Lawrence of Arabia dies
The death of Lawrence of Arabia on May 19 1935 was, in stark contrast to his life, a very ordinary end, a motorcycle accident causing the injuries which killed him six days later.
Lawrence was an extraordinary figure whose life has become the subject of myth and conjecture. He was illegitimate, his aristocratic father having run away with the governess of his daughters. He gained a first at Jesus College Oxford , partly thanks to a brilliant thesis on the crusades and European military architecture, the material for which had come from his cycling and walking tours in France and Arabia.
As an expert arabist Lawrence was recruited by British Intelligence in WWI , and though the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire was not his idea, he was instrumental in its success, persuading the Arabs to rise against the Turks, and taking part in military operations - he was a Lieutenant-Colonel by the age of 30.
Much honoured during WWI (though he turned down a knighthood after it), his subsequent military career seems strange at first sight, enlisting in 1923 in the RAF under an assumed name (John Hume Ross), being pushed out for his deception, joining the Tank Corps the same year under another alias, T.E. Shaw, and then with some strings pulled again enlisting in the RAF, to which he was drawn - it seems he enjoyed the comradeship and the new challenges of the early days of the service, and that he wanted to escape his fame.
Lawrence was also a gifted writer, with his greatest work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom a book of convoluted but graceful style that still involves the reader to this day.
Motorcycling had been another of Lawrence's passions for years. His end came two months after he left the RAF. He was riding his 1000cc Brough Superior SS100 on the road near his cottage, Clouds Hill close to Wareham in Dorset; this was a bike capable of over 100mph, and he was not wearing a helmet. Cresting a rise he suddenly found that in the dip ahead two small boys on bicycles faced him. Lawrence steered off the road to avoid them, and was catapulted over the machine's handlebars.
He died six days after the accident, and was buried at Moreton in Dorset, though a bust of him was put in St Paul's Cathedral in London.
More famous dates here
5008 views since 19th May 2008
On this day: