Lawrence of Arabia

Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO tragically died 19 May 1935  six days after being fatally injured in an accident while riding his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to the cottage where he lived, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.

He was born 16th August 1888. known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, he was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title which was used for the 1962 film based on his World War I activities. From 1907 to 1910 Lawrence studied history at Jesus College, Oxford. He became a practising archaeologist in the Middle East, working at various excavations. In 1908 he joined the OUOTC (Oxford University Officer Training Corps), undergoing a two-year training course. Before the outbreak of World War I, Lawrence was co-opted by the British Army to undertake a military survey of the Negev Desert while doing archaeological research. In the summer of 1909 Lawrence set out alone on a three-month walking tour of crusader castles in Ottoman Syria. Lawrence graduated with First Class Honours after submitting a thesis entitled The influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture — to the end of the 12th century, based on his field research in France, notably in Châlus, and in the Middle East.

On completing his degree in 1910, Lawrence commenced postgraduate research in mediaeval pottery with a Senior Demy, a scholarship, at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he abandoned after he was offered the opportunity to become a practising archaeologist in the Middle East. In December 1910 he sailed for Beirut, and went to Jbail (Byblos), and then went to work on the excavations at Carchemish, in northern Syria, where he worked for the British Museum. As the site lay near an important crossing on the Baghdad Railway, knowledge gathered there was of considerable importance to the military. From November 1911 he spent a second season at Carchemish and continued making trips to the Middle East as a field archaeologist until the outbreak of the First World War.

In January 1914, he was co-opted by the British military as an archaeological smokescreen for a British military survey of the Negev Desert in order to search for an area referred to in the Bible as the “Wilderness of Zin”; along the way, they undertook an archaeological survey of the Negev Desert. The Negev was of strategic importance, as it would have to be crossed by any Ottoman army attacking Egypt in the event of war, Lawrence also visited Aqaba and Petra. Upon the outbreak of World War One in 1914 Lawrence was working as a university post-graduate researcher and had travelled extensively within the Ottoman Empire provinces of the Levant (Transjordan and Palestine) and Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq) under his own name. As such he became known to the Turkish Interior Ministry authorities and their German technical advisors. Lawrence came into contact with the Ottoman–German technical advisers, travelling over the German-designed, -built, and -financed railways during the course of his researches. Due to his first-hand knowledge of Syria, the Levant, and Mesopotamia, He was posted to Cairo on the Intelligence Staff of the GOC Middle East. The British government in Egypt sent Lawrence to work with the Hashemite forces in the Hejaz in October 1916

During the war, Lawrence fought with Arab irregular troops under the command of Emir Faisal, a son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, in extended guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence obtained assistance from the Royal Navy to turn back an Ottoman attack on Yenbu in December 1916.Lawrence’s major contribution to the revolt was convincing the Arab leaders (Faisal and Abdullah) to co-ordinate their actions in support of British strategy. He persuaded the Arabs not to make a frontal assault on the Ottoman stronghold in Medina but allowed the Turkish army to tie up troops in the city garrison. The Arabs were then free to direct most of their attention to the Turks’ weak point, the Hejaz railway that supplied the garrison. This vastly expanded the battlefield and tied up even more Ottoman troops, who were then forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage. Lawrence developed a close relationship with Faisal. In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action against the strategically located but lightly defended town of Aqaba. On 6 July, Aqaba fell to Lawrence and the Arab forces. After Aqaba, Lawrence was promoted to major. In January 1918, the battle of Tafileh, an important region southeast of the Dead Sea, was fought using Arab regulars under the command of Jafar Pasha al-Askari which was described as a “brilliant feat of arms” and Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership at Tafileh, and was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and described as a very inspiring gentleman adventurer.

Lawrence was also involved in the build up to the capture of Damascus in the final weeks of the war, the newly liberated Damascus had been envisaged by Lawrence as the capital of an Arab state and he was was instrumental in establishing a provisional Arab government under Faisal. Faisal’s rule as king, however, came to an abrupt end in 1920, after the battle of Maysaloun, when the French Forces of General Gouraud, under the command of General Mariano Goybet, entered Damascus, destroying Lawrence’s dream of an independent Arabia. Immediately after the war, Lawrence worked for the Foreign Office, and also as as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office. In 1919 his flight to Egypt crashed at the airport of Roma-Centocelle. The pilot and co-pilot were killed; Lawrence came off with a broken shoulder blade and two broken ribs. He continued serving in the RAF based at Bridlington, specialising in high-speed boats. Lawrence was also a keen motorcyclist, and, at different times, had owned seven Brough Superior motorcycles. His seventh motorcycle is on display at the Imperial War Museum. Sadly In May 1935, At the age of 46, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935. The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.

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