Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Day 44 of 240

I went on board, and heard that the naval attack had been carried out as though the land army were present, since Boyle feared the Turks would run away if he waited. As a matter of fact, the day we reached Abu Zereibat, Ahmed Tewflk Bey, Turkish Governor, had addressed the garrison, saying that Wejh must be held to the last drop of blood. Then at dusk he had got on to his camel and ridden off to the railway with the few mounted men fit for flight. The two hundred infantry determined to do his abandoned duty against the landing party; but they were outnumbered three to one, and the naval gun-fire was too heavy to let them make proper use of their positions. So far as the Hardinge knew, the fighting was not ended, but Wejh town had been occupied by seamen and Saleh’s Arabs.

Chapter XXVII

Profitable rumours excited the army, which began to trickle off northward soon after midnight. At dawn we rallied the various contingents in Wadi Miya, twelve miles south of the town, and advanced on it in order, meeting a few scattered Turks, of whom one party put up a short resistance. The Ageyl dismounted, to strip off their cloaks, head-cloths and shirts; and went on in brown half-nakedness, which they said would ensure clean wounds if they were hit: also their precious clothes would not be damaged. Ibn Dakhil in command obtained a quiet regularity of obedience. They advanced by alternate companies, in open order, at intervals of four or five yards, with even-numbered companies in support, making good use of the poor cover which existed.

It was pretty to look at the neat, brown men in the sunlit sandy valley, with the turquoise pool of salt water in the midst to set off the crimson banners which two standard bearers carried in the van. They went along in a steady lope, covering the ground at nearly six miles an hour, dead silent, and reached and climbed the ridge without a shot fired. So we knew the work had been finished for us and trotted forward to find the boy Saleh, son of ibn Shefia, in possession of the town. He told us that his casualties had been nearly twenty killed; and later we heard that a British lieutenant of the Air Service had been mortally wounded in a seaplane reconnaissance, and one British seaman hurt in the foot.

Vickery, who had directed the battle, was satisfied, but I could not share his satisfaction. To me an unnecessary action, or shot, or casualty, was not only waste but sin. I was unable to take the professional view that all successful actions were gains. Our rebels were not materials, like soldiers, but friends of ours, trusting our leadership. We were not in command nationally, but by invitation; and our men were volunteers, individuals, local men, relatives, so that a death was a personal sorrow to many in the army. Even from the purely military point of view the assault seemed to me a blunder.

The two hundred Turks in Wejh had no transport and no food, and if left alone a few days must have surrendered. Had they escaped, it would not have mattered the value of an Arab life. We wanted Wejh as a base against the railway and to extend our front; the smashing and killing in it had been wanton.

The place was inconveniently smashed. Its townspeople had been warned by Feisal of the coming attack, and advised either to forestall it by revolt or to clear out; but they were mostly Egyptians from Kosseir, who preferred the Turks to us, and decided to wait the issue; so the Shefia men and the Biasha found the houses packed with fair booty and made a sweep of it. They robbed the shops, broke open doors, searched every room, smashed chests and cupboards, tore down all fixed fittings, and slit each mattress and pillow for hidden treasure; while the fire of the fleet punched large holes in every prominent wall or building.

Our main difficulty was the landing of stores. The Fox had sunk the local lighters and rowing boats and there was no sort of quay; but the resourceful Hardinge thrust herself into the harbour (which was wide enough but much too short) and landed our stuff in her own cutters. We raised a tired working party of ibn Shefia followers, and with their clumsy or languid help got enough food into the place for the moment’s needs. The townspeople had returned hungry, and furious at the state of what had been their property; and began their revenge by stealing everything unguarded, even slitting open the rice-bags on the beach and carrying away quantities in their held-up skirts. Feisal corrected this by making the pitiless Maulud Town-governor. He brought in his rough-riders and in one day of wholesale arrest and summary punishment persuaded everyone to leave things alone. After that Wejh had the silence of fear.

Even in the few days which elapsed before I left for Cairo the profits of our spectacular march began to come in. The Arab movement had now no opponent in Western Arabia, and had passed beyond danger of collapse. The vexed Rabegh question died: and we had learnt the first rules of Beduin warfare. When regarded backward from our benefits of new knowledge the deaths of those regretted twenty men in the Wejh streets seemed not so terrible. Vickery’s impatience was justified, perhaps, in cold blood.

Book Three. A Railway Diversion


Our taking Wejh had the wished effect upon the Turks, who abandoned their advance towards Mecca for a passive defence of Medina and its railway. Our experts made plans for attacking them.

The Germans saw the danger of envelopment, and persuaded Enver to order the instant evacuation of Medina. Sir Archibald Murray begged us to put in a sustained attack to destroy the retreating enemy.

Feisal was soon ready in his part: and I went off to Abdulla to get his co-operation. On the way I fell sick and while lying alone with empty hands was driven to think about the campaign. Thinking convinced me that our recent practice had been better than our theory.

So on recovery I did little to the railway, but went back to Wejh with novel ideas. I tried to make the others admit them, and adopt deployment as our ruling principle; and to put preaching even before fighting. They preferred the limited and direct objective of Medina. So I decided to slip off to Akaba by myself on test of my own theory.

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