A combined Arab and British force captures Damascus from the Turks during World War I, completing the liberation of Arabia. An instrumental commander in the Allied campaign was T.E. Lawrence, a legendary British soldier known as Lawrence of Arabia.
Lawrence, an Oxford-educated Arabist born in Tremadoc, Wales, began working for the British army as an intelligence officer in Egypt in 1914. He spent more than a year in Cairo, processing intelligence information. In 1916, he accompanied a British diplomat to Arabia, where Hussein ibn Ali, the emir of Mecca, had proclaimed a revolt against Turkish rule. Lawrence convinced his superiors to aid Hussein’s rebellion, and he was sent to join the Arabian army of Hussein’s son Faisal as a liaison officer.
Under Lawrence’s guidance, the Arabians launched an effective guerrilla war against the Turkish lines. He proved a gifted military strategist and was greatly admired by the Bedouin people of Arabia. In July 1917, Arabian forces captured Aqaba near the Sinai and joined the British march on Jerusalem. Lawrence was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In November, he was captured by the Turks while reconnoitering behind enemy lines in Arab dress and was tortured and sexually abused before escaping.
Lawrence rejoined his army, which slowly worked its way north to Damascus. Australian troops under the command of Henry Chauvel fought their way to Damascus and arrived at the scene before Lawrence and his men, but left shortly before his arrival to chase fleeing Turkish units. The Syrian capital fell on October 1, 1918.
Arabia was liberated, but Lawrence’s hope that the peninsula would be united as a single nation was dashed when Arabian factionalism came to the fore after Damascus. Lawrence, exhausted and disillusioned, left for England. Feeling that Britain had exacerbated the rivalries between the Arabian groups, he appeared before King George V and politely refused the medals offered to him.
After the war, he lobbied hard for independence for Arab countries and appeared at the Paris peace conference in Arab robes. He later wrote a monumental war memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) under an assumed name to escape his fame and acquire material for a new book. Discharged from the RAF in 1935, he was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident a few months later.