T. E. Lawrence was born Thomas Edward Lawrence, August 16, 1888, in Tremadog, Wales, out of wedlock.
Lawrence’s father, Thomas Chapman, left his wife to live with his lover, Sarah Junner. They called themselves Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and remained together until Chapman died. Together they had five sons.
The family moved several times, and as a child Lawrence grew to love the outdoors.
As a teenager, Lawrence developed a love of archeology and studied to become a professional archeologist.
World War I
Lawrence was working in the Middle East when war broke out. He joined the British Army in the autumn of 1914. His knowledge of the area was of great strategic value.
He was sent to Hejaz (an area that is today part of Saudi Arabia) with the task of convincing the Arabs to side with the British and fight against the Ottoman Empire. He also served as an interpreter. Lawrence began fighting alongside the Arabs, using guerrilla warfare tactics, in what is known as the Arab Revolt.
“He had been wounded numerous times, captured, and tortured; had endured extremities of hunger, weather, and disease,” Encyclopedia Britannica says of Lawrence in 1918, “had been driven by military necessity to commit atrocities upon the enemy; and had witnessed in the chaos of Damascus the defeat of his aspirations for the Arabs in the very moment of their triumph, their seemingly incurable factionalism rendering them incapable of becoming a nation.”
Lawrence believed the Arab nations deserved independence, a belief not shared by the British and French governments. This belief was so strong, Lawrence turned down a knighthood.
“Believing that the British government had betrayed the Arabs by reneging on a promise of independence,” History explains, “Lawrence quietly told the befuddled monarch [King George V] that he was refusing the honor before turning and walking out of the palace.”
Two of Lawrence’s brothers were killed in action in 1915.
Lawrence died May 19, 1935, in Dorset, England, from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
In 1919, a photographic exhibition of the Middle Eastern Front was displayed in London featuring the work of war correspondent Lowell Thomas. The public loved seeing photos of Lawrence in traditional Arab clothing.
Lowell relaunched the show with an emphasis on Lawrence of Arabia.
Lawrence was a writer in addition to a career military man. He published several works, including several on his wartime experiences.
Updated: 20 October 2020