Lawrence of Arabia's exploits 'backed up' by archaeology
Archaeological remains that support Lawrence of Arabia’s account of his World War One exploits have gone on display in the UK for the first time.
In his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, British officer TE Lawrence, documented how he helped lead an Arabic uprising against the Ottoman empire in 1916.
Some historians have cast doubt on his account as much of it was unverifiable.
Artefacts found in Jordan are on display at the National Civil War Centre in Newark, Nottinghamshire.
A trained archaeologist, Lawrence was feted during his lifetime as a hero who helped defeat the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, leading small guerrilla forces.
Neil Faulkner, from the Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP), has spent the last 10 years working in the Jordanian desert, and comparing it with Lawrence’s memoir of leading the Arab revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Read more.
“They kicked me to the head of the stairs, and stretched me over a guard-bench, pommelling me. Two knelt on my ankles, bearing down on the back of my knees, while two more twisted my wrists till they cracked, and then crushed them and my neck against the wood.
To keep my mind in control I numbered the blows, but after twenty lost count, and could feel only the shapeless weight of pain, not tearing claws, for which I had prepared, but a gradual cracking apart of my whole being by some too-great force whose waves rolled up my spine till they were pent within my brain, to clash terribly together.
After the corporal ceased, the men took up, very deliberately, giving me so many, and then an interval, during which they would squabble for the next turn, ease themselves, and play unspeakably with me
At last when I was completely broken they seemed satisfied. Somehow I found myself off the bench, lying on my back on the dirty floor, where I snuggled down, dazed, panting for breath, but vaguely comfortable. I had strung myself to learn all pain until I died, and no longer actor, but spectator, thought not to care how my body jerked and squealed.
I remembered the corporal kicking with his nailed boot to get me up; and this was true, for next day my right side was dark and lacerated, and a damaged rib made each breath stab me sharply. I remembered smiling idly at him, for a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was swelling through me: and then that he flung up his arm and hacked with the full length of his whip into my groin. This doubled me half-over, screaming, or, rather, trying impotently to scream, only shuddering through my open mouth. One giggled with amusement. A voice cried, ‘Shame, you’ve killed him’. Another slash followed. A roaring, and my eyes went black: while within me the core of Me seemed to heave slowly up through the rending nerves, expelled from its body by this last indescribable pang.
By the bruises perhaps they beat me further: but I next knew that I was
being dragged about by two men, each disputing over a leg as though to
split me apart: while a third man rode me astride. It was momently
better than more flogging.
I was feeling very ill, as though some part of me had gone dead that night in Deraa, leaving me maimed, imperfect, half myself. It could not have been the defilement, for no one ever held the body in less honour than I did myself: probably it had been the breaking of the spirit by that frenzied nerve-shattering pain, which had degraded me to beast level when it made me grovel to it, and which had journeyed with me since, a fascinatiоn and terror and morbid desire, lascivious and vicious, perhaps, but like the striving of a moth towards its flame.”
-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Chapter LXXX)
After the war Lt Col. T.E Lawrence (2nd right) accompanied the Arab delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, acting initially as Prince Feisal’s (centre) adjutant, he lobbied leaders to uphold the promises made to the Arabs. However, his fame in Britain courtesy of American journalist Lowell Thomas meant he was regarded by British officials as the enemy within and was effectively barred from the conference. The repercussions were swift. Within the year, the Middle East was aflame, enraged at seeing their Ottoman masters replaced by European ones. The notion of a unified Arab nation gone forever. Tasked to clean up the debacle was the new British Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, who invited Lawrence to act as political advisor in his Middle East Dept. Following the Cairo Conference in 1921, Faisal, deposed by the French in Syria, would be placed on a new throne in British-controlled Iraq and out of the British buffer state of Transjordan, the nation of Jordan would be created, with Faisal’s brother Abdullah at its head.
Lawrence resigned from his post, changed his name and petitioned to re-enlist in the British military as a private. He joined the Royal Air Force under the name of John Hume Ross. When his identity was discovered, he joined the Royal Tank Corps under the name of Thomas Edward Shaw and then returned to the Air Force to serve in England and India for ten years. He left the service in 1935 and moved to Moreton, Dorset where he bought a modest refuge, a little cottage named Clouds Hill, a broken and lonely man. “I imagine leaves must feel like this after they have fallen from their tree and until they die” Lawrence wrote in a letter to a friend. He was known only to his neighbours as Pvt. T.E. Shaw, a reclusive serviceman rarely seen except when riding his Brough motorcycles through the countryside.
In the last 12 years of his life, Lawrence owned seven motorcycles manufactured by George Brough. Handbuilt in Nottingham, they were the fastest in Britain at the time. On 13 May 1935, just two weeks after leaving service, Lawrence tried to avoid two boys on bicycles on the road near his Dorset home, lost control of his motorcycle and slammed into the ground. He died at Bovington Camp Hospital without regaining consciousness a few days later.