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T. E. Lawrence
(August 16, 1888 - May 19, 1935) U.K.

T. E. Lawrence

Soldier, scholar, adventurer, strategist, and writer


Thomas Edward Lawrence
by name Lawrence of Arabia, also called from 1927 T.E. Shaw

British archeological scholar, adventurer, military strategist, and the writer of The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom (1927), an ambitious work, which combines a detailed account of the Arab revolt against the Turks and the author's own spiritual autobiography. T.E. Lawrence's enigmatic personality has been a source of fascination and his legend has survived many attempts to discredit his achievements. T.E. Lawrence was better known in his lifetime as 'Lawrence of Arabia' because of the part he played in helping Arabs against the Turks during World War I. Young T.E. Lawrence went to the Middle East ostensibly to do archeology, but he was also a spy for the British who knew that war was imminent. He got caught up with the cause of Arab independence when he saw how they were being used by the Allies. Though he fought valiantly on the battlefield and later in political circles, the victorious British and French divided Palestine with no regard whatever for the Arabs, with consequences that bleed to this day. His idealism shattered, Lawrence tried to hide from the fame he had won, even changing his name (to Shaw after his friend playwright George Bernard) and re-enlisting as a private. He died in a motorcycle accident at age 46.

"Many men would take the death-sentence without a whimper to escape the life-sentence which fate carries in her other hand."
(from The Mint, 1955)


T. E. LawrenceLawrence was born 16th. April 1888 in Tremadoc, Carnarvonshire, North Wales. He was the second of five illegitimate sons to Robert Chapman and Sarah Lawrence. His father, an Anglo-Irish landlord, left his wife, who had refused to give a divorce. He set up a new home with Sarah Junner, a woman who had been governess in his household, and whose father was an engineer from Durham. As a child he was called Ned. Ned was brought up mainly in Oxford but during his childhood the family moved around to Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Brittany, before settling in Oxford.

By the age of four Lawrence started to read books and newspapers. He was educated at the Oxford High School and won a Welsh scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford. In the summer of 1909 he started a walking tour in Syria, Palestine, and parts of Turkey. By September he had covered some 1,100 miles. Lawrence visited 36 crusader castles, made careful notes and then wrote a thesis on 'The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture - to the End of the XIIth Century". In 1910 Lawrence obtained a first class degree in history and was awarded a research fellowship for travel by Magdalen College.

T. E. LawrenceFrom 1911 to 1914 he joined the archeological digs of Hittite settlements under the direction of Flinders Petrie at Carchemish on the banks of the Euphrates river, and took part in a survey in Palestine. In Csrchemish he fell in love with the 15-year-old Arab peasant boy, Salim Ahmed, whom he called Dahoum, the site's water boy, Dahoum and taught him photography, to read and write, and to be his assistant. Later they moved in together, and Lawrence made a nude carving of Dahoum and put it on top of their house. Apparently Dahoum was also a wrestler. In the summer of 1913 Lawrence took Dahoum and Sheik Hamoudi (a wild character with whom he had become friends) on a trip to England. The trio got a lot of attention. After Lawrence's death, Hamoudi recalled the one time he was angry with his hero:

Dahoum"When Dahoum and I went to Oxford many wished to photograph us as we sat with him in our customary Arab clothes. After they took a picture, they would come and speak to him and always he would say 'No, No.' One day I asked him why he was always saying 'No, No,' and he laughed and said 'I will tell you. These people wish to give you money. But for me you would now be rich.' And he smiled again. Then I grew angry. Indeed, I could not believe I heard right. 'Do you call yourself my friend,' I cried to him, 'and say thus calmly that you keep me from riches?' And the angrier I grew the more he laughed and I was very wrath at this treachery. At last he said when I had turned away and would no longer look at him, 'Yes, you might have been rich, richer than any in Jerablus. And I - what should I have been?' and he paused watching my face with his eyes. 'I should have been the showman of two monkeys.' And suddenly all my anger died down within me."

When war broke out, Lawrence was away in England. T. E. Lawrence and Dahoum were inseparable until Dahoum disappeared in 1916. They never met again -- Dahoum died of typhus (same as Alexander's Hephaestion!) in 1918. About his war experiences, Lawrence once said "I liked a particular Arab, and thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present." Although there are others to whom the dedicatory poem "To S.A." in Seven Pillars of Wisdom could apply, it most clearly fits Dahoum, that is Salim Ahmed.


To S.A.

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
     and wrote my will across the sky in stars.
To gain you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
     that your eyes might be shining for me.
When we came.

Death was my servant on the road, till we came near
     and saw you waiting:
When you smiled, and in sorrowful envy he outran me and
     took you apart:
Into his quietness

So our love's earnings was your cast off body to be
     held one moment.
Before earth's soft hands would explore your face and
     the blind worms transmute.
Your failing substance.

Men prayed me to set my work, the inviolate house
     in memory of you.
But for fit monument I shattered it, unfinished: and now
The little things creep out to patch themselves hovels
     in the marred shadow
Of your gift.

T. E. LawrenceThe Poet loved Dahoum, and was inspired during the war to gain Freedom for him. During the war, Death never harmed Lawrence, but before the lovers could meet again, Death took the beloved Dahoum. The Poet-Warrior's achievements might be a monument to his departed beloved, but more fittingly, the Arab Freedom for which he fought was betrayed and shattered, and now petty diplomats cobble together misfit political entities in the ruins of that dream of Freedom.

During these years Lawrence acquired the knowledge of the language and customs of the Arab people. After the outbreak of World War I, he was assigned to intelligence as an expert on Arab. In 1916 he joined the forces of the Arabian sheik Feisal al Husayn. In The Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence describes his first meeting with Feisal:

"I felt at first glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek - the leader who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory. Feisal looked wery tall and pillar like, very slender, in his long white silk robes and his brown headcloth... His eyelids were dropped; and his black beard and colourless face were like a mask against the strange, still watchfulness of his body."

Taking on Arab costume himself, he began to work with Feisal to launch a fullscale revolt of the tribes. In 1916 he was captured and subjected to beatings and homosexual rape by the Turkish governor of Deraa.Though he escaped, Lawrence was shattered by the experience. "The citadel of my integrity," he wrote, "had been irrevocably lost."

T. E. LawrenceOn 1st. November 1914 the Ottoman Empire declared war on Great Britain. From this Britain hoped to seize from Turkey from the Arab world, with its oil, and the land passage to India. Lawrence applied to work with the General Staff in Egypt and worked at an office job. However he was sent to negotiate with the Arab leaders and became the only British officer on the Arab front. From this position he could write his dispatches back to British Army headquarters without fear of contradiction.

Lawrence soon became an influental figure in the Arab forces and especially his guerrilla warfare undermined successfully Germany's Ottoman ally. Lawrence was wounded several times in the campaigns - he suffered from dozens of bullet and shrapnel wounds. He took the port of Akaba in July of 1917, and led his Arab forces into the desert, distracting the Turks when the British army began its invasion of Palestine and Syria.

T. E. LawrenceHowever, Lawrence's military victories were shadowed by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which promised Syria to the French and undermined the idea of an Arab homeland in Syria. These years Lawrence later described in his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. A new national hero was born, when the American journalist Lowell Thomas gained success with his lectures in London on Sir Edmund Allenby's invasion of Syria and especially Lawrence's exploits with the Arabs.

After World War I Lawrence became advisor to Faisal I at the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919. He was awarded a fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford in 1919. He was so a research fellow at Oxford and served at the invitation of Winston Churchill as a political adviser to the Middle East Department in the Colonial Office (1921-22).

Lawrences's Seven Pillars of Wisdom recounts his exploits in the Middle East. It went through three major drafts, the first apparently being lost on Reading Station in 1919. He sought literary advice from E. M. Forster. After the manuscript had been carefully read and edited by George Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte it came out in a very limited edition in 1926, with illustrations by Eric Kennington. It became a classic of war literature and he achieved some fame because of it. It was later seen to be less than entirely reliable in the accuracy of some of its details.

T. E. LawrenceAt the height of his fame, Lawrence resigned disgusted from his post and to escape public attention, in 1922 he enlisted in the ranks of the Royal Air Force under the name of John Hume Ross. When his identity was discovered he was discharged, then he joined the Royal Tank Corps under the name of Thomas Edward Shaw. In 1925 he returned to the Air Force as Shaw, serving in England and in India for ten years. Supplementing his meager income, Lawrence translated The Odyssey for an American publisher and wrote a book about his experiences in the RAF. He left the service in 1935 and moved to Moreton, Dorsetshire. He bought a little cottage named Clouds Hill. "I imagine leaves must feel like this after they have fallen from their tree and until they die", Lawrence wrote in a letter.

T. E. LawrenceAfter the war Lawrence was so disillusioned that he refused the Victoria Cross and a Knighthood about to be presented to him by the King, leaving the shocked George V (in his words) "holding the box in my hand." He lived on the masochistic side of asceticism, denying himself the recognition he had earned.

A many-sided genius whose accomplishments precluded the privacy he constantly sought, Lawrence became a mythic figure in his own lifetime even before he published his own version of his legend in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. By the manufacture of his myth, however solidly based, he created in his own person a characterization rivaling any in contemporary fiction.

T. E. LawrenceIn the last 12 years of his life, Lawrence owned seven motorcycles manufactured by George Brough. They were the fastest in the U.K. On May 13, 1935, Lawrence was in an accident near his home - he tried to avoid two boys on bicycles, lost the control of his motorcycle and slammed into the ground. He died at Bocvington Camp Hospital without regaining consciousness on May 19, 1935 at Clouds Hill in Dorset, England..

T. E. Lawrence also inspired the character Private Meek in George Bernard Shaw's Too True to be Good, (1932). He was the subject of Terence Rattigan's play Ross, (1962). His life also formed the basis of David Lean's film, Lawrence of Arabia (1963), directed by David Lean. Peter O'Toole played the title role and almost repeated Lawrence's fatal motorcycle accident when a towing bar from the camera car snapped and sent the trailer-mounted cycle careening toward a ditch. All of the city scenes - Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem - were filmed on sets in Spain. The film won seven Academy Awards.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triump was first published in a limited edition, with illustrations by Eric Kennington. A shortened, popular version, Revolt Ib The Desert, appeared in 1927. The work has been praised as a literary masterpiece and condemned as an example of monstrous self-aggrandizement. Lawrence's other works include autobiographical account of his time in the Royal Air Force, titled The Mint (1936), which have been compared to the work of Ernest Hemingway. The Letters Of T.E. Lawrence appeared in 1938 and was edited by David Garnett.

T. E. LawrenceT. E. Lawrence's sexuality has been a matter of debate. An historian is thwarted because T. E. Lawrence lived in times when men did not talk about their sexuality, particularly if they were soldiers. However, the closeness of his relationship with Dahoum from 1911 to 1916 attracted attention at the time. The BBC radio play Castle of the Star, (1992), most explicitly presented this love.


Source: Jay Spears - http://www.gayheroes.com - and others

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