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Abu Na'am Station on the Hejaz Railway in Saudi Arabia


Countless biographies have been written about Lawrence of Arabia, so it is hardly necessary to go into great detail here on the minutiae of his life. What is clear is that despite the passing of the years, the public's fascination with this complex and intriguing character shows no signs of abating, with new books about him appearing every year - usually promoted with great fanfare, heralding some sensational new piece of information claimed to have been discovered.

For those who would like to read more about T. E. Lawrence, three of the best are:

Lawrence of Arabia  The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrence   Jeremy Wilson  1989

A Touch of Genius: The Life of T.E. Lawrence   Malcolm Brown & Julia Cave  1988

Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E.Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918   James Barr  2012

Lawrence of Arabia with bodyguardat at Aqaba in Jordan in 1917 during the First World War

Lawrence (on foot) at Aqaba in 1917. His 'bodyguard' contained several members of the Ageyl, a tribe that had a long established tradition as traders and was therefore able to traverse the territories of other tribes as the war progressed northwards along the railway

T. E. Lawrence - Short Bio

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia with his brothers

T.E. Lawrence (seated left) with his four brothers. Two of his younger brothers, Will (seated right) and Frank (back left) were killed in France in 1915, losses that led Lawrence to travel to the Hejaz to take up a more active role in the war

Following the death of two of his brothers on the Western Front in 1915, Lawrence became increasingly dissatisfied at being tied to a desk job. ‘They were both younger than I,’ he wrote to his friend E.T. Leeds, ‘and it doesn’t seem right, somehow, that I should go on living peacefully in Cairo.’ In October 1916, at his own request, he received the mission that took him to the Hejaz. His meeting, and subsequent close relationship with Prince Faisal, the third son of Sherif Hussein, provided him with the chance to play a significant role in the Revolt and ultimately to achieve world fame. He quickly realised that by using guerrilla tactics, the Arabs could form an effective force, able to tie down Ottoman troops in the Hejaz. He persuaded Allied High Command in Cairo to send munitions, artillery and money to help the Revolt.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales on 15 May 1888, the illegitimate son of Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish landowner, and Sarah Lawrence, the governess of his four daughters. Having been refused a divorce by his wife, Chapman eloped with Sarah, relinquishing his family lands and inheritance. The couple finally settled in Oxford, where their dark secret lay hidden behind the respectable facade of a normal, church-going, middle-class family life.

Lawrence studied history at Oxford University, and went to the Middle East in 1909 to research Crusader castles. Impressed by his work, David Hogarth, the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, arranged for Lawrence to join him on an archaeological dig at Carchemish, north-east of Aleppo. In March 1911, the two men made their way to the site together, Lawrence travelling for the first time on the Hejaz Railway between Haifa and Damascus. When war broke out in 1914, his knowledge of Arabic made the young archaeologist an obvious choice for a post with British military intelligence in Cairo.

Antonin Jaussen and Lawrence of Arabia at Al Wejh on the Red Sea during the First World War

T.E. Lawrence with the Dominican monk Antonin Jaussen off the coast of Al Wejh on the St. Brieuc in February 1917. Jaussen was one of the earliest travellers on the Hejaz Railway and his accounts are full of rich anecdotal detail

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia in military uniform

After the war, Lawrence enlisted in the armed forces as an ordinary serving man, both in the RAF and the Royal Tank Corps

In the years following the war, the part Lawrence played in the campaign was widely publicised and his deeds became elevated to the status of legend. In an attempt to avoid the full glare of the ensuing celebrity, Lawrence changed his name and disappeared into the ranks of the armed forces as an ordinary serving man. He lived at Clouds Hill, a small and very basic cottage in the Dorset countryside. He was killed in a motorcycle accident near Bovington in 1935, shortly after his discharge from the R.A.F.

In the 1950s, after the release of new information, his reputation suffered a backlash, with writers queuing up to debunk the Lawrence myth. Recently, a more balanced picture has emerged, with both the strengths and weaknesses of this extraordinary and complex character recognised.

Countless biographers and historians have picked over his every word and deed, and controversy still surrounds many of the incidents of his life. His exploits on the Hejaz Railway however, remain beyond dispute. A deeply resourceful military leader, with exceptional powers of physical endurance, his ability to understand and identify with the  Arab tribes enabled him to influence the course of events in one small corner of the war to the advantage of the Allies. Still capable of inspiring the interest and fascination of a wide and diverse audience, in the final analysis it was perhaps his skill with the pen, and in particular his classic account of the war in the desert, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which has assured him a permanent place in the annals of British military history.

Lawrence of Arabia with Prince Faisal and Captain Rosario Pisani at the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919

Lawrence (3rd from right) accompanied Prince Faisal to the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919. The French Captain R. Pisani (in the cap) played a major role in wartime attacks against the Hejaz Railway

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia with camels

Although it was in the deserts of Arabia that Lawrence found world fame, it is the classic account of his wartime campaign Seven Pillars of Wisdom that has assured him a permanent place in the annals of British military history.

T. E. Lawrence - Timeline

  •  1888       Thomas Edward Lawrence was born at Tremadog in North Wales on 16th August.

  •  1896        Lawrence's family moved to Oxford.

  •  1907        He read history at Jesus College, Oxford University.

  •  1909        Travelled to Syria and Palestine to study Crusader castles for his thesis.

  •  1910        Graduated from Jesus College with first-class honours.

  •  1911-14    Worked as an archaeologist at the Hittite settlement of Carchemish in Syria.

  •  1915         Moved to Cairo as a Second Lieutenant to work in Military Intelligence.

  •  1915         Lawrence's two younger brothers, Will and Frank, were killed on the Western Front.

  •  1916        He travelled to Basra in Iraq, where he participated in the negotiations for the seige of Kut.

  •  1916        In October, he met Prince Faisal, with whom he established a good understanding.

  •  1917-18   Took part in a guerrilla style campaign against the Hejaz Railway and its Ottoman defenders.

  •  1917        In July, captured the port of Aqaba with an Arab force under Sherif Nassir and Auda abu Taye.

  •  1918        Participated in the Allied capture of Damascus from Ottoman forces.

  •  1919        Accompanied the delegation of Prince Faisal to the Paris Peace Conference.

  •  1919        In May, he survived an air crash in Rome, in which the pilot and co-pilot were killed.

  •  1919        Lowell Thomas' lantern show on Lawrence played to full houses in New York and London.

  •  1920-21   Served as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office.

  •  1921        Attended the Cairo Conference with Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and Prince Abdullah.

  •  1922        Completed Seven Pillars of Wisdom about his wartime exploits (It wasn't published until 1926).

  •  1922        In August, he enlisted in the RAF under the assumed name of John Hume Ross.

  •  1923        After discharge from the RAF, he joined the Tank Corps with the name of T.E. Shaw.

  •  1925        He was readmitted into the RAF and stationed at Cranwell.

  •  1926        His classic account of the campaign in the desert Seven Pillars of Wisdom was published.

  •  1935        He retired from the RAF to Clouds Hill, his small cottage in the Dorset countryside.

  •  1935        On 19th May, Lawrence died of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident six days earlier.

TE Lawrence of Arabia during the First World War in Arab headdress

Lawrence was given Arab headdress by Prince Faisal, who encouraged him to wear native clothing so that he would not stand out amongst his followers

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia at Centocelle Air Base in Rome in 1919

Photo of Lawrence, taken by Harry-George Mayhew at Centocelle Rome Air Base in May 1919, after he survived a plane crash in which both the pilot and co-pilot were killed 

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell at the Cairo Conference in Egypt in 1921

Group of delegates, including Churchill, Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, in front of the Sphinx and the Pyramids at the March 1921 Cairo Conference

Lawrence Bell Cairo.jpg

Lawrence & Gertrude Bell at the Cairo Conference in 1921 

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