The Ottoman Empire based in Turkey sided with Germany in the First World War, making it imperative that Britain and her allies stir up as much trouble within her borders as they could. Lawrence - experienced spy, Arabic-speaker, and gifted military commander - was the just the man they needed.
DURING the Great War, the British sent Thomas Edward Lawrence, a Welsh army intelligence officer and expert on the Middle East, to work alongside Arab leaders smarting at Turkish domination.
The capture of Aqaba in 1917 and unexpected victory at Tafileh the following year won him the DSO, the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and a Turkish bounty of £15,000 on his head.*
They also led the rebels to see in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ the man to turn Ottoman Syria into an independent, pan-Arab kingdom. However, after the fall of Damascus in October 1918, details were leaked of a secret pact by France and Britain to carve the region up between them.
Feeling betrayed, Lawrence returned to England and unwelcome publicity, thanks to American war correspondent Thomas Lowell and to his own autobiography, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, which ended his career as a spy and hindered his work for the RAF.
Lawrence died, aged 46, on 19th May 1935, following a motorcycle accident in Devon.
* Aqaba is now a port and city in southern Jordan, at the top of the Red Sea. Tafileh also lies in Jordan, a few miles east of the Dead Sea just beyond its southernmost point. £15,000 in 1918 would be worth as much as half a million pounds today: see Measuring Worth.