Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

T. E. Lawrence was an Englishman who adapted to the arab way of life and helped lead his adopted people to victory against the turks

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Lawrence_L
Artwork by Terry Pontikos

 

Quick Facts

Profession: Linguist, writer, military strategist

Famous for: his participation in the Arab Revolt of 1916-18

Born: August 16, 1888, Tremadog, Wales

Died: May 19, 1935, Dorset, England

Nickname: Lawrence of Arabia

 

"The dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did."


The Early Years

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Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in a village in northwest Wales. His father was a wealthy landowner and his mother had been the governess of Lawrence's older step-sisters.

Lawrence's family moved around a lot. They went first to Scotland and then to France, before settling in Oxford, England. The boy was fascinated by mediaeval castles.

He was also a gifted scholar. When he sat exams at the age of 18, he came 12th out of nearly 5,000 students. He studied modern history at Oxford University. When he was 21, the adventurous Lawrence walked 1,000 kilometres through Palestine and Syria to see castles built by the Crusaders. The Crusades were a series of religious campaigns by European Christians mostly against Muslims from 1095 to 1291.

His interest in the Middle East led him to become an archaeologist. In December 1910 he set sail for Lebanon, where he began to learn Arabic - he eventually mastered eight different languages.

The Arab Revolt

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When the First World War broke out in 1914, most of the Middle East had been under the control of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years. The empire was centred in Turkey. Its capital was Constantinople (today's Istanbul). In August of 1914, the empire entered the war in support of the Germans. Lawrence, who had signed up with the British army, was sent to Cairo, Egypt, to work with British intelligence.

The British decided to cooperate with the Arabs who wanted to break away from the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence advised against direct assaults on Turkish positions. Instead, he worked with the Arabs, to attack rail lines and tie up Turkish troops.

Lawrence proved himself invaluable when he took part in an attack on a port called Aqaba in Jordan. The Ottoman military thought nobody could cross the desert and attack it by land. But Lawrence and an Arab force made the journey and easily defeated the unprepared Turks. Lawrence was almost killed when he accidentally shot his camel in the head with his pistol and was thrown off.

Post-war Disappointment

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Lawrence the Arabs they would have an independent Arab state after the war. But at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the Western powers ignored the Arabs and gave Syria to the French.

Lawrence refused to medals from the king of England. He also wrote letters to the newspapers complaining about how the Arabs were treated.

A photographer who had followed Lawrence through some of his exploits in the made Lawrence a celebrity when he released his pictures as a slideshow after the war. But Lawrence was deeply disappointed and moved to the English countryside. He wrote his famous autobiographical book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, there.

In 1920, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called him back to help negotiate a better with the Arabs. Prince Faisal, who Lawrence had fought with in the Arab Revolt, was made leader of Iraq. A new country called Trans-Jordan was created for the Arabs.

Lawrence continued to work with the British Army for some time but by 1930 he had had basically . He died in 1935, when he lost of his motorcycle, racing home from the post office.

True or false?

To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 TE Lawrence was born in Oxford, England.
2 One of Lawrence's earliest interests was mediaeval castles.
3 Lawrence spoke eight languages, including Arabic.
4 Lawrence was happy with the way the Arabs were treated at the end of the First World War.

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