Joyce, Pierce Charles (1878–1965), British army officer, was born 23 June 1878 in Galway, the son of Pierce John Joyce, JP and high sheriff of Galway, and Selina Henrietta Joyce (née Mahon), the daughter of Charles Mahon, JP and DL of Co. Mayo; there was also a younger brother who died in infancy and an older sister who survived. The family's main residence was the impressive Mervue House in Co. Galway. Joyce's grandfather, Pierce Joyce, was in 1839 one of the founders of the Galway fox-hunt, known locally as the Galway Blazers, while both grandfather and father had been instrumental in founding the Galway races in 1869. Joyce hunted, fished and shot from an early age and, by his early twenties, stood at an impressive 6 ft 4 in tall.
He attended Beaumont College, Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, and in 1900 was commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st battalion of the Connaught Rangers. He got his first taste of military service during the Boer war (1899–1902), during which he was caught in an ambush on 31 May 1902 and badly wounded; he and the other wounded had to wait twenty-four hours before a mule-drawn ambulance wagon was brought up to evacuate them to the nearest hospital. Joyce was awarded both the Queen's and the King's South Africa medals and was promoted to full lieutenant.
He served on home station with his battalion until 1907 and, on being promoted to captain, applied for an appointment to the Egyptian army. This was not an uncommon career choice for young officers, as a secondment to the Egyptian army came with increased pay and allowances and promotion. Joyce was appointed to the local rank of bimbashi, or major, to command two companies of the 11th Sudanese Regiment. Stationed at Mongalla on the White Nile on the Sudanese–Ugandan border, he was on one occasion in 1909 attacked by a rogue elephant. Joyce impressed his fellow officers, and Sir Reginald Wingate, governor general of the Sudan and sirdar of the Egyptian army, would later state that he was 'one of the best officers he had in the old Gippy army' (Ranger Magazine (July 1965), 6–7).
In 1914 Joyce was in Cairo on the general staff and, during 1915, served as an intelligence officer during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. On the outbreak of the Arab revolt in 1916, he took part in initial planning sessions on how to facilitate this rebellion of Hashemite Arab tribesmen against the Ottoman empire. At a meeting in Port Sudan in September 1916, he first met T. E. Lawrence ('of Arabia'). Joyce's first impressions of Lawrence were not promising and Joyce later remarked that he had 'an intense desire to tell him to get his hair cut and that his uniform and dirty buttons sadly needed the attention of his batman' (Lawrence collection, MS Eng.c.6752).
In October 1916 it was apparent that the Arab armies needed reinforcement and Joyce was dispatched to Arabia in command of 450 Egyptian troops. His initial impressions of the Arab leaders, their forces and the Arab situation in general, were not encouraging, and he realised their perilous position as they were put under increasing pressure by Turkish columns advancing out of Medina towards their bases in the coastal port towns of Rabegh and Yanbu. In the months that followed he came increasingly into contact with the Emir Faisal, whose Arab army, which was based around Wejh, gradually increased in size and received new equipment. Promoted to brevet lieutenant-colonel, Joyce was tasked with building up the Arab regular army of which Faisal's contingent was designated as the Arab Northern Army. Joyce was appointed as the commanding officer of Operation Hedgehog, the British military mission to this Arab force. His duties included training both officers and men, and acting as paymaster (large sums of gold coin were paid to the troops each month) and quartermaster. He also took part in combat operations. The capture of Wejh in January 1917 facilitated plans to mount a campaign against the strategically important Hejaz Railway. During the next two years, Joyce, Lawrence and numerous other British, French and Arab officers carried out a series of attacks on the railway to ensure that the Turkish forces in the Arabian peninsula could not operate effectively. Joyce later commented on the railway demolitions: 'The noise of dynamite going was something grand and it is always satisfactory finding one is breaking things' (Murphy (2008), 44).
Following Lawrence's spectacular capture of Aqaba in July 1917, the Arab Northern Army was moved by ship and based itself at that port. Joyce remained in command of Hedgehog and was in charge of the new base of operations. In mid-October 1917, he temporarily captured the Crusader castle at Shobak from the Turks and, although he did not remain in possession, noted its strategic importance for later operations on the historic King's Highway that runs roughly north–south along the coast to Amman in modern-day Jordan. In March 1918 he was invalided to Cairo having come down with pneumonia, but returned to Aqaba, and was awarded a DSO for his service in the revolt. In the summer months he concerned himself with supply issues but also travelled northwards along the King's Highway.
As preparations began for the final stages of the Allied campaign in the Middle East, the Arab Northern Army was assigned a crucial role in holding down the Turkish left flank, while the main Allied army under General Allenby carried out a series of offensives along an axis that ran parallel to the coast. For Joyce, this meant a huge workload as he organised supply depots to facilitate the movement of the Arab army, laid out temporary airfields to allow the limited RAF support to move with the army, and continued raids on the railway in order to prevent Ottoman forces reinforcing their army in Palestine.
Alongside his military duties, Joyce also found himself increasingly concerned with the political fallout caused by the revelation of details of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour declaration. Knowledge of both of these developments had reached the Arab army by November 1917 and caused widespread discontent, effectively stalling operations. The capture of Jerusalem in December 1917 and the Arab victory at Tafila in January 1918 went some way to improving morale. Arab doubts remained, however, and during 1918 Joyce emerged as the main 'handler' of Arab leaders, in particular Faisal. In an effort to end Arab misgivings, it was arranged that Faisal should meet the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in June 1918. Joyce acted as intermediary and interpreter and left the only eyewitness account of this meeting, which took place at Wahida on 4 June 1918.
As the Ottoman army began to collapse in late 1918, the Arab Northern Army played a crucial role, continuing its raids in enemy rear areas and constantly threatening the Turkish left flank. In the final phases of the war, Joyce commanded the mobile force of armoured cars and lorried artillery that accompanied the Arab army while also organising the support of RAF aircraft. Faced with the collapse of its forces across this front, the Ottoman government sued for peace and an armistice came into effect on 31 October 1918.
Joyce's war had really ended on reaching Damascus in October. A complicated power struggle began as Faisal contended to be recognised as king of Syria. It would be easy to dismiss Joyce as a professional officer who had no real sympathy for Arab aspirations, yet he was well aware of these and in a 1919 memorandum predicted that there would be problems if the Arabs were not given some level of independence in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. He was wary of the influence of both the French and the Zionist lobby, and stated that 'the Arabs argue, and with good reason, that having fought for the principles of freedom and independence, that it is the country's (Syria's) undisputed right to control their future' (Joyce Papers, M/39). As with Lawrence, his advice was not heeded. He attended the peace conferences in 1919 before returning to Egypt where, in 1920, he was appointed as deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster general of the Egyptian army and as governor of Luxor.
In 1921 Joyce married Colin (Coleen) Murray (d. 1968), the daughter of General R. H. Murray. She shared his passion for horses and dogs and was a woman of considerable property, owning an estate in Hampshire and later inheriting another property in Berkshire. Having attended the Cairo conference of 1921, Joyce was next posted to Baghdad, where he served as military advisor to the government of his wartime ally, now King Faisal I of Iraq. He was given the local rank of full colonel and set about raising, training and equipping the new Iraqi army. His mission was to recruit officers (many of them former Ottoman officers) and men and train them to an effective level, facilitating a British withdrawal from the country which would allow the Iraqis to govern their own country. During this posting, both he and his new wife became features of the Baghdad social scene and at soirées thrown by Gertrude Bell and hunt meets. Joyce left Baghdad and went on the half-pay list in 1927, retiring from the army in 1932. For his service in the Middle East he was made a CBE and also awarded the French Légion d' honneur and the Arabian Order of the Nahda, 2nd class.
In retirement he divided his time between Galway and his wife's properties in England. He had been given an Arab thoroughbred by Faisal on leaving Iraq, and regularly showed it at the annual RDS horseshow. Both he and Colin became prominent breeders of Saluki hounds, effectively reintroducing the breed to Ireland. Joyce also maintained a friendship with Lawrence and an intermittent correspondence began that continued until Lawrence's death. They corresponded while Lawrence was writing drafts of Seven pillars of wisdom and Joyce sat for a portrait that was included in the 1926 edition.
In 1936, the year after Lawrence's death, Joyce announced his intention to write an account of the revolt and contacted former associates such as Colonel Cyril Wilson and Sir Reginald Wingate for access to their papers, but did not complete the project. In April 1939 and July 1941 he recorded broadcasts for the BBC, the transcripts of which survive and serve as an insight into his relationship with Lawrence; at the bottom of the transcripts Joyce wrote: 'I have just given these few notes on my personal contact with Lawrence, that mass of contradictions. I shall never meet a greater character or more inspiring leader' (Lawrence collection, MS Eng.c.6752).
In the 1950s Joyce and his wife sold Mervue House and another property and spent a quiet retirement at their residence, Firtrees, at Crowthorne in Berkshire. During 1963 he was contacted by scholars from Israel who were cataloguing Chaim Weizmann's papers and, despite poor health, still managed to reply to some of their queries. He died at home in Berkshire on 1 February 1965 and was buried in the local graveyard in Crowthorne.
Joyce has remained a largely overlooked figure in the history of the Arab revolt and also post-war developments in the Middle East. Like many others who served in that theatre of operations, he has been overshadowed by the 'Lawrence of Arabia' myth, but was recognised by contemporaries as a major figure in the campaign. Lawrence referred to him frequently in Seven pillars of wisdom and General Harry Chauvel, the renowned Australian cavalry general, wrote: 'Joyce was the organiser of the only fighting force of any real value in the whole of the Arab Army and I always thought that he had more to do with the success of the Hejaz operations than any other British officer' (letter of 1 Jan. 1936, St Antony's College, Oxford, Middle East Centre Archives, DS244-4).
Joyce's medals are held by the Imperial War Museum. A collection of his wartime letters is held in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College, London. Further letters are held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and St Antony's College, Oxford. There are photographs of Joyce in the Imperial War Museum and also among various collections of Lowell Thomas photographs.