Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 174 of 240

However, these worries would have taken their due petty place, in my despite of the body, and of my soiled body in particular, but for the rankling fraudulence which had to be my mind’s habit: that pretence to lead the national uprising of another race, the daily posturing in alien dress, preaching in alien speech: with behind it a sense that the ‘promises’ on which the Arabs worked were worth what their armed strength would be when the moment of fulfilment came. We had deluded ourselves that perhaps peace might find the Arabs able, unhelped and untaught, to defend themselves with paper tools. Meanwhile we glozed our fraud by conducting their necessary war purely and cheaply. But now this gloss had gone from me. Chargeable against my conceit were the causeless, ineffectual deaths of Hesa. My will had gone and I feared to be alone, lest the winds of circumstance, or power, or lust, blow my empty soul away.

Chapter XCI

Diplomatically, Hogarth replied not a word, but took me to breakfast with Clayton. There I gathered that Smuts had come from the War Cabinet to Palestine, with news which had changed our relative situation. For days they had been trying to get me to the Conferences, and finally had sent out aeroplanes to find Tafileh; but the pilots had dropped their messages near Shobek, among Arabs too weather-daunted to move.

Clayton said that in the new conditions there could be no question of letting me off. The East was only now going to begin. Allenby told me that the War Cabinet were leaning heavily on him to repair the stalemate of the West. He was to take at least Damascus; and, if possible, Aleppo, as soon as he could. Turkey was to be put out of the war once and for all. His difficulty lay with his eastern flank, the right, which to-day rested on Jordan. He had called me to consider if the Arabs could relieve him of its burden.

There was no escape for me. I must take up again my mantle of fraud in the East. With my certain contempt for half-measures I took it up quickly and wrapped myself in it completely. It might be fraud or it might be farce: no one should say that I could not play it. So I did not even mention the reasons which had brought me across; but pointed out that this was the Jordan scheme seen from the British angle. Allenby assented, and asked if we could still do it. I said: not at present, unless new factors were first discounted.

The first was Maan. We should have to take it before we could afford a second sphere. If more transport gave a longer range to the units of the Arab Regular Army, they could take position some miles north of Maan and cut the railway permanently, so forcing the Maan garrison to come out and fight them; and in the field the Arabs would easily defeat the Turks. We would require seven hundred baggage camels; more guns and machine-guns; and, lastly, assurance against flank attack from Amman, while we dealt with Maan.

On this basis a scheme was worked out. Allenby ordered down to Akaba two units of the Camel Transport Corps, an organization of Egyptians under British officers, which had proved highly successful in the Beersheba campaign. It was a great gift, for its carrying capacity ensured that we should now be able to keep our four thousand regulars eighty miles in advance of their base. The guns and machine-guns were also promised. As for shielding us against attack from Amman, Allenby said that was easily arranged. He intended, for his own flank’s security, shortly to take Salt, beyond Jordan, and hold it with an Indian Brigade. A Corps Conference was due next day, and I was to stay for it.

At this Conference it was determined that the Arab Army move instantly to the Maan Plateau, to take Maan. That the British cross the Jordan, occupy Salt, and destroy south of Amman as much of the railway as possible; especially the great tunnel. It was debated what share the Amman Arabs should take in the British operation. Bols thought we should join in the advance. I opposed this, since the later retirement to Salt would cause rumour and reaction, and it would be easier if we did not enter till this had spent itself.

Chetwode, who was to direct the advance, asked how his men were to distinguish friendly from hostile Arabs, since their tendency was a prejudice against all wearing skirts. I was sitting skirted in their midst and replied, naturally, that skirt-wearers disliked men in uniform. The laugh clinched the question, and it was agreed that we support the British retention of Salt only after they came to rest there. As soon as Maan fell, the Arab Regulars would move up and draw supplies from Jericho. The seven hundred camels would come along, still giving them eighty miles’ radius of action. This would be enough to let them work above Amman in Allenby’s grand attack along the line from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, the second phase of the operation, directed to the capture of Damascus.

My business was finished. I went to Cairo for two days, and then was flown to Akaba, to make my new terms with Feisal. I told him I thought they had treated me badly, in diverting without my knowledge money of the special account which, by agreement, I had drawn solely for the Dead Sea campaign. Consequently, I had left Zeid, it being impossible for a flouted adviser to carry on.

Allenby had sent me back. But my return did not mean that the damage was repaired. A great opportunity had been missed, and a valuable advance thrown away. The Turks would retake Tafileh in a week’s time without difficulty. Feisal was distressed lest the loss of Tafileh do his reputation harm; and shocked by my little interest in its fate. To comfort him, I pointed out that it now meant nothing to us. The two interests were the extremes of his area, Amman and Maan. Tafileh was not worth losing a man over; indeed, if the Turks moved there, they would weaken either Maan or Amman, and make our real work easier.

He was a little reconciled by this, but sent urgent warnings to Zeid of the coining danger: without avail, for six days later the Turks retook Tafileh. Meanwhile, Feisal re-arranged the basis of his army funds. I gave him the good news that Allenby, as thanks for the Dead Sea and Aba el Lissan, had put three hundred thousand pounds into my independent credit, and given us a train of seven hundred pack-camels complete with personnel and equipment.

This raised great joy in all the army, for the baggage columns would enable us to prove the value in the field of the Arab regular troops on whose training and organization Joyce, Jaafar, and so many Arab and English officers had worked for months. We arranged rough time-tables and schemes: then I shipped busily back to Egypt.

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