Lawrence, T. E. (Called Lawrence of Arabia, 1888–1935)
LAWRENCE, T. E. (called Lawrence of Arabia, 1888–1935)
British soldier, adventurer, and writer, Thomas Edward Lawrence was born on 16 August 1888 at Tremadoc, in Wales, and died in 1935. Early in life, Lawrence became interested in archaeology, which he then studied at Oxford. Under the influence of Professor George D. Hogarth, he specialized in the history of the Middle East. In 1909, after a study trip to Palestine and Syria, he wrote a brilliant thesis on medieval military architecture. Between 1910 and
1914 he participated in numerous archaeological expeditions in Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, led by Professor Hogarth, and accompanied by Leonard Woolley and R. Campbell Thompson. Lawrence was associated with a number of archaeological discoveries, including some at the site of Karkemish, in Syria. During his travels he formed close ties with members of nationalist movements, particularly with the councils of Armenian and Kurdish revolutionary forces, and he wrote a number of reports on the political situation in these countries.
In January 1914, in his capacity of reserve officer, Lawrence joined the cartographic service of the British army, where he was responsible for establishing an accurate cartography of the Sinai and Syria. In December he was assigned to the military and political intelligence section (MPI), based in Cairo, and headed by Ronald Storrs. In May 1916, still in Cairo, he was assigned to the Arab Bureau, headed by his former director of archaeological research, Professor Hogarth. On 6 June, Sherif ibn Husayn unleashed the "great revolt" against the Ottoman Empire, placing his Arab troops under the command of his three sons, Ali, Abdullah, and Faisal. In the following October he participated actively in numerous Arab attacks against Turkish troops, allowing the right flank of the British expeditionary force in Palestine to disengage and open the way to the liberation of a part of the Hijaz. Promoted to the rank of major, Lawrence was recommended for the British Order of Bath, and cited for the Order of the French Army. On 11 December 1917, he accompanied Edmund Henry Allenby in the official entrance of British troops into Jerusalem. From January to September 1918, he led a few of the attacks against Turkish positions defending the Hijaz railroad. On 1 October 1918, after entering Damascus in triumph, alongside of the Emir Faisal, Lawrence decided to leave the Middle East and return to England. During January 1919, he accompanied Emir Faisal, who had come to Versailles, at the peace conference. At this meeting, he ardently defended the Arab points-of-view. On 9 March, the American journalist, Lowell Thomas, organized a conference on Lawrence, whom he called "Lawrence of Arabia," and introduced him to the American and British public. In May, Lawrence went to Egypt, to be demobilized. Returning to London, he stayed with Sir Herbert Baker, where he worked on his Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
In March 1921, Lawrence became Arab affairs counselor in the British ministry of colonies, headed by Winston Churchill, and, in this capacity, participated in the Cairo conference that year. In October, he was named counselor to Prince Abdullah of Transjordan. On 3 July 1922, confronted by the hostility of Emir Husayn and his sons, who accused him of not having kept his promises of the creation of a "Great Arab empire," he left Transjordan, where he was replaced for a time by Harry St. John Philby. Disappointed in the British policies in the Middle East, Lawrence resigned after having refused the post of British high commissioner in Egypt, offered by Winston Churchill. In the following September, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a simple soldier, under the borrowed name of John Hume Ross. Obliged to quit aviation in January 1923 because of his fame, which annoyed certain military leaders, he was able to join a tank unit, under the name of T.
E. Shaw. Three years later, his major work, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, published in a limited edition, was very successful. He composed a shortened version of it called Revolt in the Desert.
In spite of the success of the so-called Arab Revolt of 1916–1918, Lawrence, who narrated his adventures in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, thought that his battle for an "Arab cause" was "lost" because "the old men came out again and took from us our victory" in order to "re-make [the world] in the likeness of the former world they knew." Unable to cope with his fractured self and with the historical necessities of British imperialism, Lawrence ultimately stopped believing in a meaningful Arab national movement. He rejoined the air force in 1925 and served as an enlisted man until 1935.
In March 1935, Lawrence resigned definitively from the army to retire to a cottage in Clouds Hill, in Dorset. On the following 19 May, he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Other that the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence was also author of The Womb, Crusader's Castle, and Letters.