I visited Lawrence’s grave in a corner of Moreton cemetery, marked by a stone bearing the same Latin inscription which decorated the faзade of his school: Dominus Illumunatio Mea –an affirmation of the God in which he had long ago ceased to believe. A more impressive monument, however, lies in St Martin’s Church at Wareham – the medieval hall which Lawrence had always dreamed of acquiring, but in life never did. St Martin’s – one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon churches in Dorset – has precisely the naked simplicity that Lawrence loved. When I visited the church on a warm day at the end of all my travels, sunlight was spilling in a cascade of dapples and brindles through the great window, falling on the crusader’s effigy of Lawrence in Arab dress, carved by his friend Eric Kennington. As I gazed at his serene face, rendered in stone for posterity, I realized that I had in some measure answered the question that I had asked myself on that day at the spring in Wadi Rum. I had discovered that Lawrence, like each one of us, was unique. His unique blend of qualities was exactly that required at a certain moment in history to save the Arab Revolt from oblivion and bring it to success. Lawrence was not a hero of the dragonslayer order – superhumanly strong in body and spirit, unfailingly courageous, immaculately honourable, perfectly truthful – the white knight that Sarah Lawrence tried to create. Such beings, as Lawrence himself knew, exist only in the imagination. On the contrary, he was a man whose physical weakness, bizarre sexuality, unimpressive appearance and abnormal fear of pain led him to develop an extraordinary capacity for determination, courage, compassion and sympathy. He was no authoritarian, but a man whose sensitivity lent him the ability to empathize with men – and women – of all classes, races and creeds; whose inner lack of strong identity allowed him to be anything and anyone he felt others needed him to be. Lawrence was not an imaginary hero, but a real man with a real blend of strengths and weaknesses: a leader, a strategist, a motivator, a thinker, a doer, a romancer, an elaborator, a manipulator of myth. Millions of words have been written in tribute to him, but to me those which serve as his most fitting epitaph are the ones he himself wrote to a friend some years before his death: ‘I am human. There ain’t no such supercreatures as you would fain see. Or if there are I haven’t met one [yet].’ 35
1. The author and his son at Lawrence’s Spring, Jordan. It was at this spring, known as Shallala to the local Bedu, that Lawrence bathed during his sojourns in the Wadi Rum in 1917. He wrote a moving description of the spring in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
2. Pharaoh’s Island, off Sinai. As a young archaeologist, Lawrence swam out to the island to examine the ruins of the crusader castle (now restored). Known to the crusaders as Ile de Graye, it stands 400 metres off the Egyptian coast, some ten miles south of Aqaba.
3. Ruins of traditional house, Yanbu’, Saudi Arabia. Lawrence occupied a house similar to this one while staying in the port of Yanbu’ during 1916. Though the Turks advanced towards Yanbu’ in December 1916, they turned back in fear of British naval guns, a decision, Lawrence said, which cost them the war.
4. Ruins of mud houses, Hamra village, Saudi Arabia. Often imagined as an encounter in the desert – thanks to David Lean’s film – Lawrence and Sharif Feisal actually met first in Hamra, a large village of mud houses surrounded by palm-groves in the Hejaz’s fertile Wadi Safra.
5. Fallen locomotive, Hediyya station, Saudi Arabia. Several of the original locomotives which operated on the Hejaz railway are still to be found in the deserts of the Hejaz. This one was toppled quite recently by Arabs collecting steel track at Hediyya, a key watering-station which Lawrence had targeted in March 1917 before switching to Aba an-Na’am.
6. Hediyya bridge. Solidly built by German architects and Turkish labour between 1902 and 1908, many of the original bridges on the Hejaz railway have survived till the present day. The line was revived briefly in the 1920s, but much of it has been disused ever since.
7. Guweira plain from the Nagb ash–Shtar pass, Jordan. Lawrence halted to take in this breathtaking sight at dawn on 2 July 1917, just before his patrol engaged a Turkish force at Aba l–Lissan, the major battle in the Aqaba operation. Once Aba l–Lissan was taken, the Arabs were free to descend into the plain and approach Aqaba from the landward.
8. Atwi station, Jordan. Lawrence’s patrol attacked Atwi on 27 June 1917 during a side mission on the Aqaba operation, killing two Turks and capturing a flock of sheep. Such pin-prick attacks were intended to confuse the enemy and distract them from the real target: Aqaba.
9. Tent in the Wadi Rum, Jordan. A unique geological formation, created by the irruption of sandstone strata elsewhere confined under limestone, the Wadi Rum was considered by Lawrence to be the most spectacular sight in the whole of Arabia. Many of Rum’s Howaytat Bedu still live in traditional black tents as they did in Lawrence’s day.
10. Howaytat woman, Wadi Rum. Proudly displaying the facial tattoos she received as a girl on the eve of her wedding, this matriarch of the Howaytat, one of the celebrated bards of her tribe, still chants poems recalling the days of Lawrence and Auda Abu Tayyi.
11. The author with Sabah ibn ‘Iid at Mudowwara well, Jordan. Lawrence’s patrol watered at the pool here on 17 September 1917, on their way to attack Mudowwara station, which lies about three miles away. The Turks had deliberately polluted the water with dead camels, ensuring that Lawrence’s British gunners came down with diarrhoea. Today, due to local irrigation projects, the well is completely dry.
12. Loading a camel at Mudowwara well. A Bedui of the Howaytat loads his camel at the same point from which Lawrence’s patrol moved south to hit the railway near Hallat Ammar. They watered again at Mudowwara well on the exfiltration to Wadi Rum.
13. Wrecked railway wagon, Mudowwara. This wagon of 1914-18 vintage stands near the site where, on 19 September 1917, Lawrence and his patrol successfully mined a train drawn by two locomotives, and killed seventy Turks by machine-gun and mortar fire within ten minutes – one of the most perfectly executed guerrilla operations of the war.
14. A Bedui filling a waterskin. Lawrence wrote that the ways of the Bedu were hard even for those brought up in them, and for a stranger terrible – a death in life. The Bedu saw things differently, however: the desert offered them what to their eyes was a relatively comfortable way of life.
15. A Bedui of the Haywat, Jordan. One of the small Bedu tribes inhabiting southern Jordan and the Sinai peninsula, the Haywat joined the Hashemite forces on Lawrence’s final push on Aqaba in July 1917.
1. T. E. Lawrence (Ned) aged about ten or eleven. A detail from a studio photograph in Oxford, c.1900.
2. Sarah Lawrence with her children, in the porch of their home at Fawley on the shores of Southampton Water. Ned is sitting with his brothers Will, baby Frank and Bob. The photograph may have been taken by their father, Thomas Lawrence, shortly after their arrival in England, c.1894.
3. In 1896 the family moved to Oxford, and Ned and his elder brother Bob went to school at the City of Oxford High School for Boys. Ned is sitting on the ground in the centre, surrounded by his form mates and their teacher, c.1900.
4. Portrait of Gray,by Henry Scott Tuke. This painting, apparently showing Lawrence as a young soldier, was found among his possessions after his death and claimed as evidence of his disputed service in the artillery whilst still a schoolboy, perhaps in 1906. Though Lawrence may have met Tuke as a boy, the artist listed this portrait as having been painted in 1922. How it came into Lawrence’s possession is unknown.
5. In 1909 Lawrence spent three months travelling through Syria, visiting crusader castles. In August he spent three days at Kala’at al-Husn (Crak des Chevaliers), inspecting and photographing it. He wrote later that it was ‘the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world’.
6. The castle of Sahyun, with its slender needle of rock supporting the centre of a drawbridge, was one of the highlights of Lawrence’s 1909 tour.
7. Lawrence visited many other castles, including left,the Norman keep at Safita (this view from inside) and right,Harran, photographed on a subsequent visit in 1911.
8. Lawrence’s years at Carchemish were the happiest of his life. Here he worked with Leonard Woolley (right)over five seasons from 1912 until 1914. In this photograph they are standing on either side of a large Hittite slab.
9. Carchemish, a Hittite capital as early as 2500 BC,had been built on the intersection of two waterways and centred on a 130-foot acropolis which dominated the flat landscape.
10. Lawrence had two close friends among the local workforce at Carchemish: left,Dahoum, Salim Ahmad – the water-boy – and right,Sheikh Hammoudi, a former bandit, who was the foreman. Lawrence took these photographs in 1911.
11. (above)Workmen dragging up a large block of masonry at Carchemish. Photographed by Lawrence in 1911.
12. By the outbreak of war in 1914 Lawrence had already mastered Arabic and had managed to pass himself off occasionally as a native in northern Syria, where many non-Arab races intermingled. However, though he wore Arab dress throughout the Revolt he never imagined that he could masquerade as a true Arab, and though his Arabic was fluent witnesses say he spoke with a noticeably foreign accent.
13. Lt.-Col. Stewart Newcombe, Royal Engineers, who first met Lawrence during the Negev survey in 1914. He subsequently became his chief at the Intelligence Department in Cairo, and played a major role in the Revolt. Much admired by Lawrence, he was to remain a lifelong friend.
14. Lawrence travelled with camels in Syria before the war, but did not learn to ride until his first visit to the Hejaz in 1916. He quickly became an expert, though accounts of his fabulous rides which circulated after the war were often exaggerated.
15. The two principal instigators of the Arab Revolt: Sharif ‘Abdallah (seated) and Ronald Storrs (in white suit) at Jeddah in October 1916.
16. Sharif Feisal’s army falling back on Yanbu’ on the coast of the Red Sea, December 1916. Feisal was at the apex, surrounded by his bodyguard.
17.Feisal’s camp at dawn, December 1916. Four thousand tribesmen were gathered at Nakhl Mubarak, a large palm oasis in the Wadi Yanbu’. Lawrence arrived there at night on 2 December to find a scene of utter confusion; the wadi was full of woodsmoke and echoing with the noise of thousands of camels.
18 and 19. Feisal and his army captured Wejh in January 1917 and made it their headquarters for the next six months. From here Lawrence would attempt to cut the Hejaz railway.
20. Auda Abu Tayyi (left)of the Howaytat – one of the most feared raiders in the whole of Arabia. This photograph was taken by Lawrence in Wejh in May 1917, just before the expedition to take Aqaba – the turning point in the Arab Revolt and the crucial success of Lawrence’s life.
21. Auda (centre),with Sharif Nasir on his left, in a Howaytat tent in the Wadi Sirhan, June 1917. Auda, guide and strategist of the Aqaba mission, and Nasir, its commander, were in their different ways the most feared and able guerrilla leaders among the Hashemite forces.
22. Mohammad adh-Dhaylan (centre)with other Howaytat tribesmen.
23. The Turkish forces on the Hejaz railway had fully equipped repair battalions whose sole job was to maintain the line and repair it after an attack by Arab forces. Here a patrol repairs a stretch of track near Ma’an.
24. The bridge at Tel ash-Shehab, which Lawrence attempted to dynamite on the night of 7 November 1917. The daring assault was foiled when an Arab tribesman dropped his rifle, alerting the Turkish guard. For Lawrence, this failure was one of the most bitter personal defeats of the war.
25. Nasib al-Bakri, scion of a famous merchant clan of Damascus, was one of the founders of the Arab Revolt and a major contributor to the ‘Damascus Protocol’ which defined Arab policy in the event of victory against the Turks. He accompanied the Aqaba mission, but was isolated by Lawrence, who felt that his plan for a general rising in Syria was premature.
26. Dakhilallah al-Qadi, hereditary law-giver of the Juhayna. He initially fought with the Turks, then threw in his lot with the Hashemites, and dynamited the bridge at Aba an-Na’am. He and his son joined Lawrence on his first raids against the Hejaz railway, at Aba an-Na’am station and Kilometre 1121, in 1917.
27. The capture of Aqaba, 6 July 1917, photographed by Lawrence himself. The culmination of a brilliant two-month turning movement through some of the harshest desert in Arabia, Aqaba became the model for all the deep penetration commando raids of the twentieth century.
28. Aqaba fort from inland.
29. The interior of the Aqaba fort. The town was ruined and deserted, smashed to pieces by the shells of British gunships weeks before.
30. Ja’afar Pasha, Feisal and Pierce Joyce at Wadi Quntilla in August 1917. Ja’afar, a former officer in the Turkish army, was the commander of the Arab Regulars, who played an increasingly important part in the Arab campaigns. Lt.-Col. Joyce, Connaught Rangers, was technically Lawrence’s commanding officer and was chief of ‘Hedgehog’ – the British mission to the Arabs.
31. Nuri as-Sa’id, a brilliant young Iraqi artillery officer, was chief of staff to the Arab Regulars under Ja’afar Pasha. He played a distinguished role in the campaign, eventually becoming Prime Minister of Iraq.
32. The gate tower at Azraq, as photographed by Lawrence. In November 1917 he established himself in the southern gate tower for ‘a few days’ repose’. A year later he assembled a force at Azraq which encircled and isolated the Turks in Dara’a in the last few days of the campaign.
33. Lawrence fought his only pitched battle against the Turks on the plateau of Tafilah in January 1918, when a Turkish column from Kerak was routed and almost wiped out by Arab forces. Afterwards Lawrence photographed these lines of Turkish prisoners near Tafilah fort, which still stands today.
34. Sharif Zayd (in the centre at the back)and other Arab leaders with captured Austrian guns at Tafileh.
35. A smiling Lawrence at the army headquarters in Cairo in 1918.
36. General Allenby stepping out of his armoured car, Damascus, 3 October 1918. Allenby, much revered by Lawrence, regarded the Arab forces as a distraction for the Turks rather than major players in the invasion of Palestine and Syria.
37. The Hejaz Camel Corps rounding up Bedouin pillagers after the capture of Damascus, 2 October 1918.