A History of Lawrence of Arabia

Thomas Edward Lawrence born 16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935, known professionally as T.E.Lawrence, was a British Army Officer who’s  renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in his biography  –  “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”; earned him international fame as “Lawrence of Arabia”, which also, was used for the 1962 film based on his World War 1 activities.

Arab Revolt

At the outbreak of the First World War was a university post-graduate researcher who had for years travelled extensively within the Ottoman Empire european provinces.The Arab Bureau of Britain’s Foreign Office concieved a campaign of international insurgency against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.

With his first-hand knowledge of Syria, the Levant, and Mesopotamia (not to mention having already worked as a part-time civilian army intelligence officer), on his formal enlistment in 1914 Lawrence was posted to Cairo on the Intelligence Staff of the GOC (General Officer Commanding) Middle East. The British government in Egypt sent Lawrence to work with the Hashemite forces in the Arabian Hejaz in October 1916.

During World War 1, Lawrence fought alongside the Arab irregular troops (non-standard military), by the command of Emir Faisal; an extended guerrilla operation against the Ottoman Empire.

He persuaded the Arabs not to make assault the Ottoman stronghold in Medina, but, allow the Turkish army to tie up troops in garrison. The Arabs were then free to direct their attention to the Turks at their weakest point. The Hejaz railway that supplied the garrison. This vastly expanded the battlefield and tied up even more Ottoman troops, who were then forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage. Lawrence developed a close relationship with Faisal, whose Arab Northern Army was to become the main beneficiary of British aid.

In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces including Auda Abu Tayi. On 6 July, after a surprise overland attack; Aqaba fell to Lawrence and the Arab forces.

Lawrence now held a powerful position, as an adviser to Faisal and a person who had Allenby’s confidence.

Battle of Tafileh

The battle of Tafileh was an important  region southeast of the Dead Sea; Arab forces fought under the command of Jafar Pasha al-Askian, this was a defensive engagement, that turned into an offensive route; in the offical history of the war it was descirbed as being “brilliant feat of arms”.   Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership at Tafileh, and was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

In the summer of 1918, the Turks were offering a substantial amount for the capture of Lawrence: £15,000. No Arab had attempted to betrayed Lawrence to the Turks.

The Fall of Damascus

Lawrence was involved in the build-up to capture of Damascus in the final week of the war. Much to Lawrence’s disappointment, and contrary to instructions he had issued, he was not present at the city’s formal surrender, arriving several hours after the city had fallen. In the newly liberated Damascus – which he had envisaged as the capital of an Arab state – Lawrence was instumental in establishing a provisional Arab government under Fasial.

King Faisal’s rule ended abruptly after the battle of Maysaaloun, in 1920.

During the closing years of the war, Lawrence sought, with mixed success, to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests.

In 1918 he co-operated with war correspondent Lowell Thomas, who went to Jerusalem where he met Lawrence, whose enigmatic figure in Arab uniform fired his imagination.

Death

At the age of 46, only two weeks after leaving military service, Lawrence was fatally injured on a motorbike, in Dorset; close to his cottage in Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles, he swerved to avoid them and lost control; thrown over the handlebars.

The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road. A bust of Lawrence can be found in the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of the doctors attending to Lawrence was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, his research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.

 

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