Thomas Edward Lawrence was the British Army officer whose World War I exploits earned him fame as “Lawrence of Arabia” Some assembled facts about the man.
Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title which was later used for the 1962 film based on his World War I activities.
The real “Lawrence of Arabia” was a man of short stature. While six-foot, three-inch Peter O’Toole cut a towering figure as the lead in the 1962 epic biopic “Lawrence of Arabia,” the real Lawrence was only five feet, five inches tall. Lawrence remained self-conscious about his height, which may have been caused by a childhood case of the mumps.
He first traveled to the Middle East as an Oxford archaeology student. Lawrence spent the summer of 1909 traveling solo through Syria and Palestine to survey the castles of the Crusaders for his thesis. He walked nearly 1,000 miles and was shot at, robbed and badly beaten. In spite of the arduous journey, the new graduate returned to Syria the following year as part of an archaeological expedition sponsored by the British Museum. His years in the region deepened his knowledge of Arabic and affinity for the Arabs.
He never had a single day of battlefield training. In 1914, the British military employed Lawrence on an archaeological expedition of the Sinai Peninsula and Negev Desert, a research trip that was actually a cover for a secret military survey of territory possessed by the Ottoman Turks. Once World War I began, Lawrence joined the British military as an intelligence officer in Cairo. He worked a desk job for nearly two years before being sent to Arabia in 1916 where, in spite of his nonexistent military training, he helped to lead battlefield expeditions and dangerous missions behind enemy lines during the two-year Arab Revolt against the Turks.
Lawrence was a scruffy officer. His army superior, Ronald Storrs, remembered Lawrence had – and deserved – the title of the ‘untidiest officer in the British Army’. His uniform was never put on quite right; his Sam Browne belt was as often as not buckled loose over his unbuttoned shoulder strap, or he’d forget to put it on at all. He also had an instant disrespect for army officers, his general lack of respect for authority being a theme running through his life.