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Turkish supply depot and an aerodrome. From Deraa 8 Tarkish war-built railway branched westward to Nablus to feed the Turkish-Palestine line, and southwards the Hedjaz railway stretched away to Ammon, Maan, Medina, and Mecos.
When I arrived at Prince Feisul's headquarters at Abu Lisal, all preparations were well forward for a scheme worked out between Allenby's General Staff, the British advisers to the Arabs, both in Arabia and Cairo, Prince Feisul, and the latter's Generals. This was no less a plan than to send from Abu Lisal a column of Arab troops on camels, plus a small detachment of French Colonial gunners, some British armoured cars, and a handful of Egyptian Camel Corps and Gurkhas, to do the demolition work, round eastward of the Hedjaz railway to out the railway north, south, and west (on the Nablus branch) of Deraa. The distance to be traversed was nearly 400 miles, mostly over desert, and the march would necessarily have to be made without communications. The effect of the enterprise would be that, if it was timed a day or two before Allenby's projected offensive on the 18-19th September, and was successful
1. The Turkish supply line to both Ammon and the rest of the Palestine front would be broken, at any rate temporarily.
2. No reinforcements would be able to reach Palestine from Damascus and Asia Minor.
3. If General Allenby's attack were successful, this triple break of the railway would greatly hamper the Turks' movement on retirement, and might even cut them off, though I don't think it was ever contemplated by the Staff with Allenby that the Arabs would be able to do more than interrupt communications for forty-eight hours, the Turks being fairly quick at repairing their lines.
4. Lastly, though less important, it might divert a Turkish Division from the already thinly held Turkish Palestine line to Deraa (before Allenby's attack) from a fear that the raid would be repeated in greater force, backed by a general rising of the Ruweilah tribesmen, all mounted and armed, and the peasants of the Hauran,
It is necessary here to point out that the local Arabs were somewhat divided in their sympathies. The majority supported Prince Feisul and the Sultan Hussein, King of Mecoa and the Arabs, whose representative he was, and probably 99 per cent supported him in their hearts. But those Arabs who lived near what may be called the Turkish sphere of influence, as apart from the country constantly raided by the Arabs, or where the Turkish posts had ceased to exist, naturally had to consider their interests. Even they helped the Arab movement in many ways, and from most tribes we received considerable assistance, with the dishonourable exception of
some of the Druses and certain plosives in their frequent raids of the Haurani peasants, who on the railway. Also, the were "Mr Facing-both-ways" Egyptian Camel Corps comwith vengeance, equally pany had, at the period of ready to stab either side in which I write, been well trained the back. By the Arab army, in a special form of demolition; often here mentioned, I refer and in order that they might to Feisul's regular army of do their work in comparative Syrians and Mesopotamians, peace of mind (the Egyptian, equipped with British kit, pace Nationalist references to save for their kefias, and "a brave and independent arms, all of whom at one time rase," being not naturally a or other had served as unwill- fighter), they had a "stiffening conscripts in the Turkish ing" of some thirty Gurkhas, army, and deserted, or been with Lewis guns, who invaritaken prisoners by British or ably accompanied them and Arabs. Service was entirely watched for Turks whilst they voluntary, and officers and blew up rails and bridges. men could resign their mili- Finally, there were the British tary duties at any time. The light- and armoured - car dediscipline in consequence was tachments. For reasons somenot very strong, but the esprit what obscurely connected with de corps was considerable, and high political considerations, the courage and endurance of very little mention has been all ranks on the march or in made officially of their work; action was really remarkable. but now that the most bas The regular army, which only been made that could be of the numbered a few thousand false statement that the Arab men, had a variety of guns, movement was created by us about fifty in all, of every make for our own purpose, surely and country of origin-Aus- full testimony should be paid trian Skodas, French 75's, to the gallant work of the German and Turkish pieces, British officers and men, about but had the valuable back- sixty in all, who worked the ing of a homogeneous French armoured cars and drove the Colonial mountain battery. Of light cars in Arabia. Apart aeroplanes there were none, from the numberless times except the aforementioned that they were in action, often British detachment; whilst the in places where no medical cavalry, so-called, were just succour could possibly reach local Arab irregulars who them if they were wounded, joined in the proceedings some- and where, indeed, a stomach times for a few hours, some wound, for example, meant times for a few days, sometimes that Kipling's advice had for a few weeks. There were better at once be takenno specially trained engineers, since most men in the force, even the most ignorant peasant Arab soldier, had learnt something of demolitions and ex
"Roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your God, like a soldier,"
they had imposed on them at
all times the tremendous strain of driving over roadless country under a pitiless sun, often on a minimum allowance of water, and doing it day after day for twelve or fourteen hours a day. That they did it, and vied in endurance with the Arabs themselves-in itself no mean fest is only to say that they were British soldiers.
I have already said that when I reached Abu Lisal, on 20th August, plans were well forward for the great raid on Deraa. This did not mean that the raid would necessarily mature, for there are many slips between the cup and the lip in Arabia, and time and dates are ever vague terms in the desert. The discussions between the British advisers and the Arab leaders were also somewhat seriously affected by an unfortunate difference of opinion, the arguments on both sides being conducted over the wireless between Prince Feisul and his father, the King. This difference of opinion had no reference to the great raid, but had a bearing on it, as Prince Feisul resigned his post as Generalissimo of the Northern Arab forces as a result of his father's strictures. The fat was then fairly in the fire: Prince Feisul's half-brother Zeid also wired to his father resigning his post with our force; whilst the Arab troops, whose ideas of discipline differed considerably from that, for example, of the Guards Division, took sides in the controversy, demonstrating in favour of Prince Feisul. However, L. and S. at last smoothed
everything down. Feisul withdrew his resignation, and Y., one of the most indefatigable of all our little band of British officers, obtained, in conjunetion with the Arab supply officers, sufficient camels and drivers to make up a hamla, or supply train, to Azrak-an oasis east of the line, where was to be the advance dump of the column.
Finally, on 30th August, in accordance with the original scheme, the hamla was ready, and started on its long march, and a few days later, L., Sherif Nasser, a relative of Prince Feisul, accompanied by two of his slaves, H., an Egyptian officer of rare capacity and considerable charm, and I, started out for Azrak in a Ford car and a Rolls-Royce tender or box-car. With us went a few worldly belongings, rations for ten days,driver and spare driver for each car, and H.'s Egyptian servant (neither L. nor I had a servant, L. never, characteristically, having possessed one, and my soldier-servant being sick), which made a fair load for two cars over the roadless desert, especially as we carried stacks of petrol and spare tyres galore. We did the 200 odd miles in a day and a quarter, reaching Azrak at 3 P.M. on the 7th. Azrak, which is distant some 40 or 50 miles eastward of Ammon, and about 80 miles from Deraa, is an oasis in the true sense of the word; and proceeding eastward again from it one would not leave the desert until one reached Mesopotamia, I suppose. It used
to amuse me to gaze towards the east at Azrak and speculate on what our comrades in Mesopotamia were doing, and if we should ever join forces with them. Azrak, which is a natural collecting-place for the drainage of the surrounding desert, here mainly shingle and flinty ground with little soft sand, contains two or three square miles of mud flats, full of high tamarisk, with occasional clumps of palms, and bulrushes around pools of pellucid water, the origin of which comes apparently from underground springs. Above the largest pool, on a low ridge of lava rook, there are the ruins of a very charming and graceful castle, partly built by the Arabs some 1400 years ago, on the site of an earlier Roman building, some of whose stones and pillars, variously inscribed, are incorporated in the present building.
After 200 grilling miles across the desert plains, Azrak looked a haven indeed from afar, but we were soon to learn otherwise. At Azrak we found a R.A.F. officer and some mechanics, all Austra lians, who had arrived in a car the previous day to await the arrival of two of the 'planes from Akaba, which were to be be stabled here. They informed us there were flies there-"some flies, too." They were indeed "some flies"- huge, white, venomous camel - flies; their sting was almost like that of a wasp. At dusk they went
roost, but at the same
time a heavy desert wind got up with a steady London fog-like dust, which rendered the eating of a good plate of Maconachie, prepared by H.'s servant, almost impossible. As we had no shelter, the cars having returned, the only thing to do was to roll up in one's blanket and cover one's head. About midnight the wind ceased, to be replaced by a cloud of mosquitoes from the swamp-altogether a most unpleasant night, reminiscent of the worst I have ever spent in war or after big game.
Next morning L. and I, having helped the Anzac flyingmen to ereet their canvas hangar, and having nothing else to do until the arrival of the 'planes or the hamla, spent the morning bathing, much tormented by the flies, and the afternoon in the cool, quiet, and blessed freedom from flies of the castle. I spoke just now of the "ruins" of the castle of Azrak, but in truth part of it might have been built yesterday, and not 1400 years ago. Without a bit of wood in it, even the rafters and doors are of stone. There is a small disused mosque in the centre of the courtyard, around which are grouped the living-rooms or guard-rooms, whilst there are plentiful Arabic inscriptions, and one rather pathetic broken altar, stating in Greek and Latin that a certain legion had occupied the fort and worshipped the emperor there. Here, much more vividly than in France or England or Italy, one realises the tragio break
down of a great empire and a great system. In those countries, other great empires and systems have arisen on the ruin of the Roman Empire. Here, but for the brief Arab Empire, there has been nothing but stagnation and decay since the Romans left. All round this part of Arabia are extensive signs of the Roman Occupation-forts, the tracings of roads with the foundationstones still remaining, and evidences of a system of cultivation and enclosure far superior to anything of today.
This castle of Azrak was once the property of an Arab prince, so L. informed me, famous for his love of hunting and pack of hunting-dogs, probably the local Selugi Greyhounds, who hunt by sight only, and there is a local tradition that their spirits howl round the castle at nights. I must confess that I never heard them, though it would have been most appropriate that I, who happen to be what the Arabs would call "a keeper of hunting-dogs," on another continent, should have heard these spirit-hounds acclaiming the haunts of their earthly existence.
It was a rather unusually hot afternoon on the day in question, and I, as I lay on some freshly-cut palm boughs in one corner of one of the great, cool, stone rooms of the castle, L. stretched out in another corner reading a book, could not help thinking what romance clung to these walls. What scenes of love and hate,
passion and jealousy, splendour, revelry, misery, decay, must they have seen in their long years of existence. Outside, the palm trees rustled continuously, with a soothing iteration very pleasant after the two previous days' ten hours of fierce sunshine in a treeless desert; and under one of them, reclining at full length on his carpet, spread out for him, lay Sherif Nasser, his two grizzled, old, black slaves (the negro slaves of a well-born Arab are in much the same privileged position as were those of a Virginian county family before the Civil War) at his feet, all three attired in oostly silk robes and kefias and aggales (the band that secures the kefia or turban) of brilliant but well-matched colour, and each with a heavily-ornamented sword and scabbard, worn, of course, purely for ornament, as swords are worn with Court dress here, for the Arab's weapon is a rifle, and in these days the most modern rifle at that. Their costume alone would cause people to turn their heads in the unreal East of Cairo or Port Said, where most native dresses have one or more European touches-boots, for example-but here it was as natural as a red coat in Leicestershire. But for his rifle and ammunition, there is nothing about an Arabian Arab fashioned otherwise than after the custom of 1000 or 2000 or even 3000 years ago. Their cotton clothes, though the cotton may be made in Lancashire, are as were those of their forefathers in Biblical times; and it always