T. E. Lawrence's most famous writing, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, is an autobiographical account of a young British soldier during the first World War. A junior officer in the intelligence offices in Cairo during the start of the war, Lawrence rose to military fame as he applied his knowledge gained as a scholar to a burning drive to unit the Arabs in support of the British cause. The book to this day is an excellent source of information - both physical and cultural - about the Middle East. And of course, this is the same book popularized in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia"
Lawrence's descriptions of the terrain and climate are amazingly accurate, the result of many years of study and personal contact. His descriptions of the individuals and tribal cultures of the Arabs and their neighbors, the Syrians, Turks and Egyptians, are real, even to this day and circumstance - as many of our Service Men and Women have discovered.
His account was disturbing to many - so much "factual" detail covering so many years - instilled a seed of doubt about the authenticity of the information - some wondered if Lawrence had simply aggrandized himself. His book raised questions of ethics and morality, both personal and in the course of international diplomacy immediately after it's release, to the point where Lawrence forswore his commission and joined the enlisted ranks. He was unforgiving - pointing out fault - and praising - where he thought correct, often offending military officers and diplomats who were the subject of his writing.
Undoubtedly a troubled man - and truly an enigma. His five feet, five inches describe a man short in stature, but by all accounts tall in spirit. I choose to remember Lawrence as a hero - and a background source for such diverse aspects as locale and ethnic physical descriptions and European/Arab political intrigue, all still applicable in today's setting for Desert Winds.
The T. E. Lawrence Studies web site has an exhaustive amount of information, to include an authorized biography, and should be visited if you are interested in the details of his life.
Anyone who has served in the "old Army" - of any country - one that included KP and sergeants who used their fists to guide their recruits, must find and read a copy of The Mint, a much shorter book than Seven Pillars of Wisdom. (The Mint is not commonly found in most libraries or bookstores - if you do find a copy for sale, grab it - very rare.) In Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence describes enlisted men quite disparagingly. Later in life he becomes one, first in the Tank Corps, later in the RAF, another puzzling fact of his life. The Mint is his repressed account of the extraordinarily harsh recruit training in the RAF. The first two of three parts describe Lawrence's experiences as an enlisted recruit in the RAF in 1922. The final part describes a later period of his enlisted service life, when he was serving at the RAF Cadet College, Cranwell, in 1925 and 1926. The theme of the book was so distressing that Lawrence agreed to delay the publication. The Mint was finally published in 1955, twenty years after his death.
It is interesting that Jeremy Wilson, in his introduction to The
Mint - I suspect as a partial rationale for why Lawrence enlisted in the RAF
- noted that Lawrence had been quick to see the potential of air power as an
economic way of policing Iraq
To get a feel for Lawrence's disenchantment with the political process, read: 22 August, 1920 - A Report on Mesopotamia by T.E. Lawrence.
For a quick look at the life of Lawrence of Arabia, the following short bio is a compilation from several sources including Encyclopedia.com:
Lawrence, T. E.
In 1916, he joined the Arab forces under Faisal al Husayn and became a leader in their revolt against Turkish domination. His use of small rapid assaults succeeded in tying down large Turkish armies with an Arab force of only a few thousand. After the war he was a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, where he sought in vain to achieve independence for the Arabs. He became (1919) a research fellow at Oxford and served (1921-22) as Middle East adviser to the colonial office, working constantly to promote the formation of independent Arab states.
Lawrence had meanwhile become something of a legendary figure, but in 1922 he enlisted, under the name of Ross, as a mechanic in the Royal Air Force. There have been many interpretations of his search for anonymity: his feeling that he had betrayed Arab hopes for independence or, conversely, the conviction that he had done everything possible for his Arab friends and could do no more; an almost pathological aversion to publicity; or emotional disturbances produced by his war experiences. When Lawrence's identity was discovered (1923), he went into the tank corps; in 1925 he rejoined the air force. He legally adopted (1927) the name T. E. Shaw, reflecting his respect, I believe, for, George Bernard Shaw who Lawrence revered as an author and friend, and Charlotte Shaw, who was a major editorial force and supporter of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence was such an intriguing personality that one can not help but read into his extensive correspondence with Charlotte some degree of romantic interest, adding even more mystery to his life.
In Paris in 1919, Lawrence began to write a narrative of his Arabian adventures, but he lost most of the manuscript and had to rewrite the whole without his notes, which he had destroyed. The result was the celebrated Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which was privately printed and circulated in 1926 although not published commercially until 1935. An abridged version, Revolt in the Desert, appeared in 1927. The Mint, an account of his life in the Royal Air Force, written under the pseudonym J. H. Ross, was published in 1955. Other works are a translation of the Odyssey (1932), Oriental Assembly (papers, ed. by his brother, A. W. Lawrence, 1939), and his letters (ed. by David Garnett, 1938, new ed. 1964).
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An excellent alternative view of Lawrence's exploits is provided by the world-famous reporter, Lowell Thomas, in his book With Lawrence in Arabia, published in 1924. A bit sensational, as reporters tend to be, but interesting, with surprising revelations about Lawrence's family.
Lawrence grew up in an unusual, but probably more common situation than is ever publicly admitted. His father, a well-to-do Welsh landowner named Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman, had an affair with the family's Scottish nanny, an intelligent woman named Sara Junner (apparently Sara was also illegitimate - Junner was her mother's surname). They left the Chapman estate and established the Lawrence family adopting the surname reputedly taken from Sara's birth father, and raised T. E. L., "Ned" and his brothers as well-educated and respected men, each of whom rose to some distinction in the military or government service.
The Lesson: When you read other's comments about Lawrence, be skeptical. Almost every one had some axe to grind over the veracity of his heroics, the sensationalistic declarations about his sexuality, the improbabilities of his returning a Colonel and enlisting in the Royal Tanks Corps and later the RAF as a private - or just disbelief that an extraordinary man such as T. E. Lawrence actually existed.