On this day in history : 19th May 1935 – Army Officer and writer T.E. Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, dies of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident six days before….

T.E. Lawrence -Public domain

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales on the 16th of August 1888…. His parents never married but lived together under the name of Lawrence…. His father was actually Thomas Chapman (later to become Sir) and was married to Edith…. He had ran off with Sarah Judder, the governess of his daughters and together they had five sons, of which Thomas Edward Lawrence was the second….

Lawrence obtained a first class honours degree at Oxford in modern history – and began a career in archeology…. In 1911 he was part of an archeological expedition in Syria and also worked in Egypt and Palestine…. He came to know the customs of the people and gained knowledge of their languages….

At the outbreak of World War I he was selected for an intelligence role, as Liaison Officer, on account of his Arabian expertise…. In 1916 he gave his support to the Arab revolt against the Turks; he became advisor to Prince Faisal, who led the uprising…. It was at this time that he began to dress as an Arab….

He became an influential presence in the Arab forces…. He was successful in his campaigns against the Ottomans, who were Germany’s ally…. but he was badly injured on several occasions…. In July 1917 he led his Arab forces into the desert, acting as a decoy to distract the Turks whilst the British army invaded Palestine and Syria…. By the time the war was over he had risen to the rank of Colonel and had become recognised as a national hero….and known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’….

After the War he worked to support independence for the Arab states at the Versailles Peace Conference and also served Winston Churchill as advisor at the Colonial Office on Middle Eastern Affairs…

Emil Faisal’s party at Versailles 1919 – Public domain

As a writer he published three major works – the most significant being ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ – his account of the Arab Revolt….

Wanting a life of obscurity he joined the RAF under the assumed name of John Hume Ross…. However, a Press leak revealed his true identity and he was released from the RAF…. He changed his name to T.E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps as a Private but was unable to find happiness there – so returned to the RAF…. He remained as Aircraftsman Shaw until he retired from service in February 1935….

He then went to live in his cottage retreat ‘Clouds Hill’, near Wareham in Dorset…. He had bought it as a place to escape to – just three rooms – a ‘book room’, ‘music room’ and an ‘eating room’…. Clouds Hill is now owned by the National Trust and is a museum dedicated to T.E. Lawrence….

Having always been a keen motorcyclist Lawrence had owned a series of Brough Superior motorcycles….and was riding his SS100 when fatally injured in a road accident…. He was close to Clouds Hill when he came to a dip in the road – which obscured his view of two boys on bicycles…. He had to swerve to miss them – lost control of his bike and was thrown from it…. He died of severe head injuries at Bovington Camp Hospital six days later…. A memorial marks the site of the crash…. Lawrence was just 46-years-old and had only left military service three months before….

Lawrence on his Brough Superior SS100 – he called it ‘George V’…. – Public domain
Memorial near to the crash site – Image credit: Dr Gaz Wild – Public domain
Lawrence, 1919 – Taken by Lowell Thomas (photographer) – Public domain

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