v 6.30.00
28 Jan 2022
updated 28 Jan 2022


By Wolfgang Saxon
March 18, 1986

Lieut. Gen. Sir John Bagot Glubb, the legendary Glubb Pasha who built Jordan's Arab Legion into one of the most formidable fighting forces in the Middle East, died yesterday in his native England. He was 88 years old.

He had been the last of the small group of soldiers, statesmen and administrators who maintained British supremacy in the Middle East during the four decades after World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, for a time he became a survivor of the British Empire in the region as well.

A small and courageous man, General Glubb spent 36 years among the Arabs and wielded vast influence among them. Known, to his discomfiture, as a "second Lawrence of Arabia" or the "uncrowned King of Jordan," he finally became an unwanted symbol of British imperialism when the days of the Glubbs were gone.

Dismissed by Hussein

In 1956, the real crowned ruler of Jordan, King Hussein, dismissed General Glubb as his Chief of Staff and commander of the 20,000-man Legion, ostensibly because he was slow in putting Jordanian officers in command of the force. The action was accompanied by Hussein's decision to sever his long-standing ties with London and a nearly disastrous effort to steer the country closer to Arab nationalism.

The experiment proved short-lived because of a Nasserite assassination attempt against the King the next year when Hussein swung in the other direction again and started building up his army with American help.

General Glubb himself, in a 1958 memoir, "A Soldier With the Arabs," ascribed his summary dismissal and expulsion from Jordan partly to misunderstandings among friends and partly to the British-schooled King's desire to assert himself as the master of his own country and demonstrate to the Arab world that he was not the tool of London. The young King, with a playboy reputation still to conquer, had ascended to the throne in 1953 after his father had been declared mentally incompetent to serve.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth, General Glubb then settled in Mayfield, Sussex, living mostly in quiet retirement while pursuing a second career as an author of a steady flow of books with the same enthusiasm and energy he had brought to soldiering among the Arabs. He also remained a convinced champion of the Arab cause.

Reports from London quoted his family as having said that he died peacefully in his sleep at his Mayfield home.

John Bagot Glubb was born April 16, 1897, in Preston, Lancashire, the son of Maj. Gen. Sir Frederic Manley Glubb and the former Frances Letitia Bagot. He was educated at Cheltenham College and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich before being commissioned a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1915.

During World War I, he saw service in France and Belgium and earned his reputation for personal bravery, with decorations to prove it. He also was wounded three times and lost part of his jaw and chin, which later prompted the Arab nickname Abu Huneik, Father of the Little Chin.

After the war, he served in Iraq, newly emerged from Ottoman rule and in the throes of revolts. He lived with the Bedouins, sharing their meals and tents, and readily took to their dress, speech and customs.

In red-and-white headdress and Arab robes, the young, blue-eyed Briton started out with some 100 unruly Bedouins to build up the famous desert patrol of the Arab Legion. The unit, formed in 1921 by Col. Frank G. Peake, grew into a force renowned for toughness and marksmanship.

It brought order and power to the Jordanian realm of King Hussein's grandfather, King Abdullah, whom General Glubb served as a close confidant until the king's assassination in Jerusalem in 1951.

Together with the military repute of his men, General Glubb's own prestige rose as he adjudicated disputes among chieftains, fluent in their dialects, and administered subsidies paid to the Arab Legion by Britain.

During those years, he acquired a genuine fondness for the Bedouins and became one of the old-fashioned British Arabists who found it hard to feel the same affinity for urban Arabs of the modern era.

General Glubb formally became commander of the Legion in 1939 and, during World War II, his Legionnaires suppressed a pro-Axis revolt in Iraq and fought alongside the Free French and British forces in Lebanon and Syria. His own four rows of ribbons included the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership in those campaigns.

During the 1948 Palestine war, his Legion scored the only substantial Arab victory over an Israeli force, which stirred strong feeling against him in Israel. In fact the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi passed a "sentence of death" against him.

Author of 20 Books

Some of the 20 books he wrote since 1956 were autobiographical, including "The Changing Scenes of Life" of 1983. But for the most part, they were well-researched, scholarly histories of the Arabs of ancient and modern times.

With them, he sought to dispel Western misconceptions and prejudices about the Arab world and Islam. Delving deep into the past, he started that series in 1964 with "The Great Arab Conquests," a book on seventh-century Arabia where, he wrote, the Bedouins "established the greatest empire in the world of their day," an empire that was to endure complete for two and a half centuries before gradually shrinking over the next 700 years.

"The Lost Centuries," published in 1966, traced the destiny of the Moslem empires from the 12th century to the European renaissance in the 15th. "The Life and Times of Muhammad" again was an effort to correct clich├ęs he thought had distorted the image of the founder of Islam and his religion.

General Glubb, who was married in 1938 to the former Muriel Rosemary Forbes, is survived by two sons and two daughters.