Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (11 & 12 December 2013)

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Date of Auction: 11th & 12th December 2013

Sold for £22,000

Estimate: £20,000 - £25,000

The important C.M.G., C.B.E. group of fifteen awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel F. G. Peake Pasha, founder of the Arab Legion, late Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and Egyptian Camel Corps, who was most prominent in the ranks of Lawrence of Arabia’s legendary railway raiders - he co-designed the much favoured ‘tulip’ charge that reaped such havoc along the Turkish lines of communication: a fierce character with piercing blue eyes - the code word ‘Thundercloud’ flashed by way of warning from one police post to the next during his tours of the Trans-Jordan as C.O. of the Arab Legion - he had little time for the so-called ‘revisionists’ who criticised his contemporaries long after their demise, nor in fact for David Lean’s much acclaimed film of 1962, though ‘the photography was superb’

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, C.M.G., Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Military) Commander’s 1st type neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; The Most Venerable Order of St. John, Commander’s (C. St. J.) neck badge, silver and enamel; The Most Venerable Order of St. John, Officer’s (O. St. J.) breast badge, silver; British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. F. G. Peake); General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine (Lt. Col. F. G. Peake, C.M.G., C.B.E.); Defence Medal 1939-45; Khedive’s Sudan 1910-22, 2 clasps, Darfur 1916, Fasher, unnamed as issued; Egypt, Order of the Nile, 4th Class breast badge, silver-gilt and enamel; Syria, Order of Merit, breast badge, by Bertrand, silver-gilt and enamel; Hedjaz, Maan Medal, silver; Hedjaz, Order of Al Nahda, 1st Class set of insignia, type 1, comprising neck badge and breast star, gilt, gold and enamel; Hedjaz, Order of Al Istiklal, 2nd Class breast star, silver, with gilt and enamel centre, minor official correction to naming on the seventh, the last lacking reverse centre-piece and severely chipped, otherwise generally very fine or better (15) £20000-25000

Footnote

‘I wanted the whole line destroyed in a moment: but things seemed to have stopped. The Army had done its share ... but why was there no demolition going on? I rushed down to find Peake's Egyptians making breakfast. It was like Drake's game of bowls, and I fell dumb with admiration.’

T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, refers.

‘Lawrence was always very conscious of the fact that he was a European and a Christian and also that the desert tribesmen were proud people, jealous of their freedom and fanatical as regards their religion. All his plans, so far as the Arabs were concerned, were discussed in conference with the head Sheikhs, often while sitting round the camp fire in the evening. His strong personality and knowledge of the Arabs of the desert no doubt enabled him unobtrusively to get his plans adopted, without rousing the latent antipathy to all who are not of their race and religion. For the same reason, he always wore Arab clothes, rode with the tribal chieftains, but not ahead of them, ate their food, slept on the ground in their camps, and charged with them in battle. The only observable differences between him and his warriors were that his clothes were always spotlessly clean and he wore a gold agal (head rope) which had been given to him by the Amir Faishal, the nominal Commander-in-Chief, in the midst of the Arab soldiers. When he wrote ‘we’ in ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, his mind was harking back to the old days among the Arabs of the Desert.’

Peake Pasha in a letter to A. W. Lawrence, May 1963.

C.M.G. London Gazette 8 June 1939.

C.B.E. London Gazette 3 July 1926.

Frederick Gerard Peake, the founder of the Arab Legion who brought peace and stability to Trans-Jordan between the Wars and became as much of a legend as T. E. Lawrence with whom he served during the Arab Revolt, was born in 1886. A fierce disciplinarian with piercing blue eyes that seemed capable of reading ‘the very soul of a miscreant’, he gained the devotion of his men of the Arab Legion for an almost ‘motherly fondness and consideration for their well being’ while at the same time generally believing that it was good policy to appear angry. Indeed when he toured Trans-Jordan as Commander of the Legion the code word ‘Thundercloud’ invariably preceded him from one police post to the next.

The son of Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Peake, D.S.O., young Peake was educated at Stubbington House, Fareham, and Sandhurst, and commissioned into the Duke of Wellington's Regiment in 1906. On joining the 1st Battalion in India, he took an instant dislike to the social duties which a subaltern was expected to perform, and cut his obligations with a number of ruses, which usually earned him a stiff reprimand, and spent as much time as he could hunting and studying native languages. In 1913 he gained a place at his own request in the Egyptian Army, which then carried a reputation as a corps d'elite of the British service thanks to the enduring ‘Kitchener Tradition’.

Egyptian Army - active service in the Sudan - R.F.C. Observer in Salonika - torpedoed

On the outbreak of the Great War, every British officer in the Egyptian Army began to agitate for a return to his unit in order to get into the firing line in France or elsewhere. Their requests were invariably denied, but a system evolved whereby certain officers were allowed to go to the Sinai and Dardanelles fronts for short periods which were to count as their annual leave. Some, like Peake's Commanding Officer, never returned, and having failed in getting released himself, Peake was thus left in command of his Egyptian Battalion in a Sudanese backwater for most of 1915.

In December of that year, however, having made a nuisance of himself with his repeated requests for a transfer, he was sent to the Western Arab Corps at Gedaref, and was afterwards employed hunting Abyssinian slave-raiding parties. In early 1916 he was transferred again, this time to the Camel Corps with the command of No. 5 Company at Wadi Medani, and in response to the Senussi rising took part in an expedition to Darfur. He unfortunately missed the decisive Battle of Beringia, being out on patrol, but during one march was present with the force when it deployed in the ‘old Sudan Fuzzy-wuzzy style’ of a square at the approach of enemy horsemen.

With the capture of Fashur, and the end of the Senussi campaign, Peake was due for home leave, and he received orders to proceed with his men to El Obeid, where a number were to be discharged, and where he himself would begin the train journey to Cairo. The train ran only once a week and notwithstanding a 500 mile march across the desert, Peake resolved not to miss his connection, but in the end had the mortification of seeing the train steam out of El Obeid when his column was still two miles away. Nevertheless, he eventually arrived in Cairo with three months leave in hand, but then promptly changed his mind about going to England, and went instead to G.H.Q. asking to be sent to Salonika to fight the Bulgarians. The bemused Staff Officers, knowing nothing of his attachment to the Egyptian Army, arranged matters, and he jumped aboard an old transport carrying mules for that front. The only other soldier-passenger on this vessel was the C.O. of No. 17 Squadron, R.F.C., who learning that Peake was at a loose end was only too happy to give him a berth in his unit. Peake spent nearly five months with the R.F.C. in Salonika, firstly as an Observer with No. 17 Squadron and afterwards as Wing Adjutant.

Then just as he was beginning to hope the Egyptian Army had forgotten him he received a curt summons from G.H.Q. ordering him to explain why he had outstayed his leave by two months. A Court-Martial was threatened but he was saved from that fate thanks to the sense of humour of General Milne, and was merely sent back to the Camel Corps at Darfur with a wigging. However, on the last lap of his journey he was thrown from his camel, and broke his neck. He was carried to El Obeid and being too ill to move languished there until the spring of 1917. After several dreary months in Khartoum a specialist announced that his case was incurable, but shortly afterwards Peake, unable to raise his head from his chest, was pondering his bad luck in the hospital garden when he crashed blindly into a tree. Miraculously the jolt restored his neck with no subsequent ill-effect, and he returned to the Camel Corps only to find that he was suffering from a liver abscess and was next sent to England on sick leave. On the return voyage, with his run of ill luck seemingly behind him, his ship was torpedoed off Alexandria and he jumped into the sea with a bottle of beer and packet of sandwiches, which sustained him until he was picked up five hours later.

King Feisal’s Army - first meeting with Lawrence

In early 1918 Peake's diverse war experiences took yet another turn when he was directed to Al Arish in Sinai to take command of a force of Arab Scouts which had been raised in the Sudan for service in Feisal's Army. The Scouts, however, were not a success and were quickly disbanded, and thereafter, he was appointed to take over a Camel Corps Company, manned by Egyptians, at Beersheba, and in April 1918 was ordered to join Feisal's Army at Aqaba.

Peake's arrival coincided with breakfast-time and once his small unit had pitched their tents in orderly lines which stood out in marked contrast to the acres of Bedouin canvas, one of his N.C.Os announced that a party of Arabs had come to see him. ‘The party’, wrote Peake, ‘was headed by a small man dressed in extremely good and expensive Bedouin clothes, a richly-braided and decorated goat's hair cloak over all, and on his head a wonderful silk kufaiyeh held in position by a gold agal. His feet were bare, and he had a gold dagger in his belt, and in his hand he carried the usual almond-wood cane that every Bedouin camel rider uses. As this regal-looking person came in through the tent door with the light behind his back, I imagined it must be the Emir Feisal himself out for a stroll in the cool morning air, or, at least, a very important messenger from him. I went, therefore, to meet the distinguished stranger and ceremoniously showed him to a chair, speaking the usual flowery Arabic words of welcome and greetings. He had barely sat down when to my surprise he said in perfect English: “Well, Peake, so you have arrived at last. We have been waiting some time for you and your braves, and there is plenty of work for you up country.” l realised then that my distinguished stranger was no other than Lawrence himself; the man I was to serve under till the end of the War, and of whom I was to see so much during the years immediately following the Armistice.’

Desert raider - co-inventor of the ‘tulip charge’


Lawrence's task in this final phase of Allenby's campaign was to prevent the Turks from withdrawing from the line of the Hedjaz railway and sending to the Palestine front any of the 30,000 troops they had east of the Jordan, then engaged on guarding 600 miles of railway and garrisoning the towns from Medina to Damascus. Indeed this became especially important after the withdrawal of Allenby's best British troops to meet the German spring offensive in France.

Despite Peake's complaint that his men were reluctant to get themselves killed, his command quickly showed its worth by fulfilling Lawrence's prediction that camel-borne infantry could clear station buildings and other positions which had previously confounded armoured cars and Bedouins, who could not or would not close. On 19 March 1918, Peake's command was put to the test with an attack on the bridge and station of Tell Shahm, his specific role being to rush the post with his men and the Bedouins after the attack had been started by the armoured cars. Describing this fight in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence recorded, ‘Then came the central act of the day, the assault upon the station. Peake drew down towards it from the north, moving his men by repeated exposure of himself ... The armoured cars went forward snuffiing smoke, and through this haze a file of Turks waving white things rose out of their main trench in a dejected fashion. We cranked up our Rolls tenders; the Arabs leaped on to their camels; Peake's now bold men broke into a run, and the force converged wildly upon the station.’ In the mad rush for loot that ensued Lawrence and Peake modestly appropriated two souvenirs -the station bell for Lawrence, and the ticket punch for Peake.

In order to assist in the final push before the decisive battle of Megiddo, Peake's unit became adept as sappers, and under the sobriquet of the ‘Peake Demolition Co. Ltd.’ perfected the ‘tulip’ technique for blowing up stretches of the Dera-Damascus railway in order to disrupt Turkish communications and hinder retreat. ‘Tulips,’ wrote Lawrence in describing one such attack, ‘had been invented by Peake and myself for this occasion. Thirty ounces of gun cotton were planted beneath the centre of the central sleeper of each ten metre section of the track. The sleepers were steel, and their box-shape left an air chamber which the gas expansion filled, to blow the middle of the sleeper upward. If the charge was laid properly, the metal did not snap, but humped itself, bud-like, two feet in the air ... Six hundred such charges would take the Turks a fair week to mend.’



One of Peake's most effective attacks took place on 17 September when he and his unit, which by then included a number of Gurkhas, destroyed over eight kilometres of track north of Deraa. That morning Lawrence was particularly anxious about the day's operations, and ‘supercharged with zeal dashed up in his car’ to find Peake enjoying a full breakfast from a table covered in a white cloth and covered with a ‘certain amount of shiny plate and a box of Corona cigars.’ The image became firmly fixed in Lawrence's mind for years later he wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, ‘I wanted the whole line destroyed in a moment: but things seemed to have stopped. The Army had done its share ... but why was there no demolition going on? I rushed down to find Peake's Egyptians making breakfast. It was like Drake's game of bowls, and I fell dumb with admiration.’ Coolness in the face of adversity that no doubt contributed to his three “mentions” (London Gazettes 25 October 1916, 22 January 1919 and 12 January 1920 refer).


Immediate post-war

When the War ended Trans-Jordan was in a state of chaos, with undefined borders and non-existent Civil Administration. The Desert Momads, who the Turks had never really attempted to control, returned to the age old tradition of raiding their settled neighbours, who set up pockets of autonomous Government in every town. To each of the latter a British officer was posted as a Representative of the British High Commissioner in Palestine. Peake went to administer Aqaba and its environs and within a year had gained the respect of both villagers and tribesmen for his impartiality. At the end of 1919 he returned briefly to the Camel Corps with responsibility for policing the Eastern Frontier south of the Dead Sea, but on the establishment of the British mandate in Palestine in 1920, the Camel Corps was disbanded, and Peake accepted a position in the Palestine Police, which he found had inherited all the vices of the old Turkish regime. In October 1920, High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel authorised him to raise a new force consisting of 105 officers and men, to deal with the continual tribal fights, plundering of caravans, and even the odd rebellion, but recruiting was difficult as the tribesmen naturally saw its creation as a direct threat to their traditional way of life. Furthermore Peake had problems obtaining uniforms and arms, and, until he located a cache of old German rifles, the new 'Arab Army' was the only group in the area without weapons.


The Trans-Jordan - founder of the Arab Legion

In 1921, Peake attended the Cairo Conference after which Sharif Abdullah was persuaded to accept the Emirate of Trans-Jordan under British protection on condition that he would prevent his subjects from troubling the French in Syria, and accordingly the need arose for a small Arab Army whose purpose was not external defence but the establishment of Government authority within the State. Peake's Arab Legion was expanded to the number of one thousand, and gradually enlistment became more competitive as its prestige grew. The problems of arms, however, persisted particularly in the case of some ex-Turkish cavalrymen who insisted on swords. On one visit to Cairo to secure material for his new force Peake was told about some old swords in the Citadel which had been left behind by Napoleon's Army after the Battle of the Pyramids, and a few days later he rejoined the Legion with two truck loads.

Despite such shortages, Peake soon established a fine administrative system, assuming in his office expression in the interest of discipline, and establishing a tradition of loyalty that withstood many shocks from both within and without the Kingdom. In 1924, with the help of R.A.F. support, he gained a decisive victory over a large force of Ikhwan tribesmen, who thereafter left Trans-Jordan in peace. His personal courage was frequently tested, no more so perhaps than on the occasion when he was surrounded during a journey across the desert north of Amman in 1929 by a band of wild tribesmen who looted his car and shouted “Kill Peake.” To which he retorted “I hope you will kill me quickly.” His would-be assassins marvelled at his sangfroid and his life was saved.

Peake continued to see a good deal of Lawrence in the early Twenties, touring the country together in an old Tin Lizzie Ford in 1921, and receiving from him much advice on general policies and methods of controlling tribal raiding. However, he also saw that Lawrence was ‘a man of moods; on some evenings he was the best of company. On others he would be depressed, incommunicative, and obviously weighed down by the cares of fashioning a post-war Middle East.’ Both men foresaw the end of direct British rule and realised the potency of the Arab awakening.

Peake's character was always unexpected and at the age of forty-four, he decided to learn to fly. On the second day of instruction he had two crashes, in the second of which he broke four ribs and just got clear of the machine before it burst into flames, but undeterred he bought a new aeroplane and continued his lessons until he was able to manage his machine. Under Peake's firm hand Trans-Jordan's lawlessness became a thing of the past and the country became accessible to Westerners in safety for the first time.

The latter years

Peake retired in 1939, having handed over command of the Legion to Glubb Pasha, and afterwards settled in Scotland where during the Second World War he served in Civil Defence and was Inspector of Constabulary. And he was still around to see David Lean’s much acclaimed film Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. In a letter to A. W. Lawrence, written in May 1963, Peake offered his prognosis on the film:

‘I think the photography was superb, and that is about all I can say in praise of the film. The producers appear to have had their eyes on the profit to be made out of the film rather than on the reputations of those who were actually present in that desert campaign.

It seemed to me unnecessary to show Aqaba like some seaside village in Spain or Portugal. The real Aqaba in those days was a very picturesque little village with an old Turkish fort surrounded by palm trees.

The film showed the final charge on the Turkish position near Damascus to have been made by Arabs mounted on horses. I took part in several charges but everyone was mounted on camels, except perhaps a few Sheikhs who rode horses.

I think from an historical point of view it would have been well to have shown the Egyptian Camel Corps and the 50 Gurkhas attached to them also on camels. It was probably the only occasion when Gurkhas have appeared on active service riding camels.

Although the film did not please a person like myself, who actually knew Lawrence and was with him in the Desert, it cannot be denied that in the future the name of Lawrence will be remembered, while the politicians, Generals, Admirals, etc., so great in their day, will be forgotten.’

Long celebrated in Trans-Jordan where according to Glubb men would say, “May Allah remember him for good! His heart was true and simple,” Peake died at Kelso on 30 March 1970; sold with an extensive file of research, including correspondence copied from the archive of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.