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The Real Lawrence of Arabia True Story : Last of Heroes

The real Lawrence of Arabia

Monday morning May 13, 1935 in Bowington, a small town in Dorset, in the south of England. A motorcycle accident - a Brough Superior SS 100 registered GW 2275 - has just taken place: the rider remains on the ground unconscious, his face bloodied. This is Lawrence of Arabia. The exact circumstances of the accident will never be known. Besides, was it an accident? Sir Lawrence was an experienced driver, a connoisseur of engines and mechanics. If he liked speed, that morning he was driving slowly at only about 60 kilometers an hour.

How did the accident happen? The region of Dorset is a very beautiful hilly countryside, where the roads evolve with very slight climbs and gently sloping descents. It is precisely at the top of one of these climbs that Lawrence finds himself facing two children living on a neighboring farm who are playing in the middle of the road. At the time of the accident, traffic is virtually non-existent. Lawrence makes a sharp turn to avoid the children and loses control of his motorcycle.

Something is wrong

Corporal Ernest Catchcole of the Royal Army Ordinance Corps was in the vicinity of the crash that morning. He sees Lawrence arriving on a motorcycle and the two children on the road. He also sees a dark-colored car driving over Lawrence's motorcycle. In any case, that is the version he provides to the police. Accident or murder? But who could have wanted him dead? After six days of coma, Lawrence of Arabia dies without regaining consciousness. Strangely, he is guarded by two military police officers who prevent any visit. A state funeral is being organized with equally suspicious eagerness. The two children were also prevented from providing details of the accident, and Corporal Catchcole was told to forget the story of the dark-colored car forever. Catchcole committed suicide a few years later: pure coincidence?

Small step back. For some time now, Lawrence has become an inconvenient character. He is said to be close to one of the main representatives of the British right, it is even said that he is in contact with Hitler. He could become a politically dangerous figure. Too dangerous, probably.

"My name is Lawrence"

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales in 1888. Thanks to knowledge in archeology acquired in the field, he joined the army of His Majesty who sent him to the Arab countries with a mission of less importance: he was responsible for redraw the topography of Sinai. Some say, however, that this is just a cover intended to cover up his real mission as a secret agent. Either way, Lawrence was quick to gain the trust of the Arab tribes by supporting their rebellion in the war against the Turks between 1916 and 1918.

These tribes - too often at war with each other, poorly armed - are no match for the powerful Turkish war machine, but Lawrence of Arabia manages to smooth over the dissent. As a thank you, the Arabs allow him to dress as one of their own, the only white man dressed as a prince from Mecca, traveling on the back of a camel.

Guerrilla master

However, Lawrence is unable to organize the Arab forces into a regular army. He then had the idea to introduce them to a technique of war that could not be more modern: small, well-trained commandos that strike the Turkish rearguards before disappearing at lightning speed into the sand clouds of the desert. Railways, bridges, roads and other small detachments of troops are the targets chosen by these commandos. The effect is devastating: soon, the massive Turkish army runs out of supplies and is forced to retreat. But the action that made the real Lawrence of Arabia forever famous was the attack on Aqaba, a strategic city in present-day Jordan, on the Red Sea. The Turkish defenses are all turned towards the sea, the only place from which the enemy charge can come. Behind the city, the desert stretches out, as vast as it is scorching. Lawrence dared to cross it at the head of a hundred Arab warriors who launched a surprise attack at dawn on July 6, 1917, overthrowing the Turkish garrisons in the city.

Legendary Lawrence

From then on, Lawrence became a legend: newspapers around the world describe this character and his heroic acts. Promoted to colonel, he is now called “Lawrence of Arabia”. However, in order to convince the Arab tribes to fight the Turks, Lawrence had promised them the constitution of an Arab country after the conflict, which would be carried out with the support of European states. But it won't.

Disappointed and wounded in his amour-propre, accused of treason by the Arabs, he returned to England and changed his name twice, thanks, among other things, to the support of the secret services. He wants to disappear from the headlines forever.

In turn, a passionate archaeologist from the East, a spy for the secret services and even a novelist, everything has been said and written about him. Except probably on the reasons for his tragic death.

His motorbike ? Repaired with suspicious eagerness, it was auctioned off a few years ago. Strangely, it did not find a buyer ...

Thomas Edward Lawrence

The real Lawrence of Arabia does not owe his fame to his victorious battles alone. He was also a gifted archaeologist, in addition to a skilled photographer and writer. His novel The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which chronicles his experience during the war in the Middle East, is considered one of the masterpieces of 20th century literature. Cinema has also contributed to its legend. In 1962, David Lean dedicated a film to him that would pass to posterity for its production costs, but also for its casting and its grandiose scenes: the reconstruction of the battle of Aqaba will be a milestone. Served by the masterful portrayal of Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, the film received no less than seven Oscar awards.

World War I

States participating in World War I contested for European political hegemony and economic supremacy in world markets, including that of the Arab world in the Middle East. While Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were Turkey's allies, England supported the Arabs by encouraging the anti-Turkish nationalist spirit. However, once the conflict ended, the nations of Europe wanted first to preserve their commercial interests, including those relating to the discovery of oil in Iran in 1908. As a result, Egypt was the only country to which the England recognized independence, formally at least. These ancient controversies are the source of conflicts that continue to bloody the Middle East to this day.