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Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British archaeologist, military officer, diplomat, and writer. He was renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia—a title used for the 1962 film based on his wartime activities.
He was born out of wedlock in Tremadog, Wales, in August 1888 to Thomas Chapman (who became, in 1914, Sir Thomas Chapman, 7th Baronet), an Anglo-Irish nobleman from County Westmeath, and Sarah Junner, a Scottish governess (whom Chapman had left his wife and first family in Ireland to cohabit with; they called themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence). In 1896, the Lawrences moved to Oxford, where their son attended the High School and in 1907–1910 studied History at Jesus College. Between 1910 and 1914 he worked as an archaeologist, chiefly at Carchemish, in what is now Syria.
Soon after the outbreak of war he volunteered for the British Army and was stationed in Egypt. In 1916, he was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission and quickly became involved with the Arab Revolt, providing, along with other British officers, liaison to the Arab forces. Working closely with Emir Faisal, a leader of the revolt, he participated in and sometimes led military activities against the Ottoman armed forces, culminating in the capture of Damascus in October 1918.
In the 1920s, T. E. Lawrence, who had hardly dared evoke his rape by Turkish soldiers in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (‘the citadel of my integrity was irrecoverably lost’), was delighted by E. M. Forster’s ‘unpublishable’ tales, ‘The Life to Come’ (1922) and ‘Dr Woolacott’ (1927). It was not the skilful reticence that excited him but the surprising openness: There is a strange cleansing beauty about the whole piece of writing [‘Dr Woolacott’]. [. . .] I must confess that it has made me change my point of view. I had not before believed that such a thing could be so presented – and so credited.
St. Paul's Cathedral, London
After the war, Lawrence joined the Foreign Office, working with both the British government and with Faisal. In 1922, he retreated from public life and spent the years until 1935 serving as an enlisted man, mostly in the Royal Air Force, with a brief stint in the Army. During this time, he wrote and published his best-known work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his participation in the Arab Revolt. He also translated books into English and wrote The Mint, which was published posthumously and detailed his time in the Royal Air Force working as an ordinary aircraftman. He corresponded extensively and was friendly with well-known artists, writers, and politicians. For the Royal Air Force, he participated in the development of rescue motorboats.
Lawrence's public image resulted in part from the sensationalised reporting of the Arab revolt by American journalist Lowell Thomas, as well as from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In 1935, Lawrence was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in Dorset.
Philip Sassoon was said to have lived an openly homosexual life, and T. E. Lawrence was a frequent guest at his homes.
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