To know the context of what follows start with the overview here, and for reference list of personalities involved here.

The urgency of inducing Sherif Hussein and his sons to enter the war – even if they provided only a minor distraction to the Turks and a small symbol of Allied Muslim cooperation to the world at large – was now becoming acute. The war with the Ottomans was not going well – and not just at Gallipoli.

The Bedouin tribes who had rallied to Husayn and his sons – mainly the Juhayna, Harb and ‘Utayba – were not jihadi warriors against an alien invasion like the Arabs of Iraq. Many of them heartily disliked the Turks and their railway to Medina; but they were essentially mercenaries, fighting for British-supplied gold and modern rifles. As for their martial qualities, individually they could be courageous, but up against regular troops – especially when these were equipped with modern weaponry – they had a tendency to become disorganized and panic. More- over, each tribe was reluctant to move outside its own dira – its traditional zone of pasturage, water rights and oasis gardens. Worse still, some tribal leaders soon showed that their loyalty could not be relied upon when the Turks made them offers of cash which exceeded those of Hussein.

Showing things were not going to well, Britain’s defeat at Gallipoli was followed by an even more devastating setback in the war against the Ottomans. By mid-April 1916 it had become clear that all attempts to relieve the siege of Kut had failed. Negotiations on surrender began on 27 April, during which Townshend, with Kitchener’s approval, offered Khalil Pasha all his artillery and £1 million in return for his men being allowed to leave Kut on parole. Khalil immediately referred the offer to his uncle, Enver Pasha, who replied, ‘Money is not wanted by us.’ Townshend then raised the cash offer to £2 million but, insulted by what they considered an attempt to bribe them, Khalil and Enver declined once again. Realising at last that the Turks were intent on unconditional surrender, Townshend resigned himself to the inevitable and on 28 April began destroying his guns. There was little mercy for the British and Indian ‘other ranks’ or the local Arab population after the Turks entered Kut. Hangings and torture were the lot of those Arabs who were deemed to have collaborated with the British, and the prisoners themselves were dispatched on a veritable death march to Anatolia, where the survivors were condemned to forced labor. Around two-thirds of the British and Indian troops who surrendered died of disease or maltreatment. General Townshend, on the other hand, was taken to Istanbul, where he lived out the rest of the war in pleasant semi-confinement, convinced to the last that the Turkish commanders were ‘Gentlemen’. For Britain’s war leaders, one defeat by ‘orientals’ had been shocking; two defeats seemed utterly appalling. As far as the war in the East was concerned, there was now ‘only one show in town’ – the revolt against the Turks by Sherif Hussein and his men. Fortunately, current and future promises of gold in very large quantities were about to produce the desired outcome. On 5 June 1916 Kitchener, the architect of the ‘Eastern Strategy’, whose vaguely worded message to the Sherif in September 1914 concerning the caliphate had set in motion the train of events which had since unfolded, drowned in the icy waters of the North Sea whe the cruiser HMS Hampshire carrying him on a diplomatic mission to Russia was sunk by a German submarine. On the very same day, as we have seen, Husain’s sons ‘Ali and Faisal raised the banner of revolt at Medina and five days later the Sharif himself joined the rebellion, having previously been promised a subsidy of £50,000 per month in gold sovereigns, 5,000 rifles and a quarter of a million rounds of ammunition by decision of the British cabinet, a figure which would be raised to £125,000 in gold a month later, and eventually rise to £200,000 per month by mid-1917.

Below General Townshend with Khalil Pasha on the right.

On Sunday 29 October 1916, the Foreign Office was in- formed by telegram that ‘the notables and ulemas of the country’ and all ‘all classes of the populations’ had ‘unanimously’ recognized Sharif Hussein as ‘King of the Arab Nation’. The telegram was signed by Sharif Abdullah in his new capacity of foreign minister of the Arab government. Two days later, Clerk minuted that this was ‘rather a bomb’, and that ‘we really cannot recognize the Sherif as “King of the Arab Nation” yet a while’. He suggested approaching the French government and informing them that the British government intended to reply that Hussein’s title not only was ‘an unwarrantable intervention in the internal affairs of Arabia’ but also would do ‘incalculable harm to the Sherif’s cause. The time is not yet ripe for such a proceeding.’ Hardinge, however, did not want to commit the Foreign Office just yet. He suggested that ‘the views of the French government’ should first be sought, but Grey agreed with Clerk: ‘let us make up our own minds and then tell the French what we propose to do’ – after all, ‘the Sherif is our own affair’.1

The Foreign Office’s advisers in Jeddah, Cairo and Khartoum had also been taken by surprise. Wilson regarded Hussein’s newly acquired regal dignity ‘somewhat premature’,2 while McMahon observed that ‘Shereef’s action appears ill-advised and premature’.1 Wingate, for his part, stated that Hussein’s title ‘would appear to be hardly in accord with the Sherif’s own declaration regarding the complete independence within their own territories of other Arab chiefs’.3 McMahon proposed to Wingate that Wilson should be instructed to inform Hussein that the high commissioner deprecated ‘an announcement of this nature which seems most inadvisable at a time when Sherif is not in a position to substantiate fully such claims made on his behalf’. Sir Henry, in any case, felt sure that the British government would ‘be unable at present to make public recognition of Shereef as more than ruler of Hedjaz and champion of Arab people against Turkish oppression’.4

McMahon and Wingate at the same time considered it undesirable to discourage Hussein unduly. The high commissioner explained in a telegram to the Foreign Office that, although ‘in view of extent to which Shereef owes his present position and even existence to our aid and support we could be justified in withholding any recognition of his present action which has been taken without consulting us’, and that ‘this action is likely to prejudice his position in the eyes of certain Moslem countries where his motives and policy are still regarded with distrust’, he nevertheless recommended that ‘we might conclude by reiterating determination of His Majesty’s Government to continue efforts to bring about and support independence of Arab nation.5 The sirdar concurred with the insertion of some such clause in the message to Hussein, as it would ‘show that while we are doubtful of the political wisdom of his action it in no way affects our support of him and of the Arabs’ cause’.6

McMahon and Wingate also agreed on the title that should be conferred on Hussein. Sir Henry suggested that ‘considering the limited extent of his dominion and having regard to our treaties acknowledging the independence of Arab Chiefs such as Bin Saud etc. most that we could under existing conditions would be to recognize Shereef as “Malik” [i.e. “King”: R.H.L.] of Hedjaz’. Sir Reginald, for his part, proposed that ‘King of the Arabs in the Hedjaz’ was ‘a suitable address, as far as we are concerned, for the present’.7 Wilson had meanwhile been informed that a ‘coronation takes place November 4th or November 5th’, and even though Clerk thought the whole affair ‘fantastic’,8 ‘some notice of the Sherif’s elevation’ had nevertheless to be taken. A telegram was sent to McMahon on 3 November, in which the latter was instructed to tell Wilson, ‘if there is still time’, to inform Hussein that:  He had been instructed to offer sincere congratulations on the auspicious occasion. He should add that His Majesty’s Government are in consultation with their Allies on the question of a joint official recognition of His Highness’ new position, but as the enemy is not yet completely defeated and a premature recognition might do great harm to His Highness’ cause in Arabia and the whole Moslem world, there may be some delay.9

Hussein was duly crowned as ‘King of the Arabs’ at Mecca on 4 November 1916. There was a simultaneous ceremony at Jeddah, which Wilson did not attend.10 The Foreign Office submitted a draft reply to Abdullah’s telegram to Sir Reginald on 6 November. This agreed, in the main, with McMahon’s and Wingate’s previous observations:  Attention of Sherif should firstly be called to inopportuneness of his announcement and he should then be told that H.M. Government and governments of France and Russia though they regard and will continue to regard His Highness as titular head of Arab peoples in their revolt against Turkish misrepresentation and are glad further to recognize him as lawful and de facto ruler of the Hedjaz are unable to recognize assumption by him of any sovereign title which might provoke disunion among Arabs at present moment and thus prejudice final political settlement of Arabia on a satisfactory basis. That settlement to be durable must be come to with general assent of other Arab rulers of which at present there is no evidence and must follow rather than pre- cede military success.11  One week later, the Foreign Office repeated to Wingate a telegram from Bertie in which the ambassador stated that the French government agreed with ‘general terms pro- posed for reply to Sherif of Mecca’.12 It would take another 11 days before Grey could inform Wingate that the Russian government also concurred and that he might authorize Wilson ‘to reply to Sherif in terms of my telegrams’.13 The problem of the Emir’s new title still remained. After consultations with the French government, the India Office, the high commissioner and the sirdar, the Foreign Office finally wired Wingate on 11 December that, ‘after consideration His Majesty’s Government have decided that most suitable title would be “Malik-el-Hejaz” [i.e. “King of the Hijaz”; R.H.L.] with honorific style “Siyada” [i.e. “his Lordship”; R.H.L.], and that “unofficially” they had been informed that the French government “probably” would do the same’.14


'Taking the sherif into the fullest confidence possible'

On 14 December 1916, Sir William Robertson observed in a note for the War Cabinet that Murray’s attack on El Arish was imminent, and that after the occupation of that town the latter intended to advance on Rafa. He believed that Sir Archibald should have the liberty to pursue the possibly demoralized Turkish troops in the area that, according to the Sykes–Picot agreement, came under international administration. However, this might easily lead to difficulties with the French ‘in view of their well known susceptibilities in regard to Syria’. For this reason, the CIGS considered it desirable to inform the French government in advance that ‘our sole object is to defeat the Turks, and that we should welcome their political cooperation both in the international sphere and in any negotiations which may become necessary in the French sphere of direct control, and in that of commercial and political interest’. During the meeting of the War Cabinet the following day, Sykes mentioned an- other reason why it was important to obtain French political cooperation. He explained that ‘if the forthcoming operations proved successful, it was possible that the tribes east of the Medina Railway would rise, and the headquarters of these tribes were in the French sphere’. The War Cabinet agreed that it was desirable to prevent unnecessary French suspicion. The Foreign Office was instructed to inform the French government that Great Britain should welcome French political cooperation.16

The British campaign in the Sinai subsequently was one of the subjects for discussion at an Anglo–French conference held at London from 26 to 28 December. On the last day, Alexandre Ribot, the French minister of finance, raised the point that ‘the French government were ready to attach a French battalion from Jibuti to the British forces in order to show the French flag’. Lloyd George promised that ‘when the British troops entered Palestine, which might be in six weeks or two months, they would be ready to accept the offer’, whereupon Lord Robert Cecil suggested that ‘a French political officer should be attached to General Murray, because the tribes in the British sphere had headquarters in the French sphere, and it was, therefore, necessary to constitute some form of liaison’.17

Lloyd George had something completely different in mind on the Sinai campaign than Robert- son. According to Hankey, Lloyd George, when they had lunched together on 11 December, had ‘discoursed mainly on his plans for a big military coup in Syria’.18 Sir William, however, was as unwilling to accept this side show as any other. As far as he was concerned, Murray’s mission was completed the moment the latter had cleared the Turks from the Sinai. A real offensive into Palestine was out of the question. Robertson telegraphed to Murray on 9 December, that:

Today Prime Minister mentioned to me desirability of making your operations as successful as possible. I am in entire agreement. Wire précis of action proposed beyond El Arish, stating what additional troops you would require for advance if any. I cannot help thinking that in view of importance of achieving big success on Eastern front, and the effects this will have, you might risk having fewer troops on Western [the Egyptian western front; R.H.L.]. A success is badly needed, and your operations promise well.

Murray interpreted ‘beyond El Arish’ rather liberally. In his reply, he observed that he had ‘always thought important results might be secured by an advance by us from Arish into Syria’. The best thing to do after the occupation of Rafa was to attack Beersheba, ‘where enemy’s main concentration appears to be’. From Beersheba, moreover, Murray’s aircraft were able to attack the Hijaz railway, while the occupation of that town ‘would result in a rising of Arab population in southern Syria, who are known to be very disaffected towards Turks’. If his operations progressed as he hoped, he would need, however, two extra divisions on a temporary basis, perhaps from Mesopotamia, as Sir Archibald fully realized the ‘undesirability of taking troops from main theatre’.

Robertson’s reaction to Murray’s telegram was again not formulated in unequivocal terms. After stating that it was the Prime Minister ‘who wishes you to make the maximum possible effort during the winter’, Sir William only referred to the problematic aspects of Murray’s request. However, such subtleties were wasted on Sir Archibald. In a subsequent telegram, he merely stated further arguments in favor of putting two extra divisions at his disposal. Consequently, ‘in order that any possibility of misunderstanding may be removed’, Robertson telegraphed to Murray on 15 December that:  Notwithstanding the instructions recently sent to you to the effect that you should make your maximum effort during the winter, your primary mission remains unchanged, that is to say, it is the defense of Egypt. You will be informed if and when the War Cabinet changes this policy. In the meantime, you should be as aggressive as possible with the troops at your disposal subject to your main mission of defending Egypt.19

The War Cabinet was not prepared to overrule the CIGS. Ministers, as ever, shrank from openly intervening in strategic affairs. The day after Lloyd George had told the French delegation that it would be a matter of six weeks or two months before British troops would enter Palestine, Robertson wrote a note explaining that a campaign in Palestine during the winter was out of the question. Without denying the great advantages of the occupation of that country, it would be unsound to start an invasion under the present conditions, as this contravened ‘fundamental principles of strategy’. Also, for the year 1917, the maxim obtained that ‘our commitments in the minor theatres should be reduced to the minimum in order that our maximum effort may be made in France’. The only concession he was prepared to make was that ‘we should complete our preparations in Egypt for an offensive in Syria in the autumn of 1917’.20 The War Cabinet acquiesced in Robertson’s point of view. On 2 January, it accepted the note ‘in principle’.21

After the occupation of El Arish on 21 December, and the occupation of Rafa on 9 January, the EEF’s advance came to a standstill a few miles from the border with Palestine. As the rising of the tribes east of the Hijaz railway failed to materialize, there seemed to be no need for the detachment of a French political officer, but preparations nevertheless continued. The War Cabinet decided on 31 January that a British political officer should also be attached to Murray’s staff and that the latter’s instructions should be settled between the Foreign Office, the General Staff and Sykes.22

As Georges-Picot had been chosen by the French government to act as the French representative with the EEF, he was invited to come to London to take part in these discussions in order that the instructions to the British political officer tallied with those to his French counterpart. On 13 February, these consultations led to a satisfactory conclusion. The instructions constituted a careful elaboration of the Sykes–Picot agreement:

1.  The C.P.O. will act as adviser to the G.O.C. on political relations with native elements in the theatre of operations of the G.O.C. in C. Egypt beyond the Egyptian frontier.

2.  The French Commissioner is accredited to the G.O.C. in C. Egypt as the political representative of the French government in all negotiations that may be necessary in the theatre of operations of the Egyptian force beyond the Egyptian frontier.

3.  The G.O.C. will communicate with the French Commissioner through the C.P.O. and the French Commissioner will communicate with the G.O.C. through the C.P.O.

4.  The G.O.C. will use the C.P.O. or his delegate, and the French Commissioner or his delegate, as his joint representatives in negotiations between the representatives of native elements in areas A and B and himself.

5.  The French Commissioner or his delegate will act alone, and on his own responsibility, in any negotiations with native elements in the Blue area subject to the exigencies of the military situation for which the Military Commander alone is responsible. He will keep the G.O.C. apprised of all these negotiations through the medium of the C.P.O. But, in the event of any part of the Blue area coming within the theatre of operations of the Egyptian Force, the French Commissioner will act jointly with the C.P.O. in negotiations with native elements inhabiting that part of the area.

6.  The French Commissioner and the C.P.O. will act jointly in any communications that may be necessary with the King of the Hedjaz, but through the medium and with the approval of the High Commissioner in Egypt, G.O.C. in the Hedjaz.

7.  The C.P.O. will keep the French Commissioner apprised of any negotiations with the military or political officers with the Mesopotamian force may enter into with native elements in area A.

8.  With regard to the Brown area, no political negotiations shall be directly entered into with native elements in this area until it is actually occupied.

Balfour approved the temporary appointment of Sykes as chief political officer with the EEF in the middle of February.23

On 22 February, Sir Mark wrote a letter to Sir Reginald Wingate informing the latter of his appointment. He observed that he considered it his ‘main job […] to keep the Franco–British situation clear’. In this connection, Sykes and Georges-Picot thought it a good idea when three or five Arab delegates and a representative of King Hussein were attached to their mission. The latter ‘should be […] a venerable but amenable person who will not want to ride or take much exercise’, while the Arab delegates ‘should be of sufficient capacity to carry weight with the urban elements of areas A and B, and have behind them the support of the Arab Committees in Cairo by whom they should be ostensibly elected’.24 Gilbert Clayton objected to this, as ‘no Arab Central Committee exists in a form capable of putting forward definite proposals’. Undoubtedly, there were:

Representatives of many shades of Arab opinion in Cairo […] but none of them are men who could do more than give a guide as to the sentiments of the party to which they belong, nor could they speak with any authority or as representatives. Moreover, none of these men are sufficiently influential to sit as delegates without exciting jealousy and opposition among their colleagues and rivals.

With Hussein’s representative there was the additional problem that the king as yet was not familiar with the contents of the Sykes–Picot agreement. Clayton wondered whether the king should not first be informed on ‘the general lines of that agreement before asking him to send a representative to assist in the deliberations of the mission’. There naturally was the alternative ‘to treat the mission as a body assembled to consider the whole problem “de novo” keeping the terms of the agreement secret and merely a guide for the British and French members of the mission’, but this clearly entailed the risk that eventually it would come out that ‘an agreement had already been come to between ourselves and the French before the mission started its deliberations’. All in all, the mission was ‘bound to cause considerable discussion and to lead to much intrigue and speculation which might create considerable difficulties’.25

On 12 March, Wingate telegraphed a summary of Clayton’s note to the Foreign Office. Sir Ronald Graham was not particularly impressed by the problems raised. He drafted a reply in which these were played down. With respect to the Arab delegates, all that was required was to find ‘a few men of good standing to represent Syrian Moslem point of view, sign manifestoes and approve any local arrangements made’. Surely the Arab Bureau ‘should be able to secure a suitable party of from 3 to 5’? At the same time there was no reason why:

King Hussain should be given impression that future of Syria is to be considered ‘de novo’. His Highness need only be informed that British and French political officers have been appointed to act under General Murray, to assist him in his relations with population beyond Egyptian frontier and be re- quested to select a representative to accompany the political staff.26

Clayton also sent a copy of his note to Cyril Wilson. In his covering letter he observed that, as far as the Sykes– Picot agreement was concerned, it was ‘difficult to decide, on the present slight data, how far, if at all, the Sherif should be informed at the present moment’. It would have been better to delay telling Husayn anything at all, but ‘on the whole’ Wingate considered that:  The Sherif should be told in general terms of what is contemplated and the following is the formula which he would like you to adopt in conveying this information to the Sherif. ‘H.M.G. agreed with the French government to send to Egypt within a month or six weeks, a joint commission to discuss and examine the question of the eventual settlement of the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire when the Turks have been finally defeated and expelled from those territories. For this purpose H.M.G. and the French government have each detailed a Commissioner to proceed to Cairo’.

Wilson should refrain from communicating this message until he received definite instructions from the high commissioner.27 In view of Graham’s reply, this was not an excessively precautionary measure. In accordance with the Foreign Office telegram, the message was subsequently pruned of all references to the settlement of territorial claims, and merely mentioned the military reasons for the mission.28

On 17 March, Wilson telegraphed that he was rather unhappy with the new formula. It would ‘probably make Sherif suspicious, and, under the circumstances, I personally recommend that Sherif be taken into the fullest confidence possible regarding the Commission’s real object.' In the following telegram, he suggested sticking to the original formula, but to add the words ‘thus continuing our former negotiations’ at the end of the opening sentence. Hussein, after all, already knew that Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Damascus ‘are to be independent and was informed area east of the line of these towns was reserved for future discussion between the French and the Arabs; the commission thus naturally fits in as being the instrument for negotiations’. Wingate, however, felt unable to adopt Wilson’s suggestion. He explained that the latter’s instructions had been drafted by the Foreign Office, and that ‘you must, therefore, carry out these instructions’.29

In a letter to Clayton of 21 March, Wilson made it abundantly clear that he was not particularly pleased with the way things were going. As long as Hussein was left in the dark as to the real purpose of the Sykes–Picot mission, he foresaw the greatest possible difficulties:

It appears fairly obvious that the Sherif thinks the Commission will deal with the future of Syria etc., and I understand from your secret private letter of 10th March that this is really the case and if the eventual settlement of the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire is to be the business of the Commission, I would most strongly urge that the Sherif be taken into our complete confidence and be in- formed of the actual object of the Commission.

What I feel very strongly is that the settlement of Syria etc., should not be arranged behind his back so to speak […] and I feel sure we shall greatly regret it in the future if we are not quite open and frank with him now over the whole matter.30

Considering the EEF’s advance had stopped at the border with Palestine, it seemed that Clayton’s and Wilson’s worries were purely academic, but this might change if Sir Archibald’s plan for a coup de main on Gaza was successful. The capture of that town was very desirable with an eye to the coming autumn offensive. The chances that such an operation would succeed considerably increased when on 15 March the Turkish Eighth Army abandoned the last forward position from which it could have threatened the right flank of the EEF, and retreated to the line Gaza–Beersheba. Eleven days later the battle for Gaza began.

The Turks were able to repulse the EEF’s attack. In his telegraphic report of 28 March, however, Murray made it appear as if the occupation of the Wadi el Ghazze (a wadi that ran a few miles south of Gaza), and not the occupation of Gaza, had been the object of his attack, and that this had been secured, while the enemy had incurred heavy losses.31 On the basis of this information, the War Cabinet approved Robertson’s proposal to instruct Murray ‘to develop his recent success to the fullest possible extent and to adopt a more offensive rôle in general’.32

Robertson wired Murray’s new instructions that same day: as a result of Sir Archibald’s recent success, ‘your immediate objective should be the defeat of the Turkish forces south of Jerusalem and the occupation of that town’. After his defeat, however, Murray was no longer so anxious to take the offensive. Now it was his turn to see only problems. He emphasized in his reply that however much he wanted to capture Jerusalem, an operation of that kind entailed heavy losses. The progress of such an undertaking, moreover, was completely dependent on the rate of construction of the rail- way, and Murray doubted whether much more could be achieved than 20 miles a month.33 The War Cabinet were not prepared to let this opportunity for an offensive in Palestine slip through their fingers, not even when it became clear from a subsequent telegram from Sir Archibald – after Robertson had asked for more details – that his success on the Wadi el Ghazze had actually been an unsuccessful attempt to capture Gaza.34 For the edification of Murray, the War Cabinet during its meeting of 2 April 1917 laid great stress on ‘the moral and political’ advantages that were to be expected from the occupation of Jerusalem. A feat of arms of this kind:

Would be hailed with the utmost satisfaction in all parts of the country. From this point of view a success in Palestine would have a very considerable importance quite apart from its purely military aspects. There was every probability that in the course of the next few months there would be a very considerable increase in the strain on the people of this country due to the war, and it was of the first importance that there should be military successes to counteract the depressing influences of a difficult economic situation. Nowhere did success appear easier to realize than against Turkey.

Some of Sir Archibald Murray’s communications tended to show that in his appreciation of the purely military and strategical aspects of the war, he had rather lost sight of the moral importance of a victory such as he might reasonably hope to achieve in Palestine and Syria.

Murray’s instructions remained ‘to exploit the successes already achieved to the utmost possible extent, and to capture Jerusalem’. At the same time, the War Cabinet decided that Sykes, who was about to leave for Egypt, ‘should report to them in person the action he proposed to take, and should receive their instructions’.35

The following afternoon, Sykes had an interview with Lloyd George and Curzon. It did not go very smoothly. When Sir Mark elucidated the relationship between his instructions and the Sykes–Picot agreement, Curzon could not keep from observing that, by this agreement, ‘the French had got much the best of the bargain’.36 When Sykes disclosed his scheme ‘to open up relations with the various tribes […] and, if possible, to raise an Arab rebellion further north in the region of the Jebel Druse with a view to attacks on the Turkish lines of communication’, Lloyd George and Curzon ‘laid great stress on the importance of not commit- ting the British government to any agreement with the tribes which would be prejudicial to British interests’. Moreover, the region of Jabal al-Druze was largely in the proposed French sphere of influence, and in view of French susceptibilities, Sykes’s scheme might easily lead to difficulties with the French. According to both, ‘the attachment of a French Commissioner and of two French battalions to General Sir A. Murray’s force [which battalions together constituted the Détachement Français de Palestine; R.H.L.] was a clear indication that the French wished to have a considerable voice in the disposal of the conquered territories’. The Prime Minister ended the interview by again impressing on Sykes ‘the importance of using great caution and reporting fully to the War Cabinet’.37


The Visit by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot to the Hijaz

When Sykes arrived in Cairo, Murray’s second attack on Gaza, from 17 to 19 April 1917, had also failed. In expectation of things to come, Sykes and Georges-Picot met three times with ‘3 delegates representative of Moslem Syrian feeling’. On 30 April, Sir Mark telegraphed an account of these meetings to Sir Ronald Graham. The three delegates:

Were agreed on the following points.

(1) that they desired that Great Britain and France should be prepared to contemplate the establishment an Arab State or confederation in an area approximating to areas A and B.

(2) that such a State or confederation would be obliged to rely on France and Great Britain for de- fence and protection.

(3) that France and Great Britain should have in return for (?this) financial and political advisors in that state or confederation.  Sykes in conclusion explained that during these talks the main difficulty had been ‘to manoeuvre the dele- gates into asking for what we are ready to give them without showing them a map or letting them know that there was an actual geographical or detailed agreement’.38

No representative of King Hussein had participated in the talks, but this was no indication of a lack of interest; on the contrary, the ‘advent of Picots mission to Egypt evidently caused Sheriff of Mecca considerable anxiety’.39 No doubt, according to Clayton, because ‘knowing as he does, that some arrangement has been made with the French, and unaware of the exact terms thereof, he is fearing the worst and thinks that we have given everything away’.40 The king wanted to see Sykes in person. In view of the present lull in the fighting at Gaza, the Cairo authorities believed that the king’s wish should be met. On 27 April, Wingate wired to the Foreign Office that:

Sheriff of Mecca having expressed strong desire to see him, Sir Mark Sykes will leave […] for Jeddah where meeting will take place. I consider very necessary that Sheriff of Mecca be now informed of general lines of our agreement with French regarding Syria and unless you see an objection I will instruct Sir Mark Sykes (who will be accompanied by a member of Picots mission) to undertake this.41

Hopefully, so Wingate continued, this explanation would remove the king’s apprehensions with regard to the Sykes–Picot agreement. This was not only sound policy, but also, as he observed in a private letter to Graham, the right thing to do. It was ‘only fair to the old man that this should be done and I am very hopeful that the effect will be satisfactory’.42 Clayton, too, considered it a good thing to enlighten the king on the terms of the Sykes–Picot agreement, in particular, so he explained to Wilson, because ‘when you see exactly how matters stand, you will think that they are a good deal better than we thought at one time, and it is not impossible that the Sherif may be rather relieved at finding the arrangement much more favourable than he had feared’.43 On 28 April, the Foreign Office informed Wingate that there were no objections to Sykes’s proposed mission.44

If the first objective of Sykes’s mission was to reassure the King of the Hijaz, it also served another purpose, which seemed to be in complete contradiction, as it certainly would not help in restoring Husayn’s peace of mind. Sir Mark had also been instructed, so Clayton informed Wilson, to remove possible misconceptions in the king’s mind on the proclamation that Lieut.-General Sir Stanley Maude had issued on the occasion of the occupation of Baghdad in March 1917.45

Townshend’s defeat at Ctesiphon had led to a reorganization of the Mesopotamian campaign. In February 1916, on the recommendation of Robertson, the War Office had become responsible for the Indian Army. That same month, Sir John Nixon had relinquished his command. His successor had been Sir Percy Lake, but in August 1916, Lake, in his turn, had been replaced by Maude, who was Robertson’s choice. Under Lake, the first steps had been taken towards the necessary reorganization of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force (MEF), as the British Indian Expeditionary Force D had been renamed. Lake had also supervised three attempts to relieve the garrison at Kut al ‘Amara, but each had failed. Townshend had eventually surrendered on 29 April 1916. The next day, the CIGS had wired to Lake that he attached no importance whatsoever to the recapture of Kut or the occupation of Baghdad. In Mesopotamia, too, defense was to be the primary mission. The manner in which Robert- son had formulated his instructions – ‘maintain as forward a position as can be made secure tactically’ – had, however, left Maude some leeway to initiate offensive actions. This had the result that, in December 1916, British troops had once again begun to advance on Baghdad. Thanks to the various reforms, Maude had at his disposal a force four times larger than that of Townshend. Maneuvering very cautiously, without incurring heavy casualties, the MEF had advanced along the borders of the Tigris in the direction of Kut al ‘Amara, which had been reoccupied on 12 February 1917. Four days later, the War Cabinet had instructed Maude, over- ruling Robertson’s objections, to exploit his success to the utmost. On 11 March, British troops entered Baghdad, the Turks having evacuated the town the night be- fore.46

In Maude’s proclamation, authorized by the War Cabinet, it had been stated, among other things:

But you people of Baghdad, whose commercial prosperity and whose safety from oppression and invasion must ever be a matter of the closest concern to the British government, are not to understand that it is the wish of the British government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and racial ideals.

Therefore I am commanded to invite you, through your nobles and elders and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in North, East, South and West in realising the aspirations of your race.47

This proclamation was susceptible to various interpretations, and it certainly could be reconciled with the status that had been assigned to Baghdad in the Sykes– Picot agreement. It was now up to Sir Mark, according to Clayton, ‘to indicate gently that we must take special measures as regards Baghdad, where our interests are vital, and that military and political predominance must be ensured in those territories, at any rate for a considerable time’. Clayton fully realized that the subject of the future status of Baghdad might lead to difficulties with the king, but then again, one ought not to mistake pretense for reality. Why should the outsider Hussein, even though he was referred to as ‘the spokesman of the Arab Nation’, have a say in the settlement of the political future of Baghdad? The king could hardly deny that ‘the Arab movement as represented by himself, cuts no ice whatever in Mesopotamia, and that therefore it is quite out of the question to force it upon them’. To make this clear to Hussein naturally had to be done with the utmost care, but Clayton believed that Sykes knew ‘well how to do it’.48

On 2 May 1917, Sykes had a meeting with Faisal at Wejh. Wingate informed the Foreign Office five days later that, ‘after much argument’, Faisal had accepted the ‘principle of Anglo–French agreement regarding Arab confederation’, and ‘seemed satisfied’. Sir Mark subsequently had an interview with Hussein at Jedda. It went off very satisfactorily. The future status of Baghdad was not specifically discussed. The king and Sykes mainly occupied themselves with appraising in a general sense the implications of the Sykes–Picot agreement for the ‘Arab confederation or state’. Hussein, in particular, laid stress on the following points:

1. That, unless Arab independence is assured, he feared that posterity would charge him with assisting in the overthrow of last Islamic power without setting up another in its place.

2. That, if France annexed Syria, he would be open to a charge of breaking faith with the Moslems of Syria by having lead them into a rebellion against the Turk in order to hand them over to a Christian power.  Thanks to Sykes’s exposition of the agreement, the king now understood that ‘if realised (it) disposes of these two points’. At the same time, Sir Mark impressed on Husayn the importance of a settlement of French and Arab claims with respect to Syria, and ‘at last got him to admit that it was essential to the Arab development in Syria’. In view of this satisfactory result, and seeing that the king expressed an ‘earnest desire’ to see Georges- Picot, Sykes took the liberty to arrange an interview for the latter with King Husayn on 19 May.49

On their way to Jedda, Sykes and Georges-Picot called at Wejh, where Faisal embarked to join them for the last two days of their journey. During these days, several conferences were held on the Sykes–Picot agreement. From his earlier interview with Faisal, Sykes had come away with the impression that he had been able to satisfy the Emir, but these discussions showed that he had been mistaken: ‘very little progress was made be- yond establishing relations between Monsieur Picot and Faisal’.50

During the journey, Sykes and Georges-Picot also put the finishing touches to a memorandum with recommendations as to the policy the Entente should pursue in the Middle East. After a ‘careful study of the situation’, they had concluded that if Great Britain and France wanted to achieve their ‘economic, political and strategic desiderata’, then it was imperative that they ‘should both agree to pursue a permanent, identical, and cooperative policy in their respective spheres of control and interest’. Above all, it had to be avoided that both powers became ‘the instruments of Arab political elements, and so being involved in an undesirable rivalry’, as it ‘should be remembered that Arab politicians and leaders of all grades of development are particularly versed in the arts of promoting dissension and partisanship’. Only if both powers made it very plain to the Arabs that they were ‘united and impartial’ would they not run the risk that the Arabs would be ‘tempted to endeavour to play one power off against another’.51

According to Sykes’s report, the king opened the first interview with Georges-Picot, in the presence of Sir Mark, Faisal and Fu’ad al Khatib, by also emphasizing the importance of ‘French and British union and necessity for their close cooperation in realization of Arab aspirations and incapacity of Arabs to achieve anything without their united help’. Hussein’s benevolent attitude, however, was of short duration, especially after Georges-Picot had expressed the hope that in the future France should be in a position ‘to assist on Syrian littoral by military action like British in Mesopotamia’. This statement led to a lengthy argument between Hussein and Picot in the course of which the king repeatedly stated that ‘he could not be a party to proceeding purposing to hand over Moslems to direct rule of non-Moslem State’. The ensuing discussion on the status of French and British advisers in Syria and Iraq did not exactly help to clear the air. Sir Mark might very well argue that it was necessary that European advisers had ‘executive authority: if not Arab rule would be helpless and corrupt and old story of sham Turkish re- forms would begin again’, but Husayn ‘naturally disliked idea, and Fuadd said that would be the end of Arab independence’. All in all, the interview ended ‘most inconclusively. Monsieur Picot being unfavourably impressed by the King’.52

On their way back to the residence of the British representative at Jedda, Sykes told Wilson that it seemed that Georges-Picot did not wish the Arab movement to succeed. Wilson got the impression from Sir Mark that ‘things were not going at all well owing to Picot’s attitude and that if the latter was not materially altered, it appeared hopeless to try and bring France and the Sherif together’.53 At the beginning of the next meeting, the following day, the king nevertheless requested Fu’ad al Khatib to read out a statement that:

His Majesty, the King of the Hedjaz, learned with satisfaction that the French government approve Arab national aspirations that as he had confidence in Great Britain he would be content if French government pursued same policy towards Arab aspirations on Moslem Syrian littoral as British did in Bagdad.

According to Sir Mark, Georges-Picot received this statement ‘very well and relations became cordial’.

Sir Ronald Graham was rather pleased with the result of the talks with Hussein. Sykes’s report showed only too clearly ‘how dependent the French are upon us in establishing any relations at all with the Arabs’.54 Wilson, who had been present at the second meeting, was frankly stupefied. Afterwards, Sykes had asked him whether he was satisfied with the outcome of the discussions. He had replied that ‘as all were agreed I supposed it was satisfactory but I would have liked more said about our position in Baghdad’. In his opinion, so he explained to Clayton, ‘we have not been as open and frank as we should have been’. It had, for instance, not become clear to him, and very probably also not to Picot and Hussein, ‘whether Syria i.e. including Damascus etc. is meant; or merely the Syrian coast claimed by France: one may have meant Syria, the other only the Syrian coast’. It was all very awkward:

Special representatives of Great Britain and France came expressly to fix things up with the Sherif and when the latter agreed to France having the same status in Syria as we are to have in Iraq surely the main points of our agreement re Iraq should have been stated to prevent all chance of a misunderstanding which might have far reaching consequences.

What made me feel that the Sherif and Picot had different ideas as to what the position of France in Syria was to be was:

1. That the Sherif agreed to France in Syria being in same position as we in Iraq.

2. That Picot was so obviously delighted at getting the Sherif to verbally agree to this. From George Lloyd I gather that Baghdad will al- most certainly be practically British, if this is so then I consider that we have not played a straight forward game with a courteous old man who is as Sykes agrees, one of Great Britain’s most sincere and loyal admirers, for it means that the Sherif verbally [?agreed; R.H.L.] to Syria being practically French which I feel sure he never meant to do.55

After the second meeting, Newcombe had told Wilson that Fu’ad al Khatib had explained to him that Sykes was responsible for this surprising turn of events. Fu’ad had related how, during the first interview, Georges-Picot had repeatedly suggested to Hussein to ‘let us have the same in Syria as the English in Baghdad’, but that the king had refused to accept this suggestion. That same evening, however, Sykes had summoned Fu’ad, and had adjured the latter to get the king to agree to this formula. Fu’ad had promised to do his best. It had taken him three hours before Hussein finally assented to the formula: ‘that the relations between the Arab government and France should be the same in Syria as that between the King and the British in Baghdad’. The king stated as his reason for this decision that ‘he trusted what the British Commissioner says: He knows that Sir Mark Sykes can fight for the Arabs better than he can himself in political matters and knows that Sir Mark Sykes speaks with the authority of the British government and therefore will be able to carry out his promises’. To avoid possible misunderstanding, Fu’ad had added that in his opinion the king had approved the formula only because the latter thought that ‘Baghdad is entirely his’.56

On the eve of Sir Mark’s visit to the Hijaz, Clayton had been confident that Sykes would be able to en- lighten the king on the British position with respect to Baghdad without endangering existing cordial relations. Indeed, relations with Hussein had not deteriorated. However, in view of Fu’ad al-Khatib’s account of the events that took place during the evening of 19 May and the morning of 20 May, in particular his explanation of why Hussein had finally assented to ‘the formula’, it seemed that Sykes had refrained from making clear to the king that the British ‘in Bagdad and district whilst desirous of promoting Arab culture and prosperity […] will retain that position of military and political predominance which our strategical and commercial interests require’.57


More Future Trouble

On 5 June 1917, the Foreign Office recalled Sykes, and two days later the French government was requested to do the same with Georges-Picot (see Chapter 8, section ‘The Failure of the “Projet d’Arrangement”’).58 The Sykes–Picot mission had come to an end, even before Sykes and Picot had been able to occupy themselves with its primary objective; that is, to advise Murray on ‘political relations with native elements’, as well as in ‘all negotiations that may be necessary in the theatre of operations of the Egyptian force beyond the Egyptian frontier’. It was in order to facilitate the achievement of this objective that Sykes and Georges-Picot had desired that three to five ‘delegates’, and a representative of King Hussein would be attached to their mission. However, the EEF’s defeats at Gaza, together with the fears the authorities in Cairo entertained as to the possible adverse effects the mission might have on the Arab nationalist movement, saw to it that, once in Egypt, the mission’s objective changed completely. At the onset it was, above all, intended as an instrument to ease Franco–British relations with respect to the Middle East. As Sykes had explained to Wingate, his ‘main job (was) to keep the Franco–British situation clear’. The forced inactivity resulting from the failure of Murray’s offensive, however, meant that Sykes and Georges-Picot had all the time in the world to busy themselves with other matters, such as trying to meet the objections others entertained with regard to their mission. The Sykes– Picot memorandum of 17 May, which dealt with the necessity to maintain close British–French cooperation in the Middle East, showed that this shift in objectives went almost unnoticed. One of its results was that the Sykes–Picot agreement turned from a guide for discussions with the local population beyond the Egyptian border, into a subject of discussion with the Sherifians and their British advisers, if only to set their minds at ease.

It thus came about that the main objective of the mission became to acquaint the King of the Hijaz with the terms of the Sykes–Picot agreement, an objective quite different from the original one. Regarding this new objective, the mission had moreover been a failure. Shortly afterwards, during a visit to England, David Hogarth wrote a note on the Sykes–Picot agreement, in which he explained that the authorities in Cairo ‘had ample evidence […] that the King of the Hejaz, if he had ever really understood what the commissioners said to him, was in no way minded to observe either the letter or the spirit of the agreement to which he was under- stood to have consented’.59 A few weeks later, Clayton reported to Sir Mark that he had gathered from conversations with Fu’ad al Khatib that ‘the Sherif did not at all understand the situation, as put before him in regard to Syria and Mesopotamia at your joint meeting with him in Jeddah – or at least he is determined not to understand it and to put his own interpretation on the result of the interview’.60 King Hussein, finally, showed himself to Captain Lawrence to be:

Extremely pleased to have trapped M. Picot into the admission that France will be satisfied in Syria with the position Great Britain desires in Iraq. That, he says, means a temporary occupation of the country for strategical and political reasons (with probably an annual grant to the Sherif in compensation and recognition) and concessions in the way of public works.

In conclusion the Sherif remarked on the shortness and informality of conversations, the absence of written documents, and the fact that the only change in the situation caused by the meeting was the French renunciation of the ideas of annexation, permanent occupation or suzerainty of any part of Syria – ‘but this we did not embody in a formal treaty, as the war is not finished. I merely read out my acceptance of the formula “as the British in IRAQ” proposed to me by M. Picot, since Sir Mark Sykes assured me that it would put a satisfactory conclusion to the discussion’.

The reactions by Clerk, Graham and Sykes to Lawrence’s report were symptomatic. While Clerk gloomily minuted ‘more future trouble’, Graham took it all much more lightheartedly, ‘sooner or later we must enlighten the King as to the true facts of the situation’. Sykes, the man who four months earlier had reported to the Foreign Office that he had completed this task to his satisfaction, and when doing so had never mentioned this alleged renunciation of French claims by Georges-Picot, preferred to remain silent, and merely initialed the report.61 


Hussein’s Monthly Subsidy

McMahon telegraphed to the Foreign Office on 30 June 1916 that Hussein had asked for a subsidy of £125,000 per month ‘to pay and feed his forces and friendly tribes’. The high commissioner urged that Hussein ‘be assisted to this extent for the next four months by end of which time we shall know better his future needs’. Hardinge minuted that this matter should be settled by the War Committee, but that ‘£125,000 strikes me as enormous for the pay and feeding of Arabs […] Although he must be treated generously, I should have thought £50,000 would have been a more suitable figure.’ Grey agreed. The sum was ‘excessive’.62 Clayton, who was in London for consultations with Georges-Picot and Sykes, explained to the War Committee on 6 July that it was not. After all, the revolt meant that Hussein ‘would have to take over the support of the holy places from a pecuniary point of view’, and that he ‘used to get a large subsidy from the Turks for the upkeep of the holy places, and this has now ceased, and he was proposing that we should take this over’. Lord Curzon concurred: ‘we should guarantee the Sherif exactly what the Sultan gave’. The War Committee eventually agreed on the text of a telegram,63 in which Sir Henry was informed that £50,000 per month should be sufficient, but if Hussein was:

Able to state definitely that more is required to replace the former Turkish subsidy that he received and that it is essential for the upkeep of the holy places and the pilgrimage, we would be ready to meet his views on these lines and to give him additional money for these purposes.

It was, however, added that the sum of £125,000, ‘even for all these purposes’, remained ‘somewhat large’. When Sir Henry urged that the full amount for the next four months be sanctioned, Grey, after having consulted the War Committee, wired this sanction on 12 July.64

McMahon subsequently telegraphed on 14 August that since he had suggested a period of four months:

Matters have considerably progressed in Hedjaz. Shereef’s prospects of ultimate success have greatly increased and in like ratio wide importance to us of his success and necessary measures to ensure have also increased. I beg that I may be authorised to substitute […] for words ‘for a period of 4 months’ the words ‘for the present’.  Clerk considered that this request was ‘difficult to refuse’, and Hardinge agreed.

On 15 August, McMahon was authorized to make the requested change. The Treasury was not informed of this decision.65

One month later, it became clear that the Emir of Mecca rather preferred to keep the subsidy for himself than spend it on feeding his forces and bribing the tribes in the neighborhood of Medina. Clayton informed Wingate that Hussein had:  Confessed to Wilson that he had saved about £200,000 out of the first two consignments of £125,000 sent to him, and Faisal was exceedingly angry at the difficulty he had in getting money out of his father for himself and Ali […] £100,000 golden sovereigns sent to Feisal and Ali a couple of months ago would have done wonders. Wilson has spoken very seriously to the Sherif and is going to do so again and warn him that he is jeopardizing his success by his parsimony.66

On 10 April 1917, Wingate telegraphed to the Foreign Office that Hussein had requested that his monthly subsidy be raised. According to the high commissioner, the king deplored the fact that he had to make this request, especially in view of ‘his heavy financial and other obligations to His Majesty’s Government’, but then again, from his revolt ‘serious political and military benefits’ had accrued to Great Britain. Sir Reginald added that Hussein would use the extra money ‘to secure the adhesion of chiefs of northern tribes and thereby to achieve that semblance of national cohesion which can (?justify) his revolt […] in the eyes of the Moslem world’. In view of the latter, in particular, it seemed to Wingate to ‘be bad and possibly dangerous policy on our part to withhold additional financial backing which he requires at a time when tribal elements east of the Jordan can render effectual assistance to our own military operations in Palestine’. He therefore did not hesitate to recommend strongly the granting of Hussein’s request. At the Foreign Office, Oliphant minuted that ‘in view of the present situation it would, I submit, be unwise and an expensive economy, not to meet this request’. Hardinge concurred: ‘the Shereef’s success has so far been very cheap at the price, and as there is every likelihood of his achieving further successes we should press for further financial assistance for him’. Lord Robert Cecil agreed ‘entirely’.

Harold Nicolson was under the impression that it was the War Cabinet, and not the Foreign Office that had to decide this question. Graham disagreed, because ‘financial assistance to the King of the Hejaz has been sanctioned in principle’. The Foreign Office could approach the Treasury without reference to the War Cab- inet.67 As the Treasury had not been informed of the decision to change ‘for a period of 4 months’ into ‘for the present’, the Foreign Office letter requesting permission to raise Hussein’s subsidy caused some confusion there. A.P. Waterfield asked Nicolson to ‘ascertain exactly how much is involved in Wingate’s proposal. There is at present no “subsidy” being paid regularly.’ Perhaps the high commissioner could throw some light on this matter?68 Sir Reginald certainly could. In his reply to the Foreign Office telegram containing Water- field’s question, the high commissioner stated that he had referred to the sum of £125,000, which had been transmitted monthly to the Sharif as authorized by Foreign Office telegram no. 678 of 15 August 1916. His present proposal was to the effect that this monthly subsidy ‘should be increased to a total sum of £200,000 a month, and when Medina has fallen for five months following that event, to a total sum of £225,000.69

The Treasury was not directly prepared to acquiesce in the fact that the Foreign Office had made its decision without seeking the Treasury’s authorization. Nicolson proposed to tell the Treasury that the telegram in question had been sent in consequence of a decision by the War Cabinet, but ‘it was not quite clear […] whether the decision was actually laid before them’. Hardinge thought it was. He was ‘almost certain that the words “for the present” were authorized by the War Cabinet. Otherwise, I would not have drafted the tel. to Sir H. McMahon.’ Just to make sure, he gave instructions that Hankey should be approached to enquire whether the latter could remember the War Cabinet’s decision. Colonel Dally Jones, on behalf of the War Cabinet Secretariat, replied that the minutes of the War Committee unfortunately contained nothing ‘to show that [they] ever sanctioned the Sherif’s subsidy being increased to £125,000 for more than 4 months’.70 This was rather embarrassing for Hardinge, but fortunately the Treasury was inclined to let the matter drop, provided the Foreign Office wrote an official letter of apology. As Waterfield explained to Oliphant, ‘so we feel a trifle hurt, and are inclined to stipulate as Koko might have said to Poohbah, “No grovel, no money”!’ (Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah are central characters in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera ‘The Mikado’.) On 11 May, the Foreign Office sent the desired letter to the Treasury. The following day, the Treasury replied that it would not object to the raise in Hussein’s subsidy, ‘if Lord Robert Cecil is able to assure […] that it is imperative on grounds of high policy’.71

Naturally, this did not mean the end of all the complications and entanglements that seemed to go with the subsidy to the King of the Hijaz. In its letter of 12 May, the Treasury also observed that it shared the high commissioner’s feelings of ‘considerable anxiety’ with respect to Hussein’s wish that the subsidy be paid in gold alone. According to Sir Reginald this imposed an unacceptable burden on the Egyptian treasury. The Treasury nevertheless refused to lend a hand. Eventually, it suggested – unofficially – that India should do so. Not surprisingly, this proposal was resolutely turned down by the Government of India, with the result that, for the time being, Egypt undertook to provide the gold on its own, on the assumption that in view of the existing trade between Egypt and the Hijaz at least some of the gold would flow back to the Egyptian treasury. The gold, however, did not return to Egypt. According to Nicolson this was partly due to ‘the incapacity of the Mecca government to understand, much less to initiate, a regular banking system’, but as far as Clerk was concerned, there was nothing more to it than that ‘all the gold we have poured into the Hejaz has been hoarded’.72 As he put it some months later, the gold was ‘simply being drained away in the sands of Arabia’.73

During the summer and autumn of 1917, officials of the Foreign Office, the India Office, the War Office and the Treasury met regularly to discuss the situation, while Sir Reginald time and again tried to force the issue. On 18 June, Wingate urged that Hussein’s ‘monetary requirements’ be met to prevent unfortunate political effects ‘on Arab military operations’, and one month later he stated that not meeting Hussein’s demands ‘would be little short of disastrous and effect on Arab military operations hardly less so’.74 The Arab revolt, however, still continued when on 10 October the Treasury finally agreed to place £400,000 in gold at the disposal of the Egyptian treasury.75

This matter had hardly been settled when Sir Reginald asked permission that ‘additional £25,000 a month which has already been promised to Shereef for 5 months after fall of Medina be given him now, and that it be continued for a maximum period of 5 months irrespective of date on which Medina may fall’. The high commissioner fully realized that ‘Shereef’s method of administering his finances is by no means beyond criticism’, but the situation in the Hijaz once again was ‘critical’, and it was Wingate’s considered opinion that Great Britain should not, ‘for the sake of a relatively small sum of money, lose the full fruits of a policy which I venture to think has fully justified itself both from a military political and financial point of view’. This was exactly what was bothering Clerk. He doubted very much ‘if another £25,000 a month is going to keep the Arabs together, supposing they are in the condition Sir R. Wingate describes’. He wondered whether the time had not arrived that ‘we should rely on our own forces and refuse to be a milk cow for King Hussein’. Graham had no difficulty with the proposal, as it was the high commissioner’s responsibility, but he agreed with Clerk that ‘the Arab movement must be very unstable if £25,000 a month makes all the difference to it!’76

The ‘Arab revolt’, Britain, and the Collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.

Mark Sykes returned to England where, almost immediately, he was thrust into negotiations with M. Charles François Georges-Picot, French counselor in London and former French consul general in Beirut, to try to harmonize Anglo-French interests in ‘Turkey-in-Asia’. Picot on the other hand had ‘expressed complete incredulity as to the projected Arab kingdom, said that the Sheikh had no big Arab chiefs with him, that the Arabs were incapable of combining, and that the whole scheme was visionary. 'The Arab question and the ‘shocking document’ that shaped the Middle East.

The below mentioned Foreign Office (FO) documents can be searched and read online, here:


1. Wingate to Hogarth, private, 5 July 1916, Wingate Papers, box 138/3.

2. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 945, 31 October 1916, FO 371/2782/218006.

3. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 947, 31 October 1916, FO 371/2782/218629.

4. Tel. Wingate to McMahon, no. 628, 2 November 1916, FO 371/2782/221025.

5. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 947, 31 October 1916, FO 371/2782/218629.

6. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 961, 2 November 1916, FO 371/2782/220339.

7. Tel. Wingate to McMahon, no. 628, 2 November 1916, FO 371/2782/221025.

8. Tels McMahon to Grey, no. 961, 2 November 1916, and Wingate to McMahon, no. 628, 2 November 1916, FO 371/2782/220339.

9. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 955, 1 November 1916, and minute Clerk, 2 November 1916, FO 371/2782/219490.

10. Minute Clerk, 3 November 1916, on tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 967, 3 November 1916, and tel. Grey to McMahon, no. 880, 3 November 1916, FO 371/2782/220832.

11. See tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 980, 7 November 1916, FO 371/2782/223715.

12. Tel. Grey to Wingate, no. 6, 6 November 1916, FO 371/2782/221869.

13. Tel. Grey to Wingate, no. 13, 13 November 1916, Wingate Papers, box 143/1.

14. Tel. Grey to Wingate, no. 21, 24 November 1916, FO 371/2782/234461.

15. Tel. Balfour to Wingate, no. 35, 11 December 1916, FO 371/2782/246846; cf. also Dan Eldar, ‘French Policy towards Husayn, Sharif of Mecca’, Middle Eastern Studies, 26 (1990), p. 341.

16. Robertson, El Arish Operations, 14 December 1916, and minutes War Cabinet, 15 December 1916, Cab 23/1.

17. Anglo–French conference, minutes of a meeting, 28 December 1916, I.C. 12, Lloyd George Papers, F/120/2.

18. Hankey diary, 11 December 1916, Hankey Papers, vol. 1/1.

19. Tels C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 26174, 9 December 1916, G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. A.M. 1380, 10 December 1916, G.I.G.S to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 26289, 12 December 1916, G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S, no. A.M. 1389, 13 December 1916, and C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.- in-C., Egypt. no. 26624, 15 December 1916,WO 33/905. See also Murray’s discussion of these telegrams in his Sir Archibald Murray’s Despatches (London, 1920: Dent), pp. 130–1.


21. Minutes War Cabinet, 2 January 1917, Cab 23/1.

22. See minutes War Cabinet, 31 January 1917, ibid.

23. Status and functions of Chief Political Officer and French Commissioner, encl. in Graham to Hardinge, 13 February 1917, Hardinge to Balfour, 14 February 1917, and minute Balfour, not dated, FO 371/3050/56041.

24. Sykes to Wingate, 22 February 1917, Wingate Papers, box 145/2.

25. Clayton, Note on telegram no. 219 from the Foreign Office to the High Commissioner dated March 6th 1917, 10 March 1917, FO 882/16.

26. Tels Wingate to Balfour, no. 257, 12 March 1917, and Balfour to Wingate, 14 March 1917, FO 371/ 3045/53249.

27. Clayton to Wilson, 10 March 1917, FO 882/16.

28. See Arbur to Wilson, no. A.B. 003, 16 March 1917, ibid.

29. Tels Wilson to Arbur, no. W. 609, 17 March 1917, Wilson to Arbur, no. W. 610, 17 March 1917, and Arbur to Wilson, no. A.B. 024, 18 March 1917, ibid.

30. Wilson to Clayton, 21 March 1917, and P.S., 22 March 1917, FO 882/12.

31. See tel. G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. O.A. 377, 28 March 1917, WO 106/1512.

32. Minutes War Cabinet, 30 March 1917, Cab 23/2, see also Matthew Hughes, Allenby and British Strategy in the Middle East 1917–1919 (London, 1999: Frank Cass), pp. 19–20.

33. Tels C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 31854, 30 March 1917, and G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. A.M. 1749, 31 March 1917, in Lieut.-General Sir George MacMunn and Captain Cyril Falls, Military Operations Egypt & Palestine from the Outbreak of War with Germany to June 1917 (London, 1928: H.M. Stationary Office), pp. 322–3.

34. See tel. C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 31898, 31 March 1917, and tel. G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. A.M. 1751, 1 April 1917, WO 106/ 1512. Lloyd George blamed Murray personally for the EEF’s defeat at Gaza. On 5 June, the War Cabinet appointed Lieut.-General Sir Edmund Allenby as Murray’s successor. Allenby took over on 29 June 1917. Minutes War Cabinet, 5 April 1917, Cab 23/13, and 5 June 1917, Cab 23/3.

35. Minutes War Cabinet, 2 April 1917, Cab 23/2.

36. A complaint that Curzon time and again voiced in Sykes’s presence, witness the latter’s complaint that Curzon ‘never ceases twitting me with having given everything to France’. Sykes to Drummond, 20 July 1917, Sykes Papers, box 2.

37. Notes of a conference, no. G.T. 372, 3 April 1917, Cab 24/9.

38. Tel. Sykes to Graham, no. 18, 30 April 1917, FO 371/3053/88954. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 464, 27 April 1917,

39. FO 371/3054/86526.

40. Clayton to Wilson, 28 April 1917, FO 882/12.

41. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 464, 27 April 1917, FO 371/3054/86526.

42. Wingate to Graham, private, 28 April 1917, Wingate Papers, box 145/5.

43. Clayton to Wilson, 28 April 1917, FO 882/12.

44. See tel. Balfour to Wingate, no. 442, 28 April 1917, FO 371/3054/86526.

45. See Clayton to Wilson, 28 April 1917, FO 882/12.

46. See Roger Adelson, The Formation of British Policy towards the Middle East, 1914–1918 (Ann Arbor, 1973: unpublished dissertation), pp. 220–8, 318–19; Briton Cooper Busch, Britain, India, and the Arabs 1914–1921 (Berkeley, 1971: University of California Press), pp. 110–20, 135; Basil Liddell Hart, History of the First World War (London, 1972: Pan Books), pp. 269–73.

47. Tel. S.S.I. to viceroy, 12 March 1917, FO 371/ 3042/56627; see also minutes War Cabinet, 12 and 14 March 1917, Cab 23/2.

48. Clayton to Wilson, 28 April 1917, FO 882/12. With respect to Sykes’s instructions, see tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 472, 28 April 1917, and tel. Balfour to Wingate, no. 446, 30 April 1917, FO 371/3054/87289.

49. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 496, 7 May 1917, FO 371/3054/93325.

50. Tel. Sykes to Graham, 24 May 1917, FO 371/ 3054/104269. Shortly afterwards, Faysal complained to Lieut.-Colonel Stewart Newcombe whether the British government intended ‘TheArab Kingdom to be weak and die out? as must be the case if they have no port and was that the reason they allowed all the coast to France? […] certainly the large number of persons hanged in Syria and the Lebanon had not died to liberate their country from the Turks to give it to the French.’ Newcombe, Note, 20 May 1917, encl. in Wilson to Clayton, 24 May 1917, FO 882/16.

51. Sykes and Georges-Picot, ‘Observations on Arabian Policy as results of visit to RED SEA PORTS, JEDDAH, YEMBO, WEJH, KAMARAN, and ADEN’, 17 May 1917, FO 371/ 3044/120491.

52. Tel. Sykes to Graham, 24 May 1917, FO 371/ 3054/104269.

53. Wilson to Clayton, 24 May 1917, FO 882/16.

54. Tel. Sykes to Graham, 24 May 1917, and minute Graham, not dated, FO 371/3054/ 104269.

55. Wilson to Clayton, 24 May 1917, FO 882/16.

56. NOTE BY SHEIK FOAD EL KHATIB TAKEN DOWN BY LT COL NEWCOMBE, not dated, encl. in Wilson to Clayton, 24 May 1917, ibid.

57. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 472, 28 April 1917, FO 371/3054/87289.

58. See tels Balfour to Wingate, no. 571, 5 June 1917, Balfour to Bertie, no. 1521, 7 June 1917, FO  371/3056/110589.

59. Hogarth, Note on the Anglo–Franco–Russian Agreement about the Near East, 9 July 1917, encl. in D.I.D. to F.O., 13 July 1917, FO 371/3054/138899.

60. Clayton to Sykes, 30 July 1917, FO 882/16.

61. Lawrence, Note, 30 July 1917, encl. in Wingate to Balfour, no. 179, 16 August 1917 (underlining in original), and minutes Clerk, 1 September 1917 and Graham, 13 September 1917, and initials Sykes, FO 371/3054/174974.

62. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 517, 30 June 1916, and minutes Hardinge and Grey, not dated, FO 371/2773/126674.

63. Secretary’s Notes of a Meeting of the War Committee, 11 July 1916, Cab 42/16/1.

64. Tels Grey to McMahon, no. 549, 6 July 1916, FO 371/2773/126674, and McMahon to Grey, no. 559, 10 July 1916, FO 371/2773/133650, Secretary’s Notes of a Meeting of the War Committee, 11 July 1916, Cab 42/16/5, tel. Grey to McMahon, no. 570, 12 July 1916, FO 371/2773/133650.

65. Tel. McMahon to Grey, no. 691, 14 August 1916, and minutes Clerk and Hardinge, not dated, and tel. Grey to McMahon, no. 678, 15 August 1916, FO 371/2774/160155.

66. Clayton to Wingate, private, 24 September 1916, Wingate Papers, box 140/6.

67. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 404, 10 April 1917, minutes Oliphant, 11 April 1917, Hardinge and Cecil, not dated, Nicholson, 11 April 1917 and Graham, not dated, FO 371/3048/74596.

68. Waterfield to Nicolson, 19 April 1917, FO 371/ 3048/80878.

69. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 459, 23 April 1917, FO 371/3048/83145. 

70. Nicolson, Note, 28 April 1917, and minute Hardinge, not dated, minute Drogheda, 7 May 1917, FO 371/3048/94110.

71. Waterfield to Oliphant, 7 May 1917, and F.O. to Treasury, no. 94668/17, 11 May 1917, FO 371/3048/94668, Treasury to F.O., no. 15699/17, 12 May 1917, FO 371/3048/97135.

72. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 729, 12 July 1917, and minutes Nicolson and Clerk, 13 July 1917, FO 371/3048/137930.

73. Minute Clerk, 10 September 1917, on tel. Wingate Balfour, no. 947, 8 September 1917, FO 371/3048/175896.

74. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 645, 18 June 1917, FO 371/3048/121588, tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 754, 18 July 1917, FO 371/3048/142636.

75. Treasury to F.O., no. 32359/17, 10 October 1917, FO 371/3048/195477.

76. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 1153, 2 November 1917, and minutes Clerk and Graham, 3 November 1917, FO 371/3048/210013.