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Monday, 21 December 2015

T. E. Lawrence

Thomas Lawrence was born on August 16, 1888 in Tremadog, Caernarfonshire (now Gwynedd), Wales in a house named Gorphwysfa, now known as Snowdon Lodge.

His unmarried parents were Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo Irish landowner of private means and Sarah Junner, a Scottish governess for whom Chapman left his tyrannical wife and legitimate daughters. His father had four other sons in quick succession with her.

In the summer of 1896, Lawrence's parents moved with their five sons to a terraced house, 2 Polstead Road in Oxford, where they lived under the names of Mr and Mrs Lawrence until 1921.

From 1907 to 1910, Lawrence studied History at Jesus College, Oxford. He graduated with First Class Honors largely on account of a highly-acclaimed thesis entitled The influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture – to the end of the 12th century.

Lawrence first went to the Middle East in 1909 when he traveled to Syria as part of his Oxford studies.


On leaving university, Lawrence commenced a postgraduate degree in medieval pottery, which he soon abandoned after he was offered the opportunity to become a practicing archaeologist in the Middle East.

Between 1910-14 Lawrence took part in archaeological expeditions in Syria and Mesopotamia to excavate the ancient Hittite empire along the Euphrates river.

When World War 1 began, Lawrence was rejected for active service as he was too short. He found a place in the war office and was transferred to the intelligence service in Egypt.

In 1916, Lawrence was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was sent to help the Emir Felsel of Iraq in a revolt against the Turks in Syria and Palestine. There he re-organized the Arab army, which he practically commanded.

Lawrence run a guerrilla operation, blowing up many bridges and trains, and succeeded in uniting the disparate Arab world. The Turks offered a reward of £20,000 for the capture of "El Oransi", destroyer of engines".

In 1917 Lawrence captured Aquaba after a 600-mile march and led their triumphal entry into Damascus in 1918 but failed to secure Arab independence. However, the Battle of Aqaba was the key battle that ended a 500-year Ottoman rule over Greater Syria.

The rogue soldier was known as Lawrence of Arabia and he lived up to his name an Arab's flowing robes and a chieftain's headdress.

Lawrence used a fleet of Rolls Royces to transport his Arabian nationalist guerrillas when he led his forces against the Turks in Syria,

Lawrence was famous for riding a camel. However, he suffered from profound motion sickness when on board the humped dromedary.

He was awarded the DSO and Order of the Bath & recommended for a VC.

On the subject of the war, Lawrence said: "I liked a particular Arab, and thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present."


In August 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross. At the RAF recruiting center in Covent Garden, London, the officer in charge, Captain WE Johns (the author of the Biggles books) rejected Lawrence's application as he correctly believed that "Ross" was a false name. He was also malnourished and bore the scars of self-inflicted beatings. Lawrence admitted that this was so and that the documents were false which he had provided. He left, but returned some time later with an RAF messenger carrying a written order for Johns to accept Lawrence.

Lawrence was forced out of the RAF in February 1923 after being exposed. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in the same year.

Lawrence was unhappy in the Royal Tank Corps and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925.

Lawrence was assigned to a remote base in British India in late 1926, where he remained until the end of 1928. He was forced to return to Britain after rumors began to circulate that he was involved in espionage activities.

Lawrence was offered a job as a nightwatchman at the Bank of England in 1928. He turned it down.


Lawrence's literary hero was Thomas Hardy.

Lawrence wrote his account of the Arab revolt during World War 1, 7 Pillars Of Wisdom, while staying at 14 Barton Street Westminster in London. For a while he attracted attention by climbing into his own house instead of using the front door.

On one occasion, Lawrence took a train trip from London to Oxford carrying with him eight of ten volumes of his book in a bag. While changing stations at Reading he left them in a refreshment room, never to be found. His friends persuaded him to rewrite the book the following year.

The title comes from the Book of Proverbs, 9:1: "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars" (King James Version)

Seven Pillars of Wisdom was originally privately published in a limited edition in 1926. Lawrence vowed not to take any money from his book as it was the result of his war service, so the sale price was one third of the production costs. This left him in substantial debt.

Within weeks of Lawrence's death in 1935, the book was published for general circulation


Lawrence was 5ft 6ins with a slight build. He had a long face, reddish blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes.

There is no reliable evidence for consensual sexual intimacy between Lawrence and any person. His friends have expressed the opinion that he was asexual.

Lawrence was close friends with EM Foster, GB Shaw and particularly Shaw's wife, Charlotte. He generally preferred men's company to women and felt at home in the ranks.

Noel Coward wrote to Lawrence of Arabia when he was Aircraftsman TE Shaw no 338171. Knowing his shyness, he began "Dear 338171, may I call you 338?"

Lawrence's favorite composers were Beethoven and Mozart and the British soldier and writer was also very fond of Elgar's 2nd Symphony.

Lawrence rode a Brough motorbike, the Rolls Royce of bikes. He owned seven in succession, his last one being a hand built Brough 1932 SS 100 model Blue Mist. Pulling onto his motorcycle and hurling it into top speed was Lawrence's way of relaxing.

He submitted articles to Motor Cycle magazine.


After leaving the RAF in 1935 Lawrence retired to a former Gamekeeper’s cottage at Clouds Hill near Moreton, Bovington, Dorset.

Returning home from Bovingdon Barracks to his cottage, Lawrence was involved in a motorcycle accident two miles from Clouds Hill. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boy cyclists; he swerved to avoid them, lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars. Lawrence was not wearing a helmet and suffered serious head injuries that left him in a coma; He died six days later in hospital at Bovington Camp on May 19, 1935.

One of the doctors attending Lawrence in hospital was the neurosurgeon, Hugh Cairns. As a result of Lawrence's death, Cairns began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries and his research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.

Mourners at Lawrence's funeral included Winston Churchill, Siegfried Sassoon and EM Forster.

The 5ft 6in Lawrence was portrayed by the 6ft 2in Peter O'Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The David Lean classic epic did win the Oscar for best movie.

“I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time... We shall never see his like again. His name will live in history. It will live in the annals of war... It will live in the legends of Arabia.” Winston Churchill speaking of Lawrence.

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