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T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”)

Thomas Edward Lawrence, 1888–1935

1,654 words

French translation here

T. E. Lawrence was born in North Wales on 15 August 1888. He was the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish baronet. His mother was Scottish. He became a legend in his own time as Lawrence of Arabia — a brilliant active life which ended in a motorcycle “accident” when he was only 46.

Many famous people attended his funeral: statesmen, writers, politicians. Winston Churchill wept and called him “one of the greatest beings of our time.” Lawrence is buried in a simple grave at Moreton in Dorset, which together with his cottage at Clouds Hill nearby has become a shrine to his admirers and all people dedicated to the ideals of British and Arab nationalism.

When told of the tragic death of T. E. Lawrence, Sheikh Hamoudi of Aleppo exclaimed in his grief: “It is as if I had lost a son. Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood, the man; in freedom free; a mind without equal; I can see no flaw in him.”

Lawrence was indeed a very great man, a great thinker and a great military leader and strategist. He planned, organized and led a national rebellion of the Arab peoples and gave them the first opportunity in 400 years to become an important Middle Eastern power. But for Zionism he would have succeeded in his plan. Unfortunately his work was betrayed by Anglo-French and Zionist interests over which neither he nor the liberated Arabs were powerful enough to prevail. As Lawrence himself put it, the opponents of Arab nationalism had bigger guns, that was all.

When war broke out in 1914, Lawrence was 26. He was fluent in Arabic, he had a deep knowledge of Arab tribalism and knew Arabia better than any soldier living. He was drafted into Military Intelligence with the rank of Captain. Several highly independent intelligence operations were given to him. One task was to make a personal approach to the Turkish Commander, Khahil Pasha with a bribe of £1 million to allow Major General Townsend’s besieged force of 12,000 British soldiers at Kut who were starving, to go free. The offer failed and the survivors had to surrender.

The historic role Lawrence was to play as leader of the Arab revolt did not emerge until January 1916 when he became attached to the Arab Bureau in Cairo. By then, spurred on by British suggestions, the Arabs had attempted a revolt against their Turkish overlords by attacking the fortified city of Medina. Sir Henry McMahon, Kitchener, and others in Cairo conceived the idea of harnessing the forces of Arab guerrillas to help defeat Turkey. Acting on initiative, promises were made to the Moslem Arabs of independence if they united and fought alongside the Christian British forces under the direction of British officers. The British Government endorsed the agreement and Lawrence accepted the task of planning and organizing the campaign under the nominal sovereignty of Feisal, Prince of Mecca.

In his epic work on the Arab revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence describes his personal feelings and attitudes; especially his bitterness when his success was undone by the governments of the victorious powers. For Lawrence knew by November 1917, that all the Arab efforts and his own were to be betrayed. The aims of the Balfour declaration and the Sykes-Picot plan were to create a Jewish state in Palestine and partition the rest of Arabia between British and French colonial interests — which meant Rothschild interests. Although the full implications may not have dawned on Lawrence, the mere fact that the French were to get Syria was bad enough; hence his bitterness; but also his self-mortifying determination to entrench the Arabs in Damascus ahead of Allenby and the British Imperial forces at all costs to try to sabotage the conspiracy.

Lawrence at the head of the Arab armies had captured Damascus and installed a provisional Arab government with himself as head, deputizing for King Feisal. Three days later he left Damascus having established a semblance of order over which Feisal could stake his claim. The objective was an Arab State with Damascus as the capital. But soon this was overthrown by the French with considerable bloodshed. France was determined to stick by the Picot demands and annex the whole of Syria and this was done with force which the Arabs were unable to resist. Feisal, having been robbed and deposed of his kingdom in Syria was fobbed-off with Iraq and Lawrence was called back in 1921 to inspire and guide this make-shift policy. So after 400 years of Turkish rule, the Arabs were once again a force to be reckoned with in the modern world, though very much below the power and strength which Lawrence had intended for them.

After his efforts in the Colonial Office in 1921–22, working alongside Winston Churchill, he tendered his resignation once Feisal had been enthroned in Iraq. As a measure of recognition (and to attempt to placate the bitterness he held towards the allies) the British Government offered Lawrence the position of Viceroy of India. He turned it down; and as a measure of his disdain enlisted in the ranks of the Royal Air Force under the name of Ross. He was discovered while working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough and discharged. After all, he had been a full Colonel in 1918. He enlisted again, this time in the Tank Corps — adopting the name of Shaw. In 1925, he succeeded in getting transferred back to the RAF. But he was never given any rank beyond Leading Aircraftsman. Usually, it is said that this was due to Lawrence’s lack of ambition. But the truth is, he was kept down. After all, he had committed the unpardonable offense of spurning the Establishment.

Lawrence moved in a wide circle of influential people, many of whom were associated with the Round Table and other quasi-political groups. During the early thirties, he became friendly with Lord and Lady Astor and the so-called “Cliveden Set,” Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the Times was a life-long friend and sponsored Lawrence’s fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford in 1919–20 in order to write about the Arab Revolt. Dawson, Lionel Curtis, the Mosleys and the Astors were all supporters of the idea of a central European bulwark against Soviet Communism, in the shape of National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy. Equally they were anxious to curtail French military expansionism, especially where this was likely to affect British possessions in the Middle East. To all this, Lawrence was a subscriber, though for security reasons while he was in the RAF he would have had to lie low, being a signatory to the Official Secrets Act. Also, his friendship with people like George Bernard Shaw the Socialist and Henry Williamson the Blackshirt would have been viewed with great suspicion by the authorities. Just exactly what was said or planned at some of these private meetings at which Lawrence was present may never be known.

What is known however is that Lawrence had been under some pressure from Henry Williamson and others to meet the leaders of National Socialist Germany including Hitler.

“The new age must begin Hitler and Lawrence must meet” wrote Henry Williamson. Lawrence had been out of uniform for barely a month when press reporters besieged his cottage, Clouds Hill, Dorset. When was he going to see Hitler? Was he prepared to become a dictator of England? He avoided these awkward questions by leaving his abode and touring the West Country, but not before the press had physically attacked his cottage, throwing rocks at the roof and smashing the tiles. Lawrence had to use his fists on one man. Then the police brought in day and night protection.

On  May 13, 1935, he wheeled out his massive Brough Superior motorcycle for the last time and rode down to Bovington camp to send a telegram in reply to a letter received that morning from Henry Williamson, proposing the vital meeting with Adolf Hitler. The telegram of agreement was dispatched and then on the way back the accident happened. He was just 200 yards from the cottage. At least four witnesses saw it: two delivery boys on bicycles, an army corporal walking in the field by the road and the occupants of a black van heading toward Lawrence. After the crash the black van raced off down the road and the corporal ran over to the injured man who lay on the road with his face covered in blood. Almost immediately an army truck came along and Lawrence was put inside and taken to the camp hospital where a top security guard was imposed. Special “D” notices were put on all newspapers and the War Office took charge of all communications.

Police from Special Branch sat by the bedside and guarded the door. No visitors were allowed. The cottage was raided and “turned over”; many books and private papers were confiscated. Army intelligence interrogated the two boys for several hours. The corporal was instructed not to mention the van as being involved in the accident. Six days later Lawrence died, and two days later an inquest was held under top security which lasted only two hours. The boys denied ever seeing a black van which contradicted the statement by the army corporal who was the principal witness. But no attempts were made to trace the vehicle and the jury gave a verdict of “accidental death.” He was buried that same afternoon.

The following year, 1936, saw the banning of political parades in uniform and the forced abdication of King Edward, another patriot who like Lawrence had to be disposed of by the warmongers who were determined to destroy both Germany and Britain in another European war. And they succeeded.

On Lawrence’s gravestone is carved these words: “The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live.”




  1. Petronius
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    That story of the alleged Hitler meeting and other blackshirt connections has been circulating among right-wing fans of Lawrence for a long time, but is not supported by much evidence. Certainly Lawrence was from the same breed as poet-fascist figures like Jünger or D’Annunzio. “The Seven Pillars” and “The Mint” are remarkable works of literature.

    He always was and remains a mystery, with everybody having his own version of the man and his deeds, be it Robert Graves, Colin Wilson or David Lean, and each only grasped a part of the iceberg. Despite having left a voluminous autobiographical account, his persona remains sphinx-like. Even his physical appearance is unlike any other; few people have a strikingly impressive face like this.

    Strangely enough, he didn’t regard himself as a natural man of action at all; what fascinated him about the Arabs was their uncompromising Black-and-White-beliefs, the visionary powers of the semitic prophets that rose from the desert, while he himself suffered from being a man of a late, “over-complex” civilisation, always thinking, reflecting and doubting. That makes his deeds as a White Mohammed even more astonishing.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      The evidence consists of the testimony of the people who were most closely involved, chief among them Henry Williamson.

      • Petronius
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Most Lawrence scholars dispute whether that is reliable.

        • Greg Johnson
          Posted July 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          Of course they would.

      • Dominion
        Posted July 19, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        Would you happen to know if any copies or transcriptions of the telegram or the letter from Williamson survive? Or other correspondence between Lawrence and Williamson or other BUF/Fascist groups that he may have had contact with?

      • Petronius
        Posted July 19, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        To my knowledge, no. Some letters of his indicate that he rather kept sceptical distance to the BUF. There is certainly a correspondence between him and Williamson surviving. This edition doesn’t mention any political angles at all:

        • Greg Johnson
          Posted July 19, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          This would be an interesting research project for a historically-minded scholar. I would love to publish the findings.

  2. Petronius
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    There is also plenty of evidence that Lawrence’s anonymous low-profile exile in the RAF was of his own choice, and that he had no further ambitions in the outside world. In the early Twenties he was a multimedia star celebritity, yet he never fell for public flattery and choose to abandon worldly fame, partly as an atonement for having failed in his mission, having unwillingly served as a tool for imperialist interests. As much as he was a man of his time, there was something utterly untimely, medieval about him, he was like a crusader who turned into a monk. Action was followed by contemplation. In other times he could possibly have been either an ascetic saint or a great conqueror.

  3. Sandy
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    To read that Lionel Curtis was a supporter of the idea of a central European bulwark against Soviet Communism, in the shape of National Socialist Germany was quite the eye opener and would explain why the author/whistleblower wrote under the pseudonym, anonymous.

    The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were enormously popular before the forced abdication of King Edward and come to think of it so was Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1938.

    Unless the British Secret Service terminates Counter-Currents I would say that you are well on the way to discovering, even at this late date, the driving and continuing need to demonize Hitler and anyone that has a good word for him.

  4. Faustus
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    An Icon worthy of our attention.


  5. Posted July 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea whether what is suggested here is believable or not, but it’s certainly interesting. I’ve commented on this and linked to it here:

  6. Maple Leaf
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    This Man would have made a better subject for a movie! I can see why ‘they’ might have been a little ticked at him! His last words are priceless ala Noel Coward.

  7. Maple Leaf
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Should have added this for a quicker read of the facts. Look who was the best man at his wedding.

  8. anon
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    “That story of the alleged Hitler meeting and other blackshirt connections has been circulating among right-wing fans of Lawrence for a long time, but is not supported by much evidence.”

    Interesting stuff. My reading of the man would be that he had no desire to be the English Duce hence the desire to disappear…however given his fame and name it makes you wonder. Even if he didn’t want it he *could* have done it and that may have been enough for them to kill him.

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