The Arab Bulletin 1916-1919

ISBN: 978-1-85207-025-0  First published: 1986
Extent: 4 volumes, 1,900 pages   Editor: T.E. Lawrence/D. G. Hogarth. Introduction to this reprint by Dr R. Bidwell, formerly Secretary of the Middle East Centre, Cambridge University  
Paper: Printed on acid free paper 
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish  
See sample pages: not available


The Arab Bulletin was founded on the initiative of T. E. Lawrence to provide "a secret magazine of Middle East politics". Lawrence edited the first number on 6 June 1916 and thereafter sent numerous reports to it, enabling readers to follow, week by week, the Arab Revolt, which ended Ottoman domination in the Arabian peninsula. The British Foreign Office have described it as : "A remarkable intelligence journal so strictly secret in its matter that only some thirty copies of each issue were struck off... Nor might the journal be quoted from, even in secret communications." All 114 journals are here published for the first time, with an introduction by the late Dr Robin Bidwell.


The Arab Bulletin was written by experts for officials concerned with the area and for military commanders. The authors assumed on the part of their readers a very considerable background knowledge of recent events and of various individuals then of special significance. It is more difficult for people today to recall off-hand the exact position of the war in the Middle East in June 1916, the date of the first issue, or to grasp why intelligence officers took such a special interest in people now largely forgotten. Knowledge of the background of the contributors helps to assess the authoritativeness of what they wrote. A new introduction and comments upon significant points in the individual numbers of the Bulletin were provided for this edition by Dr Robin Bidwell, formerly Secretary of the Middle East Centre, Cambridge University.

The Arab Bulletin appeared in June 1916 – the first month of the Arab Revolt. The final issue, no. 114, came out in August 1919. Thus the Bulletin covers one of the most significant periods in the history of the modern Middle East. Not only does it describe in detail the campaign, known as the Arab Revolt, which ended Turkish domination in the Arabian peninsula. The Bulletin also reflects the emerging perception by the British of the idea of Arab unity.

 In 1915 British forces in the Middle East were fighting virtually separate wars on a variety of fronts - on the Suez Canal, at the Dardanelles, in Aden, Iraq and Persia - with two lines of command through London and India, and little or no exchange of information between the battle zones. Only following a special report to the Minister of War, Lord Kitchener, did the Foreign Office, the India Office and the directors of military and naval intelligence jointly recommend that an 'Arab Bureau' be established in Cairo under the auspices of the Foreign Office. In the spring of 1916, the Arab Bureau came into existence to co-ordinate intelligence, political and propaganda activities in the Middle East. One of the Bureau's first activities was to prepare a bulletin for distribution to key officials in the area.


For its first two years or so the Bulletin appeared at regular weekly intervals, and thus achieved the important military aim of relative immediacy of information. But the Bulletin also strove for equality of intelligence in terms of the accuracy of its reports and the judgement of its writers when applied to the interpretation of events. The importance of The Arab Bulletin at the time was recognised by the British commander of the Arab campaign, Sir Reginald Wingate, who wrote "... I am immensely struck with the excellence of the Bulletin."
After T.E. Lawrence himself, the best-known editor of The Arab Bulletin, the archaeologist D. G. Hogarth, expressed the editorial policy which lay behind the historical value and the literary interest of the Bulletin. "Since it was as easy to write it in decent English as in bad, and much more agreeable, the Arab Bulletin had from the first a literary tinge not always present in Intelligence Summaries. Firstly, it aims at giving reasoned, and as far as possible definitive summaries of intelligence, primarily about the Hejaz and the area of the Arab Revolt. Secondly, the Arab Bulletin aims at giving authoritative appreciations of political situations and questions in the area with which it deals at first hand. Thirdly, it aims at recording and so preserving all fresh historical data concerning Arabs and Arabic-speaking lands, and incidentally rescuing from oblivion any older facts which might help to explain the actual situation: likewise, any data of geographical or other scientific interest, which may be brought to light by our penetration of the Arab Countries during the present war. It is part of the Editor´s purpose that a complete file on the Bulletin since its beginning should be indispensable to anyone who hereafter may have to compile for official use a history of the Arabs during the last three years, an Intelligence Handbook of any Arab district or even a map of Arabia."
Editors and correspondents of the journals
After Lawrence´s first issue, the Bulletin was edited for a few issues by D. G. Hogarth, an archaeologist with great experience of Syria and Asia Minor and close links with British Intelligence. He was succeeded as editor by Kinahan Cornwallis, an Arabist and member of the Sudan Civil Service since 1906.
In June 1916 the Bulletin acquired a remarkable correspondent in Basra in the person of Gertrude Bell who had spent years travelling in Iraq and in the deserts of Syria and Northern Arabia. She contributed articles on the basis of government in Turkish Arabia, the rebellion against the Sultan of Muscat 1913-1916 and the tribal authority of the Shaikhs of Kuwait. A frequent contributor from the beginning of the Bulletin was Ronald Storrs, Oriental Secretary at the British Agency in Cairo, who had numerous contacts and had been closely involved in the political planning of the Arab Revolt. In July 1916 the Arab Bureau established a "branch office´´ in Jeddah under Colonel C. E. Wilson who had been a provincial governor in the Sudan since 1902; he and his staff reported on events in the Hejaz. Several British officers attached to the Arab forces sent back information to the Bulletin. T. E. Lawrence himself from October 1916 was in the field as liaison officer with the forces of the Amir Faisal and contributed accounts of his activities. The final numbers of the Bulletin in the summer of 1919 were edited by Herbert Garland who had spent much of the war training Arab forces, particularly in the use of explosives, and who had pioneered attacks on the Hejaz railway.


This edition of The Arab Bulletin has been reprinted from a surviving set of original documents. The new edition is presented in a standard library format of 248mm x 160mm. The Arab Bulletin runs to c. 1900 pages and is published as a four volume set covering the years 1916 to 1919. Volume. IV includes the rare continuation material Notes on the Middle East, nos. 1–4, produced in 1920. There are original indexes to Volumes I, II and III.


Contents of the journals
The material gathered by the Arab Bureau and issued in its Bulletin was derived from a range of sources, some relatively open, others subject to great secrecy.
  • Published and unpublished enemy statements: extracts from newspapers, communiqués.
  • Information obtained by standard methods such as the capture of letters, interrogation of prisoners and of neutral travellers. Captured documents included the Turkish account of events leading up to the Arab Revolt.
  • Topographical intelligence was supplemented by the use of aerial reconnaissance.
  • As early as October 1916 the British were intercepting wireless signals between the Turkish HQ, in Damascus and the beleaguered garrison in Medina.
  • Extensive information was derived through systems of local friendly contacts. An excellent espionage network had been established in Syria before the war, partly through the consular offices but equally through the efforts of less formal agents. A particular station-master, for example, kept a record for the British of every man and parcel transported into Damascus by the Hejaz railway. From the start of fighting the mobile Bedouins in Sinai were particularly valuable as spies, as were some agents in Hauran and Jabal Druze who after 1917 were able to send reports by carrier pigeon to an army loft in Bethlehem.
  • Regular campaign reports were submitted by the Bureau´s officers in the field.
  • The Bulletin also received a variety of essays and articles on special topics from its contributors, many of whom wrote at length and with scholarly exactness. Hogarth himself wrote on the history of Turco-Arab relations, while Lawrence set forth his prescriptions for British relations with the Arabs. Unsigned articles dealt with diverse matters such as the prospects for trade in the Persian Gulf. Lengthy articles are also found from Philby describing his first crossing of Arabia.