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13 November 2014

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You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > The mystery of Lawrence of Arabia

Colonel T.E. Lawrence pictured in Arabia (PA Photos)

Colonel T.E Lawrence pictured in Arabia

The mystery of Lawrence of Arabia

Stories of the Middle Eastern exploits of Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, made him a legend, but his hope for a quiet retirement in Dorset ended in tragedy - and conspiracy theories.

Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, made Dorset his home in his final years.

Born in 1888, T.E. Lawrence was a soldier with extensive experience of the Middle East.

When World War I broke out he was made an intelligence officer in Cairo, working with secret rebels against Turkey who ruled the region and were allies of the Germans.

T.E. Lawrence on his Brough Superior SS80 (PA Photos)

T.E Lawrence on his Brough Superior SS80

Also a writer, Lawrence's memoirs The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, documenting his Middle Eastern experiences, helped make him a high profile figure all over the world, hence becoming known as Lawrence of Arabia.

A house in Clouds Hill

Seeking a quieter life, and by now living in a small house in Clouds Hill in Wareham, he left the military in February 1935.

But his retirement was cut short when he was killed in a motorcycle accident in May 1935.

Lawrence was riding his much-loved Brough motorbike, on his way from Bovington Camp to Clouds Hill, when he swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles.

Despite receiving prompt medical attention at nearby Bovington army camp, he died a few days later.

'A mysterious black car'

Lawrence's death at the age of 46 only added to the myth: stories of a 'mysterious black car' at the scene prompted some to think there was more to his death than just a tragic accident.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended his funeral and was said to have described him as "one of the greatest beings alive in this time".

Memorial stone at Clouds Hill, scene of the motorcycle accident which killed T.E. Lawrence (PA Photo: Barry Batchelor)

Memorial stone at Clouds Hill

Lawrence is buried in Moreton, and a famous stone effigy of Lawrence can be seen at St Martin's Church in Wareham.

A small memorial by the road side at Clouds Hill marks the area of the accident.

Disproving the rumours

Lawrence was a well known local figure, and was often seen around the Wareham area.

The town's interest in him continues to this day, and its museum has an exhibition dedicated to Lawrence, and Michael O'Hara, its honorary curator, has helped put together a DVD looking at Lawrence's life - and death - in Dorset.

By speaking to local people with connections to Lawrence, some of whom haven't previously spoken publicly about him before, Michael says they've managed to disprove some of the rumours about Lawrence's death.

An illustration from a rare copy of a book by the original Lawrence of Arabia - The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (PA Photos)

An illustration from his memoirs

He says: "There are lots of conspiracy theories and myths surrounding his death [eg that he committed suicide, or was murdered by government agents], and one of them  was that no one was allowed to talk about the accident afterwards.

"We spoke to Joe Fletcher, who is the brother of Frank Fletcher, one of the boys involved in the accident.

"Frank is no longer with us, but Joe has a letter from the then Commander of Bovington Camp to Frank and Joe's father, saying that they were allowed to talk to the press about the accident, but not about his job at the army camp.

"So that blows the theory that the accident was hushed up out of the water."

'An enigma'

Michael says there's as much interest in T.E. Lawrence now as there always has been - in the man, his life, and his work.

Michael O'Hara, Wareham Town Musuem

Michael O'Hara, Wareham Town Musuem

He says: "The problems in the Middle East today all stem from the post-World War I years and the actions he was involved in, in 1915. That still has relevance today.

"Lawrence is an enigma. It's the ongoing mystery of this very private person [that keeps me interested].

"He's certainly one of the twentieth century's first major celebrities."

last updated: 15/06/2009 at 09:27
created: 05/06/2009

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