Behind the Lawrence Legend: the Forgotten Few Who Shaped the Arab Revolt
Philip Walker

Behind the Lawrence Legend: the Forgotten Few Who Shaped the Arab Revolt

The legend of “Lawrence of Arabia” has lodged in the hearts and minds of three generations. He has been eulogised and debunked, and millions of words have been written about this most enigmatic of characters and his achievements. Legend and fact have been expertly untangled, and arcane minutiae have been dissected and pored over. But in essence the unknowable self lies deep within him, as for all of us.

    Behind the Lawrence Legend takes a fresh approach to the Arab Revolt 1916-1918, by looking at it through the experiences of twelve British officers and intelligence operatives. The key man was Colonel Cyril Wilson, previously seen as having just a supporting role at Jeddah. The others are all unknown or little known, and their gripping stories are told through a mixture of archival research and astonishing collections of recently discovered letters, diaries, photographs and other documents. Philip Walker uncovered these primary sources through genealogical and other research, contacting the descendants of about twenty Arab Revolt officers in an attempt to find some “unknown unknowns” of the revolt.

   Lieutenant Lionel Gray, a cipher officer at Jeddah, Aqaba and Aleppo, kept hundreds of stunning photographs, hundreds of letters from and to him, secret cable message notebooks, and a wealth of other military and intelligence documents. Gray’s lost story is interconnected with that of Cyril Wilson and the stories of the other forgotten officers and all are interwoven with the familiar narrative of T. E. Lawrence and the revolt, but with new insights on Lawrence’s deceptions and complex motivations.

     The Colonel Blimp-like Cyril Wilson is surprisingly revealed as an indispensable figure whose Jeddah circle sustained and shaped the revolt. Lawrence played a vital role, but without Wilson and his men’s crucial interventions the revolt could not have had its hollow success and the world would not have heard of “Lawrence of Arabia”.

One of Lawrence’s completely forgotten comrades-in-arms, Lieutenant Leslie Bright, who filled a notebook with hard-won intelligence while living among Bedouin tribes, was praised by a colleague for “a great work quietly done”. This could have been an epitaph for Cyril Wilson and for others who have slipped below the radar of historians, and whose role in helping safeguard and shape the Arab Revolt deserves to be celebrated during its centenary year.

Book Details:

  • Author: Philip Walker
  • Published Year: 2018
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: OUP
    • USA: OUP

Philip Walker

Philip Walker was born in 1949 and is a retired archaeologist and historian. He worked for English Heritage and its Government Department predecessor for thirty-six years, mainly as an Inspector of  Ancient Monuments.    Liaising with Druids, witches and other committed pagans, who were passionately opposed on spiritual grounds to an English Heritage-sponsored archaeological excavation, was an unusual project. None became life members of English Heritage, but this was an intriguing as well as challenging time.       Philip Walker has travelled in re...
More about Philip Walker

Book Reviews

  • "A refreshing account of the Arab Revolt which reveals the untold and exciting stories of Lawrence's fellow officers, secret servicemen and Arab spies and their accomplishments.A long overdue appraisal and a balance to Lawrence's own writings."
    Lawrence James, author of The Golden Warior
  • "A gripping account of the Arab Revolt as seen through the eyes of the men on the ground in Jidda. Walker has uncovered remarkable new documentation and photographs that shed valuable new light on the Great War in Arabia. An outstanding book for the centenary of the Revolt."
    Eugene Rogan
  • "This book gives a new focus to our picture of the Arab Revolt.  We see for the first time the stories of the men who provided the commissariat, infrastructure and back-up for the Sharifian army. Walker gives honourable mention to men who have been overlooked so far.  The real scale of the achievement of Lawrence and of those who gave him indispensable support, emerges - an organic and extraordinary effort.  "
    Sir Mark Allen
  • "An excellent and fascinating complement to Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It reveals the hidden stories of his brothers-in-arms and what they achieved during the Arab Revolt."
    Lawrence James
  • "After another round of books on T. E. Lawrence 'of Arabia' published on the war's centennial, it seems scarcely credible that anything new can be said on the subject. But Philip Walker has discovered an astonishing wealth of new material in private collections. The 'Forgotten Few' peers beneath the Lawrence legend to reveal the seamy underbelly of the Arab Revolt.    "
    Sean McMeekin