T E Lawrence

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Portrait of Lawrence by Augustus John
Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888–1935) known as T E Lawrence and commonly referred to as Lawrence of Arabia, was an archaeologist, writer, and military commander, forever associated with the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule during the First World War.

Early life

Lawrence was born in Tremadoc, North Wales, He studied history at Jesus College, Oxford, and then worked as an archaeologist at various sites in the Middle East.

War in the desert

After the outbreak of war in 1913 he joined the British Army and was assigned to the intelligence staff in Cairo. The Foreign Office had a plan to undermine the Ottoman Empire (then allied to Germany, and spanning much of the Middle East) by fomenting insurrection by the various Arab tribes. Lawrence was sent to work with the Arab forces, and successfully persuaded the different tribe to work together and attack the strategically important Hejaz Railway. He was subsequently involved in further stages of the war up to the capture of Damascus, but his dream of an independent Arab state centred on Damascus was frustrated, as the British and French agreed to divide the Middle East between them.

Later life

Lawrence on his Brough Superior motorycle
After the war, Lawrence, by then a full colonel, worked for the Foreign Office and as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office. However in 1922 he joined the Royal Air Force as an ordinary aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross, but was forced out when his false identity was revealed, He then changed his name to T E Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Regiment, but was later able to re-join the RAF, serving until 1935. He then went to live at Clouds Hill, a cottage near Wareham, Dorset, which he had purchased in 1925, but within a few weeks he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Clouds Hill is now owned by the National Trust.

Lawrence's major published work is Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of his wartime experiences.


Lawrence's sexuality has been the subject of much debate, with the suggestion first made by the author Richard Aldington that he may have been gay. He is not known to have had intimate relations with either men or women, but is thought to have suffered psychological trauma as a result of sexual assault by a Turkish governor in 1916.[1]

Recalling life among young Arab men, Lawrence writes:

"The Arab was by nature continent; and the use of universal marriage had nearly abolished irregular courses in his tribes. The public women of the rare settlement we encountered in our months of wandering would have been nothing to our numbers, even had their raddled meat been palatable to a man of healthy parts. In horror of such sordid commerce our youths began indifferently to slake one another’s few needs in their own clean bodies — a cold convenience that, by comparison, seemed sexless and even pure. Later, some began to justify this sterile process, and swore that friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace, found there hidden in the darkness a sensual co-efficient of the mental passion which was welding our souls and spirits in one flaming effort. Several, thirsting to punish appetites they could not wholly prevent, took a savage pride in degrading the body, and offered themselves fiercely in any habit which promised physical pain or filth."[2]

While in the Tank Corps, Lawrence acted out masochistic fantasies by getting a friend to beat him.[3]


  1. http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/telawrence.htm John Godi, "The Disputed Sexuality of T E Lawrence" FirstWorldWar.com
  2. T E Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  3. http://rictornorton.co.uk/lawrence.htm "Dear SIR! The Gay Love Letters of Lawrence of Arabia". Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, edited by Rictor Norton