T. E. Lawrence — Steel Chariots of the Desert

Steve Newman Writer
6 min readMay 26, 2022

“It pleased me greatly to learn that T. E. had chosen my Rolls tender for his future plans…” S.C. Rolls

A Rolls Royce Silver Ghost armoured car. Image: Auto Week & Pinterest

The above quoted S. C. Rolls was not the C. S. Rolls (Charles Rolls), who, born in 1877, was the co-founder of the Rolls Royce Motor Company in 1906. He died in 1910 after crashing an aircraft he was test flying.

No, S. C. Rolls was one Sam Cottingham Rolls, born in 1893 who, in the years before WWI, started the Rolls Motor Company (a one-man automobile repair garage in Northampton), which had no connection with the Rolls Royce company.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Sam joined the Armoured Car Section of the Royal Navy Air Service, where he quickly rose to the rank of a Petty Officer. In 1915, Sam and his Armoured Car Section, were loaned to the Army and shipped to Egypt, where it was renamed the Armoured Car Brigade, under the command of the buccaneering Duke of Westminster. The brigade fought alongside an assortment of British units (bolstered by Italian, New Zealand, Australian and Sikh infantry) put together to fight the Senussi Arabs (an armed religious sect, and an ally of the Ottoman Empire) in Libya and the Egyptian deserts. It was to be a bloody campaign lasting the best part of two years.

An Armoured Car Brigade in Egypt in 1915. Image: tumblr

It was also something of an ill-balanced campaign, with the Senussi forces often fighting on horseback with drawn swords, albeit alongside a well-armed and uniformed infantry, bulked-out by a rag tag of turbaned irregulars using, at best, antique rifles who, nevertheless, had become renowned as guerrilla fighters (something Lawrence made a note of) winning easily against the Italians. But this time they were set against well-armed and well-trained allied infantry, with the additional fire power of the armoured cars. That the Senussi held on so long against the allies, says something about their fighting spirit. The Turks could, should, have used them more wisely.

An armoured car quells a group of Senussi. Image: longlongtrain.co.uk
Steve Newman Writer

Playwright and Freelance Writer…