Ringwood Man who Served with Him
AN AIR CRASH
Some Details of the Campaign.
Some interesting details of the late Colonel T.E.Lawrence's work in Arabia during important operations which had a big affect on the campaign against the Turks were given to an "Echo" reporter last evening by Captain T.Henderson, M.C., A.F.C., a member of the original R.F.C., now retired and living at Braeside, St. Leonards near Ringwood.
Captain Henderson said: "I was with Colonel Lawrence in Arabia and went on the original expedition in June, 1916. We started from Suez and landed at Rabegh near Yenbo on the Red Sea coast. "Colonel Lawrence at the time was working with the Arabs to try to get some form of co-operation amongst the various tribes. The Turks were advancing on Mecca, one of the two holy cities, the other being Medina.
"Their were no maps of this country except the Admiralty chart which showed the Red Sea coastline. I was in the R.F.C. and I proceeded to make a map of some description from aerial reconnaissances. This took a considerable time, but we filled in the gaps as time went on.
SEEN FROM THE AIR.
"I spotted the Turks from the air, but until we had some semblance of a map it was impossible to inform Lawrence and the Arab forces as to the actual Turkish position . The country of the Hejaz is not, as generally supposed, a sandy desert. The hinterland of those parts of Arabia is dry barren, stony and mountainous and water is extremely scarce. The heat can best be imagined by anyone who has travelled down the Red Sea.
"It was with difficulties similar to these that Lawrence was called upon to face apart from actual physical hardships. He succeeded admirably by uniting the previously hostile tribes of the Harb, the Billi, and the Jehana under one banner.
"the R.F.C. detachment consisted of three machines and I was one of the pilots and happened to be the only member who saw the two years' campaign through and later I was called upon by the authorities to write the official narrative of the expedition.
"In this narrative was included my ultimate map of the Hejaz which covered an area of 500 miles in length and 200 miles in depth. The material submitted forms the basis of the present-day maps.
"Prior to this expedition no Christian had ever been permitted access into this holy Mohammedan country which had been jealously guarded from time immemorial. Thus can be appreciated the greatness of Colonel Lawrence's work in overcoming racial and religious prejudices such as these.
"The actual fighting was in the form of guerilla warfare amongst the craggy mountains. Lawrence and his Sherifs, Ali and Feisal continuously harassed the Turks. The R.F.C. detachment aided them by bombing the Turkish outposts, detachments and main bases.
"Communication between Col. Lawrence and the aerial observers was done by means of message dropping and message snatching by means of grapnels from the 'planes.
"Gradually the Turks withdrew towards their railhead at Medina where Lawrence and his forces kept them in a state of siege and the whole of this Turkish force was prevented from rejoining the main force in Palestine and this undoubtedly would have made a tremendous difference to General Allenby's advance.
THE FINAL ATTACK.
"Subsequently Colonel Lawrence went with his irregular force to assist General Allenby in his final onslaught and the effect of his appearance amongst the Jebel Druse Arabs was to bring them in on the British side, causing consternation and surprise amongst the Turks.
"From being so frequently in contact with Colonel Lawrence I know him intimately. He was a man devoid of fear, as we know it, at any rate, and treated everything as a boyish adventure.
He had a great sense of humour and resented discipline or barrack square methods. He was modest to a degree almost of shyness and social functions he absolutely abhorred. His tastes were simple and he could exist on Arab rations, meagre and poor as they were. He was a non-smoker and non-drinker, and trained himself to exist on a half pint of water daily.
"He was of aesthetic disposition and saw beauty in all things.
"His passing may be justly considered the loss of a very great man and a very gallant gentleman," added Captain Henderson.
During the peace conference in 1919, Captain Henderson was in command of the first squadron of Handley Page 'planes to fly to Egypt and blaze the trail for the England - India route. At Buc aerodrome, Paris, he was asked to take a staff officer to Egypt.
He turned out to be Colonel Lawrence. At Marseilles, Captain Henderson's machine had engine trouble and Colonel Lawrence was transferred to another machine.
On reaching Rome the pilot misjudged the aerodrome in the dark and crashed in a gravel pit. Both pilots were killed and Colonel Lawrence had a miraculous escape, getting away with a broken collar bone.
Later Captain Henderson took him to Egypt and he seemed unshaken by the accident, but very upset at the death of the pilots.
After the crash Henderson and Lawrence were pictured together at Foggia airport.
Captain Henderson asked Colonel Lawrence what he was going to do now the war was over and thought he was joking when he was thinking of enlisting in the Air Force.
TO SINK HIS IDENTITY
"One is inclined to suppose that the main reason for him enlisting was to sink his identity as he seemed to consider that the glory and publicity he had received for his work in connection with the Arab cause was out of all proportion to its actual value in the war as he considered what he did was only a small thing in relation to personal achievements by others on the Western and other fronts, thus showing the true character of the man," commented Captain Henderson.
Captain Henderson holds the Order of Al Nahda granted by King Ibn Hussein. This distinction was granted to very few officers. Since his retirement he is devoting his time to breeding dogs and has won prizes at Crufts and at the recent Southampton show and elsewhere with his Labrador retrievers.