that supported Arab national aspirations, which Lawrence defended at the Paris Peace Conference. 2) The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement proposed splitting the remains of the Ottoman Empire between France and Britain. 3) Further complicating the situation, the 1917 Balfour Declaration stated that Britain would work toward establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

And indeed the reason Winston Churchill was appointed Colonial Secretary in early 1921, was to find a solution to this tangled and embarrassing fiasco, and settle the Empire’s promises in a unified way that manages to bring the best possible and diplomatically peaceful results for all concerned.

As usual, my grandfather Winston Churchill wholeheartedly flung himself into the task of creating a new Middle East Department. He enlisted a host of experts on Middle Eastern affairs, including John Shuckburgh as Department Head, and Major Hubert Young as his Assistant Secretary. Both men were sympathetic to the Arab cause. However, Churchill’s adviser on military affairs in the Middle East, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, was a fierce Zionist, who frequently butted heads with Lawrence.

Remembering Lawrence’s passion for Arab national aspirations and his willingness to sacrifice his own career to bring the matter before the King, Churchill immediately set on Lawrence to be his special adviser on Arabian Affairs, despite apprehension from colonial officials, who feared that Lawrence’s temperament was unsuitable for public office and asked Churchill, “wilt thou bridle the wild ass of the desert?”

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Bringing Lawrence into the department began an enduring friendship with Churchill, which had long-term effects on British policy in the Islamic world. Among the things they discussed in their first official meeting in January 1921 was Lawrence’s support of Prince Feisal, a son of King Hussein of Mecca, in his designs for Mesopotamia. As they were discussing possibilities for the region, Lawrence pointed out to Churchill that if the British supported Feisal, it would “tend towards cheapness and speed of settlement.” Churchill concurred.

With his new Middle East department set up, Churchill swiftly called for a conference in Cairo to determine how exactly Britain might administer the region in a cost-effective manner. The Cairo Conference opened on 12 March 1921 at the Semiramis Hotel. It was attended by “some 40 British experts from London and the Middle East,” including A. T. Wilson from Persia, the high commissioners Percy Cox for Mesopotamia, and Herbert Samuel for Palestine, T. E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell — Cox’s oriental secretary and the only woman among the delegates — as well as several representatives of Somaliland and Aden. This conference decided to structure the region on what Churchill called the “Sherifian solution,” which vested power with the Hashemite family and its patriarch King Hussein. This ensured that King Hussein would be King of the Hejaz and would be based in Mecca. It placed his son Feisal on the throne of Iraq and his son Abdullah on the throne of Jordan.

Beyond Lawrence’s ability to find solutions, Churchill’s relationship with him was characterized by “deep mutual admiration and respect.” “Lawrence’s influence on Churchill was considerable,” resulting in “Churchill’s adherence to Lawrence’s recommendations even on issues [with] which the rest of the Middle East Department dissented.” Meinertzhagen recorded in his diary that he was “struck by the attitude of Winston towards Lawrence, which almost amounted to hero worship.” Churchill’s admiration of Lawrence became a thorn in the side of Meinertzhagen, because Lawrence typically steered Churchill towards Arab sympathies. As a result, Lawrence and Meinertzhagen became rivals for Churchill’s attention and mouthpieces for the opposing Arab and Zionist causes in the Middle East.

Usually, and mainly because of my grandfather Winston Churchill’s patronage — Lawrence’s diplomatic proposals often won out.

Still, Churchill’s admiration for Lawrence might be explained by his similarities to Churchill’s old friend and well known Arab sympathizer Wilfrid S. Blunt, and indeed in some ways, Lawrence was a “caricature” of Blunt, so much so that Churchill even arranged a meeting of his two greatest influences in Islamic and oriental matters in early 1922.

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However, whatever the cause of Churchill’s admiration for Lawrence, he sometimes trusted Lawrence’s positions on the Middle East to a fault. For instance, Lawrence pushed heavily for Feisal to become the sovereign in Iraq, despite Feisal’s Sunni faith clashing with the predominantly Shia population he aspired to rule. While Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell also supported Feisal, it was Lawrence’s reports, such as when he reported that Feisal “behaved like a real gentleman and with a fine sense of honor and loyalty” and was “the best possible one for us in the present circumstance” that led Churchill to believe “Lawrence’s thesis that Britain owed a great deal to Feisal and his followers.” Moreover, it was Lawrence who pushed British favor away from Feisal’s brother Abdullah, whom Lawrence depicted as “lazy and by no means dominating.”

Perhaps more insidiously, Churchill absorbed negative notions about Palestinian Arabs from Lawrence, who went so far as to characterize them as “stupid, materialistic, and bankrupt.” This most likely came from the belief that Palestinian Arabs were loyal to the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, while the Bedouin Arabs allied with Britain. The reality, however, was that most Arabs overwhelmingly supported the Ottoman Empire, with the exception of those associated with Feisal’s Hashemites. Despite this, anti-Palestinian feeling was commonplace among Lawrence’s allies such as Feisal, who was “contemptuous of the Palestinian Arabs” and did not “even regard them as Arabs.”

At the Cairo Conference, Lawrence also worked to create an independent Kurdistan, because he felt the Kurds should not be under Arab rule. In doing so he broke ranks with Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell, who thought the proposed area “formed an integral part of Iraq” and should be kept in a united Iraq. As a result, Bell, who felt Lawrence was becoming unruly, called Lawrence a “little imp,” at which “his ears and face turned red and he retreated in silence.” Churchill agreed with Lawrence because he was fearful that the future ruler might “outwardly accept constitutional procedures [but] at the same time despise democratic and constitutional methods.” In this situation it would prove all too easy for the new king to “ignore Kurdish sentiments and oppress the Kurdish minority.”

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Plans for independent Kurdistan came to nought, however, due to the region not being completely under British control. The new Turkish government led by Mustapha Kemal contested the region in the mountains between the two Zab Rivers west of Arbil, making a Kurdish nation all but impossible. Churchill later came to regard Kemal Atatürk as a “Warrior Prince” and spoke of his quality as a military tactician. These and other praises prompted Lawrence to write that he “was glad to see Churchill say a decent word about Mustapha Kemal.”

While in Cairo, Churchill and Lawrence had time to venture out, along with Clementine Churchill, Percy Cox, and Gertrude Bell, to see the pyramids and ride around the Sphinx. Famously, Churchill fell off his camel. According to Gertrude Bell, he looked like “a mass of sliding gelatin.” Clementine laughed, “How the mighty had fallen.” Churchill barked back that he had “started on a camel and…would finish on a camel.” Far from being embarrassed, Churchill kept a copy of the story clipped from the local paper, Palestine Weekly, which noted the incident and concluded by saying that he and “Colonel T. E.  Lawrence rode their camels back to Mena House in Cairo.”

Much to Churchill’s appreciation, it was reported that he did indeed “finish” the journey, on a fast racing camel.

After the Cairo conference — Churchill and Lawrence went to Jerusalem to finish the solving of the Middle East puzzle by finding a place for Abdullah. And then it appeared that their solution was to partition Palestine. The lands west of the Jordan River would remain under British control through a League of Nations Mandate. And the lands laid East of the Jordan, would be renamed Transjordan, and later simply Jordan, and would become Abdullah’s kingdom.

Lawrence was cautious about Abdullah as ruler there, fearing the French might dangle the throne of Damascus toward Abdullah to bring Transjordan into the French orbit. However, Churchill remained steadfast. He believed that “a Sherifian candidate was essential, because to support Feisal in Mesopotamia, but to refuse to support his brother in Trans-Jordan, would be courting trouble.” Churchill wanted to “adopt a [Jordanian] policy…which would harmonize with our Mesopotamian policy.” Lawrence quickly reversed his position, in part because he supported an overall Sherifian solution to the Middle East, as Churchill suggested, but mostly because he believed that “neither Britain nor Amir Abdullah were strong enough at present to hold Transjordan without the assistance from the other.”

After restructuring the Middle East, Lawrence and Churchill saw less of one another. However, they still shared their thoughts and literary accomplishments. Churchill shared his memoirs of the First World War, The World Crisis, with Lawrence, who thought it was a masterpiece and praised Churchill as a writer and a historian. While Churchill admired and respected Lawrence, he was in awe of his writing. Lawrence’s account of the Arab revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Churchill believed, “ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language,” not least because it said that “Mr. Winston Churchill…was entrusted… with the settlement of the Middle East; and in a few weeks, at his conference in Cairo, he made straight all the tangle, finding solutions fulfilling…our promises in letter and spirit.”26

Yours,

Dr Churchill

PS:

After restructuring the Middle East, Lawrence and Churchill saw less of one another. However, they still shared their thoughts and literary accomplishments. Churchill shared his memoirs of the First World War, The World Crisis, with Lawrence, who thought it was a masterpiece and praised Churchill as a writer and a historian.

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While Churchill admired and respected Lawrence, he was in awe of his writing. Lawrence’s account of the Arab revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Churchill believed, “ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language,” not least because it said that “Mr. Winston Churchill…was entrusted… with the settlement of the Middle East; and in a few weeks, at his conference in Cairo, he made straight all the tangle, finding solutions fulfilling our promises in letter and spirit.”

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Winston Churchill and T E Lawrence riding camels in front of the pyramids of Egypt…

We all love riding camels.

Perhaps a bit too much…

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Here above is my grandfather Winston Churchill with the great adventuress Gertrude Bell, and Lawrence of Arabia, in a stylized and enlarged version of the photo taken in 1921 in front of the Sphinx of the land of the Pharaohs in Gaza Egypt.

Churchill confided in his old age to Anthony Montague Browne that Seven Pillars of Wisdom was “a remarkable work,” and that Lawrence was a “stylist” and thus Seven Pillars could not always be read, as factual history, but that this did not matter at all because the legend of Lawrence of Arabia was much more important for History, and thus held much more interest than the typically austere and simple historical accuracy.

It is no wonder that Churchill encouraged Lawrence to visit him at Chartwell.

Lawrence did visit Chartwell in the Kentish countryside, and he even helped Winston Churchill lay bricks, while building his massive wall in the garden, for Churchill’s cottage and painting atelier.

In Lawrence’s typical fashion — he never announced his arrival, and he simply had the ability to “steal the conversation” away, even from the great man himself, my grandfather Churchill who is remembered by everyone, present that even my  grandfather, would be quiet and “listen in pin-drop silence to what Lawrence had to say.”

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When Lawrence died in a motor-cycle crash in 1935, Churchill was deeply saddened and after participating in the funeral and walking behind his friend of one last time — he gave not an eulogy — but a panegyric speech.

Churchill at a later time, he also gave the Eulogy and the Panegyric speech, at the unveiling of the Lawrence Memorial at his own Oxford High School.

Churchill received several letters, odes, and poems remembering Lawrence, from all corners of the Empire and from far flung outposts, but most of them came from the Arabian peninsula and especially from Saudi Arabia…

Indeed, Churchill loved Lawrence so much that he also participated in fundraising for monies to build the memorial for Lawrence, and much later on, he often recalled his joyful time together with T E Lawrence in the Middle East and in other places.

In 1946, when he was questioned about the Middle East in the House of Commons, Churchill remarked that when Lawrence gave him The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, he had written in it, that Churchill “had made a happy end to the show.”


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