Thomas Edward Lawrence, 1888 - 1935

portrait of T. E. Lawrence
British Army file photo (1915)

Born: 16 August 1888, Tremadog, Caernarfonshire, North Wales, UK
Died: 19 May 1935, Bovington Camp, Dorset, England, UK

Lawrence was the illegitimate son of Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner. Junner herself was illegitimate, and styled herself "Miss Lawrence". Chapman and Junner had five sons in all, without marriage, and presented themselves as "Mr and Mrs Lawrence", hence the name. "Ned" attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys and in 1907 entered Jesus College, Oxford, graduation in 1910. During two summers he toured France by bicycle, studying medieval castles, and the third summer he spent three months walking a thousand miles studying crusader castles in Syria. He began post-graduate work at Magdalen College, Oxford but left to work on digs in Syria and Egypt. In 1914 the British asked Lawrence and a colleague to work on a military survey of the Negev Desert, under the guise of an archaeological survey. Six months after the war broke out, Lawrence enlisted in the British Army. The Foreign Office devised a plan to encourage an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks, and enlisted Lawrence to lead what is now called an "asymmetric" war in the desert. Donning Bedouin dress, "Lawrence of Arabia" led surprise raids that caught the Turks by surprise, constantly blew up their railroads, captured Aqaba, and was involved in the fall of Damascus, ending the campaign with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and attracting a great deal of attention in England. After the war he worked for the Foreign Office and was an advisor to Winston Churchill in the Colonial Office.

When the British signed a treaty with France that he felt broke commitments to the Arabs, Lawrence quietly enlisted in the Royal Air Force under an assumed name, but he was forced out when this was discovered. He then joined the Royal Tank Corps under another name, didn't care for it, and was eventually reassigned to the RAF. He served in India and in Britain, retiring in 1935. An avid motorcyclist, favoring Brough Superior bikes which he felt were the fastest made, he swerved to avoid hitting two bicyclists in Dorset, he died without regaining consciousness six days later. Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who attempted to repair his injuries, devoted extensive research on the effects of motorcycle accidents which resulted in the use of crash helmets.

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