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Author Topic: Major Dunkley, 10th ALHR - 2  (Read 2787 times)
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« on: 15 September 2011, 07:29:36 pm »

With that in mind, here is Wilson's report:


3rd Light Horse Brigade

Report on the capture of Damascus on the morning of 1st October 1918

Djemal Pasha, commander of the Turkish 4th Army prepared to hold a meeting of the notables of Damascus at the municipal gardens at 4pm on 30th September 1918 for the purpose of handing over to Shukri Pasha Ayoubi the military governorship of the city. The last mentioned person was an Arab formerly in the Turkish Army and favourable to the Sheriff of Mecca. There was in the city at this time a person of Algerian birth named Emir Said. This man had been for some time past employed by the Turkish government in raising a volunteer force of Arabs to fight against the Sheriff. Emir Said sympathies were really in favour of the Sheriff but he disguised the fact and drew arms, ammunition and money from the Turks.

Some time prior to 2 PM on the 30th news was received in the city that the British cavalry were approaching. A report also circulated in the city that Germans intended to burn the city before they left. Shukri Pasha Ayoubi and Emir Said then went to Djemal Pasha and informed him that they would not allow the city to be burnt and advised Djemal Pasha to leave the city forthwith and stated that if he did not he would probably be attacked by local Arabs.

In Djemal Pasha’s presence these people then produced a Sherif’s flag, displayed it on the town hall and declared for the Sherif. Djemal Pasha then at 2 PM left the city by the Beirut Road.

1st October this Brigade bivouacked in the hills overlooking the village of Dumar about 4 miles NW of Damascus on the Beirut road. The road was during the night covered by machine guns, heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy trying to escape by that road and the balance of them were turning back to the city. The Beirut road was then closed to the enemy from sunset on 30th September.

At 0630 on 1st October the Brigade descended to the main road at Dumar and marched down the road north easterly into Damascus. The 10th LH Regiment formed the advanced guard. Major Olden was in charge of the Regiment. In entering the north-east arose a good deal of rifle shooting was indulged in by the inhabitants. Some of the shooting was sniping at the column. In a few cases some snipers were observed and their fire was returned. To discourage the sniping Major Olden moved the vanguard until he arrived in front of the Town Hall where he halted. The time was now between 0630 and 0700.

Major Olden asked for the Civil Governor and was told he was upstairs. Major Olden then dismounted and went into the Town Hall here he found a large assembly of natives and people in uniform as if arranged for some public function.

Emir Said was sitting in the Municipal Chair. Major Olden asked for the Civil Governor Emir Said rose and came forward as such and shook hands.

Through an interpreter Emir Said said:- “In the name of the civil population of Damascus I welcome the British Army” Major Olden said: “What is all this rifle firing that is going on?” Said replied: “It is the people welcoming you.” Major Olden replied: “It must cease as it may lead to misunderstanding.” Said replied: “You have no fear, I will answer in the name of the civil population that the city will be quiet.” Major Olden then said: “Who are all these armed men in uniform about the streets?” Said replied: “They are the police. What would you have them do?” Major Olden replied: “They can retain their arms for the present and assist in maintaining order and preventing looting. A large force of cavalry is following me up and if my orders are not obeyed you will be held responsible.” Said replied: “You need have no fear. We have been expecting the English for some days and have made all preparations to receive them.” Emir Said then made a speech of welcome and stated what they were prepared to do to assist us. He then asked major Olden to have refreshments, this Major Olden declined and asked for a guide to the NE or Aleppo Road, Emir Said detailed an officer called Zeki Bey to act as such. This officer stopped with the Brigade until the following morning.

The Advanced Guard then moved on followed by the remainder of the Brigade, passed through the city and moved on to the North East Road passing the English Hospital en route. Touch was gained with the enemy rearguard at the Wadi Maraba, and further operations took place as set out in my narrative of operations of the Brigade from 18th September to 2nd October 1918.

Not during the time (about 0700) that this Brigade completed its pass through the city: thereby closing the only remaining military exit for the enemy, no member of the Sherif’s Army was visible in any part of the city within view of the Brigade.

Brigadier General

Commander, 3rd Light Horse Brigade

25th October 1918


The 10th ALHR War Diary is a tad bit calmer about the event giving this pithy account.

"On entering Damascus huge cosmopolitan crowds were pushing about cheering and firing rifles. Major Olden who was riding with the advanced troops was met by an Arab representative who conducted the column to the Arab Municipal Chambers where Emir Said who had taken over the city the previous day from Djemal Pasha formally surrendered Damascus. Emir Said detailed the chief of Gendarmes to guide the column to the NE road where our objective lay. Pushing through the crowded streets the populace gave every indication of their great joy at the occupation of the city by British troops. The troops were sprayed from the balconies with champagne, perfumes, rose leaves and confetti."

So there you have the official record. The derring do of Olden and Timperley running up the stairs of the Council Chambers with pistols in hand does not appear. Nor is there any mention of the embarrassed silence that must have occurred when these dishevelled Australians burst in brandishing pistols - it would have been like taking a pork chop into a Bar Mitzvah. The urban Emir Said did the right thing and tensions were immediatly reduced.

Hope this provides you with some entertainment.



Andrew P
Forum Member

154 Posts    Posted - 01/12/2004 :  2:33:57 PM  
Thanks for that Bill. Very interesting accounts of that action.

Senior Forum Member

573 Posts    Posted - 02/12/2004 :  9:59:11 PM  
It appears LCW spent many years recounting the true events of the taking of Damascus by the 10th L.H.
The book 'From Law to War' on his life indicates he spent considerable time & effort trying to ensure the record was set straight. I am sure the fictional account that Lawrence, Lowell & others advanced must have annoyed him no end.

Geoff S

Bill Woerlee
Veteran Forum Member

1036 Posts    Posted - 03/12/2004 :  07:43:46 AM    
G'day mate.

Wilson was his own worse enemy in this matter. He may have been a lawyer and skilled with words but he was a dreadful publicist and politician.

His mindset was that of a lawyer. He thought that if he could particularise his claim and place it before the court of public appeal everything would be fine regarding his claim about Damascus.

So let's have a look at what he does. He shoots off a missive to Chauvel outlining his role in the capture of Damascus on 25 October 1918. Chauvel and Allenby have a different role to play than as advocates for Wilson. His feeling counted for nought in the game of international politics being played out at the time. Wilson was a pawn and not a player although judging from his words, he rather fancied that he thought he was among the latter.

No one pays any attention to his claim - this is understandable in the context of the brief outline in a previous post.

Now Wilson has his nose out of place. He wants to set the record straight in the public arena. He does something that is quite unique for the time. He gets his aide de camp to go through all the 3rd ALHB war diary entries and construct a commentary about his time as GOC of 3rd ALHB. Once it is collated, he sends a draft copy to Chauvel and gets the story self published in Cairo, March 1919, called "Narrative of Third Light Horse Brigade, AIF Brigadier-General, LC Wilson, CMG, DSO from 27th October 1917 to 4th March 1919". While it purported to be a history, it made quite a few political points, one of which was cited in my previous post.

The particular production was a failure. In a purely technical sense, it must have been a grave embarrassment to Wilson. It was riddled with typos, spelling and grammatical errors let alone lacking clarity and lucidity in the account. It moves from Wilson referring to himself in the first person and the third person. There are direct lifts from the war diary and then some other entries edited by Wilson himself to give his personal interpretation. All in all it was an embarrassing farrago which was promptly consigned to the rubbish bin. So was the reputation of Wilson. This is the question his contemporaries would have raised - If he was such a hot shot lawyer, then how come he was so incompetent at his craft - vis - producing the correct words?

I have seen the original draft at the AWM and Jeff was kind enough to send me a photocopy of the published version. If you want a copy, give me a nod and I will email a digitised and cleaned up version to you.

So here we have a fellow who has little knowledge of playing the game and worst of all, being his own legal client. You know the old adage about that - lawyers who act on their own behalf have a fool for a client. So smart and yet so dumb.

Chauvel and company are not going to let Wilson's claim see the light of day until after the Versaille's Peace Conference. Then it doesn't matter anymore. Until then, the TE Lawrence fictional account is more in line to the British foreign policy objectives. By the time the peace conference is over, the Lawrence account is prommoted by a slide show and the like by his number one publicist, Liddel Hart and all his salavating lackies. It makes for a romantic story after the grinding mechanical slaughter house of the Western Front. People love it because there is everything in it - dash, elan, honour, movement, passion and best of all, victory. A ripping yarn.

Wilson offered none of this except a poorly told lawyers tale presented in an obscure land far away from the action where the tale counted. This is incompetence when it comes to publicity and politics. He failed to recruit any heavy weights to his cause. Ryries would have been a help if he did not have an eye on being a Major General. Keith Murdoch could have helped him but Wilson hated the concept of press freedom so Murdoch was no more than a tool of the war effort. Without any intermediaries to argue his case, Hughes would not even consider the proposition. No powerful friends meant death to his history as being the accepted view.

The only people who knew did not count. The people of Damascus and the 3rd ALHB. The former had no say in their future while the latter were just happy to get home alive. later on they might reflect about it publicly but that would come much later when the war was a faded memory.

It is only now, in the last decade that this has become an important issue, but only important to Australian historians. No one else really cares about it for obvious reasons. While we may correct the version and present compelling evidence to support that case, it will take decades for the popular myth to die if it ever does.


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