Sir John Bagot Glubb

The British soldier John Bagot Glubb (1897-1986) effectively created and commanded the Arab Legionmilitary force in Transjordan and Jordan from 1939 to 1956; subsequently he wrote books and lectured widely.

John Glubb was born on April 16, 1897, at Preston, Lancashire, and educated at Cheltenham College and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He then entered the army as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. In World War I he served on the Western front and was wounded three times.

When Glubb arrived in the Middle East in 1920, the area was emerging from centuries of control by the Ottoman Turks and possessed an uncertain and turbulent atmosphere. Glubb quickly earned a reputation as a friend of the Arabs. He lived among the Bedouins, studying their customs and learning their language. The native police force that he organized played a large part in bringing order to the troubled frontiers of Iraq.

In 1926 Glubb resigned his British commission and became an administrative inspector for the government of the new state of Iraq. After serving brilliantly for 5 years in this capacity, he was transferred to the British mandate of Transjordan and attached to the Arab Legion, the small army of that state. As the commander of the Desert Patrol of the Legion, he ended the Bedouin raids and restored order to the area. In 1939 Glubb was appointed commander of the Arab Legion. He remained a devoted friend to the Arab people and tried to introduce European skills and methods to them. He never, however, ceased to respect Arab traditions; indeed, he became captivated by the customs of these people, whose dress and speech he had adopted and whose confidence he had won.

In World War II Glubb's Arab Legion gained a reputation for outstanding and spirited performance. Shortly after the British mandate ended and Transjordan became independent (it was renamed Jordan in 1949), riots broke out between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine, and the Arab Legion was called on to help maintain order. Later, in 1948, when the Arab League (of which Transjordan was a member) declared war on Israel, the Arab Legion spearheaded the attack.

Glubb's position with the Jordanian government became uneasy, however, and in 1956 Jordan's young king, Hussein, shocked the Western world by dismissing him. Glubb then returned to England and was knighted. His publications include Story of the Arab Legion (1948), A Soldier with the Arabs (1957), Britain and the Arabs (1959), War in the Desert (1960), The Great Arab Conquests (1963), The Empire of the Arabs (1963), The Course of Empire (1965), The Lost Centuries (1967), Syria, Lebanon and Jordan (1967), and Short History of the Arab Peoples (1968).

Further Reading on Sir John Bagot Glubb

The most useful book on Glubb is his own A Soldier with the Arabs (1957), which is in part autobiographical. The volume underscores Glubb's own work with the Arabs and explains why he was dismissed in 1956. Also recommended are George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (1939); Sir Reader W. Bullard, Britain and the Middle East, from the Earliest Times to 1950 (1951); and Neijla M. Izzeddin, The Arab World: Past, Present, and Future (1953).