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IN THE SHADOW OF THE CRESCENT by Kerry Webber

Article text
COLONEL STEWART NEWCOMBE DSO RE
Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe of the Royal Engineers was already a legend in the deserts of Arabia before he was joined in Cairo during the early months of the First World War by a group of extraordinary specialists in Middle Eastern affairs. One member of this group was T.E. Lawrence who went on to achieve worldwide fame. Newcombe's story, like those of other unsung figures in the Anglo-Arabian panoply, has been eclipsed by the legend of ´Lawrence of Arabia´, and has languished in the dusty recesses of regimental records, government files or in the elliptical words of Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. However, Newcombe´s untold story is there to be told. It is a story of extraordinary exploits and courage, coupled with his own legendary and inexhaustible supply of energy. Lawrence was later to describe him in Seven Pillars: 'Newcombe is like fire,' they (the Arabs) used to complain; ‘he burns friend and enemy’.

It is as a loyal friend to Lawrence – a loyalty that remained steadfast to the end – that Newcombe is best remembered. But his own story is one of remarkable adventures under the very noses of the Ottoman authorities – full of danger, intrigue and perhaps more surprisingly, of romance during Newcombe's captivity in Turkey. His post-war work for the Boundary Commission in Palestine and his efforts at securing a lasting peace for his friends in the region have gone largely unrecorded or mis-represented. The aim of this biography is to set that record straight and to help restore Newcombe to his rightful place - recognised among those who played an important part in the Great War during the Palestine campaigns and as someone who made a significant contribution to the peace negotiations with Turkey while under cover in Constantinople. Later, his post-war work helped shape the history and politics of the modern Middle East through his work with the Boundary Commission and his life-long friendship with many of the key personalities within the Arab and Jewish communities. Above all, he should be remembered as someone who contributed to the legends of Arabian exploration through exhaustive survey work in Sinai and Palestine, mapping the past as well as the future.

Please visit my weblog at shadowofthecrescent which will include updates on its progress, highlight interesting discoveries, and post general comments about its content.

Kerry Webber´s IN THE SHADOW OF THE CRESCENT will be published shortly.