Tuesday 14 November 2006 by Mal Booth. 2 comments
Exhibitions, Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse, Chauvel, Our exhibition, The Light Horse, Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse

The blog has recently received a number of comments that reveal the entry into Damascus in October 1918 still inspires strong feelings.

The question of who was the first to enter the city has been disputed ever since. The evidence now points to the men of Brigadier General L C Wilson's 3rd Light Horse Brigade as being the first troops to enter Damascus in the early hours of 1 October. It has always been the intention of both the exhibition and the blog to draw attention to this fact as part of a wider historical story. Indeed, to illustrate this we plan to feature some of Brigadier Wilson's material, as well as some of General Sir Harry Chauvel's, along with original documents from the unit war diaries.

On 14 September 2006 we posted an article in this blog about the rare and lavishly produced 1926 subscribers' edition of Lawrence's Seven pillars of wisdom that the Memorial holds in its collection and that will also be featured in the exhibition. After the Memorial had purchased its 1926 edition Chauvel, who was a member of the Memorial's then Board of Trustees, drew attention to some of the inaccuracies contained in the book. He wrote to the Memorial's Director on 1 January 1936 that he 'agreed to the purchase of this book as a very remarkable publication in connection with the late War likely to increase in value, not as an accurate record of events'. In a very detailed 13 page letter, Chauvel went on to outline his main concerns with Lawrence's account.

One part of the wider story that Chauvel could not understand was Lawrence's hostility towards Major General Sir George de Symons Barrow and the Indian troops of the 4th Cavalry Division (in Chapters CXVIII and CXIX of Seven pillars of wisdom). Chauvel writes:

After all, Barrow and his Division did all the real fighting with the IV Turkish Army from Irbid to Damascus and, had it not been for them, Lawrence would not have got to Damascus when he did.

With reference to Lawrence's claim that 4,000 Rualla tribesmen had entered Damascus during the night of 30 September 1918, he says:

If any of Feisal's followers did get in during the night, they were unrecognisable as such to the enemy or ourselves . . . I am personally of the opinion that the first of the Arab forces to enter Damascus were those who followed Lawrence in and, by that time an Australian Brigade [the 3rd Light Horse Brigade] and at least one regiment of Indian Cavalry had passed right through the city.


AWM 93 12/4/38 Comments by General Sir H. G. Chauvel on Seven pillars of wisdom

Mal Booth & Nigel Steel


shaun darragh

One factor that must be taken into account. Chauvel is writing as a professional military man intent upon highlighting the accomplishments of his unit (and, inevitably, himself). Lawrence is writing as an self-described amateur and temporarily serving officer from an inteligence bureau. But, one who also had a well demonstrated flair for promotion. The real question here is: What is Lawrence promoting? Is it ego? Or, is he pushing a political agenda? The Arab Army MUST be first into Damascus, much as Leclerc's 2nd Free French Armored Division had to be "first" into Paris (despite competing claims from several American units). Chauvel's claim in easy to understand within a military historical context. Lawrence's claim, on the other hand, requires an analysis of the geographical/politico-military factors in motion. Was he staking Lawrence's claim, or the Arab Bureau's. Or, was he off on some self-dictated tangent to "right" (sic) history by the Arabs.

steve flora

And THAT is one of many questions about TEL that biography after biography has attempted to settle for the last eighty years. One of the aspects that continues to fascinate many. SBF