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Remembered Today:

A Might-Have-Been ?

Stoppage Drill

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Capt. William Shakespear of Arabia – a very interesting person and no doubt well worthy of the BBC bringing him to a wider notice, but, 'would we now know him as Shakespear of Arabia?'

I feel not in the way that this article implies

Oil would not be discovered in Arabia for another 25 years. Instead, the conversation turned on Britain's diplomatic priorities: extending colonial influence and outwitting Ottoman Turkey. The latter goal was shared by Ibn Saud, who sought to conquer Arabia by defeating his tribal nemesis, Ibn Rashid, an Ottoman ally.”

Ibn Saud saw Ibn Rashid as his nemesis? If this is true, then it was only as a first step to his defeat of the Hashemite family. The Sherif of Mecca and his family's control of the Holy places was what really drove Ibn Saud.

Ibn Saud was looking no further than Mecca. His interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, persuaded him that he was more worthy to control the Holy places than the Ottoman Caliph's appointed Hashemites. Mecca was his objective and with this limited aim he could not have helped the British in their wider wartime struggle against the Ottoman Turks.

The difference between the two factions (Saudi & Hashemite) being that while Ibn Saud wanted to defeat another Arabian family or tribe, the Hashemite ambitions were much larger; they wanted to defeat the colonial interlopers and take control, not just of Arabia, but of greater Syria too. The Hashemite family's aims coincided with those of the British at this point in time; the Saudi's aims did not.

Indeed the struggle between the Saud and the Hashemite families nearly wrecked Allenby's plans: see Allenby's letter of 14 August 1918 addressed to Wilson (CIGS). Quote:

'The King of the Hedjaz is at present inclined to quarrel with Ibn Saoud; and Ibn Saoud may, likely enough, give him a hammering. That might conceivably, draw Feisal away South; to support his father. However, I am counting on Feisal's continued cooperation with me. Naturally I can't push far North unless the Hedjaz railway ceases to be a menace to my right flank. I must either be able to detach a strong flank guard, or my flank must be covered by the Arabs; …'

The Arabs under Feisal and Lawrence were in fact saving Allenby one or more divisions that he did not have to spare to guard his right flank. The Saudis, with their parochial ambitions, were a distraction at best and a dangerous nuisance at worst.

Allenby was under no misapprehension as to the real nature of the threat posed by Ibn Saud – see his letter of 6th June 1919 addressed to Wilson


“This Wahabism is of the nature of the fanatical Puritanism of the Cromwellians. It is extremely contagious, and is attractive to the wild, illiterate Arab, who sees his opportunity of gaining a martyr's crown. The movement may well spread to Syria, if it is successful in the Hedjaz. I am suggesting that Feisal send some officers and some machine-guns to help his father. He may do so; but, if Ibn Saud really means business, I doubt if they could be in time to save Mecca.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Ibn Saud gained control of Mecca and his family are still there.

We might today be talking about not Lawrence of Arabia, but Shakespear of Arabia.

I think not; at least not in any Great War context.



quotes from 'Allenby in Palestine - the middle east correspondence of Field Marshal Viscount Allenby' edited by Matthew Hughes, published by the Army Records Society, 2004, Sutton Publishing Limited.

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I have to agree with Michael, its another of those sideshows within sideshows.

Saud and his enterprise caused more problems then he did to the Allied cause, and his final taking of Mecca, what can we say, but would Feisal have been any different post war?

The problems with the Saudi's has been a major problem ever since, as Feisal proved ever worst in Iraq post war?

Its a pot I don't like to think about let alone stir.


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