Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 154 of 240

After the week it seemed best to return to Akaba, where we arrived on Christmas Day; to find Snagge, as senior officer in Akaba, entertaining the British community to dinner. He had screened-in the after deck and built tables, which took the hosts and the twenty-odd guests easily. Snagge stood godfather to the land, in hospitality, in the loan of his ship’s doctor and workshop, and in cheerfulness.

In the early days of the revolt it had been the Hardinge which played his role of providence to us. Once, at Yenbo, Feisal had ridden in from the hills on a streaming day of winter, cold, wet, miserable and tired. Captain Linberry sent a launch ashore and invited him to the ship, where he found, waiting for him, a warm cabin, a peaceful meal, and a bountiful bath. Afterwards he lay back in an arm-chair, smoking one of his constant cigarettes, and remarked dreamily to me that now he knew what the furnishings of heaven would be.

Joyce told me that things were well. The situation had sensibly changed since Maulud’s victory. The Turks had concentrated in Aba el Lissan. We were distracting them by raids against the line south of Maan. Abdulla and Ali were doing the same near Medina; and the Turks, being pinched to guard the railway, had to draw men from Aba el Lissan to strengthen weak sections.

Maulud boldly threw out posts to places on the plateau, and began to harry the supply caravans from Maan. He was hampered by the intense cold, the rain and snow on the heights. Some of his ill-clad men actually died of exposure. But the Turks lost equally in men and much more in transport, since their mangy camels died off rapidly in the storms and mud. The loss straitened them in food-carrying and involved further withdrawals from Aba el Lissan.

At last they were too weak to hold the wide position, and, early in January, Maulud was able to force them out towards Mreigha. The Beduin caught the Turks moving, and cut up the hindmost battalion. This threw the Turks back precipitately, to Uheida, only six miles from Maan, and when we pressed after menacingly, they withdrew to Semna, the outpost line of Maan, three miles out. So by January the seventh Maulud was containing Maan directly.

Prosperity gave us ten days’ leisure; and as Joyce and myself were rarely at liberty together we decided to celebrate the occasion by taking a car-trip down the mud-flats towards Mudowwara.

The cars were now at Guweira, in permanent camp. Gilman and Dowsett, with their crews and fifty Egyptian soldiers, had spent months in Wadi Itm, building, like engineers, a motor road through the gorge. It had been a great work, and was now in order to Guweira. So we took the Rolls tenders, filled them with spare tyres, petrol, and food for four days, and set off on our exploring trip.

The mud-flats were bone-dry and afforded perfect going. Our tyres left only a faint white scar across their velvet surface, as we twisted about the spacious smoothness at speed, skirting clumps of tamarisk and roaring along under the great sandstone crags. The drivers rejoiced for the first time in nine months, and flung forward abreast in a mad race. Their speedometers touched sixty-five; not bad for cars which had been months ploughing the desert with only such running repairs as the drivers had time and tools to give them.

Across the sandy neck from the first flat to the second we built a corduroy road of brushwood. When this was ready, the cars came steaming and hissing along it, dangerously fast to avoid getting stuck, rocking over hummocks in a style which looked fatal for springs. However, we knew it was nearly impossible to break a Rolls-Royce, and so were sorrier for the drivers, Thomas, Rolls and Sanderson. The jolts tore the steering-wheel from their grip, and left them breathless with bleeding hands after the crossing.

We lunched and rested, and then had another burst of speed, with a wild diversion in the middle when a gazelle was sighted over the flat, and two of the great cars lurched aside in unavailing chase.

At the end of this second flat, the Gaa of Disi, we had a rough mile to the third flat of Abu Sawana, across which we had a final glorious sprint of fifteen miles, over the mud and over the equally firm flint plains beyond. We slept there that chilly night, happy with bully beef and tea and biscuit, with English talk and laughter round the fire, golden with its shower of sparks from the fierce brushwood. When these things tired, there was soft sand beneath our bodies and two blankets to wrap ourselves in. For me it was a holiday, with not an Arab near, before whom I must play out my tedious part.

In the morning we ran on nearly to Mudowwara, finding the ground-surface excellent to the watershed. So our reconnaissance had been a quick and easy success. At once we turned back, to fetch the armoured cars and undertake an immediate operation, with the help of the mountain gun section on Talbots.

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