On This Day

T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia

On This Day: Lawrence of Arabia Dies After Crash

May 19, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 19, 1935, T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” died in England from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash.

T.E. Lawrence Dies

British solider, writer and anthropologist Thomas Edward Lawrence, known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia, had retired from military service in March 1935 and moved to a cottage in Dorset, England. On May 13, he was riding his motorcycle near his home and, as he was approaching a dip in the road, he failed to see two young boys on their bikes ahead of him.

Swerving to avoid them, Lawrence lost control of his bike and was thrown forward over the handlebars. He never regained consciousness, and succumbed to his injuries on May 19, dying at the age of 46.

The illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman, Lawrence was finally laid to rest in the crypt of family friends in Dorset, instead of on the Chapman plot. Winston Churchill, for whom he had once served as an advisor, attended his funeral.

The Life of Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence had lived a full and often misunderstood life before the accident—one steeped in study, thought and adventure.

Born in Wales in 1888, Lawrence strayed far from home long before his adventures in Arabia made him a celebrity of his day. Fascinated by archeology from a young age, he wandered far into modern day Iraq, taking part in digs across the region.

Remaining there until fighting broke out in early 1914, Lawrence soon joined the British military to counter the newly formed alliance between Germany and the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence’s role was to advise and supply Arab forces under the auspice of fighting toward Arab independence and nationhood.

Serving alongside Faisal al-Husseini, Lawrence helped lead forces in what became known as the Arab Revolt—an effort to push back Ottoman forces and establish an Arab state stretching from Egypt to Persia.

Documented by American-born radio reporter Lowell Thomas, Lawrence’s adventures soon captured the imagination of British readers, creating a high profile he was never quite able to escape.

“Thereafter, the facts of Lawrence's war-adventures were often obscured by myth,” according to Lawrence scholar Jeremy Wilson. “Nevertheless, when the secret British archives of the Middle East campaigns were finally released in the 1960s and '70s, they showed that Lawrence's service with the Arabs had been no less remarkable than the legend.”

After the end of World War I, Lawrence attended the Paris Peace Talks in support of Arab independence and nationhood. Despite his efforts beside Faisal al-Husseini, Syria, Palestine and Iraq were put under British and French control.

Serving in various advisory positions in the years after World War I, Lawrence always yearned for a return to the field and to adventure, enlisting under aliases to escape attention. His anonymity never lasted long.

Key Players: Faisal al-Husseini and Gertrude Bell

Faisal al-Husseini
Faisal al-Husseini, Prince of the Hashemites, partnered with Lawrence during the campaign to drive Ottoman forces from the region, eventually marching into Damascus alongside the British hero to accept their opponent’s surrender. Faisal dreamed of a pan-Arab land, but after WWI ended he realized the dream’s limitations, and went on to become king of Syria, and later Iraq.

Gertrude Bell
Lawrence’s early archeological efforts brought him into contact with Gertrude Bell, who, through her love of Arab culture, likely influenced him to explore the Middle East further. She would eventually participate in the creation of Iraq.

Reference: “Lawrence of Arabia” film


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