The Holocaust Historiography Project

The Enigma of Lawrence

Desmond Hansen

T. E. Lawrence was born in North Wales on 15 August 1888. He was the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish baronet. His mother was Scottish. He became a legend in his own time as Lawrence of Arabia-a brilliant active life which ended in a motorcycle “accident” when he was only 46. Many famous people attended his funeral: statesmen, writers, politicians. Winston Churchill wept and called him “one of the greatest beings of our time.” Lawrence is buried in a simple grave at Moreton in Dorset, which together with his cottage at Clouds Hill nearby has become a shrine to his admirers and all people dedicated to the ideals of British and Arab nationalism.

When told of the tragic death of T. E. Lawrence, Sheikh Hamoudi of Aleppo exclaimed in his grief: “It is as if I had lost a son. Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood, the man; in freedom free; a mind without equal; I can see no flaw in him.”

Lawrence was indeed a very great man, a great thinker and a great military leader and strategist. He planned, organized and led a national rebellion of the Arab peoples and gave them the first opportunity in 400 years to become an important Middle Eastern power. But for Zionism he would have succeeded in his plan. Unfortunately his work was betrayed by Anglo-French and Zionist interests over which neither he nor the liberated Arabs were powerful enough to prevail. As Lawrence himself put it, the opponents of Arab nationalism had bigger guns, that was all.

When war broke out in 1914, Lawrence was 26. He was fluent in Arabic, he had a deep knowledge of Arab tribalism and knew Arabia better than any soldier living. He was drafted into Military Intelligence with the rank of Captain. Several highly independent intelligence operations were given to him. One task was to make a personal approach to the Turkish Commander, Khahil Pasha with a bribe of 1 million pounds to allow Major General Townsend’s beseiged force of 12,000 British soldiers at Kut who were starving, to go free. The offer failed and the survivors had to surrender.

The historic role Lawrence was to play as leader of the Arab revolt did not emerge until January 1916 when he became attached to the Arab Bureau in Cairo. By then, spurred on by British suggestions, the Arabs had attempted a revolt against their Turkish overlords by attacking the fortified city of Medina. Sir Henry McMahon, Kitchener, and others in Cairo conceived the idea of harnessing the forces of Arab guerillas to help defeat Turkey. Acting on initiative, promises were made to the Moslem Arabs of independence if they united and fought alongside the Christian British forces under the direction of British officers. The British Government endorsed the agreement and Lawrence accepted the task of planning and organizing the campaign under the nominal sovereignty of Feisal, Prince of Mecca.

In his epic work on the Arab revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence describes his personal feelings and attitudes; especially his bitterness when his success was undone by the governments of the victorious powers. For, Lawrence knew by November 1917, that all the Arab efforts and his own were to be betrayed. The aims of the Balfour declaration and the Sykes-Picot plan were to create a Jewish state in Palestine and partition the rest of Arabia between British and French colonial interests-which meant Rothschild interests. Although the full implications may not have dawned on Lawrence, the mere fact that the French were to get Syria was bad enough; hence his bitterness; but also his self-mortifying determination to entrench the Arabs in Damascus ahead of Allenby and the British Imperial forces at all costs to try to sabotage the conspiracy.

Lawrence at the head of the Arab armies had captured Damascus and installed a provisional Arab government with himself as head, deputizing for King Feisal. Three days later he left Damascus having established a semblance of order over which Feisal could stake his claim. The objective was an Arab State with Damascus as the capital. But soon this was overthrown by the French with considerable bloodshed. France was determined to stick by the Picot demands and annex the whole of Syria and this was done with force which the Arabs were unable to resist. Feisal, having been robbed and deposed of his kingdom in Syria was fobbed-off with Iraq and Lawrence was called back in 1921 to inspire and guide this make-shift policy. So after 400 years of Turkish rule, the Arabs were once again a force to be reckoned with in the modern world, though very much below the power and strength which Lawrence had intended for them.

After his efforts in the Colonial Office in 1921-22, working alongside Winston Churchill, he tendered his resignation once Feisal had been enthroned in Iraq. As a measure of recognition (and to attempt to placate the bitterness he held toward the allies) the British Government offered Lawrence the position of Viceroy of India. He turned it down; and as a measure of his disdain enlisted in the ranks of the Royal Air Force under the name of Ross. He was discovered while working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough and discharged. After all, he had been a full Colonel in 1918. He enlisted again, this time in the Tank Corps-adopting the name of Shaw. In 1925, he succeeded in getting transferred back to the RAF. But he was never given any rank beyond Leading Aircraftsman. Usually, it is said that this was due to Lawrence’s lack of ambition. But the truth is, he was kept down. After all, he had committed the unpardonable offense of spurning the Establishment.

Lawrence moved in a wide circle of influential people, many of whom were associated with the Round Table and other quasi-political groups. During the early thirties, he became friendly with Lord and Lady Astor and the so-called “Cliveden Set,” Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times was a life-long friend and sponsored Lawrence’s fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford in 1919-20 in order to write about the Arab Revolt. Dawson, Lioned Curtis, the Mosleys and the Astors were all supporters of the idea of a central European bulwark against Soviet Communism, in the shape of National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy. Equally they were anxious to curtail French military expansionism, especially where this was likely to affect British possessions in the Middle East. To all this, Lawrence was a subscriber, though for security reasons while he was in the RAF he would have had to lie low, being a signatory to the Official Secrets Act. Also, his friendship with people like George Bernard Shaw the Socialist and Henry Williamson the Blackshirt would have been viewed with great suspicion by the authorities. just exactly what was said or planned at some of these private meetings at which Lawrence was present may never be known.

What is known however is that Lawrence had been under some pressure from Henry Williamson and others to meet the leaders of National Socialist Germany including Hitler.

“The new age must begin …Hitler and Lawrence must meet…” wrote Henry Williamson. Lawrence had been out of uniform for barely a month when press reporters besieged his cottage, Clouds Hill, Dorset. When was he going to see Hitler? Was he prepared to become a dictator of England? He avoided these awkward questions by leaving his abode and touring the West Country, but not before the press had physically attacked his cottage, throwing rocks at the roof and smashing the tiles. Lawrence had to use his fists on one man. Then the police brought in day and night protection.

On 13 May 1935, he wheeled out his massive Brough Superior motorcycle for the last time and rode down to Bovington camp to send a telegram in reply to a letter received that morning from Henry Williamson, proposing the vital meeting with Adolf Hitler. The telegram of agreement was dispatched and then on the way back the accident happened. He was just 200 yards from the cottage. At least four witnesses saw it: two delivery boys on bicycles, an army corporal walking in the field by the road and the occupants of a black van heading toward Lawrence. After the crash the black van raced off down the road and the corporal ran over to the injured man who lay on the road with his face covered in blood. Almost immediately an army truck came along and Lawrence was put inside and taken to the camp hospital where a top security guard was imposed. Special “D” notices were put on all newspapers and the War Office took charge of all communications. Police from Special Branch sat by the bedside and guarded the door. No visitors were allowed. The cottage was raided and “turned over,” many books and private papers were confiscated. Army intelligence interrogated the two boys for several hours. The corporal was instructed not to mention the van as being involved in the accident. Six days later Lawrence died and two days later an inquest was held under top security which lasted only two hours. The boys denied ever seeing a black van which contradicted the statement by the army corporal who was the principal witness. But no attempts were made to trace the vehicle and the jury gave a verdict of “accidental death.” He was buried that same afternoon.

The following year, 1936, saw the banning of political parades in uniform and the forced abdication of King Edward, another patriot who like Lawrence had to be disposed of by the warmongers who were determined to destroy both Germany and Britain in another European war. And they succeeded.

On Lawrence’s gravestone is carved these words: “The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live.”

Bibliographic information
Author: Desmond Hansen
Title: The Enigma of [Thomas Edward] Lawrence
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Fall 1981
Issue: Volume 2 number 3
Location: page 283
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.