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Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (1888 – 1935)

As the last writer in this series, I chose T E Lawrence, who was born in the 19th century and died well before the Second World War. Yet his legacy is perhaps more significant today in practical terms than that of any of the others I wrote about. Like many of them, he was involved in intelligence work during war, but this was in the First War, when there was more scope for individual initiatives. In his case these initiatives led to active involvement in the Arab revolt against the Turks, which resulted in a complete redrawing of the map of the Middle East.

He is thus famous more for what he did than what he wrote, and indeed two others in this series wrote about him, Robert Graves a biography and Terence Rattigan a screenplay that was sadly never turned into film.

It also seemed desirable to include something in the nature of historical writing, and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom , Lawrence’s account of his contribution to the Arab revolt, is a fascinating account of the region and its peoples, and how they transformed themselves into a nation after centuries of quiescence. Sadly the final result was a number of nations, of which only one was independent, and the story of a historical awakening is also the story of political sidelining. Though Lawrence himself did not analyse the political implications of what occurred, his disappointment with the outcome was clear. The story of his life afterwards is one of increasing disillusionment, and his efforts to lose himself suggest a soul at odds with the Establishment he served so well in his youth.


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Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2011
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