LAWRENCE (T.E.) Autograph letter signed ("TEL."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe (Dear S.F.N."), announcing his enlistment  and discussing portraits for <I>Seven Pillars</I>, 15 October 1922
Lot 143
Autograph letter signed ("TEL."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe (Dear S.F.N."), announcing his enlistment and discussing portraits for Seven Pillars, 15 October 1922
Sold for £ 4,750 (US$ 6,408) inc. premium

Lot Details

Papers and Books of Colonel S.F. Newcombe, RE, DSO, sold on behalf of his descendants

There were six pall bearers at T.E. Lawrence's funeral in 1935, each of whom represented a different aspect of his life. Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe, RE, DSO (1878-1956) was one of these six, and was chosen to represent Lawrence's life in Arabia.

An officer in the Royal Engineers and recipient of the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst, Newcombe had seen service in the Boer War, Egypt and the Sudan before taking charge of a British government survey of Southern Palestine in 1913. This was an area seen as being of particular strategic importance in the event of war with Turkey. Although military in its inception, Newcombe's survey was undertaken under the ostensibly civilian auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The survey was joined in January 1914 by two archaeologists, C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence. It fell to Newcombe to give Lawrence his first taste of military life: 'It was his first experience of collaborating with a professional soldier engaged in a military mission, and, moreover, one conducted inside enemy lines. By observing Newcombe at work, planning itineraries, interpreting maps, assessing terrain, as he, Lawrence, would do in the future, he was effectively undergoing a personal training course' (Malcolm Brown, T.E. Lawrence, 2003, p. 45).

Later in 1914, after Turkey had joined the war, Newcombe and Lawrence were transferred to Cairo to join the new Military Intelligence Department, of which Newcombe remained Director until September 1915. After seeing action at Gallipoli and the Somme, Newcombe was appointed head of a small British military mission on the outbreak of the Arab Revolt and in December 1916 was sent to the Hejaz: ʻHe arrived just in time to join Lawrence for the final stages of the march on Wejh. During the next few months he became famous among the Arabs for the wild daring of his attacks on the Hejaz Railway' (Jeremy Wilson, T.E. Lawrence, National Portrait Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1988, no. 83). Although Newcombe was the senior officer, he was well aware of his protégé's outstanding ability, remarking in later life that ʻmy own view of Lawrence has always been that of an elder brother to a younger one who was far quicker than I'; while Lawrence himself acknowledged in Seven Pillars of Wisdom that Newcombe's deeds achieved legendary status among the Arabs – ʻ"Newcombe is like fire," they used to complain; "he burns friend and enemy" (1935 edition, p. 239).

Newcombe was to be captured that November when leading an expedition behind enemy lines during the opening stages of the third Battle of Gaza. He managed to escape with the aid of a French girl, Elsie Chaki, whom he had met before the war in Constantinople and was to marry in 1919. (It is doubtless Elsie who lies behind a fleeting reference in a letter to Hornby of 29 June 1917: "I hope you've opened any official letters for me or any from Joyce etc, but don't bother to open any written in French or addressed to my Christian name: they wouldn't interest you a bit"; see his Army Field Service Correspondence Books below).

Newcombe and Elsie had two children, a son to whom Lawrence stood godfather (see Lawrence's letter to Newcombe, below), and a daughter Diane, afterwards Baroness Elles. After the war, he worked on settling the boundaries between the British mandate of Palestine and the French mandate of Syria. During the Second World War he was to come out of retirement to carry out further intelligence work in Iraq. (For a further account and discussion of Newcombe's career, see Kerry Webber's website, In the Shadow of the Crescent).
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Autograph letter signed ("TEL."), to Colonel S.F. Newcombe (Dear S.F.N."), announcing his enlistment ("...I've behaved scummishly, I'm afraid: and in reparation had better tell you plainly that I've enlisted (under another name, of course) and so can no longer control my own times or movements. Otherwise I'd have liked very much to have come down to Devonport for a while. It's a plan in my mind since 1919, but first my book on Arabia, and then Winston delayed me, till I was almost too old. However my health is bucking up, and I hope to come through the training period intact. The reasons why, & the purpose of it, may keep till it's all over. As you may imagine the contrast is keen enough to give me a very lively pleasure. The world doesn't know of me now: and God forbid that the Press should. Only three people have both my old & my new name, and I don't propose to enlarge that circle. So if you need me for anything, please write as before to Barton Street, & it will reach me in a seven-day course or so –– while I am in England: & I don't suppose we will be sent abroad till next trooping season...") and going on to ask for Newcombe's help in securing portraits for The Seven Pillars ("...I want Boyle's portrait very much: but now it's not possible for me to put it through. Will you ask him whether he'd sit? If in London he'd spare one sitting (of two hours) to Kennington, then the job would be over. Roberts takes time, & I don't suppose Boyle in London could manage more than a day. I'm writing to Kennington with this, & warning him that Boyle may fix a time, & that if he possibly can, he's to be free & draw him when & where fixed. Kennington is rather run after, so it's not certain... I'd most like Boyle to write to him direct. Don't tell Boyle (or anyone) where I am (you don't know) but say that I can't arrange it, & that Kennington knows & will do his best to be satisfactory..."), 1 page, 4to, 15 October 1922


  • 'A PLAN IN MY MIND SINCE 1919, BUT FIRST MY BOOK ON ARABIA, AND THEN WINSTON DELAYED ME' – LAWRENCE ENLISTS IN THE RAF. After finishing the Oxford draft of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and his service with Churchill at the Colonial Office, Lawrence had joined the RAF under the name John Hume Ross on 30 August 1922. At the time this letter was written he was undergoing his basic training at RAF Uxbridge, which he was to describe in The Mint. He was, as our letter shows, working all the while on Seven Pillars. He had finished revising the master-draft on 9 May, which he had set in type at the Oxford Times printing works. This was subjected to further revision. But as Jeremy Wilson explains he was still not satisfied, and his dissatisfaction played a part in his extraordinary decision to enlist in the ranks: 'By the time the Oxford text was complete, Lawrence had drifted into an unbalanced state of mind. In part, this was a legacy of horrific wartime experiences which he would re-live in nightmares for the rest of his life. But he was also mentally exhausted... He had become obsessed with the idea that Seven Pillars was not good enough to publish. His aim was to write a classic of world literature – something that would stand alongside Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov. Seven Pillars, he decided, was "too long and shapeless". He though he could improve it by further revision; but before attempting that, he needed to let his mind lie "fallow for a time". The extraordinary medicine he prescribed for himself was enlistment in the ranks, using a false name' (T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: The Complete 1922 Text, 2003, second edition, pp.xxi-xxii).

    Kennington did execute his pastel of Boyle, the naval captain who has assisted in the capture of Jedda, and this duly appeared in the 1926 Subscribers Edition. The news of Lawrence's enlistment was revealed to the world by the Daily Express that December and by January he had been forced to rejoin civilian life. Published with minor alterations by Garnett, Selected Letters.
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  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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