The myth surrounding Thomas Edward
Lawrence, the British Army officer whose World War I exploits earned him fame
as “Lawrence of Arabia” extends even as far as his date of birth; historians
are in dispute as to the exact day, but do agree it was either the August 15 or
Today, 125 years after his birth, Lawrence
is best known for his role as a British liaison during the Sinai and Palestine
Campaign of World War I, and the near simultaneous Arab revolt against the Ottoman
Turkish rule. Lawrence’s exploits were largely unheralded by the end of the war,
so unknown was he that even the Turks couldn’t pick him out of a crowd. It was
only when American war correspondent Lowell Thomas published photos and footage
of “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1919, that the public became transfixed, and the British
officer, archaeologist, orientalist and author was catapulted into the realm of
Born in Wales, where he spent his childhood
before moving to Oxford with his family, Lawrence became an academic success,
graduating with a first class degree from Oxford University.
In 1909, he visited Syria and Palestine to complete
his thesis, and in 1910 he set sail for Beirut. It was in this period that Lawrence
developed fell in love with the culture, language and life of the Middle East,
a development that the British viewed as an advantage. In January 1914, Lawrence
was asked by the British to provide a military survey of the Negev Desert - a
location of strategic importance that would have to be traversed in any Ottoman
attack on Egypt.
After World War I broke out in August 1914,
Lawrence was dispatched to the British Intelligence offices in Cairo. According
to the BBC, he was part of an expedition to northern Sinai, carrying out
reconnaissance using the cover of scientific research.
In October 1916, Lawrence was sent to work
with the Hashemites in what would become Saudi Arabia. It was four months after
the outbreak of the Arab Revolt, an uprising encouraged by the British as it
weakened their Turkish enemy, and the Hashemites were key to the revolt.
Lawrence became liaison officer and adviser
to Feisal, son of the revolt's leader Sherif Hussein of Mecca. The BBC claims Lawrence's
mission was to help the Arabs achieve a military success that would lead to post-war
In June 1917, the Arab forces won a major
victory, seizing Aqaba in Jordan and making their way north. After the fall of Ottoman-controlled
Damascus in October 1918, Lawrence left for London to lobby for Arab
independence – something that failed in the wake of the break-up of the Ottoman
"All men dream: but not equally ...
the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act on their dreams, to make
them possible. This I did,” Lawrence famously wrote.
“His guerrilla campaigns behind enemy lines
and, in particular, his capture of Aqaba are the stuff of legend,” says BBC
historian Phil Carradice. “But with peace came the inevitable betrayal of the
Arab nations that Lawrence loved and, disenchanted by British Imperial designs,
he left the Middle East to return home.”
Lawrence returned to the UK to work with
Winston Churchill as an adviser on Arab affairs, and spent much of his time
negotiating with leaders in the Middle East. He left the post in 1922, and
secretly enlisted in the Royal Air Force in an apparent bid for anonymity.
During the 1920s and 30s, he served both in
the RAF and the British Army Tank Corps under different aliases, but the press continued
to plague him. He left the RAF in February 1935.
On May 19, 1935, Lawrence crashed his Brough
Superior SS100 motorcycle not far from his cottage in Dorset. He died soon
after, at the age of 46, far from the Middle East he loved.Like JPost.com on Facebook and get all our updates direct to your news feed!
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