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The Private Letters and Diaries of Sir Ronald Storrs (1881-1955) from Pembroke College, Cambridge


"Storrs, who served as first British Governor of Jerusalem, from 1917 to 1926, was a witty, feline character who declared himself ‘anima naturaliter Levantina’. Unusual among mandatory officials in being an intellectual show-off, he was regarded by colleagues as being too clever by three quarters, by Arabs as a poseur who pretended to know more Arabic than he did, and by Jews as an untrustworthy hypocrite. They were all right. But Storrs was a superb writer, more readable - and far more accurate as a guide through the Anglo-Arab labyrinth - than that genuine poseur, his friend T E Lawrence."
Professor Bernard Wasserstein
President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies
writing in the Times Literary Supplement, 24 April 1998

"...a particularly liberal and enlightened type of the sort of English gentleman who readily served his country in war, but who is particularly fitted to serve her in politics or literature. ... ...even those who differed from him accused him in practice, not of a militaristic lack of sympathy with any of the ruled, but rather with too imaginative a sympathy with some of them."
G K Chesterton
writing in The Daily Telegraph, 24 August 1920

The publication of the Papers of Sir Ronald Storrs on microfilm is a major event for Middle Eastern studies. An important and controversial figure in the Middle East in the first half of the Twentieth Century, Storrs was a renowned expert on Arab and Zionist affairs. So far scholars have only had access to his memoir, Orientations, published in 1937. This showed his powers of observation and his sensitivity to different viewpoints.

Now scholars can have access to the great storehouse of knowledge on which his memoir was based - his extensive diaries, weekly letters home and his correspondence with major figures.
These sources describe the events, and the manoeuvrings behind the events, in Middle Eastern Politics and Diplomacy between 1904 and 1950. Storrs’ own observations are enriched by letters from Amir Abdullah, Allenby, Leo Amery, Gertrude Bell, Norman Bentwich, Bernard Berenson, Violet Bonham-Carter, Curzon, King Faizal, Prince Ibrahim Hilmi, Sharif Hussein, Kitchener, T E Lawrence, Rose Macauley, Milner, Nashab Pasha, Sirri Pasha, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Samuel, Ethel Smythe, Arnold Toynbee, Robert Vansittart, Chaim Waizmann and others.

The papers describe in detail the various troubled areas in which Storrs served:

EGYPT, 1904-1917. Storrs began his career in the Egyptian Civil Service, holding a variety of posts before his appointment as the Oriental Secretary ("the eyes, ears, interpretation and intelligence" of the Consul) under Gorst, Kitchener and McMahon. He was present at the time that the Coptic Premier was assassinated, during the ministerial crisis of 1914, and played a major role in steering Egypt away from Turkish or German alliances during World War I.

WITH LAWRENCE OF ARABIA DURING THE ARAB REVOLT, 1914-1917. Storrs was involved in the planning and diplomacy that preceded the Revolt in the Desert, shuttling back and forth between Sharif Zaid, Aziz al-Masri, Sharif Abdullah, King Faisal and King Hussein. He gathered intelligence in Hejaz, Jeddah, Cairo, Aden, Basra, Baghdad, Muscat, Oman and Kuwait and it was during this period that he became a close friend of T E Lawrence.

JERUSALEM, 1917-1926. From 1917 to 1920 Storrs served as Military Governor in Jerusalem; and from 1920 to 1926 he was Civil Governor of Jerusalem and Judea. He was present at the time of the "Balfour Declaration," during the 1921 riots, and when King Faisal was expelled from Syria. He attempted to unite Arabs and Jews and brought together The Mufti of Jerusalem and Musa Kazem Pasha al Husseini with Theodore Herzl and Chaim Weizmann. He also promulgated the work of the Pro-Jerusalem Society, bringing together hostile groups to safeguard antiquities.

CYPRUS, 1926-1932. Storrs was appointed Governor of Cyprus in 1926 and gained early popularity by engineering the cancellation of the Cypriot share of the Turkish debt. Tensions soon resurfaced, with the Enosis movement pressing for unification with Greece, and both Greeks and Turks protesting at his attempts to keep religion out of education. Anti-British sentiments were symbolised by the burning of Government House in 1931, destroying his library and art collection.

NORTHERN RHODESIA, 1933-1934. At the expiry of his normal term of Governorship in Cyprus, Storrs was appointed Governor of North Rhodesia. He organised the building of a new capital in Lusaka and toured Barotseland, Congo, South Africa and Zanzibar, before retiring due to ill health.

TOURIST, LECTURER AND MIDDLE EAST COMMENTATOR, 1934-1950. After he had regained his health, Storrs pursued an active retirement - writing, lecturing and travelling the world. His diaries describe visits to Tunisia, Canada, USA, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Balkans, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Iran, Libya, Abyssinia, and Sudan. There is a fine World War II diary and a he kept in touch with Arab opinion through meetings with ibn Saud, Aga Khan, King Faisal, Aziz al-Masri, Prince Muhammed Ali, Albert Hourani and King Abdullah.

Storrs’ letters and diaries are frank and informative, free of the certainties of retrospective analysis. They reveal his love of art and antiquities, his sympathies with Arabic views, his belief in the right of Israeli self-determination and his disenchantment with colonialism. They are an essential source for anyone studying Middle East relations, 1904-1950.

His contemporary descriptions of the individuals with whom he served - such as Gorst, Kitchener, Lawrence, and Samuel - will be of great value to scholars interested in these figures. For instance, he described Lawrence as a "disconcerting guest." "We would be sitting and reading on my only sofa: I would look up, and Lawrence was not only not in the room, he was not in the house, he was not in Jerusalem. He was in the train on his way to Egypt." (From his lecture on Lawrence, Section VI, Box 16.) He stayed in touch with Lawrence until the latter’s death after a motorcycle accident in 1935 and many of the later letters reveal Lawrence’s inner turmoil.

The difficulties of his various postings and the impossibility of reconciling certain differences are also clearly delineated. These are exemplified by an anecdote he gives of Lloyd George: "The earliest recognition I received in Europe of the realities of the British officer’s position in Palestine was from the lips of Mr Lloyd George. I had first met him during the Peace Conference, and he was good enough to invite me to breakfast with him alone at 10 Downing Street. Greeting me sternly, he remarked that complaints of me were reaching him from Jews and Arabs alike. I answered that this was all too probable, imagining for a moment from his tone that he was leading up to my resignation. "Well", he said as we sat down, "If either side stops complaining, you’ll be dismissed." A principle which should hearten All Ranks in the Palestine Service for some decades to come."

The Papers of Sir Ronald Storrs are held at Pembroke College, Cambridge and have hitherto been accorded restricted access status. There are 41 boxes in all, arranged in seven sections.

Section I comprises 1 box and covers Storrs’ early life and education at Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Cambridge. Some later material for the period 1911-1916 is featured in his letters to his mother. This Section has been covered in its entirety.

Section II comprises 5 boxes and covers Storrs’ 14 years in Egypt, 1904-1917. This Section has been covered in its entirety.

Section III comprises 5 boxes and covers Storrs’ 10 years in Jerusalem, 1917-1926. This Section has been covered in its entirety.

Section IV comprises 5 boxes and covers Storrs’ 6 years in Cyprus, 1927-1932. This Section has been covered in its entirety.

Section V comprises 3 boxes and covers Storrs’ 2 years in Northern Rhodesia, 1933-1934. This Section has been covered in its entirety.

Section VI comprises 21 boxes and covers the years 1934-1950, after Storrs’ retirement from diplomatic service. They cover his work as a London County Councillor, his war-time experiences and his continuing interest and involvement with the Middle East. We have filmed 12 of the 21 boxes in this section, covering the entirety of his diary, 1934-1950 and all of the material directly relating to the Middle East. We have omitted box 9 which features typed excerpts from the diaries already reproduced; boxes 12-14 which contain his translations from Horace; and boxes 17-21 which contain loose press cuttings and personal papers from his retirement years.

Section VII comprises 1 box and covers photographs and illustrations. This Section has been covered in its entirety. We have also filmed a copy of Orientations (London, 1937).

We are most grateful to Trevor Allan, Librarian at Pembroke College, Cambridge and his assistant, Pam Judd, for their help in filming this archive. Our Detailed Listing has been based on the existing Box Listing, but has been enhanced by the inclusion of a number of extracts from the archive and additional details that have been discovered.

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