Sykes, the Man who Created the Modern Middle East

General Sir Mark Sykes, the man who drew lines on a map of the Ottoman Empire (with the significant contributions of Gertrude Bell) and created the modern boundaries of the nations in the Middle East.

During WWI Sykes and French Diplomat Picot came up with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) governing the liquidation of the Turkish Empire - a division of the spoils between France and Britain, at the conclusion of the war.

Here is something of assistance, a link to a royalty-free version of TE Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom from a digital archive in Australia. (Here's the link)

Could digging up a general in a lead-lined coffin save the world?

By MICHAEL HANLON (Daily Mail, UK) April 11, 2007

An extraordinary life: Sir Mark Sykes, soldier, MP and diplomat

Many people live extraordinary lives. Many have extraordinary deaths. But very, very few can hope to save the world 90 years after they have passed away.

One such man was the remarkably colourful Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes, one of those larger-than-life Victorians who lived in an era when great men really could, and did, change the shape of the world.

Sir Mark Sykes was a baronet, a diplomat, a father of six children, Tory MP, a senior general in the Army and a skilled negotiator.

A close friend of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and Chaim Weizmann - who went on to become the first President of Israel - Sir Mark championed Zionism, was a friend of the Arabs and had a real passion for all things that were Turkish.

His commanding achievement in life was when, aged just 39, he skilfully directed the carve-up of the defunct Ottoman Empire after the World War I armistice in 1918 - representing the British government at the Paris Peace Conference.

It was his hand which drew the arrowstraight lines that criss-cross the deserts of Arabia to this day, delineating frontiers.

Sykes is also credited with helping to create the modern state of Israel, as well as championing the causes of the Armenians.

But it was his death that was to bring Sir Mark what may be his longest-lived legacy.

In an extraordinary development, it is now thought that this eccentric genius may hold the key - 88 years after he died - to averting what many scientists believe is the biggest medical threat facing the world today: a bird-flu pandemic.

During the Paris peace talks, which led to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Sir Mark contracted a nasty fever, from which he died, at the Hotel Lotti in Paris, on February 16, 1919.

In fact, Sir Mark may have been one of the very last victims of the terrible epidemic which had swept the world for more than two years, the so-called Spanish Flu. This pandemic killed far more than were slaughtered in the Great War.

Sir Mark would have been just one of the 50 million or so whose lives prematurely ended (and so often in their prime; the flu struck mostly those in their middle years), but for one thing.

After his death, the remains of Sir Mark were buried in a leadlined coffin. This was a standard, if expensive, protocol for bringing bodies back from abroad. He was buried in St Mary's Church, Sledmere, in Yorkshire, and slowly passed into history.

But thanks to his leadlined coffin, scientists believe that there is a good chance Sir Mark's body will have been extremely well-preserved.

A team led by Professor John Oxford, renowned virologist at Queen Mary University of London, and one of the world's leading experts on bird flu, has applied for permission to exhume Sir Mark's body in the hope that they will be able to extract samples of the virus that killed him.

"We have permission from the relatives. We have permission from the bishop," Professor Oxford says.

"All we need now is permission from the Home Office and from the Health & Safety Executive. We hope to start work in six months."

It is thought that if permission is given - which looks likely - it will be the first time a body has been exhumed after so long for medical research purposes.

The body of Sir Mark's wife, Edith, is buried in the same grave, although her remains will not be disturbed.

The plan to exhume Sir Mark's body is more than a gruesome academic exercise. It is now

known that the Spanish Flu which swept the world just as the flames of World War I were dying was an avian influenza - one of the viruses so worrying to the world's health chiefs today.

By isolating and examining any viruses still present in the body, Professor Oxford's team hope to learn more about the workings of this virus, named H1N1, and how it may be genetically related to the current bird flu germ, H5N1, which has been terrifying the world in recent years.

"He died very late in the epidemic, when the virus had almost burnt itself out," Prof Oxford adds.

"We want to get a grip on how the virus worked both when it was at its most virulent and when it was coming to the end of its life."

Considering the 1918 pandemic was the most destructive plague in modern times, we know little about the workings of the virus that caused it.

There are some poor-quality samples of the virus in labs, some extracted from the tissues of bodies found in the Greenland tundra a few years ago.

It is hoped that Sir Mark's remains will massively increase the amount of pristine material for the scientists to work on.

It is probably only a matter of time, Professor Oxford and most virus experts believe, before the current avian flu virus, H5N1, or one of its relatives mutates into a form that is both virulent and transmissible between human beings.

One thing we know about the 1918 epidemic is that it had nothing to do with Spain. Instead, it probably arose in the misery and deprivation of the War, either among American servicemen or in northern France.

Some scientists believe the flu began in the fishing town of Etaples, on the French Channel coast. There, a huge camp received injured soldiers from the front.

In fact, some epidemiologists even claim to have identified the first victim of the pandemic, a Tommy from New Malden, called Harry Underwood.

He had been gassed and shot, before being transferred to Etaples to recuperate. Thousands of men lived there in cramped, unhygienic conditions ripe for an epidemic.

Crucially, Etaples lies directly under one of the world's greatest bird migration routes, and it is known that the recovering soldiers and medics shot thousands of possibly bird-flu-infected wildfowl for food.

One of Sir Mark's descendents is his great-granddaughter, the author Plum Sykes. "It is rather grisly, but it is a great story," she says.

"It is such a shame he died so young. People said he could have gone on to great things.

"He was a modest man, but I think he would have been very proud if he'd known what an amazing thing he could achieve after his death."

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