David George Hogarth with T.E. Lawrence

This photograph shows the Oxford Don David George Hogarth in the centre with T.E. Lawrence and Lt Col. Dawnay at the Arab Bureau in Cairo, May 1918.

Hogarth's knowledge of the Arab world and the Ottoman empire was felt to be invaluable when the War broke out. Working for the geographical division of naval intelligence in London, he made frequent trips to Cairo from late in 1914 as part of a group operating under the auspices of Gilbert Falkingham Clayton, the director of civil and military intelligence in Cairo. The campaign against the Turks was not going well, with the siege of Kut al-Amara and the disaster at Gallipoli. Mesopotamia technically came under the auspices of the India Office, but moves were afoot to place Arab affairs under the control of Cairo. In 1915 William Reginald (Blinker) Hall, director of the intelligence division, decided to develop operations in the Middle East through the formation of the Arab Bureau. Hogarth and Hall, whose grandfather the Revd Henry Thomas Arnfield of Leeds had been a close friend of Hogarth's father, discussed matters. Hogarth travelled to Athens, meeting Compton Mackenzie at the British School (in July 1915), and then to Cairo. In a letter home to his mother (9 August 1915) from Cairo he indicated that his role was that of an expert on Turkey, and that part of his function was to interrogate Turkish prisoners. Hogarth returned to London, and then, holding (from October 1915) the rank of lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, travelled back for November and December to Cairo, where he joined C. L. Woolley and Lawrence. The team was supplemented in late November 1915 by the Arabist, and close friend of Hogarth's sister Janet, Gertrude Bell, who was personally briefed by Hall.

Cairo became Hogarth's permanent base from March 1916 where he worked as part of the Arab Bureau under Clayton. The Arab Bureau, which included a major library on the Middle East paid for by Hogarth, was located in the Savoy Hotel next to the Grand Continental, where its members lodged. This group was mainly responsible for the development of the British–Egyptian (as opposed to the British–Mesopotamian) point of view concerning the aims and policy of operations in Arabia, Palestine, and Syria. It was for the home government to decide how far such aims should be adopted and carried out. The Arab Bureau prepared the Arab Bulletin, which appeared from spring 1916. Hogarth was involved with the writing of several reports published by the Arab Bureau: Handbook of Hejaz (1916), Position and Prospects of King Hussein (1918), (with Major Kinahan Cornwallis) Handbook of Yemen (1917), and (with T. E. Lawrence and Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Edward Wilson) Tribal Politics in Feisal's Area: ‘King of the Arabs’ (1918).

The war was not going well in Mesopotamia and at the end of April 1916 the British force at Kut surrendered. French interests in Syria were also threatening to undermine the British efforts to bring the Arab world into a revolt against the Ottoman empire. Moreover the agreement between Mark Sykes and F. Georges Picot for dividing up the Arab lands after the cessation of hostilities was contrary to promises already made by British officials to Husain ibn Ali, the sharif of Mecca. The Arab Bureau now started to play a more prominent role in Arab affairs. Late in May 1916 Sir Henry McMahon sent a telegram to the foreign secretary recommending that substantial payments should be made to the sharif of Mecca: ‘Will send Storrs as required accompanied by member of Arab Bureau’. So in early June 1916 Hogarth, along with Ronald Storrs and Kinahan Cornwallis, travelled to Jiddah on HMS Dufferin along with £10,000 worth of gold for the sharif of Mecca; the Arab uprising had begun.

Alfred Parker, the former military governor of Sinai (1906–12), had been expected to be the first director of the Arab Bureau, but his services were required on the ground as a political officer at the port of Rabegh in the Hejaz. Cornwallis was now in Jiddah, and Gertrude Bell had left for Basrah, and so Hogarth was left in charge of the bureau at Cairo. Cornwallis was recalled to Cairo in autumn 1916 to be the acting director to relieve the demands made on Hogarth. However, as Hogarth was to confide to his wife, ‘in a sense I am the A.B., though Cornwallis is its official chief’ (5 May 1917). Hogarth was largely responsible for the difficult and delicate diplomacy which underlay the Arab campaign so brilliantly conducted in the field by his former archaeological disciple, T. E. Lawrence. F. Reginald Wingate was to note at the time:

I cannot speak too highly of Hogarth's work in the Arab Bureau. His detailed knowledge of Arabic, sound judgment and general scholarship, have been of the greatest assistance to us and if … you require expert local advice you cannot do better than send for him.

The situation in the Arab world became complicated in May 1917 when Sykes and Picot travelled to Jiddah to meet the sharif of Mecca. Fearing that the revolt would be undermined if Arab aspirations were not met, Hogarth returned to London in July 1917 to counter Sykes's manoeuvring in favour of France.

Allenby's Palestine campaign was gathering momentum. Hogarth was present during the British attack on Gaza in November 1917, although he found time to investigate a mosaic between the coast and Beersheva. In December 1917 Jerusalem was captured and Hogarth was busy negotiating with the sharif of Mecca about the future of the Arab lands. It is probably at this point that he was aboard a Japanese gunboat, memorable for the experience of eating Japanese food. In February 1918 Hogarth was at Allenby's general headquarters at Umm al Kaleb near Arish when Lawrence, then attached to Feisal's army as a political officer and disillusioned by what he perceived as broken promises to the Arabs, arrived to ‘come to beg Allenby to find me some smaller part elsewhere’.

At about the same time Hogarth interviewed the Syrian Dr Faris Nimr to explore the possibility of an independent Syria, a development contrary to the Sykes–Picot agreement. In June Hogarth was asked by a Syrian delegation to clarify British policy towards the Arabs, the so-called Declaration to the Seven. Hogarth reinforced this declaration during his visit to London in August, where he was warned that if separate Arab states were not created, it would be ‘considered a breach of faith and damaging to British prestige’. His frustration was vented on Robert Cecil at the Foreign Office:

As for my supposed anti-French sentiment, it is confined to colonial matters. Three years have taught me that in these, without trace or exception, the French work against us, their interests being contrary to ours everywhere except in Europe, and ready to offer active opposition as soon as the War is over.

The capture of Damascus in October brought the realization that the French would control Lebanon and Syria, and that the Arabs, under Feisal, would have control of the territory to the east of Jordan. The policy advocated by Hogarth and the Arab Bureau had been thwarted. For his wartime services, Hogarth was appointed CMG (1918) and was awarded the order of the Nile (second class) and the Sherifican order (second class); he was also mentioned in dispatches three times.

At Gertrude Bell's prompting, Hogarth was recalled from Cairo in March 1919 to join the British delegation at the peace conference at Versailles and Sèvres. His disappointment at the way the negotiations were going was revealed to Clayton:

I must resign and go back to Oxford sick at heart at all this fiasco and the melancholy consummation of four years work. To think that we are to hand over Faisal and Syria to Senegalese troops... I won't blame the Arabs … if they get out their rifles.

There was a proposal that he should join the American commission's visit to Syria, but France was hostile to the suggestion.

Lawrence and His Legacy

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