Transjordan Lawrence of Arabia’s Philatelic Heritage?

The fascinating stamps of Transjordan form a link directly to one of Britain’s great 20th Century heroes. Colonel T E Lawrence needs little introduction from Sandafayre.

A British Army officer renowned for his liaison role during the 1916-18 Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule; the extraordinary breadth and variety of his activities and his ability to describe them (Winston Churchill believed his ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ to be one of the greatest books ever written in the English language), earned him fame as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

As an archaeologist operating at a variety of excavations in the Middle East, Thomas Edward Lawrence was co-opted shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, to undertake a military survey of the Negev Desert, while doing his archaeological research.

By the outbreak of War, Lawrence was a well- known researcher who had travelled extensively within the Ottoman Empire provinces of the Levant (Transjordan & Palestine) and Mesopotamia (Syria & Iraq). He became acquainted with the Ottoman technical advisers & the German built and financed railways; his knowledge would be invaluable to Britain’s efforts in fermenting trouble within the Turkish Empire.

During the war, Lawrence fought with Arab irregular troops in guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire. He persuaded the Arabs not to make a full assault on Medina, but allowed the Turkish army to tie up troops in the city garrison, whilst his Arab allies attacked the Hejaz railway that supplied the garrison. This tactic tied up huge numbers of troops and continued the British scheme to hamstring the German – Ottoman military alliance.

In the closing years of the war, he sought to convince the British authorities that Arab independence was in their interests, but a secret agreement between France and Britain contradicted the promises of independence that he had made to the Arabs.

Allied forces overran Transjordan in September 1918, and in April 1920 the Supreme Council of the Allies gave the UK a mandate to administer Palestine and Transjordan.

A couple of months later in November, the first British Mandated Territory stamps were issued; these were Palestine stamps overprinted ‘East of Jordan’ in Arabic. There followed a five-year period of atmospheric Arabic overprints on the stamps of Palestine and Saudi Arabia, excellently laid out in the Stanley Gibbons catalogue listings. These stamps are unusual amongst the British ‘Colonial’ issues, as they do not show British Monarchs, but they are beautiful and highly collectible.

Commonwealth collectors will recognise the work of Waterlow in the first un-overprinted Transjordan set of 1925, with perhaps the magnificent pictorial issue of 1933 printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson being (even without a British King’s image!), arguably on a level of quality equal to the great 1933 Falkland Islands and Sierra Leone sets.

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