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MAY 19th

On this day in history in 1935, died Lawrence of Arabia.  

T E Lawrence was an archaeological scholar, military strategist and author famous for leading the Arabs to revolt during The First World War.  

Lawrence was the son of Sir Thomas Chapman and his mistress, Sara Maden, who masqueraded as Mr and Mrs Lawrence. Lawrence read history at Jesus College, Oxford where he submitted a thesis on crusader castles in Syria and Palestine. Lawrence was sent on an archaeological dig to the Levant, where he spent his spare time socialising with the Arabs, learning their habits and customs.  

At the outbreak of The First World War, Lawrence was working in the Map Department of The War Office. He was assigned to Egypt, where he was engaged in interrogating Turkish prisoners and preparing maps and reports on the deficiencies of the Turkish army. Lawrence persuaded the authorities to send him on a mission to the Arab people, who were subject to the Turks, Germany’s Allies, in the hope of undermining the enemy. 

Lawrence became involved guerrilla leader assisting the Arabs in a revolt against their Turkish masters. He masterminded hit and run operations on railway bridges and supply lines. He became known to the Arabs as ‘Emir Dynamite’.  The British government awarded him the rank of lieutenant colonel for his services.  

After the war, Lawrence petitioned the Paris Peace Conference, appearing in Arab robes, for independence for the Arab people and was dismayed when this was not granted. Disillusioned, Lawrence tried to ‘lose himself’ by enlisting as an aircraftman in the R A F, under the name of John Ross, but his identity was discovered and he was discharged.  

Lawrence enlisted again, this time as a private in the Royal Tank Corps, under the name of T E Shaw, a name he borrowed from his friend George Bernard Shaw.  

Lawrence appeared to be more content as a private soldier than a colonel. During his more modest military career he published Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of his dealings with the Arabs, and an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey and numerous other works.

 Lawrence acquired the name Shaw legally in 1927. George Bernard Shaw created a character, Private Meek based on Lawrence. Lawrence was discharged from military service in 1935. He spoke of a sense of emptiness. He wrote to Nancy Astor saying ‘There is something broken in the works’. Shortly afterwards, Lawrence was involved in a motorcycling accident. He died six days later without regaining consciousness. He is buried in St Nicolas churchyard, Moreton, Dorset.

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