Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Bulletin 18 (June 2008)

Back to Jordan with the Military

Last November, as reported on the GARP Website, we archaeologists bumped into a group of British soldiers on exercise in southern Jordan. They had been following our progress via Roger’s daily blog and tracked us down to find out what exactly we were up to in such a wilderness (They thought they were the only Brits mad enough to be only 40kms from the Saudi border!). Neil and I spoke briefly with them at both Wadi Rtm and Ma’an, and exchanged details.

As a result of these chance encounters I was asked by British Forces Cyprus (BFC) to accompany their annual educational Battlefield Tour. In May of 2008 it was to be to southern Jordan: In the Footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia. David, the left-wing arch and a bunch of hard-core soldiers?? Not a match made in heaven you’d think. But, you’d be wrong.

I spent nine days (1 and a half of them in the Officers Mess in Cyprus—which included a swimming pool and great grub) with 25 members of BFC, both male and female. And, as a particular bonus, my days were also spent with Jeremy Wilson, the pre-eminent scholar of Lawrence of Arabia, my co-“expert”. We encompassed GARP sites from Amman to Aqaba, from Wadi Rtm to Fasouah to Lissan, and by 4x4s the length and breadth of Rum. We had Jordanian advisors with us, Bedouin guides and many on site, and in hotel, discussions on the 1916-18 Ottoman/Arab campaigns and how they related to the UK military’s experiences in modern day Afghanistan. (It is worth noting that almost all of the BFC group I accompanied had served in Afghanistan or Iraq or both. Most are due back there soon.)

From GARP’s and GWAG’s viewpoint I learnt an inestimable amount. Not just from Jeremy (I expected that), but also from the serving soldiers. They have a view of the terrain, its difficulties/obstructions, military practicalities, and varying insights that I hope to bring to our weeks in Jordan in November. I can honestly say it was a pleasure to learn from a Lance Corporal and a cavalry officer, to mention only two.

On a personal note: I came back to the UK with an entirely different point of view of British service personnel. This is going to sound trite, but….they were insightful, highly disciplined, respectful of our Jordanian hosts, willing to learn, and extremely tolerant of this rather radical arch. And, yes, bloody intelligent. How na├»ve I must have been—thank you tabloid press. Damn good laugh, too! So thank you to Majors M., J., R., C., RAF K., the Colonel and the entire BFC group for one of the most enlightening and enjoyable week’s of my life.

[And I got to do the ubiquitous tour of Petra as well!]

I sincerely hope GARP will be in touch with BFC and Jeremy again in the near future.

David Thorpe
June 2008

PS. So you all don’t think I’ve “sold out”, the BFC plaque I was presented with now resides alongside a Che Guevara candle. The Colonel and Majors had joked about this possibility—it is reality!

Dave is also writing articles on his visit for future publication in Current World Archaeology and the British Army Review.

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