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.