Sunday 3 July 2016

The Martyr’s Memorial and Museum, Amman, Jordan.  

الصرح الشهيد

Sarh al-Shaheed, (الصرح الشهيد) © JB Winterburn

Sarh al-Shaheed, (الصرح الشهيد) The Martyrs Memorial, is Jordan’s national army museum and is located in the capital city of Amman. A large, gleaming and austere white stone clad monolithic building sits on a pedestal like an acropolis overlooking the modern city of Amman. Its otherwise featureless façades are dominated by a band of polished black basalt inscribed with gold lettering; words from the Quran and a style reference to the Ka’aba in Mecca, the holiest of places for Muslims. 
    Two Long-Tom, 155 mm M1, field-guns sit on the edge of the courtyard pointing over the city on silent sentry duty, reinforcing the power and authority of the place and protecting the memory of the martyrs. The possibility that these guns may have been the ones to shell Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Jordan’s disastrous participation in the 1967 ‘six day war’ is forgotten here and never mentioned within the museum.

Long Tom, 155mm, M1 field-gun © JB Winterburn  

 This is more than a museum, it is a memorial to those, The Martyrs, who have given their life in the service of Jordan since the Great Arab Revolt of 1916-1918, a place where “the nation celebrates its victories and the state displays its history” and honours the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan.
    Built on the orders of the King Hussein bin Talal, the father of modern Jordan, it was designed by the Jordanian born architect Victor Bisharat and inaugurated on July 25th 1977, a date that coincided with the 25th anniversary of nation building under the king. (For information about Victor Bisharat click HERE)

    The museum space within the memorial comprises the four interior walls each with its exhibits depicting military events from Jordan’s past. This is history as that state wishes it to be portrayed with victories celebrated and defeats forgotten. The Ottomans are portrayed as enemies and five centuries of their heritage are erased from memory as Jordanian history is depicted to begin with the Great Arab Revolt, in 1916 followed by the subsequent accomplishments of the Hashemite dynasty.

© JB Winterburn

The visitor climbs up the white steps and enters a large doorway in the centre of the wall gaining access to a large hall decorated with the standards of Jordanian Army units. From here one is directed to the ramp that gently ascends along the walls of the building passing display cases housing military artefacts associated with Jordan’s history. The visitor is guided along an walk-way passing displays that begin with the Great Arab revolt against the Ottoman empire  initiated by Sharif Hussein of Mecca the great, great, Grandfather of the present King, Abdullah II.  Sheriff Hussein’s portrait is shown alongside some of his belongings including an ivory walking stick and the silk ‘ikal’, used to secure his head-covering together with photographs of the Ka’aba, reinforcing the Hashemite link with Mecca and images of four of his sons. There are displays of old weapons, including pistols and rifles, used at the time of the revolt and next to this is a cabinet of photographs of the Turkish held and fortified garrison railway station complex at Ma’an which was attacked by Arab forces in April 1918. It was briefly taken but never held by the Arab forces during the revolt, a fact glossed over in the display which includes short sections of damaged railway track and explosives.

One of the many displays. © JB Winterburn

Continuing upward leads one past other displays and carries you further away from the past toward the present. The displays exhibit curious agglomerations of Turkish uniform, British radio equipment, US made weapons, groundsheets, signalling lamps, Turkish cavalry swords and camel saddles together with photographs of Glubb Pasha and the Jordanian Army in the 1950s. Another interesting artefact is  complete copy of the Quran printed on a single sheet of paper; another reference to the importance of Islamic heritage of the Hashemites. As the ramp ascends further the cabinets display badges of rank and formation signs and the honours, medals and decorations awarded to the army. Several examples of uniforms are on display include one worn by the late King Hussein.

Exhibits.  © JB Winterburn

At the top of the building is the walled roof garden, but access is restricted by large glass doors. Through the gold tinted glass one gets a good view of the ceremonial space and the black panels inscribed with the names of the martyrs in gold lettering.  In the centre of this space stands a small olive tree, the tree of life and of peace, with a  golden pitcher from which the King and visiting dignitaries can sprinkle water on the tree.

The roof garden and ceremonial olive tree.  © JB Winterburn

If you have a couple of hours to spare in Amman on your way to or from the airport or Jordan’s many other historic sites then a visit to this memorial and museum will be of interest to military historians. Visiting this remarkable building is stimulating and  helps one to understand a little about the middle eastern concept ‘martyrdom’ as opposed to the remembrance of the ‘fallen’ in the west’s memorials. The museum’s collections are limited and narrate a sanitised view of history but the best exhibit is the building and its immediate environment. Look at its design, position and symbolism and you will come away with an understanding of the importance of the military and their Hashemite pedigree to the modern state of Jordan. 

Other information.

Sarh al-Shaheed, the Martyr’s Memorial, is located next to the Sports City Stadium in the Shmeisani district, 5 km northwest of Downtown Amman.
It is open every day, except Friday, from 8am-4 pm in winter, 8 am-6pm in summer.  Entry is free of charge.
Tel. + 962 6 566 4240 

Based on an article originally written by John B Winterburn for Military History Monthly magazine, 2013. 

Sunday 23 March 2014

Lawrence and Tooth Hill Camp

Lawrence's Camp at Tooth Hill, Jordan.

Link to the Daily Mail on-line coverage

Link to Sunday Times Article

In November 2012 after a search that has lasted a few years I walked across the desert  of southern Jordan with my two colleagues Neil Faulkner and Nick Saunders and set eyes on the camp ground used by British forces in late 1917 and early 1918. This camp had been used as a staging post for many for the epic raids on the Hejaz Railway at Tel Shahm and Mudawwara. Scattered in the desert floor was the remains of their last meals in the form of rusty tin cans from Lowerstoft and fragments of rum jars and gin bottles.

In reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom I became interested in the opening paragraph of Chapter 105. Being familiar with the landscape around the Tel Shahm area I began to speculate where the ‘toothed hill’ referred to was. 

Meanwhile I took car from Waheida, and went down to Guweira, to join Dawnay in our old camp behind the toothed hill facing Tell Shahm station’

My archive research in The National Archives over a period of two or three years led me to the War Diaries of X Flight RAF. Included in these diaries were a number of sketch maps produced by the pilots in 1918 and attached to the various reconnaissance reports.

A sketch map, dated April 14th 1918,  indicates a feature as ‘Tooth Hill’. However detail examination of the written accounts in the file indicated that it was produced as a result of a reconnaissance mission on April 16th 1918.
The toponym ‘Tooth Hill’ reminded me of the ‘toothed hill’ described by Lawrence.  Field work in the Tel Shahm area in 2009 identified two possible locations for Tooth Hill; two mesa-like sandstone hills dominated the skyline to the west of Tel Shahm.

At a TEL Society Symposium in September 2012 I was shown a photograph, by Joe Berton, of a group of Rolls Royce Armoured Car posed in front of a hill. I was asked if I knew where this was.
The image was instantly recognisable because of the distinctive shape of the hill. At this stage I thought it was probably Tooth Hill but not certain (Image from ‘The Gilman Collection’ at the Huntingdon Library.  Lt. L.H. Gilman, Hejaz Armoured Car Company).  Further research then led to a paper written in 2000 written by John Pascoe the son of Lt George Pascoe, the second in command of the ‘RFA 10 pdr gun section, under the command of Lt Brodie. This paper is a summary of the War Diary of the 10 pdr gun section and contains information about George Pascoe.  Additional images of Tooth Hill camp have since come to light.

This paper led me to the War Diary of the ‘10 pdr Motor Section RFA’ which I had been unable to find at this stage of the research. This document contains a detail about the occasions that Tooth Hill Camp was used.

Finding Tooth Hill Camp.

Using the photograph provided by Joe Berton the landscape features evident in the image were compared to probable locations, based on field reconnaissance, that could be seen using Google Earth images.  What appeared from the satellite images to be the most probable location of the 1918 photograph was determined and the coordinates recorded. Using a GPS unit programmed with the coordinates we traveled to the site, walked across the desert and found the remains of the campsite depicted in the image.

The Great Arab Revolt Project ( GARP) Team
Neil Faulkner and Nick Saunders
Joe Berton, for bringing the photograph of Tooth Hill to my attention.
Charles Eiler, for archive research in California and sharing images.

Monday 19 August 2013

Fitful Head memorial to the crew of Halifax Bomber No 9438

On the night of March 30th 1942 Halifax bomber No. 9438 of 35 Squadron RAF was returning from a bombing mission against the German battleship Tirpitz that was at anchor in a fjord near Trondheim, on Norway's western coast.


The bombing raid comprised 34 aircraft from squadrons 74, 35 and 10 taking off from RAF bases at Tain, Lossiemouth and Kinloss.

Halifax Bomber  

On reaching their target they found it obscured by cloud and many of the bombers had to jettison their bombs before returning to base.

For some reason that we will probably never know bomber No 9438 ploughed into the 1000' high cliffs of the eponymous Fitful Head on the western side of south Mainland Shetland killing all 7 of its crew

The location of Fitful Head.

The crashed aircraft and the bodies of the airmen lay undiscovered for over a week. Two local men, John Mainland and George Leslie, tending their sheep discovered the wreck and notified the RAF. More than 50 years later John's son, Willie Mainland would be responsible for raising the stone memorial to the victims.

Most of the bodies were found but the body of Ronald Meredith lay is such a precarious position that the authorities accepted the advice of the local men that it could not be recovered. His body had been wrapped in his parachute and placed in a cleft in the cliff and covered with aircraft wreckage. It is still there today.

What caused the crash is still unknown. It has been conjectured that they were trying to land at the nearby RAF Sumburgh air base because they were short of fuel as a result of damage to their fuel tanks. They were probably using Shetland as a waypoint for their navigation back to Kinloss but why were they so low as to crash into the cliffs? My guess is that they were trying to land for some reason and were a mile too far north to make safe landfall.

The site of the crash was initially marked by a wooden cross but through time and weather this eventually disappeared. In 1995 a more permanent memorial stone was placed on the cliffs. The memorial is not easy to find as it is hidden from view to anyone walking the cliffs along the fence line. If you go looking for it tread carefully as it is close to the cliff edge and it is located at NGR  HU 34682 12841. When I visited the site in August 2013 there was a white fishing net float attached to the fence near the point you need to cross but this should not be relied on.

The memorial stone at the crash site.
© JB Winterburn 2013

The cliffs of Fitful Head
© JB Winterburn 2013

The historic Quendale Water Mill which is just less than 2 miles from the crash site houses files of local history information including information about this crash and the erection of the granite memorial stone.

Quendale Water Mill

Acknowledgments and references. 

Thanks to the Aviation Research Group of Orkney and Shetland ( A.R.G.O.S) for the use of some historic photographs. Their informative web site can be found by clicking HERE

Sandy Pearson, Shetland Life May 2010.  Tragedy, bravery , mystery, controversy:The Fitful Head Halifax Tragedy. pp14-16.

Sunday 6 January 2013

The Imperial War Museum (London) and the University of Bristol are organising a conference on 

Materialities and Cultural Memory of twentieth Century Conflict.

Conflict and the Senses is the fifth in the series, and similarly covers the whole of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It acknowledges the recent increase of interdisciplinary interest in the role of the senses in human experience and cultural representation (smell, touch, sound). As modern conflict invokes the extremes of human behaviour, its relationship with diverse and multivalent sensorial dimensions suggests itself to be of critical importance in our understanding of conflict in the recent past and the present.

For more information and to see the Call for Papers click on this LINK

Monday 22 October 2012

Beyond the Dead Horizon

I am very pleased to have been able to contribute to a new book, Beyond the Dead Horizon, edited by Nicholas J Saunders.

Hadrian and the Hejaz Railway, Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology

Hadrian and the Hejaz Railway: Linear features in conflict landscapes. Chapter 13.
The Hedjaz Railway was built by the Ottomans to take Hajj pilgrims from Damascus to Medina in the early twentieth century, though it probably also had covert military and geo-political functions. Completed in 1908, it was served by station buildings regularly spaced along its length, many of which were protected by blockhouses and nearby hilltop forts by the time of the Great Arab Revolt of 1916-18, during the First World War. In AD 122, during his visit to Britain, the Roman Emperor Hadrian commissioned his eponymous wall to run from the River Tyne near modern Newcastle to the Solway estuary near Carlisle. It formed the northern limit of the Roman Empire, and was defended at regular intervals by ‘mile castles’ and forts. The Hedjaz Railway and Hadrian’s Wall are iconic linear features in their respective landscapes. They are both liminal entities, designed not as impenetrable barriers but rather as stabilising and boundary-defining constructions for the military, for traders, and as ideological borders for state imperialism. This paper takes changing views of the environs of Hadrian’s Wall as landscapes of danger, military activity, romance, and tourism, and applies them to the Hedjaz Railway in order to generate a new narrative understanding of modern conflict along a linear conflict zone. 
See full details on the Oxbow web pages

Sunday 21 October 2012

Helles memorial , Gallipoli

A lone gun relic points to the Helles memoral
The Helles Memorial stands on the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula.  It is an obelisk over 30m high and dominates the landscape and can be seen by every ship entering the Dardanelles.

The British Commonwealth memorial has the dual function as a memorial to the entire Gallipoli campaign and as a commemoration for the servicemen who died and have no known grave.
The memorial bears more than 21,000 names of those who died there or were buried at sea. The United Kingdom and Indian forces named on the memorial died in operations throughout the peninsula, the Australians at Helles. There are also panels for those who died or were buried at sea in Gallipoli waters. The memorial bears more than 21,000 names.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Imperial Camel Corps Memorial, London. 

Modern Conflict Archaeology
Imperial Camel Corps memorial, London

The Imperial Camel Corps ( ICC) monuments stands in the Victoria Embankment gardens in London. I believe it was erected in 1927 to commemorate the dead of the ICC and their actions during the First World War.

My research into the landscapes of Jordan during the war has taken me to Mudawwara , a small railway station and fortified landscape in the south of the country and close to the border with Saudi Arabia.  The ICC carried out a spectacular raid here in August 1918 and this is commemorated on this monument.

Friday 9 March 2012

A Line in the Sand

I have recently read a great book by James Barr about the Middle East in the  early 20th century.

Modern Conflict Archaeology

 ‘A Line in the Sand’,is a sequel to  Barr's  ‘Setting the Desert on Fire’ and uses recently released archives to relate the involvement of Britain and France  in the arbitrary ‘carve-up’ of the Middle East during the first half of the twentieth century.

     He presents his interpretation of the intriguing story of the period when Britain and France controlled the Middle East in the aftermath of the First World War. The book resembles a gripping spy thriller populated with well known political and military figures and improbable characters engaged in ‘venomous rivalry’, political posturing and state sponsored terrorism. However, this was not fiction but violent reality. 

In December 1915 the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, summoned politician Sir Mark Sykes to Downing Street to advise him and the war cabinet on the future of the Ottoman Empire; an issue that threatened Britain’s alliance with France. Sykes wanted a dividing line from the Mediterranean coast to the Persian frontier- ‘from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk’. Later, Sykes met with the French civil servant François George-Picot and they fashioned the secret Sykes-Picot agreement; territory to the north of the arbitrary line would go to France and that to the south to Britain. This agreement lead to the post war creation of mandates granting Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan to Britain and Syria and Lebanon to France. It was intended to shore-up the Entente Cordial, however the agreement ignited Arab Zionist conflict, provoked thirty years of rivalry and animosity and a short war as Britain and France settled old scores. 

This is an expertly researched and authoritative book that is easy to read. It reveals new narratives about the formation of the Middle East and how Britain curtailed French ambitions in the Levant by supporting Zionists’ claims to Palestine. 

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Modern Conflict Archaeology New book

Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology

Modern Conflict Archaeology

 An extract from  the Oxbow web site:-

The new interdisciplinary study of 20th-century conflict archaeology has developed rapidly over the last decade. Its anthropological approach to modern conflicts, their material culture and their legacies has freed such investigations from the straitjacket of traditional 'battlefield archaeology'. It offers powerful new methodologies and theoretical insights into the nature and experience of industrialised war, whether between nation states or as civil conflict, by individuals as well as groups and by women and children, as well as men of fighting age. The complexities of studying wars within living memory demand a new response - a sensitised, cross-disciplinary approach which draws on many other kinds of academic study but which does not privilege any particular discipline. It is the most democratic kind of archaeology - one which takes a bottom-up approach - in order to understand the web of emotional, military, political, economic and cultural experiences and legacies of conflict. These 18 papers offer a coherent demonstration of what modern conflict archaeology is and what it is capable of and offer an intellectual home for those not interested in traditional 'war studies' or military history, but who respond to the idea of a multidisciplinary approach to all modern conflict. 240p, 90 col & b/w illus (Oxbow Books, 2012)

Full details HERE