When we think of the First World War, various images come to mind, and various names haunt the fringes of our collective memory. We may see the hellish mud of Passchendaele, or the gas clouds of Second Ypres, or remember the Somme, with 30,000 British casualties in the first hour of a battle that lasted five months. We may think of the 150,000 Scottish dead, or the Glasgow women protesting against the landlords who put up their rent while their men were dying in their thousands. Yet it is unlikely that many of us think of the other campaigns that were fought, where fewer soldiers fought but the results were perhaps more long-lasting and have major repercussions in the world we live in today.
As well as fighting the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Great Britain was battling the Ottoman Empire. Although the part played by the Anzacs in Gallipoli has been commemorated in film and story, the British were also there, in larger numbers, and that was only one campaign in the effort to remove the Ottomans – the Turks – from the war. On the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, the British, Australia and Imperial forces survived an early Ottoman thrust at the Suez Canal to counter attack and eventually push the Ottomans out of the entire area.
It was a campaign that lasted years and saw a mixture of modern and ancient military techniques. There were cavalry charges and aircraft; machine guns, artillery and sabres; Arabs on camel back and the Royal Navy, international intrigue and spies. It was during this war that the Jewish secret service was born, and Scottish regiments crossed the Jordan.
It was here that Lawrence of Arabia was instrumental in raising an army of Arabs who waged a guerilla war with the Ottoman Turks in return for a promise of a land of their own. It was here that various British and French government officials promised similar lands to the Jews, whose agents helped the British with information in 1916.
This war deserves to be better remembered, so I wrote my own book based here. It s a work of fiction based in 1915 and touches on the international dimensions of a war that seems to have been pushed to the fringes of memory, although it may well have been the most important campaign of the First World War.