Lot 10
  • 10

The Arab Revolt.

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  • The Arab Revolt.
the flag of the arab revolt in the first world war


The flag was owned by Captain Harold Brisbane Bedwell, R.N., who was born in Australia in 1879, commanded three different ships (including the battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought) during World War I, and was last recorded coming out of retirement to act as Naval Officer in charge at Fleetwood during World War II. Bedwell was responsible for a pencilled note or label tied to the halyard: “Flag of Sheik of Akaba presented to me in 1919 by the Sheik”. Bedwell’s memory when he wrote this was slightly inaccurate only in that his ship since June 1918, H.M.S. Proserpine, was actually at Aqaba from 22 to 24 November 1918 (the ship’s logs are in the National Archives, ADM53/56050-60). It is not entirely clear whom he meant by the Sheik of Aqaba, but it could have been the local representative appointed by Hussein’s son, Prince Feisal. A possible candidate for this role is Auda abu Tayi, the formidable warlord Sheik of the Bedouin Howeitat whom T.E. Lawrence called “the greatest fighting man in northern Arabia”, and who may have been left in charge of Aqaba after its capture in July 1917, although he is known to have been in Damascus in October 1918.

Included in the lot is Captain Bedwell’s sketchbook, with his neatly drawn pen and ink profiles of Aden and other ports, including one inscribed in pencil “HMS Proserpine in Perim [Yemen]. 1919 I was in Command.”, the book a long oblong 8vo (c.10¼ x 4¾ inches, 260 x 120mm.), c.17 pages, blanks, covers stained, some pages partly torn away, stubs of other extracted leaves; together with photographs, birth certificate, commissions, naval certificates, and other documents relating to Bedwell, one annotated by him in the first person.

Catalogue Note

this, the flag of the arab revolt, is the most important nationalist symbol in modern arab history

The flag is said to have been designed by Hussein ibn Ali, Grand Sharif of Makkah and leader of the Arab nationalists, in June 1916, and slightly modified thereafter in collaboration with Sir Mark Sykes of the Arab Bureau (co-author of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement). Some of Sykes’s original sketches, in a letter to Sir Reginald Wingate from early 1917, are preserved in the files of the Arab Bureau in the National Archives (FO 882). Sykes and Sharif Hussein met in May 1917. The flag was manufactured in Egypt, in the British military supply offices, by order of Sykes, who then had the flags delivered to the Arab forces in the Hejaz. Only a very limited number of them were made. the present flag is an extremely rare surviving example.

The flag’s colouring is emblematic of past glories of Muslim Arab empires: the black represents the Prophet Muhammad and the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad; white, the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus; green, the Alids and Fatimids; and red, the Sharif and the Hashemites (descendants of the Prophet). These colours were adopted by the Pan-Arab movement and are intimately linked with modern Arab nationalism.

The flag of the Arab Revolt was raised at Aqaba following the remarkable capture of this Red Sea port from the desert side by Auda abu Tayi, Ali ibn el Kharish, T.E. Lawrence and their forces on 6 July 1917. This achievement was the decisive early step in the Arab Revolt against the Turks and the key to the later Allied victories in the Middle East. In recognition of the Arab successes and of Hussein’s sovereignty, a flag of the Revolt was subsequently flown on the British troopship Hardinge in 1918, and others were later raised after the capture of Jerusalem and Damascus. Lawrence is reported to have flown an Arab flag afterwards over All Souls College, Oxford, in 1920, but, if it was indeed the flag of the Revolt, it is not known what happened to it.

An example, cited as the new Arabian flag, is illustrated in Lowell Thomas’s article about his encounter with Lawrence during the later phase of the war, “King Hussein and his Arabian Knights” in Asia: The American Magazine of the Orient (May 1920), pp.400-9.

The only other known example is a much faded “silk flag of the Hejaz” (possibly of local manufacture) preserved in the collections of the Imperial War Museum.

A modified form of this banner (with green and white stripes reversed) was adopted after the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference by the Hashemite kingdoms of the Hejaz, Jordan (then Transjordan), Syria and Iraq. This design was also adopted in 1948, because of its symbolic significance, by the Palestinian nationalist movement. In 1928 the Jordanian flag added to the red triangle a seven-pointed white star representing the first seven verses of the Qur'an. Other variant patterns, using the same Pan-Arab colours of black, white, green and red, are represented in the modern flags of Syria, Iraq, and Kuwait, and to some extent in the flags of Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen. The Saudi-Arabian flag adopts green, a traditional colour of Islam, for its field with the centred Muslim creed and a sword in white, the traditional colour for peace.