Born on 16 August 1888, Thomas Edward Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) was instrumental in formulating a strategy of guerilla warfare against the Ottoman military forces in the Hejaz during the First World War.
Better known aspects of his life might therefore include orchestrating the attacks against the Hejaz railway.
T.E. Lawrence and the Hashemites
Lawrence had been sent from the Arab Bureau, Cairo, to the Hejaz region of western Arabia. Here he linked up with Faisal, the second son of Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca. Hussein was the head of the Hashemite dynasty who was encouraged by Britain to launch a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. In return the Hashemite dynasty expected the creation of an independent Arab Kingdom as discussed in the Hussein-McMahon letters, 1915-16. The map below indicates the areas to be ruled by the Hashemite dynasty: Hussein and his sons Abdullah and Faisal.
Lawrence helped to foment this revolt which started in June 1916 undertaking intelligence work including producing maps of the Hejaz.
In regards to the maps of north-west Arabia the Arab Bulletin reported that he had produced new information about Wadi Sirhan including the preponderance of poisonous snakes and that ‘all existing maps leave much to be desired’ although ‘Miss Bell’s was good … but too slight.’
Faisal and Lawrence: onwards from Aqaba to Damascus
IOR/L/PS/12/2160B, f 50 1 'AKABA (Transjordan)' (this photograph created in 1937)
Faisal and Lawrence successfully took Aqaba with a surprise attack from land and sought to establish Faisal in Damascus. However, France evicted him following the Sykes-Picot agreement secretly signed by Britain and France which undercut the Hussein-McMahon correspondence. In compensation Faisal was installed by Britain as King of Iraq; that monarchy was overthrown in 1958. For strategic reasons Britain chose not to intervene when Ibn Saud conquered the Kingdom of Hejaz in 1925 but the dynasty lives on in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
From Arabia to Dorset
It is possibly lesser known that disillusioned with the post-war peace settlement, Lawrence sought anonymity and signed up under an alias to the Tank Regiment in Dorset.
He renovated a dilapidated cottage at Clouds Hill. It was here that he wrote his autobiographical account of his involvement in the 1916-18 ‘Arab Revolt’, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
He was later to spend time in Afghanistan but thereafter returned to rural Dorset indulging his love for speed on his Brough Superior motorbike. On 19 May 1935 he came round a bend and to avoid two boys on bicycles skidded off the road. He died a few days later and was buried in the cemetery of St Nicholas Church, Moreton.
Lawrence, who in his quest for adventure had travelled the world from Aqaba to Afghanistan, found his final resting place under the Dorset clouds.
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
James Barr, Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18 (Bloomsbury, 2006)
Rodney Legg, Lawrence of Dorset: From Arabia to Clouds Hill (Dorset Publishing Company, 2005)